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Characteristics of the first covenant
Hebrews 9. The epistle, recounting some particular circumstances which characterised the first covenant, shows that neither were sins put away, nor was the conscience purged by its means, nor the entrance into the holiest granted to the worshippers. The veil concealed God. The high priest went in once a year to make reconciliation — no one else. The way to God in holiness was barred. Perfect, as pertaining to the conscience, they could not be through the blood of bulls and of goats. These were but provisionary and figurative ordinances, until God took up the real work itself, in order to accomplish it fully and for ever.
The value and extent of the sacrifice of Christ
But this brings us to the focus of the light which God gives us by the Holy Ghost in this epistle. Before proving by the scriptures of the Old Testament the doctrine that he announced, and the discontinuance of the legal sacrifices — of all sacrifice for sin, the writer, with a heart full of the truth and of the importance of that truth, teaches the value and the extent of the sacrifice of Christ (still in contrast with the former offerings, but a contrast that rests on the intrinsic value of the offering of Christ). These three results are presented: — first, the opened way into the sanctuary was manifested; that is, access to God Himself, where He is; second, the purification of the conscience; third, an eternal redemption; I may add the promise of an eternal inheritance.
The opened way into the sanctuary; access to God Himself
One feels the immense importance, the inestimable value, of the first. The believer is admitted into God's own presence by a new and living way which He has consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; has constant access to God, immediate access to the place where He is, in the light. What complete salvation, what blessedness, what security! For how could we have access to God in the light, if everything that would separate us from Him, were not entirely taken away through Him who was once offered to bear the sins of many? But here it is the precious and perfect result, in this respect, which is revealed to us, and formally proved in Hebrews 10, as a right that we possess, that access to God Himself is entirely and freely open to us. We are not indeed told in this passage that we are seated there, for it is not our union with Christ that is the subject of this epistle, but our access to God in the sanctuary. And it is important to note this last, and it is as precious in its place as the other. We are viewed as on earth, and being on earth we have free and full access to God in the sanctuary. We go in perfect liberty to God, where His holiness dwells, and where nothing that is contrary to Him can be admitted. What happiness! What perfect grace! What a glorious result, supreme and complete! Could anything better be desired, remembering too that it is our dwelling-place? This is our position in the presence of God through the entrance of Christ into the sanctuary.
The purification not only of sins but of the conscience
The second result shows us the personal state we are brought into, in order to the enjoyment of our position; that we may on our part, enter in freely. It is that our Saviour has rendered our conscience perfect, so that we can go into the sanctuary without an idea of fear, without one question as to sin arising in our minds. A perfect conscience is not an innocent conscience which, happy in its unconsciousness, does not know evil, and does not know God revealed in holiness. A perfect conscience knows God; it is cleansed, and, having the knowledge of good and evil according to the light of God Himself, it knows that it is purified from all evil according to His purity. Now the blood of bulls and goats, and the washings repeated under the law, could never make the conscience perfect. They could sanctify carnally, so as to enable the worshipper to approach God outwardly, yet only afar off, with the veil still unrent. But a real purification from sin and sins, so that the soul can be in the presence of God Himself in the light without spot, with the consciousness of being so, the offerings under the law could never produce. They were but figures. But, thanks be to God, Christ has accomplished the work; and, present for us now in the heavenly and eternal sanctuary, He is the witness there that our sins are put away; so that all conscience of sin before God is destroyed, because we know that He who bore our sins is in the presence of God, after having accomplished the work of expiation. Thus we have the consciousness of being in the light without spot. We have the purification not only of sins but of the conscience, so that we can use this access to God in full liberty and joy, presenting ourselves before Him who has so loved us.
Christ abiding in heaven; an eternal redemption
The third result, which seals and characterises the two others, is that Christ, having once entered in, abides in heaven. He has gone into the heavenly sanctuary to remain there by virtue of an eternal redemption, of blood that has everlasting validity. The work is completely done, and can never change in value. If our sins are effectually put away, God glorified, and righteousness complete, that which once availed to effect this can never not avail. The blood shed once for all is ever efficacious.
Our High Priest is in the sanctuary, not with the blood of sacrifices, which are but figures of the true. The work has been done which puts sin away. This redemption is neither temporal nor transitory. It is the redemption of the soul, and for eternity, according to the moral efficacy of that which has been done.
Here then are the three aspects of the result of the work of Christ: immediate access to God; a purged conscience; an eternal redemption.
The high priest of good things to come; Messiah's reign on earth; the Christian's present relationship
Three points remain to be noticed before entering on the subjects of the covenants, which is here resumed.
First, Christ is a High Priest of good things to come. In saying "things to come," the starting-point is Israel under the law before the advent of our Lord. Nevertheless, if these good things were now acquired, if it could be said, "we have them," because Christianity was their fulfilment, it could hardly be still said — when Christianity was established — "good things to come." They are yet to come. These "good things" consist of all that the Messiah will enjoy when He reigns. This also is the reason that the earthly things have their place. But our present relationship with Him is only and altogether heavenly. He acts as Priest in a tabernacle which is not of this creation: it is heavenly, in the presence of God, not made with hands. Our place is in heaven.
Christ's precious offering up of Himself as Man to God and by the eternal Spirit
In the second place, "Christ offered himself, by the eternal
Spirit,* without spot, to God." Here the precious offering up of
Christ is viewed as an act that He performed as man, though in the
perfection and value of His Person. He offered Himself to God — but
as moved by the power, and according to the perfection of the
eternal Spirit. All the motives that governed this action, and the
accomplishment of the fact according to those motives, were purely
and perfectly those of the Holy Ghost; that is, absolutely divine in
their perfection, but of the Holy Ghost acting in a man (a man
without sin who, born and living ever by the power of the Holy
Ghost, had never known sin; who, being exempt from it by birth,
never allowed it to enter into Him); so that it is the Man Christ
who offers Himself. This was requisite.
The perfection, purity and eternal value of the offering
Thus the offering was in itself perfect and pure, without defilement; and the act of offering was perfect, whether in love or in obedience, or in the desire to glorify God, or to accomplish the purpose of God. Nothing mingled itself with the perfection of His intent in offering Himself.
Moreover, it was not a temporary offering, which applied to one sin with which the conscience was burdened and which went no farther than that one, an offering which could not, by its nature, have the perfection spoken of, because it was not the Person offering up Himself, nor was it absolutely for God, because there was in it neither the perfection of will nor of obedience. But the offering of Christ was one which, being perfect in its moral nature, being in itself perfect in the eyes of God, was necessarily eternal in its value. For this value was as enduring as the nature of God who was glorified in it.
The free-will offering of obedience; its results for us
It was made, not of necessity, but of free will, and in obedience. It was made by a Man for the glory of God, but through the eternal Spirit, ever the same in its nature and value.
All being thus perfectly fulfilled for the glory of God, the conscience of every one that comes to Him by this offering is purged; dead works are blotted out and set aside; we stand before God on the ground of that which Christ has done.
Christian position; serving the living God in love contrasted with Judaism
And here the third point comes in. Being perfectly cleansed in
conscience from all that man in his sinful nature produces, and
having to do with God in light and in love, there being no question
of conscience with Him, we are in a position to serve the living
God. Precious liberty! in which, happy and without question before
God according to His nature in light, we can serve Him according to
the activity of His nature in love. Judaism knew no more of this
than it did of perfection in conscience. Obligation towards God that
system indeed maintained; and it offered a certain provision for
that which was needed for outward failure. But to have a perfect
conscience, and then to serve God in love, according to His will
of this it knew nothing.
This is christian position: the conscience perfect by Christ,*
according to the nature of God Himself; the service of God in
liberty, according to His nature of love acting towards
The Jewish system characterised by the holy place
For the Jewish system, in its utmost advantages, was characterised by the holy place. There were duties and obligations to be fulfilled in order to draw near, sacrifices to cleanse outwardly him who drew near outwardly. Meanwhile God was always concealed. No one entered into "the holy place": it is implied that the "most holy" was inaccessible. No sacrifice had yet been offered which gave free access, and at all times. God was concealed: that He was so characterised the position. They could not stand before Him. Neither did He manifest Himself. They served Him out of His presence without going in.
It is important to notice this truth, that the whole system in its highest and nearest access to God was characterised by the holy place, in order to understand the passage before us.
Judaism identified with the first part of the tabernacle, the figure showing there was no access to God; God only approached by a priesthood; heaven then spoken of
Now the first tabernacle — Judaism as a system — is identified with the first part of the tabernacle, and that open only to the priestly part of the nation, the second part (that is, the sanctuary) only showing, by the circumstances connected with it, that there was no access to God. When the author of the epistle goes on to the present position of Christ, he leaves the earthly tabernacle — it is heaven itself he then speaks of, a tabernacle not made with hands, nor of this creation, into which he introduces us.
The first tent or part of the tabernacle gave the character of the relationship of the people with God, and that only by a priesthood. They could not reach God. When we approach God Himself, it is in heaven; and the entire first system disappears. Everything was offered as a figure in the first system, and even as a figure showed that the conscience was not yet set free, nor the presence of God accessible to man. The remembrance of sins was continually renewed (the annual sacrifice was a memorial of sins, and God was not manifested, nor the way to Him opened).
The two opposite systems; the typical things and heaven, the true sanctuary
Christ comes, accomplishes the sacrifice, makes the conscience perfect, goes into heaven itself; and we draw nigh to God in the light. To mingle the service of the first tabernacle or holy place with christian service is to deny the latter; for the meaning of the first was that the way to God was not yet open; the meaning of the second, that it is open.
God may have patience with the weakness of man. Till the destruction of Jerusalem He bore with the Jews; but the two systems can never really go on together, namely, a system which said that one cannot draw nigh to God, and another system which gives access to Him.
Christ is come, the High Priest of a new system, of "good things," which, under the old system, were yet "to come"; but He did not enter into the earthly "most holy place," leaving the "holy place" to subsist without a true meaning. He is come by the (not a) more excellent and more perfect tabernacle. I repeat it, for it is essential here: the holy place, or the first tent, is the figure of the relationship of men with God under the first tabernacle (taken as a whole); so that we may say, "the first tabernacle," applying it to the first part of the tabernacle, and pass on to the first tabernacle as a whole, and as a recognised period having the same meaning. This the epistle does here. To come out of this position, we must leave typical things and pass into heaven, the true sanctuary where Christ ever lives, and where no veil bars our entrance.
The guarantee for every promise — Christ in heaven
Now it is not said, that we have "the good things to come."
Christ has gone into heaven itself, the High Priest of those good
things, securing their possession to them that trust in Him. But we
have access to* God in the light by virtue of Christ's presence
there. That presence is the proof of righteousness fully
established; the blood, an evidence that our sins are put away for
ever; and our conscience is made perfect. Christ in heaven is the
guarantee for the fulfilment of every promise. He has opened an
access for us, even now, to God in the light; having cleansed our
consciences once for all — for He dwells on high continuously — that we may enter in, and that we may serve God here below.
The new covenant founded on the blood of Christ; the eternal inheritance
All this is already established and secured; but there is more. The new covenant, of which He is Mediator, is founded on His blood. The way in which the apostle always avoids the direct application of the new covenant is very striking.
The transgressions that were imputed under the first covenant, and which the sacrifices it offered could not expiate, are by the blood of the new covenant entirely blotted out. Thus they which are called — observe the expression (v. 15) — can receive the promise of the eternal inheritance; that is to say, the foundation is laid for the accomplishment of the blessings of the covenant. He says, "the eternal inheritance," because, as we have seen, the reconciliation was complete, our sins borne and cancelled, and the work by which sin is finally put away out of God's sight accomplished, according to the nature and character of God Himself. This is the main point of all this part of the epistle.
The necessity that sin and sins be entirely put away; the mediator of the new covenant who has paid the ransom
It is because of the necessity there was for this sacrifice — the necessity that sins, and finally sin, should be entirely put
away,* in order to the enjoyment of the eternal promises (for God
could not bless, as an eternal principle and definitively, while sin
was before His eyes), that Christ, the Son of God, Man on earth,
became the Mediator of the new covenant, in order that by death He
might make a way for the permanent enjoyment of that which had been
promised. The new covenant, in itself, did not speak of a
Mediator. God would write His laws on the hearts of His people, and
would remember sins no more.
The covenant is not yet made with Israel and Judah. But meanwhile God has established and revealed the Mediator, who has accomplished the work on which the fulfilment of the promises can be founded in a way that is durable in principle, eternal, because connected with the nature of God Himself. This is done by means of death, the wages of sin, and by which sin is left behind; and expiation for sins being made according to the righteousness of God, an altogether new position is taken outside and beyond sin. The Mediator has paid the ransom. Sin has no more right over us.
The implication of a "testament"; death necessary before men could be in relationship with God
Verses 16, 17 are a parenthesis, in which the idea of a
"testament" (it is the same word as "covenant" in the Greek, a
disposition on the part of one who has the right of disposal) is
introduced, to make us understand that death must have taken place
before the rights acquired under the testament can be enjoyed.*
This necessity of the covenant being founded on the blood of a victim was not forgotten in the case of the first covenant. Everything was sprinkled with blood. Only, in this case, it was the solemn sanction of death attached to the obligation of the covenant. The types always spoke of the necessity of death intervening before men could be in relationship with God. Sin had brought in death and judgment. We must either undergo the judgment ourselves, or see our sins blotted out through it having been undergone by another for us.
Three applications of the blood: the requisite foundation in atonement; purification from sin's defilement; remission of sins by the blood shed
Three applications of the blood are presented here. The covenant is founded on the blood. Defilement is washed away by its means. Guilt is removed by the remission obtained through the blood that has been shed.
These are, in fact, the three things necessary. First, the ways of God in bestowing blessing according to His promises are connected with His righteousness, the sins of those blessed being atoned for, the requisite foundation of the covenant, Christ having withal glorified God in respect of sin, when made sin on the cross.
Second, the purification of the sin by which we were defiled (by which all things, that could not be guilty, were nevertheless defiled) is accomplished. Here there were cases in which water was typically used: this is moral and practical cleansing. It flows from death; the water that purifies proceeded from the side of the holy Victim already dead. It is the application of the word — which judges all evil and reveals all good — to the conscience and the heart.
Third, as regards remission. In no case can this be obtained without the shedding of blood. Observe that it does not here say "application." It is the accomplishment of the work of true propitiation, which is here spoken of. Without shedding of blood there is no remission. All-important truth! For a work of remission, death and blood-shedding must take place.
Two consequences of atonement and reconciliation to God — the necessity of a better sacrifice and the single perfect offering
Two consequences flow from these views of atonement and reconciliation to God.
First, it was necessary that there should be a better sacrifice, a more excellent victim, than those which were offered under the old covenant, because it was the heavenly things themselves, and not their figures, that were to be purified. For it is into the presence of God in heaven itself that Christ has entered.
Secondly, Christ was not to offer Himself often, as the high priest went in every year with the blood of others. For He offered up Himself. Hence, if all that was available in the sacrifice was not brought to perfection by a single offering once made, He must have suffered often since the foundation of the world.*
Why God allowed ages to pass before accomplishing His work of grace
This remark leads to the clear and simple declaration of the
ways of God on this point — a declaration of priceless value. God
allowed ages to pass (the different distinct periods in which man
has in divers ways been put to the test, and in which he has had
time to show what he is) without yet accomplishing His work of
grace. This trial of man has served to show that he is bad in nature
and in will. The multiplication of means only made it more evident
that he was essentially bad at heart, for he availed himself of none
of them to draw near to God. On the contrary, his enmity against God
was fully manifested.
When God had made this plain, before the law, under the law, by promises, by the coming and presence of His Son, then the work of God takes the place, for our salvation and God's glory, of man's responsibility — on the ground of which faith knows man is entirely lost. This explains the expression (v. 26) "in the consummation of the ages."
The measure of man's sin filled up by the rejection of Jesus; the consummation of the ages
Now this work is perfect, and perfectly accomplished. Sin had dishonoured God, and separated man from Him. All that God had done to give him the means of return only ended in affording him opportunity to fill up the measure of his sin by the rejection of Jesus. But in this the eternal counsels of God were fulfilled, at least the moral basis laid, and that in infinite perfection, for their actual accomplishment in their results. All now in fact, as in purpose always, rested on the second Adam, and on what God had done, not on man's responsibility, while that was fully met for God's glory (compare 2 Tim. 1:9-10; Titus 1:1-2). The Christ, whom man rejected, had appeared in order to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Thus it was morally the consummation of the ages.
Sin will be entirely blotted out as the result of God's work and power; to faith this is already realised
The result of the work and power of God are not yet
manifested. A new creation will develop them. But man, as the child
of Adam, has run his whole career in his relationship with God: he
is enmity against God. Christ, fulfilling the will of God, has come
in the consummation of ages, to put away sin by the sacrifice of
Himself, and His work to this end is accomplished. This is the moral
power of His act,* of His sacrifice before God; in result, sin will
be entirely blotted out of the heavens and the earth. To faith this
result, namely, the putting away of sin, is already realised in the
conscience,** because Christ who was made sin for us has died and
died to sin, and now is risen and glorified, sin (even as made it
for us) left behind.
The result announced; the believer's own sins blotted out since they were laid on Christ on the cross at His first coming; His second appearance not for judgment but unto salvation
Moreover, this result is announced to the believer — to those who are looking for the Lord's return. Death and judgment are the lot of men as children of Adam. Christ has been offered once to bear the sins of many; and "unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation," not to judgment.
For them, as to their standing before God, sin is even now put away: as Christ is, so are they; their own sins are all blotted out. Christ appeared the first time in order to be made sin for us, and to bear our sins; they were laid upon Him on the cross. And, with regard to those who wait for Him, those sins are entirely put away. When He returns, Christ has nothing to do with sin, as far as they are concerned. It was fully dealt with at His first coming. He appears the second time to deliver them from all the results of sin, from all bondage. He will appear, not for judgment, but unto salvation. The putting away of sin on their behalf before God has been so complete, the sins of believers so entirely blotted out, that, when He appears the second time, He has, as to them, nothing to do with sin. He appears apart from sin, not only without sin in His blessed Person — this was the case at His first coming — but (as to those who look for Him) outside all question of sin, for their final deliverance.
The character of the Lord's second coming; seen not by the world but by those who look for Him; the time of their deliverance
"Without sin" is in contrast with "to bear the sins of many."*
But it will be remarked, that the taking up of the assembly is not
mentioned here. It is well to notice the language. The character of
His second coming is the subject. He has been manifested once. Now
He is seen by those who look for Him. The expression may apply to
the deliverance of the Jews who wait for Him in the last days. He
will appear for their deliverance. But we expect the Lord for this
deliverance, and we shall see Him when He accomplishes it even for
us. The apostle does not touch the question of the difference
between this and our being caught up, and does not use the word
which serves to announce His public manifestation. He will appear
to those who expect Him. He is not seen by all the world, nor is it
consequently the judgment, although that may follow. The Holy Ghost
speaks only of them that look for the Lord. To them He will
appear. By them He will be seen, and it will be the time of their
deliverance; so that it is true for us, and also applicable to the
Jewish remnant in the last days.
Thus the christian position, and the hope of the world to come, founded on the blood and on the Mediator of the new covenant, are both given here. The one is the present portion of the believer, the other is secured as the hope of Israel.
How wonderful is the grace which we are now considering!
Christ's grace and goodness; the efficacy of His accomplished work; in God's presence as white as snow
There are two things that present themselves to us in Christ — the attractions to our heart of His grace and goodness, and His work which brings our souls into the presence of God. It is with the latter that the Holy Ghost here occupies us. There is not only the piety which grace produces; there is the efficacy of the work itself. What is this efficacy? What is the result for us of His work? Access to God in the light without a veil, ourselves entirely clear of all sin before Him, as white as snow in the light which only shows it. Marvellous position for us! We have not to wait for a day of judgment (assuredly coming as it is), nor to seek for means of approach to God. We are in His presence. Christ appears in the presence of God for us; and not only this: He remains there ever; our position therefore never changes. It is true that we are called to walk according to that position. But this does not touch the fact that such is the position. And how came we into it? and in what condition? Our sins entirely put away, perfectly put away, and once for all, and the whole question of sin settled for ever before God, we are there because Christ has finished the work which abolished it, and without it in God's sight. So that there are the two things — this work accomplished, and this position ours in the presence of God.
Contrast between Christianity and Judaism
We see the force of the contrast between this and Judaism. According to the latter, divine service, as we have seen, was performed outside the veil. The worshippers did not reach the presence of God. Thus they had always to begin again. The propitiatory sacrifice was renewed from year to year — a continually repeated testimony that sin still was there. Individually they obtained a temporary pardon for particular acts. It had constantly to be renewed. The conscience was never made perfect, the soul was not in the presence of God, this great question was never settled. (How many souls are even now in this condition!) The entrance of the high priest once a year did but furnish a proof that the way was still barred, that God could not be approached, but that sin was still remembered.
But now the guilt of believers is gone, their sins washed away by a work done once for all; the conscience is made perfect; nor is there any condemnation for them. Sin in the flesh has been condemned in Christ when a sacrifice for sin, and Christ appears ever in the presence of God for us. The High Priest remains there. Thus, instead of having a memorial of sin reiterated from year to year, perfect righteousness subsists ever for us in the presence of God. The position is entirely changed.
Man's lot now dependent on Christ, not on Adam
The lot of man (for this perfect work takes us out of Judaism)
is death and judgment. But now our lot depends on Christ, not on
Adam. Christ was offered to bear the sins of many* — the work is
complete, the sins blotted out, and to those who look for Him He
will appear without having anything to do with sin, that question
having been entirely settled at His first coming. In the death of
Jesus, God dealt with the sins of those who look for Him; and He
will appear, not to judge, but unto salvation — to deliver them
finally from the position into which sin had brought them. This
will have its application to the Jewish remnant according to the
circumstances of their position; but in an absolute way it applies
to the Christian, who has heaven for his portion.
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