Month: April 2012

A Tithe of Men – W.E. Smith

Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem. The rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten of them to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all who volunteered to live in Jerusalem. (Neh. 11:1)

Part 1 –

Part 2 –

 A Peculiar Treasure – by T. Austin-Sparks

“And the princes of the people dwelt in Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts in the other cities. And the people blessed all the men that willingly offered themselves to dwell in Jerusalem. Now these are the chiefs of the province that dwelt in Jerusalem: but in the cities of Judah dwelt every one in his possession in their cities, to wit, Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the Nethinim, and the children of Solomon’s servants” (Nehemiah 11:1-3).

“Then they that feared the Lord spake one with another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him, for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in the day that I do make, even a peculiar treasure; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him” (Malachi 3:16,17).

As we come to the last of this series of messages, it is necessary to have the whole background before us in order really to appreciate the setting of this final word. We have been led, as we have considered the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem by Nehemiah and those who were inspired by him, to see again that, as that was a movement of God at the end-time of the old dispensation (Nehemiah being the last historical book of the Old Testament), so there is a corresponding movement in our own time, as we move toward the end of this dispensation: that God would seek to complete, make full, the testimony of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We have looked at that testimony, as to what it is; we have taken account of the work, and the workers related to it; and we have also given some consideration to the conflict, the warfare, in which the workers in such a work are involved.

Now for a brief and simple word arising out of the two passages which we have just read. More than once in the course of these messages we have reminded ourselves that Nehemiah and Malachi were contemporary, that what we read of in the book of Nehemiah should be placed alongside of that which we have in the prophecies of Malachi. Malachi tells of the conditions in the days of Nehemiah, and here we come to what may be regarded as a final word in the matter. In this eleventh chapter of the book of Nehemiah, there is mentioned a peculiar offering to the Lord, and in Malachi 3 a peculiar treasure of the Lord.

A Tithe of the People

The peculiar offering, as you notice, was now not a tithe of things. Tithing of things was dealt with, but here was a tithe of the people, a tithe of the whole people, a tenth part of those who had come back and who had engaged in this work of rebuilding the wall, and that tenth part became a peculiar freewill offering to the Lord. Let us put a line under the tenth part for the moment: because, whether we like it or not, whether we are prepared to accept it or not, the fact remains that it always has been, and, so far as the forecast of the New Testament goes, it will be to the end, that there are only a certain few who go the full length with the Lord in His whole purpose. After all the sifting that had taken place – the first great sifting in Babylon when there came back a company, and then a second sifting when a few more came back – after the siftings, here we find ourselves at a kind of final sifting, when the number is still further reduced and it is only a tenth part who will voluntarily abide in Jerusalem by their own choice – just a tenth part. It seems that they correspond to Malachi 3:16,17, that company that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His Name: because you notice that it goes on to say: “They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in the day that I do make, even a peculiar treasure”. and He has made a record of them – “The Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him”, – a record was kept.

The Lord’s Book of Remembrance

Now in Nehemiah 11:4-24 you have the names, the record, of those who were a freewill offering. The Lord kept a record, the Lord composed a “book of remembrance,” the Lord entered the names of these, and concerning them He says they are “a peculiar treasure,” something He specially treasures. The Lord is looking for some who will be to Him “a kind of firstfruits,” a kind who will be in the vanguard, following Him “whithersoever he goeth”. He does look for a nucleus who will mean the satisfaction of His heart in the first place and in the essential way. As He looks out on a great multitude – and He has a great multitude who are His in the earth today – it cannot be said that all who bear His Name, all who are the Lord’s, are utterly following and wholly going on, or meaning to do so. No, it is not so. But He looks for this tithe of His people, this tenth part representation answering to His own heart desire. They to Him are peculiarly precious. “They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in the day that I do make, even a peculiar treasure”. That is the final issue of this matter of the whole testimony: who will voluntarily go all the way with the Lord, no matter what it costs?

A Freewill Offering

Now it was a freewill offering, this tithe. Each one of the tenth made it voluntarily. They submitted themselves voluntarily to this casting of lots. You might object that if a lot was cast they had no option, they had to accept it whether they liked it or not, but the point is that they willingly committed themselves to that method. That was a willing, a freewill, offering unto the Lord. No compulsion here, no law here, no legality here – it was just willingness. Are you prepared, out of your own heart, to make a response and say, without any bribery, without any fear of the consequences if you do not: ‘Yes, I am going all the way with the Lord, I am going to see that the Lord gets all that He wants so far as I am concerned’? That may mean a lot, that may involve a lot. But the Lord does not ask you to do it. He just waits for it – a freewill offering, a peculiar treasure to Him because it is freewill.

But what did it mean, this living at Jerusalem – this living at the very heart of the testimony, in other words? For since the wall represents the testimony, people coming into residence within the wall in Jerusalem really represented a spiritual movement – that there are those who are prepared to live right at the heart of the testimony. It was necessary, and it always is necessary, to the Lord that some do that – come right into the heart of it, to be there in the place of responsibility concerning it. There is a need that the testimony should be taken up with a sense of responsibility for its maintenance, that it shall be kept whole, that it shall be guarded, that it shall be served, that it shall be ministered to. If you look at the details concerning those who came within, you see their various ministries. I cannot take up the detail now, but you will see the various ministries which were represented by those who came into Jerusalem. They came in to fulfil a ministry, a spiritual ministry, on the inside, and take responsibility there. It was a need the testimony required.

A Great Cost

But there was a great cost attached to it. Not everybody was prepared for that, not at all. There were many who were ready for it, who accepted the method of choice to live inside, who were not called upon to do so, but there were those who, in the sovereign overruling of God, found themselves called upon to do so. The lot fell out in their direction. God sovereignly saw to it that that was how things went for them, and it represented a real cost. It was very much nicer to live outside Jerusalem than inside. These men came into the city, on that day when the lot was to be cast, ready to accept the result as the will of God for them.

And then the lot was cast, and it fell to them to come and live in the city. I can imagine some of those men going back to their suburban dwellings, wondering what the reaction was going to be at home about this; saying to their wives: ‘My dear, we have to go and live in the city, we have to move into Jerusalem – the lot has fallen to us.’ Well, of course, the right kind of wife would say this: ‘My dear, it was a matter of prayer, was it not? We prayed about it, that if it was to come our way the Lord would overrule, that if He wanted us He would let the lot fall on us. It was before the Lord; it is all right, the Lord wants it. Of course, it means giving up our nice little country house and our nice garden. It means losing that circle of friends we have out here. But still the Lord has laid it on us and we do not do it with any murmuring. But there are the children – perhaps that is the hardest part of all, the children. They have to lose so much – this free life out here, this life with all these others out here in the larger scale. They are involved in this.’ And then they would turn to the children, and say: ‘Listen, children: we have got to go and live in the city. We shall have to leave the country, and the garden, and all these others out here, and go to Jerusalem for the Lord, because the Lord wants it.’ They would be very happy parents to whom the children said: ‘Yes, we realize that your devotion to the Lord is costing you something, it is meaning a lot for you; and if we are involved in it, well, of course it means a lot to us – but we are with you in this.’

I do not think that is all imagination. I am quite sure that it was a costly thing to move into Jerusalem – and it always is costly to live at the heart of the testimony. Those who do so must forego many things that other people may have. You lose the large circle of friends when you go right to the heart of the Lord’s interests. There are many people who do not understand your doing that; they call you foolish, you lose their confidence. They cannot believe that the way you are taking is right, and they would argue, ‘Surely that is not the Lord’s will for you’. Yes, you lose many friends, and you may lose many other things; you may involve your children too – they may lose much if you are going wholly with the Lord.

But listen – “They shall be… a peculiar treasure”. To be a peculiar treasure to the Lord surely balances the account – nay, outweighs that. If you are going on with the Lord, it means that there are many things that you would like to have, many things quite legitimate and right, many things about which there is nothing wrong, but which, because of your utterness for the Lord, you will have to let go. And if you involve others in the suffering and cost of it all, that is a very bitter draught from the cup. There is nothing to indicate that these people who were chosen to move into Jerusalem did not have a bit of a struggle about it, that it did not cost them something, but the fact is that in their willingness to go on with the Lord they triumphed over all.

I think it is a wonderful thing that in the arrangement of the books of the Bible there is such a big gap between Nehemiah and Malachi, and that Malachi comes right at the end with: “They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in the day that I do make, even a peculiar treasure”. It is costly in many ways to live at the heart of the testimony. Again I say, you may be deprived of many things – good things; you may lose a lot of friends; you may lose a larger life of opportunity. Oh, how many have stopped, saying: ‘How many doors will be closed to me if I go that way! How much wide influence I shall forfeit! I shall narrow my scope if I go that way.’ And many have refused on those grounds, thinking that it was a legitimate argument to hold on to a larger scope and larger influence against the whole mind of the Lord – a wrong way of estimating values, because values are not bigness; they are intrinsic and essential.

The Intrinsic Value of the Peculiar Treasure

And so the value that the Lord has here, as you see quite clearly, is in just a very few, comparatively. It is a “day of small things”; it is a comparatively small company about which the Lord says, ‘My peculiar treasure’. The value is intrinsic. It is there that the Lord finds what His heart desires, and that which, I believe, leads us to the far greater thing. It is not that the Lord’s thought ends there in smallness because the Old Testament ends with this day of small things, this little company fearing the Lord: but that is the link between the end of the old dispensation and the beginning of the new – the coming of the Lord Jesus and all that followed. For, in the four hundred years between the Testaments, there was still that little company holding to the Lord’s full thought. When you open the New Testament, and begin the record as given by Luke, there you find that link – the little representative handful. Here is Anna, here is Simeon – here in Jerusalem is a company who wait for the promise, for the Messiah, looking for that day. They are linked with those who “feared the Lord”. Ah, but this is something that, though outwardly small, has become so intrinsically great, making a way for the Lord to come.

No, it does not end there, but the challenge lies there. How mistaken we are when we measure things by their bigness, by their numbers. That is the way the world does it. And that is where the world has come into the Church – measuring things by numbers, size, extent, what you can see, how you can appraise from natural standpoints. ‘Oh, that must be something for God! Look what a big thing it is!’ Not necessarily. It has often been that the greatest thing of God has been very small in the eyes of man.

We return for a moment, in closing, to the long list of names in Nehemiah 11. I expect when you have read the book of Nehemiah you have skipped this – those names, those terrible, unpronounceable names! You have said, ‘Oh, let us get on to something more interesting than this!’ And yet perhaps this is one of the most interesting things in the whole book. The Lord has taken note of each individual who offered himself in this way, and has marked him down by name and put him in the book; and he is not only here in this book, the Bible, and there mentioned by name for all successive generations to recognize, to identify, but he is in the other book in Heaven for all eternity. That is no small thing: to have your name down not only in the Lamb’s Book of Life as one born from above, a citizen of Heaven, but in the Lord’s “book of remembrance” as one who has ‘followed the Lamb whithersoever He goeth’, as one of a tabulated company, yes, out of all the saved, all the redeemed – this kind of firstfruits unto God.

Need we say more? What is the appeal of these messages? That is the point at which we arrive. I trust it means comfort to you. We want all the comfort that we can get, but we know something of the cost. How many times recently have people said to me, ‘When are you going to retire? So-and-so has retired and so-and-so is retiring’ – yes, ministers of the Gospel. There is no discharge in this warfare, no day for retiring, brothers and sisters. I am sorry for you! You are not going to be pensioned off down here and spend the rest of your life vegetating. You have to go on to the last breath, with battle and cost to the end. There is a cost bound up with the full purpose of God, and in many ways we know it.

But oh, the answer! The Lord is taking note; He is putting it down, and He is saying: ‘That tithe, that freewill offering people, shall be My peculiar treasure in that day that I do make’. I do not know how that is going to work out, what it is going to mean. Of course, it is a picture statement: that in a great house there is something, amongst all the possessions and all the ornaments, something that is peculiarly precious to the owner, and whenever his friends come he is always showing them that. ‘Have you seen this? This is most valuable. I hold it more dear than anything else I have got; indeed it is more to me than all the rest put together – a peculiar treasure.’

That is behind this. How it is going to work out I do not know, but that is what it means. Those who go this way, those who will pay this price, those who will accept these consequences, those who will be after this kind – a freewill offering to the Lord for everything that He desires and His heart is set upon – will be in His House like that. He will be drawing attention to them and saying, ‘Look here, have you seen these? These are peculiarly precious to Me. They followed the Lamb whithersoever He went.’

The Lord make us like that.

Excerpted form the The Recovering of the Lord’s Testimony in Fullness by T. Austin-Sparks


A Spirit-Felt Appeal for the Lord’s Testimony


So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isa. 55:11)

Nehemiah’s Action – T. Austin-Sparks

Now from Nehemiah’s concern we move on to his action – for, as we have said, Nehemiah was no detached, negative critic of the situation. He was not just one who was pointing out all that was wrong, without knowing what ought to be done for the glory of God, and doing something about it. So he took action, and if there is one book in the Bible, or at any rate in the Old Testament, which is characterized by action more than another, I think this book is such.

When Nehemiah took action, he first of all fully and accurately acquainted himself with the situation. We have such words as these: “Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men out of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, that were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 1:2).

And then when he came to Jerusalem, we see him moving, in these descriptive words: “And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God put into my heart to do for Jerusalem; neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon. And I went out by night… and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire” (Nehemiah 2:12,13).

So Nehemiah took pains to get to know exactly what the situation was. It is true that he had information. Report came to him, or he made it his business to get to know from those who had first-hand knowledge, as to what the situation was, but as soon as it was possible for him to do so on the spot, he verified the report and accurately informed himself at first-hand exactly how matters stood. And I would suggest that, in like manner, when the Lord is speaking concerning the recovery of His testimony which is the matter before us, those who are going to co-operate with Him must be accurately and fully informed. While their information may come indirectly, they must not be content with the best second-hand report, they must know at first-hand exactly how things are. You and I will never be of much use to the Lord until we know exactly what the spiritual state of things is and what needs to be done. We must really see and know this for ourselves, not just get it from the many people there are who tell us about it.

It is a fact that we can hardly go anywhere today in any part of the world, without finding people deploring the spiritual state of things amongst the Lord’s people. Their sense of things is in the main a right one – although, as we said earlier, many of them just complain and murmur and grumble and criticize without having anything to offer in the way of remedy and improvement. Nevertheless, their registration of the spiritual state of the Church is very largely true. It is very widely true, today, that everything is not right with the Church; things are not as they should be, as the Lord would have them. But we cannot go on a general – even though it be a very general – feeling that things are not right. This must come into our own being; we must know it for ourselves. I am not suggesting that we should go and try to find out all that is wrong and make a long list of all that is so defective and deplorable today; but I am saying this – that if we are to co-operate with God in getting things as He would have them, the matter must be a first-hand one in our own hearts. We must know it for ourselves. We must not just be professional grumblers, but those who have real travail of heart because of what we know to be the case, because of what we see, what is clear to our own eyes and what troubles our own hearts.

So Nehemiah did, in the first place, inform himself directly as to the situation. And it was a situation calculated to take the heart out of anyone. It really could have been so disconcerting that Nehemiah would not have gone on any further with it, but returned to Babylon and said: ‘We must make the best of a bad job. Things are not as they ought to be, they are quite hopeless. It is no use trying to do anything about it.’ But he did not give it up as a hopeless situation, bad as it was. I am quite sure that if you had been one of the men going round with Nehemiah that night, you might well have said: ‘This is something altogether beyond our handling; we will never be able to make anything of this. This is hopeless.’ Nehemiah was not like that. I think Nehemiah was one of the most courageous men of the Old Testament – a true hero: faced with a terrible situation, but facing it with confidence in God, because he knew, not only that this was a bad situation, but that God was on the move to put it right, to make something different of it. It was God’s will that it should be otherwise; and if God wills a thing, then we have a ground of confidence, however impossible it may seem to us. So he did not give it up, but faced it – faced it squarely.

I have a very great deal in my mind that will not find expression in these messages, but I have been taking in the whole compass of the Bible in connection with this, and I am especially moving in the New Testament, as you will see as we go on. I am thinking of the Apostle Paul, the great Nehemiah of this dispensation. What a situation he had to face amongst Christians! What a condition of things he had to meet and deal with! We feel, as we read his first letter to the Corinthians, that we would have given it up and said: ‘This is a hopeless mess – is this Christianity at all?’ But see how Paul heroically and courageously faced that situation. He did not give it up.

Today, we might be greatly discouraged, we might easily feel that it is not possible to have a full, clear testimony that glorifies God, seeing how the Church is destroyed, how “the wall… is broken down”, how “the gates are burned with fire” – that is, how the whole testimony is rent, and torn, and in ruins, as we might say. Yes, the situation is a disconcerting one and we have to face this question: Does God want it to be otherwise? Does God mean it to be otherwise? Is it the will of God that it shall be otherwise? Has God given it up? Is He desiring and intending – nay more, is He moving to secure a different state of things? If there is anything to prove that God is actively concerned about this matter, then we dare not abandon it. But it takes a great deal of courage, all the courage that God can give us, to face the present situation. Those who know it know that I am not exaggerating.

The Vision and Inspiration of Nehemiah

And then, once more, in his action Nehemiah brought others into his vision and into his concern. First of all, it was in his own heart and it was hidden in his heart. He said nothing to anyone of what God had put on his heart. It was something between himself and the Lord, in the first place, and it was not until he had reached a certain position, and made a certain decision consequent upon his investigation, that he opened his heart to others. I think that is a splendid thing, a thing of which to take note. It is so easy to have ideas and then to begin to broadcast your ideas and unload them on to other people. It is quite another thing, between yourself and God, to have got to grips with the situation and become fully impressed with the greatness of it, and then to resolve that this thing must be done and to bring others into your vision and inspiration.

You see, Nehemiah was made to be a tremendous inspiration. You read through this book and see what you might almost call the magnetism of this man’s personality, the inspiration that he was. People leapt to the impossible under the inspiration and vision of this man. There were times when they were very low in despondency, but then he pulled them out of their slough. What a force he was as a true leader to bring others into his vision! And do you not feel strongly that that is the real need today – of people who have vision, who have weighed up everything, who have faced the whole issue, and then who have such confidence in God, with the assurance that God wants and means something different, that they have come out with their positive impact upon others, so that others come into line? That truly is a great need. It is the easiest thing in the world to be a passenger, always to be carried. Ah, it is so easy to be a parasite, just living on and draining others. But it is quite another thing to be an inspiration, to be one who really does help others into the thing that God is after, to be an inspiration to them to come along to help in the work of the Lord. Nehemiah was that; and I put it to you that if we have any sense of things being other than according to God’s mind, and that God would have them otherwise, we ought to be positive people in this matter, and be an inspiration to others about it.

And so Nehemiah, having taken the full measure of it, and having weighed it all up, and having impressed himself with the greatness of the task in hand, without despairing, turned to it and so inspired the other men to whom he opened his heart that they said: “Let us rise up and build”. Oh, for a people like that! A people today who know all about it, and, seeing how things are, will say: ‘Let us do something about it – let us rise up and build!’

Well, that is the beginning of his action, and you will agree that that is action indeed. Of course, we are not just looking at this as a human matter, because none of us can be like this for very long, at any rate not unless we are energized by the Spirit of God. Consider the Apostle Paul again, who knew all about it, all about the conditions, and knew how discouraged and despondent the people of God could be about the situation. His prayer was this: “that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory… that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man” (Eph. 3:16); “that ye may be… strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and long-suffering with joy” (Col. 1:9,11). The mighty energies of the Spirit of God inwardly are the only energies by which we shall be able to go on. We must allow a large place for the inward working of God in the life of Nehemiah, because we know full well that only so can we do anything about this situation.

The Object – The Wall

Now let us come to the main features of the whole matter of this book. We said, in our first study, that they are three: namely, the Wall, the Work and the Warfare, or the Object, the Conduct and the Conflict. We begin with the object, the Wall, and we must be very clear as to what is represented by this wall that Nehemiah was going to repair – what the wall stands for. May I say three preliminary things about the wall, as to what the wall really was and what it is now.

First of all, the wall was a definition: that is, it defined. A definition: that means, spiritually interpreted – interpreted in our own time, according to Divine thoughts – a clear defining of what is Christ and what is not Christ. That wall of Jerusalem defined a certain area, a certain territory; and it stood there originally to say: ‘Now, what is within this wall, this mark, is of a certain order, of a certain character; within this, things are so and so.’ Of course, the character was given by the temple. right there at the centre, so to speak; but the wall was a defining factor, and we need not stay with detail about that. It is only necessary for us to say that in the recovering and completing of the Lord’s testimony there is the necessity for clear definition of what is of Christ and what is not. Things have become terribly confused. Here the wall is broken down and there is much rubbish. I am going to deal with the rubbish presently, but here is the fact – much rubbish where the wall had been. Multitudes of people today have no clear discernment, perception or apprehension as to what is Christ and what is merely ‘Christianity’. In evangelical Christianity things have become terribly mixed up, and what is necessary, it is evident, is the reconstituting of that which clearly and exactly defines what Christ is; that Christ shall be clearly understood and known and all the confusing and complicating and mixing elements shall be eliminated.

The wall was a defining thing. That means, spiritually, that it stands to represent the real character of Christ. I said a few pages earlier that there is very much behind what I am saying that cannot now find expression. but I have been thinking about walls – looking at walls in general through the Bible and passing from all the historic walls to the great inclusive wall at the end of the book of the Revelation, the wall of the New Jerusalem; and I find amongst other things that a wall is to define the character or nature of what is within. That is true, is it not, of the great wall of the New Jerusalem at the end of the Bible? Its main feature, we may say, is its character: its glory, its beauty, its purity. It is the character of Christ that is the first thing about His testimony, and that has to become established and very clearly defined.

And then – you may think that this is a distinction without a difference, but there is a difference – the wall represented a demarcation, that is, a distinction. Here things are not mixed at all; here at the wall there is a declaration and an establishment of the fact, that this testimony is a distinctive testimony. It is not a general thing; it is not something that brings into itself all sorts of different things. It is clear; it is distinctive. It has one thing to say, and that one thing is: ‘Only what is of Christ can pass this, can be within this’.

Now that is very, very searching, and very arresting. We shall find as we go on that this brother of Nehemiah’s, Hanani, was eventually made a policeman. And he, as policeman, was in charge of the gates, to deal with intruders, with merchants – and there are plenty of merchants finding their way into the testimony of Jesus, who have their own interests to serve, their own business to do, and all sorts of merchandise to bring into the confines of God, of Christ. And this wall said. ‘No!’ You read on to the end of the book, and see how Nehemiah and his policeman dealt with the merchants! They were having none of that – they chased them, they used strong measures with the merchants. But they did not do any more than the Lord Jesus did with the merchants of His day, with His knotted cord. No, the simple word is this: the wall spoke of a distinction between the precious and the vile; and that is covering much ground; it puts very much between what is of the Spirit of God and what is of another spirit.

And in the third place, this wall represented a defence. It was something which was placed as it were in a position of responsibility. It was responsible to protect the Lord’s interests and the Lord’s people from that which would invade, which would attack, which would corrupt, which would change the character. The Lord needs a testimony which challenges everything, a testimony which will not let anything pass that is not wholly of the Lord. That is where things have gone wrong with the Church, with the people of God, with the Lord’s interests. So much has been allowed to creep in, to have a place, that is not of the Lord, and there has not been a sufficiently strong testimony to what is of the Lord to meet it.

Again, in your New Testament you find that at the beginning, when the spiritual wall was first built, it was such a strong, clear thing in the power of the Holy Spirit, that first of all there were many that durst not join themselves – they durst not, they were afraid. The situation was such that fear was created in the heart where things were not right with God. On the other hand, people coming in fell down on their faces and said ‘God is in the midst of you’. The Lord needs a testimony like that, does He not? – something so clear, so strong, that those who do not mean business with God are afraid, and in our common expression, just ‘clear off’. “They went out… that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us” (I John 2:19), and that is a very healthy sign. Things are in a good condition when that happens. Ah, yes, but when things are in a bad condition you are afraid to lose anybody – you hold on to anybody. The Lord said: ‘No; don’t try to hold on to everybody, don’t try to bring in everybody’. This testimony, this wall, is a defence, a protection against anybody, anything. How necessary it was to Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day! The whole book shows that. You look at these other people, and see what this wall meant to Tobiah and to the rest of the company. They knew the implications of this wall; they knew that they were not getting into this.

Well, that is the meaning of the wall in the first place. But let us go just a little further in the matter. The wall represents Christ on two sides. On the one side, it represents Christ outwardly to the people of the world and the nations. On the other side, it represents what Christ is to the Lord’s own people themselves. In a phrase, the wall is a testimony in fullness to the Son of God: what the Son of God means, as seen in this world, to the world and to the people of God.

The Need For Repairing the Wall

It is necessary that I should put in a word here, lest there should be a misapprehension of our meaning. Nehemiah was not building the entire wall all over again from the foundations. If you look closely, you will see that it is the repairing of the wall that is going on, the repairing and making complete of what had been broken down. Why do I say that? Well, it is not given to us, we are not called upon, to build this thing from the foundations. Thank God. the foundation was laid, and thank God, the wall was built, in the beginning. The book of the Acts shows the wall, the testimony, in fullness and completeness, and in glory and strength and grandeur: a mighty defence, a mighty revelation of Christ to the nations and a mighty meaning of Christ to His own people. It was there at the beginning. Nehemiah did not come to commence, to initiate this thing. He came to a scene where what had once been full, clear, perfect, was broken down, ruined, and his work was to repair it and make it complete again; and that is where we are. If we are called into anything, we are called into that. We are not called upon to do what the Apostles did. They did their work, and it stands; but since their time there has been a good deal that speaks of the conditions of Nehemiah’s day – a good deal of collapse, of breakdown, of disintegration and of spoliation; and the Lord calls in to recover, to recover what was. That, surely, is the work to which we are called.

So we look first of all at the wall in brokenness. Here it is: “Then said I unto them, Ye see the evil case that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach” (Neh. 2:17). The last word touches the spot, does it not? See the great enemy of God, of Christ, of the testimony of our Lord, having it as his one abiding object to bring reproach upon the Name of the Lord – anyhow, by any means, whether by direct assault or by subtle underworking; somehow to bring the Lord’s Name and testimony into reproach. “That we be no more a reproach”. What a motive to govern the people of God, to save the Lord and His people from the reproach of this broken-down condition!

Idolatry the Cause of the Broken-Down Condition

We must, before we can move to the recovery, examine and trace the fundamental and ultimate reason for this state of things. We are taking our cue from the illustration in this book and in the other books leading up to it. There is one word that goes to the root of the whole matter, and that word is idolatry. If you look at the wall in its ruins, its wreckage; if you meditate and contemplate and ask questions – ‘Why? Why this? How is it that this is come about? What are the reasons for this state of things?’ – the inclusive and fundamental answer is – idolatry.

Is it not very impressive to recognize that, because of the idolatry in Israel, the nation was sent to the very heart of idolatry to be cured of it? Babylon was the world centre of idolatry – you know that from the great image set up. Now Israel had allowed idolatry in her midst, and the Lord sent her to the world centre of idolatry to be cured of idolatry. I say that it is impressive, and it just means this: that sometimes the Lord’s way of curing is to give an overdose of the thing with which we flirt. They hankered and they flirted. The prophets cried, pleaded, wept, appealed, agonized, that the people would break with this thing, cease their flirtations with the gods of the heathen nations round about them: but they would not, they were wedded. ‘All right’, said the Lord; ‘have what you are after – have it to the full’ and indeed they had it to the full, and it cured Israel of idolatry in that form for the rest of their history. I am not saying that it cured them of the spirit of idolatry; we shall see that later. But that form of open complicity with the power of evil was destroyed by their being given that upon which their hearts were set.

Here is the extreme instance of the working of a certain law. The Psalmist said about Israel in the wilderness: “And he gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul” (Ps. 106:15). They refused to let go. They would have; they said ‘yes’ in the face of God’s ‘no’. ‘We will have.’ ‘All right’, said the Lord – and they were the losers in their getting.

Now that principle does work, you know, and I am not so sure that it is not working today. In the Church, in Christianity, the world has found its place. The Church of God went out to the world and brought the world in. There has been complicity with the spirit of this world, it has found a large place in Christianity; and while it is not my desire to speak in this way, we must be very faithful. Perhaps all unperceived, all unrecognized – God grant that it is so – even in evangelical Christianity, there is a good deal of worldly principle, the bringing in of unspiritual things – names, titles, resources and what not, to do the work of God. There is a hidden complicity to get favour, to get advantage; there is behind all that another spirit – the spirit of idolatry – which is getting a grip upon the Lord’s people. Very well: what has happened? The Lord has let the Church have what it wants, and today it is feeling that it has lost its power, lost its position, because the world has too much of a place. In its gaining it has lost: that is very patent, is it not?

That principle works – and mark you, it works personally too, if your heart is so set upon something that you will not take ‘no’ from the Lord; you insist, you will have it; and your threat to the Lord, even if it is not put in the form of a threat, is that unless the Lord gives you that, or does that for you, you are not going on. If there is anything like that, the Lord will give it to you, He will let you have it. It will be a curse to you. Abraham did that over Ishmael – and what a curse You see, there is the principle. Now the point is this, that these people allowed idolatry to come into their lives, in spirit and in principle; and the Lord, through His prophet, “rising up early”, appealed; but they refused to listen to the voice of the prophet, so the Lord said: ‘All right, have what you want – away to Babylon!’ They lost everything.

What is idolatry? If it is not bowing down to idols of wood and stone, it takes many, many subtle forms, and very often indirect ways. It is just heart communion with anything that takes God’s place, that gets in God’s way. What a lot of ground that covers! The ultimate effect is that the Lord is frustrated, the Lord is hindered, the Lord cannot have what He is after. That is idolatry in principle. It displaces the Lord, it makes difficulties for the Lord.

I said earlier that, although Israel was cured of that outer form of idolatry, the principle or spirit of idolatry was not eradicated: for in the days of our Lord they were worshipping tradition – and tradition can be an idol. Yes, tradition can be an idol: you can be so committed and devoted to tradition that the Lord does not have a chance. It obstructs the Lord’s way, like the rubbish that Nehemiah could not pass – the beast that he rode could not pass the rubbish. Very often the rubbish in the Lord’s way is the rubbish of a dead tradition, of a dead history, something that belongs to the past and is not alive now. That is the principle of idolatry. That was the fundamental and ultimate cause of the brokenness of the wall, the wreckage, the rubbish, the debris: idolatry, heart union and communion with that which is not of the Lord.

Remember that this book of Nehemiah is full of bad conditions, of evils and errors, and these things correspond to the state of the wall. I want you to get this, although I shall come back to it again. You look at that wall and examine it, and you can look through it, so to speak; and in looking through you see that the conditions of the Lord’s people tally exactly with the condition of the wall. There are all sorts of wrongs and evils and errors, and that is the rubbish, that is the broken-down state of things. You see, the people’s state corresponded to the state of the wall; the wall was just an illustration of spiritual conditions: so that when you come to ‘look through’ this wall, you find that what you are dealing with really is not a wall but spiritual conditions; and as Nehemiah went forward to deal with the wall, he found that he had at the same time to deal with spiritual conditions in the people. They were one and the same thing. It would in effect be foolish to put up a beautiful wall when the conditions behind the wall were a contradiction. You see the point? The two things must be consistent – the spiritual state and your testimony. The testimony must have a spiritual condition behind it. A spiritual condition must support the testimony. You cannot work upon building up something that is not in the energy of truth.

We shall see further what the wall means, and what the wall is made of; but for the time being, the Lord bring us into His own vision, into His own intention, and energize us with the same energy as that which possessed His servant Nehemiah and His servant Paul, and many others whom He has used to recover something more of the testimony of His Son.

Excerpted from The Recovering of the Lord’s Testimony in Fullness by T. Austin-Sparks

Seven Years of Living and Walking – W.E. Smith

Hi Folks

Well, as of a few days ago, this LivingWalk journal has been online for exactly seven years, starting March 28th of 2005.

To be honest in the spirit, I am not truly sure what the Lord wants of any of this moving forward, and I am deeply aware of the significance of the number seven in the Scriptures.

The true measure of all of this is not what we write or share, but whether we live and walk in the things the Spirit is bringing home to us of Christ and His life.

In the years in which this journal has been online, I have lost everything it seems, at least that which the world deems anything (family, career, a place in this world), and my physical and emotional health is at a very low place at the moment. There are days where that thick wet blanket of depression follows me around, coloring everything gray. I have no future in this world, I know that now. It is not, nor has it ever been my home. At times it appears that the enemy is winning everywhere we look, that the Lord is hiding Himself, that the victory we read of in the Word is only for others, not us. Other times, we have so many more questions than answers, and our faith teeters on old man’s legs, ready to give way to the grim reality all around us.

At times, I feel the Lord is against me, like He is my enemy, but this I know is just the Way of the Cross, the Way of Life out of death. There is a good in the end, and it is life, it is the bountiful land. Yet before that there is the scorpion-infested wilderness and the river to be crossed. Only He knows if we will make it or not. Each day gives way to the next in this lonely struggle. So we go on, in prayer, in hope, in this School of Christ.

I thank all of our readers and friends, for all of your prayers these last years. By His grace alone, we are still standing, still breathing, still living, still walking…

It is unclear whether we will share anything further, whether He has anything more to sift through this heart and life. Yet we will leave it online for the those who might happen on these words.

In Christ,

W.E. Smith