If he do not utter it.1. The former laws seem to concern the Israelites specially, where it said (ver. 27), "If any people of the land"; but these concern all whomsoever they see or know to offend.
2. The sins of ignorance there are propounded generally, here instance is given in some special and particular sins.
3. There sins are mentioned which a man committeth by himself, here such as are done by others whereby one may be defiled.
4. Beside these laws are set forth without any distinction of persons, as in the former chapter of the priest, the congregation, and prince, because the vulgar people are here understood, every law beginning thus, "If any soul," as Leviticus 4:27. "If any soul of the people," by this phrase, then, are meant of private persons of the vulgar sort; as for the special persons as of the priest and prince, they must be understood here as in the former laws to make satisfaction for these sins also with the rite proscribed in their privileges.
5. Add hereunto the reason which is yielded by Tostatus that whereas sins of ignorance are incident both unto the priest, prince, and people, and differ in degree according to the quality of their persons, as it is more grievous for the high priest to fall by error or ignorance than the congregation, and for them rather than the prince, yet for sins committed of malice and passion there cannot be the like difference, for the whole multitude cannot offend in passion as of ignorance as a particular person may (Leviticus 4:1). But I resolve rather with Cajetane, that these laws are specially understood of private persons, and of private offences.
6. And this further difference there is between the sins rehearsed in this chapter and the former — that there the sins of ignorance are by name expressed, here such as proceed of passion; which kind of sins must be understood with some kind of limitation, for there is no sin committed, though of malice, but there is some passion in it, as he which for fear or hope of reward forsweareth himself is led by some passion, yet it cannot properly be called a sin of passion.(1) It must be a strong and forcible passion which are either wrath or lust — the love of money is none of them.(2) It must be a passion suddenly rising, not inveterate, as he that is suddenly enraged sinneth of passion, not he which doth any evil of hatred which is a settled, festered, and inveterate passion, for such an one deliberately offendeth, and not of passion.
(A. Willet, D. D.)
I. The first is INFLUENCE — that intangible personal atmosphere which clothes every man, an invisible belt of magnetism, as it were, which he carries with him. Every human being seems to possess a moral atmosphere quite peculiar to himself, which invests and interprets him, and the presence of which others readily detect. For instance, a pure woman carries a moral and ennobling atmosphere with her. The atmosphere which clothes her seems to flood the room, and the coarse weeds of vicious thought and talk cannot thrive in it. Or look on the other side of the illustration. Picture a type of man but too common — the fast man of society. There is an exhalation of evil which goes before him and spreads around him. That is influence: something subtle, indefinable, yet real; without lips, yet speaking; without visible shape, yet acting with tremendous potency, like the magnetic forces which throb and travel unseen around us, bidden in the dewdrop and uttered in the thunder; influence, which streams out from every human being, and shapes others, and moulds and makes them; influence, which is stronger than action, more eloquent than speech, more enduring than life, which being holy sows the centuries with the seeds of holy life, and being evil multiplies, indeed, transgressors in the earth!
II. The second force is EXAMPLE. Every man sets a copy for his neighbour, and his neighbour is quick to reproduce it. The covetous man has a miser for his son, the light woman has a daughter hastening towards the ways of shame, the drunkard infects a whole neighbourhood with his vices.
III. And then, from influence and example there results RESPONSIBILITY. YOU can as easily evade the law of gravitation as the law of human responsibility. If you cease to speak that will not rid you of the burden; you must cease to be to do that. Nay, even death itself is powerless to destroy influence. Often it multiplies it a thousandfold. Is the life of the heroes, the patriots, the martyrs really closed? They were never so much alive as now; the fire that slew them freed them, and the steps of their scaffolds were the staircase of immortality. Thus influence and example bring with them responsibility to God and responsibility to man.
IV. Let us mark further THE PRECISE WAY IN WHICH THESE FORCES WORK.
1. First, it is clear that personal sin always involves others. "If a man hear the voice of swearing," if he even knows of it, he shares the complicity of the sin. There is always some one who hears, who witnesses, who shares. Here is the most tragic and awful aspect of sin — we share our sins! We have involved others in our guilt, and if we forget they will go remembering. It is well that thou shouldest stand in God's house to-day, clothed with decorous reverence, unsuspected, and with no scar of fire upon thee; but what of the poor soiled body of that other one, the sharer of thy sin and shame? For there is a dreadful comradeship in guilt — often intentional, for men love company in their sins, but often unintentional, for others share what they concealed and know what they did secretly. It is the most appalling aspect sin assumes; it is never sterile, it is always multiplying and prolific, passing like a fever-taint from man to man; till from one sin a world is infected and corrupt.
2. Notice again, that he who sees a sin and does not rebuke it shares the sin and bears its iniquity. The only way to purge one's self of the contaminating complicity of another man's guilt is instantly to witness against it. There is no other course open to a spiritual honesty.(1) Look, for instance, at this truth personally. No one need go very far for an illustration. You are a youth employed in a warehouse or office where religion is at a discount. In the warehouse there is sure to be a fast set, a group of youths whose habitual talk is seasoned with profanity or impurity, and who are always eager to get an audience for their shameful recitals. You were silent, you blushed, you were indignant, you turned aside full of abhorrence for the sin and contempt for the sinner, and no doubt you flattered yourself you must be very virtuous and good to feel such virtuous anger, and there you were content to rest. But this text puts an entirely new meaning on your conduct; because you did not witness against that sin you shared it. Blushing is one thing, confessing Christ quite another.(2) Look at this matter nationally. Look at what is going on at the present time in India, Hong Kong, the Barbadoes, wherever the flag of Britain is flying. What is going on, do you ask? This, that wherever that flag goes the shame of British vice follows. And now, mark, who is responsible for all this? According to my text, all who know the facts, and therefore from this hour all who hear these words are responsible for the existence of this licensed infamy. This passage particularly rebukes, then, sins of silence. To be silent when you should speak is as evil as to speak when you should be silent. To be tongue-tied by cowardice when wrong discovers its hideous nakedness to us, is as vile a thing as to praise wrong and sing the coronation song of wickedness.
(W. J. Dawson.)
I. THAT THE SINS OF MEN CANNOT EVADE WITNESSES. An old writer has forcibly said "that to every sin there must be at least two witnesses," viz., "a man's own conscience and the great God."
II. THAT IT IS THE DUTY OF WITNESSES TO GIVE EVIDENCE WHEN JUSTICE DEMANDS IT. When a witness heard the words of adjuration he was required at the proper place to give the needed information. It was his duty because —
(1) (2) III. THAT IN CONCEALING EVIDENCE AGAINST SIN WE INVOLVE OURSELVES IN SERIOUS GUILT. The guilt of concealing evidence is seen, in that by so doing we — 1. Dishonour God's voice, which speaks within us. 2. Disobey God's published laws. 3. Decrease our own antipathy to sin. 4. Encourage the trespasser in his wrong-doing. All sin ought to be acknowledged and expiated for the sake of the sinner and the wronged. (F. W. Brown.)
(2) III. THAT IN CONCEALING EVIDENCE AGAINST SIN WE INVOLVE OURSELVES IN SERIOUS GUILT. The guilt of concealing evidence is seen, in that by so doing we — 1. Dishonour God's voice, which speaks within us. 2. Disobey God's published laws. 3. Decrease our own antipathy to sin. 4. Encourage the trespasser in his wrong-doing. All sin ought to be acknowledged and expiated for the sake of the sinner and the wronged. (F. W. Brown.)
III. THAT IN CONCEALING EVIDENCE AGAINST SIN WE INVOLVE OURSELVES IN SERIOUS GUILT. The guilt of concealing evidence is seen, in that by so doing we —
1. Dishonour God's voice, which speaks within us.
2. Disobey God's published laws.
3. Decrease our own antipathy to sin.
4. Encourage the trespasser in his wrong-doing. All sin ought to be acknowledged and expiated for the sake of the sinner and the wronged.
(F. W. Brown.)
1. Not to conceal, or consent to other men's sins.
2. God's dishonour not to be endured.
3. Confession of our sins unto God necessary (ver. 5). This is the beginning of amendment.
4. Against negligent hearers of the Word (ver. 15).
5. Against sacrilege.
6. To take hold of the sleights and subtle temptations of Satan.
7. To appear before the Lord in sincerity and simplicity of heart.
(A. Willet, D. D.)
(B. W. Newton.)
I. CARELESSNESS; the mind too placid to rouse itself to inquiry.
II. INDISCRIMINATION; the habit of ignoring vital principles and conniving at inconsistencies.
III. SELF-EXCUSING; finding exceptional circumstances which extenuate faults and condone misconduct.
IV. NEGLECT OF SCRIPTURE; not "coming to the light lest their deeds should be reproved" (John 3:20).
V. SATISFACTION WITH A STATE OF CONSCIOUS DARKNESS; indifference to precise regulations of religion, indisposition of heart towards "perfect holiness"; a loose and easy content over failings and negligence. Ignorance is by some persons consciously cherished: it allows them a covert from the exactions of a lofty and honest piety.
VI. PLAUSIBLE SOPHISTRY; entertaining the delusion that because there is not determined wilfulness in sinning, Or not fullest knowledge of God's prohibitions of sin, they are less responsible, less to be condemned. Note: Many persons, trained from youth in a school of error, grow up with false principles dominating their judgments and consciences, or with ignorance of the application of right principles to particular incidents and actions. Thus Luther, trained amid the blinding theories of Romanism, groped on till manhood in delusions and dimness. Thus Paul, brought up amid the traditions of Judaism, found his soul clouded with wholly wrong thoughts concerning what was "doing God service." It is our duty to undeceive ourselves, to inquire after knowledge, to seek full light, that our dimness may yield to discernment. A complacent ignorance is as the softly gliding stream which flows onwards to the rapids. To be able to rest in such self-satisfied ignorance indicates that self-delusion has began, portending doom. "Whom the gods would destroy they first dement."
1. Search the Scriptures.
2. Seek the Spirit's illumination.
3. Culture a pure and enlightened conscience.
4. Exercise the judgment and will in efforts to "cease from evil and learn to do well."
(W. H. Jellie.)
Matthew 26:63, and said, "I adjure thee by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God." Now, that was the high priest acting upon the first verse of this very chapter. And our Lord then heard what is called "the swearing" in this verse, or what in that case was the adjuration of the high priest; and as you notice, so obedient was the true Lamb, the true Saviour, to all the requirements of the ceremonial law, that though He had been dumb when asked previously, yet the moment that the high priest adjured Him, that moment, in obedience to the first verse of this chapter, our blessed Lord answered the question addressed to Him; as if it was impossible that He could fail in the observance of the least jot or tittle of the ceremonial law, any more than in the weightiest requirement of God's moral law. We have in Proverbs 29. an allusion to this: "He heareth an adjuration, and telleth not," — that is laid down as a sin, or, in other words, the violation of this verse.
(J. C. Cumming, D. D.)
He also shall be unclean.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
He shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing.Poland was bound for Havre, with a cargo of cotton on board. By some singular accident the cotton took fire clear down in the hold. The captain, finding that he could not reach the fire, undertook to smother it; but in vain. Then he caulked down the hatchways; but the deck grew so hot that neither passengers nor crew could stand on it. At length he fired a signal gun in distress, put all his people into the boats, and left the doomed ship to her fate. He watched her as she ploughed gallantly through the waves, with all her canvas on; but ere she sunk below the horizon, the fire burst forth in a sheet of flame to the mast-head. That ill-fated packet, carrying the fatal fire in her own hold, is a vivid picture of the moral condition of thousands of men and women. They cover their sins by all manner of concealments; they batten down the hatchways with a show of respectability, and, alas! sometimes with an outward profession of religion; but the deadly thing remains underneath in the heart, and if it does not burst forth in this world, it will in the next. Probably this reveals the reason why some Church members are so constantly halting and stumbling and fall so easily into backsliding. Their "first works" of repentance and confession to God were shallow.
(T. L. Cuyler.)
i.e., labour as much as may be to draw them into particulars; as to say, In this and in this, at such and such a time, on such an occasion, and in such a place, I have sinned against my God; for it is not enough for a man to be sorrowful in the general, because he is a sinner; but he must draw himself out into particulars, in what manner, and with what sins he hath displeased God, otherwise he may deceive his own soul.
If a soul commit a trespass.I. AS TO THE DISTINCTIVE CHARACTER OF THIS OFFERING.
1. It was not a "sweet savour" offering. Christ is here seen suffering for sins; the view of His work is expiatory.
2. It was a trespass as distinct from a sin-offering. Not the person, but the act of wrong-doing, is the point noticed and dwelt upon. And how solemn is the truth here taught us, that neither our conscience, nor our measure of light, nor our ability, but the truth of God, is the standard by which both sin and trespass are to be measured. "Though he wist it not, yet is he guilty; he hath certainly trespassed against the Lord." If man's conscience or man's light were the standard, each man might have a different rule. And, at this rate, right or wrong, good or evil, would depend, not upon God's truth, but on the creature's apprehension of it. At this rate, the filthiest of unclean beasts could not be convicted of uncleanness, while it could plead that it had no apprehension of that which was pure and seemly. But we do not judge thus in the things of this world; neither does God judge so in the things of heaven. Who argues that because swine are filthy, therefore the standard of cleanliness is to be set by their perceptions or ability; or that because they seem unconscious of their state, therefore the distinction between what is clean and unclean must be relinquished. No: we judge not by their perceptions, but our own; with our light and knowledge, not their ignorance, as our standard.
3. In the trespass-offering we get restitution, furl restitution for the original wrong. The amount of the injury, according to the priest's valuation of it, is paid in shekels of the sanctuary to the injured person. The thought here is not that trespass is punished, but that the injured party is repaid the wrong. The payment was in shekels: these "shekels of the sanctuary" were the appointed standard by which God's rights were measured; as it is said, "And all thy estimation shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary." Thus they represent the truest measure, God's standard by which He weighs all things. By this standard the trespass is weighed, and then the value paid to the injured person. And God and man, though wronged by trespass, each receive as much again from man in Christ through the trespass-offering. Whether honour, service, worship, or obedience, whatever God could claim, whatever man could rob Him of, all this has He received again from man in Christ, "according to the priest's estimation in shekels of the sanctuary." But man also was injured by trespass; and he, too, receives as much again. Christ for man as offerer of the trespass-offering, must offer to injured man the value of the original injury. And such as accept His offering find their loss through man's trespass more than paid. Has trespass wronged man of life, peace, or gladness, he may claim and receive through Christ repayment. For man to man, as for man to God, Christ stands the One in whom man's wrongs are remedied.
4. But this is not all. Not only is the original wrong paid, but a fifth part more is paid with it in the trespass-offering. Who would have thought that from the entrance of trespass, both God and man should in the end be gainers? But so it is. From man in Christ both God and man have received back more than they were robbed of. In this sense, "where sin abounded," yea, and because sin abounded, "grace did more abound."
II. THE VARIETIES OR GRADES IN THIS OFFERING. These are fewer than in any other offering, teaching us that those who apprehended this aspect of Christ's work, will apprehend it all very much alike. It will be remembered that in the sin-offering the varieties were most numerous and that because sin in us may be, and is, so differently apprehended; but trespass, the act of wrong committed, if seen at all, can scarce be seen differently. Accordingly, we find but one small variety in the trespass-offering, for I can scarce regard the two different aspects of trespass as varieties. These aspects are, first, trespasses against God, and then trespasses against our neighbour; but this distinction is more like the difference between the offerings than the varieties in different grades of the same. It simply points out distinct bearings of trespass, for which in each case the atonement seen is precisely similar. There is, however, one small yet remarkable difference between the two grades of the offering for wrongs in holy things. In the first grade, which gives us the fullest view of the offering, we read of the life laid down, the restitution made, and the fifth part added. But in the lower class, the last of these is unnoticed: "the fifth part" is quite unseen. And how true this is in the experience of Christians. Where the measure of apprehension is full, there not only the life laid down, and the restitution made in the trespass-offering, but all the truth also which is caught in the "fifth part," will be seen as a consequence of trespass and a part of the trespass-offering. Not so, however, where the apprehension is limited: here there is no addition seen beyond the amount of the original trespass.
I. THE TRESPASS-OFFERING (or guilt-offering, R.V.) refers more especially to the evil actions which are the outcome of our corrupt nature: while the sin that is inherent in that nature, as descendants of fallen Adam, is fully met in the sin-offering — last considered. The evil deeds, or sins, met by the trespass-offering may be thus divided — as against God and against man.
II. "A TRESPASS... THROUGH IGNORANCE, in the HOLY THINGS OF THE LORD," is the first mentioned. Here there is a similarity to the sin spoken of in chap. Leviticus 4., for it is "through ignorance." Who can measure the holiness of God, or know the extent of sin against such a Being? Perfect purity and holiness demand the same; but we are born in sin, "shapen in iniquity" (Psalm 51:5); and "who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one" (Job 14:4). Hence, till the heart is changed by "the grace of God" (Romans 5:15; 1 Corinthians 15:10), the sin within is ever showing itself in evil actions; and even after we know the Lord we are apt to trespass in His "holy things." In men's very religion, too, there may be sin. How often do they invent a worship of their own, not in accordance with God's Word; a way of salvation which dishonours Him; a way of approach to Him other than He has given! If living for self, the world, or other purpose than God's glory, we are robbing God. It may be through ignorance, but "though he wist it not, yet he is guilty, and shall bear his iniquity" (vers. 17-19), saith the Lord. There is thus no hope for us in ourselves, but He has met this (as all) our need in His "Beloved Son," as shown in type before us, for the sinning one is bidden to bring —
1. "A ram without blemish... for a trespass-offering" (guilt-offering, R.V.), "and the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his ignorance...;" for "he hath certainly trespassed against the Lord." Mark well the words "certainly trespassed," though in ignorance. The same truth is here again shown, that no sin could be atoned for without the shedding of Jesu's blood; but His was a full, perfect, and complete atonement, when He made "His soul a guilt-offering" (Isaiah 53:10, marg., R.V.; same word as vers. 5:19, R.V.). He "was delivered up for our trespasses" (Romans 4:25; Romans 5:16, R.V.)
2. "Shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary," were also to be brought with the ram, to "make amends for the harm... done in the holy thing." No lower standard than God's could be accepted. Have we a just perception of God's holiness?
3. A fifth part added. Who could do this in its full meaning? None but Jesus. And He brought more glory to God by redemption than could have accrued from creation. Christ was perfect in His obedience to God's holy law, and gave rich surplus. He — the Antitype of trespass-offering (both of ram and silver, 1 Peter 1:18, 19) — was also Priest who made atonement or reconciliation (Romans 5:10, 11; 1 John 2:2); and the blessed result is —
4. Forgiveness (vers. 16, 18) to "all that believe" (Acts 13:38, 39).
III. WRONG DONE TO A NEIGHBOUR is equally described as "trespass against the Lord" (Leviticus 6:1-7). This the unregenerate heart fails to see, but God pronounces it to be "sin"; and the truth of Hebrews 9:22 is once more brought before us; but, in contrast to the trespass against the holy things, in the case of wrong done to a neighbour — restitution with addition of fifth part must be made, before bringing the trespass-offering of "a ram without blemish," with the "estimation." The former teaches that only on the ground of blood shed could God accept the offerer, or "the amends" He would have him make; whereas, in the case of wrong done to a neighbour, "amends" must first be made to that neighbour before pardon can be sought of God. This is the lesson enforced by our Lord (Matthew 5:23, 24; Matthew 6:14, 15). See, too, Zaccheus ready to "restore fourfold" (Luke 19:8). To approach God with a wrong against a neighbour unredressed will not bring acceptance; while in the case of trespass against the Lord in holy things, pardon through Jesus must first be sought before "amends for the harm" done, can be accepted. Each must be according to God's ordering, and then there is the same gracious promise of forgiveness (vers. 16, 18, 6:7; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13).
IV. THE LAW OF THE TRESPASS-OFFERING opens out some further details (Leviticus 7:1-7). It was to be —
1. Killed in the same place as the burnt-offering (Leviticus 1:5, 11), that is, "on the side of the altar northward before the Lord." It was the "same Jesus" in all, though different aspects and results of His death are presented in each.
2. The blood was to be sprinkled "round about upon the altar." Only in the sin-offering was it to be poured out, as that offering presented a more comprehensive view of the fulness of the atonement.
3. The costliest parts were to be burned on the altar, as in the sin-offering, telling of the rich and intrinsic excellency of the Lord Jesus which could stand the searching fire of God's holiness.
4. "Most holy" (Leviticus 6:25, 29; Leviticus 7:1, 6). The use of such an expression, in connection with sin-offering and trespass-offering is most striking. The more we meditate thereon the more we learn how the heart's affection, mind, inward parts, were all perfect in Jesus — hence He is a perfect Saviour. Lastly, the trespass-offering was —
5. To be eaten in the Holy Place, by "every male among the priests," typifying the Church, as partakers of Him who bare their "sins" (1 Peter 2:24), while "the priest that maketh atonement" was type of Jesus, thus seen to identify Himself with His people.
(Lady Beaujolois Dent.)
I. THE JEALOUSY OF JEHOVAH FOR THE HONOUR OF HIS WORSHIP IN THE TABERNACLE.
II. THE INFLUENCE THIS JEALOUSY WAS CALCULATED TO EXERT UPON THE WORSHIPPERS IN THE TABERNACLE.
1. Sensitiveness of feeling.
2. Tenderness of conscience.
3. Scrupulousness of conduct.
(F. W. Brown).
I. SIN IS A WRONG DONE TO GOD.
II. SIN IS A WRONG DONE TO MAN. Amends must be made by —
1. Appropriate contrition.
2. Personal sacrifice.
3. Unreserved consecration: evincing itself in a holy, useful, Christly life.
(F. W. Brown)
I. A SOPHISTRY NEEDING CORRECTION. This: that intention constitutes the quality of an action, whether conduct is criminal or not. But this declaration of "guilt," though in the action he "wist it not," testifies against a sweeping and all-inclusive application of that principle, viz., that intention qualifies action.
2. Yet ignorance cannot excuse guilt. A man is not excused for breaking the laws of the land because he was ignorant of them. Nor is he innocent who trespasses, through error, against any ordinance of the Lord. And, if so in respect of ceremonial observances, much more so in relation to moral duties. Hence the curse stands against "every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them" (Galatians 3:10).
3. God Himself refuses to condone such ignorance. His Word declares that men "perish for lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6); and that though "a people be of no understanding, He will not have mercy on them, and will show them no favour."
II. MAN'S UNCOMPUTED GUILT.
1. Reckon up our remembered sins. "They are more in number than the hairs of our head."
2. Add the sins realised at the time but now forgotten. Memory lets slip multitudinous trespasses.
3. Yet what can represent the number of our unrecognised sins, done in ignorance, done in error?
4. Deviations and defects also, which God's eye alone detected, and which we too self-indulgently condoned.
III. VAST VIRTUE NEEDED IN ATONEMENT.
1. Under the ceremonial arrangements for expiation, how manifold and minute and numerous were the regulations and provisions necessary to make atonement for sin!
2. When all sin had to be expiated by Christ's one offering, what value it must needs possess! Yet "by one offering" the Saviour "purged our sins."(1) It summons us to faith. "Look unto Me and be ye saved." "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world."(2) It incites us to grateful adoration. "Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood," &c. (Revelation 1:5, 6).(3) It assures us of perfect redemption. "There remaineth no more offering for sin," for "the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth us from all sin."
(W. H. Jellie.)
(C. H. Mackintosh.)
Though he wist it not, yet is he guilty.Leviticus 4:2). It is first of all supposed that a priest may sin (Leviticus 4:3). As Trapp says, "The sins of teachers are teachers of sins," and therefore they were not overlooked, but had to be expiated by trespass-offerings. Further on in the chapter (ver 22) it is supposed that a ruler may sin. Errors in leaders are very fruitful of mischief, and therefore they were to be repented of and put away by an expiatory sacrifice. It was also according to the law regarded as very likely that any man might fall into sins of ignorance, for in Leviticus 4:27, we read, "And if any one of the common people sin through ignorance, while he doeth somewhat against any of the commandments of the Lord." The sin even of the commonest person was not to be passed over as a mere trifle, even though he could plead ignorance of the law. An enlightened conscience mourns over sins of ignorance, which it would never do if they were innocent mistakes. The word rendered "ignorance" may also bear the translation of "inadvertence." Inadvertence is a kind of acted ignorance: a man frequently does wrong for want of thought, through not considering the bearing of his action, or even thinking at all. He carelessly and hastily blunders into the course which first suggests itself, and errs because he did not study to be right. There is very much sin of this kind committed every day. There is no intent to do wrong, and yet wrong is done. Culpable neglect creates a thousand faults. "Evil is wrought by want of thought as well as want of heart." We do not take time enough to examine our actions; we do not take good heed to our steps. Life should be a careful work of art, in which every single line and tint should be the fruit of study and thought, like the paintings of the great master who was wont to say, "I paint for eternity"; but alas! life is often slurred over, like those hasty productions of the scene painter, in which present effect alone is studied, and the canvas becomes a mere daub of colours hastily laid on. We seem intent to do much rather than to do well; we want to cover space rather than to reach perfection. This is not wise. Oh that every single thought were conformed to the will of God! Now, seeing that there are sins of ignorance and sins of inadvertence, what about them? Is there any actual guilt in them? In our text we have the Lord's mind and judgment.
I. By the Divine declaration that sins of ignorance are really sins THE COMMANDMENT OF GOD IS HONOURED.
1. Enlarging upon this thought, I would observe that hereby the law is declared to be the supreme authority over men. The law is supreme, not conscience. Conscience is differently enlightened in different men, and the ultimate appeal as to right and wrong cannot be to your half-blinded conscience or to mine. If we break the law, although our conscience may not blame us, or even inform us of the wrong, yet still the deed is recorded against us; we must bear our iniquity. The law is also set above human opinion, for this man says, "You may do that," and a second claims that he may do the other, but the law changes not according to man's judgment, and does not bend itself to the spirit of the age or the taste of the period. It is the supreme judge, from whose infallible decision there is no appeal. This exalts the law above the custom of nations and periods; for men are very wont to say, "It is true I did so and so, which I could not have defended in itself; but then it is the way of the trade, other houses do so, general opinion and public consent have endorsed the custom; I do not therefore see how I can act differently from others, for if I did so I should be very singular, and should probably be a loser through my scrupulosity." Yes, but the customs of men are not the standard of right.
2. Note again, if a sin of ignorance renders us guilty, what must a wilful sin do? Do you not perceive at once how the law is again set on high by this?
3. Thus again, by the teaching of our text, men were driven to study the law: for if they were at all right-hearted they said, "Let us know what God would have us do. We do not wish to be leaving His commands undone, or committing transgressions against His prohibitory precepts through not knowing better."
4. And you will see at once that this would lead every earnest Israelite to teach his children God's law, lest his son should err through ignorance or indavertence. Fear of committing sins of ignorance was a spur to national education, and tended greatly to make all Israel honour the law of the Lord.
5. I close these thoughts by noting that to me the sin-revealing power of the law is wonderfully displayed as I read my text. What a law is this by which men are bound! How severe and searching! How holy and how pure must God Himself be!
II. By the teaching of the text THE CONSCIENCE IS AROUSED.
1. Our ignorance is evidently very great. As the conies swarm in the holes of the rocks, the bats in the sunless caves of the earth, and the fish in the deep abysses of the sea, so do our sins swarm in the hidden parts of our nature. "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse Thou me from secret faults!"
2. The ignorance of very many persons is to a large degree wilful. Many do not read the Bible at all, or very seldom, and then without desiring to know its meaning. Even some professing Christians take their religion from the monthly magazine, or some standard book written by a human author and adopted by their sect, but few go to the Word of God itself; they are content to drink of the muddied streams of human teaching instead of filling their cups at the crystal fount of revelation itself. Now, if ye be ignorant of anything concerning God's mind and will, it is not, in the case of any of you, for want of the Book, nor for want of a willing guide to instruct you in it; for, behold, the Holy Spirit waiteth to be gracious to you in this respect. Break in, O light eternal! Break in upon the dimness of our ignorance.
3. Now it will be vain for any man to say in his mind, as I fear some will do, "God is hard in thus dealing with us." If thou sayest thus, O man, I ask thee to remember God's answer. Christ puts your rebellious speech into the mouth of the unfaithful one who hid his talent. Wiser far is it to submit and crave for mercy.
4. Let us recollect, in order that our doctrine may appear less strange, that it is according to the analogy of nature that when God's laws are broken, ignorance of those laws should not prevent the penalty falling upon the offenders.
5. It is of necessity that it should be according to this declaration. It is not possible that ignorance should be a justification of sin; for, first, if it were so, it would follow that the more ignorant a man was the more innocent he would be. If, again, the guilt of an action depended entirely upon a man's knowledge, we should have no fixed standard at all by which to judge right and wrong; it would be variable according to the enlightenment of each man, and there would be no ultimate and infallible court of appeal. Moreover, ignorance of the law of God is itself a bleach of law, since we are bidden to know and remember it. Can it be possible, then, that one sin is to be an excuse for another? If sins of ignorance are not sins, then Christ's intercession was altogether a superfluity.
6. Once again, I am sure that many of us now present must have felt the truth of this in our own hearts. You who love the Lord and hate unrighteousness, must in your lives have come to a point of greater illumination, where you have said, "I see a certain action to be wrong; I have been doing it for years, but God knows I would not have done it if I bad thought it wrong. Even now I see that other people are doing it, and thinking it right; but I cannot do so any more; my conscience has at last received new light, and I must make a change at once." In such circumstances did it ever come to your mind to say, "What I have done was not wrong, because I did not know it to be wrong"? Far from it. You have justly said to yourself, "My sin in this matter is not so great as if I had transgressed wilfully with my eyes open, knowing it to be sin"; but yet you have accused yourself of the fault and mourned over it.
III. By the grand and awful truth of the text THE SACRIFICE IS ENDEARED. Just according to our sense of sin must be our value of the sacrifice. God's way of delivering those who sinned ignorantly was not by denying their sin and passing it over, but by accepting an atonement for it. Under the law this atonement was to be a ram without blemish. Our Lord had no sin, nor shade of sin. He is the spotless victim which the law requires. All that justice, in its most severe mood, could require from man by way of penalty our Lord Jesus Christ has rendered; for in addition to His sacrifice for the sin, He has presented a recompense for the damage, as the person who sinned ignorantly was bound to do. He has recompensed the honour of God, and He has recompensed every man whom we have injured. Has another injured you? Well, since Christ has given Himself to you, there is a full recompense made to you, even as there has been made to God. We may rest in this sacrifice. How supremely efficacious it is. It takes away iniquity, transgression, and sin.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
— A kindred error is that a man does right when he obeys his conscience — does what his conscience tells him is right; in other words, does what he thinks is right. If this be true then Saul was right when he made havoc of the Church, for he verily thought he was doing God service. We are, no doubt, bound to do what we think is right; but we are under equal obligations to have our thinking in regard to duty correct. God has given us reason, moral powers, and revelation that we may know our duty and do it. The intellect needs training that it may perceive what is true. The conscience needs training that it may perceive what is true; in other words, the mind's power of perceiving both scientific and moral truth needs cultivating. It may err in regard to scientific truth. It may err in regard to moral truth. In regard to the latter we have an infallible standard in the Word of God, which, if rightly applied, will relieve us from error. We see why the Bible attaches so much importance to a knowledge of the truth. It is the condition of right perception in regard to duty.