No Perfection by the Law.
'Now, if there was perfection through the Levitical priesthood (for under it hath the people received Itie law), what further need that another priest should arise after the order of Melchisedek? . . . who hath been made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. . . . For there is a disannulling of a foregoing commandment, because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect.'—Heb. vii. 11-19.
'Gifts and sacrifices are offered, which cannot, as touching the conscienee, malce the worshipper perfect.'— Heb. ix. 9.
'For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, can never make perfect them that draw nigh.'— Heb. x. 1.
'That apart from us they should not be made perfect.' Heb. xi. 40.
OF the Epistles of the New Testament there is none in which the word Perfect is used so often as that to the Hebrews. There is none that will help us more to see what Christian perfection is, and the way to its attainment. The word is used thrice of our Lord Jesus, and His being made perfect Himself. Twice of our subjective perfection. Five times of the perfection of which the law was the shadow, but which could not be till Jesus came. Thrice of Christ's work in perfecting us. And once of the work of God in perfecting us. These five thoughts will each give us a subject of meditation. Of the first two we have spoken already.
A careful perusal of the verses placed above, will show that the writer thought it of great importance to make it clear that the law could perfect no person or thing. It was all the more of consequence to press this, both because of the close connection in which the law stood to tho true perfection, as its promise and preparation, and of the natural tendency of the human heart to seek perfection by the law. It was not only the Hebrews who greatly needed this teaching: among Christians in our days the greatest hindrance in accepting the perfection the gospel asks and offers, is that they make the law its standard, and then our impotence to fulfil the law, the excuse for not attaining, for not even seeking it. They have never understood that the law is but a preparation for something better; and that when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part is done away.21
The Law demands; the Law calls to effort; the Law means self. It puts self upon doing its utmost. But it makes nothing perfect, neither the conscience nor the worshipper. This is what Christ came to bring. The very perfection which the law could not give He does give. The Epistle tells us that He was made a Priest, not as Aaron, after the law and in connection with the service of a carnal commandment, which had to be disannulled because of its weakness and unprofitableness, but after the power of an endless life. What Christ, as Priest, has wrought and now works, is all in the power of an inward birth, of a new life, of the eternal life. What is born into me, what is as a spirit and life within me, has its own power of growth and action. Christ's being made perfect Himself through suffering and obedience; His having perfected us by that sacrifice by which He was perfected Himself; and His communication of that perfection to us, is all in the power of an endless life. It works in us as a life power; in no other way could we become partakers of it.
Perfection is not through the law; let us listen to the blessed lesson. Let us take the warning. The law is so closely connected with perfection, was so long its only representative and forerunner, that we can hardly realise: the law makes nothing perfect. Let us take the encouragement: What the law could not do (x. 1), God, sending His Son, hath done. The Son, perfected for evermore, hath perfected us for ever. It is in Jesus we have our perfection. It is in living union with Him, it is when He is within us, not only as a seed or a little child, but formed within us, dwelling within us, that we shall know how far He can make us perfect. It is faith that leads us in the path of perfection. It is the faith that sees, that receives, that lives in Jesus the Perfect One, that will bear us on to the perfection God would have.