Letter 3: Our Place on Earth

My Dear ______:

In my last letter I attempted to show you our place--as believers--before God; and now I desire to direct your attention to our place here upon the earth; and we shall see, I think, that this is also connected with Christ. Just, indeed, as we are identified with Christ before God as to standing, so also are we identified with Christ before the world. In other words, we are put in His place down here just as we are in Him before God; and I cannot but think that it would be very helpful to us all to have this truth continually before our souls. But there are two aspects of our place on the earth, both of which are important to be understood; the first in relation to the world, and the second in relation to the "camp"; i.e., organized professing Christianity, which has succeeded in this dispensation to the place of Judaism, as the professing witness for God. (See Rom. 11, and compare Matt. 13.)

1. Our place in relation to the world. The Lord Jesus, speaking to the Jews, said, "Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world" (John 8: 23). Afterwards, when presenting His own before the Father, He said, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (John 17: 16) ; and you will see that, in the section from the 14th to the 19th verses, He essentially puts His disciples in His own place in the world, just as in the previous paragraph (from the 6th to the 13th verses) He puts them into His own place before the Father. And they have His place in the world, be it remarked, because they are not of it, even as He was not of it; for having been bom again they are no longer of the world. Hence He speaks continually of their having to encounter the same hatred, and the same persecution, as befell Himself. Thus, to cite an example, He says, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also" (John 15: 18-20). The apostle John in like manner indicates the utter contrast between believers and the world, when he says, "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness"--or "the wicked one" (1 John 5:19).

But there is more than even yet appears from these weighty scriptures. Every believer is regarded by God as having died and been raised together with Christ (Romans 6; Col. 3: 1-3). He has thus been brought, through the death and resurrection of Christ, as completely, in the view of God, out of the world, as Israel was brought out of Egypt through the Red Sea. Hence he is no longer of it, though he is sent back into it (John 17:18), to be for Christ in the midst of it. Paul therefore could say, while active in service for Christ in the world, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom" (or whereby) "the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. 6: 14). By the cross of Christ he saw that the world was already judged (John 12: 31); and by the application of the cross to himself he regarded himself as dead--crucified to the world--so that there was separation between the two as complete as death could make it.

To sum up these teachings, then, we see that the Christian while in the world is not of it--he is not of it in the same sense as Christ was not of it, he belongs to another sphere--for if any man be in Christ it is a new creation; he has been, as already seen, brought clean out of it through the death and resurrection of Christ. Hence he is to be wholly separate from it; he is not to be conformed to this world (Gal. 1: 3; Rom. 12: 2) in spirit, habits, demeanor, walk; in everything he is to show that he is not of the world. Even more, by the application of the cross he is to hold himself as crucified to it; and there cannot be any attraction or assimilation between two judged things. But again, he is in the world in the place of Christ; i.e., he is in it for Christ, and as identified with Christ. Consequently he is to witness for Christ, to walk as Christ walked (Phil. 2: 15; 1 John 2: 6, etc.), and he must expect the same treatment as Christ. Not that we look to be crucified as Christ was; but if we are faithful we shall encounter the same spirit in the world as He did: indeed, in proportion as we are like Christ will be the degree of our persecution; and the fact that believers now meet with so little hatred from the world can only be accounted for from their being so little separate from it.

Before I pass to the other branch of the subject, I cannot but urge upon you the importance of breaking with every link that connects you morally with the world. It needs but little penetration to perceive that the spirit of the world, worldliness, is creeping rapidly over God's assemblies, and vauntingly proclaiming itself even at the table of the Lord. What dishonor, yea, what grief, to Him whose death we are gathered to show forth! And what a call upon all the saints to humble themselves before God, and to seek anew for grace to be more devoted, and more separate, so that the world itself may see that we belong to Him whom it rejected, cast out, and crucified! How many of us have the spirit of Paul, who desired "the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, and to be made conformable to His death" in the view of a glorified Christ, the object of his heart, and the goal of all his hopes? May the Lord restore to us, and all His beloved saints, more of this devotedness to Himself in entire separation from the world.

2. Our place in relation to the "camp." In the epistle to the Hebrews we read, "The bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach" (chap. 13: 11-13). Two things are very evident in this passage--blood of the sin-offering was carried into the sanctuary, and the bodies of the beasts which were sacrificed were burnt without the camp; and the apostle points out that these two things have their correspondences in the death of Christ, the antitype indeed of these offerings. Hence we have the double place of the believer--his place before God being in the sanctuary, where the blood was carried; and his place on earth being without the camp, where Christ suffered. In other words, as before explained, if we are in Christ before God, identified with Him there in all the savor of His own acceptance, we are also identified with Him on earth in His place of shame, reproach, and rejection. The place of the believer on earth, therefore, is without the camp; as the writer of this epistle says, "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the campt, bearing His reproach."

You will perhaps ask me, What is the camp? In the passage which I have just cited, it is clear, from the whole connection, that it is Judaism. What, then, answers to it now? Judaism was of God, and occupied the place of testimony for Him on the earth. Judaism failed; and after Pentecost, on the final rejection of Christ in the preaching of the apostles, was set aside, and Christianity, the outward professing church--which includes all denominations, from corrupt roman Catholicism to the smallest sects of Protestantism. On what ground, you may further ask, are we called upon to go outside of this camp? On the ground of its utter failure as a witness for God. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Rev. 2: 11, etc.). This is our warrant for, and, indeed, our responsibility of, measuring all that claims to be of God by the written Word; and testing thus all these denominations, they are all convicted of disobedience and failure. For the believer, therefore, who would act according to the mind of God, there remains nothing but to take his place outside of all these, apart from the confusion and error of this evil day, with those who are gathered simply unto the name of Christ, in obedience to His Word. Exodus 33 is very instructive in this connection. When Moses came down from the mount (chap. 32), he found that the whole camp had fallen into idolatry, and after returning to intercede for Israel, he came back with "evil tidings" for the people. And he "took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp" (v. 7). Moses acted thus, because he had the mind of the Lord in the presence of the failure of the people; and hence it is that we find in this scene a moral picture of our own times. Let me commend it to your careful consideration.

Enough has now been said to enable you to understand the place of the believer on earth, On the one hand it is to be in separation from the world, and on the other it is without the camp. To occupy it will involve hatred from the former, and reproach from the latter. But if so, we are but more fully identified with our blessed Lord. In Hebrews it is thus called, "His reproach." May we neither shun the one, nor be ashamed of the other; nay, may we be enabled to rejoice when we are counted worthy to suffer shame for His name (Acts 4: 41).

Believe me, dear ______,

Yours affectionately in Christ,

E.D.