In Christian life we must distinguish between two things that differ: daily defilement, and positive backsliding. From the one we need cleansing, for the other we need restoration.
Touching a dead body unawares brought defilement to the Israelite under the law, and so any contact of spirit with this world and evil is defiling. There is no excuse, however, for it, for we are called to walk in spirit above it all; and if we get denied by inadvertence or carelessness, we have only ourselves to blame. Still these constant defilements, practically almost inseparable from our walk in this world of sin, are quite distinct from a gradual departure, first in our heart, but after in our walk, from the living God. We have already dwelt on the steps of failure. It is our happier task now to describe the return of a soul to full joy and communion.
In the first place, we must observe that daily defilements contracted and not cleansed, are a bar to fellowship with Christ, and thus tend to lead us astray altogether. No soul that is in communion with Christ strays away. Communion (maintained by the Word and prayer) must cease ere backsliding begins. And it is because many of us are content to go on for so long without enjoying real communion in our souls with Christ, that we are in such danger of backsliding. Restoration, therefore, means restoring communion. The daily defilement, in fact any contact with evil, is met by the constant washing of the Word carried on by Christ, who as Servant forever (Ex.21:6), loving His wife (believers collectively, Eph.5), and His children (believers individually, Heb.2), cleanses us by the washing of water by the Word, as shown in the lovely scene in John 13.
A special provision, however, exists for the restoration of a believer, after having fallen into sin, which is set forth by the type of the red heifer in Numbers 19. The essence of this type is that it presents the application of the cleansing power of the Word, in special connection with the death of Christ (typified by the ashes of the heifer in the running, or living, water), in whose death, on reference to Numbers 19:6, we also find that all that is of this world, from the highest to the lowest (cedar and hyssop; see 1 Kings 4:33), as well as all its glory (the scarlet), has been consumed. Thus our heart is reminded not only of the wondrous love of Christ in dying, but of the separating power of this death, which we in our sins had forgotten. (The water is called the “water of separation.”) We find that these ashes were sprinkled twice, on the third day and on the seventh day, the first doubtless showing the convicting power of the Word on the conscience, leading to true confession, and the other bringing the full sense to the heart, of the love that has put all our sin away.
In the history of the Apostle Peter, we get the first of these sprinklings, when the Lord turned and looked on His erring disciple. That look broke Peter's heart; it brought all the enormity and heartlessness of his sin to his mind, and he went out and wept bitterly. The Lord, however, did not cease His work of restoration at this point. When He rose from the dead on the third day, one of His first thoughts was for poor, erring, brokenhearted Peter. He appeared first to Simon Peter. Then, in that secret interview of which we have no details, the Lord completed the work of grace He had begun. One thing which we may learn from the secrecy of this interview is that restoration is a secret work between the soul and Christ. Another point of great practical interest is to remember that, although there may have been years of backsliding, there is no need for years of restoration. There is no such a thing as gradual restoration to Christ. When once His love has melted and conquered the starving heart, all the coldness of years is gone in a moment. And what a moment for the soul when once more the long silent voice of our Beloved is heard speaking to our hearts again, the same yesterday, today, and forever; and then at last we know the deep meaning of those words, “He restoreth my soul.”
The active work of the Lord in our soul, however, is not the first work of His grace toward us.
We must remember that from Revelation 12:10, and from other scriptures, it appears that in some way Satan has access at any rate to the outer courts of God's presence, and his hateful business is to accuse us to God day and night. But we have One there ready to answer every charge on our behalf, on the ground of His accomplished redemption. Hence it is written, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” This advocacy of Christ may long precede His work of restoration which leads us to confession according to 1 John 1:9. The one is what He does for us in heaven, the other what He does in us down here, leading to true self-judgment. A soul truly restored has a deep sense of the love of Christ, just as we get a far greater view of the death of Christ in the red heifer than we have in the paschal lamb. Two things always accompany restoration — a deeper horror of sin and all that hinders communion with Christ, and a deeper sense of His changeless love.
It may be that now the eye of someone is reading these lines who has strayed from Christ. The heart has become cold, hard, and apparently dead; and yet it is not really dead, for some feelings have passed through it, even while reading these few lines. And still, as the gradual steps of backsliding are thought over, the distance that separates us from Christ seems so vast that return seems impossible. Do not, beloved reader, rise with this hopeless thought. You may be fully restored at this moment. All that is needed is that you should turn from your sin to Christ, and fully own and confess to Him all that you have done. He will not keep you waiting years, or months, or weeks, or even days. Let there be but true, full confession, and He is faithful and just now to forgive you, and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.
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