In Ezra 7 we have a very important and fresh feature in this book, and that is the mission of Ezra, who comes, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, to visit the children of Israel. "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of Jehovah, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments" (Ezr_7:10). This is a most important thing, beloved brethren, for those who are in the place of the remnant now. It is not the vain asking for power - a great snare in a broken state of things. When the church began, it began with power, but now it is in a state of ruin. It is not power that we want, but self-judgment - self-judgment and the heart to obey - to do the will of God, which always goes along with self-judgment. Whereas the difference is this. If people think that the great want is power, they virtually throw the blame upon God. They say that there is such weakness now. "It is no use to meet together to worship the Lord or to do anything else: we have not power." Vain foolish thought! Most peculiarly so to those who know that the very essence of what God has wrought in the church is to send down the Holy Ghost to be therein for ever, and if the Holy Ghost be not power I know not what is. But, beloved friends, what we really want is faith in the power that we have got, instead of these murmurs and complaints, as if God had taken away the power, and as if our business was to go on in our own poor and wretched way crying out for power. Not so. What we have to do is to put our hand upon our mouth, and ourselves in the dust, and to take the place of real humiliation where there is that which hinders the action of the Spirit of God. But the great point is to seek in humiliation to do His will.
Some years ago there was a working among certain persons who bore the name of the Lord, and they took, formally, their position upon this need of power; and they cried to God for power At any rate they cried for power. What was the consequence? They got power; but I am persuaded that that power was really of the devil, and not of God; and although there seemed to be most remarkable things done, and even a sort of painful imitation of the gift of tongues, it was only a sham: it was a non-reality: it was of Satan. It began, and it ended too, with the most frightful departure from the truth of God, and the most complete dishonour that was ever put upon the name of the Lord up to that day. There never was such systematic dishonour of the Lord Jesus in the church, as far as I know, as that which took place as the result of all this. Whereas, beloved friends, what should characterise us - that true work of God in which, through the grace of God, we have our part, is this - not the crying out for power, and staying in disobedience till we get power, but ceasing from the evil, and seeking of God to learn to do well - the acknowledging of the sin of the church and of our own sin, in particular - our own failure, and separating, at once, according to the light that God gives us, from what we know to be offensive in His sight.
This was exactly what filled the heart of Ezra. He comes with his heart set upon doing the will of God. This is the great thing. "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of Jehovah and to do it and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe." On this I need not dwell. Ezra is empowered to act then; but the grand point, you observe, is the purpose of his heart to do the will of God. And this we are entitled to expect now, that is, our heart should be towards the Lord, as we find, for instance, was the case with the church in Philadelphia. How does the Lord introduce Himself to us there? What does He speak about His action? "I have set before thee an open door." He has power to open, and none can shut, and to shut, and none can open. But the way He here uses this power is to set before us an open door. In the book we are considering, king Artaxerxes is the figure of one that sets an open door before Ezra. Yes, but Ezra's heart was set to do the will of God. God works all outward circumstances, and opens the way when our heart inwardly is set to do the right thing in the sight of the Lord. We have no ground ever to complain of circumstances if only our heart be right with the Lord. The Lord can and will take care of all else.
What we, then, have to do is to judge ourselves. I am persuaded that this is the great want at the present moment of the remnant in Christendom, not to be asking for power which, if it were given, might be the ruin of us. We want rather ballast to carry the truth we have got than to have full sails to carry us (I fear) in a more uncomely way than we are even doing now. For do not we all know, beloved friends, that our knowledge is far beyond our grace; and do you think, that we want something more to make us top-heavy? I am persuaded the very contrary - that what we want is rather the spirit of self-judgment instead of giving ourselves greater airs than we are apt to assume even now. We should seek to carry the truth of God in lowliness of mind, and in love, and in a deep sense of our shortcomings. This is the thing which becomes us. This is what we ought to seek. Power in such a state of things would be ruinous to us, I am persuaded, and therefore I thank God that He is not pleased to give more power of that sort. What we need is the action of the Spirit in our self-judgment, and if that were the case our blessing would flow like a river.