These then were the special offerings of the great Day of Atonement, and the difference is clearly given by the Spirit of God between the position of those who can enter the sanctuary, and that which Aaron secured for the people outside by the dismissal of the scapegoat.
After both were done, when Aaron came into the tabernacle of the congregation, he “put off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the holy place and left them there.” Then he washed his flesh with water in the (or a) holy place, and put on his garments, that is, his ordinary attire, and came forth and offered his burnt offering, and the burnt offering of the people, thus making atonement for himself and for the people; when he also burnt on the altar the fat of the sin-offering (ver. 23-25).
Now these burnt offerings were in no way a speciality of the Day of Atonement. Hence it is observable that at this point he divested himself of the garments of holiness, which the high priest did not put on except for this single occasion. It has been already adverted to as helping to explain the difficulty some find in Heb. 2:17. They have, indeed, involved themselves in much needless trouble; for the proper call and salutation of the High Priest was after resurrection and ascension. Then perfected He became to all that obey Him author of everlasting salvation, named or addressed by God as high priest according to the order of Melchisedec. But it is no less plain that the high priest was to expiate the sins of the people; and, as this clearly was by an atoning sacrifice, the difficulty for some was, how to conciliate a propitiation made by His blood with an office exercised in risen glory above. The answer is, that what the high priest did on the great Day of Atonement was as peculiar as of the deepest moment. Yet he was not acting in his ordinary functions of the high priest. His proper place was in the sanctuary. It is matter of common knowledge, that when an Israelite brought a burnt-offering or a peace-offering or a sin-offering, it was the offerer that laid his hand on the head of the victim. In every offering by fire to the Lord, where death intervened, as the offerer identified himself with the slain victim, so the priest sprinkled the blood afterwards. It is a mistake that the priest slew the victim. It was the offerer. The priest’s part began when the animal was slain. It was in sprinkling the blood where his functions began.
Now, in what special light did the high priest stand on that day? Not at all as the high priest in his habitual glory; not even as an ordinary priest in the sanctuary. The high priest identified himself, first, with the sins of his own house, and subsequently with those of the children of Israel. Thus he stood that day more as a representative, taking upon himself what God directed for the putting away of sins, than according to the dignity of his ordinary duties. This may be illustrated by the distinctive dress during the characteristic acts of that day, as it is stated clearly enough in the text referred to. “Wherefore it behoved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God to atone for the sins of the people.” He partook of blood and flesh; or, as the apostle puts it in Rom. 8:3, “God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” This is remarkable phraseology. Adam was not made “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Adam was certainly made of flesh and blood as to his body, which on his fall became sinful. Our Lord Jesus, on the other hand, was certainly not a fallen man, a partaker of sinful flesh and blood. Not only would it have ruined His person, but thus He could not have been a due offering for sin. Had there been the smallest taint of evil, He would not have been “the Holy Thing,” nor could He have offered the most holy sacrifice for sin, which was to put away our sins. He must have died for His own condition; He could not have suffered vicariously for others. The necessity for the expression of the Spirit is apparent. God sent forth “His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin,” etc. There exactly is the truth. So a sacrifice for sin He was sent, but therefore simply in the likeness, not in the reality, of flesh of sin, though as really a man born of woman as He was God. It was in that likeness, because He was born of a woman who, though a virgin of David’s house, not less than any other human being, had flesh of sin. How then was the difficulty to be solved? By divine grace and power, through His conception by the Holy Spirit, our blessed Lord was to be as truly a man as any other, but not the sharer of human taint, nor, if I may so call it, of that attainder which had fallen on the race through sin. This was effected, as Luke 1 lets us know, by the power of the Highest overshadowing the virgin Mary; wherefore her Son was called the Son of God. This was absolutely essential. He must derive His flesh and blood really from His mother; but by that miraculous power, which wholly exempted His humanity from all spot or motion of evil, He in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only excepted from which He was clearly void, both in His flesh and in His spirit. From that moment when the virgin was declared to be about to conceive and in due time become the mother of our Lord, a total immunity from sin was secured for Him: “A body didst Thou prepare for Me” (Heb. 10). Otherwise the sin-offering could not have been worthy of God, or efficacious for man. “It is most holy,” was the voice even of the law respecting it: how much more was this true of Christ? Still He was in the likeness of flesh of sin, because His mother was certainly of sinful race like others, unless you prefer tradition to God’s word.
And thus is seen the impiety of the heterodoxy introduced of late, the so-called immaculate nature of the virgin. Rome predicates of her what is only true of Him, the natural result of the idolatry of the mother so much more prominent, popular, and real, than worship even of the Father and the Son, from Whom they stand at a distance and in dread. It is the Bona Dea of heathenism in a christened shape, which exactly suits those who know not God, if not those who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. To the simple Christian the enemy there betrays his hand. But the Lord Jesus did take blood and flesh, as it behoved Him, when He became a man, in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation (or atonement) for the sins of the people. Clearly this was by His death. What other way was there than by the shedding of His blood? Consequently to suppose that it is a fresh and subsequent work in heaven, after death and before resurrection, is to depart from God’s word, and to expose yourself to danger, as well as delusion. Whatever be the ordinary place of the high priest, it is not so when expiation is made in the garment of linen. According to its force, it very suitably described our Lord as the Holy Offerer and offering for sin.
Very differently is our Lord viewed when in heaven He was crowned with glory and honour. Aaron exceptionally wore his holy garments of linen in the most holy place. The reason is that propitiation had to be effected on the only day when he could enter the holiest of all; and when he did so enter, he wore the unusual garb that indicated his undertaking the work of atonement, whether for his own family, or for the house of Israel generally. Is not the difficulty some find in the verse happily anticipated by the type? Beware of the onesidedness, that will not hear of our Lord as High Priest in any sense or exceptional purpose, until He went on high for His proper function before God. You must, however, allow this latitude, unless indeed you deny propitiation on the cross.
Whilst the N.T. is clear that propitiation was by the High Priest, it excludes all supposition that it was only to be accomplished by our Lord’s going to heaven. The work was done and finished, when He was “lifted up.” This may not have been strictly on the earth, but it was before He went to heaven. It was when He was crucified, when man poured on Him the deepest scorn and hatred. Then did God give Him to accomplish that work whereby, from all eternity, His grace had designed to save the guiltiest, making it the ground of His righteousness. Without this sacrifice God must have simply destroyed, or in saving forfeited His character and word. By the cross of Christ He can love, as He has judged, to the uttermost, and thus maintained all — yea, won a fresh and everlasting glory. For what else could God do for sinners? How preserve His rights intact, if He simply forgave sins? If God had acted on our sins, it could only have been as Judge, and He must have destroyed all the sinners. On the other hand if God had only acted according to the love of His nature, it must have been in giving up that, in His nature equally, which detects and must punish sin. Thus but for Christ and His cross all had been ruin, and confusion, and dishonour. Without it God’s moral glory had been virtually undermined. But in Christ God would neither destroy the sinner nor make light of the sins. Hence He gave His Son to be a propitiation. That propitiation was through His death and blood- shedding. This alone suited either God or lost man; as this alone accounts for the prevalence of sacrifice — no doubt debased and corrupted among the heathen; but in itself it pointed to “A sacrifice of nobler name, And richer blood than they.” This Satan endeavoured too successfully to corrupt, as he loves to seize everything for evil. The meaning of it, however, was never seen fully till the Lord came and died on the cross. Therein was not the mere shadow but the very image. Directly the Lord died atoningly, it was the propitiation which God prefigured, and thenceforward had before Him in all its value.
After the peculiar work of that day was done, Aaron divests himself of the garments of holiness, puts on his ordinary garments, and goes forth and offers his burnt-offering. This might have been offered on any other day, but on that day the high priest was, in all that was of moment, the actor exclusively, though it might be no longer a specially characterised offering. It represented the Lord Jesus by the eternal Spirit offering Himself, without spot, unto God: the two burnt-offerings were for himself as well as for the people (ver. 24). From Lev. 1, as well as here, we find the burnt-offering was to make atonement; but this of course only in a general way. It did not express the peculiar solemnity of the great Day of Atonement. When an Israelite brought an offering in the fulness of his heart, to express his sense of dependence on the goodness of God, it always had an atoning character. God could not accept an offering without blood to make atonement. Neither faith nor the true God slurs over sin. Hence, where all went up to God acceptably, as it was invariably offered on the brazen altar — the first point of approach between man and God, the burnt-offering had an atoning character.
There is another notable fact here: “The fat of the sin-offering shall he burn upon the altar” (ver. 25). This was reserved for the altar of God, though the slain goat and the bullock were offered for sin. The fat of the sin-offering was not consumed with the carcases outside. The blood, we have seen, was carried into the holiest. What could be a more remarkable indication? It witnessed to the perfect acceptance of Him Who deigned to be a sin offering, however cast out by man and judged of God. If the Antitype, the One Whose love identified Himself with bearing our sins must experience in His person death and judgment — like the goat and the bullock burnt outside the camp — the fat (which, had there been any intrinsic defilement would have been the first to show it) was burnt upon the altar of acceptance. How strikingly this testifies to the inward purity of our Lord Jesus! He was altogether righteous and holy, not in acts only but in nature.
Then, after mentioning that he who let the goat go must wash his clothes and bathe his flesh in water before returning to the camp (ver. 26), it is laid down that the bullock and the goat, whose blood bad been brought in for atonement to the sanctuary, were to be carried forth, and burnt in the fire, skin, flesh, and dung, without the camp (ver. 27), whilst he that burnt them must wash his clothes and bathe before coming into the camp (ver. 28). Here we are not left to our conjecture about the meaning. In the Epistle to the Hebrews 13:11-13 the apostle gives us invaluable light. “For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp.” There can be no question that under this shadow lies a weighty principle and practice too for us. What is the connection with Christ? “wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.” The application is as sure as the duty; for there is no call so near the Christian’s heart as identification with Christ practically.
The Jews were God’s chosen people within “the camp,” the ground plan of the Epistle being the wilderness, and not the holy land. This position characterised them in contrast with the Gentiles, from whom they were separated. What access they had to the sanctuary was merely through the priests and the high priest; and we have often seen how distant, occasional, and precarious this was; for the law made nothing perfect. Yet they, and they alone, had on earth the title of God’s people. This was in the wilderness marked by their having a camp, wherein was the tabernacle where God dwelt in the holiest. But the law kept themselves rigorously outside that sanctuary: the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest.
The cross of Christ brought in a complete contrast with these two most marked circumstances in the position of Israel. On the one hand the Christian is invited and emboldened, as sprinkled by blood from an evil conscience and washed with pure water, to draw near into the holiest of all; on the other, the Christian is equally exhorted to go forth unto Christ without the camp, bearing His reproach. The two extremes now meet in the believer — I do not mean as Christians are, or as they say; but as Christians ought to believe. The meaning is solemn. If you are a Christian in deed and in truth, you are washed or loosed from your sins in the blood of Christ. You will not be one whit cleaner in the eyes of God when you reach heaven than now; for Christ is dead, risen, and glorified. This is a matter of unsophisticated faith; there is nothing which can possibly add to what Christ has done and God has accepted on your behalf. If you look at this or that brother, you may see your own faults, exaggerated perhaps in your eyes. This ought not to be so; we ought rather to count him better than ourselves. But alas! the same flesh which makes us indulgent to our own faults, makes us sharp on the faults of our brethren: so little do we walk in the power of faith.
If God’s word governs our thoughts, we find ourselves, in this Epistle, among the holy brethren partakers of the heavenly calling. We are of the true house of Christ, the family of the High Priest, and later on are invited to draw near into the holiest of all. On what ground could any soul possibly enter within, if his sins were not completely gone? If they are not so now, what is to blot them out another day? Christ would not take His seat on high till all was settled for every one who should believe. From this the apostle reasons and appeals. If repetition were needed, Christ must often have suffered; whereas the whole force of the doctrine in the Epistle is His work and death once for all. Indeed, the same emphasis appears in the First Epistle of Peter, “He suffered once for sins” (1 Peter 3). Nor is it only that He once for all suffered, but that we are cleansed once for all. We are purified in conscience according to the power of that one sacrifice, which has dedicated a new and living way through the veil. The unity of the cleansing is as true of the believer as the unity of the sacrifice is true of Christ. I speak only of the Christian now, of those who draw not back to perdition but believe to the saving of the soul.
But along with the drawing near into the holiest goes the call to go forth to Christ without the camp. Let us seek no place of honour on earth, no means of reputation, no seat of ease, no outward distinction. The Jews might fairly once have looked for all these. Through unfaithfulness they have lost all; but Christians, instead of being promoted in their stead, are called to join Him Who suffered without the gate. They were not called to take the place of “the camp” when the Jews lost their standing. Nay, before the Jews lost their place and nation openly, Christians were exhorted to draw near within, even if they had been Jews; and now, being sanctified by Christ’s blood which makes them free of the sanctuary, they are also called to go without the camp.
The Christian is a man who is not of the world; he is of Christ for heaven, and called to draw near where He is. The two truths flow together; and what God has thus joined, let no man sunder. What right has grace given to anyone of access into the holiest of all, unless along with it there be readiness to follow Jesus Who suffered without the gate? If you value your title to draw near within the sanctuary, shrink not from going forth to Him without the camp. Is it not in both respects your place, and your only right place, with Him? If your faith leads you to Christ in the true and heavenly sanctuary, remember that to you it is given not only to believe on Him’ but also to suffer for His sake. Let us be in our faith with Christ, both inside the veil and outside the camp.
Christendom has reversed all this. In theological eyes it is rank presumption to draw near into the holiest while we are on earth. Is not this really the unbelief of christendom? But Christ gives us entrance into the sanctuary as the common privilege of His own. It is open to every Christian, whether Calvinist, Arminian, or of any other party. It is well to avoid all such parties; for they lead their votaries into short-sighted views of the truth of God; and there is precious truth which in these disputes is apt to be overlooked. The word of God looks far beyond men’s disputations. We may well be suspicious of ecclesiastical parties, no matter what or where they are; and my experience is that those who are nearest are no better in their spirit and objects, if not worse than others who know less. Surely, my brethren, we ought to be above quarrels, if indeed we have got the truth of God. And have we not Christ so known as to put shame on such manners? He that hath an ear, let him hear.
Let us seek earnestly and humbly and as before God to profit by all this, and guard against every snare by cleaving to Christ and the truth in a spirit of grace. If any prefer controversy and strife, let them. One may be grieved thereby; but, as you know, there is nothing so powerful as a good example. As I have often said to some that found us all very faulty and blameable, Why do not you by your fidelity show us a more excellent way in carrying out the truth? You will not say that it is acceptable to God for you merely to criticise, whilst going on with what you know to be wrong. If we have walked but very poorly, why not do better yourselves? Why not help instead of carping?
Certainly these are great realities — access into the holiest, and companionship with Christ outside the camp, while we are still on earth. If I own these both to be my galling, am I to join in language or conduct which denies them? Am I to be dragged down by custom into Levitical worship which leaves the worshipper outside? Am I free before God to forget and forego the truth of Christ every time I worship? Do you ask me who do so? Forgive me for saying I should like to see the Christians who do not “serve the tabernacle,” as this Epistle calls it, instead of making good in faith their own proper privileges. The fault does not belong only to any particular denomination; it attaches to all. I do not wish to be personal; but is it not really the kindest service possible to urge your weighing what you say in worship with what God teaches? If you receive His word about it, and it is as plain as it is deep and comforting, cleave to the truth with all your heart. Is that too much to ask of a believer? Why should you, my beloved friends, be playing at see-saw between truth and error, between what you know to be acceptable to God and what people in christendom have slipped into? Every one naturally likes the camp. To the natural man “the holiest” is one extreme, and “without the camp” is another. To be in the camp, with a priest for the sanctuary, is the via media, so pleasant to the eye and to the mind. They are thus in the acceptable place of the world, the religious world, not of course the merely profane. Such was just the portion the Jews occupied of old. It was out of this middle place that the apostle called the Christians, not only to draw within the veil, but to go forth without the camp; and both now.
Again, let me ask you, was the cross of Christ a respectable thing? Was it really so regarded when He suffered without the gate? One might rather ask, if ever there were greater scorn put upon any one. The two robbers that were hanged had far more consideration than the Lord of all. Ah! beloved friends, your place on earth is that place of scorn. If you truly enjoy the nearness of the sanctuary of heaven, it will strengthen your faith to go forth to Christ without the camp. When the blood was brought into the holiest, the bodies were burned without the camp. This is a distinct connection of divine truth. The deduction is that we should have communion with our Saviour in both ways. You have Him for your joy in heaven, and you are to be with Him in eternal joy. Therefore, during the little while that you are on earth, be not ashamed of His rejection; shrink not from the call to be with Christ outside. There is the doctrine, and the practice follows. I do not dwell at greater length on it now, because there are other moral principles of great value to lay before you from this fruitful chapter.
The next thing then that the Spirit of God brings before us is, “And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you.” We do not hear this about any subordinate matter. The Day of Atonement stands distinctly to itself and separate in dignity from all others, “That in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or the stranger that sojourneth among you.” The first point insisted on, and most evidently, is the affliction of the soul. Atonement was not to be a matter of mere joy lest it should degenerate into lightness.
As we are considering this, let me show you how readily man slips into these errors. In Acts 2:41, we have all read, as the effect of the truth which the apostle was preaching, “Then they that gladly received the word were baptised.” It may be new to some though to many of you more familiar, that the word “gladly” has no sufficient authority to stand there. Consider for a moment what it means for newly-converted “gladly” to receive the message. Such a word has not the happiest link with an occasion so solemn as souls being brought to God. Do not consider for a moment that there is any wish to cloud the joy and peace of the believer; but our Lord instructs us that it is a bad sign when the first effect of the truth entering the soul is gladness. Deep self-search and humiliation are incomparably better proofs of a true work of God there. Hence I cannot but feel that the modern fashion of singing the gospel, in an elaborate or perhaps very lively service of song, seems singularly unapostolic and a dangerous innovation. The levity of it is most opposed to the whole spirit of the Day of Atonement which to me suggests the remark. What is the soul being brought to God by the gospel, but the present application of that great Day to such an one? Look at the contrast between the word of God and the prevalent style in our day. Perhaps I may be hitting rather hard some who are near to me, and valued for their work’s sake. Wishing to be as far from personality as possible, I yet mean to set aside unsparingly anything which is contrary to God’s word; and if brethren complain of not being let alone, surely so much the worse for them. After all it is much better to try all by the word lest the truth of God be sacrificed to human zeal and popular ways. How will all look at the latter end? Surely it is a great boon to be delivered from mistake that we may do the will of God.
The history of this word “gladly” really is, that it comes from another part of the Acts of the Apostles (21:17). It is a word occurring but this once in the N. T. and rightly applied to receiving beloved servants of the Lord. This curiously illustrates how a word, sometimes a clause, gets occasionally where it ought not. We can understand how brethren who saw the apostle with other servants of the Lord would gladly receive them. One feels how proper this was for men who were at rest and peace with God. But in Acts 2 souls were first brought face to face with their sins, and this in the presence of God. Did not solemnity become them at the most important epoch of their life? It is not questioned that, whatever may be the difficulties, the result will be joy and peace; but we are speaking now of the process, and the proper, legitimate, and desirable effect of the word of God in dealing with souls, listening to it, and for the first time taking their stand as confessors of Christ.
Further, one may notice how one part of the scriptures tallies with another. When the Israelites, with the blood sprinkled on their doors, were eating the body of the lamb, was it with the blowing of trumpets or the striking of cymbals? Do not tell me that they did not sing at other times. Only a chapter or two afterwards we find the song of Moses, and of Miriam, etc., with their timbrels. They sang on the Arabian bank of the Bed Sea, but we hear of no song when they first celebrated the Paschal night. They ate the body of the lamb “with bitter herbs.” What does this mean? Certainly not “gladly” receiving His word? They did indeed receive His word, but with deep solemnity and self-judgment. It was in the sense of their sins; and sin is not a matter to sing, smile, or trifle about. No wonder that the fruits of the work, on our modern lines, are so unlike apostolic simplicity and depth.
It seems dangerous to invite souls to gladness, not merely the unconverted, but perhaps those under conviction of sin and in the process of conversion; souls that you seriously charge to receive the word. Is it not true then that what answers to one type or another, as well as the plain account of scripture, is the need of solemn dealing with the conscience? For one must be inwardly cleared before God, in order that the heart in due time may go out with freedom of affection. Until the soul is set at large by faith in the work of Christ, it is not rightly fitted for sharing the expression of joy. Still less is it advisable to reason or persuade souls into believing prematurely that they are saved. Thus is the conscience injured, as well as the grace of the Lord. It would make internal dealing quite superfluous, and substitute a call to the affections, instead of ministering Christ’s work of atonement, to the burdened spirit. The proper thing is that the awakened conscience first be cleared; then the affections have their suited play afterwards.
Thus exactly was the way of the Lord with the woman of Samaria, who was at first without self-judgment. Christ knew that she had no husband, and by His word her sin was laid upon her conscience, and in that way she was truly brought before God. It was the same with the prodigal. There was no gladness till after he met his father. Not that there was not misery, but conscience was allowed to work within him. Therefore, it may be fittingly pressed, as an urgent duty, that care be taken, not only in preaching, but in the services one sanctions, that there be no departure from the plainly revealed will of God. It is for us to carry truth out, not merely in this or in that but in everything. With the atonement God’s word insists on the afflicting of the soul. Not that doubt or distrust can be ever right or tolerable. Anything of that kind differs wholly from humiliation before God. To cherish questions or fears would rather hinder than help on the afflicting of the soul, which should be real work; and of this there can scarce be too much where the heart is looking to Christ and His atonement. The more this is rested on, the more can you praise God for the truth which humbles, and for His grace in that precious blood which cleanses from all sin. The name of Jesus for saving the soul ill consorts with levity of spirit or fleshly excitement; and the expression of joy does not surely befit the moment when God is bringing His all-searching word to bear on the heart and the life in His sight.
But this is not all. There was another thing which was particularly bound up with the Day of Atonement: not only “ye shall afflict your souls,” but also “do no work at all.” Is not this injunction remarkable at such a time? It was not a question whether it was the usual sabbath or not. The Day of Atonement peremptorily excluded man’s works in that connection. It is impossible to deny that work is a most weighty part of a Christian’s duty. Our Lord was always doing the work that the Father gave Him to do; as every Christian is called to do the good works which God afore prepared that he should walk in them. The Christian is not made to be only a meditative being, with heart and mind pondering the truth. This is all-important in its place, but he is called to dependence yet diligence, to obedience and even energy in serving the Lord. But the energy should always follow the meditation. Let the activity flow out of that which passes between himself and God. It is a dangerous thing, when God is showing sin and His atonement by Christ, to turn aside into merriness of heart. The soul at such a moment should be afflicted, instead of being transported by music and singing, by a solo, or a choir, or any form whatever of exhilaration. The singing of saints is quite another matter. What more proper when filled with the Spirit than to speak to one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs? This wholly differs from introducing music to soothe or stimulate the heart which the Spirit would exercise in self-judgment. Among happy saints it is a question perfectly settled: the outbursts of thanksgiving and praise may well fill the ordinary life of the Christian. But the first injunction to which God calls in the presence of the Day of Atonement is grief of heart because of our sins, though God is covering them with the blood of propitiation.
Connected with this is the second call to no work of man on that day. Had our works been as good as alas! we have to own them bad, how suitable for us to rest before the infinite work of the Saviour in atoning for sinners! “Lo, I come, to do Thy will, O God.” “By which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” What has that will not done? In the perfection of His sacrifice it has not only blotted out our sins, but set us apart to God as a settled fact. Sacrifice and offering, holocaust and sacrifice for sin, are all swallowed up in that one offering. By one offering He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified What more is needed by man? What more could even God do for us in our present pilgrimage on earth? Therefore, as the just mark of recognising that it was all His work, unmixed with anything on our part, His people, and even the stranger sojourning among them, were forbidden all manner of work on that day. “It is a sabbath of solemn rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls; it is a sabbath for ever” (ver. 31). No levity of heart on the one hand, and on the other no presumptuous adding of their works to that great work which was then wrought and made known to the people of God.
Look at the apostle Paul. There you have a man who afflicted his soul, and eschewed all merit on his part, though found blameless as to righteousness that is in law. His was a case of deeply wrought conversion; he was so absorbed that he neither ate nor drank for three days and nights; so filled was he with the sense of utter sinfulness as well as with the truth of God’s atonement in Christ. Blinded with excess of light, he had no room for other persons or other works. Self was profoundly judged. He was completely shut up to Christ’s glorious person and the triumph of grace reigning through righteousness, which God had revealed to his once proud but now afflicted soul.
It is allowed that conversion may be real where every trait is feebler. The jailor in the prison at Philippi was one who soon emerged from his overwhelming horror after he received the Lord Jesus. We may hope he got well through the perils of the wilderness, and have no reason to doubt it. But still his was a case very different from the apostle’s; and it is not hard to discern a considerable difference in the way in which people are brought to God, as a general rule. There was affliction, but ere long rejoicing on the jailor’s part and all of his house. Not that he did not truly repent, for I am sure he did. In every true case there is the afflicting of the soul; but if there be not a deep searching of heart, the affliction soon passes. Ordinarily the heart rebounds, and one is occupied far more with the joy of the good things grace has given. A deeper self-judgment casts one on Christ, yet more than on the deliverance from evil, however truly this is felt.
Perhaps we may notice that some are charged with not enough valuing the Old Testament; but assuredly this can hardly apply to such as give it the importance we here claim and enforce. We believe it to be of God, no less divinely inspired than the New. It is true you have in the Levitical institutions only the shadows, with the most instructive dealings of God, promises, and prophecies, besides examples for good and warnings of evil, all fruitful indeed. You cannot safely and profitably read Exodus or Leviticus without the full light of the New Testament; but the believer accepts the word as a whole. The sacred letters throughout were written by the Holy Ghost. Thankfully, humbly, one accepts all as good for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, as also for comfort and admonition. So what has been brought before us tonight is not without holy and serious import, and in an important way bears on the habits growing up during this degenerate day in christendom.
But do not overlook danger from legality on the ether side. Far am I from meaning that it was not an evil day in christendom when people sang, “That day of wrath, that dreadful day,” which the thought of Christ’s coming only awoke. Was this genuine affliction of the soul? It was little better than a frightful scare: God was unknown. There is a great difference between repentance and alarm. Abject terror of soul may have exactly characterised medieval Christianity. High and low were frightened, and in their terror they gave up their acres or their labour in order to propitiate the God before Whose judgments they trembled in view of the day of the Lord. It was out of that spirit that many a grand cathedral arose with its truly dim religious light. It was not merely the great lords as well as crowned heads who contributed from their wealth or their spoils, but the poor workmen freely gave their skill and labour: a standing and striking testimony to the power of alarm in unenlightened people’s souls. It had been the main weapon of heathenism; the sole moral element in that dark deceit was fear. So it was now alas! in fallen christendom.
Nor is it that one would exclude fear from that which works in those that hear God’s word. It is right and fitting that the guilty should be alarmed when they hear of their sins, and of God’s justice and sure judgment. How blessed to know that after the sins, and before the judgment, God did come down from heaven in the person of His own Son to work His unfailing atonement! Certainly there could have been no perfection of the work, if Christ had not been a divine person. It is therefore all-important that our Lord Jesus be acknowledged as God unreservedly. If the Word had not been God, if the Son not one with the Father, the Saviour would have been incompetent for the work He undertook. But it is done and accepted, and all is changed. Before our Lord Jesus Christ came, the righteousness of God might well fill the soul with anxiety. Judgment must then take its course. That God was to judge the world, every Jew acknowledged. There would be a resurrection of just and of unjust. After judgment the lake of fire awaited the lost. The second death is not ceasing to exist. Indeed death itself is but a severance of soul from body. For the believer it is “to depart and be with Christ.” Even when a wicked man dies, he is in no way annihilated: his soul is severed from the body — this is death. “All live to God,” if not to men. But when the second death comes, the wicked exist for ever, not only in soul, but in body. Resurrection is not temporal being, like living in the world that now is; it ushers in what is final and unchanging.
This brings out the deep importance of the true atonement. I ask you, are your souls now resting on Christ and His atonement? In the gospel God is announcing to you Christ as the propitiation for the whole world. How awful for your own soul and body if you slight His message! Receive it from God, and may it be without the presumption of your works, but with true affliction of soul. If Christ has thus suffered for sins, why doubt God’s love, guilty though you are? The very fact that there is an atonement is the fullest testimony to His mercy as well as justice. Is it not for sinners in their sins, in their transgressions, and in their iniquities? Do not these words of His cover what you have done? Does not Christ’s work meet the worst that can be alleged against you? The Atonement-day was God’s doing away man’s evil. Make no excuses more.
Rest your soul on the Saviour and His propitiation; for there is none other holy, true, or efficacious. It is not merely that He has done the work, but He is the propitiation. John takes particular care thus to identify the divine work. “He is the propitiation for our sins;” and therefore should we look to Him only for it. God forbid that you should look to yourself or to others! For what can others avail you for sin? What can the Virgin or the saints do for you in this need? Were the church of God here below in its pristine unity, were the staff Beauty and the staff Bands unbroken (if I may apply figures from Israel), what could the church of God avail for saving your soul? God’s church, if not man’s, would tell you, by the lips of its members, what His grace in Christ did for each and all of them. But permit me to add that God tells you the truth in His word better than any of its uninspired members ever preached. God’s word is intended to give you the sole unfailing decision you can now have on the matter. Here you have all you require in. this single chapter, read in the light of Christ. It is admitted that none could make much of it without the New Testament. But have we not both Old Testament and New? Have we not divine light shining on the shadows of the past, so that the truth rises to view in all its unity, grandeur, simplicity, and certainty?
And what about yourselves, who now hear the truth? May God bring you to Himself and fasten His own blessed word on your souls! Hay you acknowledge the folly of your heart and the wickedness of your life! Is there anything really more wicked in His sight than, with the scriptures read and heard continually, to be practically living without God and in despite of Christ? Begin then at once to hear God for eternity. Do not put it off for another day. If you never believed in Christ and His salvation before, may God give you to believe in Him that you may be saved now. Remember there must be with atonement affliction of the soul, and no work of yours can be connected with that which He has wrought. When this is settled, there will be ample room and loud call for you to work, and unfailing joy for you to express. But the atonement is too holy and too solemn for man to be other than abased and prostrate. Bow to it then with affliction of your soul; and abhor the presumption of adding to it by work on your part. “They shall come, and shall declare His righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that He hath done (it).”
The words just cited are the end of Ps. 22, first Christ most distinctively undergoing the sufferings of atonement, wherein He appeals to God to find necessary desertion, with the blessed results in the latter half. Its opening cry is so applied in the New Testament, as already pointed out: every other thought deprives it of grace, not to say of meaning, and is altogether unworthy of the suffering Man, Who was God. Ps. 40 is more mingled; but beyond dispute, in the light of Heb. 10, it puts forth Christ setting aside, not only sacrifice and offering, but burnt-offering and offering for sin, by the oblation of His body once for all on the cross. His willing obedience unto death is the central thought, though in so doing God’s will He graciously feels as His own the sins of the godly Jews, whose substitute He is. Ps. 69 again shows us Messiah on the cross, but in the aspect of His rejection by man, and by the ungodly Jews particularly, with the results of judgment on them, whatever the blessing of Zion. Ps. 88 again points to Messiah’s spirit identified with elect Israel, righteously feeling in grace all the power of darkness and death, yet crying to Jehovah day and night. Ps. 102 is Christ identified with the misery of Zion, and referring to Jehovah, Who owns the humbled One as Jehovah, no less eternal and unchangeable than Himself. Ps. 109 closes these marvellous views by showing us Christ suffering from the treachery of the Jews, headed by Judas, and looking on to the son of perdition in the last days, when Jews and Gentiles again unite against Him to their. everlasting shame, but the needy shall rejoice in Him for ever.
Nor are the Prophets silent, any more than the Law and the Psalms, though one need not now go beyond the clear, and deep, and full testimony of Isa. 52, 53. Even the rationalistic Gesenius, though he contends here for the prophetic body personified and rejected by Israel, confesses as the truth, both from the language employed and the habitual thought, not of that nation only but of all others, that an expiatory work runs through it. Yet, while allowing the New Testament teaching to be based on it, he, poor man wise in his own conceit, prefers that the expiation should be by the suffering prophets for Israel’s deliverance. But if expiation is admitted, none but an unbeliever can fail to see it in Christ alone. The Righteous Servant of Jehovah, Whom the Jews esteemed smitten of God, was really wounded for their transgressions, bruised for their iniquities: the chastisement of their peace was upon Him; and by His stripes are they healed. Jehovah hath laid on Him the iniquity of them all. For the transgression of His people was He stricken. He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. “Yet it pleased Jehovah to bruise Him. He hath put Him to grief: when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in His hand. He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied. By His knowledge shall My Righteous Servant justify many (or rather, instruct the many in righteousness, cf. Dan. 12:3), and He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He poured out His soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Argument or even exposition is superfluous; save for the insensible to sin and indifferent to God, the truth of the Holy Sufferer is transparent throughout. It is Jesus only: we have seen His sufferings; but His glories are not all out yet — some are to follow, as they surely will “in that day.”