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Ezra, viii. 21, 22,23. Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God : to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen, to help us against the enemy in the way ; because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him, but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him. So we fasted, and besought our God for this ; and he was entreated of us. As a man lov£s gold, in that proportion he hates to be imposed upon by counterfeits : and in proportion as a man has a regard for that which is above price, and better than gold, he abhors that hypocrisy which is but its counterfeit. ot only will the word of God bear its testimony against all that is false and hypocritical, but his work will do this. His work in the heart of every godly man shall stand as his witness against false characters in the great day ; for it shall then be found, that in every station and occupation of life, the grace of God could live in that station and in that occupation, whether the man were a king or a beggar. The circumstances in which Ezra was placed were as difficult as can be conceived. He had to contend with the scorn and opposition of pagans, and with the corruption of Jews. He bears up under his difficulties; he labours through them; he " endures as 3eeing Him who is invisible." In speaking of Ezra, 1 shall call your attention to His humiliation :
EZRA A EXAMPLE I BUSI ESS. 49 His faith :
His prayer : His holy jealousy, and His success. I. His humiliation before God. :; I proclaimed," says he, : ' a fast there at the river Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God." You see how a man must set out, who hopes to succeed. I think it was Saint Austin who said, "The first thing in religion is humility; and the second thing is humility; and the third thing is humility." The truth is, my dear friends, there is nothing done aright where a man does not take a right plan : and what is the right plan for an ungrateful sinner? — a rebel? — a creature that has long fought against God, and is at length recovered by his power and sovereign mercy? Was pride made for such a creature? The professing world need instruction on this point, as well as the carnal world. For when we hear people quarrelsome, who yet profess to be religious — asserting their rights on every occasion, even to punctiliousness — talking, in a high tone, '-'I will not en* dure this ! — I'll not be put upon ! "- — " What meaneth," as Samuel said to Saul, if the word and the will of God be properly regarded, " what meaneth this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and this lowing of the oxen which I hear?" This is utterly inconsistent with the Christian character. A Christian is professedly a suffering man — a man of an humble mind, looking to God — avenging not himself — kindbearing injuries — forgiving them — praying for enemies — doing good to those who despitefully use and persecute him. 5
50 SERMO V. I would not proceed, says Ezra, till there had been a public abasement of ourselves before God ; till there
had been a fast and prayer, to show, that while we sought the blessing, we acknowledged ourselves utterly unworthy of it. Brethren! business with heaven is best transacted with humility ! " Behold, now." says Abraham, " I have taken upon me to speak unto t!ie Lord, which am but dust and ashes ! Oh ! let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but this once. II. We remark, secondly, the faith of Ezra. What was his faith 1 It was that which the Apostle mentions in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It was ;i the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." It was the viewing and taking hold of the protection of the invisible God : for " I proclaimed a fast, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way, for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance." It was as if Ezra had said, as Moses said before him, " : If thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence. We are going to Jerusalem : our intention is to set up the house of God : and to ta,ke advantage of his touching the heart of Cyrus and the other kings of the earth, who now begin to think of the honour of < rod, and to give us countenance. We are going on this business, and there are multitudes of robbers in the way: if God protect us not by the way which we have to travel, if he turn not back the designs of the evil men through whom we must . with the treasure which we have to carry, it is in vain to attempt to make our way. But all thing! are in God's hand. He does as he will among the the aimies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of
EZRA A EXAMPLE I BUSI ESS. 51 the earth. God only can afford us protection at this time : he can only teach us the right way : he only can guard us and cover our substance : he only can give us a right aim; and can enable us to place on him that simple dependence, which creatures ought always to place on God : he only can point out the 1 right way for us, for our little ones, and for all our
substance.' My grand affair, therefore, is with him." This is faith. This it is to endure, as seeing Him who is invisible. III. Let us proceed to his prayer. "So we fasted and besought our God for this." o men seem more engaged in business, or more qualified for business, than Ezra, ehemiah, and Daniel, — men in high offices, and men of eminent abilities. Do you recollect any instance, in which greater confidence was exercised, and a more entire looking to God discovered, than by Ezra? It was equally so with ehemiah. He was a man of business : yet he seems to say, "I set myself to the work : my heart was in it : my plan was laid : but, before I spoke to the king on the business, I spoke to God. I said, 'O Lord, touch this man's heart, before he gives me the answer; that it may be thy answer, though spoken by his lips.' " So, in the case of Daniel, his heart was set on the honour of his God; and you find him treating with God continually, and carrying all his concerns to him : so that the transaction, from beginning to end, was a transaction with God. ow these are men of the highest eminence, and of first-rate abilities; but as eminent for faith, and for a spirit of prayer. Are you a man of business? — Perhaps you say, " I am : and so much a man of business, that I have no
52 SERMO V. time for prayer in my family: I have no time for religion in private: I have no time at all for family government. I am so hurried. I live in such a bustle, I am carried from one concern to another in such a manner, that I can do nothing as to worship iu my family." ay. you understand not your business : you know not how to transact your affairs. Instead of pleading your business, as the reason why you should not put up prayer in your family, and look to God for help, the more business you have to transact, the more yon ought to trust and to pray. It is the grand secret of
a pious man, in conducting his affairs, that he first treats with God about them. " The wicked man," says Solomon, "desireth the net of evil men:" he would carry every point by crafty management — by sagacious plans — by artful expedients: "but the root of the righteous yieldeth fruit : " he is rooted and grounded in the care and favour of Him who has the keys of heaven and earth, and manages all the business in the world : fruit is, therefore, yielded to him, and he needs not the net of falsehood — the subterfuges and miserable contrivances of an unbelieving heart. Ezra was thus a man of prayer. IV. There is, in his character, a striking feature also of HOLY JEALOUSY. I sought of the Lord "a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our iubstance. For I was ashamed." — Pray attend to this: for there is herein great delicacy, and much holy tenderness of conscience. They expected to meet robbers in the way: and might by asking have obtained a band of soldiers of the king: but — "I was ashamed ! I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horse-
EZRA A EXAMPLE I BUSI ESS. 53 men, to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him." As if he had said, " I would not have the king suppose while T profess to trust in God, and to teach others to trust in him, that I want this confidence myself. Should such a man as I flee ? Should I tell him that I am afraid to take a step without his band of soldiers, while I am continually pointing out the power and providence of God over his people ? — o ! the honour of the cause, the glory of God, the truths which I have professed and preached, make me ashamed to ask for the soldiers. I must have recourse to prayer on this particular occasion." It is a man's unquestionable duty to employ all means of safety, and to exercise all the prudence in
his power: but under the peculiar circumstances of this case, Ezra rather chooses to expose himself to danger than to have the honour of God and his cause called in question; especially as he had to do with those who did not see things as he did, nor believe in God, nor trust in his promises. I principally insist on this part of Ezra's character, because there have been observed, in some persons professedly religious, an indelicacy, — a want of concern for the glory of God and the honour of his Gospel — unsubdued tempers — ill manners — rudeness: no tenderness with regard to the honour of religion — no anxiety to remove stumbling-blocks out of the way of those who know not the truth — no consideration like this of Ezra, " What will the world think? I must consider this : and if the consideration cost me something, I must pay the cost. I must make sacrifices. I must not say, ' I will have my way and my 5*
54 SERMO V. Will : I care not what others think or say.' " Stumbling-blocks have been thrown in the way of the people of the world, by this want of regard to that nice honour, of which holy Ezra is an example. On the other hand, there is sometimes observed a criminal timidity. A man dares not to assert his principles. He will give place. He will appear inconsistent : though he will not, in word, deny the truth. Men of the world will ask concerning such a one, "Does the man believe what he professes? If he does, how is it that he bears with me in this, and goes with me in that?" Call not this prudence. Brethren ! it is unworthy of that name. But in the character of Ezra, we see that the honour of his religion wholly possessed the man ; and whether he los« or suffered, he was determined that the honour of Go^ and his Church should not suffer. Brethren ! ' let your light so shine before men, that others, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven. 7 Let them see your holy
jealousy, your tender regard to the truth, and your love to God and his caus<\ V. I proceed to consider the success which attends such a man. What need is there to dwell on this? Without the spirit of prophecy, any man mighl have foretold what would be the end of such a conflict as this. God had said long before, '-Them that honour me 1 will honour.*' We read accordingly in the thirtyfirst verse, " We departed from the river of Ahava, on the twelfth day of the first month, to l t o unto Jerusalem : and the hand of our I tod was upon us ; and he delivered us from th"o hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way."
EZRA A EXAMPLE I BUSI ESS. 55 You may, perhaps, see a man humbly looking to his God, as Ezra did; an upright man, engaged in the service of God with holy resolution : and yet, for a time, he may be under a very dark cloud. You see not the man as you will see him, if you wait patiently. But mark the event. " Whatsoever thou dost, look to the end," says the wise man, " and thou shalt not do amiss:" therefore, "mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace." For there are " two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie ;" and they shall allbrd him strong consolation while under the cloud. Has he "fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before him]" — Has he "joined himself to the Lord in an everlasting covenant," by faith in Christ Jesus? — Has he taken God at his word ? Has he put his hand into the hand of Omnipotence ? — and does he thus wait the event ? Then he shall find every word that God has spoken at the beginning of the xxxviith Psalm to be literally true : "Fret not thyself because of evil doers, neither be thou envious at the workers of iniquity : for they shall soon be cut down as the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the Lord and do good : so shalt thou dwell in the land ; and verily thou shalt be fed. Commit thy way unto the Lord, and he shall bring it to pass." " Trust in
the Lord with all thy heart," says Solomon, "and lean not to thine own understanding : in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." We have now held up Ezra for your example, in his humiliation, faith, prayer, holy jealousy, and success. Are you acting on the stage of life, or are you expecting to do it shortly? I pray God that you may
56 SERMO V. be enabled to remember, and lay to heart this example. Consider, that, in going forward, and endeavouring to stand for God in your place and allairs, many enemies will labour to remove you. Take, therefore, this one hint — make one sure friend: tor, "If (»od be for us, who can be against us?" Take the bright example which I have been preaching from as your pattern. If we look up of a night to the skies, we sometimes see the moon apparently struggling through a dark cloud ; now emerging — then plunged into another; getting through that — and again involved. There we see a picture of this man. and of many others mentioned in Scripture. These men are so many way marks, directing and encouraging you. "Ge thy way forth, then, by the footsteps of the flock." Pray for grace and strength, that you may thus press forward, leaving events to God.' And, as these men arc way-marks, adapted to conduct the faithful pilgrim on his journey, let it be remembered, that others are exposed by the way-side as examples of just indignation: — Ahithophel, Hainan, and Judas, famous in their day tor their profession and consequence. Yea, of every wicked man it is recorded, that he •• shall he turned into hell, and all the people that forget God." All that forget him ! Say to any wicked man whatever. " Are you a wicked man?" " o!" will he the almost universal reply ! " obody thinks me such. I think not myself such!" "But do you Live without God .' withoul worshipping
him I without any concert] for his glory, or abasing yourselves before him as Ezra did I Are you without faith in his declarations 1 Do you thus forget God?" Then you are the people of whom lie speaks, when he says, "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God." Look up to him then this hour — endeavour to seek his face, and cry, " Turn thou me. O good Lord, and so shall I be turned," before thou deliverest me up to those executioners from whom there is no redemption. -'• When once the door is shut, and the Master of the house is risen up, they without will begin to cry, Lord, Lord, have we not eaten and drank in thy presence, and hast thou not taught in our streets ?" So much the more awful ! So much the greater your condemnation ! " Depart, I never knew you." Beg of God, then, that he would give you " the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ," and enable you "to flee for refuge to the hope set before you."
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