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EZEKIEL, XXXIII. 31. And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.
It is not material to enquire, when Ezekiel lived, or when the words of the text were divinely communicated to him. He was a true prophet, and it was his principal business to speak the words of God to the people. It was not uncommon for the people of Israel, in times of degeneracy, to manifest much displeasure and enmity against the messengers of the Lord, who declared to them his truth, inculcated his commands, and reproved them faithfully for their errors and their sins. But, at the time to which the passage before us relates, it seems, the people made no open opposition to Ezekiel. They attended regularly on his ministrations, and heard him with apparent seriousness and satisfaction. "They come before thee as the people (the obedient people of God) cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words."-They indeed seemed to be much delighted with some of his discourses, and to be greatly charmed with the ingenuity and eloquence of his public addresses. "Lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument." v. 32.-But however well pleased they might be with his style and elocution, they were far from being gratified with the matter of his discourses. Though they came regularly to hear him; yet they were inwardly chafed and irritated with his plain and pungent exhibition of truth and duty. While they gave him tokens of respect and friendship, to his face, they were saying hard things against him and his preaching, behind his back. And though they seemed to hear his words with a patient and obedient ear; yet they would not do them. The prophet was perhaps flattered with this show of sincerity, docility and cordiality among his hearBut he, who sent him, and whose eyes are in every place, beholding the evil and the good,' was pleased to undeceive him. "Thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord. And they came before thee as the people com
eth, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love but their heart goeth after their covetousness."
Here was the root of the evil; the covetousness of their hearts. This was 'the Achan in the camp.' This was the flint that turned the edge of the prophet's preaching. This was what led the people to talk against him, by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and to refuse to do as he said, notwithstanding their constant attendance upon his ministry, and their delight in the beauty and sublimity of his discourses. And what was there peculiar or strange in this effect of covetous desires and covetous practices, upon the stupid and disobedient people of Israel? Do not similar causes, in similar circumstances, ever produce similar effects? Covetous desires and covetous practices ever did and ever will prevent a cordial reception of Divine truth, and a cheerful performance of commanded duty. Human nature is the same, in all ages. Mankind all possess the same mental faculties and the same natural affections; and the hearts of the unsanctified answer to each other, as face answereth to face in water.'
The truth of God is unchangeable as his own nature. His law has never been altered, and never will be; for it is perfectly holy, and just, and good. All the commands of God, whether moral or positive, are comprehended in the great law of love. Without that love, which is the fulfilling of the law, it is impossible to obey one of the Divine commands. In all his commands, God requires the heart. He accepts nothing as duty, which is not done with a disinterested and supreme regard to his glory.
But covetousness is the very reverse of that love, which the Divine law requires. It is a branch at least, if not the stack and body of that selfishness, which is the transgression of the law. The covetous man values his own interest, because it is his own, and above all things else. His private happiness is the supreme and ultimate object of his desire and pursuit. "Covetousness is idolatry." It is putting self in the place of God, and worshipping the creature, instead of the Creator. The covetous man regards nothing as valuable, only as it can be made subservient to his own pleasure and profit. He has no concern for the interest and happiness of others, on their own account, but only as they are considered conducive to his own. He loves those only, who appear to love him, and to seek his interest. Those who seem to stand in the way of his schemes to obtain honour, wealth and pleasure, he hates. He would not relinquish his private interest to save the world. He will do nothing for his fellow-creatures, nor for God, without a prospect of gain. He never fears God or regards man, for naught. He must be paid for every thing. The great enquiry of the covetous generally is, Who will show us some temporal good?" What shall we eat; what shall we drink
and wherewithal shall we be clothed ?"-How shall we gratify the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life?-How shall we get and keep that which administers to our prese10; comfort and sensual indulgence? But, if they extend their they sometimes do, to a future world; the great enquiry is, 20ty shall appease God and conciliate his favor, with t. e least possib bor and expense. They mean to have just religion enough cape future punishment. They mean to preserve both the rap of the world, and the favor of God. They mean to serve Goa sná Mammon, at the same time. They care not how much they alshoror God, nor how little they do for the good of men, if they can main a hope of their future safety. They are lovers of their own selves, and all seek their own things.
Such being the nature of covetousness, it is easy to see, that it ever must prevent a cordial reception of Divine truth, and a cheerful obedience to the Divine commands. Covetousness often prevents a knowledge of truth and duty. In many instances, it renders men too penurious to be at the expense necessary to acquire knowledge-to furnish the means of reading and study, and to support the appointed and public ministrations of the word of God. It is often the case, that the covetous are so much surfeited with the cares of this world, so intent upon buying, selling and getting gain, that they cannot afford time to search the scriptures, to read books calculated to explain them, and but seldom even to spend two or three hours of holy time in the place of public worship and instruction. Hence they live almost as ignorant of the truths and duties of the gospel, as if they inhabited the interior of Africa, or the islands of the South Sea. But sometimes they come to the appointed teachers of religion, and sit before them as the people of God, and hear their words from Sabbath to Sabbath. And even when this is their practice, their covetousness prevents a cordial reception of the truth. Where their treasure is, there are their hearts, and thither their thoughts and im aginations wander, even in the house of God. In the midst of the most solemn offices of devotion, and under the most instructive and impressive declarations of sacred truth, their heart is going after their covetousness. Their ears are dull of hearing. Ever learning, they never come to the knowledge of the truth. But if they attend, as they sometimes may, so as to obtain some degree of knowledge an and understanding of Divine truth; they are far from giving it a cordial reception. Their hearts rise against it. The truth is after godliness. The essential truths of the gospel, are all of such a nature, that they cannot be cordially received, without benevolent feelings. That God is a holy sovereign, working all things after the counsel of his own will; That the Divine law, which requires constant, disinterested love to God and men, is holy, just and good; That the carnal
mind, or heart of man, is enmity against God, and full of evil; That Christ, who is God as well as man, by the sacrifice of himself, condemned sin, and manifested the wrath of God against sinners; That he is the only Saviour, and saves only penitent believers; That men are able to believe, but never will, till born of the Spirit; That all whom the Father gave him, shall come to him, and will be kept by Divine power unto salvation; and that all others will die in their sins and suffer endless punishment:-These are some of the essential truths of the gospel, against which a covetous heart always rises in opposition. The love of the truth, is a branch of that disinterested love, which the Divice law requires.
Those, whose hearts go after their covetousness, never truly and cheerfully obey the commands of God. If they yield outward obedience to any positive precept; it is of constraint, and not willingly.' All the commands of God, rightly understood, are grievous to the covetous. The commands of God require a supreme regard to his authority, unconditional submission to his sovereign will, a single eye to his glory, humility, self-denial, a willingness to part with all one has, to promote the public good, and advance the glory of God our Saviour. In a word, all the Divine commands are summed up and comprehended in the two great commandments of the law, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind, and strength, and thy neighbor as thyself. "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." The Divine commands are all essentially alike. They are all holy. He who loves one of them, loves them all and he who hates one of them, hates them all. They are all repugnant to the feelings of every selfish heart, but most grateful to the feelings of every truly benevolent heart.
1. When the general prevalence of covetousness is considered, it is not unaccountable, that so many should misunderstand, disrelish and reject the truths of the gospel, and live in habitual disobedience to the plainest commands of God. While 'every one is seeking his gain from his quarter,' it is morally impossible that they should relish the humbling truths and self-denying duties of Christianity. Before men can cordially receive the words, or cheerfully do the will of Christ, they must have a portion of his spirit, who though he was rick yet for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty, might be rich.'
2. A regular attendance on the preaching of the Gospel, is no certain evidence of real piety. Habitual neglect of the word and worship of God, is pretty sure evidence of a want of piety. Those whe love God, love his word, and delight to frequent the 'place where his honor dwells.' But persons may come to the house of God, like his
people, and hear his word with apparent attention and delight, while their hearts are going after their covetousness. Many, it is to be feared, deceive themselves by inferring the safety of their state from the punctuality of their observance of the externals of religion. "In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision but faith which worketh by love. Not the hearers of the law are just before God; but the doers of the law shall be justified."
3. Considering the native depravity of mankind, we have more cause to wonder that so many, than that so few, come to hear the searching truths of God's word. Though many refused to hear the prophets, and many went away from Christ and his apostles, and many evil doers. at this day, who hate the light, will not come to it, lest their deeds should be reproved; yet very many, in all ages, who were without the love of the truth, have been induced to sit silently under the most plain, discriminating and pungent preaching. Indeed, it is believed to be true, as a general observation, that there is the fullest attendance, where there is the fullest declaration of all the counsel of God. But how shall we account for this? It is only to be accounted for, on the principle suggested by the chief apostle, that 'the truth commends itself to every man's conscience in the sight of God.' The selfishness of the heart may prevent obedience; but it cannot always prevent conviction. And when the evidence of truth is seen by the undertanding, and its power felt in the conscience; the most stout-hearted find it hard to kick against the pricks.'
4. That great numbers are disaffected with any doctrine preached, is no evidence that it is not both true and profitable. It might be so, if all men had faith, and possessed that charity which rejoiceth not in iniquity, but in the truth. But if the majority ever have been, and still are lovers of pleasures, rather than lovers of God, and seek their own things, instead of the things of Jesus Christ; the popularity of a doctrine is rather an evidence of its falsehood, than of its truth. It is true, that the doctrine of Christ may be exhibited in a manner exceptionable and disgusting to the pure in heart; but it is equally true, that no suavity of manner or acceptableness of words can render it palatable to carnal hearts and worldly minds. Numbers weigh nothing against the truth and importance of a doctrine preached, if the disaffected generally make it manifest by word and deed, that their hearts are going after their covetousness.
5. What an odious disposition is covetousness! It steels the heart against the truth of God. Under its influence, men efuse to obey the known will of their Maker. It leads those, who are most highly favored with the means of instruction, to act a hypocritical part towards the servants of God, who show unto them the way of life, making professions of esteem and respect, while they are 'talking against them by