"ow it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the day of the
mon'th, as I was amon? the captives by the river of Chebar. that the heavens were
opened, and I saw visions of God."— Ezekiel i. 1.
The Jews looked upon ihe writing of Ezekiel with sentiments of peculiar
veneration and awe. There were portions of it which no person under the age of
thirty years was permitted to see at all. The question was at one time gravely
mooted in the Sanhedrim whether the book should not be altogether excluded
from the camp. With the feeling of its profound mysteriousness, no doubl,
the compilers of our own Prayer Books sympathized-the few chapters we read
about this season of the year being almost our only selections from one of the
lar-est prophecies of the Bible. Mysterious, however, as the book is, and
abounding with allusions which reduce all our prophetical conjectures to the
merest guess work, it yet exhibits, especially in this opening chapter, those
great principles in God's government of the world, which we can no more
expect to see change, than we could expect gravitation to reverse its law, or
the sun to forget his time of going down. To unfold these principles to
Ezekiel, and to explain to him the methods and agencies by which God go-
verns in the earth, it was that these magnificent visions were vouchsafed to
him on formally entering upon his office. A whirlwind came out of the
orth bearing on its wings a cloud of infolded fire. From the midst of the
brightness emerged four living creatures, testifying by their symbolic forms
that they belonged to the cherubim host. Afterwards, careering along upon
wheels of vast complicated movement, appeared a mystic chariot; and, last
of all a throne, and one seated upon it wiiose appearance was as the likeness
of a man, at the same time that it was " the likeness of the glory of the Lord."
o. 2,858. ^ .<^
We may not be able to get at the full meaning of all this poetry, but theie
is an uppermost and surface trutli to be learned from it; very important at
all times, but especially consolatory to us as a nation now; namely, that above
any whirlwind which may sweep along the political horizon, above any clouds
reddening with the glare of some hidden and portentous fire, above those
ministering spirits who guide in their circling courses the wheels of a moral
providence — is a throne, an eye, a mind, a ruling and presiding God. It may
be, as with us now, that the heathen rage, and the people are gathered
together; that the foundations of an established empire are shaken to its base;
that the powers of darkness and evil seem to be let loose upon the world,
sweeping away everything which should oppose their destructive march — law,
order, justice, truth, oaths which the veriest savage would respect, and hu-
manities which the fiends of hell would hardly be brought to abide. It may
be that there is an upheaving of the elements of Asiatic Society, which shall
hurl headlong the stronghold of British supremacy and pride, as the volcano
11 tosses the uprooted rock. But, happen what may, it is the design of such
visions as that vouchsafed to Ezekiel to lead us from seen to unseen agency;
from the storm, to him who rides upon it; from the wlieels, to him who puts
breath into the wheels ; from the cloud, the fire, the cherubim, to the awful
glory of him who maketh the wrath of man to praise him, and the wickedness
of man to work for him — pride and cruelty, men and demons, a nation's rise,
or a nation's fall, alike subservient to his resistless will.
Let us sit down with Ezekiel, then, by the river of Chebar, when the heavens
were opened and he saw visions of God. These, according to the divi-
sions of the heading of the chapter, are three in number; and, as constituting
a part of the same inauguration service, should be viewed in connection. The
visions were, the four living creatures, the chariot with its complicated wheels,
the appearance in some human similitude of an administering and ruling
God. The leading feature of the first vision was that of the four living crea-
tures, or cherubim. These are represented as emerging from that striking as-
sembly of heavenly appearances, by which, as in a parable to the eye, God
would illustrate his regency over this lower world ; the whirlwind, type of
resistless but invisible power; the cloud, emblem of the dark, and occult, and
inscrutable in the ways of God ; the brightness, commingling with the cloud
and shining through it, betokening by its amber and softened radiance the light
that shall be thrown upon these things hereafter. "As for the likeness of the
living creatures," we are told, " their appearance was like burning coals of
fire, and like the appearance of lamps; it went up and down among the
living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth
lightning." Here, the first point for our notice is, that God carries on his
administrative providence by means of angels ; that he constitutes them his
delegates in this lower world, to minister to the heirs of salvation, to encamp
round the dwellings of the righteous, to frustrate the designs of the ungodly,
to quell the tumultuous risings among nations. The vision supposes that they
can press the elements into their service — the lightning, the whirlwind, the
tempest; the famine to waste, or the pestilence to destroy. either is it easy
to conceive tlieir power being short of tins. Satan, a fallen angel, is called
" the god of this world, and the prince of the power of the air" — expressions
which must mean that, within certain ordained limits, he can make use of the
elements as an engine of mischief against Christ, and his church. But what-
ever power Satan may possess, it is manifest he must have had before
his fall. We cannot suppose him to have acquired anything by his rebellion,
to be able to do more against us, than he could have done for us if he had
continued to stand in his lot among the unfallen sons of light. It is in this
sense we understand the power of the angels ; to save or to destroy, they can
employ the agency of the elements. Of course, all their acts are mysterious;
and whether they rain brimstone on the devoted city, or smite with death the
slumbering camp — whether they cut off the firstborn of the Egyptians, or
decimate the armies of Israel to rebuke a monarch's pride, they are as much
the servants of God as any destructive powers which they employ. The
elements are but the angels under another name — fire, hail, snow, vapour,
and stormy wind fulfilling his word. This absolute subserviency of the angelic
ministries to the design of God is beautifully intimated by their waiting for
the voice which was above the firmament; for though they had wings, wings
which would bear them with lightning speed through fields of space, yet no
sooner was the voice of the Almighty heard, from the firmament that was over
their heads, than they stood reverently waiting to know what was heaven's
next bidding. " When they stood," says the sacred writer, " they let down
their wings." Furthermore, it is noted of these living creatures, that they ran
and relumed as the appearance of a flash of lightning; they ran and returned,
to intimate the holy alacrity with which they entered upon the service of God,
the resoluteness with which they persevered till their mission was accom-
plished; and, then, the obedient speed with which they returned to him who
sent them, each giving, even as we must give, account of himself to God.
And, then, not to insist upon other particulars, how largely are we interested
in that picture of the vision which tells us, that whithersoever the Spirit was
to go, the living creatures went — " thither was their spirit to go." For he tells
us, that whatever angels do, it is the Holy Spirit of God which sets them at
work ; that, endued with the loftiest intellects, as they are, they do nothing of
their own wisdom ; that, equipped with the loftiest powers, as they are, they
do nothing of their own strength; and that it is at the command and impulse
of the Divine Spirit that they set out, they proceed, they finish, they return.
We read of great things being done by angels; and if they suggest good
thoughts, if they strengthen the slayer in his anger, if they shut the lion's
mouth, if they reveal to holy men things that shall be liereafter, if they open
prison doors to set free the faithful servants of God, if tiiey conduct entranced
apostles through the realms of the invisible world, yet the power to do all
these things worketh in them that self-same Spirit, dividing to every one seve-
rally as he will. And tlius we are taught that angels submit, even as we our-
selves must submit, to Divine guidance. " As many as are led by the Spirit of
God, they are the sons of God," be they angels or be they men. o creature
wisdom can guide itself, and no creature excellency can uphold itself. The
influences of the Eternal Spirit are as needful to keep an archangel in the way,
as they are to maintain in his steadfastness the weakest of the saints of
The general thought of the vision, however, that of the subordinate ministry
of angels in the government of the world, should be comforting to us, were
it only for this, that it helps the mind to grasp more easily the great mystery
of an individual promise — brings a little nearer to the level of our finite
conceptions the nature of that diffused, and unslumbering energy, whicli holds
up the goings of each one of us in the path of life. " The chariots of God are
twenty thousand, even thousands of angels." When we sleep, when we wake,
when we journey, when we rest, tliey are about us in all their myriad and
unseen strength. ot an arrow flies, but an angel wings it; not a sickness
wastes, but there is an angel to set its bounds. If it had been theirs for some
months past to sit on the ramparts of a beleagured fortress, if it had been
theirs to repel the arrival of advancing forces, if it had been theirs to swell
the river and to submerge the plain, equally so is it theirs, as we have just
heard, to put honour on a nation's prayers, to give victory to a nation's arms,
by giving into our hands the stronghold of Mahommedan pride; and, with it,
we may hope, the petty miscreant who has helped to fan the flame of the fires of
this fanatical rebellion. Yes, it is a voice from the firmament over their heads
that orders .nil this ; each one of all the reigning host has had bis separate
mission to fulfil. Our very little ones, whom fiends have helped to lay in
their Saviour's bosom before their time, had their angel standing by them,
waiting the bidding of him in whose hands our times are, whether to ac-
company the whirlwind in its wasting march, or to pause and lay down their
But the machinery of an overiuling Providence is laid open more perfectly
in the second part of the vision, or that which describes the appearance of the
wheels — wheels moving in necessary consentaneousness with the angels, be-
cause one inspiring energy actuates tliem both. " Tor," says the prophet,
" the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels." Of course, the idea of
the subserviency of all things to a divine end is as plainly implied here as in
the case of the angels, represented as lifting or letting down their wings as the
voice above the firmament should give the word. But the wheels seem in-
tended to bring the chain of moral providence another link nearer to earth, to
connect heaven's direct and first liand ministries with those secondary agencies
which are brought out by the instrumentality of man ; in a word, to show us
that just as God works by the employed service of angels, so angels work by
means of that complicated variety of human interests, which in tlie iiands of
Infinite Wisdom become shaped and subordinated to the highest ends.
Tiiese wheels, then, having the breath of the Spirit in them, and their forces
guided by the burning cherubim, bear onward the chariot of moral govern-
ment. I,et us note two or three things with respect to them — their appear-
ance, their motion, their peculiar structure.
As to their appearance, it was beautiful ; they were of the colour of a beryl,
the briglif azure of the heavens when the last cloud has melted awtiy — uniform,
unbroken, calm. Such one day will God's government seem. It was
majestic; their rings "were so higli lliat they were dreadful." A feeling of awe
inspired as you looked up at their stupendous vastness and silent worshipful-
ness, just as when sitting at the base of some Alpine rock you gaze upward at
its unapproached and untrodden ridge. Such are God's ways ; they are far above,
out of our sight. Tiiose wheels, the prophet saw, were higher than heaven,
deeper than eartii ,and girt round with their circling bands the earth and all that
dwell therein. "Oh Lord, how unsearchable are thy judgments, and thy ways
past finding out !" Past finding out by us, that is; not, therefore, without an
end, without a rule, without an infinite intelligence to direct and guide; for
it is added, these wheels were full of eyes round about. They knew where
they were going — that is, the Spirit which was within them knew. It might
be, that every turn, every revolution of this gigantic wheel should tinge
with an altered hue the destinies of thousands ; setting up one and casting
down another, humbling nations in their pride, or lighting up homes with
gladness, delivering a good man from his fears, or prospering schemes of
perfidy and wrong. Yet were there eyes in the wheels, eyes of wisdom, good-
ness, mercy, and love. The dispensation hath respect to an end, whether it
befal a nation or a man only. That end might be to teach, or to warn, or to
correct, or to take ofT from creature confidence, or to arouse to a sense of
neglected trust, to remind a nation of what God expects from it, or to humble
the sinner for his forgotten vows; an end there always is, and to them that
look for it, an end not hard to see.
Tliere may be mystery in these Indian troubles which have come upon us;
but there is no blind ruling of chance in them; no careless, random, disordered
movement of the wheels. They have a mission, a tongue, a purposed result ;
if they should show us what heathenism is — "implacable, cruel, truce-
breaking, without natural aflfection," delighting in human butchery with a keen-
ness which we had supposed was confined to demons, and carrying all the
barbarities of its Moloch theology into the revenges and quarrels of daily life —
if they show us what conciliating the prince of darkness is, what a timid neu-
trality in God's battles will always be, they show us, too, what a withering male-
diction heaven addresses against men or nations, if they faithlessly or cowardly
put off their harness when he bids them gird it on. " Curse ye Meroz, said the
angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came
not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty." If I
say, our recent disasters teach us this, we shall see that there was in them a
jar-reaching providential end. One thing is certain, tliat Mahommedanism is
doomed, and that Hindooism must fall. We may have been faulty, we have
been faulty, not only in the neglect of direct missionary work, but in thai which
might have been more effectual than missionary work, namely, in not bring-
ing to bear upon the native mind the influences of Christian literature, Chris-
tian intelligence, Christian morality, and above all. Christian lives. But,
for all this, and notwithstanding our manifold short-comings, our religion has
made itself felt there; and it is the fear of the triumpli of the cross over the
cresceut, and not anything to be complained of in British rule that has drasvn
down upon us this Mahommedan hate. But as usual Satan has oversliot his
mark. He has been furthering the Lord's work unwittingly ; he has made so
manifest and palpable the folly of our let-alone principle that the whole
civilized world is crying shame upon our sinful indifference. And, now, such
a change seems to have come over the national mind, that the press is as loud
as the pulpit, the politician is as vehement as the philanthropist, in urging by
all the sacred interests of civilization and humanity to give India no rest till
every Mahommedan temple is, razed to the ground, and the waters of the
Ganges roll turbidly with tlie dust of idols and the fragments of demolished
shrines. To this result prophecy has long been telling us to look forward.
All the wlieels of God's providence for a long time have seemed to be rolling
that way. And though to us they may seem to be at a stand now, perhaps to be
going back, to the Spirit that guides their movements they are not so. Heaven
and earth are silently and invisibly working together ; the wheels know their
courses, they are full " of eyes round about."
Let us observe what is said with regard to the motion and structure of
those wheels. Thus, you will perceive, it is emphatically noted of them, and
of the living creatures, that their motion was always onward — "And they
went every one straightforward : whither the Spirit was to go they went; and
they turned not when they went." Progression is the law of all worlds, the
unchanging characteristic of the Divine administration. ot only must the
end come — that fixed result in the Divine purpose " when the kingdoms of
this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ," but all the
revolutions of human society, all the changes and improvements in the arts of
life, all the new worlds of thought and enterprize opened up by the discoveries
of science, are to help on God's work ; and if rightly moved will readily obey
to so hasten on his chariot with more beneficent speed. Their appearance
and their work, says the prophet, was as it were a wheel within a wheel ; intimat-
ing that commerce, civilization, laws, cultivated refinement, diffused know-
ledge, interchange of brotherhood between distant nations, dynasties changing
hands, surplus populations settling down among strange people -er on new
soils, are all to be developed, as they are manifestly capable of being developed,
into great religious agencies to hasten the world's regeneration, and urge for-
ward the chariots of God. But this " wheel in the middle of a wheel' seems
to intimate something more than multiplicity in the agency employed; it bids
us expect, in the working out of great providential purposes, intricacy, com-
plication, perplexity, embarassed action, reasonable anticipations failing, pro-
mising openings closed, things turning out adverse and contrary as if provi-
dence were shutting the door against himself, and wheel moving contrary to
wheel making the whole work stand still. Many a complex piece of material
mechanism, would, when seen for the first time, convey an idea of crossing
and conflicting motion; how much more should we expect to find involved
and intricate working in that moral mechanism by which God rules the world !
"The wheels were so high that they were dreadful;" and so complicated that
within one wheel was anotiier wheel, and the movement of one was in this
direction, and the movemtnt of the other appeared in that; but yet tiie
machine never turned, never became disordered, but always kept straight-
forward. What is this, but to show to us that we see but parts of our Maker's
ways ; that our field of vision is contracted, and to things which are passing,
now, utterly powerless to connect them with an indefinitely extended plan, or
even with the working of some concurrent influence, some small but invisible
wheel silently and secretly working out for us a future good.
It is often, thus in individual experience. ' All these things are against me,'
we exclaim ; 'the door of usefulness is closed; plans of good are frustrated ;
which ever way I turn it seems as if there were some fixed providence to
hedge me in. The gourd withers; I do well to be angry; lam not able to
bear this trouble ; Lord kill me I pray tiiee out of hand ; I am rejected and
hated as a prophet ; let me lie down under thy shade and die.' Oh, how little
thought the holy man who used those words of the wheel within the wheel, of
tlie silent substream of mercy which was flowing for ever beneath the rolling
billows of adversity, of the higher degrees of heavenly-mindedness and de-
votion, of faith and trust, to which, by the ladder of sanctified suffering, it
was the will of God he should ascend. Thus, ever true is that Scripture — "I
will bring the blind by a way they know not; I will lead them in paths that
they have not known." Vast, awful, intricate, capped with mist and cloud,
may the rolling wheels of God's chariot seem, but whether to communities or to
individuals it shall be found in the end, " they went every one straight-
forward, and they turned not as they went."
Let us, however, conclude with a word on the third and last part of this in-
structive vision. Above the wheels, above the living creatures, above the firma-
ment that was over their heads " was the likeness of a throne," and " upon the
likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon
it." Moreover, " as the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the
day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about." To this
great consummation the whole vision had been working up. We have been
looking upon the finite, and the instrumental, and the subordinate, and the
visible. Types and emblems have been brought before us, witii the minis-
tering spirits, providential agencies, order evolved out of confusion, brightness
breaking out of the clouds, the wheels of the divine chariots moving with
majestic and onward calmness; all the adverse, crossing, conflicting interests
of man, not only opposing no hindrance, but even made to assist and speed
the march. But now we ascend to a higher region. W^e are carried beyond
the cross currents of this lower world ; there is nothing turbid, agitated, per-
plexing, now; we have no careering clouds, no sweeping whirlwinds, no anger-
flashing fires. But an enthroned presence; light ruling in a world of light;
and yet, withal, a glorious similitude which mortal eyes might look upon; a
God-man administrator of a subject universe. He that sat upon the throne
"was the likeness as the appearance of a man." Brethren, be this our rock,
this our refuge, this our rest for ever. The Lord reigneth, the Lord Jesus
reigneth, the tender, sympathising, God-man Mediator reigneth. The eternal
power of the Godhead is a truth I could learn from nature's Bible. She has
written it upon her chained lightnings, upon lier bounded seas, upon the
Stars, obedient in tlieir courses, in the stability of her everlasting hills. But
it is from visions to a captive prophet by the river of Chebar, from inspira-
tions vouchsafed to an apostle in bonds, or to an evangelist in exile, that I
learn the blessed truth, that I am a subject of the Mediator's world ; that all
things were made for, and put under, the dominion of the crucified ; that he
who dwells in light unapproachable, holding in his hands the destinies of all
being, has " the likeness of the appearance of a man." Brethren, is not this the
reason why judgment is never unmingled with mercy — why the north wind
bloweth not in the day of the east wind — why often unto mortal eyes clouds
and darkness are about his throne, while to those who have faith there is always
an " appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain" — that this
world, with all its varieties of dark and chequered lot, its calamities, its
cruelties, its crimes, its wars amongst states, its strifes among brethren, its
divisions in the hearts of the churches, its feuds, its bitterness, its sorrows
in domestic life, is still Christ's world, the mighty platform of achieved re-
demption, the seed plot of that immortal kingdom which he has founded for
the souls of God's elect? And this kingdom must stand. That rainbow which
Ezekiel saw was a sure pledge of it; and as soon should the throne itself
give way, over which its arching brightness spans, as that God should permit
his covenant to depart from us, or suffer his faithfulness to fail.
Wherefore, brethren, in view of any fears which may disquiet you, whether
of evil tidings from abroad, or of some threatening sorrow at home, get your-
selves under the shadow of the Mediator's wings. You cannot alter the in-
volved and contradictory revolutions of the wheels; you cannot tell why the
angels of God's providence alight upon this dwelling, and pass over that.
Wherefore you must look higher; who fills that throne, which is above the
firmament of providential rule to him. It is the angel who hath redeemed us from
all adversities, the God who hath loved us with an everlasting love, the Sa-
viour who hath bought us, and washed away our sins in his own blood.
" Wherefore, kiss the Son, and bow;" sit at his feet and learn; come boldly to
his throne and pray; lay hold on his covenant; and the rest you must leave
with him. Let the whirlwind sweep, let the living creatures scatter, let the
wheels of a mysterious providence pass over and crush every earthly throne,
still the bow is pledged, the throne is pledged, the word of the God-man
Mediator is pledged to the truth of that unfailing promise — <'All things work
together for good to them that love God."

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