The Day Of Atonement
“And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year.”
WE have taken these words for our text. The whole Chapter, however, will have our attention.
I must be allowed to say at this time, though I seldom say anything in the way of an apology, that this is not the place, nor would time serve us to go into a full exposition of the very wonderful teaching of this Chapter. If we may ever set any portion of Scripture before another, this is one of the most precious Chapters in the whole compass of Revelation and, in some respects, the most remarkable of all. It is so full of wonderfully deep teaching that, instead of a sermon, it might require a volume! And then, perhaps, we would scarcely have done more than skimmed the surface. And there are difficulties, I may also add, connected with the interpretation–very great difficulties–which have puzzled the most learned of the Reformed and of the Puritan divines. I do not at all attempt to solve those difficulties, nor profess that all I say might be able to support and carry out. I desire to give, instead of any attempt at criticism or deep explanation, a simple exposition of this Chapter, bringing out of it, I hope, some Truths of God which, if they do not belong to the Chapter, are, nevertheless, exceedingly precious ones and will, I hope, be useful to us all.
In a remarkable way God dealt with Israel in the wilderness. There were special tokens of His peculiar Presence, as in the cloudy and fiery pillars which were the emblems of His Presence, and in the bright light called the Shekinah, which shone between the wings of the cherubim which overshadowed the Ark. But God cannot dwell where there is sin. He is a holy Being. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts,” is the song which continually rises into His ears. In order, then, that He might dwell in the midst of Israel without compromising His Character, He was pleased to appoint one day in the year which was called “the Day of Atonement,” which should be considered to purify the camp and make it fit to be the dwelling place of Jehovah.
Now, God has promised that He will dwell among men, and He does dwell among His own people at this very time. He dwells with them in a remarkable way. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul. God is the heritage, the Friend, the Companion of all His people, but because of their sin He cannot dwell with these believing men unless an Atonement is made. The annual atonement among the Jews was the picture of the great Atonement–but the real Atonement, the effectual Expiation which, not once a year, but once and for all, the Lord Jesus Christ has offered–now renders it possible for God to walk with men and dwell among them!
In the ceremony of the atonement, in the Chapter before us, there are four things that struck me. The first is–
- THE WAY IN WHICH THAT REMARKABLE CEREMONY SET FORTH THE SACRIFICE MADE TO GOD’S HONOR.
My Brothers and Sisters, the offense of man against God was, so to speak, a stain upon God’s honor. Man set himself up in rebellion against the Most High! He stood out, therefore, against Divine Sovereignty! He impugned the Divine Love. His offense blasphemed the Divine Wisdom. Every human sin is an attack upon the whole Character and life of God–and sin, itself, is a dishonor done to the glorious attributes of Jehovah. Before God can be reconciled to man and deal with Him at all, except by way of retribution, there must be something done to restore the Divine Honor. Now, we have it declared in this Revelation which comes to us from Heaven, that Christ has fully restored the Divine Glory and that since He suffered on the tree, the Just for the unjust, God can be gracious without a violation of His Justice and He can dwell with us–with us poor fallen creatures–without the marring of the luster of any single one of His attributes! The model man has honored God more fully than sinful man ever dishonored Him! And if God was angry with the race for our sins, He is now towards the race full of tenderness and pity because of the transcendent goodness of the new Head of the race, Christ Jesus our Lord, who has magnified God’s Law and made it honorable!
Now, this is the Truth of God that was taught in the first part of the ceremony on the Day of Atonement. It was taught thus. Two goats were brought to the door of the Tabernacle. Lots were cast and the first goat was selected to teach this lesson. The goat was brought by the people. It was their common property. It would not have sufficed–it would not have been of any use at all if it had not been so. Read the Chapter and you will see. Learn from this that thecompensation to God’s honor for man’s sin must come from men. It was a man in the Garden who dared to rebel–it must be a man, another man, who shall honor God’s Law so as to set the race in a fresh relationship towards God.
The goat is given by all Israel–the Atonement to God’s honor must come out of our race, and hence it is that our Lord is the son of Mary, bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh–qualified, being a Man, to perform the obedience required of man and to right, as a Man for men, the wrongs which man had done to God. Note that first.
The goat which was brought
was given up to the appointed priest. God will have everything done according to or
der. The sacrifice must not be left to the whims and fancies of men. So the man who shall offer up the sacrifice to the Divine Honor must be appointed of God, as Aaron was. And so our Lord Jesus Christ was God’s chosen One, appointed by God to stand in the gap, and for us to vindicate the Divine Glory which we had tarnished by our iniquities.
This goat, being thus offered,
must . Sweet perfume must be
cast upon the live coals and the sweet smell must go up before the Mercy Seat. So before God can ever be satisfied for the wrong done to Him by the Fall and by our common sin, there must be an offering of sweet merits unto Him which, let me say, Jesus Christ has most abundantly offered. He took His hands full of the, most blessed compound of all the graces and all the virtues beaten small, for there was an exact obedience to every jot and tittle of the Divine Law. Christ’s obedience was perfect in its kind in the most minute respects–and this merit has been brought before our God, who is a consuming fire, and burns up every evil work. And as He lays hold upon this work of Christ, He makes a sweet smell of it–which is poured out throughout Heaven and earth–“the savor of a sweet odor” in the nostrils of the Most High
Do not let me cover up, however, what I mean, under the cloak of allegory. I mean this–that if God is to accept our race of men and all that we have done against Him and still deal with us on the footing of mercy–somebody must be found who can be so obedient, so delighting in God’s will, that there shall be a sweet offering made, as morally and spiritually acceptable to God’s Spirit as sweet perfume is to the nostril of man. And that has been done. When they talk in Heaven of man’s sin–if they ever there speak of it and wonder how God can bear with man, some bright seraph speaks of man’s perfect obedience, even unto death, and they say to one another, “What man, what man is this?” and they clap their hands with joy as they say, It’s He that sat at the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Son of David."
One man threw down the race, but another Man has lifted us up! One man brought ruin by the Fall–another Man restored it and made the race acceptable to God. If man dishonored God, yet man has more honored Him than he dishonored Him, now that Christ has become the great representative Man!
All the glory of Redemption is greater than ever there could have been of dishonor to God by sin! I believe that God is more honored by the world having sinned, and having been restored by Christ, than He could have been if there had never been sin upon this planet and if a perfectly sinless race had tenanted its bounds!
After this burning of perfume, the goat must die. Nothing could permit the Justice of God to look upon man at alluntil there had been something more than merit. There must be a penalty. “Die he, or Justice must.” Man must die, or God’s Justice must die. There must be blood–life poured out for sin. Now, when that goat was put to death and the blood flowed forth into the golden bowl, then, Brothers and Sisters, you saw before your eyes of faith, Jesus Christ put to death upon Calvary. He who needed not to have died, the Perfect One, voluntarily offered Himself up as the Victim to Justice, suffering in His own Person, so as to compensate the Justice of God. Do not imagine that Christ died to placate Divine Vengeance–not at all–but that it is sternly necessary if God is to govern this universe at all, that sin must be punished. The very pillars and the foundations of moral government would, not to say, be shaken, but actually be torn up if sin should be permitted to go unpunished! Now, to vindicate the Justice of God, the sword is drawn and who suffers?
Not the human race. Behold, myriads of the race go streaming up to everlasting felicity. Who suffers, then? Why, a Man so marvelously perfect, and withal, so majestically glorious, that His sufferings are a recompense to God for all that sin had done–and so made an effectual Atonement for all the transgressions that had dishonored God! You will observe that I am speaking in very popular, comprehensive and general terms–and designedly so because I believe I am speaking the Infallible Truth of the mind of God! So far as God is concerned, the Atonement that Christ made was universal in its worth and efficacy!
So far as the vindication of the Justice of God and all His other attributes are to be considered, that vindication was absolutely complete. And whether one man had been saved, or 50 men saved, or all saved, or none saved, it would have made no difference. The work was done! God’s honor was clear! God’s attributes were glorified–and this was perfectly done by the putting away of Christ.
Once more. The blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat seven times. That was typical of Christ, who goes up intoHeaven in His own proper Person and there displays before God, the holy angels and elect spirits, the tokens of His passion, the ensign of His suffering, taking the blood up to God that henceforth when the Eternal Mind thinks of sin and the dishonor done to God by sin, it might think of the sufferings of the blessed Man, Christ Jesus, and see how all dishonor is forever put away! You know, when you are reading Scripture, dear Friends, you find a great many passages which speak about Christ’s dying for all men, and about God’s having reconciled the world unto Himself. And I know you are apt to say to me, “You teach us Particular Redemption–that Christ only died as a Substitute for some men.” That I always say, and stand to–and believe to be a Biblical Doctrine! But do I, therefore, clip away other texts? No, not in any degree! I believe them as they stand. I count it treason to try and clip a text, or to make it say the contrary of what it does say! So far as God’s honor was concerned, the death of Christ for men so obliterated human sin as such that God could, without dishonor to Himself, deal with mankind. Hence it is that the wicked live! Hence it is that they enjoy innumerable mercies! Hence it is that there is a good, strong, substantial ground for offering the Gospel to every man–and a righteous reason for commanding every man to believe in Jesus Christ that he may be saved!
This was the first teaching of the Day of Atonement and every Jew, when he saw, ought to have understood the presentation of that blood within the veil, that now God no longer looked on the race as being a race that He must curse and must destroy, but looked upon it with mercy and was prepared to treat it on the footing of tenderness. And that now there was a Gospel presented to the sons of men. Oh, I do so love this thought, that my sin, which did dishonor to God, which did as much as say that He was not a good God, that it was better for me to hate Him than to love Him, better for me to be His enemy than to be His friend, made out as though His Commandments were grievous and that it gave me pleasure to break them–all the mischief towards God that my sin could ever do is all put away by the holy life and the blessed death of Christ Jesus my Lord–and put away forever, forever, forever–so that God can now deal with me on the terms of Divine Grace!
But my time flies and, therefore, I come to the next point–
II. SIN IS NOW UTTERLY DRIVEN AWAY.
There was another goat–and this goat was to live and not to die–which set forth quite another Truth of God. I do not think the common explanation of this is at all correct. And all the expositors I have met with are clear that it is not correct. Some have said that the scapegoat typifies our Lord Jesus bearing our sins away in His Resurrection and ascending into Heaven. The incongruity of the metaphor has always struck me, but there are reasons in the Hebrew text which prevent our believing that that could have been the meaning of it. The living goat was taken by a fit man right away intothe wilderness and there it was left. What became of it afterwards, we do not know. Painters have depicted it as expiring in the midst of desolation, in the agonies of famine–a mere fancy picture! The scapegoat did not, very probably, die sooner than any other goat–and it is not at all necessary that it should. We never need enlarge a topic beyond what Scripture says. Indeed, there is often as much teaching in a type’s stopping short as there is in its going on!
These two goats had each its name. One was said to be for Jehovah–that represents Christ, I say, as making recompense to God’s honor! The other is said to be for Azazel, which, if I understand it at all, means, “for evil.” What? Then was that other goat offered to the Devil? By no means! He is not evil, but one of the ministering spirits in the service of evil. Evil made Satan what he is. He is its slave, its chief plotter and schemer, but still not evil, itself! Did you ever notice–you must have noticed–that the wrong of evil, the sinfulness of sin, even if it were forgiven, works nothing but evil, so that if God were to forgive us all, but leave the evil in us, we should be in Hell for all that because evil of itself holds Hell and works towards its being realized by us. Evil is, in itself, essentially misery–it has only to work itself out and it will be so.
Now, how am I to get rid of this sin that is in me as to the evil consequences inherent in the evil? Suppose God to be perfectly reconciled to me so far, yet still there is an evil that mischief brings upon me in itself, apart from God–and how do I get rid of that? Why, through the scapegoat! The sin of the people was, first of all, transferred to this scapegoat–all confessed and all laid on the scapegoat. Then, by Divine appointment, the scapegoat, being chosen by lot and the lot being guided by God, it was accepted as being the substitute for the people. The scapegoat was then taken away. And what was done with it? Why, nothing was done with it but this–it was relinquished–it was given up! Now, can I get out what I mean? I am very much afraid I cannot. Our Lord Jesus Christ took upon Himself the sin of His people. And He was given up to evil, that is to say, to all the power that evil could put out against Him–first in the wilderness, tempted from all quarters, tempted by the temptations of Satan. And then in the Garden, tempted in such a way as you and I never were–the powers of evil let loose upon Him as they never were upon us! Did He not say, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness”? And so dreadful was the assault of evil upon Him, the devil going forth as the type and incarnation of evil, that He sweat, as it were, great drops of blood falling to the ground! And while especially on the tree, where the conflict reached its climax, was He given up.
That cry, “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” is like the cry of the goat when it is given up, quite given up, and led away. Evil was permitted to work out in Him all its own dread hatefulness and havoc, to which it must bring our spirits, unless God interposes to stop evil from making the soul become unutterably wretched, even unto death.
I do not know how to get out the thought which seems to be in my soul, but I do rejoice to think that all the evil I have ever done shall not go on to plague and vex me because it has vexed and plagued Him. That all the essential misery that lies in my past sin–which must, even if God forgave it, still come back to sting and torment me throughout all my existence–was so laid on Him and so spent all its force and venom on Him who was given up to it, that it will never touch me again!
You know, Brothers and Sisters, there was no other man who could have borne all that power of evil but our Lord. And it all fell on Him and yet it never stained His matchless purity and perfection of Character. The misery of it came to Him, but the guilt of it could never defile Him! The misery of sin spent itself on the lonely One who was given up to its awful force, but it could do no more. The type says nothing about the scapegoat, whether it died or not, and Christ did not die because of the misery of His spirit–He died for quite another reason and in another sense–laying down His life for His people!
There is something, I think, interesting in this if we can carry it out, but there is this to be said–by that scapegoat being thus given up, the sin of the congregation was taken away–all taken away and all gone. And so, through JesusChrist having borne our sicknesses and carried our sorrows, the whole force and power of evil to do damning mischief against a saint has been taken away forever from everyone of us who have laid our hands, by faith, upon His dear and blessed head. It is gone! The sin is gone, gone into the wilderness, where it shall never be found against us any more forever.
I must hasten on, however, for time flies. There was yet a third part of this expiation. Did you notice it? It is a grand thing when we can see God’s honor clear. It is a grand thing, next, when we can see ourselves clear as to the effects of evil by Christ’s taking evil quite away. The third grand thing is to see–
III. SIN, ITSELF, MADE THE SUBJECT OF CONTEMPT.
God cannot dwell with us if sin is petted and loved. Sin must be detested and loathed. Now, read on in the Chapter and you will find that the bullock and the goat which were there, and whose blood was taken into the Holy Place, were afterwards burned outside the camp–see the 27 th verse. They were burned, and burned with ignominy, burned outsidethe camp in the common sewer, the kennel of the camp–and burned, too, under circumstances that imply disgust. “They shall burn in the fire, their skins and their flesh, and their dung”–put in purposely to show what a contempt was to be put upon the beasts that had been, for a while, made to take and to typify sin!
That burning outside the camp looked to a stranger like the burning of a heap of rubbish. There was a foul smell of the burning flesh and refuse. Persons, as they passed turned their heads away to avoid the terrible odor. They would say, “What is all this?” “Why, this was a sin-offering, and when the blood, which God accepted, had gone, this was what was left–the filth of sin–and the people were just being taught how they should hate, loathe and destroy it! Every man that touched it washed himself! And no man could touch any of these things that day without bathing again and again, the thing was so detestable!
Now, in the Person of our blessed Lord, sin is made most detestable. Did you ever really hate sin until you learned to love Christ? I will ask you when do you hate sin the most? Why, when you love Christ the most! I believe you shall always find that in proportion as you understand and see the work of Christ, you will see in that work, as in a glass, that Christ has made sin to be the most loathsome and disgusting thing that was ever heard of, for what do the angels say–“Man sinned, did he? Oh, foolish man, to sin against his God and his Maker!” “Ah,” says one of the angels, “but he did worse than that–he sinned against the God that loved him so, that He would sooner let His Only-Begotten Son die than poor man should perish!” “Oh,” they say, “what a shameful thing to sin against so dear and kind a God!” If God were a tyrant, it might not seem atrocious to rebel against Him. But when He becomes so dear and tender a Father as to give His Only-Begotten Son–away with you, Sin! Talk of the Devil! He is not black compared with you, O Sin–you are the Devil’s tempter, the Devil’s ruin! You make him black. It is sin, sin that is so foul a thing that I can liken it unto nothing! There is nothing on earth, there is nothing anywhere in Hell that can be likened unto it! Sin is made to appear exceedingly sinful and loathsome to the uttermost degree through the Expiatory Sacrifice of Jesus Christ!
Now, these are three grand things for God to have done in this world–after man sinned to have made His name as glorious as ever. After man’s sin, to have set pardoned man straight, as straight as ever from his sin. And after that, to have made sin which came with the apple in its hand and which comes every day, now, with painted face, and with the cup in its hand, filled to the brim with sweet wine, seem hateful and to be really so! Oh, it is a grand work, that which Christ has done! Blessed be His name!
Now, the last point–and I shall need your earnest consideration for a minute or two–is this. I must call your attention to–
IV. THE BEHAVIOR OF THE PEOPLE DURING THE WHOLE OF THAT DAY in which this wonderful panorama was made to pass before them.
During that day they were to afflict their souls. Do you want to have your sin forgiven? Put away your jollity andyour mirth. A repenting sinner had need to be a mourner and, Brothers and Sisters, when sin is put away, how the forgiven sinner afflicts his soul! He is happy! He was never more happy! Never so happy, but how grieved he is to think he ever sinned!–
“My sins, my sins my Savior!
How sad on You they fall!
Seen through Your gentle patience,
I tenfold feel them all.
I know they are forgiven,
But still their pain to me,
Is all the grief and anguish,
They laid, my Lord, on Thee.
My sins, my sins, my Savior!
Their guilt I never knew,
Till, with You, in the desert,
I near Your passion drew.
Till with You, in the Garden,
I heard Your pleading prayer,
And saw the bloody sweat drops,
That told Your sorrow there.”
Oh, there is never, never such affliction of soul for sin as when you see the great Atonement! Let me invite you to hate sin, tonight, you pardoned ones. Take care to do it. And you unpardoned ones, rend your hearts, but not your garments! And turn unto God with afflicted spirits and say, “Lord, through the precious Atonement of which I have heard so much tonight, blot out my sins!”
The next thing concerning the people that day was that they were to do no servile work on that day. There was to beno hewing of wood, no drawing of water–nothing was to be done throughout all the camp by way of labor. So, when a soul comes to the Atonement of Christ, it has done with all its works of righteousness and all its deeds of human merit! You can never have the Atonement of Christ while you are working out your own works and trying to be saved by them. And the Believer that has once come to take Christ to be his Savior will never try to get any merits of his own. Oh, he has thrown away forever the fooleries of self-righteousness! He sees the absurdity of hoping that foul, black hands can ever present a fair, white sacrifice to God. He takes his lord and he has done with his own doings!
Once more–it was to be to the people a Sabbath unto the Lord. That day was not the seventh day of the week, butstill it was to be a kind of Sabbath. And what a glorious Sabbath the Atonement always makes! Why, I feel a Sabbath, tonight, apart from the Sabbath Day. I have a Sabbath in my soul, to think that the sin of man has not, after all, done lasting damage to the Throne of God. I feel so happy to think, next, that there is a special sacrifice made for the elect, by the scapegoat’s having taken away their sin, so that the evil of their sin will never come on them. I feel so thankful, tonight, to think that God has made sin to appear to be exceedingly sinful. These three grand things ring a peal of bells in my soul, for now I feel content–for God is satisfied to come to God–and I can see why He should let me come to Him.
I can understand now how it is that He should let a fallen creature hold converse with His thrice holy Self after His great work is done! And it is better for me, and better for you, that we should come to God by so good and reasonable, and proper, and glorious a way–rather than that we should have been permitted, had it been possible, to come by any breach of the Law, or by any setting aside of the Divine Command.
I do not think I would have been happy had it been possible for me to go to Heaven, and God’s honor had thereby been sullied, for God’s honor is the very happiness of a reconciled creature! And if that had suffered any loss through me, I would have been miserable. But it shall suffer no loss or stain! Christ has completely undone the mischief of the Fall! Glory be to His blessed name for this!
And now, Beloved in the Lord, I wish that I could speak in the name of you all and accept the Man, Christ Jesus, tonight, as our representative. Remember, though He has done this much for us all, that God can dwell with us, yet He has not taken the sin of us all upon Himself, but only of so many as stand and confess their sin and trust it with Him. Come, will you do it? Poor Sinner, will you do it for the first time tonight? Backslider, will you do it again? You Believers that have lost some of your evidences, will you do it anew tonight? Oh, I wish I could now say these words and you could all say, “Amen,” from your hearts–
“My faith does lay her hand
On that dear head of Thine,
While, like a penitent I stand,
And here confess my sin.”
Well, if you won’t have Christ for your Savior, I will have Him for mine! And there are thousands of you here who will say, “Yes, and He shall be mine, too!” The longer I live, the more I love to rest upon Him. I did try to rest somewhere else, once, but the dream is over and now the more I think of my Lord, the more firm I feel the conviction that He is a rock that will bear the weight of my salvation! The more I think of what that glorious Man, that blessed Son of God, who is as much God as He is Man, has done for me, the more do I feel that if I had fifty thousand times the sin I have, I would rest on Him! And if I were as wicked as all men put together, I would rest on Him, still, believing that no amount of sin could outweigh His merit and that no extent of iniquity could ever surpass the infinite bounds of His eternal Grace. He is able to save to the uttermost them that come to God by Him! Come to God by Him, poor Sinner, and may God the Holy Spirit lead you, and He shall have the glory! Amen, and Amen.