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Now when Ezra had prayed.
Prayer and confession
The former chapter did set down the humiliation of Ezra; this demonstrates the fruit and effect that it produced. When the people saw that he was so affected and afflicted, and that not so much for his own sins as for the sins of the people, they take it to heart. And first, there is a very great assembly gathered together; secondly, they weep sore; thirdly, one particular person, Shechaniah by name, confesseth the sins of the people; fourthly, they conceive hope of remission; fifthly, they resolve to put away their strange wives; lastly, they put their late resolution into execution. That which gives occasion to all these is laid down in the first words of the chapter, which contains: First, the actions of Ezra, and they be two, “praying and weeping.” Secondly, his manner of confessing, “he cast himself down before the house of the Lord.” Upon this follows the coming together of a great assembly of men, women, and children. We begin with his actions, and first for his praying, “When Ezra had prayed.” The commandment of God is for it (Psalms 50:15), “Call upon Me in the day of trouble, go in James 5:13, Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. And as God commanded it, so His children have practised it. First, pray sensibly. Be sensible of what thou sufferest. God loves not that men should be as so many Stoics. Secondly, a man must pray as feelingly as fervently (James 5:15). Thirdly, we must pray faithfully, that is, believing we shall receive what we implore God. Fourthly, we must pray constantly. First, we must aim at the glory of God in all the prayers we make. Secondly, a man must so pray to God that withal he use means to accomplish his desires. So much for Ezra’s first act. The second act performed by him is his confession, the text saith, “When he had confessed.” I desire you to practise this second act of Ezra. Do not only pray unto God, but likewise confess your sins unto Him. First, we must confess them with shame, thus did Job (Job 42:6). Secondly, we must do it ingenuously. It must not be extorted from us as it was from Achan, but we must willingly confess our iniquities. Thirdly, we must do it with sorrow and contrition of soul. Fourthly, with anger. Fifthly, with honest hearts; that is, with an assured purpose to leave our impieties. Lastly, we must confess our sins fully; there must be no retaining, excusing, or extenuating of sin. We come now to the manner of Ezra’s confession, laid down in these words, “Weeping, and casting himself down before the house of the Lord.” The first thing in it is his weeping, and this hath ever been a usual concomitant of prayer. See it in David (Psalms 6:6). Mark, he made his prayer to God, and tears went along with it. First, because of the great good that sin deprives us of. We are apt to grieve for the loss of a father, a wife, or a child. And shall not we mourn for sin, which deprives us of the true God? Secondly, we have reason to weep for sin, because of the miseries which it brings on the sons of men. It should exhort us to weep and mourn for our sins. We spend tears in abundance for these secular things; but we should spare them there, and spend them here. Is it not a foolery to wish a stable with sweet water? Thy tears be the sweetest water in the world, therefore spend them on thy sins; I am sure thou canst not spend them better. The second thing in the manner is, “He cast himself down before the house of the Lord.” Where repentance is true inward, it will put itself outward. Those that find not this in themselves may suspect their repentance. “He east himself down before the house of the Lord.” Why so? It was the more to stir him up to humiliation. He seems to say,” What? shall Thy people enjoy the privileges of Thy house? And shall they thus irritate and provoke Thee?” (Hosiah Shute, B. D.)
The influence of an eminent example
We come now to the firstfruit of Ezra’s humiliation; and that is the convening of a great congregation to him. So that Ezra hath here the glory of being an example of goodness to others. It is to stir us all up to this holy pride, to be the first in good actions. He that did first invent printing, his name will be famous to the end of the world. So now, to be the first that believes in a town, to be the first that puts a good law in execution, to lay the first stone in a pious work, this is no small, but a very great honour. We say he is an ill horse that will not lead the way but only follow; and I will not give a button for that Christian that will do no more than he sees others do. How do ye in your affairs in the world? It a commodity come from beyond the seas of which you stand in need, do you stay till others bid money for it? No; but with all speed you get it into your own hands. And shall there be such a moderation in spiritual things? Further, as Ezra had the honour to be an example to others in goodness, so now see the effect of it, “A great company of men, women, and children assembled together.” And why so? Doubtless for no other cause but to humble themselves as he had done. So efficacious and powerful is the example of goodness in great ones. It is said of Augustus that in his time Rome was full of scholars because he affected learning. In the time of Commodus it was full of fencers because he loved that exercise. And in Nero’s time it was full of musicians, for he took great delight in music. All men compose their manners to his who is their governor. The truth is, the example of great ones is the loadstone which draws inferiors after it; that is the compass by which most men sail. In the second place, let it be a use to those who are eminent in the Church, such as Ezra was. Let them not only preach, but live well. Where the sin is general and epidemical, good reason that all should be joined together in humiliation. When we shall see that the sins of the times do overflow and be grown up to heaven, as at this time they are, it shall be fit, though a public humiliation be not prescribed by authority, to make our humiliation general by every man’s sorrowing for his own sins. “Oh,” say those in the city, “those of the court are so horribly wicked that we are all like to smart for their profaneness.” And saith the court, “Such is the cheating of the citizens, that they will draw down judgments upon us all.” Thus one accuses another; but in the meantime, who smites his hand on his breast and saith, “What have I done?” But mark the particular numeration which the Spirit of God makes, “men, women, children.” First, men; and good reason men should lead the dance and go before the rest in a good way. Abraham went first out of his country, and Sarah followed him. I press it no further than thus: you that are men, I confess you have more honour put upon you than women have, and I know you are apt enough to arrogate as much to yourselves; but take heed that whilst you go before them in honour that they prevent you not in the best things. The second sort of people spoken of are women, and indeed the service of God is charged upon them as well as upon men, as in 1Ti 2:10; 1 Timothy 2:15; 1 Peter 3:4. Thirdly, “the children came.” What? the children join in humiliation? Yes; why not? for God was offended, and they had reason to be humbled for it. The second thing set down in this verse is “that the people wept very sore.” What was the reason? The reason shall be the observation. Great sins must have a great measure of sorrow. In Psalms 6:6, David having committed great sins, “made his bed to swim, and watered his couch with his tears.” “Sin must have sorrow at one time or another” (Proverbs 29:6). (Hosiah Shute, B. D.)
Helping the minister
What comfort it pleaseth God to give his ministers here in that happy fruit of people’s humiliation. So great is the comfort of this kind that there cannot be a greater. I do not think but at this very time the tears stood in Ezra’s eyes; yet when he saw tears distill from the people’s eyes it made him glad at the heart. Ministers know that if great persons be won to God they will win others by their example--so powerful is the example of great ones to inferiors. It should teach the ministers of the Word, like Ezra, to labour the conversion of great and eminent persons, and to do what they can to bring them to sorrow for their sins. How comfortable it is in good actions to have an assistant. Is it not lamentable that men should get good business on toot and have none to join with them? It is a happy thing when the priest and magistrate, the word and the sword, go hand in hand together. There will be no reformation till the word of Ezra and the sword of Shechaniah go together. But now what is it which Shechaniah saith? He speaketh that in a few words, which Ezra had delivered more largely, “We have trespassed against our God.” The penitent soul is more severe against itself than the most slanderous tongue in the world. But I pass by that and fall upon another observation, which naturally springs from Shechaniah’s words, and it is this: Above all other griefs, this to a good soul is the chiefest, “that he hath offended God.” (Hosiah Shute, B. D.)
Forgiveness for great sins
We descend now to another fruit of Ezra: his humiliation. Shechaniah confesseth the sin of the people, which was of the first magnitude; to wit, their joining themselves in marriage with heathens. Yet he despairs not of forgiveness from God, but saith, “Yet there is hope in Israel concerning this thing.” From whence I ground this observation. The greatness of a sin, if there be repentance, is no impediment to the forgiveness of it. So saith Shechaniah. First, it may appear to be true by the charge that God gives men to repent (Isaiah 1:16). The second reason is drawn from the examples of those great sinners on whom God hath showed mercy. The third reason is drawn from the attributes of God. (Hosiah Shute, B. D.)
Covenanting with God
Shechaniah is not only resolved to do as he saith, but he is willing to make a covenant with God, both in his own and the people’s behalf. The true penitent is desirous to tie himself by all possible bonds to keep that which God commands. Mark it in some proofs. First, the child of God knows that the service of God is a matter of special consequence. He knows it is as much as the salvation of his soul, and therefore he conceives he cannot perform it too strictly. Secondly, there is a desire in God’s child to show how willing he is to obey God. One meets with those which are afraid of these bonds. There be those that will not come to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper because, they say, it is a sacred thing; and if they come there they must enter into a solemn covenant with God. I cannot but mourn for this, that they are afraid to tie themselves to God. In the second place, let us ever be willing to be tied to God as close as may be. Yea, if we know any way in the world to tie ourselves faster to Him, let us put it in practice. Now we are to examine the matter of this covenant. First, it was “to put away their strange wives.” Beyond doubt this to flesh and blood was a hard and grievous thing. When the soul is truly penitent, whatsoever it be that is pleasing to a man, if it displease God he will forego it. It serves to stir us up to this hard task. I call it a hard task because a man will be content to part with many sins rather than he will leave his beloved corruption. As it is in flaying a skin of a dead body, it comes off with ease till ye come to the dead, but there it sticks and comes not off without difficulty. Come to the covetous man, and he will easily be persuaded to avoid prodigality. Here you shall find him as tractable as may be, but yet all that you can say or do shall not work upon him to forsake his covetousness. Secondly, they put away the children born of them. What was the cause of this? Carthusian gives the reason, and it is a very good one, which will yield us the ground of an observation. Saith he, “They cast out the children with their mothers, lest the wives having left their children behind them should take occasion to return again to fetch them. He that would avoid sin must make conscience of avoiding all the occasions of sin. For proof hereof see that place (Genesis 39:10). Joseph was so resolute in goodness that he not only repels his mistress her unlawful request; but, saith the text, “Though she spake to him day by day, yet he hearkened not unto her to lie with her or to be with her.” First, if it be a sin that a man hath repented of before, then he must be so much the more careful to avoid not only the sin itself, but all occasions tending to it. Secondly, if it be an evil that a man was never engaged in before, yet he must avoid the occasion, for there is great need that our prayers strengthen our works, and that our works give vigour to our prayers. Nothing is truer than that proverb, “Occasion makes a thief.” If therefore we desire to overcome our lusts, let us avoid all the occasions of sin, which are as so many pandars waiting upon it. As for example, thou art an excessive person, and wouldest conquer that sin. First, get a hatred to this sin; secondly, avoid all occasions which tend this way: sit not long at wine, and beware of idleness and ill company. Thou art a contentious person, and desirest strength against that sin. Take heed of heat in holding arguments with others. Well, when Shechaniah and the rest had done this, what rule will they then walk by? “According to the counsel of my lord.” Now, if it were so that Shechaniah, who was a prince, thus said to Ezra the priest, take knowledge, then, of this much: what respect in times past was given to those whom God called to serve Him, as to be His priests! It is to be deplored in these days, when every base fellow thinks himself better than the minister. (Hosiah Shute, B. D.)
Trembling at the Word of God
It should seem that there were others besides Ezra which advised the people to put away their strange wives, and they such as are said to tremble at the Word of God. And here observe the power of God’s Word. The power of God’s Word is such that it makes men tremble. To prove this look at Jeremiah 23:29. Let us labour for this holy disposition of soul to tremble at God’s Word. A man that hath been exercised with the terrors of God, such a man is most fit to advise and counsel others. A man that knows a country by the map may be able to speak something of it, but it is nothing in comparison of what a traveller can say which hath been there. So a man that hath never felt the terrors of God may be able in part to advise and comfort those in such distresses; but not like him that hath been exercised with the same terror. Let it teach those that be teachers of others to lay things to their own hearts, and to make trial of them there before they prescribe them to others. Wilt thou teach the people how to conquer such a lust? Hast thou made trial of it thyself? But I go another way, and think that by those who trembled at God’s Word is meant such as had not been engaged in that common abomination of marrying strange wives; and if so, I cannot but note this much: When the times are most wicked God reserves some to Himself. Secondly, let us labour to keep ourselves from the corruptions of the times. When all others do that which is evil, do it not then. And that thou mayest do so, remember these things: First, David makes it a blessed thing not to walk in the way of sinners (Psalms 1:1). Secondly, the purity of a man’s religion stands in this, “to keep himself unspotted of the world” (James 1:27). Thirdly, remember for what end Christ died. He gave Himself for our sins, “that He might deliver us from this present evil world” (Galatians 1:4). Fourthly, I would have a man to consider what a glory it is to God when he is good amidst a froward generation, to be as fish which retains its freshness in the salt sea. Fifthly, mark what a confusion it is to Satan when a man goes on in a good way where most men go wrong. Lastly, if we sort ourselves with the sinners of the time we hinder the conversion of the world. Whereas, when a man shall shun such a wicked man’s company, he will begin to say with himself, “Surely such a man sees something amiss in me, which makes him refrain my society.” And by this means he may be reclaimed. The fear of God is the restraint of all sin. This is proved sufficiently (Proverbs 16:6). That man is most fit to advise others who is not engaged in the same transgression. The hand that must wash a thing clean, except it be clean will add to its pollution. (Hosiah Shute, B. D.)
The reformation proposed
I. The impression which Ezra’s condition and conduct by reason of their sin produced upon the people was--
II. The proposal of reformation made.
III. The proposal of reformation accepted. Learn--
1. The manifestation of intense feeling is sometimes commendable, and very influential for good.
2. A. deep feeling of the guilt of sin is a strong encouragement to hope for forgiveness, amendment, etc. (verse 2).
3. That repentance only is genuine which leads to restitution and reformation (verse 3).
4. It is of the utmost importance to translate religious feeling into corresponding action without delay.
5. Great leaders may receive valuable aid from even their humblest followers.
6. It is sometimes wise to fortify good resolutions by a solemn covenant with God, or by a serious pledge to men. (William Jones.)
Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee: we also will be with thee.
True loyalty is marked--
I. By genuine respect. In the commonwealth of Israel at that moment there was great need of reform. The people had not long returned from captivity. They were powerless and few. Yet the very evil which had previously occasioned their captivity had begun to reappear. Steps had been taken which if not retraced would certainly bring that evil about. Many in high places--some of the speaker’s own relatives--were in fault (Ezra 10:26). The matter therefore was pressing. He felt it so. He desired reform very earnestly; he recommended it very strongly (Ezra 10:2-3). Yet he would not take it upon him to be the first to move in this matter. He would not set aside those whose office it was to do this. “Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee.” You see exactly the state of his mind. Notwithstanding the depth of his zeal and convictions, he would sooner do nothing than be disrespectful to Ezra. No change, in his judgment, would be proper reform that should set proper authority on one side.
II. By sincere sympathy. This is shown here in the words that come next: “We will also be with thee: be of good courage and do it.” It is possible to defer to authority in a cold and unfriendly spirit, to leave too much on the hands of our rulers, and to fail in taking our proper share of odium in supporting them and their measures. If we wish to be truly loyal we are bound to encourage them openly in their righteous efforts. We are bound also to promise them our support and assistance. We may apply these lessons--
1. To the laws of our land. Except where religious principle is in question, these should be the laws of our lives. It is the object of the “criminal classes” to try to evade them. It should be the object of God-fearing persons to try and observe them. “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1-2; Romans 13:7). All this should be regarded by us as part of our duty towards God. This also should be applied by us carefully to all the points it embraces; e.g., our income-tax returns; our action towards contraband trade; our respect for the administrators of justice; our support of its officers, and so on. A bad citizen will never make a good Christian.
2. To the laws and officers of our Church. Ezra was acting here ecclesiastically as much as politically; of the two, perhaps, rather more so. In all things in regard to which a Church hath power to ordain, in all matters where its ministers have a right to be consulted, let us not only acquiesce, but encourage; not only encourage, but support. The English word “leader” signifies both a commander and a guide. Therefore never be many steps behind your Leader; never be one step in front. (W. S. Lewis, M. A.)
Pastor and Church
Three general remarks--
I. That the Christian minister is the chief instrument in the moral renovation of society. Four things show this.
1. He is originally endowed with powers which specially qualify him for his work.
2. He has been educated for his high vocation,
3. He has more time than others for such an end.
4. It is to the Christian minister that the world looks for moral and spiritual help.
II. That the true church gladly co-operates with the minister in his noble aim. The Church can co-operate with him--
1. By showing him practical sympathy.
2. By working out his flank.
3. By praying for him.
III. That the co-operation of the church is a source of joy and encouragement to the minister.
1. Co-operation is indicative of the spiritual health of the Church.
2. It shows that the Church appreciates the minister’s exertions.
3. Co-operation is a necessary condition of success. (Homilist.)
Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin.
A great and troubled assembly
The text teaches--
I. That it is the tendency of sin to produce sorrow and consternation of soul. There is a scorpion sin in remembered guilt when outward troubles and inward fears meet together (Genesis 42:21).
II. That God mares with peculiar interest the time if’ which repentance unto life begins in the sow. Iii. That repentance when it is real will bring forth its appropriate fruits.
IV. That the names and persons of genuine penitents are for ever precious to God and recorded in his book. (Samuel Thodey.)
But the people are many.
The reformation effected
I. notwith standing difficulties.
1. The greatness of the undertaking.
2. The inclemency of the weather. Learn: To eradicate sin is a task of the greatest difficulty.
II. notwithstanding opposition (Ezra 10:15). In affecting any great reformation opposition is to be expected.
III. with exemplary wisdom and fairness.
1. By the proper authorities.
2. With competent and reliable witnesses.
3. In the presence of the accused.
4. Wit’s due regard for the convenience of the people.
5. With careful inquiry.
Learn: The importance of combining prudence of method with earnestness of purpose in carrying out great reformations.
IV. thoroughly. Learn: The importance of making an end of sin when we are battling with it. (William Jones.)
These people, called upon to do justice, to confess, to go and begin a new life, said, “Certainly: only let the rain get over, and you will find us pious enough; in the meantime we cannot turn the heathen wives cub of doors.” How pitiable, how conspicuously human! They said in effect, “We cannot go out in the rain to settle this matter--‘we are not able to stand without’--we are without shelter, protection, and thou seest how the rain is coming down in cataracts: we are not trifling with the covenant, we respect it in every syllable and every letter, and it shall certainly all be carried out: but let the weather clear up!” Treacherous conscience, treacherous reason! How can a man go over a muddy road to repair an injustice he has done! Let the scavenger come first, let the high way be clean for hi, dainty feet; then when all is dry as summer dust, and that summer dust has been well laid by watering-cart, my lord will cross the road. But my lord is too late. The life on which the injustice was inflicted is dead. How full is the heart of these postponed reparations! How much we are going to do when the clouds break and the sun comes back again! When the commercial sun returns cloudlessly, then we will pay up our arrears and discharge our obligations; we shall then be able to go out with some comfort, and then we shall return in the evening with a new song and a secret joy. You will not do so. If you cannot face the weather, you cannot face a grand moral obligation. You are paltering with yourselves, you are killing your conscience. Every day’s delay means disqualification for the thing that is to be done. Send away the evil though it should be drenched with rain! (J. Parker, D. D)
Delay is unwise in moral reformation
The longer you keep a sin in your heart the more it gets hold of you; its fangs are getting deeper and deeper. Thus men would deal with all manner of problems, whether they be personal problems, or social problems, or imperial questions. Men are very anxious not to make vital reforms speedily. They do not want to guillotine their crimes. Let those crimes be slowly poisoned; let our sins die a lingering death. The drunkard says he is going to reform, but if you were to take away the intoxicating poison from him all at once he would go mad. He is going to slope his way gradually down into sobriety; he is going to drink himself into teetotalism. “This thing,” saith he, “cannot be done in a day or two; why be unreasonable about it?” It is very wonderful what our prison discipline does in this matter. A man is caught in the very act of intoxication, and for six months he sees no more of intoxicating drink, and yet he does not go mad. What can be said to such poor innocents as Judah and Benjamin and Israel when they say, “We have taken a covenant, and we are going to do all that we have confessed and promised; only the weather is so atrociously bad and the great problem is so complicated and far-stretching that it cannot be done in a day or two”? There are thousands of people involved in this same thing, who say, “Give us time!” Not an hour should be given. The reformation should be begun now. There are some things you cannot make right little by little. In the first instance you should make the covenant so binding that you will not touch the evil thing again, and then you must little by little work your way into greater and greater strength. No wise teacher will contend that the strength will come in sufficient adequateness all at once: but the step first taken must be positive and irreversible; then the after-progress may be wisely slow. (J. Parker, D. D)
And it is a time of much rain.
A time of much rain
The rain to which the text refers fell, it is supposed, in December, the coldest and most rainy month in Palestine. It came at an important juncture, when work requiring fine weather had to be done. Ezra has arrived in Jerusalem. He has come full of patriotism, clothed with authority, with vast treasures for the temple from the Persian court. He has come fired with zeal for the honour of God, determined to do his utmost for the restoration of city, temple, and reformation of life. He soon learns that the people need something more important than gold and silver, or a magnificent ritualism. Their morals had been corrupted through their marriage alliances with the heathen. A convocation was summoned, when it was resolved that there should be a dissolution of all marriage relations that were contrary to the law of the land; but so heavy was the rain that fell, that the people trembled for fear, as though the judgment of a second flood had broken in upon them on account of their sins. Israel could not forget that rain; nor will the rain of the present year (1880, a year of much rain) be easily forgotten. Many are looking at it in the light of science, some in the light of agriculture, others are looking at it in the light of commerce, but let us look at it in the light of Revelation. There is a Divine meaning in all things. Every drop of rain is full of God’s purpose.
I. A time of much rain teaches us our dependence.
1. It shows us there can be no harvests unless God permit. The farmer may plough and sow, his land may be most fertile, the seed of the best kind, cultivation perfect; but if God forbid His sun from shining, and command the clouds to pour down an overabundance of rain, day by day, for months, the hopes of harvest will be blasted.
2. A time of great rain reminds us that our commerce is at the Divine disposal. A had harvest cannot fail to lessen the wealth of a country and seriously affect its merchandise.
3. A time of much rain shows our dependence in many ways. You need change of air, and set out on a journey, but the benefit you seek depends on the weather which God will give; or you resolve to go to a distant town for the transaction of important business, you appoint the hour when you will be there to meet a person concerned in the transaction. But if it please God that at that very time there shall be much rain, your friend may fail to come, your plans may miscarry, your health may suffer, and your life may be imperilled through the inclemency of the weather. “Go to now, ye that say,” etc. The law of dependence is stamped on all things. Every atom is dependent on atom, man on man, nation on nation, world on world, and all are dependent on God.
4. This time of much rain makes us feel, as Englishman, that we are exceedingly dependent on other nations. What a dismal future would be before England to-day if she could not draw supplies of corn from foreign markets.
II. That a time of much rain is very trying.
1. To patience. Have we stood the trial? Have we murmured? Have we said, “This is not right? A season so wet is not what we want; it is not what we have a right to expect.” If so, we have forgotten that the spiritual life requires trial. A flower may come to perfection in one summer, but the tree that is to bear fruit requires not only the summer’s sun, but the rain and storms of many a winter,
2. To faith. It tried the faith of the Hebrews in the time of Ezra. It led to a temporary loss of faith in the goodness of God, for they trembled, thinking that the rain was a sign of His displeasure. But the faith of some people seems to be tried in relation to the Divine justice as well as goodness. Nay, they axe tempted to question the very existence of God and to regard the world as an orphan, abandoned to fate or stern law. They see the great machine of nature, but see not the personality that lives behind and through the whole. What a reproof does the wise economy of nature under which rain descends minister to such unbelief. But for the water that rises from the sea in clouds, and falls in showers on the earth, vegetable, animal, and human life could not exist. It is wisely ordained that in an island like ours, that is becoming so thickly populated and the large towns of which require at times more than an ordinary cleansing, that the average fall of rain should be maintained, not year by year, but by the overplus of one period making up for the deficiency of another. Sir Charles Lyell Was on the continent when he said to a gentleman sitting next to him at table: “I fear the rains have been doing a great deal of mischief.” “I should think,” replied his companion. “they were much needed to replenish the springs after this year of drought” “I immediately felt,” says Sir Charles Lyell, “I had made an idle and thoughtless speech.”
III. That a time of much rain should lead to prayer. Whatever some may say against the propriety of prayer for temporal blessings, there is in human nature an instinct that bids it ask for the Divine interposition in all seasons of distress. Surely prayer in relation to rain is as reasonable to-day as when Elijah prayed that there might be no rain; “and it rained not on the earth for the space of three years and six months.” (F. Fox Thomas.)
A wet harvest
It has been with us a time of much rain. And yet the present occasion suggests--
I. thankfulness. We are here to thank God, and we do well. If we cannot thank God for giving us a harvest at all, we are unworthy of being called His sons. What we ought to ask ourselves is this: When times were good and the seasons good, how did we show our gratitude? Did we show it by our lives? For if we only show it by eating or drinking more or in rude merry-making we can hardly wonder that we should not always be likewise blessed. Are there not some of us always ready to complain, seldom ready to give thanks? like the farmer in Cheshire that two boys went to see. The season had been particularly good. “I wonder what he’ll find to complain of now,” they said as they passed along. “Well, farmer,” they cried out, “you have had a capital season.” The farmer’s brow clouded as he pointed indignantly to a little patch of beans. “Look at those beans,” he said. Some of you are ready to complain of the swollen rivers, the sheets of water in the fields, the damaged crops, and the deluged gardens. But I would ask you to remember what we have escaped as well as what we have suffered. Only a few weeks ago men were trembling at the approach of the cholera, but through mercy we have escaped it. If we cannot thank God for His mercy we are unworthy of the Christian name.
II. amendment. What were the people about in the days of Ezra when they trembled for the great rain? They were about to set their houses in order to have done with the ways of sin. The time of careless’ sin was to give place to the day of Reformation. If it could only be the same with some soul in this church to-night! The harvest brings you to think of the day when God shall look over His fields, and gather the good grain into His barns and cast the bad away. These bad years and these floods of rain will not be wasted on you if they shall turn your thoughts from the good things of earth to the better things of heaved--if habits of careless sensuality give place to the fear of God. (W. R. Hutton, M. A.)
Neither is this a work of one day or two.--
I take this word as a motto of encouragement to all beginning or baffled by the hardships of the Christian life.
I. Perseverance is the secret of every successful life and work. Walk through the streets of our city. Who are its prosperous men. Many who began in a low estate, all their wealth then but two willing hands, a clear head, a determined will. How has the change come about? Perseverance has done it. They have reached their position by no sudden flight. They plodded on. Rung by rung they crept up the ladder. Step by step they climbed the mountain. Difficulties have been wrestled with and beaten down. It has been-hard work. Not a work of one day or two. This is universal. Look at men nationally eminent. Almost without exception what they became was owing to, their own determined effort. Men are what, God helping them, they make themselves. But the journey to success in commerce, literature, the arts, the sciences, is a long one. A long journey from the first saved shilling to the millionaire’s wealth; from the rude Chalk profile to the famous painting on the walls of the Academy; from the first experiments to the marvellous discoveries of a Faraday; from the boy’s halting verse to the “poem round and perfect as a star.” The, heights of prosperity are not reached at a bound. Over the clerks’ desks in the office of a prosperous Christian merchant were written in prominent letters the words--a key to his own success--“Try again!” By trying again, and again, and again, men touch the top of their ambition. But “neither is this a work of one day or two.” What a history of heroism is written in the turbulent pages of the great book of the deep! Think of Columbus. How splendid his day-dream of lands in the unknown West. But how difficulty after difficulty shut him in from the ocean he desired to adventure. Native Genoa was deaf to him. Venice refused to help him. The Court of Portugal deceived him. Spain at last befriended his request. And then, when out on the vast and unknown waters, his vessel rang with the cries of mutiny. But the stout heart quailed not. And, at length, the cry of “Land! land!” announced a New World given to the Old. And in our own day one of the greatest triumphs of perseverance has united by sensitive and communicating wire that New World with the Old. And was that salutary work easily accomplished? Hear the words of Cyrus Field, the captain of this bloodless and blessed victory: “It has been a long and hard struggle. Nearly thirteen years of anxious watching and ceaseless toil. Often has my heart been ready to sink. Many times when wandering in the forests of Newfoundland in the pelting rain or on the deck of ships on dark, stormy nights, alone, far from home, I have almost accused myself of madness and folly to sacrifice the peace of my family and all the hopes of life for what might prove, after all, but a dream. I have seen my companions one after another fall by my side, and feared I too might not live to see the end. And yet one hope has led me on, and I have prayed that I might not taste of death till this work was accomplished. That prayer is answered; and now beyond all acknowledgments to men is the feeling of gratitude to Almighty God. A vast and beneficent success, and neither was that a work of one day or two. So with all great and philanthropic movements. They have sprung from a feeble beginning. They have become incarnate in some determined man. Slowly have friends gathered to his side. Obstacles have impeded them. Misrepresentations have assailed them. Still on the little band has gone. So moved John Howard in his effort to cleanse and reform prisons and prisoners. So moved Clarkson and-others in their efforts to secure emancipation for every English-owned slave. So, have moved Livesey and others in their effort to make England a sober land. But we must say in view of the huge obstructions and tests of philanthropic patience, “neither is this a work of one day or two.”
II. Perseverance is the necessity of spiritual life and prosperity. If perseverance is needed for secular interests and temporary prosperity, who can complain if it is also needed for spiritual and eternal blessing. Evil ways have to be broken off, and that is not an easy thing. Habit in sin is tyrannic. We cannot drop a habit as we change an old garment for a new, discarding the old at once and for ever. The guilt of sin may be pardoned, but something still of its power survives. Has a man been accustomed to vice? Though a new creature, he must prayerfully and resolutely watch lest in unguarded moment he fall to the old life. Has the habit been profanity? How well must the lips be watched lest unconsciously the sinful words break forth. Has the habit been inebriety? How well the reclaimed must avoid scenes and associations with their alluring and pitiless spell, and the very beginning of the cup whose dregs are death. Has the habit been profligacy? How well must the eyes be watched lest through Eye Gate the soul be stormed and the rescued soul dragged down once more into “the horrible pit.” And if the sin has been secret and of the soul, all the more need of vigilance. To break from sin to holiness is not an easy thing. It is possible, though difficult. Possible, “though not a work of one day or two.” Who among the Bible saints were without sin? Their piety grew. Take the case of Jacob. He is an unlovely, self-seeking man when he first comes into history. But even then he had that faith by which the heart is purified. Through many years the contest went on between the baser and nobler elements of his nature. To be all that the saint ought was not easy to Jacob, but he kept on trying. And when we see him in the sunset of life before Pharaoh, on his deathbed, blessing his children, we see a man so unlike the Jacob that deceived Isaac that we scarcely know him for the same. “But that was not a work of one day or two.” You have perhaps in your eye some Christian man or Christian woman that you desire to be like. You say, “If now, I could be so pure, so holy, so gentle, so useful as that one or that, then I should be happy. Well, remember that they to whom perhaps you look as spiritual models have had many years and many trials to fashion them to what they are. Then take heart about yourself. Sad indeed if you were quite content with yourself; but despair not. Paul said, “I have learnt in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content.” With his circumstances, though often hard and bitter, he had learnt to be content. But with himself, never. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” “But this is not a work of one day or two.” Character is formed, as life is filled, with little things. Some of you may have a future of distinguished eminence in usefulness, but for the majority life will have a common cast. If we are to do any good we must utilise as they come, common occurrences and opportunities. If we are to be holy it must be in the lowly valley seen by few. And if our character is to be moulded by circumstances, it must be by trivial-seeming ones, by events that, light as gentlest chisel-touch on the marble face brings out the perfect beauty of expression that lives in the sculptor’s soul! By serving God in little things we shall become liker to Him. And if He is not served in the little He will not be in the greater. Look at any man. If he is not kinder for his religion, more considerate of others, their comfort and feelings, more industrious at toil, more courteous, more patient under trial, more happy in the joy of others and more sorrowful in their sorrow, then his religion is vain. Are these small things? They are witnesses to the greatest of all--the man’s renewal. By little acts we are forming habits and shaping character. “Little strokes made that ark which saved Noah.” The good work is a much hindered work. We have proclivities to evil. The very spirituality of religion is a vital element of difficulty. Then how many hindrances from without? With such hindrances time is a necessity to progress. We are called to perfection. We are to be holy as Christ is holy. There is a work to be wrought in us. A work of one day or two? A work for eternity? Think of the encouragements to perseverance. Christ prays for us. He saves us from sin. He breaks its power. He marks our steps and rejoices in our progress. He loves us to the end. Because He prays, “the Spirit helpeth our infirmities” in every time of need. And because He pleads heaven will be yours at last. (G. T. Coster.)
Character improvement takes time
The masterpieces of literature were not produced in a few weeks, nay, nor a few years. Their authors displayed an almost infinite patience before they were finished. Comparatively few authors have such patience to-day, and hence the multitude of ephemeral works. Who in these days would seriously attempt such buildings as the Pyramids? Works that last cannot be put together or run up in a few hours. A whole crop of mushrooms will spring up in a night; oaks take centuries to come to perfection. (Christian Weekly.)
Persistence required in moral reformations
Virtue is not a mushroom that springeth up of itself in one night, when we are asleep or regard it not; but a delicate plant that groweth slowly and tenderly, needing much pains to cultivate it, much time to guard it, much time to mature it. Neither is vice a spirit that will be conjured away with a charm, slain by a single blow, or dispatched by one stab. Who, then, will be so foolish as to leave the eradicating of vice and the planting in of virtue into its place for a few years or weeks? Yet he who procrastinates his repentance and amendment grossly does so with his eyes open, he abridges the time allotted for the longest and most important work he has to perform; he is a fool. (L. Barrow.)
And among the sons of the priests there were found that had taken strange wives: namely, of the sons of Jeshua.
The list of offenders
For what purpose is this catalogue of names inserted here?
I. As a warning against sin. This catalogue shows us--
1. Sin extending to all classes.
2. Sin injuring the reputation.
3. Sin corrupting the influence.
II. As an example of genuine repentance.
1. They confessed their sin with sorrow.
2. They offered sacrifice on account of the sin.
3. They forsook the sin.
III. As an encouragement to genuine repentance.
1. Their sin was forgiven (Ezekiel 33:14-16).
2. The Divine favour was vouchsafed. (William Jones.)
A ram of the flock for their trespass.
Oh, that poor, poor ram! What a humiliation for the ram! That ram is always being killed, and cannot understand the reason why. A ram cannot save you. You might kill all the flocks that browse on the hill and still your sin would stain the centre of your heart and the palm of your hand. There are some things for which you cannot make up. There are some actions which lie beyond apology. There are some deeds which almost go beyond the large boundary of penitence. Some of us have been in danger of sinning ourselves beyond God’s mercy. Beware of every method of getting out of moral obligation and moral penalty by cheap ways, by expiations that cost you nothing. Every man must have a true expiation, but the true expiation includes the offering of himself as well as the offering of the priest and the victim. It is so in the cram of the Christ. He tasted death for every man; He bore my sins in His own body on the tree; yet I must be crucified with Christ. There is the difference between the true expiation and the false. The true expiation involves self-immolation; it involves fellowship with the sufferings of Christ that we may be made partakers of His resurrection. Christ being crucified for us is an aggravation of our sin it we be not crucified with Christ. Thus there is absolute loneliness in the priesthood of Christ, and thus there is a mysterious fellowship with that loneliness. There is a work which none but Christ could do, and there is a complete work which the poorest, meanest sinner has to do. The sinner does not offer Christ; it he did so that would be what we mean by a cheap or poor expiation. Christ was not offered by man; by man Christ was murdered; by God Christ was offered. Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. The Christian expiation is not a buying off or a calculated substitution: the expiation of Christ means that we are to enter into it, in a sense share the agony. The offering is all God’s, the substitution is all divine; but man is called upon to enter mystically, spiritually, and really into the offering of Christ and to be offered as it were with Christ--the sinner and the Saviour united in one sublime sacrifice. Do not imagine that you can buy yourself off by offering a ram. Do not suppose that you can make up for your sin by doubling your pew rent. Do not imagine that you can be forgiven every outrage against reason, justice, and conscience by doling out something superfluous from your own table to the hunger of the needy. Expiation touches the soul with agony, or it is a worthless offering. (J. Parker, D. D)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezra 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29