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How gracious was the command of that whereof the very allowance was a favour!
Was it Cyrus that did this? was it not thou, O God, in whose hands are the hearts of kings, that stirredst up the spirit of that Persian, as if he had been more than a son of thy church, a father? How easy is it for thee to make very Pagans protectors to thy church; enemies, benefactors !
Not with an empty grace doth this great king dismiss the Jews, but with a royal bounty ; “He brings forth the vessels of the house of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods, and causes them to be numbered by his treasurer to the hands of Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah, for the use of the temple; no fewer than five thousand and four hundred vessels of gold and silver."
Certainly this great monarch wanted not wit to think, It is a rich booty that I find in the temples of Babylon; by the law of conquest it is mine; having vanquished their gods, I may well challenge their spoil; how seasonably doth it now fall into my hands, upon this victory, to reward my soldiers, to settle my new empire! what if this treasure came from Jerusalem ? the propriety is now altered, the very place, according to the conceit of the Jews, hath profaned it. The true God, I have heard, is curious, neither will abide those vessels which have been polluted with idolatrous uses : it shall be enough, if I loose the bonds of this miserable people: if I give liberty, let the next give wealth. They will think themselves happy in bare walls, in their native earth. To what purpose should I pamper their penury with a sudden store? But the princely heart of Cyrus would admit of no such base sacrilegious thoughts. Those vessels that he finds stamped with God's mark, he will return to their owner: neither his own occasions, nor their abuse, shall be any colour of their detention. O Cyrus, how many close-handed, gripple-minded Christians shall once be choked in judgment, with the example of thy just munificence ? thou restoredst that which we purloin. Woe be to those houses that are stored with the spoils of God's temple! woe be to those fingers that are tainted with holy treasures !
Kings can hardly do good alone, their laws are not more followed than their examples. No sooner do the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites, set their faces towards Jerusalem for the building of the temple, than the liberal hands of their Pagan neighbours furnish them with gold and silver and precious things. Every Persian is glad to be at the charge of laying a stone in God's house. The same God that had given them these metals out of the coffers of the earth, gives it out of their coffers to his temple. He that took away by the Chaldees, gives by the Persians. Where the Almighty intends a work, there cannot be any want of
Thus heartened, thus laded, do the joyful families of Judah return to their old home. How
thousands of them were worn out and lost in that seventy years' servitude ! how few of them yet survived that could know the place of their birth and habitation, or say, Here stood the temple, here the palace ! Amongst those forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore Jews, besides servants seven thousand three hundred and thirty-seven, that returned in this first expedition, there were whom the confusion of their long captivity had robbed of their pedigree: they knew themselves Jews, but could not derive their line ; these were yet admitted without difficulty: but those of the priestly tribe, which could not deduce their genealogy from the register, are cashiered as unclean: then, God would be served in a blood: now, in a due succession. If we could not fetch the line of our pedigree from Christ and his apostles, we were not fit for the evangelical altars. Their calling was by nature, ours by grace: the grace
of inward abilities, of outward ordination : if we cannot approve both these, we are justly abandoned: now had the children of Israel taken down their harps from the willows which grew by the waters of Babylon, and could, unbidden, sing the true songs of their recovered Sion : they are newly settled in their old mansions, when, upon the first public feast, in the autumn immediately following their return, they flock up to Jerusalem : their first care is their public sacrifice: that school of their captivity, wherein they have been long trained, hath taught them to begin with God. A forced discontinuance makes devotion more savoury, more sweet to religious hearts; whereas in an open freedom, piety doth too often languish.
Joshua the priest, and Zerubbabel the prince, are fitly joined in the building of the altar: neither of their hands may be out of the sacred work. No sooner is that set upon the bases, than it is employed to the daily burnt-offerings : the altar may not stay the leisure of the temple ; God's church may not want her oblations. He can be none of the sons of Israel, that doth not every day renew his acknowledgments of God.
How feelingly do these Jews keep their feast of tabernacles, while their sojourning in Babylon was still in their thoughts, while as yet their tents must supply their ruined houses ! The first motions of zeal are commonly strong and fervent; how carefully do these governors and priests make preparation for God's temple! carpenters and masons are hired ; Tyrian workmen are again called for, and Lebanon is now anew solicited for cedar trees. The materials are ready ; every Israelite with such courage addresses himself to this service, as if his life lay in those stones: and now while the foundation of the temple was laying, the priests stand in their habits, with trumpets, the Levites with cymbals, interchanging their holy music, and melodiously singing praises to the God of Israel, who had turned their captivity
as the streams in the south, and honoured their eyes and their hands with the first stones of his house. The people second their songs with shouts; the earth sounds, and heaven rings with the joyful acclamations of the multitude. It is no small comfort, in a good action, to have begun well. The entrance of any holy enterprise is commonly encountered with many discouragements, which if we have once overcome, the passage is smooth.
How would these men have shouted at the laying on of the last stone of the battlements, who are thus joyed with laying the first stones of the foundation! The end of anything is better than the beginning; that hath certainty, this danger; this labour, that rest: little did these men think, that, for all this, few of them should live to see the roof.
What different affections shall we see produced in men by the same occasion! the
Jews shouted at this sight, the elder wept: the younger shouted to see a new foundation, the elder wept to remember the old: they who had seen no better, thought this goodly ; they who had seen the former, thought this mean and homely; more sorrowing for what they lost, than rejoicing in so unequal a reparation.
As it may fall out, it is some piece of misery to have been happier ; every abatement of the degrees of our former height lays siege to our thankfulness for lesser mercies. Sometimes it proves an advantage to have known no better; he shall more comfortably enjoy present benefits, who takes them as they are, without any other comparisons, than of the weakness of his own deservings. It is nothing to me what myself or others have been, so I be now well. Neither is it otherwise in particular churches; if one be more gloriously built than another, yet if the foundation be rightly laid in both, one may not insult, the other may not repine ; each must congratulate the truth to other, each must thankfully enjoy itself. The noise was not more loud, than confused ; here
was a discordant mixture of lamentation and shouting; it was hard to say whether drowned the other.
This assembly of Jews was a true image of God's Church on earth ; one sings, another cries ; never doth it all either laugh or mourn at once. It shall be in our triumph, that all tears shall be wiped from our eyes ; till then, our passions must be mixed, according to the occasions.
The Jews are busy at work, not more full of joy than hopes; and now that the walls begin to overlook the earth, their thoughts seem to overlook the walls. But what great enterprise was ever set on foot for God which found not some crosses ?
There was a mongrel brood of Samarit-Assyrians, which ever since the days of Sennacherib, dwelt in the land of Israel, whose religion was a patched coat of several shreds ; some little part Jewish, the rest
agan, not without much variety of idolatry. These hollow neighbours proffer their assistance to the children of the captivity ; “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as ye do, and do sacrifice to him.” Might men be their own judges, there would be no heresy in the world, no mis-worship. It is true, these men did sacrifice to the true God; the lions taught them to seek, and the Israelitish priest taught them to find, the fashions of the God of the land. Some of these Jews knew their devotion of old ; they served Israel's God, but with their own : as good no God as too many. In a just indignation, therefore, do these Jewish governors repel the partnership of such helpers: “You have nothing to do with us, to build an house to our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel.” The hand of an idolater is contagious; yet had it been to the building of some fortress, or common-hall, perhaps their aid had not been refused; but when the walls of God's house are to be raised, this society had been piacular.
Those that may not be allowed to help the work,