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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 4

Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and RevelationSeiss' Lectures

Verses 1-35

; Leviticus 5:1-19; Leviticus 6:1-7

Fifth Lecture.
The Sin and Trespass-Offerings

Leviticus 4:1-35; Leviticus 5:1-19; Leviticus 6:1-7

The Christian in this life still subject to Sins of Infirmity—These lingering defects are real sins—Their guilt graded by the Bank of the Offender—The remedy for them—Sundry lessons.

It has been very correctly observed, that, in doctrinal substance, the first three chapters of this book closely resemble the first chapter of first John. They portray the universal sinfulness of mankind, and point to the only remedy for sin, and set forth that "eternal life" which was manifested in Christ Jesus, and declare unto us the way of peace, "that our joy might be full."

But not less do the chapters now before us resemble the second chapter of that epistle. If the first three were meant to show the way up to communion with God, and to the fulness of joy in Christ Jesus, the succeeding three were written "that we sin not, because our sins are forgiven us for his sake." If the former present the sinner justified, sanctified, and happy in believing; these now, with equal beauty and clearness, exhibit him in what appertains to a life thus consecrated to the Lord. And as we have seen the offender in humble confession and penitence laying his hand upon the head of the atoning Lamb, and thereby obtaining release from his past sins; then gratefully offering himself a living sacrifice in return for his deliverance; then joining with the pure in a rich feast upon the provisions of redeeming love; we now are called upon to contemplate him in connection with those weaknesses and infirmities which still cling to him even in his justified and consecrated estate.

With all the blessed experiences which have thus far come under review, man is still a dweller in the flesh, surrounded by a perverse and vexatious world. Though pardon has been obtained, and sin is dethroned in his heart, he has not yet clean escaped from all its relics, influences, and effects. A soul in the first raptures of reconciliation, and filled with the enthusiasm of a new-born zeal, is prone to think that now the victory is complete. It is so full of God’s glory and the Savior’s love, that it can see no lack, and no possibility of coming down again to sin. It sometimes occurs in Christian experience, that God brings us so near to him, and into such heavenliness of fellowship with himself and his Son, that we feel ourselves quite beyond all the power of evil or temptation, and incapable of those bad affections which have so often sullied our peace. When the ancient Hebrews had gotten safely out of the and of their oppression; when they saw the strength and pride of their haughty pursuers overwhelmed in the sea; when the living thought first came thrilling through them, that now they were free; it woke up their joyous exultations. "Then sang Moses and the children of Israel, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea." It was all right. The occasion called for it. But their troubles were not all over yet. Some that now overflowed with gladness, would very soon murmur in bitter complaint. Pharoah and his hosts were gone; but Amalek remained. The hard masters of Egypt were gone; but a Korah, Dathan, and Abirim, were among themselves. The tasks of the brick-yards had been left behind, but the guile and treachery of Balak were before. They had been triumphantly delivered; but as yet they were by no means near or settled in their final rest. And so with the man rejoicing in his first experiences of the redeeming grace of God. He may feel as if heaven itself had come down to him, or as if no powers of death or hell could ever shake his faith, or cast a suspicion on his love; but he is nothing but a poor frail erring child with all. To his burnt-offering for past guilt, and his meat-offering of personal consecration, and his peace-offering of communion with God, he must yet add his sin-offering for failings through ignorance, and his trespass-offering for his defections in charity.

I. There are, then, some lingering defilements and trespasses adhering to man, even though he be justified, consecrated, and in fellowship with God. This is the first point of doctrine which I gather from the chapters now before us. The most firm and conscientious Christian has roots of evil still remaining in him, though there may be times and seasons when their existence is neither felt nor suspected. By the converting grace of God, and the renewing power, of the Spirit, the dominion of sin is broken in every believer’s soul, and its tyrannous sway completely overthrown, and now and then may seem entirely dead. He may be so much under the influence of faith, and so absorbed with things divine and eternal, as not to feel or know that there is a treacherous rebel in his heart. He may be so fully taken up now with God, and his love in Christ, as to be quite beyond all temptation to transgress. But there never yet was "a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, but Satan came also among them;" nor a mere man so holy, but when he would do good evil was present with him. Let him be a Moses in the mount, with his face radiant from divine communings, and joyfully pressing the tables of the law to his bosom; when he comes down to the camp, he shall find strange feelings stirring in his heart, and a chance if that law is not dropped and broken before he has had time to think. Let him be that man of Uz, who, in the sunny days of his prosperity, "was perfect and upright, and one that feared God and eschewed evil;" the dark night of his trial shall move him to curse the day of his birth, and he shall yet have reason to abhor himself, and repent in dust and ashes. Let him be that rapt apostle caught up into the midst of heaven; no sooner shall he touch the earth again, but a vexatious thorn is in his flesh, and sharp contentions with brethren spring up to mar the picture of a perfect love, and Paul himself is left to lament that he had not yet attained—that he is not yet perfect. With all his efforts, prayers, and joys, the best Christian is still very faulty.

Many estimable Christians hold a different doctrine; and I would be glad to agree with them if I could. But having listened often to their conversations, and read their books, I have found nothing in them, or in their arguments, to convince me in their favor. They are honest, no doubt, but they are mistaken. God’s commandment is exceeding broad and holy. It is the only rule which the angels know, or by which seraphs are so excellent and good. And to suppose that law completely fulfilled in the heart or life of any mortal, seems to me a great degradation of it, and a putting of the goodness of earth on an equality with the goodness of heaven. Christ has taught us to pray daily, "forgive us our trespasses;" but why continue praying for forgiveness if we have not continual trespasses to be forgiven? I know and preach that "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin." That is a precious truth to me. But did he not continue a priest for ever, daily presenting his atoning blood anew in our behalf, we should most certainly come into condemnation. It is only because "he continueth ever," that he is "able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." If he did not ever live to make intercession for us, we could not stand for a single day. The reason that we have a character for innocence before God, is, that our "sins are not imputed to us." Christ’s blood comes in between them and the law, and by virtue of that blood we are held as innocent. But were it not for that blood availing afresh for us every day, we certainly should be very obnoxious to condemnation, and could not be saved. And the fact that Christ continues in heaven ever offering and pleading his atoning blood in our behalf—ever interceding for us—is proof that we continually need the application of his cleansing blood, and are not perfectly sinless. If we were not continual sinners, we would not need this perpetual atonement.

I know, too, that "whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, and cannot sin, because he is born of God." But it is the intention, the motive, the principle, of the man, that is here in contemplation, and not the actual perfection of the life. He has in him the seed of holiness. He has been recovered by grace to the dominion of virtue. He has put off the old man with his deeds. All his aims, purposes and desires are directed to obedience and purity. He has been renewed in the spirit of his mind. He has become deadened to sin, so that he cannot live any longer therein. It is contrary to his whole feeling, wish, and calling. He can no longer consent to it for a moment. His new experiences have made him its perpetual foe. And in this sense it is impossible for a Christian to sin. The whole bent of his renewed nature is antagonistic to all known wrong. If it is not so, he is not born of God. But this does not prove, that, contrary to his purpose and efforts, no imperfections shall ever occur in his life, or no defects attach to his endeavors. A man may run from a gathering storm, and be terribly shocked at the idea of being caught in it, and exert all his wisdom and his power to escape it, and yet may be made to feel its force; and though a good man’s whole being is averse to sin, and he can have no more fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, it can argue nothing against a remaining weakness subjecting him every day to lacks and failings which would undo him but for the pleadings of his Savior’s blood. Though his face and heart are fully turned away from sin, it proves nothing against his liability to be "overtaken by a fault." Nay, this same apostle, in this same Epistle, says, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Yea, "what is man that he should be clean? or he that is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?" Let men speculate as they please, when we come to inspect earthly goodness in the light of heaven, we shall find ourselves just where the apostle places us when he says, "In many things we all offend."

II. And these lingering imperfections and defects are real sins. This is the second point of doctrine which I deduce from these chapters. People are prone to think that an offence committed unintentionally or unawares, cannot incur the charge of guilt. Men do not scruple to plead their ignorance, their infirmities, their natural and habitual propensities, in excuse for their misdeeds. But the law of God acknowledges no such plea. "If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments," he must bring his sin-offering, and atone for his sin by blood, the same as for those old wilful transgressions in which he once lived. If a man becomes contaminated, even though it should be through accident, or commits any of those things which are forbidden, even "though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity;" and can only be cleansed and delivered by atoning blood. So saith the Lord, and no man can annul it.

There is a school of moralists, who make a difference between sins. They tell us that while some are mortal, and carry after them the certain judgment of God, others are only venial—mere imperfections, to which no serious guilt attaches. But, I find no such distinctions in the word of God. Sin is sin; and guilt is a part of its essential nature wherever found. True, in their effects upon the perpetrator, or in their influences upon society, some are worse than others; but in their relations to God and his holy law, they are always the same, always evil, abhorrent, and damning. Men may talk of "little sins;" but God never does. Let them be never so little, they are big enough to sink the soul to ever lasting death, if uncancelled by the Savior’s blood. It is not in all respects as wicked to sin only in ignorance and infirmity, as to sin knowingly, intentionally, and presumptuously; but to sin in any way, needs to be atoned for by the shedding of blood. All sin therefore is intrinsically mortal. And there is not a Christian on earth, however eminent, who does not, every day he lives, accumulate guilt enough to ruin him for ever, were it not that he has "an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."

All this is very forcibly portrayed in the rites of the sin and trespass-offerings now under consideration. As to sins of ignorance, if the guilty party were a priest, he was to offer "a young bullock;" if a judge or magistrate, he was to offer "a kid of the goats," of the male kind; if one of "the common people," he was to offer "a kid of the goats," of the female kind, or a lamb. And so in the case of trespass, the guilty one was to offer "a lamb or kid;" or, if poor, two doves or young pigeons; or, if poor, and unable to procure the doves or pigeons, an offering of fine flour might be substituted as the representative of the animal or bird which could not be procured, but was to be looked upon, not as a meat-offering, but as a "sin-offering," the same as if it were a living animal. These offerings were then to be slain and burned, and their blood presented as the only adequate expiation. And from the nature of the expiation we are to learn God’s estimate of the offence. Though committed in ignorance, or no more than a trespass, or an accidental contamination, it required blood and sacrifice to cover it.

Now, I can easily conceive how the taste of some may he offended with these continual displays of blood, blood, blood. And there are men of a skeptical turn of mind who rail out against all this ceremonial slaughter and burning, as unworthy of God and repulsive to man. They are terribly shocked at it, and cast away from them the book that prescribes it, and the God who could sanction it. But, how is it, that these same men are such enthusiastic admirers of the polished taste and refined attainments of the Greeks and Romans of other days? How is it, that they can dwell with so much complacency and approbation upon the philosophies and religions of ancient heathendom? They had similar sacrifice? and like bloody rites, yet with vastly more barbarous concomitants and offensive ceremonies. This appears in every chapter of their history, and on almost every page of their poetry. People can tolerate, and admire, and gather instruction from this; but as soon as the hand and authority of God are manifested in such bloody ordinances, then they are disgusted, and the thing becomes intolerable. Of this one thing, be assured, that it is not so much the rites themselves with which such people are offended, as God in those rites. "The carnal mind is enmity against God," and wherever he shows his holy authority, there is an immediate revulsion of that carnal mind, and it draws back, and reviles, and blasphemes. Let the heart be right, and God’s appointments will be right, beautiful, impressive, and good. It is in man that the fault lies, and not in God, or in the appointments of God. Though there be a constant recurrence of blood, it is full of mighty significance. It tells of guilt, and of death and ruin merited by that guilt. It tells of our condemnation, and of the way in which that condemnation is removed in Christ Jesus. It shows us the awful penalty which we have incurred, and how our Savior undertook to bear it in his own body on the tree. And when we see Jehovah annexing these bloody expiations to sins of ignorance, accidental contaminations, and trespasses against the law of charity, we are to see and know that these are really sins from which we never could be saved, were it not for the ever efficacious blood of that Lamb of God who was slain for us.

III. There is also a noticeable gradation in these sins of ignorance. Though they are all sins, so that blood only can atone for them, they are yet more serious and offensive in some persons than in others. When a priest or ruler sinned in this way, a more valuable sacrifice was required than when one of the common people thus sinned. The more prominent and exalted the person offending, the more flagrant was the offence.

There is a very serious augmentation of responsibility going along with high station. A public man is like a town clock; upon which much more depends than upon private time-pieces. When a man’s watch gets wrong, it is only he that is misled; but when the great public clock gets out of the way, multitudes are deceived, and a whole community is led astray or thrown into confusion. Hence the necessity for greater care and attention with reference to the one than to the other. Every official personage is responsible beyond a common individual, for the reason, and to the extent, that his office or station represents others beside himself. A parent is responsible beyond a child, because he acts for, influences, and represents the child. A minister is responsible beyond one of his congregation, because he in a measure acts for, influences, and represents those who attend upon his ministrations. A judge or ruler is responsible beyond the ordinary subject, because he acts for, influences, and represents those who are under his jurisdiction and legislation. And among the Jews, the priest was the most responsible of all, because he was the most exalted man of the whole people, acting for, influencing, and representing them to a greater extent, and in more important matters, than any other official of the nation. An error in him, was the same as an error of the whole nation, for he represented the whole nation; and so his fault could only be atoned for by a sacrifice which was required in case of the whole nation’s sin.

A sin in a public man is a sin to the sinning of others; and it is peculiarly aggravated, first, because it is presumed that he understands his office and knows its duties, before entering upon it; and, second, because it is a precedent and pattern which will be copied by others, and be thought right because it has the sanction of greatness. A public character is like the "copy" set by a schoolmaster at the head of the page, which feebler hands will imitate to every letter, and curve, and line, and dot; and if the copy is wrong, of course all the imitations are wrong, and that by reason of the mistake of him who set the copy. The master is thus accountable for the error of the pupil, the parent for the child, the preacher for the church member, the ruler for the subject, the priest for the people. And a sin in high life is a greater offence than the same sort of sin in the humbler walks. It is more mischievous in its effects, it is committed under more solemn responsibilities, and it requires a heavier atonement.

Some people are very feverish and ambitious for place. They wish to be conspicuous, influential, and prominent. They covet office. They long for power. They will do almost anything for an exalted position. But they seldom sufficiently consider the increased responsibilities involved in the fulfilment of their desires. It is the mere flare and glitter of station by which they are captivated, without laying to heart the additional jeopardy which it imposes. And there are some who seem to consider office a full license for them to do just as they please. They forget with what a jealous eye God looks upon those invested with public influence and trust. A misstep in them is no common offence in his sight. Abuse of power, is with him the worst of all abuses—a sin more aggravated than ordinary sins. What in other men might be considered trivial, in them is held to a most rigid accountability. Let public men consider this, and tremble when they lay hold of the helm of power. Office is a solemn and awful thing. It is a momentous trust. It is a fearful charge. And it is to be entered into reverently, discreetly, and in the fear of God. Over its portals are written this inscription, in letters of flame: Let him who enters here beware, for a jealous God is within. And if any would enter upon office, let him read that inscription, and tread softly, lest it should prove to him the gateway of death and perdition.

IV. But whilst we are treating of these defects and failings which are to be found in Christian life, let us not overlook the principal point of the text, that there is an adequate remedy for them.

I once heard of a man, a bishop I believe, who gave it as his objection to the protestant religion, that it made no provision for sins after baptism; and with this as one of his principal grounds, he became a pervert to Romanism. Deluded man! How had Satan blinded his eyes to the truth! We have a remedy for sins after baptism, the same as for sins before baptism. We have a great atoning sacrifice, provided of God, to which we may ever betake ourselves in penitence, and find a full salvation. For so it is written—"If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." When the cleansed and consecrated Jew sinned through ignorance after his consecration; or through accident, inadvertance, or infirmity, became contaminated after his cleansing; there was a plain way for him to get back again to his former purity; and that way was essentially the same as the way by which he secured forgiveness at the first. He had to return to the same bloody sacrifice which he had offered in the first instance. The chief of the herd or of the flock had to die and burn, and have its blood put upon the horns of the altar. Its fat, and its kidneys, and the caul of its liver, had to be laid upon the fire; and every remaining part had to be carried forth without the camp unto a clean place, and consumed there in the place of ashes What did all this mean? "The blood of bulls and of goats could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;" wherefore, then, were they required to be thus slain? The apostle has given the explanation. "It was a figure for the time then present"—"a shadow of good things to come." It pointed to a holier sanctification "with better sacrifices than these." It was God’s own prefiguration of the way of forgiveness in Christ. For just as "the bodies of those beasts are burned without the camp, Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate." Away from the holy place, driven from the mercy-seat, beyond the bounds of the holy city, on Calvary’s hill, outcast and forsaken, the criminal’s veil hung over him for three hours of darkness, a spectacle to all that passed by, his face more marred than the face of any man, the fires kindled around our holy Lamb, and flashed through him, and drank up all his substance, and left him a mere pile of ashes in Joseph’s tomb in "the place of ashes"—the ashes of the dead. "Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp," says the apostle. Let us contemplate him in those tragic scenes. Let us view him in those awful fires as suffering for us. Let us penitently stretch forth the hand of faith, and lay it on his devoted head. Let us behold in those mysterious transactions the payment of our debts, and the meeting of our penalties. This is enough. If we have sinned, this secures our forgiveness. If we have offended, this cancels all the guilt. If we are defiled, this purifies us, and makes us clean. If we are deficient and unworthy, this covers whatever may be lacking. Here we have pardon, not only for this once, to cancel the past debt, and then leave us to manage the future as best we can; but daily, hourly, continual pardon—a pardon that ever flows without interruption or exhaustion—a pardon that is ever fresh and ever availing, as often as the sin-burdened soul will sue for it, and cast itself anew upon its Savior.

"No provision for sins after baptism!" How ridiculous! How false! How little must he know of the resources of those who take the Bible for their guide, who can give to such a thought one moment’s entertainment! What! are we to be told that Christ’s infinite atonement is that shallow thing, that the first draw of the sinner upon it quite exhausts its virtue, and leaves all subsequent sins to be disposed of by the wicked farce of the confessional, the fires of purgatory, and the mumbled prayers of man-made priests? Are we to be told that Christ "ever liveth to make intercession," and for this reason "is able to save unto the uttermost," and yet that there is not virtue enough in his mediation to cover a few sins of ignorance and infirmity in Christian life? Are we to behold the priest of a typical economy, with the mere blood of beasts upon his fingers, obtaining a full remission for the Jew, and yet believe that our great High-priest in heaven, bearing the scars of deadly wounds endured for us, is unable to secure mercy for those struggling saints of God, who, in hours of surprise or weakness become entangled again in guilt, of which they heartily repented the moment it was done? O, foolish bishop, how earnest thou to forget, that "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin?" Give us this, and we want no pontifical absolutions, no penal inflictions, no purgatorial fires, to make us acceptable to God. Let us but know that Jesus has entered heaven as our surety and advocate, to appear for us, and to plead our cause there, and it is enough to satisfy as for ever.

Five bleeding wounds he bears,

Received on Calvary;

They pour effectual prayers,

They strongly speak for me;

Forgive him, O forgive, they cry,

Nor let that ransomed sinner die.

The Father hears him pray,

His dear anointed One;

He cannot turn away,

Cannot refuse his Son;

His Spirit answers to the blood,

And tells us we are born of God.

From this general subject we are now led to reflect:—First, what a holy thing is God’s law! It finds guilt, not only in the sins which are deliberate, known, and presumptuous; but even in the mistakes of ignorance, the contaminations of accident, and the short-comings of the holiest saints. Where out dull reason would not at all suspect anything criminal, it detects and marks iniquity, for which the death of Jesus alone can atone. Yet, this law is but a transcript of God himself. How awful then is his holiness! How terrible is his jealousy of sin! Who are the prayerless and the wicked, that they should stand in his sight, when even the failings that cleave to his best saints are so offensive to him as only to be purged by blood! We may think lightly of sin, and sometimes esteem it sweet; but not so does it look in the wounds and agonies of Jesus. It has an ugliness, even in its lightest forms, which shows unto heaven, and wakens indignation in the very heart of God. He cannot look upon it with the least degree of allowance. Well may the seraphs sing, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts!"

Second, what reason have we to cultivate the modest virtues of Christian life—to be moderate in our pretensions, humble in our spirit, charitable in our censures, forgiving under injuries, lenient towards offenders, pungent in our self-examinations, hearty in our repentance, watchful in our walk, constant in our prayers, and deeply anxious to be firmly rooted and grounded in the true faith? I care not how good we may be, we are still great offenders, and much worse than we think we are. Every time we search and weigh ourselves, we ascertain new deficiencies, and sins come to light where we had not supposed them to exist. And if we could just see ourselves as God sees us, and estimate our goodness just as it stands in the. eye of his pure law, we should behold a spectacle which would sicken us perhaps to death. Every day but adds new vileness to us, which calls for new forgiveness.

Finally, how precious is the mercy of God in Christ Jesus! We sin every day. "We do nothing well. If we pray, it is with cold and wandering thoughts; if we hear, it is with distracted and forgetful minds; we are continually surprised, continually overtaken, continually turned aside by the current of temptation, that runs so strong against us, when perhaps we cannot convict ourselves of one indulged or deliberate sin." And even at the best, our righteousness is nothing, and our imperfections very great. But we are not without recourse. If we daily and hourly sin, there is provided a daily and hourly forgiveness. Our sacrifice has been slam. Our Priest is ever in the temple holding up the blood that was shed for us. "We have an Advocate with the Father," whose intercessions never cease. Our Lamb is ever before God. Those dying agonies of his can never fail to move Jehovah’s pity. And if we have unwittingly or inadvertently offended, we have only to recur to his offering on Calvary, and his sufferings without the gate, and vengeance is stayed, forgiveness is complete, and we are still the children and heirs of God. O, precious, precious mercy that we poor sinners have in Jesus! We need only come in sight of the cross, and the load is removed. If we only look upon the face of that meek sufferer, as our Lord, our sins, however great or many, are remembered against us no more. Hither, then, let us ever come, and kneel, and look, and pray, and trust. In the shadow of the cross let us build our tabernacle, and say, "Here will I dwell."

Here I’ll sit—forever viewing,

Mercy streaming in his blood:

Precious drops, my soul bedewing,

Plead and claim my peace with God.

Bibliographical Information
Seiss, Joseph A. "Commentary on Leviticus 4". Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sei/leviticus-4.html.
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