By J.B. Stoney
2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 7: 1
The end of God's discipline is "that we might be partakers of his holiness"; to make us as separate from everything of this world as He is. As born of God, we are sanctified by the truth. The Lord says,
"for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth" - which sanctification, as has been said, is immeasurable.
We are called to a new and singular position, not known or understood by men.
"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons [children] of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not".
When you are established in grace you are called to "present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your intelligent service. And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God".
Now as born of God your tastes are divine, and, as the body is the Lord's, it is subject to Him for direction in everything, as a horse would be subject to its owner.
We are bought with a price, therefore there is a lack of integrity if we swerve in any degree from this; our simple duty is to glorify God in our body, which is His.
If it be His will for us to have employment or relationships or any such claims here, we have to glorify Him in them.
Now nothing diverts us from the perfection of our calling so much as the influence of unspiritual company.
It is not only that a worldly or foolish idea is suggested to yourself, but you see it confirmed by another.
Thus from childhood to old age we are affected by the company we keep; as the old saying goes,
Tell me what company you keep, and I will tell you what you are.
It is only as we keep fresh and vigorous in the position in which we are set by grace, that we are able to detect the harm that comes to us from our own company.
One might say, But I have to do business with men. True, but in business you are not seeking company, and if you keep separate socially, though you may be regarded as silent and austere, you are genuine, and you will be respected in the consciences of those with whom you have to do.
There is most danger for us with our relatives, because we are less on our guard with them; but if we are truly on our guard with them, they will have confidence in us, and will turn to us when in any serious difficulty.
The first thing is to get distinctly before us the danger of being soiled, and thus losing the devotedness which is in itself so enjoyable, and so honoured of God.
Nothing can be more enjoyable than absolute devotedness to One whose goodness, love and worth command your whole heart.
As the Nazarite lost his separation by the touch of a dead bone, so in the sense of such a loss can we appreciate the better the Lord's present service in washing our feet, to keep us fit for His own holy presence.
We see all through Scripture how the man of God is separate from man's thoughts and ways. Abel is not influenced by Cain; he takes a new and distinct path, because he has faith in God.
Faith makes God your Object; man makes himself his object.
The more man can understand his fellows, the more dangerous is the influence. When man at Babel betrayed his desire to be independent of God, confusion of tongues was sent as a check to man's confederacy.
Now when God called out Abram, His word to him was,
"Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee".
No doubt he was detained in Charran by his father's influence, for we read in Acts 7,
"When his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell".
Lot, his brother's son, went with him, but subsequently on his return from Egypt, he determined to be separate from Lot; and "after that Lot was separated from him", the Lord said to 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 for ever", Genesis 13: 14-15.
Our subject is to see how we are influenced by those with whom we associate.
Isaac was influenced by Esau "because he did eat of his venison" - even very small attentions can influence one - and he sought to confer on Esau the blessing which was for Jacob.
He did not lose the truth, but under injurious influence he would misappropriate it; as has been said, We do not lose the truth, but when out of communion we misapply it.
Jacob, after his return to the land, swerves from the path of faith, for he buys a parcel of a field from Shechem; Genesis 33: 18.
No doubt he had bad influence at home for Rachel had idols - Genesis 31: 9 - and his altar, as is always the case, showed his true state, for he called it El-elohe-Israel; he was an object to God, but he had no sense of what was due to God.
Hence in chapter 35, when God tells him to go up to Bethel, he remembers the holiness of God's presence - chapter 28: 17 - though it was twenty years since he was there, and he says to his household:
"Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: and let us arise, and go up to Bethel".
In responding to God's call he got a sense of the exacting nature of God's presence.
I need hardly multiply examples for you. Moses is taught that it is a perilous thing to undertake the Lord's service without a pure conscience.
God sought to slay him because he had not circumcised his sons, all through the influence, no doubt, of his Midianitish wife; Exodus 4: 24-26.
Solomon, the wisest of men, the most highly favoured of God, is turned to false worship by the influence of his wives; 1 Kings 11: 1-5.
Alas, that the man who dedicated the temple of God should disclose such alienation of heart from God!
Israel is warned not to allow any of the inhabitants of the land to remain lest they should become influenced by them - Exodus 34: 12-16 - but instead of driving them out, they made a compromise with them - Judges 2: 2, etc. - and learned their ways and eventually fell under their influence.
When Balaam was not allowed to curse the children of Israel, he taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before them - Revelation 2: 14 - that was, to mingle with them, and thus to corrupt them.
It is remarkable that of all the varied forms of Satan's opposition - Pharaoh, Amalek, Balaam, and the seven nations - we are not warned against any of them in the address to the seven churches, except Balaam's, which sets forth the baneful influence of company, and was the one which was most successful in corrupting the church.
In the foregoing scriptures we are distinctly taught the baneful influence of worldly company. I do not mean having to do with men in business; company is when there is interchange of thought and social intercourse.
If the saint does not at once refuse it, he is influenced by it and sinks to the level of his company, whatever level that may be; and the first evidence of it is, he loses his freshness and vigour, like a tree losing its top shoot.
The first result of Israel's declension was that they had no rain; Deuteronomy 11: 16-17.
It may be helpful to trace a little the serious nature of this snare and the insidious way in which this device of Satan works.
For instance, a christian marries and furnishes his house with the intention of declining the visits of his worldly relatives and acquaintances; this is his intention; but often while the front door is closed to them, they find admittance, so to speak, by the side entrance, and he is eventually swamped imperceptibly to himself by the worldly element, especially if he has means.
The blessedness of the injunction to the bride in Psalm 45 is lost sight of, not only to leave, but to "forget also thine own people, and thy father's house; so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him".
Those who know anything of the blessedness of communion with Christ will soon detect that they have lost ground when they lend their ear to the worldly element in their company; talking of their relations, and the like, they are liable to fall into the snare of the enemy, and they will become unhappy like the bride in Song of Songs 5, until their feet are washed and they are again in communion with the Lord.
It is right to think of our relations, but when we talk of their progress or their interests the worldly element is uppermost.
Many a one is turned aside by adopting a relation or undertaking a responsibility to which God has not appointed him.
It is just the difference between a river and a canal. A river has its natural bed, while a canal is of man's construction and often has a dry dock.
Whenever we see the worldly element in any of our company, especially in a christian, unless we immediately judge it in ourselves, we are sure to become leavened by it.
Many a one goes on happily for years until his family is grown up, and then he gets so interested in their progress and advancement that he is leavened by it, and his worldly prepossession seems to have revived.
Barnabas would not have separated from Paul - Acts 15: 39 - and would not have been carried away by the Jewish element in Peter - Galatians 2: 13 - if he had judged it in himself.
'When you are true to what is new, You grow in beauteous grace; When you decline, and drink old wine, The fool is in your face.'
"A fool ... saith to every one that he is a fool", Ecclesiastes 10: 3.
"No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better", Luke 5: 39.
But the Corinthians are a warning to us; they not only lost sight of what was due to God in His own house, but they were a reproach in every circle, both at home and abroad.
That highly gifted church became so diverted through association with unbelievers that the apostle has to say to them,
"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? "for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
"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.
"Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God", 2 Corinthians 6: 14-18; 7: 1.