and answered the king, "If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city where my fathers are buried, so that I may rebuild it."
I. THAT IT WAS THE OUTCOME OF A TRUE PATRIOTISM (ver. 2). This sadness was not occasioned by temporal loss, by domestic bereavement, or by unfaithful friendship, but by the desolated condition of Jerusalem. The city was "waste." Many cities of our own country are laid waste by sin; the good man cannot be indifferent, he must sympathise with and help the work of moral restoration. If men are anxious about the walls, they ought to be much more so about the morals of a city; if for the tombs of the dead, much more for the welfare of the living. Sin consumes a city as by fire. The desolation wrought by sin, in commerce, in society, in the home, and especially amongst the young, cannot but awaken deep sorrow of heart.
II. THAT IT WAS EXPERIENCED IN THE COURSE OF HIS DAILY AVOCATIONS. "And I took up the wine, and gave it to the king "( ver. 1). How many men go to their daily toil with a heart sorrow which occupation and industry cannot make them forget. Nehemiah was wont to be cheerful before the king; business should be done in joyous mood; but there are times when sorrow will prevail.
III. THAT IT WAS MANIFESTED IN THE APPEARANCE OF THE PHYSICAL FRAME. "Why is thy countenance sad?" (ver. 2). How much of the world's sorrow is concealed. In a very true sense it is sorrow of heart; it is never vocal in explanation or complaint. But such sacred grief is not hidden from God. The face reflects the emotions of the soul; it revealed the sorrow of Nehemiah, the joy of Stephen. How many sorrowful faces do we meet in a day. A sad countenance should awaken tender inquiry, wise consideration, and willing aid. Let us not be heedless of the world's sorrow. Christ is only true consolation.
IV. THAT IT WAS AIDED BY SECRET COMMUNION WITH THE DIVINE. "So I prayed to the God of heaven" (ver. 4).
1. Sorrow often has great opportunities opened up to it. "For what dost thou make request?" Nehemiah's sorrow opened up the king's resources to him. Our sorrows often make heaven rich to us.
2. Sorrow needs guidance, so as to make good use of the opportunities presented to it.
3. Sorrow finds in prayer the guidance and culture it needs to use aright its opportunity.
(1) Memory is aided;
(2) difficulty is anticipated;
(3) preparation is accomplished (ver. 7);
(4) agencies are perfected (ver. 8).
V. THAT IT WAS EMPLOYED IN THE WONDROUS PROVIDENCE OF HEAVEN. "And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me" (ver. 8).
1. The sorrow of Nehemiah was allied to the welfare of his people. It led to the rebuilding of the broken wall of Jerusalem. Our trials are often the means of promoting the welfare of others. Christ's sufferings are allied to our best delights, and to our noblest achievements. It is indeed true that others build because we have suffered.
2. The sorrow of Nehemiah was allied to the beneficence of the king. It awakened the monarch's sympathy and help. The sorrows of men awaken loving ministries.
3. The sorrow of Nehemiah was allied to the providence of God. By its means Heaven opened the heart of the heathen king in sympathy and his hand in help. The pain of the world is made to achieve high moral ends; a wise providence employs it in the building of broken walls. - E.
If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour.
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.
Monday Club Sermons.
The text harmonises with the historic truth that for every great work there must be an inspired leader. Every great revival has hinged upon the deeds of some one man. The success of Nehemiah depended upon three traits, which must be characteristic of every great leader in human affairs. A lack as to either one of the three would render his undertaking a failure.
I. HIS FAITH. There is nothing in this world more sublime than the man of faith, and there is no one more truly ridiculed. Faith, dissatisfied with the present, looks into futurity. The multitudes are content with to-day's attainments. Nehemiah pondered upon the Jerusalem which should be. Plans, at the first, were indistinct. It seemed an impossibility. His were the words of faith and not of sight: "The God of heaven, He will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build."
II. HIS SAGACITY. Faith incites to the purest wisdom. The intellect of man is made to be the servant his faith. His faith was reasonable, yet, after it had become most perfect, in order to attain its object he was compelled to reason out each step of the way. Thus is it many a man works out his prayers. Artaxerxes had chosen a sagacious man for his cup-bearer, and Jehovah said Artaxerxes had chosen wisely. Jehovah needed not only a man of faith, but a shrewd man, to restore Jerusalem to its former greatness.
III. HIS COURAGE. Grant him to have been a man of strongest faith, and of shrewdest mind to reason out the successive steps, yet without courage to take each step, he had failed after all.
And now it was that the man of piety appeared in the man of patriotism; and admirably does Nehemiah stand forth as an example to those who profess to have at heart their country's good, and to be stricken by its calamities. He did not immediately call a meeting of the Jews, to consult what might be done for their afflicted countrymen. He did not gather round him a knot of politicians, that plans might be discussed, and assistance levied. But Nehemiah "sat down, and wept." But Nehemiah did not count his part done when he had thus, in all humility, confessed the sins of his nation, and entreated the interference of God. He was not one of those who substitute prayer for endeavour, though he would not make an endeavour until he had prepared himself by prayer. Fortified through humiliation and supplication, he now sought to take advantage of his position with the king, and, true patriot as he was, to render that position useful to his countrymen. Nehemiah was sore afraid when Artaxerxes, struck with the sorrow depicted on his features, imperiously asked the cause of the too evident grief. It was the moment for which he had wished, yea, for which he had prayed, yet, now that it had come, he felt so deeply what consequences hung upon a word, that he was almost unmanned, and could scarce venture to unburden his heart. The facts are these: the first, that it was as the city of his fathers' sepulchres that Jerusalem excited the solicitude of Nehemiah the second, that Nehemiah found a moment before answering the king to offer petition to the Almighty. Now Jerusalem had not yet received its most illustrious distinction, forasmuch as "the fulness of time" had not arrived, and therefore there had not yet been transacted within her circuits the wondrous scenes of the redemption of the world. Nevertheless, to every man, especially to a devout Jew, there were already reasons in abundance why thought should turn to Jerusalem, and centre there as on a place of peculiar sanctity and interest. There had a temple been reared, "magnifical" beyond what earth beforetime had seen, rich with the marble and the gold, but richer in the visible tokens of the presence of the universal Lord. There had sacrifices been continually offered, whose efficacy was manifest even to those who discerned not their typical import, forasmuch as at times they prevailed to the arrest of temporal visitations, and pestilence was dispersed by the smoke of the oblation. There had monarchs reigned of singular and wide-spread renown. Hence, it might easily have been accounted for why Nehemiah should have looked with thrilling interest to Jerusalem. But the observable thing is, that Nehemiah fixes not on any of these obvious reasons when he would explain, or account for, his interest in Jerusalem. Before he offered his silent prayer to God, and afterwards, when he might be supposed to have received fresh wisdom from above, he spake of the city merely as the place of the sepulchres of his fathers, as though no stronger reason could be given why he should wish to rebuild it; none, at least, whose force was more felt by himself, or more likely to be confessed by the king. The language of Nehemiah is too express and too personal to allow of our supposing that he adopted it merely from thinking that it would prevail with Artaxerxes. If we may argue from the expressions of Nehemiah, then, it is a melancholy sight — that of a ruined town, a shattered navy, or a country laid waste by famine and war; but there is s more melancholy sight too, that of a churchyard, where sleeps the dust of our kindred, desecrated and destroyed, whether by violence or neglect. There is something so ungenerous in forgetfulness or contempt of the dead — they cannot speak for themselves; they so seem, in dying, to bequeath their dust to survivors, as though they would give affection something to cherish, and some kind office still to perform. We do not, however, suppose that the strong marks of respect for the dead, which occur so frequently in the Bible, are to be thoroughly accounted for by the workings of human feelings and affections. We must have recourse to the great doctrine of the resurrection of the body if we would fully understand why the dying Joseph "gave commandment concerning his bones," and Nehemiah offered no description of Jerusalem, but that it was the place of the sepulchres of his fathers. The doctrine of the resurrection throws, as you must all admit, a sacredness round the remains of the dead, because it proves, that, though we have committed the body to the ground, "ashes to ashes, dust to dust," that body is reserved for noble allotments, destined to reappear in a loftier scene, and discharge more glorious functions. Then the well-kept churchyard, with its various monuments, each inscribed with lines not more laudatory of the past than hopeful of the future, what is it but the public testimony, to all that is precious in Christianity, forasmuch as it is the public testimony that the dead shall live again? We are now to detach our minds from Nehemiah pleading for his fathers' sepulchres, and fix them upon Nehemiah addressing himself to God in ejaculatory prayer. Under how practical and comforting a point of view does this place the truth of the omnipresence of God. Yet, with all its mysteriousness, this is no merely sublime but barren speculation, no subject to exercise the mind rather than benefit the heart. It should minister wondrously to our comfort, to know that, whether we can explain it or not, we are always, so to speak, in contact with God; so that in the crowd and in the solitude, in the retirement of the closet, the bustle of business, and the privacies of home, by day and by night, He is alike close at hand, near enough for every whisper, and plenteous enough for every want. It is not so with a human patron or friend, who, whatever be his power, and his desire to use it on our behalf, cannot always be with us, to observe each necessity, and appoint each supply. It is not indispensable that there should be outward prostration and set supplication. The heart has but to breathe its desire, and God is acquainted with it so soon as formed, and may grant it, if He will, before the tongue could have given it utterance. The man of business, he need not enter on a single undertaking without prayer; the mariner, he need not unfurl a sail without prayer; the traveller, he need not face a danger without prayer; the statesman, he need not engage in a debate without prayer; the invalid, he need not try a remedy without prayer; the accused, he need not meet an accuser without prayer. We may hallow and enlighten everything by prayer, though we seem, and are, engaged from morning to night with secular business, and thronged by eager adherents. We cannot be in a difficulty for which we have not time to ask guidance, in a peril so sudden that we cannot find a guardian, in a spot so remote that we may not people it with supporters.
Unto the city of my fathers' sepulchres.Any reference to the history of the fame and power of the city of God might have inflamed the jealousy of the Persian king, and fixed his resolution to leave it in its present ruin. But the human heart naturally softens into tenderness at the graves of the dead. Hence the consummate skill and delicacy with which Nehemiah frames his plea for sorrow.
()Men love to think of the honour of their fathers' titles, or of the grandeur of their fathers' habitations. It is wise in us to muse sometimes on the place of our fathers' sepulchres. The graves where they lie are mementoes whither we must follow them, and from their tomb they call us to prepare for entering the. narrow house appointed, for all living.
()In these touching and powerful words we remark the almighty aid God gives His servants in pleading for, and bearing witness to, His cause. He gives Nehemiah mouth and wisdom in this trying hour. It has been so with all faithful witnesses for God in every age. It was so with Luther at the Diet of Worms.
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