(From: “The Gospel in Numbers”,1858)
“And among the cities which ye shall give unto the Levites there shall be six cities for refuge, which ye shall appoint for the manslayer, that he may flee thither: and to them ye shall add forty and two cities.” Numbers 35:6.
REFUGE is a thought dear to every Christian heart. It is, as haven to the ship, when clouds blacken–as dove-cote to the bird, when hawks pursue. When once the wrath of God is seen in its true light–when once the conscience has turned pale in terror–when once hell’s gulf has opened at the feet–when once the quenchless flames have glared in prospect, despair must seize its prey, unless some Refuge be discerned. But Christ a sure Refuge stands, high as the heavens, wide as infinity, lasting as the endless day.
An emblem now is given–seal of this Gospel-fact. Some types of Christ appeared for a brief season, and then vanished. The guiding cloud, the manna, and the flowing stream ended on Jordan’s banks. But here is a sign, which lived through Canaan’s history. It never failed, until the cross was reared.
The story of the ordinance is brief. The case was possible, that man, without intent–without one evil or revengeful thought, might stain his hands in human blood. An unaimed blow might fall. An undirected arrow might wound fatally. There might be murder unawares.
When such event took place, a kinsman was permitted to arise in wrath, and claim the slayer’s life. The law gave license to take blood for blood. He, who had slain, was open to be slain.
Reader, conceive the hapless injurer’s state. Peace–happiness–security, were fled forever. Each sight would startle. Each rustling sound would bring alarm. The crowd was peril, for there the kinsman might unsheath his sword. In deep retirement, some ambush might be laid. Thus every spot and every hour would threaten death to the poor trembler’s mind. His life was one continual terror.
But Israel’s God ordains a means to rescue from such life long woe. He bids, that several cities should be set apart. In number they are six. They are distributed throughout the land. Thus no place is very distant from these walls. They stand on lofty hills, conspicuous from afar. They are to be sanctuaries. The manslayer, reaching their Refuge, was at once secure. The angry kinsman might not enter. The townsmen might not close their gates, by day nor night–nor cast the fleeing stranger out. Here then security enclosed him in its arms. Here he might turn and boldly face his enemy. He had the felt reality of full escape. He knew, that every danger was left far behind, and that his days might now glide sweetly, without one shadow of alarm. But he must closely keep within the covering walls. Outside there still was danger. If he but stepped beyond the bounds, his life was open to the kinsman’s blow.
He must abide thus sheltered, while the high-priest lived. That death dissolved avenging claims–and then the slayer was at large. Instantly he might go forth–and unmolested move from place to place.
It is recorded, that all care was taken to help the slayer in his flight. Wide roads were formed, and kept in strict repair. All hindrances were smoothed. And at each turn, where doubt might rise, posts were erected, which on their pointing arms proclaimed, “Refuge, Refuge!”
Such is the type. Spirit of love, arise to teach! Send forth Your Christ-revealing light! Grant, that some soul may hence discern the truth of Gospel-Refuge.
Poor sinner, this type at once displays your case. The slayer is your counterpart. Perhaps, startled, you cry, “What, are my hands blood-stained?” In answer take this truth. There may be murder, though no man be slain. There may be carnage of duties–talents–time–souls. And alas! there is. No day, no hour, passes in which this guilt is not incurred. Earth seems a battle-field, in which we level blows at God’s just claims. It is a charnel-house piled with the skeletons of slaughtered means of grace. Our words and looks are often arrows barbed with deathful poison. Who treads not upon slain opportunities of good? There may not always be premeditation in the sin. But as the manslayer did not plot his deed, so sinners blindly commit these murders through ignorance and unwatched thought.
Take now the sinner awakened to the sense of this guilt. He is as the slayer rushing in terror from the kinsman’s wrath. He knows himself to be pursued. Vengeance is pressing at his very heels. An arm is raised to fell him to the ground. The furious sword is glittering near. The bow is bent. The arrow is poised upon the string. Another moment, and the fatal wound is given. His mind is agony. Each fiber quivers. Tremblings beset him. You conscience-stricken, say, is not this your terrified condition?
One kinsman only hunted the slayer. But many adversaries threaten the guilt-stained soul. Mark the long troop. See, how it rushes on. God’s JUSTICE takes the lead. It has strong claims. Its wrongs are many. It has clear right to execute revenge. And it is swift, as God is swift–and strong, as God is strong–and dreadful, as God is dreadful. Can man escape? Ah! sinner, tremble! This foe is near. Its wrath is righteous. Its aim is sure. If you are caught in nature’s plain, you surely die. If you are clad in nature’s armor, you have no safeguard. You must perish.
The LAW is in pursuit, winged with all vengeance. It demands pure unblemished love to God, from the cradle to the grave–from first to last breath–in every child of man, whatever be his station–talent–rank. Exception cannot be. All, who transgress, become its prey. And who transgresses not? Where is the thought, in which love reigns supreme? Where is the moment free from blame? This law must have its dues. It follows sternly. It can never spare. Its curse rolls onward, as a swelling flood, to sweep offenders into the dread abyss. Ah! sinner, tremble! Unless your head has some almighty shelter, you cannot escape.
The TRUTH of God, too, points an inexorable sword. It has decreed, that every sinner must die. Can it recall the righteous word? Can it be false? But false it is, unless the vengeance falls. Sinner, what shield will hide you from this blow?
SATAN moreover follows with huge strides. He claims the sinning soul as his. He has commission to destroy all, who are sin-marked. His eye is keen. His steps have lightning speed. His hate is bitter. He delights to slaughter souls, and drag them to the beds of flames! Ah! sinner, tremble! This cruel foe will surely seize you, unless you reach some shelter higher far than earth–some fortress stronger far than human arm can raise.
These adversaries rush on speedily. Who undismayed can hear their nearing steps? Thus the fleeing manslayer is a faint shadow of the pursued sinner. Do any cry, ‘where shall we flee? Is there a Refuge?’ The question opens the main tidings of this type. Yes. The sheltering cities represent our Refuge. Would that all multitudes, who throng this earth, could hear the blessed truth! Would that a voice of thunder could pervade all lands, proclaiming–’Refuge!’ Would that from shore to shore–from hill to hill–from plain to plain, the echo might resound, ‘a Refuge is prepared, full–complete–secure!’
Draw near, you guilty sons of men. You need not die. Approach, all you, whom sin oppresses–conscience terrifies–and torturing memory scares. You may be safe. Flee, all who tremble, lest your souls should perish. You may have peace. Fears may be lulled. Anguish may proceed to joy. You may face every foe, and laugh to scorn their every threat. There is a Refuge. It is Christ the Lord. Flee to Him! Flee!
God has been pleased, in wondrous love, in overflowing grace, to set Him as a sheltering sanctuary. The word is pledged, that all in Him are everlastingly secure. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Rom. 8:1.
Let faith now calmly gaze on this city, and mark its TOWERS. Christ’s person is the grand pillar of security. His strength is full omnipotence. He is Jehovah-Jesus. Who then can snatch from His protecting arms? No one, who is not mightier than God, can burst these gates. While Jesus lives, and lives the mighty God, this safety is complete.
His finished work builds up the Refuge. The walls–the bulwarks of this city–are red with blood. There is inscribed above each gate–“Christ died.” Justice draws near. It sees the mark–and asks no more. The wounds of Christ are the deep grave of God’s avenging sword. Believer, you may meet justice with the bold challenge, ‘Nothing is due from me. My heavenly Surety paid His life for mine. In Him–by Him–I clear your uttermost demand.’
The law’s stern curse falls harmless here. It falls, indeed, because it may not be infringed. But Christ receives its weight. And all, locked up in Him, are as unharmed, as Noah within the ark.
Satan pursues up to these gates. But here he pauses. Wherever he finds sin, there he demands his prey. Polluted souls bear mark, that they are his. But all within these walls are washed, and cleansed, and purified, and clothed, and beautified. He must confess, that they are no more his. He must retreat. Their sins are blotted out. Therefore he cannot touch them.
Blessed be God, for this sure Refuge! Reader, imagine every foe in eager chase. See them advancing, in strong flood. Mark their wild rage and frantic hate. Hear their affrighting menaces. See their terrific weapons. Survey the fearsome army. Then rush to Jesus. From all He rescues. From all He shelters. The vilest sinner, nestling in His arms, is safe–safe, as the inhabitants of the highest heaven–safe, as Jehovah on His throne!
Mark, too, this Refuge is AT HAND. In Israel the slayer had to flee oftimes along a tedious road. But our city stands right beside us. At each moment the cry is in our ears, ‘Behold Me. Behold Me.’ “But the way of getting right with God …says, “You don’t need to go to heaven” (to find Christ and bring him down to help you). And it says, “You don’t need to go to the place of the dead” (to bring Christ back to life again). Salvation that comes from …Christ—which is the message we preach—is already within easy reach. In fact, the Scriptures say, “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;” Romans 10:8
The gates are close. Now all is ready. Oh! linger not. Now is the accepted time.
Believer, you are within this Refuge. You know it to be home of joy unspeakable, and full of glory. Your experience testifies, that its climate is “the peace of God, which passes all understanding.” Surely, then, you will cleave tightly to it. Set not one foot beyond the holy precincts. Many temptations will allure you to come forth. Oh! stir not. Abide in Christ. If in unguarded moment you should stray, how instantly some fearful blow is aimed! How suddenly some wound is felt!
Would you be safe through life–in death–forever? Then cleave to Christ, as ivy to the tree, as limpet to the rock. When Israel’s high-priest died, the slayer left his shelter. But your High-Priest forever lives, therefore forever you must tarry in your Shelter.
And when you realize your mercies and your safe retreat, can your heart fail to love–your lips to praise–your life to serve? Can you now see such multitudes exposed to wrath, and almost death-struck, and not allure them to your beloved Refuge? Strive, strive, by every means to call them in. Above all, agonize in prayer, that God’s all-conquering Spirit may fly speedily throughout earth’s bounds, opening blind eyes to see their danger, exciting anxious hearts to rush to this only Refuge.