"The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord,
and set me down in the midst of the ralley which was full of bones, and caused me to
pass by tlieai roundabout: and, behold, there were very many in the opeu valley ;
and, lo, they were \cry dry." — Ezekiel xxxvii. 1, 2.
These words belong to one of those striking passages found frequently in
the prophetical writings, which, without any overstraining or impropriety
will admit of two or three distinct interpretations. The, vision as described
at the head of the chapter, is called a resurrection of dry bones, and there
can be no doubt that its primary meaning, probably the only meaning, wliich
the Jews themselves gave of it, was that the resuscitation of these bones was
a figure representing the general restoration of all the tribes from their se-
veral dispersions. This had been the clear promise of the preceding chapter,
but the weak faith of the people saw all but insuperable barriers to the
accomplishment of their hope. First, the scattered condition of their na-
tion ; and, secondly, the old tribal feuds of Judah and Ephraim. To calm
these groundless fears, two visions are vouchsafed to the prophet, one a
vision of two sticks uniting, to show how divided things may become one ;
and the other, a vision of dry bones quickening, to show how dispersed and
dead things may be restored to their original strength, and unity, and life.
Be it then, reasons the prophet with the Jewish nation, that your present
condition is no better than one of political death, that ye are now scattered
over the face of the earth just as strewed and dishonoured bones in an open
valley ; yet, bethink ye of him, who of all life and alljdeath retains the un-
controlled and determinate issues, whose it is graves to open, corruption to
restore, bones to impregnate with a principle of new life, joining them
together, each to each, in the order of their primal union and compactness.
And this consideration will take you off from your dark and despairing
o. 2,^92 ' I
thoughts. The eye of faith will apprehend the meaning of this vision, you
will see the boues move, and the limbs come to^jelhcr, and the valley become
peopled with living things. For thus saith the Lord God, " Behold, O my
people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves,
and bring you into the land of Israel." Such is the explanation of this
vision. It presents us with an image of political desolation — a bold image,
no doubt, and yet all things considered, the state of the Jews at that time,
as well as the imaginative tendencies of the oriental mind, an image neither
overstrained nor extravagant. Still less should we be oflTended with the se-
cond interpretation, as commonly gh'en by the early fathers, namely, that
the vision was a type of the general resurrection at the last day, and was
designed to show to us how, when church-yards, and seas, and battle plains
shall give up their trust of buried dead, each bone shall find its partner
bone, and the bleached and crumbling atoms of our humanity shall again
coalesce into forms of life. This interpretation derives strength from the
fact, that the very words which we find employed by St. John, in his descrip-
tion of the dead bodies lying in the streets of the holy city, exactly corres-
pond with those of Ezekiel — " And after three days and a half the spirit of
life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet." But the
vision is generally allowed to bear an interpretation of a more comprehen-
sive and spiritual kind. It is thought to be an emblem of the resurrection
to life of the church of Christ, whether taken in a collective sense, and so
applying to the moral glories of the latter day, or in an individual sense, and
therefore describing the recovery of a lost soul from darkness to light, and
from the death of sin into a life of righteousness. Presumptuous indeed
would be such a use of Scripture imagery without an inspired warrant, but
such a warrant we have abundantly. The sacred writers shrink from no
conceivable change as too strong to denote the renewal of the human soul.
They describe it as an emerging from a buried state — " buried with him in
baptism" — a participation in the Saviour's resurrection : "If ye, then, be risen
with Christ" — the inbreathing of a new life into a dead soul — " And you hath
he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins." The world, on ew
Testament principles, is nothing more than a great place of tombs ; kings
differing from mean men only by having costlier, more garnished sepulchres.
And so, while we continue in an unrenewed state, Scripture speaks to us as
dead things, insensible things, mere busy blind sleepwalkers. To the toiling
merchant, to the diligent student, to the cumbered housewife, to the busy,
persevering philanthropist, while not transformed by the renewing of their
minds, it attributes the same condition of dead and diseased activity, calls
upon them as men in their graves to hear the voice of the Son of God and
live, and though they be locked up as surely as Lazarus was, and of anything
like life are as destitute as dry bones may be, a voice from heaven speaks
to them, saying, "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and
Christ shall give thee light." My remaining remarks, therefore, will be de-
dicated to the spiritual interpretation of this significant and instructive
vision, and we may consider the entire scene, first, as illustrating the moral
condition of our world ; secondly, as pointing out the^proper methods for its
amelioration ; and, thirdly, as assuring us of success if we comply with the
Divine direction.
I. Let me invite your attention, first, to the representation given us in this
vision of the moral condition of our world — " The hand of the Lord was upon
me, and carried me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the
midst of the valley which was full of bones, and caused me to pass by them
round about : and, behold, there were very many in the open valley ; and, lo,
they were very dry." Bones— dry bones — uuburied bones — very many of
them — what a crowd of monitory and suggestive thoughts seem to be called
up by this picture ! A bone — who likes to look on this dishonoured relic of
life ? What a recoil do youth and beauty feel at being told that " to this
complexion they must come at last !" But the bones the prophet saw were,
on our spiritual interpretation, yet more painful to contemplate ; they repre-
sented the bones, not of a dead body, but so to speak, of a dead soul, scattered
members of the immortal part — God's image defaced, corrupted, broken into
dust and fragmeuts. Furthermore, to complete the picture of death and
desolateness, the prophet adds, " and they were very dry." They had not
only remained a long time in this state, they were bleached and crumbled in
the sun, and all vestige of the human thing was gone. The application of
this lies upon the surface. In the same way as corruption, and time, and the
¦worm obliterate all trace of the human resemblance ; so has sin swept away
from the face of the human soul every feature which once it bore. We are
no more like what we were when our Creator made us than that sightless
thing, which is sometimes cast up from an open grave, to the face of a man
beaming with intelligence and lined with thought. God made us men, but
sin has changed us into skeletons. Observe, further, the vision seems to
point to the utter shamelessness of the unconverted state. The bones were
in an open valley, or champaign, as you read it in the margin. When
Abraham stood up before the sons of Heth he asked for a buryingplace that
he might bury his dead out of his sight ; and of this early transmitted feeling,
be its religious origin what it may, you will find traces constantly in the
writings of classic authors. An unburied corpse was a stigma, as well on
the piety of the living, as on the honour of the dead. And such were the
bones which the prophet saw ; no charuel house hid them from human sight,
no mounds of parent earth had covered them, but they lay sti'ewed and ex-
posed in the valley — an offence and an open shame. Brethren, again are we
compelled to acknowledge the likeness between the vision and the reality.
There may be those who sin in secret, those Avho defraud and plunder by
means of locked up and secret ledgers, who concoct their mendacious
schemes in chambers dark as the unsunned and unfrequented sepulchre ; but
the many hardly care to hide their iniquity, they leave the pestiferous breath
of corruption to go up from the valley, and seem to glory in their shame.
And how unblushingly does vice walk our streets, and lying enter
into our commerce, and sinful and foolish jesting dishonour our entertain-
ments, and the offer of cheap excursions affront the sanctities of God's holy-
day ! And they justify themselves who do such things. Even concealment —
that homage which bad men pay to the divinity of virtue — is deemed uncalled
for. " They are dead in trespasses and sins," and desire that none should
bury them out of our sight. Of course it will not be inferred from this, that
concealment of sinful practices would ever make them better ; all that is
meant is, that the utter absence of shame-facedness with which social mal-
practices are committed — the air of deliberateness with which you will hear
a man vindicate either over-reaching in his business or excess in his pleasure,
or admitted deficiencies in his religious life and practice, are just so many
evidences of ripened, confirmed, unblushing ungodliness. He is destitute of
tiiat first element of creature acceptableness — a sense of religious shame.
He is a bone — a very dry bone, and withal, uncovered and unburied ; in
the face of men and of day, he lies in the open valley.
Another mournful spectacle which the vision exhibits of spiritual death
rcjgninf>; around us is its univeisality. The prophet was first set down iu the
midst of the valley— they were all bones there ; afterwards he was made to
pass round about, but tlie same sight met him every where, and " Lo !" he
says, " they were very many." And here again we feel that the vision has a
good deal of sorrowful truth in it. The dead in sin are innumerable. It is
not in tlie midst of the valley only, in the crowd of cities, and in the feverish
stir of courts, the haunts of dissipation, or amidst the thickly nestling fami-
lies of the outcasts that we meet with these relics of spiritual corruption.
Wherever we pass, with the prophet, round about, in the retirement of the
village, in the seclusion of the cloister, in the calm privacies of family and
domestic intercourse — sweet Auburn, mighty London — it is all one— there is
not a house in which there is not one dead. " Lord are there few that be
saved ?" sai^d one to the Master. And without having his question directly
answered, he is left to draw his own inference about the fewness of the saved
from the fact that it is certain there will be a great many lost. " Strive to
enter in at the strait gate, for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in and
shall not be able." They are the many who are called, and through unfaith-
fulness are not chosen. The many who in tliaf day will say unto me, " Lord,
Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name ?" The many who run, and throng,
and sleep, and die in the broad road that leadeth to destruction. The world
is strewed with these memorials of living death, the vision teaches. And to
look for a man of God, for one devoted to his faith and power, for one
in the world and yet not of the world, is like seeking the living among the
II. But I proceed to the second branch of our subject, or a view of the
vision as it illustrates the means to be employed for the recovery of the
world from its spiritually dead condition. The prophet admits that the task
was one of apparently hopeless difficulty. "Son of man," said the voice by
which he had been conducted to the valley, " can these dry bones live ? Is
there any possibility that tliese offensive fragments should unite, and move,
and stand [up before your congregation of living things ?" Whereupon the
prophet answers, with profound and wondering reverence, "O Lord God,
thou knowest." And, brethren, see you not how fitting this question and
answer appear on our spiritual interpretation? Have you never heard of a
man of God whose ministerial lot seemed to be cast among bones ? He is
abundant in labours, faithful in doctrine, earnest in prayer, diligent in his
oversif^ht of the flock of God ; and yet for years, perhaps, he sees not of the
fruit of his labours — to all human seeming there are no jewels gathering for
liis crown, no sheaves ripening for his harvest, no brands rescued from the
flame. " During ten years," said a lioly man of the last century, " 1 heard
THE VISIO OF di:y bokes.
of but one instance of conversion by my ministry." Well, to snch a one
meditatin}^ on the scene of barrenness around him, we will suppose the Spirit
of God to say, ' Can these dry bones live ? Is it possible that these dull
remnants of immortal being you have around you, without breath, without
hope, without God, without Christ, should be moved and quickened into a
condition of spiritual life ? Can your faith grasp the great fact of these bones
becoming men V And the answer which the downcast man of God would
return, would be in substance Ezekiel's answer — " O Lord God, thou know-
est." 'Judging by past results, judging by present evidences, judging by any
standards of human likelihood, I should say, these bones will continue bones.
I see not hope or sign of life among them. Every form of moral induce-
ment fails ; they are neither moved by entreaties, nor alarmed by threaten-
ings, nor softened by afflictions ; they seem to have neither sense of sin, nor
desire of pardon, nor fear of punishment ; their Sabbaths are a weekly
mockery, their prayers an unmeaning form ; whilst every thought and desire
and feeling seems to be bounded by the one absorbing question, " What
shall I eat, and what shall I drink, and wherewithal shall I be clothed !"
Still it is not for God's ministering servants to speak of results. True, it
seems as if our net were often cast into an empty sea. We may say with
Peter, " All the night long have I toiled and taken nothing." Still who
shall say how many souls we shall enclose at the next draught ? " O Lord
God, thou knowest."
And now the prophet is in a frame of mind for receiving further instruc-
tions from heaven, and perhaps he expects that some new agencies may be
summoned into being for effecting its mystical resurrection. But instead of
these, he finds himself commanded only to use the means which he had again
and again employed without success before. " And the voice said unto me,
Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the
word of the Lord." Mark here, brethren, the ministry of the word is God's
great agency for the world's conversion. The days we live in are fertile of
expedient and project and bold thought. Every sun that rises finds a thou-
sand busy minds planning and devising something for the good of mankind.
The philanthropist's calling is absolutely overdone ; and by education, by
cultivation of a taste for the arts, by shortened labours for the sons of toil
and open doors for the repentant criminal, by reformatories, dormatories,
penitentiaries, and industrial schools, everybody has his scheme for mending
the world's present condition. Amidst this multitudinous assemblage
of human remedies, all good in their way however, it is a great repose to the
mind just to see ^hat is God's remedy. He interferes not with our social
machinery, our commerce, our science, our philanthropy, or our laws — these
may all go on as before ; but he has his own cure for the moral disorders of
mankind ; and where that cure is left out of sight, God will bless no other.
And that is, to prophecy upon these bones and say unto them, " O ye dry
bones, hear ye the word of the Lord !"
And at tliis part of the vision the minister of God finds his lesson. He
has a pardonable preference for the great promising fields of labour. True,
he must go where he is sent, but he would not choose a valley of bones if he
could get an auditory of living things. But the tenor of his commission
runs — " Preach to the most ignorant, and dark, and hopeless ; speak to
the dead ; even in the place of tombs and at the very mouth of graves ; pro-
phecy upon these bones." either are we to be tellers of smooth things
when we prophecy, to shrink from calling people by their right names and
addressing many among them as spiritually dead ; for you see there God's
own instructions to the preacher — "Say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear ye
the word of the Lord." And this is our confidence when we speak — that it
is the word of the Lord. What power could there be in our words to awake
the dead, or pierce the grave, or quicken into life and motion the souls
which lie scattered up and down the valley of sin ? Oh, we know and feel
that we are mere channels for conveying heavenly sounds. If the word ever
come to the heart in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance ;
if the sword pierce, if the hammer break, if the conscience tremble ; if the
heart resist, struggle, repent, and finally yield, there is no mistaking the
voice which speaks. Plainly as to Adam when he thought the trees would
screen him from heaven's glance ; sternly as to Cain, when the murderous
thought loomed upon his frowning brow ; audibly as to Elijah, when the
words, " What dost thou here 2" rang through the untrodden cave, do you
hear the Lord's voice on such occasions. The lips are men's lips, but the
words — there is a felt divinity in them ; the dividing of the soul and spirit, the
severing of joints and marrow, the discerning of the intents and thoughts —
all this reveals a message from heaven from the living to the dead — " O ye
dry bones, hear ye the word of the Lord."
III. And now I come to the last view of this vision, or, a consideration of
it as it illustrates the success which shall attend the use of all heavenly-
appointed means for the conversion of souls. The prophet, as we have seen,
had his command to preach, and the people had theirs to hear. But for the
encouragement of both, the command is accompanied with a gracious promise,
for the very next words are, " Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones ;
Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live : and I will
lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with
skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live ; and ye shall know that I am
the Lord." We may notomit to observe here, how, under every dispensation
the dead, and the lost, and the hopeless are the objects of the Almighty's
care. They are the tempted among disciples, the heavy laden among sinners,
the weeping among the prodigals ; it is among the reeds the sorest bruised, and
among bones the " very dry," that mercy finds occasion for its most tender
and bright displays. Let us see this principle acted out in the vision. " So I
prophesied," says Ezekicl, "as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there
was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his
bone." There was a noise and a shaking:. To two out of the three proposed
interpretations of the vision sugfjested at the outset these effects seem ap-
plicable enough. Thus we can have no difficulty in imagining that a great
political commotion should be stirred up on the first proclamation of Cyrus
for the return of the Jews to their own land ; whilst for the other interpre-
tation, or that which applies the vision to the resurrection of the body, we
have the later ew Testament confirmation, that the heavens shall pass away
with a great noise, and the powers of heaven shall be shaken. But what
fitness have these terms for our spiritual rendering 1 Much every way. There
is no resurrection to spiritual life, whether in a nation, in a family, or in an
individual soul, without both a noise and a shaking. " These that have
turned the world upside down," said the Jews of Thessalonica, " have come
hither also." Yes, brethren, the chariots of the Redeemer never have been
noiseless chariots. There was a noise in Judea when John preached the
baptism of repentance ; there was a noise at Athens when Paul preached
the doctrines of the resurrection ; there was a noise at Ephesus when the
craftsmen saw the danger which threatened their silver shrines ; there is a
noise now in India, in China, in Africa, in the isles of the Pacific, because
their people are exhorted to forsake their dumb idols and turn to the living
God. And is there not often a noise in families when the prophecying is
just beginning to take effect, when some solitary member of a household
comes out from the rest, and with a lofty disregard of the results, resolves to
cast in his lot with the people of God ? How often have parents been known
to deride the overseriousness of the child, and brothers to scoff at the pious
scruples of a sister, or more frequently still, how often in this great city are
young men found to be casting the godless jest on those who, associated with
them in the same mercantile or professional emploj'ments, have the courage to
keep a conscience and declare their reverence for the things of God. Yes,
brethren, these are the results which we must grasp. When a man sees
another aiming at an excellence which he cannot reach, practising a self-
denial which he is loth to imitate, preserving in bright and virgin flame that
light of purity and undefiled religion which in himself is well-nigh gone out,
he is disturbed, and envious, and angry ; and, lo ! there is a noise. or shall
we be at a loss to see the suitableness to our spiritual rendering of the other
result described, " And behold there was a shaking." Shaking, we know, is
the indication of great fear ; so that as the noise describes the position of the
world without, the shaking may fitly express the disturbance of the world
within ; the trembling of the gladly awakened soul, lest there should be no
mountain to fly to, no sanctuary to reach, no fountain open to remove the
deep dye of sin ; no daysman to stand between the sinner and his offended
God. There was a shaking in the heart of the Philippian jailor when under
the agony of strange sights and sounds, he exclaimed, " Sirs, what must I do
to be saved ?" There was a shaking in the Roman centurion when the
sight of the heaven's darkening and the earth rolling, and the streets of Jeru-
salem paced by the risen dead, drew from him the involuntary confession,
" Truly this wa^he Sou of God." There was a shaking among those that
kept watch by the Redeemer's grave, when they saw how at the mere touch
of heaven's radiant messenger, tiie huge stone rolled away, and for fear of
him, the keepers did shake and become as dead men. See, here then,
brethren, an early symptom of your spiritual resurrection, and apply it to
your own experience. Ask yourselves, have you ever been sliaken from
these sanJy and unstable foundations on which so many are bnilding their
immortal house ? Have you ever been shaken from those unscriptnral and
hollow creeds which are the only answer many have to make to the fears of
death, the terrors of the grave, and tlie heavy indictment to be preferred
against them at the last day ? Ur, lastly, have you ever felt a shakin^j in
yourselves ? Have you ever known what it is to have the lieart to sink, and
the knees to smite, and the tongue to falter through an oppressive sense of
your soul's danger and urgent need ? Have you trembled as you prayed ?
Did the hand seem to shake as you approached to lay hold of the Saviour ?
And did the lips stammer as they gave expression to that language of hope-
ful contradiction — " Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief ?" If so, be of
good cheer ; at this time there was a shaking in you, the bones were be-
ginning to move, and flesh was beginning to come up, and over the face of
your regenerate soul the Spirit of God was moving and imparting to you the
first breathings of spiritual life.
On the last scene of this imposing spectacle, I can say but one word, and
•with it must conclude. After the bones iiad come together, each to its place,
each with its proper clothing of flesh, and skin, and sinew, the prophet
found there was no breath in them. I will not stay here, strongly as the
analogy invites us, to see in this feature of the prophet's vision, a type of
that halting stage in the Christian life, in which all external forms of godli-
ness are kept up without any growing experience of its power ; living, in-
deed, in shape, but having no breath in them. But I will now entx-eat your
devout attention to God's method for supplying this mournful deficiency.
Seeing there was no breath in these risen forms, the voice said unto Ezekiel,
" Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus
saith the Lord God ; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon
these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and
the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an
exceeding great army." Brethren, you have here the secret of all success,
the strength of all gospel ministrations, the spring of all church revivals. We
want more breath in our body, more of tliat which distinguishes the skeleton
from the man and the religious automaton from the thing of life — and this is
to be obtained only by our prophesying to the wind ; by one and all in the
church and in their closet off'ering that fervent petition, " Come from the
four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that tbey may live."
Yes, our valley is full of slain ! Go where we will, we walk among those
dry emblems of death, in our churches, in our cities, in our homes ; and yet
the breath of the Spirit is omnipotent which sweeps the valley from end to
end ; and though itself the most resistless of all the winds of heaven, it
may be put in motion by the gentlest of all sighs, the prayer of the least and
of the lowest of the children of God. Go home to-day then, brethren, and
and offer up a prayer for tlie slain, whether the slaiu in the world or the
slain at home ; call aloud to the four winds to revive the face of the desolate
earth, pray that the breath of life may enter into the drv bones, until the
thoughtless, aroused from his slumbers, and the formalisWihaken from his
confidence, and the man of the world awakened to a view of his respon-
sibility, his folly, and his sin — the valleys may be clothed anew with all the
verdure of spiritual \ife, and the dead now risen in Christ, may stand upon
their feet an exceeding great army.

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