In the state in which Christendom is found today, the treading of a path pleasing to the Lord calls for continual self-judgment and earnest prayer to God. It also calls for great patience and tenderness toward those who, though as desirous to walk in a way worthy of the Lord, are nevertheless weak in the faith, and feeble in their apprehension of the will of God. It is a day of great weakness, fleshly activity, indifference regarding the spiritual welfare of the saints, self-esteem, and lack of that love that should always characterize the disciples of our Lord Jesus.
After beholding the violence that often displays itself in our dealings with one another it is not surprising to find saints in disputation over the scriptural way of excluding the erring, without any very evident amount of exercise as to how best to convert the sinner from the error of his way according to the pleasure of God. There are doctors who seem to be more ready to use the knife than to spare the limb, and it has to be admitted that this class can be as easily found amongst doctors of divinity as amongst doctors of medicine. If the limb can be saved, we may be assured that this is most pleasing to the Lord, for by this means we save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins; but if we cannot spare the limb, let the work of dismemberment be done only as the last resource, and let us part with it as feeling the agony with which we would part with one of the members of our natural body.
Whatever the character of the day in which God has been pleased to cast our lot, we have, for the way to behave ourselves, the most implicit instruction. The Corinthians were told to put away from among themselves a wicked person. Yes, but this is direction for the “Church of God,” I may be told, and where are we to find it today? True, it is to the “Church of God” in its collective and concrete character, and this may be impossible to find today; but the epistle is just as individual in its directions as it is in its collective character, for it includes “All that in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” And assuredly it commands me to put a wicked person out of my company. Should those with whom I am associated refuse to obey the plain commandment of the Lord, I cannot be excused if I continue with them and the wicked person. They prove themselves to be as indifferent to the expressed will of the Lord as to the gravity of the sin in their midst. I can do nothing but withdraw from all, or confess myself as disobedient as the others. If one refuse to separate from evil when it is pointed out to him, I fail to see how he could be said to be clear of it himself. One of the charges God brings against Israelites, “When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers” (Ps. 50:28). Evil must be refused; first, in ourselves, and second, in others. Neither wicked doctrine nor wicked conduct can be tolerated.
Those with whom we walk must be such as call on the Lord out of a pure heart; and with these we are to follow righteousness, faith, love, peace (2 Tim. 2:22). Should evil creep in amongst these the Word is plain enough, “Purge out the old leaven.” “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” If reproof and the discipline of the house of God has no effect upon the sinner, excommunication is the only course that can be taken.
In reply to this the objection may be raised that we are not the Church of God, and that we cannot take the ground of being authorized to “bind” or “loose,” that we can only “withdraw” from such a person. But what is withdrawing from the wicked person but putting him away? As I have said, the whole company may take part with the evildoer, and I have no other resource but to leave them. I cannot purge the evil out of the company, but I can purge out myself. But as far as I am concerned the result is the same.
But it is wrong to say that we cannot carry out the commandment in 1 Corinthians 5, unless we can rightly claim to be the Church of God in the place. What then does Paul mean when he puts this obligation upon all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord? Do we not call upon that Name? Are we not addressed in that epistle? Who can deny it? Are we now under another dispensation? Are the commandments of the Lord through His apostle no longer obligatory? But whether you put away the wicked person or withdraw from him, the result is the same, as far as you are concerned.
I should not associate with people who refused to judge evil. The truth is that it is sometimes seen that where saints are occupied with the right way in which they should judge evil, they have no great difficulty in finding a way in which they can judge the good. At this work some have proved themselves adepts.
If people will not judge evil when they know it, I dare not associate with them, even though individuals among them declared they abominated it. The way to show that the evil is really abominated by me is by my leaving all who refuse to judge it. Where saints meet on principles opposed to holiness and truth, I should neither go with them nor receive a letter of commendation from them. How could I tell that the person they commend is not the wicked person himself?
But it may be said that we receive from the various systems of religion those who are godly. Yes, but I should receive no letter commending such from anyone in such associations. Such a person would be received as a godly believer who knew not the evil of the system to which he belonged. If, when it was clearly pointed out to him, he still adhered to it, he should be refused.
I think it is not too much to demand, from any professing to be gathered to the name of the Lord, that they refuse, not only the evil teacher, but all who associate with him. Nothing but this can show that such are clear of the evil.
As long as this dispensation lasts it must be incumbent upon all saints to put out of their midst evildoers. If the gathering where I am refused to do this I must purge myself from it. Let us not waste precious time discussing foolish questions. 2 Timothy 2 describes a state of things which existed in Paul’s day, and to say that in that early hour 1 Corinthians 5 was obsolete is the height of absurdity.