« Prev Chapter I. Sacrifice and Blood and the Lustral… Next »



BY the previous exposition, Christ is shown to be a Saviour, not as being a ground of justification, but as being the Moral Power of God upon us, so a power of salvation. His work terminates, not in the release of penalties by due compensation, but in the transformation of character, and the rescue, in that manner, of guilty men from the retributive causations provoked by their sin. He does not prepare the remission of sins in the sense of a mere letting go, but he executes the remission, by taking away the sins, and dispensing the justification of life. This one word Life is the condensed import of all that he is, or undertakes to be.

In the unfolding of this view, I have not overlooked, or at all neglected, the representations of Scripture; every thing advanced has been carefully supported and fortified by ample citations, fairly and reverently, but not always traditionally interpreted. Some, however, may be disappointed, or perhaps offended, by the slight attention I have paid thus far to a large class of phrases and figures derived from the ceremonial law and the uses of the altar, and brought over, by a second application, to express the practical verities of the cross. 450But my design has not been to put any slight on these sacrificial terminologies. I have only adjourned them to a future discussion by themselves, because of the unhappy confusion it would create in our trains of thought, if they were brought in to be canvassed, here and there, at points of casual application. We have now reached a point, where the attention: may be given them which their very great importance demands.

I propose therefore, in this and the next following chapter, to ascertain, if possible, their precise Christian The sacrificial terms and their interpretation. meaning, and exhibit their true relation to the doctrine of Christ, as expounded in the preceding pages. I undertake this inquiry, not with a view to getting sanction for the opinions expressed, but in the conviction rather, that a great part of the misconceptions and doctrinal crudities that have been the world’s affliction, in this greatest of all matters given to knowledge, have been due to certain hasty, half-investigated impressions, and a kind of traditional charlatanry of dogmatism that have thrown these ritual terms and figures out their proper and rightful meaning. Reserving to the next following chapter terms and questions more secondary in their import, I shall occupy the present chapter with a discussion of the primary terms sacrifice, and blood, and the lustral figures of cleansing and purifying—with which the secondary terms are blended, and by which, to a certain extent, they must be explicated.

The whole ground to be covered is well represented, in a single passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews—451“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who, through the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”8383Hebrews, ix, 14. In this “how much more,” referring back to the sacrifices and sprinklings of blood in the ritual of the previous dispensation, we have brought into view the fact of some important, divinely appointed relationship between those sacrifices of the old religion, and the grand final sacrifice of Christ in the new.

If we speak thus of a “divinely appointed relationship,” we impliedly assume that the sacrifices were divinely appointed. There has been The Hebrew sacrifices, how related to that of the gospel. much debate on this question, even among Christian teachers themselves. The great Hebrew scholar, Spencer, maintains the opinion that the Jewish sacrifices were established by Moses, in a way of accommodation to the heathen sacrifices, in which his people had been trained. Archbishop Tillotson goes still beyond him, admitting that even the Christian sacrifice is an act of accommodation to the prejudices and superstitions of the pagan nations. It will not be denied, or should not be, that pagan nations, all pagan nations, have been ready somehow to erect altars and make suit to their gods by sacrifices. This standing confession of guilt and apostasy from God is about as nearly universal as dress, or food, or society. But the remarkable 452thing, in this general use of sacrifices, is that they take so coarse a form, and one so evidently tinged with superstition.

By a most learned and thorough canvassing of proofs, Dr. Magee8484Vol. I., p. 74, §§. has shown the truly appalling fact that human Human sacrifices, Pagan, never Jewish. sacrifices have been offered by every people of the known world except the Jews. And a guilty fear, just as conspicuous and just as nearly universal, has prevailed, that the gods are up in their wrath and must have blood to appease them. Now if the Jewish people had borrowed their sacrifices from the pagan peoples, whence comes it that they never show a trace of any such superstition—except in cases where it is reproved and condemned—and never once in their history offer a human sacrifice? For the very point of the command upon Abraham to sacrifice his son is, to show him, in the: end, that no such sacrifice is wanted—that obeying God is the deepest reality of sacrifice. Abraham had never read Edwards on the Affections, knew nothing of a piety by definition; and the object is to give him a lesson transactions ally, such that, when he is put through the lesson, he shall have the fact established implicitly in his heart—just as Jacob learned to pray transactionally, by his wrestling with the angel. Exactly the same lesson was learned transactionally, or was to be, in all the sacrifices; only in a less impressive, and thoroughly searching, and fearfully trying, manner.

But supposing the Hebrew sacrifices not to have 453been derived, in any sense, from the pagans, as they even visibly were not, still it is a question how they originated, and especially whether they Sacrifices both human and divine in their origin. were taken up spontaneously, or were instituted by the direction of God? And here again there is even a more persistent debate that is not yet ended; as indeed it never can be till the question is more skillfully stated. For if they were instituted by God, it could only be by God acting through the sentiments, and wants, and guilty yearnings, of men. They were instituted doubtless just as language was; viz., by a divine instigation acting through human instincts and voices. Man was made for language, and had, in his very nature, a language faculty. But God’s work was not ended when that faculty was given, it was only begun; he goes on with it providentially and by secret helps of instigation, causing it to be put forth, and guiding it by his educating and pervasive intelligence, and so the resulting fact of language is completed. In the same manner, human so0uls were made for religion, and the fact of a fall into sin made the want of it even more urgent. There was now an aching after God, and a dreadful oppression felt in the sense of separation from God. And what could occur more naturally, than some distinct effort to be reconciled to God. In this way, minds were put on the stretch to find some way of expressing penitence, self-mortification, homage, and the tender invocation of mercy. Observing thus how it was the way of smoke to go up heavenward, what hint could they take more 454naturally, than to make it the vehicle of religion; bringing their choicest, finest animals, such as they took even for their food, and the expression of their hospitality, and sending up their cloud of worshipful homage, by offering them in fire upon their altars? Meantime God is turning them inwardly, by his secret inspirations, to the same thing; wanting as much to help them in being reconciled to him, as they to be reconciled. And so, being in vicarious sacrifice Himself, he prepares them to the very patterns of the heavenly things in Himself, and gets them configured to the everlasting sacrifice, afterwards to be revealed in his Son. For there is a correspondence here, and all these rites, in which for a time the souls of men are to be trained, are so related to Christ and are so prepared to be, that when he is offered, once for all, their idea is fulfilled; whereupon the outward names they generate are to rise into spiritual word-figures, for the sufficient expression of his otherwise transcendent, inexpressible grace.

Sacrifices then are not the mere spontaneous contrivances of men, but the contrivances of men whose contrivings are impelled and guided and fashioned by God—just as truly appointed by God, as if they were ordered by some vocal utterance from heaven. They relate, in fact, to all God’s future in the kingdom of his Son, and are as truly necessary, it may be, to that future as the incarnation itself. Nay, they are themselves a kind of incarnation before the time. Assuming thus a clearly divine origin for them, we go on to consider 455more distinctly what is not their office, and also what it is. And here the first thing necessary is, to rule out certain false teachings or assumptions which have created inversions of order and thrown the whole subject into confusion.

Thus it is maintained extensively, that we are to get our conceptions of the old sacrifices from the sacrifice of Christ, taking them as shadows cast Not to be interpreted by the sacrifice of Christ. backward from the sun. But this is very much like assuming, that we are to get our notions of the heart, as a physical organ, from our understanding of the heart as the seat of spiritual life; or to get our notions of a straight line from our understanding of right, or rectitude. We invert the order of nature in this manner, and reverse the whole process of language. The maxim, “first that which is natural, afterwards that is spiritual,” we turn quite about, and instead of conceiving that physical things are given to be the bases of words, or word-figures representing spiritual truths, we say that the physical objects were fashioned after the ideas, after the figures, to be coarser substances correspondent with the spiritual realities represented by them. If we know any thing, we know that the whole process of generation in language runs the other way, and that the figures come after the facts, the higher spiritual meanings after, and out of, the physical roots on which they grow.

It is very true that God, in creating the outward forms of things, has a reference of forecast to the uses they will serve as forms of thought and spirit; a reference, 456for example, in bodily pain, to the generation of the legal word penalty, as a word of religion; a reference in the formalities of the ritual sacrifice And yet they are meant for Christian uses. to the uses they may fill, as terms and figures, in the representation of Christ, the grand spiritual sacrifice. It is also true that we, looking back on the ancient sacrifices, after apprehending the glorious consummation of their meaning in Christ, may regard them with a higher respect, and with many different impressions; just as we may think of the heart and indeed of the whole human body, in a different manner, after we have seen, with Mr. Wilkinson, the whole spiritual nature represented by it, and coursing, and flowing, and finding fit procession, in it. But these different impressions are only impressions, and no man would undertake, in having them, to draw out the physiology of the human body from them. No more will any sound teacher undertake to show what the ancient sacrifices were, or meant, from the sacrifice of Christ, for which they have provided the necessary nomenclature.

Clearly no such method of interpretation is admissible. We can not construe meanings backward, but we must follow them out in that progressive way, in which they are prepared. If we are to understand the sacrifices, we must take them in their outward forms, and in the meaning they had to the people that used them, just as we take all the physical roots of language; and then, having found what they were in that first stage of use, we must go on to conceive what Christ 457will have them signify, in the higher uses of his spiritual sacrifice.

We have another inversion of time and order equally mistaken, when it is maintained that the sacrifices were given to be types, to the worshipers that used them, of Christ and his death Not given to the worshipers to be types to them of Christ. as a ground of forgiveness for sins. They are certainly “types,” “shadows,” when looked back upon by us, of good things that were to come; but it does not follow that they were either types, or shadows, or any thing but simple facts of knowledge and practical observance, to the people who were in them. Nor is there any the least probability that, in using them, they were taking a gospel by forecast. There is no lisp of any such impression in the sentiments they express, either at, or about, their sacrificial worship. The prophets themselves could as little understand “what,” as “what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ that was in them did signify,” when testifying of the Messiah to come. Not even Christ’s own disciples, instructed by his teachings for three whole years, had any conception at all, or even suspicion, of the appointed correspondence between his suffering life and death and the sacrifices of the law, until the descent of the Spirit, after his death, gave them discernment of such a correspondence. Is it then to be conceived, that these sensuous, simple-minded, first men of the world outreached all their prophets, and even the carefully taught hearers of Jesus, and got their salvation at the sacrifice of lambs and bullocks, by embracing a Christ 458before his coming, whose prefiguration, in such sacrifices, not even these could understand, or imagine, for whole weeks after his sacrifice was accomplished? Such a conceit is over-theoretical and scholastic; it is theologic moonshine, not the true sunlight of sober Christian opinion.

This also was too nearly true of all the immense type-learning that once figured so conspicuously in the Scripture interpretations of this and And yet even necessary as types of Christian language. other subjects. It is very true that the ancient sacrifices were, and were given to be, types of the higher sacrifice of Christ. Not, however, in the sense that they were such to the worshipers in them, but in that common, widely general, always rational sense, that all physical objects and relations, taken up as roots of language, are types and are designed to be, of the spiritual meanings to be figured by them, or built into spiritual words upon them—the physical heart to be the radical image and name of the spiritual disposition, good or bad; the straight line [rectus, right] to be the natural word-type of duty and righteousness. A type is, in this view, a natural analogon, or figure, of some mental, or spiritual idea; a thing in form, to represent, and be the name of, what is out of all physical conditions, and therefore has no form. And the outward world itself is a grand natural furniture of typology, out of which the matters of thought, feeling, unseen being, unseen states and worlds of being, are always getting, and to get, their nomenclature.


In this sense the ancient sacrifices were, no doubt, appointed to be types of the higher sacrifice; visible forms, or analogies that, when the time is come, will serve as figures, or bases of words, to express and bring into familiar use, the sublime facts and world-renewing mysteries of the incarnate life and suffering death of Jesus. There were no types in nature, out of which, as roots, the words could grow, that. would signify a matter so entirely supernatural, as the gracious work and the incarnate mystery of Christ. The only way, therefore, to get a language for him at all, was to prepare it artificially; and the ancient ritual of sacrifice appears to have been appointed, partly for this purpose. It had other uses for the men who were in it, but the analogical relation between it and the supernatural grace of Christ, hereafter to be represented in the terms it is preparing, is one that reveals a positive contrivance. We discover in it, both the strictly divine origin of the sacrifices, and that they were appointed, quite as much for the ulterior, higher uses to be made of them, (which no man would even conceive for ages to come,) as for the particular, immediate, benefit of the worshipers in them. An apostle speaks of them, it is true, as “the example and shadow of heavenly things,”8585Heb. viii, 6. and as “a figure for the time then present.”8686Heb. ix, 9. They were indeed such examples and figures, and were used as rites of practical religion for the time then present; but he only means to say that the ancient worshippers received impressions in their use, answering to “the heavenly 460things” in Christ, without conceiving, either him, or the analogical relations of their worship. They had nothing to say themselves of a future sacrifice, shadowed in their rites; though it was their privilege, apart from all such impossible expectations, to be inducted into a temper and state, in the use of them, that was after a heavenly pattern—even the sacrifice that was in God and that, being shadowed in their forms was after wards to be revealed in Christ himself.

There is, then, we perceive, an inherent appointed relationship between the ancient sacrifices and the sacrifice What meaning had they to the worshipers? of Christ, such that we shall come into the true sense of what is meant by his sacrifice, offering, blood, only by an accurate and careful discovery of the meaning, and use, and power, and historic associations of the ancient sacrifices. What then did these sacrifices signify? what were they appointed to do, for the persons who accepted and observed them as the cultus of their religion?

When we set ourselves to answer this question, we are met by two very common assumptions, or teachings, They made nothing of the pain of the victims. that only misdirect our search, and throw us out of the true line of discovery. Thus a great deal is made, by many, of the fact that the animal is slain for the sacrifice—thrust down into death, it is conceived, in the worshiper’s place. Quite as much also is made, or even more, of the fact that the animal suffers pain in dying; and thus is an offering of so much pain to God, 461in substitution for the deserved pain of the transgressor, Both these constructions upon sacrifices belong, it will be seen, to schemes of expiation, or legal substitution, asserted for the gospel, which in fact require and look for the discovery of similar ideas in the analogies of the ancient ritual.

As to the latter, the pain of dying, it is no light and trivial way of answer, to say that, if the pain of the animal was any such principal thing, then there was no need of any thing farther. To burn the flesh and sprinkle the blood were of no consequence, if the sacrifice was already complete. Offering the flesh in smoke was nothing, if only the pain was offered; for there was no pain in the dead victim. Even supposing the pain to be valuable to the worshiper in a way of expression, the expression is complete, as soon as the victim is dead. What is wanted therefore is the killing of the animal, which requires no special ceremony.

Furthermore it is, to say the least, a very singular thing, if so much of the power and significance of the sacrifices lies in the death and the dying pains of the animals, that no single worshiper of the old -dispensation, ever has a word to say of these animal dyings and pains of dying, drops no word of sympathy for the victims, or of sympathetic relenting for sin on their account, testifies no sorrow, witnesses to no sense of compunction, because of the impressions made on him, by the hard fortune they are compelled to suffer. I recollect no single instance in the whole Scripture, where the faintest intimation of this kind appears; and yet, by 462the supposition, impressions to be made in this way are even a principal matter in the sacrifices!

Besides, it is also another fault in all such representations of the mode of what is called atonement by sacrifice, Had no tender sympathy for the victims. that they suppose a tenderness of feeling, as regards the death and suffering of animals, which this people had as little of as every pastoral people must; that is, very nearly none at all. They lived, every day of their lives, on the animals killed in the morning at the tent door. Every woman, every child, looked on at the butchering and grew up in the most familiar habit of seeing life taken; nor was any thing more common than for women, or even for quite young children, to kill and dress a lamb, or a kid, with their own hands. And yet their sacrifice of atonement, it is conceived, is going to have its effect, by the impressions of death and dying pain it wakens in their delicate sensibilities! The fictitiousness of such conceptions is quite too evident.

Moreover it is a great point in the observance of these rites that the animal shall be the first born of its The choice quality of the animal signified more. dam; a male without spot or blemish. But why, on what principle, if the chief value of the sacrifice depends on the death and dying pains of the animal? Would not any other, a third born, a female, or a lame or blemished animal, die as convulsively and suffer as much?

It is also a very significant objection to these constructions of sacrifice, that, when two goats are brought 463to the priest for the people’s offering, one is slain and his blood sprinkled on the mercy-seat and about the holy place, to remove the defilement The deportation of the sin signified by the scape-goat. supposed to be upon them, from the sins and uncleannesses of the people; and then the other, by which they are to be personally cleansed themselves, suffers no death, or dying pain at all, as their substitute, but having their sins all put upon his head, by the priest’s confession, is turned loose alive and driven off into the wilderness—so to signify the deportation, or clean removal of, their guiltiness. It is therefore called their “atonement” and is, in fact, an offering just as truly as the other that was slain, only it is sacrificed by expulsion, and without even so much as a thought of its death or pain of dying.

Excluding now these unsupported and really forced constructions of the sacrifices, the question returns, what, in positive reality, were they? Ordained to be a liturgy. wherein lay their use and value? They were appointed, I answer, to be the liturgy of their religion; or, more exactly, of their guilt and repentance before God as a reconciling God—not a verbal liturgy, but a transactional, having its power and value, not in any thing said, taught, reasoned, but in what is done by the worshiper, and before and for him, in the transaction of the rite.

The people, it must be conceived, have not yet come to the age of reflection. They know nothing about piety, or religious experience, as reflectively defined, preached, 464tested, by words. Always going out after their eyes in objective ways of action, and never returning upon They wanted a religion for the eyes. themselves, they have no reflective action, no discovery of themselves by self-testing criticism. They are conscious of certain single acts, which they feel to be sins, but not definitely conscious of sin as a state of moral disorder. Of course they are religious beings, guilty beings, but these deep ground-truths of their nature work out in them, from a point back of their distinct consciousness; felt only as disturbances, not discovered mentally in their philosophic nature and reality. Now to manage such a people and train them towards himself, God puts them in a drill of action, works upon them by a transactional liturgy, and expects, by that means, to generate in them an implicit faith, sentiment, piety, which they do not know themselves by definition, and could not state in words that suppose a reflective discovery.

This transactional liturgy, taken as a divine institute, is a contrivance of wonderful skill. Considered as in Their fine adaptation as a transactional liturgy. reference to the capacities of the worshipers, and also to results of repentance for sin and newness of life, it displays a wisdom really divine. It begins at a point or base note of action, that, so far as I can recollect, is wholly unknown to the cultus, or the sacrifices, of any heathen religion. Moving on results of purity, or purification from sin, it supposes impurity, and lays this down as a fundamental figure, in what may be called the footing of ceremonial uncleanness. Then the problem is to cleanse, or hallow the unclean.


There is no definition of the uncleanness; for the time of definition has not come. Every thing stands, thus far, on the basis of positive institution. Implicit meaning of the unclean state. Every priest is unclean, till he is cleansed; every place, till it is hallowed. On the great day of atonement, every body is unclean, and the general mass of the people go up thus every year to Jerusalem in caravans, at the greatest inconvenience and with much expense, to be cleansed of their defilement by sacrifice. How far they distinguish in idea this moral kind of uncleanness, from that of their legal appointments, we do not know. Perhaps they do not very soon raise the question of such a distinction. This only they know, that whoever touches a dead body is unclean, and the house in which he dies; that the leper is unclean; that whoever has any suppurative issue is unclean; that whoever touches, or eats an unclean animal, is unclean; that every vessel, dress, oven, defiled by such animals, makes unclean by the use. The specification is too long to be completed, and I only add that every person touching an unclean person is ipso facto unclean. Add also that, as the unholy can not approach unto God, so every unclean person is shut away from the temple, from society and house and table, put under quarantine as regards every body else, and every body else under embargo as regards him, producing a state of revulsion and of general torment that is, in the highest degree, uncomfortable.

Upon this now as a basis, is erected the liturgy of sacrifice and blood as a positive institution. It terminates 466formally in the result of making clean. The argument of it is—“For I am the Lord your God; ye shall Meaning also of the clean state made by sacrifice. therefore sanctify yourselves and ye shall be holy.” It says “do this,” “bring this offering,” “sprinkle this blood, and you are clean.” Perhaps the worshiper will do it only in a ritual, half political way; still he will be so far clean, at any rate. But there is a chance that his soul will go on beyond the mere ritual effect, and, allow a deeper sentiment to be called into play. Perhaps he will pass into a new sense of cleanness that breaks over the mere ritual confines, and imports some real beginning of a higher cleansing in his spiritual nature. It certainly will be so, if he brings his offering as a really devout and penitent worshiper.

So it was with these men of the first, most unreflective ages, exercised in this kind of worship. By and by, as a reflective habit gets to be a little Conceptions more and more spiritual thus matured. unfolded, a kind of chiding, or rebuke of heartlessness begins to be heard in certain quarters, as if men could think to carry God’s favor by bullocks and goats and blood! Still farther on, one, or another will be heard crying out in the depth of his guiltiness, and quitting all sacrifice in despair of it, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Then the prophets will begin to rebuke the multitude of sacrifices, as a wretched imposture and offense to God, and to prophesy the complete ending of this old covenant of forms, and the establishment of God’s new covenant, by the 467Messiah; who shall come to write God’s law in the heart itself, and make religion the completely spiritual affair openly, which it always has been implicitly. Then, at last, Christ comes, to substitute all sacrifices, and be himself the sacrifice offered once for all—in what sense and manner we shall see.

Having sketched this outline of the sacrificial history, in its stages of progress and its final culmination, we go back now to the simple first stage of How the sacrifices get their power. the liturgy, and look into the scheme of it, inquiring how it is to get its power? Not by the death of the victim, we have seen; there is nothing said of the death as having any significance, and there is really not care enough felt for it to give it any. Not by the pain of the victim; nothing is made of that, and nothing is farther off from the worshiper’s thought, than to have so much as a serious feeling about it. Not by the satisfaction for sin, or the satisfaction of God’s justice; nothing is said either of satisfaction, or of justice, as there could not be when nothing is made either of the pain, or the dying. Not by the substitution made of the victim, given up to suffer in the worshiper’s place; for if nothing is made of the suffering of the victim, nothing could be made of a substitution of that suffering. A certain symbolic substitution, or substitution for significance’s sake, is made, when sins are confessed on the head of the offering, and just the same is made on the head of the scape-goat, even more formally, when he is driven off alive, to signify 468the deportation of sin; where, of course, the symbolic sign is all and the goat nothing—but simply a goat feeding elsewhere.

Excluding now these negatives, the question returns, whence comes the liturgic value and power of the sacrifice on the feeling of the worshiper? First of all there is a certain expense and pains-taking incurred by him, in providing the victim and in making a journey, commonly toilsome, and consuming many days’ time to get his offering duly made. Secondly, it is another matter which enters the more deeply into his feeling, that he chooses reverently a fine, fair, first-born animal, that he may give his best to God and that which he most values. Thirdly, when he comes to the altar, before that mysteriously veiled, invisible recess where Jehovah dwells, he puts his hands on the head of the victim, or the priest does it for him, and confesses his sin; going away absolved, as one made clean. Fourthly, it contributes immensely to the power and impressiveness of the transaction, that the blood which figures so largely in it, sprinkled and poured and touched upon this and that place to sanctify the altar and the priest, has been previously invested with an artificial sacredness for this very purpose. No one, even from the earliest beginnings of sacrifice, has been permitted to eat blood, and Moses reenacts the law, under which he makes it even a capital offense, like blasphemy or sacrilege—“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar, to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh 469atonement for the soul.”8787Lev. xvii, 11. Not that the life thus offered the life made sacred and mysterious by such associations gathered to it, carries effect by ceasing to live, that is, by death symbolized in the sprinkling of it. No, it gets its effect as being life, the sacred, mystic, new-creating touch of life; for death is uncleanness itself-no one touches a dead body without being made unclean-but the blood is all purifying; “all things are by the law purged with blood.”

Here then is the grand terminal of all sacrifice; taken as a liturgy, it is issued in a making clean; it purges, washes, sprinkles, purifies, sanctifies, The effect is to be lustral only. carries away pollution, in that sense, absolves the guilty. Calling it a making of atonement for this, or that place, or person, it is in the result a making clean—“the priest shall make atonement for her and she shall be clean;”8888Lev. xii, 8. “make atonement for the house and it shall be clean;”8989Lev. xiv 52. “made an atonement for them to cleanse them.”9090Numb. viii, 21. The effect is to be lustral simply. The worshiper may never have thought reflectively on his inward defilement, but when so much is done by him for the lustral effect, in a manner so reverent, when he has been touched by the sacred blood in which the mystery of life is hid, followed by the formula that pronounces him clean, it will be strange if his transactional liturgy has not signified more for the state of his inward man, than any prescribed trial and testing in the doctrines of words could have done, at his stage 470of culture. It is very true that these sacrifices which they offered year by year continually, are declared by an apostle “not to make the comers thereunto perfect.” But he only means that they do not finish out, or bring his want of grace to an end; not that they result in no genuine fruits of character. So when he declares that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins,” he does not mean that no one finds a true remission in his offering, but only that he wants another still, and still another, while Christ is offered, once for all, and makes a complete finality of sacrifice.

In what sense a sacrifice?—this now is the principal question whose answer we seek, and are ready to give. In what sense Christ is a sacrifice. Here, of course, all the exclusions just made are to be repeated—his pains have no value as pains, or his dying as death; he does not satisfy God’s justice; he is not legally substituted in our place. There was nothing of this nature in the sacrifices and, when he becomes a sacrifice for sin, there should not be in his.

A good proximate and general answer to the question, in what sense a sacrifice? is this: that he fulfilled Not a literal sacrifice but more. the analogy of the ancient sacrifice; serving like uses, only in a highe key, and in a more perfect manner, with a more complete lustral effect. It has been a question, much discussed, whether Christ is a literal, or figurative sacrifice, and the latter conception has been repelled, with 471much feeling, partly because it has been advocated in a way of escaping the fact of any sacrifice at all, and partly because both parties fail to see any very serious meaning left, when the figurative sense is admitted On one side he is just a figure sacrifice, nothing more. On the other, being reduced to this, he is just a phantom sacrifice, and that is nothing at all. It is not perceived that, when a word rises out of fact in the physical range, to be the fixed name, by figure, of something in the range of thought and spirit, it obtains a meaning as much fuller and more solid as it is closer akin to mind. Is good taste nothing because it is not the literal tasting faculty of the mouth? Is a good heart nothing because it is not the pumping organ of the body, but only a figure derived from it? Is rectitude nothing because it is only a figurative straightness, and not a literal straight line? Is integrity nothing because it is only a moral wholeness and not the veritable integer of arithmetic? How visibly does the figure, as figure, rise to a nobler and more real meaning, in all such examples; and when we find that human language is underlaid all through, in this manner, with physical images, observing their wondrous fitness to serve as a wording for all that mind can think, or wish to express, we are half disposed to believe that they were made and set into nature for this purpose. They become even more real as figures than they are as facts, and there is no so great victory for any truth, or subject of intelligence, as when it has obtained some fit analogon, or “figure of the true,” to be its interpreter.


Here, accordingly, it was that God displayed his skill, in adjusting the forms of the altar, and all the solemn A nomenclature for the gospel. externalities of the ritual service. They were not only to be a liturgy for the time then present, but they were to prepare new bases of words not existing in nature, and so a new nomenclature of figures for the sacrifice of his Son. And it took even many centuries to get the figures ready, clothed with fit associations, wrought into fit impressions, worn into use and finally almost into disuse, by the weary, unsatisfied feeling that is half ready and longing for something beyond them—all this it required, to get a language made that was at all competent to express the perfectly transcendental, supernatural, otherwise never imagined or conceived fact of divine suffering and vicarious sacrifice in God. Now the central figure, in this new language for the cross, is sacrifice; a word as much more significant when applied to Christ, than when applied to the altar ceremony, as the Lamb of God signifies more than a lamb. Other words and images come along in the same train, which also belong to the altar and the old transactional liturgy of the temple, and. Christ emerges on the world through them all, as by a kind of Epistle to the Hebrews, himself the full discovered love and vicariously burdened sorrow—the cross that was hid in God’s nature even from eternal ages. In this view he does not begin to be the real and true sacrifice, till he goes above all the literalities of sacrifice, and becomes the fulfillment of their meaning as figures.

However this may be, it is sufficiently plain that he 473can be a sacrifice, only under conditions of analogy and figurative correspondence, and I am quite certain that he was never conceived, by any one, to A sacrifice under conditions of analogy. be a literal sacrifice, who had not somehow confounded the distinction between a real and a literal sacrifice. He is a sacrifice in much the same sense as he is a Lamb. He is not offered upon any altar, not slain by a priest, not burned with fire. He is not offered under and by the law; but against even the decalogue itself—by false witness and murder. He dies on a gibbet, and the priests have no part in the transaction, save as conspirators and leaders of the mob. There is no absolution, but a challenge of defiance rather—“his blood be on us and on our children.”

In this exposition a certain discoverable analogy is supposed, between what was done, or suffered by Christ, and the offering of victims at the altar. No external correspondence in the analogy, unless in the sacred blood. But there is no shadow of resemblance in the external facts of Christ’s death, unless it be in some slight finger-marks of correspondence, such as the evangelist notes, when he says, “that the Scripture should be fulfilled—A bone of him shall not be broken.” And yet there is such a deep-set, grandly real, and wide-reaching correspondence, that no man, fresh in the sentiments of the altar, could well miss of it, or fail to be strangely impressed by it. Here is the first-born, the unblemished beauty, the chaste Lamb of God—never came to mortal eyes any such perfect one before. And the expense he makes, under his great love-struggle and heavy burden 474of feeling, his Gethsemane where the burden presses him down into agony, his Calvary, where, in his unprotesting and lamb-like submission, he allows himself to be immolated by the world’s wrath—what will any one, seeing all this, so naturally or inevitably call it, as his sacrifice for the sins of the world. His blood too, the blood of the incarnate Son of God, blood of the upper world half as truly as of this—when it touches and stains the defiled earth of the planet, what so sacred blood on the horns of the altar and the lid of the mercy-seat, did any devoutest worshiper at the altar ever see sprinkled for his cleansing! There his sin he hoped could be dissolved away, and it comforted his conscience that, by the offering of something sacred as blood, he could fitly own his defilement, and by such tender argument win the needed cleansing. But the blood of Christ, he that was born of the Holy Ghost, he that was Immanuel—when this sprinkles Calvary, it is to him as if some touch of cleansing were in it for the matter itself of the world! In short, there is so much in this analogy, and it is so affecting, so profoundly real, that no worshiper most devout, before the altar, having once seen Christ—who he is, what he has done by his cross, and the glorious offering he has made of himself in his ministry of good, faithful unto death—who will not turn away instinctively to him, saying, “no more altars, goats, or lambs; these were shadows I see; now has come the substance. This is my sacrifice and here is my peace—the blood that was shed for the remission of sins—this I take and want no other.”


And so it comes to pass that Christ is continually set forth in the gospels and epistles of the New Testament, in the terms of sacrifice, because there is Christ called a sacrifice because of his lustral power. so great power in it for the soul; also in the fact, otherwise never conceived or brought down to mortal experience, that God’s eternal character has a cross in it, a sorrowing, heavily burdened mercy for his enemies, a winning and transforming power, which it is even their new-creation to feel. I can not go over all the sacrificial terms and expressions of the New Testament, or even the very deliberate exposition of whole chapters in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the correspondence, or analogy, between Christ and the ancient sacrifices, is carefully traced. I will only say, in general, that a very important oversight, in respect to all the altar phrases of the gospel, needs to be corrected. They are cited to prove atonement in the sense of satisfaction, or of an offering made to reconcile God. Hence there is nothing made of the lustral figures, that almost always go along with them; which, if they had any meaning given them, would conduct the mind straight in upon the conclusion, that Christ is offered, not to satisfy God, but to take away sin, to cleanse, purify, make alive and holy, the moral state of sinners.

Sometimes and not seldom the lustral figures themselves, the very object of which, under the old ritual, was to conduct the worshiper’s mind Abuses of Scripture texts. the into a fit conception of the result preparing in his sacrifice are taken just as if they only meant 476by the cleansing they speak of in a New Testament use, that God is so far reconciled by due satisfaction, that he may pass transgressors now as being clean, when they are not. They are sprinkled, washed, purged, purified, cleansed, in the sense that for Christ’s sake they are admitted to be so, when they are not! And so the proof texts of satisfaction are multiplied with great facility. Let any one gather up all the allusions made in the New Testament to the altar sacrifices, noting carefully those which look towards a lustral and transforming effect on men, as distinguished from those which clearly and positively refer to an effect on God, and he will be astonished to find how the doctrine of judicial satisfaction has engulfed, as by a maelstrom sweep, every most unwilling thing that has come in its way. Probably ninetenths at least of the proof texts of the New Testament, under figures taken from the altar, make the sacrifice of Christ a plainly lustral offering in its effect, while the other tenth as plainly stop short of any reconciling effect on God. And yet they have so long been read in a different way, that we are scarcely aware of the forced meaning put upon them. Such a fact can not be verified, without going into a general canvass of the texts, which is here impossible. I can only call attention to the fact, adding as examples just a few of the principal texts, which it will be seen, without a word of comment, bear the lustral meaning, or the expectation of a cleansing, sin-removing, life-giving, effect, on their faces.


Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.9191John i, 29.

In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him.92921 John iv, 9-10.

The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.93931 John i, 7.

Who his own self bare our sins, in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sin, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye are healed.9494Peter ii, 24.

How much more shall the blood of Christ, who, through the eternal Spirit, offered himself, without spot, to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.9595Heb. ix, 14.

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, * * * Let us draw near, with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.9696Heb. x, 19-21.

And having made peace, through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you that were sometime alienated and enemies in your minds by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled, in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy, unblamable, and unreprovable in his sight.” 9797Col. i, 20-2.


Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood.9898Rev. i, 5.

The charlatanism of interpretation—it is really one of the saddest chapters of our Christian history! And what a revelation of it have these poor texts to give, when released from their long captivity, and allowed to simply speak for themselves!—testifying, all, with glad consent, that Christ is our sacrifice, for the taking away of our sin, our quickening unto life. our cleansing and spiritual reconciliation with God.

There is still another class of figures generated casually, outside of the ritual; partly judicial, partly political and historical, partly commercial, and partly natural. The footing already gained by what we have shown respecting the divinely contrived symbols of the altar, makes it unnecessary to devote a distinct chapter to their consideration. It will be sufficient to give them a brief supplementary notice here.

The first class, the judicial, or seemingly judicial, appears abundantly in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah—The judicial figures. “stricken, smitten of God and afflicted;” 4t wounded for our transgressions;” “bruised for our iniquities;” “the chastisement of our peace was upon him;” “by his stripes we are healed;” “for the transgression of my people was he stricken;” “it pleased the Lord to bruise him.” These are all figures that refer, more or less clearly, to judicial and penal processes; as if Christ, the subject, were somehow 479punitively handled in our place. But the whole chapter, it will be observed, is from the point of gratitude, or holy ascription, after the offering is made. It is the witness of a tender confession, not a prophesy, save in that form. And what is more natural than for a soul delivered of its curse, its retributive woes, its penal bondage, and heaving in great sentiments of praise and holy ascription to its deliverer, to represent him, in his suffering goodness, as having taken upon himself the very pains and dues of justice he has removed? “Did he not bear my punishment? did he not bleed under my stripes? was not my chastisement upon him? was he not smitten of God in judgments that were falling on me?” And yet every one who makes this confession will know that he means this only as in figure, to express his tender acknowledgment, and nothing will be farther off from his thought than to imagine that he was literally asserting the punishment of his deliverer.9999Illustrated more fully pp. 396-7, Part III., Chap. VI.

Besides we have, here and there, a mark put in, which indicates moral effect, and turns the meaning quite away from the understanding of a literal punishment; as for example in the “peace” that follows chastisement, and the healing that follows the stripes—“with his stripes we are healed.” Furthermore, it would be a plain abuse of Scripture to set one class of figures, in regard to a given subject, clashing with another; and still more to set the mere chance symbols of a subject directly against the deliberately contrived symbols prepared for it. If, then, we find the altar symbols looking systematically, 480all as one, towards results of moral effect, these casual symbols and all others of the same general nature ought surely not to be taken as looking towards an effect purely judicial and penal.

And there is still less reason for this, in the fact that Christ, doing all for moral effect, did actually bear, as we have fully shown, the corporate curse and penal disorder of the world, in a way of renewing it; a fact in which all such judicial figures. are sufficiently met, though the curse was in no sense penal as against him.

The political and historical figures are such as grew out of the release of captives taken in war. Thus we Political and historic figures. have “redemption,” as a figure derived from the buying back of captives; and “ransom,” as the sum advanced for that object. Thus Christ, in offering himself for our deliverance, became our redemption, gave himself a ransom for us, or more briefly gave himself for us. Where, of course, the main idea signified, is our moral and spiritual emancipation from the bondage of evil; a result in the nature of moral effect, wholly coincident with the lustral figures of the ritual.

The commercial figures are to the same effect—“bought with a price;” “purchased with his blood;” The commercial figures. “forgive us our debts.” Whole theories of atonement have been based on each of these analogies, and all the other symbols of the New Testament have been compelled, how often, to submit themselves to the regulative force of these analogies, taken virtually as the literalities of the question. 481A much truer and freer meaning would be assigned with as much greater dignity, and requires not even to be stated.

The natural figures are such as death and life, “reconciled by the death;” “saved by his life;” “tasted death for every man;” “Christ who is The naturally significant figures. our life.” In all these figures, which are multiplied in a hundred shapes, and set in a hundred diverse combinations, moral effect is the always present and, in fact, only constant matter intended.

I will not pursue this exposition farther; for the reason that there is plainly no necessity for it. The general conclusion is, that all the Scripture symbols coincide, as nearly as may be, in the one ruling conception, that Christ is here in the world to be a power on character—to cleanse, to wash, to purify, to regenerate, new-create, make free, invest in the righteousness of God, the guilty souls of mankind. Beyond that nothing plainly is wanted, and therefore there is nothing to be found.

« Prev Chapter I. Sacrifice and Blood and the Lustral… Next »


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |