The Biblical Illustrator
But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth.
Sanballat: a study in party spirit
You must clearly understand, to begin with, that Samaria was already, even in that early day, the deadly rival of Jerusalem; and also that Sanballat was the governor of Samaria. And Sanballat was a man of this kind, that he was not content with doing his very best to make Samaria both prosperous and powerful, but he must also do his very best to keep Jerusalem downtrodden and destroyed. And thus it was that, when Sanballat heard that Nehemiah had come from Shushan with a commission from Artaxerxes to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, the exasperating news drove Sanballat absolutely beside himself. And thus it is that such a large part of Nehemiah’s autobiography is taken up with Sanballat’s diabolical plots and conspiracies both to murder Nehemiah and to destroy the new Jerusalem. We see in Sanballat an outstanding instance of the sleepless malice of all unprincipled party spirit.
1. Now, in the first place, diabolically wicked as party spirit too often becomes, this must be clearly understood about party spirit, that, after all, it is but the excess, and the perversion, and the depravity of an originally natural and a perfectly proper principle in our hearts. It was of God, and it was of human nature as God had made it, that Sanballat should love and serve Samaria best; and that Nehemiah should love and serve Jerusalem best. And all party spirit among ourselves also, at its beginning, is but our natural and dutiful love for our own land, and for our own city, and for our own Church, and for those who think with us, and work with us, and love us.
2. But then, when it comes to its worst, as it too often does come, party spirit is the complete destruction both of truth and of love. The truth is hateful to the out-and-out partisan. We all know that in ourselves. As many lies as you like, but not the truth. It exasperates us to hear it. You are henceforth our enemy if you will insist on speaking it. It is not truth that divides us up into such opposed parties as we see all around us in Church and State, it is far more lies. It is not principle once in ten times. Nine times out of ten it is pure party spirit. And I cling to that bad spirit, and to all its works, as if it were my life. I feel unhappy when you tell me the truth, if it is good truth, about my rival. And where truth is hated in that way love can have no possible home. Truth is love in the mind, just as love is truth in the heart. Trample on the one and you crush the other to death. Now the full-blown party spirit is utter poison to the spirit of love as well as to the spirit of truth. Love suffereth long, and is kind; love rejoiceth not in iniquity, etc. But party spirit is the clean contradiction of an that.
3. By the just and righteous ordination of Almighty God all our sins carry their own punishment immediately and inseparably with them. And party spirit, being such a wicked spirit, it infallibly inflicts a very swift and a very severe punishment on the man who entertains it. You know yourselves how party spirit hardens your heart, and narrows, and imprisons, and impoverishes your mind. You must all know how party spirit poisons your feelings, and fills you with antipathy at men you never saw, as well as at men all around you who never hurt a hair of your head, and would not if they could.
4. Another Divine punishment of party spirit is seen in the way that it provokes retaliation, and thus reproduces and perpetuates itself till the iniquity of the fathers is visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate the truth and murder love. And, inheriting no little good from our contending forefathers, we have inherited too many of their injuries, and retaliations, and antipathies, and alienations also. And the worst of it is that we look on it as true patriotism, and the perfection of religious principle, to keep up and perpetuate all those ancient misunderstandings, and injuries, and recriminations, and alienations.
5. Who, then, is a wise man, and endued with wisdom among you? Who would fain be such a man? Who would behave to his rivals and enemies, not as Nehemiah, good man though he was, behaved to the Samaritans, but as Jesus Christ behaved to them? Who, in one word, would escape the sin, and the misery, and the long-lasting mischief of party spirit? Butler has an inimitable way of saying some of his very best and very deepest things. And here is one of his great sayings that has helped me more in this matter than I can tell you.
4. “Let us remember,” he says, “that we differ as much from other men as they differ from us.” What a lamp to our feet is that sentence as we go through this world! And then, when at any time, and towards any party, or towards any person whatsoever, you find in yourself that you are growing in love, and in peace, and in patience, and in toleration, and in goodwill, and in good wishes, acknowledge it to yourself; see it, understand it, and confess it. Do not be afraid to admit it, for that is God within your heart. That is the Divine Nature--that is the Holy Ghost. Just go on in that Spirit, and ere ever you are aware you will be caught up and taken home to that Holy Land where there is neither Jerusalem nor Samaria. There will be no party spirit there. There will be no controversy there. (A. Whyte, D. D.)
What do these feeble Jews?--
Feeble agencies not to be despised
When we behold a wide, turf-covered expanse, we should remember that its smoothness, on which so much of its beauty depends, is mainly due to all the inequalities having been slowly levelled by worms. It is a marvellous reflection that the whole of the superficial mould over any such expanse has passed, and will pass again, every few years, through the bodies of worms. The plough is one of the most ancient and most valuable of man’s inventions; but long before he existed the land was, in fact, regularly ploughed by earth-worms. It may be doubted whether there are any other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as have these lowly organised creatures. Some other animal, however, still more lowly organised--namely, corals, have done far more conspicuous work in having constructed innumerable reefs and islands in the great oceans; but these are almost confined to the tropical zones. (Charles Darwin.)
Intrinsic energy not to be gauged by magnitude
Remember that lofty trees grow from diminutive seeds; copious rivers flow from small fountains; slender wires often sustain ponderous weights; injury to the smallest nerves may occasion the most agonising sensation; the derangement of the least wheel or pivot may render useless the greatest machine of which it is a part; an immense crop of errors may spring from the least root of falsehood; a glorious intellectual light may be kindled by the minutest spark of truth; and every principle is more diffusive and operative by reason of its intrinsic energy than of its magnitude. (J. Gregory.)
Censure should not interfere with duty
Be not diverted from your duty by any idle reflections the silly world may make on you, for their censures are not in your power, and consequently should be no part of your concern. (Epictetus.)
Fool’s-bolts should be disregarded
What action was ever so good, or so completely done, as to be well taken on all hands? It concerns every wise Christian to settle his heart in a resolved confidence of his own holy and just grounds, and then to go on in a constant course of his well-warranted judgment and practice, with a careless disregard of those fool’s-bolts which will be sure to be shot at him, which way soever he goes. (Bp. Hall.)
Petty criticism should be disregarded
It is often more difficult to endure the stinging of insects than to face the bravest perils. Explorers in tropical countries find these tiny, noxious creatures much more destructive of their peace and comfort than the larger and more deadly animals which sometimes beset them. Many a man faces courageously a grave peril who becomes a coward when a set of petty annoyances have worn his nerves out and irritated him to the point of loss of self-control. Every man who attempts an independent course of life, whether of thought, habit, or action, finds himself beset by a cloud of petty critics, who are, for the most part, without malice, but whose stings, inspired by ignorance, are quite as hard to bear as they would be if inspired by hate. The misrepresentations and misconceptions which good men suffer are a part of the pathos of life. The real answer to criticism is a man’s life and work. A busy man has no time to stop and meet his critics in detail; he must do his work, and let that be his answer to criticism. (Christian Age.)
So we built the wall.
Fellowship in Christian service
1. They built it notwithstanding sneers. “What do these feeble Jews?” Sanballat said. All the Sanballats are not dead yet. Often, when you would attempt some new or difficult work for Christ, there are a good many modern Sanballats ready to stand about and say, “You can’t do anything; you are not strong enough; you are not experienced enough; you haven’t money enough; the idea of your attempting such a thing!
2. they built the wall, notwithstanding active opposition they kept right on steadily building. Said the great William Carey--who wrought such wonders, and against such opposition, in modern missions--to his son Eustace, “Eustace, if they say I am a genius, it is not true; but if they say I can plod, that is true. Yes, I can plod, I can plod.” And a plodding persistence, in the face of almost any opposition, is sure at last to triumph.
3. They built the wall, notwithstanding despairing friends. I have been reading how General Washington, only a little time before the battle of Yorktown, was in the very darkest time of the long, hard struggle. Friends on every side were despairingly saying, “You can’t do it; you might just as well give up.” But the great Washington would not let himself despair. Whoever else might, he would not. He would keep at it; and, keeping at it, notwithstanding the despair of friends, a nation’s independence was achieved at Yorktown.
4. They built the wall by prayer. I asked Mr. Spurgeon once how he prayed. He answered, “I go to the Bible and find a promise applicable to my need, then I reverently plead that promise before the Lord, asking Him to keep it for Jesus’ sake; and I believe God will, and He does.” That is the prayer of faith--the prayer of great grip on the Divine promise.
5. They built the wall by working together. Did you notice that “we”? “So ‘we’ built the wail,” our Scripture says. Even one is worth something, but two are worth more, and many striving together are worth immeasurably more. Associate others with yourself, or yourself with others. It was because the Rough Riders rushed up the heights of San Juan together, and because the coloured regiments rushed up together, and together with them they were enabled to plant Old Glory on the summit. Fellow ship is better than individualism in all noble service.
6. They built the wall by willingness on the part of each to do whatever he could. Sometimes they bore burdens; sometimes they grasped swords and spears; sometimes they stood sentinel. There was no selfish picking and choosing. There was no mean declaring “I will do this, but I won’t do that.” Each one was ready to do anything; the thing which seemed just then the thing best to be done. It is no wonder that the wall went steadily and triumphantly up.
7. They built the wall by courageous trust in God. Said Nehemiah, “Be not afraid of them; remember the Lord.” (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
For the people had a mind to work--
Conditions of success in Christian work
The chief characteristics displayed by Nehemiah and his fellow-citizens in prosecuting their work were--
1. Earnestness. Earnestness is an important factor in all Christian work and consists--
Summing up these characteristics, we may say to the Christian worker, “Add to your work earnestness, and to earnestness persistency, and to persistency union, and to union wisdom, and to wisdom courage, and to courage prayer”; “for if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8). (W. P. Lockhart.)
A mind to work
I. A recognition of the duty of work.
II. A recognition of the privilege of work.
III. An earnest sympathy with, and longing for, the results of work. (The Church.)
A mind to work
I. The work. Circumstances have changed, and the methods are altered, but the work is the same. You are entitled to ask me, “What are we to do?”
1. Bear the insignia of your religion before the world. Let all men know that you are the followers of Christ.
2. Maintain His public worship.
3. Christianise the world.
II. The mind. This implies--
4. Thoroughness amid discouragement and opposition. (T. Davies, M. A.)
A mind to work
I. The work the Jews had to perform. The work they had undertaken was one in which it was natural to suppose they felt the deepest possible interest. It will be admitted that the work they had undertaken was a great work. Then as to the magnitude of the work, it is indescribable--it is, in a word, to seek the present and eternal salvation of a guilty, ruined, and perishing world. Nor must good men lose sight of the fact, that this glorious work is to be accomplished, not by miracle, nor by a Divine power or agency in the abstract, but by the feeble, and of itself powerless, instrumentality of Christian men, as accompanied with the sanctifying and saving influences of the Holy Spirit of God.
II. The obstacles which, in the prosecution of their work, the Jews had to encounter. The Church, then, must never forget that her adversaries are both numerous and powerful. But have not the Church’s greatest difficulties often proved her greatest blessings? It has led the Lord’s people both to see and to feel more of their dependence upon Him.
III. The spirit in which the jews carried on their work. They had their minds, that is to say, their souls, in it, and they were determined to accomplish it. They loved their Master, their work, and each other.
IV. The success of which their labour was productive.
1. Are there any of us who are engaged in the Lord’s service, but whose hearts are not in it?
2. Are there any who have no disposition to labour for the Lord Jesus Christ? (Essex Remembrancer.)
A mind to work
We have here--
I. co-operation. “The people had a mind to work.” Nehemiah was, of course, the ruling spirit. He was only one man, but he was one of those men who count for thousands. He was one of those men who not only embody but create the spirit of an age and lead it on to victory. He was only one man, but in this world men have not to be counted but weighed; and it is when men are weighed--weighed as to their intellect, their convictions, their courage, their principles, their self-denial--that it is seen that one man is not as good as another. All the great epochs of the world have gathered around one man, just as the restoration gathered around Nehemiah, and so filled his soul that the electric power of his patriotic purpose enkindled the hearts of the people with a flame that never expired till the work was done. Then as ever, it was seen that the world’s work must be done by a combination of men who toil with the brain and who toil with the hands. Nehemiah was architect, clerk of the works, diplomatist, general, all in one. But he could have done nothing unless he had been able to secure the co-operation of the people. There is here a lesson on the value and the necessity of co-operation in work for Christ. Success in war is due to two principles--the one is divide your enemy, and the other is unite yourselves. On these two conditions success is certain. Real and vital co-operation in Church work will be equally successful. There may be a Church and no co-operation. It may be a mass, but not a body. Many individual men do far more than a society, because the individual men work, and the society does not, but thinks that it has fulfilled all its duty when it has appointed a committee, with its usual complement of officers. You would think that an army had strangely misconceived its mission if because it saw its staff-officers it lay down and left the fortunes of battle to be settled by them. But this is just what is done by societies which devolve on committees the whole work.
II. Cheerful resolution. There is a great deal of work done in our world, and has always been, in which there has been no mind at all, either in the shape of intelligence or goodwill. I suppose that some of the greatest structures of the world were so built--the Pyramids, the great aqueducts of Rome and the Coliseum. The slaves had not a mind to work, but had an eye to the rod of the taskmaster. You will search this book in vain for the trace of a taskmaster. They had a mind to work, and not to criticise or cavil. This is a suggestive warning to all such characters in our day. Many have a mind only to think, and not to work. You ask them to come and set their shoulder to the wheel, but they prefer to spend their time in solving, so far as they can, sundry theological or religious fiddles. H by their thinking they accomplished anything, then they might think on, but they are like a corn-mill, the stones of which are perpetually revolving, but there is no corn between them, and so they only grind themselves. More doubts are removed and more difficulties are solved by working than by thinking. “If any man will do the will of God,” etc. Some people have a mind to speak, but not to work. Speech is good enough in its place. The end of all talk should be action. As a rule most work is done where there is least noise. When a machine goes noiselessly, it means that the friction is reduced to the smallest possible quantity, and that the force is not wasted on the process, but comes out in the accomplished work. At the building of Babel there was far more noise than at the building of the temple, but the temple was the successful work. Their heart was in their work, and by their heart we mean chiefly their purpose and their cheerfulness. He that works without a will is nothing better than a machine, and may be worse. When people have a mind to work there will be no unseemly ambitions, no quarrels for posts of honour. The man who can lighten labour with a song is likely to be a good worker. He will be like a soldier, who marches best to the rhythmic throb of the drum, and to the sounds of inspiring music. As to Christian work, none can be entitled to such a name unless it be cheerful. God loveth, we are told, not a giver, but a “cheerful” giver. If we show mercy we are to show it cheerfully. We are to serve the Lord with gladness. We are to come into His presence with songs. Saints are to be joyful in the Lord.
III. Work crowned with success. (Enoch Mellor, D. D.)
The secret of success in the work of the Lord
I. That we have a great and an important work devolving upon us: to aid in raising the world from the ruins of the fall, and restoring it to something of its former order and beauty, that the Lord may dwell among us. This work has been committed to the Church. It is her high corn, mission. This work must commence with our own hearts.
II. That this work must re engaged in with consecrated zeal and activity.
III. The diligent use of all appointed means. Nehemiah having set his heart upon his work, judiciously employed every means calculated to promote it.
1. Let us stimulate each other to engage vigorously and unitedly in this work. Generally speaking, there is only a small fraction of every Church that engages actively in the great purposes of religion.
2. Having brought all the truly pious up to a proper point, we should then address ourselves, every one to his proper sphere of labour.
IV. That in the use of means the work must be followed up with fortitude and perseverance. Such was the perseverance of the Jews in rebuilding the walls, that they never pulled off their clothes, except for the means of cleanliness, during the whole of the work; but continued night and day working. There was no time for delay or indulgence.
V. That to insure the successful issue of the work, there must be an entire dependence on the blessing of god. Here was the grand secret of Nehemiah’s success. He first sought Divine direction, then employed the means, and then implored the Divine blessing. In no other way can we account for the rapid progress of the work, and its successful issue in so short a time. (G. Richards.)
Rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem
I. The persons by whom the work was mainly performed.
II. The spirit in which it was accomplished. In a great multitude of instances the work of conversion or reform is begun too near the surface. You ask the hand to work, and what is wanting is the mind to work. What we want is, not a new power but a new disposition, to have the mind newly cast in the image and character of God. It is in vain to change the hand of the watch if the mainspring is defective; it is in vain to heal the muscle or the sinew if there is no life’s blood in the heart; it is in vain to mould the mere image of a man if the spirit of life is not communicated. All these typify the man without the mind, without the will. (J. W. Cunningham, A. M.)
Advance in solid column to Christian work
When General Grant was in front of Richmond, and his army had been repulsed in the Wilderness, he called together his co-commanders and held a council, and asked them what they thought he had better do. There were General Sherman and General Howard, now leading generals, and all thought he had better retreat. He heard them through, and then broke up the council of war and sent them back to their headquarters; but before morning an orderly came round with a despatch from the General directing an advance in solid column on the enemy at daylight. That was what took Richmond and broke down the rebellion in our country. Christians, let us advance in solid column against the enemy; let us lift high the standard, and in the name of our God let us lift up our voice, and let us work together, shoulder to shoulder, and keep our eye single to the honour and glory of Christ. (D. L. Moody.)
Absorbing work is successful
A gentleman who recently visited Mr. Edison’s great laboratory, at Menlo Park, and whose son was about to enter upon business life, asked the Professor to give him a motto for his boy, so that he might remember it as a guide and stimulus in after-life. Mr. Edison laughed a little at the novel request, and then said, “Well, I’ll give him this--tell him never to look at the clock!” Which means this--that the man who succeeds to-day is not the man who does just what he has contracted to do and no more, but the man who throws his heart into his work, feels a genuine interest in it, and does not grumble if he has to work ten minutes after office hours.
Putting heart into work
An employer, pointing to two men working side by side in his shop, said, “Though I pay them the same wages, one of them is worth twice as much to me as the other, because he puts his heart into everything that he does. He is interested. He is always anxious to do his best. His neighbour, on the contrary, thinks only of his wages. He will shirk whenever he thinks that he can do so and not be found out. I cannot trust him. I have to watch him closely, or he will send out work that is imperfect, and will injure the reputation of the shop.” “Well, what does the man you commend gain by putting his heart in it, if you pay the same wages?” “Nothing at present except the satisfaction one feels in trying to do his duty.”
But it came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobtah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the walls . . . conspired all of them together.
Foes of the faith
It is well we should know our enemies, and then we can better resist them.
I. think of those foes of the faith Nehemiah had to withstand.
1. There was Noadiah the prophetess. She would have put Nehemiah “in fear.” She used a sacred position and the name of God to cheek the efforts of a good man. Noadiah could threaten, instil doubts, and arouse dread. The Church to-day lacks courage. Too many Noadiahs are prophesying evil things, and leading others to believe that Christian missions, Christian social efforts, Christian gospel preaching, and Christian hopes of the final triumph of truth are only doomed to disappointment, but the Noadiahs are often wrong. Pessimists, philosophical or ecclesiastical, are all the prey of paralysis.
2. Then there was Shemaiah (Nehemiah 6:10), who was “shut in the temple.” He pretended that great danger approached. He sought to allure the Reformer into a state of inactivity. He said: “Let us shut the doors of the temple, for they will come and slay thee; yea, in the night, they will come and slay thee.” However, Shemiah had his price. He had been hired. Money dictated his actions as it does that of many mercenary hinderers of the truth, especially the men who say, “We exist for the benefit of the people.”
3. Then there was Sanballat the Horonite. He was a most dangerous enemy. He had a position at Samaria, the nearest strong city. He had special influence also with the garrison. Of him it is said, “Sanballat was very wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews and spake before his brethren (relations), and the army of Samaria.” He said, “What do those feeble Jews? Will they sacrifice? Will they make an end in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish that are burned?” He raged. His anger was like Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, heated seven times hotter than usual. It was like the fires of the Inquisition that did put out evangelical truth throughout Spain, and nearly through France. Sanballat was most irritating to Nehemiah, for he taunted him bitterly. He sought in every way to check the work by abuse of the courageous leader. Sanballat, indeed, was a bitter east wind.
4. Tobiah, who lived at Ammon, was another enemy. He had power over a province. He had probably reached his post by flattering when a slave in the imperial court. Nehemiah calls him the slave (Nehemiah 2:19) (where servant should be rendered slave). He was a sprung-up, conceited opponent of the truth. He assumed that wisdom would die with him. This Tobiah was acquainted with the internal state of Jerusalem, and had shown contempt for the efforts of Nehemiah. He said, “Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall” (Nehemiah 4:3). He ridiculed their aims, and kept up a constant intrigue with those within who were disaffected (Nehemiah 6:17). This man, even after the temple was finished and the walls built, managed to establish himself in the sacred place itself, because he had relationship with the chief priest (Nehemiah 13:8). This man may represent those who are traitorous betrayers, and who now cast ridicule upon the truth, or on efforts after the truth--those who, pretending to help Protestant truth, are its betrayers.
5. Another enemy was Geshem or Gashmu an Arabian (Nehemiah 6:6). Geshem and Gashmu seem to have been identical. He was an Ishmaelite. He was a wild, characterless man--”an idle chatterer.” He had nothing to lose and everything to gain by opposition. He brought false charges against Nehemiah as one who only wished to set up a sovereignty, and to be independent of the central power at Susa (Nehemiah 6:6). Most dangerous of all enemies was this Geshem, or Gashmu, for he could insinuate that mean motives were the spring of holy efforts. He was a whisperer. Oh, how very many Gashmus there are even now! They are of no importance, save that they can spread reports, and do much damage. Gashmus will say that they pretend to be anxious about the cause of God, when they are only anxious to gratify their own ambition. Or Gashmu will say that Christians only desire advance in material prosperity. The Gashmus are too indifferent to understand the enthusiasm of Christians.
6. Noadiah, Shemaiah, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Gashmu were united. They were cunning and cruel. They had allies within Jerusalem. Some were half-hearted. Individually we have traitorous tendencies to indifference and ease in our souls. We have many enemies whom we find represented by the Ammonites and Arabians. They are such as these--doubts as to whether we are converted, or unbelief as to Christ’s acceptance of us, or superstitious and self-righteous leanings, seductions of the world, of pleasure, of wealth, of fame, desire to have the good opinion of the world, desire to be known rather as “good fellows” than good Christians. To be without temptation would be to be without that element that goes to form character. “Better have the devil’s war than have the devil’s peace.”
II. Nehemiah teaches us how to resist the enemies of the truth.
1. He resisted by establishing sentinels, setting the watch to give warning; he resisted by placing weapons into the hands of all. Our weapons of defence are God’s commands, God’s promises, God’s love. Nehemiah resisted by teaching the people to keep behind their defences. We, when assaults on our faith or temptations come, should get behind the walls, should keep within conscience--keep within the Word.
2. Nehemiah resisted his foes by pressing all into service. “None were despised.”
3. Nehemiah resisted his foes by inspiring his people with confidence in God. God is mightier than our foes.
4. Nehemiah resisted also by insisting that there should be no parleying with the enemy. “Answer him not again.” He resisted by leading the people to be as unrestful in toil as unceasing in outlook. “They laboured, and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared” (Nehemiah 4:21). He inspired his followers with courage, saying, “Be not afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” And again, “Our God shall fight for us” (Nehemiah 4:14; Nehemiah 4:20). Words these worthy to be the battle-cry of the Church. Moreover, Nehemiah resisted best by setting an example of courage. “Should such a man as I flee?” All Christian life should be courageous. Shall we, in view of the value of our souls, yield to evil? The more we work for Christ and watch against evil, the stronger we shall become. Soldiers are not kept idle while in garrison; work of some kind is always found for them. If unemployed they would soon become flabby, weak, and without muscle. There is ever something in Christian life to develop the watchful and the heroic. Persistency prevailed. We are told that “when his enemies heard of the fact that the wall was finished they were much cast down in their own eyes” (Nehemiah 6:16). Walls had risen which they could not batter. Crestfallen, the enemies had to depart. Chroniclers might have said of them, as it was written of Charles VIII. of France, and his expedition against Naples, “They came into the field like thunder, and went out like a soft shower.” So went away, in the time of Nehemiah, the enemies of God’s struggling Church. “God brought their counsel to nought.” (F. Hastings.)
And to hinder it.
The builders interrupted
I. The work Nehemiah was commissioned to do.
II. How Nehemiah’s work was hindered.
1. By ridicule.
2. By weariness (verse 10).
3. By fearfulness (verse 12).
Many now feel that there is danger in building the walls of Zion.
4. By bribery. No other cause so weakens the Church as defection in her own membership.
III. The measures by which Nehemiah accomplished his work.
2. Sagacious efforts.
3. Single-ness of aim. Nothing could divert him.
4. Enthusiasm. Zeal in one heart sets other hearts burning. There is a suggestive legend of the venerable Bede which tells us that when he was old, with eyesight almost gone, one of his scholars led him to a heap of stones, and told him they were people; this was enough. The aged servant was true to his commission. With fiery tongue he preached the gospel. He ended as usual with the doxology, “To whom be glory through all the ages.” Then from that heap of stones a voice rose, “Amen venerabilis Bede!” True zeal springs not from impulse, but from conviction.
5. His securing the co-operation of the people. “Every one to his work.” When Wesley was asked the secret of his success, he replied, “To my voice in the pulpit on the Sabbath the people add a thousand echoes during the week.” (Monday Club Sermons.)
Nehemiah had enemies and hinderers in his great undertaking.
I. Those who said, “ye shalt not do it.” Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, etc. These are the least to be dreaded.
II. Those who said, “you ought not to do it.” Those were the Jews who dwelt by these Samaritans. They were near neighbours to them; so near as to be influenced by their threats and their derision. This was a danger far more serious than that which came directly to the good governor from the wicked Sanballat. The solicitation of friends was far more likely to weaken his forces than the intimidation of foes. This would tend to consolidate the people for defence, while that would draw them off little by little, a few to this village and a few to that, until a considerable part of them would be found to have melted away. The pleas of friendship are stronger than the threats of enmity. This kindly interest shown in their welfare, this fear in their behalf, and the possible need of them at home--these were strong inducements to them to desert and go back to their various villages. This is a plea, too, which can be repeated many times. So while the threats are recorded as repeated twice, this call to return to those who loved them was made in one form or another as many as ten times. Let the Church of Christ and let the Christian man beware of these friendly voices which urge them to withdraw from the service on which they have entered, or from some special part of it, because it may involve some danger or some sacrifice. It is those who live near the enemy who reinforce his threats with their friendly entreaties; who add to their” You shall not do it,” their own “Please do not do it.” Especially if we are-in any way building the walls of Jerusalem, helping the cause of God and His kingdom, we will be wise to beware of the call of those we have just left to enter on this service when they say, “Ye must return to us,”
III. Those who said, “we cannot do it.” This was the most pressing peril that could befall Nehemiah and his mission. A deserter is more demoralising than a dozen foes. One taken from the helpers and added to the hinderers makes a difference of at least two. Their complaint is twofold.
1. They find that their strength has given out.
2. That there is much “rubbish,” in the midst of which they had to build. Out of the past city came the obstacles to the building of the future city. Some of the worst hindrances to the accomplishment of our work as Christians and as Christian Churches are those whose origin is in our own past selves, lives, habits--the rubbish which has fallen from the neglected walls of our own living. For the future, daily penitence and prayer will prevent the accumulation of so much rubbish that we cannot build. (George M. Boynton.)
Rebuilding the wall
The enemies of the Jews felt that the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem was a menace to their own welfare and local supremacy. They must arrest it.
I. They tried laughter. God’s people at work on the walls of Zion are continually told that it is no use, they shall have their labour for their pains. A hundred years ago William Carey was dubbed “the consecrated cobbler” for proposing the evangelisation of India, but to-day all Christendom delights to do him honour. God crowns the heroism that can face an epithet. All efforts at political and social betterment are met in the same manner. The same is true of the rebuilding of personal character. It is hard work to rebuild the walls of manhood out of the rubbish-heaps of mislived years while old comrades stand by pointing their fingers and cracking jokes, but by God’s grace it can be done.
II. Their opposition assumed the form. Of threatening (Nehemiah 2:19). A good work is always in the realm of danger, because it is in the nature of lese majeste--rebellion against the prince of this world. A reformer never goes scot-free. Loss of business or social standing, ostracism, political decapitation, are some of the penalties which a true man is ever called upon to confront in the discharge of duty.
III. They proposed a compromise (Nehemiah 6:2). Duty knows no compromise. The only way to serve God is unreservedly. The only way to avoid evil is not to tamper with it. The apparently innocent diversions of Vanity Fair gave the Pilgrim more trouble than all the giants and lions along his way. Diluted theology and limp morals will sap the vitality of the most vigorous man or Church. Right is right; to dilute it makes it wrong. Truth is truth; to adulterate it makes it error. Duty is duty; to alloy it with disobedience makes it sin. Conclusion: Observe how these efforts were met.
1. By prayer. John Knox is said to have bedewed the walls of his closet with hie tears of supplication. George Washington was glad to profess his dependence upon God. Abraham Lincoln, when asked if he was accustomed to pray, answered, “The man who would assume to perform the duties of the Presidency without seeking Divine guidance must be a blockhead.” No man can ever afford to spend a prayerless day.
2. A watch was set. The countersign was given; it was the same that long afterwards rang from the lips of the Roundheads in their struggle for English freedom, “God with us” (verse 20). The authorship of the famous maxim, “Trust in God and keep your powder dry,” may be traced to Nehemiah. No enterprise fails that is backed by faith and works.
3. Nehemiah and his men kept on working. Prayer, vigilance, and patient continuance in well-doing can work wonders. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
The soldier builders
I. Combination of prayer and watchfulness.
II. Combination of precept and example (Nehemiah 4:14-15; Nehemiah 4:18.)
III. Every builder was also a soldier.
IV. A mutual co-operation went hand in hand with personal work and responsibility. (J. M. Randall.)
A bold and united front to the enemy
It was therefore necessary to present a bold and united front to the enemy, and to be soldiers as well as builders; and it was only by similar zeal, diligence, and unity that they could hope, under the blessing of God, to encircle Jerusalem with wall! and bulwarks. Nelson, the day before the battle of Trafalgar, took Collingwood and Rotherham, who were at variance, to the spot where they could see the fleet opposed to them. “Yonder,” said he, “are your enemies; shake hands and be friends like good Englishmen.” Let Christians learn to cultivate unity in spirit, and as far as possible unity in action. Let us ascend from the minor specialities in which we differ, the narrowness and jealousy of sect and party, to the grand platform of truth, wherein we are all agreed. (J. M. Randall.)
We made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch.
Watch and pray
I. The duty of prayer.
1. Prayer implies trust.
2. It implies acknowledged weakness.
3. It realises Divine power. Hence in the Christian life that man is only safe, prosperous, or happy who is constantly on his knees.
II. Active vigilance and duty. God’s help is not intended to favour indolence, but to encourage exertion. The husbandman knows that God gives the increase, and therefore ploughs and sows. A man may talk, says Jay, about casting his care upon God, and may sing “Jehovah-Jireh” with all his energy as long as he pleases, but if he is idle, dissolute, foolish, he only tempts God, not trusts Him, for if a man will not work neither shall he eat. We have to carry on a greater work than Nehemiah. An enemy is endeavouring to prevent us building our eternal habitations, to hinder our work of preparation for heaven. Let us give our mental, moral, intellectual ability to working out our own salvation, knowing that God worketh in us to will and to do. (Homilist.)
Piety and prudence
I. The appeal of the church of God.
1. Recognising their weakness and dependence, they prayed unto God.
2. In spite of discouragements these men prayed. “Nevertheless.”
3. They must have been encouraged by remembering what relation God sustained towards them. “Our God.”
4. They united in supplication.
II. The reliance of the church upon itself. “Set a watch.”
1. There are enemies all around us.
2. God will not do for us what we can do for ourselves.
3. Our enemies are vigilant and untiring.
4. Our enemies conspire together. There is an unholy alliance of the forces of evil. (The Study.)
The union of prayer and watchfulness
This union is equally pleasing and profitable. It keeps our devotion from growing up into rank enthusiasm, and our diligence from sinking into the wisdom of the world which is foolishness with God. The life of the Christian is held forth as that of a warfare. What, then, can be more reasonable than to betake ourselves to prayer and vigilance?
I. Let us make our prayer to God.
1. It is recommended by God Himself--“Call upon Me in the day of trouble,” etc.
2. The very exercise of prayer is useful.
3. Prayer is the forming of a confederacy with God.
II. Set a watch, because of our enemies, night and day.
1. Impress your minds with a sense of your danger.
2. Study your constitutional weakness and failings.
3. Observe how you have already been foiled or ensnared.
4. Guard against the beginnings of sin.
5. Avoid the occasions of sin.
Nothing is more dangerous than idleness. Our idle days, says Henry, are the devil’s busy ones. Stagnant waters breed thousands of noxious insects; but this is not the case with living water. (William Jay.)
The model of a Christian warrior
I. His prayerfulness.
II. His watchfulness. Watchfulness without prayer is pre sumptuous pride, but prayer without watchfulness is presumptuous sloth. Confidence in the help of God must not prevent the use of all proper means for safety and deliverance. God promised Paul the lives of all on board the ship in which he sailed; but they were to use the means of safety. “Some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship; and so it come to pass that they escaped all safe to land.” While the Christian is surrounded with a powerful conspiracy of all the principalities of evil, he should aim at a military discipline of his heart and his thoughts. His conscience, like the trumpeter at Nehemiah’s side, should be always awake.
III. His industry.
IV. His exalted courage, associated with a holy caution.
V. His cheerfulness in the performance of his arduous duties. (R. P. Buddicom.)
The hardiest devotion is the healthiest. The devotion of the cloister is for the most part like the ghastly light that hovers over decomposition and decay; the devotion which characterises the diligent, spiritually-minded man of business resembles the star which shines on in the storm as in the calm--when the sky is clouded as when it is serene. (R. P. Buddicom.)
Praying and doing
I. Praying is the most important step of life. If a bad man would be good, the first step should be that of prayer. And our last breath when we leave this earth for the other world is prayer.
II. If our prayers are to bless us, we must pray earnestly.
III. Moreover, when we pray we are not to neglect the means of making our prayer effectual. We are to do as Nehemiah did--pray to God, and set a watch. I am not afraid of thieves; but while I pray to God to let His angels encamp about my house and guard it, I do not expect the angels to come into my lobbies and lock the doors. I can do that. While we pray we are not to neglect any means at our hands for doing the work for which we pray. In the same way, a working man who earns a couple of pounds a week may pray, “O Lord, provide for me, and keep me from debt.” It is right thus to pray, but then let not the working man neglect the means which are in his power to fulfil the prayer; let him put by two or three shillings a week to provide for any time of need. Some people seem to think that religion is a kind of spiritual charm, like the horse-shoe that our superstitious forefathers nailed behind the front door to keep out the “bogies.” They think that religion is for them to say prayers and go to church, and then God will keep them from hell. Oh, no.
IV. While we pray for success, let us take heed to watch for opportunities of doing good. A wealthy farmer, whose haystacks were numerous, and whose barns were full of corn, on reading in the newspapers about the great distress in the time of the cotton famine, prayed earnestly at the family altar that the poor might be fed and clothed, but he did not send any donation to the fund, and the next Sunday he uttered the same prayer. On the way to church the little son said, “Father, I wish I had your corn.” “Why, my boy, what would you do with it?” “Father, I would give it to the hungry people for bread.” It is no use praying that the hungry may be fed if you will not help to feed them from your full cupboard. The purpose of prayer is--asking God to give you power to do good, and then seeking opportunities to exert that power. (W. Birch.)
The two guards, praying and watching
In the text I see two guards.
I. First guard, prayer.
1. It was a prayer that meant business.
2. It was a prayer that overcame difficulties.
3. It was a prayer that came before anything else.
4. It was a prayer that was continued.
5. It was a prayer that was home-made.
6. It was a prayer that went to the home of prayer.
7. It was a prayer saturated with faith.
II. Second guard, watchfulness. This setting of a watch was--
1. A work appointed.
2. A work carefully done.
3. A work continued.
4. A work quickened by knowledge.
(a) Ungodly relatives. Be patient, gentle, loving towards them. Do nothing that will give them occasion to blaspheme.
(b) The evil tendencies of our corrupt nature.
5. Watch for yourself when you see another fall, lest you should fall in the same place.
III. I finish by putting the two guards together. Neither is sufficient alone. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
An old writer, speaking of men as stewards of God, urges upon them as wise traders and servants to look to themselves carefully, and take care of four houses which are under their charge.
1. Their warehouse, or heart and memory, wherein they should store up precious things, holy affections, grateful remembrances, etc.
2. Their workhouse, or their actions, wherein they retail to others, for God’s glory, the grace entrusted to them.
3. Their clock-house--their speech--which must always, like a well-tuned bell, speak the truth accurately; and meaning also their observance of time, redeeming it by promptly doing the duties of every hour.
4. Their counting-house, or their conscience, which is to be scrupulously kept, and no false reckonings allowed, lest we deceive our own souls. (J. M. Randall.)
Watchfulness and prayer
A believer’s watchfulness is like that of a soldier. A sentinel posted on the walls, when he discerns a hostile party advancing, does not attempt to make head against them himself, but informs his commanding officer of the enemy’s approach, and leaves him to take the proper measures against the foe. So the Christian does not attempt to fight temptations in his own strength: his watchfulness lies in observing its approach, and in telling God of it by prayer. (W. Mason.)
At rest, but ready
At Christmas-time soldiers are in the habit of decorating their barrack-rooms, and are fond of putting mottoes cut out of gilt paper amongst the holly on their whitewashed walls. Last year I noticed in one room these two. Over the door there was, “At peace, but still on guard”; and in another place, “At rest, but ready.” Are not these equally applicable to spiritual life? If we have left our sins at the foot of the Cross, we should be at peace and rest, but on our guard against temptation, watching for the coming of the Lord. (The Quiver.)
And there is much rubbish.
The hindrances of rubbish
I. That there is too much “rubbish” in the pulpit. Carlyle, in giving a whimsical instance of the importance attached to etiquette at the Court of Louis XVI., while the infuriated mob were demanding entrance to his private apartments, compares it to the house-cricket still chirping amid the pealing of the trump of doom. And so, too, when the ambassador for Christ doles out to souls perishing for the Bread of Life the vain speculations of metaphysics and philosophy, he ought to be held accountable for the spiritual slumber which such narcotics are certain to produce.
II. Another reason why the walls of the spiritual Jerusalem are not built up with more rapidity is because of the “rubbish” about the post. The minds of multitudes are bewildered and turned aside from the pursuit of the one thing needful by unprofitable discussions concerning the modes of baptism and the disposition to magnify unimportant things into essentials.
III. The heaps of “rubbish” about the Lord’s table is another reason why the walls of the spiritual Jerusalem are built up so slowly.
IV. Then there is the “rubbish” of flimsy excuses which blocks up the path of life. (J. N. Norton.)
The ancient Jerusalem was but an imperfect type of the true city of God, which through the ages prophets have panted for and poets have sung, a city of truth, and righteousness and love; of liberty, equality, and fraternity, in a far fuller sense of the words than Rousseau dreamed of. For ages men have been building against opposition malignant and persistent, and with sure if slow progress. And we are building to-day. In a moment of pause we look round and still we say, “There is much rubbish.” What rubbish do you meet with.--
I. In English law.
II. In English society.
III. In English life.
IV. In church life.
V. In our libraries.
VI. In newspapers and magazines.
VII. In our minds.
VIII. In our hearts. (David Brook, M. A.)
We have to build the wall of the Church for God, but we cannot build it, for there is so much rubbish in our way. This is true--
I. of the building of the Church, which is the Jerusalem of God.
1. When the apostles began to build for God, there lay before them towering heaps of rubbish.
2. Soon after apostolic times came the old Roman rubbish.
3. At present there is still much rubbish coming from the world, the flesh, and the devil.
II. This is equally true of the temple of God, which is to be built in each one of our hearts. There is oftentimes in Christian people the old rubbish--
1. Of legal thought, of legal acting, of legal fearing.
2. Of old habits.
3. Of worldly associations.
4. Lofty thoughts of ourselves, engendered by worldly prosperity and spiritual acquisitions. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
But in our text we read of an unexpected difficulty pleaded by the men of Judah--a weary, trying, and depressing task, entailing much toil and little show of progress. So in the Christian’s inner life; there lies in his way a heap of broken resolutions, of former good intentions never carried out; a ponderous mass of indolent excuses for doing nothing; a rubbish pile of petty procrastinations, promising that some day we will improve, but putting off that day from time to time! It does indeed need Divine help and aid to summon up energy and to commence, beginning at once, that arduous work of removing the rubbish and ruins and starting afresh. So, also, those who would do good to others, who would rebuild God’s Zion and populate the kingdom of Christ with souls, must expect to find in their way a heavy and inert mass of ignorance, apathy, and opposition. We shall find at first disappointments and failures heaped up high in our path, but, like the faithful men of Jerusalem of old, let our answer be, “We will rise up and build,” and the encouraging voice of the true Nehemiah, the real Restorer of the Heavenly Zion, will greet us with the promise, “The God of heaven will prosper” you! (W. Hardman, LL. D.)
And our adversaries said, They shall not know.
The craft and cruelty of the Church’s adversaries
I. A strong combination against the church of god.
II. A wicked design they were combined in.
III. A bloody means propounded.
IV. A subtle way projected for the affecting of this. (Matthew Newcomen.)
I. In this serpentine, crafty, and malicious dealing of these wicked men appeareth the old serpentine nature and malice of Satan.
II. The next property of the serpent that appeareth in them is that they mercilessly would murder them when they had once thus suddenly invaded them.
III. The last property of Satan appeareth here in these wicked men, in that they would gladly overthrow this building of Jerusalem, that it should never be thought of any more. (Bp. Pilkington.)
Remember the Lord, which is great.
The power of memory
I. The power of memory.
II. The application of the text to ourselves.
1. Parents should remember that God regards them as stewards, to whom are committed the care, the instruction, and the discipline of their offspring.
2. Children should remember that forgetfulness of the claims of home, of a father, of a mother, is a forgetfulness of God.
3. Employers should “remember the Lord” in the example which He furnishes of gentleness, patience, kindness, forbearance, and deep humility.
4. Servants should “remember the Lord,” that He “took upon Him the form of a servant.” Conclusion: Remember the promises He has made, the deliverances He has wrought, the blessings He has conferred, the invitations He has given, and the relations He now fills. Remember Him--in calamity to trust Him, in prosperity to praise Him, in danger to call upon Him, in difficulty to expect His interference. Remember Him, for it is your duty, it is your privilege. Remember Him, for He never forgets you. (W. Horwood.)
God is on the field
Always believe that God is on your side. “He is on the field when most invisible.” In one of the great continental cities the regalia are not kept behind iron bars as in the Tower of London, but lie upon an open table. It might appear an easy thing for some thief to snatch a diamond or a jewel from the glittering array, and yet no man dare put out his band to take one, for that table is charged with electricity, and woe to the person who touches it. The protection is complete; you cannot see it, but there it is. Only live in daily--hourly communion with Christ. Don’t break the spiritual connection, and you are as safe from Satan and sin as the jewels from the devices of the thief. Greater is He that is for us than all enemies that can be against us. (E. Abbott.)
Every one unto his work.
Specialty of work for each man
There is something beautiful to me in the thought that there is a specialty of work for each man. In work, as in character, disposition, history, and destiny, there is a specialty; and when the Church arises to the New Jerusalem, it will not be to sit there as one vast photographic likeness, nor shall one be able to say of its members, “I have heard their history,” when the story of one has been told. The history of the Church will be made up of individual histories; and each one shall possess its own peculiar interest. Your history will be none the less interesting when mine has been told, nor mine when you have related yours. Your head and heart will not be as mine, nor mine as yours; we shall not be mere fragments of a universal Church; but we shall be fully, roundly, and conspicuously ourselves, in the Church of which we make a whole, and perfect, and unexampled individual. (H. W. Beecher.)
Every man at his place
In that fearful national catastrophe which befell England, i.e., the loss of the ironclad Victoria, the staunch steadfastness of our British sailors was grandly illustrated. When the crash came, instead of a wild rush on deck of all below, every man remained true to his post. All knew that a serious collision had occurred, yet the most perfect order was maintained. The engineers kept their eyes on the indicator and moved their levers as directed, in spite of the fact that their lives were in imminent danger. Even when it was seen that the vessel was settling down, and all were called on deck, the men ranged themselves in line, and the order, “Right about face,” was obeyed, though while in the act the vessel heeled over, and all were precipitated into the sea. Our personal duty:--The only way to regenerate the world is to do the duty which lies nearest to us, and not to hunt after grand, far-fetched ones for ourselves. If each drop of rain chose where it should fall, God’s showers would not fall as they do now on the evil and the good alike. (Charles Kingsley.)
Our own duty to be attended to
There is a story with which many of the present generation have been made familiar in our reading books which has an important application to Christian life. The story is that a German, with an ear sensitive to music, one day entered a church, and, being distressed by the discords of the singing, put his fingers in his ears; but there penetrated through them a single clear, rich soprano, singing in such perfect tune, that he was moved to listen. The singer never faltered because of the jarring notes, nor increased the volume of her voice to drown them. She kept steadily on till one after another came into accord with her sweet tones, till she brought the entire body of singers into harmony.
Every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon,
The work and warfare of life
Life is work, and life is warfare; and these are ever commingled.
Our text is but an epitome and sample of that larger and longer work which fills the broad area of all human history.
I. This life is to men a scene of toil. “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” is the universal and unchanging law of human life. Inaction is no blessing. The spirit of man stagnates and sickens under it, and it issues in a weariness which is worse than the fatigues of labour. Activity is needful to the true enjoyment of life. Adam was not inactive in paradise (Genesis 2:15). Heaven is a rest, but not a rest of indolence. There “His servants do serve Him.” The true labour of life involves self-denial, apprehension, patience, fatigue, disappointment. Every man has a work that is specific and peculiar to him. The great Taskmaster never set two of His creatures the same task. Amid much general sameness, there is the strictest individuality. Life’s work is twofold.
1. The secular department. How great is the number of human avocations! And in each of these avocations what a number of workers! And each one has a task given him to do which is as distinct as himself, which no one can do but he, and which is defined by his circumstances, his relations and his endowments.
2. The spiritual department. The work of the soul and of eternity; the end of which is--“to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever.”
II. This life is also a scene of conflict. We have to fight--
1. Against ourselves. As internal wars are ever fiercest and most painful, so the battle-ground of a Christian’s own heart is that on which he is called to wage the severest fight and win the hardest victory. We have to overcome our sluggishness, our unbelief, our sensuality, our concupiscence, the heavy clog of sense, and the fierce impulse of corruption.
2. Against men. This enemy is called the world. And by it we mean that vast mass of maxims, opinions, beliefs, pursuits, ways, habits, opposed to the mind and service of God, which characterise human society.
3. Against spirits. The devil and his angels, numerous, powerful, malignant (Ephesians 6:12). (R. A. Hallam, D. D.)
Construction and contention
We have here illustrated two principles--
I. construction. Each of us is put into the world to be a builder, and himself is the building. Each separate disciple is a “habitation of God, through the Spirit.” If your faith, your work, your prayers, your watchfulness shall ever succeed in edifying you into anything like a completed Christian, your character will be an edifice where God’s glory will be more distinctly manifest than it is over any altar, where His praise will resound more acceptably than from the grandest organ, and where His truth is more effectually preached than from the most eloquent pulpit of any cathedral in the world.
1. Because character is a building it is not therefore to be understood that there is no need in the Christian life for an instant change, or conversion. That comes before the building can be begun to any purpose, or on any right plan. All must be sound at the base. If any man should try to build on a false foundation his work would come to nought. No outside clamps would hold it up. Except ye be converted, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.
2. We must not take the impression that the formation of Christian character consists in putting pieces of moral propriety together--a patchwork of merits without any all-controlling Divine principle. In all buildings there must be one “design,” an organising principle held clearly in the builder’s mind. In the structure of character this organising principle is the in working life of Christ. It is the will of God. The spiritual laws are just as necessary, in order to success in a righteous life, as the mechanical laws in order to architectural success. The first of those laws is that God is the centre and object of all religious affections; the second, that Jesus is the way to the Father. Hence--self-renunciation--yielding the heart--submission to the Heavenly Will is the inmost necessity of a Christian character. To the question how we shall build character fair and strong, the answer is--“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Into every particle of life must run this secret power of the Holy Christ--like the builder’s invisible design spreading through all the beams and braces and apartments of the house, or else it will be no “habitation of the Spirit.” Christian character means a righteous will, a purpose consecrated to God, and acting in all well-doing for man. You may grow in character by doing, thinking, and feeling more vigorously for God and your brother-man. Construction, then, is the multiplying of that inward spiritual energy out of which right outward deeds will be sure to come. It is replenishing the stock of life in the heart. It is making conscience quick, watchful, unbending. It is cultivating loyalty to the voice of God in the soul. It is the increase of humility, sincerity, temperance, integrity, patience, sweetness of temper, submission, benevolence. Additions to these, by whatever means, by Bible and prayer, and sacrament and labour, by the study of them in the lives of heroic saints, are the positive building of character.
II. contention. In the positive process of achieving good, hindrances are met. It has been said, “There is nothing real or useful that is not a seat of war.” Take construction without resistance.
If I ignore the fact of sin and forget temptations and simply go on cultivating good, as if there were no opposite, presently I shall find these sins are making assaults on me from behind: my work will be undermined, my pious pains spoilt; I shall be no true builder. On the other hand, take resistance without construction. This will produce a hard, censorious, belligerent type of piety. The sword will crowd out the gentle arts of peace. It makes soldiers against Satan, but not tillers of the soil of God. We become clever disputants, but not good, trusting, patient, loving, holy men and women. Looking out so sharply for the Ammonites and Ashdodites the walls do not go up. We want the watchful eye of the old anchorite, without his austerity. We want the practical activity of the modern reformer without his blindness to the personal foes in his own heart. We want one hand for service, one for battle; when this is understood Christ’s Church will be filled with consistent believers and fearless soldiers. (Bp. Huntington.)
The sword and the trowel
The stirring incident suggests lessons to the workers in God’s cause to-day.
I. The Church of God has still a great work to do for the salvation of the world. The walls of many a Jerusalem are down and need building up. Injustice, oppression, and wrong are found in many places.
II. How is the Church to accomplish all this work? Consider the people named in the text.
1. They had a wise and skilful leader. It is said that Alexander the Great was strolling among the tents of his soldiers on the eve of some great battle. Hearing some of his men engaged in conversation in one of the tents, he stopped to listen. The men were losing courage and heart, and said so. As they deplored their insufficiency for the task of the morrow, he slipped up to the door of the tent, and swinging back the canvas, said, “Remember that Alexander is with you.” Nehemiah told the people of a greater than Alexander. In all aggressive movements there must be aggressive leaders.
2. All the people were willing to help. The danger in these days is to leave the work to a few, to recognised leaders and officers. This is always foolish; in the Church of God it is fatal.
3. Each one had a work and did it. God has a piece of work for each one of us to do. Some have to stand in the front; others have to stand in the rear. Some work in the blaze of day, and others work out of sight. I sometimes admire the bridges which cross the Thames. As I have sailed under them, I have thought about the divers who had to work below the surface of the water to lay the foundation of some of the strong work which carries the weight of the whole. The work these divers did out of sight was all-important. If they had done it badly the whole would have suffered in consequence. It may be so with our work.
4. They did the work in dependence upon God. They did their secular work in a religious spirit. (C. Leach, D. D.)
The work of a Christian
This is well set forth by the occupations of a builder and a soldier.
1. There are heaps of rubbish to be removed. There must be a true repentance, a confessing and forsaking of sin.
2. Foundations deep and strong must be laid. Christ the one Foundation.
3. The wall must be carried up, little by little, etc. There must be a growing up into Christ, an advance in grace day by day.
4. This must be done according to the settled plan, by rule and square. Our rule is the written Word.
5. The Christian has to carry on his work in troublous times. He must stand bravely at his post, like a sentinel on watch. He must stand where his Captain has placed him. Obedience to Christ is the glory of the Christian soldier. We must believe where we cannot see, and trust where we cannot trace. The end will justify all His dealings with us and by us. In the Peninsular War, the captain of a division was placed by Wellington at a point remote from the field where s battle was about to be fought. He was expressly ordered to remain there, and on no account to quit his post. When the battle was raging fiercely the captain could no longer endure the inaction of his position, and so left it and joined in the fight. The enemy were driven from the field, and fled in the very direction that Wellington had anticipated, and where the captain with his men had been posted. The general felt confident that their flight would be cut off; but great was his anger when he found that his orders had been disobeyed, and the post vacated. It is said that he never again employed the captain in any important affair, and that the latter died of a broken heart through the loss of his reputation as a soldier. (J. M. Randall.)
The work is great . . . and we are separated upon the wall.
The common work of the Master
In time of war you visit the camp. There is flying from the flagpole in the sun the stars and stripes. You look upon the men in their scattered avocations. A few men are playing, a few men are cleaning their guns, a few men are cooking, here and there a sentry is pacing back and forth, some men are lying on the grass asleep, there is no common life, there seems to be no common purpose, there appears to be no common endeavour, or action. But suddenly the bugle sounds the call, or the drum its roll, and instantly the men spring to their feet, drop their cards, awake from their slumber, leave their cooking utensils, anal stand ready to meet the enemy, ready to do the bidding of their commander. Deep down in their hearts there is a common purpose, and that flag that floats at the topmost pole and over their camp indicates what that purpose is. So Christians are to gather in the name of Christ--you, merchant--you, lawyer--you, physician--you, minister--you, teacher--you, parent, each in your several place, each doing your several work. Whenever the drum shall beat its roll-call, you are to be ready, not merely to do your own work, but to stand shoulder to shoulder in serried ranks, to do the common work of the Master, in fulfilment of the common aim which has really united you. (Lyman Abbott.)
So we laboured in the work.
The builders not only began well, but they persevered to the end of their work. Perseverance is s great element of success. It was George Stephenson’s motto, “Persevere”; and the celebrated mathematician, Arago, tells us that his master in mathematics gave a word of advice which he found in the binding of one of his text-books. Puzzled and discouraged by the difficulties he met with in his early studies, he was almost ready to give up the pursuit. Some words which he found on the waste leaf used to stiffen the cover of his paper-bound text-book caught his eye, and interested him. It proved to be a short letter from D’Alembert to a young person disheartened, like himself, by the difficulties of mathematical study, and who had written to him for counsel. “Go on, go on, sir,” was the counsel which D’Alembert gave him. “The difficulties you meet will resolve themselves as you advance.” This maxim followed out made him one of the greatest astronomers of his day. And Christians must persevere in the work of God. (J. M. Randall.)
A Christian negro was once asked the meaning of perseverance, and he said, “Masse, me think it mean hang on, hold fast, and no let go.” And when some one questioned John Wesley on the remarkable success of his followers, “Sir,” he said, “they are all at it, and always at it.” (J. M. Randall.)
None of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off for washing.
The necessary and the unnecessary
Some people waste all their energy in putting off and on their clothes: their whole life is a question of clothes; they cannot do anything until their clothes are right. Nehemiah showed how he distinguished between the necessary and the unnecessary. We must attend to health if we are to attend to successful toil. Time is not wasted that is spent in obeying the laws of life. (J. Parker, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Nehemiah 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25