Charles Simeon Commentary - Nehemiah 5:15 - 5:15

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Nehemiah 5:15 - 5:15

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Neh_5:15. So did not I, because of the fear of God.

IT is obvious that there are in the world a people whose conduct differs widely from that of the world around them: and, in attempting to account for it, some impute it to pride and vanity, some to weakness and folly, and some to downright hypocrisy. But, if men would examine into this matter with candour, they might easily find a principle abundantly sufficient to account for all the singularity they observe: and this principle is “The fear of God.” By this Nehemiah was actuated, whilst, in the governing of Israel, he maintained a system directly opposed to that of all who had preceded him. They all had exacted from the people, even in their low impoverished state, such contributions as they judged necessary for the upholding of their dignity and the discharge of their official duties. And Nehemiah might have felt himself fully justified in following their example, which was originally ordained by legitimate authority, and afterwards established by long uninterrupted usage. But, in existing circumstances, he judged the practice to be oppressive; and therefore he would no longer suffer it, because he was under the influence of a principle which was sufficient to outweigh all selfish considerations: “So did not I, because of the fear of God.”

Now, it will be no unedifying subject, if we consider,

I.       The principle by which he was actuated—

It is called, in my text, “The fear of God;” by which we are to understand, not a dread of God’s displeasure, but rather a holy filial fear, comprehending under it an habitual respect to God; a respect to,

1.       His word, as the rule of our conduct—

[The maxims of the world are not unfrequently the very reverse of those which are inculcated in the Sacred Volume. We need not go back to the philosophers of Greece and Rome, to shew the erroneousness of their opinions: the sentiments even of the Christian world are, in many respects, very far from according with the dictates of inspiration. Pride is by many held as equivalent with magnanimity: and humility, such as God requires, is as little approved amongst us, as it was amongst the unenlightened heathen. As to the duties of love to God, of faith in Christ, of entire devotedness to the pursuit of things invisible and eternal, we well know that they are kept altogether upon the back-ground, except, indeed, as sentiments proper to be delivered from the pulpit, but equally proper to be banished from all the scenes of social converse. But the man who is under the influence of the fear of God will not suffer himself to be regulated by the opinions of men; but “by the fear of the Lord he will surely depart from evil,” and in every doubtful point will inquire, “What saith the Lord?”]

2.       His authority, as the reason of our conduct—

[A Christian may doubtless have many reasons for acting in this or that particular way: he may judge such a line of conduct to be conducive to his own comfort, and to the benefit of others. But all such motives will be in perfect subordination to the divine will, which he will determine to obey, whether the immediate act be in accordance with his own interests or in opposition to them. A man under the fear of God will not consider whether he shall gain or lose, whether he shall please or displease, by any act; his only concern will be to approve himself to God. If urged by any considerations of human authority or personal interest, his answer is, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye: for I cannot but do the things which God commands.”]

3.       His glory, as the end of our conduct—

[The real saint feels that “God in all things should be glorified:” and he will not be satisfied with any thing which will not conduce to this end. This idea he will carry into the most common transactions of his life: “Whether he eat or drink, or whatever he do, he will do all to the glory of God.” In relation to this matter, there will be in him a tenderness, a sensibility, a great refinement of mind, such as, to a superficial observer, shall appear to have led him into great inconsistencies. St. Paul acted sometimes as under the Law, and sometimes as free from the Law; accommodating himself to the prejudices or weakness of men, as he saw occasion. But, whatever was his course, his object was the same; namely, to serve and honour God: and every one who truly fears God will propose to himself the same great end, and conduct himself in such a way as appears to him best calculated to effect it.]

Such being the principle by which Nehemiah was actuated, let us notice,

II.      The effect it produced on his life and conversation—

Methinks there is a striking agreement between the conduct of Nehemiah and of the Apostle Paul. St. Paul was entitled to demand support from the Christian Church, to which he ministered: but, so far was he from insisting on his right, that he wrought with his own hands, night and day, in order to support himself, and to exempt others from what they might have accounted a burthen [Note: 2Co_11:7-12. with 1Th_2:9 and 2Th_3:8-9.]. Thus Nehemiah, doubtless, was entitled to support from those over whom he was placed: but this right having been abused, he waved it altogether; that so he might both lighten the burthens of his people and set to all an example of forbearance and love.

We see, then, in him how the fear of God will operate wherever it exists as a principle of action in the soul. It will surely teach us the following lessons:

1.       Not to conform ourselves to any custom till we have examined it with care—

[Thousands of things are customary, which yet are far from being defensible. See the habits of the world altogether; its customs, its fashions, its maxims. Will they bear the test of sound wisdom, or endure a scrutiny by the word of God? Numbers cannot change the qualities of things, and make that to be good which is in itself evil: nor can we be justified in doing any thing merely because it is sanctioned by custom. On the contrary, we are commanded “not to be conformed to this world,” and “not to follow a multitude to do evil.”]

2.       Not to suffer ourselves to be biassed by any personal interests in forming our judgment of doubtful matters—

[There was a strong temptation to Nehemiah to continue the abuses which had so long obtained: but he suffered not his interest to blind his judgment. So neither should we practise or connive at any evil, because of its tendency to advance our interests. The whole system of trade, as carried on at this time, is founded, I fear I must say, on fraud; insomuch, that if a person, in any line of business, were to do nothing which would not bear the test of truth and uprightness, he would not be able to maintain his ground; so universally do the profits in trade arise from some kind or other of falsehood and imposition. But the generality of men see no evil in this state of things: they can adulterate their commodities, and practise impositions without any remorse. The things are only such as custom sanctions; and such as, men will say, necessity requires; and therefore they go on, without ever inquiring into the lawfulness of them in the sight of God. But it were surely better to examine into this matter, and to judge righteous judgment; because we know that the judgment of God will certainly be according to truth. We are told by God himself, and that repeatedly, that “there is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death [Note: Pro_14:12; Pro_16:25.]:” and surely it were wise to ascertain with care the correctness of our sentiments, lest we then detect the evil of them, when, alas! the discovery will be of no avail.]

3.       Not to fear condemning what our conscience does not approve—

[Though the persons who had practised the evil were the governors of the nation, Nehemiah boldly bore his testimony against them: “Thus and thus did they: but so did not I.” Similar fortitude should we also manifest, especially in a way of holy practice. If we blame any thing in others, let us at least be careful to do it, not so much in a way of harsh censure, as of better example. This we shall do, if we really fear God. Instead of “walking after the course of this world,” we shall endeavour to be “as lights in the world, holding forth in our life and conversation the word of life,” that “others, beholding our light, may glorify our Father that is in heaven.” If our singularity be complained of, we must remember the issue of Noah’s fidelity; and must console ourselves with the thought, that we shall ultimately be saved from that deluge, which will soon overwhelm the whole ungodly world. We shall bear in remembrance, that “we have been bought with a price,” even with the inestimable price of the Redeemer’s blood; and we shall make it the one object of our lives to “glorify him with our body and our spirit, which are his.”]