There are two remarkable events, recorded in Scripture, which took place in connection with the ministry of the Word of God.
One is that of a young man, named Eutychus, falling from the third loft, during the preaching of the Apostle Paul, and who was taken up dead; and the other is, the sudden death of a prince in Israel, named Pelatiah, which occurred at the time Ezekiel was prophesying against the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (Acts 20:9-12; Ezekiel 11.) In the case of the former we find that God interposed in mercy, and the Apostle was used to restore him to life again, and, when he presented him alive, the friends "were not a little comforted." No such power, however, was employed in behalf of the latter. On the other hand, when the prophet saw that the prince was dead, he fell down upon his face, and cried with a loud voice, "Ah, Lord God! wilt Thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?"
The preaching of the apostle on the occasion referred to, was a means of testing the endurance of his audience, for he "continued his speech until midnight." (v. 7.) And the slumbering state of Eutychus, which resulted in his fall, showed how unequal he was to the occasion, and while exposing himself before all present, he sustained a loss which he never recovered. Through the tender mercy of God he recovered his life, but the portion of Paul's ministry, which he lost while he was sleeping, he never recovered. And who knows but that the last part was the best on that memorable night and very special occasion?
We are not to suppose that the failure of Eutychus, and the fall which attended it, is without an equivalent, and that there are none of the same class of persons to be found in the vast assemblies of professing Christians in the present day. The test is the Word of God, and the preacher, who is bold enough to apply the same, by presenting to his hearers the apostle's doctrine of the heavenly calling, and the heavenly association of the Church with Christ, will see if it does not reveal a state of soul answering to what was seen in the case of Eutychus. At the same time, it will serve as a demonstration of the fact that his followers have increased to a multitude.
It is to be feared we have each contributed towards the spirit of slumber, and of general indifference, which now prevails among the professing people of God, with regard to those heavenly truths so peculiar to the teaching of the Apostle Paul. That kind of preaching, indeed, is preferred which justifies the Christian in "making the best of both worlds," and even in making more of the present one than of that to come, while he has the opportunity: while the ministry which would lead us into the present enjoyment of our heavenly portion, and hold the heart in occupation with things above, "where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God," is either slighted or refused. It is, therefore, a great mercy when the authority of the word is acknowledged, and the Master's voice is heard, saying, "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." (Eph. 5.) May each slumbering heart be awakened by the loud, long, and loving appeal of our ever-living Lord, "Awake, awake!" and thus receive more light, and have more enjoyment of the apostle's doctrine of the heavenly calling, instead of contenting ourselves with knowing our eternal security in Christ, and with having heaven in prospect merely, and its joys in anticipation only.
It is needful to distinguish between waywardness of heart, accompanied with ignorance, as is often the case, and rebelliousness of will, which rises in opposition to God. These two things apply, in principle, to the persons referred to above, and account for the compassion which was shown to one, and not to the other. The death of Pelatiah must be viewed, therefore, rather as a visitation from God, who showed His indignation toward one who was both "wise in his own conceit," and guilty of the two-fold sin of withstanding God's messenger, and misleading His people. And the appeal of the prophet on that solemn occasion, was the means of disclosing the fact that God had a controversy not only with the prince, but also with some of His people, whose hearts were lifted up with pride, and who treated their brethren, who were under discipline, with contempt. The Lord replied to the prophet as follows:
"Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, thy brethren, even thy brethren, the men of thy kindred, and all the house of Israel wholly, are they unto whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, Get you far from the Lord: unto us is this land given in possession. Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come." (Ezekiel 11:14-16.)
Much had been done, no doubt, by the house of Israel, to merit the displeasure of God, as was witnessed by their scattered condition; but instead of justifying their brethren in despising them, in the abundance of His mercy, God showed His readiness to defend them; and He exposed the pride which prompted the inhabitants of Jerusalem to say, "Get you far from the Lord: unto us is this land given in possession." Not only did God assure His servant that He would preserve His scattered and unfaithful people, but He also revealed to him that the time was coming when they would be gathered together in their own land, and have "one heart" and a new spirit, and they would be His people, and He would be their God.
We sometimes learn the greatness of our sins, as well as the nature of our blessings, by means of contrast. Compare, for example, the contemptuous expression of the inhabitants of Jerusalem with the confession of the humble-minded remnant, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory." (Psalm 115:11.) The omission of the word "NOT" proved that the inhabitants of Jerusalem were guilty not only of despising their brethren, but also of claiming undue honour for themselves, instead of attributing it unto God, from whom it comes, and to whom all glory is due.
The sin of which we are speaking, is not confined to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to Old Testament times. It has beset the people of God in all ages, and was repeated by the disciples of Christ, whose self-importance betrayed itself on a certain occasion, when they saw one doing what they ought to have been able to do, but could not, through lack of prayer and fasting. And John, addressing the Lord, said: "Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us." But the Lord replied, "Forbid him not! for there is no man which shall do a miracle in My name, that can speak lightly of Me. For he that is not against us is on our part." (Mark 9:38-40.) This reply not only declares His faithfulness in reproving His people for their pride, but also proclaims His grace in claiming all that love His name, and own His authority.
May we all learn a lesson from the three utterances - "us," "unto us," and "not unto us" - and prove the sufficiency of the grace of God in preserving us from the sin of self-exaltation; and, instead of despising our brethren, let us seek, by means of the same grace, to esteem others more highly than ourselves, and say, "The Lord be magnified."