THE GLORY OF THE LORD
Ebenezer Chapel, Cradley Heath, West Midlands.
As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. Ezekiel 1,28.
I venture to bring before you the most sublime, the most solemn, the most impressive subject that I could ever speak of, or you could ever conceive and contemplate, and that is the glory of the Lord. There is no theme in heaven or on earth, in time or eternity, to be compared with the glory of the Lord, and there is no doubt whatever that the view of that glory in heaven fills the spirits of just men made perfect with continued admiration, wonder, love, joy and worship, for it is in that heavenly state that the glory of the Lord is clearly revealed. Just how that is so we cannot know, but that it is so, we are certain, for the glory of God doth lighten that celestial city and the Lamb is the light thereof; that is, the glory of God shines in the person, the glorified person of the Lamb of God.
But the glory of the Lord can be discerned, in a much more limited measure, in this present world, and it has always been the desire of the godly to have some glimpse of that glory, as Moses said “I beseech thee, show me thy glory”. Exodus 33, 18. And there are two ways in which the Lord has shown that glory to godly men in this world. First through vision, but very seldom in this way. It was certainly shown to Ezekiel in this vision; it was shown to Isaiah in a somewhat similar vision when he saw the glory of the Lord, as it was said of him “These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory”. John 12, 41. And, of course, a more extended vision of that glory was given to the apostle John in the Isle of Patmos. So also, I take it, was the apostle Paul favoured with some vision of that glory so that he knew not whether he was in the body or out of it; whether he was taken up to see that glory in heaven or there was some manifestation of that glory granted to him while he was still in this world and in the body. But it is seldom that God has given a visionary manifestation of His glory.
Then there is another way, and that is by the enlightening of the understanding in this blessed theme of the glory of the Lord;
the enlightening of the understanding spiritually to discern the glory of the Lord as it is set before us in the Scripture, and especially as it is revealed in Jesus Christ, according to that word of the apostle that “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. No vision is there intended, it is a spiritual enlightening of the heart
and mind by the inshining of gospel light and truth, and in that light there is a spiritual discerning of the glory of the Lord.
But it was given to the prophet Ezekiel in the vision that we have read this evening, to see that glory in a mysterious way. He saw it in a vision, it came to him in Babylon when he was by that river; he saw visions of God. What is a vision? A vision is not ordinarily a dream, for the prophets had visions when they were ordinarily quite awake and conscious. And a vision is not an imaginationÂ—that may be extremely misleading. A vision, as far as I can convey my understanding of it, is a representation, a dear, vivid, representation to the mind of spiritual things under such similitudes as are representative of them or, as we read here, have a likeness about them; in other words, a visible representation of invisible things under these visionary forms and similitudes.
And so in this chapter you have repeatedly the expression ‘the appearance’ or ‘the likeness of. That which in its nature is invisible was set before the prophet in this vision in which he saw those things under these appearances, and it all leads up to our text “As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about”. That is, there was round about this holy vision a celestial and a heavenly brightness, and that brightness was the glory of the Lord. This was the appearance of the brightness of the glory of the Lord, it was set before the prophet in a vision as the appearance of brightness and “as the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain”.
This subject is more for meditation, and may the Lord bless us with spiritual and heart affecting meditation upon it. What a blessing it would be if any of us were favoured now with some glimpse of that glory through the word which here expresses it. I think in our hymns we often sing familiar lines without considering their implication. There is just one line of a hymn which runs like this, and it applies to our assembling for public worship:Â—
“Let us now thy glory see”.
Well, that is a very expressive prayerÂ—”Let us now thy glory see”. We might for a few moments consider the context of these words “the glory of the Lord” as it is set forth in this vision. I could not profess to be able to give you a detailed interpretation of this first chapter of Ezekiel; having difficulty not really being able to see the chapter, I have to rely somewhat upon my memory with regard to it, but there are certain features of this vision I feel are worthy indeed of our consideration.
There are, first, the living creatures. There is no doubt that these living creatures are representative of the angels, because in the vision of Isaiah there is, as I have said, some similarity; they are there said to be the seraphims, which I take to be a name for the angels. There are one or two features I would just mention about these angels, and, first, how they are continually engaged in fulfilling the services of God. We do not think enough about”
the angels, for there is something very mysterious about the ministry of angels, but we are instructed in the scripture that they are continually engaged in the service of God, they are continually doing His will, they are messengers, and also we read that they are “sent to minister to such as shall be heirs of salvation”. If we could actually see what this vision represents to us, how amazed we should be to see that the angelic spirits are continually engaged, not only in doing and fulfilling God’s will, but engaged for us, “to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation”. The ways in which the angels minister to us are mysterious, but they are real. And it is very noticeable concerning the living creatures that, first, they always went straight, they went straight forward, they turned not as they went, by which I understand that in fulfilling the word and will of God they go straight forward, they never deviate, they never turn as they go to the right hand or to the left; swift as a flash of lightning they do God’s will, they do always His will, they turn not as they go. For God to send an angel to perform something, an angel will go straight to perform that mission, and swiftly, for it is said that their coming and their going was like a flash of lightning. And so I remember we read concerning Daniel that the angel Gabriel came swiftly unto Daniel.
Then there were the wheels which appear so prominently in this vision; there were the wheels, and their work. What were the wheels? The wheels are not living creatures, and yet we see that the wheels were in a continuous state of activity. I feel then that the wheels are intended to represent the purposes of God, and their continual fulfilment. The work of the wheels is the fulfilling of the purposes of God. And we notice that the wheels and the angels move simultaneously; when those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up, these were lifted up, so that the purposes of God and the ministry of the angels are continuously moving simultaneously together, the wheels went not without the angels, neither the angels without the wheels, the angels continuously doing the will of God and
God’s purposes continually in close operation, the one moves not without the other.
And there was something which struck me very much in this expression that the wheels were as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. Well, if I am right in my interpretation that the wheels in their work represent the purposes of God in their operation, then a wheel in the middle of a wheel must be a purpose in the middle of a purpose. And that clears this point I think on their instructiveness, for this is continually proceedingÂ—God has a purpose in purpose. For instance, how often God’s purpose has been to bring one and the other under His guidance, perhaps His angelic guiding Hand into certain places, into certain circumstances and certain conditions. Why? Because He has a purpose to fulfil, a spiritual purpose in that providential purpose. The spiritual purpose is like a wheel
in the middle of a providential purpose. Take an instance of it. It was the purpose of God to bring that Samaritan woman to Jacob’s well at that unusual hour of the day, when it was not the usual time that women drew water. It was the purpose of God that she should be there at that very time when the Lord Jesus Christ was there to meet her. Well, there was a purpose in that purpose. If that woman had just come and perhaps had some conversation with the Lord Jesus Christ and gone away, and that was all, there would not have been any purpose in that purpose to bring her there, would there? But there was a purpose in the purpose.
Now, my brethren, can you not look back over your experience in life, in the way the Lord has dealt with you, in the light of these thoughts? You say “Yes, I feel I can. The Lord brought me to a certain place and there was a purpose in it. Or the Lord brought me to certain times which were circumstantial, but there was a spiritual purpose in them”. O, brethren, it is a wheel within a wheel, isn’t it? A purpose within a purpose;
a spiritual purpose within a providential purpose? So these wheels and their work are continually proceeding.
And the prophet was impressed with this about the wheels, that they were so high; they were so high. There was something about their height that was terribleÂ—not in a sense so much terrifying as awesome. Well, brethren, the purposes of God are as high as heaven, and they come down to this earth. They do not originate in this world of ours; they are as high as heaven, as high as the throne of God. And there is this to be observed concerning the wheels, that they were full of eyes, within and without. Not that the wheels, as I have said, were in themselves living existencies, they were wheels. The purposes of God are not living existencies, they are purposes of His holy mind and will. But these wheels have eyes. You see, my friends, the purposes of God and their work are not blind purposes. No, they are full of eyes; they are very, very discerning. God has no blind purpose. I have read … somewhere of luck, chance and fortune as being phantoms on wheels, and that is trueÂ—they are phantoms on wheels, but not God’s wheels, not these wheels. And those expressions that people use, luck, chance and fortune, they are blind, they have no eyes, they are just blind. But then they do not exist at all, only in people’s way of speaking and imagination, but so far as they exist in people’s minds they have no eyes. But these purposes of God, they are the eyes of infinite wisdom and foreknowledge, and these purposes move always, they never turn, for the wheels never turned as they went. They always proceed to their accomplishment, though often very mysteriously to us, but always to their accomplishment. God’s purposes never fail of their fulfilment, they go straight forward.
Now our lives, those of us who have reason to believe that the Lord has dealt with us, our lives are the personal experience of all these mysterious things.
Another feature of the vision which strikes my mind is the throne and the appearance of man upon it, there was the appearance of a throne. This is the same throne as is described in Psalm 103,19.Â—”The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all”. And it is the same with all these comings and goings of these living creatures, and the wheels and their work, they are all directed and controlled from that throne, for “His kingdom ruleth over all”. And there was an appearance as the likeness of a man upon that throne; no question about thatÂ—that was the prophetic vision of the Lord Jesus Christ in the appearance of a man, because He was not then a real Man. The Lord Jesus Christ on several occasions appeared in the likeness of a man before He became incarnate at all. He appeared in the likeness of a man, for instance, to Abraham on the plains of Mamre; and He appeared in the likeness of a man in the burning furnace to Nebuchadnezzar. And on other occasions He appeared in the likeness of a manÂ—I take it when He appeared to Jacob at the ford Jabbok, but He was not a real man. The Lord Jesus Christ had no previous incarnate existence as a man. There was, as you may know, or perhaps you may not, a strange doctrine some years ago that the human soul of the Lord Jesus Christ existed from all eternity, and it gained some weight, too, with people who you would be surprised would think such a thing could be true, because there is no suggestion of this in Word of God. It is a very definite point of our faith that the Lord Jesus Christ assumed soul and body at one and the same time at the conception of His humanity by the Holy Ghost in the virgin Mary. And there was no humanity at allÂ—neither body nor soulÂ—before He was born of the virgin Mary. But on various occasions He assumed the appearance of a man. And so, the prophet Ezekiel saw above the throne the appearance of Jesus Christ as a man. Brethren, if we could see that throne now in the heavens, and the glory of God, the brightness round about, we should not see the likeness of a man; we should see a real Man, according to those impressive, touching, lovely lines of Joseph Hart:
“A Man there is, a real Man
With wounds still gaping wide,
From which rich streams of blood once ran,
In hands, and feet, and side”
And that real Man is in heaven, in all the reality of that same human nature in which He appeared here in this world, and lived, and taught, and suffered, and died, and rose, and ascended.
Another feature which strikes the mind is the fire. There was an appearance as of fire, and this appearance as of fire seems to be closely connected with the appearance of the Man upon the throne. There is no doubt that this appearance of fire was the appearance of the Holy Ghost, for fire is a scriptural emblem of the Holy Ghost, and when the Holy Spirit was given and poured out at Pentecost, His descent was under the symbol of tongues
of fire. Now, I must not dwell longer on this instructive and impressive and remarkable vision; I must come to my text.
Now. upon all this then that the prophet Ezekiel saw in the vision there was a brightness round aboutÂ—about the throne, about the fire, about the man upon itÂ—there was a brightness round about, and this brightness he records was “As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about”. There was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. Here is something most impressive and most instructive; the appearance of the glory of the Lord was “As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain”. That means, of course, the rainbow;
that is clear enough. Now of what a beautiful appearance the rainbow is. I suppose the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain is one of the most beautiful of all natural appearances. And what constitutes the beauty of the bow that is in the cloud? Well, it is because there is a blending of colours without any confusion, that is the beauty of the bow. The beauty is seen in the blending of the different colours without at the same time diminishing the distinctive features of that particular colour. And the colours are blended without confusion, no one colour loses any of its beauty by being blended with the others, so that any one colour of the bow that is in the cloud taken separately would have its own distinctive beauty, but would not have the beauty of the bow. And if those different colours were so blended as that they lost their own distinctive character, you would have confusion of colour and no blending.
Now the beauty of the glory of the Lord is the blending of every divine perfection of His nature without any confusion;
that is the glory of the Lord, and it is like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud. And the glory of the Lord is a blending of all divine perfections without confusion, for no one perfection of the Lord, glorious as that perfection is, would be His glory alone. And if there was confusion in any perfection of His glorious name and character with another perfection that would not be His glory.
Now, very reverently, I would desire to speak of this solemn subject. What do we mean by the perfections of God? We mean those glorious features of His nature that are absolutely perfect, and that is why we speak of them as perfection. Now, take one pointÂ—wisdom. Now wisdom is a divine perfection because it is perfect wisdom. Wisdom in man is not perfect, it is very, very imperfect in more ways than one; it is imperfect with regard to its limitations, and it is imperfect because of its nature, for sin has distorted human wisdom. But in God, wisdom is perfect, in that He knows all, understands all, discerns all; with Him is no darkness at all but perfect wisdom, and that wisdom is without any imperfection in its natureÂ—it is perfectly pure and holy and glorious wisdom, So that is how I understand the term “divine
perfection”; those glorious features of God’s nature that are so absolutely perfect.
Now it is the blending of all these divine perfections that constitute the manifestation of His glory. Let me mention some of them. Now to begin with there is His holiness. He is glorious in holiness. His holiness is His glory. It is in His glory. His praise, His honour, that He is so infinitely holy, and it reminds me of what 1 said when I began this evening, that the holiness of God inspires heavenly worship and adoration. Unceasingly those blessed spirits, free from all defilement themselves, ascribe no holiness to themselves, but cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty”. I can say no more than this. except that it is much to be desired and prayed for that we shall have a right impression of the holiness of the God we worship, for nothing will make our worship more solemn, more spiritual, more humble than the impression of the holiness of the God we worship. And those who by grace and faith have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ can feel a thankfulness about this. “Rejoice in the Lord, ye saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness”. Brethren, it is wonderful that our God is so holy. He is so worthy of all the praise and honour and glory that we can ascribe to Him. He is glorious in holiness.
Then holiness is not the only perfection of God. It would not be complete glory if it was. Think of His sovereignty; sovereignty is a divine perfection. It is the glory of God that He is a sovereign God. “He doeth according to his will amongst the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand or say unto him. What doest thou?”. Why, whoever would in any way diminishÂ—not that anyone can do it, but I mean as far as their words and feelings goÂ—whoever would diminish the absolute sovereignty of God would hide His glory. And the
sovereignty of God is a holy sovereignty, and it is sovereign holiness.
Then, consider further how perfectly just He is; justice is a divine perfection. With regard to His sovereignty, it is just sovereignty, there is nothing unjust in it anywhere. If anyone can see anything unjust in God’s sovereignty, it is because they do not see it right, they see it through prejudiced eyes; it is warped in their view, not in itself. The just God will do justly. No-one
suffers any injustice because God is so absolutely sovereign in His purposes and ways.
And so with regard to His dealings with sin and sinners. God is just in His dealings with sin. And for God to deal with sin justly is to deal with sin as it deserves to be dealt with, and sin being the evil that it is, and the grievous dishonour to Him that
it is, deserves to be dealt with in the way of eternal condemnation, and that is just.
And God is merciful as well as just. He is rich in mercy towards them that fear Him. Mercy is a divine perfection, brethren;
there is an infiniteness in God’s mercy. What a beautiful expression that is in Psalm 103: “For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him”. And the heavens are at an immeasurable distance above the earth, and so immeasurable is God’s mercy. And He is plenteous in mercy, that is, there is a divine fulness of mercy in God, there is the plenteousness of a fountain that never fails. The glory of God is that His justice blends with mercy, and mercy with justiceÂ—not to make justice less just, or mercy less merciful, but it is the blending of both, and that both blend in the gospel and in Jesus Christ.
When a man is accused before an earthly court of a very serious crime, and it is proved beyond question that He is guilty of it, how is the man dealt with? If the judge gives the sentence that the law requiresÂ—that is justice, but there is no mercy. If the judge takes upon himself to forgive the man and let the man go free without any punishment, that is mercy but it is not justice. And if the judge gives the man half a sentence, that is neither full justice nor full mercy. But now, you see, in the gospel that is possible. In Jesus Christ justice blends with mercy, and mercy blends with justice. For God to forgive sin through the atonement honours His justice and reveals His mercy, and that is His glory, you see, that is His glory. It is just mercy and it is merciful justice, and it is sovereign mercy, and it is all wonderfully blended together, like the blending of the colours of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain.
And then you think of His grace. As the apostle says “To the praise of the glory of his grace”. Grace is sovereign, and sovereignty is graciousÂ—that is the blending. “I will be gracious” He says “to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy to whom I will show mercy”. And that was when Moses said “O Lord I beseech thee, show me thy glory”. It was as though God has said “Moses, my glory is my sovereignty, and my grace, and my mercy, and there is no conflict”.
I remember the time in my early exercise of mind with regard to spiritual matters, I was much impressed with a sense of the just character of God, and I was conscious to some extent of the sinfulness of my own state and condition, and it seemed to me as if it were a straight issue between my sinfulness and God’s justice, and I could not see any way of avoiding that. It seemed to me that if God was perfectly just and holy. He must of necessity condemn me in my sinfulness. But when it pleased the Lord to give me a little instruction in these deep things. He caused that word to be like a ray of light to meÂ—”When I see the blood I will pass over you”. The first gospel truth that I had ever received with understanding and faith into my heart was the doctrine of substitution, because I could see how God could be just and forgive my sin according to that beautiful verse:Â—
“Payment God cannot twice demand”Â—that would not be justÂ—
“First at my bleeding Surety’s hand,
And then again at mine”.
And then there is God’s love. God’s love is His glory. God’s love is a glorious love. I think sometimes we tend to detach the blessed truths of God’s love and God’s mercy from His divine nature, and think of God’s love simply as love, but brethren. God’s love is God loving. And we think of mercy, but God’s mercy is God being merciful. God forgiving. And we think of God’s grace, but we must not think of it as a distinct and detached doctrine, but as a glorious graciousness in God’s very nature and being.
“As the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain”Â—a beautiful blending of colours without any confusion, each colour retaining the distinctive beauty of that colour, and the blending of all in one beautiful harmony, so was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord to Ezekiel. Now, my friends, this is the gospel of the text, that this glory shines in Jesus Christ.
“Jesus, in whom the Godhead’s rays
Beam forth with mildest majesty,
I see thee full of truth and grace,
And come for all I want to thee”.
To see the glory of God with a spiritually enlightened understanding and a believing heart in the person of Jesus Christ is to see the gospel, it really is. Every divine perfection is in the face of Jesus Christ, and that bow is like the rainbow against the dark background of the cloud, and that glorious God in Jesus, justice satisfied, mercy in view, grace shown, and alsoÂ—sovereignly soÂ— against the dark background of our sinful and ruined conditionÂ— that makes it very beautiful, just as when the apostle, speaking of himself, says he was a persecutor and a blasphemer, and injurious; that was a dark cloud: but the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ was exceeding abundantÂ—that was the glory of the Lord against the dark background of his sin.
Well, my brethren, it is wonderful to be led a little into these divine and deep things of God, and may it please him to show us that glory in Jesus Christ, for Jesus Christ is a Saviour, and a Redeemer, and a Friend of Sinners, and a Mediator. The glory of God in the face of the Saviour; every divine perfection revealed in salvationÂ—that is wonderful, that is the glory of the Lord.