TEXT: HEB. x.8-12.
DEEPLY as our feelings may be moved on a day such as this, deeply as our hearts may be affected with a sense of sin, and at the same time filled with thankfulness for the mercy from on high, that planned to save us by God not sparing His own Son, we can only be sure of having found the right and true use of the day, when we bring our thoughts and feelings to the test of Scripture.
We find there a twofold treatment of the supremely important event which we commemorate to-day. The gospel narratives unfold to us the facts of Christ's life and death, setting them before us, each with its own accompanying circumstances; and in every line of their history we see, closely side by side, the clearest light of heavenly love and purity, and the darkest shadow of sin and perversity. Which of us would not gladly linger over this history during this time set apart specially for meditation on the sufferings of Christ? Who would not expect once more to experience the purifying and elevating power of those sacred narratives? And the more we kept in view, in such meditations, the spiritual aspect of the facts, not allowing it to be pushed aside by what is only external, the purer would be the blessing that we derived from such a contemplation of the life of Christ. But the apostles, in their letters to individual brethren as well as to Christian congregations, take this acquaintance with outward facts as a thing for granted; while they seize every opportunity of directing the attention of Christians to the deep, mysterious significance of the death of Christ for our salvation, and to its connection with the great end and purpose of redemption, with the whole of our hopes and our faith. And the more suitable such meditations on the historical facts are for the days preceding this great day, during which no doubt all the pious members of our congregations have been constantly so engaged, not only during our meetings, but in the quiet of private devotion; the more natural it seems to me to turn in this sacred hour to one of those apostolic utterances, and to devote our attention to the deep significance of Christ's death for the salvation of men.
It is very clear, from the whole context of these words, that the sacred writer regards the Saviour's death as the real transition point at which the old covenant terminated and the new covenant of God with man began. While he represents the death of the Saviour as an offering for sin, he at the same time sets it forth, in the words, "through one offering are perfected," as the end of all offerings and all sacrificial services, which, in the times before Christ, formed the essential element both in the worship of the Jewish people, and in the sacred rites, mixed with much delusion and error, of other nations. And we have here set in the sharpest contrast the inadequacy of all former offerings, and that eternal, divine power through which the offering of the Saviour transcends them all, and in so doing has made an end of all offerings. Let us then consider the death of the Saviour in contrast with all other offerings, and as the end of them.
In the earlier part of this chapter the writer had said that the offerings would have ceased if those who offered them had had no more conscience of sin, but had been cleansed once for all; but through the offerings there was only a remembrance made of sins year by year; the sins themselves, he says in our text, can never, by the repetition of the offerings, be taken away. We shall, therefore, not only get hold of the real meaning of his discourse, but exhaust it as to its essential bearing, if we regard the death of Christ as the termination of all offerings in these two respects: first, because there is no longer need of any other remembrance of sin, to be renewed from day to day and from year to year; secondly, because, sin being really taken away, there is no longer need of any such insufficient offerings.
I. Offerings, then, served at first as a remembrance of sin; but now, since Christ became a sacrifice for sin, there is no longer need for any other remembrance of it.
How was it, then, that all the offerings under the old covenant were a remembrance of sin? In this way -- that while the offering was supposed to make satisfaction for individual acts that transgressed the law of the Highest, so that there was no longer cause to fear being reproached or punished for them; at the same time the presenting of the offering was a confession of the guilty act; and by this public presentation each offerer made a remembrance of his sins, of everything in which he had come short of the law. We may only notice here, in passing, what an imperfect system this was. For what, after all, are the single out ward acts, in which sin manifests itself, in comparison with sin itself? Nothing but occasional outbreakings of the inward corruption, dependent, in a thousand ways, on external circumstances. If we compare two persons, of whom, on the same day, one has a multitude of such outward offences to repent of and to expiate, while the other can boast of not having committed one, is the latter, on that account, better than the former? By no means! Only he has fallen on a favouring hour, the other on an evil one; and corruption may have just as deep and firm a hold in the soul of the one as in that of the other. For just look at it in this way! How do we suppose a man can single out particular acts that he commits as those which are to be attributed to himself alone? That man may indeed be always right who in his inmost heart ascribes to himself, without reflecting on any one else, a culpable and criminal deed committed by him; but it would be unjust in others to let him settle his account in this manner, and think themselves cleared from all blame of his act, because he imputes it to himself alone; and therefore that man will never be quite wrong who includes others as connected more or less remotely, and often at who can tell what distance of time, with his fault. No, my friends, if we are only in any measure seeking the truth, if we look intelligently into the manifold ways in which the concerns of society are woven into each other, and become aware of all the open and hidden influences that people exercise on each other, we shall be ready to admit that each of us has his share, directly or indirectly, in the sins that appear in others; and that we can by no means consider that our reckoning ends with those which we personally commit. Oh, in very manifold ways, -- not only by misleading example and inconsiderate speech, but by easy, lenient judgments, by neglecting to express disapproval, and in many ways besides, we all help to cause sin in others; and we can hardly say that any sin is the sin of one alone. For this reason, then, all remembrance of sin made by the offerings was imperfect and unsatisfactory, because it depended on this division of human responsibility, because it only dealt with sin when it became outwardly manifest, so that there was no true remembrance of inward sin impressed on the mind of the worshipper. And when the apostle says elsewhere that "by the law is the knowledge of sin," he is perfectly right; for this is, in fact, the highest merit that can be ascribed to an external law, although it possesses no power for real amendment; but he could certainly never have meant that the remembrance of sin, provided for by the offerings prescribed in the law, could ever have produced a complete consciousness of sin or a true knowledge of it. No, this is only effected fully by the contemplation of the suffering and dying Saviour. There we have presented to us in one view, in the authors of this death, the full depth of human depravity, and in Him who suffered it, the full glory of the only-begotten Son of the Father; so that we may say with perfect truth that there is no real remembrance of sin but the death of the Lord. In this, sin has accomplished its greatest work; here it shows itself in its full strength and completeness. The apostle John must also have taken this view when he summed up all sin in "the lust of the eyes, and the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life." It was the lust of the eyes, the mistaken tendency of man to be captivated by outward appearance, and by that to estimate character, which caused so many of our Lord's contemporaries to perplex themselves by superficial judgments. What good can come out of Nazareth? Of what consequence can this man be who has not learned the Scriptures in our way? The lust of the flesh, the delight that men take in the transitory blessings of the present life, the striving after distinction and honour in the world, after the securing and increasing of every outward possession, the joy of seeing others dependent on them and of being looked up to by them, -- this was what caused the high priest and the elders of his people to agree in the decision. It is better that one man should perish than that the whole constitution, under which we can direct and restrain the people, should come to ruin. And the pride of life, -- what is it? It is the pride built on man's presumptuous self-confidence when he imagines that, in his sagacity and experience of life, he has already possessed himself of what is best and most perfect, and therefore holds the powers unsurpassed to which he owes those possessions. Thus nothing better can gain entrance to his mind, and in the pleasant twilight of self-complacency all pure light is scorned and rejected. It was through this pride of life that the wise and powerful of those times did not believe John's announcement of the kingdom of God; and it was because of it that afterwards the secret of the divine counsels remained hidden from them, and could be revealed only to babes. But from this very cause, that the light was hidden from the wise and mighty because of their pride, they were able so to sin against Him who was the centre of all the promises, that they crucified Him. Hence we may truly say that we find, in that which was the cause of the Saviour's death, the most notable example of all that darkens the human soul and keeps men far from the way of truth and salvation: and a remembrance of sin, ineffaceable to all eternity, was recorded in the fact that in the one nation in which the knowledge of the only true God had been preserved, those very persons who should, above all others, have possessed and kept up this knowledge, were sinful and corrupt enough to slay on the cross the Prince of Life and the Lord of Glory. What more can we need as a remembrance of sin? There it stands, once for all, just as much for every individual, as for all times and for the whole human race. For whatever stirrings of sin we still have, whatever in us resists the will of God, of which He was the eternal embodiment, may always be traced to something of that which was the cause of the Lord's death; and thus we must regard all sins as having a share in crucifying Him. And hence every succeeding generation needed, just as little as we, any other remembrance of sin than that which was created by the death of the Lord: and He is thus the end of all offerings; because the sorrowful confession of single sins by means of such sacred observances, and the sorrow and repentance for separate outbreaks of sin, of whatever kind they may be, cannot by any means be compared with the sorrow with which we all, without distinction of better or worse, must be bowed down by this thought, that it was our kindred, men like ourselves, who, through the same corruption that we find in ourselves, crucified the Lord of Glory. A remembrance which thus bears upon everything evil in the human soul, makes every other for ever superfluous. And again, if in connection with distinct sinful acts that we have committed, we prescribe to ourselves, or have prescribed to us by others, certain performances, whether works of love or exercises of devotion; these can never make what is done as if it had not been, nor dry up the fountain of such acts, and therefore can be nothing but a remembrance of sin; so what would this be but to turn back to that imperfect system which has only the shadow instead of the reality? and what would be proved by our doing so, but that we fail to ascribe the due value to the remembrance of sin made by the death of Christ? Let us then use this day's solemn commemoration of that death, to establish ourselves anew on this article of our Church's faith; that even in this respect we have regard to nothing but the perfect sacrifice once finished by Christ on the cross. And let each one whose heart admonishes him to think of the corruption in his own breast, and every one who is still conscious of occasional symptoms of his old sin. cast himself down before the cross of Christ, and there, in the name of Him who was made the offering for sin, beseech the Father to preserve him from ever again, by his lust of the eyes and lust of the flesh and pride of life, crucifying afresh the Prince of Life and Lord of Glory.
II. And as those offerings, often as they were repeated, were always only this imperfect kind of remembrance of sin; so, in the second place, they were quite incapable of taking away sin. But inasmuch as, with the repeated confession of sin they could only renew and keep up the remembrance of it, while its life and strength in the soul remained unchanged, those offerings kept alive the longing for some better help, and the earnest desire that One should appear, even though He must come down from heaven, who should in very deed be able to take away both sin itself and its power. Therefore in saying that the death of the Saviour was the end of all offerings, the author of our epistle specially means that even the sin itself was taken away, and so there was no further need of offerings; as he goes on to say, "Let us draw near with true hearts, in full faith, free from all evil conscience, and made clean."
But how -- in what manner and in what sense sin is taken away through the death of the Saviour -- that, my friends, is the great mystery of the fellowship of His death and His life as declared in the Scriptures. For these two positions, that we are buried with Christ in His death, and that we have risen with Him to a new life, cannot be separated from true faith in the Saviour. For what is believing in Him if it is not at least this acknowledging Him as the promised Deliverer of men, as He who could direct the lost to the right way, and bring life to the dead, because He was Himself the Truth, and because sin had no place in Him. But if we acknowledge Him as all this, how T would it be possible that we should not all, just through His death, die to that which caused it? Believers could not have been willing to put the Saviour to death; therefore their faith must constrain them -- otherwise it is no faith -- to renounce every thing that brought Him to the cross. And thus the old man, everything that manifests the power of sin in us, is crucified with Christ.
And not only so; it is just as necessary an effort of our faith in Him, that we receive His life as our own, so that we pan say with the apostle. "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." For it belongs to man's nature to desire communion with Him by whose breathing he became a reasonable soul. Even in times of the deepest darkness and corruption, men have not been able entirely to lose sight of the desire to be acquainted with the supreme Being, and to link their existence with His. Rather than leave unsatisfied this highest and most vital need, having once lost the right track, they associated their worship, as the apostle says, "with corruptible images of the creature, and served the creature instead of the Creator." And therefore if, in the foolish fables of paganism, in the gloomiest delusions of idol-worship, nay, even in the unnatural abominations that arose out of it, we cannot fail to recognise this striving and feeling after the divine Being; (although we freely admit there can be no greater pain or horror to an enlightened mind than to see the holiest things represented in so distorted and dishonouring a manner) -- if this was so, was it not quite natural that those efforts, partly misguided and partly repressed, should be turned in the right direction when the Father revealed Himself in the Son; when the divine Word became flesh, and the teacher who points to the Father appeared in human form; when the divine Love became visible in the glory of the only-begotten Son, who knew nothing else and lived for nothing else than to labour to communicate to His brethren all that He had received, and to draw them all to Himself and into the one life which is His with the Father? For in truth there was nothing in the human soul beyond this sense of need and unsatisfied longing, that could take the side of the Saviour; there was no real perception of truth, no real inclination to wards good. But as it was a part of His work both to communicate such a perception and directly to create such a desire, His mighty, divine influence required no other ally than this sense of need, And thus it came about that those who acknowledged Him by faith not only died with Him as to the old man, but also rose again with Him to a new life; that is, to a life that was peculiarly His own, but which He gladly shared with them; a life that constantly drew fresh nourishment and strength from every word of wisdom that He spoke, and from every glance of divine compassion and love in His eyes. And these life-giving processes are now made permanent in the Christian Church by the preaching of the Word, and by the divine Spirit, who works by means of it. The works of creation, on the other hand, considered in themselves, although our knowledge of them has largely increased, have not become more efficacious, as experience sufficiently teaches, in making us acquainted with God and leading us to Him than they were long ago; and thus it still always comes to pass that the Father manifests Himself to us only in the Son; and that the mysteriously communicated life comes in the same way, by our rising again with the Saviour to the new life, but only after we have been buried with Him in His death, and therefore always in connection with that death.
Seeing then that in this sense we are crucified with Christ, and with Him have risen to a new life, sin is in truth taken away; for not only the consciousness of it, or as the writer of our text expresses it, the "conscience of sin" is destroyed, but also its guilt is cancelled.
For, as regards the first, we may surely say that he who has died to sin and the law -- for both of these had a part in crucifying the Lord -- has thereby lost the consciousness of sin thus far, that his will has thrown off its authority, and all participation in it. And he who has risen with the Saviour to a new life, so that Christ alone lives in him and is ever being more fully formed in him, while his former self lives no longer, -- he has in so far lost the consciousness of sin, that he has gained the consciousness of something else, of this oneness of life with Christ, who never willed to do anything but the will of His heavenly Father. Now as in Christ Himself there was absolutely no sin, so no consciousness of sin can exist alongside of the consciousness of His life in us. Rather, as the life of Christ was a blessed life, so also our consciousness, in so far as we are united with Him, is only blessedness. For when our will is in thorough harmony with the whole will of God, so far as we can in any way know or conjecture what it is, there can be nothing to disturb or trouble us; while even the weakness that still remains in us, finding no encouragement from our will, is no longer a part of our real life, but rather belongs to the things apart from us against which we are to fight the good fight of faith; and in that fight we feel truly blessed, be cause we act as God's instruments and in His strength. It is true, therefore, that just in the measure in which Christ lives in us we are free from the "conscience of sin." This is indeed a doctrine of which, on the one hand, we may well say, "Not that I have already attained, but I follow after, if by any means I may attain"; but on the other hand we must admit -- and praise God that it is so -- it is the deepest, simplest, purest truth even now in the life and heart of the Christian. Union with Christ means for us nothing but blessedness, pure joy in the Lord, closest communion with His and our Father in heaven.
But, it might be said, all this being granted, How is it brought about? How is this new consciousness which expels the "conscience of sin" wrought in us exactly through the death of the Saviour? For manifestly His disciples had faith in Him as the Son of the living God, and took heartfelt delight in the words of life which were at His command alone; and thus, even before His death, had that participation in His life. That is true: but to Himself at least, even from the beginning of His public life and work, the knowledge and the prospect of His death, -- of the very death He died, were always present, so that we must say He always acted under the power of His death. That which He could not make His disciples understand until after His resurrection, -- that it behoved Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory, -- was always alike deeply impressed on His own heart, and influenced His words and works through out His public life. And thus His disciples, long before they distinctly knew about His death, were already living in the power of it. For it was only because He had been pointed out to them from the beginning as "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world," and because they saw Him, who alone was without sin, thus setting Himself to destroy the sin of the world, that this true and living faith in Him as the Saviour could spring up in the hearts of His disciples. And for us it is still less possible to separate the power of His death from that of His life.
But it is not only the conscience of sin that is taken away when we are crucified with the Lord and risen again with Him to newness of life; the guilt of it is also cancelled; God's verdict about us -- the relation to the Highest in which sin had placed us -- is reversed. This is the meaning of the words of our text, "Sacrifice and burnt-offerings Thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; then hath He said, It is written of me in Thy book that I am come to do Thy will; He taketh away the first that He may establish the second." For that which is taken away is just the system of sacrifices, which could not justify from the guilt of sin. But its guilt consists in this, that "to be carnally minded is enmity against God." Now he who has died with Christ to sin and the law and risen to new life, still lives, it is true, in the flesh, that he cannot deny, nor will be able to deny throughout his earthly life; but the mind of the flesh is no longer in him, the enmity against God is taken away, and God also loves in the Beloved those to whom the Son, because they believe on His name, has given "power to become the children of God. And when it is said in verse 16 "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, that I will put my will into their heart, and write it in their mind," that is just what we have described as the simple and natural effect of our oneness of life with the Saviour. And we desire that you should all note these words, so that no one may under stand us as meaning that the guilt of sin can be taken away by any mere wish, however sincere, for amendment. For a wish, even though with no reservation, is still a mere empty and inefficacious thing, and leaves everything in the man as it was, so that God's verdict mast also remain the same, and the guilt the same: he who wishes, turns to God with only the lips of his soul, if I may so speak, not with his inmost heart. But to have the will of God written on the heart and mind is something much more than this. In that case all the man's aims and efforts, all his works dictated by his inmost feelings, are directed to fulfilling the will of God; and in mixing with the world his mind will most readily concern itself with what has reference to this. Therefore even the weakness that may still remain in the man as the consequence of old sins, is there against his will, which is entirely at one with God's will in being set against all sin; and where the whole will is in this way opposed to all sin, there the guilt is taken away. For that is laid to no man's account which really takes place against his will. This will is just fellow ship with Him who came to destroy the dominion of sin; and we only attain to such a will when we are united to Christ, and His will -- the only pure will -- is communicated to us. Love to Christ, and the good fight of the whole will against sin are one and the same thing. But every attempt to improve ourselves and others by our own power, and other wise than in fellowship with the Saviour, is not only unsatisfactory, but comes so very far short of what we ought, at least, to wish, that it cannot be distinguished from the useless wish, which cannot determine the verdict of God.
If then we put forth our powers -- repressed, it may be, hitherto, but ready to expand and grow by the power of Him who alone can make us strong -- in building up the kingdom of God, and labouring to put down all sin within and around us, the guilt of sin is thus taken away; God no longer looks on us as each of us was in himself and might have remained, but only in the Beloved and as what we have become in Him. Nay, more; if, according to this new covenant, the will of God is put into our hearts and written in our minds, then even He can remember our unrighteousness and our sin no more; but only regards as ours the new life that we live in His Son.
Let us then fix in our minds what is the real meaning of the writer in the words of the text: that the death of Christ is a sacrifice which He offered for sin, because free obedience, even to the death of the cross, is the crowning act of all obedience. The Saviour's obedience, and the sacrifice which He offered, are not different, but one and the same. And the holy death of the Saviour is the end of all imperfection in the view and representation of our relation to God, of all outward ceremonial, of all other offerings and purifying observances. While we see in Him, most specially in His death, the glory of the only Son of the Father, and see, at the same time, by that death, the power to which sin had risen as enmity against God, by this very means, for all of us who have died with Him to that which is imperfect, old things are passed away, and a new life with Him is begun, which, in fellowship with the Saviour, seeks after righteousness and true holiness. And the more we desire to see this life extending on all sides and exercising an ever mightier influence, the more thankfully do we constantly come back to the Lord's death as to the everlasting remembrance of sin, ever anew calling on all to die to it in the death of the Lord, as the one offering by which "He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." Yes, my friends, those who are sanctified, all who hold on and grow and make progress in the life that the Saviour has kindled in them, and in deed and truth go on renouncing all participation in sin, and all trust in the law and its works, building themselves up together more and more in the spiritual love of Christ, -- all those who are thus sanctified are perfected once for all by the offering that He presented; their obedience, although to outward view always imperfect, being yet an outcome of the perfect obedience of Christ and of a piece with it. They are perfected for ever for this very end, that they may really be able to be sanctified in a new life, after the conscience of sin and the guilt of sin are taken away from them, and they have become partakers in the liberty of the children of God; the only position in which there can be progress in what is truly good. Therefore, as the apostle Paul says, there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus; and we may thank God who has delivered us from this body of death, and given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. We owe it to His sacrifice, which He once offered for sin, that the guilt and the consciousness of sin are taken away from us, so that we can no longer live in fellowship with sin, which crucified Him, but in glorious and blessed fellowship with Himself.
How, then, can we but bring deeply moved and thankful hearts to commemorate the death of Jesus? And in meditating on His eternally efficacious sacrifice, how can we but ever more fully yield ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God? How can we but become, through this eternal and ineffaceable remembrance of sin, ever more confirmed in a holy hatred against all that is enmity against God and opposes His will? And moreover, how can we but clothe ourselves more and more in the righteousness and the love of Him who, even when we were yet enemies and sinners, gave His life for us all, in order that with a love like His we may embrace those who are still held in enmity against God, and may win them to share with us the happiness of reconciliation. How can we but invite all who are wearing themselves out in delusive and fruitless service to come, weary and heavy-laden, to Him, in whom they will find rest and refreshing for their souls; if in a right spirit they allow us to direct them to the only and eternally availing sacrifice, through which all may be made perfect! And thus let us in deed and in truth praise Him who, equally by His life and His death, has become to us redemption as well as holiness, wisdom as well as righteousness. Amen.
Yes, merciful God and Father, who didst not turn away from the sinful world, but in Thine eternal love didst conclude all under sin that Thou mightest have mercy on all, praise and thanks be to Thee that Thou hast been mindful of us in Thy Son, and didst reconcile us unto Thyself in Him, to open to us the way to that blessed communion with Thee, which we enjoy in Him. Oh, let Thy power be felt more widely in the kingdom of Thy Son on earth, that He may gain many more as the reward of His life and His death; that the number of those who find life and blessedness in Him may go on increasing; and establish all those who have already come to the saving knowledge of Christ ever more firmly in the holy bond of faith and love, so that it may be ever becoming more true that we are dead with Him to sin and to outward law, and that the life of God, which He alone could bring, may be more and more gloriously manifested in us. We beseech Thee, in the humility of children, that Thou wilt give us to enjoy these fruits of His death. Be pleased to cause them to increase more and more abundantly on earth, so that the renown of the Crucified may ever become more glorious, until all shall bow the knee before Him to receive from His hand what Thy fatherly love and compassion have wrought through Him. Amen.