Its General Principle compared with Christ’s Work.
I wish to present the principle of atonement, and have, therefore, taken the preliminary verses of Lev. 16, which introduce the Day of Atonement. It is only an introduction to the subject; but in the course of these discourses, proofs will appear from this type that God not only had all before His mind (as every one that knows Him must feel) but has been pleased to unroll it before us. In the most marvellous manner He contrived, with a wisdom that bespeaks itself divine, to furnish an earthly people with ceremonies which insisted on provisional sacrifices, and cleansing for the defilements of their outward conduct (or what is called “the purifying of the flesh”). But in these self-same rites grace and truth lay hidden till the light of Christ should shine on them and reveal, if not the very image, the shadows of good things to come; some already fulfilled, some not even yet but no less assuredly to be, according to the word and purpose of God.
Inasmuch, then, as even this chapter can generally testify, God has plans which have not yet been carried out to the full, we may see what is true of Scripture, that it is prophetic. And is there anything that brings out God more than the fact that His word is prophetic? Prophecy is a more enduring and deeper witness than miracle. A sign or a miracle no doubt is a display, while the world goes on as usual, of God’s active power; but prophecy gives living proof of His mind. None but a low-minded or thoughtless man could suppose that power is equal to mind. And there is more than mind in it: moral light is conveyed, the maintenance, as well as the making known, of God’s character and will, which is evidently far beyond not matter only but mind. As the greatest of Frenchmen said, the least mind is superior to all matter, whilst all mind is below charity or divine love.
Here we find the true source of atonement: the love of God provided it in a way that should conciliate grace and righteousness, guilty man and a holy God Who thus, and thus only, causes mercy to glory against judgment. No where is God so highly exalted, nowhere man so truly humbled. What speaks so profoundly of sin as the blood of Christ? But it is applied to our utter unworthiness, it is brought in for the very purpose of meeting man as he is, and of bringing him out of all his iniquities to God as God is. For such, and nothing less, is the design of atonement. Divine righteousness, based on Christ’s work, is its character, when man was proved unrighteous; and as it was according to grace, so is it of faith, and thus open to every believer.
But the Day of Atonement necessarily had a temporal and imperfect character; “the law made nothing perfect.” It was, beyond question, the most solemn act in the whole Jewish year; but the fact of its renewal every year was conclusive evidence, as the Epistle to the Hebrews declares, of its inefficacy for conscience as well as for God in view of eternity. It was therefore provisional, as all the institutions of the law were. Is this any impeachment of God’s law? It is His own word that pronounces it. If so, you will allow God to be a better judge than you are, or I, or all men. If God declares that the law made nothing perfect — and such is His expressed and irrevocable sentence (Heb. 7:19) — who with the least reverence for God can question it for a moment? Therefore the provisional atonement year by year for Israel on its face had what did not rise up to the perfection of God’s nature, character, and mind. At best it could be but a shadow of the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ.
One can understand readily that, only when a perfect being comes, can the result be in perfection. Adam was an admirable creature no doubt, if we believe the scriptures, as an innocent man on an unfallen earth. Nevertheless, on the plain surface of facts, the first thing recorded of him when tried is that he sins. There must be perpetual and violent effort to escape the moral inference; honest denial of man’s sin there cannot be. The overwhelming fact is out from the beginning. Is it to be tolerated or ignored because it is universal?
At once God brings in the token of a bruised Bruiser of the serpent, the woman’s Seed. This ere long decided the difference between the two sons of Adam. “The Lord had respect to Abel and to his offering.” Why to Abel rather than to Cain? Because “by faith” Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice. Faith submits to, and receives, and rests on, the word of God. It was not the mere matter of fact or feeling; nor did it turn on which of the two brought the largest or more valuable offering. “By faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” What made it so? In Cain there was no more than natural religion, as he took no account of sin; he offered in duty to Jehovah of the fruit of the ground — the ground under the curse. It was the expression of unbelieving homage, with total insensibility to sin on one side and to grace on the other. Faith always confesses sin in man, as it more or less counts on grace in God. Whatever be the sin of man, the grace of God is beyond it. One of the workings of unbelief is despair, another the bolder form of rebellion against God in the open rejection of His word. But the soul may not be so impious and yet be as really guilty by doubting grace in God to forgive its sin, however heinous. Faith, seeing Christ and hearing the Gospel, owns the sin truly, but reckons on the mercy God reveals.
Man’s device ever fails to cover his evil. God clothed guilty Adam and Eve with coats of skins. It was a provision which, in presence of sin, spoke of death, yet of mercy to man through death. This, without God’s word, would never have entered the human mind. Naturally, for that matter, Cain’s was a much more reasonable offering in appearance. For what man, as man is, however intelligent, would have thought of a sacrifice as acceptable to God? It was exactly what Abel brought “of the firstlings of the flock, and the fat thereof.” If slain beasts furnished the clothing which God gave his parents, Abel slays a lamb in sacrifice to God. It was an offering in faith; access to God for a sinner can only be through death. That behind it all there was more and what was deeper than Abel or any saint of old knew, is true. One does not say that Abel contemplated the sacrifice of the woman’s Seed; but it was in God’s mind, and faith reaped the blessing. Therefore Abel was attested as righteous, “God bearing witness to his gifts, and by it, being dead, he yet speaketh.” Abel looked for the One Who should crush the power of evil here below; and against and above nature he, by faith, offered sacrifice to God with the expression of its excellency in “tine fat.” But God blesses according to whet He sees in the sacrifice: a principle which plainly came out later in the blood of the paschal lamb (Ex. 12:13).
No doubt all the believers throughout the Old Testament looked for the Kinsman-Redeemer, as we may see in the assurance of Job (Job 19:25, 26), the destroyer of death and of him that has the power of death. They did not question that in due time the Messiah would meet both God and man perfectly; but to suppose that they understood how it was to be done is going beyond scripture. Not even the disciples in the days of our Lord could have put the two things intelligently together. Did not Christ’s personal envoys, who accompanied the Master from John’s baptism till the ascension — did not the apostles know as much as their predecessors? To doubt this would be doing anything but honour to the teaching of Jehovah’s righteous Servant (Isa. 53:11). His enemies being judges, “never man spake like this man”; and never did men on earth receive such a course of holy and perfect instruction as the twelve from the Son of God.
The grand question then is, not what the saints under the Old Testament understood, but what God set up and what its bearing is on the atonement, now that Christ has come and finished the work given Him to do. The true meaning of the atonement is in question, and here the New Testament alone comes conclusively to our aid. What can be conceived clearer than the divine comment given in the Epistle to the Hebrews (or Christian Jews), who needed it, as they ought to have appreciated it best? We sometimes hear of commentaries and commentators, and the best men show both prepossessions and prejudices. It is a pity that they do not use the Epistle to the Hebrews a little more and to better purpose. There is the greatest of all commentaries, and the one most immediately bearing on this very truth with which we are now occupied. Not only does the inspired text lie in the chapter before us, but also the inspired exegesis in the New Testament. No one can doubt this who reads Hebrews 9. And what does it let us know? That Aaron, the high priest, represents Christ, and that the work He wrought was for no transient purpose but “eternal redemption.”
Of old there were carnal ordinances imposed till a time of reformation; but Christ being come High Priest of good things to come, by the better and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), nor by blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood entered in once for all into the holies, having found (or obtained) an eternal redemption. His sacrifice is, in the strictest sense, of everlasting efficacy. That word “eternal” occurs frequently with peculiar stress in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Why eternal? In contrast with the temporal character of what was akin among the sons of Israel. Thus we find, beside eternal redemption, eternal salvation, eternal inheritance, everlasting or eternal covenant: all of which words have a pointed reference, when understood, to lift the believing Hebrews above what was but temporal. Christ, dead, risen, and in heaven, puts the believer face to face with the unseen and eternal. Just because as Jews they were accustomed to God’s government of man on earth, their eyes needed to be raised above so as to see within the veil what can never pass away. If the Christian Jews slipped into their old thoughts, they would lower fatally the character of the gospel, as they are warned in chapter 6 and elsewhere.
Nor did those Hebrews only need this, but we do also. The inspired word has the unceasing authority of God, and the deepest value for us all who believe. What God intended by it is that you should rise above the clouds of tumult and difficulty, especially during these changeful periods through which we are passing; and that you should be established in the certainty of a new, everlasting, and heavenly relationship to God, even now, through the atonement of our Lord Jesus.
The Day of Atonement provided for all the sins, transgressions, and iniquities of the children of Israel. What had the work of Christ in view? Not only the entire, present, and everlasting removal of all our iniquities from the conscience, but the glorifying God Himself even about sin by the virtue of Christ’s atoning death. Such is the need; and nothing less can avail. God most assuredly will never slight the value of the sufferings of His Son, nor forget that He is indebted to His cross for perfectly glorifying Himself; yet even if we take a lower but true ground, what is the value of an atonement which could fall short of a single sin? Supposing such a scheme possible as a man forgiven 999 sins, but not the 1000th, he is as ill off as if he had none; for by that one unforgiven sin he is absolutely unfit for the presence of God: no sin can enter there; and if we have not our portion on high, where must we be found?
Further, atonement contemplates far more than the need when we die or appear before the judgment seat of Christ. It will be admitted by the reader of Lev. 16, that a Jew rightly looked for the effectual application of that day’s sacrifice to his then wants, to his actual sins, to the iniquities that burdened his spirit, and that filled him with apprehension of judgment. But the effect was only for the time. What, then, has the coming of our Lord done? Has it not brought life, love, and light into the world? It has revealed God in the divine person of His own Son, yet a man, Who suffered for sins once, just for unjust, that He might bring us to God. To the believer this is soul-salvation, as the saving of the body awaits Christ’s coming again. Apart from sin will He appear a second time.
There were certain imperfections allowed of old, as nobody can deny. Our Lord has ruled that it is so “because (or in view) of the hardness of their hearts.” We find David, Solomon, etc., doing things that no Christian would think of. How comes it then, that licences, which notoriously existed under the law, are now intolerable? Because Christ is come, “the true light now shineth.” No doubt man put it out, as far as he could; but he has not got rid of it. The rejected Christ is in heaven; but the light, far from being withdrawn, shines more brightly than ever. The First Epistle of John is careful to affirm that the darkness is passing away, and that the true light already shineth. When He was on the earth, the darkness comprehended it not, though shining in the darkness (John 1:5). Now that He is in heaven the darkness passes away. It is not exactly true that it “is passed away”; the A.V. is therein too strong. But if not absolutely passed away, it is passing away as each believer receives the light. Now that we have Christ and in Him redemption, he who receives the light is made light in the Lord; and every one in whom Christ is not only the light but the life, is cleansed by His blood, and freed from sin, to live unto God.
What is the effect of redemption even outwardly? That men are ashamed now of what, before Christ came, was thought nothing but natural, if not right. Few know, on the one hand, how much is due to the light of Christ in the gospel exposing all and so deterring men from their audacious and immeasurable iniquities. For that very reason, on the other hand, the sins of every one, whose conscience is awakened by the word, become before God, hateful and even appalling. The first effect of the light of God in Christ is to make the evil appear worse than ever. Hence it is that, wherever the word of God deals vitally with the soul, repentance towards God ensues, though faith alone gives repentance its divine character. So the soul has no comfort yet; there can be no real rest, nor even relief. Till redemption is known, the burden becomes through the Holy Spirit’s action more and more oppressive; and thank God for it! What more dangerous than to slur over our sins because the grace of Christ is preached? Nor does anything more enfeeble the soul afterwards than bounding, if one may say so, over the grave of our sins, instead of looking down steadily there to judge ourselves for what we are. A man otherwise is startled perhaps to find, another day, the evil which he at first passed over too lightly; he may thus begin to question whether such a one as he can really have, as he calls it, an interest in Christ and His grace. Had he at the start faced his own evil, he had known better, not only what he himself is, but how the Saviour has taken it all up and blotted out every sin with His precious blood.
According to the plain testimony of the New Testament, then, Christ’s coming has brought sin out in its full opposition to God, in its evil against man, and in all its secret depths, as never was known before. No doubt the law acted in an admirable manner; for the commandment is holy, jest, and good. But after all, the law is not Christ, and Christ revealed God in His grace, instead of merely giving what appealed to fallen man. Yet you can see in the law that God had before Him the state of man as he is. At Sinai He commanded ‘‘Thou shalt not do this evil; thou shalt not do that.” It could be of no use to claim from the sons of Israel what was only to be found in Christ. What the law did was just what man then needed — to put a check upon the evil that was there, to condemn what the evil heart had a desire for. Man was already a sinner before the law was given. No doubt Adam innocent had a law; but this is a very different thing from the law, which supposes that man is fallen, and that he has a constant inclination to do the various wicked things prohibited and denounced by it. Along with that law of God, and forming the most solemn institution connected with it, was the Day of Atonement, among other provisions of good things to come.
But now that Christ is come, He has brought in an incomparably deeper and larger standard of sin. He has made, therefore, the discovery of the evil and wretched condition of man beyond comparison more complete and profound. No wonder that the Holy Spirit uses grand words, for none less could set forth truly the character of what is revealed to us in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The law claimed man’s works. Christ did in the highest sense the work of God. “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God.” Atonement is God Himself, by and in Christ, taking up and settling the question of sin, in His own grace, for His own glory, that believers might be fully blessed. Present association with heaven is in full view, because one immediate object was to wean the Hebrews from yearning after earthly hopes. Yet the future is not forgotten: for the Christian it is unmistakeably “eternal,” whatever the accomplishment of earthly promises by and by. But there is more to heed than this. There is a present enjoyment in the Spirit’s power of that eternal character. It has for its object to bring the believer now, with purged conscience, into God’s presence, or, as Peter puts it, “to bring us to God,” as He is and will be known in the light for ever.
Just think what a blessed reality this is, and whether you have or have not made it yours! The Lord intimates it even in the Gospel. The prodigal son comes not merely to himself, but to the father; and the father meets him, with affection indeed, but with a vast deal more. He has the best robe put upon him, not when he deserved it (for this never could be), but before there was the smallest question of aught save his repentant sense of sin and of his father’s love. It is God acting from and for what He is Himself, and for what He can righteously afford to do through the redemption that is in Christ to the worst of sinners. Such and so efficacious is His love displayed in the atoning work of the Lord Jesus.
Alas! even those who love His name do ignorantly put off the feast which the Father would have us enjoy here till we get to heaven. They think that such joy and gladness cannot be known in the midst of earthly sorrow, and that the gathering together for rejoicing must await the closing heavenly scene “for ever with the Lord.” But they unwittingly do God’s grace great injustice, and defraud themselves now of exceeding joy in the Spirit. They practically lose the sweetness and the power of His joy which is their strength even here. It is not only that the once guilty son comes to his father, and that the father runs and meets the son in nothing but love, without a reproach, so much the more to produce self-reproach (oh! the immense loss for the soul that but slightly judges self before God); but along with this there is the conscious fitting him for the presence of his father in enjoyed communion.
The best robe is put upon him. Never bad he worn such a robe, before levity and self-will induced him to abandon his father’s house. Even Adam had not the beauteous robe of Christ when he walked upright in the garden of Eden. Redemption is no mere reinstating of fallen man, as it is sometimes perversely called; it takes away his nakedness, and clothes him with Christ, whiter than snow in His blood. Nothing less does the Saviour undertake than to fit for the Father’s presence. It is no question, therefore, of bringing back to the condition of innocence, but of the Last Adam. Grace reigns through righteousness. Christ provides and gives the tone to all who believe. God the Father is the source; Christ the means and channel of love; the Holy Spirit takes His blessed part in making the word that reveals all, living and effectual in the soul. The robe, therefore, must be the best robe. The calf must be the fatted calf. The shoes, the ring, the feast, each and all are in accordance with Christ’s person and with His work. And so, lastly, and above all, there is the communion of joy; for the God of all grace must have His own deep satisfaction in the feast, as indeed nothing could be holy, good, or lasting without Him.
Do Christians generally know what all this means? It is exactly what God intends to be made good now in Christianity. Let me hope you have now at least a little of that divine spring of communion in joy and liberty. No one doubts by and by the fulness of joy: then and there, of course, it will be for ever in all perfection. But it is a flagrant mistake that the scene the Lord describes should be confined and put off to heaven. Is it needed to demonstrate why not? In heaven there will be no elder son, nor will the father go out to entreat. There will be no such ungracious murmurers in heaven; alas! plenty now on earth. It is therefore to be realised now on earth, though all the springs of the joy are heavenly and divine.
Doubtless the reason why people relegate it to the heavens is, because they are not in the secret of its joy themselves; and there is a sort of reluctance in the hearts even of righteous men that others should have what they know not themselves. Ah! let the lack rather awaken an earnest searching of heart to enquire, “How is it that my soul is not in the love, joy, and liberty the Lord describes? That I have not realised yet the best robe, or the fatted calf? How that I have overlooked the communion of God’s own joy in love with His own?” “The Son of Man is come to save that which was lost;” but by that work God was glorified in Him, as God at once glorified Him in Himself, and would have us now to taste its fruit.
Forgiving is not all the gospel tells out; nor should it be all for us to know or make known remission of sins. God’s object is not, and could not be, less than to bring us to the knowledge of the Father and the Son, into the joy and liberty of grace now, while we wait for the glory of God in the hope of which we exult. In this knowledge of our God and Father lies the most effectual power against the worldly snares that encumber us on every side. It is never the gospel order to make us holy in order to be happy before God; an effort often made, but always made in vain. In order to be holy in practice, grace makes you happy first. He Who alone was the Holy One died for you in your unholiness and evil, in order to make you happy through faith in Him. By His death Christ deserved it for you, and the grace of God righteously blesses you in the faith of Him. And this is exactly in unison with God’s heart and mind and word; for His word was written for us that we, believing, might share His joy in love.
Have we wandered from the text and the commentary? From neither. Lev. 16 held up the picture of atonement. Hebrews 9 declares that, as Christ is come and His blood shed atoningly, blessing is now for faith, and is eternal: What was forbidden to Aaron save a little one day in the year, is now vouchsafed always to every Christian. “The way into the holies hath not yet been made manifest” is what God said of Israel. But in Hebrews 10:19, it is written for the Christian, “Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holies by the blood of Jesus, a new and living way which He dedicated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a great priest over the house of God, let us approach in full assurance of faith,” etc. We are ever welcome there and thus.
But there is another blessed fruit of Christ’s work. His blood is equally efficacious in purging our conscience from dead works to serve (or worship) the living God (Heb. 9:14). The two privileges go together. If the way is made manifest into the sanctuary, we are also made free of it. Christ’s own are welcomed to draw near now, but only as purged in conscience, not only from bad but from dead works, to serve a living God. How great the superiority of our privilege over Israel, and Aaron’s sons, yea, over Aaron himself! It is not only that the way is open, and the sins are borne; but the conscience is purified by the same blood of Christ which did the rest. Thus the light of God makes only the clearer what Christ’s blood has effected. Nothing there disturbs the conscience of the believer, who is set in love and liberty to serve the living God. Christ’s work, which displaces the dead works of man, ever abides in unchanging value as our ground of acceptance. The same efficacious sacrifice of Christ has achieved these inestimable blessings as a whole. As long as the Jewish tabernacle had its standing, there was the remembrance of sins; not their remission for ever, but the conscience unpurged before God, and the barrier maintained between God and man. The blood of Christ has changed all for us who believe. And no wonder. The. law had for its aim to shut up those under it, till faith came and the accomplishment of God’s will by Christ set aside all the lifeless substitutes and vain efforts of man. Then man, purified from sins, and in his conscience, comes freely to God.
This nearness to God appeared distinctly after Christ’s death; as the death of the sons of Aaron was the time to restrict even Aaron from God’s presence. Why so? Because his sons had been guilty of presumptuous sin. God had caused His fire from heaven to consume the burnt sacrifice, and they had despised it and Him. They thought forsooth that any fire would do just as well: common fire would born incense no less than the fire of God. How ready man is to set at nought His favour, however rich! God had affixed the seal of divine approbation; but it only gave Nadab and Abihu the opportunity of proving their hearts to be wholly careless of His glory as well as of His grace. Jehovah had Himself in grace sent the fire from before Him to consume the burnt offering and the fat. Therefore it was for them to keep up that holy fire. But these two sons of Aaron profanely took common fire; and if God had passed it over, He would have been a consenting party to His own dishonour. Impossible! God judged them. They sinned unto death. It is not every sinner that thus sins unto death. There was then, there is now, sin unto death. It supposes sin in special circumstances to His dishonour. God had just brought in a peculiar work of grace, and in it was distinguishing Israel as His people; and immediately the two sons of Aaron put shame on His favour, and died for it.
How plain it was, even on the day of atonement, that God’s chosen people could not draw near to God in the sanctuary! None but the high priest, — and even he — could enter the most holy place on this day alone in the year, for brief moments, and that with incense and with blood! What did all this indicate? That the way into the holies had not yet been made manifest. Now it is. How striking the contrast since the redemption that is in Christ Jesus! The way into the holies is made manifest. So, when Christ died, the veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom. No mark more significant. God taught plainly that the Levitical institution was gone, and that for faith a new thing was come on His part through Christ’s death. This enters into the very core of Christianity. The way into the holies has been and is made manifest.
Are you, my brother, peacefully enjoying Christ thus? Are you in the present conscious possession of this nearness to God? What is the good of knowing that the way into the holies is manifested, if it is not for you to enter in by faith day by day, thereby appropriating the riches of God’s grace toward you? It is now for every partaker of the heavenly calling. The veil that God rent was the death-warrant of Judaism. That man might outwardly repair; but it was only man without God. The veil was by no word of God erected again. For the Christian it is rent for ever, as is earthly sacrifice, altar, and priest; whereby is shown, by a divine token, the essential difference between Jewish atonement and that which the Christian has in virtue of Christ’s death.
In the Jewish institution who can deny that the barrier abode impassable with the slightest exception even for Aaron. It did not matter whether it were a Samuel or a David, an Isaiah or a Daniel, there was no free entrance into the holies. The faith, or the holy character, of the high priest made no difference as to this. Jehovah appeared in the cloud upon the mercy seat, and even Aaron must not come in at all times within the veil, that he die not. On that day, once a year, a special sin offering was made; then only with the most scrupulous observance of God’s injunctions could he approach to atone for himself, and his house, as well as for the people. The way there was otherwise closed.
What do we find in the birth and life of our blessed Lord Jesus? God came to man in the person of Christ. And what appeared in the Lord’s death? That man, believing man, can now come boldly to God. The unbeliever is blind to both these matchless blessings. God came to man, believing or not; but unbelieving man rose up against Him, cast Him out, and crucified Him. Yet in that very cross of our Lord Jesus was this new and living way dedicated; so that he who believes in His name is free to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith to God through the rent veil, with Christ as the great priest over the house of God. In fulfilment of the Levitical types our hearts are sprinkled from a wicked conscience, the body washed with pure water. The Christian has as an abiding settled reality what the Jewish had partially and only in form. The word of God has purified his heart by faith. There is but One Whose death has laid the basis for free access to God; and there it remains uncancelled, as it will, until the last believer in our Lord goes up to be with Him for ever. We shall all in person meet Him there whore our faith penetrates now. This is Christianity.
Are you, Christian, resting intelligently on Christ’s work of atonement? It is admitted that there is more in Him than what we read in the Hebrews. Thus, you cannot believe in Christ without receiving life in His name. The believer requires divine life, in order to have affections according to God, — affections that hate evil and love what is good. Christ is life eternal to every one who believes in Him. He is their life, just as Adam was the head of natural life to mankind at large; and it is well to remark that Adam only became that head and source of life practically when he was a sinner. So Christ becomes the giver of life everlasting after His work of obedience unto death was complete. Righteousness was an accomplished fact, God being glorified in Him to the uttermost.
Christ therefore stands in blessed contrast with Adam. When He rose from the dead, the Lord breathed on His disciples the breath of new life in resurrection power, the distinctive life of the Christian. But this is no more the topic of the Epistle to the Hebrews, than the baptism of the Spirit which forms Christ’s body; yet, any one can see the two things were necessary, not His death only, but the life which He is and gives to us, to which we may add union with Him, the membership of His body. What congruity would there be, if we could conceive the blessed life of Christ given to a man left struggling against his unremoved sins? How suitable that the risen life should be, where the sins are blotted out by His blood! The two blessings of grace are absolutely necessary, and both are by faith given, if one is, to man.
Christ, received by faith, secures the believer in all God gives. What a mercy that the gifts of grace should be thus united! For they are given to the simplest through faith in Christ; even to one that could not read or write, to a poor old man or woman, to a little child, if there be the Spirit of God producing subjection of heart to Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Do you ask, Will it last? The answer is, To all eternity; for “Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.”
For a Jew there was a round of daily, monthly, yearly, and occasional sacrifices. But one of the characteristic features of Christianity is this, there is one offering, and one only, the antitype that answers to all, but infinitely more than all. Creature sacrifices could be nothing but shadows, Christ’s work is the divine reality. In the sacrifice of Christ God brings in what He could rest in, a perfection which could not be in the probationary plan of Old Testament times. Christ not only made the need of this perfection to be felt, but He alone supplied it to God’s glory and man’s blessedness. And the Holy Ghost is sent personally from heaven to bring in the joy and power of it all into the heart, ways, worship, and service.
He that receives the gospel is entitled to receive the blessing at once. At least, whatever hindrance exists, it may be from human activity of mind, or perhaps from morbid feeling; it is not God that delays the soul. As to these difficulties, the Lord is patient and tender, but there is no difficulty on His side; it is purely and solely on the part of him that ill hears the word. Old habits or thoughts, or? it may be will, working one way and another, — these things may cause delay; but He is faithful and unfailing.
See the beautiful instance of the Syro-Phoenician woman. The Lord was ready for her call as soon as she came; but was she yet ready for the Lord? She had not considered how far off she was; but the Lord brought her down to this point. He was not sent save for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. When her cry became simpler, as one that needed His help, He threw out the hint that it was not meet to cast the children’s bread to the dogs. The light shone into her soul now brought truly low, and she sees the need of grace in a moment. Correcting through His word her mistake, she no longer takes the position of being one of the sheep, but owns her self a poor dog. She had no claim, she falls back on sovereign grace, and finds far more than she had sought; not indeed a lost sheep of the house of Israel, she becomes a saved sheep of the Lord Jesus for ever. Here was a case for, not a miracle like her daughter’s, but the Saviour come to atone for sins. God would justify all the forbearance He had shown in the past, but He was now bringing to view deeper counsels and ways than man had learnt or could learn before.
Hence it is that the gospel does not merely set forth God vindicated in the cross of Christ, or, according to the language of the theologians, “His satisfaction.” Surely that God is glorified says a great deal more. “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.” This is not merely legal or penal satisfaction. Even a man may be satisfied when he gets what he wants; but God, we know, was glorified in Christ’s death; and why? Because He took in all the reality, depth, and compass of Christ’s work in redemption. All that is in God and man thereby was met and displayed perfectly; majesty and humiliation, grace and righteousness, holiness and suffering for sin, obedience and moral glory. “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him.” God as such was glorified in the rejected Christ, the humbled crucified Son of man. Every attribute of the divine nature, and every declaration of His word shine in the cross to God’s glory; and therefore did God at once set the risen Son of man, not on the throne of David, but at His right hand on His own throne.
Throughout Christ’s life and service previously the Father had been glorified in the unswerving obedience of the Son, at all cost and in all circumstances. Why is it that we now hear of “God” being glorified rather than “the Father?” Because sin brings forward “God” as the judge of sin; as sin affects man’s conscience and compels him to think of God. For, spite of man’s bad habits and hardness, God makes himself felt in the conscience of a sinner, who ordinarily quails at the thought of death or judgment. But if conscience will be heard about sin, what did God feel about the self-sacrificing work of the Lord Jesus under His own judgment of sin, and on behalf of sinners? God is glorified even about sin, by the perfection of Christ’s enduring all its consequences at God’s hand; and what is the effect of it all? If God was thus, and only thus, glorified, as He could have been by none other person and in no other way, how does He testify His sense of the worth of His Son’s atoning death?
It would have been wholly beneath that worth to have accomplished the Old Testament prophecies for earth and the earthly people, even if willing. The cross proclaimed mankind evil and lost, most of all Israel; and God takes the Son of man “straightway” into His own glory on high as the only adequate answer to the cross. (Ps. 8, 110.)
The holy hill of Zion is not holy or high enough for the Son of man. The “decree” (Ps. 2) He declared for it will be assuredly fulfilled another day. But what has God done now? He has set the risen Lord at His own right hand. Man in His person is exalted, and shares the throne of God; the Old and the New Testaments declare it. There had been many kings sitting on David’s throne; and, God will bestow more abundant dignity and honour on that throne when Christ deigns to sit on it, and asks for and receives the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. Bat this will be the future kingdom; it is not Christianity.
Christianity is founded on Christ dead, risen, and glorified by God’s will, as it sheds on the believer the light of heavenly grace and glory in Christ, and puts the soul into living relationship with God the Father on the ground of redemption, according to the efficacy of Christ’s blood which shall abide for ever. Beloved brethren, let us only learn better our own Christianity. How much more should we then know Christ, and estimate His work!
Into the details of this chapter succeeding lectures will enter. What is now set out may serve to bring out the general idea distinctly, and prove the marked contrast of the gospel with the temporary, temporal, and earthly character of Jewish atonement, which too many accept as its measure. The death of Aaron’s profane sons was the occasion of declaring man’s unfitness to draw near before Jehovah; even Aaron must not approach at all times within the veil, on pain of death (ver. 1, 2). Aaron must come with a young bullock or calf for a sin offering. He had to bring a ram also for a burnt offering (ver. 3). Aaron had to put on the holy linen coat, to have the linen breeches upon his flesh, to be girded with the linen girdle, and to be attired with the linen mitre or turban; also must bathe his flesh in water before putting them on (ver. 4). All this spoke of intrinsic imperfection and uncleanness. He was as he stood in no degree meet for access to God; and when he did get there, it was through incense and blood.
The high priest appears, not clad in his official robes (he does not wear them until the peculiar work of atonement is accomplished). He is here in the garb that spoke of unsullied righteousness, the holy garments. This was not his proper apparel. The high priest was distinguished by a rich dress, wherein ornaments of gold and jewels had their place. But the holy “linen garments” were worn for the special work of this day.
We may here observe that this very exceptional appearance of the high priest on the Day of Atonement seems to help us in understanding a verse that has been a source of perplexity to many men otherwise well versed in the Word of God. It is written in Heb. 2:17, “Wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in all things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” To reconcile sinners is exactly what the gospel undertakes to do; but to reconcile “sins” is an unhappy expression. God will never be reconciled to sins, nor would God ever have us to be reconciled to sins. “To make reconciliation for sins,” therefore, is one of those verbal oversights that we find occasionally even in the admirable Authorised Version. The Scriptural phraseology for “reconciliation” is altogether different from “atonement.”
In Rom. 5:11, as is commonly known, it should be the reconciliation, not “the atonement;” in Heb. 2:17 it should be not “reconciliation,” but propitiation or expiation. Atonement is as to sin expiation, as to God propitiation. God is offended at sin, justly indignant at that which is a direct violation of His will and nature in man, who dares to resist His authority and His commands. Atonement is God’s intervention, in His grace, righteously to expiate the sins and set free the guilty; and therefore atonement is the sole way in which God righteously brings the sinner into reconciliation with Himself. Therein God is as truly glorified as the repentant sinner is brought nigh to God. By that work the face of God becomes propitious to the sinner, so that his sins being judged are sent away never to be found again. Thus the evident force of the verse in Hebrews is, “to make atonement, or expiation, for the sins of the people.”
But here is where some find difficulty — “A merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to propitiate (or make atonement) for the sins of the people.” The High Priest is not in His official status on high till after the sacrifice is made. The proper sphere of the High Priest is heaven, and not earth. Nevertheless, nothing is more certain than that Christ was, and must be, this faithful and merciful High Priest, “to make expiation, or atonement, for the sins of the people,” in “the death of the cross,” “through the blood of His cross.” Here it was He died, lifted up from the earth no doubt, yet not in heaven; though the virtue of that blood was at once infinitely felt there, in figure upon the mercy seat and before it. Can one conceive a more admirable shadow than what God has given to put these two things together? The high priest had to act that day in a manner not more necessary than most efficacious for making an expiation of sins; nevertheless, he was not yet arrayed in his official robes. Does not this singular circumstance on which much stress is laid tally with the facts of the case? The Lord entered on the proper functions of the High Priesthood, after He had been perfected through sufferings, when He went to heaven. But, before He went on high, the atoning sacrifice had been effected. “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3); nay, more, “With His own blood He entered into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). He obtained it neither on earth strictly, not yet in heaven. He was “lifted up” on the cross. There did God make sin Him Who knew no sin; but if atonement must be made for sin on the cross, its efficacy penetrated the holiest that very moment. “It is finished” said He Who had poured out His soul unto death. The blood was for God in the sanctuary, though for man’s sin on the earth.
The reality far surpasses every part of the type. To this end was He “lifted up from the earth.” Thus does He draw, not the children of Israel as such, but “all men’’; for as the cross closed all hope for Israel of a living Messiah, everything for sinful man turned on a crucified Saviour. There He bore the judgment of sin, while the virtue of His blood instantly reached God in the holiest. Only after His ascension and sending down the Spirit was it preached to man on earth. It was the high priest alone who acted solely, not as ordinarily on high, but rather in the exceptional position of the one great representative in the judgment of sin before God for the heavenly family, and for the earthly people, not yet saluted of God as entered on His ordinary functions above. Does not this correspond with the holy linen dress worn for the special service of the high priest that day? Had it been the usual garments proper to His heavenly place, there had been more room for thinking of a fresh action of Christ in heaven, in order to make out a succession of stages historically answering to the various parts of the type. But even the type is plain enough that, before the high priest assumes his normal garments, he has to execute a work of the deepest moment, clad in a way altogether different from the regular dress of his office. It points to the Lord Jesus meeting completely what is here attributed to the high priest, Aaron, on the Day of Atonement, before He entered upon the ordinary functions of His priesthood. Aaron had not, Christ had, obtained eternal redemption when He entered the sanctuary. The truth has an immediate completeness and unity, which the type could not possess. “For the law made nothing perfect” (Heb. 7:19). Aaron was immeasurably below the Saviour and His work.
Creature means availed but for the moment, as a witness to the acceptance personally and the efficacy of His blood for us on Christ’s part. The offering of our Lord was final and complete. There is no question for us of sacrifice again. There is also in Him eternal life, and through His work eternal redemption. Thereby is the conscience perfectly purged from sin. If He has not purged it by His blood once shed, what can do it? Christ suffers and dies no more.
Do you object that one may go wrong in the course of the day — that one may fall into sin? For this there is divine provision which restores the soul, while humbling it in the cast by the remembrance of what the sin cost Christ. The soul bows to God under the sense of dishonour done to the grace of such a Saviour. The word of God is applied by the Spirit to rebuke and bring the soul into confession before God. “Washing of water by the word” is the remarkable figure of the apostle, answering to the water of separation from defilement in Num. 19. This goes on when needed; but why not the sacrifice? Because it remains absolutely perfect, yea perfecting; which its repetition would deny according to the argument in the Hebrews. Yet, has not something to be done? “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.” But if the central truth before us now is, that Christ’s infinite work of atonement, blotting out the believer’s sins and cleansing his conscience, abides for ever before God, renewal is excluded because its efficacy is perfect. Such is the unqualified and unhesitating doctrine laid down by inspiration. From this sentence of God’s word and Spirit there is no appeal.
We may have to enter into some interesting distinctions in the scriptures; but it will be shown that in every one of them the very image, the full truth of God, goes incomparably beyond the types. You must remember that a type, however instructive in analogy (sometimes a contrast, rather than a resemblance), is after all only the shadow, and not the full impress and expression of the truth.