Barrenness

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.
~ Hebrews 6:4-8

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
~ Hebrews 10:26-31

While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
~ 2 Peter 2:19-22

And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath:
~ Deuteronomy 29:23

And Abimelech fought against the city all that day; and he took the city, and slew the people that was therein, and beat down the city, and sowed it with salt.
~ Judges 9:45

A fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein.
~ Psalm 107:34

For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.
~ Jeremiah 17:6

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.
~ Mark 9:48-49

The Sin and Judgment of Spiritual Barrenness, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from his sermon.

Sermon XIV. The sin and judgment of spiritual barrenness.

“But the miry places thereof, and the marshes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt.” — Ezek. xlvii. 11.

This prophecy contains a vision of the glorious, holy, gospel state of the church, under the representation of a most glorious temple, incomparably excelling that built of old by Solomon; an exposition whereof we have, 2 Cor. iii. 6–8, etc.

The beginning of this chapter sets out the way and means of the calling and gathering of gospel churches, whose worship is to be so glorious; and this is under a vision of “waters issuing out of the sanctuary,” to heal and quicken all places to which they come.

By the waters here mentioned is the preaching of the gospel intended. And we may observe of them, first, Their rise, which was from the sanctuary; secondly, Their progress, — they increased until they became a river that none could pass over; thirdly, Their effects or efficacy, — they healed all waters where they came, and quickened, or caused to live, the fishes that were in them.

I must not long insist on these particulars.

First. The house, or temple, from whence these waters issue, may be taken two ways:—

1. Mystically, to denote only the presence of God. God dwelt in his temple; thence come these waters — from his presence. He sends out the word of the gospel for the conversion and healing of the nations, Ps. cx. 2. Or, —

2. Figuratively; and that either for the place where the temple of old stood (that is, Jerusalem), as the preaching of the gospel was to go forth from Jerusalem, and the sound of it from thence to proceed unto all the world, as Isa. xli. 27, lii. 7; Acts i. 4, 8; or for the church of Christ and his apostles, the first glorious, spiritual temple unto God, whence these waters issued.

Secondly. Their progress; which is described by degrees, it being at first small, — few men preaching it, and to a few, — but afterward increasing until it filled the whole earth.

Thirdly. The effects mentioned or ascribed unto these waters are two, — quickening and healing; which I shall not in general speak farther unto, because I shall do it in the opening of my text.

In the words of the text you have the state and condition of those places whither the waters of the sanctuary do come, and the effects before ascribed unto them are not produced; for so the words are to be read, — they “shall not be healed.”

We have here a description of some lands or places whereunto the holy waters do come. First, They are “miry and marshy places;” secondly, The event of the waters coming to them, — they are “not healed;” thirdly, The consequent of that event, — they are “given unto salt.”

I shall in a few words lay open the allegory, or parable, unto you.

First. By the waters of the sanctuary, I told you, is meant the preaching of the gospel, — that quickening and healing word which the Lord sends out to gather his church unto himself all the world over, to call his saints to that glorious, gospel, spiritual worship, which is here described in this vision of a temple.

Secondly. The “miry and marshy places” where these waters come, are such where persons cleave inseparably and incurably to their lusts and sins, so that they are not healed by the word. The healing word of the gospel comes, but they receive it not; the water flows over them, they drink it not in, — are not quickened nor healed by it.

Thirdly. To be “given unto salt,” is to be left unto barrenness, Deut. xxix. 23; Judges ix. 45; Jer. xvii. 6.

The figurative sense of the passage thus explained will afford us the following observations:—

Observation I. God is pleased oftentimes to send the waters of the sanctuary to “miry and marshy places,” that “shall never be healed” by them, nor made fruitful; — or, God, in his infinite wisdom, is pleased to send the preaching of the word unto some places wherein it shall not put forth its quickening and sanctifying power and virtue upon the souls of them that hear it.

II. All places in the world are barren, unsound, and unhealthy, before the coming of the waters of the sanctuary upon them; — or, the souls of all men are spiritually dead and full of woeful distempers, until they are quickened and healed by the dispensation of the gospel. The word must come and heal them.

III. The waters of the sanctuary are healing waters; — or, the word of the gospel is in its own nature a quickening, healing, sanctifying, saving word, to them who receive it.

IV. Where the waters of the sanctuary come, and the land is not healed, that land is given up of the Lord to salt or barrenness for ever; — or, where the word of the gospel is, by the infinitely wise disposal of God, preached unto a place or persons, and they receive it not so as to have their sinful distempers healed by it, they are usually, after a season, given up, by the righteous judgment of God, unto barrenness and everlasting ruin.

It is this last proposition, as that which is the direct design and scope of the place, that I intend to insist principally upon. But yet I shall speak somewhat to the former.

I. God is pleased oftentimes, in his infinite wisdom, to send the preaching of the word unto some places wherein it shall not put forth its quickening and sanctifying power and virtue upon the souls of them that hear it.

The whole Scripture, and whole story of the providence of God in sending the gospel abroad in the world, bears witness to this truth. It was his way from the foundation of the world, and continueth to this very day. Hence was that complaint of the prophet, Isa. liii. 1, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Loud revealed?” — the gospel is preached to them that believe not the report thereof; — and chap. xlix. 4, “Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought.” But we need no greater instance nor any other than that of our Saviour, who spent the greatest part of his ministry in preaching to them who were never healed, — never converted nor sanctified by his word. That account he gives of his work, Matt. xi. 21–24, “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida!” etc.

Now, though there be no searching into the depths of the counsels of God, yet there appear many reasons wherein his wisdom in this dispensation doth shine forth; as, —

1. He doth it principally because, in those places where the word is rejected by the generality of the people, yet there may be some secret, poor souls belonging to the election of grace, whom God will have gathered and called home to himself. So for their sakes, though in the world they are taken no notice of, the word shall be preached unto multitudes. Amos ix. 9, “I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.” The grains of Israel must be preserved through all the nations of the earth, that not one grain may be lost. Thus Paul preaches the gospel at Philippi, Acts xvi. 12, 13. And what entertainment meets it withal? He and his companion are taken and beaten, and cast into prison sore hurt and wounded; verses 22, 23. Why, then, was it that the gospel must be preached there? Why, there was a stranger come to that town, a poor woman, one Lydia, that dwelt at Thyatira, and she was to be converted, and brought home to God, verse 14. So at Athens, chap. xvii. 34. And the apostle affirms that he “endured all things for the elect’s sakes,” 2 Tim. ii. 10. Here and there a poor despised person is designed to be called.

2. God doth it for a testimony against them that receive it not, and to leave them inexcusable at the last day. Mark vi. 11, “Whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them.” The word is to be preached, and witness, as it were, is to be taken upon it that it was preached, that men may be left without excuse at the last day. As our Saviour pleads concerning his own preaching to the Pharisees, John xv. 22, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin.” God will cause men to be without excuse, by that tender of mercy which is made unto them in the gospel. It shall be for a testimony against them at the last day.

Use. Let not men boast themselves in the outward enjoyment of the word, nor rest themselves in it. It were well, indeed, if all were believers to whom the word is preached, — if all lands were healed where the waters of the sanctuary come; but the Holy Ghost tells us they are not so, Heb. iv. 2, “The word preached did not profit them.” Capernaum was “exalted unto heaven,” in the use of means; but “brought down to hell” for the neglect of them. Let men look to themselves; God hath various ends in sending the gospel. The Lord knows what will be the end of England’s enjoying the gospel so long as it hath done. Sad symptoms appear of a tremendous issue. But I shall speak of this afterward.

II. The souls of all men are spiritually dead, and full of woeful distempers, until they are quickened and healed by the dispensation of the gospel.

The waters of the sanctuary must come, to quicken them and heal them. They are distempered, therefore, and woefully disordered, before the coming of these waters. So the apostle informs us, Tit. iii. 5, “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Before the gospel grace comes to heal and cleanse them, this is the state and condition of men; as it is more largely described by the apostle, Rom. i. 18 to the end.

I shall not stay to mention all the particular distempers that rage in some, and that rule and reign in all before the coming of the gospel; as darkness, blindness, ignorance, worldly-mindedness, sensuality, hatred of God, envy, and malice, which are fixed in the souls of men by presumption and self-righteousness. There is nothing in them of spiritual life or holiness, of purity or zeal, — nothing that is acceptable or pleasing unto God. But to set forth this to the utmost, were to describe the whole natural condition of men, — which is not my present work; and therefore I shall not farther insist on it.

III. The word of the gospel is in its own nature a quickening, healing, sanctifying, saving word, to them who receive it.

They (the waters of the sanctuary) bring Christ along with them, the great physician of souls, who alone is able to cure a sin-sick soul. They bring mercy with them to pardon sinners, that “the inhabitants of the land may no more say they are sick, having their sins forgiven them,” Isa. xxxiii. 24. They bring grace with them to cure all the distempers of lusts, Isa. xi. 5–7; Tit. ii. 11, 12.

These things I have only touched upon, and proceed now to the fourth observation, on which I chiefly proposed to insist.

IV. Where the waters of the sanctuary come, and the land is not healed, that land is given up of the Lord to salt and barrenness for ever; — or, where the word of the gospel is preached unto a place, or persons, and they receive it not so as to have their sinful distempers healed by it, they are given up by the righteous judgment of God unto barrenness and everlasting ruin.

To clear this proposition I shall show, — 1. What I mean by the coming of the waters of the sanctuary, or the preaching of the gospel, to a place or persons; 2. What by healing their sinful distempers; 3. What by being given up to barrenness and ruin.

1. By the coming of the healing waters of the sanctuary, I intend not the occasional preaching of a sermon, although this be sufficient to justify God in the rejection of any person or people. In the first preaching of the gospel, the refusal of one sermon lost many their souls unto all eternity. When the Lord Jesus sent out his disciples to preach the tidings of everlasting peace, he commanded them to pass through the towns, cities, and villages, and to offer them peace and mercy in the word of truth; which if they received not, they were to shake off the dust of their feet against them, Matt. x. 12–15; Luke x. 8–12. But O the unspeakable patience of Christ to many in the world, where the word is continued ofttimes for a very long season, and the salvation tendered therein despised! But this is that which I intend as the rule of the dispensation mentioned, — namely, when God by his providence doth cause the word to be preached for some continuance, and to the revelation of his whole counsel; as Paul affirmed himself to have done at Ephesus, Acts xx. 27, where he had abode above a year.

Nor do I mean any waters, but the waters of the sanctuary; not any preaching, but the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ: which Paul affirms to be his work, Eph. iii. 8. All waters are not the waters of the sanctuary; all preaching is not the preaching of the sanctuary. There is preaching in the world wherein God and the souls of men are no more concerned than in an oration of an ancient heathen. Many undertake to be preachers who never “stood in the counsel of God,” as he complains, Jer. xxiii. 22, who never received of the Spirit of Christ, nor knew his mind, — blind leaders of the blind. The children of Zion are promised, under the gospel, that “they shall be all taught of God.” And we have men undertaking to be teachers of them, who never learned any thing of Christ; — a wicked generation of soul-murderers, for which cursed work they every day invent new engines, — whom the Lord’s soul abhors. See their condition and portion, Ezek. xxxiv. 3, 4, etc. I mean, therefore, a dispensation of the word according to the mind of Christ, — the due unfolding of the mystery of the gospel. This is the coming I intend.

2. What is meant by their sinful distempers not being healed? Look what the waters of the sanctuary come to do: if that be not effected, they are not healed.

Now, there are two effects here ascribed unto the waters of the sanctuary:— (1.) They quicken and give new life, verse 9. A natural life they had before, but these give them another life. (2.) Healing, as the waters of Jericho by Elisha, 2 Kings ii. 21. Where these effects are not produced, that is the condition described, that is the state of these” miry and marshy places,” — they are not healed:—

(1.) Men are not quickened; they receive not a new spiritual life; they are not so brought to the knowledge of God. It is not enough that men have their affections wrought upon, or their lives in some measure reformed; — unless they are quickened, unless they receive a new spiritual life by the word, they are as the unhealed places, over which the curse here mentioned hangs.

(2.) The healing of these quickened souls consists in the curing and mortifying of their sinful distempers. This follows the other. Where there is life, there will be healing. Let not men pretend that they live spiritually, if their lusts be not healed. If men are proud, worldly, sensual, they are dead also; there is no effect of the waters of the sanctuary upon them. If men are not made holy, humble, believing, zealous, if they receive not the spirit of prayer and faith, they are not healed.

This is the condition of the “miry and marshy places” here mentioned:— God, in his infinite wisdom and goodness, causeth the gospel to be dispensed among a people, to be preached, where they do, or may, and ought to attend unto it; but they are not converted by the word, not sanctified by it, but continue in their old state and condition. He that was filthy is filthy still; he that was unrighteous is so still; — he that was in the mire of the world and sin is so still.

3. What is the lot and portion of such persons? Why, “they shall be given to salt;” that is, as I have showed, to barrenness, fruitlessness, unprofitableness, and eternal ruin.

This is the meaning of the proposition; and it is a dreadful word, which yet is true, and will prove so at the last day. Woe to the “miry and marshy places” of the world! woe to the persons and places to whom (and to which) the waters of the sanctuary have come and they are not healed! I shall not need to insist much on the proof of the proposition, the Scripture so abounds with testimonies of it. But I shall do these three things:— 1. Name some places that plainly speak the same truth; 2. Show the degrees in which God proceeds usually in this great work, in giving up unprofitable hearers to ruin; and, 3. Give the grounds of it:—

1. For other Scriptures which assert the same truth, take Prov. i. 25–31, “But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices;” — Prov. xxix. 1, “He that, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy;” — Luke xiii. 6, “He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none,” etc. So Heb. x. 28–30; 2 Cor. ii. 15, 16.

2. For the degrees of rejection, see Ezek. x. 18, xi. 23; Heb. vi. 8, “But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.” They are first rejected, then cursed, and lastly burned. But, —

3. That which I shall principally insist upon, is to show the ways whereby God doth usually proceed in giving up such persons to barrenness, and so to everlasting ruin:—

(1.) He casts them out of his care; — he will be at no more charge nor cost with them, nor about them. So, Heb. vi. 8, the land is ἀδόκιμος, — “rejected;” the owner will take no more care or pains about such an unprofitable piece of land; he will till it no more, dress it no more, but leave it to its own barrenness. God is the great husbandman, John xv. 1. When a miry place is not healed, he will cast it out of his husbandry. So Ezek. xxiv. 13, They have had their time and season, and “are not purged;” therefore “they shall be purged no more.” Jer. vi. 29, 30, “The bellows are burned, the lead is consumed of the fire; the founder melteth in vain: for the wicked are not plucked away. Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the Lord hath rejected them.” This the Lord Christ declares to be his way of proceeding with them, Zech. xi. 8, 9, “My soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me. Then said I, I will not feed you: that that dieth, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another.” A sad parting, the Lord knows! They give up Christ, — he gives up them; and their meeting will be infinitely more sad to them. Now, this the Lord doth several ways:—

(1.) He will sometimes utterly remove the gospel from them; — turn the stream of the waters of the sanctuary, that they shall come to them no more. So he threatened the church at Ephesus of old, Rev. ii. 5, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen,” etc., “or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place.” They shall have the light of the word no more; it shall be removed and taken from them. Ah! how ninny places lie under this woeful judgment of God at this day, — this sentence of being given up to salt for ever! Places there are in the world that have enjoyed the word at God’s appointed season, or, at least, the tender of it, and opportunity to enjoy it; but continuing unprofitable under it, what is now their state, and condition? God hath left them to that sore judgment, that they themselves should be made instrumental to cast out the word from amongst them; like the foolish woman, pulling down the house with their own hands: and so (they) have got darkness for a vision, and they that would not rejoice in the truth, and in the light, do now, through the tremendous judgment of God, triumph in darkness, and in a thing of nought.

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