Lecture II. The Return of Light
"THAT THROUGH DEATH HE MIGHT DESTROY HIM THAT HAD THE POWER OF DEATH, THAT IS THE DEVIL; AND DELIVER THEM WHO THROUGH FEAR OF DEATH WERE ALL THEIR LIFETIME SUBJECT TO BONDAGE." HEB. ii. 14, 15.
IT has been observed in the previous lecture that some of the profoundest mysteries touching our present state are not explained in Holy Scripture, but are left as mysteries. They lie far back beyond the creation of man, and revelation is concerned with the history of man. These pre-existent principles therefore are to be accepted in simplicity of trust, as we silently bow our intellect before GOD, and conform our thoughts to the conviction, that what perfect Wisdom has done or suffered to be, will hereafter be "justified of all her children."
Another instance of this same kind is found in the text. It is not revealed, nor is it possible for us to understand, what yet the text clearly affirms, that death is undone by death, the death of the innocent overcoming the death of the guilty, and delivering from it. We have no knowledge of the reasons on which this principle rests. But the text is clear that our LORD destroyed "him that had the power of death, that is the Devil," not by His power simply, nor simply by the merit of His Passion, but by means of death. The sacrifice of the innocent life was the means of redemption from the doom of death. Our LORD'S offering of Himself did not obtain it, till that sacrifice was completed in death. Scripture is express on this point. S. Paul says; "For this cause He is the Mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator." And so again in the Colossians; "He hath forgiven you all trespasses, blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His Cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it," i.e., in the Cross, the instrument of death. So fixed and absolute is this principle, that even our LORD Himself was not exempt from it. It was by virtue of His sacrificial death that He obtained His own heavenly inheritance. "By His own Blood," saith S. Paul, i.e., by virtue of His own Death, "He entered in once into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." And this is what our LORD intended, when He said; "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they all may be sanctified through the truth." Some interpret the term, sanctify, to mean 'offer Himself in death as a sacrifice;' others, 'consecrate and perfect Himself.' Both interpretations are true. They are but different sides of one truth. The two ideas coalesce in one. He perfected Himself by means of His dying. His sacrificial death was the ground of His accepted consecration of Himself. It was through the vail of His own torn flesh that He passed into His eternal life. He broke through into the abyss of Godhead by rending the mortal shroud that enveloped His earthly life.
This same mysterious law pervades all Scripture. Abraham was the commencement of the covenanted life given to Israel, as CHRIST was the commencement of our new Divine Nature. Now the crowning act of Abraham's faith, that which sealed his acceptance as the head of the chosen people, was the offering up his son, Isaac, to death. That event is often regarded as being merely a trial of Abraham's faith, to see whether he could give up the dearest object of his natural love, as well as his greatest spiritual treasure. It was the testing of the Saint, to see whether as he had given up his father, his land, his settled home, he could also give up the child of promise. As he laid his son on the altar, he had thoroughly weaned his soul from earth. The struggle was over; for he had entirely surrendered him in intent, though his actual death was spared.
But there is also another aspect under which this event is to be viewed, one that affected not Abraham only, but all his race. Abraham was, as the head of his family, a sacrificing priest, and he was to offer the costliest sacrifice, that out of it the elect seed should spring. The seed of Israel was to arise out of one who had been given up to death. Abraham was permitted indeed to offer the ram caught in the thicket, instead of his own son, because Isaac was not the human life which could redeem the world. But as the members of CHRIST'S Body are formed out of His Death, so the race of Israel arose out of the offering up in proffered death of their progenitor. It was on this offering being made by Abraham, that the promise was sealed with the final assurance; "Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son; that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed."
The redemption of the first-born which prevailed in Israel, as a universal and essential law, was a continuation of the same mystery. Every first-born, being a male, must be redeemed, and the first-born male was the representative of the entire family. In him all the members were redeemed. They must be redeemed by sacrifice, or they would be cut off. It was through the proffered death of its representative, that every family in Israel preserved its life within the Covenant.
Again, the grandest and most complete deliverance of the people of Israel, as a nation, was from the bondage in Egypt. The people had at the time fallen back from the faith of their fathers. They had been corrupted by the Egyptians. They had begun to join in their idolatries, and, as the fatal consequence, had lost the Divine Presence. When they were delivered, it was through sacrifice. Blood was to be sprinkled as the only security against the destroyer. And as they passed out of their doors that awful night between the blood-stained doorposts of their houses, the Divine Presence, so long withdrawn, returned. The glory enfolded in the pillar of the cloud went before them, and It afterwards forsook them not. They rose to life again through that death of the Paschal Sacrifice.
The same law was observed whenever an Israelite sinned against the Covenant. Only through death could the sinner be spared the consequences of his sin. A substitute was permitted to take the place of his own life; but death alone could expiate, and himself must lead the victim to the door of the sanctuary. He must himself lay his hand on its head, confess his sins over it, and having thus identified himself with it, he must slay it, and its blood be sprinkled upon him. He must thus stand before GOD, identified with the dead victim accepted in sacrifice in his stead. The penitent was then re-admitted to the sanctuary through the accepted sacrifice. Only thus through death accepted in the sanctuary of GOD, with which he had been made one, he could resume the share which he had forfeited in the life of the Covenant.
Consider the unceasing sacrifice of life offered within the Temple in Jerusalem. Year after year, through successive centuries, the countless hecatombs were being offered up. The costly shedding of life never ceased, the altar perpetually steaming with the smoke which arose from the embers of the slaughtered victims. And for what purpose was this vast expenditure of blood? It will be said, "they were types of the great Offering of the latter days, to which all revelation looked, which was to take away the sins of the world." True; but this only changes the subject of the mystery. Why that Death? Moreover, in these sacrifices of the typical victims, there was manifestly a virtue of their own, a limited efficacy in cleansing away certain sins within that lower, that preparatory covenant; for S. Paul says; "If the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh; how much more shall the Blood of CHRIST, Who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to GOD, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living GOD." They were themselves a medium of remission for certain transgressions, as well as the foreshadowing of the one true Lamb of GOD. They were also serving to establish in the heart of mankind the great principle, that through death, through innocent life, life without blemish and without spot, offered in sacrifice, the dead should live, the vail of the covering cast over all people be destroyed. The unceasing deaths of these countless victims were the ever-renewed assertions of this momentous principle.
Pity must have been stirred in the heart of the devout Israelite, at the thought of offering up the innocent life, as the consequence of his own transgression. Every tender sense must have been wounded, as he struck the blow, which saved himself at the cost of another's life; but it was his only hope--"Without the shedding of blood is no remission." There was no breaking through the cloud that hid from him the holy light of GOD, except by sacrifice. We are accustomed to point to the Death of CHRIST, as the most wonderful exhibition of Divine love, and we awake to tears the reviving tenderness of the penitent at the sight of the Divine Sorrow. We discern in the last sufferings of the Passion a moving picture of what we ourselves had deserved, and accept the truth that the SON of GOD is dying a penal death in our own stead. We look to His offering of Himself, moreover, as the grandest display of heroic fortitude, and supernatural patience, raising the very idea of Humanity, by its noble expression of highest self-sacrifice. All these modes of viewing the Cross of JESUS are true; but are they the whole truth? These are but subjective modes of viewing it. They act only on our own mind and heart. They have only reference to ourselves. These views fall short of the main virtue of the Sacrifice. They leave out one whole momentous side of the great Mystery. They omit the greatest mystery of all, the whole objective part, the stupendous truth, that the Death of the God-Man acted on the unseen world; that it affected the Eternal Godhead; that it removed, destroyed the power of death that lay on the whole world, and overcame "him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;" that because of that death life broke through, and dispersed the shroud that would have otherwise for ever enveloped the guilty dead.
Consider how this truth is preserved in the institution which perpetuates the Sacrifice of the Cross. Mark the exceeding care with which, in the forms of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, JESUS represents Himself as still in death, while through It He opens for us the way of eternal life. The Flesh and Blood were separately ordained, and are separately given. Think not for a moment that there is no meaning, no principle involved in the careful separation of the two species. JESUS is indeed living in the Blessed Sacrament. He is present, the entire Living CHRIST. His Divinity and His Humanity are in a profound mystery made one with each of the separated species. His Presence in the Sacrament is a state of life, a state far beyond the realm of death. He is therein supernaturally and intensely living with the whole inherent Essence of His Godhead indissolubly united for ever with His glorified Humanity. But nevertheless, the truth of His death is preserved in the order of the Institution. The Sacrament was instituted in remembrance of His Death and Passion, and the separated Flesh and Blood in the two distinct species are the means through which we partake of His present Life. It is through death we pass into the hidden life. It is still the Death of the Crucified that we present and plead, as we offer sacrifice to GOD for the removal of the vail that covers our faces, and hides GOD from us. It is still through eating and drinking of this Death, that we enter into the abyss of the Living Godhead. We taste His Death in the separation of His Flesh and Blood, while in Each we are feeding upon eternal Life.
The same principle of passing from death unto life, pervades all the inner nature of Christianity, and distinguishes it from all former dispensations. Circumcision was the mark of the old Covenant, and was merely the putting away of the filth of the flesh. It aimed at a partial cleansing of the old nature. It was an amelioration of the state of the flesh. It would be untrue to deny all efficacy to the ordinances of the old law. But they left the old nature; they left man still in the flesh. They could give no new, no Divine Nature; they did not raise man into a different order of being from that in which he was born. They did not impart a supernatural life rising above the present, living for other worlds, soaring ever upwards, and never resting, never satisfied, till man transformed become one with GOD. They recognized the flesh as still abiding, and only sought to cleanse away some measure of its sinfulness. Still to "sit under the vine, and under the fig tree," was the highest promise. To "dwell in the land" safely, was the end of the dispensation. To keep the flesh under the restraint of the moral law, was the highest requirement; to do what that law ordained, the utmost development of humanity contemplated. On the other hand, Baptism, which represents the new Covenant, is the very death and burial of the flesh. "Buried with Him in Baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him, through the faith of the operation of GOD, Who hath raised Him from the dead." Again, we "were baptized unto His death." The charter of our Covenant is clear. "If we are planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His Resurrection." There is, therefore, not merely a cleansing of the flesh contemplated and accomplished in Baptism, but a rising above it, through the grace of the new Covenant. The flesh is counted as a thing already condemned to die, stricken with death, already dying. It is smitten, and is being superseded by the power of the new life which has entered into it. It is done away already, as no longer a law and end of life. It is to be borne with, till it altogether pass away; but it is renounced, and the seal of death is stamped upon it. What yet lives of the flesh, lives only to be subdued to the Spirit, to be chastened, to be crucified. This explains S. Peter's description of the power of Baptism, as contrasted with that of circumcision. "Not," he says, "the putting away of the filth of the flesh," which was the utmost result of circumcision; "but the answer," the response, the cry, "of a good," a renewed, a purified "conscience toward GOD;" the intensely energetic rising and witness before GOD of the new-born spirit, instinct and speaking with Divine virtue, through the dying out of the powers and substance of the old nature. It is the resurrection life, already begun in us; the "first resurrection" from the dead. The new-born spirit, responding to GOD, Who called it into being; that which is of GOD owning and rejoicing in the claims of GOD--is all that Baptism recognizes. The flesh hangs about us still yet awhile; but its law is no longer indulgence, but mortification. The order is express, "make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." And it is only as the flesh is chastened, and the Spirit more and more emancipated, that the truly developed humanity springs into life. Each subdual of the lingering cravings of the condemned nature, is the triumph of the Divine Nature. We eat, but we eat in haste; it is the LORD'S Passover. The flesh needs for a time its appointed sustenance; but it feeds, as it were, standing, "with loins girded, and shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand;" for it hastens on the predestined march, fleeing from Egypt, lest it miss the passage to the holy land. We watch the flesh as an enemy. We hail the gradual extinction of its passions. We live a new and truer life only as its struggling links are loosened. We rise into the fulfilment of our better aspirations, only as "we bear about in our body the dying of the LORD JESUS, that the life also of JESUS may be made manifest in our mortal bodies."
Many look with terror to the approaching crisis of actual death. Why should it be so regarded? It will be but the accomplishment of what long ago was wrought in us in mystery. It will be but the closing struggle of the spirit, our true life, against the flesh, the cause of our suffering and our sin. It will be only the putting off for ever of the last hold which Satan has over us, through the lusts of the flesh. It will be the merciful separating off of what has been so long renounced; the laying in a peaceful slumber to be refashioned, what has been so long a snare, a burden, an occasion of enmity to GOD, a hindrance to "all that is pure and lovely." The flesh cannot be reformed, till it is dissolved. It is condemned as irreclaimable in itself. It may be subdued, regulated, and chastened; it cannot be fashioned after the image of CHRIST, till it is put off, and swallowed up of life. "Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die," and death is but the last and crowning act of the long and many self-sacrifices, in each of which the new-born spirit has exulted.
Should we not then welcome death even with all its sorrows, as that of which all our true Christian life has been a delighted anticipation? It is through death, and death only, that our spiritual nature can breathe freely, and go forth like the "bird out of the snare of the fowler," to live in perfect freedom its own true life.
Let us consider briefly some of the practical conclusions of the principles on which we have been dwelling.
1. We here learn the pressing need of the Sacrifice we continually offer on our altars. As we offer It, we are actually taking our covenanted part in destroying "death, and him that hath the power of death." With each renewed offering we are removing the vail, the covering which is laid on the face of all people. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is the pleading, the applying the Death of CHRIST for the remission of sin, and all the benefits of His Passion, for the whole body of the redeemed, both for the quick and the dead. It is the ordained memorial of the great Sacrifice of the Cross, left for us to perpetuate; and as we offer It, we bring the whole power of that meritorious Sacrifice, which It represents and commemorates, before the Eyes of the FATHER, The whole vital power of the Atonement was contained and embodied for ever in the one perfect "Sacrifice, Oblation, and Satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world," once offered; but the accomplishment of what was thus purchased, was to be set in motion, as it were, and applied only in time, in successive and continual memorial, and ever renewed pleadings. The death-vail was potentially, not absolutely, destroyed by the Sacrifice of the Cross. It still covers us. The power which the sacrifice of the Cross possesses to destroy it, needs to be drawn forth and brought into act through the continual presentation of the sacrificed Humanity, "the Lamb as it had been slain,"1 before the Throne by CHRIST Himself, and concurrently with this heavenly Oblation by the mystical offering of the same Victim by the Priests standing at the earthly altar. The sacrifices of Israel consisted of three parts. There was the living victim, and on it was placed the bread or fine flour, and the wine. These all were offered together, and the sweet savour from the combined elements went up for a memorial before the LORD. The same principle of sacrifice is continued now, as in all ages since the first covenant was ordained. There is visibly before us on our altars the Bread or fine flour, and there is the Wine. Is there not also for us as for the Israelites, the living Victim? Yes, surely! He is there, though unseen. He is mystically united with the consecrated symbols, that through them He may become one with us. Of Communion, which is the crowning act of our mystical offering, I shall need to speak hereafter. But if thou wouldest bring out the virtue of the hidden life of the Divine Victim for thyself, or cause its virtue to bear upon others' lives, urge before GOD unceasingly and with unquestioning faith the appointed memorial Sacrifice. If thou wouldest stretch out thy hands, thy heart, to reach other worlds, and bring to bear on them, and them that dwell therein, the full benefits of the Passion, offer, plead earnestly before the FATHER the One accepted Oblation of His Beloved SON. If thou wouldest stay back and remove the vail that ever seeks to return and overspread all people, thy own life, all true life; if thou wouldest weaken more and more, and finally overcome and cast out for ever, him that seeks to spread the dreadful power of darkness over GOD'S fair creation, over all who are GOD'S, cease not to present, to unite thyself with, the all-availing Sacrifice, which fills the heaven and the earth with its sweet savour, reconciling GOD and man, "yea, all things unto Himself, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven."
2. We here learn how to regard the trials, whether of body or of spirit, which gradually wear our life away. They are GOD'S own chosen means of fulfilling what we have already professed to be our true vocation. They are the necessary accomplishment of that sentence on the flesh, which ever since we knew CHRIST, has been the object of our fondest desire, that dying with Him, we may rise with Him; that through the daily Cross, the daily resurrection may be ours; that "the sentence of death" being in us, the power of the Divine life may triumph in us. Shall we murmur at these strokes, which are verily the unloosening of the bonds to set the captive spirit free? Shall we regret the gradual decay, which is but the passing off of the gloom of the night before the dawn of the everlasting Day? Would we check the progress of our dissolution, if we could? All that bows the vigour of our fleshly frame, all that consumes away the spirits and strength of the sensitive soul, are in truth but the travail pangs of the perfected deliverance of the Divine Nature struggling within us, as in a womb, for its heavenly development. Be not then unwilling to yield up the flesh to this slowly advancing death, which must increase, until its end be accomplished, "until the daybreak, and the shadows flee away."
3. Once more. Amid all the charms which deck this present world, all its exquisite beauty, all its intense interest, all its wonderful contrivances, all the love shed abroad over it, let us never forget that the curse of death is on all we see or feel, and only as that curse is accomplished, can this heaven and earth be transformed into "the new heaven, and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." Ours is an age which boasts that Christianity is doing what it never did before. It is giving refinement to society, peace to the nations, liberty to the slave, i.e., it is making for man a better home, a safer resting place on this side the grave. [These thoughts were suggested by a passage in "Jukes on the Offerings."] But all the while the world is the world still. We may indeed rejoice, and bless GOD for the secondary results of His redeeming love manifested in every improvement of society. Nevertheless, to leave the world inwardly, if not outwardly, and to witness against it, is still the same necessity as ever. It is still our main work to prepare man for his grave, and lay him down to rest with a joyful hope of a blessed resurrection, far more than to smooth the pillow around his head, while in his sickness he still lingers here.
What rest had CHRIST on earth? He could not take for His home a world not yet purged by fire, a creation still under the curse. He passed through the world as a rejected pilgrim. All His earthly life speaks of sacrifice, because nothing here was to Him the real life. We cannot with all our toil, remove from this earth the primeval doom; "Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to thee." We cannot with all our refinements, nor even with our religion, so change society, but that the true followers of CHRIST shall still be, though in it, yet not of it. It will still be the death-shroud, out of which the emancipated CHRIST in every man will rejoice to pass, rising to His native heavens. It may reach its highest climax of virtue, of happiness, of peace; but after its greatest developments, it must still be purged in the sacrifice and sacrament, of death, before it can become "the Kingdom, of our LORD, and of His CHRIST." This yet lingering gloom that broods over our earthly state must be wholly dissipated, before the Light of the beatific Vision can shine in upon the ransomed world. We "cannot see GOD and live," until in His own "Light we shall see Light."
Hasten then the time, O LORD, and cut short Thy work in righteousness. "Even so, come, LORD JESUS." But yet "patience must have its perfect work, that we may be perfect, and entire, wanting nothing." Help us thus in patience to "possess" our "souls." Help us even to "make friends of the mammon of unrighteousness," while the fatal doom, running out its destined course, is being purged away; that the death-strokes of our trial hour may be transformed into a gracious discipline, and out of the refiner's fire we may come forth "to offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness," that, arrayed in robes made white in the Blood of the Lamb, we may be accepted for ever in the Great Day of His Appearing. Amen.