I should like to call your attention to the prophet Nehemiah. We may gain some help from that distinguished man who accomplished a great work. He was one of the last of the prophets, was supposed to be contemporary with Malachi, and perhaps his book was one of the last of the Old Testament books that was written. He might have known Daniel, for he was a young man in the declining years of that very eminent and godly statesman. We are sure of one thing at least -- he was a man of sterling worth. Although he was brought up in the Persian court among idolaters, yet he had a character that has stood all these centuries.
Notice his prayer in which he made confession of Israel's apostasy from God. There may be some confessions we need to make to be brought into close fellowship with God. I have no doubt that numbers of Christians are hungering and thirsting for a personal blessing, and have a great desire to get closer to God. If that is the desire of your heart, keep in mind that if there is some obstacle in the way which you can remove, you will not get a blessing until you remove it. We must cooperate with God. If there is any sin in my heart that I am not willing to give up then I need not pray. You may take a bottle and cork it up tight, and put it under Niagara, and not a drop of that mighty volume of water will get into the bottle. If there is any sin in my heart that I am not willing to give up, I need not expect a blessing. The men who have had power with God in prayer have always begun by confessing their sins. Take the prayers of Jeremiah and Daniel. You find Daniel confessing his sin, when there isn't a single sin recorded against him; but he confesses his sin and the sins of the people. Notice how David confessed his sins and what power he had with God. So it is a good thing for us to begin as Nehemiah did.
It seems that some men had come down from his country to the Persian court, perhaps to see the king on business. This man, who was in high favor with the king, met them, and finding that they had come from Jerusalem he began to inquire about his country. He not only loved his God, but he
LOVED HIS COUNTRY.
I like to see a patriotic man. He began to inquire about his people and about the city that was very near to his heart, Jerusalem. He had never seen the city. He had no relations back there in Jerusalem that he knew of. Nehemiah was not a Jewish prince, although it is supposed he had royal blood in his veins. He was born in captivity. It was about one hundred years after Jerusalem was taken that he appeared upon the horizon. He was in the court of Artaxerxes, a cupbearer to the king, and held a high position. Yet he longed to hear from his native land. When these men told him the condition of the city, that the people were in great want and distress and degradation, and that the walls of the city were still down, that the gates had been burned and never restored, his patriotic heart began to burn. We are told he fasted and prayed and wept, and not only did he pray for one week, or one month, but he kept on praying. He prayed |day and night.| Having many duties to perform, of course he was not always on his knees, but in heart he was ever before the throne of grace. It was not hard for him to understand and obey the precept, |Pray without ceasing.| He began the work in prayer, continued in prayer, and the last recorded words of Nehemiah are a prayer.
It was in November or December when those men arrived at that court, and this man prayed on until March or April before he spoke to the king. If a blessing doesn't come to-night, pray harder to-morrow, and if it doesn't come to-morrow, pray harder, and then, if it doesn't come keep right on, and you will not be disappointed. God in heaven will hear your prayers, and will answer them. He has never failed, if a man has been honest in his petitions and honest in his confessions. Let your faith beget patience. God is never in a hurry, said St. Augustine, because He has all eternity to work.
In the first chapter of Nehemiah is
of this wonderful man, his cry which has been on record all these years, and a great help to many people:
|I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments: let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses. Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: but if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there. Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand. O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.|
When he began to pray I have no idea that he thought he was to be the instrument in God's hand of building the walls of Jerusalem. But when a man gets into sympathy and harmony with God, then God prepares him for the work He has for him. No doubt he thought the Persian king might send one of his great warriors and accomplish the work with a great army of men, but after he had been praying for months, it may be the thought flashed into his mind:
|Why should not I go to Jerusalem myself and build those walls?|
Prayer for the work will soon arouse your own sympathy and effort.
Now mark, it meant a good deal for Nehemiah to give up the palace of Shushan and his high office, and identify himself with the despised and captive Jews. He was among the highest in the whole realm. Not only that, but he was a man of wealth, lived in ease and luxury, and had great influence at court. For him to go to Jerusalem and lose caste was like Moses turning his back on the palace of Pharaoh and identifying himself with the Hebrew slaves. Yet we might
NEVER HAVE HEARD OF
either of them if they had not done this. They stooped to conquer; and when you get ready to stoop God will bless you. Plato, Socrates, and other Greek philosophers lived in the same century as Nehemiah. How few have heard of them and read their words compared with the hundreds of thousands who have heard and read of Nehemiah during the last two thousand years!
If you and I are to be blessed in this world, we must be willing to take any position into which God puts us. So, after Nehemiah had prayed a while, he began to pray God to send him, and that he might be the man to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
After he had been praying some time, he was one day in the banqueting hall, and the king noticed that his countenance was sad. We might not have called the face sad; but much prayer and fasting
CHANGE THE VERY COUNTENANCE
of a man. I know some godly men and women, and they seem to have the stamp of heaven on them. The king noticed a strange look about this cupbearer, and he began to question him. Then the thought came to Nehemiah that he would tell the king what caused his sorrow, -- how his own nation was degraded, and how his heart was going out for his own country. After he had told the king, the king said:
|What is your request?|
Now, some men tell us they don't have time to pray, but I tell you if any man has God's work lying deep in his heart he will have time to pray. Nehemiah
SHOT UP A PRAYER
to heaven right there in the king's dining hall that the Lord would help him to make his request in the right way. He first looked beyond Artaxerxes to the King of Kings. You need not make a long prayer. A man who prays much in private will make short prayers in public. The Lord told Nehemiah what to ask for, that he might be sent to his own country, that some men might go with him, and that the king would give him letters to the governors through whose provinces he would pass so that he might have a profitable journey and be able to rebuild the walls of his city. God had been preparing the king, for the king at once granted the request, and before long this young prince was on his way to Jerusalem.
When he reached the city he didn't have a lot of men go before him blowing trumpets and saying that the cupbearer of the great Persian king,
THE CONVERTED CUPBEARER,
had arrived from the Persian court, and was going to build the walls of Jerusalem. There are some men who are always telling what they are going to do. Man, let the work speak for itself. You needn't blow any horns; go and do the work, and it will advertise itself. Nehemiah didn't have any newspapers writing about him, or any placards. However, there was no small stir. No doubt every one in town was talking about it, saying that a very important personage had arrived from the Persian court; but he was there three days and three nights without telling anyone why he had come.
One night he went out to survey the city. He couldn't ride around; even now you cannot ride a beast around the walls of Jerusalem. He tried to ride around, but he couldn't, so he walked. It was a difficult task which he had before him, but he was not discouraged. That is what makes character. Men who can go into a hard field and succeed, they are the men we want. Any quantity of men are looking for easy places, but the world will never hear of them. We want men who are looking for hard places, who are willing to go into the darkest corners of the earth, and make those dark places bloom like gardens. They can do it if the Lord is with them.
Everything looked dark before Nehemiah. The walls were broken down. There was not a man of influence among the people, not a man of culture or a man of wealth. The nations all around were looking down upon these weak, feeble Jews. So it is in many churches today, the walls are down, and people say it is no use, and their hands drop down by their side. Everything seemed against Nehemiah, but he was a man who had the fire of God in his soul; he had come to build the walls of Jerusalem. If you could have bored a hole into his head, you would have found |Jerusalem| stamped on his brain. If you could have looked into his heart you would have found |Jerusalem| there. He was a fanatic; he was terribly in earnest; he was an enthusiast. I like to see a man take up some one thing and say, |I will do it; I live for this thing; this one thing I am bound to do.| We spread out so much, and try to do so many things, that
WE SPREAD SO THIN
the world never hears of us.
After he had been in the city three days and nights, he called the elders of Israel together, and told them for what he had come. God had been preparing them, for the moment he told them they said:
|Let us rise up and build.|
But there has not been a work undertaken for God since Adam fell which has not met with opposition. If Satan allows us to work unhindered, it is because our work is of no consequence. The first thing we read, after the decision had been made to rebuild the walls, is:
|When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king?|
These men were very indignant. They didn't care for the welfare of Jerusalem. Who were they? A mixed multitude who had no portion nor right nor memorial in Jerusalem. They didn't like to see the restoration of the ruins, just as people nowadays do not like to see the cause of Christ prospering. The offence of the cross has not ceased.
It doesn't take long to build the walls of a city if you can only get the whole of the people at it. If the Christians of this country would only rise up, we could evangelize America in twelve months. All the Jews had a hand in repairing the walls of Jerusalem. Each built over against his own house, priest and merchant, goldsmith and apothecary, and even the women. The men of Jericho and other cities came to help. The walls began to rise.
This stirred up Nehemiah's enemies, and they began to ridicule.
is a mighty weapon.
|What do these feeble Jews?| said Sanballat. |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 the rubbish which are burned?|
|Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall,| said Tobiah the Ammonite.
But Nehemiah was wise. He paid no attention to them. He just looked to God for grace and comfort:
|Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: and cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders.|
Young man, if you wish to be successful in this world, don't mind Sanballat or Tobiah. Don't be kept out of the kingdom of God or out of active Christian work by the scorn and laughter and ridicule of your godless neighbors and companions.
Next, these enemies conspired to come and fight against Jerusalem.
Nehemiah was warned, and took steps to guard against them. Half of the people were on the watch, and the other half held a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other. There was
NO EIGHT-HOUR WORKING DAY
then; they were on duty from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared. They did not take off their clothes except to wash them. Fancy, this man who came from the Persian court with all its luxury, living and sleeping in his clothes for those fifty-two days! But he was in earnest. Ah, that is what we want! men who will set themselves to do one thing, and keep at it day and night.
All the people were bidden to lodge within the city, so that they should always be on hand to work and fight. Would to God that we could get all who belong inside the church to come in and do their share. |Happy is the church,| says one, |whose workers are well skilled in the use of the Scripture, so that while strenuously building the Gospel Wall, they can fight too, if occasion require it.| We ought all be ready to use the Sword of the Spirit.
By and by the men wrote a friendly letter, and wanted Nehemiah to go down on the plain of Ono and have a friendly discussion. It is
A MASTERPIECE OF THE DEVIL
to get men into friendly discussions. I don't know whether Nehemiah had a typewriter in those days or not; I don't know whether he had a printed form of letters, but he always sent back the same reply:
|I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.|
How many a church has turned aside for years to discuss |questions of the day,| and has neglected the salvation of the world because they must go down to the |plain of Ono| and have a friendly discussion! Nehemiah struck a good keynote -- |I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.| If God has sent you to build the walls of Jerusalem, you go and do it.
They sent him another letter, and again he sent word back, |I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.| He did not believe in |coming down.| They sent him another, and he sent back the same word. They sent him a fourth letter, with the same result. They could not get him down; they wanted to slay him on the way.
I have seen many Christian men on the plain of Ono, men who were doing a splendid work but had been switched off. Think how much work has been neglected by temperance advocates in this country because they have gone into politics and into discussing woman's rights and woman's suffrage. How many times the Young Men's Christian Association has been switched off by discussing some other subject instead of holding up Christ before a lost world! If the church would only keep right on and build the walls of Jerusalem they would soon be built. Oh, it is a wily devil that we have to contend with! Do you know it? If he can only get the church to stop to discuss these questions, he has accomplished his desire.
His enemies wrote him one more letter,
AN OPEN LETTER,
in which they said that they had heard he was going to set up a kingdom in opposition to the Persians, and that they were going to report him to the king. Treason has an ugly sound, but Nehemiah committed himself to the Lord, and went on building.
Then his enemies hired a prophet, one of his friends. A hundred enemies outside are not half so hard to deal with as one inside -- a false friend. When the devil gets possession of a child of God he will do the work better than the devil himself. Temptations are never so dangerous as when they come to us in a religious garb. So Tobiah and Sanballat bought up one of the prophets, and hired him to try to induce Nehemiah to go into the temple, that they might put him to death there.
|Now, Nehemiah, there is a plan to kill you, come into the temple. Let's go in and stay for the night.|
He came near being deceived, but he said, |Shall I, such a man as I, be afraid of my life, and do that to save my life?|
After he had refused their invitation he saw that this man was a false prophet; and so by his standing his ground he succeeded in fifty-two days in building the walls of Jerusalem. Then the gates were set up and the work was finished.
Now during all these centuries that story has been told. If Nehemiah had remained at court, he might have died a millionaire, but he never would have been heard of twenty years after his death. Do you know the names of any of Nineveh's millionaires? This man stepped out of that high position and took a low position, one that the world looked down upon and frowned upon, and his name has been associated with the walls of Jerusalem all these centuries. Young man, if you want to be immortal, become identified with God's work, and pay no attention to what men outside say. Nehemiah and his associates began at sunrise and worked until it grew so dark they could not see. A man who will take up God's work, and work summer and winter right through the year, will have a harvest before the year is over, and the record of it will shine after he enters the other world.
The next thing we learn of Nehemiah is that he got up a great
for the reading of the law of Moses in the hearing of the people. A pulpit of wood, large enough to hold Ezra the Scribe and thirteen others, was built. The people wept when they heard the words of the law, but Nehemiah said:
|Mourn not, nor weep. Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.|
He did not forget the poor. Reading the Bible and remembering the poor -- a combination of faith and works -- will always bring joy.
Nehemiah then began to govern the city, and correct the abuses he found existing. He gathered about fifty priests and scribes together and made them sign and seal a written covenant. There were five things in that covenant I want to call attention to.
First, they were not to give their daughters to the heathen.
They had been violating the law of God, and had been marrying their daughters to the ungodly. God had forbidden them to intermarry with the heathen nations in the land of Canaan; |for they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you and destroy thee suddenly.| I have known many a man who has lost his power by being identified with the ungodly. If you want to have the blessing of God rest upon you, you must be very careful about your alliances. The Jews always got into trouble when they married with the nations round about. The houses of Ahab and of Solomon lost their kingdom by that sin. That was the cause of the overthrow of David's kingdom. Families who marry for wealth, and marry the godly to the ungodly, always bring distress into the family.
Then he made them sign a covenant that they would keep the Sabbath, that they would not buy upon the Sabbath.
Think of a man going from a heathen court where they had no Sabbath, a man brought up in that atmosphere, coming up to Jerusalem and enforcing the law of Moses! It is recorded that they brought up fish, and he would not let them into the city on the Sabbath, and the fish spoiled. After they had tried that a few times, they gave it up. If you will take your stand for God, even if you stand alone, it will not be very long before you will get other men to stand with you. God stood with this man, and he carried everything before him.
I don't believe we shall have the right atmosphere in this country until we can get men who have backbone enough to stand up against the thing they believe is wrong. If it is a custom rooted and grounded for a hundred years, never mind; you take your stand against it if you believe it is wrong. If you have gatherings, and it is fashionable to have wine and champagne, and you are a teetotaler; if they ask you anywhere and you know that they are to have drink, tell them you are not going. A man said to me some years ago:
|Mr. Moody, now that I am converted, must I give up the world?|
I said: |No, you haven't got to give up the world. If you give a good ringing testimony for the Son of God, the world will give you up pretty quick; they won't want you around.|
They were going to have a great celebration at the opening of a saloon and billiard hall in Chicago, in the northern part of the city, where I lived. It was to be a gateway to death and to hell, one of the worst places in Chicago. As a joke they sent me an invitation to go to the opening. I took the invitation and went down and saw the two men who had the saloon, and I said:
|Is that a genuine invitation?|
They said it was.
|Thank you,| I said, |I will be around; if there is anything here I don't like I may have something to say about it.|
They said: |You are not going to preach?|
|We don't want you. We won't let you in.|
|How are you going to keep me out?| I asked; |there is the invitation.|
|We will put a policeman at the door.|
|What is the policeman going to do with that invitation?|
|We won't let you in.|
|Well,| I said, |I will be there.|
I gave them a good scare, and then I said, |I will compromise the matter; if you two men will get down here and let me pray with you, I will let you off.|
I got those two rumsellers down on their knees, one on one side of me, and the other on the other side, and I prayed God to save their souls and smite their business. One of them had a Christian mother, and he seemed to have some conscience left. After I had prayed, I said:
|How can you do this business? How can you throw this place open to ruin young men of Chicago?|
Within three months the whole thing smashed up, and one of them was converted some time after. I have never been invited to a saloon since.
You won't have to give up the world, not by a good deal. If you go to reunions, and there is drinking, get up and go away. Don't you be party to it. That is the kind of men we want. When you find anything that is ruining your fellow men, fight it to its bitter end.
Nehemiah said, |We will not have desecration of the Sabbath.| Not sell the Sunday paper? Not buy a Sunday paper? How many read the Sunday newspapers?
I suppose that if you had Nehemiah as mayor of New York, he would stop that sort of thing. Here we have boys who are kept away from the Sunday school to sell papers on the streets -- trains running in order that the papers can be distributed. I don't believe a man is in a fit state to hear a sermon whose mind is full of such trash as the Sunday newspaper is filled with. Men break the Sabbath and wonder why it is they have not spiritual power. The trouble nowadays is that it doesn't mean anything to some people to be a Christian. What we must have is a higher type of Christianity in this country. We must have a Christianity that has in it the principle of self -denial. We must deny ourselves. If we want power, we must be separate.
The next thing they were to do -- (and bear in mind this was a thing they had to sign) -- was to give their land rest.
For four hundred and ninety years they had not let their land rest, so God took them away to Babylon for seventy years, and let the land rest. A man that works seven days in the week right along is cut off about five or ten years earlier. You cannot rob God. Why is it that so many railroad superintendents and physicians die early? It is because they work seven days in the week. So Nehemiah made them covenant to keep the law of Moses. If the nations of the earth had kept that law, the truth would have gone to the four corners of the earth before this time.
Then he made them sign a covenant that they would not charge usury.
They were just grinding the poor down. I believe that the reason we are in such a wretched state in this country to-day is on account of crowding the poor, and getting such a large amount of money for usury. People evade the law, and pay the interest, and then they give a few hundred dollars to negotiate the loan. There is a great amount of usury, and see where we are to-day! See what a wretched state of things we are having, not only in this country, but all over the world!
The fifth thing he made them do was to bring their first fruits to the sons of Levi.
They were to give God a tenth, the first and best. As long as Israel did that they prospered, and when they turned away from that law they did not prosper. You can look through history and look around you and see the same thing to-day. As long as men keep God's law and respect God's testimony, they are going to prosper, but when they turn aside, like Samson, they lose their strength; they have no power.
If you take these five things and carry them out, you will have prosperity. Let us all do it personally. If it was good for those men it is good for us. The moment we begin to rob God of time or talents then darkness and misery and wretchedness will come.