Christ’s One Sacrifice for Sin
“Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” — Hebrews ix. 26.
I NEED not read the text again, for I shall not go far away from it; but again and again shall we come back to these precious words about our Lord’s one great sacrifice for sin.
What Christ meant to do on the cross, he actually did. I always take that for granted. He did not die in vain; he did not leave any part of his work undone. Whatever was his intent, by the laying down of his life, he accomplished it; for, if not, dear friends, he would come here again. If any of his work were left undone, he would return to the earth that he might finish it, for he never did leave a work incomplete, and he never will. Christ effected the redemption of his people by one stroke; coming here, and living, and dying. He put away sin; he did not merely try to do it, but he actually accomplished the stupendous work for which he left his glory-throne above.
He did not die to make men salvable; he died to save them. He did not die that their sin might be put away by some effort of their own; but he died to put it away. “Once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” There was one death, one sacrifice, one atonement, and all the work of man’s redemption was for over accomplished; so that we can sing,—
“Love’s redeeming work is done;
Fought the fight, the battle won.”
If the mission on which Christ came to this earth had not been fulfilled, I say again, he would have returned to complete the work that he had begun.
That would have meant that he should often have been offered since the foundation of the world, an idea which we cannot hold for a single moment. For Christ to die twice, would be contrary to all analogy. He is the second Adam. He, therefore, is like unto men. Read the words of Paul in the verse following our text, “It is appointed unto men once to die” (not twice), “but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” For him, who is the true Adam, to die twice, would be contrary to the analogy of things.
It would be also most repugnant to all holy feeling. For Christ once to die a shameful death upon the cross on Calvary, has made an indelible mark upon our heart, as though it had been burned with a hot iron. I have sometimes half said to myself, “God forbid that his dear Son should ever have died!” The price seemed too great even for our redemption. Should he die, the Holy One and the Just, the glorious, and blessed Son of God? The answer to that question is, that he has died. Thank God, he can never die again! It were horrible to us to think that it should be possible that he should ever be called upon to bear our sins a second time.
It would be traitorous to his person, it would be dishonourable to his gospel, to suppose that his sacrifice is still incomplete, and that he might be called upon to die again because his first death had not satisfied the claims of divine justice. The simple suggestion, oven for the sake of argument, is almost blasphemous. Christ either paid the ransom-price for his people, or he did not. If he did, it is paid; if he did not, will he come again, think you? That can never be. Toplady knew that truth when he taught the saints to sing to their Lord,—
“Complete atonement thou hast made,
And to the utmost farthing paid
Whate’er thy people owed:
Nor can his wrath on me take place,
If shelter’d in thy righteousness,
And sprinkled with thy blood.”
The idea that Christ’s one sacrifice for sin is not sufficient to accomplish his purpose, is also opposed to revelation. We are told that, “Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more, death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.” The sinner for whom Christ died is free because of his Substitute’s death; and the Substitute himself is free, for he has discharged every liability, and given to God the full satisfaction that divine justice required.
“He bore on the tree the sentence for me,
And now both the Surety and sinner are free.”
Take a good look at Calvary; get the cross distinctly photographed upon your eyeballs; behold the five wounds and the bloody sweat. The whole gospel was hung on the cross. It was all there; the battle and the victory, the price and the purchase, the doom and the deliverance, the cross and the crown. See again, in the death of Christ on the cross, a clear idea of what he meant to do, and of what he actually did when he laid down his life for us; and be you glad that once, and only once, this great deed had to be done. Nothing more is wanted, Christ has put away the sin of those for whom the covenant was made, according to the word that we read just now, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” “Now, where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.”
That will stand as a preface. Now I want, with great earnestness,— I fear with much weakness, but still with great earnestness,— to set before you, beloved friends, a summary of the way in which Christ has saved his people. It matters not how feebly the truth is put to you; if you do but lay hold of it, and firmly grasp it by faith, your souls are saved. I shall have to speak to you briefly upon five things; first, the gigantic evil: “sin.” Secondly, the glorious Remover of it: “HE.” Thirdly, the memorable event: “Once in the end of the world hath he appeared.” Fourthly, the special sacrifice: “the sacrifice of himself.” Fifthly, and lastly, the grand achievement: “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
I. First, notice, in considering what our text says that Christ has done, THE GIGANTIC EVIL. “Once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin.”
“Sin.” It is a very little word, but it contains an awful abyss of meaning. “Sin” is transgression against God, rebellion against the King of kings; violation of the law of right; commission of all manner of wrong. Sin is in every one of us; we have all committed it, we have all been defiled with it. Christ came “to put away sin.” You see, the evil is put in ono word, as if wrong-doing was made into one lump, all heaped together, and called, not “sins”, but “sin.” Can you catch the idea? All the sinfulness, all the omissions, all the commissions, and all the tendencies to rebel that ever were in the world, are all piled together, hill upon hill, mountain upon mountain, and then called by this one name, “sin.”
Now, sin is that which makes man obnoxious to God. Man, as a creature, God loves. Man, as a sinner, God cannot love. Sin is loathsome to God; he is so pure that he cannot bear impurity, so just that the thought of injustice is abhorrent to him. He cannot look upon iniquity without hating it; it is contrary to his divine nature. His anger burns like coals of juniper against sin. This it is that makes sin so dreadful to us, because, in consequence of it, we have become obnoxious to God.
And sin, dear friends, also involves man in punishment. Inasmuch as we have committed sin, we are exposed to the just and righteous wrath of God. Wherever there is sin, there must be penalty. Laws made without the sanction of reward and punishment are inoperative. God will never suffer his righteous law to be broken with impunity, His word still declares, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Where there is sin, there must be punishment; and although the doctrine is not preached as often as it ought to be, yet every man’s conscience knows that there is a dreadful hell, there is a worm that dieth not, there is a fire that never can be quenched, and all these are reserved for unforgiven sinners. This makes sin so terrible an evil. Unless God vacates the throne of the universe, sin must be visited with punishment, and banished from his presence.
Yet again, dear friends, sin effectually shuts the door of hope on men. The guilty cannot dwell with God while they are guilty. They must be cleansed from sin before they can walk with him in white. Into heaven there entereth nothing that defileth; and if you and I are not pardoned, we must be separated from God for ever. Nothing we can do, while sin remains upon us, can bring us reconciliation with God. Sin must be put away first. It lies across the road to heaven, and blocks up the door by which we come to God; and, unless it be removed, we are lost, lost, lost, and lost for ever.
Do you all know, in your consciences and hearts, what sin means? I remember that, when I learned that dread lesson, I felt that I was the most unhappy youth in all Her Majesty’s dominions. Sin went to bed with me, and scared me with visions. Sin rose with me, and made the most glorious landscape dark and gloomy. I had a terrible sound of judgment to come ever ringing in my ears. I knew that I was guilty; I did not need for God to condemn me, I condemned myself; I sat in judgment upon my own heart, and I condemned myself to hell. Sin! If you really feel it, no burning-irons in the hand of the most cruel inquisitor would ever pain you as sin does. Speak of diseases, and there are some that cause intense agony, but there is no disease that pains like sin. on the conscience. Sin on the conscience! It is a prison, a rack, a cross whereon all joy hangs crucified, and bleeding to death.
That is the first thing in my text, the gigantic evil. In proportion as you feel the evil of sin, you will rejoice to hear that Christ came to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. That is my next point.
II. In the second place, having spoken of the gigantic evil that needed to be removed, let me now speak of THE GLORIOUS REMOVER OF IT. Who was it that undertook to remove this mountain of guilt? “Once in the end of the world hath HE appeared.” Who is this that has appeared to put away sin?
I will not delay for a moment, but tell you at once that he that appeared was very God of very God. He against whom sin had been committed, he who will judge the quick and the dead; he it was who appeared to put away sin. Is there not great comfort in this fact? It is the Son of God who has undertaken this more than Herculean labour. He appeared, sinner, to save you; God appeared, to put away sin. Lost one, to find you, the great Shepherd has appeared; your case is not hopeless, for he has appeared. Had anybody else than God undertaken the task of putting away sin, it could never have been accomplished; but it can be accomplished now, for HE who appeared is one with whom nothing is impossible. Listen to that, and be comforted.
Who is it that appeared? It is HE, the commissioned of the Father. Christ did not come as an amateur Saviour, trying an experiment on his own account; he came as the chosen Mediator, ordained of God for this tremendous task. The Saviour that I preach to you is no invention of my own brain. He is no great one who, of his own accord alone, stepped into the gap without orders from heaven. No; but he appeared whom the Father chose for the work, and sent, commissioned to perform it. His very name, Christ, tells of his anointing for this service.
“Thus saith God of his Anointed;
He shall let my people go;
’Tis the work for him appointed,
’Tis the work that he shall do;
And my city
He shall found, and build it too.”
“He appeared,” he who was pledged in covenant to do it; for, of old, before the world was, he became the Surety of the covenant on behalf of his people. He undertook to redeem them. His Father gave him a people to be his own, and he declared that he would do the Father’s will, and perfect those whom the Father had given him. “He appeared.” Ah, dear friends, if the brightest angel had appeared to save us, we might have trembled lest he should be unequal to the task; but when he comes whom God has sent, whom God has qualified, and who is himself God, he came upon an errand which he is able to accomplish. Think of that, and be comforted.
III. But now, in the third place, we come to THE MEMORABLE EVENT mentioned in our text. We are told that, in order that he might save us, Christ appeared: “Once in the end of the world hath he appeared.” He could not sit in heaven, and do this great work. With all reverence to the blessed Son of God, we can truly say that he could not have saved us if he had kept his throne, and not left the courts of glory; but he appeared. I have not to tell you, at this time, that he will appear, although that also is true, for “unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation,” but he has appeared.
He appeared, first, as a babe at Bethlehem, swaddled like any other child. This babe is “the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of peace;” and he has “appeared” on earth in human form. Made in fashion as a man, he has taken upon himself our nature, the Infinite is linked with the infant, the Eternal with the puling child. He, on whom all worlds are hanging, hangs upon a woman’s breast. He must do that, or he cannot put away sin.
Thirty years rolled on; and he had toiled, in obscurity, as a carpenter at Nazareth. The Baptist comes, and proclaims the advent of the Redeemer, and he is there to the moment. Into the waters of Jordan he descends, and John with him; the servant baptizes his Lord; and, as he rises from the water-floods, the heavens are opened, the dove descends, it rests upon him, and God proclaims him to be his Son, in whom he is well pleased. Thus Christ, anointed at Jordan, appeared to inaugurate his public ministry, and, by his baptism, to begin working a robe of righteousness which is for over to adorn us, poor naked sinners. “In the end of the world he appeared;” his manifestation commenced at Bethlehem, and was continued at Jordan.
Three more years rolled by, years of toil and suffering; and now the great debt was to be paid, the bill was presented; would he be there to meet it? The charge was laid; would he be there to answer to it? Where should he be but among those olives in Gethsemane, surrendering himself? The night is chill, the moon is shining; and he is there in prayer. But what prayer! Never did the earth hear such groans and cries. He is there wrestling; but what wrestling! He sweats, as it were, great drops of blood falling to the ground. The sinner is called for, and the sinner’s Substitute has put in an appearance on his behalf in the lonely garden of Gethsemane, so rightly named, the olive-press. In a garden man’s first sin was committed; in a garden man’s Substitute was arrested.
But now comes the darkest hour of all. Christ appeared on Calvary, atoning for sin. The sun is veiled as though unable to look upon such a scene of sorrow. Hear the dread artillery of heaven; the Father thunders forth his wrath against sin. Behold the flames of fire, the forked lightnings of God’s anger against all iniquity. Who is to bear them? In whose breast shall they be quenched? HE comes. On yonder tree he presents himself; he hides not his face from shame and spitting; and, at last, upon the cross, he hides not himself from divine desertion. Hear his piteous cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Then was fulfilled the prophecy given by the mouth of Zechariah, “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my follow, saith the Lord of hosts.” That sword is sheathed in Christ’s heart.
“Jehovah bade his sword awake,
O Christ, it woke ’gainst thee;
Thy blood the flaming blade must slake,
Thy heart its sheath must be!
All for my sake, my peace to make:
Now sleeps that sword for me.”
Yes, Christ appeared; he was visibly crucified among men; and observed by the gloating eyes of cruel men of hate, he appeared in that dread day of judgment and of vengeance. So it was, and only so, that he was able to put away sin.
We have come thus far, and the path has been strewn with wonders; but only he who knows the meaning of the word “sin” will see any wonder in it. If sin has made the earth tremble under your feet, if sin has scorched you like the blast of a furnace, if sin has burned into your very soul, and killed all your joy, you will hear with delight that God appeared here as man, for this purpose, to put away sin.
IV. Now, we must go a step farther, and consider THE SPECIAL SACRIFICE which Christ offered. He who appeared put away sin by a sacrifice, and that sacrifice was himself: “Once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
There was never any way of putting away sin except by sacrifice. The Bible never tells us of any other way; human thought or tradition has never discovered any other way. Find a people with a religion, and you are sure to find a people with a sacrifice. It is very strange; but, wherever our missionaries go, if they find God at all thought of, they find sacrifices being offered. It must be so; for man has this law written upon his very conscience.
Christ must bring a sacrifice; but observe what it was; he offered himself “He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself,” his whole self, Christ did not give to us merely a part of himself; he gave himself. Let me say those sweet words again, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.” His blood? Yes. His hands, his feet, his side? Yes. His body, his soul? Yes; but you need not say all that; “He gave himself.” “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” Whatever Christ was in himself, he gave that; he offered himself as a sacrifice for sin. What a wonderful sacrifice! Ten thousand bullocks, myriads of sheep, enough to cover all the pastures of the earth, what would their blood avail? But God, God incarnate, Immanuel, God with us, offers himself. What condescension, what love, what infinite pity, that he should sacrifice himself for his enemies, for those who had broken his holy law!
Christ offered himself alone. He put away sin by the sacrifice of himself; not by the sacrifice of his Church, not by the sacrifice of martyrs, not by the offering of wafers and consecrated wine; but by the sacrifice of himself alone. You must not add anything to Christ’s sacrifice. Christ does not put away sin through your tears, and your grief, and your merit, and your almsgiving. No, he put away sin by the sacrifice of himself; nothing else. You must take nothing from Christ’s sacrifice, and you must add nothing to it.
That sacrifice, too, if I read the Greek aright, was a slain sacrifice, a bloody sacrifice. Christ gave his life. It is written, “Without shedding of blood is no remission.” He shed his blood. “The blood is the life thereof,” is true of Christ’s sacrifice; for without blood-shedding it would have been of no avail. He poured out his soul unto death. In instituting that dear memorial feast, which you are bidden to observe in remembrance of him, he said, “This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” The putting away of sin was accomplished by Christ dying in the room, and place, and stead of guilty men. Christ says, “I will take the punishment of sin.” He takes it; he bears it on the cross. Sinful man, hear this! Take that fact to be true, and rest your whole soul on it, and you are saved. Christ died for believers. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If you believe in Christ, that is, if you trust him; if you trust him now, if you trust him altogether, if you trust him alone, and say, “There lam resting, believing that Christ died for me,” you are saved; for Christ has put away your sin; you shall not die. How can a man die when his sin is put away by Christ’s all-sufficient sacrifice?
“If sin be pardon’d , I’m secure;
Death hath no sting beside;
The law gives sin its damning power;
But Christ, my Ransom, died.”
Christ’s appearing, then, was that he might, as a High Priest, present a sacrifice; he presented himself to the death on the cross; he died, and by that dying he has put away sin.
V. That brings me to my closing point, THE GRAND ACHIEVEMENT. Christ appeared “to put away sin.” What can that mean?
It means, first, that Christ has put away sin as to its exclusion of men from God. Man, by his sin, had made this world so obnoxious to Jehovah that God could not deal with its inhabitants apart from Christ's sacrifice. He is infinitely merciful, but he is also infinitely just; and the world had become so putrid a thing that he declared that he repented that he had made man upon the earth. Now this whole world of ours must have gone down into eternal ruin had not Christ come. John the Baptist cried, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” the whole bulk of it. It was there and then removed at one stroke, so that God could deal with man, could send an embassage of peace to this poor guilty world, and could come upon gospel terms of free grace and pardon to deal with a guilty race. That was done. You may all thank God for that.
But there is more wanted than that. When God comes to deal with men, we find, next, that Christ has for every believer taken away sin as to its punishment. I mean what I say. God cannot punish twice for the same offence; and to lay sin upon Christ, and then to demand its penalty of those for whom he stood as Substitute, would be to demand compensation twice and punishment twice for one offence; but this can never be.
“Payment God cannot twice demand,
First at my bleeding Surety’s hand,
And then again at mine.”
That were a gross injustice; and the Judge of all the earth must do right. Behold, then, this fact. If thou believest in Christ Jesus, he bore the punishment of thy sin. In that short space upon the tree, the infinity of his nature enabled him to render to God’s justice a vindication which is better than if all for whom he died had gone to hell. Had all been lost, God’s justice would not have been vindicated so well as when his own dear Son—
“Bore, that we might never bear,
His Father’s righteous ire.”
He has made the law more honourable by his death at its hands than it could have been if all the race of men had been condemned eternally. Oh, soul, if thou believest in Jesus, the chastisement of thy peace was upon him, and with his stripes thou art healed! “He was made a curse for us, as it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” And was he cursed for me, and shall I be cursed, too? That would not be consistent with divine equity. The true believer may plead the justice as well as the mercy of God in the matter of his absolution. If Christ died, then all who were in Christ died with him; and when he rose, they all rose with him; and when God accepted him by raising him from the dead, he accepted all who were in him. Glory be to his holy name!
Further, Christ put away sin, as to its condemning power. You have felt the condemning power of sin; I have supposed you have done so. If so, listen. “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Thou art a sinner, but thy sin is not imputed to thee, but to him who stood as thy Sponsor, thy Paymaster, thy Surety. Thy sins were numbered on the Scapegoat’s head of old, even on Christ, the divinely-ordained Substitute for all his people. As David wrote, “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile!” Thy sin doth not condemn thee; for Christ has been condemned in thy stead. “Neither do I condemn thee,” saith the Lord; “Go in peace.”
Yet once more, sin is put away now as to its reigning power
“Oh, how sweet to view the flowing
Of his sin-atoning blood,
With divine assurance knowing
He has made my peace with God!”
When you get as far as that, then you love Christ, and serve him. I have told you before of the bricklayer who fell off a scaffold, and was taken up so injured that it was seen that he must soon die. A good clergyman, bending over him, said, “My dear man, you had better make your peace with God.” The poor fellow opened his eyes, and said, “Make my peace with God, sir? Why, that was done for me more than eighteen hundred years ago by him who took my sin, and suffered in my stead.” Thank God for that! I hope that many of you could say the same; you would not then talk about making your peace with God, or about doing something to reconcile you to God. The very thought of adding anything to Christ’s finished work, is blasphemy. Believe that he has done all that is required, and rest in it, and be happy all your days.
With this remark I finish. Sin is put away as to its very existence. Where has sin gone to when a man believes in Christ? Micah says, “Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea,” where they will never be fished up again. The devil himself may fish to all eternity, but he will never fish them up again. God has cast the sins of believers into the depths of the sea. Where have they gone? “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” How far is the east from the west? Will you go and measure it on the globe? Fly up to the heavens, and see how far you can go east, and how far you can go west. Is there any bound to space? So far has God removed our transgressions from us.
A more wonderful expression is this, “Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.” Where is that? Where is God’s back? Is there any place behind his back? He is everywhere present, and everywhere seen. It must be nowhere at all, then; and our sins are thrown into the nowhere. He that believes in Christ may know of a surety that his iniquities have gone into the nowhere. Listen once more: “In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found.” Thus is sin annihilated for all who trust the Saviour. Listen to Daniel’s description of the work of Messiah the Prince, “to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins.” If he has made an end of them, there is an end of them. O my heart, sing hallelujah! Let every beat of my pulse be a hallelujah unto him who has put away my sin! Poor sinner, if you are black as the devil with sin, crimson to the very core with iniquity, yet wash in the fountain filled with the blood of the Lamb, and you shall be whiter than snow; for the Lord Jesus, by the sacrifice of himself, hath for ever put away the sin of all who trust him.
Dear hearers, have you laid hold of this great truth? Then I do not care to what sect you belong; and I do not care what your standing in life is; and I do not care what your opinion in politics may be. Has Christ put away your sin? If he has, be as happy as the days are long in summertime; and be as bright as the garden is gay in June. Sing like angels; you have more to sing about than angels have; for never did they taste redeeming grace and dying love. They were never lost, and therefore never found; never enslaved, and therefore never redeemed. God in human flesh has died for you. God loved you so that he would be nailed to a tree for you. You have sinned; but you are to-day as if you had never sinned. “He that is washed is clean every whit.” “And ye are washed.” Oh, I say again, let your heart beat hallelujah! Let your pulse seem to say, “Bless, bless, bless, bless, bless the Lord!”
“Oh!” says one, in a mournful and sorrowful tone, “I am afraid it is not so with me.” Well, then, do not go to sleep to-night till it is. If thou believest in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is so. “Well, I hope that it is so,” says one. Away with your hoping! What is the good of that? There are many people that go hoping, hoping, hopping, hopping. Get out of that hoping and hopping; and walk steadily on this sure ground: Christ died for all who believe in him, effectually died, not died according to that theory which teaches that he died no more for Peter than he did for Judas, and died for those who are already in hell as much as he died for those who will be in heaven. The universal theory of the atonement has precious little comfort in it; albeit that Christ’s death was universal in the removal of the hindrance to God’s dealing on terms of mercy with the world, yet he laid down his life for his sheep. He loved his Church, and gave himself for it. He hath redeemed us from among men, out of men. He hath taken us to be his own by the purchase of his blood; we are redeemed, washed, saved. If this is your case, go home, and be glad; let nobody beat you in holy merriment. There is a passage at the end of the parable of the prodigal that I like very much, “and they began to be merry.” The parable does not tell us when they left off being merry; but I suppose they are merry still. I know that, ever since my Father put the ring on my finger, and shoes on my feet, and gave me the kiss of love, and I knew that I was forgiven, I have been merry, and I mean to be merry still, till my merriment is lost in the merriment above, where they keep perpetual holiday, and sing to the praise of the Redeemer, “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” To him be honour, and glory, and blessing, for ever and over! Amen.