I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols.
I. GOD WILL GIVE FOR FOULNESS, PURITY. The defiling and offensive nature of sin is symbolized in Scripture by uncleanness of body. Of the sins with which Israel is especially charged, that of idolatry is perhaps the most prominent and the most debasing, bringing in its train a host of moral abominations. From idolatry and all its contaminations the consecrated people must needs be delivered, as a condition of all other blessing. With what simplicity and exquisite beauty is the gracious purpose of the Divine -Purifier here expressed! "I wilt sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you." The moral purity of the Divine nature is imparted to the nature of man. The Holy Spirit produces the holy character, which expresses itself in the holy life. Much of the religious observance practiced among the Hebrews was intended to convey the idea and to cultivate the practice of holiness. In the New Testament the greatest stress is laid upon this disposition and habit: "Be ye holy; for your Father in heaven is holy."
II. GOD WILL GIVE FOR HARDNESS OF HEART, A TENDERNESS AND SUSCEPTIBILITY. By hardness or obduracy we understand insensibility to Divine appeals, to rebukes and to promises - a character repelling all higher and holier motive. The stony heart is to be taken away, and replaced by a heart of flesh, i.e. a heart sensitive to Divine goodness and responsive to Divine appeals. The Israelites seem to have been peculiarly hard and stubborn in character. The word addressed to them, if it was to produce any impression, must needs have been "as a fire, and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces." This was so throughout long periods of the national history. When God dealt with them in his mercy, he rendered their obdurate nature susceptible to gracious influences. Under the Christian dispensation, the softer features of the human character are brought out into prominence. The Spirit of Christ is a Spirit of meekness and gentleness. The heart of flesh which he imparts is susceptible to all that is good and winning, purifying and consolatory.
III. GOD WILL GIVE FOR OLDNESS, NEWNESS OF CHARACTER. "A new heart also will I give you, and a new Spirit will I put within you." It is remarkable that we should find in Ezekiel's prophecies so striking an anticipation of the promises and privileges of Christianity. Living, as we do, under the new covenant, we are especially able to appreciate this gracious assurance. Old things pass away, all things become new, to him who is "in Christ Jesus," who is "a new creation." The oldness of the letter, the oldness of disobedience, are left behind; and spiritual newness opens up, in all its beauty and hopefulness, before us. "Newness of life" is the plainest mark of a Christianity more than nominal and formal.
IV. GOD WILL GIVE FOR ALIENATION, ACCEPTANCE. Those who had been afar off were to be brought nigh; those who had been estranged by sin were to be restored to fellowship; those who had been in rebellion were to be reconciled. The exiled should be brought home, and the cold oppression and scorn of the foreign conqueror should be exchanged for the acceptable services of the temple, and the smile of God upon his people and their inheritance. A marvelous emblem of the restoration of God's people to himself through Jesus Christ. For our Savior has "made peace," so that those who accept his mediation, from having been alienated and at enmity, are reconciled, and enjoy the fellowship, the smile, the approval, of their God.
V. GOD WILL GIVE FOR ERROR, OBEDIENCE, SUBMISSION, AND CONFORMITY TO HIS WILL. "I will cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." To feel the force of this promise, we must remember how grievously the Israelites had erred, and how far they had strayed from the path of true and acceptable service. A renovation worthy of the name must include a thorough submission to the will which had been defied, a thorough and cordial performance of the service which had been neglected. As it was with the Israelites, so must it ever be with all upon whom God has mercy. He puts his Spirit within them, and thus the life which would otherwise have been impracticable becomes the life deliberately chosen and consistently and perseveringly followed out. - T.
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. GOD'S PEOPLE ARE NOT CHOSEN BECAUSE THEY ARE HOLY. They are chosen that they may become holy, not because they have become so. It is after God elects that he justifies, as it is after He has justified that He sanctifies. This stands out very visibly in the terms of the text, "then will I sprinkle clean water upon you." We do not hold good works cheap. We say that by them God is glorified; by them faith is justified; by them on the great day of judgment shall you, and I, and every man be tried. You are not to be justified by works, yet you are to be judged by works; the rule of that day being this — The tree is known by his fruit, and every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. The most important results often depend on the right adjustment of place and position. What a monster in nature, how hideous of aspect, and happily how brief its existence, were that body which should have its organs and members so arranged, that the hands occupied the place of the feet, and the heart palpitated in the cavity of the brain! And who, besides, does not know that the fruitfulness, the beauty, the very life of a tree depends not only on its having both roots and branches, but on these members being placed in their natural order? Well, if the order established in nature is of such consequence, I can confidently affirm that it is of as much consequence to abide by the order established in the kingdom of grace. It is not enough that you hold right doctrines, nay, hold all the doctrines. Each right doctrine must be in its own right place. Are any of you attempting to make yourselves more pure and more penitent, that you may get up some claim to Divine mercy? In that you are trying to weave ropes of sand; and he who has set you to a task so impracticable knows right well that by and by you will abandon it in despair; and then, perhaps, returning to your old sins, like a drunkard to his cups after an irksome season of sobriety, you shall furnish but another illustration of the saying, The last state of that man is worse than the first. I would endeavour to disabuse your minds of so great an error. For that purpose let me borrow an illustration from such an asylum as a ragged school. That institution, like the Gospel that it teaches, opens its loving arms to the outcast, and seeks to train up to God the poor, perishing children whom its piety and pity have adopted. On entering these blessed doors, the only gate of hope to many, your attention is caught by a child, who is supported thereby the bounty of some generous Christian. The boy now can spell his way through the Bible, once a sealed book to him; now he knows the name, and in tones that have melted our heart he now sings sweetly of a Saviour who said, Suffer little children to come unto Me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. These little hands are now skilful to weave the net, or ply the shuttle, which once were alert only to steal, or held out in pitiful emaciation for oft-denied charity. And now there is such sharp intelligence in his once languid eye, and such an open air of honesty in his beaming face, and such attention to cleanliness in his dress and person, and such buoyancy in his whole bearing, as if hope hailed a bright future for him, that these bespeak your favour. But were these the child's passport to this asylum? Do you suppose that, when he wandered an outcast in the winter streets, shoeless among the snow, shivering in the cold, it was what now so interests you that caught the eye of pity? If you suppose that to these habits and accomplishments, acquired under a parental roof the child owed his adoption, how great is your mistake! This were to turn things upside down. He was adopted, not for the sake of these, but notwithstanding the want of them. It was his wretchedness that saved him. The clean hands and rosy cheek and eye lighted up with intelligence and decent habits and useful arts and Bible knowledge and all which now wins your regard, are the consequences of his adoption. They never were nor could be its cause Even so it is with holy habits and a holy heart in the matter of redemption; Ye have not chosen Me, lint I have chosen you, says God. Blessed truth!
II. IN REDEMPTION THE SAVED ARE NOT JUSTIFIED BY THEMSELVES, BUT BY GOD. This is no recondite truth, one which we need to dig or dive for. The pearl lies in the hidden depths of the sea, but gold commonly near the surface of the earth; and like that precious ore gleaming from the naked rock, this truth shines on the face of my text. A child's eye can catch it there and a child's mind comprehend it. For how is a sinner made clean? but through the application of what is here called clean water; and by whom, according to the text, is that water applied? It is applied to the sinner, but not by the sinner. Observe what happens when the cry rises at sea — A man overboard! With all on deck you rush to the side; and, leaning over the bulwarks, with beating heart you watch the place where the rising air bells and boiling deep tell that he has gone down. Some moments of breathless anxiety, and you see his head emerge from the wave. Now, that man, I shall suppose, is no swimmer, he has never learned to breast the billows; yet, with the first breath he draws he begins to beat the water; with violent efforts he attempts to shake off the grasp of death, and, by the play of limbs and arms, keep his head from sinking. It may be that these struggles but exhaust his strength, and sink him all the sooner; nevertheless, that drowning one makes instinctive and convulsive efforts to save himself. So, when first brought to feel and cry. "I perish," when the horrible conviction rushes into the soul that we are lost, when we feel ourselves going down beneath a load of guilt into the depths of the wrath of God, our first effort is to save ourselves. Like a drowning man, who clutches at straws and twigs, we seize on anything, however worthless, that promises salvation. Thus, alas! many poor souls toil and spend weary, unprofitable years in the attempt to establish a righteousness of their own, and find in the deeds of the law a protection from its curse. There was a time, no doubt, when man held his fortunes in his own hand. That time is gone. Our power passed away with our purity. Impotence has followed the loss of innocence, and nothing is left us but poverty and a proud spirit. How few, who have been accustomed to a high position in society, are able to reconcile themselves to a humble one! I have seen such an one, when he had lost his wealth, retain his vanity, and continue proud in spirit even when he had become poor in circumstances. So is it with us in our low and lost estate. Spiritually poor, we are spiritually proud, saying, I am rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing, while we are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Even when we are in some degree sensible of our poverty, and know we cannot pay, like the unjust steward we are ashamed to beg. Indulging a pride out of all keeping with filthy rags, we will not stoop to stand at God's door, poor mendicants, who ask for mercy. No. We shall work out our own salvation, nor be beholden to another. Nor, ordinarily, till the sinner learns, by prolonged and painful and unsuccessful trials, that he cannot be his own saviour, does this proud heart allow us to stand suppliants at the gate of mercy; our plea for pardon not our own merits; nothing, nothing whatever but a Saviour's merits and a sinner's misery. Yet thus and there we must stand if we would be saved. Jesus is a Saviour of none but the lost. Now, to bring us down to this humbling conviction, to draw from our lips and hearts the cry, Lord, save me, I perish, God often leaves awakened sinners to try their hand at working out their own salvation. God, in fact, deals with them as Jesus did with Simon Peter. Impetuous, self-satisfied, puffed up with vanity, to parade his power and prove his superiority to the other disciples, he will walk the sea. His Master allows him to try it. "Lord, save me, I perish." Painful but profitable lesson! His danger and failure have taught him his weakness. Now, to such a state, and confession, all who are to be saved must first be brought.
III. WE ARE NOT JUSTIFIED OR CLEANSED FROM THE GUILT OF SIN THROUGH THE ADMINISTRATION OR EFFICACY OF ANY OUTWARD ORDINANCE. "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean." The question that we would urge on your most serious consideration does not concern the sign, but the thing signified. If you have got the living element, I care little, or nothing, through what church or by what channel it may flow. Have you got the living grace of God? In the words of an apostle, Have ye received the Holy Ghost?
IV. WE ARE JUSTIFIED, OR CLEANSED FROM THE GUILT OF SIN, BY THE BLOOD OF CHRIST. "Without the shedding of blood there is no remission"; and none, we may add, without its application. Where do we find this doctrine in the text? By what process of spiritual chemistry can this truth be extracted from it? There is water, and clean water, and sprinkling of water, it maybe said, but no word of blood; there is neither sign nor spot of blood upon the page, True, so it looks at first sight; but without the hand of Moses we shall see this water turned into blood. This at least is plain, that here, as elsewhere, water is but the sign of spiritual blessings. And a most expressive symbol we shall find it, if we but reflect on the important part that this element plays in the economy of nature. The circulation of this fluid is to the world what that of blood is to the body, or that of grace to the soul. It is its life. Withdraw it, and all that lives would expire; forests, fields, beasts, man himself would die. This world would become one vast grave; for water constitutes as much the life as the beauty of the landscape; and it is true, both in a spiritual and in an earthly sense, that the world lives because heaven weeps over it. It was Christ's choicest figure of Himself. Turning the eyes of thousands on His own person, as on a perennial fountain, one never sealed by winter's frost, nor dried by summer suns, free, full, patent to all, He stood up on the last and great day of the feast, and cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. All the world use water for washing as well as drinking; and the reference in the text is to that solvent power, by virtue of which it removes impurities, turning white what is black, and cleansing whatever is foul. It stands here, therefore, the figure of that which cleanses. The object to be cleansed is the soul; the defilement to be cleansed away is sin; and we now therefore address ourselves to the all-important question — Of what is this water the figure? The key to that question lies in the epithet "clean" water. The water is such as the Jews understood by clean water; not merely free from impurity, and in itself clean, but that maketh clean; in the words of the ceremonial law, "water of purifying." This was prepared according to a divinely appointed ritual. Look how it was prepared, and you shall see it reddening into blood. Gathering the lowing herds from their different pastures, they sought up and down among them, till a red heifer was found; red from head to tail, from horn to hoof, mottled by no other colour, but all red; and one also on whose free neck yoke of bondage had never lain. What was that heifer? Spotless and separated from the common herd, she is a type of Him who was without spot or blemish, holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. With neck on which yoke had never lain, she is a type of Him who said, The prince of this world cometh, and he hath nothing in Me. Red in colour, she is a type of Him whose feet were dipped in the blood of His enemies, and who, as seen by the prophet on His way from Bozrah, was red in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of His might. And what is this public procession, which conducts the heifer without the camp, but a figure of the march to Calvary? And what is her bloody death, but a type of that which Jesus suffered amid the agonies of the Cross? And what are these fires that burn so fiercely, and consume the victim, but a flaming image of the wrath of God, under which His soul was withered like grass? And what is the water mingled with this heifer's ashes, but a type of the righteousness, which, imputed by God, received by faith, and applied to sinners, makes sinners just? For, as the Jew over whom that water was sprinkled became ceremonially clean, so the guilt of original and actual sin, all guilt, is removed from him (much the happier man), whom God sprinkles with the blood of Jesus, and to whom sovereign mercy imputes a Saviour's merits.
( T. Guthrie, D. D.)
I. GOD BEGINS TO DEAL WITH HIS PEOPLE WHILE THEY ARE YET IN SIN. He does not make promises of purification to them upon condition that they cleanse themselves; but He comes to them according to the riches of His grace, even when they are dead in trespasses and sins. He finds them in all their defilement, rebellion, and iniquity, and He deals with them just as they are. His grace stoops to the ruin of the fall and lifts us up from it. If the covenant of grace did not deal with sinners as sinners I should be afraid to come to Christ; but because it opens its mouth wide to me while I am yet unclean and polluted by sin, I feel that it meets my case. You may notice in the text, or gather it therefrom by clear inference — that these people with whom God dealt were not only unclean, but they could not cleanse themselves, lit Is a rule with miracles, as well miracles of the Spirit as miracles of the body, that God never does what others can do. Cleansing cannot come from any other place, therefore seek it of the Lord, who says, "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean." If you go about through heaven, and earth, and hell, you shall find no other detergent that shall take away sin but the precious blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God. More than that, when God begins to deal with His people many of them have a special filthiness. "From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you." The heathen of old once reported that ours was the religion of the most abandoned. They laughed at Christianity, for they said it was like the building of Rome, when Romulus received everybody that was in debt and discontented, and all the criminals from all the towns round about came to make the city of Rome. There is much truth in the statement; it is a very good figure, though meant to be a slander. The Lord does receive the devil's runaways.
II. GOD PROVIDES FOR THE CLEANSING OF THOSE TO WHOM HE COMES IN SOVEREIGN GRACE. Where could this "clean water" be found by mortal man? God has provided a system of cleansing men, perfect in itself, and just, and right, and effectual. When under the old Mosaic law they took water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled the unclean therewith, he was cleansed ceremonially; and now under the Gospel God has provided a wondrous way by which, being Himself perfectly pure, He can put away the impurities of our nature, and the iniquities of our lives.
1. It is a righteous way. Sin must not go unpunished; it would be ruinous that such a thing should be. Therefore the Lord took sin and laid it on His Son, that His Son might bear what was due for our transgressions. This the Lord Jesus did as our substitute and Saviour. In addition to that, God has given the Holy Ghost as a gift of Christ on His ascension; and that Holy Spirit is here to renew men in their hearts, to take away from them the love of sin, to give them a new life, to create in them a new heart and a right spirit, and so to change their inward longings and desires that their outward conduct shall become altogether different from what it was before.
2. And what a simple way it is, as well as clean! The wisdom of God made the rite by which the leper was cleansed under the law very simple; but even more simple is the act by which God applies the merit of His dear Son to us.
3. It is a way of universal adaptation, too; for wherever there is a soul on whom God has looked with love He can apply to that soul the blood of sprinkling.
4. It is a way of unfailing efficacy, for He says, "From all your filthiness and from all your idols, will I cleanse you." He does not only attempt the cleansing, but He accomplishes it. What though your heart be like the Augean stable, the labours of Hercules shall be outdone by the wonders of Jesus.
III. GOD HIMSELF APPLIES THIS MEANS OF CLEANSING. Some of you remember when first the Lord revealed to you how much you needed to be cleansed: that discovery was a great part of the cleansing. Then did it not seem to you impossible that you could be cleansed from so much defilement? It seemed to me — I dare say it did to you — the most extraordinary thing in the world to believe in Jesus. I could not make it out. How could I get to Christ? I could see that He was a Saviour. I could see that He saved others, and I was glad that He did; but the thing was, how could I ever come to be personally a partaker of His power to save? I heard about that woman touching the hem of the garment; and I felt that if Christ were before me, I would touch the hem of His garment with my finger; but I could not understand how I was to touch Him spiritually. To this day the simplest thing under heaven is perverted by our evil hearts into difficulty and mystery. Despite the simplicity of faith, no man ever would have savingly believed in Jesus Christ if the Lord had not guided him, and led him into faith. Oh yes, the clean water is provided, but the clean water must be sprinkled by another hand than ours if we are to be cleansed. And all the way through the rest of life it is just the same. "All things are of God."
IV. THE LORD EFFECTUALLY CLEANSES ALL HIS PEOPLE. First, He cleanses them from all their filthiness. Oh, what a vast "all" that is! All the filthiness of your birth sin; all the filthiness of your natural temperament and constitution and disposition. All the filthiness that came out of you in your childhood, that was developed in you in your youth, that still has vexed your manhood, and perhaps even now dishonours your old age. From all your actual filthiness, as well as from all your original filthiness, will I cleanse you. From all your secret filthiness, and from all your public filthiness; from everything that was wrong in the family; from everything that was wrong in the business; from everything that was wrong in your own heart — "From all your filthiness will I cleanse you." And then it is added that we shall be cleansed "from all our idols." We are all of us idolaters by nature and by practice. If there is anything that has our love more than God, it is an idol, and we must be purged from it. This is not a threatening but a promise: it is a great blessing to have our images of jealousy put away.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
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