Restoration of Communion After Contracting Defilement

Numbers 19  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Without pretending to enter into the details of this chapter, I would point out some points in the type of such importance and so little appreciated by the children of God generally, that we cannot have them too often brought before us. For I think that this portion, as indeed the word of God in general, is the revelation not of the mercy that brings us nigh to God so much as of HIS continuing, sustaining; restoring grace. This will never sanction our distance from Him again in a practical way. Happily the considerations I refer to are quite plain.
First, there was the sacrifice; and here the blood that was sprinkled before God, as the foundation of all the rest, was a complete thing never renewed. It was sprinkled seven times before the tabernacle. Whatever might be the circumstances, the sprinkling was never renewed. To have supposed such a thing would be to endanger the foundation. It is true that God never raises a question about the efficacy of the blood of Christ. Scripture never yields such a thought as the renewal of the blood of Christ; for this is the very point in which the sacrifice of Christ stands contrasted with the sacrifices of the law over and over again in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Wherever there is the thought of fresh sprinkling of the blood, a man is on Jewish and not on Christian ground. It is not merely that His sacrifice has been made once, but we are perfected forever through that one offering (Heb. 10:1414For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)) It is a thing done once for all. This is the first thing to notice. "Eleazar the priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood directly before the tabernacle of the congregation seven times."
But then there was another want. How are we to have our communion restored if broken by defilement' In fact, we know that the children of God are in the circumstances of great temptation and trial, and that they have not only a tempter without, but a nature within which would constantly drag them into sin. I do not mean that there is any necessity for a child of God to fail: there is no need for it, nor does God in any way tempt to evil. On the contrary, he who has found Christ, and yet fails in the way of sin, is always inexcusable. To allow the thought that God's providence has to do with this, is scarce short of blasphemy. Even, if unhappily wrong, let us beware of adding to it the aggravation of throwing it upon God, and of excusing ourselves at His cost.
But what does God provide for the sorrowful circumstances of one who forgets Him '? This is what we find in the second part of the chapter, and what was really His peculiar object in the red -heifer. For the body of the heifer, her skin, her flesh, her dung, everything that belonged to her, was all to be burnt, and the ashes to be religiously kept. Nor was it merely what was in the heifer that had-to be burned, but into the burning had to be thrown cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet: the cedar wood and hyssop referring to nature in all its extent-embracing the whole range of that which was originally very good, but which man only uses as an, in Scripture, is the continual figure of the pride of the world. Here then we have all these thrown into the burning of the heifer, as a witness of the circumstances of the trial, or the means of defilement. Of all this the ashes were to be kept.
It will be observed, again, that God marks in a peculiar way the defiling effects of death, because it set forth in a special manner the slips and failures of the children of God, while passing through the wilderness. And hence it is only given in Numbers, be cause it is a provision for the wilderness. If one had anything to do with the heifer, the person became unclean, The priest and he that burnt it were unclean. And if a person that was clean had to gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place, he too was rendered unclean. All this was to mark the nicety of God, this deep feeling about anything that had to do with our defilement. In Christ, where this is found, there is of course the absence and opposite of uncleanness. Christ was the only One that could touch a leper without being defiled. The intention was to show the delicate feeling that God would have in His people about any defilement. " He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days."
There was no haste in a soul's restoration from impurity: " He shall purify himself with it on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean." If a man tampered with sin, God at least would not make light of his sin. He would give the soul the profit of being exercised about it. It was in vain for such an one to say, I am sprinkled with the blood—I am clean: why should I trouble more about the sin? Such thoughts do not come from the holy Ghost. Instead of our being sprinkled with Christ's blood being a reason for taking comfort in the presence of sin, it is the strongest motive for shame and humiliation. What a stain on His name, and what a pain to our hearts that, after God had attracted us by His mercy to hear His word, and had given us Christ's blood to purge our sins, here again we were indulging in that which required the suffering of the Son of God! The blood is not the appointed way for meeting sin afterward. The flesh uses that to make light of sin. It is not the blood that was here used to purify, but the ashes of the heifer. What did they represent? The full proof of judgment. There might have been the blood without the intense suffering that the reducingof the heifer to ashes produced. It is what Christ suffered that is brought to my remembrance by the Holy Ghost. The ashes were mingled with living water. The power of the Holy Ghost-His present action in using the remembrance of the sufferings of Christ. It is not the truth of sacrifice that is used, but of His sufferings on the cross—His going through the judgment of the sin before God. My soul is brought back to this, not merely as a redeemed person, but as one who thinks of what it cost the Lord Jesus Himself.
There were two applications. There is slowness and deliberation. Everything must be complete. The man must be under the effect of the water seven days, going through in his spirit the sorrow of not standing in his full privileges among the people of God. Christianity no doubt has nothing to do with times and seasons; but they are here significant of great principles. It is not that a man must now be a week before being entitled to renew his enjoyment of communion with God again. Yet this is true—that if a soul has got defiled with sin and is not led by the Holy Ghost to judge it in God's presence, he cannot regain practical communion with God. He is a liar according to the strong language of the Holy Ghost. The full force of that word applies to a man that never knew God. But so far as a Christian. through the deceit of Satan, makes light of sin, he is an offender against the true character of God. Is not this a very serious thought? I am sure there are few of us who feel its weight as we ought. We take a comparatively light view of our slips and failures in word and deed against the Lord. The effect of the failure should be to lead our souls to regard Jesus in all His sufferings, and to go in spirit through what that particular evil cost the Lord-what it was for God to judge it-what the Lord Jesus felt in taking it upon Him before God; for indeed He did take it all. If so, what is the effect? The man acquires a strength and a deeper knowledge of God's grace than he ever had before, and a practical acquaintance with the deceitfulness of sin and of his own heart; so that instead of Satan gaining an advantage, the man gets fresh blessing for his soul. But how often, instead of this, have we alas! to see a person tampering with evil. Then it becomes so grave that even the eyes of others see it. Then perhaps it goes farther still; the very world sees it-too truly sees a careless unholy walk. What is the consequence? The man slips completely away. He gets farther and farther, until alas! it is only the discovery to himself and to others of what was true from the first-there never was a living link between that soul and God. Still it remains true, that what is destruction to an unconverted man is dangerous and hurtful to a Christian. Wherever we tamper with sin, in ourselves or in others, there is defilement. If the unclean person touched anything, it became unclean. Sin leads on from one bad step to another, unless we turn to the Lord Jesus Christ about it.
The difference of the days I understand to be this. The third day represents that there must be the feeling of his condition as an unclean man. If it was a question of anything evil, the principal of the law was that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word should be established. Two was the absolute number that was necessary in order to prove anything: but three was more than sufficient. On the third day the unclean was to purify himself with these ashes of the heifer. On the seventh (lay the thing was repeated-the uncleanness was again brought before the soul by the Spirit of God, and then the person resumes his place among the people of God.
But to take a New Testament instance, let us look at Peter. See how he broke down in spite of the Lord's warning. It is not that Peter had less affection for Christ than the other disciples: the reason was because Peter had great confidence in his love for Christ and therefore rushed into circumstances where none but the Lord could stand, and from which the other disciples held back. And therefore coming more into the light, into the place where Christ was, he only proved the flesh more clearly than the others did. The others had not come into the same circumstances of temptation. But how does the Lord restore Peter? First of all, when He Welled and looked upon him, Peter goes out and weeps bitterly. That will illustrate what is meant by the third day's purifying. The whole work might be done in a short time; hut it must be really done. It is the grave, deliberate self-judgment, the power of weighing the thing in all its hatefulness before God. Peter, when the Lord looks upon him, remembers the word that Jesus had spoken unto him. That is the way the Holy Ghost works. It is not merely a feeling, hut the word of the Lord brought back to Peter's mind. Now it seems to me that the word thus brought home to him exactly answers to the ashes of the heifer applied to the man that was unclean on the third day. There was the sprinkling for the first time.
But, the process was not yet complete, though it was going on. For when a man is in an actively evil state, lie would not, as Peter did, desire to see the Lord again; he would have kept away from the sepulcher. If the Holy Ghost had not been working in Peter's soul, he would have avoided, instead of desiring to be near, the Lord. But he showed living faith because he wanted to see and hear the Lord. The Lord, however, waits, The work was not done at once, and it was not till some time after that Peter is with the Lord in John 21 The beautiful interview between them recorded in that chapter illustrates the second purifying-when the Lord so seriously and withal so affectionately asked him,. " Simon, son of Jonas, Lovest thou me?" There was not one word said about his denying the Lord. But if Peter did not understand at first, the Lord would not let him go, and repeats once and again the question, till the whole root is laid bare, and Peter felt what the Lord really meant. Yet said He, " Feed my sheep," It was not merely that He looked for Peter himself to he by grace His faithful follower in the thing in which he had failed: but He confided that which was the precious object of His love to the man who had denied his Master. There we have the seventh day. It was the digging down to the root of the wrong. What was the occasion of this fall Peter had trusted not in the Lord's love to Peter, but in Sinuous love to the Lord. It was in no small degree a natural affection though there was more and better mixed with it. And He, I suppose, it is that the Lord calls him by his name "Simon, son of Jonas.' He was resting on his affection for Christ, not on Christ Himself and I believe we are very little alive to the extent in which we give credit to nature for being grace. There is a vast deal of nature about the truest Christian, and it was just Simon's mistake not to suspect it. But the Lord shows him that no flesh shall glory in His presence, but he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
After this, the work being done, Simon returns to his place of ease and happiness in the Lord's presence. And now too he can undertake the Lord's work, broken in spirit, and in communion with Himself, about to go at a later day both to prison and to death for His sake. How completely grace restores the soul!