صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

of Israel's God, without any direct agency on the heart, would account for a decree in favor of Israel, still it would not make it certain that just so much would be given, as the exigency now required. But if the king's heart was in the hand of the Lord, so that he could turn it whithersoever he would, then he could, not only make him give, but also make him give as much as his people needed.

3dly. The Lord's putting the thing in the king's heart, must include as much as what has been stated, else unsanctified men would do good, more independently of God than the saints. There is a passage, 2 Cor. viii. 16, which is similar to the text, "But thanks be to God which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you." Is it not a general belief among us, that God did something more than to present a motive to, the mind of Titus? Was not his heart the seat of divine operation? Did not God by his invisible agency move upon the heart of Titus, to cause him to exercise an earnest care for the church at Corinth? And did not the same God move upon, and incline the heart of the Persian monarch, to lay himself out to beautify the temple of Jerusalem? Can heathen princes do good to Zion, more independently than the children of Zion? When these do good, it is God who works in them both to will and to do. He is to have the glory of disposing their hearts to do good. Thus David viewed it, when he and his people made their liberal and willing offering, for the building of the first temple. He viewed himself indebted to God for the offering, and also for the heart with which to give it. Was not this just as true in application to what Artaxerxes did for the second temple? What he gave was the Lord's, and it was of the Lord that he had a heart to give it. We are now prepared,

IV. To take notice of the feelings which Ezra entertained towards the God of his fathers, in view of the part which He acted in this important affair. What the Most High did in this affair, was evidently the means of brightening, and exalting his character, in the view of this good man. He was filled with a grateful sense of the divine goodness. With a heart full of gratitude, he exclaims, Blessed be the Lord God of our

[ocr errors]

fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king's heart. If the king had been actuated by a holy zeal for the honor of the true God, he would have deserved esteem and thanks. But this would not have diminished aught of the glory due to God, who, in this case should have been praised for giving him this holy zeal. If the king had no real disinterested regard for the church, (which is the supposition we have gone upon,) still the God of Israel was no less worthy of being praised; for it is certain that He loved his church, and that in the exercise of love He inclined this heathen monarch, to help it forward when it was in a low state. In this view of the matter, Ezra, this discerning scribe who was instructed to the kingdom of heaven, was prepared to bless, and praise the God of his fathers, because he had put such a thing as this in the king's heart.'

The divine agency, which was very apparent in this matter, served to impress upon the mind of this pious instructor in Israel, the perfect supremacy of Israel's God. He was now in a kingdom where the true God was not acknowledged; but he saw, to a demonstration, that the kings of Persia were as perfectly under the control of Israel's God, as the kings of Israel. He saw that their hearts were in the hand of the God of his fathers, and were turned at his pleasure. It no doubt impressed this pleasing truth upon his mind, "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein." It was calculated to make this declaration appear true: "And he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth."

The view which Ezra had of the merciful agency of God, displayed in his inclining the Persian king, to do so much for the prosperity of the church, served as a stimulous to him. He may be supposed to have reasoned thus ; "If the God of our fathers, in rememberance of his covenanted mercy, is inclining the hearts of heathen princes who are his enemies, to pity us, and to issue proclamations in our favor, and bestow much of their treasure upon us, how does it become us, his chosen people, to be devoted to his service." This good man felt, that God had laid him under peculiar obligation to be devoted to the good cause, by putting it into

the king's heart to give him a commission, with such ample powers of exerting himself to revive the sinking church. The good of the church lay near his heart, and the more he saw the power and mercy of God manifested, in causing even "the earth to help the woman," the more was he stimulated to holy activity.


From the case which we have considered, we learn, That the friends of God, when they rightly understand the matter, are pleased that He governs the hearts, even of his enemies. Ezra was one of the choisest friends of the living and true God: And he had adoring views of Jehovah, because He had put such a thing into the king's heart-because He had influenced and inclined his heart to make this liberal offering to the house of God. His joy was not abated, nor was his confidence in the goodress of the divine character in the least degree shaken, by any doubt arising in his mind, whether it was consistent for God to operate on the heart of a graceless man. It has been taken for granted, that this heathen prince had an unregenerate heart. If so, all his volitions were evil, for the wickedness of man in his unregeneracy is so great, that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually. [Gen. vi. 5.] If he had not been recovered by special grace, from the entire depravity of his nature, the great Searcher of hearts saw nothing in all his costly offerings to his sanctuary, which in any degree delighted Him. He saw that all his motives were wholly selfish; that he had none of that faith, without which it is impossible to please God, and none of that preferring of Jerusalem to his chief joy, without which, all that is done for the building up of the holy city, is totally unacceptable to the great King. And yet Ezra viewed the God of his fathers as moving, and inclining the wicked heart which was evil only and continually, without feeling at all displeased with Him on this account. He did not say,

• God cannot be good, if He moves upon the heart of a wicked man,-if He is the efficient, or effectuating cause of sinful exercises.' No, he blessed and praised

the God of heaven, for being the efficient cause of these exercises, without waiting to know that they were holy, as they existed in the heart of the king. If he had been infallibly assured, that Artaxerxes had no disinterested motive in doing what he did, it would not have altered his feelings towards the Lord his God: It would not have abated his love, nor prevented his giving thanks. If he knew, that Artaxerxes did not grant this aid to the afflicted Jews, from any unfeigned love to them, or to the God whom they worshipped, but from motives which were wholly selfish, he must feel very differently towards him, from what he would have done, if he had believed him to do it heartily to the Lord: But as coming from God, it made no difference; for whatever instrument He used to bestow the benefit, whether benevolent, or selfish, the goodness of His motive in bestowing, could not for a moment be doubted.God is good, and the goodness of God endureth continually.

Some of my readers may think, that the reason why Ezra was not perplexed with the idea, of God's being the efficient cause of sinful exercises in the heart of the Persian king, was owing to his not pausing to consider the consequences of such a sentiment. Perhaps he did not think, some will say, that this implied, That the holy God was the efficient cause of moral evil.

Let us pause then, and consider the consequences; let us see if there be any thing in this sentiment, which will not bear serious thought and investigation. There are but two difficulties that I know of, which are supposed to attend this subject. The first is this; How can God cause these exercises, and yet they be the exercises of another being, and that other being be accountable for them? The second difficulty attending the subject, is this; That it seems to impeach the character of God, to suppose Him to be the efficient cause of sinful exercises. To the first difficulty it may be replied:

1. That with God all things are possible. His wisdom and power infinitely transcend the wisdom and power of creatures. It is not among the possibles, to make contradictions harmonize. It is not because the power of the Almighty is in the least degree limited,

that he cannot perform contradictions. It is not an object of power, to cause a thing to be, and not to be, at the same time. No increase of power has the least tendency to produce this contradiction. But every thing which is not absolutely contradictious, can be effected by Him who alone doeth wonders. God cannot nake vegetables and stones into moral agents, they still remaining vegetables and stones. But it is undoubtedly within the compass of the skill and power of the allwise Creator, to form a free moral agent. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with us, that God should bring into existence an intelligent being, who should be dependent on Him for his knowledge; and a voluntary agent, who should be dependent for his volitions?. What less than this can be meant by his making men after his own image and likeness? Does it not mean, that He brought man into existence an intelligent being, and that with a character? But surely, in the first instance, he must have been dependent on his Creator, both for his intelligence, and his character.Yet it was his intelligence, and his character. It was Adam who knew, and who loved his Creator. If he could commence his existence with a character, for which he must of necessity be entirely dependent, there is no absurdity in supposing, that he should continue to be dependent for his character during the whole period of his existence. But to this difficulty we reply,

2. That it is a point which has been understood, and generally consented to, by the people of God from the beginning; That God does work in their hearts to vill—that all the holy exercises and desires of their hearts are caused by Him: Yet they have always understood it; yea, they have been conscious of it, that these exercises and desires were their own. They know that while it is God, who has granted them repentance unto life, it is they who have repented. They know that tho' faith is the gift of God, it is they who have believed; and that tho' the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, it is they who love. They know that it is they who pray; and yet they all confess their dependence on Him to whom they pray, to prepare their hearts. The harmony be

« السابقةمتابعة »