"I BESEECH YOU, THEREFORE, BRETHREN, BY THE MERCIES OF GOD, THAT YE PRESENT YOUR BODIES A LIVING SACRIFICE, HOLY, ACCEPTABLE UNTO GOD, WHICH IS YOUR REASONABLE SERVICE." ROM. xii. 1.
IT was shown in the preceding Lecture, that by a law the reasons of which are not explained to us,--revelation not reaching back to principles which were in operation before the creation of man--the death of the innocent victim does away the death of the guilty; and that, according to this law, CHRIST by His Death has removed the veil of death from man, destroying, not death only, but "him also that hath the power of death, that is, the devil, and delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.'"
It was shown, moreover, that, according to the laws of the Covenant of Israel, the guilty person, being identified with the victim, was accepted as the victim was accepted, and that, sharing its death in a mystery, he thereby shared also its acceptance, the victim's death being viewed as his own, the curse of his own death thus passing away, and himself mystically raised to life again in the recovered light of GOD. This ground of acceptance, embodied in the symbolical covenant, is the assurance and type of our acceptance through the Sacrifice of the Death of CHRIST. Sprinkled with His Blood, we stand before GOD clothed with all His merits, identified with Himself, and endued with all His acceptableness. The covering of death is through CHRIST thus broken through, and we pass within the realms of life with all its recovered powers, now become our own.
This is our redemption, our bringing back from the land of the enemy. To the world at large, to men living in sin, or in lax undisciplined habits, this is the whole aspect of Christianity which they comprehend. They see the one fact of remission of sins through the Blood of CHRIST, and to this idea of forgiveness they limit their view of Christianity; they cannot see beyond it. Often the dying man with his last breath expresses this idea as the ultimate end to which human hope can aspire, or the last prayers of failing nature supplicate.
But the redemption of Israel was not the whole of the history of Israel; it was but the beginning of their true life. The Red Sea passed, and Egypt left behind them, their life had but begun. The journeyings in the wilderness, the settlement in the holy land, lay before them. In like manner, not in redemption alone consists the whole view of Christianity. What we have already considered is but its Exodus. We have seen how the shroud of death is removed from the face of man; how man arises from his bier. But the whole of life has then to be lived. He was thus raised up only in order that he might with his revived powers present his body a "living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto GOD, which is his reasonable service." The one idea is an advance beyond the other. The first is the raising out of death, after which follows the offering up of the risen life. Can we limit our view to the one, and ignore the other, which is, in fact, the very end and purpose for which we are raised from the dead?
It is to be most carefully noted, that the appointment of the sacrifices which were to be continually offered by the children of Israel, followed the Exodus. They were ordained after the deliverance from bondage, the flight from death, the standing on the further shore, and the joyful song when Miriam took her timbrel, and, at the head of the choir of Israel, praised the LORD Who had "triumphed gloriously," the conquered foe being drowned in the depths of the sea. The laws of sacrifice revealed to the Israelites in the Book of Leviticus, were revealed subsequently to this deliverance. Whatever, therefore, those elaborate sacrifices, recorded in the Book of Leviticus, teach, they teach to those who are already redeemed: they assume the redemption as a past and accomplished fact, and on the very ground of redemption enforce the further truth. The sacrifices of the Covenant were not the preliminary of its institution, but the expression of its enduring life. They were visible forms of an inner life to be preserved by their means in communion with GOD, as the result of the new relation in which His people now stood to Him. Their importance may he certainly inferred, among the Patriarchs, by the fact that whenever they settled in a fresh spot, they built an Altar to the LORD; among their children, the Israelites, because in all their wanderings they were required to carry their Altar with them, and when arrived within the precincts of the promised land, guard it with strictest jealousy. Moreover the minute details of these sacrifices, and their careful enforcement,--the consequence of failing to offer being, that such a soul was "cut off from the people,"--all tended to prove their momentous importance.
It is true, that the Prophets spoke continually of the worthlessness of sacrifice. "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." "Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto Me," &c. Such indignant remonstrances, however, abounding in the writings of the Prophets, only implied that the inner spirit which should have accompanied the act of sacrifice, was absent. They were vain only because of this defect. Could sacrifices, when rightly offered, be vain, when they were described as being a "sweet savour to the LORD?" Of Noah's sacrifice, e.g., after his going forth from the Ark, it is said; "And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in His heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake." So important in their bearings on actual life were the ordinances regarding sacrifice, that even the animals chosen for the use of the Altar were significant. They had relation to the disposition of the offerer. The animals preferred were the bullock, the lamb, and the turtle dove. Can we suppose for a moment that there was no vital truth involved in this choice of the creatures, when our LORD took for Himself, and still retains even in Heaven, a name derived from the animal specially chosen for sacrifice as representing Himself about to be offered. He is for ever "the LAMB of GOD." The chosen animals were intended by their characteristic qualities to show the spirit in which sacrifice should be offered. The bullock represented active patient service: the lamb, silent unmurmuring submission: the turtle dove, gentleness and innocence.
It is commonly, but erroneously, supposed that the sacrifices of the Levitical Law related only to the remission of sin. Of the six different kinds of sacrifice ordained for common use among the Israelites, two only had reference to sin,--the sin-offering and the trespass-offering,--the latter atoning for actual transgression, the former for the general sinfulness of nature.
In the other sacrifices sin was not mentioned. Indeed they could not be offered by one who was in a state of sin. They were the offerings of the redeemed, the purified, the faithful Israelite, offering without constraint, of his voluntary will, meeting GOD in holiness and peaceful communion, only desiring a further grace, and seeking to glorify Him with acceptable service. They were distinguished from all other sacrifices, as the sacrifices of a "sweet savour." The distinction was strongly marked. Sin-offerings, though offered and slain, yet could not be burnt within the sanctuary; they must be carried without the camp. Our LORD, on this account, being a sin-offering, was crucified without the city. Such sacrifices were cast out as hateful both in the sight of GOD and man, because sin was in them. But the other sacrifices--those of "sweet savour"--were burnt on the Altar within the Holy place, and went up to Heaven within the circle of GOD'S immediate Presence, and were borne into the very Holiest place through the veil, reaching the very Mercy Seat whereon GOD abode. In the sacrifices for sin, man being under a curse satisfied the offended Justice of GOD. But in the other sacrifices, the sacrifices of "sweet savour," man, already redeemed from the curse, satisfied a holy and loving requirement of GOD, Who desired the service of His ransomed creature.
Further, it is to be noted that these sacrifices "of sweet savour" stand first in the Book of Leviticus. The book opens with them, and only after them do we read of the sin, and trespass offerings. The reason of the order is clear. The sacrifices of "sweet savour" were the proper offerings, those which were to be expected from the redeemed. Sin, or trespass, is a strange thing in the redeemed. Sacrifices for their atonement were added to meet the requirement, should it arise: but for the delivered soul to sin again; for those who had been brought out from a hard bondage "by miracles and signs, by a mighty Hand and by a stretched out Arm;" by the Divine Presence "in the pillar of cloud by day" and "the pillar of fire by night,"--for such to sin again, was not to be the ordinary, the expected state. The sacrifices of "sweet savour," the free-will offerings of the ransomed soul giving itself and its all more and more to its Redeemer,--this was the true, the expected result. The cleansing away of fresh sin, of renewed transgression, was indeed provided for; but was kept, as it were, in the background, as what neither GOD nor man should first contemplate.
Of these sacrifices of "sweet savour" the first and the most common was the burnt-offering. After being offered, it was slain, thus marking the necessity of death. It was then cut into its several pieces and laid in order upon the Altar, thus expressing the offering up of every several part of the devoted life. It was then kindled by the sacred fire which had descended from heaven, and which never was suffered to go out. There in its several parts, whole, yet divided, it lay burning. Every portion sent up its sacred steam of "sweet savour," circling and spreading throughout the Sanctuary. Every portion was wholly consumed. No part- whatever was taken, or left to be eaten. All was given up to GOD. The entire oblation arose before His Presence, wafted within the inner circles of His secret veiled Abode. It passed away into Him, and was lost to all outward consciousness of the creature. But it lived before Him to be the token, the embodiment of a wholly offered life, voluntarily given up and consumed in the delight of pleasing GOD, of being lost in GOD.
The stated morning and evening sacrifices of Israel, which, for fifteen centuries were offered daily at nine o'clock and three o'clock, unceasingly,--these were burnt-offerings. They were the offerings of the collective people of Israel. They were offered in their name, and in their stead. Wherever an Israelite wandered, he had still his part in that daily burnt-offering. He was thus continually represented within the Sanctuary of GOD. He was ever laid there before GOD'S immediate Dwelling-place, ever consumed in the desire of being wholly GOD'S, of ever losing himself and his works in the unsparing offering of a sacrificed life. Every faithful Israelite could thus associate himself, and be thus unceasingly identified with, the ever-accepted daily sacrifice. Unceasing the sacrifice was; for on the embers yet smoking of the morning burnt-offering were laid in order the pieces of the evening sacrifice, and on the yet smouldering ashes of the evening oblation those of the morning. All through the night rose up the steam of "sweet savour," day and night telling each other of the ever renewed act of a perpetual offering to GOD. And in this visible form each Israelite, far or near, was offering himself, through his representatives, before his GOD.
It was a remarkable arrangement, peculiar to the burnt-offering, no other sacrifice admitting of the provision, that it could be offered by a stranger, one not of the seed of Abraham, nor adopted into the privileges of his race. A stranger could take this part, though debarred all other, in the established ordinances of the Covenant. There was great significance in this provision; for it involved a momentous truth. All the other sacrifices, the sin-offerings and the peace-offerings, were strictly covenant sacrifices. They were grounded on special promises, peculiar and confined to the covenanted children of Israel. They could therefore be offered only by those who were within the Covenant. The burnt-offering, on the contrary, represented a universal truth, one common to all humanity. All humanity, all created life, has its proper end in offering itself up to GOD. The creature's life is true only as it is consumed in this unceasing self-dedication. While the sanctuary of Israel was shut jealously against all nations as to its peculiar privileges, it yet proclaimed abroad to all people this irreversible truth of the original and universal call to all men everywhere alike, that life is given to the creature only to be offered in this reasonable service to its Creator.
Moreover, there was for the Israelites the remarkable ordinance of a double sacrifice, bringing out yet
more distinctly the difference between the sin, and the pure, offering. It was appointed to be used in the purification of women after childbirth, and in cleansing the leper. When the Blessed Virgin presented the Holy Child in the Temple, she bore "a pair of turtle doves," as her offering, according to the law. Of these two victims one was offered as a sin-offering, the other, after being dipped in the blood of the sin-offering, as a burnt-offering. First the sin-offering was made, and then the burnt-offering sprinkled with its blood.
The two combined together expressed the two sides of human life in its relation to GOD, and met the two most vital necessities of every child of man in his present fallen state. Man needs an atonement that his sin may be put away, and himself reconciled to GOD. This necessity was met by the sin-offering. He needs, also, to present himself as a willing sacrifice to GOD after his sin-offering has been accepted; this was the object and expression of the burnt-offering. Under this same twofold aspect our LORD'S sacrifice of His own Life manifested itself, and consequently the double offering at His Presentation in the Temple had its application to Himself. His course of suffering, His Passion and Death, as an Atonement, was exhibited in the one turtle dove, offered as a sin-offering. His everlasting glory arising out of His most precious Death, to live for ever before the FATHER as a perpetual Oblation,--this was exhibited in the other turtle dove, first steeped, as He was, in blood, and then to be consumed as "a sweet savour" unto GOD.
Consider, now, how these great eternal truths are exhibited in our continual Sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist. Their several lines converge and meet at our Altar Service, embodying all the offerings and services which we have contemplated in the typical ritual of Israel. First, there is the sin-offering, the Memorial of the Death of CHRIST presented before the FATHER, in the separated, sundered Elements of His Body and His Blood. We bear and plead this dying of our LORD JESUS before GOD as our own, and in uniting ourselves with this solemn act of Sacrifice for the world's redemption, and our own, we are accepted. Then follows the reception, the feeding, and then the union with His life in Its assimilation with our own, the interpenetrating, the abiding of the Holy Flesh and the Holy Blood within our very bodies and our very souls. [The view of that portion of the Levitical covenant which regards the feeding on the Sacrifice, will come under consideration in the following Lecture.] Having been identified with the accepted Sacrifice for sin, we are by actual reception made One with His Life. Then follows the third stage of the Mystery. Already filled and instinct with the Sacred Humanity of JESUS, Which Itself is filled and instinct with His GODHEAD, "we" then, in the language of our Post-Communion prayer, "offer and present ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto GOD." This is the burnt-offering. The surrender of one's own self becomes capable of being accepted, because steeped in the Blood of CHRIST Which is in us; and being alive with His Living Presence within us, we are thenceforward fitted to be kindled with the Divine fire of an all-consuming love, in holy services and increasing self-oblation, ever ascending until wholly lost in GOD, our true covenanted Life.
And there is this further blessedness attached to our Communion, the type of which we have seen in the daily sacrifices of Israel, that even when absent from our Altars, wandering far away, or laid in sickness, or our lot cast in the more barren regions of the spiritual world, we are still being presented before GOD, wherever the Holy Sacrifice is being offered; we are still offering ourselves up in the oblations of our brethren; we are still in that one selfsame act united, as with them, so with the One Lamb of GOD; we are dying in Him, we are living in Him, we are accepted in Him; whether living or departed, if within the mystical Body of CHRIST, we are still together, one with another, still ever represented, still ever being offered, still ever being accepted with every renewed pledge of love, still presenting ourselves, our souls and bodies, wherever and whenever that Holy Sacrifice is offered, because we are still in Him Who is offered, and He in us, together with all who are in Him, in One Communion. It is but one Altar, but One Holy Flesh, but One Spirit, as there is but "One LORD, One GOD, and FATHER of all, Who is above all, and through all, and in you all." [Ephes. iv. 6.]
A few practical reflections only may be added to close our subject.
To speak the language of type. When Israel was in Egypt, they knew nothing beyond the paschal sacrifice, the flight, the deliverance from death. Israel had afterwards to learn, when the deep Red Sea lay between them and Egypt, the laws of the perpetual burnt-offering, and the ever onward march under the guidance of the pillar of the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, while they were offering their unceasing sacrifices of sweet savour, more and more completely dedicating themselves unto GOD.
To speak the language of simple Christian truth. The Christian, while standing at the lowest point of his development, of the first illuminations of the Spirit, knows only of the hurried flight from sin, and the ransoming from death, and the one aspect of CHRIST'S sacrifice as It redeems the lost. But the believer, as he develops his first idea, as he stands successively on higher and ever rising ground, with advancing illuminations of the Spirit, the immediate fear of death being past,--learns the laws of self-sacrifice, the unceasing offering of his life to GOD, and the perpetual guiding of the Holy Light, in which he ever seeks to make his offering of himself more and more perfect. In the onward moving of GOD he is led further and further away from his former state, the self which he had fed and indulged, being laid in all its several parts in order upon the Altar, self dying, CHRIST living, self becoming less and less to oneself, CHRIST becoming more and more one's life, life becoming less and less one's own, more and more His Who bought it at a great price. And as the Israelite who loved much, would seek out the most costly sacrifice, so, as love's desires grow--and love ever grows through the unceasing sacrifice of self,--the soul seeks more and more of costliest offerings to offer to its GOD. To the ransomed Christian, as to the Israelite, the timbrel, and the dance of triumph, and the song of joy on the Red Sea shore, were not the closing of the march of victory and miraculous power; they were rather its commencement, its first opening scene, the beginning of its triumphs, the first step in the recovered freedom of the rescued soul.
2. It is a grievous error to suppose that such offerings of a gracious life in the redeemed, are not of worth ( in themselves. There is a theology which teaches that! we honour CHRIST the more, the more we disparage human works. It represents works as valuable merely because they betoken faith; that as proofs of faith in CHRIST they are precious, not in themselves. This system regards faithful services, only as tokens of something else, not as pleasing before GOD on their own account. And yet Holy Scripture is simple and positive in its assertions. It tells us that to present our bodies a living sacrifice, is not only a holy offering, but is also "acceptable unto GOD." The term, acceptable, involves the idea of what is "well pleasing," "causing gratification," "stirring delight." It answers to "the sweet savour," that which caused a movement of approving love and gladness in the Heart of GOD. And surely it gives the greater honour to our LORD, that the human nature which He Himself wears, as His own, is in itself, through His grace, become capable of pleasing GOD, in all who are true to Him, and the more that CHRIST is in us and one with us, the more pleasing. We need not attribute a desert to our works, as though they could earn anything as due because of them, when we attribute to them a power of gratifying GOD, as the fulfilment of His own idea and the accomplishment of His own grace. They can exist only through His grace. They are in truth His own works in us: "It is GOD that worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure." They are the fruits of His own Presence in us, and therefore they are acceptable. Their merit is His own, not ours, while yet we ourselves please Him, as we correspond with His inspirations and grace, while He works all our works in us.
One chief cause of languor, so often experienced in the spiritual life, and of slackness in works of charity, is the want of the keen apprehension of this truth, even as, when apprehended, it stimulates and quickens self-sacrifice, making it a perpetual brightness, often upholding highest aims in loneliness with an amazing force, giving a special joy and spring to effort, and elevating the spirit to reach forth with increasing earnestness toward GOD, with a power such as no other motive can impart. "Shall I indeed give pleasure to my GOD by this effort?" "Will He accept me, and His Spirit rest with love and delight in me, if I fail not in the fulfilment of this call?"--are thoughts which stir a generous heart, and supply continually fresh inducements to ever renewed acts of self-devotion.
3. Lastly, there is need to distinguish between a mere natural tendency to act kindly, or an activity even in religious services, and that inward self-consecration, that self-sacrifice at every cost which the law of the burnt-offering expressed. There is no necessary sacrifice of self in kind words, nor in energetic actions, nor in schemes of benevolence, nor in the busiest pursuit of works of charity. Self may stand out prominently from amidst charitable designs and efforts, even from a life spent in such aims, as on the Alpine heights dark jagged peaks of the natural debris of the mountain break through the silvery surface of untrodden snow which surrounds them. The charitable design, or the absorbing interest of benevolent energy, may even feed the self which they envelop. In nothing is it more needful to take heed that self is being really offered to GOD, than in religious life. This is the cause why GOD marked out in such particular details the kinds of sacrifice which He demanded, and so earnestly enforced the necessity of their being offered "without blemish and without spot." It was not enough to make offerings to GOD. The offerings were to be closely inspected before they were offered, lest some secret blemish unfitted them for His Altar. When the besetting sin is not spared; when the searching Hand of GOD is suffered to touch it to the very quick, and it shrinks not from the touch; when the religious design is carried out with equal ardour, although some sensitive weakness has been wounded, and the chastening is accepted as the soul's truest profit; when we are as anxious as ever for success, although no selfish wish is being pleased, and another win the praise of the work when fervent prayer, and calm communion with the unseen world, and growing humility, and an absorbing faith, and a love enduring and unchanging, and a growing consecration of every thought, of the inner movements of the soul, and the secret pulses of the life, are tending to become the habitual tenour of the renewed nature,--then indeed a living sacrifice is being laid on the Altar, and all its parts consumed in the flame which, descending from Heaven, transforms into its own glory the poor earthly materials, which GOD thus mercifully assumes into Himself, in Whom alone they attain their predestined perfectness.
The old nature is under the curse, whether or no it express itself in the forms of religion. Self is not less self, although it gain its end in a holy cause. The world is not less hateful to GOD, because its principles have found their opportunity in furthering a work dedicated to Him. Nor will a pure intention mitigate the evil of an indulged vanity, any more than a righteous end can justify an unrighteous means. Mere energy is not identical with holy zeal, nor an interest in the things of GOD a substitute for inward discipline, or saintliness of life. Our work may live before GOD, and ourselves perish, or if saved, yet "so as by fire." O saddest, blindest self-deceit, which thinks to offer to GOD a blemished sacrifice! O folly, reckless and profane, to rush into the sanctuary of GOD, and be busied with its secret treasures, while yet careless as to the inner life, unwatchful of the impulses and motives which play to and fro within the heart!
And yet to be engaged in sacred ministerings, or to labour in any true earthly calling for the glory of GOD, is the very means to discipline the inner life, to chasten and deepen its purest aspirations. Such a course is not only the natural development of such aspirations, but also the nurse, the refining, the perfecting of them. The inner life attains its truest, noblest forms under the trials, the difficulties, the rebukes of outward things. As the human nature in CHRIST was made perfect through suffering, even so His elect must be subject to the constraining pressure and toil of the world, the sharpness of the cross and the wear of continual outward exactions, while His grace inspires and forms within them the beauty of His own likeness. "Every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt." Even although in serving GOD we run the risk of failing to fulfil the aspirations of the inward desire, we are thus, if earnest and sincere, learning our true weakness. Only thus can we practise the senses which are being "exercised to discern between good and evil," and advancing, though it may be unconsciously, in the truest and most enduring conformity to the Divine will. We are continually presenting to GOD what He will mercifully direct and mould for the manifestation of His own glory. If we persevere, He will "finish His work;" for the promise is that "He which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of JESUS CHRIST."'