Friday, June 2nd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezra 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ ezra-2.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezra 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.] In this chapter we have the list of those who returned from captivity with Zerubbabel, and their contributions for rebuilding the Temple. The contents may be arranged thus—
1. The description of the chapter (Ezra 2:1), with the names of the leaders of the exodus (Ezra 2:2).
2. The numbers of the people who returned, arranged—
(1) according to families (Ezra 2:3-19;
(2) according to cities (Ezra 2:20-35).
3. The numbers of the priests and Levites who returned, arranged according to families (Ezra 2:36-42).
4. The numbers of the Nethinim and the descendants of Solomon’s servants (Ezra 2:43-58).
5. People and priests who could not produce their genealogy (Ezra 2:59-63).
6. The sum total of the persons who returned, with their servants and beasts of burden (Ezra 2:64-67).
7. The offerings of those who returned for the rebuilding of the Temple (Ezra 2:68-69), and a concluding statement (Ezra 2:70). This catalogue appears also in the Book of Nehemiah (chap. Ezra 7:6-28), he having “found” the document (Ezra 2:5), and incorporated it in his work. It also appears in the apocryphal book, 1Es. 5:7-45. The three texts differ to some extent in the names, and yet more in the numbers. The differences, however, are unimportant, and arose probably from the mistakes of copyists, to which there is great liability in transcribing long lists of names and numbers.
Ezra 2:1. The province] “i.e. the province of Judea as a district of the Persian Empire; so chap. Ezra 5:8, Nehemiah 1:3.”—Keil. Every one unto his city] All who returned did not settle in Jerusalem. Many were located in neighbouring cities and villages.
Ezra 2:2. Zerubbabel] = “born in Babylon.” His Chaldean name was Sheshbazzar (chap. Ezra 1:8). Jeshua] A later and abbreviated form of Jehoshua. He was the son of Jehozadak (1 Chronicles 6:14), or, as it is written in Haggai 1:1, Josedech; was probably born in Babylon; and was the first high priest of the restored community. “A man of earnest piety, patriotism, and courage. “The names of nine other persons are given in this verse. Nehemiah (chap. Ezra 7:7) gives the name of Nahamani, which is not mentioned here, and makes twelve in all. Of these ten persons we know nothing except their names, and that, with Zerubbabel and Jeshua, they were probably the twelve heads of twelve divisions into which the new community was arranged. Nehemiah] is not “Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah” (Nehemiah 1:1); Seraiah] is Azariah; Reelaiah] is Raamiah; Mizpar] is Mispereth; and Rehum] is Nehum, in Nehemiah 7:7; Mordecai] not Mordecai the cousin and foster-parent of Esther (Esther 2:7). The number of the men of the people of Israel] is “the special title of the first division (Ezra 2:3-35) of the following list, with which the titles in Ezra 2:36; Ezra 2:40; Ezra 2:43; Ezra 2:55 correspond. They are called ‘the people of Israel,’ not the people of Judah, because those who returned represented the entire covenant people.”—Keil. Although, as we before stated, those who returned were almost all from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi.
Ezra 2:3-35] It is not necessary for us to enter into a comparison of the names and numbers here given and those of the corresponding passage in Nehemiah.
Ezra 2:36-39. The priests] This brief catalogue corresponds exactly with Nehemiah 7:39-42.
Ezra 2:40-42. The Levites] were of three classes—
1. Those who assisted the priests in Divine worship.
2. The singers.
3. The porters. (Comp. 1 Chronicles 24:20-31; 1 Chronicles 24:25; 1 Chronicles 26:1-19)
Ezra 2:43-54. The Nethinims] Nethinim = “given or dedicated ones;” from נָתַן = “to give,” “dedicate,” &c. They were captives of war, who were given to the Levites to be employed in the rougher and more laborious duties of their offices (Numbers 31:47; Joshua 9:27). “The Nethinims, whom David and the princes had appointed (Heb. given) for the service of the Levites” (chap. Ezra 8:20). Keil briefly designates them “temple-bondsmen.”
Ezra 2:55-57. The children of Solomon’s servants] were, according to Plumptre (Bibl. Dict.) and Rawlinson, the descendants of the remnant of the ancient Canaanites, upon whom Solomon “levied a tribute of bond-service” (1 Kings 9:20-21; 2 Chronicles 8:7-8). But, according to Keil and Schultz, they were prisoners of war from some other nations, whom Solomon made to do services similar to those of the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:27). In rebuilding the Temple their services would be of great importance.
Ezra 2:58. Three hundred ninety and two] So also Nehemiah 7:60.
Ezra 2:59-60. Could not show their father’s house, and their seed] Margin: “pedigree.” “Although they could not prove their Israelite origin, they were permitted to go up to Jerusalem with the rest, the rights of citizenship alone being for the present withheld.”—Keil.
Ezra 2:61-63. Children of the priests] who could not prove that they belonged to the priesthood.
Ezra 2:61. Which took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai] &c. Keil and Schultz think that the daughters of Barzillai were heiresses, and that the priest who married one of them assumed her name in order to take possession of her inheritance. But this, to say the least, is very questionable, seeing that they had brothers (1 Kings 2:7); and daughters, according to Jewish law, did not inherit any of their father’s property except in those cases in which he had no son (Numbers 27:8). It is more probable that the name of the wife’s family was preferred because of the honourable associations of that name; for Barzillai the Gileadite “was a very great man,” and distinguished by reason of his relations to king David (2 Samuel 17:27-29; 2 Samuel 19:31-39; 1 Kings 2:7). The change of name would not invalidate the claim of the descendants of the family to the priesthood; but in process of time it might have occasioned doubts as to their priestly origin.
Ezra 2:62. Therefore, were they, as polluted] &c. Margin: “Heb., they were polluted from the priesthood.” They were pronounced unclean, and so excluded from the priesthood.
Ezra 2:63. Tirshatha] Margin: “Or, governor.” It is the Persian title of the civil governor, and is here given to Zerubbabel. It was afterwards applied to Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8:9; Nehemiah 10:1). Not eat of the most holy things] (comp. Leviticus 2:3; Numbers 18:9). This prohibition involved their exclusion from the discharge of priestly functions. “A portion of the general fees which were offered to the priests was not denied them, since their right to the priesthood was not expressly denied, but left in suspenso.”—Schultz. Till there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim] Zerubbabel expected that when the altar and Temple were rebuilt, Jehovah would again grant them some special manifestation of His presence, and would restore the privilege of obtaining direct answers from Him by means of Urim and Thummim. His expectation, however, was never fulfilled.
Ezra 2:64] The number here given agrees exactly with that given both in Nehemiah and in 1 Esdras. “The sum total being alike in all three texts, we are obliged to assume its correctness.”—Keil.
Ezra 2:65. Their servants and their maids, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty and seven] In Nehemiah 7:67 the same number of servants is given. Two hundred singing men and singing women] These singers were employed to increase the delight of the festivities, and to chant dirges in times of mourning (2 Chronicles 35:25; Ecclesiastes 2:8); and as they were hired and paid, and were probably not of Israelite origin, they are here classed with the servants.
Ezra 2:66-67] With these verses Nehemiah 7:68-69, exactly agree.
Ezra 2:68. When they came to the house of the Lord] i.e. to the site of the Temple. Probably considerable ruins of the Temple were yet remaining.
Ezra 2:69] The account of the offerings given in Nehemiah 7:70-72 differs from that in this verse, and is held both by Keil and by Schultz to be more correct. Threescore and one thousand drams, or darics, of gold] According to Rawlinson, the daric was worth £1, 1 Samuel 10:0½d. of our money. The 61,000 darics were therefore equal to £66,718, 15s. Five thousand pound, or mina, of silver] The Greek silver mina was worth a little over £4 of our money; and the value of the Hebrew silver manch, according to Rawlinson, was probably not very different from the Greek. Thus the offering in silver would be worth over £20,000; and the entire offering in money worth nearly £90,000. Keil, however, reckons the 61,000 darics of gold to be worth £68,625, and the 5000 mina of silver, £30,000, and the entire offering nearly £99,000.
GOING UP OUT OF CAPTIVITY
(Ezra 2:1 and part of 2)
We have here presented to our notice—
I. The deliverance from captivity. “These are the children of the promise that went up out of the captivity, of those which had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away into Babylon.” The captivity from which they were escaping was
(1.) A degradation. It was the loss of their power and independence.
(2.) A subjection. It was the loss of their freedom. They were brought under the power of their conquerors.
(3.) A transportation. “Nebuchadnezzar the king carried them away unto Babylon.” From their own land, with all its hallowed and inspiring memories and associations, they were forcibly removed unto the land of their heathen conquerors.
(4.) A retribution. Their captivity was the punishment of their numerous, heinous, and long-continued sins against God, and especially their forsaking Him by the adoption of dolatrous customs. Nebuchadnezzar was the rod of God for their chastisement.
The most deplorable degradation and the most real and terrible subjection are those of sin.
But now many of the Jews are going “up out of the captivity.” The offer of release has been made, and they who are mentioned in this chapter have accepted it.
Concerning this deliverance, notice:—
1. It originated in the favour of God (chap. Ezra 1:1).
2. It was effected by an unlikely agent. Cyrus.
3. It was permissive, not compulsory. The Jews were quite free to accept or to decline the offer of Cyrus.
Salvation from the bondage of sin is freely offered in the Gospel, but no one is compelled to accept the offer. All who accept it do so willingly, of their own accord.
II. The journey home. “And came again unto Jerusalem and Judah, every one unto his city.” It is here suggested that this journey was:—
1. A restoration. “And came again.” They were going unto the land which God had given to their fathers; to the scenes of the most sacred and stirring events in their national history.
2. A restoration to their own home. “Came again every one unto his city.” It seems to us that where it was practicable the returning Jews would settle in the cities where their ancestors had resided, and take possession of the inheritances which they had held. They went back to the scenes amid which their forefathers lived and laboured, to the lands which they had cultivated, to the places where they had prayed and worked, rejoiced and wept, loved and suffered, lived and died. There must have been in this a very strong and tender attraction to many hearts. (a).
3. A restoration to religious privileges. “Came again unto Jerusalem.” Jerusalem was not only the metropolis of the nation, but the holy city, the place where the Temple had been and was to be again. “This Mount Zion, wherein Thou hast dwelt” (Psalms 74:2). “Jerusalem … whither the tribes go up,” &c. (Psalms 122:4).
The salvation of Jesus Christ restores man to his true condition and to his forfeited inheritance. “When divine grace,” said Legh Richmond, “renews the heart of the fallen sinner, Paradise is regained, and much of its beauty restored to the soul.”
But they were not returning with complete independence. They were still “the children of the province.” Judea remained a “province” of the Persian Empire. Full religious freedom was granted unto them, but politically they remained subject to Persian rule. Sin, even when it is forgiven, blotted out, always leaves some detriment, or loss, or pain behind it. (b).
III. The subordination to leaders. “Which came with Zerubbabel: Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mizpar, Bigvai, Rehum, Baanab.” Zerubbabel prince of Judah was bead over all. Jeshua was the head of the party as regards its religious duties; and in addition to these there were ten recognised leaders. Society could not exist without rulers and leaders. They are necessary—
1. For the maintenance of order. The authority of law must be maintained; its sanctions must be enforced, or the bands of society would be utterly dissolved, &c. And for this purpose rulers or magistrates are necessary.
2. For insuring progress. The growth and improvement of a community are impossible apart from the exercise of wise leadership.
3. Because of the differences in the characters and abilities of men. By their native faculties, their character, and their training, some men almost inevitably become the rulers and leaders of others. (c).
 These points are treated in a less fragmentary manner in the Hom. Com. on Numbers, p. 12.
(a) There is a sanctity in a good man’s house which cannot be renewed in every tenement that rises on its ruins: and I believe that good men would generally feel this; and that having spent their lives happily and honourably, they would be grieved at the close of them to think that the place of their earthly abode, which had seen, and seemed almost to sympathise in, all their honour, their gladness, or their suffering—that this, with all the record it bare of them, and all of material things that they had loved and ruled over, and set the stamp of themselves upon—was to be swept away, as soon as there was room made for them in the grave; that no respect was to be shown to it, no affection felt for it, no good to be drawn from it by their children; that though there was a monument in the church, there was no warm monument in the hearth and house to them; that all that they ever treasured was despised, and the places that had sheltered and comforted them were dragged down to the dust. I say that a good man would fear this; and that, far more, a good son, a noble descendant, would fear doing it to his father’s house. I say that if men lived like men indeed, their houses would be temples—temples which we should hardly dare to injure, and in which it would make us holy to be permitted to live; and there must be a strange dissolution of natural affection, a strange unthankfulness for all that homes have given and parents taught, a strange consciousness that we have been unfaithful to our father’s honour, or that our own lives are not such as would make our dwellings sacred to our children, when each man would fain build to himself, and build for the little revolution of his own life only.…
When men do not love their hearths, nor reverence their thresholds, it is a sign that they have dishonoured both, and that they have never acknowledged the true universality of that Christian worship was indeed to supersede the idolatry, but not the piety, of the pagan. Our God is a household God, as well as a heavenly One; He has an altar in every man’s dwelling; let men look to it when they rend it lightly and pour out its ashes … It is one of those moral duties, not with more impunity to be neglected because the perception of them depends on a finely toned and balanced conscientiousness, to build our dwellings with care, and patience, and fondness, and diligent completion, and with a view to their duration at least for such a period as, in the ordinary course of national revolutions, might be supposed likely to extend to the entire alteration of the direction of local interests.—John Ruskin, M.A.
Home! angels encamp about it. Ladders are let down from heaven to every pillow in that house. Over the child’s rough crib there are chantings as sweet as those that broke above Bethlehem. It is home! home! The children of the family will grow up, and though they may get splendid residences of their own, they will never forget that homely place, the place where their father rested, and their mother sang, and their sisters played. If you wanted to gather up all tender memories, all lights and shadows of the heart, all banquetings and reunions, all filial, fraternal, paternal, conjugal affections, and had only just four letters with which to spell out that height, and depth, and length, and breadth, and magnitude, and eternity of meaning, you would write it out with these four capital letters: H-O-M-E.—T. de Witt Talmage, D.D.
(b) Even pardoned sins must leave a trace in heavy self-reproach. You have heard of the child whose father told him that whenever he did anything wrong a nail should be driven into a post, and when he did what was good he might pull one out. There were a great many nails driven into the post, but the child tried very hard to get the post cleared of the nails by striving to do right. At length he was so successful in his struggles with himself that the last nail was drawn out of the post. The father was just about to praise the child, when stooping down to kiss him, he was startled to see tears fast rolling down his face. “Why, my boy, why do you cry? Are not all the nails gone from the post?” “Oh yes! the nails are all gone, but the marks are left.” That is a familiar illustration, but don’t despise it because of that. It illustrates the experience of many a grey old sire, who, looking upon the traces of his old sins as they yet rankle in his conscience, would give a hundred worlds to live himself back into young manhood, that he might obliterate the searing imprint of his follies. Have you never heard of fossil-rain? In the stratum of the old red sandstone there are to be seen the marks of showers of rain which fell centuries and centuries ago, and they are so plain and perfect that they clearly indicate the way the wind was drifting, and in what direction the tempest slanted from the sky. So may the tracks of youthful sins be traced upon the tablet of the life when it has merged into old age—tracks which it is bitter and sad remorse to look upon, and which call forth many a bootless longing for the days and months which are past.—A. Mursell.
(c) In the long run leadership resolves itself into a question of personal qualification. For a time men may arise who claim commanding positions who are unable to discharge the duties which their ambition has coveted. In such instances there would seem to be a miscarriage of the natural law and order of things; yet it is only temporary; sooner or later unqualified men have to resign positions which they ought never to have assumed.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
In a great leader many elements of qualification are combined. Other men may excel him in detached points, but taken as a whole he rules not perhaps by one dominant faculty, but by a noble proportion of natural and acquired gifts. The position of a leader is not so easy as it may appear to be to unreflecting observers. Men see the elevation, not the strain and responsibility which that elevation involves. The only sound rule for promotion to influential positions in the Church is, that wisdom, wheresoever found, in the rich or the poor, the old or the young, should be recognised and honoured.—Ibid.
A SUGGESTIVE RECORD
(Ezra 2:2 (last clause)–64: “The number of the men of the people of Israel: The children of Paresh,” &c.)
I. The significance of the fact of the record.
1. It was an honour to the pious and patriotic ones who returned. In going back to their own land at this time, and for the purpose of rebuilding the Temple, they acted very religiously and courageously; and to their praise their names were recorded, and in the providence of God the record has been preserved to this day. “Them that honour Me I will honour.”
2. It is an illustration of the Divine record of God’s spiritual Israel. The name of every true believer in Jesus Christ is “written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27). “Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20; comp. Exodus 32:32; Psalms 69:28; Philippians 4:3; Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 13:8). “The Lord knoweth them that are His.” (a).
3. It suggests that every one of His people is precious in the sight of God. “A book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name. And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels.” He knows the number of His people, and the name of every one of them. “He calleth His own sheep by name.” He will not lose any one of them. He has not only written their names in His book of life, but has graven them upon the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16). (b).
II. The significance of the contents of the record. We have in this list—
1. Significant persons.
(1.) Zerubbabel, “the prince of Judah,” an ancestor of the Messiah (Matthew 1:12; Luke 3:27). It was important that his name should be recorded, that no link might be absent from the chain of evidence which shows that our Lord was of the family of king David (comp. Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Matthew 1:1-17; Matthew 22:42).
(2.) Jeshua, who was a distinguished type of Jesus Christ (Zechariah 3:0, Zechariah 6:11-13).
2. A significant place. Bethlehem (Ezra 2:21). This place must be rebuilt, and reinhabited by Jews; for in the Divine purposes a great destiny awaited it (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1). Here, then, in this record we have two persons and one place which sustained close relations to the Messiah.
3. Significant numbers.
(1.) The number of those who settled in Bethlehem was small—“an hundred twenty and three.” Bethlehem was “little among the thousands of Judah.” Yet how illustrious and universal is its renown! Size and populousness are utterly unsatisfactory tests of worth and greatness. (c).
(2.) The number of those who settled in Anathoth was also small—“an hundred twenty and eight” (Ezra 2:23). In this we have an illustration of the fulfilment of the Divine threatenings (Jeremiah 11:21-23). The word of the Lord, whether it be a promise or a menace, shall surely be accomplished in due season.
(3.) The number of the whole was comparatively small. “The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand, three hundred and threescore” (Ezra 2:64). What a small number as compared with the 603,550 men “that were able to go forth to war in Israel,” who were numbered in the desert of Sinai! How small, too, as compared with the 601,730 men “able to go to war in Israel,” who were numbered in the plains of Moab, before the entrance into the Promised Land! The smallness of the number of those who returned to their own land may be viewed—(i.) As a discredit to those who remained in Babylon. In them the love of material prosperity was stronger than the love of country. They had neither piety nor patriotism enough to inspire them to make the sacrifices and encounter the perils which the return to their own land involved. (ii.) The greater honour to those who returned. They acted with a noble faithfulness and independence in doing what they deemed to be their duty and privilege, though they were in a minority, and though the course they followed involved loss and danger. They had the courage of their convictions; they were heroes in their fidelity to their country and to their God. (iii.) An element which contributed to the success of their undertaking. To settle down again in the deserted land, and to rebuild the ruined Temple in the face of difficulty and opposition, demanded men of the right quality rather than men in great multitude. It was force of character, and not force of numbers, that was needed for the success of the returning exiles—men of sincere piety and fervent patriotism. As the victory of Gideon over the Midianites was achieved not by the 32,000, some of whom were fearful and others lacking zeal, but by the 300 eager and heroic ones; so with this company under Zerubbabel, success was to be achieved by their faith and courage, not by their multitudinousness. (d).
(a) God knows the persons of all His own. He hath in His infinite understanding the exact number of all the individual persons that belong to Him (2 Timothy 2:19): “The Lord knows them that are His.” He knows all things, because He hath created them; and He knows His people because He hath not only made them, but also chose them. He could no more choose He knew not what, than He could create He knew not what. He knows them under a double title; of creation as creatures in the common mass of creation, as new creatures by a particular act of separation. He cannot be ignorant of them in time whom He foreknew from eternity. His knowledge in time is the same as He had from eternity’; He foreknew them that He intended to give the grace of faith unto; and He knows them after they believe, because He knows His own act in bestowing grace upon them, and His own mark and seal wherewith He has stamped them. No doubt but He that “calls the stars of heaven by their names” (Psalms 147:4), knows the number of those living stars that sparkle in the firmament of His Church. He cannot be ignorant of their persons when He numbers the hairs of their heads, and hath registered their names in the book of life. As He only had an infinite mercy to make the choice, so He only hath an infinite understanding to comprehend their persons. We only know the elect of God by a moral assurance in the judgment of charity, when the conversation of men is according to the doctrine of God. We have not an infallible knowledge of them, we may be often mistaken; Judas, a devil, may be judged by man for a saint till he be stripped of his disguise. God only hath an infallible knowledge of them; He knows His own records, and the counterparts in the hearts of His people; none can counterfeit His seal, nor can any raze it out. When the Church is either scattered like dust by persecution, or overgrown with superstition and idolatry, that there is scarce any grain of true religion appearing, as in the time of Elijah, who complained that he was left alone, as if the Church had been rooted out of that corner of the world (1 Kings 19:14; 1 Kings 19:18); yet God knew that He had a number fed in a cave, and had reserved seven thousand men that had preserved the purity of His worship, and not bowed the knee to Baal. Christ knew His sheep, as well as He is known of them; yea, better than they can know Him (John 10:14). History acquaints us that Cyrus had so vast a memory that be knew the name of every particular soldier in his army, which consisted of divers nations; shall it be too hard for an infinite understanding to know every one of that host that march under His banner? May He not as well know them as know the number, qualities, influences, of those stars which lie concealed from our eye as well as those that are visible to our sense? Yes, He knows them, as a general to employ them, as a shepherd to preserve them. He knows them in the world to guard them, and He knows when they are out of the world to gather them, and call out their bodies though wrapped up in a cloud of the putrefied carcasses of the wicked. As He knew them from all eternity to elect them, so He knows them in time to clothe their persons with righteousness, to protect their persons in calamity, according to His good pleasure, and at last to raise and reward them according to His promise.—Stephen Charnocke, B.D.
(b) Our God has a particular notice of us, and a particular interest in our personal history. And this was one of the great uses of the incarnation; it was to humanise God, reducing Him to a human personality, that we might believe in that particular and personal love in which He reigns from eternity. For Christ was visibly one of us, and we see in all His demonstrations that He is attentive to every personal want, woe, cry of the world. When a lone woman came up in a crowd to steal, as it were, some healing power out of His person, or out of the hem of His garment, He would not let her off in that impersonal, unrecognising way; He compelled her to show herself and to confess her name, and sent her away with His personal blessing. He pours out everywhere a particular sympathy on every particular child of sorrow; He even hunts up the youth He has before healed of his blindness, and opens to him, persecuted as he is for being healed, the secrets of His glorious Messiahship. The result, accordingly, of this incarnate history is that we are drawn to a different opinion of God; we have seen that He can love as a man loves another, and that such is the way of His love. He has tasted death, we say, not for all men only, but for every man. We even dare to say, for me—who loved me and gave Himself for me. Nay, He goes even further than this Himself, calling us friends, and claiming that dear relationship with us,—friends because He is on the private footing of friendship and personal confidence: “The servant knoweth not what his lord doeth, but I have called you friends.” He even goes beyond this, promising a friendship so particular and personal, that it shall be a kind of secret, or cipher of mutual understanding open to no other—a new white stone given by his King, “and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”
… His Saviour and Lord is over him and with him, as the Good Shepherd calling him by name; so that he is finally saved, not as a man, or some one of mankind led forth by his Lord in the general flock, but as the Master’s dear Simon, or James, or Alpheus, or Martha, whose name is so recorded in the Lamb’s book of life.—Horace Bushnell, D.D.
(c) The moral magnitude of things has no relationship to the physical. What if a man should say that Washington was not a great man because he was not a ten-thousandth part as great as the Alleghany Mountains, comparing moral magnitude with physical? What has the size of a man, or the duration on earth of a man, or his physical powers, to do with the moral measurement that belongs to the understanding, the reason, or the moral sentiments? Is a battle great by the size of the nation that fought it, or the field that it was fought in? Or is it great by the skill and the bravery enacted, and by the long-reaching sequences that flow from it? The part which this world is to play in the far future, the experiment of human life, the story of Divine sacrifice and love, the part which redeemed men are to enact in their translation into the heavenly sphere—these all give a moral grandeur to this world, and utterly overcome the objection that God would not be likely to give minute personal thought to the evolutions of individual life.—H. W. Beecher.
(d) Gideon’s army, we see, must be lessened. And who so fit to be cashiered as the fearful? God bids him, therefore, proclaim licence for all faint hearts to leave the field. God will not glorify Himself by cowards. As the timorous shall be without the gates of heaven, so shall they be without the lists of God’s field. Reader! does but a foul word, or a frown, scare thee from Christ? Doth the loss of a little land or silver disquiet thee? Doth but the sight of the Midianites in the valley strike thee with terror? Home then, home to the world; thou art not for the conquering band of Christ. If thou canst not resolve to follow Him through infamy, prisons, racks, gibbets, flames, depart to thy house, and save thyself to thy loss.—Bishop Hall.
This section of the record suggests the following observations concerning service in the Church of God:—
I. There are various spheres of service in the Church of God. In the verses before us there are several classes of persons, and each of these classes had its own proper duties to discharge. The priests (Ezra 2:36-39), the Levites who assisted the priests (Ezra 2:40), the Levitical choir or choirs (Ezra 2:41), the Levitical porters or gate-keepers (Ezra 2:42), the Nethinim, who performed the more menial and laborious duties (Ezra 2:43-54), and “the children of Solomon’s servants,” who were a grade lower even than the Nethinim, and did the humblest work of all. In these we have an illustration of the various spheres of religious work in this Christian dispensation. “He gave gifts unto men. And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” &c. (Ephesians 4:11-12). In our own day we have pastors, preachers, evangelists, conductors of prayer-meetings, Sunday-school teachers, tract distributors, visitors of the sick and sorrowful, leaders of the psalmody of the church, and managers of its financial and other business arrangements. In the work of the Lord Jesus amongst men there is scope for every kind and degree of faculty. The feeblest power may be beneficially employed; and the greatest gifts may find spheres of service which demand their utmost exercise. This fact deprives the idlers in the Church of God of any legitimate excuse for their indolence. There is work for every one, and suited to every capacity; and the obligation of service rests upon every one. Let every one, then, be up and doing, &c. (a).
II. The humblest sphere of service in the Church of God is a place of privilege and honour. This seems to us to be fairly deducible from the fact that the Nethinim and “the children of Solomon’s servants” are here recorded and numbered. Even the bondsmen taken from alien and conquered peoples, being employed in the most menial services in connection with the Temple, find a place in this sacred record of the returning people of God. That we are permitted to do anything for Jesus our Lord, if it be the very lowest and humblest service, should be regarded as a precious privilege and a high honour. Is it not an honour that we may aid in any way, and in any degree, in the conversion, education, or progress of a soul immortal and redeemed by the precious blood of Christ? Is it not an honour that we are permitted, nay, called to be co-workers with our Lord and Saviour in His great redemptive undertaking? (b).
III. The privilege of service in the Church of God is not limited to any particular races or classes of men. Neither the Nethinim nor “the children of Solomon’s servants” were Israelites; but they were not excluded from the privilege of employment in connection with the Temple and its services. In this Christian age no races or classes are privileged to share in this service to the exclusion of others. All men may participate in the blessings of Christ’s salvation; and every true Christian may serve in some sphere of holy work, and ought so to serve. “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him.” In the Christian life “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all, and in all.” Neither is there any exclusive sacerdotal class with special privileges and powers. Every sphere of Christian service is open to every Christian who possesses the qualifications for efficiently discharging the duties of such sphere. (c).
Let every Christian, then, promptly undertake and faithfully discharge some service in the cause of our Lord and Saviour. “Son, go work to-day in My vineyard.” “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
(a) Every Christian who wants to have a blessing for himself or for others, must set to work by active exertion. Some of you young men might preach—you have the ability, you have the time for study; I want you to lay out your talents in that holiest of enterprises: in the street corners, anywhere, proclaim Christ. Some of you ought to be teaching in Sabbath-schools, but you are putting that talent by; it is rusting, it is spoiling, and you will have no interest to bring to your Master for it. I want that Sabbath-school talent to be used. Many of you might do good service by teaching senior classes at your own houses. This work might be most profitably extended. If our intelligent Christian brethren and matrons would try to raise little classes, of six, eight, ten, or twelve, at home, I know not what good might come of it. You would not be interfering with any one else; for in such a city as this, we may all work as hard as we will, and there is no chance of interfering with each other’s labours. This sea is too large here for us to be afraid of other folks running away with our fish. Some of you, perhaps, will do best in tract distribution: well, do it—keep it up; but mind there is something in the tract—and that is not always the case—mind there is something worth reading, which will be of use when read. Do not give away somnolent tracts, which are more likely to send the readers to sleep than to prayer. Some of them might be useful to physicians, when they cannot get their patients to sleep by any other means. Get something useful, interesting, telling, scriptural, and give it away largely out of love to Jesus. And if these labours do not suit your taste, talk personally to individuals. Christ at the well! What a schoolmaster for us! Talk to the one woman, the one child, the one carter, the one labourer, whoever he may be. He who makes one blade of grass grow that would not otherwise have grown, is a benefactor to his race; and he who scatters one good thought which would not else have been disseminated, has done something for the kingdom of Christ. I cannot tell you what is most fit for everybody to do; but if your heart is right, there is something for each one. There are so many niches in the temple, and so many statues of living stone to fill those niches, to make it a complete temple of heavenly architecture. You and I must each find our own niche. Remember, Christian, your time is going. Do not be considering always what you ought to do, but get to work; shut your eyes and put your hand out, and “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” The very first Christian effort will do, only do it with your might; do it in the name and strength of God.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(b) I know of no service that can be more distinguished than the doing of good, the scattering of blessings among the sons of men. Methinks the very angels before the throne might envy us poor men who are permitted to talk of Christ, even though it be but to little children. I reckon the humblest ragged-school teacher to be more honoured than even Gabriel himself, in being commissioned to tell out the story of the Cross, and to win youthful hearts to the Saviour’s service. You are not employed as scullions in your Master’s kitchen, though you might be content with such a service; you are not made as His hired servants, to toil in meanest drudgery, you are not sent to be hewers of wood and drawers of water; but you are His friends, the friends of Jesus, to do such work as He did; and even greater works than He did are you enabled to do, because He hath gone to His Father. “This honour have all the saints,” the honour of being gentlemen-at-arms under Jesus, the Captain of their salvation.—Ibid.
(c) The work of conversion is not to be the exclusive prerogative of the pulpit. There is no sacerdotalism in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have a great High Priest, but it is Jesus. There is a holy priesthood, but it is no privileged caste, it is no modern tribe of Levi; it is the whole community of the faithful, the Church of God which He has purchased with His own blood. That figment of old Popery, which restricts all endeavour to spread the Gospel of Christ to the clergy merely, is alien from Apostolic teaching, and would leave the harvest to rot, neglected in the field, because of the miserable fewness of the reapers to gather it in. Though I yield to no man under heaven in respect for the office of the Christian ministry; though I would rather, far rather if I know myself, have the seal of its baptism upon my brow than the coronet of any earthly-patented nobility, I do feel that I am but fulfilling one of its most solemn vocations, when I summon every member of the sacramental host to participate in the glorious war. God forbid that I should trespass upon the crown rights of any of the blood royal of heaven. I should feel as if that were for a guardian to squander his ward’s inheritance, or for a father to paralyse the growing manhood of his children, to deprive you, the very poorest of you, the luxury of doing good. The highest honour in this world, the honour of bringing souls to Christ, may be the common privilege of you all. The child with the linen coat, who listens, as did little Samuel, when the Master speaks; the love-watchers of the paralytic, who, if they can do nothing else, can take him and let him down through the roof to the room where Jesus is; the little servant-maid that waits upon Naaman’s wife—all, all may have an apostolical commission, and may share in the glories of an apostolical reward. There is not a single member of a single church in the world that is exempt from this service. All are summoned to the labour, and all, oh! infinite condescension! may be workers together with God.—W. M. Punshon, LL.D.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A CLEAR SPIRITUAL PEDIGREE
I. The doubtful pedigree amongst the people as an illustration of uncertainty as to our spiritual state. Ezra 2:59-60 suggest concerning such uncertainty—
1. That it may consist with association with the people of God. Those who “could not show their father’s house, and their seed, whether they were of Israel,” were permitted to go up to Jerusalem with those whose Israelitish descent was beyond question. And they whose evidences as to their spiritual lineage are not clear and conclusive, may have a name and a place amongst God’s spiritual Israel. And more than this, they may really be true members of that Israel. Sincere believers in the Lord Jesus Christ do not always realise the blessedness of Christian assurance. Sometimes even he “that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of His servant, walketh in darkness, and hath no light.” (a).
2. That it must involve spiritual loss. Those persons of doubtful pedigree who journeyed with the Jews to Jerusalem, could not enjoy the full rights of citizenship until they proved their Israelitish descent. And doubt as to our spiritual lineage must involve loss—
(1.) Of spiritual joy. Such doubters are strangers to the strong consolation which they enjoy who can say, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day;” and who can utter the triumphant challenge, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation,” &c. (Romans 8:35-39). (b).
(2.) Of spiritual usefulness. Lacking Christian assurance, our testimony for Christ would be likely to be deficient in clearness and attractiveness, in fervour and force; it would especially fail to set forth the joyful character of true religion. And thus our religious usefulness would be diminished. (c).
II. The doubtful pedigree amongst the priests as an illustration of uncertainty as to our ministerial calling and condition. A man’s ministerial pedigree in the Church of Christ may be said to be unquestionable when he possesses—
1. The Divine vocation. The true minister is assured that he is called of God to his work. He can enter into the feeling of the Apostle, who said, “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel!”
2. The Divine qualification. If a man is unfitted for the sacred duties of the ministry, his ministerial pedigree is ruinously defective.
3. The Divine sanction. That a ministry is blessed to the conversion of sinners and the edification of Christian believers is an evidence that it is approved by God.
The verses under consideration (61–63) suggest—
1. That a ministerial pedigree may be lost by reason of worldliness. The children of the priests who could not find “their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy,” were descendants of one who “took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name.” Now Barzillai was a great man in his day, and the priest who married his daughter seems to have esteemed his alliance with that distinguished family more highly than the dignity of his priesthood, and so he adopted the name of Barzillai for his family, and his family register was with the house of Barzillai, and not with the house of Aaron, and in this way it seems to have been lost His preference for worldly distinction issued in the suspension, if not the total loss, of the sacerdotal heritage of his descendants. We regard this as an illustration of the effect of worldliness on the character and influence of a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The eager pursuit of either the possessions or the distinctions of this present world tends to despoil the Christian minister of spiritual power—to render his perceptions of truth less quick and clear, his spiritual sympathies and susceptibilities less true and active, his spiritual zeal less fervent, his spiritual aspirations less intense and constant, &c. (d).
2. The loss of ministerial pedigree involves a corresponding loss of ministerial power and reward. The priests whose pedigree could not be found were prohibited from discharging certain priestly functions, and from receiving certain emoluments of that office. “They were polluted from the priesthood; and the Tirshatha said unto them that they should not eat of the most holy things,” &c. If a minister of the Gospel, from worldliness or any other cause, suffer personal spiritual deterioration or loss, it will tell sadly upon his influence for good, and upon the joy and spiritual reward which he finds in his work. (e).
3. The final decision as to the standing of a minister of uncertain pedigree must be given by God Himself. “And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim.” The high priest in former times sought to know the will of God by means of Urim and Thummim, and the decisions which were given by this medium were regarded as those of God Himself. So the case of the priests of uncertain pedigree was left for the decision of God. Doubtless there are certain questions of ministerial character and qualification with which Church courts and councils are competent to deal. But when a man’s ministerial pedigree is merely doubtful or uncertain, the final decision must be left to the great Searcher of hearts. “To his own Master he standeth or falleth.”
“All to the great tribunal haste,
The account to render there;
And shouldst Thou strictly mark our faults,
Lord, how should we appear?”
(a) Faith, let us remember, is the root, and assurance is the flower. Doubtless you can never have the flower without the root; but it is no less certain you may have the root and not the flower. Faith is that poor trembling woman who came behind Jesus in the press, and touched the hem of His garment (Mark 5:25); assurance is Stephen standing calmly in the midst of his murderers, and saying, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God (Acts 7:56). Faith is the penitent thief, crying, “Lord, remember me” (Luke 23:42); assurance is Job sitting in the dust, covered with sores, and saying, “I know that my Redeemer liveth” (Job 19:25). “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15). Faith is Peter’s drowning cry, as he began to sink, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30); assurance is that same Peter declaring before the council, in aftertimes, “This is the Stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12). Faith is the anxious, trembling voice, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24); assurance is the confident challenge, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Who is he that condemneth?” (Romans 8:33-34). Faith is Saul praying in the house of Judas at Damascus, sorrowful, blind, and alone (Acts 9:11); assurance is Paul the aged prisoner, looking calmly into the grave, and saying, “I know Whom I have believed. There is a crown laid up for me” (2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:8). Faith is life. How great the blessing! Who can tell the gulf between life and death? And yet life may be weak, sickly, unhealthy, painful, trying, anxious, worn, burdensome, joyless, smileless to the very end. Assurance is more than life. It is health, strength, power, vigour, activity, energy, manliness, beauty.—Bishop Ryle.
Suppose thou hast not yet attained so much as to this inward peace, yet know thou hast no reason to question the truth of thy faith for want of this. We have peace with God as soon as we believe, but not always with ourselves. The pardon may be past the prince’s hand and seal, and yet not put into the prisoner’s hand. Thou thinkest them too rash (dost not?) who judged Paul a murderer by the viper [that fastened on his hand. And who art thou, who condemnest thyself for an unbeliever, because of those troubles and inward agonies which may fasten for a time on the spirit of the most gracious child God hath on earth?—W. Gurnall.
(b) A man may praise God for the redemption of the world, &c., who has no consciousness of having secured an interest in it, but not like him who feels he has a property in it. How different will be their feelings! Just as great will be the difference of interest which will be felt by a stranger passing through a beautiful estate, and by the owner of it. One may admire the richness of the soil, the beauty of its crops, and the stateliness of its trees; but his interest in it will fall very far short of his who has the title and property in it.—H. G. Salter.
(c) Christianity did not in its beginning succeed by the force of its doctrines, but by the lives of its disciples. It succeeded first as a light, in accordance with the Master’s command, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Make religion attractive by the goodness that men see in you; so sweet, so sparkling, so buoyant, so cheerful, hopeful, courageous, conscientious and yet not stubborn, so perfectly benevolent, and yet not mawkish or sentimental, blossoming in everything that is good, a rebuke to everything that is mean or little; make such men of yourselves that everybody that looks upon you may say, “That is a royal good fellow; he has the spirit that I should like to lean upon in time of trouble, or to be a companion with at all times.” Build up such a manhood that it shall be winning to men. That is what the early Church did.—H. W. Beecher.
(d) What the astronomers say of the eclipse of the sun, that it is occasioned by the intervening of the moon between the sun and our sight, is true in this case: if the world get between Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, and our sight, it will darken our sight of Jesus Christ, and bring eclipses upon our comforts and graces. Again, those men that dig deep into the bowels of the earth, they are oftentimes choked and stifled by damps that come from the earth. So is it with Christians, those that will be ever poring and digging about the things of this world, it is a thousand to one that if from worldly things a damp doth not arise to smother their comforts and quench their graces. Lastly, a candle, though it may shine to the view of all, yet put it under ground, and, though there be not the least puff of wind, the very damp will stifle the light of the flame; and so it is that men may shine like candles in their comforts, yet bring them but under the earth, and a clod of that will stifle their candle, will damp their spiritual comforts, and bereave them of those joys that are in themselves unspeakable.—John Magirus.
(e) A true minister is a man whose manhood itself is a strong and influential argument with his people. He lives in such relations with ‘God, and in such a genuine sympathy with man, that it is a pleasure to be under the influence of such a mind. Just as, lying on a couch on a summer’s evening, you hear from a neighbouring house the low breathing of an instrument of music, so far away that you can only hear its palpitation, but cannot discern the exact tune that is played, and are soothed by it, and drawn nearer to hear more; so the true man, the true Christian minister, is himself so inspiring, so musical, there is so much of the Divine element in him, rendered homelike by incarnation with his disposition, brought down to the level of man’s understanding, that wherever he goes, little children want to see him, plain people want to be with him; everybody says when he comes, “Good;” and everybody says when he goes away, “I wish he had stayed longer;” all who come in contact with him are inclined to live a better life. Manhood is the best sermon. It is good to fill the mind with the goodness and sweetness of the thing itself to which you would fain draw them. “Go, preach,” was no more authoritative than “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”—H. W. Beecher.
POSSESSIONS AND OFFERINGS
These verses present the following homiletical topics, which may be considered with advantage:—
I. The completion of their journey. “They came to the house of the Lord which is at Jerusalem.” No account of the journey is given by the historian. It is, however, certain that the journey was—
(1) long, the distance was more than one thousand miles, and Ezra and his company (who went up many years afterward) were four months on the way (chap. Ezra 7:9);
(2) difficult, by reason of their uncertainty as to the best way, and the comparatively small number of beasts of burden;
(3) perilous, as we see from chap. Ezra 8:22. The country through which their course lay was infested by Bedouin Arabs, who frequently plundered and assaulted travellers. But the returning Jews were sustained, guided, and guarded by the Lord their God. It was by His blessing that they reached their destination in safety. So will He lead and keep all those who forsake sin, seek to do His will, and set their faces Zion-ward. “An highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called, The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but He Himself shall be with them, walking in the way; and the foolish shall not err therein. No lion shall be there,” &c. (Isaiah 35:8-10).
II. The extent of their possessions. “Beside their servants and their maids, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty and seven,” &c. (Ezra 2:65-67). There might have been some wealthy men amongst them; but viewed as a whole this company was certainly poor. Their reduced and impoverished condition is indicated by the number of servants and beasts of burden in relation to the number of persons. They had only one slave to every six persons, one horse to every fifty-eight persons, one mule to every one hundred and seventy-three persons, one camel to every ninety-eight persons, and one ass to every seven persons. Sin always impoverishes and degrades the sinner. Some forms of it lead to temporal poverty, e.g., drunkenness, indolence, wastefulness. “For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty; and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags” (Proverbs 23:21). “I went by the field of the slothful,” &c. (Proverbs 24:30). But the worst poverty to which sin leads is that of the spirit. It despoils man of high and holy thoughts, of pure and pious aspirations, of generous and noble purposes; it tends to make him “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked;” and to render him unconscious of his destitution and degradation.
III. The presentation of their offerings. “And some of the chief of the fathers, when they came to the house of the Lord,” &c. (Ezra 2:68-69). Notice:
1. The object of their offerings. “They offered freely for the house of God to set it up in his place.” Their contributions were for the rebuilding of the Temple. In this way they sought to promote the honour of God; and they were faithful to the purpose for which they were permitted to leave Babylon. Offerings for the building of temples for the worship of the Most High are both prudent and pious; they are encouraged both by philanthropy and by religion; they promote the good of humanity and the glory of God.
2. The spirit of their offerings.
(1.) They offered promptly, without delay; soon as “they came to the house of the Lord, which is at Jerusalem.” If they could not begin to rebuild the Temple at once, they could contribute towards the expenses of rebuilding, and they did so.
(2.) They offered spontaneously, without constraint. “They offered freely for the house of God.” “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart; not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver.” It is probable that gratitude for the mercies received during the journey, and for their safe arrival at their destination, would prompt them to present hearty offerings. (a).
3. The measure of their offerings. “They gave after their ability unto the treasure of the work,” &c. This seems to imply—
(1.) Proportion; that they gave according to their means, the rich according to his riches, and the poor according to his poverty. “If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, not according to that he hath not.” (b).
(2.) Liberality; that each one who gave, gave as much as he could. The total amount contributed was, at least, about £90,000; which gives an average of about £2 per person, including servants. An example worthy of imitation by many congregations in our day which are far more favourably circumstanced. (c).
IV. The settlement in their cities. “So the priests, and the Levites, and some of the people, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims, dwelt in their cities, and all Israel in their cities.” Two ideas are suggested—
1. Home after exile. “Dwelt in their cities.” Their cities; not the cities of their conquerors. The cities were to a great extent ruined and desolate; but they were their own. It was the land of their fathers, and their own land. (d).
2. Rest after a long and tedious journey. The toils and perils of their pilgrimage were over. Rest in their own cities would be sweet to their weary feet, but sweeter still to their spirits.
“But rest more sweet and still,
Than ever nightfall gave;
Our yearning hearts shall fill,
In the land beyond the grave.
There shall no tempests blow,
No scorching noontide beat;
There shall be no more snow,
No weary, wandering feet.
So we lift our trusting eyes
From the hills our fathers trod,
To the quiet of the skies,
To the Sabbath of our God.”
(a) “She hath done what she could.” The costliness of her gift in proportion to her means, while it was nothing to Him she would honour, was a guarantee that she was not trifling. Had it been far less than it was, and had it been all she could bring, His blessing would have been the same. For mind, He does not say, “Stop, consider, this alabaster box really cost a good deal of money; it could not have been bought for less than three hundred denarii.” No; but He says, “She hath done what she could;” that is, she hath demonstrated the deep and tender attachment of her soul. She believes on her Lord. She loves the Saviour for His holiness, His mercy, His Divine benignity. One penny’s worth, if it is only the utmost that self-denial can do, is as good for that as ten thousand shekels. Did He not declare as much, in what He said of the two mites that the poor widow cast into the Temple treasury? Nay, did He not equally accept, and bless with the same favour, another woman, poorer and frailer still, who had nothing to give Him but tears and kisses for His feet? The whole spiritual meaning of gifts consists in the disposition of the giver. Distinctions of weight and measure, standards of currency, tables of value, rates of exchange, calculations of outlay, colour, material, and shape, vanish before that simple and royal touchstone in the breast. It is felt to be so, even in the presents of human friendship; and spiritual sincerity does not pass for less in the eyes of Him who searches and sees the heart.—F. D. Huntington, D.D.
(b) Hohannes, the blind missionary of Harpoot, tells of a place where the Board had spent much money with little result, where he was sent. It was a poor place. The people were to raise six hundred piastres; and the Board was to pay the balance of his salary. The people said they could not raise that sum; a neighbouring pastor said it was impossible, they were so poor. After much anxiety, the missionary laid the case before God in prayer, when it was impressed upon him that each should give his tenth. He proposed it to the people, and they agreed to it. The money was easily raised, and amounted to more than the entire salary. That people never prospered so much before; their crops were abundant, and their satisfaction great. They not only supported their preacher and school-teacher, but gave two thousand piastres to other purposes.—Dict. of Illust.
(c) If there be any principle in our religion; if our obligation to worship be anything more than a seemly form, or an irksome impost upon time and thought; if the idea of God within us be not a remote and impersonal divinity, but a Being warm, near, watchful, provident, the living God of our clinging heart and of our crying soul, then surely it were mockery to render any homage but the truest at His footstool, and to offer any gifts but the chiefest on His altar. The old heathen understood this matter better. Their eyes were blinded and their rites were cruel, but they never erred in this. The goodliest spoil, the most fragrant libation, the fairest in the stall, the nearest to the heart, were reserved to be devoted to their gods; and shall we, heirs of all the ages and of all the economies, we on whom God has caused to shine a sun in His meridian of privilege—shall we anger our God against us by our selfish indifference to His claims, or by our unfilial withholding of His honour? We to whom He has given every faculty which makes us capable of God, shall we withhold from Him the hearts which He asks only to brighten and redeem? We to whom He has allotted a day so clear and so brilliant, shall we insult Him by the offer of the refuse of our time? We who are gifted by Him alike with our wealth and with our power to amass it, shall we deal out our niggard pittance in His cause like the coarse miser churl who parts with coin like blood? Brethren, I summon you, with all possible solemnity, to answer this invocation. If there has been indifference in the past, let our penitence mourn it, and let our consecration atone it, to-day. It is but little at the best that we can offer; our collective wealth would be absorbed by one single city’s needs. Our influence, even at its widest, is contracted within a narrow span. The shadows gather swiftly upon the noon of our very longest day. We are feeble, and half our time must be spent in sleep that we may recruit our strength. We are frail, and Death standing by laughs at our arithmetic when we calculate on future years. We receive unfinished labours from our fathers, and we transmit them unfinished to our children. Watchmen in the night, it is not given to us to tarry until the morning. Guardians of the battle-flag, we can but wave it gallantly for awhile; but we know full well that our hands will stiffen, and that our comrades will bury us before the work is done. But the present is ours. We have room to work; we have light to work in. There are ample opportunities, and there are passionate needs, and there are strong encouragements, and there are facilities such as no age ever possessed, for honest work for God. Now who, then, is willing to consecrate his service this day unto the Lord? Give Him your hearts, dear brethren—your costliest and most acceptable offering. The sordid and the worldly may despise your choice, but there awaits you on earth God’s palpable smile, and the blessing of those that are ready to perish; and in heaven the angel’s welcome, and the conqueror’s palm, and the King’s palace as the soul’s home, and the King Himself in His beauty as your exceeding great reward—W. M. Punshon, LL.D.
(d) No bricks and mortar and timber can make a home. No marble, however fine and polished, can make a home. No gold, or silver, or tapestry, or painting, can make a home. It is that which makes heaven which makes a home even on this earth. It is love that makes a home. To love, and to be loved, though it be in the peasant’s cot, though it be in the rudest barn through the fissures of which the wind makes music, is to be at home; and often you find homes in the rudest dwellings, and none in the most splendid palaces. But where love is likely to be disturbed—where some rude hand can take the threads that love is ever spinning and tying and fastening, and cut them and sever them, the home feeling must of course be partial. And we long for a place and a state where those whom we love will never be taken from us, and where we shall know that we shall abide eternally in the presence of those who love us. “We seek one to come.” A higher and a settled dwelling-place, a final home, a permanent state of being.—Samuel Martin.