IN a certain house there hangs a notable picture which commemorates a great historic event, and contains portraits of all the notable personages who took part in it. A sketch-plan, which had been prepared in advance, indicated the name and rank of each of them; but when the picture itself was hung upon the wall, there seemed to be no further need of the sketch, and so it was thrown away. And today if you ask for particulars about the various portraits, most members of the circle will tell you that such details have no interest for them: it is the central figure alone that they think about, and it is the picture as a whole that they value. Or if any of the house-party should make a more sympathetic response to your inquiries, you will get conflicting answers from them, for they are all at sea upon the subject.
This parable, suggested by the study of Hebrews, may serve to illustrate our efforts to understand the evangelical teaching of the New Testament, if the key-plan of Old Testament typology be neglected. For, though the sacrificial work of Christ has as many aspects as there are great typical sacrifices in the Pentateuch, the Passover and the Sin-offering hold a practically exclusive prominence in our theology. And yet the Passover, though in sense the basis of all the rest, has no place in Hebrews;1 and the Sin-offering holds a subordinate position in the doctrinal teaching of the Epistle.
The ninth chapter will help to guide us aright in the use of these many types. As they all point to Christ, we may lose important truth if we neglect any one of them. But we must not suppose that His sacrificial work was marked by successive stages.2 And yet we need to distinguish between these types. An uninstructed reader, for example, would probably fail to notice that verses 1 and 13 point to three entirely different offerings. For verse 12 (compare verse 19) refers to the Covenant sacrifice of Exodus 24; and verse 13 to the two great sin-offerings of Leviticus 16), and Numbers 19.
And though, perhaps, the uninstructed reader may fail to appreciate distinctions of this kind, he will eagerly seize upon another distinction which no pupil in the divine kindergarten of Bible typology can miss, namely, that while the types specified in Hebrews represent only what the death of Christ is to His people, yet in a most important aspect of it that death was for a lost world. And it is owing to ignorance of the typology, and of the distinctions which it teaches, that seemingly conflicting statements of Scripture have driven theologians into separate, if not hostile, camps, and have led ordinary Christians (like the owners of the picture in my parable) to ignore details altogether, and to rest content with general impressions.
When, for example, we read in one Scripture that Christ "gave Himself a ransom for all," and in another that He was "offered to bear the sins of many," we must not set ourselves to prove that "all" means only some, or that "many" is equivalent to all; but, knowing that no book in the world is so precise in its terminology as the New Testament:, we shall turn to the key-picture of the Pentateuch, to find that here, as always, Scripture is perfectly accurate and consistent with itself.
Take, for example, two passages in the First Epistle of Peter, which are akin to the passages above quoted. In chapter 1:18, 19, we read, "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things…but with the precious Blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot"; and in chapter 2:24, "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body to the tree." The references here are unmistakable - in the one case to the Paschal Lamb of Exodus 12; in the other, to the scapegoat of Leviticus 16. But the Passover was the sacrifice by which an enslaved and doomed people obtained redemption, whereas, in common with the other sacrifices of the law, the sin-offering was for those who had been thus redeemed.
To object that the Israelites were the "Covenant people" involves an anachronism, for the covenant had not yet been inaugurated. And to say that none but the Israelites could have gained the shelter of the blood is wholly unwarranted; for if, even after the covenant was dedicated, such an outcast as "Rahab the harlot" could come within the pale, we may be certain that any Egyptian might have thrown in his lot with Israel, and sought the shelter of the blood. This suggestion is entirely in the spirit of the law which permitted the stranger to eat the Passover. (Numbers 9:14 Deuteronomy 23:7)
In the case of the sin-offering, before the victim was slain the offerer identified himself with it by placing his hands upon its head. But there was no such identification of the Israelite with the Paschal lamb. Its blood was shed and sprinkled upon the house, and all who sought the shelter of the blood escaped the death sentence pronounced upon Egypt. But, in contrast with this, on the Day of Atonement the sins of the redeemed people were laid upon the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:21-22), and the victim bore them away to the wilderness - the desert aptly typifying "that undiscovered country from whose borne no traveller returns." And so, in the language of the types, the inspired Apostle tells us that Christ "bare our sins to the tree."3 Our sins - the sins of us who have been redeemed by the blood of the Paschal lamb.
For "bearing sins" is a figurative expression, and the figure is neither poetic nor yet forensic, but sacrificial; and it comes from the, great Day of Atonement. Therefore is it that in Scripture the Gospel for the unsaved is never stated in the language of the sin-offering. And a student of types will notice any violation of this rule as instinctively as a trained ear will detect a discord. Or if he should find any seeming exceptions, he will rightly attribute them to the wording of our English versions.
The utterance of the Baptist, recorded in John 1:29, is a case in point. "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." This is not translation merely, it savours of exegesis. "Who beareth the sin of the world" is what the Baptist said. His words were not a prophecy of what Christ would accomplish by His death, but a statement of what He was in His life. Mark the present tense, "Who is bearing." And while the word used in 1 Peter 1:2-24, and in kindred passages, is a sacrificial term, we have here an ordinary word for lifting and carrying burdens. When the Lord sighed in healing the deaf mute by the Sea of Galilee Mark 7:34, and when He groaned and wept at the grave of Lazarus, He took upon Himself, as it were, the infirmities and sorrows which He relieved, and made them His own. And in this pregnant sense it was that He bore the world’s sin. In this sense of the word He was manifested to bear sins,4 and in no other sense was He a sin-bearer during His earthly life. The imputation of sin to Christ was entirely the act of God. And the twenty-second Psalm tells of His anguish when He reached that crisis of His mission, and passing under the awful cloud "became a curse for us." But to suppose that the twenty-second Psalm expresses His relations with the Father during the years of His ministry gives proof that in the religious sphere there is nothing too profane, and nothing too false, to be believed. He was "manifested" to bear human sins and sorrows, for the facts of His life and death on earth are matters of evidence, and none but fools deny them. But that He was the Son of God, and that He "died for our sins according to the Scriptures" - this is altogether matter of revelation, and none but fools would believe it on mere human testimony.
There is no element of deception or of artifice in the Gospel. The Lord commissioned His Apostles to proclaim forgiveness of sins among all nations (Luke 24:47). And from one of the sermons recorded in Acts we know in what sense they understood His words. "Through Him is preached unto you forgiveness of sins," said Paul at Pisidia Antioch (Acts 13:38). And this because (as he declared at Corinth - the message being given him by express revelation)
"Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15:3)
The truth of this is in no respect modified by the further truth that when the believing sinner receives Christ, he becomes identified with Him in the sin-offering sense. For the passover was as true as the sin-offering. And the Antioch sermon discloses a kindred advance in truth; for, to the proclamation of the amnesty, the Apostle added, "And all who believe are justified."
"Justified freely by His grace," as we read in Romans 3:24. The Jew indeed had "the promises made unto the Fathers," but we Gentiles (being "strangers from the covenants of promise") "glorify God for His mercy." (Romans 15:8, 9) We owe everything to grace; and to speak of grace for a favoured few, if it do not imply a contradiction in terms, is at least an utterly inadequate statement of truth. "For the grace of God has appeared, salvation-bringing to all men." (Titus 2:11)
And God is "willing that all men should be saved." (1 Timothy 2:4) Language could not be more explicit and unequivocal; and to question whether these statements are true and to be taken "at their face value," is profanely to charge the Word of God with deception of a kind that would not. be tolerated as between man and man.5
In the parable of the Great Supper (Luke 14:16-24), the Lord likens us Gentile Christians to the tramps and waifs of the highways and the city streets, who in Divine mercy have been gathered to the feast which the privileged people spurned. And yet when we come within, we find a place prepared and reserved for each of us, as though we were specially invited guests. But the effect produced on some people by this amazing mystery of grace is that they return to the streets and highways, not to obey the Master’s orders to publish the good news to ‘"the poor and the maimed and the halt and the blind," but to announce that the places are limited, and that it is all settled who shall occupy them.
The mention of the covenants in this section of Hebrews throws light upon this subject, and moreover it has a special interest for the Bible student. The Old Testament quotations in chapter 8 relate to the "new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah," a covenant which will bring "the times of refreshing" that fill so large a place in Hebrew prophecy.6 And they are quoted, not to establish the fact of a new covenant - for that no Israelite would question - but because the fact gives proof that the Mosaic covenant is superseded. But Scripture knows nothing of a covenant with Gentiles, and the question arises, where do we come in? The Greek word diatheke signifies both "covenant" and "testament"; and while to the covenant there are two parties and a "mediator," a testament depends only on the will of the testator, and it becomes operative at his death. And so, up to the fifteenth verse of Hebrews 9, the word is used in the Old Testament sense, but in the sixteenth verse it assumes the alternative meaning of "testament."7 Our spiritual and eternal blessings do not depend on a covenant made with us, but upon a testament under which we are beneficiaries. And if we have learned to mark the accuracy of Holy Scripture, we shall not fail to notice how the difference between the relations of Hebrews and of Gentiles to the new covenant is recognized in the institution of the Lord’s Supper. For the favoured people had access to the blood in virtue of the covenant, whereas we Gentiles come within the covenant in virtue of the blood. In the "Hebrew" Gospel, therefore, we read,
This is My blood of the new covenant" (Matthew 26:28)
whereas in the "Gentile" Gospel it is "This cup is the new covenant in My blood." (Luke 22:20)
While the old covenant had an earthly sanctuary and a human priesthood, the sanctuary of the new covenant is heaven itself, and the Great Priest who ministers there is no other than the Son of God. This, the Apostle declares, is "the chief point" of all he has said (chap. 8:1, R.V.). And these great facts of the Christian revelation sweep away the whole structure of the false cult of Christendom. That cult would have us believe that every man upon whose head a bishop’s consecrating hands have been placed is a sacrificing priest, with powers and privileges higher than those which pertained to the divinely appointed priests in Israel. But so exclusive are the prerogatives of the sons of Aaron, that while on earth not even the Lord Jesus Christ could share them (Hebrews 8:4).What a staggering fact it is that, during His earthly ministry, the Son of God Himself could not pass within the veil which screened the antechamber to the holy shrine! And yet that place of worship was merely "a sanctuary of this world," and Jewish priests "went in continually."
The very existence of this antechamber - the "first tabernacle" of Hebrews - gave proof that "the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest."8 An earthly place of worship is proof that the heavenly place of worship is still closed. The Apostle therefore warned the Hebrew Christians that to set up such a place of worship, with an earthly priesthood, was apostasy, for it denied the efficacy of the work of Christ. And by this test the false religion of Christendom, with its earthly shrines and its earthly priesthood, is proved to be outside,. the pale of true Christianity. (Hebrews 9:8)