Book traversal links for Lecture 3. - Leviticus 16:11-1 9
Its General Principle compared with Christ’s Work.
The first act of Aaron that now claims our consideration is the sacrifice of the bullock for the sin offering. It was expressly for himself and his house. But it is important here as elsewhere to bear in mind the tone, character, and limits of typical instruction. There is an analogy, because it cannot otherwise be a type; but there are limits, because it is only a type and “not the very image.” Atonement, according to the full mind and intent of God, could have been but once accomplished, and only by the true High Priest, even Christ. A typical form was all that could be now, for Aaron was sinful as the people were; but He whom Aaron represented, as He needed no sin-offering, so could He Himself be made sin for us. It is well to seize the difference — and in some cases contrast — not merely in what is here so obvious, but because there are other points to be noted which may not seem equally plain, where nevertheless the same principle as really applies. We must not fail invariably to read the type in the light of Christ, instead of reducing Christ to the measure of the type.
Great mistakes have been made since (if not in) the first century through neglect of the right use of Christ as He is now fully revealed. So it was, to my own personal knowledge, even among Christians more than usually versed in scripture, forty years ago at least; so it has been since, and may be at any time. Two portions of the word of God seem peculiarly liable to a kindred sort of misconstruction, perhaps one might rather say three. The earliest in point of place are the types of the Levitical economy. Next comes the book of the Psalms, as bringing in the heart in all its varied feelings, about either the wants and trials of man, or the anticipations given of God; but Christ’s Spirit is there, and hence the need of not confounding the first man with the Second. Thirdly, there is the prophetic word, so open to bias and error where Christ is not seen duly and His kingdom. In all these three departments of divine truth (and it pretty much comprehends the O.T.), who is sufficient for these things? What need of dependence on God, and watchfulness against self, that we may have divine guidance!
There is here, as everywhere, but one safeguard. Human canons do not preserve, nor certainly is truth due to human tradition but to Christ kept by the Spirit before us. He alone of God is made to us wisdom; and it never can be otherwise. As He is the life of the Christian, so is He the true light that now shines, the only One who ever did enlighten, and fully. Therefore, we are only safe in following Him through God’s word, these portions especially which without Him are indeed dark. But as there is “no darkness at all” in God, so there is none Christ does not graciously dispel, save what unbelief makes for itself in slighting or forcing His word. Reading it hastily we may find peculiar difficulty, where it lies outside our own relationship. For instance, we come in contact with that which is according to the status or measure of the Jew; but we are Christians and ought never to forget our own place. Again, there are depths of grace and glory in Christ, where it becomes us to bow our heads and adore, rather than to rush in familiarly on such holy ground. But there is no danger in keeping behind, yet close to, Christ; there is all possible blessing in hearing His voice. Let us now endeavour to conform to that only just, true, and full rule for interpreting the word of God. At this point it becomes particularly needful, because our theme concerns the utmost nearness to the presence of God.
We have looked a little at Jehovah’s lot, the goat that was slain whose blood was also brought in; nevertheless we are above all to look into the meaning and application of the sacrifice for Aaron and his house.
Now the bullock necessarily has a special principle attached to it. Scripture never heaps together things unmeaningly as men sometimes do. The bullock, though it has a general aim in common with the first goat, was expressly distinct and has marked differences. On the face of the chapter there was but one bullock, though there were two goats. As it was the largest sort of offering, so here it has a higher direction. The bullock was offered only for the priestly house. There was no complementary bullock to be driven away with their sins laid and confessed on its head, like the second goat which followed up the first, after a notable interval. The bullock and the first goat were slain as nearly about the same time as possible — the bullock first (ver. 11), the goat afterwards (ver. 15).
But a remarkable type intervenes before the blood of either was carried within. And Aaron “shall take a censor full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil; and he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy-seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not” (ver. 12, 13). What does this mean? The traditional idea is that incense represents the prayers of the saints: surely an irrelevant interpretation as applied, not only to the type before us, but to what is analogous in the book of Leviticus, and indeed wherever incense is offered nuder the law. In the special circumstances of Rev. 5, we do find the prayers of the saints symbolised by incense (ver. 8); but in the very same book, Rev. 8:3, we read of “much incense” given, in order to impart efficacy to the prayers of all the saints at the golden altar which was before the throne. Here the distinctness of the incense from the prayers is beyond argument. It is clear from this, sustained by a great deal more elsewhere, that incense cannot be assumed to mean absolutely or only prayers Of the saints. The royal priests in Rev. 5 present the prayers of the saints as incense; the angel high-priest in Rev. 8 puts to the prayers of all the saints much incense, which no creature could do — only Himself. Where would be the sense in adding the prayers of the saints to the prayers of the saints? We must therefore look for a larger truth in explanation; nor really is it far to seek. Early in Leviticus, and specially in Exodus, we may find seasonable help.
Thus in Ex. 30 we have the detailed composition of the holy perfume for Jehovah, which was not for man “to smell thereto” on pain of being cut off. This it was which beaten small was to be put before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation. It set forth the fragrant grace of Christ, the more tried so much the more abundantly sweet to God. It was what He peculiarly appreciated in Christ. Here the prayers of saints are out of the question. It prefigures the personal grace of Christ tried to the utmost, but even in the minutest thing agreeable to God Who alone could estimate it.
In Lev. 2 we have nothing to do with the prayers of the saints, but Christ livingly acceptable to God. Therefore incense enters as an important element in the “meal (not “meat”) offering.” Fine flour, oil mingled or anointed, or both, with salt, were therein; or ears of corn green or full. But the peculiar claim of “all the pure incense” for God is ever reserved. The remnant, after the memorial handful for the burning as a sweet savour to Jehovah, was Aaron’s and his sons’; but “all frankincense” was burnt upon the altar. It was the expression of Christ’s personal grace in its unspeakable preciousness to God. Our prayers are clearly out of the question. Do not all these offerings at the beginning of Leviticus speak exclusively of Christ? If none but the presumptuous would dispute the bearing of the holocaust, of the peace-offering, and of those for sin and trespass, it ought not to be doubted that the meat-offering has at least as much of the character of Christ offered up to God, as any other oblation. They are the reflection of Christ and His work, each in a distinctive way.
Surely incense here has nothing to do with the prayers of the saints. Is it not the fragrant grace of Christ’s presence which God alone could appreciate in Him, and in Him only? All went up to God. Elsewhere it was His grace rising up in intercession, when making prayers of saints acceptable to God. Ex. 30:34-38 might afford a still clearer proof of the reference to Christ, where our prayers would be quite out of place. But time fails to dwell further on this interesting type, which testifies of the fragrance of Christ’s personal grace to God, and in no way points here to the prayers of saints, whatever His grace also in making them acceptable.
Before the blood then, not merely of the goat, but of the bullock, was brought in to be put upon the mercy-seat and before it, the incense rose up before God. There was the witness of the exquisite grace of Christ before God, of His personal sweet-savour, when tried by the fire to the uttermost; and this apart from blood-shedding, not apart from fiery judgment, but from that which was essential to put away sin. The blood was not yet put there; the incense preceded. Bat how did that incense rise? Was it not kindled by the holy fire of God? And that fire was closely connected with the burnt offering. The fire fell there, and then was kindled the incense which rose up as a cloud before God and filled the most holy place. It was the fire of God’s consuming judgment; for this is ever the symbol of that which, testing the Lord in every way and to the fullest possible degree, only brought out the more the fragrance of His grace. The object in atonement was to lay a ground for divine righteousness, so that God, in blessing to the full, should act consistently with what was due to Christ and His work, which had glorified God even in judging sin. Yet before that basis was laid there was in the incense the witness of His ineffably fragrant grace Godward. Such seems the meaning of the incense which the high priest burnt in the most holy place.
After this “he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy-seat eastward; and before the mercy-seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times. Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock.” It is not, as if there were two offerings or two acts of sacrifice for our blessed Lord Jesus, but at least two objects of His work here in the mind of God. In order to complete atonement for the people the second goat must be taken into account for that work, though typically it only appears when the high priest emerges from the sanctuary (vers. 20 and 32, 33). But the foremost shadow before us now is the blood of the bullock put upon and before the mercy-seat — put once upon and seven times before the mercy-seat. Once sufficed for God, where approach to Him was invited; man needed seven times. Alas! how dull has man proved to take in the fullest encouragement on God’s part; for He it was Who thus in the figure provided all: He despises not any.
But why the bullock, and why the goat? The blood of the bullock was carried in on behalf of the priestly family; in this type Aaron and his house. Here the Epistle to the Hebrews marks a contrast. If Aaron must be atoned for, it could not be so with Christ. It were blasphemy to include the Son of God in any such requirement. You might suppose such a caveat quite uncalled for. Alas! I remember a Canadian ex-clergyman who, getting into the minutia of these types, and, dull indeed to see the guarded glory of the true high priest, fell into this horrible snare, and was put away from amongst us because of so deep a dishonour to our Lord Jesus. Those who deem such a thought scarcely possible, forget we have an active, subtle, and deadly foe. Let us learn what it is to distrust ourselves, and to cherish confidence in the living God and His word.
Nevertheless, it remains that the blood of the bullock was for the priestly family, as that of the goat was for the people. Is there anything in the New Testament to help here? Much. Take one scripture — and a familiar one — in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of St. John (John 11:49-52). The occasion came through an uncomely mouth, but it was God’s giving. Caiaphas spoke wickedly, but God prophesied through him, as of old through Balaam. It is not that his heart who uttered the prophecy was in the truth. But if the unscrupulous high priest here prophesied that it was expedient for one man to die for the people, it is clearly the Spirit of God Who comments that He died not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. There you have the death of our Lord for two distinct objects. One cannot avoid perceiving that the children of God are a higher object than “that nation.” Indeed none more than John, throughout the whole of his Gospel, shows that nation to be reprobate. Never was a nation more unbelieving and rebellious. It is all over with them from the very first chapter: “He came to His own [things], and His own [people] received Him not.” The Jews, the rejectors of the Lord, are seen to be themselves rejected of God from the beginning of the fourth Gospel. The other Gospels gradually come up to the same conclusion, because of Jewish unbelief; but John starts with it. For which reason the Lord is introduced by John purging the temple of these wicked men before His public ministry begins; whereas the Synoptic Gospels give no purging of the temple till we approach the end. What could more than this purifying prove that the Jews were the unclean, notwithstanding their high pretensions? And high pretensions always rise more and more when judgment is at the door. Then are a privileged people most lifted up when they have lost all true sense of communion with God.
But to return: the plain truth comes out that the death of Christ was not merely for the Jewish people, but to gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. No doubt that purpose of gathering in one expresses also another thought and purpose; but there could be no such gathering on God’s part without a righteous removal of their sins. Thus the propitiation is necessarily implied, although it be not stated in these words. Atonement is the necessary pre-requisite for such a blessing as the gathering together of the scattered children of God unless He could overlook His own dishonour or their unremoved guilt. And therein is one main moral reason why the church never had a place on earth, and never could be called to its own heavenly portion before the Lord Jesus: the atonement was not yet an accomplished fact before God, Who could not, consistently with His glory, gather in one without it.
Let us now a little more closely examine the Epistle to the Hebrews, which, as already remarked, is a divine comment on these Levitical types. We need not guess, nor argue at length; it is enough, and best of all, to believe.
In Heb. 2 we have Isaiah 8:18 applied to the saints now being called. They are the children God has given to Christ. Then in Heb. 3 we read, “Whose house are we.” Christ had just been treated as the apostle and high priest of our profession. In the beginning of the chapter after His introduction in His high priesthood, we are told that He has a house over which He acts with divine rights, not merely as a servant: “Whose house are we.” The “we” in this Epistle is no doubtful matter. It means not mere Hebrews, but such as were bearing His name, sanctified by His blood, and made free of the holiest of all — “Whose house are we.” Does any one conceive that this relationship is peculiar to Christian Jews? Is the principle to be denied to those who now believe generally? Of every Christian it is no less true, though one rejoices to own it was primarily written to believing Hebrews. It is the common but high privilege of every Christian. Nor can one admire the one-sided rashness which can treat the treatise on the Old Testament types — if one does not call it an Epistle — that inspired commentary to these Hebrews, as a child’s book. Rather is that depreciation a childish remark. The Hebrew saints, to whom the Old Testament was expounded, were no doubt children, when they ought for the time to be teachers; but who does not discern throughout the voice of Him that speaks from heaven? The object of the teaching (Heb. 5, 6) was to bring these Hebrews out of the word of the beginning of Christ, elementary as this was, into the full growth or “perfection” which flows from knowing Him on high, after He had made purification of sins. Do you call that a picture book of the nursery? So speak if you will of the Old Testament types. They were part of the rudiments of the world to which Israel was in bondage. They were all but partial pictures. But the Epistle to the Hebrews, far from being a nursery book, is a profound and most instructive communication of the Holy Spirit to lead on the Christ-professing Jews into the present elevating and heavenly associations with Him glorified; whilst it made no less clear and certain that those who despise, and still more those who give Him up, are for ever lost. They had been dull of hearing; and it is always so with men proud of their ancient religion: nothing so much hinders growth in the truth. There is no veil over the eyes so impenetrable as religions habit or tradition. Given two persons converted: one of the mere profane world, the other perhaps respected in the professing church. Which of the two ordinarily goes forward steadily in the truth? Not the man who devoted himself to the study of theology for the last ten or twenty years past. He is generally an unapt scholar when he repairs to scripture, even seriously. Such is the effect of old religions prejudice. He needs to unlearn quite as much as to learn; which makes progress difficult and slow. The Hebrew confessors are thus seen to be but dull in rising to the height of Christianity, as they saw feebly into its depths. They were impeded in learning because they had so much to unlearn. They are not the only persons now who are thus entangled. As Christendom grows old, the same difficulty repeats itself, though it be less excusable for Christians now than then for the Jews who believed. The truth fully revealed gives meaning to those ancient shadows. They had before them the materials; but they needed the teaching of God’s Spirit, Who glorifies Christ. Yet the ancient oracles had been used, not only for the conversion, but for the help and blessing, of souls then for some fifteen hundred years, to say nothing of times antecedent. But these were the persons who proved so slow in spiritual understanding. Therefore it is the more incumbent on all bred in religions habits, and accustomed to a groove of set forms and phrases, to watch against this danger, of which scripture warns.
This, the richest specimen the Bible furnishes of Expositional teaching — for it is more particularly of that character — was intended to educate the believing Hebrews into the true meaning of the old types. But to restrict it, the light, or the privileges, revealed therein, to the Hebrews, to say that they, and they only, were the house of Christ, were sheer ignorance and an intolerable wrong. “Whose house are we” is a principle as truly applicable now as then, and to Gentile Christians no less really than Jewish. But it may be presumed that nobody here would have the least difficulty as to this, and that all concede that the truth applies to believers now in all its forms, and will as long as there are Christians waiting for the Son of God from heaven. But if it be granted that we too are the true Aaron’s house, the bullock was beyond doubt for them, in contradistinction from the people; and we shall find that this is as important in doctrine as for practice. For it is to be noticed that the blood of the bullock has exclusively to do with those who enter the holy places, or the sanctuary of God. The blood of the goat was brought there too, for God must be glorified in reconciling Israel or any others. But you cannot sever the first goat from the second. They coalesce and constitute the necessary atonement for the people who await the coming out of the great high priest. It is not so with those concerned in the bullock. There is no waiting on His appearance for their acceptance. In this case there is no fresh type nor future time that draws you back to the earth, as there is unquestionably in the second goat applied historically. The bullock has to do at once and only with the presence of God and those entitled to enter there by grace.
On the other hand, if we look at the two goats, the counterpart of them both attaches to the earth, and the earthly people in an unmistakeable way. In that transaction how much was before the eyes of the people! God ordered it thus for the purpose of giving them the visible token that their sins were gone never to be remembered more. No such thing was necessary for, or suited to, the priestly house.
But understand what is meant. There is a time when souls ever so truly converted are not up to the Christian position. Do you ask, Who are in so anomalous a condition? Why, you and myself have been, if we are not, among them. Time was when we were nothing but souls in our sins. Time was when it was a question, and a great question to us, to be born of God, yet not knowing our sins forgiven. One grieves to think that many a saint on earth thinks the remission of sins rather a high claim, and a very questionable privilege whether it is true. Do you think thus? Then let me tell you, that you have scarcely got beyond the portion of a devout Jew or Gentile before redemption. If this be so, are you yet really on Christian ground? One is not denying that you are a Christian; but how many converted persons are on Jewish ground so far as their state of mind or experience goes?
He who merely looks to Christ with the hope that he may go to heaven at last and not be lost when he comes into judgment, has but imperfectly learnt by faith the Christian’s alphabet. Is this the gospel? The sooner he learns more of God in Christ, the better; and even this chapter is admirably adapted to show, when read in the light of Hebrews, where and how far he has fallen short. The sacrifice of the bullock, teaching us what it contains and what it omits, gives us precisely enough, though in type, the place into which the young believer is meant, and ought, to advance. It is likely that the Hebrews at that time were not much beyond what has just been described; and the apostle wrote that they might be Christians in deed and in truth. Therefore one may observe the great stress wherewith that Epistle shows, not merely that Christ has personally gone through the heavens, but that He is in the highest place in all the virtue of His work for us, that we now by faith may draw near into the holiest of all. Of course it is but in spirit: we are not there; we are still on earth, not in heaven. But have we no entrance into the favour of God by faith, beyond where we are? or do we merely look up to heaven as the future home of our hearts? Is it the true sanctuary open to us now, or is it not?
It is a common argument of those who are accepted as soundly evangelical to say that there is but one priest, even Christ on high; and that therefore the sacerdotal pretension of a certain school in Christendom is simply the trash of Popery. To this last I agree with entire cordiality. If the gospel be true, the notion of any on earth being priests for the rest of Christians is evident and pestilent falsehood. It is a revival of Jewish principles, since they were in figure nailed to Christ’s cross, dead and buried in His grave. But if this be all, you fail to take the full and positive standpoint of the Christian. Do not content yourself with saying that among Christians there are no priests for others on earth, Christ being the only great priest in the presence of God. There is far more than this in what is now revealed. What more, do you ask, is required to supplement it? “Whose house are we?” Why do not evangelical men hold, preach, and practise this? Why do they not tell the saints on earth that they are all and equally priests? It is not merely that they are to be in heaven. No doubt their title will be perfectly owned there. We are to be priests of God and of Christ in the resurrection (Rev. 20:6); but have we not from God the self-same title now? (Rev. 1:6).
And if any scruple to believe the Apocalypse, why overlook the Epistle to the Hebrews? Does not Peter also say that Christians are a royal priesthood, and, what is still more and better, a holy priesthood? (1 Peter 2) The royal priesthood is to be displayed before the world; the holy priesthood is to draw near unto the presence of God. It is the more intimate of the two. If the royal priesthood shines more before men, should it not be dearer to a saintly heart to draw near to God in praise and thanksgiving? St. John speaks of Him that loveth us and washed (or loosed) us from our sins by His blood and made us kings and priests unto God. Are you not misinterpreting the word of God when you infer that, whilst Christ loves us now and proved it by His atoning blood, He is only going to make us kings and priests?
My brethren, be not so weak in faith, but so foolhardy in fact as thus virtually to set about improving Holy Writ. Were it not better simply to believe it? Leave that to dull and dark men of learning, who tell you how hard it is to understand the scriptures. Certainly it is hard to unbelief or the presumption that would mend the perfect word of God. Without faith you will never understand the scriptures. The true way to understand them is simply to believe. Be content to receive them as of God without understanding first. Scriptural understanding follows faith. Cherish confidence in God that His word cannot but be right. Christ is the key in the hand of the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. Then the heart opens, and what once seemed difficult becomes an everlasting and increasingly enjoyed privilege.
Why is it, therefore, that Christian people have it, and will have it, that Christ alone is priest, and that there are now no true priests at all? Scripture affirms that those, whom Christ is not ashamed to call brethren, are priests, and that they are called to exercise the highest function of drawing near within the rent veil. It is not at all meant that every Christian is a minister of the word, very far from it indeed; but it is repeated that every Christian man, woman, and child, is really and truly a priest of God. The importance of this truth is no less than its sure warrant.
One might well ask, Can you for a moment question what scripture reveals on this head? Nor need one merely go upon the words, though they are written by Paul, Peter, and John, three witnesses unparalleled even in scripture. But it may be added if the gospel were better known, there would be no hesitation about that which is now urged — that Christians are the priestly house of Christ, the true sons of the true Aaron. They alone answer to that type, which is therefore slipped over by most as if it were nothing. What privilege of the priest exceeds liberty of access to the sanctuary? We have seen that even Aaron of old had it in the scantiest degree.
How is it with the Christian? Liberty of access he has not merely into the holy place, but in to the holiest of all. By Christ’s blood is now given boldness at all times for all saints, whilst Aaron entered tremblingly but once a year, with incense and blood ever renewed, into that which was but the figure of the true sanctuary. So greatly does the gospel exceed the highest privilege of not only priesthood but the high priesthood. Yet it would ill become one to suppose for a moment that Christians are high priests: God forbid! One would no more think of claiming to be high priests than of calling Christ our elder brother, as do Moravians and the like. It is one thing for Christ to call us brethren, quite another for us to call Him brother. It is one thing for the Queen to show some condescension to you or to me, but altogether an impropriety for us therefore to forget her majesty and to slight her royal grace. Reverence becomes us, and especially in the presence of the unmerited favour, and of the infinite personal glory, of the Saviour, which make the favour so immense to such as we are.
It is no question of words, but of the momentous fact by divine grace, that, when a man receives the gospel of God by faith, he is entitled to know from that moment that in virtue of Christ’s cross he is brought nigh to God. Now if thus reconciled and nigh, can you tell me of any privilege more truly precious? Was it not on the face of things that only priests could enter the sanctuary? The people were without praying, and the priests came within to burn incense. As long as the temple and the law had a standing, the people could only be outside. Is this, according to the gospel, the actual position of a Christian? Time was, no doubt, when we stood without; and it was a rich and needed mercy to come under the truth of the second goat as well as of the first. But when we entered on the near and proper ground of Christian privilege, what then? We find ourselves in evident and weighty contrast with Israel, who have not yet the blessing. They abide in unbelief outside, and only outside. Is that then where we are now? Is it not true that grace calls us in faith to follow Christ within the veil? It is not only that there we have a hope sure and steadfast, and that which enters within the veil, but we have a full assurance of faith, and so are emboldened to enter into the holiest by His blood.
There is a new and living way consecrated or dedicated for us — for all who believe on Him. All who are associated with Him are not more called to bear His reproach from the world than they are to draw near where He is glorified in the presence of God. That is not and never will be the portion of the Jew. Christ will come and reign over Israel here below. Believing now we become heavenly. The moment a Jew now receives Christ as His portion, he ceases to be a Jew, he becomes a Christian. And Christ in heaven is the common portion of all Christians whether they be Jews or not. They thus acquire a title of access into the holiest of all by the blood of Jesus. And what believers want, in order to have the force of Christian worship and walk, is not a negative truth, but the positive, as here that Christians now are priests of God. They are the house of Christ, the anti-typical Aaron. This is the unquestionable doctrine of the New Testament. It is not merely where the word “priest” is used, or the sanctuary is in view. Nearness of access to God, by the faith of Christ through His blood, is everywhere the truth of the gospel, from the fundamental Epistle to the Romans right through the whole extent of the New Testament. I know no part in it (unless it be the Epistle of James, which does not take up redemption, but rather looks on the new birth or the new life), which does not present the substance of the truth which is now before us, — that we come under the bullock as well as the incense, to speak Levitically. We have, therefore, special privileges associated with Aaron and his priestly house, and indeed a vast deal more.
Mark this difference: though the blood of the goat entered within the veil, Israel never got beyond the brazen altar; we, on the contrary, draw near into the holiest, before the mercy-seat in the sanctuary. We draw near boldly unto the throne of God. We are entitled to behold the glory of God there in the face of Jesus Christ. You may perceive that other scriptures are here mingled along with this type which comes before us; but it is scarcely desirable too straitly to sever one truth from another. These are only used in order to show the fulness of the Christian roll of blessing. How comes it to pass that we have our privileges shadowed not only by the sons of Aaron but by Aaron himself? that they really can only be measured by Christ on high? It is because, as we know from other parts of scripture, we are made one with Christ. Union is not the doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews, simply because it is not the object shore. But he that wrote to the Hebrews is none other than the apostle who brought out the mystery concerning Christ and concerning the church as no man ever did before or since.
It was enough here to set out the peculiar and heavenly status of the Christian in virtue of Christ’s work and priesthood. He is associated with Christ in perfect nearness to God, for who could think of Christ as one that separates from God? He is the very One that brings us nigh. Because of His own person, all the more acceptable to God because displayed in the dependence and holiness of man here below, Christ was entitled to the presence of God. But He would not go along. He loved His master, He loved His wife, He loved His children; He was the true Hebrew servant, and would serve for ever and ever. He laid down His life, that He might take it again in resurrection. He was the corn of wheat which, having fallen into the ground, died bearing much fruit. He gave Himself for us, and loved to the end.
Very different were we, apart from that life which was laid down for us that we too might live of His life. We belonged to the first man, as now to the Second, the last Adam, for ever. What does this import? It is what God teaches His children, even you. It is what we are meant to enjoy here as Christ’s house. As is the Heavenly, such are they also who are heavenly. It stamps His whole character, His own associations, His proper relationships, as far as possible, upon the Christian. Is it then the lot or attainment of some only? His grace confers it upon all. There is no Christian save in this near position. It is in no case left us to choose our own place before God. It is God that has chosen us, having given Christ for us; and God will have nothing less as a measure and character of blessing to us than the measure of His own beloved Son, the First-born among many brethren. Here again one may observe another expression of it according to the scope of the Epistle to the Romans. But almost everywhere is presented the same blessed association with Christ.
This, in short, is just the text on which the Spirit preaches habitually (Col. 3:11): “Christ is all and in all.” Do we desire to know, not merely where Christ will be by and by, but where Christ is now? Then, according to the mind of God, He is not only all, but “in all,” i.e. in all Christians. There is the whole spring and character of Christian conduct. He is our life. It is in vain to look for Christian ways, unless you are in, and believe in, Christian relationship. Our ways are according to the relationships we fill. Our duties flow from what we are thus. It is not merely a question of right and wrong, of what we ought to do or be. This was law. But now it is a question of being consistent with Christ Who is all and in all. This is what we have as Christians. And what then is the standard of our consistency? Christ, and Christ in the presence of God.
Everything thus supports and carries out more and more manifestly the meaning of this instructive type — the blessing figured by the incense and the bullock, for those that belong to the Lord, while He is now within on high. Mark the force of this. Are we not brought into association with Christ while He is in the sanctuary? Properly speaking, there was no Christian until Christ entered the sanctuary. There were disciples before. A disciple might be a Christian or he might not. For we read of disciples not merely in the Gospels but in the prophecy of Isaiah (Isa. 8). Thus there were disciples belonging to the church of God, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles, as there were disciples before the church began. A disciple, therefore, is not necessarily or properly a Christian. Even when the church began, a disciple might not have the full Christian character, though he ought of course. Those disciples who went up to the temple to offer sacrifices under the law emerged from the Jewish condition into the Christian. By what means? Christ’s death on the cross, known intelligently to faith, and the gift of the Holy Ghost consequent upon His blood-shedding. It is Christ on high that stamps the full and proper Christian character upon us. But this evidently falls in with our relationship to Christ as His house; indeed all our characteristic blessing now depends upon His being there in virtue of His atoning work. We could not of course have title to be there but through His death. Therefore we must all come in through that narrow door of His cross. And no soul will stoop so low save by being born again, as there is no means of reconciliation with God, still less of being Christ’s house, unless our sins are borne away. But the goat of substitution, supplementing that of propitiation, for they constitute the atonement for the people, does not give the full measure of the Christian. It is the necessary foundation for guilt outside. Without it there could be no remission of sins, not to speak of the full privileges of Christianity. But there are privileges beyond it, figured by the bullock and the incense.
Take as an illustration the initiatory sign of Christian faith. We all know that baptism is that, without going into controverted points of mode and subject. What does baptism mean? Is it a sign of life? The Romanists will tell you so, and others who are like them, which they ought not to be. Baptism, contrariwise, is a sign of Christ’s death. Hence the Lord instituted proper Christian baptism after, and not before, He rose from the dead. What, then, is really taught in that initiatory institution? That one is buried with Christ. Is that life? Is it not plainly one put in the place of death with Christ? Where also would be the propriety of being buried with Him through baptism into life? Were it a sign of life-giving to a soul destitute of it previously, one could understand the figure of the breast or the cradle of the mother church; but how incongruous with the death of Christ, and with burial? The ordinary doctrine that connects baptism with new-birth is unmitigated Popish error, indeed the delusion of the Fathers before Popery. Baptism is not even the sign, still less the means, of life, but of death and burial with Christ. The Old Testament saints had life, ages before baptism or circumcision. Baptism is the sign of a new and distinctively Christian privilege that none could enjoy before our Lord died and rose.
The Old Testament saints hung on God’s promise; and perhaps some of you may be “grasping at the promises” now. Would to God you knew better! Do not suppose that anything is meant disrespectful to the ancients, or unkind to anybody here. Would to God you might be aroused from clinging to what was then of faith, true and right, according to God, when there was nothing more. But, now that an incomparably “better thing” is revealed, why are you so obstinately cleaving to that which fails to express the full grace of God towards your soul? It is not merely a promised Messiah, but the rejected and crucified Son of man, Who was dead, and is risen and glorified in heaven. Has all that brought in no difference? Why, the atoning work is done. It is no longer promise, but accomplishment. This has made a vast difference for God; surely it ought to make at least as great a difference for you, and it would if you understood by faith the gospel. We are brought into proportionately greater privileges.
The work the Father gave the Son to do is accomplished to His glory, Who has therefore glorified the Son and is now giving every blessing short of the resurrection for His heavenly kingdom. We are even seated in heavenly places in Christ though not, yet taken in person to be seated with Him in heaven. How strong and holy is that great basis of Christianity as revealed in 2 Cor. 5! Him Who knew no sin He made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. What a blessed character of righteousness is come before God! It is what Christ is made to us from God.
When the Holy Ghost was given, it was, as our Lord said, to convince the world of three things — of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. Of sin, on what ground? Because they violated the law? Not so, nor because they had an accusing conscience, but “because they believe not on Me.” A Gentile only thinks of himself; a Jew perhaps of the law, as some others seem to know no better, though they ought; but our Lord puts the true measure. Christ brought in the perfect standard. “The law made nothing perfect.” There is now the introduction of a better hope, and the rejection of Christ therefore becomes the great sin. If He had not come, and spoken, as well as done, beyond all others, they had not had sin; but now they had no excuse for their sin; they had both seen and hated both Him and His Father — yea, hated Him without a cause. The test-sin therefore is the not believing on Him. What. ever people may argue for other things, that is God’s present standard. But what is His conviction in respect of “righteousness?” The world is by the Spirit proved to be unrighteous, because it rejected the Holy One; as God the Father has proved His righteousness, because He has received the rejected Christ to His own right hand. “Because I go to the Father, and ye behold me no more.”
From that point of view Christ is lost to the world. When He comes again, it will not be to present Himself in grace or to preach the kingdom. He will come to judge both quick and dead; He will judge the habitable earth in righteousness. It will not be the day of grace as now, in order that men may believe on Him. This will be all past. The world proved its unrighteousness by crucifying Christ; the Father by receiving the rejected Son, so that He is thus seen no more. Righteousness is proved in Christ gone to the Father at the right hand of God in heaven: and thereby you who believe are made God’s righteousness in Him. We are identified with Christ at the right hand of God. What a high standard of righteousness this is! Truly it is the righteousness of God, though infant tongues among the children of God have not yet learned to lisp it aright. But oh! what a blessed privilege. It is not merely a perfect life of obedience under the law on the earth as a whole, nor a making reparation for countless failures of His people in all the isolated details of their lives; but as God showed His righteousness in raising up and glorifying the rejected One, so do we also by grace become God’s righteousness in Him. That man in Christ should be in His glory on high is righteousness; that, in an unbelieving world, we who believe should be identified with Him in that glory by virtue of His work of redemption is another wondrous result of that same righteousness of God.
This, one can see, is connected in the closest way with the sin-offering, the bullock slain for Aaron and his house. No doubt the believers of Israel looked for the Messiah to come in the due time and bless the people. But when the Son of man comes, Be will, after solemn judgment, reign in Zion expressly, but over the earth (Ps. 2, Zech. 14) where will be a temple, veil, priesthood, etc., once more. The Christians from among the Jews for themselves merge their earthly expectation in the better and heavenly hope suitable to knowing Christ, as we do, on high, instead of in connection with the earth. For indeed there is now but “one body and one Spirit.” Therefore do we, if we understand our calling, though we rightly begin as poor outside sinners, enter within the sanctuary, whence the Spirit is come, while Christ is there, to unite us to Him. It is where Christ is hidden from man, hidden in God, that we, Jew or Gentile, now know Him. Instead of His coming forth from the sanctuary to give us remission of sins, as it will be verified by grace to expectant Israel by and by, the Holy Ghost is sent down by the Father and the Son to associate us with Christ in the glory where He sits now. That distinctively is Christianity. Would to God that every one of us entered into this and more as our proper portion! It is not as a merely interesting doctrine that it is now laid before you, but as truth bound up with Christ’s glory, and hence of the deepest moment for the Spirit Who blesses our souls in glorifying Him.
For as the Jew was in danger of overlooking the relationships, and hence the duties, of Israel, so are we exposed specially to forget our own place and our own responsibility. An active and subtle foe would ever dishonour God by our failure as by theirs. We need, therefore, to be watchful that we neglect not that which most nearly concerns the glory of God by us. And as Christ is objectively the truth, so is He the only one Who works by the Holy Ghost and the word to keep us from all mistakes and guide us into all truth. We should be wholly unfit for any such call of grace, unless, having life in the Son, we had peace through the blood of Christ’s cross. We, as believers, have eternal life in Him, the self-same life of Christ which was shown and tried and proved in all its perfection on the earth. And our consciences are purged by the blood which rent the veil and opened the way into the holies, God in all His moral being and majesty being for ever glorified thereby. It is because Christ is in the holiest, and we by faith know Him while there, the Holy Ghost is sent down not only that we may enjoy the blessed fruit of Christ’s work, but that we may enter freely, boldly, in spirit where He is. When the Lord comes forth for the people, there will be quite another condition.
But I ought to point out now, how before He quits heaven, we have in ver. 16 the reconciliation of the holy place and the altar (of incense, I presume), no man being there but the high priest while He makes atonement for it till He comes out (ver. 17-19). The counterpart of this we read in Heb. 9:23, “The heavenly things themselves, with better sacrifices than these.” Such is God’s nice care for His dwelling. I only allude to it by the way. No man was to be with the high priest in this unutterably solemn action. He does it all Himself. He was for this purpose alone with God. Nothing mingled with the atonement of Christ. That it should be absolutely fit for the divine glory, the highest perfection for His own to enjoy, He does the work in His own person to the exclusion of every other. This made all sure. How precious to God the Father, and how blessed for us, whose souls should delight not only in the work, but in Him who did all, suffered all, perfectly to God’s glory, that all might be of grace!