Nehemiah; or the building of the wall.

“Ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God?” (Neh 5:9.) “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Ps. 111:10.) In that fear, desiring to know and do the will of God; let us look at the lessons in Nehemiah, written for our instruction. If we study this book in the presence of the Lord, we shall hear Him speaking to us in it, as to present events.

In Nehemiah 1 we see a man before God. He learns the state of the remnant of the Jews, and that the wall of Jerusalem is broken down. He bows in confession and prayer. Deeply earnest is this man of God, as he pleads with Jehovah for the state of the fallen, yet the redeemed by power. Thus he pleads: “O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name.” (Neh. 1:11.)

Thus we see him before the Lord, feeling acutely the state of Israel and the city of the Great King. He owns fully their deep sin in departing from the Lord: “We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments which thou commandest thy servant Moses.”

Now, as these things were written as types for us, may I ask, Have we been thus before the Lord, in deep confession, as to the present state of the church of God? Have we thus wept, and mourned, and prayed, for the blood-bought people of the Lord in this day?

Let us seek no mere controversy, but sit down before the Lord, and compare the present captivity of the church in the world with what it was in the beginning. Has not the wall been broken down? When God by the Holy Ghost first built the church, there was the wall of separation. All believers were together, and formed one body, as all the houses in the ancient city formed the one Jerusalem, with its wall strong and high. Even so we read of the one church of God, “and of the rest durst no man join himself to them.” (Acts 5:13.) Have you sat down before the Lord? Look, then, back along the dark ages, the centuries of captivity, wherein this wall of separation has been broken down.

As God prepared Nehemiah, by this deep exercise of heart in His own presence, for his future work, so has God been pleased in like manner to raise up servants, prepared by Himself, for special work. But there must be this process of heart preparation. I would not write another word for controversy, but there are many souls bowed down at the thought of what calls itself the church; God will use these thoughts for their help, and, I trust, for His own glory.

After deep prostration and exercise before God, in Nehemiah 1, we find as the result, divine yearnings and activities of love for the welfare of the people of God in Nehemiah 2.

All this brings before us for the first time Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah, the servant, the Ammonite. Now, as these and their companions are brought before us throughout this book as the enemies and opposers of Nehemiah, and his work for God in building the wall, it is important to know who they were, and whom they represent. They were, then, Horonites, Ammonites, and Arabians. But they were dwelling in the land of Israel in Nehemiah 4:2: Sanballat spake, before his brethren and the army of Samaria; and Samaria in the beginning formed part of the land of Israel — they were active, boastful, subtle, men of authority in the land, but not of it. Do they not, then, represent the active, boastful, subtle men of authority who are in the professing church, but who are really strangers to God, and not of the church at all, but are the enemies and opposers of those desirous of carrying on the work of God, in caring for the saints, and in building the wall of separation to God?

If we now turn to the history of these men, we shall find seven forms or aspects of enmity to God’s work. “When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah, the servant, the Ammonite, heard, it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.” (Neh. 2:10.) And when has God raised up a man in like manner, to seek the real welfare of the church of God, but those have been found — and not a few of them — who have been grieved exceedingly? How great was the grief of the clergy when God raised up a Wiclif, a Huss, or a Luther! But especially do we find these seven marks of opposition to the work of God during this last half century {before 1890}. What a grief it has been to many, that God should have raised up men to seek the real welfare of the church of God, apart from all sectarianism. Some years ago men were brought, like Nehemiah, on their faces before the Lord. Amazed at the departure of the church from the commandments of her Lord, they were bowed in confession and prayer. And the Holy Ghost put earnest yearnings in their hearts for the one church of God.

Philadelphia (Rev. 3) answers to Nehemiah, as antitype answers to type. One must be alone a good deal with God to understand this. There were but few men with Nehemiah when he arose in the night, and no man knew what God had put into his heart. Just take a ride with him around Jerusalem. Dragon wall and dung port wall broken down, &c. Such are the things you will find in and around the church in ruins. That is the church as seen in the hands of men.

Very clearly have the scriptures foretold all this. The present state of Christendom is most accurately described in the word (see 2 Tim. 3; 2 Peter 2:1-9; culminating in Rev. 17, 18). Its progress is marked in detail in its seven stages in Revelation 2, 3. Neither is there one intimation that it would be restored to its primitive glory as the bright witness of a rejected Christ. A feeble remnant is found in Philadelphia, clinging to the person and word of Christ, and keeping His patience.

As Nehemiah, then, rode round Jerusalem (Neh. 2:11-16), so ride around Christendom. Oh, I ask you to reflect, what are God’s thoughts about Romanism and Protestantism? View the whole scene in the presence of God and in His fear. Did Nehemiah hang down his hands in despair? No! he said, “Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem.” Thus he encourages them, and the hand of God was good upon him. They reply, “Let us rise up and build.”

This brings us to the second form of opposition. “But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah, the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? Will ye rebel against the king?” The first form of opposition was grief; the second is laughter. Compared with the whole nation, they were indeed a feeble remnant.

They longed to see the sacred city enclosed within the wall of separation. And shall that city of the king be more dear to them than the sacred enclosure of the saints of God, around the person of Christ, be to us? As Nehemiah stirred up the remnant to build the wall, so has the Holy Ghost stirred up a few, each in his place, to build this wall, so long cast down. Oh, how the modern Sanballats have laughed and despised! What is this thing that you feeble, silly, Christians will do? Yes, there has been a time for grief, and a time of laughter.

In Nehemiah 3 the wall is being built. Each little company is in its place building the wall. Is not this a striking picture of what has taken place in these last days? Wherever the truth of the one body of Christ — the one church of God — has been accepted in the fear of the Lord, each little company has acted upon it, in building the wall of separation; and the divine Architect has made each piece fit, like the well-worked courses of masonry. The work is of God; His good hand is with the feeble remnant.

It may be called “exclusive” — it must be so. You cannot build a wall, but it must be an exclusive wall. Why set up its doors and bars, if not to preserve and exclude? We cannot sincerely receive the blessed truth of the one body, but this must exclude all sectarianism. Can we accept the truth of one God, and then tolerate the other gods of the heathen? No more can we accept the truth of the one body of Christ, and accept the many bodies of Christians!

This brings us to the third form of opposition, Nehemiah 4.

“But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews.” Thus we have had grief, then laughter — now the building of the wall is a fact, there is wrath. Is not this picture also sadly fulfilled before our very eyes? Sanballat’s wrath against the builders of this wall was not more bitter, than the bitter hatred against the sacred enclosure of souls being really gathered to Christ, the true centre. What! say they, not tolerate our denominations? What, exclude all that does not seek uncompromising conformity to Christ?

Sanballat spake to his brethren and the army of Samaria, “What do these feeble Jews?” And indeed what were they, compared with the army of Samaria? “What do these feeble Christians?” Ah, indeed, what are they, compared to the armies of Christendom around? Are they going to remove the heaps of rubbish? Are they going to level sectarianism in a day?

This wrath is succeeded by the fourth form of opposition. Sanballat mocked the Jews. “Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall.” Thus the enemy, whilst hating with bitter hatred the work of God, outwardly appears to make light of and mock at it. Is not this exactly so in our day? Well, there may be grief, laughter, wrath, and mocking; but the work goes on. The wall is growing fast — piece is joined to piece. The work of God spreads. In Ireland, England, the Continent, America, India, Syria, souls are hearing the voice of the Shepherd, and leaving every fold of man — are being gathered within the sacred enclosure, around the precious person of the Great Shepherd, Christ Himself. Christ is exalted, and all that does not exalt Him is excluded. Man is nothing.

Now, what will Sanballat and his company do? This brings us to the fifth form of opposition. “But it came to pass, 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 to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it.” (Neh. 4:7-8.) We have had grief, laughter, wrath, mocking; now there is to be fighting — determined, uncompromising opposition to the work of God.

Is it not even so? Has not every sect in Christendom agreed in this, to fight against, to oppose, the building any further of the wall of separation to Christ? And as these companies consulted to come upon the Jews unawares, so often, when God has been blessing His word in a given place, has the enemy come unawares, sowing evil reports, and sought to stop the work. Behind the scene are wicked spirits in the heavenlies. Surely we need the whole armour of God, and “our God shall fight for us.” The work at Jerusalem still went on; so it is now; the more opposition, the more it drives to God, and the more the work goes on. The trumpet of truth is heard to give a certain sound, and the saints resort thither to it.

Nehemiah 5 is very solemn. There was failure amongst the remnant. As Peter said, and well he knew it, “We are men of like passions with yourselves:” and surely we also know it. Are we better than others in ourselves? Far be the thought. But, oh, the grace that has gathered to that blessed One, to whom no man can come except the Father draw him. As our Lord said: “It is written in the prophets, and they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that has heard, and has learned of the Father, comes to me.” (John 6:44.) The Father is not gathering souls to poor failing man, but to His own Son.

Men have formed themselves into the churches of Rome, England, Scotland, and innumerable bodies; but God by His Spirit has restored the long-lost truth of the one body of Christ — Christ the only true centre. It is now an accomplished fact, that the wall of separation from every human society is being built. Souls are gathered on the same basis as at Pentecost, though in themselves but a feeble remnant out of the camp of Christendom. There is the camp of a leavened Christendom, and there is the sacred enclosure outside that camp, gathered to Christ, and bearing His reproach.

This just brings us to the sixth form of opposition — what Sanballat and his companions did when they heard that Nehemiah had built the wall. “Then Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief.”

Then Nehemiah “sent messengers to them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?” (Neh. 6:3.)

We have had five forms of opposition — grief, laughter, wrath, mocking, and fighting; now we have subtlety without. It is as if they said, Do not be so narrow and exclusive. Do come down from your sacred enclosure to “one of the villages in the plain of Ono.” “Let us meet together.” Do come down, and sanction us in the plain of Ono. Do you ask, what was this plain of Ono? Turn to Nehemiah 11:35, “Zod and Ono, the valley of craftsmen.” Do leave the only centre of worship within those walls of Jerusalem, and come down to any one of the villages of “the craftsmen.” Well did they know that if the true worship of God was set up within that divine enclosure, they would feel like the Ephesians in after times, that their craft was in danger. “Sirs said the men of Ephesus, ye know by this craft we have our wealth.” (Acts 19:23-41.)

Thus we have the camp of Samaria, with its villages of craftsmen, on the one side — open, compromising, liberal — willing to meet all, and take counsel with all together; on the other side a few feeble Jews, gathered in separation on God’s ground, within the hated exclusive walls. And through the help of God they stand firm, and act as those who know they are just where God would have them to be, and doing that which is pleasing in His sight.

It was not one effort, or two, but four times did Sanballat send messengers after this sort, to induce, if possible, the servants of God to give up their exclusiveness, and come down from their excellency to the low level of the plain of Ono, the villages of the craftsmen. Still God preserved him — “I answered them after the same manner.” (Ver. 4.) To Nehemiah it was a great work to be uncompromisingly for God.

Sanballat, judging after his own heart, now sends the fifth time his servant, with an open letter in his hand: “therein was written, it is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu [or Geshem] says it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel, for which cause thou thinkest to build the wall, that thou thinkest to be their king, according to these words … Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together.” Very firm was the reply, so like a man that walks in peace with God: “There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.” If Nehemiah had been acting in the pride of a self-seeking heart, then nothing could be more narrow, close, yea, contemptible; but he was acting in the fear of Jehovah, and nothing could be more beautiful and faithful.

Is not all this a picture of the movements around us in this very day? Nothing could be more strikingly so. There is the sacred enclosure of a few feeble saints, gathered to Christ, and there is the great camp of the Greek, Roman, and Protestant churches. And as there were many Jews still in captivity, so are there many Christians in this great camp of Babylon. But is it not written, “There were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of, and through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you?” (2 Peter 2:1.)

Is not this terrible picture fulfilled before our very eyes? and is not this merchandise wicked in God’s sight, though one of the most respectable professions of this day? So fashionable is it that many of God’s own children are entangled in it, and follow its pernicious ways. If you would read a further description of this modern camp of Samaria, read 2 Timothy 3.

God in His sovereign grace has been working, in this camp, and many souls, we trust, have been saved. He can work in Greece, in Babylon, or Rome. Satan has used this circumstance, like Sanballat of old, and repeated have been the temptations to come down to some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. Only give up your narrow, illiberal exclusiveness, and come down to the level of the craftsmen; only acknowledge the clergy, and you may hold what you like. Do only come down from that hateful wall around the true ground of God; or, if you will not come down and acknowledge us, then you are but a sect in Jerusalem, as much as we are. You are the exclusives. Come down now; come, let us take counsel together.

Those who are separated to Christ can say, All this is feigned out of your own hearts. You know we are no sect. You know that we do not exclude any one that God has gathered to Christ, and who only seeks His honour and glory. Is it not a solemn thing to oppose the present work of God, as Sanballat did of old?

But, says an eminent evangelist, who remains in and approves the camp of Samaria, “will you not go with us to the preachings?”

“I don’t know that I will,” said a young Scotch Christian.

“What, will you not go where God is working?”

“No, I do not know that I will.”

“How is that?”

“Why, God is a sovereign; but I am a subject.”

The same evangelist said to another (the servant of the Lord with whom he had first laboured in England), “I am sorry you are not with us.”

“Indeed, I am more happy to be with the Lord.”

“Why, is He not with us?”

“That may be in His grace, and I pray He may use you much; but you know you are not with Him outside the camp.”

No, we cannot be with the army of Samaria, and at the same time with the few within the sacred enclosure of the rebuilt wall. “Let us go forth therefore, to Him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” (Heb. 13:13.)

There is the sacred enclosure of the feeble ones in Philadelphia (Rev. 3.), those who have gone forth from Sardis (Protestantism), to Him, the holy and the true. And there is the boasting camp of Laodicea, outside of which the precious Lord knocks at the door. Are you, my reader, in the camp of Laodicea, that which is rich, with its thousands and its clergy? Then you have never yet gone forth to Him, bearing His reproach. May God by His Holy Spirit make this clear to you. How could the gathered saints to Christ, outside the camp, come down and sanction the craftsmen in the valley of Ono? No; surely twenty thousand on the plain of Ono should not attract my soul from Christ.

It is a great work that God is doing by the Holy Ghost, greater far than the work He did by Nehemiah. And the enclosed remnant in Jerusalem were not more distinct from the camp of Samaria than the souls gathered to Christ are distinct from the camp of Christendom. Oh, that they who have been thus gathered were more true to Christ. They have failed, but they cannot give up the only true ground of gathering around Him. They own their failure, but they cannot give up Christ.

This brings us to the seventh form of opposition to the work of God — danger within. This will illustrate the cunning subtlety of Satan. In the last case it was the temptation from without to go down to the platform of Ono — to compromise all that God has taught us, and sanction the craftsmen and merchandise of Christendom. Now the mischief is within. We shall do well carefully to consider it.

Sanballat does not appear on the surface. “Afterwards I came to the house of Shemaiah, the son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple: and let us shut the doors of the temple, for they will come to slay thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee.” Does not this look very plausible? Surely it is right to meet together in the house of God. But to shut the doors of the temple would be with us to put the light under a bushel. The temptation is to give up the testimony. If we will not join the religious activities of the camp, then let us seek in shut-up selfishness, and fear of man, to enjoy that sacred place of blessing and communion among ourselves, and take care of ourselves.

The opposition may indeed become more grave. But shall we give up the testimony, if it be even to save our lives? or shall we flee? Shall we through fear shut ourselves up? Is this the mind of God? “And lo I perceived,” said Nehemiah, “that God had not sent him … Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.” Let us also, then, having this certainty that the work is of God, not be weary, or shrink from it.

It seems to me the greatest trial and danger was from false brethren. The enemy knew that the wall was built: “They were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.” (Neh. 6:16.) But the false brethren, even “nobles of Judah, sent many letters to Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came to them. For there were many in Judah sworn to him,” &c. This is indeed sad, and a great trial, when those who outwardly take the place of being gathered to Christ, yet like these mixed marriages of Judah, we find some dear brethren in the Lord seeking to mingle the principles of the camp with those of God. Nor should this surprise us, remembering the words of the apostle, “Also of your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things.” (Read Acts 20:29-35.) No doubt these half-and-half brethren are the greatest stumbling-blocks in the way of inquiring souls. Let those gathered to Christ beware or evil associations — the greatest present danger.

Thus we have very briefly examined the seven stages of opposition to God’s own work. The grief of the enemy (Neh. 2:10); the laughter of the enemy (Neh. 2:19); his wrath (Neh. 4:1); mocking (Neh. 4:3); fighting (Neh. 4:8); subtlety without (Neh. 5:1-9); subtlety and danger within (Neh. 6:10). And many a reader of this tract will say, “I have seen all seven in the opposition to God’s work in our own day.”

So the wall was finished. No amount of opposition could stay the work of God. It is so again — saints are gathered to Christ, the wall is built; the doors are set up, and God has raised up faithful men to keep the watch. The position has been assailed in sevenfold opposition; but God has preserved the sacred principle of being gathered to Christ. To Him be all praise! Surely we need to put on the whole armour of God. Our Sanballat is not dead, though his power is destroyed. These seven aspects, that is complete opposition, will continue until the coming of our Lord.

Some one now may say, If God has gathered souls to Christ as at the beginning, and if they find that the truth of the church of God being one, excludes every sect of men — yet, if this basis was large enough at the first to receive every obedient child of God — surely, then, it must be as broad, and be large enough now. Is it not a wonderful truth, that all believers form the one body of Christ — all are one? “There is one body.” And then if Christ has His place in the administration of the church, its gifts, and its worship in spirit, as at first, surely this is a large place to dwell in! Is it not large enough for every Christian on earth who desires to walk in the fear of the Lord, and according to His word? When this truth is known, what need for all the sects that men have made? Surely no need. Then tell me, if the place is so large and so blessed, how is it that there are so few in it? Why, in some towns, there are none gathered thus to Christ, and in others, those thus gathered are in no reputation.

This was the case also at Jerusalem. “Now the city was large and great; but the people were few therein, and the houses were not builded.” Yes, this is the very question of Nehemiah 7. Compared with the largeness of the city, there were but few in it; but the number was known, and left on record, of those who had come up out of the captivity (vers. 6-60). But there were a great number which went up “from Telmelah, Telharesha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer, but they could not show their father’s house, nor their seed, whether they were of Israel.” Many others also are named: “These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but it was not found: therefore were they as polluted put from the priesthood. And the Tirshatha (or governor) said to them, that they should not eat of the most holy things till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim.” (Vers. 61-65.)

All this is exceedingly instructive. If mingling with the Gentile world had caused the Israelites to lose the certainty of their nationality, is there any wonder that the effect of the church being mixed with the world should have caused so many to be uncertain, whether they are the saved children of God or not? Even with the most evangelical there is much darkness and perplexity as to this. And this is one cause, if not the chief one, why so few take the happy place of the children of God gathered to Christ. Evidently there were many Israelites who could not show their genealogy; and there are many Christians who cannot show it; they are so confused with the false position they are in, that they cannot tell whether their names are written in heaven or not. Indeed, in human churches this is not an essential point. Until lately, many denied the possibility of any knowing with certainty that they are the children of God.

Is it not also most true, that if we do not know this, we cannot eat of the most holy things? We must know Jesus, the Great High Priest in the presence of God — He who once bore our sins on the cross, but who is now crowned with glory. As our righteousness, raised from the dead, we now see Him, with Urim and Thummim. In His face shine the lights [Urim] and perfections [Thummim] of God. How can you enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus if you are uncertain whether you are saved? Oh, search the register; never rest, my reader, until this first question is solved.

Reader, ask yourself, Is my name written in heaven? How do I know that my very sins are all for ever blotted out? Is it true that God in very deed is my Justifier? What, shall nothing ever separate me from His love in Christ? If I die, am I quite sure it will be to depart and be with Christ? If I live until the Lord comes, am I quite certain that He will take me to be for ever with Himself? Reader, you will never answer these solemn questions by looking within, at self, at feelings, or experiences. No, it must be the look of faith at the One who has been lifted up, and is now at the right hand of God. And, mark, I rarely ever met a soul yet that enjoyed this blessed certainty — that truly had peace with God — that could comfortably remain in the camp of Christendom away from Christ in rejection. Now is it not so? Do you not feel it far more consistent, if in uncertainty, to remain in the systems of men, rather than take a place outside the camp, bearing the present reproach of Christ? I have no doubt this will soon be the real condition of the recent converts. Left in the camp, the uncertainty of the camp will fall upon them. The remnant were few in number, and feeble indeed; and so of those gathered to Christ in this day. But the one was the work of God, and so is the other.

We now come to another very interesting inquiry. And again, as of them, so it is of us. If they were neither to come down from the enclosure of those exclusive walls, and mingle with the craftsmen, nor yet to shut themselves up, what were they to do? If we are not to come down from that blessed place our God has restored to us — the ground of the one body, and the sovereign guidance of the Holy Ghost — if we are not to compromise God’s blessed truth by a truce with the clergy, and what is of man in the movements of the act; and, on the other hand, if we are not to shut ourselves up — then pray what are we to do?

Nehemiah 8 is an answer to this inquiry. The people are gathered together as one man. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation. Oh, what reading of the book before, both men and women, and those that could understand; and what attention to the book! The book, God’s book. And Ezra opened the book. And now what blessing and worship! and what causing the people to understand the book! “So they read the book, in the law of God, distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” (Ver. 8)

This, my brethren, is the work of those separated to Christ, and this is what they have to do. Remember how little real regard there is in the camp for the word of God. It must be far otherwise with them. They must be men of “the book.” They must open the book; read the book distinctly; make the people understand the book. It is God speaking to us. Then there will be lifting up of hands, and bowing of heads, and worshipping the Lord with faces to the ground. Yes, as the Tirshatha, which is the Holy Ghost, gives us understanding of the precious word, there will be intelligent delight in the Lord; we joy in God.

But is it to be all for ourselves? Oh no. “Then he said, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy to our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Ver. 10.) And all the people did so, because they had understood the words.

It is a great mistake merely to seek our own personal blessing and edification. It is spiritual selfishness. We must be personal; we must feed on all the sweet perfections of Christ, that which the fat of the burnt-offering pointed to — the inmost thoughts and affections of our own precious Jesus; the loveliness of His walk here below; and His present unchanging love. Does not the sweet perfume of His adorable person fill the heaven of heavens? Oh, let us drink the sweet; let us be full of Christ! and then our happy work is to send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared. O child of God, this is to be thy constant work, even to those who do not understand thee, and who slander thee, who misrepresent thee, and who speak all manner of evil of thee ignorantly. Do not return evil for evil, railing for railing, but contrariwise, seek the spiritual good of all; “send portions” to the whole church of God. Remember how the Lord met the mad persecutor, Saul of Tarsus. And not a few in our day who were bitter opponents, have been taught of the Father to come out of the camp to the Lord Jesus Christ, the true centre. Let what is pleasing to Him be pleasing to us. “For the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Now we will notice one striking effect of reading the book, and understanding the words that were declared to them. On the second day gathering (Neh. 8:13-18), they found what was written concerning the feast of tabernacles — “That the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month.” “And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun, to that day, had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.” Is not this very remarkable? they were only a handful of people compared with Israel in the days of Solomon; yet this feast had never been so kept. This feast, Israel in booths, was a beautiful symbol of the people waiting for the millennial reign of their long-expected Messiah and Lord. And for a thousand years Israel had never so waited in booths, as this feeble remnant now waited with “very great gladness.”

It is no less remarkable that the church had never kept the feast of tabernacles since the days of Paul, until God has in these our days gathered a feeble remnant outside the camp to Christ. This was the attitude of the church in the early days of Paul: “Turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven,” &c. (1 Thess. 1:9; 2:19; 3:13; 4:15-18. Read prayerfully these scriptures.) Must we not confess that for eighteen centuries we look in vain in what is called church history to find the church in this tabernacle feast again? No doubt there was a little of it during the sad days of persecution. But no sooner did the world cease to persecute, than the church immediately became worldly — in the world, and of the world. And whilst the Bridegroom tarried for so many centuries, the church slept.

Now what has taken place during these last years, since God has gathered a feeble remnant to Christ? Have not the scriptures had a similar place and effect to that described in our chapter? Has not the effect been the same? The blessed long-lost hope of the church has been restored, and an attitude answering to the feast of tabernacles has been once more taken. The gathered remnant have been led, by the Spirit of God, to wait for the Son from heaven; and there is very great gladness. The blessed certainty, that as it is appointed to men to die, and after death the judgment, so Christ was once offered for our sins; and we are now looking for Him without sin to salvation. Yea, “we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (see Heb. 9:27-28; 1 John 3:2), contrasted with the awful gloom of looking for a day of judgment, and the bar of God, about our sins. There is very great gladness; because we know that He has loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood; and it is our happy privilege now to be waiting for Him from heaven: O the untold joy of that triumphant moment! “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

And as Israel were to publish and proclaim in all their cities what they found written; so surely would the Lord have us make known, with holy boldness, what we have found written. Intelligent communion with God and with one another, understanding the words of God which are written, making all this known to the blood-bought church of God, and waiting for His Son from heaven — what could we have more?

Thus the wall was built. And all this great gladness more than made up for the hatred of men, and charges of exclusivism. I do not pursue this study much beyond the wall, but there is one thing I must notice.

Some of my readers may say, “Surely the result of all this would be self-complacency, conceit, pride. What, you, the only handful of people on the face of the earth on true ground — within God’s sacred enclosure — around the only true centre? This must produce narrow-minded, self-satisfaction.”

You are wrong; it does not. Read Nehemiah 9. What a contrast to all human thought! “Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackcloth, and earth upon them.” It might be thought that separation from others would produce a feeling of self-superiority. But no; it did not. The seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, “and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.” And then there is reading, confession, and worship. Ah, this is of God: it is the divine order. Separation from evil brings us into self-abhorrence before God. And the more we read His word, the more we have to confess; and, wondrous to tell, the more we confess, the more we worship. And then you find the Levites cry to God. Self-judgment produces dependence on God, and faith in God. “Stand up, and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever; and blessed be thy glorious name; which is exalted above all blessing and praise.” Thus the Lord Jehovah is before their souls; whilst owning their utter failure, and the failure of their fathers, yet throughout this chapter, God, in all that He had done and was to them, shines out in every verse.

All this is so true in every case where a soul is truly gathered to Christ. “Mine eye sees thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” I am sure the nearer we are to God, the more the flesh will be crushed, whether as individuals, or as saints gathered to the Lord. It is not what we are — no, we have sinned; but it is what God is, and what He has done for us. Surely deep, real humility becomes those who can say there is nothing between our souls and the lake of fire but the blood of Christ. To Him be all glory and praise. He is worthy to bring His redeemed, without spot or wrinkle, to His own place prepared for them. “Let us,” then, “go forth therefore to him without the camp, bearing his reproach.”

All this is surely truth for present guidance, and for testing. Where are you, reader? in the religious Babylon, afar off from God’s true ground of gathering? or have you, like the remnant, been brought back to the ground of what the church was in the beginning? Have you been exercised before the Lord about the present condition of Christendom, as Nehemiah was about the holy city? Have you found any seeking alone the good of the church of God? Do you know anything of that sevenfold opposition to the present work of God? The grief, the laughter, wrath, mocking, fighting, subtlety without and within, of those who are in the professing church? Have you the certainty that your name is written in heaven? or have you searched, and cannot find your register? Do you know whether you are a child of God, or not? This being settled, have you been led to search the book — to understand the book — to eat the fat, and drink the sweet? Is it your joy to send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared? Has the searching the word led you to wait for Christ from heaven? Are you charged with exclusivism because of that hated wall of separation? And has all this brought you lowly before the Lord in confession, and then worship? And, finally, is God before your soul, as He was before the remnant in Nehemiah 9? Has your soul found the sabbath of rest within the sacred wall, even Christ Himself?

Then beware of the men of Tyre, who will offer their tempting wares before the wall. Keep the gates shut — oh, keep the gates closed. Let nothing come in to break your rest in Christ — your joy in God. We need much the lesson of the last chapter to keep the gates shut; it will be most offensive to men of Tyre, but most pleasing to our God. He alone could have given us such a picture of the day in which we live, and He alone could give us such a light for our feet. May He sanctify us by His word — His word is truth! C. S.

Will you read, in the fear of the Lord, Romans 12:4-5; Romans 16:17?