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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From Sermons on Various Subjects, 1837
How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit, offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9:14)
The Hebrews were well acquainted with purifications by the blood of calves, lambs and goats, and the ashes of red heifers; for by blood, almost everything was purified, in the service of the temple. But it is only the blood of Christ that is efficacious to purge the conscience from dead works.
From the passage before us let us observe:
I. The object of purification;
II. The materials with which it is purified; and
III. The design of this purification.
1. The object of purification: The conscience from dead works.
All the blood of beasts that was ever spilt from Abel, to the period when the fire was extinguished on the Jewish altars, was not sufficient to purify the conscience.
Conscience is the inferior judge, whose residence is in the palace of man's soul: according to whose declaration the man feels, either confidence in God, and rejoices in his favor; or that condemnation, which fills him with that fear that hath torment. Knowledge of-the will, and character of God, is the law by which this judge justifies, or condemns. Conscience is our judge in this world, but Christ will be our judge in the world to come. According to the degree of light, of moral and evangelical truth shining upon the conscience, is the degree of its judicial power.
With the increase of the knowledge of the truth, it raises to perfection, or grows to maturity. It abides with the soul in old age; and as a faithful recorder, it will take the register book over Jordan, wherever my soul shall go, whether to Abraham's bosom, or to the rich man in hell. This deputy judge, and the most exact of all recorders, will bring the book to judgment. God keeps a register book above and conscience keeps a register book below. When both books shalt be opened in the Day of Judgment, they will correspond precisely.
When temptations are presented before the mind, the understanding opposes them, but the carnal mindedness invites them; but the bell of the conscience, like the tolling of a funeral knell, the wire being agitated by the band of the supreme judge, rings through the whole house, and seems like the bell of St. Paul in London, articulating sounds in the ears of Whittington, I SEE THEE:—sinner, I see thee—sounding so loud terrific, and distinct, till all the citizens of man-soul imagine they hear the slow moving sound of writing pens in the recorder's office, and in the book of God.—When sin had conceived, it brought forth death and darkness, and the mist of guilt, fear, and terror. Felix trembled.
We read of good and had consciences; the work of each of these is, to keep a true, account, and judge accordingly. Black bills and the judgment of death are registered against thousands in the office of conscience. Such characters are invited to come and apply to the office of the gospel, where Jesus is blotting out the hand writing that is against them, with his own blood! That they might enjoy peace of mind, peace with God, and escape the wrath to come.
The consciences of some are so bad, that they will even murder the people of God, and think that in so doing, they serve him. The consciences of others are so fast asleep, that they join with the other faculties of the soul, in crying peace and safety, when destruction is at the door. Other's consciences are seared as it were with a hot iron; so that they are sold to work iniquity, to eat sin like bread, and drink iniquity like water.
And the consciences of others; like some judges in a court of judicature, are bribed; so that they will betray the just cause of the righteous. John the Baptist is unjustly beheaded that Herod might keep his oath of honor. Because of the oath, and the noblemen that were there, the proud fool granted the girl the head of John the Baptist.
A dead fish cannot swim against the stream. A man destitute of good principle cannot break the snares of sin. If Herod had a single spark of good principle, he might have said, “Girl, I have promised thee anything that thou wouldest ask, even to the half of my kingdom; but thou art asking too much, for the head of John the Baptist, the forerunner of our adorable Saviour, is of more value, not only, than all my kingdom, but than all the kingdoms of the world.” But he had not the fear of God in his heart, nor before his eyes; therefore, he was swept away in the destructive deluge to the Dead Sea.
A despairing conscience is as bad, and as destructive to its owner, as any of the above mentioned. If our sins are ten thousand times heavier than our tears, repentance and reformation, our profession, our faith, and our love; the blood of Christ is ten thousand times heavier than our sins; and the mercy and grace of God, can forgive sins and transgressions of all those who believe in Christ, agreeable to the demands of justice.
A good conscience is an unspeakable privilege. If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. (1 John 3:21) To answer a good conscience towards God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the complete victory of that faith unfeigned, that worketh by love. Good conscience is always found in the region of its brothers and sisters, in the country of convictions of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come; it dwells wherever you find illuminated understanding to see the glory of God; faith in Jesus Christ, as the Mediator between God and man; repentance towards God as the Lawgiver in Zion; flaming, and superlative love to God, good hope through grace; a public profession of the gospel of Christ; the spirit of prayer and supplication: and diligent perseverance to the end. Wherever these things are, there is good conscience; for they always dwell together. Conscience was a faithful recorder under the law; and notwithstanding the revolution that has taken place under the new covenant, conscience is still in office; and being purged by the blood of Christ from dead works to serve the living God, it may be called a good conscience.
II. We would notice the materials with which conscience is purged from dead works. The blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God.
If we could take a single view of all the bearings of the blood of Christ, as exhibited in the gospel, what astonishing and brilliant light would shine upon the world — upon the glory of God — the nature and requirements of his law — the dreadful consequences of sin — the infinite atonement of Christ — free, sovereign, and reconciling grace — and our union to him by faith in Christ, as the just God, and Saviour!
All the light that the wise philosophers of the world have gathered, even from the excellent treatises of creation and providence, is like the light of the ignus fatuus [will-o’-the-wisp], compared with the light of the sun. It is in the light of the sun we can see the tops of the mountains of immortality, through the dense darkness of sin and guilt, which shaded the valley of the shadow of death. The knowledge of Socrates and Plato, was nothing in comparison with the knowledge of the weakest believer in the blood of Christ.
The natural brood of Christ entirely excels human blood. It was not the blood of one of the posterity of Adam; notwithstanding that he assumed human nature; but he was a new root. The second head—yes, the second man, the Lord from heaven. The second Adam, a spirit quickening the whole body. The blood of Christ was the blood of a sinless and holy person, who knew no sin, neither was iniquity found in him.
Also it was the blood of the man in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. (Col. 2:9) His blood mixed with water, flowed most freely from his head, his hands, his feet, and his side; and in the garden of Gethsemane, gushed forth from all the pores of his body. I approach this blood, not only with fear and trembling, but also with joy and humility; taking off my shoes like Moses approaching the burning bush; for I hear a voice from within the veil saying, this is the blood of him who thought it no robbery to be equal with God (Phil. 2:6)—yes, it is the blood of him who is the same with the Father; in nature and essence. The true God and life eternal.
The blood of Christ in the gospel implies his whole obedience to the demands of the law, by which we are justified; and the whole sufferings of his soul and body, as the Mediator, by which an atonement was made for the sins of men; and a fountain opened to cleanse them from every sin. The forgiveness of our sins, and the whole of our sanctification, is flowing from this remarkable and efficacious fountain, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, by the washing of water through the Word.
There are five things worthy of our consideration in the representation given of the blood of Christ in the text:
It is the blood which he offered on the altar.
It is the blood that he offered to God — the true and living God, the fountain and the author of life.
It is the blood that he offered without spot, to the living God; there was no deficiency in his sacrifice; it fully and perfectly answered the demands of the law; he being perfect himself; he perfected forever all that believe in him.
It is the blood that he offered to God, through the eternal Spirit. It was by the operation of the Holy Spirit of God, that his body was formed in the womb. The angel Gabriel said to Mary: the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that Holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35) It was by the power of the eternal Spirit that he rose from the grave. He was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. By the operation of the same spirit, Christ is made known to sinners. But by the eternal spirit in the text, we are to understand his divine nature. To offer himself to make an atonement for sin, is ascribed to himself everywhere in the Bible. It was himself that poured out his soul unto death, a sacrifice of sweet smelling savor to God; from the golden bowl of his holy body; which was acceptable in the court of heaven. To pour out the blood of atonement on the altar, was the work of Christ as the High Priest over the house of God, to apply it to the hearts and consciences of sinners, is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Lastly, we notice that it was the blood that he offered with the gracious and noble design of purging our consciences from dead works to serve the living God. As the Jewish sacrifices were purging or purifying men from ceremonial defilements, so the precious blood of the true sacrifice purifies from sin, from the power, the guilt, and the punishment of sin, and from the very being of sin, by taking it away. Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1:29) Blood was the life of all the services of the tabernacle made with hands. The covenants between God and his people were sealed by blood. By blood the officers of the sanctuary were consecrated. By blood the Israelites were preserved in Egypt from the destroying angel. Blood, fire, and water, were the life and strength of all the typical services of the ceremonial law. Under the New Testament, blood to reconcile, the spirit to sanctify, and the Word to cleanse and direct, are the strength and life in all the services of the gospel church.
Eternal love, precious blood, and efficacious grace, are the materials with which our consciences are purged from dead works. We behold the river of sovereign love running as a living stream through the bloody heart of Emmanuel, sweeping all before it, opening the doors that were locked and hatred in Eden, by the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and lifting up the everlasting gates that the King of glory might come in, as the representative of all those that believe in him, and that the Holy Spirit might come down from heaven to reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. (John 16:8)
The Israelites were delivered from Egypt the very night the Lamb was taken, killed, and his blood sprinkled on the doorposts, as if their deliverance was effected by his hands, and life and safety from his death. In Egypt there was a lamb slain for every family, under the new covenant God has but one large family and one Lamb taken, and slain to save their lives. It is a Lamb of God's appointment; the sum and substance of the shadows, and an object of the adoration of men and angels, to whom are blessings, honor, praise and glory due forever and ever.
All the blessings of the gospel are flowing freely to poor sinners through the blood of the Lamb; as if love and mercy could not write deliverance without dipping their pens in the blood of the Lamb's heart — without the shedding of blood there is no remission (Heb. 9:22), is the language of justice,—mercy replies on the behalf of sinners.
We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. How much more shall the blood of Christ purge our consciences for the new service of Mount Zion? It is in the blood of the Lamb the spirits of just men made perfect have washed their robes and made them white.
In the cleansing of the leper, several things were necessary, as running water, cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop, and the finger of the high priest, but it was the-blood that gave life and efficacy to the whole. Without shedding of blood, the leper could not be cleansed; so it is now, it is the blood of Christ, the doctrine of infinite atonement, Christ and him crucified, is the life and vigor of all the exhortations, promises, threatenings, invitations, and commandments of the gospel. It is by virtue of the blood of Christ that the Scriptures are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness. (2 Tim. 3:16)
From every pulpit where the doctrine of atonement is shut out, that virtue which healeth sin sick souls is also shut out. Believers can crucify the old man only by virtue of the crucifixion of Christ. The value of his blood is the life of the Christian faith. It is the foundation of our hope; take away the foundation and the whole superstructure will unavoidably fall, but this cannot be done—glory to God. The bill of deliverance being presented to the house, was read by the prophets, and passed through the two houses of parliament, that is to say, heaven and earth.
It passed the lower house unanimously on the morning of the resurrection, and it passed the upper house without a dissenting voice, when the Son of God appeared With the bill in his hand, as the Lamb that was slain for us and yet alive. When it became a law of the kingdom of heaven, the Holy Spirit was sent with it into the world, to establish it in the hearts of men as a law of the spirit of life. This law is known by the name of eternal redemption. According to the law of this gospel, God is reconciling the world to himself without imputing their trespasses unto them.
III. We would notice the design of this purification. To purge our consciences from dead works to serve the living God.
Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your Fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot. (1 Pet. 1:18-19)
It is by the blood of Christ that we are redeemed from vain conversation, and purged from dead works. While in a state of nature, we are in bondage and captivity, arrested by the hand of vindictive justice, and sold away captives by the enemy of our souls, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience. (Eph. 2:2)
Man is not only arrested by divine justice but he is a slave to the strong man armed, and a prisoner of death; by the blood of Christ as a ransom price, we are redeemed from the curse of the law, and the threatenings of vindictive justice; but through might and power we are delivered from the hands of the mighty usurper. the mighty power that was manifested in raising up Christ from the dead, is exerted in the conversion of sinners so that they are delivered from the power of sin and Satan. By satisfying divine justice, the way was opened for the mighty power of grace to attack the castles of Beelzebub, sin and death.
But in the text it is said that by the blood of Christ we are purged from dead works. The works of sinners, who are dead in trespasses and sins; proceeding from carnal mindedness, which is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be (Rom. 8:7), can be no other than dead works. This is the true representation of the state and condition of every individual while in a state of nature. It is that vain conversation from which we must be delivered by the efficacy of the blood of Christ. This springs from the corruption of our nature, which is vain in all its active operations in seeking after pleasures that vanish away like the crackling of thorns under a pot.
If our consciences are not purged, we cannot serve the living God acceptably. If the love of sin is not dethroned in the heart, our lip, and knee service is nothing but hypocrisy. We can no more draw near to a. holy God than a dry stubble can stand before the flaming fire; for we nourish in our bosoms that which God perfectly hates. A sense of guilt, fear and torment in the conscience, drives everyone from the presence of the Lord, like Adam in the garden.
It is only the efficacy of the blood of Christ, as an atonement for sin, applied by the Holy Spirit of God, that can remove this fear of condemnation, and turn the sinner from that unmeasurable distance from God to serve him in truth and sincerity. It is in this way alone that you are constrained to draw near to God, by that faith which worketh by love. This will make the love of sin to yield and give up the throne to the love of God.
The acceptable service of the living God must originate in a principle of life in the heart. The Word of God must be the rule of operation, the will of God, and not the will of man, must be consulted and obeyed. The consideration that God is holy, that he is everywhere, and that be seeth everything, and that he is jealous of his glory, and that we are accountable to him for our actions, fills the soul with reverence and godly fear—while engaged in the service of the living God. The most high God is worthy to be loved, feared, and adored by all intelligent creatures. His commandments are worthy of our most sincere obedience. To serve God should be our chief delight.
All that we do should be done with a view to his glory. Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31) It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb. 10:31) Pharaoh, king of Egypt is dead. Herod is dead. Nero is dead, but if God is your enemy, recollect, he is the living God. Time and death, and even eternity cannot deliver us from his hands. He has manifested his wrath and displeasure, and his hatred to sin in more than ten thousand instances — such as the drowning of the old world, the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the drowning of Pharaoh and his hosts.
And permit me to tell you, fellow sinners, that except you repent of your sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, deny yourselves, take up the cross, and follow Christ through good and evil report, you shall all likewise perish. Yes, you must unavoidably feel the loss of everything that is good, and feel the sense of everything that is bad, that is under the wrath and displeasure of God forever, in that miserable place where the worm dieth not and where the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:44, 46, 48) — continually crying, “The harvest is past, and the summer is ended, and our souls are not saved!”
Sinners, now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation. (2 Cor. 6:2) Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation; (Heb. 3:15) for the period is not far distant; when every one of you shall evidently see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth himself. Therefore agree with thine adversary quickly—while thou art in the way with him. (Matt. 5:25) All the dumb Idols the false gods of the heathens are dead.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the only living God, and he is the God not of the dead, but the God of the living. (Mark 12:27) If you are united to the living God by faith in Christ, by virtue of that union your bodies shall raise from the grave and when united to your souls appear like the glorious body of our blessed Redeemer, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing; shining brighter in glory than the sun in his full meridian.
May the living God quicken those that are dead in trespasses and sins, and revive his work in the midst of the years, strengthen the weak graces of his people, and bless the labors of his servants, so that many might be purged from dead works to serve the living God. Amen.
There is a fountain fill'd with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel's veins;
And sinners plung'd beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains