At that time all the people gathered together at the square before the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel.
I. THE PEOPLE WANT, and must have, THE SCRIPTURES BOTH FAMILIARISED BY REPETITION AND EXPOUNDED, that they may "have the sense, and understand the reading."
1. As individuals. The law of God the true foundation on which the life must be built up. In that law is not only the will of God, but his mercy. The Scriptures make wise to salvation. The law was the root out of which the gospel came.
2. As a commonwealth. The Bible the true law of nations and communities.
3. As families. The men, women, and children were there together. God has provided his word for our household life. Those who neglect its reading in the house neglect the best support of parental authority, the truest bond of love, and the fountain of consolation and joy. The only real education is that which acknowledges the Scriptures as its basis. All popular reformation and advancement has been achieved with the written word as the instrument.
II. GREAT GATHERINGS ARE OPPORTUNITIES FOR GREAT IMPRESSIONS, AND LARGE RESULTS MAY BE OBTAINED BY THEM. Street preaching may effect more than any other on some occasions. The great reformers of Israel were too much in earnest to pay much heed to sanctities of place. They wanted a large enough assembly to be a true representation of the people. The reading and preaching of God's word can never be dispensed with.
III. MINISTERS MUST BE MEN WHO CAN HELP THE PEOPLE TO HEAR ATTENTIVELY AND UNDERSTAND THE WORD OF GOD. They have no right to occupy Ezra's place unless they have Ezra's qualification, and they should be both literally and figuratively "above all the people." There were many with the chief reader who doubtless read and expounded in their turns. What is wanted is not that official dignity should be saved at any price, but that the people should hear and understand. We want more good readers and preachers.
IV. When we call the people together in the spirit of faith, "blessing the Lord, the great God," and putting truth before them in his name, THERE WILL BE A READY AND HEARTY RESPONSE. The people said, Amen, Amen; lifted up their hands, bowed their heads, worshipped with their faces to the ground. We should expect such response. - R.
And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street.
I. THE ASSEMBLY OF ISRAEL CONVENED. The persons who presided in this assembly deserve our notice. When God raises up a great man to perform an important work He usually associates another with him of a kindred spirit, who, though endowed with different gifts, is a helper in the good cause. The defects of the one are thus counterbalanced by the graces of the other, and religion is promoted by their mutual co-operation. In the redemption of Israel from the house of bondage Moses and Aaron were united in the common enterprise. And so, in this revival of Judah, Nehemiah and Ezra are joined together; and, through means of the energy of the man of action, coupled with the influence of the man of sacred study, God blesses Zion with His quickening and restoring grace. It is an honour to the youthful Nehemiah that, though invested with ruling power in the holy city, he gives place to the ministers of the sanctuary in their proper work of teaching. These two servants of God, presiding in this great congregation of Israel, differed much from each other in age, in office, in rank, in character; but they were one in heart, and they join here in complete harmony of action for the revival of their beloved Zion. God in nature makes full provision for diversity of elements and forces co-operating together for a common result. And God in the Church also provides for different men looking on revealed truth with free thought and honest heart, where the shades of belief may vary like the colours of the rainbow, but all blend under the power of love, into a pure white ray as from the parent orb. The time at which this assembly was held also merits our consideration. "They gathered themselves together on the first day of the seventh month" (vers. 1, 2). This was emphatically the sacred month of the Jewish year, during which the most touching and impressive ceremonies of their law were observed.
1. It was a full assembly. "All the people gathered themselves together as one man." They were all there, and they were there all of one heart. In times of spiritual indifference and decay the ways of Zion mourn because few come to her solemn feasts. The Great Physician is present to heal them, but they, the dying patients, are not there to be made whole.
2. It was an earnest assembly. "They spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel."
3. It was an attentive assembly. "Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation, and read therein from the morning until mid-day, before the men and the women; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law." This deep attention to His truth is demanded as an act of reverence to God who speaks it. It is reckoned an affront for any one to turn his back on an earthly sovereign or converse with others while the king is addressing words of importance to all in his presence. Besides, men require to give earnest heed to the Word of life in order to derive saving benefit from it! Alas! many give attendance on the Word who do not give attention to it. Gospel truth is a means of persuasion to repentance, but if attention to the Word of conviction is suffered to waver the blessing will in all likelihood be lost. It is difficult with an arrow, however well aimed, to strike a bird on the wing that rapidly changes its flight in the air; and so it is not easy to fix the arrow of conviction in the heart that flits meanwhile from thought to thought, inattentive to the Word.
4. It was a devout assembly. "Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground." This devout frame of mind is essential to full spiritual profit in Divine worship for hearing the truth.
II. THE DIVINE KNOWLEDGE CONVEYED. Ezra was chief among the teachers of Israel in this great assembly, and his eminent gifts fitted him for this position. He is elsewhere distinguished as "a ready scribe in the law of Moses"; he possessed a true love for it, an intimate acquaintance with it, and a profound knowledge of it. "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments."
1. The instruction here embraced an exposition of the law. "So they read in the book of. the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading."
2. The instruction comprised exhortation to present duty. "By the law is the knowledge of sin." "For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law." These, with them, were tears both of alarm and compunction — of apprehension for the consequences of their sin and godly sorrow on account of it. It was an expression of deep anxiety, in view of their spiritual danger, as revealed in God's Word. Some men insinuate that all such agitation about the state of the soul is questionable, and not consistent with rational piety. Shall it be deemed reasonable that tears may freely flow on account of temporal bereavements and losses and no sorrow be expressed in fear of everlasting ruin? Observe, then, how nobly Nehemiah here appears to give direction and counsel to his people, mourning all of them for their iniquity: "This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep." It is not implied that their sorrow was altogether wrong or without foundation, but it was out of time end defective in its views of the Divine mercy. It might not take too lowly a view of their own sinfulness, but it was wanting in a believing apprehension of the loving-kindness of the Lord, their covenant God. This is needful caution for awakened ones, to make sure that they exercise the full look of faith upward to grace as well as downward to guilt. This counsel to Judah not to weep prepares the way, and then follows this threefold call for relieving their sorrows: "Go your way, cat the fat and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy unto our Lord; neither be ye sorry: for the joy of the Lord is your strength." This is first a call to assuage their griefs in social enjoyment of the gifts of Providence. It is not best always to seek to cure sorrow by reasoning against it; it is often more effectual to meet it with a counteracting joy; and this is the course here followed by this "son of consolation." This is a call, moreover, to relieve sorrow by the exercise of benevolence to poor brethren. "Send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared." To inherit the full blessing of life it is not enough to partake of the comforts of Providence; there requires to be joined with this a compassionate charity to the needy and the destitute. This compassion of the needy sanctifies all the enjoyments of life. It possesses a wonderful power of removing the load of sorrow from the giver's heart and of chasing the cloud of sadness from his brow.
I. THAT THE WORD OF GOD IS THE GREAT MEANS FOR THE INSTRUCTION OF HIS PEOPLE.
II. THAT THE WORD OF GOD IS NOT ONLY TO BE READ, BUT UNDERSTOOD.
III. THAT IT MUST BE READ WITH PRAYER.
IV. THAT THIS WORN WILL OFTEN REBUKE US AND LEAD US TO MOURN AFTER A GODLY SORT.
V. THAT IT WILL ALSO ENCOURAGE US, AND IN THE END BRING US MUCH JOY AND GREAT GLADNESS.
VI. THAT THE SOURCE OF JOY AND THE SECRET OF STRENGTH IS DIVINE.
(W. P. Lockhart.)
And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation1. The people of Jerusalem, like the disciples at Pentecost, were of one accord, in one place. Their hearts were inclined to God's testimonies.
2. The standing position is one of respect. Men stand before their superiors. Moses before Pharaoh, Daniel before Nebuchadnezzar.
3. The messages of a king are entitled to respect. I once witnessed the reception of a royal message by the Parliament of Prussia. As the messenger entered the hall and the royal seal was broken "all the people stood up." Officers, members, and visitors by one impulse rose to hear the writing of their king. A like impulse moved the people before whom Ezra brought the law.
4. A proper appreciation of God's Word is necessary to spiritual success.
5. Respect for God's Word involves respect for His day. It is interesting, in this age of Sabbath desecration, to notice that in the revival of Jewish institutions the observance of the fourth commandment was enforced both among Jews and unbelievers.
6. Respect for God's Word also involves respect for His worship (vers. 14-16). Worship will be a delight.
7. Religion is not only joyous, but unselfish.
8. Respect for God's Word involves respect for all His commandments.
9. A proper appreciation of the Bible is possible only as its Divine authorship and object are recognised.
10. The object of the Bible is to reveal God and the duty He requires of men.
11. How are we to show our appreciation of the Bible? Our duty is to receive and use it. The whole mind suet soul must lay hold of and appropriate its truths. It must be esteemed above all books, and its decisions recognised as final, a wealthy gentleman, having built him a library, placed in it, on a pedestal high above all the shelves, a copy of the Bible. We should do for the sacred volume what he signified by this act. We should give it also a place in our affections — such a place as it had in the heart of the Scotch girl, who, when driven from her burning home, cared first for her copy of the Scriptures.
12. We do appreciate the Bible. We read it at family prayers, and in our closets, and learn verses, and hear it on Sabbath from the pulpit. I have heard that when, in a long war, the city of Haarlem had been desolated by fire and sword, the news of peace was a long letter, which a feeble old man read from a window. His voice could scarcely be heard, yet the people gave profound attention. When the Bible is read men should listen as those burghers listened.
13. The best acceptance of such news is an acceptance of the relief it brings. So the best appreciation of the Bible is an acceptance of its salvation in Christ.
14. Respect for God's Word places it above all creeds and criticism.
15. Respect for God's Word also demands that it be handled reverently. This condemns all trifling with God's truth. All puns, parodies, and riddles based upon misquotation of the Scriptures are hereby condemned.
(F. C. Monfort, D. D.)
Monday Club Sermons.I. A NEGLECTED DIVINE ORDINANCE MAY BE RESTORED AS A CHANNEL OF DIVINE GRACE. Is there not a suggestion in this incident of how we may often return to methods of service, to means of grace that have been passed by, as useful for the present time? Certain truths have been allowed to remain in the background for a time which may be wisely pressed at another. Currents never carry all that floats on their surface to the sea. Much is left on the banks of the channel. So currents of thought in any age or time do not carry forward all that is valuable. There are cargoes of flotsam and jetsam that will reward the wreckers along the shore.
II. RELIGIOUS QUICKENING MAY RESULT FROM MORAL REFORMS AND WISE MEASURES OF CIVIC RULERS.
III. ALL DIVINE ORDINANCES, AS WELL AS PROVIDENTIAL EXPERIENCES, ARE CHANNELS FOR THE JOY OF THE LORD.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
I. THE ACTUAL SPEECH IN WHICH THE GOSPEL WAS FIRST UTTERED BY JESUS AND PROCLAIMED BY THE APOSTLES AMONG THE ISRAELITES IS HERE, PROBABLY FOR THE FIRST TIME, PUBLICLY PUT TO SACRED USE. The old Hebrew language in which the law was written had become, when the exile was over, the tongue of the learned. It was unknown to the common people, as that of Spencer and Chaucer is unknown to us. Interpreters were necessary. Ezra knew the need, and provided for it. The Levites gave the sense and caused the people to understand the reading.
II. IN THIS EVENT WE BEHOLD THE RISE OF THE SYNAGOGUE AND OF SYSTEMATIC BIBLE STUDY. From the time of Ezra the temple gradually retired into the background, and the synagogue came into prominence. The pulpit and sermons were institutions. The soul was nurtured by Bible study. Less and less did the priests wield power in the regions beyond Jerusalem, and more and more did the congregations or synagogues become like our best modern prayer-meetings, where speech and devotional service are free. When Christianity spread over the world the synagogue was its cradle. Every. where the apostles found first welcome here and the place and privilege of preaching Christ. In the substitution of prayer for sacrifice, in the triumph of moral over mechanical functions of worship, we see a tremendous advance, and read for our times an inspiring lesson.
(W. Elliot Griffis.)
Monday Club Sermons.In this scene are suggested —
I. SOME SOURCES OF POWER IN PREACHING.
1. The simple proclamation of the law of God.
2. The statement of God's work in human history.
3. The earnest utterance of intelligent faith.
II. THE CONDITIONS FOR PROFITABLY HEARING THE WORD OF GOD.
1. An aroused interest.
2. A prayerful spirit.
3. Listening with the resolve to obey.
III. PRACTICAL LESSONS.
1. Love for the law makes noble men.
2. Honouring the law insures the prosperity of the Church.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
Expository Outlines.I. A LARGE GATHERING. There are two important advantages connected with a numerous congregation over one that is thinly attended.
1. It gives an opportunity for more extensive usefulness. We grant that there is not a little to encourage even those whose hearers are few, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." "A sportsman," says Jay, "has fired into a flight of birds and not killed one, and he has killed one when he had only one to aim at." That maybe true; but on the other hand, if two anglers went forth with rod and line to spend a day in fishing, it would be naturally expected that the largest number would be caught by him who had secured a pond where fish were abundant, rather than by the other, who had toiled from morning till night in a place where they were scarce.
2. Large congregations possess a peculiar power of stimulating those who have to address them. Probably the man has never yet lived who could long be an orator before a small assembly. Even Cicero could not deliver his famous oration in behalf of the poet Archias, though addressed to a single man, without having all that was learned and great in Rome to listen to him. Those who love the means of grace should do all they can to induce their friends and neighbours to attend.
II. AN OPEN-AIR GATHERING.
III. A PROTRACTED GATHERING.
IV. AN ATTENTIVE GATHERING.
V. A DEVOUT, EARNEST, AND REVERENTIAL, GATHERING. To stand in awe of God's holy Word, whenever it is read and expounded in our hearing, indicates a right state of mind; and those who are thus influenced are regarded by God with approval and delight (Isaiah 66:2).
VI. AN INTELLIGENT AND WELL-INSTRUCTED GATHERING.
Sunday School.Every great revival of religion has had its beginning in this hunger for the Word, and has been permanent and widespread exactly in proportion as it has been rooted in the Scriptures. There is Wickliffe, frightened like the rest of the nation by the plague that had swept from Asia to Europe, and now had burst upon England, sounding in the ears of men like the trump of the judgment day. Lying in his cell poring over the pages of an old Latin Bible, he finds the truth that fills his soul with the sweetness of God's peace and the music of heaven. At once he began to translate passages of the blessed book into English, and sent them forth by his "poor priests," as they were called, to be read as best they might amongst the peasants of England; and so came the dawning of the day of God upon our land. Thus, too, was it that the later reformation had its birth. Erasmus had sent to Cambridge his new translation of the Greek Testament; and a copy of it comes into the hands of "Little Bilney," who tells us how that on the first reading of it he chanced on these words, "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all men to be embraced, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." "These words," says he, "by God's inward working did so lift up my poor bruised spirit, that the very bones within me leapt for joy and gladness." Then forthwith, he, unable to keep the sweet secret to himself, goes to confess his soul to Father Latimer, and pours out the story of his great discovery, how that being justified by faith he has peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ; and thus Latimer was led into the light, and became the great preacher of the English Reformation. And Luther, more slowly, but no less surely, is led by the study of the Word of God to the great truth which comes back again to him, as from the lips of God, whilst crawling up the steps of the sacred stairs in Rome, "The just shall live by faith." It was two hundred years later that a little meeting was being held in Aldersgate Street, London, where one was reading Luther's Preface to the Romans; and amongst the company was one who, as he listens, tells us that he felt his heart strangely warned: "I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation," says he, "and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine." So was it that John Wesley went forth to claim the whole world for his parish(and uplift the nation by the Word of truth, the gospel of our salvation.
Great Thoughts.A little blind girl in Cairo, who had read a copy of the Psalms in Arabic, by the aid of Dr. Moon's "Alphabet for the Blind," sent a message by a gentleman who was coming to England, "Please tell Dr. Moon, when you see him, I am so hungry, I want all the Bible."
(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
And the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law
Christian Age.It is related that Gotthold had for some purpose taken from a cupboard a phial of rose-water, and, after using it, inconsiderately left it unstopped. Observing it some time after, he found that all the strength and sweetness of the perfume had evaporated. Here, thought he, is a striking emblem of a heart fond of the world and open to the impression of outward objects. What good does it do to take such a heart to the house of God, and there fill it with the precious essence of the roses of paradise, which are the truths of Scripture? What good to kindle in a glow of devotion, if we afterward neglect to close the outlet — that is, keeping the Word in an honest and good heart? (Luke 8:15). How vain to hear much, but to retain little, and practise less! How vain to experience within us sacred and holy emotions, unless we are afterward careful to close the heart by careful and diligent reflection and prayer, and so keep it unspotted from the world[ Neglect this duty, and the whole strength and spirit of devotion evaporates and leaves only a lifeless froth behind.
And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood
Homilist.We offer three remarks upon this old pulpit.
I. IT WAS OCCUPIED BY DULY QUALIFIED MEN. Ezra the priest and scribe, with thirteen other Levites, occupied this pulpit. They were the recognised teachers of Israel. Who is the duly qualified preacher of the truth? The man who is superior to the people in mental capability, spiritual intelligence, and practical godliness, having the power to convey his thoughts acceptably, and with propriety and force.
II. THIS OLD PULPIT WAS ATTENDED BY AN EXEMPLARY CONGREGATION.
1. It Was a congregation disposed to hear.
2. It was a congregation competent to understand.
3. It was a congregation deeply interested in the discourse.
4. It was a congregation inspired with religious reverence.
III. THIS OLD PULPIT ACCOMPLISHED THE GRAND END OF PREACHING.
1. It imparted spiritual instruction.
2. It made a deep religious impression.
3. It stimulated a practical godliness.
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