The Day of Atonement: 9. The Incense and the Bullock Part 3

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The Incense and the Bullock
How is it with the Christian? Liberty of access he has, not merely into the holy place but into the holiest of all. By Christ's blood is now given boldness at all times for all saints; whilst Aaron entered tremblingly but once a year, with incense and blood ever renewed, into that which was but the figure of the true sanctuary. So greatly does the gospel exceed the highest privilege of not only priesthood but the highest of the priests. Yet it would ill become one to suppose for a moment that Christians are high priests: God forbid! One would no more think of claiming to be high priest than of calling Christ our elder brother, as do Moravians and the like. It is one thing for Christ to call us brethren, quite another for us to call Him brother. It is gracious for the King to show some condescension to you or to me, but altogether an impropriety for us therefore to forget his majesty and to slight his royal place. Reverence becomes us, and especially in the presence of not only unmerited favor, but of the infinite personal glory, of the Savior, which make the blessing so immense to such as we are.
It is no question of words, but of the momentous fact by divine grace, that, when a man receives the gospel of God by faith, he is entitled to know from that moment that in virtue of Christ's cross he is brought nigh to God. Now if thus reconciled and nigh, can you tell me of any privilege more truly precious? Was it not on the face of things that only priests could enter the sanctuary? The people were without praying, and the priest came within to burn incense. As long as the temple and the law had a standing, the people could only be outside. Is this, according to the gospel, the actual position of a Christian? Time was, no doubt, when we stood without; and it was a rich and needed mercy to come under the truth of the second goat as well as the first. But when we entered on the near and proper ground of Christian privilege, what then? We find ourselves in evident and weighty contrast with Israel, who have not yet the blessing. They abide in unbelief outside, and only outside. Is this then where we are now? Is it not true that grace calls us in faith to follow Christ within the veil? It is not only that there we have a hope sure and steadfast, and that which enters within the veil; we have also full assurance of faith, and so are emboldened to enter into the holiest by His blood.
There is a new and living way consecrated (or, dedicated) for us—for all who believe on Him. All who are associated with Him are not more called to bear His reproach from the world than they are to draw near where He is glorified in the presence of God. This is not and never will be the portion of the Jew. Christ will come and reign over Israel here below. Believing now we become heavenly. The moment a Jew does receive Christ as His portion, he ceases to be a Jew, he becomes a Christian. And Christ in heaven is the common portion of all Christians, whether they be Jews or not. They thus acquire a title of access into the holiest of all by the blood of Jesus. Hence what believers want, in order to have the force of Christian worship and walk, is not a negation but the positive truth, as here that Christians now are priests of God. They are God's house, and Christ is the anti-typical Aaron, to say nothing of John 4:2323But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. (John 4:23).
This, our priestly place, is the unquestionable doctrine of the New Testament. It is not merely where the word “priest” is used, or the sanctuary is in view. Nearness of access to God, by the faith of Christ through His blood, is everywhere the truth of the gospel, from the fundamental Epistle to the Romans right through the whole extent of the New Testament. Is there any part of it (unless it be the Epistle of James, which, without taking up redemption, rather looks to new birth in those begotten of God), which does not present the substance of the truth now lying before us?—that we come under the bullock as well as the incense, to speak Levitically? We have therefore special privileges adumbrated by Aaron and his priestly house, and indeed a vast deal more.
Mark this difference: though the blood of the goat entered within the veil, Israel never got beyond the brasen altar; we, on the other hand, draw near into the holies before the mercy-seat. We come even boldly unto the throne of God. We are entitled to behold the glory of God there in the face of Jesus Christ. You may perceive that other scriptures are here mingled along with this type which comes before us; but it is scarcely desirable too straitly to sever one truth from another. These are only used in order to show the fullness of the Christian roll of blessing. How comes it to pass that we have our privileges shadowed not only by the sons of Aaron but by Aaron himself? that they really can only be measured by Christ on high? It is because, as we know from other parts of scripture, we are made one with Christ. Yet union is not the doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews simply, because it is not God's object there. But he that wrote to the Hebrews is none other than the apostle who brought out the mystery concerning Christ and concerning the church, as no man ever could before or ever did since.
It was enough here to set out the peculiar and heavenly status of the Christian in virtue of Christ's work and priesthood. He is associated with Christ in perfect nearness to God. For who could think of Christ as one that separates from God? He is the very One that brings us nigh. Because of His own person, all the more acceptable to God because displayed in the dependence and holiness of man here below, Christ was entitled to the presence of God. But He would not go alone, He loved His master, He loved His wife, He loved His children; He was the true Hebrew servant, and would serve forever and ever. He laid down His life, that. He might take it again in resurrection. He was the corn of wheat which, having fallen into the ground, died bearing much fruit. He gave Himself for us, and Whom He loved He loved to the end.
Very different were we, apart from that life which was laid down for us that we too might live of His life. We had belonged to the first man, as now to the Second, the last Adam, forever. What does this import? It is what God teaches His children, even you. It is what we are meant to enjoy here as given to Christ. As is the Heavenly, such are they also who are heavenly. It stamps His whole character, His own associations, His proper relationships, as far as possible, upon the Christian. Is it then the lot or attainment of some only? His grace confers it upon all. There is no Christian save in this near position. It is in no case left us to choose our own place before God. It is God that has chosen us, having given Christ for us; and God will have nothing less as a measure and character of blessing to us than the measure of His own beloved Son, the First-born among many brethren. Here again one may observe another expression of it according to the scope of the Epistle to the Romans. But almost everywhere is presented the same blessed association with Christ.
This, in short, is just the truth which the Spirit presses habitually (Col. 3:1111Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11)): “Christ is all and in all.” Do we desire to know, not merely where Christ will be by and by, but where Christ is now? Then, according to the mind of God, He is not only “all,” but “in all,” i.e. in all Christians. Himself is the whole spring and character of Christian conduct. He is our life. It is in vain to look for Christian ways, unless you are in, and believe in, your relationship to Christ. Our ways are according to the relationships we fill. Our duties flow from what we are thus. It is not merely a question of right and wrong, of what we ought to do or be. This was law. But now it is a question of being consistent with Christ Who to us is all and in all. This is what we have as Christians. And what then is the standard of our consistency? Christ, and Christ as He is in the presence of God.
Everything thus supports and carries out more and more manifestly the meaning of this instructive type—the blessing figured by the incense and the bullock, for those that belong to the Lord, while He is now within on high. Mark the force of this. Are we not brought into association with Christ while He is in the sanctuary? Properly speaking, there was no Christian until Christ entered the sanctuary. There were disciples before. A disciple might be a Christian or he might not. For we read of disciples not merely in the Gospels but even in the prophecy of Isaiah (chap. 8). Thus there were disciples who merged in the church of God, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles, as there were disciples long before the church began. A disciple therefore is not necessarily or properly a Christian.
Even when the church began, a disciple might not have the full Christian character, though he ought of course. Those who still went up to the temple to offer sacrifices under the law should have left the Jewish condition for the Christian. On what ground? Christ's death on the cross, known intelligently to faith, and the gift of the Holy Ghost consequent upon His blood-shedding. It is Christ on high that stamps the full and proper Christian character upon us. But this evidently falls in with our relationship to Christ as God's house; indeed all our characteristic blessing now depends upon His being there in virtue of His atoning work. We could not of course have title to be there but through His death. Therefore we must all come in through the narrow door of His cross. And no soul will stoop so low save by being born again, as there is no means of reconciliation with God, still less of being His family, unless our sins are borne away. But the goat of substitution, supplementing that of propitiation (for they constitute the atonement for the people), does not give the full measure of the Christian. It is the necessary foundation for guilt outside. Without it there could be no remission of sins, not to speak of the full privileges of Christianity. But there are privileges beyond it, figured by the bullock and the incense.
Take as an illustration the initiatory sign of Christian faith. We all know that baptism is this, without going into controverted points of mode and subject. What does baptism mean? Is it a sign of life? The Romanists will tell you so, and others who are like them, which they ought not to be. Baptism, contrariwise, is a sign of Christ's death. Hence the Lord instituted proper Christian baptism after, and not before, He rose from the dead. What then is really taught in that initiatory institution? That one is buried with Christ. Is this life? Is it not plainly to be put into the place of death with Christ? Where also would be the propriety of being buried with Him through baptism unto “life"? Were it a sign of life-giving to a soul destitute of it previously, one could understand the figure of the womb or the breast of the mother church; but how incongruous with the death of Christ, and with burial? The ordinary doctrine that connects baptism with new birth is unmitigated Popish error, or rather the delusion of the Fathers before Popery. Baptism is not even the sign (still less the means) of life, but of death and burial with Christ. The Old Testament saints had life, ages before baptism or even circumcision. Christian baptism is the sign of a new and distinctively Christian privilege which none could enjoy before our Lord died and rose.
The Old Testament saints hung on God's promise; and perhaps some believers may be “grasping at the promises” now. Would to God all knew better! Do not suppose that anything is meant disrespectful to the ancients, or unkind to anybody here or elsewhere. Would to God you might be aroused from clinging only to what was then of faith, true and right according to God when there was nothing more! But now that an incomparably “better thing” is revealed, why do you saints so obstinately cleave to that which fails to express the full grace of God toward your soul? It is not merely a promised Messiah, but the rejected and crucified Son of man, Who was dead, and is risen and now glorified in heaven. Has all that He wrought made no difference? The atoning work is done. It is no longer promise, but accomplishment. This has made a vast difference for God; surely it ought to make at least as great a difference for you, and it would if you by faith understood the gospel. We are brought into proportionately greater privileges.
The work the Father gave the Son to do is accomplished to His glory, Who has therefore glorified the Son and is now giving every blessing short of our resurrection for His heavenly kingdom. We are even seated in heavenly places in Christ, though not yet taken in person to be seated with Him in heaven. How strong and holy is the great basis of Christianity as revealed in 2 Cor. 5! Him Who knew no sin He made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. What a blessed character of righteousness is thus come to us before God! It is what Christ is made to us from God.
When the Holy Ghost was given, it was, as our Lord said, to convince the world of three things—of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. Of sin, on what ground? Because they violated the law? Not so, nor because they had an accusing conscience, but “because they believe not on Me.” A Gentile only thinks of himself; a Jew perhaps of the law, as some others seem to know no better, though they ought; but scripture puts the true measure. Christ brought in the perfect standard. “The law made nothing perfect.” There is now the introduction of a better hope, and the rejection of Christ therefore becomes the great sin. If He had not come, and spoken, as well as done, beyond all others, they had not had sin; but now they had no excuse for their sin; they had both seen and hated both Him and His Father—yea, hated Him without a cause. The test-sin therefore is the not believing on Him. Whatever people may argue for other things, that is God's present and full standard.
But what is His demonstration in respect of “righteousness”? As the world is by the Spirit proved to be unrighteous, because it rejected the Holy One; so God the Father has proved His righteousness, because He has received the rejected Christ to His own right hand. “Because I go to the Father, and ye behold me no more.” From this point of view Christ is lost to the world. When He comes again, it will not be to present Himself in grace or to preach the kingdom. He will come to judge both quick and dead; He will judge the habitable earth in righteousness. It will not be the day of grace as now, in order that men may believe on Him. This will be all past. The world proved its unrighteousness by crucifying Christ; the Father, by receiving the rejected Son, so that He is thus seen no more. Righteousness is proved in Christ gone to the Father at the right hand of God in heaven: and thereby we who believe are made God's righteousness in Him. We are identified with Christ at the right hand of God. What a high character of righteousness this is! Truly it is the righteousness of God, though infant tongues among the children of God have not yet learned to lisp it aright. But oh! what a blessed privilege! It is not merely a perfect life of obedience under the law on the earth as a whole, nor a making reparation for countless failures of His people in all the isolated details of their lives; but as God showed His righteousness in raising up and glorifying the rejected One, so do we also by grace become God's righteousness in Him. That man in Christ should be in God's glory on high is His righteousness; that, in an unbelieving world, we who believe should be identified with Him in that glory by virtue of His work of redemption is another wondrous result of the same righteousness of God.
This, one can see, is connected in the closest way with the sin-offering, the bullock slain for Aaron and his house. No doubt the believers of Israel looked for the Messiah to come in the due time and bless the people. But when the Son of man comes, He will after solemn judgment reign in Zion expressly, but over the earth (Psa. 2, Zech. 14), where will be a temple, veil, priesthood, etc., once more. Now Christians from among the Jews for themselves merge their earthly expectation in the better and heavenly hope, suitable to knowing Christ as we do on high, instead of in connection with the earth. For indeed there is now but “one body and one Spirit.” Therefore do we (if we understand our calling, though we rightly begin as poor sinners outside) enter within the sanctuary, whence the Spirit is come out, while Christ is there, to unite us to Him. It is where Christ is hidden from man, hidden in God, that we, Jews or Gentiles, now know Him. Instead of His coming forth from the sanctuary to give us remission of sins, as it will be verified by grace to expectant Israel by and by, the Holy Ghost is sent down by the Father and the Son to associate us with Christ in the glory where He sits now. This distinctively is Christianity. Would to God that every one of us entered into this and more as our proper portion It is not now laid before us, as a merely interesting doctrine, but as truth bound up with Christ's glory, and hence of the deepest moment for the Spirit Who blesses our souls in glorifying Him.
Along with it goes the third truth which the Spirit demonstrates already to the world, judgment; “because the prince of this world hath been judged” (John 16:1111Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. (John 16:11)). It was Satan who united the otherwise irreconcilable enemies, the Jews and the Gentiles, as a God-hating world in crucifying His Son the Lord of glory; being judged himself in that heinous misjudgment, he was shown this world's ruler in such daring rebellion against the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is now here, because the rupture is thus full and final, to carry out divine purposes entirely outside and above the world to God's glory.
As the Jew then was in danger of overlooking the relationships, and hence the duties, of Israel, so are we exposed specially to forget our own place and our own responsibility. An active and subtle foe would ever dishonor God by our failure as by theirs. We need, therefore, to be watchful that we neglect not that which most nearly concerns the glory of God by us. And as Christ is objectively the truth, so is He the only one Who works by the Holy Ghost and the word to keep us from all mistakes and guide us into all the truth. We should be wholly unfit for any such call of grace, unless, having life in the Son, we had peace through the blood of Christ's cross. But as believers, we have eternal life in Him, the self-same life of Christ which was shown and tried and proved in all its perfection on the earth. And our consciences are purged by the blood which rent the veil and opened the way into the holies, God in all His moral being and majesty being forever glorified thereby. It is because Christ is in the holiest, and we by faith know Him while there, the Holy Ghost is sent down not only that we may enjoy the blessed fruit of Christ's work, but that we may enter freely, boldly, in spirit where He is. When the Lord comes forth for the people, there will be quite another condition.
But one ought briefly to point out, how before He quits heaven we have in ver. 16 the reconciliation of the holy place and the altar, no man being there but the high priest while He makes atonement for it till He comes out (vers. 17-19). The counterpart of this we read in Heb. 9:2323It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. (Hebrews 9:23), “The heavenly things themselves, with better sacrifices than these.” Such is God's nice care for His dwelling, to which we allude by the way. No man was to be with the high priest in this unutterably solemn action. He does it all Himself. He was for this purpose alone with God. Nothing mingled with the atonement of Christ. That it should be absolutely fit for the divine glory, the highest perfection for His own to enjoy, He does the work in His own person to the exclusion of every other. This made all sure. How precious to God the Father, and how blessed for us, whose souls should delight not only in the work, but in Him Who did all, suffered all, perfectly to God's glory, that all might be of grace! (concluded)