Mr. C. W. Ross, a noted and honoured teacher of the past generation on this continent, was the author of this article. It might well be said of him as of Abel, “He being dead yet speaketh.” His words are weighty and are even more applicable now than in his own time.
On display in art galleries hang even in a limited way, knows that more than a century ago a flood of light was thrown on the truth of God which had been hidden for centuries under tradition and legality. The true Church composed of men and women in Christ Jesus, made joint heirs with Christ in His inheritance and glory, was practically unknown and certainly not visible. It was veiled from human sight by a vast body of mere religious professors. Religion was without any definite hope such as the return of Christ and the rapture of the Church to share with Christ the glary given to Him of the Father. But God began to work among His own in Christendom and there was a mighty revival of His truth. The coming again of the Lord Jesus to take away His people shone in hearts that loved Him, and the nature of the Church as distinct from Israel became clear and definite. This revival occurred after a long period of darkness even in Protestantism. Not only was the truth concerning the Church recovered, but so also were the simple truths of the gospel, the gospel that had been darkened by the legality that prevailed everywhere.
We feel that this period is illustrated for us in Numbers 21. First of all, we must recall that Israel for a long time had practically been lost in the wilderness. She started out well from Egypt, but soon progress to the land promised by God absolutely stopped. What consternation there must have been in Palestine when the inhabitants heard that a people was on the march with the intention of taking possession of their land. Yet, what surprise must have been theirs when these people did not appear.
This fact may have become a point for their witticisms, a joke with which they entertained their friends. In fact they may have said, “Where is the promise of His coming?” creating a laugh of incredulity.
In Numbers 21 the long dormant hopes begin to stir among the people of Israel, and they begin to move.
Confession, the first genuine confession in their history, marked them in connection with the episode of the brazen serpent. It was thus with the people of God somewhat more than a hundred years ago. In various parts of the world there was a stir, and the saints came together to read the Word of God and to confess their sad state. They did not use the language of their prayer books in their confessions, but in sincere distress before God they owned their sin and besought His mercy. Did He hear?
Of course, He did. He answered by opening up truths from His Word in a manner that had not been done for centuries. In a special way the gospel was illuminated so that saints were led into the liberty that is in Christ Jesus.
The seventh and eighth chapters of the Epistle to the Romans shone in divine light, and a new life in the energy of the Spirit of God marked the ways of the Christians. One has only to read some of the history of those early days to appreciate their character. The writer well remembers when it reached the part of the world in which his lot was cast. It was a stirring time in every way, and a distinct move among the people of God. Previously the law had been the rule of life, and under its distress many were trying to live. Now it was the sense of being in Christ, identified with Him in death and resurrecton, that changed the entire character of their lives. This did not make them think that they were any better than they had been before, but it gave them the joy and emancipation from self-occupation that God means for His people.
Furthermore, it separated them from the mass of Christendom around and led them to gather together as members of Christ to carry out His Word and to confess His Name. Just as may be read in Numbers 21, they found a well of water which they digged for themselves. They realized the Spirit of God as the well of water and as the power for every form of Christian activity and life. We are struck with the movements in Israel recorded in Numbers 21, they seem so rapid and eager in comparison with the stagnation of the many years before.
In Numbers 22 we find a stir in another camp than that of Israel. The king and people of Moab are aroused by the approach of Israel bent on conquest, so they set about to oppose and defeat them. This brings Balaam on the scene, and as we read his parables, we think of the word in Revelation 3:9: “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.” Can a more exact illustration of this be found anywhere in the Bible? When the revival of the last century made itself felt, it aroused the hostility of the religious world, and led to most determined efforts to crush it. All the efforts did no more than those of Balaam, for they only scattered the more God’s truth until it girded the world.
Shall we go on to Numbers 25? How one would like to avoid it, but, alas, we must not: “Israel abode in Shittim and began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab” is the painful story. It is almost unbelievable after their past experiences. Do we dare to draw comparisions with the people of God today? Rather, do we dare not? What is the condition of those who were revived and regathered in simplicity toward Christ only a little more than a century ago? Look around at the assemblies of the saints wherever they are to be found. What is their condition?
In the movement that trapped Israel we find three nations: Moab, Ammon, and Midian. One would refrain from mere fancy in interpreting God’s Word, but surely we must follow the guide marks. Moab and Ammon were the children of Lot and as such were related to Israel. Moreover, Israel, when about to enter into the land, was expressly forbidden to meddle with either Moab or Ammon. This command is found in Deuteronomy chapter two.
Does this restriction not remind one of Matthew 13 in which chapter the Lord forbids His servants to root up the tares; they were to grow together with the wheat. Tares speak of profession related to the people of God, the assumption of the Name of Christ when the heart is at enmity against Him. Moab and Ammon were related to Israel; they were the unholy fruit of an unholy union on the part of a believer sunk in worldliness. They had a god of their own, Baal-peor, and his worship was linked with gross immorality (Num. 25). The man who taught the Moabites how to lay a snare for Israel was Balaam, the very one whom God would not allow to curse Israel. Balaam was apparently a Midianite, and Midian means “strife.” What a combination! He could not curse them, but he seduced them into fellowship with those from whom they were to keep separate.
Shall we particularize the condition of the saints who at one time were as one, recognizing only that bond that God had made and refusing all others? How shall we speak of it today? Has not strife succeeded in almost destroying the testimony in some places? Alas, in other cases, fellowship with that which at one time would have been eschewed is lightly entered into. We sometimes see those who have fellowship with things manifestly not of God, shudder at the thought of companying with other saints just as godly or even more godly than themselves but who differ with them ecclesiastically.
Alas, we fear that Midian’s destructive work is going on as well as the seduction of Moab and Ammon. We see in some places fellowship with those things that the Word of God led us out of as well as division among those who ought to be together. We wonder if what is needed in these days is not a javelin to strike with holy zeal at the abominations among us. We fear that sometimes what is wanted by the saints in ministry is not that which would avert the displeasure of the Lord, but that which would please them. When we read of ministry that is appreciated, we wonder if it would have been so valued had it been the kind that came from Phinehas. Saints sometimes leave conferences well-pleased with themselves rather than humbled before the Lord. Some actually glorying in their separation from other Christians, yet, hiding the sin of division under the pretense of separation from evil. When saints began to gather in simple dependence on the living Lord, there were two outstanding principles at work in their souls. One of them was the unity of all saints, and the other was the separation from evil; these were held in proper balance. Now, alas, in some cases it is division from saints and association with evil that is prevalent.
We cannot close without looking at the rest of the Book of Numbers. In chapter 31 we find God commanding Moses to avenge the children of Israel on the Midianites. This was one of the last acts of Moses; it was at the close of the wilderness journey. Dare we indulge the hope that ere the time of testimony ends, God will strike in His own way at the strife among us, and thus avenge us on the unholy thing that has caused such grief to Him?
We think sometimes that we see evidences that He is moving to this end, and our hearts rejoice. Such a move would tell us that we are just at the last step of the long road to our eternal home.