Sydney Porteous, London
Innovations? Perhaps so. But Innovations are sometimes worth trying.
“A garden enclosed is My Sister My Spouse,” said the Heavenly Bridegroom, of His people. So is it any wonder that when the sons of the prophets went out to the field for food for God’s people they only succeeded in bringing in a lapful of wild gourds and poisoned the pot? For, says The Lord, “the field is the world,” and when we to-day go out to the world and bring its ways and methods into the assembly, “there is death in the pot.”
One can fully sympathise with the desires of any who seek to make the assembly and its witness a vital reality, but not with all the methods advocated to this end.
Recently some brethren were discussing new methods for work among young believers, and one or two of the “old school” demurred, objecting that the novelties proposed were innovations on the Scriptures and therefore wrong. The reply was, “Certainly they are innovations, but times have changed and circumstances are altered since our grandfather’s days and there must be innovations.”
Without detailing or criticising the methods suggested, and in many places already adopted, I propose to examine:
(1) the objection—Are innovations wrong merely because they are such? and
(2) Have changed times and circumstances necessitated innovations of some sort among us?
And to answer these we are going to turn to a very old story of times and circumstances vastly differing from our own, to the Book of Nehemiah. For Nehemiah is pre-eminently the revival book of The Bible, and it is ostensibly with revival in view that all these innovations are being advocated or practised to-day. Now the basic principles governing revival alter no more in any age or dispensation than those of forgiveness or justification. In all ages it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul, and it is upon confession that the saint is forgiven. So, too, with revival, its laws change not. Therefore we make no apology for appealing to such ancient days regarding so modern a subject.
Look, then, at a great revival among God’s people in Neh. chapters 8-10, and read the first twelve verses quietly over. These verses tell how God’s people kept a feast, “upon the first day of the seventh month”(v. 2). This, from reference to Lev. 23, we find was the Feast of Trumpets—a most fitting herald to such a grand revival, for the feast of Trumpets was itself the celebration of a new creation in nature when once more the parched earth was softened and the sowing and ploughing again commenced.
Do we find any “innovation” in their keeping of the Feast of Trumpets? We do. What did they introduce here that was not “found written “in Lev. 23? Look at v. 2, “Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation v. 3. And he read therein . . . .” This was not prescribed in Lev. 23, and was purely an innovation of their own, called forth by “changed times and altered circumstances.” For so changed were these that Israel’s hosts were ignorant of the law and of how to keep the feast, therefore there was a very definite need to bring the book of the law. But here is the point—was this innovation to Lev. 23 in conformity to the spirit of the age, or was it in harmony with the revealed will and word of God as far as they had it? “By their fruits ye shall know them,” and by its blessed fruits in revival was this manifested as of and from God. Therefore we can conclusively say that innovations are not of themselves unscriptural.
Their Feast of Trumpets was marked, then, by a whole-hearted return to a study of the Law. Have times so changed, and are circumstances so altered among us in this respect that there is an urgent need for a similar “innovation “in our assemblies to-day? We believe they have. Once we were world-renowned as Bible Students. A whole-hearted return to serious intensive Bible reading and study would be an “innovation” among us to-day that would not conform to the spirit of the age nor clash with God’s revealed will and Word, and whose blessed results might rival these in Nehemiah. Our great-grandparents in the faith did not win their repute by dividing their evenings between their gardens and their radios (or equivalents!). And neither can we. It will mean a lot of downright hard work which ought to be a labour of love.
In verse 5 the Book is still open, and there is no closure recorded. This revival was characterised by an Open Book, and so with every revival, notably the Reformation and that of the early nineteenth century.
In v. 14 “They found written that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month.” Here is the inevitable growth that accompanies every whole-hearted return to the Open Book, whether individually or collectively. Shall we take stock? How much more of my Bible do I apprehend and practise since a year ago this day? Has there been any growth? Some “elder brethren” would really be most startled to think there was any possibility or room for further growth in their cases. The Lord have mercy on such, and on those they presume to guide!
Now this was the Feast of Tabernacles which followed the Feast of Trumpets on the 15th day of the same month. Was there any “innovation” of their own on what was written regarding the Feast of Tabernacles in Lev. 23? Were times and circumstances so altered as to necessitate something new? There was! They were! Look at Ch. 9, v. 3 “. . . and another fourth part they confessed and
worshipped the Lord their God.” In other words they introduced a great united Prayer Meeting into the Feast of Tabernacles, for times and circumstances were indeed sadly altered. The feast pointed on to the day when Israel should be the head of the nations, and should sit rejoicing in remembrance of what God had wrought, “every man under his own vine and fig tree.” But, instead, they were a handful of returned captives enjoying the clement toleration of a Persian emperor, and for singing there was weeping and confession.
Among all the weird and wonderful, the many and varied, schemes afoot to-day we hear nothing of a country-wide united prayer meeting like this, to weep and confess before our God. Would such an “innovation” not be a good one among us? God was so pleased with theirs that He devotes a whole chapter to record and preserve their prayer.
Then in Ch. 9, v. 38 they make a covenant, “ Because of all this we make a sure covenant. . . .,” and thus they re-dedicate and consecrate themselves afresh to “observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord” (Ch. 10. 29). In this covenant there was nothing new, but even here they must needs innovate, for we find in v. 32 that, “we made ordinances for us to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of God.” Ichabod! How are the mighty fallen! There was no such ordinance in that Law which they here covenanted to keep, but gone were the glorious days of Solomon when the temple coffers burst with their golden store, and, instead, it was a case of “the cupboard was bare”! Thus had changed times and altered circumstances urgently called for something very practically new, and there was a great spontaneous outflow of generosity to The Lord. Such would surely be a safe and pleasing “innovation” among The Lord's people to-day. I believe there has been a falling off in missionary receipts of late years.
But, more, look at v. 34, “we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites and the people for the wood offering to bring it into the house of our God . . . .” Is it possible that times are so altered that there are no Gibeonites or Canaanites to put to this drudgery, but that priestly and Levitical hands must labour at it? They have, and there is therefore a call for something drastically new, and so we get the “innovation” of v. 34. There is a great upstir of loyalty to the House of Jehovah.
And is there no need for a similar “innovation” with us among whom disloyalty to assembly principles seems only too prevalent and popular? What might not a little more loyalty to the twos and threes of Matt. 18, 20 not do for the assemblies of our land? There was a great revival in Nehemiah.
Thus we see that “times and circumstances” have indeed very lamentably altered, that there is a really great need for something new, that “innovations” if in conformity to the Word and heart of God, (and not to the spirit of the age), are not wrong and will bring a very rich blessing. Let us have something new!