Psalm cxix. 1
"Blessed Are The Undefiled In The Way."
"THE word translated "unclean" in Hebrews ix. 13, as well as its Hebrew synonym in Numbers xix., is more correctly rendered "the defiled."
It is important to notice that none but the children of God can be defiled. The unsaved worldling is, in the sight of the Holy God, foulness itself, even at his best, he cannot be defiled; "he is unclean."
To those, however, to whom Jesus speaks when He says, "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you," it becomes of great importance that they should know how a true Christian may be defiled, what provision is made by God for his purification when so defiled, and how he may be kept pure, or undefiled. These three points, therefore, we shall deal with in the present paper. As a help to this, let me ask the reader to study prayerfully the last half of the nineteenth chapter of Numbers, from verse 11. What, then defiles a saint of God?
The heart’s contact with anything that God calls death (verses 11, 16). Let it be noticed all this is in His light, and must be to every true child of God a matter of His judgment, not ours. We are a sanctified people, living in a world of the dead. In the light of God’s judgment, as revealed to us in the Word, it is not difficult to see that certain people, circumstances, associations, and pursuits belong to what God calls death. Knowing this, then, any heart-contact with such, even for a moment, not to speak of continued fellowship with them, has defiled us before God. I suppose, beloved brethren, that I am writing to those who dread such defilement, longing as they do to be in all respects pleasing unto "Him who hath loved us and washed us from our sins in His "own blood." I need not say that if this is so, none of us shall be able to treat this matter with indifference. Nevertheless, it is exceedingly painful, in these days of increasing light, and therefore of increased responsibility, to see how careless many of those who otherwise appear to be God’s children are as to this matter.
For instance, many religious gatherings are so full of members who do not even themselves profess to be born of God, that in the light of God’s Word, they may be spoken of as "graves" (verse 16); rather than churches. Now, for a saint of God to teach a grave, not to speak of his continuing to live in it, is to be defiled; and no defiled saint has any fellowship with God. In no sense, therefore, during his defilement, can he please or serve Him. It is absolutely necessary to notice this, because one so often hears it said that worship and service are for the individual saint; and that if one’s own heart is right with God, it matters not who are his fellow-worshippers, or with whom he may be yoked in service. Here we learn that, in God’s sight, no saint’s heart is or can be right if he is in the habit of seeking to worship amongst those whom he knows to be dead in sins. Alas! if some are thus defiled by contact with the dead in what is called religious life, what shall we say of the multitude of Christians who allow themselves almost unlimited companionship with death? Is it to be wondered at that many saints have long ceased to grow in the knowledge of God? Is it a wonder that many others are leading sadly unhappy lives, or once again, is it any wonder that the few true Christians here and there among the great dead masses of our churches should have to deplore lack of spiritual power in the services, want of true conversions in the congregations, and abundant evidence that the young people of our religious circles, in spite of rigid training in the outward forms of godliness, are growing up more intensely worldly, frivolous, and even skeptical, than their fathers? No, we cannot wonder. God cannot deny Himself. Temporary defilement even, excludes from the fellowship and service of God; and to continue defiled, refusing the "water of separation," is to run the risk of "cutting off" from the congregation of God’s people (verse 20). Defiled saints who live thus loosely in their relations with the dead, injure not themselves only, but affect in some measure the whole Church of God; for we read in verse 13 that "whosoever toucheth the dead body of any man, and purifieth not himself, "defileth the tabernacle of God."
It is a truth little considered, that in order to have the true and full expression of the Spirit of God towards the world, we need that, not individual Christians only, but the whole Church, be full of the Spirit. The Church is one living spiritual organism—-a true unlty; and not one part of it can suffer without the whole being the worse (1 Cor. xii. 26). Thus then, the careless worldliness of one defiles in some measure the whole. Thus, the influence of the Church is lessened, her spirituality deteriorated, her growth hindered, and sickly decay spreads through all. On this account, Christians who may continue to refuse cleansing from defilement, are in great danger, for the Lord loveth His Church. Dearer to Him than any number of individual Christians is the whole Church, His body, His chosen Bride. "He gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her, that He might present her to Himself without spot or wrinkle . . ." (Eph. v. 26). Rather than suffer defilement upon her, "if any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy" (1 Cor. iii. 17). Surely this is a terrible commentary on the type before us (verse 20). "The man that shall be defiled and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation, because he hath defiled the sanctuary of the Lord."
In the light of such solemn truth, it becomes intensely important that, in the event of defilement, we should clearly know God's provision for purification.
1. "He shall purify himself" (verse 12).
2. "A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon him . . ." (verse 18).
The first clearly indicates the desire and consent of the defiled saint to his cleansing. Here, at the very outset, is solemn responsibility. The acknowledgment of sin before God and humble submission to the statements of God’s Word bearing on his case—-that blessed living water which judges and separates from the defiling thing, whether it be sin within or sin around us. Alas! how often are Christians seen refusing this water of separation. Is it not sadly true that many, while they appear to rejoice in much of God’s Word, perversely shut their eyes to passages which condemn their ways? Nay, more, if faithful servants of God are found ready to press the needed word on their consciences, the result is often only manifested contempt and more decided rejection.
The water of separation was provided by God in this way. Living water (margin) was added to the ashes of the sin offering. In our case, it is the word of the living Christ in the power of the Holy Ghost brought to bear upon the ashes of a justly forfeited life. If this were clearly seen, "What saith the Scripture?" would be the only question ever raised by one acknowledging the justice of the sentence of death for sin. The most trifling sin in the believer’s life must be looked at in the darkness and the light of Calvary’s Cross. There is never cleansing but through the ashes of the substitute.
We may now see that single-hearted confession of our sin, acknowledgment of God’s truth about it, and ready submission to be set right by that truth, are God’s way of purification. If this be so, it will be seen on the surface that God Himself must be judge of what is sin and what is not, in His child. I say this because many affect to believe that association with the dead cannot be much of a sin. Many Christians are ready enough to recognize as sin, all that the unsaved world acknowledges to be so. Now, let it be emphatically noted that to live above all that the world acknowledges to be sin, cannot (if that is all) distinguish a soul born of God. The legalist, the religious moralist, may have a high standard, and may often live, more or less, up to it; but this only marks off a caste in the poor world "that lieth in the wicked one"---a caste proud of itself. A true Christian may be all that the highest moralist is, and yet utterly defiled before God. Let the Word of God be searched on this point, and it will be found that God’s "idea of Christian sanctity and purity is separation, not only from such sin, but from the world, even in its religious and philanthropic, not to speak of its irreligious ways.
Let no one misunderstand me. I know that some may appear to be separated thus from the world, and yet not truly living free from even what the world might rightly point at as sin. This, however, were mere hypocrisy; but I fear not to say that a child of God who, by His Father’s grace, has become anxious to keep his garments unspotted from the world, shall, by the same grace, be enabled to live out a far higher morality, including all that the legalist would demand, but going far beyond it.
The idea of purification that many Christians have is that of a very gradual process, never making much progress, and completed only at death; in other words, that the child of God can never be pure. In this case, the passage in 1 Peter i. 22 could not have been written, for the word "pure" there, applied to "heart," is the same as is used for the well-washed "white linen" and the fire-purified gold. The mistake arises from a misunderstanding of God’s idea of purity, which is present separation from defilement; in other words, God calls the defiled saint to immediate cleansing.
From many Old Testament scriptures, it may be seen that God’s people might be pure at one time and not at another----sometimes pure, sometimes not. (See Ezra vi. 20, 21, and Numbers viii. 21) From others, again, we find that those defiled were commanded to purify themselves within a given time (Numbers xix. 12; xxxi. 19). There are also passages where His saints are admitted by God Himself to be at given times pure. In all this, we have a distinct denial of the commonly received doctrine that no true Christian can have present purity, but is, nevertheless, to be always aiming at it, and hoping gradually to attain to it—a flesh-satisfying and flesh-pleasing doctrine—a denial of the present demand and the present power of God. In opposition to this, the words of Paul are often quoted: "Not that I have already attained . . ."; but a meagre study of the context will suffice to convince any candid mind that the attainments and perfection spoken of there are those of full knowledge and full power, not of deliverance from present sinning.
We have hitherto dealt mainly with Old Testament passages, but in the New Testament, it is just the same. The Greek word translated "purge" means always to purify by separation (Matt. iii. 12; 1 Cor. v. 7; 2 Tim. ii. 21).
Again, when the word "purify" is used, as in James iv. 8, it is the same. In the words, "Purify your hearts, ye double-minded," the context shows that the sin referred to is the effort to "make the best of both worlds."
Again, in that passage so often quoted against this precious truth (1 John iii. 3), where many have supposed that imperfect, gradual purification was clearly taught, verse 4, in its connection with verse 3, at once forbids the supposition. There it is present separation, even unto a present walk with God Himself.
So, again, in 1 Peter i. 22, they are those who have been redeemed (loosed) from their vain way of life (verse 18), received by tradition from their fathers, who are said, in obeying the truth, to have purified their souls. In this passage, we have God’s declaration that some of His saints are pure; and this we have also in 2 Tim. i. 3; Titus i. 15; 2 Peter iii. 1; and 2 Cor. vi. 6; while in 1 Tim. v. 22, there is the command to the servant to "keep" himself pure, the context showing the nature of that purity---"Be not partaker of other men's sins."
In the process of cleansing, the defiled saint has, however, not only thus to purify himself, but to receive help from another, who, at the time, must himself be pure. "A clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water of separation, and shall sprinkle . . ." This is the ministry of restoration. There is no real ministry of any kind at the hands of the unclean; for all true ministry supposes the authority and power of God, and is ministry, not of form or word only, but "of the Spirit" (2 Cor. iii. 6; also vi. 4, 6; and Gal. iii.)
Would that all God’s saints would consult and submit to THE WORD. How speedily would the world’s ordinances and ministers be left to the world itself! and how brightly would the true Church shine forth in strength and beauty! Let it be clearly understood that no child of God, if not wholly separated from the dead, can be used of God to minister cleansing and restoration to a fellow-believer, much less to minister the Word of Life to dead souls. Beloved brethren, if this be the truth of God, is it to be wondered at that many in the outward garb and place of ministry can never do anything to nourish your spiritual life, nor help you out of your sins, nor save a single soul from death?
The special ministry before us is leading the defiled under the power of the separating Word. A clean person shall SPRINKLE. I like the word. It speaks of a tender gentleness. It is the "spirit of meekness" of Gal. vi. 1. See how beautifully all New Testament truth fits into the old types. This passage in Galatians is exactly Numbers xix. 18. A spiritual man (not carnal, as in 1 Cor. iii.) meekly restoring the sinning Christian, considering himself, lest he should be tempted and in the temptation also sin. This is the bunch of hyssop. In his ministry, he does not take the place of a lofty cedar, but of a poor little bunch of hyssop growing on God’s wall of salvation, dipping himself (even in his work) in the Water of the Word, lest there should come defilement to him from pride of heart or self-sufficiency, even in the act—-"considering thyself." When one is thus restored, the immediate result to the one who has been defiled is that he, more fully than ever, seeks to purify himself. "He shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water." Sprinkling no longer satisfies. He bathes himself in the Word; and all his circumstances and surroundings, over which he has any control, are steeped and washed in the precious living water (2 Cor. vii. 11).
Alas! how many seem to be satisfied with the poorest sprinkling of God’s words. But one who has been fully roused to a sense of his sin, and been truly separated from it by the Spirit’s sprinkling, becomes so tender of conscience, and so anxious to be kept from "touching the unclean thing," that more than ever before the Word of God becomes precious to him. He bathes himself in it, and as increasingly he does so, shall he be privileged to know the abiding presence of the Father, Who says, "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." "Wherefore come out from among them, and be separated, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be unto you a Father, and ye shall be unto Me sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (2 Cor. vi).
It is not an uncommon thing, from ignorant or willful want of subjection to the Word, for some to hold that while the true Christian is bound to purify and keep himself pure from all the death around him, he is not responsible for his surroundings. Thus is it that we see many true believers permitting the grossest worldly conformity in their families and households. This is as if the sprinkled saint neglected to wash his clothes. To a saint walking with God everything is determined by what God says. From death, over which he has no control, there must be absolute separation; and the people and things in his own family or circle for whom he is in any degree responsible, must be subjected to the test and washing of the Word. This may not save them; but inasmuch as they are part of his clothing, even in the world’s eye, they must, so far as he is responsible, be kept cleansed. Well may we question, "Who, then, can abide clean?" Beloved, let us remember that we are "under grace;" and that in grace, what He hath called and chosen us unto, He is able fully to bring about. Let only our wills be subjected in all this to the Word, and our desires after such a life be quickened, and we shall know "the sweet enablings of His grace."
After cleansing, there is sweet provision made for abiding pure in the midst of this foul world. "Every open vessel which hath no covering bound upon it is unclean" (verse 15). The covered vessel is preserved taintless. Separating ourselves from evil, we are "vessels unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use" (2 Tim. ii. 21). Oh to be kept undefiled, so as not to become unmeet for His use, in the midst of surrounding death, where there is such constant possibility of unexpected defilement! God grant to us that we may ever be covered vessels, shut in with God and covered with the "covering of His Spirit."
Many, alas! are open to every wind that blows. The changing fashions of the world; the newest people, and pleasures, and views; the agreeables of the time; the ambitions and follies, if not the very vices of the day, are all entertained and run after by masses of professing Christians and not a few saints, without any reference to God’s opinion. In religious matters it is just the same.
"Every wind of doctrine in the sight of men" (Eph. iv. 14; Col. ii. 8) is greedily received, and abundance of "the system of error" (Alford) is the result. How a great need that the heart be covered! In the type, God’s vessels, when not in use in His service, were all covered with "a cloth of blue," a covering of God’s own providing. Like all the other shadows, this covering is Christ Himself. The sinner, on receiving Jesus, is covered with "Him who is the righteousness of God." The saint is still covered with Christ, as wisdom and sanctification, and the true heart covering against every worldly wile, and allurement, and error, is still the same blessed One, Jesus.
In Gen. xx. 16, we read that the husband was God’s provided covering for the eyes of the true wife; so to the true Church, our blessed Lord is the covering of the heart’s eye, that she whom He loves so much, may be exposed to the gaze of none but Himself. Thus it is that as we "hold the truth in love" we are protected from "deceiving winds of doctrine;" and it is as we are rooted and built up in Him that we are protected from being led away by the "teachings of men" (Col . ii. 7, 8).
Beloved, how precious thus to be covered by the Lord Himself! Man may endeavour to protect by careful training in tradition and creed, but the very Bible itself, apart from the presence of the living Christ, is not the covering of the Spirit of God (Isaiah xxx. 1). Being in Him, therefore, "let us abide in Him;" let us hold fast Him who is the Head; and as we have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so let us walk in Him. Thus shall the promise be fulfilled to us: "The Lord shall cover thee all the day long" (Deut. xxxiii. 12).
"He shall cover thee with His feathers." (Ps. xci. 4). Those covered thus cannot be defiled; they are not afraid of the "pestilence that walketh in darkness." A thousand may fall at their very side, but they are safe. "And now, little children, abide in Him; that, if He should appear, we may have confidence, and not be put to shame at His coming" (1 John ii. 28).