In the days of Nehemiah, when the children of Israel had brought upon themselves humiliation and distress by their departure from God in disregarding his law, they sometimes felt that God had forgotten them. The Lord showed his rebellious people that they were dependent upon him for prosperity and safety, yet his eye was upon them. They were feeble, exposed to the ravages of their enemies; yet they were the guardians of the worship of the true God, and were to preserve a knowledge of his law until the Prince of peace should come. Nehemiah was God's chosen instrument to effect a reformation among his people, and to deliver them from the oppression of their enemies. The circumstances were discouraging, but Nehemiah was a man of courage and fidelity. He caused the people to be instructed in the law they had broken. Precept by precept it was carefully explained, that all might fully understand the will of God.
One of the principal ways in which the people had departed from God was in the desecration of the Sabbath. Heathen merchants, who came to Jerusalem to sell their wares, lodged outside the gates, and when they were opened in the morning, offered their goods for sale. Many of the Jews traded with them on the Sabbath; these not only broke the Sabbath themselves, but tried to remove the scruples of their more conscientious countrymen. Thus to a great extent the sacredness of the Sabbath was destroyed.
The Jews acknowledged that their deplorable condition was the result of their transgressions; and in a general assembly, the Levites, as the representatives of the people, confessed God's goodness in his dealings with them, and their ingratitude and sins as a nation, and pleaded before God: "Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy, let not all the trouble seem little before thee that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, and on our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all thy people; since the time of the kings of Assyria unto this day. Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly. Neither have our kings, our princes, our priests, nor our fathers, kept thy law, nor hearkened unto thy commandments and thy testimonies, wherewith thou didst testify against them. For they have not served thee in their kingdom, and in thy great goodness that thou gavest them, and in the large and fat land which thou gavest before them, neither turned they from their wicked works. Behold, we are servants this day, and for the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it; and it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins; also they have dominion over our bodies and over our cattle at their pleasure, and we are in great distress."
Having suffered punishment for their sins, and acknowledged the justice of God in his dealings with them, they covenanted to obey his law. And that it might be a sure covenant, and preserved in a permanent form, it was written out, and the priests, Levites, and princes "sealed unto it." They had a clear knowledge of the claims of God and of the character of sin; and with those who had real principle, to see and understand was to act.
We need Nehemiahs in 1884, who shall arouse the people to see how far they are from God through their transgressions. It is time for the whole Christian world to search the Scriptures for themselves; for in the pulpits all through our land the law of God is made void by precept and example. The papal power has thought to change the law of God by instituting a Sabbath for the world and the Christian church; and this spurious Sabbath is exalted and revered, while the Sabbath of Jehovah is trampled beneath unholy feet. But will the Lord degrade his law to meet the standard of men? Will he accept a man-made institution in place of the Sabbath which he has sanctified and blessed? No; the convenience or profit of men is not to supersede the claims of God; for he is a jealous God. He does not alter his precepts to gratify the desires of the ambitious or the covetous. "Thus saith the Lord" should be sufficient to settle all controversy.
He who instituted the Sabbath has never changed it to a common day. He rested on a definite day, and blessed and sanctified a definite day, and he requires the human family to observe that definite day. Every part of God's plan will be perfectly executed. Satan has interfered, and attempted to thwart it; but there is no change in the law of God. The position that God blessed and sanctified a seventh part of time, and no day in particular, is one of Satan's devices. By this means he has so confused the minds of many that they regard God's holy restday as possessing no special sacredness; and because the world do so, they feel at liberty to set it aside, and select a Sabbath that suits their own convenience. And professed ministers of the gospel assure their congregations that this course is right. Those who are conscientiously observing the original Sabbath are styled heretics, deluded fanatics. But who are thus regarded in God's sight? Whom will he rebuke and punish―those who have kept the day that he blessed and sanctified; or those who, trampling upon the holy commandment, have accepted the institution of the papacy?
There is need of a Sabbath reform among us, who profess to observe God's holy restday. Some discuss their business matters and lay plans on the Sabbath, and God looks upon this in the same light as though they engaged in the actual transaction of business. Others who are well acquainted with the Bible evidences that the seventh day is the Sabbath, enter into partnership with men who have no respect for God's holy day. A Sabbathkeeper cannot allow men in his employ, paid by his money, to work on the Sabbath. If, for the sake of gain, he allows the business in which he has an interest to be carried on on the Sabbath by his unbelieving partner, he is equally guilty with the unbeliever; and it is his duty to dissolve the relation, however much he may lose by so doing. Men may think they cannot afford to obey God, but they cannot afford to disobey him. Those who are careless in their observance of the Sabbath will suffer great loss.
The Lord has a controversy with his professed people in these last days. In this controversy men in responsible positions will take a course directly opposite to that pursued by Nehemiah. They will not only ignore and despise the Sabbath themselves, but they will try to keep it from others by burying it beneath the rubbish of custom and tradition. In churches and in large gatherings in the open air, ministers will urge upon the people the necessity of keeping the first day of the week. There are calamities on sea and land: and these calamities will increase, one disaster following close upon another; and the little band of conscientious Sabbathkeepers will be pointed out as the ones who are bringing the wrath of God upon the world by their disregard of Sunday.
Satan urges this falsehood that he may take the world captive. It is his plan to compel men to accept errors. He takes an active part in the promulgation of all false religions, and will stop at nothing in his efforts to enforce erroneous doctrines. Under a cloak of religious zeal, men, influenced by his spirit, have invented the most cruel tortures for their fellowmen, and have inflicted the most awful sufferings upon them. Satan and his agents have the same spirit still; and the history of the past will be repeated in our day.
There are men who have set their minds and will to accomplish evil; in the dark recesses of their hearts they have resolved what crimes they will commit. These men are self-deceived. They have rejected God's great rule of right, and in its stead have erected a standard of their own, and comparing themselves with this standard they pronounce themselves holy. The Lord will permit them to reveal what is in their hearts, to act out the spirit of the master that controls them. He will let them show their hatred of his law in their treatment of those who are loyal to its requirements. They will be actuated by the same spirit of religious frenzy that goaded on the mob that crucified Christ; church and State will be united in the same corrupt harmony.
The church of today has followed in the steps of the Jews of old, who set aside the commandments of God for their own traditions. She has changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant, and now, as then, pride, unbelief, and infidelity are the result. Her true condition is set forth in these words from the song of Moses: "They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children; they are a perverse and crooked generation. Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise? is not he thy father that hath bought thee? hath he not made thee, and established thee?"
When Nehemiah moved out as a reformer and deliverer in Israel, he was actuated by love to God and anxiety for the prosperity of his people. His heart was in the work he had undertaken; his hope, his energy his enthusiasm, his determination of character, were contagious, and inspired others with the same courage and lofty purpose. Each man became a Nehemiah in his own sphere, and helped to make stronger the hand and heart of his neighbor; and soon feebleness was succeeded by strength and courage.
Here is a lesson for ministers and others who are laboring for the salvation of souls. Those who believe that we have the truth, that God has made us the depositaries of his law, should manifest the same earnestness and zeal that characterized Nehemiah. If ministers are inactive and irresolute, destitute of godly zeal, what can be expected of those to whom they minister? In some instances they may rise above the moral level of their teachers, but not often. But when ministers broaden their plans, and show that they are in earnest, the people will respond to their efforts; and disunited, dispirited workers will become united, strong, hopeful, and eager.
It is a sin to be heedless, purposeless, and indifferent in any work in which we may engage, but especially in the work of God. Every enterprise connected with his cause should be carried forward with order, forethought, and earnest prayer. Faithful standard bearers for God and his truth are wanted, and many are ready to respond to the call. As these see the iniquity and violence that exist in consequence of making void the law of God, they will see greater reason than ever to reverence that law, and will greatly prize its righteous, restraining influences. Contempt and reviling increases their love for the precepts of Jehovah. With David they will say, "It is time for thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void thy law. Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold." ― Advent Review and Sabbath Herald,March 18, 1884, (Vol. 61, #12).