Saturday, May 30, 2009
Freddie Williams II
Friday, May 29, 2009
I Hate It When That Happens
What I think the successful improvers realize is that human fallibility lies, not in a generalized tendency to mess up in every possible way, but in a small number of specific behaviors that recur in many situations. If you can identify these behaviors, you stand a chance of modifying them; or at least watching out for them and slowing down enough to take greater care in preventing their worst effects.Look, I think that is good advice when it comes to changing some specific behavior, provided a pre-condition is met. That is that we are working consistently to deal with the one very general screw-up in our life - sin. In other words, this works int he context of changing a specific problem when we are Christians calling on Christ.
This certainly seems to fit with what you can observe in nature. Nature doesn’t invent each creature anew. It takes a fairly small ‘kit’ of parts and combines them in an endless variety of ways. Legs tend to be roughly similar in basic layout wherever they are found, from a spider to a chorus girl. The lungs in a flea extract oxygen from the air pretty much as ours do. So why should the fallible parts of our make-up and functioning be unique to each individual?
You will likely note that this is essentially an evolutionary argument for changing behavior. well, all but young earth creationist weirdos will acknowledge micro-evolution, and I am suggesting a micro-evolutionary approach, if you will, to changing behavior.
The bottom line is as long as sin is at play, we will continue to behave in sinful fashion, and after we meet Christ, it requires effort to rid ourselves of such behaviors, and the suggestions of this article can help with that - but it is no substitute for that first step.
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Thursday, May 28, 2009
I Just Like Keeping The Church
"I'm a fan of keeping the church small. We're a relationship-based church, and I like to commune by name."In both cases they are looking for comment. The DMN got none and Todd got quite a few. I don't know many people that would argue that church does not have to be "relationship based" in some form, the real question is whether large or small has a direct relationship to that.
In all honesty, I think the language needs some adjustment here. It is not about relationship, it is about intimacy. If you cannot do intimacy, can you call yourself a "Christian?" I have to answer that with an emphatic "NO!" I wrote about this a long time ago in a primitive blogging attempt.
Think about sexual intimacy for a moment. I don’t have a lot of experience with that with anyone but my wife, but in this day and age it is not hard to find those that have a certain breadth of experience and it is not very hard to read about it at all. From the information I have been able to gather, the greatest reluctance in those situations is not the sex, it’s the nudity. Why do you think that would be the case? Why is nudity a barrier to sex? Nudity is pretty necessary to sex; I don’t know about you but the wife and I find that clothes usually get in the way.I truly believe that the mega-church trend has caught on in large part because it allows for anonymity at church. It permits one to ever become intimate with the church or the people in it. Under such circumstances it becomes church without repentance. And then is it "the church" at all?
I think the answer is straightforward. Clothing creates an illusion. We can make ourselves look better than we really do look when we are clothed. But when we get naked we find that the object of our lust may not be quite as spectacular as the wonder bra (or sock in the pants) led us to believe. Sexual intimacy requires that we reveal ourselves, including our imperfections, to our partner. Nudity puts at risk our image of perfection, and more importantly puts at risk the desire that image has created in our partner, and thus we risk rejection.
Relational intimacy is the same. The more intimate we become with someone socially, the more we risk their discovery that we are not quite all that we are cracked up to be. The reason that intimacy is in short supply today is not because technology is in the way; it is because people are no longer willing to risk the exposure that intimacy requires.
Why is that? Everybody is imperfect; we all have foibles and problems, why should it be so hard to let others see them? I think it is because when we expose those imperfections to others we expose them to ourselves. The image that is REALLY at risk inintimacy is not the image the other has of us, but the image we have of ourselves. The risk is not that they will reject us, but that we will reject ourselves, or more aptly, we will be forced to confront the issue and try to fix it.
Let me say that again -- THE RISK OF INTIMACY IS NOT THE RISK OF REJECTION BY THE OTHER, IT IS THE RISK OF US HAVING TO CONFRONT AND WORK ON OUR OWN IMPERFECTIONS. Anyone in the psychology business is probably reading this right now and going, "No, Duh!" But I really need to establish that point to get to the real point I want to make.
That confrontation of our own imperfections is what I have called brokenness. Brokenness is the self-revelation that I am a wretch. Repentance, as discussed last week is the acknowledgment of the self-revelation. Now this has massive implications for pop-psychology the church.
Let's start with pop-psychology. I think this aversion to the confrontation of one's own limitations started when the whole self-image movement started in the 70's. That movement has taken hold in our American ethos with an extreme vigor. Most people in an effort "to feel good about themselves" have simply rejected self-analysis. They don’t confront their imperfections; they deny their existence. I have heard one clinical psychiatrist on the radio say that in the last 30 years the greatest psychological problem facing most people today has shifted from guilt to narcissism. Pop-psychology may have done a good thing when they labeled "self-image" as a problem, but they have done one hell of a bad job helping people fix it.
Now, on to the church. The church's message should be very opposite that popular version of maintaining a self-image. The message of the church is not "You're OK." To the contrary, the message of the church is "You're a wretch. You're a wicked, warped, sinful individual. -- BUT YOU ARE LOVED." As I understand Christianity, it is the only thing that gives me a method to overcome my deficiencies. Denying my shortcomings does not make them cease to exist. If I accept "self-image" as the big psychological bug-a-boo, then Christianity gives me a way to fix it. You see Christianity teaches me that despite my problems, I am loved. I can feel good about myself, not because I don't have problems, but because the God of the universe died for me. In other words, it's impossible to have a good self-image; it is only possible to have a good image reflected through the mirror of my relationship with the Lord. Not only that, the more I discover my own wretchedness, the better that reflection (as opposed to direct image) gets because the more love is required to clean that reflection up.
Large or small, we have to be the church.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
The Need For Roots
To scan the popular Christian publications today is to conclude that the category of heresy has not been lost, but it has been relocated. The new anathema is “cultural Christianity.” “Missional Christians” disparage it. The supposed demise of Christendom is the rallying cry of young, hip evangelicals. Many would prefer to be labeled “Arian” than derided as “Constantinian.” They suspect even classical Christian doctrine, infected as it supposedly is with the cultural categories of Greek thought.Anyone who reads this blog knows that I hate seeing when pop-culture replaces mature Christianity, but I think that is a different thing than the Christian culture being discussed here.
But should the Church wish to produce further generations of Christians with the luxury to protest Christendom, she needs to preserve and transmit Christian culture in addition to faith. Eliot, no stranger to nuance, on this matter expresses himself quite plainly: “I believe the choice before us is between the formation of a new Christian culture, and the acceptance of a pagan one.”
In an arresting passage, he warns that to neglect the transmission of Christian culture is to destroy “our ancient edifices to make ready the ground upon which the barbarian nomads of the future will encamp in their mechanized caravans.” He would be unsurprised to see those edifices further eroded today. He might be surprised to see a crustaceous crowd of post-Christendom Christians celebrating the loss.
But then we have a "church" today that is largely unhinged from its roots. we are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The church, in all its many forms has corrupted and corrupted again. But it has also self-righted over time. The problem is, we have run so quickly towards rejection that we no longer give it time to self-right before we move on.
In so doing we have reduced church to arguments over which church is right and which is wrong and lost all that has been built before. We have reduced church to theology, and that is shallow Christianity indeed.
Theology, spirituality, mystery, art, behavior - these are all aspects of what it means to be the church.
It is high time we seek them out again.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
AMEN! Quote of the Week
Christianity is a great religion. It’s the only religion in the world that allows you to pick any country in the world to travel to, and then tell your friends it’s their religious duty to pay your way to go.Technorati Tags:missions
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To and From
Again, my intention is not to nitpick what was likely a kindly volunteer at a simply country church function. Rather, the comment revived my recent quest to identify the nature and practice of this most fundamental of Christian acts: believing. The message of the Gospel, we were told growing up, was not activated in the life until it was “received” and “believed.”Let's put that into a sentence:
First, the sensations associated with the act of believing are painfully hard to define in that world. The descriptions believers give of the event usually end up being marked by some vague inward impression that they are in fact feeling positively towards the speaker’s message. They agree with them. They like what they are hearing. They are willing to go ahead with the emotional transaction, albeit with wildly undefined currency.
Finally, my suspicion is that this confusion is due to the fact that a fully Biblical consideration of faith cannot be separated from its spiritual flip-side, repentance. Faith and repentance are regularly spoken of together in Christian spiritual theology. Why? I suspect because there is no turning TO when there has not been a turning FROM.
That is to say, repentance leads me to despair of myself, to stop focusing on my ability to do anything about my current spiritual state, to drop my arms helplessly at my side and admit that I am powerless before my addictions, broken but for his grace. Ironically, this painful, Spirit-created admission with its attendant posture towards God, my neighbor, and myself IS the very posture of believing. I am in fact believing when I own this truth about myself: that I am a sinner, that I am needy, that I am hungry.
That single sentence could be the stuff of reformation for Evangelicalism. The gift we receive when we say "yes" to Jesus is not the "feeling good about ourselves," or "peace," or "security," or anything else that I necessarily want. The gift we receive when we say "yes" to Christ is clear vision - seeing ourselves as we truly are, and seeing Jesus' love in its genuine immensity.
And yet, whether typically evangelical or newly emergent, what we see is the church turning TO culture, instead of asking people to turn away FROM it.
Now here is where it gets really interesting. This approach is ultimately, about us, as individuals. It is about stripping away the cultural that we hide behind and that we say "defines us" and makes us look starkly and harshly at ourselves - our deepest, inner most self. And that picture is never pretty.
I have lost a lot of weight in recent years - hundreds of pounds. I am constantly complimented on my appearance in light of such. But here is the thing - everybody sees me with my clothes on, and I do look pretty good that way, at least relatively speaking. But, take those clothes off and it is not a pretty picture. I have only had one of the numerous plastic surgical procedures required to deal with the "leftovers" of such tremendous weight loss. When naked, while dimensionally much smaller, the flaps of wrinkled, loose, crumpled flesh are unsightly to say the least. Only real love can look past something like that (THANK YOU HONEY!)
Repentance hurts - but in it we discover the real love that Christ offers.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Honor Is Due
Unfortunately today, we don’t strive for that we just look to connect with people and then call those connections friendships. Sure we are connected, but we connect at the Twitter and facebook level – one or two lines of pithy comments. We don’t really connect where we know people. Making this condition worse is the fact that even with those surface “friendships” as the norm, we are still more likely to know more about our online “friends” via short comments then we are our next door neighbors. We chat online, we surf the web, we goggle for info, but we never walk next door. We don’t want to KNOW people we want to KNOW ABOUT people. Sad, but true.Somethings require no comment - simply AMEN!
I believe that eventually we all get tired of this pattern and we begin to look for some real friends. We try to go deeper, but usually fail as this is new territory for many. Somewhere along the line though most people take a look at Jesus. There they see a man on a cross, giving all of Himself to them, and then and there they see what a true friend is and they are shocked.
He is closer to us then a brother. He is intimately involved and knows our struggles, our needs, our goals, our successes, our failures, our motives, our hearts, and our pains. That scares a lot of people.
So we run away. Which leaves many in a situation where they claim Jesus as friend, but only many that to point where they have a Facebook / Twitter friendship with Jesus not a real in depth and intimate relationship. For those that really know Jesus, they know that kind of relationship with Jesus simply is not possible.
To be a friend of Jesus you have to give ALL of yourself. Not a line or two, a side comment, a brief note, a pithy statement, a 30 second trailer, etc. You have to give all, invest all, and sacrifice all. Those that do it know the rewards are great, but unfortunately since fewer and fewer people see real friendship modeled in their daily lives they have know idea regarding it’s benefits, so they just move on. They continue on with have associates, affiliations, acquaintances, and passing relationships. Sure Jesus is their friend, He is their buddy, He is a phase or a season of their youth / life, and soon their relationship with Him is just like the relationship they have with hundreds / thousands of other “Friends” – surface and minimal. They check in on Jesus, read / hear a few things about Him occasionally, but they never really get to know Him or what He / His love is about.
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Sunday, May 24, 2009
Sermons and Lessons
As it was delivered in a Sermon Preached at Boston in N. E. May is. 1667. being the Day of Election there.
Ps. 78:70-72 - He chose David his servant - He brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.
Josh. 7:10 - And the Lord said to Joshua, Get thee up: wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?
Isa. 32:1,2 - Princes shall rule in judgment. And a man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind, and a cover from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.
AT THE ELECTION AT BOSTON, MAY 15, 1667.
Nehemiah 2:10 - There was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.
The Occasion of these words, and frame of the Context, is known and obvious to every Reader, we need not take up time in that.
The words are a short, but notable Character or description of good Nehemiah, when appointed to be Governor or Ruler in Judah, and that in a time of trouble (of great Affliction and Reproach, as ver. 3 of Chap. 1 and the whole frame of the Story tells us) then he willingly undertakes the Charge, and comes with this design, this was his aim and spirit (as it was afterward his practice) to seek the Welfare of the Children of Israel. If you ask who or what Nehemiah was, that was now come to be Ruler in Judah, (for so he was, Chap. 5:14) or what his business or design was? You are answered in this Periphrasis, There was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel. It is brought in here as that that was the grief of the back-friends of Judah, (Sanballat and Tobiah, when they heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly, saith the Text) but it was a truth in it self; (that is it that I aim at) this was the News that was then to be heard at Jerusalem: and it was no small joy to them, that there was come a man (viz. Nehemiah) whose aim, business and spirit was to seek the welfare, (or the good; as the word is) of, or that that was good for, the children of Israel.
But without further Preface, the words plainly afford us this Truth:
Doct. It is the Work and Spirit of faithful Rulers to seek the welfare of the People especially when as they are the People of the God of Israel. Or,
It is the Duty and the Spirit of faithful Rulers, even in difficult and troublesome Times (you may add that, for that was the case of the Text) to seek the good (or welfare) of the People, especially when as they are the People God.
Thus Nehemiah did, this was his Spirit and Character, and he made it his business all the time he was Ruler in Judah, as the whole after story shows, which is a large Comment on the Text; and his commended Example is here set forth in the Book of God, for others Instruction and Imitation. Rulers (I say) are to seek the welfare, the good of the People Rom. 13:4. He is the Minister of God to thee for good; speaking of the Civil Magistrate: he is so by his Place, and he ought to be so in his Practice; Esth. 10:3. Wealth-good (the word is) or welfare the same word is there in the Hebrew, with this in the Text. Luke 22:25. Civil Rulers are called Benefactors, (saith Christ) and such they ought to be, as they may justly and truly be so called; Benefactors, ένεργέτοα, doers of good; to and for the people they rule over, especially when they are the people of God; so we know Israel (the children of Israel) were Gods Covenant people, 2 Sam. 7:24 and to seek the welfare of such a people (the children and people of Israel) that hath an Emphasis in the Text, was emphatically the design and desire of good Nehemiah that consideration moved his heart when he was in the Court of Persia, both to pray for them, and to endeavor their help, Chap. 1:10. The safety of Jerusalem, the holy City by his building up the Wall thereof, was his main design, Neh. 2:13,17. So Ps 78:71, 72 great is the Trust and Obligation upon David, when set to feed (to Rule) Jacob, that are the people of God, and Israel his inheritance: Ps 122:9 so speaks David, a Ruler, to Jerusalem. For the Religious Interests thereof (Because of the House of God that is in it) he is eminently affected to seek its good.
For a little Explication. The Object, [the Peoples welfare] and the Act, [Seek] are here considerable.
Quest. 1. What is that good, or welfare ofthe people, which Rulers ought to seek? or wherein doth it consist?
Answ. Take it in the Example of Nehemiah, the improvement whereof the Text leads us unto.
1. They are to seek the Maintenance and furtherance of true Religion amongst a people. Nehemiah did not think himself unconcerned in that; or that he being a Civil Ruler, had nothing to do in matters of Religion: He encouraged and assisted Ezra in the Reformation of Religion, Chap. 8. & 10. He put forth his Authority to restrain and redress sundry abuses therein; as Neh. 13. The defiling of the Temple, ver. 7,8,9, Neglect of the Levites, ver. 10-13, Prophanation of the Sabbath, ver. 15-22. Religion is the chief and principal thing, wherein the welfare of a people stands it is impossible they should be well and do well without this, whereby they may come to serve God and glorify him, and attain Salvation for their own Souls. The weal, the excellency, end and happiness of Mankind, lies in true Religion: and therefore if Rulers seek the weal of a people, they must needs seek the advancement and establishment of this. Hence Religio est summus politica finis; Religion is the chief and last end of Civil Policy. Alsted. Encyclop. p. 1389. Gods Commandments are the Rule of man’s good, Deut. 6:24 & 5:29 so is the first Table as well as the second: hence they must be keepers of both Tables.
2. In subordination to Religion, they are to seek also the external, temporal welfare of the people:
1. Consisting in their Safety; that Nehemiah taketh care for in the first place; (the preservation and safety of their persons and enjoyments, both Publick and Personal, Religious and Civil). To that end he builds the Wall of Jerusalem, for their safety, that they might not be a prey unto, or reproach amongst their Adversaries, Neh. 2:17. This is fundamentally necessary to the welfare, or well-being of a people, they cannot possibly have well being, without the preservation of their Being, both Personal and Political. When Nehemiah came to seek the welfare of the children of Israel, his great business was to build the Wall of Jerusalem, in which place their principal Concernments, both of Religion and Government, were laid up, Ps. 122:3,4,5. That Jerusalem have a Wall for the safety and preservation of it, (and of what is contained in it) is requisite to the welfare of Israel.
2. Their Honesty: Rulers are to seek to maintain, cherish and preserve Civil Honesty amongst a people, by restraining and redressing Injuries between man and man, and other Crimes and Misdemeanors, by the Administration and Execution of Justice; by the free passage of Righteousness, which assigneth to every one his own; and of Equity also, abating the rigor and extremity of strict Justice, where need is. Nehemiah left an eminent Example of this, Neh. 5:7-13 causing them to deal honestly, yea mercifully with their poor brethren, according as the distress of the time required, suppressing the biting Usury that was among them; he frees the oppressed from their oppressions, and taketh care that Righteousness and Equity may obtain amongst the people; this also is a part of his care for the good of Israel. That people may live together in all honesty as well as godliness is the care and the benefit of — Rulers, I Tim. 2:1,2 and so that Judgment and Justice may be faithfully administered, which is a main Basis of the welfare of a people, and a main part of the work of Rulers, I Kings 10:9, Jer 22:3,15,16, Amos 5:24, I Pet. 2:14.
3. Their Prosperity; in matters of outward Estate and Livelihood, by such help as the care of Government may contribute to that end. That that we commonly call (Wealth) is a part of the wealth or welfare of a people, though not the greatest part, as the world is apt to esteem it. Good Rulers will gladly be a furtherance thereunto, what in them lies, that the Commonwealth may flourish and prosper in that respect, but especially in reference to necessary livelihood, when it is a time of distress and poverty, or special scarcity in this or that, of food or clothing: when the people are in a low condition (or many of them at least) wrestling with many and great difficulties, or in a dearth, Chap. 5:3 how careful is tender-hearted Nehemiah of the people at such a time, Neh. 5 he took great care that things might be so carried on, that poor people might be provided of necessaries, and be able to sustain their Families, that they might not perish in a time of dearth and scarcity, ver. 2,3,&c. this was part of the good he did for the people, ver. 19 So Gen. 41:33-36.
4. Their Tranquility; Quietness (or Peace) in the enjoyment of all those, (both Religious and Civil good things.) That was the scope of Nehemiah’s care and endeavors in many of his actings. That the people might enjoy Peace and Tranquility, he doth endeavor to prevent and hinder both Disturbances from without; (hence he built the Wall of Jerusalem) and also to establish Unity; Love and Peace among themselves; to that end he took care to quiet Complaints and Contentions, and to heal dissatisfactions that arose among them, Neh. 5:1, 2-6, 7. It is the great fruit and benefit of good Government, that the people may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in the ways both of true Religion, and civil Honesty, (or in respect both of their Religious and Civil Concernments) I Tim. 2:2. That of Tertullus was a great commendation of Felix his government, had it been true, and spoken without flattery, Acts 24:2 the enjoyment of Quietness (Peace and Tranquility) is an excellent fruit of good Government. Thus of what the welfare of a People is. Now
2. To [Seek] a peoples welfare, is to put forth utmost and best Endeavors to procure, promote and maintain it; to study it, and to speak for it; to act for it, as occasion is. It is not an empty wishing and woulding, (I could be glad, saith a man, to see it go well with such a People) nor yet to talk of it only, and speak great words, but to do (effectually and vigorously to do) for it what in us lies, as the case requires. Seeking implies positive and industrious Endeavors, in the use of all due means, to obtain a thing; as the use of the Word, in other places shows: See Ps. 34:14, Prov 11:27& 15:14 & 18:1, Mat. 13:45. Take a man that seeks Wealth, or seeks Honor, how diligent, active, sedulous is he in his way, he lays out himself in industrious pursuit after it so doth a faithful Ruler seek the welfare of the people, so Nehemiah did (as the story tells us.) But I may not enlarge here.
Reas. 1. Why it is the Work or Duty of Rulers to seek the good and welfare of the people; 1. Because this is the way whereby the Rule, as such, glorifies God; viz. by seeking the good and welfare of the people. To glorify God, is the last end and great duty of every man, and thither we are to refer all we do, I Cor 10:31. Now we serve and glorify God in our several stations, (and as placed amongst men in this world) in a way of seeking and serving the good of men: hence the Law, which is the Rule of our serving and glorifying God, we know one Table of it is taken up in enjoining of us to do good to men, to seek and further the good and welfare of our Neighbor, in all that concerns him, (in his Honor; Life, Estate, &c) Would you serve God? then saith the Lord, Love your Neighbor, seek the good and welfare of your Neighbor as your own: this is that Eternal, Immutable, Moral Rule that lies upon all men. Hence it lies upon the Ruler, that he do in his place, and according to his capacity and compass (which is greater then that of a private person, and therefore more is expected from him) seek the good of the people he stands related to. For [our Neighbor] is any one or more of Mankind, whom we have any opportunity or capacity to do good unto, Luke 10:29-37. and the more Spiritual opportunity, advantage and obligation we are under to do good to another, the nearer Neighbor he is. Hence the People are the Rulers next Neighbor, (as I may say) they are the direct and eminent Object of his love, and of the fruits thereof; whom his Place gives him the highest advantages and obligations to do good unto. Hence to seek the good of the people, is the great work and duty which the Eternal Law of God lays on those that are called to place of Rule and Government.
Reas 2. Hence, The next end of the Ruler; as such, is to be for the people, and to promote their good and welfare: As the last end is the glory of God, so the next end is the good of the people, Rom. 13:4. As I Cor 11:9 i.e. Woman is lastly and as Homo (or one of mankind) for God; but nextly and as Mulier (in her proper place and Sex) for the man, to be an Help to him, Gen. 2:18. So the Ruler is (as every man is) lastly for God, but nextly, and as a Ruler for the People. The people are not for the Rulers, but the Rulers for the people, to minister to their welfare. Now it is the excellency (the goodness) of every thing, and the duty of the rational creature, to serve to its End; and the more aptly and fully that any do serve to their End, the better and more excellent they are.
Reas. 3. From the Trust that is committed unto Rulers: They are betrusted by God (yea by God and Man) with the Public Weal, and God will call for an Account of it, they are his Ministers, his Trustees for that business, Rom. 13:4. No man can wholly excuse himself from being his Brothers keeper, Gen. 4:9 but the keeping of the Common-weal of all their Brethren, is in a particular manner committed to Rulers, they are called in Scripture Shepherds, Ps. 78:71 & 77:20, Ezek. 34:23, Mic. 5:5, Jer. 23:14 who are he trusted with the Flock; Nursing-fathers, who are betrusted with the care of the Child, Num. 11:12. Isa. 49:23. These and such like Titles import the Trust they are charged with. If the people or their welfare should ever miscarry in their hands, through their default, it will be required of them by the Lord. The people’s welfare is a depositum committed to them to keep. If but one Neighbor commit a thing to another to keep, care and fidelity in that Trust will be required, Exod. 22:7-12 much more when a whole People, and God by them, do commit their whole common welfare unto such and such to keep.
Quest. 2. Why they are especially to seek the welfare of the people of God; or to seek the welfare of the people over whom they are Rulers, especially when as they are the Lords people.
Reas. 1. From the Preciousness of such a people, and of the things that are laid up with them: The Lord hath but one Darling in all the world, and that is his People, Jer. 12:7, the dearly beloved of my Soul, even sinful Israel is so called; Israel is his Son, his first-born, Exod. 4:22, and such an one he puts to you to nurse, who are Rulers in Israel; they are his Portion, his Inheritance, his peculiar Treasure, Deut. 32:9, even when found in a desert land, ver. 10, there he leads them about as a Flock, by the hands of Moses and Aaron; and they are to him as the Apple of his Eye, ver. 11, Ps. 135:4, Ex. 19:4,5. His Vineyard Isa. 5:7, and this he commits to your care and keeping (as Cant. 1:6) With what care is such a Trust to be managed and looked unto? and how solemn would the account be if neglected? as I Kings 14:7 & 16. 2. They are the Brethren of Christ, and what is done to or for them, yea for the least, for a despised handful of them, he accounts as done to himself; Matt. 25:40,45. They are the Spouse of Christ, of whom he is very tender, for whose welfare he is exceeding jealous, Zech. 1:14. They are the Household of Faith, and there is a specialty of duty and obligation to do good to such, to seek their good and welfare, Gal 6:10. The nearer that any are to God, the nearer they are and ought to be to us. God’s people are precious and honorable in Gods sight; yea if any part of his people be more holy, more reformed, more conformable to his Will and Image then others, they are the more precious: and so they should be in our sight, and will be so with all that have a heart after the heart of God, and that love the righteous as such, Isa. 43:4, Jer. 2:3. When and while Israel was Holiness to the Lord, (an holy people) not only by designation, but also in measure actually so, the Lord was more then ordinary tender and chary of them.
Remember also the precious things that are laid up with and among the people of God; as viz. The holy Ordinances of God, The Truth of Religion, The dispensation of the glorious Gospel, The helps of everlasting Salvation: These things are high and strong obligations to seek the good of such a people, Ps. 122:9, and to maintain, preserve and promote these Enjoyments, wherein the choicest part of their welfare is contained. When the Ship is loaden with Plate and Treasure, it highly concerns the Master and Pilot to be very careful of her, that she miscarry not.
Reas 2. The glory of Gods Name is eminently bound up and concerned in the welfare of his people; and therefore, if Rulers seek the glory of God, they must intensely seek the welfare of his people. It is true, that God who brings good out of evil, can and doth make the adversity and sufferings of his people turn to his glory; but that it doth so, is but by accident, and a working by contraries. The peace and welfare of the Lords people, hath a more proper and direct tendency to the glory of God, as well as their own comfort. Indeed if you speak of bare outward quiet and prosperity, singly considered, that hath not so near connection with the glory of God (though that was an outward blessing, and was accounted a great favor in Solomons time, I Kings 5:4) but take the whole welfare and peace of a Religious people together, that compriseth the flourishing of Religion, the open exercise of Gods Worship, the free passage of the Gospel, the most advantageous enjoyment of all the helps of Salvation, and of all encouragement in the ways of God: and there is a very near and direct connection between this and the glory of God; his glory is eminently bound up in it. So Ps. 102:16 when Zion is pull’d down, laid in the dust, as ver. 14, lies in rubbish, the glory of Gods Name suffers, and is eclipsed, (Ez. 36:20, Is. 52:5) But when Zion is built up, and restored from her Captivity into a condition of welfare, then the Lords glory appears, shines out, and is advanced. So also under the New Testament, when deliverance, peace, rest, and visible welfare is given and granted to the Church, it is counted and spoken of as a great glory to God, and his Name is thereby lifted up amongst men. So in the time of Constantine, as that is commonly taken in Rev. 12:10. (The Kingdom of God is after a sort visibly seen, saith Brightman on the place, when God setteth up godly Rulers to govern his people.) And so upon the more full and final deliverance and restoration of the Church, and peaceable flourishing of Religion therein yet to come, (the great issue and scope of the Providence of God, of the Promises and Prophesies of his Word, and of the Prayers and Hopes of his people) the peace and welfare of his people will be matter of great and wonderful glory to God, and an exaltation to his Name and Kingdom in the world, Rev. 19:1,2,5,6. & 11, 15-18. It is therefore no carnal thing, but an holy duty to desire, and in our places to seek and endeavor the Peace and Tranquility of Israel, not for low and sensual ends, but that God might have glory by his mercy to us, and by more abundant and fruitful service from us. And look as it is in the Body Natural, though God can and doth turn Sickness, Diseases, and other like Afflictions, into great good to his people, and glory to his Name; yet notwithstanding Health is to be prized, prayed for, and by all lawful means sought after and it is a duty of the sixth Commandment so to do. The same may be said of political health and welfare: God is to be submitted to, and glorified in Affliction and Tribulation, if he please to bring it; but he is to be waited on in all regular ways (in the use of all lawful means) for welfare, even outward peace and welfare: and it is a great glory to his Name, where he bestows it upon a people of his, (public peace and welfare upon a whole people especially) and he is to be glorifled for it. And hence to act against the welfare of the people of God, is (in Scripture account) to act against the Lord himself, and against his Name and Glory, (which shows how eminently the same is concerned in them, and in their welfare) Ps. 83: 3,4,5 (such are enemies to God, therefore to his glory, ver. 2.) & 74:7,8,22,23; Zech. 2:8. And on the contrary, all that Nehemiah did for this people, and for their welfare, he did it for God, and the Lord accepted it, Neh. 5:19&13,14. And so Heb. 6:10. you show love to Gods Name, when you minister to his Saints.
Reas. 3. The Rulers own good and comfort will eminently hereby be promoted; God will graciously remember Nehemiah for good, for all the good turns that he doth for his people, Neh. 5:19&13:31. So Heb. 6:10. God will in a Gospel way (by his rich grace) richly reward every such service; Moses had the recompense of reward to look unto, and so hath every faithful Ruler, Heb. 11:25,26. If you would study for your own welfare, and contrive to find out a way how you may be well, and do well enough (for one) whatever comes, there is no way in all the world like this, Faithfully to seek the welfare of the Lords people: & and do for God and for his people, and you shall be sure to do well whatever come. Ebed melech that did but do for one Jeremiah, found a reward even in those saddest times, Jer. 39:16, 17, 18. much more shall they (one way or other) that do for a whole Body of the Lords people. Dan. 4:27, the poor, i.e. specially the poor people of God (the afflicted Jews) then in his Dominions in Captivity, if there was any way in the world to lengthen out his Tranquility, that was it. As Numb. 10:29,32, the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel if you faithfully seek their good, you shall partake in the good and blessing that the Lord hath laid up for them; you shall be blessed with them and among them, not in this only, but in another world: for they shall prosper that love Jerusalem, and faithfully seek the peace thereof, Ps 122:6.
USE I. This Point shows us what ought to be the general End and Rule of all the Motions and Actions of Rulers, viz. the welfare of the people. To that scope Nehemiah bends all his Actions and Endeavors; and Finis est mensura mediorum, the End serves to measure, regulate, direct and limit the means, and show what should be done. That Maxim of the Romans was and is a Principle of right Reason, Salus Populi Suprema Lex, [The welfare of the People is the Supreme Law] and is engraven on the Forehead of the Law and Light of Nature. Hence it is owned and confirmed by the Scriptures, as we see in the Text; and it is easily deducible from the Law of God: for that that is indeed the Law of Nature, is a part of the Eternal Law of God; and the Law of God enjoins, that in Humane Civil Affairs, things be managed according to right Reason and Equity; and that Rulers, as they are for the people, so they are to make ft their main business, and the scope of all their Actions, Laws and Motions, to seek the welfare of the people. There is Sun-light for this Maxim, and it was never doubted nor denied by any that held but to Rational and Moral Principles. Hence this Law being Supreme, it limits all other Laws and Considerations. Hence it is impossible that a people or their Rulers should be bound by any other Law, or Custom, or Consideration whatsoever, to do any thing that is really and evidently contrary to this. If it be indeed contrary or destructive to the welfare of the people, (of the Community they stand charged with) it is impossible they should be bound in Conscience to do it.
This is the Compass that Rulers are to steer by, and the Touch-stone of Right and Wrong in all their Motions, viz. What is for or against the Public good, and the Welfare of the people, Rom. 13:14. That bounds and regulates his whole Ministration. What is for the Common good that and that only you are to do; and all that are set in place of Rule and Government (be they of higher or of lower quality) do stand charged with the welfare of that people, whom they are Rulers over.
I know when it comes to particulars, the doubt will still be, What is for the welfare of the people. One will say, this is most for the common good, another that. But
1. It will help much if this Principle be settled and acknowledged, That in Civil Affairs, the Consideration of the welfare of the whole, is that which shows and determines what is right, and weighs down all other Considerations whatsoever. Men will say, We must do what is right, whatsoever comes of it: Fiat Justitia ruat Cælum. True, but it is most certain it is not right, if it be against the welfare of the people. It is im¬possible that any thing should be truly right, that is destructive to the common good: for ft will constantly hold, Salus Populi Suprema Lex.
2. Consider the things wherein the welfare of a people does consist, which are above-mentioned, [viz. Religion in the first place, and then their Safety, or the Preservation of their Being, both Personal and Political, and their participation in the Rules and Fruits of Righteousness, Equity, Order and Peace] and that will help to discover and discern what is for the welfare of the people, or for the common good, and what not. There is need of much prudence and wariness in particular Applications and Cases; but those general Principles will hold, That a peoples welfare lies in such things as these, and that Rulers are bound in all their Motions and Actions to seek the welfare of the people, and to do nothing contrary there-unto.
USE II. Hence see, that difficulties and troubles do not excuse, nor should discourage Rulers from doing the work of their Places which God calls them unto, or from seeking the welfare of the people: Such things do not excuse, nor should discourage from taking and accepting the Place of Rule when called to it. As they did not Nehemiah, though he heard before that their condition was a condition of great affliction and reproach, Neh. 1:3, yet he voluntarily left the Court of Persia, to embark with the Jews at Jerusalem, when in so stormy a time as this was; and how is he honored in the Book of God for it? It was a difficult time and task that Moses was sent upon, accompanied also with a deep sense of his own infirmity and unfitness, Exod. 3:4 he could not but be slow and backward to such a work; but yet when he was over backward the Lord grew angry, and chides him into a consent: but (I say) difficulties and troubles should not discourage nor hinder Rulers from doing the work of their Places when set therein, i.e. from faithful seeking and acting for the welfare of the people, which is (as we have said) the summary work of the Rulers Place. Consider a little the difficulties that lay upon the Jews and their Rulers at this time in Jerusalem, after their return from Captivity, and in the days of Nehemiah.
1. They were a small, weak and despised people, Neh. 4:1,2,4 & 1:3 &2:19. Contempt and reproach is a bitter and killing thing to ingenuous Spirits; yet this they were fain to bear and pass through. It was a day of small things, which others, yea even themselves are apt to despise, Zech. 4:10.
2. They were in the midst of Enemies, and Adversaries round about them, of several sorts and Nations; Sanballat a Moabite (from Horonaim a chief City of Moab, Isa. 15:5, Jer 48:3,5,34 called the Horonite) and Tobiah the Servant, the Ammonite, on the East, Neh. 2:10. (The Servant, he was Governor of the Ammonites, but of a base and servile spirit; some think that of a mean man, he was got into Place, and therefore is called Tobiah the Servant such are often worst, Prov. 30:21,22) Geshem the Arabian (Neh. 6:1 & 4:7) and others on the South; and the Samaritans on the North, Neh. 4:2, Ezra 4:9,10.Thus they were beset round with Adversaries, and Ill-willers, and many Informers and Complainers there were against them, as before in the days of Zerubbabel, Ezra 4 & 5.
3. Their Adversaries did labor to afright them with the Accusation of Rebellion, Neh. 2:19 an old Artifice, but it was an injurious Calumny, and most groundless Accusation. The building of the Wall of Jerusalem for self-preservation, had nothing in it of Rebellion: but many clamors and stories they raised of that nature, Neh. 6:6,7,8, and see their end therein, ver. 9, to weaken and discourage them from their work, that their hearts and hands might fail them therein, that was it they aimed at.
4. There were Discontents and Divisions among themselves, Neh. 5:1. Great Complaints of the Inferior sort against their Superiors; of the Poor against the Rich; of Brethren against Brethren: yea, there were among themselves that were helpers to their Adversaries, and complied with them, even some chief men and others, Neh. 6:17,18. and thereby, among other evils, it came to pass that nothing could be kept within its due compass, but everything was carried and reported to their Adversaries, ver. 19. They uttered my words (or my matters) unto him; and that doubtless not in the fairest dress. Yea, there were some of the Prophets that endeavored to weaken the hands of faithful Nehemiah, and to put discouragement upon him, Neh. 6:10, (This Shemaiah is conceived to be the same that is mentioned Ezra 8:16.) 11, 12, 13. (By the way, who would have said that that would have been a sin, which might seem to be a prudent retirement for safety? yea, but for Nehemiah, in a case so circumstanced, to act fear and discouragement to the prejudice of his Cause and Work, would have been a sin.) But ver. 14. there were also that raised Slanders of others of their Prophets, those it’s like who were of another mind, ver. 7.
5. They were poor, and low, and weak as to outward estate, conflicting with wants and straits, and many difficulties in that respect, very unable to support themselves, and to bear the Public Burdens that were then upon them, Neh. 5:2-5 and ver. 18. The bondage was heavy upon this people: Neh. 9:37. We are in great distress.
6. Hence there was hard Work, and weak Instruments, ready many times to be discouraged, Neh. 4:10, in the Workmen themselves, and those that should join hands together to labor and carry on the work, began to mutter and be discouraged, by the difficulty of the work, and their own weakness; We are not able, say they, to carry it on: At the same time when the Adversaries were high, prefident and threatening, ver. 11, their own workmen began to be disheartened and diffident, ver. 10. Here was a juncture of discouraging trial. Hence hard shifts they were fain to make to carry on the work, and to put forth themselves to the utmost, and beyond an ordinary measure, by the care and courage and conduct of good Nehemiah, ver. 16,17. Every one had both his hands full, and they were fain to do two works at once, the work of a Soldier, and of a Laborer, ver. 18,21,22,23.
7. It was a time of many fears wherein they had many fears among them, and many that heightened those fears: many Reports, Threatening and fore-speakings of this, and that, to that purpose, Neh. 4:12. & 6:9,13,14,19. It is observable, that that was the drift and endeavors of Adversaries and Ill-willers, Fear, fear, fear, a discouraging Heart and Handweakening carnal fear. The great word of God to godly Rulers is, be strong, and of a good courage, fear not when in Gods way and work, Josh. 1:6,7,9. But the word of Satan and his Instruments is, Fear, be afraid look upon the danger of being faithful: But (as to man and second Causes) they had many very great causes of fear, many dangers round about them, and to be faithful in duty in a time of fear, proves a difficult task to flesh and blood.
8. Which was worst of all, Among this people of the Jews after Captivity when engaged in Reforming work, there were many sins, disorders and miscarriages, which were provoking unto God, and a great exercise of discouragement to their faithful Leaders; such in Ezra’s time as made him blush before God, and fear what God would do with them, Ezra 9:6,10,14. And before that in Haggai’s time, such neglects of carrying on Temple-work, and of finishing what was begun, as he sharply reproves, yea as God reproved from Heaven, by Drought, Blastings, &c. Hag. 1:2,5,6,9,10,11. & 2:16,17. And here in Nehemiah’s time there were faults, evils and distempers found among them, as Neh. 5:1,6,7,9 & 13:4,5,10,15,18,23,24,26,27. not only matter of Affliction, but sinful Corruptions and Distempers do sprout up among a Reforming people, and those they have to wrestle with: yet neither did these take them or their Leaders off from their Work, nor utterly overturn it nor did the Lord cast them off (though he chastened them) but helped them along, though in much infirmity. He was with them at many a dead lift, (Hag. 2:4) and after frowns yet smiled on them again: especially while the Leaders were faithful to search out and testify against evil and to set upon duty when called to it; and the people were willing to hearken to them, and to be reduced and reformed by them: both which may be observed of them all along in the story, Hag. 1:12,13; Ezra 10:2,3,4,7,8,12,14.
9. Lastly, we may remember the long time wherein this poor people were conflicting and laboring under Difficulties and Infirmities, and what a succession of Difficulties and Troubles did attend them in the Reforming, and Rebuilding work they were upon. From their first Grant by Cyrus, unto the beginning of Nehemiah’s Government (in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes) according to the shortest Account, were 82 years (so Usher in his Annals. Junius saith 146. Lightfoot saith but 37, but few embrace that) Almost all that time, & so afterward in the time of Nehemiah’s Government, they were followed with various Troubles and Exercises (as the story at large tells us) though they had their lucid Intervals, and the Lord still helping in the issue.
Thus that word was made good, Dan. 9:25, that Jerusalem, both City and Wall, should be built again in troublous times. Yet notwithstanding all this, they went on in their Work with Courage, and Constancy, and Confidence in God, Neh. 2:20, and he did prosper them, not by preventing Difficulties, but by carrying on the Work in their hands through all Difficulties, and in the midst of all their Infirmities. And it is observable, that every Tragedy they passed through, had a glad Catastrophe; every stress had a comfortable issue: God still helped them in the conclusion and upshot of every business, that they came off well at last, though with much tugging and wrestling, much exercise of Faith and Patience. So in the Building of the Temple, (thus it went on heavily, and met with many obstructions, and many Adversaries; vet they got through at last, to their great joy) Ezra 6:15 16,22. So here in the building of the Wall, Neh. 6:15,16. & 12:27,43. And so in the Reformation of Abuses, Ezra 10, Neh. 5 & 13. The story of the Church in all Ages, & especially in the Scripture, informs us, that the best and greatest works God hath delighted to carry on through many Difficulties and Oppositions, and in much felt infirmity of Instruments. The time of Moses, of David, of Israel, all along in the Old Testament, will furnish us with many Instances of it; yea and also of the Apostles in their Work under the New Testament, Act. 20:19, I Cor 16:9. & 3:3, IICor 11:23-28, 29, 30, Gal. .4:13,14, the glorious Gospel must be preached & carried on through Infirmity of the flesh, i.e. through outward meanness and affliction of Instruments, yet not therefore to be despised. The whole Church of God, and every particular concernment thereof, is in a Militant conflicting condition in this world, and it must be no stumbling to us to see it so: it occasions the more exercise of Faith, Patience, Prayer, &c. in the work (as we see in the example of Nehemiah all along) and the more of God to appear in the issue of it, Neh. 6:16.
Go on therefore in the Work of the Lord, and in the Service of your several Places, and be not taken off by trouble, difficulties, oppositions, felt infirmities in yourselves, weaknesses and distempers in persons and things round about you, (which will always be.) When were there work for Patience, Faith, Fortitude, Self-denial, and for the Spirit of a Soldier, Wrestler, &c, if it were not for such things? We must none of us say, of one Order or other, I will serve God in my place, and help build the Wall of Jerusalem, if I may do it with ease and tranquility, without trouble, without hazard, without reproaches, and ill requitals from men, &c. Christ is little beholden to us, if that be all we will do for him; that is too low for the Spirit of a good Soldier of Christ Jesus, II Cor. 6:4,5,8. Yea, now you look like the Ministers of God, when you cheerfully discharge your Places, though surrounded and loaden with Afflictions, Distresses, Labors, false Reproaches, &c. Now you are dressed like a Minister, like a Servant of God, and of his people in Public Work; and through such things as these, you must go on in your Work, as the Apostles then did.
Use III. A threefold Exhortation: 1. To our Rulers and Leaders. 2. To the People 3. To both jointly, or to the Whole.
1. To Rulers and Leaders, who are betrusted with the Government of this people; Let them be Exhorted by the Word, and in the Name of the Lord, to follow the Example of good Nehemiah, and to be of this Spirit, to make it your work and business to seek the welfare of the Lords people. The Concernments of a People framed into a Body Politic, are put into your hands, and of such a people as are the people of God (that no Christian Spirit can deny) a part of Gods Israel, though but a part, vet no inconsiderable part of the people of God at this day in the world: such a part of Gods people as are retired into these Ends of the Earth, for known ends of Religion and Reformation, to serve God in his Temple and Ordinances according to his appointment: You are betrusted with as precious an Interest as is this day upon the Earth; viz. with the Lives, Estates, Liberties, and Religious Enjoyments of some thousands whose Names are written in Heaven, and bound upon the Breast and Heart of Christ Jesus: yea, with so much of the Interest of Christ, his Truth, Ways, Worship, Gospel, Name and Kingdom, as is to be found here amongst this people. This part of Israel do under God confide in you, and betrust you with their Welfare: To be Instrumentally the Saviors and Preservers hereof; is a thing more honorable and excellent (yea and more profitable too, as will appear one day) then to be Owners of all the Wealth of both the Indies. Poor Nehemiah, who sought and maintained the welfare of the children of Israel, when but an handful, a poor small and despised people, is more honorable in the Book of God, then all the great Ones of the Earth in his time. The Lord Jesus Christ, having ask’d and obtained this piece of the uttermost ends of the Earth for his possession, doth commit it unto you, as Instruments under him, to keep and maintain his possession in it. The eyes of the whole Christian World are upon you; yea which is more, the eyes of God and of his holy Angels are upon you, to see and observe how you Manage and Discharge this Trust now at such a time. And though your Obligations and Encouragements from men, from the people over which you Rule, are but small, there is little outward ad vantage you have by them to engage you to them, or their welfare, (and hence they that look no higher then the world, will never do much for such a people) yet to men of Religion, and Conscience, and Faith, there is enough to be said to oblige and encourage them: the Charge and Commandment of God, and Duty to him, is the highest Obligation. Remember that the Lord, the great God, lays this solemn Charge and Injunction upon you (Honored Fathers) as you will answer it at the great Day, That you seek the good, and be tender of the welfare of this people: and God may be bold with you, though we may not; he speaks not without Authority to Command, nor without Riches and Power to Reward you; he hath given an Advantage to set before you, and encourage you by, though we your poor people have not; he hath the Promise to encourage, as well as the Precept to bind and oblige: they that can really believe the Promise, will never stick at any Duty; and so not at this duty of the Precept. When Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God, he made the best bargain for himself that ever man did. Paul never gained so much, as when he lost all for Christ The Lord will not let you be losers by any thing you do for his people, Neh. 5:19. Every penny-worth of such Service shall have many pounds of reward, Mark 10:29,30. God in Christ is a rich and gracious Rewarder, as well as a sovereign Commander and therefore when you are before the Lord, and look to him (as it is before him, and in his Name that we now speak) the Exhortation mentioned is strong and powerful, and wants no strength of Argument to back it, to persuade and constrain (encourage and oblige) to seek the welfare of such a people.
And some Helps to this purpose (or useful Directions) we may readily gather from the Example of Nehemiah.
Direct. 1. Put on bowels of Compassion, so as to have a lively sense of the Condition and Concernments of this people: So Neh. 1:4. & 2:3. & 5:18. Think not that it is well enough if I can shift for one; Nehemiah was not of that mind, he took a view of their case, (in special to see where ought was broken down and out of order in the Wall of Jerusalem, that he might stir up himself and them to mend it) Neh. 2:13,15,17.
2. Be studious and solicitous about the Public Welfare; bestow intense thoughts, study and care concerning it, what may be needful or expedient for it. Neh. 5:7. My heart consulted (took counsel, the phrase is) in me; his mind wrought about the business: he is also very vigilant and industrious to foresee evils, and to use means to prevent the same, and to order things in their time and place; as may be seen in special in Chap. 4. at large.
3. Practice Self-denial and Patience; faithful Rulers will find much need of that, especially among a people that are poor and full of infirmities: Neh. 5:14,15,16,18. He requires not the bread of the Governor, (i.e. the Maintenance belonging and suitable to such a Place) because many heavy burdens were upon that poor people. This was a voluntary departing from his own Right, and it cannot be urged as binding where the case is not alike (though where, or so far as the case is alike, the fear of God will teach it, as it did him, yet is.) We may fear indeed that there is not that done by the people with us, that should be, and might be in this particular; it may be time will teach us more of our duty in that matter: But to be sure great things cannot be done by this poor people; and where so it is, Rulers shall honor God and themselves much by Self-denial, and condescending to mean things, and to do that out of love to God and his people, for the which they are not rewarded by men: (Oh there are but a few such Nehemiahs in the world, we have cause to prize and be thankful for such, you cannot find the people upon earth that have so Self-denying and condescending a Magistracy, as the Lord bath given unto us.) But the less your reward is on Earth, the greater it shall be in Heaven. As you are to practice Self-denial so also Patience. When God chose a Ruler for Israel in the Wilderness, he chose the meekest man in all the Earth, (Numb. 12:3) a man of patience, and he had need be so, to bear the Infirmities, Murmurings, Unthankfulness, and the Distempers of the people. Moses was a Nursing-father, Numb. 11:12. The Nurse had need have more patience then the Child; else what will become of it? If when the Child is froward and unquiet, the Nurse should be so too, what work would there be? Though it be a time of strife (the great distemper) of the Congregation, Moses and Aaron must carry it with patience and moderation, else God will not take it well, Numb. 27:14.
4. Courage and Constancy was another imitable excellency in Nehemiah, and without which he could never have done his work, nor stood up for the welfare of that people, especially at such a time. Many sought to drive him from his work by fear, but he abode undaunted and courageous in the Lord, Neh. 6:9,11, (he counts that such an act of fear was very unsuitable to one in such a Place) 13,14,19. Threatening, Letters, Prophets, all cannot discompose him by fear: yea, he hath such a Courage, Faith and Presence of Spirit, as to encourage others in time of danger, Neh. 4:14,20. (Our God shall work for us.) If the Spirits of Leaders fail when Difficulties and Troubles come, all fails; but God bath appointed them to Spirit all about them, to be both the Head and the Heart of a people, II Chron. 32:6,7,8. That (I say) is the great word of God to good Rulers, only be strong, and of a good courage, viz. in the way of the Rule, Josh. 1:6,7,9 and they have a strong word to build upon, (ver. 5) I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
5. Wisdom and Prudence in the management of Affairs; as it is mentioned in Scripture as a Requisite in Civil Rulers, Deut. 1:13,15, II Chron. 1:10, so it was not wanting in Nehemiah, as the whole frame of the story shows us. I might instance in some acts & fruits of his Wisdom; as in his practicing the lesson that we have since had from Christ’s own mouth, Beware of men, (Mat. 10:16,17.) Neh. 6:2,3,4 in his not being carried with pretences, and taking plausible shows of Reason, no not from Prophets themselves, Neh. 6:10,11,12, nor with great words from others, Neh. 2:19,20. His putting great Trust into the hands of faithful men, Neh. 7:2. & 13:13, &c. We may here remember, That Religion is the truest Reason; Honesty the best Policy; and to keep in the way of the Rule, in the fear of God, is the highest Wisdom: and all sinful deviation or turning to crooked ways, is folly, Job 28:28, Ps. 111:10, Prov 10:9. But Religion doth not take away, but establish the prudent managing of Affairs, as to the manner and circumstances of Actions. How often may the same thing be done, and the same end attained, in a discreet, moderate, comely and prudent way, as well as in a way that is less expedient? David guided them with the skillfulness of his hands, as well as with integrity of heart, Ps. 78:72. Leaders are to exert a skillfulness and prudence in the manner of the Conduct of Affairs.
6. Be much in Prayer on all occasions: Nehemiah was a praying Magistrate, and therefore so helped and blessed in his way and work, Neh. 6:9 & 4:8,9 & 1:4,11. (He laid the ground-work and beginning of his work and business on Prayer, and so he carried it on.) He will have an Ejaculation to Heaven, even when he is upon Action, and hath not time for more, Neh. 2:4 The Prayers of Rulers and Leaders for the People, are a precious means of the peoples welfare. That is one good way of seeking their good, to set God on work by Prayer, and engage him to do them good, Ps. 51:18. When Hezekiah and Isaiah do both cry and pray to Heaven, there is good hopes it shall go well with that people, and that God will appear for them, as he did, II Chron. 32:20,21,22. How oft did the Prayer of Moses and Aaron for Israel in the Wilderness, slip in between them and destruction, Numb. 14:12,13-19,20 & 16:20,21,22,45 & 21:7. It was an exemplary passage of that worthy Prince of Orange, who when he had but one breath to draw, spent half of it on the people in prayer for them, crying (as he fell down slain) Oh my God, take pity of my Soul, and of this poor people.
2. This Point may afford several Instructions to the People.
1. It gives a Direction whom to make Choice of for their Rulers; viz. Such as may be most fit and likely, faithfully to seek the good and welfare of the people; and of such a people of God as through grace are in this Wilderness, and so circumstanced as they are. But I shall not insist on this.
2. Learn and be exhorted hence highly to prize and honor such Rulers when Chosen, and called to Place of Government. Such as have it upon their heart, and make it their business faithfully to seek your best welfare; such as are in measure of Nehemiah’s Spirit; those whose design it is to seek not themselves, nor great things for themselves, (alas they are not to be had here) but the welfare of the people, their Safety, Peace and Prosperity, (and the Prosperity of Religion, which is the principal part of our welfare) out of love to God and to his people; Be assured your welfare is bound up in such. It is God that works and maintains a people’s weal, hut he does it by means, and especially by this means of faithful Rulers and Leaders. It was the great work of Gods mercy to the Jews after the Captivity, (which the story is taken up in) that he raised up for them, and among them, faithful Leaders to be Instruments of their good; Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah, to rebuild both the Temple and City of Jerusalem, and settle things in the Church and Common-wealth. When God means well to a people, (hath thoughts of peace, Jer. 29:11 & 32:41) he gives them such Leaders as shall cordially seek their wel¬fare; when ever he hath good days for his people, he lays in this, Isa. 1:26 & 60:17, Jer. 23:4 (See I Kings 10:9) So of old in the Wilderness, Ps. 77:20. Which Text of Scripture we heard well improved in a Sermon on the like occasion now Seven years ago; wherein it was said, That that was the Thirtieth year currant that God had given us godly Magistrates if so, this is the Thirty-seventh year currant, wherein we have enjoyed that mercy. Whereupon it was then solemnly added (by that Reverend Servant of God who then Preached) That the Sun shines not upon an happier people then we are in regard of this mercy: The Lord make us thankful for it, and give us to know and prize the things of our peace, and faithfully to adhere thereunto, (not meddling with them that are given to change) as also to love, honor, and acknowledge those that are and have been the Instruments of our peace and welfare, as doth become us.
3. Pray much for Rulers, that God may dispose and assist them to seek and promote your welfare, I Tim. 2:1,2. (that it may be well with us, that we may enjoy welfare under their Government) their work is great and weighty, and you are concerned therein unspeakably, [viz. to be Instrumental under God of your whole welfare] and therefore you had need to pray hard for them. It was a good speech of Bugenhagius, (apud Gerbard. de Magistr Polit. pag. 924.) Si tam prompti essemus; &c. If we were but as forward to pray for Magistrates, as we are to censure and blame them, things would be better with us then they are.
4. Let people be friends and Helpers to their own welfare; or every one in your several places seek the common good of the whole. If Rulers are to seek the welfare of the people, then surely people themselves are not to prejudice or neglect their own welfare. The Patient must contribute Endeavors towards his own health, as well as the Physician, else there will be but little good done. It is the Rulers work eminently, as his Place is more eminent; but it is also the work of every one, according to the compass of his capacity and opportunity; to seek the welfare of the place and people, where & among whom he lives, Jer. 29:7. So the Lord speaks to Captives in Babylon, during the time of Gods patience with it; much more doth that duty lie on those that dwell in Zion, to seek the good and the peace of the place, both by Prayer to God, and by all other due means within their power. Love thy Neighbor, much more a whole Community, a multitude of thy Neighbors, is the Lords charge to every one. A little more particularly,
1. Be sure (every particular person, I now speak to even them that are in private capacity) to do no hurt to Israel, (to the Lords people among whom you live) either directly, or indirectly; either willfully or carelessly: that is just contrary to seeking the welfare of the place and people where you live; which is a Moral and great duty lying upon every Soul. Woe to that person, whosoever he be, that shall he a willing or blameable cause of hurt or harm to the Lords people here, whom he that toucheth will he found to touch the Apple of his Eye, Ps. 34:21. When God called Abraham forth to follow him in a way of Reformation, he gave that word along with him, Gen. 12:3 and so to Jacob or Israel, Gen. 27:29 and he did and will make it good. If you love your Souls, take heed of touching Israel to their hurt: yea even words that tend to the reproach or prejudice of the people of God, or Builders in Jerusalem, is not a small matter, Neh. 4:2,3,4,5 (such Imprecations tell us, what will be the portion of such except they repent, though not that ordinary and private Spirits should be forward to wish that it might be so to particular persons). They have provoked anger (Thee is not in the Hebrew) irritated and raised spirits (by their Scoffs and Reproaches) before, or in respect of the Builders. The words may carry that meaning.
2. Think it not enough to do no hurt, but according to your place and opportunity do good to Israel, to that part of it in special in which the Lord hath cast you. Be willing to put forth thy self for the public good according to thy Talent. Hast thou Estate which the Lord hath blessed thee with, (and gotten, it may be, here under the shadow of the Government?) let not the Public suffer for want, when as thou hast it by thee. Hast thou Ability to serve the Country any other way? be ready thereunto: Do not only pray, but put forth endeavors according to capacity and opportunity for the peace and good of Jerusalem; else you do but daily in praying, if you will do nothing for it, Ps. 122:9. Seek it in the use of all due means. A public Spirit even in a private person is a precious thing; i.e. according to the compass of his place to be ready to do for the common good. Could the Heathen (the Romans and others) produce such Sayings as these; That man was not born for himself but for his Country; That even to die for it is sweet Dulce & decorum pro Patriá mori; and boast of those among them that practiced accordingly: and shall Christians be strangers to such a Public Spirit, or be backward to act for the common welfare. Here in Nehemiah’s time every one set his hand to, to build up the Wall of Jerusalem, and the particular persons and companies that did their parts therein, are to their honor recorded in the holy story, Neh. 3. Oh that is a pleasant sight, to see all sorts contributing to the Safety, Peace, Welfare of Jerusalem, and joining Hearts and Hands therein, Neh. 4:6. Oh! have you a mind to build or to save the Wall and Welfare of Jerusalem? Are you cheerful cordial, forward; industrious therein? not a man to talk only, but to work when the case requires it.
3. Keep Order: keep in your places, acknowledging and at tending the Order that God bath established in the place where you live. Numb. 2:2 the Israelites were commanded to pitch every man by his own Standard; the LXX. render it κατα τάγμα, According to order So I Thess. 4:11 Act orderly if you would act any thing for the public welfare; leave the guidance of the Ship to those that sit at Helm, and are by God and his people set there, and whom you are immediately stated under: only pray for them. And if there be place for a modest Suggestion, tender it as becomes you, but justle not into their Places, nor refuse to acquiesce in their Conclusions. This people of the Jews after the Captivity; we find them ready and willing to be ordered by those the Lord set over them; and by that means things went well, or when ought was amiss it found amendment, Ezra 10:2,3,4,8,12,14; Neh. 5:12,13. & 13. It was a good time in Issachar, when as, I Chron. 12:32.
3. The third Branch of the Exhortation. Let me speak a few words unto All, to Rulers and People both together. The Command is (as we see) that we all ought to aim at, and be studious of the common good, the weal and welfare of the whole; the Lines of every ones ways and actings should meet in that Center .In the fear of God be faithful and careful herein. And to this end, let me add a few general Helps and Directions from the Word of God, such as may concern both Rulers and People in their several capacities, though more eminently the former, as having the main stroke in the Conduct of Affairs.
1. Be sure to fix upon a right Basis or settle upon a right Interest even the true Interest of Christ Jesus; i.e. Be found in, and cleave to the way of the Rule, the way of Gods Word, in those things especially that are of public and general Concernment. Faithfully keep with God, and then he will be with you; as we well heard the last Year, from II Chron. 15:2. That therefore is the sure and certain way to welfare, Deut. 5:29. In matters of Religion and Reformation in a special manner (which is our main Interest) keep close to the right way, turn not from it to the right hand or left not in those things especially that concern your public Profession and Practice in the sight of the World. Take heed of Corruption here.
(1.) Do not wrong and mar an excellent Work and Profession, by mixing and weaving in spurious Principles or Practices; as those of Separation, Anabaptism, Morellian (Anarchical) Confusion, and Licentious Toleration. If any would secretly twist in and espouse such things as those, and make them part of our Interest, we must needs renounce it as none of our Cause, no part of the End and Design of the Lords faithful Servants, when they followed him into this land that was not sown. Separation and Anabaptism are wonted Intruders, and seeming Friends. but secret fatall Enemies to Reformation; as Paul in a case not much unlike, I Cor. 3:10-15. In this Work here on foot, there was a good Foundation laid, viz. Christ as the only Law giver in his Church, and Reformation designed according to his Will and Apostolical pattern; but take heed how you build thereupon. If you should build the Hay and Stubble of such things as those, then verily (though sincere persons will be saved, and the main of the Work may be saved and revived at last), yet verily sooner or later there will come a Fire that will burn up this Stubble, and then your poor Leaders that would have led you the right way, may be remembered when ft is too late. Do not on pretense of avoiding Corruption, run into sinful Separation from any of the true Churches of God, (and what is good therein) or from the Children of the Covenant. Prize and hold fast the Covenant of God to you and yours. Keep with God in his Covenant, and walk up to it, and you may boldly trust him, God All-sufficient will keep you. If we will own Gods Covenant but for one generation only, (when as Gen. 17:7, the Covenant runs to us and our seed after us in their generations) how justly may the Lord tarry with us but for one generation, and then break up house, and leave us to confusion.
(2.) On the other hand, do not so avoid Separation, as to neglect or prejudice Reformation. The good old Nonconformists were very zealous for Reformation, and yet always steadfast Enemies to Separation: those two may well consist, and they left us a good example therein. Such things as are or have been known Corruptions in other Churches, it is no part of sinful Separation, but a part of just Reformation to avoid them, or refuse to propagate, practice or continue them. Christ would not separate from (or cast oft) the Temple, but he was zealous to purge the Temple, and so should we be. And it is our Errand into the Wilderness to study and practice true Scripture Reformation, and it will be our Crown (in the sight of God and man) if we find it, and hold ft without Adulterating deviations. Oh seek and keep it, and hold it fast, Rev. 3:11. To leave the Children of non-scandalous Orthodox Christians Unbaptized, will (I doubt not) be one day found a thing displeasing unto Jesus Christ. But on the other hand, to Baptize in such a lax and licentious way, as serves to dress men in the Livery, without bearing the Yoke of Christ; to have his Name upon them, with rejection of his Government, this will not suit either the Principles of Reformers, or the Rules of Scripture. So though Rigid Severity in Admissions to the Lords Table is to be avoided; yet to be lax and slight therein, to admit all sorts to full Communion, or upon very slight Qualifications, is against the Principles and against the Interest of Reformation. Again, to put Election of Church-Officers into the hands of All, (though matters ought to be so unblameably carried, as none may have any just Objection against the person Chosen, without matter of satisfaction given them) is such a piece of ruining Confusion, as none of the Ways or Models of Church Government that have been of any repute in the world, would ever admit of. That is an Anabaptistical Tenet; Spanhem. Disput. I Thes. 53. Take heed of Extremes, and of passing from one Extreme to another, (or from flying from Papall or Prelactical Tyranny, into Morellian Anarchy) which mans weakness is very apt to do. Pray and study to find and keep the true Scripture way, and be not hurried from it on one hand or other, by the Devices of our cunning Adversary (Satan) whose wiles we should not be ignorant of.
So also in Civil Concernments, fix upon a right Basis, upon Foundations and Principles that are Righteous and Rational, and that will hold, and let not one thing justle out another. But I forbear to meddle there.
In all avoid Irregular Extremes, and wild Extravagancies; be for safe and sober Principles and Practices. It was a wise mans Motto, (viz. Sir Nicholas Bacons) Mediocria Firma: Things carried with Moderation and Mediocrity are firm and stable; Extremes soon run themselves out of breath, tumble down of themselves, and so end in Confusion.
2. Study Unity, (and to that end Order;) i.e. Unity in the Lord, and in his Truth and Fear. Unity in Sin, Error and Evil is a piece of Hell; but Unity in Peace and Righteousness is no little part of Heaven, and a main Ingredient in a peoples welfare, Ps. 133:3. To this end,
(1.) Let all that fear God heartily Unite in the main; yea all that fear God will Unite therein: i.e. in the main Concernments both of things of Religion, and of the good of the People. He that fears and loves God, will love his Truth, love his Word, (the Rule of Faith and Life) and love his people, and love their best welfare: and the main Concernments of all these things are so plain and palpable, as he that cordially loves them will (unless transported in a pang of Temptation which will not hold) see and close with them, and unite therein.
(2.) Let not them that Unite in the main, be disunited by lesser Differences, but therein attend the means of Help, and he set down by Order.
1. Attend the Means of discerning and finding out the right way even in lesser matters, and of agreeing therein. There is nothing so little in the things of Religion, or of the public Welfare, (especially in matters of practice, wherein we must of necessity act and practice one way or other) as that we may neglect it, or neglect our best Endeavors to find it out, and attend the mind of God therein. We must not disregard the least of Gods Commandments, nor teach men so to do, Mat. 5:19. Though the Points of Baptism, Church-Order, and such like, be not Fundamentals of Salvation, yet they are matters of necessary practice, (and of no small moment neither) wherein we ought to use all the means that God hath appointed, and gives opportunity to know and do his Will, and to labor to agree therein, that we may speak the same thing, I Cor. 1:10. We should not think it a light thing to be of many minds, but diligently use the utmost means to agree.
2. If after the use of all Means, some smaller and lesser Differences do remain, (as some there will be while we dwell in the flesh) Agree not to Disagree about them, but to manage them with Love and Meekness. Agree, I say, not in order to Separation, that is a strange Agreement to agree to Divide and Disunite, but in order to Union and Communion: and in the issue, let Order carry it; be set down by Order, submitting one to another in the Lord, I Cor. 14:32,33. There cannot be peace (but confusion) if there be not an orderly subjection one to another.
You will say these are but generals. It is not easy to speak more then so here: but yet they are such generals as (I humbly conceive) admit an easy application to particulars.
3. Let every one take heed of Sin, and study Holiness, and practical Piety, or close walking with God, Prov. 14:34, Joel 3:17. Be an holy, and you shall be an happy People. If any sin be sprouting up or getting head, timely observe it, and weed it out of your Souls, Churches, Families, Towns, Country. Let Ministers reprove sin, and spare not, Isa. 58:1. Let Magistrates impartially punish it, (and God forbid that should ever be found with us, as Amos 5:10) And let all sorts of men stand up against sin in their several places, and in all regular waves, (for a disorderly ungrounded and ill managed Zeal often doth more hurt then good.) Keep out Sin, and that will keep out Sorrow. Isa. 4:3,4 when Jerusalem’s remnant are holy, and thereby a beauty and glory to God, then upon all that glory there shall be a defense. We in these places are eminently obliged, and eminently advantaged to be an holy people; and God expects it from us: If we be not so, we may expect his Rod, Amos 3:2. yet if we bear his Rod, and be improving of it unto holiness and amendment, he will not cast us off.
4. In this way (of regular walking before God) put your trust in the Lord God Almighty, Zeph. 3:12. Be humble and believing Carry it humbly before God and man; be not haughty because of the holy Mountain, nor in any other regard. I wish our whole course, garb and guise might speak Humility and Humiliation, in so humbling a time as this is. Carry it in all things as becomes a poor and afflicted people: But if you be the people of God, and God Almighty be your God, then put your trust in him Ps. 62:8 that was the great duty of Israel in the Wilderness of old, and the want of that the great Controversy, Ps. 78:22. Never did God take person or people into Covenant and near fellowship with himself; but he put them upon this sooner or later, to venture all upon God, and to rely upon his Mercy, Power and Faithfulness, having no other string to their Bow but Faith in him: So Abraham and Jacob often: so Israel at the Red Sea, and in the Wilderness, where they were called openly to act and live by Faith in the sight of the world, both as to Protection and Provision. And never was God known to fail a people, that in a way of well-doing did trust themselves with him. We have sundry times read of weapons formed, but never of any that prospered against a Reforming people, and relying upon God. The story of Asa, of Jehoshaphat, of Hezekiah may easily be remembered, II Chron. 14&20&32. and of Nehemiah also, Neh. 4:11,15 & 6:16 & so in the Promise, Isa. 54:17. That denomination [of a Reforming people] may (I hope) in some comfortable measure be given to this people. Reformation is that that we are engaged upon, & are laboring in, though with much infirmity and trouble, and sometime ready to say as they, Neh. 4:10 yet the Work is in hand, and not quite given oven And there is a desire to fear Gods Name, and do his Will, as Neh. 1:11. I hope the greatest and swaying part do sincerely say, Thy Will be done, though through weakness we cannot reach it; we should not despise. as Zech.4:10. God may chasten us for neglects and faults, as he did them when they were upon Reforming work after the Captivity, Hag. 1 [And indeed there are such faults among us, as do give matter of fear as well as hope I mean, fear of very sore and smart Chastisements: we have no cause to flatter our selves, or to be secure.] But yet God will be slow to cast off his poor people; though he chasten us, yet he will not kill us, nor destroy, but save in the issue, Ps. 118:18 and therefore we should be slow to cast off our hope. Lay aside Security; and be awakened. (If there be things of moment amiss among us, and we will neither mend, nor endeavor it in good earnest, but it may be fall out with those that would mend us, verily God will make us know that he is in good earnest, and will not be dallied with; it is a jealous God with whom we have to do) but do not lay aside your Hope and Faith. Yea, whatever the Lord do with us, we ought with humble reliance on him, to leave ourselves with him. You that have Faith, put it forth; pray down, and believe down Mercy for the Lords people, (all manner of mercy; preventing mercy, reforming mercy pardoning sanctifying mercy, and delivering mercy) That of Asa, Help us, for we rest on thee, (II Chron.14:11) is wont to bring a good issue.
5. Lastly, Let every one be and do for God and for his people now as they would wish to have done, when the great Day of Account shall come. For God, and For His People; is the Motto of every gracious Soul, II Cor. 5:13 and he that is indeed for God, is for his People, (that is certain, I John 5:1 & 4:20,21) and doth sincerely seek their good and welfare. Why now hearken to this word, all you that stand before the Lord this day; we must ere long meet in a far greater Assembly then this is, where we must give Account of our speaking, and of our hearing and doing; when Christ shall break out of the Clouds; who is the only Potentate; King of kings; and Lord of Lords, and sit him down on the Throne of his Glory; and call all Nations, and us all before him; and when it shall be said, What you did to my Brethren, to my People, yea to the least of these my Brethren, you did unto me? and what good you did not do, what you neglected, or had no heart, no affection to do, nor courage to do for these, you did it not to me, Matt. 25:40,45. How will these things look then? when all worldly Interests shall be worth nothing when Estates, and Friends, yea Crowns and Kingdom shall appear to be but pebble stones, compared with one good look from Christ Jesus! Will it not then be a comfort to have sought the welfare of the children of Israel? and will it not then be more bitter and terrible then many deaths, not to have done it, or to have done the contrary thereunto? What the Apostle saith to Ecclesiastical, I may say to Civil Rulers, I Pet. 5:2,4. Feed and rule the Lords people, and seek their good in the integrity of your hearts, and when the chief Shepherd, and chief Ruler shall appear then shall you receive a Crown of Glory that fadeth not away! And so all the people of God in your several places, the Lord is with you, while you be with him; as we excellently heard the last year and if you be with him, you must and will be with and for his people; yea chose to suffer affliction with them, if that be their condition, as Moses did, Heb. 11:25. And you will every one say, as you sometimes had that word on such a day as this, sweetly left with you, by that faithful Nathaniel now with God, Ps. 122:8. For my Brethren, and companions sake; I will now say to Jerusalem, Peace be within thee: and because of the house of the Lord our God. I will seek thy good; that is thy voice of every Soul that loves our Lord Jesus in sincerity; In that Spirit and way persist, act and walk in your several places, and hold on therein against all Temptations, in faith and love through Christ Jesus And at that day, when every Cup of cold water to a Disciple shall be rewarded; when the house of Onesiphorus shall be remembered when every act of love to the faithful shall be honorably acknowledged: Then shall you stand in the Congregation of the righteous, (in the same company then, that you cleave unto now) And the Lord the Righteous Judge shall give you a Crown of Righteousness, and unto all that love his appearing.