And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks to the LORD; because he is good…
The name of Ezra, which signifies a helper, is strikingly illustrated in the character which this excellent man sustained. He was pre-eminently so to the Jews just about the period of their return from the Chaldean captivity, He stirred up the spirits of many to engage with him in this sacred employment; he devoted much of his talents, of his time, of his substance, and of his labours to the work; he occupied himself in rectifying and reforming many of the civil, political, and ecclesiastical abuses. Ask yourselves whether you sustain that character in a religious sense which Ezra so admirably bore? Have none of you proved hindrances instead of helpers in the work of God? Have none of you endeavoured to impede the religious procedures of those by whom you are surrounded — in your families, or in the circle in which you move, or in your neighbourhood, or in the Church, or in the world? The immediate reference in the language is, the set time which God had appointed to favour Zion had come. Israel had now to be delivered from the bondage beneath which it had for many years languished. The circumstance which is stated here is very remarkable. It seems that when the foundations of the house were laid the younger persons in the congregation of the people shouted aloud for joy; on the other hand, there were certain hoary-headed men, called here "the ancient men," who wept aloud upon the occasion. There is no censure here implied; I should rather commend them for their tears. And I purpose to show you that there often exists in connection with the very same events cause for joy and cause for sorrow.
I. First in reference to THE FACT WHICH IS HERE STATED CONCERNING THE JEWS. We are told that the younger persons shouted for joy when the foundations of the house of God were laid, and the elder among them wept for sorrow. Jeremiah predicted that this would be actually the case (Jeremiah 33:10, 11). What was there in this event to inspire joy? I answer four things.
1. First of all, the rise of this temple was a proof in itself that the fierceness of God's anger had been turned away, and that He was now about to show mercy to His people. For a long time they had been deprived of their temple, of their altar, and of the institution of the most high God. They languished beneath His frown, but although He had punished them for their backslidings He had not utterly cast away the .people whom He foreknew.
2. In the second place, now they had a prospect of enjoying an opportunity of attending on the public ordinances of God's house. For a long time they had been scattered; the truly penitent among them had their private devotions by the banks of Kebar, and by the Euphrates they had wept when they remembered Zion, but they had no opportunity to convene themselves together to celebrate the ordinances to which they had been previously accustomed.
3. There was a third reason, too, and that respected the display of the power and of the truth of God. Here was a display of His truth in the actual fulfilment of the prediction of His word, and here was likewise an exhibition of His almighty power which had surmounted a variety of obstacles to the accomplishment of the important work.
4. Lastly, joy was natural on the present occasion because of the happy influence which this event would have on the interests of religion at large. What evidence was here given of the accomplishment of the promise of God illustrating His veracity and other of His perfections! What new facilities were now opened for the instruction of the ignorant, for the conversion of the souls of sinners to God! What a favourable opinion was likely to be produced on the minds of the heathen themselves when they saw the wonders which God had wrought for His chosen people (Ezekiel 37:24; Jeremiah 33:9). Now what was there in association with this procedure that was likely to awaken sorrow? There was much which justified the feelings of those excellent men who wept so that the noise of the weeping was heard afar off. For they could not but remember that it was in consequence of their backsliding from God that they had been so long suffering under religious deprivations; and there is something in the reminiscences of sin which will always produce some bitterness of feeling. Moreover they recollected the magnificence of the former temple; they could not but mourn when they contrasted the two structures. Venerable men, there was much worthy of their tears! There is a justifiable difference between the pleasurable joys of youth and age; in youth the passions are warm, health is usually vigorous, life is clothed in all its scenes which are yet to open with the freshness and beauty of novelty. Inexperience, too, disqualifies for a due consideration of those alloys which are always the companions of terrestrial delights. On the contrary, the ancient man is sobered by time, his feelings are mellowed by experience and observation. He is aware of much that will infallibly arise in a world of infirmity and imperfection like this to embitter the choicest pleasures, and consequently there is more of seriousness in the old man's joy and less of ecstasy. We therefore eulogise those old men for their religious tears. They had no intention of damping the joys of those around them; they had no intention of diverting the ardent zeal of those who shouted for joy when the foundations of God's temple were laid.
II. I ILLUSTRATE THE HISTORY AND THE SENTIMENT WHICH I DERIVE FROM IT IN CONNECTION WITH A VARIETY OF FACTS WHICH WILL BE FOUND EXISTING IN OUR CHURCHES, IN OUR FAMILIES, IN OUR CIRCLES, AND LIKEWISE IN THE WORLD AT LARGE, POINTING OUR REMARKS CHIEFLY AT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.
1. First of all we may apply the statement before us to the diffusion of the truths of revelation and of Christianity throughout the world in which we live. Unquestionably we have cause for gratitude when we reflect upon what has been accomplished by British Christians within the last forty years. We are building a temple which shall gradually rise to a holy building in the Lord, and the top of which, the pinnacle, shall pierce the very heavens. But when we compare all these diversified exertions with the immense population of the world who are still destitute of the privileges of Christianity, the contrast abates our pleasures, for it is no more than the small drop of the bucket compared to the ocean, than a spark of fire or the kindling lamp to the sun which shines in the firmament.
2. However, the principles we have drawn from this passage may be applied to the various exertions of zeal in the days in which we live. We cannot but mourn over the lamentable apathy in reference to public religions interests which a considerable number of our forefathers and of our ancestors displayed. But what a change has taken place — for one institution that was established then for the benefit of the various classes of mankind, there are actually hundreds existing in our land. Surely, then, it behoves us to exclaim, "Come, magnify the Lord, and let us exalt His name together." But honesty and fidelity must compel us to say also that there are abatements of our pleasures even in connection with this delightful subject. For I ask whether we are not sometimes driving ourselves into the opposite extreme which draws us away from our family altars and closet religion, or at least subjects them to much hurry and confusion? I ask, too, whether there are not some things in connection with our religious procedures which should be carefully avoided — pomp, and vanity, and ostentation, and display? I ask whether there are not passing even at the present hour, lamentable contentions and strifes in connection with some of our noblest Christian institutions?
3. The principle before us would apply likewise to the religious aspect of things in your family and in your circle. Well may you exclaim, "We have no greater joy than to see our children walking in the truth." But oh, is there no abatement to this pleasure? Is there no daughter who by her irreligion, her levity, and her folly, is the grief of her father and of her mother who bore her? Christian masters and mistresses, it may be that you have taught your servants and inmates to know the way of God, and there are some of them walking in His commandments and in His ordinances blameless; there are others who are evidently irreligious and living without God in the world.
III. Once more, however, and to bring our remarks to personal experience, THE PRINCIPLE OR SENTIMENT WE HAVE DRAWN FROM THIS PERSONAL MAY BE FOUND APPLICABLE TO THE STATE OF RELIGION IN YOUR OWN SOULS. My Christian friends, compare your former and your latter state. Time was when you were all darkness. But one thing you know, that whereas you were once blind, now you see — see the evil of sin, see the excellence of the Saviour. And does not all this demand a song and an ascription of praise? Is not this event the result of the mercy of God which endureth for ever? And yet I make another appeal to you, whether even amidst all the joys there is much which should make you walk humbly before God, much which not unfrequently extorts from you the cry, "Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Does not all this awaken painful regrets? Now let me say that this combination of joy and sorrow in the bosom of a believer is perfectly congenial and compatible. Professed humility, the habitual exercise of penitence for sin, and a joy unutterable and full of glory, may exist together in the bosom of those who are converted and sanctified by the grace of God. You have much to deplore, much that is to be removed, much that is to be accomplished; yet we would prevent you from indulging too much depression, we would tell you that the little leaven shall leaven the whole lump. Oh, yes! He that has begun the good work in you shalt perform it till the day of Jesus Christ; and though powerful obstructions may again rise up to hinder the erection of this building which you are rearing, the top stone shall at last be brought forth with shoutings of grace, grace unto it. And soon the conflict shall be over, the enterprise shall be complete, and you, like the returned children of the captivity, shall settle down in a better country, even the heavenly, which shall be your permanent abode, where there shall be no admixture of pain.
Parallel VersesKJV: And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
WEB: They sang one to another in praising and giving thanks to Yahweh, "For he is good, for his loving kindness endures forever toward Israel." All the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised Yahweh, because the foundation of the house of Yahweh was laid.