The Gospel and its Ministry - ch 17 - AT-ONE-MENT


A WEED has been beautifully described as a plant out of place, and many a heresy is but a perverted truth. The remark is suggested by current theology respecting the Atonement.
The controversy is embarrassed by the ambiguity of the term round which it wages. For the word "atonement" has gradually changed its meaning. "When our translation was made it signified, as innumerable examples prove, reconciliation, or the making up of a foregoing enmity; all its uses in our early literature justifying the etymology now sometimes called into question, that ‘atonement’ is ‘at-one-ment.’ But now the word has come to be accepted as equivalent to "propitiatory sacrifice," and this use is so established that no one may challenge it. Indeed it is occasionally used in that sense in the preceding pages. Here, however, with a view to clearness and accuracy of statement, I will employ it only in its primary meaning, and according to its Biblical usage. In this chapter "atonenment" means always and only " at-one-ment."

The real question after all is not as to the use or meaning of an English word, but as to the doctrinal significance of the language of Scripture. And no one who will be at the pains to study, with the help of a Concordance, the passages in which the Hebrew verb occurs which our translators have commonly rendered "to make atonement," can fail to recognise that under the Mosaic law the at-one-ment was not the sacrifice itself, but a result of sacrifice, depending upon the work of priesthood.

The English reader can judge of this for himself by the use of the word in the book of Leviticus, where it occurs no less than forty-eight times. Its root-meaning may be gleaned from the passage where it first occurs in Scripture. Noah was commanded to cover the ark with pitch. From this the transition is easy to its meaning in the second passage where it is used: "I will appease him with the present," Jacob said in planning a reconciliation with his brother. To this end he prepared a present; but the at-one-ment was not the gift itself, neither was it made by preparing the gift; it was the change to be produced by means of it in Esau’s mind toward him. So, also, in Leviticus, the atonement was not the sin-offering, neither was it accomplished by killing the sacrifice; it depended upon the fulfilment of the prescribed ritual by which persons and things were brought within the benefits of a death already accomplished.

As the New Testament is in great measure written in the language of the Greek version of the Old, we naturally turn to the Epistle to the Hebrews to seek there, in connection with the priesthood of Christ, the word commonly adopted by the LXX. in their rendering of Leviticus. But the significance of the passage where it occurs is obscured or lost by the extraordinary figment that our blessed Lord officiated as a priest at. His own. death on Calvary. As already shown, the death of Christ was not a priestly sacrifice. The teaching of the New Testament is clear, that it was not till after His ascension that He entered on His priestly office. When, under the old covenant, redemption was accomplished, and Moses, the Mediator of that covenant, had made purification for sins, he went up to God; and then, and. not till then, the high priest was appointed. So also is it with the great antitype. The doctrine of Hebrews is not that Christ’s priesthood while on earth was not of the Aaronic order, but that "on earth He would not be a priest at all,"

Priesthood has nothing. to do with obtaining redemption. The 12th chapter of Exodus records the deliverance of Israel both from the doom of Egypt and from the power of Egypt. In the 24th chapter the work was completed by Israel’s being brought into covenant relationship with God, and sanctified by the blood with which the covenant was dedicated. Till then, the Divine Majesty forbade the sinner to approach. To touch even the base of Sinai was certain and relentless death. But now that redemption in its fulness was an accomplished fact, the very men who till then had been forbidden to "come nigh," were made nigh. "They saw the God of Israel"; and in token that they were at rest in the divine presence, it is added, "they did eat and drink." Then immediately follows the command, "Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them."

Without a place of worship there could be no need for priesthood; a place of worship was impossible save for a holy people in covenant with God; and the covenant was based upon redemption accomplished. It is at this point also, and that, too, in connection with the priesthood; that we first read in Scripture of making atonement for sin I have already cited the two earlier passages in which the Hebrew word occurs; we next find it here, in prescribing Aaron’s duties. The priest was "appointed for men in things pertaining to God," and one of his chief functions was "to make an atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins."

With all this before us, we are in a position to - understand the teaching of Hebrews ii. 17. "In all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God to make atonement for the sins of the people." This is not redemption for a lost world, but atonement for the sins of a redeemed people. It is not the Adamic race that is in question, but if the seed of Abraham "the Israel of God (verse i6). The fact is, that in our theology the special truth of atonement has been so confounded with the general truth of redemption, that it is in danger of becoming wholly lost. And prevailing views of sin are so inadequate or false, that Christians are becoming unconscious of the need which the priestly work of Christ alone can satisfy. What Archbishop Trench has written as to Reconciliation, applies here with equal force : the views now current, views which are leavening all. sections of the Church, " rest not on an unprejudiced exegesis, but on a foregone determination to get rid of the reality of God’s anger against sin."

And here is the explanation of the seeming paradox of the bloodless sin-offering. The Bible is not a motley compilation of unconnected treatises. The book of Leviticus is based upon the book of Exodus. The offerings it prescribes are for a people who stand in the liberty and joy of redemption. What then if the Israelite, redeemed by the Paschal lamb, and standing within the covenant which secures to him the efficacy of the blood upon the mercy-seat, should be too poor to bring the appointed sacrifice for his trespass? Divine compassion will reach him in his poverty; his meat-offering shall be accepted for a sin-offering, and his "sin that he hath sinned shall be forgiven him." The one offering was as definitely typical of Christ as was the other, and no one may dare to set a limit to the infinite grace of God in His dealings with a sinner who thus turns to Him.

The sinner’s sense of sin, and his appreciation of the Sin-bearer, may be so utterly inadequate and poor, that men may set him down as spiritually bankrupt and yet if Christ be the ground on which he comes to God, divine grace will reach him. But divine grace is no excuse for human presumption, and this special type only brings into more prominent relief the great truth that, "without shedding of blood there is no remission." As for those who teach a bloodless redemption, the brand of Cain is upon them, for they are murderers of men’s souls.

Christ, I repeat, is the antitype of the meat offering of Leviticus. And, there are not many Christ.s, but only ONE, and He is the Christ of Calvary. But it needs many types and many different images to set forth the immeasurable, fullness of Him that He is to the sinner. In the preceding pages I have touched upon other aspects of this great truth. Here I will only allude to two. The death of Christ is not merely the sin-offering, but first, and before all, it is the great Redemption sacrifice: "Christ our PASSOVER has been sacrificed." "We have redemption through His blood. But redemption, as I have shown, was wholly, independent of priesthood, and the priestly work of atonement was based upon the sin-offering completed and accepted as complete. The blood carried within the veil was not the completion of the sin-offering, but the memorial of a sin- offering completed.

But what is the blood? "The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls." From this it is argued that the blood represents not death but life. If this meant merely that all our blessings depend upon a living Christ, the doctrine would be right, though, wrongly expressed, and based on a wrong text. That Christ made propitiation for our sins is the language of theology: that Christ is the propitiation for our sins is the teaching of Scripture. Our Saviour is not a dead Christ upon a cross, but a living Christ upon the throne. But His right and title to be a Saviour depends upon the cross. He "died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and was buried and rose again the third day, according to the, Scriptures;" Such is "the Gospel by which we are saved." There is not a word about His "offering Himself to the Father " in resurrection.

But did not Christ enter heaven with His own. blood? And, if blood be life, must not this mean that He entered there in virtue of the life which He carried through death, and presented in resurrection as an offering to God? This theory is based upon a superficial study of the types, and it is in a fuller knowledge of the types that the refutation of it will be found. Some there are who need to be reminded that when Scripture speaks of Christ’s entering heaven with His own blood, the language is purely figurative. But the figure is typical, not fanciful. And every. figure has a reality of which it is but the shadow; every type has its antitype. It is forgotten, moreever, that Aaron’s entering within the veil is not the only type of the ascension; and it is to a wholly different type that prominence is given in the 9th chapter of Hebrews. The i3th verse brackets together the two principal sin-offerings of Leviticus xvi. and Numbers xix.; but in the 12th verse the reference is not to the sin-offering at all, but to the great sacrifice of Exodus xxiv. which completed their redemption. "Neither by the blood of goats and calves [compare verse 19], but by His own blood He entered in once for all into the holy place [not, "to make atonement," but] having obtained eternal redemption." it is not the Priest going in, to finish an unfinished work, but the Mediator going in on the ground of a work finished and complete.

Aaron passing within the veil was the correlative of Moses going up into the mount. This latter type, which is the key-note to the Epistle to the Hebrews (see chapter i. 3), is, as above noticed, taken up in the 12th verse and resumed in the passage beginning at the i9th verse. But the two types are so blended together throughout that the superficial reader entirely fails to notice the emphatic reference to the Mediator. In the one, Moses entered the divine presence by the blood of the redemption sacrifices; in the other, Aaron entered the divine presence by the blood of the sin-offering. Whatever the blood means in the one case it means also in the other; and by its meaning in these grouped and blended types, we must interpret the language when thus applied to Christ. But the teaching of Hebrews is clear and unequivocal, that the blood of the Covenant represented death. Moses, therefore, ascended the Mount and stood in the presence of the thrice holy God, not on the ground of life, but on the ground of a death accomplished.

If Christ has entered heaven on the ground of life, He is there on a ground which hopelessly excludes a creature who is under the death-sentence pronounced on sin. Therefore it is that such emphasis rests upon the blood The cross is His title to the throne, and this title He can share with sinners who by faith become one with Him in the death He died to sin.
"The life of the flesh is in the blood" that is, in "the warm and living blood" which animates it Therefore it is that when the organism is destroyed by the pouring out of that which energised it the blood now cold and still represents life laid down and lost. In a word it represents death. Take yet another type When the death-sentence fell upon "all the firstborn in the land of Egypt" the Israelite escaped because the appointed sacrifice had been slain, and the blood was on the lintel and the door-posts of his home. Was it the victim’s "warm and living blood" that turned away the angelof death? Was it (to borrow a phrase from this heresy) the "living life" of the Paschal lamb ? The question needs only to be clothed in words in order to make the answer clear. The destroying angel was turned aside from the blood-stained house because the judgment had already fallen there.

Death was already past, and the sprinkled blood -was the memorial of that death.
And this too was the significance of the sprinkled blood within the veil, which had continuing efficacy to cleanse from sin. How can any one picture to himself those foul, black stains upon the golden mercy-seat, and yet imagine that they represented life in its activities, presented in joyful service to God! If such were the teaching, is it possible to conceive any symbolism more inapt? Imagine a bereaved mother or wife bedaubing her home with the blood of a dead child or husband in order to keep fresh in her heart the great fact and truth of life!

The sight of a room thus stained will not easily fade from my memory. It was the scene of the last and most fiendish of the crimes known as the "Whitechapel murders" in London. Blood was on the furniture, blood was on the floor, blood was on the walls, blood was everywhere. Did this speak to me of life? Yes, but of life gone, of life destroyed, and, therefore, of that which is the very antithesis of life. Every blood-stain in that horrid room spoke of death.

And here I ask the question, If God intended to teach the truth that the sinner could approach Him. only on the ground of death, could divine wisdom find a fitter symbol than that the priest should carry with him into His presence the blood of the Vicarious sacrifice? If, on the other hand, any one seeks thus to enforce the doctrine which these teachers would connect with it, we may well exclaim, Could perverted ingenuity suggest an imagery more incongruous and false! To teach that poured out, putrefying blood represents not death but life, is not only a departure from the truth of Scripture, but an outrage upon the commonest instincts of mankind.