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ABANDONMENT TO THE SPIRIT
Notes on the Book of Ezekiel
The book of Ezekiel contains in it a wonderful picture of abandonment to the Spirit of God. Apart from its prophetical bearing, we may trace in it the work of God in a soul, and then through that soul as a pliable and obedient instrument in His hands.
The first chapter commences with opened heavens given to a soul prepared of God. Ezekiel was a priest, already separated to minister unto the Lord, but by circumstances detached from his ordinary duties. At the time the opened heavens came we find him among the captives by the river of Chebar. He was the only one who saw these visions, because he was waiting on God in spirit, and it is only to souls thus still before the Lord that God reveals Himself.
“There,” in the midst of others, the “hand of the Lord” was upon him, and the “word of the Lord” came expressly unto His waiting servant, speaking to him not only in words, but, as it were, in picture-lessons, as a mother would teach her child.
First there was given to Ezekiel:
The Vision of the Living Creatures
“I looked . . . behold a fire infolding itself, and . . out of the midst of the fire . . . came the likeness of four living creatures” (ch. 1 v 4&5).
Scofield, in his Bible notes, says this passage of Scripture is highly figurative. The actual meaning of the “living creatures” cannot be definitely settled by any expositor. Spiritually, however, we may use the Cherubim shown to Ezekiel as a Spirit-given picture of the new creation in Christ Jesus, born not only out of His death on the Cross, but out of the midst of the fire, the fire of the Holy Spirit. In the “new creation” pictured by these living beings, we can trace the image of Christ as the “Firstborn among many brethren”. In the “Eagle face” (v10) is suggested the Godward aspect of mounting up on the wings of faith and love in communion with God; in the “Ox face” the patient life of obedience to the will of God; in the “Lion face” the fearless boldness and the divine courage of the “Faithful Witness” (Rev. 3 v14); and in the “Man face” the perfect humanity of the Man Christ Jesus.
Even so, when conformed to the image of the Son (Rom. 8 v29) we see that those who are new creations in Christ, born out of the fire of the Holy Ghost, have power to commune with God; they live in the will of God and have fellowship with the Man Christ Jesus in His sufferings.
These “new creations” are also “joined one to another” (v11). “That they all may be one” (John 17 v21) can only thus be fulfilled. Then “they went everyone straight forward” (v12), “they turned not when they went”. How this reminds us of St. Paul as he cried, “I press toward the mark”, “this one thing I do”(Phil. 3 v13&14). They “follow on to know the Lord”.
In verses 15 to 21 we come upon the “wheels” as a marvellous picture of the life of the new creation in Christ, lived in full obedience to the Holy Spirit of God. “Whither soever the Spirit was to go, they went; thither was their spirit to go . . . for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels” (v20).
The Spirit of God in the wheels of circumstances, and the Spirit of God abiding and moving in the new creation, had no friction between them, for “the Spirit was . . . in the wheels”, and the Spirit of life was in the living creatures, therefore they moved together in perfect harmony.
This is a picture of life in the will of God. God wanted to teach Ezekiel what it meant to move in and with God, and God to move in him. Trustful obedience to the Spirit of God in him meant harmony with the Spirit of God in the wheels of circumstances working out “the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1 v11).
Furthermore these new creations lived and moved in the “terrible crystal” of God’s presence (v22), they dwelt “in the light, as He is in the light” (1 John 1 v7) with nothing between. The atmosphere was clear between them and God.
What do we know of this? When we live in God’s “terrible crystal” there are no shady corners, or twisted ways; no policy or tactics; no plannings or schemings; no deceptions or prevarications; no saying one thing and meaning another; no end justifying the means because it would answer our purpose. There is nothing that the world would use to reproach our God on our account, and which would not bear the search-light of God.
When God had thus given Ezekiel the picture of the new creation abiding and moving in Himself, He lifted his eyes higher still, far above visions of what can be, visions of blessed possibilities, to Himself. “Above . . . was the likeness of a throne . . . and a Man above upon it” (v26).
We shall never get to our right place, to the dust at His feet, till we get a sight of the Man upon the Throne (see Job 42 v5&6). Paul saw the “glory of that light” and from that moment said he counted “all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord”. Oh, may God lift up our eyes, that we may behold the Man upon the Throne!
When Ezekiel saw Him, he fell upon his face. Then God spoke to him, and bade him stand upon his feet (ch. 2 v1). Apparently he could not do even this, until the Spirit of God entered into him and set him upon his feet, enabled him to get up and stand. With God’s commands there is always included the power to obey. This vision to Ezekiel shows us God’s way of dealing with us. First comes the revelation of the new creation living and moving in the light and will of God, then He reveals the Man upon the throne, the Glorified Christ Himself! Next we find Ezekiel at His feet as one dead, like John at Patmos, and the Spirit of life from God entering into him in deeper power to work out in him the vision he had seen. This is God's way.
How God Prepares His Instrument
“He said . . . Son of Man, I send thee . . . and thou shalt say . . . Thus saith the Lord God” (2 v3&4).
Now we come to Ezekiel’s commission, and how he was prepared by the Holy Spirit for being used by Him, primarily as a messenger of God, next as a “sign”, and then as a seer telling of things to come.
The very first condition was the interview with God, and the receiving of the commission “I send thee” (2 v3). The second was “eating” (3 v1) or receiving of the “roll” into his very being, ere God could say, “Go speak”.
This lesson is one for all who would carry the Lord’s message. The question is so often asked, “How shall I prepare for this class, or meeting?” Here is the answer “Eat, go, speak”. “Receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears, and go.”When the words are not “eaten” by the messenger, they fall powerless on the ears of the hearers. They must become part of the inner life, wrought into heart and character by the Holy Spirit, if we are to be true messengers of God.
Then again comes the Glory (3 v12-14), and the Spirit of God laying hold of Ezekiel, lifting him up and taking him away. He goes in bitterness and in the “heat of his spirit” we read, but in spite of this, “the hand of the Lord was strong upon me”, he said. The next thing we see is that he is dumb, and again among the captives. He sat where they sat, and remained among them seven days (3 v15), “astonished” at all he had seen and heard.
What a strange preparation for an obedient soul for special service. We would have thought that all that had occurred previously would have been sufficient equipment. What was God doing with His servant? At least we can see He was making him pliable in obedience, and ready for all He purposed to do with him as His messenger to Israel. First He says “Go” and when he obeyed and went where he was sent, then he sat dumb among hiss brethren, with nothing to say, till God gave him the message. This is the way God trains His messengers. What difficulty He has in making us pliable in His hands! Oh that our hearts were open to the Spirit of God as a leaf of a tree is sensitive to the breath of the wind (Isa. 7 v2).
In Ezekiel’s story we see how God prepares His children so that they may be pliable and obedient to the Spirit of God. When the Holy Spirit bade him go to the plain, he went to the plain (3 v22-23), finding there the “glory of the Lord” so that he again fell on his face, and again the Spirit entered into him; there was a renewed influx of the Spirit, enabling him to rise to his feet, ready to fulfil any further commands from God. Now he is bidden, “Go, shut thyself within thine house” (3 v24), and then told of suffering which he would have to endure at the hands of others, without a word of reproval, until once more God would give him the message which, when it came, had no reference to the indignities the messenger had endured (3 v25-27). This is true self-abnegation and absolute obedience to the will of God.
And this is not all the testing God led Ezekiel into, so as to prove him in his surrender to the will of God, even as He proved Abraham. By sore experience Ezekiel had to prove that he was utterly yielded, even in family relationships, for when at the time of his wife’s death (24 v16) he is told not to weep, “he did as he was commanded”. Thus did he show also that he had learnt self-control in the most difficult realm of all, the realm of the affections. Oh, what it means to be obedient to God.
Again, in the giving of the message of God, Ezekiel had to be willing for the consequences according to the purposes of God, not the judgment of man. Once when he was speaking, a man died (11 v13), and the heartbroken messenger fell “upon his face, and cried with a loud voice, ‘Ah, Lord God, wilt Thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?’” How painful to be a messenger of judgment. He felt as if he could speak no more, but the Lord sent him forth again.
It may be that we who speak of “full surrender to God” are too little prepared for giving up ourselves in reality to God to be under the hand of the Holy Spirit. We are too rigid, whereas He must have us pliable. We are so fettered by our “machinery”, and say, “I cannot do my work unless I do it in this way!” and so He has to deal with us to get us out of our ruts. There is no freedom for the Spirit of God in cast-iron machinery. Let us not try to make others do exactly as we do, but help them to be what God can make of them individually. We should not like to see all our pots cast in the same mould, or a garden of flowers all of one hue. God gives every tree freedom to grow. May God keep us from hindering the work of the Holy Ghost in any of His children who are serving Him.
Are we willing to yield ourselves to the Holy Ghost? Do we realise that we are not ready for service till we have met with God so really that we know we have received our commission from Him? There is, alas, a vast amount of “Christian work” to-day that is not God’s work, that is, work carried on by God Himself through human vessels. “They made me keeper of the vineyards, but mine own vineyard have I not kept” (SofS 1 v6). Take care that God sends you, and then, whatever the apparent results are, it will be all.
Let us look again at chapter 3 v22-24. Ezekiel said, “The hand of the Lord was there upon me; and He said unto me, ‘Arise’ . . . I arose, and went forth . . . and behold, the glory of the Lord stood there . . . I fell upon my face. Then the Spirit entered into me . . . and said. . . .”. God was able to work in Ezekiel so mightily because he was pliable and instantly obedient to the Holy Spirit of God. See all through the story, from this chapter onwards, not the smallest resistance to the revealed will of God, or hesitation in obedience. God could count upon him to fulfil His will. What a blessed picture of a surrendered life.
How few of us are willing for this utter surrender, this absolute abandonment. But the apostles knew it at Pentecost (see Acts 2 v44-47), and if we are to know the real power of Pentecost it can only be upon these conditions, all private interests and personal considerations utterly merged in the interests of God and of His Kingdom. If God has turned His hand upon us in circumstances we do not understand to test our surrender and obedience, may we obey and trust implicitly our faithful God.
How God Used Ezekiel
1. As a Sign (4 v3).
We have seen how the first three chapters of the book of Ezekiel are taken up with the revelation of God to Ezekiel, and then His preparation of him for service. The Spirit of God entered into him, to work within him in accordance with the purposes of God. We read that the Holy Spirit “took him up”, taking him first to this place and then to the other, all to test and teach him how to be obedient to the Spirit of God. All that Ezekiel did was to trust and obey the Spirit of God without questioning, or hesitating. From chapter four, on to the end, we have the story of God’s work through Ezekiel. Let us look at him now as a sign. See how implicitly he obeyed God. A sign is always speaking, even unknowingly to itself. Are we signs and wonders? Pentecost is always followed by signs and wonders. David knew more about being a sign and wonder than many children of God now; he said, “I am as a wonder unto many”. Again see Zechariah 3 v8, “They are men of wonder”, and again Isaiah 8 v18, “Behold I and the children whom the Lord hath given Me are for signs and for wonders”. Ezekiel was a sign to Israel as he showed his willingness to suffer for his Lord. He was a sign in showing that his household goods belonged to God. He was a sign, and is a sign to us, in the way he ate his food. How many of God’s children are in bondage here? Surely we become a sign of grace when there is no grumble over these matters in daily life, because the body is manifestly under control. God dealt with Ezekiel on every point; loosing him from his religious prejudices (4 v8-17), and from bondage regarding food (4 v9-11). His body was evidently not his master, or it would have been hard to eat “by measure”. He was loosed from pride of appearance (v1); his property was at God’s disposal; when God told him to prepare stuff for removing, he did not say, “I like this place best”. We say, “such a nice church and Christian fellowship”. Or “I cannot move at an hour’s notice”. How comfortable we make our nests, and think, like Job, that we shall die in them.
Again look at him in chapter 21, as a melted soul. The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel saying, “Sigh therefore . . . with the breaking of thy loins; and with bitterness sigh before their eyes” (v6). “Cry and howl, son of man . . . smite therefore upon thy thigh” (v12). How ashamed people are of a tear. How reserved and unapproachable many of God’s children are. Transparency comes after contact with God. If a past experience will help to remove another’s difficulties, when utterly yielded to God we shall not mind being laid bare at the keenest point of our heart-life to give that help. The devil hates testimony, he will keep our mouths closed if he can, and hearts will remain untouched around us. The Lord must break us. He must pour us out if souls are to be blessed. Jesus wept. His tears flowed forth for Jerusalem and for the sins of His people Israel. He wept with the sorrowing ones at Bethany. We need melted hearts, hearts that will sigh and cry over the burdens and sins of others. Ezekiel was a sign when God took away the “desire of his eyes” at a stroke. God knew the sorrow, yet He bade him neither weep nor mourn. This teaches us that only when we take things which are painful to the natural man in a way contrary to the world, by the power of the resurrection life, shall we become a sign. Death of the body is not death to the child of God, who has learnt the death fellowship with Christ in His Cross and His grave. Paul says it is simply “sleep” (1Thess. 4 v14).
2. As a Prophet (6 v1-2).
Look now at Ezekiel as a prophet, that is, one who makes known the will of God to the people. See him sent out with his messages of judgment to the “blind leaders” and to the “princes” of Israel. See how God bore witness to the Word with signs following (11 v13). God seems to have used him alternately as a sign and then as a messenger, whilst Ezekiel was obedient to His will, obedient whether told to be dumb or to speak, to be used just as the Lord desired, in judgment or blessing. May all the Lord’s children learn what it means to be wholly given up to God for His will, for this is the normal life in God set before us in the New Testament. Ezekiel’s path was abnormal even in the days in which he lived, but described in the language of the Epistles of Paul, and set before us in the life of our Lord when He walked on earth, we see that Ezekiel’s obedience to God contains in germ the principles of the life every redeemed soul is called to live. For absolute obedience to the known will of God is a fundamental necessity if we are to be used by Him. For this we are bidden (Rom. 12 v1-2) to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, and not to be conformed to this world. Transformed by the renewing of the mind, it is possible for us, as well as Ezekiel, to prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God for each of our lives individually. The outworking of this obedience we can trace in the disciples in the early Church. They were not bidden to become signs in the same manner as Ezekiel, but there were signs to the people of Jerusalem that the Christ they had crucified still lived. So with us to-day we too may be signs of the reality of Christ in a way which God desires for this unbelieving generation. We, too, must be content to be used by God as silent witnesses (see I Peter 3 v1), or as messengers, holding forth the word of life; in either case unto God a sweet savour of Christ, both in them that are saved or in them that perish (11 Cor. 2 v15-16).
Passing over all detail, and the chapters on the judgment of Israel’s enemies, let us see how the further revelation of God to Ezekiel can be applied to the spiritual history of the soul.
The Defiled Temple
“Son of man, seest thou what they do ? . . . that I should go far off from My sanctuary” (8 v6).
In chapter 8 God shows Ezekiel His defiled temple, and how He has to withdraw to the threshold, because of the sins of Israel. Is this a message from God to some of us? Does God see in us ‘idols’, ‘the image . . . which provoketh to jealousy’ (8 v3)? Does He see sin in the inner sanctuary of the heart? In the ‘chambers of imagery’ is the imagination wrong? Is there sin in our worship (v16)? Sin in weeping for the loss of our pleasant things, rather than for grieving God (v14). Has God revealed idols in your hearts? Are they put away? Are you willing for them to be put away?
See again chapter 14. Ezekiel was sitting in his house, with the elders gathered before him, waiting for him to speak. Ezekiel sat looking at them, waiting for the word from the Lord. As he waited God revealed to him the condition of the men before him. He was taken hold of by God and given His message. The Lord bade him to tell them about their hidden sins, “Should I be enquired of at all by them?” He said they must turn from idols if they would hear His voice Is it not often the same now? Christians gather to hear God’s word. The speaker is fettered in giving the message. The Lord says, “idols! idols!” “Let them turn from them, and I will speak.” To-day, if anyone has an idol, or unsurrendered thing, let it go, no one will ever be truly blessed until the idols are gone.
God meets His people, and teaches them on the one condition that they have no part with sin. God has shown this to be possible. Look at God’s promises of deliverance in Ezekiel 36 v25-31. “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” (36 v25).
“All your idols”, “All your iniquity”, “All your uncleannesses”, “All your filthiness”, “from all will I cleanse you”. God can cleanse the heart. The blood of Christ avails. If you are willing to surrender all, God is willing to do His part and deliver you. See the promise of a “new heart”, and a “new spirit” (v26).
Do we each know personally this deep inward cleansing? God shows the defilement and the heart idolatry in chapters 8 and 14, then in chapter 36 He shows us His remedy. All through it is “I will”, “I will”, “I will”. It is God undertaking to cleanse His defiled temple. Have we trusted Him to do it? “Thus saith the Lord, I will yet for this be inquired of . . . to do it for them” (v37).
Following heart cleansing, and the blessed “Garden of Eden” experience, there comes to Ezekiel the vision typifying death and resurrection.
The Valley of Dry Bones
“The hand of the Lord . . . set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones . . . lo, they were very dry” (Ezek. 37 v1-2).
How does this apply to us spiritually? Apart from its teaching of the power of prayer, its primary reference to Israel, its blessed lesson of power in service, what is the spiritual meaning to a soul, as it follows the chapter on cleansing and fruitfulness? In picture-lesson it can teach us fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection. After the Lord has cleansed the heart He deals experimentally with the perverted life of nature. Objectively in Christ, the work is done, we have died in Him (Rom. 6 v1-13), but the Spirit of God must bring us into full conformity with His death, and the vision of the bones, “very dry”, pictures the experience of the believer when brought to the position of death with Christ. Just in proportion as this is actually wrought in us, the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus will quicken us into vital union with the Risen Lord.
I remember once hearing it put so clearly by one of God’s messengers. He drew a small circle to represent the heart, and this lay in the centre of a large circle representing the whole man. God first lays hold of the centre of the man, cleanses the heart, and takes the throne; then when the Holy Spirit is in possession of the heart He applies the death of Christ to the whole of the man, and makes room for His life from centre to circumference. If you go on yielding to His blessed working, saying ‘Yes’ to God in all the daily circumstances, your whole spirit, soul and body, will become God-possessed and under the control of the Holy Spirit dwelling in your spirit. No hindrance now to stop the flow of His life, and the fragrance of His presence ever reaching to all around, in love and peace and joy.
We are glad to have the grosser forms of self nailed to the Cross, but the Lord desires to get us where the whole of our personality is possessed of Him. We can know immediate deliverance from the power of sin, but it is only as we yield continuously to the Holy Spirit day by day that He can bring us into full conformity to Christ in His death and resurrection.
The last thing that we contend for is our spiritually-religious-self. We fight desperately hard to keep an experience, but to die means to let everything go, for in death we can hold on to nothing. It is then that we become pliable as Ezekiel was pliable, with no desires outside the will of God. We have nothing left to fight for. We die to our religious views, our old ways, and habits of thought, our certain methods of action, and even all the conscious experiences of the Presence of God, so that we possess God Himself rather than gifts from God. We surrender the ‘gift’ for the Giver.
But when we have surrendered all, He returns all purified and held in Himself for Himself. As long as we wanted to keep even a ‘blessed experience’, there was a mist between the soul and God. If we surrender even the manifested presence of God, we become rooted and fixed in GOD. Not that He wants to take all away, but He wants the surrender, that He might reveal Himself as an abiding reality. All is now stilled, all tossing over, and the soul calm in God. May He teach us what this means, and reveal Himself to the stilled soul! Yes, even the Bible may seem to be a sealed book for a time, and prayer becomes difficult, until we learn to sit silent at His feet and wait for Him to speak.
If God is taking any of us through this “valley of deep darkness” (Psa. 23 v4), let us trust Him in the dark (Isa. 1 v10). Do not try to understand, but say, “Lord, I trust Thee to reveal Thyself, to open the Scriptures to me, to teach me to pray”. Let everything pass from you that does not touch your personal need. Do not make any effort to grasp ‘truth’, and to take through your mind, but let God reveal to you all He wants you to know, and leave the rest.
Let us see, in the picture lesson, how God can meet the ‘dried-up’ souls that He Himself has been getting ready by bringing them into this condition.
The messenger, carried in the Spirit, prophesies, “O ye dry (souls) hear the word of the Lord”. Look over the valley, what a picture of helplessness, silence and death. Then there comes a “noise”, a shaking (v7), the living Word causes the movement. Ezekiel looked on and beheld “the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them”. He only gave the message, God did the work. This is a picture of real Spirit-service when God uses us; not we trying to ‘use’ God! When we know we have His message, we can stand and dare to give it, knowing that the Lord will confirm with ‘signs following’.
The Spirit-sent messenger at His inner command, now calls upon the Spirit. “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live” (v9). Behold the wondrous scene, the blessed outcome. A resurrection army of souls brought out of death into life through union with the Risen Lord.
Now let us see the divine interpretation. We are not left to decide what this means. “Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel” (v11). “Dried”, “lost”, “cut off”. Primarily true of Israel after the flesh, how true about the spiritual Israel, the Christian Church; how true of individuals. God brings you to the place where you can say, “I cannot pray, I cannot take that class, I used to be such an active worker, but now I feel useless, stupid, helpless, with all my strength gone”. Do you get a glimpse of what God is doing with you? He has brought to nought the ‘creaturely activity’, that the energy of God may come into you in resurrection power and abundant life.
As God thus deals with you, you must take heed that you rely upon the blood sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat, to guard you from the oppression of the enemy; and that you do not give Satan any advantage by failing in your practical duties, and in the service of God. Maybe you are bewildered at what is happening to you. But see what Daniel was told of the promised Messiah. He was to be “cut off, but not for Himself” (Dan. 9 v26). God wants you to see yourself “cut off” with Christ in His death, “cut off” from the old life, the old strength and power (Ezek. 37 v1). Has He brought you to see the deep mystery of the Cross, that you have died in Him? “Cut off” in Christ’s death, “cut off” with Christ, from your friends, from your old work, “cut off” from that blessed experience even of the ‘Garden of Eden’; all the fruitfulness apparently gone, the beauty, and the power. He is leading you on to know the Lord.
When the Lord Jesus died on the Cross the Father hid His face from Him; it seemed as if He were “cut off” from God. Yes! it seemed so, and He cried, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” One of the last and keenest things to surrender to God is His conscious presence. We are ready to go through fire and water with the manifestation of His presence; but when this is surrendered all seems dark.
“Bones dried”, “hope lost”, “cut off”, this is the scene before us! Remember how the disciples left all to follow Him, but they recoiled when He spoke of the path way of the Cross. They could let the Lord go to Calvary; they could not consent to lose the visible presence of their Friend. They could not understand His words, “I will see you again”. Do you not understand that when the soul reaches this point, there comes the Walk of Bare Faith? Cut off from yourself, from the old strength, from the old life, from old feelings, old companions, from dwelling in experiences, to dwell in God, this is God’s purpose for you (Col. 3 v3).
Israel had come to despair. How blessed the word of the Lord, “I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves” (37 v12-14). Turn to a few other passages to illustrate this. See Job 10 v6-21. See how David cried that he was ‘cut off’ in Psalm 88 v5-16. Then Jonah in Jonah 2 v1-6, and Isaiah also in Isaiah 6 v5, “I am cut off”.
God brings the soul to this point, but He does not leave it there. He is working to an end. He gives the message of life, “ye shall live” (v14). God interprets the vision. God will open your graves and bring you out. Then “ye shall know”.
It is suggestive that we next see the story of the joining of the two sticks made one in the prophet’s hand. (Ezek. 37 v16-22.) On resurrection ground there is union and oneness in God between His children. They are joined together in the risen life of Jesus. All divisions point to some degree of the carnal life. (1 Cor. 3 v3-4). All divisions end in the grave of Jesus; there can be no friction there. All ‘walls of partition’ even through external religious ordinances, between members of Christ’s Body, are done away by the Cross (Eph. 2 v11-18).
Now let us sum up these lessons for practical use. Here we are a band of Christians. Are any ‘captives’? Any not set free? We are here to get ‘Visions of God’, and the Lord has His eyes on those who are seeking God alone. He is here to set them free. Are you willing for Him to teach you? As we sit here, does the word come ‘expressly’ to you? In your will does He find absolute surrender? Surrender is not talk. There is a fashion of talking about the will of God, when we are all the time striving to make our will the will of God! This is not true surrender. He will put you to the test. Surrender is not dictating to God. Circumstances will show us, if we are willing to see, how far our will is yielded to God. We see the sad effects of self-will in our work. How much of our Christian work is marred through special friendships, special likes or dislikes. ‘I cannot work with so and so’. ‘I cannot do this or that’; self, not God’s will, ruling.
‘Absolute surrender’ means ANYTHING THAT GOD WILLS IN LIFE OR DEATH. When He sees us truly surrendered there is no delay in God taking possession. Will you have faith in the faithful God? Faith to believe that He is doing in you the work He undertakes to do?
Let us note there that the Spirit of God does not turn us into stones. He takes away the “stony” heart, to bring us out of the old life into a glorious life, the new life, full of resurrection power, with a heart of compassion and love shed abroad by the Holy Spirit.
Turn again to the vision of the valley. “They lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army” (v10-14). Let us step out upon the warrant of God’s word, speaking plainly of death with Christ, “ye died” (Col. 3 v3). “We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein?” (Rom. 6 v2). “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6 v11). May God bring into the life in Christ “an exceeding great army.
Following the promise of cleansing and the vision of the valley of dry bones, and passing over God’s dealings with the enemies of Israel in chapters 38 and 39, we see God giving to Ezekiel the vision of the new temple and its dimensions. Spiritually interpreted, and applied to ourselves, are not God’s dealings just in this order ? First, the heart cleansed and indwelt by the Spirit; then the believer brought into experimental fellowship with the death of Christ, followed by union with the Risen Lord in His life, and oneness with others on resurrection ground; then comes the vision of the New Temple.
God can now build up the new man, the creation, to be possessed and inhabited by the Triune God. Chapters 40 and 42 suggest a most beautiful picture of this. Then comes chapter 43, with the vision of the God of Glory taking possession of the wonderful building, whose pattern was all His own. “And the glory of the Lord came into the house . . . the glory of the Lord filled the house” (43 v4-5). “Behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east” (v2). “The glory of the Lord came into the house” (v4), just as when the tabernacle was reared, “The cloud covered the tent of the congregation and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle”. “The cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40 v34-35). “The house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; so that the priests could not minister by reason of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God” (2 Chron. 5 v13-14). So it is with the individual soul, there must be the preparation of the new temple for the God of Glory to possess and fill. The vision of God in complete possession is followed by the revelation of the priesthood acceptable to God, and their ministry within the veil.
The Ministry in the Sanctuary (Ezekiel Ch. 44)
“They shall enter into My sanctuary, and they shall come near to My table, to minister unto ME, and they shall keep MY charge (v16). In verses 9-14, we see those who might not enter into the most holy place. “No stranger . . . shall enter into my sanctuary”. Nor “the Levites that are gone . . . after their idols”, yet, the Lord adds, “they shall be ministers . . . ministering to the house . . . they shall not come near unto Me, to do the office of a priest unto Me”.
Oh! Solemn fact, no child of God with idols or uncircumcised heart can enter the inner court, although allowed outward service to ‘house’ and ‘people’. What a solemn word to us workers, showing that it is possible to be in outward active service, and yet have no experimental entrance to the holiest of all. Those that may draw nigh are the obedient children; “they shall come near to Me” (v15).
How do they enter? Clothed with linen garments; “no wool shall come upon them while they minister . . . within” (v17). Wool is a type of the natural or fleshly life; linen of the purity of God, of the robe of righteousness. Nothing unusual in their appearance is the thought that comes as we read verses 19 and 20. There is a tendency these days to label ourselves, to say by our dress or manner, ‘Stand by thyself, I am holier than thou”. Pure linen from head to foot God commanded for His priests, and He commands us to have the inward clothing of holiness. This will be manifested in the humility and lowliness of Christ.
In verse 21 the Lord forbids all fleshly excitement. How many mistake emotional life for life in the Holy Ghost. He will give the true joy of the Lord if the heart is entirely separated unto Him. In order to minister to the Lord we see, too, that He demands the utmost purity in all the lawful relationships of life (v22).
Verses 23, 24 show us the outward service of the priests who enter the inner court. “They shall teach My people the difference between the holy and profane”. They have power to discern what is according to the Word of God, and what is not; the difference between the life in the flesh and in the Spirit, between the carnal mind and the spiritual mind.
How subtle are the workings of the fleshly mind! How the children of God need sound judgment, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. “God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1 v7). The life in the inner court brings all three, and we need to see that we do not come short of them. Only in the Sanctuary of God can we have clear discernment, and be able to distinguish between things that differ. Let us ask for a sound mind, and power to discern the truth of God; then there will be God’s rest in the heart, and His voice will be known. In verse 27 we read that the sin-offering, the efficacy of the blood of Christ upon the mercy seat, is always needed, even for those who know the God of Glory in possession and the blessed ministry within the veil. “He shall offer his sin-offering, saith the Lord.” Then comes the summing up of it all “I am their possession”. “No possession in Israel” (v28), for God is all in all.
Passing over chapter 45 and 46 how does the book close? What is the end and aim of all God’s work in us? What is the practical outcome of being led on of the Spirit, from heart cleansing to the Spirit indwelling, from death with Christ to life in Christ? What is the outcome of the Spirit building within us the new man as a habitation of God? What is the outcome of the God of glory taking possession of the whole limit of the man, and leading him on to know the ministry in the inner court? What is the outcome of thus going with Christ to the Father, and being hid with Him in God?
The Living Waters
“He brought me again unto the door of the house; and behold waters issued out from under the threshold” (Ezek. 47 v1).
The closing vision makes this very plain. The whole purpose of God’s dealing is that living waters should be poured out in blessing to the whole world. We have traced the work of the Spirit within us, unceasingly leading us on and on in steady progression to the life in God. Now let us trace the outflow of the Spirit through the earthen vessel thus God-possessed, and God-environed. God Himself is now the source within.
At the centre the living waters begin to rise and issue from “under the threshold” (v1). Not an overflow, but an underflow; an under-current, deep, mighty, and strong, picturing the real power of the Holy Ghost, as it sweep along like an overflowing river. How silently it rises under the threshold of the house, the stream unperceived at first, but growing deeper and deeper as it flows on. The vision refers primarily to Israel, and will be fulfilled in them literally in the fulness of time, but “rivers of living water” is the promise to all believers. The prophet in a vision sees himself taken into the stream, first ankle deep, then on the bank again, one thousand cubits lower down, then back again into the stream crossing it knee deep, then again back on the bank. Then the moment came when the river carried Ezekiel: “The waters were risen, water to swim in” 47 v5).
When we have been really ‘immersed’ in the Holy Spirit, the stream of life may be only “ankle deep” at first, but the time comes when we, too, reach the “waters to swim in”. This depends upon our obedient faith in God in the testing hours symbolized by Ezekiel’s period on the bank of the river, for it is during these testing hours that the Spirit of God is deepening and purifying the channel. These times of apparent loss of the quickening stream allows, as a servant of God once said, the ‘silt’ of the natural life to be removed, for a purer and clearer channel for the living water. The “waters to swim in” can only be realised when the soul has ceased to rely upon any support but God Himself, just as a swimmer must cease to depend on the upholding of the bank, to cast himself upon the upbearing power of the water.
This was the vision that once came to a child of God as a picture of life in the Holy Ghost. She saw, as it were, a little straw floating on the ocean, borne this way and that way, sustained and carried by divine power. When the Holy Ghost thus has possession of a soul, with its full reliance upon Him, it must be borne along in spirit by His power. This is what we are needing. Let us cast ourselves upon God and hold Him to His word to make true to each one of us the very deepest fulfilment of “waters to swim in”. Then He will be able to use us to the uttermost of our capacity for Him.
All this can be true, from the divine side, whilst, on the human side, the believer is fully exercising on his part ‘self-control’, and his own volition of mind in full exercise. Just as a man swimming in the ocean is borne and carried by the water, yet volitionally and mentally is consciously and actively co-operating with the power of the mighty waters bearing him along. Let us remember that ‘God-control’ of a redeemed soul is manifested in the ‘self-control’ of the man.
Oh, the activities of a life in God! Do you ask if it is an idle thing to let go all, and float as a straw on the ocean? Oh no! The ‘floating as a straw’ just pictures the rest of the one joined to the Lord in spirit. In the outer life of the body and mind the energy of God animates the whole being. The power of God energizes the soul for labours abundant, which are fruitful in the Holy Spirit. This is what is wanted for the mission field and at home. Let us see that the Holy Spirit has full right of way with us, and the fortresses of the enemy must fall.
If you know cleansing, and the heart possession by the Spirit, still press on. Let God bring to the Cross your own life to make room for His. Has He brought you to this stage? Are you like Lazarus in the grave? Then listen! He will bring you out. What next? Be patient and believe that the wonderful, silent Operator within you is doing His work, silently building and bringing the new life to maturity. Then will come a fuller, clearer vision of the Triune God inhabiting the new man in his whole limit. Then deeper knowledge of ministry; and union with Christ “within the veil”, led step by step to the heart of God, to live in the world as a channel for God’s life to flow through. Even here there is progression, for He leads on and on until the waters are risen, “waters to swim in”.
Now return and see the effect of the river (47 v7-12). “These waters go down into the desert, and go into the sea”. The river flows on until it is merged in the ocean. “Everything shall live whither the river cometh”. Souls will be quickened wherever the child of God goes. Rivers flow. So when the “rivers of living water” go out of you there is no strain. Believe me, when you are possessed by the Holy Spirit, lives around you must be quickened. “Even so the Son quickeneth whom He will”. Christ in you will do the work. What a picture we have here in verses 9-10. “There shall be a very great multitude of fish”, and the fishers are all along the banks of the river gathering in “exceeding many”. Who can measure the blessing of one day, when the rivers are running? So great, so full, we cease to talk about it. How many workers are satisfied if in twelve months they see twelve souls saved! See the picture here, “a very great multitude of fish”. This is Pentecost. This is what the Lord has purposed for us quite as fully as in the early Church. What about ‘the miry places and the marshes’(v11)? Marshes take in and never give out. Alas marshy Christians are all around us, running about to all the meetings, listening to and admiring the preacher, yet utterly unchanged, and in their lives remaining fruitless.
Next we see in verse 12 the fruit, new fruit every month, not candied fruit, but fresh and beautiful. The book closes with four words: “The Lord is There” What lovely words! The cloud abode upon the Tabernacle, the anointing which we have received “abideth”. “The Lord is there”. Shall we let go our little efforts and press on through the path of the Cross, into deepest fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection until the river of God sweeps through us? Let us surrender self at every point and get to know GOD, God indwelling, God enveloping, God surrounding, God carrying, till the whole spirit, soul and body is possessed of God, and it shall be manifestly true in every point, “THE LORD IS THERE. O for the rivers, rivers, rivers! May the Lord do such marvels amongst us by the Holy Spirit’s quickening and blessing, that we shall become clear channels through which the water of life shall flow on and on; kept every moment in God; not satisfied with the blessing of yesterday, but living in God’s eternal ‘to-day’. Let us aim at ‘rivers’. Nothing short of rivers to swim in. The river of God is ‘full of water’. May we each become a free channel for its flow! Amen.