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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Numbers 19

 

 

Verses 17-20

DISCOURSE: 165

THE LAW OF PURIFICATION

Numbers 19:17-20. For an unclean person they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel; and a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave: and the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even. But the man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation, because he hath defiled the sanctuary of the Lord: the water of separation hath not been sprinkled upon him; he is unclean.

AN inspired Apostle has acknowledged, that the yoke imposed upon the Jews was quite insupportable. Where the reason of the ordinances was apparent, and the observance of them easy, we may suppose that the people would cheerfully comply with them: but, in many cases, the rites prescribed were very burthensome; they laid the people under severe restraints, entailed upon them heavy expenses, deprived them of many comforts, and subjected them to great inconveniences, apparently without any adequate reason. This might be illustrated by many of the ordinances; but in none so forcibly as in that before us. The kind of defilement which was to be remedied, was as light and venial as could possibly be conceived: it implied no moral guilt whatever; nor could possibly in some cases be avoided: yet it rendered a person unclean seven days; and every thing that he touched, was also made unclean; and every person who might, however inadvertently, come in contact with any thing that had been touched by him, was also made unclean. Moreover, if any person that had contracted this ceremonial defilement, concealed it, or refused to submit to this prescribed form of purification, he was to be cut off from God’s people. We do not wonder, that the proud heart of man should rise up in rebellion against such an ordinance as this: and still less do we wonder that the pious Jews should long for the Messiah, who was to liberate his people from such a yoke.

But if, on the one hand, this was the most burthensome ordinance, it was, on the other hand, the most edifying to those who could discover its true import. It may well be doubted whether in any other ordinance whatever there can be found so rich a variety of instructive matter, as may justly be deduced from that before us.

To confirm this assertion, we shall state,

I. Its typical import—

On this we shall dwell no longer than is necessary to prepare the way for the instruction which the subject is suited to convey. We will however, for the sake of perspicuity, call your attention to the ordinance under two distinct heads;

1. The preparation of the heifer for its destined use—

[A red heifer was taken from the congregation; it was to be without spot or blemish; and it must be one that had never borne a yoke. Being brought without the camp, it was slain in the presence of the priest, who with his finger sprinkled the blood “directly before the tabernacle, seven times.” The whole carcass was then burned in his presence; (the skin, the flesh, the blood, the dung, were all burned together;) and some cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet wool were burned with it. Then the ashes of the heifer were gathered up by another person, and deposited in a clean place without the camp.

Every minute particular of this ordinance we shall not attempt to explain: but its leading features are clear. We see here the Lord Jesus Christ, taken from, and separated for, the whole mass of mankind. We see him who was “without blemish and without spot,” and who was under no previous obligation to suffer for us, coming voluntarily into the world for that express purpose. We see him suffering the most inconceivable agonies both in body and soul even unto death, without the gates of Jerusalem. We see him sprinkling his own blood before the mercy-seat of the Most High God, in order to effect a perfect reconciliation between God and us. And that one atonement which was offered by him for the sins of the whole world, we see to be of perpetual efficacy in the Church, and ever ready at hand to be applied for the purification of those who desire deliverance from sin and death.]

2. The application of it to that use—

[A portion of the ashes being put into a vessel, running water was poured upon them: and then a bunch of hyssop was dipped in the water, and the unclean person, together with every thing which had been defiled through him, was sprinkled with it. This was done on the third day, and on the seventh day; and then the unclean person was considered as purified from his defilement.

Here we behold the Holy Spirit co-operating with the Lord Jesus Christ in effecting the redemption of a ruined world. The Holy Spirit qualified the man Jesus for his work, and upheld him in it, and wrought miracles by him in confirmation of his mission, and raised him up from the dead, and bore witness to him in a visible manner on the day of Pentecost; and from that day to this has been imparting to the souls of men the benefits of the Redeemer’s sacrifice. By working faith in our hearts, he enables us to apply to ourselves the promises of God, and thereby to obtain an interest in all that Christ has done and suffered for us. And by such repeated applications of the promises to ourselves, he conveys to us all the blessings of grace and glory.

That this is the import of the type we can have no doubt, since God himself has so explained it [Note: Hebrews 9:13-14. We see particularly in this passage, what was the import of the living water with which the ashes were mixed: it intimated, that “Christ offered himself through the eternal Spirit.”].]

This may suffice for a general explanation of the ordinance: but we shall gain a still clearer insight into it by considering,

II. Its instructive tendency—

We do not apprehend that any Jew, perhaps not even Moses himself, could discover in it all that we do. Yet we would be extremely cautious of indulging our fancy, or of deducing from the ordinance any instruction which it is not well fitted to convey. We certainly keep within the bounds of sober interpretation, when we say, that we may learn from it,

1. Our universal need of a remedy against the defilement of sin—

[The contracting of defilement from the touch of a dead body, or a bone, or a grave, and the communicating of that defilement to every thing that was touched, and the rendering of that also a means of communicating defilement to others, intimated, that in our present state we cannot but receive defilement from the things around us; and that, whether intentionally or not, we are the means of diffusing the sad contagion of sin. “There is not a man that liveth, and sinneth not:” “in many things we all offend:” so that we may well adopt the language of the Psalmist, “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from my secret faults [Note: Psalms 19:12.]” — — — Now as every one who was defiled, needed the purification that was appointed, so do we, even the most pure amongst us, need deliverance from guilt and corruption. However careful we are, we cannot plead exemption from the common lot of all: we are “corrupted and corrupters [Note: Isaiah 1:4.],” every one of us; and are greatly indebted to our God, who has graciously appointed means for the purifying of our souls.]

2. The mysterious nature of that remedy prescribed to us in the Gospel—

[Some have said, Where mystery begins, religion ends. We rather would say, that Christianity is altogether a mystery in every part. Look at this typical representation, and say, whether there be no mystery in it. Can we fathom all its depths? or, if enabled by the light of the New Testament to declare its import, can we reduce it all to the dictates of reason? Look at the truths that are shadowed forth; is there nothing mysterious in them? Think of God’s only dear Son, “in whom was no sin, becoming sin for us, that we might be mode the righteousness of God in Him.” Think of the Holy Ghost, the third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity, concurring with him in his work, and exercising his almighty power to render it effectual for our good. Is there no mystery in all this? Truly, “great is the mystery of godliness:” and the more we contemplate it, the more shall we be constrained to exclaim with the Apostle, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God ! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”]

3. The precise manner in which that remedy becomes effectual—

[What was it that rendered the ordinance effectual for the purifying of an unclean person? Was there any necessary connexion between sprinkling the ashes of an heifer upon a person, and the cleansing him from sin? None at all. It was the divine appointment, and that only, that gave efficacy to it. indeed, so far was it from being able of itself to cleanse a person from sin, that the very observance of the ordinance rendered every person unclean that was engaged in it. The killing of the heifer, the sprinkling of its blood, the burning of it, and the gathering up of the ashes, rendered all the persons who were occupied in those duties, unclean until the evening; and laid them under a necessity of washing both their body and their clothes, in order to their purification from the defilement they had contracted. All this shewed clearly enough that the ordinance in itself had no purifying power: it went further; it intimated, that neither could evangelical obedience cleanse us from sin: we cannot exercise repentance or faith, but we contract guilt through the imperfection of our graces: “our tears,” as a pious prelate expresses it, “need to be washed, and our repentances to be repented of.” There is no virtue in them to cleanse us from sin: nay, there is no necessary connexion between the exercise of those graces in us, and the removal of guilt from our souls. If the devils were to repent, or to believe, we have no authority to say that they must therefore be restored to the state from which they fell: and, independent of the divine appointment, there is no more connexion between the death of Christ and our salvation, than between the same event and theirs. It is from the divine appointment only that the Gospel derives its power to save. It was from that source alone that the rod of Moses had power to divide the sea, or the brasen serpent to heal the wounded Israelites, or the waters of Jordan to cure Naaman of his leprosy: and consequently, if any of us obtain salvation, all ground of glorying in ourselves must be for ever excluded: our repentance, our faith, our obedience are necessary, as the sprinkling of the ashes; but the ultimate effect, namely, the salvation of our souls, is altogether the free gift of God for Christ’s sake.

Unless we view this matter aright, we shall never know how entirely we are indebted to the free grace of God, or be sufficiently on our guard against self-preference and self-complacency.]

4. The indispensable necessity of resorting to it—

[If any person had contracted uncleanness, it signified nothing how the defilement came: he was unclean; and he must purify himself in the appointed way: and, if he refused to do so, he must be cut off. If, previous to his purification, he should presume to enter into the sanctuary, the sanctuary itself would be defiled.

Thus whether a man have sinned in a greater or less degree, he must seek to be cleansed by the blood and Spirit of Christ: he must embrace the Gospel as his only hope. It will be in vain to plead, that his sins have been small and unintentional, and that he does not deserve the wrath of God: one question only will be asked, “Is he a sinner? has he at any time, or in any way, contracted the smallest measure of defilement?” If any man be so free from sin, as never to have committed it once in his whole life, in thought, word, or deed, let him reject the Gospel as unsuited to his state: but if the smallest evil have ever been indulged in his heart, he must submit to the purification that is prescribed. No other can be substituted in its place. He may say, as Naaman, “Are not the waters of Abana and Pharpar as good as those of Jordan?” But, allowing them to be as good, they will not have the same effect, because they are not appointed of God to that end. I say then to every child of man, “Repent, and believe the Gospel:” “Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out:” “He that believeth shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned.” Think not to come to God in any other way than this; for heaven itself would be defiled by your admission thither, if you were not first purged from your sins by the blood and Spirit of Christ.]

5. The efficacy of it when duly applied—

[Every person who complied with the ordinance, was cleansed: and every one who has the blood and Spirit of Christ sprinkled on his soul, shall “be saved with an everlasting salvation.” The argument which the Apostle uses in a fore-cited passage [Note: Hebrews 9:13-14.], deserves to be attentively considered. It is this; “If the legal purification availed for the smallest good, how shall not the gospel method of purification avail for the greatest?” In this argument there would be no force at all, if only logically considered: but, if considered in connexion with the deep mysteries of the Gospel, it has all the force of demonstration. Consider who it was, whose blood was offered unto God for us? it was the blood of his co-equal, co-eternal Son. Consider who that Agent was, who co-operated with him in the making of this offering? it was “The Eternal Spirit,” who, with the Father and the Son, is the one Supreme God. Consider these things, I say, and nothing will be too great for us to expect, if only we come to God in his appointed way. Yes; our consciences shall be purged from guilt, and our souls be transformed into the divine image. Whatever our sins may have been, even “though of a crimson dye, they shall be made white as snow.” Let the sinner view an unclean person under the law, excluded from the society of his dearest friends, and prohibited from all access to the sanctuary; and then, on the renewed sprinkling of the ashes, instantly brought into communion with the Lord’s people, and invested with the privilege of drawing nigh to God: let him view this, I say, and he has a striking representation of the change that shall take place in his own condition, the very moment he is interested in the atonement of Christ. He shall instantly be numbered with the saints below, and assuredly be fellow-heir with “the saints in light.” Let then this sprinkling be performed without delay: exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Go to your great High-Priest, and say, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” But remember, that you must repeat this sprinkling from day to day. The unclean person was to be sprinkled on the third day, and on the seventh: so must we be from time to time, even to the latest period of our lives.

Consider, Brethren, what I say; “and the Lord give you understanding in all things.”]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Numbers 19:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/numbers-19.html. 1832.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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