THE fall of our first parents incurred the penalty of death, upon the principle that "the wages of sin is death." God in his goodness extended mercy, yet there must be a vindication, as it were, of His own justice before He could grant the world’s redemption. Sin had caused all the trouble. God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. His justice requires the death of the sinner, while His mercy provides means of remission of sin and purification of the sinner in a way to spare the sinner and yet not defeat justice. Only Divine wisdom can blend together mercy and justice. If the penalty on our first parents had been inflicted without any merciful provision, all would have forever been lost, but redemption from under the penalty of the law by sacrifice was arranged for, and in it we have Christ "as a lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13: 8), and it was shown in the beginning that through Him redemption would take place of what had been lost by Adam the first. God therefore, predicated His covenant with man upon the sacrifice for sin, by which alone man's restoration to favor could be effected. In the very nature of the case, then, a covenant provided by God for fallen man demands a sacrifice which will admit of reconciliation and atonement between God who is pure and man who is sinful, and this must take place before the covenants of promise could be realized. Hence the Apostle Paul shows that all that pertained to the covenant depended on Christ as the covenant sacrifice. In the Authorized Version we have a very unhappy translation of Heb. 9: 16-18; but the Diaglott and other translations remove the difficulty. The Emphatic Diaglott renders the passage as follows: "For where a covenant exists, the death of that which has ratified it is necessary to be produced; because a covenant is firm over dead victims, since it is never valid when that which ratifies it is alive. Hence not even the first has been instituted without blood" (Heb. -18). Here we see that a covenant is of no force while the covenant sacrifice, that which ratifies it, is alive, which means that the covenants of promise were of no force without the death of Christ, the real covenant sacrifice.
The Hebrew word for covenant (berith) means to purify or cleanse. It implies a purification or a purifier, because in all God's covenants with man, sin and sinfulness exist on man's side. Since covenants are intended to bring man into reconciliation with God and fit him for the everlasting inheritance promised, and since this cannot be done without purification through sacrifice, berith is used not only for the covenant itself, but for the sacrifice which confirms the covenant. When Moses said, "Behold, the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you" (Ex. 24: 8), he meant the blood of the victim slain as a covenant sacrifice. The prophet Isaiah says, "Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages" (chap. 49: 8). This is a prophecy of Christ, and to give Him for a covenant was to give Him as a sacrifice, or a covenant sacrifice. By the words, "By the blood of the covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water" (Zech. ) is meant the blood of the victim whose death must take place to bring the covenant into force.
It will be remembered that when Abraham was commanded to offer sacrifices he was to divide some of the victims in the midst. This manner of making a covenant is referred to by the prophet Jeremiah thus, "And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant, which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain and passed between the parts thereof" (Jer. 34:18). The ancient custom among the Persians, and other nations, no doubt, had their origin in God's manner of allowing man to enter into covenant relation with him. The custom was, as indicated by Jeremiah, to divide the victim and the covenanting parties "passed between the parts." In this way, in covenants between God and men, man, who is a sinner and under justice without mercy, deserves death, may be said to have passed into the death of the victim, or to have died sacrificially or representatively, admitting of atonement.
Now Christ being "a minister of the circumcision * * * to confirm the promises made unto the fathers" (Rom. 15: 8), must provide a victim or covenant sacrifice; to have offered an animal would have been no better than had been offered in shadow or type arrangements of the past. The time had come when the substance the real offering must be made. Who would be the victim? "Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God. Above when be said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein, which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first that he may establish the second, by which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:5-10).
By typical sacrifices covenant relationship between God and man was made possible as soon as man fell and redemption became a necessity. Had no provision been made till the real covenant sacrifice Christ was offered upon the cross, all who died from Adam to Christ would have hopelessly gone down into death and the grave under the sentence, "Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return." God's plan had made all provision for what seems to us to be an emergency in the fall of man. Christ had been provided in that plan as a sacrifice. It was not that God made provision after the emergency arose, as if He must wait developments and meet them as they came; for He says, "Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure" (Isa. 46: 9, 10).
Not only was Christ's sacrificial offering prearranged for before sin actually made it a necessity, but there was a "due time" when it should take place. "When we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6). It was when "the fullness of the time was come, that God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption" (Gal. 4: 4, 5). About four thousand years were to elapse from Adam's fall to this "due time," and therefore a provisional arrangement must serve during that period.
Human customs must always fall short of fully illustrating God's wonderful and wise works, as the finite cannot reach the heights of the infinite; but they may help to a deeper understanding of things divine. There is a breach between two men on account of one having incurred a debt to the other and is not able to pay it. They are estranged from each other and something must be done to bring about reconciliation. The debtor is promised by a friend that in one year from a given date he will discharge the debt for him; and on the strength of this the debtor offers the creditor his note, which is a legal covenant, promising to pay the debt when the "due time" arrives. His offer is accepted and the estrangement is removed and they are at one with each other under this provisional arrangement. When the "due time" comes the note is honored and the debt thereby discharged, and the atonement continues between the two.
Now this in measure illustrates the provisional sacrificial arrangement which God provided for fallen man between the time of his becoming a sinner and the "due time" when "Christ would die for the ungodly." Man was estranged from God, having no right to approach Him, being under His just condemnation. On the strength of a promise that Christ would meet all the requirements of divine justice, man is permitted by sacrificial offerings to draw in advance, as it were, and the efficacy of the blood of the atonement the covenant sacrifice reaches back through the typical offerings and effects reconciliation and atonement between God and men. Hence those who "died in faith" died in a state of reconciliation, their realization of the promised blessings, however, depending upon the fulfillment of the promise at the "due time" that Christ would meet all the requirements of the case. Had it been possible for Him to fail and, like the first Adam, prove unfaithful, all provisional arrangements would have gone for nothing, those who "died in faith" would have remained dead. "If Christ be not raised your faith is vain * * * then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished" (I Cor. , 18).
Looking back over the ages of the past and realizing what depended upon Him what a great responsibility He must have felt resting upon Him, as he grew to manhood and faced the mighty mission entrusted in His hands. Even at the youthful age of twelve he exclaims, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business"; but when the last and terrible ordeal confronted Him He seemed almost about to fall and fail, crying out, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." Why could it not pass? Because thousands of ancient worthies had by faith reached down to Him and put all their trust in His faithfulness unto the death of the cross. They had gone into the cold embrace of death and the dark chambers of the grave with the only hope that He would go there with a power, the power of perfect obedience, to break the jaws of death and the barriers of the grave and thus become Captain of salvation to set the captives free. Realizing that all this depended upon His faithfulness and courage in this dreadful hour, He braved the pain of an ignominious death and exclaimed, "Not my will, but thine be done," and
"He drank the
dreadful cup of pain,
Then rose to life and joy again,"
and sent ringing back through the centuries of the past and down through the ages to follow the triumphant words, "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." The covenants of promise are now confirmed and their realization in due time made certain.
Since the fall of our first parents all mankind has been in what the Scriptures term a state of alienation from God afar off; and the apostle, in speaking of those who have been inducted into Christ, says, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (II Cor. 5: 17). This implies that before they became "new creatures" in Christ they may be said to have been by nature old creatures in the old man Adam, hopeless and helpless. Hence the Saviour tells Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again." This new birth takes man out of the old creature state and puts him in a new creature state, brings him from "afar off" and makes him "nigh." In order that this might be accomplished, God provides a means and in this we have sacrifices, but as we have seen, all center in the one offering, Christ. "When they," as Jeremiah says, "cut the calf in twain and passed between the parts" the death of the victim represented the penalty of sin, a penalty which hangs over the whole human race, for "by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men for that all have sinned" (Rom. 5: 12). When they passed between the parts, they were considered as having passed into the death, as it were, of the victim. Having died to sin, and put off the alienation, they were now in a state of reconciliation, a reconciliation admitted by a covenant relationship between them and God. They had passed into the covenant sacrifice which had made for them an atonement, and so at-one-ment took place. Now all this finds its fulfillment in Christ. Christ's death has met Divine justice and blended it with Divine mercy, so that in Christ God can be just and yet justify sinners. By nature, however, we are not in Christ. A natural birth gives us nothing but alienation. "Marvel not," says the Saviour, "that I say ye must be born again." Speaking of which the apostle says, using another figure of speech, "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death" (Rom. 6: 3). As much as to say, Christ the victim or covenant sacrifice has been slain, and as in ancient covenants they passed between the parts, and, as it were, into the death of the victim, so in baptism we are baptized into, or pass into the death of the slain victim, Christ, the covenant sacrifice, and are therefore new creatures in Christ Jesus in the bond of the covenant, and are now the children of the covenant, brought into such relationship to the covenants of promise as to be constituted "heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ." The confirmation of the covenants, which took place by the death of Christ, and made their fulfillment a certainty, is now applied to us. We have made a covenant with God, and that covenant is confirmed by the death of Christ; into whose death we are baptized. We have entered therefore into "the only name given among men whereby we must be saved," and we are now no more strangers and foreigners to the covenants of promise, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, waiting the time of the realization of these covenants, which will take place when all the ancient worthies, with us, shall be made perfect together to rejoice in the blessings which shall fill the earth as declared in the promise, "in thee and in thy seed shall all families of the earth be blessed."
If this scriptural view of covenant relation with God is understood it will correct the mistake which many religious people make. It is generally supposed that we are children of God by natural birth, and that repentance and return to God through Christ are necessitated by our personal sins committed when we become old enough to refuse the evil and choose the good. But we must remember that we are all born in a lost state, according to this Scriptures, having been sold, as it were, to sin and death by our first parents who entailed upon the whole Adamic family the results of sin. They left us with a lost paradise, victims to the dread monster death, hopeless and helpless. Hence the Apostle Paul says, "Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned," or as the margin gives it, "in whom all have sinned" (Rom. 5: 12). Then the apostle continues in verse 18, omitting the parenthetic clause of verses 14-17, "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation." Here we have the cause and effect of the world's evils, which are ultimately to be removed by the second Adam. From this lost, condemned state into which we came by natural birth, we must sever our relation by being "born again." It is by the new birth that we become the children of God, not by natural birth. We are not born into covenant relationship with God by natural birth, but when we are "born again," then we enter into that covenant relation which makes us one with God, the children of the covenant; because we are then in Him who is the covenant sacrifice and are reconciled to God in Christ where alone reconciliation can take place from that alienation imposed by Adam upon all the race. Thus "God was in Christ (not in Adam) reconciling the world unto himself;" and baptism, or birth of water, puts us in Christ and thereby in at-one-ment, "heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ." We are now on probation, and upon our walk in this favored, exalted and responsible relation to God and to Christ depends our eternal destiny. Realize this, dear reader, enter the bond of the everlasting covenant, honor it to the end of your probationary career and the coronal wreath will adorn your brow throughout the untold ages of indescribable glory and happiness. God grant that our Judge may say to us, "Well done, good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of your Lord."