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accordingly requested to join in the work, and were enraged when their request was refused. They exerted themselves to thwart the undertaking, and began a feud which lasted for centuries—and which, in the days of the Saviour, was such that no friendly intercourse was maintained between the races.
It was no slight danger, then-no imaginary peril—to which Ezra and his companions were exposed, but he had said he knew God was their God, and that He was wise and powerful enough to protect them. Ezra was unwilling to do anything inconsistent with that profession; after expressing his preparedness to trust in God as a defence, he would not betake himself to an arm of flesh.
Alas! how very different is the spirit shown by many professing Christians! What moral cowards many of us are when compared with Ezra! There, for example, is a company at the table of the Lord, declaring, in a way the most solemn, that the God of infinite power is their God, and that His will is their rule, and His glory their aim-declaring that there is nothing to be compared with the favour of God, and nothing which they fear so much as His disapprobation. And what do we see soon after ? There is one of these professing disciples who declines to do what he believes to be in accordance with the law of God lest he should be subjected to some little inconvenience—lest he should be laughed at by some of his neighbours, or be made liable to some small worldly loss. There is another who has recourse to tricks and equivocations in order to gain his ends, which, if not absolutely inconsistent with truth and honesty, are far removed from a bold and faithful adherence to the cause of Jesus, and such as many worldly men would turn away from with a feeling of disgust. Would it not be well for us to do as Ezra did—to remember our convictions, and our declaration of these before the world? Would it not be well to imitate him in being ashamed and afraid of doing what is inconsistent with our professed attachment and confidence ?
Secondly, The inconsistency from which Ezra shrank, with trembling anxiety, was, after all, more apparent than real. Dependence on Divine aid must be consistent with the prudent use of means, even though the connecting link be beyond the ken of man or angel. A good man believes that God renews the face of the earth—that He covers the hills with flocks, and the valleys with corn—but he does not neglect to plough and sow; he believes that God is a refuge and a strength, a sun and a shield, yet me takes food when he is hungry, and medicine when he is sick; he does not imagine that God is to protect and bless him apart from such means as prudence and experience may dictate. If Ezra had asked the king of Persia for a guard of soldiers to go with him on his journey to Jerusalem, the request would not in reality have been inconsistent with humble confidence in the power and faithfulness of God, but it would probably have appeared so to the king and his nobles, and Ezra feared lest in this way the character of God should suffer.
There is good reason indeed to believe that Ezra saw all this clearly, and was influenced by it, for we find mention made in this very chapter of his making cautious and skilful arrangements, and of the hand of the Lord being with him for good, in consequence of these arrangements. It is to be remembered, however, that in these arrangements he had to do, not with heathen kings and nobles, but with those who, like himself, were in some measure acquainted with the character and government of God, and who, consequently, were not likely to be stumbled. His spirit was like that of Moses in times long before. Moses knew that, if God destroyed the people in the desert, it was because His holy indignation was excited against them on account of their rebellion, and not on account of His inability to feed and protect them; but he knew also that the heathen who might hear of it would ascribe the destruction of the people to the weakness of Him who had promised to guide and defend them. Hence Moses pleaded with God, that, from a regard for His own glory, He would pass by the transgression of the people and
And Ezra's spirit was like that of Paul in times long after. Paul knew that, in taking money from the churches, he was only taking that to which in equity he had a good claim; but he chose to forego his claim, lest ignorant and malicious men might be led to say that he was influenced by a desire of worldly wealth or personal aggrandizement. Ezra knew that if he asked a guard of soldiers, his request might tend to the dishonour of God in the minds and hearts of the men of Persia ; and rather than do this, he was willing to act in a way which many would regard as rash and fanatical. O, that among the people of God generally there was the same jealous care of the Divine honourthe same fear lest the name of Jesus should be blasphemed ! Such a feeling would keep them as far as possible from the line that separates the region of truth and duty from the region of falsehood and wrong; and many things which they feel they
could do, in certain circumstances, without sin, they would prefer to refrain from doing, by reason of the ignorance and depravity of men around them. Things which are in themselves lawful are at times inexpedient, and a Christian man, by doing such things, may greatly injure both his comfort and his usefulness. A sacrifice of principle, and a wise consideration of times and circumstances, are very different things; and to confound them shows only ignorance and folly. Let us seek to be men in understanding, but children in malice and envy, to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves; and let us try more and more to have the spirit of Him who said at one time, “I give subjection,-no, not for an hour," and at another, “I will neither eat flesh nor drink wine while the world standeth, if by so doing I shall cause my brother to stumble," and my God to be dishonoured.
THE HEART AND THE UNDERSTANDING:
ROBERT WILLIAMSON, D.D.,
FREE CHURCH, ASCOG.
“If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”—JOHN vii. 17.
It is evident, from the chapter of which the text forms part, that there was a general expectation, at the period here referred to, that Jesus would make His appearance in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles. The expectation was well-grounded; for, about the midst of the feast, Jesus entered the temple and taught the people; and with such heavenly wisdom and power did He discourse, that the Jews were struck with wonder, saying, "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned ?”
Those who expounded the law and the prophets to their brethren were specially taught and trained in the schools of their wise men or doctors, as was Saul of Tarsus at the feet of Gamaliel ; but here was one who had never been taught in the schools of the Jewish rabbis, and yet was able to illustrate and expound the Old Testament Scriptures in a manner greatly superior to what they had ever heard before. “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned ?” “Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me." Our Lord here speaks as Mediator, the Father's servant, sent into the world to make known and to do the will of the Father. He had not received His doctrine from man, but from God; and, if they were truly desirous of knowing whether His doctrine was indeed of God, as He represented it to be, He here points out to them the most effectual means of attaining to this knowledge, viz., by coming with honest hearts, and with singleness of mind, thus indicating a real disposition to do the will of God, whether
it fell in with their own preconceived notions or not, and notwithstanding whatever sacrifices the doing of it might imply, and demand. Such is the meaning of the words, “If any man will do His will (or, as the expression literally is, If any man be willing, or truly disposed to do His will), he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself.”
This declaration of our Lord implies that the will of God may be known, and that this will may be summed up as the doctrine which Christ taught. The Jews had means within their reach of ascertaining the will of God. This will can only be made known by a revelation from Himself; and that revelation we have in His Word. Hence our Lord said, “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of Me.”
This revelation is sufficient for all the purposes for which it was intended,-sufficient to communicate to us all that it is necessary for us to know of the will of God,—so much so, that none other will be given, and they who reject it must suffer the consequences of their unbelief. Our Lord represents Abraham as saying to the once rich man, when he was desirous of obtaining a revelation besides what God had already given in His Word, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.”
There is an essential connection brought out in the text as subsisting between the doing the will of God, and knowing the doctrine of Christ, whether it be of God; and the connecting link is a right and proper state of our moral nature. This is brought out by the expression here employed by our Lord, “If any man will do,” that is, if any man is willing to do, is cordially and truly disposed to do, the will of God. Now, what does this suitable condition of our moral nature, and more especially of the will, presuppose and imply? It implies the restoration of the image of God in the soul, which consists in knowledge, in righteousness, and in holiness,-knowledge, as regards the understanding,-righteousness, as regards the will,—and holiness, as regards the affections. The restoration of these constitute the capacity for a right knowledge and understanding of the doctrines taught by Christ,-in other words, a right knowledge and understanding of the truth of God; and wherever these qualities exist, there will be a real willingness and an earnest desire to know and to do the will of God.