THE SACRIFICE FOR SIN
1. We have considered Conscience as the faculty by which we discern between Good and Evil, and then have considered Sin itself.
Now we will briefly turn our attention to the Sacrifice offered by Christ in expiation for the Sins of the World.
If Christ had not come to release us of the guilt of sin, and to strengthen us to overcome the weakness produced by sin, we could have no hope of salvation.
2. It is not a matter on which we will tarry, to ask, Why it is so, but we will accept the fact that by God’s Will, transgression of His Commandment carries with it guilt, and can only be expiated by suffering. That it should carry with it guilt is indeed not a matter to perplex us, for guilt is the sense of transgression and the privation or stain that attends it, together with the sense of alienation from God. But that sin can only be expiated by suffering, is a law of God concerning which we will not now argue, but accept it. We see that a sense of sin has ever impressed on mankind consciousness of guilt before God, and a conviction that only through suffering could that guilt be done away.
The Sacrifices inexplicable in themselves and even absurd, find their signification in the consciousness of guilt: men felt that they were alienated from God, sinful before God, and they sought by Sacrifice, i.e., by suffering, to atone for their guilt.
The idea of Sacrifice contained in it these elements:
(a) It must be one of blood. Suffering and the shedding of blood was considered expiatory. “Without shedding of blood was no remission.” (Heb. ix. 22.)
(b) It must be either a human sacrifice, or it must be the sacrifice of that which was most useful, essential to man: not of a wild beast, for instance, but of a tame beast of domestic utility.
(c) It must be innocent and pure, without defect or spot. It was sometimes the first-born lamb or calf.
(d) It must be, if possible, voluntary. A Sacrifice was thought to lose half its efficacy unless it were a free-will offering. Among Greeks and Romans, water was poured into the ears of oxen brought to sacrifice, to make them nod their heads, and so give an appearance of consent to their death.
(e) It must be in part consumed by the fire, in part by the offerer. The fire was the symbol of God accepting; the participation in the sacrifice showed the man who offered that he received the benefits of the Sacrifice.
3. Sacrifice was not only expiatory, but it was also vicarious; that is to say, from the beginning man saw that the innocent might die for the guilty. Now this could only be so seen because indistinctly the human Conscience looked to the One Sinless Victim Who would by His Sacrifice of Himself, put away the sins of the world. But for this it would have been unreasonable.
It was, however, an universal belief that the just might suffer for the unjust, the blameless for the guilty, and that was why the sacrificer sought out the spotless victim as the victim.
This belief also was the occasion of numerous sublime heroic acts of self-devotion in the heathen world, when one man offered himself for the fault of all the people: as when Codrus died for his people, Curtius plunged into the gulf in the Forum, Decius offered his breast to the weapons of his enemies.
It was this belief which caused sacrifices to be multiplied, and yet it was certain that these numerous sacrifices never really took away the sense of guilt that weighed on mankind. “The law, having the shadow of good things to come, and not the very image (i.e., reality) of the things, can never with these sacrifices which they offered year by year continually, make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered, because that the worshippers once purged should have no more conscience of sin. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance (or recapitulation) again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (Heb. x. 1-4.)