Tuesday, May 30th, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation Seiss' Lectures
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Seiss, Joseph A. "Commentary on Leviticus 14". Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ sei/ leviticus-14.html.
Seiss, Joseph A. "Commentary on Leviticus 14". Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation. https://studylight.org/
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The Leper Cleansed
Care to precede the cleansing—The two Birds—The Instrument of cleansing—The work of the Leper himself—Sacrifice necessary—Seven days of waiting required—The final Release.
I have stated the fact, that leprosy was not curable by human remedies. It did not always, however, continue for life. It was often sent as a special judgment, as in the cases of Miriam, Azariah, and Gehazi. The Jews generally looked upon it in this light. Its very name denotes a stroke of the Lord. This, of itself, rather implies that it may cease with the repentance and forgiveness of the smitten offender. Miriam was healed in the course of a week. And learned men tell us, that it sometimes runs its course in the system, and then dries up as of its own accord. At any rate, we know of many lepers being healed, both in the Savior’s time and before, not by human skill, but by divine power and grace.
It was the anticipation of the healing, of at least some persons leprously affected, that formed the basis of the provisions here laid down. They constitute "the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing;" and if there was no possibility of cure, there was no use of this law.
You will observe, however, that these regulations were not for the cure of the leper, but for his ceremonial cleansing after the cure. The priest was first to examine "if the plague of leprosy had been healed in the leper;" and it was only in case he found the plague healed, that these laws were to go into effect. You recollect the case in the Gospel history, of "a man full of leprosy, who, seeing Jesus, fell on his face, and besought him, saying, "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him." The man was cured. Everything of his disease was quite gone. But still he was not yet restored to his social and religious privileges as a Jew. It yet remained for him to comply with this "law of the leper." Hence the Savior said to him, "Go, and show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded." We thus have the authority of Christ for it, that this law was for the ceremonial cleansing of lepers after they were cured, and not for their cure. The disease had first to be stayed, and then began this process of cleansing off all its lingering effects and disabilities.
I therefore take the deepest intention of these rites to be, to illustrate the nature of sanctification. Justification is also implied, but only as connected with sanctification. Of course there can be no sanctification without forgiveness and acquittal first. Condemnation must be removed before there can be any advances in holiness. Hence, these cleansing ceremonies were to begin by the priest’s inspection of the recovered leper, and the pronunciation of him healed of his disease. Let us look a little at these preliminaries, and we will be the better prepared to appreciate what was to follow.
1. In the first place it is presupposed that the leper’s disease had been stayed. And this healing again points to some putting forth of divine power and grace quite different from anything here brought to view, and far anterior to the commencement of these services. The first motion of our salvation is from God. It begins while we are yet in the very depths of our defilement and guilt. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." The grounds of our justification are all provided for us in the mercy of God, without any sort of co-operation on our part. The first that we know of our spiritual estate, is the Gospel sounding in our ears, telling us that we have been dead in sin, and that God hath found a ransom by which, if we believe and act on his word, "there is now no more condemnation." Our healing is begun in Christ Jesus before we are conscious of it. The very first that we hear on the subject is, the glad tidings that our leprosy is stayed, and that all we have now to do is to go forward with what is prescribed for our cleansing. We need no longer sit brooding in despondency over our leprous condition. All that is as good as cured in Christ Jesus. A full and free forgiveness of all our sins is provided. And the only remaining requirement is, to "go show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded."
2. The leper, finding his leprosy stayed, was to go to the judge in the case, and claim exemption from the sentence that was upon him. And to render this the more easy for him, the priest had to "go forth out of the camp" to meet him. The very moment the sinner believes in the healing proclaimed to him in the Gospel, and sets himself to move for his cleansing, Christ meets him. The father runs to embrace the returning prodigal while yet a great way off. We have only to say to him, "See, I have been a filthy leper. My whole nature has been corrupt and unclean. But here in this Gospel and its provisions is a complete cure. This pure white righteousness of my Savior and surety is enough to exempt me from being any longer excluded from the society of my friends. Examine it, and see whether the disease is not healed. In the power of this holy word I am no longer to be numbered with the outcast and condemned. Deliver me then from this terrible exclusion."
3. And when the healed leper thus presented himself to the priest, there was no alternative left. He had to be pronounced cured. And so Christ hath bound himself to acquit and absolve every sinner who thus comes to him in the strength of the Gospel message. There is no further hindrance in the way. The man is justified. The sentence that was against him is exscinded and taken away. All that concerns our forgiveness or justification then lies in this,—Do we believe the Gospel message? Do we take it to be true that Christ has wrought out for us a sufficient righteousness? Do we rest upon his sacrifice as our propitiation? Do we receive to our hearts and repose upon the announcement of pardon through his mediation? If we do, we are forgiven. Our sins are remembered against us no more. We are absolved. We are justified. The process of our sanctification has begun.
But, the mere absolution of the priest did not fully restore the leper. Though his disease was stayed, there was a taint of it remaining to be purged off before he could join the camp or the holy services And so our whole salvation must miscarry, if it does not also take in an active holiness, puriftying our hearts and lives, and transforming us into the image of our Redeemer. How this sanctification is effected is what we are now to consider.
I. To cleanse the recovered leper, the first thing to be done was the procurement of two clean birds, the one of which was to be slain, and the other to be dipped in its fellow’s blood and set at liberty. These two doves, the gentlest of all God’s creatures, at once carry our thoughts back to Christ, and his wonderful history. Like them he was meek and pure—the "gentle Jesus." Like them he was taken from his peaceful home, and made captive to the law. The fate of the one shows us how he was mangled for human guilt, crushed to death for the sins of others, and brought down to the depths of the earth. The other, coming up out of the earthen vessel, out of the blood of its fellow, shows us how Jesus rose again from the rocky sepulchre, and ascended up out of the hand of his captor on strong and joyous pinions far into the high abodes of heaven, scattering as he went the gracious drops of cleansing and salvation.
The introduction of these birds, in this connection, presents a great theological fact. As they typify Christ, they show, that our sanctification, as well as our justification, proceeds from his cross and resurrection. True, it is the Spirit that sanctifies, through the truth; but had not Christ died and risen again, "the truth" would have been disrobed of its power, and the Holy Ghost would not have come. His teachings are indeed sublime and perfect; but they would be dead as man’s philosophies, without then proper seal of dying love, and the living energies which flow through them from their Author’s triumph over death, and his gifts of power shed from the heavens whither he ascended.
When Themistocles was a young man, and the battle scenes of Marathon were stirring the blood of heroes, for a time he could not rest day nor night. All his common affections seemed to be suddenly stricken dead. Being asked as to the cause, he said, "The trophies of Miltiades will not suffer me to sleep." And so there are certain stirring, melting, transforming potencies, proceeding from Gethsemane and Calvary and Olivet, which
—seize upon the mind,—arrest, and search,
And shake it,—bend the tall soul as by wind,—
Rush over it like rivers over reeds,
Which quiver in the current,—turn us cold,
And pale, and voiceless,—
tearing the sinner from his guilty peace, and thrilling him with thoughts, and fears, and aspirations, which reach throughout eternity. I will not now attempt to explain how it is; but there is a mightiness in the blood-doctrine of the cross, which works upon the human heart, and changes and renews it, as nothing else has ever done, or can do. Let man once fairly see and believe it, and sin that moment loses its supremacy in his soul, and withers and fades. Can I look on a Savior’s love, unaided and alone interposing for my rescue, and see my condemnation dying in his death, and the guilt of my past offences buried in his grave, and the decree of perfect absolution issuing from his resurrection, and the invitations to immortality opened to me in his ascension, and not feel a grateful impulse of compliance in my soul which snaps the cords of sin asunder, and covers base passion with infinite contempt? Can I behold so dear-bought and great a salvation brought to my very door and offered freely to my acceptance, and feel no check of selfishness that I may live for ever? Can I believe that all the dreadful weight of my guilt was laid upon that meek Lamb, and expiated in his blood, entitling me to step up and be a companion of angels in the habitation of God, and not feel inwardly impelled to deny my heart its short-lived sinful pleasures that I may have eternal blessedness? Ho, child of folly! Only
Cast up thy tearful eyes
To where thy Lord and Love was crucified;
So shall the world, and all its vanities,
Appear like dross;—ambition, lust, and pride,
Shall far, far off their baleful powers remove,
And in the pure, unspotted mind
But adoration, ecstacy, and love.
Let men reason as they please, it is after all the Savior’s blood and resurrection which sanctifies.
Talk they of morals? O thou bleeding Lamb!
The best morality is love to Thee.
II. The next thing to be done for the cleansing of the recovered leper, was the arrangement and use of means to apply the cleansing blood. Three different articles were to be combined into one instrument for this purpose—a stem of cedar wood, a bunch of scarlet wool, and a parcel of twigs of hyssop. I will not undertake to say what was the detail of typical signification in these several articles. The cedar wood here spoken of is remarkable for its durability, fragrance, and healthful-looking redness of heart. The scarlet color of the wool, which was much esteemed by the orientals, may have some allusion to the blood of the leper returning again to its natural color, and signify healthiness. Hyssop is a small bushy plant, aromatic, and warming in its medicinal properties. The stick of cedar formed a sort of handle or stem on which the wool and hyssop were fastened, so as to make a convenient instrument for taking of the blood to sprinkle it upon the body of him who was to be cleansed. The whole thing taken together presents us with the fact, that our sanctification by the blood of the crucified and risen Savior is not direct, but through the use of instrumentalities or means. There is always something coming between the purifying blood and ourselves, by which the efficacy of that blood is applied to our souls. Christ has appointed certain instruments and agencies to convey to us the purifying elements. First of all is the cedar stem of his word, durable, fragrant, and instinct with celestial power and life, speaking through all the visible creation, but much more distinctly and powerfully in the written Scriptures. Along with this, and fastened to it, is the scarlet wool of the holy sacraments, absorbing, as it were, the whole substance of Christ crucified, and performing an important part in the impartation of the same to our souls. And along with this scarlet wool, and bound to the same stem, are the many little aromatic stems of prayer, with the sanctifying blood running out and hanging in drops on every point, ready to flow upon and cleanse the humble worshipper. Whether any other means are included in these symbols, I do not know; but these certainly are; and by these. above everything else, is the purifying blood of Jesus brought in contact with our hearts, and made effectual to our purification. These are the glorious channels of saving health to unclean souls.
Let a man exercise himself well in the Divine word; let him make his heart familiar with what is there given for his learning; let him know and believe the truth as it is in Jesus, and it will be in him a fountain of purity springing up into everlasting life. Let him attend devoutly to the appointed sacraments, and he will find that word mellowing into still greater adaptation to his wants, and drawing to him in more vivid closeness and power. And let him be diligent and earnest in his prayers, and be found at his wonted times bowed at the feet of his great High-priest in heaven; and there will be all necessary connection and communion with that blood which cleanseth from all sin. To these comes the mystic Spirit of God, viewless as the wind, silent as the grave, but mighty as omnipotence, breathing through all, working in all, making all alive with celestial vigor, reviving, cheering, sanctifying, blessing, and bringing back the lost to life, and home, and heaven. How simple, and yet how beautiful! How easy, and yet how effective! Conceive, if you can, of a polar winter—cold that locks up the sea—darkness that is perpetual—on everything the white shroud and silence of death It is the picture of the moral estate of him who has never been reached by these sanctifying appliances. Conceive, now, of the breaking up of that forbidding scene. The snows melt on their hills; the ice breaks from the seas; the sun forgets to set; the buried earth rises out of its cold shroud; the sea ebbs and flows in joyous freedom; life springs up in the valleys; the wild winds change their savage roar for balmy melody; and the harsh north lays by its fierceness and lies down as a gentle lamb in the continuous sunshine. It is the picture of the sinner passed from death to life. And what has done it? Nothing but one aspect of that law which causes this book to rest upon my hand—the turning of a little wheel in the clock-work of material things. The north turned away from its sovereign in the heavens; and there was cold, darkness, and death. It turned back again; and there was genial warmth, and light, and life, and blessedness. And so, only let the sinner reverse his course, retrace his steps, and turn himself Godward in these simple means; and a hallowing peace and light shall arise upon him, at which his inmost soul will sing, and angels themselves rejoice.
III. A third requirement for the leper’s cleansing was, that he should "wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water." This was his own work. It was to be done by the leper himself. Its spiritual significance is easily understood. It refers to the sinner’s repentance and reformation. He must cleanse himself from all his old and base surroundings. He must separate between himself and everything suspicious. Though the leper was cured, his disease might still adhere to his clothes; he had therefore to wash them. Though clean of his leprosy in every other part, it might still have some hidden symptoms under the hair; he had therefore to shave it all off, even his very eyebrows. There was to be a perfect separation made between himself and the uncleanness which was formerly upon him. To be truly sanctified, we must cut ourselves off from all unholy associations and suspicious honors. We must break up all our old sinful habits, and relinquish all false ways. As the prophet expresses it, we must "cease to do evil, and learn to do well." He that sinned, must sin no more. There must be a complete reform. A man from another church remarked to me some time ago, that he thought there was one great deficiency in many of the pulpits of modern times; that the preachers make too much of faith, and not enough of repentance; that our professed Christians are too forward to trust in Christ without a sufficient surrender of themselves to obey Christ; and that the way to heaven is often held forth as so simple and easy, that people are not impressed as they should be with the necessity of a change in the whole manner of life. I will not say how far he was correct. But this I will say, If our religion is not powerful enough to work a complete revolution in our lives, leading us to obey and follow Christ as well as to expect salvation through him, it will avail us nothing before God.
Mistaken souls, that dream of heaven,
And make their empty boast
Of inward joys and sins forgiven,
While they are slaves to lust!
Vain are our fancies, airy flights,
If faith be cold and dead;
None but a living power unites
Christ, the living Head.
A faith that changes all the heart;
A faith that works by love;
That bids all sinful joys depart,
And lifts the thoughts above.
Faith must obey our Father’s will,
As well as trust his grace;
A pardoning God is jealous still
For his own holiness.
"Not every one that saith, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of the Father which is in heaven." "Whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed." Religion is not mere sentiment.
’Tis not to cry, God mercy, or to sit
And droop, or to confess that thou hast failed
’Tis to bewail the sins thou didst commit,
And not commit those sins thou hast bewailed.
He that bewails, and not forsakes them too,
Confesses rather what he means to do.
The command is, "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes." "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
IV. But there is another particular entering into this ritual cleansing. After everything else had been done, sacrifices were to be offered. I need not enter into the details of this part of the service, as they were very fully before us in the first chapters. The general signification of them, in this connection, is, that our sanctification, from beginning to end, depends upon "the blood of the Lamb." We must wash, and repent, and reform; but it avails nought without blood. Water, the purest that ever dropped from mossy rock, or gushed from the mountain spring, is not able to cleanse a man for heaven. Tears of repentance, though pure as those which trickled down the Savior’s cheeks, cannot wash out the stains of sin, except they be mingled with the blood that dripped from his wounds. And no moral improvements can entitle us to eternity’s honors, if they are not connected with the suretyship and sacrifice of Jesus. The source of all sanctification is in his death and resurrection. All the glories of eternal life, still refer us back to Calvary. Grace in Christ Jesus commenced the work, and grace in Christ Jesus must complete it.
Grace all the work shall crown,
Through everlasting days;
It lays in heaven the topmost stone,
And well deserves the praise.
The only peculiarity which I notice here, is, that some of the blood and oil was to be touched to the cleansed leper, the same as in the consecration of the priests. The record says, "The priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass-offering, and put it upon the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot;" and the same with regard to the oil. This completed his cleansing, and joined him to the chosen people in all their privileges and obligations. It points to the very culmination and crown of Christian sanctity. The blood of the trespass offering stands for the blood of Christ, and the holy oil for the Holy Spirit. These are the two great consecrating elements of Christianity. With these our High-priest approaches us through the Gospel to complete our cleansing and ordain us to the dignities and duties of our spiritual calling. With this blood and chrism applied to us, we are clean, and set apart as "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people," to "show forth the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness to his marvellous light." And this blood and unction are thus applied, when we have fully submitted ourselves to Jesus, and given up to be what he desires to make us.
The grand peculiarity of a Christian, and that which sums up everything else respecting him, is, that he no longer looks upon himself as his own, but as bought with a price, and marked by redeeming blood, and gifts of anointing, to be the Lord’s. His head and ears are consecrated. His hands and his feet are consecrated. His whole being is set apart to a holy calling, no longer to be given to selfishness or sin. In the entire bent and purpose of his mind, by force of the blood that was shed for him, and the Spirit that is poured upon him, he is brought clean out of the region and shadow of death, made a part of the congregation of saints, and divorced from all alliances foreign to the theocratic kingdom and the commonwealth of Israel. Expatriated from the realms of darkness, he has become a child of light, whose citizenship is in heaven. He is joined to the camp of God, united to the general assembly—the Church of the first-born, made up to share its fate. His whole interest is embarked with the cause of righteousness. Like the trusting Moabitess of the olden time, his vow is, "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God." Jesus has laid his hand upon him, and said—"Thou art mine; therefore thou shalt observe to do whatsoever I have commanded, and verily thou shall have thy reward." "Be it so," is the deep and firm response of his soul; "be it unto me according to thy word." It is enough. With this all the hopes, and joys, and dignities of the saints are his. He is clean. Like the scape-dove in the text, once a captive and in danger of death, he now is free. His soul may spread its wings, and rise above the common world, and soar away to salvation’s sunny hills, and make its nest in the everlasting mountains, "bearing about with it the dying of the Lord Jesus." And when we contemplate the portion of such a soul bounding away, like that liberated bird, to everlasting life, how fitting comes in the Psalmist’s wish—"O that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest."
V. There is one point more in these ceremonies to which I will call your attention. I refer to the time which they required. A leper could by no possibility get through with his cleansing under seven days. One day was enough to admit him into the camp; but seven full days were requisite to admit him to his home. There was therefore a complete period of time necessary to the entireness of his cleansing. This arrangement was not accidental. It has its full typical significance. It refers to the fact, that no one is completely sanctified in the present life; and that a complete period of time must ensue before we reach the rest to which our cleansing entitles us. Christians now are only in course of cleansing. Recovery has commenced. Leprosy has been stayed. The priest has declared the disease conquered. Its offensive humors have all disappeared. We are absolved and justified. The blood of purification has been sprinkled upon us. We have washed our clothes by repentance add reform. We have been admitted to the camp. We are numbered with the people of God Our names are written in heaven. We have made great advances on what we were whilst rotting in our leprosy. We have attained unto very high honors. We have secured very exalted privileges. But everything has not yet been done, and all our disabilities are not yet removed. Great services yet remain to take place when the seven days have elapsed. And until then we must patiently wait. The influences of sin still linger about the old tenement, and we must suffer the consequences of it until the term of this present dispensation ends. Then shall our High-priest come forth again, and "change our vile bodies, and fashion them like unto his own glorious body." The last lurking places of defilement shall then be cut off. The last act of the leper’s cleansing was to shave off his hair. When that was done, he entered upon all the high services of the Tabernacle, and went to his home a saved man.
Some look upon death as the end of man. They think that there is no more of him after he has been consigned to the tomb. A grain of seed dies, and shoots forth a new body and a new harvest; the caterpillar dies, and gives being to the butterfly from the elements of his decay; the day dies, and breaks forth into a new dawn; the year dies, and nature lies dead in her white winding sheet, and then bursts into fresh vigor from her wintry grave; and yet, when man dies, they say it is an eternal sleep—a complete extinction! It is not so. Death is our only proper birth. Then first we are to enter upon the true realities of life. Nature knows no such thing as an eternal sleep. Sleep always implies a future awakening. And if death is a sleep at all, it cannot be eternal. It is but the repose of the night that is soon to issue in eternal day. Death in itself has nothing pleasant in it. It was not an agreeable thing for the leper to have all his hair shaved off from his entire body. It was in itself a great humiliation and dishonor. But in that he received the completion of his liberty. It is sad to see the cheek of a friend grow pale and sunken, and his smile give place to the signs of anguish, and his strong limbs become powerless, and the sick look creep over his flashing eye, and his tongue grow heavy in his mouth, and the work of death going on in his manly form, and his whole visible being turning to offensive corruption. It makes us shudder and weep. It is a melancholy humiliation of the glory of man. But in that very waste and decay he is being born to everlasting vigor. It is his birth to immortality. It is the last of his disabilities. From that sad scene he passes to his home. There is, after all, something bright and joyous connected with the gloom of death. It comes to break the chains of the prisoner; to bring the exile home; to cleanse away the last remains of sin; to lead the ransomed spirit to its rest; to house us with the loving and beloved in the bright mansions of the Father’s house.
Death is the crown of life.
Were death denied, poor man would live in vain.
Were death denied, to live would not be life.
All hail, then, to the Gospel which sheds such light upon the mystery of death! All hail to the hopes which bloom upon a Christian’s grave! These dark and gloomy doors lead to the land of bliss. These Little hillocks, under which our babes and fathers sleep, are but the mountain peaks of another and better world. The king of terrors is a messenger of peace. And connecting death with the resurrection which is to follow it, earth knows of no sublimer transition.
Brethren, we must die. The seven days of life are fast passing away. Very soon we shall sleep our last sleep. It may sadden us and make us shudder to think of it. It requires grace to look calmly on the tomb. But, along with this is another thought—a thrilling thought—that some of these times we shall sleep, and when we open our eyes, we shall say—"What pearly gates are these? What jasper walls, what golden streets, what splendid palaces, are these? What immortal trees, what crystal streams, what amaranthine bowers, are these? Lo! the white-robed hosts that sing redemption’s songs! Lo! the King in his beauty, with his everlasting thrones! O! the beatific vision! What a blessed place! Is not this heaven? Can it be a dream? Verily, this is heaven! I leaven—heaven—heaven! Halleluia for ever! I am at home in heaven!"
; Leviticus 15:1-33
The Poor.—Modifications for their benefit—More demanded of the Rich. House Leprosy.—The Earth infected—Its ultimate cleansing. Secret Uncleanness.—Involuntary corruption—A good moral and spiritual discipline.
I have commented upon the fourteenth chapter as far as the twenty-first verse. At this point commence certain modifications of the law for the cleansing of lepers, to adapt it to the peculiar circumstances of the poor. In all ordinary cases, the man to be cleansed was to present three lambs, and three tenth-deals of flour. But God here says, "If he be poor, and cannot get so much, then he shall take one lamb for a trespass-offering to be waved, to make an atonement for him, and one tenth-deal of fine flour, and two turtle-doves or young pigeons, such as he is able to get." Similar exceptions were made in favor of the poor, in the first, second, and fifth chapters.
The poor man is often overlooked. There is always a strong tendency in the more favored classes to pass him by, and to forget, if not to despise him. But God does not forget him. The directions for his particular case are just as special and authoritative as any contained in this ritual. The Lord would thus assure him of his care—that he feels for him the same deep interest as for others, and brings atonement equally within his reach. There is a common level in the divine administrations, upon which "the rich and poor meet together, and the Lord is the Maker of them all." The poor are his children, as well as the rich. He anointed his Son Jesus, to preach the Gospel to them. And the most neglected and down-trodden child of want has just as good a right to cleansing and heaven, and may count as much upon the sympathy and grace of God as his wealthy neighbor. If he cannot get three lambs, he is just as welcome and acceptable with one lamb and two doves. The poor widow’s mite cast into the treasury of the Lord, receives a higher commendation than all the costly donations of the wealthy. Mary, with her two young pigeons, is just as completely cleansed, as she who could add thereto a lamb of a year old.
But, although the law favored the leper who was poor, it did not exempt him. It accommodated the burden to his strength, but it did not remove it. If he could not bring three lambs, he was still bound to bring one lamb and two doves. If he could not get three deals of flour, one deal had to be forthcoming. There are some people who make poverty a virtue, and claim exemption from everything because they are poor. But God’s commands are upon the poor, as well as upon those more favored in earthly possessions. He does not excuse them because they are indigent. They are sinners as well as other men, and must be cleansed by the same processes. There is no more merit in being poor than in being rich. Poverty cannot save a man. Beggars may go down to eternal death as well as millionaires. There is often as much crime in rags, as in purple and fine linen. All classes are infected; and all classes must have recourse to the blood of the Lamb, and receive upon them the same "blood of sprinkling," and the same consecrating oil of the Spirit. Without this, no one can be cleansed, he he rich as Solomon, or indigent as Lazarus. "God commandeth all men everywhere to repent." All can come to Christ, and all must come to Christ. There is no other way of salvation. And no matter what may he an individual’s earthly estate, there is no hope but in that High-priest whom God hath set over his house, to whom we must "draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water."
A larger expression, however, is required from the rich than from the poor. In God’s account, three lambs, and three tenth-deals of flour, are necessary on the part of the man of means, to equal the one lamb, and the one tenth-deal, on the part of the poor man. Religion levies upon every man, but those levies are always graduated according to our several ability. If we are able to give much, God holds us bound to give much, and we are unfaithful to our obligations if we do not give much; and if we are not able to give much, we must still give something, and the little that we are able to give, if we give it with a believing heart, is the same in the eye of God as if we had given as much as the richest. If we have received freely, we must give freely. "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." God has inserted this in his law and in his Gospel; and no man is at liberty to disregard it.
With these remarks, I will now proceed to another subject, beginning with the thirty-third verse, and occupying the remainder of the chapter. Here we have the leprosy as it affected dwellings. The particular nature of this affection I cannot very certainty determine. Michaelis thinks it was a sort of mural efflorescence, which often appears in damp situations, cellars, and ground-floors, and so corrodes walls and plastering as to affect and damage everything near it, and sometimes quite destroying the entire building. Calmet thinks it was a disorder caused by animalculæ which eroded the walls, and finally destroyed them, if left undisturbed. But perhaps we cannot do better than to agree with the Rabbins and early Christian Fathers, who believed that this leprosy was not natural, but sent of God as an extraordinary judgment, to compel men to the public acknowledgment and expiation of some undetected negligence or crime. It was the stone crying out of the wall against the sinner, and the beam out of the timber answering it. (Habakkuk 2:11.) It came like a great domestic affliction, saying, "This is not your rest, because it is polluted." It was the hand of God upon the forgetters of his law. It was "the curse of the Lord, in the house of the wicked."
Its typical significance will at once suggest itself. It plainly points to the fact, that, not only man, and his surroundings in life, but his very dwelling-place—the earth itself—is infected. There is disorder attaching to the very rocks and ground on which we tread. Going back to God’s reckoning with Adam, we there find it written, "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." From that moment a cloud settled upon the glory in which the world was made. Nature itself is a sufferer for the sin of man. "The creature was made subject to vanity." "The whole creation groaneth, and travaileth in pain together until now." A blur has come upon the beauty of the world, and a corroding leprosy into all its elements, and discord into its pristine harmony. Tempests, floods, and fires; volcanoes, earthquakes, siroccos, and deserts; inclement seasons, pestilential malaria, dangerous exhalations, and a thousand things of disharmony, pain and death, combine to form the sad echoes of the sentence pronounced in Eden. The whole surface and framework of the world bespeaks infection, disobedience, and disorder. We must tear it with instruments of iron, and mix its mould with tears and sweat, before it will yield us bread. Walls and houses must be built to shelter us from its angry blasts. And with all that we can do, the sea will now and then engulph the proudest navies, and the hailstones blast the budding harvests, and famine and pestilence cut down the strength of empires, and earthquakes bury up great cities in a common tomb, and the sun and the moon flash down death in their rays, and the very winds come laden with destruction.
And even in a moral aspect, the material world, though meant for spiritual as well as other good, has often been to man a source of defilement. Creation is a standing miracle to show us Eternal Power and Godhead. Every ray of light is an electric cord, let down from the unknown heavens to lift our hearts into communion with "the Father of light." Every night puts us into the midst of a sublime temple in which the tapers burn around the everlasting altar, and through which rolls the vesper anthem of the heavenly spheres, to inspire us with adoration. And the innumerable changes that pass before our eyes, are but so many letters to spell out to us the name of the Unknown God, in whom we live and have our being. But, how often have these very things tended to establish men in unbelief, and tempted them from the ways of piety and peace? How often have persons looked up into the starry sky, and reasoned, until they were led to say, the Gospel is a forgery?—or dug into the earth, and insisted that Moses was mistaken in its age?—or cut among the arteries and tissues of organic life, and denied man’s immortality?—or watched the uniformity of God’s common laws, and pronounced a miracle impossible?—or dipped a little into physical science, and controverted the very existence of a Deity? How often have earth’s products proven to be mere baits and lures to unguarded souls to lead them down to death? How have its wines tempted men to intemperance, and its beautiful groves to the licentiousness of the idolater? How frequently the very gold or silver of its rocks have taken the place of God himself, and fastened everlasting condemnation on the worshipper? And what scene of beauty contained in this world, but has served to draw the heart of some one from the Lord? Aye, "the earth is defiled under the inhabitants thereof. Because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, broken the everlasting covenant; therefore hath the curse devoured the earth."
Nature now is a crippled thing. She no longer does her work, for body or for soul, with the efficiency which was originally intended. She is leprous. Everywhere, there are signs of some corroding ailment. "When I stand all alone at night in open nature," says Goethe, "I feel as though it were a spirit, and begged redemption of me. Often have I had the feeling as if nature, in wailing sadness, entreated something of me, so that not to understand what she longed for cut through my very heart." What the sentimentalist thus saw and felt, the book of God explains. Yea, "the earth mourneth"—"the world languisheth"—"the whole creation groaneth"—the stroke of the Lord is in our house.
But it shall not always be so. The leprosy in our dwelling-place may pass away as well as leprosy in our persons, or in our clothing. God has appointed rites for its cleansing. The time is coming when "there shall be no more curse." But it is to be the last thing cleansed. Regeneration begins first in the spirit. From the spirit it extends to the outward life, then to the redemption of the body. And after that comes the grand deliverance, when "the creature (or creation) itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God." Not only our personal nature is to be renewed, but the very world in which we live. For "we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."
"Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, and instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle-tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." Christ took earth’s thorns upon his head, and he will yet bear them quite away. He has mingled his tears and blood with its very dust, and its final sanctification is certain. He has knelt upon its mountains, walked on its seas, and gone down into the heart of its rocks and set it apart to be his—the theatre of his mediatorial triumphs, and the home of his saints. And it is only upon the theory of the ultimate and complete recovery of the world from all damage of sin, that the prescriptions now before us can be explained.
The first thing to be done to a house found to be leprous, was, to have the affected stones removed, the walls scraped, and the plastering renewed. This done, all parties were to wait to see what the effect would be upon the disorder. This evidently recalls the flood, and God’s dealings with the earth at that time. It was then that he broke up the old and tainted foundations, swept away the scum of its surface, and overcast it with a new order of things. It is impossible to say how great were the changes made in the structure and investiture of the earth by the deluge; but we may suppose that they were very great. The occurrence is spoken of in the book of Job as a breaking down and overturning of the earth. What was uppermost, went down; and what was at the bottom of the sea was lifted into mountains. Rocks fresh from their deep quarries were put into the places of the old. A new arrangement of rivers and hills appeared. The old crust was broken and scraped off, and a fresh coating was put upon the face of the world. God did to it as he here orders for a leprous house, and said, "I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; neither will I again smite any more every living thing as I have done." All is therefore in waiting now, till our great High-priest and Judge shall come forth again to inspect the earth.
After the lapse of an appropriate time of trial, which is left indefinite in the record, the priest was again to examine the house that had been thus dealt with; and if the plague had broken out again, and had spread in the house, he was to break it down, "the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the mortar of the house, and carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place." If the leprous symptoms were not stayed, it was to be completely and forever demolished. There was no further hope for it. It perished in its uncleanness. Bonar, in his commentary on this book, considers this as a picture of the fate of this world. He thinks that the present earth is to be quite undone—"dissolved"—"burnt up"—and that out of its rubbish is to come the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. This does great violence to the type. A house thus demolished was never to be rebuilt. It was unclean and undone for ever. No new fabric ever came out of it. It was only when a dwelling was past hope of cure that this end awaited it. The earth is not past hope. It is to be reclaimed. It is to be cleansed. It is not to perish for ever. I therefore take this direction as a type, not of what is to befall the world, but of what would have befallen it without the redemption that has come in to stay its corruption and save it from ruin. To take this demolition of the incurable house as a type of what this world is to come to, is to say that the curse has broken out afresh since the flood, and spread more thoroughly through the earth than at first; which is not the fact. It is no more an infected place now than in the days of the antedeluvians. We may say the plague is stayed. The effects of it are still present. It needs the cleansing ceremonies that are to restore it to its pristine purity and sweetness. But the plague is stayed. There is no spreading of it—no sign of a new outbreak. It has grown no worse since the time of Noah. Like the recovered but still uncleansed leper, the earth may be regarded as lingering on the outskirts of the camp, calling for the Priest, and uttering its mournful prayers for his forthcoming. "The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God." It is subjected to the same in hope. It is therefore the proper subject of those cleansing rites which yet remain to be considered.
How, then, was a leprous house to be cleansed? We have seen what was to be done to it upon the first appearance of the plague. We accordingly read, that, after the lapse of a suitable time to test whether the infection was stayed, "the priest shall come in and look upon it, and behold if the plague hath not spread in the house after it was plastered, then he shall take to cleanse the house two birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop; and he shall kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water; and he shall take the cedar wood, and the hyssop, and the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird, and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times; but he shall let go the living bird out of the city into the open fields, and make an atonement for the house, and it shall be clean." All this refers us back to the blood-shedding, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and holds forth the great fact that the world is made clean to us now, and will be entirely cleansed hereafter, by virtue of the redemptive work of our great High-priest. It is "the blood of sprinkling," and "the washing of regeneration" in Christ Jesus, that does the business. It is part of Christ’s pur chase on Calvary, and a part of the efficacy of his resurrection and ascension, to cleanse the infected dwelling-place of man. He took the whole curse of earth upon him, and by his stripes everything is healed. The blood and water that fell from his cross upon the earth shall bless it. It has blessed it already. It speaketh better things than the blood of Abel. All its utterances are full of hope. Its words are promises. It says to every believer, "Thou shalt know that thy tabernacle shall be in peace; and thou shalt visit thy habitation and shalt not sin." It is God’s seal to the assurance that "the righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein forever." Because Jesus was slain, and has redeemed us to God by his blood, the saints may take it as their song, "We shall reign on the earth."
Some suppose that this dwelling-place of man is some day to fall to pieces, and pass away, and be no more. Had Christ not died, or having died, not risen again, it might be so; but now a light of glory rises upon its futurity. It shall not die, but live. Great changes may yet pass upon it, but it shall survive unharmed. The theatre of the Savior’s mighty deeds of love shall not be blotted out. The rocks on which he knelt, the dust he wore upon him self, the waters that he consecrated, shall never become trophies of hell, or the prey of destruction. This wide world shall yet become an Eden, where none shall shiver amid arctic frosts, or wither under tropic heat, or lie down and perish with disease. These fields of snow and arid sands shall all blossom yet with roses. And whatever may be the pangs of that new birth, when he that sitteth on the throne shall make all things new, these very hills shall clap their hands, and these valleys lift up their voices, and this whole down-trodden earth rejoice in a finished redemption, when "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid, and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them." This world was heaven’s gift to man. It was his patrimonial estate. It was his sin that blighted it. And just so far as he is redeemed, he shall get his own again, and hold it by a charter written in his Savior’s blood. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
We pass now to the fifteenth chapter. It is not necessary that I should read it. It is a collection of types of the secret flow of sin. All the uncleannesses here enumerated, are such as were, for the most part, unknown except to the individual alone. They must therefore refer to sins of solitude and secresy. The lesson is here taught, that we may be great sinners without anybody else knowing anything about it. There may be no word spoken, no act done, no voluntary motion put forth, and we still be unclean by a silent and unintentional oozing out of a carnal heart. There may be a very correct exterior life, and yet a secret cherishing of pride, and lust, and unbelief, and a secret painting of the walls with imagery, as much unfitting us for the society of the pure and good, as any open and outbreaking wickedness.
"The lively imagination of a gay poetic mind is not less sinful when it scatters forth its luscious images, than the dull brutal feelings of the stupid, ignorant boor." "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he." Even the quiet and involuntary exudations of natural feeling are often to be numbered with the uncleanest things.
It is amazing how deep-seated the contaminations of sin are. A man may be truly penitent. He may be a true believer. He may be set to be a good servant of God. The empire of sin may be dethroned in his heart. And yet, every now and then, he will find the disgusting uncleanness of sin quietly and unintentionally escaping from him, contaminating himself and those who come in contact with him, or touch what he has touched. His whole nature is yet 30 full of remaining corruption, that the least agitation causes it to trickle over. He lies down to sleep, and presently he finds it in his dreams. He puts forth his hand to welcome a friend, and the very touch sometimes awakes wrong echoes in the soul. He is accidentally thrown into the mere neighborhood of sin, and the very atmosphere about him seems at times to be laden with excitations of impurity. His depravity cleaves to him like an old sore. It defiles his solitude with unclean thoughts. It taints his repose with the outflowings of evil. It springs uncleanness upon him in his holiest associations. And even in his looks towards heaven, it interposes suggestions which come like impure birds between him and the sky. In all situations, towards all persons, at all seasons, this remaining filthiness of the secret soul will occasionally obtrude itself. "I find a law," says Paul, "that when I would do good, evil is present with me." There is no escape in this world from the workings of inborn evil. "If a man have an ill neighbor," says the distinguished but quaint Boston, "he may remove; if he have an ill servant, he may put him away at the term; if he have a bad yokefellow, he may sometimes leave the house, and be free of molestation in that way; but should the saint go into a wilderness, or set up his tent in some remote rock in the sea, where never foot of man, beast, nor fowl had touched, there it will be with him. Should he be, with Paul, caught up to the third heavens, it will come back with him. It follows him as the shadow does the body; it makes a blot in the fairest line he can draw. It is like the fig-tree in the wall, which, how nearly soever it was cut, yet still grew till the wall was thrown down." "I know," says Paul, "that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.... O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
Nor are these secret and involuntary outflowings of corruption mere trifles, unworthy of notice. They are here set forth under images and types among the most offensive and disgusting. They are too loathsome for public recital—too hideous, even for the mind to dwell upon. God intends thus to signify his deep abhorrence of our inherent corruptions. He means to intimate to us that we have reason to be ashamed and confounded at the secret disorder which still works in us. Nay, he yet adds to these defilements a judicial sentence. They were uncleannesses which excluded from the sanctuary, and everything holy. They brought condemnation with them. And some of them were so bad as to need atonement by blood. The unclean thoughts, desires, and imaginations which casually rise unbidden in the heart, even the unholy dreams that flit over us when we sleep, and the blushes of passion which flash upon us in a moment, are things offensive to the pure eye of God, and would ruin us for ever, were it not for the ever efficacious blood of Christ, and the clean flood of grace that comes in ever and anon to wash out after these filthy intruders. We need, therefore, to be on our guard against the beginnings of evil. We have reason to take alarm at the most silent wish, and at the most quiet complacence in the contemplation of sin. These are usually the germs of transgression—the floating seeds which drop into the heart, ready at any moment to strike root and spring up into deadly iniquity. We should regard them as the hiss and rattle of the serpent admonishing us of the presence of danger. Yielding to them in the least, we take a viper to our breasts which may sting us unto death.
It is indeed melancholy, my brethren, that we, as Christians, still have so much impurity cleaving to us—that with all our efforts so much evil still works in us—that with all our penitence, prayers and resolves, there yet is this frequent oozing out of contamination—that with all the doings of God to cleanse us, we still have so much cause to hang our heads in shame, and humble ourselves in dust and ashes—that not one of us but would blush and be mortified almost to death to have all our thoughts and feelings suddenly laid open to the inspection of those around us. But still it is not without its good effects. We need something to keep us humble, to drive us continually to the throne of grace, and to keep us ever mindful of our dependence upon the mercy of God. If we were not troubled with these secret flows of sin, we would be in great danger of growing spiritually proud, negligent, and over-confident. But this keeps us down at the foot of the cross, and ever prompts to more earnest prayer, and keeps the soul from stagnation. It makes us feel the presence and power of the foe, that we may be stirred up to ever-renewed zeal, and be strengthened the more by our trying encounters with the enemy. It helps to soften us towards the failings of others, and to make us charitable in our judgments of offenders. Though it is painful, and keeps us in constant peril of making shipwreck of our faith, I do not know whether I would have it otherwise if I could. I fear that we should be too much at rest and satisfied in this present world, if we were not thus made to feel the inconvenience of living in the flesh. It helps greatly to reconcile us to the idea of dying. It contributes to make our dying day, a blessed day; because it will put an everlasting end to these vexations. Then we shall be delivered "from the body of this death."
Sweet is the scene where Christians die,
Where holy souls retire to rest;
and all the more sweet, because it ends the strife with corruption, and lands the soul beyond the reach of earth’s temptations. Farewell then to the languor that now comes in to load our hearts with miry clay, and to the unstable thoughts that wander off when we bow the knee before our Maker. Farewell then to those base imaginings which come in in spite of us to mar our devotions and disturb our peace, and to all those hidden flows of sin whose uncleanness comes upon us when we sleep and when we wake. We may not be clean till evening comes; but with its balmy shades and starry glories, the yoke shall drop from our necks, and we shall lie down under the eyes of watchful angels, and be for ever at rest. Egypt may pursue us to the sea, and its men of war go with us into the waves, but there shall the oppressor cease. From that flood he shall never rise again. He shall never reach the other shore, or set foot in heaven. God shall there take off his chariot-wheels, and he shall pursue and oppress us no more. Oh, happy, happy day! that thus lays all our tormentors for ever with the dead.
And then, again, this constant consciousness of sin assists in endearing to us the cross and righteousness of Jesus. Though evil ever works within us, we have a remedy. We have an Advocate in heaven ever interceding for us. Though uncleanness clings to us, life and purity flows down through him to cover our unrighteousness and to help our infirmities. With all our weaknesses, in him we are strong. Let faith hut touch the hem of his garment, and healing is at hand. Let the poor sinner but press to him, and all these disgusting issues shall be as though they were not. Blessed Physician, that God hath sent to us from the heavens! How precious the virtue that goeth out from him! He healeth all our diseases. His blood cleanseth from all sin.
Allow me, then, my dear friends, to commend this Savior to you. He is what you need; and he is ready to become everything to you that is necessary to complete your peace. You may find yourself full of sin; but he is able to cleanse you. You may be poor and friendless; but he sympathizes with you, and proposes to you eternal riches. In more than angelic meekness, he spreads out his hands to you, and says, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are Heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Only accept that call, and you shall be blessed forever.