(This article and the following four sections on 'Priesthood' were also published separately by the same publisher using the same typeset under the title 'The Cross and the Throne; or, Sacrifice and Priesthood.')
When we think of the infinite and eternal glory of the Son of God — the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us — we can easily perceive that nothing less than manifold and everlasting results must be connected with His atoning work upon the cross. We are not surprised, therefore, to find that not only did He by Himself purge our sins, but accomplished by His one offering all that was needed to give us title to stand before God in perpetual acceptance and righteousness, as objects of His changeless favour and blessing. Redemption being now, therefore, an accomplished fact, and the Holy Ghost having come down, every believer is not only secure and for ever blessed, but he is also entitled to know it, and to rejoice in the Lord alway.
From the first, there was a tendency to slip away from the true and present value of the sacrifice of Christ, thus undermining the glory of the cross, and drawing souls away from the sense of the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free; in other words, to turn to one form or other of Jewish ritualism and legality, by forgetting the true worth of that one sacrifice which was once offered, both in regard to what it has really delivered us from, as well as where it now puts us.
In the epistle to the Hebrews, the glory of the person of the Son of God, as necessarily giving everlasting efficacy to His atoning work, is sweetly set forth; and in the portion now before us we find clustered together a sevenfold character of present blessing, which we are entitled to know as resulting from that one offering. But, before considering them, it may be well to take a glance at some of the contrasts here set forth. Under the law, we observe that the sacrifices were many and various, in contrast with Christ's one sacrifice. There was also a yearly remembrance of sins, because the blood of bulls and of goats could not take away sins; whereas by the offering of Christ we have remission of sins, no more to be remembered. Again, the blood of the many sacrifices and ashes of an heifer gave only a ceremonial cleansing to the purifying of the flesh; but the blood of Christ purges the conscience. Mark also that the many sacrifices, according to the Jewish and only scriptural ritual, could not make the corners thereunto perfect; the precious value, however, of Christ's one offering is so efficacious that it needs no repetition, because it sanctifies and perfects for ever. Further, the Jewish high priest was always standing; he could never sit down, because of the continual repetition of sacrifices; his work was never done; but Jesus, when He had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down, or sat down in perpetuity, on the right hand of God. And, lastly, let us not fail to notice, that, with all the Jewish ritual of priests and sacrifices, the veil was yet standing, so that the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest; whereas when Jesus said, "It is finished," and bowed His sacred head in death upon the tree, in virtue of that one sacrifice for sins, "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom." Thus God showed that His estimate of that accomplished work was such that He could now come down to man in freest love and with richest blessings, and that through the rent veil — that is to say, His flesh — the believer has now access with confidence into God's most holy presence. Precious privilege for our present and everlasting enjoyment! Well may our hearts look up and adoringly exclaim, "What love!"
"'Tis finished! — here our souls have rest;
His work can never fail:
By Him, our Sacrifice and Priest,
We pass within the veil.
"Within the holiest of all,
Cleansed by His precious blood,
Before the throne we prostrate fall,
And worship Thee, O God."
1. In now turning to this sevenfold cluster of present blessings, we may first look at what Scripture teaches about remission of sins. The reality of this, as a matter of present knowledge and enjoyment, few believe and many deny. But, spite of all men's infidel reasonings, ritualistic observances, and the bold way in which many ridicule the idea, yet nothing is more plainly taught in Scripture, or more truly enjoyed by souls. Our Lord Himself said, "This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins;" and observe, this is not a promise that they shall be blotted out when we come to die, but complete cleansing now, in virtue of Christ's having suffered for sins, and therefore washed us from them in His most precious blood. The prophets of the Old Testament also taught that "it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul." Hezekiah said, "Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back." (Isa. 38:17.) Micah said, "Thou wilt cast all our sins into the depths of the sea." (7, 4.) Isaiah, speaking for God, no doubt looking forward to Christ's sacrifice, said, "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins." (Isa. 44:22.) No language could perhaps be used more forcibly to illustrate the complete cancelling of our sins; for where, I ask, is the thick cloud we were looking at yesterday? You will reply, "It is gone, and gone for ever." True, and so completely are our sins now blotted out by God; for He says He will remember them no more.
Our Lord also preached the precious doctrine of present forgiveness of sins; to be known too, not on a death-bed merely, but now, to-day. Did He not say to a palsied man, "Be of good cheer; thy sins ARE forgiven thee"? And did He not so insist upon it, that the people might know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins? Did not the blessed Lord also pronounce present forgiveness of sins to another who was brokenhearted and distressed about her sins, and had fallen at His feet behind Him for relief? Were not His sweet, soul-comforting words to this sin-stricken soul, "Thy sins ARE forgiven"? not shall be when you come to die, but are forgiven. (Luke 7:48.) No further proof surely can be required by any right mind, that there is such a blessing to be known as the present enjoyment of God having given the believer remission of sins. In fact, the gospel is preached to make this known. It is God's present proclamation. "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man (the Lord Jesus) is preached unto you the forgiveness (or remission) of sins" (Acts 13:38); so that to deny the present knowledge and enjoyment of sins blotted out is to deny the true character of the gospel of the grace of God.
But some may say, "I see that God does now remit sins, and it is clear that He does so in virtue of the sacrifice and blood-shedding of Jesus; for it is written, 'Without the shedding of blood is no remission;' but I want to be sure that my sins are remitted, that I am washed from my sins in His blood. Is it possible that I can be certain about this? and if so, how?" Nothing can be more positively declared than that your sins are remitted the moment you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; and you will have the certain assurance of it too when you simply look to Him, and rely on what God says. Your sins are forgiven by virtue of Christ's work, and only in the way of faith. The Israelite put his hand upon the sacrifice, thus identifying himself with it; and when it was killed, and the blood sprinkled, he was pronounced forgiven; so now, all those who simply avail themselves before God of the sacrifice of Christ for the atonement of their sins have at once remission of sins; and that not because of their feelings, or religion, or works of any kind, but through the blood of Christ. "I write unto you, little children, because your sins ARE forgiven you for His name's sake." (1 John 2:12.) Again, you will see what God says about it in Acts 10:43. There you read those precious words: "To Him (Christ) give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins." Receive these words from the mouth of God, and you will doubt no more that all your sins are blotted out by Him. Thus, with many others, you will be able to say —
"Sins against a holy God;
Sins against His, righteous laws;
Sins against His, love, His blood;
Sins against His name and cause;
Sins immense as is the sea —
From them all He cleanseth me."
Nothing can possibly be more conclusive from His unalterable word of truth, than that God now proclaims by the gospel remission of sins, and gives remission of sins to whosoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ; and that so thoroughly and for ever are our sins thus blotted out, that God further declares, "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." Blessed reality, and sure resting-place for sin-stricken souls! But whether every believer has the comfort of it or not, it is unquestionable that he has remission of sins; for God is faithful to His own word. He cannot deny Himself.
2. In the next place, let us notice the remarkable words in this chapter, "No more conscience of sins." By conscience we understand, God knows and I know. If you owed a man a thousand pounds, every time you met him you would be troubled, because you knew that you were in his debt, and that he knew it too. Suppose a friend went to him and paid him, and you did not know it, then, though your debt were paid, yet because you did not know it, you would still blush when you met your creditor. But if the creditor called upon you, told you he had been paid, and bade you read the receipt in full of all demands, then would you not be at once reconciled to him, and be in such perfect peace about your debt that, however frequently you met him, your conscience would no more be troubled? You would have a purged conscience, because you knew and he knew the debt had been justly discharged. So is it with regard to God and your sins. Though Jesus had borne your sins, suffered for your sins, died for your sins, shed His precious blood for the remission of your sins, and though God gave you remission, when first you drew nigh to Him, through Jesus and His blood, yet till you knew that God was satisfied, that He pronounced you cleansed, your conscience would not be purged, you would still feel burdened, and have dread of God. When you were quite sure from God's word that through the blood of Christ you were cleansed, that He justifies you, and will no more remember your transgressions and lawlessness, your conscience would be purged, you would have no more conscience of sins. Conscious of disobedience you may be after this, which will call forth the confession of your sins to the Father as His child, in order to your communion being restored; but there would be no more question of sin as to condemnation. You will then seek so to walk as to keep a conscience void of offence, both toward God and toward man. The Scripture which cannot be broken, setting before you as it does God's mind, and brought home to your heart by the Holy Spirit, you will be kept in perfect peace. Self-occupation, or brooding over circumstances, will disturb this; but looking off again to God and His word, you will realize that you are an object of divine favour and blessing. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee."
3. The believer is also sanctified, and this through the one offering of Christ according to the will of God. "By the which will we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (v. 10.) This is another present blessing. We are not told here that we shall be sanctified, but that "we are sanctified." Many believers, because they have not searched the Scriptures on the subject, have very erroneous thoughts about sanctification. Not a few who would say they are justified, would greatly hesitate to say they are sanctified. Why is this? Because they hold the false notion that to be sanctified means to be holy in nature, and not finding this the case, they are always hoping to be, and never can say they are sanctified. But sanctification is not to be so understood. The vessels of the sanctuary were sanctified; but did the gold of those vessels differ from ordinary corruptible gold? Certainly not. But they were set apart for God according to His will, by being sprinkled with blood and anointed with oil, and thus became vessels for His service. If sanctification is thus looked at, it becomes simple enough. It is most certainly God's truth that every believer is sanctified, or set apart for Him; but how could this be except through the atoning work of Christ? And if we are sprinkled with His blood, how could we but thus be set apart for God? The Jewish priests were sprinkled with blood in order to be set apart for their priestly functions; and we are also told "Wherefore Jesus, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate." Nothing can be more conclusive than that every believer is sanctified, or set apart for God, by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
It may be well to remark here, that there are five aspects of sanctification in the New Testament.
1. Sanctification of the Father, setting us apart according, to His gracious will or purpose. (Jude 1.)
2. Sanctification by the blood of Jesus. (Hebrews 13:12.)
3. Sanctification of the Spirit, one of the actions of the Spirit in our souls. (1 Peter 1:2.) Thus the Father's purpose, the Son's blood, and the Spirit's work, all combine to set us apart for God. We are sanctified by the will of God.
4. But what, it may be asked, is the measure, or character of this sanctification? Where does it bring us in thus being set apart for God? The answer is, that Christ at God's right hand in heaven is the character of our sanctification; for we "are sanctified in Christ Jesus." And we are further told that God hath made Him to be unto us sanctification. (1 Cor. 1:2, 30.) We are thus as near to God as Christ is; for we are set apart for God in Him. Blessed rest for our souls!
5. We find also in Scripture practical sanctification, the effect of divine truth upon our souls. Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth." (John 17:17.) There is growth in this, no doubt, just as the word is received into our hearts as divine truth; but progressive sanctification, or persons getting more and more holy in their nature, is not true; for "that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit;" and we know that the flesh, though it may be kept under, cannot be made fit for God, or for His service. "The flesh profiteth nothing." How blessed, then, is this third result of the death of Christ, in thus setting us apart for God according to His will. "By the which will we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." And, as we have traced from Scripture, the Father's purpose, the Son's blood, and the Spirit's operation, have all acted in this, it is in Christ who is at God's right hand that we are sanctified, and by the power of divine truth in our hearts that we are practically led forth into His holy ways. Oh for the continual sense in our souls that we are thus divinely set apart for God!
4. But those who are thus sanctified are also "perfected for ever." A wondrous fact indeed, but most surely true, and all through the sacrifice of Christ; "for by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." (v. 14.) It is into this permanent character of blessing we are now brought; Christ has sat down, and we are for ever perfected. Wondrous grace! The work is done. The effect is perpetual. God is glorified. It needs nothing to be added. The work is finished, so Christ has sat down. The perfect love of God provided the perfect and spotless victim for the sacrifice; the work has been effectually done, and eternal redemption accomplished, so that we are for ever blessed. What matchless grace! In virtue therefore of this infinitely efficacious offering, He will present us without spot and faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. When the soul receives this truth as from the mouth of God, he not only rejoices in the Lord, but, finding himself freed from all questions as to his own eternal blessing and security, he has leisure to serve the Lord in helping others.
Thus far in the portion we are considering have we seen, that by the one sacrifice which was once offered we have remission of sins, a purged conscience, and are also sanctified and perfected for ever. We do well to ponder these most blessed truths, and to charge our hearts not to lose the full blessing of joy and strength they are so calculated to impart.
5. To all this work of Christ the Holy Spirit bears witness. Until redemption had been accomplished, the Holy Ghost could not come down to indwell us. No doubt the Holy Ghost had acted on and wrought by holy men all through at various times; but before the vessel had been actually cleansed by the blood of Jesus, He could not take up His abode in us. But having been born of the Spirit, and cleansed from our sins, He is now given to us. "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son in our hearts, crying, Abba, Father." Now, what is so important to observe here is, that the Holy Spirit witnesses to us of the everlasting blessings we are brought into by the one offering of Christ. For immediately after being told that we are both sanctified and perfected for ever, we read, "Whereof the Holy Ghost is a witness to us." The witness of the Spirit, then, is that we are purged worshippers, sanctified and perfected for ever. He also writes God's laws in our hearts and understandings, so that we may know and enjoy these most precious truths; and comforts us with the assurance that our sins and iniquities God will remember no more. (vv. 15-17.) In virtue, then, of the cleansing, sanctifying power of the blood of Jesus, the Holy Ghost has come down to dwell in our hearts, so that we may be assured that we are perfected for ever by that one offering, enjoy the truth, understand the will of the Lord, and be kept in perfect peace.
6. The priesthood of Christ is also based on the perfection of the work of the cross. We are told that Christ has entered in once into the holy place by His own blood, having accomplished eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12); and in the Scripture before us we also find that "He sat down on the right hand of God . . . . for by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." (vv. 12-14.) Thus Jesus, the true Aaron, was able to go into God's most holy presence, not with the blood of bulls and of calves, but by His own blood, because of its all-cleansing and perfecting efficacy. Having thus made us nigh to God in perpetuity of blessing, so that no further offering is needed, He sat down. He is therefore a sitting priest. Aaron could never sit down, because of the many sacrifices he was called on to offer. "But this man (Jesus), after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God." Thus the present priesthood of the Lord is established on that which has perfected us for ever. Jesus is therefore meeting our present need by sustaining, succouring, interceding for us, and ministering to us, because we are cleansed, sanctified, and perfected for ever by His one offering.
7. Thus have we boldness also to enter into the holiest of all. As before observed, we have not to do with a standing veil, but a rent veil. When Jesus died upon the cross, we are told that "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom." In this way God showed that He could now, because of the one sacrifice of Christ, openly pronounce that every barrier to our entrance into His presence was entirely removed. Thus "the new and living way was consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh." We therefore now by faith draw near. We enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, where the great High Priest is. The new and living way is always open. Our place is to be inside. There the believer is always welcome. "Come boldly," says God. "Let us draw near," says an inspired apostle. What grace! What a precious privilege to be able at all times to draw near! What love! What nearness, too, to be thus set before God on the true ground of worship as purged worshippers! The precious blood of Christ is surely our never-failing title to be there, and there He ever lives as our subsisting righteousness; for we are made the righteousness of God in Him. What peace and rest the accomplished work of Christ gives us, even in the holiest of all! And how we feel our souls drawn there by the perfection and activities of our great High Priest, by the rent veil, and the sprinkled blood! This is surely something more than the modern evangelical doctrine, which insists on our being "always at the foot of the cross." Blessed, most blessed, it surely is to look back and remember Jesus in all His love and sorrow there. But that soul whose thoughts rise no higher than Jesus on the cross, though safe for eternity, knows neither the liberty where with Christ hath made us free, nor, however retiring and secluded in his habits, what it is to be rescued from this present evil world, nor to be delivered from self! But when he believes that the precious Person who died for him on the cross is now in the glory, and that His blood now speaks for him in God's most holy presence, he rejoices in the fact that the death and blood-shedding of the Son of God give him title to be in heaven itself — now by faith and in spirit, and bodily when Jesus comes. Talk to him about being "always at the foot of the cross," and he will point to the rent veil, to the ever-living High Priest inside, to the blood which speaks there, and declare that his unspeakable privilege now is to be inside the veil. It is there we see the One who died for us now. He was on the cross; He was in the sepulchre; but it is there we contemplate Him now, and crowned with glory and honour. There we know His precious priestly functions are always active for us. There we learn the true value of His most precious blood, not only in giving remission of sins, but as our never-failing title to be in the presence of God in perfect peace for ever. Those who insist on being "always at the foot of the cross" may have peace; but how can they know communion and worship according to God's mind?
Do our souls then, beloved fellow-Christians, truly rejoice in the Lord? Do we know what it is really to be inside the veil as purged worshippers? There is no effort in this. We shall not be trying to get there, because we know we are there, in Him who is true. Entering into this precious fact, and beholding the blessed One who is there, knowing also the welcome to come boldly and at all times, we take the place which wondrous grace has accorded to us, and bow our hearts in adoring gratitude and worship. Then we delight to sing,
"Thy precious name it is I bear,
In Thee I am to God brought near,
And all the Father's love I share,
O Lamb of God, in Thee.
"And when I in Thy likeness shine,
The glory and the praise be Thine,
That everlasting joy is mine,
O Lamb of God, in Thee."