Separation and Unity
All true Christians would heartily respond to the Psalmist’s exclamation—“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Ps. 133:1). We have before us in scripture such an attractive record of unity in the earliest moments of church history (see Acts 2, 3 and 4), and we have before our very eyes such a distressing exhibition of the evils of disunion in the professing church in these latter times that we are hardly likely to be insensible to the pleasantness of that unity which is the will of God for His people.
Unity is moreover the express desire and prayer of the Lord Jesus in regard to His own. His words were, “Neither pray I for these [the Apostles] alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word; that they all may be one (John 17:20-21). How can it fail then to be the strong desire and longing of every heart that loves Him, and that which we earnestly pursue with all our powers?
Let us then seek peace—the peace of unity—and ensue it (1 Pet. 3:11), but let us do so intelligently, recognising the fact, enforced consistently right through the Bible, that for it separation from evil is a vital necessity. Unity is a tender plant which only flourishes the garden of the Lord, when—unlike the field of the slothful, which Solomon saw, grown over with thorns and nettles, because the stone wall thereof was broken down—the fence of separation is kept in good repair.
We may notice first of all that, in His wonderful prayer to the Father for the unity of His saints, the Lord Jesus recognised the necessity of separation. Before breathing one word about the oneness that should mark them He draws strongly and clearly the line of demarcation by saying, “I pray for them; I pray not for the world” (John 17:9). Yet more distinctly He says, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” To emphasize this He repeats it twice (vv. 14, 16). His separation from the world—and who can measure its intensity—is the measure of ours.
In so praying, the Lord Jesus was evidently speaking of His people according to that which they are in the thought and purpose of God. The truth, however, of that which we ARE in God’s mind is to exert a governing influence over us, and practically control us, for immediately following, the Lord prays, “sanctify them through Thy truth, Thy word is truth” (v. 17). To sanctify is to set apart, to separate, that the one so set apart may be delivered from evil and be wholly for the use and pleasure of God. Where the Father’s word, which is truth, is received, we are separated to Himself, and of this practical separation Christ alone is the pattern and standard, for He adds, “For their sakes I sanctify [set apart in heaven] Myself, that they also might be truly sanctified” (v. 19, margin).
Then it was, having fenced around His own with what we may term both positional and practical separation, He uttered that touching prayer for unity as His prophetic eye swept the long centuries of His Church’s history on earth, that prayer which, though only fulfilled for a brief moment at the beginning, nevertheless holds us today in its embrace, and renders it incumbent upon every true lover of His blessed Name to preserve unity, with lowliness of mind and energy of soul.
It may be profitable to remark that unity is of special importance in connection with the present dispensation. In all ages there has doubtless been an underlying oneness amongst God’s saints by reason of the Spirit’s work—new birth—within them, but in this church period between Pentecost and the Rapture, there has been assigned to unity, a place of special prominence. With it the testimony of the hour is largely bound up. To it the Lord Jesus looked, “that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me” (John 18:21).
Union has been established between Christ and His saints, so much so that He could say, “Saul, Saul, why persectutest thou ME.” That union is the special feature of the moment, the mystery of which Paul speaks being connected with it (Eph. 3:6 and Col. 1:27—the objective and subjective sides thereof, yet by that very fact union is a secret thing, otherwise it would not be the mystery. The unity of saints was designed by God to be the outward expression and proof of union, the secret thing, and hence it is of prime importance today.
We need not be surprised then that every artifice of the devil has been used against the manifestation of unity amongst Christians. Against it his most potent darts have been hurled. In no other age do we read of division amongst God’s people in the slightest degree approximating to the confusion at present visible in the professing church. True it is that Israel is a nation divided into two tribes and ten, and that later on several sects appeared amongst the returned remnant from Babylon, such as Pharisees and Sadducees, but it has been reserved, alas! for this dispensation—the one in which above all others unity should have been manifested—to present to high Heaven the pitiable spectacle of jarring factions and warring creeds, until Babel itself has been outdone. What can we say but “an enemy hath done this,” and he has done it because he knew that unity was God’s great intention for the present moment.
The Practical Christian will certainly ask, “In the midst of such a state of things, what can I do to be in line with the will of God?”
The answer surely must be, unity is as much God’s mind for us as it was on the the day of Pentecost, and you will therefore diligently pursue it, but—and it is a very big BUT—truth must not be sacrificed in the pursuit, nor must an easy-going spirit of accommodation and compromise, which entails the throwing down of the walls of separation, be mistaken for it.
I beg all my readers to notice that the only unity worth anything is “the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3). It might be possible to gather together one hundred believers—true believers, mark you,—or for the matter of that one hundred thousand, or one hundred million believers, in perfect unanimity, and yet, if that oneness be not the unity of the Spirit, to have accomplished only that which is a little worse than nothing! Our business is not to construct unity or unities, but to return practically as far as is possible to THE unity which has all along subsisted in the Spirit.
That unity, depend upon it, only flourishes within the good stone wall that encloses the garden of the Lord!
Though unity has not always been the special point of the witness which God’s saints in their lives have been called upon to bear, it is abundantly clear from scripture that separation has always been a sine qua non if any testimony was to be borne at all. Let us just note a few striking examples of this.
The first dispensation, the age of patriarchal life before the flood, was a very long one; during it the population of the earth must have enormously increased, but in Seth and his descendants the line of faith was preserved. It ended in the flood, which left but eight souls alive on the earth.
Does scripture throw any light upon the causes of this universal catastrophe? It does. In Genesis 6, verses 1 and 2, we read, “It came to pass . . . that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair: and they took them wives of all which they chose.”
We need not stop to enquire the exact meaning of the phrase “sons of God.” The solution of this question is hardly relevant to the subject before us. It suffices to note that scripture distinctly indicates that the breaking down of the wall of separation between those who were OF GOD and those who were OF MEN was the immediate cause of the terrible evils which called down the Divine displeasure.
If there be one plea which more frequently than another is urged to justify the Christian’s association with the world, or those linked up with the world, it is that by so doing he will help to elevate and purify those he takes into association with himself. We have not to travel further into the Bible than Genesis 6 to see the utter fallacy of the argument. The product of this unholy union were the giants, “men of renown” truly, for they were probably the originals from which many a story of the “demi-gods” sprang—treasured up in heathen mythology,—but at the same time paragons of iniquity. An eloquent parable this for all who have ears to hear. The sons of God did not elevate the daughters of men, and their progeny partook of the baser strain.
Note, too, that it was the sons who were of God and the daughters who were of men, not vice-versa. The good was attached to the stronger, the evil to the weaker vessel. If good does not overcome when thus advantageously allied with evil, the necessity of separation being maintained is more than ever manifest.
It is quite plain then that before the flood God’s mercy waited long on man’s iniquity, but when the walls of separation at last gave way all testimony was swamped, until one man alone remained faithful, and the deluge appropriately closed that chapter of man’s history.
After the flood evidently history repeated itself. Even Noah’s posterity lapsed into idolatry, so much so that out of idolatrous surroundings, Abraham was called. With the call of Abraham (Gen. 12:1) separation again comes into view. In the nation of Israel, which sprang from Abraham’s loins, separation was rigidly enforced. The householder did indeed hedge his vineyard roundabout. (See Matt. 21:33.) The law of Moses, given at Sinai, is witness to the high and elaborate hedge of legal ordinances and provisions there instituted. Best of all, God vouchsafed the symbol of His presence in the midst of His people. Alluding to that presence, Moses said, “so shall we be separated, I and Thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth” (Ex. 33:16).
It is not at all surprising that in this latitudinarian age many sentimental critics have worked themselves up into a fine frenzy over the stringent instructions issued for the extirpation of the Canaanites, and such scenes as the zeal of Samuel for the complete destruction of the Amalekites in the days of Saul. The fact is these were measures of precaution very similar to those that would be taken in any civilized country if an awful outbreak of bubonic plague suddenly occurred in its midst. The evil here was not disease, but sin in its most hideous and soul-destroying forms. But note that God did not order the destruction of all nations practising such enormities, but only those immediately in and around the land of Israel. He knew the awful danger to His cherished vineyard if once the walls of separation were penetrated.
The Canaanites, however, were not destroyed, separation was not maintained, and Israel, as a witness for God, was ruined beyond remedy.
When the Lord Jesus was here His was the life of perfect separation, rendered all the more striking by being lived against the dark background of the spurious and hypocritical imitation of real separation exhibited by the Pharisees. The Gospels furnish us with the details of that life of incomparable glory, showing that perfect separation goes hand in hand with perfect grace and humility and sympathy, and the fullest accessibility to the needs and woes of sinful man. Whilst always stooping in grace, He never descended to man’s sinful level. In all this He stands as the Great Example, only we must ever bear in mind that, being absolutely without sin, He could come into contact with evil without defilement, where we, with sin still in us, could not.
When we come to the history of the Church we at once find that unity in separation marked it at the beginning. The three thousand men incorporated into it on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:47) were so added as having saved themselves from that untoward generation. (See Acts 2:40.) In the epistles to the Corinthians we find the Apostle Paul labouring to keep up the walls of separation between the Church and the world, and in his later epistles to Timothy he further indicates that when evil invades the professing Church of God itself a separation, even within that circle, would become necessary (1 Tim. 6:5; 2 Tim. 2:19, 3:5).
It just remains to enquire what is the bearing of all this upon the present situation? We are certainly the witnesses of strange things today. Looking toward the great Protestant religious bodies, especially in English speaking lands, we see great movements in progress towards amalgamation and union. It is greatly to be feared that the leaders in these movements are often unconverted men, and that all the movers have little or no idea of whither their movements tend. On the other hand, looking toward Christians who have long recognized such truth as has been indicated in this paper, and have sought to walk in it, we see the exact opposite carried to a painful extreme, until the consciences of many seem to be unexercised by separations enforced upon grounds that almost approach the frivolous.
The advantages of unity are obvious. Some minds are so fascinated by the idea that they are prepared to sacrifice almost anything to secure the increased power they hope to gain thereby. It may be only increased power in the political arena—to such depths do professed followers of Christ descend; it may be a more lofty ideal—increased power for testimony in the foreign mission field. To all such we would say with affection: Remember the weighty words penned by a servant of Christ no longer here—
“To pursue union at the expense of truth is treason against the Lord.”
IT IS. God keep any of us from yielding an inch by His grace.
But it is necessary also to state the counterbalancing truth. It might be put thus:
To pursue separation at the expense of grace and truth is insubjection to the Lord.
It has been a clever wile of Satan against those to whom much light and grace has been given, and who have recognized the divine call to separation, to divert them on to contentions leading to separation over such matters as the mode and method of baptism, the rightness or wrongness of certain points of assembly procedure, the exact interpretation of texts or certain Scripture expressions, such as “eternal life,” and, alas! we have been all too ignorant of his devices!
Thanks be to God, however, the truth still abides. The unity of the Spirit exists today, but it lies, we may safely assert, outside the unities and confederations which many are busily forming or maintaining today.
The divine call for separation is as loud and clear today as ever—it will be so to the end. The old lines of demarcation between Church and world are no longer visible, and separation from the worldly church, or Christianized world, whichever it be, is now a necessity; indeed, the religious element, controlled by the god of this age, is the most seductive and dangerous element in the world today. Its ultimate outcome, after the rapture of the saints, will be “Babylon,” and the last cry will be “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4).
The truth abides. This is our comfort and stay. Separation is still a necessity—more necessary indeed than ever—but in the separate place the unity of the Spirit may still be found by us. With that unity let us be content, and may our choicest endeavours be spent in seeking that lowliness and meekness with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, that in some larger measure yet we may keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Words of Grace and Encouragement 1910