Propitiation

 •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 9
That God could pass over sins, the Old Testament teaches us, and the saints of those days abundantly proved it. That He is righteous in doing so, the New Testament shows us (Rom. 3:2121But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; (Romans 3:21)-26); for the blood, sprinkled once on the mercy-seat, vindicates His holiness and His righteousness, and enables Him consistently with all that He is to act in mercy and forgiveness to those on whose behalf it has been put, as it were, under His eye, and on the place of His throne. Hence there are two questions which have to be settled ere the sinner's conscience can be at rest in the presence of God. Can he be forgiven? And on what ground can a holy God exercise His prerogative of mercy and forgiveness? That the offender could be forgiven, if the case admitted of a sin-offering or trespass-offering being brought to God's altar, we have already seen. Now we would consider why, according to the teaching of the divine Word, God could righteously forgive; for nothing short of God's righteousness being manifested in forgiving our sins can really set us at rest before Him. Of old the sinner had a witness of it as he brought his sacrifice to God's altar. (Rom. 3:2121But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; (Romans 3:21)) Now that righteousness is fully manifested, "even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all, and upon all them that believe." But this leads us on to the consideration of what is called propitiation-a term not met with in the Old Testament, but one with which we are made familiar by the writings of the New Testament. (Heb. 2:1717Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17); 1 John 2:2; 4:102And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
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Now we are not to understand by this that God needed to be propitiated by the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, in order to reconcile Him to us. We, not God, needed the reconciliation (Rom. 5:10,1110For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. 11And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans 5:10‑11); Col. 1:21,2221And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: (Colossians 1:21‑22)); and the presence on earth, and the death of the Lord Jesus Christ are a sufficient refutation of such a doctrine. The incarnation, and the atoning death of Christ, both give the lie to it. He came, given by God (John 3:1616For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)), and sent by the Father. (1 John 4:1414And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. (1 John 4:14)) It was God, rich in mercy, who for the great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, quickened us with Christ. (Eph. 2:4,54But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) (Ephesians 2:4‑5)) Of us we read that we are reconciled to Him by the death of His Son. God, too, commended His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:88But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)) So wrote Paul, concerning himself, and those who with him shared in the salvation of God. To speak then of propitiating God by sacrifice would be to belie the teaching of revelation, and to deny what He is whom we know as our God. Such a thought would do for a heathen, but not for Christians; and the fact that the heathen have such notions only indicates how utterly man, by the fall and its results, is astray as to all true knowledge of the character and nature of the Divine Being.
But if He needs not to be propitiated, and can pass over sins, and forgive them, does He think lightly of them? The death of His Son on the cross, and His being there forsaken of God, when made sin for us, sufficiently shows what is God's abhorrence of sin, whilst the giving up His Son to die for sinners, proves, as nothing else can, the greatness of His love to them. To be propitiated on their behalf He never needed; yet propitiation was requisite, for He can only act in grace consistently with all that He is. And propitiation by blood is the only thing that could meet the case; for blood is the life of the flesh, and by it atonement, of which propitiation forms one element, is made for sins. Propitiation, therefore, had to be made, though God needed not to be propitiated. The ground had to be laid, on which God would be righteous in accepting a guilty person before Him. For when one thinks of propitiation, we think of that which has to do with God's nature, and God's throne. It is not the meeting of the sinner's need, though that results from it, but the providing that God should be able to act in grace to the sinner, without compromise of anything that He is, that is meant by propitiation. Hence the making it was an act God-ward, not man-ward, and one done in the sanctuary, when the high priest was alone with God. And intimately concerned as Israel were with all that was done on the day of atonement, the first work in the sanctuary had relation to the claims of God's holiness, and not to the need of the sinner. By whom propitiation really has been made, and the abiding value of it, the New Testament teaches us; but in the Old we have traced out for us in type how it was made. To this we would now turn.
There is an order in God's book, and He gives His revelations when and how He pleases, though He does not give a syllabus of the contents of any book, but leaves us to gather that from a study of its pages. So in Leviticus we are first taught the way of approach to God, which is by the death of His Son, and the institution of priesthood and of a high priest who represents the people before the Lord. After that, we learn principles of walk, which should characterize those who are redeemed, typically treated of in the regulations about clean and unclean animals in chap. 11. Then come regulations about defilements, and the rites for purification from them. Then at length we have the revelation about the day of atonement, teaching how sins can be dealt with before God, and uncleannesses likewise. (Chapter 16:16) Thus the deeper question, and really the prior one, being the foundation of all that preceded it, is taken up last in order in the book. For God in His goodness to His people shadowed forth the way of approach to Him, and the provisions for those who had sinned or were defiled, ere He set forth on what grounds alone He could be righteous in having them before Him. The whole subject, for it is a great one, is taken up therefore in order, first what man needed, and then what enables God to meet that need. To this last we now come, as far as treated of in the Old Testament in the rites appointed for the day of atonement, in which we have set forth how propitiation is made, and in a clear way too what substitution really is. To the former of these we must for the present confine ourselves.
In previous revelations in this book we have met with, as occasion called for it, the Lord's gracious announcement, " It shall be forgiven him " (Lev. 4:5, 65And the priest that is anointed shall take of the bullock's blood, and bring it to the tabernacle of the congregation: 6And the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle of the blood seven times before the Lord, before the vail of the sanctuary. (Leviticus 4:5‑6)), or " He shall be clean " (12. 14. 15), according as the matter had reference to sin or to defilement. In Lev. 16, we have no such assuring utterances; for we are to learn rather how God's nature is cared for, and all that He is vindicated and satisfied through propitiation by blood.
Death then must take place for propitiation to be made, and a high priest is needed to deal with the blood when taken into the holiest of all. Hence the sinner is wholly cast on the service of another to procure for him a standing before the throne of God, though such service could have no place unless death had previously taken place. Obedience therefore on his part, or devotedness of the highest order, could never procure for him that which as a sinner he needed. Self in no form, under no name or guise, can be of any avail when it is a question of making propitiation. The distance between God and the sinner can never be bridged over, and approach to the throne be permitted to the offender without condign punishment overtaking him, unless another, the high priest accepted by God, has accomplished what he alone can effect inside the veil. We need therefore the ministrations of another-a priest to care for God's holiness, and make good a standing for us in righteousness before the throne. And as none but the high priest can do that-the high priest, too, of God's appointment (Heb 5: 4) -those only who are willing to be indebted to the ministrations of the Lord Jesus Christ, the great High Priest, can share in the propitiation made by Him.
But it is propitiation by blood, His blood; for He and He alone is the sin-offering, God's lamb, whose sacrifice God can accept, and, we can add, has accepted. No standing then could there be for any of us before the throne unless the sacrifice for sin had been slain; no standing, too, could there be for any of us unless the blood had been, as the type teaches us, taken within the veil. Those who reject the sacrifice of Christ have no sin-offering on the ground of which they can come to God, and no propitiation can there be made by virtue of which they will be able to stand in the divine presence. Obedience, repentance, devotedness, supplication, none of these can vindicate the claims of God's holiness; none of these can justify Him in freely and fully forgiving the sinner. Now this side of truth is very much forgotten. Man thinks of his sins, and the consequences to himself, and wants those consequences averted; but he forgets, unless divinely taught, that God's nature has to be cared for, and His righteousness in acting in grace made good through propitiation by blood.
A high priest was requisite for this, and the Lord instructed Moses about it. In garments of white, indicative of the spotless purity of the Lord Jesus Christ, Aaron went into the holiest once every year with the blood of others; i.e. of bulls and of goats, the type, but in this falling short (and. how short!) of the antitype, who, pure Himself, entered in by His own blood. (Heb. 9:1212Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. (Hebrews 9:12)) Not in virtue of His blood, as if He had no right of entry otherwise; but what characterized Him was entrance by His own blood, as that which characterized Aaron was entering in by the blood of others. (Heb. 9:2525Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; (Hebrews 9:25)) Inside the veil, with the cloud of incense rising up between Aaron and the mercy-seat, on which the cloud of glory rested, and in which cloud the Lord appeared (Lev. 16:22And the Lord said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat. (Leviticus 16:2)), the high priest prepared to do his work, death having already taken place. Now that work was speedily done; but how effective was it when done! No prayer was uttered that we read of; no invocation was needed, when the high priest sprinkled of the blood on the mercy-seat and before it. The service was a silent service. All Aaron's eloquence, all his entreaties, could not have added one iota to the merits of the blood; nor could Aaron have understood what was its value and preciousness to Jehovah. Prayer then was not called for; no need was there for one single word to be spoken; for the blood had a voice for God, which He well knew, and could listen to. Aaron therefore first sprinkled of it on the mercy-seat, and then seven times before it. With that his work within the veil was done.
Once was it sprinkled on the mercy-seat, and that was the first act of the high priest. He put it on the throne of God, and where the cherubim, the supporters of His throne, looking down as they did to the mercy-seat, could see it, and gaze on it; and he left it there. This was enough for God. The moment, as it were, that He saw it, the action of the throne, which must otherwise have been going out righteously in judgment, was stayed; and those on whose behalf the blood was brought in, would not be dealt with in judgment as they deserved. The blood of the sin-offering thus put on the mercy-seat, was never wiped off; it remained throughout the year ever before God. Then sprinkled seven times before the mercy-seat, the sinner's perfect standing before the throne was assured to him. All this time the people were without; they could not enter the holiest. The high priest alone could, and he did the work there all alone. He did it, and came out; for he was only a type of Him who remains within the holiest, having found eternal redemption. (Heb. 9:1212Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. (Hebrews 9:12)) The Lord abiding within the heavenly sanctuary assures us of this.
This work was never repeated, as long as the time lasted for which it was made. As typical of the true work of propitiation it was done every year; but its value the last day of that year was just as great as on the first. Now it has been done once for all by the great High Priest, who entered in once into the holy place, having found eternal redemption. Thus God is perfectly glorified, and able righteously to act in grace towards the greatest of sinners. The blood on the mercy-seat bears witness to this. A perfect standing too before the throne is secured for all who believe on the Lord, by His blood, sprinkled, as it were, seven times before it.
C. E. S.
(To be continued)