The Sin-Offering. (Lev. 4 — 5:13.)
We now come to a class of offerings distinguished broadly from those classed as "sweet-savor," by the fact of their being in no wise voluntary, but the specific requirement for actual sin. The burnt-offering and peace-offering both clearly recognized, of course, the condition of men as sinners. Apart from this, they had indeed no meaning. But in no case are these offered for specific acts of sin. In their case we find, "If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord" in those now before us, "If a soul shall sin, he shall bring his offering."
The sin and trespass-offerings both speak of the judgment of sin, that judgment which is indeed no sweet savor to God, but His "strange work," not the delight of His love, but the necessity of His holiness. The sin-offering deals with sin in view of the divine nature; the trespass-offering, in view of the divine government. The words "sin" and "trespass" well convey this difference, the thought of restitution having a prominent place in the trespass-offering, as the sin-offering alone exhibits that necessary separation of God from sin which is at once the necessity of His nature, and its most awful punishment.
Yet it is striking that this, the most essential and characteristic feature, is only in fact found here in the sin-offering for the priest and for the congregation of Israel. In these cases alone do we read of the victim being burned without the camp, not upon the altar, the consecrated place, but in the outside place of the leper and unclean. It is to this the apostle refers in the last chapter of Hebrews, where he points out the absolute necessity of the Lord's taking such a place as is typified here in order to any true atonement: "For the bodies of those beasts whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high-priest for sin are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate." It is a striking thing indeed that, of all the various sacrifices offered by the law, no blood but that of a sacrifice such as this should have power to penetrate into the sanctuary at all. The burnt-offering spoke of that which to God was precious beyond all else, but the blood was simply sprinkled round about upon the altar: the peace-offering spoke, according to its name, of peace made with God, and communion established between God and man, but here also the blood was only sprinkled on the altar round about nay, there were various forms of the sin-offering itself where the effect was plainly stated to be to "make atonement for his sin" who brought it, but where, the body of the beast not being burned without the camp, the blood at the most anointed the horns of the altar of burnt-offering. Only in two cases, as I have already said, among the seven that are specified here, is that done in which alone lies the essence of true atonement.
This shows clearly in what manner we are to regard these other forms, namely, as lower grades, or less complete views of what only in its full completeness could satisfy God. In the lowest, indeed, they are plainly said to be provisions for the poverty of the offerer: "if he be not able to bring a lamb," — "if he be not able to bring two turtledoves." In the case of the ruler, and in the first case of "one of the common people" — both, of course, on the footing of the Israelite simply, — it is or should be clear that they neither of them represent the place or the knowledge of the Christian; yet they are most instructive to us as enabling us to see just what is and what is not dependent upon clearness of knowledge upon a theme so all-important as is this. However, it will be all no doubt plainer as we look at the details of the type before us.
The first case, then, is that of the "anointed priest," clearly the high-priest, he who represents the whole people before God, the well-known figure of Christ Himself. Typically, this seems a departure from the usual order, for the offerer in other cases seems not to represent Christ, and this change must have a meaning. Naturally, we think of the day of atonement, where Aaron and his sons are distinguished in their offering from the people of Israel, and where we as Christians are represented in Aaron's house. In the offering of Leviticus 4, the high-priest stands alone; but the next offering, parallel in every particular to this one, is for the "whole congregation of Israel," — those manifestly whom the high-priest represents: in the application must we not say, the Church? It is evident that this gives us two classes on essentially different footing, — those for whom the sanctuary is opened, and those who while accepted are outside worshipers.
But why, then, is Christ here first of all by Him self, and the people apart, and not rather, as in the day of atonement, the high-priest and his house, or Christ and His people together? It seems to me to bring out representation more clearly, but especially, as I think, makes way for a comparison with the two next offerings, where the ruler and one of the common people take the place of the priest and congregation, and the character of the whole is lowered.
The literal application supposes the sin of the high-priest himself, and his place as such secured, his incense altar anointed with the blood of the sin-offering. As a type, it is Christ confessing the sin of His people, and the place which through His offering He takes before God, He takes for them, and they in Him. Thus for the people the blood in the same way is sprinkled before the nail, and anoints the golden altar of incense.
It is here only that we find, as already stated, the burning of the victim without the camp, upon the ground also and not upon the altar. It is thus Christ made sin for us — not seen in the perfection of His person as in the burnt-offering, but identified with those for whom He had undertaken. No where but in this outside place could He reach the objects of His grace to bring them up out of the horrible pit and out of the miry clay which they were hopelessly ingulfed, and in which alone His feet could find footing. How important, then, to have a right apprehension of this essential feature of His wondrous work! Yet there are those among evangelical Christians so called who see no difference between the Lord's sufferings in life and those in His death, — between Gethsemane with its bloody sweat and the blood of the cross! They see not the contrast between a time of which He yet says, "I am not alone, for My Father is with Me" and that of His cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" The three hours' darkness while He hangs upon the tree is almost universally misinterpreted as the sympathy of Nature with her Head and Lord, whereas it is the manifest expression of the withdrawal of Him who is light, and finds, therefore, its true interpretation in that cry of forsaken sorrow.
We come, then, here for the first time to the full and undeniable type of wrath borne, and needed to be borne in order to atonement. The copher of the ark had hinted, as we have seen, at such necessity but it only hinted. Now, the truth was plainly set forth. Every sacrifice had shown, what is announced as a principle a little later, that, as the apostle says, "without shedding of blood is no remission." But here we see what blood alone could meet the atonement of righteousness upon. the sinner. Not death merely, but death and after this the judgment, is man's doom. The full reality of sacrifice, of which each separate sacrifice was but a fragment, must meet both parts of this. The cross as death and as curse did this.
But how beautiful to see even in the sin-offering the type preserved of that inward perfection which was necessarily and ever God's delight and the basis of all the acceptability of it. Only He could be "made sin for us" who Himself "knew no sin." Accordingly the fat here, as in the case of the peace-offering, is put upon the altar, and in the case of one of the common people it is even said to be for a sweet savor. While this is not said with regard to the first two cases, the word used for the burning on the altar is the ordinary one for that, different from that employed for the burning of the victim on the ground outside the camp.
Wrath endured, the due of sin in its full measure reached, God can open the sanctuary, and give a place in His presence where in the complete security of the seven-times-sprinkled blood we can stand in unquestioned nearness, and the heart pour itself out in praise, the blood anointing the incense altar. For us the vail is rent, as we know, but as we do not find in the type before us: we have boldness to enter into the holiest itself.
Thus far the divine thought, the perfection of the offering. In the next two cases the whole character of it is lowered. We have now the ruler and one of the common people taking the place of the high-priest and congregation in the former two; the burning outside the camp is no longer found; and the blood of course does not enter the sanctuary at all, but is first put upon the horns of the altar of burnt-offering, and then poured out at the bottom of the altar.
All this speaks evidently of a lower grade. Whatever may be the difference of the offerer, and although this might account for the blood not being brought into the holy place, the apostle's words link these rather with the body of the victim not being burned without the camp; and of the absence of this who can find a reason thus? For the least as for the greatest atonement must be the same. It is clear, therefore, that we have in this only the sign of the commencement of a descending scale of offerings, in which we find the poverty and confusion of man's thoughts allowed to have their place, in order that on the one hand we may realize the consequence of falling short in the apprehension of divine grace, while on the other we learn that that grace will still manifest itself as such, and that God's actual acceptance of us is not measured, after all, by our apprehension of it, but by His own estimate of the value of the work of His beloved Son.
The goat here still speaks of substitution, of Christ in the sinner's place, for the Lord's own use of it, as contrasted with the sheep in the picture in Matthew 25, assures us fully of this. But while seen as a substitute thus, what substitution implies and necessitates is not seen. The sin is none the less forgiven, but the offerer remains an outside worshiper merely. Christ is for him a "ruler" in the heavens, not a representative proper, as the priest is. He remains, as people say, "at the foot of the cross;" does not see that through the work of the cross Christ has entered heaven, and taken a place before God in which he as a believer stands. This is, alas! where the mass of so-called evangelical systems leave their adherents, — the Jewish place, clearly, for the standing of one of the common people of Israel is not even a type of ourselves. We are, as the apostle tells us, "a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." We therefore are brought nigh, and belong to the sanctuary as did Aaron's house, with the unspeakable difference here also of the vail being rent: "Therefore," says another apostle, "having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us through the vail, that is to say, His flesh; and having a High-Priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith."
For the goat a lamb might be offered, and here we see again how a type higher in itself may give from its connection a lower because a less congruous thought. The latter speaks, as we know, of the personal perfection of Christ, but here it displaces the goat, so that the thought of real substitution is fading away: the ritual of the offering is otherwise the same.
In the next cases, however, the ritual itself is changed; for now we find first the trespass-offering (which is nearest to the sin-offering), and then the burnt, and finally even the meat-offering introduced. The inability of the offerer is now, moreover, more distinctly recognized. It is plain, therefore, that the mention of the trespass-offering in this place does not imply, as some have imagined, that there is no essential difference between it and the sin-offering, or else it would prove the same for the others mentioned. There is a very marked and unmistakable difference. It is distinctly "his trespass-offering for his sin which he hath sinned . . . for a sin-offering." Even as a trespass-offering it has not its full character: it is a "lamb, or a kid of the goats," not a ram. I do not doubt that here we have the case of those who look at atonement as a mere provision of divine government instead of a necessity of the divine nature. It is one truth substituted for another, the less deep for the deeper; but of all this we shall have a more fitting place to speak.
The substitution of the burnt-offering, or its introduction rather into the ritual of the sin-offering, is remarkable, as it is distinctly a provision for poverty: "if his hand cannot reach to the sufficiency of a lamb;" and, moreover, the sin is called a "trespass," while here, again, the two turtle-doves or two young pigeons speak of what is highest in itself, lowest because of its incongruity, in fact the lowest type of the burnt-offering, as we have seen; for a sin-offering most incongruous of all.
Lastly, if he be not able to attain to this, even a meat-offering of fine flour is permitted, and here, although no blood at all is shed, it is distinctly offered and accepted as a sin-offering, and his sin is forgiven him just as before. How clearly and beautifully does the grace of God shine out in all this! If it be Christ trusted in in view of sin, God knows the nature and sufficiency of His blessed work, and reckons the value of that work to the offerer, unknown though to him it be. It is a point which if seen aright will deliver us from much narrowness, and comfort us with the largeness of the grace of God.
It is evident to me that sin in the nature as much as in the act is dealt with in the sin-offering. We must not be misled as to this by the consideration that it is only for actual sins that it is offered. The fruit manifests the tree, and it is in this sacrifice alone that we find the judgment of God taking effect upon the whole victim. The burnt-offering, although wholly burnt, does not in this give the type of wrath or condemnation, as we have seen, but the very opposite. The very word for the burning is different; it is sweet savor and nothing else. Here, on the contrary, judgment has its full course. This complete judgment of nature and practice alike is absolutely necessary, in order that the blood of propitiation may be able to enter the sanctuary.