And if you will make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone: for if you lift up your tool on it…
One can hardly help connecting the words with Daniel's vision of "a stone cut out of the mountain without hands," which was a vision of Christ. The rough stone fashioned by no human instrumentality, this alone might be an altar of the Lord. It was forbidden that man should attempt by devices of his own to adorn the altar; if he made the endeavour, he utterly profaned and polluted the structure: and in all this, was it not, as though it had been said expressly to man, "Thou shalt have a Mediator, an Altar, on which thine offerings being laid, shall be consumed by the fires of Divine acceptance; but if thou shouldst attempt to add anything of thine own to the worthiness of this Mediator, if thou wouldst carve the altar, or ornament it with human merit or righteousness, the effect shall be that for yourself the altar shall be stripped of all virtue, and no flame break forth from the heavens to burn up the oblation"? Now, we believe, that so soon as man had fallen, God instituted a system of sacrifice, and taught those who had sullied their immortality that its lustre should be restored through a propitiation for sin. As we conclude that God first ordained sacrifice, we may also conclude that it was under His direction that the first altars were reared. Observe two things: an altar supported the gift, and an altar sanctified the gift. We believe that in both these respects Christ Jesus may be designated as an altar, whether you consider His Person or the work which He effects on our behalf.
1. If we look first at the Person of the Mediator, shall we not find the two properties of the altar, that it supported and sanctified the oblation which Christ made to the Almighty? The Person of Christ Jesus, as you know, was a Divine Person, whilst in it were gathered two natures, the human and the Divine. It was the human nature which was sacrificed, the Divine being inaccessible to suffering and incapable of pain. So that if you simply look at the Person of the Mediator, and consider that it was the design of the altar to support the gift that was presented in sacrifice, you must see that the Divine nature so bore up the human, that it so served as a platform on which the oblation might be laid when the fire of God's justice came down in its purity and its intenseness, that with as much reason as Christ Jesus is described as a sacrifice, may He also be described as an altar.
2. Not, however, that the altar only sustained the gift; it also sanctified the gift; and the fitness of considering the Divine nature in the Person of Christ as the altar on which the human was presented, will be still more apparent if you bring into account this sanctifying virtue. We have already stated that the Divine nature was of necessity incapable of suffering, and that it was, therefore, the human which made the Redeemer accessible to anguish; but it was the Divinity which gave worth to the sufferings of the humanity, and rendered them efficacious to the taking away sin. The Divine was to the human what the altar was to the sacrifice: it sanctified the gift and made it acceptable. Yes, blessed Saviour. we most thankfully own that through Thee, and Thee only, can we offer unto God any acceptable service. And here we would remind you of a very emphatic question put by our Lord to the Pharisees — "Whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?" We have to allude to the supposed efficacy in repentance, and the presumed virtue in the tears which the sinful may shed over their offences against God. The guilt of sin is removed by Christ's blood, not by man's tears. It is the altar that sanctifieth the gift. I depreciate not repentance, I strip it not of moral excellence, nor of moral prevalence, but we affirm that without the altar the gift would be unavailing, without Christ the most contrite would perish with the most hardy.
(H. Melvill, B. D.).
Parallel VersesKJV: And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.