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Now it came to pass, when Sanballat.
The witness to the truth
I. His trial, from the stratagems of enemies. The circumstances of his trial were peculiar. Faith and prayer and pains had now achieved great things in Jerusalem. For many days the patriots had persevered, with unremitting toil, to rebuild the wall. And now their enterprise was ready to be crowned with triumphant success. This, to them, was a time of joyous anticipation, mingled, no doubt, with solicitude, lest their work should be marred on the very eve of completion. But to the enemies of Zion it was a moment of vexation and dismay. “They heard,” says Nehemiah, “that I had builded the wail, and that there was no breach left therein.” In spite of their vaunting words and feeble arms the good work had advanced, and, unless they could instantly crush it, they plainly saw that all would be lost. Yet what shall they do to arrest the sacred enterprise? They have tried mockery already, but have found, to their chagrin, that these men of Judah will not be driven by ridicule from what, to them, is a work of conscience and religion. They have, moreover, attempted force; but they have learned, to their dismay, that the Israelites are ready to resist unto blood the invasion of their liberty to serve God in the city called by His name. Foiled, therefore, in these modes of attack, they are compelled to resort to stratagem in order, if possible, to gain their wicked purpose. This desperation of the enemies of Judah is just a picture of the rage of the great adversary at the progress of the Church and the growing sanctification of each believer in Christ. More than once in the history of the Church’s advance has the devil come down in “great wrath, because he knoweth he hath but a short time.” But trials in the religious life often prove the occasion of higher manifestations of mercy than could have been experienced without them. Trial, therefore, here comes to Nehemiah; and what is the form in which it assails him?
1. He is first tried by the wiles of enemies to draw him from his work and involve him in danger. As if for the purpose of consultation, they sent unto him, saying, “Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of One.” The object of these crafty foes was to get possession of the person of Nehemiah; and in all probability to take away his life. But the noble Israelite answered after this manner, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?” Who can but admire the wisdom and fortitude of the servant of God in this hour of trial? Is not this a grand example to imitate in Christ’s service and our own salvation? Our life on earth is so transient, and our work for eternity so arduous, that we have no time to waste. “This I say, then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.”
2. Further, Nehemiah is tried by the false accusations of enemies, designed to undermine his character. “Sanballat sent his servant the fifth time with an open letter in his hand.” And why was the letter sent “open”? It was no doubt intended to give all the people opportunity to know its contents, that their jealousy might be aroused at the alleged ambitious aims of their leader, or their fears be excited of incurring the wrath of the king by continuing their work; but it was meant, moreover, thus to offer an insult to Nehemiah. It might have been thought that a life singularly blameless and disinterested as his would have been exempt from reproach. But who may expect to be free from the assaults of malice and envy, since the Son of God, the holy, harmless, undefiled One, did not escape the shafts of calumny? And so here, one of the lowliest and most upright of good men is falsely accused of ambition and rebellion. How striking an instance is this of misrepresentation and craft in the enemies of truth to thwart a servant of God in a Divine work. It often happens, as here, that the sacred form of friendship is assumed to seduce the children of faith into a betrayal of their trust; and they who would draw them aside from duty pretend a regard to their welfare. Yet under the guise of affection there lurks a deadly hostility that seeks only their hurt and the ruin of their good name.
II. His testimony to the truth. Men in high place are little to be envied. They are often exposed to special dangers, both in principle and person. He bears testimony to the truth by fidelity to his trust in midst of imminent danger. He was fortified by a good conscience, while beset with wiles and accusations; and he possessed his soul in patience through the hour of trial. He looks on the field of danger with the eye of an eagle, and walks over it with the heart of a lion. He combines a clear perception of the plots of the enemy with a heroic courage to confront all their power. How quickly the adversary shifts his method of assault! and the good soldier must alter his manner of repulse in order to overcome. The enemies of Nehemiah here follow the same crafty course. They found they could not draw him into the country for counsel, and now they seek to drive him into the temple for safety. This was a mean as well as a wicked device of the heathen; but it is melancholy to reflect that men were found in Judah base enough to abet their machinations. It was not among the common people that the treacherous spirit appeared, but among the professed prophets and messengers of God. Noble things are always most vile when they become corrupt; and in this case these so-called ambassadors of heaven debase their high vocation by lending all its influence to the work of the enemies of religion. But these arts, employed to intimidate and seduce Nehemiah, were all in vain. He bore testimony to the truth by steadfast adherence to duty, even in face of threatened death. Much as he may value life, and wish to preserve it till the work is done which is so dear to his heart, yet he loves God and a good conscience far more. This is a noble example for our imitation. What faithful care does this man of God exercise to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good!
III. His triumph over all opposition. It is instructive to remark the means by which Nehemiah achieved this victory. He was first of all careful to ascertain facts, and to detect the plots of enemies through all the mazes of their falsehood. For this purpose he gave his mind to weigh evidence, to examine character, to balance circumstances, that he might arrive at the truth. But we note, as his chief means of success, effectual fervent prayer to God. His labours were now crowned with triumphant success. “So,” he writes, “the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days.” This was the hour of Israel’s triumph, and of their enemies’ humiliation. “And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes.” They were much cast down, as persons who have staked their full strength and reputation on a bad end, and yet have utterly failed in its attainment. They suffered the humiliation of those who boast of their power, put it forth to the utmost, and, after all, feel themselves completely defeated by the people whose might they had despised. It is not given to all witnesses for God to bear testimony for Him amid great works and conflicts like these; but He appoints each of us our duty here to stand by His truth, and to contend earnestly for the faith against all assaults on it. The dominant forms of opposition to Bible truth in these days are unbelief, or error in creed, and worldliness, or error in conduct; and in face of both God calls us to be witnesses for His cause. Whenever you profess your faith in the Bible, the whole Bible, as the Word of God, your creed is pronounced antiquated, and regarded with wonder or an ill-dissembled sneer. Yet all is surrendered if the integrity, the infallibility, the inspiration of the whole Bible is given up. (W. Ritchie.)
Well, to come to the history, when Nehemiah was coming to an end, and thought he had got through all his difficulties, Sanballat and the others came wheedling and coaxing, and they said, “Come, Nehemiah, let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of One.” And they sent messengers four times to try, if they could, to prevent the thorough fulfilment and accomplishing of God’s work and Nehemiah’s design. Anything they would do, the enemies of Nehemiah, as our enemies also would do, to diminish our zeal for God and truth and righteousness. Thus we might paraphrase the arguments used, “Now, Nehemiah, you really are a most excellent man, and, though we say it ourselves, we too are excellent men; and if we can only just meet together in a quiet little spot, we shall soon settle everything. You see, Nehemiah, we have misunderstood one another--a very common thing among good people. You thought we were against you, but there never was a greater mistake. We were misrepresented. Come now, and let us shake hands; and when we have looked into each other’s faces, we shall discover amidst apparent diversity of purpose that our hearts, our aims, were really one, that we are seeking the same object.” After such fashion, we can imagine they thought to draw Nehemiah from his purpose. “But they thought to do me mischief,” says Nehemiah. Nehemiah says, “Why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?” And you will find the more you buckle to God’s work--that is to say, to strive to be first of all a sterling, righteous man in lip and life, in thought, in word, and deed--and the more you try to recover the blight and disaster in London or round about you, the more you will find opposition of different kinds, and perhaps to-day the secret, sly, and cunning opposition which is to be dreaded far more than the open, the overt. I wonder how many invitations you will get to parties this week? because I want you to work for God in this coming ten days’ mission. Very likely never so many as this week. “We have a nice little party this week. Come down; don’t be righteous overmuch. Don’t spoil yourself, and take all the pleasure out of life.” Let us make up our mind and heart to work, work, work. “Why should I let the work cease, and come down to you?” Let them answer that. Why should God’s work cease while I leave it, and come down to you; so as to weaken my interest in God’s work, and hinder my pace in the actual doing of God’s work? Here is the test and touchstone. How do these things tell upon the work? Do they lower my temperature, and take away my energies from God’s work? Then they are of the devil; and to see that is to be kept right. From Nehemiah’s answer (verse 3) we see the great blessing of having pure motives and clean hands. Oh, for this whole-heartedness in the cause of God! Nehemiah said, “I will not cease doing the work, for I am sure it is not for my own personal ends, it is not for my own aggrandisement, my own vainglory. There are no such things as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.” They shot sore at poor Nehemiah, when they said, “Nehemiah, it is your own glory that leads you on in this work, not zeal for God.” And don’t think Nehemiah did not feel this; that message came with a thump to him. And what preserved him? His integrity and innocence. He could lift up his voice, and say, “It is a lie; it is not true. Do as you like! Say what you like! I know whom I am serving. You may try all manner of means, but you will never shake me from this, that God has sent me here, given me this work to do; and in His name I give myself to it, with singleness of heart and effort.” If God promote you, and make you prominent in His work, remember it is He who does it; and you must stay at your post, do your day’s work and leave your reputation in the hands of the Lord. Then comes another temptation (verse 10). I think this man, this Shemaiah, was a man who had a particular reputation for wisdom and prudence. “Oh, Nehemiah!” he would say, “now you are wrong. You will allow me to speak plainly with you. No one rejoiced more than I did when you came from Persia, and I rejoice to see what is going on at Jerusalem. But the position is far different from what you think. And I have been here longer than you; and I know the currents of thought and feeling, which you don’t know anything about. And, believe me, that sometimes the roundabout road is the nearest; and sometimes to go straight tramping on, you know, is the way never to reach what you want. You are carrying things, they think, with too high a hand. But if you would take time, stop and let things blow over a little, you will get R done far more easily. Believe me, Nehemiah, I know the temper of this people” (and here he spoke truly), “and I tell you they are against you, and are going to seek your life. Now let us meet together in the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come and slay thee.” And Nehemiah said to him, “Should such a man as I flee?” He virtually stood up and said, “What, Nehemiah fleeing after all he has gone through I Get thee behind me, Satan! Thou savourest not of the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” The same temptation came to the greater than Nehemiah, to the greatest Worker that ever God sent to work and to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” even the Lord Jesus Christ. And as with the Master, so with the servant. The servant will be tempted and seduced in every way, that the work may cease, that the temperature, the heat of our zeal may go down, and the worse may appear the better reason, and carry us away from our post. Some men go to the temple, but to them it is simply a coward’s castle. This is about all that God gets from some of us. We go sneaking into our churches on the Sunday, but not to do God’s work. God pity you! You never stand up for Him out there on London wall. Exactly! Well, this invitation from Shemaiah to go into the temple was not good enough for Nehemiah--and he was about as devout a man as most of us. He was a man who feared God with all his heart, didn’t he? But they were going to make the temple a coward’s castle. Listen l I will bring it nearer to us. There is some young fellow here hard beset with his surroundings. You are set there on that commercial bit of the wall, to be true, to be honest, to unfurl the flag there, and to work with and for God there. And the battle is thickening, and coming to you in your business; the devil as an angel of light is trying to get you to leave your work and go and study for the ministry! Go into the temple to save your life. It was that kind of thing that was happening to the early Church. Men and women were going to leave the conflict and struggle, to run away into cloisters and convents, with their “dim, religious light.” And so you would go and shut yourself up, and give yourself up to a life of contemplation, you say. It is a delusion; it won’t do. Let us see how Nehemiah acted when asked to go into the temple. He would have been spoiled if he had yielded to that temptation. He no doubt loved the house of God, the worship of God as we do. We love all its regular services. How sweet it is to us to meet together, to hold communion, to join in our solemn feasts and hymns of love and praise! But that is on Sabbath days. And the end for which we meet is to strengthen us for the work of testifying for God and Christ. What is that? I think I see Nehemiah with his note-book in his hand after the work was all finished, and he is turning over and going through in his mind all that he had done and suffered. And he is thinking over it all, and wondering what made all the opposition to the building of these walls. “I never could rightly understand,” he would say, “why that was such a tough job, and why there were continually things coming against my legs to trip me up from unexpected quarters. I felt some one was not fighting fair, that the enemy had got into our own camp and was fighting against me unfairly.” And it was the mother-in-law that was the whole secret. They--families of God’s people and their enemies--were married and intermarried with each other; and so they had their grappling-irons on the Israelitish vessel. And they pulled the vessel close by this intermarriage relationship, and they got on board, and could not be kept off. By this marriage relationship Tobiah had got in with the very chief of them, and so struck hard and constantly at Nehemiah. And it was through this marriage relationship they tried to get at Nehemiah and pull him down, and thus cause God’s work to cease. Says Christ, “I am not come to send peace, but a sword; to set the father against the son, and the daughter against the mother, and the mother-in-law against the daughter-in-law: and a man’s foes shall be those of his own household.” Indeed, you will ofttimes be fairly perplexed. You say, “I feel the devil at my elbow, and he is whispering in my ear with my own flesh and blood, and would overcome me unless I set watch with vigilance.” This same thing is working to-day. Now, for example, I know a young fellow, he started with great vigour in the cause of God, he started with great vigour to build the wall, especially to build the total abstinence wall. But by and by he married a daughter of a wine merchant, and that brought the building to a stop. Yes. He says now he thinks there are a great many excellent people among the brewers. Was not that the kind of thing they said to Nehemiah? “Moreover, they reported Tobiah’s good deeds,” and they said this and that about him. Very innocent-looking things may seduce you and take the backbone out of you. Once upon a time your friends called you old-fashioned and Puritanical, But lately you got married, and that has brought you into close contact with a class of people with whom you had little or no dealings before. You had nothing in common. And to make a long story short you were at the theatre the other evening--with your mother-in-law. She has soon called you in off the wall! Everything is altered now. And instead of your going over to carry war into the enemy’s camp, they have come unto you, and have overcome you; and you have purred like a pussy-cat where before you were bold and outspoken: and the reason is the marriage, the mother-in-law; and the marrow of principle is being thereby sucked out of some of you. You need to be spoken to, and I would that my words were like fire, and would burn. Oh I that some of you would come back to your earlier faith, enthusiasm in God’s work, and the blood-heat of your early zeal. For now you are as namby-pamby as the devil could wish. “I used to think,” says another, “very harshly of those who didn’t hold my views. But now I have learnt to be charitable. I have discovered that many things which I thought were essential are only accidental.” Softly, my friend: ‘twas the mother-in-law made the discovery. You have gone off on that charitable dodge. Ah, God’s Word has an eye in every direction. “Also they reported his good deeds before me,” and as good as said, “We know Tobiah; and, Nehemiah, you are wrong about him altogether. He is an excellent man, and he gave five shillings to this, he gave ten shillings to that; and he is a wonderful fellow altogether. He is wonderfully like yourself?’ Really it is such a pity that two such good men should not meet together and shake hands. But they never could, and Nehemiah kept his hands behind his back and said, “I choose my own company. I know the hands of these fellows too well.” (John McNeill.)
We have here persistency of opposition, persistency of endeavour.
I. This principle of persistency is illustrated in all the circle of nature and life.
1. Everywhere there is exhibition of hostile force. All natural forces, all life, all energy creep to their goal as the wave creeps to the shore after many a rebuff, and after many a spurning.
2. It is so with man in all social life.
3. The Bible represents all moral victory as against deep and persistent hostility.
II. This principle of persistency is illustrated in the general history of the kingdom of God.
III. The same principle is illustrated in individual salvation and work. (Homiletic Commentary.)
How strange it is that no good work can be attempted without exciting opposition, and the better the work the more intense its hindrances! No beneficent measure has ever been propounded without obstacles being put in its way, oftentimes by the very people it is intended to benefit. The promulgation of Christianity is a notable example. Some of the means of hindrance are--
I. The restless activity of evil. Sin is essentially aggressive. It cannot let well alone.
II. The jealousy of the unrighteous. They cannot bear to see anything prosper in which they are not the leaders. They will never attempt any good work, but when they see it in progress they would hinder and destroy.
III. The vindictive spirit of Satan. (Homilist.)
A great work.
A great work
A story is told of an old man who rived long ago. A friend asked him the cause of his complaints, since in the evening he so often complained of great weariness and pain. “Alas,” answered he, “I have every day so much to do: I have two falcons to tame, two hares to keep from running away, two hawks to manage, a serpent to confine, a lion to chain, and a sick man to tend and wait upon.” “Why, this is only folly,” said the friend; “no man has all these things to do at once.” “Yes indeed,” he answered, “it is with me as I have said. The two falcons are my two eyes, which I must diligently guard, lest something should please them which may be hurtful to my salvation; the two hares are my feet, which I must hold back lest they should run after evil objects, and walk in the ways of sin; the two hawks are my two hands, which I must train and keep to work, in order that I may be able to provide for myself and for my brethren who are in need; the serpent is my tongue, which I must always keep in with a bridle, lest it should speak anything unseemly; the lion is my heart, with which I have to maintain a continual fight in order that vanity and pride may not fill it, but that the grace of God may dwell and work there; the sick man is my body, which is ever needing my watchfulness and care. All this daily wears out my strength.” The friend listened with wonder, and then said, “Dear brother, if all men laboured and struggled after this manner, the times would be better, and more according to the will of God.” (J. M. Randall.)
Determination of purpose
The ancient Greeks had an aphorism which is worthy of remembrance: “He is formidable who does one thing.” A man must have a fixed design, or he will not have a steady course. As the instrument tuned to no key-note, so is the man whose spirit is strung to no commanding aim. In vain does the vessel launch forth from the harbour if she have no haven for which to steer and no helm by which to shape her voyage. Take a just view of your life, and all is but dung and dross in comparison with your final acceptance with God. This is the object, the one object which you must enterprise, prosecute, and secure. What a work is before us! (Hugh Stowell, M. A.)
A great work in the face of strong antagonism
The Christian has a great work to do for himself, working out under gospel influences his own salvation with fear and trembling. It is great in regard of others. We are not merely children of God going home to glory; but we are fellow-workers with God--keepers of beacons to imperilled mariners in a dark night of storms--oarsmen of a lifeboat out on the wild ocean saving drowning souls from destruction. Yea, we have a great work in regard of our glorious God and Saviour. We may not understand it, yet we are assured by God Himself of the truth that more than in all His works of creation and providence is there manifestation made of His manifold wisdom in this work of salvation. Every soul saved on earth by our human instrumentality is a radiant diadem in the many crowns of Jesus. Moreover, like Nehemiah, we are doing this great work in the face of strong antagonisms, and against the insidious opposition of enemies striving to hinder us. Alas! how many are the Sanballats and Tobiahs of the world! I am not railing at the world itself, for it is a good world for Christian work--a world whereof we are to make the most; and the pleasures and honours and riches of it, when accepted as gifts of God and used for His glory, are among our mighty means of grace, whereby our own souls may be edified and Christ’s kingdom enlarged. I am thinking now of the world as used by Satan to hinder Christian work--those scornful words or seductive arts of temptation, and, I repeat, they are many. Pleasure comes to the scene of Christian labour with all-bewitching beauty and bewildering blandishments, and she pleads for sensual indulgence, and would draw the worker for Christ forth and down to the fair plains of Ono. Avarice comes with jewels of great price, and keys offering coffers of untold wealth in the stronghold of Mammon. Ambition comes, in the pomp and glory of an archangel, fallen from heaven, and points to a perspective of surpassing splendour, with shining palms and triumphal processions, outflashing diadems and uprising throne. With these and many other specious beguilements come the great adversaries of the soul and the Church. They plead with the Christian worker as he builds the walls of Zion, crying eloquently and earnestly, “Oh, come down and meet us in some plain of Ono!” And to all this our reply should be just that of Nehemiah, “I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down.” Oh, fellow-worker with God in this glorious salvation, take to your heart as the inspiration of your lives this strong argument; rise to a comprehension of the magnificent part you are acting in the face of the universe; of the vastness of the issues you are working out for God! Say to the assaulting tempter, “Let me alone. I am working--working. I am working out my own destiny. I am striving for a guerdon in the skies grander than the Conqueror’s. I am working for others--for the beloved of my own house-hold--my child, my parent, my brother, my friend. Oh, do not hinder me! I am working for a world--a world for which the Son of God bled in the garden--died on the Cross! See! see! that world rolls like a shattered wreck on the stormy seas of time, and I am keeping the beacon aflame! Oh, hinder me not! Nay, more, I am working for Jehovah--that God who, when I was lost, sent His own Son to save me.” (T. L. Cuyler.)
Nehemiah, the model man of business
In studying Nehemiah as a man of business we notice--
I. He was a model of earnstness.
II. He was a model of unselfishness.
III. He was a model of faithfulness.
IV. He was a model of prayer. (R. Newton, D. D.)
A good man in a great work
This narrative illustrates--
I. The characteristics of a great work. It has--
1. A high purpose. It was--
2. Beset with difficulties. A true work will have generally to surmount--
(1) Men’s scorn.
(2) External hindrances.
II. The temptations that beset a great work.
1. Temptations from armed enemies.
2. Temptations from professed friends.
III. The spirit of a true worker. There will be--
1. Prayer for the work.
2. Earnest prosecution of it.
3. Resistance of all temptations to leave it. (Urijah R. Thomas.)
The great work
We learn from these words--
I. That Nehemiah was “doing a great work.”
II. That there were those who endeavoured to hinder him.
III. That the magnitude of the work required that he should not cease or allow himself to be hindered from prosecuting it.
IV. We may learn from the context that Nehemiah succeeded in accomplishing the work by prayer and painstaking diligence. (James Shore, M. A.)
The great work
I. That the work of religion in general is a great work. This will appear when we contemplate it as being--
1. God’s work. It originated with God; its foundations were laid in heaven; it emanated from the throne of the Eternal; it is the product of infinite wisdom, love, and truth. It bears on its countenance the image of its immaculate Author, and it is every way worthy of its great Original. Unmistakable traces and manifestations of its Divinity are seen in the loftiness of its character, in the purity of its principles, and in the efficiency and permanency of its influences. Nothing is worth the name of greatness compared with the system God has devised to heal the sorrows and cleanse the pollutions of the soul. And is there not a glory and majesty about it immeasurably great? God appears great in the works of creation. If, then, God is so great throughout the wide range of creation, how great must He be in restoring man to His favour, in giving life, vigour, and beauty to souls once dead in trespasses and sins! That religion is a great work is evident--
2. From the importance attached to it in the Bible. The Bible, God’s holy book, is pregnant with it, its glory and beauty being reflected from every page. This book was written expressly to pourtray religion, its doctrines, principles, and duties. Let the question be settled in our minds--religion is the “principal thing”; it is emphatically the world’s great bless ing; so the sacred penmen estimate it. They speak of it as “God’s salvation”; as the “great salvation”; as the “pearl of great price”; as the “one thing needful”; as the “good part”; the “more excellent way”; “the bread of life”; and “life eternal.” That religion is a great work is evident from--
3. The qualifications necessary to engage in it. A high state of intellect is not essential to it. The most gigantic intellect is no qualification for God’s service, if not renewed and sanctified by the Holy Ghost. The qualifications necessary to engage in this work must have their seat in the heart rather than in the head. Right moral emotions cannot be dispensed with.
4. That religion is a great work appears from its blessed results on human character and conduct. The history of the past in relation to God’s work unfolds a series of wonderful achievements and glorious results. Its wide spread influence amongst the various nations and tribes of men has told a marvellous tale.
II. The good man is engaged in this work. This expression denotes--
1. Decision of character. In a world like ours fixedness of purpose is invaluable, whether it relate to the active duties of every-day life or to the more lofty and ennobling duties of religion. It is essential to success. The man whose movements are changeable, and who is never steady to one point or purpose, brings nothing to a good issue. What a paralysing influence indecision has upon the soul in relation to religion. Men dream and talk about their future course of action, and yet they are never found at the starting-point. They are decided for the future, but not for the present. The diligent man says, “‘I am doing a great work’; I am in it; it form part and parcel of my very being.” The Scriptures furnish us with specimens of the decision we plead for. We see it in Joshua, when he says, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” So, too, David said, “O God, my heart is fixed”; “I have chosen the way of truth.”
2. Labour. “I am doing a great work.” Religion is essentially active; it has no sympathy with sloth and inactivity.
III. The spirit of perseverance is required in this work. The good man engaged in this work cannot come down, because--
1. The work requires close and constant application. To acquire anything like an approach to perfection or completeness in religion is no easy task. The world, with its blandishments, its false maxims, and glittering snares, says, “Come down.” The flesh, naturally in favour of indulgence and ease, and opposed to self-denial, joins in the cry, and says, “Come down.” Satan, whose malice breaks out more bitterly as he sees the wall rising higher, repeats the order, “Come down.” Thus every new stone added to the building is the subject of dispute. The builder cannot leave his work, because--
2. Shame and misery would be the result. A more pitiful sight than that of a good man “cast down from his excellency” is certainly not to be found. My reason, my judgment, my conscience, all concur with the inspired admonition, “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
IV. “Why should the work cease, whilst i leave it, and come down to you?” We must not suppose that God’s work would entirely cease, even though a thousand such men as Nehemiah were to desert it.
1. All the infidelity and wickedness of men cannot stop this work. Observe, finally, that--
2. Were it possible that His work should cease, it would be the greatest calamity the world ever knew. (A. Twiss.)
The pre-eminence of God’s work
I. God’s work is still a great work. It resolves itself into two parts--
1. Work in relation to one’s self--faith in the Redeemer, progressive holiness and final glory.
2. Work in relation to others.
II. God’s work must be done first. To Sanballat’s complimentary note Nehemiah replied by his conduct, “God’s work first, compliments next.”
III. God’s work preserves from mischief and misery.
IV. God’s work should be loved for its own sake.
V. God’s work should be begun, continued, and ended with prayer. (Homilist.)
Safety in Christian work
Christian work is--
1. A safeguard against vice. All honest work, indeed, is an antidote to vice, but Christian work is especially so.
1. It fills up those leisure hours that so often prove fatal to the unguarded soul.
2. By its very nature it supplies positive motives against temptation.
(1) It strengthens all one’s Christian principles.
(2) It keeps one constantly under the play of Christian influences.
(3) It prevents the spiritual life from dying of disuse.
II. A safegaurd against spiritual declension. Our spiritual life depends in the first instance on the work of Christ for us; but its continuance is dependent on activity--on the work we do for Christ.
1. Physical growth is dependent on activity.
2. So, too, with intellectual life.
3. So in a still higher degree it is in spiritual life.
Selfishness is the greatest spiritual poverty. Life loses in the proportion in which it withholds itself, and gains by all it gives. According to the width of my sympathies and the self-forgetting ardour of my zeal is the true power and opulence of my being. If it be lawful or possible to enlist the higher selfishness in the service of unselfishness, as you value your religious life, as you would protect it on the one hand against innate tendencies to declension, and on the other against the sapping and undermining influences of the outer world, give your sympathies, your energies, your substance to the cause of God and man. It is not enough for your religious safety that you abstain from evil--you must engage in positive good.
III. A safeguard against scepticism. Not that scepticism cannot be met in the field of argument. But argument is not, in every case, the best way to meet the native scepticism of the heart. Christian truth is of such a nature that to understand it fully you must live it. “If any man will do God’s will he shall know of the doctrine.” There was a minister who at an early period of his life was in doubt about the truth of Christianity. He had almost lost his faith, when hearing this text he resolved to make trial of it. He went and gathered a number of boys together from the streets and taught them as best he could; from that he went to something else as opportunity offered, with the result that he found the text to be true; that in doing God’s will, especially in doing good to others, his doubts had all fled and never troubled him more. He found, as Carlyle says, “that doubt of whatever kind can be ended by action alone.” As a rule it is not from the great class of Christian workers that scepticism draws its recruits, but from those who stand aloof from all Christian activities, and in many cases look down on them with contempt.
IV. A safeguard against despondency. It is an old saying and true that while the water flows and the mill-stones revolve unless the grain be thrown between them to be ground, the stones will grind each other. So the heart and mind which are inactive, which have no subjects of interest, to engross them, turn their force inward and prey upon themselves. The water that is stagnant soon loses its freshness of colour and of flavour, and engenders the worthless weed, the green scum, the foul mud and noxious exhalations; so the man or woman who leads a useless, purposeless, inactive life not only degenerates in inward character, but loses the freshness and brightness of life, becomes restless, discontented, and a prey to melancholy. To a woman of the desponding type who was wont to bewail her spiritual poverty in the language of the prophet, “My leanness i my leanness I “ a shrewd and faithful friend, well-known for her good works, administered the needed and merited reproof, “Nay, but it would better become you to say, ‘My laziness! my laziness!’“ (Robert Whyte, D. D.)
Hindrances to revivals
I. A revival of religion is a great work.
II. Several things may put a stop to a revival. A revival will cease--
1. Whenever the Church believes it is going to cease.
2. When Christians consent that it should cease.
3. Whenever Christians suppose the work will go on without their aid.
4. When Christians begin to proselytise.
5. When the Church in any way grieves the Holy Spirit.
6. When Christians lose the spirit of brotherly love.
7. When Christians are frequently reconverted.
III. Things which ought to be done to continue a revival.
1. Ministerial humiliation.
2. Churches which have opposed revivals must repent.
3. Those who promote the work of revivals must repent their mistakes. (G. Finney.)
Gashmu saith it.
I. What is detraction?
1. In general it is an unjust violation of another’s reputation or that good report which is due to him.
(1) It is a sin against God.
(2) It is a wrong to man.
(3) The causes it proceedeth from are--
(a) Malice and ill-will.
(b) Uncharitable credulity, whereby men easily believe a false report, and so propagate and convey it to others.
(c) Rashness and unruliness of tongue.
(d) Carnal zeal, which is nothing else but passion for our different interests and opinions.
2. In particular.
(1) Whispering, which is privy defamation of our brother, to bring him into disfavour and disrespect with those that formerly had a better opinion of him.
(2) Backbiting, which is a more public speaking evil of our brother, to the impairing of his credit.
II. THE HEINOUSNESS OF THE SIN. (T. Manton.)
I. MARK THE CHARACTER OF GASHMU. His history we know nothing of. Parentage, training, chieftainship, whether inherited or won, life’s events, end--all are secret from us. But it is not secret that he was in friendship with Nehemiah’s enemies Sanballat and Tobiah. These three were one in their desire to keep Jerusalem weak. Whatever Gashmu thought of Sanballat, we can see that Sanballat thought much of him. “Gashmu says it.” That must, thinks Sanballat, carry conviction of peril even to Nehemiah and bring him to a stand.
1. Gashmu evidently was a man with a great reputation. His word had weight. It was the word of a superior person--of one who perhaps spoke but little, but who took care when he did speak to put a sting into what he said. He took care not hastily to commit himself. He not only thought before he spoke, but chose the words in which to pack most strikingly the thought. His was a quoted opinion. It went on long journeys. “A wise word that! A fine remark that! Whose?” “Gashmu says it!” Men looked up to Gashmu. From silent heights he spoke down to them. He despised most of them, as one of a loftier race, and yet strangely loved their reverential attention, prompt praise, and their homage to his wisdom in quoting:far and wide his opinion. He was great in criticism. If there was a fault in anybody, he could spot it. No number of excellences, however bright, could blind him to that fault. He could not only see it, but could excel all others in speaking disagreeably about it. Who could expect such a superior person to have pity on human infirmities? It is not a difficult thing for a man to build up to-day such a reputation as Gashmu’s. Let him be blind to all that is good in others. Let him darken and exaggerate the faults he sees, and when he cannot see them, imagine them. Let him pick the keenest and most poisonous words. Never ,commend anybody. Let him have a clever tongue, with a bad heart, and he would be a great man among pigmy souls. Let Christian men and women be on their guard. In the effort to live purely, and to serve God by serving their generation, they will meet with Gashmu. Let not such hinder you from Christian life and labour. Answer not this railing with railing; answer it only with a more devoted piety, and a larger Christian service.
2. Gashmu was a man without sympathy with goodness. Nehemiah was a patriot. From love to his country and his God he had given up an honourable and lucrative office at the Persian Court. If Nehemiah is dependent upon outside sympathy for the prosecution and completion of his work, he had better at once get his retinue together and go back to Babylon! No sympathy for him from clever and oft-quoted Gashmu! Welcome to all the inspiration of sympathy. The kindly eye, the warm-grasping hand, the love-kindling appreciation, how welcome! Difficult duty becomes easier, the burthened life is lightened of its load. But do not live on this; don’t look for this. Live a life that lives above it. Live in God. Then let not their opinion dishearten you. Does Gashmu say it? Who is Gashmu? A man who, whatever his worldly shrewdness and reputation, is in the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity. What judge can he be of the quality of Christian labour, of the beauty of a holy and Christian life?
3. Gashmu had keen hatred of religious enthusiasm. Nehemiah’s religion was the root of his patriotism. He lost no time in carrying out the rebuilding of the ruined wall. He allowed not the quickened and responsive zeal of the people to flag. He was as ready to fight as to build. No specious pretence could call him from the work. On it went--on till done. This was gall and wormwood to Gashmu. If Nehemiah had only talked, however loudly, of his intentions, it had not mattered. Gashmu could not tolerate enthusiasm. He is still alive, though in English garb. The earnest Christian is certain to meet with him. He hates earnestness, and enthusiasm he cannot away with.
4. Gashmu was a man skilful to read motives. Or so he deemed himself. He could not only look at the rising walls of the city, but right through them. He could not only see Nehemiah on the wall inspiriting the armed masons; but he could see into Nehemiah’s heart. He knew the secret meaning of all this rapid labour. “What do you think, Gashmu, about it?” He knew, and soon the report is flying abroad among the surrounding heathens, that the Jews intend to rebel against the Persian power, and that Nehemiah means to be their king--King Nehemiah. So the lying rumour goes on its journey, and “Gashmu saith it” gives it wings. Not an atom of truth in it! But Gashmu smiled and nodded, and calmly whispered into willing ears the lie that no amount of confidence and conceit and cleverness could make true. But his lie is written here. “Gashmu says it!” And for that lie Gashmu is remembered to-day. Live to God--do any brave stroke of work for Him, and some present-day Gashmu will know all about your motive for doing it. He will know more about you than you know about yourself. Engage in work for Christ, and Gashmu will say, “I know pride is at the bottom of this; he wants to show how much better he is than anybody else. He wants to be talked about. Anything to make headway. Anything to build up business. He knows that Sunday will help Monday.” Slanderous Gashmu! Is he not alive to-day?
II. Imitate Nehemiah’s treatment of Gashmu. He would not be hindered. He kept to prayer. He kept to work. He would not go down. Are you seeking to build up your character in truth, purity, holiness? This is God’s work. Be not hindered in it. Be not diverted from it. Are you seeking to build up some other--some neglected, broken-down, and ruined character? Do the work--finish it. (G. T. Coster.)
I. Who Gashmu was. Personally we do not know Gashmu from the ten thousand men of his era. He was Gashmu the Arabian, and that is all. But his real identity is not centred on the year of his birth, or who was his father, or how much he was worth. When our life begins, our name is almost everything; but when our life is ended it has been heavily freighted with good or evil, and is what the things are to which it gives personal identity. What we do know about Gashmu is that he came out square against a man who was determined to do good, and was earnestly doing it, and tried to put him down.
II. What he tried to do. A good man was doing a good work and bad men tried to stop him. They tried to hurt his person. Gashmu was above that, yet he will sit there and nurse his dislike, and be glad to hear the petty stories that float like thistledown in the neighbourhood against the innocent man. One story in particular gets credence. This man means to be a king. Gashmu hears the floating absurdity. On any other subject he would pronounce anything so empty as this silly; but when this man is the subject of the rumour, he would rather believe it than not. He goes and sees for himself, and when he returns, ready ears listen, and the fatal word is uttered: “That man, certainly means to be a king.” Before night it is repeated by twenty tongues: “He intends to rebel; Gashmu says it.” Gashmu has permitted his prejudices grow into a lie. He is the representative man of unprincipled gossips and narrow bigots.
1. There are Gashmus in the Church, and “Gashmu said it” is at the bottom of nine-tenths of all the differences in Christendom.
2. There are Gashmus in social life. Your social Gashmu means well on his own estimate of things. Perhaps he is on the whole a good man, lives a life that wins the respect; of a whole town; tells the truth so constantly that his word is as good as gold. But some one man does not train with him, he does not like that man at all; does not understand him; and so cultivates a little feeling of dislike, until it bulges into a receptiveness of idle rumours, that would be like mere straws if they were reported of a man he loves. Yet he will nurse them and cherish them, and at some moment his dislike will come to a head, and he will say, “I have no doubt it is true.” Then “Gashmu said it” clips that man’s margin at the bank, draws the sunshine out of half the faces he meets on the street, and puts him in a position that, it may be, brings the very tendencies for which Gashmu has spotted him. How many grown men and women regret bitterly to-day some such misjudgment on another--the hasty word of a single moment, that we could never recall and never atone for, by which the life of the man or woman about whom we said it has been darkened and injured past redemption! It was a small matter of itself, but Gashmu said it, and that was like sowing the thing in black prairie loam, insuring to us a harvest of bitter regrets, and to our victim a harvest of bitter memories.
3. There are Gashmus in the nation and the public life.
III. What came of it. It came to nothing. It was common rumour, and Gashmu on the one side, and God and the right on the other; and alas for Gashmu when he is found fighting against God!
Conclusion: To every earnest man and woman I would say--
1. Keep true to your task, whatever it may be, and never mind Gashmu.
2. When Gashmu comes and begins to say this and that to annoy you, do not come down to talk to him.
3. If you come across Gashmu in the Church, or in society, or in: any way whatever, keep out of his way as much as you can--have nothing to say to him.
4. Let us take care that we are not Gashmus.
5. We must pity Gashmu. (R. Collyer.)
An ancient school for scandal
That some people will say things about their neighbours is a great evil. That some persons will repeat what others, have said is a greater evil. That some persons will be disturbed by what other persons report that other persons have said about them or their friends, and will permit themselves to be turned aside from useful service, to be embittered in their personal feelings by such reports--this is the greatest evil of all. We hear a great deal about bigotry, intolerance, and persecution. These things have ever withstood the onward march of truth and righteousness. But no fiercest blast of persecution, no form of open antagonism, has ever injured the Church or hindered its work to such a degree as the secret and unrecorded workings of gossip and slander. The power of these evils lies in their very uncertainty and elusiveness. Whoever would fight them finds himself beating the air. Who tries to hold them fast closes his fingers upon a shadow. Do you wish to know all about the spirit of gossip and the method of its working? Then read the sixth chapter of Nehemiah. It antedates Sheridan’s “School for Scandal” by more than twenty centuries, and surpasses it in quality even more than in age. It is a drama from real life. Toward every case Of slander or gossip four relations may be sustained. In the completing of the chain four persons may be involved. These relations and persons are represented by Sanballat, Gashmu, Shemaiah, and Nehemiah. First is Sanballat. He is not the originator of the slander, but he is the originator of the mischief, for he reports what he has heard, or professes to have heard, from another. Here is your typical scandal-monger. Who among us is so fortunate that he does not know Sanballat, yes, many Sanballats? The tribe of Sanballat is numerous. They are the persons who tell you so much, not on their own responsibility, but on the authority of others. They are dealers in cast-off testimony, traders in biographical second-hands. They keep no new goods, but they are master hands at polishing up that which is old and giving it a fresh lustre. They are the real mischief-makers, I say, for it is chiefly by this process of polishing and revamping that stories or statements become injurious and acquire unpleasant sharpness of venom. The most innocent and well-meant utterance falls into the hands of one of these repeaters and it is quickly transformed into a poisonous shaft. Some little modification of emphasis or inflection, an added or omitted word, and it becomes a source of heartburnings and bitterness and pain, a wedge that may sunder the strongest ties of affection and friendship. We are wont most severely to denounce the careless speaker, to lay all the blame of gossip and slander on the heads of those who say things about their fellows. And far be it from me to excuse or justify unkind speech even at first-hand, or to minify the sinfulness of “idle words.” But I insist that he is a greater sinner who repeats what others say, especially if in the repetition he gives it the slightest change of form or emphasis. It is the Sanballat who comes to you with some story and tells you that “Gashmu saith it” who deserves the severest rebuke. He is the real pest of society, the enemy of all good. We may almost say, with Carlyle, that he “is among the most indubitable malefactors omitted, or inserted, in the criminal calendar.” But what of Gashmu, the originator of the story? Who was Gashmu? A most important question, and one that has never been satisfactorily answered. The name occurs nowhere else except in this verse. The preceding narrative speaks of “Geshem the Arabian,” and all the commentators assume that Gashmu is Geshem. Every reader assumes that the two are one. In fact, nobody doubts it. But it is worthy of notice that the names are not identical. Sanballat does not say, “Geshem saith it,” but “Gashmu saith it.” Why? He wants Nehemiah to understand the source of his information, but he does not propose to get caught by an exact statement. Nehemiah might take it into his head to trace the slander, and that would be extremely awkward for Sanballat. Is it not true to life? Is not Gashmu about as near as the modern retailer of gossip ever comes to Geshem? How often has one come to you with some injurious tale and left on your mind a very distinct impression as to its source without exactly telling you? How many a spicy bit of personal news is laid on the shoulders of the general public in the words, “They say.” It matters little that you think you know Gashmu. Try to identify him and make him a responsible author of stories, and he will elude you every time. Go to Geshem with the stories that are attributed to Gashmu, and he will know nothing whatever about them. He will be utterly surprised that you could have imagined him to be their author. He will probably be very indignant that any one should have had the hardihood to invent such tales. Now this Gashmu, unreal though he may be, is an absolutely essential link in every chain of gossip. Gossip could not live without him. It were easier to spare the Prince of Denmark from the play of Hamlet than to omit Gashmu from the real School for Scandal. That is to say, there must be some point on the way which gossip has travelled where the trail becomes lost. Authority must vanish into impersonality. You attempt to follow up any bit of gossip or slander that you hear, and if you do not come to Gashmu sooner or later, your experience will be unique, not to say marvellous. The third person in this drama is Shemaiah. Shemaiah is the man who is afraid of gossip and runs away to hide himself, turning aside from good work and letting duty go by default. His invitation to meet in the house of God has a very pious sound, but, after all, it is only the expression of cowardice. Not for worship, but for safety, does he wish to enter the sanctuary. Now this, I submit, is a greater evil than gossip--this minding of gossip. You say that people will talk about you. Well, what if they do? Did talk ever kill anybody yet? Did it ever seriously hurt anybody when he was hard at work minding his own business and the Lord’s? Keep a clear conscience, then, and you need have no fear of gossip, however venomous. Now listen to Nehemiah, the last of this quartet: “And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being such as I, would go into the temple to save his life?” That is the secret of it all. Get so thoroughly absorbed in work for God and man that the work shall seem great, and you will not mind gossip and slander any more than you mind the buzzing of flies outside the screen. Gossip may be afloat, but we are not obliged to hear it, still less to flee from it, or to pay it respectful attention, Our hearing is for the most part a matter of choice as well as our speaking. We are as truly responsible for the right use of our ears as for the right use of our tongues, though we seldom look at the matter in that light. “Take heed what ye hear.” (G. H. Hubbard, D. D.)
Serene indifference to slander
A young clerk’s eyes flashed as he read an article in the morning papers. It was an outrageous attack upon the gentleman at the head of his department for a course of action which was represented as both base and cowardly. All the correspondence relating to the affair had passed through the young man’s hands, so he knew that the published statements were false and most damaging to the reputation of his beloved chief. Carrying the paper to the gentleman assailed, he asked if he might write a reply. The elder man read the paragraphs calmly, smiled, and shook his head. “What will you do?” the clerk asked. “Live it down,” was the reply, “as I have done so many other calumnies. Talking back is the most futile and undignified exertion in the world. If you succeed in cutting up one falsehood, each part will begin to wriggle against you. Let it alone, and it will die of starvation.” Frederick the Great looked with serene indifference on all that his enemies might say of him. One day, as he rode through Berlin, he saw a crowd of people staring up at something on the wall, and, on sending his groom to inquire what it was, found it to be a caricature of himself. The placard was put so high that it was difficult to read it, so Frederick ordered it to be placed lower in order that the people might not have to stretch out their necks. The words were hardly spoken when, with a joyous shout, the placard was pulled down and torn into a thousand pieces, while a hearty cheer followed the king as he rode away. (Christian Age.)
Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.
God’s various ways of strengthening His people’s hands
He sometimes does it by infusing into them an extraordinary measure of wisdom and knowledge. Joseph and Daniel appear to have been thus enriched, the faculty of interpreting dreams being conferred upon them, at a momentous juncture, to qualify them for a great and special work; our Lord promised His disciples that, in the critical moment, though not before, they should be supplied with the mouth of wisdom, that might answer all their adversaries. Sometimes the hands of such believers are strengthened by a strange alteration in the feelings of powerful foes towards them, or by an unexpected accession of friends from quarters where, perhaps, they have expected the least. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even His enemies to be at peace with him.” Laban shall be arrested in a dream by night, with the stern command, “See that thou speak not to Jacob good or bad”; the gaoler’s heart shall be softened, that he bring forth Paul and Silas “out of their dungeon,” and “wash their stripes, and set meat before them”; and the Pharisees, those determined foes of the gospel, moved by their hatred of the Sadducees, take the part of the preacher of the resurrection. God may add to our strength by confounding and debilitating our enemies; as He acted by David, when on his behalf He “turned the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness”; when He struck the inhabitants of Sodom with blindness; when He poured terror on the Syrian army that invaded Judea; and when the host of the Midianites fled in dismay before the lamps and pitchers of Gideon, and not a sword was drawn. And now that miracles are not wrought, we must still recognise in thousands of instances the overruling providence of God, working under the cover of natural causes to strengthen His people’s hands. (J. N. Pearson, M. A.)
Should such a man as I flee?
I. PANIC. Unreasoning, helpless fright.
1. National panic.
2. Business panic.
3. Personal panic.
4. Spiritual panic,
II. The effect of panic. All of these forms are commonly groundless; the wave is not so high as it seems to the retreating bather who hears its hiss behind him. It gathers all the selfishness of man to a focus. It substitutes a brief madness for calm thoughtfulness and decision. It makes a man behave unworthily--
1. Of himself.
2. Toward his fellows.
3. Of his God.
III. The correctives of panic. Remembrance of--
1. A man’s own dignity.
3. God. (Homiletic Commentary.)
I. The subtlety with which our great adversary will assault us.
1. To neglect our social duties to further our spiritual welfare.
2. To conform to the world with a view to conciliate their regard.
3. To use undue means with a view to obtain some desirable end.
II. The firmness with which we should resist him. We should set the Lord ever before us, bearing in mind--
1. Our relation to Him.
2. Our obligations to Him.
3. Our expectations from Him.
4. The interest which God Himself has in the whole of our conduct. (C. Simeon.)
1. In the prosecution of this work, whilst building the spiritual wall of Zion, there are many artifices to be resisted. Our enemies will seek to draw us away from our work. We shall be invited to enter into friendly conformity with the world, and we shall be told that conciliation on our side will be met by concessions on theirs; but this is a mistake, for the world will take all and give none.
2. Our spiritual enemies will resort to intimidation. If they cannot draw they will drive. What fair offers were made of seeming friendship to the noble army of martyrs, and when these failed, intimidation followed. The offence of the Cross has not ceased. It is “through much tribulation” we must enter the kingdom, and the Christian will be threatened with the loss of caste or of business if he determine to maintain his consistency. Evil motives will be ascribed to him, wicked reports will be propagated concerning him. Ridicule and reproach are weapons of great severity. “Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.”
Let the earnest Christian resist the solicitations of evil in a similar manner.
1. Consider your relation to God. Say to yourself, “I am a child of God, a disciple of Christ, a temple of the Holy Ghost, and ‘should such a man as I flee,’ give way to temptation, dishonour my high calling, disobey my blessed Captain, and grieve the Spirit of grace?”
2. Consider your obligations to redeeming mercy. Say to your heart, “O Christian, I have been loved with an everlasting love, called by sovereign grace, washed in the blood of Jesus, and comforted by innumerable tokens of goodness and mercy, and ‘should such a man as I flee?’”
3. “Consider your expectations. You are a candidate for eternity. Say to yourself, ‘O Christian, life is short and uncertain; death may be near; my Lord Himself may come in His glory. In that day of His boundless mercy He will call me His brother, His own, and He will bestow upon me an inheritance of surpassing lustre; and ‘should such a man as I flee?’ shall I be guilty of base cowardice or perfidious ingratitude?” (J. M. Randall.)
Faith, courage, and prudence
We may consider this blending of faith, courage, and prudence in Nehemiah as worthy of admiration and imitation.
1. Sometimes we find a brave man who lacks both faith and prudence. In this case his courage is very apt to degenerate into a foolish bravado; and possibly he may do more harm than good by his unwise daring.
2. When prudence is the marked feature of a character it is apt to degenerate into selfish cunning and calculating cowardice.
3. Even when courage and prudence are found united, the character is still sadly defective if there be no spiritual faith--it is apt to fall into an unbecoming and dangerous self-sufficiency.
4. On the other hand, faith without prudence may degenerate into fanaticism, or into a “quietism” which cultivates the passive to the neglect of the active virtues. (I. Campbell Finlayson.)
Fortitude in duty
Holy courage is not that natural bravery which belongs to some men constitutionally--this is little more than strength of nerve and robustness of animal spirits, and in thousands of instances is found to exist apart from Christian principle; it is rather the bravery of the lion than the bravery of the mind and the man. Some of the most valorous have been the most depraved; and some who dragged their enemies at their chariot-wheels have themselves been dragged through the mire of pollution by their own appetites and passions. As water cannot rise higher than its level, neither can a moral quality rise higher than its principle. Holy courage springs from the fear of God, from “seeing Him who is invisible.” Hence the soldier of Christ is fearless to do right, fearful to do wrong--afraid to sin, but not afraid to suffer. In considering the scope for this virtue, notice--
I. He that will be a follower of God must take up arms against himself. It was finely said by Richard Cecil that “a humble Christian, battling against the world, the flesh, and the devil, is a greater hero than Alexander the Great.”
II. It requires a courageous spirit to have respect to all God’s commandments.
III. It requires great courage to overcome the world. (Hugh Stowell, M. A.)
The higher self-appeal
When I lived in the country years ago, I remember one of our friends was a great smoker, and used to smoke morning, noon, and night, and his friends used to say it was a very bad practice, and inconvenient and expensive, and all those arguments with which we are familiar. He always used to smile one of those tranquil smiles which come from parties of that kind. That man could not give up his pipe, and declared that he could not, and that he would smoke till he died. One day there was a mouth trouble. He went to a distinguished physician, and he told him that he was afraid the excessive smoking was inducing cancer. That put his pipe out. It did; he dropped it that very day. It was marvellous; he had done with that. It is one thing when it touches your shillings; one thing when it is a question of convenience and inconvenience; it is another thing when it touches you. And I say to you, when the day of darkness, the day of temptation, when all the sorcery and besetment of evil is around you, don’t say, “Iniquity will mar my health or cloud my reputation or shorten my days”; say with Nehemiah, “Should such a man as I do this evil”--such a man as I, with reason and conscience, the heir of the ages, the master of the planet, redeemed with the blood of the Son of God, called to a great destiny--should such a man as I do this mean thing, this base thing? Appeal in the sight of God to your own greatness, and He shall strengthen you in the day when the worst comes to the worst. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Valour is sometimes the soul of discretion
We are constantly being reminded that discretion is the better part of valour; but there are occasions, and those not a few, when valour is the very soul of discretion, when at all hazards we must stand our ground and face the foe, that the work be not stopped. (W. P. Lockhart.)
Therefore was he hired.
I. Its existence and varieties.
1. In statecraft.
2. In trade.
3. In morals and religion.
II. Its effects.
1. Personal degradation.
2. General disorganisation.
3. Hindrance of all good.
III. Its cure.
2. Resolute unmercifulness to the briber.
3. Trust in God and faith in right. (Homiletic Commentary.)
So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day . . . in fifty and two days.
Fifty-two days’ work
Let us make a parable of the story and use the text as a motto of a deeper theme. Fifty-two Sundays and their work.
I. How quickly they pass.
II. What opportunities they furnish.
1. Of rest.
2. Of spiritual friendship.
3. Of Divine instruction.
4. Of moral renewal.
III. What results they leave.
1. In memory.
2. In life.
3. For judgment.
1. Thank God for the day of days.
2. Use each day as it comes.
3. Determine upon a rounded result for each cycle of fifty-two. (Homiletic Commentary.)
1. The work of human redemption. Yes, the work was done. The atoning sacrifice was offered and accepted, as was demonstrated when Jesus rose again from the dead.
2. And is there ground for hope that the great and blessed work of renewal, begun in the believer’s heart, will be perfected?
3. The progress of the Church at large is also assured. (T. Rowson.)
There was great exultation when Lesseps completed the Suez Canal, by which the communication between Europe and the East has been materially expedited. There was great exultation when the favourite project of Count Cavour for a tunnel through Mont Cents was brought to a successful termination, by which Paris and Turin have been approximated within a few hours of each other. There was great exultation and loyal thankfulness when, in 1873, the Prince of Wales put the top stone to the Portland Breakwater. The foundation-stone of this work had been laid twenty-three years before, by his august father; and it was an interesting moment when the Prince completed the magnificent undertaking by adding to the words by which he formally announced the fact, “These are imperial works, and worthy kings”; and echoing shouts of joy went up, from two hundred thousand spectators. Similarly, it was a great day for Jerusalem when her walls and bulwarks were commended to the blessing of the Almighty. (J. M. Randall.)
For they perceived that the work was wrought of our God.
The crown of Christian evidence
Christianity does not stand in any merely literary defence, although its literary defence is complete; it stands rather in its beneficent accomplishments, in its regenerated hearts, its elevated lives, its new spirit of consecration, its broad unselfishness, its generous sympathy--“Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
The world’s acknowledgment of God
I. World’s past acknowledgment of God.
1. Biblical instances.
2. Later instances.
II. World’s present acknowledgment of God.
1. Unconscious acknowledgments. Think of the way in which Christianity penetrates the life of the modern world.
2. Unwilling acknowledgment.
3. Frank acknowledgment.
III. The world’s future acknowledgment.
1. Make acknowledgment of God.
2. Now. (Homiletic Commentary.)
Nothing succeeds like success
It is amazing sometimes to find how many there are who heartily endorse a good work when it has arrived at or is approaching success, however much they may have frowned at it, or even opposed it, when it was struggling with difficulties. (W. P. Lockhart.)
God acknowledged in results
In the present day there is an impatient craving for immediate results which comes perilously near to mistrust of God. But verily there are results, and when such results are seen, then even enemies are constrained to admit that God’s hand is in the work. The faith of converts must always be evidenced by their works, otherwise the world will not, cannot, perceive that God is working with us. (W. P. Lockhart.)
Also they reported his good deeds before me.
The bad men praised
I. Bad men do get praised.
1. Sometimes this praise is real.
2. Sometimes this praise is mistaken.
3. Sometimes this praise is fictitious altogether.
II. Bad men are anxious for praise.
1. In this there is a sentence of condemnation.
2. In this there is an indirect homage to virtue.
III. Bad men are not hidden by the praise of the world.
1. Good men detect.
2. God detects.
1. Do not be discouraged by this misdirected praise.
2. Do not be deceived into any lowering of the standard of righteousness. (Homiletic Commentary.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Nehemiah 6". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14