The Sinner’s Refuge

“Then you shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you; that the slayer may flee there, who kills any person at unawares.”

Numbers 35:11

YOU are aware that the principle of blood-revenge is a deep-seated one in the Eastern mind. From the earliest ages it was always the custom with the Orientals, when a man was murdered, or slain without malice aforethought, for the nearest relative, his heir, or any person related to him, to take revenge for him upon the person who, either intentionally or unintentionally, was the means of his death. This revenge was a very special thing to the Oriental mind. The avenger of blood would hunt his victim for 40 years–yes, until he died, if he was not able to reach him before–and would be on his trail all his life, that he might slay him. It was not necessary that the manslayer should have any trial before a judge–his victim was dead and if the one who killed him was not put to death, it was reckoned among some tribes to be legitimate to kill his father, or indeed any member of his tribe–and until someone in that tribe was put to death, as a revenge for the man who had been slain, by accident or otherwise, a deadly feud existed between the two clans which never could be quenched except by blood.

Now, when the Lord gave to the Jews this Law concerning the cities of refuge, he took advantage of their deeprooted love towards the system of the revenge of blood by the nearest relative. God acted wisely in this, as He has done in all things. There are two matters mentioned in Scripture which I do not believe God ever approved, but which, finding they were deep-seated, He did not forbid to the Jews. One was polygamy, the practice of marrying many wives had become so established that, though God abhorred it, yet He permitted it to the Jews because He foresaw that they would inevitably have broken the commandment if He had made an ordinance that they should have but one wife. It was the same with this matter of blood-revenge–it was so firmly fixed in the mind of the people that God, instead of refusing to the Jews what they regarded as the privilege of taking vengeance upon their fellows, enacted a Law which rendered it almost impossible that a man should be killed unless he were really a murderer, for He appointed six cities, at convenient distances, so that when one man killed another by accident, and so committed homicide, he might at once flee to one of those cities. And though he might have to remain there all his life, yet the avenger of blood could never touch him, if he were innocent. He would have a fair trial, but even if he were found innocent, he must stay within the city into which the avenger of blood could not, by any possibility, come. If he went out of the city, the avenger might kill him. He was, therefore, to suffer perpetual banishment, even for causing death accidentally, in order that it might be seen how much God regarded the rights of blood and how fearful a thing it is to put a man to death in any way. You see, dear Friends, that this prevented. the likelihood of anyone being killed who was not guilty of murder, for, as soon as one man struck another to the ground by accident, by a stone, or any other means, he fled to a city of refuge. He had a head start from the pursuer and if he arrived there first, he was secure and safe.

I wish to use this custom of the Jews as a metaphor and type to set forth the salvation of men through Jesus Christ our Lord. I shall give you, first, an explanation and, then, an exhortation.

  1. I SHALL ATTEMPT AN EXPLANATION OF THIS TYPE. Note, first, the person for whom the city of refugewas provided. It was not a place of shelter for the willful murderer–if he fled there, after a fair trial he must be dragged out of it and given up to the avenger. And the avenger of death was to kill him and so have blood for blood, and life for life. But, in case of an accident, when one man had slain another without malice aforethought and had, therefore, only committed homicide, the man fleeing there was perfectly safe.

Here, however, the type does not adequately represent the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is not a refuge provided for men who are innocent, but for men who are guilty–not for those who have accidentally transgressed, but for those who have willfully gone astray! Our Savior has come into the world to save not those who have, by mistake and error, committed sin, but those who have fearfully transgressed against well-known Divine Commandments and who have followed the sinful dictates of their own free will, their own perversity leading them to rebel against God.

Note, next, the avenger of blood. In explaining this portion of the type, I must, of course, take every part of the figure. The avenger of blood, I have said, was usually the next of kin to the one who had been slain. But I believe any other member of the family was held to be competent to act as the avenger. If, for instance, my brother had been killed, it would have been my duty, as the first of the family, to avenge his blood, if possible, then and there –to go after the murderer, or the man who had accidentally caused his death–and to put him to death at once. If I could not do that, it would be my business and that of my father and, indeed, of every male member of the family, to hunt and pursue that man until God should deliver him into our hands so that we might put him to death. I mean not that it is now our duty, but itwould have been so regarded under the old Jewish dispensation. It was allowed, by the Mosaic Law, that those who were the relatives of the man killed would be the avengers of his blood.

We find the counterpart of this type, for the sinner, in the Law of God. Sinner, the Law of God is the blood-avenger that is on your trail! You have willfully transgressed–you have, as it were, killed God’s Commandments, you have trampled them under your feet–and so the Law of God is the avenger of blood. It is after you and it will have you in its grasp before long! Condemnation is hanging over your head and it shall surely overtake you! Though it may not reach you in this life, yet, in the world to come, the avenger of blood, the Moses, the Law of the Lord, shall execute vengeance upon you and you shall be utterly destroyed!

But, further, there was a city of refuge provided under the Law of God–, inorder that one of them might be at a convenient distance from any part of the country. Now, there are not six Christs–there is but one, but there is a Christ everywhere. “The Word of God is near you, even in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the Word of faith which we preach, that if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

The city of refuge was a priestly city–a city of the Levites, and it afforded protection for life to the manslayer. He might never go out of it till the death of the then reigning High Priest, after which he might go free without being touched by the avenger of blood. But, during the time of his sojourn there, he was housed and fed gratuitously–everything was provided for him and he was kept entirely safe! And I would have you mark that he was safe in this city, not because of its walls, or bolts, or bars, but simply because it was the place Divinely appointed for shelter. Do you see the man running towards it? The avenger is after him, fast and furious! The manslayer has just reached the borders of the city–in a moment the avenger stops–he knows it is no use going any further after him, not because the city walls are strong, nor because the gates are barred, nor because an army stands outside to resist, but because God has said the man shall be safe as soon as he has crossed the border and has come into the suburbs of the city! Divine appointment was the only thing which made the city of refuge secure! Now, Beloved, our Lord Jesus Christ is the Divinely-appointed way of salvation! Whoever among us shall make haste from our sins and flee to Christ, being convinced of our guilt, and helped by God’s Spirit to enter that road, shall, without doubt, find absolute and eternal security! The curse of the Law of God shall not touch us, Satan shall not harm us, vengeance shall not reach us, for the Divine appointment, stronger than gates of iron or brass, shields everyone of us “who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us” in the Gospel!

The city of refuge, I must have you note, too, had around it, suburbs of a very great extent. Two thousand cubits were allowed for grazing land for the cattle of the priests and a thousand cubits within these for fields and vineyards. Now, no sooner did the man reach the suburbs of the city, than he was safe–it was not necessary for him to get within the walls, but the outskirts, themselves, were sufficient protection. Learn, then, that if you do but touch the hem of Christ’s garment, you shall be made whole! If you do but lay hold of Him with “faith as a grain of mustard seed,” with faith which is very feeble, but is truly a living principle, you are safe–

“A little genuine Grace ensures
The death of all our sins!”

Get anywhere within the borders of the city of refuge and you are, at once and forever, secure from the avenger!

We have some interesting particulars, also, with regard to the distance of these cities from the habitations of men in ancient Judea. It is said that wherever the crime of homicide might be committed by any man, he might get to a city of refuge within half a day and, verily, Beloved, it is no great distance from a guilty sinner to the sheltering breast of Christ! It is but a simple renunciation of our own powers and a laying hold of Christ, to be our All-in-All, that is required in order to our being found within the city of refuge! Then, with regard to the roads to the city, we are told that they were strictly preserved in good order. Every river was bridged. As far as possible, the road was made level and every obstruction removed so that the man who fled might find an easy passage to the city. Once a year the elders of the city went along the route to see that it was in proper repair and to assure, as far as they could, that nothing might occur through the breaking down of bridges, or the blocking of the highway, to impede the flight of any manslayer and cause him to be overtaken and killed. Wherever there were by-roads and turns, there were legible sign-posts with this word plainly visible upon them, “Refuge”–“ Refuge”–pointing out the way in which the man should flee if he wished to reach the city.There were two people always kept on the road, so that in case the avenger of blood should overtake a man, they might intercept him and entreat him to stay his hand until the man had reached the city, lest innocent blood should be shed without a fair trial–and so the avenger himself would be proved guilty of murder. The risk, of course, was upon the head of the avenger if he put one to death who did not deserve to die.

Now, Beloved, I think this is a picture of the road to Christ Jesus. It is no roundabout road of the Law–it is no obeying this, that, and the other command–it is a straight road. “Believe, and live.” It is a road so hard that no selfrighteous man will ever tread it, but it is a road so easy that every man who knows himself to be a sinner may, by it, find his way to Christ and his way to Heaven! And lest any should be mistaken, God has set me and my Brothers in the ministry to be like hand-posts in the way, to point poor sinners to Jesus! And we desire to always have on our lips the cry, “Refuge! Refuge! REFUGE!” Sinner, this is the way! Walk you therein and you shall be saved!

I think I have thus given the explanation of the type. Christ is the true City of Refuge and He preserves all those who flee to Him for mercy. He does that because He is the Divinely-appointed Savior, able to save unto the uttermost all them that come to God by Him.

II. Now, in the second place, I HAVE TO GIVE AN EXHORTATION.

You must allow me to picture a scene. You see that man in the field? He has been at work. He has taken an ox-goad in his hand, to use it in some part of his farm work. Unfortunately, instead of doing what he desires to do, he strikes a companion of his in the heart and he falls down dead! You see the poor fellow with horror in his face. He is a guiltless man, but, oh, what misery he feels when he gazes upon the corpse lying at his feet! A pang shoots through his heart, such as you and I have never felt–horror, dread, desolation! Yes, some of us have felt something akin to it spiritually–wewill not allude to the when and the why–but who can describe the agony of a man who beholds his companion fall lifeless by his side? Words are incapable of expressing the anguish of his spirit! He looks upon him, he tries to lift him up–he makes sure that he is really dead–what does he do next? Do you not see him? In a moment, he flies out of the field where he was at labor and runs along the road with all his might! He has many weary miles before him–six long hours of hard running–and as he passes the gate, he turns his head and there is the man’s brother! He has just come into the field and seen his brother lying dead!

Oh, can you conceive how the manslayer’s heart palpitates with fear? He has a little head start on the road–he sees the avenger of blood, with red face, hot and fiery, rushing out of the field with the ox-goad in his hand, and running after him! The way lies through the village where the dead man’s father lives–how fast the poor fugitive flees through the streets! He does not even stop to bid good-bye to his wife, nor to kiss his children–but on, on, he speeds for his very life! The relative calls to his father and his other friends–and now they all rush after him. Now there is quite a troop on the road–the man is still ahead, there is no rest for him. Though one of his pursuers may pause for a while, or turn back, the others still trail him. There is a horse in the village. They mount it and pursue him. If they can find any animal that can assist their swiftness, they will take it. Can you not conceive of the manslayer crying, “Oh, that I had wings, that I might fly to the city of refuge”? See how he spurns the earth beneath his feet! What, to him, are the green fields on either hand? What are the babbling brooks? He stops not even so much as to wet his lips! The sun is scorching him, but still on, on, on, he runs! He casts aside one garment after another! He still rushes on and the pursuers are close behind him. He feels like the poor stag hunted by the hounds–he knows they are eager for his blood and that if they do but once overtake him, it will be a word, a blow–and he will be a dead man. Watch how he speeds on his way! Do you see him now? A town is rising into sight! He perceives the towers of the city of refuge–but his weary feet almost refuse to carry him further! The veins are standing out on his brow like whipcords! The blood spurts from his nostrils–he is straining all his powers to the utmost as he rushes on–he would go faster if he had any more strength. The pursuers are after him–they have almost caught him, but see, and rejoice! He has just reached the outskirts of the city–there is the line of demarcation–he leaps over it and falls senseless to the ground–but there is joy in his heart.

The pursuers come and look at him, but they dare not slay him. The knife is in their hands and the stones, too, but they dare not touch him. He is safe, he is secure! His running has been just fast enough–he has managed to leap into the kingdom of life and to avoid a cruel and terrible death.

Sinner, that picture I have given you is a picture of yourself, in all but the man’s guiltlessness, for you are a guiltyman! Oh, if you did but know that the avenger of blood is after you! Oh, that God would give you Grace that you might have a sense of your danger tonight! You would then not stop a solitary instant without fleeing to Christ. You would say, even while sitting in your pew, “Let me get away, away, away, where mercy is to be found,” and you would give neither sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids till you had found in Christ a refuge for your guilty spirit! I am come, then, to exhort you to flee to Jesus now!

Let me pick out one of you, to be a specimen of all the rest. There is a young man here who is guilty. The proofs of his guilt lie close at hand. He knows himself to be a great transgressor–he has foully offended against God’s Law. Young man, young man, as you are guilty, the avenger of blood is after you! Oh, that avenger–God’s fiery Law–did you ever see it? It speaks words of flame! It has eyes like lamps of fire! If you could once see the Law of God and mark the dread sharpness of its terrible sword, you might, as you sat in your pew, quiver almost to death in horror at your impending doom! Sinner, I think if this avenger shall seize you, it will not be merely temporal death that will be your portion–it will be death eternally! Sinner, remember, if the Law of God lays its hands on you, and Christ does not deliver you, you are damned! Do you know what damnation means? Say, can you tell what are the billows of eternal wrath and what the worm that never dies are? What the Lake of Fire, what the Pit that is bottomless are? No, you cannot know how dreadful these things are! Surely, if you could, Man, you would be up on your feet and fleeing for life–eternal life! You would be like that man in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress who put his fingers in his ears and ran sway! And when his neighbors ranafter him, he cried, “Eternal life! Eternal life!”

O stolid stupidity! O sottish ignorance! O worse than brutal folly that makes men sit down in their sins and rest content! The drunk still drinks his bowl–he knows not that in its dregs there lies wrath. The swearer still indulges in his blasphemy–he knows not that, one day, his oath shall return upon his own head! You will go your way and eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and live merrily and happily, but, ah, poor Souls, if you knew that the avenger of blood was after you, you would not act so foolishly! Would you suppose that the man, after he had killed his neighbor, and when he saw the avenger coming, would coolly take his seat and wait to be slain, when there was a city of refuge provided? No, that consummate folly is reserved for such as you are! God has left that to be the top stone of the folly of the human race, the most glittering jewel in the crown of free will–the dress of death wherein free will does robe itself. Oh, you will not flee to Christ, you will stay where you are, you will rest contented and, one day, the Law of God will seize you–and then wrath, eternal wrath, will lay hold upon you! How foolish is the man who wastes his time and carelessly loiters when thecity of refuge is before him, and the avenger of blood is after him!

Suppose, now, I take another case. There is a young man here, who says, “Why, Sir, it is no use my trying to be saved. I shall not think of prayer or faith, or anything of that sort, because there is no city of refuge for me.” Suppose that poor man, who had killed his neighbor, had talked like that? Suppose he had sat still, folded his arms and said, “There is no city of refuge for me.” I cannot imagine such folly! And, surely, you do not mean what you said just now! If you thought there was no city of refuge for you, I know what you would do–you would shriek, and cry, and groan! There is a kind of despair that some people have which is a sham despair. I have met with many who say, “We do not believe we could ever be saved,” and they seem not to care whether they are saved or not. How foolish would the man be who would sit still and so let the avenger slay him because he fancied there was no entrance for him into the city! But your folly is just as great and even worse, if you sit still and say, “The Lord will never have mercy on me.” He is as much a suicide who refuses the medicine because he thinks it will not cure him, as the man who takes the knife and stabs himself in the heart! You have no right, Sir, to let your despair triumph over the promise of God! He has said it and He means it–“Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” If He has shown you your guilt, depend upon it, there is a city of refuge for you! Run to it! Run to it! May God help you to take yourselves to it now! Oh, if men only knew how dreadful is the wrath to come and how terrible will be the Day of Judgment, how swiftly would they flee away to Jesus! There is not a hearer of mine here who would delay an hour to flee to Christ if he did but know how fearful is his condition out of Christ! When God the Holy Spirit once convinces us of our sin, there is no stopping, then! The Spirit says, “Today, if you will hear His voice,” and we cry, “Today, Lord, today, we hear Your voice!” There is no pausing, then! It is on, on, on, for our very life! I beseech you, my Hearers, you who have sinned against God, and know it–you who want to be delivered from the wrath to come–I beseech you, by Him that lives and was dead, flee to Christ!

Take heed that it is to Christ you flee, for, if the man who had slain his neighbor had fled to another city, it would have been of no avail. Had he fled to a place that was not an ordained city of refuge, he might have sped on with all the impetuosity of desire and yet have been slain within the city gates. So, you self-righteous ones, you may flee to your good works, you may flee to your baptism and your confirmation–and your church or your chapel attendance–you may be all that is good and excellent, but you are fleeing to the wrong city and the avenger of blood will find you, after all! Poor Soul! Remember that Christ Jesus the Lord is the only Refuge for a guilty sinner–His blood, His wounds, His agonies, His sufferings, His death–these are the gates and walls of the city of salvation! But if we trust not in these, without a doubt, trust where we may, our hope shall be as a broken reed and we shall perish after all!

I may have one here who is newly awakened, just led to see his sin, as if it were the corpse of a murdered man lying at his feet. It seems to me that God has sent me to that one individual in particular. Man, God has shown you your guilt and He has seat me to tell you that there is a Refuge for you! Though you are guilty, He is gracious! Though you have revolted and rebelled against Him, He will have mercy on all who repent and trust in the merits of His Son! He has bid me to say to you, “Flee! Flee! Flee!” And, in God’s name, I say to you, “Flee to Christ.” He has bid me warn you against delays. He has bid me remind you that death surprises men when they least expect it. He has bid me assure you that the avenger will not spare, neither will his eyes pity–his sword was forged for vengeance, and vengeance it will have! God has also bid me exhort you, by the terror of the Lord, by the Day of Judgment, by the wrath to come, by the uncertainty of life and by the nearness of death, to flee to Christ this very moment–

“Hasten, traveler, hasten! The night comes on!
And you far off from rest and home,
Hasten, traveler, hasten!”

But, oh, how much more earnest is our cry, when we say, “Hasten, Sinner, hasten!” Not only does the night come on, but, look, the avenger of blood is close behind! Already he has slain his thousands–let the shrieks of souls, already damned, come up in your ears! Already the avenger has worked wonders of wrath–let the howling of Gehenna startle you, let the torments of Hell amaze you! What? Will you pause with such an avenger in swift pursuit? What? Young man, will you stop this night? God has convinced you of your sin–will you go to your rest once more without a prayer for pardon? Will you live another day without seeing to Christ? No, I think I see signs that the Spirit of God is working in you and I think I hear what He makes you say, “God helping me, I give myself to Christ even now! And if He will not, at once, shed abroad his love in my heart, this is my firm resolve–no rest will I find anywhere till Christ shall look on me and seal, with His Holy Spirit, my pardon bought with blood.”

But if you sit still, young man–and you will do so, if left to your own free will–I can do no more for you than weep for you in secret. Alas for you, my Hearer! Alas for you! The ox led to the slaughter is more wise than you are! The sheep that goes to its death is not so foolish as you are! Alas for you, my Hearer, that your pulse should beat a march to Hell! Alas that yonder clock, like the muffled drum, should be the music of the funeral march of your soul! Alas! Alas that you should fold your arms in pleasure when the knife is at your heart! Alas! Alas for you, that you should sing and make merriment when the rope is around your neck and the fatal drop is about to be given to you! Alas for you, that you should go your way and live joyfully and happily, and yet be lost! You remind me of the silly moth that dances round the flame, singeing itself for a while and then, at last, plunging to its death–such are you! Young woman, with your butterfly clothing, you are leaping round the flame that shall destroy you! Young man, light and frothy in your conversation, joyful in your life, you are dancing to Hell! You are singing your way to damnation and promenading the road to destruction! Alas! Alas! Alas that you should be spinning your own winding-sheets–that you should, every day, by your sins, be building your own gallows–that by your transgressions you should be digging your own graves and working hard to pile the firewood for your own eternal burning! Oh, that you were wise, that you understood this, that you would consider your latter end! Oh, that you would flee from the wrath to come!

O my Hearers, think of the wrath to come, the wrath to come! How terrible that wrath is! These lips dare not venture to describe it! At the very thought of it, this heart fills with agony! O my Hearers, are there not some of you who will soon be proving what the wrath to come really is? There are some of you who, if you were now to drop dead in your pews, must be damned. Ah, you know it! You know it! You dare not deny it! I know you know it! As you hang down your heads, you seem to say, “It is true. I have no Christ to trust to, no robe of righteousness to wear, no Heaven to hope for!” My Hearer, give me your hand! Never did father plead with son with more impassioned earnestness than I would plead with you. Why do you sit still when Hell is burning almost in your very face? “Why will you die, O house of Israel?” O God! Must I yearn over these people in vain? Must I continue to preach to them and be “a savor of death unto death” to them and not “a savor of life unto life”? And must I help to make their Hell more intolerable? Must it be so? Must the people who now listen to us, like the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida in the days of our Lord, have a more terrible doom than the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah? O you who are left to your own free will to choose the way to Hell–as all men do when left to themselves–let these eyes run down with tears for you because you will not weep for yourselves!

It is strange that I should feel more concern for your souls than you do for yourselves. My God knows there is not a stone that I would leave unturned to save each one of you. There is nothing that human strength could do, or human study could learn which I would not seek after if I might but be the instrument of saving you from Hell! And yet you act as though it concerned you not, whom it should concern the most. It is my business, but it is far more yours. Sirs, if you are lost, remember that it is yourselves who will be lost! And if you perish, bear me witness that I am clear of your blood. If you flee not from the wrath to come, forget not that I have warned you. I could not bear to have the blood upon my head which some, even of those who like sound doctrine, I fear, will have at the last day of account! I tremble for some I know who preach God’s Gospel, in some sense idly, but who never warn sinners. A member of my Church said to me lately, “I heard So-and-So preach– he is called a sound-doctrine-man. I listened to him for nine years and I was attending the theater all the time. I could curse, I could swear, I could sin and I never had a warning from that man’s lips during the whole nine years.”

Ah, me! I would not like one of my Hearers to say that concerning my preaching. Let this world hiss me! Let me wear the coat that sparkles, and the cap that garnishes a fool! Let earth condemn me and let the fools of the universe spurn me, but I will be free from the blood of my Hearers! The only thing I seek in this world is to be faithful to my Hearers' souls. If you are damned, it will not be for lack of faithful preaching, nor of earnest warning. Young men and maidens, old men with gray heads, merchants and tradesmen, servants, fathers, mothers, children–I have warned you this night–you are in danger of Hell! And, as God lives, before whom I stand, you will soon be there unless you flee from the wrath to come! Remember, none but Jesus can save you! But if God shall enable you to see your danger and give you Grace to flee to Christ, He will have mercy upon you and the avenger of blood shall never find you! No, not even when the red lightning shall be flashing from the hands of God in the Day of Judgment! His City of Refuge shall shelter you forever! And in Heaven with Jesus, triumphant, blessed, secure, you shall sing of the blood and righteousness of Christ who delivers penitent sinners from the wrath to come. God bless and save you all! Amen.