66 The Wheels in Ezekiel
A Sermon Preached By William Gadsby In Manchester, March 22nd, 1840.
The following is from MS. It evidently, is like all the following, fragmentary.
“Now, as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl; and they four had one likeness; and their appearance and their work was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel; when they went, they went upon their four sides; and they turned not when they went. As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Whithersoever the Spirit was to go, they went; thither was their Spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them, for the Spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.”—Ezekiel 1:15-20
You may, perhaps, say I am about to go beyond my depth. No man can truly preach God’s Word unless the Spirit of God reveal it to him. I have long struggled with this passage, which now, I trust, God has been pleased to cast a ray of light upon; and as the Spirit of God shall enable me, I will boldly speak of the mystery therein. The solemn and divine mystery of the Holy Ghost is couched in these figures, which are confirmed in Ezekiel x. 10: “And as for their appearances, they four had one likeness, as if a wheel had been in the midst of a wheel.” Some fleshly mind will reply, “Why then does not God reveal himself in more intelligible terms?” Such a question is insulting to God. When Christ was asked why he spake in parables, he answered, “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but unto them it is not given.” He spake in parables, that in seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. Yes, that the blindness of God’s people might be made light, and that it might be hidden from the rest, as Christ most solemnly declares: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” This will, nay, does confound reason, and the wise understand it not. They go blindly on; they hear with their ears but understand not. The lame, the maimed, and the blind are led to put confidence in the Lord, and no one else.
My mind has been engaged with these wheels many times. They have proved too hard for me, and have, by their workings, many times made me giddy. But I will speak a few thoughts, as God is pleased to throw a light upon the subject in my soul.
I. What is meant by the Living creatures.
II. What is understood by the wheels, and the wheels within wheels.
III. The living creatures turned not; for the Spirit of God appears to lead them within the wheels.
IV. That the Spirit of God is the Leader of the whole. The Spirit led the van, as we are told in verse 20: “Whithersoever the Spirit was to go, they went; thither was their spirit to go.”
V. What is intended by the rings being full of eyes, and being lifted up so high that they were dreadful.
I. Then what are the living creatures ‘They are the ministers of the Son of God. They are also called cherubim in chapter 10. Observe, they are living creatures. There are many learned and talented preachers who have not this living principle within. A minister of God has divine life and light in his soul. He walks in this divine light, through the invincible power of the Spirit operating within him. He knows the Spirit’s movements, from himself being quickened by the Spirit. This humbles him in the dust before God, as in verse 3, concerning Ezekiel, the man of God. The hand of the Lord was then upon him. Immanuel is intended to lead the van. The church of God has many hurricanes; but she has never been in any, neither pain nor grief, but the Lord Jesus has been there too, and he will bring her safely through. There is not a temptation a child of God has endured but the Son of God has also waded through it. He was tempted in all points like unto us, yet without sin. Say you, “It was not great or hard to endure, because he was without sin; because, therefore, he had no inclination.” Though he had no inclination, this makes the temptation no less. Nay, but it would make it the more horrifying. Do you not recollect the time when you could make your boast in sin? You were glad that you could sin so easily, so well; but now it is horrifying to your soul. What makes it so? The divine Spirit of purity in your soul. How much more piercing, then, were the darts which were hurled at Infinite Purity! How painful would they be to Christ! They never took fire in his bosom. He stood, and we stand through him, and shall finally gain the victory. Talk of creature goodness, creature strength, and creature ability to stand such a conquest! Hurl it from you, and cast it into oblivion.
What is meant by the living creatures coming out of the whirlwind, as in verse 4? That if you have no tribulation, no whirlwinds of temptation, as Christ had, your doctrines, your opinions, yea, even your troubles are merely superficial; you must be made to go through the fire. It is by this process alone God fits his ministers for his work. He furnishes them with wings, the wings of faith and love, that they may soar whithersoever the Spirit leads them, with hands under their wings, that they should handle the Word of Life. The creatures had four faces. You do not like what is called a two-faced person; but all the ministers of God have four Faces: 1. The face of a man, that they may discover and point out what man is—the temptations he is subject to, and his natural corruptions; 2. The face of a lion, that they may be courageous, majestic, and not shrink at trials or conflicts. The lion has great power, or man would trample on him to death. But the weak saint and the courageous lion are all one in Christ. 3. The face of an ox; for their work must be laborious, like that of an ox. “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn.” Some professors, who are rich in themselves, are like the muzzled ox; they cannot bite. But God’s ministers must have liberty that they may eat the corn. Every one of them must be a partaker of it himself; and the people should encourage him, and deal out to him what nature requires, that he may work as an ox. 4. The face of an eagle. He must be eagle-eyed, as well as swift, that he may detect and point out hypocrites, and send his darts at them, and penetrate into the mysteries of the gospel which he preaches. And he should be swift in seeing after the people’s welfare; visiting the poor and the sick, and attending to their necessities, as far as his flock, in the providence of God, enable him; so not swift to visit only.
II. What are we to understand by the wheels? There are four particulars that unite these great wheels; and these are high, so that they are dreadful. What does it take to form them? 1. The glorious gospel of God’s grace; 2. The visible church united in one glorious body. 3. Outward ordinances, appointed by God for the comfort and fellowship of his church. 4. The solemn and awful dispensations of God, executed in a way of judgment and mercy. All these wheels form but one wheel; or rather, they are wheels within the wheel.
1. The glorious gospel of the grace of God. Ah! What a wheel this is! How it whirls round to catch poor sinners I Though they, like sheep, may run as far as sheep can run from the fold, it will catch them. It whirls round so fast that it is like a whirlwind in the sinner’s conscience, and makes sad havoc of his self-righteousness, blowing it about in every direction. Then it comforts them in the Holy Ghost with power and with much assurance. It is moved by the Spirit. Men may study the letter of God’s Word; they may judgmentally know and preach it; but if they are without the Spirit of the living creature within the wheels, there is no life. When there is, the wheels run well, and all are safe. The great apostle of the Gentiles went with this wheel. Did he go with a studied sermon, having previously considered how long it would take him to deliver it? Had he so measured it that he knew to a minute what time he should have it concluded? Did he go with a fine oration and a fleshly task? No. You hear no word of this. He went in the fulness of the blessings of the gospel of grace. There was the Spirit of the living creature within the wheels. He had the immortal unction of the Holy One in his soul.
Some one may ask, “What is the gospel?” The gospel is good news, glad tidings, to poor cast-down, broken-hearted sinners; the teeming out of the love of Christ to a poor worm, made known to him by grace, and grace alone. The gospel of Christ is not made up of offers, and proffers, or overtures. It is not left to chance, or uncertainty, whether the creature can or will accept of it or not. It is the glory and majesty of Christ administered to the church in love. It is part of the wheels. The promise, love, blood, doctrine, pardon, and reconciliation, all united with this one wheel, and always going round with it. This cannot be learnt from books or men. The minister of Christ must feel the power; he must himself handle and taste the word of life. If none but living men stood up in our day as preachers, there would be very few; for the Spirit of life is not within their wheels. But whithersoever the Spirit goes the true ministers go. Then, when the church of God meet together, they enjoy each other’s company; for the Spirit of the living creatures is in the wheels.
There are places in this nation the Spirit will visit, and then move to other places, as God shall direct. We read that the apostle, in traversing the earth, wanted to stop at one place; but God forbade him; at another he was unwilling to stop and preach; but God said he must, for he had much people in that place; and he was blessedly made the object of God’s love, to declare his message and proclaim the promise of grace,—peace and pardon to the believing soul. Though you were and are a weak, sinful creature, not able to stand in yourself, he raised you up to the enjoyment of himself. The gospel came not to you in word only, but in power; not by me or you, delivered with fine compliments, or smooth speeches; it came with power, laid you low, sank you to hopeless despondency; then gave you faith and much assurance, and revealed pardon to your soul, through the powerful influence of the Holy Ghost. The door of your conscience was battered around, and artful fiends of hell tried to stir up carnal reason, but were not able. Through God the Spirit, you were enabled to wheel them all round, and say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; it is the power of God unto salvation.” Has it not thus wheeled round with you? Did not the first manifestation of love move you a little above your earthly sphere, like a worm peeping out of its hole, and then going in? By and bye, the Spirit of the blessed gospel comes with a sweet and comforting intimation of mercy, and, by an immutable life and power, you are again brought out of the hole and led to a sweet and joyful hope in Christ.
2. The visible church of God united in one glorious body is another branch of the wheel. And what does this mean? Do we understand the united sects and denominations of professing Christians, as the Presbyterian, Methodist, Calvinist, or Baptist, as one glorious church united in one body? No. This is an invention of the devil, to deceive souls. In what sect, then, does it consist? None, whatever sect they belong to, are of this glorious body, unless the Spirit of the living creature is within the wheels. Unless this is the case, none can truly believe. The great difference is, that one is the shadow, the other the substance; the Spirit of the living creatures is within the wheels; God is in them and they in him. This is what constitutes and cements this glorious church in one. Every individual soul forms a part, and in it must work, as a wheel has work to do when it moves round; which it is continually doing; one side up, the other down; and which continually whirling round is appointed by God to the praise and glory of his grace. As a wheel would be imperfect if one spoke was short or wanting, so would Christ’s glorious body be imperfect if one child of God were missing; as every child of God constitutes a part of this wheel.
3. The outward means and ordinances God has appointed for the glory of his name and the blessing of his people. The rings were full of eyes; then they were not blind rings. In preaching the gospel, ministers must have eyes. In administering the ordinance of baptism and the Lord’s supper, they should have eyes of faith. Thus, when it is done by faith, God, as it were, manifestively wheels himself into the hearts and consciences of his people.
Prayer is another branch; not prating; thousands prate who never pray, while many pray who do not prate. They stammer, and sigh, groan, and moan in prayer; but God hears such prayers; they are -a part of these wheels. I have often admired a line of Hart’s:
“Pray if then canst, or canst not speak.”
Words are but wind, and words cannot express the whole heartfelt prayer. Moses was a man of few words; yet while his arms were held up, the children of Israel conquered. Sigh, and cry; lay you down at mercy’s door; if he trample upon you, yea, if you perish, perish there. God will appear, and however feeble you may be, he will support you:
“Prayer’s a weapon for the feeble;
Weakest souls can wield it best.”
Nothing but the Spirit of the living creatures within the wheels will enable you to go forward.
Watchfulness is another part. Christ tells us “to watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation.” Paul tells us to “take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication of the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” He who prays aright in the Spirit, will watch also, or the wheels will not move well. Many pray vehemently, but do not watch. It is right to watch the movements of the dispensations of providence, to warn, comfort, and caution the church. To illustrate my meaning, suppose a house to be on fire; if the watchmen, when they saw it, instead of sounding the alarm, stood and watched the blaze in its various movements, the consequence would be the premises would soon be burnt down. They must give an alarm. The child of God will be made to watch, lest the enemy should come and sow tares, raising the workings of old nature within, and sinking him into a sad labyrinth. He will, therefore, watch; and as soon as he perceives the breaking forth of this destructive fire within, I had nearly said he must cry “Murder!” but he will cry to God.
The rings were full of eyes, to see the designs of the enemy and the designs of God, that you may go on right. Frequently, in reading the Word of God, you read and think upon it, but cannot understand. It appears all a mystery; you cry out to the Lord, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” He hears your prayer; and as you whirl round on this Bible wheel, you see therein eternal realities, and the grace of God shines in every page.
4. The solemn and awful dispensations of God executed in a way of judgment and mercy. Our Lord tells us, “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body should be cast into hell.” By which I understand that those things which are dear to us, if they offend, must be moved from us. The Lord, in the dispensation of his providence, will whirl them from us, that we may, like Job, “come forth as gold, which is purified in the fire,” and sing of judgment and mercy. When right arms and eyes are taken, and he has mowed us down as a thistle, we can say, “He has done all things well.”
The rings were so high that they were dreadful. It is dreadful to solemnly sing of God’s judgments, executed upon ungodly men; yet such a solemn song did the psalmist sing: “He drowned the Egyptians in the Bed Sea; for his mercy endureth for ever.” The wrath of men shall praise him. Men shall praise him for judgments, and for the honour of his name. Thus is there a perfect union maintained in the glory and honour of this majestic wheel. The Spirit of God moved in all its workings, and we are enabled to trace his wonder-working hand, because the Spirit of the living creature is within the wheels. Many of the dispensations of God are trying to flesh and blood; but they must come to lead you right. God works them out for your good, and you are brought sometimes to this blessed position,—resigned to the will of God, and to confess to the Lord, saying, “Thou hast done what is right. Go on, Lord; thy will be done!” Thus are these judgments sent for the honour of (rod and the blessing of our souls. But when they come, if you are left to rebel, depend upon this, you will have something worse; for all God’s ways are right, and he is too wise to err, and too good to be unkind.
III. The creatures had two wings, which covered their bodies; demonstrating that they have nothing to boast of in themselves; God alone is all their glory, and they abide under his wings. “They went straightforward, and turned not when they went.” They were moved and guided by the Spirit. They followed only the Lord Jesus, or those who were led and taught by the Spirit. He who is led by the Spirit of God is led aright. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” In matters of religion, the minister of God should never advance any doctrine which God has not manifested in his own heart; and then he will come forward and bear a faithful testimony to the truth, the Holy Ghost bearing him witness in his conscience. As a living subject, he has then the vital power of God within him, is not one of those who are ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
“They turned not.” A minister who can turn to accommodate his hearers is not worthy the name of a minister. Offend or not offend, if they have been rightly taught, they will go “straightforward.” No qualifying of God’s truth lest he should be called an Antinomian, or drive away a few respectables.
“As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps. It went up and down among the living creatures, and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning;” showing the majesty and glory of God in the midst. Thus when God touches a minister’s tongue with a live coal from the divine altar, light comes into the conscience. I would solemnly ask one question: Has God ever made the word as a flash of lightning in your conscience? Do you feel it, fall down under it, bowed down, humbled and crumbled at the feet of Jesus? And do you not enjoy his immortal love in your soul? If so, to God be all the praise.
The living creatures are said to be four, as typical of the four quarters of the earth,—east, west, north, and south. They having four faces but only one likeness, they could look to these four quarters at the same time; just as the Lord is represented as sitting on the circle of the earth, seeing all round at the same moment, and beholding the inhabitants as grasshoppers. (Isa. xl. 22.) But what ever work the creatures did, they were only instruments, merely creatures. The apostle Paul, under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels;” proving to a demonstration it is of God, and not of man. Therefore give him all the glory.
IV. The Spirit of God is the Leader of the whole, as in verses 19 and 20: “Whithersoever the Spirit was to go, they went; thither was their spirit to go.” God’s ministers are at the sole command of God the Spirit. The Spirit of God gives them to know where and what to preach. For instance, witness the apostles. The Spirit led them about from place to place, and taught them what to say. “Whithersoever the Spirit was to go, they went.” But in our day it is as though money alone made the wheels to go. If they can only get plenty of money they can do work. How must we know God’s ministers? The Spirit of God influences them to preach, and brings them through many an intricate circumstance. Sometimes they seem set fast, that they know not what to do. Still they have heart to preach. Though all avenues appear shut up, so that the poor soul shrinks at the sight, yet it is enabled to cry to God for his blessed Spirit to make known unto him the right way. He desires not fleshly honours, but wants to feel the solemn movement of God the Spirit within him, which will show him where he is. All ministers who have not the Spirit of God within them are strangers to the way of the Spirit. You go to hear the word of God; the minister is led to describe your case; the blessed Spirit moves in your conscience; and when that is the ease, you look beyond the man to the Spirit which moveth him, because it is manifest he is led by the Spirit.
V. When the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. God’s ministers are sometimes lifted up in the gospel and the chosen of God are lifted up with them; lifted up in their souls, rejoicing in God, because of his words. But the ministers of God are sometimes in a low place; they cannot feel the blessed unction of the Spirit in their souls; all seems a dead letter. They want this lifting up. They fret, murmur, and rebel, instead of crying to God for his aid and help. The command is, “Stand still;” for the strength of every saint is to sit still. Moses commanded the people, and said, “Fear ye not; stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show you to-day. The Lord shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” This was not a careless standing still; but a solemn waiting for God. O how sweet then to submit to his will as he is pleased to guide you, and may you pray that his presence may go with you. Moses said, “If thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence.” God promised, and said, “My presence shall go with thee.” This has couched in it the presence of a Three- One God,—God the Father, God the Bon, and God the Holy Ghost. Thus, when God’s presence was there, they were lifted up. The rings were so high that they were dreadful; showing the solemn majesty and glory of God and the discriminating doctrines of his grace. And saints, by being lifted up, make hell tremble, and devils flee before them. The disciples of Christ appeared to rejoice at thus being lifted up, and they said unto him, “Devils are subject to us.” But hear his reply: “Rejoice not that devils are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” You may rejoice one day that devils are subject to you, and at another time you may mourn that you seem to be subject to them; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven; for no sin, no devils, no power on earth or hell, can erase them. “Who is this that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?”
The Queen of Scotland, it is said, dreaded the prayers of John Knox more than an army of Frenchmen. And, indeed, well she might; for God has stamped a majesty and efficacy on prayer, of his own inditing, that is mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. It is “terrible as an army with banners.” In the days of the apostles there were certain vagabond Jews, who attempted to cast out devils by using the name of Christ; but they had not the power and Spirit of Jesus with them; therefore they were not obeyed. The evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled oat of that house, naked and wounded.” Had it been Paul, they would have obeyed him. His God-taught prayer would have been terrible as an army with banners. When raised or offered up it would have been dreadful.
The wheels were full of eyes, as in the 10th chapter; and their whole body, and their backs, and their hands, and their rings, and the wheels were full of eyes round about, even the wheels that the four had. Thus are the ministers of God exhibited to view, as being full of eyes. Their whole body, their backs, their hands, their wings,—they are all eyes; and why? They need to be full of eyes to see the purity and spirituality of God’s law and gospel; they need to be full of eyes to see the dreadful distance the sinner is from God; to discern, between man and God, and to see his justice in damning sinners. They need to be full of eyes to see the deceitfulness of the heart. King Solomon prayed that “at what tune prayers and supplications be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know the plague of their own heart, and spread forth their hands towards this house, then hear thou in heaven, thy dwelling-place, and forgive.” They should have eyes to see this plague. They should have eyes to pry into the mysteries of God’s Word, and not, as some do, purchase another man’s words to read in the pulpit. They should see the mystery of Christ as suited to lost sinners; to see the Person of Christ, as making himself a Substitute for his people, in perfect obedience to God’s law, in his death, in his burial, in his resurrection, in his ascension, in his glorification. They need to be full of eyes to see for God’s people, to find out where they are and what they are about; to search into the nature of their troubles and conflicts; to comfort them, and to strike awe into the hearts of sinners. They are full of eyes—their hands, their looks, their wings, that they may look all around them; hands to handle: “Those things that we have handled,” says Paul, “declare we unto you, that we may comfort you with the same comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” Wings,—the wings of faith and love, that they may soar above, and see their way in Christ. Behind him must be full of eyes; for God’s people sometimes backslide. The minister must be able to find them out; for there are very few of God’s people but do backslide, though not outwardly, in mean detestable crimes; yet they do backslide in heart and sometimes feet too.
Is it not the church that is here addressed? Have you eyes to see you are one of this church? But you perhaps dare not say you belong to this church. There is something gloomy hangs over your mind. You acknowledge your blindness, you feel you are a frail creature, and confess your weakness. You could not see this if you had no eyes. God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into your soul. You see your own vileness, and a beauty in Christ which you never saw before. You could not see this if you were dead,—dead in sin; nor could you mourn over your vileness, as in the sight of God. This, then, is a proof that you have life and light within, the work of the Holy Ghost. We need eyes to see God’s judgments as well as his mercy; for, in the dispensations of providence, how are our foolish hearts ready to say, “Let him let his hand go, and cut me off.” What a mercy he does not take us at our word. It is because of the precious Stone God hath laid in Zion. Whosoever believeth on him shall never be confounded, shall never be put to shame. It is like the precious stones in the breastplate of the high priest, which had engraven on them the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and which he wore upon his heart, and bore the judgment of the children of Israel before the Lord continually. So has Christ, our great High Priest. All his people are precious to him, and all are moved on, and lifted up as he directs; for the Spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
May God the Spirit apply his own truth to your hearts and mine; for his mercy’s sake.
Amen and Amen.
William Gadsby (1773-1844) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher, writer and philanthropist. John Hazelton wrote of him—
“[Gadsby’s] labours extended to well-nigh every part of the country, and who by his sermons, hymns, and other writings, exerted a wide spiritual influence, and his interest in the poor and needy in Lancashire and elsewhere rendered his public advocacy of their cause of great value. In him we have a man of eminent public spirit, as well as of originality and spiritual force…The first time he preached was in 1798, in an upper room in a yard at Bedworth, from the words, "Unto you therefore which believe, He is precious." His Hymn Book, now so widely known, was first published in 1814, his desire being "to have a selection of hymns free from Arminianism and sound in the faith, that the Church might be edified and God glorified.” He removed to Manchester in 1805, and while over the Church there he travelled over 60,000 miles and preached nearly 12,000 sermons.”