Drawing Near to God
Two sermons on Hebrews 10:19-22, preached in April 1841 at Milton Church, Glasgow, Scotland. Published in the posthumous volume of Duncan’s sermons, In the Pulpit and at the Communion Table, Edinburgh 1874.
“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” Heb. 10:19-22.
This short portion of Holy Writ hath a certain completeness within itself. It is a kind of perfect sermon — containing principles and a conclusion, an exposition of Christian privilege, and an exhortation to corresponding Christian duty.
The privileges are stated in verses 19, 20, 21. “Having boldness to enter into the holiest” in this way; and second, “having an high priest over the house of God.” Having these privileges and unspeakable advantages, let us do so and so. “Having therefore boldness.” The word therefore connects this context with the preceding, showing that the “boldness to enter in” which we have is the result of the offering by Christ unto God of one perfect sacrifice — which, being perfect, hath no need of any addition, of any repetition, but fully answers the end of sacrifice, which could not be answered by the sacrifices of the law; that is, it purges the worshippers so that they have no more conscience of sins. “Conscience of sins,” therefore, is that impediment to our access with boldness into the holiest of all, which is here spoken of as being in this way removed.
Multitudes stand away from God in utter forgetfulness of Him — at least, in as great forgetfulness of Him as they can possibly reach to. But when a man in reality thinks of approaching unto God, with any knowledge of who He is unto whom he intends to approach — Jehovah, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders — then there arises in the soul a conscience of sin. The feelings of guilt are almost lulled asleep; they are very weak in men naturally. But when there is any sight of the holy God, any wish to draw near to Him, the purity and the holiness of the divine nature inspire the sinner with alarm — with just alarm — for “He is not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness; evil shall not dwell with Him, nor fools stand in His sight.” Sin stains the conscience. God, who is the Judge of all the earth, hath given conscience a delegated power under Himself to be a judge. It is true, conscience is not the supreme judge of right and wrong; it acts by no inherent and supreme power of its own; and therefore they err greatly who think that all is right if conscience be satisfied. Still, conscience hath a power and authority to judge which God hath given to it, and for the due exercise of which it is amenable unto God. Now, whilst God impute sin, conscience — if at all aroused and enlightened in the knowledge of God’s essential moral attributes — likewise imputes sin. Whilst out sins are written down against us in God’s book, our sin is also marked against us in the book of conscience; and though this may be little regarded by us whilst we are in peace, it will be found to be terrible whenever conscience awakes. Now, in order to our approaching God with boldness, we need to be set free from this conscience of sins — to be purged from this conscience of sins. God’s law says, and conscience says, “Thou art the man.” The Bible says, ‘God is a holy God, and a just God’; and conscience says, ‘God is a holy God, and a just God.’ God’s word says, and conscience, speaking as the delegate of God even in heathen man, says, “They who commit such things are worthy of death.” They “know the judgment of God, that they which do such things are worthy of death.” Now, in such a state, we cannot approach God with boldness. The moral perfection of God, instead of encouraging us, is like a wall of adamant to keep us back — like the devouring fire to scorch and burn us up, if we should but think to approach. There can be no boldness, then, to enter into the holiest whilst the worshippers have still conscience of sins.
But how is this impediment — conscience of sins — to be removed? The fact that we have sinned and are sinners cannot be made no fact: the iniquity of sin cannot be taken away, cannot be diminished: sin, that’s to say, cannot cease to be exceeding sinful. God’s holiness and justice cannot alter; and if that be the case, it would seem at first sight that once there is a well-grounded conscience of sin there can be no deliverance from it. If the exceeding sinfulness of sin is essential to it, and cannot cease to be its property — if holiness and justice be essential to the divine nature and cannot alter, it would seem from these things that conscience of sins must form a ground of eternal exclusion from the holiest of all. But God hath appointed and revealed a way whereby the worshippers may be purged, so as to have no more conscience of sin. That’s very strange! Not more strange than true, and this way is the way of sacrifice. It was indicated under the law, the Mosaic dispensation. Not that sacrifice had its beginning there, but that whatever there was of this institute before it was carried forward and amplified. Almost all things were by the law purged with blood, and without shedding of blood there was no remission. By the ordinance of sacrifice God instructed the worshippers in the truth that sin must be removed by substitutionary death. The testimony of the law, and the testimony of awakened conscience corresponding to the law, is, “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” Now this way of deliverance by vicarious death is what God revealed, and what is needed by conscience: for whatever way man devises, since God’s law requires death, and conscience enlightened in the knowledge of the law says the same thing, conscience requires death. And whatever opiates I may give to my conscience, however I may try to impose on it, conscience still testifies. ‘That’s not the thing. It’s death, it’s death that’s demanded. They that do such things are worthy of death.’ Not they which do such things need to give alms, to weep, and break their hearts, to mend, and cease to do them. It says, “They that do such things are worthy of death.” Conscience still says, ‘Ah! that’s not death, and that’s not satisfying, because it’s not death.’ Death is demanded, and if I put them for death, and do not succeed in some measure in stupefying conscience, it still says, “They that do such things are worthy of death.” “The wages of sin is death,” and till that be paid, there is no getting near to the God that I have offended. I know the judgment of God, that they which commit such things “are worthy of death.” And that must haunt me till I find death.
Now God appointed the ordinance, that when a man transgressed, he should bring a clean animal and lay his hand on its head and confess his sin over the animal; and that the priest should slay the animal before the Lord and present the blood before the Lord and sprinkle it upon the altar: in certain cases which were for purification as well as atonement, it was sprinkled also upon the person. Now this was not a full and perfect sacrifice, it was only a typical sacrifice — it was a sermon about the sacrifice, and acted sermon, a visible outward sermon addressing and teaching true and spiritual religion to a gross people — to God’s people while they were still in their ignorance. But the blood of bulls and of goats could not take away sin. Yet the ordinance of sacrifice always spoke of death and blood, pointing to better blood. There was therefore a lack of boldness arising from the inadequacy of their sacrifices. The faith of the Old Testament saints was much more dark and obscure when the Messiah had not come, when the atonement had not been made, and when a commemoration was made of sins every year. It could not make the worshippers perfect. The worshippers then, to find access to God under that dispensation, must have gone further than their sacrifices to be accepted. They had an efficacy to the purifying of the flesh, so as to give them a place in God’s visible house. Thus they acted. Themselves appointed of God, they had an efficacy toward the purifying of the flesh, but their direct influence from divine appointment ceased there: and with regard to the purifying of the conscience they acted only as a means of grace pointing to the blood of Christ; and though the thing was done then, it was not so clearly seen, so evidently manifested. “The way into the holiest of all was” opened, but it was not “manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing. But Christ having come, an High Priest of better things to come,” hath by one perfect sacrifice, by the offering of Himself, satisfied the claims of divine justice, magnified the law and made it honorable. He hath finished transgression, and made an end of sin. There is therefore in this purgation for the conscience of the worshippers, purgation to make them perfect as pertaining to the conscience. In the obedience of Christ unto the death all demands of God’s law are satisfied, and Christ as making the satisfaction hath obtained God’s acceptance and God’s declaration of that acceptance to be uttered forth in the everlasting Gospel unto conscience, which received a charge from God to speak of sin, and of death for sin, aye till death should be obtained and death sustained. Conscience, in imputing to me my sin, acts for God. It hath no right to let go its claim until it hear from God, the supreme Judge. When He receives satisfaction, conscience is bound to acquiesce in His declaration, and to give up its claim and its condemnation and its pursuit, and thus to set me free from this great barrier which interposed between me and access to God in His worship — namely, conscience of sins. It is, “therefore,” because of this perfect offering — “having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.”
The term “boldness to enter into the holiest” in this verse, we do not understand subjectively — that is to say, with regard to the temper and feeling of our souls; but objectively, having a free and unfettered right of access against which there is no barrier — having a door opened, nothing repelling — having invitation and free access and ground of hope: for to understand the words otherwise would be to confound the privilege with the duty which follows upon it, and which is set forth in the words, “Let us draw near,” etc. The word “boldness,” then, means full right and liberty that one may lift up his voice and say all he has to say without anyone impeding, frowning, repelling, coming in and from some legal cause putting an impediment or check, and saying, “You have no right to that.” The words are “Having boldness unto the entrance” — “having full liberty unto the entrance into the holiest of all.” We have boldness to enter, a full and perfect and unchallengeable right of entrance into the holiest of all. You know that the language here, as written to the Hebrews, was to remind them of the holy of holies in the temple upon earth, that sacred enclosure, the inner and most remote part of the house of God, where the symbol of Jehovah’s presence, the Shechinah, dwelt — where Jehovah sat on the mercy-seat, between the cherubim, dispensing blessings out to the other parts of His temple, to the holy hill, to the beloved city Jerusalem, and to the ends of Judea, the blessed land. It was because Jehovah was there in His holy temple, that they — Israel’s seed — were “a people nigh unto Him.” But the way was not made manifest into the holiest of all; it was veiled, and into that sacred place none durst enter but the high priest “once a year, and that not without blood, which he offered for his own sins, and for the errors of the people.” Israel after the flesh, even those of them who were Israelites in heart, were not permitted to enter into the typical “holiest of all”; but Christians — the people of God specially under the new and perfect Gospel dispensation — have boldness to enter, a new and better, an unfettered right of access, not into the typical but into the true holiest of all. O consider our privilege then! Whilst the godly Israelite, because it was the Church of God in its infancy, was kept in such bondage as not to be able to enter into the typical holy of holies, we have given to us boldness, right of access into the holiest of all itself.
“God is in His holy temple.” He is to be worshipped there. The worship of the Church on earth is conducted in heaven. As we pray in the Holy Ghost, as we pray through Christ, and serve God through Christ, so out entrance in by faith now is into the holiest of all, where Christ sitteth. Our services are not shut out from the place where for a time our persons must be. Our bodies — our spirits likely — are here, but “our fellowship with God the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” is in the true holy of holies, “the tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man.” Our prayers, our services, accepted in the Beloved, enter into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. Believing service wings its way to heaven, to the throne of God, and to the heart of God. All true service by us is accomplished in God’s holy place. Now, into this we, through the one offering of Christ, have full access by the blood of Jesus. The blood which makes the worshipper “perfect as pertaining to the conscience” — makes him perfect in the capacity of a worshipper. “The worshipper once purged.” There is no purgation of the conscience by the blood of Christ but in relation unto the service and worship of Jehovah. We are never forgiven sinners, but by the very same blood we become consecrated priests. The blood of Christ “purgeth the conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Yea, every Christian man is a higher priest than Aaron. Though Aaron was a type of Christ, and thus had a distinguishing prerogative, yet comparing Aaron’s priesthood in itself with the priesthood of Christians, there are advantages which every Christian has over Aaron. Aaron could enter into the typical holy of holies, “not without blood.” Neither can we; we enter by better blood. He, however, could enter but once a year, and with great fear and trembling; but we have right access, not into the earthly temple, and not once a year; we may go in within the veil into the holy place, “the secret place of the Most High,” any time all the year round. The veil is rent, as we shall go on to see, and there is liberty and boldness — only by the blood of Jesus, and woe unto us if we approach it otherwise. What would have become of the high priest had he gone into the holiest without blood as was commanded? The God of Israel would at once have made him feel the vengeance of His hand — He who for a less offence struck dead the sons of Aaron. And what can a sinner expect should he dare to enter into the holiest of all without coming in this way of blood, by the blood of Jesus? We have thus access “by a new and living way which He hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.” The way is called a “new way,” it might also be translated an accessible way; but as almost all the ancient translations have taken the other signification of the word, it seems far more advisable to rest contented with it. And this is called a new way, no doubt with reference to the way which was made old — to the abrogation of the former way. For when Christ was come, a High Priest of better things, then that which was old vanished away. It is “a new way,” — the way of Jehovah’s devising, the way which Jehovah, who creates new things and supernatural things, has provided, and as being a way that ever remains. The old sacrifices had to be repeated, because the blood was a perishable thing: the blood perished and became unfit to sanctify even to the purifying of the flesh. This way is ever new. The sacrifice once made is sufficient. It is a “living way,” a way in which there is life, the blood of Him in whom was life, who is the resurrection and the life, — a way which gives life, which maintains life to the worshippers of the living God, who must serve the living God with a living service, which they would be unable to do, but that the very way they tread in their approach is a living and life-giving way. And this new and life-giving way of access Christ hath consecrated for us “through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.” By His flesh we are to understand His humanity, His humanity as it was rent in His propitiatory death. In all our approaches unto God we must pass by Christ as the high priest had to pass through the veil, the veil having been lifted up and drawn so far aside. You know of an important symbolical event which took place at the crucifixion of our Lord: “The veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” — a divine hand opening up a way now for access from the outer temple and from the court of the priests: symbolizing that the way into the holiest of all was now made manifest, and that now sinners of mankind might come in, not to the court of the Gentiles, of the women’s court, or even into the court of the priests, but into the holy of holies — ay, into the true holy of holies. We must therefore come through the humanity of Christ, through that humanity broken, and by its breaking opening up a way through which there is entrance. As Abraham saw the burning lamp pass through the pieces of the sacrifice in the solemn vision, so we must pass through the veil, the rent veil: we must pass through the crucified Savior. That piercing, that laceration, was the opening up of a passage for us; but for it there would never have been access. Till that event was accomplished, God kept His own people at a comparative distance and darkness of communion. But now, behold an open way, blood-stained! behold the rent veil! behold the crucified Savior! And then entering in, we are free to approach, and no one dare hinder us. We shall find no cherubim with a flaming sword to guard the way of the tree of life. We shall find coming in this way no accusing and cursing law. We shall behold in the holiest of holies indeed the two tables of the testament; we shall behold them under the ark of the covenant, under the mercy-seat on which Jehovah sits — righteousness and truth the habitation of His throne, mercy and truth going before His face. But we shall not find conscience of sin. We shall enter as conscious sinners, but with consciences at peace with God through Christ. We shall find that that which appeases Divine justice appeases conscience, and not only so, but draws it forth in its purged state to serve God anew.
The second privilege here mentioned, on which the apostle founds the duties, is “having an high priest over the house of God.” We have to do not only with a dead Savior, but a Savior who lives — a Savior who not only consecrated the road for us, entering in by His own blood, but a Savior who lives and stands within the veil. The high priest under the law when he entered had soon to come out again, and none of the children of men were in Jehovah’s secret place till the time of the year came round again. But Jesus, having entered with His own blood, His perfect sacrifice remains. He is within the veil now, officiating there at this present moment, “able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him.” We not only have a sacrifice of blood, but we have a Priest. We not only have the atonement to look back to, but we have the maker of the atonement, now the maker of the intercession, unto whom to repair. We “have an high priest over the house of God.” Therefore coming as worshippers with a purged conscience, coming into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, coming through the way which Jesus — coming Himself as our great Substitute and High Priest — has opened to us, coming, when we enter into the holiest, we find Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant there — a High Priest over the house of God for all the worshippers of God, for all the family of God. We don’t come friendless; we don’t come unrepresented. We come not in our own name. There is a High Priest to appear before God on our behalf, and through whom communion between God and us may be forever enjoyed, through whom God, to the glory of all His perfections, can extend favors and communicate constantly as we need blessings of goodness and salvation, and through whom we may perpetually present acceptable services, prayer and thanksgivings and holy desires, and all the duties of new and Christian obedience, well pleasing in God’s sight through Jesus Christ. Such then are the privileges — very imperfectly set forth, we are aware: but let us, as our time departs, and reserving for another occasion the consideration of the duties urged, let us seek more particular application of the subject to our hearts and consciences, our present exigencies and present duties.
Are there any who belong not to the house of God here? any who are not worshippers of God? any who have, or who, if they were not deeply slumbering, would have, conscience of sins? Why are you thus? Has the door been shut upon you? Have you got no invitation? Has God never invited you through Christ to come in? Why stand you without? You have not Christ, you say: why have you not Christ? You have no right of access, you say: why have you not? You have conscience of sins, you say: why have you conscience of sins? Because you have committed sin? So have all those who have had their consciences purged by the blood of Christ. They have been stained, as you have been stained. We ask not why you became filthy or how you became filthy; but we ask why do you continue filthy when there is a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness? If you have conscience of sins, why stay you away from the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness? If you are polluted, why do you refuse to wash and be clean? For whom is there in Christ purgation of the conscience? For polluted sinners surely. Whose hearts is the blood of Christ to purge from an evil conscience? Just those whose consciences tell, or should tell, that they are excluded from God’s favor and shut up to God’s wrath through the guilt of sin. Your sinfulness, then, can never be urged as the reason why you will not come to Christ. Why turn this against us? This is the very reason we are sent to urge you. You are so guilty, your consciences are so defiled that you have immediate pressing need of that blood which purgeth the conscience from dead works to serve the living God, which makes the worshippers perfect as pertaining to the conscience. That’s the reason why you are not worshippers, because you have still conscience of sins; and the reason why you have conscience of sins, is that you still draw back from the God who is setting forth before you Christ and purgation through faith in His blood. Sinners, come: hear the Gospel: — “Having boldness to enter into the holiest.” There is nothing against any sinner entering in by this way. It’s not a way that is not free to a man the second time — that if he has come once, he may not come again. It’s free to a man the thousandth time as it is the first and it’s free to a man the first time as it is the thousandth. The proclamation of the Gospel, not your faith, gives the boldness to enter into the holiest. No doubt it requires that we employ this boldness, that we draw near with true hearts in full assurance of faith. But the proclamation of the Gospel gives the boldness, and he who takes not the boldness from the proclamation of the Gospel is putting God’s grace and the open way away from Him. Everyone here is welcome to enter into the favor of God. Everyone here is welcome to enter into life everlasting — not only welcome, commanded: only, the right way. There are none welcome but through the blood of Christ; none but by the new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh. All are invited, all are commanded. They sin against Christ, they do what they can to make the grace of God, the sufferings and obedience of Christ, to be in vain, as well as seal their own everlasting destruction, who refuse to enter into the holiest, just because the everlasting Gospel gives us boldness to enter in by this way. But recollect that, coming, the first thing God sets before us is purgation for the conscience from dead works. Entering into the house of God, our first blessing is, we approach by the altar of burnt sacrifice, and by the laver of regeneration. We are welcome as guilty and polluted: welcome guilty, because of the altar of burnt-offering; welcome polluted, because of the laver of regeneration: but we are not welcome to enter into the holiest of all, passing by the altar and the laver. We are welcome, but we must enter by the door, and come by the new and living way.
Let us endeavor to speak a little to those who may be troubled with conscience of sins, who may be with all this saying, “Still I retain conscience of sins. Conscience of sin is likely to keep me today from the table of the Lord, and conscience of sin is doing a worse thing, it’s keeping me from the free, hearty service of the living God. Conscience of sin is keeping me from faith in Christ.” Now beware of conscience of sin keeping you from the faith of Christ. Conscience of sin hath no right to do anything of the kind. Conscience has a right to speak about the evil of sin, but conscience has not a right to refuse the blood which God accepts! Conscience has no right to do it! to set up to be holier than God, and juster than God! Conscience hath no right to say to me, “Though Christ died, you must die too. There can be no substitution, no transference of guilt, no transference of righteousness.” Conscience hath no right to do that. It’s an evil conscience that does that. Unbelief is reigning in the conscience, when conscience does that. There is a great deal of our unbelief conscientious unbelief. Conscience won’t fully admit that God is pleased, that it may cast away its accusation and its demands, because of the obedience of Christ. Man is afraid that there may be something that will give way here. Conscience speaks, and out-speaks that Gospel; and it’s an evil conscience that clamors down the Gospel of God’s grace, and its mouth should be shut. God should be believed in spite of it. If my conscience turn a rebel against my God, I must believe my God rather than my conscience. Now, then, what would you have, brethren, more than the testimony of God raising up His Son from the dead, setting Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, setting Him forth before you a propitiation through faith in His blood? What would you have more than His encouraging you to confide in this blood, showing you that it is blood divine — God’s own blood, that precious blood of Christ? What would you have more than what God says, “It cleanseth from all sin”? “Ah! but will it cleanse me?” God did not send His ministers to be prophets to announce future facts, but to preach His Gospel. We cannot say it will, but we can say, Confide in it and it will. God Himself tells us that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. Why does He tell us sinners that — me, a sinner, that? Is it to make no use of it when I am a sinner? And did He tell it for no purpose if I believe it not? And the more accused of conscience, I have just this one answer, short and sufficient, “Christ once died for sins, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God”: and if my conscience won’t submit to that, my conscience is not to be believed, is not to be yielded to, and I am to take refuge in God to save me from that conscience. It pretends to be so very holy and just that the blood of Christ which pleases God will not satisfy it! Now let us see that we be hearty in this work, that having a conscience purged from dead works, we have no more conscience of sin. We say we believe, but still we have no conscience of sin, and it is the fact. The offering of the sacrifice is perfect, but the application is not completed. We still, in this sense, have conscience of sin, which, however, does not need a new sacrifice and new blood, but the new application of the perfected and completed remedy. And if we have conscience of sin this is our first duty, to bring conscience of sin to the blood of Christ and leave it there — ever to carry about with us a conscience which speaks of offended satisfied justice, a provoked reconciled God. If we have not reached it, there is nothing but that blood that will enable us to reach it. There is no other way that I can tell you, but just trust in it. I cannot make it simpler. The Lord enable me just to cast the weight of all my sins upon the sacrifice and say, “Christ once died for sins, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God.” The Lord my Righteousness. I sinned — the Son of God died. “The Lord is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake.”
And now, with believing consciences, let us be worshippers of God. Let us be drawing near into the holy place through the new way. We are not to stand still at the altar of burnt-offering, we are to pass through; to pass through to perform a solemn service — into the holiest of all — sprinkled with blood from an evil conscience; our sins are off us and they are out of God’s sight; and when we enter in He sees the blood of Christ on us, and He lets us in, because of its being upon us. We cannot be excluded, because it cannot be excluded. We enter in by Christ’s blood, we enter in and find there Him who shed the blood, Him who was dead and is alive again, a High Priest over the house of God, to make continual intercession, to receive blessings, to dispense blessings, to communicate all the Father’s fullness to us, to present our persons and our services holy and without blame before Him.
What can we say more? Let excuses be done away with; O let us come to this blood. Come with guilty consciences, come with heaven’s long scroll of debts charged, and heaven’s sentence of condemnation, come to the blood of Christ, receive a pardon from God, receive God’s blessed Gospel sent home by His Spirit to the heart, proclaiming peace in the conscience, God’s peace in Christ’s blood. So let us seek to approach Him in the holy ordinance set before us, in all things daily praising Him and serving Him with pure conscience, with faith unfeigned. “Purge me and I shall be clean, wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” Is there no answer to that prayer? Does not God do these things? Surely God will answer this petition. Why, then, if He wash us, shall we not be clean?
But to this exalted privilege there is a corresponding duty. We are not to conceive of privileges as things bestowed solely or chiefly for our sake: in bestowing them, God’s interests are primarily to be regarded. It is for His service that we have admission into His house. It is to occupy the place and perform the duties of worshippers, that men have their consciences purged from sins; and therefore, whilst the encouragements presented are the only grounds which will even effectually induce the soul of man to engage in the duties, these privileges cannot be enjoyed — they never can, from their nature, be enjoyed — without convincing the person who does enjoy them of the entire reasonableness of the duties, and without stimulating the person with the desire of engaging in them.
A way into the holiest of all hath been consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, the flesh, the humanity, the broken and bruised humanity of Christ. Through His atoning sacrifice — by His blood — we have boldness to enter in, an unchallengeable right of entrance into the holiest of all; and within that holiest of all we have an high priest over the house of God. Now what is the corresponding duty? To believe, is it, that we have right of access, and there let the matter rest? that we may have an high priest over the house of God, and there let the matter rest? Undoubtedly not. If the boldness, the free unchallengeable right to enter in be our privilege, then to enter in is our duty: — “Having boldness, etc., let us draw near.” The term “draw near” in English reads as a mere general term; but as addressed to the Hebrews it has peculiar significance. It is the term which is applied to the approach of a priest drawing near to offer sacrifice. It is called drawing near, because God was to be approached by sacrifice. The nature of the service in the temple was approach to God, and therefore, when we are called to draw near, we are reminded of the duty of worshippers — of what religion subjectively in us, corresponding to religion objectively, giving the right — what religion subjectively is — even drawing near. The privilege is right of access unto God, the duty is that of approach unto God; and no man values the right of access who does not desire to approach. There can be nothing which really satisfies the heart of any man in being told that he is at liberty to approach God, if he has no inclination to approach unto God. He may indeed think that it’s a good thing, which he may avail himself of in the future; but as long as a man thinks that, it is evident that he desires in the present to stay away from God, and that therefore he holds present right of access to be no present privilege. Brethren, we may even feel, or think we feel, joy — felt joy in having it set before us, that we have such liberty, such boldness, such unchallenged right to repair first to the blood of sprinkling and then into the very inmost recess of the holy temple of Jehovah, but if so, let us improve it, let us draw near.
“Jehovah is in His holy temple.” The Lord is sitting on His throne, “high and lifted up.” He is waiting to be gracious; He is exalted that He may show mercy. Great is the Holy one of Israel in the midst of Zion. God is now calling upon us to come near to Him. The way of access has been opened up, but what if, for all this, we prefer to stand out — in the world, on the outside of the temple of Jehovah — and desire not to enter in, desire not to see God, to converse with God, to come to the footstool of His throne, and receive salvation out of His hand through the Mediator, and give service through the same Mediator into His hand?
“Into the holiest of all.” Now the holiest, as we were stating, is the place of Jehovah’s peculiar presence. It was that which made the typical holiest to be the holiest; it is that which makes the true holiest to be the holiest, because most of God is there, because most specially His perfections, His grace, is most displayed there. Therefore it is unto God we are to draw near. We have been alienated from God, estranged, enemies in our minds by wicked works. Now God is calling us to come in to Him, in to His dwelling-place, His secret place, and there transact with Him, there take up our abode as the priests and ministers of the Lord, who dwell in the house of the Lord, and make abode in His courts. “We are come,” saith the Apostle to those who, truly believing the right of access, truly make use of it — who, enlightened and drawn by the Spirit of God, and therefore in simplicity of heart, do come as this blessed Gospel invites — the apostle says of such, “We are come unto mount Zion, unto the city of the living God.” etc.
Now, brethren, you say we are convinced; we are satisfied that there is right of access; we are satisfied, you are saying, that however guilty we may be we are fully welcome to come to the blood of Christ, to the foundation opened for sin and for uncleanness, that coming thus by the altar of burnt-offering and by the laver of regeneration, we are welcome to enter into God’s holy place. You say you are sure that you are welcome, then what are you doing? When the gate of righteousness is by your own admission set open to you, what are you doing? Entering in by it to bless the Lord! O how self-condemned must the man be, who says the Gospel is true, and the Gospel is free, and saying that, stays away from God! What’s the meaning of the Gospel being true, and the Gospel being free, but that just by the altar and laver I, a sinner of mankind, as such, am welcome to enter into the temple and to pass through the rent veil by a new, a living, a consecrated way, to enter into the holiest of all and see God, and worship God in His temple — to see God in His beauty, to inquire in His temple, and to dwell in His temple all the days of my life!
“Let us draw near.” The apostle is not here speaking immediately of outward religious ordinances, but of the inward acting of the heart, the direct acting of faith itself on the boldness. Having the boldness to enter, “Let us draw near, with a true heart.” It is unto the Lord Jehovah that we are to approach as His worshippers, His priests through Him who was slain and has redeemed us to God by His blood, and made us kings and priests unto God. It is unto Jehovah, who is the true God, the living God, and an everlasting King, whose worship and whose worshippers must correspond in character, in moral character, to Himself. Such as God is, such must all that pertains to God be. God is a holy God, and so His place is a holy place: His temple is a holy temple, His people are holy people, His land is a holy land, and His service a holy service. And so Israel, who were by their relation unto God a holy people, were required of God to be inwardly such, in correspondence to their consecration, “Be ye holy, for I, Jehovah your God, am holy.” “God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” He’s a living God, and must be worshipped with the living worship of the heart. He requires the heart, because He is a Spirit. He is true, He must be worshipped with a true heart. He requireth truth in the inward parts. Let us then draw near unto God in the holiest of all with a true heart. We cannot come into the holiest of all with our bodies. Saints shall once do that, the time is coming, at the resurrection, at the last day. But there is no part of us that can enter the holiest just now but the heart — the heart in the exercise of a living faith. We remarked that all the service of the Church is transacted in the holiest of all, into which Christ has entered. Now as we cannot enter with our persons just now, there is no other way that we can enter but with our heart, by faith which has its seat in the heart, and the heart required is a true heart — a heart true, true about the work — a heart meaning the service in good faith toward God.
But you may ask more particularly, what is this true heart, and how is it obtained? We are told by the apostle, that “the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned?” This chain is very instructive; it’s a descending chain from charity, which is the perfecting grace, the fulfilling of the law — step by step to that first and fundamental grace out of which all others spring. Charity hath its origin out of a pure heart; a pure heart hath its origin out of a good conscience; and a good conscience out of faith unfeigned. We have seen that a good conscience is the purgation of the conscience by the blood of Christ, the efficacy of which is the cause that the worshipper once purged hath no more conscience of sins. It is then the sprinkling of the conscience with the blood of Christ, of which sprinkling the Spirit of God is the Agent, but the instrument on our part is the exercise of faith. A true heart then in approaching unto God is just a believing heart, a heart which holds God true, and so acts towards God as becomes the truth of God; a heart which gives true testimony with regard to the precious blood of Christ, and the trueness and livingness of this way of access; a heart true about the rending of the veil and the consecration of the way; a heart true to the truth about the presence of Christ within the veil, as interceding High Priest; a heart true to God in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them: in its exercise, it is this disposition of truthfulness exercised about these great truths of God.
Let us then come with hearts whose testimony is just the same as God’s testimony to us, whose design in seeking to enter in is just entering into the design of God in inviting us — that’s a true heart; a heart in our coming corresponding to the heart of God exhibited in the opening up the way and issuing out the invitation. It’s a heart approving of God and the service of God; a heart approving of the grace that God is to give, approving of the service that God desires to receive; a heart approving of the way of access; a heart entering in just in simplicity of mind, and so, through the grace He doth engage to give, disposed to give the service He doth ask.
“Let us now draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith.” By these words we are not to understand, as we fear many have to their own stumbling understood, a full assurance of our possessing faith, an assurance of our being already in a gracious state — although that is attainable just in this way of approach, and maintainable in the due, humble believing use of the means which God hath appointed for the attaining and maintaining of it — but it is the full assurance or the plenitude of faith that we have a right of access. Let us draw near with a true heart, in the plenitude of faith. What’s meant by that? If I suspect that the holiest of all is an empty place — if I suspect that there is no inhabitant, that possibly all that we have heard about the Shechinah, about the mercy-seat — if I should have a shade of suspicion about that (I do not say that a shade of suspicion will actually prevent some effort to enter in, but it will miserably impede it) — if a shade of suspicion about there being a way, about the nature of that way as a new and living way, as a consecrated way, as an open and warrantable way by which God gives me boldness to enter is — such suspicions, if they prevail, will prevent entrance, and if they do not prevail, but still subsist and be in any measure tampered with and cherished and allowed to stay, they will greatly impede. Now it is a miserable thing as regards my own happiness, that I deprive myself, or clog my way, into the holiest of all, where God in His Gospel gives me boldness — a miserable thing indeed; but then when I see that God is there in His temple to be worshipped and served, and that all these things are dishonoring to Him, and keeping back that service which I ought to be presenting to Him, coming with all speed as a willing and hearty servant to Him, oh! that is more miserable still. Therefore, let faith have its full sway; let us not be contented with getting the balance of a preponderance over doubts, difficulties, and suspicions, but let us see to it that every declaration of the Lord Jehovah be as firmly believed by us as it is truthfully spoken by Him, that every offer be as gladly received as it is bountifully and cheerfully presented, and that every invitation be embraced, and that we hasten upon it with an urgency corresponding to the urgency with which He gives it forth.
Believers themselves may warrantably at times call their faith in question, but they may not warrantably suspend the exercise of their faith. Even unbelievers, who should not only suspect that they have not faith, but should know and be sure that they have not — even they, as Gospel hearers, are not warranted to stay one instant unbelieving, are not warranted to measure out unto God some little bit of credence to make a trial of it (I say not what He may not graciously pardon and accept). A man may in some circumstances suspect his faith, but there are no circumstances in which direct faith is not dutiful — an incumbent duty imperatively demanded. Therefore it is with respect to the objects of our faith, set forth on the testimony of God that cannot lie, that we are called to the exercise of full assurance of faith — full assurance that God is in His holy place — full assurance that He is on the mercy-seat — full assurance that Jesus hath entered into that holiest of all by His own blood — full assurance that there is no cherubim with flaming sword guarding this way to the tree of life — full assurance that there is no law, no covenant of works that can stand up and bring in an interdict against a sinner coming to the blood of Christ, and by the blood of Christ into the holiest of all — full assurance that we are welcome, that we are invited, that we are commanded to enter in. Let us in this full assurance of faith draw near.
Ah! friends, and if we would wish the full assurance that we have faith, I know no better way, I know no other way of obtaining it, but by the full assurance that lies in direct believing what God testifies — direct believing, accepting, and resting on what God gives and lays before us as a ground of our sure hope. Let us beware of all suspicions, evil surmisings and doubtings. Not but that there are saints coming in with many such incongruities; but let believers know that whilst they complain of it as their calamity — and no doubt it is, and we ought to sympathize with them — yet it is their sin. God has a right to a full, and undoubting, unhesitating faith. Not that He doth reject a wavering faith, doubting whether the way can support — not that He doth reject actual faith that puts a wavering foot on the path, as if doubting whether it has a right to put it there. God does not say that little faith is no faith, and that these doubts prove that there is no faith; but while man is coming on the invitation of a faithful God, He hath a right to a full, perfect, unwavering faith. We should not be standing away and balancing, but approach unto what God says, and offers, and invites, and, in the strength of His grace, calls us in His service to do. “Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith,” because the boldness which He hath given of access lays a warrant for it; and oh! do you think God gives a warrant for it without placing an incumbent duty upon us?
We may pass the more rapidly over the remaining part — “having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience” — as we already referred to the mode in which we obtained the true heart, with which we are to draw near unto God. Still it shows us the order. We are called into the holiest of all. The way is a way for sinners, but they don’t just come out of the world into the holiest of all, into the temple. At the very entrance, you know, stood the altar of burnt-offering and the laver. There is a way, but where was the access? through the outer court into the temple. Now between the outer court there was the wall of partition — that’s broken down — and at the further extremity there was the veil, and it’s rent. Still the way into the holiest of all is through the temple of God. We cannot come into the holiest without true hearts — they are got at the altar and at the laver; there do we get our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, not to go out , but to go in to the holiest of all. O then, let us not be delaying about getting our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience; let us see that that’s done, but let us not say, That’s the end of the thing, if we could but reach that. That’s the beginning. We are to pass through the veil. With a sprinkled conscience and a true heart, and “our bodies washed with pure water.” We judge that by “our bodies” here are meant our persons, body and soul, washed by the virtue and efficacy of the Holy Spirit working in the man, soul, body, and spirit, that which is represented by the ordinance of baptism. The allusion seems to be this: — In Leviticus, when the priests were set apart to the office, there was blood sprinkled — put upon the tips of their right ears, the thumbs of their right hands, and the great toes of their right feet, and afterwards, especially when the high priest was to enter into the holiest of all, he was to wash his flesh in water. Now these were outward symbols of the inward purity, the holiness, which became the house, specially the most holy place. And as we have to go into the holiest of all to be the high priests of our God, we need, with the sprinkling of the conscience from dead works, the washing of the person. “Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of your God.” Impurity cannot be carried into His service; and in the ordinances of His service He hath made provision for the purging of it away, and by His presence in His holy temple He giveth efficacy unto these. “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” “I am Jehovah, that sanctifieth you.” But oh! though it be to Jehovah as the God of grace that we are to repair in our unholiness, we should be very anxious to be thoroughly purged, that we may go in to the holy place. That’s not the place for our defilements to go into; the laver is the place for them. Therefore let us labor after much purgation of the flesh and spirit; for stains and pollutions become not priests of Jehovah, ministering unto our God — become not priests going into the holiest of all, going to serve.
The apostle having thus directed to the nature of the inward service, the direct service of faith, corresponding unto the boldness or unchallenged right of access which God gives, proceeds to the outward duties. Without the inward approach unto God, outward duties are vain, and the attempt to hold fast the profession of our faith is an attempt to hold fast hypocrisy. But inward service is to be accompanied with outward. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” The apostle first urges constancy in the profession of faith. Then he shows how the servants of God, though performing a hidden service, are to “show forth the praises of Him who hath called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.” The first duty is this inward duty of heart-approach unto God; the second, the unwavering profession of that faith; the third, the conscientious discharge of these duties for the sake of strengthening and encouraging one another in the righteous ways of God. But on this we cannot enter.
The evident conclusion of all is that we have done with clouding up the glorious Gospel of the grace of God — that we have done with this. By doing so we keep ourselves low, not in enjoyment merely — we do that, that were a little thing — but in duty, and in utility also, and what believer can bear the thought of that? Let us, if we have not yet attained, seek to be well assured, upon the testimony of God, concerning the boldness that there is to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. Ah! there is a boldness — but there’s a caveat against presumption. The blood of Jesus! We are all welcome to lay our feet in this blood-stained way, but who could ever think of doing it in a carnal mirth, in carnal security, in unholy familiarity? Blood — shed blood — is an awful thing. The blood of Christ, the blood of God, is awful, whilst it gives boldness.
Let us be sure then of the boldness. Let none content themselves with suppositions about the necessity of redemption, with suppositions about the adequacy of Christ, with suppositions about their right to approach the altar of burnt-offering — the laver — and so to pass in unto the holiest of all. Let none be contented with suppositions about the these things, let none rest till they know these things to be the very truth of God which they cannot question. Let none rest till they obtain well-grounded Scripture proof of these things on which they can lay their hands and point them out as the warrants of their belief. Let none rest contented till they obtain that light and illumination of the Spirit of God in the glory of Christ in His Gospel which will render these things plain, distinct, indubitable realities. Let none rest content with being sure that they may approach. Let none rest saying, “God hath given me boldness to enter, but I will wait a little, I am in no such hurry to get into the holiest of all; I am glad the door is open, I hope the door will stay open till I be at leisure.” The door to wait your leisure! Does God invite you now, that you may say, “We will come tomorrow?”
And oh! let the people of God themselves be ashamed. How far are we all from the full assurance of faith — ah! how far from the thorough truth of the heart! How little are our consciences permeated by the blood of Christ!
Let us remember to build our inward service upon God’s blessed Gospel, and to build up our outward profession upon inward heart-religion and social communion, upon a personal profession of believing.