The Ermine and its Purity
Very soon I will begin preaching a series about holiness. This is a topic which both fascinates and terrifies people. Consequently, to the detriment of the church, many stay clear of the topic. However, holiness not only speaks to the very character of God, it also reveals the character of man. This view of both is dramatically played out in Isaiah 6. Unlike many lukewarm believers today, Isaiah was not left indifferent to the holiness of God – he was awestruck by His majesty and dumbstruck by his own uncleanness.
You see, one of the great injustices brought to bear on believers through the preaching of the prosperity gospel is their belief that the true Christian ideal is to be happy and prosperous. No - the true Christian ideal is to be holy. Because holiness is not an optional Christian extra – it is commanded. 1 Peter 1:13-16 reads: Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not confirming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “be holy, for I am holy.” Charles Spurgeon had his own views on Christians who refused to pursue holiness, calling them “the plague of the church”. He went on to say: “They are spots in our feasts of charity. Like hidden rocks, they are the terror of navigators. It is hard to steer clear of them: and there is no telling what wrecks they may cause.” In fact, regarding Christians who believe they are able to live a Christian life without holiness, Spurgeon broke them down into four categories:-
· The Pharisee: confident in outward ceremonies instead of true holiness;
· The moralist: feels no need for holiness because his/her life is so good;
· The experimentalist: their entire Christian life is lived inward, never looking to outward conduct but only to feelings;
· The opinionist: their Christian life is all about believing the right doctrines and remain unconcerned about the way one lives.
People are often dissuaded from pursuing the topic of holiness because they wrongly believe that it is connected to self-righteousness. That is not the case at all and a brief word study on the Hebrew and Greek words connected to holiness will correct that view. You see, the call to be holy is simply a call to be separated from common use and set apart, or reserved, for special use. That is why God beckons us to disengage from those earthly ambitions which offer cheap and unworthy prizes. We have a much higher calling and richness through our inheritance in Christ Jesus! A W Tozer once said this: “Christ calls men to carry a cross; we call them to have fun in His name. He calls them to forsake the world; we assure them that if they but accept Jesus the world is their oyster. He calls them to suffer; we call them to enjoy all the bourgeois comforts modern civilisation affords. He calls them to holiness; we call them to a cheap and tawdry happiness that would have been rejected with scorn by the least of the Stoic philosophers.”
As sometimes happens, God teaches us some important concepts through His created world and for the remainder of this article, I want to focus on a small animal called an ermine. You may not have seen the animal itself, but you have likely seen its fur. It is the preferred fur for royalty and unmistakable in appearance - pure white with distinctive spots of black. But the coat of the ermine was not white all year round. During the summer, its coat was brown but in winter, the coat changed to its distinctive white with the exception of a black tip on its tail. Let me put it this way – as the days grew shorter and darker (leading into winter) the coat of the ermine grew whiter. Friends is this not a marvelous lesson for us?! The imputed righteousness of Christ has secured new garments for us in place of the filthy rags of our sin. Will we permit these robes of righteousness to be stained by the uncleanness of the world?
The ermine was committed to protecting its white coat against anything that would soil it. After learning this, fur hunters learnt to take advantage of this. As the story goes, they didn’t set a snare to catch the ermine – the hunter went straight to its vacant lair. Knowing that the ermine would do anything to avoid soiling its coat, the hunter would smear the entrance and interior of the lair with grime. Upon doing so, the hunter would let loose a hunting dog to find and chase the ermine, knowing it would run straight back to the safety of its lair. However, upon seeing that its lair was impure, the ermine would not enter. That decision led to its certain death. For the ermine, maintaining purity was more precious than life. Because of this, the ermine came to be associated with phrases such as “death before defilement” and “death before dishonour”.
What has been lost on this world is that the further a man goes in lust and iniquity the more dead he becomes to purity and holiness. How strange it is that a small creature such as an ermine would be more familiar with the concept of purity than some who are made in the image of God. God’s lessons are all around us if only we would take the opportunity to learn from them.