by Inglis Fleming
Notes of an Address to Young Men
The whole course of the Children of Israel in the wilderness was one of murmuring and complaining. God speaks of suffering their manners for forty years in the wilderness. He bore with them in spite of what they were, and brought them into the land He had promised to give them.
In Numbers 21, just as they were about to enter Canaan, we find the same spirit marking them. They speak against the Lord and against His servant Moses.
And can we throw stones at them? Are there not many Christians who have to say, “I find that since I was converted I have still the working of evil within me, indeed, I seem to be worse, if anything, than I was before I came to the Lord. Evil thoughts surge into my mind. Wrong desires spring up. Blasphemous suggestions and infidel reasonings trouble me until I wonder whether I am a child of God at all.”
Now the New Testament makes it abundantly plain that “the flesh” remains in the true believer although he is not “in the flesh” before God. The difference has been illustrated in this way. Supposing a vessel springs a leak at sea, and then, partially waterlogged, enters the mouth of a large river. The ship is no longer in the salt water, but the salt water is in the ship. So the believer is no longer in his old natural standing as a child of fallen Adam. He is placed by God “in Christ,” where all is perfection. But the believer still has within him that evil principle called the flesh, which is entirely opposed to God—“is not subject to the law of God, neither, indeed, can be.”
But the flesh has been condemned utterly at the Cross of Christ, and the Holy Spirit of God is given to the believer in order that he should not fulfil the lusts of the flesh, but bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.
You may ask: “Why has God left the flesh in the Christian?” One reason is, I doubt not, in order that the Christian may learn to say “Amen” to what God has done in the condemnation of the flesh in the death of our blessed adorable Lord.
An old Christian once said he first learned that he had committed many wrong things. Then he said, “I learned that I had never done a right one, because my motives were wrong, and finally I learned that of myself I could not do a right one.”
How bitter that third lesson is to learn. I have no power, and I am wholly cast upon God.
What does the Apostle Paul say in Romans? He says: “The law is holy, just and good, but I am carnal sold under sin.” He learns that while the law makes demands upon him he cannot fulfil those demands, because he is carnal, sold under sin.
This has been expressed in these verses:
“Under the law, with its tenfold lash,
Learning, alas! how true,
That the more I tried, the sooner I died,
While the law cried, ‘You, you, you.’
Hopelessly still did the battle rage;
‘O wretched man!’ my cry;
And deliv’rance I sought by some penance bought,
While my soul cried, ‘I, I, I’!
Then came a day when my struggles ceased,
And trembling in every limb,
At the loot of the tree where One died for me,
I sobbed out, ‘Him, Him, HIM’!”
The law occupies a man with himself. It says, “Thou shalt,” “Thou shalt not.” He finds out his need, and is brought to his knees for mercy, crying “I am weak, I am carnal, I am wretched.” Then the soul turns in faith to Christ, and beholding Him once suffering upon the cross, and now crowned with glory on high, cries “Him, Him, Him.” The believer is privileged to turn away from himself and all that he has done and to find his refuge, his joy, his place of acceptance in Christ.
The twenty-first chapter of Numbers is an illustration of this. We read there of the utter destruction at Hormah of the Canaanites, a people who were characterised by the flesh. God’s judgment fell upon the Canaanites because of what they were, but the people of Israel themselves were no better than the Canaanites. They rejoiced in the utter destruction of their enemies, but they were not prepared for the utter judgment of the flesh in themselves. Thus, yielding to the flesh, we find them speaking against God and against Moses. These people, favoured and blessed of God, had their hearts still in Egypt. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt? There is no bread here and no water, and our soul loatheth this light bread.” And, beloved friends, we in our thoughts and our hearts are in danger of turning back to Egypt, as though its leeks, and its onions—the pleasures of this world—could ever minister to what we are now through God’s grace as Christians.
Then God sent fiery serpents among the people, and many of the people of Israel died. They cried to Moses, and he turned to the Lord, whose grace was manifested. He told Moses to make a serpent of brass, and put it on a pole, and that they who looked at it should live.
We know, from John 3:14-15, the application of this scripture. If you will notice in these verses, it is not, “Whosoever believeth on Him shall have the forgiveness of sins,” though that is involved, but “have everlasting life.” Does that mean life for ever? Yes, and a great deal more. I must not stay now to seek to unfold what everlasting life is, but it carries with it the thought of the greatest fullness of blessing which God can bestow upon a creature, that we should be brought near to God, that we should know God as our Father, that we should know Jesus Christ whom He has sent, that we should be free from every bondage in which we once were held, from everything that would hinder our being happy worshippers in the Father’s house for ever and ever. That was God’s thought, and His love was behind it all. “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”
Now we have life in the Son of God. His life, is our life. All that we were in ourselves, all that we were in our Adam life is under God’s judgment at the cross. Christ not only died for our sins, but He died FOR us. I remember a dear old Christian who said, “Many people know what Christ has done for them who do not know what Christ has done with them.” What he wished to convey in that nutshell remark was that not only my guilt has been blotted out, and my sins put away, but I myself am put away as a sinner before God, and that I now can stand in resurrection, having Christ’s life as my life.
How blessed to know that all that I was, was counted to Christ at the cross; that He was made sin for me, so that I might be made the righteousness of God in Him; that He brought to an end in death all that I was, and volume one of my history was closed at Calvary so that volume two might begin.
Now we find, in the tenth verse, that the Children of Israel make a fresh start. They set forward. Have you come to this new start in your soul’s experience, when you say, “Thank God, I see that not only was my guilt removed at Calvary, but I was removed as to all that I was in Adam, so that henceforth I might be before God in Christ”?
Then we find in the sixteenth verse “From thence they went to Beer; that is the well whereof the Lord spake unto Moses, Gather the people together and I will give them water.” Do these words remind you of any passage in the New Testament? If the brazen serpent reminds you of John 3, these words should remind you of John 4, “If thou knewest the gift of God . . . thou wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water.” “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life,” giving you the conscious joy of the blessing that is yours, and enabling you to be a worshipper of God. As far as we are told, Israel had not sung right through the wilderness. They sung on the shores of the Red Sea, and now they sing again, “Spring up, O well, sing ye to it,” or “answer to it,” as the margin gives it. God has given to us His Holy Spirit, and what you have to do is to answer to that gift, to walk in the Spirit, in the power of the Holy Spirit ungrieved, so that He may lead us into the things of God, and unfold the things of the Lord Jesus Christ. His mission on earth is to empower us for our walk, and witness and worship of God, so that we may be for God’s pleasure and for His praise.
Scattered Seed 1916, p. 43