In the preceding chapter, the apostle has touched on a very important point, which, as regarded the Hebrews, (and, indeed, any of us,) was a most absorbing one: I allude to the two covenants. The first covenant made at Sinai had a very distinct character, viz., requiring man’s righteousness, and therefore it gendered “to bondage.” What distinguished the law as a covenant was, that, instead of promise, it was blessing held out on the ground of obedience. The distinctive character of the ten commandments was, that they required obedience. All the prophets, indeed, spoke of failure in it; but all was connected with the old thing, and went on the ground of their obedience. That must be or not be; there is no question of a new nature. Now, we are told, “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” It is not a question of how he gets holiness: the holy nature will desire to obey, but it is a different thing to the righteousness of obedience. God’s nature is holy. I do not speak of God’s obedience—it is His nature, and we must have the new nature to be holy. The law showed God holy, but the condition of the law was, “If ye shall obey my voice.” The promises of God are connected under the law with the obedience of man. That covenant is now altogether put away. We are called to obedience, and we are sanctified unto obedience, but that is different to being put under conditions. The new covenant has made the former old. God brings in a new one, not according to the covenant He made with them when He brought them out of Egypt. In chap. 9 the apostle is pressing what the conditions of the new covenant are. If the old had been perfect, God would not have brought in a new one. God will not let man have blessing on that ground, and why? The reason is that He has tried man and found him unable to bring forth any thing good. If it is to be on the ground of my righteousness, I cannot have the blessing at all. Man must be convinced there is no good in himself. Man could never place himself on that ground but as maintaining the pride of the human heart that pretends to be able to gain it. The principle of requiring something from man is entirely set aside, and those who know God’s principle, know that it is only in the pride of the natural heart that man could take blessing in that way.
Unless grace, and simply grace, lays new ground, there is no hope whatever. God has brought in a new thing. He had marked out in the provision of bulls and goats, etc., another way of getting blessing. There must be coming to God by cleansing from sin, instead of on the ground of being clean. It was impossible for those things to take away sin. There was no relieving the conscience by these ceremonial observances, which were but shadows, and not the very image of the things to come. Besides the day of atonement, there were continual sacrifices needed to keep them clean; but there was no coming to God (saving in the sense in which He says, “I bare you on eagle’s wings and brought you unto myself.”) Christ died, the just for the unjust, to “bring us to God.” In the tabernacle service there was no coming near by the people or even by the priests. Nadab and Abihu took strange fire and offered that not taken from the burnt offering; and God says, Ye shall not come at all times, etc; but there was the great day of atonement, and the high priest even could only go in on that day with clouds of incense. There was no revelation of God whatever at that time: there was revelation from God, but not of God. He said, “I dwell in the thick darkness.” Moses could go into God’s presence without a veil. When he came out, he put a veil on his face, but when he went in, he took the veil off. Moses, as mediator,—type of Christ—represented the nation before God, but then the figure dropped; and we find Aaron could only go in once a year. His work was done behind the veil. God could give revelations of Himself to them, but never were their consciences in the presence of God. There was an unrent veil between God and the people and the priests also. This is very important to notice, because of the principle brought out in the contrast of our portion and the Jews’. We are in the presence of God, and we are always there; that is the Christian ground: they never were. Daily cleansing is needed with us, too; but still, we are always in the presence of God. This is very little realized by the people of God now. “If we walk in the light as he is in the light,” etc. The work is done once for all, and we are brought nigh by virtue of that work; and if we are not there through that work, we never can get there. I am speaking of God looking for atonement, and our standing in the presence of God, not the children with the Father. Our feelings may be varying from day to day, but our standing before God never changes in Christ. And if we reject this one sacrifice for sin, there is no other.
Verse 3, etc. Within the second veil none could enter. God’s reason for it is, “The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest.” The object of the veil was to show that the people could not come to God. He could give them laws, punish them if they broke them, enable them to look to Him; but they could not come near. If it is a question of being in His presence, I must come where He is. In His presence sin is not measured by transgression, but by what God is—“in the light as He is in the light.” “Ye were darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.” God’s people are now brought into His presence in the light, and always there; it is where God has placed them by faith—not a question of their feeling. As long as the first tabernacle was yet standing, this was not made manifest at all: God was hiding Himself. Directly the veil was gone, He must have let in the Gentiles as well as the Jews; but the very nature of the sacrifices shut out the thought of one eternal redemption. The repetition of them showed that sin was there, or they would not have been repeated. The one sacrifice for sin having been made, shows the sin to be entirely put away. The nature of those sacrifices was never to reveal God, and never to have the conscience perfect.
There is another practical thing to be noticed here. He does not merely say sin is put away, but the conscience is perfect; no more conscience of sins (not sinning); that is the same as a perfect conscience. We all have a conscience of sinning, but if I have a conscience of sin I cannot come to God, but am like Adam hiding from Him. What we have here is not only sin put away in the presence of God, but put away from the conscience, too. Many own the former, but think they need repeated forgiveness, repeated cleansing with blood. How could sin be put away? It could not be but by the suffering of Christ. Must Christ, then, suffer again?
There was piety in the Old Testament, and piety is a blessed thing, but there was never a purged conscience. We never find in the most pious persons under the law the sense of being in the presence of God. The high priest must go once a year within the veil with clouds of incense; but now the holiest is made manifest, the veil being rent from top to bottom, and the conscience as perfect as the light in which we stand.
Verse 10 Certain things were imposed on them until the time of reformation. Christ came “an High Priest of good things to come.” What does that refer to? Some may find a difficulty as to whether “to come” refers to what was future for the Jews, while that tabernacle was standing, or to what is now future. I believe both. All was new in Christ. It was to come on a new foundation. The basis is laid for the entire and perfect reconciliation of man with God.
Verse 7 Under the old covenant, it was only “the errors of the people” that were forgiven. Now God takes up the spring of a man altogether. The old covenant dealt with man on the ground of obedience; now God is bringing the sinner himself into a new condition before Him. The old covenant was a partial remedy with the declaration that they could not come into God’s presence. While this kept up a testimony for God, now a new thing is brought out, not to patch up the old thing—that was the old even in its remedial character; but now it is the bringing in a new thing entirely—giving a new nature in Christ. The Jewish system provided no remedy for great sins (“keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins”); it was a provision for the old man without seeing God, instead of bringing man perfect, in a new nature, into the presence of God.
Rom. 3 God declares His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, etc. Righteousness was never revealed under the law—God bore with things, but there was no declaration of righteousness. Now it is “to declare his righteousness.” Righteousness was revealed when the atonement was made. Directly it is other ground than promise given to those walking by faith, as Abraham, there is no coming into the presence of God. The old covenant goes on the old ground; the new covenant goes on new ground. The work of Christ and the blood of Christ are not provision for the sins of the old man, but for the perfecting of the conscience of the new man, to set him in the presence of God. We could not be in the presence of God with one spot upon us; we are brought into heaven itself. He is gone in once into the holy place, not gone in to come out again and go in; but by virtue of His own blood He is gone in once. God looking upon the blood cannot see sin. It is not a question of my value of that blood, but the conscience rests on the value God finds in it. “When I see the blood I will pass over.” My heart wants to value it more, but the question is, how could I be in the presence of God with a spot upon me? God looks on that blood, and if He looks on the blood, He cannot look on the sin; if He did, it would not value the blood. Where is the blood? It has been presented to God, not to man, and God has accepted it. Impossible that God can impute sin to a believer, it would be slighting the blood of Christ.
Another thing is, it is for ever and ever done. What is faith? It is thinking as God thinks. If I say Christ is gone in once with His own blood, does that ever cease to be there? Then I cannot cease to be perfect; Christ has either done the work for ever or not at all. Another word gives it such power, too, “having obtained eternal redemption,” and it is “once for all.” How long is it to last? For ever. There is not only cleansing, but redemption. He has taken me up out of where I was, into the presence of God—appropriated me in the presence of God for ever. Has He taken me up in an unclean state? While the veil was there, I could not be taken into God’s presence; but now it is a question of the work of Christ bringing me there. Has He brought me there in an unfit state? Impossible! He has “obtained eternal redemption for us,” “who, through the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God.” We get here, first, His own perfect will in it. He offered Himself; not only, “Lo I come;” but, here filled with the Spirit, He offers Himself up. Christ having become a man, He was obedient in all things; but another thing was, He came to offer sacrifice. As a victim, He was man, spotless man, and the giving Himself up as a sacrifice was His own act; through the eternal Spirit He did it. It is not here the point of sins being laid upon Him, but the giving Himself up, for the whole question of good and evil to be settled on Him in God’s presence. He gave Himself up for God to do what He would with Him, to make Him a curse if He would; and He was made a curse; yet it was His own will to come into that place.
It was redemption man needed, not only a little cleansing. Redemption was being taken out of the condition in which we were. God’s glory needed to be vindicated where God had been dishonoured. Here was man in rebellion, and in ruin as well as rebellion, under Satan, and He (Christ) must suffer, for God to be glorified—He offered Himself up. Here it was by the power of the Eternal Spirit. There was divine energy in the man, not mere feeling, etc, and it was “without spot,” when He was tried even unto death. He became a burnt offering, and that was a sweet savour to God. Every movement of His will was pure, purity in all His thoughts and acts, and there was the unhesitating giving up of Himself to be made even that hateful thing, sin. He would be made sin, made a curse, even unto death; He offered Himself up without reserve; “He was made sin for us;” but He gave Himself up for it: therefore it was a sweet savour. None of the sin offerings were a sweet savour to God: the word used for consuming them is not the same as the burnt offering. For the sin offering, it was merely a word signifying burning, used; in the other it means a sweet savour. It not being imposed upon Him, but His offering Himself up, made it this. All through His life He knew no sin, but on the cross the sin was laid upon Him, and He went through death for it. It led to death—its wages. Therefore we read of the blood, “How much more shall the blood of Christ,” etc. Two things there are, the person offering Himself, and the proof of His death for sin; blood being the proof of death. There is a cleansing, purging, daily; but that is with water, and not for forgiveness; and the Father forgiving is another thing. “Without shedding of blood is no remission.” How clearly this shows that if it is not done by this, it never can be; the blood never can be shed again. “Purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Here, again, we come back to the conscience. “How much more shall the blood of Christ … so eternal inheritance;” (14,15,) there is perpetuity spoken of again, too.
Ver. 13 Two things are here alluded to, and not indiscriminately: the great day of atonement, when bulls and goats were offered, and the red heifer, which was for daily cleansing for communion. This was one thing; the other was done once a year, for then it was repeated year by year continually. The blood of the victim was taken into the holy place, and the body burnt outside. This was significant of Judaism done with. Israel was the camp. They had a fleshly religion—flesh in connexion with God; and it could never answer. It was appointed to prove man. Here the blood was carried in. The scapegoat took away the sins confessed over it into the wilderness. Thus the sins were gone. Now our position is having a place inside the veil by the blood, and sin gone. That is our place, shown thus in the type. The “heifer” was for sprinkling the unclean—not with blood, but with water and something connected with it, viz., the ashes of the heifer. A heifer was to be taken that had never borne the yoke; and a clean man was to slay the heifer, and sprinkle the blood seven times, always in the presence of God. Its value always is in the presence of God. But a defiled person, even through touching death, could not go there. The ashes were to be taken with the running water, showing the sin all consumed in the sacrifice offered long ago. The things we have failed about are the very things Christ died for; and the Spirit brings to the conscience the sense of that defilement for which Christ died, and which He put away. This makes me feel the sin much more, while it makes me see it has all been put away. It is not so much the question of guilt, but of the terrible nature of sin that occupies me. It is the re-sprinkling with water, not blood; because the re-sprinkling with the blood would call in question its permanent value. The Spirit brings to my conscience and heart the value of Christ’s death, and so communion is restored, which is hindered by a sinful thought, etc.
Two instances we have of sprinkling with blood once for all—in the priest and the leper; the whole walk and thoughts consecrated to God according to the value of Christ’s blood. But that never loses its value. If I do not walk according to the value of it, the Spirit of God brings to my remembrance that my sin brought Christ to ashes. This gives a much deeper sense of the sin. We find out that we have allowed ourselves to be carried away by that which brought God’s wrath out, and for which Christ agonized.
“To serve the living God.” Under the old covenant, obedience was required from man in his Adam-nature; a veil was before God, and man outside—and he must stay outside. The sacrifices made a temporary provision for intercourse with God, but there was no coming to God. Christ, as High Priest of good things to come, brings the new man into the presence of God for ever. The veil is rent, and there is a risen person with cleansing power in the presence of God. Such is the perfectness of the place in which we are set, and every inconsistency is judged according to it.
Verses 16,17 The word “testament” is rightly used in these two verses. It facilitates the understanding of the passage to see this. Excepting these two verses, read always “covenant.”
Thus we find a common event brought in as an illustration of Christ’s death. He left us all the blessing in dying—it came into complete force directly. We are freed once for all through His death. There is no alteration of it. The blessings of the new covenant became available, valid after His death.
The first must become old if there is to be a new one: the bringing in of the new one involves dying. In this Epistle we get very little of the humiliation part of Christ’s work. In the first chapter it is brought in in connexion with His divine person, “when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high.” The purging of our sins is spoken of by the way, and then we hear of His glory on high. The blessedness of Christ’s sacrifice, Christ exalted, and having honour put upon Him, are more the subjects in Hebrews. There are three aspects in which the value of Christ’s blood is here seen. First, it was the seal of the covenant, connected with its dedication to God. That was also done in connexion with the covenant with Abraham. (Gen. 15) A person, binding himself to death in the most solemn way, passes through the pieces of the sacrifice. It was the seal of the covenant. Second, it is purifying. Third, the blood is for remission.
First, the enjoining or sanction to it given by the blood. Another thing closely connected with that was consecration by blood. Blood was sprinkled on the leper for cleansing, and on the priest for consecration. The covenant sealed, and the people bound to it by blood; and the leper and the priest are the three cases in which persons are sprinkled. There must be blood, the power of death brought in, or there was entire separation from God. The wonderful efficacy of the blood of Christ is that it brought in death; those separated from God are brought back by His death. “You who were far off are brought nigh by the blood of Christ.” The blood was the figure of the life taken. When blood was taken the whole being of man was given up, and the agony of His soul on the cross was the separation from God. “My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me?” The consequences of it are most important to us. Man with all his perverse will, all his sin, where is it all, if he is dead? It is all gone, if he is dead. “He that is dead, is freed from sin.” There is an absolute cessation of the whole will and being in which he was, as a sinner. Christ has taken that place for me. Cain and Abel, as far as appearance went, were equally likely to get the blessing, but in the one was no faith. He did not own that death had come in between man and God. As long as man is seeking good from himself, he does not see himself dead. Are you seeking a dead man or a living man? You are seeking fruit from a living man, and not owning you are dead, if you are seeking fruit from yourself. I cannot search to see whether dead or not, if dead. Abel came by slain beasts to God. He had faith. We do not know how he learnt it, but death came in, and man was clothed in skins of animals. That is, in figure, what makes our peace. “He that is dead is freed from sin.” There was nothing done for man while Christ was alive, as to the putting away of sin. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.” All that was proved by it was, that man in his natural state could not be reconciled to God.
The first covenant was not made without the sprinkling of blood, but it threw back the man behind death. If you do not obey, all is lost. (Jer. 34:16,20) If they did not obey, they must die; because they promised obedience and sealed the promise by being sprinkled with the blood. In the case of Abraham, God made a promise to him, and sealed it by passing between the pieces, by death. The question was raised by the law of righteousness among living men. There were various figures which intimated the necessity of death coming in, but obedience was the rule and consequently all was failure. Yet all through the principle was brought out—there must be blood. Now, under grace we see the whole putting away of sin. If we had died, judgment must have come on us. Christ coming into it, and bearing the judgment for us, we are free from the whole thing.
When God gave the covenant, He gave it this sanction—the sprinkling of blood. Aaron himself was not sprinkled with blood, typical of Christ, who needed not to be consecrated with blood Himself, but brought blood in for others.
Then you get the sprinkling of vessels—not for forgiveness, but for cleansing. “Almost all things under the law are purged with blood,” (not all things are purified with blood,) because there is a purifying with water not connected with blood shedding. Out of His side came blood and water, representing the effectual grace of expiation and purifying. You could not have man morally purified without death; you must have death. Out of a dead Christ the water flows. Water signifies cleansing by the Spirit with the word. But there must be death—not the cleansing of the living old man; the old man is put to death—I do not own him alive, but there is something belonging to you (your members on the earth) to be mortified and kept in death. The ground is laid for purifying by the blood of the heifer, which was sprinkled seven times before the door of the tabernacle; but water is the figure used for cleansing, viz., “washing of water by the word.” “Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” Reckon yourselves to be dead and to have the power of life in Christ. I have neither life nor righteousness out of Christ. I have nothing out of Him. If I look for water to purify, or anything, it must be by death I get it; then there must be faith. If I look at myself as a living man in the world, I find my will working; then I am not really dead. If I set myself to enquire, I am not walking in faith. I am told to reckon myself dead—that is faith. You cannot mortify your members till you can say, I am dead. If the old man is not dead, it is sin. There was no putting away of sin but by death itself—taking life. “Without shedding of blood is no remission”—not sprinkling here; you must have the applying the punishment to the One who takes the sin. In the remission of sin is involved the whole of God’s character, majesty, glory. If God does not deal with sin as sin, there is no righteousness—it is indifference. There must be suffering for the sin; then as to death, I am clear of it.
Remission is not connected with sprinkling. This is important in a twofold way. First, there was actual suffering under the consequences of sin; and second, this could be but once. It was done once for all, and if the forgiveness of my sins is not perfect thereby, it never can be accomplished. It will never be done again. We learn more and more the value of the blood; but the work of Christ on the cross has a perfect value, into which the angels desire to look. The thing by which I have remission never can be done again. When I speak of water, it has its importance only so far as it washes; (there is washing and sprinkling spoken of); but not so with the blood; that had to be presented to God, the offended Judge. The efficacy of the blood is outside ourselves. As regards the man, he is cleansed once for all, but still that is connected with the man. That is not all; the blood has an efficacy in itself, as being the judgment for sin, and tells the tale to God that the judgment is passed over, the sin gone. God says, “When I see the blood I will pass over.” That makes the entire full distinction from personal application in cleansing. There is a special value in it for man, because a man when cleansed does not like to get dirty, while one not cleansed does not mind it. True, that as to the water when once regenerated by the word, it is done for ever—once for all; but there is besides the constant cleansing of the feet needed. There is no presenting of blood afresh to God—no fresh “shedding of blood.” There is increase of spiritual search needed by us to know more of the value of the blood, but there is no fresh searching needed by God for Him to know its value.
Ver. 21, etc. Three things were done on the day of atonement. Blood was put on the mercy-seat, representing Christ gone into heaven, the ground on which we can preach peace to all the world. That was connected with the Lord’s lot. His death glorified God, whether one or a thousand are saved.
All was in utter confusion by sin. What kind of world is this 1 Where is righteousness? Where is love? What folly there is in infidelity! How can men solve the riddle of all the misery we see around, without God? Where is the goodness of God to be seen? How can it be attempted to be explained without Christ? Indifference to sin is not love. Men try to persuade themselves God will be indifferent to sin. When I see God’s judgment for sin on Christ, I get at the centre of God’s heart—righteousness is satisfied, and what is more, God can rest in His love. And if you come as a sinner to God, and rest in Christ, it is a matter of the glory of God to see you there because of the blood.
“The heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices.” Satan and his angels are there and cleansing is needed. This purging is not remission. God must have His house cleansed as well as His people made righteous. (Comp. Col. 1).
On the people’s lot, the scapegoat, the particular sins of the people were confessed. This was substitution. (Ver. 26) And there is perpetual value in the sacrifice. He once suffered. This suffering was not the mere fact of death. The agony of His soul when he cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” was far deeper than the suffering of the separation of soul and body. Death was looked at as the wages of sin; God’s wrath was poured out on Him against the sin. (Death to Christ was not merely going out of the body into Paradise.) That never can be done again. He has gone in once into the holy place. If he went in often, He must have suffered often. “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down.” This does not mean for ever and ever, but unremittingly He is sitting at the right hand of God. I never can stand in the presence of God, but in the sacrifice of Christ, and that is never remitted. He has put sin away; why should He suffer again? He has put it away according to the glory of God. “Once in the end of the world hath he appeared.” That may appear strange, seeing nearly as much of the world’s history has gone on since as before Christ’s coming; but it does not mean chronologically, but the closing in of the ages. Up to that time God had been trying men as living men in the world. That is ended—man is not alive now (I speak of man morally, as judged by God); therefore it is said to the Colossians, “Why as though alive in the world?” Man has been tried as to life, and now the fig tree is cut down. Did it bear fruit? No! and it was cut down. The fig tree represented the Jewish nation, in whom God made trial of men under the best circumstances. “What have I not done to my vineyard?” Christ came looking for fruit from the fig tree, and finding none, He said, Cut it down; let no fruit grow on thee for ever. The “time for figs was not yet;” the fruit-bearing time not come. God, as it were, said, “they will reverence my Son.” No! then there is no fruit from man for ever. Man, looked at as in flesh, is under the sentence of death. “When we were yet without strength… Christ died for the ungodly.” Man is not only ungodly, but without power to get out of that state. Christ must close the history of the old man, by bearing the sin, and must bring in a new thing. Then God makes a feast and invites to the supper; when they not only refuse the Son, but they refuse the supper. Man has been fully tried, and now, if there is to be blessing, it must be not on the ground of responsibility, but wholly of grace, by the second Adam. (Rom. 5) If I believe this, I find out the truth about the old man by little and little. At first we only see gross sins perhaps. ‘ But what is to be done when I find I can do nothing,’ you say. Own you are undone. “In me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing.” “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Death is like the policeman to bring us up to the judgment. Then (ver. 28) we have the counterpart of this in grace. “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many,” “and to them that look for him,” all believers, “will He appear...without sin.” What does that mean? As to his own person, He was without sin the first time; but now the same One comes back—what for? To deal about the sins? No! That He has done the first time: and now, apart from that entirely, He comes to receive them to Himself. For those who trust in His first coming, and look for His second, there is nothing but blessing. There is a work done in us to make us sharers in that which has been done outside us, but this is the question of the work done for us, outside of ourselves altogether. What had I to do with the cross of Christ? The hatred that killed Him and the sins that He bore are all that sinners had to do in it; therefore there can never come a shade upon the love of God in the cross of Christ. It is perfect.