Ezra 10:13
A very memorable scene was witnessed that day, the twentieth of the ninth month, in the year of Ezra's return. All the Israelites of Judah and Benjamin assembled together in the courts of the temple, shaken, troubled, trembling for fear of the anger of an offended God, ready to yield to the demands of his faithful servant who spoke in his name, even to the breaking up of their domestic ties; it was an hour when sin was coming out into the light, and was to be sternly cast out from the midst of them. We look at -

I. THE CHARACTER OF THEIR SIN, AND OF ALL SIN. It was

(a) widespread (vers. 18, 23, 24), not touching the top only, or only sinking to the bottom of their society. It went quite through the whole mass. Among them that had taken strange wives were "sons of the priests "(ver. 18); "also of the Levites" (ver. 23); "of the singers also, and of the porters" (vers. 23, 24). No class or grade was free from its infection. It was something

(b) that struck home; it was not a mere political offence; it invaded their family life; it was under their roof; it concerned their dearest affections, their tenderest ties, their brightest hopes; it was a matter with which their own wives and their children had closely to do. Moreover, it was

(c) a radical fault. They existed, as a nation, on purpose that, being separated from the surrounding people by very distinct lines drawn by the hand of the Supreme, they might bear witness to certain great truths in the preservation of which lay the one hope of the race. But by this step they were becoming mixed up with the heathen world; their one characteristic was being lost; their virtue was being assailed; their very life was at stake. Their separateness gone, everything for which they existed would be gone too; they might perish, for they answered no end. The salt would have lost its savour; let it be cast out and trodden underfoot of men. This is the character of all sin.

(a) It is widespread. As the leprosy, which was the chosen picture and type of it, spreads over the whole body, so sin spreads over all the nature, poisoning every faculty and instinct of the soul; communicating itself from one member of society to another, till the whole social body is covered with its loathsome and deathful malady.

(b) It is something that strikes home; it works discord in the family circle; it introduces strife and contest into the sanctuary of a man's spirit, making it the arena on which conscience and passion, heavenly wisdom and worldly ambition, voices of good and voices of evil, continually and fiercely battle. Moreover,

(c) it is a radical fault. It is the soul turning away from the purpose for which it was created, failing to be and to do that for which its Creator brought it into being.

II. THE CHARACTER OF THEIR REPENTANCE, AND OF ALL REPENTANCE. It included (a) contrition - "We are many that have transgressed" (ver. 13); and (b) amendment - "They gave their hands that they would put away their wives" (ver 19). The Jews who had offended saw that they were guilty; they freely acknowledged their fault, and, what was the best sign and proof of their shame, they resolved to put away the evil; they set about it vigorously and methodically, as men that seriously meant to do that to which they "gave their hands," to which they solemnly pledged themselves (vers. 13, 14, 19). All repentance is of this character. Its essentials are -

(a) Contrition. There must be a real recognition by the soul of the evil of sin. Something' more than mere catching up and repeating the formulae of repentance; the falling into the ruts of expression made by those who have gone before us. Not, necessarily, the violent, pungent, overwhelming feelings which have shaken some souls, and found vent in agonising utterances; but a genuine and deep regret and shame, more or less agitating, under a sense of wrong-doing in the past life and of sin within the soul.

(b) Confession and amendment. There must be a solid and living determination to "put away the evil thing," whatever it may be; to surrender the long-cherished and perhaps much-loved habit which is hurtful and injurious; to turn from selfishness and from worldliness and from pride; to separate the soul from all that offends God, that corrupts the nature, that works mischief; and to walk in purity of heart and blamelessness of life before God, the heavenly Father; unto Christ, the Divine Redeemer; by help of the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier. - C.







But the people are many.
I. NOTWITH STANDING DIFFICULTIES.

1. The greatness of the undertaking.

2. The inclemency of the weather. Learn: To eradicate sin is a task of the greatest difficulty.

II. NOTWITHSTANDING OPPOSITION (ver. 15). In affecting any great reformation opposition is to be expected.

III. WITH EXEMPLARY WISDOM AND FAIRNESS.

1. By the proper authorities.

2. With competent and reliable witnesses.

3. In the presence of the accused.

4. Wit's due regard for the convenience of the people.

5. With careful inquiry.Learn: The importance of combining prudence of method with earnestness of purpose in carrying out great reformations.

IV. THOROUGHLY. Learn: The importance of making an end of sin when we are battling with it.

(William Jones.)

These people, called upon to do justice, to confess, to go and begin a new life, said, "Certainly: only let the rain get over, and you will find us pious enough; in the meantime we cannot turn the heathen wives cub of doors." How pitiable, how conspicuously human! They said in effect, "We cannot go out in the rain to settle this matter — 'we are not able to stand without' — we are without shelter, protection, and thou seest how the rain is coming down in cataracts: we are not trifling with the covenant, we respect it in every syllable and every letter, and it shall certainly all be carried out: but let the weather clear up!" Treacherous conscience, treacherous reason! How can a man go over a muddy road to repair an injustice he has done! Let the scavenger come first, let the high way be clean for hi, dainty feet; then when all is dry as summer dust, and that summer dust has been well laid by watering-cart, my lord will cross the road. But my lord is too late. The life on which the injustice was inflicted is dead. How full is the heart of these postponed reparations! How much we are going to do when the clouds break and the sun comes back again! When the commercial sun returns cloudlessly, then we will pay up our arrears and discharge our obligations; we shall then be able to go out with some comfort, and then we shall return in the evening with a new song and a secret joy. You will not do so. If you cannot face the weather, you cannot face a grand moral obligation. You are paltering with yourselves, you are killing your conscience. Every day's delay means disqualification for the thing that is to be done. Send away the evil though it should be drenched with rain!

(J. Parker, D. D)

The longer you keep a sin in your heart the more it gets hold of you; its fangs are getting deeper and deeper. Thus men would deal with all manner of problems, whether they be personal problems, or social problems, or imperial questions. Men are very anxious not to make vital reforms speedily. They do not want to guillotine their crimes. Let those crimes be slowly poisoned; let our sins die a lingering death. The drunkard says he is going to reform, but if you were to take away the intoxicating poison from him all at once he would go mad. He is going to slope his way gradually down into sobriety; he is going to drink himself into teetotalism. "This thing," saith he, "cannot be done in a day or two; why be unreasonable about it?" It is very wonderful what our prison discipline does in this matter. A man is caught in the very act of intoxication, and for six months he sees no more of intoxicating drink, and yet he does not go mad. What can be said to such poor innocents as Judah and Benjamin and Israel when they say, "We have taken a covenant, and we are going to do all that we have confessed and promised; only the weather is so atrociously bad and the great problem is so complicated and far-stretching that it cannot be done in a day or two"? There are thousands of people involved in this same thing, who say, "Give us time!" Not an hour should be given. The reformation should be begun now. There are some things you cannot make right little by little. In the first instance you should make the covenant so binding that you will not touch the evil thing again, and then you must little by little work your way into greater and greater strength. No wise teacher will contend that the strength will come in sufficient adequateness all at once: but the step first taken must be positive and irreversible; then the after-progress may be wisely slow.

(J. Parker, D. D)

And it is a time of much rain.
The rain to which the text refers fell, it is supposed, in December, the coldest and most rainy month in Palestine. It came at an important juncture, when work requiring fine weather had to be done. Ezra has arrived in Jerusalem. He has come full of patriotism, clothed with authority, with vast treasures for the temple from the Persian court. He has come fired with zeal for the honour of God, determined to do his utmost for the restoration of city, temple, and reformation of life. He soon learns that the people need something more important than gold and silver, or a magnificent ritualism. Their morals had been corrupted through their marriage alliances with the heathen. A convocation was summoned, when it was resolved that there should be a dissolution of all marriage relations that were contrary to the law of the land; but so heavy was the rain that fell, that the people trembled for fear, as though the judgment of a second flood had broken in upon them on account of their sins. Israel could not forget that rain; nor will the rain of the present year (1880, a year of much rain) be easily forgotten. Many are looking at it in the light of science, some in the light of agriculture, others are looking at it in the light of commerce, but let us look at it in the light of Revelation. There is a Divine meaning in all things. Every drop of rain is full of God's purpose.

I. A TIME OF MUCH RAIN TEACHES US OUR DEPENDENCE.

1. It shows us there can be no harvests unless God permit. The farmer may plough and sow, his land may be most fertile, the seed of the best kind, cultivation perfect; but if God forbid His sun from shining, and command the clouds to pour down an overabundance of rain, day by day, for months, the hopes of harvest will be blasted.

2. A time of great rain reminds us that our commerce is at the Divine disposal. A had harvest cannot fail to lessen the wealth of a country and seriously affect its merchandise.

3. A time of much rain shows our dependence in many ways. You need change of air, and set out on a journey, but the benefit you seek depends on the weather which God will give; or you resolve to go to a distant town for the transaction of important business, you appoint the hour when you will be there to meet a person concerned in the transaction. But if it please God that at that very time there shall be much rain, your friend may fail to come, your plans may miscarry, your health may suffer, and your life may be imperilled through the inclemency of the weather. "Go to now, ye that say," etc. The law of dependence is stamped on all things. Every atom is dependent on atom, man on. man, nation on nation, world on world, and all are dependent on God.

4. This time of much rain makes us feel, as Englishman, that we are exceedingly dependent on other nations. What a dismal future would be before England to-day if she could not draw supplies of corn from foreign markets.

II. THAT A TIME OF MUCH RAIN IS VERY TRYING.

1. To patience. Have we stood the trial? Have we murmured? Have we said, "This is not right? A season so wet is not what we want; it is not what. we have a right to expect." If so, we have forgotten that the spiritual life requires trial. A flower may come to perfection in one summer, but the tree that is to bear fruit requires not only the summer's sun, but the rain and storms of many a winter,

2. To faith. It tried the faith of the Hebrews in the time of Ezra. It led to a temporary loss of faith in the goodness of God, for they trembled, thinking that the rain was a sign of His displeasure. But the faith of some people seems to be tried in relation to the Divine justice as well as goodness. Nay, they axe tempted to question the very existence of God and to regard the world as an orphan, abandoned to fate or stern law. They see the great machine of nature, but see not the personality that lives behind and through the whole. What a reproof does the wise economy of nature under which rain descends minister to such unbelief. But for the water that rises from the sea in clouds, and falls in showers on the earth, vegetable, animal, and human life could not exist. It is wisely ordained that in an island like ours, that is becoming so thickly populated and the large towns of which require at times more than an ordinary cleansing, that the average fall of rain should be maintained, not year by year, but by the overplus of one period making up for the deficiency of another. Sir Charles Lyell Was on the continent when he said to a gentleman sitting next to him at table: "I fear the rains have been doing a great deal of mischief." "I should think," replied his companion. "they were much needed to replenish the springs after this year of drought" "I immediately felt," says Sir Charles Lyell, "I had made an idle and thoughtless speech."

III. THAT A TIME OF MUCH RAIN SHOULD LEAD TO PRAYER. Whatever some may say against the propriety of prayer for temporal blessings, there is in human nature an instinct that bids it ask for the Divine interposition in all seasons of distress. Surely prayer in relation to rain is as reasonable to-day as when Elijah prayed that there might be no rain; "and it rained not on the earth for the space of three years and six months."

(F. Fox Thomas.)

It has been with us a time of much rain. And yet the present occasion suggests —

I. THANKFULNESS. We are here to thank God, and we do well. If we cannot thank God for giving us a harvest at all, we are unworthy of being called His sons. What we ought to ask ourselves is this: When times were good and the seasons good, how did we show our gratitude? Did we show it by our lives? For if we only show it by eating or drinking more or in rude merry-making we can hardly wonder that we should not always be likewise blessed. Are there not some of us always ready to complain, seldom ready to give thanks? like the farmer in Cheshire that two boys went to see. The season had been particularly good. "I wonder what he'll find to complain of now," they said as they passed along. "Well, farmer," they cried out, "you have had a capital season." The farmer's brow clouded as he pointed indignantly to a little patch of beans. "Look at those beans," he said. Some of you are ready to complain of the swollen rivers, the sheets of water in the fields, the damaged crops, and the deluged gardens. But I would ask you to remember what we have escaped as well as what we have suffered. Only a few weeks ago men were trembling at the approach of the cholera, but through mercy we have escaped it. If we cannot thank God for His mercy we are unworthy of the Christian name.

II. AMENDMENT. What were the people about in the days of Ezra when they trembled for the great rain? They were about to set their houses in order to have done with the ways of sin. The time of careless' sin was to give place to the day of Reformation. If it could only be the same with some soul in this church to-night! The harvest brings you to think of the day when God shall look over His fields, and gather the good grain into His barns and cast the bad away. These bad years and these floods of rain will not be wasted on you if they shall turn your thoughts from the good things of earth to the better things of heaved — if habits of careless sensuality give place to the fear of God.

(W. R. Hutton, M. A.)

Neither is this a work of one day or two.
I take this word as a motto of encouragement to all beginning or baffled by the hardships of the Christian life.

I. PERSEVERANCE IS THE SECRET OF EVERY SUCCESSFUL LIFE AND WORK. Walk through the streets of our city. Who are its prosperous men. Many who began in a low estate, all their wealth then but two willing hands, a clear head, a determined will. How has the change come about? Perseverance has done it. They have reached their position by no sudden flight. They plodded. on. Rung by rung they crept up the ladder. Step by step they climbed the mountain. Difficulties have been wrestled with and beaten down. It has been-hard work. Not a work of one day or two. This is universal. Look at men nationally eminent. Almost without exception what they became was owing to, their own determined effort. Men are what, God helping them, they make themselves. But the journey to success in commerce, literature, the arts, the sciences, is a long one. A long journey from the first saved shilling to the millionaire's wealth; from the rude Chalk profile to the famous painting on the walls of the Academy; from the first experiments to the marvellous discoveries of a Faraday; from the boy's halting verse to the "poem round and perfect as a star." The, heights of prosperity are not reached at a bound. Over the clerks' desks in the office of a prosperous Christian merchant were written in prominent letters the words — a key to his own success — "Try again!" By trying again, and again, and again, men touch the top of their ambition. But "neither is this a work of one day or two." What a history of heroism is written in the turbulent pages of the great book of the deep! Think of Columbus. How splendid his day-dream of lands in the unknown West. But how difficulty after difficulty shut him in from the ocean he desired to adventure. Native Genoa was deaf to him. Venice refused to help him. The Court of Portugal deceived him. Spain at last befriended his request. And then, when out on the vast and unknown waters, his vessel rang with the cries of mutiny. But the stout heart quailed not. And, at length, the cry of "Land! land!" announced a New World given to the Old. And in our own day one of the greatest triumphs of perseverance has united by sensitive and communicating wire that New World with the Old. And was that salutary work easily accomplished? Hear the words of Cyrus Field, the captain of this bloodless and blessed victory: "It has been a long and hard struggle. Nearly thirteen years of anxious watching and ceaseless toil. Often has my heart been ready to sink. Many times when wandering in the forests of Newfoundland in the pelting rain or on the deck of ships on dark, stormy nights, alone, far from home, I have almost accused myself of madness and folly to sacrifice the peace of my family and all the hopes of life for what might prove, after all, but a dream. I have seen my companions one after another fall by my side, and feared I too might not live to see the end. And yet one hope has led me on, and I have prayed that I might not taste of death till this work was accomplished. That prayer is answered; and now beyond all acknowledgments to men is the feeling of gratitude to Almighty God. A vast and beneficent success, and neither was that a work of one day or two. So with all great and philanthropic movements. They have sprung from a feeble beginning. They have become incarnate in some determined man. Slowly have friends gathered to his side. Obstacles have impeded them. Misrepresentations have assailed them. Still on the little band has gone. So moved John Howard in his effort to cleanse and reform prisons and prisoners. So moved Clarkson and-others in their efforts to secure emancipation for every English-owned slave. So, have moved Livesey and others in their effort to make England a sober land. But we must say in view of the huge obstructions and tests of philanthropic patience, "neither is this a work of one day or two."

II. PERSEVERANCE IS THE NECESSITY OF SPIRITUAL LIFE AND PROSPERITY. If perseverance is needed for secular interests and temporary prosperity, who can complain if it is also needed for spiritual and eternal blessing. Evil ways have to be broken off, and that is not an easy thing. Habit in sin is tyrannic. We cannot drop a habit as we change an old garment for a new, discarding the old at once and for ever. The guilt of sin may be pardoned, but something still of its power survives. Has a man been accustomed to vice? Though a new creature, he must prayerfully and resolutely watch lest in unguarded moment he fall to the old life. Has the habit been profanity? How well must the lips be watched lest unconsciously the sinful words break forth. Has the habit been inebriety? How well the reclaimed must avoid scenes and associations with their alluring and pitiless spell, and the very beginning of the cup whose dregs are death. Has the habit been profligacy? How well must the eyes be watched lest through Eye Gate the soul be stormed and the rescued soul dragged down once more into "the horrible pit." And if the sin has been secret and of the soul, all the more need of vigilance. To break from sin to holiness is not an easy thing. It is possible, though difficult. Possible, "though not a work of one day or two." Who among the Bible saints were without sin? Their piety grew. Take the case of Jacob. He is an unlovely, self-seeking man when he first comes into history. But even then he had that faith by which the heart is purified. Through many years the contest went on between the baser and nobler elements of his nature. To be all that the saint ought was not easy to Jacob, but he kept on trying. And when we see him in the sunset of life before Pharaoh, on his deathbed, blessing his children, we see a man so unlike the Jacob that deceived Isaac that we scarcely know him for the same. "But that was not a work of one day or two." You have perhaps in your eye some Christian man or Christian woman that you desire to be like. You say, "If now, I could be so pure, so holy, so gentle, so useful as that one or that, then I should be happy. Well, remember that they to whom perhaps you look as spiritual models have had many years and many trials to fashion them to what they are. Then take heart about yourself. Sad indeed if you were quite content with yourself; but despair not. Paul said, "I have learnt in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content." With his circumstances, though often hard and bitter, he had learnt to be content. But with himself, never. "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." "But this is not a work of one day or two." Character is formed, as life is filled, with little things. Some of you may have a future of distinguished eminence in usefulness, but for the majority life will have a common cast. If we are to do any good we must utilise as they come, common occurrences and opportunities. If we are to be holy it must be in the lowly valley seen by few. And if our character is to be moulded by circumstances, it must be by trivial-seeming ones, by events that, light as gentlest chisel-touch on the marble face brings out the perfect beauty of expression that lives in the sculptor's soul! By serving God in little things we shall become liker to Him. And if He is not served in the little He will not be in the greater. Look at any man. If he is not kinder for his religion, more considerate of others, their comfort and feelings, more industrious at toil, more courteous, more patient under trial, more happy in the joy of others and more sorrowful in their sorrow, then his religion is vain. Are these small things? They are witnesses to the greatest of all — the man's renewal. By little acts we are forming habits and shaping character. "Little strokes made that ark which saved Noah." The good work is a much hindered work. We have proclivities to evil. The very spirituality of religion is a vital element of difficulty. Then how many hindrances from without? With such hindrances time is a necessity to progress. We are called to perfection. We are to be holy as Christ is holy. There is a work to be wrought in us. A work of one day or two? A work for eternity? Think of the encouragements to perseverance. Christ prays for us. He saves us from sin. He breaks its power. He marks our steps and rejoices in our progress. He loves us to the end. Because He prays, "the Spirit helpeth our infirmities" in every time of need. And because He pleads heaven will be yours at last.

(G. T. Coster.)

Christian Weekly.
The masterpieces of literature were not produced in a few weeks, nay, nor a few years. Their authors displayed an almost infinite patience before they were finished. Comparatively few authors have such patience to-day, and hence the multitude of ephemeral works. Who in these days would seriously attempt such buildings as the Pyramids? Works that last cannot be put together or run up in a few hours. A whole crop of mushrooms will spring up in a night; oaks take centuries to come to perfection.

(Christian Weekly.)

Virtue is not a mushroom that springeth up of itself in one night, when we are asleep or regard it not; but a delicate plant that groweth slowly and tenderly, needing much pains to cultivate it, much time to guard it, much time to mature it. Neither is vice a spirit that will be conjured away with a charm, slain by a single blow, or dispatched by one stab. Who, then, will be so foolish as to leave the eradicating of vice and the planting in of virtue into its place for a few years or weeks? Yet he who procrastinates his repentance and amendment grossly does so with his eyes open, he abridges the time allotted for the longest and most important work he has to perform; he is a fool.

(L. Barrow.)

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