And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.
~ Genesis 4:10
And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
~ Exodus 24:8, Hebrews 10:4, Romans 8:3, Hebrews 8:8
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
~ Jeremiah 31:31-33
By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,
~ Hebrews 7:22, Hebrews 8:6, Hebrews 13:20
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
~ Hebrews 11:4, Hebrews 12:24
Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
~ 1 Peter 1:2
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
~ Ezekiel 36:25-27
The above recording is Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ sermon on The Mediator of the New Covenant.
For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:) But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
~ Hebrews 12:18-24
The below related sermon, is The Cross of Christ Speaks, by Martyn Lloyd Jones.
And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
~ Ephesians 2:16
So far, in a sense, we have been looking at the cross, ‘surveying it’ with Isaac Watts. An illustration of what we have been doing is what we sometimes do with a great mountain. We can walk round it and see it from different angles, and at times we may wonder whether it is the same mountain. But it is—it depends on the spot from which we are looking at it. We get this view and then that one, and then we find another and yet another …. The bigger the mountain, the greater the number of aspects and the angles from which we can view it and see its majesty, its bigness, its glory.
We have been walking round the cross and looking at the different things which can be seen as we gaze upon it, and survey it and consider it, and look at it. It is right and essential to do so, and we could even have gone on doing that, but I am now turning to a different way. Because according to the Scriptures the cross is a very wonderful thing in this sense—that it is something that speaks to us. Had you ever thought of it like that? There is a passage in Hebrews 12 which talks about this. Where have we come to? asks the author. We are not back at Mount Sinai. No, we are under the new covenant, the new dispensation. Then he gives us this wonderful list of the things to which we have come. ‘But ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and’—mark this—‘to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.’ The blood of the cross speaks. It makes a statement.
And you will see in Romans 3:24–26 that you have got this comparable idea. He says: ‘ Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth, to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say ….’ There is a speaking, there is a declaration, there is a setting forth, there is a proclaiming announcement. Now this is a most wonderful way of looking at the cross of our blessed Lord and Saviour, and it is from that angle and stand point that I want to consider it with you now.
Has the cross of Christ ever spoken to you? Have you heard its message? The cross of Christ preaches. The cross of Christ speaks. The blood of the cross speaks. It has something to say. Have you heard it? This man writing the epistle to the Hebrews rejoices with the Apostle Paul. He thanks God that this blood speaks something better than the blood of Abel spoke. You remember the story of Cain and Abel, the first two sons of Adam and Eve and the story of how Cain slew his brother Abel, and shed his blood? He murdered him. And the blood of Abel, spilt there upon the ground, spoke as it cried out for vengeance, cried out for punishment, and for retribution. The blood of Abel spoke. And God tells us through the writer to the Hebrews that is not the blood that you and I have come to. We have come to a blood of sprinkling that ‘speaketh better things than that of Abel’. This is why all these men in the New Testament rejoice in it. This is why the saints of the ages have rejoiced in it. The blood speaks, and it speaks the best things that the world has ever heard.
Let me call your attention to some of the things that the cross of Christ, the blood of the cross, speaks and says to men and women today. In other words, let us listen to the cross speaking in the form of exposition. There is nothing that so expounds the truth of God to us as the cross of Christ. The Bible expounds the same truth. The cross of Christ lays it open before us and makes it speak to us. Have you ever listened to the message of the cross? Have you ever regarded it as a sermon, and sat and listened to it, and have you heard what it has to say to you? What an exposition of truth there is in that cross on Calvary’s hill!
Now obviously, in looking at it like this from different angles, there are certain things which have to be said over and over again, of necessity, and yet this is the marvel and the wonder of the cross, that how ever many times a man may preach about it, he has never finished preaching about it. There is always something fresh to say, always something new. There is a great central message that is always there, but nothing is so wonderful as to see that one thing in different ways, as I say, from different angles and from different perspectives. And that is why a man like the Apostle sees the glory in it. He says there is no end to this. A man may think at times that he knows all about it, but you will find that he does not.
I hope you will forgive a personal reference here. During these twenty-six years in my Westminster pulpit there have been times when in my utter folly I have wondered, or the devil has suggested to me, that there is nothing more for me to say, that I have preached it all. I thank God that I can now say that I feel I am only at the beginning of it. There is no end to this glorious message of the cross, for there is always something new and fresh and entrancing and moving and uplifting that one has never seen before. We must listen to what it has got to say, and the first thing I hear is that to be a man is a very important and a very serious thing. Why is the Son of God there upon that cross? We have established the fact that it is the Son of God who dies. Obviously the whole meaning of the cross lies in that fact and the moment you realize that, you ask this question. Why did the Son of God die? What is he doing there? And the first answer I get as I listen to the cross expounding the truth is that the soul of man is something which is very precious.
You remember our Lord’s own teaching about this? He said: ‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?’ (Mk 8:36–37). The cross talks about the soul of man; our Lord is on the cross because of the preciousness of a man’s immortal soul. So at once you see that the cross tells me something about myself, and the nature of this manhood that God has given me. It tells me also about the whole purpose of life in this world. This is my soul, this is the thing that matters. Now my body is important and I must not despise it. Many other things are important, too, in this world. It is no part of the preaching of the gospel to depreciate legitimate things, or to ridicule them. But I would say that it is the business of the gospel to say that it is the soul of man that matters, that part of us that goes on even when we die — something imperishable, something which goes on into eternity. The cross puts tremendous emphasis upon that. He came there, not in order that our bodies might be healed, not in order that we might be better fed or clothed or have more information and knowledge, no, he came to save the soul. ‘The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost’, and what is lost is man’s soul.
Here is this tremendous statement, therefore, coming from the cross to us. Have you heard it, have you realized, that the most important thing about you is this soul of yours? Because, whatever else you may possess in this world, whatever the world may give you, a day is coming when every single one of us is going to be bereft of all that, even of the body. We will have to leave it behind, and the soul and the spirit will go out and go on. That is the thing that matters, says the cross. The Lord is there because of the value he places upon the soul of man.
Another thing in this same connection is that obviously the most important thing for us, according to this preaching of the cross, is our relationship to God. We have dealt with man’s relationship to man, and that is very important. But the message of the cross is that a man’s relationship to his fellow man will never be right unless his relationship to God is put right first. And the cross keeps on saying that because everything depends upon it. Over and above everything else, here is the ultimate thing—where do I stand in my relationship to God? Why did the Son of God die on the cross? He will tell you. He came there because he wanted to restore men to the right relationship with God. God sent him to do that. ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself ….’ He hath set him forth as ‘a propitiation through faith in his blood’.
And then the next thing I find under this heading of exposition is that obviously the thing that makes sin sin, or, if you prefer it, the very essence of sin, is rebellion against God, the breaking of a relationship with God. That is the real meaning of sin. The world does not know it, but that is the great message of the cross. We tend to think of sin in terms of actions and bad acts, wrong things which we have done or thought, or wrong things which we have said. But that is not the serious thing about sin. The terrible thing about sin is that it is rebellion against God. It is man defying God. It is man breaking God’s holy law.
It is man trampling upon God’s sanctities. It is man setting himself up, standing up to God, and defying God. That is the essence of sin. It is the most terrible thing a man can ever do for it means that he breaks the relationship with God and tries to set himself up as a god. The cross tells all that. It shows what a serious thing sin is. It is not just a question of actions which can be put right, so simply and so easily, by living a better life in the future. No, it is this question of relationship, the cross alone pinpoints that and emphasises it. It brings this whole question of relationship with God to the very centre of my thinking.
And then it goes on to say that there is a judgement upon sin, and that sin must be punished. Now, listen to that cross, to the blood of the cross speaking to you, and this is what it says. It tells you that God is holy, and righteous, and just. You will find it all there in Romans 3:25, 26. And because God is who and what he is and because he is holy and righteous and just, he hates sin. His wrath is upon sin. Why did the Son of God ever die? He is the Son of God, he has never done any wrong. He has never broken his father’s commandments. As we have seen nobody could point a finger at him, nobody could bring a charge against him which they could substantiate. Even the devil could not. And yet he dies. The cross answers the question. He dies upon the cross because God hates sin, and because God’s holy wrath is upon sin. Sin cannot be trifled with by God, his holy nature prohibits it. Sin is the most serious matter that has ever entered into the whole universe.
Let me put it like this. The problem of sin is the greatest problem that even Almighty God has ever had to deal with. I say that for this reason. Take the whole problem of creation. Now, creation is a tremendous matter. There was nothing, and God created. There at a certain point the Spirit broods upon the abyss and the chaos, and God said: ‘Let there be light: and there was light.’ God brought light into being by the mere word of his power, his mere fiat. And God created everything in the same way—a word was enough, such is the power of God. He speaks and it is done.
But when God comes to deal with the problem of man, and man in sin and rebellion, and man in alienation against himself, a word is not enough. Had you realized this, have you heard the cross preaching this? This is what the cross is telling us. I say it with reverence, after due, deep consideration. I say it only on the authority of the Scripture. I say it only because the cross preaches it. God cannot forgive sin just by saying: ‘I forgive.’ If he could, he would have done so. Do you imagine that God would ever have sent his only begotten Son to the cross if he could have forgiven the sin of men in any other way? Would God have abandoned his Son to that, and poured out upon him the vials of his wrath? Would he have allowed his only begotten, dearly beloved Son, to cry out in agony, and to say, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ while he endured the agony and the thirst and the shame? Would he ever have allowed it if there had been any other way? But there was not. A word is enough to create, but a word is not enough to forgive. Before God can forgive any sin to any man, his only begotten Son had to leave the courts of heaven, and come down on earth and take on human nature, and live as a man and be ‘stricken, smitten of God’, upon that cross. And the cross thus proclaims the holiness of God, the heinousness of sin, the terrible problem of sin, the terrible seriousness of man’s rebellion against God. So the question that I ask is not what sort of a life you are living. It is not that I am not interested, but that is not the first question. The question the Bible asks us all, the question that the cross puts to us, is not that, or how you spent last night; or whether you are moral or immoral; or what your thoughts are. No, its first question is: what is your relationship to God? God made man in his own image, so that he might live to his glory. The first great question in the shorter catechism of the Presbyterian Church, which I am never tired of quoting, is ‘What is the chief end of man?’ And here is the answer: ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.’ God made us for that, and if you are not doing it, you are a terrible sinner. You say you have never committed adultery. I am not interested. You say you have never committed murder. That is not the first thing. The question is, are you living to the glory of God? Is God the chief end and object of your life? Is God the centre of your interest? Are you submitting yourself in obedience to him? That is the question.
That ultimately is the only question. The command that comes to you and to me is this: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength’ (Mk 12:30). And nothing less than that is of any interest to God. All your little respectability, and all your nice religiosity, is worthless, filthy rags, abomination, in the sight of God. He wants you, he wants your heart, he wants your allegiance, he wants the centre of your life. He will be content with nothing else. The cross, the blood of the cross, speaks all that. It was because man had come short of that, that he died on the cross. So it expounds all this to us, it unfurls it, it preaches it to us. That is what it is saying. We must listen to the cross. Do not sentimentalise it away with your superficiality. Oh, look at it and ask what it means. Listen to what it tells you, and to the exposition that one finds in the cross. That is what the blood of sprinkling speaks to us today.
But let me move to a second section. The cross, thank God, is not only exposition. The cross is also proclamation, a mighty declaration. I like the word that the Apostle uses there in Romans 3, and especially the way in which he repeats it. He likes it himself, obviously: ‘Whom God hath set forth,’ he says, ‘to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say …’ (Rom 3:25). Have you got it, have you heard it, were you listening? says the Apostle. Wake up, you sleepy listeners: ‘… to declare, I say ….’ Have you heard the declaration? Have you heard the mighty proclamation? What does this blood declare to me? Let me sum it up in another word that this same Apostle used in 2 Corinthians 5:19, 21. This is the declaration: ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them …. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.’ What does all this mean? Let me put it like this in modern terms. The cross tells me that this is the declaration. This, it says, is God’s way of dealing with the problem of man’s sin. It has already said that there is a problem. It is a terrible one, it is the greatest problem of the whole of history, of all time, and of the whole cosmos. There is nothing greater than this. There is the exposition of the problem. Then comes the mighty declaration. This, it says, is God’s answer.
Now our Lord had been saying that in his teaching, but they could not understand it. They were blinded, even his own disciples. They were thinking as Jews, in terms of a kingdom on earth. Man will always materialise the great and glorious blessings of God’s kingdom. When is the kingdom going to come? That was their question to him even after the resurrection, you remember. They did not understand what he had been telling them—that he had really come in order to die. ‘The Son of Man,’ he says, ‘came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mt 20:28). They could not take it. And there on the cross he was saying it again, and still they did not understand. Some people felt sorry for him, others offered their sympathy, others jeered at him; none of them understood what was happening. But what he was saying, and what the blood says as you listen to it, is that this is God’s way of solving the problem of man’s sin. It is this tremendous declaration. Now the term is put there before us very clearly. ‘Whom God,’ it says, ‘hath set forth.’ It is an interesting term. God, it tells us was setting forth his Son on the cross as a propitiation. ‘Set forth’ is like putting an advertisement in the paper, putting in a great announcement, with a great heading—listen, look, harken, exclamation marks, I am telling you something—God hath set forth. And then there is that other term—to declare. The Apostle says we are ambassadors. The business of an ambassador is to bear messages, to take a message from his own sovereign to another country. Paul tells them that this is what he has been told to say, and in the same way preachers are ambassadors for Christ, ‘beseeching you in his stead’. These are the terms, and the cross, therefore, is a public declaration. It is an historic event. It is not an idea, or a theory, the cross is something that happened on a cross, on a hill called Calvary, nearly 2000 years ago. Historic, public , evident, visible, the whole world knows about it. God has set it forth. He has made a pronouncement, and called attention to it.
And what is he saying? Now this is how the Apostle puts it in Romans 3. It is a most amazing thing. God has to justify himself for forgiving. Had you ever thought of that? This shows you the problem of forgiveness. The trouble with all of us is that we do not know God. We think in sentimental terms. Our whole notion of love is so abased, so unworthy, that we do not know what love means. Still less do we know what holiness means. But, according to the Apostle, this is something that God has got to do, he must justify himself for forgiving. He has set his Son forth ‘to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.’ Had you ever considered this problem? How can a holy God forgive? How can a God who says that he is going to punish sin, forgive sin? But he had been forgiving the children of Israel under the Old Testament dispensation. They had often repented and had come back to him, and God had forgiven them. How does God justify himself in forgiving the sins of the children of Israel throughout the whole Old Testament period? How can he do that? How can God remain just and absolutely holy and at the same time forgive a sinner? And here he declares the answer. The cross is a mighty declaration. And what it says is this. The Son is a propitiation. In other words, God on the cross was punishing sin. He said that he would, and he has done it.
God has always said that sin is to be punished, that his holy wrath is upon it, and that he cannot deal with sin in any other terms. And he has done exactly what he promised. On the cross he is doing it publicly. There he is, once and for all, at the central point of history, pouring out his wrath upon the sins of man in the body of his own Son. He is striking him, he is smiting him, he is condemning him to death. He dies, and his blood speaks. It is God’s punishment of sin and evil. It is a mighty declaration that God has done what he has always said he would do, namely, that he would punish sin, and the wages of sin is death. And there you see it happening upon the cross. It is an announcement, a proclamation, that this is God’s way of dealing with the problem of sin. I hasten to say this. It is obviously the only way to deal with sin, and the cross says that.
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven and let us in.
– Mrs C. F. Alexander
It is not surprising that the gospel of the cross and the blood of Christ has produced some of the greatest poetry that the world has ever known. We sing at Christmas time:
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.
– C. Wesley
That is what has happened. God and sinners reconciled! It was the only way whereby it could be done, it is the announcement and the proclamation that it has been done.
But I cannot leave things here without giving you my third division. The cross as a sermon, the blood of Christ speaking, is not only exposition and declaration and pronouncement. Blessed be the name of God, it is also invitation: ‘… the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel’. Abel’s blood has no invitation in it. Abel’s blood cries out for retribution, for punishment, there is no invitation there to anybody, except to the wrath of a holy God. But in this other blood ‘that speaketh better things than that of Abel’, there is a word of invitation. And from your standpoint and mine, now looking at it very practically, there is nothing more wonderful about the cross than just this. We have seen that the cross is an event. The cross is an historical event. It is a setting forth in public of this great act of God. But thank God it does not stop there. It is an appeal, it is an invitation, it asks us to listen as we value our own immortal souls. You know the Old Testament prophets had seen something of this. They had not seen it very clearly. They were not meant to, and they could not see so far off. They saw something of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that was to follow, but they had not seen this. One of them, at the height of his prophetic inspiration, put what he saw into the mouth of the Messiah that was to come, when he said, ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth’ (Is 45:22). ‘Look unto me.’ It is an invitation. That is not only proclamation, that is an invitation. Look unto me!
And you remember how our blessed Lord himself uses similar language. These are his words: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Mt 11:28). Come, invitation. Oh there are tremendous things there. You listen to the preaching of the blood of Christ, and you are terrified, and alarmed. You see your utter hopelessness. But wait, he has not finished. Come, there is an invitation. I like the way the Apostle Paul puts it in Ephesians 2. It is so wonderful. I would urge you to read it again. He says: ‘For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:’ but go on: ‘and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh’ (vv. 14–17). He preached peace by the blood of his cross. By dying upon the cross, he is preaching peace.
But he is preaching peace to them which are afar off as well as to them that are nigh. This is the thing I want to emphasise because it is one of the most glorious things about the cross. To whom is this invitation given? To whom does the cross, the blood of sprinkling, cry out today saying, ‘Come? Listen, it is to them that are afar off. Not to the Jews, the religious people only, but also to the Gentiles, the dogs, those outside the law. Strangers from the commonwealth of Israel. Those who did not know these things, it is to them, who are afar off, as well as to them that are nigh. Oh, there is nothing more wonderful about the gospel than the way our Lord said such things as this: ‘They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’ (Mk 2:17)—these are the people he has come for, to whom he gives this invitation. This is, I say, one of the most glorious aspects of all in connection with this cross. This is where the cross is unique. The cross, the blood of sprinkling, speaks in our day to people to whom nothing else in the whole universe speaks.
What do you mean, says someone? Let me explain. To whom does philosophy speak? Take your great text books on philosophy; to whom do they speak? Do they speak to you, can you follow them? To whom does the atheistic philosopher speak? He speaks only to the ‘wise’, he speaks only to those who have got brains and understanding, who can follow his reason and his logic and his terminology. He does not speak to anyone else. To whom do morality and ethics speak? These men are concerned about the good life, they say they are concerned about the moral state of this country, and they address their moral and their ethical appeals to us. To whom do they speak? They only speak to people who are already good. They have nothing to say to the bad. They only speak to those who are strong willed, and to those who are interested in ethics and morality.
They have nothing to say to anyone else. Let me continue with something that some of you may wonder at. To whom does religion speak? I did not say Christianity, I said religion. And when I say religion I mean just church or chapel-going, I mean merely attending a place of worship and perhaps being active in it, and being proud of your denomination, and very interested in these matters and that is all. That is what I mean by religion. To whom does religion speak? It only speaks to a handful of its devotees, and it does not speak to anyone else. It does not speak to people who are not interested in those things. But here is a message that speaks to all. Thank God for ‘the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel’. Here is a blood that speaks to people to whom nothing else speaks.
But we see that this blood gives its invitation only to certain people. Indeed, there are some people to whom the blood of sprinkling does not speak better things than that of Abel. Who are they? Oh, they are the ‘clever’ people, it has no invitation for them; the self-righteous, it has no invitation for them; the self- satisfied, it has no invitation for them. If you come to him standing erect upon your feet, proud of your knowledge and your learning, glorying in the fact that you are a twentieth century man, and that you are good and moral, and an idealist who wants to put an end to war. If you think you can uplift the human race by your own efforts—if you come like that, this gospel has no invitation for you, the blood of sprinkling will condemn you. It will show you to yourself for what you are, as we have already seen. It will show you that all your righteousness is but as filthy rags, it will humble you, it will condemn you, it will abase you to the ground, it will cast you to the dust. There will be no invitation to you.
But thank God, if you are already grovelling in the dust, if you are afar off, then it speaks to you, its invitation is to you. To whom does the invitation of this cross come? It comes to the failures, the people who know they have gone wrong, the people who are filled with a sense of shame, the people who are weary and tired and forlorn in the struggle. Oh, I have already quoted—‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ And you know he is talking about people who are labouring to live a good and a clean and a straight life. That is what he means by labouring and being heavy laden—the law of God, the Commandments, moral ideals. You have tried and have sweated and fasted. You are labouring, like Martin Luther before he saw the truth, like John Wesley before he saw it. Like all these people before they saw it, labouring, trying to live the good life, but failing; miserable failures, weary and forlorn.
The hymns of the church have always expressed this.
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘Behold, I freely give
The living water, thirsty one;
Stoop down, and drink, and live:’
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, and worn, and sad;
– H. Bonar
That is how they have come. The invitation is to such. Weary, worn. Have you been engaged in this moral struggle? Do you feel that you are a failure, that the whole thing is hopeless? Do you despise yourself, kick yourself metaphorically, and feel you are no good? Weary, forlorn, tired, and on top of it all, sad and miserable? Nothing can comfort you. The pleasures of the world mock you. They do not give you anything. Life has disappointed you, and you are sad, miserable and unhappy, and on top of it all, you have a sense of guilt within you. Your conscience nags at you, condemns, raises up your past and puts it before you, and you know that you are unworthy, you know that you are a failure, you know that there is no excuse, you are guilty. But still worse, you know that you are unclean, you know that your heart is unclean. For it is out of the heart that come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, and all the rest. The heart is the trouble, and you have come to see that you are rotten, that in you there is no good thing. Oh wretched man, you say, who shall deliver me? Here you are, not only guilty, but you are unclean, you are vile, you are foul. ‘Foul, I to the fountain fly’, says another hymn. The writer has seen it, he has felt it, he has known it.
And then on top of all this, you are filled with a sense of fear. You are afraid of life, you are afraid of yourself and your own weakness, you are afraid of tomorrow. You are afraid of death, you know it is coming and you can do nothing about it, but you are afraid of it. Oh, what lies beyond it? Thoughts come to you of that ‘unknown borne from which no traveller returns’. Death is coming, and there you are, you can do nothing, and you feel guilty and you are full of fear of God, the judgement, and hell, and terror and alarm possess you. You feel utterly hopeless and completely helpless. You have tried so often, only to fail. You have made your resolutions but you have never kept them, you have had good and noble ideas, but you have never put them into practice. You have tried, you have fasted, you have sweated, you have prayed, you have read, you have done everything, but the more you do, the more vile you see yourself, and the more hopeless. You say to yourself, I am no good, I am damned, I am lost, I am unworthy, I am a mass of pollution. ‘Oh, wretched man that I am!’ ‘In me (that is in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing’ (Rom 7:24, 18).
And this is the amazing thing about the cross. It comes to such a person, and it is to such a person above all others that it brings its gracious and its glorious invitation. What does it say to you? I am not speaking to self-satisfied, self-righteous persons at this moment, I have already spoken to you, and I trust that you have seen yourself in all the horror of your self-deception. I am speaking to those who are on the ground, grovelling in their utter helplessness, and with a guilt and a sense of uncleanness and shame, having lost their chastity, their purity, their morality, their everything. To anyone like that, I would say, You are afar off, and the cross speaks to you with sympathy. That man dying on that cross was known as the friend of publicans and sinners. He was reviled by the good and the religious because he sat down and ate meat and drank with publicans and sinners. He had sympathy. There was a wild, demon possessed man, whom they could not tame and could not hold, even by chains and fetters, but the moment he saw the Lord he came running to him. So did they all. He had sympathy.
Not only that, he will tell you that he is ready to accept you. The world picks up its skirt and passes by. It leaves you alone, it does not want to associate with you, you have gone down, you belong to the refuse and the gutters, and the world is too respectable to have any interest in you. Here is one who is ready to receive you and to accept you. Here is one above all you gives you rest. ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ An end to this vain, futile, useless struggle. Sit down, he says, and listen, the blood of sprinkling is speaking. Wait, stop, give up your activities. Just as you are, I am ready to receive you. In your rags, in your filth, in your vileness. Rest.
What else? Pardon. The cross speaks of benediction, of pardon, joy and peace with God. It tells you that God is ready to forgive you, the blood of sprinkling tells you that. It says, listen to me, your sin has been punished. I am here because this is the punishment of sin. Listen to me, says the blood of sprinkling, I have been shed that you might be forgiven, pardoned, at peace with God. Oh, thank God, there is also cleansing here. When you feel your vileness and see the blemishes and spots of iniquity upon you, you learn that:
There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood.
Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day; And there have I, as vile as he,
Washed all my sins away.
– W. Cowper
That is what the blood of sprinkling says. So it tells you that out of your very misery you can have joy, beauty for ashes. It will give you a new nature, it tells you. It will give you a new start in life. It will give you a new power and a strength to resist everything that has got you down, and it will give you an everlasting and an eternal hope. The blood of sprinkling says that the Son of God has borne all your punishment, that everything that stood between God and forgiving you has been removed. That God forgives you everything freely and immediately.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth,
Is to feel your need of Him.
This he gives you;
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.
– J. Hart
The cross announces a free gift of pardon and forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration and all you need; new life in Christ and an eternal hope, and all at once. And it all comes from this blessed person, whose body was broken and whose blood began to flow, on the cross. He is inviting you, he is calling to you. Do you hear him, are you ready?
But oh, says someone, you have no idea what I am like, you have no idea what I have done, you have no idea what I have been. But my dear friend, you are not the first to have said that. A man wrote a hymn, we often sing it, and he puts it like this:
If I ask Him to receive me,
Will He say me nay?
Will he really receive me if I ask him to receive me,
or will he say me nay? This is the answer:
‘Not till earth and not till heaven
Again you ask:
Finding, following, keeping, struggling,
Is He sure to bless?
Here again is the answer:
‘Saints, Apostles, prophets, martyrs,
– Stephen of Saba
Some of the greatest saints the church has ever known were once vile, foul sinners, but they heard the invitation coming from the blood of sprinkling, they believed it, and they found it to be true. So finding, following, keeping, struggling, is he sure to bless? Here is the answer. Not only does the word say it, not only does the blood say it, the saints of the centuries say it: ‘Saints, Apostles, prophets, martyrs, answer, “yes”.’ Trust him. He has never broken his word, he has never forfeited or gone back upon his promise. Believe, they say, the blood of sprinkling, and you will find it to be true. So I ask you to join with the hymn writer in saying:
I hear thy welcome voice,
That calls me, Lord, to thee,
For cleansing in thy precious Blood
That flowed on Calvary.
I am coming, Lord!
Coming now to thee!
Wash me, cleanse me, in the Blood
That flowed on Calvary.
– L. Hartsough
Do that and you will find it to be true.