James Smith, 1856
"The God of Heaven — he will prosper us!" Nehemiah 2:20
When God has a work to perform, he is never at a loss for an instrument; for if he cannot find one — he can create one. If he would punish Israel for their sins, he raises up Nebuchadnezzar to carry them to Babylon; and when he would free them from captivity, Cyrus and Darius shall favor them. If Jerusalem is to be restored, and the temple rebuilt — then Ezra shall lead the people to their own land; Zechariah, the priest, and Haggai, the prophet, shall reprove and stimulate them; and Nehemiah, the governor, shall come forward to complete the undertaking. When Satan stirs up enemies, God raises up friends, and the opposition eventually helps the work.
It was so of old, and it has often been so in more modern times.
If we are engaged in God's work,
if we are guided by God's Word,
if we are aiming at God's glory —
we may unhesitatingly adopt the language of the text as our own, and say, "The God of Heaven — he will prosper us."
Mere possibility is enough to stimulate some.
Probability will encourage more.
But certainty will encourage any one.
In our case, success is not only possible, or probable — but certain; for "the Lord Almighty is with us," his "grace is sufficient for us," and his promise is pledged to us. Let us consider,
First, The Title, "The God of Heaven." The revelation of the Divine nature and character has been progressive. God was dimly seen in nature, more clearly in providence — but clearest of all in grace. "No man has seen God at any time; but the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father — he has declared him." "In the beginning God created." This is his first title — the Good One. Great, glorious, good. When he created man, "the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground." The self-existent Creator formed a dependent, intelligent creature, to . . .
inhabit this world,
obey his commands,
worship at his throne,
enjoy fellowship with himself,
reflect his image, and
be happy in his love.
The Divine nature is one, represented by the title Lord, or Jehovah. In that Divine nature, there is a plurality of persons — represented by the title God, or Elohim. As the Lord, or the Lord God, the Creator was known, until, Melchizedek speaks of him as "The Most High God, possessor of Heaven and earth." Then we find him entering into covenant with Abraham, and as an act of free and sovereign grace, separating him and his seed from all the people of the earth. He engaged to be Abraham's God, and a God to Abraham. From that time he was called the God of Abraham, by the covenant seed.
The covenant was confirmed to Isaac and Jacob — then he was called the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Or, the God of Israel, because they were his people; and the God of Jerusalem, because that was his dwelling-place.
But during and after the Babylonish captivity, he was called "The God of Heaven." He is the God of Heaven, for he created it for his residence, and to be the home of his infinite glory; and he inhabits it as his house or his throne. Hence Jesus calls Heaven, "My Father's house;" and the Lord himself said, "Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool; where is the house that you build me, or where is the place of my rest?"
He came down to earth to speak to his creatures formerly — but he speaks to us from Heaven now; as says the apostle, "See that you refuse not him that speaks; for if they escaped not who refused him that spoke on earth, much more shall not we escape if we turn away from him that speaks from Heaven." He is called the God of Heaven — to distinguish him from, and show his superiority to, the gods of the heathen, who were gods of the earth. "Our God is in the Heavens; he has done whatever he has pleased." He is on earth, working "all things after the counsel of his own will." "Do I not fill Heaven and earth, says the Lord?" — Having glanced at the title, we will now,
Secondly, look at The Persuasion or confidence expressed, "The God of Heaven — he will prosper us." He did prosper his ancient people; and Jerusalem was built, notwithstanding opposition; and the temple was completed, though many were discouraged. And so now,
if we are engaged in God's work,
if we are hearty in God's cause,
if we are ruled by God's Word,
then "he will prosper us."
Prosperity is either temporal — or spiritual.
Temporal prosperity is no proof that man is godly, or that God approves of him. "Behold, these are the ungodly that prosper in the world; they increase in riches." Under the old dispensation, temporal things were more plentifully promised — and yet even then, the saints were "a poor and afflicted people." Under the present dispensation, which is spiritual, God has "chosen the poor of this world;" and we still see, that "not many rich men, not many mighty, ore called."
Temporal adversity is no proof of God's displeasure; for the objects of his highest love "wandered about in sheep skins and in goat skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, they wandered in deserts and in mountains, in dens and caves of the earth," though the world was not worthy of them. The soul may prosper and be in health, while the body pines and decays under the power of disease.
As to temporals, we may not be blessed — but as to spirituals, we may confidently say, "The God of Heaven — he will prosper us."
Prosperity may be either personal — or relative.
Personal prosperity is enjoyed when the soul is happy in God. When we make him our portion, our solace, and our delight. When we acquiesce in the will of God, when we surrender our understanding to his Word, the affairs to his management, and our person to his disposal. When we are growing into the likeness of God, when we become merciful, as he was merciful; holy, as he was holy; and righteous, as he was righteous. If God is our source of happiness, if the will of God commands our approbation, and if the image of God is our model in our every day life — then indeed we prosper.
Relative prosperity is enjoyed, when, as members of the church of Jesus, we see that church thrive, flourish, and grow. When its members are edified or polished by the Word and Spirit, until they catch and reflect on others the rays of the divine glory. When they are united together in love. Not merely connected together by certainties — but vitally united to each other by holy love. They form one body, influenced by one Spirit, and rejoicing together in one hope of their calling. When they are sanctified — internally, by the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit; and, externally, by separation from the world in spirit, object, and aim. When the heart is set apart for God, and the life is an answer to the apostolic exhortation, "Come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord." Then they are happy.
For if the church is growing like its Head, if the members are united together, if the work of sanctification is carried on — how can the believer be otherwise than happy? The believer is then too busy to think much about his personal comfort, day by day. For comfort is most easily and certainly found — when not directly sought.
But we do not think our representation of prosperity would be complete if it did not include the conversion of sinners. This is one great end of a church state, the grand design of the preaching of the gospel. When we feel the Holy Spirit to be with us, and see the effect of it in the conversion of sinners to God, the decision of seekers for God, and the union of the decided with the saints of God — then, without doubt, we enjoy prosperity. But a question arises —
When may we feel persuaded or confident that "the God of Heaven will prosper us?" Six things are necessary to warrant and sustain such confidence. "I speak as to wise men; judge you what I say."
1. We must rest on Christ alone for our acceptance with God. Nothing must be mixed with the perfect work of Jesus as the ground of our justification, or our plea for acceptance at the throne of God. Christ alone must be the object of our trust.
2. We must depend wholly on the Holy Spirit for success. The most suitable means, employed with the greatest skill, and used with the greatest patience and perseverance — will have no beneficial effect without the direct putting forth the power of the Holy Spirit. As nothing must be allowed to come between us and God — but Jesus, when we are seeking pardon and acceptance at his throne — so nothing must be an object of trust or dependance, when seeking the revival of the church or the conversion of sinners — but the presence, power, and influence of the Holy Spirit alone.
3. We must be much in prayer for the blessing. God loves to hear us pray. He will have us pray. However positive his promises, however calculated to glorify his name, however beneficial to our fellow men — he says, "I will be inquired of to do it for you." If we agree among ourselves to ask the blessing, if we meet together for the purpose, if we persevere determined to prevail, saying as Jacob did, "I will not let you go except you bless me," then, without hesitation, doubt, or qualification, we may say, "The God of Heaven — he will prosper us."
4. We must keep a steady eye fixed on his glory. This is the mark we must aim at. This is the object we must constantly keep in view. When we aim simply, singly, and alone, at God's glory, "we may ask whatever we will — and it shall be done for us." But losing sight of this, we "ask and receive not, because we ask amiss — that we may consume it on our lusts."
5. We must actively employ every talent for God. There is a vast amount of unused talent in the church. How much speaking talent, writing talent, teaching talent, influencing talent — there is in God's church that is never used for God's glory. Never were there so many napkins in God's church, we think, as now; and they wrap up, conceal, and render useless — an extraordinary amount of talent. Our talent must be brought out, our Master's money must be put into the bank, that at his coming, he may receive his own with interest.
6. We must make sacrifices out of pure love to Jesus. Who makes sacrifices now? Many give much to the cause; but do they ever sacrifice fashion, taste, or appetite, for that cause? Let our dress, furniture, and meals, reply. But are we willing to sacrifice our feelings, our tastes, our habits, our indulgences — if the cause of Christ requires it? Are we?
If then, we rest alone on Jesus for our acceptance with God;
if we depend wholly on the power of the Holy Spirit for success;
if we are much in prayer for the Divine blessing;
if we keep the eye steadily fixed on the Lord's glory;
if we actively employ every talent for God; and
if we make sacrifices out of pure love to Jesus —
then, without hesitation, doubt, or fear, we may say, "The God of Heaven — he will prosper us!"
But if God prospers us — then Satan will oppose us!
As a serpent — he will wriggle in among us;
or, as a lion — he will go round, and roar at us!
And if God prospers us — then men may be jealous of us, and even persecute us; but right-minded saints and angels will rejoice over us.
Oh, for soul prosperity! Oh, for the prosperity of God's one church, and every separate church that goes to make up the one great whole! But if God does not prosper us — then no one else can; nor shall we ever succeed. Let us then, beloved, set our hearts on prosperity. Let every Christian set his heart upon the prosperity of his soul; and let every church-member set his heart upon the prosperity of the church to which he belongs. Oh, that indifference were buried in the depths of the ocean! Oh, that every member of God's church were filled with faith, fired with love, and glowing with zeal — for the honor of our beloved Savior.
May the divisions of the church soon cause great searchings of heart, anxiety of mind, and distress of soul, until they are healed and done away forever.
Let us inquire, Why is it? if we do not prosper. It was a worm at the root, which caused Jonah's gourd to wither. It was a Babylonish garment, and a wedge of gold, which caused Israel to flee before their enemies. And if we do not prosper — is there not a cause? If there is a cause — then may it not be ascertained? If it may be ascertained — then ought we not to "light the candle and search diligently until we find it?"
O Lord, you have said, that you will "search Jerusalem as with candles, and will punish the men that are settled on their lees;" search, oh, search your church, and let all that hinder her prosperity be discovered, condemned, deplored, and removed!
Let us carefully avoid everything that would hinder our prosperity. Paul was very careful and very accommodating, lest he should hinder the gospel of Christ. Let us imitate so excellent an example, and take cure that there is nothing in our creed, conduct, spirit, temper, or deportment, likely to grieve the Holy Spirit, or prevent the truth from having free course. Let us not only carefully avoid everything likely to hinder — but let us diligently employ every means to secure it. Prosperity flows from God: it is a free-grace blessing; but it flows in a certain channel, and is generally attracted by certain means. Oh, for such a measure of grace to be given to the church of Jesus, that there may be no rest until God arises and has mercy upon his Zion, or until we can confidently say, "The God of Heaven — he will prosper us!"