Previous article in this series: August 2013, p. 448.
“But whose blood?”
That was the question of Ophoff with which we ended our previous article.
He asked the question from the perspective of the saints of old.
Not, surely, from our perspective. In the clear light of the antitype, the saints of God in the new dispensation not only know the answer to that question but glory in it. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (). “…being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. …we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” ( ). “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” ( ). “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” ( ). “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things,…but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” ( ). “…the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” ( ). “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” ). “And I saw heaven opened, and beheld a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True,… And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood” ( ).
That’s what we have. In the clear light of the antitype.
And what did believers in the old dispensation have? The blood of bulls and goats ().
The contrast is…stark.
In comparison to the reality, the type, the blood of an animal, seems almost to have been an “empty show”—which is what it would have been, says Calvin in his Institutes, “if the power of Christ’s death and resurrection had not been displayed therein.” And the testimony of Scripture is that they were. “Wherefore the law [that is, ‘the whole economy by which the Lord governed His people under the old covenant’] was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” ().
This was the aim of all the ceremonies; for why were there sacrifices and washings except that men might continually consider their pollution and condemnation? When a man sees his uncleanness before his eyes, and the innocent animal is held out as the image of his own death, how can he indulge in sleep? How can he fail to be roused and desire a remedy? And certainly ceremonies had the power not only of alarming and humbling consciences, but of exciting them to faith in the coming Redeemer. In the whole solemnity of the ceremonial everything that was presented to the eye had impressed on it, as it were, the mark of Christ. The whole law, in short, was nothing but a manifold variety of exercises in which the worshipers were led by the hand…to Christ (Calvin’s Commentaries).
Ah, yes, “how can he indulge in sleep?” As Fairbairn put it so well, the believer
…could not but know that God was far from delighting in blood, and that death, either in man or beast, was not a thing in which He could be supposed to take pleasure…. And when death, under God’s own directing agency, was brought so prominently into the divine service, and every act of worship, of the more solemn kind, carried in its bosom the life-blood of an innocent creature, what more striking memorial could they have had of the evil wrought in their condition by sin? With such an element of blood perpetually mingling in their services, they could not forget that they stood upon the floor of a broken covenant, and were themselves ever incurring anew the just desert of transgression.
But hardly were the saints of old left there—that is, with the blood of bulls and goats to drive home to them the awful reality of their guilt. God commanded the sacrifices, writes Calvin in his Institutes, in order to “lift their minds higher.” That’s what we would expect if everything in the ceremonial “had impressed on it, as it were, the mark of Christ.” How else could we explain the repeated testimony of the psalmists to the blessedness of those who, already in the old dispensation, “put their trust in him” (), those “whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” ( )—that is, to those who had learned by experience to expect nothing from the ancient sacrifice but absolutely all from Jehovah their God. And how so? It was from the sacrifices themselves, the ceremonies of the law, impressed as they were “with the mark of Christ.” In a very real sense, it was the Spirit of Christ who, already in the old dispensation, led the believer to look beyond the blood of a bull—to Christ. In his The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, Alfred Edersheim expressed it in this way:
Thus the Old Testament sacrifices were not only symbols, nor yet merely predictions by fact (as prophecy is a prediction by word), but they already conveyed to the believing Israelite the blessing that was to flow from the future reality to which they pointed.
Blessing…by anticipation…of what would flow…from a future reality.
We cannot help but think of: “By faith Abel offered…, by which [excellent sacrifice] he obtained witness that he was righteous.” From the beginning, therefore, peace. Peace of mind and of heart. Peace that, for the sinner saint, could come only out of an assurance that his sin was pardoned. And all this—from the sacrifice.
Yes, from the sacrifices. But was it, we might ask, from the sacrifices alone? Did the sacrifices by themselves have the power to lead the worshiping saint, by the hand, to Christ? As we have already suggested, the slaying of the sacrificial animal was indeed sufficient to demonstrate the great truths of redemption, namely that the justice of God requires payment for sin, and that there can be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood. But was the “mark of Christ” so clearly impressed on the rite that it could be discerned by mere intuition? Ophoff’s answer was, No. Humbled consciences is one thing. Faith in the coming Redeemer is quite another. For the latter, Ophoff insisted, more is needed. And that something is the word. The question, therefore, he said, was “whether the shadows of the old covenant were accompanied by the word explaining
their function.” And he went on, at considerable length, to demonstrate that they were. Right from the beginning.(God’s provision of a covering for the nakedness of our first, just fallen, parents) was not without G . From the mother promise in the garden of Eden, to Jacob’s blessing of his son Judah (from whom the scepter would not depart “until Shiloh come”), to Balaam’s prophecy of a “Star out of Jacob,” to the matchless prophecy of Isaiah, who was “transported to those sublime heights from where he can see in the distance the spectacle of a suffering Savior”: “…with his stripes we are healed!” ( ).
Ophoff concludes, therefore, that the symbols and rites of the old covenant did indeed not stand alone. The prophetic types were accompanied by the prophetic word. The Spirit of God, he says, “empowered the people of God to sense the meaning and message of the blood. It is plain that the shadows led men to Christ.”
Calvin says much the same in his Institutes. He writes concerning the people of Israel that, “even though they had to come forward daily with new sacrifices to appease God, yet Isaiah promises that all their evil deeds will be atoned for by a single sacrifice .” In an earlier chapter in the Institutes, Calvin declared concerning the “sacrifices of the law” that they “plainly and openly taught believers to seek salvation nowhere else than in the atonement that Christ alone carries out.”
It might seem as if that should be the last word in this short series of articles that began with the question, what did Abel and Cain understand? Clearly, the faith on the basis of which Abel “offered a more excellent sacrifice” had to be a faith in Christ. Clearly, Cain’s offering of the fruit of the ground was therefore a “robbing Christ of His honor.” Such would have to be the case if, in their linking together of prophecy and symbol, they were given to understand that salvation could be found nowhere else than in the atonement of Christ. Simply put, faith in Christ would then not only have been possible for the saints of old, but required of them.
But it’s not quite so simple. The saints of old did have prophetic types, and they were not without the prophetic word, but can it be demonstrated that they linked them? More on that, next time.
… to be concluded.