And I said to the king, If it please the king, and if your servant have found favor in your sight, that you would send me to Judah…
Such a man was Nehemiah. His strong practical sagacity is manifest throughout the whole record of his work in Jerusalem. And in his case this business ability was blended with enthusiasm. It is by such men — men combining practical sagacity with noble impulse — that the best work of the world is done. Sometimes we find men of enthusiastic zeal or true piety who have little or no business faculty, who are deficient in powers of observation and management, who lack the tough energy of perseverance, who perhaps scorn tact and prudence, and who have little capability of adapting means to ends. Such men are apt to become either crotchety or fanatical; they waste both time and strength on impracticable schemes; they may have noble aims, but they seek to carry them out by unwise methods; they damage the cause which they have at heart by their own blundering; they isolate themselves from those with whom they ought to work, and alienate those whom they ought to conciliate; they grow impatient of their imperfect instruments and agents; and, failing to realise the best conceivable, they become careless as to realising the best practicable. And, on the other hand, we find men of shrewd sagacity and business ability, of keen observation and ready tact, who lack all the higher inspiration of noble and generous impulse; who are deficient in imagination, affection, and piety; who have no real enthusiasm even in their business; and who carry on their practical work with the successful persistency of a cold, clever, and calculating selfishness. A man of this type might have gone to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem if he had been well paid for the work, and if he had received money with which to hire the labour of the builders; but he would never have gone, like Nehemiah, impelled by the fervours of a pious patriotism, nor could he have roused the people, as Nehemiah did, to voluntary effort and sacrifice. The practical business faculty is a gift of no mean order; but, like all other gifts, it ought to be devoted to the service of God. If a man possesses energy, persistency, tact, quickness in forecasting necessities and results, skill in adapting means to ends, he ought not to regard these powers as mere instruments for the promotion of his own selfish objects. These faculties are part of himself, and he is himself called to live as a servant of God. Then, again, the exclusive development of mere business faculty is attended with the utmost danger. It is, indeed, a faculty for which we may well thank God; but there are other powers of our nature-some of them higher and more important — which ought also to be exercised. The whole spiritual side of our being, looking out on God, on righteousness, and on eternity, calls for cultivation. Nor ought we to neglect the affections and emotions of the heart. Even the culture of the imagination is not to be despised; it furnishes a healthy counterpoise where the practical faculty is keen and strong. If there be no exercise of the imagination, no deepening of the affections, no quickening of the conscience and the spiritual nature, then a man's practical sagacity may only tend to make him a hard-headed and hardhearted worldling. His tact will be constantly degenerating into mere manoeuvre, finesse, and deceit. His power of managing men will lead him to deal with them as tools. He may thus "get on" in the world, as some people count getting on; he may perhaps gather wealth, and leave it behind him to his heirs. But his own nature will deteriorate; it will become narrow, stunted, and impoverished, and he will never do any of the best kind of work in the world, either for God or for mankind. By all means let a man cultivate practical sagacity; but let him take care to consecrate it to God, and to make it the handmaid of aims that shall be worthy of his spiritual nature. We want neither fanatics nor worldlings, neither unpractical dreamers nor mere selfish tacticians; we want men who, like Nehemiah, are open to the promptings of generous impulse and pure enthusiasm, and at the same time can carry out their projects with wise foresight, patient energy, and prudent self-control.
(T. C. Finlayson.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers' sepulchres, that I may build it.