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Our moral corruption is very deep, indeed it is complete; and at times it will betray itself in very repulsive, hideous shapes from which we instinctively shrink, are confounded at the thought that they belong to us.
Privileges may only serve to develop instead of curing them. As one has said, “You will never know what the flesh is, till you see it in the saints of God.”
The love of distinction was inlaid in us at the very outset of our apostasy, “Ye shall he as gods” was listened to, and to this lust we will, in cold blood, sacrifice thousands—as at the beginning we sacrificed the Lord himself to it. (Gen. 3) We take Christ’s gifts and deck ourselves with them. The church at Corinth was such a one as that—instead of using their gifts for others, the brethren there were displaying them. But the man who had the mind of Christ in the midst of them, would say, “I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” (1 Cor. 14:1919Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:19).)
Jonah was doubly privileged. He was a Jew, and he was a prophet. But nature is quick in him to take advantage of these privileges, and to serve his own foul corrupt ends by them. He was a saint of God, as he was a Jew, and a prophet, but that alone gives no adequate security against nature.
As a prophet, the Lord sends him with a word to Nineveh. It was to be a word of judgment. But he knew when he was receiving it that it would not be verified—that in the breast of Him who was sending it mercy rejoiced, and that the word which was to speak of judgment would be gain-sayed; set aside by the grace that abounded. Was he prepared for this? Could he, as a Jew, suffer it, that a Gentile city should be spared and favored? Could he, as a prophet, suffer it, that his word should appear to fall to the ground, and that, too, in the face of the despised uncircumcised? This was too large a demand on this saint of God. He goes on board a ship bound for Tarshish, instead of crossing the country to Nineveh. It is a proud apostate, another Adam, that is now on the waters of the Mediterranean Sea; and he takes the sentence of death into himself as his first father did, He who aimed at holding his privileges and honors as a Jew and a prophet, and would not brook the thought of their being trespassed on, or shared by others, has to meet the penalty of his sin, and be wrapped among the weeds of the sea, down in the bottoms of the mountains.
To accept the punishment of our sins is a blessed principle of faith; it is the first duty of an erring soul. We are not to seek to right ourselves when we have gone wrong, lest Hormah be our portion. (Num. 14) Our first duty is in the spirit of confession, to accept the punishment of our sins, and be humbled under the mighty or the chastening hand of God (Lev. 26:4141And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity: (Leviticus 26:41)). David did this, and the kingdom again, and not Hormah, was his end.
And so does Jonah now: “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea,” said he to the mariners, “so shall the sea be calm unto you, for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.” They did so, but with a grace that might well have shamed their betters. But now, I ask, could Gentile Nineveh be in a worse condition?.... A Jew, and a prophet, in the bottom of the sea, with the weeds wrapped round his head, because of the displeasure, and under the judgment of God! Surely such a one in such a plight may well end his boasting, and no longer despise others, He could not well be lower. Apostate, proud Adam was behind the trees of the garden; apostate, proud Jonah is in the bottom of the sea. But soon it will be only his sin that shall be left there. Precious grace Jonah himself shall be delivered, singing of salvation, as Adam before him left his guilt and his covert together, returning to the presence of God, to be clothed and accepted, and to walk again in the bright, unclouded light of God. But Jonah was educated ere he left the belly of the fish. He finds out that he wanted the salvation of God just as much as any Gentile could want it. Uncircumcised Nineveh had been unclean in his eye, and he grudged her the mercy of God. What would become of himself now, but for the like mercy’? He was in prison, and he deserved to be there. What would do for him now but mercy “Salvation is of the Lord,” he has to say. It is not in himself; as a privileged Jew, or as a gifted prophet, that he will now rejoice, but only in Him to whom it belongs to bring salvation. And, then, “is he the God of the Jew only? Nay, but of the Gentile also,” would his experience be, the experience of a Jonah, a prophet in Israel, when under judgment of God in the belly of hell. Our need of justification, our dependence on the sovereignty, the grace and the salvation of God, equalizes us all; “It is one God that shall justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith.” (Rom. 3:3030Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. (Romans 3:30)). The Jew would come in, in the very same mercy as the Gentile does. So Jonah needed it that is the lesson which the whale’s belly taught him. Let Nineveh be what it may, Gentile and uncircumcised, a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel, or anything else, it could not stand more in need of the salvation of the Lord than he, the favored Jew and the gifted prophet, at that moment did.
It was all over with him but for that—but that he gets—and the fish casts him up on the dry land when he had said, “Salvation is of the Lord.”
His nation by and by shall learn the same lesson. No aim is now left with them but the sign of this prophet; and they will have to learn with him as out of the belly of hell, as from under the judgment of God, that grace, free, full, sovereign riches of grace in the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, is their only refuge. Through our mercy they will obtain mercy. (Rom. 11:3131Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. (Romans 11:31).) Just as the Gentile receives blessing now, so will the Jew by and bye. God has concluded all in unbelief, or sin, that he may have mercy, the like grace and salvation, upon all.
As one who has there been taught to know his own need, and to take, as dependent, a place in the rich grace of God as any can take, Jonah is sent on a second mission to Nineveh. He comes with words of judgment on his lips, he enters that great city. “Yet forty days,” he proclaims aloud, “and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
Thus he “mourned.” It was his commission. Responsively, Nineveh “lamented:” The King rose from his throne, and all the nation put themselves in sackcloth. And a King of Nineveh shall find God, as a King of Judah had before found him; “I said I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord,” said David, “and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” So here “who can tell” says the Gentile King, “if God will,” &c., (ch. 3:9), “and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”
“Is he the God of the Jew only?” again I ask with the Apostle; and with him again I answer, “Nay, but of the Gentile also.”
But “tell it not in Gath.” Did Lot go a second time to. Sodom Did Hezekiah, after the shadow upon the sun-dial, sin through pride with the ambassadors of Babylon? Did Josiah after his humbling and tenderness, go willfully to the battle I Did Peter, in spite of lemmings, deny his Lord? Have you and I, beloved, forgotten the lessons and correctings of God? And is Jonah now to be unmindful of the whale’s belly
Jonah is displeased. He cannot exactly again take ship for Tarshish but he goes outside the city. The mercy shown to Nineveh had made a Gentile city as important with the God of all grace as a Jew; and frustrated, as pride would have it, the word of a prophet. Jonah was very angry; and he said, “O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? therefore I fled before unto Tarshish for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil; therefore now, O Lord, take I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.”
What naughtiness of heart all this was. Was he preparing another fish’s belly for himself? How richly he deserved it; yet it was not quite so. But he was about to feel a vehement east wind, and a burning sun, under the disappointing shadow of a withered, blasted gourd.
What troubles we make for ourselves! Why did not Lot remain in the calm unruffled tent of Abraham, and why did he prepare for himself a fish—a second furnace—in Sodom? Why did David bring a sword upon his house that was commissioned of the Lord to hang over it unsheathed till the day of his death
The Lord’s voice crieth unto the city, hear ye the rod. How much more shall the saints hear it? But Jonah was deaf. He soon forgot the lesson of the whale’s belly, and he must now be put to learn the lesson of the withered gourd. He had been set to learn the grace of God in one character of it, and he shall now be set to learn it in another. But it is divine grace he has still to learn. Blessed lesson for all! The whale’s belly, the belly of hell where he once was, had taught him his need of “salvation,” and that the salvation he needed was “of the Lord “ in sovereignty, in that magnificent height and depth that could stretch as from the throne of power in the highest, to the bottom of the sea in the lowest, and there extricate a captive as from the belly of hell.
The withered gourd shall now teach him how the blessed Creator delights in the works of His hands, and finds His rest and refreshment in them. Jonah has to prove this. He sits under the shadow of the gourd, and is “exceeding glad.” But the worm withers it, strips it of all its leafy honors, and thus of that which refreshes Jonah; and the wind and the sun make Jonah to faint, so that he would rather die than live, and he is very angry. The Lord, in marvelous gentleness, turns all these simple circumstances into a page of the profoundest instruction.
The prophet’s delight in the gourd for which he had not labored, is but the reflection of the Lord’s delight in the creatures of His hand, be they at Nineveh or Jerusalem and if Jonah would fain have had the gourd spared, he must allow Nineveh with its cattle and its children, not to mention its thousands of grown and ripened inhabitants, to be spared also. Jonah shall witness for the Lord against himself. Out of his own mouth he shall be judged.
Thoughts On Sacrifices. —No. 7. Cleansing from Defilement. Num. 19
The ashes prepared, the occasion of their use is next declared-the sprinkling of any one defiled by the dead. Here also we see shadowed forth what sin is before God. “He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days.” To touch the dead body of a clean beast which had died, rendered the person unclean till the evening; to touch the dead body of a man, however good he might have been, rendered the man unclean seven days. How humbling to the pride of man! A descendant of Adam, who was made in the image of God, after His likeness, was more defiling when dead than the body of a beast. Why was this? By man came sin, and by sin came death. Death witnessed of the presence of sin, for death was the consequence of it. Surrounded with the consequences of sin, and often made to feel them keenly as death entered the family or the tent, yet a man could not always help being in the tent where death had entered, or refrain in the call of duty from touching a dead body, or a bone, or a grave. God knew this. It might not be a wrong act on the man’s part, for God did not command them to refrain from this (the priests, outside certain family relationships excepted), yet He pronounced whoever did, touch the dead body, etc., unclean for seven days. And mark this, the period of uncleanness could not be shortened; no excuse, no argument could avail to set aside God’s word, or procure a relaxation of this stringent rule. On no ground could defilement by the dead be passed over as a thing of little consequence, or be excused by the exigencies of the occasion; for even if the passover was nigh at hand, those unclean by a dead body must wait for the following month, before they could again commemorate the redemption of the people from Egypt. Touching a dead body was a serious thing in God’s sight, whatever it might have been in man’s; for He judged according to the holiness of His nature, not according to the necessity of the case.
What an illustration this affords of the nature of God! All that came into the tent, and all that was in the tent where death entered, were rendered unclean by its presence. Contact with defilement defiled, and entrance into the place where death was, became a cause of defilement likewise. Inflexible was the standard of God’s holiness, which must be maintained, whatever it might cost His creatures. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” cried the seraphims (Isa. 6:33And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. (Isaiah 6:3)), and here we see exemplified in some degree what that holiness is. Had it been an atrocious act of sin, which called forth this stringent rule to guard the holiness of God from being sullied by the sinner’s presence, all must have agreed in the justice of his exclusion. But here, where man might not have been able to avoid it, born in God’s providence into a world in which death has found an entrance, whatever excuse he might have been prepared to offer, or whatever plea of inability to have kept himself clean he, might truly have urged, nothing could avail when the holy character of God was in question. Unclean he was, and unclean he must be till the appointed epoch had passed away. God could admit of no compromise. The man had not sinned it is true, but he was unclean, because death, the wages of sin, was there. It was no question then about the measure of a man’s guilt, but entirely a question about the nature of God. How little, surely, is this, understood even in these days.
Made to feel in himself how sin excludes from the presence of God, and how holy He must be who so jealously guarded the purity of His sanctuary, the man, whilst learning the defiling character of sin, and all connected with it, might learn also the gracious provision of his God for the effectual removal of his uncleanness by the sprinkling of the water of separation. How to be made clean when defiled he could not have discovered, but God had disclosed the means to be used, manifesting thereby the utmost care for the sanctuary, but manifesting also His real desire for the defiled one. “He shall purify himself with it on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean; but, if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean,” The water must be used on both days. Purified he would be if he conformed to God’s law, but the full time must elapse before he could be, clean. The clean person must use the water with hyssop, and twice must the unclean one be. sprinkled. A little thing it might seem to touch the dead body, or to be in the tent; but the man must deeply feel what sin and all connected with it, is before God. On the third day and on the seventh day was he sprinkled. It was no hasty work, done in a moment and forgotten. Sprinkled on the third day, he must wait till the seventh day arrived, and then be sprinkled afresh before he could be clean. The condition he was in as unclean must be pressed home on him. He must feel it fully, as a whole period of time elapsed between the act which defiled, and the final act of bathing himself on the seventh day at even. Besides this, he had to own himself indebted to a clean person for the sprinkling of that water, by which alone he could begin to emerge from his state of ceremonial uncleanness. Without the sprinkling with the water on the two separate occasions he could not have been cleansed, and without the washing of his clothes and himself in water, the cleansing must have been imperfect.
Of what does this rite speak to us? It tells of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ under the judgment of God for us, brought home to the conscience in power by the Holy Ghost. His death was needed to atone for our sins, His death was also requisite to put away sin, and to be applied to the believer as an adequate motive for his walk in separation from evil on earth. How great then was the need of that death, and how rich are the provisions we have in it. By it God’s holiness is maintained, and because of it the defiled one can be cleansed. And, as the type sets forth what was needed, so the order therein enjoined is the order with God’s people now. First, the death of Christ is applied to the conscience by the Holy Ghost, then separation from what is unclean around us will take place; just as the man was first sprinkled, and then he washed himself. He washed himself because he had been sprinkled, and that twice; not to fit himself to be sprinkled, for another—a clean man must move in that matter first of all on his behalf. Humbling fact and since it was a question of cleansing from what had defiled him by contact, or by his presence within the tent where death was, and not of standing before God, he needed not the immediate services of the priest, (they had been rendered in the preparation of the ashes); but the offices of one that was himself ceremonially clean. The aspect of priestly work is towards God, so the blood of the heifer had been sprinkled by the priest towards the face of the tabernacle of the congregation. None but the priest, the type of the Lord Jesus Christ could do this; but, the using the water of separation on behalf of another, was an act of a different character, for it shadows forth that service which one believer can do for another, as, beholding him entangled in that which is defiling, he applies by the power of the Holy Ghost the word—which tells of the death of Christ, and the consequent position of His followers on earth—to free the soul from all that communicates only uncleanness.
And as the sprinkled one purified himself, and washed his clothes, and bathed himself in water; so those to whom such a service is rendered must themselves acquiesce in it, and act accordingly. “Blessed are they that wash their robes (so we should read) that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:1414Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. (Revelation 22:14).) There is such a thing as “cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 6:11We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (2 Corinthians 6:1)), besides having our feet washed by the service of another (John But, to minister to one in need of such offices, the individual must be clean himself.
Another thing comes out. Though only an individual was defiled, the consequences of his act were not confined to himself. Outside the camp because defiled (Num. 5), he was nevertheless a member of it, in the midst of which God dwelt. So, if the means prescribed for his cleansing were despised, or even neglected, God must have acted, because he defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. Hence, there was but one alternative. Death must come in in any case; but it was either for the man to avail himself of the death of the heifer, or to suffer death himself under the judicial hand of God. He might say he did not want the cleansing. That would show how completely he disregarded the peculiar privileges of the people of Israel, but that plea would not avail him. He could not shelter himself from what flowed from his position as a member of the camp, on the ground of his individuality. It mattered not what he desired, action must take place, because he belonged to the congregation in the midst of which was the sanctuary.
How holy then was that place. All connected with his cleansing felt it. The person who sprinkled him had to wash his clothes, and the Man who touched the water of separation was unclean until the evening, whilst the poor defiled person, unable to sanctify himself, imparted pollution to whatever he came against. What a state to be in. But death, the death of God’s own Son, provided all that was needful. No compromise of God’s holiness, nor continuance of defilement could be allowed for a moment, nor was there the need of either; for that death, as viewed in the type, maintained the one, and purified the individual from the other.