Ceremonial and Spiritual Cleansing
Hebrews 9:13, 14
For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh:…

For if the blood of bulls and of goats, etc.

I. THE HUMAN NEED OF CLEANSING. By implication our text teaches the moral defilement of man. Both under the Mosaic and under the Christian dispensation the impurity was moral. But in the earlier dispensation the external and ceremonial uncleanness was made most conspicuous. A very small thing led to this defilement. If a man unwittingly walked over a grave, or touched a dead human body, he was accounted unclean seven days (cf. Numbers 19:11-22). This was designed as a parable of spiritual uncleanness. It was intended to lead men to feel the contamination of sin. So in the Christian economy it is the internal and moral impurity that is exhibited, and the need of spiritual cleansing that is insisted upon. Sin is the corrupting, defiling, separating thing. The great need is a clean heart and a right spirit.

II. THE DIVINE METHODS OF CLEANSING. Our text brings before us two methods, that of the Mosaic economy and that of the Christian, the ceremonial and the spiritual.

(1) Both were of Divine origin.

(2) Both involved sacrifice as an essential element.

But in other respects these methods were widely different. Let us notice the method:

1. In the earlier dispensation.

(1) The sacrifices were of animal life. "The blood of goats and of bulls, and the ashes of a heifer."

(2) The application of the sacrifices was external or corporeal. The use of the blood of goats and bulls was external and visible (Leviticus 16.). The use of the ashes of the red heifer was external and corporeal (Numbers 19.). Both the sacrifices themselves and the application of them came within the region of the senses.

2. In the Christian dispensation.

(1) As to the sacrifice.

(a) It was the sacrifice of a human life. "The blood of Christ, who... offered himself."

(b) It was the sacrifice of a holy human life. "Christ offered himself without blemish unto God"(cf. Hebrews 7:26, 27; 1 Peter 1:18, 19).

(c) It was the sacrifice of the holy human life of a Divine Person. "The blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God." By "the eternal Spirit" we understand, "not the Spirit of the Father dwelling in Christ, nor the Holy Spirit given without measure to Christ, but the Divine Spirit of the Godhead which Christ himself had, and was in his inner personality" (Alford, in loco). Our Lord's Divine nature acquiesced in the redemptive plan and purpose, and contributed to its fulfillment. "It was 'the blood of Christ; 'of the whole and undivided Christ," as Richard Watson observes, "who was both God and man. For though a Divine nature could not bleed and die, a Divine person could. This distinction is to be kept in mind: for, the person being one, the acts and sufferings of each nature are the acts and sufferings of the same person, and are spoken of interchangeably." "His blood, though not the blood of God, yet was the blood of him that was God." The chief value of our Savior's sacrifice was not in the physical life which was offered, although that was perfect, but in the spirit in which it was offered, he shed his blood for us in the spirit of uttermost and perfect obedience to the Divine Father, and of willing sacrifice for the accomplishment of human salvation. And this spirit of obedience and self-sacrificing love was eternal; not a transient mood or a temporary feeling, but his eternal disposition. "The sacrifice of Christ," says Ebrard, "could only be offered in the power of eternal spirit. Only the eternal spirit of absolute love, holiness, wisdom, and compassion was capable of enduring that sacrificial death."

(2) The application of this sacrifice is spiritual. Its efficacy can be realized only by faith. Not literally has the Christ carried his blood into the true holy of holies. Not literally is it sprinkled upon the consciences of men for their purification. The redemptive power of the death of Christ is a spiritual force, and must be spiritually appropriated. We realize it by the exercise of faith in him (Romans 3:24-26).


1. The sacrifices of the Jewish ritual were efficacious in producing ritualistic purity. Doubtless there were persons who, regarding these sacrifices as types of a far higher sacrifice, and these cleansings as figures of a spiritual cleansing, derived spiritual and saving benefits through them. To these benefits the text does not refer, but to the national and ceremonial use of these institutions. They "sanctified unto the cleanness of the flesh." By means of them ceremonial impurity was removed, the separation consequent upon that impurity was brought to an end, and the cleansed person was restored to the congregation of Israel.

2. The sacrifice of Christ is far more efficacious in producing spiritual purity. "How much more shall the blood of Christ cleanse your conscience?" etc. By "conscience" in this place we do not understand any one faculty of our spiritual nature, but our entire moral consciousness in relation to God, our religious soul. "Dead works" are those which are regarded as meritorious in themselves, and apart from the disposition and motive which prompted them. They do not proceed from a heart alive by faith and love. No living spiritual sentiment breathes through them. And their influence on the soul is not inspiring, but depressing. They have no fitness for quickening spiritual affections and powers, but for crushing and killing them. They, moreover, tend to defile man's religious nature. As the touching of a corpse, or the bone of a dead body, or treading upon a grave, defiled a man under the Mosaic Law, so the contact of these dead works with man's soul contaminates it. The moral influence of the blood of Christ cleanses away this contamination (cf. 1 John 1:6-9). The holy and infinite love of God manifested in the death of Christ for us, when it is realized by us, burns up base passions and impure human affections and unholy desires. It acts within us as a fervent and purifying fire. And it inspires the soul for true spiritual service. It "cleanses the conscience from dead works to serve the living God." The word used to express this service indicates its religiousness. It "denotes in the New Testament the priestly consecration and offering up of the whole man to the service of God. . . the willing priestly offering of one's self to God." It does not signify service which is limited to religious duties, but the performance of every duty and all duties in a religious spirit. The whole life is consecrated to the living God, and all its occupations become exalted into a Divine service (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). "How much more," then, "shall the blood of Christ?" etc. In the ceremonial cleansings the connection between the means and the end was merely symbolical and arbitrary; but in the redemptive influences of the gospel there is a beautiful and sublime fitness for the accomplishment of their end. The infinite righteousness and love manifested in the great self-sacrifice of the Savior are eminently adapted to redeem and purify man's soul from sin, and to inspire and invigorate him for the willing service of the living God. Our text corrects two errors concerning the sacrifice of Christ.

1. It corrects the error of those who make the essence of that sacrifice to consist in the physical sufferings and death of our Lord. God has no delight in mere pain, or blood-shedding, or death. In themselves these things cannot be pleasing to God. It was the spirit in which Christ suffered and died that made his death a Divine sacrifice and a mighty power of spiritual redemption.

2. It corrects the error of those who depreciate the expression of the Divine spirit of self-sacrifice in the life and death of our Lord. It was morally necessary that he should give himself as a sacrifice for us, in order that the mighty influence of the Divine righteousness and love might be brought to bear upon us and redeem us. "Behooved it not the Christ to suffer these things?" "Thus it behooved the Christ to suffer," etc. (Luke 24:26, 46, 47). - W.J.

Parallel Verses
KJV: For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:

WEB: For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify to the cleanness of the flesh:

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