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"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Without blemish." Lev 3:1
This qualification occurs again and again in the designation of sacrifices, and is therefore of supreme importance. This call for the ideally pure is itself an instrument of discipline. Where can we find that which is absolutely without blemish? Even where we cannot find the ideally perfect we are bound to look for it, for the very act of looking for it trains the attention to true criticism and the conscience to moral exactness. The sacrifice was not to be almost blameless; or as nearly perfect as possible; it was to be without blemish. God has always been calling for this description of sacrifice. Can we find it in ourselves? Experience emphatically says No. The more we know ourselves the more conscious we are of blemishes, not always visible, indeed, but not the less blemishes that they are invisible to public eyes, and sometimes almost invisible to ourselves. Let a man examine himself. All this inquiry for the ideally perfect points to a certain issue. Not until Jesus Christ himself appeared was it possible to secure a perfectly blameless sacrifice. He was without sin. He knew no sin. He was the just sacrificed for the unjust. Sometimes we have to wait long for the explanation of profoundly spiritual terms. An ideally perfect lamb of the flock or bullock of the herd was simply impossible, if only for the reason that the sentence of death was in every one of them. The blemished can never give birth to the unblemished. There is an hereditary taint in all living things; not, of course, a moral taint in all cases, not the less, however, a taint or a fault. The blemished offered for the blemished is a mere mockery of law and divine claim. The whole merit of the work of Christ turns upon his absolute pureness, according to Apostolic theology. There are times when we hardly see the full pith of such a doctrine or feel its necessity; there are other times in the soul's experience when we feel that the purity of Christ was the chief element of his sacrifice.
We must have a theology that covers all the moods and phases of spiritual experience; that grows with the day; that expands with the summer; and that fills even the winter with light and enriches the night with stars. We do not want a theology that is adapted to one set of circumstances only. That theology could be easily invented, and could be as easily perverted. We must have a theology so lofty as not to permit of the handiwork of man, and yet so genial and condescending as to elicit the confidence and the love of the poorest and weakest of mankind. Our judgment is not without blemish; our giving is not without blemish; our affections are not without blemish. Possibly there may be a line of selfish calculation running through all our most religious arrangements. The object of Christ's priesthood is to make the Church "without spot or wrinkle or any such thing a glorious Church." When we would consider what the Church is to be we must fix our attention upon the blamelessness of Christ. He is the pattern. He is the consummation.
In addition to the great offerings of the Jewish ritual, there were certain minor offerings for which special provision was made. If we take this chapter and view it in the light of the Christian dispensation we shall see more clearly what has been gained by the Christian covenant. These offerings, in themselves considered, the Gentile mind will never be able fully to appreciate. The oblations were not intended for Gentiles, and therefore can only be understood in some of their broadest suggestions by the contrasts which are afforded by the Christian religion. We cannot but be struck by the fact that the penalties of worship, as expressed by all these offerings, are abolished. That the Jewish worship was a system of penalties is evident upon the face of the arrangements. The gifts were really substantial and costly; whatever there might be about them of mere sentiment and spiritual aspiration it is certain that the gifts themselves necessitated very heavy expenditure, and constituted in fact a species of personal taxation. The meaning of this is that sin wherever it is found necessitates punishment. The punishment of sin is in no wise suspended or abrogated by the Christian dispensation, but the sting of penalty is wholly abstracted from Christian worship by the very spirit of Christ. What is now given, even of a costly character, ceases to affect the mind with a sense of its burdensomeness and becomes rather a delight than an imposition, a response of the heart rather than a heavy toil of the reluctant hand. Throughout the Biblical revelation we are never allowed to lose sight of the fact that sin means suffering, and that in some way or other sin must be paid for not in equivalents but in punishments, which are continually showing themselves unequal to the disastrous occasion. Payment on account of sin is the law of nature. We must not lose sight of this idea simply because there is no money in the transaction, ailment, decrepitude, incapacity to enjoy and inability to respond to the claims of life, all manner of restlessness, fear and shame, these are among the heavy payments which sin exacts at the hands of the sinner. It is difficult, too, to rid the mind of the idea that something like payment is involved in the act of worship; by payment in this sense must be understood the idea of compensation or doing something for the sake of blotting something else out, and thus, as it were, balancing accounts with Heaven. The Christian spirit delivers the soul from all this sense of mechanism and burdensomeness; though the worship is due and though the homage is paid, and thus words are imported into the exercise which savour of a commercial kind, yet what is due is rather an expression of spontaneous love, and what is paid is rather the inspiration of a grateful heart than any action that can be brought under the name of imposition or taxation.
It is impossible to compare this chapter with the law of Christian worship without observing how all narrow conceptions of God and of his requirements of the human soul are utterly abolished. The Jewish system was really a small one in all its conceptions of God. Jehovah was a task-master, a king who had prizes to give away and appointments to make in his celestial kingdom. He was an image of terror and of continual apprehension; his anger was to be appeased by suffering on the part of those who had offended, or by the offering of symbolic sacrifices. The day's account could be settled within the day itself. The service was the labour of a hireling and not the sacred answer of the heart to the claim of divine love. All this is done away in the Christian dispensation. The idea of master, despot, ruler, in the low and base senses of these terms, has no place in Christian thinking. God is Father, pitiful and kind; Lord, as gracious as he is mighty; the Eternal who is continually incarnating himself in the separate moments of time. Worship is no longer confined to definite places as if it would be unacceptable unless offered under localising and narrowing conditions. Not in any mountain, nor in any metropolis exclusively is worship to be offered; the whole earth is now a church and every man is related to the priesthood of the Son of God. With those narrow conceptions all degrading thoughts of God are abolished. God is degraded to human thought when he is conceived of as a tyrant or as one who comes to claim mere suffering at the hands of the sinner. We are led to see that suffering is only intended as a means towards spiritual education, and is only used because through it alone can some parts of our nature be vitally and redeemingly touched. The suffering thus acquires a new character because it is invested with a new purpose. It is not suffering only, or suffering without moral suggestion and comfort; it is suffering as an educator, as a severity edged with mercy, as a mere point in a long and tedious process by which the soul is delivered from evil servitude and brought into sacred and holy liberty. Along with narrow conceptions and degrading thoughts of God all merely bodily exercises are done away. "Bodily exercise profiteth little." Long education was required to expel from the human mind the sophism that bodily exercise is needful to spiritual enlargement. Being in the body we use to a larger extent than is often supposed, the creatures of the flesh. It pleases us to think that we are able to do something or to suffer something which must of necessity have an effect upon the obligation created by our daily guilt. The ministrations which we offer to our vanity are often of the subtlest kind. Even in our Christian worship there is a tendency of the mind towards all that is meant by "bodily exercise": it may be by much speaking, it may be by overstraining the mind in an effort to be mechanically correct, it may be some superstitious idea of what is due to the majesty of God, it may be many things which cannot be named in words; but in the last analysis it will be found that the offering of bodily exercise conceals itself oftentimes within our most sacred spiritual abstractions and services. That Christianity seeks to deliver the soul from all such bondage, is one of its highest titles to the trust and veneration of men. Christianity risks itself upon its absolute spirituality. It is willing to part with all its externals in order that it may establish itself in the simple and unadulterated confidence of the heart. It has gone so far as to be willing to lay aside miracles, and prophecies, and tongues, and all signs and wonders considering these but as so many bodily exercises in order that it might set up a kingdom of spiritual truth and establish a service of spiritual consecration. Christianity has even gone so far as to say in the person of its greatest expounder, the Apostle Paul, that henceforth even Christ himself is not known after the flesh. What has become of the body of Christ is now a small question compared with what is the meaning of the rule of the Spirit of Christ in every province of human thought and life. Great Lessons follow from this train of reflection. We must put a stop to all those inferior teachers who would enclose the kingdom of heaven within certain questions of simply a fleshly kind, though those questions may never be defined under such broad conditions. We may debase even the question of inspiration into a merely carnal one; that is to say, we may be so anxious about the inspiration of certain particular individuals, as to where that inspiration began and ended and how it operated, as utterly to overlook the true nature and function of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the human heart. It is possible to be so anxious to prove the actual rising of the body of Christ from the grave as to forget the higher resurrection, the nobler and grander ascension, the direct personal lordship of Christ over all things in heaven and in earth. There is no occasion so to pervert these suggestions as to deduce the mischievous inference that things introductory, accessory and explanatory, have been denied. Nothing of the kind. Our one object is to define the limit of such externals and illustrations, and to show that they all point towards an inner and inexpressible mystery: the kingdom of heaven in the heart often without defined boundaries, but embracing all inspiration, conviction, service and hope; involving, in fact, the whole being in the very mystery of immortality and heaven. These reflections have a distinct bearing upon persons who would offer sacrifice or homage with the mere letter of Scripture. It cannot be too persistently re-affirmed that it is possible to know the letter and yet not to know anything of the meaning of the spirit; to be learned in chapter and verse and to be completely qualified for cross-examination in the concordance, and yet never to have come within the sacred enclosure of spiritual revelation and ministry. The letter is true; the letter must be vindicated; but the letter itself is dishonoured when it is considered as final; it is a magnificent portal to a magnificent palace or temple.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Leviticus 3". The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent