And there by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask Him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.
I. THE SPIRITUAL NEEDING THE AID OF THE SECULAR. "To require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way" (ver. 22). Ezra was about to conduct his comrades on a perilous journey to Jerusalem; hence he felt the need of a military guard as well as of the good hand of God upon him. The spiritual, as a rule, requires the aid of the secular.
1. Divine truth needs secular aid. As the companions of Ezra would be in danger during this march, so the word of God is often in peril in the world; infidels assail it, and secular aids are necessary to defend it.
2. The Church of God needs secular aid. It is exposed to many enemies on its journey to Jerusalem, and requires the defence of secular agencies - legislative, intellectual, and social.
3. The life interests of the good need secular aid. The good man needs the aid of the physician; his property must be protected, his ships must be insured. True, God loves his own book, his own enterprise, his own people, but it is his method to aid them in the use of means. As a general rule Ezra must employ both horsemen and prayer; prayer and precaution must go together.
4. The moral needs the aid of the secular: -
(1) Because God has ordained that the spiritual shall move in the sphere of the secular. The sacred vessels of the sanctuary journey in the desert under the care of man; piety is subject to physical law.
(2) Because the spiritual is in danger through the natural antagonism of the sinful heart. Ezra and his companions were endangered by men who wished to frustrate their mission; the carnal hates the spiritual, hence the need of horsemen.
(3) Because God has intrusted the spiritual to men as a discipline. The truth of God is put within the power of men that they may be cultured into a right attitude toward it; that they may become "fellow-helpers of the truth."
II. THE SPIRITUAL ACTING WITHOUT THE AID OF THE SECULAR. "For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers."
1. Why did Ezra act without the aid of the secular?
(1) Because he feared lest he should manifest greater dependence upon the aid of a heathen king than in the God of heaven. Ezra did not wish Artaxerxes to take the place in his enterprise which belonged to God; he had more confidence in his God than he had in his king. There are times in religious life and in moral service when it would be wrong to put any trust in man, when Divine aid may alone be sought. Ezra wanted to show that God was the object of his supreme confidence; that he was indeed conducting the sacred vessels to Jerusalem.
(2) Because he feared lest he should deprive God of the glory of his own operation. Had Ezra obtained the band of soldiers, they would have concealed the operation of God; Christian workers must not give the glory of the Divine activity and achievement to another, much less to the soldiers of a heathen monarch.
(3) Because he feared lest he should seem to compromise Divine truth in the view of the king. Ezra had said to Artaxerxes that "the hand of our God was upon all them for good that seek him;" he feared even in appearance to compromise this statement.
(4) Because he feared lest he should substitute a carnal expedient for a spiritual preparation. Secular aids do not often avail in the absence of moral fitness. Soldiers cannot give safety to disobedience.
2. How did Ezra act without the aid of the secular? He was not indifferent to the danger to which he might be exposed in marching without the band of soldiers; he did not superstitiously seek to avert it; he did not frantically rush into it; he religiously braved it.
(1) Humility. He humbled himself before God in view of his perilous journey.
(2) Supplication. He sought the Divine aid. Thus must we act when we are called upon to reject the secular aids of life.
3. When did Ezra act without the aid of the secular? Ezra travelled without the soldiers n an important crisis; it is but seldom that we are called upon to divorce prayer and precaution.
4. What moral qualities did Ezra exhibit in thus acting without the aid of the spiritual? It is evident that he was zealous for the honour of God; courageous in sacred toil; devout in daily life; and could act alone when necessary. God answered his confidence by leading him safely to Jerusalem. - E.
Then I proclaimed a fast there.
I. THAT THE BEST MEANS TO PROCURE SUCCESS UPON OUR COUNSELS AND ENDEAVOURS IS TO SEEK GOD FOR HIS BLESSING.
1. This results from the first principles on which all religion is built.(1) That there is a God of infinite power who governs the world and can dispose all things in it to such ends as are agreeable to His will.(2) That human policy and strength are of no moment when they come in opposition to His providence: "There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord."(3) That He has a particular ears of those who serve Him faithfully.
2. In giving His assistance God does not always act in so palpable a manner as that whereby we see second causes producing their effects. But that it is the most rational and most religious way to begin at Heaven in all His consultations and designs will appear by reflecting —(1) That it is impossible for a creature to be independent.(2) That God can no more cease to govern the world than He can cease to be God.(3) That He cannot govern His creatures if He does not influence them.(4) That those who depend upon their own policy and strength, without any regard to His will, affront His majesty, reject His government, and justly provoke Him to punish and disappoint them (Proverbs 3:6, 7).
II. THAT SOLEMN FASTING IS A PROPER METHOD TO BE USED IN SUCH ADDRESSES TO GOD. We have but two ways to express our thoughts and the inclinations of our minds, either by words or by such actions as naturally flow from them, and both of these are equally proper and therefore such as become our devotions. For God is the author of decency and order, and His service is then most decent and orderly when it is unaffected and agreeable to nature; and therefore such gestures or actions are proper in His worship which do naturally flow from or by custom are used to accompany such a disposition of mind as we ought to be in when we make our approaches to Him. Thus kneeling becomes us at our prayers, because it is the usual posture of supplicants; singing of hymns is decent in thanksgiving, because songs and music are fit attendants on praise and joy; and fasting is extremely proper for a solemn humiliation before God, for the begging pardon of our sins, and assistance in our difficulties, because it is a natural expression of sorrow, and is productive of humble thoughts in ourselves and devout ones towards God. And therefore we find that it has been the practice not only of the Churches of God, but even of the heathens themselves, to use solemn fasts upon extraordinary applications to Heaven, so that fasting is a part of worship prescribed by nature and by common sense of men. Public fasting should be attended with public demonstrations of seriousness, such as gravity in our discourse and behaviour, a ceasing from the business of our particular callings, abstaining from ornaments, recreations, and places of civil concourse, and spending the day in the public devotions of the Church and in the retirements of our closets. For though It private Christian may fast (as he may pray) without any of this pomp, and discharge the duty in his own breast, yet to make it public there is no other way but an outward solemnity; and a community cannot hold a fast but by such an appearance. In this the minds of men are more apt to be grave and serious when there is no appearance of jollity to divert them, they are drawn off from thoughts of worldly business and fixed on pious meditations, when they see their neighbours thronging to the temple, when there is no commerce in the shops nor hurry in the streets. Such a face of things shows that men are about the more serious business of another world.
(William Hayley, D. D.)
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