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solicit God, and bring down an answer, before ever our words need to come forth of our lips. In vain shall we hope that any design of ours can prosper, if we have not first sent this messenger on our errand.
After this silent and insensible preparation, Nehemiah moves his suit to the king : yet not at once, but by meet degrees. First, he craves leave for his journey, and for building : then, he craves aid for both. Both are granted. Nehemiah departs; furnished with letters to the governors, for a convoy; with letters to the keeper of the king's forest, for timber : not more full of desire, than hope.
Who ever put his hand to any great work, for the behoof of God's Church, without opposition? As the walls of the temple found busy enemies, so shall the walls of the city; and these so much more, as they promise more security and strength to Jerusalem. Sanballat the deputy-lieutenant of the Moabites, and Tobiah the like officer to the Ammonites, and Geshem to the Arabians, are galled with envy, at the arrival of a man authorized to seek the welfare of the children of Israel. There cannot be a greater vexation to wicked hearts, than to see the spiritual Jerusalem in any likelihood of prosperity. Evil spirits and men need no other torment, than their own despight.
This wise courtier hath learnt, that secresy is the surest way of any important dispatch. His errand could not but be known to the governors: their furtherance was enjoined, for the provision of materials ; else the walls of Jerusalem had overlooked the first notice of their heathen neighbours. Without any noise doth Nehemiah arise, in the dead of night; and, taking some few into his company, none into his counsel, he secretly rounds the decayed walls of Jerusalem, and views the breaches, and observes the gates, and returns home in silence, joying in himself to foresee those reparations, which none of the inhabitants did once dream of: at last, when he had fully digested this great work in his own breast, he calls the rulers and citizens together; and, having condoled with them the common distress and reproach, he tells them of the hand of his God, which was good upon him ; he shows them the gracious commission of the king his master, for that good work. They answer him, with a zealous encouragement of each other, Let us rise up and build.
Such a hearty invitation, countenanced by authority, hath easily strengthened the hands of the multitude. With what observance and dearness, do they now look upon their unexpected patron! How do they honour him, as a man sent from heaven, for the welfare of Jerusalem! Every man flies to his hod and trowel; and rejoices to second so noble a leader, in . laying a stone in that wall of their common defence.
Those emulous neighbours of theirs, Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem, the chief commanders of Moab, Ammon, Arabia, have
soon espied the first mortar, that is laid upon that old foundaa tion. Envy is usually more quick-sighted than love. And now, they scornfully apply themselves to these despised Jews, and think to scoff them out of their work. The favourablest persecution of any good cause, is, the lash of lewd tongues, whether by bitter taunts or by scurrilous invectives; which it is as impossible to avoid, as necessary to contemn.
The barking of these dogs doth not hinder Nehemiah from walking on his way. Professing his confidence in the God of heaven, whose work that was, he shakes off their impotent malice, and goes on cheerfully to build.
Every Israelite knows his station. Eliashib the high priest, and the rest of that sacred tribe, put the first hand to this work. They build the sheep-gate, and sanctify it; and in it, all the rest. As the first fruits of the field, so the first stones of the wall, are hallowed to God, by the consecration of those devout agents. That business is like to prosper, which begins with God.
No man was idle; no part was intermitted. All Jerusalem was, at once, encompassed with busy labourers. It cannot be, but the joint endeavours of faithful hearts must raise the walls of the Church.
Now Sanballat and his brethren find some matter to spend their scoffs upon; What do these feeble Jews ? will they fortify themselves ? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish which are burnt?
How basely do carnal minds think of the projects and actions of God's children! Therefore vilifying them, because they measure them by no other line, than outward probability. O foolish Moabites, this work is God's; and, therefore, in despite of all your tongues and hands, it shall prosper. He hears you, whom ye have blasphemed ; and shall turn your reproach upon your own heads. And thou, proud Ammonite, that couldst say, If a fox go upon their stone-wall
, he shall break it down, shalt well find, that all the wolvish troops of your confederates shal not be able to remove one stone of this sure fortification. While Moab and Ammon repine and bluster in vain, this wall shall
and when Moab and Ammon shall lie in the dust, this wall shall stand. The mortar, that hath been tempered with so many prayers, cannot but outlast all the flints and marbles of human confidence.
Now, the growth of this wall hath turned the mirth of the adversaries into rage. These Moabites, Ammonites, Arabians, Ashdadites, conspire all together, to fight against Jerusalem; and, while the mortar is yet green, to demolish those envied heaps.
What hath this city offended, in desiring to be defenced ?
What wrong could it be, to wish a freedom from wrongs? Were this people so mighty, that there could be danger in overpowering their neighbours, or in resisting a common sovereign, there might have appeared some colour for this hostile opposition ; but, alas ! what could a despised handful do to the prejudice of either? It is quarrel enough to Jerusalem, that it would not be miserable.
Neither is it otherwise with the Head of these hellish complices. There needs no other cause of his utmost fury, than to see a poor soul struggling to get out of the reach of his tyranny. So do savage beasts bristle
up themselves, and make the most fierce assaults, when they are in danger of losing the prey, which they had once seized on.
In the mean while, what doth Nehemiah, with his Jews, for their common safety? They pray, and watch; they pray unto God; they watch against the enemy. Thus, thus shall we happily prevail against those spiritual wickednesses, which war against our souls. No evil can surprise us, if we watch ; no evil can hurt us, if we pray; This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.
There was need of a continued vigilancy. The enemy was not more malicious, than subtle, and had said; They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst amongst them, and slay them. Open force is not so dangerous, as close dissimulation. They meant to seem Jews, while they were Moabites and Ammonites; and, in the clothes of brethren, purposed to hide murderers. Never is Satan so prevalent, as when he comes transformed into an angel of light.
It was a merciful providence of God, that made these men's tongues the blabs of their own counsel. Many a fearful design had prospered, if wickedness could have been silent. Warning is a lawful guard to a wise adversary. Now doth Nehemiah arm his people; and, for the time, changes their trowels into swords, and spears, and bows ; raising up their courage with a vehement exhortation, to remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and to fight for their brethren, their sons, their daughters, their wives, and their houses. Nothing can so hearten us to the encountering of any evil, as the remembrance of that infinite power and wisdom, which can either avert, or mitigate, or sanctify it. We could not faint, if we did not forget God.
Necessity urges a man to fight for himself; love enables his hand to fight for those, which challenge a part in him. Where love meets with necessity, there can want no endeavour of victory. Necessity can make even cowards, valiant ; love make the valiant, unresistible: Nehemiah doth not, therefore, persuade these Jews to fight for themselves, but for theirs. The judgment of the interest and danger cannot but quicken the dullest spirits.
Discovered counsels are already prevented. These serpents die, by being first seen; When the enemies heard that it was known unto us, they let fall their plot. Could we descry the enterprises of Satan, that tempter would return ashamed.
It is a safe point of wisdom, to carry a jealous eye over those, whom we have once found hollow and hostile. From that time forth, Nehemiah divided the task, betwixt the trowel and the sword ! so disposing of every Israelite, that, while one hand was a mason, the other was a soldier: one is for work; the other, for defence.
Oh lively image of the Church Militant, wherein every one labours weaponed; wherein there is neither an idle soldier, nor a secure workman! Every one so builds, as that he is ready to ward temptations : every one so wields the sword of the Spirit, for defence, that withal he builds up himself in his most holy faith. Here is neither a fruitless valour, nor an unsafe diligence.
But what can our weapons avail us, if there be not means to warn us of an enemy? Without a trumpet, we are armed in vain : The work is great and large, and we are separated upon the wall, one far from another. Yea, so far as the utmost bounds of the earth, are we separated one from another, upon the walls of the spiritual Jerusalem : only the sacred trumpets of God call us, who are distant in place, to a combination in profession.
And who are those trumpets, but the public messengers of God, of whom God hath said ; If the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned ; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand? Woe be to us, if we sound not; if the sound we give be uncertain! Woe be to our people, if when we premonish them of enemies, of judgments, they sit still unmoved; not buckling themselves to a resistance, to a prevention !
It is a mutual aid, to which these trumpets_invite us; we might fight apart, without the signals of war; In what place ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us.
There can be no safety to the Church, but where every man thinks his life, and welfare, consists in his fellows. Conjoined forces may prosper ; single oppositions are desperate. All hearts and hands must meet in the common quarrel.
CONTEMPLATION III.-NEHEMIAH REDRESSING
THE EXTORTION OF THE JEWS.
NEHEMIAH V., VI. WITH what difficulty do these miserable Jews settle in their Jerusalem! The fear of foreign enemies doth not more afflict them, than the extortion of their own. Dearth is added unto
Miseries do not stay for a mannerly succession to each other, but in a rude importunity throng in at once. be built with ease; but whosoever goes about to raise the walls of God's city, shall have his hands full
. The incursion of public enemies may be prevented, with vigilancy and power; but there is no defence against the secret gripes of oppression.
There is no remedy. The Jews are so taken up with their trowel and sword, for the time, that they cannot attend their trades; so as, while the wall did rise, their estates must needs impair. Even in the cheapest season, they must needs be poor, that earned nothing but the public safety : how much more in a common scarcity! Their houses, lands, vineyards are therefore mortgaged; yea their very skins are sold for corn, to their brethren. Necessity forces them to sell that, which it was cruelty to buy. What will we not, what must we not, part with for life?
The covetous rulers did not consider the occasions of this want, but the advantage. Sometimes, a bargain may be as unmerciful, as a robbery. Charity must be the rule of all contracts; the violation whereof, whether in the matter or the price, cannot but be sinful.
There could not be a juster ground of expostulation, than this of the oppressed Jews ; “Our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children; and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters. While there is no difference in nature, why should there be such an injurious disproportion in condition?"
Even the same flesh may bear a just inequality: some may be rulers, while others are subject; some wealthy, others poor; but why those wealthy rulers should tyrannize over those poor inferiors, and turn brotherhood into bondage, no reason can be given, but lawless ambition. If there were one flesh of peers, another of peasants, there should be some colour for the proud impositions of the great; as, because the flesh of beasts is in a lower rank than ours, we kill, we devour it, at pleasure : but now, since the large body of mankind consists of the same flesh, why should the hand strike the foot?
And if one flesh may challenge meet respects from us, how much more one spirit! The spirit is more noble, than the flesh