The Power of Negative Testimony

 •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 10
We have numerous instances in Scripture of those who, with noble faith, stood forth in the face of numerous adversaries to testify for God and triumphed; such as Moses, when single-handed, he came down from the presence of God from Mount Sinai, and, in splendid zeal for his Master’s glory, stood in the gate of the camp and said,— “Who is on the Lord’s side?” Or such as Elijah, who, when iniquity had reached its culminating point in Israel, confronted all the prophets of the groves, and the prophets of Baal, and received at God’s hand a magnificent answer to his faith and courage.
Instances such as these may well be termed “Positive Testimony.” For in the energy of the Spirit they stood forth, and were victorious in whatever circumstances they were placed.
There is, however, another character of testimony that the Word of God unfolds to us, which, I think, may not unsuitably be termed, “Negative,” seeing it is rather the refusal to take part in anything that is not of God, than a positive triumph over the enemies of God. In it faith may not be exhibited in so bold a character. But yet a faith that is very precious to the Lord; and what He surely has a right to expect from each of us. We may not have the energy of a Gideon, or a Paul, to push our “ pound” in the world, and gain ten pounds “ by trading but the feeblest and the weakest may, by refusing to consent to the ways of the “world which lieth in the wicked one,” (1 John 5:1919And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. (1 John 5:19),) give our money to “the bank,” that when He comes He may receive the same with usury. (Luke 19:11-2711And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. 12He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. 13And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. 14But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. 15And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. 16Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. 17And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. 18And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. 19And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. 20And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: 21For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. 22And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: 23Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? 24And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. 25(And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) 26For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. 27But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me. (Luke 19:11‑27).)
Let us ponder for a little on a few of the many instances in Scripture, as to the nature and power of “Negative Testimony.”
We have noticed the testimony of Elijah in the face of the worshippers of Baal.
Contemporaneously with him, we find honorable mention made of seven thousand in Israel; all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him, (1 Kings 19:1818Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him. (1 Kings 19:18).) It was a time when iniquity abounded. Ahab was on the throne of Israel, and “did evil in the sight of the. Lord above all that were before him.” He had married the daughter of Ethbaal, King of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal and worshipped him; and as if to put a crowning, point to the wickedness of that time, the Spirit of God records that in his days, Jericho, the city of the curse, was rebuilt, and Joshua’s prophecy concerning it accomplished, (1 Kings 16:3434In his days did Hiel the Beth-elite build Jericho: he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his firstborn, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun. (1 Kings 16:34); Josh. 6:2626And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before the Lord, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it. (Joshua 6:26).)
The altar of Baal was conspicuous in the idol’s temple which. Ahab had built in the royal city, and the prophets of the Lord were at the mercy of a ruthless queen; while Jezebel’s table was the resort of the votaries of Baal. The altar of the Lord likewise was broken down.
At such a time as this, the Lord turns with satisfaction to the seven thousand who had not joined the crowd of Baal worshippers, nor rendered the customary sign of homage to a Gentile idol.
The king, the queen, the court, the people, all had gone aside from the worship of Jehovah, but yet these seven thousand-the perfect number-maintained their place of negative testimony, and consented not to a false religion, or the apostasy of a corrupt people. I do not say they had the magnificent energy of Elijah; but their quiet unpretending patient testimony against the current evil of the day, had its own weight in the sight of God, and carried its own power, and more important still, it went up as a sweet savor to the Lord, who had “reserved” them to Himself; He was glorified in them.
Let us now turn to another scene—Jeremiah in his 15th chapter says, (verses 16 and 17,) “Thy words were found, and I did eat them and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts. I sat not in the assembly of mockers, nor rejoiced; I sat alone because of thy hand: for thou halt filled me with indignation.”
The scene is laid in Judah now; Israel had passed into captivity; and the Lord’s long-suffering in sending to them “messengers, rising up betimes and sending,” had almost come to an end with respect to Judah also. And yet, though the sin of the people was such, that the Lord had nothing for them but “the sword to slay, and the dogs to tear, and the fowls of the heaven and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy “ (chap. 15: 3), He has still a solitary witness, who having esteemed the words of Jehovah’s mouth “more than his necessary food;” and conscious that he still bore the name of the Lord God of Hosts, would not sit in the assembly of the mockers, nor share their joy while all was in confusion and idolatry around.
Filled with indignation at the apostasy, he sat alone (yet “not alone”), and maintained his place of negative testimony against the nation that bad so sadly fallen from its place as Jehovah’s witness to the nations around.
God was glorified in Jeremiah, though Jeremiah was “in derision daily;” mocked of “everyone;” put in the stocks; cast into a prison and a dungeon. The Spirit of God takes pleasure in recording that he sat not in the assembly of mockers, nor rejoiced; that he sat alone because of God’s hand.
Another scene now passes before us. Both Judah and Israel had gone into captivity, and the palace of the King of Babylon had become the abode of certain of Israel’s children, princes of the house of David.
It was not now the voluntary idolatry of an apostate people that tested the faith of those whose hearts still beat true to Jehovah, but the enforced homage under pain of a cruel death to an image of gold which the king had set up in the plains of Dura.
Forgetful of the “God of heaven” that had placed all things under his control (chap. 2:37, 38), he had, perhaps in imitation of what he had seen in his vision, made an universal center of worship, and thus, independently of God, sought to exercise a universal control over the religious feelings of his subjects on pain of instant death.
Most refreshing is it to turn aside from this sad scene of Gentile apostasy (another testimony to the universal ruin of man), and witness the faithfulness of the “children” who would not obey the mandate of the king.
In vain the musical instruments sounded; in vain the Chaldeans accused, or the king threatened: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, Oh king; but if not, be it known unto thee, Oh king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou has set up” (chap. 3:16-18), was their answer; and they preferred the burning fiery furnace to a breach of the first commandment of Jehovah.
Surely there was a power in testimony such as this; not perhaps with the “positive” character attaching to it as when Daniel “prayed and gave thanks before his God,” with “windows open towards Jerusalem,” in defiance of the restriction recorded in chap. 6. But God was unquestionably glorified in this, the negative testimony of these three faithful children of Judah.
The book of Esther affords us still another instance of this character of testimony. The second monarchy—the breast and arms of silver—had succeeded the kingdom of Babylon —the head of gold—and the King Ahasuerus “reigned from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces.” While Haman, a descendant of Amalek-the inveterate enemy of God’s people (Gen. 25:22; 36:1222And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the Lord. (Genesis 25:22)
12And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz Esau's son; and she bare to Eliphaz Amalek: these were the sons of Adah Esau's wife. (Genesis 36:12)
, Ex. 17:1616For he said, Because the Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation. (Exodus 17:16), 1 Sam. 15:3333And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal. (1 Samuel 15:33)), was the king’s prime minister. At this time a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, of the tribe of Benjamin, sat in the gate of Shushan the palace. Now the king had specially commanded that all his subjects should bow and reverence Haman, in professed subjection to the man whom the king delighted to honor. “But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence.”
Great as the king was, and vast as were his dominions, Mordecai yet remembered that his obedience to the king must be subservient to what he owed to the Lord; and he absolutely refused to do honor to the hereditary enemy of his people; still, though in disgrace, the people of Jehovah.
Twelve months the prime minister cast the lot, and then obtained the king’s favor and consent to destroy the whole race of the Jews. The decree was written and the posts sent out, with the sentence that they should be slain; but still the faithful Mordecai retained his place of negative testimony for the God of Israel.
I do not dwell upon the story, beautiful though it is, of his fasting and prayer; of how Esther was encouraged by his faith; and the people were delivered, and their enemies slain. But I desire to show how that the Lord’s glory was accomplished by the patient testimony of His servant, who preferred death to disobedience, to what, although not an actual command, he well knew, was the general tenor of the mind of God.
Let us now briefly turn to the standard set up for the instruction of the Jewish remnant in the latter days. (Psa. 1:11Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Psalm 1:1).) “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.”
Here again do we find the same principle-only One has as yet fulfilled it, but He went far beyond it, for, as we know, the path of Christ went far beyond even this. But still God expects that in the latter days there will be those to whom the counsel of the ungodly will have no charm—to whom the sinner’s way will be the way of death—and to whom the scornful’s seat will be a place that leads to “judgment.”
We cannot question that in “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” God will have an “elect” people who will occupy the place of negative testimony, and accomplish, by refusing to consent to the evil around them, His purposes of glory in their walk and conversation.
But meantime the Church of God is instructed to occupy the same position, and in the touching epistle that shines pre-eminent among the seven to the Churches, we find the same privilege entrusted to us, and the same responsibility impressed upon us, at which we have briefly glanced, in the various scenes that have come before us.
“To the angel of the Church in Philadelphia write,— These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works; behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and halt not denied my name.” (Rev. 3:7,87And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; 8I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. (Revelation 3:7‑8).) Here again we find that negative testimony obtains honorable mention from the Lord.
We are but a “feeble folk,” (Prov. 30:2626The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks; (Proverbs 30:26); Neh. 4:22And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned? (Nehemiah 4:2);) but the Lord is pleased to recognize us as walking in obedience to His word, (John 17:66I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. (John 17:6),) and as not denying that precious name by which He has unfolded Himself to us, (for a name is the expression of what He is,) as the Holy One that is intensely separate from evil, and the True One that is of necessity the contrary of everything that is false and hypocritical.
He has bestowed a life, “which after God is created in truthful righteousness and holiness,” (Eph. 4:2424And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Ephesians 4:24),) upon us; and it is our privilege to follow the instincts of that life, sustained by the Holy Ghost, in refusing association with everything that is contrary to Him who is holy and true.
The corruption of Thyatira may surround us-the deadness of Sardis may be side by side with us; and our feeble testimony may produce the nauseous lukewarmness of Laodicea, but be it ours, with that true love which abides in the light, (1 John 2:1010He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. (1 John 2:10),) to patiently and yet scrupulously reject everything that savors either of unholiness or false: hood, as contrary to His name!
The hereditary and successional religionists may, and will, assert their claims; but, “gathered to His name,” we must not disgrace, but in quiet dependence on Him, maintain our place of negative testimony until He comes, the crown of our hopes, who shall bring us to a place where we shall exchange our position of utter weakness, for one of perfect strength; and where we shall go no more out, who are cast out now; and where we shall be publicly owned as His, who are now scarce allowed to belong to Him; and where our association with Him here will meet its full reward in absolute association with Him there. He has said, “I come quickly;” our hearts respond, “Amen. Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!” D. T. G.