And that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all; that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone. As I live, saith the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you. . . . And ye shall know that I am the Lord.-- EZEKIEL xx. 32, 33, 38.
A father has two ways of showing his love to his child--by caressing it and by punishing it. His very anger may be a sign of his love, and ought to be. Just because he loves his child, just because the thing he longs most to see is that his child should grow up good, therefore he must be, and ought to be, angry with it when it does wrong. Therefore anger against sin is a part of God's likeness in us; and he who does not hate sin is not like God. For if sin is the worst evil--perhaps the only real evil in the world--and the end of all sin is death and misery, then to indulge people in sin is to show them the very worst of cruelty.
To sit by and see iniquity going on without trying to stop it, is mere laziness. The parent, when his child does wrong, does not show his love to the child by indulging it, all he shows is, that he himself is carnal and fleshly; that he does not like to take the trouble of punishing it, or does not like to give himself the pain of punishing it; that, in short, he had sooner let his child grow up in bad habits, which must lead to its misery and ruin for years and years, if not for ever, than make himself uncomfortable by seeing it uncomfortable for a few minutes. That is not love, but selfishness. True love is as determined to punish the sin as it is to forgive the sinner. Therefore, St. Paul tells us, that we can be angry without sinning; that is that there is an anger which comes from hatred of sin and love to the sinner. Therefore, Solomon tells us to punish our children when they do wrong, and not to hold our hands for their crying. It is better for them that they should cry a little now, than have long years of shame and sorrow hereafter. Therefore, in all countries which are properly governed, the law punishes in the name of God those who break the laws of God, and punishes them even with death, for certain crimes; because it is expedient that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.
And this is God's way of dealing with each and every one of us. This is God's way of dealing with Christian nations, just as it was His way of dealing with the Jews of old. He never allowed the Jews to prosper in sin. He punished them at once, and sternly, whenever they rebelled against Him; not because He hated them, but because He loved them. His love to them showed itself whenever they went well with Him, in triumphs and blessings; and when they rebelled against Him, and broke His laws, He showed that very same love to them in plague, and war, and famine, and a mighty hand, and fury poured out. His love had not changed--they had changed; and now the best and only way of showing His love to them, was by making them feel His anger; and the best and only way of being merciful to them, was to show them no indulgence.
Now the wish of the Jews all along, and especially in Ezekiel's time, was to be like the heathen--like the nations round them. They said to themselves: "These heathen worship idols, and yet prosper very well. Their having gods of wood and stone, and their indulging their passions, and being profligate and filthy, covetous, unjust, and tyrannical, does not prevent their being just as happy as we are--ay, and a great deal happier. They have no strict law of Moses, as we have threatening us and keeping us in awe, and making us uncomfortable, and telling us at every turn, 'Thou shalt not do this pleasant thing, and thou shalt not do that pleasant thing.' And yet God does not punish them, as Moses' law says He will punish us. These Assyrians and Babylonians above all--they are stronger than we, and richer, and better clothed, and cleverer; they have horses and chariots, and all sorts of luxuries and comforts which we Jews cannot get. Instead of being like us, in continual trouble from earthquakes, and drought, and famine, and war, attacked, plundered by all the nations round us, one after another, they go on conquering, and spreading, and succeeding in all they lay their hand to. Look at Babylon," said these foolish Jews, perhaps, to themselves; "a few generations ago it was nothing of a city, and now it is the greatest, richest, and strongest nation in the whole world. God has not punished it for worshipping gods of wood and stone, why should He punish us? These Babylonians have prospered well enough with their gods, why should not we? Perhaps it is these very gods of wood and stone who have helped them to become so great. Why should they not help us? We will worship them, then, and pray to them. We will not give up worshipping our own God, of course, lest we should offend Him; but we will worship Him and the Babylonian idols at the same time; then we shall be sure to be right if we have Jehovah and the idols both on our side." So said the Jews to themselves. But what did Ezekiel answer them? "Not so, my foolish countrymen," said he, "God will not have it so. He has taught you that these Babylonian idols are nothing and cannot help you; He has taught you that He can and will help you, that He can and will be everything to you; He has taught you that He alone is God, who made heaven and earth, who orders all things therein, who alone gives any people power to get wealth; and He will not have you go back and fall from that for any appearances or arguments whatsoever, because it is true. He has chosen you to witness to these heathen about Him, to declare His name to them, that they may give up their idols and serve the true God, in whom alone is strength. He chose you to be these heathens' teachers, and He will not let you become their scholars. He meant the heathen to copy you, and He will not let you copy them. If He does, in His love and mercy, let these poor heathen prosper in spite of their idols, what is that to you? It is still the Lord who makes them prosper, and not the idols, whether they know it or not. They know no better, and He will not impute sin to them where He has given them no law. But you do know better; by a thousand mighty signs and wonders and deliverances, the Lord has been teaching you ever since you came up through the Red Sea, that He is all-sufficient for you, that all power is His in heaven and earth. He has promised to you, and sworn to you by Himself, that if you keep His law and walk in His commandments, you shall want no manner of good thing; that you shall have no cause to envy these heathen their riches and prosperity, for the Lord will bless you in house and land, by day and night, at home and abroad, with every blessing that a nation can desire. Moses' law tells you this, God's prophets have been telling you this, God's wonderful dealings with you have been telling you this, that the Lord God is enough for you. And if you, who are meant to be a nation of kings and priests to God, to teach all nations and serve solely Him, fancy that you will be allowed to throw away the high honour which God has put upon you, and lower yourselves to the follies and sins of these heathen round you, you are mistaken. You were meant to be above such folly, you can be above it; and you shall not prosper by serving God and idols at once; you shall not even prosper by serving idols alone. God will visit you with a mighty hand, and with fury poured out, and you shall know that He is the Lord."
Well, my friends, and what has this to do with us? This it has to do with us--that if God taught the Jews about Himself, He has taught us still more. If he has shown signs and wonders of His love, and wrought mightily for the Jews, He has wrought far more mightily for us; for He spared not His own Son, but gave Him freely for us. If He promised to teach the Jews, He has promised still more to teach us; for He has promised His Holy Spirit freely to young and old, rich and poor, to as many as ask Him, to guide us into all truth. If he expected the Jews to set an example to all the nations around, He expects us to do so still more. And if He punished the Jews, and drove them back again by shame, and affliction, and disappointment, whenever they went after other gods, and tried to be like the heathen around, and despised their high calling, and their high privileges, He will punish us, and drive us back again still more fiercely, and still more swiftly. God has called us to be a nation of Christians, and He will not let us be a nation of heathens. We are longing to do in these days very much as the Jews did of old; we are all too apt to say to ourselves: "Of course we must love God, or He might be angry with us; and besides, how else should we get our souls saved? But the old heathen nations, and a great many nations now, and a great many rich and comfortable people in England now, too, get on very well without God, by just worshipping selfishness, and money, and worldly cunning, and why should not we do the same?--why should we not worship God and Mammon at once, and serve God on Sundays, and the selfish ways of the world all the week? Surely then we should be doubly safe; we should have God and the world on our side both at once."
Now, my friends, God will not allow us to succeed on that plan. We are members of His Church, whose head is Jesus, who gave Himself for sinners; whose members are all brothers of His Church, which is held together by self-sacrifice and fellow-help. If we try to be like the heathens, and fancy that we can succeed by selfishness, and cunning, and covetousness, God will not let us fall from the honour which He has put on us, and trample our blessings under foot. He will bring our plans to nought. Whomsoever he may let prosper in sin, He will not let those who have heard the message prosper in it. Whatever nation He may let become great by covetousness, and selfish competing and struggling of man against man, He will not let England grow great by it. He loves her too well to let her fall so, and cast away her high honour of being a Christian nation. By great and sore afflictions, by bringing our cleverest plans to nothing, He will teach us that we cannot worship God and Mammon at once; that the sure riches, either for a man or for a nation, are not money, but righteousness love, justice, wisdom; that this new idol of selfish competition which men worship nowadays, and fancy that it is the secret cause of all plenty, and cheapness, and civilisation, has no place in the church of Jesus Christ, who gave up His own life for those who hated Him, and came not to do His own will, but the will of His Father; not to enable men to go to heaven after a life of selfishness here; but by the power of His Spirit--the spirit of love and fellowship to sweep all selfishness off the face of God's good earth. By sore trials and afflictions will God in His mercy teach this to England, and to every man in England who is deluded into fancying that he can serve God, and selfishness at once, till we learn once more, as our forefathers did of old, that He is the Lord. Because we are His children God will chasten us; because He receives us, He will scourge us back to Him; because He has prepared for us things such as eye hath not seen, He will not let us fill our bellies with the husks which the swine eat, and like the dumb beasts, snarl and struggle one against the other for a place at His table, as if it were not wide enough for all His creatures, and for ten times as many more, forgetting that He is the giver, and fancying that we are to be the takers, and spoiling the gift itself in our hurry to snatch it out of our neighbours' hands. In one word, God will not give us false prosperity, as the children of the world, the flesh, and the devil, because he wishes to give us real prosperity as the sons of God, in the kingdom of his Son Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for us.