Defiled And Defiling
“Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touches any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean. Then answered Haggai, and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before Me, says the LORD; and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean.”
Haggai 2:13, 14
According to the 12 th verse, Haggai first put to the priests this question, “If one carries holy meat in the fold of hisgarment, and with the edge he touches bread, or stew, or wine, or oil, or any food, will it become holy? And the priests answered, and said, No.” Here is a man who is holy–I mean, ceremonially holy–and he is carrying in the fold of his garments, part of a holy sacrifice. Now, if he touches anything, will he make it holy by that touch? The priests said, “No.” They could not say otherwise. So, if a man is, himself, holy, however holy he may be, can he make another man holy simply by touching him? If he speaks of good things, or does good actions, will it be certain that he will, thereby,affect others by his good words and good works? Oh, no! There does not seem to be that spreading power in holy things that there is in unholy things! At any rate, not in those that are merely ceremonially holy. Here, then, is a man who is, in a legal sense, clean before God and he is carrying a holy thing in the fold of his garment, but he does not, therefore, make that which he touches to be clean or holy.
Then the Spirit of God, having by the mouth of the Prophet put the Truth of God in that way, suggested to him to ask the priests another question. “Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touches any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean.” There is such a terrible contagion about uncleanness that he who is affected by it spreads it wherever he goes. Whatever he puts his foot upon, or touches with his hand, becomes thereby defiled. We cannot communicate holiness, but we can communicate unholiness! It will cause us labor and agony and anguish of spirit to impart to another even one right idea–and when it is imparted, it is not fully fixed in thehearer’s heart till the Spirit of God comes and works a miracle of Grace! But it is easy enough to communicate evil. A lewd song may have but one hearer and yet never be forgotten! A wrong action may never be chronicled by the public press, yet some little eye that saw it shall have learned from the evil example something that shall never be unlearned! The horribly contagious and infectious power of sin, wherever it is displayed, is terrible.
But the thing to which I want especially to call your attention is this. See what a picture is before us. Here is an unclean man–he has touched a dead body and so become unclean–therefore whatever he touches also becomes unclean.There is a loaf of bread. He has cut a slice off it and all that loaf has become unclean! Here is a mess of stew on the table–he has taken a portion from it and so made it all unclean. There is a cup of wine. He has sipped it, or he may have only touched the cup that contains it–but the whole of the wine is unclean! Here is oil, which one would think would be medicinally useful without being at all harmful, but this unclean person has put his finger to it and it is unclean! Here is meat, or vegetable food of any kind–he has touched it, so it is all unclean. I should not like to be that man–to make unclean even a chair that I might touch! To pollute the very house in which I dwelt, to be unable to shake hands with a friend without making him defiled through contact with me because I was unclean! I say again that is a dreadful picture and you must bear with me when I tell you my fear that it is not only the portrait of the erring people in Haggai’s day, but also a life-like representation of some who are now present–and of multitudes who pass for very good people in these, our days! It can still be said with utmost truthfulness, “So is this people, and so is this nation before Me, says the Lord; and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean.”
- So this is my subject. FIRST, THE TERRIBLE UNCLEANNESS. And here I will keep to my text.
If you want to fully understand the text, or to have it put into New Testament language, you must look at Paul’s Epistle to his son, Titus, for there, in the 15 th verse of the first Chapter, you get this same picture in other colors–“Untothe pure all things are pure: but to them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.” They are themselves so impure that everything becomes impure to them. Every man whose heart is not renewed by Grace is in this sad and terrible condition!
Here note, first, that common things are polluted by men of unclean nature. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Romans, says, “I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself.” Nothing that God has made and that sin has not marred, is common or unclean of itself, “for every creature of God is good.” From that daywhen Peter, at Joppa, saw the great sheet let down to the earth, wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts, creeping things and fowls of the air, he was taught a lesson that he needed to learn–“What God has cleansed, that call not you common.” In and of itself, there is nothing that God has made which ought to be described as common. To the pure heart, everything is pure–but unclean men may make unclean every common or everyday thing of life. They can not only make wine to be unclean, as, alas, is all but universally the case, but even bread, stew, oil, meat, or anything that is, in itself, harmless, can be rendered impure when it comes to be touched by impure men and used wrongfully!
Perhaps someone asks, “How can that be?” Well, common things can be rendered unclean when you make gods of them. If the most important questions of your life are, “What shall we eat, and what shall we drink, and with what shall we be clothed?”–if you seek, first of all, in this life merely these things–though they are not, in themselves, evil, they will become idols and so will be unclean, for every idol is a defiling thing to those who bow down before it. Anythingwhich takes your attention away from your God is an idol–it is another god, a rival god–and so it is the most unclean thing possible! I mean just this, that, although your ordinary pursuits may be, in themselves, perfectly innocent and may be commendable if they are followed out to the Glory of God, yet if your first objective in life is yourself and what you can get out of the common things of this life, you defile them by putting them into the place which belongs alone to God!
Next, common things may be defiled by an excess in the use of them. This may be done by gluttony. What a defilement it is of bread, the staff of life, and of those comforts which God gives to us for food, when a man makes his own belly into a god–whose temple is his kitchen! I know not that the worst of the heathen can possibly degrade themselves more than epicures and drunks do when they make those things which, in themselves, are not evil, to become their gods and indulge in them until, by their excess, they sink below the level of the beasts that perish! You can go to this excess with all kinds of things. The most common and most apparent case is that of the man who indulges in strong drink. But all other common things are capable of being polluted in the same way–and they are continually being so polluted.
Others pollute common things by excess in the keeping of them. The miser’s gold is cankered by his avarice. He who must always be getting more land, even if he has to banish everybody from the range of his windows, defiles his possessions. He who in trade is exacting towards those who labor for him, demanding more and giving less than is their due, defiles his trade. He makes a dunghill of his shop and turns his traffic into treason against God! I need not go into particulars because the thing is apparent to all men, and you can see how a defiled man, coming into a business which, in itself, is perfectly right, nevertheless defiles it by excess in the keeping of the goods which God has entrusted to him as a steward to use for the good of others.
I am sure that we can also defile the common mercies of this life by ingratitude in the enjoyment of them. Are there not many who eat and drink, yet never bless God for what they have? Or who abound in riches and yet out of all their wealth there never comes from their hearts any thanksgiving to God? They are, as good old Rowland Hill used to say, like the hogs under the oak which eat the acorns that fall on the ground, but never lift up their thoughts to the tree from which the acorns come. These ungrateful people are willing to receive all the good things which God may give them and they are greedy to get more–but the Lord never receives from them even the peppercorn rent of a word of thanksgiving! Their hearts are set upon the gifts of God and they care nothing for the gracious Giver. O Sirs, when you sit down without thanksgiving to your food and to your drink, your tables are defiled, your platters and your cups are defiled, and every mouthful that goes down your throats is defiled because you do not eat and drink to the glory of God!
See, then, in how many ways common things may be polluted by men of unclean nature.
But, even worse than that, holy things are polluted by men of unclean nature. It is a very sad thing to see how themost sacred things can be spoiled by the touch of unholy hands. You have all heard of Voltaire and you know something of the character of the man. I should think that nobody ever excelled Voltaire in a clever kind of blasphemy, yet I find him writing to a lady–a lady of whose character the less said, the better–“My friends say everywhere that I am not a Christian. I have just given them the lie direct by performing my Easter devotions ( mes paques) publicly, thus proving toall my lively desire to terminate my long career in the religion in which I was born.” Only fancy a man like Voltaire, after blasphemously saying of Christ that he would “crush the wretch,” then going to eat “the sacrament,” as some call it! And I am afraid that every Easter there are many people of that sort, who have no respect for the Lord’s Day, but because their “priests” choose to call the day, “Good Friday,” they have great respect for that day, and they will come, then, tothe Communion Table, though all the year long they have never had a thought concerning Him whose death they profess to celebrate! It is a terrible thing that the innermost mysteries of the Church of Christ are often polluted by a godless, thoughtless man who, nevertheless, for some hypocritical or formalistic reason, will come even to the Table of the Lord, not hesitating to break through that guard of fire–“he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks condemnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”
Brothers and Sisters, it is not merely the Lord’s Table that an unclean man defiles, but he pollutes the Gospel by using it as an excuse for sin! Listen to him. He says, “the preacher proclaimed the mercy of God, so I am going to live in sin.” Brute beast are you to talk like that! Another says, “the minister told us that salvation is all of Grace and that a great sinner glorifies God when he is converted, so why should I not be a great sinner?” O horrible wretch, you are accursed, indeed, when you can turn the very Grace of God into an excuse for your wantonness and sin?“ Oh, but,” says a third, “you say that salvation is all of the Sovereignty of God, therefore I cannot do anything in the matter.” I know you, Sir, you are, in your own heart, so defiled that you use the blessed Gospel, itself, as the instrument of your rebellion against God! Such people are, alas, all too common–they touch with defiled hands the holiest thing and so pollute it.
But what happens if these defiled people pray? Oh, how many prayers there are which only insult the Most High God! If you sit down, or stand up, or kneel and you are, “a miserable sinner,” when you neither believe that you are a sinner, nor suffer any misery because of your sin, what are you doing but provoking the Lord to anger by virtually lying in His Presence? Is not much so-called praying just of that sort? It is an awful thing to repeat a form of prayer when your heart does not mean it. What is it but a direct insult to the Lord? Yet how can men who are defiled pray such a prayer as God will accept? They must be first cleansed before their prayers can be accepted. There is nothing so holy, in earth or in Heaven, but a man of defiled heart and conscience will pollute it if he can but lay his hand upon it.
Further, even good works are polluted when they come from evil men. See what it says in the text–“So is this people, and so is this nation before Me, says the Lord; and so is every work of their hands.” Here is a charitable man–he has been giving away a great deal of money, yet look how he has defiled his liberality! He sounded a trumpet before him. He was ostentatious, he desired to be thought very generous and thus, every penny that he has given to the poor has been defiled! “Take heed,” says our Lord, “that you do not give your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward from your Father which is in Heaven. Therefore when you give your alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say to you, They have their reward.” There is no reward reserved for them at the resurrection of the just, for they have had their reward already!
Here is another man and though he is not renewed and regenerate, he is, in his own way, a very religious man. But why is he religious? Partly, out of fear! But still more, from custom! Possibly just to please his friends, or to stand well with his neighbors. Is not all that simply defiling religion?
I have also known some men appear very humble just to gain their own ends and when an unrenewed man puts on humility merely as a cloak–I was going to say that he is devilish, for the very humble man who aims at making some gain by it–the Uriah Heep of the novelist–is one of the most despicable of all people beneath the sky! When even that precious Grace of humility is touched by his hand, does he not defile it till it appears loathsome in the eyes of men?
I have seen that same man become sternly righteous in order to get revenge on his enemy. “I must do the right thing,” he says, and he speaks as if it was most painful to him to have to do it. But all the while there is somebody whom he hates and he is determined to crush him! He will have his pound of flesh, or the uttermost farthing of his debt, and he tries to excuse his malice by saying, “You know, we must, sometimes, make an example of wrong-doers.” Yes, other people have been very foolishly charitable and have passed by wrongs done to them–but he is going to be a defender of everything that is upright–yet he does it merely to gratify his desire for vengeance! Is he not defiling holy things and good works by touching them? Yet is not this often the case with bad men? They defile to the last degree even things that appear to be good!
And, dear Friends, the text adds that even sacrifices are polluted when offered by unclean men–“that which they offer there is unclean.” Their lamb, their bulls, their fine flour, their oil that they pour out at the foot of God’s altar–all becomes defiled! There is what professes to be a public thanksgiving to God, but it is turned into a show to the glory of men! Whenever the unregenerate world brings anything to God as a sacrifice, what a wretched mess it makes of it! It becomes only another occasion for sinning against the Most High. Supposing a heathen should come in, on Christmas night, when professedly Christian people are supposed to be celebrating the birth of Christ, but all their cups are full of wine and they can scarcely stand for staggering? What would he think the Christ must be whose birthday they are celebrating? An unrenewed man cannot touch anything without spoiling it! Wherever he goes, he is a spoiler. The sea has often been strewn with wrecks which have been occasioned by the stupidity of merchants–and the world is full of the tombs of men who have been hurried to their graves by other men. Truly did the poet sing–
“Every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile.”
It is a mercy that unrenewed men cannot enter Heaven! If they could, Heaven would not last as Heaven for even fiveminutes. There would be another Hell created if unrenewed men could walk among the palms and harps of the glorified. You may do what you like with a man, but as long as he is unclean, he communicates his defilement wherever he may lay his hand.
That is a picture of every man who has not been born again! It is not a pretty picture, is it? Did you come here expecting me to say pretty things to you? I have not learned the art of doing that, but in the name of God I assure you that this is true, and I pray His Spirit to convince every unregenerate person that it is true! In your present condition you cannot do any good works, you cannot serve God–what have you to do to declare His statutes? You cannot do anything but what will displease Him until you are born again. “Except a man is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God”–he cannot even see it! –And further, “Except a man is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into theKingdom of God.” He will have to stand shivering outside its walls, but of that Kingdom he cannot be a subject until he has passed from death to life–and has been made a new creature in Christ Jesus, and so has been cleansed from his sinful defilement.
II. Thus I have kept to my text, but now I am going to run right away from it to speak upon THE ALLSUFFICIENT REMEDY.
Where can we find a better type and figure of that remedy than in the chapter which I read to you just now from the Book of Numbers? In Numbers 19 we have a type of the great remedy and a striking account of the uncleanness which it removed. I shall not attempt a full exposition of the rites used for purifying the unclean, but I would have you notice that, first of all, in order to the removal of uncleanness, therewas a sacrifice. There was a red heifer, without spot, which had to be slain. There could be no sort of purification except through death, and there can be no cleansing of your defilement, my Brothers and Sisters, except through the Sacrifice of the Son of God. The red heifer and the lambs and the bulls under the Old Covenant died to teach people that the punishment of sin was the forfeiture of life–and these creatures died in the place of the offender that he might live. They were all types pointing to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God who, in the fullness of time, came and took upon Himself His people’s sin and stood in His people’s place–that He might die–“the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God.”
There is no hope of your ever being made clean except through the blood of Him whom God has set forth to be the Propitiation for sin. Kick not at this doctrine, I pray you, for why should Jesus die at all if you could be saved without His death? And if there is not everything in that death that is necessary for your cleansing, what do you propose to add to it? It seems to me to be sheer blasphemy to think that anything you can feel, or do, or give, can be worthy to be added to the great Sacrifice of Christ! I wish you would say, “If this is the way of salvation, by a Sacrifice offered in my place to be accepted by me, I will gladly and joyfully accept it.” This is the great Truth of God–“The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.” There is no other cleansing and there is no need of any other! Listen to this text and believe what it says–“He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.” Is not that enough for you?
Turning again to this Book of Numbers, you will notice that there was a burning, for this heifer, after being killed,was burned outside the camp. This burning signified that sin was very hateful to God, that He could not bear to have it where His people lived. Sin must be put outside the camp and then, as a dead thing, it must be burned with fire and the heifer which was supposed to bear that sin must suffer that doom. Jesus also, when He took our sin, suffered outside the gate. I want you, dear Friends, to feel that sin is a hateful thing–you can never be purged from it while you love it. Shut it out from your heart as much as possible! Shut it out from your thoughts! Since it put Christ outside the camp, you must put it outside the camp. There is no cleansing a man from sin while he lives in sin and there is no possibility of forgiveness while sin is indulged in and delighted in! You must stop it–it must be burned as offal, over the wall there among the filth and refuse of the city–and be put away altogether from you. In type of which you see your Lord thus slain upon the Cross, as if He, too, had been a felon, “made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree.”
Looking again at the type, you will see that there was a water of separation. The ashes of this red heifer were to beput into running water–not stagnant, but lively, running water–and a mixture being made with it. It was to be sprinkled upon the people as a water of separation, or purification. And, dear Friends, you and I must have the Holy Spirit pouring in upon us the merit of the Lord Jesus Christ to make us clean. There is no purification for you, my Friend, except by the Holy Spirit. There must be the water as well as the blood–they must both come to purge the conscience from dead works that we may be clean, like the priests of old, and go into the Holy Place to present acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. You must have the blood to take away the guilt of sin and you must also have the water to wash you from the pollution of sin, that you may be sanctified and set apart to the living God!
You will notice, too, that there was an application of all this with hyssop. Hence David says, “Purge me with hyssopand I shall be clean.” Faith is, as it were, that little bunch of hyssop. Hyssop was a small plant, as I suppose, insignificant enough in itself and of no use except for use in sprinkling. It was dipped into the blood and then the guilty one was sprinkled–or into the water with the ashes–and with it the unclean one was sprinkled and made clean. You must have this faith if you would be saved! The blood of the Paschal Lamb would not have saved the Israelites in Egypt if it had not been smeared on the lintel and the two side posts. The scarlet line would not have saved Rahab if she had not fastened it in the window, to be the mark that her house, with its inhabitants, was to be spared. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” It is all you have to do–and this He enables you to do. Just simply believe that Christ is able to save youand repose yourself on that dear heart which was pierced for you!
Put yourself into those blessed hands that were fastened to the Cross and you are saved! The moment you believe in Jesus, your sins are gone–all of them, for there is no halving sin! There is a solidarity in sin–it is one great mass! So that the moment a sinner believes in Christ, all his sins–past, present and to come–are gone, and gone forever. “To come,” you say, “how can that be before they are committed?” Did not Christ die, not only before we committed any sin,but before we had any existence? And yet even then, in His death, He put away the sin of His people. If you believe, your transgression is forgiven–you are “accepted in the Beloved!” And, as surely as you live, you shall one day stand before yon burning Throne of God, “without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing,” and you shall have no fear–
“Bold shall I stand in that great day,
For who anything to my charge shall lay?
While through Your blood absolved I am
From sin’s tremendous curse and shame.”
See, Beloved, how simple is this deliverance from impurity? If the impurity was terrible, yet the remedy is so perfect, so complete, so available, that my heart dances while I talk of it to you!
Finally, this remedy must be applied to our whole nature. Remember that 19 th verse that we read–“And the cleanperson shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day, and on the seventh day: and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at evening.” If you, dear Friend, would be clean in God’s sight, you must be washed from head to foot–not merely with the washing of water, but with the washing of the Holy Spirit. “What is holiness?” said a clergyman to a poor Irish boy. “Please, Your Reverence,” he said, “it is having a clean inside.” And so it is–and you have to be washed that way–washed inside, washed in your very nature! The fountain of your being has to be cleansed, the source of all the pollution is to be made white! And how can this be done by any man for himself? This great purification can only be worked by a wonderful work of Grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit! But then the Holy Spirit is pledged to do this to everyone who believes in Jesus. It is a part of the Covenant–“Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart, also, will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.”
“Oh!” says one, “that would be delightful, but I am afraid that I should fall away, after all.” That you shall not, forhere is another Covenant promise–“I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me.” O glorious promise! That crowns it all! I want you, dear Friends, to have a faith that can believe God and say, “I have given myself over to Christ to save me to the end, and He will do it. And I commit to Him my soul, not for this next year, only, but for all years and all times. And I give myself up never to have any claim to myself, again–to be His forever and ever.” What does He say to that? He answers, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give to them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them to Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.” You see the double picture–Christ has His people in His hand, and then His Father comes and puts His hand over the top of Christ’s! And all who believe in Christ are in that double hand of the Son and of the Father–and who shall pluck them from there? We defy earth, Heaven and Hell to ever tear away any soul that is once in the grip of the Lord Jesus Christ! Who would not have such a glorious salvation as this?
O you defiled ones, come to Him who alone can cleanse you! And when He has once cleansed you, remember that you will have need to daily wash your feet and you shall find Him waiting to wash them! But you shall never need such a complete cleansing as He gave you at the first. There shall never be a repetition of that, for, “he that is bathed, needs not but to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.” May the Lord give you that cleansing if you have not had it and, if you have had it, rejoice in it with all your hearts! Amen and Amen.