|« Prev||Sermon XII. The Only Sacrifice||Next »|
THE ONLY SACRIFICE.
“This Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”
THERE is, and there can be, only one atonement for the sin of the world—the sacrifice of the death of Christ. This alone is in itself meritorious, propitiatory, and of infinite price and power.
And this is, in fact, the whole argument of the Epistle to the Hebrews. St. Paul is shewing that the law of Moses was in itself of no power or price; that it could make no propitiation, no true atonement in the eternal world; that the vileness of the sacrifices was enough to shew their impotence: “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away 211sins.” If the vileness of the sacrifices confessed their impotence, much more did their perpetual repetition: “For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.” This very iteration, like the repeated use of medicines in sickness, proved that they were of no avail: for when medicines heal, they are no longer needed. Nay, those sacrifices did more, they directly declared the sin which they could not take away. “In those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.”109109 Heb. x. 2, 3. They were a shadow and promise of a sacrifice yet to come, which in itself should be full, final, and absolute. “Sacrifice and offering and burnt-offerings and offering for sin Thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; then said he, Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that He may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God.”110110 Heb. x. 8-12. Such is the whole idea of this divine argument. These many 212 priests, many sacrifices, daily offerings, were shadows of the one only true Priest, the one only and continual Sacrifice for sin, which is Jesus Christ.
In this we see the true and full perfection of the sacrifice of the cross; and that perfection may be expressed in two words,—that it is one, and that it is continuous. Let us, by His help, dwell a while on this blessed mystery.
1. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ, then, is one. There is no other like it, or second after it. It is not the highest of a kind, or the perfecting of any order of oblations; but like His person, a mystery sole and apart: “for such an high-priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” And as with the priest, so with the sacrifice. In what does this unity consist? In the nature, the quality, and the passion of Him who offered up Himself. It is one and unapproachable, because He was a Divine Person, both God and man. In Him was not only the blood of the animal life, nor the blood of man made in the image of God, but the blood of a Man who is God: why shall we fear to say with St. Paul, the Blood of God?111111 Acts xx. 28. Never was such oblation as this offered up before, since the world was made. Man had sinned against God, and God as man offered Himself up for man. The 213guilt was against an infinite love, and infinite was the atonement. The broken law was infinite in sanctity, the price which healed the breach was infinite in worth. A world’s ransom must be divine, and God gave it when He gave Himself.
In like manner the sacrifice is one, and above all, in the quality of the person who, as God, was holy, as man, was sinless. It was not the obedience only of man for man, but of man without sin; nor only of sinless man for sinners, but the obedience of God. The obedience unto death was both human and divine. He who was born of the Ever-Virgin Mother was God, He who hung upon the tree was God, spotless and holy, the fountain of holiness, the sanctifier of the world.
And further, as the nature and the quality, so the passion of Christ gives to His sacrifice an unity of transcendent perfection. Being sinless as man, and being also God, He suffered all the sorrows of the fall, and died. All that was due to sin, the Sinless bare in Himself; all that was due to us, but as far as the breadth of eternal righteousness from Him, He willingly endured. Wonderful and stupendous mystery. God “made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”112112 2 Cor. v. 21. “His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.”113113 1 St. Peter ii. 24. 214 Christ “hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”114114 1 St. Peter iii. 18. The very heart, will, soul, and sensitive nature of our manhood, both in the flesh and in the spirit, was in Him afflicted and crucified. All that sorrow, pain, and death could wreak upon Him He received into His open heart for us. Righteous, holy, pure, perfect in love both to God and man, He offered up Himself as a sacrifice of atonement between God and man. What other sacrifice has even the shadow of this unity of perfection? What self-sacrifice of man is sinless? What other sacrifice is divine?
Therefore we adore this one great Oblation as one, alone, unapproachable, absolute, and transcending the order of creation: the only true “perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” This, then, is its unity.
2. But further, it is not only one, but continuous. As by its unity it abolished the multitude of oblations, so by its continuity it abolished the repetition of sacrifices. To add one more would be to deny its final atonement. That which is infinite cannot be numbered. It is one, not only because it has no second, but because infinity has no number.215
For the same reason, what is infinite must be, in time, continuous; for in itself it is eternal. The sacrifice of Christ is as everlasting as His person. All the new creation of God is built upon it. The cross is the foundation of “eternal redemption.”115115 Heb. ix. 12. Even in foresight its atonement was perfect. The Lamb was “slain from the beginning of the world.” All the generations of God’s elect, from righteous Abel until the oblation upon Calvary, were redeemed by the continuous virtue of this one great sacrifice offered in the Divine foreknowledge. After He had, in time, once offered up Himself for ever, He sat down, the everlasting sacrifice, at the right hand of God. From the great day of atonement until now, all the elect of God have been made perfect through the continuous power of that one oblation, made once for all. He is now fulfilling the Priest’s office of intercession over the blood of atonement “within the veil.”116116 Heb. vi. 19, 20. His intercession is the perpetual presenting of His own sacrifice, that is, of Himself, bearing the wounds of His passion. The memorial, the very and true reality of the cross, is always in heaven. He was pierced on Calvary, but His passion is still before the mercy-seat. He was pierced eighteen hundred years ago, but His blood was shed four thousand years before, and 216 His wounds are fresh and atoning until now. His sacrifice is eternal. Though every light in the firmament of heaven were a world, and every world dead in sin; and though time should multiply the generations of sinners for ever; yet that one sacrifice for sin would infinitely redeem all worlds.
Now this leads to two high and blessed truths, revealed to us for our endless consolation.
1. The first is, that the holy Eucharist is a real and true sacrifice. Can it be necessary to say, that when the Sacrament upon the altar is called a sacrifice, it does not mean a sacrifice added to the sacrifice of the cross? That would be to contradict alike all revelation and all reason; to make not one only sacrifice, but many; to make them either nothing or infinite; either to add to what is already infinite, or to give an infinite value to a finite oblation; which is, in truth, to deny the need and reality of all sacrifices whatsoever. Let such a thought, then, be at once and for ever cast aside. Nothing can be added to that which is already perfect. Neither, again, is the Eucharist a sacrifice separate from the sacrifice of the cross; for what sacrifice but that alone can “take away sin?” No acts or offerings of men, any more than the blood of bulls and goats, can take away sin. Faith and adoration 217cannot; for they need an atonement to be themselves accepted at all. No creature, no universe of creatures, even deathless and sinless, could atone for one sin. Therefore, neither as added to, nor as separate from, the sacrifice of Christ is the holy Eucharist a sacrifice. In what sense, then, is it so called? Let us take the analogy and progress of the great evangelical revelation as our guide, and we shall be at no loss to understand.
Before Christ offered up Himself upon the cross, God ordained the sacrifices of the Law, as types and shadows of a sacrifice yet to come. They were sacraments looking forward to the cross. Since Christ has offered His one oblation of Himself, the broken bread and the wine poured out upon the altar are memorials of a sacrifice already perfect. It is a sacrifice looking backward to the cross.
Thus far is clear. It is representative and commemorative. The bread and the wine represent the mystery of the Incarnation; the breaking of the bread, and the pouring forth of the wine, the passion of the crucifixion; the offering them upon the altar before God, the mystery of His own sacrifice upon the cross. So far the analogy of God’s earlier revelation gives an exact parallel. But this is not all. It also applies the one Sacrifice to us.218
The Law had “a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things.” The Gospel is not the counterpart of the Law, but its fulfilment; or rather, it is the greater which contains the less. Whatever we find of grace in the Law, we shall find with much more, in “measure pressed down and running over,” in the Gospel. The Law was a shadow, “the body is of Christ:” that is to say, first, the personal work and passion of Christ, His incarnation and atonement, all that He did and suffered in Himself, summed up in the one sacrifice upon the cross; and next—for this is not all—the application of this work, that is, of His one all-sufficient sacrifice, to the souls of His elect. The Law, then, is fulfilled in the body of Christ, that is, in the person of Christ, and in His Church. Shadows, by passing through His cross, have become sacraments; what before stood empty is now full of grace; symbols are now mysteries; the outward signs have received the fellowship of inward grace. They are wedded together, as the Church is to Christ, by the Holy Ghost, which, through His incarnation, has been shed abroad upon His mystical body. We are now in a dispensation of faith, and “faith is the substance of things hoped for.” “By one oblation He hath perfected,” that is, consecrated wholly to God, “for ever them that 219are sanctified.” In and for Himself, therefore, in virtue, price, and power, He has redeemed all mankind. But for our salvation, that one perfect sacrifice must be directly and personally applied to every particular soul. The offering of the one sacrifice to the Father is the ministry of Christ by Himself; the application of that one sacrifice to us is the ministry of Christ by the Spirit.
There are some, indeed, who say that we apply this sacrifice to ourselves—as the Pelagians, and their followers, whether they adopt their whole error, or only a part of it. All these agree in thinking that we can of our “own natural strength turn to God,” “do good works,” or, at least, apply God’s grace to ourselves. Many other and better Christians, who believe the sovereignty of God’s grace as a doctrine, but are careless either in thought or language, use the same words. When their attention is called to such phrases as that “by faith we apply the sacrifice of Christ to ourselves,” they at once correct themselves, and say, that “faith is the gift of God; and that they mean no more than that, through the gift of faith, we receive the application of the sacrifice of Christ at the hands of God.” This is, indeed, the pure truth of the Gospel; for it is as much a work of Christ to apply His sacrifice to us, as to offer it to His Father. It is His sovereign and sacerdotal act 220 as priest and king. By baptism He first applies to us the blood of His Passion for the remission of sins; through faith and love He continually unites us more and more unto Himself; by absolution He applies His atonement to every true penitent; by the holy Eucharist He applies His passion to the sanctification of all faithful souls. All these are, as it were, fruits of His one sacrifice—channels through which the grace of it flows to us, and pledges of its application to us, one by one. But it may be asked, Why, then, are not all these called sacrifices? In one sense all may be, that is, spiritual sacrifices, acts of faith, love, thanksgiving. But there is an eminent and peculiar sense in which the holy Eucharist bears this title, in which no other sacrament or office of the Church partakes.
For, as we have already said, the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ is a visible memorial and representation of His crucifixion and oblation. This baptism is not, and no other mystery of the Gospel is ordained to be. Our blessed Lord, in the very act of institution, made it a representation of the sacrifice of Himself. “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. . . . . And He took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is My body which is given for you: this do in remembrance 221of Me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you.”117117 St. Luke xxii. 15, 19, 20. In this our blessed Lord did truly, in a symbolical act, offer and give Himself to die upon the cross. Through all His life no man could lay hands on Him, because His “hour was not yet come.” But now, knowing that the time was come that He should “go unto the Father,” and having “power over His life,” so that no man could take it from Him; having “power to lay it down, and power to take it again;” He here, by a solemn act of self-oblation, gave Himself, as the true Paschal Lamb, to be offered and eaten by us. The act of that hour was related to the oblation upon the cross, as its shadow cast on before. He then, in will and purpose, offered Himself; and His own body, which He had there consecrated for our sakes unto His Father, He afterwards gave in full on Calvary. In its first institution, therefore, the Sacrament of His Body and His Blood was a true sacrifice of Himself, through the symbols of bread and wine.
And thus, St. Paul expressly declares the tradition of the Church: “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread: and when He had given 222 thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is My body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me. After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in My blood: this do ye,” as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come.”118118 1 Cor. xi. 23-26. “Ye do shew;” that is, shew forth and exhibit, as St. Paul said to the Galatians, “before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you.”119119 Gal. iii. 1. And not only so; not only before men, but before God, exhibited in the sight of heaven. The Sacrament of His Body broken and Blood shed is spread forth upon the altar as before God, to whom He offered up Himself. All sacrifice, and all memorials of sacrifice, terminate in the Divine presence, before the mercy-seat.
What the sacrifices of the Law then offered in type, we offer in fulfilment; what they promised, this applies to us. When our blessed Lord took bread, and said, “This is My body,” and the cup, saying, “This is My blood,” He did not speak in metaphor and figure. What He spake, they are; what they are, we offer. In that holy Sacrament He is really present; and by His real 223presence it is the one and continual offering of Himself.
2. And this leads us to the other truth of which I spoke; I mean, that it is He who truly offers Himself for us perpetually, both in heaven and earth, through and with His mystical body, the Church. The Church is so united to Him as to be one with Him. It lives and acts in Him alone. Every member of it, and every act of it, out of Christ is dead. “If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”120120 St. John xv. 6. This is the first foundation of the Church—its perfect unity of life and act with Christ its Head. As there is but one sacrifice, so there is but one priesthood. All that the Church offers is Christ, and all that the priesthood of the Church does in spirit and in truth is done by Christ. They are but His representatives and vicars: many, because finite; but all one in Him, their office one, and their acts one. He alone is king and priest, and in Him the whole Church is a “royal priesthood.”121121 1 St. Peter ii. 9. He has “made us unto our God kings and priests.”122122 Rev. v. 10. Every Christian is spiritually a king and a priest, because anointed in Christ. The Church has therefore a twofold priesthood, internal and external; the internal, which 224 is hidden and universal in every member; the external, which is visible and particular, delegated to the sacerdotal order by Christ Himself. The external priesthood is the expression and embodying of the internal, which thereby fulfils its ministry of sacrifice and worship. It is as the ministry of the body to the powers and endowments of the soul; as speech is to thought, or power to will. But whether internal or external, it is all one priesthood still; the priesthood of Christ descending from the Head to the body, whereby He offers the body in Himself, and the body, in and for itself, offers Him unto the Father.123123 S. Aug. de Civ. Dei, lib. x. 19; xxii. 10.
In this, then, we see what is the Christian sacrifice. It is Christ in heaven offering Himself in visible presence; and on earth, by His ministering priesthood, offering Himself in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. Though manifold in operation, and various in kinds and accidents, it is still all one sacrifice, one priesthood, one continuous act of memorial and exhibition to the Father, of union and application to the Church. In one word, then, what is it that we offer unto God? It is the infinite merits of His Son; the infinite price which, by His incarnation and His death, He has paid for our redemption. These merits He has given to His Church. They are hers, because they 225are His. Having nothing of her own, no riches, no “upper or nether springs,” no “raiment of needlework,” no “form or comeliness,” no dowry of her own, He has endowed her with Himself: Christ is the dowry of the Church. This is the sole and only foundation of our hope. Through Him, and in Him alone, we come unto the Father. Every prayer must pass through His merits. Every work of repentance, faith, and love, must ascend through His one sacrifice of Himself. Blessed poverty, to have nothing, that we may possess Christ! for then “all things are yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” Verily, for our sakes He became poor, that we by His poverty might be made infinitely rich. Wonderful mystery of eternal love! As all the multitude of stars hide their borrowed light in the brightness of the morning sun, and all mountains, lands, and seas are fulfilled with the overflow of his one universal splendour; so all shadows and types of sacrifice, offered up through the long weary night of expectation, vanished before the one great oblation made upon the cross. And now from the highest heaven that infinite atonement sheds itself abroad in all the earth. Wheresoever there is an altar in the name of Christ, there is the memorial of His cross. “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that 226 dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”124124 Isaiah ix. 2. The sacrifices of one nation, impure, and with blood of beasts, have passed away, and the words of the prophet are fulfilled: “From the rising of the sun 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.”125125 Malachi i. 11. Even so as Thy prophet hath spoken; in Thy holy Church throughout all the world Thy name is glorified; the incense of perpetual prayer goes up before Thee, and the pure oblation, the Lamb without blemish and without spot, is laid alway upon Thine altar. Blessed mystery, too little realised, even by those who trust in it. The world cannot receive it, “because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him.” “The Light” even now “shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.”126126 St. John i. 5. Let us strive more clearly to discern this great object of faith, Christ evermore offering Himself for us. Evermore: not “that He should offer Himself often; for then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world; but now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself;”127127 Heb. ix. 26. not often, but evermore: reconciling 227us continually, after all our sins of wilfulness, ignorance, infirmity; making steadfast the peace He has wrought between God and us upon the cross. Let this thought dwell in us continually, that all our hope may be in Him alone. Day by day let us draw near to Him, to wash our soiled robes and make them white in the blood of His only sacrifice. In that fountain we must wash ourselves, our souls and bodies, our sins and our good works, our prayers and our repentance. And when these are washed, what can remain unclean? Above all, let us ever adore Him more and more in His blessed Presence with us in the sacrament of His love. To that let us come as to the foot of His cross, in sorrowing faith and loving hope; praying that, as He suffered a poor penitent with unclean lips to kiss His feet at supper, and to stand all cleansed beside His cross on Calvary, so He may suffer us, all trembling with our conscious guilt, to touch Him through the sacrament of His atonement, lest we die. Let us come to Him, saying, “If I must die, Lord, rather will I die here at Thy feet, than afar off; if haply even the shadow of Thy sacrifice may fall upon me, and under it I be found at last, resting in hope at that day.”228
|« Prev||Sermon XII. The Only Sacrifice||Next »|