Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE THINGS IN THE CHURCH WHICH NEED TO BE GUARDED. "Charge over Jerusalem" (ver. 2).
1. The doctrines of the Church.
2. The members of the Church.
3. The temporal interests of the Church.
4. The work of the Church.
5. The reputation of the Church.
6. The civil privileges of the Church.
7. The discipline of the Church.
This defence is needed because infidelity, slander, bigotry, and laxity threaten to lay waste the Church.
II. THE MEN WHO SHOULD BE THE GUARDIANS OF THE CHURCH. "For he was a faithful man, and feared God above many" (ver. 2).
1. They must be duly appointed. "And the porters and the singers and the Levites were appointed." "That I gave" (ver. 2).
2. They must be truly sympathetic. The men who had helped to rebuild the city would be the most likely to defend it.
3. They must be wisely cautious. "Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun be hot" (ver. 3).
4. They must be sufficiently numerous. "And appoint watches of the inhabitants of Jerusalem" (ver. 3).
5. They must he eminently pious. "And feared God above many" (ver. 2).
6. There is a sense in which all good men ought to be guardians of the Church.
III. THE WAY IN WHICH THE CHURCH MAY BEST BE GUARDED.
1. By having regard to the Church in times of special danger. "Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun be hot" (ver. 3). The Church stands in need of watchful care during the night of error and sin; then its gates must not be opened.
2. By having regard to the Church at points where it is most liable to attack. "Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened."
3. By having regard to mutual co-operation amongst the watchers.
4. By putting our trust in God to supply the necessary lack and imperfection of human vigilance. - E.
I. THE NEED OF THE HUMAN (AND SPIRITUAL) ELEMENT TO GIVE WORTH TO THE MATERIAL (vers. 1, 2, 3). It was well indeed to have the wall, but that was worthless without men to guard it. Immediately the circle was complete and the "doors were set up," the three classes of porters, singers, and Levites were appointed (ver. 1). Charge of the city was given to two capable and trustworthy men (ver.
2.), and directions were given that the gates should not be opened till long after sunrise, "till the sun was hot," and not until the watches were all on guard, every man in his place (ver. 3). Behind the stone wall were to be the living men, quick of eye, strong of arm, bold of heart. Not a little reliance on the bulwark they had raised, but much more on the steadfastness and alertness of the patriots within them. It is well, indeed, to have the "new and beautiful" sanctuary, the well-appointed' schools and classrooms; but these will avail us nothing if within them there be not
(1) minds alight with redeeming truth,
(2) hearts aglow with holy love,
(3) souls aflame with fervent zeal.
II. THE DESIRABLENESS OF DOING RIGHT THINGS RELIGIOUSLY (vers. 1, 5). With the porters were associated "the singers and the Levites" (ver. 1). "It is probable that the opening and shutting of the temple gates was made with song." If with song, certainly with sacred song. Thus the manual labour of opening and shutting the city gates was associated with men of a sacred office, and with words and sounds of devotion. We read also (ver. 5) how "God put it into the heart" of Nehemiah to gather the people, and take a census. This thought, which in another and less godly man would have been complacently referred to his own sagacity, is ascribed by him to Divine instigation. As servants of God, it is not only needful to do the right things, but to do them in a religious spirit. The secular is to be most intimately associated with the sacred. Things done with ordinary prudence, in daily occupation, are to be done as unto Christ. "Whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do," - plant or build, buy or sell, read or write, work or play, - we must do all, realising that the power to do them is from him, and endeavouring to please him in all things - rightly because religiously.
III. THE PLACE OF SPECIAL PIETY (ver. 2). "I gave... Hananiah... charge over Jerusalem: for he was a faithful man, and feared God above many." The best place for those who are eminently godly men is not the cloister or chamber, but the more influential posts in the kingdom. They who most honour God in their heart honour him most and serve him best when they occupy busy and important spheres. Piety, wisely employed, and powerful, in the chamber of commerce or in the House of Commons, is at least as pleasing to God as piety in the house of prayer; but to be at its best at either it should be found sometimes at both.
IV. THE SPACIOUSNESS OF THE CITY OF GOD (ver. 4). "The city was large and great: but the people were few."
1. There is ample room within the Church of Christ for the multitudes outside. Many are within its walls, but "yet there is room;" we must go out and "compel them to come in," with a persuasiveness that will not be denied.
2.There is building to be done within the Church. "The houses were not builded." There is much room for edification within its walls. - C.
I. TO PROVIDE FOR THE SAFETY Of the city. There must always be the possibility of attack from without. Watch the walls and the gates.
1. The leading men of the Church should be faithful, and fearers of God above many. It is a terrible danger when prominent men are not examples of piety. Those who have a great charge should be above suspicion.
2. The gates must be specially watched, and their shutting and opening special matter of anxious care. When Churches are indifferent as to the admission of members they are doing incalculable harm to the cause of their religion. Wide and unwatched gates mean an unsafe city, an approaching ruin.
3. Let every one take part in the guardianship of Jerusalem. "Every one over against his own house." There are eminent men who occupy prominent posts, but the humblest believer has his part in the work of defending truth and guarding the spiritual prosperity of Zion. It was a good regulation which Nehemiah made: "Let not the gates be opened till the sun be hot." Do nothing in the dark. See the men who ask for admission in the clear daylight; know who they are, and what they mean. It is the multitudinousness of the Church which endangers it. If there be no light at the gates there will soon be enemies within the walls, traitors in the camp, and the safety of the Church will be undermined.
II. Those who seek the welfare of Zion will desire INCREASE OF NUMBERS. The large city and the great walls are no honour to God without many people therein. "The houses not built" represent the lack of individual and family life. It is the living souls that are the city's glory.
III. The TRUE METHOD OF ESTABLISHING THE PROSPERITY OF JERUSALEM IS TO LOOK WELL TO THE PURITY of its inhabitants. God put it into Nehemiah's heart to search for the genealogy, to distinguish the true Israel from the false.
1. The variety of office and degrees of honour quite consistent with unity of origin and community of spirit. It is better to have a place in the genealogy of God's people than to be high in this world's rank.
2. The preservation of the record was a help to subsequent generations to maintain the cause of Zion, and to tread in the footsteps of. the fathers.
3. The position of absolute, uncompromising purity and faithfulness to God is the only ground upon which discipline can be maintained. In the case of the priests, if the register could not be found "they were, as polluted, put from the priesthood."
4. The mere external purity of ritual is insufficient; the great requisite is direct intercourse with God. In all difficult cases the Urim and Thummim of immediate revelation must be sought. What is the mind of God? How little would the Church have erred if it had followed this rule: to suffer no caprice, no departure from principle, no compromise, but depend upon the word of God. - R.