Melville Scott, The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, Second Edition, 1903. Public Domain.
The Doctrine of the Cross
PASSION Sunday, or the Sunday of the Atonement, contains the doctrine of Christ’s sacrifice and priesthood. A Sunday of doctrine usually follows a Sunday of commemoration, as in the case of Christmas and Easter, but here precedes, there being no other Sunday available. The Church views the death of our Lord as more than an appeal to the heart and conscience, and, as being mysteriously connected with the pardon of sins, as a sacrifice.
As all sacrifices had a double object, viz., to convey the sense of pardon, and at the same time to increase men’s compunction for sin, we may consider that these two objects were present in the sacrifice of Christ. Pardon given without some method of emphasizing guilt might make men think little of sin, but this is wholly prevented by the death of the Son of God, at once our hope and our condemnation.
THE EPISTLE – Hebrews 9:11-15 – OUR ATONEMENT
The teachings of the Jewish Day of Atonement are most fitly appointed for our Christian Atonement Sunday. We are to learn that in every possible way the fulfilment surpasses the type by which it was prefigured.
A. A Greater High Priest.
Our High Priest is greater than the high priest of the Jews in three respects:–
(1) As conferring richer blessings.
He brings “good things to come:–i.e., the very blessings which the Jews were yet for to come. Jewish promises are Christian realities, their hopes our certainties, their future our present.
(2) As passing through a better Tabernacle.
On the Day of Atonement the Jewish high priest passed from the holy place (tabernacle) into the presence chamber of God.
At our Saviour’s death He passed through the tabernacle of His body into the presence of God, beyond the veil of flesh.
At Christ’s Ascension He passed through the tabernacle of the heavens to plead His sacrifice in the inner court beyond the veil of things visible.
Either interpretation gives excellent sense, but perhaps the latter is to be preferred as more suitable to the type of the Day of Atonement.
(3) As completing His atoning work.
He “entered in once for all,” the Jewish priest once every year. The Jewish Atonement Day was annual, our eternal, and eternally perfect, needing and allowing no repetition.
B. A More Perfect Sacrifice.
The Jewish high priest offered a life lower than his own. Christ’s was the true sacrifice, for it was the sacrifice of self, of a Will obedient unto death, “by the which Will we have been sanctified, through the offering of the body of Christ once for all” (Heb. x. 10). The essence of sacrifice is not death, but a will obedient unto death, the uttermost test. If the lower sacrifice could take away ceremonial uncleanness, how much shall be done by Christ’s sacrifice offered in perfect unity with the Spirit of God? In union with such a willing sacrifice we can rise from dead works to the living personal service of a personal God.
C. A Better Covenant.
The Jewish Day of Atonement was the corner-stone of the Jewish Covenant, for by it their state of grace was annually renewed to the people of God. Thus Christ’s atonement was the bringing in of a better covenant, and the pledge of our inheritance in the kingdoms of grace and of glory. Thus we are baptized into the covenant procured by Christ’s death, and are “baptized into His death.” Baptism is, therefore, only the entrance of the individual into the sphere of the covenant, while the covenant itself was made “once for all” by Christ’s atonement.
THE GOSPEL – S. John 8:46-59 – OUR HIGH PRIEST
From the work of Christ in the Atoning Sacrifice we pass by a most instructive transition to the doctrine of the Person of Christ as declared by Himself, and of His fitness to be our High Priest, and to “offer Himself without spot to God” in the words of the Epistle, which so obviously connect themselves with this Gospel. Our great High Priest possesses perfect fitness in the three great aspects of life as it concerns self, men, God.
A. Christ in Himself.
Christ alone could challenge all men, even His enemies, to convict Him of sin, and remain unanswered. His disciples could and have answered.
S. Peter (1 Peter ii. 22). “He did no sin.”
S. John (1 John iii. 5). “In Him is no sin.”
S. Paul (2 Cor. v. 21). “He knew no sin.” [see also Heb. iv. 15; ix. 14.]
But more striking still is our Lord’s own consciousness of perfection, and this, when we remember that to Christ we owe our deepest knowledge of human sinfulness. He condemned others, but could not condemn Himself. He taught us to pray for pardon; He did not join in the prayer.
But sin is more than the act and word, for it is the attitude of the soul towards God and man. Sin dishonours God and lives for self rather than for others. Christ alone could say, “I honour My Father,” “I seek not My own glory.” The perfect life was based on a perfect motive.
B. Christ in Relation to Men.
To men Jesus, the Christ, claims to be the source of a life which can conquer death. The attribute of life, and the power to communicate life to others, was the gift of God to Him and Him alone. In this He was above the greatest saints of old, who could deliver neither themselves nor others from death. By virtue of communion with Christ we enjoy a communion with God which death cannot touch.
C. Christ in Relation to God.
Jesus, the Christ, claims in this passage an altogether unique relation to God.
He speaks of God as “My Father of Whom ye say that He is your God.” Christ will not join with us in saying “our Father,” but will rather say, “My Father and your Father” (S. John xx. 17), for His Sonship is not as ours derived, but inherited, not of grace, but of nature. He is the Son by right, we sons by adoption. He in Himself and we only in Him.
“I know Him, and if I should say I know Him not I should be a liar like unto you; but I know Him, and keep His word.” That Christ’s knowledge of the Father is full and complete is implied in the word translated “I know,” which is a different word for that translated, “ye have not known Him,” which implies growth in knowledge. Christ knows God, men learn Him; we walk by faith, Christ by sight. Even at the risk of giving still further offence, our Saviour must speak out the fact of His unique and absolute knowledge. To deny this would be to deny the truth.
(3) Something yet higher.
Abraham, the friend of God, saw the day of Christ and was glad, for Christ the Light shone before His day began on earth. His existence was not begun by birth nor measured by time, being an eternal present, knowing neither past nor future, like the life of Him Who revealed Himself to Moses as the “I am.”
Such are the qualifications of our High Priest (cf. Heb. vii. 26).
In Himself–“holy, harmless, undefiled.”
In respect of men–“separate from sinners.”
In respect of God–“made higher than the heavens,” in His unique Sonship, knowledge, and being.
Has little special fitness, as was noted in the proposed revision of 1689, when a new Collect composed with special reference to Christ as our High Priest was suggested. The change was not made, as the proposed revision fell through, but the suggestion remains as a proof of the intended unity of each Sunday’s teaching.
A certain degree of suitability may, however, be seen in the petition that God would “mercifully look upon His people through Jesus Christ their Lord.”
The Jewish people were the people of God in virtue of their annual atonement; we in virtue of the Atonement of Christ. We may, therefore, pray as such for the perfect government of God.