J. Hudson Taylor
“A Ribband of Blue”
WE would draw the attention of beloved friends to the instructive passage with which the ﬁfteenth chapter of Numbers closes; and may GOD, through our meditation on His precious Word, make it yet more precious and practical to each one of us, for CHRIST our REDEEMER’s sake! The whole chapter is full of important teaching.
A Particular Sacrificial Offering
It commences with instructions concerning the burnt-offering, the sacriﬁce in performing a vow, and the free-will offering. It was not to be supposed that any one might present his sacriﬁce to GOD according to his own thought and plan. If it were to be acceptable - a sweet savor unto the LORD - it must be an offering in every respect such as GOD had appointed. We cannot become acceptable to GOD in ways of our own devising; from beginning to end it must be, “Not my will, but Thine, be done.”
A Sacrifice of First Fruits
Then, from the seventeenth to the twenty-ﬁrst verse, the LORD claims a ﬁrst-fruits. The people of GOD were not to eat their ﬁll, consume all that they cared to consume, and then give to GOD somewhat of the remainder; but before they touched the bread of the land, a heave-offering was to be offered to the LORD; and when the requirement o f GOD had been fully met, then, and not till then, were they at liberty to satisfy their own hunger and supply their own wants. How often we see the reverse of this in daily life! Not only are necessaries ﬁrst supplied from the income, but every fancied luxury is procured without stint, before the question of the consecration of substance to GOD is really entertained.
Sacrifices Covering Sins of Ignorance and Presumption
Next follow the directions concerning errors from heedlessness and ignorance. The people were not to imagine that sin was not sinful if it were unconsciously committed. Man’s knowledge and consciousness do not make wrong right or right wrong. The will of GOD was revealed and ought to have been known. not to know that will was in itself sinful; and not to do that will, whether consciously or unconsciously, was sin-sin that could only be put away by atoning sacriﬁce.
GOD dealt in much mercy and grace with those who committed sins of ignorance; though, when the sin became known and recognized, confession and sacriﬁce were immediately needful. But, thank GOD! the sacriﬁce was ordained, and the sin could be put away.
It was not so with the presumptuous sin. No sacriﬁce was appointed for a man, whether born in the land or a stranger, who reproached the LORD by presumptuous sin. Of that man it was said, “that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.”
This distinction is very important to make. We are not to think that our holiest service is free from sin, or can be accepted save through JESUS CHRIST our LORD. We are not to suppose that sins of commission, are looked lightly upon by GOD; sins of forgetfulness and heedlessness or ignorance are more than frailties-are real sins, needing atoning sacriﬁce. GOD deals very gently and graciously with us in these matters; when transgression or iniquity is brought home to the conscience, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Even when walking in the light, “as He is in the light,” we are not beyond the need of atonement. Though our fellowship with GOD be unbroken by any conscious transgression, it continues unbroken only because “the blood of JESUS CHRIST His Son is cleansing us from all sin.”
The man, however, who would presume on GOD’s forgiveness, and despise GOD’s holiness and His claim upon His people, by doing deliberately the thing that he knows to be contrary to GOD’s will, that man will ﬁnd spiritual dearth and spiritual death inevitably follow. His communion with GOD is brought to an end, and it is hard to say how far Satan may not be permitted to carry such a backslider in heart and life. It is awfully possible not merely to “grieve” and to “resist,” but even to “quench” the SPIRIT of GOD.
Presumptuous Sin in the Gathering Sticks on the Sabbath Day
We have a solemn example of presumptuous sin in the case of the man found gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. He was not - he could not be ignorant of GOD’s ordinance concerning the Sabbath. The gathering of sticks was not to meet a necessity; his case was not parallel with that of the poor man who perhaps has received his wages late on Saturday night, and has had no opportunity of purchasing food in time to prepare it for the day of rest. To the Israelite, the double supply of manna was given on the morning of the day before the Sabbath; and as the uncooked manna would not keep, it was necessary that early in that day it should be prepared for food. He had, therefore, no need of the sticks to cook his Sabbath’s dinner. And the country was so hot that no man would kindle a ﬁre from choice or preference. His object in gathering the sticks was simply to show, openly and publicly, that he despised GOD, and refused to obey His holy ordinance: rightly, therefore, was that man put to death.
Set Apart for Holiness
But occasion was taken in connection with this judgment to introduce the wearing of the
“RIBBAND OF BLUE”
GOD would have all His people wear a badge. throughout their generations they were to make them fringes in the borders of their garments, and to put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue, that they might look upon it and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them, and might be a holy people, holy unto their GOD, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, to be their GOD.
Blue is the color of heaven. The beautiful waters of the sea reﬂect it, and are as blue as the cloudless sky. When the clouds come between, then, and only then, is the deep blue lost. But it is the will of God that there should never be a cloud between His people and Himself; and that, as the Israelite of old, wherever he went, carried the ribband of blue, so Hid people to-day should manifest a heavenly spirit and temper wherever they go; and should, like Moses, in their very countenance bear witness to the glory and beauty of the GOD whom they love and serve.
How interesting it must have been to see that ribband of blue carried by the farmer into the ﬁeld, by the merchant to his place of business, by the maid-servant into the innermost parts of the dwelling, when performing her daily duties. Is it less important that the Christian of today, called to be a witness for CHRIST, should be manifestly characterized by His spirit? Should we not all be “imitators of GOD, as dear children,” and “walk in love as CHRIST also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us”? And should not this spirit of God-likeness be carried into the smallest details of life, and not be merely reserved for special occasions? If we understand aright the meaning of our SAVIOUR’s direction, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your FATHER which is in heaven is perfect,” it teaches this great truth.
We are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, not to break one of the least of the commandments, not to give way to anger, nor to tolerate the thought of impurity, to give no rash promises, or in conversation to say more than yea or nay. The spirit of retaliation is not to be indulged in; a yieldingness of spirit is to characterize the child of the kingdom; those who hate and despitefully use us are to be pitied, and loved, and prayed for. Then comes the direction, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your FATHER which is in heaven is perfect.” In the little frictions of daily life, as well as in the more serious trials and persecutions to which the Christian is exposed, he is to be manifestly an imitator of his heavenly FATHER.
Now, GOD’s perfection is an absolute perfection; while ours, at best, is only relative. A needle may be a perfect needle, in every respect adapted for the work for which it was made. It is not, however, a microscope object; under magnifying power it becomes a rough, honeycombed poker, with a ragged hole in the place of the eye. But it was not made to be a microscope object; and, being adapted to the purpose for which it was made, it may properly be considered a perfect needle. So we are not called to be perfect angels, or in any respect Divine, but we are called to be perfect Christians, performing the privileged duties that as such devolve upon us.
Our FATHER makes according to His perfection the least little thing that He makes. The tiniest ﬂies, the smallest animalcule, the dust of a butterﬂy’s wind, however highly you may magnify them, are seen to be absolutely perfect. Should not the little things of our daily life be as relatively perfect in the case of each Christian as the lesser creations of GOD are absolutely perfect? Ought we not to glorify GOD in the formation of each letter that we write, and as Christians to write a more legible hand than unconverted people can be expected to do? Ought we not to be more thorough in our service, not simply doing well that which will be seen and noticed, but as our FATHER makes many a ﬂpower to bloom unseen in the lonely desert, so to do all that we can do, as under His eye, though no other eye ever take note of it?
It is our privilege to take our rest and recreation for the purpose of pleasing Him; to lay aside our garments at night neatly (for He is in the room, and watches over us while we sleep), to wash, to dress, to smooth the hair, with His eye in view; and, in short, in all that we are and in all that we do to use the full measure of ability which GOD has given us to the glory of His holy NAME? Were we always so to live, how beautiful Christian life would become! How much more worthy a witness we should bear to the world of Him whose witnesses we are! May the life we are living be characterized by that growth in grace which will glorify GOD; and may tell-tale faces, and glad hearts, and loving service be to each one of us as “a ribband of blue,” reﬂecting the very hue of heaven, and reminding ourselves and one another of our privilege to “remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them.”
More sermons by Hudson Taylor:
Hudson Taylor: The Exchanged Life
Hudson Taylor: Spiritual Preparation of the Missionary Volunteer
Hudson Taylor: Retrospect (biography of his early years)
Hudson Taylor: Pray Down the Wind (Story of answered prayer)
Hudson Taylor: Spiritual Science (Science of soul-winning)