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Footsteps of the Flock (Part 7)

Author, expositor, preacher and missionary John Matthias Davies (1895-1990), whose collected writings span nearly 1,500 pages, was mightily used of God to bring blessing to those who heard him and those who still read his works. His exceptional gift for effective and powerful exposition of the Word of God was never more clearly seen than in his “Footsteps of the Flock” book, chapter 7 of which is reproduced below. 

Footsteps of the Flock

Part 7

Separation – The False and the True

The word for separation (aphorizo) is used in the following New Testament passages: Matt 13:49, 25:32, Luke 6:22, Acts 13:2, 19:9, Rom 1:1, 2 Cor 6:7, Gal 1:5 and 2:12. A glance at these passages will reveal that it is God which effectually separates. Paul speaks of himself as having been separated by God. But a consideration of these passages will also reveal the possibility of a false separation, a thing which needs to be carefully guarded against. To look at a few instances of this false kind will be of help to us before we consider the character of a scriptural and true separation.

Lot from Abraham – Gen 13:14

Lot was Abraham’s nephew and had left Ur of the Chaldees with his uncle. Nothing is recorded as to what actuated Lot to take such a step. But it was not long before this man who seems to have just gone with Abraham, without very definite dealings with God about his path, left the path of the stranger and pilgrim, the path of fellowship with Abraham, for the well watered plains of Sodom. The highlands of pilgrimage were forsaken for the lowlands of world-conformity. It was a quarrel between the herdmen that succeeded in separating these two pilgrims – a quarrel over earthy possessions. Lot should have been prepared to sacrifice everything for the sake of the fellowship of Abraham, and as the younger he should have been subject to the elder. But the prospects of a good place for cattle was of more consequence to him than fellowship with the man of faith. Yet when he finally had to flee Sodom, it was as a pauper, without these “earthly things” that had seemingly been the cause for his separation from Abraham. The very things he desired to maintain he lost and more besides. His herdmen must have perished in the plains of Sodom, and his family grew up to disgrace him. A false separation is costly. If it costs to walk in the narrow path it will eventually cost more to walk in the broad path of coveting earthly things and conformity to worldly principles.

Heber from the rest of the Kenites – Judges 4:11

The Kenites were a remarkable people, and that which is recorded of them is full of instruction for God’s people today. They were a pilgrim people. They preferred the wilderness to the city of palm trees – the place of the curse (Judges 1:16). In the days of Jeremiah, their descendants, the Rechabites are made an object lesson to reprove the people of Israel (Jer 35:6-10). They would drink no wine and would live as strangers in tents in obedience to the word of their father. But this man Heber seems to have had a quarrel with his fellow-Kenites and consequently separated himself from them and had pitched his tent in the valley of Zaanaim, near Kedesh. And they showed Sisera that Barak had gone up Mount Tabor (Judges 4:11-12). What the reason was that made him do such a thing we are not told. Being alone he might have been afraid of Sisera, or might have been glad of the opportunity for revenge and and made it easy for the enemy to pursue God’s people. His wife seems to have been made of better material, and when Sisera sought refuge in her tent later in the day, she treated him as an enemy.

A believer that is out of touch with his brethren is a danger. He will not find it difficult to betray the Lord’s people to the enemy’s hands. The record of Heber is a very brief one but a very sad one, and in the history of the church there has been many a Heber, and sad have been the episodes connected with their tents. May the Lord in grace deliver us from such a record. Let brotherly love continue is a much needed exhortation.

Peter from the Antiochan believers – Gal 2:12

“For before that certain came from James, Peter did eat with the Gentiles, but when they were come, he withdrew, and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision, and the other Jews dissembled likewise with him, insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation [hypocrisy].”

Peter seems to have gone to Antioch and as long as there was no one from Jerusalem there, he enjoyed most happy fellowship with the saints. But as soon as some came from James, Peter began to fear, and separated himself. Peter had had on a previous occasion a rather difficult experience with the church at Jerusalem. He had received a special invitation to go to the house of Cornelius, and the Lord had shown him that he should not call that which God had cleansed unholy or unclean, and in accordance with the word of God Peter went to preach at the house of Cornelius.

The Lord graciously granted blessing, the Spirit of God was poured forth in a special manner, and God was glorified. But when Peter returned to Jerusalem he was obliged to give quite an apology before those who were of the circumcision. He rehearsed the matter from the beginning and expounded it by order to them (Acts 11:4). They finally held their peace and glorified God. However it must have been a rather difficult experience for Peter, and possibly he did not wish to have to give a similar apology again when he would return from Antioch, so in order to avoid that seeming difficulty he withdrew from the Gentiles, and by his action influenced others also. But by avoiding trouble with James he courted trouble with Paul, and of the two, one would prefer to meet the ones that came from James with their opposition than to meet Paul. Peter finally succeeded in convincing the church at Jerusalem that it was wrong to call that which God has cleansed unholy or unclean, but he had no apology to make to Paul for his action, though he was blameworthy. Earthly tradition and the fear of man was the cause for this false separation, a separation which will be found blameworthy at the judgment seat of Christ. Is it not possible that we keep aloof from fellowship with Christians and groups of Christians simply because we are afraid of what our friends might think of us? The individual responsibility of the servant of the Lord is important to apprehend. To call that which God has cleaned unholy and unclean is tantamount to the assumption of superior holiness, and savours of the separation of the Pharisee.

Barnabas and Paul – Acts 15:39

What yokefellows in the gospel these two had been. Barnabas was a good man we are told, and evidently a man of much grace, a true son of consolation. Paul exceeded in gift and Barnabas gladly yielded to him the place of the leader. Together they had gone with the gospel into new territory and new fields, and had been enabled to establish churches. What joy must have filled the hearts of the Lord’s people at Antioch when they returned and told them of how the door of faith was opened to the Gentiles. But in Scripture the record of success is often followed by the record of defeat. The enemy, who knew the value of these two labourers labouring together, watched his opportunity to separate them. He who used earthly possessions to separate Lot from Abraham, and earthly tradition to separate Peter and the others from Gentile converts, was soon to use earthly relationships to separate these two fellow-workers. Their contention arose over John Mark, who was nephew to Barnabas (col 4:10). When they had set out on their first journey they took him with them, but as he was not called of God to go, he soon left them and returned home. Now as they were setting out on their second journey Barnabas desired to take John with them again, but the Apostle would not hear of it. He would act on the principle that he that putteth his hand to the plough and turneth back is not worthy of the kingdom. The “son of consolation”, however, would become a son of compromise for the sake of his nephew. This was the cause of their contention and their ultimate separation. So Barnabas took John Mark and sailed to Cyprus. We are not told that he was commended by the brethren as Paul was. He seems to have acted in self-will, hence nothing more is recorded of him in the Acts, although the Apostle makes reference to him in the later epistles and also to John Mark. These later references would convey that the breach recorded in Acts 15 was healed. But it is a sad episode, and one that has been repeated often since. Families have taken sides because of a relation whom they think has been wrongly treated and whom they would desire to treat very leniently.

False separation may generally be attributed to one of these three reasons. Earthly possessions, earthly tradition and the fear of man, or earthly relationships. May the Lord in His grace deliver us from walking in a path of separation marked out by ourselves rather than by the Word of God.

THE TRUE NATURE OF SEPARATION.

It is well to enquire as to the true nature of separation and if we search the Scriptures we shall not search in vain. In the second Epistle to Timothy, the second chapter it is very clearly revealed, and strongly emphasised. Both the positive and negative aspects are lucidly shown to the young servant Timothy.

“No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life that he may please Him that hath chosen him to be a soldier”(v4). Here it is separation to the Person of Christ in view of the “well done enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” What a motive for separation, “that he may please Him.” No higher motive can be found and any separation which is not primarily a separation to the Lord will become legal and Pharisaical.

“If a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned except he strive lawfully” (v5). In this verse, where the servant of the Lord is spoken of as an athlete, his separation is separation to the word, the rules and regulations of the game. This is in view of the crown to be won, the reward to be obtained at the judgment seat of Christ.

“The hushandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruit” (v6). Here it is separation to his work in view of the joy of harvest. A barren ministry is to be a shame to him. He is to patiently and expectantly look for a harvest, remembering that as the “seed of David is risen from the dead”, so the seed of the Word of God sown in the hearts of men has life in itself and will yet bring forth fruit.

As a workman he is to deal honestly with the word of Truth. Not to try to make Scripture teach what it does not in order to suit his convenient doctrine. He is to shun false teaching and purge himself from false teachers. Here we are given the negative aspect of his separation. The whole portion dealing with separation from false teachers seems to have reference to the gainsaying of Korah as recorded in Num 16:26. This is so important that it deserves more than a passing reference. We shall draw attention to three portions of Scripture that show what the servant is to separate from:

1. From a false object of worship (Exod 32:26)

Moses was commanded to go down from the Mount, and when he came down he found that the people had made a golden calf and were bowing down before it, saying, “These be thy gods, O Israel.” They had returned to the worship of the Egyptians, who worshipped bulls and calves. They had returned to idolatry. Hence Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come unto me.” The record says that all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. They took sides with God against the nation. This was not easy, it was “contrary to nature”, but they were rewarded for it in that they were chosen to stand before the Lord and minister unto Him. Israel was intended to be a nation of priests, but they failed, and the tribe of Levi is chosen, seemingly by virtue of their allegiance to the Lord at that time of crisis in their history. Israel had lost sight of the Man that had gone into the presence of God for them, and said, “We know not what has become of him.” This resulted in an earthly worship, from which those who afterwards were chosen to be servants separated themselves.

2. From a false system (Num 16:26)

“…And they rose up before Moses with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown. And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, ‘Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord’.”

In the New Testament this is spoken of as “the gainsaying of Korah.” It was a serious rebellion and had very disastrous results. These princes, men of renown, were under the leadership of Korah – a Levite – one who was privileged to work in connection with the Tabernacle under the jurisdiction of the High Priest. With this service and position he was not satisfied, but desired the priesthood also. He wanted to intrude himself into a position of honour that the Lord had given to Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron together represent the Lord Jesus Christ as the Apostle and High Priest of our profession. The one brought God’s message to them, and the other went into the sanctuary on their behalf. The Levites typify the believer in his position as servant, serving under the authority and government of the High Priest. More especially they represent those who have by the Lord Himself been separated to the work of the ministry of the gospel. The iniquity of these men was visited with swift punishment, but before the judgment took place, Moses said unto the congregation “Depart I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men and touch nothing of their’s, lest ye be consumed in all their sins.” Their sin finds its antitype today in “clerisy” and “priestcraft”, that system which exalts a man who is only a servant into the position of preeminence that God has given to His Son. In the priestcraft of Rome the sin is seen fully developed, but clerisy in all of its varied forms comes from the same root. It is the sin of the “servant” or “minister” intruding himself into a position which the Word of God never gives him.

The very fact these were great men, men of renown, assured for them many followers, but they led their followers to an awful doom (v33). Solemn warning, but unheeded by thousands even today. As long as the minister “is a scholarly man, well taught in the schools of human learning, what he says is decisive, irrespective of what the Word of God says.

Clerisy with its attendant ritualism is something from which the true believer should “depart”, that thereby he might be a vessel unto honour. Separation from such may be “contrary to nature” as was the case with the sons of Korah who died not (Num 26:11). They obeyed the Word of God rather than take sides with their father. For this they were afterwards rewarded. Psalms 42-49, and others, were written for the sons of Korah. They were over the service, keepers of the gate: over the host of the Lord, keepers of entry (1 Chron 9:19). Separation may be costly but it has its sure compensations.

3. From a false centre (1 Kings 13:8-16)

Jeroboam had erected an altar in Bethel, and had burned incense upon it. God had only one centre of worship under the old economy, and that was Jerusalem. But Jeroboam thought it was too much for the people to go to Jerusalem, so he established a calf in Bethel and a calf in Dan. Thereby he turned the people of Israel aside from the God-given centre, the place where the Lord had chosen to place His name. To carry on his false worship he ordained priests of the common people, and invented feast days of his own. Thus he established a worship with a false object, false centre, false priests and false feasts. Against this the Lord sent a messenger. In obedience to the Word of God the messenger went and delivered his message, but when asked to eat bread and drink water, he refused, saying he could not do so in that place. Later when the old prophet asked him to do so, he at first refused him too, saying he could not eat with him in that place, implying that he would have no objection to eating with elsewhere. In the Scriptures “eating and drinking” together means fellowship. Whereas the prophet was at liberty to deliver his God-given message in and against that place, he had no liberty to eat and drink there, for thereby he would be showing his fellowship with it.

How many false centres there are today! Instead of gathering alone to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, professing Christians gather to ordinances such as baptism, to some special form of church government, such as Presbyterian, Episcopalian, etc., or to something which perpetuates a man’s name – such as Wesleyan. Along with these false centres there are the false systems of ministerialism and the multiplied holy days, all of which are dishonouring to the Lord. God desires the church to be the standing testimony to the “name which is above every name” and the servant of God is not to countenance that which is contrary to this purpose by having fellowship with sectarianism and denominationalism.

The old prophet finally turned the young man aside from his purpose of heart by saying that he too was a prophet, and that an angel had spoken to him, telling the young man to eat bread and drink water there. “But he lied unto him.” The consequences of turning aside from obedience to what he knew to be the mind of the Lord were sad. He was never given the privilege of delivering another message for the Lord.

Christ the pattern Servant

“The servant of the Lord must not strive.” This sounds the final chord. The servant must be separated to the pattern [of Christ]. He is to be as his Lord, concerning whom we read that “He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets” (Matt 12:19). No self-advertisement, no quarrelsome spirit. How necessary for such an exhortation, for we are often tempted to quarrel for the truth instead of contending for it. It is well to remember that an assembly is not composed of contentious Ishmaelites but contented Israelites. While thus seeking to be separated from evil to the Lord and His word we are to “follow…with them that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart.” This is to be our circle of fellowship.