The Day of Atonement: 8. The Incense and the Bullock Part 2

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The Incense and the Bullock
Let us now a little more closely examine the Epistle to the Hebrews, which, as already remarked, is a divine comment on these Levitical types. We need not guess, nor argue at length; it is enough, and best of all, to believe.
In Heb. 2:1313And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. (Hebrews 2:13) we have Isa. 8:1818Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion. (Isaiah 8:18) applied to the saints now being called. They are the children God has given to Christ. Then in Heb. 3:66But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. (Hebrews 3:6) we read, “Whose house are we.” Christ had just been treated as the Apostle and High Priest of our profession. In the beginning of the chapter after His introduction in His high priesthood, we are told that He has a house over which He acts with divine rights, not merely as a servant: “Whose house are we.” The “we” in this Epistle is no doubtful matter. It means not mere Hebrews, but such as were bearing Christ's name, sanctified by His blood, and made free of the holiest of all—the children given to Him. Does any one conceive that this relationship is peculiar to Christian Jews? Is the privilege to be denied to those who now believe generally? Of every Christian it is no less true, though one rejoices to own it was primarily written to believing Hebrews. It is the common but high privilege of every Christian.
Nor can one admire the one-sided rashness which treated the treatise on the Old Testament types (if one does not call it an Epistle), the inspired commentary to these Hebrews, as a child's book. Rather is any such depreciation a childish remark. The Hebrew saints, to whom the Old Testament was expounded, were no doubt children, when they ought for the time to be teachers; but who does not throughout discern the voice of Him that speaks from heaven? The object of the teaching (Hebrews 5, 6) was to bring these Hebrews, out of the word of the beginning of Christ, elementary as this was, into the full growth or “perfection” which flows from knowing Him on high, after He had made purification of sins. Do you call this a picture book of the nursery? So speak if you will of the Old Testament types. They were part of the rudiments of the world to which Israel was in bondage; and they were all but pictures in part.
But the Epistle to the Hebrews, far from being a nursery book, is a profound and most instructive communication of the Holy Spirit to lead on the Christ-professing Jews into the present elevating and heavenly associations with Him glorified; whilst it made no less clear and certain that those who despise, and still more those who give Him up, are forever lost. They have been dull of hearing; and it is always so with men proud of their ancient religion: nothing so much hinders growth in the truth. There is no veil over the eyes so impenetrable as religious habit or tradition. Given two persons converted: one of the mere profane world, the other perhaps respected in the professing church. Which of the two ordinarily goes forward steadily in the truth? Not the man who devoted himself to the study of theology for the last ten or twenty years past. He is generally an unapt scholar when he repairs to scripture, even seriously. Such is the effect of old religious prejudice. He needs to unlearn quite as much as to learn; which makes progress difficult and slow.
The Hebrew confessors are thus seen to be dull in rising to the height of Christianity, as they saw feebly into its depths. They were impeded in learning because they had so much to unlearn.
They are not the only persons now who are thus entangled. As Christendom grows old, the same difficulty repeats itself, though it be less excusable for Christians now than then for the Jews who believed. The truth fully revealed gives meaning to those ancient shadows. They had before them the material; but they needed the teaching of God's Spirit, Who glorifies Christ. Yet the ancient oracles had been used, not only for the conversion, but for the help and blessing, of souls then for some fifteen hundred years, to say nothing of times antecedent. But these were the persons who proved so slow in spiritual understanding. Therefore it is the more incumbent on all bred in religious habits, and accustomed to a groove of set forms and phrases, to watch against this danger, of which scripture gravely warns.
This, the richest specimen the Bible furnishes of expositional teaching (for it is more particularly of this character), was intended to educate the believing Hebrews into the true meaning of the old types. But to restrict the light or the privileges revealed therein to the Hebrews, to say that they, and they only, were the house of Christ, were sheer ignorance and an intolerable wrong. “Whose house are we” is a principle as truly applicable now as then, and to Gentile Christians no less really than Jewish. But it may be presumed that nobody here would have the least difficulty as to this, and that all concede that the truth applies to believers now in all its forms, and will as long as there are Christians waiting for the Son of God from heaven. But if it be granted that we too are the true Aaron's house, the bullock was beyond doubt for them, in contra-distinction from the people; and we shall find that this is as important in doctrine as for practice. For it is to be noticed that the blood of the bullock has exclusively to do with those who enter the holy places, or the sanctuary of God. The blood of the goat was brought there too; for God must be glorified in reconciling Israel or any others. But the first goat cannot be severed from the second. They coalesce and constitute the necessary atonement for the people who await the coming out of the great High Priest. It is not so with those concerned in the bullock. There is no waiting on His appearance for their acceptance. In this case there is no fresh type nor future time that draws one back to the earth, as there is unquestionably in the second goat applied historically. The bullock has to do at once and only with the presence of God for those entitled to enter there by grace.
On the other hand, if we look at the two goats, the counterpart of them both attaches to the earth and the earthly people in an unmistakeable way. In that transaction how much was before the eyes of the people! God ordered it thus for the purpose of giving them the visible token that their sins were gone never to be remembered more. No such thing was necessary for, or suited to, the priestly house.
But understand what is meant. There is a time when souls ever so truly converted are not up to the Christian position. Do you ask, Who are in so anomalous a condition? Why, you and myself have been, if we are not, among them. Time was when it was a question, and a great question to us, to be born of God, yet not knowing our sins forgiven. One grieves to think that many a saint on earth thinks the remission of sins rather a high claim, and a very questionable privilege whether it be his own. Do you think thus? Then let me tell you, that you have scarcely got beyond the portion of a devout Jew or Gentile before redemption. If this be so, are you yet really on Christian ground? One is not denying that you are a Christian; but how many converted are on Jewish ground, so far as their state of mind or experience goes.
He who merely looks to Christ with the hope that he may go to heaven at last and not be lost when he comes into judgment, has but imperfectly learned by faith the Christian's alphabet. Is this the gospel? The sooner he learns more of God in Christ, the better; and even this chapter is admirably adapted to show, when read in the light of this Epistle, where and how far he has fallen short. The sacrifice of the bullock, teaching us what it omits, gives us precisely enough (though in type) the place into which the young believer is meant and bound to advance. It is likely that the Hebrews at that time were not much beyond what has just been described; and the apostle wrote that they might be Christians in deed and in truth. Therefore one may observe the great stress wherewith the Epistle teaches not merely that Christ has personally gone through the heavens, but that He is in the highest place and in all the virtue of His work for us, that we now by faith may draw near into the holiest. Of course it is but in spirit: we are not personally there; we are still on earth, not yet in heaven. But have we no entrance into the favor of God by faith, beyond where we are? or do we merely look up to heaven as the future home of our hearts? Is the true sanctuary open to us now in spirit, or is it not?
It is a common argument of those who are accepted as soundly evangelical to say that there is but one priest, even Christ on high; and that therefore the sacerdotal pretension of a certain school in Christendom is simply the trash of Popery. To this last we agree with entire cordiality. If the gospel be true, the notion of any on earth being priests for the rest of Christians is evident and pestilent falsehood. It is a revival of Jewish principles, which were in figure nailed to Christ's cross, dead and buried in His grave. But if this be all, you fail to take the full and positive standing of the Christian. Do not content yourself with saying that among Christians there are no priests for others on earth, Christ being the only Great Priest in the presence of God. There is far more than this in what is now revealed. What more, do you ask, is required to supplement it? “Whose house are we?” Why do not evangelical men hold, preach, and practice this? Why do they not tell the saints on earth that they are all and equally priests? It is not merely that such they are to be in heaven. No doubt their title will be perfectly owned there, and we are to be priests of God and of Christ in the resurrection (Rev. 20:66Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)); but have we not from God the self-same title now (Rev. 1:66And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:6))? Why not then believe it?
If any scruple to believe the Apocalypse, why overlook the Epistle to the Hebrews? Does not Peter also say that Christians are a royal priesthood, and, what is still more and better, a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5-195Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 6Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. 7Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, 8And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. 9But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: 10Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. 11Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 12Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. 13Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. 17Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. 18Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 19For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. (1 Peter 2:5‑19))? The royal priesthood is to be displayed before the world; the holy priesthood is to draw near into the presence of God. It is the more intimate of the two. If the royal priesthood shines more before men, should it not be dearer to a saintly heart to draw near to God in praise and thanksgiving? John speaks of Him that loveth us and washed (or, loosed) us from our sins by His blood and made us kings and priests unto God. Are you not misinterpreting the word of God when you infer that, whilst Christ loves us now and proved it by His atoning blood, He is only going to make us kings and priests?
My brethren, be not so weak in faith, but so foolhardy in fact, as thus virtually to set about improving Holy Writ. Were it not better simply to believe it? Leave unbelief to dull and dark men of learning, who tell you how hard it is to understand the scriptures. Certainly it is hard to unbelief or the presumption that would mend the perfect word of God. Without faith you will never understand the scriptures. The true way to understand them is simply to believe. Be content to receive them as of God without understanding first. Scriptural understanding follows faith.
Cherish confidence in God that His word cannot but be right. Christ is the key in the hand of the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. Then the heart opens, and what once seemed difficult becomes an everlasting and increasingly enjoyed privilege.
Why is it then that Christian people have it, and will have it, that Christ alone is priest, and that there are now no true priests at all? Scripture affirms that those, whom Christ is not ashamed to call brethren, are priests, and that they are now called to exercise the highest function of drawing near within the rent veil. It is not at all meant that every Christian is a minister of the word, very far from it indeed; but one must repeat that every Christian man and woman is really and truly a priest of God. The importance of this truth is no less than its sure warrant.
One might well ask, Can you for a moment question what scripture reveals on this head? Nor need one merely go on the tare words, though they are written by Paul, Peter, and John, three witnesses unparalleled even in scripture. It may be added that if the gospel were better known, there would be no hesitation about that which is now urged—that Christians are the priestly house of Christ, the true sons of the true Aaron. They alone answer to that type, which is ignorantly slipped over by most as if it were nothing. What privilege of the priest exceeds Liberty of access to the sanctuary? We have seen that even Aaron of old had it in the scantiest degree. (continued)