The Day of Atonement: Leviticus 16

Leviticus 16  •  48 min. read  •  grade level: 7
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It is of some importance to see, and I therefore remark it at the starting-point, that atonement differs sensibly from redemption. In the book of Exodus stands the great type of redemption, and in Leviticus of atonement; the truth in both centers in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament redemption was the deliverance of Israel from Pharaoh and Egypt. In His mercy God interposed to set free the people from the house of bondage, and as the passover set forth its righteous ground in the blood of the lamb, so was there the figure of Christ's death and resurrection in the passage of the Red Sea, or rather of death with Christ, and hence of faith living to God. But this is not so much what is taught in the book of Leviticus, as a sacrifice for sin perfectly glorifying God within the holiest, and a testimony to the people without that their sins were confessed and borne away to be remembered by Him no more.
On one day alone every year in Israel there was a sacrificial work done which had for its object to fit the people and the priests for their respective measures of nearness to God. It was now a question, not of enemies, nor even of Israel's being delivered, but of conciliating with God's holiness and righteousness a people guilty and defiled. Could He own in living relationship a people with sins and transgressions upon them? Were they by these defilements to be utterly incapacitated in the person of the high priest from coming into or standing in the presence of God?
Atonement met their need and His glory; for therein God proposed for that very people while in the wilderness—the place where uncleanness abounds and men are always exposed to it—to provide a way worthy of Himself and suited to them whereby their representative might approach Him. He proposed Himself to give them a ground of access to His sanctuary, and this in such a way that there should be no lowering of His character on the one hand, and on the other no denial of their uncleanness, but both known far better and more deeply felt than before. There was such a laying bare before God of their evils on that great day as was never witnessed on any other of the year. But the same institution which exposed did also cover them, at the same time judging and canceling their guilt, and this, one may add, by the most unsparing dealing on God's part and the most solemn confession on man's. Nevertheless that judgment fell not on the guilty but on a God-appointed sacrifice. This is the truth with which the chapter opens. Here of course it is but a figure; but the figure of a most blessed and efficacious reality, of the utmost interest to us to whom God has now revealed its fullness in the death of Christ. For this very figure of atonement in Israel the Spirit of God takes up in the New Testament to show, not merely that we have an atoning sacrifice no less than they, but that theirs was but a feeble shadow and not the very image, of what grace has given us now in the one offering of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Heb. 9; 10)
I shall pursue the chapter just as God's word has given it. He communicated it in such a way as to be not merely a most solemn rite for Israel, but also evermore for our instruction. Assuredly too it will be a profit to Israel, in the day when their eyes are opened to recognize in the crucified One the true Son of David, and they cast away every rag of beggarly elements that they may follow Him. This favor is reserved for them beyond all doubt; but in this very chapter, as is now somewhat known, we can read our distinctive portion as Christians, if not as the church, a foreshewn blessedness which they are not to taste even in that day. It is revealed so distinctly, and at the same time so simply, that any child of God, no matter how little instructed, should be able to discern it with his own eyes and feel it in his heart. The goodness of the Lord has thought of us now in this chapter, not merely of the people as they shall be restored by-and-by, but of those who are being called by grace while Israel are no people at all.
For I may assume that you are aware how for two thousand years and more the children of Israel have ceased to be the people of God; and you ought to know also (I am obliged to say this, for some may not know it) that they will yet be restored to that position. The scriptures that predict the sentence of Lo-Ammi (not-My-people) are equally explicit that the title they have lost is to be given back to them by God's grace. Hos. 1; 2 Not less distinct is the testimony of the New Testament in Rom. 11. Is God doing nothing meanwhile? Has He left an unoccupied blank between Israel's ceasing to be His people, and their final blessing and glory in their own land? I speak not merely of “the times of the Gentiles” which span the interval; but within these He has brought out, founded on accomplished redemption in Christ, the mystery hidden from ages, Christ given to be head over all things to the church which is His body. By the one Spirit sent down from heaven all that believe in Christ are now baptized into this one body. Thus, within the Gentile parenthesis of judgment on Israel, there is an inner one of heavenly blessing, through association with Christ at God's right hand. The typical intimation, to go no farther, of our chapter teaches this, not merely leaves room for better than Israel's place, but in a measure shows it fulfilled during the present period only, besides pointing to the future resumption of their title by the children of Israel.
In many ways, therefore, is the type of the atonement day instructive to all who can read it in the light of a dead, glorified, and returning Christ. What gave rise to the ordinance of atonement day in Lev. 16, was the death of the two sons of Aaron. They had presumptuously trifled with the presence of the Lord, and they perished. Aaron is now informed by Moses of the way in which he might safely, as the representative of the people, draw near the presence of God.
It is clear that in this we cannot regard Aaron as in analogy with our Lord Jesus. Types must be taken not merely as resemblances but as contrasts. It is of the nature of a type that it never rises to the fullness of the truth. No shadow could ever match the Savior. Hence we must remember that, although there are certain intimations of truth in all these types, yet (as the apostle shows us) they all fall short. What in the type was done once a year is accomplished in Christ's death, once and for over, as far as we are concerned. What was formally outwardly effected by the washing of water in the case of Aaron points to the purity of Christ's person of human nature in Him as well as divine. Christ was the Holy One at all times. There was no such thing as a process to fit the Lord Jesus for His work. He was a divine person and needed nothing from without. In Aaron's case there was a process of cleansing. It was only this that could give a feeble intimation of what was absolutely necessary in order to atonement, namely, One who is Himself spotless. Such was Christ, “Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.” He was not made holy, or harmless, or even separate from sinners; He was so. He was made higher than the heavens. This language views Him as a man, a servant, and a victim here, because of which He is now exalted. It is in connection with what He was made that His exaltation is spoken of. Where only His own divine glory is the subject, there is no word about exalting Christ; but if He goes down, then He can be lifted up; and He did first descend that He might ascend far above all heavens. His resurrection, &c., like His death are not of Himself alone, but for us. In His humiliation for God's glory and in His love He was laying a foundation for the blessing of others; in His ascension He was triumphing righteously for others too. He was made sin on the one hand, and on the other He is made Lord and Christ and far, far more. He was made flesh, He became man; but there was no sin in Him. Sin does not, as philosophers and heretics taught, necessarily belong to humanity. When God made Adam at first, there was no sin in him. Sin came in by listening to Satan, but Christ ever obeyed and ever abode the Holy One of God.
Atonement is for sin and for sin alone—no doubt in the first aspect of it for the glory of God, for sin was an outrage on God Himself here below, quite apart from anybody being forgiven or saved, and the Lord Jesus in this very chapter is shown, in type, dying as the primary truth that God might be glorified in respect of sin. Hence the blood was carried in and sprinkled in the holiest. But we must not overlook the necessary limitations of types, indeed there is no part of scripture where there is greater danger to those whom the apostle Peter calls “unlearned and unstable.” Men see enough to invite and exercise their thoughts; but Christ as fully revealed is the one safe-guard. Human intellect never can be trusted; and for this reason its natural and invariable tendency is to exalt man: the object of God's Spirit is to glorify Christ. We therefore need the Spirit of God to keep us right, otherwise we exalt ourselves instead of Him; and self-exaltation cannot but depreciate Christ.
Here then we find God laying down moans by which there should in future be no such thing, either as ignoring sin, or as involving judgment in drawing near to Him. It had been fatal, not merely to Israel, but even to Aaron's sons. How could a sinful man venture into the presence of God? The very priests had not completed their consecration before two of them died, and the other two were in danger of dying. So we learn in chapter x. Now God sets forth in type by what means guilty men, a people who own their uncleanness of all sorts, may nevertheless, in the person of their representative, draw near into the holiest of all. This is what comes before us in the type of atonement day. “Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place with a young bullock for a sin-offering” —that is the first thought— “and a ram for a burnt-offering.” There is no coming short of blessing, no incompleteness in the thoughts of God. He would not be content with merely meeting sin; He would give in type the sign and means of acceptance; not merely blot out the consequences of evil, but invest us with conscious favor in drawing near to Himself. How full of grace He is! How bent on the blessing of His people!
“He shall put on the holy linen coat.” In this we have the character needful for approaching God, what was displayed outwardly to the eye in Aaron. What did not man, what God, see in our Lord Jesus? “He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with a linen girdle, and with the linen miter shall he be attired; these are holy garments; therefore shall he wash his flesh in water, and so put them on.” A sinful man, Aaron needed thus to have all the consequences of sin removed, as far as that could be done figuratively; needed to have himself invested in a way fit for the holy presence of God. These were holy garments, not the garments of glory and beauty, but specially holy for this day and work.
The sixth verse shows another marked contrast between the type and the Antitype. Aaron has to bring a sin-offering “for himself;” but this were impossible where Christ is concerned. Needing no offering, He could be exclusively for others; He had neither defects nor wants of His own. His love therefore could be occupied with God and us, without thought of Himself. “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live” [not merely “by,” which is far short of the truth, but] “on account of the Father.” What a glorious picture of One who had not an object apart from His Father, nor a motive for anything that He did What was the effect of it? The most perfect outgoing of affection—holy and gracious affection—ready to respond to every call, a poor sinner, a leper, a paralytic, or a blind beggar of the city, or a babe in its mother's arms. He was here a divine person, as open for every cry of need, as able to meet it in the power of God. He lived on account of the Father. He came down for the purpose not to do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him; so that, whosoever came, He welcomed. If He had lived for Himself, He might have preferred this one to that. But no! If the Father brought any, this was enough; if the Father drew, He received: “him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out; for I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” There met love and holiness; among men but entirely set apart to God, and the effect was blessing flowing out around Him. He was, as scripture says, consumed by zeal for His Father's house. An insult to Himself He ever bore with perfect patience; but He could not tolerate any affront to His Father. He never scourged one who spoke against Himself. But when He saw what grieved His heart in His Father's house, He at once drives out what was a disgrace to God and destruction to men. Indeed the two things go together, whatever man may dream. And what will His God do in the day of retribution to those that despise Him?
We see then in the type that the high-priest offered his bullock for himself as a sin-offering, but in Christ, just because His offering was not needed for Himself, it could be perfectly for others. This contrast is warranted, not merely by the general truth of scripture as to the person of Christ, but by the direct and positive statement of the Holy Ghost in the epistle to the Hebrews. He contrasts the Lord Jesus with Aaron in this respect. It seems strange a Christian should need to be recalled to it now. But some have been drawn into license in their thoughts and language as to Christ, than which nothing is more dangerous.
In the beginning of Heb. 5 the apostle is not describing Christ but the Aaronic priesthood, with which he proceeds to contrast the Lord Jesus. Aaron was taken from among men, an infirm man himself, he could feel for others. But to apply such words to Christ is serious indeed. The Spirit really contrasts it with Him. Christ was the Son of God, as is elaborately proved in this chapter, in order to be priest (though no doubt He must also become a man); so that, instead of deriving His honor from the priesthood, He conferred the highest on it. Quite the reverse was Aaron's case, whose honor it was to be called of God to the priesthood.
The Lord Jesus was the Son of God who glorified not Himself to be made a high priest, but, called of God after the order of Melchisedec, gave priesthood an honor it never did nor could otherwise possess. There was found for the first time a priest, not only perfect according to God's mind and glory, but consequently of unfailing avail for man.
In verse 7 we have another offering, and an offering of a kindred character. Only in this case there is not one animal only, but two. “And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats, one lot for Jehovah, and the other for the scape-goat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which Jehovah's lot fell, and offer him for a sin-offering; but the goat on which the lot fell to be the scape-goat shall be presented alive before Jehovah, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scape-goat into the wilderness.” Here is a marked difference between the two goats which together constitute the sin-offering for the children of Israel. The difference is told out in the fact and name of the two lots. What can be plainer than Jehovah's lot, and the people's lot? The reason too is most important; yet, spite of this early teaching of the Spirit, it has been constantly forgotten.
For what do we find even among those who really preach most earnestly, and are, by the grace of God, blessed to souls? What is the character of their preaching? Is the first place given to God's glory? Do they start aright from Jehovah's lot—how Christ has glorified God? Not so. What they continually iterate and reiterate is what Christ is for man. Consequently there is the tendency to dwell most on the circumstances in Christ's work which move the feelings, which bring out the incomparable patience and grace of Christ towards man. They see and press sufferings from man and on behalf of man. It is quite otherwise in what the Holy Ghost shows us here. He begins with what was for God. The first lot was Jehovah's, not the people's. In evangelical preaching the one thought ordinarily is the people's lot. The value of Jehovah's lot as distinct from the people's is not known. Not but that they believe that God was needed, and had, as their divines commonly say, “satisfaction.” Is this denied? Surely not; but there was really a great deal more. What I would now point out, however, is that, in the teaching of the Holy Spirit, Jehovah's lot is put first, while in the common teaching even of beloved men of God it too often has no place at all.
I am not speaking of ritualists. We may pity their self-complacency, while on ground of extreme danger, groping with their tiny tapers, where God alone can give light as He has given it most fully in Christ and His word by the Spirit. I am speaking of such as are generally held up as the soundest preachers now and for hundreds of years. And I affirm as unquestionable, that Jehovah's lot has no such distinctive place in their preaching, as God's word laid down even in the law of Moses. The people's lot is all but exclusively dwelt on, and consequently the great point in the minds of these preachers of grace is the removal of the iniquity and transgressions and uncleanness of the people. But in the death of Christ there is incomparably more. He did bear our sins in His own body on the tree. This is most true and exactly what is conveyed by the people's lot. But what is taught by Jehovah's lot? There you will find a great and general defect in the gospel preached by those reputed to hold the doctrines of grace. And this goes far to explain why we so seldom hear of the “righteousness of God.” God's own glory in Christ's work with respect to sin is not understood. Hence, habitually the most learned of their theologians question what is meant by such expressions as “coming short of the glory of God.” The uncertainty of their maturest men even on these capital points, which every Christian should know clearly, is truly lamentable. Why is it so? Mainly because they slip over the truth that answers to Jehovah's lot—that side in Christ's work which secured in the first plane the glory of God.
Let us listen to the words of our Lord Jesus: “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.” Not a word about sinners, though no doubt this never could so have been, had there not been sin: but it is not the first thought. How was He glorified? By being seated on the throne in heaven? By being lifted up on the cross on earth. It was the moral glory of Him who restored what He took not away; who gave up everything that God might be vindicated; who not only surrendered all, but suffered to the uttermost, and this not in the first instance to save sinners but to glorify God about sin. True, He did save sinners; but the prime thought with Christ, as in all His life, so in His death, was Godward. You do not see the difference? It is really immense, and of all possible moment. During His life it was the Father that He was pleasing in all the affections and all the obedience of the Son. But then came the otherwise insoluble question: Would He endure the judgment of God? Would He not merely abandon everything, but be Himself abandoned of God and suffer that He might be glorified where He had been dishonored, in the place of sin? He had been glorified throughout the life of the only obedient One who ever walked this earth. But would He glorify Him by bearing that which was most hateful, not only to God, but to Himself the Holy One of God? The answer is, He gave Himself up for His glory, and so passed under, not merely death, but also divine judgment. In His case judgment came before death.1 And such is the meaning of that most wonderful scene, where all is wonderful, at the close of the life of our Lord Jesus. Wherefore was that strange, that infinite, abandonment of Himself? That God, in all His moral being, His truth, love, holiness, righteousness, and majesty, might be glorified.
There is another thing. “If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself.” The glorifying of the Lord Jesus at the right hand of God was the answer to the moral glory we find in His cross. “And shall straightway glorify him.” God did not wait for the restoration of His kingdom to Israel. He raised Him up and set Him at His own right hand, far above every name that is named. This was the answer to the cross, the only adequate answer to the Lord's giving Himself up to the judgment of God against sin. I say the judgment of sin, because therein the question is not yet raised as to who is to be saved. The matter in hand was God's glory in presence of sin. And so we find our Lord in John 10 saying, not that He was loved because He laid down His life for the sheep, but, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again.” None doubts the delight of the Father in His dying for the sheep, but apart from that work, for surely in the absolute laying down of His life, there was manifested perfect confidence in His Father as well as devotedness to His glory. He would lay it down and take it again; and on this account the Father loved Him. Surely this should—could—not be forgotten by our hearts if we love God and feel how He has been outraged by sin. To lay down His life because of the glory of God; to show the most absolute confidence in God and the moat complete surrender and self-sacrifice for God is of an essentially higher character than any application of His work to bear our sins and secure our pardon. Putting the people's lot first—that is, making what Christ suffered for us the principal or only thing—is not only unscriptural, but an essentially God-forgetting and selfish consideration. It is the outcome of that natural instinctive egoism which, even when we are awakened and in some degree instructed by the Spirit, is apt to rise so readily to the surface in us. How inveterately the heart turns to think, if not what we are to do, at any rate, how things affect ourselves in the first place! One easily understands it as being natural. Still it is incomparably more blessed to estimate God's side of Christ and His work confiding in Him about ourselves without question. If God proposes aught for our learning, it is well to weigh it; but if God gives, it is according to His own thoughts and heart, and this will always prove the best portion. Be remembers our every want as well as His glory; and this finds its fullest illustration in the death of Christ as scripture puts it.
We look then first at Jehovah's lot. The first goat was in respect of that which, having been compromised by sin, and had to be cleared. And if we look into the New Testament, we shall find that this has a marvelous effect which could not be shown in the Old. You are aware that there was no such thing as the going out of the message of grace to men during the period of God's special dealings with Israel. But when our Lord died on the cross, He died not merely for “that nation” (the old people of God), He tasted death for every man. I know there are many Christians who would narrow this if they could. How few are those who really believe there was such largeness of grace in God's mind. But it is vain to resist scripture. Our wisdom is to learn, and we cannot learn except by subjection to the word of God. We may understand it little at first; but the path of wisdom is to bow and accept even what we do not comprehend. We shall understand better as God sees to His glory who never forgets, and as we are fit for it.
In Rom. 3 we may see this truth in distinct reference to the very type before us. “God hath set forth Christ to be a propitiatory [or mercy-seat] through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God,” &c. I do not quote the A.V. in the word “propitiation,” as it is translated in our version, but have given you what I believe to be the truer idea, as it also stands in the Authorized Version of Heb. 9:66Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. (Hebrews 9:6). Here there is clearly a reference to the first goat in
Lev. 16; in the second there was no blood shed whatever. The whole point in the second is that the goat was presented alive, and sent away into a land of forgetfulness to be seen no morn. But the first was killed, and the blood carried into the holiest to be sprinkled there, and on the altar, “To declare his righteousness.” Up to this time man's righteousness had been in question, and man completely failed, never more so indeed than in the cross. But in that cross of Christ God established forever His righteousness. There Christ who knew no sin, was made sin, and so glorified God perfectly, even as to sin. It was God made Him sin; and I understand thereby, that God charged Him with all its consequences as far as this could be done by imputation to the Holy One, who suffered for sin as really, yea, far more perfectly, than if it had been His own. Christ went down as truly and unsparingly under the divine judgment of sin, as if He had been Himself guilty. He was so completely charged with sin that God dealt with Him not only in death but in judgment. For nothing more distinctly marks judgment than God's forsaking one. If you say it is also marked by punishment, what punishment was not there? He was bruised and wounded, and He had stripes, by which, I do not mean, what He received only at the hands of man, but above all from God.
When it is said, “By his stripes we are healed,” is it credible that a saint could believe they refer to His being scourged by the soldiers? These figures so multiplied in Isa. 53 express not merely of what man did to Jesus, but what He suffered from Jehovah, when He laid the iniquity of His own on the rejected Messiah—figures taken from what is common among men, but above all to express that which He Himself inflicted. It pleased Jehovah to bruise Him, it was He put Him to grief; and it was for the transgression of His people that He was stricken. He bare the sin of many.
So in Rom. 3 the death of the Lord Jesus is to declare God's righteousness. Now that Christ had done this work, it remained for God to show His estimate and acceptance of it. What is God's measure even now of His value for what Christ suffered? That every believer in Him is justified, their guilt gone at once and forever It is no longer then a question of man or his ways, but of Christ and His death. The believer has, at God's call to him as a sinner, given up all pretension to do anything for God or himself, and found in Christ redemption. God found His all in Christ, even for the lost in His death, and proclaims this truth to man that believing he may be justified. Thus God's righteousness is declared not only in receiving Christ to His right hand, but in the justification of the believer. God set such a value on Christ's surrender of Himself to death for God's glory which sin compromised, that man's righteousness is not now in question but God's. The justification of the believer is a question of God's marking His value for Christ's work. This is connected first with “the remission of sins that are past,” meaning not our sins in our past lives, but the sins of the saints in times gone by, which had been passed over in anticipation of the work of the coming One. I repeat, “the passing over” of these sins; for the word here used is peculiar, in fact never found elsewhere in the New Testament. It is not exactly remission, but pretermission. In fact, God forbore to judge. From Old Testament times, God was waiting for the work of Christ, and, because of that work, He passed by the sins of the elders who obtained a good report of all that believed on Him who was coming. But is this all we enjoy now? Far from it. “To declare at this time his righteousness, that he might be just and the justifier of him which believeth on Jesus.” (Ver. 26.) There is not a word about “forbearance” here, the work being now accomplished and indeed accepted. The difference may be compared to that between a creditor who had every confidence that the debt would be paid, and therefore forbore to press for payment; and that creditor when he has received payment of the debt. In this case we do not speak of forbearance, but of acknowledging that payment has been made. God is now “just, and the justifier of him that believeth.” This is the gospel of God.
But remark also in connection with this what is found in verse 22. “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.” This also has its place in the type; we can at any rate connect the two. The blood, whether of bullock or of goat, which was put upon and before the mercy-seat, could not be limited in its value typically before God. Certainly we learn from the apostle that the testimony to the blood of Christ was meant to go out far beyond those that believe. The righteousness of God is “unto all,” without restriction, though only upon all them that believe. There are two things, therefore; the universal aspect, and the special effect. Its actual efficacy is only on those who believe, but the rights of the blood of Christ demand that the gospel should be preached to every creature under heaven. It is due to Christ, and His blood, that every poor sinner in the world should be met by the message of God's righteousness in the gospel, a righteousness which condemns not but justifies all who believe. But what would be the effect of this alone? Had there been no more than the gracious message presented to all, not a sinner would have been saved. Just because we are sinners, and such by nature, we give God credit for no hard ways with us who deserve condemnation, instead of saving grace. We believe not Him, but our own competence, instead of our total ruin. Because a man is a sinner, he is an enemy of God. He may be ever so decent a man in his way among men; but the moment you measure him by his conduct towards God, you come to another conclusion. He is found totally wanting; he has not a right thought of God, nor a true judgment of himself, nor sound sense of what he needs, still less of what is due to God. Hence had God done nothing more than send out to all the good news of Christ's sacrifice for sin, infinite as it is to all, not one would have been saved. There is naturally in us such a repugnance to face our true state before God, such a shrinking on the one hand from the conviction and confession of our sins and guilt, and, on the other, such indisposition to believe God's grace and submit to His righteousness, that not a soul would bow to His message. Was it not so once with every one of us? I speak to you that believe. Were you always believers? Why were you not? Christ's blood had been shed ages before we were born. Why did we not believe the first time we heard the gospel? Because we were not wretched and guilty only, but self-willed, haughty, and rebellious sinners. How came we to believe at last? By some goodness or truth in us? In no wise, but because God's Spirit wrought to make us sensible of our evil and of His good; brought us down in our own eyes and exalted God's grace to us in Christ. Thus facts agree with the written word, and there is a further dealing of God essential to the saving of every soul, the intervention of the Spirit with us personally by the truth to make us feel and own our sins and sinfulness in presence of His love and thus bring us to God by the faith of Jesus. For naturally every soul is either opposed or indifferent, and in one or the other way shows that carnal mind which is enmity against God. But we are not to suppose that this resistance always takes the same form. All have gone astray, but every one in his own way. The same particular manner of unbelief is not found in all. The calm unbelief that thinks highly of itself is quite as offensive in the sight of God as the bold unbelief that openly despises the scriptures. When the grace of God works personally, the result is that we break down in repentance and truly believe.
First, then is the righteousness of God unto all without distinction: and this answers not to the people's, but to Jehovah's, lot. The sacrifice of Christ has made it consistent with God's character to send out the gospel to every one. It is another thing where the word takes effect, and His righteousness is “upon all them that believe.” There is a gracious result produced, according to God, and by His Spirit they believe. To believe on Christ is as truly given as to suffer for His sake. (Cf. also Eph. 2:88For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (Ephesians 2:8).) The one is just as much the fruit of God's grace as the other. No soul ever believed savingly till it was given of God to believe. Not one of us ever would have believed on Christ's name, unless also born of God. It is not a question therefore of God vindicated alone, but of our being quickened also. We had still been lost, had God merely sent out the message announcing His love in Christ's death, addressed to our responsibility. It is of grace alone that any believe. I know that men as such would deny this, because they think more of their own character than of God's. But if a man really judges himself in the light of God, he will find little difficulty in believing that he is as bad as God says he is. What we find here is, however, Jehovah's lot in the first instance; we shall, by-and-by, see the people's lot.
In verses 11-14 a fresh distinction is brought in. But first there is the fullness of the fragrance of Christ. We must remember that it was not the offering of Christ made Him fragrant, it was what attached to His own person. He was ever the Father's delight. Not a particle in Him offends God. The Son became a man, the Word was made flesh. He was sent in the likeness of sinful flesh, though for that reason not sinful flesh. On the other hand, neither is it true that He was merely in the likeness of flesh. He was made really flesh, but when “sinful” is added, then only in the likeness of it. He was really and properly a man, and He is so still. His being risen from the dead does not in any way detract from His real humanity. He is man and will be so forever. He is much more, we know; He is the Son of God. That blessed One deigned to be a man, but a man without sin, and so He could be made sin. He never was made sin before the cross, but He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, the moment He entered the world.
In this type then we see a beautiful testimony to the fragrance of the Lord before His work on the cross. The blood for others was not presented till after the incense had been brought in and had ascended to Jehovah. Then the blood of the bullock is brought in and sprinkled once on the mercy-seat, before it seven times—a perfect witness. Next, “he shall kill the goat of the sin-offering that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock.” Why are both the blood of the goat and the blood of the bullock thus sprinkled? I know there are those who find in the death of Christ nothing but God's providing for His church. But there is more every way. I have already shown that the first requisite is for His own glory. But even when we restrict our thought to man, I deny that it is only for the church that Jesus died. The blood of the bullock and the blood of the goat were not two offerings for the same class. The difference was made too precisely in the type, to allow the thought of mere repetition in the antitype. As the priests and people differed, so yet more what was represented. There is one manifest enough instance how loose and incorrect are the notions of theology. I am not aware of any theologian that ever lived who distinguished rightly the truths taught by the bullock and the goat. Perhaps one may say so after having read more than most. So far as my memory serves me in recalling the ancient fathers—both Greek and Latin—and modern theologians in our own and other countries, I fail to think of one who makes the obvious distinction. Do I mention this for the purpose of showing that any of us now understand better? God forbid such a thought! I say it not for exalting men now above those of the past, but to show how rich and deep God's word is, and that theology is an empty thing after all, for it cannot explain even the simplest scripture about the death of Christ.
What then are we to learn from this double presentation in type of the offering of Christ? Why the bullock and the goat? The New Testament enables us to answer this very simply. Christ was to die “for that nation” —Israel— “and not for that nation only, but that he should gather together in one, the children of God that were scattered abroad.” Thus two distinct objects meet in the death of Christ. First, we see His people—then rejecting Him. Yet He died for them. But who were the children of God that were to be gathered together? This is going on now. It is not merely saving souls, but gathering together God's children. The saved are gathered together in one. Hence, every Christian owns as a brother (and, according to the epistles, as a member of Christ) a believer from the ends of the earth; the truth of which relationship makes it so offensive to hear people talk of this church and that, forgetting that, if scripture should decide, there is but one. Whether in John's writings, or in Paul's, we find always of course the same substantial truth, the unity of those now gathered by the Spirit of God. Indeed the word of God by no apostles allows the splitting up of this unity into various distinctive bodies or sects. Not that there may not be ever so many meetings, even in one city, as in Jerusalem or Rome; but there was maintained the testimony to unity not only in each place but all over the world.
We do not of course hear of this unity in the type, but when the antitype appears. But we might see that Christ's work goes on beyond “the people” to those whom the priestly house represents now brought into blessing, as the people will be by-and-by through the death of Christ, While Israel are still the rejecters of Christ and therefore themselves rejected of God, God is gathering together in one His children who formerly had been scattered. Instead of being hidden among Jews and Gentiles, and mixed up with them, they are now called out to form a distinct company. “And, being let go, they went to their own company.” (Acts 4:2323And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. (Acts 4:23).) Instinctively believers had begun to ant on the truth. So again, if they went to another place, they found children of God gathered together as such, and companied with them. This had never been the case before. Where they went, the preaching of the apostles, &c., was used to gather them. What brought them together'? The power and presence of the Spirit who gave them the knowledge that Christ had died for this very purpose. How wise, full, and precise is scripture. We little know its worth.
Here then we see not the unintelligence of man, but the work of God; His provision for man's necessity—and this in two distinct aspects—the bullock and the goat. Now let us, marking what the blood of the bullock is for, search the New Testament for divine light on all. “And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin-offering which is for himself and shall make an atonement for himself and for his house.” (Ver. 11.) It was for the priest himself and for his house.
The Epistle to the Hebrews states expressly that Christ's offering was not for Himself, but it shows also a priestly house for whom it was. There were those that God gave to Him, as it is written, “Behold, I and the children whom God hath given me.” The true Aaron has a house and a family now on earth—Christians! He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren. And hence one object of this epistle is to prove among other things that now not only are our sins forgiven, but we have a title to enter into the sanctuary. And who can enter into the sanctuary but a son of Aaron? There was nothing so characteristic of the Aaronic family as entrance into the holy place. An Israelite could not do so; he could only go beyond the court of the tabernacle. The Hebrew believers, or Christians, are invited to enter not into the holy place only, but into the most holy. The privilege of a Christian is beyond type of Aaron's eons, just as the glory of Christ is beyond Aaron. The apostle can say, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest, by the blood of Jesus.” Who are meant by “brethren?” Surely not the early believers only, but every child and saint of God now. All these are “brethren,” and exhorted now to draw near with boldness into the holiest. And that he means nothing short of the holiest of all is evident from the words “through the veil.” Therefore it was that, when Christ died, the veil was rent from top to bottom. It was to show that there was an end of that which kept man outside. The believer can now go into the presence of God. Of course it. is by faith, and by faith in the blood of Christ. What characterizes a Christian according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, is this right of entrance into the holiest. He is not merely one of the people but a priest, yea, is more free of the holiest than Aaron. Men, women, and children who believe on the Lord Jesus, are Christ's house, and associated with Him.
And here let me say that we must never confound priesthood with ministry. They are quite distinct things. Every person who can draw near into the holiest is a priest, but not every person is a minister. A minister of the word is formed by the Spirit bestowing a distinct gift of Christ. Ministry is a matter of the sovereign choice of the Lord among the saved, and depends on a gift which the Holy Ghost imparts. It is quite a distinct thing from priesthood. So that I trust I may say without offense that Luther was entirely wrong in his idea of a Christian democracy. If all are teachers, it is hard to know who are to be the taught. If God had been pleased so to constitute His people, of course one would have heartily accepted it. But it was a confusion of thought, however great and good a man he may have been.
Aaron's house, then, was the priestly family, which typified the whole Christian family. For them the blood of the bullock was shed. For whom then was the blood of the goat? For the people. “Then shall he kill the goat of the sin-offering that is for the people.” (Ver. 15.) Further we read, “And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place until he come out.” There He is now in the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not men. He is gone in not with the blood of others, but with His own, and that not merely for us who believe and who have now the incomparable privilege of entering in spirit into that sanctuary “whither the fore-runner is for us entered” —but for the people. You may ask, why have we such a privilege now? why cannot the people by-and-by in their time of blessing have the same? Because it is not the same thing to believe in a rejected Christ, as to welcome One who comes forth in manifest power and glory. God puts special honor on those who believe while He is hidden from the world. Surely those who see Him by-and-by will be blessed, but “blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” This is our portion, the portion of those who now by the sovereign grace of God are severed from the world to believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and to pursue with the heart's delight the path He has traced into the very presence of God, knowing that there He has sat down for us and that we may now freely draw near where He is.
But He will come out. Has He come out yet? No. Now mark the difference and what fixes the true interpretation of the goat. I said that the goat is for the people as distinct from the priestly family; that is, for those who are to believe by-and-by, in contrast with those who believe now. And this may be made perfectly plain, spite of every prejudice. “And he shall go out,” &c. (ver. 18), just as we know the Lord Jesus Christ is coming from the right hand of God in heaven.
There is not a creed in Christendom that does not own His coming again. Not that I cite creeds as any authority: but to those who value them more than I do I do say they habitually teach that He is coming again. That is what answers to Aaron's coming out in the type. “He shall go out unto the altar that is before Jehovah and make an atonement for it.... And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times and cleanse it and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.”
When the Lord does come, He will come to reign over this world, to take the lower heavens and the earth under His own power and rule for the glory of God. We find in the Epistle to the Colossians that He by the blood of His cross not only made peace, but is to reconcile all things whether in heaven or on earth. This corresponds with what we have here. The blessing of all creation coalesces with the forgiveness of Israel.
“And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar he shall bring the live goat; and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness.” Remember this is after He has come out of the sanctuary. Are the Christians waiting for our portion? Are we looking for the Lord Jesus to come out and take away our sins then? What sort of doctrine would this be? You know well that what the gospel proclaims is, not that the Lord is going to do something for our sins then, but that He has already done it perfectly and forever, and that He is gone into heaven where we now draw near through the rent veil, which is characteristic of Christianity. He is to come forth and be seen by His own people, the Jews; and there applies the live goat.
Why is it put after His coming out? The goat already was slain is the type of the work done for the people, the live goat of its future application to them. The reason why the latter is put at the end of all is because God foresaw that the time when the people will be brought under the effect of the work of Christ is not while He abides in heaven but when He comes out. Then the Spirit of God will be poured out afresh upon the people broken down under a sense of their sins, and learning that the very One whom they despised, and hated, and slew, is the Redeemer, the Lord God of Israel; learning too that He will forgive them and put away all their most grievous offenses in that day when He returns.
This is predicted plainly in Zech. 12. It is precisely what we have here in the scone of the scapegoat: not of course, the actual work of suffering for sin, but the application of it, when Israel comes under its efficacy. The work was His death. Here it is their really learning that in consequence of that blood-shedding their sins are completely gone. It will be a work of divine grace in their souls.
But it is worthy of all note that in the case of the sacrifice for the house of Aaron there is no second animal. There is no scape bullock. There was a bullock slain just as the first goat was, but there was no live bullock sent away into the wilderness! Why is this? We who are represented by those for whom the bullock was offered are not looking for the Lord to come out for the application of the work like Israel in the day of power and glory. We wait for His coming, but “apart from sin unto salvation.” For our bodies are to be there brought under His power as now are our souls. We now hear the grace of God in the gospel, and we are led, though often through a certain conflict of unbelief which afterward is made profitable to us, into full peace and liberty by Christ's work. We have not to wait till He comes out again to know our sin blotted out and gone. Instead of waiting without till He comes forth, we follow Him in where He is gone. This is the essence of Christianity. We enter into blessing where He is, in heavenly places. The Jews, on the contrary, wait for Him to come out and bless them on the earth. They will then see and believe. We believe without seeing. Consequently we, looking by faith into the sanctuary, do not require to see a visible and separate sign to show all our sins confessed and put upon Him and borne away. We rest simply on the blood that went in before God. Nothing can be more marked or more beautiful than the difference in the type between those who believe now, and those who in that day will look on Him whom they pierced.
I must close without entering into details. I will add just one point more, and that is, the state of cool that is produced even in those who will then rest on the atonement. This is very important. There is a certain state of heart that goes along with the knowledge of that infinite work of the Lord Jesus, and the man whose heart is not wrought upon suitably to it is not a true believer. What is that state of heart? I will answer in the words of the chapter. “In the seventh month, in the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls and do no work at all.... It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls by a statute forever.” (Vers. 29-31.) It is a beautiful fact found elsewhere, that on this same day the jubilee trumpet was sounded and everything was rectified, every man was reinstated in that which was his own. But there was exercise of heart too. First, his soul was to be afflicted in that day, not to be merry. Wherever there is genuine faith, there is genuine repentance: where souls do not feel their sins, it is vain to look for the remission of them. Instead of talking lightly of receiving the word with joy, there is deep self-judgment, resting on that most solemn, humbling scene, where the Lord Jesus died for us. Secondly, there was no pretension to work on that day, it was to be a sabbath-day, the work was Another's. There was no thought of their doing anything towards atonement, but real brokenness of spirit in the presence of such incomparable mercy.
May God bless His own truth, and make us feel more and more how complete it is, how every part of the Old is bound up with the New! The man who understands the New best will most value the Old.