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EXPLANATORY NOTES.] “The confession recorded in this chapter uses largely the language of the older Scriptures. For Nehemiah 9:6 see Psalms 86:10; Exodus 20:11, and Deuteronomy 10:14. For Nehemiah 9:9 see Exodus 3:7. For Nehemiah 9:10 see Jeremiah 32:20. For Nehemiah 9:11 see Exodus 15:5; Exodus 15:10. For Nehemiah 9:12 see Exodus 13:21. For Nehemiah 9:13 see Exodus 19:20. For Nehemiah 9:15 see Psalms 105:40-41. For Nehemiah 9:16 see 2 Kings 17:14. For Nehemiah 9:17 see Psalms 78:11; Exodus 34:6. For Nehemiah 9:25 see Deuteronomy 6:10-11. For Nehemiah 9:27 see Judges 2:14; Judges 2:18. For Nehemiah 9:29 see Leviticus 18:5. For Nehemiah 9:33 see Psalms 106:6. For Nehemiah 9:36 and Nehemiah 9:36 see Deuteronomy 28:47-48.”—Crosby.
Nehemiah 9:1. The twenty and fourth day of this month] Two days after the close of the Feast of Tabernacles. With fasting and with sackclothes and with earth upon them] External marks of internal grief. Sackclothes] Elsewhere in Eng. version sackcloth for Heb. plural.—Crosby.
Nehemiah 9:2. Separated themselves] Foreigners, “a mixed multitude,” had become united with the chosen people by trade and marriage.
3. Stood and confessed and worshipped] More fully shown in penitential prayer that follows after verse
Nehemiah 9:5.They read in the book of the law] Their extraordinary zeal led them to continue this as before. One fourth part of the day] For three hours, twelve hours being the acknowledged length of the Jewish day (John 11:9), so that this solemn diet of worship, which probably commenced at the morning sacrifice, was continued for six hours, i. e. till the time of the evening sacrifice.—Jamieson. “The general form and phraseology of this prayer place it among the liturgical Psalms of the Old Testament, and show it specially suitable to be used by the whole congregation.
Nehemiah 9:6. All their host] (Comp. Genesis 2:1). The host of heaven who worshipped God are the angels (Psalms 103:21; Psalms 148:2).
Nehemiah 9:7. Abram.… Abraham] (Genesis 17:5). Ur of the Chaldees] Topography uncertain. Mugheir near the Persian Gulf probable.
Nehemiah 9:8. Canaanites.… Girgashites] “The Hivites are left out of this enumeration, perhaps to please their descendants, the Nethinim” (see Joshua 9:7).—Crosby.
Nehemiah 9:15. Thou hadst sworn] Margin—Lift up thine hand. Allusion to the ceremony of raising the hand in taking an oath.
Nehemiah 9:17. Appointed a captain] In Numbers 14:4 it is only said that they proposed to appoint; probably they actually carried out their intention, so far as to nominate a leader.
Nehemiah 9:22. Divide them into corners] “Thou didst divide them (the kingdoms and nations, i. e. the land of these nations) according to sides or boundaries, i. e. according to certain definite limits.”—Bertheau. The land of Sihon and the land of the king of Heshbon] Sihon is the king of Heshbon. “Heshbon being the capital city, the passage should run thus:—the land of Sihon, or the land of the king of Heshbon.”—Jamieson.
Nehemiah 9:29. Withdrew the shoulder] Like the refractory ox that rebels against the yoke (Zechariah 7:11; Hosea 4:16).
Nehemiah 9:32. Let not all the trouble seem little before thee] “What seems little is easily disregarded. The sense is, Let our affliction be regarded by thee as great and heavy.”—Keil.
Nehemiah 9:38. A sure covenant] Such solemn signing and sealing bespeaks their earnestness. This verse is the first of the tenth chapter in Hebrew.
HOMILETICAL CONTENTS OF CHAPTER 9
Nehemiah 9:1-38. Hebraic Conceptions of God.
Nehemiah 9:1-38. The Story of God’s Providence Retold.
Nehemiah 9:1-38. A Nation’s Prayer.
Nehemiah 9:6. The World preserved by Divine Providence.
Nehemiah 9:17. The Mercy of God.
Nehemiah 9:18-21. Promises Kept.
Nehemiah 9:21. The History of a Generation.
Nehemiah 9:25-26. Secular Prosperity inimical to Spiritual Life.
Nehemiah 9:38. Responsibility of Honour.
HEBRAIC CONCEPTIONS OF GOD
THE Bible does not define God. The nearest approach to definitions are in those two remarkable sentences in St. John’s Epistle—“God is light;” “God is love.” Modern philosophy speaks of God as the Unknowable. One of the oldest books in the world—the Book of Job—teaches that philosophy with a difference. “Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?” God may be known: cannot be comprehended. The secret of God is as high as heaven, deeper than hell, longer than the earth, broader than the sea. St. Paul, the mental philosopher among the twelve apostles, speaks of “that which may be known of God.” Bible tells us what God does; not what God is. Nor does it attempt to prove his existence. “He that cometh to God must believe that he is.” Sacred writers assume this. With a “Thus saith the Lord” many of the books open. Every page is instinct with the presence of God. There is no relation to human life in which Eastern poets and prophets did not conceive God. He was in the generation of the righteous; a present help in time of trouble. He was a King to those who believed; a judge of those who rebelled; the helper of those who trusted. They saw God—
I. In the movements of history. “Who can utter the mighty acts of the Lord? Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt. He rebuked the Red Sea. He did great things in Egypt, and wondrous works in the land of Ham. Our fathers angered God—not Moses, though him they angered—they angered God at the waters of strife. He gave them into the hand of the heathen, and they that hated them ruled over them. Many times did he deliver them. He made them to be pitied of all those that carried them captive. All nations are before him. Pharaoh’s heart he hardens, and Cyrus’ sword he employs. He takes hold of the ships of Tarshish. The world’s merchandise and hire shall be holiness unto the Lord.” These passages are quoted at random. It was hardly necessary to quote at all. The pages of Moses, the songs of David, the prophecies of Isaiah, teem—literally teem—with references to the presence of God in the movements of history. God in history! the seers and songsters of the Scriptures of Truth hardly condescend to say that. God in history? History is God. Men read, “Thou art the Lord the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham; and foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous” (Nehemiah 9:7-8); and they say, We can see the hand of God in this. Verily there was a God. Then they turn over the pages of English History and read how we emerged out of barbarism; how a fusion of race-stocks has made us what we are—the hardiest, most truth-loving, uprightest nation under the blue sky; and they say, It is history; but they do not say, We see God. Now and then some popular orator turns to the pages of the old Chroniclers and sees how, in the reign of James I., a poor people became enlightened by the word of God, and finding no such phrase in the dictionary as “religious toleration,” sped to America; and he adds, I see a Divine hand in this emigration movement. Why not boldly say, “Thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea; and their persecutors thou overthrewest” (Nehemiah 9:11)? That is the Bible language for the passage of the Red Sea. Surely we, casting our glances towards the West, and noting the magnificent proportions of the American Republic, can see that the language is applicable to the passage of the Atlantic; to the colonization of the New World. Says Bancroft, the American historian, “The pilgrims were Englishmen; exiles for religion; men disciplined by misfortune; cultivated by opportunities of extensive observations; equal in rank as in rights; and bound by no code upon earth but that of religion or the public will.” What cast Pharaoh and his hosts into the sea? Nothing—God. Who destroyed the Spanish Armada? Nobody—the storm. Did not, then, the same God direct both storms? What says the prophet, “Seeing many things, but thou observest not.” “Seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive; hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand,” said Jesus the Revealer of truth.
If God had no hand in the Reformation, Martin Luther, the Mansfeld miner’s son, the Augustinian monk, the darling of Wittenberg University, was simply an obstinate revolter against authority; whereas he was accustomed to console himself with the thought that the cause was not his, but God’s—that God “who stays the waves upon the sea-beach, and stays them with sand.” “He that has not God, let him have what else he will, is miserable,” was his deliberate opinion. “God will be found there where he has engaged to be,” he believed. He loved the second Psalm. The Psalm that tells how God laughs when great men rage he loved with all his heart, “because it strikes and flashes valiantly.” The Levites in the olden time sang, “Our fathers were disobedient, therefore thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies. Nevertheless, in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto thee thou heardest them from heaven, and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviours.” And shall not we thank God for the “saviours” whom he has raised up to deliver this nation, to burst the shackles of the slave, to flood the dark places of the earth with light? Is it nothing that good Queen Bess and brave, God-fearing Oliver Cromwell once governed these realms? Were not the Puritans ever the friends of popular liberty? Can Scottish Covenanters be forgotten, or the Clapham sect become despised? So long as Nonconformity acts upon its motto, “In things essential, unity; in things doubtful, liberty; in all things charity,” it will be the instrument of God for good. When Methodism loses her cunning in spreading Scriptural holiness throughout the land, then—not till then—she will become a by-word and a proverb of reproach among the religious communities of Christendom. On the bead-roll of English worthies men and women in the generations following will look for parson Wycliffe, tinker Bunyan, gentleman Wilberforce, sturdy Howard, and sweet-souled Elizabeth Fry. These were the angels in whose presence the doors flew open, and the iron gate that shut in imprisoned men opened to them of his own accord. Every ray of light that falls upon the darker places of the earth; each blow that is struck for freedom; every the painfulest endeavour of weak men and timid women to reach truth and exhibit the beauty of holiness, is an intimation of a higher presence—a voice from the innermost sanctuary, crying, “Surely the Lord is in this place.” In the movements of history the Hebrews saw God; and they heard God. And
II. In the voices of Nature. The sun was a globe of light, and more—the visible symbol of the invisible God. The sun brought light and life, and growth and joy, and hope and courage. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?” “The Lord God is a sun; He will give grace and glory.” The sun rode in the heavens like a thing of might; no sign of weariness appeared in him. Let them that love thee, O Lord, be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.” The rock had more than a geological message. It told of strata, growth, history of long-since-buried men; it told too of the strength, patience, endurance of God—“THE ROCK OF AGES.” “He is the rock; his way is perfect.” “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Clouds did not merely collect the waters to pour down upon the earth: they were the treasure-houses of God. As the sun shone through them they became luminous as with the shining of the glory of the Lord. They hid the face of the scorching sun from the tired and thirsty traveller. “He spread a cloud for a covering.” “His favour is as a cloud of the latter rain.” God was the keeper of the vineyard of the house of Israel. They saw God—
III. In the lives of men. God writes his will in falling dynasties; in commercial and political changes; in solitary experiences. God speaks to us, works in us, expresses his will through us. Reliant weakness, weariness and worn-outness, trusting in God, have around them an omnipotent arm; they rest on the immoveable rock on which the world reposes. God often means to men terror, fear, law, hatred, hell; too seldom grace, salvation, light, hope, joy, strength, inspiration, courage, help, heaven. “The knowledge of the glory of God is in the face of Jesus Christ.” He taught “our Father,” and revealed something like “the motherhood of God.” A great God we knew before. Tenderness, patience, forbearance, forgivingness, motherliness, he showed us; restated, illustrated what lay in Old Testament less distinctly. Not by his lip only, but in his life. Whom did he seek but the sick and sad? Who sought him but the oppressed and outcast? Whom did he ever send away empty of hope? God is in Nature; God is in history; but the whole of God is in Jesus Christ. Son of man was Son of God.
1. My God—not everybody’s God. God here—not God everywhere.
2. When do we think of God? After wrong-doing? First thing in the morning, last thing at night, there should come to us a word of joy, providence, help—this is what God should be. Let us approach God, who is “a great King,” with manly reverence; let us approach God, who is “our Father,” with a child’s unfaltering trust. “Let us draw near with full assurance,” for “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” And as the fellowship grows and deepens there will be revealed to us what is revealable of the infinite secret men call God.
THE STORY OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE RETOLD
“The invitation to praise God insensibly passes into the action of praising. ‘Stand up and bless the Lord your God.’ The assembled congregation blessed God. They did so by silently and heartily praying to and praising God with the Levites, who were reciting aloud the confession of sin.”—Keil. Not as to an unknown God did they cry and make confession. He had been forgotten, but he was still familiar. “Our God,” the keynote of Hebrew prayer and psalmody.
I. A choice and a covenant. “Thou art Lord alone.” “Thou art the God who didst choose Abram.” “Thou madest a covenant with him” (Nehemiah 9:6-8). Around these central themes are grouped illustrations. The independency of God is marked in the making and preserving of all things, in confirmation whereof the host of Heaven worship him. He doeth what he will. When he chose Abram he gave him a new name. “I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.” He who claimed service rendered reward. “Thou foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land to his seed.” “Abram believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). A man of faith will be a faithful man. God’s covenants are conditioned. “The meek shall inherit the earth.” “With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt show thyself froward.” “With God word and deed correspond with each other.” “Thou hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous.”
II. The word fulfilled. “Thou sawest the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry by the Red Sea” (Nehemiah 9:9-11). The extremes of deliverance. God saw them under the taskmaster’s lash; he heard when they fled. The Ever-present coming down, the Omniscient looking—this is the Biblical anthropomorphism. Admit if you will that this is not God; still it is our necessary conception of him. He is always nigh; but we do not always realize His presence. When I weep assure me that God pities; when I pray tell me that God listens; when I die whisper in my ear that God is nigh. If it be not exact phraseology it is full of comfort, and withal of truth. “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall He not see?” Those who are held in the bondage of evil habits, those who are striving to burst the bonds, may take the strength and courage implied in this. The Psalm-book specially exults in the all-seeing eye and ever-listening ear. The romance of reality in the histories of apostles and martyrs, in the stories of saints and sufferers, is derived from the realized nearness of God.
But deliverance is not salvation. The first step of the journey is indispensable, but insufficient. A first implies a second. Possibility is a pledge of performance. Freedom is faculty. The Red Sea opens into the desert, not into the Promised Land.
“Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,”
is the poetry of the common-place experience of life. “Thou leddest them in the day by a cloudy pillar; and in the night by a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way wherein they should go. Thou camest down also upon Mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them laws” (Nehemiah 9:12-14). Providence without, conscience within. God was in the cloud; duty in the law. “And gavest them bread from heaven, and broughtest forth water out of the rock, and promisedst them that they should go in to possess the land” (Nehemiah 9:15). A guiding cloud, a directing law, an unfailing supply, an assured promise. “Thou leddest Thy people like a flock.”
III. Divine forbearance. “Even the fathers to whom God had shown such favour, repeatedly departed from and rebelled against him; but God of his great mercy did not forsake them, but brought them into possession of the Promised Land” (Nehemiah 9:16-25). “Words are accumulated to describe the stiffnecked resistance of the people. They hardened their necks; they hardened their hearts. They said one to another, Let us make a captain, and return to Egypt. In spite, however, of their stiffneckedness God—a God of pardons—did not forsake them. He did not withdraw his gracious presence, but continued to lead them by the pillar of cloud and fire. The words (Nehemiah 9:20), ‘Thou gavest Thy good Spirit,’ &c., refer to the occurrence (Numbers 11:17; Numbers 11:25) where God endowed the seventy elders with the spirit of prophecy for the confirmation of Moses’ authority. The definition ‘good spirit’ recalls Psalms 143:10. The Lord also fulfilled His promise of giving the land of Canaan to the Israelites, notwithstanding their rebelliousness.”—Keil. They were a community of slaves in process of formation into a nation. God dealt with them as with children. He did not call wrong by any other name, but he compassionated ignorance and pitied weakness. “The mercy of the Lord our God” was celebrated in later times by prophet and priest, seer and scribe. “About the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness.”
IV. Disobedience chastised. “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” In the wilderness they were not without punishments; but there mercy rejoiced against judgment. In the Promised Land, after long experience of the goodness and graciousness of God, their rebellions were less pardonable. So God gave them into the hands of their enemies. Still for his great mercies’ sake he did not utterly consume them, nor forsake them (Nehemiah 9:26-31). They rejected God’s law; they slew God’s prophets. Yet when they cried he heard; in their distress he sent them saviours. The majesty and mercy of God! “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” “Let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for very great are his mercies; but let me not fall into the hands of man.” “The hand of God was very heavy.” “The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him.” “Our God is a consuming fire.” “God is love.”
V. The past the prophet of the present. “Now, therefore, our God, let not all the trouble seem little before thee” (Nehemiah 9:32-37). History had repeated itself. The disobedient, God had rejected. Weakened by oppression, they had returned to their own land. In their present distresses they pray to the God of past deliverances—the God who had said of himself that he was unchangeable.
Application. The story of Israel has been always regarded as a parable of life. “The Lord knoweth thy walking through this great wilderness.”
Egyptian influence on Hebrew character. “Before God gave the Commandments to the Jewish people he wrought a magnificent series of miracles to effect their emancipation from miserable slavery, and to punish their oppressors. He first made them free, and then gave them the law. It might not have been absolutely impossible for the Jews to have kept these commandments even in Egypt, but the difficulties would have been almost invincible. The people were in no condition to receive a Divine revelation. Oppression had broken their spirit, and crushed all the nobler elements of their nature. In the atmosphere which they breathed purity and virtue could hardly live. They had been degraded by the heathenism and by the vices, as well as by the severity of their masters. It was impossible for such a race as the Jews seem to have been at this period of their history to have any vigorous faith in the greatness of the God who had revealed himself to their fathers. The wealth, the greatness, the power of the world belonged to the Egyptians; contempt and wretchedness to the descendants of Abraham and the heirs of the promises. The God of their fathers was either not strong enough to defend them from intolerable evils, or else was indifferent to their distresses. God did not begin by commanding them to acknowledge his greatness and authority, and to show fidelity to himself, and to break at once with the vices to which their external condition almost bound them as with fetters of iron. He began by manifesting his greatness in acts which must have appealed most powerfully to their imagination, and made even their passions—which seem to have been almost the only elements of energy left in them—take the side of faith in himself.—R. W. Dale, M.A.
A NATION’S PRAYER
The three annual feasts instituted by the Mosaic Law were memorials of God’s goodness to Israel. His works shall be kept in everlasting remembrance. At the Feast of the Passover the Jews celebrated their deliverance from Egypt; at Pentecost the giving of the Law from Mount Sinai; and at the Feast of Tabernacles the mercies of God during their wilderness journey and the ingathering of the harvest. Never, since the days of Joshua, had the Feast of Tabernacles been celebrated with such solemnity as under the teaching of Ezra and the government of Nehemiah. The services of New Year’s Day, or the Feast of Trumpets, had yielded the precious fruits of godly sorrow for sin, and of holy, charitable joy (chap. 8). One sermon may bring forth great results. The Scripture narrative of the festival closes by informing us “that day by day, from the first day unto the last day, they read in the Book of the Law of God; and they kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly according unto the manner.” God’s word was the “joy and rejoicing of their hearts;” God’s book, the first of books and the best of books. Here we have consolation in sorrow, directions in duty, and armour in the day of battle; a guide-book for every road, and a chart for every sea. In our Lord’s time the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God (‘Paul’s Missionary Journeys.’ ‘Vaudois Christians.’ ‘Wycliffites.’ ‘Translation and Diffusion in Modern Times’).
The continued and protracted services of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Trumpets, produced an extraordinary impression on the public mind. The revival of religion was not merely metropolitan, but national. The deed of Jerusalem was the deed of the whole people; the voice of Jerusalem was the voice of the many thousands of Israel. Immediately upon the close of the services at the Feast of Tabernacles, we read that “the children of Israel were assembled with fasting,” &c. (Nehemiah 9:1-3).
The service of national dedication probably commenced at nine o’clock in the morning with the usual sacrifices. The reading and the exposition for three hours prepared the way for the solemn supplications of the people. These occupied three hours more, and were closed by the offering of the evening sacrifice, and by the public signing of the national covenant. The heads of this form of supplication and dedication were probably drawn up by Nehemiah, who was the first to append his signature. Copies were probably distributed among the Levites, who led the people in prayer. The national dedication opens with solemn worship of God. His great and Infinite Majesty is adored. “Blessed be thy glorious name.” Then follows a retrospect of God’s mercies to Israel. With this review of mercies was interwoven penitential confession of sin. First they acknowledged the sins of their fathers (Nehemiah 9:16); then they pass on to the transgressions of their fathers under their kings (Nehemiah 9:26). They acknowledged the righteous dealings of God, and their own disobedience to his Word. Thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly; and they bring before God the one petition in this pathetic appeal: “Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy, let not all the trouble seem little before thee, that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, and on our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all thy people.” They implore mercy, they deprecate judgment, and with one accord resolve to bind themselves unto the service of God, in a perpetual covenant never to be forgotten. This was the conclusion of the whole matter. As the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, they make a solemn promise to God; and that it might be sure the covenant is written, and as we read in the thirty-eighth verse, “Our princes, Levites, and priests seal unto it.” We are told in the opening of the tenth chapter, that at the top of the eighty-two representative signatures is inscribed NEHEMIAH THE TIRSHATHA, THE SON OF HACHALIAH. He had set a noble example to his people, and now, at a time of intense religious feeling, he puts himself in the fore-front to lead them to God. “Happy are the people that are in such a case, yea, blessed are the people who have the Lord for their God.”
Have we, as Englishmen, no retrospect to make? Have not we a history to review with thankfulness, and a duty to God and to one another? A nation is made of individuals. A national dedication implies personal dedication.—Rev. J. M. Randall; abridged.
THE WORLD PRESERVED BY DIVINE PROVIDENCE
Nehemiah 9:6. Thou preservest them all
The providence of God may be regarded as exercised either in the preservation of the world or in the government of it, to which two main heads all the acts of Divine Providence are reducible.
God’s preservation of the world. In that admirable address that is made to God in the name of the Jewish Church, after celebrating him as the great Creator of the universe, are those noble expressions—“Thou, even thou, art Lord alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein;” it is added, “and thou preservest them all.” The preserving this vast frame of nature, and all things that are therein, is owing to the same omnipotent being that created them. We must not imagine that things, when once put into being, continue to exist independently of him that first created them. It is easily conceivable that the self-existent Jehovah, who existed necessarily from everlasting, must certainly exist to everlasting by the intrinsic excellency of his own most perfect nature. But the case is otherwise as to contingent beings, who have the source and basis of their existence without them. The works of men’s hands may subsist at a distance from the hands which fashioned them; but the creatures can never exist in an absolute separation from God, who is always most intimately and essentially present with his own works. Consider this preservation of all things, which is an eminent act of Divine providence, as extending to the whole inanimate creation, and of all things that have life in their different degrees.
1. God, by his constant powerful influence, upholdeth the inanimate creation, this huge material system, in all its parts. As at the first formation of it he put things into a certain order, so it is by his power and wisdom that this order and constitution of things is maintained according to the first establishment. All things in the material world proceed according to a settled rule or method. Sun, moon, and stars; fertile earth, minerals, vegetables. As God said at the first creation, “Let the earth bring forth,” &c. (Genesis 1:11); so by his providential concourse, and according to his appointment, the plants, the herbs, the trees, the flowers in all their tribes, and the various kinds of grain, spring up from their several kinds, and gradually grow up into maturity. The species of them are still continued and kept distinct, and they uniformly preserve their several virtues, their distinct forms and appearances, and bring forth their several productions in the appointed seasons.
2. God preserveth the beings that have life and sense, with their several capacities and instincts. “Thou preservest them all” might be rendered, “Thou quickenest them all,” or “maintainest them all in life.”
God preserveth and upholdeth the inferior brute animals in their several species, which by a wonderful provision are successively propagated according to established laws, and continue to be furnished in all ages with the same organs, powers, and appetites, and the same admirable instincts.
It is God that preserveth the angels in their several degrees. None of them have an independent existence.
In him we exist, or have our being. As he gave us our existence at first, and made us of such a particular order of beings, so by him we are continued in existence, and in that kind of existence which belongeth to us as creatures of such a species. In God we not only exist, or have our being, but in him we live. As it was he that first established the wonderful vital union between soul and body in man, so it is by his care and influence that it subsisteth. To this it is owing that our food nourisheth and strengtheneth us, that the vital functions are carried on, and that we are enabled to exercise our several sensations. “The God of my life.” And as it is in God that we exist and live, so it is in or by him that we move. He originally gave us the power of motion, and organs admirably fitted for carrying it on, and it is through him that we are continued in the use and exercise of those organs; so that it may be justly said that we cannot move a foot, or lift up a hand, without him. And this holdeth equally with regard to the operations of our souls as the motions of our bodies. As he hath endued our souls with the admirable faculties of understanding, with memory, free agency, and hath implanted in us affections of various kinds; so by his providential concourse and support of our faculties we apprehend, judge, reason, remember, and freely determine our own actions. It is he that upholdeth the powers which he gave us, and enableth us to exert those powers. And this he doeth not only when we do good, but when we employ our powers in acting wickedly; and yet this doth not derive the least stain of guilt upon God, or make him the author of our sins. The natural active power and the use of it, which is in itself good, is from God; the abuse of it to sinful purposes is wholly owing to ourselves, and to the corruption of our wills. For if he should withdraw his sustaining influence from men, the moment they attempt to abuse their natural powers, this would be absolutely to hinder them to exercise their liberty; nor could they in that case be accounted free agents at all. As the God of nature he ordinarily upholdeth or sustaineth them in being and in the use of their natural powers, in what manner soever they act; and then afterwards, as the moral governor, he will call them to an account for their actions, and will reward or punish them accordingly.
1. What admiring thoughts should we entertain of God, and what diminishing thoughts of ourselves and all created beings!
2. What a just propriety and dominion God hath on and over us!
3. He is perfectly acquainted with all our thoughts, words, and actions, and all the events which befall us.
4. How strange and inexcusable will our conduct be if we allow ourselves in an habitual neglect and forgetfulnes of the Deity!
5. Since God continually preserveth us he hath an undoubted right to govern us.—John Leland, D.D., 1766, abridged.
THE MERCY OF GOD
Nehemiah 9:17. A God ready to pardon
The mercy of God the most delightful subject. It is so in its own nature, and relatively to us who have so great need of it, who have so much depending upon it, who must perish for ever without it. The thought that the greatest Being in the universe is the most compassionate is itself elevating. Mournful that this subject is so little regarded, awakens so little emotion; that all subjects but those immediately relating to duty, affect us. Yet how delightful is it to the Christian when he is brought to apprehend the truth and rest upon it! That God is ready to pardon, that he waits to be gracious, is a joyful topic to those who know themselves, who have been taught to estimate the value of Divine friendship.
I. A doctrine to be established. There is a strange tendency to doubt it. We speak of news too good to be true; and under humiliating sense of our own worthlessness are at least ready to make an exception in our own case—“If the Lord would make windows in heaven might this thing be!” The power of unbelief is great, the resistance offered by conscience is great, the prevalence of fear induced by guilt is great. Exodus 34:6 contains the doctrine and gives mercy pre-eminence.
1. The direct statements of Scripture. The object of all revelation is to establish and explain the doctrine of God’s mercy. Direct assertions, gracious promises, inspired prophecy. Twenty-nine times in one Psalm “his mercy endureth!” “Who is a God like unto Thee?” “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious.” “As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.” “Your Father in heaven is merciful.” These repetitions show the resistance against it really, the difficulty of believing it, the necessity of being grounded in it. No worship without it, no hope, no love, no joy, no obedience.
2. The positive facts exhibited in his dispensation. The gift of his Son. “Herein is love.” “He that spared not his own Son.” The gift of his Spirit: Divine revelation, ordinances, heaven at last. Discovery of his own character: harmony of attributes, long-suffering to the world in general. Why mitigations of trial? excitements of hope?—prodigality of good gifts. This world a great volume of mercy written within and without.
3. Some striking instances of his readiness to pardon. Manasseh, Mary Magdalene, thief, prodigal, Paul. “And such were some of you.” Every sinner deems himself chief of sinners, and his conversion the greatest miracle, because he knows most of himself.
II. A doctrine to be personally applied. Not a doctrine for others merely, but for ourselves. Go to God for it: “Have mercy upon me.”
1. To produce an immediate appeal to it. We need it deeply. Of no use to know the fact—the business is to build upon it, and say, “I will arise.” Approach the mercy-seat by faith in Christ. If you doubt it, test it. “It is a faithful saying.”
2. To awaken cordial admiration of the method of redemption.
3. To check our tendency to distrust and despondency. Very prevalent in all minds; specially those newly awakened. They do not doubt God’s ability, but willingness. We have all a great tendency to indulge dishonourable thoughts of God.
4. To produce affection, contrition, obedience.
III. A doctrine to be carefully guarded from abuse.
1. The loiterer in religion. To be had at any time, hence delay.
2. The self-sufficient Pharisee. Only through the cross. To the truly contrite.
3. The man who sins that grace may abound. Always in connection with sanctity.
4. Those who altogether presume upon it. God is righteous. There is a judgment of God.—Thodey.
Illustrations:—“It is harder to get sin felt by the creature than the burden when felt removed by the hand of a forgiving God. Never was tender-hearted surgeon more willing to take up the vein, and bind up the wound of his fainting patient when he hath bled enough, than God is by his pardoning mercy to ease the troubled spirit of a mourning penitent.”—Gurnall.
“God will pardon a repentant sinner more quickly than a mother would snatch her child out of the fire.”—Vianney.
God absolutely incomprehensible: the mghest archangel cannot “find him out unto perfection.” Yet we are not called to worship an unknown God. All his works praise him, but his word which he hath magnified above all his name peculiarly reveals him. In the sacred volume some clouds and darkness are round about him. Subjects are occasionally intimated which lie beyond the reach of our present faculties, concerning which we may safely follow the advice of the poet: “Wait the great teacher, Death.” Scripture renders things plain and obvious in proportion as they are important and necessary. Some truths are written as with a sunbeam—such are those which regard our state as sinners, and are calculated to draw forth our faith and hope in God. For we are saved through faith; we are saved by hope. Man fell by losing his confidence in God; and he is only to be recovered by regaining it. For which purpose we read not only that there is forgiveness with him, but that he is a GOD READY TO PARDON.
I. What is necessary to render the subject interesting? Three things.
1. A conviction of guilt. “They that are whole need not the physician,” &c. “The full soul loathes the honeycomb,” &c. In vain we present alms to the affluent, or offer pardon to the innocent. Have you ever lived a day as you ought? Have you not at least been chargeable with sins of omission? The law begins with the object of all adoration, and requires that we serve God alone. Have you never transferred to the creature that supreme regard due to the Creator? If you have daily worshipped the Supreme, has it been in spirit and in truth? never taken his name in vain, “mocked him with a solemn sound upon a thoughtless tongue?” Have you not squandered many precious Sabbath hours? But you are sure you are no murderer! Is there, then, no one dead in whose removal you have rejoiced? Is there no one alive at whose continuance you have inwardly repined? Have you never been angry with your brother without a cause? You repel with indignation the charge of theft! Is it not pride rather than principle that has sometimes restrained you; or the fear of the consequences rather than a sense of the sin? Are you a stranger to all unjust gain? Always paid fair wages? never robbed the poor? Have you done unto others as you would they should do unto you?
2. An apprehension of our danger as transgressors. The present effects of trangression! These only the beginning of sorrow. Can you flee from him who is everywhere; and everywhere the sin-avenging God? There is only one way of deliverance. It is forgiveness.
3. A discovery of the privileges of a pardoned state. We talk of happiness. Oh, what a change to be delivered from the wrath to come; to know that God’s anger is turned away; that from an enemy he is become a friend—a friend giving us cordial access to all the rights of innocency, and entitling us to a felicity superior to the happiness of Adam in paradise, and even of an angel in glory! “Being justified by faith,” &c.
II. The proofs which establish the truth of the doctrine.
1. The provision he has made for the exercise of pardon. “It became him”—we use his own language—it became him to administer this pardon in a peculiar way. It was necessary that sin should be condemned in the flesh, even while it was forgiven. It was necessary that God’s law should not appear so rigid as to require relaxation, or so changeable and weak as to admit of dispensation; but be magnified and made honourable. It was necessary that God’s truth should be seen as well as his grace; and his righteousness as well as his mercy. Of his own self-moved compassion he has reconciled us unto himself by Jesus Christ. “He has made him to be sin for us,” &c. “Herein is love,” &c.
2. The promptitude with which he pardons on our return. “Before they call I will answer, and while they speak I will hear.” (‘Parable of Prodigal Son.’)
3. His earnestness to excite us to seek after the blessing. It would be enough to prove that a man was ready to pardon if he yielded immediately upon the offender’s submission and application; but God not only waits to be gracious, he comes forward, he beseeches, he urges; yes—by the uneasiness of conscience, by the afflictions of life, by the importunity of friends, by the addresses of ministers—it is as the Apostle says, “As though God did beseech you to be reconciled to God.” Seek evidence—
4. In the character of those who have received pardon. The chief of sinners—Manasseh, the dying thief, the murderers of Christ, the Corinthian converts. Seek evidence—
5. In the number of those who obtain forgiveness. There are thousands more than we are aware of, even when we send forth Candour to reckon them; and when they shall be all gathered together, out of every kindred, and nation, and tongue, and people, they will be found a multitude which no man can number.
III. The way in which this subject may be abused, and the manner in which it ought to be improved. The subject is abused when it leads us to deny any disposition in God to punish. God is not only to be viewed as a tender father, but a moral governor.
The subject is abused when it encourages us to hope for pardon in ways not warranted by the word of God. For instance—thus, unwarranted is our hope when we expect it without a reference to the mediation of Christ; when we expect pardon without repentance; when we expect this pardon by delaying an application for it to the close of life; when we expect to find this pardon in another world if we fail to obtain it in this. But what is the proper improvement we should make of this delightful subject? It should yield encouragement to the broken-hearted, and consolation to those who have believed. It demands not only our admiration and praise; it calls upon us to imitate as well as to admire. Is he a God ready to pardon? “Be ye followers of God, as dear children. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil-speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”—Jay, abridged.
Nehemiah 9:18-21. When they had made them a molten calf, and said, This is thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt, and had wrought great provocations; yet thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not, &c.
THE FAITHFUL PROMISER—is not this one of the “surnames” of God?
I. This is the verdict of history. Nehemiah and his Levites knew what they said and whereof they affirmed. Was it not written in the book of Moses (Exodus 13:21-22; Numbers 14:14), that the pillar of cloud departed not from them by day, neither the pillar of fire by night? Were there not chronicles that told how for their mouth he provided manna, and for their mind instruction (Nehemiah 9:20)? See Numbers 11:17; Numbers 11:25; Numbers 11:6-9; Numbers 20:2-8. Nothing awanting (Nehemiah 9:21). God was in Hebrew history: not confined to Hebrew history. England’s God. America’s God. Men who planted that republic had Bible on their right hand.
II. The statements of Scripture. Psalms in especial addressed to the God of the promises. The psalmists called; he answered. This they make their plea when next they cry—“Doth his promise fail?” “He remembered his holy promise.” “Exceeding great and precious promises.” “The word of the Lord is tried.” Those whom the book canonizes have set to their seal that God is true.
III. The confirmations of experience. “God punishes the persecutors of his people energetically. Our pillar of cloud, which shows us the way to our everlasting fatherland, is the ministry of the Gospel, in which God is truly present and powerful. Although God does not immediately place all the godly in fruitful and pleasant places, nor give them bread from heaven, nor water from the rock; still he gives them, notwithstanding, necessary nourishment and clothing wherewith they should be satisfied.”—Starke. In despondency trace the footprints of God in the past. “He inclined unto me, and heard my cry.” This the strongest confirmation; most unassailable reason.
What we have felt and seen,
With confidence we tell;
And publish to the sons of men
The signs infallible.
THE HISTORY OF A GENERATION
Nehemiah 9:21. Forty years didst thou sustain them in the wilderness
This is the bright side of the story of his people Israel. “The penal portion of the wanderings” (Numbers 14:1-39; Hebrews 3:0).
I. Every generation inherits the past. “Your children, which in that day” (of rebellion) “had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it” (Deuteronomy 1:39). The fathers sinned; the children suffered. Hereditary diseases. Superstitions, political combinations. “We are the heirs of all the yesterdays.”
II. The task of each generation in the present. We receive our fathers’ uncompleted tasks. Their plans indicate our power of performance; their aims an index-finger. But new times new methods; a fresh age fresh needs. To-day is not yesterday. Victorian age an advance, calling for all energies. “Forward, forward, let us range.” Patriarchal times, prophetic period, apostolic age. “Little children; young men; fathers.” Parables of growth in Gospels of Jesus. “The righteous shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.” “Grow!” Peter is here not a whit behind his beloved brother Paul.
III. The responsibility of the present generation. We inherit to transmit; we labour to secure blessings for coming generations. The Hebrews of Nehemiah’s day found consolation in the memory of God’s abounding goodness to their faithless fathers. We have inherited freedom; the future will require it at our hands. In this sense is that text applicable—“Hold that fast which thou hast.” Pass on the torch of truth to other hands; quench not the Spirit of God. Thy memory will be invaluable; thy work faithfully done a treasure. Let not the chain be snapped—past, present, future. The “continuous purpose” of him who sees the end as well as the beginning! The humblest life is not mean. The tiniest task is not insignificant. The issues of to-day are in the far-off future.
SECULAR PROSPERITY INIMICAL TO SPIRITUAL LIFE
Nehemiah 9:25-26. They took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and oliveyards, and fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness. Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations.
INTRODUCTION.—Let us define our spiritual are here contrased. Prosperity terms. Prosperity—life. Secular—is outside us. It is the realization of one’s hope. The prosperous man has his wishes gratified. “We must distinguish between felicity and prosperity; for prosperity leads often to ambition, and ambition to disappointment.”—Landor. “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Secular; spiritual—a distinction and a difference. Often falsely made. All things pertaining to this present world are not secular. “It is not the work that makes the workman holy, but it is the workman’s heart that consecrates the toil.”—Cumming.
I. The value of prosperity. “They took strong cities,” and thus became a strong nation. “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over every living thing.” The earth is the Lord’s, but he hath given it to the children of men. “Money answereth all things.” Art, science, commerce, civilization, religion, are aided by prosperity. The refinements of life are foes of the lower passions. The devil should not have the best music, nor the best pictures, nor the highest knowledge. Christians! Claim the world for God. It is his; he made it, he upholds it, he sustains it, he redeemed it, he is restoring it. And because it is his it is yours. “Ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” “All things are yours; and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”
Illustration:—Riches are the stairs whereby men climb up into the height of dignity, the fortification that defends it, the food it lives upon, the oil that keeps the lamp of honour from going out. Honour is a bare robe if riches do not lace and flourish it, and riches a dull lump till honour give a soul to quicken it.—Adams.
II. The danger of prosperity. “They became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness. They rebelled against thee.” They accepted God’s gifts; they rejected God. “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” My fruits, my barns, my goods, my soul. Self stood where God should stand. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Are the poor my poor? “Every man for himself.” This is the world’s policy; the tone, if not the language, of unconsecrated prosperity. Forget God, and you will neglect man.
Illustrations:—Prosperity is no friend to a sanctified memory, and therefore we are cautioned, when we are full, lest we forget God. Noah, who had seen the whole world drowned in water, was no sooner safe on shore, and in the enjoyment of plenty, than he forgot God, and drowned himself in wine.—Gurnall.
Where one thousand are destroyed by the world’s frowns, ten thousand are destroyed by the world’s smiles. The world, siren-like, sings us and sinks us; it kisses us and betrays us, like Judas; it kisses us and smites us under the fifth rib, like Joab.—Brooks.
It is one of the worst effects of prosperity to make a man a vortex instead of a fountain; so that, instead of throwing out, he learns only to draw in.—Beecher.
It is the bright day that brings forth the adder, and that craves wary walking.—Shakespeare.
Prosperity most usually makes us proud, insolent, forgetful of God, and of all duties we owe unto him. It chokes and extinguishes, or at least cools and abates, the heat and vigour of all virtue in us. And as the ivy whilst it embraces the oak sucks the sap from the root, and in time makes it rot and perish; so worldly prosperity kills us with kindness, whilst it sucks from us the sap of God’s graces, and so makes our spiritual growth and strength to decay and languish. Neither do men ever almost suffer an eclipse of their virtues and good parts, but when they are in the full of worldly prosperity.—Downame.
Two things have I required of thee, deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me, lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest? I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.—Agur.
In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our wealth; in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment, Good Lord, deliver us.—The Litany.
III. The safeguard of prosperity. Remember thy stewardship. “What hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” “The poor ye have always with you.” “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,” &c. Get to give; gather to scatter. And as the husbandman sows to reap so shalt thou. “The liberal soul shall be made fat.” “There is that scattereth and yet increaseth.” “Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.”
Illustration:—In everything to give and receive is the principle of numerous blessings: in seeds, in scholars, in arts. For if any one desire to keep his art to himself, he subverts both himself and the whole course of things. And the husbandman, if he bury and keep the seeds in his house, will bring about a grievous famine. So also the rich man, if he fails thus in regard of his wealth, will destroy himself before the poor, heaping up the fire of hell more grievous upon his own head. Therefore, as teachers, however many scholars they have, impart some of their love unto each; so let thy possession be—many to whom thou hast done good.—Chrysostom.
RESPONSIBILITY OF HONOUR
Nehemiah 9:38. We make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it
“Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not.” These were the words of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah to a discouraged man. But because they are the words of a true prophet of God they contain a philosophy. A prophet in occasional Old Testament language is a seer—one who sees. Power is good but it exacts penalty.
I. In office and position. “Our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.” And the first name was that of NEHEMIAH THE TIRSHATHA. The strongest must carry the burdens; the tallest be exposed to the fire of the enemy. Statesmen, reformers, scientists, preachers, teachers—the best-hated men.
II. In intellectual and moral elevation. The strong must lend an arm to the weak; the wise pour out their treasures to enlighten the ignorant. Those who know the way must guide those who don’t. The sun lives for the fields and homes of men. The stars enlighten other worlds. “The Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
III. In national supremacy. “A strong nation.” “A great people.” “An increasing territory.” “The sun never sets on the Queen’s dominions,” &c. Every boast implies a duty. “Italian unity;” “German Fatherland;” “American Republic;” “England’s sway.” Be it ever remembered that with honour comes responsibility; with greatness claims. What then? Biblical fear not! “Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee. Be not afraid of their faces; for I am with thee.” “As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee.” “Fear not, thou worm Jacob.” Strength without God is weakness; weakness with God is strength. “Where he appoints I go.” And thus directed, when I am weak, then am I strong.
ADDENDA TO CHAPTER 9
SENTENCES FROM OLD WRITERS
I. From feasting to fasting (Nehemiah 9:1-3). “There is in this present life an interchange of all things, a succession of feasting and fasting. Of the best whilst here it may be said, unhappy you cannot call him, happy you may not. One compareth him to the Ark, which was ever transportative, till settled in Solomon’s Temple; another to quicksilver, which hath in itself a principle of motion, but not of rest.” “Deadness of spirit is apt to follow our liveliest joys; but that must be looked to, and security prevented, which is wont to seize upon men after holy duties, like as worms and wasps eat the sweetest fruits.” “It was a fast that men appointed, but such a fast as God had chosen. They were restrained from weeping (chap. Nehemiah 8:9), but now they were directed to weep. The joy of our holy feasts must give way to the sorrow of our solemn fasts when they come. Everything is beautiful in its season.” “Confession is the way to the kingdom; walk in it; only it must be joined with confusion of sin, as hero. They separated themselves from all strangers, they abandoned their darling sin, they kept themselves from their iniquity.” “They that intend by prayers and covenants to join themselves to God must separate themselves from sin and sinners.” “Fasting without prayer is a body without a soul.” “In the glass of the law we may see our deformities and defilements, and know what to acknowledge and what to amend.” “The Word will direct and quicken prayer.”
II. A story of Divine guidance (Nehemiah 9:4-38). They cried with a loudvoice—Unto the Lord their God. “As being in covenant with them. This shows their faith, as the former their fervency. Faith is the foundation of prayer; and prayer is the fervency of faith.” Then the Levites said, Stand up. “Gird yourselves and serve the Lord. Be instant, or stand close to the work (2 Timothy 4:2); set sides and shoulders to it; rouse up yourselves and wrestle with God. In the primitive times the ministers prepared the people to serve God, by saying, Lift up your hearts,” Stand up. “For though they are before said to stand, yet, through shame and confusion of face, and awe of the Divine Majesty, might be fallen on their faces to the ground.” And bless the Lord your God for ever. “If we should do nothing else all our days, yea, as long as the days of heaven shall last (said that martyr), but kneel upon our knees and sing over David’s psalms to God’s praise, yet should we fall short of what we owe to the Lord, who is most worthy to be praised.” And blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. “These holy Levites, having called upon the people to bless God, break forth into the performance of this Divine duty themselves. So St. Paul often, exhorting the saints to pray, falls a-praying for them.” “When we have done our utmost herein we can never overdo.” “As oft as we breathe we are to breathe out the praises of God, and to make our breath like the perfumed smoke of the Tabernacle.” Thou art Lord alone; thou hast made heaven, &c. “The first article of our Creed is fitly made the first article of our praises.” “God’s providence extends itself to the highest beings, for they need it; and to the meanest, for they are not slighted by it.” “Jehovah is God’s incommunicable name; that holy and reverend name of his, which Jews pronounce not, we too oft profane, at least by not considering the import of it, which is enough to answer all our doubts and to fill us with strong consolation, had we but skill to spell all the letters in it.” “With great skill and artifice God has made heaven three stories high” (2 Corinthians 12:2; Hebrews 11:10). “Of the heaven of heavens no natural knowledge can be had, nor any help by human arts; for it is neither aspectable nor movable.” “God may be read in the great book of nature, which hath three leaves—heaven, earth, and sea.” And foundest his heart faithful. “He must needs find it so who hath made it so.” And madest a covenant with him. “Wherever he finds a faithful heart he will be found a faithful God.” And heardest their cry. “Though mixed with much murmuring. So he heard that pitiful poor prayer of David, ‘I said in mine haste, I am cut off from thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications, when I cried unto thee.’ God heareth the young ravens, though they have but a hoarse and harsh note, making no melody to move pity, and cry but by implication only, and not directly unto him.” And showedst signs and wonders upon Pharaoh. “That sturdy rebel whom neither ministry, nor misery, nor miracle, nor mercy could possibly mollify.” And gavest them bread from heaven, &c. “God rained down angels’ food, and set the fluid abroach; and this he did for their hunger, for their thirst, fitting his favours according to their need and request. Besides that, their bread was sacramental, whereof they communicated every day. Their drink also was sacramental, that this ancient Church might give no warrant of a dry communion: for they did all eat of the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink, the same that we do at the Lord’s Supper.” Hearkened not to thy commandments. “The word of God they heard, but they did not hearken to God’s commandments; and the works of God they saw, but they were not mindful of his wonders.” A God ready to pardon. “It is our comfort that we have to do with a forgiving, sin-pardoning God, that doth it naturally (Exodus 34:6), plentifully (Isaiah 55:7), constantly (Psalms 130:4). This should be as a perpetual picture in our hearts.” They made them a molten calf, and said, This is thy God. “These be thy gods (Exodus 32:4). It was the serpent’s grammar that first taught men to decline God in the plural number: ye shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:0). They lacked nothing. “Nor more shall they that seek the Lord lack any good thing. God will not be a wilderness to them, or a land of darkness. A sufficiency they shall be sure of, if not a superfluity; yea, in the midst of straits they shall be in a sufficiency” (1 Timothy 6:6). So they possessed the land of Sihon. “God’s favours must not be mentioned in the lump only, and by wholesale; but particularly enumerated and celebrated.” The land concerning which thou hadst promised to their fathers. “And they disposed of it by will to their posterity, as if they had been in present possession. God’s promises are good surehold: the patriarchs would be buried there, though they died in Egypt, and keep possession as they could; for they knew that all was their own.” So the children went in. “After that they had been held a long while under the Egyptian servitude. God knows how to command his favours to us; which lightly come by are lightly set by.” And delighted themselves in thy great goodness. “They lived in God’s good land, but not by God’s good laws.” They wrought great provocations. Therefore thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies. “Sin and punishment are tied together with chains of adamant.” “They that would not serve God in their own land were made to serve their enemies in a strange land.” “It is a pity good land should have bad inhabitants; but so it was with Sodom.” “Fatness and fulness often make men proud and sensual.” After they had rest they did evil again. “As standing pools breed vermin; as sedentary lives are subject to diseases. If men be not poured out from vessel to vessel, they will soon settle upon their lees. We are commonly best when worst.” And hardened their neck. “To sinews of iron they added brows of brass.” Thou art a gracious and merciful God. “And this is most seen when misery weighs down, and nothing but mercy turneth the scale.” Behold, we are servants this day. “A sad change. But see what work sin makes!” We make a sure covenant, &c. “He that bears an honest mind will not startle at assurances; nor will those that know the deceitfulness of their own hearts think them needless.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Nehemiah 9". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter