Nehemiah 4:9
We are reminded here of -

I. THE PROGRESS OF SIN IN ITS COURSE (ver. 8). From sneers the enemies of Israel passed on to plots; from taunts to a mischievous conspiracy. They "conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it." This advance of theirs was brought about by their hearing that the walls of Jerusalem were "made up." The steadfast labour of the good led, incidentally, to the development of evil in the unholy. The relations of David with Saul, and of the Apostle Paul with his unbelieving countrymen, and, indeed, those of our Master himself with the religious leaders of his day, show that speaking the truth or doing the work of God may prove the occasion of the growth and outbreak of sin - the occasion, but not the responsible cause. We must not be deterred from speaking or doing the will and work of God by fear about incidental consequences on the part of the great enemy.

II. THE PERIL TO THE WORK OF THE CHURCH (vers. 10, 11, 12). The good work of Nehemiah was in serious danger from two causes: -

1. The craft and violence of its foes. The enemy said, "They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease" (ver. 11). Here was force combined with subtlety; the enemy would surprise and slay them.

2. The faint-heartedness of its friends. Judah, from whom better things might have been expected, said, "The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed," etc. (ver. 10); and the neighbouring Jews who had come in to help kept saying ("ten times," ver. 12) that they must return, fearing the wrath of the Samaritans. In every work of God there are sure to be some if not "many adversaries" (1 Corinthians 16:9). This we must expect whenever we "put our hand to the plough" in the field of Christian labour. And happy shall we be if we have not to contend with the feebleness and pusillanimity of our friends, fainting long before reaping-time (Galatians 6:9), or even shrinking at the first alarm, and talking about "giving up."

III. THE WISDOM OF THE CHURCH IN THE HOUR OF DANGER. The first thing to do when the work of the Lord is threatened is that which Nehemiah did.

1. Mindfulness of God. "We made our prayer unto our God" (ver. 9). "Remember the Lord, who is great and terrible" (ver. 14). An appeal to him for help, and the recollection of the fact that "greater is he that is for us than all they that can be against us." "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee," etc. (Psalm 50:15).

2. Realisation of the great issues which are at stake (ver. 14). "Fight for your brethren, your sons," etc. When we are working or fighting for the cause of God we are engaged on behalf of the truest, highest, and most enduring interests of those who are dearest to us, and of our own also. The cause of Christ is the cause of ourselves, of our families, of our country, as well as of our race.

3. Defence (vers. 16-18). We must fight as well as pray and work. Nehemiah's servants wrought with their weapon of defence in one hand and their instrument of labour in the other (ver. 17). Or, while one was building, his fellow stood ready behind with a spear to put at once into the labourer's hand. Usually our work is rather to build than to strike, but there are times when we must be ready to fight our foes or aid those who are engaged in conflict. In the wide field of the Church's work there is always some work for the Christian soldier as well as for the Christian labourer. Let the one be the cheerful and appreciative co-operator with the other. The spear and the trowel are both wanted. The apologist and the preacher, the theologian and the evangelist, are both accepted servants of Christ.

4. Vigilance (ver. 9). We "set a watch against them day and night." The Christian motto must ever be the memorable words, "Watch and pray."

5. Industry. Patient (ver. 21): "We laboured in the work... from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared." United (ver. 15): "All of us,... every one to his work." Self-forgetting (ver. 23): "None of us put off our clothes," etc.

6. Order (vers. 13, 19, 20). Everything was done in perfect order. Men were placed where most required (ver. 13); those whose homes were outside came in (ver. 22); arrangements were made to concentrate in case of attack (vers. 19, 20). All must work cordially under the human as well as under the Divine leader. - C.







We made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch.
Homilist.
I. THE DUTY OF PRAYER.

1. Prayer implies trust.

2. It implies acknowledged weakness.

3. It realises Divine power. Hence in the Christian life that man is only safe, prosperous, or happy who is constantly on his knees.

II. ACTIVE VIGILANCE AND DUTY. God's help is not intended to favour indolence, but to encourage exertion. The husbandman knows that God gives the increase, and therefore ploughs and sows. A man may talk, says Jay, about casting his care upon God, and may sing "Jehovah-Jireh" with all his energy as long as he pleases, but if he is idle, dissolute, foolish, he only tempts God, not trusts Him, for if a man will not work neither shall he eat. We have to carry on a greater work than Nehemiah. An enemy is endeavouring to prevent us building our eternal habitations, to hinder our work of preparation for heaven. Let us give our mental, moral, intellectual ability to working out our own salvation, knowing that God worketh in us to will and to do.

(Homilist.)

The Study.
I. THE APPEAL OF THE CHURCH OF GOD.

1. Recognising their weakness and dependence, they prayed unto God.

2. In spite of discouragements these men prayed. "Nevertheless."

3. They must have been encouraged by remembering what relation God sustained towards them. "Our God."

4. They united in supplication.

II. THE RELIANCE OF THE CHURCH UPON ITSELF. "Set a watch."

1. There are enemies all around us.

2. God will not do for us what we can do for ourselves.

3. Our enemies are vigilant and untiring.

4. Our enemies conspire together. There is an unholy alliance of the forces of evil.

(The Study.)

This union is equally pleasing and profitable. It keeps our devotion from growing up into rank enthusiasm, and our diligence from sinking into the wisdom of the world which is foolishness with God. The life of the Christian is held forth as that of a warfare. What, then, can be more reasonable than to betake ourselves to prayer and vigilance?

I. LET US MAKE OUR PRAYER TO GOD.

1. It is recommended by God Himself — "Call upon Me in the day of trouble," etc.

2. The very exercise of prayer is useful.

3. Prayer is the forming of a confederacy with God.

II. SET A WATCH, BECAUSE OF OUR ENEMIES, NIGHT AND DAY.

1. Impress your minds with a sense of your danger.

2. Study your constitutional weakness and failings.

3. Observe how you have already been foiled or ensnared.

4. Guard against the beginnings of sin.

5. Avoid the occasions of sin.Nothing is more dangerous than idleness. Our idle days, says Henry, are the devil's busy ones. Stagnant waters breed thousands of noxious insects; but this is not the case with living water.

(William Jay.)

I. His PRAYERFULNESS.

II. His WATCHFULNESS. Watchfulness without prayer is pre sumptuous pride, but prayer without watchfulness is presumptuous sloth. Confidence in the help of God must not prevent the use of all proper means for safety and deliverance. God promised Paul the lives of all on board the ship in which he sailed; but they were to use the means of safety. "Some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship; and so it come to pass that they escaped all safe to land." While the Christian is surrounded with a powerful conspiracy of all the principalities of evil, he should aim at a military discipline of his heart and his thoughts. His conscience, like the trumpeter at Nehemiah's side, should be always awake.

III. HIS INDUSTRY.

IV. HIS EXALTED COURAGE, ASSOCIATED WITH A HOLY CAUTION.

V. HIS CHEERFULNESS IN THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS ARDUOUS DUTIES.

(R. P. Buddicom.)

The hardiest devotion is the healthiest. The devotion of the cloister is for the most part like the ghastly light that hovers over decomposition and decay; the devotion which characterises the diligent, spiritually-minded man of business resembles the star which shines on in the storm as in the calm — when the sky is clouded as when it is serene.

(R. P. Buddicom.)

I. PRAYING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP OF LIFE. If a bad man would be good, the first step should be that of prayer. And our last breath when we leave this earth for the other world is prayer.

II. If our prayers are to bless us, we must PRAY EARNESTLY.

III. MOREOVER, WHEN WE PRAY WE ARE NOT TO NEGLECT THE MEANS OF MAKING OUR PRAYER EFFECTUAL. We are to do as Nehemiah did — pray to God, and set a watch. I am not afraid of thieves; but while I pray to God to let His angels encamp about my house and guard it, I do not expect the angels to come into my lobbies and lock the doors. I can do that. While we pray we are not to neglect any means at our hands for doing the work for which we pray. In the same way, a working man who earns a couple of pounds a week may pray, "O Lord, provide for me, and keep me from debt." It is right thus to pray, but then let not the working man neglect the means which are in his power to fulfil the prayer; let him put by two or three shillings a week to provide for any time of need. Some people seem to think that religion is a kind of spiritual charm, like the horse-shoe that our superstitious forefathers nailed behind the front door to keep out the "bogies." They think that religion is for them to say prayers and go to church, and then God will keep them from hell. Oh, no.

IV. While we pray for success, let us take heed to WATCH FOR OPPORTUNITIES OF DOING GOOD. A wealthy farmer, whose haystacks were numerous, and whose barns were full of corn, on reading in the newspapers about the great distress in the time of the cotton famine, prayed earnestly at the family altar that the poor might be fed and clothed, but he did not send any donation to the fund, and the next Sunday he uttered the same prayer. On the way to church the little son said, "Father, I wish I had your corn." "Why, my boy, what would you do with it?" "Father, I would give it to the hungry people for bread." It is no use praying that the hungry may be fed if you will not help to feed them from your full cupboard. The purpose of prayer is — asking God to give you power to do good, and then seeking opportunities to exert that power.

(W. Birch.)

In the text I see two guards.

I. First guard, PRAYER.

1. It was a prayer that meant business.

2. It was a prayer that overcame difficulties.

3. It was a prayer that came before anything else.

4. It was a prayer that was continued.

5. It was a prayer that was home-made.

6. It was a prayer that went to the home of prayer.

7. It was a prayer saturated with faith.

II. Second guard, WATCHFULNESS. This setting of a watch was —

1. A work appointed.

2. A work carefully done.

3. A work continued.

4. A work quickened by knowledge.

(1)We ought to set a watch against the enemies of our holy faith.

(2)We must set a watch against our personal adversaries.

(a)Ungodly relatives. Be patient, gentle, loving towards them. Do nothing that will give them occasion to blaspheme.

(b)The evil tendencies of our corrupt nature.

(3)We must watch against the beginning of sin.

(4)Watch for what God has to say to you.

(5)Watch for yourself when you see another fall, lest you should fall in the same place.

III. I finish by PUTTING THE TWO GUARDS TOGETHER. Neither is sufficient alone.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

An old writer, speaking of men as stewards of God, urges upon them as wise traders and servants to look to themselves carefully, and take care of four houses which are under their charge.

1. Their warehouse, or heart and memory, wherein they should store up precious things, holy affections, grateful remembrances, etc.

2. Their workhouse, or their actions, wherein they retail to others, for God's glory, the grace entrusted to them.

3. Their clock-house — their speech — which must always, like a well-tuned bell, speak the truth accurately; and meaning also their observance of time, redeeming it by promptly doing the duties of every hour.

4. Their counting-house, or their conscience, which is to be scrupulously kept, and no false reckonings allowed, lest we deceive our own souls.

(J. M. Randall.)

A believer's watchfulness is like that of a soldier. A sentinel posted on the walls, when he discerns a hostile party advancing, does not attempt to make head against them himself, but informs his commanding officer of the enemy's approach, and leaves him to take the proper measures against the foe. So the Christian does not attempt to fight temptations in his own strength: his watchfulness lies in observing its approach, and in telling God of it by prayer.

(W. Mason.)

At Christmas-time soldiers are in the habit of decorating their barrack-rooms, and are fond of putting mottoes cut out of gilt paper amongst the holly on their whitewashed walls. Last year I noticed in one room these two. Over the door there was, "At peace, but still on guard"; and in another place, "At rest, but ready." Are not these equally applicable to spiritual life? If we have left our sins at the foot of the Cross, we should be at peace and rest, but on our guard against temptation, watching for the coming of the Lord.

(The Quiver.)

And there is much rubbish
I. THAT THERE IS TOO MUCH "RUBBISH" IN THE PULPIT. Carlyle, in giving a whimsical instance of the importance attached to etiquette at the Court of Louis XVI., while the infuriated mob were demanding entrance to his private apartments, compares it to the house-cricket still chirping amid the pealing of the trump of doom. And so, too, when the ambassador for Christ doles out to souls perishing for the Bread of Life the vain speculations of metaphysics and philosophy, he ought to be held accountable for the spiritual slumber which such narcotics are certain to produce.

II. Another reason why the walls of the spiritual Jerusalem are not built up with more rapidity is because of the "RUBBISH" ABOUT THE POST. The minds of multitudes are bewildered and turned aside from the pursuit of the one thing needful by unprofitable discussions concerning the modes of baptism and the disposition to magnify unimportant things into essentials.

III. The heaps of "RUBBISH" ABOUT THE LORD'S TABLE is another reason why the walls of the spiritual Jerusalem are built up so slowly.

IV. Then there is the "RUBBISH" OF FLIMSY EXCUSES WHICH BLOCKS UP THE PATH OF LIFE.

(J. N. Norton.)

The ancient Jerusalem was but an imperfect type of the true city of God, which through the ages prophets have panted for and poets have sung, a city of truth, and righteousness and love; of liberty, equality, and fraternity, in a far fuller sense of the words than Rousseau dreamed of. For ages men have been building against opposition malignant and persistent, and with sure if slow progress. And we are building to-day. In a moment of pause we look round and still we say, "There is much rubbish." What rubbish do you meet with. —

I.IN ENGLISH LAW.

II.IN ENGLISH SOCIETY.

III.IN ENGLISH LIFE.

IV.IN CHURCH LIFE.

V.IN OUR LIBRARIES.

VI.IN NEWSPAPERS AND MAGAZINES.

VII.IN OUR MINDS.

VIII.IN OUR HEARTS.

(David Brook, M. A.)

We have to build the wall of the Church for God, but we cannot build it, for there is so much rubbish in our way. This is true —

I. OF THE BUILDING OF THE CHURCH, WHICH IS THE JERUSALEM OF GOD.

1. When the apostles began to build for God, there lay before them towering heaps of rubbish.

(1)Rabbinical.

(2)Pagan.

(3)Philosophical.

2. Soon after apostolic times came the old Roman rubbish.

3. At present there is still much rubbish coming from the world, the flesh, and the devil.

II. THIS IS EQUALLY TRUE OF THE TEMPLE OF GOD, WHICH IS TO BE BUILT IN EACH ONE OF OUR HEARTS. There is oftentimes in Christian people the old rubbish —

1. Of legal thought, of legal acting, of legal fearing.

2. Of old habits.

3. Of worldly associations.

4. Lofty thoughts of ourselves, engendered by worldly prosperity and spiritual acquisitions.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

But in our text we read of an unexpected difficulty pleaded by the men of Judah — a weary, trying, and depressing task, entailing much toil and little show of progress. So in the Christian's inner life; there lies in his way a heap of broken resolutions, of former good intentions never carried out; a ponderous mass of indolent excuses for doing nothing; a rubbish pile of petty procrastinations, promising that some day we will improve, but putting off that day from time to time! It does indeed need Divine help and aid to summon up energy and to commence, beginning at once, that arduous work of removing the rubbish and ruins and starting afresh. So, also, those who would do good to others, who would rebuild God's Zion and populate the kingdom of Christ with souls, must expect to find in their way a heavy and inert mass of ignorance, apathy, and opposition. We shall find at first disappointments and failures heaped up high in our path, but, like the faithful men of Jerusalem of old, let our answer be, "We will rise up and build," and the encouraging voice of the true Nehemiah, the real Restorer of the Heavenly Zion, will greet us with the promise, "The God of heaven will prosper" you!

(W. Hardman, LL. D.)

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