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And cried with a loud voice unto the Lord their God.
The true test of the good received in religious ordinances is their sanctifying effect on the life. Many a tree is gay with blossoms in spring that yields no fruit in autumn; and so many gospel hearers, who appear full of promise in the time of ordinances, show no decided piety in their subsequent conduct.
I. The circumstances of the prayer. It is often easier to act for God than to pray to Him--to work in His vineyard than to wait at His throne. Activity may afford occasion for excitement, and scope for display, and opportunity to attract the admiration of others; while prayer calls to the exercise of faith, to cultivate humility, to live under the eye of God. Spiritual work, indeed, might be expected to draw the servant near to the Master for communion and help. It soon discovers human weakness and want, and dependence on almighty power for strength, for supply, for all blessing. But, instead of proving an incentive to prayer, it is often made a substitute for it; and the labourer feels as if too busy in service to find time for unceasing supplication. And thus the people of Judah here set a high value on prayer. They have laboured to restore the walls and temple of Jerusalem, and success has crowned their efforts. But activity in these sacred undertakings, so far from cooling their devotion, inspires them to growing fervour in prayers and supplications to God. In reference to the circumstances of this prayer, it may be remarked--
1. It was offered immediately after the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles. On the fifteenth day of the seventh month this festival commenced, on the twenty-second it was closed; and “on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled” for this prayer. The time of meeting is proof of the ardour of their devotion. Formal worshippers are soon wearied in spiritual exercises, and ask, “When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn; and the Sabbath, that we may set forth wheat?” It is a frame of devotion much to be desired. Protracted meetings like this, for religious exercises, may be expedient only on extraordinary occasions, but habitual love of communion with God is both the strength and joy of a holy heart. It is not one intense momentary influence, flowing from the summer sun, that covers fields with corn and trees with fruit, but the daily glow of his genial beams; so it is not a single hour in the presence of Christ, receiving one full manifestation of Him in the soul, that saves it from the fears of guilt, and beautifies it with His image, but it is an abiding in Him, a “looking unto Jesus,” a “coming unto God by Him.” “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. Further, this prayer was offered in a season of solemn fasting (Nehemiah 9:1). In the pilgrimage to the better land, the valley of humiliation lies near the delectable mountains; and the goodly prospects of Emmanuel’s land obtained from the one prepare for walking in safety through the rugged paths of the other, while the same life of faith is maintained in both. Moreover, the prayer was offered amid earnest desires after new obedience. “The seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers” (Nehemiah 9:2). This sincere desire to put away sin, and to obey the Divine Word, is essential to effectual prayer. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”
II. The substance of the prayer.
1. An adoration of the Divine majesty (Nehemiah 9:6).
2. A review of past mercies, The mercies celebrated are--God’s choice of Israel; His deliverance of them from bondage; His guidance of them through the wilderness; and His bestowal on them of spiritual privileges.
3. We notice in the prayer confession of numerous sins (Nehemiah 9:16-35). The light of Divine mercy here shows the dark cloud of their iniquities. They confess their obstinate disobedience to God (Nehemiah 9:16-19). They hardened their necks, and hearkened not to the Lord’s commandments. They confess their slighting of almighty goodness (Nehemiah 9:20-26). They confess their refusal of Divine warning (Nehemiah 9:27-30). They confess they did not glorify God in His gifts (Nehemiah 9:34-35).
4. We observe in the prayer a plea for sovereign mercy (Nehemiah 9:32; Nehemiah 9:36-37).
III. The lessons of the prayer.
1. The duty of prayer in public distress. The people of Judah were here in public distress, and they offer united prayer to God for His help in their time of need.
2. The blessing of prayer to a community. This prayer for Jerusalem was succeeded by times of prosperity in the holy city, and all it represented.
3. The power of prayer for the revival of the Church. (W. Ritchie.)
Thou, even Thou, art Lord alone; Thou hast made heaven.
The Te Deum
In this we have perhaps the fullest setting forth of the glorious and manifold character of Jehovah which is to be found in any single passage of Scripture, and in it also is brought out in striking contrast the sinful conduct of His chosen people. The Almighty is here recognised as--
1. The God of creation.
2. The God of the covenant.
3. The God of redemption (Nehemiah 9:9-11).
4. The Leader of His people.
5. The Lawgiver.
6. The Sustainer of His people.
7. The God of compassion and the hearer of prayer. (W. P. Lockhart.)
The purpose of the rehearsal of national shortcomings
I. To encourage them to expect further help from God.
II. To constrain them to enter into closer covenant with him. (W. P. Lockhart.)
Thou art the Lord the God, who didst choose Abram.--
My strength during all my life has been precisely this, that I have made no choice. During the last thirty-six years God has twelve times changed my home and fifteen times changed my work. I have scarcely ever done what I myself would have chosen. (Dean Farrar.)
And hast performed Thy words.--
The certainty of God’s promises
All means are in His hands. A father may promise his son that he will make something of him when he grows up, but his business declines, he is made bankrupt. But the great Father will never become bankrupt, never fail; His power is infinite. Many a sea captain has had, during a storm, to tell the passengers, “I have done all I can; there is now nothing but the boat.” God has never to tell His people that. (Thomas Jones.)
The Divine promise sure
Corporations may be disfranchised and charters revoked. Even mountains may be removed, and stars drop from their spheres; but a tenure founded on the Divine promise is inalienably secure, and lasting as eternity itself. (Hervey.)
And didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt.
The path of duty the path of trial
I. That the path of human duty here runs through great trials.
1. Sometimes it involves the sacrifice of endeared friendship. Lot had to separate from Abraham, Barnabas from Paul, Paul from Mark.
2. Sometimes it involves the sacrifice of worldly prospects.
3. Sometimes it involves the endangering of life itself.
4. Sometimes it involves an outrage on our tender sentiments. Abraham offering up Isaac.
II. That great trials through which the path of duty here runs serve to test the principles of the pilgrims.
1. It reveals the bad principles of the heart. The Jews at the Red Sea revealed their ingratitude, meanness, aspostasy, cowardice,
2. It reveals the good principles of the heart.
III. That unbounded faith in god is essential to carry us safely ‘through the path of duty with all its great trials. (Homilist.)
God our helper
The following is an extract from Stanley to Sir William Mackinnon: “You, who throughout your long and varied life have steadfastly believed in the Christian’s God, and before men have professed your devout thankfulness for many mercies vouchsafed to you, will better understand than many others the feelings which animate me when I find myself back again in civilisation, uninjured in life or health, after passing through so many stormy and distressful periods. Constrained at the darkest hour to humbly confess that without God’s help I was helpless, I vowed a vow in the forest solitudes that I would confess His aid before men. A silence as of death was round about me; it was midnight; I was weakened by illness, prostrated with fatigue, and worn with anxiety for my white and black companions whose fate was a mystery. In this physical and mental distress I besought God to give me back my people. Nine hours later we were exulting with a rapturous joy. In full view of all was the crimson flag with the crescent, and beneath its waving folds was the long-lost rear column.” Mungo Park was comforted by the Lord by a tiny morsel of moss, and Livingstone was preserved by Him when most people gave him up for lost: and now, from the awful gloom of endless forests, Stanley cries unto the living God, and lives to bear witness to the faithfulness of the prayer-hearing Jehovah.
Moreover Thou leddest them in the day by a cloudy pillar.
The pillars of cloud and fire
The people who for forty years followed that fire-cloud have left footprints in the sands of time which serve us as an alphabet of life. The march of the Israelites is an allegory of the life of man. Like a providence palpable to the very eyes of man, the fire-cloud indexed that will of God which it is the longing of true hearts in every age to fulfil. This fire-cloud suggests--
I. That man’s life on earth is a divinely-conducted discipline. The Israelites emerged from Egypt a huge bee-swarm of humanity making for another hive. From the dark superstitions of life and the coarse immoralities of antiquity they went into the wilderness to learn the rudiments of life. Outside the sphere of man’s natural resources Israel had to learn faith in the supernatural environment of man, Their wilderness journey was the drill of a nation destined to be the vehicle of Divine revelation to a world. Our life on earth is mainly a prolonged and various discipline, and its significance lies in the finally resulting manhood. The main matter is not how long it takes us to cross this strip of earth, or how much we have while we travel, but what the journey makes of us as regards the naked, moral character of us all. Very suggestive, if you will ponder, is Israel’s inability to comprehend the meaning of a great deal of their march. Why they should lie still, and why move, were not always plain. We cannot readily comprehend the zigzag ways of life. Looking at our things, and not at our soul, we sometimes seem to be moving in a very resultless way--marking time rather than marching. Said a good and active man whose work is his life, “By this sickness I have lost a month.” How so? Through every day of his life henceforth he will carry a reverent thoughtfulness of God, and in all his character there will be the tinge of a mellow tenderness, the results of that “lost month’s” meditative realisations. Was the month lost, then? God leads and leaves us not where we would like to be, but where we have need to be. There is wisdom in every stage of life’s march and countermarch. Life’s roughest mile is “ordered of the Lord,” and its darkest place is illuminated by the pillar of fire. It is wisdom to store the lessons of experience. Child-like, we forget the back lessons. The teachings of sorrow’s school are forgotten in the playground of our joyfulness.
II. That throughout our life-journey we follow a God we never see. That fire-bordered cloud was not God. The cathedral window ablaze with its mingled glories hides the sun, while it is at the same time a many-coloured witness of his living radiance. Life leaves room for doubt, and gives worldliness its chance. Herein lies much of our probation. Those tokens of God which are evidence of things not seen are frequently familiarised into comparative powerlessness over the soul.
1. Some of the Israelites sinned under the very shadow of the pillar of fire. The sentiments of reverence and wonder are in danger of exile from the mind.
2. Nature, with its transformations of the seasons.
3. The Sabbath.
4. The house of God.
5. “Prayer; our prayers may become like the winding of our watches--acts we do, scarcely sure whether they are done or not. We often see most of God’ in the night of experience.
III. That protection which God’s presence insures to those that follow him. Over the sleeping camp the cloud lay like a golden warrior-shield. Yet how slowly was Israel trained to courage! Every new danger created a coward hubbub in the camp. Their foes could do them no harm; but their imaginations were terrible to them as an army with banners. Their minds were made nervous by their own delusions. The Parisians have exhibited what they call a “Panorama of the War.” Climbing what appears to be a kind of tower, you seem to see the country around Paris alive with the grim activities of war. Nearest the spectator are placed real cannon and the like, and these shade off into painted forms beyond so perfectly as to produce an illusion like that of the painter who attracted the quick-eyed birds to his painted grapes. The illusion is wonderful, and you can all but smell the gunpowder. But there is no movement--the soldiers are still as stones, the bursting shell remains in the act of explosion, and the flame-flash continues from the cannon-mouth. That breaks the spell. It is but picture, after all. Thus we go at times up the tower of apprehension, and see besieging armies of trouble. Near to us are some real objects of fear, and from them we go on to paint a long perspective of morbid fancies, until life seems ringed round with innumerable foes. After awhile we find it is mostly picture--“the very painting of our fear.” Let the chief anxiety of all be to follow the great Leader of life’s pilgrimage. (Samuel Gregory.)
But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks.
Hardened by sin
Dr. Manton says: “As a delicate constitution is more capable of pain than a robust and stubborn one, and the tender flesh of a child will sooner feel the lash than the thick skin of a slave, so the children of God, having a more serious apprehension of things, and a more tender spirit, soonest feel the burden of their Father’s displeasure, and do more lay it to heart than careless and stupid spirits, who laugh at their cross, or drink away their sorrows.” Tenderness of heart is thus an attribute of the child of God, and a very precious attribute, too. Hard-hearted men are not men after God’s own heart. In proportion as feeling declines, life has declined. Spiritual men are sensitive men. Ossification of the heart is a fatal disease. Declensions in grace are a searing of the soul. When water is warmed by the summer sun, the smallest stone sinks into it; when it is frozen in the northern blast, a huge block will be borne up upon the surface of it, and will never penetrate to its depths. So, when the soul grows cold with distance from God, it will sustain an enormous weight of sin; but when grace returns, and the soul is in a fight spiritual condition, an ounce of sin will be more than the soul can bear. Oh, for more of this holy sensitiveness! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
But Thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful.
I. What is necessary to render the subject interesting.
1. A conviction of guilt.
2. An apprehension of our danger as transgressors.
3. A discovery of the privileges of a pardoned state.
II. The proofs which establish the truth of the doctrine.
1. The provision He has made for the exercise of pardon.
2. The promptitude with which He pardons on our return,
3. His earnestness to excite us to seek after the blessing.
4. The character of those who have received pardon.
5. The number of those who obtain forgiveness.
III. The way in which this subject may be abused.
1. When it leads us to deny any disposition in God to punish.
2. When it encourages us to hope for pardon in ways not warranted by the Word of God.
(1) Without a reference to the work of Christ.
(2) Without repentance.
(3) By delaying an application for it to the close of life.
(4) By expecting to find this pardon in another world if we fail to obtain it in this.
1. It should yield encouragement to the brokenhearted.
2. It should afford consolation to those who have believed through grace.
3. The subject demands our admiration and praise.
4. It also calls upon us not only to admire, but to imitate (Ephesians 4:31-32; Ephesians 5:1). (W. Jay.)
Pardon of sin
I. The certainty of this readiness to pardon. This may be discerned--
1. In the plans which He devised for its bestowment consistent with His honour as a sovereign, and compatible with His character as a just and moral Ruler.
2. In the repeated assurances and urgent entreaties with regard to the facts which are furnished in His Word.
3. In the efforts He makes to effect it, and so frequently recorded in the pages of history.
II. The conditions of this readiness to pardon.
1. A vivid apprehension of personal guilt.
2. A full consciousness of personal danger.
3. Repentance and faith. (W. S. Edwards.)
The pardon of sin
No attribute of the Deity is so calculated to afford encouragement and relief to the distressed and penitent sinner as that of His mercy. His justice and holiness make him tremble. The Divine mercy is the only fountain from which all our hope is derived. If God were unmerciful--if He were unable and unwilling to forgive, how awful and desperate would be our condition!
I. Some of the distinguishing characteristics of divine pardon. Respecting this blessing, we observe that it is--
1. Gratuitous in its bestowment. Had it not been perfectly free, it would be for ever beyond our reach. As fallen man is altogether destitute of all inherent and acquired righteousness, he can never obtain it on the ground of his own merit. Conscious of his utter unworthiness, and that he was destitute of all merit, the psalmist cried, “For Thy name’s sake, pardon mine iniquity, for it is great.” In the forgiveness of sin, God acts like the creditor towards his two debtors; one owes him five hundred pence, and the other fifty; and when they had nothing to pay, he frankly (freely) forgave them both. It is true that there are certain duties which must be discharged by the sinner; he must repent and believe; but these acts can never merit forgiveness. The pardon of the penitent flows from the free and sovereign grace of God, and is conveyed through the channel of the Redeemer’s atoning blood.
2. Unlimited in its extent. The pardoning mercy of God is not confined to any degrees of guilt or amount of transgression. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits; who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases.” The pardoning mercy of God extends to the most flagrant transgressions, and transcends all human conception. There is no sin so heinous which God cannot forgive, and no guilt of so deep a hue which He cannot remove.
3. Permanent in its enjoyment.
II. Prove the truth of the declaration. God’s readiness to pardon is manifest--
1. From the provisions made for this purpose. Before sinners could be pardoned and saved, there were certain barriers that must be removed. As God was the supreme Lawgiver and Judge of the world--the Protector of righteousness and goodness--it became Him not to pardon the guilty without the punishing of sin, and that in such a manner as would satisfy His injured justice, and vindicate the honour of His despised law, and at the same time declare His greatest hatred to sin. Had there been no Mediator, the justice and holiness of God would have stood as everlasting obstructions to the exercise of pardoning mercy.
2. The express declarations of Scripture. Listen to the exulting and triumphant language of the prophet Micah: “Who is a God like unto our God, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy.” See how earnestly does God exhort the careless and impenitent, saying, “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil way, for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” “How shall I give thee up, O Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, O Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim?” Observe the grand commission of the apostles, “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name, among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
3. Recorded facts. This glorious truth is not only declared by the voice of inspiration, but also by the loud and impressive testimony of experience. What multitudes have already obtained forgiveness! The Scriptures abound with the most astonishing and striking instances of this delightful truth. But if we look into the New Testament, we shall see this truth shining forth with greater lustre still. The first instance that strikes us here is Peter. How great and dreadful were his sins! He denied his Divine Lord and Master, and that with oaths and curses; and yet repenting, he was forgiven. In the same list we behold Mary Magdalene, “out of whom seven unclean spirits were cast.” (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
I. Prefer an important charge. “And refused to obey,” etc. Though this charge was primarily brought against the Jews, it is substantially applicable to all impenitent sinners. Here is--
1. A charge of obstinate disobedience. We are guilty of the same charge. We are under infinite obligations to the Divine Being. He is the Creator, Sovereign, Benefactor, Redeemer, Saviour, and Judge of mankind.
2. A charge of criminal forgetfulness. “Neither were mindful of Thy wonders, (Psalms 78:10-17; Psalms 106:21-26). God has crowned each of us with loving-kindness and tender mercies, and wrought wonders in our creation, preservation, redemption, and salvation. We have too often unfaithfully forgotten His innumerable benefits, and ungratefully murmured against His kind dispensations (Isaiah 1:2-3).
3. A charge of hardened impenitence. “But hardened their necks,”. etc. This is an awful state (Proverbs 29:1; Romans 2:5-6; Hebrews 3:15).
II. Contain a gracious declaration. “Thou art a God ready to pardon.” This is manifest from--
1. The perfections of the Divine character.
2. The glorious scheme of human redemption (Isaiah 53:5-6; Romans 3:25-26; 2 Corinthians 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
3. The testimonies and promises of Scripture.
III. Suggest appropriate instruction. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
A God ready to pardon
I. The history of israel singularly illustrates the readiness of God to pardon.
II. It is equally true that the lord at all times is a God ready to pardon.
1. It is true of Him by nature. Mercy is an essential attribute of God.
2. He Himself removed the impediment which lay in the way of forgiveness.
3. He sends His message of love to sinners while they are yet in their sins.
4. He makes no hard conditions with sinners.
5. What He demands of man by the gospel He also works in Him by His Spirit.
6. He accepts even the very lowest grade of the necessary graces. Repentance, etc. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A pardoning God
I. The nature of this pardon. It is--
1. Free. Pardon must be so. It is no objection to say that Christ has purchased it. True, He has purchased, but it is free in its bestowment on us, because we could not merit it, nor claim it as a right.
2. Complete. Do not mean that it refers to the future. Some say when once pardoned all done. Not so Scriptures. Complete because it refers to all; complete because it is full.
3. Present. Some say not until death. Not so Scriptures.
4. Righteous. “Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren,” etc. Righteous because bestowed on righteous principles; because of Christ’s atonement.
5. Discriminating. If Christ died for all, how is it that all are not pardoned? Remedy only available for those who apply for it. Hence--
II. The conditions. Scriptures teach us duty of forgiveness if offender repents and asks. So with God our confession must be--
1. Frank. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”
2. Penitent. “The sacrifice,” etc. Many frankly confess, but not penitently. True penitence seen in the publican.
III. Evidence that God is ready to pardon.
1. From scheme of redemption. Love in scheme, end of scheme; and if pardon not dispensed, end defeated.
2. From His relation to the Saviour. As Father He could not furnish a greater guarantee.
3. From means He employs to bring to Him. Sends Spirit--Providence--Word. Characterised by love.
4. From receptions others have met with. Manasseh--dying thief--Saul. Shown in Prodigal.
1. Subject does not imply God will not punish.
2. Subject shows only way of deliverance, and that way to be taken now. (E. R. Derry.)
The joy of pardon
A man named John Welsh lay in prison in Chicago under sentence of death. His friends tried to get his sentence commuted to imprisonment for life. The day before that fixed for the execution arrived without any favourable reply being received. The prisoner sat in his cell listening and longing earnestly for a respite. Presently he heard the rumbling of the wheels of a car. It brought the materials for his scaffold, and soon he heard the strokes of the hammers, and pictured himself hanging on the scaffold which he could hear them raising. The sound almost drove him frantic, and he sent for the governor, and begged that he might be taken away anywhere from that dreadful noise. He was taken to a distant cell, and there he sat on the edge of his bed, haunted with gloomy thoughts, all hope gone. He was startled from his rom, erie by a hurried step along the corridor. The key was thrust into the lock, and one of the officers of the prison stood before him. He held a paper in his hand signed by the Governor of the State of Illinois. It was a commutation of his sentence . . . How the truth burst on his mind! When the paper was handed to him he could not read it for tears; but it was a paper bringing him his life, and he hugged it, and clasped it, and kissed it. (H. W. Taylor.)
Thou careen down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven.
Go by the directions
I saw a picture once which has stuck to my memory for years and years. It was a picture of a dark, wild, stormy night, and a traveller was standing up in the stirrups of his horse at a parting of the way, trying to read the directions on the finger-post. How eagerly he is looking! I can see him yet-holding the lighted match carefully in his hands lest the wind should blow it out before he had read the directions I It was a good thing for him that there were directions, and it is a good thing we have them too. Where are our directions? They are--the Bible. That is God’s Word to us, telling us which road to take when we come to the parting of the way. Go by the directions. Do what God rays, and you will never go wrong. (J. Reid Howatt.)
Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against Thee.
Provocations and punishment
I. How justly we may be charged, as the Jews in the text, with having wrought great provocations. This will be manifest if we consider--
1. To what a prodigious height all kinds of iniquity are raised amongst us. Atheism, infidelity, blasphemy, intemperance, impurity, commercial immorality.
2. What engagements we are under to abstain from all transgressions of the laws of God.
3. That our sins have been committed against the most prevailing attempts of the Spirit of God to restrain and reclaim us from them.
4. That our sins have been committed against many and great mercies.
5. That our sins have been committed against the discipline of God’s rod and those many judgments He hath sent to teach us righteousness.
II. That we have great reason to fear that our great provocations may be punished by God as those of the Jews were. Conclusion: What is the most effectual means to prevent the punishment our great provocations threaten us with? (Lilly Butler.)
And testifiedst against them, that Thou mightest bring them again unto Thy law.
Some years ago I was enjoying a ramble on the Portsdown Hills, a favourite resort of the Portsmouth people, and commanding a delightful view of the sea. They are all open to the public, except a few places which are carefully fenced off. Are these the most luxurious spots, where the grass is softest and the moss most green? No, indeed, these are the broken and precipitous parts, where serious accidents might occur. God’s laws are just like these fences. God’s love has placed fences there to keep us from hurting ourselves. (F. S. Webster.)
In travelling along our great railroads we pass many signal stations. In connection with each of these there is a man appointed, one of whose duties it is to see that the way is clear. If a bridge should be broken, or any obstruction is on the road, he is expected to ring a bell, wave a flag, or make a signal of some kind, so that the driver of any train coming along the road may know in time to stop his train before any harm is done. And the flag the man waves, or the signal he puts out, is the warring given to approaching trains to save them from injury. In the journey that we are pursuing through this life we are sure to meet with many dangers. The Bible is the guide-book which God has given us to use on the journey. And the warnings found in this book are the signals to tell us of the dangers that lie along our path in order that we may avoid them. We cannot be safe in our journey through the world unless we are careful to mind these warnings.
Howbeit, Thou art just in all that is brought upon us.
The miseries of life; their origin and remedy
The miseries of life have been a fruitful theme to writers in all ages. Some have endeavoured to engage us in their contemplation for a wise and good end. Others have taken occasion from them to dispute the wisdom, justice, and goodness of God. Such notions, thus derogatory from the providence of God, tend, even in the best of men, if not timely eradicated, to weaken those impressions of reverence and gratitude which are necessary to add warmth to devotion and vigour to virtue. The teaching of Scripture is, that God is not to be charged with disregard of His creation. He created man for happiness, and this happiness was forfeited by a breach of the conditions to which it was annexed. Physical and moral evil entered the world together. To avoid misery we must avoid sin. Consider--
I. How few of the evils of life can justly be ascribed to God. We must carefully distinguish that which is actually appointed by Him from that which is only permitted, or that which is the consequence of something done to ourselves, and could not be prevented but by the interruption of those general laws which we term the course of nature or the established order of the universe. If we examine all the afflictions of mind, body, and estate by this rule, we shall find God not otherwise accessory to them than as He works no miracles to prevent them, as He suffers men to be masters of themselves, and restrains them only by coercions applied to their reason.
1. In making an estimate of the miseries that arise from the disorders of the body, we must consider how many diseases proceed from our own laziness, intemperance, or negligence; how many the vices or follies of our ancestors have transmitted to us.
2. Nor are the disquietudes of the mind less frequently excited by ourselves.
(1) Pride is the general source of our infelicity.
(2) Immoderate desires.
(3) Undue solicitude about future events which gives rise to harassing fears and anxieties.
3. Poverty is not always the effect of wickedness--it may often be the effect of virtue; but it is not certain that poverty is an evil.
II. How far a general piety might exempt community from those evils. A community, in which virtue should generally prevail, of which every member should fear God with his whole heart and love his neighbour as himself, where every man should labour to make himself “perfect even as his Father which is in heaven is perfect,” would find these evils practically non-existant.
III. How much in the present corrupt state of the world particular men may, by the practice of the duties of religion, promote their own happiness. (John Taylor, LL. D.)
God has done right
I. Right as to wisdom. It is of great importance for us to know, and to feel, especially when tossed on the billows and enveloped in the darkness of some heavy affliction, that God is infinitely wise, and that His wisdom can and will conduct all the circumstances of His people to a happy issue. This is absolutely necessary to the enjoyment of anything like calm security amidst such scenes. It is so in the common affairs of life. The soldier trusts in the wisdom of his general, and is calm in battle. The sailor trusts in the wisdom of his captain, and is calm in the tempest. The traveller has confidence in the wisdom of his guide, and pursues his course in peaceful security. And so, if believers would enjoy a calm and cheerful assurance in fighting the battles, braving the storms, and pursuing the pilgrimage of their present probation, they must have a settled and solid repose in the infallible wisdom of God. And they must seek this, not so much from the deductions of human reason, or the better lights of their own experience in relation to providence, as from the operations of faith in the Scripture revelations of God and His government.
II. Right as to justice. Amidst the afflictions of life, not only must we recognise and trust the infinite wisdom of God, but we must endeavour, by the lights of revelation and experience, to reconcile the justice of God with the afflictions of the righteous, and thus justify the ways of God to men. Men who only look on the surface of things and events, and judge from that, often charge God with being rigorous, unjust, and unrighteous in the operations and issues of His providence. All temporal sufferings are the righteous consequence of original or actual sin, and are frequently merited by the best of men. None can affirm that they are free from human frailties and sinful defects, and therefore they have no right to complain of the punishment of their sins. Our afflictions, generally, fall far below the guilt which we have contracted. The time is hastening on when the wisdom and justice of providence will be convincingly evident to all.
III. Right as to goodness. “Thou art good, and doest good.” Such was the testimony of the psalmist; such is the uniform testimony of revelation; and such, notwithstanding its mysteries, is the acknowledgment of universal providence. And it is very necessary for us to be convinced of this, and live under the perpetual and growing influence of it, amidst the tribulations of life. Else how can we be calm, secure, and happy?
1. Strive to understand God in your afflictions. From the absence of this intelligent view of God’s providence in affliction the greatest mischief often springs. Ignorance here, as everywhere else, is ever attended by distrust, fear, dissatisfaction, and wasting anxiety; while, on the other hand, intelligence produces confidence, serenity, contentedness, and a delightful peace and repose.
2. Learn to avoid a spirit of envy and murmuring. If God acts wisely, justly, and mercifully, in often permitting the wicked to live and prosper and the righteous to fall into great afflictions, then resign yourselves to His will, be satisfied with the dispensations of His hand, envy not the condition of others, neither murmur at your own. Consider well the folly, vanity, and misery of sinful prosperity, which rather needs your pity than your envy.
3. Learn to be firm and faithful in the service and cause of God. Afflictions have driven many from Christ and His kingdom. (W. Gregory.)
God’s proceedings in His justice sometimes inexplicable
Take a straight stick and put it into the water, then it will seem crooked; why? because we look upon it through two mediums, air and water. There lies the deceptio visus; thence it is that we cannot discern aright. Thus the proceedings of God in His justice, which in themselves are straight, without the least obliquity, seem unto us crooked. That wicked men should prosper, and good men be afflicted; that the Israelites should make the bricks, and the Egyptians dwell in the houses; that servants should ride on horseback, and princes go on foot--these are things that make the best Christians stagger in their judgments. And why? but because they look upon God’s proceedings through a double medium of flesh and spirit, that so all things seem to go cross, though indeed they go right enough. And hence it is that God’s proceedings in His justice are not so well discerned, the eyes of man alone being not competent judges thereof. (J. Spencer.)
And because of all this, we make a sure covenant, and write it.
Covenanting with God
It may be asked, Are Christians of the present day expected to enter into such covenants? To this we reply both yes and no. Yes, if regard be had to true heart-consecration to the Lord. No, if it be a mere matter of form, a source of bondage or a minister to spiritual pride. If we mistake not, some of the Churches of New England have a form of covenant which each new adherent is required to sign, and we know that the esteemed President Edwards advocated the making of written covenants between individual Christians and the Almighty. In reference to this each must exercise his own judgment as before God. (W. P. Lockhart.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Nehemiah 9". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter