Having considered the passover itself, let us now look at its accompaniments. The former shows what faith receives from God; the latter points to its Godward results.
First, the unleavened bread — "roast with fire, and unleavened bread." These two things are purposely brought together, as we shall presently see. But first let us look at the "unleavened bread."
Literally, it is "compressed bread" — bread of which the particles have not been separated by the ferment of leaven. There are two words for leaven: the one means a "leaving, or remainder," because it was a lump of dough left from a former time; the other is simply "leaven," or ferment.
The "unleavened bread" is spiritually translated for us by the apostle as "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Of leaven itself we have various interpretations. There is "the leaven of malice and wickedness" in 1 Cor. 5:8. In the Gospels we have the "leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees," which, we are told is their "doctrine;" and the "leaven of Herod," which from its connection with these we must interpret similarly. Ritualism, rationalism, worldliness, are identified severally with these three, and give character to what they taught. They point to three paths, not far separated, by which souls have ever been seeking to escape from God. They may also be characterized as only different forms of the leaven of malice and wickedness, in contrast to "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
The "old leaven," of which the apostle speaks in the same passage, gives a connected and very significant thought. It refers to the lump of old dough which was used as the ferment of the new lump. "Purge out therefore the old leaven," he says, "that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened." The introduction of the "old" into that which God has made "new," is what the enemy ever seeks to use, to transform and corrupt what is of God. It may be the spirit of the "old," legal covenant into God's "new" covenant of grace; or that which is of the "old," natural man, into the "new" man, the Christian. It may come in as formalism and superstition, or more positive Sadducean unbelief, or adaptations to the world. In either case it is corruption leaven; and in every case it betrays real departure from God. If we leave Him and His directions, what can we do but take up with our own? And this evil is not negative and passive, but works. The nature of all evil is a ferment, a revolt, an antagonism to what is of God.
The unleavened bread is that "of sincerity and truth" — Godward, of course. It is the spirit of integrity with Him, which means whole-hearted surrender to His blessed will. It is the spirit which says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; see if there be any way of wickedness in me; and lead me in the way everlasting." It is what the apostle means when he says, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." No less than the surrender of all to God can properly be called obedience; as the deliberate keeping back from Him of what is His due, is rather to be counted rebellion. This latter is "leaven," which in the practical life of the Christian betrays itself by the retention of that which belongs to the old natural man, which the Cross has put away.
How solemn and penetrating, then, is the exhortation to eat the lamb "roast with fire, and unleavened bread!" It is as much as to urge that the Holy One's blessed surrender to that awful fire of sacrifice, makes imperative, and should make easy, the full surrender of ourselves to the pure and holy love which has laid hold of us: Therefore at the Lord's table the apostle speaks of examining ourselves, lest we eat and drink judgment to ourselves, not discerning the Lord's body — the holiness of what the feast represents. For how can we bring evil before that awful Cross? or how measure evil, but as insubjection to Him whom we call Master and Lord?
And this leads us to the next point, "With bitter [herbs] shall they eat it." For the discovery of what self is, and the ruin of the old creation, is bitter. It is bitter to realize that our Lord Jesus had to be bruised for my sins. How suited, then, is this accompaniment to the Lamb "roast with fire!" How utterly inconsistent with the deliberate or careless allowance of evil! A chastened spirit surely becomes us in the presence of the Cross. Not yet — not here can we let out our hearts in a world where that cross has stood.
Beloved, have we understood this? Have we purged out the old leaven which, if allowed, becomes an active power of evil, taking us out of the blessedness which our God even here designs for us, and with whom alone we can "keep the feast?"
Now we have the pilgrim garb in which the pass-over was to be eaten:
"And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste; it is the Lord's passover."
They were now to enter upon their journey. What was an impossibility before the passover is now at once commanded to them. The passover itself is to be eaten in haste, as expecting to go forth immediately. Judgment must roll over first. They must start with it behind them — not in front where they would have to meet it. Then, and thus, must they go forth.
Let us note this well, that we also start on our journey heavenward with judgment anticipated and borne for us at the cross, already and for ever passed away. "He that heareth my words," says our Lord, "and believeth Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life." Personally, into judgment the believer can never come. He will appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, and give an account of himself there to God, and "receive for the things done in the body, according to that he hath done;" but the issue does not affect his salvation from God's wrath, which will be upon the ungodly. Our exemption from God's judgment is by Christ having borne it Himself. He that has fled to Christ is already "saved" — already "delivered from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:10). And it is a first necessity for a walk with God, that this should be so. It is in this way alone that holiness is made possible. We must be at peace with Him before we can walk with Him. The false gospels and half-gospels, which under the plea of holiness maintain a salvation conditioned upon our works, ignorantly destroy the very holiness they contend for.
The power for a Christian life, one who knew it well thus declares to us: "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." Faith, which has Christ before it as its object, works by love; not self-love, but a devout, adoring remembrance of a Saviour's wondrous sacrifice. And the pattern and power for this walk is He whose life and death had been for others, not Himself. Thus the apostle could say as to the moral transformation wrought by Christianity, how Christ "died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him that died for them and rose again." Not mere correct living, not mere conformity to an outward rule, but a life issuing from devotedness of heart to a Redeemer-God! this is, in the apostle's view of it, Christianity. But this is in entire opposition, in principle, to a life which finds its motives in personal needs and ends — in fear of eternal judgment. "Faith worketh by love," not by fear; and, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment." Thus God, whose love alone is perfect, casts fear out of our hearts, that He Himself may reign there.
Yet men ignorantly speak as if this tormenting fear cast out of the heart would enthrone there, not God, but Satan! And they bring in the fear of judgment as the motive for holiness — fear to effect what Christ's love alone may not have the power to do! Incentives to self-seeking are religiously brought in, not discerning that it is not Christianity at all that they are producing by it — not real godliness, but the destruction, rather, of true godliness. Think of obedience to a father — of true obedience — being helped in a son's heart by the fear that his father might cast him off! Ah, God is wiser than we are, and He has made Christ to be our sanctification not the day of judgment. Holiness such as the lake of fire may engender, is not what God calls holiness at all.
And thus, "That they which live may not live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again," teaches us to look back to the Cross to see wrath borne for us there; judgment is removed for ever, that we may begin our path with Him in the light of His love. "God commendeth His love to us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us," and "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which He hath given us." This is the power, and this the actuating principle of our lives henceforth.
Judgment — personal, eternal judgment — is for ever gone for us. Christ delivered for our offences has been raised again for our justification; and, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Not only so, but we have access by faith into a relationship of grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Alas, judgment indeed rests upon the land out of which it hastens our retreating steps, but for us it is over; our place with God is definitely and eternally settled. He who has died for us is risen. He took our place and burden on Calvary's cross, and has taken for us another place, in the presence and glory of God. There, love rests, satisfied. There He sits, because His work is accomplished. The eye of God, which dwells with unchanging delight upon His Beloved, sees us there in Him, linked in the bundle of life with Him for ever. "Because I live, ye shall live also." "If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life."
Now we are prepared for the pilgrimage dress — our travelling dress. It is not the "best robe," which fits us for our Father's house; but it is that which we are to wear in the world. God grant that we keep it on throughout our pilgrim journey.
First, "Your loins girded." "Having your loins girt about with truth," says the apostle. The garments are spiritually what we may designate by the old word "habits." It is the moral guise in which we appear before men — what they identify us with. And if not just "ourselves," we may in many ways be read in them: pride, or lowliness; self-will, or meekness; sloth, or diligence; and in many other things.
The long robes of the East required a girdle, that they might not hinder in a march such as Israel had now before them. Flowing loose they might get entangled with the feet, trip the wearer, and gather the dust of the road. The truth is to be our girdle, keeping us from loose and negligent contact with an ever-ready defilement in a world characterized by "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life," and from the entanglement to our feet which lax habits are sure to be. It is "as pilgrims and strangers" we are exhorted to "abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." It is having our eyes fixed on the goal of our journey that will keep us clear of defilement and entanglements in passing through a world "where foes and snares abound."
Ungirded garments are akin to the "weights" which the apostle bids us to "lay aside." Things which in themselves may not be sinful, may yet betray us into sin. Notice the connection in that exhortation, "Lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us." If a pack of wolves were following you, you would quickly understand why carrying a weight would hinder. And herein many a soul may discern why he has so little successful conflict. The "weight," like the flowing garment, shows, that whatever else we may be, we are not racers. And it is to run a race that we are called. Hence the "all things" which might be lawful, as the apostle says, may not be expedient; and though "lawful" unto him, he would not be brought under the power of any. We may permit "lawful things" to gain power over us, while rejecting unlawful ones. But if the power we submit to is not of God, it is against Him; for that which is not with Him is against Him. We do not see the mire that sticks to the bottom of the weight we are lifting, nor even perceive when we have been defiled.
Fit companions then with unleavened bread and bitter herbs are these girt loins. We must arise and depart, for this is not our rest. It is polluted, and polluting.
Next we have: "Your shoes on your feet." Travellers tell us that their shoes are in a short time cut to pieces in the desert that Israel had to traverse; yet Israel, shod of the Lord, traversed that desert from end to end, and for forty years their shoes waxed not old upon their feet. The shoe, so eminently needed, and miraculously preserved to them, what is it spiritually? Scripture gives us a twofold aspect of it. Israel's shoes, or sandals, were of badger skin. Recounting His mercies to Israel God says: "I shod thee with badger skin." The badger, or perhaps, sea-cow skin, is familiar to us as one of the tabernacle coverings, fitted by its nature to repel outside influences, and protect the more destructible materials beneath. This character makes it a fit type of the holiness which abides unchanged by all that surrounds it, preserving the more delicate things from deterioration, as salt does from corruption. This shoe, then, represents that fidelity to God which abides unchanged in an adverse world, resisting all its disintegrating influences.
The apostle gives us another and direct interpretation of the shoe by saying: "Have your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace." Here is an important effect of the gospel itself upon us. Bringing us into peace with God, it brings us into peace with all things, which He governs and makes to work together for our good. Our God is over all. Without Him not a sparrow falls to the ground. The Lord of all is our Saviour. What provision we have in this for our feet, whatever be the way in which we may be called to walk! "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee."
Finally, they were to eat the passover with "your staff in your hand." The staff is God's word that supports our steps in the way He leads us. His promises are our prop and stay. We have but one staff, but it is unfailing. "Scripture cannot be broken." Lean upon it, fellow-Christian; the more you do, the more you will find its strength.
We close for to-night with one solemn thought. Exact and stringent as were all these directions, leaving no room for hesitation or mistake, it is a painful lesson of what man is, to find how, even at this solemn season, they were carried out. We read,
"And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders . . . And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt; for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not tarry; neither had they prepared for themselves any victual."
Thus the command seems to have been carried out, not because it was commanded, but because of the necessity of the case: Egypt sent them out in haste, while their bread was unleavened.
When we think of the spiritual significance of all this, it becomes doubly solemn. How little has the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth ever characterized any considerable proportion of God's people! When the world has forced them out of it, then indeed, in times of trial and persecution, brightness and devotedness have become more manifest; but when the storm relaxed, how soon the leaven again was introduced!
Shall we not challenge ourselves in view of all this? Beloved brethren, where are we? Keeping the passover feast according to the ordinances? Or retaining only that which suits our convenience, with more or less affiliation with Egypt? May the Lord keep us from this for His name's sake!