Wollen and Linen - Following the path of Christ - chapter 11 - The Returned Captives from Babylon

Woollen and Linen - J G Bellet

The Returned Captives
The captives, returned from Babylon to the land and city of their fathers, in like manner read us an instructive lesson on this subject of the garment of “divers sorts”; and their history affords both encouragement and warning.
They do not refuse to accept the punishment of the nation’s sin, and therefore they take their place in subjection to the Gentile power whom God had set over them for their sins. They accept the favour of Cyrus, of Darius, and of Artaxerxes, in the spirit of the injunction “honour to whom honour, fear to whom fear”. They speak of a Gentile power as “the great and noble Asnapper”, and evidently feel grateful for the kindness shewn to them by one after another of these powers, blessing God because of them, and ready-hearted, I am sure, to pray for the life of the king and of his sons.
But with all this they were a separated people. Their refusal of Samaritan connection was as earnest as their acceptance of the favours of the Gentiles. The zeal and revenge, and clearing of themselves of the mixed principle and of the abomination of bringing Greeks into the temple to pollute that holy place, was as simple and firm as it would have been in the days of Joshua or of David.
They refused the garments of divers sorts. If they would have worn that livery, it might have saved them much trouble in the progress of the work of their hands, which was also the work of the Lord; but they could not and would not. The thing was not according to the ordinance; and they would not.
Paul might have saved himself a prison if he had accepted the testimony of the damsel at Philippi; but it was Samaritan help again, or something worse, and he could not; and the man who on that occasion refused the garment of woollen and linen must therefore for his faithfulness have his feet made fast in the stocks and wear prison bands. But all is right in the end whether with Paul or the returned captives. Their God pleads their cause.
Here, however, some new and serious points of instruction on the matter of mixed principles occur. I feel I can pursue this with a sense of personal need and application.
The further history of the captives from Babylon warns us as well as instructs us. They refuse the strange alliance, they will not wear the garment of divers sorts, but then they wear their own garments without a girdle; that is the moral of the story.
They go to build their own houses when the Samaritan enmity stops their building of the Lord’s. This is warning to us, as it was shame to them, and the Spirit of the Lord has to awaken them as from sleep and intoxication. They served themselves when the service of the Lord was interrupted. Ease and indulgence and self-pleasing take the place which had now been left vacant.
Haggai and Zechariah have to call them to the girding of their loins and the trimming of their lamps. By no means do they send them back to make terms with the Samaritans. They do not tell them that they erred in refusing the garment of divers sorts, they only call on them to gird up the pure garments they were wearing – to do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way though Samaritans might again withstand them.
All this is full of meaning for us. The Spirit of God, let the exigency be what it may, will never have the saint in “woollen and linen”; but at the same time He would have the pure garment girded. An ungirded garment though pure is not after His mind; and often does He find that wanting, as in the days of Haggai and Zechariah, and this is our deep rebuke – a pure position kept with little spiritual grace.
The returned captives were in the right position. Their place was a better place than that of their brethren who dwelt still in the distant cities of the uncircumcised, and they did well, as I have been saying, when they refused alliance with the Samaritans; such alliance would be but the wearing of garments of divers sorts, of “woollen and linen”.
This they did not do; but those who stand such a trial fail under another. Though they thus refuse to wear mixed clothing their garments, as we have seen, were not girded, and even worse than that, they were sadly soiled and spotted. These returned Jews were doing much worse than their brethren who were off in the distant lands of the heathen. Their ways in the Holy Land were deeply rebuked by the ways of their brethren among the Gentiles. The Jews abroad had redeemed their brethren from the heathen to whom they had been sold, while the Jews at home or the captives returned to Jerusalem were selling their brethren for debt. Nehemiah 5.
What a sad sight! What a humbling and searching fact! Is there not much that is miserably kindred with this to be known still? This is something like “form without power”. “The kingdom of God is not in word but in power”.
Position may be quite according to God, but the practical godly grace with which it is filled and occupied may be scanty and poor. And how should this warn us not to count on the virtue of a merely pure and separated position! If it be trusted in, or held with an unjudged and unwatched heart, even they among the uncircumcised may rebuke us. Much love and service is often to be found within, as I have been speaking, while little of the power of holiness and of the mind of heaven accompanies those who go outside.
What I mean is this – that there is often less grace and moral power in the purer position than there is in the defiled connection. As with Jonathan, David loved him dearly and yet he was not David’s companion. But the companions of David’s temptations were at times a trial to him, talking on one occasion of even stoning him, while Jonathan personally was always pleasant to him.
What an outside and an inside was this! And yet David’s outside place was the place of the glory then, and his companions were in the right position. But what exhibitions are all these!
And yet we see the same around us at this hour. There is no lesson I would more press on the attention of my own soul than this – and I think I can say I value it:
*        Position without power,
*        principles beyond practice,
*        jealousy about orthodoxy, and truth and mysteries
*        with little personal communion with the Lord – all these the soul stands in constant fear of and in equal judgment and refusal.
The earnestness about many, and many a right thing that was found at Ephesus, the stir and activity even of a religious nature that prevailed in Sardis, and the orthodoxy of Laodicea, were all challenged by the Lord, and we deeply justify the challenge. Revelation 2, 3.
The tithing of mint and anise when judgment and mercy were passed by, was exposed by the divine mind of Christ; and in the Spirit the saint joins in the exposure, “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree corrupt and its fruit corrupt”.
We refuse position without power as we would principles without practice; or truth and mysteries and knowledge without Christ Himself and personal communion with Him. But in the stainless, perfect page of the word we find all honoured, and nothing thoroughly according to God but where each and all is in its place and measure honoured. As He says Himself, “These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone”.
But here I will turn aside for a moment to what is sweet relief to the soul: that to know Him in grace is His praise and our joy. We instinctively think of Him as One that exacts obedience and looks for service. But faith owns Him as the One that communicates; that speaks to us of the privileges rather than of the duties; of the love, and the liberty, and the blessings of our relationship to Him rather than of the corresponding returns from us.
This is truth, beloved, we need also now-a-days, though it may be a little beside my leading thought just now. The call of God separates us, but we need the Spirit of God to occupy the place according to God, and the loving devoted mind. “Salt is good”, the divine principle is the good thing. But salt may lose its saltiness. The right position or the divine principle may be understood and avowed, but there may be no power of life in it.
What variety of moral instruction is thus provided for the soul in the words of the Lord! But let us still listen and we shall still learn, for the mine is never exhausted.