For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Hebrews 10:4. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats — Or of any brute animals; should take away sins — Should make full satisfaction and atonement for them, so as to procure the pardon of them on its own account. To understand the apostle, we must remember, that though remission of sins be originally from mere grace and mercy, yet it is not to be accomplished by sovereign grace alone, which would be inconsistent with God’s truth, holiness, and righteous government of the world. Hence shedding of blood has been the appointed means of obtaining it in all ages; and the psalmist, Psalm 50:5, represents all God’s true people as making a covenant with him by sacrifice. And for this appointment much may be said on the principles of reason. For as the most ancient way of teaching was by symbols, emblems, or hieroglyphics, God, by requiring sacrifices of mankind in order to the pardon of their sins, intended hereby to teach them, 1st, Their guilt, and desert of death and destruction: 2d, The great evil of sin, its odious nature, and destructive consequences, in that it could not be expiated without blood: 3d, The necessity of mortifying it, and the carnal principle whence it proceeds: 4th, Hereby to lay a foundation for the confidence and hope of the sinner, with respect to pardon, as the substitution, by divine appointment, of the life of the animal in the stead of the life of the sinner, manifested grace and promised forgiveness: 5th, Hereby also provision was made both for condemning and pardoning sin, both which things, in order to the glory of God and the salvation of mankind, were absolutely necessary to be done. Now, though these ends might be answered, in some faint degree, or, to speak more properly, though a shadow of them might be exhibited in the sacrifices of brute animals, yet they could not be accomplished in an adequate manner, nor the very images of the things be exhibited thereby. For, 1st, These sacrifices could not fully manifest the great evil of sin, and its destructive nature. For what great evil was there in it, if only the death of an inferior creature, or of a number of inferior creatures, was required in order to the expiation of it? Nor, 2d, For the same reason could the sacrifice of these animals adequately manifest the great guilt of mankind in committing sin, and the punishment they thereby deserved: nor, 3d, God’s infinite hatred to it, and the infinite rectitude of his nature, and dignity of his government. Add to this, as the sacrificed animals were not of the same nature with man, who had sinned, their death could not dissolve the debt of death and destruction which the human nature had contracted. Nay, being irrational, they were of an inferior nature, and the lives of ten thousands of them were not worth the life of one man, even if man were no more immortal than they. “In satisfaction to justice, by way of compensation for injuries, there must be a proportion between the injury and the reparation, that justice may be as much exalted and glorified in the one, as it is depressed and debased in the other. But there could be no such proportion between the affront put on the righteousness of God by sin, and the reparation by the blood of bulls, &c.” If a nobleman forfeit his head by high treason, his giving up his flocks and herds would not expiate his offence, and satisfy the law. And if the blood of thousands of them would not be an adequate ransom for the life of one man, much less for the lives of all men. They are in their own nature mortal; man is immortal; and surely the sacrifice of their temporal, yea, short lives, could be no adequate price for men’s everlasting lives. The appointment of these sacrifices, however, was not made in vain. Though they could not take away sin, they had their use. 1st, They purified the flesh from ceremonial defilement, and gave, or restored, to those that offered them, a right to the benefits of the Mosaic dispensation, namely, access to God in his worship, and life and prosperity in the land of Canaan; although they did not purify their conscience so as to procure them admission into the heavenly Canaan. 2d, They continually represented to sinners the curse and sentence of the law, or that death was the wages of sin. For although there was allowed in them a commutation, namely, that the sinner himself should not die, but the beast sacrificed in his stead; yet they all bore testimony to the sacred truth, that, in the judgment of God, they who commit sin are worthy of death. 3d, They were intended, as we have repeatedly seen, to be typical of the sacrifice of Christ; and the temporal benefits obtained for the Israelites by them were emblematical of the everlasting blessings procured for believers by his sacrifice.Hebrews 9:7. Paul here means to say, doubtless, that it was not possible that the blood of these animals should make a complete expiation so as to purify the conscience, and so as to save the sinner from deserved wrath. According to the divine arrangement, expiation was made by those sacrifices for offences of various kinds against the ritual law of Moses, and pardon for such offences was thus obtained. But the meaning here is, that there was no efficacy in the blood of a mere animal to wash away a "moral" offence. It could not repair the Law; it could not do anything to maintain the justice of God; it had no efficacy to make the heart pure. The mere shedding of the blood of an animal never could make the soul pure. This the apostle states as a truth which must be admitted at once as indisputable, and yet it is probable that many of the Jews had imbibed the opinion that there was such efficacy in blood shed according to the divine direction, as to remove all stains of guilt from the soul; see the notes, Hebrews 9:9-10.
take away—"take off." The Greek, Heb 10:11, is stronger, explaining the weaker word here, "take away utterly." The blood of beasts could not take away the sin of man. A MAN must do that (see on Heb 9:12-14).For gives a reason of the precedent proof, that the legal sacrifices did keep sins in remembrance; for they were of such matter as could not have any causal power to take them away.
It is not possible: this is equivalent to a universal negative, the impossibility being absolute as to the things themselves in their very nature; they being corporeal, can have no influence upon a spiritual evil in the soul, Micah 6:6,7; and by God’s constitution they were to lead them to better things, God being not pleased with flesh and blood, Psalm 50:13 Isaiah 1:11.
That the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins; the blood of these were only carried into the holy of holiest on the atonement day, yearly, Leviticus 16:1-34, to which this is chiefly applied; nor could the blood of all the other sacrifices by expiation pardon their offerers, nor by sanctification cleanse them, nor by removing the sense of them comfort the soul; they could neither pacify God, nor the sinner’s conscience, having no virtue or power to satisfy God’s justice, or merit his grace, only it had by his constitution a power to typify that blood which could do both.
that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins; which was shed on the day of atonement: sin is a breach of the moral law, but these sacrifices belong to, the ceremonial law, which are less acceptable to God than moral duties; sin is committed against God, and has an objective infiniteness in it, and therefore can never be atoned for by the blood of such creatures; it leaves a stain on the mind and conscience, which this blood cannot reach; besides, this is not the same blood, nor of the same kind with the person that has sinned; yea, if this could take away sin, it would do more than the blood of the man himself could do; such blood shed can never answer the penalty of the law, satisfy divine justice, or secure the honour of divine holiness: but what the blood of these creatures could not do, the blood of Christ has done, and does: that takes away sin from the sight of justice, and from the consciences of the saints. Compare with this the Septuagint version of Jeremiah 11:15.For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Hebrews 10:4. Proof that it cannot be otherwise, drawn from the matter itself which is under consideration. By a rudely sensuous means we cannot attain to a high spiritual good.4. it is not possible …] This plain statement of the nullity of sacrifices in themselves, and regarded as mere outward acts, only expresses what had been deeply felt by many a worshipper under the Old Covenant. It should be compared with the weighty utterances on this subject in the O.T., 1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 6:20; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8; Psalm 40:6-8 (quoted in the next verses), and Pss. 50. and 51; and above all Hosea 6:6, which, being a pregnant summary of the principle involved, was a frequent quotation of our Lord. Any value which the system of sacrifices possessed was not theirs intrinsically (propriâ virtute) but relatively and typically (per accidens). “By a rudely sensuous means,” says Lünemann, “we cannot attain to a high spiritual good.” Philo in one of his finest passages shews how deeply he had realised that sacrifices were valueless apart from holiness, and that no mere external acts can cleanse the soul from moral guilt. He adds that God accepts the innocent even when they offer no sacrifices, and delights in unkindled altars if the virtues dance around them (De plant. Noe). The heathen had learnt the same high truths. Horace (Od. iii. 23) sings,
“Immunis aram si tetigit manus
Non sumptuosâ blandior hostiâ
Mollivit aversos Penates
Farre pio et saliente micâ.”Hebrews 10:4. Ἀφαιρεῖν, to take away) περιελεῖν, to remove entirely; Hebrews 10:11. In the writings of Moses, great effects are ascribed to these elementary ordinances of worship, in order that it might appear that it is not in themselves that these have so great efficacy.
 Περιαιρεῖν is to remove on every side (περί) and in every respect: prorsus tollere. Ἀφαιρεῖν, to take off or away.—ED.Verse 4. - For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats (specified as being the offerings of the Day of Atonement) should take away sins. The principle of the insufficiency of animal sacrifices having been thus expressed, confirmation of it is now further adduced from the Old Testament itself, together with a prophetic anticipation of the great self-oblation which was to take their place.
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