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At the Altar

By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our hps giving thanks to His name. But to do good and to communicate, forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.—Hebeews xiii. 15-16.

WE saw in the preceding sermon, in speaking on the verses preceding these of this text, that Christ "without the camp" calls His followers to His side; and that detachment from the order of society in which the Christian dwells is part of his absolute duty. But there is another side to the assimilation to Jesus Christ, which is the very essence of the Christian life, and that other side is brought out in the words of this text. They are linked by "therefore" to something that goes before, and that something is a reference to the office of Jesus Christ as the High Priest of His people. Assimilation to Him is to work in that direction too. Detachment from the world does not mean indifference to the miseries, the sins, and the groans of humanity. Since Christ is " without the camp," so must we be. Since Christ has offered His "blood, which is the life," so must we offer ourselves. "By Him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice continually." This writer's conception of religion embraces both the deep secrets of the inner life and the outward life amongst men; he is not preaching a Christianity of the closet or the cloister, when he demands detachment from the world, but he is preaching a Christianity which has indeed its roots in "the secret place of the Most High," but is of the marketplace and the streets, and wherever men do congregate. He who moves amongst men dispensing comfort, redressing wrongs, bringing help and good, is worshipping at the altar, if he is doing these things for Christ's sake, as truly as if he were absorbed in devout contemplation. We have to keep these two things together—detachment from the world, and the priestly office for men.

Let us then, first, look at this lofty general conception of

I. The True Christian Life As A Life Of Priestly Sacrifice.

Now, I do not need to spend your time in adducing the manifold instances in which this thought is insisted on in the New Testament. I suppose I may take them for granted, but let me remind you of one single instance in which, with a remarkable blending, which is not confusion, of metaphor, one of the Apostolic writers tries to fill out the conception by accumulating all the various elements of the Sacrificial Ritual, and declaring that they all find their truest and loftiest embodiment in the Christian life. The Apostle Peter runs together the notions of Temple, Priesthood and Sacrifice, and makes no scruple of applying the fused product of the three to the one fact of the Christian's experience and the Christian's standing, "Ye are a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices." Every Christian man is a habitation of God. Every Christian man is a priest, consecrated to render to God spiritual offerings. In the depths of his own being, by his own act, he is to offer his own self. And unless professing Christian people in some measure approximate, with ever varying degrees of nearness and imperfectly at the best, but still do approximate, and try to approximate, to the realization of these three blended, lofty thoughts, their Christianity is a very poor thing. Ye are the temple of God, and priests of the Most High, and yourselves are the sacrifices that you are to offer.

Now that whole stream of thought and way of looking at the Christian life is a great deal more than mere rhetorical imagery. It rests upon the fact that all that was expressed, in shadow and in outward symbol, in regard to the deepest truths of men's relation to God, by ritual, is transfigured and fulfilled, receiving its highest and its only real embodiment, in the relations of a believing soul to God and Christ.

So, then, if we are in any deep and real sense Christian people, we have the priest's qualification. And what was that ?" Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord." The purity that was aimed at in a merely outward fashion, by elaborate washings and abstinences and restrictions, is to be accomplished in each of us, by our own continuous efforts, making ourselves clear and clean from "all filthiness of flesh and spirit." No man can minister, as every Christian man is bound to do, sacrifices of thankfulness to God and of beneficence to men, unless his hands are clean and his heart pure. And so, dear brethren, this imaginative metaphor which some of you may think mere rhetorical talk, and others of you may be disposed to call, as it has been called, "Hebrew old clothes," is a great deal more than either the one or the other. It lays upon every Christian man and woman a very solemn obligation, which it is impossible to get away from.

But, again, if we are Christian people, we have the priest's prerogative. And what is that? To pass behind the curtain and into the sanctuary. You will find, in some old ruined abbeys, a path worn on the hard stones of the pavement, by which the ministers of the altar passed continually into the secret place. Have our feet worn a way into the inmost shrine? What sort of a priest is he who never, when he can help it, visits the inner chamber where the God dwells? We have the priest's prerogative. Oh! that we used it more!

We have the priest's function. And what is that? To offer sacrifice. I need not spend your time in discussing what is the root-idea of sacrifice. Many different notions may be entertained about that, which are not relevant to my present subject, but a sacrifice is something—generally some precious thing—withdrawn from personal use and dedicated to a god. And if we are Christians, we have it for our eminent duty to live lives which are sacrifices, being thus consecrated, thus referred to Jesus Christ and God, and in which there shall be the element of self-denial and of selfimmolation. These three things, reference of all my activities to God, yielding of myself to Him, and slaying of myself, go to make up the conception of sacrifice, without which a Christian profession is still less melodious than sounding brass or tinkling cymbal. A perpetual reference of all my activities to God—that is a hard saying. A perpetual surrender of myself to Him—that is a harder. To take these obstinate wills of ours and bow them, or to take them and hold them in absolute suspense, until He declares His will, and then to close with it, in swift and intimate union, is no easy matter for any of us. And harder than either, and harder than both, and necessary for either and for both, is the last stage in sacrifice, wherein I have to take myself, and with my own hand, "bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar," and with my own hand lift the knife and smite. Self-annihilation is self-preservation; and the sacrifice is not complete, till each Christian priest can say: "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."

So, dear brethren, the metaphor of my text is not a pretty flight of fancy, or a piece of poetic rhetorical imagery. And let me say to you Nonconformists who, by virtue of your ecclesiastical position, oppose sacerdotal pretensions of all sorts, that the Christian truth of the universal priesthood of believers by no means exhausts its power, or its necessary applications, when it smites down the claims of an order in the Christian Church to be priests. It has a grip upon each of us, and is not merely to be used as a protest against sacerdotal assumptions, but as carrying in it the law for the individual life.

So much, then, for the general thought that is here; let me say a word as to—

II. The Particular Applications Of The Thought Of The Priesthood Of Christians In The Text.

A double form of this general notion of the life of the Christian as a sacrificial life is set forth here. There is the sacrifice of speech and the sacrifice of deeds. A word or two about each of these.

As to the former, the sacrifice of speech, the words of our text, carefully considered, point to two kinds of it, as is better brought out in the Revised Version's rendering: "By Him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession of His name." So there are two kinds of words which are sacrifices, words of praise to God, and words of confession of God to men.

Now with regard to the former of these—the hard word here is that " continually." It is easy to say " Let us offer the sacrifice of praise," but when you add " continually," and exhort to pray without ceasing, to rejoice evermore, in everything to give thanks, then comes the pinch; and then comes in the special element of selfsurrender and self-denial which makes praise a true sacrifice. Ah! brethren, there ought to be running through every Christian life, in a continuous stream, the reference in all things to God, the recognition of His hand in all things, and the conviction that all things are working together for our good. But instead of a continuous stream, too often our thankfulness is like rivers in the tropics in dry seasons, the bed dotted with stagnant pools here and there, and not even a trickle of water to connect them together. Our thankfulness is forthcoming sometimes, if at all, when our present circumstances are bright and gladsome; but it fails altogether in the long reaches where there are no such blessings, whereas it ought to be like a broad stream, full from bank to bank, and continuous from its fountains in the hills to its estuary in the ocean.

But that needs a very continual habit of recognizing God's hand in all things that come to us. When we are always conscious of His working, always sensitive to His touch, then, and only then, will there be the continual flow of our praise to Him. As when the wind sweeps through an iEolian harp, vague wild notes come from its strings, so when the breath of God's mercies touches the chords of our souls, they will vibrate into music, and there will be continual praise, if there is continual recognition of His agency in what befalls us. But along with that recognition there needs to be what is very hard to reach and still harder to maintain, namely, the position in which, lifted above the world and gifted with clearer vision than belongs to sense, we see that all things are ours, if we are Christ's. Then, and only then, will the unremitting voice of this stream of our praise neither be silenced by the frosts of adversity, nor by the fierce heats of prosperity which dry it up; but seeing that "all things work together for good," and seeing that God moves in all things, we shall be able, even when we have to preface each thanksgiving with the recognition of our losses, to say: "The Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord." The sacrifice of praise may be offered, and should be offered," continually."

I need not say more than a word about the other aspect of this sacrifice of speech, confession to His name. That is a priestly function which a great many Christian people woefully fail to discharge. I know that it is "not good form" to talk about religion. I know that we have conventionalities of reticence about the deepest things of our souls which, in the main, are founded on propriety and common sense. I should be the last man to urge Christian people to push their religion in the faces of men out of season. But making all allowances for conventional reticence and insular reserve and personal idiosyncrasies and the like, I do believe that many of us lose a great deal of the strength and blessedness of our religion, because we are so dumb about it. If we love Jesus Christ, it will be natural for us to say that we do. And if we never acknowledge whose we are, we shall run a dreadful risk of losing much of the religion which we are so slow, so ashamed, so afraid to confess. If you keep your Christianity hidden in your doubled-up fist, take care that it does not happen to you as to some simple person in a conjuring entertainment, who has a coin put into his palm, and is bid to shut his hand upon it, and when he opens it, the coin is gone. Brethren, if you would believe, speak. "I believe, therefore have I spoken " is true; and you can turn it round the other way; "I speak, therefore I have believed."

Now, as to the other side of the general notion of sacrifice, the sacrifice of deeds, only a word need be said. "To do good and to communicate forget not." That implies that good, Christian people, who are occupied with the sacrifice of praise and confession, are sometimes apt to neglect the other side, the sacrifice of practical beneficence. People that do not care much about our Christianity are very fond of sneering at evangelistic efforts, and saying: "Oh! you give tracts, when you ought to be looking after housing and social questions of that sort." Well, the New Testament is quite as contemptuous and as condemnatory of that one-sided kind of Christian sacrifices as any scoffer of them all is. And what it says is that the sacrifice of praise to God is the foundation on which is to be built, and on which alone can be built, to any good purpose, the other sacrifice of beneficence and of liberality. "The service of men is the worship of God "—that is true, and noble, but only on condition that reference is had in the mind of the server to the God for whose sake he is serving. As the Apostle James puts it, true worship is not merely the " fruit of our Hps," but " to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." Morality and beneficence are the garments of religion, the body of which religion is the soul; and if you divorce the one from the other, each is one-sided and imperfect. The philanthropy which is not devout is as incomplete, as narrow, as unreliable as is the devotion which is not philanthropical. The two must go together, and neither of them is anything else than a sickly fragment, unless they do go together,

Now I do not purpose to dwell upon what might, indeed, more appropriately have been a sermon by itself;

M.s. 18

the emphatic words of this text: "By Him therefore let us offer." Jesus Christ's great sacrifice has taken away the obstacle which makes it impossible for men to offer acceptable sacrifice. That death, in which the Lamb of God has borne away the sins of the world, makes it possible that, on the footing of His propitiatory sacrifice, we should offer our sacrifices of thanksgiving. By Him we offer, because He gives to us, through our faith, a share in His own life, and that communicated life moulds us into His own likeness. Since He is a priest, s o are we. Since He is a King, we too reign. Since He is a Son, we through Him receive the adoption of sons. Since He is the Light of the world, we, too, through Him are lights. "By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise " and of beneficence. If the life of each of us is thus a sacerdotal and sacrificial life, then when it comes to a close, we too shall be able to say " I am ready to be offered," and our death will be a libation, poured out to the God Who through death has delivered us from death, and it will—

"Thine endless mercies seal,
And make the sacrifice complete."