"I was left."Ezekiel 9:8.
The vision of Ezekiel which is recorded in the previous chapter, brought to light the abominations of the house of Judah. The' vision which follows in this chapter shows the terrible retribution that the Lord God brought upon the guilty nation, beginning at Jerusalem.
He beheld the slaughtermen come forth with their weapons, he marked them begin the destroying work at the gate of the temple, he saw them proceed through the main streets, and not omit a single lane; they slew utterly all those who were not marked with the mark of the writer's inkhorn on their brow. He stood alone,that prophet of the Lord,himself spared in the midst of universal carnage; and as the carcasses fell at his feet, and the bodies stained with gore lay all around him, he said, "I was left." He stood alive amongst the dead, because he was found faithful among the faithless; he survived in the midst of universal destruction, because he had served his God in the midst of universal depravity.
We shall now take the sentence apart altogether from Ezekiel's vision, and appropriate it to ourselves; and I think, when we read it over, and repeat it, "I was left," it very naturally invites us to take a retrospect of the past, very readily also it suggests a prospect of the future, and, I think, it permits also a terrible contrast in reserve for the impenitent.
I. First of all, then, my brethren, we have here a pathetic reflection, which seems to invite us to take A SOLEMN RETROSPECT: "I was left."
You remember, many of you, times of sickness, when cholera was in your streets. You may forget that season of pestilence, but I never can; when the duties of my pastorate called me continually to walk among your terror-stricken households, and to see the dying and the dead. Impressed upon my young heart must ever remain some of those sad scenes I witnessed when I first came to this metropolis, and was rather employed at that time to bury the dead than to bless the living. Some of you have passed through not only one season of cholera, but many, and you have been present, too, perhaps, in climates where fever has prostrated its hundreds, and where the plague and other dire diseases have emptied out their quivers, and every arrow has found its mark in the heart of some one of your Companions. Yet you have been left. You walked among the graves, but you did not stumble into them. Fierce and fatal maladies lurked in your path, but they were not allowed to devour you. The bullets of death whistled by your ears, and yet you stood alive, for his bullet had no billet for your heart. You can look back, some of you, through fifty, sixty, seventy years. Your bald and grey heads tell the story that you are no more raw recruits in the warfare of life. You have become veterans, if not invalids in the army. You are ready to retire, to put off your armor, and give place to others. Look back, brethren, I say, you who have come into the sere and yellow leaf; remember the many seasons in which you have seen death hailing multitudes about you; and think, "I was left." And we, too, who are younger, in whose veins our blood still leaps in vigor, can remember times of peril, when thousands fell about us, yet we can say, in God's house, with great emphasis, "I was left,"reserved, great God, when many others perished; sustained, standing on the rock of life when the waves of death dashed about me, the spray fell heavily upon me, and my body was saturated with disease and pain, yet am I still alive,permitted still to mingle with the busy tribes of men.
Now, then, what does such a retrospect as this suggest? Ought we not each one of us to ask the question, What was I spared for? Why was I left? Many of you were, at that time, and some of you even now are, dead in trespasses and sins! You were not spared because of your fruitfulness, for you brought forth nothing but the grapes of Gomorrah. Certainly God did not stay his sword because of anything good in you. A multitude of clamorous evils in your disposition, if not in your conduct, might well have demanded your summary execution. You were spared. Let me ask you why? Was it that mercy might yet visit you,that grace might yet renew your soul? Have you found it so? Has sovereign grace overcome you, beaten down your prejudices, thawed your icy heart, broken your stony will in pieces? Say, sinner, in looking back upon the times when you have been left, were you spared in order that you might be saved with a great salvation?
And if you cannot say, "Yes," to that question, let me ask you whether it may not be so yet? Soul, why has God spared you so long, while you are yet his enemy, a stranger to him, and far off from him by wicked works? Or, on the contrary, has he spared youI tremble at the bare mention of the possibility,has he prolonged your days to develop your propensities, that you may grow riper for damnation,that you may fill up your measure of crying iniquity, and then go down to the pit a sinner seared and dry, like wood that is ready for the fire? Can it be so? Shall these spared moments be spoiled by more misdemeanors, or shall they be given up to repentance and to prayer! Will you now, ere the last of your sins shall set in everlasting darkness, will you now look unto him? If so, you will have reason to bless God, through all eternity that you were left, because you were left that you might yet seek and might yet find him who is the Savior of sinners.
Do I speak to many of you who are Christians, who, too, have been left? When better saints than you were snatched away from earthly ties and creature kindred,when brighter stars than you were enclouded in night, were you permitted still to shine with your poor flickering ray? Why was it, great God? Why am I now left? Let me ask myself that question. In sparing me so long, my Lord, hast thou not something more for me to do? Is there not some purpose, as yet unconceived in my soul, which thou wilt yet suggest to me, and to carry out which thou wilt yet give me grace and strength, and spare me a little while longer? Am I yet immortal or shielded at least from every arrow of death, because my work is incomplete? Is the tale of my years prolonged because the full tale of the bricks hath not yet been made up? Then show me what thou wouldst have me do? Since thus I have been left, help me to feel myself a speciallyconsecrated man, left for a purpose, reserved for some end, else I had been worms many years ago, and my body had crumbled hack to its mother earth. Christian, I say, always be asking yourself this question; but especially be asking it when you are preserved in times of more than ordinary sickness and mortality. If I am left, why am I left? Why am I not taken home to heaven? Why do I not enter into my rest? Great Lord and Master, show me what thou wouldst have me do, and give me grace and strength to do it.
Let us change the retrospect for a moment, and look upon the sparing mercy of God in another light. "I was left." Some of you now present, whose history I well know, can say, "I was left," and say it with peculiar emphasis. You were born of ungodly parents; the earliest words you can recollect were base and blasphemous, too bad to repeat. You can remember how the first breath your infant lungs received was tainted air,the air of vice, of sin, and iniquity. You grew up, you and your brothers and your sisters, side by side; you filled the home with sin, you went on together in your youthful crimes, and encouraged each other in evil habits. Thus you grew up to manhood, and then you were banded together in ties of obliquity as well as in ties of consanguinity. You added to your number; you took in fresh associates. As your family circle increased, so did the flagrancy of your conduct. You all conspired to break the Sabbath; you devised the same scheme, and perpetrated the same improprieties. Perhaps you can recollect the time when Sunday invitations used always to be sent a sneer at godliness was couched in the invitations. You recollect how one and another of your old comrades died; you followed them to their graves, and your merriment was checked a little while, but it soon broke out again. Then a sister died, steeped to the mouth in infidelity; after that, a brother was taken; he had no hope in his death, all was darkness and despair before him. And so, sinner, thou hast outlived all thy comrades. If thou art inclined to go to hell, thou must go there along a beaten track: a path which, as thou lookest back upon the way thou hast trodden, is stained with blood; for thou canst remember how all that have been before thee have gone to the long home in dismal gloom, without a glimpse or ray of joy.
And now thou art left, sinner; and, blessed be God, it may be you can say, "Yes, and I am not only left, but I am here in the house of prayer; and if I know my own heart, there is nothing I should hate so much as to live my old life over again. Here I am, and I never believed I should ever be here. I look back with mournfulness indeed upon those who have departed; but, though mourning them, I express my gratitude to God that I am not in torments,not in hell,but still here; yea, not only here, but having a hope that I shall one day see the face of Christ, and stand amidst blazing worlds robed in his righteousness and preserved by his love." You have been left, then; and what ought you to say? Ought you to boast? Oh, no; be doubly humble! Should you take the glory to yourself? No; put the crown upon the head of free, rich, undeserved grace. And what should you do above all other men? Why, you should be doubly pledged to serve Christ. As you have served the devil through thick and thin, until you came to serve him alone, and your company had all departed, so, by divine grace, may you be pledged to Christ,to follow him, though all the world should despise him, and to hold on to the end, until, if every professor should be an apostate, it might yet be said of you at the last, "He was left; he stood alone in sin while his comrades died and then he stood alone in Christ when his companions deserted him." Thus of you it should ever be' said, "He was left."
This suggests also one more form of the same retrospect. What a special providence has watched over some of us, and guarded our feeble frames! There are some of you, in particular, who have been left to such an age that, as you look back upon your youthful days, you recall far more of kinsfolk in the tomb than remain in the world, more under the earth than above it. In your dreams you are the associates of the dead. Still you are left. Preserved amidst a thousand dangers of infancy, then kept in youth, steered safely over the shoals and quicksand's of an immature age, and over the rocks and reefs of manhood, you have been brought past the ordinary period of mortal life, and yet you are still here. Seventy years exposed to perpetual death, and yet preserved till you have come almost, perhaps, to your fourscore years. You have been left, my dear brother, and why are you left? Why is it that brothers and sisters are all gone? Why is it that the ranks of your old schoolmates have gradually thinned? You cannot recollect one, now alive, who was your companion in youth. How is it that now, you, who have lived in a certain quarter so long, see new names there on all the shop doors, new faces in the street, and everything new to what you once saw in your young days? Why are you spared'? Are you an unconverted man? Are you an unconverted woman! To what end are you spared? Is it that you may at the eleventh hour be saved? God grant it may be so! Or art thou spared till thou shalt have sinned thyself into the lowest depths of hell, that thou mayest go there the most aggravated sinner because of oft-repeated warnings as often neglected;art thou spared for this, or is it that thou mayest yet be saved'?
But art thou a Christian? Then it is not hard for thee to answer the question, Why art thou spared?" I do not believe there is an old woman on earth, living in the most obscure cot in England, and sitting this very night in the dark garret, with her candle gone out, without means to buy another,I do not believe that old woman would be kept out of heaven five minutes unless God had something for her to do on earth; and I do not think that you grey-headed man would still be preserved here unless there was somewhat for him to do. Tell it out, tell it out, thou aged man; tell the story of that preserving grace which has kept thee up till now. Tell to thy children and to thy children's children what a God he is whom thou hast trusted. Stand up as a hoary patriarch, and tell how he delivered thee in six troubles, and in seven suffered no evil to touch thee, and bear to coming generations thy faithful witness that his word is true, and that his promise cannot fail. Lean on thy staff, and say, ere thou diest in the midst of thy family, "Not one good thing hath failed of all that the Lord God hath promised." Let thy ripe days bring forth a mellow testimony to his love; and as thou hast more and more advanced in years, so be thou more and more advanced in knowledge and in confirmed assurance of the immutability of his counsel, the truthfulness of his oath, the preciousness of his blood, and the sureness of the salvation of all those who put their trust in him. Then shall we know that thou art spared for a high and noble purpose indeed. Thou shalt say it with tears of gratitude, and we will listen with smiles of joy,"I was left."
II. I must rather suggest these retrospect's than follow them up, though, did time permit, we might well enlarge abundantly, and therefore I must hurry on to invite you to A PROSPECT.
You and I shall soon pass out of this world into another. This life is, as it were, but the ferry boat; we are being carried across, and we shall soon come to the true shore, the real terra firma, for here there is nothing that is substantial. When we shall come into that next world, we have to expect, by-and-by, a resurrection both of the just and of the unjust; and in that solemn day we are to expect that all that dwell upon the face of the earth shall be gathered together in one place. And he shall come, who came once to suffer, he shall come to judge the world in righteousness, and the people in equity. He who came as an infant shall come as the Infinite. He who lay wrapped in swaddling bands shall come girt about the paps with a golden girdle, with a rainbow wreath, and robes of storm. There shall we all stand, a vast, innumerable company; earth shall be crowned from her valley's deepest base to the mountains summit, and the sea's waves shall become the solid standing-place of men and women who have slept beneath its torrents. Then shall every eye be fixed on him, and every ear shall be open to him, and every heart shall watch with solemn awe and dread suspense for the transactions of that greatest of all days, that day of days, that sealing up of the ages, that completing of the dispensation.
In solemn pomp the Savior comes, and his angels with him. You hear his voice as he cries, "Gather together the tares in bundles to burn them." Behold the reapers, how they come with wings of fire! See how they grasp their sharp sickles, which have long been grinding upon the mill tone of God's longsuffering, but have become sharpened at the last. Do you see them as they approach'? There they are mowing down a nation with their sickles. The vile idolaters have just now fallen, and yonder a family of blasphemers has been crushed beneath the feet of the reapers. See there a bundle of drunkards being carried away upon the reapers shoulders to the great blazing fire. See again, in another place, the whoremonger, the adulterer, the unchaste, and such like, tied up in vast bundles,bundles the withs of which shall never be rent,and see them cast into the fire, and see how they blaze in the unutterable torments of that pit: and shall I be left? Great God, shall I stand there wrapped in his righteousness alone, the righteousness of him who sits as my Judge erect upon the judgment seat! Shall I, when the wicked shall cry, "Rocks, hide us; mountains, on us fall;" gaze upon him; shall this eye look up, shall this face dare to turn itself to the face of him that sits upon the throne I Shall I stand calm and unmoved amidst universal terror and dismay? Shall I be numbered with the goodly company, who, clothed with the white linen which is the righteousness of the saints, shall await the shock, shall see the wicked hurled to destruction, and feel and know themselves secure?
Shall it be so or shall I be bound up in a bundle to burn, and swept away for ever by the breath of God's nostrils, like the chaff driven before the wind? It must be one or the other; which shall it be? Can I answer that question? Can I tell? I can tell it,tell it now,for I have in this very chapter that which teaches me how to judge myself. They who are preserved have the mark on their foreheads, and they have a character as well as a mark, and their character is, that they sigh and cry for all the abominations of the wicked. Then, if I hate sin, and if I sigh because others love it,if I cry because I myself through infirmity fall into it,if the sin of myself and the sin of others is a constant source of grief and vexation of spirit to me, then have I that mark and evidence of those who shall neither sigh nor cry in the world to come, for sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Have I the blood-mark on my brow to day? Say, my soul, hast thou put thy trust in Jesus Christ alone, and a the fruit of that faith, has thy faith learned how to love, not only him that saved thee, but others, too, who as yet are unsaved? And do I sigh and cry within while I bear the blood-mark without! Come brother, sister, answer this for thyself, I charge thee; I charge thee do so, by the tottering earth, and by the ruined pillars of heaven, that shall surely shake; I pray thee, by the cherubim and seraphim that shall be before the throne of the great Judge; by the blazing lightning's, that shall then illumine the thick darkness, and make the sun amazed, and turn the moon into blood; by him whose tongue is like a flame, like a sword of fire; by him who shall judge thee, and try thee, and read thy heart, and declare thy ways, and divide unto thee thine eternal portion; I conjure thee, by the certainties of death, by the sureness of judgment, by the glories of heaven, by the solemnities of hell,I beseech, implore, command, entreat thee,ask thyself now, 'Shall I be left? Do I believe in Christ'? Have I been born again! Have I a new heart and a right spirit'? Or, am I still what I always was,God's enemy, Christ's despiser, cursed by the law, cast out from the gospel, without God and without hope, a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel?"
I cannot speak to thee as earnestly as I would to God that I could. I want to thrust this question into your very loins, and stir up your heart's deepest thoughts with it. Sinner, what will become of thee when God shall winnow the chaff from the wheat, what will be thy portion then! Thou that standest in the aisle yonder, what will be thy portion, thou who art crowded there, what will thy portion be, when he shall come, and nothing shall escape his eye? Say, shalt thou hear him? Say, and shall thy heart-strings crack whilst he utters the thundering sound, "Depart, ye cursed;" or shall it be thy happy lotthy soul transported all the while with bliss unutterableto hear him say, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world"? Our text reveals a prospect, I pray you to look at it, gaze across the narrow stream of death, and say. "Shall I be left?"
"I love to meet among them now,
Before thy gracious feet to bow,
Though vilest of them all:
But can I bear the piercing thought,
What if my name should be left out,
When thou for them shalt call?
"Prevent, prevent it by thy grace;
Be thou, dear Lord, my hiding-place,
In this the accepted day:
Thy pardoning voice, oh let me hear!
To still my unbelieving fear
Nor let me fall, I pray."
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