"THOU DESIREST NO SACRIFICE, ELSE WOULD I GIVE IT THEE, BUT THOU DELIGHTEST NOT IN BURNT OFFERINGS. THE SACRIFICE OF GOD IS A BROKEN SPIRIT; A BROKEN AND A CONTRITE HEART, O GOD, THOU WILT NOT DESPISE."
WE have seen how penitence leads, by a natural impulse, to the acknowledgment of sin, and that out of this principle Confession grows; and how, as the consciousness of sin becomes more and more clear, more full and searching, life grows; and further, how growing life makes Confession an instrument of progress, a means of advance to higher holiness, as, on the other hand, increasing holiness leads to a more strict scrutiny of the conscience, which thus, through the grace of GOD, becomes increasingly tender. It has also been implied, that amendment of life, the new creation of GOD, grows with growing penitence, as penitence grows with advancing life, the two mutually acting and reacting on each other. It is as when a storm is passing, the lingering darkness appears all the darker in the breaking out of the sunlight; and the darker the cloud, the more intense is the joy with which we turn our eyes to the returning light.
But neither the consciousness of sin, nor the amendment of life, though ever increasing, exhaust the full ardour of a true penitence. The most perfect expression of the working of true repentance is to be seen in the fifty-first Psalm. Written under a high degree of inspiration, co-operating with a deep personal contrition, and sealed by the Church's perpetual use as a Divine utterance of the truest penitence, applicable, moreover, equally to its most advanced as to its earliest stages, this Psalm brings out, with singular beauty and power, one other and further result, of penitential grace.
The Psalm first expresses the inward impulse to confession; "I will acknowledge my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me." Next, it gives utterance to the longing for a new life; "Create in me a clean heart, O GOD, and renew a right spirit within me." Then, towards the close of the Psalm, there is added the desire to offer to GOD some acceptable sacrifice. This forms the special subject suggested by the text.
The immediate reference is to the hecatombs of the Temple ritual, the sin offerings and burnt offerings "of sweet savour," which the Law had ordained as the expression of faith in the true Lamb of GOD about to be sacrificed, to make the only adequate satisfaction for the sin of the world, which at the same time were the means of the worshipper's offering himself and his substance in the desire to please GOD, as some recompense of the sin which had grieved and insulted Him.
But the Gospel had reached David's heart, and the worthlessness of mere animal sacrifices had been revealed to him. Therefore he adds, "Thou desirest no (such) sacrifice, else would I give it Thee. But Thou delightest not in burnt offerings" of the mere typical ceremonial Law. The Spirit had revealed to David the hidden truth, the inner meaning of those typical sacrifices, even the true "Lamb of GOD, that taketh away the sins of the world." He had seen in prophetic gaze the self-surrendered will of perfect Love, enduring meekly the sufferings of a true Atonement, One greater than man, though in man's nature, offering Himself in reparation for the sins which He bore for us; and in this revelation he read a momentous lesson, that in order to make his own penitence perfect, he must offer up himself in union with this atoning Victim in the same spirit of self-sacrifice. This conviction he expresses in the words that immediately follow. 'Thou desirest,' thus he communes with GOD, not merely a new life, not merely a new heart and a right spirit. Thou wouldest some reparation, some amends for the past in the sacrifice of the future. Thou wouldest not merely that I should serve Thee henceforth with a pure, blameless integrity. Thou wouldest also that I should restore for wrong done. Thou wouldest that grateful love should give Thee what will please Thee, as before I did what displeased Thee, doing no longer what I will, but what Thou willest.' But this offering could not be accomplished in the forms of the ceremonial Law, Not with "thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil," can a true and living reparation, acceptable to GOD, be offered by redeemed man; but in the sacrifice of himself. "Thou delightest not in burnt offerings;" but out of "a broken spirit," out of "a broken and contrite heart," sacrifice may arise, which "Thou, O GOD, wilt not despise."
There is an instinct in our nature which, before the revelations of the Spirit, had darkly shadowed out this truth. What is the cause of those amazing self-inflicted tortures, by which the poor Indian devotee labours unceasingly in his gloomy and horrid rites, to break through the slough of his flesh, that he may find access to GOD? What led in early days the nations of Canaan, in their strong agonies of fear, and dark yearnings after reconciliation with an offended GOD, to offer up even human life, to "give the firstborn for their transgression, the fruit of their body for the sin of their soul?'" The instinct which dictated such acts was true. It was the intense conviction that for sin, and the injury which sin works, the sinner needs to make reparation, giving back to the offended Person some offering to be, if possible, adequate to the wrong done, the injury inflicted. Even when sin is forgiven this yearning remains as an impulse of gratitude, to show, by some strong act of self-abhorrence, hatred of the evil committed, and joy in the mercy bestowed; to give to the offended Person something He may love, to compensate for the evil which He hates; and this even at the cost of life.
This principle, which the instinctive impulse of nature dictates, the HOLY SPIRIT inspires as a law of the supernatural life in the true penitent. This is what the old Fathers called "satisfaction," or what the simple language of nature means by "making amends." It is more than an improved life, more than the renewal of lost grace. It is the directing the energies of that newly converted nature into acts of continual self-abandonment, in the ceaseless desire to please where offence had been given. Amendment is an absolute duty, without which there can be no salvation. Satisfaction is the working of love, without which there can be no real fervour, no true gratitude. The one is the improvement of self, the other is the offering up of the improved self to GOD. And as penitence grows, the life of the penitent becomes more and more this living sacrifice; and as life advances, and the range and materials of the powers of such self-sacrifice develop and expand, so nobler, more generous ideas are increasingly formed within his soul.
We noted in the preceding Lecture the union which exists between our LORD and the penitent, in the acknowledgment of sin. His self-abasement in taking on Himself the sinner's mark in the Circumcision; His coming forth from the crowd gathered around the Baptist, "confessing their sins," as though Himself a sinner, and needing repentance, because the baptism implied sins to be repented of and remitted; and again, in a yet far more amazing and self-afflicting humiliation, His Agony, the reception within His soul of the full weight and conscious bitterness of the sins of all mankind, as though they were His own,--these acts were explained to be the mysterious and awful points of contact between our LORD and every broken heart, every contrite soul, who, in the full acknowledgment of its guilt, abases itself under the accepted burden, laying all its grief before GOD, and accepting its appointed penance in speechless self-condemnation.
In the life of self-sacrifice, which is the proper fruit of a true penitence, a similar ground of union exists between the penitent and his LORD. The Sacrifice of the Cross followed the Agony; so does the sacrifice of the contrite spirit follow its acknowledgment of guilt.
In His Atoning Sacrifice our LORD offered what He alone could offer, the perfect reparation for the sin of man, the restoration to GOD of what fallen man had denied Him, the perfect expression of love and devotion, well pleasing to GOD, covering and blotting out the transgressions which had grieved Him. It was not only the acceptableness of His own Infinite Person, uniting with the Godhead the perfect Humanity, but that in our nature He offered to the FATHER what He loved and desired, in the stead of what had turned away His Face from man,--the alienation wherewith perfect Holiness must ever regard sin. He gave what the creature alone could not give; what was perfectly satisfying to the Divine Nature, because one with GOD, and satisfying precisely where man had signally offended.
The Atoning Sacrifice took the exact form of compensation for human sin. Man had offended GOD by raising himself to be equal with GOD. "Ye shall be as gods," was the temptation; and pride arose, which could bear no equal. Our LORD, equal with GOD, and very GOD, yet "made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself," became the lowest among men, the "very scorn of men, and an outcast of the people;" yea, even less than man, became a "worm and no man." How complete a compensation! The creature would be GOD, and GOD became the lowest of the creatures.
Again, man had cast off the yoke of obedience, and our LORD, all supreme in Himself, coequal in majesty and power with the FATHER, reduced Himself to a life of perpetual obedience,--obedience not only to GOD, but to man, and not only to men, but to criminals, to the most vicious, even to the very lowest of the people, even to oppression and cruelty and scorn. In His infinite submission He became "obedient unto" all the consequences of sin, "even the death of the Cross." How complete the compensation! The creature would endure no LORD, himself be his only master; and GOD expiated his rebellion by the scourge upon His back, and the blow upon His cheek, by not hiding "His Face from shame and spitting."
Again, man had sinned by the indulgence of the flesh. Forbidden pleasure was his snare and his fall, the degrading cause of his uncleanness in the eyes of the All-holy GOD. And our LORD came as a "Man of sorrows," as a Victim bound to penance, His knees weak through fasting, and His flesh dried up like a potsherd,--"a Lamb for the slaughter," "His tongue cleaving to the roof of His mouth" in the thirst of death. How complete the compensation of endurance for our compliance with the cravings of the flesh!
In these successive scenes of humiliation and pain it was not the suffering, nor the blood, nor the death, which was well pleasing to the FATHER. The agony of the writhing Limb, and the breaking of the sacred Heart, were not the acceptable objects on which the FATHER'S Eye delighted to dwell. It was the offering of the wholly surrendered will, the intense fervour of love, exhausting itself in the sacrifice of all that was most dear, of its own life, of its very self, at any cost, because it would have nothing of its own, and all should be GOD'S, nature yielding its all to its Creator. The inner spirit pervading alike the toil of the ministry, the patience of the conflict, the anguish of the passion, and the shame, the wounding, the desolation of the cross,--this rose up with sweet savour from the altar on which the Lamb of GOD lay before the eyes of GOD. GOD was satisfied, because more than all which had been withdrawn and denied Him, was restored to Him. His own work, renewed and perfected in His Only-begotten SON, was become a consecrated oblation for the one end of glorifying Him.
Our LORD speaks of His own Offering in terms wonderfully resembling the words of the text, thus marking the sameness of His own deep purpose with that which breathes within the soul of the penitent, yearning to repair the wrong which sin has done. The same Spirit inspired another psalm which speaks in the Person of CHRIST, S. Paul sealing by his authority its application to Him. "When He cometh into the world, He saith: Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body Thou hast prepared Me. In burnt offerings, and sacrifice for sin Thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God." Because offerings external to man's own self were no adequate compensation for man's transgression, He offered Himself with the oblation of a perfect obedience in man's own nature.
Our LORD alone could repair the wrong which sin had caused. His meritorious satisfaction was the only true and acceptable propitiation; the infinitely precious Oblation of the Person of the God-Man alone possessing the power of obliterating the consequences of our guilt, and making amends for its offence. But the Passion of CHRIST was not the substitute for our sacrifices, any more than His acknowledgment of sin was a substitute for our confessions. The penitent psalmist applies to himself the same ideas of sacrifice and offering, which he applies to our LORD. In all the stages of our LORD'S life His own elect are to be associated, yea, even identified with Him. The likeness is to be fulfilled, as in other features of His character, so likewise in this spirit of sacrifice, seeking to satisfy for wrong done, out of the fervours of a contrite spirit. His atoning sufferings do not supersede such satisfaction of ours. They make ours acceptable, transform, sanctify, not dispense with them.
This truth is implied in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in immediate connection with the text just quoted, as applicable to our LORD alone. "By the which will," says the Apostle, the will which dictated His perfect Sacrifice, "we are sanctified, through the offering of the Body of JESUS CHRIST once for all." We are ourselves sanctified, not He alone in us; our offerings not superseded, but united with His offerings; our efforts not bid to cease, nor rendered void or needless, but transformed into His own acceptableness. The union between our LORD and the true penitent is sealed in this community of sacrifice, through grace derived from the Obedience of His own Person. The form of sacrifice may vary. The mode of trial, the character of the endurance, the special aspect of the penitential life, will necessarily have its own individual peculiarity, but the spirit is one; even as life is one in the whole race. Life takes infinitely varied shapes of form and feature and individual character. Even so the "broken spirit," the "broken and contrite heart," varying manifoldly in its modes of expression, is yet in essence one; and as life deepens and grows, so the fervour and depth of the spirit of self-sacrifice grows also. And as the view of GOD'S glory and of His will expands before the soul, and the means of service and opportunities of love increase, so the developing fervours of penitential sacrifice find an ever enlarged scope in the fulfilment of its designs of reparation for the errors and sinfulness of the past.
Holy Scripture itself notes certain different modes under which, as principles of action, the infinitely varied sacrifices of the contrite spirit may be classed.
There are mainly four such heads. (1.) The acceptance of the punishment which GOD imposes upon sin, is one such mode. We cannot always trace the fitness of the visitations of GOD'S providential judgments in this world; nor say of this or that event, that it is the ordained punishment of this or that particular sin. We have indeed a direct warning in the case of "the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices," and of "those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, and slew them," against such personal applications. We know that such calamities may come even as special marks of love to perfect the faithful by chastening them. "Whom the LORD loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth." But still the universal heart of mankind retains the consciousness, that judgments fall in this world as direct visitations, because of particular sins; and manifold are the instances which the Scriptures record of such retributive interposition in the dealings of GOD with His people.
We have in the very case of the penitent Psalmist a special instance, connecting together the judicial punishment of GOD, and the sacrifice of the contrite spirit accepting its punishment. Nathan was sent to announce to David the just retribution of GOD, to be visited in this life on his sin. "Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised Me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife." He fled, when the sword fell, wielded by the hand of his own favourite son. And in what spirit did the penitent bear the stroke? Was it in the self-sacrificing spirit of "a broken and contrite heart," which his words professed? A very striking incident marked the spirit in which David bowed himself beneath the chastisement of GOD, accepting all its aggravations, the bitterness of which must have sunk, as iron, into his soul. It was not fear that swayed the heart of the fugitive king. It was in no craven spirit that he fled from Jerusalem, as Absalom took possession of it, to meet his destiny of shame and sorrow. Contrition offering itself up with a perfect will to the whole weight of the storm of the wrath of GOD, is written deeply on the scene which the Spirit has portrayed. "And David went up by the ascent of Mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot, and all the people that was with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up." Then it follows; "And when King David came to Bahurim, behold there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera; he came forth, and cursed still as he came, and he cast stones at David, and at all the servants of King David: and all the people, and all the mighty men were on his right hand, and on his left." These men would have slain Shimei on the spot. But David restrained them, and his motive marks how the spirit of sacrifice had penetrated his soul. "Let him alone, and let him curse, for the LORD hath bidden him. It may be that the LORD will look on mine affliction, and the LORD will requite me good for his cursing this day."
(2.) Another form of the principle of self-sacrifice is seen in S. Mary Magdalene. Her life, after the crisis of her forgiveness, was spent in the unceasing devotion to her Deliverer, of all that she had once abused in the indulgence of the flesh. All was thenceforth consecrated to the one aim of ministering to Him, and was accepted as her reparation for the past. Beauty, intense passionate affections, wealth, had become sacred offerings to Him. With her rich flowing hair, her earnest form, and rapturous enthusiasm, she stands prominently out on the page of the Gospel. All had been perverted in early days. Impure loves, false pleasures, had formed the idol before which she had sacrificed. This picture was reversed as the spirit of contrition penetrated her soul. It is a remarkable and significant circumstance, that S. Mary Magdalene is the only one described in the Gospel approaching CHRIST with the sole object of obtaining the remission of her sins. Others came in disease, in temporal affliction, in the desire of sharing His kingdom. They came for personal relief, or the promise of future glory, and they gained the superadded, unexpected boon of the forgiveness of their sins. The Magdalene kneels at His feet, conscious only of the one burden of sin, and craving alone for mercy. And what is her return, when forgiven? What is the reparation to Him Whose grace had healed her? Her passionate love is now all His,--"she loved much." Her treasured precious ointment is for His head. Her gushing tears are bedewing His feet. Her flowing hair is wiping them. She follows Him from Galilee, ministering to Him of her substance. Her one great sorrow is to have lost Him. Her only rest is beside His tomb. Hers was the self-consecration of all, her person, her gifts, her treasures, to repair, as she was able, the self-desecration of her youth.
(3.) A third mode of expressing this self-sacrificing spirit of a contrite heart, is to be found in the various acts which penitence suggests for the relief of its own fervours, or the punishment of the offending member, to mark the soul's abhorrence of its former shame. Such was S. Peter's going forth in the anguish of his bitter weeping at the dead of night, the first penitential act of the new covenant, the first in the long line of expressions of that "sorrowing after a godly sort," which arose through the grace purchased by the Passion, of which S. Paul enumerates the chief characteristic features. "What carefulness it wrought in you; yea, what clearing of yourselves; yea, what indignation; yea, what fear; yea, what vehement desire; yea, what zeal; yea, what revenge." All forms of self-mortification, prolonged hours of prayer, special designs and vows, lavish alms, untiring labours, mark the course along which the spirit of penitence has developed its energies of self-afflicting love, longing to prove its truth and its steadfastness to Him Who fills the souls of His redeemed unto fulness of hope and power in the consciousness of His unspeakable mercy; "Thy sins are forgiven thee; go in peace."
(4.) Once more; there is a fourth mode of sacrifice, which is of all the most constant, the most necessary, the most surely pressing on each and every child of our race, and which is of all forms of discipline the most palpably ordained of GOD. The outward trials of our common lot have come to be so much the ordinary tenour of every man's life, that they have almost ceased to wear a penal character. Trying changes of health, of natural spirits, of temperature; the shattered nerve, or gloomy sky; the failing strength, or sickly weariness; the countless, ceaseless hindrances, difficulties, disappointments, bereavements, of our earthly lot; the uncongenial tempers, the manifold infirmities of others; the vexing irritating demands of the passing hour,--how few persons habitually, perhaps even at all, look on these details, succeeding each other so rapidly, as directly ordained penances for sin, ever multiplying, the simple and real unfolding into its infinite necessary consequences of the one primeval sentence: "Cursed is the ground for thy sake. In sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return to the ground." Could we but retain, in each and all of the trying circumstances of hourly life, the same spirit in which one confessing with true contrition, asks for a penance, we should be preserving the only intelligible attitude of a sinner working out his own salvation under the conditions of a fallen world still fulfilling its awful doom. Could we but know the hope full of immortality, and still also cherish the broken and contrite heart which offers itself uncomplainingly in every untoward change of outward things, in every cross accident, in every infirmity of another or one's own, as a fresh opportunity in which love can consummate its sacrifice, and an already surrendered will perfect its fixed resolve to do all to make amends for the evil wherewith before we had wearied GOD,--ours would be the sacrifice which GOD will not despise. The spirit of self-sacrifice finds constant food to feed the flame of its undying fervours, in the casualties of the daily routine of life, and the susceptibilities of the momentary variable feelings.
These four distinct laws of satisfaction may combine or run' into each other in infinite interchanges; or one alone may form the normal and more permanent form which the daily cross takes. Through such means true penitence seeks continually to offer some compensation for the evils of the past, and, as it learns this spirit of self-sacrifice, it rises in purity, and even becomes identified with the life of the Saints. There is no limit to the possible advancement of the penitent soul, whatever its past sin may have been--its attainment of virtue even rivalling the state of those who have never forfeited the full grace of their regeneration. The first may be last, and the last first. This, which is true of all forms of grace, is pre-eminently true of the spirit of sacrifice. The sense of forgiven sin, of much being forgiven, the remembrance of the love which has shone out upon the soul, as the darkness of sin passed, the overflowing peace of absolving grace, the removal of tormenting fear, of even the memory of the guilt, of the very recollection of the infirmity, and the new powers developed, superhuman strength, capable of maintaining itself above the weakness which had filled the soul with shame and anguish,--such feelings form a stimulus to the constant effort of a surrendered will, and an unsparing self-devotion. It may happen that the penitent outstrips many who had never known the measure of his unfaithfulness, even as the last Apostle "laboured more abundantly than they all." But what if to sanctity itself be superadded the perfection of penitence? What if one who by comparison has sinned the least, yet seeing his lesser sins with a keener and profounder shame, and feeling GOD'S forbearance towards him with a more lively and ardent gratitude, and ever remembering with a vivid steadfast consciousness what Divine forgiving love has been, and is, repents more truly, and offers up richer fruits of a more tender contrition,--what may not be the result of such a combination of powers of continual progress? To what height may not a soul attain, in which an ever-growing sanctity and an ever-deepening penitence coalesce?
Let us ever bear in mind that in the Divine counsels there is intended to be "a filling up of that which is behind of the afflictions of CHRIST, for His Body's sake, the Church;'" and to be united with the spirit of His sacrificial life is one evident expression of this law. We can never look to offer up to our GOD of "that which doth cost us nothing." To live within the sphere of His spirit of sacrifice, of that which is indeed the very essence of His life, is one unchangeable condition of the hope of rising into GOD, of being in GOD, of ascending in the scale of life, of fulfilling our vocation, as "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to GOD, which is our reasonable service."
There are special self-denials and toils and ministries of love, unsparing acts of self-devotion, it may be lifelong, rising above the ordinary callings of life, which are to many the rejoicing exercise of powers kindled by GOD for His glory, but not the portion of all, even though they be true penitents. Yet a like spirit may animate quiet ordinary ways of an unnoticed unobtrusive faithfulness in every-day duties in any sphere of life. To labour to do good where we have done evil; to make peace where we have marred it; to cause joy where we have caused sorrow; to heal wounds, and repair wrong; to impart life, where we may have spread the infection of death; to promote the glory of GOD, where He has been dishonoured; to extend the blessings of the love of CHRIST, and win hearts to Him, where His claims have been disregarded, His yearning love disappointed; to seek, through trial and effort, and the abandonment of one's own wishes, interest, and ease, thus to spend and be spent for the sake of others--these are elements of the meet and acceptable sacrifice, open alike to every redeemed man, which, united with the merits of the Passion of the SON of GOD, will surely be remembered in that Day, when "whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, shall in no wise lose his reward;" when it will be said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me."
Our LORD calls His own elect to save them, as He wills, with the powers and the opportunities with which He has severally endowed them. It is the spirit of the sacrifice, rather than the mode in which it is embodied, the inner life, not the outward form, by which He judges them. He calls them to be perfect, each in his own appointed way, and how the call has been answered, rather than the state in which it has been fulfilled, will determine their final destiny. It is the following Him in His own spirit of sacrifice, in whatever way His Providence has ordered, that constitutes the true satisfaction for which He looks, to be accepted through His merits, in union with His own life of perfected obedience. To Him, Who alone, by His all-availing satisfaction for sin, perfects all our feeble efforts, and renders them acceptable unto the FATHER, be all praise and glory for ever and ever. Amen.