Great Texts of the Bible
The Cleansing of the Conscience
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?—Hebrews 9:13-14.
The whole power and meaning of these words depend on the contrast they express between the Jewish ceremony of purification and the purifying sacrifice of Christ. The Apostle implies that there is a resemblance between the two. The Hebrew worshipper needed cleansing before he could enter the sacred precincts of the Temple: the human soul needs cleansing before it can worship in the presence of the Holy God. The sacrifice of animals purified the Jew; the sacrifice of Christ purifies the Christian; and the one is the type of the other. But beneath that resemblance the author of the Epistle finds eternal difference. The one purifying cleansed the flesh—the outward man—and freed it from the penalties of unhallowed worship; the other cleanses the conscience—the inner man—and quickens it to serve the living God. And just on that difference he founds the triumphant question in which he asserts the power of the blood of Christ to cleanse the conscience of humanity.
1. The Apostle is alluding specially to the ceremonial by which the Jewish worshipper was cleansed from the defilement of contact with death. By the law of Moses, the touch of a human corpse, whether it lay sacredly guarded in the quiet death-chamber, or exposed on the field of battle; the touch of a human bone or the dust of a human grave were defiling, and on pain of being cut off from Israel no man dare enter the Temple until cleansed from such pollution. Through that exact and terrible demand for purity from the very associations of death, God trained the Jews for ages to feel the connexion between death and sin, and made them know that not one shadow of impurity must darken the man who ventured to approach the presence of Him whose name is Holy. Now all this could purify the flesh only: it could cleanse the outward man, and deliver the worshipper from the outward penalties of unhallowed service; but there was an inner man, defiled by death, which those sacrifices of purification had no power to make pure. Within the spirit’s temple there was a conscience, heavenly and sacred, which had been darkened by sin and which needed redemption before the worshipper could go in joy and freedom into the presence of the Most High. No blood of bulls or of goats, no sprinkling of ashes could touch it—they had only a fleshly ceremonial power; it needed a living, holy, spiritual sacrifice to purge it from its dark pollution. And herein lies the power of our author’s argument. If the outward ceremonial cleansed the outward man from the defilement of death, “how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
2. This, then, is what is meant in the text, when it contrasts the atoning power of the blood of Christ with that of the blood of bulls and goats. The blood of the sacrificed animal had a certain value, because it was so intimately connected with the life or sensitive soul of the animal; as the writer puts it, it did, and by Divine appointment, sanctify to the purifying of the flesh. By the “flesh” is here meant the natural, outward, and earthly life of man; especially all that bore in the way of outward conduct and condition upon his membership of the commonwealth of Israel. The sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, and especially the sprinkling of the blood of the red heifer towards the tabernacle, signified the substitution of life for life, and were at any rate accepted as establishing the outward religious position of those for whom they were offered. That they could do more was impossible; the nature of things was opposed to it: “it was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.” The blood of these animals could not operate in the proper sphere of spiritual natures. But then it foreshadowed nothing less than the blood of Christ. It was His blood, who through His Eternal Spiritual Being (it is not the Holy Ghost who is here meant, but the Divine Nature of the Incarnate Christ) offered Himself without spot to God. The eternal spiritual nature of Christ, vivifying the blood of Christ, is contrasted in the writer’s thought with the perishable life of the sacrificed animal resident in the blood of the animal; and so the value of the sacrifices, the power of the blood to cleanse or save, varies with the dignity of the life which it represents—in one case, that of the creature, not even endowed with reason or immortality; in the other, that of the Infinite and Eternal Being who for us men, and for our salvation, has come down from heaven. “How much more shall the blood of Christ!”
At length we see what it is that the sacred writer really means. He says in effect to his readers, “You have no doubt that, under the old Jewish dispensation, the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, the blood of the slaughtered goat and red heifer, could restore the Israelite who had done wrong to his place and his privileges in the sacred nation. It sanctified to the purifying of the flesh. But here is the blood—not of a sacrificial animal, not of a mere man, not even of the best of men, but of One who was God ‘manifest in the flesh.’ Who shall calculate the effects of His self-sacrifice? Who shall limit the power of His voluntary death? Who shall say what His outpoured blood may or may not achieve on earth or elsewhere?” Plainly we are here in the presence of an agency which altogether distances and rebukes the speculations of reason; we can but listen for some voice that shall speak with authority, and from beyond the veil: we can but be sure of this, that the blood of the Eternal Christ must infinitely transcend in its efficacy that of the victims slain on the Temple altars; it must be much more than equal to redress the woes, to efface the transgressions, of a guilty world.
The Conscience and its Works
1. The Conscience.—It may seem a strange assertion that the conscience of man needs purifying from defilement, for, regard it in what light we may, it is the most sacred and Divine thing in humanity, and the source of all that is sacred and noble in man’s nature. On it are founded the sanctities of home, the fellowships of brotherhood, and the emotions of religion. We speak of it as an eye of the spirit, which looks upwards to a law which varies not with our falls and failures, but is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; as a voice that, in our moments of strong temptation, raises its cry amidst the storms of passion, and denounces the fascinating appearance of evil as a hollow lie; as a power that we feel we ought to obey even when we disobey it—a power which makes us feel that we are bound to do right even when peril and suffering and death are the inevitable results of right action. And can that sacred and holy thing, the warning light by which we see the defilement of the will, itself need cleansing? This seems stranger still when we regard the conscience as it is regarded in this chapter. For after speaking of its purification, the author says in the 23rd verse, that, while the patterns of things in the heavens, that is, the symbols in the Temple, needed the cleansing of the Jewish sacrifices, the heavenly things themselves were purified with better sacrifices than these; therefore the conscience is among the heavenly things which needed purifying by the sacrifice of Christ. Hence he means by it not only the sense of right and wrong, but the whole inner nature which connects man with the heavenly. The sense of the Infinite which awakens in him a feeling of awe and wonder before the grandeur of God in earth and sky; the emotions of reverence that pour themselves forth in Temple worship before the felt presence of the Father; the belief in the invisible world which makes us feel that there are regions near us whose beauty and glory “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived”: all in man from which his religion and worship rise are included in conscience, and implies that the spiritual, heavenly, aspiring nature needs purifying before we can serve the living God. It is very important that we should understand this necessity. We must realize the fact that the heavenly nature does need purifying; we must feel that our conscience, sacred though it be, does need cleansing, or we shall not feel the power and beauty of the doctrine that only the purified conscience can rise to spiritual worship of the Father.
(1) In that mysterious judgment chamber, where busy thoughts, like subtle and eager pleaders, accuse and excuse one another, a voice, whose authority we cannot dispute, declares us guilty, and the testimony of God, which is greater than our conscience, reveals to us more fully our sin and condemnation. But when we are convinced of our sin and helplessness, God is revealed as a just God, and the justifier of the guilty who believe in Jesus; the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, reveals to us the holy and perfect way in which all iniquity is pardoned and all transgression removed. And as that blood avails in heaven, so it delivers the conscience from the burden of guilt, and from the burden of all our own miserable attempts at pleasing God and lulling our fears: dead works which like a dead weight only increase our wretchedness. Now we truly turn from sin unto God. In Jesus Christ, God and the sinner meet; both behold the blood of the Lord Jesus, and in the high sanctuary above and in the inmost sanctuary of the conscience there is peace.
(2) Yet the conscience thus purged is more sensitive. We know now more of our sinfulness: for we behold sin in the light of God’s love. What then? Of sin we have no conscience; but of our sinfulness and constant sinning we have. We confess our sins; we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses”: we mourn over our unfaithfulness; we behold and abhor our vileness; we have no confidence in the flesh. But we confess to the Father as children; we confess before the throne of grace, and in the hearing of the merciful and compassionate High Priest. We learn the deepest and most self-abasing lesson; to go with sin and unworthiness to infinite love, to boundless compassion, to never-failing mercy, to the Father who loves us, to the Lord who always intercedes for us. We have been washed once for all when we came to Jesus. We need now to have our feet washed. Peter either refused to have his feet washed by Jesus (false humility) or wished Jesus to wash not merely his feet, but also his hands and his head (unbelief and false humility again); but when afterwards he understood the ways of God, he strengthened his brethren. For in his Epistle he teaches that if we forget that we have been purged from our sins we become unfruitful and blind: the knowledge of our perfect and complete acceptance is the strength of obedience.
Complete redemption involves deliverance from the sense of guilt, from the power of moral evil, and from religious legalism. These combined cover at once all ethical and all religious interests, both “justification” and “sanctification” in the Pauline sense. All these benefits flow from Christ’s sacrifice, viewed in the light of the spirit through which it was offered.… Intelligent appreciation of the spirit by which Christ offered Himself inspires that full, joyful trust in God that gives peace to the guilty conscience. But its effect does not stop there. The same appreciation inevitably becomes a power of moral impulse. The mind of Christ flows into us through the various channels of admiration, sympathy, gratitude, and becomes our mind, the law of God written on the heart. And the law within emancipates from the law without, purges the conscience from the baleful influence of “dead works,” that we may serve the Father in heaven in the free yet devoted spirit of faith and love.1 [Note: A. B. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 358.]
2. Dead Works.—We are separated from God the Holy One by sin, from God the living One by death. In order to bring us into communion with God, and to purge our consciences, we have to be delivered both from the guilt of sin and from the defilement and power of death. Now of the types which purified unto the (typical) service, the blood of Jesus is the antitype. By the blood of Christ we are brought into the presence of the holy and living God. This is our sanctification, in which we are separated and cleansed for the worship and service of God. We are separated from the world of sin and death, from dead works; by which we must understand everything that is not the manifestation of a divinely-given and divinely-wrought life; because nothing is fit to be brought before and unto the living God unless it be living, or spiritual, or unless it proceeds from communion with the living One.
“Dead works”: works that are not good, in that their motive is good, nor bad, in that their motive is bad, but dead in that they have no motive at all, in that they are merely outward and mechanical—affairs of propriety, routine, and form, to which the heart and spirit contribute nothing. “Dead works”: to how much of our lives, ay, of the better and religious side of our lives, may not this vivid and stern expression justly apply! How many acts in the day are gone through without intention, without deliberation, without effort, to consecrate them to God, without any reflex effect upon the faith and love of the doer? How many prayers, and words, and deeds are of this character? and if so, how are they wrapping our spirits round with bandages of insincere habit, on which already the avenging angels may have traced the motto, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead”!1 [Note: H. P. Liddon, Passiontide Sermons, 80.]
3. Living Service.—The effect of the ceremonial cleansing was to restore to the man his place in the congregation. So the effect of the cleansed conscience is to enable him to offer what St. Paul calls (Romans 12:1) “reasonable service.” Compare the Collect for the 21st Sunday after Trinity, “that we may be cleansed from all our sins and serve thee with a quiet mind.”
The phrase, “to serve the living God,” cuts in sunder a fallacy which has beguiled some and perplexed many. If our release comes to us, apart from works, by the efficacy of that sacrifice, long since completed, why should we work at all? Because it is the law of our new life; because we are alive and in the temple of a living God, whose temple-service attracts us; because we are cleansed for this very purpose from the coldness and apathy of the dead and brought to readiness and desire to serve. Ritual cleansing was “toward the purifying of the flesh”: this reaches “unto the temple-service of the living God.”
(1) The service is “living” in the reality of its spiritual emotions. The unpurged conscience is tempted to forget, to doubt, to deny God, or to regard Him simply as some awful and mysterious power. The purified spirit feels Him near and can bear the glance of the Eternal without shrinking; for the dead past has been cleansed away by the blood of the Saviour. Thus prayer becomes real; it is no longer a vain cry breathed into the air; for the Spirit through which He offered Himself abides in us, constraining our devotion.
(2) The service is “living,” for it pervades the whole life. The worship of fear is limited to time and place. But cleansed and inspired by Christ, we feel He is everywhere. In suffering we bear His will, and our sighs become prayers. In sorrow, when the heart is weary, we feel ourselves near to the Heavenly Friend who is leading us to find in Him rest for the restless and sad. In joys, He who hallowed social gladness by His first miracle—and amid the friendships of life, He who made friendship holy—is close to our hearts. In our falls and failures we hear His voice in the hope of rising out of the gloom to a higher and purer state beyond it. Thus not only in the service of the Temple, and in the presence of a worshipping multitude, but throughout life—in the silent hours of meditation, in the still sanctuary of prayer, in the dreary hours of toil, and drearier hours of doubt, amid the rush of temptation and the pressure of care, do we feel the presence of the Christ who, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself to God.
Grievously do they mistake the design of the death of Christ who suppose that it was intended simply to deliver us from the penalty of sin and to leave us free to continue in transgression. The unclean were purified that they might enter the tabernacle and take part in its services; and the blood of Christ has been shed for us that we may have access to God. It does not render worship and obedience unnecessary; it is the means by which we are delivered from that which hindered both. Hence it is that whether we offer adoration and praise, or invoke the Divine blessing on ourselves or intercede for others, or venture to contemplate the Divine glory, and endeavour to enter into communion with the Divine blessedness, we do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. His sacrifice is the foundation on which our religious life is built; by His blood we are cleansed from impurity that we may serve the living God.1 [Note: R. W. Dale, The Jewish Temple and the Christian Church, 213.]
As to St. James’ assertion that “faith without works profiteth nothing,” which appears to contradict St. Paul’s, who says that “a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law,” suppose I say, “A tree cannot be struck without thunder,” that is true, for there is never destructive lightning without thunder. But, again, if I say, “The tree was struck by lightning without thunder,” that is true, too, if I mean that the lightning alone struck it, without the thunder striking it. Yet read the two assertions together, and they seem contradictory. So, in the same way, St. Paul says, “Faith justifies without works”—that is, faith only is that which justifies us, not works. But St. James says, “Not a faith which is without works.” There will be works with faith, as there is thunder with lightning; but just as it is not the thunder but the lightning, the lightning without the thunder, that strikes the tree, so it is not the works which justify. Put it in one sentence—Faith alone justifies; but not the faith which is alone. Lightning alone strikes, but not the lightning which is alone, without thunder; for that is only summer lightning, and harmless. You will see that there is an ambiguity in the words “without” and “alone,” and the two Apostles use them in different senses, just as I have used them in the above simile about the lightning.1 [Note: Life and Letters of the Rev. F. W. Robertson, 334.]
The Way of Cleansing
“How much more shall the blood of Christ.” Here we have not to do with animal sacrifices, the validity of which was that they were appointed by God, but we have to do with a Person. What Person? The Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Son of Man. Stop to think of this! Who is this Christ? He is the Person that most of all has educated our conscience. How He has broken in on my being, investing with new vividness and sublime sanction the natural moral convictions of my soul! What a light He has thrown on the being of God! What a view of the heinousness of sin! Christ is the only educator of the conscience. He has thrown around my being a light of spiritual and moral obligation which made me live as a moral being even before I came to Him for salvation. But He does not rest there. He does not say, like great teachers of the world, “I have come to teach you the right way.” Christ says, “I have come in another way: I have come to put myself in your place, come to answer to God for you; have offered myself to God in your stead.” Remember that we are in the region of personality here, the region of free-will, the region of character; and this great moral and spiritual Agent, who is so much more—the Son of God—comes forth and says, “I am coming to take your place, and answer for you before the Eternal God.” That means for me that I respond to this offer in the surrender of faith. We are now on a totally different level from the Old Testament offerer. Then an animal sacrifice was offered, the equivalent was paid for certain sins, a life for a life, and the offerer got freedom from ceremonial defilement, came again into covenant relations with God, and again essayed to obey. But here is a Person, willing to answer to God for me; and I come and give myself into the hands of this Person. For what? That He may see the whole thing through. Christ has taken the whole burden and responsibility, and I have given myself to Him. In this union of faith, Christ answers for me before God, and I receive in Him the whole fruit of His great sacrifice, and in Him am brought nigh to God. It is Christ’s work. I cannot go so far with Christ, and then proceed by myself. The whole conception of the atonement shuts me up to this—if I yield myself up to Christ, Christ must undertake all for me. He is to be the doer right through, and I am to receive from Him, in Him, and through Him.
Suppose that in the bright summer weather we were in Switzerland, and were planning to start on a mountain excursion. Going out early in the morning, we see the ostlers with lantern in hand moving about, harnessing the horses, bringing them out and yoking them, the lantern being held high so that the ostler can see how to strap them. This work goes on a little time, and presently, we enter the hotel and rouse our sleeping friends, that they may get breakfast and be ready for the journey. When we go out again, lo, there is a change! The sun has risen, and is pouring his radiance into this magnificent valley; and there is the lantern, so indispensable an hour ago, with its poor yellow guttering candle—which you instinctively blow out! Like this guttering candle is this conscience of man in his dead works. What can reduce that to utter insignificance in your soul and mine? The contemplation of the sun! “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who, through the Eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot unto God, purge your conscience from dead works!”1 [Note: J. Smith, in Keswick Week, 1900, p. 105.]
1. “The blood of Christ.”—That which must strike all careful readers of the Bible, in the passages which refer to the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, is the stress which is laid upon His blood. A long course of violent treatment, ending in such a death as that of crucifixion, must involve, we know from the nature of the case, the shedding of the blood of the sufferer. But our modern feeling would probably have led us to treat this as an accidental or subordinate feature of His death.
(1) This modern feeling is far from being mere unhealthy sentimentalism; it arises from that honourable sympathy with and respect for human nature which draws a veil over its miseries or its wounds. But the New Testament, in its treatment of the Passion of Christ is, we cannot but observe, strangely and strongly in contrast with such a feeling. The four Evangelists, who differ so much in their accounts of our Lord’s birth and public ministry, seem to meet around the foot of the cross, and to agree, if not in relating the same incidents, yet certainly in the minuteness and detail of their narratives. In the shortest of the Gospels, when we reach the Passion, the occurrences of a day take up as much space as had previously been assigned to years. From the Last Supper to the burial in the grave of Joseph of Arimathea we have a very complete account of what took place; each incident that added to pain or shame, each bitter word, each insulting act, each outrage upon justice or mercy, of which the Divine Sufferer was a victim, is carefully recorded. But especially the agony and bloody sweat, the public scourging, the crowning with thorns, the nailing to the wood of the cross, the opening of the side with a spear, are described by the Evangelists—incidents, each one of them, be it observed, which must have involved the shedding of Christ’s blood. And in the writings of the Apostles to their first converts more is said of the blood of Christ than of anything else connected with His death—more even than of the cross. As we read them we might almost think that the shedding of His blood was not so much an accompaniment of His death as its main purpose. Thus St. Paul tells the Romans that Christ is set forth to be a “propitiation through faith in his blood”; that they are “justified” by Christ’s blood. He writes to the Ephesians that they have “redemption through Christ’s blood”; to the Colossians that our Lord has “made peace through the blood of his cross”; to the Corinthians that the Holy Sacrament is so solemn a rite because it is “the communion of the blood of Christ.” Thus St. Peter contrasts the slaves, whose freedom from captivity was purchased with corruptible things such as silver and gold, with the case of Christians redeemed by the “precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish, and immaculate.” Thus St. John exclaims that “the blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God cleanseth us from all sin.” In the Epistle to the Hebrews this blood is referred to as the blood of the covenant wherewith Christians are sanctified, as “the blood of the everlasting covenant,” as “the blood of sprinkling” which pleads for mercy, and so is contrasted with the blood of Abel, which cries for vengeance. And in the last book of the New Testament the beloved disciple gives at the very outset thanks and praise to Him who has “washed us from our sins in his own blood”; and the blessed in heaven sing that He has “redeemed them to God by his blood”; and the saints “have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”; and they have overcome their foe, not in their own might, but by “the blood of the Lamb”; and He whose Name is called “the Word of God,” and who rides on a white horse, and on whose head are many crowns, is “clothed in a vesture dipped in blood.”
In all the languages of the world, blood is the proof and warrant of affection and of sacrifice. To shed blood voluntarily for another is to give the best that man can give; it is to give a sensible proof of, almost a bodily form to, love. This one human instinct is common to all ages, to all civilizations, to all religions. The blood of the soldier who dies for duty, the blood of the martyr who dies for truth, the blood of the man who dies that another may live—blood like this is the embodiment of the highest moral powers in human life, and those powers were all represented in the blood which flowed from the wounds of Christ on Calvary. And yet in saying this we have not altogether accounted for the Apostolic sayings about the blood of Christ. It involves something more than any of these moral triumphs; it is more than all of them taken together.1 [Note: H. P. Liddon.]
In those primal laws which were given to Noah after the Flood, man was authorized to eat the flesh, but not the blood of the animals around him. Why was this? Because the blood is the life or soul of the animal. “Flesh, with the blood thereof, which is the life thereof, shall ye not eat.” The Laws of Moses go further: the man, whether Israelite or stranger, who eats any manner of blood is to be destroyed; and the reason is repeated: “The soul of the flesh,” i.e. of the nature living in the flesh, “is in the blood.” This is why the blood of the sacrificial animals is shed by way of atonement for sin; the blood atones—this is the strict import of the original language—by means of the soul that is in it. Once more, in the Fifth Book of Moses, permission is given to the Israelites to kill and eat the sacrificial animals just as freely as the roebuck or the hart, which were not used for sacrifice. But, again, there follows the caution: “Only be sure that thou eat not the blood”; and the reason for the caution: “the blood is the soul: and thou mayest not eat the soul with the flesh. Thou shalt not eat of it; thou shalt pour it upon the earth like water.”1 [Note: H. P. Liddon.]
(2) Now as the blood of the slain animal means the life of the animal, so the blood of Christ crucified means the life of Christ—His life who is eternal truth and eternal charity. And thus, when a Christian man feels its redemptive touch within him, he has a motive—varying in strength, but always powerful—for being genuine. He means his deeds, his words, his prayers. He knows that life is a solemn thing, and has tremendous issues; he measures these issues by the value of the redeeming blood. If Christ has shed His blood, surely life is well worth living; it is worth saving. A new energy is thrown into everything; a new interest lights up all the surrounding circumstances; the incidents of life, its opportunities, its trials, its successes; the character and disposition of friends, the public occurrences of the time, and the details of the home—all are looked at with eyes which see nothing that is indifferent; and when all is meant for God’s glory, though there may and must be much weakness and inconsistency, the conscience is practically purged from dead works to serve the living God.
The blood of Christ. It was shed on Calvary eighteen hundred years ago: but it flows on throughout all time. It belongs now, not to the physical but to the spiritual world. It washes souls, not bodies; it is sprinkled not on altars but on consciences. But, although invisible, it is not for all that the less real and energetic; it is the secret power of all that purifies or that invigorates souls in Christendom. Do we believe in “one Baptism for the remission of sins”? It is because Christ’s blood tinges the waters of the font to the eyes of faith. Do we believe that God “hath given power and commandment to His ministers to declare and pronounce to His people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins”? It is because the blood of Christ, applied to the conscience by the Holy Spirit, makes this declaration an effective reality. Do we find in the Bible more than an ancient literature—in Christian instruction more than a mental exercise—in the life of thought about the unseen and the future more than food for speculation? This is because we know that the deepest of all questions is that which touches our moral state before God; and that, as sinners, we are above all things interested in the “fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness” in the blood of Christ. Do we look to our successive Communions for the strengthening and refreshing of our souls? This is because the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for us of old, and is given us now, can “preserve our bodies and souls unto everlasting life.” Does even a single prayer, offered in entire sincerity of purpose, avail to save a despairing soul? It is because “we have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.”1 [Note: H. P. Liddon, Passiontide Sermons, 81.]
“Suppose that I, a sinner, be walking along yon golden street, passing by one angel after another. I can hear them say as I pass through their ranks, “A sinner! a crimson sinner!” Should my feet totter? Should my eye grow dim? No: I can say to them,” Yes, a sinner, a crimson sinner, but a sinner brought near by a forsaken Saviour, and now a sinner who has boldness to enter into the Holiest through the blood of Jesus.”2 [Note: Andrew A. Bonar, Heavenly Springs, 175.]
2. “Who offered himself without blemish unto God.”—This brings out more than His personal holiness, His perfect obedience. It was a whole sacrifice. He took this life and laid it on the altar of God. He said: “Lo, I come to do thy will”; and God laid His yoke upon Him. Day by day as in providence the yoke of Divine command came, He met the will of God with perfect submission. As the clouds began to gather, and the opposition of men grew fiercer, Christ rose to the level of perfect obedience and every moment did the will of God. He stands before the judgment-seats of Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod, is at last brought out to “the green hill beyond the city wall,” and there He reaches the crown of His perfect obedience.
Obedience is not really separable from atonement. Obedience is atoning; and the atonement itself can be exhibited as one great consummation of obedience. Only in Christ’s death is the climax of obedience reached; while the life is a sacrifice from end to end. The life, as apart from the death, is characterized more immediately by the homage of perfect obedience than by the agony of extreme penitence. The death, viewed apart from the life, is characterized even more by the anguish which was requisite to perfect contrition than by the normal homage to the character of God which consists in being holy. Our thought is of the life of consummate obedience, as a perfect manifestation, and offering, of holiness: holiness in terms of human condition and character; yet a perfectly adequate holiness; a response worthy of the holiness of God. How, in this aspect, shall we chiefly characterize the picture of the life as a whole? The essential point of the truth, the truth which sums up all other and more partial truths, would seem to be this. It is a life of unreserved, unremitting, absolute, and clearly conscious, dependence. The centre of His life is never in Himself. He is always explicitly the manifestation, the reflection, the obedient Son and Servant, of another. There is no purpose of self; no element of self-will; no possibility, even for a moment, of the imagination of separateness; no such thing, we may even say, as a consciousness alone and apart. He is the representative agent of another, the Son of the Father, the Image of God.1 [Note: R. C. Moberly, Atonement and Personality, 99.]
3. “Through the eternal Spirit.”—The voluntary sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ was a Divine act. He assumed the nature of man, but even in His humiliation He was God still. When He laid aside His eternal glory, it was God who made Himself of no reputation and took upon Him the form of a servant, and assumed the likeness of men; and throughout the whole history of His sorrow and shame, although the majesty and splendour of His heavenly estate were obscured, it was still the everlasting Son of the Father—the Divine Word dwelling upon earth—that was the object of the malignity of Satan and the cruelty of man. The sufferings of the sacrifices of the ancient law were not to be ascribed to any voluntary submission on their part; but it was “through the eternal Spirit”—the Divine personality and will which constituted the very centre and root of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ—that He endured the cross, despising the shame. The mystery of the union between the Divinity and the humanity of our Lord cannot be penetrated; but the difficulties are metaphysical, not moral. They defy the power of the intellect, but do not trouble the conscience. On the other hand, if this union is forgotten, and if the sufferings of the Lord Jesus for human salvation are regarded as the sufferings of a third person intervening between God and man, to allay the wrath of the One and to secure the escape of the other, moral difficulties arise of the most portentous kind; and the conscience, instead of finding rest in the sacrifice, is tortured and discouraged. When God determined to have mercy upon man, He did not command or permit holy angels to endure the sufferings which men had deserved; nor did He command or permit an innocent man to sink under the awful burden of the iniquities of the race; but, since it belonged to Himself to maintain the eternal distinction between right and wrong, and He had resolved not to maintain it in this case by inflicting just penalties on those who had sinned, He came into the world Himself, in the person of the Son, assuming our nature that He might become capable of suffering, and the suffering of Christ was the act of the Eternal Spirit.
“Offered himself through the Spirit;” surely a strange mode of sacrifice. I would have expected it to have been said that Christ offered Himself through the pains of the flesh. Nay, but in God’s sight this was not His offering. The deepest part of His sacrifice was invisible; it was the surrender of His will. The gift which He presented to the Father was not His pain but Himself—His willingness to suffer. What the Father loved was rather the painlessness than the pain. He delighted not so much in His sacrifice as in the joy of His sacrifice. It was offered “through the Spirit.” It was not wrung out from a reluctant soul through obedience to an outward law; it came from the inner heart—from the impulse of undying love. It was a completed offering before Calvary began; it was seen by the Father before it was seen by the world. It was finished in the spirit ere it began in the flesh—finished in that hour in which the Son of man exclaimed, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Man had to see the pain of His body; God was satisfied when “he poured out his soul.” Even so, my brother, is it with thee. There are times in which thou art impotent for all outward work, times in which thou canst offer no bodily sacrifice. Thine may be the path of obscurity; thine may be the season of penury; thine may be the road apart from the world’s highway. Thine may be the delicate frame that cannot run for God because it must rest for sustenance; there may be nothing for thee to do but to look on and wish that thou couldst serve. Yes, but canst thou do that? Is this wish indeed thine? Then thy Father sees thy sacrifice completed. It is not yet offered in the body, but it is offered “through the eternal Spirit.” Like the sacrifice of Abraham it is accepted in its inwardness. Thou hast brought up thy gift to Mount Moriah and hast laid it there before the Lord—laid it open in thy heart, uncovered on the front of thy bosom. Thy Father sees it there and holds it already given. He accepts the offering of thy will as an offering of thy gift. He asks not the blood of Isaac when He has seen the blood of Abraham. He counts thy faith unto thee for righteousness, thy devotion unto thee for deed, for He knows that the sacrifice which lags behind in the flesh has been offered already in the Eternal Spirit.1 [Note: G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, 215.]
The Cleansing of the Conscience
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