* The text of the speech given on the occasion of the opening and dedication of Heritage Christian High School in South Holland, Illinois on August 22, 2001. The first installment appeared in the October 1, 2001 issue of the Standard Bearer.

“So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work”

Nehemiah 4:6

A Difficult Work

Building the wall of Jerusalem was difficult for Nehemiah and Judah. The work itself was hard work. There was truth in San-ballat’s angry mockery: “Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?” (Neh. 4:2) The city of Jerusalem was rubble and burned rubbish. Out of the ruin, the Jews had to find suitable stones, carry them to their place, and laboriously cement them, one on the other, to form a wall. They did this by hand. 

The workers—the Jews who had returned from Babylon—were few: “What do these feeble Jews?” asked Sanballat in wonder. No longer were the people of Israel the millions that once they were, but only a few thousand, struggling to survive.

As if this did not make the work sufficiently difficult, the work was opposed by enemies: the half-Jews and half-heathens, who were the Samaritans, in league with the surrounding heathen nations. 

Make no mistake, the determined opposition was a testimony to the importance of the work. The enemies knew the necessity of the wall for the welfare of Judah and for the glory of Judah’s God.

Nevertheless, the work, hard in itself, was burdened by opposition. That opposition took the form of mockery. The Jews have no strength for the work. They lack suitable materials for the work. The result of their work will be complete failure: “Even that which they built, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall” (Neh. 4:3). Mockery is an especially effective form of opposition, for it discourages the workers.

In addition, there was open threat of force and violence: “[The enemies] conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it” (Neh. 4:8). Because of this danger, half of Nehemiah’s personal servants worked, while half stood guard with weapons. As for the men who labored, they could work with only one hand. With the other hand, they had to hold a weapon. 

Was this not difficult labor?

No wonder that the people were discouraged: “And Judah said, the strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed [Hebrew: failing], and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall” (Neh. 4:10).

This was the daunting difficulty of the work that was necessary for the covenant and Christ of God, work that God Himself commanded.

“So built we the wall, in such hard circumstances and in spite of the difficulty,” said Nehemiah.

Likewise, the work of Christian education is difficult—specifically, establishing and then maintaining and developing Heritage Christian High School. The numbers are comparatively small—few students and few supporters. The labor is great and exhausting—teaching, administering, and supporting a high school. The cost is high. And I would not be surprised if the work has its detractors: “What do these feeble ‘PRs’? Do they think that they can carry out the demanding project of a high school with their meager resources? And even if they educate a few students, the students will be badly taught and poorly prepared for real life in the world.”

We must not minimize the difficulty, not at all, but we may remind ourselves that the difficulties of the present work are not new. The work of Christian education has always proceeded under these same difficulties. 

In 1876, Christian Reformed people—and they were our spiritual and even physical forebears—started what is now Calvin College with one teacher teaching seven students every subject of a high school, college, and seminary curriculum on the second floor of an old building in a poor section of Grand Rapids.

I myself saw my own parents and the parents of the girl who is now my wife, with a handful of others in Hope Church, at that time—1946—fewer than 25 families, all of them barely able to make ends meet, put up a grade school of nine grades for the children of that church. 

When Abraham Kuyper’s Free University of Amsterdam opened in December 1880, it had no building of its own. So was it struggling financially, that many said that the professors would soon be enrolled in Amsterdam’s poorhouse. It had exactly five students, one for each of the five professors. It was bitterly opposed, not only by the world and its universities, but also by leaders in the Reformed Church of the Netherlands. As for ridicule, every morning when the professors and five students came to school they found written anew in chalk over the door of the building that they were using these words: “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here”—words that Dante had inscribed on the portals of hell in his Inferno.

I point out that all three of these schools survived and flourished!

But we must recognize the reality that God does not make the work of Reformed, Christian education easy. As regards Christian schools, always those who work for them have to say, “So built we the wall, despite great difficulty.”

A Blessed Work

Despite the great difficulty of the work, those who built the wall of Jerusalem persevered, so that they made good progress with the wall. It was not the case that the wall was finished at the time that Nehemiah and the others said, “So built we the wall.” The wall would be finished. It would be reared up to its full height. It would completely encircle the holy city. Its strong gates would be set in place. We read of the completion in Nehemiah 7. The service of dedication is recorded in Nehemiah 12

But at the time that Nehemiah said, “So built we the wall,” the wall was only “joined together unto the half thereof,” that is, the wall went all around Jerusalem, but only to half its full height. And it was still lacking its gates. 

This was progress. It was progress that encouraged Ne-hemiah and the other workers on the wall. This progress was due to the blessing of God upon the work. God blessed the work that He Himself commanded and that was necessary for His covenant, His church, and His name. The form that the blessing took was the willingness of the people to work: “for the people had a mind to work.” Literally, the Hebrew of Nehemiah 4:6 says that the people had a “heart” to work. God gave that heart. God gave that heart despite all the difficulty. He gave that heart by binding on the people’s heart His command and the necessity of the wall.

Still, the building was not finished. The wall was in progress. All the difficulties remained. Opposition continued. Critics still mocked. According to earthly judgment, the outcome of the work was yet uncertain. Nehemiah and Judah had to keep on building. They had to keep on building in trust in the blessing of God. 

“So we went on building,” said Nehemiah, “praying to, depending on, and hoping in God. The wall and work are His.” 

Similarly, you who work in this area on soundly Reformed secondary education must go on building, trusting in the blessing of God. This night marks a beginning—a good, solid beginning. You have made progress. God has blessed the work of preparation stretching back now some 20 years.

But obviously much remains still to be done.

Board, supporters, parents, students, and teachers, look to the blessing of God for furthering the work now in progress. Look to the blessing that gives the people a heart to work. Look to the blessing that maintains the school and then brings it to completion. Pray the petition of Psalm 51:18: “O God … build thou the walls of Jerusalem.” 

So you continue building the wall of the sound instruction of the church’s children in the Reformed faith and life, by the blessing of our covenant God.

— DJE