Unity and Separation

In the wonderful prayer of John 17 two leading thoughts are emphasised—viz., the unity of all who are Christ’s and their separateness from the world.

And we think it must be apparent to all thoughtful readers of the Word that, from first to last, these two lines of teaching are prominent. This being so, Satan has ever sought, by force or subtlety, to separate what God has united, and to unite what God has separated.

The marvellous unity of the believers, as recorded in the early chapters of the Acts, was at least a partial fulfilment of the prayer of our Lord. To Him it must have been as the anointing oil upon Aaron in its fragrance, and like dew of Hermon in its fruitfulness.

But soon the disintegrating forces introduced and fomented by Satan’s subtlety manifested themselves in murmurings (Acts 6) and disputings (Acts 15); and later on, in the Church at Corinth, the saints are found divided into factions, according to carnal preference for various servants of their one Lord.

Hence the urgent exhortation of 1 Cor. 1:10 to perfect unity of mind and judgment in the Lord, and the many weighty considerations throughout the epistle whereby this exhortation is enforced.

The causes which led to this condition of things at Corinth are dealt with one by one. 1. There is the “wisdom of the world” (chaps, 1, 2). 2. Thinking unduly of men, and so being puffed up for one against another (chaps, 3, 4). 3. Low thoughts as to the holiness becoming the temple of God (chaps, 6, 7). 4. Conceit of knowledge (chap, 8); and, after various needful instructions in chaps, 9 to 12, we have chap, 13 presenting a full view of the characteristics of love, clearly indicating that, with all their knowledge and their gifts, this “uniting bond of perfectness” had been lacking.

And we may well learn therefrom that wherever a divisive spirit is working and divisive courses are pursued, some or all of these causes are operating now as of old.

In the second epistle another feature becomes manifest as clearly showing the working of the enemy. The children of God had been entering into alliances with the world: becoming unequally yoked together with unbelievers. If in the first epistle Satan had succeeded in separating what God had joined, in the second epistle he has succeeded in uniting in a common yoke what God had for ever put asunder.

On the one hand are ranged righteousness, light, Christ, the believer, the temple of God. On the other hand, unrighteousness, darkness, Belial, unbelievers, idols. How could such have fellowship or agreement? How could such co-operate under one common yoke?

It was forbidden under the law to plough with an ox and an ass yoked together (Deut. 22:10). The one was “clean,” the other was “unclean,” fitly representing the utter incompatibility between those who are “washed, justified, and sanctified,’’ and those who are “filthy still.”4

This separation from the world was essential to enlargement of heart (see 2 Cor. 6:11-13). The narrow spirit of sectarianism could well consist with worldly associations. But the mind and Spirit of Christ demand that the world be separated from, and that all who are Christ’s be loved, and their welfare and unity promoted. Faithfulness to the truth and subjection to the Lord alike demand separation from the world. Hence, many of God’s children are being led, in these last days, out from sectarian associations upon this sole ground, that they can no longer remain yoked, in what is professedly Christian fellowship, worship, and service, with those who are not the children of God. “The form of godliness” there may be: but if the power be denied, the responsibility is none the less. The heathen world, with its idolatry, and the religious world, with its profession of Christianity, are the same in the sight of God. His Word is as plain concerning the latter as the former, “From such turn away “(2 Tim 3:5).

Obedience to these plain commands no doubt involves separation sad and painful from many children of God. Those who determine to abide in association with the ungodly are necessarily left to their associations. But this is only a necessary result of obeying the Lord. The object in view is not separation from saints. This the Lord never commanded. His will is separation from the world; but oneness of mind and heart among saints. “Love to all saints “is as plainly the will of the Lord as “Love not the world.” Therefore, though obedience may separate as to walk, as to position, as to service and worship, from other saints, it ought never to alienate affections. Fellowship will be marred, hindered, perhaps rendered very difficult or practically impossible;5 but, nevertheless, as far as it can be maintained without compromise to the truth, it is our bounden duty to maintain it.

It has been said that “separation unto the Lord” demands that there shall be “no fellowship in the things of God” with believers who have not so learned the will of the Lord; that the attitude towards such of the “separated” believer is exactly the same as his attitude towards the world—viz., “No fellowship.”

Fellowship has lately been defined as “having, holding, and using in common.” We willingly accept the definition, believing it to be the truth so far as it goes, and we would ask how much do we “have, hold, and use in common” of the things of God with the world? Surely nothing. With him who has not Christ, who holds not the truth, and who uses not the grace of God, we have nothing in common—fellowship is impossible.

But we would ask again, How much do we have, hold, and use in common with every saint? Surely an infinitude!

We have Christ in common. One common Lord and Saviour, one common salvation, one common faith, one indwelling spirit, one Father and God, one inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled. All that is greatest, most precious, and most glorious is common to all believers, possessed, held, used, in common, though in vastly differing degrees. To go to such an one as we would go to a worldling, refusing all fellowship in the things of God, simply to witness for certain truths which God has taught us, but which he has not learned, is practically to deny that we have anything in common until these truths are accepted.

Little wonder that such testimony, even though it be to the truth, is resented and rejected! Nay, more, has not such action turned very many away from those teachings which would have separated them from the world, and from worldly religious associations, and riveted them firmer than ever to sectarianism and tradition?

4 It has been asserted that the ass did not represent the “unclean” but the “redeemed”—because the firstling of an ass was to be redeemed with a lamb, otherwise its neck was to be broken (Ex. 13:13). If so, then no animal represented the “unclean,” for the firstling; of every unclean beast was in like manner to be redeemed or to be killed (Num. 18:15). Whatever other scriptures may teach as to limitations to co-operation in one yoke of service with Christians who are ignorant, or wilful, or entangled in unscriptural associations, we contend that in this scripture it is the yoking together of believers and unbelievers and nothing else that is referred to.

5 This would apply in the case of one “put away “or “cut off,” according to the Word of God. Obedience to God and love to the soul of the erring one alike demand that there be no fellowship with such. “Let him be to thee as an heathen man and a publican.” “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments” (1 John 5:2).