« PreviousContinue »
shail not be dishonored. No scheme of mercy can ever be tolerated, which brings the least stain upon the law. Till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”
3. In the ark and its accompaniments, God sets before us, not only the honors of the law, but that, in some way, there is mercy for those who have transgressed it. Over the ark there was laid a mercy-seat ; and nere God was graciously pleased to dwell, and to hold communion with his people.
Though the law is in full force, retaining all its honors as a rule of life, it is of no avail to us now, as a foundation of hope. Its insupportable curse rests on the head of every child of Adam. It kills and condemns every transgressor, who essays to build on it a hope of heaven. But God has been pleased to erect a throne of mercy. Over the ark, which contained his righteous law, he was pleased to lay a mercy-seat ; and this be selected as the place of his rest. Both in the tabernacle and temple, the mercyseat was the place where the tokens of the Divine presence were specially visible-where rested the glorious Shekinah—the pillar of cloud and of fire. Here, too, was the place where God promised to meet his people, and hold visible, sensible communion with them. “I will appear in the cloud, upon the mercyseat. There will I meet thee, and there will I hold communion with thee."
To the ancient believers, all this was full of precious, glorious meaning. They saw in it that, in some way, mercy
and truth had met together;" that“ righteousness and peace had embraced each other.” They saw in it that a holy and righteous God could yet be merciful; that, in some way, he could be just to himself and his law, and yet justify the penitent, returning transgressor. In short, they saw in it a way of salvation; a foundation on which to rest their immortal hopes.
4. Nor did the ark, and the services connected with it, leave the ancient worshipper altogether in ignorance as to the method of salvation. Once every year, on the great day of atonement, he saw the high priest—the highest officer in the churchventure into the holy of holies, attired in his sacred vestments, to sprinkle the mercy-seat with blood, and to burn incense before it. "By this awful service, the priest was instructed to propitiate the God of heaven, and make an atonement for the people. In these symbolical transactions, the believing Israelite saw much of the method of salvation. Through these typical atoneinents,
made by the blood of bulls and goats, he looked forward to a greater atonement, made once for all, consisting in a richer sacrifice, and more precious blood. In the literal incense which was burned before the mercy-seat, he saw a type of that more prevalent intercession, which was to be offered before the throne of God above. In short, the entire service of the priest, on this occasion, pointed him forward to the nobler services of his great High Priest in heaven, when he should enter into the holy places not made with hands, there to appear in the presence of God
Thus the pious in Israel were led to look for a Saviour to come ; and led to exercise that faith and confidence in him, which stood connected with their eternal salvation.
5. The ark and its appendages were fitted to teach the Israelites, and to teach us, that the gospel of salvation, so far from impairing or dishonoring the divine law, tends rather to vindicate and establish it. The mercy-seat, on which the glorious Shekinah rested, was the appointed covering of the ark. It covered and protected the law, which was deposited under it ; thus teaching a lesson which not a few, in our own times, have need to learn.
There are those who seem to consider the gospel as above the law, if not in palpable contradiction to it. From expressions sometimes used, one might suppose that God had, at length, discovered that his law was unreasonable; or at least that it was unsuitable to the condition of man;— It requires more than his creatures in this world can perform. It threatens more than they can endure. He has been pleased, therefore, in mercy, to take it out of the way, and to substitute for it the milder dispensation of the gospel.'
But opinions such as these are in palpable contradiction both to law and gospel—both to the letter and spirit of all true religion. What is that law, which it is pretended is so unreasonable and unjust? “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself.” And is this an unreasonable requisition? With how much less than all the heart should the God of heaven require his creatures to love him? With how much less than all the heart does any one think that he ought to love him ? And if our neighbor, our fellow creature, is as worthy as ourself, why should we not love him as ourself? This holy law, so far from being suspended or annulled, is in full, unabated force throughout the universe. It is in force in heaven, and in the keeping of it the happiness of that world consists. It is in force on earth, too, and ought to be obeyed perfectly here, as there; and the gospel of salvation, so far from impairing it, goes (as I said) to cover and protect it-goes to vindicate and establish it.
The suppliant, when he approaches the mercy-seat to plead for pardon, does not come finding fault with the law. He does not say, while bending before the throne of grace, Thy law, O God, was unreasonable and cruel. It was so strict that I could not obey it, and of course am not to blame for transgressing it.' But he consents unto the law, that it is just and good. He mourns and repents, he reproaches and condemns himself, for all his disobedience. He says with the apostle, The law is holy; but I am carnal, sold under sin. All that God has required is right; and all that he has threatened is just; and for my numberless transgressions, I have no excuse. Pardon mine iniquity, for it is great. God be merciful to me a sinner.'
We here see how the very terms and spirit of the gospel all go to vindicate and establish the law. It is impossible, in the nature of things, for any person to comply with the offers of the gospel, and become interested in its blessings, till he acknowledges bis obligations to obey the whole law, and heartily consents to it, that it is good. What, I ask, is that repentance which the gospel demands, but a holy sorrow for having broken the law? And what is that forgiveness which the gospel promises, but forgiveness for having transgressed the law? And what is the salvation of the gospel, but deliverance from the condemning sentence of the law? And for what did the Saviour appear in our world, but to magnify the law, and make it honorable, and open a way of reconciliation and redemption for those who had broken it? In every view we can take of the gospel, it rests upon
the firm foundations of the law, and goes, not to supersede its claims, but to vindicate and establish them. Well then might the Apostle exclaim, “Do we make void the law through faith? Nay, we establish the law.” And well might the sacred ark of the testimony, enclosing in its bosom the moral law, be covered and protected by the mercy seat.
6. We learn from the ark and its appendages the deep and abiding interest which holy angels feel in the wonderful subject of man's redemption. Cherubim were erected on either end of the mercy seat, and extended their wings over it. In addition to these, more lofty cherubim were erected in the most holy place of the temple, under the shadow of whose wings the whole ark was deposited. And besides these, we are told that Solomon carved the entire wall of this most sacred apartment“ round about with carved figures of cherubim.” The faces of these figures (which, we have seen, represented the holy angels) were all turned in wards on the ark, in a posture of the deepest and most devout attention ; thus indicating that the ark, with its appendages and contents, furnished matter of the profoundest interest and astonishment to the angelic world. Angels here saw that law which they loved and obeyed carefully deposited in the most holy place, and honored with tokens of the highest regard. They knew that this law had been dreadfully violated by man, and had reason to expect that its fearful penalty was about to be executed on him. They had seen it executed on a part of their own number who sinned, and they had reason to expect that a flame would suddenly burst forth from the ark, to devour and consume an apostate world. But instead of this, they saw the ark covered with a mercy seat, and saw the Holy One of Israel descend and take up his abode there. They saw him holding communion with apostate creatures, and dispensing pardons to guilty men. They saw the curse of the violated law removed, and yet its authority sustained and strengthened. They saw it pass away, as a foundation of hope for sinners, and yet remain in full force, and increased effect, as a rule of life. They saw, in short, that a just God could consistently sare sinners ; and not only that he could save them, but that he was most sincerely disposed to do it. They beard him crying from the mercy seat, “ Ho, every one that thirsteth ; come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye; buy wine and milk, without money and without price.” “Look unto me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth.”
Now these things, there is reason to believe, are matter of delight and wonder to the angelic world. “Into which things the angels desire to look.” With intense interest, they cluster around the mysterious ark. They bend over it; they fasten their eyes upon it, in a posture of the most devout attention. They are never wearied or satisfied with this blessed employment. Their mighty energies are engrossed, and their eternity occupied, in searching into the wonders, and pouring forth the praises of redeeming love.
O that Christians in this world might imbibe more of their fervor, and more closely imitate their example ! that those, who are chiefly interested in the work of redemption—for whom the Son of God died, and the glorious provision of the gospel was made, might be more deeply engaged, and more delightfully occupied, in looking into the wonders of redemption, and laboring to promote its triumphs in the earth!
7. In view of the light which the ancient believers enjoyed, and the knowledge they gained from their instructive ritual, and froin other parts of the Old Testament, the inquiry suggests itself, In what respects are the privileges of Christians, under the new dispensation, superior to theirs ? That they are superior, in some respects, there can be no doubt. As much as this is intimated by our Saviour, when he said, “ Among them that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist; notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he," Matt. 2: 11.
The superior privileges of Christians above those of God's ancient covenant people, consist not in this—that we have another and better religion than they, or another and easier path to heaven : for true religion and the way of salvation, under both dispensations, have been the same. God has opened but one path from these apostate regions to the heavenly mansions; and in that path all true believers, both before and since the coming of Christ, have walked.
Nor are our privileges greater than those of the ancient saints, in that we belong to another church, and are brought into another and better covenant. For the church of God, and the covenant of the church, under both dispensations, have been substantially the same. “My dove, my undefiled, is but one ; she is the only one of her mother.” Christians are grafted into the same good olive tree from which the Jews, for their unbelief, were broken off, Rom. 2: 17-24.
Nor are our privileges superior to those who lived before the coming of Christ, in that we have received much important truth, which to them was wholly unrevealed and unknown. Perhaps it would be difficult to mention a single important doctrine of religion, which is in possession of the church now, which was not shadowed forth, with more or less of distinctness and impression, to the people of God in ancient times. We have seen how much and how rich instruction was conveyed under the symbol of the ark. And yet this was but one of the Jewish symbols—but one of the means employed by God of imparting to his ancient covenant people a knowledge of his truth and will.