Click here to learn more!
SERMON ON THE KING’S ACCESSION
Ezra 6:10. Offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king [Note: This Sermon was preached on the occasion of the Accession of King George the Fourth, 1820.].
ON the last occasion of our assembling in this place, we were called to pay a respectful tribute to the memory of our late beloved and revered sovereign, whose mortal remains were then committed to the tomb. The vision which the Apostle John beheld of the holy city, the New Jerusalem, in which Jehovah, with all his hosts and angels, vouchsafes to dwell, was then submitted to your attention, as offering peculiar consolation to us under the loss we have sustained: for there “the spirits of the just are made perfect,” and enter into the complete fruition of that glory, which here they apprehended only by the weak and imperfect grasp of faith. Of such as shall be admitted to those blissful mansions, it is said, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” That our sorrows in this vale of tears might be alleviated, and our consolation in the prospect of that happy state be the more abundant, Jehovah, having said, “Behold, I make all things new,” added, “Write; for these words are true and faithful:” and the truth of them shall be experienced by every saint in due season. Then the same Almighty Being yet further added, “It is done [Note: Revelation 21:1-66.21.6.].” This very blessedness is already experienced by millions, who, in successive ages and generations, have been gathered to their fathers, and liberated from the pains and troubles of this mortal life; millions, who “have come out of great tribulation, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, are already before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and neither hunger any more, nor thirst any more, neither does the sun light on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne feeds them, and leads them to living fountains of waters: and God has wiped away all tears from their eyes [Note: Revelation 7:14-66.7.17.].”
Here our minds were irresistibly led to contemplate the state of our departed sovereign. “It is done;” yes, “It is done;” to his unspeakable joy, and to the comfort of every reflecting mind. Embittered as his life has been by great and heavy trials, by the loss of a considerable portion of his empire, by the subjugation of Europe to the dominion of an insatiable and ruthless tyrant, and by having to contend for the very existence of his kingdom as an independent state; having also, during the latter years of his life, been visited with the heaviest afflictions of which our frail nature is susceptible,—with the loss of vision, not only corporeal, but mental; I say, embittered as his life has been, how sweet the thought, that now “all former things are passed away—that pain and sorrow are known by him no more—that all tears are for ever wiped away from his eyes”—that, at the instant of his departure hence, “joy and gladness came forth” to welcome him as his inseparable attendants—and “sorrow and sighing,” which had followed him so closely during his long and eventful life, “fled away for ever.” Verily this thought may well reconcile us to a dispensation, which, according to the course of nature, was to be expected soon, and which, if it have bereaved us, has so greatly benefited and enriched him [Note: Isaiah 35:10. This exordium may easily to modified, according to existing circumstances.].
It seems proper now that our attention should be turned to his son and successor, our present most gracious sovereign; and that we should contemplate the duties which his accession to the throne imperiously calls for at our hands. With this view I have selected the passage before us, in which King Darius expresses his wish that the Jews, who were then under his dominion, and whom he was greatly favouring, would serve their God with all fidelity, and unite their supplications “for him, and for his sons.”
I propose to consider the words before us in a two-fold point of view:
As the desire of a heathen prince; and,
As the duty of a Christian people.
Let us consider them as the desire of a heathen prince—
If the occasion on which the words were spoken be duly considered, it will appear that the desire expressed in them was a just and reasonable desire, and at the same time a wise and politic desire.
True, it was a just and reasonable desire; as the history will clearly shew. The Jews, by the permission of Cyrus, had begun to rebuild their temple, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had destroyed. But, when Artaxerxes had succeeded to the throne of Persia, the Samaritans, filled with envy at the progress which the Jews made in the erection of their city and temple, sent to him, to apprise him of the danger that would ensue to his government, if they should be permitted to proceed with their building. Upon this, Artaxerxes commanded that the work should be stopped, till further orders should be issued by him for the prosecution of it. This so discouraged the Jews, that they abandoned the public works for many years, and attended only to their own personal accommodations. But at last, after Darius had succeeded to the throne of Persia, the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah stirred up the Jews to resume the work; and, having succeeded in exciting among the people a holy zeal to prosecute it with vigour, they had the joy of beholding it advance with great rapidity. But, behold, the enemies of Judah and Benjamin, being again filled with envy, applied to the governors whom Darius had placed over them, to execute and enforce the orders of the late king Artaxerxes, and to put an entire stop to the building. But these governors, being more candid than those to whom the complaint had been before made, suffered the Jews to state their own case, and transmitted it faithfully to Darius, with a request for instructions how to act. Upon this, Darius consulted the records of his kingdom; and, finding their representations just, he issued a decree, that no obstacle should any more be put in their way; that the most liberal aid should be afforded them, out of his revenues, for the establishment and support of the temple worship; and that, if any one in future should attempt to reverse this decree, his house should be pulled down, and the timbers of it be erected as a gallows, whereon he should suffer death [Note: ver. 11, 12.].
Now, consider the obligations which this benevolent monarch was conferring on the Jews; and then say, Whether the desire which he expressed was not just and reasonable. He had ordered, that “whatever they had need of, young bullocks and rams and lambs, for the burnt-offerings of the God of heaven, together with wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which were at Jerusalem, should be given them, day by day, without fail.” Was it not reasonable that he should expect these things to be applied to their destined use, and that, when he was shewing such a paternal regard for the welfare of their nation, he should be remembered by them in their devotions, and have an interest in their prayers? Surely, this was the least return which they could render to him for his extreme kindness. And, if he, who was a heathen, had such confidence in Jehovah, as to believe that there was efficacy in prayers addressed to him, and to desire that intercessions should be offered to him in his behalf, it became them, who knew that Jehovah was a prayer-hearing God, to be very urgent with him in their supplications, and to entreat, day and night, that he would recompense into the king’s bosom all the favours which he had so liberally heaped upon them.
But we have said, that the desire expressed in our text was also a wise and politic desire. Religion and loyalty are inseparable [Note: It is possible that a pious man may be misguided, as was doubtless the case with many in the days of Charles the First: but their error must not be imputed to religion: for, if it was the duty of Christians to submit to, and to pray for, such a tyrant as Nero, the point is determined at once. “The powers that be, are ordained of God; and are to be obeyed, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.” To inquire whether any, or what, circumstances would justify a departure from this rule, is no part of the author’s design: it is ground which a minister of the Prince of Peace is not called to occupy.]. It cannot be, that a man who truly fears God should fail essentially in honouring the king. The godly ever have been, and ever must be, “the quiet in the land.” It is not possible for them to be entering into cabals, and stirring up a spirit of disaffection to the throne. On the other hand, a man who has no fear of God before his eyes has no principle sufficiently strong to keep him faithful to his king, if he be drawn either by interest or inclination to oppose him. The probability is, that the very same principle which leads him to cast off the yoke of God will impel him to resist and overthrow all human authority also, as far as his own safety will admit of it. The throne and the altar will for the most part stand or fall together, as in the affections, so also in the efforts and exertions of mankind. Hence, then, it was wise in Darius, though a heathen prince, to encourage piety amongst the Jews.
Nor was he less politic in desiring a remembrance in their prayers. Pray for a man; and hate him, if you can. There may be faults in the monarch, and errors in his government: but the man who prays devoutly and constantly for him will cast a veil over the one, and use none but constitutional methods of correcting and remedying the other. Intercession will induce a habit of mind friendly to the person for whom it is offered, and, if offered in sincerity by a whole nation, would prove a bulwark around the throne, stronger that all the fleets and armies that could be raised for its defence.
But let us pass on to the second head of our Discourse; in which we proposed to consider the text as declaring to us also, the duty of a Christian people.
Our first duty, beyond all doubt, is to our heavenly King: our next is, to the monarch whom, in his providence, he has placed over us:—we must first “Fear God,” and then “Honour the King.”
In the service of our heavenly King, “the offering of sacrifices to him of a sweet savour” may well be considered as comprehending our duty to him; whether as sinners, who stand in need of his mercy, or as saints, who desire to glorify his name. The Jewish sacrifices, which were offered from day to day, were presented as an atonement for the sins of the people: and they prefigured that “Lamb of God, which, in his eternal purpose, was slain from the foundation of the world.” These we are not required to bring; because that adorable Saviour, in whom all the types and shadows of the Mosaic Law were to be fulfilled, is come; even Jesus, of whom it is said, “He loved us, and gave himself for us, an offering, and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour [Note: Ephesians 5:2.]” This sacrifice we must ever bring before the God of heaven and earth. We must never presume to come into his presence without it. We must lay our hands on the head of that blessed victim, and transfer to him all our guilt, and expect forgiveness solely through his atoning blood. To this the whole Scriptures direct us, as the sure and only means of acceptance with God. Consult the Law and the Prophets; and they will all point to Jesus, as “the way, the truth, and the life [Note: John 14:6. Romans 3:21-45.3.22.].” The Apostles also declare, that “his is the only name whereby any man can be saved [Note: Acts 4:12.]:” the voice of all, without exception, is the same as that of this heathen prince: “Offer sacrifices to the God of heaven.”
But there are other sacrifices also, which, as saints, we are to offer, and which have a sweet savour before God. Our whole person, body, soul, and spirit, is to be presented to the Lord, as the Apostle tells us: “I beseech you by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service [Note: Romans 12:1.].” And, if only we come to God through Christ, there is not a service which we can render to him which shall not come up with acceptance before him, as a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour. Such are our alms [Note: Hebrews 13:16.]; such our prayers [Note: Psa 107:22]; such our very sighs [Note: Psalms 51:17.]; such is our every service, of whatever kind [Note: 1 Peter 2:5.].
And do not imagine that your attention to this duty is unimportant as it respects the welfare of the state. There is a far closer connexion between national piety and national prosperity than men generally imagine. Hear, I pray you, the admonition given us in the very next chapter: Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king [Note: Ezra 7:23.]?
Let then a heathen prince, my Brethren, teach and admonish you: and forget not henceforth your indispensable duty, to “offer sacrifices of a sweet savour unto the God of heaven.”
To this must be added your duty to your earthly prince, to be instant in prayer to God on his behalf.
This is your duty: for the Apostle says, “I exhort that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority: for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour [Note: 1 Timothy 2:1-54.2.3.].”
And let me add, It is your interest also: for the welfare of every individual in the nation is bound up in the welfare of the king. If God, in his mercy, direct his counsels, and prosper his endeavours, the whole empire will reap the benefit; whilst, on the other hand, if God were to give him up to infatuated counsels, or to blast his best endeavours, the whole body politic would suffer, from the greatest to the least. As every member of the human frame participates in the sufferings of the head, so should we all, without exception, have reason to deplore any evil which befel him on whom the destinies of the nation so essentially depend.
But to the performance of this duty we have an especial call at this time [Note: The remainder of this head can. of course, apply only to the particular occasion: but every succeeding period will supply appropriate topics to substitute in its place.]. The illness with which his Majesty has been visited, and from which he is at this time scarcely recovered, speaks loudly to us all, and should make us extremely urgent with God in his behalf, that his valuable life may be spared to us. Call to mind how suddenly one of his royal house, in the very prime of life, and in the utmost vigour of manhood, has been snatched away [Note: The Duke of Kent.]; and then say, whether we have not reason to unite in unwearied supplications to the God of heaven, to restore his health, and to preserve to us a life so justly dear, so transcendently important. But further, reflect upon the state of the nation at this time: what a spirit of insubordination and impiety has prevailed, and would yet shew itself in the same daring attitude that it has already assumed, if the firmness of our king, and the wisdom of the legislature, had not repressed it. We must not imagine that the rebellious disposition of those miscreants, who, for so long a time, and to so awful a degree, have agitated the nation, is changed: no: it is only waiting for an opportunity to burst forth; and, like water that has been dammed up, it would quickly deluge the whole kingdom, if only it could bear down the barriers with which its progress has been stopped. See what this same spirit of impiety and of anarchy accomplished in a neighbouring kingdom, and, if it had not been withstood by the wisdom and firmness of our late revered monarch, would have accomplished here also! See what an horrible deed this demoniacal spirit has just perpetrated in France, in order to effect the extirpation of the royal family there [Note: The murder of the Due de Berri.]! And is not the same spirit alive in this country? Look back to the former reign: no less than three times was the life of our late gracious sovereign attempted. Yea, and our present sovereign too:—his prime minister has been assassinated; the life of another of his ministers has been attempted [Note: If this and the foregoing instance be supposed to have occurred on private, rather than public, grounds, still they shew the spirit that has existed, and yet exists, in the nation; which is the point here chiefly to be noticed.]; the lives of many of them have been menaced; and his own life also has been sought by the hands of an assassin. Scarcely have a few weeks elapsed, since several, who were engaged in executing the laws, were either murdered, or delivered, as it were by miracle, out of the murderers’ hands: and apologies have been made by those who would direct the public mind, in extenuation of these enormities. Tell me, Is there not a call on the whole people of the land to “pray for the life of the king [Note: Little did the author think, when he sent this to the press, what weight all his observations were speedily to derive from the horrible conspiracy just brought to light. (The Cato-street conspiracy.) Surely there will not be found many in the land, who will not bless and admire that gracious God, who has so mercifully interposed to defeat it!]?”
But I must add yet further;—We have a special obligation to pray for him. Consider the obligations which we owe to his august family! What liberty, both civil and religious, have we enjoyed, since the house of Brunswick came to the throne! No person whatever is molested, if he molest not others. But why speak I of obligations to the family of our sovereign? Think what we owe to the sovereign himself, who, under God, has brought us through all the difficulties and dangers of the late conflict, and placed this nation on n pinnacle of glory, which no human being could have ventured, a few years ago, to anticipate, or even think of! See, too, the manner in which he has proceeded in suppressing the atrocities which, from the excess of our liberties, licentious blasphemers and agitators have been able to effect! Not one atom more of restraint has he imposed than was necessary for the occasion: so far has he been from wishing to stretch either his own prerogative or the rigour of the law beyond what necessity required, that there is scarcely a person in the whole nation that is not impressed with the wisdom, and moderation, and equity of the enactments which his servants have proposed and his authority has sanctioned. I say, call these things to remembrance; and then ask yourselves, Whether the praying for the life of such a king be not the least that we can do to requite the benefits that we have received from him? Surely you need not to be instructed by a heathen: you need not Darius to inform you of your duty.—To all of you then, as Christians, I would say, “Offer sacrifices of sweet savour unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king.”
In my text it is said, “Pray for the life of the king and his sons.” Would to God I could urge upon you your duty to the same extent; or that I could say, Pray for the king and for his daughter! But it has pleased God, in his mysterious providence, to deprive us of her, who was the hope and joy of the whole nation; and of her infant offspring too, to whom we fondly looked as to the future sovereign of these realms. Still does the nation mourn, and for many years will continue to mourn, that overwhelming bereavement. In a moment when every heart was ready to leap for joy, and every tongue to utter the language of congratulation and thankfulness, the sad tidings came, and plunged the whole nation in an abyss of woe. It is not permitted us, therefore, any longer to pray for her. But this should interest us the more in behalf of all the royal family, for whom our prayers should ascend with unceasing earnestness, that God may bless them in all their concerns, both temporal and spiritual, and render them blessings, both by their influence and example, to this whole nation.
To conclude.—Let us, from the example of this heathen prince, learn how to employ our influence:—He was the mightiest monarch that day upon the face of the earth: and there were in his dominions a poor and despised people, who were zealous for the honour of their God, but whose zeal in the cause of religion was misrepresented, and made a subject of complaint. But the king, so far from wishing to interfere with them in the conscientious discharge of their duty, gave them every possible encouragement, as well by pecuniary aid as by his effectual protection; thus shewing himself the father of his people, and the patron of all that was good. In like manner, whether our influence have a wider range, or be contracted within a narrower sphere, let us use it for “the God of heaven:” let us employ it to protect the oppressed, to encourage piety, and to maintain the honour of God in the world.
On the other hand, let us learn also how to improve the privileges we enjoy.—No doubt the Jews felt their obligations to Darius, and acknowledged with gratitude the hand of God, who had caused them to find favour in his sight. No doubt, also, the pious among them, at least, earnestly poured forth to God their supplications in behalf of their gracious benefactor. Let us then, who enjoy such privileges, not merely through the favour of our monarch, but through the established constitution of the realm; let us, I say, abound in praises to our heavenly Benefactor, in affectionate loyalty to our earthly king, and in every work, whereby God may be glorified, and the welfare of our fellow-creatures may be advanced.
THE SUBSERVIENCY OF A FAITHFUL MINISTRY TO THE ERECTION OF GOD’S SPIRITUAL TEMPLE
Ezra 6:14. And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo.
THE purposes of God, whatever difficulties may seem to obstruct the execution of them, are all accomplished in due season. The deliverance of his people from Babylon, and the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem, though in themselves the most improbable events, were effected with a facility the most surprising. The heart of Cyrus was moved to give the orders that were requisite; and though the constructing of the temple was retarded by unforeseen obstacles, yet afterwards, through the exhortations of the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah, that laborious work was finished in the space of four years.
We shall offer a few remarks upon,
The building of the temple through the instrumentality of the fore-mentioned prophets.
Many difficulties obstructed the progress of the work—
[Scarcely was the foundation laid, before an attempt was made to impede the work through the hypocrisy of pretended friends. The Samaritans offered to co-operate with the Jews in raising the intended fabric: but their design was to frustrate, rather than promote, the completion of it. And though this appears at first sight to be a strange mode of shewing hostility, yet it is indeed most common, both in political contests, and in the concerns of religion. Many will profess to desire the same objects, and will offer to concur in prosecuting them to a certain point, who, if their offers were accepted, would only defeat the ends proposed — — — The Jews, however, aware of the snares thus laid for them, determined to prosecute their work alone. [Note: Ezra 4:1-15.4.3.].
That device having failed, they were assaulted by the hostility of open enemies. Complaints were made against them to the governing powers, and they were represented as plotting to regain their liberty and independence. Their former endeavours to cast off the Babylonish yoke were referred to as proofs of their present disposition to rebel against the king of Persia [Note: Ezra 4:4-15.4.16.]. It is in this way that the servants of God have been assailed in all ages: our blessed Lord was calumniated as an enemy to Cζsar; and his Apostles, as “movers of sedition:” and, if at any period of the Church an occasion can be found against the people of God, the record of it shall be brought against them in all future ages, and the evils of one party (as of the Puritans, for instance) shall be made to characterize religion itself, and all who profess it: and a sense of duty and of regard for the public welfare shall be artfully pleaded as an apology for the measures, which in reality were dictated by nothing but a rooted aversion to the cause of God [Note: Ezra 4:14.].
This plan having too fatally succeeded, the Jews yielded to despondency, and for the space of fifteen years suspended the work in which they had engaged [Note: Ezra 4:23-15.4.24.]. A spirit of indolence and supineness soon prevailed among them, and would have operated to a total dereliction of the work, if God had not sent his prophets to rouse them from their lethargy. And indeed this is the greatest obstacle to every good work, since the longer it continues, the more entire is the ascendant which it gains over us.]
Through the preaching of the prophets, however, these difficulties were overcome—
[The Prophet Haggai justly reproved them for attending so carefully to their own accommodation, whilst the temple and the service of their God were altogether forgotten; and bade them carefully to “consider their ways [Note: Haggai 1:2-37.1.5; Haggai 1:7.].” The Prophet Zechariah also urged them to bear in mind how awfully their fathers had suffered for their neglect of God [Note: Zechariah 1:1-38.1.6.]; and then, by a variety of images which he had seen in visions, encouraged them with assurances of success in their labours [Note: Read attentively the four first chapters of Zechariah in this particular view.]. Thus were the people stimulated to exertion. But behold, no sooner did they resume their work, than their enemies renewed their application to the government to issue again their mandate to discontinue it [Note: Ezra 5:1-15.5.10.]. Whilst they were occupied only in building ceiled houses for themselves, no notice was taken of it: but as soon as they began to serve their God, their enemies were up in arms. And so it always is; zeal is approved in every thing except religion: but, as soon as ever it discovers itself in that, every effort will be made to repress it. This effort, however, was overruled, as similar efforts have often been, for the furtherance of the work it was intended to destroy [Note: Compare Ezra 6:1-15.6.10. with Philippians 1:12.]: and in the short space of four years the edifice was completed [Note: ver. 15.].]
The history thus viewed leads us naturally to notice,
The subserviency of a faithful ministry to the erection of God’s spiritual temple—
The temple of old was a shadow of that spiritual temple which is erected for God in the hearts of men; “being built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, and Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone [Note: Ephesians 2:20-49.2.22.].” The erection of this,
Is attended with the same difficulties—
[Who that begins truly to surrender up his soul to God, does not find many impediments from pretended friends? They will profess to approve of religion, and will propose to go with us to a certain length, that so they may have the greater influence to keep us from “following the Lord fully,” and from serving him with our whole hearts — — — If we are enabled to withstand their efforts, then we shall be assailed by open enemies, who will accuse us of evil designs against both the Church and State; and will call forth the power of the civil magistrate, or of our more immediate governors, to suppress our zeal. Not unfrequently will they become our greatest foes, who by their relation to us ought rather to become our firmest protectors — — — And too often do timidity and sloth induce us to relax our efforts, till, if God do not by some special act of providence or grace awaken us, we lose the time for working, and, like the foolish virgins, experience for ever the fatal effects of our remissness — — —]
But the work of God in the soul,
Is carried on and perfected by the same means—
[God has established an order of men on purpose to carry on this spiritual building in the world [Note: Ephesians 4:11-49.4.13.]. Paul and the other Apostles may be called “master-builders [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:10.];” but every pastor and teacher is engaged in the same work, according to the peculiar office that has been assigned him. “To impart to you some spiritual gift, to the end that ye may be established,” and “to perfect that which is lacking in your faith,” and in every way to be “helpers of your joy,” is the great end of all our ministerial labours: and, if we would labour with effect, we must use the very same means as Haggai and Zechariah did.
We call you then, Brethren, to “consider your ways:” consider what has hindered you hitherto; and what has been the consequence of intermitting your exertions in the service of your God. Have you not reason to blush and be confounded for the little progress that you have made in the divine life? — — — Consider too, as Zechariah so largely recommends, the promises of God. What assurances of success are given you by your gracious God, if only you will put your hands to the work in good earnest — — — “Up then, and be doing,” every one of you; and “your God will be with you.” Yield not to discouragements of any kind; for “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” And beware how you give way to carnal ease and indolence: surely it ill becomes you to be so intent, as most of us are, on earthly things, whilst the spiritual edifice advances so slowly. Let all inquire, what yet remains to be done in their own hearts, and, what may be done for God in the world at large: and let us, by “coming daily and hourly to Christ as the living foundation-stone, seek, as living stones, to be built up a spiritual house [Note: 1 Peter 2:4-60.2.5.],” that shall be “the habitation of God, through the Spirit,” for ever and ever.]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Ezra 6". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany