Separation from Evil and Holiness to the Lord: Part 1, Early Witnesses to Their Necessity

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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 4:44Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4), and 1 Thess. 5:2323And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)) 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 Gen. 3:55For 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. (Genesis 3:5), 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. 11 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. 5) Of this family of faith came Noah, preserved of God when the flood came 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 forever 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 Japheth. Among these latter are enumerated the enemies of God, the nations of Canaan whom Israel was directed afterward to "destroy utterly;" and here too are all the Gentiles, "after their families, in their nations." (Gen. 10:55By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations. (Genesis 10:5)) 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. 24:22And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods. (Joshua 24:2)) 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. 12:11Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee: (Genesis 12:1)) It is recorded of him that he " obeyed; and went forth, not knowing whither he went " (Heb. 11:88By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. (Hebrews 11:8)); 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 Charran until the death of Terah, and Lot was a trouble to him until their separation. (Compare Acts 7; Gen. 11:31,3231And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there. 32And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran. (Genesis 11:31‑32), and 12: 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 forever. 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. 13:14-1714And 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: 15For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. 16And 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. 17Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee. (Genesis 13:14‑17))
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. 19) " 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 learned, 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. 35) 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 fulfillment "God was not ashamed to be called their God." (Heb. 11) Forever 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 Ex. 3, " The God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, hath sent Me unto you: this is My name forever, 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." (Ex. 19:66And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. (Exodus 19:6)) " 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." (Ex. 6:77And 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. (Exodus 6:7)) 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. 10; Deut. 32: 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. (Ex. 33:7-107And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp. 8And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tabernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the tabernacle. 9And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. 10And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door. (Exodus 33:7‑10)) 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 (Num. 25), 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. 13:45,4645And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. 46All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be. (Leviticus 13:45‑46)), in the midst of which God dwelt; the other not only to be put out of every house, but not even to be seem in Israel (Ex. 12:15;1315Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel. (Exodus 12:15) that they " defile not My tabernacle that is in the midst of them." And of minor defilements (Lev. 11;15;18;20;22) 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. 15:3131Thus 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. (Leviticus 15:31))
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. 7) 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 ignominous 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." (3: 10) Deborah likewise "judged Israel " before she called Barak to deliver them. (4: 4, 5) Gideon built an altar to the Lord, mid 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 (Judg. 6), 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. (13: 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, forever." (Psa. 93:55Thy testimonies are very sure: holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever. (Psalm 93:5)) And when the Prophet Isaiah (chapter 1) 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. 36:1616But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy. (2 Chronicles 36:16)) They "sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord rejected all the seed of Israel." (2 Kings 17:17-2017And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. 18Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only. 19Also Judah kept not the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made. 20And the Lord rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight. (2 Kings 17:17‑20)) And Loammi, therefore, " not my people," (Hos. 1) 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." (Isa. 35:8-108And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. 9No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there: 10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:8‑10))
H. C. A.