Deut. xxi. 6 — 8. And all the elders of that city that are next
unto the slain man, shall tvash their hands over the heifer
that is beheaded in the valley; and they shall answer and
say, Our hands have not shed this Hood, neither have our
eyes seen it. Be merciful, Lord, unto thy people Israel^
whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto
thy people of Israel's charge. And the blood shall be for-
given them.
THE ceremonial law of the Jews was confessedly-
figurative and typical in every part : nor was even
their judicial law altogether destitute of a spiritual
import. The injunction, " not to muzzle the ox that
trod out the corn," appears as void of any, except
a literal, meaning, as any law whatever; yet was
there in that law a particular reverence to the
preachers of the Gospel, who were to be supported
by the people to whom they ministered. In the law
that we are now to consider, there is indeed a mani-
fest appearance of mystery : and we shall find it by
no means unprofitable to consider the mystery con-
tained in it. We shall endeavour then,
I. To explain the ordinance —
In doing this we must notice,
1. Its general design —
[God, no doubt, intended by this law to prevent the com-
mission of murder. The shedding of human blood was, in his
eyes, so great a crime, that it must never be pardoned by the
civil magistrate. If a wilful murderer had fied to a city of refuge,
or even to the altar itself, neither the one nor the other was to
prove a. sanctuary to him ; he must be taken thence, and be carried
forth for execution ''. In the event of a slain man being found,
and the murderer being unknown, this law was to be carried into
effect : the elders of the city that was nearest to the slain man,,
(which, if doubtful, was to be ascertained by measurement,)
were, together with the priests, to go to a rough valley, and
there slay a heifer, and wash their hands over him, protesting
^ their own innocence, and their inability to discover the offender;
* See umb. xxxv. 31, 33. Deut. xix. 11 — 13. & Exod. xxi. 14.
290 DEUTEROOMY, XXI. 6 — 6. [147.
and in that manner to implore forgiveness for the guilty land ''.
ow this had a tendency to strike a terror into the minds of all
the people, to fill them with an abhorrence of murder, to shew
them what pains would be mken to discover the person who
should be guilty of it, and what terrible vengeance he must expect
at the hands of God, though he should escape the punishment
that he deserved from man. Somewhat of a similar process ob-
tains amongst us: a Coroner's inquest is taken whenever a su-
spicion of murder or of suicide appears to have any just foundation.
But there is no comparison between our law and that which
existed amongst the Jews; so far superior was the solemnity of
their proceedings ; and so much more calculated to beget in the
minds of men an abhorrence of the dreadful sin of murder.
But besides this more obvious end of the law, God designed
also /o provide means for removing guilt from his land. o
sooner had the whole world sinned in Adam, than He devised
means for their restoration to his favour through the incarnation
and death of his only dear Son. And when " all flesh had cor-
rupted their way before him," and determined him to execute
vengeance upon them, he still waited to be gracious unto them,
and sent them messages of mercy by the hands of oah for the
space of an hundred and twenty years. When the destruction
of ineveh was so imminent, that there remained but forty days
before its completion, he sent them a prophet to warn them of
their danger, and to bring them to repentance. Thus at all
times has God been slow to anger, whilst the exercise of mercy
was his delight. ow considering the wickedness of the human
heart, it could not be but that sometimes murder had been com-
mitted : and he had declared that, in that case, " the land could not
be cleansed from blood but by the blood of him that shed it.'*
Yet, as it must sometimes happen that the criminal could not be
discovered, here was a method provided for expiating the guilt,
so that his judgments might not fall upon any in this world, but
only on the criminal himself in the woild to come. How amiable
does God appear in this view ! and how plainly may we see in
this very ordinance that " judgment is a strange act," to which
he is extremely averse ; and that he is rich in mercy unto all
them that call upon him !]
1. Its particular provisions —
[These deserve a minute attention. Some have thought that
the heifor ivhich had not drawn in the yoke represented the mur-
derer, the son of Belial, who refused to bear the yoke of God's
law; and that "///e rough valley in which he was to be slain,
denoted the worthlessness of the criminal's character, or the dis-
agreeablcness of the business*"." But we apprehend that much
more was designed by these particular appointments. The heifer
'' ver. 1 — 9. " See Scott, on the place.
that had not drawn in the yoke represented Christ, who, though
he died under the curse of the law, had no previous obligation to
do so, but did it voluntarily, giving himself freely for us an
offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour •*.
His death marked the utter excision which the murderer de-
served; and t fie rough valley in which he was beheaded, marked
the desolation, which the land itself merited for the transgression
that had been committed®. Thus, the victim, the death, the place,
all conspired to impress the minds of the beholders with the malig-
nity of the offence, which required such a sacrifice ; whilst the
presence of the priests, which was especially required, (not to
officiate themselves, but to overlook and direct the offices of
others,) intimated the indispensable necessity of seeking pardon
precisely in God's appointed way, and not in any method of
their own devising^. To this sacrifice was to be added a public
profession of their personal innocence, and, at the same time, a
public acknowledgment of their natiojial guilt : they must pro-
fess their innocence both by an appropriate sign, (washing their
hands over the slain heifer,) and an express declaration ; and
they must acknowledge their guilt, with earnest supplications
for mercy and forgiveness. Thus, namely, by their protestations
and petitions, did they shew to all, that, as God would '' not
hear those who regarded iniquity in their hearts," so neither
would he punish any, who should humble themselves before him
in his appointed way. Truly, in this view, the ordinance, though
merely judicial, was most interesting and most instructive.]
The mystical import of the ordinance being ex-
plained, we proceed,
II. To point out some lessons which may be learned
from it —
We of course pass over those things which are
less appropriate, and fix our attention upon those
which seem to arise most naturally out of the sub-
ject before us.
We may learn then,
1 . The importance of preventing or punishing sin — •
[The concurrence of the elders and the priests in this ordi-
nance shews, that Magistrates and Ministers should unite their
efforts for the preservation of the public morals, and the averting
of guilt from the land in which they dwell. To discourage,
detect, and punish it, should be their constant endeavour ; that
the interests of society may not suffer, and that the honour of
God may be maintained. The Magistrate ought " not to bear
^ Compare umb. xix. 2. & Eph. v. 2.
* See Ps. cvii. 34. & Heb. vi. 8. ' Deut, xvii. 8 — J 2.
292 DEUTEROOMY, XXI. (5 — 8. [147.
the sword in vain :" he should be " a terror to evil-doers, and a
revenger to execute Avrath upon them :" and though it does not
comport so well with the ministerial office to be exercising civil
authority, the Minister should be forward on every occasion to
aid and stimulate to the utmost of his power those whom God
has ordained to be his vicegerents upon earth Were
such a co-operation more common, the flagrant violations of the
sabbath, and a thousand other enormities which are daily com-
mitted in our streets, would vanish at least from public view, and
in a great measure be prevented.
E*at it is not only public sin which should be thus discoun-
tenanced ; the crimes perpetrated in secret, and especially the
hidden abominations of our own hearts, should be carefully in-
vestigated by us, and unreservedly suppressed. Every one should
consider sin, of whatever kind it be, as that " abominable thing
which God hateth :" and should remember, that, though it should
never be detected and punished in this world, God will expose
it in the world to come, and manifest his righteous indignation
against all who commit it. Then at least, if not now, " our
sin will find us out :" and therefore it becomes us now with all
diligence to search and try ourselves, and to beg of God also to
" search and try us, to see if there be any wicked way in us,
and to lead us in the way everlasting."]
2. The comfort of a good conscience —
[The persons who were thus solemnly to assert their inno-
cence in the presence of God, would doubtless feel happy that
they were able to make their appeal to him in truth. To do so
with respect to all sin, would be impossible, because *' there is
no man that liveth and sinneth not :" but with respect to allowed
and indulged sin, we all ougiit to be able to call God to witness
that we are free from it. We must be Israelites indeed, and
without any allowed guile. And O ! what a comfort is it when
we can say with Job, " O God, thou knouest T am not wicked^!"
Such was the comfort enjoyed by Paul ; " Our rejoicing is this,
the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly
sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God we
have had our conversation in the world''." When indeed we can
make that apjieal to God, we should do it with holy fear and
jealousy, lest there should, after all, be some sin undiscovered by
us. \Ve should say with Paul, " Though I know nothing by
myself, yet am I not hereby justified ; but he that judgeth me
is the Lord'." We mav see in the instance of Pilate how awfully
a man may deceive his own soul : he washed his hands before
the multitude, and said, " I am free from the blood of this just
person:" but his reluctance to commit sin could not excuse the
actual commission of it ; any more than the washing of his hands
« Job x. 7. '' 2 Cor. i. 12. ' 1 Cor. iv. 4.
could cleanse his soul. evertheless we should labour to *' keep
a conscience void of offence," and so to have every evil disposi-
tion mortified, as to be able constantly to say with David, " I will
wash my hands in iunocencv, O Lord, and so will I compass thine
altar ^"J
3. The efficacy of united faith and prayer —
[Great as the guilt of murder was, the Lord declared that
it should not be imputed to the land, if this ordinance were
duly complied with. And what sin is there that shall be im-
puted to us, if we look by faith to that great sacrifice which
was once offered for sin, and implore mercy from God '' as his
redeemed people f" ot even murder itself should be excepted,
if the forgiveness of it were diligently sought in this manner. Hear
how David prayed, after the murder of Uriah : " Deliver me
from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation ; and
my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness ! Wash me
thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin !
Purge me with hyssop, and 1 shall be clean ; wash me, and I
shall be whiter than snow^" O glorious truth ! " Though our
sins be as crimson, they may be made white as snow." Be-
loved Brethren, see your guilt as already irrevocably contracted :
see the judgments of God hanging over you : see death ready
to execute its commission, and the jaws of hell opening to swal-
low you up. And now turn your eyes to the " heifer slain in
the rough valley," and averting from you the wrath of an offended
God : in that heifer, see the Lord Jesus Christ, who has '^ re-
deemed you from the curse of the law, being made a curse for
you." To you, even to you, that blessed Redeemer says, " Look
unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth !" O look to
Him, plead with him, trust in him ! and " he will in no wise
cast you out." This is " the violence by which the kingdom of
heaven is taken," even the violence of faith and prayer; and this
force shall never be exerted in vain ".
•' Ps, xxvi. 6. ' Ps, li. 2, 7, 14. " Matt. xi. 12.

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