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IN WHAT SENSE WE ARE TO LEAVE THE
2 CORINTHIANS VI. 17, 18. “ Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the
LORD, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will
receive you: “And I will be to you a Father, and ye shall be my sons
and daughters, saith the LORD ALMIGHTY.”
1. HOW exceedingly few, in the religious world, have duly considered these solėmin words! We have read them over and over, but never laid them to heart, or observed that they contain as plain and express a command as any in the whole Bible. And it is to be feared, there are still fewer that understand the general meaning of this direcţión. Numberless persons in England have interpreted it as a command to come out of the Established Church. And in the same sense it has been understood by thousands in the neighbouring kingdoms, Abundance of sermons have been preached, and of books written upon this suppo sition. And indeed many pious men have grounded their separation from the Church, chiefly on this text.
« God himself,” say they, “ commands us, 'Come out from among them, and be ye separate.' And it is only upon this condi, tion that he will receive us, and we shall be the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty.”
2. But this interpretation is totally foreign to the design of the Apostle, who is not here speaking of this or that Church, but on quite another subject. Neither did the Apostle himself, nor any of his brethren, draw any such inference from the words. Had they done so, it would have been a flat contradiction, both to the example and precept of their Master. For although the Jewish Church was then full as unclean, as unholy, both inwardly and outwardly, as any Christian Church now upon earth, yet our Lord constantly attended the service of it. And he directed his followers in this, as in every other respect, to tread in his steps. This is clearly implied in that remarkable passage,
6 The Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: all, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do: but do not ye after their works; for they say and do not,” Matt. xxiii. 1. Even though they themselves say and do not, though their lives contradict their doctrines, though they were ungodly men, yet our Lord here not only permits, but requires his disciples to hear them. For he requires them to.“ observe and do what they say:" but this could not be, if they did not hear them. Accordingly the Apostles, as long as they were at Jerusalem, constantly attended the public service. Therefore, it is certain these words have no reference to a separation from the Established Church.
3. Neither have they reference to the direction given by the Apostle, in his first Epistle to the Corinthians. The whole passage runs thus : “ I wrote unto you in an Epistle, not to company with fornicators. Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolators, for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you, not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother, be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one no not to eat," ch. v. 9-11. This wholly relates to them that are members of the same Christian community. The Apostle tells them expressly, He does not give this direction, not to company with such and such persons, with regard to the heathens or to men in general: and adds this plain account, “ For then must ye needs go out of the world :" you
could transact no business in it. “ But if any man that is called a brother," that is, connected with you in the same religious Society, “be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one, no not to eat.”. How important a caution is this ! But how little is it observed, even by those that are, in other respects, conscientious Christians! Indeed some parts of it are not easy to be observed, for a plain reason; they are not easy to be understood. I mean, it is not easy to be understood, to whom the characters belong. It is very difficult, for instance, to know, unless in some glaring cases, to whom the character of an extortioner, or of a covetous man belongs. We can hardly know one or the other, without seeming, at least, to be “ busy bodies in other men's matters.” And yet the prohibition is as strong concerning converse with these, as with fornicators or adulterers. We can only act in the simplicity of our hearts, without setting up for infallible judges, (still willing to be better informed,) according to the best light we have.
But although this direction relates only to our Christian brethren, (such, at least, by outward profession,) that in the text is of a far wider extent; it, unquestionably, relates to all mankind. It clearly requires us, to keep at a distance, as far as is practicable, from all ungodly men. Indeed it seems, the word which we render unclean thing, T8 axs taptov, might rather be rendered unclean person ; probably alluding to the Ceremonial Law, which forbad touching one that was legally unclean. But even here, were we to understand the expression literally, were we to take the words in the strictest sense, the same absurdity would follow; we must needs, as the Apostle speaks, “ go out of the world.” We should not be able to abide in those callings, which the Providence of God has assigned us. Were we not to converse at all with men of those characters, it would be impossible to transact our temporal busi,
So that every conscientious Christian would have nothing to do but to flee into the desart. It would not suffice, to turn recluses, to shut ourselves up in monastaries or nunneries : for even then we must have some intercourse with ungodly men, in order to procure the necessaries of life.
5. The words, therefore, must necessarily be understood, with considerable restriction. They do not prohibit our conversing with any man, good or bad, in the way of worldly business. A thousand occasions will occur, wherein we must converse with them, in order to transact those affairs which cannot be done without them. And some of these may require us to have frequent intercourse with drunkards, or fornicators : yea, sometimes it may be requisite for us to spend a considerable time in their company: otherwise we should not be able to fulfil the duties of our several callings. Such conversation, therefore, with men, holy or unholy, is no way contrary to the Apostle's advice.
6. What is it then which the Apostle forbids? First, The conversing with ungodly men, when there is no necessity, no providential call, no business, that requires it: Secondly, The conversing with them more frequently than business necessarily requires : Thirdly, The spending more time in their company than is necessary to finish our business: above all, Fourthly, the choosing ungodly persons, however ingenious or agreeable, to be our ordinary companions, or to be our familiar friends. If any instance of this kind will admit of less excuse than others, it is that which the Apostle expressly forbids elsewhere, The being
uñequally yoked with an unbeliever” in marriage: with any person that has not the love of God in his heart, or at least, the fear of God before his eyes. I do not know any thing that can justify this: neither the sense, wit, or beauty of the person : nor temporal advantage; nor fear of want; no, nor even the command of a parent. For if any parent command what is contrary to the Word of God, the child ought to obey God rather than man.
7. The ground of this prohibition is laid down at large in the preceding verses. “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? What communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial : Or what part hath he that believeth with an unbeliever?” (Taking that word in the extensive sense, for him that hath neither the love nor fear of God:) “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.” It follows, “Wherefore, come out from among them;" the unrighteous, the children of darkness, the sons of Belial, the unbelievers : “And be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing," or person, “and I will receive you."
8. Here is the ground of this prohibition, to have any more intercourse with unholy men than is absolutely necessary. There can be no profitable fellowship between the righteous and the unrighteous; as there can be no .communion between light and darkness ; (whether you understand this of natural or spiritual darkness.) As Christ can have no concord with Belial, so a believer in him can have no concord with an unbeliever. It is absurd to imagine, that any true union or concord should be between two persons, while one of them remains in darkness, and the other walks in the light. They are subjects, not only of two separate, but of two opposite kingdoms. They act upon quite different principles : they aim at quite different ends. It will necessarily follow, that frequently, if not always, they will walk in different paths. How can they walk together, till they are agreed ?-Until they both serve either Christ or Belial :
9. And what are the consequences of our not obeying this direction? Of our not coming out from among unholy men? Of not being separate from them, but contracting or continuing a familiar intercourse with them? It is probable, it will not immediately have any apparent, visible ill consequences. It is hardly to be expected, that it will immediately lead us into any outward sin. Perhaps it may not presently occasion our neglect of any outward