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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
T. T. Eaton
From Talks on Getting Married, 1891
"Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” (1 Cor. 6:14)
How worldly the churches are today! How far they are from being God's peculiar people, strangers and pilgrims on their way to another world and looking upon this as an inn where they shall tarry but a night and never return to it! As we think of this, the commandment comes home to us with peculiar force, "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers. Which one of you has ever changed his plans or given up anything on which her heart was set because of this command? It is startling to think how little effect this plain, straightforward, unmistakable command of God has on the lives of Christians today.
There are some things which are self-evident to all who admit the truth of Christianity. Among them are that God's Word is as unchangeable as He—not varying with the times nor changing with the seasons, and that He is an absolute sovereign. If He chooses to explain His reasons, we must be grateful; if He does not, the obligation on us to obey is nonetheless binding. All we have a right to ask is, "What did He say?" To ask, "Why did He say it?" is presumption. Imagine a private saying to his general on the battlefield, "Why do you give me this order? I must understand and approve your reasons before obeying it."
There must be no question of expediency, or of your own desires or interests, when God commands. "Thus saith the Lord" must be an end to all controversy and to all hesitation. Consequences must be left in His hands. It will not do to say, "I cannot succeed, I cannot live;" still less, "I cannot be happy unless I disobey" the least of the commandments. Your success, your life and your happiness are God's business, not yours. You are meddling with what does not belong to you whenever you stop to consider what effect His commands will have on these things. Your duty is simple, unquestioning obedience to every "Thus saith the Lord." "Fear God and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." (Eccl. 12:13)
What an example for all time we have in the grand obedience of Abraham. There was no doubt about the command, no possibility of mistake in the order to sacrifice his son, his only son, Isaac. Think of the unswerving faith which was back of Abraham's readiness to obey that command. God seemed to contradict His own promise, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called." (Gen 21:12) In the epistle to the Hebrews we are given a glimpse into Abraham's thoughts as he took that memorable journey to the mountain, and it is precious as a revelation of the character of him who was called "the friend of God." (James 2:23)
Going to his awful task, Abraham is not thinking of his own grief, of the loneliness of his old age, or of the horror and anguish of Sarah when he shall tell her of Isaac's death. If ever a man was justifiable in thinking of himself, or excusable for hesitating to obey, then was the time. He did not wait to reconcile the seeming conflict between the promise and the command. That would have been to sit in judgment upon God. Abraham obeyed promptly. God must be true, Isaac's seed must inherit this land, and therefore Isaac will be restored to life. Such were the father's thoughts, we are told in Hebrews — ah! What faith was there! He had never heard of one's being raised from the dead — but God's power was infinite. An unheard of miracle Abraham could easily believe would be worked, but that God's promise should fail he could not believe.
THE MEANING OF THE TEXT
And now, with these self-evident truths laid down, and Abraham as an example before us, let us consider the text, asking the only question we ought to ask, “What hath God said?"
"Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." There is reference to the command in Deuteronomy which forbade an Israelite to yoke together an ox and an ass. They were the animals most used in farm work and which would be most liable to be yoked together. The one was a clean animal, under the law, and the other unclean. This command might bear hard on the poor farmers. If one of his oxen had been injured in the busy season, it might be a great inconvenience and a serious loss to him not to be allowed to harness an ox and an ass together for work in the fields. What possible harm it could do, the farmer might not be able to see. Then why, he might ask, should God, who cares so for the poor, give a command which would bear often hard on them and not so on the rich with their many yokes of oxen? But there the command stood, requiring obedience, and to it the apostle makes reference in the text.
The idea held forth is that believers are a distinct and separate species. All through the Bible this distinction is sharply and clearly made. No matter how amiable or honorable an unbeliever may be, he is a child of sin, a child of the devil, an enemy of God, a goat to be driven away at last, and one who is condemned already. The Bible knows no middle class. There are to be different degrees of punishment and reward in the hereafter, but between the two classes, the saved and the lost, there is, even in this world, a great gulf. Thank God! It is not yet a great gulf fixed, for now there is a bridge, the atonement of Christ, across which whosoever will may go. But the bridge does not remove the gulf or lessen its width by one inch; it only spans it while the day of grace lasts.
Under the Levitical law there was nothing partly clean and partly unclean. Whoever touched, an unclean thing became himself unclean till he was purified. There was no sharper distinction between those in the ark and those without, between the Israelites and the Gentiles, than there is between every regenerate and every unregenerate soul. And this sharp distinction of species must not be lost sight of. It is the grandest cruelty to the unconverted to allow them to forget the great gulf between them and the saved. It leads them to lose sight of the vital importance of a change of heart. So sure as the church grows worldly, so sure does the world begin to think that regeneration is a small matter, that a decorous walk is all that is necessary, and that God is too merciful to be hard on a man who has been guilty of no daring sin or crime.
Never forget, and never allow others to forget, that saints and sinners are a distinct species, incapable of amalgamation. Let the line be drawn sharply. This does not mean that we should set ourselves up as holier than others; very far is it from thanking God in a pharisaical spirit that we are not like other men. It is rather like a man, himself rescued from a great peril, striving to rescue others. I have seen it in the papers that a Spaniard has discovered a method of inoculation which gives perfect security against cholera.
Suppose that dread disease was raging in its full fury in this city, and you had been inoculated and were safe from all danger. Would you be proud of the gulf between you and those who were in peril? Would your continually reminding them of their danger and urging them to accept the remedy which had saved you — would this be any proof of pharisaism on your part? Would your never making any allusion to the remedy be any proof of love and consideration for them? Would it not rather be proof of criminal inhumanity?
NO ALLIANCE WITH UNBELIEVERS
"Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers," — not merely with infidels or heathen, but unbelievers. The command in Deuteronomy is not against yoking an ox with a lion or a tiger or any wild beast, but against thus joining in work an ox with a domesticated animal, grazing in the same pasture in peace. If you are an earnest Christian, on fire with love to God, a heathen would not desire to be yoked with you. Felix would not have been willing to be yoked to Paul, who had too much to say about righteousness, temperance and a judgment to come, to be comfortable.
It is with unbelievers we are forbidden to be yoked. And this word, which is rightly translated unbelievers, means also “disobedient ones,” for the clear Greek mind saw that there could be no obedience without faith. There may be a sort of faith without obedience, for “the devils also believe and tremble” (James 2:19), yet do not obey. But there can be no obedience without faith, though it be only the slave's faith in the power and purpose of the master to punish. It is therefore the unbelieving and disobedient with whom Christians must not be yoked.
Let us next inquire what the Holy Spirit meant by the words “ unequally yoked together," with an earnest desire to do just what He requires without any effort to explain away the words or give reasons why we cannot obey Him. Let us not be fearful of consequences, for we may be sure God knew what He was about when He gave us these commands, and it is ours simply to learn and to do what He has directed, leaving results to Him. It is but one word in the Greek which we translate "unequally yoked together," and it occurs only in this passage.
The meaning is "unequally yoked together," so that progress in the right way would be hindered. And the command forbids any alliance which will be in the way of our spiritual growth and progress. We must consider God first of all in every relation of life, which we choose for ourselves. We cannot decide in reference to who shall be our fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, but we can and must see to it that these relationships do not hinder our obedience to Christ. "If any man cometh unto me and hateth not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26)
THE COMMAND IS EXCEEDINGLY BROAD
But in our marriage, our business relations, and our intimate friendships, we are free to choose, and therefore for these choices, we are responsible. In these things we must not for a moment forget our obligation to make our pleasure and our worldly successes entirely subordinate to God's glory. The text does not refer specially to marriage, as is so often taken for granted in quoting the passage. It refers to all connections and relationships in the world, and to marriage only as one of these connections. But it is one, and one of transcendent importance, because of its intimacy and because it is for life. Every Christian should decide the question of marriage with an eye single to God's glory. Will I be more useful, more Christ-like in character, more separate from the world, and more devoted to God by marrying this person than by marrying some other, or by remaining single? This is first of all, and above all. God will not be made a secondary consideration.
The right treatment of this text does not require that I should dwell upon this point, but I will say that many, especially Christian women, have suffered in themselves, and in their children by reason of their disloyalty to God in the matter of marriage. Excuse my saying that Christian women, as a rule, more recklessly disobey this command than do Christian men. Thoughtful men, though they are unbelievers, know how largely their reverence for their mothers is based on the piety of those mothers, and they desire their sons to grow up with similar reverence. The thought of a Godless mother is revolting to us all, and men who care for the character of their sons will not lightly expose them to the danger of having Godless mothers by marrying women who are ungodly, in the vague hope that they may be converted afterwards.
The commandment, however, refers to all working together in any relation into which sin enters or which hinders the Christian's growth in grace or usefulness in the kingdom of God. It forbids all business connections which lead to violations of our Lord's commands. A Christian must not enter in partnership in a business which involves any dishonesty, or trickery, or gambling. It is not enough that he is not directly responsible for the sin, or that he does not do it himself and cannot prevent others doing it. If he profits by the iniquity he is guilty. He must not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers thus; he should come out from among them and be separate, and touch no unclean thing, as saith the Lord. (2 Cor. 6:17) Neither his name, his talent, his influence, nor his money must be used in any business where God's commands are disregarded. He must not rent his property for sinful uses, nor imagine the Lord will hold him guiltless because he shuts his eyes to what is done with his estate.
A Christian must not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers in any corporation which denigrates the Scriptures. One of our greatest preachers has said, “If any business leads to the necessary violation of the Scriptures, then the case is plain. A Christian is to ‘have no fellowship with such unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.’" (Eph. 5:11) Do you say, in amazement, “This is too hard! In these days of corporations and partnerships, who can avoid being yoked thus with unbelievers?" Did I not tell you at the beginning that the churches have become so worldly that many professing Christians stand aghast before the plain teaching of God's Word?
Do you suppose that God changes his law one jot or tittle because of the commercial transactions of the Nineteenth Century? “Come ye out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be to me sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." (2 Cor. 6:17, 18) Can any human being mock God by refusing to obey this command, and yet hope that God will be a Father to him while he persists in such refusal?
It may be objected that withdrawing from every alliance which involves dishonest dealings or the violation of any of God's commands might result in financial ruin. What of that? In a few years financial success or ruin will be a matter of no consequence to you, my friend, and as you stand before the Judgment Seat no one will ask how much money you made in life; the one question then will be, and it is a question of vital and everlasting consequence, “Have you obeyed the commandments of God?” But other Christians do not obey this requirement! What of that? You are not to be judged by the conduct of Christians, but by the Word of God. But it does not involve financial ruin to maintain a good conscience before God.
It is true that but for the support of professed Christians many of the worst evils in our land would not be sustained. Suppose all who wear Christ's name refused to be identified with any business which involved the violation of Bible teaching—how long till such business would cease? The terrible growth of worldliness, the easy yielding to being yoked together with unbelievers, which has made such strides in our churches in the last fifty years, was recently brought home to me quite sharply. On the very day this article was published, Dr. Link offered a resolution in the Southern Baptist Convention, changing the day of meeting from Wednesday to Friday, because if the Convention adjourned on Saturday night, as was usual, the delegates would travel on Sunday! And observe that the majority of the delegates are pastors! Like people, like priest! When the Lord comes, will He find faith and obedience in the earth?
It is the old story of Saul and the cattle spared for the sacrifice. Our churches are growing in members, wealth, education, and what is called Christian activity, but are we growing in earnest love for God's Word and faithful obedience to His commands? Will He compromise with us — so much Christian activity for so much being yoked together in disobedience with unbelievers? We must have no part whatever in business or amusement which involves the violation of God's commandments. This is the first meaning of the text.
THE TWO YOKES
And the second meaning is like unto it. "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." Christians have their yoke, and unbelievers have theirs. The one is the yoke of Christ — "take my yoke upon you" (Matt. 11:29)—and the other is the yoke of the world, the flesh, and the devil; the yoke of selfishness, of living for pleasure, of money-loving; in brief, of making God's commandments a secondary consideration, and of being indifferent to a plain "thus saith the Lord." This interpretation covers much of the ground of the other, and it grows deeper in cutting away all conformity to the world. It is the unbeliever's yoke a Christian wears when he has any part or lot in any business or pleasure which involves sin. How often does the apostle enforce this command, and how wicked as well as absurd it is for Christians to wear the yoke of unbelievers!
"Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." Are you obeying this command, or are you ignoring it? If you have violated it in the past, will you ask God to forgive you and to grant you grace to obey it in the future? Think you this will be hard? Religion never was - intended to be child's play. But it is hard only to the carnal nature, and Oh, the glorious promise if you will obey!
"Wherefore, come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be to you a Father-, and ye shall be to me sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." The infinite God rises up in his might and majesty as He makes this promise — lest any should fear the consequences to their temporal interests of obedience to this command. Sons and daughters to the Lord Almighty!
There could be no grander promise than that, for time and for eternity — sons and daughters to the Lord Almighty! And may the Holy Spirit carry home to every heart the exhortation of the apostle which follows: Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God!" (2 Cor. 7:1)