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There was another great reformation in the Jewish church, about the time of their return from Babylon. One of the chief instruments in this work was Ezra, a ready scribe in the law of his God; a man who had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments ; a man who fasted and prayed at the river 'Ahava, previous to his great undertaking; a man who was afterwards sorely astonished, and in heaviness, and would eat no meat, nor drink water, but fell upon his knees, and spread out his hands unto the Lord his God, on account of the transgressions of the people. Another great instrument in this work was Nehemiah, a man that devoted himself wholly to the service of God and his people, labouring night and day; and was not to be seduced by the intrigues of God's adversaries, nor yet intimidated, by their threatenings; but preserved in his work till it was finished, closing his labours with this solemn prayer and appeal, Think upon me, O my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.
Time would fail me to speak of all the great souls, both inspired and uninspired, whom the King of kings has delighted to honour : of Paul, and Peter, and their companions ; of Wickliff, and Luther, and Calvin, and many others at the Reformation ; of Elliot, and Edwards, and Brainerd, and Whitefield, and hundreds more, whose names are held in deserved esteem in the church of God. These were men of God; men who had great grace, as well as gifts ; whose bearts burned in love to Christ and the souls of men. They looked upon their hearers, as their Lord had done upon
Jerusalem, and wept over them. In this manner they delivered their messages ; and much people was added unto the Lord.
2. Eminency in grace will direct your ends to the glory of God, and the welfare of men's souls ; and where this is the case, it is usually attended with a blessing. These are ends which God himself pursues ; and, if we pursue the same, we are labourers together with God, and may hope for his blessing to attend our labours ; but, if we pursue separate and selfish ends, we walk contrary to God, and may expect that God will walk contrary to us. Whatever apparent success may attend a man's labours, whose ends are evil, all is to be suspected : either the success is not gen
uine, or, if it be, it is not in a way of blessing upon him, nor shall it turn out, at last, to his account. It must be an inexpressible satisfaction, brother, to be able to say as the primitive ministers and apostles did : James, a servunt of God: Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ; We seek not yours,
you. 3. Eminency in grace will enable you to bear prosperity in your ministry without being lifted up with it; and so contribute towards it. It is written of Christ, in prophecy, He shall build the temple of the Lord, and shall BEAR the glory. He does bear it indeed; but to bear glory, without being elated, is no easy thing for us. 1 am often afraid lest this should be one considerable reason why most of us have no more real success in our work than we have; perhaps, it is not safe for us to be much owned of God; perhaps, we bave not grace enough to bear prosperity.
My dear brother, permit me to conclude with a word or two of serious advice. First, Watch over your own soul; as well as the souls of your people. Do not forget that ministers are peculiarly liable, while they keep the vineyard of others, to neglect their
Farther, Know your own weakness, and depend upon Christ's all sufficiency. Your work is great, your trials may be many; but let not your heart be discouraged. Remember what was said to the apostle Paul, My grace is suficient for thee, my strength is made perfect in weekness; and the reflection which he makes
upon it, When I am weak, then am I strong. Finally, Be often looking to the end of your course, and viewing yourself as giving an account of your stewardship. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and give account of the deeds done in the body. Perhaps there is no thought more solemn than this, more suitable to be kept in view in all our undertakings, more awakening in a thoughtless hour, or more cheering to an upright heart.
I have only to request, my dear brother, that you will excuse the freedom of this plain address. I have not spoken so much to instruct you in things which you know not, as to remind and impress you with things which you already know. The Lord bless you, and grant that the solemnities of this day may ever be remembered with satisfaction, both by you and your people'
THE INSTANCES, THE EVIL NATURE, AND THE DAN. GEROUS TENDENCY OF DELAY, IN THE
CONCERNS OF RELIGION.
[Preached at Clipstone Ministers' Meeting, April 27, 1791.)
HAGGAI I. 2.
Thus speaketh the Lord of Hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built.
When the children of Judah were delivered from their captivity, and allowed, by the proclamation of Cyrus, to return to their own land, one of the principal things which attracted their attention was, the rebuilding of the house of God, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. This was a work which Cyrus himself enjoined, and upon which the hearts of the people were fixed. It was not, however, to be accomplished at once; and, as the worship of God was a matter of immediate and indispensable concern, they set up an altar, on which to offer sacrifices and offerings, till such time as the temple should be built.
In the second year after their return, the foundation of the Lord's house was laid ; but, opposition being made to it, by the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin, the work ceased all the days of Cyrus, until the reign of Darius, commonly distinguished by the
name of Darius-Hystaspis. During this period, which seems to have been about fourteen years, the people sunk into a spirit of indifference. At first they desisted, from necessity; but afterwards, their attention being turned to the building and ornamenting of houses for themselves, they seemed very well contented that the house of the Lord should lie waste. For this their temper and conduct, the land was smitten with barrenness ; so that both the vintage and the harvest failed them. God also raised up Haggai and Zechariah to go and remonstrate against their supineDess; and the efforts of these two prophets were the means of stirring up the people to resume the work.
The argument which the people used against building the house of God
that the time was not come. It is possible, they waited for a counter-order from the Persian court; if so, they might have waited long enough. A work of that nature ought to bave been prosecuted of their own accord ; at least, they should have tried. It did not follow, because they were hindered once, that therefore they should never succeed. Or, perhaps, they meant to plead their present weakness and poverty. Something like this seems to be implied in the 4th verse, where they are reminded, that they had strength enough to build and ornament houses for themselves. It looks as if they wished to build, and lay by, fortunes for themselves and their families, and then, at some future time, they might contribute for the building of the house of God.
There is something of this procrastinating spirit that runs through a great part of our life, and is of great detriment to us in the work of God. We know of many things that should be done, and cannot, in conscience, directly oppose them; but still we find excuses for our inactivity. While we admit that many things should be done, which are not done, we are apt to quiet ourselves with the thought that they need not be done just now : The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built.
In discoursing to you upon the subject, brethren, I shall take notice of a few of the most remarkable cases in which this spirit is discovered ; and then endeavour to show its evil pature, and dangerous tendency.