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Our Life in the Knowledge of God

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days throughout the Year, Vol. I. Advent to Tuesday in Whitsun Week

Rivingtons, London, 1875, pp. 300-304.

First part of Sermon XXVI. for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

(for the second part.)


No consideration of Christ’s Passion can be of any avail to us, excepting so far as we believe in Him as God, and so by faith are made one with Him, the great Mediator between God and man.  The Godhead of Christ is therefore made the one great subject of this Sunday of His Passion. 

And first of all, as the Epistle for last Sunday spoke of the two covenants; the one from Mount Sinai, which gendereth unto bondage, and represented by Hagar; the other, that of the heavenly Jerusalem; so the Epistle for this day speaks of the infinite difference between the earthly and the heavenly Temple. 

Christ being come an High Priest of good things to come.  Christ had now appeared the High Priest of those good things to which the law looked forward as about to be, “the law,” as it is said in the next chapter, “having a shadow of good things to come;” “things to come,” that is, future and eternal, in distinction from things present and temporal.  For the whole Epistle to the Hebrews consists of a description of Christ as this High Priest of those great and blessed future realities.  And thus our Lord Himself appeared to St. John in the Revelation in the dress of an High Priest, in the midst of the seven candlesticks of the Temple, clothed with the priestly long garment, and with the golden girdle about the breast.  For the very sight of Him at once in that character indicated all. 

By a greater, he says, and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building, not of this material fabric; or it might be, “not of this creation,” but by one born of supernatural birth.  As it had been said before, an High Priest “of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man.”  But here a “tabernacle greater and more perfect;” yea, even so far greater and more perfect as the Heaven of Heavens are greater and more perfect than that Jewish building of old which was given to represent the true.  And, he adds, “not made with hands,” apparently in allusion to our Lord’s own expression respecting this spiritual building of God, that He would in three days build another temple “made without hands.” [Mark xiv. 58] 

Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place.  “Once,” as he often repeats, “once offered,” “once entering in,” in distinction from the Jewish sacrifices which were often made, and the High Priest entering into the Holy of Holies every year.  And he explains why it is only once, having obtained eternal redemption for us.  For the sacrifices of old were to obtain a ransom or redemption; and as this they could never do for sins against God, by being constantly repeated they seemed always to be asking and pleading for remission.  But when Christ’s Blood was “once offered,” there was nothing more; there remained no more “sacrifice for sin.”  He had obtained an eternal redemption. 

And here we cannot but notice that St. Paul, in mentioning the worthless sacrifices of the law, speaks “of goats and calves,” and the like, but does not mention the lamb, which we know was the frequent offering under the law.  How expressive is this omission!  because the lamb is in Scripture so often applied to our Lord Himself, as significative not only of the sacrifice of Himself as the Lamb of the true Passover, but also of His own character of meekness and patience.  He is Himself “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.”  “The precious blood of Christ,” says St. Peter, “as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot.”  [1 St. Pet. i. 19.]  They “overcame by the blood of the Lamb”—“the Lamb shall lead them”—it is “the Lamb’s Book of Life.”  [Rev. xii. 11; vii. 17; xxi. 27.]  Thus the Lamb is the very word that Christ keeps for Himself for His own appropriate designation; as teaching us how dear at all times to Him is the sacrifice of a lamb-like spirit.  He rejects all other sacrifices; but this is well-pleasing to God, as partaking most of all in the sacrifice of His Son. 

For if the blood of bulls and of goats, as on the great day of Atonement, when the High Priest in his white robe of expiation entered into the Holy Place; and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, as when a person had touched a dead body, it was commanded to be done for his purification [Num. xix. 17.]; if this sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh; if this was sufficient to render a person clean and holy in the sight of God, so that he might again appear before God in His house after contracting legal uncleanness of the flesh.  How much more shall the blood of Christ, Who, through the eternal Spirit, that is to say, not through those legal shadows of washing and anointing, and the white robe, and the incense [Lev. xvi.], but in that very reality signified by them all, “through the eternal Spirit” Himself, Who at our Lord’s Conception, and Baptism, and Transfiguration, and Resurrection, was present, together with the Father, as quickening, and sanctifying, and justifying, and sealing that mysterious oblation of Himself for our sins:—“through the eternal Spirit,” that bond between the Father and the Son, when He offered Himself without spot to God.  How shall this not be efficacious and powerful to purge and cleanse not the flesh outwardly, but your conscience within; not from the touch of a dead body, or a grave, and the like, but from dead works; in “repentance from those dead works” in which the soul was dead, so purified and sanctified as to serve the living God, as those that are “alive from the dead” [Rom. vi. 13.]; to “serve,” i.e. to perform acceptable service and ministration in the temple of that God in Whom is everlasting life.  Such is the service of “Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood,” Who says to us as our High Priest, “I am He that liveth and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore” [Rev. i. 5. 18.].  This St. Paul here puts forth in other words, And for this cause, that is because as our High Priest He has offered up for us this life-giving sacrifice of Himself, He is therefore the Mediator, not as Aaron and the priests of old, standing between God and man as mere shadows and representations of His all-prevailing mediation, but He is the Mediator, the eternal Priest and Intercessor of the new testament; the New Will of God to man conveying his inheritance, the New Covenant; at the same time as God conveying, ratifying, bestowing; as Man interceding, advocating, obtaining.  That by means of death for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament; that is to say, the law or first testament having declared the sentence of death on all transgressions against God, Christ, by the sacrifice of Himself, has rescued and ransomed us from that penalty.  That they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance; that gift which this His Will hath bequeathed to us sealed and ratified by His own Blood; an inheritance not of an earthly Canaan and of temporal promises, but the inheritance of Christ, eternal in the Heavens. 

Such, therefore, is the new and eternal covenant of God.  The law did but prepare the way, being itself, in all its types and shadows, but the Gospel veiled, whereas the Gospel, as says St. Austin, is the law revealed.  But the law was also at the same time the schoolmaster to bring to Christ; and it became the means of doing this by a very wonderful economy, for it in a mysterious manner supplied the test of the spiritual and true worshippers, meet for the heavenly courts; for faith, looking through those shadows by the mortification of self, led to the living God; and prepared the way by depression of the human to the exaltation of the Divine.

(for the second part.)