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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Zechariah 4

 

 

Introduction

Verses 1-14

Zechariah 4:1-14

Behold a candlestick all of gold

The candelabrum and olive trees

That by the candelabrum was symbolised the Israelitish community, the people of the theocracy, may be regarded as generally conceded.
But Israel was itself a symbol and type; it was the visible manifestation of that invisible spiritual community, the Church of the living God, which embraces the faithful of all ages and places. But the light which the Church possesses is not from herself; it is light communicated and sustained by influences from above. Hence in the vision the lamps were supplied with oil, not by human ministration, but through channels and pipes from the olive trees which stood beside and were over the candelabrum. Oil is the proper symbol of the Holy Spirit’s influence. This is the oil by which the Church is sustained, is made to shine, and is enabled to accomplish the work she has to do in the world. Apart from the Divine Spirit the Church is dark and cold and feeble; but through the visitation of the Spirit she is animated and invigorated, becomes luminous and glorious, and is crowned with success as she labours to erect God’s temple on earth. They were taught by this vision not to be discouraged, for it was not by human might or power that the work was to be done, but by the Spirit of the Lord. Through His grace the light should be sustained in them; their hands should be strengthened for their work; and ere long they should see the consummation of that which had been so auspiciously begun. God sustains His Church by His grace. But this grace comes to men through certain appointed media. This was symbolised in the vision by the fruit-bearing branches of the olive trees, and by the conduits and pipes through which the oil was conveyed to the lamps. The branches represented the sacerdotal and civil authorities in Israel
. (W. L. Alexander, D. D.)

Man as a student of the Divine revelation and a doer of Divine work

I. As a student of the Divine revelations. “I have looked, and behold a candle stick all of gold,” etc. The ideal Church is all this. The candlestick may, I think, fairly represent the Bible, or God’s special revelation to man: that is golden, that is luminous, that is supernaturally supplied with the oil of inspiration. In fact, in the passage the interpreting angel designates this, candlestick, not as the Church, but as the “word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel.” I make two remarks concerning this revelation--

1. It has in it sufficient to excite the inquiry of man as a student. “What are these, my lord?” What wonderful things are in this Bible!

2. It has an Interpreter that can satisfy man as a student. The angel to whom the prophet directed his inquiry promptly answered. The prophet here displays two of the leading attributes of a genuine student of the Divine--

II. As a doer of the Divine will Man has not only to study, but to work; not only to get Divine ideas, but to work them out. The work of the prophet was to convey a message from God to Zerubbabel, and the message he conveyed was a message to world. Man is to be a “Worker together” with God. I offer two remarks concerning man as a worker out of the Divine will

1. That though his difficulties may appear great, his resources are infinite. Zerubbabel, in rebuilding the temple, had enormous difficulties. Those difficulties hovered before him as mountains. But great as they were, he was assured that he had resources more than equal to the task. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”

2. That though his efforts may seem feeble, his success will be inevitable.

(a) It is common to despise small things.

(b) It is foolish to despise small things. All great things were small in their beginnings.

(c) It is contemptible to despise small things. Truly great souls never do so.

The golden candlestick

1. The Church of God is composed of the most precious human material in the world. The man who walks day by day with the “King Eternal, Immortal and Invisible,” is of far more value to the world, and is regarded by God as of more worth, than the man of the greatest intellectual attainments.

2. The Church is a light giver, because its power to give light is sustained from a source outside itself. The life of the Church of God is not self-sustaining. Gad is the sustaining power by which the Church is kept alive, and only as she is supplied from Him with the holy off of the Divine Spirit can she give out that light which is the life of men. The most perfect machinery without this life-sustaining force is useless to accomplish the Divine purpose “of making the Church a blessing to the world. This mysterious living principle is due to a life at the back of all that is apprehended by the senses, a life which some call “the efficient cause,” but which we think it more reasonable to call the “living God.”

3. Because of this all-sufficient source of life we are assured that small beginnings in the kingdom of God will issue in great results. There is no such thing in nature as instantaneous result. The blade comes before the ear. The law of the spiritual kingdom is to begin with the small and end with the great. Connection with the source of life ensures growth unto perfection. (Outlines by a London Minister.)

The vision of the candlestick

1. The temple here represents the Church to be enlightened by Christ, she being in herself but dark, and void of light and comfort, till He come and appear in her, and for her, and make her light.

2. The ministry appointed of Christ for the direction, edification, and comfort of the Church are here represented by the candlestick, who should be pure, that they may be precious in His sight as gold, and who ought to shine by purity and holiness of life, and be instrumental in making the Church a shining light in a dark world.

3. The bowl upon the top of the candlestick which immediately receives the oil doth fitly represent Christ as Mediator, the head and storehouse of the Church, to whom is intrusted all fulness of gifts and graces for the Church’s behoof.

4. The variety and sufficiency of gifts communicate by Christ, for the good and salvation of the Church is represented by seven lamps, all tending one common end of burning and shining.

5. The way of deriving grace from Christ to His servants, by ordained and sanctified means, especially by His covenant; our dependence, and the bands of communion betwixt Him and His people, is represented by seven pipes going betwixt the bowl and the lamps. (George Hutcheson.)

The candlestick

In order to make God’s meaning clearer the prophet was granted the vision of the candlestick (lampstand), the gist of which was that the wick, though necessary to the light, played a very inconsiderable part in its production. It had no illuminating power; it could only smoke, and char, and smoulder. At the best it could only be a medium between the oil in the cistern and the fire that burnt on its serried edge. Thus Zerubbabel might be weak and flexible as a wick, but none of his deficiencies could hinder him finishing the work to which he had been called, if only his spirit was kindled with the Divine fire, and fed continually by the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit. The candlestick was evidently fashioned on the model of that in the temple, the shape of which is still preserved to us on the Arch of Titus. According to the R.V., there were seven pipes to each lamp. Nor was this all. On either side of this massive candlestick stood an olive tree, from the heart of which, by a golden pipe, the oil was continually being poured into the reservoir; so that, even though it might be limited in its containing power, there could be no failure in its ability to meet the incessant demands of the lamps. So far as the Jews were concerned, the meaning of the vision was obvious. They were represented in the candlestick, of which the many lamps and the precious metal of its composition set forth their perfection and preciousness in the thought of God. Their function was to shed the light of His knowledge on the world, as it lay under the power of darkness; whilst, to aid them in fulfilling this mission, Divine supplies would be forthcoming from a celestial and living source, and brought to them through the golden pipes, of which one represented Joshua the priest, and the other Zerubbabel the prince. These men, therefore, were but mediums for Divine communications. Their sufficiency was not of themselves, but of God. The mission of Israel would be realised, not by them, but by the Spirit of God through them. They might seem altogether helpless and inadequate; but a living fountain of oil was prepared to furnish them with inexhaustible supplies (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)


Verses 1-14

Zechariah 4:1-14

Behold a candlestick all of gold

The candelabrum and olive trees

That by the candelabrum was symbolised the Israelitish community, the people of the theocracy, may be regarded as generally conceded.
But Israel was itself a symbol and type; it was the visible manifestation of that invisible spiritual community, the Church of the living God, which embraces the faithful of all ages and places. But the light which the Church possesses is not from herself; it is light communicated and sustained by influences from above. Hence in the vision the lamps were supplied with oil, not by human ministration, but through channels and pipes from the olive trees which stood beside and were over the candelabrum. Oil is the proper symbol of the Holy Spirit’s influence. This is the oil by which the Church is sustained, is made to shine, and is enabled to accomplish the work she has to do in the world. Apart from the Divine Spirit the Church is dark and cold and feeble; but through the visitation of the Spirit she is animated and invigorated, becomes luminous and glorious, and is crowned with success as she labours to erect God’s temple on earth. They were taught by this vision not to be discouraged, for it was not by human might or power that the work was to be done, but by the Spirit of the Lord. Through His grace the light should be sustained in them; their hands should be strengthened for their work; and ere long they should see the consummation of that which had been so auspiciously begun. God sustains His Church by His grace. But this grace comes to men through certain appointed media. This was symbolised in the vision by the fruit-bearing branches of the olive trees, and by the conduits and pipes through which the oil was conveyed to the lamps. The branches represented the sacerdotal and civil authorities in Israel
. (W. L. Alexander, D. D.)

Man as a student of the Divine revelation and a doer of Divine work

I. As a student of the Divine revelations. “I have looked, and behold a candle stick all of gold,” etc. The ideal Church is all this. The candlestick may, I think, fairly represent the Bible, or God’s special revelation to man: that is golden, that is luminous, that is supernaturally supplied with the oil of inspiration. In fact, in the passage the interpreting angel designates this, candlestick, not as the Church, but as the “word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel.” I make two remarks concerning this revelation--

1. It has in it sufficient to excite the inquiry of man as a student. “What are these, my lord?” What wonderful things are in this Bible!

2. It has an Interpreter that can satisfy man as a student. The angel to whom the prophet directed his inquiry promptly answered. The prophet here displays two of the leading attributes of a genuine student of the Divine--

II. As a doer of the Divine will Man has not only to study, but to work; not only to get Divine ideas, but to work them out. The work of the prophet was to convey a message from God to Zerubbabel, and the message he conveyed was a message to world. Man is to be a “Worker together” with God. I offer two remarks concerning man as a worker out of the Divine will

1. That though his difficulties may appear great, his resources are infinite. Zerubbabel, in rebuilding the temple, had enormous difficulties. Those difficulties hovered before him as mountains. But great as they were, he was assured that he had resources more than equal to the task. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”

2. That though his efforts may seem feeble, his success will be inevitable.

(a) It is common to despise small things.

(b) It is foolish to despise small things. All great things were small in their beginnings.

(c) It is contemptible to despise small things. Truly great souls never do so.

The golden candlestick

1. The Church of God is composed of the most precious human material in the world. The man who walks day by day with the “King Eternal, Immortal and Invisible,” is of far more value to the world, and is regarded by God as of more worth, than the man of the greatest intellectual attainments.

2. The Church is a light giver, because its power to give light is sustained from a source outside itself. The life of the Church of God is not self-sustaining. Gad is the sustaining power by which the Church is kept alive, and only as she is supplied from Him with the holy off of the Divine Spirit can she give out that light which is the life of men. The most perfect machinery without this life-sustaining force is useless to accomplish the Divine purpose “of making the Church a blessing to the world. This mysterious living principle is due to a life at the back of all that is apprehended by the senses, a life which some call “the efficient cause,” but which we think it more reasonable to call the “living God.”

3. Because of this all-sufficient source of life we are assured that small beginnings in the kingdom of God will issue in great results. There is no such thing in nature as instantaneous result. The blade comes before the ear. The law of the spiritual kingdom is to begin with the small and end with the great. Connection with the source of life ensures growth unto perfection. (Outlines by a London Minister.)

The vision of the candlestick

1. The temple here represents the Church to be enlightened by Christ, she being in herself but dark, and void of light and comfort, till He come and appear in her, and for her, and make her light.

2. The ministry appointed of Christ for the direction, edification, and comfort of the Church are here represented by the candlestick, who should be pure, that they may be precious in His sight as gold, and who ought to shine by purity and holiness of life, and be instrumental in making the Church a shining light in a dark world.

3. The bowl upon the top of the candlestick which immediately receives the oil doth fitly represent Christ as Mediator, the head and storehouse of the Church, to whom is intrusted all fulness of gifts and graces for the Church’s behoof.

4. The variety and sufficiency of gifts communicate by Christ, for the good and salvation of the Church is represented by seven lamps, all tending one common end of burning and shining.

5. The way of deriving grace from Christ to His servants, by ordained and sanctified means, especially by His covenant; our dependence, and the bands of communion betwixt Him and His people, is represented by seven pipes going betwixt the bowl and the lamps. (George Hutcheson.)

The candlestick

In order to make God’s meaning clearer the prophet was granted the vision of the candlestick (lampstand), the gist of which was that the wick, though necessary to the light, played a very inconsiderable part in its production. It had no illuminating power; it could only smoke, and char, and smoulder. At the best it could only be a medium between the oil in the cistern and the fire that burnt on its serried edge. Thus Zerubbabel might be weak and flexible as a wick, but none of his deficiencies could hinder him finishing the work to which he had been called, if only his spirit was kindled with the Divine fire, and fed continually by the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit. The candlestick was evidently fashioned on the model of that in the temple, the shape of which is still preserved to us on the Arch of Titus. According to the R.V., there were seven pipes to each lamp. Nor was this all. On either side of this massive candlestick stood an olive tree, from the heart of which, by a golden pipe, the oil was continually being poured into the reservoir; so that, even though it might be limited in its containing power, there could be no failure in its ability to meet the incessant demands of the lamps. So far as the Jews were concerned, the meaning of the vision was obvious. They were represented in the candlestick, of which the many lamps and the precious metal of its composition set forth their perfection and preciousness in the thought of God. Their function was to shed the light of His knowledge on the world, as it lay under the power of darkness; whilst, to aid them in fulfilling this mission, Divine supplies would be forthcoming from a celestial and living source, and brought to them through the golden pipes, of which one represented Joshua the priest, and the other Zerubbabel the prince. These men, therefore, were but mediums for Divine communications. Their sufficiency was not of themselves, but of God. The mission of Israel would be realised, not by them, but by the Spirit of God through them. They might seem altogether helpless and inadequate; but a living fountain of oil was prepared to furnish them with inexhaustible supplies (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)


Verse 6

Zechariah 4:6

Not by might, nor by power

The Word of the Lord to Zerubbabel

Dwell upon the very remarkable interpretation of the vision given by God Himself in the words of the text.

I. The false grounds of confidence which are to be rejected. Summed up in the words “might and power,” including all earthly means and human instrumentality. We must beware of substituting temporal means and mortal instruments for the work of the Spirit, or the glory of God. Nothing short of the almighty power of God can open the blind eyes or awaken the dead affections of the natural man to see and embrace the Gospel. If we may not trust to the strength of reason, or the force of truth, neither may we to the powers of oratory. The gifts of oratory or eloquence are lovely and excellent, but trusted in, or gloried in, they become snares and stumbling blocks, drawing away the heart and affections from Christ, and converting our acts of worship into an idolatrous service. Every Christian, too, has a sphere of influence with which to serve and honour God, and to help and strengthen others. But this must not be rested in. Religion must be a personal concern, a deed of contract, a life of communion between the soul and God. And there are those who imagine that they love the truth because they love some of those who profess it. The power of affection on the minds of such persons is almost unbounded. But a religion based on such grounds is not to be trusted. When the Spirit of God is not the Author of the work it cannot stand trial, even in this world; it can never issue in the salvation of the soul.

II. The only source of spiritual prosperity. The work and efficiency of the Spirit of God. In three things this work is distinguished.

1. In transforming the character.

2. In overcoming the world.

3. In glorifying the grace of God. (J. M. Wilde, B. A.)

Force--spiritual and material

We have need to study the Christian dynamics. Good arrangements, good instructions, good intentions, are all well; but what can they avail without a sufficient, continuous force? Let us take a lesson from the angel who spoke to the prophet. Zechariah’s object was to instruct the Jews on their return from captivity, and to cheer them on in the work of rebuilding the temple. They were not to be appalled by obstacles ever so formidable, for the work was of God, and God was able to remove mountains of difficulty out of the way. No adversary would be able to injure them. It is easy to pass from this to New Testament teaching. The foundation of the Church has been laid; it grows up slowly but surely, a Holy Temple in the Lord. The work proceeds slowly because it is arduous in its own nature, obstructed by many adversaries. Zerubbabel’s temple was finished in about twenty years; but a building which is spiritual needs much more time than one which is constructed of wood and stone. The affections and dispositions of men cannot be shaped as material things may be; and just because the Church is a structure so noble, a habitation of God in the Spirit, its progress is difficult, and in comparison with the works of man it is slow. It has also been hindered by the mistakes and dissensions of the builders; but in the end the same Prince who laid its foundations will certainly finish it. He will say, “It is finished,” and in His completed Church He will fill the whole earth with His glory. We speak of the propagation of the Gospel and the construction of the Church: the one movement is diffusive, the other formative; both agree in one, and both are of the Lord. The propagation of the Gospel is not only for, but also by, Christ. He publishes the testimony through all the earth, and saves sinners. The construction of the Church is also by Christ from first to last, and the builders, from Paul and Apollos downwards, are nothing without Him. And oh! with what patience and with what wisdom does He preside over His vast and complex work. Christ is always building His people together, healing, reconciling, moulding, blending, compacting them together as living stones that form the One Temple of the One Holy Ghost. We have said that there is much opposition to this work. So it has always been, and especially at critical emergencies, mountains have threatened to fall upon and to destroy the work of God. Moses went down to Egypt to redeem Israel; then was the power of Pharaoh as a great mountain against him. And as the people escaped the mountain seemed to come nearer, the Egyptian army pursued and threatened to destroy them. Hezekiah revived religion in Judah; then came the power of Assyria, and as a great mountain impended over Jerusalem. The heathen army invested the city, and Hezekiah had no power of resistance, and he spread the matter before the Lord, and in one night the angel of death removed the mountain and laid the Assyrian host still and dead. The Messiah came, not to condemn but to save the world; then the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers took counsel together against the Lord and His anointed. Herod, Caiaphas, Pilate, Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, elders, and populace all joined in one desperate resistance. The acts of the Apostles were all performed, in spite of mountains of obstruction, by the power from on high that rested upon them. So they carried the Gospel to Europe, and planted it in Macedonia and Greece and Italy, and long afterwards missionaries of apostolic spirit bore it onward through the dense forests of Helvetia, Gaul, and Germany, and penetrated to the distant shores of Britain. The rage of the heathen threatened to devour them, but the Lord stood with them, and before His face the mountains melted away. We have great mountains against us still; huge masses of heathenism which resist our missions. The scepticism which becomes every day more pronounced. There is something else to do than wring our hands and pour out lamentations on the ear. Let us have the faith that removes mountains, and, oppose and deride us who may, let us be of good courage and build. In order to this, mark well what the energy is which surmounts or removes obstacles. Not might, nor power of mortal man. It would have been as vain for the Jews of Zerubbabel to cope with the power of Darius, or for the Apostles and early Christians to grapple with the power of the Roman emperor, or for a few labourers to attack a mountain in the Alps with their spades and try to reduce it to a plain. And equally impossible it is for us to remove, the more intellectual or spiritual obstructions in the way of the Gospel by merely human persuasion and argument. The removal of such mountains as we encounter is a thing possible only with God. It was not before Moses, Hezekiah, Peter or Paul, Columba or Boniface, Zwingle or Luther, that mountains became plain, but before Jesus Christ. Zechariah had a vision of the continuous supply of the Spirit as of holy oil flowing through golden pipes from two olive trees or branches. By this we understand the kingly and priestly institutions which were represented at the time by Zerubbabel the prince and Joshua the high priest. In Jesus Christ, our exalted Saviour, the kingship and priesthood are united. He is the Priest upon a throne, and from the Father through Jesus Christ proceeds to the Church a constant supply of the Spirit. This is the present truth for us; if we believe it, why do we give way to languor or discouragement? If we have strength, learning, money, let us consecrate it to the Lord. But, knowing that these cannot prevail, let us lift our eyes to the Lord Himself, and cast our care upon Him. Let me encourage all Christian teachers and preachers to persevere in this confidence, undaunted and unwearied. The holy Temple on the rock will be finished, and the headstone brought forth with shoutings. Indeed, no man can understand all the symmetry of our Lord’s plan till it is completed; but then, it will be seen how He has overruled all the persecutions, martyrdoms, and controversies for higher ends, and has made even the rending of the outward frame of the Church of God a means of preserving and purifying its inward life. What bursts of admiration when all is finished! What shouts of praise, grace, grace! No shout of human names or party distinctions will be attempted in that bright day. All is due to the grace of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to whom be glory in the Church. (D. Fraser, D. D.)

The Spirit of the Lord

The message which this vision was intended to convey was an assurance of God’s presence and readiness to help, and of utter dependence on Him. The prophet was greatly puzzled by this vision. The interpretation was given in such form as would be likely to make it most effective for the enterprise in hand.

1. Rulers and people must under stand at the outset that as God’s chosen they were utterly dependent on Him. It is true for every man in every age. Not with a strong right arm can we make our spiritual livelihood; not with a mighty intellect can we plan and execute the purposes of a holy life. The Spirit of the living God must quicken, energise, inspire.

2. The vision was interpreted to mean that difficulties should not block the way. All hindrance shall disappear. God shall touch it with His almighty hand. Nothing is too hard for Him.

3. The vision gave assurance of the ultimate completion of the temple. The work had languished for years. But as to the final issue there was no shadow of doubt. A day of great things was coming, if the present did seem to be a day of small things. Remember that we live in the dispensation of the Spirit. The Church is the organism through which the Spirit is working towards the restitution of all things. The Church is the one great power in history. Its influence is inexplicable on any except supernatural grounds. At every point of Christian faith and life we are dependent on its influence. Our life begins with the operation of the Spirit in the new birth. Our sanctification is through the Spirit. A symmetrical character comes in no other way. Our success in Christian service is conditioned in the same way. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)

The need of God’s Spirit

This scene has a natural application to the Divine working among men, and suggests the need of God’s Spirit. The human spirit should be the temple of God. Its foundations are laid in the capacities of the soul made in His image. Sin opposes the work, worldliness hinders it. How shall it be completed? “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”

I. We need God’s Spirit, because through the Spirit the Deity reveals Himself most clearly. Our first necessity is to know God.

1. Some of the Divine attributes are revealed in nature. Wisdom, power, glory everywhere, but not the King eternal, immortal, invisible. Scripture declares that since the foundation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. Mark the reservation,--His attributes, not Himself. He is ever hidden within impenetrable isolation. Nature leaves us crying, “Show us the Father.”

2. God was revealed in Christ. Because men could never by searching find out the Almighty, the Word which was with God, and was God, became flesh and dwelt amongst us, revealing Him even to our senses. The incarnation shows that, while the Deity is an Infinite Spirit pervading immensity, He is yet a person. He has feeling, and thought, and will, as we have. Taking to Himself a body like ours, He manifests every quality which makes earthly friends real. Very God was with men in human body and human soul.

3. God is revealed by His Spirit. When Jesus ascended, the dispensation of the Spirit began, a closer and fuller Divine manifestation. The incarnation was not an immediate revelation of God. By the Holy Ghost God enters directly into our spirits; we know Him, commune with Him, without any earthly faculty called in to interpret. Neither did the incarnation complete the revelation. The fullest manifestation of God to man began at Pentecost. The office of the Spirit is not to supersede the revelation through Christ, but to disclose its meaning and apply its power. Nature shows God above us; Christ is God with us; the Holy Spirit is God in us.

II. We need God’s Spirit, because through the Spirit the most powerful Divine influence is exercised upon men. God does not merely reveal Himself to the soul, He also acts upon it.

1. The influence of the Spirit was needed to write the Scriptures. Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. He put before their intellect deep things which it was quickened to apprehend. Their affections were exalted to delight in the infinite grace unveiled to them. Their conscience was purified to behold and adore the Divine holiness. What they saw and felt they were moved to declare to the world. It is this supernatural influence upon the writers which has given the Bible its authority and power. By this influence the Scriptures are understood. Only He who illuminated the writer can enlighten the reader. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. Critical acumen without spiritual insight cannot understand the book.

2. The influence of the Spirit is needed in regeneration and sanctification. The plainest truths of the character of God will not of themselves renew the soul. The intellect discerns them, the heart feels, the conscience trembles, the will may struggle to obey, but all this does not give life. There must be added a Divine, a creative touch, which shall send a new energy into every faculty, thrilling through the will itself, and quickening all to the sacred activities of a regenerated soul. This creative act separates the new life in its feeblest beginnings, at a worldwide distance from the most admirable exhibitions of the old life. Wonderful and awful is the entrance of God into the human soul. Under the Old Testament dispensation the Spirit was sent to exceptional individuals for exceptional purposes; it is the mission of the Comforter to abide permanently in every believer, bringing him into personal union with God, and making him like God. The fruit of the Spirit is not dreams and visions, signs and wonders, but love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,”--healthy everyday virtues that make kind husbands, patient mothers, dutiful children, upright citizens, and pure officials.

3. The influence of the Spirit is needed in Christian work. The Almighty uses human agents. Heathen abroad and unbelievers at home are to be saved through the efforts of Christians. The most powerful Divine influence is given them to accomplish this. We do not always realise that the Almighty is working more efficiently in His present manifestation through the Spirit than He has ever wrought in any other method. He who gives grace to receive the truth also gives grace to speak it. The understanding mind, the earnest heart, the wise tongue, these are the gift of the Spirit. All the Christian power comes from this help. Through our study, our pleading, our prayer must breathe that holy presence which is the power of God unto salvation. This lesson has a special promise to feeble Churches and discouraged Christians. It shows that all human opposition is of no account in the sight of God. He gives power to the weak, and grace to the faulty to do His work. (Monday Club Sermons.)

The might of the Spirit

What is the secret of the immense and amazing, victory of Christianity? It lies in the out-poured Spirit of Pentecost. It was that which made the might of weakness irresistible; it was that which gave to the feeble seedling its imperishable vitality. Nor is it only that Christianity is still preached; it is still no dead doctrine, but a living force to those who truly receive it. Is there nothing for men who are filled with the Spirit of God to do now? Look at the universal worldliness around us; look at the passionate Mammon worship; at the reckless competition; at the desecration of Sundays in the mere voluptuous wantonness of pleasure. O God, give us saints; O God, pour out the Spirit of Thy might! (Dean Farrar.)

The world-conquering Spirit

The work of the early Churches, and that of the Churches of this age, agree in principle and purpose. The difficulties and forms of opposition are substantially the same. They are more moral than intellectual.

1. The prevalent worldly spirit.

2. The careless spirit manifest in another direction. There is an intellectual indifference to Christianity. But the majority of those who are indifferent to Christianity do not lay claim to any such difficulties. They are simply and utterly careless.

3. The sceptical spirit that lifts its voice around us. Then wherein lies our power? Is it in intellectual subtleties of reasoning? No intellectual power can touch the root of man’s alienation from God. It lies in supernatural power: a power which, springing from the Divine heart, lays hold of our hearts and permeates them with His own energy, infusing our intellectual powers with His own strength. With increased supernatural power--the power of the Spirit--we shall yet come against the world spirit, the careless spirit, the sceptical spirit, and cast them down, and the sea of everlasting love shall roll on until “the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” (R. F. Bracey.)

The spiritual work of the Church

1. It is with the spiritual nature of man the Church has to do.

2. In man’s spiritual nature she has to effect the most radical changes--the greatest transformations. Conversion must be wrought. There must be a change in the spirit’s condition, the spirit’s relations, and the spirit’s aspirations.

The accomplishment of this work requites a special power, a spiritual power.

1. It cannot be done by the might and power of the sword. Or--

2. By the power of law. “You cannot make men moral by acts of parliament.” Or

3. By the might and power of reason. Your premises may be admitted, your arguments conclusive, and your pulpits distinguished for logical force, but men may remain as stones, and our churches as deserts. Or--

4. By the might and power of sympathy. Sympathy can touch the heart as no other human force van. But sympathy fails to convert and renew. The essential power is in the Spirit of the Lord of hosts only.

1. This Spirit is greater than the forces in opposition.

2. This Spirit infuses a new life. He creates.

3. This Spirit effects the change in perfect harmony with man’s freedom. The Church is in the greatest power when she is most filled with the Holy Spirit. Filled with the Spirit, she can be confident of success, although her members be few and the opposing forces strong. The Church’s truest friends are those who are the most spiritual, and who most earnestly seek the Spirit’s power in her. (Rombeth.)

The Spirit of the Lord

This message of God is addressed to Zerubbabel, as the former was addressed to Joshua. In this fact the difference in the nature of the vision is to be accounted for. Joshua represented the nation spiritually, and the nation had sinned. So the message to him is a message of mercy, and forgiveness, and promise. Zerubbabel was the civil ruler, and represented the nation’s might and resources and means of defence. So he is bidden not to rely upon these, as he was prone to do, but to rely upon God. Two thoughts are prominent.

I. The completed temple was symbolised. Zechariah saw a golden candlestick. What did it mean? The candlestick which in old time had been made by Moses and set up in the tabernacle, and which afterwards was removed to the temple at Jerusalem, had been removed out of its place because of the infidelities and sins of the people. There was no tabernacle now where God dwelt, no temple with its mercy-seat and golden candlestick. But there it stood in its perfect and incomparable beauty before the eyes of the prophet as the symbol of a restored temple, with its lamp and altars of sacrifice and incense and songs of joyful worship. It was a picture of what was to be, a prediction of a future which in God’s gracious purpose was near at hand.

II. The complete restoration of national life. Israel was meant to be the light of the world, as the Christian Church is in a more perfect manner. When the chosen nation fell into sin, and had to be punished by the desolation of temple, city, and land, the world was darkened, and the lamp which God had lighted before the nations was put out. Restored worship and a revived nation meant a rekindling of this lamp. To illustrate these ideas and apply them to daily dangers and duties. (Matthew 5:14-16; Mark 4:21-22; Luke 12:35; Philippians 2:15; Revelation 1:20; Revelation 2:5.)

III. The means of restoration was declared. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”

The true source of power

We recognise the lesson which this vision furnishes, namely, that God is in His Church and in the world, and that His government in both is enforced and supported by the adoption of his own agencies. And furthermore, we learn that there is order and unanimity in the employ of such agencies. In the symbol there is unity, order, cooperation, and maintenance. Vegetable life is maintained through a system of organisation. The whole system of human life is carried on by the same principle. The great truth laid down in our subject is that of cooperation. The golden pipes of the candlestick cooperate with the off in giving light to the lamps. It is not the mere outward forms and institutions by which only the Church is to preserve her God-like character, and to diffuse her good and saving influence upon the world, but by the Divine Spirit acting through these, uniting them to Himself in one grand scheme of cooperation. The means are required, but they must be made subservient to the Divine will, and cooperate, in their dependency and trust, with the omnipotence and guidance of the Almighty. Consider, then, the true source--

I. Of power. “Power belongeth unto God.” To Him we ascribe all might. This is the one and only source of our power, personally or nationally. We have our instrumentalities, we have our Church and national appliances for building up and enlarging all that is right and beneficial; but we wait for the fire from heaven to kindle it.

II. Of courage. Courage lies not in dexterity, but in the heart, in the mind. It is shown by a cool obedience, by a steadiness of manly purpose. Courage that is true is the power of mind over matter. But in order to trace out its source we must look above mind to that Divine Spirit who acts upon the mind.

III. Of conquest. The noblest battle is against sin, and the noblest conquest is that of self. Hence as the foes of God, of ourselves, and of truth accumulate upon our life path, may we meet them with a power, a courage, and a conquest embodied in the words,--“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” (W. D. Horwood.)

The agency of the Holy Spirit

The primary allusion of these words requires no explanation. The typical import is not less apparent than the primary reference. That by the law of types is not mere, not accidental resemblance, but similarity designed, as well as complete and unquestionable. Man was created to be the temple of God. That temple is now in ruins. The grand end of Christianity is to restore that temple, to clear away the rubbish that conceals its glory. From the contemplation of existing ruin, glance at the ideal of future restoration,--its amplitudes, its completeness, its perpetuity. How can the vision be realised? If, looking at the disproportion of the agency, there comes over the heart the painful impression of inadequacy, and the corresponding, the contingent apathy of despair, then listen to the spirit: stirring voice of the text, Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” We are not to conclude that weakness is at all necessarily connected with this influence of the Spirit. The laws that determine the nature and regulate the action of this power of the mind. It must be cognate in kind to that on which it acts. Again, mind is responsible; and to be so must be free. Anything therefore that moves it must not interfere with its liberty of choice or its freedom of judgment. Again, mind is infinitely, constitutionally diversified. Its idiosyncrasies are endless, and, under the influence of a spiritual power, we have reason to expect full tolerance of such varieties, and that no attempt will be made to reduce all into dull uniformity. We are not to interpret the text as teaching that the Spirit is to act independently of, and unconnected with, human agency. The power of coercion, our Gospel leaves to error or secularised systems. The philosophy of the Cross, nevertheless, continually associates Divine power and human agency. In its moral canons and apparatus, the energy of God does not supersede the activity of man; nor is the activity of man efficient without the energy of God. These remarks lead to the proposition of the text, that no human, no created instrumentality, which acts independently and alone, is adequate to the restoration of the fallen temple; but that the Spirit of the Lord of hosts provides the sole efficient energy for the conversion of the world. I recognise the adaptation of truth, scriptural truth, to the nature and necessities of man. That adaptation is universal. Biblical truth is entirely accommodated to our condition and character. Let truth be admitted to the heart and it must conquer. Undoubtedly it must. But a prior question exists, how is it to obtain admission there? The avenues are blocked up by sin.

1. Now it is fair to reason for the truth of a principle from the necessary inconsistencies of its opposite, to urge anomalies irreconcilable, except on the supposition of the accuracy of the assertion before us. Consider then these anomalies. It will be generally granted that in similar circumstances uniformity of cause will be accompanied with uniformity of result. If, accordingly, in the evangelical plan no power beyond the human is at work, similar external energy will issue in similar results. Yet such is not our experience. If dependent on human power, the Gospel will be most successful when preached by the most eloquent men. The skill of an advocate often compensates for the hollowness of the cause. But if the measure of real ministerial success be the conversion of souls to God, the most logical and eloquent preachers of the Gospel are not the most successful. Again, the Bible contains a system of pure ethics. We might expect the most cordial reception of this system from the purest moralists when and where it is ever propounded. All history attests the reverse.

2. Another train of illustration unfolds itself in analogy. The emblems of conversion are not more numerous and varied than they are one in, indirectly but really, tracing all the results of the Gospel to the power of the Spirit of God. What we want is a ministry thrilled into life by God’s Spirit, and thrilling men into vigorous, healthy, sustained life, by the same Spirit, superinduced by faith and prayer.

3. Coincident with this conclusion is the experience of the Church, not only in its more ordinary and routine movements, but in its epochs that stand out in bold relief. Consider then the history of the modern revived Church. Consider the relative success of the preaching of our Lord and of His apostles. Conclude by appeal to scriptural assertion. The Spirit then is the power with which the Church is to be armed. (Thomas Archer, D. D.)

Independence of Christianity

God’s first and greatest object is His own glory. This is true in the general of the great acts of God, this is equally true in the minutiae of them. God is jealous of His own honour; He will not suffer even His Church to be delivered in such a way as to honour men more than God; He will take to Himself the throne without a rival.

I. Not by might. “Might” properly signifies, the power of a number of men combined together. “Power” signifies the prowess of a single individual. Treat might as meaning might collectedly.

1. Collected might in human armies. The Church can neither be preserved, nor can its interests be promoted by human armies. The progress of the arms of a Christian nation is not the progress of Christianity.

2. Might may signify great corporations or denominations of men. There never ought to have been any denominations at all. They may do some good, but they do a world of mischief. Whenever a denomination begins to get too great, God will cut away its horns, and take away its glory, till the world shall say, “It is not by might nor by power.”

II. Nor by power, that is, individual strength. The greatest works that have been done have been done by the ones. Take any church, there are multitudes in it, but it is some two or three that do the work. Individual effort is, after all, the grand thing. Learning is useful, so is eloquence; but God does not work by these His great works.

III. By the Spirit of God. What a magnificent change would come over the face of Christendom if God were on a sudden to pour out His Spirit as He did on the day of Pentecost. The grand thing the Church wants at this time is God’s Holy Spirit. Whatever faults there may be in our organisation, they can never materially impede the progress of Christianity, when once the Spirit of the Lord is in our midst. Be in earnest in praying for this. All we want is the Spirit of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A work beyond human ability

I. As implying some important propositions.

1. That many things which it is our duty to attempt evidently lie beyond human powers.

2. We have reason to expect that God will grant the necessary aid while we use the means which are in our power.

3. God communicates spiritual aid in a manner concealed from human observation.

4. These invisible operations of the Holy Spirit do not supersede human agency, nor alter, in general, the connection between cause and effect.

5. God uses men and means in such a way as to leave no doubt to whom the accomplishment is owing.

II. As suggesting some useful admonitions.

1. The words convey instruction. They throw great light on events which have occurred, for which historians have not been able to assign an adequate reason.

2. A lesson of reproof. Some lay great stress on human means and do not look for the influences of the Spirit.

3. A lesson of encouragement. We are too apt to despise “the day of small things.” God acts by degrees. The kingdom of God is as a mustard seed, but that can grow into a great tree. (C. Jerram, M. A.)

The triumph of the Divine kingdom

So much is in the hands of providence that, in general, we can only conjecture what may be the result. In proportion as events are dependent on the will of God, they are uncertain to us.

I. The Most High has clearly promised in His Word, that the kingdom of Christ shall ultimately prevail over the earth. The religious history of the world presents a threefold aspect.

1. We may regard man in the state into which he was plunged by the first transgression; obnoxious to the wrath of the Most High., and distant from Him. Men divide into two classes:--those who forget God altogether, and the Jews to whom were committed the oracles of God.

2. To the head of the Jewish people it was promised, “In Thee shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”

3. These promises formed part of the joy set before the Redeemer, by which He was stimulated in His work of self-denial.

II. God has enjoined it as a duty on His Church to endeavour to promote this end. The inspired writers derived this notion from two sources.

1. Express commands.

2. The principle on which those commands went. The appointment of a Christian ministry implies this duty.

III. The Most High has communicated to the Church adequate means for accomplishing this end. We do not now need the aid of miracles. Our power lies in the presence and impulse of the Spirit of truth.

IV. We may anticipate the period when the kingdom shall be fully established. Some hopeful signs are--

1. An increasing respect for the Word of God.

2. A more general appeal to the great converting principle of the Word of God.

3. A universal endeavour to pay the debt of obligation to the diffusion of the Word of God.

4. Much success has already attended the labours of Christians, and this shows how God smiles on the rising energies of His Church.

5. The hopeful state of the Church as the administrator of truth in the present day. If the Spirit of the Christian religion live in our minds, we shall want no exhortation to advance a cause like this. (W. Wilson, A. M.)

The necessity of the Holy Spirit’s aid

The sentiment here recorded refers to the building of the second temple. When the prophet contemplated the difficulties that lay in the way of the accomplishment of this great design, the magnitude of the work, the obstacles to be overcome, and the insignificance of man’s best energies, he was ready to despair. But the assurance came to him that the work should certainly be accomplished, but not by man’s might, only in the power of the Spirit of God.

I. A negative proposition. “Not by might,” can any design be brought to a successful issue. Illustrate by recalling some of the great occurrences which have taken place in the history of the world, and which declare this incontrovertible truth. History of Tyre, Babylon, Assyrian attack on Israel, degradation of Rome, story of Spanish Armada, French Revolution, etc.

II. An affirmative proposition. Illustrate some instances of the success which attends spiritual exertions sustained amid prayers, and blessed by the presence of the Spirit of God. Noah, the only righteous man in the world at that period of prevailing sin. Success of Joshua when Moses’ hands were held up. Success of the Apostles. Reformation of Luther. Triumphs of missionaries. This principle of dependence on the Spirit applies to our reading the Word of God, and to the mode of a sinner’s acceptance before God. (John Cumming, D. D.)

The work o] the Holy Spirit

The primary application of these words was to the Jews who were engaged upon the great work of rebuilding their temple. Because they could not depend upon themselves, the Lord, in these words addressed to Zerubbabel, opened a better resource. It was not “by might nor by power” that they were to succeed, but by His Spirit. Now the Spirit, whereby God helped the Jews in their necessity, was the very same Spirit which, from the commencement, has been concerned in all that regards the well-being of man, and the government of this lower world. He “moved upon the face of the waters.” Upon the world thus created through the eternal Spirit, the work of redemption was to be carried out and accomplished. We do not marvel that the Lord Jesus, on entering upon the great work of His ministry, received a visible communication of that same Spirit; and through that same Spirit He offered Himself a sacrifice unto God. The Holy Spirit does not now descend for miraculous operations in the Church. But the promise of the Holy Spirit is a perpetual promise. And it is necessary for the whole Christian community.

I. The influence of the Spirit in bringing about the acceptance of the Gospel. The Apostles and first missionaries had to encounter difficulties of every shape and character. Where did they get the wisdom which their adversaries were not able to gainsay or confute? How were they enabled to speak those gracious words which never failed? It was through the Spirit of God. We do not confine these marvellous interpositions of the Spirit to apostolical times. The Spirit has always accompanied the Word with power.

II. The influence of the Holy Spirit in carrying forward the work of sanctifying and likeness unto God. After our conversion we must count upon many a long and weary day of trial and temptation, and spiritual conflict, and heart distress. If we would take a deeper insight into the things of God, we must ask the Holy Spirit to take of the things of Jesus and show them unto us. Our enemies may be overcome, because greater is He who is with us than all who can be against us. It is promised that we shall be “strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man.” And the consolation of a Christian man’s heart comes direct from the influence of the Holy Spirit. And what is true concerning the individual is true concerning the great Christian body. When the Church is despised and persecuted and everywhere spoken against, God puts forth His interposing arm, delivers His people, and comforts them, confirming the truth of His ancient word, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” (E. Robins, M. A.)

The might and power of God’s Spirit demonstrated

Our subject is, the Spirit’s influence on the human mind.

I. The necessity of Spiritual influence. Considering the varied moral effects of the fall, we may ask, can any less powerful agent than the Spirit of God reorganise our faculties, and adduce harmony, loveliness, and order, out of the confusion that prevails within us? No one can savingly know the truth and be really holy, but as taught of God and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

II. The nature of Spiritual influence. We are not called upon to explain the mode or manner of the Spirit’s operation on the human mind. The fact is sufficient for our purpose. The value of the agency will correspond with the nature of the agent. Agreeable to His high and essential excellence will be the Holy Spirit’s work. The Spirit’s work should not be thought of as miraculous, Influence only of an ordinary and necessary kind do we contend for, and that only in an ordinary way, and the use of ordinary means. It is--

1. Quickening in its nature, “The Spirit that quickeneth.”

2. It is enlightening.

3. It is renewing.

4. It is sanctifying.

5. It is consoling.

6. It is assuring.

III. The evidence of Spiritual influence. The tree is known by its fruits, so also is the Holy Ghost. His fruits are “love, joy, peace,” etc. An immediate effect of supernatural agency will be, a deep and humbling conviction of sin. Another will be,--a ceaseless restlessness till mercy and forgiveness be obtained. A third will be,--a supreme valuation of Jesus Christ. A fourth will be,--a prevailing desire to be holy. (W. Mudge.)

A law of Divine operations among men

A rule upon which the eternal God acts in the affairs of His people. The law is this,--that not human energy nor resources but the Spirit produces good; that not man but God gives success. Recall some illustrations of this law.

1. In the circumstances in which it was given. The builders of the second temple were disheartened and hindered. Their power was gone; they were taught to look to the Divine power which would work through them.

2. In the operations of the third Person in the Trinity upon the Church. Its progress has always been due, not to human might and power, but to the Holy Ghost.

3. The effect of the truth upon the heart of man is not of man, it is of God.

4. The advancement of Divine life in the soul is in accordance with the same rule. It becomes then the duty of believers to depend on the Holy Spirit at all times for success. Reliance on the Holy Spirit for producing spiritual effects is the rule for Christians. To lose sight of this rule brings a blight upon efforts however earnest. This reliance will act in a twofold way; it will hinder any resting or boasting in lawful human resources; and it will give encouragement where there is little human resource. Faith in the power of the Holy Ghost will inspirit men, will shed new light upon their humble path, will put new vigour into their exertions, and will make them bold for God according to their measure, their capacity, and their means. And a pressing necessity arises for continual prayer that the Spirit may be given. While you seek more of the Spirit for yourself, pray earnestly that the gift may be bestowed on others. (Forster G. Simpson, B. A.)

The Word of the Lord to Zerubbabel

The vision seen by the prophet Zechariah in this chapter is evidently descriptive of the spiritual character and strength of the Church of God, shining with a communicated light, and sustained by a communicated strength perpetually supplied. We dwell on the interpretation of it. We are told--

1. The false grounds of confidence which are to be rejected. “Might and power” include all earthly means and human instrumentality. The powers of reasoning, the exhibition of truth, or the force of argument, are not to be despised or neglected. It is the trusting to them, the resting in them, or the boasting of them, that is to be, and must be, utterly rejected if we would look for the favour and blessing of Almighty God. If we may not trust to the strength of mason, or the force of truth, neither may we to the powers of oratory. The gifts of oratory or eloquence are lovely and excellent, but trusted in, or gloried in, they become snares and stumbling blocks, drawing away the heart and affections from Christ, and converting our acts of worship into an idolatrous service. Every Christian has his own peculiar sphere of influence with which to serve and honour God. But all brought under such influence must beware lest they rest in it and go no farther. Religion must be a personal concert. Then there are those who imagine that they love the truth, because they love those who profess it. A religion based on such grounds is not to be trusted. When the Spirit of God is not the author of the work, it cannot stand trial, even in this world.

2. The only source of spiritual prosperity. There are three particulars in which the work of the Spirit may be distinguished. In transforming the character. In overcoming the world. In glorifying the grace of God.

3. The certainty of these effects of the Spirit’s work issuing in the glory of the grace of God. That which God only can effect, to God only can be attributed. To bring man back again to His own likeness is God’s own work, for the manifestation of His almighty power, the revelation of His infinite love, and the perfection of His eternal praise; when, the holy temple completed, the top stone shall be brought forth with shoutings of, “Grace, grace unto it.” (J. M. Wilde, B. A.)

Opposition to the Gospel in every age

The opposition made to the building of the temple in that age may be considered as emblematical of the opposition made to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the hearts of men and in the world. By the “Spirit of the Lord” we may understand Divine power generally, or the Holy Ghost. The proposition to illustrate is, that the existence and prevalence of religion in the heart and in the world are not owing to human power but wholly to the Holy Ghost. If it were the result of human power, then--

1. Men of great learning and talents would be the first to embrace the Gospel. Their talents and learning seem to qualify them in a peculiar manner for investigating the evidences of the truth of religion. We reasonably expect that they will be the first to receive with meekness, humility, and gratitude, every doctrine which the Bible reveals. How different the actual facts are! The majority of men of talents and learning have either rejected the Bible or treated it with scorn. And the comparatively ignorant and unlearned have become “wise unto salvation.” How shall we account for this difference? Never, without taking into account the work of the Holy Ghost.

2. If religion in the heart were by might and by power, then those who are decent and moral would be the first to embrace the Gospel. To all the duties of the second table they pay strictest attention. To such it might be supposed that the Gospel would be exceedingly acceptable. Then there are persons who seem utterly careless and dead; to all appearance they are the children of perdition. And yet, contrary to all expectation, we see the decent formalist passing smoothly to perdition; while the wicked and profane are often “plucked as brands from the burning.”

3. If religion were by might and power, then those who hear the ablest preachers would always be the best Christians. But facts do not correspond with expectations. Some of the ablest preachers have laboured with little success; while others, greatly their inferiors, have been “wise in winning souls.” As the existence and prevalence of religion in the heart is wholly the work of the Spirit of God; so the existence and prevalence of religion in the world must be the fruit of the same agency. The arguments which illustrate the one also illustrate the other. The progress of religion in the world is just the progress of religion in a multitude of hearts. Look at the state of the world when the Apostles of Christ were first sent forth to preach “the Gospel of the blessed God.” The men who were sent to preach were few in number, without learning, without wealth, without influence, without eloquence. What rendered their work so successful? Only the power of the “Spirit of the Lord.” In process of time superstition almost extinguished the light of the Gospel. Corruption spread so rapidly, and diffused itself so widely, that in a little time nothing remained of Christianity but the name. Would the reformation have been such a power and blessing to the world without the presence of the Spirit of the Lord? The success of modern missions is not due to instrumentality, but to the power of the Spirit in the instrumentality. Then let us pray for the outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord upon ourselves and upon our missionaries. This is a matter of unspeakable importance. And let us feel a deeper interest in the salvation of our own souls and the souls of others. Let us be more generally, more fervently, more perseveringly, employed in prayer for the Spirit of the Lord. (W. S. Smart.)

God’s work in man

In the work of God in the heart, and for the work of God in our lives, we require the operation of God’s Holy Spirit. Man is continually seeking and claiming for Himself independence. But they are happy, and they alone are happy, who can commit all their ways unto the Lord their God whether we are converted or unconverted, we must be inhabited by some spirit.

I. The necessity for a spiritual agency. This arises--

1. From man’s wants on earth. He needs life. By nature he is dead, “dead in trespasses and sins.” How is spiritual life to be obtained? It must be the effect of God’s sovereign mercy, by the operation of His Holy Spirit. But man wants light as well as life. He is dark by nature. By the fall his understanding became darkened, and he requires to have that understanding renewed, before he can in any wise comprehend the plain and simple truth which concerns his everlasting peace. Men continue walking in that same darkness in which they were originally created. None but the Holy Spirit of God enlightens man. But if man wants light and life, so also does he require love, because by nature he is at enmity with God. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” Again, man requires health, for he is spiritually sick. This also comes by the Spirit. Man requires confidence in God, for by nature he distrusts God.

2. We require the Holy Spirit for our admission into heaven.

II. The results which follow from this spiritual agency. There is security for us amid all the trials and temptations of this life. The subject suggests to us the greatest encouragement in the midst of our many difficulties. The road to everlasting life is beset with difficulties. Who shall be able to overcome these “many adversaries”? None but they who have the Spirit of God working with them. Address those who are disheartened in the endeavour to live the Christian life. Do not attempt to serve God with a half-hearted service; the failure will be as complete in itself as it will be miserable and wretched to you. Be decided, if you are really seeking to be God’s children. Are any of you trying to hinder the work of God in others? Remember, there is One above who sees all the malice, perceives all the enmity, and considers that any opposition offered to His children is offered to Himself. (H. M. Villiers, M. A.)

God’s modes of working

When Zerubbabel was ready to bend before the interruption of his work, his heart was greatly encouraged to persevere in the arduous undertaking by the assurance that through God’s special interposition and grace the work should be carried forward to a happy and honourable termination, till at last he should bring forth “the headstone thereof with shouting, Grace, grace unto it.” The expression “Not by might,” etc., intimates that God will carry on and complete His work, as He had begun their deliverance from Babylon, not by external force, but by the internal influence of His Spirit upon the minds of men.

I. Observations for illustrating the text.

1. It is usual for God to bring most important and stupendous results out of causes apparently trivial and unimportant.

2. The words of text imply God’s accomplishment--of the most gracious designs by the weakest and most insignificant instruments.

3. That it is our duty to attempt many things which evidently lie beyond human power.

4. God will grant the necessary aid while we employ the means that are in our power.

II. Practical inferences from the subject.

1. That ministers should preach the Gospel with an humble and confidential dependence on the cooperation of the Spirit to crown their labours with success.

2. This subject administers reproof to those who pervert it into an argument for carnal sloth and security.

3. Learn not to despise the day of small things. As in the natural, so in the moral world, the progress of God’s power is often hid from our view; but still, is it making no advancement? The Spirit of God is again moving on the face of the deep, preparatory to a new creation. (James Hay, D. D.)

The only power that can set the world right

An infidel, who was also a well-known socialist marked down by the police, entered a meeting of the Salvation Army in Switzer land to make satirical remarks for a Constantinople paper, but during the meeting he was moved by the power of God, and at the close, with tears running down his cheeks, he said, “Ah, I believed in dynamite to set the world right, but now I see there’s another power, and the only one.”

The Spirit of the Lord

It was the mission of Zechariah to stimulate the courage of God’s people, to kindle again the enthusiasm for the temple and the theocracy with which they had set out from Babylon. Opposition from their foes, the enormity of the task of restoring the temple, and the necessity of providing homes for themselves, had broken their courage, and diverted them from contemplation of their great spiritual destiny. They must be brought again to the deep theocratic feeling cherished among their fathers of old. The Lord’s message to Israel through Zechariah was communicated to the prophet in a series of eight visions. It was a hard lesson for these returned exiles, this lesson of implicit trust in God. The nation was just awaking out of a long night, in which God seemed to have abandoned them. They were little practised in seeing the invisible. Like Elisha’s servant, they needed to have their eyes opened to perceive the mountains of Jerusalem “full of horses and chariots of fire” round about the Lord’s chosen. The tendency of our times is away from all special reliance on the Spirit of God. Relatively, we have too great faith in secondary causes. To build a temple, you need only a competent architect, a good contractor, and a good force of masons. If opposition is threatened, simply provide yourself with a sufficient police force. Such is men’s creed now. We glorify organisation. We deify law. We apotheosise the practical. We are witnessing a revival of the heretical belief in salvation by works. If it was necessary for James to say, “Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone,” it is necessary for us to say, Work, if it hath not faith, is dead, being alone. We give up our inspiration for institutions. We lose the Spirit of God in elaborately designed methods for His operation. The intellectual, the practical, the spiritual; this is the order of importance according to the judgment of many contemporaries. Few things, therefore, could be of more importance to the religious life of today than this message of Zechariah to the returned exiles. However truly and clearly seers and prophets may still apprehend God, the life of thousands goes on nowadays in practical atheism. And the infection has spread to the churches. Witness the almost frantic efforts of some among them to keep themselves alive. Having insensibly withdrawn from the sources of vital piety their only recourse is the process of artificial respiration. We need schooling in the science of spiritual dynamics and economics. That this thought may assume greater definiteness, let me specify some of the lessons which the vision of Zechariah has for us. I mention, out of many, three--

I. The proper relation of God’s Spirit to the Church is a vital one. Philosophically considered, the main conceptions of God which have been current in the religious progress of the race are two: God as transcendent above the world, and God as immanent in the world. The one erects a throne for the Ruler of the universe somewhere above the sky, and worships Him from afar. It reached its extreme form among the Deists of the last century, who denied all interference on the part of God in the affairs of the world. It was the dominant, though not the only conception of God among the Jews before the coming of Christ, which helps to account for the formality and barrenness of their religion. Nothing so robs religion of its transforming and sustaining power as the drawing of its sanctions from some distant sphere, and the deferring of its rewards to some future age. The other conception--that God is immanent in the world--finds its best exposition in the literature of Pantheism, and has had expression and adherents ever since the time of the Vedic hymns. It reaches its extreme form in the view, still current, which denies to God personality, and identifies Him with the forces which upbear and impel the world. Both these conceptions are found--though not in their extreme forms--in the Bible. The New Testament doctrine of the Holy Spirit may be regarded as the evangelical counterpart of the philosophical doctrine of immanence. The New Testament teaching here is summarised for us in the fulfilment, in Acts 2:17, of the prophecy of Joel. God would no longer be confined above the sky, or by the walls of a single building, or by the lines which separate the nations. He would come out into the open, so to speak, and be seen everywhere. He would make every place sacred by His presence. The universe, and no longer a booth of skins or a house of cedar, would be His dwelling place This dispensation of the Spirit began on the day of Pentecost. In it the Gospel assumes its universal character and function. But the New Testament does not say that the Holy Spirit abides in the world and world forces in such a sense as to become one with them. In the ministry of the Holy Spirit God is still a person different from us and from His world, but He is no longer remote. With Paul we are thrilled with the awe of a great, tender reverence when we reflect that “He is not far away from any one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being.” I know of no more blighting heresy than the practical denial among us of this New Testament and Old Testament teaching concerning the presence of God’s Spirit in His world, in His Church, as a vital blessed and mighty equipment for life’s battles and duties.

II. God’s Spirit is the Church’s only proper equipment for service. The presence of God’s Spirit for defence and for aggression was the burden of Zechariah’s message to Zerubbabel. God is our defence. It is said that William Penn was the only colonist in America who left his settlement wholly unprotected by fence or arms, and that his was the only one which was unassailed by the Indian tribes. The first Christians depended in a peculiar manner upon the Holy Spirit for protection and leadership, and with the result that they were delivered from the hands of persecutors. History affords no more striking enforcement of Zechariah’s message: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”

III. God’s Spirit, appropriated by prayer, is now intended to operate through all believers. In the time of Zechariah, God’s Spirit wrought His will by means of special representatives. The olive trees supplied the oil to the candelabrum. Only, the anointed ones were in full measure supplied with the Spirit. But when Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled the Lord poured out His Spirit upon all flesh. It was a new epoch in the spiritual progress of mankind. God wills now to operate directly, without mediation, upon the hearts and minds of all believers. What matters it, however, if while we are within reach of strength we elect to continue in all our old weakness? The nearness of God does not ensure that we shall, in spite of ourselves, personally feel the thrill and joy of His strength. Prayer is a condition to this. Through prayer the very air about us may be charged with God, so as to bear us up like eagles in electric clouds. Closer than our breath is God with His Almighty Spirit and grace. Before Franklin’s experiment for harnessing the lightning the air was as full of electricity as it is today, but men did not know how to appropriate it. A battery may be charged with electric fire, but you must make your connections to get the power. We need to gear our personal lives and our church work on the Power which moves the world. Then shall we see a revolution in spiritual commerce and economics which will speedily bring in the completed kingdom that was the hope of Zechariah and the inspiration of His message to Zerubbabel. We make this connection by prayer. Pray in faith, and there shall quiver along every fibre of your being a thrill of the life, light, and might of God. (E. M. Poteat.)


Verses 7-9

Zechariah 4:7-9

Who art thou, O great mountain

The temple of God built amidst difficulties

I.
THE SEEMING DIFFICULTIES IN OUR LORD’S WAY. Solomon raised his goodly structure in quiet. Joshua and Zerubbabel had difficulty after difficulty to overcome. Turn to the Lord Jesus. What difficulties were there in His way when He first undertook to build God’s temple in heaven! He had--

1. To introduce sinners into heaven; to bring those near to God, who were among the farthest from Him.

2. He had to prepare sinners for heaven. The Lord the Redeemer has to work to the very last against the bias of nature, and the power of nature’s lusts. Consider how many of such men He has to work on and change before His task can be completed. He has to bring “many sons unto glory.” Remember where this work is to be done. In a world where there is everything to obstruct, and really nothing to aid it. It is to be accomplished too against all the powers of darkness. It cannot be done in an hour, or a day, or a year.

II. The ease and completeness with which the Redeemer o`vercomes the difficulties before Him. This is more strongly expressed in the abrupt language of the original, than in our translation “Who art thou?” There is no surprise or ignorance implied in this question. There is something like derision and contempt in it. The question expresses at once His own dignity, and the insignificance in His sight of the obstacles opposed to Him; His own almighty power and their utter impotence. Here lies one of the hardest lessons we have to learn in practical Christianity--to see the difficulties of salvation, and not be discouraged by them; to see the hills before us and around us, and yet to feel sure that the Lord will carry us over them.

III. The means whereby the Lord Jesus carries on His great work. Christianity has been established in the world without the world’s aid, by means which have seemed most unlikely to establish it. Its very existence in the world at this moment is one of the greatest moral wonders the world ever saw. The Lord Jesus fits us for heaven by means of His Spirit. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Observe then here how jealous God is for the honour of the Holy Ghost. In looking to the Lord Jesus as our sanctifier, we must not overlook the Holy Spirit. He sanctifies us by this Spirit.

IV. The effect which will be produced by the completion of Christ’s work. God’s present dealings with our world will not go on forever. There is a day coming when all His purposes of mercy towards it will be accomplished. The completion as spoken of under the figure of bringing forth and putting on the top or headstone of a building. This, in Eastern countries, was generally done with much ceremony, and in the presence of many beholders. With such a prospect before us, well may we ask with this prophet, “Who hath despised the day of small things?” As for the Church of Christ, let us learn to be ashamed of our fears concerning it. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

Salvation secure

Treat the text as designed to encourage the believer in the assurance of his final salvation, in strong confidence of continuing and upholding power, to be vouchsafed to him.

I. The honor of God is concerned in a persuasion of our final safety.

1. In all spiritual temples the command to build, and the means to build, and the laying the foundation for the building, originate solely with God Himself. How unlikely then that God should forsake the work of His own hands. God is the author of that spiritual temple which is to be raised from the ruins of our degraded humanity. Man is as powerless to work a change in his own spiritual affections as he is to fix a new sun in the heavens, or to divert the course of the trackless deep.

2. The honour of God is concerned in the accomplishment of this work, by the multiplied succours which He has provided for carrying it on. We discover a constant regard to a law of progression. Whether God be ripening a blade of grass, or forming a world from the shapeless void, there is to be a beginning, a continuance, and an end. The building up of the soul into a holy temple in the Lord is no exception to this law. God will take His own time, and work in His own way.

II. The building of this temple will redound to the glory of Christ. Zerubbabel is a type of Christ.

1. There is a promise on the part of Christ to His people, that He will work in them all needful grace to keep them faithful unto the end.

2. Christ is concerned in our final victory, because the believer’s triumphs form an integral part of His own. Conclusion--

The building of the spiritual temple

Zerubbabel is a type of a far greater builder than himself, and the temple of Zerubbabel is a shadow of a far nobler temple. Zerubbabel is a type of Him “whom God hath exalted from among the people,” to build His spiritual temple; and the temple of Zerubbabel is a type of that Church, which is “built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone”; of which every true Christian is a lively, that is, a living stone; and in which all are builded together, for a habitation of God through the Spirit. Each converted Christian is a temple of God by the Spirit, and like the temple of Zerubbabel, is honoured by the indwelling God as His abode. Christians are spoken of in Scripture as living stones of one great spiritual temple (as well as each being a separate temple). The manner in which the separate stones of Solomon’s temple were prepared was striking and remarkable. While that temple was in building, no sound of axe or hammer was heard. Of the glorious temple to the Lord--a temple built of ransomed and purified souls, of deathless and sinless bodies--our Lord Jesus Christ is the chief builder. And He “will not fail nor be discouraged,” until He has erected His spiritual building on God’s eternal hill of Zion. But He uses instruments. He has His fellow labourers. He directs their work. The whole plan is in His mind. To His ministers he gives “diversities of operations” by the same Spirit. It is the conviction that our great Master is with His servants, even unto the end of the world, that supports and cheers them under difficulties that would otherwise overwhelm them. (W. Weldon Champneys, M. A.)

His hands shall also finish it--

The founder and finisher of the temple

Zerubbabel is very little more than a grotesque name to most Bible readers. He was a prince of the blood royal of Israel, and the civil leader of the first detachment of returning exiles. The words of the text are, in their plain original meaning, the prophetic assurance that the man, grown an old man by this time, who had been honoured to take the first spadeful of soft out of the earth, should be the man “to bring forth the headstone with shoutings of grace, grace unto it!” I take them to be a Messianic prophecy. This Zerubbabel was a prophetic person. What was true about him primarily is thereby shown to have a bearing upon the greater Son of David who was to come thereafter, and who was to build the Temple of the Lord.

I. There is here, a large truth as to Christ, the true temple builder. “I am Alpha and Omega,” etc. All the letters are from Him, and He underlies everything. That is true about Creation, in the broadest and in the most absolute sense. “He is the beginning, and in Him all things consist.” He is the Beginner and the Finisher of the work of redemption, which is His only, from its inception to its accomplishment. Jesus makes a new beginning; He presents a perfectly fresh thing in the history of human nature. Just as His coming was the introduction into the heart of humanity of a new type, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, so the work that He does is all His own. He does it all Himself. The text declares that all through the ages His hand is at work. “Shall also finish it”--then he is labouring at it now. We have to think of a Christ who is working on and on, steadily and persistently. A work begun, continued, and ended by the same immortal hand is the work on which the redemption of the world depends.

II. We have here the assurance of the triumph of the Gospel. There were many who were ready to throw cold water on the works of Zerubbabel. The text is the cure for all hopeless calculations by us Christian people, and by other than Christian people. When we begin to count up resources, and to measure these against the work to be done, there is little wonder that good men and bad men sometimes concur in thinking that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has very little chance of conquering the world. That is perfectly true, unless you take Him into the calculation, and then the probabilities are altogether different. He renews and purifies the corrupted Church, and He lives forever. When Brennus conquered Rome, and the gold for the city’s ransom was being weighed, he clashed his sword into the scale to outweigh the gold. Christ’s sword is in the scale, and it weighs more than the antagonism of the world and the active hostility of hell.

III. Here is encouragement for despondent and timid Christians. Jesus Christ is not going to leave you halfway across the bog. That is not His manner of guiding us. He began and He will finish. If the seed of the kingdom is in our hearts, He will watch over it, and He will bless the springing thereof. Be of good cheer, only keep near the Master, and let Him do what He desires to do for us all.

IV. Here is a striking contrast to the fate which attends all human workers. Few of us are happy enough to begin and finish any task, beyond the small ones of our daily life. Authors die with half finished books. No man starts an entirely fresh line of action; he inherits much from the past. No man completes a great work that he undertakes. Coming generations, if it is one of the great historical works of the world, work out its consequences for good or evil. We have to be contented to do our little bit of work that will fit in along with that of a great many others. How many hands does it take to make a pin? We have to be content to be parts of a mighty whole. Multiplication of joy comes from division of labour. So let us do our little bit of work, and remember that whilst we do it, He is doing it in us for whom we are doing it, and let us rejoice to know that at the last we shall share in the “joy of our Lord,” when He sees of the travail of His soul, and is satisfied. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Reasons against pessimism

Those Hebrew prophets were thorough optimists. No matter how great the desolation which was around them, no matter how deep the degradation into which the people had fallen, no matter how dark the prospect, they told of a glory to follow. Their words are charged with hope. They summoned languid, desponding souls to courageous action. They never hung their harp upon the willows. In the presence of error, evil, idolatry there is no quailing, no craven cry of fear, but a tone of almost contemptuous defiance. Can the force of contempt go further? “Moab is my washpot,”--I will wash my hands in Moab. “Over Edom I will fling my old shoe.” It is so here. This young Zechariah is perhaps the most hopeful of all the prophets. He calls upon the daughter of Zion to sing and rejoice. The holy city, which has been despoiled, shall become so vast that no angel can measure it, and God shall be a wall of fire round about it, and the glory in the midst of it. In this chapter he seeks to encourage Zerubbabel in the great work of rebuilding the temple. A mighty mountain of hindrance bars his way. But by this most suggestive vision the prophet assures him that he shall be aided in his work by the mysterious energy of God. Perhaps there never was an age when the servants of Christ were more exposed to dejection, or when it was more incumbent upon them to maintain an undaunted and confident spirit. Pessimism is in the air. It fills our literature with a wailing cry. As Goethe said: “Men write as if they were all ill, and the whole world a lazaretto.” There is a deep undertone of sadness in the life of our times. The culture of the age is mournful. One may well ask, Is this “metric England”? The number of suicides in this country during the past thirty years has risen from 65 per million to 79. In London it is 85, in Paris 422. Now, pessimism is the legitimate outcome of unbelief. If man is a bubble, soon to be pricked by death, how can he be glad? Men are congratulating the world that faith is dying; but they will find, if it dies, that some other things, which they would fain keep, have disappeared too. But if pessimism is proper to unbelief, it ought to have no place in the minds of Christian men. What are the reasons against pessimism? What reasons have we for declaring that it will be laid low?

I. First of all, it is alien to human nature. The fundamental principle of pessimism is that evil is an essential element of human nature. It is original and permanent. The world is corrupt in its nature. The teaching of the Word of God is that sin is an intrusion. We are often told that the Scripture view of man is too dark. It is the only bright view of the subject. That which regards sin as natural is horrible, and forbids hope. Sin is neither the “essence of the creature nor the act of the Creator.” So terrible is it when it culminates, that it would be fearful to regard it as the mere outcome of the natural working of the human heart. What a vivid picture is that which our Lord gives of the state of man! The human heart is a house, and living in it, ordering it, is “a strong man armed.” Yes, sin is a mighty tyrant, but it is only a lodger. It occupies the city of Mansoul, but it has crept in and it can be cast out. Is not this evident from a survey of the effects of evil? It is manifestly foreign to human nature, for it runs right athwart the interests, and cuts deep into the powers of that nature, sapping its strength, and draining its very life blood. It is a wrong inflicted upon the soul, not the intended outcome and expression of the soul. It is a great hurt, a violation of law, a break in the harmony of life, a discord in its music, a derangement of its order. The effects of sin are eloquent of its nature. It spoils, rends, tears, maims perverts It is off “the course of nature.” Human nature has fallen among thieves, which have robbed, wounded it and left it half dead. Sin is not the essence of man; it is an alien thing, it is a foreign power. Men feel it has to be accounted for, that it is not according to the constitution of things. A belief in a fall runs through the religions of the world. Archdeacon Wilson has well said: “The problem about evil which has attracted the mind of man has always been enunciated as the origin of evil. Did any one ever write an essay or vex his mind over the origin of good? It is in the constitution of our minds to ask for a reason for anything that is rare, exceptional, or anomalous. Why does an eclipse of the sun take place? What is the cause of thunderstorms? But we do not often ask why the sun gives light. Can it be that evil is so rare a phenomenon? No; the pessimist will not admit, and the optimist will not assert, that evil is so rare an interference that we are driven to account for it because of its rarity. It is not because it is rare, but because we instinctively feel it is an intruder, however common it may be. We ask for the cause of sickness, common as it is. Health is the normal state; disease the abnormal. Sin is an interference, a fall.”

II. Another reason against pessimism, and a ground for hope, is to be found in the wiles and deceptions that evil must practise before it can succeed. It pretends to be what it is not. It palms itself off as something else. Sin only keeps its place by deception. It is “transformed into an angel of light.” It wears the garb of goodness, and declines to be unclothed. Nor does it wholly possess the human soul. The noblest, most authoritative power of the soul may be cowed and silenced, but it never consents heartily to the sway of evil. Conscience is often like a discrowned king, whose commands are slighted, but it does not run with the multitude of the passions to do evil. It stands solitary, apart, issuing, however vainly, its protests. Hence sin and fear go together. The mountain shakes and trembles, as Sinai at the voice of God. “Conscience doth make cowards of us all.” Nor are the forces of evil so compact, so massive, so welded together as they seem. It is well to follow the counsel which the angel gave to the fearful Gideon--“But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Phurah thy servant down to the host, and thou shalt hear what they say, and afterwards shall thine hands be strengthened to go down to the host. An undefined fear pervades the ranks of evil. There are vague presages of approaching disaster.

III. But let us hasten on to consider the chief reason against pessimism, the highest ground for cherishing the spirit of the text. The vision recorded in this chapter is most beautiful and suggestive. The prophet sees a golden candelabrum, like that which had been in the old temple, but much grander. It has a bowl on the top of it, and beneath are seven lamps and seven pipes to the lamps, and on each side of the bowl stands an olive tree. The prophet is taught that his help is in God. As the lamp was supplied, not by human agency, but direct from the living trees, so he is to learn that evil will” be overthrown and righteousness exalted, “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” The advent of Jesus Christ into this world was the coming of one stronger than the strong man armed. It was the introduction of a new spiritual energy, a life-giving, restoring force. His whole work, and the consequent descent of His Spirit, show that God is on the side of man, and that the evils which have enslaved, defiled, degraded him shall be overcome. Truth, purity, love are on the throne of the universe. “The Lord reigneth, let the earth be glad.” And further, we are reminded that as we seek to overcome the mountains of evil which are in this world, we can only be qualified for our work as we receive the power of the Holy Ghost. To trust in our own strength, to place our dependence in men or means, to rely on ecclesiastical organisations and auxiliaries, will entail inevitable weakness and defeat. I read the other day of an Italian miser, who died near San Remo worth £120,000, who for years went without stockings because he grudged paying for the washing of them. Some Christian workers are guilty of a similar penuriousness with regard to the spiritual treasures, the “unsearchable riches,” which are at their disposal. Let us not be straitened in ourselves, for we are not straitened in God. Let us be of good cheer, and cultivate a bold, buoyant optimism. And let us be clear as to what is implied in the hope of the overthrow of evil and the establishment of righteousness. It is not implied that the millennium will be here in a fortnight, or that the progress of goodness is steady and uniform. Dalliance with the world may enfeeble the churches, and they may be shorn of their strength. Everything depends on the extent to which the Spirit of Christ prevails among men. The great mountain of evil is a crumbling mountain. Some of us have quailed before that mountain. Sin seems so fixed and strong. The characteristic evils of our nature seem so inveterate. (J. Lewis.)


Verse 10

Zechariah 4:10

Who hath despised the day of small things?

Great results from small beginnings

This has ever been a watchword among Christians; small beginnings are not to be despised. Apply--

I. To the institutions of religion. Four reasons why we should not despise the day of small things.

1. Because often the mightiest effects are produced from them, as in the world of nature; in the world of literature; in the world of politics. So in grace. What is it and what will it he? Yet what was its origin?

2. Because God’s vower can make the feeblest mighty for the accomplishment of His work.

3. We never know what God intends to do by our understanding. Prescience is not ours. Not having it, we cannot see what God will do.

4. In matters of religion, what is comparatively little is abstractedly great. Then if you want to do much for God, do not generalise so much. Do not be discouraged by seeing how many are unsaved, look at the one saved.

II. To personal and private religion. Religion is often small in its commencement--sometimes rapid, sudden conviction, but ordinarily more slow. This day of small things may be despised by scorn; by opposition; by neglect. First impressions are sacred; treat them as such. The day of small things is not despised by those who best know its value; the Father of Mercies; the Son; Angels; or Satan. It is the pledge of greater days that are coming. Apply to ministers; parents; Sabbath school teachers; the lately awakened. (J. Summefield, A. M.)

Small beginnings

Despondency paralyses exertion, but hope stimulates and supports it. Despondency is never so likely to be felt as at the commencement of an undertaking, when there are few to support it and many to oppose it; when the beginning is so small as to excite the apprehensions of its friends and the derision of its enemies. The Jews who returned from the Babylonish captivity felt this when they applied themselves to the rebuilding of the temple. “Small beginnings are not to be despised,” Consider this sentiment--

I. In application to public institutions. The age in which we live is happily and honourably distinguished by a spirit of religious zeal So many are the associations throughout our country, for humane and pious purposes of every form, that charity, where it has but a solitary offering, is almost bewildered in its choice. Those only who have known by experience what it is to originate a new institution, especially if it be out of the ordinary routine of Christian effort, can form an adequate idea of the labour, patience, and heroism which are requisite to carry it to maturity, amidst the doubts of the sceptical, the mistakes of the ignorant, the misrepresentations of the slanderous, and the cold and selfish calculations of the lukewarm. But still, small beginnings are not to be despised.

1. The most wonderful effects have resulted from causes apparently very small. Illustrate from the natural, intellectual, and political world, and in the world of grace. Trace the cause of Protestantism to its commencement. Contemplate the progress of Methodism. Or note the beginnings of great missionary societies, or the Bible Society.

2. We should not despise the day of small things, because the power of God can still render the feeblest instruments productive of the greatest results. The feeblest preacher may be the honoured instrument of conversion, when the most eloquent has preached in vain.

3. However discouraging appearances may be, we never know what God really intends us to do, or to do by us. We can never look to the result of our actions in their influence upon others. No man who devotes himself to the cause of religious benevolence can say what use God intends to make of him, but it is often far greater than he is aware. Illustrate by Robert Raikes, or Wesley.

4. In religion, what may seem little by comparison, is, when viewed positively and absolutely, immensely great. We may offend against the injunction of the text by inattention. We do not advocate an indiscriminate precipitate zeal. Or by scorn. If the object of a scheme be good, if the means appear adapted to the end, let it not be contemned because it is at present in the infancy of its age, and of its strength. All that is sublime in Christianity was once confined to a little circle of poor men and women. Neglect is another way of sinning against the letter and spirit of the text. Especially let those who are the principal agents in schemes of benevolence beware of despising the day of small things. Let them not too soon sink into a state of depression. If they have fears, they should conceal them, and exhibit only their hopes.

II. Apply the sentiment of the text to personal religion.

1. Religion is often small in its commencement. This is not always the case. Sometimes a transformation of character takes place, as complete as it is rapid. But the usual process of this great change is much more slow. The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed. There are many ways in which the small beginning of personal religion may be despised. It may be ridiculed as the fanaticism of a weak mind, or the enthusiasm of a heated imagination, or the whim of a capricious taste. Ridicule is not unfrequently coupled with direct opposition, Men who find laughter avails nothing are very likely to exchange it for wrath. Neglect, however, is that which comes more immediately within the spirit of this part of the subject. The first appearances of religion in the soul do not always receive from others the prompt, affectionate, and skilful attention which they demand and deserve. First impressions, unless carefully watched, like the young buds of fruit trees in the spring, will soon fall off from the mind and come to nothing.

2. Reasons why the day of small things ought not to be despised. It is not despised by those who best know its importance. It is not neglected or contemned by the Eternal Father Angels do not despise it. The beginnings of religion lead on to great and glorious attainments. Our subject has its special admonition to ministers, and to parents, and to Sunday-school teachers, and to Christians generally. (John Angel James.)

The day of small things

I. Something about God. These words show us that humility is, if I may say so, a portion of the Divine character. He does not despise “the day of small things.” It is impossible to find lowliness in the Divine nature in its essence, because there is nothing upon which to base it. The life of God is a necessary life. There is room for this virtue in the Divine actions, though not in the Divine essence. Note the absence of ostentation in all God’s works of nature or of grace. Note the condescension of Divine providence. Not only in its prime, m its perfection, in its maturity, in its grand completeness, does God take delight in the soul, but in the nascent form of undeveloped life, the very foundation of the spiritual structure. He does not despise first beginnings; it is even true that in the “day of small things” God especially acts.

II. Something about small things. We despise little things, and think them beneath us. Our thoughts and measurements are so different from God’s thoughts and measurements. And this results from pride, which makes us think so many things beneath us, not worthy of care and of finish. It arises also from a certain ignorance of the value of little things. The text implies that they are important.

1. Because our life is made u of little things.

2. In their effect upon our spiritual life, because they require so much effort.

III. Something about ourselves.

1. It teaches us hope. God does not despise, because He sees in His eternal mind the results.

2. We learn patience from it.

3. It must fill us with emulation. This will make us persevere and long to make progress. (W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)

The regard of God for small beginnings, physical and spiritual

It was but a small and feeble remnant that returned from the captivity in Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. Their spirits broken by slavery, their cohesion imperfect, their resources limited, their well wishers few; the adversaries arrogant and numerous, the difficulties manifold and dispiriting. It was as if a fraction of a swarm of bees were striving to rebuild their hive under the ceaseless attacks of a cloud of malignant wasps or hornets. Their souls were exceedingly filled with contempt by the scorn of Sanballat, who cried aloud, “What do these feeble Jews? Will they revive the stones of the temple out of the heaps of burned rubbish? If a fox shall go up even he shall break down their stone wall.” Now this contempt of Sanballat well represents the scorn with which the great world regards all religious beginnings both in individual lives and in society. The notion which prevails so wisely as to the hopes of Christians might be expressed thus: “These aspirations of yours after union with the Infinite and Everlasting Cause, after an indestructible life in God, are too absurd. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and consider their magnificence, look upon the illimitable vastness of that celestial machinery, the number of those worlds on worlds, which shine through the eternal darkness; and then look down on yourselves, and at mankind, a cloud of ephemeral insects passing away. Who can believe that such ‘minims of nature’ have any permanent relation with the universe, much less with its Maker? Face the inevitable, and do not shrink from the nothingness which is your doom.” The one all-sufficing answer to these degrading counsels is to be found in the words of the prophet of the restoration. “Who hath despised the clay of small things?” The law of the Divine action is evolution from small beginnings, the development of all organic growths from germs, and the gradual transformation of lower into higher forms of being. Suppose the seeds of all the flora of the world in all its latitudes could be offered to our view in one panoramic vision. Who could suppose, apart from experience, that out of such a collection of black or grey or yellow dots, or tiny cones, or coloured berries, could spring the cloud-piercing forests of the tropics, or of the American Andes, and all the radiant glories of the flowers, shrubs, and trees of the temperate zones? Who could believe that such a marvellous universe of lovely form and lovelier colour lay hid under the appearance of such insignificant beginnings? Extend the thought to the world of birds, to the development of their airy figures and varied plumages, and places of abode, and modes of living, all springing from invisible vital germs concealed in eggs throughout all their uncountable millions of millions; and finally enlarge the conception by taking in the whole animal world similarly developed. Who after such a review could rationally despise the day of small things? It is a world unceasingly renewed from invisible points of life--points of life developed under a Divine pervading power into the universe of wonders that we see around us. The visible and material is a type of the unseen. “First the seed, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear. So is the kingdom of God.” And this leads us directly to the Divine lessons inculcated by the prophet in the name of the living God: “Who hath despised the day of small things?”--the lessons learned from God Himself and His own loving procedure

1. The old Latin proverb teaches us that “great reverence is due to the young.” Oftentimes there is very little of this shown to them. Many of the most unpleasant qualities of children are frequently the direct result of the infamous treatment which they receive from their elders. Try to be a sun to your planets, not raining down on them only the cold light of instruction and reproof, but the warmer rays of a beneficent friendship. Wise words cannot take the place of loving deeds. Flowers must have sunshine. Souls must have tenderness. If you “despise the day of small things” here, you despise the foundations of the future structures of the temple of the Lord.

2. In the same manner respect the beginnings of early religion. Many adult Christians appear to have no faith in the reality and value of early piety. Let us never despise the day of small things, but understanding our Lord’s regard for elementary faith and love, never be detected in breaking, as unworthy of reliance, the bruised reed of childhood, or quenching the tiny spark on its smoking flax.

3. In the same manner we have to learn, if ourselves established Christians, to understand and sympathise with the imperfect development of character in the earlier stages of adhesion to the Son of God. It would be delightful if all Christians were suddenly struck into perfection, as a disc of gold is struck with some heroic image on one side, and with St. George’s victory over the dragon on the other. But it is not so. The plant of righteousness is a growth. The temple slowly rises. The formation of the Divine likeness is both a creative and an imitative process. Children are childish in both worlds. But who hath despised the immature stages of development? It is as if you enter a sculptor’s studio. You see here an almost shapeless lump of clay; there a mass beginning to put on the human form; there a bust beginning to speak with the lines of nobleness or beauty; there a piece of marble undergoing the first rougher process of assimilation; there an artist at work with hammer and chisel, striking frequent blows with passionate ardour, as said Michael Angelo, as if he would “set free the imprisoned angel”; there the master hand at work on his final touches, which are to breathe soul into the stone, and beauty and life into the dead material, and to impress on it, perhaps, a likeness which shall transmit to future ages the countenance which overawed or delighted contemporary generations. Even so in the Church you see souls in all stages of progress under the Supreme Artist’s touch. Learn, then, to tolerate the defects of incipient development. We know not what we shall be, and we see not what others will be. Simon, the passionate fisherman of Bethsaida, became the steadfast and devoted Rock, or Petra, on which Christ has built His Church. The Son of thunder became the Apostle of love. The ferocious and murderous Saul became the gentle and all-embracing father of the Gentile Churches. God only knows what He will bring out of any thing. Man can bring light out of the blackest coal, and the colours of the rainbow in the aniline dyes are extracted from gas tar. And so God can convert carbon into the diamond, and souls swarming with many devils, into the “sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty.” How hopeful as well as tolerant should such a retrospect make us in relation to the unfinished individualities around us. We must see the “end of the Lord” before we judge of tits work. There is but one Eye that sees the end from the beginning, and that is the eye of the Eternal. That which is last to our thought is first to Him. The evolutionary prospect is ever before Him, and in looking at each creature He sees what that creature shall become in all the stages of its future eternity. We know not what we shall be; but we know that to despise small things now is to contradict the processes of Divine thought, and to flout the methods of Divine procedure. Each soul is the subject of a work which will never end, under the hand of the Omnipotent Designer. And that which will satisfy us, when we awake in His likeness, and will satisfy Him when He rests with delight, and sees His work to be “very good,” in the endless Sabbath, will also satiate the desires of His under-workmen. Oh, what will be the heaven of such a man as St. Paul! It is this vision, in its different degrees of glory, which the Omniscient Mind sees beforehand for all God’s servants in the eternal future; and it is because He sees it, that He warns us never to “despise the day of small things”; because each soul is what God sees it to be, not only now, but in its future development. (Edward White.)

God’s blessing on the day of small things

1. God’s great mind, so infinitely above our level, does not perceive all the distinctions we are wont to make between what we denominate great and small. To a person greatly elevated, all below--people and buildings--appears equally small, even so Jehovah is too high to perceive the various grades of greatness and littleness into which we are accustomed to divide the affairs of life.

2. It has ever been God’s plan to work from apparently small beginnings; had He chosen He could have commanded great things at once into existence, but He has said, “A little one shall become a thousand,” etc. (Isaiah 60:22). The great Saviour came into the world as a weak babe: His great kingdom commenced with twelve men, most of whom were unlearned. Mark the insignificant beginnings of modern missions, of Sunday Schools, or of our Christian Endeavour Movement! Truly, “God chose the foolish things of the world that He might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world that He might put to shame the things that are strong,” etc. (1 Corinthians 1:27).

3. These who despise the day of small things will never accomplish great works. It is dangerous and disastrous to make light of the small beginnings of evil, sin, or bad habits. The modern scientific theory of germs may be used as an apt illustration, showing how the neglect of even infinitesimal atoms is the cause of so much fatal disease.

4. The tenderness of God comes out in His regard for the small and weak. “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench, till He send forth judgment unto victory” (Matthew 12:20). Our Lord often referred to the small beginnings of His kingdom, comparing them to “seeds,” “a grain of mustard seed,” “a little leaven” (Matthew 11:1-30.). The day of small things is the day of precious things, but we are not to be satisfied until it becomes the day of great things.

5. Small things marked the beginning of the work in the hand of Zerubbabel, so small was the foundation in the eyes of those who had seen the glory of the former temple, that “they wept with a loud voice” (Ezra 3:12) at the comparison; but God assured them that, in the latter end, its glory should be greater, inasmuch as the Messiah Himself would stand within its walls, and His Gospel be proclaimed therein (Acts 5:42).

6. There is great comfort here, for all depressed builders of the spiritual temple. The work progresses so slowly, that we are often discouraged. But let the work of grace be ever so small in Its beginnings, the plummet is in good hands. The great Master Builder will surely accomplish that which He begins. Jesus Christ lathe finisher as well as the author of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

7. “God’s blessing on it” is the secret of all success. Work, great or small, without this is utter failure. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6). (E. J. B.)

Folly of despising small things

Value of little things may be seen in--

I. God’s providential dealings with His Church. Give illustrations from both Old Testament and New, from the Reformation, and from modem missionary societies.

II. In the development of the inner life.

1. In the training of children.

2. In the formation of habits; both good and bad. Conclusion--

The day of small things

No doubt many of the Jews had looked with a sort of contempt on the apparently insignificant beginning which had been made towards restoring the religion of their fathers, and had discouraged one another by insinuating that what commenced with so much feebleness was never likely to reach a successful termination. They might have known better. Just because there seemed to be but little proportion between the agency and the end, they decided at once that success was hardly to be looked for, and that it was useless to persevere in an endeavour so palpably hopeless. These Jews have been imitated by men of every age. Much of the evil that exists in the world may be traced to the despising “the day of small things.”

I. The reasons which lie against such despising. God is wont to work through instruments or means, which in human calculation are disproportioned to the ends which He designs to accomplish. He does not always take what appears to us a mighty agency, when a mighty result is to be achieved. There is in us all a tendency to ascribe to second causes what ought to be ascribed directly to the First. It is by the day of small things that God ordinarily interposes those great revolutions and deliverances which alter the whole state, whether of nations or of individuals. God ordinarily commences with what appears inconsiderable.

II. Certain cases in which the “day of small things” is despised, with the consequences that are thence likely to ensue. We are likely to make light of small things. Take the case of the slave of bad habits. Few plunge immediately into evil. Most men begin by deviating from the right in some one small particular. And it is thin small beginning which it is perilous to despise. Observe the ordinary course followed by God in His spiritual operations on unconverted men. They are not for the most part to be distinguished from the operations of their own minds. There is a small beginning of influence which it is perilous to despise. (Henry Melvill, B. D.)

Small things

1. What are we to understand by the “day of small things”? It is the course of God that the beginning shall be small to lead to great effects. We see this in creation, in providence, and in grace. In many a young and tender heart there has been just a thought, then a misgiving, then a desire, then a prayer. And that was just the day of small things: it was the first dawning of a bright day. When God begins the work, He carries it on in His own way, therefore perseverance is the great mark of effectual calling. Think of those who, though not young in years, are the weak in faith. They are always wavering between hopes and fears. Wherever we look we may see a “day of small things.”

II. Who hath despised it? God does not. Jesus will not despise them. Take care lest you should be found despising it. Apply to ministers, parents, teachers. The gradual work in souls is little discernible, but, when duly reflected on, it is as clearly to be traced out as any other. (J. H. Evans.)

The significance of apparent trifles

I. Illustrations from nature.

1. The seed.

2. The mountain rivulet.

3. The spark.

4. The child.

II. Illustrations from providence.

1. Scriptural, as Joseph, Moses, David, Esther.

2. General, as Cromwell, Napoleon.

III. Illustrations from the history of the Church.

1. Introduction of the Gospel.

2. Reformation.

3. The religious denominations.

4. Benevolent and religious institutions. (G. Brooks.)

The day of small things

It is a “day of small things” with you as regards your--

I. Conviction of sin. How easy it is to know ourselves to be sinners, how hard to feel ourselves to be such. We distress ourselves because it seems to us as if we could not repent. But beware of imagining that a certain number of tears, a certain standard of repentance is to qualify you for the blessings of Christ’s salvation. Try yourself thus, “How do I feel with regard to sin? Have I any desire to be rid of it in its power, as well as in its consequences? Do I feel any real degree of hatred towards it? Do I desire to hate it?” If you can answer in the affirmative, this is a sure proof that God’s Spirit has not forsaken you. The Spirit’s office is to convince of sin.

II. Faith. Your cry is, “Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief.” You have no doubts as to the power of Christ’s work; but you can scarcely believe there is salvation for you. Many are in darkness and disquietude through lack of faith. It may be a “day of small things” as regards your faith in God’s providence.

III. Christian graces and the practical influence of religion on the life. This again is a source of deep humiliation and much disquietude to you. Be not discouraged. The work of grace is gradual; you cannot sow the seed and have blossom and fruit in a day.

IV. Spiritual peace and joy. It cannot be presumption to claim what God bestows, what Christ has purchased.

V. Religious knowledge. You find many difficulties in the Bible. As yet you seem to understand only “first principles of the doctrine of Christ.” How then are you to go on to perfection? The Spirit, to teach and enlighten, as well as to sanctify and comfort you, is covenanted to you. You shall grow in knowledge as in grace. (John C. Miller.)

The day of small things not to be despised

In this message God reproved those who had regarded the new temple with contempt, and those also who thought that they were unable to finish it. He informed them that the work was His, that it was to be effected not by human might nor power, but by His Spirit. Zerubbabel should finish it, and those who had despised the feeble commencement of the work should witness its completion.

I. In all God’s works there is usually a “day of small things.” There is a season in which His work makes but a very small and unpromising appearance. Illustrate from the beginnings of the Christian Church, and from the work of grace in the hearts of individuals.

II. Many persons despise “the day of small things.” God’s enemies did so in Zechariah’s time. The friends of God do. They think too little of it; they undervalue it, and they are by no means sufficiently thankful for it, and therefore may be said, comparatively speaking, to despise it. Illustrate, times of religious revival generally begin with persons of no social standing, and so revivals are often despised. Even Christians too lightly esteem the work of God in their own hearts.

III. Reasons why it ought not to be despised.

1. Such conduct tends to prevent its becoming a day of great things.

2. Because the inhabitants of heaven, whose judgment is according to truth, do not despise it.

3. Because our Saviour does not despise it. “The smoking flax He will not quench.”

4. Our Heavenly Father does not despise it.

5. Because it is the commencement of a day of great things. Apply--

Weak grace encouraged

It is not easy to determine what is small. Things, at first apparently trivial and uninteresting, often become very great and momentous. It is so in nature, in science, in political affairs, in moral concerns. What inference should we derive hence? A philosopher will not despise the day of small things; a statesman will not; a moralist will not--and should a Christian? Apply the question entirely to the subject of religion.

1. The work of grace in the soul is frequently small in its commencement. The Christian is a soldier, and the beginning of his career is naturally the day of small things. The Christian is a scholar; and when he enters the school, it is, of course, a “day of small things;” he begins with the rudiments.

2. Three reasons why the day of small things is not to be despised.

The day of small things

Contempt for small beginnings is one of the most ordinary displays of the human disposition, in all departments of affairs, but especially in things connected with sacred interests. Divers of the great powers and influential systems, good or evil, that have had a mighty effect, have in their apparently insignificant origin been despised. Individuals appointed to be of the greatest importance in the world have often experienced contempt in the beginning of their career. This is true of David, and it is in a sense true of the Son of Man. The vain world has always been peculiarly disposed to an unhesitating contempt of the small beginnings of Divine operations, to attribute meanness to what had a relation to infinite greatness. The Christian cause itself, in its early stage, was an object of extreme scorn; every ignominious epithet was connected with the name of a Christian. So fared the great Reformation. We comment on the tendency in men to indulge contempt for good things, in the littleness and weakness of their beginnings and early operations. The case with our world is, that man, having lost his original goodness, was to be under an economy of discipline, for his correction and practical restoration; but that the operation for this was not to be sudden, but by various processes, commencing in an apparent littleness of agency, power, and scope, so as to appear, in human judgment, incompetent to a great purpose. Why has the Sovereign Wisdom appointed it so? It is a higher discipline for the servants of God, as agents in a good cause, as it brings their principle of obedience under a more plain, unequivocal proof. It tends to keep them under a direct, pressing conviction that all the power is of God. They will also have a stronger sense of the value of the good that is so hardly and so slowly accomplished. Can we expose the error and injustice of this disposition to despise small beginnings? It comes from not duly apprehending the preciousness of what is good, in any, even the smallest portion of it. Any essential good, in the highest sense, is a thing of inexpressible value: especially so in an evil world, where it is scattered among baser elements. Again, in the indulgence of this disposition, it is left out of sight, how much, in many cases, was requisite to be previously done, to bring the small beginning into existence at all: it did not start into existence of itself. Though small, it may have been the result of a large combination. Another thing is that we are apt to set far too high a price on our own efforts and services. Far enough from small, truly, have been our labours, expenditures, sacrifices, self-denials, inconveniences, pleadings, perhaps prayers. Our self-importance cannot endure that so much of our agency, ours, should be consumed for so small a result. A tenth part of the pains should have done as much. It is not an equivalent; and it is a hard doom to work on such terms. Again, we overmeasure our brief span of mortal existence. We want all that is done for the world to be done in our time. We want to contract the Almighty’s plan to our own limits of time, and to precipitate the movement, that we may clearly see the end of it. In all this there is the impiety of not duly recognising the supremacy of God. The grand essential of religion--faith--is wanting; faith in the unerring wisdom of the Divine scheme and determinations: faith in the goodness of God. With such faith let us look on the “day of small things,” and remonstrate against the tendency to despise it; whether it be in good men, from impatience, and a very censurable self-importance; or in worldly men, from irreligion. Look into the natural world, as having an analogy emblematical of a higher order of things. In nature we see many instances of present actual littleness containing a powerful principle of enlargement: such as the seed of a plant, the germ of a flower, the acorn of the oak. In fire there is a mysterious principle of tremendous power. Does the parent despise the day of small things in his infant? Turn to the kingdom of God on earth, the promotion of which is the cause of God. There the small things are to be estimated according to what they are to become. But what things, as yet comparatively small, come under this description? We answer all things, judiciously and in good faith, attempted to promote the best cause, that is, to diminish the awful sum of human depravity and misery. Efforts to diminish ignorance. The topic includes the progress of genuine Christianity. Looking abroad, we can but think it a “day of small things” for Christianity. But what is it, that, on this account, shall be despised? Is it Christianity itself, or is it God who sent it? We may be confident that when God makes or causes a beginning of a good work, it is intended for progress and expansion. Now to remonstrate and warn against “despising.” To a decidedly irreligious contemner, we might say, “Beware what you do; for if the thing be of God you are daring Him by your contempt.” There is also admonition to those who are too apt to fall into something like what the text describes,--not from hostility to religion and general improvement, but from want of faith,--from indolence, cowardice, or mere worldly calculation,--reckoning on things without reckoning on God. To undervalue is in a certain sense to “despise.” Shall there not be an admonition to examine whether pride, or sluggishness, or covetousness have not something to do with it? In some cases, it partly proceeds from the less blamable cause of a gloomy, apprehensive, disconsolate constitution of mind,--looking on the dark side,--dismayed by difficulties,--prone to fear the most and hope the least, dwelling on remembered and recorded failures more than on successes. But there may be the interference of pride. A man shall have such a notion of himself, and of a good cause, as to deem it unbefitting his dignity to connect or concern himself with it. It is not of an order, or in a state, to reflect any honour on a man of his high sentiments, refined habits, or consideration in society. With some men a good work or design is of “small” account, when it has not the quality for rousing the sluggish temperament, nothing to excite gaze and wonder. Covetousness is one of the most decided practical “despisings.” Most truly does a man treat the good things as contemptibly small, when he deems them not worth his money, that is, money which he could afford. We would rather refer to such as were not positively enemies, whose “despising,” in a mitigated sense of the word, was from little faith, self-sparing, false prudence, worldly calculation. They have lived to see that the good cause can do without them, and that there were more generous, liberal, magnanimous spirits to be found in the community. Well, at all events, the good cause of God, of Christ, of human improvement, is certain, is destined to advance and triumph. It may at last be seen that the whole course of the world, from the beginning to the end, was “a day of small things,” as compared with the sequel--only as a brief introduction to an immense and endless economy. (John Foster.)

Christian appreciation of little things

Zerubbabel was taught of the Lord to hold in due esteem even the imperfect commencement already made, and to regard with a degree of assurance and satisfaction the feeble results his hands had already wrought. This is but one of the uncounted instances, both in Scripture and in nature, of the affectionate interest with which God regards “little things.” It is not quite easy and natural for us to think of God as putting all the skill of His thought and interest of His heart in the small matters of His providence and His workmanship. In all our attempts to figure and localise Him, we resort instantly and spontaneously to words that represent immensity of height, and breadth, and circuit. It is not the drop, but the ocean--not the pebble, but the mountain that seems to us redolent of Divine suggestion, and freighted with Divine presence. This tendency prompts us to see God in the flashing of the lightning, and to hear Him in the pealing of the thunder, but makes us deaf to Him in the pattering of the rain, the sighing of the wind, and the twittering of the sparrow. Happy is the man and the prophet that has the ear to detect the Divineness that lodges in the little quiet voices of God’s works and providences. It is only when we pass into the New Testament that we get the best assurances of God’s distributed regard, and of His detailed interest and affection. It is the genius of the Gospel to try and convince men of God’s fatherly concern for us. But fatherly concern always particularises and individualises: and so in the Gospel there is not much about the sky, but a great deal about the ground: not much about masses of men, but about individual men. God feeds the bird, paints the lily, clothes the grass. “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Christ’s history, from the Baptism to the Ascension, is mostly made up of little words, little deeds, little prayers, little sympathies, adding themselves together in unwearied succession. One reason why we have no more continuous and solid comfort in our Christian life is, that we are looking and feeling after great joys, and neglecting and failing to economise the multitude of little blessings that are within reach, and that, if husbanded and cultivated, would go, in most cases, to compose a life quite substantially delightful and quite solidly comfortable. It is not well to pray for great joys. There is something disturbing and unsettling in them. It is a great deal better to pray that we may have our hearts let into an appreciation of our everyday joys, and into an appreciation of the goodness of God in that these everyday joys come to a very quiet but very steady expression. We want a Christian genius for infusing sublimity into trifles. Some one has said, “It is better that joy should be spread over all the day, in the form of strength, than that it should be concentrated into ecstasies, full of danger, and followed by reactions.” Our lives would be more fruitful if we let our hearts feel the incessant droppings of heavenly mercy. The constant dropping of God’s little goodnesses seems designed, not so much for their own sakes, but, like the constant dropping of the rain, that they may be to us a kind of heavenly fertility, soaking in at the soul’s pores, and sinking down around the roots of our manly Christian purposes, nourishing those purposes, becoming absorbed into them, and so quickening them, building them up, and pushing them on to fructification. What capacity even the most commonplace living has for affording us discipline. A good angel really hides in every provocation and petty exasperation. The little tests that are given to our temper, our faith, our affection, our consecration, are more efficacious than the larger and more imposing ones. They take us when we are off our guard. There is something in great occasions that nerves us to powers of endurance not properly our own. We ought to show great respect for little opportunities of service and patent continuance in small well-doings. (Charles H. Parkhurst, D. D.)

Duty in relation to the little

I. It is seldom wise to despise “the day of small things.” This is shown by history and observation. Look at nature. Into the hand of an infant may be put an acorn which shall be the parent of many forests. The Wye and the Severn may be turned whithersoever you please at their source, and a child may step over them. At their outset they are indebted to the very smallest possible rill, and even to the tears of rushes. Look at men. Rembrandt painted in a smithy; Pascal traced his Euclid with chalk; Wilkie drew his first rough sketch on the white-washed wails of his father’s rooms with a burnt stick; and it was with a burnt stick on his father’s barn door that one of Wales’s most celebrated preachers learned to write. Luther was but the son of a miner, Carey a shoemaker, and Morrison a last maker! And who can help going back to the humble company of the Galilean fisherman who afterwards turned the world upside down. Sydney Smith made sport of the Baptist Missionary Society, because the first collection on its behalf was only £13, 2s. 6d.; and to come to a recent Lancashire political movement, who can forget the Anti-corn law league’s “day of small things” and subsequent grand success?

II. It is generally wrong to despise “the day of small things.”

1. There is a heartlessness in it. It is during “the day of small things” that men need sympathy and help. Johnson in composing his dictionary, and many others in all fields of labour. “To him that hath shall be given.” At one point in a man’s history, a kind word, a sympathising look, and a cordial grasp of the hand will be felt to be of more service than any amount of money at a subsequent stage in his career.

2. There is a cowardice in it. The cowardice of sneering at honest, well-meant efforts on a small scale.

3. There is an injustice in it. The injustice of withholding encouragement and praise from men who so act as to deserve success, whether they succeed or not. Blessed is the man who still believes that “wisdom is better than folly, though it fail to bring him bread during the reign of fools.” The right--the Christian thing should take precedence of all calculations as to the scale of operations. The right must be weighed in its own scales--tested by its own standard.

The extreme importance of not “despising the day of small things” in regard to--

1. The formation of bad and irreligious habits.

2. The formation of religious habits, and the cherishing of religious impressions and convictions.

3. The present attainments and spiritual stature of professing and real Christians.

4. The final prevalence of Christianity throughout the world. (Homilist.)

Day of small things--A talk with children

We are all inclined to underestimate the importance of little things whenever we see them. We should not despise them--

1. Because small things are often too powerful to be despised. Our enemies are microbes, not lions. The discoveries of science are chiefly in the direction of showing the terror of small things.

2. Because of the exceeding beauty of small things. Illustrate by the revelations of the microscope. Their beauty teaches us that God has taken care to make, not only big things, but even the smallest things exquisitely beautiful. He is such a perfect worker that He would not do anything imperfectly. And with us, careful attention to little things will help to form a noble character for life. If you become negligent and slovenly in school you will, by and by, be slovenly in life. There is no knowing what little things may become as time unfolds. You little children, learn of Jesus Christ and His love, and you may turn out a great reformer, or such an one as Luther, Knox, Wesley, Spurgeon, or Florence Nightingale. Then never treat small opportunities with indifference, but consider that every great thing has come from a little beginning, and that a great life, as a rule, consists of many little things well done. (David Davies.)

Small things

(to children):--You, my children, are living in the day of small things, the day of little sorrows and little joys and little sins and little thoughts and words, but do not despise the day of small things. The greatest results, both of good and evil, come from small beginnings. There is an old fable that the trees of the forest once held a meeting, to complain of the injuries which the woodman’s axe had done them. All the trees determined that none of them would give any wood to make a handle for their enemy the axe. The axe went travelling up and down the forest, begging the oak and the elm, the cedar and the ash, to give him wood enough for a handle, but they all refused. At last the axe begged for just enough wood, only a little bit, to enable him to cut down the brambles, which were choking the roots of the trees. Well, they agreed to this, and gave him a little wood, but no sooner had the axe got a handle than the cedar and the oak, the ash and the elm, and all the trees were cut down. So is it with sins and bad habits. They begin with a very small beginning; the tempter whispers, “Is it not a little one?” and then, if you yield to them, they cut you down and destroy you. Remember that one single worm can kill a whole tree. Never think sin is a trifle; it may seem small to you, but it is none the less dangerous. A scorpion is a very small reptile, but it can sting a lion to death. There are plenty of ruined men and women, who began as children by being too idle to get up betimes in the morning, and to do their work. If you want to get rid of the weeds in your garden, pull them up when they are young; don’t give them time to grow strong and run to seed. If you want to grow up to be good men and women, try to get the better of bad habits whilst you are young. One of the labours of Hercules was to kill the hydra, a horrible monster with one hundred heads. As fast as one head was cut off two more grew in its place unless the wound was stopped with fire. We have all got some kind of a monster like the hydra to fight with. Perhaps your monster is bad temper, or laziness, or untruthfulness. You must fight against your monster, and cut off its head. And you must get the wound burnt with fire, that the heads may not grow again. I mean, that you must pray to God to help you, and to send the fire of the Holy Spirit to your assistance. Little sins seem like trifles to us. Well, a grain of sand seems a very little thing too, yet millions of grains of sand form a desert, and bury the traveller beneath them. When we do wrong for the sake of pleasing ourselves we think it a small matter, and look forward to having our own way. But we find in time that what we get lay our sin crushes us at last. In the early days of Rome the governor of the citadel, the strongest part of the town, had a daughter called Tarpeia. When the Sabines, a neighbouring tribe, came to attack Rome, Tarpeia promised to open the gates to the enemies of her people. As a reward she asked for what the Sabines carried on their left hands, meaning their golden bracelets. When the treacherous woman had let them in the king of the Sabines not only threw his bracelet upon Tarpeia, but also his heavy shield, which was carried on the left hand. His followers did the same, and Tarpeia was crushed beneath the shields and bracelets. So it is with sin. “The wages of sin is death.” Again little words seem trifles, but they are very important. Such words as “I shan’t,” “I won’t,” “I don’t care,” have made many a parent’s heart sad, and spoilt many a promising life. (H. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)

Small, but enough

In Sir Henry M. Stanley’s account of his African experiences he tells of his first encounter with a pigmy tribe that used poisoned arrows. With contemptuous smiles the young men drew out the tiny darts, flung, them away, and continued answering the savages with rifle shots. When the day a fight was over the wounds, which were mere punctures, were syringed with warm water and bandaged, but soon the poison began to be felt, and all who were wounded either died after terrible suffering, or had their constitutions wrecked or were incapacitated for a long time. So the smallest sin does its work in the heart and life, sooner or later. Small, but growing:--When the father of William the Conqueror was departing to the Holy Land he called together the peers of Normandy, and required them to swear allegiance to his young son, who was a mere infant. When the barons smiled at the feeble babe the king promptly replied to their smile: “He may be little now, but he will grow.” And he did grow. That same baby hand ere long ruled the nation with a rod of iron. The same may be said of evil in its tiniest form: “It is little, but it will grow.” Once let the smallest sin gain the upper hand, and it will destroy the whole life.

No influence is small

The great tendency in many Christians of circumscribed lives is to believe that their influence is small. Tell them that they have a large influence over the people among whom they live, and they will at once dispute it and perhaps blush at the thought of their having any perceptible degree of influence. And this is true of many Christians of acknowledged piety, ability, and clean records. And it is because of this feeling that not a few of these good people do not put forth that effort to reach and help others which they easily might. They are afflicted with a modesty which underrates the real measure of their power and possible ministry. Better realise, Christian brother, that, however weak and narrow your ability may seem to you to be, your influence is never small, but always large. You cannot make it otherwise if you would. An eminent preacher says: “Do not fear that your influence be small; no influence is small: but even if it were, the aggregate of small influences is far more irresistible than the most vigorous and heroic of isolated efforts.” Did you ever think of the influence which the odour of a little bed of flowers has? Everything around that bed is influenced by it; everyone coming near it is consciously affected by it. Do not excuse yourself from duty of any sort on the plea of having no influence. (G. H. Wetherbe.)

A little woman and a big war

When Mrs. Stowe, who wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” visited the white House, President Lincoln bent over her, saying: “And this is the little woman who made this big war?” The freeing of the serfs in Russia was the result of thoughts aroused by the reading of the novelist’s story, so the Czar told Turgenef.

The resolution of a moment

At Toulon, Napoleon, looking out of the batteries, drew back a step to let some one take his place. The next moment the new-arrived was killed. That step brought the French Empire, and made possible the bloody role of its victories and defeats. The rout at Waterloo turned on a shower of rain hindering Grouchy’s advance. The resolution of a moment with some men has been the turningpoint of infinite issues to a world. (J. C. Geikie.)

Great results from small beginnings

A little babe is born in a poor miner’s home at Eiselben, Saxony, November 1483. Few notice his birth, but in 1519 Martin Luther shakes the foundation of the papal throne, and saves Europe from gross ignorance and superstition. August 25th, 1759, William Wilberforce was born at Hull who imagined that this small babe would one day become the saviour of the slaves, and that on August 15th, 1838, 800,000 African bondsmen would rend the air with cries of “Freedom’s come”?

Nothing should be despised

Down at Greenock there, on an ordinary working man’s hob, there is a kettle boiling. Kettles have boiled in Scotland millions of times before. Listen to the lid. “Rat-a-tat!” Listen! Don’t judge it! The ears of a genius are suddenly fixed on the sound of the lid that is raised by the bubbling of the boiling water. What have you there? You have the birth of the giant steam forces that are abroad on the world today. Don’t be hasty either about men or method--about workers or work; you never know what it is to grow to, if God be in it. Over in an American State there is a kite flying as the thundercloud is coming across the sky, and there is a man holding the string like a silly schoolboy. “Oh, what an undignified thing,” you say. And he has a key in his hand. He is tapping away at the bottom there, when suddenly a spark is seen. What are you going to say about it? A small thing, yet perhaps one of the mightiest events that ever took place in this world. It is the birth of electricity--the birth of the electric forces that bind the Antipodes to our shores. Ah, be careful! When God is in it you do not know what is to come out of it. But these men, though chosen by God, have got no extra intellect. They have no extra learning, and would have been passed by even for a Socialistic propaganda. It was not likely that these men should carry the banner of the Cross as they did. “Only a little chit of a boy,” the elder said at a Scottish communion; “only one chit of a boy joined us this communion”; and he thought the minister was wasting his time, night after night, with that little chit of a boy. But in that Scottish parish there was never such a communion, never such a joining of the Church; for that little boy was Robert Moffat, Africa’s missionary. Never despise anything, for you never know to what it will grow. (John Robertson.)

The day of small things

This very sweet and evangelical minor prophet bore his burden of prophecy after the return from the Babylonish Captivity. The second temple, erected in his time, was of no esteem in the sight of the people, few and poor as they were, whose fathers had boasted to them of the glory of the first temple. But the prophet cheers them as his fellow prophet Haggai did, who said, “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former!” In this despised temple the people would know that the Lord of hosts had sent His servant to them. Man is never so apt to err as in coming to hasty conclusion with regard to God’s dealing with him.

I. Ours is a day of small things.

1. We live in a small world. Many worlds that surround us in space greatly exceed ours in size. We stand, as it were, upon an atom of God’s material creation.

2. Our bodies are small portions of this world. Over these alone we have immediate control, and that in a very partial degree.

3. Our faculties are few. We have but five senses of the body and five of the mind. These are at our command in a limited and imperfect manner.

4. Our knowledge of matter is small. Nature is ever sparing in her revelations.

5. Our knowledge of the Divine Mind is small.

II. This day should not be despised. Why should it? It is ours. No one despises his own. Despise--

1. Not small opportunities of obtaining religious knowledge. This is the chief knowledge. Its smallest morsels are more precious than pearl dust. Religious knowledge is useful for two lives--a guide for both worlds.

2. Not small opportunities of doing good for Christ. We have not all abundance of wealth to enrich God’s sanctuary. Few have ten talents to occupy until He comes.

3. Not small sins in their earliest stage. However small, they are deviations from the right path; the lines containing a small angle, if produced far, become far asunder. As large rivers spring from small sources, so small sins soon grow to be large. Sinning is strengthened by habit, and increases in its onward course.

4. Not small chastisements for sin.

5. Not small religious impressions. You may never get stronger ones to start with. By being timely cherished they will grow in strength. Why we should not. Because our present day is but the infancy of our being. Our brief time will give birth to an eternity; a dwarf will be the parent of a giant. We shall have to give an account of how we spend it. Why should we differ from others with regard to the day of small things? God despises not small things; if He did, He would not have created so many of them. Nor does the Church; it receives the weakest in the faith, and performs the smallest duties. Nor does the Evil One, with his malicious craftiness. (J. Bowen Jones, B. A.)


Verses 11-14

Zechariah 4:11-14

What are these two olive trees

The candlestick and the olive trees

In the parable of Zechariah we have the picture of a lamp supplied not by a limited quantity of oil contained in metal or earthenware vessels, but by an unlimited Unfailing quantity from a living source.
It was not part of the produce of an olive harvest that kept the candlestick burning brightly; for that supply would in course of time have been exhausted: even the whole crop of olives of one year would in course of time have failed. And what a beautiful symbol of the bountifulness and enduringness of grace this is! We do not get a limited, carefully measured supply from Christ, but an unlimited, ever-flowing fulness. He will supply all our need; not according to our own sense of need, but according to His riches in glory. Christ came not that we might have a bare life, snatched from the condemnation of the law, but that we might have more abundant life than man originally possessed in his unfallen state. It is not pardon and acquittal only that He gives us, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Where our sin abounds His grace doth much more abound. God carefully measures His afflictive dispensations, and sends trials and sorrows in small doses, as it were; just as the apothecary measures out in a carefully graduated medicine glass the bitter or poisonous medicines that are necessary to cure our sicknesses. But God pours His joys and blessings into our souls in such lavish bountifulness that there is not room in them to contain them. He wishes not only that His joy may be in us, but that our joy may be full. The two olive trees that feed the visionary candlestick, one on each side, may be said to represent the twofold character of Christ’s personality,--His Divine and human natures. Another idea implied in the symbol of the text besides this of exhaustless abundance is spontaneity--freeness. The olive trees pour their oil into the lamps freely as well as fully. The oil that feeds the candlestick has not to be first gathered in the berries, extracted in the oil press, manufactured by the art of man, sold by the merchant, bought and earned by the sweat of the face. Not in this roundabout, laborious, artificial way, but directly, by a spontaneous, natural process, do the olive trees contribute of their fulness to the supply of the lamps; and thus it is that the grace of God is freely given to us. Not by laborious mechanical arts and efforts, but by a living faith, a simple trust, do we obtain the supplies of our spiritual need from Christ. We have not to work for them, but only to freely receive them as they are freely offered to us. How striking is the contrast between the way in which we get the fruits of sin and the tree of life! We stretch out our hand to pluck the forbidden fruit. We take it ourselves, in defiance of God’s command--by force, by deceit, by trouble, by methods that cost us toil and pain. But God gives to us to eat of the tree of life. We have not to stretch forth the hand to pluck it; it is given into our hand, into our mouth. God’s unspeakable gift is freely bestowed. The olive trees that feed the lamp of your faith and love are planted in no earthly soil, and are dependent upon no earthly means of culture. They grow without your toil or care in heavenly light and air. Their harvests are regulated by the unchanging laws of God’s covenant of grace. Your Father is the husbandman. Your Saviour has finished the whole work of grace, and you do not require to add to it. The less you interfere with its working the better. The Kingdom of Heaven is indeed as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of itself--first the blade, then the ear, and after that the full corn in the ear. He who is the author of your faith will be the finisher of it; and having begun the good work of grace in you, He will carry it on and complete it; and therefore the more poor in spirit you are, the more empty and destitute, the more will the Kingdom of Heaven be yours, the more room and freedom will it have to work out in you the good pleasure of God’s goodness as the work of faith
. (Hugh Macmillan, D. D. , LL. D.)

The consecration of the people

The picture that the prophet saw is set before us with distinctness, and the meaning of the symbol is not obscure. The significance of the central figure--the candlestick or candelabrum, all of gold,--the prophet knows perfectly. Concerning that he asks no questions. Is the meaning equally clear to all of us? The golden lampstand always symbolises the Church. The Church is represented, not as the light of the world, but as the receptacle or support of the light. The light is Divine. The candelabrum all of gold was to the prophet the symbol of the Church of God in its latter-day glory. To him the Jewish Church and the Jewish nation were not twain, but one. That sharp discrimination which we make between things sacred and things secular, the devout Jew did not make at all. Between politics and religion he drew no line. It must be admitted that this old Hebrew conception is a little nobler and finer than the theory of life that generally prevails among us. We have come to make a broad distinction between that part of life which is sacred, and that part which is secular. The complete divorce between the Church and the State which exists among us is the result of sectarian divisions. That a practical unity is one day to be realised I have no doubt. It can never be realised until the different sects all learn to exalt that which is essential above that which is secondary. The things that are essential are the values of character, righteousness, purity, and love; the things that are secondary are rites and forms and dogmas. When the Church of God shall be one it will be possible to bring it into the closest relations with the State. The prophet did need to inquire concerning the two olive trees growing on either side of the candelabrum, connected with it by golden pipes and pouring a perennial supply of golden oil, pure and precious, into the golden bowl--what did they symbolise? The oil thus provided must be taken to represent the Divine inspiration, which is the power that moves and the life that energises the Kingdom of God in the world. It is the immanent and perennial grace of “Him whose light is truth, whose warmth is love.” The two olive trees are the “two anointed ones,” Zerubbabel and Joshua--the two men in whom the Spirit of the Lord was dwelling; the men who were working together to rebuild the temple, and fully restore the worship. They were the living sources of inspiration and help to the restored and glorified kingdom. We have no kings or priests. All who believe, says Peter, are a royal priesthood. The grace that was specialised in the old time is generalised in the new. The right of standing before the Lord, receiving His messages, and transmitting His truth and love and power, is not restricted to a few; it belongs to all faithful and loyal souls. (W. Gladden.)

Model religious teachers

This is not another vision, but an explanation of the one recorded in the preceding verses. Take the “two anointed ones” as types of model religious teachers.

I. They have a high order of life in them. They are represented by the olive branches. Few productions of the vegetable kingdom are of such a high order as those of the olive. Its fatness was proverbial ( 7:9); it is an evergreen, and most enduring. In short, it is marked by great beauty, perpetual freshness, and immense utility. It was one of the sources of wealth in Judea, and its failure was the cause of famine. The emblems of a true teacher are not dead timber or some frail vegetable life, but an olive tree. Religious teachers should not only have life, but life of the highest order. They should be full of animal spirits, full of creative genius, full of fertile thought, full of Divine inspiration.

II. They communicate the most precious elements of knowledge. They “empty the golden oil out of themselves.” It has been observed by modern travellers that the natives of olive countries manifest more attachment to olive oil than to any other article of food, and find nothing adequate to supply its place. Genuine religious teachers feed the lamp of universal knowledge with the most golden elements of truth. They not only give the true theory of morals and worship, but the true theory of moral restoration. What are the true genuine religious teachers doing? They are pouring into the lamps of the world’s know ledge the choicest elements of truth.

III. They live near to the God of all truth. “Then said he, These are the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” They “stand”; a position of dignity, “stand,” a position of waiting--waiting to receive infallible instructions, ready to execute the Divine behests. All true religious teachers live consciously near to God. (Homilist.)

The two olive trees

Consider--

1. That by the two olive trees it is not clear to understand only the graces of God poured out on His Church. That is indeed signified by oil in such Scripture as Psalms 45:7. Here the resolution is concerning the trees that furnished the oil. Nor yet are we to understand them of a fountain of bounty in God; for there can be no reason given why that should be compared to two trees, and be said to “stand before the Lord.” But by them we are to understand Christ anointed in His priestly (which includes His prophetical) and kingly office, who was chief in this work, and in furnishing all instruments; who furnishes His Church, and serves His Father in the work of redemption, and is cared for by Him.

2. That the angel, answering both the prophet’s questions in one, leads us to understand the one by the others so far as is needful; and therefore we may conceive that either that of the branches is not touched as needless, or pointing out only the fit ways of communicating Himself to His people’s capacity, the pipes not being able to receive the oil of the whole tree at once, or that branches only now furnishing, imported Christ’s communicating Himself in a small measure in this typical work of building the temple in respect of what He had and was to communicate in the building of His Church under the Gospel; or if we will stretch it further, it may take in Joshua and Zerubbabel, the one anointed priest, the other a successor of their anointed kings, who, however, as instruments in the work, they were resembled by the burning lamps, getting furniture from the bowl, yet in respect of their office among that people, and their influence upon all instruments of building the temple, they were types of Christ, and so might be represented by two little branches, resembling Him, the great olive tree . . . ”standing before the God of the earth,” as being instrumental to keep in life in the Church when all power shall be opposite to her. (George Hutcheson.)

The two anointed ones

Who are these? They refer to some standing channel of blessing from God, and are alluded to again in Revelation 11:3-4, in terms that cannot be mistaken. Without entering at length into the reasons for this opinion, we simply affirm that they refer to a duality of gracious manifestation from God, corresponding to a duality of necessity in the nature of man. There are two grand evils to be overcome, guilt and pollution, and they demand two standing sources of blessing, the one to remove the guilt by atonement, the other to remove the power of sin by giving a higher power of holiness. These two sources are embodied in two official forms, the only two that were connected with the theocracy as permanent elements, the sacerdotal and regal orders, This duality marked all the manifestations of God, for it rested on a deep necessity of human nature, and it was then embodied in the persons of Joshua and Zerubbabel. Since, then, they were so essential to the theocracy, the people need not suppose that God would allow them to perish, but would continue them in existence until He should come who was a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Learn--

1. That the Church is the same under both dispensations, for the promises made to her then are only fulfilling now, showing that then and now she was the same Church. The candlestick is the same, though the tubes may be changed; and the Church is the same, though her official channels be totally altered.

2. God has provided an unfailing source of strength for His people. Their supply comes not from a dead reservoir of oil, but a living olive tree, that is ever drawing from the rich earth its generous furnishings, and then distilling them by seven pipes, a perfect number, to those who are to be burning and shining lights.

3. The whole work of religion in the heart of the individual, and throughout the world, is of grace. Christ is at once the cornerstone and the copestone of the Church; and as He was greeted with “shoutings of grace” when He came the first time, much more shall He when He comes the second time, without sin unto salvation.

4. We are prone to judge of God’s work by man’s standard; and because we see but a narrow stream from the fountain, doubt or deny the river.

5. It is not only unwise, it is wicked, to be disheartened because of the external feebleness of the Church, compared with the work she has to do and the enemies she has to encounter. God is her strength, her glory, and her hope, and to despair of her is to deny God.

6. The doctrine and discipline of the Church, the truth and power that God has lodged in her organisation and in her ordinances, are still the standing channels through which the Spirit pours the oil of grace and strength, and hence should both be kept pure and unclogged. (T. V. Moore, D. D.)

Do not arrest the inflow of spiritual influences

Beware, also, that nothing chokes the golden pipes of obedience to His kingliness, and trust in His priesthood; else the entrance of the golden oil will be arrested. They may soon become stopped by neglect, inattention, or disuse. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Two olive trees

The prophet manifests great concern to understand what is meant by these two olive trees.

I. The universal dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ. “The Lord of the whole earth.” Not to be understood in an abstract, but in a relative sense. The Lord Jesus is the last Adam, and He came and acquired universal dominion on behalf of His people. He obtained universal dominion by prevailing with God. This He did by His obedient life. Whatever perfection--whether of love, or holiness, or wisdom, or integrity--you may name, the Saviour possessed them all. And “the Lord is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake.” This righteousness, this obedient life of the Lord Jesus, hath prevailed with God’s law, hath prevailed with justice. This is one step towards the Saviour’s universal dominion, God’s unexceptional approbation of His righteousness, God’s deep and eternal interest in His righteousness. When the Saviour came to die, was there in the whole universal Church one sin that He did not conquer? Was there one demand of justice that He did not meet? See some of the symptoms of this dominion while the Saviour was in the world. He cast out devils,--there is power over hell. Need I remind you of sin? Why, He pardoned one and another. Then diseases,--what disease was ever too hard for Him? Then the sea,--He walks on it. Whatever dominion He possesses, He will give to you.

II. The representatives of the Old and New Testament Churches. The two anointed ones. In the Book of Revelation called the “two witnesses.” These represent the Old Testament Church and the New Testament Church. In this passage, then, is given Christ’s entire dominion; the river of the Gospel; the Old and New Testament Churches sweetly united in the same theme; a clear note of time when these wonders were to be mediatorially accomplished; and the faithfulness of the Old and of the New Testament Churches. (James Wells.)
.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Zechariah 4:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/zechariah-4.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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