Sunday, May 28th, 2023
Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Hebrews 9". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ hebrews-9.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Hebrews 9". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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CHRIST IS THE END OF THE LAW
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
THE writer proceeds to compare, or rather contrast, the ordinances of ministration under the two priesthoods.
1. The older ceremonial indicated that the way into the holiest was not made plain. In Christ it is made plain.
2. The whole service of Judaism was outward and ceremonial. That of Christ is spiritual.
3. The older sacrifices were of unwilling beasts. That of Christ was the sacrifice of His own will, “His own consenting personality.”
4. Salvation and pardon were associated with blood or yielded life. This is, in the deepest, the most spiritual sense, true of Christ’s salvation.
5. The older sacrifices were numerous. Christ’s was a single sacrifice, and offered once for all.
6. The old sacrifices had their spiritual power only as typical of Christ’s sacrifice. Christ’s sacrifice is the antitype.
7. The cleansing efficacy of the old sacrifice was only partial and temporary. In Christ is perfect and final cleansing.
8. The old priests were ever at the altar. Christ, having offered, is seated on His throne. Hebrews 9:1-10 contain descriptions of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies; but it should be noticed that only a brief, not a complete, recapitulation of the furniture and service of the Temple is attempted.
Hebrews 9:1. Then verily.—Or, “to resume our comparison then.” The first.—Some would supply the word “tent,” “tabernacle,” but the word “covenant” is preferable. See Hebrews 8:6-7; Hebrews 8:13. Ordinances of Divine service.—Or, “a service conducted by definite rules.” λατρεία signifies the public service of the tabernacle; δικαιώματα the formal rules which regulated it. Worldly.—Or material, as opposed to “heavenly,” or spiritual. A rhetorical description of the enclosed sacred area, with its tent, in which the daily Divine service was carried on. κοσμικόν means, “of a terrestrial nature.” If the meaning had been “ornate,” “elegant,” the adjectival form would have been κόσμιος.
Hebrews 9:2. Tabernacle.—This was made after the pattern showed to Moses in the mount; the later Temples were but enlarged copies of it. It is to the point, therefore, that the writer should take his illustrations from the original work. It was an oblong tent divided, by thick veils, into two chambers. The first.—Not the most important one, but the one that presents itself first to a visitor. For the furniture of the σκηνή, see Exodus 25:23-29; Exodus 25:31-39; Exodus 37:17-24; Leviticus 24:4-9; 1 Kings 6:0; 1 Kings 6:0. The altar of incense is omitted, and the altar of burnt-offering. This was in front of the tent, not within it. Candlestick.—Exodus 25:31-39; Exodus 37:17-24. Table.—Exodus 25:23-29; bread consecrated to Jehovah was regularly placed upon it. For exhibition of the bread, see Exodus 25:30; Leviticus 24:5-9. The earlier Hebrew name was “presence-bread.” Sanctuary.—ἅγια, Holy Place. Distinguished from ἅγια ἁγίων of Hebrews 9:3.
Hebrews 9:3. Second veil.—One was at the outer door of the Holy Place; the second, which was a double one, divided the Holy Place from the Most Holy. The Hebrew name of the inner veil is given in Exodus 26:31-33; Leviticus 16:2. The Hebrew name of the outer veil is given, Exodus 26:31-33; Exodus 36:35-36. Holiest of all.—R.V. “Holy of Holies”; ἅγια ἁγίων. “A common form of expression in Hebrew, in order to denote intensity.” This apartment was regarded as the earthly dwelling-place of Jehovah. In Solomon’s Temple the inner chamber was called the “Oracle.”
Hebrews 9:4. Golden censer.—No such utensil is mentioned by Moses. Moulton renders “having a golden altar of incense,” but the altar of incense was in the Holy Place, not in the Holy of Holies. The Rabbins say that a golden censer was used by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. Alford suggests reading “having belonging to it,” rather than “having in it.” Farrar suggests some sort of stand on which the priest placed the incense-pot, or censer. Or the altar of incense may be referred to, and treated as “belonging to” the special ceremonies of the Holy of Holies. See 1 Kings 6:22. Ark of the covenant.—κιβωτός a chest made of wood, and covered with laminæ of gold (Exodus 25:10-16; Exodus 37:1-5). Within it were placed the two tables of the covenant, and the lid was regarded as the mercy-seat. Golden pot.—See Exodus 16:32-34. It is not spoken of as “golden” in the Hebrew, but the LXX. render στάμνον χρυσοῦν. Other ancient religions represent their supreme mystery by a closed box. The idea may have been Egyptian. It is disputable whether the pot and the rod were within the box, or placed beside it—but this writer distinctly understands the original arrangement to have included all within the box. Aaron’s rod.—See Numbers 17:1-10. The manna and the rod were Divine covenant seals. Tables.—Stone tablets; best represented by modern slates.
Hebrews 9:5. Cherubims of glory.—Stuart, “splendid cherubim.” Barker, “not splendid cherubim, but cherubim that were recipients of the glory, i.e. of the Divine manifestation, the Shekinah.” Farrar, “cherubim of the Shekinah.” (Exodus 25:18-22; Exodus 29:43; Numbers 7:89; Ezekiel 10:19-20.) The glory-cloud was the visible symbol of God’s presence, and was regarded as resting, protected by the outspread wings of these representative figures. The cherubim were “emblems of all that was highest and best in animated nature—the grandest products of creation combined in one living angelic symbol.” Mercy-seat.—The lid or covering of the ark, which was of pure gold (Exodus 25:17; Exodus 25:21). The place of propitiation whence mercy was dispensed. “Over this mercy-seat the Divine glory was seen, i.e. a supernatural, excessive brightness, and hence God was supposed to be seated on it, as His throne, and from it to dispense His mercy, when atonement was made for the sins of the people, by sprinkling it with blood.” Particularly.—In minute detail. The writer does not propose to deal with all the Mosaic service; he can illustrate his point from the greatest day of the ritual—the Day of Atonement.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 9:1-5
The Mission of the Symbolical.—It must have been a cause of much pain to the pious Jews that it had been found impossible fully to restore the old tabernacle conditions in the Temple built after the Captivity. “When Pompey profanely forced his way into the Holy of Holies, he found, to his great astonishment, nothing whatever (vacua omnia)” This writer does not therefore refer to any of the Temples—not even to Solomon’s—but deals only with the original tabernacle of Moses, that was fully fashioned and furnished “according to the pattern shewn him in the mount.” There only could the symbolic system be seen in its completeness. In making comparison between the old material and the new spiritual dispensations, it was quite possible for the writer to leave the impression that he underrated the old, and this impression might cause offence, and hinder men from receiving his teachings and persuasions. Christian teachers need to be anxious not only concerning the precision with which they state the truth, but also concerning the impressions that are received, and the ideas that are taken up, by those who hear them. They should watchfully avoid all occasions of offence, while keeping absolutely loyal to God’s truth. This fear influences the writer here, and leads him to give, in a very reverent and sympathetic way, his estimate of the real value and significance, as religious teaching, of the old symbolic system. True, it was temporary, educative, and preparatory, but it was the precisely fitting thing for its time and place; and it enshrined the great primary truths connected with God’s actual and possible relations with men, that could be liberated, illustrated, glorified, and made the universal heritage of men, when the spiritual High Priest had come, and had taken His place in the spiritual and eternal temple. This paragraph brings before us the furniture of the two chambers of the first tabernacle, and reminds us that each article carried a spiritual suggestion.
I. The symbolical meanings of the things in the first chamber, or Holy Place.—It is singular that the writer does not mention the “altar of incense,” which stood in the centre of the Holy Place, immediately before the veil, but brings in the golden censer, which carried fire from this altar into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, and so was thought of as properly belonging to the “Most Holy Place.” There were three principal articles of furniture in the first chamber, or Holy Place.
1. The altar of incense. A double cube, with horns, made of shittim-wood, overlaid with gold. No burnt-offering, meat-offering, or drink-offering was to be laid upon it; but the blood of the sin-offering of atonement was sprinkled upon its horns once a year. Incense, a sacred composition of spices, was offered by burning every morning and evening, as a symbol of the daily thanksgiving and prayer of the people.
2. The table of shewbread. This was placed on the right, or north side of the chamber. The table was oblong, and stood on legs. It was of shittim-wood, and was furnished with dishes, spoons, covers, and bowls, of pure gold. Upon this table were placed, every Sabbath Day, twelve cakes of fine flour, in two rows of six each, with frankincense upon each row. This constant offering of a representative of the people’s food before the Lord sanctified their common eating and drinking. Man’s time was consecrated to God by the separation of the Sabbath for His entire service. Man’s body was consecrated to God by the devotion of his possessions as sacrifices. Man’s food was sanctified by the presentation of this shewbread, this representative bread, before the Lord.
“How can I, Lord, withhold
Life’s brightest hour
From Thee; or gathered gold,
Or any power?
Why should I keep one precious thing from Thee,
When Thou hast given Thine own dear Self for me?”
C. E. Mudie.
3. The golden candlestick. Placed on the left or south side of the altar of incense. Made of pure beaten gold, having a straight centre rising from the stand, and three curved branches on either side. The lamps were lighted at the time of the evening oblation. The Rabbins say that only the central lamp was kept alight during the daytime. The famous figure of the candlestick on the Arch of Titus cannot be an exact representation, seeing that it has marine monsters carved upon its pediment, which would have been a direct violation of the second commandment. “As in a house light is as necessary as food, and the lampstand with its lighted lamp was a piece of furniture as necessary as the bread-vessel, so in the house of Jehovah the candlestick symbolised the spiritual light of life, which He gives to His servants with the words by which they live.” The candlestick symbolised the people, who were thus represented as always in the presence of Jehovah, and as always alight, with the light of their faith, and love, and obedience.
II. The symbolical meanings of the things in the second chamber, the Holy of Holies.—That chamber itself represented the truth that, while man’s sin had not so broken relations with God that he might not offer worship, or the service of his life, it had made impossible those close relations of personal friendship which God gave His creatures in Eden. Man’s sin had made the “veil” necessary, which could be passed only on well-defined conditions, and only representatively by the priest. The chamber was without windows, or ventilators, and absolutely dark, save for the glory of the Shekinah-cloud. The ark was the chief thing in it. It symbolised Jehovah’s throne; the cover was the seat, or mercy-seat; the cherubims represented the attendants on the throne; and the tables of the law inside the ark declared the foundation principles on which He who sat on the throne ruled His people and dispensed His mercy. “Justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne.” The golden pot with the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, may have been placed beside the ark, rather than within it, and were representative of the history of God’s people, and of His special dealings with them. They, as it were, kept God reminded of the people’s needs and the people’s frailties. Perhaps the golden censer is mentioned with a special purpose. The writer wants to make clear how limited access to God was under the old system, and how free it is under the new; so he reminds us that even the old high priest could not go into the Holy of Holies without the shading of the glory of God with the smoke of incense. He must take the censer, and put incense on the coals just as he took the veil aside, so that he might not see undimmed the glory over the mercy-seat. The old symbols dealt with the primary truths that are now fully brought to light by Jesus Christ.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 9:2. Types in the Holy Place.—“The candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread.” The furniture of the court was connected with sacrifice, that of the sanctuary itself with the deeper mysteries of mediation and access to God. The first sanctuary contained three objects: the altar of incense in the centre, so as to be directly in front of the ark of the covenant; the table of shewbread on its right or north side; and the golden candlestick on the left or south side. These objects were all considered as being placed before the presence of Jehovah, who dwelt in the “Holiest of all,” though with the veil between. The daily rite for the altar of incense was as follows: The priest took some of the sacred fire off the altar of burnt-offering in his censer, and threw the incense upon it; then, entering the Holy Place, he emptied the censer upon the altar, prayed, and performed the other duties of his office. Meanwhile the people prayed outside; and thus was typified the intercession of Christ in heaven, making His people’s prayers on earth acceptable. The shewbread (and, connected with it, the drink-offering of wine placed in the covered bowls upon the table) represented under the old covenant the same truths which are set forth by the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper under the new.—From “Student’s Scripture History.”
Ministry in the Holy Place.—The Holy Place was used for the more delicate sacrifices which the priests alone offered, and the rest of the people, including the Levites, never saw with their own eyes. The Holy Place was a dark chamber, and a lamp was necessary to enable the priests to discharge their functions. The golden altar became an altar for the priests alone, at which nothing but the most delicate substances might be offered—namely, incense. It is significant that the shewbread was called “bread of the face,” “bread of the Divine presence,” “loaves of the setting-forth.”
Hebrews 9:3. The Typology of the Veils.—Inside, the Holy of Holies was separated off only by a drop-curtain. This was made of byssus, and was fastened by golden hooks to four pillars of acacia-wood, which, like the planks, were covered with gold-leaf, and carefully secured in the ground with silver sockets. The drop-curtain was undoubtedly fixed behind them, so that the pillars would stand outside the ten ells, while a trifle farther to the front hung the ornamental junction of the curtains of byssus. In front of the whole tabernacle an outer drop-curtain of greater strength, probably twofold, was hung on to five pillars of acacia wood, which were set up across the entire breadth of the tabernacle. It displayed the same colours as the internal curtain, but no embroidered cherubs; the pillars were in other respects adorned like the four internal ones, but had only brazen sockets.—Ewald.
The Use of Veils.—Curtains, or veils, must be studied in view of their use, and of the sentiments concerning them in tent life. They were in effect as our shut and locked doors. They represent—
1. Claim to privacy
2. Hindrance to admittance, which can be only on conditions.
3. And they suggest mystery, something purposely hidden from view.
Hebrews 9:4. Types in the Holy of Holies.—There was but one object, the ark of the covenant, a sacred chest, containing the two tables of the law, the cover of it being called the “mercy-seat,” and the cherub figures making a sort of canopy over it. The cover was a plate of pure gold. This was the very throne of Jehovah, who was therefore said to “dwell between the cherubim.” It was also called the “mercy-seat,” or “propitiatory,” because Jehovah there revealed Himself, especially on the great Day of Atonement, as “God pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin.” Nor was it without the profoundest allusion to the coming dispensation of the gospel that God’s throne of mercy covered and hid the tables of the law. The attitude of the cherubim was significant of the desire of angels to learn the gospel mysteries that were hidden in the law.
Contents of the Ark.—“Nothing is more characteristic of the earliest Jahveism, nor yet of greater historical truth and certainty, than that in place of the idols in which common heathenism took delight, and of certain artificial symbols which served the same purpose for a heathenism which was aiming at something higher, it was only the documents of these purest truths, and of these contracts, concluded as it were for all eternity, which acquired the most precious value, and the highest sanctity,” by being placed in the sacred chest.—Ewald.
Hebrews 9:5. The Suggestion of the Cherubim.—No actual knowledge of the forms of the figures which shadowed the mercy-seat can be obtained. The common Jewish tradition is, that they were human figures, each having two wings. They must have been of small size, proportioned to the area of the mercy-seat. Comparing the different references to form, in this verse, in 2 Samuel 22:11 (Psalms 18:10); Ezekiel 1:10; Revelation 4:0, it would appear that the name “cherub” was applied to various combinations of animal forms. Similar combinations were made by most ancient peoples in order to represent conceivable combinations of powers, such as are denied to man in his earthly state of existence. It is remarkable that amongst the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Greeks, as well as the Hebrews, the creatures by very far most frequently introduced into these composite figures were man, the ox, the lion, and the eagle. These are evidently types of the most important of familiarly known classes of living material beings. The Rabbinists recognised this in the cherubim as described by Ezekiel, which they regarded as representing the whole creation engaged in the worship and service of God (Revelation 4:9-11; Revelation 5:13). It would be in harmony with this view to suppose that the more strictly human shape of the cherubim of the mercy-seat represented the highest form of created intelligence engaged in the devout contemplation of the Divine law of love and justice (1 Peter 1:12). They were thus symbols of worship rendered by the creature in the most exalted condition. It is worthy of notice that the golden cherubim, from between which Jehovah spoke to His people, bore witness, by their place on the mercy-seat, to His redeeming mercy; while the cherubim that took their stand with the flaming sword at the gate of Eden, to keep the way of the tree of life, witnessed to His condemnation of sin in man. The most perfect finite intelligence seems thus to be yielding assent to the Divine law in its twofold manifestation.—Speaker’s Commentary.
The Offices of Cherubim.—The special offices of the cherubic figures in the tabernacle appear to have been, first, the watching and guarding of the ark, and the sacred law deposited within the ark, towards which they are represented as looking, and over which they spread their outstretched wings; and, secondly, to attend and bear up that mystic presence of God which appeared in the cloud of glory over the mercy-seat. When the tabernacle is set up, the law is deposited in the ark, the cloud is promised to rest upon the covering of the ark, and, as the cherubim guard the law, and the testimony of God, so they may be supposed reverently to surround the throne of His glory, perhaps they were supposed to bear up the throne of God upon their wings, and to carry Him when He appeared in His glory.—Ibid.
Cherubim as Guardians.—As this chest was to have contents so precious, two cherubim were fixed over it, to symbolise the fact that Jahveh had, as it were, descended upon it, and eternally protected what was contained in the chest. For the cherub signified in the first instance the descent of the Deity, and consequently the spot whither it had descended and would again descend perpetually, and there manifest itself. In this symbolical application the cherub was also much utilised elsewhere—in the sacred tent and in the Temple. But its primary and most significant position was over the ark of the covenant, where, for artistic reasons, two were placed face to face, and in this application they indicate, in the first instance, how strict is Jahveh’s watch and guard over the sacred words contained therein. So far, no doubt, the sphynxes lying facing one another over a sacred shrine or sepulchre, etc., are very similar. There is a remarkable representation of Garuda (i.e. a cherub) as the altar for the ancient Indian horse-sacrifice, Râmâyana. But the greatest resemblance of all is found in some lately discovered Assyrian pictures. See Layard.—Ewald.
Cherubim as Representative Worshippers.—The cherubim were representatives of the angelic hierarchy worshipping the Divine Majesty, and adoring His love to man in Christ, and devoutly looking down into the mysteries of the gospel. Josephus says that they were not like any creatures ever seen on earth by human eyes, but that Moses had seen their prototypes near the throne of God.—Bishop Wordsworth.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 9:6. Thus ordained.—Prepared, or adapted to their several purposes. Went always.—Regularly, systematically. Service.—Public religious services; λατρείας. These included morning and evening oblations, sacrifices for special occasions, and private offerings of individuals.
Hebrews 9:7. Second.—Inner chamber. “There was a graduated sanctity in the tabernacle and in the Temple. In the Temple any one may go into the outer court, or court of the Gentiles; Jews into the second court; men only into the third; priests only in their robes into the Holy Place; and only the high priest into the inmost shrine.” Once every year.—On the tenth day of the seventh month, Tisri, the Day of Atonement. The several times of entrance on that day are treated as one. He went in
(1) with the incense;
(2) with the blood of the bullock offered for his own sins;
(3) with the blood of the goat offered for the sins of the people; and it is probable that he also went in again to fetch out the censer (Leviticus 16:12-16). Not without blood.—The type of self-surrender, full consecration. The blood was sprinkled seven times on and before the mercy-seat. Errors.—Ceremonial mistakes, involving ceremonial uncleanness; sins of ignorance and frailty.
Hebrews 9:8. Made manifest.—Not yet laid open. “It was obstructed by numerous ceremonial rites, and limited as to times and persons.” “Hence the deep significance of the rending of the veil from the top to the bottom at the Crucifixion” (Matthew 27:51).
Hebrews 9:9. Figure.—παραβολή, symbolical presentation: compare τύπος. To the conscience.—This was not their sphere. The old economy did not deal with the inward sense of sin; only with disturbed outward relations caused by sin, in the sense of infringement of formal rules. Stuart thus paraphrases: “The Jewish ritual, from the commencement of it down to the present moment, has never been, and still is not, anything more than a type of the Christian dispensation, which has already commenced. All its oblations and sacrifices were ineffectual, as to removing the penalty due to sin in the sight of Heaven, or procuring real peace of conscience.”
Hebrews 9:10. Carnal ordinances.—Omit “and.” R.V. “being only carnal ordinances,” i.e. “ordinances of flesh”; which “relate to the outward state of things only; closely connected with the maintenance of external privileges and relations, but (in themselves) nothing more.” Outward, transitory, superficial. Imposed.—Compare Acts 15:10; Acts 15:28; Galatians 5:1.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 9:6-10
The Limitations of the Symbolical.—Since the Jewish Christians were tempted to exaggerate the value and importance of the Mosaic ceremonial system, because it had been unquestionably given directly by God, the writer does them good service by pointing out that it was essentially a symbolical system, illustrative of spiritual things by its suggestive and symbolical rites and ceremonies. But the symbolical is always limited. It is never a thing itself; it is always the representation of a thing, or the suggestion of a thing. When once this is gripped, the Old Testament economy is readily recognised as limited in sphere, and limited in time. This may be opened up somewhat fully and with present applications, because a symbolic system has been allowed to grow up in association with Christianity, which threatens to absorb men’s attention, and take them back from the elevations of spiritual religion to the old formal Jewish ideas and standpoints. Our attention will be confined to a general consideration of the limited nature of a symbolical religion.
I. The symbolical is temporary.—The symbols must be in precise adaptation to the thoughts, ideas, mental and circumstantial associations of a nation at a particular time. Another nation, with other associations, can do nothing with the symbols. The nation itself will soon grow out of them, look on them as ancient relics, and replace them with new ones. The temporary character of the Old Testament symbols is seen in the fact—
1. That much of the ceremonial system we are now unable effectively to explain, because we cannot recover the early associations;
2. That much of prophetical and apocalyptic Scripture, being based on the early symbols, is closed to us, so that we can only with uncertainty guess its meaning, and oftentimes have to manufacture a meaning of our own. The truths taught by the symbols remain as the heritage of the nation and the race for ever, but the forms which at a given time illustrated the truths pass away, as do our nursery books when we have gained the power to deal with moral principles in plain statements.
II. The symbolical is materialistic.—It is essentially in the range of the senses. It is the sight of sacrifice and ceremony; it is the smell of incense; it is the work of hands; it is the movement of body; it is change of garments; it is solemn service. It is altogether outward. But the material is not the real; it is only the seeming, the showing, of the real which is spiritual. “The things which are not seen are eternal.” True, man is a dual being,—a spirit clothed upon with a body, in order that he might come into relations with a material world; but the spirit is the man, not the body. And we must take care not to press the interests of the body—which wants symbolical religion—so as to stifle the cry of the man himself, which is for a spiritual religion. So long as man finds he needs the help of religious symbols, he is in a low spiritual range. Or to speak in the manner of the passage before us he is having no direct access to God in the Most Holy Place of His spiritual presence; he is only in outer courts, getting some sort of access through priests, and sacrifices, and representative rites.
III. The symbolical is preparatory.—It has no value in itself. Its value lies in what it leads to. It has a stage, and a necessary stage, in an educative process. It is the “kinder-garten” stage of the world’s training in religion. It may be likened to the parabolic form in which so much of our Lord’s teaching was given. The educative value of the parabolical, and of the symbolical, are not sufficiently recognised. Both start and culture the power of religious, spiritual thinking. The parabolical wraps something up, and half hides it, in a word-picture; the symbolical wraps something up, and half hides it, in some acted rite. In both cases the little show of something hidden arouses attention, wakens thought, inquiry, research, and so both parabolical and symbolical become distinctly educative of spiritual discernment. It is no fatal objection to this fact, that so often the symbolical is allowed to satisfy us, and then our moral education ends with it. The wrong use of a thing affords no proof that it was never intended to be used aright. The symbolical is only used aright when it is treated as a preparatory stage. To come back on it when spiritual levels have been reached is altogether to mistake its mission.
IV. The symbolical is suggestive.—But it is manifestly limited if it points to something beyond, and better than itself. In this passage certain things are recalled to mind.
1. The people might not go into the Holy Place. That was suggestive. Because they were sinful, even their worship could only be presented to God through mediators, and by appointed ceremonies.
2. The priests might not go into the Holy of Holies. That was suggestive. So far from the people having direct access to God, their representatives, the priests, had none. They dared not go into the immediate presence; they dared not take aside the veil.
3. Only the high priest might go into the Holy of Holies; and he only once a year, and only on the most solemn conditions. That was suggestive; those conditions represented the spiritual conditions which were to be met, not for a nation, but for humanity, in the infinitely acceptable sacrifice, and the living mediation, of the Son of God.
But the limitation of the symbolical is seen in the fact that its suggestiveness is dependent on—
1. Capacity to deal with it. We have seen that one nation cannot do with the symbolism of another, and one age cannot do with the symbolism of another; but it is also true, that within a nation it may be but a select few who can get at the meanings of the symbols—the many simply take them as they are. Heathen customs are kept by the thousands without their attaching any meaning to them: the few keep them with understanding of their inner significance. We have to awaken in men’s minds the interest in truth-symbols, for the sake of the truth they symbolise.
2. Sensitive moods. The poet sees meanings in prosaic things, because of his poetic moods. The artist sees beauty in prosaic forms, because of his artistic moods. And similarly the spiritual mind finds and feels the truth in symbols, according to his sensitive spiritual moods. Then the highest ministerial work is cultivating the spiritual faculties of men.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 9:6. Faithfulness required in the “Usual.”—“The priests go in continually into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the services.” There is the constant danger of supreme interest in the unusual taking off men’s interest from the usual and the commonplace. Attention is fixed on the sublime ceremonies in which, occasionally, the high priest officiated; and so attention is taken from the importance, and the significance, of those daily ministries which bore so close a relation to the daily religious life and thought and feeling of the people. And so it always is with frail man. He delights in the astonishing, but wearies with the ordinary. But the ordinary, and not the astonishing, is man’s real life, for which he needs upholding grace. Illustrate from—
1. Our effort to meet times of great affliction, our failure to meet daily worries.
2. Our response to the sacredness of Sunday, our failure to respond to the sacredness of the Christian weekday.
3. Our close attention in times of “missions” and “revival services,” our easy neglect of the usual means of grace.
4. Our concern to culture graces that make a show, and indifference to the every-day sweetness of common relations.
Hebrews 9:7. The Condition of the Sprinkled Blood.—The significance of the sprinkling of the blood is not generally apprehended. Attention is so exclusively given to the sacrifice, as the burning of the victim, or parts of the victim, that attention is diverted from what was the very essence of the sacrifice, which was taking the victim’s blood, which was its life, and offering that life to God, by the sprinkling of the blood upon the altar. To burn a sacrifice was to give a body to God, and it typified man’s devotion of his body and powers and relations to God. But to sprinkle the blood was to give a life to God, and it typified man’s soul-surrender, the gift of himself to God. When this is rightly apprehended, the sprinkling of the blood is seen to be the very essence of the old sacrifice, and to carry its deepest meaning. Ewald suggests fresh lines of thought in relation to this intensely interesting, but unfamiliar, subject. In the spiritual antitype of the sprinkled blood may be found the most satisfactory settings of our spiritual Redeemer’s atonement work. Ewald says: “Under any circumstances the sacerdotal function commenced with the slaughter, in so far that the priest caught the fresh blood with the sacrificial bowls, in order to employ it, while it was yet warm, in that usage which formed the essential kernel of the whole sacred rite. In later times, as we know for certain, the inferior priests caught the blood, and handed it over to a sacrificial priest to sprinkle it. The sprinkling of the blood was itself the most solemn moment: in ordinary cases the priest sprinkled it only on the corners, and the sides, and the foot of the altar, but all round the latter; just as in general the ancient custom required on the most solemn occasions the party to go round the altar, in a circle, praying, singing, and otherwise fervently soliciting the divinity. What the priest said while going round the altar to sprinkle it with the most sacred element of the sacrifice, how he supplicated thereby the Divine grace for the sacrificer, and how he announced it, we no longer can tell in detail, but that it did take place in this way there can be no doubt. A stalk of the shrub hyssôp (tsop) was, in accordance with ancient custom, used for the sprinkling, one end of it being dipped in the blood. This wood must once in early times have passed for pure and cleansing, just as among the Hindoos and Persians the sôma (hôma) alone is used as a sacrificial drink; and only by means of this instrument did it seem possible to complete properly the cleansing atonement. It was in the sprinkling of the blood, the proper sacrament of sacrifice, that the distinction between the guilt-offering, and the expiatory offering in the narrow sense, came most clearly to the front; and it is easy to understand why it would reveal itself most plainly there. As it was right that the blood of an expiatory offering for public transgression (as we may term it for the sake of brevity) should be made far more conspicuous to eyes and sense, so it was sprinkled on an elevated place, or even on one which was extraordinarily sacred. The way, too, in which this was done was marked by three stages. If the atonement was made for an ordinary man or for a prince, the priest sprinkled the blood against the high-towering horns of the outer altar, and poured the remainder as usual out at its base; if it was made for the community or for the high priest, some of the blood was seven times sprinkled against the veil of the Holy of Holies, then some more against the horns of the inner altar, and only what was then left was poured out as usual at the base of the outer altar. The third and highest stage of the expiation was adopted on the yearly Day of Atonement. On the other hand, in the case of guilt-offering, no reason existed for adopting any unusual mode of sprinkling the blood. It was sprinkled just as in other cases round the sides and foot of the outer altar. But as soon as this most sacred ceremony of the sprinkling of the blood was completed, then, according to the ancient belief, the impurity and guilt were already shaken off from the object to which they had clung. It seemed as though the drops of blood, sprinkled by the mighty hand of One who was pure, had called them up, and irresistibly drawn them forth; for thus we must plainly interpret this procedure in accordance with the feeling of antiquity. Yet shaken off as they were, they only passed in the first instance, according to the same view, into that body whose blood had so irresistibly driven them forth (as well as into the officiating priest). The rest of this body, therefore, was now deemed to have become in its turn unclean, and was regarded with all the dread with which anything that was unclean before God was looked upon, nay, even with yet stronger dread; it was just here that the dark side of this whole order of sacrifices was felt most keenly. Consequently all the remainder of the body, just as it was, together with the dung, was burned far away from the sanctuary at some common, but in other respects clean, spot (outside of the camp or city), as though it was an object of horror, which could only be disposed of and annihilated in this way.”
Hebrews 9:8. For a While no Open Way to God.—“The way into the Holy Place hath not yet been made manifest.” The old tabernacle and its limitations were picture-teachings of spiritual conditions and relations. They taught the people God’s nearness to them, but made them feel that there was something which prevented the nearness from being closeness; which necessitated the raising of a thin and slight, but effective, barrier; which made impossible that sort of free access to God which Adam enjoyed in Paradise, and which should have been man’s birthright. That hindrance was not something placed by God, in the exercise of His Divine sovereignty. It was a gracious and necessary response of God to the condition in which man had placed himself. It could be no kindness in an earthly father to keep smiling on a child while that child was wayward and wilful. The cherubim were put at the gates of Eden in considerate love. The veils hid from the people the Holy Place, and from the priests the Holy of Holies, in considerate love. God must make His relation to man’s wilfulness apparent; and man must be made symbolically and representatively right, as a beginning of his becoming really right, before an open way to God could be made.
Hebrews 9:9. Conscience under the Old Covenant.—“Cannot, as touching the conscience, make the worshipper perfect.” If we speak precisely concerning conscience, we keep its sphere to that which belongs to God—God’s will, God’s standard, God’s revelation. It is not perhaps strictly correct to state it in this way, but it helps by suggesting an important distinction—Conscience is concerned only with our idea of what is absolutely right, or with laws, not with rules. Men make a slavery of the moral life when they bring conscience into the spheres of rule, and custom, and rite, and etiquette. It follows from this, that any amount of attention to rules and rites will fail to satisfy the conscience as the witness in us to what is absolutely right—right in the sight of God. But in moral education it seems that conscience of the eternally right is trained through cultivating conscience in relation to formal rules. It is so in the case of the Jews; it is so in the case of our children The Jew’s conscience of the clean and unclean was educating him to a conscience of absolute right before God.
Hebrews 9:10. Divers Washings.—The religious rites of the Mosaic ceremonial must have involved the use of enormous quantities of water; and it has always been found difficult to explain how the water necessary for ablutions could have been obtained during the forty years’ wandering in the wilderness. It is just possible that, as the following facts suggest, their ablutions were performed during the journey by other means than that of water. An old traveller relates that the Arabs, if they cannot come by any water, then they must wipe [themselves] as clean as they can, till water may conveniently be had; or else it suffices to take Abdees [purification] upon a stone, which I call an imaginary Abdees, i.e. to smooth their hands over a stone two or three times, and rub them one with the other, as if they were washing with water—the like Abdees sufficeth when any are sickly, so that water might endanger their life—and after they have so wiped, it is guise, i.e. lawful, for them to do as they would had their purification been really done by water. In a Mohammedan treatise on prayer it is said, “In case water is not to be had, that defect may be supplied by earth, a stone, or any product of the earth.” It has been asserted that sand was frequently used for the same purpose, and even poured over the hands like water. It is possible that thus, or in some similar way, the Israelites in the desert purified themselves when water was scarce. It has also been suggested that it might have been for a similar purpose that Naaman the Syrian took two mules’ loads of earth back with him from Palestine. He might have taken Jordan water, but that would not last. The earth, however, would serve the same purpose for many years (2 Kings 5:17). In the old tabernacle the lowest grade of purification demanded a washing of the body and changing of the clothes, as well as the removal of any objects of heathen superstition which might be about. For the priests on duty purifications wholly special to themselves were necessary; they must, e.g., bathe with hands and feet, i.e. with the whole body, in the fore-court of the sanctuary, when they desired to enter the sanctuary, or approach the altar.
Religion an Imposition, and Religion a Willing Service.—“Imposed until a time of reformation.” Two kinds of religion are possible to the moral beings which God has made. And the two kinds are represented in every age and every land—just as truly represented in our day as in any other. Man’s religion may be the obedience of rules imposed by a competent and recognised authority. Man’s religion may be the natural and free expression of his own good will, swayed by the persuasions of the Divine love. It is manifest that the second form of religion is altogether a higher form than the first. It is the religion of a cultured being, who has gained control of himself, and is, in a sense, become an independent being—a man indeed. But the second form of religion can never come first in the case of man. “First that which is natural, afterward that which is spiritual,” is the ever-working and all-round law for humanity. A moral education begins with rules imposed. A man’s religion begins with things to be done in response to authority. Only in an advanced time, a “time of reformation,” can a man manage his own religion. The mistake is made when men are content to stop with a religion of impositions.
1. This the Jewish Christians were tempted to do, in the first Christian age. They could not quite give up, indeed they were sorely tempted to fall back upon, the impositional religion of Judaism, and even upon that religion as exaggerated by Rabbinism.
2. This ritual religions, in all the Christian ages, have tempted men to do. For the satisfaction of undeveloped spiritual men and women, claims of authority to impose opinions, duties, and rites have been made on behalf of a Church, or of particular orders of men; and many have been, and are to-day, kept in the first and child stages of religion. They belong to Judaism; they are not lifted into the free life of Christianity.
3. But it is necessary to add that, since our modern “Time of the Reformation,” Protestant Christians have been subject to the same peril. Careful thinking will reveal the fact, that the verbal inspiration theory of the Bible has made it, practically, to thousands of Christians the text-book of a merely impositional religion.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 9:11. Good things to come.—Lit. “who procures future blessings”; in the sense of spiritual blessings. Farrar suggests the reading “of the good things that have come.” Compare the expressions “last days,” “latter days.” Tabernacle.—Representing heaven, the spiritual sphere, after the figure of the material tent. Made with hands.—A rhetorical way of showing its distinction from the Jewish tabernacle.
Hebrews 9:12. Neither by the blood, etc.—Referring to the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement. Goats and calves.—A summarising of the victims offered, not a precise detail. Bullocks may be put for calves. His own blood.—As the heavenly sanctuary cannot be thought of as admitting actual blood, that spiritual thing which the blood represented must be meant. What then was that spiritual thing which Christ, as spiritual High Priest, presented, which answers to the symbol of the blood? What is the soul sacrifice that has “blood” for its earthly figure? This is the great question to be solved, if this portion of the epistle is to be understood. “His own blood was the offering by which He was admitted as our High Priest and eternal Redeemer into the Holy of Holies of God’s immediate presence.” Eternal redemption.—Compare the temporary redemption which was all that the old priest could accomplish. The spiritual is the permanent. Omit the words “for us.” The λύτρωσις effected by Christ needs no repetition.
Hebrews 9:13. Ashes, etc.—Numbers 19:2-9. These were distinctly for purification from ceremonial offences. Flesh.—I.e. from uncleanness according to Mosaic ideas and rules; ritual disabilities.
Hebrews 9:14. How much more.—The form of argument characteristic of this epistle. The argument recalls to mind what has already been said concerning the dignity of the person of Christ. Through the eternal Spirit.—One of the most difficult expressions in the epistle. It may mean either
(1) by the help of the Holy Spirit; or
(2) in an eternal, that is a spiritual, nature or manner; or
(3) by His own Divine nature, i.e. with the full concurrence of His own eternal spirit or will. Ellicott says, “in spirit, in the higher sphere of His Divine life; the πνεῦμα of Christ is not here the Holy Spirit, but the higher principle of spiritual life.” Through this spirit, a spirit of holiness, a spirit of indissoluble life, He offered Himself to God. This made such a self-offering possible, this gave to the offering infinite worth. It must refer to Christ’s own spirit, the consenting act of His Divine personality. This expression, offered Himself, explains the reference to the blood; the offering of the blood is the figure, the offering of Himself is the fact. Without spot.—ἄμωμον, with allusion to the ground of acceptance for Jewish victims. Christ’s offering of Himself, if it had been that of a stained sinner, could not have been acceptable. Spotless, it could be representative. Dead works.—The term “dead” is used because the ashes, referred to above, cleansed those who were made unclean by contact with the dead. “Dead works” may mean generally sinful works, since it is from the pollution as well as the penalty of sin that Christ’s offering of Himself delivers and cleanses.
Hebrews 9:15.—The writer now proceeds to show that this real sacrifice of Christ was the medium through which full forgiveness and personal acceptance were vouchsafed under the old covenant. “The doctrine of Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 9:26, together with the passage Romans 3:25-26, is clear and conclusive to the point, that from the fall of Adam to the end of time the way of salvation is one, viz. God’s free grace manifested through the Redeemer’s self-sacrifice, responded to by the thankful trust of the sinner in undeserved Divine mercy, and in the medium of that mercy according to the degree of its revelation.” Stuart gives the sentiment of this verse thus: “As Jewish sacrifices rendered the offerer externally clean, so the blood of Christ purifies the moral or internal man, and removes the consequences of sin. On this account (διὰ τοῦτο), i.e. because the sacrifice of Christ produces an effect such as the Jewish sacrifices did not, He may justly be called the ‘Mediator of a new covenant,’ differing greatly from the old.” For this cause.—Either “on account of the grandeur of His offering,” or “as bearing relation to conscience” (see Hebrews 9:14). New testament.—The Greek word is “covenant,” διαθήκη; testament is the confusing translation of the A.V.; in the R.V. the word “covenant” is restored. For mediator with idea of “negotiator,” see Moses (Galatians 3:19). The idea expressed is, that this new covenant is retrospective as well as prospective, and is the explanation of the spiritual relationship with God that could be attained under the old, and preparatory, and formal covenant. The new covenant, in fact, underlay, and was involved in, the old covenant. That was indeed such an expression of it as was possible in the age to which it was given. By means of death.—Christ’s surrender of Himself in death. In the light of it as the covenant acceptance and seal. Redemption, etc.—Those spiritual transgressions (including penalties) which the old covenant did not touch; concerning them God promised forgiveness on the condition of Christ’s obedience. When that obedience was rendered the promise was actually fulfilled. They which are called.—The Scripture figure for the sincerely believing and pious. Eternal.—Equivalent to “spiritual,” which includes that idea of permanence. Inheritance.—Stuart renders “blessings”; “proffered good.” Compare Hebrews 3:1, “partakers of a heavenly calling.” Farrar renders “eternal heritage.”
Hebrews 9:16-17. Testament.—διαθήκη. Here rhetorically used in its Greek and Roman sense of “a will,” the idea being suggested by the mention of the “inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15), and of the necessity of a “death.” The covenant ratified by the death of Christ is compared with a testament proved valid, and rendered operative, by the death of the testator. But the argument is rhetorical rather than logical. Death of the testator.—It lies over as a promise, but the testator’s death alone gives possession. Of force.—Comes into power and operation. It is an inoperative thing, a mere promise through all the long ages, until Christ’s death brings it into operation. This is one view of the death of Christ, but it appeals much more forcibly to Jewish minds than to ours.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 9:11-17
The High Priest of Spiritual Things.—The greater involves the less. If it can be shown that Christ has gained for a man a right of free personal access to God Himself, it is involved that He has gained for him the right to offer his worship himself. If He has opened the way into the Holy of Holies, He must have opened the way into the Holy Place. This explains why the writer carries his reference to the Holy Place no further, but fixes attention on the Most Holy. Recall the symbolical ceremonies of the Day of Atonement.
1. The attention of the priest to personal cleanliness and suitable clothing.
2. The sacrificial ceremonies by means of which he gained personal acceptance with God, before undertaking to represent anybody else.
3. The precise acts associated with his passing, as standing for the people, into the presence of Jehovah.
(1) Taking the golden censer out;
(2) putting in it live coals;
(3) dropping on the coals the handful of incense, just as he took the veil aside;
(4) sprinkling the blood of the goat on the mercy-seat;
(5) waiting, anxiously watching for, the sign of Divine acceptance;
(6) coming forth to declare unto the people the Divine forgiveness and favour. But notice that, when he came forth, he closed the veil behind him, and it remained closed for another year. Now see resemblances and differences between the work of the old high priest of symbols, and the new High Priest of spiritual realities.
I. Christ, as High Priest, entered the spiritual Holy of Holies.—The spiritual counterpart of that material chamber. By the spiritual presence of God we mean that presence which we, as spirits, may realise in a spiritual way. Direct access of spirit to spirit. In using the term “heavenly,” there is some danger of our making material figures in our minds of the eternal abode of the Eternal. God is a spirit. His heaven is spiritual. And it is the loss of free spiritual access to the spiritual God which is man’s supreme loss; and it is that lost access which Christ set Himself to restore. Man’s humanity, as the medium of his sin, is the veil which shuts him out of the spiritual Holy of Holies, even as the gates and the cherubim shut our first parents out of Eden. Christ entered through the veil, “His flesh,” by winning His humanity wholly for God, and because of His sinlessness He could go right in; there was no hindering veil of a sinful body.
II. Christ, as High Priest, took in His own spiritual blood.—The figure is taken from the blood of the goat which the high priest took in, but we must see the spiritual thing which the figure symbolised. And the blood that Jesus took was His own life. “The blood is the life.” In Hebrews 9:14 it is precisely explained for us. He “offered Himself without spot to God.” He had fully won His body and His earthly life for God. And now He gave Himself,—sinless body, obedient will, devoted self—Priest and sacrifice: Himself, as it were, the old high priest; and Himself, as it were, the blood which the old high priest took.
III. Christ, as High Priest, gained spiritual rights and privileges for us.—
1. Rights of free, open, permanent access to God. Our being human, and having these sin-experienced human bodies, no longer makes a veil hiding God away, for any of us whose wills are renewed and made as Christ’s. His representative body-triumph stands for us; and the veil is gone for us, as it was for Him, and we have “boldness of access.”
2. Privileges of cleansed consciences. Relief from that sense of constraint to sin which distresses every man so long as his will is unrenewed. Jewish ceremonies brought removal of certain penalties of sins. Christ by His sacrifice and mediation brings deliverance from the sinfulness which works out into sins.
3. Privileges and rights of a new and spiritual covenant; which pledges, on God’s part, spiritual power for maintaining spiritual life; and, on man’s part, spiritual service, the constant holding of himself as a “living sacrifice” unto God. And these rights and privileges are kept up for us by the abiding presence of our High Priest in the heavenly Holy of Holies, where He is with His blood, Himself, fully surrendered to God in our name, and as our pledge.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 9:11. The Greater Tabernacle.—The tabernacle of old was the dwelling of God in the midst of His people: “Let them make Me a sanctuary where I may dwell among them”; “I will set My tabernacle among you and My soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be My people” (Exodus 25:8; Leviticus 26:11-12). Whatever other thoughts, therefore, the tabernacle may have suggested, this was its first and most important aspect; and it need only further be observed that, when it is spoken of as the dwelling-place of God, it is of God, not in His abstract Being, but as He makes Himself known to, as He comes into contact with, us. It is not a model upon a small scale of the universe, as if He of whom Solomon at the dedication of the Temple sublimely said, “Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee,” desired an earthly representation of His boundless abode. We have to do with God in the relation in which He stands to man. Of that relation as it existed toward Israel the σκηνή was a type. Yet, further, the other name by which the structure was known, and which is even more frequently given it than that of tabernacle, has to, be taken into account. It was the “tent of meeting,” words unhappily rendered in the A.V., though corrected in the R.V., the “tabernacle of the congregation”; and it received this name because there God met with Israel. “This,” it is said, “shall be a continual burnt-offering throughout your generations at the door of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet you, to speak there unto thee. And there will I meet with the children of Israel” (Exodus 29:42-43). This, then, was the meaning of the tabernacle. It was the place in which God dwelt, and at which He met with His people, and they with Him. It had relation to the Almighty, not as the Ruler of the universe, but as One who desired to bring His children nearer to Himself, that they might be sanctified for His service, and be made to rejoice in His favour. It spoke to man, not as a creature to be bowed down beneath the thought of infinite power, but to be elevated to communion and fellowship with that holy yet merciful Being who had formed him to show forth His praise, and to find in doing so his true dignity and joy. If this was the meaning of the tabernacle to Israel, there can be no doubt as to what is expressed by the word when filled with Christian thought. Christ Himself is the Christian tabernacle. In Him the Father dwells with men, meets with them, and makes Himself in ever-increasing measure known to them. “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father”; “If ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also” (John 14:9; John 8:19). It ought to be unnecessary to remind the reader that this idea of meeting God, of His drawing nigh on His side to us, and of our drawing nigh to Him, is the distinguishing feature of the Christian dispensation, and that it is dwelt upon with remarkable frequency and emphasis in the epistle to the Hebrews. Putting these considerations together, we appear to be justified in coming to the conclusion that by “the greater and more perfect tabernacle” we are to understand the human nature of our Lord, or our Lord in His incarnate state; and the only question comes to be, whether we are to think simply of His humanity, as it was on earth, or (with Hofmann) of that humanity as it exists in its glorified state in heaven. There is little room for hesitation as to the answer. That the writer of this epistle could never have spoken of the earthly body of Christ as “not made with hands—that is to say, not of this creation”—is clear from the statement of Hebrews 10:20, where he refers to “the new and living way which Jesus has dedicated for us through the veil—that is to say, His flesh”—words founded upon that rending asunder of the veil of the Temple at the Crucifixion, by which the veil was not so much opened as abrogated and thrown aside—words also in which it is not without interest to notice that the human name “Jesus” is used, not, as now, the higher name “Christ.” The “flesh” of our Lord, then, i.e. His humanity under its earthly conditions and limitations, was in like manner something, so far at least as these conditions were concerned, which needed to be thrown aside, something not spiritual, heavenly, and unlimited, and of which we give a true description when we say that it was “of this creation.” It was a body of flesh, and what the writer understands by that word we see from his use, in Hebrews 7:16, of the word σάρκινος, made of flesh (not σαρκικός, fleshly), when he employs it to express the character of that Old Testament dispensation which had been superseded by the higher, to which Christ belonged. Nor is this all: for throughout his epistle the redeeming work of our Lord is conceived of as that not of an earthly, but of a heavenly High Priest, and the writer would certainly not depart from that conception at the moment when he is contrasting the very essence of Christ’s work with that of the high priest of Israel. Once admit, therefore, that the “greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands—that is to say, not of this creation”—is the incarnate Lord, and it is impossible to pause there. We must also admit that it is that Lord in His human nature exalted and glorified. In the nature which He possessed, when He returned, after His resurrection and ascension, to His Father in heaven, He carries out the great work of bringing God and man into perfect union and communion with one another. In the glorified Redeemer God and man have their true and everlasting meeting-place.—Prof. W. Milligan.
Hebrews 9:14. The Offering of Himself.—Our Lord’s death was a voluntary offering, a sacrifice, a sacrifice of Himself. But the word “sacrifice,” and the associations of the text, bring up before us the Jewish tabernacle and ritual. We see the smoking altars, the slain beasts, the waiting worshippers. And it must be with the imagery of these altar forms in our minds that we approach the consideration of the “self-offering” of Christ. But it is evident that our Lord’s death was not a sacrifice after the precise Jewish pattern. We visit Calvary on that ever-memor able day, and we say, Where is the Temple? Where is the altar? Where are the officiating priests? Where is the flowing blood? Where is the floating incense? We can find none of them. In the outward seeming there is no sacrifice here. That prætorium, this knoll, are no temples. That howling mob was no devout company of worshippers. Pilate was no priest. The cross is no altar. At first we are bewildered, and it is only as we search deeper that we recover our confidence, and find that within this strange appearance there is the great spiritual reality of sacrifice. In expecting Christ’s sacrifice to answer precisely to the Jewish model we have mistaken the proper relations of “type” and “antitype.” A type is a representation, taking some material form, for an earlier and undeveloped age, of some spiritual thing, which is to be afterwards realised as antitpye. The type and antitype cannot be of the same material and form. A picture may be the type of a man, but the man differs from the picture. Earth is the type of heaven, but we may not therefore conclude that in everything heaven is like earth; it is the spiritual realisation of the type. Properly a type is the representation, in other forms and modes, of some spiritual reality which either cannot get outward expression at all, or only in modes which could not be understood when the type was given. In treating of Christ’s sacrifice as the antitype to which the Jewish typical sacrifices pointed, we have not perhaps made due account of this fact: the sacrifice of Judaism was a pictured material representation; the sacrifice of Christ is an inward spiritual reality. The type was a kind of drama, wrought out with scenes and representative figures. The antitype was the very life-story itself, wrought out in mental agony, and soul-struggling; and ending in sublime moral victory. We ought not, therefore, to seek any precise reproduction of the Jewish altar-forms in connection with the antitypical and spiritual sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.
I. Christ’s offering was a sacrifice.—The pious Jew sought to offer a spiritual sacrifice by means of the victim he brought in accordance with Mosaic rules. And though the days of Judaism are long past, and no altars smoke with burning victims now, it is as possible as it ever was for true hearts to make oblation of themselves to God; and when we say that the death of Christ was a sacrifice, we mean that it was such a sacrifice as a man may make, not merely such a special and peculiar sacrifice as only a Jew may make. As the Jew brought his very costliest and best, and surrendered it wholly to God in testimony that he held all he was and all he had as God’s and for Him, so Christ brought Himself, He had nothing, so He brought all He was, and surrendered it wholly, “a living sacrifice”—devoted Himself to the obedience of the will of God.
II. Christ’s offering was a self-sacrifice.—The only true sacrifice is self-sacrifice. No gift reaches the dignity of a sacrifice until, to give it, a man has deprived himself, given up his own will and pleasure. Every human gift is measured by the self-sacrifice in it. No redemptions can ever come out of the mere giving of things. But even upon God a kind of power may be gained by self-sacrifice. Mere gifts of things may become acceptable, and even propitiatory, when they serve to express devotion and self-sacrifice. If a man can suffer for God, can give up for God, can die for God, putting his inmost soul to agony in order to do the will and accomplish the purpose of God, he gains, as it were, a kind of holy moral power with God. And how will this kind of power be increased when it is the self-sacrifice of the only begotten Son, for the sake of the honour of the eternal Father?
III. Christ’s offering was a spotless self-sacrifice.—In the preceding chapter the sinlessness of Christ has been treated. The sacrifices of Judaism had to be “without blemish.” A perfect service God demands of every creature He has made. Not an absolutely, only a relatively, perfect service. From a man God asks the full devotion and sacrifice of all that belongs to his manhood. The claim is just and good; but man, by his wilfulness, has rendered himself incapable of meeting it. Jesus Christ, as man, brings the proof that man can meet God’s claim. He lifts up into view the great law of our life, and shows it to be “holy, and just, and good.” He submitted to human conditions, and in them worked out a perfect obedience, presenting himself to God as a man without spot. In Him God accepted what He had vainly sought for through all the generations of humanity—the perfect, spotless obedience and service of a man. The perfectness of Christ’s sacrifice was the ennobling of the human race. It lifted its burden, and gave it hope. To the view of God it was a salvation for the race.
IV. Christ’s offering was a spotless self-sacrifice on behalf of others.—Christ is our Representative, our Vicar. As Adam dealt with God for the human race, not instead of it, in the first great moral trial, carrying weaknesses and moral evils to the race in his failure, so Christ, as the second Adam, dealt with God for the race in the second great moral trial, carrying salvation, forgiveness, life, and hope to the race by His spotless obedience unto, and through, death. Christ’s righteousness does not supersede ours; it involves, and demands, and pledges ours. His sacrifice was not made in order that we might never have to make any; but He, in fulness, offered what we, in our measure, also should offer. And in acknowledging Christ’s offering as ours we declare ourselves to be not our own, and we testify our determination to strive also to offer ourselves without spot to God. “Real human life is a perpetual completion and repetition of the sacrifice of Christ,”
Christ’s Eternal Spirit.—This fact must be fully faced—there is no instance, in the New Testament, in which the Holy Ghost is spoken of as the “eternal Spirit.” The assumption therefore is, that the Holy Ghost is not referred to in this verse. Moreover, this writer uses the term “Holy Ghost” (Hebrews 2:4; Hebrews 3:7; Hebrews 4:4; Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 10:15); and if on one occasion he uses another term, the assumption is that he had in his mind another idea. It may also be shown that there was nothing to suggest the Holy Ghost to the writer at this point. He was dealing with Christ’s voluntary offering of Himself to God. His own will, His own spirit, inspired the surrender, and made it so infinitely acceptable. It was the real, genuine, willing, entire devotion of a man’s self to God in obedience and submission; and this was the representative Man. If the Holy Ghost, conceived in any sense as separate from Christ, really inspired our Lord’s surrender, then it was not, genuinely and simply, Christ’s offering of Himself. The real merit of the offering belongs to the Holy Ghost who inspired it, not to Jesus—the Man Christ Jesus—who made it. We cannot use the term “spiritual spirit,” though that might best convey the idea that is in the term “eternal spirit.” We may say “Divine spirit”—the holy will and resolve of a Divine Being. So understanding the term, the point of the writer’s reference to it comes fully into view. “By His own spirit—by that burning love which proceeded from His own spirit.” Moses Stuart translates, “in an eternal spiritual nature”; and he explains thus: “It is in the heavenly world, in the tabernacle not made with hands, that the offering of our great High Priest is made. There He has presented Himself, in His heavenly or glorified state, in His eternal spiritual condition, or possessed of an eternal spiritual nature.” Dr. Moulton says: “For the opinion that the reference is to the Holy Spirit there seems to be no foundation in the usage of the New Testament, and it is not indicated by anything in the context. The explanation of the words must rather be sought in the nature of our Lord, or in some attribute of that nature. The πνεῦμα of Christ is not the Holy Spirit, but the higher principle of spiritual life, which was not the Divinity (this would be an Apollinarian assertion), but especially and intimately united with it.”
Hebrews 9:15. The Old and the New.—It was a part of the mission of the apostles not to transfer the allegiance of the Jews from one God to another, but to teach them how to serve the same God in a higher dispensation, under a noble disclosure of His character and attributes by new and better methods. The Old was good; the New was better. We could scarcely conceive of Christianity as a system developed in this world, if it had not been preceded by the Mosaic economy. The Old was local and national in its prime intents and in its results. The New was for all ages. The Old was a system of practices; the New is a system of principles. The Old built men for this world. Therefore it hardly looked beyond this world. The whole force of the New is derived from its supereminent doctrine of the future. The Old addressed the conscience through fear. The New aims at the very springs of moral power in the soul, and that through love. The Old sought to build up around the man physical helps. It was a system of crutches and canes. The New strikes straight for character, by the force of a man’s own will. The Old Testament was not wholly without its natural religion. To the Hebrew mind nature was one vast symbolism. With a far lower aim in character, the Old kept men in bondage. With immeasurably higher aim and larger requisition, the New yields liberty. The Old was a dispensation of secular morals. It lived in the past. The New is a system of aspiration. It lives in the future. The Old was a system in which men remembered; the New is a system in which men aspire. The Old Testament was God hidden; the New Testament is God made known through Jesus Christ—a living force. We are the children of the New Testament, and not of the Old. Woe be to us if, living in these latter days, we find ourselves groping in the imperfections of the Old Testament, instead of springing up with all the vitality and supereminent manhood which belongs to the New Testament! We are the children of a living Saviour. To be a disciple of the New Testament is to have a living Head. It is to have a vital connection with that Head. It is to be conscious, while all nature speaks of God, and while all the exercises of religion assist indirectly, that the main power of a true religion in the soul is the soul’s connection with a living God. Let your life mount up toward God.—H. Ward Beecher.
Redemption through Death.—Read “that, death having taken place for redemption from the transgressions,” etc. The first covenant had been broken by “transgressions”: unless there be redemption from these—that is, from the bondage of penalty which has resulted from these—there can be no promise, and no new covenant. In respect of this bondage, this penalty, the death of Christ was a ransom—an offering to God looked at in the light of a payment in the place of debt, service, or penalty due. When debt and payment are changed into the corresponding ideas of sin and punishment, the ransom gives place to the sin-offering, of which the principle was the acknowledgment of death deserved, and the vicarious suffering of death. So far our thought has rested on the removal of the results of the past. The covenant and the promise relate to the establishment of the better future. Death was necessary alike for both. “The offering of Christ’s life (Matthew 20:28) was a ransom or an offering for sin; it was also a sacrifice inaugurating a new covenant, which contained the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Dr. Moulton). It will be seen that this is a setting of truth designed to meet the ideas and associations of Jews, who would want to be assured that every obligation of the old covenant had been fully and honourably met. What precisely does the term “ransom” teach us when applied to the death of Christ? This much at least: that the death of Jesus, voluntarily endured, is somehow the means of delivering from death the souls of the many; He died, that they might live; He died willingly, because He believed that thereby He could render this service. This much, and perhaps not much more. How the death of the Son of man brings life to others, and whether the life thus procured could not be obtained in any other way, does not appear. We may have recourse to the sacrificial system in search of the needful supplementary explanations.—Dr. A. B. Bruce.
Hebrews 9:16. The Ratification of God’s Covenant.—For “testator,” R.V. reads “Him that made it.” Doddridge has paraphrased thus: “For where a covenant is, it necessarily imports the death of that by which the covenant is confirmed: since sacrificial rites have ever attended the most celebrated covenants which God hath made with man, so that a covenant is confirmed over the dead.” And it is evident from the line of reasoning which the author of the epistle follows, that if διαθήκη is to be taken as equivalent to “covenant,” then the death of the pacifier, or confirming instrument, is implied. Parkhurst and others suggest that “institution,” or “dispensation,” gives greater force, and is a just rendering. And though the idea of a will or testamentary document (as given in our A.V.) seems to fit in with Hebrews 9:16-17, there is much difficulty in harmonising it with the whole passage.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 9
Hebrews 9:14. Philo’s Divine Spirit.—Professor Bruce aptly illustrates this passage by a citation from Philo. The question in the verse is this—How should the blood of Christ have so unlimited value as compared with that of bulls and goats? The reply is found in the phrase “by an eternal spirit.” Philo in one place says that a man has two souls: the blood, the soul of the man as a whole; the Divine spirit, the soul of his higher nature. “We may conceive our author as consciously or unconsciously re-echoing the sentiment, and saying: ‘Yes, the blood, according to the Scriptures, is the soul of a living animal, and in the blood of the slain victim its soul or life was presented as an offering to God by the officiating priest. But in connection with the sacrifice of Christ, we must think of the higher human soul, the Divine spirit. It was as a spirit He offered Himself, as a self-conscious, free, moral personality; and His offering was a spirit revealed through a never-to-be-forgotten act of self-surrender, not the literal blood shed on Calvary, which in itself possessed no more intrinsic value than the blood of Levitical victims.’ ”
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 9:18. The first covenant.—Reverting to the older and safer term. Hebrews 9:16-17, are a sort of aside, a sudden thought that came to the writer, somewhat in the Pauline manner. Dedicated.—Or “initiated.” There was a foreshadowing of the death of Christ in the blood-sealings of the covenant.
Hebrews 9:19. Spoken.—Read aloud the commandments which were the covenant requirements and conditions. Of calves and of goats.—A general expression for the “sacrificial victims.” Goats are not especially mentioned on this occasion (Exodus 24:5). Scarlet wool, and hyssop.—Not mentioned in Exodus 24:0. “The water (itself an emblem and means of cleansing) was designed to prevent the coagulation of the blood, and to increase the quantity of the purifying fluid. The ‘scarlet wool’ may have been used to bind the hyssop to the stick of cedar-wood, which was the instrument of sprinkling” (Moulton). The book.—Not specially mentioned in Exodus 24:6-8. (“This is one of several instances in which the writer shows himself learned in the Jewish legends, Hagadoth.) Book and people may be taken as representing the two parties to the covenant.
Hebrews 9:21. Tabernacle.—Nothing is actually said of their being so sprinkled; only of their being anointed with oil. Josephus, however, confirms the text. See Exodus 11:9-10.
Hebrews 9:22. Almost all.—Some were cleansed by water (Leviticus 16:26; Leviticus 16:28; Numbers 31:22-23). The cleansing efficacy of blood is a symbol, not a fact. Is no remission.—The writer does not say “of sins,” and these words should not be added to the verse. He is stating a historical fact with regard to the old Mosaic system, and refers entirely to ceremonial offences. The Rabbins have a proverb, “No expiation except by blood.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 9:18-22
The Blood of the Covenant.—The word “testament” used in the previous verses is supplied in Hebrews 9:18, and it would have been better to have put in the old and familiar term “covenant.” This is done in the R.V. Any arrangement made between two parties for their mutual benefit, which may be ratified by some common act, is called a “covenant.” In the simple society of the ancient East, covenants could only be ratified by the taking of mutual vows and pledges, or by the sharing together in some symbolical and suggestive act. Sometimes a bargain was ratified by the two parties joining hands, before witnesses, in the gate of the city; at other times by mutually raising a heap of stones, and calling it by a particular name. There was also a custom of this kind: Wine was poured into an earthen vessel, and the contracting parties, cutting their arms with a knife, let some of the blood run into the wine, with which they stained their armour, and of which both parties drank, uttering at the same time the most dreadful curses upon the party that violated the treaty. In this passage the ratification of the Old Testament covenant with God is in part described. The great leader and lawgiver, Moses, had been in the mount with God, had received the law as from the Divine hand, and on his return to the camp he had gathered the tribes in a solemn assembly, and received from them the emphatic declaration of their resolve, “All the words which the Lord hath said will we do.” Then Moses prepared for a solemn act of ratification. He built an altar under the hill; that altar was to represent Jehovah, the one party to the covenant. He also set up twelve pillars, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. These represented the people, the other party to the covenant, the party to whom the covenant terms were offered. Then Moses slew certain animals, and divided the blood that flowed from them, sprinkling some on the altar, in token of God’s making a vow to observe and keep all that He had pledged and promised in the covenant. The other half of the blood he kept back awhile, until he had again read to the people the covenant terms and the covenant sanctions, and had again received the people’s acceptance in their united exclamation, “All that the Lord hath said unto us will we do, and be obedient.” Then he took that half of the blood, and sprinkled it on those twelve representative pillars, expressing thus the solemn vow of the people, and making the vow take this impressive form: “We pledge our very life to our obedience. If we fail to keep this covenant, let our life be forfeited, let that life be taken, as has been taken the life of these beasts.” Now in this ancient and formal Jewish covenant we are to see the model of the spiritual covenant which God makes with man in creating him, and arranging his sustenance and circumstance—the covenant which man makes with God in accepting life at His hands. Nobody is obliged to live: to choose to live is to accept God’s covenant terms. We may not, as individuals, be able to appeal to a personal scene of ratification. That was done for our humanity by our first human father, Adam—just as it was done for all the Jewish race by that one Mosaic generation. And it was broken for us by that first father, as representing us. So we all come into the world with the claims of the everlasting covenant as strong upon us as upon Adam, but with all those disturbed conditions about us which have followed upon breaking the covenant, and with our life forfeit (as part of the life of humanity), in accordance with the solemn vow and pledge of that covenant. If then we are to be restored to gracious relations with God, we need—
I. That God should be honoured by the surrender of the life that was pledged, if the covenant was broken.—The Israelites sealed their covenant with blood. They thus expressed their readiness to surrender their own blood if they broke the covenant. They did break it, and their lives we forfeited. God might have demanded the life of every Israelite, in vindication of His broken covenant. The fact that it was a covenant of mercy offered by God, and freely accepted by man, only makes the conditions more solemn. God can righteously demand one of two things—obedience to the covenant conditions, or the yielding of the forfeit. No man can save his honour, if he permits a covenant made with him to be broken, without taking any notice of the forfeit or penalty. Meeting us in our human sphere, and graciously using our human language, God shows us that He could not. The life of all Israel stood forfeited unto God. In this we have a model—a representation in material things of spiritual realities—of the great human covenant. To that also life is vowed and pledged. And that covenant too is broken. Our life, our whole life, is forfeit unto God. God cannot pass by that dishonoured covenant of His mercy. The penalty to which man pledged himself to submit must be exacted. Covenant-breakers must die,—die the death of the Divine absence from them; die the second, the spiritual death. Or else such satisfaction must be offered as shall uphold the Divine honour, declare the righteousness and worth of the Divine covenant in a most glorious manner, and so allow the penalty to be remitted. God can make no new covenant with men until, in some altogether satisfactory way, the old is honoured. And this every man feels is necessary to meet his deepest sense of right. How then has the difficulty been met? God has been pleased to permit the penalty to be exacted from one person only, a great race-head, a second Adam. Instead of demanding the forfeited life of every man, He required only the death of the representative man. And then comes in the marvel of all marvels. The God of the broken covenant was willing Himself to provide that one representative man. Here is a glimpse at least into the mystery of Christ’s death. God saw humanity in Him—God accepted Him as the yielded life that was forfeit by the terms of the broken human covenant. In that one God-man’s voluntary death the old covenant is honoured, even while it is put away for ever. We could have no sure ground of hope, if that old covenant had not been so gloriously vindicated and honoured, or if God had not released the Sin-bearer from the grave, and accepted Him as the great human representative.
II. We need that the covenant should be newly made and newly ratified.—And that also is done for us in Christ. He who bears for us the forfeit of the old is the gracious Mediator of the new. And the new covenant is a better covenant,—a covenant not of formal terms, but of gracious promises; not of particular deeds, but of the inner heart, and of the whole life. And this second, or new, covenant was also ratified by blood-shedding. It was taken under the same tremendous vows as the old; it was sealed by an infinitely more worthy sacrifice. “The patterns of things in the heavenlies were purified with blood of bulls and goats, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.” Yielding His life, as at once the forfeit of the old covenant and the solemn vow of the new, behold God and man are now one again, in Christ. “Ye who sometime were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
III. The new covenant must be definitely accepted by each individual.—We must personally and voluntarily enter into covenant. Its reconciliation, its access, its privileges, its status, cannot be ours until we willingly and lovingly accept the covenant made for us, and sealed for us, by the Lord Jesus Christ. He stands for men; by his own act of surrender each man must ensure that He stands for him, and is his Representative, his Mediator, and his Lord. But each must enter into the covenant for himself. No man can do it for him. No covenant of any fellow-creature will stand for him. Those who are within the privileges and responsibilities of the new covenant are counted one by one.
The Blood is the Life.—The warm blood of men, and of quadrupeds and birds, seemed to contain the very soul or life of the living earthly creature—to be almost identical with his soul. Now when the life and the soul were held to be something sacred, and the more tender feelings of certain nations took this view very early, it would follow that the blood too must be considered a sacred thing, and be regarded quite differently from the rest of the body. The sight of that which was held to be the soul itself carried the mind immediately to thoughts of God, placed directly before it something full of mystery, and filled it with profound awe.—Ewald.
Death for Remission.—How can the death of Christ be a condition of the remission of sins? This the crux of the whole subject.
1. The writer never suggests that Christ liberates us from liability to punishment by being Himself punished in our stead. It is true he said that Christ “was offered to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28), but he does not say that this was to bear the punishment of sins; on the contrary, he carries our thoughts away to ideas of sacrifices in his use of the word “offered.”
2. Neither does the writer teach that the value of the Atonement was derived from the amount of pain endured by our Lord. As we have seen, he attaches great importance to the sufferings of Christ, but this is in regard to His priesthood, not His sacrifice. He became a perfect priest, fully able to sympathise with His people, by means of the things which He suffered. Certainly the spirit of surrender requisite where much suffering has to be faced is proportionately greater than where the sacrifice is easily made. Thus suffering comes to enhance the value of sacrifice. But it does this indirectly, and it is not the suffering itself, but the refusal to shrink from it, which is valued. In the Hebrew ritual the death of the victims was as painless as possible; there is not a hint that their sufferings entered into the consideration of the worshippers. The real sacrifice was made by the offerer in the surrender of his property. The case of our Lord is entirely different—for one thing, because He appears in the two functions of sacrificing priest and sacrificial victim. It is in regard to the former of these functions, as the priest making the offering, that His sufferings come to be considered with supreme interest.
3. Where, then, is the specific value of His sacrifice? The author emphatically contrasts the tabernacle sacrifices with the sacrifice of our Lord, affirming that the former could only have a subjective influence on the worshippers as reminders of sin, not any objective efficacy in expiration thereof, because “it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). That is to say, he saw quite clearly that no animal sacrifice could constitute a real atonement. Coming to the very different sacrifice of Christ, he quotes from Psalms 40:0, “Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body didst Thou prepare for Me” (Hebrews 10:5). The first step, then, is the Incarnation. Christ comes in a human body. The following words in the quotation from the psalm are cited to indicate the purpose of the Incarnation in this connection: “Lo, I am come (in the roll of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7). Christ was incarnate in order that, among other things, He might be subject to obedience. We are reminded of St. Paul’s thought that He took on Him the “form of a servant” when He was “found in fashion as a man” in order that He might become “obedient even unto death” (Philippians 2:7-8). Further on the author tells us distinctly that our sanctification—and the whole course of the argument shows that by this he means our consecration to God in the cleansing of our consciences, i.e. the effecting of the Atonement—is accomplished by our Lord doing the will of God: “By the which will we have been sanctified” (chap.Hebrews 10:10). The whole of our Lord’s life was a course of perfect obedience to the will of God; that obedience was most severely tested, and, standing the test triumphantly, reached its crown and climax at the cross. We need not search through regions of theological speculation; the truth is writ large upon the plain facts of our Lord’s history. He would have been false to His mission if He had turned aside at the last, and fled into some safe retreat out of the reach of His enemies to end His days in obscurity. He was a martyr to His mission. His death was more than martyrdom, because He was more than man, and so through martyrdom could effect what no merely human martyr ever accomplished. His obedience was a superhuman obedience in a human life. Hence its supreme value. Can we not understand how God would accept this as the most precious of all offerings? Primitive man presents fruits from his farm and animals from his flock. These are simple, childlike gifts. Christ offers the one real sacrifice God cares for. God has no delight in blood. Mere death cannot be any satisfaction to Him. But He rejoices in obedience to His will; and when that obedience climbs to its highest pinnacle in an unflinching submission to death, He has the greatest offering that can be made. It is in response to such an offering, the obedience unto death of His own Son, that God grants remission of sins. This seems to be the idea of the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, and I venture to say it is a nearer approach to a theory of the Atonement than is to be found anywhere else in the New Testament.—Prof. W. F. Adeney, M.A.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 9:22. No Remission save by Blood-shedding.—Heathen and Jewish sacrifices rather show us what the sacrifice of Christ is not than what it is.—Jowett.
Repentance insufficient.—By the general prevalence of propitiatory sacrifices over the heathen world, the notion of repentance alone being sufficient to expiate guilt appears to be contrary to the general sense of mankind.—Bishop Butler.
Taking the Blood.—The death of the victim, instead of being a vicarious punishment, was no essential part of the transaction, but merely incidental as a means of affording the blood. The essence of the whole sacrificial service was the sprinkling of the blood, as the bearer of the life, upon God’s altar, thus symbolising the giving away of the offerer’s life to God; in other words, his returning back again to God, by repentance and faith and self-dedication, after being separated from Him by sin.—Bähr.
The Blood as a Type.—Nearly all things were purged with blood; certainly without blood was no remission—that peculiar thing “remission” was inseparable from blood. Sin-offerings were not merely tokens of the restoration of friendship between God and the offender; but the blood was the type of the great propitiation, and an acknowledgment, on the part of the offerer, that he had himself deserved death. It showed also that the death and suffering, not of the offender, but of one perfectly guiltless and incapable of sin, alone could procure remission.—Webster and Wilkinson.
Sin and Trespass were atoned for, in a civil and ecclesiastical point of view, by appropriate sacrifices which bore the like names. But in this case the remission was only from a temporal penalty or calamity. It was not possible that such sacrifices could atone for sin, as viewed by the righteous governor of the world. God, as the head and king of the Jewish nation, granted remission of the penalty which Jewish law inflicted in many cases, on certain conditions. But this had respect merely to this present world, and not to the accountability of transgressors before the tribunal of the universe, in the world above. Even temporal forgiveness could not be obtained without shedding of blood—so the necessity of atoning blood which possessed a higher virtue than that of beasts, in order to remove the penalty against sin, that was threatened in respect of a future world.—Moses Stuart.
Remission and Blood-shedding.—In these words, “apart from shedding of blood is no remission,” we may find a fact stated and a fact suggested. The fact stated is that, under the Old Testament dispensation, the particular thing called “remission” was always attended with “blood-shedding.” The fact suggested is that, under the New Testament dispensation, Jesus Christ did actually shed His blood for the remission of sins. It is possible to sweep away all the deeper meanings of the Jewish sacrifices by regarding them only as expressions of dependence and trust. We have to ask, not what is sacrifice to a man, but what to a sinful man, one who carries the burden of conscious transgression, and the fear of just penalty. In the Jewish sacrifices the sin of the individual or the nation was symbolically transferred, by confession, to the victim that was sacrificed. The Jewish view of sacrifice is thus stated by Abrabanel: “The blood of the offerer deserved to be shed, and his body to be burned, for his sin; only the mercy of the Divine Name accepted this offering from him as a substitute and propitiation, whose blood should be instead of his blood, and its life instead of his life.” In the New Testament is given the historical fact that Jesus did die; or, to use the familiar figure, did “shed His blood.” These two facts, the blood-shedding of Judaism and the blood-shedding of Jesus, answer to each other, as do type and antitype. “The patterns of things in the heavens (spiritual things) were purified with these (the blood of animals); but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these”—even with the life, the will, the surrender, the sacrifice, of a spiritual being. The reality was not found in the Jewish sacrifices. They were but pictures of the reality. They bore relation to ceremonial offences, not to sin, in a spiritual sense. In the Old Testament economy there was a figure and an underlying reality. And in the New Testament sacrifice there is a corresponding outward figure and underlying spiritual reality. The Jewish system required of its worshipper a sacrifice which could have a twofold relation:
(1) Could die as the bearer of his penalty, and
(2) in its spotlessness could be accepted in his stead. That was the figure; but the man who rightly apprehended that ceremonial penalty and pollution saw it to represent the moral penalty under which his sin had brought him, and the moral pollution with which his sin had defiled him. A spiritually minded Jew must have said, “Restored to the tabernacle service, I am not restored to God: looked upon as clean by the priests, I am not looked upon as clean before God. No blood of beasts can touch moral pollution: no death of bulls or goats can carry away moral penalty.” And so in the infinite sacrifice and meritorious blood-shedding of the Son of God there is a figure and an answering reality. If the sacrifice of Jesus had been only a spiritual sacrifice, if it had found no expression in bodily sufferings and bodily death, we men, so imprisoned in the senses, could never have realised it, could never have reached the blessing of it. Christ’s bodily sufferings and blood-shedding are not, in themselves, His great sacrifice. They are the form it took for bodily eyes to see, the body it wore for this mortal sphere, the temple within which the real sacrifice of an obedient will was offered. And as the Jewish worshipper looked past the blood of bulls and of goats, and rested in the spiritual sacrifice, which was to be made in the person of Messiah, so the Christian worshipper now goes in behind the bodily sufferings and human death of our Divine Lord, which are to him somewhat as the outward ceremonies were to the Jew, and discerns the inner, spiritual, infinitely satisfying sacrifice presented by Him when He made “His soul an offering for sin.” Sin is a spiritual thing. It may express itself in deeds done in the body; but, in its essence, it is a thing of the spirit and the will. The sin is a soul-sin. The penalty is a soul-death. The remission can only come by a soul-sacrifice. When we say that Christ, as our sacrifice, bore the penalty for us, we mean the spiritual penalty. It found fitting outward expression in the agonies of an ignominious and violent death, but the infinite depth of suffering lay hidden—in behind—in the Redeemer’s soul. Finding only once what seemed a suitable utterance in human language, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” The chief objection against the truth of our Lord’s substitutionary sacrifice is, that it represents the innocent as suffering for the guilty, which is supposed to override our natural sense of justice. But higher laws do affect lower ones. Abraham in loyal obedience to God put aside parental justice, and assayed to offer his son. Are there no cases in which our sense of justice permits the innocent to suffer for the guilty? Is there any law, in heaven or earth, that prevents an innocent man from voluntarily taking the place of the guilty? Is our sense of justice wronged when a man knowingly and willingly marries an almost bankrupt woman, and makes himself legally responsible for all her debts? And may not the Lord Jesus, knowingly, and willingly, and lovingly, marry this poor bankrupt bride of Humanity, and, with His eternal riches, bear all the burden of her debt? May not the Lord Jesus sustain such a relation to us, of His own free, generous, pitying sympathy, that, most righteously, our penalty should be transferred to Him? In the voluntary sacrifice of Christ; in that yielding of His soul, through the body, to the sinner’s spiritual death, all men may see God’s authority vindicated, God’s honour established, sin exhibited in its hatefulness, sin smitten and broken in its power, and men deterred from loving and seeking it. And since it is God Himself who provided the sacrifice—nay, God Himself who is in the sacrifice—the revelations of the Divine glory and justice do not affright us; the disclosures of the infinite hatefulness of sin do not overwhelm us. The sacrifice of Jesus brings us full remission—holiness and mercy hand in hand: in it “righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”
Christ’s Voluntary Sin-bearing.—When we see the offended God, the injured Sovereign, holy, just, and good—when we see Him at such a cost Himself provide the expiation which the dignity of His own law demands, and actually send His Son to die in our room, it is then that we begin to see the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the beauty and majesty of the Divine character, and the generous tears which suffuse our eyes are the first tears of true repentance which we have ever shed. That cross of Christ, with its great atoning sacrifice, lets me see God to be so great, and man so little—the Sovereign to be so good, and the rebel to be so bad: it shows on the one side such holiness and such love, whilst it shows on the other guilt so heinous, wickedness so inexcusable, and ruin so complete, that we need not wonder though we find man’s pride reject the humbling truth. Orthodox people are charged with teaching that the philosophy of sacrifice consists in the necessity of punishing—that it is justice to let the blow fall somewhere, no matter where; blood must flow. But we never affirm that God visited our sins on the head of one who had no connection with these sins at all. God visited the sin on the head of One who, though personally innocent of it, did nevertheless put Himself voluntarily into such a relationship to the sinners as involved Him in the fullest legal responsibility for the sin. A man is beheaded for crimes that his hands have committed—the body is a whole. So Christ and His Church are one body; He is the Head. When God the Father exacted the penalty of His people’s sins from Jesus, He did so from One who, as the Head of the body, was as righteously responsible for them as if He had committed them all.—Article, “Family Treasury,” August 1868.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 9
Hebrews 9:22. Propitiation by Sacrifice.—It has often been remarked that the idea of propitiation by sacrifice is to be found in connection with all the sacrifices of heathen nations. This is strikingly illustrated by the following account of one of the festivals of the North American Indians:—Dr. Edward Walsh describes a village, the houses of which surrounded a large green or common, in the centre of which the council-house or temple was erected. “It was lighted,” he says, “by a few small, square apertures, close to the eaves, which also let out the smoke; consequently, it was somewhat dark. The door facing the west had a rude but spacious portico. The roof, which had a high pitch, was propped up within by four strong posts, between which was the hearth, with a large kettle over it. There was a seat all round, and the walls, which were formed of split plank, were half-way up covered with mats. Here we found a great number of Indians assembled. The women were ranged outside the wall, and the men surrounded the fire inside, at the head of whom was the high priest in his pontificals. His face was painted like the quarterings of a coat of arms, and he was furnished with a beard: he wore on his head a high tiara of beaver fur, stuck round with dyed porcupine quills: he had over his chest a kind of stomacher, worked in figures, and ornamented with wampum, which was supposed to represent the Jewish Urim and Thummim; in this, the Indians imagine some little spirit resides, which they talk to and consult in dubious events. Whilst the usual dance or chorus was performing, a dog which had been previously selected and fattened was boiling in the kettle: when cooked, the flesh was cut off, and the bones scraped clean and wrapped up in its skin. The flesh was then divided into small bits, and handed round on a wooden platter, to all those that surrounded the fire: at the same time, the high priest dipped a branch of hemlock pine in the broth, and sprinkled it everywhere, as well on the people as on the walls. The ceremony concluded with the circular dance and chant, in which the women joined. This chant, or hymn, is sung by all the Indian nations in North America, however they may differ in custom and language. Humboldt even heard it in Mexico, and it is supposed to be synonymous with the hallelujah of the Psalms. It was pricked down for me by a gentleman who understood musical composition. To my ears it sounds like the lullaby of the nursery:—
‘Tam le yah al lah le lu lah tam ye lah yo ha wah ha ha hah!’
It must be admitted that this ceremony bears some rude resemblance to the feast of the Passover, substituting a dog for a lamb, of which they have none; but dogs are sacrificed on all solemn occasions.”
Eastern Covenant Customs.—While in Abyssinia, Bruce the traveller wished to go from one place to another, and the sheikh had assured him that the journey might be undertaken with safety. “But,” said Bruce, “suppose your people meet us in the desert, how shall we fare in that case? Should we fight?” “I have told you, sheikh, already,” said he, “cursed be the man that lifts his hand against you, or even does not defend and befriend you to his own loss, even were it Ibrahim, my own son.” Then after some conversation, the old man muttered something to his sons in a dialect Bruce did not understand, and in a little time the whole hut was filled with people, the priests and monks of their religion, and the heads of families. “The great people joined hands, and uttered a kind of prayer—really the oath—about two minutes long, by which they declared themselves and their children accursed if ever they lifted their hands against me in the field, in the desert, or on the river; or, in case that I or mine should fly to them for refuge, if they did not protect us at the risk of their lives, their families, and their fortunes, or as they emphatically expressed it, ‘to the death of the last male child among them’ Medicines and advice were given on my part, faith and promises pledged on theirs; then two bushels of wheat and seven sheep were carried down to my boat.”
Classical Covenant Customs.—An ancient writer relates that Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks at the siege of Troy, “to confirm his faith sworn to Achilles, ordered victims to be brought. He took one, and with his sword divided it in the midst, placed the pieces opposite to each other, and holding his sword, reeking with blood, passed between the separated pieces.” Livy, the Roman historian, relates that in the time of Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, it was the custom, at the lustration or purification of the armies, to cut off the head of a dog, and then make the whole army file between the head and the trunk. Compare Jeremiah 34:18.
The Scottish League and Covenant.—The most remarkable modern reproduction of the ancient covenant may be found in Scottish history. It was a confession of faith made in the year 557, A.D., and a mutual agreement to maintain that confession even at peril of death. “As the hour drew near people from all quarters flocked to the spot, and before the commissioners appeared the Greyfriars Church and Churchyard, Edinburgh, were densely filled with the gravest, the wisest, and the best of Scotland’s pious sons and daughters. The long roll of parchment was brought, the meaning and purpose of the covenant explained. Then a deep and solemn pause ensued; not the pause of irresolution, but of modest diffidence, each thinking every other more worthy than himself to place the first name upon this sacred bond. An aged nobleman, the venerable Earl of Sutherland, at last stepped slowly and reverentially forward, and with throbbing heart and trembling hand subscribed Scotland’s covenant with God. All hesitation in a moment disappeared. Name followed name in quick succession, till all within the Church had given their signatures. It was then removed into the churchyard, and spread out on a level gravestone. Here the scene became still more impressive. The intense emotions of many became irrepressible. Some wept aloud; some burst into a shout of exultation; some after their names added the words ‘till death’; and some, opening a vein, subscribed with their own warm blood. And when every particle of space was filled, there was another solemn pause. The nation had framed a covenant in former days, and had violated its engagements; if they, too, should break this sacred bond, how deep would be their guilt! Such seems to have been their thought; for, as if moved by one spirit—the one eternal Spirit—with low, heart-wrung groans, and faces bathed in tears, they lifted, with one consent, their right hands to heaven, avowing by this sublime appeal that they had now joined themselves unto the Lord in an everlasting covenant, which should not be forgotten.”—T. Guthrie.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 9:23. Patterns.—Copies, outlines, earthly representations. These.—Blood-sheddings; sacrifices of beasts. Heavenly things.—Spiritual things; things of conscience and will; the spiritual realities of sin against God and broken relations with Him. Better sacrifices.—Spiritual as contrasted with material. The argument of the writer is that Christ’s sacrifice must be better, because it is the Divine Man’s surrendered will; and that is the very highest, sublimest thing in God’s universe.
Hebrews 9:24. Made with hands.—Touchable, so earthly. Figures of the true.—Observe the writer’s frequent repetition of this idea. He was most anxious to get the Christian Jews thoroughly to loosen their hold on that old Mosaic system. Heaven itself.—The holy place of God; the spiritual realm. For us.—As the high priest did. First position: Christ is in the spiritual world as our Mediator. Second position: One such spiritual sacrifice suffices. Imperfection is shown by the need for repetition. Repetition is needed for “picture teaching,” which prepares for the reception of something that can be final.
Hebrews 9:26. Often have suffered.—Our Redeemer’s work is still regarded as covering sin from the earliest ages. In the end of the world.—Not “absolute end.” It fits in with the apostolic idea of the “last times.” Put away sin.—Clearly a moral work.
Hebrews 9:27. Once to die.—As the seal of sin. Judgment.—As the Divine recognition of sin.
Hebrews 9:28. Once offered.—Only the sacrifice of one whole, representative life could be needed. Bear the sins.—I.e. bear the burden or work of putting them away. Without sin.—Or apart from sin; apart from all connection with it, because, when He comes, His redemptive work will be complete. “To return for our salvation as the everlasting Victor over sin and over death.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 9:23-28
One Spiritual Sacrifice is Enough.—The point of the paragraph is evidently this—if you have symbolical, teaching sacrifices, you must repeat your object-lessons over and over again. If you have a spiritual sacrifice, embodying the principle which you have been teaching, once will do, and there is no call for repetition; your whole energy can be put into applying, adapting, and working out the principle. Christ’s was a spiritual sacrifice; “once at the end of the ages hath He been manifested to put away sins by the sacrifice of Himself.” “Christ also having been once offered to bear the sins of many.”
I. Christ’s sacrifice is the better sacrifice.—So much better as is represented by the difference between the dumb, unintelligent animal, and the speaking, thinking, feeling man, who has both will, and affections, and religious instincts. The gift of an animal could not interest God or win His favour, save as it stood for something, expressed something, carried to God a man’s devotion and love. Then when a man was able to give that devotion and love directly, as Jesus Christ did, without the need of any animal to express His surrender, then we have the “better sacrifice.” When we have that better sacrifice to represent our devotion and our love, we can contentedly let the lower forms of sacrifice pass away. We are satisfied; we are now worthily represented; it is enough.
II. Christ, with His sacrifice, remains in the spiritual Holy of Holies.—The old high priest went into the second chamber, taking the blood of the goat, but he did not stay in there; only the few drops that were sprinkled remained there. He came out, and must needs go in again by-and-by, when gathering human wilfulness and sin had broken off, or made uncertain, the relations of the people with God. But our spiritual High Priest went into the most secret chamber of the “temple not made with hands,” took His sacrifice, which was Himself, with Him, and has never come out, and never will. He, our Priest, is there; He, our sacrifice, is there. And our standing with God abides; it cannot be imperilled. It is a standing on the ground of His acceptance, of the merit of His sacrifice. It is a standing secured and maintained by His priestly mediation. There is no call for any repetition of the sacrifice, for any renewal of the atonement day. The day never comes to an end. That is the better, the all-satisfying sacrifice which God has always before Him. That is the all-sufficient priest, who never has to go into the Holy of Holies, because He is there, and abides there, ever ministering in His unchangeable priesthood.
III. Christ’s sacrifice is the climax of sacrifices.—For humanity it is the perfect sacrifice. It is inconceivable that man can ever have, to give to God, a better sacrifice than Christ gave. And it is as inconceivable that God, dissatisfied with that, can ever want another from man. And why? Because the absolutely perfect sacrifice which the creature man can make to God is “himself, and himself at the very best that man can possibly be.” But that is precisely the sacrifice which Christ offered to God. It was the “sacrifice of Himself,” the “Man Christ Jesus.” It was Himself as tested and proved, by the strains of a human life, and the agony of a painful and shameful death, to be the very best man that could possibly be. That cannot be repeated. It is a climax once reached, and it stands us for ever. Man has offered to God at last the sacrifice which God demands, and which through the long ages his sacrifices of bulls and goats did but vainly aim to reach. This is the “Lamb of God” who offered Himself for man, and, infinitely acceptable to God, “takes away the sin of the world.” It is not only the better sacrifice; it is the best. Let man think the matter fully out, and he will surely fail to conceive a better sacrifice for humanity than Jesus is.
IV. Christ’s sacrifice need not be repeated, because it fully accomplished its ends.—This is intimated in the reference to the judgment in Hebrews 9:27-28. Death and the judgment represent all the woes brought into the world by sin. A redemption can do everything else, if it can deliver us from the death we dread, and give us salvation in the day when our earthly life is Divinely appraised. This is the power of the redemption in Christ’s priesthood and sacrifice. “Because He lives we shall live also.” And when before the throne, He, our Daysman, will be there for us, not now having to deal with our sin, “apart from sin,” but to secure our full and final “salvation.” Actual repetitions of the sacrifice of Christ there cannot be, there need not be, for the sacrifice is made once for all. Pictorial and symbolical representations of the sacrifice may be perilous, as suggesting doubts of the infinite value and sufficiency of the one offering once offered, which our High Priest is ever in the act of offering. The spiritual reality of the sacrifice needs to be fully realised, and then our interest in the historical occasion of the sacrifice, or the sublime occasion of the cross, would be felt to need no repetition in fact, and no pictorial or mystical reproduction. The “once” of the sacrifice is “once for all”; it is enough for ever.
Hebrews 9:24. Heaven itself.—It is manifestly not in accordance with the writer’s purpose to show that Christ has entered into the place of future bliss prepared for God’s redeemed people. By heaven itself he means the spiritual world, the realm of spiritual realities. Heaven itself is contrasted with the “holy places made with hands.” The tabernacle was a material tabernacle; Christ’s mediation belongs to the spiritual tabernacle. Priests ministered with material things, the patterns and pictures of spiritual, heavenly things; the great High Priest with the spiritual, heavenly things themselves. In the earthly tabernacle there was the symbol of the Divine Presence; in heaven, in the spiritual world, is the Presence itself. Christ’s work wholly belongs to the spiritual spheres.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 9:23. The Better Sacrifice is Christ Himself.—After we have made the most of the ancient sacrificial system, we are still much in the dark as to the connection between the death of the sacrificial victim and the pardon of sin. The Levitical sacrifices did not deal effectually with the problem. They were merely putative atonements for artificial sins—for the ignorances or ritual errors of the people, not for their great moral transgressions. More light comes to us by reflection on the nature of the sacrifice by which the new covenant is inaugurated than from the whole Levitical system. Here for the first time we have priest and victim united in one. Christ’s sacrifice is Himself. Here the virtue lies not in the blood, though that is formally mentioned, but in the offering of a perfect will through the eternal spirit of holy love. In this offering God can take pleasure, not because of the pain and the blood-shedding, but in spite of these. By the virtue of this offering God is reconciled to the world, and can regard with a benignant eye a guilty race. We are accepted in the Beloved, the Messianic King and His subjects being an organic unity in God’s sight.—Dr. A. B. Bruce.
Hebrews 9:24. The Ascension.—“Into heaven itself.” We celebrate on this day the foundation, or rather the first manifestation to the world, of a great kingdom, of which our Lord is the supreme Head. He who was a perfect Man, the Exemplar of all goodness, at His departure was only removed from us in respect of sensible presence, and did not cease to be connected with us; He was transplanted to an invisible throne in heaven, where He reigns over us now, the King both of the living and the dead. He reigns over the Church triumphant. He reigns over this world below in which man still struggles with temptation and sin. What ought to be our feelings who know that our Lord and God, who reigns in heaven, is man too—that He is man now, and will be for ever in the fulness of glorified human nature? Different feelings possess us as we contemplate this glorified human nature in Christ our Judge, or our Intercessor. How would great numbers of men who follow their wills in this world, pursue through life an avaricious and selfish scheme, give all the strength of their faculties to gain worldly ends, but who do it all under a specious outside, and have explanations and justifications of their own conduct to themselves, feel if they knew that they had to undergo an examination and an estimate from a very wise, sagacious, and discerning man here, in this world? Would they not immediately be in a state of the most painful fear and apprehension? The Man Christ Jesus now scrutinises these men. However we may fear the countenance of man, we cannot escape being judged by One who is man. What a motive this ought to be to us to examine ourselves, to be true to ourselves, not to tamper with our own consciences, not to cloak our sins, not to dissemble and walk in crooked ways! But we also celebrate the entrance into heaven of our Mediator, Intercessor, and Advocate. He sits there as High Priest to present to the Father His own atonement and sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. He thus sits as High Priest and Mediator between God and man because He is man. He who is man could plead for man. It is our Lord’s supreme place in the universe now, and His reign now in the worlds visible and invisible, which we commemorate in His ascension. We are specially told in Scripture never to think of our Lord as having gone away and left His Church, but always to think of Him as now reigning, now occupying His throne in heaven, and from thence ruling over all. This day especially puts before us our Lord in His human nature, because it was in that He ascended up to heaven. As Judge, He sees into all hearts; as Intercessor, He pleads our cause.—J. B. Mozley, D.D.
Hebrews 9:27. The Death-law for Humanity.—“It is appointed unto men once to die.” In this man does but take rank with the animals, and share natural conditions with them. The law of creation is that the living things, vegetable and animal, shall have possession of the earth in a constant succession, no one creature holding possession long, but producing its successor, and then itself passing away in what is called “death.” So far as man is an animal, there is nothing to be said. It would be a woe for creation if man broke into the natural order as an exception. What has to be seriously considered is—How does the death-law affect man as a moral being, a being into whom is breathed a Divine life? This subject demands a treatise, and it can receive but a hint. At first sight we incline to think that God might have arrested the death-law, and given man an immortality on earth, in which he might grow into moral perfection. The reader must think out how certainly, for various reasons, moral man could never have reached moral perfection here on earth. The death certainty and uncertainty are the mightiest moral forces acting on man.
Hebrews 9:28. Christ bearing the Sins of Transgressors.—In what sense or manner is it that Christ bears the sins of the world? They were not put upon Him, or transferred to Him, so as to be His? That is impossible. Guilt is a matter so strictly and eternally personal, that nobody can be in it but the transgressor himself to whom it belongs. Apart from him it is nothing. Christ does not bear our sins in the sense that He bears our punishment. Everlasting justice forbids any such commutation of places in punishment. It is not conceivable that Christ bears our sin, in the sense that the abhorrence of God to our sin is laid upon Him, and expressed through and by means of His sufferings. How can God lay abhorrence upon what is not abhorrent? Christ, in bearing the sins of transgressors, simply fulfils principles of duty or holiness that are common to all moral beings, and does it as being obliged by those principles. If there is any fundamental truth in morals, it is that there is no superlative kind of merit or excellence; that so far as kind is concerned, the same kind is for us all, and there is no other. We are not then to look for some artificial, theologically contrived, never before heard of kind of good in the bearing of sins, but simply to look after what lies in the first principles of religious love and devotion, as related to the conduct of all.
I. A general answer is this—that Christ bears the sins of the world in a certain representative sense, analogous to that in which the priests and the sacrifices of the former altar-service bore the sins of the people worshipping. The phrase, “he shall bear his sin,” or “bear his iniquity,” when applied to the priests and sacrifices, cannot mean that they have the guilt actually put upon them: the words are to be taken in an accommodated, ritually formal sense, where the same thing is true representatively; the design being to let the people feel or believe that their sins are being taken away, as if put over upon the priests or upon the head of the victims. When the iniquities of Israel were put upon the head of their scape-goat, and he was driven out into the desert, they knew not where, there was neither any sin upon the goat nor any punishment. The reality of the whole matter stood in what was representatively signified, viz. the removal and clearance of their sin.
II. A more particular statement of the subject-matter included under the general answer embraces three particular modes, or distinctly and rationally conceived methods, of bearing sin by Him in His mission as a Redeemer.
1. He bears the sin of the world, by that assumption which His love must needs make of it. Love puts every being, from the eternal God downwards, into the case of all wrong-doers, sufferers, and enemies, to assume their evil, and be concerned for them. Being love, it assumes their loss, danger, present suffering, suffering to be; all their want, sorrow, shame, and disorder; and goes into their case to restore and save. When it is said that Christ “bare our sicknesses,” it cannot mean that He literally bore the fevers, leprosies, etc., that He healed; it means that He took them upon His sympathy, bore them as a burden upon His compassionate love. In that sense, exactly, He assumed and bore the sins of the world. He took them on His love, and put Himself, by mighty throes of feeling, and sacrifice, and mortal passion, to the working out of their deliverance. Because the world in sin took hold of His feeling, was He able, in turn, to get hold of the feeling of the world, and become its true Deliverer and Saviour. In this fact lay embosomed the everlasting gospel. This must in no way be apprehended as if all meant was, that Christ came into such a life of sympathy and death of passion just to give us an example which we are to copy. Nothing could be more impotent or further from the truth. Giving and copying examples is too tame a matter to be conceived as making out a gospel.
2. It is another and equally true conception of the bearing of sins by Christ, that He is incarnated into the state of sin, including all the corporate woes of penalty or natural retribution under it—woes that infest the world, the body, and the social and political departments of human affairs. The “curse,” as a Scripture term, means that state of retributive disorder and disjunction that follows, under natural laws, the outbreak of sin. When Christ comes down into the world, to be incarnate in it and do His work of love, He enters Himself into its corporate evils, and takes them just as they are. His body, as being born in the flesh, has the mortal maladies and temptations of the curse working subtlely in it. The jealousy of Herod is the curse before which He flies into Egypt. The chief priests, and the rabbins, and the council, and Pilate, and Herod, all combined against Him, only represent the corporate wrath, and wrong, and curse of the world.
3. Christ bears the sin of the world, in the sense that He bears, consentingly, the direct attacks of wrong or sin upon His person; doing it, of course, in but a few instances, such as may have been included in His comparatively short life, but showing in these few instances how all the human wrongs are related to His feeling, or would be if He suffered them all. And here again it is that He gets an amazing power, as a Redeemer, over the sin of the world. He did not come into the world to suffer these wrongs as an end, or to brave them by an ostentation of patience. Coming into the world as the incarnate Word of God, God manifest in the flesh, He bears the wrong-doing of sin, not deficiently, but as feeling after the sin; letting it see what wrong it has in its nature to do, when the Son of God comes to it ministering love and forgiveness. When the sin found such a Being, even the incarnate Word of the Father, taking its blows in such patience, and dying under the blows, how dreadful the recoil of feeling it suffered! How wild, and weak, and low was it made to appear in its own sight. Thus it was that, in His bearing of sin upon the cross, Christ broke it down for ever. That death of His was great in power, not because He bore it, but because He was in the work of God’s love, and bore it on His way, unable to be diverted from His end by that or any other death. In just that manner and degree it was in His heart to bear sin.—Horace Bushnell, D.D.
Christ’s Second Appearing.—“Shall appear a second time, apart from sin, to them that wait for Him, unto salvation.” Some care is necessary if we are to see why, and for what purpose, the writer introduced this reference to our Lord’s second appearing. Moses Stuart helps us by translating, “Shall make His appearance a second time, without a sin-offering, for the salvation of those who wait for Him.” Having died once for sin, Jesus will never repeat His sacrifice, and there can be no possible reason why He should. When He comes again it will be for another purpose, even to bestow rewards on those who trust in Him, and wait for His coming. Then we are left to consider what sort of a coming it must be which distributes rewards to His faithful ones, whose life-stories get completed at all sorts of times through all the Christian ages. It sets us upon serious thought how it is that the martyrs of the first age can be made to wait for their reward until Christ shall come again, in some material way, in some wondrous day that is yet to dawn. And it is puzzling to think how a bodily appearance of Christ, with temporal rewards, can possibly meet the needs of redeemed souls who have, for long ages, been in the spiritual world as spiritual beings. It is evident that our apprehensions of the second coming of Christ need to be reconsidered, and need to be spiritualised. There can be no doubt that the early Christian disciples and Christian teachers anticipated the bodily reappearance of Christ in their time. If they were right in that anticipation, then Jesus did come to earth again in bodily form before the last of His apostles died. But we have to face the fact, that He did not come again in any bodily form in those times, and He has never come in such form at any time since then. What can we do in face of this fact, but say that the disciples must have misunderstood His promise, and translated literally what He meant to be taken spiritually. “The words which I speak unto you are spirit and are life.” Christ does come again, and come with rewards. But He belongs to the spiritual world; His rewards are spiritual rewards; He gives them to spiritual men when they are free from the entanglements of the human body. He appears again to the soul in the moments of its freedom—appears for perfecting its salvation.