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by Dr. Robert Hymers

A sermon preached on Friday Evening, January 20, 2006
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live” (Ezekiel 37:3-5).

Please keep your Bible open to this chapter. Tonight I am going to preach a sermon adapted and simplified from one given by William Chalmers Burns (1815-1868), the famed Scottish missionary to China (William C. Burns, Revival Sermons, Banner of Truth Trust, 1980, pp. 155-168).

Burns had been accepted as a missionary to India by the Church of Scotland, but before he left for the mission field, a mighty revival was sent under his preaching in his father’s church. So, for several years he preached in various churches in Scotland, Ireland, England and Canada. Revival often came under his preaching. At last, in 1846, the English Presbyterians sent him to China as an evangelist. He achieved a remarkable fluency in several Chinese dialects, adopted the traditional Chinese dress, and lived among the Chinese people. He greatly influenced James Hudson Taylor, who is called the Apostle to China. But, if Taylor was the apostle, Burns was China’s John the Baptist, paving the way for the preaching of Taylor and others. The sermon I am about to give is adapted from one which William Burns gave in Scotland in 1840, before he left for the mission field. Burns was 25 years old when he preached this sermon in the city of Perth, on Wednesday evening, March 11, 1840, to a densely crowded audience. Many people were converted through this sermon.

“And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live” (Ezekiel 37:3-5).

The prophet had a vision of a valley full of dry bones. The meaning is clear. The valley filled with bones represents a place filled with the remains of dead soldiers. After death their bodies decayed. The flesh had entirely left their bones, which had become bleached, whitened, and separated from one another. Everything but the actual bones dissolved and disappeared. What more complete picture of death could be given? Is it not a picture of the death of mankind since the Fall? Man is dead spiritually, as the Apostle Paul tells us,

“You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

Although this doctrine is held by sound Christian churches, it is seldom believed or acted upon. When we tell you that your city is a valley of dry bones, and when we tell you that you are “dead in trespasses and sins,” you will not believe it. You say we are defaming you. But if you say that, I warn you, that you are resisting God’s Word. God has showed us, by this vision of dry bones, the state of an unconverted man. We see,

“From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores” (Isaiah 1:6).

You are dead by your relation to Adam, your fleshly forefather. You have sinned in Adam, and thus come under fearful condemnation, made liable to the wrath and curse of Almighty God. Original sin, or the sin in your nature, therefore concludes that you are dead. The life of God has been taken from you, and the decay is increased each day by every sin you commit. Your soul is corrupting and is fast approaching the last stage of decay, as illustrated by the dry bones.

In verse one, the prophet said, “The hand of the Lord was upon me.” This shows the call of God upon his life. God called him to preach. But to whom was he called upon to speak? He was called to preach to dead men, to “a valley which was full of bones.” That is what God always does when He calls a man to preach. He takes the preacher out into the world and shows him that it is “full of bones, very many, and very dry.” Very often, ordinary Christians think that lost people are merely unhealthy, they are sick, but their case is not desperate. However, the God-called preacher sees that they are dead. They are not only diseased and wounded, decaying, and putrifying - but they are dead people, and their bones alone remain to show that they were once human beings.

It is a dark, melancholy picture to a preacher when he looks out at your faces. He sees nothing but a valley of bones, and he feels sad for you, a deep, inner sadness. Inwardly he feels pain and sorrow for you.

The Lord then said to the prophet, “Can these bones live?” This is a question God asks every preacher. What does the faithful preacher say to such a question? He says to God, “Lord, thou knowest.” He knows that only God has the answer.

Again, God said, “Prophesy [preach] upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord”! It is the duty of a God-called minister to preach the word of the Lord. And this command to preach to dry bones encourages us to do so. I have often thought that I may just as well go and preach to dead people, buried in the ground of a cemetery, as preach to you - knowing that I am just a man, and can do nothing for you at all. Someone may say, “Why then do you preach?” Because it is commanded, and this command is the reason we preach. When a pastor sees the valley of bones in front of him, and the bottomless pit into which these bones are sinking, he feels he must warn and alarm sinners. Then he preaches for death, preaches for heaven, and preaches, too, for hell. He goes to call the dry bones. Often this has no effect upon them. But when he has preached the words of the Lord, then God Himself speaks to the dead through him, “Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:5-6).

When a person dies, at first his body still appears to be alive. Someone may say, “I see no difference. My friend is not really dead. I can see no change in his appearance.” Yes, the newly dead body still appears to be alive. And yet the eye that looks more closely at that body sees that death is there, sees a cold color fast spreading over the skin, sees in those dead eyes that there is no spark of life. And the chill of death is quickly spreading throughout that body. A dead body like that is as ready for the coffin as the dry bones are, is just as ready for the grave as a rotted corpse. Although no hideous deformities disfigure the newly dead body, yet it is dead. There is no difference as to any power of action or thought between a freshly dead body and a pile of rotting bones.

And so, if the Spirit of God has not begun the work of conversion, the most dutiful and outwardly religious person is no more alive than a criminal caught up in a life of crime.

I fear that there are many who think they are converted, who will soon, very soon, be seen as they really are - still dead in trespasses and sins. There is an icy coldness in your heart. There is no life, no blood flowing through the veins, no heat.

“Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead”
     (Revelation 3:1).

Enmity toward God lies within you still. You may think it is gone, but it is not driven out, it is merely driven in. It remains in your heart with all its chilling effects, and will continue to remain there, until it eats away your so-called religion, and, at last, torments you so completely, that very soon it will seal you in the cold sleep of death. The kernel of death is still as hard as ever in your heart, as unbroken as ever, though it lies in a beautiful shell.

Soon as we draw our infant breath,
The seeds of sin grow up for death;
Thy law demands a perfect heart,
But we’re defiled in every part.
   (“Lord, I Am Vile, Conceived in Sin” by Isaac Watts, D.D., 1719).

“So I prophesied as I was commanded” (Ezekiel 37:7). “As I was commanded.” Here is the strength of the preacher of the Gospel. He prays for God to send the Holy Spirit, that He would come down and bless the Word. When the Spirit accompanies the preaching the effects are marvelous. The sermon speaks to the dry bones. They live, and stand “upon their feet” (Ezekiel 37:10).

The Spirit, like some heavenly wind,
   Blows on the sons of flesh;
Creates a new - a heavenly mind,
   And forms the man afresh.
(“Regeneration” by Isaac Watts, D.D., 1709).

Has this ever happened to you? If not, you are still unconverted, unsaved, for you cannot believe on the Lord Jesus Christ without the work of the Spirit of God. You will never be a true convert until you are taken out of self-trust and engrafted into Christ.

Do you want life from the dead? Christ is our life. Join yourself to Him. Come to Him. When you have received Christ, He will be precious to you. You will want no other but Him.

Will you go away without Christ tonight? Or will you come out of yourself, and come to Christ? You have come night after night to hear me preach. But will you leave us again tonight without listening to Christ, without coming to Him by faith?

In your heart there is no good thing. There is nothing in your heart but emptiness, pollution, corruption, and sin. You can look within yourself all your life, but you will find nothing in yourself but guilt and depravity. Yet if you look outside yourself to Jesus you will find righteousness, peace with God, and pardon from sin.

Some of you have long been in doubt, and darkness, and despair. It is not God’s will for you to go on like this. Then whose fault is it, if not your own? You have been trying to convert yourself. And as long as you try to convert yourself, you will never be saved. Just now, look out of yourself and into Christ. Look up to the blood that can cleanse your sin. Come in then, come in to Christ. Many thousands of people in China and Asia are coming to Christ. Will you join them and come to Him tonight?

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Ezekiel 37:1-10.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Regeneration” (by Dr. Isaac Watts, 1709).



by Dr. Robert Hymers

“And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live” (Ezekiel 37:3-5).

(Ephesians 2:1; Isaiah 1:6; Revelation 3:1; Ezekiel 37:7, 10)