Can These Bones Live?
by Edward Griffin(1770-1837)
And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? and I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.
Can these bones live? When this question was put to Ezekiel he was standing in vision by a valley full of bones,—bones that were "very dry" and scattered abroad. To the eye of reason it appeared impossible that bone should ever come to its bone, that sinews and flesh should be gathered upon them, that breath should enter into them, and that they should stand "up upon their feet an exceeding great army." He saw nothing in the bones, nothing in himself, nothing in the whole creation that could produce this change. When therefore God put the question to him, "Son of man, can these bones live?" what could he answer but, "O Lord God, thou knowest"? Thou only canst produce this change; thou only knowest whether it will be done.
This valley of bones represented the whole house of Israel in Babylon, dead to all hope, and most of them dead in sin; whom God intended to raise to holiness and restore to the land of their fathers, and to whom he directed the vision to be thus explained: "Ye shall know that I am the Lord when I have opened your graves,—and shall put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land." Placing them in their own land, was only setting them up in the world after they were made alive; their resurrection consisted in rising from the death of sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. The vision therefore illustrates the natural condition of men in general, "dead in trespasses and sins" and cut off from hope, and their resurrection to spiritual life by the power of God.
Methinks I am standing today on the margin of a valley full of dry bones, —the bones of my kindred, at whose death my tears have often flowed. As I bend over the remains of those dear to me and mourn the wide desolation, I perceive the bones to be very dry. I see them disjointed and scattered through the valley in ruinous disorder. While I stand fixed in grief, a whisper comes from heaven, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I start at the joyous sound. I look at the valley again. To the eye of reason such an event seems impossible. The whisper swells upon my ear, "Son of man, can these bones live?" Agitated with hope and fear, and certain on whom the event depends, what can I answer but, "O Lord God, thou knowest"?
Can these souls that are dead in trespasses and sins, ever be revived? If they cannot, they must soon sink into the eternal death. They must burn in unquenchable fire. Can they not be raised? —They might be formed into beings capable of inconceivable and endless enjoyment, —capable of everlasting service and praise. Precious in our eyes is their very dust. What pity that such materials should be worse than lost, and made fuel for the flames that shall consume others. It is a loss great enough to fill a world with tears. Can they not be raised? This question must soon be decided. The ground is already rocking under them. Whatever is done must be done quickly. Can they be raised?
Their death is their own fault. it is the death of sin,—of supreme selfishness and pride armed against the government of God, against the dying love of Christ, against the rights and interests of the universe. It is such a death as deserves eternal reprobation,—as crushes them under mountains of guilt,—as makes them odious in the sight of God, mere masses of putrefaction. Can they not be raised from this disgraceful death?
To the eye of reason I confess the case appears hopeless. As desirable as such an event is,—as distressing as it is to see our kindred lie among the slain,—sense and reason must forever despair.— Their death consists in strong opposition to life and to all the means of restoring life; and yet they can not be made actively alive without their own consent. Every means has been used to obtain that consent, but in vain. God has sent his own Son to die, to render it consistent for them to live and enjoy life. That Son has suffered and died and risen, and stood over them and entreated them; but they have rejected his love and turned their faces to the earth and resolved to lie in death still. He has prepared a life for them more blessed than that which they lost; he has described to them the high beatitudes of that life and the horrors of that eternal death into which they must soon plunge, until heavenly eloquence is exhausted; but like the deaf adder they have stopped their ears. He has sent many messengers to renew the entreaty, but all to no purpose. Sermons, which have been poured into their ears for twenty or thirty years, might as well have been poured into the grave. The Bible has in vain raised its authoritative voice,—in vain has sent its beseeching tones to the ear of death. Sabbaths and sacraments have returned to solicit them in vain. The heavenly Spirit has breathed through the valley; but him they have resisted and grieved away. Ministers have preached, parents have wept, Christians have prayed, God has entreated: but all to no purpose: they still love death rather than life. Every thing that heaven and earth could do in a way of means has been done, but they are still buried in the world as though this was their eternal home. All that has been done cannot bring them to pray in their families or even in their closets. All cannot bring them to raise one earnest cry for mercy or to shed one tear for sin. They live as jocundly as though they were not undone,—as though they were not sinking into eternal fire. —They sport with death and play with damnation. They mock at the authority of God and defy his wrath. While he is looking on,—while he holds his sword to their breast, —they dare his omnipotence. That sword smites their companions by their side, but they regard it not. In the glass of a dying bed, in the glass of new opened graves, they see their own face, and straightway go away and forget what manner of persons they are. Years revolve and push them onward to the tomb, till their trembling limbs totter over the pit; but they remain as careless about their future destiny as on the day they were born. If their conscience for a moment disturbs them with anticipations of a judgment to come, instead of resorting to Christ, they resort to their inoffensive lives, or to a new course of duties, or to a denial of future punishment, or to downright infidelity. Some of them seem to think that if they can insult the threatenings of God with a joke, it will stop his approaching wrath. Many of them do not think salvation worth the pains of examining the conditions on which it is offered, by a careful study of the Scriptures. Amidst the full blaze of Gospel light, they live and grow old almost as ignorant of religion a as pagans, and are ready to seize every error without examination which is calculated to quiet their conscience and quell their fears. Instead of giving "diligence to make" their "calling and elect ion sure," they are hurrying from amusement to amusement, while death and judgment are posting on to meet them, and on the verge of eternity are scattering every serious thought in scenes of dissipation. All this time God is warning, Christ is pleading, angels are wondering, Christians are trembling; but all in vain. What hope then remains that they will ever turn and live? Their hearts have hitherto been able to resist all means and motives; what prospect that they will not continue to resist? Instead of growing softer they are hardening every day. If they resisted yesterday they are more likely to resist tomorrow. The power of habit is growing stronger upon them every hour. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?" The Spirit of God is departing, (if it has not wholly forsaken them,) and Satan is hourly entrenching himself in their hearts. What chance then remains? Certainly their chance is small, and to the eve of reason their restoration appears impossible. And yet they are looking forward to future conversion with a confidence that can risk their salvation on the issue without an anxious thought. They think God will certainly spare them though he spare not others, or they dream that they can at any time bring themselves to life. Thus they rest, while perhaps at this moment there are a thousand chances to one that they are not to "escape the damnation of hell."
Must Christians continue to live in such a valley of the slain. Must their hearts bleed forever at the daily sight of miseries which they cannot relieve? Must they always walk up and down in the place of graves and weep over the dry bones of their kindred? What can prevent? What hope can be formed of the resurrection of a single being "dead in trespasses and sins?" "O that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people."
Must we then give up all for lost? Must we resign the whole impenitent world to everlasting despair? Yes certainly,—if God does not interpose. Yes certainly,—if he does not exert almighty power, —the same power that will at last call sleeping nations from the tomb. Will he exert this power for those who are now before me? I cannot tell. He has told no man. Will one of the impenitent of this assembly ever see the kingdom of God? That is a secret wrapt up in the archives of eternity. Unless God raise the dead the dead will not revive. Whether he will raise one of these I cannot tell. In respect to the careless, there is not the least symptom in their favor, —not a particle of evidence that they have not to spend their eternity in hell. In respect to all the impenitent before me, this I know, (for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it,) that they will never do anything to help God to raise them or to induce God to raise them. They will do nothing but oppose till God makes them "willing in the day of his power." Though their anxieties and struggles and prayers are made a means in the hands of the Spirit to carry on the preparatory work, yet they themselves do not help but oppose their resurrection. The selfishness, pride, self-righteousness and unbelief which fill their prayers, do nothing but oppose. If God lets down an arm to raise them from death, it will be wholly self-moved. After all their cries and tears and attendance on means, (without which the preparatory work could not go on,) if he raises them to life he will be as much self-induced as though he were to convert an infidel in his sleep. Their convictions and struggles and subsequent despondency and dying to all hope from themselves, prepare them when life is restored, to see to whom they owe their salvation and how great is the debt. It is therefore in accordance with the wise and merciful purposes of God to make them anxious, to set them upon the use of means, and by the light poured upon their conscience to force them to cry for mercy. If they can keep from this anxiety and use of means, they will certainly keep from salvation. But all their anxieties and cries, though useful in other respects, do not induce God to change their hearts. If he does it at all he does it of his own accord, "because he delighteth in mercy." If he never performs this act, —if he lays upon them his eternal strokes, —he will be just. —They richly deserve his wrath. He is under no obligation to them. He has never bound himself to them by covenant. He will not violate the laws of justice nor any promise to mankind if he leaves every impenitent sinner in this house to perish. —For aught I know he will. For aught you know he will.
And yet he is more ready to "give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him," than parents are to give bread to their children. If these sinners would ask aright he would certainly answer. They ought to do it ; but they will not do it; and never will, till, uninduced by their cries, he makes them "willing in the day of" his "power." Whether he ever will, no mortal man can tell. And yet among all the crowd of careless sinners you cannot find one but is confident that he shall be saved,—that God will spare him however he deals with others, or that he can at any time prepare his own heart, and that he certainly will before he dies. And yet all this time the question wholly depends on the sovereign will of God. "It is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." Let no sinner trust to his own future will. That future will depends on God.
Does this theory convert sinners into machines, or form any excuse for their deadness? No; they would be actively alive at once if they were not wickedly opposed to life. The greater that opposition the greater their guilt. But the opposition is so great that none but God will ever subdue it. In this precise thing their moral dependence lies. It depends on God to conquer their criminal opposition to life. That is all. They have no excuse for this opposition. They ought not to make it. But since they do, it depends on God whether to subdue it or not. They will never aid nor induce him to exert this power, they will only oppose. He is not bound by justice or promise to exert it for any individual. Whether he will do it or not is a secret wrapt up in his own inscrutable will. The intentions of sinners to become good at a future time, have no other influence than to ruin them by delay.
When therefore I see many around me "dead in trespasses and sins," I can form no opinion respecting their future fate. The prospect is dark. If they are still stupid and prayerless, there is not a symptom in their favor. If a voice from heaven should ask me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I could only refer it back and say, "O Lord God, thou knowest." God only knows whether one of them will ever see the kingdom of heaven, or whether they will all sink together to eternal despair. He this moment sees the throne of glory where each one will reign, or the bed in hell where each one will lie. My only hope for any of them rests on his eternal purpose to raise many of our race from death,—to put life into them without their aid and in spite of their opposition. For what individuals he will do this, he must himself decide, uninfluenced by man. He is ready to hear the prayers of his people for individuals. But unless he has chosen those individuals, he will not give his people, when they pray for them, the spirit of those prayers to which the promises are made. He will himself decide the fate of all. He will have "mercy on whom he will have mercy." If men will not be good of themselves, —if they will all refuse, and oblige God to compel them, —pray give him the common right of a man, to determine whom he will compel and whom he will not. He is under no obligation to any. All deserve destruction. They whom he leaves have only their deserts. They are not injured by his free grace to others. That grace to others is none of their concern. Has he not a right to do what he will with his own? If he gives some their exact due and bestows a free gift on others, who has a right to complain? But complain who will it alters not the case. He will not alienate the rights of the Godhead for the unreasonable murmurs of rebellious worms. God will decide your eternal fate. He will decide in regard to each of you who are impenitent, whether he will change your heart or leave you to harden in sin till you die. If he should call out any one of you from the crowd and ask me, Can that sinner live? I could only answer, "O Lord God, thou knowest." This is all that parents can say in respect to their Christless children. Can that child of your affections live? They have nothing to answer but, "O Lord God, thou knowest."
And now, my dear hearers, do you ask me why I state these things before you? It is not to torment any of you before the time; it is with an humble hope that God may make the truths profitable to you. My wish is to convince you that you are in his hands and to bring you to his feet. That is the only place where any sinner ever found mercy. He is your best friend who endeavors to bring you there. Be not angry at these statements, but rather bless God that you now distinctly see where you must go for relief. This whole subject teaches you that you must go to the feet of God and there lie till he shall lift you up; and it teaches you nothing else. O could I see you there I could hope. You have often urged your dependence on God, not as a reason to bring you to his feet, but as an excuse for indolence and stupidity. This was a strange perversion. Make no such use of this doctrine any longer. I hope that it may be blest, in the first place, to awaken your anxiety. If God intends to bring you to repentance he will first make you anxious, —he will fill you with such a sense of sin and ruin as will press from your lips strong cries for mercy. And though he will not listen to impenitent cries, yet without that previous state of anguish and supplication, he is not likely to bring you to repentance. I hope, in the second place, that this statement will awaken Christians to pray for you, and with a new sense of dependence. If God intends to save you he will probably first put a spirit of prayer for you into the hearts of some of his children, that he may convert you in answer to prayer. For though he will decide your fate himself, uninfluenced by man, yet if he intends to save you he will dictate prayers in answer to which he may confer the infinite blessing. I hope, in the third place, that this exposition may lead you to fear and reverence him on whose will your salvation depends. Certainly it ought to lead to this. The loose notion of dependence which you heretofore had, led you only to throw your duties from yourselves upon God. But I hope it will not be so now. After all you have heard, will you, under the plea that if you are saved God must save you and you have nothing to do, idly turn away to other matters? Will you thus trifle with him on whom your salvation depends? With so much at stake upon his will, dare you turn your backs on him and rush after idols? Will you refuse him the homage of your prayers? Will you any longer provoke him by your unbelief and sin? Will you violate his laws and assail his throne? And all this while he is looking on? all this while his will is to decide your eternal fate? Is it prudent thus to treat an almighty Sovereign who has you in his hands? Is it safe to rush thus upon the thick bosses of his buckler? What infatuation has seized thee, O presumptuous worm? Stay, stay thy mad career. Drop those weapons from your bloody hands. —Fall down at his feet. There say, I resign myself a prisoner into thy hands, to be disposed of as thou shalt see fit. —Look to his bleeding, dying Son. Look to the interceding Priest. And then, collecting your whole soul into one effort, say, Accept that life in lieu of mine. Hear that intercession for the vilest of traitors. God be merciful to me a sinner! —Do this from the bottom of your heart and you shall live. Do this and you shall find yourself in the arms of a forgiving Parent. Do it speedily or you die forever.