My theme has to do with our responsibilities as the people of God in this world, where we are called upon to let our light so shine that men seeing our good works may glorify our Father which is in Heaven. I am going to take two texts. The first is 2 Cor. 6:17, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord; and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” The other is Jude, verses 17 to 19, “But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.”
Two Kinds of Separation
Here we have clearly two very distinct kinds of separation indicated. In the first scripture, believers are definitely commanded to be Separate from someone and from something. But in the other scripture we find there is a carnal separation which will be one of the characteristic marks of those who turn away from the truth of God in the last days, and so we shall consider the difference between a scriptural and an unscriptural separation.
I should like you to look at the entire chapter of 2 Corinthians 6, and especially at verse 14, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” I have no doubt that the mind of the apostle was carried back by the Spirit of God to the words in Deuteronomy where, among the instructions given to Israel, we find this, “Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass yoked together” (Deut. 22:10). The ass was an unclean beast, and the ox was a clean one, and its flesh could be eaten and offered in sacrifice. The apostle Paul tells us that the ox typifies the servant of Christ. We read in 1 Cor. 9:9, “Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn” (this refers to the old-fashioned way of threshing by oxen). The apostle asks, “Doth God take care of oxen? Or saith He it altogether for our sakes?” What it means is not that you are to be concerned only about the oxen, but that if a brother is spending his time ministering to the spiritual needs of people, you are to see that he has enough to live on. He cannot be expected to give all he has to working for other people and have nothing for his family.
The ox, therefore, typifies the servant of Christ— “Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together”—you are not to yoke up the clean and unclean in service. You can see this done today in the Orient, an ass on one side and an ox on the other. But it is a most unequal arrangement, for the one wants to pull ahead and the other wants to pull back, and the plowman has a hard time cutting a straight furrow. The apostle takes that up and applies it to us, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers,” and so we see in that a call to separation, for the unequal yoke in service is contrary to the mind of God.
A Fatal Mistake
A man announced to me one day that he was going to get married, and I asked, “Well, is the young woman converted?” “No,” he said; “but she is a very sweet and lovely young woman, and I feel sure that after we are married it will come out all right; she will come to Christ.” I said, “If she does not come to Christ before you are married, while she looks up to you as a little god, she is not at all likely to be led to Christ afterwards when she finds out how intensely human you are.”
A Puritan once said, “If you are a child of God and you marry a child of the devil, you can expect to have trouble with your father-in-law.” This passage clearly refers to marriage, and I think it would be a blessed thing if every Christian minister would say, “I will never be a party to yoking up a child of God and a child of the devil.” “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” Let that be the first question settled, young man, when you are looking for a wife, and, young woman, when you are allowing yourself to be looked for, let the first question in your mind be: Is this one who comes seeking my favor one who knows the Lord Jesus Christ?
I think of a lady who came to me in California and said, “Mr. Ironside, I want to tell you my story, and if you ever feel like repeating it when you are talking about separation, you may feel free to do so.” She said: “As a young Christian I was a very happy young woman; my heart was taken up with the things of Christ; He was all in all to me. Then I met one who seemed to me so true, so good, so manly, so noble, that when I asked him if he were a Christian and he said, ‘No/ but promised that he would join any church I belonged to if I would only marry him, I was foolish enough to think I could win him after we were married. He went to church with me until two weeks after we were married and then said, ‘I am through with this religious sham; nothing more of it for me. If you must go on with it, you go your way and I will go mine.’ I have had to go my way ever since. But that was not the worst, for when the children came, I wanted to bring them up for God, but my husband, who had been reading infidel literature and was getting farther and farther away from the faith of his old mother, said, ‘No, these children will never be brought up in religious superstition,’ and I have had to see them taken off to the world when I wanted them for God. Now every one of the six of them is utterly opposed to the gospel that means so much to me.”
The unequal yoke in marriage! What a serious thing it is! “But,” you say, “my circumstances are such that I am unequally yoked with an unbeliever.” There is only one thing for you to do now, and that is to go to God, and if you made the mistake of disobeying His Word, confess your sin and look to Him in grace to come in and help you so to live that you may win that one to Christ. But if, on the other hand, you have been won for Christ since you were so yoked, the Word of God says, “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” (1 Cor. 7:16). Live for God in the home in such a way that the other partner will realize that there is something genuine about your life’s testimony. We read in 1 Peter 3 that the Christian wife is bidden so to live before the husband that, “If any obey not the Word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives.” There are two different ideas here. “If any obey not the Word (the Bible) they also may without the word” (literally, without a word, or to put it clearly, that they may without nagging) be won by the behavior of the wives.” The unsaved husband will not stand for a constant nagging at him; that is not helping him. Instead of scolding him about his ungodly ways, go to God in prayer and live such a sweet life before him that he will be attracted to your Saviour.
A little Christian woman said to me once, “You know I can’t understand how it is that I can’t seem to get John to be a Christian. I am at him all the time. He never comes in but what I tell him, ‘John, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You are going straight to hell and taking the children with you.’ But he only gets mad.” “I don’t blame him,” I said; “I would, too.” Often when you cannot win them by speech, you can by your life.
But this unequal yoke not only refers to the marriage relationship but to a great many other relationships. A Christian business man said to me some time ago, “I have a splendid opportunity to go into business with a man who is working in the same firm with me and, you know, I would be glad to, but for one scripture, ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.’” I said, “May God grant that you will never weaken, for right there is where many a child of God has lost out completely.” You find that the other partner with his different standards can do many things that you, if you a real Christian, cannot do. Don’t you see?—there will be constant friction; you will feel that yoke wearing on the shoulders and galling about the neck.
Then there are all kinds of fraternal relationships. I have been preaching the gospel for forty years and I know how to give people a good hearty Christian grasp of the hand, but I do not know how to give them any of these fancy handshakes, and this is the scripture that has kept me from learning them: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing.” They say, “But, Mr. Ironside, your influence would be greatly extended if you would only become a member of such a fraternal organization.” I say, “Are they all Christians?” “No,” they answer, “but they are good fellows.” “But my Book says, ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.’” “Well, but you know, if you would only join and come and be a Lion or a Tiger or a Vulture or something, it would help you greatly in your work.” “But,” I say, “are all these Tigers and other queer creatures children of God, washed from their sins in the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ?” There are my orders; my instructions are in the Book—“Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing.” That keeps me out. They come and shake hands and do the funny little things in my hand, and I say, “Brother, I don’t know what it is all about, but I know the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour. I belong to the G. A. R., the Grand Army of the Redeemed, and every believer is a member of that.”
It is quite possible to enter into an unequal yoke even in church-fellowship, and that is one of the greatest blunders of all. The Lord Jesus Christ never intended the Church of God to be a body of saved and unsaved people. It was the masterpiece of the devil to bring them into church-fellowship without having been born again. When the Church extended its borders to take in people before they yielded to the Lord, it made a great mistake—“Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Rev. 3:1). Members of a Christian church, bearing the name of Christ, supposedly having eternal life, and yet dead in their sins! In the epistle of Jude, the apostle speaks of a certain people twice dead. “But,” you say, “how can that be?” In Eph. 2:1 we read they are “Dead in trespasses and sins”; that is the natural man away from God. But in the second place, according to Revelation 3, we read, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead,” dead in a false Christian profession, and that is the most serious thing of all. It is these unconverted people within the professed Church of Christ who are responsible for the spread of apostasy in the Church of God today. Of course, they are not satisfied with the old gospel, with carrying on things in the way that the fathers whose one object was the honoring of Christ and the blessing of souls, did, and so they want to please the natural man. But it is not the business of the Spirit of God to please the natural man; it is His work to show the natural man that he is lost, ruined, and undone, and you are not going to help him by yoking up with him in church-fellowship.
“What communion hath light with darkness?” If you are a Christian you are a child of the light. “But,” some say, “if we can only get these unconverted folk into the church, they will be saved.” I never heard of any one introducing a few rotten apples into a barrel of good ones to make them all good. A little boy one day brought home some linnets, put them in cages, and hung them on either side of the canary cage, explaining to his mother that by so doing they would hear the canary sing, and in trying to imitate it they would learn to sing like the canary. The mother was too wise to argue with him and so said nothing. A few hours later the boy and the mother came into the house and suddenly the boy exclaimed, “O mother, listen, our canary is cheeping like a linnet!” It was not long until the canary lost its own song and began to imitate the linnets. In the Church of God the unequal yoke never improves the worldling. To get him into the church, mix the saved with the unsaved, causes the church to deteriorate. Therefore there should be a careful testing of all who seek fellowship with the Lord’s people to find if they have ever been born again and whether they are seeking to walk in accordance with God’s Holy Word.
When the people of Israel came out of Egypt, there was a mixed multitude with them who had never been redeemed by blood, but they said, “We will go with you up to the land of Canaan.” These people were a constant source of trouble; they fell to lusting and their murmurings affected the people of Israel until they said, “We are getting so tired of this manna; there is nothing to eat but manna.” The manna was a type of Christ, and they were really saying, “Nothing but Christ to feed on! We remember the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick which we had in Egypt.” Yes, their memory was long on some things but very short on others. You do not hear them saying, “We remember the taskmaster’s whip, the brick-making without straw.” No, they had forgotten about these things.
Cucumbers and melons! Poor things to build a physical constitution! A little bit of melon or cucumber is good, but imagine a man living on them. The manna was upbuilding, edifying, but the other was like the world’s literature, a little bit of it goes a long way. But this Book can be fed on three times a day.
The onions and garlick and leek, you know, cannot be eaten in secret without smelling of them in public. They are all alike in that they leave their odor behind them. They are like those worldly pleasures in which a Christian may think he can indulge in private and no one will know anything about them. He spends his evenings in worldly amusements and then on Sunday looks so pious and good, but anybody with spiritual discernment knows there is something wrong; the stench of the world is on his breath, they realize that he has not lived for God in secret. The mixed multitude will ruin any testimony for God. We are the children of light; we can go to man in the darkness with the gospel but the Word says, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11).
“What concord hath Christ with Belial?” “Belial” means worthlessness; it is a fancy name for the devil. What concord hath the worthy One with the worthless one, with Satan? You are either a servant of Christ or a servant of Belial, and there can be no common ground until you turn away from Satan and his service and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your own Saviour.
True to the Word of God
“What part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” A young man asked a young lady to marry him, and she quoted this scripture and said, “I cannot; I must be true to the Word of God; as long as you are where you are I cannot marry you, for Scripture says, ‘What part hath he that believeth with an infidel?’” “Why,” he said, as he sprang to his feet, “are you trying to insult me? I believe in a God and I believe the Bible is the Word of God.” “Oh,” she said, “but the word translated infidel is simply the negative for believer—what part hath a believer with an unbeliever?’”
Then, again, we read, “What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” What is the temple of God today? It is the company of His people. He dwells in us by His Holy Spirit, and can you think to glorify God by going on in fellowship with that which brings dishonor upon His name? So the command comes, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” You know God is the Father of all believers, but He is not a Father unto every believer as He would like to be. Did you ever have a son acting in disobedience, and you knew he was getting into deep water and wanted to help him, but you said, “If I help him now, I am only going to bolster him up in his foolishness,” and so you had to wait and watch? You were his father all the time, but you could not be a father unto him in the way you wanted to be. And then the day came when he came to you and said, “I have been very foolish; I wish I had listened to you; but now I come to you to confess it, and by the grace of God things are going to be different.” How gladly you said, “I am ready to get right behind you and help you in anything that is right.” So God says, “You walk in separation unto Me and I will receive you.”
But now we must consider another kind of separation. You will find those who say that the Bible teaches separation, and so they are separate from everything that does not just fit with their own peculiar notions. I have seen the man who has made his notions the standard for everybody. In Prov. 18:1 we read: “Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.” Do not be the kind of a Christian that tries to make your conscience the judge of everybody else. The question, “What is conscience?” was asked, and a little girl quickly answered: “It is something within me that tells me whenever my brother does wrong.” There are people like that. They are troubled about their conscience in your affairs. “My conscience,” they say, “won’t permit this.” But do not try to make your conscience a standard for everybody else. Walk with God yourself, and give your brethren credit for being as honest as you are. Then we can say to our brethren, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded, and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you” (Phil. 3:15).
Scriptural separation is separation from the world, corruption, and wickedness. Carnal separation is unto mere schools of opinion and separation from people who do not see eye to eye with you. What a lot of patience we should have with each other. God give us grace to manifest patience and go on unitedly seeking the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.