And they sang responsively with praise and thanksgiving to the LORD: "For He is good; for His loving devotion upon Israel endures forever." Then all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD had been laid.
Ezra 2:68), and much work had been accomplished in the organising of labour and the collection of materials for the building (ver. 7). Patriotism, wisdom, and piety had been manifested in their plans. The whole remnant of Israel was enlisted in the cause; this was the work, not only of those who had returned, but also of those whom the military leaders of Assyria and Chaldaea had not deemed of sufficient importance to carry away (cf. ver. 1 with 2 Kings 24:14; 2 Kings 25:12). The daily sacrifices had been early re-established, that the courage of the people might be sustained by their faith in the God of Israel (vers. 3-6). Great carefulness was manifested that all things should be done according to the law; they were scrupulous in their obedience of God (vers. 2, 4, and Ezra 2:59, 61, 62). A beautiful simplicity and hope appear in the counsel of "the Tirshatha" (Ezra 2:63), the expectation that the LORD would again reveal his will for their practical guidance. The responsibility of all this action must have been felt by the "ancient men" "of the priests and Levites;" overstrained feeling may have been one reason of theft weeping. Among the causes of their grief, notice these -
I. THE DESPONDENCY WHICH IS NATURAL TO THE AGED. There was a great contrast between Solomon's temple and the ruins which were around them; between the glorious past of Israel and the scattered, demoralised condition of the nation now. But the greatest contrast was between the energies of their own youth and their present inability to rise to the demands of a great occasion. "We receive but what we give." Difficulties are a spur to a young man's courage; the consciousness of power shows itself in the desire to struggle and to overcome.
II. THE PARTIAL AND INSUFFICIENT RESPONSE THAT HAD BEEN MADE TO THE DECREE OF CYRUS. "Forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore" was the number of "the whole congregation" that offered themselves for the return; and of these a large proportion were persons professionally engaged about the temple. "The priests and Levites" mourned that their readiness met with so small a response from the people. Some of the leaders of the nation, noble men hearing noble names, were there; but many also of small account, "a mixed multitude," like a great proportion of our modern emigrants, unable to succeed anywhere and eager for any change (Ezra 2:58-63). The "great middle class" of Israel never returned. They continued "dispersed among the Gentiles." The feelings of the ancient men would probably exaggerate these facts.
III. UNREADINESS TO DENY THEMSELVES FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORK FOR WHICH THEY HAD RETURNED MAY HAVE ALREADY APPEARED IN MANY. Only "some of the chief of the fathers offered freely" (Ezra 2:68; cf. with the phrase "chief of the fathers" in our text). Zechariah (ch. 7.) speaks of the greed which characterised the nation during the captivity; Haggai first, and Malachi long afterwards, indignantly rebuked it in the men of the restoration (Haggai 1:3, 4, 9; Malachi 1:6-10). The great grief of the old men, however natural, would have seriously hindered the work. The want of hope, and the selfishness which made many plead hopelessness as an excuse for abandoning their efforts, were the sins against which Zechariah and Haggai had to testify. The frank impulse which led the multitude to shout for joy was wiser than the weeping. It anticipated the subsequent teaching of Nehemiah under similar circumstances (Nehemiah 8:10), "The joy of the Lord is your strength." Lessons: -
1. The mingled character of all human work. We begin in enthusiasm and continue in depression. There is the contrast of the actual with the ideal; the sense of accumulating difficulties; the consciousness of failing powers; the perception of imperfection in all human instrumentality. The work remains, though the feeling changes; remains to be done, remains when it is done. "Duty remains, and God abideth ever." "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy."
2. The advantage of fellowship in labour. Many weep and many shout aloud for joy; and this is well, for each can temper the emotion of, and furnish help to, the other. "'Tis held that sorrow makes us wise;" but happy ignorance is also blessed. Care is good, and so is the occasional outburst of joy that sweeps care away. Blend old and young together; the old with memory which is the nurse of great purposes; the young with the passion to make a future for themselves.
3. The cause that can bind true men in a fellowship of labour. It is the cause of God; the cause in which we can worship together as well as work together. "They sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord;" "all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid." A common faith in God and God's call harmonises all diversities of feeling. - M.
St. Francis went up and down the streets of Assisi, carrying in his delicate hands the stones for rebuilding the St. Damiano Chapel, he was continually singing psalms, breaking forth into ejaculations of gratitude, his face beaming as one who saw visions of unspeakable delight. When questioned why he sang he replied, "I build for God's praise, and desire that every stone should be laid with joy."
And they sang together by course.
Sunday Companion.During the persecution in Madagascar, a number of native Christians would assemble at midnight in the house of the missionary for religious instruction. On one occasion they said, "Mr. Ellis, we must sing." "No," said he, "it is as much as your lives are worth to be heard." They continued to talk about the love of Christ, and then exclaimed again, "Sing we must." He cautioned them, and they added "We will sing in a whisper" So on their bended knees they quietly sang a hymn. "But I could only weep," said the missionary, who knew their peril.
(H. O. Mackey.)
Who had seen the first house
I. THAT THE FIRST AND SECOND TEMPLES WERE BUILT IN THE SAME PLACE, HAD NEARLY THE SAME FOUNDATION, AND WERE BOTH RAISED WITH THE SAME DESIGN. The temple which we raise and that which our forefathers saw, are built on "the foundation of the apostles and prophets; Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone." We have the same Gospel, the same Saviour, and the same precious Agent is employed for conversion, edification, support and comfort.
II. THAT THE FIRST HOUSE SURPASSED THE SECOND, AS IT WAS MADE OF MORE GOODLY MATERIALS AND WAS BUILT ON A NOBLER PLAN. Whilst we are built on the same foundation as our fathers we are less perfect in the eyes of God than they — we have less dignity of character in the various relations of life — we are less fit to become the habitation of God. It is to be feared that we have less divine knowledge than those in the past; that the ways, works, and word of God are less studied with a design to amend and purify the heart, and that those ordinances are more neglected now than they once were which have the most apparent tendency to carry on a work of grace and piety. Our graces are defective. We are too apt to rest in present attainments. Our fathers seem to have excelled us in a determined opposition to sin — in a weanedness from this world — and in a spiritual, holy, heavenly walk. We seem less in earnest than they in the cultivation of those things that improve, enlarge, and ennoble the soul, and that stamp a dignity on human nature.
III. THAT THE FIRST HOUSE EXCEEDED THE SECOND, IN THE MANNER OF ITS DEDICATION. The temple we raise is dedicated to God. How far this dedication falls short of that which our fathers made is not easy to say. There seems to have been no sacrifice which the apostles and martyrs were not willing to make; and they seemed to conceive of themselves as sacred to God. We are sprung from those who in their day were examples of devotedness to God, and who carried with them this persuasion that the temple of God should be holy, whose temple they were. Ancient men remember the dedication they made, the correspondence there was between their lives and that dedication, and the degree in which "holiness to the Lord" was inscribed upon them. We of the present generation seem to be making a more partial dedication to Him than our fathers made. Multitudes among us seem to be trying to "serve two masters." It is alas! too apparent from the thoughts with which we begin and close the day — from the desires and passions that possess our minds through the hours of it — and from the nature of objects which we eagerly pursue, that we are not so exemplary in devotedness to God as many in past ages have been. The progress of a worldly spirit is visible among us; the great objects of religion are not habitually thought so amiable, important, and venerable by us as by the last generation of the people of God; nor is our regard to God, to Christ, and eternity so commanding a principle as it appears formerly to have been. Knowledge cannot so easily be taken of us that we have been with Jesus; nor can I think that we stand among men, like temples built for God and consecrated to Him as they did.
IV. THAT THE FIRST TEMPLE SURPASSED THE SECOND, ON ACCOUNT OF THAT HOLY FIRE BURNING WITHIN, WHICH PROCEEDED FROM GOD, They from whom we are descended were eminently devout, the holy fire, the fervour of devotion which attended their offerings and sacrifices rendered them through Christ highly acceptable to God. They were mighty in prayer. Those who never prayed themselves remarked their devotion. Their closets, their families, some social band and the house of God could witness their communion with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ; their pious breathings of soul — the holy ardour of their spirit — and that pleasure, that improvement and lustre they derived from thence. The friends of the Church and their country sought an interest in their prayers. I dare not say that the devout among us are as numerous as they have ever been, or that the sacred fire of devotion burns now as bright and strong in the breasts of professors as it hath ever done. Ancient men may remember when there was more apparent devotion in our public assemblies —when more preparation was made for a profitable attendance there — when family worship, reading the Scriptures, and praying was more general among professors — when private devotion was made a more serious business, and when more schemes were entered upon and vigorously pursued to maintain and transmit a spirit of piety and devotion in societies and the world. Some professors content themselves with praying in their families once a day, others once in the week, and many without praying at all. Devotion is one grand instrument in the increase of faith; in strengthening the hand and encouraging the heart in the service of God and our generation; in lightening all the burdens and afflictions of life, in forming the inhabitants of earth to a resemblance of those in heaven, and in drawing down the blessings of God.
V. THAT THE FIRST TEMPLE EXCEEDED THE SECOND IN THE CLOUD OF GLORY, THAT AMAZING SYMBOL OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE. God is present with His Church in every age; but in different ages, and in the same age in different places, His presence and glory have been manifested in different degrees. Where there is a spirit of prayer and supplication poured forth; where the house and ordinances of God are frequented with a high relish and growing profit; and where benevolent and pious sentiments, affections, and passions are alive in the soul; there God is in an eminent degree. That the presence and glory of God are not seen in our temple as in that which ancient men and chief of the fathers remember, is, I fear, but too true. With respect to some places, it can only be said, "Here God once dwelt"; and in some others that are still frequented, a certain languor and coldness attend the worship which the manifestation of the presence and glory of God would have removed.
Wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy
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.
I. First, then, for SOME. OF THE LEADING IMPERFECTIONS OF OUR WORK.
1. Now in entering upon this subject of the imperfections of our services, I may say at once, in the first place, that a work which is so much as this is, the coming forth of the Church's inner spiritual life, must, by the inevitable laws of the kingdom of grace, bear about it marks of the sins and infirmities which at the time weaken the spiritual life of the Church. We shall therefore surely find repeated in this our work the transcript of our own besetting sins; our secularity, our love of ease, our want of self-denial, our low estimate or unbelief of the spiritual character and power of Christ's Church, our indistinct apprehensions of her distinctive doctrines, our low sense of the power of the Cross of Christ and of the indwelling of God the Holy Ghost in His regenerate people, our want of love to Christ, our weak faith, our fainting love to our brethren. But to use this truth most practically let us endeavour to see in detail some of the special forms of weakness in which our own spiritual evils have in fact made themselves manifest. And first among these, how scanty has our work been when weighed against our opportunities. Where are nations born through us into the faith? Where is there not the same sight? — a little work done, feeble and divided efforts blest far above their deserving, but still effecting little against the mass of evil. Next, how late was our service! And then to note but one more mark of imperfection and instrument of weakness, how have our services lacked, alas I how do they still lack, that grace of unity, with which more perhaps than with any other condition, both in the Word of God and in the experience of the Church, any great success in the evangelisation of the world has always been connected! Who can estimate the measure in which these, our sinful strifes, banish from us the indwelling strength of the ever-blessed Spirit of unity? Who can limit the success which might accompany His working, even by our feeble hands, if there were but restored to us the gift of a true brotherly union and concord?
II. AND YET WITH THAT SOUND OF WEEPING SHOULD THERE NOT BE FOR US ALSO VOICES OF MEN THAT SHOUT FOR JOY? For too scanty as our work is, compared with what it should be, yet is it in itself great, real, and increasing. Late as we began it, yet for three half centuries has God received from us its thankful offering. It is no little thing to have been enabled to plant the Church of Christ throughout North America. It is no light blessing to have been permitted to accompany everywhere throughout the world England's too irreligious colonisation with the blessed seed of the Church's life, so that even for the extent of our work with all its scantiness we may indeed bless God. And for our last and greatest imperfection, for our own separations, many. as are still, alas! our divisions, yet are marks of unity appearing and increasing with us. How full of hope and humble joy is this day's new and glorious sight? Surely it is written for us to-day, "Rejoice, thou barren, that hearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which, hath an husband." But then once more there is here matter for our future guidance, as well as for our present joy. Such gifts of God as those which are this day poured, out upon us must not only be received with thankfulness, they must also be used with diligence: They are cheering mercies, but they are also stirring calls to duty.
(Bp. Samuel Wilberforce.).
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