Neh_6:11. And I said, 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.
WHOEVER examines the character of the primitive saints, will see, without fail, how religion dignifies and ennobles the mind of man. It gives to its possessor a superiority above all the common interests of time and sense, and enables him, under the most trying circumstances, to act as in the immediate presence of his God. His efforts to honour God will necessarily involve him in difficulties: but these difficulties will only elicit his true character, and display the efficacy of the grace he has received.
Nehemiah had engaged in the arduous work of rebuilding Jerusalem. In this he was opposed by the enemies of the Jews, who sought, by every artifice, to weaken his hands, and divert him from his purpose. At last a person, from whom he might have hoped better things, Shemaiah by name, and who, it should seem, professed himself a prophet, concurred with his enemies in a plot against him, and, under a specious plea of consulting his safety, proposed to hold converse with him in the temple, where he would be out of the reach of those who sought his life. But Nehemiah, either suspecting treachery, or, at all events, seeing what advantage such a measure would give to his enemies to reproach him for cowardice, and for a distrust of God, indignantly rejected the proposal in the terms which I have just read.
Now, without confining myself to this particular occurrence, I will take occasion from it to set before you,
The subtlety with which our great adversary will assault us—
You cannot but see how specious was the proposal made to Nehemiah. It was an undoubted fact, that his enemies sought his life: and to go into the temple for safety seemed a very prudent measure. But it was a temptation cast in his way by the enemies of God. And thus, our great adversary endeavours to take advantage of us in a great variety of ways, if by any means he may prevail upon us to act in a way unworthy of the Christian chamber. He will propose to us,
To neglect our social duties, with a view to the furtherance of our spiritual welfare—
[This is a common temptation; and extremely specious. For, who can doubt the superior importance of eternal things above those which are merely temporal? Consequently, it may be thought that the less important duties may give way to those which are of paramount consideration. Thus many, especially in younger life, will vindicate their neglect of those offices which their station in society has imposed upon them, thinking it a sufficient excuse to say that they were seeking the advancement of their eternal interests. The apprentice or the servant will be attending upon religious ordinances in public or private, when he should be executing the business of his own particular calling; imagining that his zeal for the one employment will justify his neglect of the other. Nor is it uncommon for students to inquire, whether their desire to qualify themselves for the ministerial office by one line of study will not justify their neglect of those studies which their collegiate course marks out for them, and academic discipline indispensably requires. But all such desires are founded in error. They proceed on the idea that our social and religious duties oppose each other; whereas activity in temporal concerns will not at all abate or interfere with fervour of spirit in the Lord’s service [Note: See Rom_12:11.]: on the contrary, in discharging our duty to man, we do, in fact, fulfil our duty to God: and whilst, in relation to one set of duties, we say, “These ought ye to have done,” we must with equal decision add, in reference to the other, “These ye are not to leave undone [Note: Luk_11:42.].”]
To conform to the world, with a view to conciliate their regard—
[This also is specious, and very commonly proposed. But it is as erroneous as the former; for, however much we may conform to the world, we can never draw them to the love of true religion: on the contrary, we shall rather confirm them in their persuasion, that religion does not require that measure of spirituality which the saints of old maintained. Our Lord says; “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you [Note: Joh_15:19.].” But, whilst he here acknowledges that a conformity with them will disarm a measure of their enmity, does he recommend the adoption of such a plan? No: he inculcates the very reverse. Whether men will hate us or not, our walk must be the same: we must not accommodate ourselves to their wishes, but to God’s commands: and he says, “Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed in the renewing of your minds, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God [Note: Rom_12:2.].”]
To use undue means with a view to the attainment of some desirable end—
[Safety was desirable to Nehemiah: but, to secrete himself in the temple was not a right method of obtaining it. Such a step would have argued a distrust of God’s power to preserve him in the way of duty, and would have given great occasion of triumph to his enemies [Note: ver. 13.]. Thus there may be many objects which may be desirable in themselves, which yet we must not seek by any sacrifice of duty or conscience. Let it be granted, that there is some great danger to be avoided, or some valuable blessing, say, the preservation of life itself, to be acquired; still the maintenance of strict integrity and of a good conscience must be preferred: nor must we suffer ourselves to be diverted so much as an hair’s breadth from the line of duty, for the attainment of any object under heaven. Uzzah has taught us this. To keep the ark from falling was good: but he, not being a Levite, had no right to touch it: and God, in striking him dead upon the spot, has shewn us, that, on no occasion whatever, are we at liberty to “do evil, that good may come [Note: Rom_3:8.].” Our answer to every temptation must be, “Shall I go into the temple to save my life? I will not go in.”]
The greater the subtlety of Satan is, the greater should be our vigilance, and the more immovable.
The firmness with which we should resist him—
The direction given us is, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you [Note: Jam_4:7.].” And, as a pattern of firmness, we cannot have a better example than that before us: “Shall such a man as I flee?” a man invested with authority? a man engaged for the Lord? a man in whom any act of cowardice will be productive of the most injurious effects? “I will not go into the temple, even though it be to save my life.” Now, thus should we set the Lord ever before us; bearing fully in mind,
Our relation to him—
[Shall such a man as I yield to temptation of any kind? I, a servant of the living God? I, who profess myself to be a child of God? Nothing shall ever induce me to violate my duty to my heavenly Father, or to walk in any respect unsuitably to the relation I bear to him. God helping me, I will walk worthy of my high calling: and whoever he be that would seduce me from my duty, even though he were my dearest friend, I will spurn at his advice with honest indignation, and reject it with the utmost abhorrence [Note: Gen_39:9.].]
Our obligations to him—
[What do I owe to Almighty God, who gave his only-begotten Son to die for me, and to reconcile me to himself by his vicarious sacrifice upon the cross? And shall I, for any temporal advantage, offend his Divine Majesty? Shall I distrust his care of me, or be afraid to suffer for his sake? Abhorred be the thought! Let me only know the path of duty; and no consideration under heaven shall divert me from it. Let those who know nothing of redeeming love please themselves, if they will: but so will not I: I will strive only to please my God, and to “render unto the Lord according to the benefits he has conferred upon me.”]
Our expectations from him—
[Here am I, not only a candidate for heaven, but, through grace, an expectant of it. I see crowns and kingdoms reserved for me in a better world. And shall I cast them all away? What carnal gratification can ever be put in competition with the glory that is prepared for me? or what temporary gain be weighed in the balance against an everlasting inheritance? Tell me of what dangers you will, they shall not appal my spirit; and tell me of what joys you will, they shall never allure my soul. For eternity I have been begotten, redeemed, and sanctified; and for eternity alone will I both live and die.]
The interest which God himself has in the whole of our conduct—
[This in particular pressed on the mind of this eminent saint. He saw that his enemies laboured to draw him into sin, that they might have occasion for reproach against him, and might cast reflections upon God himself. And, under this conviction, he would risk life itself rather than comply with the solicitations of his friend. And thus it is that God’s enemies endeavour to beguile us, in order that they may triumph over us, and exult in our shame. Only let them draw us into sin of any kind, and they will immediately exclaim, “There, there, so would we have it:” yea, if they can prevail to the extent they would, they will even “blaspheme the very name of God on our account.” But who, that is aware of this, will not rather die than dishonour God? If we only consider how God’s honour is involved in our conduct, we shall need no other motive for steadfastness in his holy ways: and if tempted to leave them, even for a moment, we shall reply, “Shall a man, situated as I am, be driven from his post, and go into the temple to save his life? No: I will not go in: nor shall all the powers of earth or hell ever induce me to relax my diligence in the service of my God.”]
What, then, shall I say to you, my Brethren? This I say,
[In the Book of Ecclesiasticus this advice is given: “My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation [Note: Ecc_2:1.].” You must not expect that Satan will suffer his vassals to cast off his yoke, without many earnest endeavours to reduce them to their former bondage. And he has “wiles and devices” innumerable, whereby to assault our souls. He can even put on the aspect of an angel of light, in order the more effectually to beguile unstable souls [Note: 2Co_11:14.]. He will even make use of your own friends, yea, and of pious persons too, to draw you aside from the path of duty. It was no other than Peter, the bold and zealous Peter, whom he instigated to dissuade our blessed Lord from subjecting himself to the pains which were necessary for the redemption of a ruined world. But our Lord withstood him, saying to this favoured disciple, “Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men [Note: Mat_16:23.].” So be ye also on your guard not to follow implicitly the advice even of good men; but weigh every sentiment in the balance of the sanctuary, and conform yourselves in every thing to the mind and will of God.]
In every circumstance place your entire confidence in God—
[This was Nehemiah’s excellence. He knew in whom he had believed; and that, whatever conspiracies might be formed against him, he was safe in God’s hands; “nor could any weapon that was formed against him prosper.” Thus then do ye. “Say not, A confederacy to all them that say a confederacy: neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid: but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread [Note: Isa_8:12-13. See also Psa_11:1-4.].” This your holy profession indispensably requires. When Ezra went from Babylon to Jerusalem with all the vessels of gold and silver which had been carried thither by Nebuchadnezzar, and was in danger of being plundered by robbers who infested the road, “he was ashamed to ask from Artaxerxes a guard of soldiers for his protection; for, says he, I had said to the king, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him [Note: Ezr_8:22.].” And do not ye profess the same truth, that God is the protector, and friend, and portion of all that seek him? Whom then will ye fear? or what will ye desire for your comfort, when ye have such an all-sufficient Friend ever at hand? “If He be for you, who can be against you [Note: Rom_8:31.]?” or, if He be your Shepherd, what can you want [Note: Psa_23:1.]? Only “be strong in faith, giving glory to God;” and “you shall be kept in perfect peace;” “nor shall so much as a hair of your head perish.” Your trials may be multiplied to the most fearful extent: but “you shall not be ashamed or confounded, world without end.”]