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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Robert Boyte C. Howell, D.D., Nashville, Tennessee
From The Baptist Preacher, Volume 4, 1845
"Every priest standeth daily ministering, and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down at the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us. Heb. 10:11-15.
The value of Christ's sacrifice for sins is infinite. This is the proposition affirmed in the text, and which, in the present discourse, I shall attempt to sustain, and illustrate.
The sacrifices and offerings, which under the former economy, were of so frequent occurrence, could never lake away sins. Their design was not of themselves to purify, but simply, and alone, to direct the faith of the worshipers to Messiah, their true and great antitype. In his sacrifice only, true and inherent virtue was found; and from it all others derived whatever of efficacy they possessed. "It is [evidently] not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins;" and yet, "without the shedding of blood there is no remission."
A sacrifice was required more efficacious than any of those prescribed in the formularies of the Levitical priesthood. But where can such a sacrifice be found? By whom can it be offered? Whence is to be obtained the victim? Whither, for an answer to these inquiries, shall we look, but to Christ? He, "by one offering, has perfected forever, them that are sanctified." He "has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."
The provision is ample. Those who, by repentance and faith, become partakers of its rich blessings are thenceforward, "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
Such is the excellency, the magnitude, and the power of Christ's sacrifice for sins. Nothing more is needed. It is perfect; it is effectual; it is sufficient.
The unspeakable value of Christ's sacrifice for sins, may especially be seen in the fact that God has appointed it especially to be the medium of our cleansing and salvation.
"It pleased the Lord to bruise him." He it was, who made "his soul an offering for sin." Although "with wicked hands he was crucified and slain," yet it was done "according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." For this reason the Redeemer said to his followers, who were astonished that he did not overwhelm and crush his persecutors: "I lay down my life of myself; no man taketh it from me." Having been, therefore, previously ordained as the means of pardon by Jehovah, can he fail to accept it for that end, when its merits are pleaded by the guilty, but penitent offender.
But what is a sacrifice, properly so called? It is, I answer, the solemn infliction of death, by the shedding of blood, upon a living being, with the forms of religious worship, and the presentation of the victim, life, body and blood, to God as a supplication for pardon. All this occurred in the offering of Christ. Death was inflicted upon him; "his life was cut off from the earth;" the last drop of blood in his heart was poured forth; his body was exposed upon the cross. If, in this appalling deed, the scourge, the nail and the spear, were in the hands of sinners, who were moved to the infliction of his sufferings by malignant envy, this serves but the more plainly to set forth the grace which could impel him to bear the curse for his enemies, as well as for his friends. His life, his body, his blood, his soul and his divinity, by himself, our great High Priest, were offered to God, a supplication of boundless efficacy, for the remission of our sins.
Upon this sacrifice, so appointed by the Father, and so consummated by the Son, we lay hold, in every acceptable prayer we utter, and thus wield all its power. It is not, therefore, surprising, that "Prayer moves the hand that moves the world."
But let us also consider the dignity of the offerer, and we shall be able to perceive, still more fully, the value of the sacrifice. Whom do we now behold at the altar? Not the High Priest of an earthly lineage, with his glittering breastplate, and his flowing robes. Not the most exalted of the sons of men. It is God himself, incarnate. He it is (amazing condescension and grace!) who becomes our priest ; and he, because no other victim of sufficient virtue could be found, on earth, or in heaven, offers himself, as the precious sacrifice! The sword of justice raised for our destruction, he receives into his own bosom, and bids us but love our deliverer, and live, and be happy!
Of this overwhelming scene, the sons of Aaron, in the tabernacle, and in the temple, exhibited but types and symbols. They "stood daily ministering, and offering, oftentimes, the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins." We now behold the illustrious antitype! His character and work are shadowed forth to the eye of faith, not only in all the victims which bled in sacrifice upon Jewish altars, but also in the blood of Abel; in the offering up of Isaac; in the contumely received by Joseph from his brethren; and in the guidance which Moses gave to the children of Israel; and he it was who inspired the songs of the patriarchs, and the predictions of prophets, who through the dim vista of coming years saw the day of the Son of man and were glad.
The ministry of angels, fearful exhibitions of the power of God, and appalling expressions of the sympathy of nature, attested the dignity of Messiah in his humiliation. There hung the sacred victim upon the cross, quivering in every nerve with anguish, and bleeding from every gaping wound! Angels, aghast, hovered around in anxious suspense and astonishment. Fiendish men, in whose bosom fear and envy mingled with the spirit of revenge, scowled upon the scene.
Hark! The agonized sufferer "cries with a loud voice—it is finished!" Look! "He bows his head, he gives up the ghost!" Pale, mangled, all gory, he dies! The earth, as if seized with astonishment and fear, shook and trembled; the veil of the temple was torn asunder throughout, exposing the most holy place; as a flickering candle, the sun in mid-heaven went out, and the universe, from the sixth to the ninth hour, was shrouded in thick darkness. The multitude, although intoxicated with rage, as they groped their way from Calvary, exclaimed this, this is, he is the Son of God. Kind friends, with aching hearts, took him down from the cross, and laid him in the grave.
But he was not destined long to remain a prisoner there. The third morning came, and with it his glorious resurrection! Behold him, as he comes forth from the sepulchre, "leading captivity captive" at his chariot wheels, a triumphant conqueror! Again, the earth and the heavens trembled with agitation! Angels passed swiftly about the tomb; and many bodies of the saints arose, and were seen in the holy city!
And now joy and gladness mingled everywhere, with the amazement of his people. Forty days he conversed with his disciples, and having, at Olivet, given them his final commands, as he blessed them, he arose in their presence and ascended up into heaven. They gazed upon him until a cloud received him out of their sight. He is gone to take possession of the mansions of glory in our behalf, and "sits at the right hand of God, until his enemies are made his footstool." Thus, so great is his dignity and glory, that when he offers one sacrifice for sins, it is enough. He thereby "perfects forever them that are sanctified." All other sacrifices and priesthoods are instantly abolished. His one offering is ample for all ages; and his priesthood is thenceforward perpetual.
When the infinitely glorious God descends to be the offerer, and at the same time, the victim, accompanying the sacrifice with events so illustrious, the value of the offering must correspond in magnitude to the grandeur of the transaction.
We will, however, if you please, look for a moment at the great object which it secures, and we shall be able to perceive, in a still more striking point of light, the value of Christ's sacrifice. We always estimate causes by their effects. They are considered of little consequence, except for the results they produce. Apply this rule of judgment in the case before us.
What objects are secured by the sacrifice of Christ? Jehovah, I reply, was moved to pity by the woes of men, whose whole moral nature was poisoned and embittered by transgression. He loved us, and determined to institute means for the removal of human guilt. It was in pursuance of this gracious design, that he sent his Son into our world, the abode of wretchedness and woe. He "brought life and immortality to light, by the gospel." In consideration of his sacrifice, God the Father is reconciled, justice is appeased, and the way of salvation opened to men. We may now approach him with confidence, and obtain all our desires.
Another object secured is the mission of the Holy Spirit. Pardoned indeed, we might be, without his regenerating work. This, however, would avail us little, since, as our depraved nature would remain. Unchanged, we should still be unqualified for happiness, and incapable of the glory of heaven. Through the satisfaction offered by the Redeemer, the Spirit comes into our world, whose prerogative it is, in the individual application of his merits, to purify the soul. That "he by one offering, has perfected forever them that are sanctified," the Holy Ghost, the sanctifier, "is to us," the ever present and best "witness." Yes, blessed be his name-
"The Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God."
Yet another object secured, is the all-powerful, ever successful, and perpetual mediation, and advocacy on high of Jesus Christ. He, our adorable High Priest, sympathizing with all our infirmities, has entered into heaven, with his own priceless blood, for us; thus establishing a glorious medium of communion in all our worship with the Father of our spirits, and through which we may receive continually, unceasing supplies of grace. Now, therefore, we may come boldly unto the throne of grace, and there obtain mercy, and find grace to help us in time of need. Since, therefore, the objects secured by the sacrifice of Christ are, to speak of no others, the pardon of our sins, the sanctification of our natures, and the salvation of our souls, who, judging only by these, can fully comprehend the extent of its value?
Again, the value of this offering is shown in the fact, that from it all the forms and ordinances of religion, whether under the patriarchal, Mosaic, or Christian dispensations, receive their life and energy. The sacrifices of the fathers, as we have already seen, were efficacious only as the worshipers exercised faith in Christ, the great antitype. Take away the sacrifice of Christ, and the Mosaic priesthood, and all its offerings were destitute of significance, or energy to move the heart. They all pointed to Messiah, and told, in letters of blood, that "the wages of sin is death, but that the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
What without Christ's sacrifice, could we accomplish by preaching the gospel? The callous heart of the sinner is untouched by mere moral lessons, however sublime. Appeal to him in terms the warmest and most impassioned, to consult his spiritual safety and happiness, it passes by him all unnoticed as the idle wind. Take him to Sinai; show him the terrors of the law; let the thunders of divine vengeance burst, and the lightnings of his wrath flash and blaze along the gathering storm; he stands amid the fearful scene unmoved. Nothing, nothing, but the love of God as seen in the sufferings of Jesus Christ upon the cross, will, can subdue and melt the obdurate heart of the sinner. This is omnipotent. None can be so hard as to resist the power of the cross.
From the sacrifice of Christ, baptism derives its form and expressiveness. Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again for our justification. And "know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:3-4)
The Lord's Supper also is an equally affecting representation of the same great scene. This bread, said the Redeemer, is his body, given for you; the cup is his blood, shed for you. "As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.” (I Cor. 11:26) “This do in remembrance of me." (I Cor. 11:25) Thus it is seen, that the sacrifice of Christ is the great centre to which points every institution, doctrine and ordinance of religion, and from which they derive all their life and energy.
And yet more. The value of Christ's sacrifice for sins is seen in the instruction which it affords us for the formation of Christian character. "Brethren, if Christ so loved us, (that he died for us) we ought also to love one another." He is our illustrious example. To be like his, how pure should be that love; how disinterested; how expansive; how fervent! He has taught us, too, in his life, and in his death, with what freedom and cheerfulness we should forgive our enemies.
Heard you that prayer, solemn, devout, impassioned, which he uttered with his dying breath? And for whom? For the persecutors and murderers about him, whose garments were reeking with his blood. "Father forgive them, they know not what they do." Here is "compassion like a God." So he endured the scoffs, and so he forgave his enemies. Can we do less? In our daily prayers he instructs us to say, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." And how much more should we exercise the same spirit towards our brethren.
How beautifully falls
From human lips, that blessed word, forgive!
Forgiveness, 'tis the attribute of God;
The sound which speaketh heaven; renews again
On earth, lost Eden's faded bloom; and flings
Hope's halcyon halo o'er the waste of life!"
Readily and cheerfully he suffered for us. Shall we then shrink from suffering, whenever the honor of the cause, the triumph of the truth, or the salvation of sinners demands it? God forbid! Let me bear the cross after my Redeemer. Come persecution, contumely, death,—come what will—blessed Saviour, I will follow thee.
In a word, what quality is there which gives excellency and perfection to Christian character, in relation to which we do not find ample instruction in his own illustrious example?
The sacrifice of Christ for our sins will, finally, constitute a theme to myriads for delightful contemplation, and a source of the purest enjoyment forever.
Heaven without Christ would lose its most radiant charms to the redeemed. And what is it, but his glorious sacrifice, which renders him so precious to, the hearts of all? His love fills every bosom with overflowing delight. The triumphal song of the glorified, which the bright inhabitants of paradise will sing unceasingly, has direct reference to his great sacrifice. "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory and blessing." (Rev. 5:12) ALLELUIAH. For, he “hast redeemed us to God by [his] blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." (Rev. 5:9)
Angels themselves learn, from his sacrifice, more of God than they before knew, or ever, otherwise, could have known. Its mysteries were to them most profound and amazing; but when they saw the benevolence which it evinced, they, the more readily, tuned their harps and swept the golden chords, in unison with the hosannas of the saints on high.
A perpetual flood of love, and grace, and glory, and happiness, pours forth from his sacrifice, which fills, and will continue to fill, all heaven, with delightful rapture, forever. This is the true river of life, “the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God." (Psalm 46:6)
These are some of the considerations, feebly and very inadequately presented, which sustain and illustrate the value of Christ's sacrifice for sins. It is evinced by the fact that it was offered by the appointment of God; it is seen in the personal dignity of the offerer; it is proved by the magnitude of the objects which it secured; by the consideration that it gives, and ever has given, form and life to all the institutions, ordinances and doctrines of religion; by the instruction it affords us in the formation of Christian character; and by the joy which it gives, and will continue to give, to the countless myriads of heaven, forever. The value of Christ's sacrifice for sins is therefore, infinite, inconceivable, boundless.
It remains only, that a brief APPLICATION be made of our subject.
1. We cannot but perceive, unless we greatly err in our conceptions of the topics now brought in review, that in the sacrifice of Christ, we have a full and perfect antidote for sins.
Moral disease has indeed laid its withering hand upon us all. But there “is balm in Gilead; there is a physician there.” The ransom price is paid. No man, now, need remain in his sins, and under the power of death. Infinite love invites you to repentance, to faith, to pardon, to salvation. Will you, can you resist the kind entreaty of him who died for sinners? What more can the inquirer ask, than is presented to him in Christ’s satisfaction?
Here is fullness and freeness of redemption. Here alone the wretched backslider can find a cure for his miseries. Sinners, inquirers, backsliders, all, all—come to the Saviour. He asks but your love, your faith, your obedience. Can you possibly withhold them? Would you give him less? Why then do you thus waver, hesitate and delay? Come to this full fountain, drink of its purifying waters and live forever.
2. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ for sins, teaches us the unreasonableness of attempting to reach heaven by any other means. Philosophers may cavil, and waste their learning in metaphysical discussions as to the nature of God, of the soul, and of the relations that subsist between them; moralists may exhaust their powers of reason in speculations regarding their favorite theories; the legalist may watch, may study, may employ ceaseless diligence; the somber ascetic may afflict himself with woes innumerable; it is all, if relied upon for salvation, utterly in vain.
“There is no other name given under heaven among men, whereby we must be saved,” but the name of Jesus. He himself has said, “I am the way, the true way, and the living way; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”
“None but Jesus, none but Jesus,
can do helpless sinners good.”
Deceive not yourselves, I entreat you, by indulging the supposition that you may possibly be saved in some other way. Salvation without an application to the soul, by the Holy Spirit, of the merits of Christ’s sacrifice for sins, is and will remain forever impracticable.
3. This subject instructs us that the sacrifice of Christ for sins is entirely sufficient to accomplish all the purposes for which it was designed. Can the all-wise and omnipotent Gad fail in his purposes of love to us? This is his own expiation, appointed, executed and accepted by him. Is it adequate? How can it fail?
"A faithful and unchanging God,
Lays the foundation of my hope,
In oaths, and promises, and blood."
Nor can he who relies upon it be disappointed. Never, never. If I am upheld by his sacrifice, I am safe; I ask no more.
4. If such be the value of Christ's sacrifice for sins, it is infinitely important that we shall keep it continually before our minds, that upon our character and life as Christians, it may produce its full effect. Thence we derive alike, our hope of salvation; our strength to surmount the impediments that obstruct our spiritual progress; and exalted motives to the performance of every duty.
Let its hold upon our thoughts and our affections, not relax and become enfeebled, but grow daily more and more strong. The foundation upon which you, my brethren, stand is firm as eternity. The prospect before you is all bright and glorious. Courage, then, beloved brethren; it is Christ your Redeemer, who speaking from heaven, says to each of you, "Be thou faithful unto death; and I will give thee a crown of life." (Rev. 2:10) Amen.