The Remnant Testimony (With Notes, etc.)

By F. G. Patterson
About 1870

"Who hath despised the day of small things?" Zech. 4:10.

The testimony which the Lord's people are called to maintain in these last days has a two-fold character.

First: — the unity of the Church — the body of Christ — constituted by the personal presence of the Holy Ghost, sent down from heaven at Pentecost; and,

Second: — The character of a Remnant who have emerged from the ruin and devastation into which the Church has lapsed, who are maintaining this testimony with uncompromising purpose and devotedness of heart.

To this Remnant character I desire to draw the attention of my readers, and to trace from Scripture some of the characteristics which distinguished the faithful from time to time, in periods of declension from the first calling of God; or marked the paths of individuals who typify or personate a remnant in days of failure and ruin. They afford much instruction and example, as well as warning, to those who now through mercy occupy this grave and yet deeply blessed place.

We shall find another feature, too, of marked and painful interest; i.e., how soon failure came in and energy flagged, after the first fine efforts of faith, which had extricated itself from corruption, and returned to a divine position. Alas, man fails — the saints fail in the things of God in every way. Still there is no failure which can break the link of faith with the power of God; and the brightest exhibitions of faith are ever found where all around is darkest. It is not to serve or love the saints of God, to sink to their level, and be submerged in the confusion. We never can cope with the evil that has flowed in by letting go first principles. In no place do we find such strong injunctions to hold them fast as when all was darkest, and the failure most apparent.

Witness Paul's instructions in 2 Timothy: "Hold fast the form of sound words." "Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." "Continue in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them," etc. He serves the Lord's people best who, while he follows them as long as there is an ear to hear, never himself loses his liberty, or enfeebles the truth by identity with that which is not according to God. A Gideon must first throw down the altar of Baal before "Abi-ezer" is gathered after him. A Lot may preach true things to his circle, but it was truth without the power of God, because he had not first extricated himself from Sodom: "He seemed as one that mocked unto his sons-in-law." (Gen. 19.)

It is clear that there must first have been the calling of God announced and accepted; something set up of God from which the general mass had departed, in order that there should be a holding fast of the fundamental calling, by a remnant; or a return to original principles, when all had lost the divine place of testimony.

I think that the first remnant having this character, is Caleb and Joshua.

When God came down to deliver Israel out of Egypt, He announced His purpose to Moses in Exodus 3:8, "I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey." Here was the purpose distinctly enunciated. Not one word about "the great and terrible wilderness" which lay between. I pass over their deliverance and subsequent history till we come to the moment when Israel, about two years after, were to go up to the mount of The Amorites and take possession of the land of Canaan. Their faith was not up to the call of the Lord, and they begged that some should be sent to spy out the land. To this the Lord assented, commanding that twelve men — out of every tribe a man — (see Numbers 13; Deut. 1) should go up. Among them were "Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun." The spies returned with a good report of the land; but ten of them caused the unbelief of the heart of Israel to manifest itself by their own fears.

At this critical moment we find Israel slipping away from the call of Jehovah, and the solemn words were then spoken, "Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt." They "despised" the pleasant land! Here one of these two faithful men — men of "another spirit" — who had "wholly followed the Lord God of Israel," stilled the people with his words, "If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey." He "held fast" the calling and purpose of Jehovah at this critical moment. Israel had to go back and wander for the rest of the forty years in the desert, till all the men of war died that came out of Egypt. They, too, had to accompany them in their sorrow and toil, yet not in their sin. But there was not one in that great company who with more firm unfaltering tread, and cheerful heart, wandered for that forty years. True to the purpose and call of God, they hoped for what they saw not, and in patience waited for it. They got their portion in the land they looked for when the time came; and the testimony of Moses was that "he wholly followed the Lord." (Joshua 14:8-14.)

In Ruth we get a touching picture of what a remnant should be. Her history lay in the dark day of Israel's ruin in the time when the Judges ruled; Israel had proved totally faithless to their calling; and the Philistines devastated the land of Jehovah; and every man did what seemed right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25.) The first associations of the poor Moabitess with Naomi were in the day of her prosperity and gladness of heart. But Naomi's dark day came; the widow of Israel — a widow in heart and fact — Naomi (now become "Mara" — "Bitterness,") set out to return to the land of Israel. Joys and relationships which once she knew had gone by for ever. Ruth, a widow in heart, too, as in circumstances, clave to Naomi. She had known her in her prosperous day, and in the day of her sorrow she made the widow of Israel the object of all her care. She could not restore the past to her — it was gone for ever. But she devotes herself in the present to this widowed heart, and follows her, thoughtless of self, to the land of Israel.

"Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried!" But the day of reward and recognition came. To her question to Boaz, "Why have I found grace in thine eyes that thou shouldst take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?" The answer was, "It hath fully been showed me all that thou hast done unto thy mother-in-law." This was the ground of her reward. If we have glimpsed what the church was in the day of her Pentecostal blessedness, and discovered that the divine principles then enunciated have never changed, shall not our language be in the dark day of her shame and ruin, "Whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge: thy people shall be my people," etc. If the poverty of our services is not worthy of recognition when the day of rewards shall come, we shall have the satisfaction and joy to know that we bestowed all (shall we say?) our attention and care on that for which Christ gave Himself, that He might sanctify and cleanse her, and present to Himself a glorious church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. (Eph. 5:25-27.)

I turn to a darker day of Israel's history. The ten tribes had long since gone away captive to Assyria. Judah had filled up the measure of the long-suffering of Jehovah, and had gone captive to Babylon. Jerusalem was solitary, devastated, and in ruins, and the land was wasted and without an inhabitant. Hardly a trace that it was Jehovah's now remained; but that it was keeping the Sabbaths — not from the faith of the people, but because upon the people had been written "Lo-ammi." (Hosea 1) Far away in the land of the Chaldean, a faithful heart might sigh, and open his window and pray — straining his eyes towards the long-loved city; and confess as his own the sins of his people. (Dan. 6, 9.)

By the rivers of Babylon, too, those who could sigh and cry for the abominations which were wrought in the house of God at Jerusalem, could hang up their harps on the willows, and refuse to sing the songs of Zion in a strange land. How could He be worshipped unless in that spot which He had chosen? There was but one spot where they could strike their harps to His praise! "By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down; yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song: and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" (Psalm 137.)

In the book of Ezra we find a remnant of the people extricating themselves from Babylon, and returning to a divine position before the Lord. Care lest any but those whose title was distinctly of Israel, should be mixed up with the work of the Lord, marked these faithful men. They did not disown them as of Israel, but they could not recognize their claim. God might discern them as His; they could not pretend to divine discernment when they had not the Urim and the Thummim (see Ezra, 2:59-63). In this we have an instructive lesson for our own day.

When the church was in divine order, each took his place, like the priesthood of Israel, without question as to title to be there. But meanwhile Israel had become mixed up in the corruptions of Babylon, and disorder reigned supreme. When Paul contemplates the total disorder of things in the church which never could be remedied (2 Tim.), he instructs the remnant who had departed from iniquity, and purged themselves from the vessels to dishonour in the Babylon of the professing Church (ch. 2:19-22), to "follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord, out of a pure heart" They did not deny that those who were still in the corruption were children of God, but they had not extricated themselves from the evils there; and, if knowing the corruption, they had not departed from it, the conscience was defiled and the heart impure. The remnant are careful then only to walk with those who call on the Lord "out of a pure heart."

But the seventh month came (Ezra 3), the moment for the gathering of the people (the Feast of Trumpets). The remnant gathered themselves "as one man" in the only divine city in the world — the only platform where they could take down, so to say, those long silent, unstrung harps from the willows, and worship Israel's God! They might pray with the window open toward Jerusalem, and confess their sins in Babylon, but they could not worship Him there. It was impossible to reconstruct the order of things as they had been in Solomon's day — that day had passed away for ever! The ark was gone — where, none could tell. The glory had departed from Israel — and the sword was in the Gentile hand. The Urim and Thummim was amongst the things of the past. Yet, outside all these things, which belonged to a day of order, the Lord had not forgotten those faithful men, and His word and Spirit remained. "They built an altar to the God of Israel" though all Israel was not there. They did not pretend to be "Israel" — yet they could contemplate all Israel, and in Israel's city worship Israel's God, in the way that Israel's God had written.

As a remnant who had escaped they occupied this divine platform, and sang the praise of Jehovah: "O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever." That chorus had been sung in the bright day of David's success: when he brought up the Ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite to Jerusalem (1 Chron. 16:41). It had again resounded when the house of the Lord at Jerusalem was filled with the cloud and glory of His manifested presence in the days of Solomon. (2 Chron. 5:13.) When the glory and brightness and successes of those days had passed away, and the failure and ruin of Israel was complete, the returned remnant could raise the very same old note of praise, "O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever." (Ezra 3:11.) They had been faithless, but He was faithful. The fathers of Israel who had seen the house of the Lord before the captivity, could weep when they thought of the unfaithfulness of the people. The younger ones could sing with joy when they celebrated the faithfulness of the Lord. The weeping and the rejoicing were both good — to weep was right, when they thought of the failure of the people to Jehovah; but to rejoice was right, when they thought of the faithfulness of God!

Others, too, who called upon the same Lord, as they said, claimed the right of being with them in the work (ch. 4). But this could not be. They who were careful that even a priest of Israel, who could not show his genealogy, should not eat of the holy things in the day of extrication from Babylon, were careful too that those who had mixed up the fear of Jehovah with the service of idols should have nothing to do with them in His work. It was not a question with them of having people together; but, with widowed hearts as to the past, their fixed purpose remained to strengthen the things that remained, but to strengthen them according to God — refusing all co-operation with those who could not have the same end in view in the Lord's testimony. Thus it was pure and unmingled; 1st, To Israel as it had been — God's separated people on the earth; and, 2nd, This testimony maintained by a remnant whose sole trust was in God, and whose guide was His word.

All this has its instructive lesson for us. The unity of the church remains. It is maintained by the Spirit of God. Tongues have gone — apostolic power has gone — signs have passed away; and healings and gifts of adornment to call the attention of the world. Still the word of God abides. To it God has directed us in the last days. Were the tongues, etc., here now, the word would apply, for "the word of the Lord abideth for ever." But they have all gone. Still the faithful can take that word and walk in obedience to it, when all those things of the former glory of the church have passed away for ever.

The remnant extricated from Babylon, as it were, and gathered together to the name of the Lord (Matt, 18:20), on the divine basis and never-failing principle of the church's existence — "one body and one Spirit" (Eph. 4:4) — do not by this pretend to be "the church of God;" that would be to forget that there are children of God still scattered in the Babylon around. They can set up nothing — reconstruct nothing. But they can remember that "He that is holy, He that is true; He that shutteth and no man openeth, and openeth and no man shutteth," is with them. He is ever to be trusted and counted upon. If He sends a prophet or a help amongst them, they can thank God, and accept it as a token of His favour and grace — they can appoint none. To do so would be to forget the total ruin which never can be restored, and to presume to do that for which they had no warrant in the Word of God.

If a fresh action of the Spirit of God causes a Nehemiah-like company to follow from Babylon, they are glad to welcome them to the divine ground they occupy themselves. If the Nehemiah-like company comes, they find before them a remnant who had previously, through grace, occupied the divine position. They must gladly and cheerfully fall in with what God had wrought — there was no neutral grounds — no second place. They dare not set up another, it would be but schism! It was the same Spirit who had wrought, and who, if followed, could not but guide them to the same divine position to which He had guided others. How completely this sets aside the will of man; and independency of the movements of the present day* which stop short of that to which God has called His people, to "endeavour: to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace;" for "there is one body and one Spirit," and only one!

{*How fully too this meets the questions which so agitate souls in the movements of the day. How impossible for this fresh company of Jews, (Nehemiah) if led of God, to assume that because they were of Israel, they could gather together in some other city, apart from those who went before, (Ezra); and take up divine principles in the letter, and to claim that because they were Jews, and had separated from Babylon, that they could act independently of those who had gone before, and had pre-occupied that divine position. It was wide enough for all of Israel, and surely contemplated (as faith ever does) them all. But as it was a return, they were careful to maintain it intact in its purity and divine character, refusing entrance to all that was unsuited to the presence and name of Israel's God.

It has been a successful device of the enemy — sad to say — to use the divine and blessed truths of the Church of God to cover what is really schism; and to support a counterfeit and, Jannes and Jambres like, to deceive. For this is not a day of violence—but of deception and resistance of the truth by counterfeit in divine things.

It is simple and plain, that those who have had grace to separate from the evils of the professing Church, even though members of Christ, cannot use this fact to the disowning of that which God had wrought in others in this way before them. If led of "one Spirit," they cannot but link themselves practically in the unity of the Spirit, with those who had pre-occupied the divine platform; cheerfully and thankfully owning what God had wrought, and following where "one Spirit" had led their brethren before them, to the name of the Lord, as "one body," to break "one loaf" in remembrance of Him!}

I pass on to another interesting scene when a faithful one is standing fast alone, unsupported by the fellowship of his brethren, where his testimony is rather the refusal to act so as to deny fundamental truth, than actively to engage himself with others in extricating themselves from iniquity. I allude to the case of Mordecai the Jew. (Esther.)

Far away from the land of Israel, the people were subject to the powers of the world. An Amalekite, named Haman, wielded the power next to that of the king. A poor Jew, "an exile in the strange land," refused to bow his head to the Agagite. To be faithful, when all were unfaithful, is a great thing in God's eye. "Thou hast not denied my name," is great commendation when all were doing so. To keep one's Nazariteship in secret with God, when no eye sees but His, is never forgotten. To stand firmly for Him in an evil day of temptation, is to do great things! "Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal," shows that God's eye saw and valued their faith, where even Elijah had not discerned them. They had refused to do that which all others had done, in that dark day.

Mordecai was ready to give a reason of the hope that was in him; and his simple answer was, I am a Jew! God had not forgotten His oath of old (Ex. 17), even if Israel were reaping the fruit of their sins under the Eastern Kings. He had said, "Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, when thou wast faint and weary, and he feared not God … Thou shalt not forget it." (Deut. 25.) Therefore the Lord had sworn that He would have war with Amalek from generation to generation. Mordecai refuses to surrender this fundamental truth in the calling of Israel.

You may say, He is a stiff-necked man, and is imperilling the lives of his nation. I admit it: but his trust is in God! Firmly did this man, trusting in God, and refusing to surrender fundamental truth, stand single-handed against all the malice of the enemy. Post after post was despatched with the orders to smite all the Jews. Still no faltering in his faith — his head bowed not as the son of Amalek passed by! He had counted upon God, whose word never alters; and God had tried his faith, but it stood the test; and, when the day comes for having faithfulness owned, it will be found, through grace, that Mordecai had had an opportunity for faithfulness to the Lord — that he had stood firm, and God has not forgotten it.

What cheer of heart his story must afford to those whose path is isolated; when they have not even one faithful companion, yet are enabled in an evil day to be firm and faithful in their solitary pathway, sustained and owned by God.

In Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, we find another striking example. Faithfulness and standing fast in trial and temptation, shows the power of the Spirit, quite as much as energy in action. They were at this time captives in Babylon; the necessity of faithfulness seemed to have passed away. Where was the profit of standing fast when all their hopes were gone? But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king's meat, or his wine. He would drink water, and eat pulse, and nothing more. He kept his Nazariteship in the land of captivity; and he kept it according to the thoughts of God (compare Ezekiel 4:9-13), and the time came when God stood by him, and made him the vessel of His mind and will, revealing to him the history of the times, and end of the Gentile in whose grasp he was for his nation's sin.

I might go on with many other examples; such as Jeremiah, the Five Wise Virgins, etc., etc.; but I pass on to notice another solemn lesson. How soon the thing failed, and the energy flagged, which supported the emerging remnant in extricating themselves from the evil, and regaining a divine position. Failure and weakness thus ensued once more. It is a sad but common case. You will often see the lovely efforts of faith struggling to win a divine position through difficulties and dangers and trials without end. Yet when the goal is won, the zeal grows cool, self is remembered, God forgotten, and the blessing is gone. Alas! one trembles, when one sees these first lovely efforts of faith, lest the day should come when they are seen no more. It is much harder to keep what we have won in divine things than to win, because it must be by the winner abiding in the energy by which he won. The fear of man comes. Self-interest, self-sparing, and self-indulgence enter. God in mercy interposes at times, and stirs up the sleeping energy, and is ever ready to bless; still it is painful and humbling to think of it. We see a sad example of this in Israel when gaining the land under Joshua, and then sinking into premature decay.

It comes out strikingly in the after history of this returned remnant in Ezra, etc., to which I have referred. The fear of man stopped the work of the Lord (Ezra 4:4-5, 24). The energy and beauty of their first efforts of faith were gone. God sends the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to stir up the people to the work of the Lord. They had began to settle in their hearts that the time had not come to build the Lord's house (Hag. 1:2); yet they had ceiled their own. Thus stirred up, we find that they obeyed the voice of the Lord, and did the work of the Lord. The fear of man gave place to the fear of the Lord; and God was there to own and bless the renewed efforts of faith.

If we follow their history, we find their faith again grew dim. In Malachi the state of things is painful and depressing. The blind ones of the flock, and the sick, and the lame, were offered in sacrifice to Jehovah. What man refused — what was worthless to him, was good enough for God! (Even Saul, in his worst day, reserved the best of the sheep and oxen to do sacrifice to the Lord.) No one would open the doors of the Lord's house for nothing, nor light a fire on His altar for naught (ch. 1:7-10). They robbed God in tithes and offerings (ch. 3:8); called the proud happy; and said, "It is vain to serve God, and what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?" This, too, sad to tell it, when in a divine position.* It was not when far away in the land of the Chaldean, but in the city of the great King! Still we find a remnant within a remnant, if I may so say, faithful to the Lord.

{*The persistent aim of the enemies of the truth, is ever to blot out if possible the fact of the Church of God, as to its practical bearing on the saints. It is not that there is a denial of the existence of the Church of God here upon earth: but that such a truth is binding on the saints in gathering to the name of the Lord, even be they but a remnant at best.

In the Reformation (as the word implies) there was no such a thing as a regaining of the divine position and principles of the Church of God — lost since apostolic days as a practical truth. There was but a reformation of the existing bodies, which the Reformers supposed were the Church, into the National Establishments, and Reformed Churches.

It was a marvellous work, in that day of darkness most surely; a work for which we have ever to bless our God. Still it was far from perfect. The distinct personal presence of the Holy Ghost upon earth, constituting Christ's body, the Church, was never seen. His personality and deity, etc., all Christians own, most surely: but I speak of His distinct personal presence on earth, as dwelling in the Church, and constituting her unity, in contrast to His working in various ways before He came to dwell. I might also mention other great truths which were not then known, but this is sufficient for my present purpose. Consequently, until the last forty years there were no saints gathered together "in assembly," to the name of the Lord, recognizing and acting upon the never-failing principle of the Church's existence — "One body, and one Spirit." And to seek to misapply the principle or type of the returning remnant in Ezra and Nehemiah to the day of the Reformation, is but to mislead and deceive.

These remnants did return to a divine position. This no body of saints ever did at the Reformation. They were then on the platform on which all Israel could be with them, and the only one. This did not make them "Israel:" still none but they were on Israel's ground.

When this remnant is described in Malachi — sad and humbling as is their state, they were still on that divine platform, the City of Jehovah. "The remnant within the remnant," as I have described them, did not withdraw from that divine platform — that were fatal to their own faithfulness. But they were the more encouraged to earnest faithfulness in strengthening the things that remained.

The lessons we gather from these Scriptures teach the very reverse from what some have sought to draw from them. Such is the effect, first of slipping away from, and then resisting the truth of God.}

"They that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name."

The faithfulness of the few was the channel of sustainment to the others from a faithful God. We trace them further, till we find them in Luke 2 represented by old Simeon and Anna, who knew "all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem." The same faith that could keep them waiting for the Lord's Christ, could keep them alive till He came. The old prophetess, too, who could fast and pray, and live for, and in that spot which still was owned of God, found her fastings and prayers ended in praise, when the Lord she had looked for came.

The last link in the history of this returned remnant which we find in the Gospels, we have in the solitary widow of Luke 21. A few verses further on in this chapter the Lord pronounces the final judgment on that temple at Jerusalem. It was still, however, in a certain sense, owned of God. This widowed heart had but one object now on earth — she could do but little, for all she possessed was a farthing! "Two mites," as the Spirit of God lets us know. Devotedness, in the estimate of man, would have been great indeed if she had appropriated half of what she possessed to the interests of God which engrossed her. But self was forgotten with this widowed heart, and she cast into the offerings of the Lord her two mites. The Lord's eye saw the motive from which this offering sprang, read the action as He alone could read it: "Of a truth," said He, "I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all. For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had." He judged aright — but He did not judge by what she gave, but by what she kept; and that was nothing!

It is humbling to trace this decay of the mass, yet touching to contemplate the increased and increasing devotedness and purpose of those true hearts; but it is useful to face the dangers from which we are never free. Worldliness, self-seeking, and forgetfulness of the things of the Lord, all are among us, and are signs and sources of weakness. The Lord grant us to be warned, and to distrust ourselves the more. The Lord encourage the hearts of those who love His name and testimony to be increasingly faithful. To keep the eye filled with Christ, and thus to be still more the channel of the Lord's sustaining grace to the rest, till that bright and longed-for day arrives when He will come and gladden our hearts for ever!

It is easy to remark how in all those times of failure and ruin, the hearts of others were stirred up by some faithful one, in self-sacrificing energy, who would pray and work — and sigh and cry — who could spend and be spent on the Lord's interests at the time. Through such the Lord wrought and delivered, and led and blessed His people. It might be by some lone widow who could agonize in prayers and fastings night and day. The answer came, and the blessing was poured out, and none knew what the occasion was through which the blessing came. But in the day when "every man shall have praise of God" it will be known; for His eye marked it and answered it, and that heart was, perhaps, unwittingly, in communion with His — the vessel for the intercession of the Spirit for the saints according to the will of God!