The Defiler

Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own way, and by their doings. - Ezekiel. xxxvi. 17.

THY holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. So low as this had the fortunes of Israel ebbed, when the words of my text were penned. Judah was in chains. The people were captives in the hand of the heathen, exiles in the land of Babylon. Jerusalem lay in ruins; the grass grew long and rank in her deserted streets ; an awful silence filled the temple ; the fox looked out of the window, and the foul satyr had her lair in the Holy of Holies. No plough turned a furrow in the field; the vines grew wild and tangled on crumbling terraces; nor cock crew, nor dog bayed, nor flock bleated, nor maid sang, nor shepherd piped, nor blue smoke curled up from homestead among the lonely bills. The land was desolate, almost utterly desolate. She now enjoyed what the love of pleasure and the greed of gain had denied her. She rested, and had a long Sabbath; while over an expatriated people, far away, beyond the desert, and beside the river, the seventy years captivity rolled wearily on.
The few pious men, who had resisted the general corruption of manners, and vainly striven to stem a tide that swept the nation on to ruin, were mourning over the guilt of which this captivity was the punishment. Home sick, and heart broken, they hung their harps on the willows, and cried, How long, Lord, how long? wilt thou be angry for ever? shall thy jealousy burn like fire? Be not wroth very sore, 0 Lord, neither remember iniquity for ever; behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. Thy holy cities are a wilderness; Zion is a wilderness; Jerusalem a desolation. Turn us again, Lord God of Hosts, cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved! So they felt and prayed who were as salt in the putrid mass.
The larger portion, however - as has too often been the case in the visible church - lived only to dishonour their faith, their creed, their country, and their race. Like too many of our youth who go abroad, and, in leaving their native shores, leave all appearance of piety behind them, they profaned God's holy name, and gave scoffers abundant occasion for the bitter sneer, - These are the people of the Lord! In its application to his contemporaries, the prophet briefly describes in my text these sad and sinful days, and refers also to that preceding period of deep and wide degeneracy, during which the corruption of kings, princes, priests, and people, had arrived at such a height, that, to use the words of Scripture, Their trespass was grown up to the heavens. The patience of God was at length exhausted; and as he drove the man and woman from the garden, He expelled Israel from the land which their sins had defiled.
However much we may abhor their crimes, it is impossible not. to pity the sufferers, in a sense to sympathize with them. Are we men who, were yonder arm of the sea crowded with hostile ships, would boldly meet invasion on the shore, fight every inch of ground, and driven back, take a last stand in our own doorway, strike our last blows there, nor suffer foeman s foot to pass but over our dead body? If our bosoms burn with patriotic fire, if we cherish the ordinary affections of men for their family and friends, it is not possible to look unmoved on that bleeding fragment of a nation gatbered for the march to Babylon, amid the blackened and blood-stained ruins of their capital. What a mournful company! The sick, the bedrid, the blind; old men tottering forth on the staff of age, and plucking their grey beards with grief; the skeleton infant hanging on a breast that famine and sorrow have dried; mothers with terror-stricken children clinging to their sides, or worse, with tender daughters imploring their protection from these rude and ruffian soldiers; a few gallant men, the brave survivors of the fight, wasted by famine, bleeding from unbandaged wounds, their arms bound, and anger flashing through the tears that stream from their eyes as they are turned on matrons and maidens shrieking, struggling, fainting, in the arms of brutal passion. How they strain at their bonds! how bitterly they envy their more fortunate compatriots who lie in the bloody breach, nor have survived to see the horrors of that day! The piety that abhors the sins of this people is not incompatible with the pity that sympathizes with their sorrows. We could sit down and weep with Jeremiah, as, resting on a broken pillar of God's temple, desolation around him, no sound in his ear but that long wild wail of the captive band, he wrings his hands, and, raising them to heaven, cries, Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!
There was a home-leaving, however, in which we feel a nearer interest. I do not refer to that eventful morning when some of us first left a father's house, and, as the gates of that happy sanctuary slowly opened amid tears and fears, and many a kind farewell, watched by a father's anxious eye, and followed by a mother's prayers, we pushed out our bark on the swell of life's treacherous sea. The turning time of many a young man's history, the crisis of his destiny, that day may have exerted an influence as permanent on our fate as its impression is indelible on our memory. I refer to a home- leaving of far older date; to one, not of personal, or national, but of universal interest. I look back to the day when our first parents fell into sin, forfeited their estate, and were in consequence expelled from their primeval home. And, having been witness to the reluctance with which a heart-broken mother made up her mind to disown the prodigal, and send him from her door, knowing, when with slow and trembling hand she had barred him out, how it seemed to her as if in that horrid sound she had heard the door of heaven bolted against her son, feeling how much cruel provocation we could and would endure, ere a bleeding heart consented to turn a child out upon the open streets, believing also that our father in heaven is kinder than the kindest, and better than the best of us, and that the fondest, fullest heart is to his but as the rocky pool - the lodge of some tiny creature - to the great ocean which has filled it with a wave, no demonstration of God's abhorrence of sin (always excepting the cross of Calvary) comes so impressively to our hearts as the expulsion of our first parents from his blissful presence and their own sweet home in Eden. When with slow and lingering steps Adam and Eve came forth weeping from Paradise, and the gate was locked behind them, that was the bitterest home-leaving the world has ever seen. Adam being the federal head of his family, they come not alone. A longer and sadder procession follows them, than went weeping on the road to Babylon. They are attended by a world in tears. Cast out in them, in them condemned and expatriated, we all had defiled the land wherein we dwelt. In this sense the whole world sinned in Adam, and defiled the pure bowers of Eden. The universality of sin stands indisputable, immovable on the universality of the sentence, Death has passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.

I. Let us look at man sinning. "Ye have defiled .the land."
Sin is presented here as a defilement. But before fixing your attention on this feature, I may remark, that it offers but one of many aspects in which sin appears; all of them alarming, mournful, hateful, detestable.
As opposed to sin, and its bitter, baleful consequences, heaven is set forth in the Bible through the emblems of everything we cherish as most dear, and long for as most desirable. It is painted in colours that glow upon the canvas. Raise your eyes to the new Jerusalem. Gold paves its streets, and around its secure and blissful homes rise walls of jasper. Earth holds no such city; the depths of ocean no such pearls as form its gates. No storms sweep its glassy sea; no winter strips its trees no thunders shake its serene and cloudless sky. Day there never darkens into night. Harps and palms are in the hands, while crowns of glory flash and blaze upon the heads of its sinless and white-robed inhabitants. From this distant and stormy orb, as the dove eyed the ark, faith gazes on the glorious vision, and, weary of the strifer longing to be gone, cries, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest!
And how difficult would it be to name a noble figure, a sweet simile, a tender or attractive relationship, in which Jesus is not set forth to woo a reluctant sinner or cheer a desponding saint? Am I wounded? He is balm. Am I sick? He is medicine. Am I naked? He is clothing. Am I poor? He is wealth. Am I hungry? He is bread. Am I thirsty? He is water. Am I in debt? He is a surety. Am I in darkness? He is a sun. Have I a house to build? He is a rock. Am I to be tried? He is an advocate. Am I condemned? He is pardon. Must I face that black and gathering storm? He is an anchor sure and steadfast. To deck him out, and set him forth, Nature culls, her fairest flowers, brings her choicest ornaments, lays her richest treasures at his feet. The skies contribute their stars. The sea yields up its pearls. From fields, and mines, and mountains, Earth comes loaded with a rich tribute of gold, and gems, and myrrh, and frailkincense; the lily of the valley, the clustered vine, and the fragrant rose of Sharon. He is the chiefest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely; in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. I offer- make a free offer of this Saviour to you, and, doing so, dare challenge the world to name a want for which I shall not find the supply in Christ, something that fits your wants as accurately as the works of a key fit the wards of its lock.
" A Way he is to lost ones that have strayed;
A Robe he is to such as naked be;
Is any hungry, to all such he is Bread;
Is any weak, in Him how strong is he!
To him that's dead He's Life; to sick men, Health
Eyes to the blind, and to the poor man Wealth."

Look now at sin. Pluck off that painted mask, and turn upon her face the lamp of God' s Word. We start - it reveals a deaths-head. I stay not to quote texts descriptive of sin. It is a debt, a burden, a thief, a sickness, a leprosy, a plague, a poison, a serpent, a sting; everything that man hates it is; a load of curses and calamities beneath whore crushing, most intolerable pressure, the whole creation groaneth. Name me the evil that springs not from this root - the crime that I may not lay at its door. Who is the hoary sexton that digs man a grave? Who is the painted temptress that steals his virtue? Whois the murderess that destroys his life? Who is the sorceress that first deceives, and then damns his soul ? - Sin. Who with icy breath, blights the fair blossoms of youth? Who breaks the hearts of parents? Who brings old men's grey hairs with sorrow to the grave ? - Sin. Who, by a more hideous metamorphosis than Ovid ever fancied, changes gentle children into vipers, tender mothers into monsters, and their fathers into worse than Herods, the murderers of their own innocents ? - Sin. Who casts the apple of discord on household hearths? Who lights the torch of war, and bears it blazing over trembling lands? Who by divisions in the Church, rends Christ's seamless robe ? - Sin. Who is this Delilah that sings the Nazarite asleep, and delivers up the strength of God into the hands pf the uncircumcised? Who, winning smiles on her face, honied flattery on her tongue, stands in the door to offer the sacred rites of hospitality, and, when suspicion sleeps, treacherously pierces our temples with a nail? What fair Siren is this, who, seated on a rock by the deadly pool, smiles to deceive, sings to lure, kisses to betray, and flings her arms around our neck, to leap with us into perdition ? - --Sin. Who turns the soft and gentlest heart to stone? Who hurls reason from her lofty throne, and impels sinners, mad as Gadarene swine, down the precipice, into a lake of fire ? - Sin.
Who, having brought the criminal to the foot of the gallows, persuades him to refuse a pardon, and with his own insane hand to wave away the messenger of mercy? What witch of hell is it that thus bewitches us ? - Sin. Who nailed the Son of God to that bloody tree? and who, as if it were no dove bearing the olive branch, but a bloody vulture swooping down to devour the dying, vexes, grieves, thwarts, repels, drives off, the Spirit of God? Who is it that makes man in his heart and habits baser than a beast; and him who was once but little lower than an angel, but little better than a devil ? - Sin.
Oh! Sin. Thou art a hateful and horrible thing; that abominable thing which God hates. And what wonder? Thou hast insulted his holy Majesty; thou hast bereaved him of beloved children; thou hast crucified the Son of his infinite love ; thou hast vexed his gracious Spirit. Thou hast defied his power; challenged his wrath; despised his grace; and in the body and blood of Jesus, as if that were a common thing, thou hast trodden under foot his matchless mercy. Brethren, surely, the wonder of wonders is, that sin is not that abominable thing which we also hate.
But leaving what is general, let us fix our attention on that view of sin which the text presents. Here it is set forth as a defilement; and what else in the eye of God can deform, and does defile? Yet how strange it is, that some deformity of body shall prove the subject of more parental regrets and personal mortification than this most foul deformity of soul! Is it not miserable to think how hearts have grieved, and eyes, which got their tears surely for better uses, have wept over the stain on some costly dress, that never grieved and never wept for a sin-stained soul? What pains are taken, what costs and cares incurred, to bedeck the body for the house of God, as if flimsy finery could conceal or compensate for a foul heart within! Your manners may have acquired a courtly polish, your dress may rival the winter's snow, unaccustomed to menial offices, and sparkling with Indian gems, your hands may bear no stain, yet they are not clean; nay, beneath that graceful exterior may lie, concealed more foul pollution than is covered by a beggar's rags. This son of toil, from whose very touch your delicacy shrinks, and who, till Sabbath stops the wheels of business, and with her kind hand wipes the sweat of labour from his brow, never knows the comfort of cleanly attire, may have a heart within, which, compared with yours, is purity itself. Beneath this soiled raiment, he wears, all unseen by the world s dull eye, the "raiment of needle-work," and the "clean linen" of a Redeemer's righteousness. His speech may be rude, his accent vulgar; but let him open his heart, unbosom its secrets, and such gracious thoughts, such holy desires, such heavenly aspirations, such hallowed joys come forth, that it seems as if we had opened some rude sea-chest, brought by a foreign ship from southern lands, which, full to the lid with pearls, and gold, and diamonds, loads the air with floating odours of cassia, and myrrh, and frankincense.
‘Hypocrite, dead professor! Let us open thy bosom: full of all corruption, how it smells like a charnel house! We are driven back by the noisome stench; we hasten to close the door. It is a painted, putrid sepulchre, whose fair exterior only aggravates the foulness within. Yes. It is not what lies without, but within, that defiles a man. And when you wash on a Sabbath morning, it is well to remember that your soul needs washing in another laver; when your person is decked for church, oh, forget not that you need another robe, a raiment fairer than worm spins or shuttles weave, or the wealth of banks can buy. See that by faith ye put on Christ, and that righteousness of His, in which even the eye of God detects no spot, nor wrinkle, nor any such thing.

II. The nature of this defilement.

It is internal. Like snow-drift, when it has levelled the churchyard mounds, and, glistening in the winter sun, lies so pure, and white, and fair, and beautiful, above the dead that fester and rot below, a plausible profession may wear the look of innocence, and conceal from human eyes the foulest heart-corruption. The grass grows green on the mountain that hides a volcano in its bowels. Behind the rosy cheek and lustrous eye of beauty, how often does there lurk the deadliest of all diseases! Internal, but all the more dangerous that they are internal, such maladies are reluctantly believed in by their victims. They are the last to be suspected, and the hardest to cure. To other than the physician's skill or a mother's anxious look, this youthful and graceful form never wears bloom of higher health, nor moves in more fascinating charms, nor wins more admiring eyes, than when fell consumption, like a miner working on in darkness, has penetrated the vital organs, and is quietly sapping the foundations of life.
Like these maladies, sin has its seat within. It is a disease of the heart. It is the worst and deadliest of all heart-complaints. Looking on the surface there may be no symptom to create alarm, and in the conduct that lies open to man s judgment there may be little offensive to holiness; yet this fair exterior affords no criterion whatever, no sure or certain test by which to judge of matters within. Thanks be to God, and praise to sovereign grace, if sin does not find an unchallenged entrance, and meet a cordial welcome in our inner man; yet how constant, oh how arduous, how prolonged, is the fight which even gracious men have to maintain against the tendency to secret errors! The old man has been nailed to the tree, but how difficult it is to keep him fixed upon the cross! How difficult to restrain pollution, and to maintain a current of pure and hallowed desires flowing through the channels of the heart! It is well to judge ourselves that we be not judged; yet, in doing so, beware how you trust to outward appearances. What if it should be with us as with the unruffled pool, which seems so clean, nay, With heaven mirrored. in its face, so beautiful? Let temptations stir up our passions (and how little does it need to stir them!) and those pure, pellucid waters grow foul and noisome, and sending forth the most offensive odours, prove what vile pollution may lie concealed beneath the fairest surface. Think not that the evil is accidental; or that it lies, as some say, in education, in temptation, in external causes. It is traceable to the heart itself. What more harmless than temptations, this fiery dart launched by Satan s hand, that flaming arrow from his bow - if they fell like sparks in water? Alas! they fall like a blazing torch flung into a magazine of combustibles. Knowing this, and jealous of themselves, let God's people watch and pray that they enter not into temptation. To life's last step, with life's latest breath, be this your prayer, Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Another prayer, indeed, the sinner is called to offer. You have not to seek that your heart may be kept, but made clean. It is not health preserved, but health restored you want. Needing not food, but medicine, a new nature, a new heart, a new life, this is the prayer that best suits thy lips and meets thy case - Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
This defilement is universal.
Our world is inhabited by various races; different specimens, not different species of mankind. The Mongolian, the Negro, the race early cradled among Caucasian mountains, and the Red Indians of the new world; these all differ from each other in the colour of the skin, in the contour of the skull, in the cast and character of their features. Whence came this variety? "God made of one blood all the families of the earth," so says the Bible. According to that authority all are sprung of one pair, who at their creation were placed in a garden somewhere in the distant East. There, in that central and elevated region of the old world, our race was both created and redeemed; there the cradle of our family was rocked, and the cross of salvation raised; and, first breaking forth in an eastern sky, the lights of knowledge and religion, learning human and divine, letters, science, and arts have, as by a law of nature, followed the track of the sun. The origin of these different races is a question of no small importance, and has formed, between the assailants and defenders of our faith, a battle-ground long and obstinately contested.
If, in order to account for these different races on the principles of unchallengeable physiology, it could be demonstrated, that Europe, Africa, and America must, as well as Asia, have had their parent pairs, if it could be proved that there must of necessity have been, as regards mankind, different centres of creation, as many Adams as there are races of men, then it is plain that we must yield up the divine authority of the Bible, and read the story of Moses as an old-world fable, some Egyptian legend, which he had embalmed in the page of Genesis. Infidelity, quick to see what would serve her purpose, has attempted to prove this; and boldly challenged religion to meet her on the field of science. Her challenge has been accepted. Men-at-arms in the ranks of the faith have taken up the gauntlet. The battle has been fought, fought well, and fought out. With what result? To the confusion and complete discomfiture of the infidel, it now stands demonstrated, that in this question, as in others, science is in perfect harmony with revelation. Dismissing all Adams but one, she demands no more than the Bible grants, will receive no more than it offers, and believe no more than it reveals. She concludes that these varieties of the human family are, in the providence of God, and in the hands of an Omnipotence which delights in variety, the offspring of a single pair.
There is one argument which these unhired, impartial, and independent defenders of our faith, these high-priests of science, did not, perhaps, feel warranted to employ, but which yet presents to us the most clear and conclusive evidence of a common origin, it lies where the tests of chemistry cannot detect it; nor the knife of the anatomist reach it; nor the eye of the physiognomist discover it; nor the instruments of the phrenologist measure it. Its place is in the inner man. It lies in the depths of the soul. It comes out in this remarkable fact, that although the hues of the skin differ, and the form of the skull and the features of the face are cast in different moulds, the features, colour, and character of the heart are the same in all men. Be he pale-faced or red, tawny or black, Jew, Greek, Scythian, bond or free, whether he be the lettered and civilized inhabitant Of Europe, or roam a painted savage in American woods, or pant beneath the burning line, or wrapt in furs, shiver amid Arctic snows, as in all classes of society, so in all these races of men (to quote the words of the prophet), "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;" in the no less emphatic language of the Apostle, "the carnal mind is enmity against God." The pendulum, further removed from the centre, vibrates more slowly at the equator than at the poles; the further north we push our way over thick-ribbed ice, the faster the clock goes; but parallels of latitude have no modifying influence on the motions of the heart. It beats the same in all men; nor, till repaired by grace, does it in any man beat true to God. In Adam all have died - have sinned, and therefore died. Thus sin, like our atmosphere, embraces every region Of the world. Like death, it is universal. Its empire is coeval and co-extensive with that of the king of terrors.
How can it be otherwise? The tree is diseased, not at the top, but at the root; and, therefore, no one branch of the human family can possibly escape being affected by sin. Man is the child of unholy parents, and how can a clean thing come out of an unclean? When water of its own accord shall rise above its fountain; then may Adam's children boast of a nature loftier and holier than his. Is anything plainer, anything more palpable than this, that if the fountain was polluted, to whatever quarter of the world the stream of population flowed, it must have borne pollution in its bosom ? If suffering is the sure index of sin, then, as there is no country beneath the sun where its signs are not seen, and sounds of pain are not heard, sin is everywhere, and in every man. Be they dug in Greenland snows, or in the desert sands, there is no land without its graves; nor, wherever it stands, any city without its cemetery. Be they monarchies or republics, unaffected by the revolutions that cast down other dynasties, death reigns in them all, a king of kings. Death sits on the world's oldest throne. Enduring the stings of conscience, sin and serpent-bitten, man is condemned by a voice within him; and there sits a divinity enthroned in every soul, whose voice is the clear, articulate, and solemn echo of this judgment, All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.

This evil is incurable.
Hear the word of the Lord, Though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord. Again, Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil. Again, Why should ye he stricken any more, ye will revolt more and more? Of these solemn and humbling truths it were difficult to find a more remarkable illustration than that before us. What moral effect had God's judgments on his ancient people? Some children owe their ruin to excessive indulgence; others, the victims of an injudicious severity, are driven first into falsehood, and from that on, step by step, to other crimes. But who will impute error to God, or challenge the wisdom of his ways? Yet, when the scourge was in the hands of a paternal and all wise God, what effect had it on his people? Were they cured by their afflictions, by trials that extended over long years of suffering? Did these arrest the malady? Had they even the salutary effect of preventing their sinking deeper into sin? By no means. As always happens in incurable diseases, the patient grew worse instead of better. "Seducers wax worse and worse." As always happens when life is gone, the dead became more and more offensive. The brighter the sun shines, the more the skies rain, the thicker the dews of night, and the hotter the day, the faster the fallen tree rots; because those agents in nature which promote vegetation and develope the forms and beauty of life, the sounding shower, the silent dews, the summer heat, have no other effect on death than to hasten its putridity and decay.
And even so - impressive lesson of the impotency of all means that are unaccompanied by the divine blessing - was it with God s ancient people. He commissioned servants, and he inflicted sufferings; but until the Spirit of life descended from on high, their habits only grew more depraved, their case more desperate, their profanity more profane; they laid themselves more and more open to the charge, "The last state of that man is worse than the first." Wherever on weary feet these poor exiles wandered, they dishonoured religion, disgraced the faith; and, instead of extorting the respect of their oppressors, they but exposed themselves and their God to contempt. The heathen sneered and said, These are the people of the Lord! and, a circumstance less common, these down-trodden exiles, these debased and degraded sinners, seem themselves to have felt the desperate nature of their case; they said, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost.
Now, as we may learn from the history of the Jews, the case of every sinner, apart from divine assistance, is a desperate one. This internal and universal defilement is one which neither sorrows can atone for, nor sufferings remove. In a passage which we have already quoted, God says, Though thou wash thee with nitre; and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me. Yes. Sorrows here have no more virtue than soap, tears than nitre. Trust not, therefore, in any unsanctified afflictions. These cannot permanently and really change the condition of your heart. I have seen the characters of the writing remain on paper which the flames had turned into a film of buoyant coal; I have seen the thread that had been passed through the fire, retain, in its cold grey ashes, the twist which it had got in spinning; I have found every shivered splinter of the flint as hard as the unbroken stone: and let trials come, in providence, sharp as the fire and ponderous as the crushing hammer, unless a gracious God send along with these something else, bruised, broken, bleeding, as your heart may be, its nature remains the same. You may weep for your sins; and, since all of us have need to seek a more tender conscience, and that this too cold and callous heart were warmed and softened, sorry should I be to stop your weeping. Should a mote of dust find its way into the natural eye, the irritation induced will weep out the evil; and so, in a sense, with sin offending a tender and holy conscience. But tears, oceans of tears, wash not guilt away. Though all are lost that fall not on the feet of Jesus; yet even the tears which bathe his feet wash out no sins. When falling thickest, flowing fastest, we are to remember that it is not the tears we shed, but the blood he shed, which is the price of pardon; and that guilty souls are nowhere cleansed but in that fountain of blood where the foulest are welcome to wash and are certain to be cleansed. From its crimson margin a Magdalene and a Manasseh have gone up to glory; and since their times, succeeding ages have been daily and more fully proving, that grace is still free, salvation still full, and that still the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin. "There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Emmanuel's veins; And sinners plunged beneath that flood Lose all their guilty stains."

Go to next chapter?

Home | Links | Sermons | Literature | Biography | Photos