'Until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be holy.... All the days of his separation he is holy unto the Lord.' -- Num. vi.5, 8.
'Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us therefore go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.' -- Heb. xiii.12, 13.
Separation is not holiness, but is the way to it. Though there can be no holiness without separation, there can be separation that does not lead to holiness. It is of deep importance to understand both the difference and the connection, that we may be kept from the right-hand error of counting separation alone as holiness, as well as the left-hand error of seeking holiness without separation.
The Hebrew word for holiness possibly comes from a root that means to separate. But where we have in our translation 'separate' or 'sever' or 'set apart,' we have quite different words. The word for holy is used exclusively to express that special idea. And though the idea of holy always includes that of separation, it is itself something infinitely higher. It is of great importance to understand this well, because the being set apart to God, the surrender to His claim, the devotion or consecration to His service, is often spoken of as if this constituted holiness. We cannot too earnestly press the thought that this is only the beginning, the presupposition: holiness itself is infinitely more; not what I am, or do, or give, is holiness, but what God is, and gives, and does to me. It is God's taking possession of me that makes me holy; it is the Presence and the glory of God that really makes holy. A careful study of God's words to Israel will make this clear to us. Eight times we find the expression in Leviticus, 'Ye shall be holy, for I am holy.' Holiness is the highest attribute of God, expressive not only of His relation to Israel, but of His very being and nature, His infinite moral perfection. And though it is by very slow and gradual steps that He can teach the carnal darkened mind of man what this means, yet from the very commencement He tells His people that His purpose is that they should be like Himself -- holy because and as He is holy. To tell me that God separates men for Himself to be His, even as He gives Himself to be theirs, tells me of a relation that exists, but tells me nothing of the real nature of this Holy Being, or of the essential worth of the holiness He will communicate to me. Separation is only the setting apart and taking possession of the vessel to be cleansed and used; it is the filling of it with the precious contents we entrust to it that gives it its real value. Holiness is the Divine filling without which the separation leaves us empty. Separation is not holiness.
But separation is essential to holiness. 'I have separated you from other people, and ye shall be holy.' Until I have chosen out and separated a vessel from those around it, and, if need be, cleansed it, I cannot fill or use it. I must have it in my hand, full and exclusive command of it for the time being, or I will not pour into it the precious milk or wine. And just so God separated His people when He brought them up out of Egypt, separated them unto Himself when He gave them His covenant and His law, that He might have them under His control and power, to work out His purpose of making them holy. This He could not do until He had them apart, and had wakened in them the consciousness that they were His peculiar people, wholly and only His, until He had so taught them also to separate themselves to Him. Separation is essential to holiness.
The institution of the Nazarite will confirm this, and will also bring out very clearly what separation means. Israel was meant to be a holy nation. Its holiness was specially typified in its priests. With regard to the individual Israelite, we nowhere read in the books of Moses of his being holy. But there were ordinances through which the Israelite, who would fain prove his desire to be entirely holy, could do so. He might separate himself from the ordinary life of the nation around him, and live the life of a Nazarite, a separated one. This separation was accepted, in those days of shadow and type, as holiness. 'All the days of his separation he is holy unto the Lord.'
The separation consisted specially in three things -- temperance, in abstinence from the fruit of the vine; humiliation, in not cutting or shaving his hair ('it is a shame for a man if he have long hair'); self-sacrifice, in not defiling himself for even father or mother, on their death. What we must specially note is that the separation was not from things unlawful, but things lawful. There was nothing sinful in itself in Abraham living in his father's house, or in Israel dwelling in Egypt. It is in giving up, not only what can be proved to be sin, but all that may hinder the full intensity of our surrender into God's hands to make us holy, that the spirit of separation is manifested.
Let us learn the lessons this truth suggests. We must know the need for separation. It is no arbitrary demand of God, but has its ground in the very nature of things. To separate a thing is to set it free for one special use or purpose, that it may with undivided power fulfil the will of him who chose it, and so realize its destiny. It is the principle that lies at the root of all division of labour; complete separation to one branch of study or labour is the way to success and perfection. I have before me an oak forest with the trees all shooting up straight and close to each other. On the outskirts there is one tree separated from his fellows; its heavy trunk and wide-spreading branches prove how its being separated, and having a large piece of ground separated to its own use, over which roots and branches can spread, is the secret of growth and greatness. Our human powers are limited; if God is to take full possession, if we are fully to enjoy Him, separation to Him is nothing but the simple, natural, indispensable requisite. God wants us all to Himself, that He may give Himself all to us.
We must know the purpose of separation. It is to be found in what God has said, 'Ye shall be holy unto me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the people, that ye should be MINE.' God has separated us for Himself in the deepest sense of the word; that He might enter into us, and show forth Himself in us. His holiness is the sum and the centre of all His perfections; it is that He may make us holy like Himself that He has separated us. Separation never has any value in itself; it may become most wrong or hurtful; everything depends upon the object proposed. It is as God gets and takes full possession of us, as the eternal life in Christ has the mastery of our whole being, as the Holy Spirit flows fully and freely through us, so that we dwell in God, and God in us, that separation will be, not a thing of ordinances and observances, but a spiritual reality. And it is as this purpose of God is seen and accepted and followed after, that difficult questions as to what we must be separated from, and how much sacrifice separation demands, will find an easy answer. God separates from all that does not lead us into His holiness and fellowship.
We need, above all, to know the power of separation, the power that leads us into it in the spirit of desire and of joy, of liberty and of love. The great separating word in human language is the word Mine. In this we have the great spring of effort and of happiness: in the child with its toys, in labour with its gains and rewards, in the patriot who dies for his country, it is this Mine that lays its hand on what it sets apart from all else. It is the great word that love uses. Be it the child that says to its mother, My own mamma, and calls forth the response, My own child; the bridegroom who draws the daughter from her beloved home and parents to become his; or the Holy God who speaks: 'I have separated you from the people, that ye should be Mine;' it is always with that Mine that love exerts its mighty power, and draws from all else to itself. God Himself knows no mightier argument, can put forth no more powerful attraction than this, 'that ye should be Mine.' And the power of separation will come to us, and work in us, just as we yield ourselves to study and realize that holy purpose, to listen to and appropriate that wondrous Mine, to be apprehended and possessed of that Almighty Love.
Let us study step by step the wondrous path in which Divine Love does it separating work. In redemption it prepares the way. Israel is separated from Egypt by the blood of the Lamb and the guiding pillar of fire. In its command, 'Come out and be separate,' it wakens man to action; in its promises, 'I will be your God,' it stirs desire and strengthens faith. In all the holy saints and servants of God, and at last in Him who was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, it points the way. In the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Holiness, it seals the separation by the Presence of the Indwelling God. This is indeed the power of separation. The separating power of the Presence of God; this it is we need to know. 'Wherein now shall it be known that I have found grace in Thy sight, I and Thy people?' said Moses: 'is it not in that Thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and Thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.' It is the consciousness of God's Indwelling Presence, making and keeping us His very own, that works the true separateness from the world and its spirit, from ourselves and our own will. And it is as this separation is accepted and prized and persevered in by us, that the holiness of God will enter in and take possession. And we shall realize that to be the Lord's property, a people of His own, is infinitely more than merely to be accounted or acknowledged as His, that it means nothing less than that God, in the power and indwelling of the Holy Ghost, fills our being, our affections, and our will with His own life and holiness. He separates us for Himself, and sanctifies us to be His dwelling. He comes Himself to take personal possession by the indwelling of Christ in the heart. And we are then truly separate, and kept separate, by the presence of God within us.
BE YE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.
O my God! who hast separated me for Thyself, I beseech Thee, by Thy mighty power, to make this Divine separation deed and truth to me. May within, in the depths of my own spirit, and without, in all my intercourse, the crown of separation of my God be upon me.
I pray Thee especially, O my God, to perfect in power the separation from self! Let Thy Presence in the indwelling of my Lord Jesus be the power that banishes self from the throne. I have turned from it with abhorrence; oh, my Father, reveal Thy Son fully in me! it is His enthronement in my heart can keep me as Thy own, as Himself takes the place of myself.
And give me grace, Lord, in my outward life to wait for a Divine wisdom, that I may know to witness, for Thy glory and for what Thy people need, to the blessedness of an entire giving up of everything for God, a separation that holds back nothing, to be His and His alone.
Holy Lord God! visit Thy people. Oh, withdraw Thou them from the world and conformity to it. Separate, Lord, separate Thine own for Thyself. Separate, Lord, the wheat from the chaff; separate, as by fire, the gold from the dross; that it may be seen who are the Lord's, even His holy ones. Amen.
1. Love separates effectually. With what jealousy a husband claims his wife, a mother her children, a miser his possessions! Pray that the Holy Spirit may show how God brought you to Himself, that you should be His. 'He is a holy God; He is a Jealous God.' God's love shed abroad in the heart makes separation easy.
2. Death separates effectually. If I reckon myself to be indeed dead in Christ, I am separated from self by the power of Christ's death. Life separates still more mightily. As I say, 'Not I, but Christ liveth in me,' I am lifted up out of the life of self.
3. Separation must be manifest; it is meant as a witness to others and ourselves; it must find expression in the external, if internally it is to be real and strong. It is the characteristic of a symbolic action that it not merely expresses a feeling, but nourishes and strengthens the feeling to which it corresponds. When the soul enters the fellowship of God, it feels the need of external separation, sometimes even from what appears to others harmless. If animated by the spirit of lowly consecration to God, the external may be a great strengthening of the true separateness.
4. Separation to God and appropriation by Him go together. This has been the blessing that has come to martyrs, confessors, missionaries, -- all who have given distinct expression to the forsaking all.
5. Separation begins in love, and ends in love. The spirit of separation is the spirit of self-sacrifice, of surrender to the love of God; the truly separate one will be the most loving and love-winning, given up to serve God and man. Is not what separates, what distinguishes Jesus from all others, His self-sacrificing love? This is His separateness, in which we are to be made like Him.
6. God's holiness is His separateness; let us enter into His separateness from the world; that will be our holiness. Unite thyself to God. Then art thou separate and holy. God separates for Himself, not by an act from without, but as His Will and Presence take possession of us.
 See Note B.