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NEHEMIAH vi, 3.
AND I SENT MESSENGERS UNTO THEM, SAYING, I AM DOING A GREAT work; so THAT I can NoT comf. Dow N. WHY SHOULD THE WORK cEAse, while I LEAVE IT, AND ComE Down To YoUr
While Nehemiah was residing at the Persian court, at a distance from the land of his fathers, he was deeply affected, by the accounts which he received of the desolations of Jerusalem. As he was ministering in his office, the King observed his dejection, and inquired the cause. “Why should not my countenance be sad,” he replied, “when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?” Having fasted, and prayed to the God of Israel, he found favor with the King, and received from him a commission, to go to Jerusalem, and rebuild its walls. But when Sanballat and Tobias, and other enemies of Judah heard of it; “it grieved them exceedingly, that there was come a man, to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.” They endeavored to divert him from his purpose, sometimes by threats, and sometimes by expressions of contempt and derision. They said, “If a fox go up, he will even break down their wall.” Nehemiah answered them, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us. But ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem.” f When they found, that notwithstanding their opposition, the work was still going forward, they assumed a more conciliatory tone. They sent to Nehemiah, saying, “Come let us meet together; let us take counsel together.” But he sent to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease, while I leave it, and come down to you?” The friends of missions, like Nehemiah, are engaged in a cause which they assuredly believe the God of heaven will prosper. They hope they are performing some humble part, in the great scheme of measures for repairing the desolations, not of a temple or a city, but of a world. They are not attempting to lay again, the foundations of the earthly Jerusalem; but from the wilds of heathenism, to gather materials for the spiritual Sion. To this labor of benevolence, they find that opposition is raised. While the world around them is generally looking on, with contemptuous indifference; there are those who manifest a decided hostility. A numerous class, however, would disclaim the character of opposers to the missionary cause; though their counsels, if followed, would retard or suspend its operations. They would advise to measures which are more in accordance with the spirit of the world. They would be cautious of moving forward too rapidly. “The time is not come,” say they, “the time that the Lord's house should be built. More should be done for ourselves, before we attempt great things for the heathen.” To all this worldly wisdom, we are bound to reply in the spirit of Nehemiah, We are engaged in a great work, and it must not be suspeNDED. In considering these two branches of the text, I would observe; I. The missionary cause is GREAT; great in its object, in the numbers to which its benefits are to be extended, in the difficulties which it must encounter, in the divine influence which may be expected to rest upon it, in the means which are necessary to its success, in the rewards which it offers to its friends and supporters. 1. It is great in its object. It aims at delivering the heathen world from the gross darkness which covers it; and spreading over it, the splendor produced by the pure light of Christianity. The fundamental principle from which all the abominations of heathenism proceed, is a departure from the true and living God. When a nation has closed its eyes upon the light of heaven; when it has shut out from its thoughts the Being who sustains the universe; when it has sought to find other objects of its highest confidence and adoration; no power of imagination can fathom the depths of baseness and wretchedness, to which it is liable to sink. It matters not, whether it pays its devotions to the host of heaven, or the stock of a tree; whether it sacrifices to an ox, a serpent, or a stone. They are all infinitely too low to be objects of trust. They are alike degrading, in their influence upon their worshippers. As the knowledge of God is the foundation of all true religion; idolatry must be expected to be fruitful in every thing which is base and grovelling, in the human character. But on this subject, there is no occasion for theorizing. The record of facts goes far beyond the anticipations of speculative moralists. The accounts of the religious barbarities of the heathen, their impure and impious rites, their authorized murders, have been poured in upon us, till we are ready to repel the conviction that they are realities. If we seemingly admit the facts, the frequency of their occurrence produces an insensibility to their enormity. Like the horrors of the slavetrade we have come to consider them as matters of course. The darkness is so deep, and widely spread, that a few gleams of light engross our attention, and even excite our admiration. Crimes which are not of so deep a die, as others with which they are compared, are, for distinction sake, exalted to the rank of virtues. But where are to be found, among them, the virtues which give a title to a place in the heavenly mansions? These heathen, as well as ourselves, must die. They must rise, and be gathered before the throne of their judge. When they stand at his bar, will they be acquitted, on the ground that they had never acknowledged his authority? that they had grown up under a system of religion which knew not Jehovah? In every nation, “he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” But what is to become of those who are filled with all unrighteousness? “who are without excuse, for changing the glory of the incorruptible God, into an image made like to corruptible
men?” To what purpose is it to inquire whether there may possibly be here and there, a virtuous heathen, when the multitude are confessedly sunk in the depths of corruption. Will the eternal law of righteousness be suspended, in favor of those who have not chosen to retain God in their knowledge? Will they be tried by the laws which they have made for themselves, in defiance of the authorty of heaven? Will the African tribes, who wage war upon each other, for the sole purpose of obtaining captives for the slave-ships, be judged by the principles which regulate this horrible traffic? Will the savage of the West be justified, in his vindictive and murderous deeds, because revenge is the law of his nation? Will the Hindoo mother, who casts off her infant, and leaves it to perish, be treated as guiltless, because the act is authorised by the superstition of her country? Upon what ground, are the crimes of the heathen to be pardoned? Will their robes be made white, by the ablutions of the Ganges? Will they be prepared for the holy society of heaven, by expiring under the wheels of an idol's car? “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?” Will the human sacrifices of the heathen, procure for them admittance to the paradise above? “Shall they give their first-born for their transgression, the fruit of their body, for the sin of their soul? There is no other name given under heaven, whereby they can be saved, but by Jesus Christ.” It is through his name, that missionaries endeavor to recover them from the dominion of the prince of darkness. It is through the power of his grace, that