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have purified the church, they have exalted faith, they have made heroes out of saints who in an age like this would be but the least in the kingdom of heaven.
Persecution may not come in our day, but I have no doubt but it will come, for God loves the world too well to let it die. The gospel is too precious to be lost by our default.
However this may be, of this at least I am convinced, that God will not make a full end of his people, as he has made a full end of the nations wither they were scattered, for I read in scripture, and in the history of all the ages just what the poet well expresses.
"Truth forever on the scaffold;
And whether our captivity be national or personal we have the blessed promise “I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee."
When the Lord turned again the Captivity of Zion, we were like unto them that dream.
HERE is a certain peculiar attraction, -almost fascination about the beginning of any new scheme or enterprise. Our plans and specifications are
drawn with a very freehand; our anticipations framed on such a generous scale. We propose the impossible, and delight to find that all difficulties can be made to disappear by the simple expedient of shutting our eyes. Castles in Spain have a completeness and perfection of detail that is charming; for we build them unhampered by the painful restrictions of time and place and opportunity, that are so annoying in actual building.
In many respects the reformer has an easier task than the original builder, he has seen at least certain things to avoid; he has learned by other men's failures in some respects how not to do it, and is apt to fancy that this gives him a complete guide how to do it.
It is but natural that the reformer or reorganizer should be optimistic, and as a rule he is so, and more. He not only hopes for success but feels sure of it.
"Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
It is indeed fortunate for the world that this is so, for, if it were not, most of the great reforms that have blest the world would not have been undertaken.
Happily men do not always sit down and count the cost too closely: The spirit of great reformers holds such calculations in contempt, and the real hero scorns to count the cost of duty or of loyalty or truth.
When the seventy years of Israel's captivity were accomplished, according to the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah the prophet—"When God turned back the captivity of Zion, they were like men that dream.
Then was their mouth filled with laughter and their tongue with singing."
Their joy was the more "dreamlike" because their deliverance was accomplished almost without effort on their part, and their restoration to their own land was wholely providential.
There could not have been more than a very few of those who were carried away alive at the time of the restoration, though we read that there were some who remembered the old temple of Solomon present when the corner stone of the new temple was laid.
The strength of their national spirit is shown in the zeal and enthusiasm of the people over their migration to the land of their fathers, but which they had never seen.
Even before they returned they were occupied with plans and projects of rebuilding their cities and reorganizing their church and state.
Their "dreams" had already seen the holy city looming large and fair in the specious fields of their imagination; an ideal commonwealth and a new Jerusalem that should be the joy of the whole earth.
For the model of this new state they had the splendid visions of the earlier prophets, the inspired hopes of patriarchs and priests and seers. The promises of Abraham and Moses, of Isaiah and Jeremiah were strong to justify their hopes and fortify their faith.
The fine ideals of the zealous band who returned to Judah
and Jerusalem was manifested not only in the hopes voiced by their prophets, but also by the actual return of so many of them to the homes of their fathers, and by their energetic efforts to rebuild their cities and to reestablish the ordinances of divine worship.
During the seventy years of their captivity, they had established themselves in the countries whither they had been scattered and had followed the advice of Jeremiah-Jer. xxix:4-7and had labored to be good citizens of the kingdom in which they dwelt. They had prospered; many of them had acquired wealth, and some had risen to distinction and official position, e. g. Nehemiah, Daniel and his friends.
The people who returned to Jerusalem under the edict of Cyrus were apparently in very comfortable circumstances; and their return was due to patriotic and religious zeal, rather than to material advantage. The whole movement seems to have been dominated by religious motives; and the conduct of Cyrus and the people of Babylon indicates a curious and widespread interest in the religion of Israel. The cordial good will of their neighbors whom they left in that land, and the gracious favor of King Cyrus are remarkable, and seem to indicate a special influence of God's spirit moving mightily upon the hearts of men to execute the gracious purposes of God for man; and when we consider this in connection with that striking prophecy concerning Cyrus—Is. XLIV:28—we are impressed with the truth, so often overlooked, that God is Lord of all the earth, all nations are his; and though Israel was his servant for a special and preeminent office, all nations are his servant, and He girds them for their tasks, though they know him not.
"I am the Lord and there is none else, no God beside me, I girded thee though thou hadst not known me." Is. XLV:5.
The return of the remnant of the chosen people and their rehabilitation as a nation marks the beginning of a new era in the history of our redemption. It was a new departure; a
fresh start toward the goal to which they had been directed by all the patriarchs and prophets since the days of Abraham,
But the conception of their office was much more liberal, their horizon broader and their ideal much more distinctly catholic than it had ever been before—perhaps not more catholic than had been Isaiah's splendid visions, or than Abraham's glorious hopes, but much more so than ever the people as a whole had apprehended or believed.
Their contact with the great world powers, their mingling with men of other races and of other faiths, had taught them many things; and had enabled them to appreciate their privileges, and impressed them with the infinite superiority of their religion over all that other nations had attained to.
In two respects especially they were immensely benefitted. First; they were cured of their old idolatry. They had seen idolatry at its best in Babylon, and had despised it; they saw its fruits and shrank with horror from the sight. Second; their conception of God was greatly purified and elevated. Before the captivity they had hardly risen to the conception of Jehovah as the God of all the earth. He was to them rather the God of Israel; superior indeed to the Gods of other nations, but, like them, limited in power and dominion; a God to be propitiated, bargained with, and even circumvented.
In their exile, separated as they were from the outward symbols of his presence, and deprived of the "machinery' of worship, on which their elaborate ritual had led them to depend, they learned to know God as a spirit, far above the limitations of an earthly sanctuary or the forms of worship; and though they are still faithful to the good means of grace prescribed by the law of Moses, and are very zealous in the reestablishment of the temple and its service, still they see more clearly than their fathers ever saw that all these services were but the means of grace, helpful and instructive, but by no means constituting their religion.