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REV. J. STURROCK,
UNITED ORIGINAL SECESSION CHURCH, EDINBURGH.
"Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, He will prosper us: therefore we His servants will arise and build; but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.”—Neh. ii. 20.
UNDER the successive administrations of Zerubbabel and Ezra, the temple had been rebuilt and solemnly dedicated to the service of God, and several much-needed important reformations had been effected among the people who had returned to their native land, and were settled in and around Jerusalem. The walls and gates of the city, however, were still in the ruinous state in which the Chaldeans had left them, and, in consequence of this, the inhabitants were greatly exposed to the attacks of their enemies. In these circumstances, there was urgent need of something further being done ; and, accordingly, Nehemiah was raised up as an instrument to accomplish the work of rebuilding the walls of the city. Though he was a captive Jew, Nehemiah had, in the wonderful providence of God, been appointed cupbearer to the King of Persia—an office which was one of the most honourable and confidential at the court. And, in that position, he had behaved himself so wisely-acting ever under the influence of the fear of God—that he had, like Daniel, found great favour with his royal master. Though placed thus in the midst of ease and affluence, Nehemiah was not unmindful of his suffering brethren, and when he heard of the distressful condition of those who were at Jerusalem, he was deeply affected and laid it much to heart, and formed the worthy resolution to do what he could to succour them. And as might be expected, he made it the subject of earnest prayer, seeking that the Lord would direct his way and prosper him in any efforts he might put forth to bring relief to his distressed countrymen.
At length, after four months had elapsed, and when the visible sadness of his countenance led the king to inquire as to the cause of his sorrow, an opportunity was given him to petition for leave to go to Jerusalem, the city of his fathers' sepulchres, that he might rebuild it. Artaxerxes readily granted the prayer of his trusted servant, appointed him governor at Jerusalem, and furnished him with a written commission, authorising him to obtain all that was requisite for re-erecting the city walls and gates, and protecting the people, at the royal expense-an example this which is surely worthy of imitation by Christian rulers in gospel times, and not of condemnation. Thus equipped, Nehemiah set out, and in due time reached the scene of his contemplated labours. And at first he went very cautiously and prudently to work, knowing that there were “ many adversaries” who would seek to frustrate his intentions, by discouraging and dividing the people, and in other ways.
He did not at once announce his designs, but kept them secret till he had made a private survey of the place, and seen what all required to be done. This he did by night, soon after his arrival, accompanied by a few attendants. Having completed his survey, and being thus prepared for addressing his brethren with effect on the subject, he proceeded to disclose his purpose, and to invite the co-operation of the people with their rulers, their nobles, and their priests. “Then said I unto them, ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: Come and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach. Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king's word which he had spoken unto me.” The manner in which Nehemiah approached the people, with the view of enlisting their sympathy and securing their help in the work, was very admirable, and well fitted to effect what he desired. The appeal, thus made by him, was irresistible, and as one man they responded, “Let us rise up and build." “So they strengthened their hands for this good work.” How must the heart of the governor have been cheered and encouraged by such unanimity and cordiality on the part of those among
whom he had come to labour !
As in almost all such cases, however, Nehemiah was destined to meet with difficulties and opposition in the work he had taken in hand. With these, we doubt not, he had fully laid his account when counting the cost of his great undertaking. Even before he had reached Jerusalem, he appears to have heard that Sanballat and Tobiah were “grieved exceedingly, that there was a man come to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.” But unmoved, undismayed, by such a report, he had pursued his way and set himself to the work; and now that he was actually meeting with reproach and opposition from these adversaries, he was not to be turned from his purpose, especially as he had secured the sympathy and support of the people in whose behalf he had come. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, appear to have been leading men in the rival colony of Samaria. They had been placed by the Persian King over the Samaritans, and perhaps some other neighbouring tribes, who were for the most part hostile to the Jews. Filled with malicious enmity against the Jews, and with jealousy toward Nehemiah, these unprincipled men first scoffed at the proposal to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and then they represented the attempt as an act of rebellion against the king of Persia, though they could hardly but be aware that Nehemiah was acting under that king's express commission. Their object in all this was to frighten the people, to dishearten and disunite them, and so bring about the abandonment of the undertaking.
Thus, at the very outset, Nehemiah was placed in a most critical position. But he was led to take the proper course. He did not condescend to parley with his adversaries; he made no attempt to answer their outrageous charge of rebellion, or to gain them over to his side with fair speeches, or to enter into any sort of compromise with them. Conscious of his own integrity and uprightness of purpose; persuaded that he was called of God to the work he had undertaken; and, assured that the Lord would own and bless him and all the people, in endeavouring to perform that “good work,” and that no enemy could prevail against them, if only they had faith in God and dealt courageously, Nehemiah, in calm magnanimity, met all their laughter and scorn, their bitter tauntings and false charges of rebellion, with the noble reply, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore, we His servants will arise and build; but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem.” They were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel in respect of both birth and spirit, and were wholly unworthy of being regarded—of being listened to or consulted—in any such momentous matter as that now on hand.
I. Let us notice, first, THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF NEHEMIAH'S ANSWER TO HIS ADVERSARIES, AND WHAT IT TEACHES US.
The first part of this reply—“The God of heaven, He will prosper us”—reminds us whence all true prosperity and success in the Lord's work and service are to be looked for and obtained, even from the Lord Himself, “ the God of heaven,” who ruleth over all, “ in whose hands are power and might, and who giveth strength unto all.” Disdaining to stoop to their level, and to answer his reproachful, lying adversaries as perhaps they expected him to do, Nehemiah calmly appealed to "the God of heaven," in whose service he knew he was engaged, in the confident assurance that prosperity would be granted to him and those associated with him. And if the God of heaven were for them, prospering them, who could be successful against them?
It is the uniform and emphatic teaching of God's Word, that all true prosperity and success in the work of the Lord-in the work of saving sinners and building up saints, of advancing the cause of truth and righteousness and the kingdom of the Redeemer in the world come from God," the God of heaven." Whatever agencies may be employed, whatever means may be used, however diligently and energetically and perseveringly human instruments may labour, there is and can be no real success apart from the Divine blessing. It is that blessing alone that maketh rich and causeth to prosper; and when this is withheld or withdrawn, all effort, however great and well-directed, will prove
vain. Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.” “I (Paul) have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase : so then, neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase.” And what the Word of God thus plainly teaches, Providence abundantly illustrates, and human experience amply confirms. If we trace the history of God's providential dealings with the Church and with the world, and mark the progress of the cause and kingdom of Christ, while we will behold many agencies in operation, and an endless variety of means employed, we shall be constrained to acknowledge that all true success in the work of furthering that cause and of establishing that kingdom has been manifestly of God—that without God's help and blessing, the instruments employed would have been wholly inadequate. What great and important things have sometimes been accomplished through the most unlikely means -means which to the eye of sense, and which in reality, were in themselves altogether insufficient :-as at the first planting of Christianity, when a few despised Jews were sent forth to preach the Gospel to a world lying in wickedness, and to summon the nations to the obedience of faith. And again, what poor results have often followed from the forthputting of apparently great and well-directed efforts, by combined and seemingly powerful agencies, -all showing that it is the blessing of God or the want of that blessing that makes the difference ! “This is the doing of the Lord, and it is wondrous in our eyes.” “What hath the Lord wrought? The Lord hath done great things, whereof we are glad !” This is what the Church and people of God have had to say, and what they have rejoiced to have had to say, age after age, when success has attended their efforts in behalf of the cause of truth and the salvation of men. And in the face of opposition from powerful enemies, and in the midst of the greatest difficulties and discouragements of every kind, they have encouraged themselves in the Lord, saying, “ If God be for us, who can be against us? If the God of heaven prosper us, who shall send adversity ?”
This, then, was what Nehemiah knew, and now deeply and joyously realised, in presence of his adversaries, and in view of his great undertaking—that prosperity cometh only from the God of heaven. It was in the firm faith of this that he lived and acted. So, in entering upon his great work in the Court of Persia, he sought the Lord by prayer and fasting, pleading that God would open up a way before him, give him good success in his application to his royal master, and send him prosperity. And so now again, encouraged by what God had already done for him, he confidently makes his appeal to the God of heaven, saying, “ He will prosper us,” let these our adversaries do what they may to hinder us."
And is not this a truth with which all who are workers together with God, in raising His spiritual temple of redeemed, saved souls, cannot be too deeply and habitually impressed ?that the God of heaven and He alone can send prosperity. Well would it be if we all felt this more than we do. We profess to believe it; but, alas ! how uninfluential oft-times is this our be