An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Typical Sacrifice
The 10th chapter of our epistle has two main divisions: the first is occupied with a setting forth of the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice unto those who believe, verses 1-20; the second is devoted to the making of a practical application of the doctrine of the first section unto faith, obedience, and perseverance, verses 21-39. The principal design of the Spirit therein is to exhibit the excellency and efficacy of Christ’s satisfaction, and this, not so much God-wards, as saint-wards, showing the inestimable blessings which it has procured for the favored members of the household of faith. The method which the apostle was inspired to follow in carrying out this design, was to, once more, set in antithesis the typical sacrifices of the Mosaic dispensation with the one Sacrifice of Christianity, contrasting the shadow with the Substance, and this, in order to bring out the inadequacy of the one and the sufficiency of the other to provide a perfect standing before God, with the resultant privilege of drawing near to Him as accepted worshippers.
Because the sacrifices under the old covenant were incapable, in and of themselves, to satisfy the claims of a holy God, they were also unable to meet the needs of those who brought them. Because that, of themselves, they could not make peace with God, neither could they give peace to the conscience of the offerer. Because they failed to make real atonement for sin, they could not cleanse the sinner. Therefore does the apostle point out that the Aaronic offerings were but "shadows," that the repetition of them intimated their insufficiency, that the fact of unexpiated sin was recalled to memory each time a victim was slain, and that inasmuch as it was merely the blood of beasts which was shed, it was impossible that such a medium or offering could either placate the wrath of God or procure His blessing upon those who presented such sacrifices.
The connection between Hebrews 10 and what immediately precedes is very blessed. In the closing verse of chapter 9 two things are joined together: the cross of Christ and His second coming. And what intervenes between Calvary and the actual entrance into Glory of those who were there redeemed and reconciled to God? This: the Christian-life on earth, and it is this which is mainly in view in the closing chapters of our epistle. It is the present status, privileges, walk, discipline and responsibilities of the saints which are therein set forth. That which is exhibited in the first twenty verses of Hebrews 10 is the perfect standing before God which the regenerated believer now has, and his blessed privilege as a worshipper of entering in spirit within the Heavenly courts while waiting down here for the promised return of his Savior. Having shown in chapter 9 that atonement has been accomplished, that the heavenly places were purified when the Redeemer entered the Holiest, the Spirit now emphasizes the fact that the believer has been fitted to draw nigh unto God Himself as a purged and accepted worshipper.
In previous sections the apostle has contrasted the priests of the Levitical dispensation with our great High Priest, he has opposed the vastly different covenants or economies to which each belonged, he has shown the immeasurable superiority of Christ’s one offering of Himself over the many sacrifices of old, he has placed in antithesis the respective "tabernacles" in which Aaron and Christ officiated. Each and all of these was designed to press upon the wavering Hebrews the deficiency of Judaism and the excellency of Christianity. Now he shows that not only are the two systems with all that pertains to them as different as a flickering candle and the shining of the sun, but that the privileges enjoyed by the individuals belonging to the one and the other are as widely separated as is light from darkness. The Mosaic system, as such, was neither able to impart permanent peace to the conscience nor give access into the presence of God, but the Satisfaction of Christ has procured these precious blessings unto those who flee to Him for refuge.
The order of thought which is followed in the first main division of our present chapter ought not to be difficult to grasp. First, we have an affirmation and demonstration of the deficiency of the legal sacrifices to "perfect" the worshipper: verses 1-4. Second, we have a manifestation and exemplification of the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice to "perfect forever" (verse 14) those for whom He made satisfaction unto God: verses 5-20. Thus the apostle proves again the imperative need for the supplanting of all the unefficacious offerings of Judaism by the all-sufficient offering of Christ. In the developing of the first point, an assertion is made of the inadequacy of the Levitical sacrifices to expiate sin and meet the dire needs of the offerer (verse 1). A confirmation of the truth of this assertion is drawn from the frequency of their repetition (verse 2). It is shown that the annual typical propitiation was only a constant re-opening of the question of sin (verse 3). From these facts the inevitable conclusion is drawn that it was impossible for such sacrifices to remove sins.
"For the law having a shadow of good things to come, not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect" (verse 1). Three questions are suggested to the thoughtful reader of this verse. First, exactly what is the contrast pointed by "shadow" and "image"? Second, what is meant by the comers being made "perfect"? Third, why did God appoint sacrifices that were so unefficacious? These shall be our points of focus as we endeavor to expound this verse.
"For the law having a shadow of good things to come." The opening "For" intimates that what is introduced thereby is an inference drawn from what had previously been stated. Having shown that the sacrifice of Christ had met all the demands of God and had confirmed the new covenant, the apostle concludes from thence that, inasmuch as the Levitical sacrifices could not effect those ends which had been accomplished by Christ’s, they must be taken out of the way. The "law" here is not to be restricted to the ceremonial, as the words "having a shadow" warn us; still less is it the moral law, which, absolutely considered, had no sacrifices belonging to it. No, the reference is to the whole of the Mosaic economy, or more specifically, to the covenant which God made with Israel at Sinai, with all the institutions of worship belonging thereto.
"Shadow is put first emphatically; only a shadow or outline of the substantial and eternal blessings promised. A shadow has no substance; but brings before the mind the form of the body from which it is projected! The ‘image’ itself is given to us in Christ, a full and permanent embodiment of the good things to come" (Adolph Saphir). We believe this presents the correct idea: it is clearly borne out by Colossians 2:17, "which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ." The apostle is there speaking of the same things as he treats of here in Hebrews 10:1: the Mosaic economy, with all its ordinances and institutions of worship, gave only an earthly adumbration or representation, and did not possess the substance, reality, or "body": that is found only in Christ Himself, to whom the Old Testament shadows pointed. A "shadow" gives a representation of a body, a more or less just one of its form and size, yet only an obscure and imperfect one—compare our remarks on Hebrews 8:5.
The "good things to come" (future, not when this epistle was written, but at the time that the Mosaic economy was instituted) has reference to all those blessings and privileges which have come to the church in consequence of the incarnation of Christ and the discharge of His office. Well might they be designated "good things," for there is no alloy or mixture of evil with them; other things are "good" relatively, but these things absolutely. The "image" or substance of them is found in Christ, and set forth in His Gospel: for a similar use of the term "image" cf. Romans 8:29. "This therefore is that which the apostle denies concerning the law. It had not the actual accomplishment of the promise of good things; it had not Christ exhibited in the flesh; it had not the true real sacrifice of perfect expiation: it represented these things; it had a shadow of them, but enjoyed not, exhibited not the things themselves. Herein was its imperfection and weakness, so that by none of its sacrifices could it make the Church perfect" (John Owen).
"Can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect." In these words we have the inference or conclusion for which the "For" at the beginning of the verse prepares us: if the law contained in it nothing better than a "shadow," it is obvious that its sacrifices could not possibly make perfect those who offered them. John Owen has most helpfully pointed out that the Greek word here rendered "continually’’ signifies "forever," occurring elsewhere in this epistle only in Hebrews 7:3, 10:12, 14 (Bagster’s Interlinear gives "in perpetuity") and that it should be connected not with the clause preceding, but with the one following, thus: "the law by its sacrifices could not perfect forever, or unto the uttermost, the comers thereto."
Three things are affirmed in the second half of our verse. First, the impotency of the "law" or old covenant, or Mosaic economy. It could never "make perfect." It could by no means, in no way do so; it was impossible that it should. This is stated so emphatically in order to remove from the minds of the Hebrews all expectations of perfection with Judaism. Second, that with respect unto which this impotency of the law is here ascribed was its "sacrifices," which was the very thing in which most of the Jews had chiefly placed their hopes. But not only is that affirmed of the sacrifices in general, but also in particular of the great sacrifice on the day of atonement, which was offered "year by year": if that was ineffectual, how much more so the minor offerings! Third, that wherein its impotency lay was its inability to "perfect" the "comers."
Concerning the meaning of "perfect" here, we would refer back to our exposition of Hebrews 7:11. For the benefit of those who do not have access to the August 1930 issue, we would point out that the term "perfect" is one of the key-words of this epistle, close attention needing to be paid to its contexts. It has to do more with relationship than experience. It concerns the objective side of things rather than the subjective. It looks to the judicial and vital aspect, more than to the practical. "Perfection" means the bringing of a thing to that completeness of condition designed for it. Doctrinally it refers to the producing of a satisfactory and final relationship between God and His people. It speaks of that unchanging standing in the favor and blessing of God which Christ has secured for His saints. See also our notes on Hebrews 2:10; 5:9; 6:1.
That "perfection" which God requires is absolute conformity to His moral law, so that not only is there no guilt of transgression resting upon us, but a full, flawless, and rewardable obedience to our account. How impossible it was for the slaying of beasts to secure this is self-evident. The "comers thereunto" are defined in verse 2 as "the worshippers": it was those who made use of the Levitical sacrifices in the worship of God. This term "come" in the Hebrews’ epistle has its root in the "bring" of Leviticus 1:2, the Hebrew word there signifying those who "draw nigh" with an oblation, coming thus to the altar. Though the slaying of beasts procured a temporary expiation, it did not secure an eternal forgiveness, it did not perfect "continually" or "for ever." Hence, the effect produced on the conscience of the offerer was only a transient one, for a sense of sin returned upon him, forcing him unto a repetition of the same sacrifices, as the apostle declares in the next verse. This brings us to our third question: Why did God appoint unto Israel sacrifices so ineffectual?
Many answers might be returned to this question. Though the Levitical offerings failed to procure an eternal redemption, yet were they by no means useless and without value. First of all, they served to keep in the minds of Israel the fact that God is ineffably holy and will not tolerate evil. They were constantly reminded that the wages of sin is death. They were taught thereby that a constant acknowledgement of their sins was imperative if communion with the Lord was to be maintained. In the second place, by means of these types and shadows God was pointing out to them the direction from which true salvation must come, namely, in a sinless Victim enduring in their stead the righteous penalty which their sins called for. Thereby God instructed them to look forward in faith to the time when the Redeemer should appear, and the great Sacrifice be offered for the sins of His people. Third, there was an efficacy in the Old Testament sacrifices to remove temporal judgment, to give ceremonial ablution, and to maintain external fellowship with Jehovah. They who despised the sacrifices were "cut off" or excommunicated; but those who offered them maintained their place in the congregation of the Lord.
Ere passing on to the next verse let us seek to make practical application unto ourselves of what has been before us. In coming to God, that is, drawing nigh unto Him as worshippers, the first qualification in us is that we are legitimately assured of the perfect expiation (cancellation) of our sins. When this foundation is not laid in the soul and conscience, all attempts to approach God as worshippers are highly presumptuous, for no guilty person can stand before Him. To offer thanksgiving and praise to him before we know we have been forgiven and accepted by Him, is to repeat the high-handed sin of Cain. The very first things proposed to us in the Gospel are that we own our undone condition, judge ourselves unsparingly, turn from our sins, and appropriate to our deep need the grace of God as it is tendered to us in Jesus Christ. Only as the heart is truly contrite and faith lays hold of the atoning blood of the Lamb, is any sinner entitled to draw nigh unto the Holy One.
"For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins" (verse 2). The contents of this verse enable us to grasp more clearly the particular aspects of Truth which our present chapter is dealing with. It is not so much what the sacrifices effected God-wards, as man-wards: it is their purifying effects upon the worshipper which is mainly in view. This is quite evident from the expressions "once purged" and "no more conscience of sins." In like manner, the principal thing in the verses which follow is the setting forth of what Christ’s atonement has secured for His people: see verses 10, 14, 19.
"For then would they not have ceased to be offered?" "This verse is added as a proof of the reason concerning the impotency of the foresaid legal sacrifices. The reason was taken from the reiteration of those sacrifices, whereby it was made manifest that they could not make perfect. The argument may be framed thus: That which makes perfect ceaseth when it hath made perfect; but the sacrifices which were offered year by year, ceased not; therefore they could not have made perfect" (William Gouge). In reply it might be opposed: The repetition of the sacrifice was not through any inherent defect in it, but because the offerer had acquired fresh guilt; the offering expiated all sin up to the time it was offered, but new sins being committed, another sacrifice became necessary. Let us face this difficulty.
There was a defect in the sacrifices themselves, as will be seen more plainly when we reach verse 4; they were altogether inadequate for meeting the infinite demands of God, they were altogether insufficient to compensate for the wrong done to God’s manifestative glory and could not repair the loss of His honor. None save a sacrifice which possessed intrinsic merits, having an infinite value, could make real and final satisfaction. That Sacrifice has been offered, and so perfect is it that it stands in no need of addition. The Atonement of Christ is of perpetual efficacy unto God, and is ever available to faith. No matter how often application be made unto it, its power never wanes and its preciousness never diminishes.
"Because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins." The final words fix for us the meaning, or rather scope, of the "once purged" here. That sacrificial term may denote either (or both) the removal of the guilt of sin or the pollution thereof: the one is taken away by justification, the other by sanctification. The one is the effect of the sacerdotal actings of Christ toward God, in making atonement for sin; the other is by the Spirit’s application of the virtues of that Sacrifice to our souls and consciences, whereby they are cleansed, renewed, and changed. It is the former only which is before us here, namely, such a purging of sin as takes away its condemning power from the conscience on account of the guilt of it. But this the Levitical sacrifices failed to do, as the next verse shows.
"No more conscience of sins." This does not mean that the one who has been "purged" or justified has no further consciousness of sins, for no one is more painfully aware of them and of the indwelling "flesh" than is a regenerated soul. That is his great burden and sorrow. No, the one who is insensible to the evil and demerit of indwelling sin is a deluded soul: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). Nor do the last words of Hebrews 10:2 in anywise intimate that there is no need for a Christian’s being deeply exercised over his sins and that God does not require him to repent of and confess them, and make repeated application to the Throne of Grace for "mercy" through the sacrifice of Christ. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Prov. 28:13): this holds good in every dispensation.
"No more conscience of sins" signifies freedom from an apprehensive or terrifying sense of what they deserved. It means complete deliverance from the fear of God’s ever imputing them to us. It is the blessed recognition that "there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). Faith has laid hold of the precious testimony of God unto the efficacy of the blood of Christ as having satisfied His every demand. If we really believe that the wages of sin were paid to our sinless Substitute, how can we be fearful that they will yet be paid to us! The word "conscience" is compounded from two words meaning "with knowledge," that is, a joint-knowledge of good and evil. Conscience is the eye of the soul, discerning right from wrong, yet is it dependent—as the eye is—on light. To and through the conscience God speaks as Light (1 John 1:5). When His light first breaks in and shows me what I am, I get a bad conscience; when it is purged by blood (through faith laying hold of its efficacy) I obtain a cleansed one.
It is important to observe that our verse does not say the worshipper should have "no conscience of sins," but "no more conscience" of them. This confirms the idea that the "continually" ("for ever") of the previous verse is to be connected not with the "sacrifices," but with "perfect." It would be a great mistake to suppose that the Levitical sacrifices altogether failed to remove sins from before God: Leviticus 4:2, 31; 16:11, 22 show otherwise. Nor was it that those sacrifices failed to remove the load of conscious guilt from those who offered them: in such case we should never have read of them rejoicing before God. No, what the apostle is here insisting upon is that those sacrifices only gave peace of conscience pro tern: they were unable to lay a foundation for permanent rest and abiding peace.
But what of the sins of the Christian after he has been "purged" or justified? John 13:10 makes answer: "he that is washed (Greek, "has been bathed") needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every wit." By the blood of Christ the Christian has been completely cleansed once for all, so far as the judicial and eternal consequences of sin are concerned: "By one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified" (Heb. 10:14), thereby providing for them such stable peace and consolation as that they need not a fresh sacrifice to be made for them day by day. The Gospel makes known how those who sin every day may enjoy peace with God all their days, and that is by a daily confession of sins to God (judging themselves for them and truly repenting of them) and a daily appropriation to themselves of the cleansing power of Christ’s precious blood for the defilements of their daily walk.
"But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again of sins every year" (verse 3). The first word of this verse denotes the nature of the argument insisted upon. In the second verse it had been pointed out that, had the worshippers been legally perfected they would have had no more conscience of sins; but, says the apostle, it was not so with them: God appointed nothing in vain, and He had not only prescribed the repetition of those sacrifices, but also that in each offering there should be a "remembrance" made of sin, as of that which was to be expiated. It was by God’s own institution (Lev. 16:21, 22) that there should be an "express remembrance,’’ or a remembrance expressed by acknowledgement: See Genesis 41:9; 42:21. By an appeal to this patent fact did the apostle confirm what had been declared in verses 1, 2.
But at this point a real difficulty confronts us: the first four verses of this chapter are designed as a background to bring out more plainly the glorious truth presented in what follows: in other words, a contrast is pointed by showing what the Levitical sacrifices could not procure, Christ’s has—"By one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified" (verse 14). Yet, notwithstanding, the fact remains that Christians ought not only once a year, but every day, call to remembrance and penitently confess the same, yea, our Lord Himself has taught us to pray every day for the pardon of our sins: Luke 11:3, 4. Wherein, then, lies the difference between the Levitical sacrifices and Christ’s, seeing that after both of them there is equally a remembrance of sin again to be made? Though the problem seems intricate, yet is its solution simple.
Those under the Mosaic economy confessed their sins preparatory for and in order to a new atonement of them; not so the Christian. Our "remembrance" and confession respects only the application of the efficacy and virtue of that perfect Atonement which has been made once for all. With them, their remembrance looked to the curse of the law which was to be answered, and the wrath of God which was to be appeased; with us, that which is involved is the imparting of the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice unto our conscience, whereby we have assured peace with God. Confession of sin is as necessary under the new covenant as under the old, but with an entirely different end in view: it is not as a part of the compensation for the guilt of it, nor as a means of pacifying the conscience so that we may still go on in sin; but to fill us with self-abasement, to induce greater watchfulness against sin, to glorify God for the mercy available, and to obtain a sense of His pardon in our own souls.
"For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (verse 4). Here the apostle brings to a head that which has been set forth in the preceding verses: seeing that the law contained only a "shadow" of real redemption and could not perfect unto perpetuity the worshippers (verse 1), and seeing that "conscience of sins" remained (verse 2) as was evidenced by the very design of the annual and typical propitiation (verse 3), it therefore inevitably followed that it was "impossible" such sacrifices should "take away" or properly expiate sins. Such, we take it, is the force of the opening "For" here.
There is a necessity of sin being "taken away," both from before the Governor of the world and from the conscience of His people. But this, the blood of beasts could not effect. Why not? First and foremost because God had not instituted animal sacrifices for that purpose. All the virtues and efficacy of the ordinances of Divine worship depend upon the end unto which God has instituted them. The blood of animals offered in sacrifice was designed of God to represent the way in which sin was to be removed, but not by itself to effect it. Nor did it comport with the Divine will and wisdom that it should. God had declared His severity against sin, with the necessity of its punishment to the glory of His righteousness and sovereign rule over His creatures. A most solemn demonstration of this was made at Sinai, in the giving of the fiery law: Exodus 19:16-24: but what consistency had there been between that and the satisfying of God’s awful justice, and the removal of sin by such beggarly means as that of the blood of bulls and goats? In such case there had been no manner of proportion manifested between the infinite demerits of sin and the feeble instruments of its expiation.
It was impossible for any mere creature to satisfy the demands of the all-mighty Governor of the universe. The highest angel could never have adequately made compensation for the tremendous wrong which sin had done God, nor repair the loss of His manifestative glory; yea, had not Christ’s sinless and holy humanity—in which He performed the stupendous work of redemption—been united in His deity, that could not have met the claims of God nor merited eternal salvation for His people. Far less could the blood of beasts vindicate the honor of an infinite Majesty, pacify His righteous wrath, meet the requirements of His holy law, nor even cleanse the conscience and heart of man. "The blood of bulls and goats were external, earthly, and carnal things; but to take away sin was an internal, Divine, and spiritual matter" (William Gouge). Though the Levitical sacrifices possessed, by God’s institution, an efficacy to remove an outward and ceremonial defilement, they could not take away an inward and moral pollution.
This 4th verse enunciates and illustrates a deeply important principle which exposes the great error of Ritualists. As we have pointed out above, all ordinances of Divine worship derive their value from God’s institution: they can only effect that which He has appointed, they have in them no inherent efficacy. While they may usefully represent spiritual truths, they have no spiritual virtue of their own, and cannot of and by themselves secure spiritual results. The offerings of Judaism had a Divinely appointed meaning and value, but they could not take away sins. The same holds good of the two ordinances of Christianity. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been ordained of God. They have a symbolical significance. They represent blessed realities. But they have no inherent power either to remove sin, regenerate souls, or impart spiritual blessing. It is only as faith looks beyond the symbol to Him who is symbolized that the soul receives blessing.
Ere closing, perhaps we ought to anticipate a question which is likely to have arisen in the minds of the readers. In view of what is affirmed in the verses which have been before us, are we to conclude that none of the Old Testament saints had a perfect and permanent standing before God? No, indeed, for such an inference would manifestly clash with many plain Old Testament passages and with the promises which the Church had under the old covenant. The apostle is not here denying absolutely that no one had spiritual access to God and real peace of conscience before Him, but is merely affirming that such blessings could not be secured by means of the Levitical sacrifices. But those who belonged to the "remnant according to the election of grace" (Rom. 11:5) had faith given them to look beyond the shadow to the Substance: see Job 19:25; Psalm 23:6; Song of Solomon 2:16; Isaiah 12:2; Daniel 12:2, etc.