Separation From Evil, and Holiness to the Lord, in Order to Testimony—Early Witnesses to their Necessity.
by H.C. Anstey
A DANGEROUS doctrine is abroad which does not deny the importance of separation from evil, an ever abiding principle of God, but which does not at once act upon it; this allowed must have the most disastrous effect on the testimony. It presents itself in two forms: it is found on the one hand, in the palliation of the evil; on the other, it is seen in the pressing and urging of delay. Where the evil is manifest, Scripture shows both the palliation of it, and delay in dealing with it, to be false and mischievous to us; and shows further that unless God in His grace delivers from these, there can be no such thing as a true testimony. There is one only safe way of dealing with evil, and this is separation from it. Evil, whatsoever its form, and whether arising from within or from without, is not of God, but the saints are. (Compare 1 John iv. 4, and 1 Thess. v. 23.) So that, proceeding as it does from Satan, there must be withdrawal from it in all who desire fellowship with God. The Lord Himself can have nothing to say to it save to condemn it; this He has now fully proved in what He has done at the cross.
Now I urge that separation from evil is the divine and first way of dealing with it, and that this separation must be acted on at once, or I become identified with evil in God's sight, defiled by it, and no longer a testimony for Him; and I propose to draw the reader's attention to Scripture in proof of these statements.
But how did evil originate? If we turn to Genesis iii. 5, we shall read, "God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." In this suggestion, man is brought, for the first time, face to face with evil. By yielding to the suggestion of the enemy, he was to become acquainted, not merely with good, but also with evil. And such was the result. Separation from evil was not here acted on as the divine and first way of dealing with it; it was not acted on at once. Man fell, and instead of being a testimony for God, a witness of His goodness as the masterpiece of His works, he has lost all confidence in God—no longer knows Him as the Author of his chief and only good, but distrust, suspicion, fear, and dread of Him, characterize man in place thereof.
Still God is not to be thwarted. God acts in His grace and enunciates a principle of action not needed until evil was there. He would have man separate from the evil. Death only can remove it, and in man's approach to God, this is taught and placed between the evil (ourselves) and Him, in all the offerings that foreshadowed the death of Christ. But not only so, the family of faith, who thus owned its necessity, must be separate, too, in their associations from all the evil in their fellow-men that owned it not. By requiring the death of a victim selected by Him, God taught that He was separate from evil, and required man to be so also if he would have to say to Him. This we see in the offerings of Cain and Abel, the first men of whom we read drawing nigh to Him after sin was in the world. But Abel bringing such a victim, we are distinctly taught in Heb. xi. was an act of faith; to neglect it as Cain did was open unbelief. But this led to separation also in association, consequently we find the family of faith, which began in Abel, to own the necessity of death, is distinguished in Seth and his descendants from the descendants of Cain. (Gen. v.) Of this family of faith came Noah, preserved of God when the flood cane in and swept away the unbelieving family of the ungodly. Here we are taught, though God has long patience, that a time must come when He will sweep away evil from His presence, separating for ever between Himself and it, but teaching at the same time that His eye surveys with satisfaction those who, ere that moment comes, seek to walk in separation.
In the family of Noah, after the flood, we find it still the same, the children of Shem being distinguished from the descendants of Ham and Japhet. Among these latter are enumerated the enemies of God, the nations of Canaan whom Israel was directed afterwards to "destroy utterly;" and here too are all the Gentiles, "after their families, in their nations." (Gen. x. 5.) It is to Shem, to Abraham of this family, that God distinctly enunciates the principle of separation from evil. Though God had said by Noah, "Blessed be the Lord God of Shem," it appears that his descendants (for many generations had passed) were sunk in idolatry. Abram dwelt in Ur of the Chaldees, was identified with evil there, and served other gods. (Josh. xxiv. 2.) The God of glory appeared to him, and called him thence to walk in threefold separation—from his country, from his kindred, and from his father's house. (Gen. xii. 1.) It is recorded of him that he "obeyed; and went forth, not knowing whither he went" (Heb. xi. 8); for the Holy Ghost delights ever to own all that He can sanction in us; but we learn too that he did not go to Canaan at once, nor leave his kindred (he took Lot with him); nor did he leave his father's house (he took Terah, his father). At first he did not reach God's place for him; he dwelt in Charran until the death of Terah, and Lot was a trouble to him until their separation. (Compare Acts vii.; Gen. xi. 31, 32, and xii. 1, 4.) God came in to break for him both links and leave His servant free. And this being done, the language of the Lord, as recorded by the Holy Ghost on this occasion, was never so intimate with Abram before. It seems as though His heart had waited for the death of the father, and this moment of his separation from Lot, to pour itself out in unmeasured blessing. "And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth, so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the. length of it, and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee." (Gen. xiii. 14-17.)
In Lot, we learn more than one lesson as to the fundamental necessity with God of separation from evil. Not only is he himself not separate, but, so found, he is powerless in testimony, and his whole household is contaminated. When, as bidden in mercy by the angels, he seeks to bring out his family, he learns where evil has landed them and him. The sneers and reproaches of those from whom he had never separated, greet the ear of him who, aroused by the near approach of God's judgments, is at last courageous enough to teach them the evil of their ways. He has to learn by their contempt, the weakness of the testimony of one not himself separate. "This fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge." (Gen. xix.) "He who came in glad to dwell in Sodom, and to pasture his flocks in its well-watered plains, would now set up to be a judge of our ways." Such inconsistency is manifest even to wicked men, and we learn a further lesson in it; viz., that good mixed with evil does not make all good, but that evil always corrupts what was once fair. Already and long had the leaven been spreading itself over Lot's house; and links were formed with it which Lot, when fairly aroused, found that he had no power to break. His daughters had married; and when he spake to his sons-in-law, he who had been so long in association with evil seemed to them, but "as one that mocked." And Lot learnt, in the loss of his wife, and in the overthrow of his married daughters in the city, how strong were the chains which evil associations had bound around him and his family, while he himself was dragged out of the range of God's judgments only by the hand of the angel. Such are the solemn and instructive lessons taught us here, which are surely desired of God to have their separating effect upon our ways.
Later we find that Jacob knows and owns the first importance of separation. Though long his conscience had slumbered while in his own family, he was in association with false gods in Padan-aram. When God speaks to him, bidding him "arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there," what is his first thought? "Then Jacob said to his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments." (Gen. xxxv.) The patriarchs thus dwelling in separation in tents, and moving from place to place, declared that they were "strangers and pilgrims on the earth," in contrast with those who, at rest here where sin was, are found enjoying "the pleasures of sin for a season." Faith always desires present fellowship with God, which must ever be in separation from evil, and as to the future, waits for a sphere where, sin banished, the pilgrim and stranger shall find, not merely fellowship with God in separation from evil all around, but a home. God was with them in this desire, and until its fulfilment, "God was not ashamed to be called their God." (Heb. xi.) For ever has He linked His blessed name with those who, whatever their mistakes, sought to walk in separation, as strangers and pilgrims on the earth, saying, in Exodus iii., "The God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, hath sent Me unto you: this is My name for ever, and this is My memorial unto all generations."
Separation is distinctly seen in the call of Israel from among the nations of the earth to be "a kingdom of priests, a holy nation." (Exod. xix. 6.) "And I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God, and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians." (Exod. vi. 7.) And when this people failed to maintain separation from evil in the wilderness, on two occasions, God's judgment was most emphatically expressed. As it is written, "God shall judge His people." (Heb. x.; Deut. xxxii. 26.) So, on their worshipping the golden calf, God removed His dwelling-place from their midst to the tabernacle pitched by Moses outside the camp. (Exod. xxxiii. 7-10.) How solemn it is thus to see God withdrawing His presence from the defiled camp of Israel, and that because they were His people, and He could not, whatever they may allow, sanction it. Again, when they forgot their separate place, and sought association with the nations of Moab and Midian (Numb. xxv.), how swiftly did the judgment of God upon them proclaim, as He had said before, that He was a jealous God who would have them separate to Himself, and "those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand." And again and again, in their history, do we trace the same teaching in God's dealings with them. A leprous man and leaven, both typical of sin and uncleanness, were to be put, the one, outside the camp (Lev. xiii. 45, 46), in the midst of which God dwelt; the other, not only to be put out of every house, but not even to be seen in Israel (Exod. xii. 15; xiii. 7); that they "defile not My tabernacle that is in the midst of them." And of minor defilements (Lev. xi., xv., xviii., xx., xxii.) not one was overlooked. "Thus shall ye separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness; that they die not in their uncleanness, when they defile My tabernacle that is among them." (Lev. xv. 31.)
After this, when having crossed the Jordan, they had entered the promised land, their first failure records their forgetfulness of the principle of separation from evil. Achan took of the accursed thing, and Israel fled before the enemy. God said Israel hath sinned, "Neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you." (Josh. vii.) Here the Lord insists on their separation from the evil as a condition of His being with His people. "Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against to-morrow: for thus saith the Lord God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel; thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you." Here, the first thing the people have to do is to sanctify themselves, and not until the morrow did God reveal to Joshua, when gathered with the assembly, who was the offender, and then judgment was executed upon him. It is worthy of note, that ignorance of the guilt, or of the guilty one, does not lessen it in God's sight; God withdraws from it according to the holiness of His nature, and His people must bear the consequences of His withdrawal, which, as shown here, must be shame and ignominious defeat. Whether then, we act at once on the principle of separation from evil or not, God in His holiness has already withdrawn from it; a solemn consideration surely is this for us. Self-will may refuse to take God into account. This Achan did, and those in association with him had to learn that it was not to be, and that evil must be always viewed and judged, not as it affects us, but as it affects God. And what are we without Him? And where is the testimony?
In the book of Judges, eight times we are given the key to all their trouble, repeated like a bitter wail again and again, "And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord." The result was not merely one battle with the enemy and one defeat, but the most terrible oppression, persecution, and misery extending at times over long periods of years, and only ended by the raising up of some one individual who judged Israel. Now, the one raised up was always raised up of God to deliver, and consequently is found alone with Him in communion first, as to the condition of His people. This is true separation. Othniel "judged Israel" before he "went out to war." (iii. 10.) Deborah likewise "judged Israel" before she called Barak to deliver them. (iv. 4, 5.) Gideon built an altar to the Lord, and sacrificed on it to the Lord; he also threw down his father's altar of Baal, and cut down the grove that was by it (Judges vi.), before God used him to deliver his people Israel from the enemy. Samson was to be a Nazarite to God from the womb, to the day of his death. (xiii. 7.) But these were all used of God to deliver His people. Therefore, one lesson taught in this book is not difficult to read; namely, that he who would help his brethren, must be himself in fellowship with God; and what does this demand but of necessity, the condemnation of all in them that is contrary to Him, nor can I be real in condemning evil unless it lead me into practical separation.
But however they failed in it, God's people were chosen to be a holy nation. "Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever." (Ps. xciii. 5.) And when the Prophet Isaiah (chapter i.) addresses them later, when they were on the eve of "Lo-ammi," "not my people," being written upon them, he says: "Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity . . . the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint, from the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in it." What then, is the remedy—God's remedy which he proposes? It is separation from evil. "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; CEASE TO DO EVIL." (v. 16.) But all exhortation was in vain. (See 2 Chron. xxxvi. 16.) They "sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord rejected all the seed of Israel." (2 Kings xvii. 17-20.) And Lo-ammi, therefore, "not my people," (Hosea i.) was written upon the nation. But the way they will tread in a future day when, as the ransomed of the Lord, they shall return and come to Zion with songs, bears witness to the never setting aside but final accomplishment of God's first primary purpose for them; viz., their separation from evil, which their sin has only marred for the time. It is thus that we read of their future: "And a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; for He shall be with them (margin), the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." (Isaiah xxxv. 8-10.)
THE CHRISTIAN'S DIRECTIONS AS TO IT.
Now, at the present time, God is forming out of Jew and Gentile (Eph. ii. 14-18) a bride for present association, in testimony to and for a rejected Christ, and to be hereafter manifested in glory with Him. Though the language of Israel has been, "We have no king but Caesar," and their prayer, "His blood be on us and on our children," His dying prayer has gone up too, to the Father, and has been answered: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Consequently, there is a redeemed people to walk in separation from evil today. For in nowise are God's principles changed. The language first applied to Israel, is applied by the apostle Peter to Christian men and women now; "We are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people." (1 Peter ii. 9.) And again, "As He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation." "I pray not," says the Lord, in John xvii., "that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth." And as to our practical sanctification, we know that we are to be "conformed to the image of His Son." (Rom. viii. 29); we know that this practical conformity is going on now (2 Cor. iii. 18); and we know that, though we are not fully like Him, yet still, that we shall be so in that day. "When He shall appear, we shall be LIKE HIM; for we shall see Him as He is," and the one effect of this is that "He that hath this hope in Him, purifieth himself, even as He is pure." (1 John iii. 2, 3.) With these exhortations of Peter and John, agree the words of the apostle Paul: "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2 Cor. vii. 1.) He had also just said, "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing;" and his parting exhortations to Timothy are of similar import, in view of the perilous times of the last days. (See 1 Tim. v. 22; 2 Tim. ii. 20-26; iii. 1-17.) The consequence of not at once acting on the principle of separation is that souls are defiled by association; the conscience loses its tenderness, no longer shrinking from evil; the Holy Ghost is grieved, and separation is presently considered to be either needless or impossible.
It is important that Scripture only should guide us. Let it be consulted if the reader admits the principle of separation from evil to be divine, and of paramount, i.e. of first importance, in order to be instructed in the way God would have it practically effected. To this I propose now to turn, assuming the above is admitted. Separation from evil, then, begins with self-judgment. Self-judgment is the condemnation by the new nature, of the ways and manners of the old, and separation from them. The Christian's body, the body of each believer, is the temple of the Holy Ghost. This Paul insists on in writing to the Corinthians. (1 Cor. vi. 19.) How this can be, Scripture fully explains elsewhere; but he is using it here in order to insist that they shall not do what they will with that which is not their own. "He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit," and this Spirit is the Spirit of holiness. (Rom. i. 4.) It condemns everything in me that it finds inconsistent with itself. The right way of its manifestation is in a walk such as Christ walked when down here; a reproduction of Christ in the world. (1 John ii. 6.) The means the Spirit uses to correct me when I fail in this, is always the Word. In Hebrews, it is the provision on earth for the saint going through this wilderness, and is "quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (iv. 12.) It pierces down to and discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart—goes down to what is hidden, yet working within, and exposes these hidden things (whence spring my actions) to me. Nor is this all; the Word is the sword of the Spirit against the enemy, who would use these lusts of my own heart, this inherent sin which he finds there, to draw me away from the path of obedience.
Thus I find the Spirit using the Word for two purposes—the one to expose to me that inward working which is not of Him, in order to lead me to judge it and separate from it; and, on the other hand, to defeat the enemy, who seeks to ensnare me by presenting something to these lusts which he finds there. (James i. 14.) And what the Lord uses, as a man, to defeat the enemy is the Word of God. There was and could be nothing in Him to respond to what Satan presented, for He was "without sin" (Heb. iv. 15); but still He met the tempter as a dependent man (Matt. iv.; Luke iv.), not as Son of God, but gaining the victory as man by never leaving the path of obedience. So the apostle would have the Corinthians remember to "judge themselves" (1 Cor. xi.); for their failure in self-judgment led to all the open and manifest sin which had become a common report and a scandal to the name of Christ. (1 Cor. v. 1.) The Word, then, is the instrument, a piercing sword in the hands of the Spirit, to enable us to judge all evil in ourselves, and to walk in obedience. "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." (1 Sam. xv. 22.) Nor is the believer's responsibility over, when he is thus seeking to fashion himself and his ways by the light of the Word, though surely to do so is the first and all-important matter, and it is in this sense of its importance that the apostle Paul says: "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. xii.)—a daily word to us as to separation from evil. But there is a further responsibility devolving upon those who would be true disciples of their rejected Lord. In John xiii., because He loves them all, and is occupied in the activity of His love to the end, He insists that each is to care for his brother: "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one anther's feet; for I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you." Wherever I see a spot on another believer, my responsibility at once is to remove it, to separate him from it, and not one is exempt from this responsibility. The means is still the Word; and what is the spot? It is sin; and in seeking to separate my brother from it, I am benefiting him, myself, and all the members of the body, and I am occupied in the same work as Christ Himself is doing. (Eph. v. 26.)
Here, too, we may fitly say, that "if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it." (1 Cor. xii. 26.) As to individual trespasses, brother against brother, Matthew xviii. 15-18, directs us. (See also Rom. xvi. 17; 2 Thess. iii. 6, 14.) In open sin, unrepented of by one "called a brother," 1 Cor. v. directs the assembly how to act, itself now, instead of Israel, the dwelling-place of God (1 Tim, iii. 15), however men may have marred its original simplicity and beauty. Outside the assembly, God deals in judgment still with the offender. "The Lord shall judge His people." He is in the hands of God for judgment, that the chaff may be blown away from the wheat, and "that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus;" for "our God is a consuming fire." (Heb. xii. 29.) If we fail in self-judgment, God Himself may come in. "For this cause, many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep." (1 Cor. xi.) He comes in either by the assembly, or He Himself chastens. The assembly, through lack of spirituality, is not always cognizant when saints are not walking in self- judgment, and when she is, cannot act in putting away, save for acts of sin. Such cases clearly belong to the individual care of John xiii. But God is cognizant of it, and oftentimes chastens individuals by sickness and even death, when the assembly is ignorant why He does so. Thus, He acted in Corinth, while another case, He allowed to go on there to manifest itself in open acts of sin such as are named in 1 Cor. v., which the assembly must judge, the word of God being to the assembly (as it is to the individual), the authority to judge and separate from evil. If the leaven is put out, it is well; but it becomes a cause of humiliation then, and after that (on the part of the assembly) that God should have seen it necessary to let it go on to this. (See 2 Cor. vii. 9-11.) But if an assembly will not put away leaven, and thus does not own the necessity of keeping clean the temple of God, the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. iii. 16), the place where Jesus delights to come and manifest Himself (Matt. xviii. 20; John xx. 19, 26), it thereby ignores His presence, and has given up any claim to it, and the responsibility of the individual believer is to separate himself from such a company. For as Scripture teaches me in many places to avoid an individual ostensibly "within who is going on with evil (see Rom. xvi. 17-19; Phil. iii. 17-19; 2 Thess. iii. 6, 14, 15; 1 Tim. v. 22; 2 Tim. ii. 21; iii. 5; 3 John 9-12 &c.), so I learn too that Paul avoided an assembly, that of Corinth, for a time, where evil was not judged, for Paul would not tolerate it, and more, if present, he would not spare any who did. "And I call God for a record upon my soul," he says, "that to spare you, I came not as yet unto Corinth." (2 Cor. i. 23.) This necessity is clear, if 2 Tim. ii. 15-26 be studied in connection with Peter's language, that "judgment must begin at the house of God." (1 Peter iv. 17.)
Is it not easy to see, in all these directions for our guidance in the Word of God, that the one desire of God is to have communion with us, and that the first necessity to this is our separation from evil? Like a golden thread, running through all His ways with us, we trace it in redemption (Titus ii. 14); again, in the necessity of self-judgment (1 Cor. ix. 27; xi. 31); in the injunction to us that we are to care for each other (John xiii.); in the assembly's direction to put out leaven (1 Cor. v.); and in the individual faithfulness, which must act if an assembly is unfaithful (2 Tim. ii. 21); in all, the same principle is before us again and again.
OBJECTIONS TO IT CONSIDERED.
Now, in view of what has been before us, I gather that if there is one divine way of dealing with evil, viz., separation from it, we are never safe until we have acted on it. God holds us responsible as to association. What, then, is proposed instead of it? Let us examine this a moment. There is first the palliation of evil, when the good intentions of the evil-doer are pleaded, along with the extenuating circumstances that led to it; but no amount of palliation of evil will ever remove the evil, and it is the evil itself I must separate from. (1 Tim. v. 22.) Serious souls must admit that there is not separation from evil, though we act on the most complete and elaborate palliation of it that was ever framed.
Next, we find that, instead of acting on God's principle of separation from evil, delay is urged. This is a more specious and subtle method of the enemy, and is often attended with complete success. This Scripture has been quoted, "He that believeth shall not make haste" (Isaiah xxviii. 16), in order to give the apparent sanction of the word for delay. But if the reader will turn to Romans x. 11 and 1 Peter ii. 6, he will see how the apostles Paul and Peter understood these words of the prophet. One quotes them, "shall not be ashamed," the other, "shall not be confounded."
We may also remember that Lot believed the angel and yet is bidden to "haste" (Gen. xix. 22), that Paul the believer was urged by Ananias not to "tarry," but to be baptized (Acts xxii. 16), and himself writing to the Hebrews (chap. vi. 18), speaks to them of those who "have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us." (See also Matt. iii. 7.) Hence, I must object to the use of this passage when applied to hinder my immediate separation from evil, unhesitatingly affirming that such an interpretation is not of God. With the same desire for delay, it has been asked, "Which of us is perfect? Who then is fitted to cast the stone at his brother?" Here again I must object to a manifest perversion of Scripture, and to an entire misapplication of it. The Lord's own words in John viii., which are here referred to, are, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast the stone at her," not as is taught and inferred in the question "without sins." There is a great difference in saying "without sin" and "without sins." (Compare 1 John i. 8 with James iii. 2.) But the immediate effect of raising a question as to one's own perfection, is to make every humble soul turn away from the evil before him, to become hopelessly occupied with himself. That we are not perfect in the sense the questioner means is admitted, but it is totally beside the mark; for does Scripture say anywhere that we must be, before we can judge and separate from evil? Alas! if it did, there could be no separation and no judgment of any evil at all. Did the apostle so direct the Corinthians? I fully admit the importance of Matt vii. 3-5; Lev. vi. 26, &c.; but I refuse to dig for supposed (though admitted) imperfections in myself or in others, and thus vainly occupy myself and them, when the evil from which I am commanded to separate is manifest and unjudged. Alas! that delay, urged upon us because we are not perfect in our practical life day by day, which we admit, should so hinder separation from evil, and stumble real godly souls as it does and has done. Bring in anything else—delay by calling for self-judgment, humiliation or whatever may be proposed instead of what God requires, and we are allowing the leaven to work, becoming ourselves defiled, and departing from separation from evil; God's principle for the preservation among His saints of practical holiness, while we have already lost communion with God, who is light; for in Him is "no darkness at all." Nor will any godly soul, I think, be bold enough to deny these inevitable results.
Yet another reason has been pressed in favour of delay, and this is when evil, in the Church or otherwise, is of long standing, or has been sanctioned or committed by one who, himself a Christian, has been of reputation and beloved amongst the saints. Nor is the quotation of Scripture wanting in this connection. I have heard quoted this passage: "Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm." (Ps. cv. 15.) Or again, "Wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" (Num. xii.) As in the other cases, so here I need scarcely say there is a wresting of Scripture. To seek to walk in separation from evil, to seek to exercise conscience as to its existence where manifest, or failing this to separate myself, is not doing harm to any of the Lord's "prophets." It is the very reverse of this, even a blessing to them all. Nor were the words addressed to the Lord's people—another reason for their inapplicability—they were addressed to the nations, as the context will show. As to speaking "against Moses," it is still more manifest that the quotation can have no possible application. Sin or evil is in Scripture everywhere spoken against by the Lord Himself, nor do we assume equality (as Aaron and Miriam did) with what we speak against. There was no desire in the heart of either to separate from what they presumed to be evil in Moses, through his marrying an Ethiopian woman; but there was a desire to assume to be what they were not, namely, equal with him of whom the Spirit has recorded that he was "meek above all the men which were upon the earth," and this God rebuked. But if it is that which the Lord condemns, the fact that it is of long standing, can be allowed no weight, and if countenanced by one who has held or holds some influence over the minds of the saints, there is all the more reason why there should be no delay, lest the leaven work and they become through his influence deceived and ensnared. But we have Scripture testimony, and no delay was proposed to the mind of the apostle Paul when Peter, himself of reputation and beloved, had been betrayed into error, and Barnabas and others were in danger of becoming leavened by it. (Gal. ii. 11-21.) He acted faithfully and at once, painful as it must have been to him to do so. Nor is there the danger that is feared of "endless division if we separate from evil," nor is the outcry to be heeded that "it will destroy all our corporate testimony." The testimony, either individual or corporate, is already gone when we have ceased to act on separation from evil, and the only remedy, the only way of recovery, is its recovery; for separation is at the basis of everything ever owned of God as His testimony. Have we a corporate testimony or an individual one worth retaining if it involves the giving up of, not merely one tittle of the truth of God, but of a great fundamental principle which lies at the very root of all His dealings with us, as it has been laid down by Him as a first necessity with all the faithful that have gone before us? Far be the thought; to give it up is to give Him up. Alas! what are we now, and what is the testimony? A little remnant always went out from evil associations and acted professedly on this God-taught principle of separation from all evil, maintaining that He demanded it. They found themselves together in our own days in various localities, as two or three gathered together "unto His name," who desired to maintain what is due unto it. Thus, and thus only, they became a testimony by separation, a testimony to failure and departure from God's ways for His people, a testimony nevertheless to His faithfulness (Matt. xviii. 20; 2 Tim. ii. 19.) Is it not humbling that such, if they once knew the blessedness of all this, should now be found fearing to act upon it, or be found advocating or defending delay, or indeed anything else, as God's present instruction for His people? Excuse the evil committed—palliate it in what way you will—call the desire to separate from it division, haste, or by what name soever you may, the godly soul who reading the Word for himself is governed by it, will not be deceived by such expressions. He knows that the judgment of evil and separation from it are of God, and that whatever may be proposed instead, nothing so shakes the power of the enemy. The greatest blow a Christian can inflict on the power of the prince of darkness is to separate himself from evil, and grace is given for it. Blessed be His name that He can and will use now such a feeble folk as we are for this end if we are true to Him! Separation from evil is a sure defense. "The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks." (Prow. xxx. 26.) Let us remember that our wisdom is to act like they do, and having thus acted, our strength is "to sit still." (Isa. xxx. 7.)
Reformation has come in instead of separation. No objection is raised to it; and while separation from evil is denominated division, party work, and bigotry, reformation is lauded under such names as philanthropy, or brotherly love, or even charity. We must look deeper than man's praise or condemnation, if we desire to know which is right, and what is the origin of each. Now reformation pre-supposes the existence of evil. But all that God does must of necessity be perfect, to it, therefore, certainly the idea of reformation cannot apply. Reformation had its origin in the proposal of the serpent to the woman in Eden. "God doth know that in the day that ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." (Gen. iii. 5.) The suggestion of the enemy found here in the infancy of our race was, that there was imperfection in God's work, which the woman could amend. This proposal, yielded to, brought in the ruin. We thus see the thought of reformation was the fruit of a corrupt tree. Is it less so to-day? If it brought sin and death into the world, and separated man from God by giving him entirely false thoughts of God, it perpetuates the ruin when acted on now. Reformation to-day says that there is something good to be retained. What did it effect in Eden? Not separation from evil, but separation from GOD, the only source of good. And what does it effect when acted on to-day? What can we retain? It effects the same end; for there is nothing to be retained but what is of God, and HE is separate from all evil. There is no way but the cross, and the practical carrying out of what it means day by day, when faith has grasped its meaning. By the cross and faith in Christ, what is effected? Man is brought into fellowship with God, to know Him as Father in all the intimate relationships of a child. But it is God in all the unchanged holiness of His nature still, though now, to us, in the relationship of Father. This is never to be forgotten. Thus, while we see that reformation brought in ruin, and still perpetuates it, separation was God's remedy, and is still; and that if we desire to get that which is perfect, we must return to Him which necessitates it. To what is of God, and to that which was from the beginning (1 John ii. 7, 8), the far-lauded scheme of reformation does not and cannot apply. "I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it." (Eccles. iii. 14.) This is the language of the wisest man that ever lived, and it is the language of faith today. Nothing, then, but the cleaving to and resting in the perfection of that to which nothing can be added, and from which nothing can be taken, will ever satisfy that shrinking from evil, or lull to rest those heart-yearnings after practical holiness, which, right in themselves for every one born of God, have only been found since sin came into the world.
I have spoken but of the negative side—separation from evil; there is also the positive—holiness to the Lord. We are called from the one υnto the other. But the latter is, as to practical holiness, impossible without the former, separation from evil, and therefore I have dwelt more on that side, as of first importance. In Christ, and the results of His work on the cross, we have both; and it is because we have, that we are exhorted to both in our daily life. "As He who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation." If true to Him, I am leaving the one (evil), I am reaching after the other. "Let us go forth unto Him" (Heb. xiii. 13) is the extent and limit of my separation. I am going to be like Christ when He appears, as we see in 1 John iv. Being not like Him yet, but with this knowledge that I am going to be, I "purify myself" now; and the apostle adds the extent of this, "even as He is pure." Here is the positive side, "as He is pure;" and John knows no cessation of this work, until the day dawns, and the shadows flee away, and he who longed for more likeness to Christ on earth at last finds that he is "like Him." H. C. A.
"The Christian Friend and Instructor" 1880