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PUT YOURSELF IN HIS PLACE
And I sat where they sat.—Ezek. iii. 15.
N the first instance Ezekiel was withdrawn from the multitude. He reports, "The Spirit took me away": removed him to the river Chebar, where in his solitude he had visions of God. But he could not be permitted to remain thus isolated. He must forsake the solitude of the cell, and mix with the throng of the captives. It was essential to the success of his ministry. Unless he did this, all the visions of his solitude were in vain. Is not, then, the great truth most graphically taught here, that if we are to help men we must in some sense associate ourselves with them, identify ourselves with them? Science emphatically denies what is known as "action at a distance." That one body may act upon another at a distance, through a vacuum, without the mediation of anything else, scientists declare to be an absurdity. A thing cannot act where it is not. That one body should operate upon and affect another body without mutual contact is inconceivable. But if this principle of distant action is impossible in the material universe, it is even less so in the spiritual realm. One soul can move another only by mutual contact.
Only as we enter into personal relations with men do we realize their sin and misery. "Then I came to them of the captivity, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days." During that week was he realizing the greatness of the sin and misery of the people? Was it this that filled him with astonishment? Henry Drummond, after close contact with inquirers, writes: "Such tales of woe did I hear that I felt I must go and change my very clothes after the contact. Oh, I am sick with the sins of men! How can God bear it?" Only in hospital wards does the student attain any adequate knowledge of disease; and only whilst dealing immediately with fallen and suffering men and women can we realize the actuality and awfulness of human iniquity and wretchedness.
Only as we mingle with the sinful and the sad do we sympathize with them. "I went in bitterness, in the glow of my spirit." Ezekiel came to the captives boiling with wrath because of their idolatries; but as he "sat where they sat," did not sympathy with the sinners mingle with his horror of their sin? The glow of pity and love was kindled as well as the glow of indignation. We cannot bless men unless we love them, unless from our heart we commiserate them; and this is possible only when through actual contact we really know their misfortunes, disabilities, temptations, and sufferings.
Only as we become one with sinning men and classes do we understand how to help and save them. "And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the Lord came unto me." Then and there
did Ezekiel understand his mission, receive his message, and begin his ministry. Only then was he fit, only then was he competent.
"I sat where they sat." Is not this the philosophy of the Incarnation? In Hades, says Homer, except the shades first drink blood they can neither speak nor recognize the living. And it was only as the Son of God descended from the heavenly sphere and became the Son of Man, that it was possible for Him to work out our redemption, "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same." "Wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto his brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high-priest." And all great helpers of the race have, in a very real sense, followed this supreme example, and sat with the prisoner and the slave, the drunkard and the harlot, the poor and the needy, the sick and the dying.
The reformer must keep this lesson in mind. He will never comprehend the people through an operaglass, or succour them from a balloon. The philanthropist also must observe this law: action at a distance leaves him uninformed, misinformed, and minus the genuine enthusiasm of humanity. The educationalist must not forget this principle. A little child is a big mystery, and only they who seat themselves on the lowly bench enter into the children's hearts and needs, and they alone are competent to teach, guide, and bless. The preacher above all must come very near to those whom he would serve. "I have learned more," said Bishop Christopher Wordsworth, "in sick-rooms, and
from poor and simple folk, than from all the books which I have read." So much preaching is sounding brass and a tinking cymbal because it lacks human sympathy. "One form of preparation for the pulpit would add immeasurably to its power. That is the training gained by a more intimate acquaintance with life. If the preacher only knew, it is precisely in visitation, in close contact with souls, that he would find the best possible material for his work. This is the hunting ground of all the great masters of emotion." This witness is true. The true orator is said to enter at his opponent's door and to bring him out at his; he first meets him on common ground, and then persuades him to his own conclusions: so if we would bring men out at the door of heaven, we must begin by sitting where they sit, by being one with them in those touches of nature which make the whole world kin.
THE CHARMED LIFE OF THE FRAIL
When I am weak, then am I strong.—2 Cor. xii. 10.
LL naturalists are impressed by the tenaciousness, immunity, and successfulness of frail creatures and things. That which at first sight seems to have little if any chance of survival in the mighty elemental war mysteriously lives and prevails. Sir J. W. Dawson again and again refers to this striking phenomenon. "Mountains become ephemeral things in comparison with the delicate herbage which covers them, and seas are in their present extent but of yesterday when compared with the minute and feeble organisms that creep on their sands or swim in their waters." "A superficial observer might think the fern or the moss of a granite hill a frail and temporary thing as compared with solid and apparently everlasting rock. But just the reverse is the case. The plant is usually older than the mountain." Darwin was similarly impressed by the security and triumph of frail things. Writing of a sea-weed which he saw on the shores of South America, he proceeds: "I know few things more surprising than to see this plant growing and flourishing amidst those great breakers of the western ocean, which no mass of rock, let it be ever so hard, can long resist." Bending to the current without breaking, they withstand impetuous tides which would