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The New Start
It is both true and false (according to the thought one has in mind) that God never restores a failed testimony. If by this expression, frequently heard at the present time, it be meant that failure having once blighted a movement that originally was of God, it will never again reach its pristine glory, the statement is undoubtedly true. But if it be meant that, ruin having come in, God will not answer the cry of repentance with revival and restoration though His face is earnestly sought, it is utterly false. It is to be feared that it is spiritual lethargy and an unwillingness to bestir oneself and seriously face existing conditions, which are the real causes why many once gathered to the name of Jesus now go on in isolation, blaming the divisions and lack of spirituality evidenced by others as the reason for their having left the path of subjection to God’s revealed will as to the corporate testimony of His people.
To such, what we have just been considering ought to speak loudly. Things had got indeed very low among the remnant. Their actual condition had become most dishonoring to God. Nevertheless their position was a right one, and nothing could be gained by forsaking it. The important thing was to remain where they were, and seek to put away all that hindered their enjoyment of the Lord’s favor, that thus their state individually and corporately might be approved of Him.
So we have seen them turning unitedly to the Word, earnestly inquiring as to what God had said, and when “they found it written,” acting upon it, though it meant, as in many instances it did, bitter sorrow and painful humiliation.
Having pledged themselves (in accord with the spirit of the legal dispensation) to put away all strangers and to walk obediently before God, they drew up a written declaration, signing and sealing it, from Nehemiah the Governor down to the lowest in rank of the common people, “all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding” (vers. 1-28).
It was a serious, solemn and definite thing they had undertaken, and it would require purpose of heart to carry it out. “They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of Jehovah our Lord, and His judgments and His statutes; and that we would not give our daughters unto the peoples of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons: and if the peoples of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the Sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt” (vers. 29-31).
Notice carefully what it was they had covenanted to do-
First: To walk in God’s law; or, in other words, to be subject to the Holy Scriptures. Second (and of course all that followed was involved in the first): To maintain separation from the peoples of the land that there be no unequal yoke. Third: To honor God by a careful observance of the Sabbath day, not permitting greed or lust for strangers’ dainties to lead them to violate its sacredness. Fourth: To let the land lie fallow every seventh year, for disobedience to which command they had of old been carried to Babylon, while for seventy years the land kept Sabbath. Fifth: To deal graciously with each other as brethren, leaving the exaction of every debt, not acting in the spirit of the usurer.
Are there not weighty lessons for us in these pledges? I mean for those who have sought to give Christ His place as Head, and to act on the truth of the oneness of the body of Christ, but who have so miserably failed to keep the Spirit’s unity in the bond of peace. Wherein have we missed our way? Has it not been in what is here set forth in Old Testament language? Must we not confess that we have not been obedient to the word of our God? We prided ourselves on having taken a right position-directed thereto by the Word-but we have not been careful to be individually subject to that Word. Is it not a fact that to many the “voice of the assembly” has been louder than the voice of God in Holy Scripture? Is it not a fact that the traditions of the elders have, in critical times, been more relied on than “Thussaith the Lord?” Is it not time then that, as individuals and as gathered companies of saints, we go back to the simplicity of early days, and seek to be guided henceforth alone by the word of the Lord which abideth forever?
And, have we not, likewise, greatly missed the truth of separation? Have we not often been quite satisfied in that we were separated ecclesiastically from the world-church, while socially and in our business relations we were linked up with the world to an even greater extent than many not outwardly separated as we? Has not the spirit of the world come into our homes and assemblies? Is it not manifest in the books we enjoy, the clothing we wear, the company we frequent, the language we use? What is mere ecclesiastical separation if we are otherwise so much linked with the world?
And is it not true that, when we have been somewhat aroused as to this, we have enjoined strictest separation from saints often more godly than ourselves, instead of from the spirit of the present age of evil? Has it not often happened that saints of God have been passed by or coldly greeted because of some difference in judgment as to a disciplinary question difficult to determine righteously, while utter worldlings have been given every evidence of affection? These are serious questions, that had better be faced now than at the judgment-seat of Christ.
We know that, as we are not under law but under grace, the Sabbath of a past dispensation is now for us fulfilled in Christ, but are we then giving Christ His place, and not permitting our greed for gain or our lust after earth’s pleasant things to break in upon that Sabbath-rest we should ever enjoy in Him? Can our business affairs always bear the test of His eyes that are as a flame of fire? Have we one weight for testing sacred things and another for what we call secular affairs? May there not be cause for exercise as to these matters; and may it not be that right here is one reason for our leanness?
And what of the seventh year? It was this “leaving the seventh year” that really showed that Israel were a people confiding in the living God. “To live by faith” is often spoken of as though it were the calling or prerogative of those separated to the ministry of the Word. But are not all believers called to live by faith-to hold things here with a loose grasp, but lay hold on eternal life as the one thing needful? And have we been largely forgetting this, and contenting ourselves with “gathering on divine ground,” “scripturally breaking bread,” “maintaining the testimony,” and all the rest of what is merely outward and ecclesiastical, while losing our grip on eternal realities and living as though this world were by far the more important of the two? Is it any wonder then that when matters arise among us calling for the exercise of spiritual discernment and godly judgment we are found wanting, and what should be for the unifying of the saints becomes the means of their scattering?
And this brings us to the fifth pledge: What about the exaction of every debt? Have we not been hard and exacting and over-much righteous with one another, alienating those we ought to have drawn with cords of love, and demanding of each other what subjects of grace should be ashamed to press? Surely, as before intimated, it is high time to “leave off this usury.”
The end of the dispensation is fast approaching. The Judge is standing at the door. The Lord is looking on, close at hand. The word of God is being given up and its truth denied on every hand. It is high time that those who love that Word cease their exactions one of another, and all alike judging everything that has hindered fellowship, put away for ever the evil things that have wrought such havoc, and so stand shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, and hand in hand for God and His truth in the little time that remains ere “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him.”
On the rest of the chapter I have few remarks to offer. Judging the evil, the remnant sought, so far as they might, to put things in order in regard to providing for and maintaining the service of the house of God, giving of their first-fruits and tithes that there might be abundance to carry on the ministry and to support the ministers. Depend upon it, if the Lord’s people get right individually, that which is corporate will flourish, and there will be abundant provision for maintaining a visible testimony. Lack of spirituality closes up hearts and purses. Godliness opens both. The poverty of the people was no barrier when their consciences were in exercise, and they determined “not to forsake the house of their God” (vers. 32-39). And so will it ever be where the love of Christ reigns.
Apart from this all must degenerate more and more until all testimony for God is gone. One who knew and suffered much as standing for “the present truth” left behind seasonable words of warning with which I bring this portion to a close.
“What is important is not ‘The Brethren,’ but the truth they have … God could set them aside, and spread His truth by others-would, I believe, though full of gracious patience, if they be not faithful. Their place is to remain in obscurity and devotedness, not to think of Brethren (it is always wrong to think of ourselves), but of souls, in Christ’s name and love, and of His glory.
“Let them walk in love, in the truth, humble, as little (and content to be little) as when they began, and God will bless them. If not, their candlestick may go as that of others-and oh, what sorrow and confusion of face it would be after such grace! …
“As regards also the activity outside them, it is one of the signs of the times, and they should rejoice in it … But it does not give their testimony at all … I do not believe attacks on anything to be our path. Self-defence is every way to be avoided. The Lord will answer for us if we do His will … God has no need of us, but He has need of a people who walk in the truth, in love, and holiness. ‘I will leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of Jehovah’ (Zephaniah 3:12).
“The gospel we may, and must, rejoice in; yet it only makes the testimony of Brethren outside the camp more necessary than ever; but it must be real … If brethren fall in with the current Christianity inside the camp, they would be but another sect with certain truths”-J. N. D.
In the light of much that has transpired one can almost hear the voice of prophecy in such words. Beloved brethren, let us one and all heed their serious message.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Nehemiah 10". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent