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242

SERMON XVII.

SELF-OBLATION THE TRUE IDEA OF OBEDIENCE.

HEBREWS ix. 13, 14.

For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: 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?”

THROUGHOUT the New Testament we are taught that bur sins are forgiven through the blood-shed ding of Christ; and in this epistle St. Paul shews to the Hebrew Christians how this great truth was shadowed forth in the symbolical sacrifices of the law; and how, in the self-oblation of Jesus Christ, the one true and only atoning sacrifice was offered up to God. The offerings of the law purified the flesh: the typical oblations put away ceremonial uncleanness. They could not cleanse the guilt of the conscience; they could not put away sin. For this there was needed some great spiritual reality—something having relation to the secret laws of 243God’s eternal kingdom, to the nature of holiness and of sin, and to the inscrutable mystery of the will, and of our reasonable being. And this was offered up by Jesus Christ, “who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God.”

Now we will inquire somewhat more closely into this truth; not, indeed, that we are required to know how this mysterious sacrifice avails for our atonement. They that were healed by His word, or by touching the hem of His garment, or by the clay, were healed by a simple belief that there was virtue in Him to make them whole: what it was, and how it wrought, they knew not. So with the great oblation whereby our sins are expiated. The multitude of unlearned Christians, in all ages of the Church, have lived and died by faith in the blood-shedding of the Son of God, knowing nothing save that “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.” And the most illuminated of the saints have known little more of that transcendent mystery. Blessed be God, it is but a little learning we need have to enter into His kingdom; and that knowledge is rather in the will than in the understanding, and is rather gained by a quiet shining of the mind of Christ in a clear conscience than by the skill and keenness of intellectual powers. Still there are depths into which 244we may see far enough to learn great truths; and those not as images of the mind only, but as great laws of life and action. We will therefore consider further, what we are taught in holy writ respecting the nature of the one great sacrifice.

St. Paul here tells us that Christ “offered up Himself.” From which we may learn—First, that the act of offering was His own act; and next, that the oblation was Himself. He was both priest and sacrifice; or, in a word, the atoning oblation was His perfect obedience, both in life and in death, to the will of His Father. And this St. Paul tells us in the next chapter: “Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do Thy will, O God!”5555   Hebrews x. 5-7. From which we learn that the mystery of atonement began from the first act of humiliation, when He laid aside His glory, and was made in the likeness of men. It contains, therefore, His incarnation, His life of earthly obedience, His spiritual and bodily sufferings, His death and resurrection from the dead. Through out the whole of this lengthened course, He was ever fulfilling His own prophecy—“Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God!” In childhood, youth and 245manhood; in the acts and sufferings of His humanity; in all that He did for sinners, and all that He endured at their hands; in His baptism, fasting, and temptation; in His whole obedience unto death, as well as in His death itself,—the great mastery over sin was ever accomplishing. All these were so many manifestations of the perfect obedience of the will of Jesus Christ, and therefore so many masteries over the sin which has troubled the creation of God. And this is St. Paul’s meaning when he says, “As by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life: for as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”5656   Rom. v. 18, 19.

Now it is important to look at this mystery in its fullest breadth, to correct the partial, and, in so far as they are partial, the imperfect, views which are often taken of it. There is contained in the dominion of sin a fearful power of death, which could no way be overcome but by the dying of the Son of God; as St. Paul says—“By death He destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil:” our redemption is “by means of death;” our reconciliation “in the body of His flesh 246through death:” “Christ died for the ungodly:” He “died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”5757   Heb. ii. 14, and ix. 15. Col. i. 22. Rom. v. 6. 1 Cor. xv. 3. What death is, by what link it is indissolubly bound to sin, how the death of Jesus Christ broke that link, we know not. We know that it did so: but we know that He destroyed not death only, but sin also; and the victory over sin was wrought through a whole life, of which His death was the consummation. He overcame sin by His holiness, by perfect and perpetual obedience, by a spotless life, by His mastery in the wilderness, by His agony in the garden. There was a mysterious warfare ever going on, of which the cross was the last act, forasmuch as He “resisted unto blood, striving against sin.”5858   Heb. xii. 4. His whole life was a part of the one sacrifice which, through the eternal Spirit, He offered to His Father; namely, the reasonable and spiritual sacrifice of a crucified will. It is import ant to keep this in mind, lest we fail to perceive the real nature of sin, and its true seat and energy, and thereby lose the insights which are given to us into the mystery of our justification, and the law of our justified state.

Let us, then, consider one or two truths which follow from what has been said.

And, first; we may learn into what relation 247towards God the Church has been brought by the atonement of Christ. The whole mystical body is offered up to the Father, as “a kind of first-fruits of His creatures.”5959   James i. 18. Whatsoever was fulfilled by the Head is partaken of by the body. He was an oblation, and- the Church is offered up in Him. He “loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.”6060   Eph. v. 25-27. “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight.”6161   Col. i. 22. The Church is gathered out of the world, and offered up to God: it is made partaker of the atonement of Christ, of the self-oblation of the Word made flesh. By union with Christ, the Church is so one with Him as to be one mystical person in body, soul, and spirit. It is in Him that we are beheld by the Father; being “accepted in the Beloved.” Even now the Church is crucified, buried, raised and exalted to sit with Christ in heavenly places. In the same act of self-oblation He comprehended us, and offered us in 248Himself. And in this is our justification; namely, in our relation, as “a living sacrifice/ to God through Christ, for whose sake we, all fallen though we be, are accounted righteous in the court of heaven.

The next truth we may learn is, the nature of the holy sacraments. Under one aspect they are gifts of spiritual grace from God to us; under an other they are acts of self-oblation on our part to God. He of His sovereign will bestows on us gifts which we, trusting in His promises, offer ourselves passively to receive. As, for instance, in the baptism of adults, the candidate came, and after renouncing Satan and his kingdom, made oblation of himself, by profession of the creed, to the holy Trinity. In like manner, and even more expressively, are children dedicated to God by the office and ministry of the Church: they that bear them in their arms, and lend them speech and understanding, express a twofold act of oblation, both on the part of the parents, who thereby consecrate their offspring to God, and on the part of the child, who, through the compassion of God, is accepted as if he consciously offered up himself. And so likewise, in a more express and visible manner, in the sacrament of the blessed eucharist; with the “creatures of bread and wine” we offer up “ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto” God. The whole 249order of the sacraments is expressive of self-oblation, by which we offer ourselves to God, through the atoning sacrifice of our unseen Head. They are the emphatic expressions and the efficient means of realising the great mystery of atonement in us. How important., is this view of the holy sacraments, every one will at once understand, who remembers the low and shallow views which are unhappily too widely spread abroad in these latter days of the Church. It is denied that under the Gospel there are any sacrifices. They are looked upon as carnal, legal, unevangelical rites, which were abrogated at the coming of Christ. It is said, “the Church of Christ has neither sacrifices nor priesthood; the Jewish sacrifices and priest hood were types of Christ and His oblation of Himself; He being come, and His oblation perfected, these types are gone, and the antitype is in heaven.” Now here, as usual, there is a great truth only half uttered. The Jewish temple, priesthood, altar, and sacrifice, were shadows of Christ. Be it so. But St. Peter tells us that we are “a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices.”6262   St. Peter ii. 5. “Yes,” it is answered; “but that is to be understood spiritually.” To which I reply, that spiritual things are not figures, but realities; that the Jewish 250temple, and priesthood, and altar, and sacrifices, were types and shadows, and unrealities, because they were not spiritual; and that the Church, and priesthood, and altar, and sacrifices of Christians, are not only types, as indeed they are, of heavenly things, but antitypes; not shadows, but substances; not figures, but realities,—for this very cause, because they are spiritual; that is, ordinances and acts ordained and wrought in us by the eternal Spirit, through whom Jesus Christ “offered Himself without spot unto God.” What a strange inversion of God’s economies,—what a going back into the bondage of legality and Judaism, it is, to look upon the blood of bulls and of goats as real sacrifices, and on the self-oblation of the Church in the holy eucharist, through the atonement of Christ, as no sacrifice at all! As if sacrifices must of necessity be not only in part, but altogether, material; as if theirs were any thing more than sacrifices in a shadow, while ours are “in spirit and in truth.” Is it not very likely that this shallow doctrine arises, as I have suggested, from the partial and imperfect view commonly taken of the one great oblation? They that dwell chiefly on the last act of suffering in the flesh, seem naturally to fall into a lifeless and material conception of all sacrifices, whatsoever they be. They dwell on the external and material part 251only; forgetting that this is, so to speak, the out ward and visible sign of the oblation; a part in deed, but the body or vehicle of the sacrifice, which has an inward reality in the spiritual act, and may be called the soul of oblation. Such, for instance, is the sacrifice of the eucharist; for sacrifices are akin to sacraments, and are of a twofold nature; are partly material and partly spiritual, partly seen and partly unseen. And therefore the faithful in early times, in the very act of offering up the living sacrifice of themselves, saw in the bread and wine of the holy eucharist an expressive symbol of self-oblation, and a fulfilment of the prophet’s words: “From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering.”6363   Mal. i. 11.

I will now draw one or two inferences of a practical kind from what has been said, and then conclude.

1. We may learn from this view of the great act of atonement, what is the nature of the faith by which we become partakers of it, or, in other words, by which we are justified. Plainly it is not a faith which indolently terminates in a belief that Christ died for us; or which intrusively assumes to itself the office of applying to its own 252needs the justifying grace of the atonement. “It is God that justifieth.”6464   Rom. viii. 33. All that faith does at the outset, in man’s justification, is to receive God’s sovereign gift. By our baptism we were grafted into the mystical body of Christ, which is justified through His oblation of Himself; that is, we were accounted righteous in Him—we were justified. By faith we hold fast the gift which we have received; and justifying faith conforms us to the self-sacrifice of Christ. Therefore St. Paul says, “I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”6565   Rom. xii. 1. And this is the meaning of his words, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me:”6666   Gal. ii. 20. and also of other like passages, where he speaks of our being made partakers of the cross of Christ. Justifying faith, then, is the trust of a willing heart, offered up in obedience to God: it is His will working in us, knitting us to Himself. Perhaps in no way is the danger of a merely speculative or passive faith more exhibited than in this view; and nothing is more certain than that many, who are far removed 253from antinomianism in doctrine, and even hold it in abhorrence, are in danger of acquiescing in a merely passive faith: such persons, I mean, as those whose lives are pure, but without self-denial; who are of a religious mind, but at peace with the world; who hold correct doctrine, but live lives out of all analogy with the realities of the cross. The faith of such persons may be called merely passive; because, while it fails to constrain them to acts of self-oblation, after the example of Christ’s living sacrifice, it rests itself upon a knowledge that His dying on the cross was an offering in their behalf. And hence it is we find oftentimes the most strongly expressed reliance on the death of Christ in persons of a very unmortified habit of life. Men of a self-indulging character, who live in ease and softness, taking their fill of the world’s good things—of its wealth, popularity, and honours—who love high places, and delicate society, and refined pleasures, are often heard to speak with a confidence and a self-possession of the justifying power of a faith which would seem to be in no way distinguishable from a knowledge that Christ died for us, and a self-persuasion that, by an act of their own minds, they apply His death to their own justification. Again; it is a dubious and untrusty faith, (howsoever clear be the knowledge that Christ’s death is our atonement), which is 254reconcileable with an ambitious life, or with a joy at succeeding or being elevated in the world, or with a watchfulness for opportunities and occasions of advancement. It is hard to believe that such men are free from strong choices, and purposes framed according to the bias of their own will, or that they are dead to the world, and par takers of the self-denial of Christ. We have need of much misgiving, when we can bear to be followed, caressed, and listened to by the world from which we are redeemed. Our faith, if we would endure unto the end, must be stern, unyielding, and severe. It must bear the impress of His passion, and make us seek the signs of our justification in the sharper tokens of His cross.

2. The next inference I will draw is this; we may thus learn what is the true point of sight from which to look at all the trials of life. We hear people perpetually lamenting, uttering passionate expressions of grief at visitations which, they say, have come on them unlocked for, and stunned them by their suddenness: one has lost his possessions, another his health, another his powers of sight or hearing, another “the desire of his eyes,” parents, children, husbands, wives, friends; each sorrowing for their own, and all alike viewing their affliction from the narrow point of their own isolated being: they seem to be hostile invasions of 255their peace; mutilations of the integrity of their lot; untimely disruptions of their fondest ties, and the like. Much as we speak of violent deviations of nature from her laws, and of the mysterious agencies of devastating powers; so we talk of the destruction of a -fortune, the breaking up of our happiness, the wreck of our hopes. Now all this loose and faithless language arises from our not recognising the great law to which all these are to be referred. It is no more than this: that God is disposing of what has been offered up to Him in sacrifice: as, for instance, when a father or mother bewails the taking away of a child, have they not forgotten that he was not their own? Did they not offer him at the font? Did not God promise to receive their oblation? What has He done more than take them at their word? They prayed that He would make their child to be His “own child by adoption:” and He has not only heard, but fulfilled their prayer. Have they not perpetually, since that day, asked for him the kingdom of heaven, even as the mother of Zebedee’s children came and besought that her two sons might sit, the one on His right hand, and the other on His left, in His kingdom? And, like them, they knew not what they asked: they were desiring a high blessing, awful in its height; for which, if granted, they may have to go sorrowing because 256God. has heard their prayer, and a sword has pierced through their own soul also. In an especial manner this seems true of the death of infants. They were offered up to Him, and He took them to Himself. So that they be His, who dare lament that He has chosen the place where they shall stand and minister before Him? Little, it may be, the glad mother thought, as she stood beside the font, what she was then doing; little did she fore cast what was to come, or read the meaning of her own acts and prayers. And so, likewise, when any true servants of Christ are taken away, what is it but a token of His favourable acceptance of their self-oblation? They have been His from baptism, and He has granted them a long season of tarrying in this outer court of His temple. But now, at length, the time is come; and when we see them “bow the head, and give up the ghost,” is it not our slowness of heart that makes even our eyes also to be holden, so as not to see who is standing nigh, conforming them to His own great sacrifice? While they were with us, they were not ours, but His: they were permitted to abide with us, and to gladden our hearts awhile; but they were living sacrifices, and ever at the point of being caught up to heaven.

And so, lastly, in all that befalls ourselves, we too are not our own, but His; all that we call ours 257is His; and when He takes it from us—first one loved treasure, then another, till He makes us poor, and naked, and solitary let us not sorrow that we are stripped of all we love, but rather rejoice for that God accepts us: let us not think that we are left here, as it were, unseasonably alone, but remember that, by our bereavements, we are in part translated to the world unseen. He is calling us away, and sending on our treasures. The great law of sacrifice is embracing us, and must have its perfect work. Like Him, we must be made “perfect through suffering.” Let us pray Him, therefore, to shed abroad in us the mind that was in Christ; that, our will being crucified, we may offer up ourselves to be disposed of as He sees best, whether for joy or sorrow, blessing or chastisement; to be high, or low; to be slighted, or esteemed; to be full, or to suffer need; to have many friends, or to dwell in a lonely home; to be passed by, or called to serve Him and His kingdom in our own land, or among people of a strange tongue; to be, to go, to do, to suffer, even as He wills, even as He ordains, even as Christ endured, “who, through the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God.” Amen.


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