Secret Service Theologian


"He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto, God by Him." Hebrews 7:25

THE twenty-fourth chapter of Exodus, though almost entirely ignored in the theology of Christendom, holds a large and prominent place in the theology of the New Testament. Indeed, it is the key to the exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, for it supplies the framework on which the doctrine of that Epistle rests. For the Epistle to the Hebrews has not to do with the redemption of the sinner, as redemption is popularly understood, but with the life and service and worship of a sinner already redeemed. The Passover, therefore, has no place in its teaching. It takes up the typical story of redemption, not at the twelfth chapter of Exodus, but at the twenty-fourth. And the twenty-fourth chapter is expressly quoted or referred to again and again throughout? (See, ex. gr., chapters 1:3; 9:18-20; 10:29; 12:29; 13:12, 20.)

And one lesson of principal importance which we learn from the Epistle to the Hebrews is that, in all that follows the twenty-fourth chapter, the teaching is in part by contrast. The redemption sacrifices were offered "once for all." The great blood shedding by which the Covenant was dedicated and the people were sanctified was never repeated. Neither was the Passover. For here we must distinguish between the redemption in Egypt and the yearly commemoration of that redemption. But, with one notable exception, repetition was a prominent characteristic of the sacrifices of the law. They foreshadowed the great sacrifice which should put away sin. But the repetition of them bore testimony that they had no real efficacy. Sin was not, in fact, put away; "For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins."

The words last quoted refer expressly to the annual sin offering of the great Day of Atonement; and the rite is one which claims special notice here. The ritual of it is unfolded in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus; and 21 for our present purpose we may confine our attention to some of the principal features of the sin-offering for the whole congregation. In the case of the leper’s cleansing, two sparrows were required; and so also here, two kids were needed for the offering. Of these, one was killed, and its blood was sprinkled in the most holy place. The ritual respecting the other victim is thus described;
"And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the; goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man that is in readiness into the wilderness; and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a solitary land." (Leviticus 16:21, 22, R. V.)

In the case of ordinary sin offerings the laying on of hands was followed by the victim’s being led away to the slaughter. We may presume, therefore, that in the symbolism of the chapter the "solitary land" represents death. And the fulfilled merit of this is not doubtful. "The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6.) "His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree." (1 Peter 2:24.)

But who are they that are thus blessed? The neglect of systematic study of the types has led to much confusion of thought, and not a little serious error, in regard to the truth of what is called "the simple Gospel." The sin offering, as we have seen was only for the covenant people; and if, ignoring the redemption sacrifices, we give to this an exclusive prominence, we shall limit the efficacy of the death of Christ, and leave no room for grace. The sins borne by the victim were the sins which had been confessed over its head; and the laying on of hands betokened identification with it. The offerer became identified with the victim, and the victim died in his stead. The efficacy of the death was thus strictly limited; it could neither be extended nor transferred.

Therefore it is that, in Scripture, the Gospel for the unsaved is never stated in the language of the sin offering.
But in the case of the Passover there was no laying on of hands, no preceding identification of the sinner with the sacrifice. The victim died, and it was by the sprinkling of its blood that the efficacy of its death accrued to the sinner. Just as the protection of the "scarlet line" in Jericho was extended to all the household of Rahab, and to all who came within her doors, (Joshua 2:18, 19.) so in Egypt a believing Egyptian might have sought the shelter of the blood. It is not that the Passover was the revelation of grace - for "Grace came by Jesus Christ" - but it foreshadowed it. The Gospel is to be preached to every creature. "Forgiveness of sins" is proclaimed to all, without distinction; and "all that believe are justified." But they whose Gospel is limited to the Passover can know nothing of oneness with the Sinbearer nothing of the Divine provision for the wilderness journey with all its difficulties and perils.

But what if the redeemed sinner fall by the way? Will not sin thrust him back again under Egyptian bondage, and create the need for a new redemption? Most emphatically, No. Sin might bring Israel to Babylon; but a return to Egypt was for ever barred. (Deuteronomy 17:16.) The only sin for which there can be no forgiveness is the sin of apostasy from Christ and "doing despite" unto the Spirit of grace. (Hebrews 10:26-29, cf. Mark 3:29.) It is an "eternal redemption" that Christ has obtained? (Hebrews 9:12.)

The new theology makes so light of sin that the question here raised scarcely concerns it. And the old theology, owing to its neglect of the types, gives an answer which is inadequate. When the Israelite sinned he brought his sin offering. It was the definite acknowledgment (or "confession") of his sin, and it obtained for him forgiveness. But as we have seen, a sinner needs more than forgiveness, for God is holy. He must have a twofold cleansing, and this was provided for in the ritual of the great Day of Expiation. His sins were laid upon the head of the scapegoat. And further, atonement was made by the blood of the slaughtered victim, carried within the veil and sprinkled on the mercy-seat. Thus were the benefits accruing both from the Passover and from the Burnt-offering of the Covenant renewed and continued to the Israelite.

And we have this twofold cleansing in the opening chapter of the First Epistle of John. The blood upon the mercy-seat cleanses us from all sin. "And if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just…to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Sin is thus dealt with in a twofold aspect. Nor is this all, for the word is added; "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 1:7-9; 2:1, 2.)

In dealing with truth like this, we need to keep closely to the very words of Scripture. When we say that Christ has made atonement or propitiation, we use the language of theology. According to the passage last cited (and the statement is repeated in chapter 4:10) He is the propitiation. In our English Bible a similar statement occurs in Romans in 25; but the term there used is different; and our rendering of it, if not erroneous, is at least inadequate. Of Christ it is said, "Whom God set forth to be a mercy-seat through faith in His blood." It was by virtue of the blood of atonement that the cover of the Ark was the mercy-seat - the place where God and the sinner could meet. And it is because of His death on Calvary that the Lord Jesus Christ is both the mercy-seat and the propitiation.

The "merits" of the scapegoat were, as we have seen, strictly limited to those whose sins had been confessed upon its head. But if a heathen stranger, on hearing of the holiness and terribleness of the Jehovah God who "dwelt between the cherubim," demanded whether it were safe to sojourn in the camp of Israel, he would have been told of the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat. For the atonement of the mercy-seat was for all. And so, to the words already cited - "He is the propitiation for our sins" - the Holy Spirit adds, "And not for ours only, but also for the whole world."

Treating the words "atonement" and "propitiation" thus as synonyms is a concession to theology. And yet strict accuracy in our phraseology is most important. Indeed, no amount of accuracy can be excessive; nor need we shrink from insisting on it, in spite of the censures or the sneers of "superior persons." For while the use of the literary microscope is deemed "scholarship" and "modern criticism" - provided our purpose be to discredit Scripture - it becomes "hyper-criticism" and "hair-splitting" if we thus seek to bring out the hidden harmony of Scripture, and to establish its truth and accuracy.

And no scholarship is needed to enable us to mark the kinship between words that are closely related, or to appreciate the significance of a change of terms.

The propitiation is hilasmos. This word occurs only in 1 John 2:2, and 4:10. The propitiation, or mercy-seat, is hilasterion, which word is used only in Romans 3:25, and Hebrews 9:5.
To make propitiation is hilaskomai, a word that occurs only in Luke 18:13 ("be merciful"), and Hebrews 2:17.
As appears from the second passage, where this last word is used, making propitiation is a part of our Lord’s present priestly work for His people. The rendering of our Authorized Version is unfortunate; for the phrase "making reconciliation" is elsewhere used to represent a wholly different Greek word. And the confusion is increased by rendering the kindred noun of this other word as "atonement" in Romans 5:11. Christ is the Propitiation, and as a continuing work He makes propitiation. But reconciliation is a work past and finished.
In his "Synonyms of the New Testament," Archbishop Trench brackets "redemption" with these two words, "reconciliation" and "propitiation "; and the opening passage of his treatise respecting them may fitly close this chapter. He writes: —
"There are three grand circles of images, by aid of which it is sought in the Scriptures of the New Testament to set forth to us the inestimable benefits of Christ’s death and passion. Transcending, as these benefits do, all human thought, and failing to find anywhere a perfectly adequate expression in human language, they must still be set forth by the help of language, and through the means of human relations. Here, as in other similar cases, what the Scripture does is to approach the central truth from different quarters; to seek to set it forth not on one side but on many, that so these may severally supply the deficiency of one another, and that moment of the truth which one does not express, another may. The words placed at the head of this article, apolutrosis, or redemption; katallage, or reconciliation; hilasmos, or propitiation, are the capital words summing up three such families of images, to one or other of which almost every word directly bearing on this work of our salvation through Christ may be more or less remotely referred."
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