The Cities of Refuge
or, "The Name of Jesus"
A BOOK FOR THE YOUNG
by John MacDuff, 1874
"How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer's ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear."
My dear friends,
This little book contains, with a few additions, the substance of what was spoken one Sunday to a number of hearers of your own age. It may serve to recall to those that listened to it, and to unfold to those who did not, some simple and well-known, but precious gospel truths.
May He whose NAME it is designed to exalt—bless you in reading it, and enable you from the heart to repeat as your own happy experience, the well-known verse of the beautiful hymn I have put on the title-page.
I. THE CITIES OF REFUGE
"Then the LORD said to Moses: "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee." Numbers 35:9-11
When traveling lately through one of the great Alpine passes leading from Switzerland into Italy—I observed, close by the roadside, at regular distances, a number of plain, square buildings. On these (sometimes over the doorway, sometimes on the ice) were inscribed the words—"Refuge No. 1," "Refuge No. 2," "Refuge No. 3," etc. I think there were twenty altogether. I was told, on inquiry, they were intended as shelters for any hapless travelers who might be overtaken by the sudden storms which so often sweep down from the snow-white mountains bounding the prospect. These "Refuges," at the time I saw them, were empty, for it was in the beginning of summer, when everything, even in that elevated region, was looking bright and green. The Alpine rhododendron was blooming, with its pink blossom, the mountain sides; and growing up were lovely blue flowers, close by stray patches of winter's snow which were still filling the ridges and hollows in the higher parts of the pass. Seldom at this season are travelers exposed to any peril from an Alpine storm.
It is different, however, in winter or spring, when the avalanches come tumbling from the heights, or the snow is drifting in huge masses over that wonderful road. Many shivering wayfarers have fled with thankful hearts into these shelters. Some have been carried there, in a state of insensibility, by unknown benefactors, and on gradually awaking to consciousness, have blessed the kind hearts and hands which have saved them from certain death, and were now ministering to their necessities. By others, alas! they have been reached too late. Rescued from the snows of the mountain, they have been conveyed to these 'refuges' only to die.
As I passed those Alpine "refuges," I could not help being reminded of the wonderful Cities of Refuge which God graciously provided of old in Palestine, for the unfortunate manslayer.
It sometimes happened, in the land of Canaan, as in our own country, that a Hebrew, without any evil purpose, would cause the death of a brother Hebrew. He did not intend to inflict any injury; it was the result only of unfortunate accident. But, nevertheless, to show God's detestation of the shedding of blood, he was liable, by the Levitical law, to be killed by the Avenger—the person nearest related to the murdered man. If he wished to escape with his life, his only chance of safety was to flee to one of these Refuge-cities. It mattered not what his age, or name, or station in life was. He might be young or old, prince or noble, priest or prophet, he was exposed every moment to death, unless he availed himself of the offered shelter. There was no time for delay. He must betake himself to instant flight. To linger might be to perish!
Do you not think with pity of the unhappy fugitive, obliged thus suddenly to leave his home and all that he most loved on earth? If at the time he caused the death, he was working in his vineyard, the pruning-hook must be left to rust on the branch. If he was ploughing with his yoke of oxen, they must be left lowing in the furrow. If he was busied in his harvest-field, the sheaves must be left unbound, and the reapers receive their wages from another's hands. If he was returning home fatigued at evening after the toils of the day, and longing for grateful repose, he dare give no "sleep to his eyes, nor slumber to his eyelids." His child may be lying pining in sickness at his cottage, but it may endanger him to return to clasp that and his other little ones in his embrace, and bid them a fond farewell. He may have no time to change his clothing or take even his bag or pilgrim-staff. The avenger of blood may be in the adjoining street, or in the dwelling near by. Another hour may be fatal! "Skin for skin, all that a man has will he give for his life." (Job 2:4)
Off he speeds in breathless haste—now along the level road—now up the steep ascent—with his chest heaving, and drops of perspiration standing on his brow. Friends may meet him, but with a wave of the hand, he rushes on with fleet footstep. Parched with thirst in the hot noonday, he turns a longing eye on the ripe grapes that are hanging in purple clusters on the wayside, or on the water trickling down the narrow ravine. But he dare not pause. Knowing full well that the avenger is in close pursuit, he hurries on with unabated ardor. Happy sight, when he sees at last, on some mountain slope, the longed-for city of refuge! Happy, when, weary and footsore, covered with dust, the portals of the city close him in. A few moments before, had he been overtaken on the mountain-top by his pursuer, he might have been heard to cry out, in the bitterness of despair, "Have you found me, O my enemy?" Now, safe within the secure shelter, he can rejoicingly exclaim, even with the avenger standing close by, "My enemies have met their doom!" (Psalm 9:6)
These Cities of Refuge form one of the Old Testament PICTURES of the sinner, and of the coming gospel salvation. God often used such pictures to teach the Jewish people great gospel truths. Just as we know that youthful readers like a story-book all the better when it has pictures in it; so God taught the early church, when it was in a state of "childhood," by means of similar pictures or types; and the present was one of them. It represented, and still represents, the sinner who has broken the Divine law as pursued by an avenger, JUSTICE, following with drawn sword, exclaiming, "The soul that sins—it must surely die!" (Ezekiel 18:4) "Be assured that the wicked will not go unpunished!" (Proverbs 11:21)
This is a picture, too, which applies to everyone without exception, rich and poor, parent and child, master and servant; "for all have sinned—and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) But a glorious CITY, "salvation its walls and bulwarks," opens its gates. The sinner is exhorted to "escape there;" to "linger not in all the plain;" to "flee for his life, lest he be consumed!" (Genesis 19:17) That city is Jesus, the sinner's Refuge and the sinner's Friend. Once within its walls, no enemy can touch him—no sword can terrify him. He can triumphantly exclaim, "Who shall separate me from the love of Christ!" (Romans 8:35)
Dear young friends, it is because I know this City of Refuge is open for the youngest of you, that I now write these pages. I love to read about a group of little ones who, eighteen hundred years ago, were gathered round its gates, asking admission; and when others, with unkind words, were sending them away, He who held the gates in His hand, "who opens and no man shuts" (Revelation 3:7,) said, "Let the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not." (Matt. 19:14) It is because I believe and know that many as young as you have obeyed the Savior's invitation, and have already entered this happy City, that I ask you to come and hear while I speak to you about it.
I believe and know that many such have learned to feel that they are sinners—and that they need a Savior. They have been taught by God's own Word and Spirit—that they have broken His holy law, and have thereby exposed themselves to eternal wrath. But they are now safe within the Gospel Shelter. The "enemy" is "stilled." The "avenger" has sheathed his sword. I think I can hear their youthful voices, as they march through the streets of the City, singing, "Because of Your adversaries, You have established a stronghold from the mouths of children and nursing infants, to silence the enemy and the avenger." (Psalm 8:2) "Blessed be the Lord; for He has showed me His marvelous kindness in A STRONG CITY." (Psalm 31:21)
II. THE SIX CITIES
"The following cities were designated as cities of refuge: Kedesh of Galilee; Shechem, in the hill country of Ephraim; and Hebron, in the hill country of Judah. On the east side of the Jordan River, across from Jericho, the following cities were designated as cities of refuge: Bezer, in the wilderness plain of the tribe of Reuben; Ramoth in Gilead, in the territory of the tribe of Gad; and Golan in Bashan, in the land of the tribe of Manasseh. These are the cities appointed for all the Israelites and foreigners among them, so that anyone who kills a person unintentionally may flee there and not die at the hand of the avenger of blood until he stands before the assembly." Joshua 20:7-9
It is of these six cities here mentioned, I am now going to speak. The name of each of the six has something significantly to tell about THE NAME OF JESUS. They are six pictures of the Savior, hung up in the Old Testament picture-gallery. I am going to ask you to take a journey with me to these towns of old Palestine. Before we enter their gates, I would like again to repeat the verse of the precious hymn placed at the beginning of this book:
How sweet the NAME of Jesus sounds
In a believer's ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear."
If you look far north in the map of Palestine above the lake of Merom, near the snowy peaks of mount Hermon and Lebanon, you will see where this Refuge-city lies. Recent travelers describe its ruins as still standing on a rocky ridge in the midst of green hills, surrounded with the remains of forts and castles built in the middle ages. It was situated within the tribe of Naphtali, and must have been a great town at the time when the old warrior Barak, who was born within its walls, marched from its gates to meet Sisera in the plain below with his nine hundred chariots of iron.
What does its name tell of Christ?
The Hebrew word KEDESH signifies "Holy." Jesus was "The Holy One." Not one stain of sin polluted His holy human nature. Angels in heaven, as they cast their crowns at His feet, cry, "Holy! holy! holy!" (Isaiah 6:3) Devils on earth were compelled to exclaim, "We know you who you are—the HOLY ONE of God!" (Mark 1:24) Jewish priests, as they spoke of Him of old by types, took "a lamb without blemish." (Ex. 12:5) Jewish prophets, as they spoke of Him in their predictions, called Him "The Righteous (or HOLY) Branch." (Jer. 23:5) Apostles, as they wrote about Him, said "He was HOLY, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." (Hebrews 7:26) When He was Himself on earth, He could challenge His bitterest foes, "Who among you can convict Me of sin?" (John 8:46) And when He came down, soon after His ascension, from His throne in the skies, we find Him proclaiming as His name, "The HOLY One, the True One!" (Revelation 3:7)
Reader, remember this. Jesus never could have saved you—unless He had been "glorious in holiness." If He had had one sin in Him—you and I must have been lost forever! Just as one leak in Noah's ark of old would have sunk it, so one leak of sin in Jesus, the true Ark of Salvation, would have plunged us all in the depths of eternal despair! Let us, then, love often to walk round the walls of KEDESH, and think of our "City of Refuge" as "The HOLY Child Jesus." (Acts 4:27)
And when you ponder His holiness—seek to be holy, just as He was. How he hated sin! How He loved to do His heavenly Father's will! How gentle, and good, and kind He was to all! He never was angry, or passionate, or revengeful. When a youth, at His early home in Nazareth, "He increased in favor with God and man." (Luke 2:52) Be like Jesus in His holiness! Let KEDESH be a word written on your young hearts! Whenever you are in trouble or difficulty, or temptation, always ask, "How would the HOLY JESUS have acted here?" Turn the words of your well-known hymn into a prayer. While you say—
"I long to be like Jesus,
Meek, lowly, loving, mild;
I long to be like Jesus,
The Father's Holy Child!"
Shechem was situated at the edge of a valley among the hills of Ephraim. The famous mountains of Ebal and Gerizim rose on either side, from the slopes of which the blessings and the curses of the law were proclaimed in the ears of assembled Israel. If Jerusalem was the greatest and the grandest of the cities of Palestine, then Shechem was perhaps the most beautiful. It is still spoken of by travelers as one of the loveliest spots in the Holy Land, with its orchards of olives, figs, and pomegranates, and its flocks of singing-birds, which have made the inhabitants give to the graceful slope on which it looks down, the name of the "Musical Valley." I don't know if the streets in the olden time resembled what they are now. The following is the recent description of a traveler familiar with them: "It has mulberry, orange, pomegranate, and other trees mingled in with the houses, whose odoriferous flowers load the air with sweet perfume during the months of April and May."
You do not require to be told that Shechem is a very ancient city, and that many interesting events in sacred story took place in connection with it. The earliest mention made of it is when the patriarch Abraham slept under its oaks, when he came to Canaan from distant Chaldea, and erected his first altar under their shade; (Genesis 12:8) and one of the last Bible notices regarding it, is in connection with the woman of Samaria, when Jesus sat with her at "the well of Sychar," and spoke to her of the better fountain, "springing up to everlasting life." (John 4:14)
What does the name SHECHEM tell of Christ?
It is a word which means "SHOULDER."
Jesus, our Refuge, bore a guilty world upon His shoulder. The ancients had a fabled Atlas, who was supposed to carry the earth on his shoulders. Jesus Christ is the true ATLAS! "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows!" (Isaiah 53:4) All the sins of all His people—Jesus bore forever away! Think of that heavy load which bowed Him down to the ground in the garden of Gethsemane, and caused drops of blood to drop from His brow! No other one but Jesus could have carried such an awful load and burden as this. No angel or archangel could have done so. Jesus, being God, was alone "able to save unto the uttermost." (Hebrews 7:25) He is the only "sure foundation" that could sustain all the building. (Isaiah 28:16) With any other, it would have fallen into a mass of ruins.
But I love not only to visit the old city of Shechem, and to think of Jesus bearing the guilt of His people on His shoulders, but I like to think of Him as the true SHECHEM now. He is our Shechem at God's right hand. "The government is upon His SHOULDER." (Isaiah 9:6) The whole world is upheld by Him! All Christians are continually upheld by Him! Believers—the poorest, the weakest, the humblest—are on the shoulders of Jesus. He is bearing the weight of them all; loving them all, attending to them all, interceding for them all. All that befalls me—Jesus orders. Food and clothing, health and strength, friends and home—are gifts from Him! Every tear I shed—He knows it, He appoints it. If he sends me sorrow and trial—I will go and enter the gates of this city SHECHEM, and remember, "Jesus (Jesus, who died for me) bears me on his shoulder!"
Moses speaks of God conducting the children of Israel through the wilderness of old, as a kind father carries his weak and weary child on his shoulder. "You saw in the wilderness how the Lord your God carried you as a man carries his son all along the way you traveled until you reached this place." (Deuteronomy 1:31) And David says in an hour of trouble, "I am poor and needy, yet the Lord carries me on his heart!" (Psalm 40:17)
I like to look at that New Testament picture—Jesus, the good Shepherd, carrying a sick sheep or young lamb on His shoulder, back to the fold. That poor wandering sheep had gone astray on the dark mountains; but the great and gracious Shepherd had gone after it "until He found it; and when He had found it, He laid it on His SHOULDERS, rejoicing. (Luke 15:5)
Christian reader, what perfect security and safety you have in Jesus, and in His Gospel City! Far, far more so than the manslayer had of old, in his city of refuge. I daresay, even although he was delivered from the avenger, the refugee could not help at times dreading lest the avenger might come upon him secretly. I daresay, at night, on his lonely couch, he would sometimes dream of the avenger stealing in beside his pillow, and he would startle from his unrestful sleep at the scaring vision. Not so in the case of those who have fled to the "Gospel Refuge." They can say in sweet confidence, "I will lie down in peace and sleep, for you alone, O LORD, will keep me safe." (Psalm 4:8) He who is their "Keeper" says of them, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand!" (John 10:28)
Hebron is the most ancient of all the Cities of Canaan. After wandering about from place to place in the land of promise, pitching their tents and altars, it was here that the patriarchs had, for the first time, a settled home. We need not wonder at their selection of the old Canaanite city, on the peaceful slope of the southern hills, nestling amid olive-groves and terebinth trees, and looking down on one of the most fertile valleys in Palestine, with its orchards and grain-fields. On its eastern height is the spot which gives it to this day perhaps its most sacred interest—the cave of Machpelah, where the bones of the patriarchs has reposed for four thousand years. It must have been outside its walls that the angels appeared to Abraham, when he was seated at his tent door. The adjoining height is perhaps the place from which the patriarch saw the smoke of burning Sodom rising from its own deep valley. It was in Hebron that David was anointed king over Israel. It was amid its vineyards and mountain-slopes that John the Baptist grew up as a little boy, before he appeared in the wilderness of Judea, to tell of One mightier than he, "whose shoe-latchet" he was "not worthy to unloose." (Mark 1:7)
What does the name HEBRON tell of Christ?
In Hebrew, it means "fellowship" or "friendship." JESUS has brought guilty man into fellowship with God. On account of sin—we had forfeited this fellowship. We had not made God our friend—but our enemy! We were cut off from fellowship with all that is holy and happy. Angels, in their errands of mercy through the universe, passed by our world; they could hold no fellowship with those who had rebelled against their Creator. Can no one bridge this wide gulf which separates between earth and heaven? Can no ladder from heaven be let down to sinful people, by fallen man may once more be raised up to hold "fellowship" with God?
JESUS is the true HEBRON—the true ladder of Jacob let down from heaven and reaching to earth. Jesus has "reconciled things on earth and things in heaven," (Col. 1:20) He has "raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places." (Ephesians 2:6) We who were once "afar off" have been "brought near by the blood of Christ." (Ephesians 2:13)
I trust many Christians who read this, will love often to visit in thought the old city of the patriarchs, and to dwell on its name and meaning, "fellowship." Think of what you would have been without Jesus, your Hebron-City of Refuge! You would have been a poor outcast from God, an alien from all that is holy and happy. But by Jesus—all is changed. God is your Father—Christ is your elder Brother. In Jesus, God loves you—the Holy Spirit teaches you—heaven is open for you. You are enrolled as a citizen of the great Hebron above—"the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God." Christ has made you to be members of the great heavenly family; so that the little child who loves Jesus, is brother or sister to those before the eternal throne of heaven! You may be deprived of human friendship and fellowship. The brother or sister, the father or mother, or friend you once dearly loved, may be laid in some silent grave. But rejoice! nothing can separate you from a better friend and more lasting fellowship. Though all earthly joys were to perish—you can always rush within the gates of that mighty Hebron of refuge, and say, "Truly our FELLOWSHIP is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ!"
"Earthly friends may pain and grieve me,
One day kind—the next they leave me;
But this Friend can never deceive me—
Oh, how He loves me!"
Bezer was situated beyond the Jordan, in the tribe of Reuben. Although its precise site has not been discovered, we think that it was perched on one of the many rocky heights on the great mount Nebo, from whose summit Moses was permitted, before death, to get a view of the Land of Promise. The northern portion of the waters of the Dead Sea would be seen from it, and the pastoral mountains of Judah in the distance. From its name, as well as from its being a border town, and subject to attack from the warlike tribe of Moab, Bezer would probably be strongly fortified—similar, perhaps, in this respect to the towns in the neighborhood, with which the Israelites were so amazed on their first approach to Canaan, with "their walls great and high, reaching to heaven."
What does the name BEZER tell of Christ?
It literally means "stronghold," or ROCK. Jesus is the believer's BEZER. The sinner is in danger everywhere else—but in Jesus he is safe. He is invited to "turn to the STRONGHOLD" as a "prisoner of hope," and once within its gates, "though an army encamps against him," he need "fear no evil."
What a mighty force does encamp against him! There is God's Holy Law, with all its terrible threatenings and curses. But sheltered in the true BEZER, he can triumphantly say, "Who can bring an accusation against God's elect? God is the One who justifies!" (Romans 8:33)
There is Satan, with his deceitful schemes and countless temptations. He was once a bright angel himself. He knows what holiness and happiness are. But being now a wicked spirit—he would make others as wicked and unhappy as himself! He is spoken of in the Bible as "a strong man armed." (Luke 11:21) But Jesus is "stronger" than this strong man! If you have fled for refuge to this great gospel Bezer, seated within its secure bulwarks you can joyfully exclaim, "The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the strength of my salvation, and my stronghold!" (Psalm 18:2)
There is your own Wicked Heart, with its sinful thoughts, and vain imaginations, and deep corruptions; for a man's worst foes are those which are within him! One of these heart-foes will tempt you to tell a lie; another to swear; another to be dishonest; another to be selfish; another to be angry; another to be unkind. But He who is for you—is greater than all those who are against you. Safer than in any earthly castle, you can take up your warrior-song, "The name of the Lord is a strong tower! The righteous runs into it—and is safe!" (Proverbs 18:10)
There are the Trials and Sorrows and Distresses of this world—those things that cause sad hearts and tearful eyes. But that blessed Savior—your Rock and Stronghold, "knows your sorrows," for He felt them. He marks your tears, for He shed the same himself. Fleeing to this true BEZER in the time of affliction, you can dry your tears and sing, "The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know Your name trust in You because You have not abandoned those who seek You, Lord!" (Psalm 9:9, 10)
And there is Death, the last enemy of all. But even over this King of terrors and Terror of kings—you can shout in triumph from your Divine shelter, "O death, where is your sting? Thanks be to God, who gives me the victory through the Lord Jesus Christ!" (1 Corinthians 15:55)
And Jesus is a Stronghold for all who truly flee to Him. I have already spoken of the little children of old rushing to Him—and smiling fearless in the Savior's arms. He combines the majesty of Deity—with the tenderness of man. If He had been the great God alone, you might have been overawed at the thought of going to Him. But what does the prophet Isaiah say of this true BEZER? "A MAN shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest." (Isaiah 32:2)
In one of the great strongholds that were besieged in our last Indian rebellion, the Christian mothers were accustomed to hush their children asleep by singing, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble." My Christian friends, "as one whom his mother comforts," so is God will "comfort you!" Here is His word of comfort: "The Lord is good, a stronghold in a day of distress; He cares for those who take refuge in Him!" (Nahum 1:7) In the old Cities of Refuge, no weapons of any kind were allowed to be made. Those who possessed them had to surrender them. This is true in a nobler and better sense, regarding the Gospel Stronghold. There can be no deadly weapons forged there. Their edge is blunted: "There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1) Satan's armory has been plundered; the "Stronger than he" has "stripped him of his weapons, and carried off his belongings." (Luke 11:22)
I have said that the word BEZER means "ROCK" as well as "stronghold." "Trust in the LORD always, for the LORD GOD is the eternal Rock!" (Isaiah 26:4) He is the true ROCK OF AGES. May you not well say, with your eye on this glorious "Refuge"—
"Dear NAME, the ROCK on which I build,
My shield and hiding-place;
My never-failing treasury, filled
With boundless stores of grace!"
"Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee!"
Ramoth was situated in Gilead, within the tribe of Gad, and somewhere near the banks of the brook Jabbok, where Jacob wrestled in prayer with the angel. It must have occupied a commanding position among the beautifully-wooded glens of Gilead. Like Bezer, it must have been strongly fortified, because of the many sieges it had withstood. Being a border town of Palestine, it was situated in the direct route taken by the invading Syrian armies, and must have been constantly exposed to hostile attacks.
You can think of Ramoth, then, among the hills and slopes on the other side of the Jordan, with their forests of native oaks, which the famous "bulls of Bashan" (herds of wild cattle) roamed at large; while more peaceful flocks browsed on the meadows which fringed the mountain-streams.
What does the name RAMOTH tell us regarding Christ?
Ramoth literally means EXALTATION. Jesus is the true Ramoth! He is "exalted to be a Prince and a Savior!" He was once lowly, despised, rejected, crucified and brutally slain. He compares Himself to a poor outcast and exile amid these forests of Gilead: "Many bulls surround Me; strong 'bulls of Bashan' encircle Me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against Me!" (Psalm 22:12, 13) But having been exalted on the cross as a suffering Savior, He is now exalted on the throne as a glorious King! "God has highly EXALTED Him" (Phil. 2:9;) Angels exalt Him—seraphs adore Him—saints praise Him—the Church on earth magnifies Him—the Church redeemed in heaven will magnify and exalt Him forever and ever!
Christian reader, delight often to walk around the walls of Ramoth, and think of Jesus "exalted at God's right hand." He is there pleading your cause. Though exalted, He has not forgotten the lowliest or humblest of His people. He is the Greatest of all beings, but He is also the Kindest of all. The first time after His exaltation when He came down to earth to speak to the aged apostle John—John wondered if the glories of heaven had altered the love and tenderness of Jesus. He remembered how often before he used to lean on Jesus' bosom. When he looked, however, now, upon the glorious Being that stood before him in His glorious garment, with "His eyes like a flame of fire," "John fell down at His feet like a dead man!" But the same gentle hand touched him, the same gentle voice he was accustomed to hear so often in past years, said to him, "Fear not!" How sweet for us to think that we have exalted on the highest throne of the universe—an unchanged and unchanging Savior, an ever-living, never-dying Friend!
"Though now ascended up on high,
He looks on us, with a brother's eye."
JESUS is exalted in heaven—and exalted by all the glorious family of heaven. But, alas! there is one place where He is often not exalted, but rather cast down, and that is the human heart. That heart has been too truly compared to the inn of Bethlehem, where there was room for every guest—but the Lord of glory! You who truly believe in Him—whom Christ loved so much on earth—whom He fondled in His arms of mercy; see that it is not so with you. "My son," He says, "give me your heart!" See that He is enthroned in your heart, as Lord of all. Exalt Him in everything: in your thoughts, in your words, in your deeds. Welcome Him, as the children of the temple welcomed Him to Jerusalem of old. Take up their song, and sing, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"
Golan was situated in Bashan, in the tribe of Manasseh, among the shepherd hills north of the lake of Gennesaret. It formed the most northerly Refuge-Sanctuary on the east side of Jordan, as Kedesh did on the west; but there are no particular events connected with it in Bible story.
What does the name of this last City of Refuge tell us regarding Jesus?
GOLAN literally signifies JOY. Jesus is truly the GOLAN of His people; they may have many other joys—but He is their "chief joy!" Well may they call Him GOLAN; for not one true joy could have ever visited them—had it not been for Him. The world would have been to them, from first to last, a "valley of Baca," (weeping,) had not Jesus died for their sins, and saved their souls. Well might the angel say, when he came to the plains of Bethlehem to announce the Savior's birth, "Behold, I bring you good tidings of GREAT JOY!"
There is not one step the Christian takes—but Jesus is GOLAN to him— his "joy." He is straying, a lost sheep on the dark mountains, in search of peace—Jesus meets him, and says, "Your sins are all forgiven!" —and he is joyful at that. He is wandering a prodigal, far from his Father's house—Jesus brings him to his lost home, and calls him His own child—and he is joyful at that. He has to travel a long and dreary journey before he reaches his true home in heaven—Jesus gives him His arm to lean upon; and he "goes on his way rejoicing." He has many fiery trials—Jesus tells him not to think these "strange," but rather to "rejoice," inasmuch as He is "partaker with Him in his sufferings." (1 Peter 4:12, 13) He has, at last, to walk through the dark Valley of death—Jesus meets him there, and supports him there. He sees "the King in His beauty," and the land that is yet "afar off;" and, believing, "he rejoices with joy unspeakable and full of glory." (1 Peter 1:8) When Jesus beholds him from His throne in judgment, what are to be His blessed words of welcome? "Enter into the JOY of your Lord!" (Matt. 25:21) And when, as a ransomed one, he enters the bliss of eternal glory, he will shout, "In Your presence, O Savior God, is fullness of JOY!"
Christian reader, love often to gaze on the walls of this City of Refuge. The sacred writer, in giving the list of these six cities, seems to have kept it to the last because it is a happy word, and speaks of the happy prospects of all those who sincerely love the Lord Jesus. Believe me, there is no true joy—but in God. The joy of the wicked is like that of a noisy stream—noisy because it is shallow. The joy, on the other hand, which Jesus gives—is like a great river—deep, calm, ever-flowing, overflowing —not full in winter and dry in summer—but full, and clear, and refreshing all the year long! It may be always truly said of Jesus, the great Gospel Refuge, and of those who have fled to Him, what was said of old about Samaria, "There was great joy in that CITY." (Acts 8:8) It was the object of all that Christ did and said on earth—to give you this joy. "These things have I spoken unto you," says He, "that my JOY might remain in you, and that your JOY might be full." (John 15:11) Love Him now, and serve Him now, and follow Him now—that you may come at last to the true Golan, in His glorious presence above, and "REJOICE evermore!"
"When this poor lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I'll sing Your power to save!
III. THE GOSPEL REFUGE
"We who have fled to Him for refuge—have a strong consolation." Hebrews 6:18
And now, my friends, we have finished the survey of our picture-gallery. We have wandered among these six cities in the old land of promise. I shall repeat their name once more, that you may remember them.
KEDESH — Holiness
SHECHEM — Shoulder
HEBRON — Fellowship
BEZER — Stronghold
RAMOTH — Exaltation
GOLAN — Joy
What a complete Savior! In Him "all fullness dwells." In the case of some of these Hebrew cities, "not one stone has been left upon another, that has not been thrown down." Owls are screeching amid their ruins, and jackals are prowling for their prey. But not so with Him of whom they were types and pictures. Jesus ever lives! He never changes. Time and decay cannot crumble the walls of the Gospel Refuge. Jesus is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever!" (Hebrews 13:8)
I want, in this last chapter, to say one or two additional things to you about the Cities of Refuge. Let me ask you to give me your earnest attention.
The first thing I wish you to remember is, thatall the preciousness of that NAME of Jesus, and all the security of the Gospel REFUGE—is derived from the merits of His death for sinners upon the cross.
This is the greatest truth of all truths—and one most strikingly taught in these old types and pictures. If you read the Bible account, you will find that the manslayer had his liberty restored to him upon the death of the High Priest. (Num. 35:25) When the tidings of the decease of the High Priest—this great Head of the Jewish nation, reached these refuge towns, I daresay many of their citizens would be heard, with wailing cry, mourning the loss of God's faithful servant. But the news was very different to the captive Hebrew. It brought him joyful news! For that event enabled him to go forth from his banishment, and to terminate years of painful separation from all he loved on earth. The avenger could no longer injure him. He could return, happy and secure—to the comforts of his long-lost home.
So, dear Christian reader, it is the death of your great High Priest, which has purchased release from spiritual captivity. The Law of God can no longer hold you. Justice can no longer threaten you. You can go forth with the glorious liberty of a child of God, saying, "Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the One who died!"
You can picture to yourselves, on the death of the Jewish High Priest, the Hebrew captive going forth from the city, within whose gloomy walls he had long been enclosed. You can picture him, with merry heart, making the valleys through which he hurried to his native dwelling, echo with songs of joy! And shall not you O Christian, with happier heart and voice, sing this song as you journey on to your heavenly home, and see it gleaming in the distance, on the other side of Jordan—
"When from the dust of death I rise,
To take my mansion in the skies,
This all my hope—this all my plea,
That Jesus lived and died for me!"
The second thing I want to say to you is, thatGod has made the gospel City of Refuge easy of access, and has filled it with rich provisions.
He made the way as plain as possible, to the manslayer of old. The cities themselves were generally on a height—so as to be seen at a far distance. The roads leading to them were carefully marked and maintained. They were broader than other roads in Palestine, (sixteen yards wide). The Jewish magistrates and judges went once every year to inspect them, and to order repairs. Where streams occurred, there were bridges built across them. Where there were crossroads, signs with "Refuge" on them were set up. And as there were no bridges across Jordan River, three of the cities were placed, as I have already mentioned, on one side of the river, and three on the other; so that all might easily get at them, and none might have any excuse for not fleeing. The nearest city could always be reached by the manslayer, in half a day.
Moreover, we are informed there were ample stores of provisions laid up in them in all these cities of refuge. They were supplied with wells of water, and Levites were placed in turn as porters or gatekeepers, to be ready to welcome every fugitive into these homes of safety.
So God has done everything for you—to make the Gospel Refuge accessible. Your parents and ministers—your Bibles and churches and good Christian books—are all, just like these refuge signs, pointing away from the cross-roads and by-roads of human reason, and human error, and self-righteousness, to the Lord Jesus Christ, and saying, "Flee! flee! Flee for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before you!"
Jesus, too, the true Gospel Refuge, is full of rich provision. "You are complete in Him." He, as the true Joseph, gives forth out of the storehouses in His "treasure-cities," to all His needy people. What are some of these provisions? There is pardon, peace, justification, adoption, sanctification, strength for the hour of weakness, grace for the hour of temptation, and the good hope of everlasting life for the hour of death. No wonder that he says to every poor sinner seeking admission within these gates, "I am the bread of life! He who comes unto me shall never hunger." (John 6:35)
As in the cities of Canaan—so in this glorious Gospel-City of which they were types—there is a Well of living water. What is this? It is the Holy Spirit. He is often in Scripture compared to water. "If any man thirst," said Jesus, "let him come unto Me, and drink. This He spoke of the Spirit." (John 7:37) This all-glorious well-spring, moreover, is not like those of the Palestine cities, which were sometimes dried up in seasons of drought, but the Gospel well "springs up unto everlasting life." Angels, too, are the porters—the blessed wardens who keep the gates of this Gospel-City. "Are not angels all ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who are heirs of salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14) They love to watch by these gates, and to welcome every wanderer. How gladly they give the word, "Open the gates, that the righteous (those made righteous through the righteousness of Jesus) may enter in!" (Isaiah 26:2)
It is delightful, moreover, to think, that just as the Jewish cities were easily gotten to from all parts of Palestine; so from all parts of the world, may people go to the Greater and more Glorious Gospel Refuge. Poor pagan of the far East! Cast away your idols; the gates of the Gospel-City stand ready to welcome you. Indian of the far West! Cast aside your warrior spear and your offerings of blood, and flee to the portals of mercy and to the blood which cleanses from all sin. Eskimo of the far North, amid your polar snows! Negro of Africa, amid your burning sands! Rush to the provided shelter! There is salvation there for you. "The same Lord is rich to ALL who call upon Him." Happy promise! The time will come when Christians from the whole world will be found singing together the same song and uttering the same prayer, "Open unto us the gates of righteousness, that we may enter into them, and praise the Lord!" (Psalm 118:19)
The third thing I want to say to you is, thatno OTHER Refuge can save us—but JESUS alone.
I would like you to take as your motto the simple and beautiful words which a Christian whom has lately gone to glory, wrote, "I am sure I may be very thankful to God for His great mercy toward me. I must just keep in mind that there is only one Refuge to flee to—and that is Jesus!"
There are many other refuges people try to take shelter in. They think they will be as safe in them—as in the ONE of God's providing; but these will never be able to stand—in that day which will test every refuge.
I have seen some making their own goodness their refuge-city. They imagined they were not as bad as others. They trusted in the falling Siloam-tower of their own righteousness!
I have seen some making God's goodness their refuge-city. They said to themselves, "God is kind. He surely will not deal hardly with sinners at last. Justice, the avenger, will not surely always pursue with her flaming sword. The love of God will surely get the better of his justice."
Don't let Satan deceive you! There are many of his refuges which appear to be safe enough, but on which God has written, "Refuges of lies!"
There were many other towns in Canaan of old, which appeared to be as good and as safe as those I have been speaking of. But no city could afford shelter to the manslayer, except one of the six which God had specially appointed.
What would have happened if the fugitive of old, in fleeing from the avenger, had said to himself, "What is the use of my going so far away as to Hebron or Golan? I would rather flee to a nearer place. I will go to Jericho, the old city of palm-trees; or to Bethlehem, in the hills of Judah; or, better still, I will go to Jerusalem, the capital of the nation, where the temple of Zion is, and the palace of the King. Surely I shall be far safer within its lofty walls and bulwarks—than in one of these little cities of the Levites. Is it not said that, God is known in all her palaces for a Refuge?"
If he had done so, he would undoubtedly have perished. Neither King nor Priest, nor Golden gate nor Beautiful gate, nor wall nor bulwark, could have saved him from the avenger's sword. The refuge-towns appointed in the olden time, may have been "the least amid the cities of Judah." But they were the cities of God's selection, and God's ordering—and that was enough. In them, and in them alone—was the manslayer safe from the avenger of blood.
And just so it is with our Gospel Refuge. "Neither is there salvation in any other!" Rejecting Jesus, we are lost forever. All other refuges, however good or great or strong as they may appear to be—will prove only to be Babel-towers, that will fall on the poor builders, and crush them in their ruins!
When God told the children of Israel to sprinkle their lintels and door-posts with blood, they might have been foolish enough to say, "No—we shall do better. We shall not be content with doing so trifling a thing; we shall rather build up great walls around our houses, so that the destroying angel may not get in." Do you think, if they had done so—that their first-born children would have been saved? No! There would have been death in every such household; their high walls would have proved useless. Nothing but the red blood-mark on the doorway of the dwelling would be of any avail in warding off the death stroke.
So it is with the sinner. All the walls which pride, and self-righteousness, and good works can raise—will do nothing to keep out God's sword of avenging Justice. Only the sprinkled blood of covenant mercy will; for "the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses (and alone cleanses) from ALL SIN!" (1 John 1:7)
I remember, many years ago, attending the deathbed of a young man. He told me, one day, he had dreamed of being in a shop which seemed to be hung round with weapons and coats of armor. A number of people in the shop were putting these on. But one man was standing with a drawn sword in his hand—slaying those who passed into the open street. One after another he cut down—their armor was no protection to them—their bodies were lying dead and wounded on the pavement. In great fear and terror, the young man said—as his turn seemed at last to come, when he, too, must try to cover himself with the same armor, and rush out into the fatal street, that he knew not what to do. In looking around him, he observed, in the uppermost shelf, something resembling a web of coarse white linen, lying apparently neglected. He resolved to take it down, and wrap himself in a portion of it, instead of the unavailing weapons of iron and steal. Covering his head and body, he darted out, following the footsteps of the others. The sword descended; but it bounded back again. It was unable to pierce the linen covering. He alone was safe in that crowd of dead and dying.
Beautifully did this youthful dreamer apply his own "vision of the night." It was: How vain are all the boasted armor of self-righteousness; and how safe and glorious is that "white linen" covering of the righteousness of Jesus! To the eye of reason, the armor of iron and steel seems the best, and strongest, and securest. Many will not "submit themselves to the righteousness of God," and persist in using this armor. But it will be a poor protection against the sword of God's avenging justice. Happy are those who have been led to look above for another righteousness, and who have listened to the Divine injunction, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ!" (Romans 13:14)
Reader, let me ask—is this your case? Don't think, that because you are young, and have committed few sins, that you are safer than those who have committed many sins—and that you have not the same urgent need to flee to Jesus for refuge. In Canaan of old, the manslayer was in danger of his life, whether he had killed one or several people. One single killing, like one single sin, exposed him to the fury of the avenger.
Also, the Hebrew fugitive might elude his avenger! He might manage, for days, or weeks, or years, to shield himself from his wrath. He might go, as David did to avoid Saul, to some cave of Adullam; he might hide in the gloomy recesses of some forest—amid the oaks of Bashan, or the rocky cleffs of the Jordan, or amid the cedar-heights of Lebanon; in the words of Ezekiel, "dwelling safely in the wilderness, and sleeping in the woods." (Ezekiel 34:25) But it is different with the sinner and his Avenger, "Vengeance is Mine! I WILL repay, says the Lord." (Romans 12:19) Who can hide from His all-seeing eye?
"If I should find some cave unknown,
Where human foot had never trod,
Even there I could not be alone—
On every side there would be GOD!
"He smiles in heaven, He frowns in hell,
He fills the air, the earth, the sea;
I must within His presence dwell,
I cannot from His anger flee!"
The fourth thing I want to say to you is:That many young and old HAVE fled to Jesus, the Gospel City of Refuge, and have found themselves safe and happy there.
How delightful it is, year by year, to trace the footsteps of those, whether young or old, rich or poor, who have fled to that blessed shelter! I shall close this little volume by telling you of two such, now inhabitants of the better Celestial City. Very different they were in years, in country, in outward position. But they were alike in this—that they fled in life to the gates of the Gospel Refuge; and to both, the NAME of JESUS was specially precious.
The one was little girl thirteen years old—the age, I daresay, of some whose eyes are falling on these pages. I saw her when she was bright and happy in her adopted home in England—a sweet spot in the county of Kent, on one of those wooded heights which command an extensive prospect of the Thames River, as it winds along, bearing the commerce of the world. Little did any then dream, that that little life, so full of promise, was to be early taken—her sun going down before it was "yet day!" So, however, the will of God was; her summons "home" came suddenly and unexpectedly. Her disconsolate parents saw "the desire of their eyes taken away by a stroke." The dear child herself was naturally of a timid, reserved disposition; she felt more than she said. Her kind, unselfish heart delighted in devising plans of usefulness and carrying them out. The entire of her pocket-money was spent in the purchase of Christian books for the Sunday school children—all of whom loved her much. She won the affections of old as well as young. "The young girl who used to speak so prettily to us," was the description given, with tearful eyes, by more than one of the villagers who had known her loving ways, and heard her loving voice.
In another neighborhood still more familiar to her, she used to go to the cottages with her Bible, and offer to read to the inhabitants who most needed it; always putting her little hands together first, to ask for God's blessing, and then making some simple remarks she thought might be of use. Those whose hearts most sorely mourned for her, had the fullest assurance that the grace of God had been early poured into their dear child's heart. After she died, her mother was taking the cover off her Bible, the two following letters dropped from it on the ground:
"My dearest Papa and Mamma,
I am going to write this in case I should suddenly go to that happy land where sorrow is not known; and that you may have no fears about my soul. I know my state, and that my precious Savior has called me, and I humbly accept this glorious invitation as a poor WRETCHED sinner. I do not expect redemption by my own poor merits. I have no fear of death—as death is but as a passage from this wicked world—to a happy, happy home. Though I am by nature very wicked, it is all washed away by my Savior's blood! The Holy Spirit has taught me what to pray for, and how to pray. I hope all my dear friends will forgive me if I have been angry when they have spoken to me about my faults. I would like, dearest parents, whatever little money and things I have, to be given to the Church Missionary Society and the Bible Society. My dear Savior has forgiven me all my INNUMERABLE sins, and so, dear parents, you need not fear about my soul. I believe my Savior will not forsake me if I trust in Him, and I know that all my righteousness is as filthy rags."
The other paper that was found, was probably intended for her brothers and sisters. It is as follows:
"When you are in trouble, go to God and tell Him all about it. The Savior who called little children to come to Him—will listen to you, no matter what the subjects be, if you are but in earnest and need His help. If you have a difficult lesson to learn, a hasty spirit to subdue, an unkind word to bear, a proud spirit to humble—whatever your difficulty, take it to God in the name of Jesus, and He will help you. If even we, who see so little beneath the surface, are not pleased with outward appearances without good qualities within, how much less is the great God who searches the inmost recesses of the heart? 'The Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.' What we require is a new heart cleansed by the Holy Spirit, full of all the graces mentioned in Paul's Epistle to the Galatians 5:22. Oh! go then to JESUS and ask of Him in earnest prayer to pardon your sins, and to confer upon you the blessed gift of a new heart."
My young friends, have you fled like this young girl, to an all-gracious Savior? Is the "name of Jesus," so sweet to her, equally precious to you? Does it "soothe your sorrows," "heal your wounds," and drive your tears and fears all away? Can you say, in the spirit of her beautiful and comforting letter—
"Until then I shall His love proclaim
With every fleeting breath;
And may the music of His NAME
Refresh my soul in death."
Having told you of one recently "fallen asleep in Jesus," who had early fled to the shelter of the Gospel Refuge; I shall now tell you of an aged servant of Jesus who has, more recently still, entered on her glorious rest.
She was a former parishioner of mine. Her home was a lowly cottage in one of the loveliest villages of Scotland. Poor in this world, and an almost constant sufferer—she was rich in faith. She was one of "Christ's jewels;" her life was "hid with Christ in God." If I could venture to name two peculiarities in her which distinguished her more than others, it would be these: Love for the NAME of JESUS, and a Life of PRAYER.
"His name," to her, was "like ointment poured forth." (Sol. Song 1:3) Often have I delighted to sit with her in her cottage, with her Bible on her knee, and hear her speak of "the name which is above every name" She had herself long before, in early life, fled to the Gospel stronghold. I think her favorite city would have been GOLAN, "Joy." Her heart seemed ever to be filled with "peace and joy in believing."
Doubtless much of this calm serenity and joy she derived from her life of prayer. It is no small matter for the writer of these pages to know, that there was not a day for more than sixteen years, in which he was not personally and specially remembered by this lowly saint at the throne of grace.
One afternoon during this past year, she had entered her cottage, carrying a pitcher of water down from the well in her garden. It was the last time she crossed her threshold. When her door was opened, she was found alone on her knees; BUT her spirit had fled! PRAYER, as it had been her ever fond delight in life, had been her solace and comfort in death. Her last act was drawing water out of the better "wells of salvation." She began with prayer, but ended in praise! She began her prayer on earth—and finished it with in heaven!
Reader! when you come to die, could you be equally happy, equally safe? Would you be able thus to rejoice and triumph in the name of Jesus? Could you declare, with either of these two glorified spirits, before God "took" them, "We HAVE a strong city. We are surrounded by the walls of God's salvation!" (Isaiah 26:1) Has the Holy Spirit taught you, as He taught them, that you are sinners by nature, and in a state of condemnation? Have you heard God's voice behind you, declaring that "He can by no means clear the guilty?" (Exod. 34:7) And are you able now joyfully to say, "I heard Your voice, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself?"
Are you, like them, really "hid" within the gates? The manslayer of old required to be within the refuge-city. Even if he were but one footstep outside, the avenger of blood could cut him down. It did not matter how near he was, if he was not inside the portals!
And so it will avail you nothing to know about Christ, and hear about Christ—to survey the strength of the city's walls, the glory of its battlements, and the beauty of its palaces. It is "the righteous who RUNS into it," who alone is "safe."
What more, in closing, have I to say, but to repeat the solemn word, "Hurry! Flee for your life!" Every hour you put off, the time is shorter; the avenger is nearer; the chances of escape are fewer. There is no time for delay. I say this to the very youngest. I say more. As young feet can run fastest—so it is with young souls. You will never go to Jesus so easily as now. Let nothing keep you back. It is said that on digging up the ruins of Herculaneum, (the city that was buried under the lava of Mount Vesuvius,) the body of a man was found in an upright posture, in the act of running out of the door of his house to escape destruction. He had a bag of gold in his hand. Others had escaped in safety. But this miser loved his gold more than his life. He had returned to fetch it, thinking he would have time enough to escape the terrible doom; but the burning stream overtook him. He was encased in a living tomb!
It was one, too, of the saddest incidents connected with these Cities of Refuge of old, when some poor, breathless, panting fugitive—just when he was in sight of the city—when he had almost reached the gate, sank exhausted. Or perhaps the case of some other who had lain down weary to sleep, but who had been awakened by the avenger at his side, and the drawn sword gleaming before his eyes!
But, oh, sadder, sadder far, for any, young or old, to perish within sight of Christ! To allow the love of sin, or the love of pleasure, or the love of the world, to make them "too late!" To be almost saved—but not altogether saved! To be cut down by the sword of wrath, or overtaken by the fiery stream—with heaven in view!
May God grant that this may not be the case with any one of you!
I shall conclude with a happier picture: The citizens in these Refuge-cities of old, were sometimes seen clustered on the top of the walls, watching the approach of the manslayer, and cheering him on when faint and exhausted. Just so, think of the happy citizens of the New Jerusalem: Patriarchs, prophets, saints, departed friends, who are now safe within its gates, watching you from these glorious heights, beckoning to you not to tarry, but to be "followers of those who, through faith and patience, are inheriting the promises." "Truly I say unto you, There is joy in heaven among the angels of God over every sinner that repents."
We have been speaking of the "name of JESUS."
Read the motto over the gateway of all these six cities. Read the motto over the door of the Gospel Refuge: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is no other NAME given under heaven by which the sinner can be saved, but the NAME of JESUS."
Jesus, my Refuge! look on me,
When weak and weary, worn, oppressed;
I cast my every care on Thee—
You are my REST.
Jesus, my Refuge! guide my way,
Dispel the gloomy shades of night,
Oh, please shine forth with cheering ray!
You are my Light.
Jesus, my Refuge! storms may rise,
Affliction sweep with tempest-shock,
My spirit to Your shelter flies—
You are my ROCK.
Jesus, my Refuge! legion-foes
May seek to drive me from the field,
But in Your strength I shall repose—
You are my SHIELD.
Jesus, my Refuge! You in store
Have happiness without alloy,
Pleasures unmingled, evermore—
You are my JOY.
Jesus, my Refuge! on the brink
Of Jordan, in my latest strife,
You will not suffer me to sink—
You are my LIFE.
Jesus, my Refuge! oh, supply
My every want. Whatever befall;
Through life, in death, eternally,
You are my ALL!