Nehemiah xiii. 14.
Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof.
And even to remember ourselves concerning this, of the good deeds done to this house of God, and to the offices thereof, have I chosen the text to-day.
A day, by all probable conjectures, from the ancient great solemnity we find upon it, the feast of dedication of this reverend and aged pile, either at the first or second building of it, when it was first presented to God to be remembered by him. A day here observed, not only in memory of S. Paul's conversion, but of the conversion of this place (now S. Paul's) either, at the first, from the Temple of Diana to the house of God; or of this part of it wherein we are, some hundred of years after, from common use, and renewing of the rest of it out of ashes to the vast proportion it now carries.
And it falling out this year to be a day crowned with so honourable an assembly, I hope it may fall out happily to remember you of some kind "offices," some "good deeds" to it; now, after a third conversion of it from a stable, a magazine, a market, a meeting-place of schism and rebellion, to a church again, and the holy offices in their beauty--to set [320/321] to your pious hands to help it out of dust and rubbish, and raise it up to its first lustre and glory.
But if the day should have no such reflection, no day could be amiss to remember either ourselves or you of such good works as God here is not only content to be remembered of, but pleased to remember--puts here upon record too, that we also may remember them; remember what good Nehemiah, and other pious souls, have done in their several times to the house of God, and forget not ourselves to do the like.
We have a command from S. Paul, whose day it is, to "charge them that are rich" to do so, to be "rich in good works;" and such are these. We have a good warrant for it hence; we have a good pattern here; and the works put all, as it were, upon God's score to pay for. Thrice it is so in the chapter, ver. 22 and 31, as well as in the test, as if God were little less than bound to recompense and reward them. And he will, if we carry not ourselves too high upon them; if we do them with sincerity, and reflect upon them with humility. Nehemiah does so. For how good soever the works were, the words are but a modest recommendation of them to God, when they were done with an humble petition to him to accept them. An excellent precedent to us, what to do in the case, and how to do it.
That we may the better understand his, and do our own, we make the test into two generals:
I. Nehemiah's "good deeds" done to the house of God; and,
II. His petition to him to "remember" and accept both him and them, and not blot out either himself or them.
Or, to be more distinct, we shall draw those generals into these particulars; and consider,
I. What it was that Nehemiah did to the house of God and to the offices, that he would have remembered; the "good deeds" that he did.
II. That such things done to the house of God, or to the offices, though but cæremoniis are good deeds: good indeed, and so to be reputed and remembered.
III. That, as good as they are, such yet they are as God may in rigour of justice wipe out, and not remember; such [321/322] as we had need still, with Nehemiah, pray him not to wipe out, but remember.
IV. That yet, notwithstanding, they are such, too, as God may, and will, be easily entreated to remember, and not wipe out; that he, God, does remember them, and sets them here upon record for such.
V. And not only remember then, but the person also for them--him that does them: "Remember me."
VI. But then this must be remembered too, why they stand here; that this scripture, as well as others, was written for our learning, to remember us, that (i.) still such a house there is, a house of God, with many offices belonging to it, and good still to be done to it and them. That (ii.) good it is to do so still. That (iii.) God even now also will remember such good deeds, and such also (iv.) as shall do them; would have us (v.) do so too; would have us (vi.) remember some-times ourselves to do them. But be sure, lastly, when they are done, to beg of him not to touch too hard upon them, lest he wipe them out: "Remember," &c. You have both the sum and the particulars of the text. I go on with the first of them,--What it was that was here done to the house of God; and there, first, show you the person, then his good deeds.
For the person,--our book tells us it was Nehemiah, but the text has only a plain "me" to decipher him. That is enough too, so God but remember him; for God is not taken with our titles. The less we make of ourselves, the more always he makes of us.
Indeed, there is not much said anywhere of his genealogy, and nowhere so much what he was, as what he did. The best reckoning pedigree is that of Noah's: "These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generations; and Noah walked with God." This shall be Nehemiah's. Nehemiah was a good man, pious in his generations, and Nehemiah did good to the house of God. He is of the noblest house, who is thus near allied to the house of God, that thus comes closest to it.
And yet Nehemiah was no mean man neither-cup-bearer to Artaxerxes king of Persia--the Tirshatha, or governor of Judaea; had honour and eminence enough; but stands upon [322/ 323] record most for his piety-; that outvies all names of honour. The repairer of God's house, a better title to be remembered by in God's catalogue of nobility, and in the court of heaven, than the greatest emperor's Cup-bearer, or the Viceroy of Judaea,--nay, of Emperor of East and West.
This only by the way-that he forgets himself, and God will not remember him, who thinks his honour and greatness exempt him from the service of God's house, or values any beyond it. King David himself "had rather be a doorkeeper" there, than "dwell" anywhere else; "one day" there "better," says he, "than a thousand." And one poor "me" is worth as many Worships and Honours; that single syllable, of as few letters as you can make it, with a few good deeds to back it, better than all glorious titles without them.
I. But enough of so small a particle; enough too here of the person, considered in himself, because I shall speak of him all the way in his good deeds; to which now I pass, and inquire (1), What he did to "the house of God;" and then (2), What to "the offices thereof."
And the several readings give us them under two heads misericordias and beneficentiam; his mercy and his bounty td them both--both house and offices.
(1.) His mercy to the house, that I begin with; and that take in these particulars: in his compassion towards it, his petitioning for it, his repairing, his cleansing, his protecting it. Give me leave to trace the story, as it is fit I should; and I shall show you them in some or other of the neighbouring chapters, as they rise.
(i.) His compassion towards it. That we may easily see in his sitting down and weeping over the ruins, in his fasting and sadly praying for it. For it is not Jerusalem only, or principally either, though first mentioned, for which lie does so, but Sion, the place that God had chosen to put his name there. For that it is, "because of the house of the Lord his God," that he thus "seeks, O Jerusalem, to do thee good."
David plainly professes so for himself, and for Sion; "thy servants," says he, they "think upon her stones, and it pitieth them to see her in the dust." All good men still it does as much; they more bewail the ruins of God's houses than of their own. Alas ! Jerusalem is but a sad dwelling [323/324] without Sion; no more than any other city, any ordinary heathen city; not the city of the great King, or a sure refuge, without that. Even "a fox," as Tobiah the Ammonite jeered it, if he go up "shall break down the wall," if the wall of the house be not joined to it, and built with it. It is for this, principally, Nehemiah mourns, and makes, as it were, a cement for it out of the rubbish by the mixture of his tears. It is a tender mercy; that first.
(ii.) But he does not merely and dully sit down and weep---end the business there; up he gets, (ii.) and to the king he goes, and petitions him for a commission to repair it; begs of him some supplies and materials towards it. Good it is to do good to the house ourselves, but it is double when we can work others to it too; when we promote it with our friends, and put ourselves as it were to the blush to beg for it. It is yet a mercy we need not blush at, a holy impudence in doing good; a very serviceable mercy; a mercy not ashamed of any thing, to do good to God's house, or any thing that is his. That is a second.
(iii.) These yet are but the proems of his mercy. He, thirdly, sets closely to the work: provides necessaries and materials for the house, and begins the repairs, completes the unfinished walls and turrets, not of the city only, but the temple too, wherever they wanted. It had been begun to be re-edified by Zerubbabel; where, by the way, take notice, they began their building with God's house then; yet it seems it was not fully finished. Great works are not the business of a little time, not of days, but years. Above forty years in building was this, house wherein we are. Nor are such houses at any time so perfect at the last, but that a religious hand will easily find somewhat or other always to be added to their beauty and glory. And this is a point of Nehemiah's mercy too; a mercy that thinks no pains too much, no time too long, to continue doing good to the house of God; a laborious and continued mercy. That is the third.
(iv.) Nay, sometimes it seems-and we have found it by our own experience-that the house is not fully finished, ere it is afresh polluted. Nehemiah (iv.) is fain to cleanse it. Tobiah the Ammonite, his household stuff was gotten into the house the high priest, his ally, had brought it thither. When the [324/325] priest himself profanes the house, lets the Ammonite come in, or suffers it, God help us! God help us, indeed, to some good Nehemiah to throw out that stuff, as you may see ours does. A cleansing, purifying mercy, the house needs sometimes--needed it, we remember, too long. Such is Nehemiah's too: a clean, pure mercy. That is the fourth.
(v.) And Set the Ammonite is not so easily cast out. Nehe-miah must stand to what he has done, and still protect it, or Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, the Horonite, the Ammonite, and the Arabian--all sects, schism, atheism, and profaneness, will in again. If the prince's authority, and the magistrate's sword, do not protect, as well as recover it from unhallowed hands and offices--1. from corrupt priests, such as Eliashib--2. from false ones, such as cannot prove their succession--3. from such as pollute it with strange marriages, as one of the sons of Joiada; strange mixtures,--suppose the waters of the Tiber, the Frith, or the Leman Lake, with the springs of Sion--4. from strange Levites too, so strange that we know not whence they came, nor what their pedigree;--even in those "mercies of the Most Highest," which he hath lately showed us, contrary to the Psalm, we shall all "miscarry." It is the highest commendation of Nehemiah's mercies, that he does not forsake the house, but still protects it, both from open enemies and from treacherous friends; the one by his sword and spear, the other by the restoring good order and discipline. And this is a courageous and constant mercy--the fifth commendation of Nehemiah's.
And thus you have his mercies to the house itself: his compassion on the ruins, his soliciting the repairs, his setting himself upon the work, his delivering the house from pro-fanation, his protecting it from the profaners: 1. a tender, 2. active, 3. laborious, 4. pure, 5. constant goodness to the house of God. These are the first branches of those mercies which God here commends to us, to be shown by his to his "house."
(2.) The second sort are those to the "offices." And miseri-cordias in custodiis, in observantiis, in cæremoniis: the several translations of the words again shall serve to head them. Nehemiah's good deeds--first, to the officers; secondly, [325/326] to the offices; thirdly, to the ceremonies of the house--these three shall be the heads.
(i.) Misericordias in custodiis, taking the abstract for the concrete, his mercies to the officers and keepers of the house, those who are set to watch and keep it,--them we take the first. And indeed the officers and ministers, they had need of them first and last; need all the mercies that Nehemiah, or any of you, can show them. For not only "unless the Lord keep the house," but unless Nehemiah, the magistrate, do so too,--you, the reverend judges,--you, the renowned governors of the city,--"the watchmen," the priests and Levites, will all labour "but in vain." Tobiah, by his acquaintance and alliance--Sanballat, by his subtlety and pretences -Geshem, by his wealth and power, will down with the walls ere they be well dry, and out with the officers ere they are warm in their work and business. Nehemiah therefore, like a stout governor, sticks to them against those enemies of Sion and Jerusalem, of peace and order, whether open or concealed ones. The first of them, chap. v.; the other here, ver. 10. Against all that have ill-will at Sion, that envy the prosperity of the house of God, he stands to them and protects them.
He, secondly, disposes and settles them in their proper places, ver. 30 of this chapter; descends to take care even of the "singers," and "porters," or vergers of the house.
He calls home, thirdly, the poor Levite, who had been forced to forsake the house for want of maintenance; de-livers him from the oppression of such whose policy it was then, and we know is still, to starve the Levite or minister out of the house, that so they may either have no minister at all, and so scandalize the government, or none but such as will say and do what they would have them, and so preach it down again.
He, fourthly, restores them all to their rights and dues; establishes them to them too by a law for time to come, (chap. x. 32, and so on.)
Lastly, for their better maintenance, and the readier performance of the holy office, he commands the holy things and "vessels," "meat-offerings" and oblations, to their proper chambers, in custodias, to be reserved in their several wards. [326/327] And these in brief are Nehemiah's misericordæe in custodiis, his good deeds to the officers or ministers of the house of God: he defends them against their enemies; he confirms them in their places; he delivers them from their op-pressors; he establishes them in their rights; he orders all things to their best convenience. Mercies never to be forgotten; and I would our age would remember them.
(ii.) Yet not them only, but these that follow too. And misericordias in observantiis are the next--his mercies to the "offices" themselves. Trace we him as we did before, and we shall find him (1) restoring the observing of the solemn fasts and feasts in their clue seasons;--vindicating (2) the Sabbath from profanation;--making them (3) a solemn form of prayer;--settling (4) solemn music, hymns and anthems of thanksgivings,--setting up (5) the public reading and teaching of the law of God;--re-establishing (6) the whole office of God's public worship and service according to the commandment of David the man of God, according to the ancient form and fashion.
(iii.) Follow we him a little further, and you will see him at misericordias in cæremoniis too, how he behaved him-self in the ceremonies, what good then. And if you con-sider how reverently his people demean themselves at holy work,--how devoutly they all stand up at the reading of the law; how unanimously they answer Amen at the prayers and blessing; how they "lift up their hands, and bow their heads, and worship the Lord with their faces to the ground;" how content they are to be bound to the statutes and "judgments" as well as the "commandments" of God -that is, to the ceremonials and judicials, (for so the words statutes and judgments do import,) as well as to the moral law, and how he solemnly binds them to it by an oath, you cannot but say he has wrought a good work indeed upon them, and by this mercy kept them from disorder and confusion. Mercy, I say, for there is none greater than to preserve the sheep within the fold, than to keep all in peace and order, and oblige men by laws and oaths to do their duties, to attend the holy offices diligently in a comely uniformity; who otherwise would some of them never think of it; and others, under pretence of Christian liberty, run every day [327/328] into all unchristian licentiousness and profaneness, and wander up and down in eternal errors, and perish in them. And sure, to save them, though against their wills, is a mercy they need not quarrel with.
These now are the several mercies of Nehemiah to the "house of God," and "to the offices thereof."
You will understand them better by his bounty--miseri-cordias fuller by beneficentiam; which is the second sort of his good deeds.
And the first bind of his bounty, is his own and his servants' labour freely bestowed upon the work--(for it is no matter now whether we divide or join the "house" and "offices")--in effect it is no less than the whole revenues of his command and government: whilst refusing the pay of the governor, he suffered it so to run on towards the repairs. It seems he was resolved not to enrich himself, however, by the Church, but, as the phrase is, rather lay out himself upon it.
The second expression of it is, the free entertainment of one hundred and fifty of those that laboured in the work at his own table, at his own charges, (ver. 17 of that cited chapter.) He would neither grow rich upon the Church's charge, nor spare his own to enrich, or at least recover that to its former greatness.
The third manifestation of his bounty, is his voluntary gift of "one thousand drachms of gold" to the treasury of the house; a kind of springing stream of supplies unto it.
Add now the "fifty basins," (and gold or silver they must be,) the "five hundred and thirty priests' garments," (and they were no little cost, as the priests' garments then were made- "or beauty," all, "and glory,") the charging himself, besides, and all the people, with a yearly tax, or public revenue, for the repair and service of the house,--and you will confess it a bounty beyond expression.
Especially if you consider, not only that and what, but when and how, as the story will inform you, you will say misericordias and beneficentiam are lean and meagre words to tell you what he did.
For, to undertake this business when all others had given it over, and left it in the rubbish,--when their enemies [328/329] without the walls eagerly opposed and as scornfully derided it, and false friends within as subtilely undermined it,--when some of their nobles dishonourable drew back for fear or interest, then, in a time so difficult, so dangerous, so troublesome-then, so vigilantly, so courageously, so in-dustriously to pursue it, as not so much as shift themselves, from week's end to week's end, till all was finished, to be so bountiful to it too, in a time of dearth and scarcity, as it seems it was, when they had scarce money to buy bread for themselves and families,- then to draw both great and small, the "chief fathers" and the meanest people, to great contributions to it,--is so many good deeds together, and so good together, that it is nor Greek, nor Hebrew, nor Latin--nor original, nor translation--can express the good-ness. I am sure I have all this while but injured it.
And if we sum up all his mercies and bounties, all together,--his tears and prayers over the desolations and ruins of God's house; his petition and diligence for the repairs; his care and labour in the work itself; his zeal and courage in the cleansing and protecting it; his friend-ship and faithfulness to the officers and ministers; his justice to settle them in their office; his mercy to deliver them from such as would disturb them in it; his establish-ing them in their rights, and his studying all conveniences for the holy office; his restoring the whole service of the Church for days, for forms, for state, for beauty, for order, for all solemnity,--methinks I might spare you the trouble of the next particular I am to give you, to prove them good. Yet, because there are some that are not willing to believe it, I must do it.
II. If we would yet but believe the very words of the text, we should need go no further.
Misericordias (1) the text calls them, mercies; and acts of mercy are good, sure. We say so when we want it, and call it a doing us good.
Beneficentiam, (2) bounty, it styles them too, and that is good; bonum bene, good well done; so is benefacere; makes him so good that does them, that one would even die to do him good again; "for a good man," that is for a merciful, bountiful man, "some would even dare to die."
329/330] If (3) you examine the object of these actions, that is good, for it is God. That which is done to his house, is done to him: for if the robbing it be robbing him, as he tells us it is, the doing good to it must then be the doing good to him.
If you (4) inquire the intention, that is good too. It is in observantiis and cæremoniis, for God's service all; that he may neither dwell slovenly, nor be served so.
Will you have (5) a point of faith to sanctify it further? Why, Deus meus is the very close of faith; the believing God to be his God, the very reason he is so good to God and his.
To put all out of question, deeds of this native God himself styles good. David had it but in his heart to build God a house, and God sends the Prophet purposely to tell him "he did well" to think on it. "Forasmuch as it was in thy heart to build a house to my name, thou didst well." Our blessed Saviour himself says as much in the case of Mary's anointing him, (a work which all the Fathers reckon of the same sort with these we speak of,) "she had wrought a good work." Indeed, Judas, and some that he had seduced with a pretence that it might have been bestowed much better, they disdained at it, and thought it "waste;" but remember, I pray, that it was but Judas thought so, and some few that he had abused: Christ says, the doing good to the poor (which was the pretence against it) might stay a while, and must give way to it. Charity must give way to piety; charity to them, veil to piety towards him. Nay, so far is it from a waste that is so spent, that Christ seems to justify the very wasting ourselves upon it, whilst he so highly commends the poor widow, that had "cast into the treasury" of his house "all that she had, even all her living." Indeed, it was but two mites in all, yet that he accepts, the least that is done to him; but it was "all she had," and that it was which made him prefer it above the richest gifts and presents that were cast in by all the rest. After all this I must tell you, he affects these works so well, (and then they must needs he good,) and loves the house so much that he sets us a pattern of some of them himself; he "will not suffer any vessel to be carried [330/331] through it," and in indignation whips the buyers and sellers out of the very out-parts of it. Twice he did so: first, after he came up from Capernaum; and again, when he went up from Bethphage and the Mount of Olives. Nay, and he cast out all their seats, and merchandise, and monies; would not suffer the least marks of profane or common use be left upon it. I wish we would learn to be so scrupulous in the point, for now you see no reason to scruple their being good.
III. Yet, good though they he, they, thirdly, stand in need of God's goodness to remember them: as great mercies as we have shown them, they yet want his mercy to ex-pound them, a secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum and a magnitudine bonitatis, (as it is expressly, ver. 22, a verse parallel to this,) to construe and accept them. Our works are not so perfect but they require it. Verebar omnia opera mea, says holy Job. He was afraid of the best of them. Nay, though he were "righteous," he would not "answer God," nor pretend to answer for them. No more will holy David: "I have walked innocently, O Lord," says he indeed, but yet "be merciful to me" for all that; both in the same verse. That must be the plea when all is done. And he that here cries out, "Wipe them not out, O Lord," or "remember me concerning them," and "Spare me, O Lord," or connive super me, wink at me a little; and "Remember them for good," intimates plainly enough, they are not so good but they may do well to be winked at; may want a pardon, or fear cancelling, or be as well forgotten, or be remembered for evil as well as good.
Yet, "good" notwithstanding, we will allow them. But by God's grace it is they are so:--good but by the covenant of the Gospel, not the rigour of the law; good by an evan-gelical epieikeia, God's favourable interpretation and ac-ceptance, not by the strictness of worth and merit; good, but overpoised with many bad ones. David's Delicta sua quis, &c. "Who knows how oft he offends?" enough to remember us: we may offend when we think we are doing good; may do best, therefore, and shall do safest, not too much to remember them ourselves, but leave God in his goodness to remember them. [331/332] And that we may do, without any presumption--put God in mind of them now and then. It is my fourth particular, plain in the text. And plain too it is, other good men have done so as well as Nehemiah. Hezekiah does so. "I beseech thee, O Lord, remember how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight." Some of it was good deeds to this house we speak of. Holy David particularizes his: "Lord," says he, "remember David." Why? what of him? Why, "How he sware unto thee, O Lord, and vowed a vow unto the Almighty God of Jacob." Well, what was that? Why, that "he would not come within the tabernacle of his house, nor climb up into his bed, he would not suffer his eyes to sleep, nor his eyelids to slumber, nor the temples of his head to take any rest, till he had found out a place for the temple of the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob." This he prays there, that God would "remember him and all his troubles" for it, how he was troubled till he had found it. Him in all his troubles, too; whensoever he should come in any, to deliver him out of all, because of the good he had vowed and intended to the house.
V. But is it only a prayer that God would remember? Is it not a record too that he does? He truly does--you see it here upon record he does--in the books of his eternal remembrance. It is here remembered in every chapter. Your memories cannot be so short but they can tell you it.
The Gospel will tell you it, too; tell you God remembers all such deeds as these. "Wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached,"--and it shall be as long as there is any preaching,-" there also that which this woman has done shall be told for a memorial of her;" lalhqhstai;--told, and told again; every body shall speak of it, and it shall never be for-gotten. "The beam out of the roof," and "the timber out of the wall" shall tell it. "The ointment upon Aaron's head shall run down upon his beard, to wet even the skirt of his clothing," and the dust itself shall not be able to lick it up.
If we speak of the house itself, that stands an everlasting monument of the founder's piety. The very walls of holy buildings, that scarce now raise their heads so high as to be [332/333] seen, speak yet plainly forth their founders and benefactors. God raises up some good soul or other, even in the worst of times, to revive their names; and blessed be they for it. If we speak of the good done to the offices of it, those very offices are but so many records therefore from generation to generation. Not a ram's, not a goat's, not a badger's skin offered to the building of the tabernacle, but stands upon God's file. Not a cherub's head, not a lily, a flower, or pomegranate, not a foot or inch in the sacred fabric, not a farthing, not a mite to the treasure of it, falls to the ground unremembered, unnumbered. Nay, even sacrilege and atheism, after so many centuries of thriving wickedness, have not yet had the power to obliterate the memories of the houses of God in the land. So are the good deeds them-selves remembered.
Nor shall they that have ever done them, or shall ever do them, be forgotten. "Remember me," prays Nehemiah; and he was heard in what he prayed. And you not only see it here, but in the catalogue made by the son of Sirach, and long since added near to the very book of God's own remem-brances. "Among the elect," says he, "was Nehemias; his renown is great, who raised up for us the walls"--and some of them were to the house of God- "that were fallen, and raised up our ruins." There are others reckoned there upon the same account: "Zorobabel was a signet on the right hand; so was Jesus the son of Josedec; who in their time builded the house, and set us an holy temple to the Lord, which was prepared for everlasting glory." There is a memorial indeed!
And if you would know what this "to he remembered" is, the parallel verses will tell you three things of it: Connive super me, and parce mihi; wink at and pardon me; and memento in bonum, "remember me for good." To have our weaknesses winked at, our sins pardoned, and our good with good rewarded, these three make up God's remember-ing us. And he shows it particularly to those who do good to "the place where his honour dwelleth."
1.Many a default had Jacob made, and done some more than justifiable sleights in his transactions with his brethren, but one vow for Bethel sets all straight again, and makes [333/334] God go on his journey with him. There are weaknesses winked at; and no reason so probable as Bethel for it.
2. David had some faults, and great ones, yet God says, "he turned not aside save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite;"--save that--save many others that we could tell you of, but that we will not rake up those sins that God passed by. But why is God so tender in the point? Why, David was tender over Sion; could not pray for the very pardon of his sins, in that great Penitential Psalm of his, but he must needs in the same breath, as it were, remember Sion: "Oh be gracious unto Sion:"--as if God else could not be gracious unto him; or as if, otherwise, either the pardon of his sins would do him little good, or else there were no readier or surer way to get them pardoned than by remem-bering Sion. There is the pardon of sins upon the score!
3. Would you have a remembrance for your good, as well as a forgetting for your evil? would you have God remember you with a blessing, too? Why, your kindness to his house will do it: "God blessed the house of Obed Edom, and all that appertained unto him, because of the ark of God." All that appertained? It is good dwelling nigh such a man as he. Again, David would fain have been building God a house; had gotten many materials and much money ready for it; and God promises him upon it, that "he will build him a house for it, and establish him a throne for ever." God will be behindhand with none that do good to his habitation, or really intend or go about it. Nay, the very "sparrow" is blest, and the "swallow" is blest, that love but his house, that sing their matins and vespers at his altars; the devout Prophet even envies them for it. So great are the blessings of the house of God, and so ever are those persons under his eye, so in the eye of blessing, whose good deeds are there continually putting God in mind of them.
If you would but remember how God forgets his mercy; or, which is the same, how he remembers them in judgment, who do ill to his house or to the offices, how he strikes Uzzah dead for an irreverent touch of the holy ark; how he smites Uzziah with a leprosy for an encroachment upon the sacred office, and turns Saul out of his kingdom for the like fault; how he thrusts Nebuchadnezzar out of doors, because [334/335] he had burnt up his houses in the land,- (it is just indeed he should have no house, who will let God have none,)--how he despoils Belshazzar of his kingdom because he had spoiled his temple, and was now profaning those holy spoils, carousing in the sacred bowls; how he quite forgets all mercy to the Jews, and casts them out as soon as they, profaned his holy--temple and abused his messengers, priests, and prophets, and professes he could hold no longer when they had arrived at that height of insolent wickedness; how he makes the heavens forget their dew, and the earth her fruit, because "they let his house lie waste,"--you will readily conclude how he remembers those that raise the walls, and repair the ruins, and reverence the sanctuaries, and love the priests:--if them with curses, then these with blessings; if them with diseases, then these with health; if them with exile, these with quiet dwellings; if them with scarcity, these with plenty--ubertate domûs, the plenty of his house; if them with desolate and decaying families, these with happy and full posterities; if them with death, then these with life, even for ever and ever.
VI. But it is time now to remember ourselves; and many things we are here to be remembered of.
That (1) we have a house of God, as well as Nehemiah, to do good to. Many "houses of God in the land" now, as well as in the Psalm. This above the rest, whose decayed towers and ruined pinnacles, and ragged walls, and open windows, and falling roofs, and broken pavements, call loud for a repairer of the breaches. And it is not Nehemiah's mercy and bounty, nor the Levite's thin revenue added, that can do it. Blessed indeed be God, that he hath put it into the heart of the King to begin and offer so freely--to the work. But I hope we shall ere long have reason to bless him for your offerings too.
This house is God's: all such houses God's, as well as that of Bethel, or that of Sion, or those synagogues of the Jews, styled several times his houses. That they are so, the solemn dedications always of them to his name with so much glory, say enough. And if domos orationis be domus mea, the house of prayer be God's,--and Christ says it is, and sure he knows both what is his own, and how to call it,--the [335/336] daily celebration of that public worship there will give a second proof. That some such there were, even in the Apostles' times--some house besides such as we eat and drink in, that must not be so used, must not be so despised the Apostle tells us: and that it was then called the Church of God in the same verse, is to tell you in plain English our churches are God's houses.
And God has in our days owned them for his own. That signal preserving them (i.) in the heat of war and plunder, rage and fury, when men were so wrathfully displeased at them, and so implacably set against them,--that protecting them (ii.) through all the triumphs of a godly atheism, and a sacrilege out of conscience, both as unsatisfied as the grace, so miserably greedy that they would violate their fathers' sepulchres, and scatter their ashes in the air and wind, for an inconsiderable piece of lead or brass or stone; that mira-culous restoring them (iii.) to all the holy offices; this church in particular destined to a sale, and deferred only to see who would give most,--are evidences of it too great to be disputed, that God has vindicated his right, and kept it for himself. And I hope you will all remember it, and now help him in it, court and city, both of you.
And remember (2) these houses have their officers, their offices, their ceremonies, as well as that here in the test; offices to be performed, officers to perform them, and cere-monies to perform them with. Your countenancing, your encouraging, your protecting them, are the good deeds you may do to them.
Remember, therefore (3), I beseech you, that you do so. Three arguments there are in the text to persuade it. (i.) Good it is to do so, good deeds they are. God (ii.) will remember them when they are done. God (iii.) will remem-ber you for doing them.
(i.) Good they are, remember that. And good works are a "good foundation,"--a foundation upon which you may "lay hold on eternal life," says S. Paul there; and can you desire a better?
Indeed Judas tells us it would do better upon the poor; but had he had the selling of the ointment then, or when some of his disciples had the selling of it since, were the [336/337] poor ever the better for it? Were not thousands sent a-begging by it? Sure, sure, he that can be content to see the church in ruins, will not much pass to see the poor in rags. He that envies the churchman's wealth, will never pity the poor man's want; and he that one time sells the church, will next time sell the poor if he can get by him. But we will not set good deeds together by the ears. It is enough that these are good: but it is more that God remembers them, that he takes a particular notice of them.
(ii.) I may say, too, a notice of the particulars. The scrolls of them are laid up for an everlasting remembrance. Feasts of dedication have been always kept for a memorial of them, and Christ himself vouchsafed to be present at them. And if the Syriac translator may be allowed to read the last verse of the chapter,--Et ad oblationes, et ad sacra temporibus et festis statutis: memoriam hujus rei mihi serva,- we see these good deeds were solemnly remembered in those solemn feasts, and Nehemiah expected his should be so. Their persons have anciently been remembered in the Christian dyptychs; and you see to-day we have revived the custom here.
(iii.) But it is not a mere remembering them for honour, but also a real remembering them, and them that do them, for a blessing--all sorts of blessings; so that, would I commend to my dearest friend a trade to make him rich and happy, it should be doing good to the house of God. It is an old Jewish saying, Decima ut Dives fias, Pay- thy tithes if thou wilt grow rich. Build God a house, say I, and he will build thee one again; Do good to his house, say I, and he will do good to thine, and a wicked son shall not be able to cut off the entail; for it is worth the notice, that when God promised David a house upon this account, he tells him that though his son commit iniquity he would not "utterly take his mercy from him." I know there are that, to be excused, talk much of unsettled times. This is the way to settle them: when God and man shall see we are in earnest "for the house of God and the offices thereof," all your sects will cease to trouble you, and vanish. Some cry, The state must be settled first. Why, Fundamenta ejus in montibus sanctis, says the Psalm; "The foundations of Jerusalem are upon the [337/338] holy hills." Lay your foundations there, and you shall "never be removed, God of his goodness will make your hill so strong." No better way to fix the house of the kingdom or your own, than to begin with his. Others, to bet loose, tell us of the decay of trade. Why, how can it be other? Says God; "You looked for much, and it came to little; and when you brought it home,"--and it was scarce worth bringing home,-- "I did blow upon it;"--blew it into nothing. And why was it? says the Lord of Hosts; "Because of my house that lieth waste, and ye run every man to his own house." You dwell in cedars, and you lap yourselves in silks and silver, and you have all neat and fine about you; but the house of God, that lies in the dust and rubbish. But "is it time for you,--O ye," says he, for I know not what to call you,--"to dwell in cieled houses, and my house lie no better?" Did God, think you, make gold and silver, silks and purples, marbles and cedars, for us only and our houses, and not for himself also or his own? Or do you think to thrive by being sparing to it, or holding from it' No, says God, "from the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid, consider it, from this (that) day will I bless you." And "prove" him so, say I, (for he bids so himself,) and see if he will not "pour you out a blessing."
Indeed, he has been before us with it. He has brought us home, and established our estates, and restored our reli-gion; done more to us, and to our houses, than we durst desire or hope; and is it not all the reason in the world we should do good to his again?--hang up our remembrances upon the walls, pay our acknowledgments upon his altars, and bless all the offices of his house for so great blessings? God will remember you again, for whatever it is. If you would yet more engage him to you, know "God loves the gates of Sion more than all the dwellings of Jacob;" must needs therefore love these most that most love them.
And I doubt not but we shall find many here that do so, many too that will so express it. Yet, "not according to what a man has not," but "to what he has," says our S. Paul, does God "accept" him. We cannot expect that all that love most can express most. Yet according to their abilities they will do it. "A cup of cold water," I confess, "to a [338/339] prophet, in the name of a prophet, shall not lose the reward;" no more shall a single mite to the house of God, as his. Every one, however, may do somewhat towards it. They that cannot give much, may give a little; they that cannot pay, may yet pray for it. And to wish it well, and to rejoice in the prosperity and welfare of it, the repairing and adorning of it, are two mites that any one can give, and God will accept where there can be no other. Only, where there is most, we must present it with humility, as David did: "What am I, O Lord, that I should be able after this sort to "offer," thus to do it? And where there is but little, we must present it with a regret that we can do no more.
Will God remember and accept us; remember and pardon us; remember and bless us with blessings of the right hand and blessings of the left; remember us in all places, both at home and abroad; in all conditions, both in the days of our prosperity and in the time of trouble; in our goings out and in our comings in; in our persons and in our estates; in ourselves and in our posterities, with them shall remain a good inheritance, and their children shall be ever within the covenant. And when all earthly glances shall be forgotten, that which we have done to the house of God shall be still remembered; when our bodies shall lie down in the dust, our names shall live in heaven; when a cold stone shall chill our ashes, our bones shall flourish out of their graves; when time shall have eaten out our epitaphs, our righteousness shall not be forgotten, God will remember it for ever. And though the general conflagration shall at last calcine these glorious structures into ashes, we shall dwell safe in buildings "not made with hands, eternal in the heavens," where the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb shall be the temple, and we sing the offices of heaven with angels and archangels, and all the holy spirits, with joy and gladness for evermore.
To which glorious house and office God of his mercy bring us in our several times and orders, through, &c.