To rebuild the shattered walls of Jerusalem after they had been so effectively destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar must have been no light task; yet, moved by divine impulse, Nehemiah undertook it and, what is more, successfully carried it through.
In that book of the Bible which bears his name, we have the record of his difficulties and his struggles, and of the great feast that was celebrated when all was done.
The first difficulty that confronted him was the power of adversaries without. We read:—
“When Sanballat and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth, and conspired all of them together to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it” (Neh. 4:7-8).
The second difficulty was the vast quantity of absolutely worthless rubbish within. It further says:—
“And Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall.”
Now has it ever occurred to you how distinct an analogy exists between the bygone history of Israel and Jerusalem and the history of the professing Church today?
Israel when established in the land of promise, had a short period of victory under David, and peace and prosperity under Solomon. The Church passed through a similar time in the brief yet blessed apostolic age, as recorded in the opening chapters of the Acts. Then Israel had centuries of decline, relieved by occasional moments of brightness when for a short time the downward movement was arrested; so with the Church. Ultimately Babylon triumphed over Israel and all appeared lost; and so the Church got submerged under the flowing tide of worldliness and corruption, until in the dark Middle Ages almost every trace of pure Christianity was gone. Then came gracious revival—not all at once, but in three stages. A broken remnant of Israel returned to Jerusalem. Firstly, under Zerubbabel and Joshua; secondly, under Ezra the scribe; and thirdly, under Nehemiah. So bit by bit God has worked in these last centuries since the days of Wyclif and Luther.
Should we then be surprised if enemies of the Lord rage without, or if much rubbish blocks our way within?
It is about this latter that I want a word with you.
And, first of all, are you really awake to the fact that the professing Church has within her walls today an accumulation of rubbish which is simply appalling?
Broadly speaking, we may say there are two kinds of rubbish.
Let us speak plainly. About two hundred years ago, just before the days of Whitefield and Wesley, so history tells us, religion reached a very low ebb in England. It was no uncommon thing for the accredited minister of religion in a parish to get well drunk on Saturday night, and gabble through his Sunday morning service, so as to be in time to join the hounds or back his cock at the fight.
Shocking! you say.
Undoubtedly, and it is a mercy to think that to some extent that form of rubbish has been cleared out; but does nothing remain?
Alas! the notice boards outside many places of Christian worship tell a different tale. What mean these placards announcing “entertainments,” “amateur theatricals,” or “concerts”—not very sacred either—or that one giving details of “a great political demonstration”? Some fifteen or twenty years ago things had gone so far that a godly minister felt himself constrained to publish a booklet on this very thing, entitled The Devil’s Mission of Amusement, and that mission has continued unabated to the present hour.
Oh! beloved friend, why do you go on with these things? Are they sanctioned by the Word of God? Were such things adopted by our Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles, even as a means of attracting the crowds? No. Do they win the people? Are sinners saved? Do they, repentant and forgiven, go rejoicing away? No. Are believers refreshed? Do you know of any who have made spiritual progress under the influence of an entertainment? Do Christians really get helped by them? No. But possibly you do know of young Christians who have by these very things taken the first step on a sad and declining pathway.
What then do these things do? They tickle the ears of the unconverted. They dispel thoughts of holy and eternal things. What are they then? Rubbish! Worse than rubbish; they are slow poison.
Then, again, there is
and this is less easy to detect and more difficult to dispose of than the other, so much so, that Christians are to be found who carefully preserve it as though it were fine gold.
Here again we may draw a broad distinction. Great sections of Christendom are sadly hampered by rubbish of the ritualistic order, and those that have protested against this and severed themselves from connection with it are becoming increasingly troubled with rubbish of the rationalistic order.
The adherents of the former assume that God is to be worshipped by man in his natural condition, and by his natural powers and emotions. Hence they multiply everything that can appeal to the senses or sentiment. Millinery, incense, music, pomp, and magnificence generally are requisitioned to this end.
The latter have such an overweening sense of man’s importance and powers of mind and intelligence, that they practically deify human reason and place it on a plane above revelation, if they do not deny revelation itself.
Both agree in this, that they practically deny the fall of man, his total ruin and depravity, so plainly taught all through the Bible. Read in particular the first three chapters of the Epistle to the Romans. Notice in chapter 3—
“All under sin” (v. 9).
“All gone out of the way” (v. 12).
“All … guilty before God” (v. 19).
“All have sinned” (v. 23).
They further agree in supposing that Christianity is a God-given system for improving and elevating man, as he is, whereas the whole truth of Christianity hinges upon the total condemnation in principle of man, as he is, in the cross of Christ, and the acceptance of the believer “in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1-3), so that it is a question not of reformation or elevation, but of new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
If you have any further doubts as to the worth of the ritualism of the day, read carefully Colossians 3:16-23, and if any as to rationalism read verses 6-10 of the same chapter. Read also the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in John 4:24, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Do you perceive the force of this?
Worship must be “in spirit,” the very opposite to being “in flesh,” as ritualism supposes. It must be “in truth” (i.e. in godly recognition of all that God is as perfectly revealed in Christ, for “truth” connects itself with the knowledge of God), in contrast to being “in nature” or “in reason,” as rationalism supposes.
Now what is to be done? In Nehemiah’s day the rubbish was removed or possibly burned (Neh. 4:2). Certain it is that it must go. The New Testament Scriptures speak of two ways of dealing with it. In the early days a good deal of rubbish crept into the Church at Corinth. The apostle Paul has to speak not only of “gold, silver, precious stones,” but of “wood, hay, stubble” (1 Cor. 3:12). The treatment he urged upon the Church in reference to grave moral evil runs as follows:—
“Purge out therefore the old leaven” (v. 7), i.e. to reject and utterly remove from their midst the evil itself,
“Put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (v. 13), i.e. to equally reject any person wilfully identified with the evil.
In later years when writing to Timothy the apostle Paul speaks of vessels, “some to honour and some to dishonour,” and he goes on to say that if a man therefore purge himself from these—the vessels to dishonour—“he shall be a vessel to honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use” (2 Tim. 2:21).
Does not the same solemn responsibility rest upon those of us who profess Christ’s precious name today? Undoubtedly it does.
Remember that though you cannot set the professing Church right, you can set yourself right by rigidly refusing to countenance these things condemned by God’s Word, rejecting them personally, and if needs be purging yourself out from every association which would involve you in them. It may not be without difficulty; the pathway of faithfulness to God’s will rarely is; but bear in mind those golden words of Samuel’s:—
“Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
Simple Testimony 1906