Purification for Sin
Notes of a Bible Reading in Melbourne on Numbers 19
In order to get the full significance of this type, which is one of the most important in the Old Testament, let us notice in verse 4, “the tabernacle of the congregation”; in verse 9, “the congregation of the children of Israel;” in verse 13, “the tabernacle of the Lord”; in verse 20, “the congregation,” and “the sanctuary of the Lord.” Whatever may be the teaching of this type, it had as its special object the maintenance of the holiness of the sanctuary of the Lord and of the congregation of Israel. The ashes of the red heifer were applied to individuals who had become defiled, but it was because each individual had his part in the congregation and was identified with the Lord’s sanctuary. “The congregation” sets forth in type our fellowship together, while “the tabernacle of the Lord” speaks of what we are as God’s dwelling place. The tabernacle which was the dwelling place of the Lord in Israel was the centre of gathering and the bond of fellowship for the people. The Lord had separated the people to Himself, they were to be holy unto Him, hence they had to be cleansed from all defilement. This ceremonial cleansing is typical of the moral cleansing that we must never neglect if we are to be kept suitable to the place of privilege in which grace has put us.
Question. Will you explain more fully how we are God’s dwelling place?
Ephesians 2:19-22 states it very clearly. We who were once “strangers and foreigners” to all Divine privileges are citizens of the heavenly city, and members of God’s household. In those two statements we might bring in the thought of the “congregation”; but we are a building also, and that building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord. That has in view the completion of the church when it will appear as the holy, heavenly city. But verse 22 states that we are now builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
Question. Does that include all believers?
It includes all who have heard and believed the “gospel of your salvation” and so are sealed by the Holy Ghost in Christ (Eph. 1:13).
Remarked. But there are some who claim to know, and they say that not all believers are sealed by the Holy Ghost.
If they mean that some who have believed on the once dead but now risen Lord are yet unsealed, they have either never had the truth or they have given it up. Notice in the verse we are considering it states, “In whom,” that is in the Lord. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in thy heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9). All in that verse are in the Lord. They have come under His authority truly, and the Spirit seals them so that they are now an habitation of God “in the Lord” and “through the Spirit.” This passage has all the saints on earth in view, but 1 Corinthians 3 looks upon Christians in any given locality as God’s dwelling place; verse 16 says, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” Being brought together under one Lord, and indwelt by one Spirit, brings us into one fellowship.
Question. Do you connect fellowship with the Lordship of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit?
The Lordship of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit are the beginning of it, but the truth of the one body comes in, and for that we must know Christ as our Head. Then we are children of God, and we know the Father and the Son. Christians have fellowship together in the whole range of revealed truth by the Spirit. But I think that Numbers 19 would give us specially the 1 Corinthians side of it, though I would not shut out 1 John. We are God’s dwelling place and as such we are formed into one fellowship.
The book of Numbers is the wilderness book, and it is here that we get this instructive type and not in Leviticus where all the other sacrifices are. In the wilderness Israel were in danger of being defiled, and here in the world, which has become the wilderness to all who have come out of Egypt and have the heavenly Canaan in view, we all are more or less in contact with what is defiling, hence the need of purification. We have not here expiation for sins or guilt, but purification from defilement.
Question. Is there any significance in the animal being an heifer?
Yes, I think there is. The two great offerings that set forth Christ objectively—the Burnt Offering and the Sin Offering—had to be male animals, the first sets forth Christ offering Himself in the unreserved devotion of His heart to God, wholly for us; the second sets forth His sufferings for our sins, and our faith reaches out to Him in this twofold aspect of His sacrifice in which full atonement is set forth. But when the animal was a female, it is typical of a subjective effect being produced in us. The first clears us before God, the effect of the second is to be in our consciences and hearts, it has to do with the condition of our souls.
The cedar wood and hyssop, cast into the burning, speak of man in his dignity and his meanness; from the highest to the least, all alike are under condemnation. The scarlet sets forth the glory of man. All was tested at the cross, the best—the princes of this world—crucified the Lord of glory. It is evident after that, that nothing that man is naturally, nor all the glory in which he boasts, can have a place in God’s sanctuary, or bind together or build up the saints of God in Divine fellowship. It is clearly put in 1 Corinthians 1:29-31. After stating that God brings to nought the things that are—man’s wisdom and glory—he says, “That no flesh should glory in His presence. . . . That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
Now notice verse 4, “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.” The tabernacle was the place where all the light that shone at that time was, for the presence of the Lord was there; and before it Israel assembled; it was the place of their fellowship, and it was there that the blood was sprinkled seven times. It seems that we have here in type 1 John 1:7, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light.” Israel were never in the light as we are, but they had in the tabernacle what light there was. We now are in the full light of God, revealed as Father in His beloved Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and in that light we walk together, we have fellowship one with another. But how can that be? How can we joy in and before God and be in happy fellowship one with another who were once full of sin and have in us still that which is ever ready to turn us from God? The answer is “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth as from all sin.” The blood is there, and it has given us purged consciences and a perfect footing in the light. The blood is equal in efficacy to the full shining of the light, and where the blood is, there the sins are not. Think of God’s infinite abhorrence of sin, and the claims of Divine justice against it, the blood has met all that. With consciences set free from the sense of guilt, and with hearts filled with the love that provided the blood with this end in view, we can rejoice in God as our Father and we can rejoice in Him together, for here we have fellowship one with another. God has called us to this fellowship, and it is the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Question. If the blood was efficacious what was the need of the ashes and the running water?
In the answer to that question we see how a believer’s sins are dealt with. It is a great question, what shall a believer do who has sinned? and the popular answer is, He needs a fresh application of the blood. No, he does not; once for all the question of his guilt has been met by the blood. He will never lose the place that the blood has given him before God. What he needs is the sprinkling with the waters of purification in which are the ashes of the red heifer.
Question. Before going on to that will you say something about touching the dead body, or the bone, or the grave?
The dead body, etc., sets forth the corrupting things of this world through which we have to pass. We may take up these things thoughtlessly, or be snared by them in an unwary moment, or a Christian may deliberately for the gratification of his flesh come into contact with them. In any of these cases he has sinned. But cases are also indicated where it would be impossible to avoid contact with a dead body, and this would set forth the coming into contact with the world and sinful men in daily business. It cannot be avoided, it is defiling nevertheless. This is not sinful, but if the waters of purification are neglected it soon will be, for it does not take long to drag a Christian down to the world’s level if he forgets that he is identified with the sanctuary of the Lord; but as he remembers that, he seeks the waters of purification and he is preserved.
Question. Now what are the ashes and the running water?
The ashes were the remembrance of the sacrifice. They were the evidence that the victim had been consumed by fire. They are typical of the fact that Christ died for us. “Christ suffered for our sins.” The running water would speak to us of the power of the Holy Ghost. The two together speak of the fact of Christ’s sufferings for us being brought home to our consciences and souls in the power of the Holy Ghost. That produces pain of heart for having tampered with the things of this present evil world, to deliver us from which He gave Himself. It brings us to confession before God, and He is faithful and just to forgive us, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9); thus we are restored to communion. It is not that God requires a fresh sacrifice to meet the fresh sin. He has found all that He required in the One Sacrifice for ever. But we need to be afresh reminded that our sin cost our Lord Jesus the sufferings of Calvary, and thus we are brought to a right sense of what sin is. Only thus are we cleansed from all unrighteousness.
Question. But in the case of a business man who cannot help coming into contact with the world and who is not conscious of having sinned, how is he affected by it?
Well, he feels that there is that in him to which the world appeals and he finds his spirit dulled, and that he has not been able to escape the defiling influences of the world. But as soon as he can he retires to the clean place where the ashes are, and finds relief and refreshment in thoughts of the love that brought Jesus into death for Him. Such thoughts given by the Holy Ghost have a sanctifying, purifying, effect upon him. He makes use of the water of separation.
Question. What is the clean place?
The clean place sets forth the presence of the Lord in your own chamber.
You seek His presence in secret. You do not carry your dulled, defiled spirit to the sanctuary—in other words, the meeting—or you will affect others adversely. You go to God, and everything is brought out and settled there; it is there that your heart is separated from the things that ensnared you, or that threatened to do so, and in the sense of the never-failing grace that restores you, you are able to take up the privileges of being in the sanctuary of the Lord, and of fellowship with the saints.
Question. What is the meaning of the third and seventh days?
They speak of a double action upon us. First our consciences must be awakened to bring us to the confession of our sin, then follows the second, the assurance of a Father’s forgiveness. We can only understand what sin is as we see the Cross in God’s presence, and we learn that it is only because of what He has found in that Cross that He can forgive and restore us to communion.
Question. Would “let a man examine himself and so let him eat” answer to “the clean place” in connection with the Lord’s Supper?
Yes, I should think so. You use the water in the Lord’s presence, or allow Him to use it on you. We can all see the need of it, and of the blessedness of it too. It would give us a deepened sense of our own nothingness, but a greater sense of the love of Christ. It would greatly help us to “glory in the Lord,” and it would make us more watchful. We should not only confess the sin, but we should judge the root from whence the sin sprang.
The dead body or the bone set forth all that the world can give us, it has nothing but corruption and death, and we are not to love the world, neither the things that are in it, for “if any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him,” and he is disqualified for his place in fellowship.
Question. What do you mean by that?
The man that neglected to purify himself was “cut off from among the congregation, because he had defiled the sanctuary of the Lord; the water of separation had not been sprinkled upon him, he is unclean” (v. 20). A man is lost to fellowship who goes on with the world, and he is unfitted for the presence of the Lord. He may still attend meetings and be outwardly in fellowship, but he is useless. Demas who loved this present world could not go on with Paul, and if there were more power nowadays, such would either have their consciences so thoroughly exercised that they would seek the water of separation in the Lord’s presence, or they would not be able to remain outwardly in fellowship. With many the crash comes at last, and excommunication is necessary. The man who neglected this cleansing defiled the sanctuary. I take 1 Corinthians 3:17, to be an extreme case, “him shall God destroy.” That I believe would be the bringing in of doctrines and practices that would destroy the temple of God. But we must remember that His temple is holy, and if we love the world and go on with its pursuits and ways we are altogether incompatible with God’s holy temple, and in our measure we defile it.
It is a solemn consideration. The neglecting of this cleansing was the great sin. We are always liable to contract defilement in the world, but God has made a full provision for this, and it is always and immediately available. The great sin lies in neglecting this provision of grace, for it means that the holiness of God is not understood, His sanctuary is despised, and fellowship is not appreciated.
Question. Will you say something about the open vessel?
We have to keep the cover on our souls. If we keep our eyes and ears open to every folly and sin we are unclean. We must withhold our eyes from beholding vanity, and keep our ears closed from listening to sin; and the best way to do that is to have Christ for a covering for the eyes, and have our ears open to His voice. We touch the dead body often in the things we read, and things we see and hear. How often we find evil things that we have read, or seen, or thought, come back to us at the most sacred moments. We need the water of separation for these. And to be preserved from them we need to think of the things that are true and honest, and pure, and lovely, and of good report. In that way our vessels will be covered and we are preserved.
Question. What about the tent?
The world gets into our homes. Those who stay at home are as liable to become defiled as those who go out into the world.
Question. Who is the clean person who sprinkles the unclean?
“If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness” (Gal. 6:1). Sprinkle the water with the bunch of hysop; that is, do it in self-judgment. Then “ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). A man must be out of the ditch himself if be is to clean the mud off his brother. But if we keep sensitive consciences we shall not need others to intervene. Let us all see to it that we have the vessel of running water with the ashes close at hand for our own use. If we know what it is to be intimate with the Lord, and know the joy His presence yields, we shall be conscious of the least shade of distance—so it used to be said by a beloved brother—and it is true. To cultivate intimacy with the Lord is the great thing.
Question. John says “If any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Do you get the Advocate in this type?
No, I do not think so, but no type contains the whole truth. Moses was Israel’s advocate when they sinned. Jesus Christ is ours, and He exercises His advocacy on our behalf when we sin. It does not say, when we confess, our confession is the result of His advocacy, and not the cause of it. He never loses sight of us and is ever serving us because of the great love He bears toward us. In Him we have life and spiritual health and joy, an that is better than the death and corruption that the world gives. We ought not to have any difficulty in choosing between the two. Let us keep in mind that we, as believers indwelt by the Spirit, are the temple of God, He has brought us into this close relationship with Himself, and we are members one of another; then we shall cultivate in our lives the things that are suitable to these relationships, and shall feel the need of, and not neglect, the water of separation.