"Ye are come to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel."—Heb. xii. 24.
N previous sermons on the preceding context we have had frequent occasion to remark on the parallel and contrast between Sinai and Zion, as expressive of the difference between the genius of Judaism and Christianity, which shapes the whole of this section. That contrast and parallel are most obvious at its beginning and here at its close.
In the beginning we had the mountain of the Law, swathed in darkness, lit by flashing flame, contrasted with the sunny slopes of Zion, palace-crowned, and the wild desert set in opposition to the city of peace that clustered round the foot of Zion's Mount. Here at the close we have the key-words of the old Eevelation laid hold of and applied to the new. Judaism was a covenant in the form of a law, of which the terms were these: "Do, and thou shalt live!" The Gospel is a covenant in the form of a promise, of which the tenour is "Believe and live; live and do!" The ancient covenant had Moses for its mediator, passing between the mountain and the plain. The Gospel has a better and a truer link of union between God and man than any mere man, however exalted, can be. The ancient system had its sprinkled blood, by which the men on whom it fell entered into the covenant, and were ceremonially sanctified. The new covenant has its blood. An awful voice rolled amongst the peaks of Sinai. That "blood of sprinkling" speaks too. And then the writer blends with that allusion another, to the voice of the blood of the first martyr, every drop of which cried to God for retribution, and points to the blood of the more innocent Abel, every drop of which appeals to the Father's heart for pardon.
Now it may be said that thus to present Christian truth under the guise of the symbols of an ancient ceremonial and external system is a retrogade step. And some people, who think themselves very enlightened, tell us that the time is past for looking at Christianity from such a point of view. One great man has let himself talk about "Hebrew old clothes." I am very much mistaken if these old clothes will not turn out to be something like the raiment that the Hebrews wore in the wilderness, "which waxed not old for forty years," and outlasted a great many suits that other people had cut for themselves. We have only to ponder upon these emblems until they become significant to us, in order to see that, instead of bennr antiquated and effete, they are throbbing with life, and fit as close to the needs of to-day as ever they did. They came with a special message, no doubt, to these men to whom this letter was first addressed, who were by descent and habit Hebrews, and saturated with the law. But their message is to you and me quite as much; and I desire now simply to bring out the large and permanent meanings which lie beneath them.
I.—First, then, note that God's revelation to us is in the form of a covenant.
Now, of course, when we talk about a covenant or compact between two men, we mean a matter of bargaining on the terms of which both have been consulted, and which has assumed its final form after negotiations and perhaps compromise. But there are necessarily limitations to the transference of all Human ideas to Divine relations. One such limitation is expressed in the very language of the original. The word rendered "covenant" suppresses the idea of conjunction, and emphasises that of appointment. By which we are to learn that the covenant which God makes with man is of His own settling and is not the result of mutual giving and taking; that men have nothing to do with the determining of these conditions; that He Himself has made them, and that He is bound by them, not because we have arranged them with Him, but because He has announced them to us. With that limitation we can take the idea and apply it to the relation between God and us, established in the great message of the Gospel.
For what is the notion that underlies the oldfashioned, and to some of /ou obsolete and unwelcome word? Why! simply thu . it is a definite disclosure of God's purpose as affecting you and me, by which disclosure He is prepared to stand and to be bound. It is a revelation, but a revelation that obliges the Revealer to a certain course of conduct; or, if you would rather have a less theological word, it is a system of promise under which God mercifully has willed that we should live. And just as when a king gives forth a proclamation, he is bound by the fact that he gave it forth, so God, out of all the infinite possibilities of His action, condescends to tell us what His line is to be, and He will adhere to it. He lets us see the works of the clock, if I may so say, not wholly, but in so far as we are affected by His action.
What, then, are the terms of this covenant? We have them drawn out, first, in the words of Jeremiah, who apprehended, when he was dwelling in the midst of that eternal system, that it could not be a final system; and next, by the writer of this letter quoting the prophet, who, in the midst of the vanishing of that which could be shaken, saw emerging, like the fairy form of the fabled goddess out of the sea-foam, the vast and permanent outlines of a nobler system. The promises of the Covenant are, then, full forgiveness as the foundation of all, and built upon that, knowledge of God inwardly illuminating and making a man independent of external helps, though he may sometimes be grateful for them; then a mutual possession which is based upon these, whereby I, even I, can venture to say, God is mine, and, more wonderful still, I, even I, can venture to believe that He bends down from heaven and says: '* And thou, thou art Mine!" and then, as the result of all— named first, but coming last in the order of nature—. the law of His commandment will be so written upon the heart that delight and duty are spelt with the same letters, and His will is our will. These are the elements, or you can gather them all up into one, namely, the promise of eternal Life—based upon forgiveness, operating through the knowledge of God, and issuing in perfect conformity to His blessed will.
If these, then, be the articles of the paction, think for a moment of the blessedness that lies hived in this ancient, and to some of us musty, thought of a covenant of God's. It gives a basis for knowledge. Unless He audibly and articulately and verifiably utters His mind and will, I know not where men are to go to get it. Without an actual revelation from heaven, of other nature, of clearer contents, of more solid certitude than the revelations that may have been written upon the tablets of our hearts, over which we have too often scrawled the devil's message, and over and above the ambiguous articles that may be picked out and pieced together, from reflection upon providence and nature, we need something better and firmer, more comprehensively and more manifestly authoritative, before we are entitled to say, "Behold! I know that God loves me, and that I may put my trust in Him." Brethren! I for my part believe that between agnosticism on that side, and the full evangelical faith of the New Testament in a supernatural revelation on this side, all forms of so-called Christianity which shy at the idea of a supernatural revelation are destined to have the life squeezed out of them, and that what will be left will be the two logical positions; first, God, if there be a God, never spoke, and we do not know anything about Him; and, second, "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son." If there be a God at all, and if there be in Him any love and any righteousness, it is infinitely more reasonable to suppose that He should have spoken His mind and heart to men, and given them a covenant on which they can reckon, than that He has been from the beginning a dumb God, that never opened His mouth with a word of guidance or of sympathy for the sons of men. Believe that who may; I cannot bslieve in a pure theism, which has no place for a supernatural revelation.
And then, again, let me remind you how here is the one foothold, if I may so say, for confidence. If God hath not spoken there is nothing to reckon upon. There are perhapses, probabilities if you like, possibilities, but nothing beyond. And no man can build a faith on a peradventure. There must be solid ground on which to rest; and here is solid ground: "I make a covenant with you." "God is not a man that He should lie, nor the Son of Man that He should repent." And armed with that great thought that He has verily rent the darkness and spoken words which commit Him and assure us, we, even the weakest of us, may venture to go to Him, and plead with Him that He cannot and dare not alter the thing that has gone forth out of His mouth; and so, in deepest reverence, can approach Him and plead the necessity of a great Must under which He has placed Himself by His own word. God is faithful, the covenant-making and the covenant-keeping God.
II.—Secondly, mark that Jesus Christ is the Executor of this covenant.
Moses, of course, was a go-between, in a mere external sense—from the mountain to the plain and from the plain to the mountain, he passed, and in either case simply carried a message bearing God's will to man or man's submission to God. But we have to dig far deeper into the idea than that of a mere outward messenger who carries what is entrusted to him, as an errand boy might, if we are to get the notion of Christ's relation with these great promises, which, massed together, are God's covenant with us. Observe that the emphasis is here laid on the manhood of the Lord. It is Jesus who is the "Mediator of the covenant"; and observe, too, that that idea passes into the wider notion of His place as the link uniting God and man. The depth of the thought is only reached when we recognize His divinity and His humanity. He is the ladder with its foot on earth and its top in heaven.
Because God dwells in Him, and the Word became flesh, He is able to lay His hand upon both, and to bring God to man and man to God.
He brings God to man. If what I have been saying is at all true, that for all solid faith we must have an articulate declaration of the Divine mind and heart, it seems to me to be equally irrefragable that for any such declaration of the Divine heart and mind we must have a human vehicle. God speaks through men. It is His highest way of making Himself known to men. And Jesus Christ in His Manhood declares God to us. Not by the mere words which He speaks, as a Teacher and a wise Man, a religious genius and a saint, a philosopher and a poet, a moralist and a judge; but by these, and also by His life, by His emotions of pity and gentleness and patience, and by everything that He does and everything that He endures, He speaks to us of God.
Brethren, where shall a poor man rest his soul outside of the direct or indirect influences of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ? Why! the very men who reject Him to-day, on the plea that they have learnt a nobler conception of God than they can find in Christianity, owe their conception of Him to the Gospel which they reject. Where else is there certitude solid enough to resist the pressure of sorrow and of sin; confidence enough to maintain faith, in the face of difficulty and conscious evil and death; or energy enough in a creed to make religion an allcontrolling influence and an all-gladdening stay except in Jesus Christ? I venture to say, nowhere! Nowhere beyond the limits to which either the river of the water of life has manifestly flowed; or some rills and rivulets from it have crept underground to give strange verdure to some far-off pasture. Nowhere else is there found the confidence in the Father's heart which is the property of the Christian man, and the result of the Christian Covenant. Jesus Christ brings God to man by the declaration of His nature incarnate in humanity.
'And, on the other hand, He brings man to God; for He stands to each of us as our true Brother, and united to us by such close and real bonds as that all which He has been and done may be ours if we join ourselves to Him by faith. And He brings men to God, because in Him only do we find the drawings that incline wayward and wandering hearts to the Father. And He seals for us that great Covenant in His own person and work, in so far as what He in Manhood has done has made it possible that such promises should be given to us. And, still further, He is the Mediator of the Covenant, in so far as He Himself possesses in His humanity all the blessings which Manhood is capable of deriving from the Father, and He has them all in order that He may give them all. There is the great Reservoir from which all men may fill their tiny cups.
Men tell us that they want no Mediator between them and God. Ah! my brother, go down into your own hearts; try to understand what sin is; and then go up as near as you can to the dazzling white light, and try partially to conceive of what God's holiness is, and tell us, Do you think you, as you are, could walk in that light and not be consumed? It seems to me that no man who has any deep knowledge of his own heart, and any, though it be inadequate, yet true, conception of the Divine nature, dare take upon his lips that boast that we often hear, " We need none to come between us and God."
For me, I thankfully hear Him say, "No man comebh to the Father but by Me"; and pray for grace to tread in that only way that leadeth unto God.
III.—Note the sprinkling of the blood which seals the Covenant.
There is an allusion there, as I have already suggested, to the ceremonial at Sinai, when, in token of their entrance into the Covenant, the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled upon the crowd; and also an allusion to the voice of the blood of the innocent Abel, which "cried to God from the ground." The writer has already referred to that in the earlier part of the letter; and here he weaves the two together because, with whatever differences of representation, the substantial meaning of both images is the same. The blood shed establishes the covenant; and the blood sprinkled brings us into it.
If Jesus had not died, there would have been no promises for us, beginning in forgiveness and ending in wills delighting in God's law. It is " the new covenant in His blood." The death of Christ is ever present to the Divine mind and determines the Divine action.
Hence the allusion to the voice, in contrast both to the dread voice that echoed among the grim peaks of Sinai, and to that which, as if each drop had a tongue, called from Abel's innocent blood for retribution. Christ's, too, has a voice, and that an all-powerful one. It cries for pardon with the same authority of intercession as Ave hear in His wondrous highpriestly prayer: "Father, I will."
Further, that sprinkling, which introduced technically and formally these people into that covenant, represents for us the personal application to ourselves of the power of His death and of His life, by which we may make all God's promises our own, and be cleansed from all sin. It is " sprinkled." Then it is capable of division into indefinitely small portions, and of the closest contact with individuals. That is but a highly metaphorical way of saying that Jesus Christ has died for each of us, that each of us may find acceptance and cleansing, and the inheritance of all the promises, if we put our trust in Him.
For remember, these words of my text are the end of a great sentence, which begins, " Ye are come."
Faith is coming. "What did Christ say ?" He that cometh unto Me shall hever hunger. He that believeth on Me shall never thirst." There is His own intrepretation of the metaphor. Whosoever trusts Him, comes to Him. If I put my tremulous faith on that dear Lord, though He be on the throne of the universe, and I down here, in this far-away dim corner of His creation, I am with Him where He is, and no film of distance need separate us. If we trust Him we come to Him. If we rest upon Him as our advocate and hope, then the loud voice of our sins will not be heard, accusing-tongued though they be, above the voice of His pleading blood.
And they who come to Christ, therein and thereby, come to all other glorious and precious persons and things in the universe. For, as I have already said, my text is the end of a long sentence, and is last named as being the foundation of all that precedes, and the condition of our finding ourselves in touch with all the other glories of which the writer has been speaking. He that comes to Christ is in the city. He that comes to Christ is—not will he in the palace. He that comes to Christ is in the presence of the Judge. He that comes to Christ touches angels and perfected spirits, and is knit to all that are knit to the same Lord. He that comes to Christ comes to cleansing, and enters into the fulness of the promise, and lives in the presence and companionship of his present-absent Lord. If we come to Jesus by faith, Jesus will come at last to us, to receive us to Himself; and join us to the choirs of the perfected spirits who "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."