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XXI. TEACHING BY CONTRAST

 

 

"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! "HEBREWS ix. 14.

 

 IN this marvelous paragraph (vv. 6-14) there are five striking and well-defined contrasts between the picture symbols of Leviticus, and the realities revealed in the New Testament Scriptures. And to their consideration we will at once proceed, thanking God as we do so that we live in the very midst of the heavenly things themselves, rather than in the shadows, which, though they doubtless helped and nourished the devout souls of an earlier age, were confessedly inadequate to supply the deeper demands of man's spiritual life.

 

THE FIRST TABERNACLE IS CONTRASTED WITH THE TRUE (vv. 6, 8, 11). It must have been a fair and lovely sight to behold, when first, on the plains of Sinai, the Tabernacle was reared, with its golden furniture and sumptuous drapery. The very angels may have desired to look into it, and trace the outlines of thoughts, which perhaps were only beginning to unfold themselves to their intelligence. But fair though it was, it had in it all those traces of imperfection which necessarily attach to human workmanship, and make even a needle-point seem coarse beneath the microscope. It was "made with hands." Besides which it was destined to grow old, and perish beneath the gnawing tooth or fret of time. Already it must have shown signs of decay when it was carefully borne across the Jordan; and, in David's days, its venerable associations could not blind him to the necessity of replacing it as soon as possible.

How different to this is the true tabernacle, of which it was the type, which is so much "greater and more perfect." What is that tabernacle? and where? Sometimes it seems to pious musing as if the whole universe were one great temple; the mountains its altars; the seas and oceans, with their vast depths, its lavers; the heavens its blue curtains; the loftier spaces, with their stars and mystery of color, and fragrant incense-breath and angel worship, its holy place; whilst the very throne-room of God, where the Seer's eye beheld the rainbow-circled throne, corresponds to the most holy place in which the light of the Shekinah glistened over the blood-stained mercy seat.

But such poetic flights are forbidden by the sober prose which tells us that the true tabernacle is not "of this creation" (ver. 11). It is no part of this created world, whether earth or heaven; it would exist, though all the material universe should resolve itself into primeval chaos; it is a spiritual fabric, whose aisles are trodden by saintly spirits in their loftiest experiences, when, forgetting that they are creatures of time, they rise into communion with God, and enjoy rapturous moments, which seem ages in their wealth of blessed meaning. Such is the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man (viii. 2).

 

THE HIGH-PRIESTS ARE CONTRASTED WITH CHRIST (vv.7,11). The outer court of the sanctuary might be trodden, under certain conditions, by ordinary Israelites; but for the most part they were excluded, and service was rendered by Levites and priests, at the head of whom stood the high-priest, radiant in his garments of glory and beauty. The garment of fine white linen worn next his person; the linen girdle girt about his loins fitting him for ministry (John xiii. 4); the robe of the ephod, woven all of blue, and fringed with scarlet tassels in the form of pomegranates; the ephod itself, composed of the same materials as constituted the veil; and on his breast the twelve precious stones, engraven with the names of Israel. How grand a spectacle was there!

And yet there were two fatal flaws. He was not suffered to continue by reason of death (vii. 23); and he was a sinful man, who needed to offer sacrifice for himself (ix. 7). On the great day of atonement, it was expressly stated that he was not to go within the veil to plead for the people, until he had made an atonement for himself and his house by the blood of the young bullock, which he had previously killed (Lev. xvi. 11, 12, 13).

In these respects, how different is our High-Priest, after the order of Melchizedek! Death tried to master him; but he could not be holden of it; and by death he destroyed him that hath the power of death. "He continueth ever." "He ever liveth." His priesthood is unchangeable. "He is a priest forever." All this was clearly proved in the seventh chapter. But now it is asserted that he was "without spot" (ver. 14). He was well searched; but none could convince him of sin. Judas tried to find some warrant for his treachery, but was compelled to confess that it was innocent blood. Caiaphas and Annas called in false witnesses in vain; and at last condemned him on words uttered by his own lips, claiming divine authority and power. Pilate repeatedly asseverated, even washing his hands in proof, that he could find in him no fault at all.

Nay, the Lord himself bared his breast to the Father in conscious innocence; unlike the saintliest of men, who, in proportion to their goodness, confess their sinnership. "Such a High-Priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, who needeth not daily to offer up sacrifice for his own sins.

 

THE VEILED WAY INTO THE HOLIEST IS CONTRASTED WITH OUR FREEDOM TO ENTER THE PRESENCE OF GOD. We have the positive assurance of these words that the Holy Spirit meant to signify direct spiritual truth in the construction of the Jewish Tabernacle (ver. 8). He who revealed divine truth by inspired prophets, revealed it so in the structure of the material edifice. The methods of instruction might vary; the teacher was the same. Indeed, the whole ritual was a parable for the present time (ver. 9).

Every well-taught child is aware of the distinction between the holy place, with its candlesticks, incense-table, and shew-bread, and the holy of holies, with its ark, and cloud of glory. The first tabernacle was separated from the second by heavy curtains, which were never drawn aside except by the high-priest, and by him only once a year, and then in connection with an unusually solemn ritual. Surely the dullest Israelite must have understood the meaning of that expressive figure; and have felt that, even though his race might claim to be nearer to God than all mankind beside, yet there was a depth of intimacy from which his foot was checked by the prohibition of God himself. "The way into the holiest was not yet made manifest."

For us, however, the veil is rent. Jesus entered once into the holy place, and as he passed the heavy folds were rent in twain from the top to the bottom. Surely no priest that witnessed it could ever forget the moment, when, as the earth trembled beneath the temple floor, the thickly woven veil split and fell back, and disclosed the solemnities on which no eyes but those of the high-priest dared to gaze. Surely the most obtuse can read the meaning signified herein by the Holy Ghost. There is no veil between us and God but that which we weave by our own sin or ignorance. We may go into the very secrets of his love. We may stand unabashed where angels worship with veiled faces. We may behold mysteries hidden from before the foundation of the world. The love of God has no secrets for us whom he calls friends.

Oh, why are we so content with the superficial and the transient, with the ephemeral gossip and literature of our times, with the outer courts in which the formalists and worldly Christians around us are contented to remain? when there are such heights and depths, such lengths and breadths, to be explored in the very nature of God. Why do men in our time bring back that veil, though they call it "a screen"? Alas, they are blind leaders of the blind.

 

THE RITES OF JUDAISM ARE CONTRASTED WITH CONSCIENCE-CLEANSING ORDINANCES OF THE GOSPEL. They stood in meats and drinks and divers washings, which at the best were carnal ordinances imposed until a time of reformation; and though they rendered the worshiper ceremonially clean, they left his conscience unappeased.

A great many of the offenses which required to be put away in those olden days arose from the breach of ceremonial laws. A man who touched the dead or the unclean became ceremonially defiled. For any such thing he must undergo the appointed rites of cleansing, ere he could enter the courts of the Lord's house. The ceremonial laws were quite competent to deal with delinquencies like these; but they failed in providing atonement or in securing pardon for acts of sin. "They could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience."

The unsatisfactory nature of sacrifices was even patent on the great day of atonement, which is here evidently referred to. Laying aside the gorgeous robes in which he was usually arrayed, the high-priest clothed himself in simple linen. The animals to be offered during the day were next presented at the door of the Tabernacle; and lots were cast as to which of the two bullocks was to be for himself, and which of the two goats was to be slain. Then for the first time he entered the most holy place amid the fumes of fragrant incense, and sprinkled the blood of the bullock to make an atonement for the sins of himself and his house. A second time he entered with the blood of the goat, to make an atonement for the sins of the people, who, meanwhile, stood without in penitential grief. And when all was over, the nation's sins were confessed over the head of the living goat, which was sent into the land of forgetfulness. Still, no one could suppose that the slaying of the one goat or the sending of the other into the wilderness actually expiated the offense of the whole people. There was a remembrance of sins made once a year; but not necessarily entire remission for all who stood in that vast silent crowd. And many must have turned away in doubt and misgiving. David expressed their feeling when he sang the Fifty-first Psalm beneath the impression of his own sinnership (see also Micah vi. 6).

But how different is all this now! Our consciences are purged (ver. 14). We have no more conscience of sins. We feel that the death of our Lord Jesus is an adequate expiation for them all, and that he has so fully taken them from us and put them away that they cannot be found; they are as though they had never been; they have ceased from the very memory of God. True, there are works which are constantly rendering our conscience unclean, as of old the flesh of the Israelite was rendered unclean by the touch of death. But the blood of Jesus does for our conscience what the ashes of the heifer did for the flesh of the ceremonially unclean. "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." We have therefore no longer an evil conscience resulting from unexpiated sin.

 

THE BLOOD OF ANIMALS IS CONTRASTED WITH THE BLOOD OF CHRIST. Hecatombs of victims are not of equal value with one man; how much less with the Son of God! Rivers of the blood of beasts are not equivalent to one drop of his. They offer no standard by which to apprise his precious blood. This is too obvious to need further comment here, and we shall need to defer to another chapter our estimate, however inadequate, of the value of that blood.

But in the meanwhile, let us notice that it was through the Eternal Spirit that Christ offered himself without spot to God. It was not, as some falsely affirm, that the Father forced an innocent man to suffer for sins he had never done, or that our Saviour suffered to appease the Father's wrath; but that the eternal nature of God came out in the sacrifice of Calvary. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself." When God determined to save men, he did not delegate the work to angels, nor did he permit a sinless man to sink beneath the intolerable burden of a world's sin; but in the person of his Son, he took home to himself the agony and curse and cost of sin, and by bearing them, wiped them out forever. It is, therefore, eternal redemption (ver. I 2).

The death of the cross was a voluntary act; "he offered himself; " Priest and victim both. And it was an act in which the Eternal Trinity participated; the manifestation in time of an eternal fact of the divine nature.

And how can we ever show our gratitude, except by serving the living God (ver. 14). We are redeemed to serve; bought to be owned absolutely. Who can refuse a service so reasonable, fraught with blessedness so transcendent? Head! think for him whose brow was thorn-girt. Hands! toil for him whose hands were nailed to the cross. Feet! speed to do his behests whose feet were pierced. Body of mine! be his temple whose body was wrung with pains unspeakable. To serve him-this is the Only true attitude and behavior, as those who are not their own, but his.

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