Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 10, 1960

"The Trees And The Forest"

D. R. McMillien Selma, California

One of my favorite stories of the Bible is that of Nehemiah, that grand old man of God, a cupbearer to the king in the court of Artaxerxes, and his rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. I can imagine his feelings as he learned of the condition of his people and the great city of Jerusalem. I can appreciate his sorrow when he learned of the people being in want and distress and degradation, that the walls of the city were still down, and that the gates had been burned and never restored. Nehemiah prayed to God and requested that he might go and rebuild those walls. He found favor with the king of Persia and, more important, with the King of kings and was granted his request.

I can picture Nehemiah after he arrived at Jerusalem. He probably walked all around those once great walls examining them. His heart must have sunk within him if he hadn't a brave one. The nations all around were looking down upon these weak, feeble Jews. So it is today; the walls are down, and people say it is no use, and their hands drop down by their side. But Nehemiah had courage, and he called the chief priests and elders and the Pharisees together, and told them what his errand was.

But it wasn't long before there was muttering outside; you could hear the rumbling. Do you know there is very little work done for God without opposition? A great many people are afraid of opposition. Sanballat and Tobiah, the Ammonite, the Geshemites, and all the people round heard it, and they began in the first to ridicule. But Nehemiah kept steadily at work. Well, they found that ridicule didn't work, so they sent him a letter. "Let's go down to the plains of Ono and have a council." They wanted to get him down to the plains to consult with him and have a friendly conversation. They wanted to get Nehemiah away from his purpose. Nehemiah just sent back word, "I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down." So, they wrote him another letter: "Come down to the plains of Ono; we want to have a friendly discussion; we are your friends." By this time the Arabs came along; those roaming Ishmaelites were going to fight him. But Nehemiah, and his men just put on their swords. They were in earnest. Now they had an enemy on the outside that needed watching, but they also had a job on the inside that had to be done. 0, it is a wily devil that we have to contend with! Do you know it? If he can only get the church to stop to devote all of its time to watching for the enemy on the outside, he has accomplished his desire.

They couldn't get Nehemiah down to the plains, so they sent him a fifth letter. I think some of my brethren would call this an "open letter." "We understand it is reported that you are going to get up a kingdom against the king of Persia. This is treason, rebellion, and if it should reach the ears of the king you would be put to death. So come down and let's have a friendly council." But Nehemiah said. "I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down." When they found they couldn't get him to come down, and the walls were about finished, they went to work and brought one of the prophets. Now he had an enemy on the inside! I tell you I had rather have ten thousand enemies outside than one inside. When the devil gets possession of a child of God, he will do the work better than the devil himself. "Now, Nehemiah, there is a plan to kill you; come into the temple. Let's go in and stay for the night." And he came very near tumbling into that pit. He said, "Should such a man as I go there to save my life? I cannot do it."

Nehemiah didn't fall for the trap that was set for him by the enemy that was on the inside. They couldn't distract him from the outside. He had a job to do! Rebuild the walls! But, at the same time he was watchful for the enemy both on the outside as well as on the inside. These men worked at their great task. The record says they didn't even take their clothes off, except to wash. In the end, they experienced victory. The walls were finished; the city set in order. They didn't allow the enemy, wherever he was, to take them away from the job they had to do.

What a great lesson for us in light of the present conditions in the church! We have a job to do — preach the gospel to the lost. We have enemies without — the world. And alas, we too have the enemies within. The Devil doesn't care HOW he distracts the church from its purpose so long as it is done. What difference, do you suppose, does it make to the Devil if he can get us to stop saving the lost, if he does it with worldliness or modernism? I'm sure, none at all.

Some people in the church today (chiefly preachers) can't see the forest for the trees. They eat sleep, drink, and live in a continual fight against the evils of institutionalism. With some, you can't talk with them for five minutes but what they bring up something related to the present day issue. With some it is almost an obsession. I am made to wonder some times if some of us remember the true purpose of the body of Christ. I also wonder if we have forgotten the walls — there is still the alien sinner who needs "the power of God unto salvation."

Now, I certainly do not want to be misunderstood. I am not trying to minimize the enemy within. Neither do I want us to forget the one without. The point is; I am trying to get us to see that concentration in one place while ignoring all others will spell disaster. Nehemiah would have succeeded had he ignored his enemy without. They strapped on the sword. He was wise and alert to the false teacher within and did not fall for his trickery. But, at the same time, he was doing the job God had sent him to do. Let's continue to use the sword of the spirit against our enemy — the world — the enemy without. Use it with zeal, destroy the forces of Satan that would enlist men in the Army of Hell. Withstand the enemy within — modernism. Fight it with vigor and brave determination that we shall not be cast in to the bottomless pit of institutionalism. BUT REMEMBER THE WALLS! THE JOB GOD SENT US TO DO! "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." "Teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."