"The First Month of The Year."

Exodus 12:2.

Man's division and reckoning of time have no significance for God. Even with the earthly people, as we may see from the above scripture, their true history began with redemption. Their past history was closed up in the death of the passover lamb; and now that they were under the efficacy of the precious blood they were to commence anew as God's redeemed. Their links with the past were to be broken, and they were to march out of the land of Egypt as God's pilgrim host, to journey to the land of their inheritance in Canaan. There were many sorrows and conflicts before them, but the end was already secured; for God had said, "I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt … and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey." God had thus undertaken for them because He had chosen them to be His people, and purposed to bless them. It is the same now with Christians, the heavenly people, for we read, "Whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified." Nothing so establishes the soul as the apprehension that God is working out the redemption of His people according to His eternal purposes of grace.

The true beginning of the year to us, then, is connected with our being brought under the value before God of the precious blood of Christ. For what is the meaning of that blood? It proclaims that the life of Christ was laid down under judgment; and it is thus the everlasting testimony to God's righteousness as against sin. The judgment was due to us, we were under it; but Christ has borne it, and, in bearing it, He took upon Himself and met the whole of our responsibility before God, and vindicated God's name and glory in the presence of the whole universe. All our past life therefore - our responsible life before we knew Christ as our Saviour - has gone in His death; indeed we did not live for God, we were dead in sins until we passed out of death into life. (John 5:24.) Suffer then for one moment the plain question, Can you, dear reader, take this ground of deliverance from the judgment of God through the death of Christ? Are you able in the grace of God to appropriate the death of Christ as your death, as having answered to all the claims which God had against you? Do you believe on Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification? If you can answer "yea" to these questions, then your past sinful life has been closed up for ever in the cross of Christ, and you have commenced a new life in Him who is the Beginning, the Firstborn from the dead.

Assuming then that God in His grace has put us upon the ground of redemption, according to His eternal purposes, we desire to call attention to the character of the life to be lived while passing through this world. It will be observed in Exodus 12 - 13 that the feast of unleavened bread stands in intimate connection with the passover. "In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day at even." "Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast unto the Lord." The apostle Paul explains the significance of this in application to ourselves. "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (1 Cor. 5:7-8.) In one word, God claims holy lives from His redeemed; holiness is to mark them during the whole of their sojourn in the wilderness. This is brought before us in every shape and form in the New Testament scriptures, and it is exceedingly important for the believer to remember it, and especially for the young believer who is in the full energy of his natural life, and who is, on this very account, more liable to the seductive influences of a defiling world.

It will be profitable, therefore, if we consider a little what is meant by holiness. There are two aspects of it, one negative and the other positive. By negative is meant that we are to guard ourselves from the pollutions of this scene, to keep ourselves, as James terms it, unspotted from the world; and by the positive we understand the actual attainment of what is according to the mind and nature of God. The prohibition of the leaven (a type of evil) to the Israelites speaks of the former, and the command, for example, "Ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy," as plainly speaks of the latter. The Old Testament is full of indications of the danger and means of defilement, and it is well for the Christian to consider these, that he may, in the power of the Spirit of God, so keep himself that the wicked one may not touch him through his temptations. In Numbers 19, for example, there is a very precise specification of the sources of uncleanness. Touching the dead, the presence of death in a tent, contact with bone (relic of death), or with a grave - all these rendered an Israelite unclean. And if we interpret these things in connection with ourselves we shall perceive that causes of defilement surround us on every hand. Spiritual death, conversation with a sinner, the sudden call upon us in our homes of an unconverted man, the maxims and principles of the word (bones), or meeting with professors (graves), if we are not walking in the Spirit, will surely defile. It was only the blessed Lord who could touch the leper and be undefiled. If we have to do it, having sin in us, we shall soon discover that we have contracted a soil. Our vessels must be kept strictly closed (Numbers 19:15), or uncleanness will penetrate through the avenues (eyes, ears, hearts, etc.) to the soul. All this will enable us to understand the word, "Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame." (Rev. 16:15.)

The power to avoid defilements lies in the cultivation of holiness in the positive aspect. In the Old Testament, as we have seen, Jehovah revealed Himself as the standard of holiness for His people, and the apostle Peter cites and enforces the lesson. In the New Testament Christ glorified is presented as the model of His people, and He, therefore, is the expression of holiness according to God. Two or three scriptures will make this very plain. The blessed Lord Himself said, in speaking to the Father concerning His own, "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth" - through the truth of what He now is as the glorified Man. This wrought into their souls would produce conformity to His likeness. Again, we find that God has predestinated us to be conformed to the image of His Son. (Romans 8:29.) In Corinthians we read that "we all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18); and yet once more we read that when we see Christ, when He is manifested in glory, "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." (1 John 3:2.) Without attempting at this time to expound these scriptures, two or three points may be indicated: First, that nothing short of conformity to Christ is holiness according to God's thought; second, that it is by occupation with, meditation upon, contemplating Him or His glory, that we grow in His likeness; and thirdly, that we shall not be fully conformed to, or like Him, until we see Him as He is. A fourth may be added, which is, that the knowledge that we shall be like Him, according to God's purpose, affords an energetic and constant motive to purify ourselves, even as He is pure. (See 1 John 3:3.)

As we have already said, it is in the cultivation of this positive aspect of holiness that power is obtained - power to avoid the pollutions of the world, and power to grow daily in the likeness of our blessed Lord. The reason is plain, for the more our minds are absorbed in Christ, the more we enjoy intimacy with Him; the greater our delight in His glory, the more intensely we shall desire to please Him, and thus to avoid all and everything which would becloud our communion with Him and His love. "If ye love Me," He said to His disciples, "keep My commandments," and obedience is ever the pathway of holiness. We learn, moreover, that love, love to Christ - and love to Christ is ever produced by His love to us - is the mainspring of holiness. Yea, it is all heart-work, as indeed Paul teaches in one aspect, when he says, "The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all … to the end He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints." (1 Thess. 3:12-13.) And it must not be forgotten that for the pursuit of holiness the heart must be engaged in it. We do not drift into any attainment; there must be real purpose of heart to reach the end desired. May it not then be well, as we stand upon the threshold of another year, to challenge ourselves as to whether we are commencing this new stage of our wilderness journey with this fixed object before us - to seek, by the grace of God, growing measures of conformity to Christ every day, while awaiting His return? Nothing else is worth living for, and if we live for this there will be the unbounded enjoyment of the Lord's manifestation of Himself to our hearts.

It will be perceived, it may be added, in conclusion, that the possession of the indwelling Spirit has been assumed in the foregoing remarks. Whether on the negative or on the positive side of holiness, He is the only power for its attainment. The apostle thus says, "If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live," and in the same chapter (Romans 8) he teaches that it is by the Spirit also we enjoy our heavenly relationships. Hence the need of constant solicitude, as He warns us in another epistle, of not grieving the Holy Spirit of God, whereby we are sealed unto the day of redemption. It is then in having Christ Himself continually before us as our blessed Object (and for this He must possess our hearts), and in the maintenance of a walk in the power of the Holy Ghost, that holiness will be increasingly found. And we may be assured that in a day of licence, self-pleasing, and departure from the truth, no testimony will be so effective and powerful as that which springs from separation from evil and from devotedness to Christ.

"The more Christ is objectively our portion and our occupation, the more shall we resemble Him subjectively."