This blog gains its name from the book Steele's Answers published in 1912. It began as an effort to blog through that book, posting each of the Questions and Answers in the book in the order in which they appeared. I started this on Dec. 10, 2011. I completed blogging from that book on July 11, 2015. Along the way, I began to also post snippets from Dr. Steele's other writings — and from some other holiness writers of his times. Since then, I have begun adding material from his Bible commentaries. I also re-blog many of the old posts.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Temporal and Spiritual Benefits of the Levitical Sacrifices

We propound a question of more than ordinary interest when we inquire into the precise benefit which accrued to the devout Hebrew from his faithful observance of the law of offerings. The answer to this inquiry will elucidate the important question of the nature and extent of the blessing promised to the believer in Jesus Christ, who presents him to the Father as his great sin offering. The moral delinquencies of man are of two kinds — offenses against society, which are called crimes, and are punishable with temporal penalties, and offenses purely spiritual, or sins, which await the fires of the judgment day. The Levitical law added, also, ceremonial offenses or impurities. Under the theocracy this distinction is in a measure lost, the different kinds of offenses being blended together and treated as sins. The first benefit to the sincere offerer was exemption from the temporal punishment of death. Yet all crimes could not be so expiated as to escape judicial death. Offenses which disorganize and destroy society — murder, adultery, and cursing of parents, and sins especially offensive to God, as profanation of his holy day and blasphemy of his holy name were beyond the efficacy of the sacrifices as to their power to screen the guilty from physical death. But minor offenses — usually punished by the civil magistrate — if freely confessed with all possible restitution, together with ceremonial impurities, found an exemption from death in the blood sprinkled on the altar. But what did those blood sprinklings and those blazing altars do for guilty souls? Did they relieve the burdened conscience, effecting exactly such a change as penitent believers in Christ now experience in the pardon of their sins and the witness of the Spirit of adoption? There are several answers. First, that there was to the sincere Hebrew the same subjective phenomena as now attend justification by faith; the same conscious relief; and the same joy in the assurance of reconciliation: not flowing from the blood of the victim, but from the blood of its great Antitype appropriated by an anticipatory faith. But the insuperable objection to this is, that there is not in the Pentateuch the first hint of the Lamb of God, the reality of which the victim bleeding on the Hebrew altar is but the shadow. Hence there is no ground laid for faith to build upon in any objective revelation of the Sacrifice to be offered on Calvary. The second view seems to be endorsed by Origen, Theodoret, Erasmus, and Luther, in their explanation of the term λαστριον in Romans 3:25. It is, that there was in the blood of animals slain in sacrifice by Divine appointment an inherent efficacy to take away the sins of the devout offerer, without any apprehension by faith of the Heaven-appointed Victim yet to pour out his blood. "As the lid of the ark of the covenant, when sprinkled with blood, imparted to the Israelite a firm confidence of the forgiveness of his sins, in like manner the Saviour, and especially his death, is the security for our redemption to which we may believingly look." To the same conclusion Bonar comes. "The sin passes away; it is an instantaneous, complete, perpetual pardon."


The third view is based on the explicit statements of Divine inspiration. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews reiterates, in various phrases, the declaration that the blood of bulls and of goats cannot take away sins. Hebrews 10:4. Between this assertion and the assurance given by Jehovah that "the priest shall make atonement for him, and it shall be forgiven him," (Leviticus 6:7,) we have a seeming contradiction, of which the best explanation is afforded by St. Paul, who, in explaining the
λαστριον, is very careful to say that "Christ Jesus is set forth to be 'the propitiation,' 'the mercy seat,' through faith in his blood, to declare his (God's) righteousness for the passing over (πρεσις, the pretermission) of sins that are past (in ages gone) through the forbearance of God." The doctrine of St. Paul is, that the atoning death of Jesus justifies God, by removing his seeming low estimate of sin, or indifference towards it, in passing over and forbearing to punish the sins of penitent, blood-offering Hebrews in past ages. See on Romans 3:25, also Alford and Bengel. The latter says, that "pretermission, (forgiveness,) in the Old Testament, had respect to transgressions until (πολτρωσιν) redemption of them was accomplished in the death of Christ. Hebrews 9:15. The objects of pretermission are sins; the object of forbearance are sinners." Says Alford, "Where sins are continually called to mind, there, clearly, the conscience is not clear from them. Very similar is the assertion of Ebrard, when speaking of the blood of bulls as incapable of taking away sins: 'It was shed, not as the instrument of complete vicarious propitiation, but as an exhibition of the postulate [assumed need] of vicarious propitiation.'" How far this pretermission of sins applies to pious pagans is a question beyond the range of our present inquiry. See on Acts 17:30. Respecting the emotional experience attending sacrificial forgiveness as thus explained, we have no explicit statements in the Scriptures. But from such expressions as the testimony that his ways "pleased God," given to Enoch, (Hebrews 11:5;) "blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven," (Psalm 32:1); "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him," (Psalm 25:14); and from the joy that rings out its hallelujahs through the Psalms, we infer that the Holy Spirit, though not yet doing his official work as the Paraclete, the Spirit of adoption, was by his essential presence assuring obedient Israelites of the gracious forbearance of Jehovah towards them in passing over their sins. This implies that the sacrifices were not offered as a dead opus operatum, or mechanical and soulless performance, but with that devout and penitent state of heart which alone can appropriate spiritual good. When this was absent the "vain oblations" of apostate Israel became "an abomination" (Isaiah 1:11-15) to Jehovah, and he proclaims to the sinning nation, "I desired mercy (philanthropy and justice) and not (mere) sacrifice." Hosea 6:6.

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