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"Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." — II. Corinthians vi. 17, 18.
Two elements, jou perceive, enter into tlie substance of this majestic sentence : a precept and a promise. The strength of the apostle's thought seems to accumulate from period to period, through the preceding passage, till the gathered force of his argument, like a great wave striking the shore, breaks over into a flood of feeling. Having glanced from the earthly tabernacle to the " House not made with hands, eternal in the heavens," from the " light affliction " befalling the " outward " man that faints and perishes, to the " eternal weight of glory " yet invisible, showing how, in every soul that is newcreated in Christ Jesus, " mortality is swallowed up of life," because that " inward man is renewed day by day," and then setting forth the mighty motive to that conversion, viz., that " God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself," He comes at last to that close
point in the process, where he defines the essential contradiction between the spiritual and the earthly man. By a succession of quick, sharp questions, the sword of
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his doctrine cuts asunder the sophistry which would mix up worldly self-will with Christian consecration, and shows the world to be made up of two sorts of persons. " What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness ? "What communion hath light with darkness ? What concord hath Christ with Belial ? What part hath he that believeth with an infidel? What agreement hath the temple of God with idols ? " And then, the crowning conclusion : " Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing, saith the Lord " ; — for it is this '•'Thus saith the Lord''^ that seals the promise. " And I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."
1. There is a precept. In order to a Christian posi2
tion there must be a special act ; an act so personal, positive, and comprehensive, that it determines on which side of one fixed line the rest of our actions shall stand. You may call it by whatever name bears most significance to your own mind ; the Scriptures furnish as great a variety as you can desire : " renewal of the mind " ; "conversion"; "believing on the Lord Jesus Christ " ; "getting a new heart and spirit"; "putting off the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light " ; " forsaking idols" ; "coming out and being separate" ; these are the Biblical terms for a single fact ; and if you can find a term more descriptive of that fact than either of these. Scripture nowhere forbids you to use it, provided you are sure to retain the substance of the thing meant. What is essential is that conscious choice of the soul by which it gathers up its powers, and resolves, — God's grace helping it, as He ever will help, — to be on Christ's side, in this fronting of armies and this awful battle of our life.
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Furthermore, this act of choice is the same deep necessity now that it was when Corinth was corrupting tlie whole East, and the citizens were wasting their manhood with Oriental luxuries and sensuality, and this brave apostle was warning them. The human heart is the same, as to its depravity, and its immortality. The same temptations, with only slight variations in their form, heset men now as then. The same two armies face each other ; believers standing up for Christ Jesus, and unconverted men standing up for themselves ; and there is also the same cowardly company on the margin, trying to be neutral, and trying in vain ; flattering themselves that they can be not exactly for Christ without being exactly against Him, and with just the same success ; fancying that they can carry the credit of being good men without carrying the cross for it ; that they can blur over that eternal dividing line which runs down from the throne of God, where there is a right hand and a left, through every nation, and every city, and congregation, and company, and sometimes between the two that walk arm in arm, or sit in the church side by side. The same two adversaries play their old game for the soul of man. The stake is the same. The strategy and snares, the deceptions and disguises, are the same. We
Americans sail swifter ships, and over wider waters, than were steered from the double-port of that " mistress of the keys of the Peloponnesus " into the Ionian and Egean Seas; but the practices that make all trafiic Christian or unchristian are not far diiferent. Our civil constitution and relations are not those of a colonial dependence on a distant throne ; but the inducements to political fraud, and the robberies perpetrated by parties on the nation, and by selfishness on the State, are little altered by time. Social frivolity may here be
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less stimulated bj climate, and convivial excess may flow through a less public apparatus ; but this only aggravates the shame of those women here that prepare and patronize the frivolity, and those men that encourage the excess. The lires of appetite have not been quenched by our colder skies, or burnt out through eighteen centuries of burning. Tell us, men who are sitting at the heads of these pews, has the love of money, that root of evil, rotted in our northern soil ? or been weeded out ?
Every age brings its new brood of vices and adds to the funded stock ; but very few that have once got a foothold die out. History hardly tells of one extinct species in the flora of guilt. If civilization multiplies the refinements of culture, so does it the refinements of iniquity. Pride remains as obstinate ; self-love as subtle ; envy as adroit ; avarice as grasping ; ambition as unscrupulous ; self-satisfied indifi'erence as stupid ; and worldly enterprise as often " without God in the world." ^ay, and going behind all the moralities of life into the evangelic test lying at the heart of the Gospel, men are just as eager to climb up some other way, instead of entering by the lowly door of " repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." And therefore, what it most concerns us to remember, the responsibility of choice is just as pressing. It is as impossible to evade it and slip into any third way. On one side we must he^ — Christ's or Belial's. Righteousness refuses fellowship with unrighteousness. Light offers no hospitality to darkness. If idols have our hearts' secret worship, the true temple of God shuts its doors upon us. We must touch and handle the unclean thing, or let it alone. "We do assort with the unbelievers, or come out from among them and be separate ; and the Judge knows which we do.
It need not be forgotten that the Church has some-
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times made a mistaken use of this truth. It has done so whenever it has sought to exaggerate the distinction between the world's people and Christ's people, for purposes of self-complacency or self-applause. It has done so whenever it has drawn itself up in phylacteries, and stood, a Pharisee, aloof from the throng of humanity, saying scornfully, " I am holier than thou." It has done so whenever it has made dress, badge, ritual, feeling, professions, the line of distinction, rather than a principle ruling the life. The right way for the Church to distinguish itself from the world is, as its Head distinguished Himself from His countrymen after the flesh, by a purer holiness, and a warmer zeal to help and save the world. Perpetuating its Lord's divine ministry and spirit, it should be as anxious as His own pitying heart was to rescue the lost, to call prodigals home, to redeem publicans and sinners, to undo heavy burdens, to sanctify
children from their childhood, to preach and spread on earth the kingdom of heaven. Christian men should be known from men not Christian by every nobler disposition, every more honorable and lovelier trait, every holier affection and deed. Their peculiar badge ought to be a superior righteousness. Their presence in any company or any market ought to be a presence of calmer temper, of firmer resistance against wrong, of greater loyalty to every principle that lends stability to society, — a presence of kinder forbearance and sweeter compassion, of manlier patience under suffering and of clearer testimony to the suffering that redeemed us on the cross. That is the way the Church, — which is nothing else than the united and organized fellowship of Christian souls, — ought to " come out and be separate." Nevertheless, it will be true, — nay, all the more manifestly will it be true for so glorious a contrast, — that
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there is a distinction, or a " coming out " ; — that mankiiad are of two armies, under two leaders ; that out8
ward decency cannot be taken for inward renewal, selfcultivation for the upward-looking faith which works by love and through Christ receives the Spirit.
Till each individual soul, in the deliberation of a solemn election, has chosen to clear itself of all entangling alliances with the one of these two opposing forces, and pledged itself to the other, — so passing out of the natural life into the spiritual, — how can it imagine it is safe ? If God is almighty, His will perfect, and His word true, it cannot be safe.
Both a beginning, then, and a continuing; both a revolution and a habit ; both a new principle and a new life, is this great decisive act of the Christian. A coming out from irreligious associations is one part; it implies energy of purpose kindled by faith. Being separate implies the maintenance of the ground thus taken against all opponents, whether they frown or laugh, sneer or slight, reason or threaten. " Come out" from the bonds of vicious compliance and ungodly habit is a call to the courage and faith of the awakened heart. "Be separate" from sin i« a command to the persevering will. " Touch not " the renounced pollu9
tion is an adjuration to the sanctified conscience. And these are the three daily heroisms in the discipline of the soldier of Jesus Christ.
2. But we are not left with the severity of the commandment. To the sternness of the law is added afterwards the tenderness of grace. If man will do his part, God does His. Already, in the renewing, God has done more than man. For it is God that worketh within His work, as much " to will as to do," — prompting the holy desires, and stirring the stagnant fountain. " No
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man can come to Me," — can begin to come, can so much as desire or resolve to " come out," — " except the Father who hath sent Me draw him." But now the soul, having turned its face heavenward, has got light enough to grow conscious of this in- working Spirit. When that dinner of husks is fairly ended, and the prodigal's penitence has directed his feet towards home, — the first form his lifted eyes see is his father's — meeting him
" while yet a great way off." For the wanderer that went out sullen and rebellious, there is a home and forgiveness there. An infinite benediction falls on the returning child ; you feel the power of the promise : " I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."
This is that fulness of acceptance which is reserved for the favored hours of the true believer. Do not be ignorant, brethren, that it is possible, that it is reasonable, that it is according to every law of our spiritual nature and the high expectations of the Gospel : never to be sought as a provision of mere comfort ; not to cast any heart into dejection or despair because God's time for giving it, or yours for knowing how to use it, has not yet fully come, but a real state when the character is ripened for it, and the providential conditions are fulfilled. "Whensoever that solemn choice we have been contemplating has not only been taken; when the deliberate consecration has not only lifted the soul out from under the poor servitude to its improvident passions ; but when that entire submission has been reached which bows to the Lord's will, not for the sake of any
rewards, but for His own sake, and because the heart has enough in having Him, — then does enter this peace which passes understanding, and which the world other-
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wise knows nothing of. Then the Christian life does grow cheerful and affectionate, — cheerful, without losing anything of its earnestness, — affectionate, without losing anything of its reverence. So actually wrote a consecrated child of pain, whom I knew, who had been lying on a bed, and in one position on it, more than twenty years, most of that time in keen distress, and there rising into a victory of faith where she could say, " God must have loved me very much, or He would not have brought me to this life of suffering." Then God does veritably speak, and the voice is, " I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."
Sons and daughters ! What a power of personal endearment is lodged in that particularity of speech !
E^ot " children," merely, losing individual consolation in the generality of the family ! God uses names that come nearer to personal affection, and meet a personal want. He calleth His own by name. Every individual man, struggling under his own load, combatting his own hardships, can say, " My God, thou art my Father." Every woman, suffering under her own untold trial, and praying for rest out of a sensitive heart full of misery, is suffered to hear God promising, " Thou shalt be My daughter." And so I have known of such an one, stricken with the long sorrow of a dreadful bereavement, and bowed down for years in that darkness which can behold no pardon and no heaven, from which she could in no wise lift up herself, at last, on hearing these strong and tender syllables of the text, suddenly to be called back again to the light, and to be comforted thenceforth. " Is it so ? " said the mourner ; " has God, the unchangeably True, said it ? and shall I not believe His word ? Shall it not comfort me ? Shall I not give all to Him,
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and he His daughter ? " So the doctrine becomes a doctrine for the heart. Every affection becomes God's cheerful servant. The whole soul is the filial instrument of tliat Father Almighty.
" Almighty." Mark the special pledge, secured, too, in that word. It is added now, as if so boundless an offer might be distrusted. And whereas it was the Lord that said " Come," it is the Lord Almighty^ with His Omnipotence the guaranty of His promise, that says, "Ye shall be My sons and my daughters." Of the spiritual power of a communion so tender and so holy, consciously established between any soul and God, there must be distinct, practical results upon character, — confirming, supporting, quickening.
1. Confirming; — and chiefly by fostering in the heart a keener abhorrence of sin. Under the witnessing of that Divine Guest, impurity, selfishness, uncharitableness, grow insupportably hateful. If the heart is ever recommitted to its old mastery, in any moment of surprise or weakness, it rebounds with disgust to its duty, saying with St. Paul, " It is no more I that did it," but " the former sin " clinging to me and shaming me. Sharper14
sighted sentinels are set to guard the secret avenues whereby passion used to storm the conscience. Watchmen are appointed to keep the unclean thing off so far from the desires that the fingers cannot reach it if they would. A son, harboring vile companions during the visits of the Infinite, Parental Purity, which finds stains on spotless skies ! A daughter, insulting the Father of Eternal Truth, who has become her Father, by vanities and deceits ! — the offence feels too monstrous now. With every fresh backsliding, a bolder resistance is offered, till victory begins to lift its banners into the morning sky.
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"Then every tempting form of sin, Awed by Thy presence, disappears. And all the glowing, raptured soul, The likeness it contemplates wears."
2. Supporting; — by supplying heavenly arms under tlie agitations of sorrow. If. God, who holds the waters
of all afflictions, like the oceans that swing their waves from continent to continent, in the hollow of His hand, who hears every cry wherewith deep calls to deep in that unsounded sea, the heart of man, — if this God, whose pity enfolds the suffering universe, and whose Spirit is the Comforter, calls me His son, what are the terrors that can harm me ? On the bosom of Everlasting Help shall not grief itself feel safe ? And even if the present agonizing discords, or desolating separations, make patience tremble, will not this indwelling Father show His sons and daughters what one of them, he who wrote the " Holy Living and Dying," saw by the vision of faith, — " glories standing behind the curtain, to which they cannot come but by passing through the cloud, and being wet by the dew of heaven and the waters of affliction ; — days without night, joys without sorrow, society without envying, possession without fear, charity without stain, sanctity without sin " ? All consolations for the bereaved are gathered into this one : " I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."
3. Quickening; — by fresh spiritual communications out of His own fulness, giving to your growing holiness
an increasing power of life. Let all pretensions to piety be brought to that unerring test. Let all hypocrisy be sifted by that fan in the hands of the Searcher of hearts. Let all sincerity be vindicated and honored by that noblest witness to a living faith, — holiness of life. No
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sacramental professions, no imposition of official hands, no temple ceremonies, no repetition of a creed, can bring a vintage from the bramble-bush. It is said that there is a pagan people in the East who trample on the cross, in resentment for the unchristian cruelties and robberies of nominal Christians. Every willing inconsistency in a disciple wrongs the faith of the Church, and so tramples on the cross. Think not to recommend your religion by bending it to the low maxims, or accommodating it to the doubtful practices, of an unbelieving world. Kather come out and be separate. Be content to drink of your Master's cup, and to be baptized with His baptism. Abide in Him ! And may He abide in you!
"That mystic word of Thine, Sovereign Lord I Is all too pure, too high, too deep, for me. Weary with striviHg, and with longing faint, We breathe it back again in prayer to Thee I Abide in us ! O'ershadow, by Thy love, Each half-formed purpose, each dark thought of sin. Quench, ere it rise, each selfish, low desire, And cleanse our souls with Thy refining fire! Touch Thou, and tune each heart, Hand Divine I Till every note and string shall answer Thine."
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