J. G. Bellett.
Article 29 of 47 Short Meditations
This chapter both teaches and illustrates a truth which pervades the Book of God, and on which our salvation depends — that grace prevails; the work of God, through the blood of Christ, over the work of Satan, sin, and death; the Gospel of peace over all the terrors and accusations of the conscience.
It was thus in the story and in the experience of Adam. He ruined himself, and retreated from the presence of God, a sinner; but the voice of mercy, revealing the mystery of the bruised and bruising Seed of the Woman, followed him into his guilty distance, and drew him back to God in peace and assurance.
The end of all flesh again came before God in the day of Noah. But the ark which God had prescribed, and which faith had adopted, rode above the waterfloods.
Judgment entered the land of Egypt, having title against every house there, the Israelite's as well as the Egyptian's. But the blood on the lintel, which grace had prescribed and which faith had used, sheltered the house which had thus been let into the secret of God.
The thunders of Sinai made all the host to tremble. Even Moses could not stand before them. He quakes and fears exceedingly. He can no more stand there, than the feeblest Israelite. But he is taken above the place of the thunders, to the place where Christ is revealed to him in the shadows of good things to come, and there he is with unveiled face.
After this, judgment enters Canaan, as it had afore entered Egypt. But grace again prescribed what faith again used; the scarlet line was now hung out, as the blood had then been sprinkled, and judgment passed by.
It was after this same pattern, in some sort, all through the times of Israel; for during that age, Mosaic or legal or conditional as it was, there were ordinances that bespoke the old truth, the truth that had been taught from the beginning. The Temple set aside the Sabbath then; that is, the Priest did the business of the Temple on the Sabbath-day; in other words, the service of grace prevailed over the demands of law. (Matt. 12)
In due season, the Gospel comes forth to reveal this great, this earliest truth in all its glory. For this is the Gospel in the blood of Jesus. "Grace triumphant reigns." It reigns, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord.
This beautiful eighth of Nehemiah has a vivid illustration of this same truth, which thus, as we see, pervades, and I may add, necessarily pervades, the Book of God.
The Law was read, in the presence of the congregation of Israel at Jerusalem, on the first day of the seventh month. That day was the mystic or typical day of revival, the day of the Blowing of Trumpets, and of the new Moon. (See Lev. 23; Ps. 81)
The people, listening to the Law on such a day as this, are commanded by those who then sat in Moses' seat, to let their minds be formed by the day, and not by the law. That is, they were told not to mourn, but to be merry. Very right that they should mourn, if they heard the law alone, but hearing it on such a day as the first day of the seventh month, they heard it as in the presence of the grace and quickening and salvation of God, and their place and duty is to have their souls formed by grace. Right, again I say, it is, nay needful, that we should be broken-hearted in the sense of our sin and of our ruin, and under the hearing of the law; but when the healing of God visits us, we are to learn the joy that healing imparts, and have our minds framed accordingly. If the law and the first day of the seventh month come together, as here — if the service of the Temple, and the Sabbath are in collision — the claim of the law must give place to that of that mystic day, and the Sabbath yield to the Temple — as we learn from Matthew 12:5.
We may remember our condition as sinners, but we are to enjoy our condition as saved. (Eph. 2:11-18)
Booths were made in the Feast of Tabernacles. But they were only remembrancers, in order to enhance the present joy of the Tribes of the Lord, in the cities and villages and land of their possession, telling them, as such booths did, that they had once traversed a wilderness. So again, in the ordinance of the basket of firstfruits. That his father had been a Syrian ready to perish was, on the occasion of that ordinance, to be remembered by the Israelite; but his well-filled basket was at that moment in his hand and under his eye, that he might worship in the sense of a present goodly inheritance. See Lev. 23:33-43; Deut. 26:1-11.
And so here, in this beautiful chapter. The law rightly caused the people to mourn — but, the day on which it was now read to them being the first day of the seventh month, mourning under the law must give place to joy. Yea, and more than that. It must now form the mind and character of the people.
And blessed it is to see grace forming character. (See Titus 2:11-14) We may see it doing so in each of the cases I have noticed.
What, let me ask formed Adam's character, as we see him and his company in Genesis 4? It was the redemption he had learnt. He is there seen as a Stranger on the earth, and a Worshipper of God.
What formed Noah's character in the ark? The deliverance he was then proving. We do not find him, in the spirit of fear, with an uneasy mind handling the gopher-boards of his house, to prove whether they were keeping the waters out; but we see him opening the windows, to take a look out, in expectation of the new world.
What formed Israel's character in the paschal night of Egypt? They were feeding on the Lamb whose blood at that moment was sheltering them. They were doing this in liberty of heart, and not anxiously thinking of the scene outside, whether indeed the Angel had passed by their door.
What gave Moses a character, when he was up with God above and beyond the fires of Sinai? He is there, with unveiled face, at home as with the Lord.
What gave Rahab her character after she had hung out the scarlet line? She got as many under the salvation of it, as ever she could, desirous to share her own well-assured and enjoyed blessing.
And what characterizes Nehemiah's congregation here, as soon as they learn the mystery of the first day of the seventh month? They send portions to others, eat the fat and drink the sweet themselves, and learn the lesson of glory, now standing in the salvation of grace.
And I now further ask, What is to give the believer his character, what is to form his mind and his experience? Surely, the consciousness of being quickened and saved and accepted. He is to know himself brought nigh by the blood of Christ; though he may remember that he was a Gentile, a sinner, uncircumcised, far off, without God, without hope, a child of wrath even as others. The joy of the Lord is to be his strength, as it was to be Israel's in the day of Nehemiah 8 — a strength that shall deliver from self-seeking and the love of the world in its vanity and covetousness, leading him with largeness of heart, as it did Israel then, to seek to make others as happy as himself, and to wait for the Glory, or the heavenly Feast of Tabernacles.
For, as the Gospel prevails over the Law in the progress of the dispensations of God, so is it to prevail in the heart and conscience of the people of God. Many of us may be feeble, hindered by nature and by Satan, and the good Lord knows how to comfort the feeble and to support the weak, but still we must recognize this which we speak of, to be His way, and recognize it also as what ought to be our way.
God is to be apprehended by us in grace. We are to know Him as love, and find our dwelling in Him, on the title of the sacrifice which He Himself has accomplished in Jesus. The Law may have taught us to deal with Him as righteous, and to think of Him as a Judge — and He is all that, it is true; for all glories belong to Him, whether of power or of holiness, or of majesty or of truth, and of all beside; but the Gospel teaches us to know Him likewise in grace, gives us communion with Him as a Saviour, and forms our character accordingly.