We have before us now the completion of Israel's deliverance out of Egypt. Not till they crossed the sea were they fully delivered. Indeed, salvation is not spoken of until they come to it. It is manifest that salvation, as typified in the things we are considering, implies much more than deliverance from wrath and condemnation; and yet this is the sense in which we habitually use it. Here, at the sea, the question is no more between the people and God, but between them and their enemies. The question with God was settled on the night of the passover — fully and entirely settled. The question here was the old, the first question, that of servitude to Pharaoh or of liberty, but which they had learned could not be answered first. This question God Himself now takes up on their behalf, and they find God for them in a more manifest way than ever yet. Already, from the time of the Passover, God was with them; but how vividly the Red Sea makes this manifest to them.
If we look at the doctrinal part of the epistle to the Romans, the first eight chapters, we shall see that the first part of it (to the middle of chap. 5) is occupied with the blood of Christ and its effects. There we see that the righteousness of God itself, which that blood-shedding declares, provides a place of assured shelter. We are "justified by His blood," which in its effects reaches on to the final judgment of the world, and assures us that "much more shall we be saved from wrath through Him." The certainty of final salvation is argued (triumphantly settled, let us say) from the simple and blessed fact of present justification. All possible charges are then repelled; judgment is rolled away for ever; and with our standing in present grace, and glory as our confident expectation, we are enabled to glory even in tribulation also, conscious that it, as all else, is working together under God's hand in blessing to us.
This is essentially passover truth: sheltered from judgment, eating the lamb, and equipped for the journey. But now in the next part of the epistle, from Romans 5:12 onwards, the question of practice at once comes in: "What then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" "Shall we sin, because we are not under the law but under grace?" and when the discovery of the hopeless evil of the flesh is made, one question more: "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me front the body of this death?"
All through this part the question is as to the dominion of sin, from which we are delivered by death, and brought into a new place beyond it: "That the body of sin might be annulled, that henceforth we should not serve sin." It is by death we are "made free from sin;" we have died with Christ, and "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." Thus the divine method of deliverance is given us.
But we must look more closely at this, and in detail. By God's grace, may those who listen to me now, trace, if they have never done so before, the steps of this deliverance, and make it their own. It is a wonderful and real thing, and we cannot take for granted that those who have peace with God have this deliverance.
Peace with God we have found already in the 5th of Romans; yet, in the 7th chapter, we find the cry of, "I am carnal, sold under sin!" It is no longer peace with God that is in question; but sin in my nature as a law of sin; this is the subject debated upon. And though souls yet ignorant of peace may pass through this experience, and thus naturally mix it up with the question of peace, the two things are in Romans kept quite apart. Let us not be afraid then to entertain this question: Have we passed through this experience? — for experience it is, and we must pass through it as such. O friends, have we learned that song of salvation as having passed through the sea, untouched by it? Is Egypt finally and for ever behind you? Happy indeed if it be so!
Bondage to Pharaoh! — Does it not cease on the night of the passover? In a roost important sense it does. Chains are broken, and a real start is made. God is with them; never can His claim to them be cancelled, nor the enemy retain possession of His people. In a true sense, therefore, their slavery ceased that night; the stroke of judgment upon Egypt became the means of their own escape. But passing from God's point of view to that of the people., with whatever "high hand" they may start, we soon find them trembling again before their old ty- rant, and in such fear that the actual presence of God with them does not remove it! Shut in between the desert and the sea, with Pharaoh's chariots and horsemen in full pursuit, their cry is a cry of despair. The question between them and their old enemy has to be taken up afresh by God in their behalf, and to be ended finally. God fights for them; and they do nought but "stand still and see the salvation of the Lord."
And so with a soul who has learned the safe shelter of the blood of Christ — seen the judgment of God rolling past; the chains broken off his hands; the question of deliverance from sin's law really settled. God, who has definitely called him from sinnership to saintship, will not fail to make him what that word imports. As in the type of the leper (Lev. 14:14-18), if the blood first sanctifies, or sets one apart to God, the oil cannot fail to be put upon the blood: the power of the Holy Spirit is there to make real and actual that to which the precious blood has redeemed him. But it does not follow that he comes into the proper realization of this at once. Alas, the first teaching of holiness has to be, "That in me (even as a believer), in my flesh, good does not dwell," and for deliverance from sin in ourselves we have to learn the painful and humbling lesson of thorough and continual weakness.
When one has just learned the blessed fact of justification by the blood of Christ, and seen the shadow of death turned for him into morning by faith in a risen Saviour, whose death has made atonement for his sins, it seems indeed to him as if sin could no more put shackles upon his enfranchised soul. The joy of this deliverance seems as if it would be power from henceforth. Joyfully he starts with God; for God is indeed with him.
"And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, to go by day and night He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night from before the people."
Thus the path is begun with full provision for mastery over the difficulties of the way. By day, by night, they are to make continued progress. So led, so cared for, His presence with them, what progress should theirs be! Alas, in a few days all seemed to have failed. Instead of a short path out of Egypt, by the way of the Philistines, with no sea to obstruct their way, they are turned round by "the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea." In a new way they must learn deliverance from Egypt's dominion, and out of its territory. They find themselves on the border of Egypt with the sea in front, the desert around, and all Egypt is poured out after them! Do we not hear the cry, "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me?"
Did it not look as if God had deserted them? And we, in whom God has created holy desires after holiness, have to learn that these desires can only be truly attained in God's own way — to turn away in utter helplessness from ourselves to Christ — and Christ not in power, but in death, where "our old man" was put away, buried out of sight.
At peace with God through the precious blood of Christ, yet how many think that as to inbred sin (the sin that dwells in us) there is no effectual deliverance! Their "mind" is indeed changed. With the mind they serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. They do not see that they have reached the border of Egypt, and that though further progress seems impossible, God is at hand to give such a deliverance as to make their hearts sing of it forever.
The Red Sea is the border of Egypt which represents the world away from God. If we ask how men pass out of the world, the universal answer is, "By death." And our Shepherd has made by His death a dry path for us through death, as the rod of Moses made a dry path for Israel through the sea. The "strong east wind" of adversity blowing through all the awful "night" of His distress, cleaved the way for us through the waters of death, through which, by faith, we pass out of sin's and the law's dominion, as Israel out of Pharaoh's rule.
Let us trace this experimentally, for it is experience we have now to do with. Let us follow the actual track of a person whom God delivered from bondage to sin, and whose history is the type of an actual and realized deliverance.
Let us get before us then this soul just started on the path with God. Full of the precious reality of escaped judgment, his bonds fallen off, the joy of his salvation is too much in his heart for the world to have place there. He almost thinks, in his earnestness and self-ignorance, that he never can fall into sin again. But as time passes, it begins to change: his joy becomes less absolute; the world begins to have more reality and power; he realizes the fact that he has still within him, child of God as he is, a nature which is not all "new." He realizes that sin is in him still. Things presented by the world awaken lusts within, and there begins a struggle of which those who know it realize its painfulness. The old enemy is reviving, gathering strength, and putting on the old chains again; and the soul sinks in dismay at the return of what it thought almost gone for ever. Israel's despairing cry finds its answer in the groan over a body of death which passes its power to deal with, whether to improve or cast aside: "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
It is "between Migdol and the Sea" that Pharaoh comes upon them. We have seen what the Sea is; what is Migdol? It means "watch-tower;" often a military post, as the natural accompaniment of a border region. Did jealous eyes watch the escaping hosts of Israel? Egypt was not friendly now, and a watch-tower in an enemy's country is not a place of help or refuge, but a stronghold armed against them to the teeth.
And the New Testament gives this view. In the 7th of Romans, which is the key to the situation here, we find Migdol (the law) looming threateningly enough to the soul seeking to escape from sin's law. However strange it may sound to us, Scripture it is that says, "The strength of sin is the law." Yea, even because "the law is spiritual." But, says the one whose experience it is, "I am carnal, sold under sin."
Men will have it that because the law is spiritual it must be power for spirituality, power against sin. But Scripture decisively says, "Without the law sin was dead; for I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died; and the commandment which was ordained unto life, I found to be unto death; for sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me!" Is not this just the position between Migdol and the Sea, where Pharaoh overtook Israel? Do you know this position? If you have but reached thus far, it will explain itself much better than my words can do? Indeed, if you have not reached it, it will be impossible to explain it. The questions, objections, reasonings, which fill this part of Romans, show the difficulty with which souls apprehend the true power of the law of God. Think of one seeking to obey the divine commandment, finding that the sin he is seeking to subdue, is slaying him by the law he is seeking to keep! That the law instead of being the strength of holiness is actually the strength of sin (1 Cor. 15:56).
Let me remark here that it is not now a question of justification or of wrath; that was all settled before. No; the point now is entirely how "we should bring forth fruit unto God;" a question of being "delivered from the law . . . . that we should serve God in newness of spirit, not in the oldness of the letter." This is what so many find hard to understand. That the law cannot justify is comparatively simple; but that it hinders fruit-bearing is hard to realize. As sure as Migdol was in the enemy's country, and that Israel must be out of it to escape attack, so must we be out of reach from the law to escape its condemning power. Under the law, self-occupation ends with the discovery of an impracticable body of sin and death, from which I, "wretched man," see no deliverance. I cannot improve this flesh in which sin dwells. I cannot bring about the spiritual state I long for, which would satisfy me. God gives me no help at achieving self-complacency. I desire the consciousness of holiness; but His law gives me the consciousness of sin! Whence then can deliverance come?
Now then let us look at the type again. Mark that God does not arm Israel's hosts and lead them out against Pharaoh. He strengthened not their arm to bring salvation to them. They have, instead, to "stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord." So with us in the antitype of this memorable struggle. God does not call us to fight against the flesh and subdue it. He neither points nor leads us in that direction at all. "What other course?" many a heart might ask. Ah, God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways as our ways. So now: as Moses' rod is lifted up over the sea, the east wind rises, and as the night falls the waters are divided from shore to shore! How strange this pathway! How impossible for aught but divine power to effect! People of God, this is your escape from the enemy! Know you this path, beloved friends? See you what it means? Your deliverance is by the way which Christ has made — quite out of Egypt to the other side.
The awful "night" of Christ's unequalled sorrow, as the wail of the east wind of calamity, has opened for us the path of deliverance. That precious death is ours! Do you understand? We are dead by it, dead with Him, passed out of the condition of men in the flesh. It is not merely that our sins are gone: blessed be God, they are, every one of them; but that is not all — myself, my miserable self, is gone! The death of Christ has put me away as a man in the flesh, as a child of Adam. I have died with Christ. His death has ended my history before God. In Him who has passed through death, I have passed through it; my standing now is in Him alone!
This is true of every child of God. It is what is his from the first moment of faith in Christ — not a matter of progress or of attainment, though there is an attainment of it too. What is ours already, we are called to apprehend as our own; thus it is that we find the passage of the Red Sea not taking place on the passover-night, but after several stages of journey beyond this. To enjoy the blessedness of the place, we must in fact have reached it experimentally — must have come by way of Migdol through the Sea. May some of you travel it with me now for the first time, and prove for yourselves the blessed end of Pharaoh's, of sin's, tyranny forever.
Dead with Christ! In Christ beyond death! May God teach us all these two lessons. The self I was taking up to improve and cultivate, He has set aside forever by the Cross. To cultivate the flesh is of no use, for "it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be."
Some may turn upon me, and say, "But, sir, I am a child of God, I am not all flesh, I am born again, I have a new nature." And so had he a new nature, who cries, "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" It was his new nature that made him groan so! "I delight in the law of God," he says, "after the inward man;" "With the mind I myself serve the law of God." Yes, but that did not hinder his having to say also, "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members." Thank God for a new nature; but deliverance is another matter. Is there not a law in your members warring; against the law of your mind? Are you not learning im- potency rather than power? — the strength of sin rather than the holiness you seek?
You have a new nature, and think you have something to cultivate. I do not deny it; but do you understand what is its cultivation? The principle of the new nature is faith. Faith, hope, and love are its characteristics. Do you not see that all these require, not self-occupation, but occupation with Christ. You take up the law to help you, and the law tells you just what you must be and do, but it gives you no power for it. Power is in the Spirit, which we receive through faith in Christ. Thus grace, not law, is the way of holiness. "Sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under the law, but under grace." "Israel who followed after the law of righteousness, did not attain to the law of righteousness. And wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law." These principles are essentially different. You must come away from the place between Migdol and the Sea. You must follow Israel's path through the waters before you can know deliverance from Pharaoh and from Egypt. You must learn death with Christ, and leave yourself as it were in the Sea, and take your place as in Christ; then you will find, to your unspeakable joy, you have left your enemies also in the waters.
What a moment for Israel when they looked back in the dawn of the morning from the other shore, and saw the dead bodies of their enemies upon the waters and upon the shores! What a victory, for which they had never lifted a hand! And what rapturous joy to the soul that has apprehended Christ's death as its own, when in the light of resurrection it sees how God has delivered him from the rampant evil he could not meet or control! "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be annulled, that henceforth we should not serve sin."
Notice that it is "in the morning watch" that "the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians, . . . and troubled the host of the Egyptians." And this also, that "the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared, . . . and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea." Christ is "raised from the dead by the glory of the Father." Here is the morning for us. His work accepted Himself accepted as the representative of His redeemed people, and in Him is now our standing; in Him is our happy place, and Himself is the object of our hearts and happy service. Faith, love, hope, twine around Him their tendrils, and flourish there. Here the new nature expands and develops and bears fruit — fruit which is not for her own taste or enjoyment, but for Christ. When will Christians give up the thought of feeding upon their own fruit? When will they give up seeking satisfaction in their own attainments? When will they learn that self-consciousness and self-occupation are the antipodes of holiness, instead of essential features of it? When will they cease to loiter between Migdol and the Sea, and pass to the other side, away from Egypt and its bondage?
Blessed be God, He has given us the title to turn away from self. The self we would cultivate He has set aside by the Cross; and the faith which characterizes the new nature, turns ever away from self towards Him in whom it delights. Be content to be nothing; God has made Christ all to us — sanctification as well as righteousness. We grow up to what we have before us. We learn the manners of the company we keep. "We all with open face beholding the glory of the LORD, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit," as the margin of our Bibles more truly reads.
Our Lord has called us to be His own. We are not "in the flesh;" we belong not to Egypt, but to Christ. May the wonderful type we have been looking at instruct many a soul in this. How great the confirmation and clearing of our faith it will produce, as this last verse teaches:
"And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and His servant Moses."