"WHEREBY ARE GIVEN UNTO US EXCEEDING GREAT AND PRECIOUS PROMISES; THAT BY THESE YE MIGHT BE PARTAKES OF THE DIVINE NATURE, HAVING ESCAPED THE CORRUPTION THAT IS IN THE WORLD THROUGH LUST." 2 S. PETER I. 4.
IT was said in the last lecture, that the burnt-offering of the ritual of Israel expressed a truth common to all humanity, common indeed to all creatures,--that the life given is the property of Him Who gave it, and is therefore to be ever offered to Him in a perpetual service. It was also explained, that although the Fall had deprived GOD of His due, of this offering of human life to Him; yet that, to a certain extent at least, this blessed privilege was restored to the people of Israel, when they were redeemed; that Israel was redeemed on purpose that they might be raised up again to this capacity of self-sacrifice; that self-oblation properly followed redemption, and not redemption an end in itself; and that the witness to this great truth was embodied in the rite of the burnt-offering, which stands in the Book of Leviticus the first of the appointed sacrifices, because it was the proper result, the immediate consequence that should have been manifested in the newly-developed life of the ransomed people.
Other sacrifices however were ordained, to which attention must now be directed. There were special sacrifices peculiar to the Mosaic Covenant, not, as the burnt-offering, applicable alike to all mankind. These belonged only to the children of promise. These special, or superadded sacrifices were of two distinct kinds, having relation to the two great wants of our fallen nature, one directly arising from the Fall, the other a want inherent in us from our original creation.
If the burnt-offering could not be offered, did the Mosaic Covenant provide any remedy? If a disability from sin arose to shut out the child of promise from his usual access to GOD, was this a hopeless case? Was he shut out for ever? Could he never regain his state of grace, never more approach the Altar? Could he never more be offered in the daily oblation of the sanctuary, "a sweet savour" unto GOD?
There was an effectual remedy ordained, and it was designed with a precision that marked the truest, deepest consideration for our frailty. We sin in two ways. We may sin by the transgression of a Divine law. This is strictly speaking a trespass. To meet this need, the trespass-offering was instituted. But we may sin also through ignorance, without evil intent. This liability arises from the mere sinfulness of nature, falling into evil, and yet not knowing that it is evil. It is the consequence of corruption, without the malice of disobedience. To meet this need, the sin-offering was ordained.
These two kinds of sacrifices, though used for different ends, were offered after the same manner. The penitent must bring his victim to the door of the sanctuary, and while placing his hand on its head, confess his sin, by this two-fold action transferring his sin from himself to his victim, while the victim accepts the death due to himself as the penalty of his sin. The victim was then slain. But the penitent was not yet absolved, nor his power to offer himself to GOD acceptably, as yet restored to him. There still needed the priestly act. There must be, to ensure the promised reconciliation, a mediator between GOD and the sinner. The Priest must take the victim's blood, and with it touch the horns of the altar. This act, sealing the penitent's reconciliation with GOD, restored to him the forfeited power of communion through sacrifice. After this his access to the Altar was secured.
Sin involves two evil results, one affecting man in his own person, the other affecting man in his relation to GOD, in his service to GOD, his communion with Him. The removing of the one evil, is not the removing of the other. Both alike have separately to be removed. The sinner's own person must be cleansed. This is one act of grace. Then, as a further act, his acceptableness in service, in offering his cleansed person to GOD,--this too must be restored. This is the superadded blessedness. Therefore the sinner's restoration is a complex, a two-fold act of grace. There is first the transference of his sins from himself to the accepted victim, and then the offering on the altar of the victim's blood, its sacrificed life.
It has been already stated, that the death-vail, the covering cast at the Fall over the face of man, as of one deceased, could be removed only by the death in sacrifice of an acceptable victim. We see in the provisions we have been considering, that this covering of death may return; that it ever tends to return, and spread itself again over the face of man, even within the Covenant, even over the face of the redeemed, and if returned, may abide on him for ever. The child of the Covenant may again be shut out from the sanctuary, again lose his power of service, again be hidden from the face of GOD, and relapse into the lost state from which he had been rescued. It is necessary therefore by continued acts of sacrifice, to maintain our spiritual ground; necessary to be always keeping back the ever-recoiling vail of death; or else, as another wave of the deep may yet arise and overwhelm the mariner just rescued from the wreck, but unable to keep his hold of the shore, so the redeemed, relaxing his hold on GOD, may sink back into the abyss, and be lost again for ever. As in his first rescue man needed sacrifice, so in preserving himself within the Covenant of grace, he needs it still. To use the language of type. The penitent must offer his victim, as representing his own deserved death, and the Priest must sprinkle its blood on the horns of the Altar. To speak the language of the Christian mysteries. The penitent must confess his sins, pleading the one unseen Victim, the Lamb of GOD. The Priest must then apply in absolution the sprinkling of the precious Blood, to cleanse again his conscience from dead works, to serve the living GOD. Thus the child of promise, if he sin, may be restored, and the power of offering sacrifices of "sweet savour" to his reconciled GOD, become again his own precious right. He was dead; he may thus become alive again.
But this was not the whole of the grace of the Covenant. The burnt-offering was shown to be the expression of the consecration of restored humanity simply in itself, as the true law of its higher life ever due to GOD. But was nothing to be added to this blessing, which belongs to its natural state, by means of the Covenant? Was no higher nature than its own to be imparted to humanity? That there is a greater gift to be conveyed, the very meaning of the term, sacrifice, implies. Sacrifice means, if we take the full and ancient definition, of the term, every work done in order that by a holy fellowship we may be united to GOD. [S. Augustine's definition of sacrifice, "the master-dictum of antiquity on this subject, is 'sacrificium est omne opus quod agitur, ut sancta societate inhaereamus Deo.' Sacrifice is anything which is done to this end, that we may have a holy fellowship with GOD, and inherence in Him."--Freeman, Div. Service, Vol. II. p. 25.] It was a universal belief throughout the early Gentile world, that participation in a sacrifice is a participation in the nature of the Being to Whom the sacrifice is offered; or to speak more accurately, there is, first, communion between the worshipper and the sacrifice which he offers, and then communion through the sacrifice with the Being to Whom it is offered. The great purpose of sacrifice is to raise the being of the worshipper, through his union with the victim, to union with the Deity. He and GOD meet, as it were, in the victim. The victim is the medium through which the worshipper reaches forth his hand, and touches, and becomes one with Him Whom he adores. This principle of sacrifice was the universal belief of the heathens of the ancient, as it is now of the modern, world. They believed that in and through their sacrifices they were united with their gods; and this was the chief cause why such expressions of horror pervade the Old Scriptures at the idea of the covenanted, the chosen people sacrificing to the idols of the pagan nations around them. They were, as Scripture assures us, demons, or devils, whom the heathen ignorantly worshipped; and to sacrifice to them, and feed on their sacrifices, was to become united to them. They thereby entered into devils, and devils into them. The idol sacrifice was not a mere fictitious service, or a mere error in knowledge; nor did its hatefulness consist merely in debasing man's highest service; nor was it merely that such sacrifice was a disparagement to GOD in setting up in His stead an imaginary rival on His throne. The idols represented actual creatures. The creatures represented were abominable in their natures, and to partake of the sacrifices offered to them, was to partake of the inherent abomination of their natures.
It was not merely that abominable revelries formed the attractive allurements of the service, maddening the idol worshippers to an impure and frantic joy, but that the living nature of real beings, wicked exceedingly and impure in substance, were communicated in these feasts through partaking of their sacrifices. What can be more clear, or more dreadful, than the picture which S. Paul draws, and which he urged on the Faithful of his own day, as a most impressive warning against participation in the idol feasts? "Behold Israel after the flesh; are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?" [1 Cor. x. 18. Dr. Wordsworth thus comments on the passage. "Worship offered to any but the One True GOD, is accounted by GOD to be offered to devils who do exist, although it be offered by man to idols (of Jupiter, Venus, Bacchus,) which do not exist." "He (S. Paul) speaks of a communion with devils; meaning thereby a communion of devilish influences infused into those who are guilty of acts of idolatrous worship. See Tertullian de Spect. 25, 26, speaking of a woman who became possessed by an evil spirit while present at a theatre."] Are not the Israelites, as they eat of the sacrifices, communicants in some real mystery in the living power of Him at Whose altar they feed? "What say I then, that the idol is anything, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols, is anything?" Not that the very form, or attribute of the imagined deity, is a truth; but devils really are represented by the imaginary idols, and are present, and receive the acts of adoration. "But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to GOD; and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils." And then the Apostle contrasts the verity of the idol sacrifice with the verity of the august Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. "Ye cannot drink the Cup of the LORD and the cup of devils; ye cannot be partakers of the LORD'S Table, and of the table of devils. Do we provoke the LORD to jealousy?" "Ye cannot,"--it would be an unnatural and inconceivable mixture of two wholly diverse and irreconcileable natures, to unite the indwelling presence of devils with the indwelling Presence of our LORD. Could He, Whose Name is Jealous, enter in, and abide where demons had been welcomed, the two together seated as on rival thrones? We have already considered the triumphal Exodus of the ransomed people, the amazing fruit of the Paschal sacrifice, and their offering themselves in grateful service on the Red Sea shore, the land which the redeemed first trod with free bold step, while devoting themselves to Him Who had delivered them from their iron bondage. We have seen how the Divine Presence came forth and followed them, as a fruit of the Paschal Sacrifice. But was this the greatest nearness to which they attained? Was even the entrance into the tabernacle, where the Divine Presence rested within the veil in Its most transcendent earthly glory, the height of their attainment?
Mount Sinai is distinguished in the sacred records for GOD'S descent upon its summit, for the gathering thereon of the Angel hosts, by whose dispensation the law was given; by being the site on which the great preparatory Covenant was revealed and sealed, and heavenly things manifested to Moses, as the fashion after which he should make all that was to be enshrined in the sacred recesses of the tabernacle.
But were all these manifestations, however transcendent and glorious, the only, or the chiefest of the glories of that sacred mountain? Surely there was one other manifestation, fraught with a yet profounder majesty, and touching the whole inner life of man. I allude to the mysterious feeding of Moses and the Elders of Israel before GOD, on the Mount. After the Law had been given to the people, and they had deliberately and solemnly assented to it, and the sacrifices which sealed the Covenant had been offered, and the blood of the sacrifice sprinkled, half on the altar, half on the people, thus binding GOD and the people together in one common act, the Covenant thus being on both sides complete and irrevocable, there followed the most amazing incident of all. "Then went up Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the Elders of Israel; and they saw the GOD of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in its clearness." It was the climax of their wondrous exaltation, admitting them to at least an approach of some faint measure, or reflection, of the Beatific Vision. It is added: "Also they saw GOD, and did eat and drink." It was the utmost height in that march of mystery, to which Israel was then raised, an anticipation of the eating together of our LORD and His Apostles on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; the figure cast before of the marriage Supper of the Lamb; an approximation, though, as we shall presently see, falling far short of the blessedness into which we enter, as we eat at our Altars.
But was there anything like to this nearness to GOD perpetuated, as an abiding state in Israel, and open to every one of the Faithful in the succeeding ages? Such a provision existed among the sacrifices of "sweet savour," which are distinct from the sin-offerings, and it was known as "the peace-offering." Like the burnt-offering, it had no connexion with sin. It could not be offered by any one in sin. But it was greater than the burnt-offering in this,--that it was not merely an offering, but also a partaking with GOD of what had been offered to Him. It was an offering of "sweet savour," with the added result of communion. In the burnt-offering all was consumed on the altar, all being GOD'S. Of the peace-offering GOD had His share, part being burnt on the altar. The Priest also had his share, as mediator between GOD and him who offered; and the offerer himself had a share. The offerer fed on the same food with GOD, and GOD'S Priest, the medium of communication between GOD and him. This provision was the special characteristic feature of the peace-offering. All fed together upon the same victim. GOD was satisfied equally with man, and with the mediator between GOD and man, in the mutual participation of one common food.
That the act of eating should be thus the medium of the greatest nearness to GOD, will not appear strange, if we consider the law which makes our nature dependent continually on receiving fresh increase of its substance by food received from without. The same law runs throughout created life. Angels live by Angels' food. Our LORD Himself ate after His resurrection, marking at least the adaptation of the risen Body to the use of food. The "Tree of Life "stands "in the midst" of the Holy City, bearing "twelve manner of fruits," and "the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations,"--thus symbolising the increase of eternal life within the Blessed through, outward reception. GOD alone is self-existent. All other life is sustained and grows by assimilating to itself some external substance. So universal is this law, that the same idea is in a figure applied to GOD. Sacrifice offered to GOD is called in Scripture "the Food" of GOD. This expression is more especially applied to the peace-offering, i.e., to that portion of it which was burnt on the Altar, as GOD'S part of the sacrifice. It was called "the food of the offering made by fire unto the LORD." The term expresses under the most vivid image the satisfaction of GOD at His people's offerings. He who offers, and all that he offers of faithful service, became in a profound mystery the food and delight of GOD. It entered into His Being, and He fed upon it. But to eat with GOD of the same food from the same Altar, was the most perfect assurance of reconciliation and peace to the worshipper.
Great, however, as was this distinguishing privilege within the Covenant of Israel, it was but a faint type, and far distant approximation to what we have entered into. The Israelite fed indeed of the victim of which GOD also mystically partook, and becoming one in actual substance with the accepted victim, had thus a community of rest with GOD in the same object. But, whatever the grace that might be bestowed, the Israelite did not through his victim become one with GOD. There was no union of a common life between GOD and the victim. This was indeed typified, but it was not yet actually realised; for GOD had not become Incarnate, nor had He yielded Himself to become the Sacrifice. He could not therefore as yet exist under the visible forms of the offerings of the altar. Our LORD was gradually drawing near. He was preparing for the great manifestation of Himself in the Flesh. But the Covenant with Israel, in this respect at least, was but a shadow. Real Life was not therein. "Grace and Truth," the very and real Substance of the Promise, was yet to come. The victim was not as yet the Living GOD Himself. To partake of the victim, was not, therefore, as it now is, to partake of GOD. The promises to Israel did not, and could not, extend, as our promises, to the partaking of "the Divine Nature." But in a peculiarly graphic and instructive way the sacrifice of the peace-offering prefigured and prepared the way for the great Eucharistic Service.
It has been already observed that there are three parts of the Eucharistic Mystery,--the Sacrifice, the participation, and the self-oblation in union with It. These three parts, though distinct, bear an intimate mutual relation one towards another, and together form the complete whole. GOD can be reached only through the memorialized Death of the Mediator. That around which we gather, as the seat of the Divine Presence on earth, is an Altar before it is a Table. It is the place of Sacrifice, before it is the place of eating. This, the Oblation, is therefore the first stage of mystery, and on it the second stage depends. Participation follows in order that the accepted Life of the true Lamb of GOD may enter within us, and become our own life. Participation in the sacrifice is that which completes the sacrifice, the intended purpose and proper end of its being offered. And when we communicate, we receive only in order to lead a life of self-oblation, a life like to the life of Him Whom we receive, a life going forth and returning to the FATHER in perpetual self-sacrifice. Thus both the first and the third parts of the threefold mystery are alike vitally essential to its perfectness. But as evidently both alike look, the one forwards, the other backwards, to the Communion. The partaking is the turning-point of the completed grace. We sacrifice in order that we may participate. Having participated, we are pledged ourselves to become a sacrifice, to offer ourselves and our all to GOD.
We are therefore raised to a higher glory than the Israelite in respect of What we offer. They offered only the lower creatures' life. We offer the True Lamb. In a true sense in sacramental mystery we offer CHRIST, the very SON of GOD, to the FATHER. But it is not in this merely that we so greatly transcend the Israelite. We rise above his highest state of grace far more in this--that in our participation of the Sacrifice we partake of, we feed on, CHRIST, Who is our offering; and in partaking of His Humanity we partake, through His Humanity, of His Very GODHEAD. We become one with GOD by feeding on, by receiving into ourselves, Him Who is both GOD and Man. Our "exceeding great and precious promise" is, that our partaking is a partaking "of the Divine Nature;" that our Exodus, our escaping the sinfulness of the world through lust, our offering on the restored Altar of Sacrifice, sealed by the new Covenant, is followed, not only by the ascent of the Mount to eat before GOD, but even--amazing mystery of Love--to eat of GOD. "He that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me."
The indwelling of GOD within our renewed nature has been dwelt upon, as the special blessing of those who, having been redeemed by CHRIST, are made one with Him through partaking of His Sacrifice. To some it is a difficulty to realise in any measure the indwelling of GOD. But consider how the same difficulty exists with regard to all life. We touch and scrutinize the fresh green budding plant, instinct with exuberant life; but everywhere its life evades equally the grasp of the hand, or the perception of the mind. We stand before the living form amazed, perplexed; we pass away musing, wondering. The same law of the secrecy of life prevails everywhere around us. Probably one great part of the mysterious thrilling joy of the Future will be to look upon the inner workings and seats of life with an understanding heart. This insight, this perception of the presence of life is not yet given to us. Hitherto GOD has been pleased to interpose a thin, but perfectly impervious screen between our keenest gaze and the operations of life. We know by instinct that the living soul indwells, moves, gives expression and animation to, our living bodies; but what we see of its expression, is not the Soul itself; what we feel within of its energies is not the seat of its being, but only the bodily organ through which the spiritual presence lives and moves. If a Living Presence of a yet higher and more mysterious order than our soul connects itself with, lives and works within and through it, may we not suppose that such a life would be far more impalpable, still further removed from the possibility of sense, or of mental apprehension? The philosopher of old, when asked for a proof that he was alive, stamped upon the ground as his only reply. He meant to imply that action is the proof of life. The act of life alone can prove the existence of life. In like manner, though unable to comprehend or trace the workings of the Divine Presence, we believe that through the accepted Sacrifice we partake of the Being Whom we mystically offer, and Him to Whom we offer, and that the Being Whom we thus adore, is GOD. He dwells in us, and we in Him; He is one with us, and we with Him. We use the appointed means. We cannot doubt the promised result. But to search out and track the Eternal in the substance of our spiritual nature, is not given to us. He evades all our longing. "Verily Thou art a GOD, that hidest Thyself." Yet as we know the sacramental means by which the Divine Nature enters in, and grows within us, even so we know on what moral conditions in ourselves its growth depends. As water when clarified, separated off from all impure mixtures, becomes more and more lucent with the light of Heaven, which thus finds greater scope and freer play, and more luminous manifestations within its substance, even thus it is with our natural being. Purify it more and more, remove from it, casting far away, all remains of "the filthiness of the flesh and spirit," and then surely, although we may not see, though Angels may not be able to see, yet GOD sees Himself in us. To the soul thus increasingly purified, GOD is more and more increasingly, more intensely, more luminously present, pervading us, abiding in us, filling us even with Himself.
Again, it has been already observed, that the service of the redeemed is, if true, an acceptable service. One great pledge of this truth is to be found in the sacrificial system we have been considering. There was in the peace-offering of Israel a satisfying of three distinct Persons, of GOD, of the mediating Priest, and of the worshipper. The three met in the common act, and found a mutual rest, and were satisfied. Now the peace-offering is the special and most characteristic type of the service which the redeemed offers, GOD being in him and he in GOD, through CHRIST the Mediator between GOD and man. Every true offering, therefore, of every one's true self, and all one has to offer, is a continually fresh expression of this satisfaction of GOD, and of man in GOD. Isaiah has said of our LORD; "He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied." The offered service of the redeemed, in whom He dwells, is the fruit which He desires to find of the travail of His soul. The FATHER said of Him; "This is My beloved SON, in Whom I am well pleased." And if, as we offer the acceptable service of a life of sacrifice in CHRIST, we fulfil the desire of His Soul, and are in Him Who is well-pleasing to the FATHER, and thus share His acceptableness, the result must be an unspeakably blessed and glorious reconciliation of mutual rest and delight in a united life and common acts, of all-absorbing fellowship, and joy unspeakable. More and more, in an ever-deepening truth, we thus "in Him live and move and have our being." For He, and all that He has won for us, becomes ours. His joy in the FATHER is ours. The FATHER'S joy in Him is ours. It is a unity of life; and all that makes life precious, and all that pleases in the mutual interchange of living powers of love and joy, between the FATHER and the SON, are ours, who are in the SON, and through the SON are in the FATHER also. Our LORD'S prayer, to be fulfilled in the day of His glory, is that we may be, in the utmost fulness of its possible accomplishment, "one" with Him, as "Thou, FATHER, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me, and the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them, that they may be one, even as We are One." Within that transcendent circle of rest will the rest of the Faithful be for ever. The Unity of the FATHER and the SON with the SPIRIT, is the Bosom of rest within which enfolded the accepted members of the SON enter, as the result and proof of His acceptableness which embraces not Himself only, but all who are His. Behold the repose of our wearied natures, the haven of the voyage over this troubled sea, the dwelling-place of the wanderer after his return, and reception in his true Home! To Him in Whom this Life lives, to Whom this result is due, be all glory and praise. To His all-entrancing Love be all love given. Unto Him Who hath called us, and hath made us partakers with Himself of these great and precious promises, with the FATHER and the HOLY GHOST, be all glory and thanksgiving for ever. Amen.