MR. G. BEEBE: – Will you be so kind as to give a full and free exposition through the SIGNS of Ezekiel xxxvi. 25-27 inclusive, and oblige one inquiring friend of the truth?
W. P. SCOTT.
Lasater, Texas, Nov. 15, 1880
REPLY. – Although we feel incompetent to give a full or perfect exposition of the text referred to, or any other part of the sacred volume of divine truth, we will freely express such views as we have upon any scriptural subjects on which we believe the Lord of life and glory has given us any light, for if to any extent, however limited the scriptures have been opened to our understanding, “freely we have received,” and freely we desire to communicate. The text proposed for elucidation reads thus: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.”
All these things God has unconditionally promised to do for his people Israel. Not however for or in consideration of any goodness in them, or good works performed by them. To cut off all grounds of regarding the fulfillment of the gracious promises as a reward of merit for their fidelity to him, he tells them plainly that it is for his own sake, and when this work shall be done, “Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations. Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.” All this work is of the self-moving goodness of God to poor guilty sinners; and yet so vitally indispensible to their salvation that without it they must inevitably die. The holy requisitions of the divine law are expressed by the same prophet, xviii. 31, and the stern and inexorable demand is made on them thus: “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart, and a new spirit; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.” No other alternative is given by the law than strict obedience to all its precepts, and that flowing from a new heart and a right spirit, or in default of this, death is inevitable. This the law demands of the poor, bankrupt sinner, regardless of his utter inability to cast from himself all his transgressions, or to make him a new heart or a new spirit. Yet without a deliverance from all (every one of the whole multitude of his transgressions) he must die in his sins. And without a new heart, which he is unable to make, and a new spirit, which can only be supplied by a new and spiritual birth, the uplifted sword of inflexible justice will assuredly smite him dead. How effectually does the law stop every month, and make the guilt of the whole world appear, before God!
But what the law could not do, it being weak through the flesh, it could make nothing perfect, nor could it accept of anything that was not perfect; but what no transgressor of the holy law could do for himself, is abundantly supplied in the rich provisions of the new and better covenant presented in our text. Compare Ezekiel xviii. 35, with chapter xxxvi. 25-27, and we have an illustration of Rom. viii. 2-4, “For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.” The law of God could only demand perfect and perpetual obedience or the infliction of its penalty on the transgressors; this is exemplified in the personal experience of every child of God. When the commandment comes home to the quickened sinner, sin revives, his guilt is felt and confessed, his mouth is stopped, and his utter inability to cast away from him all, or even any of his transgressions, or to make himself a new heart or a new spirit, is most despairingly felt, and he can find nothing for him in the law but death. And in this despairing condition he remains until Christ is revealed in and to him, as the great fulfiller of all the jots and tittles of the law, fulfilling its righteousness in him. Then in this experience is manifested, that, not by works of righteousness by himself performed, but according to the mercy of God he is saved, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which is shed on him abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, and that being justified by the grace of God, he is made an heir of God, according to the hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began. Titus iii. 5-7 and i.2.
“Then will I” (not some self-styled priest or prelate, but God himself) “sprinkle clean water,” not from the polluted fountains of earth, but such as John saw proceeding from the throne of God and the Lamb, “upon you, and ye shall be clean,” &c. This is not sprinkled by the hand of man upon the face, but by God himself, and by it the heart is sprinkled from an evil conscience, and the body is washed in pure water. – Heb. x. 22. “And ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.” God only can wash and cleanse a poor sinner from all his filthiness; he alone can wash and make him whiter than snow. This is a wonderful work, and a work which none but God himself can do; but this great work, amazingly great though it is, is not all that God has promised in our text to do for his Israel, for the putting away all our sins would only restore to us the primeval state of sinless purity in which we were created and stood before sin entered the world. We require not only to be cleansed from all our pollutions, transgressions and idols, but, in order to qualify us for spiritual enjoyment we must have a new heart, and a new spirit, of a higher order than any heart or spirit we ever had before; it is not the old heart and fleshly spirit born of the flesh, revised, reformed and improved, for it must be new, and God has not only promised in our text that he will give to his Israel a new heart, and to put a new spirit within them, but he has also promised to take the old stony heart, and give them a heart of flesh. “And I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them.” We cannot walk in the statutes and keep the judgments of the Lord with any heart or spirit we have by nature, “for the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” “Because the carnal (fleshly) mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” – Rom. viii. 7. The law of the spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus, by which God’s people are made from the law of sin and death, is only given to them who love him. Jesus says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” This law is not written and graven on tables of stone, as the Sinai covenant was given to the carnal Israelites, but it is written on the fleshly tables of their heart. No services can be acceptable to Christ that does not work by love; and so love which qualifies the child of God to serve God acceptably is a fruit of the Spirit, we cannot possess it until by the new birth it is shed abroad in our hearts. Walking in the statutes and keeping the judgments of our Lord are effects of an efficient cause. What is that cause? is it found in man that walketh? Does it proceed from pious training of our will or resolutions? By no means. God claims that he himself is the cause, and dare we dispute his claim? He says plainly in our text, “I will cause them to walk in my statutes, and to keep my judgments.” If then we set to our seal that God is true, we must admit that our obedience to him is an effect of which he is himself the sole cause. “It is God that worketh in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure” – Phil. ii. 12.
We find the summing up of the stern demands of the law of God set forth in the eighteenth chapter of this faithful prophet, and the utter inability of man to fulfill the inexorable demand, and in the thirty-sixth chapter the gracious promise of God to accomplish all that is essential to our perfect and everlasting salvation. And as God our Savior will not give his glory to another, nor his praise to graven images, he reminds us, that it is not for our sake, not for works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the world began. And he tells us that in the fulfillment of these promises, his saved people shall remember their own evil ways, and shall loathe themselves in their own sight for their iniquities, and for their abominations. Those therefore who, like the ancient Pharisees, boast of their good works and good resolutions, as efficacious in bringing God under obligation to accept them, and blasphemously denounces him as being unjust if he rejects their plea, are not the people to whom these promises apply, for they do not loath themselves, nor are they ashamed for all their evil ways and abominations. But the humble and contrite recipients of this amazing grace from the depth of their overflowing hearts cease not to cry, “Not unto us, O God, but unto thy name be all the glory,” while they take shame and loathing to themselves.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Middletown, N. Y.
Signs of the Times
Volume 49, No. 5.
March 1, 1881