Neh_2:20. The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build.
WHOEVER engages diligently in the work of God, must expect trials: as it is said in the apocryphal Book of Ecclesiasticus, “My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptations [Note: Ecc_2:1.].” The ungodly will deride our efforts, and put the most unfavourable construction upon them, that the most ingenious malice can invent. The pious labours of Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, though sanctioned by the monarch himself, were regarded by his enemies as indications of folly, and as preparatives for rebellion [Note: ver. 19.]. But Nehemiah, as David had done before him, “encouraged himself in the Lord his God [Note: 1Sa_30:6.].”
It is my intention,
To set before you the graces he exercised—
In the words which we have just read, we behold,
[I am not aware that Nehemiah received from God any particular commission to engage in the work he had undertaken, or any direct promise of success: yet did he assure himself that God would prosper him. And this displayed a proper confidence in God. For he felt a consciousness, that in all that he had undertaken, he was seeking no interest of his own, but simply the honour of his God. In any matter that was purely personal, he would not have been justified in indulging so confident an expectation: but in a work like that in which he was engaged, and to the prosecution of which he was impelled by a high principle of love to God, he could have no doubt but that he should receive from heaven such a measure of support as should bring his labours to a happy issue. The desire to embark in it had been stirred up in him by the Spirit of God: he trusted, therefore, that the blessing of God would accompany his endeavours.
This confidence, though right to be indulged, by no means warrants us to limit God as to the time, or manner, or measure of the success which he shall vouchsafe unto us. These things must be left to his all-wise disposal: for he alone knows what will tend most to the advancement of his own glory. But so far as the attainment of our objects will bring glory to him, we may assure ourselves, that we shall never be suffered to labour for him in vain.]
[Great were the difficulties which he had to encounter. For an hundred years since the return of the Jews from Babylon, had the walls of Jerusalem continued in a most dilapidated state, and all the gates had been destroyed by fire. No attempt had yet been made even to remove the rubbish [Note: ver. 13, 14.]. Nor were the princes among the people at all disposed to cooperate with him in an effort to repair the ruins: they, alas! “would not put their neck to the work [Note: Neh_3:5.].” His brethren of Judah, also, who should have been foremost in the work, discouraged it, by representing the task as hopeless and impracticable [Note: Neh_4:10.]. His enemies at the same time exerted themselves to defeat his enterprise, by pouring contempt upon it, and conspiring, by all possible means, to counteract it [Note: Neh_4:8.]. But Nehemiah was determined to execute the purpose which he had conceived: and for that end set all hands to work, every one in his own proper district, that, by a great and simultaneous effort, the desired object might be attained. And whereas he was menaced by armed bands who threatened to destroy him, he armed the labourers, each with his sword or spear, that they might be ready at an instant to repel any assault that might be made upon them; so that, as it were, they held the sword in one hand, and carried on the work with the other [Note: Neh_4:16-18.]. This was a conduct worthy of a servant of the Most High God. In fact, the confidence he expressed, and the determination he formed, had a strict reference to each other. A servant of God was authorized to maintain the confidence, and was bound, in dependence on God, to form and execute the determination: “The Lord God, he will prosper us; therefore we, his servants, will arise and build,” neither regarding difficulties, however great, nor fearing enemies, however powerful.]
Admiring the virtues of this eminent saint, I proceed,
To commend them to your imitation—
Be ye, my Brethren, followers of him,
In reference to God’s work in the world at large—
[The world is one great kingdom that belongs to Christ. But far is it from being in a state worthy of its Great Proprietor! Truly it is, as it were, in ruins; one great and shapeless mass of desolation, bearing upon the whole face of it the relentless efforts of the destroyer. And should not we, when informed of its miserable condition, be filled with grief, as Nehemiah for Jerusalem, and implore mercy for it, as he did for that ruinated city? Should we not improve our influence for its good; and be ready, by our own personal exertions, to promote to the uttermost its welfare? What, if they who should take the lead are careless and supine? What, if many of our own brethren are lukewarm and desponding? What, if our means for helping forward its concerns are very narrow and contracted? What, if those who are hostile to such an attempt, exert themselves to intimidate and counteract us? Should we therefore sit down in listlessness and despair? No: we should encourage ourselves in God, and put forth all our energies in his service. In the incredibly short space of fifty-two days, Nehemiah, in the midst of all his discouragements, accomplished his work: for, we are told, “the people had a mind to work [Note: Neh_4:6.].” And who shall say what Christians might effect, if they were but penetrated with becoming zeal, and would combine their efforts in a judicious way. From the state both of the Jewish and Gentile world, any one would have supposed it impossible for a few devout and pious persons to effect any thing in so short a space of time as twenty or thirty years: yet, behold, plans originating with a few, who contemplated nothing but a little partial benefit, have spread almost over the world itself their beneficial efficacy; insomuch that what was at first but as a cloud, the size of a man’s hand, has already overspread the heavens, and descended in fertilizing showers on every quarter of the globe. Let us take courage from what we have seen, and press forward in the work that is yet before us; not contemplating difficulties, but confiding in our God, and going on in his strength to fulfil his holy and blessed will.]
In reference to God’s work in our own souls—
[These, too, are in a fearfully dilapidated state; so that one who looks at an arm of flesh only would be ready to despair. And need I say what discouragements are put in the way of those who would serve their God? Amidst princes that are supine, friends that are lukewarm, and spectators that are arrayed in hostility against us, it requires much faith and patience to carry us forward in so arduous an undertaking. But we should address ourselves to the work, and combine all our energies to repair the breaches which sin has made upon our souls. We should put on, too, the whole armour of God, and fight the good fight of faith. We should suffer neither men nor devils to deter us from our work, but should proceed with diligence till the whole work of God is wrought within us. If we would proceed with the zeal which such a cause should inspire, what might we not effect, perhaps in the space of a few days or weeks? Surely we should make our profiting to appear, to the honour of God, and to the confusion of all our enemies. Doubtless those who united not with Nehemiah would pour contempt upon his efforts, and deride him as a weak or wicked enthusiast. But is there a man in the universe that does not applaud him now? Thus must you expect to be derided now: but the day is coming, when God himself will applaud you before the assembled universe, and they who now condemn you will bitterly regret that they did not follow your steps.]