The Clean and Unclean

No. 499. A Sermon by C.H. Spurgeon,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington

"Give the following instructions to the Israelites: The animals you may use for food include those that have completely divided hooves and chew the cud." Leviticus 11:2-3

The Mosaic law attached great importance to meats and drinks: the Christian religion attaches none. The apostle Peter was shown by the vision of a sheet let down from Heaven, not only that all nations were now to receive the gospel message, but that all kinds of food were now clean, and that all the prohibitions which had formerly been laid upon them for legal purposes were now once for all withdrawn. A Christian may, if he pleases, put himself under restrictions as to these matters. You will remember that the apostle Paul says, "I know and am persuaded of the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself, but to him that esteems anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean." I know our apostle was tender with weak consciences; but he could expostulate with the brethren somewhat thus, "If you are dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you dogmatize — touch not this, taste not that, handle not the other — and all about things which perish with the using?"

The doctrine of the New Testament is expressly laid down, "Every creature of God is good and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving." And as for the practice enjoined upon believers, "All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient." In the example of Paul we have full liberty; he would put no embargo upon the conscience. But in his example we have also fervent charity; he would put no stumbling-block in his brother’s way. "If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world stands." The Levitical law enjoined many precepts as to meats and drinks; but those carnal ordinances were imposed until the time of reformation. Since then, this Mosaic institution was not designed to be perpetual, we feel certain that it must have had some use at the time when it was first established, and during the time in which it was sustained. As that was peculiarly a typical dispensation, we feel persuaded that we shall not exaggerate the uses of the text if we show that there was something instructive to us and Something Typical of the Better Covenant in the command that the people were to eat no creatures but those which divided the hoof and those which chewed the cud.

I. It is our firm belief that these distinctions of meats were laid down on purpose TO KEEP THE JEWS AS A DISTINCT PEOPLE, and that herein they might be a type of the people of God, who are also, throughout all ages, to be a distinct and separate people — not of the world, even as Christ was not of the world.

You that are conversant with the old Levitical rule, well know that it was quite impossible for the Hebrews to mix with any other nation, without violating the statutes they were commanded to keep. Their food was so restricted that they could not possibly enter into social fellowship with any of the neighboring peoples. The Canaanites, for instance, ate everything, even the flesh that had been torn by dogs, and the dogs themselves. Now, a Jew could never sit at a Canaanite’s table, because he could never be sure that there would not be the flesh of some unclean and accursed thing upon it. The Jews could not even eat with the Arabs, who were near akin to them, for they frequently partook of the flesh of the camels, the hare, and the coney, all which, as we shall see presently, were forbidden to the Jew.

The Arabs on the south, and the Canaanitish nations all round Palestine, were the most likely people with whom the Jews would associate, and this command about what they should and should not eat prevented them for ever from mingling with these people, and made them a distinct and isolated republic so long as they were obedient to the law. We are told by Eastern travelers that the Mohammedan regulations, which are far less strict than those of the Jew, prevent their becoming socially intermingled either with the idolaters or with Christians. It is a well-known fact that no people that have prescriptions about meats and drinks have ever changed their religion to that of another people, because the familiarity which seems necessary in order to proselyte is quite prevented by the barrier that precludes from intercourse at the table. It is at the social table men enjoy the most genial intercourse; it is there they pour out their souls with the least reserve, and mix their thoughts one with another in the greatest freedom of conversation. Check them there; prevent their sitting at the same table, and there is no likelihood that they will ever blend or intermingle in any kind of affinity, the races must be distinct. I believe, dear friends, though I have been somewhat prosy in explaining myself, that it was God’s real intention, to keep the children of Israel, until the coming of Christ, separate from all the nations that were upon the face of the earth.

They could not join in the worship of other nations, for other nations sacrificed to their gods the very animals which to the Jew were unclean. They could not join in social communion as we have already seen; and hence marriage with any other nation would be, not only, as it was, prohibited by the law, but would be actually prevented by the possibilities of the case. It must in each instance put the transgressor beyond the pale of his own tribe. They would remain as much a distinct people, as if a great wall of brass had been built all around them, or as if they had been transported to some island, and an impassable gulf had been put between them and any other kindred upon earth. They were separated for ever.

Now friends, you will say, "What is the use of this to us?" I answer, it is the earthly type of a heavenly mystery. When the Jews were put away as the people of God for a time, then the Gentiles were grafted into their olive, and though we did not inherit the ceremonies, we did inherit all the Privileges to Which Those Ceremonies Point. Thus all of you who name the name of Christ and are truly what you profess to be, Are Solemnly Bound to Be For Ever Separated from the World. Not that you are to leave off your daily association with men. Our Savior did not do so. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. Yet, you know, he was always in the company of sinners, sitting at their table, seeking their good, and hunting after their souls. He was with them, but he was never of them; he was among them, but always distinct and separate from them; not conforming himself to them, but transforming them to himself. He has set us an example. It is not the seclusion of a hermit, nor the exclusion of yourselves in a monastery, where you would be of no service to your fellow-men. But it is a higher and more spiritual separation which I claim of Christians to-night. You are to be in the world, and among the world, you are to mingle with all sorts and conditions of men, but still to maintain the dignity of your newborn character, and to let men see that you are among them as a Speckled Bird, as a light in the midst of darkness, as salt scattered over putridity, as heavenly angels in the midst of fallen men. So are you to be a distinct people, a chosen generation. But you will ask of me in what respects are you to be distinguished?

In a pure consistency always, in a vain eccentricity never. This shall be my first reply. Not in your garments, my brethren. All those inventions of broad-brimmed hats, and coats without collars, perish in the using. Let your dress be, nevertheless, so distinguished from that of some other men, that there shall be None of the Pride and Foppery in which they delight. The Apostle Peter has well laid down the regulations by which our sisters in Christ are to adorn themselves, but I need not mention what you know so well and practice so little — that chaste and becoming neatness which is always right in the sight of God, and beautiful in the assembly of Christians.

Not by my Peculiar Jargon is your speech are you to be known. For my part I abhor in any man that Sanctimonious Tone and Sacred Whine which many affect; even in the pulpit I despise it. I believe that the reason why the pulpit has lost so much of its former power is because men must needs mouth our blessed Saxon tongue, and talk as if everything natural were to be eschewed there, and men, metamorphosed into ministers, were to be as unnatural and grotesque in their modes of speech as possible.

No, not these, not these; all Such Artificial Separations we leave to the people whose vanity feeds on its own conceit. Nor need you make any straining effort to be distinguished by any stiff buckram of your Own; Do Not Try to Make Yourself Look like a Christian. True Christians can do a great many things that sham Christians must not do. As for me, I am never afraid to laugh, for I shall never crack the paint on my face, laugh as I may. A sincere man may do a great many things that a hypocrite dare not do, for he will split the garments of his hypocrisy if he ventures to run as a Christian may.

Heavenly realities within do not always need to be plastered up and labeled outside, so that everybody may see and recognize you, and say, "There goes a saint." There are other modes of being distinguished from the world than any of these.

What are they then? Well, brethren, we ought ever to be distinguished from the world in the great object of our life. As for worldly men, some of them are seeking wealth, others of them fame; some seek after comfort, others after pleasure. Subordinately you may seek after any of these, but Your Main and Principal Motive as a Christian Should Always Be to Live for Christ. To live for glory? Yes, but for his glory. To live for comfort? Yes, but be all your consolation in him. To live for pleasure? Yes, but when you are merry, sing psalms, and make melody in your hearts to the Lord. To live for wealth? Yes, but to be rich in faith. You may lay up treasure; but lay it up in heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, where thieves break not through nor steal. It is thought, you know, that ministers do live for God; merchants should do the same. I would, my brethren, that you would trade, and do your merchandise for his service; or if you plough, and sow, and reap, and mow- do it for Christ! Would God you could do this quite as much in his service, as we do ours, when we preach for Christ!

You can make the commonest calling become really sacred. You may take the highest orders by Dedicating Your Daily Life Wholly to the Service of Jesus. There is such a thing — and let those that deny the possibility stand self-convicted that they obey not the precept — "Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God."

By your spirit as well as your aim you should likewise be distinguished. The spirit of this world is often selfish; it is always a spirit that forgets God, that ignores the existence of a Creator in his own world, the land which he makes fat by his own bounty. Men with God’s breath in their nostrils forget him who makes them live. Now, Your Spirit Should Be One of Unselfish Devotion, a Spirit Always Conscious of His Presence, bowed down with the weight, or raised up with the cheer of Hagar’s exclamation — "You God see me;" a spirit which walks humbly before God, and seeks to know his will and to do it through the grace of God given to you. Such a spirit as this, without the drab of one sect, or the phylacteries of another, will soon make you quite as distinct from your fellow men as ever meats and drinks could make the Jews a separate people.

Your maxims too, and the rules which regulate you, should be very different from those of others. The world says "Well, it is usual in the trade; there is no use in being over scrupulous; we must not be too Puritanic, or too severe; we shall never get on if we are picking at this and frowning at that." A Christian never considers what is usual, but what is right; he does not estimate a wrong by its commonness; he counts that a fraud. And a falsehood will be as much fraud and falsehood, though all the world shall agree to practice it, as though but one man should do it in the dark. The believer reads things, not in man’s light, in the obscurity of which so many blind bats are willing to fly, but he reads things in the sunlight of heaven. If a thing be right though he lose by it, it is done; if it be wrong, though he should become as rich as Croesus by allowing it, he scorns the sin for his Master’s sake. We want our merchants on the Exchange, our traders in their shops, and our artisans in their factories; yes, and we want all masters, employers, and overseers too, to be distinguished, as the clean from the unclean, in the maxims that govern their daily life, and thus manifestly separate from the world.

This will naturally lead to the next point — the Christian should be separate in his actions. I Would Not Give Much for Your Religion Unless it Can Be Seen. I know some people’s religion is heard of, but give me the man whose religion is seen. Lamps do not talk, but shine; a lighthouse sounds no drum, it beats no gong, and yet far over the waters its friendly spark is seen by the mariner. So let your actions shine out your religion. Let Your Conduct Talk out Your Soul. Let the main sermon of your life be illustrated by all your conduct, and it shall not fail to be illustrious. Have I not told you before that the only bit of ecclesiastical history we have in the whole New Testament is — what? The sermons of the Apostles? No, no, the "Acts of the Apostles." So let your history be written, so that it may have this title — "The acts of such-and-such a man." This will furnish the best proof that you have been with Jesus.

A Christian is distinguished by his conversation. He will often trim a sentence where others would have made it far more luxuriant by a jest which was not altogether clean. If he would have a jest, he picks the mirth but leaves the sin; his conversation is not used to levity; it is not mere froth, but it ministers grace unto the hearers. He has learned where the salt-box is kept in God’s great house, and so his speech is always seasoned with it, so that it may do no hurt but much good. Oh! commend me to the man who talks like Jesus, who will not for the world allow corrupt communications to come out of his mouth. I know what people will say of you if you are like this: they will say you are straight-laced, and that you will not throw much life into company. Others will call you mean-spirited.

Oh, my brethren! bold-hearted men are always called mean-spirited by cowards. They will admonish you not to be singular, but you can tell them that it is no folly to be singular, when to be singular is to be right. I know they will say you deny yourselves a great deal, but you will remind them that it is no denial to you. Sheep do not eat carrion, but I do not know that sheep think it a hardship to turn away from the foul feast. Eagles do not prefer to float on the sea, but I do not read that eagles think it a denial when they can soar in higher atmosphere. Do not talk of self-denial. You have other ends and other aims; you have wells of comfort that such men know not of. It would be a shame for you to be eating husks with swine, when your Father’s table is loaded with dainties. I trust, my dear brethren, that you know the value of the gold of heaven too well to pawn it away for the counterfeits of earth. "Come out from among them; be separate, and touch not the unclean Thing." by a Holiness Which Merely Moral Men Cannot Equal, Stand as on a Pedestal Aloft above the World. Thus men may know you to be of the seed of Jesus, even as they knew the Jew to be the seed of Israel.

How shall I urge you to give more earnest heed to this holy separation? Let me add the voice of warning to that of entreaty. If we do not see to this matter we shall bring sorrow on our own souls; we shall lose all hope of honoring Christ, and we shall sooner or later bring a great disaster on the world. You know the world is always trying to nationalize the Church. What a mercy it is that there are some who will not have it! If you could once make the Church and the nation one, what would follow? It must be destroyed; it must fall. It was when the church and the world became one in Noah’s day that the Lord sent the flood to destroy all people.

No, the proper position of a Christian is not with the world, even in its best state and its most exalted condition. We are to Be Separated from this Present Evil World according to the will of God. Our position today is as much as in Christ’s day, outside the camp, not in it; we are still to be protesters, still to be testifiers against the world. "You are of God, little children, and the whole world lies in the wicked one." Scripture never supposes that the world will get better until the coming of Christ. It does not propose to lift the world up and marry it with the Church. It always supposes the Church to be as an Alien and a Stranger here until Christ, her husband shall come.

On which side will you rank? Truce there cannot be, links between the two there must not be. God and mammon cannot go together. For which will you be — for God — for truth — for right? Or for Satan — for the lie — for the wrong? Which shall it be? May the Spirit of God whisper in your heart tonight, and say, "Believe you in Christ Jesus; take up your cross and follow him, and be enlisted on his side henceforth and for ever."

II. We have now a second and an important matter to bring forward. The distinction drawn between clean and unclean animals was, we think, intended by God TO KEEP HIS PEOPLE ALWAYS CONSCIOUS THAT THEY WERE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF SIN. Just let me picture it. I have caught the idea from Mr. Bonar, though I fear I cannot paint it in words so well as he has done. An oriental Jew, sensible and intelligent, walks out in the fields. He walks along close by the side of the high-road, and what should he see but a string of camels going along? "Ah!" he says to himself "those are unclean animals." Sin, you see, is brought at once before his mind’s eye. He turns away from the road and walks down one of his own fields, and as he goes along a hare runs across his path. "Ah!" says he, "an unclean animal again; there is Sin in My Path." He gets into a more retired place, he walks on the mountains; surely he shall be alone there. But he sees a coney burrowing among the rocks; "Ah!" says he, "unclean; there is sin there!" He lifts his eye up to heaven; he sees the osprey, the bald eagle, flying along through the air, and he says, "Ah! there is an emblem of sin there!"