Among the children of Israel scattered in heathen lands as a result of the seventy years’ captivity, there were Christian patriots,—men who were true to principle; men who esteemed the service of God above every earthly advantage; men who would honor God at the loss of all things. These men had to suffer with the guilty; but in the providence of God their captivity was the means of bringing them to the front. Their example of untarnished integrity shines with heaven's luster.
Comparatively few of the Jews in captivity took advantage of the liberal decree of Cyrus providing for their return to their own land. But those who did return began the work of rebuilding the temple and the walls of Jerusalem. This great undertaking was carried forward very slowly. Years passed, and the work was still uncompleted. Then God brought forward a man of opportunity, through whom he worked for the restoration of the city of his chosen people.
Nehemiah, a Hebrew exile, occupied a position of influence and honor in the Persian court. As cup-bearer of the king, he was familiarly admitted to the royal presence; and by virtue of this intimacy, and his own high abilities and tried fidelity, he became the monarch's counselor. Yet in that heathen land, surrounded by royal pomp and splendor, he did not forget the God of his fathers or the people who had been entrusted with the holy oracles. With deepest interest, his heart turned toward Jerusalem, and his hopes and joys were bound up with her prosperity. Days of peculiar trial and affliction had come to the chosen city. Messengers from Judah described to Nehemiah its condition. The second temple had been reared, and portions of the city rebuilt; but the work of restoration was imperiled, the temple services were disturbed, and the people were kept in constant alarm, by the fact that the walls of the city were in ruins, and the gates burned with fire. The capital of Judah was fast becoming a desolate place, and the few inhabitants remaining were daily embittered by the taunts of their idolatrous assailants, “Where is your God?”
The soul of the Hebrew patriot was overwhelmed by these evil tidings. So great was his sorrow that he could not eat or drink. He “wept and mourned certain days, and fasted.” But when the first outburst of grief was over, he turned to the sure Helper. “I prayed,” he said, “before the God of heaven.” He knew that all this ruin had come because of the transgression of Israel; and in deep humiliation he came before God for pardon of sin and a renewal of the divine favor. He addressed his petitions to the God of heaven, “the great and terrible God;” for such the Lord had shown himself to be in the fearful judgments brought upon Israel. But with a gleam of hope, Nehemiah continued, “That keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and observe his commandments.” For repentant and believing Israel there was still mercy.
Faithfully the man of God made confession of his sins and the sins of his people: “Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.”
And now, by faith taking fast hold of the divine promise, Nehemiah laid down at the footstool of heavenly mercy his petition that God would maintain the cause of his penitent people, restore their strength, and build up their waste places. God had been faithful to his threatenings when his people separated from him; he had scattered them abroad among the nations, according to his word. And Nehemiah found in this very fact an assurance that he would be equally faithful in fulfilling his promises. His people had now returned in penitence and faith to keep his commandments: and God himself had said that if they would do this, even though they were cast out into the uttermost part of the earth, he would gather them thence, and would cause the light of his countenance again to shine upon them. This promise had been given more than a thousand years before; but through all the centuries it stood unchanged. God's word can not fail.
Nehemiah's faith and courage strengthened as he grasped the promise. His mouth was filled with holy arguments. He pointed to the dishonor that would be cast upon God, were his people, now that they had returned to him, to be left in weakness and oppression.
Nehemiah had often poured out his soul thus before God in behalf of his people. And as he prayed, a holy purpose had been forming in his mind, that if he could obtain the consent of the king, and the necessary aid in procuring implements and material, he would himself undertake the arduous task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and seeking to restore the national strength. And now, in closing his prayer, he entreated the Lord to grant him favor in the sight of the king, that this cherished plan might be carried out.
Mrs. E. G. White
Dear Brethren and Sisters at Nashville:
I have a strong desire to be with you in your meeting at Nashville; for there are many things that I should like to say to you. But I dare not travel at this season of the year. I must not move unadvisedly. I have prayed much over this matter. At our morning and evening season of worship, and on my knees before God in the night season, I pray for the work and the workers in the South.
We must have the truth on every point. And we must hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end. We are to draw near to God, and then he will draw near to us. The God of heaven gave his Son to redeem us, and we are to become partakers of the divine nature, that we may be vessels unto honor, fit for the Master's use.
We are not to draw ourselves into our shell, living only for self. Far different from this is the part that God expects us to act. Christ says, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill can not be hid.... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
God has given men more than a mere animal life. He “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” He expects those for whom he has made so great a sacrifice to show their appreciation of his love by following the example that Christ has set them, living lives that are in harmony with his will. He expects them to respond to the love he has expressed for them by denying self for the good of others. He expects them to use the powers of mind and body in his service. He has given them affections, and he expects them to use this precious gift to his glory. He has given them a conscience, and he forbids that this gift be in any way misused; it is, rather, to be exalted to the place of authority to which he has assigned it.
“They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world,” Christ prayed. “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.” Since we are to be sanctified through the truth, it becomes us to know what is truth,—the truth for this time. This truth is to be exemplified in the lives of God's people. They are to make progress heavenward by looking to Jesus, and walking as he walked.
No error is of the truth, and error never sanctifies the receiver. It is by the truth that we are to be sanctified. Error possesses no sanctifying power. It can not save the soul. How careful, then, should the teachers of truth be that their words are true words,—words such as fall from the lips of the great Teacher!
“As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone; but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.” It is by the word which we bear that others are to be led to Jesus. How clear and truthful, then, should be this word!
“That they all may be one,” Christ continued; “as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” These words hold out before us wonderful possibilities. Shall we not individually seek to answer the prayer of Christ? Shall we not strive for the unity which he prayed might exist among his followers? What is this unity to do?—It is to show the world that God sent his Son to save sinners. Since it is to have so blessed a result, should not the followers of Christ do all in their power to obtain it?
Wherein do we exercise the faith that works by love and purifies the soul? This faith is a living, working principle. Read the chapter in regard to the gifts that God has bestowed upon his church, and let the faith and intelligence of every believer arouse into sanctified action.
Have you had light upon the Scriptures? Have you advanced from light to greater light? With the light of the Holy Spirit shining upon the word, have we any reason for becoming uncertain in regard to what is truth? any reason to go back to an uncertain faith?—No, no! The foundation of God standeth sure. Sentiments, theories, and doctrines will not of themselves save any one. Doctrine, however true, is powerless to save without a living faith in God.
“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will.”
These words, spoken by the apostle Paul, come sounding down along the ages to our time. They lose none of their significance with the lapse of time, but increase in importance and power. They are to be received and obeyed by those who believe that we are living in the last days of this earth's history. It becomes us now, just now, to obtain a deep and living experience in the things of God. Read the second chapter of Hebrews to the people. Notice carefully the closing verses:
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Therefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.”
“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. For this man was counted worthy of more honor than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honor than the house. For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.
“And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; but Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.”
“Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness; when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)
“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
“For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end; while it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke; howbeit, not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was he grieved forty years? Was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?
“So we see that they could not enter in, because of unbelief.”
Will the people of God living in 1904 hear and believe these impressive words?
“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them; but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.”
A lack of faith in the truth of the living God is a fearful sin. I have been instructed to hold up before you as something of the highest value, a living, growing faith. Our hearing of the word must be mixed with faith, in order for that which we hear to be of any profit to us. We must hear in faith.
We need, O so much, the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. We are warned not to act carelessly, indifferently, independently of God, but to act in humility of mind, that the preaching of the word may bring us profit.
“The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Seeing then that we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest that can not be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
In order to appreciate these words of warning and encouragement, we must with earnestness and perseverance carry out the instructions they contain, working with faith and confidence, in humility and sincerity, ever pressing toward the prize of our high calling in Christ.
Never are we to give place to self-exaltation. Strong temptations will come to those who are working for Christ to do some wonderful thing to bring self into prominence. Here is our danger. But while we look to God, and obey God, we shall be safe.
The Lord will surely humble those who uplift themselves. Men are not safe unless they are clothed with the garments of Christ's righteousness. A holy joy, a sanctified experience, it is our privilege to have. The apostle Paul points us to the true source of peace and joy and victory. He says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” There is to be no ambitious exalting of self. “Without me ye can do nothing,” Christ declares. Then give all the glory to God. “Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.”
God will honor those who honor him, but those who will not be restrained from following a wrong course will be left to their own wisdom. “Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks; walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand: ye shall lie down in sorrow.”
Christ has warned us against the danger of departing from the faith. There is need of constant, intimate communion with God. Only as we hold this communion with him shall we be kept from making shipwreck of faith. I am instructed to warn our people that everything that can be shaken will be shaken, that those things that can not be shaken may remain. Temptations will come to every soul. Every one will be tried and tested. Those who strive to hold fast to the faith will find that they must indeed pray and watch unto prayer.
We are not to establish our faith on the hope of seeing miracles. Satan will work miracles to accomplish his purposes. We must rely on a “Thus saith the Lord.” It is the word of God, and perfect, sanctified unity that are to make Christ's waiting ones complete in him.
In the wilderness of temptation Satan tried to induce the Savior to work miracles to prove that he was the Christ. We read: “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.”
But it was part of the covenant made in heaven, that Christ, having taken humanity, was not to work miracles in his own behalf, but was to stand as a man among men. And therefore he answered Satan with these words, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
“Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down; for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee; and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.”
In quoting this promise, Satan omitted the words, “to keep thee in all thy ways,” that is, in all the ways of God's choosing. Jesus refused to go outside the path of obedience. While manifesting a perfect trust in the Father, he would not place himself, unbidden, in a position that would necessitate the interposition of his Father to save him from death. He would not force Providence to come to his rescue, and thus fail of giving man an example of trust and submission.
Christ met the tempter with the weapon that we are to use in our contests with the enemy,—“It is written.” “It is written,” he said, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”
Once more Satan was foiled. Once more Jesus had resisted the ambitious challenge.
Then Satan took him “up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”
Divinity flashed through humanity, and Satan had no power to resist the command. Writhing with humiliation and rage, he was forced to withdraw from the presence of the world's Redeemer.
The record of Christ's contest with Satan was chronicled for the help and encouragement of the people of God today. In this contest Christ worked no miracle and gave no sign. His only dependence was God and his word. In the future, Satan is to come down with great power, to work signs and wonders. He will bring down fire from heaven in the presence of his devotees, and, to those who have allowed themselves to be led away from the only true foundation,—the word of God,—will give proof of his authority. He will deceive if possible the very elect. Those who are standing firm upon the word of the everlasting God will meet Satan with the weapon with which Christ met him,—“It is written.” This will be of more power than the working of miracles. The people of God will conquer through the Holy Spirit's working, which is stronger than miracles or aught else. It is from the Lord that we are to obtain power.
The covenant that God made with his people at Sinai is to be our refuge and defense. The Lord said to Moses:
“Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people; for all the earth is mine, and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.”
“And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words.”
“And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.”
This covenant is of just as much force today as it was when the Lord made it with ancient Israel.
Mrs. E. G. White
Elmshaven,” Sanitarium, Cal.,
January 7, 1904.