The day of atonement brought the three courts of the tabernacle into one. On that day the high priest passed from the outmost to the innermost; implying that he had equally to do with all the holy places, and that they whom he represented had also to do with these.
He carried the incense from the golden altar into the holiest; and he carried the blood from the brazen altar into the same. It was one blood, one incense, one priest for all the three.
The blood, which was sprinkled on the mercy- seat, was from without. The sacrifice was not slain in the inner courts, but in the outer. It was blood from without that was carried in the priestly basin within the veil, sprinkling the veil, the floor, the ark, the mercy-seat, and the feet of the cherubim as they stood upon the golden covering. In being carried within, it lost none of its expiating virtue and value: rather, it seemed to acquire more virtue and more value as it lay upon the furniture of the holy of holies.
Its efficacy, when thus brought within the veil, was enhanced; and it did not the less speak to those without because itself was within. It had come from without, and its voice spoke to those who were without. It spoke but from one small point, yet it goes beyond the tabernacle, beyond Israel, beyond Palestine, to the men of every kindred and nation, and tongue and people. It contained a world-wide message, so that each one hearing of that atoning blood might at once say, Then God is summoning me back to Himself; He is saying to me, “be you reconciled to me”; He is sending to me, from the altar and the mercy-seat, an invitation of mingled righteousness and grace.
This propitiation rests on substitution. In all these symbolical transactions we have one vast thought,–the transference of guilt from one to another, legally and judicially; the presentation of one death for another, as perfectly valid for all ends of justice, and quite as suitable before God as the judge, to meet every governmental claim as the direct infliction of the appointed penalty on the actual transgressor.
There are two things which the whole Levitical service assumes, and without which it is simple mockery of man: that Sin is reality, and that Substitution is righteousness.
1. Sin is a real thing. Men do not think so, even when with their lips they utter the word. It is but a shadow to them, a mere name, no more.
Sin is a sore evil. It is not felt to be so, yet it is not the less truly such. It is not hated, it is not shunned as an evil,–an evil whose greatness no one can measure or tell. When men speak of it they do so as painters speak of shade in a scene or picture; as rather a needful thing, rather, a thing of beauty in its own way. They have no due sense or estimate of it at all. It is not to them what it is to God. It is not by any means in their books what it is in the book of God.
Yet, right views of sin are the key to the Bible, the key to the history of the world, and the key to God’s purposes concerning it. He who does not know what sin is cannot understand the Bible. It must be a dark and strange book to him. He cannot solve the difficulties of the world’s history. All is perplexed and contradictory. He cannot enter into God’s purposes respecting it either in curse or in blessing, either in condemnation or redemption. Sin is not misfortune, but guilt; not disease, but crime; not an evil, but the evil, the evil of evils, the root of all evils; terrible in itself as fraught with all that we call “moral evil,” and terrible in its judicial effects as necessarily and inexorably bound up with irresistible and irreversible condemnation.
In spite of all the divine teaching, both in God’s book and in the world’s history, man refuses to believe that sin is what God has proclaimed it, and what its own development, in the annals of the ages, has shown that it really is.
The first and fundamental lesson of the Levitical service is the infinite evil of sin. Sacrifice is God’s declaration of His estimate of SIN. Strike this thought out of it, and sacrifice is simple barbarism,–a coarse emblem of the vengeance of a Jupiter, or a Moloch, or a Baal upon helpless creaturehood.
2. Substitution is righteousness.–I do not argue this question; I merely indicate that scripture assumes this.
Often has the doctrine of substitution been evil spoken of as a slander against God’s free love. It has been called a commercial transaction, a bargain inconsistent with true generosity, a money-payment of so much love for so much suffering. Philosophy, falsely so called, has frequently, by such representations, striven to write down a truth for which it could not find a niche in its speculations, and of which the philosopher himself had never felt his need. With any book less buoyant than the Bible to float it up, this doctrine must long before this have been submerged under the weight of ridicule, which the wisdom of this world has brought to bear upon it.
But it has been seen that the Bible and the truth of substitution cannot be sundered. They must sink or float together. The great philosophic puzzle with many, who were not prepared to cast off the Scriptures, was how to disentangle the two, so as to strike out the doctrine and yet preserve the old Book.
This difficulty has been felt all the more, because in the Bible itself there are no indications of any misgivings as to the doctrine, no explanations meant to smooth angularities and make the doctrine less philosophically objectionable. As if unconscious of the force of any such objection, it makes use of figures, once and again, which are directly taken from the commercial transactions of life. Even if what is branded as the mercantile theology could be proved untrue, it is certainly very like what we find in the Bible; nor can one help feeling that if the above theology be untrue, it is rather strange that the Bible should lay itself so open to the suspicion of favouring it.
For, after all, the strongest statements and most obnoxious figures are those of that Book itself. Eliminate these and we are ready to hear how philosophy can argue. We do not say “explain them,” we say “eliminate them”; for our difficulty lies in the simple existence of such passages. Why are they there, if substitution and transference be not true? They are stumbling-blocks and snares. Let these passages themselves bear the blame, if blame there is. It is idle to revile a doctrine, yet leave the figures, from which it is drawn, untouched and uncondemned.
Substitution may be philosophical or unphilosophical, defensible or indefensible; still it is imbedded in the Bible; specially in the sacrificial books and sacerdotal ordinances. Its writers may be credited or discredited; but no one can deny that substitution was an article of their creed, and that they meant to teach this doctrine if they meant anything at all. We might as well affirm that Moses did not mean to teach creation in Genesis, or Israel’s deliverance in Exodus, as that he did not profess to promulgate Substitution in Leviticus. Substitution is in that book beyond all question; along with that book let it stand or fall.
There is then substitution revealed to us beyond mistake in Scripture; revealed in connection with Israel’s worship, Israel’s tabernacle, and Israel’s Messiah. The special thing in that service, in that sanctuary, and in that Deliverer, with which substitution is connected, is THE BLOOD. Hence it is with blood that we find atonement, expiation, and propitiation connected. For the blood is the life; and it is the substitution of one life for another that accomplishes these results, and brings with it these blessings to the guilty.
Let me take two passages, one from the Old Testament, the other from the New, in illustration of what the blood is affirmed to be and to do. I give but a brief sketch of what I suppose they include; but it will suffice to show what Scripture teaches on the subject.
The first is Zechariah 9:11, “As for thee also, BY THE BLOOD OF THY COVENANT I have sent forth your prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.” Blood here is declared to be the cause of deliverance,–the blood of the covenant; as if without this covenanted blood-shedding there could be no setting free of the prisoner. The blood goes in, the prisoner comes out. The blood touches his chain, and it falls off. The blood drops on the prison-bar, and the gate flies open. It is blood that does it all; blood whose virtue is recognised by God; blood whose effects and results are embraced in the everlasting covenant; the covenant of peace, the covenant of deliverance, the covenant of liberty, the covenant of life. But let us look more closely at the language of the prophet.
The words “as for thee also,” or “you also,” are the very words of our Lord, when weeping over Jerusalem; “Even you,” you, the guiltiest of the guilty, the most undeserving and unloveable of all. Thus our text starts with a declaration of the great love of God,–Messiah’s love to Israel,– “Yes, He loved the people.” “God is love,” runs through this whole passage; and “where sin abounded grace did much more abound.”
To this passage the apostle seems to refer in Hebrews 13:20, as to the bringing up Christ from the dead by the blood of the everlasting covenant. The prophet’s words were fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection, as Hosea’s (Hosea 11:1) were in his return from Egypt. (See also Psalm 18 and Psalm 40)
The words of Zechariah shall yet be fulfilled in Israel. The day of deliverance for the beloved nation is surely coming. She shall know the power of the covenant-blood to protect, to deliver, to save, to bless. It is not simply “blood” expiating sin in general, but “covenant-blood,” linking that expiation specially to Israel, and Israel to it. It is passover- blood, bringing out of Egypt. Passing over this, however, let us take up the words in their widest sense. Let us see what the covenant-blood can do, not for Israel only, but for us.
The blood finds us “prisoners,” captives, “lawful captives,” exiles. It finds us righteously condemned, sold to our enemies, under wrath. Let us see what it does for us.
1. It removes the necessity for imprisonment. Such a necessity did exist. Law must take its course. Its claims must be satisfied. No leaving the prison till the uttermost farthing has been paid. The blood has made the satisfaction. It has met the claim. It has provided for the payment of the penalty. The necessity for the imprisonment no longer exists. The law consents.
2. It makes it right for God to deliver. Deliverance must be the work of righteousness, not of Almightiness alone. It was righteousness that sent the sinner to prison, and barred the door against all exit. It is righteousness that must bring him out; and this righteousness is secured by the blood of the covenant. It is now as unrighteous to detain the captive, as before it would have been unrighteous to bring him out.
3. It opens the prison-door. That door is locked, and barred, and guarded. No skill can open it, no force can unbar it, no money can bribe its guards. It cannot be opened by the earthquake, or the fire, or the lightning. Only righteousness can open it; and that prison-opening righteousness comes through the blood of the covenant; the great blood-shedding makes the prison-gates fly open; it rolls away the stone.
4. It makes it safe for the prisoner to come forth. For the avenger stands outside, on the watch. He has a right to be there. He has a right to seize the prisoner, and to take vengeance. But the blood stays all this. The covenant-blood conducts the prisoner out, and the sight of it bids the avenger flee. That avenger was the executioner of guilt, and the guilt is gone. The blood has removed that which gave him power. He sees the blood, and withdraws his hand.
5. It reconciles to God. It is the blood of propitiation, the blood of atonement. It makes up the variance between the sinner and God. It removes the ground of distance and dispeace. It brings near those that were afar off, by making distance no longer a righteous necessity, and nearness a thing of which the law approves, and in which God delights. It is reconciling blood.
6. It redeems. “You hast redeemed us to God by Your blood.” It is the ransom or purchase-money. It was necessary that the sinner, sold and imprisoned, should be bought back again at a price such as would satisfy law and justice. And the blood has been found to be ample payment,–the very ransom needed by those whom death had made captive.
7. It cleanses. We are washed from our sins in this covenant-blood; our robes are washed white in the blood of the Lamb. All that sin had done this blood undoes. All its pollution this blood washes away. It is purifying blood; and, as such, it fits for worship, for drawing near to God.
8. It pacifies. It comes into contact with the sinner’s conscience, and removes the sense of guilt,– takes away the terror. The soul is at peace, and is kept in peace by this blood. “He has made peace by the blood of His cross.”
Let these things suffice to show the power of the covenant-blood. Such it was, such it is, such it will be.
It is as efficacious as ever. It has lost none of its power. Age does not change it, nor repeated use weaken its efficacy. It can still do all it once did for the sinner. Its potency is divine.
It is as sufficient, as suitable, as free, as near as ever. He whose blood it is comes up to each of us, and presents it to us in all its fulness and power. Take it as it is presented, and all the benefits of this covenant-blood forthwith become yours; and though you may be the unworthiest of the unworthy, you are reckoned by God clean every whit; a forgiven sinner, a delivered prisoner, a saved man.
The second passage to which I would refer is Hebrews 10:19-22:– “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest (or literally ‘the holies’ ‘or holy places’) by the blood of Jesus; by a new and living way which He has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say his flesh; and having an High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”
As in the former passage, so in this, it is only a brief sketch that I can here give; not attempting to expound the words or illustrate the argument, but to bring out the emboldening of which the apostle speaks in connection with the blood. Deliverance by the blood was the idea of the former passage; boldness by the blood is the idea of this. The boldness comes to us from what that blood reveals to us of God, and of the way in which He has met the sinner and provided for his entrance into the sanctuary as a worshipper.
It is not so much doctrine that the apostle delivers to us in his Epistles, as “the fulness of Christ,” that fulness as supplying the sinner’s wants and as bringing him into that relationship to God, which God’s purpose of redemption designed, and which was needful for the sinner’s blessedness.
God’s full provision in Christ for us as sinners is continually brought before us; and we are invited to avail ourselves of it. The provision for the removal of wrath, for pardon, for reconciliation, for service, is fully detailed, that we may know the “manifold grace of God” and “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” For instance:–
In the Epistle to the Romans we have the provision in Christ fitting us for work:–viz., that righteousness of God which delivers us from condemnation and sets us free to serve or work for Him who has delivered us: and in the last chapter of that epistle we have the list of a noble band of apostolic workers.
In the Epistle to the Ephesians we have the provision for conflict:–viz, the being filled with the Spirit and His gifts, that we may wrestle against principalities and powers. The armour and weapons for the warfare are described in the concluding chapter.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews we have the provision for worship. For God is seeking worshippers, and He has made provision for making such. It is to worship that He calls us in this epistle; and He points to that which enables us to become acceptable worshippers:–to that which, so soon as it is understood and believed, turns the chief of sinners and the farthest off of prodigals into an acceptable and happy worshipper.
He assumes that “boldness” or “confidence” is essential to this: and this boldness has been provided. There is,
1. the open door of the sanctuary;
2. liberty to enter;
3. boldness in drawing near to God;
4. access to all the courts; for the expression is not simply “the holiest” but “the holy places”; as if we had the fullest right to every part of the sanctuary, the full range of the holy places.
This boldness is the opposite of dread, and darkness, and suspicion, and uncertainty. It is not merely the reversal of Adam’s flying from God into the trees of the garden, but it is the entire removal of all sense of danger, or fear of unacceptableness,– no, it is the importation of childlike and unhesitating confidence, in virtue of which we go in without trembling and without blushing; for God’s provision is so ample that in going into His courts and going up to His throne we are neither afraid nor ashamed. All that would have produced such feelings has been taken away. This boldness is effected,
1. By something outside us. It is not anything within us,–our evidences, or experiences, or feelings; not even our regeneration, and our being conscious of the Spirit’s work in us. It is entirely by something outside us,–the blood of Jesus.
2. By something in the heavens. It is into the heaven of heavens that we are to enter in worshipping God; and that which gives us boldness in entering there, must be something which has been presented there, as the apostle says,– “the heavenly things themselves by better sacrifices than these.” The blood was shed on earth, but presented in heaven; Christ entered in with His own blood.
3. By something about which there can be no mistake. The question as to the existence of the blood or its being presented in heaven, is settled once for all on the authority of God. We need not reason about it. God has told us that it has been done. As to our own feelings there may be many mistakes; but as to the presentation of the blood, there can be no doubt and no mistake. It is a certainty; and on that certainty we rest.
4. By something which shows that the ground of dread is removed. The dread arose from the thought,
1. I am guilty;
2. God must be my enemy;
3. I dare not come near him;
4. He must condemn me.
The blood of Jesus meets these causes of terror, and shows the provision which God has made for the removal of them all. The sight of the blood dispels my terror and relieves my conscience, and says, Be of good cheer. For it shows the penalty paid by a substitute,–the full penalty; a divine life given in room of a human life, the wages of sin paid by the death of a divine substitute.
5. By something which God has accepted. God has accepted the blood! He raised Him whose blood it is; and this was acceptance. He set Him on His throne at His right hand. This is acceptance. He presents him as the Lamb slain. This is acceptance. He has testified to His acceptance of it. It is blood which God has accepted for that pardon and cleansing and reconciling that we preach; blood by which law is magnified and righteousness exalted.
6. By something which glorifies God. That blood- shedding glorifies Him. The sinner’s admission and entrance glorifies Him,–glorifies Him more than his exclusion and banishment and death. The blood by which God is thus glorified in receiving the sinner, must give boldness. I am going in to glorify God; and my going in will glorify Him, in consequence of that blood,–this cannot but embolden me.
7. By something which tells that God wants my worship. God came down seeking worshippers. He wants your worship,–this is His message. That tabernacle says He wants you as a worshipper. That laver, blood, incense, mercy-seat, all say He wants you as a worshipper. He is in earnest in seeking you to worship Him. He wants you to come in and serve in His courts,- -as a priest!
We go in through the open gate, the rent veil: by the new and living way, the blood-dropped pavement. Personally we are sprinkled from an evil conscience; i.e., at the altar; our bodies are washed, i.e., at the laver. Thus there are such things as the following, resulting from all this.
1. Liberty of conscience. I mean liberty of conscience before God. A “good conscience” comes to us through the blood upon the mercy-seat. A conscience void of offence before men we may have in other ways, but only in this can all have a conscience void of offence before the Searcher of hearts. It is the blood which purges the conscience from dead works, as did the water mixed with the ashes of the red heifer cleanse the Israelite who had touched a dead body. By the blood the “true heart” comes.
2. Confident approach to God. Instead of flying from God, we turn to Him. Instead of trembling as we cross the threshold of His sanctuary, we lift up our heads like those who know that only here are they on secure ground,–like the flying manslayer entering the gate of the Refuge City. The blood removes the dread, and makes us feel safe even under the holy light of the glory. We are protected by the blood; we are comforted by the blood: for this blood casts out all fear.
3. Happy communion. A sinner’s fellowship with God must be carried on through the blood. That blood was meant to remove everything that would have hindered communion; or that would have kept God at a distance from the sinner, and the sinner at a distance from God. But it is not merely that we are brought near by the blood of Christ; we are brought near in the fulness of a tranquil spirit, which feels that it can now unbosom itself to God, in the certainty of confiding love. Fear has been supplanted by joy. The communion is the communion of trusting happy hearts, pouring out their love into each other; and the Spirit bears witness to the blood in this respect, by imparting the childlike frame, and teaching us to cry Abba Father.
4. Spiritual service. There seems nothing spiritual in the blood; and yet without the blood spiritual service is an impossibility. Abel’s sacrifice seemed a more carnal thing than Cain’s offering of the choicest fruits of Eden, yet it was in Abel’s that God recognised the spirituality and the acceptable service. It is the blood which divests us of that externalism which clings to the service of the sinner,–which strips us of a hollow ritualism; which turns death into life, hollowness into substance, and unreality into truth. Spiritual service has ever been connected with the blood-shedding of atonement, which by its appeal to the inner man, draws out the whole spiritual being in happy obedience and willing devoted service.
5. Holy worship. Holiness is not associated with darkness, or gorgeous rites, or glittering robes, or fragrant incense, or swelling music, or a magnificent temple, or an unnumbered multitude. All these may be unholy things, hateful to God. There may be the absence of all these, and yet there may be holy worship: the worship of holy lips; the worship of holy hands; the worship of holy knees; the worship of a holy soul.
It is the blood that consecrates; whether it be man or place, whether it be voice or soul. That which is presented to God must have passed through the blood, else it is unholy, however imposing and splendid. If it has come through the blood, it is holy, however small and mean and poor. All worship is unclean save that which has been sanctified by the blood.
All holy worship begins with the blood, and is carried on by means of the blood. We go within the rent veil to worship, not without blood. For it is the blood which sprinkled on the worshipper makes him first, and then his worship, acceptable. This is “entire consecration.”