Bearing in mind these characteristic differences between the Jewish camp and the Christian company, we can easily test the great religious systems of Christendom. Do these systems bear the characteristics of the camp or of Christianity? Alas, beyond all question, the truth compels us to admit that they are framed after the pattern of the camp. They have their worldly sanctuaries, and have their special order of ordained priests standing between the people and God. Moreover, these systems as such cannot give a purged conscious or approach to God in heaven itself (their worship was through earthly things and not open to God until Christ—NC). They recognize man in the flesh; they appealed to man in the flesh; they are so constituted as to embrace man in the flesh (instead of as a spiritual being—NC), and hence in these systems there is no reproach (no suffering for God or man - Heb 13:13—NC).
Are we to conclude then that such systems are the camp? Strictly speaking they are not. In one sense they are worse than the camp, inasmuch as they are merely imitations framed after the pattern of the camp, with certain Christian adjuncts (those who would try to duplicate the camp or Judaism—NC). In its inception the camp was set up by God, and in its corruption it was set aside by God (Heb 10:9—NC). These great systems have been originated by men (much of Judaism has been added by man in the law—NC), though, admittedly, oftentimes most sincere and pious men, acting with the best of intentions. It follows that if the exhortations to Jewish believers is to go forth without the camp, how much more incumbent is it upon the believer of today to go forth outside that which is merely an imitation of the camp (there are those who continue to mimic Judaism, though God has ended the Law - Heb 10:9—NC).
A difficulty, however, arises in the minds of many from the fact that numbers of true Christians are found in these great religious systems. It is argued “can it be wrong to remain in systems in which there are many true devoted Christians?” In reply to this difficulty we may ask, “Are we to be governed by what Christians do, or by what God says?” Surely obedience to God’s Word is the supreme obligation of every believer. If others have not the light of that Word, or the courage to face the reproach and suffering that obedience may entail, are we, therefore to remain in a position that the Word of God condemns? Surely not!
It is not for us to judge the motives that hold many from going forth. Ignorance of the truth, lack of simple faith, the fear of man, the dread of consequences, the prejudices of religious training and associations, not to speak of more sordid motives, may hold many back. Perhaps, however, the most powerful influence to hold saints in these systems is the natural dread that we all have of being in reproach (opposed to the Truth—NC). To take a place outside the great religious systems of Christendom in company with a rejected Christ, and the poor and weak and despised of this world, entails reproach. From this every one shrinks (but does what they can for the Truth in spite of the difficulties—NC).
Is there then no power that will enable us to overcome this shrinking from reproach? Surely there is! Does it not lie in affection for the Lord Jesus? Hence the Word is, “Set your affection on things above”; “Let us go forth therefore unto Him.” This word is of the first importance, for it gives us a positive reason for leaving the camp order of things (“camp,” unbelievers—NC). Going forth from that which we have learned to be evil is merely negative (without Christ—NC), and no one can live on negatives. “Going forth without the camp unto Him” does indeed involve separation from evil, but it is much more; it is separation unto Christ. It is a separation that gives us a positive object.
However, apart from having the Lord Jesus as an object, the act of separation would be sectarian: it would simple be leaving one camp and seeking to make an improved camp. This, indeed, is the actual history of the great dissenting movements. True Christians are awakened to the evil and corruption of that with which they were connected, and they laid hold of certain important truths: forthwith they broke their connection and formed a party to protest against evil and to maintain a truth. This, however, is only to form another camp, which in process of time becomes as evil as the camp they originally left.
However precious the truth, be it the truth of the Lord’s coming, the truth of the presence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or the truth of the one Body, if we separate from the religious systems around simply to maintain these great truths, we are only forming sects (putting forth truths but ignorantly not putting Christ first—NC). On every hand we see this has been done. Christians are exercised as to holiness, and directly they form a holiness movement; they are awakened as to the reality of the Holy Spirit, and they must needs frame a Pentecostal movement; they are awakened as to the truth that the Lord is coming, and they from a second advent movement; they lay hold of the truth of the one Body, and they drift into a sect to maintain this great truth.
There is one way, and only one way, whereby we can be kept in separation from evil, and maintain the truth without sectarianism, and that is by going forth “unto Him” (by not being too preoccupied with the things that concern Christ, which can detract from our putting Him first—NC). He is the Head of the Body, and all religious systems are the outcome of not holding the Head. There is much meaning and rich instruction, as well as solemn warning in that great Word of the Lord, “He that gathereth not with Me scattereth” (Luke 11:23).
In conclusion, John Darby said, “It is not Christians but Christ who is become God’s center. We may gather Christians together, but if it is not the Lord Jesus Christ in one’s spirit, it is scattering. God knows no center of union but His Beloved Son. It is Himself the object, and nothing but Christ can be the center. Whatever is not gathering around that center, for Him and from Him, is scattering (till we get back to putting Him first—NC). We are by nature so essentially sectarian, that we have need to watch against this. I cannot make Christ the center of my efforts if He is not the center of my heart and mind.
—Hamilton Smith (1862-1943)
MJS daily devotional for July 13 (please let me know if you are usually using this devotional. Thanks and God bless!)
As the plant to the sun, we look to the Son for growth! -MJS
“What is the good of a man being ennobled, made a prince of, if he feels he has gained no more or sensible acquisition by it? This is the disappointment which souls feel without being able to account for it; and they are subject to nights of wrestling, because they have rested in their grand title, instead of in the means of supporting their titles, which is dependence on, and ever deepening acquaintance with, the One who has conferred them.” - James Butler Stoney (1814-1897)
“I cannot conceive anything more satisfying or cheering to the heart than the consciousness that I may not only draw near, but that I draw near in answer to the thought and interest that the Lord Jesus has about me, and that I draw nigh to enjoy myself in His presence where there is so much thought and interest about me. It is there my heart goes out in acknowledgment of Him in answer to His deep, gracious, and everlasting love.”
“By means of the Word, look to the Lord Jesus in faith. Exercise the blessed trust that He is yours, and that He has given Himself to you, and that you have a claim to all that is in Him. It is His purpose to work out His image in you. Behold Him with the joyful and certain expectation: the glory that I behold in Him is destined for me!” –Andrew Murry (1828-1917