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EXPLANATORY NOTES.] “When Sanballat and the enemies associated with him were unable to obstruct the building of the wall of Jerusalem by open violence, they endeavoured to ruin Nehemiah by secret snares. They invited him to meet them in the plain of Ono (Nehemiah 6:1-2); but Nehemiah, perceiving that they intended mischief, would not come. After receiving for the fourth time this refusal, Sanballat sent his servant to Nehemiah with an open letter, in which he accused him of rebellion against the king of Persia. Nehemiah repelled this accusation as the invention of Sanballat (Nehemiah 6:3-9). Tobiah and Sanballat hired a false prophet to make Nehemiah flee into the temple from fear of the snares prepared for him, that they might then be able to calumniate him (Nehemiah 6:10-14). The building of the wall was completed in fifty-two days, and the enemies were disheartened (Nehemiah 6:15-16), although at that time many nobles of Judah had entered into epistolary correspondence with Tobiah to obstruct the proceedings of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 6:17-19).”—Keil.
Nehemiah 6:1. When Sanballat.… heard] “In the indefinite sense of it came to his ears. The use of the passive is more frequent in later Hebrew; comp. Nehemiah 6:6-7; Nehemiah 13:27.”—Keil. The rest of our enemies] See Nehemiah 4:7.
Nehemiah 6:2. Come, let us meet together] for a discussion = Let us take counsel together (Nehemiah 6:7). Ono] According to 1 Chronicles 8:12, situated in the neighbourhood of Lod (Lydda), and is therefore identified by Van de Velde and Bertheau with Kefr Anna, one and three-quarter leagues north of Ludd. Roediger compares it with Beit Unia, north-west of Jerusalem, not far from Bethel. There may have been two places of the same name. They thought to do me mischief] Probably they wanted to make him a prisoner, perhaps even to assassinate him.
Nehemiah 6:3. I am doing a great work: I cannot come down] Could not undertake the journey because his presence in Jerusalem was necessary for the uninterrupted prosecution of the work of building.
Nehemiah 6:4. They sent unto him four times in the same manner, and Nehemiah gave them the same answer.
Nehemiah 6:5. An open letter] That its contents might alarm all the Jews and create opposition to Nehemiah. In Western Asia letters, after being rolled up like a map, are flattened, and, instead of being scaled, are pasted at the ends. In Eastern Asia the Persians make up their letters in form of a roll, with a bit of paper fastened round it. Letters were and are still sent to persons of distinction in a bag or purse, and to equals inclosed; to inferiors, or to express contempt, open.
Nehemiah 6:6. It is reported] Sanballat throughout makes no accusation, but refers to rumour. Nehemiah’s answer is, “There is not according to these words which thou sayest;” i. e. there is no such rumour (Nehemiah 6:8).
Nehemiah 6:7. Thou hast appointed prophets to preach of thee] To proclaim concerning thee in Jerusalem, saying, King of Judah.
Nehemiah 6:8. Thou feignest] Nehemiah charges his enemy with devising a wicked slander.
Nehemiah 6:9. “ ‘For’—adds Nehemiah, when writing of these things—‘they all desired to make us afraid, thinking, Their hands will cease from the work, that it be not done’ ”] Keil. Strengthen my hands] Taken from Nehemiah’s journal kept at the time of building. Quotes to show where his dependence was at that trying time.
Nehemiah 6:10. Shemaiah] “A false prophet hired by Tobiah and Sanballat, who sought by prophesying that the enemies of Nehemiah would kill him in the night to cause him to flee with him into the holy place of the temple, and to protect his life from the machinations of his enemies by closing the temple doors. His purpose was, as Nehemiah subsequently learned, to seduce him into taking an illegal step, and so give occasion for speaking evil of him.”—Keil. The gift of prophecy did not prevent a man from selling himself to lie for others (see 1 Kings 22:22). Shut up] Perhaps in performance of a vow, or as a mere pretence. “Your foes are my foes. Let us escape together.” In the house of God, within the temple] Within the holy place, where no layman was allowed to enter. And let us shut the doors, &c.] “He seeks to corroborate his warning as a special revelation from God by making it appear that God had not only made known to him the design of the enemies, but also the precise time at which they intended to carry it into execution.”—Keil.
Nehemiah 6:11. Should such a man as I flee?] Nehemiah had anxiety and alarm, but no cowardice. To save his life] “ ‘That he may live.’ May mean ‘to save his life;’ or, ‘and save his life.’ Not expiate such a transgression of the law with his life.”—Keil.
Nehemiah 6:14. The prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets]
Nehemiah 6:10-13 only a specimen case. Nothing more is known of Noadiah.
Nehemiah 6:15. Elul] The sixth month. Parts of August and September.
Nehemiah 6:16. They perceived that this work was wrought of our God] Accomplished in so short a space of time.
Nehemiah 6:17-19. A supplementary remark that in those days even nobles of Judah were in alliance and active correspondence with Tobiah because he had married into a respectable Jewish family.
Nehemiah 6:19. His good deeds] “Good qualities and intentions.”—Bertheau. They were trying to effect an understanding, Bertheau and Keil think. Or were they not traitors?
HOMILETICAL CONTENTS OF CHAPTER 6
Nehemiah 6:1-19. The Perils of Greatness.
Nehemiah 6:1-4. Persistency.
Nehemiah 6:1-2. Old Foes with New Faces.
Nehemiah 6:3. The Great Work.
Nehemiah 6:3. Hindrances to Revivals.
Nehemiah 6:5-8. Slander.
Nehemiah 6:6. Rumour.
Nehemiah 6:8. Boldness.
Nehemiah 6:9. Fear and Faith.
Nehemiah 6:9. Felt Weakness.
Nehemiah 6:10-13. Panic.
Nehemiah 6:10. Lying Prophets.
Nehemiah 6:11. Personal Responsibility.
Nehemiah 6:11. Self-respect.
Nehemiah 6:11. Christian Firmness.
Nehemiah 6:12. Human Prescience.
Nehemiah 6:13. Bribery.
Nehemiah 6:15. Fifty-two Days’ Work.
Nehemiah 6:16. The Godward Side of Things.
Nehemiah 6:16. The Overruling God.
Nehemiah 6:16. The World’s Acknowledgment of God.
Nehemiah 6:17-19. The Oppositions of Influence.
Nehemiah 6:17-18. Deserters.
Nehemiah 6:19. The Bad Man praised.
THE PERILS OF GREATNESS
THE interest of the history centres in the man. All history is the biography of the most eminent men. “Men of the time” make the time. We have met Nehemiah before, but under different conditions. The accidents of men’s lives change; the character remains. Not in what a man does, but in what a man is, look we for permanence. Nehemiah the Persian cup-bearer becomes the reformer of abuses and rebuilder of the decayed city of God. Nehemiah, to-day confronted by visible armies, is to-morrow confronting the unseen foes of stratagem and deception. “Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together. But they thought to do me mischief” (Nehemiah 6:2). “It is reported among the heathen that thou and the Jews think to rebel; it is reported that thou hast appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah. Come, let us take counsel.—There are no such things done as thou sayest” (Nehemiah 6:6-8). “Shemaiah was hired, that I should be afraid, and sin” (Nehemiah 6:10-14). “The nobles of Judah reported Tobiah’s good deeds before me, and uttered my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear” (Nehemiah 6:17-19). The Book written by inspired men gives the teaching of observation and experience when it says in every variety of expression, and with all the cumulative force of its progressive teaching, “Be watchful. The conditions of the conflict of life change; the conflict never ceases. In this battle there is no truce. He that endureth to the end shall be saved.”
I. The perils of greatness. High places are dangerous places, as poets, moralists, and preachers have told us with perhaps wearisome iteration. That each man should do his duty in that state of life in which God has placed him used to be a favourite text with many. The laws of self-help are, if not of recent date, at least of recent definition. That the battle be to the strong and the race to the swift; that all be unhelped and all unhindered, is historically of recent date. We must not forget to proclaim that the powers that be are ordained of God. There may be insanity in hero-worship over-much; but it is idiotic to refuse to recognize the hero. The celebrated valet sees no genius in his master. Is it because he is too near, or because he is too ignorant? That there be men of Nehemiah’s stamp occupying Nehemiah’s station is indispensable. The world must have leaders who can infuse their own courage into their followers. Nehemiah’s men were devoted—but only in his presence and under his inspiration. They were liable to panic and subject to craven fear. In doing the world’s work there must be some who have opportunities for clearer vision and deeper knowledge. The general on the heights, not the private in the thick of the fight, gives the word of command. To the captain the charts are an alphabet employed without distinct consciousness; leave to him the steering, whilst you walk or sleep. Kings have committed acts of folly; but has King Mob been always a Solomon? There is a needs-be for the king on his throne, the senator in the council-room, the judge on the bench, the barrister at the bar, the poet in the study, the painter in the grove, the preacher in the pulpit, the teacher at his desk. But let none dream that these offices are sinecures, or that the men who hold them are free from the thousand ills to which flesh is heir. It is a fierce light that beats upon a throne. No man yet climbed the heights without the dogs of envy, hatred, and malice barking at his heels. Not Nehemiah’s labourers, but Nehemiah, was the object of Sanballat’s force and fraud. Strike him, and all are struck. The most eminent men are the best-hated men. In any task the responsibility of the second man is proverbially easier than that of the first. It is not always needful to point out the moral that adorns the tale of human life.
II. The deportment of the imperilled. The great thing to be desired for those who hold high office in our world is the conviction that God has appointed their station, set the bounds of their habitation, and allotted their task. In this conviction there is power; from it courage springs. This was Nehemiah’s strength. “I am doing a great work.” And he explains the “I.” “This work was wrought of our God.” Hence the sublime trust of Moses in the day of God’s anger. “Let thy work appear unto thy servants” (Psalms 90:0). When neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and men’s hearts failed them for fear, Paul strengthened himself in the recollection of his mission. “There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve” (Acts 27:0). In the darkest hour of Luther’s life he lifted up his eyes to God and cried, “It is not my cause, but thine.” “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name be the glory of the strength and endurance we have manifested,” is the substance of the impassioned utterances of the noble army of martyrs, workers, and warriors from the days of Abel down to the last hours of the sainted sufferer who but yesternight went home to God. The truest self-reliance rests upon the rocky foundations of trust in God. That thousands of professedly Christian and Bible-reading people are little bettered, but rather grow worse in temper and character, needs no proof—it is evident to the all but blind; but that the Christian and Bible-reading nations are immeasurably superior to the peoples that sit in the darkness of nature and the shadow of heathenism is indisputable. Any man who would be in any measure faithful to himself and equal to his life-task must “believe that God is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” This is not a blind, unreasoning trust; not a reliance on another to do what the man can do himself. Nehemiah threw all his soul into those two little words in the fourteenth verse, “MY GOD.” But he did not neglect to be watchful. “They thought to do me mischief” (Nehemiah 6:2). He was anxious to discover the truth, and sought out the origin even of misrepresentation. “I perceived that God had not sent the prophet; Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him” (Nehemiah 6:12). He recognized the appointed channels of God’s revelation. “I came unto Shemaiah the prophet” (Nehemiah 6:10). He was fearless in denouncing wrongdoers, albeit they sat in high places. “There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart” (Nehemiah 6:8). Above all, he renewed his strength by waiting upon God. “Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands” (Nehemiah 6:9). From God came his task; from God must come the strength to accomplish it. A great historian, after telling the tale of the life of a king of France, adds, “Let no meanest man lay flattering unction to his soul. Louis was a ruler, but art not thou also one? His broad France looked at from the fixed stars is no wider than thy narrow brick-field, in which thou too didst faithfully or didst unfaithfully.” Brother, thy task is not Nehemiah’s, nor Paul’s, nor Luther’s, nor John Wesley’s, nor Calvin’s, but it is thy task; and if thou strivest faithfully thou wilt find it thy task. The work of a man’s life is no child’s play. Do not sport with everything. It is said that when Carlyle was shown a Comic History, he inquired when we were to have a Comic Bible. To such a man the word of God and the life of man were terribly earnest. To all earnest men their daily task is earnest. The humblest is a witness to the power of his own convictions of what he is, where he is, and whom he serves. Let him take care to bear a constant, unfaltering, and ever-growing testimony. Let him be more anxious to be great than to do some great thing. Let him be more concerned to work faithfully than to work successfully, and by and by to the question, “Is all well?” he shall give the answer, “All is well!” “Let your light shine before men” (Matthew 5:16).
“Some divinely gifted man,
Whose life in low estate began,
And on a simple Village green;
Who breaks his birth’s invidious bar,
And grasps the skirts of happy chance,
And breasts the blows of circumstance,
And grapples with his evil star;
Who makes by force his merit known,
And lives to clutch the golden keys,
To mould a mighty state’s decrees,
And shape the whisper of the throne;
And moving up from high to higher,
Becomes on fortune’s crowning slope
The pillar of a people’s hope,
The centre of a world’s desire;
Yet feels, as in a pensive dream,
When all his active powers are still,
A distant dearness in the hill,
A secret sweetness in the stream,
The limit of his narrower fate,
While yet beside its vocal springs
He play’d at counsellors and kings,
With one that was his earliest mate;
Who ploughs with pain his native lea
And reaps the labour of his hands,
Or in the furrow musing stands;
‘Does my old friend remember me?’ ”
Nehemiah 6:1-4. Now it came to pass, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, heard, &c.
To do a thing and see it all frustrated, and to begin again coolly, calmly, quietly, and repeat the action, that is a very necessary power in this world. In your summer idleness you break a spider’s web with your stick or disturb an anthill, and the tiny operatives, without wasting one moment, steadily begin again and repair their damaged property. These illustrate a grand faculty of man. In life you want the power to begin again and to keep on in spite of whatsoever break-down or hindrance. Nehemiah gives grand example of this. Our text is a text on persistency—persistency, of opposition, persistency of endeavour. The opponents of this Jewish Garibaldi try one move more to checkmate and hinder the great Liberator, and, like the moon when the watch-dog barks, he simply keeps on doing what he was doing, unterrified, unmoved. I cannot meet you for conference (he said); I am too busy, and cannot stop the work for you or for any one or for anything. He had no time to say this in person; he “sent messengers” “four times after this sort.”
I. This principle of persistency is illustrated in all the circle of nature and life.
1. Everywhere there is exhibition of hostile force. Universal life is a conflict. The “Peace Society,” who have the noblest of all objects, the suppression of strife, have but few clients in inferior nature. All natural forces, all life, energy, creep to their goal as the wave creeps to the shore after many a rebuff and after many a spurning. The seed struggling up from its grave, the sapling bending through the crevice in the ruin, the tree battling with the sweep of the tempest—all are persistent fighters of opposition. The insect striving with its mortal foe in the cup of a tiny flower, the bird with vigilant eye watching foes below and above, the beast of the forest amid its dangers, are all showing us on what terms a place is to be found on earth—clinging pertinacity. You must not be tempted or coerced from your aim by hostility.
2. It is so with man in all social life. The boy at school wrestling with competitors for his prizes or his juvenile influence, the man of business watching the mischances and the adversaries of his success, the popular character striving against the envious among his contemporaries and the changefulness of the people, show us under what tenure the prizes, noble and ignoble, of social life are held. “To him that overcometh” the crown of life is given.
3. Consistently with this analogy of nature, the Bible represents all moral victory as against deep and persistent hostility. A legion of devils, from without, a legion of lusts within seek to snare and to frighten the soul from its work. The Bible moves and stirs in eagerness to warn and to inspirit the threatened soul.
II. This principle of persistency is illustrated in the general history of the kingdom of God.
1. The Bible is one long history of God’s controversy with his opponents. From one generation to another, through millenniums of history, the Almighty Sovereign of the world is battling with opposition. Physically speaking, God can do whatever he will; but morally speaking, God must do what he can against the wills of moral creatures who “dare defy the Omnipotent to arms.” And our Bible is the Iliad of heaven against earth. The clash of battle rings through its mighty leaves. This is the value of Old Testament history—it is God saving men in spite of the resistance of the men he seeks to save. Hence the history of one chosen people has become the world’s parable of life and salvation. Jewish history is an immortal text-book concerning this Divine controversy and conflict.
2. Christian history is in the same tone. (a) The Captain of our salvation is set forth in the gospel story as in warfare with the obstinate and prejudiced all the way to his transcendent triumph. “I would and ye would not” is the burden of the solemn story. (b) Apostolic history makes a harmony with what has gone before. The chosen apostles and all who took up their great watchword, Christ, were gladiators in the great arena of the world; “of all men most miserable” unless their cause were Divine and eternal. And the closing words of God’s Testament fade away in St. John’s Apocalyptic visions of wars in heaven, and the noise of him who goes forth conquering and to conquer. (c) Nor have we seen the end The Church is a “militant Church”—every saint a soldier; and the world, the flesh, and the devil set in battle array. Heathen creeds, worldly maxims, carnal forces, all opposing the will of the redeeming Lord.
III. It is the same with regard to this principle of persistency in individual salvation and work.
1. To save your own soul is “a great work”—a work that is hindered. This is why the gate of life is strait; not that it is narrow in itself, but it is narrowed by the throng of foes that block it to the soul. John Bunyan saw in his dream a gate leading to a beautiful palace. At the gate sat a man with a book to record the names of such as would enter. Around the gate stood armed foes to drive back all who came. At length a man with “a stout countenance” came, and said to the recorder, “Set down my name, sir!” and then, girding on his sword, he set to and fought his way in, “but not before he had given and received many wounds.” It is thus that most of us enter into life. Persistent opposition beaten back by persistent determination. This is what the Saviour means by those who are worthy of him, those who will have him. The elect are the select spirits who must enter into life because the must is in their will. They will go in, though hell move from beneath to oppose. If you are about this purpose, the one purpose of man, you are doing a great work, and cannot come down from that, or you fail.
2. To be instruments of salvation to others is a great work that is hindered, but must not cease. The parent lovingly battling with the wills of his children, the Sunday School teacher bearing with the way wardness of a circle of opposing spirits, the minister standing as God’s watchman in his congregation, the man of business striving to live without damage to the soul of his brother, and to live with good influence upon those who meet him in life’s conflict, are Nehemiahs all of them. He toiled on amid the stones of Jerusalem, they amid the living stones of a better city of God. But the story is one story—the world-wide story of good hindered and opposed, but triumphant.
Application. Helps to persistency.
1. Do not magnify your foes. Right is itself “a big battalion.” Greater is he that is for us than all that can be against us.
2. Do not under-estimate your work. All good work is “a great work.” Let its loftiness fill and inflame you.
3. Do not fail in hope. Hope on, hope ever. “Hope thou in God.” On this rock of Peter-courage and inflexibility Christ will build his Church, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
OLD FOES WITH NEW FACES
Nehemiah 6:1-2. Now it came to pass, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had builded the wall, and that there was no breach left therein; (though at that time I had not set up the doors upon the gates;) that Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of One. But they thought to do me mischief.
The enemies of reformation in Nehemiah’s day were fertile in resources as well as persistent in opposition. When mockery failed to dishearten, and threats to drive Nehemiah from his task, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem tried the art of deception. The same men, with purpose unchanged, but masked faces. “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”
“My son, thou art never secure in this life, but as long as thou livest thou shalt always need spiritual armour. Thou dwellest among enemies.” This golden sentence from the lips of Thomas à Kempis contains the moral application we may make of this historical passage.
I. Faults of character. “The natural man” is in Biblical language distinguished from “the spiritual man.” “The past of our life;”—“the rest of our time.” The dividing line we popularly call conversion. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” That is the ideal; does not become the actual in a day. The life religious is a growth. A man becomes a Christian; supposes that conversion makes all things new; is soon disabused. He was before an angry man; he blazes up again in an unwatchful moment. He was full of health and vigour; animalism ruled him; he discovers that he needs to lay a strong hand upon himself. Temptability remains. “The snake is scotched, not killed.” The natural prayerlessness of men creeps insensibly upon an unwatchful Christian. A principal will connive at the doubtful deeds of an agent—deeds which he himself would not stoop to do. There is a moral obliquity of vision. “If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness.” “Can’t see” is pitiable; “won’t see” is criminal. An under-current is often fatal when a hurricane would have been harmless. Against the second the captain would provide; of the first he might have no knowledge. The signing of the pledge does not of itself quench the burning thirst. The Church roll does not make defection impossible. Every man has one great foe—himself.
“Worse than all my foes I find
The enemy within,
The evil heart, the carnal mind,
My own insidious sin:
My nature every moment waits
To render me secure.
And all my paths with ease besets,
To make my ruin sure.”
Faults of character are foes to interest. Nobody has a fault that is not injurious. “There is a but in every man’s fortunes, because there is a but in every man’s character.”—Maclaren. A good cause is sometimes injured by the intemperance of its advocates; more often by their inconsistency. Creed and conduct are not always equal. Beware of little sins.
II. Foes to progress. Nehemiah was reforming, uplifting the nation. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were advocates of things as they were. Indolence and selfishness of individuals are aggregated. In the movements of history there has been presented the spectacle of men fleeing from persecution to become persecutors in their turn. Presbyter was priest writ large. Human nature is much the same under all conditions. Luther overthrew the Pope’s infallibility to meet claimed infallibility in his own followers. Only to patient faith is the prize sure. They who work for eternity can afford to listen calmly to the babblings of contemporary opinion. Utter no rebuking word, although the “meetening for the inheritance” and the unsuccess of your toils require you to possess the patience of God. “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
“Christian! seek not yet repose,
Cast thy dreams of ease away;
Thou art in the midst of foes;
Watch and pray.
Principalities and powers,
Mustering their unseen array,
Wait for thy unguarded hours;
Watch and pray.
Gird thy heavenly armour on,
Wear it ever night and day;
Ambushed lies the evil one;
Watch and pray.
Hear the victors who o’ercame;
Still they mark each warrior’s way;
All with one sweet voice exclaim,
Watch and pray.
Hear, above all, hear thy Lord,
Him thou lovest to obey;
Hide within thy heart his word;
Watch and pray.
Watch, as if on that alone
Hung the issue of the day;
Pray that help may be sent down;
Watch and pray.”
THE GREAT WORK
Nehemiah 6:3. And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?
Religion the most momentous and important matter that can possibly engage the attention. Either the veriest dream of superstition, or the most stupendous as well as the most interesting subject. This is the great work.
I. The great work in which Nehemiah was engaged. Repairing the wall and setting up the gates around the city of Jerusalem. He had many powerful enemies. They first tried to ridicule him and his brethren out of the undertaking; and this failing, they endeavoured to terrify them; and not succeeding in this, they had recourse to craft and stratagem. In the verse preceding Nehemiah says, “Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me,” &c. And in the verse following Nehemiah tells us that they sent unto him four times, after the same sort, and he answered them after the same manner. What is fortifying, defending, and preserving a city when compared with the salvation of our immortal soul? If we are really on the Lord’s side we shall assuredly be opposed as he was, and perhaps more strenuously, by ridicule, stratagem, and force. To all opposition let us reply, “I am doing a great work.” Some say the business of salvation so far as we are concerned is no work at all. Surely faith and love have something to do with salvation; and although these graces of the Spirit may apparently be the farthest removed from what may be termed a work, yet we read in Scripture of “the work of faith, and the labour of love.” Yes, faith worketh by love. True, as far as merit is concerned, salvation is not of works; yet there is a sense in which we are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do according to his good pleasure.” The believer “fears the Lord and his goodness.” He fears to offend against infinite holiness, or to “grieve the Holy Spirit.” He fears to bring guilt upon his conscience. And he trembles to be found “an unprofitable servant.” Faith enables the believer to see the path of obedience, and love constrains him cheerfully to walk therein. The work of Christ, so far from freeing us from obedience, lays us under greater obligations to devotedness.
II. The opposition Nehemiah had to encounter in his undertaking.
1. He was assailed by ridicule (see chap. Nehemiah 2:19; Nehemiah 4:1-3). You may profess what you please without molestation, but if you proceed to act up to your profession you will certainly not escape opposition. How did Nehemiah meet the scoffs of his enemies? He did not desist from his purpose, nor did he take the matter of revenge into his own hands.
2. Nehemiah’s enemies attempted also to assail him by force (Nehemiah 4:7-8). We ought to give all due obedience, in things lawful, to those who in the providence of God may have control over us, but there is a point beyond which to yield would be sin. When human authority is exerted contrary to the Divine command we ought not a moment to hesitate to “obey God rather than man.”
3. Nehemiah’s enemies assailed him also with craft and cunning. “Sanballat and Tobiah sent unto me, saying,” &c. More persons are enticed and allured into sinful compliances by plausible inducements than by any other means. Never expect any spiritual advantage from the proposal of a confederacy with worldly men.
4. When Sanballat could not succeed by stratagem, he endeavoured to effect his purpose by putting Nehemiah in fear. Raised false reports against him, representing that he was building the wall that he might set up himself as a king and rebel against his Persian master. Expect misrepresentation. It was said of the apostles of old, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.” Think it not strange if modern Christians be accused of being enemies to the peace of society. When we see Sanballat not only falsely accusing Nehemiah, but also hiring the professed prophets of God to endeavour to turn him from the work in which he was engaged, let us learn the great need of watchfulness, caution, and circumspection. “Be ye wise as serpents.” If an angel from heaven should speak anything contrary to the doctrine of godliness, shun his counsel. Even Satan can transform himself into the appearance of an angel of light, and his angels imitate his example. “Prove all things, and hold fast that which is good.” Nehemiah went to Shemaiah for godly counsel and advice, little expecting that he was in the service of his great enemy (Nehemiah 6:10-14). God will expose the snares and bring to nought the devices planned against his faithful servants. “I perceived,” saith Nehemiah, “that God had not sent him.” And as before he answered the rumours of Sanballat by saying, “There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart;” so now he boldly answers the counsel of the lying prophet who would have him shamefully neglect his duty, and shut himself up in the temple to save his life, by saying, “Should such a man as I flee—I on whose presence at the building of the wall so much depends, and who believe and have professed that God will protect and defend me?” When we are tempted to make sinful compliance, let us call to mind the noble answer of Nehemiah, and adopt similar language; let us say to every temptation to evil, “Should such a man as I, who profess to be a disciple of, yea, a joint-heir with, Christ, a son of God, and an heir of immortality—should such an one as I condescend to bring disgrace upon my profession, and thus dishonour God and sin against my own soul?” Or with Joseph let us ask our own conscience, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”
III. The magnitude of the work required that Nehemiah should not cease. It was a great work, for the walls of Jerusalem extended some miles round the city; and it was a very necessary work to be completed for the defence of the inhabitants. Of what momentous importance is the salvation of a man! The destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem is said to have forced tears from the eyes of its heathen conqueror; but what is a flaming temple or the destruction of a city to the destruction of an immortal spirit! Let your careful and constant attention be given to the one thing needful. “For it is not a light thing, because it is your life.” Nehemiah succeeded in accomplishing the work he had in hand by prayer, watchfulness, and painstaking diligence (Nehemiah 6:15-16). So will all the enemies of God’s truth be finally cast down in their own eyes; they will be utterly ashamed and confounded, while they will be constrained to confess that the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord. The wall was built in troublous times, and we often find Nehemiah supplicating help from the mighty God of Jacob, like Jehoshaphat, who said, “Lord, we know not what to do, but our eyes are toward thee;” and while he was unceasing and fervent in prayer, he was also watchful and diligent in the work.—Rev. James Shore, M.A., abridged.
HINDRANCES TO REVIVALS
Nehemiah 6:3. I am doing a great work, &c.
Sanballat’s opposition—threatened; complained; insisted that Nehemiah’s design was not pious, but political. Nehemiah went on.
I. A revival of religion is a great work. It is a great work because in it great interests are involved. In a revival of religion are involved both the glory of God, so far as it respects the government of this world, and the salvation of men. The greatness of a work is to be estimated by the greatness of the consequences depending on it. And this is the measure of its importance.
II. Several things may put a stop to a revival. A revival is the work of God, and so is a crop of wheat; and God is as much dependent on the use of means in one case as the other.
1. A revival will stop whenever the Church believe it is going to cease. No matter what the enemies of the work may say about it, predicting that it will all run out and come to nothing, they cannot stop it in this way. But the friends must labour and pray in faith to carry it on.
2. A revival will cease when Christians consent that it should cease. When Christians love the work of God and the salvation of souls so well that they are distressed at a mere apprehension of a decline, it will drive them to agony and effort to prevent its ceasing.
3. A revival will cease whenever Christians suppose the work will go on without their aid. The Church are co-workers with God in promoting a revival, and the work can be carried on just as far as the Church will carry it on, and no farther.
4. A revival will cease when Christians begin to proselyte. Do not raise selfish strife, and drive Christians into parties.
5. When the Church in any way grieve the Holy Spirit.
6. When Christians lose the spirit of brotherly love.
7. A revival will decline and cease unless Christians are frequently reconverted.
III. Things which ought to be done to continue a revival.
1. Ministerial humiliation. Ministers must not only call upon the people to repent; they must be ensamples to the flock.
2. Churches which have opposed revivals must repent.
3. Those who promote the work of revivals must repent their mistakes. There is a constant tendency in Christians to backsliding and declension. Let us mind our work, and let the Lord take care of the rest; do our duty, and leave the issue to God.—Finney, abridged.
Nehemiah 6:5-8. Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me, &c.
An attempt to frustrate Nehemiah by a false report concerning his intentions is described in these verses. This petty wasp of slander may sting the even-minded Reformer, and make him swerve from his steadiness. Sanballat sent to say that it was a “common report” that Nehemiah was meditating the ambitious project of becoming a king; and to make the matter circumstantial, Gashmu was quoted as the authority for this information. Nehemiah, with noble indifference, brushed away the wasp—sent a short, sharp answer back—and then, dismissing the matter, went on with his work.
I. The slander. Isaac Barrow’s biographer quaintly wishes he could find an enemy of his hero, that he might have the honour of defending the memory of the great divine. All men are not so fortunate. The faultless have some fault found with them, and the faulty have their faults exaggerated. Let the most blameless man in the town offer himself as candidate for parliament, and the organ of the rival political party will give a picture astounding to the friends of the good man. Shimei finds foul things to say about David, and Gashmu knows a damaging thing about Nehemiah. In this example of the text there are three stages of slander.
1. The common report. “It is commonly reported among the heathen that thou and the Jews think to rebel.” Who got up that report? is a common question about similar matters now-a-days. Who was the man in the iron mask? Who executed Charles I.? Who invents the lie that sings in the air about some faultless man? These are conundrums to “give up.” Where all the gnats come from that fill the windowpane was a puzzle to our childhood. Where all the lies come from that buzz round our neighbourhoods is a puzzle to our later life. “It is commonly reported!” Woe to the tongue ingenious in this art! For our own part, let us beware of giving our jealousies and suspicions wings. Let them die in the egg. Keep the door of the lips, especially when conversing with a fool. And equally necessary is it to beware of eager listening to groundless suggestions, born of malice and envy and uncharitableness. The demand creates the supply. Send these hawkers of mischief away from the door. Keep the door of the ears.
2. The authority for the “fact.” “Gashmu saith it.” Who’s Gashmu? A very common authority on these matters. He’s very often a myth. There is no Gashmu at all. Try to find him, and he is always “removed.” Tracking a slander is often like seeking a grasshopper. It chirps here and there and everywhere, except on the handful of grass you lay your hand on. Looking for Gashmu is like hunting the cuckoo—it’s “a voice, a mystery.” Gashmu! He is not, or you find him not. Sometimes Gashmu is real enough. If you hear the report, you need not be told where it came from. Gashmu “his mark” is on the forehead of the slander. He sits in his window blowing peas at all passers-by. There are human creatures who delight in this kind of cowardly damage of other men’s reputations. For some wise end they were created—all things are. The nettle and the hornet and the slanderer—perhaps these have their part to play. “Gashmu” might be carved on some of the graves—“Here rests one who never let any one else rest.”
3. The informant. Sanballat sent the letter. These are the three steps: “Common report”—“Gashmu”—“Sanballat.” An illustration of the development theory! The slander is born out of nothing; it is generated in that inorganic matter of lies which fills the atmosphere of the globe; it takes form and organization in Gashmu, in him it becomes a real thing; then Sanballat conducts it to its goal. Sanballat, who writes the letter of information, or whispers the thing in confidence, is often the mischievous originator of the whole mystery of lies—the predecessors are but imaginary. Sometimes he is “not a knave, but a fool” merely, some one who means well, a friend who thinks it is a part of friendship to do things like this. But for him the slander would be unknown and harmless; it is his work to post up the information in the window. The ill that is wrought for want of thought! It is only thinking that can stop that.
II. Treatment of slander.
1. Give it no foundation in yourself. Such a thing is said of you! exclaimed a zealous friend once. Ah! coolly answered the victim, and the worst of it, it’s true. “Be ye wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” There is a spirit of slumbering fairness in society. Do not say in your “haste, all men are liars.” It is not so. Do not be soured by the abundance of mischief and the superfluity of naughtiness among men. But at the same time beware! Avoid the appearance of evil. Like Cæsar’s wife, be “above suspicion.” Do not be content with such integrity as will go with the average; let your white be snow-white. [Illustrate by the grand integrity of Nehemiah.] Not in fear of the slander, but in love of what is right and good, seek the lofty character of the righteous man. Whatsoever things are true and lovely and of good report take as the garb of your character.
2. Take no notice of it. As the children say, “Don’t believe it!” See the grand style of Nehemiah 6:8 : “Then I sent unto him, saying, There are no such things as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart”—a message for Sanballat to think about. To have his elaborate slander crumpled up and flung at his head with the label “LIES” on it would be disappointing to this officious person. Silence is the best reply as a rule. We cannot waste the day in explanations. “When I have written an angry reply to a letter, I never send it off at once. I read it over. I often re-write it, and put more sting into the sentences. Then I argue thus. This letter will do if I send it in twenty-four hours. It shall not go earlier on any consideration. To reserve my reply will show I was not annoyed much, and that I am a tranquil master of myself. I consequently lock up my letter, all sealed and addressed. And at the end of the twenty-four hours I take out the letter, and without reading it throw it on the fire. That has always been my course since I once wrote and posted immediately one of those replies. It proved to be a mistake. Since then I have done as I have said. It always relieves me—serves as a waste-pipe—and I never have to repent of harsh correspondence.”
3. Go on with your work. Slander as a rule does the good man no harm, unless it stop him in his work and make him lay down his enterprise in disgust. Many a man has given up his Master’s work of “doing good” because his good was evil spoken of. [Illustrate from the life of Jesus.] When the Lord of the vineyard cometh and asks, “Why did you leave my work?” what can you say? At your peril keep to the good course. This sharp-shooting of criticism is to try the soldier. Endure as seeing Him who is invisible. “They say? What do they say? Let them say.” Many a man has given up the good work of his soul’s salvation for a similar reason. It sometimes falls to the lot of a minister to be sent for to some dying man, and this is the story which comes from the departing deserter. “I was once a member of such and such a church, and there I was not treated as, &c., &c.; I took offence, and have hardly been in a place of worship since. It is ten years ago.” “My brother,” thinks the minister though he takes care not to say it, “do you think that excuse will cover those ten wasted years?” You are responsible for the effect of the slander; another may have a heavy score to pay on account of its origin.
1. Live for the approval of the Lord of all. Do not root yourself on the shallow, changing opinion of man. Seek a higher basis for endeavour, animated by the solemn fear of God.
2. Consider the importance of life and its work. Do not suppose you may please yourself whether you keep your hand on the plough or not. Woe to Jonah, whatever be the cause of his flight from his God-appointed task.
3. Accept criticism—as an instructive corrector; and slander—as a discipline of patience and firmness.
“Lord, I adore thy gracious will,
Through every instrument of ill
My Father’s goodness see;
Accept the complicated wrong
Of Shimei’s hand and Shimei’s tongue
As kind rebukes from thee.”
Nehemiah 6:6. It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words.
Matthew Henry well expresses the historical sense of this passage. “Sanballat endeavours to possess Nehemiah with an apprehension that his undertaking to build the walls of Jerusalem was generally represented as factious and seditious, and would be accordingly resented at court. The best men, even in their most innocent and excellent performances, have lain under this imputation. This is written to him in an open letter, as a thing generally known and talked of; that it was reported among the nations, and Gashmu will aver it for truth, that Nehemiah was aiming to make himself king, and to shake off the Persian yoke. Observe, it is common for that which is the sense only of the malicious, to be falsely represented by them as the sense of the many.” From this particular instance let us consider generally the tongue, its use and abuse.
I. Use of the tongue.
1. To express thought and emotion. A word is the incarnation of a thought. It lay hidden and formless in the thinker’s mind. The word is the body prepared for it. The thought stands out clear to the gaze of others. There is a language understood by the animals. A child speaks because of the necessity it feels to express its thought. It understands before it can express itself. The first dawn of intelligence is in a child’s smile; it enters into a new world when it utters the first word. The fountains of the great deep of intelligence are broken up. The child performs “the miracle of speech.” Were thought pent up in our minds without the medium of expression which words give, each one would live in a world of his own. We cannot conceive of a family, a social state, a nation without language. “Speak, that I may see thee,” said one to a fair-haired youth. As “we know metals by their tinkling,” so we know men by their speech. Dumbness excites pity. Expression is the first and simplest use of the tongue.
2. To glorify God. “Therewith bless we God.” We are not alone in this. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.” God is known by the works of his hands. But it is our province explicitly to bless God. The glory of the heavens is the glory of inference; our glory is the glory of reference. “The whole creation is as a well-tuned instrument, but man maketh the music.” Men of science reduce the myriad things in nature to laws; and these to still fewer; until all causes resolve themselves into the Cause of causes—God. To him all things tend. From him, as a fountain, all streams flow; to him, as a sea, they all return.
3. To fan the flame of devotion in others. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Words have moved the world. Pulpits, senates, law courts are centres from which words proceed. Men of words as necessary as men of action. Armies, nations have been stirred by eloquent speech. Possibilities of speech should make us humble, if not make us tremble. Words escape our lips big with eternal issues. “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” “Foolish talking” is condemned as well as “filthy communication.”
II. The abuse of the tongue. “Take heed,” says an Arabian proverb, “thy tongue cut not thy throat.”
(1) Under-statement. Half-truths; concealing some material thing. We are not bound to satisfy everybody’s curiosity. Two legitimate times for speaking—when God would be glorified or man benefited. But having professed to tell and then conceal is deception. There are spoken lies and acted lies.
(2) Over-statement. Speaking in superlatives. A habit easily contracted. “All his geese are swans.”
(3) False statement. God and men hate lying. You may be clever, amiable, attractive; but if you lie, the swift, sure, terrible Nemesis is, you will never again be trusted. For this there is no place of repentance, though you seek it carefully with tears. Lying is a sin of which it is peculiarly true—“Be sure your sin will find you out.”
2. Defamation of others. Grosser forms—evil speaking with malice aforethought; bearing false witness; slander. A form of this punishable by law. But some of the keenest slanders elude law. “A good name is great riches.” It is to be desired. We must not superciliously discard the good opinion of others; we need not fawningly seek it. To some a good name is all they have; e. g. domestic servants, professional men. Studied wickedness is worst of all. “I saw,” said Augustine, “a little child pale with envy.” How many town scandals would have been avoided, how many Church quarrels prevented, had men acted on that golden rule—“If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” Be patient under detraction. “Blessed are ye when men shall say all manner of evil against you falsely.”
Silence and speech. “Why tell me that a man is a fine speaker if it is not the truth that he is speaking? Phocion, who did not speak at all, was a great deal nearer hitting the mark than Demosthenes. He used to tell the Athenians, ‘You can’t fight Philip. You have not the slightest chance with him. He is a man who holds his tongue; he has great disciplined armies; he can brag anybody you like in your cities here; and he is going on steadily with an unvarying aim towards his object; and he will infallibly beat any kind of men such as you, going on raging from shore to shore with all that rampant nonsense.’ Demosthenes said to him one day, ‘The Athenians will get mad some day and kill you.’ ‘Yes,’ Phocion says, ‘when they are mad; and you, as soon as they get sane again.’ It is told about him going to Messina on some deputation that the Athenians wanted on some kind of matter of an intricate and contentious nature, that Phocion went with some story in his mouth to speak about. He was a man of few words—no unveracity; and after he had gone on telling the story a certain time, there was one burst of interruption. One man interrupted with something he tried to answer, and then another, and, finally, the people began bragging and brawling, and no end of debate, till it ended in the want of power in the people to say any more. Phocion drew back altogether, struck dumb, and would not speak another word to any man, and he left it to them to decide in any way they liked. It appears to me there is a kind of eloquence in that which is equal to anything Demosthenes ever said. ‘Take your own way, and let me out altogether.’ ”—Carlyle.
Slander. “In St. James’s day, as now, it would appear that there were idle men and idle women, who went about from house to house, dropping slander as they went, and yet you could not take up that slander and detect the falsehood there. You could not evaporate the truth in the slow process of the crucible, and then show the residuum of falsehood glittering and visible. You could not fasten upon any word or sentence and say that it was calumny; for in order to constitute slander it is not necessary that the word spoken should be false—half truths are often more calumnious than whole falsehoods. It is not even necessary that a word should be distinctly uttered; a dropped lip, an arched eyebrow, a shrugged shoulder, a significant look, an incredulous expression of countenance, nay, even an emphatic silence, may do the work; and when the light and tritling thing which has done the mischief has fluttered off, the venom is left behind, to work and rankle, to inflame hearts, to fever human existence, and to poison human society at the fountain springs of life. Very emphatically was it said by one whose whole being had smarted under such affliction, ‘Adders’ poison is under their lips.’ ”—F. W. Robertson.
“We have no right to spread an injurious report merely because somebody brought it to us. It is a crime to pass bad money as well as to coin it. We are bound to consider whether the person from whom we heard the report had opportunities of knowing the truth, was likely to form a sound judgment of the facts which came under his knowledge, and whether we should have believed him if be had said the same thing to us about some person to whom we bore no ill-will. There would be very much less scandal manufactured if there were less disposition to circulate it.”—R. W. Dale.
One great sin wherein the corruption of human nature bewrayeth itself is detraction, or depriving others of a good repute. Here I shall show—
I. What is detraction.
1. The nature of it in general. It is an unjust violation of another’s fame, reputation, or that good report which is due to him. God, that hath bidden me to love my neighbour as myself, doth therein bid me to be tender not only of his person and goods, but of his good name. And indeed one precept is a guard and fence to another. I cannot be tender of his person and goods unless I be tender of his fame; for every man liveth by his credit.
(1) It is a sin against God, who hath forbidden us to bear false witness against our neighbour, and to speak evil of others without a cause. Ephesians 4:31 : “Let all evil-speaking be far from you.” By evil-speaking is meant there disgraceful and contumelious speeches, whereby we seek to stain the reputation of others.
(2) It is a wrong to man, because it robbeth him of his good name, which is so deservedly esteemed by all that would do anything for God in the world. “A good name should rather be chosen than great riches” (Proverbs 22:1). Therefore, as he himself should not prostitute his good name, so others should not blast it and blemish it; for it is a greater sin than to steal the best goods which he hath, and it is such an evil as scarce admits any sound restitution; for the imputation even of unjust crimes leaveth a scar though the wound be healed.
(3) The causes it proceedeth from are these. (α) Malice and ill-will, which prompteth us to speak falsely of others, so to make them odious, or do them wrong or hurt. To hate our brother in our heart is no way consistent with that charity which the impression of the love of Christ should beget in us. The hatred of offence, which is opposite to the love of complacency, may be justified as to the wicked. Proverbs 29:27 : “An unjust man is an abomination to the just, and he that is upright in the way is an abomination to the wicked.” But then we should first and most abominate ourselves for sin; this very hatred and abhorrence should begin at home, and we should be most odious to ourselves for sin, for we know more sin by ourselves than we can do by another. But for the hatred of enmity, which is opposite to the love of benevolence, that should be quite banished out of the heart of a Christian. (β) It comes from uncharitable credulity, whereby men easily believe a false report, and so propagate and convey it to others. Jeremiah 20:10 : “I have heard the defaming of many. Report, say they, and we will report it.” If any will raise a report tending to the discredit of another, some will foster it; and it loseth nothing in the carriage, till by additions and misconstructions it groweth to a downright and dangerous infamy. (γ) It comes through rashness and unruliness of tongue. Some men never learned to bridle their tongues, and the Apostle James telleth us that “therefore their religion is vain” (James 1:26). Till we make conscience of these evils, as well as others, we content ourselves with a partial obedience, and therefore cannot be sincere. Whisperers must be talking. (δ) It comes from carnal zeal, which is nothing else but passion for our different interests and opinions. Many lies walk under the disguise of religion. Is all speaking evil of another unlawful? I cannot say so, but yet it is hard to keep it from sin.
1. He that doth it without just cause is plainly a detractor, and so a grievous sinner before God. God doth not only reject the liars for hypocrites, but also the backbiters and slanderers.
2. He that doth but speak what he hath heard from others, without any assertion or asseveration of his own, as not knowing the truth of the report, can hardly be excused from sin. He reporteth those things which may induce the hearers to think ill of another, and if without just cause he is in part accessory.
3. He that doth speak that which is true, but tendeth to the infamy of another, may be guilty of sin if he have not a sufficient call and warrant. If it be a matter we have nothing to do with, but only speak of their faults for talk sake. If we aggravate things beyond their just size and proportion. If we urge their crimes and deny their graces. Is there no good amongst all this evil?
2. The kinds of detraction.
(1) Whispering, which is privy defamation of our brother, to bring him into disfavour and disrespect with those that formerly had a better opinion of him. Herein whispering differeth from backbiting, because the whisperer stingeth secretly, but the other doth more openly attack our credit. Now this whispering is a great sin; it is reckoned among the sins which reigned among the heathen, and God hath expressly forbidden to his people. Leviticus 19:16 : “Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer among thy people.” It is against natural equity, because they do that to others which they would not have done to themselves It is a grief to the party wronged, and a cause of much debate and strife.
(2) Backbiting is a more public speaking evil of our absent brother, to the impairing of his credit. Now this may be done two ways. With respect to the good things found in him, and with respect to the evil supposed to be committed by him. With respect to the good things found in him:—When we deny those good things which we know to be in another. When we lessen the gifts and graces of others. When we own the good, but deprave it by supposing a sinister intention. When we have just occasion to speak of a man’s due commendation, but enviously suppress it. As to evil supposed to be committed by them:—When we publish their secret slips, which in charity we ought to conceal. Proverbs 11:13 : “A tale-bearer revealeth secrets.” When a man intrudeth himself into the mention of things faulty, which he might with better manners and more honesty conceal, it is the effect of a base heart. When, in relating any evil action of another, we use harder terms than the quality of the fact requireth, and make evils worse than they are, beams of motes, and mountains of molehills. We should lessen sins all that we can; I mean the sins and faults of others. By imposing false crimes. The most godly and innocent persons cannot escape the scourge of the tongue, and unjust calumnies.
II. The heinousness of the sin.
1. In general, that is evident from what is said already. Two arguments more I shall urge.
(1) Men shall be called to an account for these sins as well as others.
(2) It is the property of a citizen of Zion—one that shall be not only accepted with God now, but dwell with God for ever—not to be given to backbiting (Psalms 15:0).
2. More particularly, it is the more heinous,
(1) Partly from the person against whom it is committed; e. g. the godly; public persons.
(2) From the persons before whom the slander is brought, as suppose kings and princes; so that they are deprived not only of private friendships, but the favour and countenance of those under whose protection they have their life and service.
(3) From the end of it. If it be done with a direct intention of hurting another’s fame, it is worse than if out of a rash levity and loquacity. Some men have no direct intention of mischief, but are given to talking; others sow discord.
(4) From the great hurt that followeth, be it loss of estate or general trouble. When men’s good names are buried, their persons cannot long subsist afterward with any degree of service. And all this may be the fruit of a deceitful tongue. The use is, to show how good-natured Christianity is, and befriendeth human societies; it condemneth not only sins against God, but sins against our neighbour. Let us not speak evil of others behind their backs, but tell them their faults. Remembering our own faults, looking at home, will not only divert us from slandering of others, but make us compassionate towards them, and breed comfort in our own souls.—Manton, abridged.
Nehemiah 6:8. Then I sent unto him, saying, There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart
A bold word this to fling in the teeth of authority.
I. Men of courage are men of convictions. Nehemiah’s consciousness that he was doing a great work made him bold. Physical courage is a thing of blood and nerve. The morally courageous man may be nervous, shrinking, fearful. He is self-reliant because reliant on God. The men without convictions, what have they done? Those who tell us it is doubtful if there be a God, religion is the poetry of conscience, the Bible is a fetish, whom have they blessed? for whom have they agonized? Has the world’s suffering wrung from them any great sweat of blood? The world’s hard work has never been done by the mealy-mouthed. Great reformations have not been accomplished by the nerveless souls without strong convictions for or against. Men of one idea have made mistakes, but not the mistake of leaving the work undone. This Jewish Reformer and Liberator reminds us of Martin Luther, the stories of whose boldness have passed into proverbs; and of John Knox, whom Scotland delights to honour. Of him Carlyle tells the following story in his own inimitable way:—“In the galleys of the river Loire, whither Knox and the others, after their castle of St. Andrew’s was taken, had been sent as galley slaves, some officer or priest one day presented them an image of the Virgin Mother, requiring that they, the blasphemous heretics, should do it reverence. ‘Mother! mother of God!’ said Knox, when the turn came to him. ‘This is no mother of God; this is “a pented bredd”—a piece of wood, I tell you, with paint on it. She is fitter for swimming, I think, than for being worshipped,’ added Knox, and flung the thing into the river.” Rather dangerous sport that! “The courage of his convictions” makes a man a hero. There was a sacred must in the highest life. “I must work the works of him that sent me.” “He steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Another story which Carlyle tells of John Knox will illustrate how these elect spirits shrank from the tasks laid upon them. “In an entirely obscure way Knox had reached the age of forty; was with the small body of Reformers who were standing siege in St. Andrew’s Castle, when one day in their chapel the preacher, after finishing his exhortation to these fighters in the forlorn hope, said suddenly, that there ought to be other speakers, that all men who had a priest’s heart and gift in them ought now to speak;—which gifts and heart one of their own number, John Knox the name of him, had. Had he not? said the preacher, appealing to all the audience. What then is his duty? The people answered affirmatively; it was a criminal forsaking of his post if such a man held the word that was in him silent. Poor Knox was obliged to stand up; he attempted to reply, he could say no word; burst into a flood of tears, and ran out.” “Carlstad,” said Luther, “wanted to be the great man, and truly I would willingly have left the honour to him, so far as it had not been against God. For, I praise my God, I was never so presumptuous as to think myself wiser than another man. When at first I wrote against indulgences, I designed simply to have opposed them, thinking that, afterwards, others would come and accomplish what I had begun.” To be out of the roll of common men is not desirable. But when self-will and God’s will come into collision, the will of the Lord be done. Don’t be a straw upon the stream. Get convictions. Hold them. Search the Scriptures. Be loyal to conscience. Obey God. Spheres are narrow or wide. What matters that? In the narrowest men may fail; in the widest they can but be faithful. Reverence “the sacred must” in thy life and work.
II. Applications of this principle.
1. A man’s real foe is himself. “Nothing,” says St. Bernard, “can work me damage except myself; the harm that I sustain I carry about with me, and never am a real sufferer but by my own fault.” The powerful opposition or skilful deception of the Sanbollats and Gashmus within my sphere may make my duty more difficult, but cannot wholly prevent my performance of it. There is such a thing as self-degradation. This position is not uncommon—to do our duty and suffer: to leave it undone and escape the suffering. But to do the latter is to degrade oneself.
2. Not such boldness, but some boldness is required of us all. We may have opportunities of speaking the truth in love; we must not shrink from the responsibility of speaking the truth. Force, fraud, falsehood were arrayed against Nehemiah, are arrayed against us. The holy war arises out of an enmity of long standing.
3. Pay homage to thy convictions. Honour the grey-headed truths in the faith of which apostles, martyrs, and saints have lived and died. God’s love, Christ’s atonement, your pardon and need of renewal—hold fast these convictions. “Take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day”—the conquered soldier can do that; “and having done all to stand”—only the conquering soldier can do that. So thou soldier of God.
4. Do the task allotted thee. “Work, in every hour, paid or unpaid; see only that thou work, and thou canst not escape the reward; whether thy work be fine or coarse, planting corn or writing epics, so only it be honest work, done to thine own approbation, it shall earn a reward to the senses as well as to the thought; no matter how often defeated, you are born to victory. The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.”—Emerson. Nehemiah sent his message, and then went on with his work. “So the wall was finished.”
FEAR AND FAITH
Nehemiah 6:9. For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands
The words come after the story of a new scare to Nehemiah. [Describe his anxieties from various forms of enmity.] Words suggest two companion topics, Fear and Faith.
I. Fear. “For they all made us afraid.” Man is accompanied through life by foes and fears. In some cases the fears are more numerous than the foes. Frequently the only thing to be afraid of is our own fear. There are foes of us all, however, who “make us afraid.” To have an iron spirit not easily quailed is a great gift, and to have a spirit like a sensitive plant, which curls at every touch and interrupts its functions, is a great misery. We may allow fears to grow upon us, until they become an atmosphere to the soul.
1. Causes of fear. With Nehemiah there were causes enough—real flesh and blood foes, who made his career in Jerusalem one long vigil, always listening for the loud alarum of strife. Similarly with most men in most of life’s enterprises. The soul has its foes; “they are lively and they are strong.” All religious work is done against obstacles which “make us afraid.” (α) The devil is a downright foe. We are not so much alarmed at him now as in days of superstition. Luther threw his ink-pot at the arch-enemy of his soul, and we smile at the picture of the rough student rising from his Bible and casting such a very material defiance at such a very immaterial foe. We have refined the devil since then to a “general expression for,” &c. But was not the mistaken Reformer nearer right than ourselves? “Your adversary the devil” is not a mere generalization. (β) Foes hide themselves or show themselves in our fellow-men. The man who hinders my work for God is my foe, whether he scare me by opposition, or interrupt me by an unprofitable friendship. The foe who pushes me down the precipice, and the foe who persuades me to go to sleep in the sun, are alike reasons for fear. (γ) The sinful nature in myself is my enemy. “No one’s enemy but his own” is a common form of speech. Every man is a ship with a mutinous crew on board, and destruction is averted only by the masterful assertion of my better self against my lower self, of my conscience against my passions, of the grace of God against the sin that dwelleth in me.
“Christian, seek not yet repose,
Cast thy dreams of ease away;
Thou art in the midst of foes;
Watch and pray.”
2. Effects of fear. (α) Exaggeration of peril. Life grows very gloomy when the soul is afraid. Fear is a fearful thing. The palpitating, perspiring rustic in the dark lane misinterprets every shadow, and hears a voice of threatening in every sound, when once anything like superstitous terror has seized him. When you are frightened you are not in a position to judge of your situation. Allow for the enlargements of fear. Sometimes when we hear a sensational story we say, Ah, Mr. Superlative told you that; take off ninety per cent. Now if we could so deal with the alarming suggestions of our own fears it would be well. They deceive us. When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, they were troubled, and supposed that they had seen a spirit; but he said, “Be not afraid; it is I!” (β) Paralysis of strength. “The hearts of the people melted and became as water”—not much lion-work of fighting for them. A child can take the sword of a frightened man. Be very courageous if you would be very strong.
II. Faith. “Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.” “What time I am afraid I will trust in the Lord.” The word of God is full of presuppositions of man’s timorousness and fear. It speaks gently, and as to a child, and bids its organs be soft. “Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem!” Fear not, Abraham, I am thy shield! Fear not, Moses—Joshua—David—Daniel: all through the story of man’s struggle God’s ringing cry of Fear not! falls upon him from heaven. Do not over-chide yourself if you are of a timorous make, for why should there be chapter after chapter of bugle-calls to courage, except that men never have been overstocked with that grace. After faith in St. Peter’s teaching comes courage: “Add to your faith virtue” (courage). Now faith stands as the counterpart of fear.
1. In causes of fear. Against our array of foes it brings into view the presence of God. We should strive to think God as real as our foes are, whereas we commonly in our panic see only the peril, and not the Saviour. At Waterloo the French were ranged on one side of a valley in brilliant force, while on the other side of the valley waited the army that was to conquer—an army mostly hidden. It is thus in religious life. 2 Kings 6:15-17 gives a beautiful illustrative story. Those “horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” were hidden to the servant, though seen by the clear-eyed faith of his master. “Elisha prayed, and said unto the Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.” Look not on the foes only, but see God.
“Hell is nigh, but God is nigher,
Circling us with hosts of fire.”
2. Against the effect of fear (despair) let us set the spirit of hope. “Take for a helmet the hope of salvation.” That will prevent you being stunned by fear. What incitements to hope we find.
(1) In the history of God’s help. Dealings with faithful in all generations.
(2) In experience of God’s help. Our own remembered deliverances. Read St. Paul’s grand defiance of all foes, visible and invisible, present and to come, in his glorious burst at end of the eighth of Romans: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ” (Romans 8:35-39)?
1. Be aware of your foes.
2. Do not make too much of them.
3. Remember that it is not your own strength that wins, but the God who strengthens your hands.
4. Never despair.
Nehemiah 6:9. O God, strengthen my hands
INTRODUCTION.—Outline Nehemiah’s position:—fierceness of foes; fear of friends; work endangered; his own heart failing him for fear. A critical moment, requiring instantaneous decision. Felt weakness casting itself on God.
I. The habit of devotion. This prayer not uttered whilst writing. He recalls his experiences in that time of danger. Such a trial-hour would stamp itself in the memory. Nehemiah is remarkable for his ejaculatory prayers. They were the habit of his life. You cannot be always devotional, if you mean by that engaged in acts of devotion. Habit will make you ready for occasion. A school-boy cannot be all day long repeating his father’s name; enough if when a temptation arises to do what would offend his father he refuses. Bible precepts cannot be always on the tongue’s end, but a Christian man should be so under the influence of Biblical principles that he will shrink instinctively from wrong-being and wrong-doing.
“I want a principle within
Of jealous, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin,
A pain to feel it near;
I want the first approach to feel
Of pride, or fond desire.
To catch the wandering of my will,
And quench the kindling fire.
That I from thee no more may part,
No more thy goodness grieve,
The filial awe, the fleshy heart,
The tender conscience give.
Quick as the apple of an eye,
O God, my conscience make!
Awake my soul when sin is nigh,
And keep it still awake.”
Some ask only for a sentiment. That is insufficient. Devotion must reach the core of our being. We must be “throughout Christian.” Habit implies formation. Not by a sudden bound do men reach perfection. Halting and stumbling characterize a Christian’s first efforts to walk alone. God regards the bent of the will, the direction of the desires. “He knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” Don’t be discouraged by failure, repeated failure. Begin again. Learn to pray. Habituate thyself to devotional exercises.
II. The limits of solitariness. “O God, strengthen MY hands.” The hands of the workers needed to be strengthened. But on Nehemiah rested the responsibility. He stood alone. If his strength should fail in the day of adversity, all would be lost. The tallest trees feel the stress of the blast. Highly-wrought natures are subject to influences unfelt by coarser minds. Christ is the great champion here—the loneliest man that ever lived. You cannot read the Gospels without feeling how far apart from him even the disciples were. The best of the outside world had so little in common with him. And through the ages men have had to thank God for the lonely spirits. The noblest work is achieved by personal and lonesome effort. Sunday schools, prison reforms, hospital management, religious revivals, revolutions in Church and State are the result of the genius and energy of individual men and women. They strike out the path along which the less gifted, but not less earnest, travel. Doubtless there are times when the terrible loneliness of their position startles such men. Such a time came to Nehemiah, and he cried unto God. And in the commonplace life of all of us there is solitariness. For the value of a life does not depend upon externals. To himself the life of a peasant is as important as is the life of a prince. No second life is given. Great and small are relative terms, be it remembered. None is alone who has God with him. “Jesus said, Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.”
III. The value of certitude. “O God, strengthen my hands.”
“I am weak, but thou art mighty,
Hold me with thy powerful hand.”
That was about all Nehemiah knew. His creed was short, but he held it firmly. Sanballat and Gashmu might gather fresh forces or bribe Nehemiah’s bodyguard; one thing was clear amid the haze of others, God was Almighty, and always approachable. We have a fuller creed; have we a sublimer trust? A motto of the Apostle Paul—“We know.” Nor is St. John one whit behind his brother-apostle. The circle of religious knowledge might be almost completed from his First Epistle alone. “We know that the Son of God is come.” “We know that we are of God.” “We know that we know him.” “We know that we are in him.” “We know that he abideth in us.” “We know the Spirit of truth and error.” “We know that he heareth us.” “We know that when he shall appear we shall be like him.” That which we have experienced becomes certain. “We speak that we do know.” “One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.”
IV. The secret of steadiness. “They all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands. So the wall was finished.” “Unbelief,” says Gurnall, “is a soul-enfeebling sin. It is to prayer as the moth is to the cloth; it wastes the soul’s strength, so that it cannot look up to God with any hope. ‘They made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened.’ Resist, therefore, Satan; be steadfast in the faith. Never let thy heart suffer the power, mercy, or truth of God to be called in question; thou hadst as good question whether he can cease to be God.”
1. In striving to attain personal excellence he patient. Effort and failure mark much of our life. The task we have in hand is herculean; the opponents are numerous and powerful.
2. In any form of Christian enterprise moderate your expectations. Opposition will arise when least expected. Those for whom you toil will seldom appreciate your motives. Success may linger.
3. Make the secular sacred by infusing into it a sacred spirit. Refuse to call anything common and unclean.
Ejaculatory prayer.—“Ejaculatory prayer is prayer darted of from the heart to God, not at stated intervals, but in the course of our daily occupations and amusements. The word ‘ejaculatory’ is derived from the Latin word for a dart or arrow, and there is an idea in it which one would be loath indeed to forfeit. Imagine an English archer, strolling through a forest in the old times of Crecy and Agincourt, when the yeomen of this island were trained to deliver their arrows with the same unfailing precision as ‘a left-handed Gibeonite’ discharging a stone bullet from his sling. A bird rises in the brushwood under his feet, a bird of gorgeous plumage or savoury flesh. He takes an arrow from his quiver, draws his bow to its full stretch, and sends the shaft after the bird with the speed of lightning. Scarcely an instant elapses before his prey is at his feet. It has been struck with unerring aim in the critical part, and drops on the instant. Very similar in the spiritual world is the force of what is called ejaculatory prayer. The Christian catches suddenly a glimpse of some blessing, deliverance, relief, a longing after which is induced by the circumstances into which he is thrown. Presently it shall be his. As the archer first draws the bow in towards himself, so the Christian retires, by a momentary act of recollection, into his own mind, and there realizes the presence of God. Then he launches one short, fervent petition into the ear of that awful Presence, throwing his whole soul into the request. And lo! it is done! The blessing descends, prosecuted, overtaken, pierced, fetched down from the vault of heaven by the winged arrow of prayer.”—Goulburn.
“Ejaculations take not up any room in the soul. They give liberty of callings, so that at the same instant one may follow his proper vocation. The husbandman may dart forth an ejaculation, and not make a balk the more. The seaman, nevertheless, steers his ship right in the darkest night. Yea, the soldier at the same time may shoot out his prayer to God, and aim his pistol at his enemy, the one better hitting the mark for the other. The field wherein bees feed is no whit the barer for their biting; when they have taken their full repast on flower or grass, the ox may feed, the sheep fatten on their reversions. The reason is, because those little chemists distil only the refined part of the flower, leaving the grosser substance thereof. So ejaculations bind not men to any bodily observance, only busy the spiritual half, which makes them consistent with the prosecution of any other employment.”
“In hard havens, so choked up with the envious sands that great ships drawing many feet of water cannot come near, lighter and lesser pinnaces may freely and safely arrive. When we are time-bound, place-bound, so that we cannot compose ourselves to make a large, solemn prayer, this is the right instant for ejaculations, whether orally uttered or only poured forth inwardly in the heart.”—Fuller.
Nehemiah 6:10-13. Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah, &c.
In the varying romance of Nehemiah’s brave struggle with difficulties occurs an instance of panic, or of what might have been panic to a less steadfast soul. A man was shutting himself up in alarm—real or assumed—and endeavoured to persuade Nehemiah to do the like, to turn the temple into a fortress, and to make the open porch of God’s house a shelter for merely personal fear. But Nehemiah (as always) was “steadfast, unmoveable.” His resolute, fearless “I will not go in!” settled the matter, which after all turned out to be a mere theatrical scare, got up to order in the interest of Tobiah and Sanballat. Panic is our subject—its effect and its correctives.
I. Panic. Originally suggestive of Pan, the god of the woods. To ignorant men the deep solemn shades of the virgin forests were fraught with awe, and full of causes for sudden alarm. Unreasoning, helpless FRIGHT is the idea.
1. National panic. A people suddenly exaggerating a state danger, and acting in a way to be sorry for afterwards.
2. Business panic. A trading community or firm scared out of its even regularity into some wild action.
3. Personal panic. Sudden trouble not bravely met with a breastplate of patience and a helmet of hope, but with helpless alarm.
4. Spiritual panic. Those soul-shiverings which are like fits in religious life. These are common familiar forms. Panic is commonly groundless. That is, the wave is not so high as it seems to the retreating bather, who hears its hiss behind him. No man is so bad as sudden indignation paints him, and few crises in man’s history are so alarming as to the alarmed they appear. The downfall of the state—the end of the world—the collapse of trade—the ruin of a house—the overthrow of good—these are often only scares.
II. The effect of panic. To gather all the selfishness of man to a focus or to substitute a brief madness for calm thoughtfulness and decision.
1. It makes a man behave unworthily of himself. The leader shows his flying form as a scoff to the after-judgment of men. “Unsoldierly conduct in presence of the enemy.” Shall that be said of the pillars of the state, or of the strong support of the home, or of the Christian soldier in his discouraging battle with sin? Shall Nehemiah be hidden in some corridor of God’s temple, or peep in alarm from the shut window of Zion?
2. It makes a man behave unworthily toward his fellows. The man who tramples upon the woman in a burning theatre; the craven who sinks the boat which might have saved “all hands” in his eagerness for personal security; the soldier who deserts the companions whom he might have helped to conquest—these are all exhibitions of the unlovely possibilities of human nature. Is Nehemiah to imperil the Jews by scrambling for a place a sword-length away from danger?
3. It makes a man behave unworthily of his God. Is not God FOR the hour of peril? Am I to trust in Providence up to the dangerous moment, and then become my own providence? Is God’s house to be a robber’s den for timorous culprits to shelter in? Let a man die in God’s hands, not “fleeing from the presence of the Lord.”
III. The correctives of panic. “Prevention, not cure,” is the motto.
1. Remembrance of a man’s own dignity. “I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.” For a man’s self to fall is worse than to fall before a foe. Let not the supreme fear be personal fear, “fear of them that can kill THE BODY.” Moral degradation is worse than physical death.
2. Remembrance of others. Carry the alarms of others as corrective of your own. Fear for others, lest your own fear become too great. Nehemiah hears the cry of helpless Jews, and he will not fly and leave them.
3. Remembrance of God. Nehemiah’s book shows how the idea of “my God” had become part of his mental habit His “heart was fixed, trusting in the Lord.” Read Psalms 46:0. at the first murmur of unworthy alarm—“God is our refuge,” &c. The iron nerve of Luther’s hymn is a cry to turn the tide of warring fears. Paul is serene in the danger of shipwreck—nay, in thecertainty of it—because of the forewarning of the Angel of the Lord, “whose I am, and whom I serve.” That “Fear not, Paul!” made him deaf to the roar of the threatening sea. Cultivate a habit of confidence in God. Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.
Application. Keep a short account with conscience, and you will be able to make small account of panic.
Nehemiah 6:10. Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah, &c.
“Shemaiah was such a common name among the Jews, that it is impossible to identify this prophet with any other person of his name. He must, however, have been a man of prominence, and one, too, who had been in Nehemiah’s confidence, or else the attempt would never have been made by Tobiah and Sanballat through him. It may have been the high position and reputation, of Shemaiah that led the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets (Nehemiah 6:14) into the false dealings with Nehemiah.”—Dr. Crosby.
I. Great gifts may be dissociated from pure life. Shemaiah lied. The gift of God in Shemaiah, Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets had been sold for money. Two lists of prophets may be compiled from “the Book”—the true, the false. Of the latter—Balaam (Numbers 23:0), the old prophet (1 Kings 13:0), Zedekiah and the rest who seduced Ahab to his destruction (1 Kings 22:0), Hananiah (Jeremiah 28:0). Character is primal element of a conception of true prophet. “A grace does not differ from a gift in this, that the former is from God, and the latter from nature. As a creative power there is no such thing as nature; all is God’s. A grace is that which has in it some moral quality; whereas a gift does not necessarily share in this. Graces are what the man is; but enumerate his gifts, and you only know what he has.”—F. W. Robertson. Gifts are sacred. We speak of gifted men as men of talent. That word talent was probably borrowed from our Saviour’s parable of the man who was travelling into a far country, who called his servants and delivered unto them his goods. Unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one: to every man according to his several ability, and straightway took his journey. Unfortunately gifts may be abused. They have been abused. They have been used as instruments of oppression. And, shuddering at their abuse, Christian people have often condemned them as if they were the devil’s gifts, not God’s. Now this course is unwise; it is dangerous. We rob ourselves of so much power by refusing to enlist into the service of God whatever is good. In the early Church the gifts of prophecy, of healing, of miracles were abused. St. Paul denounces the abuse, but not the gift. On the contrary, he enumerates them; he states their relative importance; he calls them emphatically spiritual (1 Corinthians 12:14). The gifts of our age are spiritual; the talented men of our time are inspired. Knowledge is power, but it is not piety. The poets of ethereal intellects have not always been men of etherealized lives.
II. Great gifts may lead to deterioration of character. Shemaiah had been a true prophet, whom Nehemiah had found trustworthy. The hypocrite pays unconscious homage to virtue. Prophets and prophetess had gone from bad to worse through Sanballat’s gold. The qualifications which the Jewish doctors deemed indispensable to a prophet were “true probity and piety.” “That God may choose of men whom he pleaseth, and send him, it matters not whether he be wise and learned, or unlearned and unskilful, old or young; only that this is required, that he be a virtuous, good, and honest man; for hitherto there was never any that could say that God did cause the Divine majesty to dwell in a vicious person, unless he had first reformed himself.”—Maimonides. The “lying spirit” entered into them and they fell. “Now these things were our examples.” Use your gifts, not display them. Be not vain of them. Has God given thee a clear judgment, penetration, retentive memory, or an eloquent tongue, thank him by cultivating it. Has he endowed thee with health, thank him for it by preserving it. Has he given thee mechanical skill or business aptitude, recognize the Giver by turning it to best advantage. As God has appointed to every man his work, so he has given to every man his gift. The sacred call of duty is heard along all the ranks of existence. Let not the humblest amongst us imagine that his gifts are unnecessary or valueless—they are his. The drop of water in which the animalculæ live is to them what the sea is to behemoth. The falling leaf is as great a catastrophe to the insect that feeds upon it as is a burning world to an angel. Dost thou scorn the lesser gifted? Bethink thyself. The God who endowed thee endowed them; the Spirit who inspired thee inspires them. “Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?” Are you discontented with your gifts, and envious of the more highly endowed? Forget not that God who lights the sun lights the stars. He does not disown the meanest flower that blows. The seraph nearest to his throne does not cause him to forget the humblest missionary toiling in some island of the Southern Seas.
1. Accept thy position. God, who has appointed the hounds of our habitation, has fixed the limits of our power.
2. Cultivate your gifts. Be not contented. Do not repine.
3. Remember that gifts are not graces. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” The only undying faculties are the affections; the only permanent work is that we do for others.
Ahab’s lying prophets (1 Kings 22:0). “Ahab consulted all his false prophets as to whether or not he should go to attack the Syrians at Ramoth-Gilead. They knew what to say; they knew that their business was to prophesy what would pay them—what would be pleasant to him. They did not care whether what was said was true or not; they lied for the sake of gain, for the Lord had put a lying spirit into their mouths. They were rogues and villains from the first. They had turned prophets, not to speak God’s truth, but to make money, to flatter King Ahab, to get themselves a reputation. We do not hear that they were all heathens. Many of them may have believed in the true God. But they were cheats and liars, and so they had given place to the devil, the father of lies; and now he had taken possession of them in spite of themselves, and they lied to Ahab, and told him that he would prosper in the battle at Ramoth-Gilead. It was a dangerous thing for them to say; for if he had been defeated, and returned disappointed, his rage would have most probably fallen on them for deceiving him. And as in those Eastern countries kings do whatever they like, without laws or parliaments, Ahab would have most likely put them all to a miserable death on the spot. But however dangerous it might be for them to lie, they could not help lying. A spirit of lies had seized them, and they who began by lying because it paid them, now could not help doing so whether it paid them or not.”
Prophets of to-day “Do not fancy that there are no prophets in our days, unless the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is promised to all who believe, be a dream and a lie. There are prophets now-a-days—yea, I say unto you, and more than prophets. Is not the Bible a prophet? Is not every holy and wise book, every holy and wise preacher and writer, a prophet, expounding to us God’s laws, foretelling to us God’s opinions of our deeds, both good and evil? Ay, is not every man a prophet to himself? That ‘still small voice’—is not that a prophecy in a man’s own heart? Truly it is. It is the voice of God within us, it is the Spirit of God striving with our spirits, whether we will hear, or whether we will forbear—setting before us what is righteous, and noble, and pure, and what is manly and godlike; to see whether we will obey that voice, or whether we will obey our own selfish lusts, which tempt us to please ourselves—to pamper ourselves, our greediness, covetousness, ambition, or self-conceit. And if you ask me how to try the spirits, how to know whether your own thoughts, whether the sermons which you hear, the books which you read, are speaking to you God’s truth, or some lying spirit’s falsehood, I can only answer you, ‘To the law and to the testimony’—to the Bible; if they speak not according to that word, there is no truth in them. But how to understand the Bible? for the fleshly man understands not the things of God. The fleshly man, he who cares only about pleasing himself, he who goes to the Bible full of self-conceit and selfishness, wanting the Bible to tell him only just what he likes to hear, will only find it a sealed book to him, and will very likely wrest the Scriptures to his own destruction. Take up your Bible humbly, praying to God to show you its meaning, whether it be pleasant to you or not, and then you will find that God will show you a blessed meaning in it; he will open your eyes, that you may understand the wondrous things of his law; he will show you how to try the spirit of all you are taught, and to find out whether it comes from God.”—Charles Kingsley.
Nehemiah 6:11. Should such a man as I flee?
Character, position, recollection, Nehemiah opposed to Shemaiah’s cowardly proposal Personal responsibility overpowered all considerations of expediency. Let the instance suggest the wider theme. “We mortal millions dwell alone.” “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
I. A law of the Divine procedure. God has not dealt with men in the mass. He is not far from any one of us.
1. Law implies individual responsibility. The word contains the idea of pointing out, directing, leading; hence a rule of conduct. National law does not treat men as a society, but as a mass of responsible units. All our jurisprudence is based on this. The Bible axiom that every man shall give account of himself has been brought into the sphere of political life. Moral law rests on the same foundation. Its violation is sin; its honour is righteousness. In this none can be surety for his brother. Laws are for the safe-conduct of individual lives. The general good is contained in that of the individual. The true communism is not that which would adopt the impossible expedient of dividing to all alike, but that which shall secure to every individual the scope for working out his responsibility as a man, a citizen, and a Christian.
2. The history of God’s dealings is in harmony with this. Angels—so far as the Bible and analogy lead us to infer—are subject to a similar moral government. They had their testing-time. They stood in probation as individuals. The most exalted spirits in the universe are amenable to God. There can be only one Supreme. They fell as individuals. Satan is distinctive.
“He, above the rest
In shape and gesture proudly eminent,
Stood like a tower; his form had not yet lost
All her original brightness, nor appeared
Less than archangel ruined.”
But they were all “fellows of his crime.” He only “led the embattled seraphim to war.” “His angels were cast out with him.” They are “the angels that sinned.” “By ambition fell the angels.”
“Of their names in heavenly records now
Be no memorial, blotted out and razed
By their rebellion from the book of life.”
The rest stand as individuals having kept their first estate. Their past faithfulness insures the future. Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, the Prince, the Archangel, whether they are personal, or like thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, representative of ranks, are distinctive. For if not individual in themselves, they represent the ministry and defence of the angels. Nations. The Israelites were elected as a nation; but they fell as individuals. One terrible verse sums up all. “Their carcases fell in the wilderness.” History confirms this. When honour is lost in public men, when domestic ties are violated, nations fall. A man’s great enemy is himself; a nation’s great enemy is itself. Truth and justice, law and order, the bond of a nation. The enemy without does not knock at the gates for admission until the enemy within has prepared the way for conquest. Churches. The Churches of the Revelation of St. John are typical. There is a common danger. “He that overcometh!” belongs to Smyrna and Pergamos, to Ephesus and Sardis, to Philadelphia, Thyatira, and Laodicea. But right and wrong are not massed. Declension, false doctrine, seduction, semblance, are severally condemned. Hatred of evil, whether in doctrine or conduct, endurance, adherence to truth, charity, undefiledness, are severally praised. So with individual lives. The stern-souled prophet and the confiding Mary; the martyr Stephen and the traitor Judas; the impressible Herod and the unmoved Baptist; the faithful James and the faithless Peter: each stood alone—alone in relation to God, alone in relation to duty.
3. Christianity recognizes personal responsibility. Christ dealt with men as individuals. In his teaching, miracles, sympathies. One woman elicited his best teaching; one family found his great love; one widow sufficient to move his miraculous arm. Acceptance of Christianity personal. Repentance, faith, forgiveness. Exhibition of Christianity personal. Cross-bearing, truth-speaking, forgiveness, humility, unselfishness, generosity, work. The Church is a body fitly joined together. Every man hath his proper gift of God.
II. A fact in human experience. As every leaf among the myriad leaves of the forest is governed by the laws of growth, and yet in its conformation is distinct, so every man is subject to the general laws of Divine procedure and the special which apply only to himself. No two men are exactly alike in character or circumstances.
1. Responsibility. Each is required to work out his destiny. The foundation of a noble life is Christ, but every man must take heed how he buildeth thereupon. Alone each must return his Lord’s money. Every one will be brought unto him. It will not be important how much we return, but what is the measure of increase. If to the two talents by wise use of opportunities we add other two, we shall receive the same commendation as those who to the five talents add other five.
2. Mystery. There is a strange mixture of good and evil in us. Our feet stand on the earth and our head points toward heaven, as if significant of our heavenly aspirations and earthly tendencies. We can talk of the beauty of virtue whilst deliberately indulging in vice. Pilate-like, we can wash our hands in affected innocency whilst the guilt of blood rests upon us. A business loss, a bereavement, a change in circumstances, and all a man’s fine talk about superiority to circumstances, the vanity of riches, and futility of earthly things avails nothing. The mystery of the future is sometimes agonizing.
3. Guilt. We cannot shift upon the first sinner the guilt of our iniquity. “My sin is ever before me” is the wail of every kingly soul. Nor can we cast our guilt upon circumstances. No man is forced to violate his conscience. Where there is no will there is no guilt. A man must rule his circumstances, not be ruled by them.
4. Faith. Creeds and Churches will not save us. They presuppose our salvation. The reason why the faith of so many is feeble is that they have never tested it. It is an unproved armour, and when the hour comes to encounter Goliath they are afraid. Every man must come into contact with God. “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” One real wrestle with God will teach more about prayer than a treatise on it. Faith in God in an hour of real danger better explains it than a sermon on its philosophy. “Search the Scriptures.” “Prove all things,” that you may “hold fast that which is good.”
5. Temptation. From this there can be no escape. Were we able to say as Christ did, “The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me,” temptation would be powerless. Not here, but yonder, will the sons of God present themselves before the Lord and Satan not come among them.
6. Sorrow. “The heart knoweth his own bitterness.”
III. A prophecy of destiny.
1. What a man is NOW, that he will be HEREAFTER. God will judge every man according to his works, as these are the evidences of the man. Heaven may be a change of locality and circumstances, but not character. This is indestructible.
2. There is no injustice, because each man is judged. To one he gives five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and he will expect a proportionate return. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. Unto every one of us is given grace. God is not a hard master, reaping where he has not sown, and gathering where he has not strawed.
3. We are now fuelling the revealing fire—a fire that shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. Nothing ends in this world. Thoughts become incarnated as soon as we express them. Words live in those who hear us. Deeds have an undying influence. God will gather up the fragments of our daily lives, that nothing be lost. And the day shall declare every man’s work.
Nehemiah 6:11. Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in
Nehemiah would not run away, because he could not fancy himself doing anything of that sort. “Should such a man as I flee?” Our theme then is self-respect. Religion, though it brings with it humility,—an unnatural grace of character, an exotic from the gardens of the skies planted on earth by Divine hands,—though religion induces humility, it promotes self-respect. The eighth Psalm teaches not merely the littleness of man, but his greatness. Throughout the book of Nehemiah the Jewish patriot is not wanting in manly self-respect.
I. The ground of self-respect.
1. False grounds. (a) Money. The vulgarest form of human conceit. To be a money-bag, and nothing else! (b) Birth. A by no means contemptible ground, if the greatness from which a man is born is bred into his own character. (c) Intelligence. Too frequently a reason for the smallest vanity. Vanities of authors and pride of bookmen, (d) Office and association. These are no necessary reasons for self-pluming, but may be the merest accidents.
2. True grounds. Moral worth. Personal nobleness and sincerity of character and life. Under the eye of God, and in view of a Christian relation to God, a man may stand upright before the world, (a) Sonship with God. “That we should be called the sons of God” is a ground for dignity—to be of the inner elect family of God. (b) Brotherhood with the good. To be in the bead-roll of that long line of Divine heroes of all ages—following, but not with equal steps—that stirs the blood. “Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.” (c) Service in righteousness. The great cause of God gives dignity to the meanest servant. “I had rather be a doorkeeper,” &c. (d) Heirship with the skies. The celestial expectations of the good give grandeur to their earthly being.
II. The influence of self-respect.
1. Negatively, (a) Not petty, strutting pride. “Not I, but Jesus Christ that dwelleth in me.” The dignity of the child of God—in its possessions and honours and hopes—is too tremendous to be proud of. (b) Not contempt of others. “He that is greatest among you, let him be your servant.” Jesus has a name above every name, because “he took on him the form of a servant.”
2. Positively. (a) The effect of self-respect in duty. To exalt all duty into the sublime, and to do it, beyond all its temporal and transitory purposes, “as unto the Lord.” (b) In temptation. To make sin beneath a man. “He cannot sin, because he is born of God”—as a spotless Washington “cannot lie.” Joseph’s indignant “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (c) In trouble. It prevents a man becoming unworthy of himself. “I know how to be abased.” “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.” In worldly scenes and senses pride is a great restrainer of weakness. “Burning pride and high disdain forbad the rising tear to flow.” So in the spiritual life the man of God chides his trembling soul: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?”
Application. Know thyself!
1. A child of God. Are you a child of God?
2. Then rightly view the dignity of your being. On the human side, a vessel of clay, brief in life, weak in powers, limited by worldly accidents; but on the Godward side, an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ.
Nehemiah 6:11. And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in
Whoever examines the character of the primitive saints will see how religion dignifies and ennobles the mind of man. Nehemiah had engaged in an arduous work. In this he was opposed. From Shemaiah, a prophet, he might have expected better things.
I. The subtlety with which our great adversary will assault us. How specious was the proposal made to Nehemiah. Our adversary will propose to us—
1. To neglect our social duties to further our spiritual welfare. A common temptation and specious. Apprentice and servant neglecting duty to attend religious ordinances. “These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”
2. To conform to the world, with a view to conciliate their regard. By conforming to the world we shall confirm them in their persuasion, that religion does not require that measure of spirituality which the saints of old maintained.
3. To use undue means with a view to obtain some desirable end. Safety was desirable to Nehemiah, but secretion not a desirable way to obtain it. Many objects are desirable, but must not be sought by any sacrifice of duty or conscience. The greater the subtlety of Satan is, the greater should be our vigilance, and the more immovable.
II. The firmness with which we should resist him. “Shall such a man as I flee—a man invested with authority, a man engaged for the Lord, a man in whom any act of cowardice will be productive of injurious effects?” Thus should we set the Lord ever before us, bearing fully in mind—
1. Our relation to him. A servant of the living God. A child of the Father in heaven. My calling.
2. Our obligations to him. Shall I offend God? I will render unto the Lord according to the benefits he has conferred upon me.
3. Our expectations from him. For eternity I have been redeemed, sanctified; and for eternity alone will I both live and die.
4. The interest which God himself has in the whole of our conduct. God’s enemies endeavour to beguile us, in order that they may triumph over us and exult in our shame. On review of the subject—
1. Expect temptation.
2. In every circumstance place your entire confidence in God.—Simeon, abridged.
Nehemiah 6:12. And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him
“Because,” says Gill, “he advised to that which was against the cause of God and true religion.” That helped Nehemiah to discern Shemaiah’s treachery; but was that all? The treachery was not yet discovered. Afterwards Nehemiah learned that “Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.” Is there not a spirit in man—a spirit of divination? What do observation and experience teach? Are not men and women continually sitting in judgment upon one another? “To two states of soul it is given to detect the presence of evil, states the opposite of each other—innocence and guilt. It was predicted of the Saviour while yet a child that by him the thoughts of many hearts should be revealed; the fulfilment of this was the history of his life. He went through the world, by his innate purity detecting the presence of evil, as he detected the touch of her who touched his garment in the crowd. Men, supposed spotless before, fell down before him crying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ This in a lower degree is true of all innocence. You would think that one who can deeply read the human heart and track its windings must be himself deeply experienced in evil. But it is not so—at least not always. Purity can detect the presence of the evil which it does not understand. Just as the dove which has never seen a hawk trembles at its presence, and just as a horse rears uneasily when the wild beast unknown and new to it is near, so innocence understands, yet understands not, the meaning of the unholy look, the guilty tone, the sinful manner. It shudders and shrinks from it by a power given to it, like that which God has conferred on the unreasoning mimosa. Sin gives the same power, but differently. Innocence apprehends the approach of evil by the instinctive tact of contrast; guilt, by the instinctive consciousness of similarity.”—F. W. Robertson. Faces never lie, it is said. Falsehood has not a clear, calm gaze. The grosser vices leave their mark upon the countenance. The drunkard, the libertine, the deceiver write the story of their lives upon the fleshly table of the body. The laws of God are written in the nature of things as well as in the Scripture of truth. Mahomet said, “Paradise is under the shadow of swords.” All men pay the penalty of their position. A good gained, an ill averted, must reckon with the sweat of the brow or the sweat of the brain. Wise men, who are they but the farseeing, the foresighted? As those children of Issachar to whom is given honourable mention, as being “men that had understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). Nehemiah “saw through” Shemaiah. It needed no miracle to reveal his fraud.
I. The supreme importance of truth and uprightness. The Bible revelation does not make truth, truth; falsehood, falsehood; it only declares what they are. Close your Bible, and still deception will bring disgrace, dishonesty will not be the best policy, judgment will track the wrong-doer. “Be sure your sin will find you out” is written in history and biography.
II. An evidence of the Bible. The book does not stand alone. The heavens above and the earth beneath, the nature and constitution of man, confirm its truth.
III. Confirmation of the doctrine of a judgment to come. Men are being judged. A book of remembrance each of us is writing. In the failure of falsehood and deception, in the discovery and condemnation of every unrighteous compact, in the fall of dynasties resting upon oppression and bloodshed, in the histories recorded by the daily press, see you not premonition of a day of judgment?
Nehemiah 6:13. Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me
In this paragraph Nehemiah dwells upon the hirelings who were paid to do him mischief. The wrong-doer becomes dignified by association with his petty tools, and Tobiah and Sanballat are exalted into the originals of mischief in contrast with the ready agents who did the mischief for money. Bribery.
I. Its existence and varieties. Among heathen states and in the godless associations of the world this guilt is not unnatural, but alas for its commonness in Christian times. From Judas, who took the bribe of thirty pieces of silver, down to the last transaction of the kind yesterday, the world is full of it.
1. In statecraft. This golden key finds the wards of more locks than we know of; it buys eloquence in debate, and logic in the newspapers, and valour or cowardice in the field.
2. In trade. Talk to any business man about his particular avocations, and get him into the anecdotal strain, and you will find out among what snares an honourable man is compelled to walk day by day. The business man has to battle everywhere with an underground foe.
3. In morals and religion. For fear of seeming cynicism let us not pursue this theme. But the purchase system has no respect for sacred things, and the modern temple, like the ancient temple, has its herd of traffickers, which, if driven out with a whip of cords, would leave the Church of God purer and the homes of England safer. In Nehemiah’s case the prophets were bought, and the so-called messengers of God were, Balaam-like, guided not by a star from heaven, but by the glitter of golden coins.
II. Its effects.
1. Personal degradation. To buy a man in a slave-market is to make him but half a man; but to buy a man’s soul in a conscience-market is to degrade him from manhood altogether, “for in the image of God made he man.” To buy from some poor man his birthright of honour, to take away a man’s Christ and leave him thirty pieces of silver as an equivalent—that is devil’s work in the doer, and it is damnation in him in whom the thing is done.
2. General disorganization. The great laws of this world are just, and all departure from them must work downfall. Violation of the laws of health is a wandering towards death. Corruption and jobbing in the state means rottenness and downfall of a nation. Bribery in trade is “a missing of the mark,” a sin against the true end of trade, and its revenge is sure.
3. Hindrance of all good. The Achan gold-ingot in the tent makes God’s army of righteousness weak. “Neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you.”
III. Its cure.
1. The first ingredient of the cure is self-denial. “They all do it” is no matter; you had better not. We can only win in this fight by having the courage to lose (1 Samuel 12:2-5).
2. The second is resolute unmercifulness to the briber. For the good of the community and the glory of God let the briber’s head be stuck on a pole.
3. The third is trust in God and faith in right. God is strong, and if we will honour him he will honour us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh at the petty power of bribery. “Great is truth, and shall prevail,” is not a motto to be illuminated on a card, but to be illustrated in a life.
Application. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Let that be the guiding law of life and have faith in its success, and it shall succeed.
FIFTY-TWO DAYS’ WORK
Nehemiah 6:15. So the wall was finished in fifty and two days
To draw a circumference of fortifications of such dimensions in such short time was no doubt a great engineering feat. The pluck, decision, promptness, and laborious industry and despatch of such a task are very stimulating to read of. Let us, however, make a parable of the story, and use the text as a motto of a deeper theme. The circling year furnishes us with fifty-two days of special work for God. The wall-building of Christian Nehemiahs in the spiritual city of God is mainly done on Sundays, of which the year supplies fifty-two or thereabouts. Of that fifty-two days and of their work let us speak. Fifty-two Sundays.
I. How quickly they pass! To a child how slow the movement from Sunday to Sunday—what a space in the great time-field! But to a worn, worried, work-wearied man a week is but a quick flash of days, “swifter than a weaver’s shuttle.” Monday with its yawnings and stretchings, Tuesday with its markets, Wednesday with its solid tasks, Thursday with its deeper toil, Friday with its haste “to get it done,” Saturday with its summing up and its payments, and then the Sabbath bell and all the associations of the house of God. It is a quick passage from Sunday to Sunday. We soon round a circle of fifty-two. The first Sunday of the year, with its cheery, greeting sermon of hope, and then in a little while the last Sunday, with its solemn review and reflection. It soon goes, this year of Sundays.
1. How many circles have you passed?
2. How many more do you look for?
II. What opportunities they furnish!
1. What opportunities of REST! The glory of the Sabbath as a rest day, the pillow of the work-wearied world. The RIGHTS OF MAN in this matter.
2. What opportunities of spiritual friendship! The Sabbath a great holiday and reunion of kindred hearts. The gathering of the brotherhood of Christians in their souls’ home.
3. What opportunities of Divine instruction! The lessons rubbed off the slate during the week, or rubbed into indefinite blurs; the new writing of God’s word on the tablets of the heart.
4. What opportunities of moral renewal! The religious recreative power of Sabbath thoughts and engagements.
5. What opportunities of refreshing HOPE! God’s promises breaking like stars upon the soul escaped from the glare of the world’s gas-lamps. God’s heaven descending upon the eye of meditation, like the Now Jerusalem which John saw. End your Sabbath with St. John’s vision at the close of Revelation. Fifty-two Sundays! what golden coins from God’s mint.
III. What results they leave!
1. In memory, (a) Truths taught. (b) Memories cherished.
2. In life. (a) If improved. Growing Christian character—another ring of fortification against the world, the flesh, and the devil. (b) If unimproved. A hardening of the moral sense, a deadening of the power of truth, a deepening of the fatal work of worldliness.
3. For judgment. (a) Condemnation, if abused. (b) Safety, if used.
1. Thank God for the day of days.
2. Use each day as it comes.
3. Determine upon a rounded result for each cycle of fifty-two.
THE GODWARD SIDE OF THINGS
Nehemiah 6:16. They perceived that this work was wrought of our God.
An outer and an inner view. “They all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done” (Nehemiah 6:9). The work went on; the wall was finished. “And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.” (Nehemiah 6:16). There is an upper and an under side to many things. Work man-ward or work God-ward.
I. Work Divinely inspired. “The good hand of God that was upon him,” Nehemiah is never tired of recognizing. “I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.”—Isaiah. “The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, I have ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.”—Jeremiah. “I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit: and the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel.”—Amos. “I must work the works of him that sent me.” “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”—Jesus. “The Lord spake to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace.”—Acts of Apostles. “I was in the Spirit, and heard behind me a great voice, saying, What thou seest, write.”—St. John. More to the same tune and words in biography of martyr and missionary saint and apostle of modern times. “These great master spirits of the world are not so much distinguished, after all, by the acts they do, as by the sense itself of some mysterious girding of the Almighty upon them, whose behests they are set on to fulfil. And all men may have this; for the humblest and commonest have a place and a work assigned them, in the same manner, and have it for their privilege to be always ennobled in the same lofty consciousness. God is girding every man for a place and a calling.” “Every human soul has a complete and perfect plan cherished for it in the heart of God—a Divine biography marked out, which it enters into life to live. This life, rightly unfolded, will be a complete and beautiful whole; an experience led on by God and unfolded by his secret nurture, as the trees and the flowers by the secret nurture of the world; a drama cast in the mould of a perfect art, with no part wanting; a Divine study for the man himself, and for others—a study that shall for ever unfold, in wondrous beauty, the love and faithfulness of God; great in its conception, great in the Divine skill by which it is shaped; above all, great in the momentous and glorious issues it prepares. What a thought is this for every human soul to cherish! What dignity does it add to life! What support does it bring to the trials of life! What instigations does it add to send us onward in everything that constitutes our excellence! We live in the Divine thought. We fill a place in the great everlasting plan of God’s intelligence. We never sink below his care, never drop out of his counsel.”—Bushnell.
II. Workers Divinely helped. “It is not strange that Sanballat saw that the wall-building was wrought of Israel’s God. The trouble with God’s enemies is not that their knowledge is defective, but that their hearts are alienated. Evidences are multiplying constantly before them, but produce no change in their opposition. Sanballat was vexed because he was thwarted by the Lord God of Israel. Those fifty-two days of wall-building were clearly to his mind a token of Divine assistance; but this knowledge did not stop his opposition.”—Crosby. Nevertheless the work was hastened; the opposition was resisted; then all was finished. God is at work where he is needed. Our God is a living God. He is a present God. He is a God who inspires men to-day. He is as mindful of us as was Jesus of the hungry, shepherdless crowds of Judæa (Matthew 10:36; Matthew 14:14-16). God is at work when he is not perceived. The fabric cannot be judged in the loom. Our life is sectional. God sees the end as well as the beginning. There may be periods of life when the thought of God is not forced in upon us. But when life becomes only a consciousness of suffering, what then?
“Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle, and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of being slow.”
When duty is plain, but the will is wanting, there is stimulus in the remembrance of “God which worketh in you both to will and to do.” When the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak, then may we hear the still, small voice of promise: “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” And when the tasks of life are completed we shall perceive that “the work was wrought of our God.”
“ALL are architects of Fate,
Working in these walls of Time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
Some with ornaments of rhyme.
Nothing useless is, or low;
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show,
Strengthens and supports the rest.
For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our to-days and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.
Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
Such things will remain unseen.
In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care,
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.
Let us do our work as well,
Both the unseen and the seen;
Make the house, where Gods may dwell,
Beautiful, entire, and clean.
Else our lives are incomplete,
Standing in these walls of Time,
Broken stairways, where the feet
Stumble as they seek to climb.
Build to-day, then, strong and sure,
With a firm and ample base;
And ascending and secure
Shall to-morrow find its place.
Thus alone can we attain
To those turrets, where the eye
Sees the world as one vast plain,
And one boundless reach of sky.”
THE OVERRULING GOD
Nehemiah 6:16. And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.
If we consult the Jewish history, we soon understand what the work was which is here confessed (though unwillingly, it seems) to have been wrought of God; it was the rebuilding of Jerusalem upon the return of that people to their own land, after a total destruction of the one, and a grievous captivity of the other, by a cruel and unrelenting conqueror. This great and surprising event (a bondage of seventy years having worn out all their hopes, and left them no reasonable prospect of deliverance) must have been brought about in a way very wonderful indeed, and sufficiently astonishing, since, according to the text, whatever favourable circumstances might appear, or second causes be instrumental in it, the hand of God was owned apparently to give effect unto it by enemies, whose malice sought the ruin of their state; by heathens, whose religion abhorred the object of their worship. What occasioned an acknowledgment so just and so ingenuous, when we consider what was wrought; so strange and unusual, when we reflect upon the temper and interests of those who, to their shame and disappointment, made it, may be learned, I conceive, from that prevailing instinct in mankind which disposes us to look up for an overruling cause when any extraordinary accidents happen here below. And, indeed, if we do confess any miraculous alterations in the natural, we are obliged to conclude a Divine Power immediately directing the great revolutions of the civil, world.
I. God is truly Lord, and his kingdom ruleth over all the earth. Now Christians we know are to suppose this article to be true as having the Word of God himself a voucher for it; because with them at least no human argument ought to dispute against his authority. The prophecies of the Old Testament prove a Divine prescience, and the promises of the New allow God to be concerned for his Church. It follows then that no contingencies can escape his observation, nor contrivances disappoint his designs. Would we appeal to reason, testimony, or experience, more to satisfy the scruples or to silence the petulancy of other men than to obtain and secure the belief of this point unto ourselves, here also we are safe.
1. Why so profuse a waste of wisdom and of power in the formation and contrivance of the world, if it might not deserve his future care, who at first condescended to the making of it? Or, how indeed could it continue to exist in all that beauty and order which we so much admire had he ever withdrawn his hand, upon whom it always must depend, because it was created by him. Hence, if man be the noblest part, he is the peculiar object of the Divine care, nay, he seems to need it most; and then from the goodness of God we conclude him entitled to the distinguishing protection of it. This cannot be expressed or turned to our use unless all events are under his eye, and all our counsels are submitted to his rule; considering how little we can foresee of what is to come, able less to provide against it; how much we are in the dark as to consequences from the management of other men, and at a loss what to promise even from ourselves. This way of reasoning holds stronger yet with regard to public communities than to private persons; here in this life are they only to be taken notice of, here only, in the visible scenes of human occurrences, can Providence appear concerned for them. And though government be an ordinance and a blessing too from God, yet how often without are fightings and within are fears? And who can prevent or compose these disorders but he alone who restraineth the spirit of princes and stilleth the madness of the people. Then when God giveth quietness who can give trouble? Whether it be done for or against a nation or a man only.
2. Whatever difficulties the metaphysical considerations of a few, whatever disgrace the superstitious abuses of more, have brought upon it, yet the solemnity of public worship and the sincerity of private prayer, the allowed obligations of an oath, and the unavoidable effects of conscience, declare mankind subscribing to this truth. In fact, the most desperate and independent tempers, upon some unusual emergencies, have been subdued to a confession of it. To this copious and instructive theme do we owe all those noble sentiments of heathen philosophy which advance human nature above the casualties of fortune, and support the efforts of virtue against the tyranny of fate. From hence did ancient tragedy dress its awful scenes and take its affecting images, to represent a superior dominion over all; which may mysteriously perplex for a while, yet at last conducts the puzzling incidents to an end, confessing equity and right. What in truth is history but a long detail of God’s interfering providence?
3. We ourselves are living witnesses. If any of us have ever at a venture drawn our bow, and hit at once surprisingly a mark that others with the most likely skill have often sought to touch in vain, who directed our arrow? If ever the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, who causes our feet to stumble, and gives success unto the weak? Second causes are the servants of his will, who is truly Lord of what we call nature or mistake for chance.
II. We may inquire by what characters a work such as the text is speaking of may be perceived to be wrought of our God. It is not always easy nor even safe boldly to point out what God has done. Yet he does sometimes so show himself as that we may perceive his hand. We are often called upon to see the wonderful operations of it. Where any event comes to pass beyond the reasonable expectations of mankind, or any effect is produced by means altogether unequal to it, an invisible Mind is plainly concerned in the one, and a supernatural Cause actually gives birth unto the other. If an event thus strangely brought about eminently consults the honour of God’s holy name and the maintenance of true religion and the prosperity of the people, in these instances God appears. Upon such occasions, doubtless, we may say the arm of the Lord has been revealed, and we have seen the salvation of our God.—Ross Ley, 1727.
THE WORLD’S ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF GOD
Nehemiah 6:16. And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard, &c.
The success of Nehemiah against such odds proved the success to be Divinely given. They, the enemies, perceived that this work was wrought of God. World’s acknowledgment of God.
I. World’s past acknowledgment of God.
1. Biblical instances. The Bible story is the story of God’s works and wonders of salvation, and all through that story we see this:—the world struggling like a maniac in paroxysms of wickedness, but now and again bowing down and crying, “It’s no use; the Lord he is God, the Lord he is God!” The magicians in Egypt threw down their conjuring tools, and exclaimed of God’s miracles by Moses, “This is the finger of God.” The heathen peoples of whom we read in the book of Daniel now and then confess the living God, and sob like resisting children whose spirits are broken, “that he is the living God, and steadfast for ever.” The sailors in the book of Jonah exemplify the same thing. The people around the cross “smite their breasts” and own, “Truly this was the Son of God.” The magistrates and rulers in the book of Acts make tacit or open confessions of the same thing. All through the Bible story we have illustrations of this text.
2. Later instances. Early Church history, martyr stories, stories of heathen lands submitting to the gospel, confessions of men who thought themselves infidels, but who were forced like the brute in Balaam’s story to speak for God—these furnish exemplifications of this great principle, a rebellious world owning God’s presence and power.
II. World’s present acknowledgment of God.
1. Unconscious acknowledgment. Think of the way Christianity penetrates the life of our modern world; take England for example. Our throne is based on God’s word. A representative of the Christian religion gives the Queen her crown. Our legal oath is taken on God’s gospel; that little book is “kissed” by the villain in our law courts, and it is supposed that if he ever did speak the truth, he will with that “book” before him. A seventh part of our time is devoted to education concerning God. Our books, our pictures, our music are full of him. The world gives an unconscious chorus of acknowledgment.
2. Unwilling acknowledgment. The testimony of sceptics to the morals of Christianity. John Stuart Mill would have the life of Jesus taught in our schools. The “new lights” of our time steal their oil from Hebrew seers and lawgivers and from Christian apostles, and strike their matches on the covers of the Bible, and then run out with their paper lanterns of essays and theories. Oh, the blindness of the fools who are trying to illuminate the world on new systems, and who pretend not to know that the world can see God’s word to be the “main pipe” of their illuminations.
3. Frank acknowledgment. How many worldlings dare deny God? When Christianity takes them by the button they say, “You are right, and we are wrong, and we shall perhaps come round to you when we have had our fling.” “They are cast down in their own eyes, for they perceive that this work is wrought of our God.”
III. The world’s future acknowledgment.
1. Willing. How prophecy lights up the world’s future. Men shall confess God. Instance prophecies of this.
2. Enforced. The tremendous confession of the last day: “Behold, he cometh in the clouds, and every eye shall see him,” &c. What a melancholy thought that men shall fight against God until he has built the wall which fences them out of hope.
1. Make acknowledgment of God.
2. Now. “Choose ye this day.”
OPPOSITIONS OF INFLUENCE
Nehemiah 6:17-19. Moreover in those days the nobles of Judah, &c.
Tobiah, the foe outside Nehemiah’s ranks, and “the nobles of Judah” inside, were eminent and influential persons, who were a sore thorn to the good man. He fought against an influential opposition, and suggests to us other oppositions of influence.
I. Influence is opposed to God’s work. Influence and respectability! A man with a hundred a year may be orthodox in belief, and diligent in Christian work, as in the Sunday-school and in the prayer-meeting, but this man perhaps invents a new kind of blacking, and makes £2000 a year by it, or his aunt dies and leaves him £5000 a year: the man is the same man, but his income is changed, and you do not find him in the Sunday-school any more; the night air is dangerous, so he absents himself from the prayer-meeting. Is not this a true story? The man has become an influential man. Respectability! In one of our law trials a man described another as “respectable.” “What do you mean by respectable?” said the judge. “Why,” explained the witness, “he kept a gig!” Now it is a fact that such a man’s sneer at religion has weight. If he had no “gig” I should think him a fool to say what he says; but he has a “gig,” and his opinion is not to be set aside. I know a man who worked as a schoolmaster for £100 per annum, and he fought Christ’s battle then in a ragged school; but he got a berth at £850 per annum as a school inspector, and five months later resigned the ragged school and became “broad” in his views. This is the kind of influence most of us come in contact with, and this is its natural history.
II. Influence is contemptible in its opposition. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed.… He that sitteth in the heavens shall LAUGH; the Lord shall have them in derision.”
1. Their power is contemptible. Crowns, sceptres, swords, cannons, thrones, statutes, put these in one scale, and then put the short, uncertain life of man which a pin-prick can destroy in the other scale. Look through the drapery at the man, and who is he among these everlasting hills of earth, and these rolling histories of the human race, and these solemn eternities of God? What a manikin to play such fantastic tricks before high heaven! Cash-boxes and “gigs” and villas—ah me! as the Chelsea sage would say, what things these are to sway the immortal minds of men! Death breathes on “influence,” and then we have a white marble stone with some poetry on it, and that is the last of influence.
2. Their opposition is contemptible. A Galilean sat down on a green hill-side and talked “golden rules” to a crowd of country-folk, that was how it began. And “Influence” has drawn its sword and bent its bow against Christianity for near 2000 years, and now it gives colour to every lofty thing among the first nations of earth, and millions crowd in fear to own its divinity every Sabbath day, and like a stone down a mountain-side it rolls on its omnipotent course. Do not let us exaggerate “influence.”
III. Influence has to be dealt with.
1. Do not let us provoke it. If the lion is asleep and you can pass the den without waking it, let it sleep on. Do not make martyrdoms. As a rule, let the martyr’s crown come like other honour, unsought. But if it come hail it with a doxology.
2. Do not let us be afraid of it. (a) Its power is often hollow. The godless judge who tries the prisoner “trembles and says, Go thy way for this time;” the King Agrippa of this world says in dainty jest (with a grim reality concealed), “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian!” “Influence” sneers at you, and then goes to bed and lies awake all night wondering if you are not right after all. (b) Do not let it sway your convictions. The bare stern front of God’s truth must be more potent with us than any form which presents itself to our eye or our imagination. Let no man’s life or opinion be a necessary factor with us as we sit solitary, making up the great reckoning of life. Do not copy from another’s slate. You have to do the sum yourself. (c) Do not let it damp your hope. God is strong. Truth is mighty. To Jesus Christ “all power is given in heaven and on earth.” The crash of fallen “influence” in history is but a feeble prophecy of the downfall of it hereafter. “He must reign until he hath put all enemies under his feet.”
1. Rightly estimate the worth and weight of things temporal.
2. Duly ponder the eternal life and power of things Divine.
3. Trust simply in God.
Nehemiah 6:17-18. Moreover in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came unto them. For there were many in Judah sworn unto him, because he was the son in law of Shechaniah the son of Arah; and his son Johanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah.
“Meshullam” wrought well at the wall-building (Nehemiah 3:4); but he ensnared himself. “The nobles” had not retained a pure faith and an unfaltering patriotism. Under the influence of personal interests they forgot the commonwealth.
I. The secret of desertion. Lot went down to Sodom under the impulse of a worldly choice; and its consequences were that he left part of his family there to encounter the doom-storm, and with the rest brought away the taint of a worldly spirit (Genesis 19:0). “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10). Thus patriarch and apostle bridge the gulf of centuries by a similar experience of the fatal consequences of worldly alliances; Old Testament and New proclaim the need of nonconformity. The nobles were not outwardly at feud with Nehemiah. Their duplicity made them dangerous. Hand and tongue were seemingly engaged in the good cause; heart had long since deserted it. In soul they were men of the world, who had their portion in this life.
1. In self-cultivation the graver danger is from within. To repress passion harder than to resist tempter. “The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me.” Could we say that temptation would be powerless. “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” When the tree is “desired” it needs hardly a serpent’s voice to cause us to “eat of the fruit thereof.”
2. In the prosecution of any good task fear most friends’ treachery. The untiring opposition of foes may be met by sleepless vigilance; the luke-warmness of friends is fatal to progress. We are dependent on co-operation.
II. Practical unworldliness. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness” (2 Corinthians 6:14)? “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11). In some soils the plant of piety cannot thrive. Men pray to be kept from temptation and then boldly enter into it. If in any society I cannot retain my purity, if under any set of circumstances I am unable to maintain my integrity, let me forsake that companionship, avoid that position. Where duty calls follow the sacred voice, and God shall give his angels charge concerning thee. But if pleasure or passion or curiosity bid thee enter, beware. That way ruin lies. Moral deterioration has begun. “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away” (Proverbs 4:14-15).
Illustrations:—“What Paul writes concerning false brethen (2 Corinthians 11:26), that has Nehemiah also experienced for his portion. And it is indeed one of the heaviest griefs of the true servants of God, when they must see that those connected with them in religion, yes, indeed, at times their colleagues, who labour with them in the same work, stand in prejudicial intercourse with the enemies of Christ and his Church, and yet wish to be considered as co-members, striving for the honour of God. Those whom God awakens for spiritual building should conduct themselves circumspectly and courageously against the snares of the enemy, and not allow themselves to be frightened off by their slander, but cheerfully proceed. In the end the enemy will be cast down with fear in their consciences, and must acknowledge that the work is of God (Acts 5:39). When we wander in the midst of anxiety God refreshes us, and stretches his hand over the rage of his enemies, and helps us with his right hand (Psalms 97:10).”—Starke.
“I care not at all for an open enemy of the Church, such as the Papists, with their power and persecutions; I regard them not, for by them the true Church cannot receive hurt, nor can they hinder God’s word; nay, the Church, through their raging and persecution, rather increases. But it is the inward evil of false brethren that will do mischief to the Church. Judas betrayed Christ; the false apostles confused and falsified the gospel. Such are the real fellows through whom the devil rages and spoils the Church.”—Luther.
“What every one is in God’s sight, that is he, and no more.”—St. Francis of Assisi.
“The fervent and diligent man is prepared for all things. It is harder to resist vices and passions than to toil in bodily labours. Be watchful over thyself, stir up thyself, warn thyself, and whatsoever becomes of others, neglect not thyself.”—Thomas à Kempis.
“Some professors of religion resemble trees, the leaves of which fall off when winter approaches, but appear again when the season becomes more favourable and mild; for in the winter of adversity they conceal their lusts, and restrain their sinful propensities; but when prosperity smiles upon them they break out again, as at the first, and recruit themselves with further supplies of folly and of vanity. This is a genuine evidence of hypocrisy; for nothing is more hateful to a real Christian than such conduct, who in all circumstances, and under very vicissitude, whether public or private, is always the same, and remains unalterably fixed in his God. He preserves an uniform piety both in prosperity and adversity, in poverty and in affluence, steadily cleaving to God, and meeting with resignation every affliction that Providence lays upon him.”—John Arndt.
THE BAD MAN PRAISED
Nehemiah 6:19. They reported his good deeds before me
The nobles of Judah reporting Tobiah’s “good deeds” to Nehemiah is a piece of humorous irony often repeated. What heroes this world does select! “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Historians have made rose-coloured villains into heroes. Poets have set to bewitching music names that ought to “blister the tongue.” Preachers have written original and beautiful sermons to whitewash poor Cain and Judas and Pilate, and, like the Scotch minister of the story, have looked with almost admiration, at least with sympathy, on the “poor deil.” Sometimes this is mawkish perverted sentiment, sometimes cant. The bad man praised.
I. Bad men do get praised.
1. Sometimes this praise is real. (a) No man without some trait of good. A hand strewed flowers on Nero’s grave. The dark rock of guilt may be streaked with a thread of gold or sparkle with some spot of crystal. This is the handle for the man’s redemption, but not a peg on which to hang draperies to hide real evil. (b) A bad habit of life may be broken by occasional goodness. The miser gives money away, the merciless has a tender thought, the bad does a good action contrary to all the common strain of his life. These do not compound for the evil, but are God’s calls and strivings asserting and demonstrating themselves.
2. Sometimes this praise is mistaken. (a) The bad seldom shows a bold front of hardness, but winds a rose garland round his sin and cover sit with hypocritical pretensions. A man can generally give a virtuous explanation of vice, or at least an explanation that leans toward virtue. The “cant” of goodness, of which the world speaks bitterly at times, is nothing compared with the “cant” of badness. (b) Courteous conciliation of persons often throws dust in the eyes of the world. A man who bows gracefully to me is in danger of compelling a too favourable interpretation of his deeds to others. Let us not French-polish wickedness. Softened names of things, graceful euphemisms for bad things in place of the “sword-cuts of Saxon speech,” have often made blame sound very like praise.
3. Sometimes this praise is fictitious altogether. (a) In eulogizing a bad man other men are frequently praising their own likeness. (b) Eulogy of the evil man is often a subtle way of reflecting suspicion on moral standards.
II. Bad men are anxious for praise. No bad man wishes to be considered bad.
1. In this there is a sentence of condemnation. In hunting for false praise an evil man is but subpoenaing witnesses against his own real inner self. Every sound of undeserved praise is a sentence against the “hidden man of the heart.”
2. In this there is an indirect homage to virtue. You do not believe evil to be good; you want the evil to be called a good that it is not. To waft the incense of praise to a bad man is to confess there is a noble style of manhood worthy of praise.
3. In this anxiety for praise the bad man is frequently at as much trouble as it would cost him to gain the goodness he seeks credit for. To pretend is nearly as difficult a task as to be. If self-defence could kneel down and become prayer, if seeming could break its bonds and strive for reality, the bad man might deserve the character he would like to hold in the estimation of the world.
III. Bad men are not hidden by the praise of the world.
1. Good men detect. There is a subtle power of penetration in goodness. As the calm eyes of honesty look into the blinking eyes of the liar, the lie stands exposed. And this is a sore trouble to the evil man. He forgets the praise of fifty fools while reflecting on the unspoken censure of one wise man. Cæsar complains in the poem of “that spare Cassius” who “looks quite through the deeds of men.” Haman finds that all this honour “availeth him nothing” so long as Mordecai sits with his still dark eye to look into his real soul.
2. God detects.
1. Now. Amid the music of men’s flattery comes the boom of God’s censure. In the banqueting chamber the fingers of God write fiery sentences to be read in the pauses of the revel.
2. Hereafter. “Every man must give account of himself to God.” The ears will soon be stopped to men’s praise, the eye will have no power to look on the fawning smile of the flatterer any more; one voice will fill the ear, one sight fix the eye—God—God—God—the “most worthy Judge eternal.”
1. Do not be discouraged by this misdirected praise. Live for God’s praise. “Be thy praise my highest aim, be thy smile my chief delight.”
2. Do not be deceived into any lowering of the standard of righteousness.
ADDENDA TO CHAPTER 6
SENTENCES FROM OLD WRITERS
I. Opponents (Nehemiah 6:1-4). “Another let to the good work in hand. That in the fourth chapter was external only; that in the fifth internal only; this here is mixed, that is, partly cast in by the enemies without (those cruel crafties), and partly helped on by the perfidious prophets and ignobles within, conspiring with the enemy against the good of their own country.” The rest of our enemies. “The Church’s enemies are not a few (1 Corinthians 16:9). She is like unto a silly poor maid, saith Luther, sitting in a wood or wilderness, compassed about with hungry wolves, lions, boars, bears, assaulting her every moment and minute. The ground of all is that old enmity (Genesis 3:15).” Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me. “As if solicitous of my safety, and careful of the common good. Nehemiah well knew that all this pretended courtesy was but dross upon dirt, a fair glove drawn upon a foul hand, a cunning collusion to undo him. He therefore keeps aloof.” “Our deceitful hearts do too often draw us away from the prosecution of good purposes, by casting many other odd impertinent matters in our way.” “Nehemiah went not, but sent. This was to be wise as a serpent. God calleth us not to a weak simplicity, but alloweth us as much of the serpent as of the dove, and telleth us that a serpent’s eye in a dove’s head is a singular accomplishment.” “Nehemiah was the driver-on of the business. His hands were full of employment. Lot the tempter ever find us busy, and he will depart discouraged; as Cupid is said to do from the Muses, whom he could never take idle. An industrious Nehemiah is not at leisure to parley with Sanballat, lest if he let any water go beside the mill he should be a great loser by it. His employment is as a guard or good angel, to keep him both right and safe.” They sent unto me four times. “As thinking to prevail by their importunity. Sin hath woaded an impudency in some men’s faces.” “We may style Nehemiah as one doth Athanasius, the bulwark of truth, the Church’s champion.” “True love teaches us to be angry with none but ourselves. True peace consists not in having much wealth, but in bearing patiently whatever goes against our nature.” “If thou canst be silent and suffer, without doubt thou shalt see that the Lord will help thee.” “Regard not much who is for thee, or against thee; but mind what thou art about, and take care that God may be with thee in everything thou doest.” “It belongs to God to help, and to deliver from all confusion.”
II. The tongue (Nehemiah 6:5-9). It is reported. “And therefore must be true. But who knows not that rumour is a loud liar, and that every public person needeth carry a spare handkerchief to wipe off dirt cast upon him by disaffected persons, that seek to fly-blow their reputation and to deprave their best actions.” Gashmu saith so. “A worthy wight, a credible witness! He was known to be one that had taught his tongue the art of lying.” “Any author serves Sanballat’s turn, who for a need could have sucked such an accusation as this out of his own fingers.” “If dirt will stick to a mud wall, yet to marble it will not.” “Nehemiah is not over-careful to clear himself. This was so transparent a lie that a man might see through it, and was, therefore, best answered with a neglective denial. It falls out often that plain dealing puts craft out of countenance.” “Faith quelleth and killeth distrustful fear.” “These men first mock the Jews, and scornfully despise them for enterprising this building, thinking by this means to discourage poor souls, that they should not go forward in this work; after that they charge them with rebellion. These two be the old practices of Satan in his members to hinder the building of God’s house in all ages.” “Empty vessels are full of sound; discreet silence, or a wise ordering of speech, is a token of grace.” “Better a mountain fall upon you than the weight of your own tongue.” “A pure heart is the tongue’s treasury and storehouse.” “It is observable, that when the apostle giveth us the anatomy of wickedness in all the members of the body, he stayeth longest on the organs of speech, and goeth over them all: ‘Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.’ ” “One reckoneth up twenty-four several sins of the tongue.” “Light words weigh heavy in God’s balance.” “God in nature would show that he hath set bounds to the tongue, he hath hedged it in with a row of teeth. Other organs are double; we have two eyes, two ears, but one tongue.” “Christianity doth not take away the use of speech, but rule it.” “Slanderers are the devil’s slaves.” “Covetousness sold Christ, and envy delivered him.” “Contemplate the life of Jesus, who did not so much as open his mouth against his enemies, nor pour forth any bitter and vehement speeches, but gave blessing and life to those that hated him.” “Oftentimes I could wish that I had held my peace when I have spoken.” “It is easier not to speak a word at all than not to speak more words than we should.”
III. False prophets (Nehemiah 6:10-14). Shemaiah. “Fallen, as a star from heaven! Blazing stars were never but meteors. Demas not only forsook Paul, but became a priest in an idol’s temple at Thessalonica, if Dorotheus may be believed. A priest Shemaiah was, and would seem to be a prophet; but he proved not right (1 Chronicles 24:6). All is not gold that glitters.” “Nehemiah went to Shemaiah’s house to know what was the matter, supposing him to be a friend, but finding him suborned by the enemy.” “Nothing betrays a man sooner than his causeless fear. God helpeth the valiant.” Should such a man as I flee? “To the dishonour of God, and the discouraging of the people? to the scandal of the weak, and the scorn of the wicked? There is a comeliness, a seemliness, a suitableness appertain; to every calling and condition of life; and nature hath taught heathens themselves to argue from dignity to duty, and to scorn to do anything unworthy of themselves.” “The heavens shall sooner fall than I will forsake the truth,” said a martyr. “Life in God’s displeasure is worse than death; as death in his true favour is true life.” I perceived that God had not sent him. “By my spiritual sagacity I smelt him out; as having my inward senses habitually exercised to discern good and evil. What though we have not received the spirit of the world (we cannot cog and comply as they can, yet), we have received a better thing, the Spirit of God, the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 2:16).” He pronounced this prophecy against me. “To make my righteous soul sad with his lies, and to bring me to disgrace and danger. Luther was wont to advise preachers to see that these three dogs did not follow them into the pulpit: pride, covetousness, and envy.” Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. “A minister, as he should have nothing to lose, so he should have as little to get; he should be above all price or sale.” Therefore was he hired that I should be afraid. “But they were much mistaken in their aims; this matter was not malleable. Nehemiah was a man of a Caleb-like spirit; he was full of spiritual mettle, for he knew whom he had trusted.” “Nehemiah feared nothing but sin, and the fruit thereof, shame and reproach, so great was his spirit, so right set were both his judgment and affections.” “We should so carry ourselves that none might speak evil of us without a manifest lie.” The rest of the prophets. “Multitude and antiquity are but ciphers in divinity.”
IV. Foes foiled (Nehemiah 6:15-19). So the wall was finished. “Though with much ado, and maugre the malice of all foreign and intestine enemies. So shall the work of grace in men’s hearts; it is perfected there by opposition, and grows gradually, but constantly and infallibly.” “God was much seen herein, and the enemies’ courage much quailed.” “Envy is the devil’s disease, and those that are troubled with it can never want woe.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Nehemiah 6". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27