Separation is pre-eminently the work of God. To separate from sin and sinners is part of the purpose of God in sending forth His Gospel and His Word among men. In the ways of God, separation comes before unity. There must be a severance from what is opposed to God and His Word before there can be a unity according to the mind of God. God's way is to sever from Satan, from sin, from the world; then to unite to Christ and to Christ's. Faith reckons with God. The first great act of separation known by the sinner who believes the Gospel of God is
Separation from Sins.
It was said concerning the promised Saviour, "thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). In keeping with this is the great Gospel charter as given in the words of inspiration in 1 Corinthians 15:3, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." When the sinner believes the Gospel, he is able to take up the words of the song, "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood" (Revelation 1:5). The penalty of sin is gone, but this is not all: the power of sin is broken. He is "loosed" from his sins. They no longer hold him captive. He is severed, cut off, separated from them, in the blood of the Lamb.
Separation from the World.
The believer is also separated from the world. The world is the empire of Satan. He is the "prince of this world" (John 14:30); "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4). He is the ruler of the darkness of this world. Since the day that he goaded it on to Calvary, there to reject and crucify the Son of God, the world has been at variance with God. It has made its choice; it has cast off its allegiance to Heaven, and for this it is under judgment. For a time grace delays the execution of the sentence, until a people has been gathered out of it for Christ, but its doom is sure. Meanwhile it "lieth in wickedness" (1 John 5:19). All that is in it is "not of the Father" (1 John 2:16). This makes separation from it a necessity. As of old, when the Lord said— "Let there be light," and light was, He next "divided the light from the darkness" (Genesis 1:3,4); so, when God creates anew, when He speaks the life-giving Word which brings the sinner out of death into life, He next delivers the saved one — His own workmanship, as the light was of old — from that which is opposed to it. Saints are "children of the light"; they are "light in the Lord." Sinners are " darkness," and they abide under the power of darkness, in the kingdom of Satan (see Eph. 5:8; Colossians 1:13).
Therefore, there must be a separation, for "what communion hath light with darkness?" This separation is the will and work of God. In His intercessory prayer, the Lord Jesus speaks to the Father of "the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world" (John 17:6). By the Cross of Christ, the believer is crucified to the world (Galatians 6:14) and all its belongings. He is "not of the world," even as Christ is not of the world. The measure of the Lord's separation is the measure of ours, for "as He is, so are we in this world (1 John 4:17). As the Red Sea rolled between the people of Israel and Egypt, separating them from their old associations, their old occupations, and their old religion, so the Cross of Christ stands between the believer and the world. His separation from it, so far as the purpose of God and the work of Christ are concerned, is complete. But there is to be a practical response to all this; a manifest separation of the "born again" one from the unconverted. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Corinthians 6:14); "Be not conformed to this world"; "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness" (Ephesians 5:11), are the plain commandments of the Lord to His people today. They are not to be frittered away; they mean exactly what they say. To go "hand and glove" with the world is to go against God. "Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God. Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4). This is plain enough. There need be no mistake about it. Yet, strange to say, God's people are to be found in almost every circle of worldliness, social, political, commercial, and religious, unequally yoked with the ungodly, sharing their amusements, enjoyments, and pursuits, virtually saying, as Jehosaphat did to Ahab, the ungodly king of old, "I am as thou art." What a stumbling-block such people are to the world! What a dishonour to God, and what a disgrace to Christ and Christianity! The devil hates separation; he seeks by force and guile to oppose it at every step, as Pharaoh sought first by persecution, and next by concessions, to hinder the complete separation of Israel from Egypt, and thus blight their testimony as the people of Jehovah. Moses, with the claims of Jehovah in his heart and in his hand, yielding nothing, claiming everything for God, and demanding that every "hoof" shall cross the Red Sea into the wilderness, the place of separation, is here the type of the believer who has learned God's claims, and will allow nothing to hinder full obedience to all that He has commanded.
Separation from False Professors.
Not only does the Lord command His people to be separate from the world, but from all who bear the Christian name, whose words and ways and works too plainly tell that they are professors but not possessors of Christ. "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away." (2 Timothy 3:5). Under the name of Christianity darker deeds are done than in heathendom. Under the shelter of a Christian profession almost every form of vice and scandal has been perpetrated. It is no guarantee that a man is born of God that he says, "Our Father which art in Heaven," and speaks of Jesus as his Saviour and Lord. "Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" was the word of Christ during His ministry to mere professors, and since then their numbers have enormously increased. It is respectable now to be called a Christian. There is no cross in being a member of the world's churches. The people who go to worship go to dance, and it would be easy to find those who had been at what they call "the Lord's Table" on Sunday around the drunkard's cup or in the gambler's den on Monday. The Christian, the truly born again one, is called to be separate from all this abominable iniquity, on which the judgment of God must shortly fall. His place is to go forth "without the camp" to Christ, "bearing His reproach" (Hebrews 13:12,13), and have no fellowship, no companionship, no intercourse, with those who are the "enemies of the Cross of Christ."
Separation from Holders of Evil Doctrine.
The commandments of the Lord concerning the entire separation of His people from such as hold and teach erroneous doctrine, subversive of the truth of God, are often neglected or lightly esteemed. Evil practice is often an open shame, and for their own sakes believers are not apt to associate with the drunkard or the unclean, even if they once bore the Christian name. But among those who hold and teach erroneous doctrine, overthrowing the faith of God's people (2 Timothy 2:18), many are personally very amiable and lovable persons. That is just where their power for evil lies, and God, who knows them and the leavening character of their words and devices, commands His people to be separate from them (see 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 Timothy 2:16,17). If such a person comes to their house, they are not to receive him or bid him "God speed," because to "greet him" would be, in the reckoning of God, to become "partaker in his evil deeds" (2 John 10,11). Hence the need of separation. In a day of increasing corruptness and departure from the faith, it becomes the people of God to ponder this solemn message of the Lord, and not allow their fleshly love of acquaintance, or kindred, to hinder them from yielding to God that full obedience which He seeks in His people, in their absolute separation from men, whatever their gifts or graces, who preach and teach that which is subversive of the faith and opposed to the truth of God.
Separation from Ecclesiastical Evil.
Not the least in importance — yet, alas! one of the last to be regarded — is the Lord's call to His people who are found in unholy associations, and alliances to "come out from among them, and be ye separate" (2 Corinthians 6:17). This applies very specially to religious associations and church fellowships, where the ungodly are admitted, and where doctrines and practices are tolerated and defended which are opposed to God and His Word (see 2 Timothy 2:18-21). Any circle in which the Word of God is disregarded, its authority set aside, and its power to deal with evils and evil doers rendered inoperative, is clearly no place for one who fears God and desires to obey Christ as Lord. At whatever cost, he must be separate from all that would hinder him from yielding himself up to God as His servant, and from obeying all that the Lord has commanded.
Practical Separation unto God.
Like any other truth of Holy Scripture, this truth of separation may be held and spoken of in theory, apart from the living manifestation of it in the life and ways. To make much of separation from evil doctrine and ecclesiastical evil, and yet to live in other forms of worldliness, is virtually to deny in the life what is taught by the lips. The truly separated one will live as becometh a "saint" at all times and in all circles. His person, his dress, his walk, his home, his business, will all bear the stamp of practical holiness or separation to God.
From Foundation Truths of the Gospel by John Ritchie. 2nd ed. Kilmarnock: Office of "The Believer's Magazine," .
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