The Gospel and its Ministry - ch 15 - CLEANSING BY BLOOD

CLEANSING with blood is a common expression in the book of Leviticus, but in the New Testament it is found only in the 9th chapter of Hebrews, and the beginning of the First Epistle of John. Of Hebrews I have already spoken; but the other passage claims notice, not only because of its connection with the present subject, but also on account of the difficulties that seem to surround it :-" If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin."

It is a canon of interpretation that whenever the benefits or results of the death of Christ are ascribed to His blood, the figure thus implied is borrowed from the types. It behoves us, therefore, to turn back to the Old Testament, and there to seek out the particular key-picture to which it is intended to direct our minds. In i Peter i., for example, the second verse will naturally turn our thoughts to the only occasion on which blood was sprinkled on the people of Israel (Exodus xxiv.); while verse 19 brings us back to their one great redemption sacrifice of the passover in Egypt.

Here then we have a certain clew to the meaning of the text before us: " The blood of Jesus cleanseth us from all sin." The particular type in the light which we are to understand the word must be th of some offering which was for sin; and one moreover which was for the people generally, as distinguished from those which were for individuals and further, it must, be a sacrifice of which th benefits were abiding. This at once excludes the offerings of the first fifteen chapters of Leviticus and it will confine our consideration to the great day of expiation, prescribed in the i6th chapter "For on that day" (was the word to Moses) "he shall make an atonement for you to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord."
We can picture to ourselves some devout Israelite telling of his God to a heathen stranger, recounting to him the proofs of Jehovah's goodness and faithfulness to His people, and going on to speak of His holiness, His terribleness - how He was "of purer eyes than to behold iniquity," and how, for acts in which his guest would fail to see sin at all, He had visited them with signal judgments. And we can conceive that, in amazement, the stranger might demand whether the people were free from the weaknesses and wickedness of other men. And, On his hearing an eager repudiation of all such pretensions, with what deepening wonder and awe he would exclaim, "How then can you live before a God so great and terrible?"

And here the heathen stranger within the gates of the Israelite, would have reached a point analogous to that to which the opening verses of John's Epistle lead us. Eternal life has been manifested, and life is the only ground of fellowship with God. But "God is light," and it is only in the light, as the sphere of its enjoyment, that such fellowship is possible. The light of God, how can sinners bear it? Is it by attaining sinlessness? The thought is proof of self-deception and utter absence of the truth (v. 8). But just as the question of his guest would turn the thoughts of the Israelite to his great day of expiation, and call to his lips the words, "It is the cleansing blood which alone enables us to live before Jehovah," so the Christian turns to the great Sin-offering, and his faith finds utterance in the words, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin."
"Washing with blood" is an expression wholly unknown to the law, and it conveys an idea which is quite at variance with its teaching. It has no scriptural warrant. For the correct reading of Rev i. 5, as given in R.V. is "Unto Him that loveth us and loosed us from our sins by His own blood." Ps. II. 7, must of course be explained by the law; and the student of Scripture will naturally turn to the 19th of Numbers, or to Leviticus xiv. 6-9, to seek its meaning. A like remark applies to other similar passages in the Old Testament. Overlooking this, Cowper derived his extraordinary idea of a fowntain of blood from the i3th of Zechariah, construed in connection with the received reading of Rev. i. 5. The fact is that though cleansing with water was one of the most frequent and characteristic of the typical ordinances, it has been almost entirely forgotten in our creeds. “In that day there shal1 be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for separation for uncleanness.” (Zech. xiii. i, see marginal reading, and compare Num. xix. 9.) “In that day “—the epoch referred to in verses 9—14 of the preceding chapter —Israel shall be admitted to the full benefits of the great sin- offering typified in the 19th of Numbers. (See also Rom. Xl. 25—29) The washing of garments in blood is likewise wholly unscriptural. save in poetical language—-as e g Genesis xlix i i The meaning of Revelation vii. 14 is too often frittered away thus as though it were a merely poetical expression. But the figures used are typical, not poetical: “These are they that come out of the great tribulation [compare Matt Xxiv 21] and they washed their robes [compare Rev. xix. 8], and made them white by the blood of the Lamb" Their lives were purified practically from the defilements that surrounded them, and purged in a still deeper sense by the blood. In Rev. xxii. 14, also, the true reading is “Blessed are they that wash their robes.”

It is not "has cleansed," nor yet "will cleanse," but "cleanseth." it is not the statement of a fact merely, but of a truth, and truths are greater and deeper even than facts.

But how "cleanseth"?' Just as the blood of the sin-offering cleansed the Israelite. It was not by any renewal of its application to him, but by the continuance of its efficacy. With Israel its virtue continued throughout the year; with us it is forever. It is not mere acts of sin that are in question. here, but the deeper problem of our condition as sinners (compare v. 10 with v. 8). And neither the difficulty, nor yet the answer to it, is the same. In. regard to the one the Israelite turned to the day of atonement, and said "the blood cleanseth"; but in case of his committing some act of sin, he had to bring his sin-offering, according to the 4th or 5th or 6th chapter of Leviticus. But the need of these special offerings depended on "the weakness and unprofitableness" of the sacrifices of the old Covenant. And i John i. 7,9, seems clearly to teach that all our need is met by the twofold cleansing - typified by the blood of the great sin-offering of Leviticus xvi., and the water of the great rite of Numbers xix. For the believer who sins against dismiss the matter by "the blood cleanseth," is the levity and daring of antinomianism. For such the word is, ‘If we confess our sins": no flippant acknowledgment with the lip, but a solemn and real dealing with God; and thus he obtains again and again a renewal of the benefits of the death of Christ. "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

And this, no doubt, is the truth intended by the popular expression "coming back to blood." The Israelite "came back to blood" by seeking a fresh sacrifice; but had he attempted to "come back to blood" in the sense of preserving the blood of the sin-offering in order to avail himself of it for future cleansing, he would have been cut off without mercy for presumptuous sin. The most superficial knowledge either of the precepts or the principles of the book of Leviticus, will make us avoid a form of words so utterly opposed to both. With one great exception the blood of every sin-offering was poured round the altar of burnt-offering, and thus consumed; and that exception was the sacrifice of the i9th of Numbers, so often referred to in these pages. The red heifer was the sin-offering in that aspect of it in which the sinner can come back to it to obtain cleansing. And here the whole beast and its blood was burnt to ashes outside the camp, and the unclean person was cleansed by being sprinkled with water which had touched those ashes. But to confound the cleansing by blood - the 16th of Leviticus aspect of the sin-oflering, with the cleansing by water - the i9th of Numbers aspect of it - betrays ignorance of Scripture. The one is a continuously enduring agency; the other a continually repeated act.

There is no question, observe, as to whether the benefit depends on the death of Christ. But with some, perhaps, it is a question merely of giving up the "form of sound words"; with others, the far more solemn one of depreciating the sacrifice of Christ and denying to it an efficacy which even the typical sin-offering possessed for Israel. Christ has died and risen and gone up to God, and now the blood cleanses from all sin. It is not that it avails to accomplish a succession of acts of cleansing, for the believer, but that its efficacy remains to cleanse him continuously. It is not in order that it may thus cleanse him, that the believer confesses his sin: his only right to the place he holds, even as he confesses, depends on. the fact that it does thus cleanse him. It was only in virtue of the place he had through the blood of the lamb that the Israelite could avail himself of the ashes of the red heifer. And our life, our hope, our destiny, depend entirely upon the enduring efficacy of the blood of Christ, that, whether in bright days of fellowship with God, or in hours of wilderness failure, "the blood cleanseth from all sin" : here it is a question only of the preciousness of that blood, and of the faithfulness and power of Him in Whom we trust.