Depart you, depart you, go you out from there, touch no unclean thing; go you out of the middle of her; be you clean…
Let us take these words as helping to illustrate some of the broader features of spiritual progress.
I. SPIRITUAL PROGRESS DEMANDS SEPARATION AND SACRIFICE. What are some of these things from which we must separate ourselves, even at the cost of sacrifice, if spiritual progress is to be made?
1. It is no uncommon thing to find an easy contentment with the truth already attained. The conceit begotten of little knowledge is a fatal bar to progress. The voice of truth may call loudly at our door, "Depart ye; go ye out from thence;" but to heed that voice sacrifice is inevitable. There is no other method of attaining large spiritual advantage than the destruction of our. ignorant self-complacency.
2. Spiritual progress largely depends upon the renunciation of the idea of the present perfection of our character. Many would start back at the notion of laying to claim "being already perfect" who virtually live as though it were the first article of their belief. They merely dream over the possibility of improvement. In some cases the error is traceable to the mistakes committed at the very beginning of their spiritual life. Conversion is made "the be-all and the end-all" of their religion. Life seems to travel upward until it reaches that point, and to travel downward ever afterward.
3. But them is another form in which error crops out in older men. For example, when all the inspiration of life is drawn from the past, not with a view of further advancement, but rather as an apology for present repose. "Our best inspiration is not gained from what is behind, but from what is before, and what is above."
4. Still further, no spiritual progress is possible unless we are willing to give up our personal indolence.
II. SPIRITUAL PROGRESS TOLERATES NO DELAY BUT THAT WHICH IS SPENT IN PREPARATION. It would have been a strange perversion of the prophet's words if the Jews had regarded the assurance that "they should not go out with haste, neither by flight," as teaching that they were to protract their preparations indefinitely, protract them so as ultimately to relinquish their journey. They rather encourage them, while not neglecting the judicious settlement of their affairs, to make suitable provision for their march across the wilderness. There need be neither bustle nor confusion, since their exodus will not be either sudden or stealthy. It is Cyrus who reigns, not Pharaoh. But still, it is a journey for which they are to prepare, not a lengthened residence in Babylon. The bearing of all this, as an illustration of spiritual progress, it is not very difficult to see. The delay which is spent in preparation is progress. This may spring, for example, from a careful acquisition of Divine truth. The same thing holds good in regard to character. We cannot force maturity, but we can prepare for it; and all such preparation hastens the desired consummation. Before the Jew reached the land of promise, every stage between Babylon and Jerusalem had to be faithfully traversed. There are stages, also, in the development of character, no one of which can be omitted without subsequent loss. Seasons of suffering of enforced idleness, of dark and apparently irreparable bereavement, are some of the necessary elements out of which real character is born. The time consumed by such discipline is not delay, but progress. All systems, therefore, which attempt to force maturity are as delusive as they are mischievous. Christian work furnishes another illustration of the same general truth. Bracing ourselves up for present duty, and mastering it, is the best qualification for future success.
III. SPIRITUAL PROGRESS IS UNDER DIVINE DIRECTION. "The Lord will go before you." Here was encouragement for the timid Jew. As a general leads his army, and a shepherd his flock, so will Jehovah "go before" the returning exile. Nay more: He shall lead them as a conqueror and a king. But observe more particularly —
1. God has a perfect knowledge of our journey.
2. God is ever near. Whatever the stage, and whatever the necessities of the march, He was nigh at hand, even to the ancient Jew. Much closer has He now come to us, He is Immanuel. Here, then, is most powerful stimulus to the flagging Christian.
3. He never leads us where He has not Himself already been. Are we severely tested? "He was tempted in all points like as we are." Are we finding that maturity can only come through travail of soul? "He was made perfect through sufferings." He asks us to undertake no difficult service without first showing us His own obedience. When, therefore, murmurs arise within us, and rebellious feelings agitate and disturb, let this be the sufficient check of them all — "It is enough for the disciple to be as his Master."
4. He is ever before us. We have One in advance of us who knows the possibilities of our nature; and while never overtaxing us, He expects no relaxation of our effort. Let us, therefore, forget the things that are behind, and reach forth unto those that are before, "looking unto Jesus, the Leader and Perfecter of our faith."
IV. SPIRITUAL PROGRESS IS ASSURED OF DIVINE PROTECTION. "The God of Israel shall be your rereward." The "rereward" is the hindmost part of the army, where the reserves are stationed. By this arrangement various important ends are served. For one thing, the stragglers who drop out of the line during a long and toilsome march are effectually gathered up and saved. For another, the army is better prepared to meet unexpected attack by being able rapidly to change its front. "The God of Israel shall be your rereward." Here was the pledge of security for their march across that desert which swarmed, as it swarms now, with scores of robber tribes who have this in common, that they are all equally agile, all equally thirsty for plunder, and all equally unscrupulous. Here, also, lies our truest security in spiritual progress. "The God of Israel is our rereward."
1. There will, therefore, be no surprises which we are not able to meet, no sudden attack from which He will not prove a sufficient Defender. Our sharpest vigilance will not always serve us; and while sweeping the horizon in one direction, our present danger may approach from another.
2. Then protection is afforded against permanent relapse. If we look forward, our Defender is there. If we look backward, behold, He is there.
3. Then there is a reserve of power and of available help which no saint has ever fully tested.
(J. J. Goadby.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD.