In addition to the regular services of the tabernacle, which we have passed under review—the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly ordinances—there were various occasions of voluntary service, of which particulars are specified, and all of which partook more or less of the typical character belonging to the national exercises.
The first was enacted before the erection of the tabernacle—and immediately after the ratification of the covenant of Sinai. It has a significance all its own. It related to the form of altar to be employed where as yet there was no altar of the detailed description included in the specifications of the tabernacle. As Christ is the antitype of the altar, it has a special bearing on the mode of his appearance in the flesh and on an important element of truth rejected by those who believe that Joseph was the natural father of Jesus.
It occurs immediately after the proclamation of the ten commandments from Sinai. “An altar of earth shalt thou make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings … . And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone, for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it” (Exod. 20:24–25). Speaking of Christ, Paul says, “We have an altar” (Heb. 13:10). Therefore, we study Christ in the typical altar of the law as well as in all its shadows. Earth or stone is of the earth. The altar-man must be of our nature; but the stone must not be dressed. It must not be shaped with any human tool. It must be in the shape received from the hand of God. Human manipulation would defile it. This is the declaration of the type.
The antitype is clear as noon-day. Man had nothing to do with the preparation of the Christ-altar. Jesus was the Son of God direct (Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:35; Isa. 7:14). Had he been the son of Joseph, he must needs have been what other men are—by nature a transgressor. He could not have been what he was—the lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Pet. 1:19–20); undefiled and separate from sinners (Heb. 7:26); without sin (Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5). He was the earth and stone of human nature derived from Mary, and, therefore, physically weak and mortal because of ancestral sin, as she was: but through the absence of human paternity, there was a power in this physically weak nature of Adam to overcome, which no other man possessed. It matters not whether we consider this power as the absence of the irresistible bias derivable from human procreation or the presence of “help” arising from the participation of the Holy Spirit in the inception of his being. The practical result was the same. He was not “defiled” by human manufacture. He was, by God Himself, “made unto us righteousness”, as Paul says.
The beauty and the power of all this is lost to those who believe that Joseph, the husband of Mary, was the actual father of Jesus. It is a question if salvation itself is not lost to such: for salvation is more than once predicated upon our belief that he is the Son of God (1 John 4:15; Acts 8:37; John 9:35; 3:16, 36). The unhappy thesis is based upon the supposition that Matt. 1 and 2 and Luke 1 and 2 are spurious. For this supposition, there are no real grounds. The Ebionite rejection of these chapters in the second century, on which the supposition is founded, is in opposition to all reason, as has been shown over and over again. On the other hand, the divine origin of Jesus rests on grounds that are conclusive, even if Matthew and Luke had not been written.
The Mosaic shadow under consideration has powerful additional weight. What other meaning could there be to the intimation that the shaping of the stones of the altar by human tool would defile the altar and render it unfit as a means of acceptable approach?
When the tabernacle was finished and consecrated, according to the summary of service contained in the last chapter of Exodus, it was placed at the disposal of all Israel for use in their individual capacity according as need should arise. The opening chapters of Leviticus supply the particulars for their guidance in various cases. One feature strikes the mind in connection with them all: the prominence given to “freewill” as their acceptable characteristic. “If any man of you bring an offering to the Lord . . he shall offer it of his own voluntary will” (Lev. 1:2–3). “If ye offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord, ye shall offer it at your own will” (19:5). “When ye will offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving unto the Lord, offer it at your own will” (22:29). Hence also the expression “freewill offerings” of frequent occurrence (Lev. 22:21, 23; 23:38).
This touches a far-reaching principle—a principle that lies at the root of the problem of evil. Men have wondered in all generations why things should have gone so far wrong among men in view of the goodness and omnipotence of God. It is probably true that nothing has done so much to create unbelief as the inability to solve this difficulty. It is sufficient in one way to suspend judgment. This is not perfectly satisfactory, but there is a certain relief in it. A reflecting man will say to himself: “Things have not always been as they are upon the earth, and they certainly will not always be as they are. My days are too short and my experience too limited to enable me to judge rightly of this problem. There is probably a solution I have not dreamt of.” But though there is a certain easement in this line of thought that may save a man from the absurd alternative of atheism, it is far short of the peace that comes with discernment of the true explanation. This explanation has been supplied in the Scriptures. The metaphysician may go behind it, or sap and mine underneath it and perform the juggler’s feat of appearing to obscure the obvious, and to establish the uncertain. But the position practically remains untouched. He may reason the superficial into a state of doubt as to whether the sun exists; but the luminary comes all the same every morning, and the seasons follow its course, and the metaphysician himself is gladdened by its pouring rays. So he may ingeniously impeach the Bible account of the existence of evil, but he cannot disestablish it, or affect the course of events. He cannot argue evil away, and he cannot give a reasonable explanation of it. He stands convicted as a philosophic trifler. Wisdom turned to foolishness is no new phenomenon. Facts are what wise men deal with.
The fact of evil is staggering, but it is a fact and must have a rational meaning, seeing the universe, as the deepest thinkers all acknowledge, is conducted on the principle of reason. We are on the track of its discovery when we touch this phrase “freewill” “his own voluntary will”, Apart from the phrase, the thing exists. There is in man the power of deciding how he shall act. His liberty of decision is governed by circumstances, truly: (he cannot stay in a sinking ship unless he choose to drown). Still, he has the power of adjusting himself to circumstances. He can do or not do. He can choose or refuse. He is under no constraint. The reasons before his mind may constrain his choice: but his choice is his choice because of the reasons and not because of any compulsion brought to bear. When the outbreak of fire in the house makes him run into the street, his running into the street is his own act. Nobody forces him. He is a free agent. This is the primary fact in the case which sophistry cannot alter, though it may raise a fog before the eyes of the sophisticated. The commonsense of universal mankind, including our friends the sophists, recognizes the fact in all the practical relations of life.
Now, it will be found that this fact (so distinctly recognized by the law of Moses) gives the clue to the mighty problem of evil. To see how, we must take the point of view of the Creator and not the created. We must consider what are the aims of God in the development of the earth and its inhabitants. It must be evident that the feelings of man can afford no clue. Man’s feelings are limited to his own little self, and generated by the infinitesimal horizon of his individual view. Yet it is down here where the flounderings take place. Ascending to the divine point of view, we get away from the flounderings. We have it revealed that God has made man “for his (God’s) own pleasure”, That God should have pleasure astounds our philosophic friend. We may “leave him alone” The reverse state of things would be far more astounding. Where has man got what little capacity for pleasure he possesses? David’s enquiry, “He that hath formed the eye, shall he not see?” is quite to the point.
Now, how and in what can man give God pleasure? Not by bodily strength, as it is written, God “delighteth not in the strength of a horse: he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man”, It is possible for us to conceive that mere mechanical energy would not afford pleasure to God: it does not afford pleasure to man, who is made in His image: why should it to God? What does afford Him pleasure? “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.” “Will the Lord be pleased with ten thousands of rams? … . To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” “The Lord taketh pleasure in the righteous.” “To this man will I look … that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word.” “My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
The secret of the Lord’s pleasure, as expressed in these cases, lies in the thing meant by the Mosaic phrase: “his own voluntary will”, “Obedience”, free and uncompelled—love and worship constrained only by discernment of what is “due” on the part of created intelligent beings, is the thing in which He delights. Does not reason admire this? We are in His image. What higher enjoyment is possible to man than the spontaneous appreciation of those who are enlightened? Should we enjoy the deferential genuflexions of wax figures worked by machinery? Could we find pleasure even in the subservience of human beings who were mesmerized into it by animal magnetism or coerced into it by authority? In these considerations, we get a glimpse of the reason why God’s highest pleasure should be derivable from the free worship of independent intelligence. To make it acceptable, He has to bestow the independence.
And here is where the door has been opened for evil, and where have come in the “long ages of delay” that defer but cannot prevent the final triumph. The power to act independently with which it was necessary we should be endowed, brings along with it the power to act wrongly, the power to act disobediently, and, therefore, the power to bring about that prevalence of evil which God appoints as the corollary of sin. This power has been so used. It is a matter of history. It is no matter of theory that “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now”, We can take any country—any nation, any man to witness that man is subject to vanity everwhere—that the healthiest and wealthiest are no exception, though they have certain momentary mitigations. The fact of the matter is unquestionable. The history of the matter may be varied by different imaginations, but the truth of the matter is one.
Unbelievers guess: the Bible reveals. The Bible being true, we listen, “by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin” By another, both will depart out of the world. The thing is in process, “Christ the firstfruits: afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming”, The process is slow because the result requires time—the voluntary subordination of human wills to God (in the midst of and in spite of the evil) by means of His testimony acting upon the understanding. The result finally reached in the redemption of an obedient multitude will obliterate and justify the evil through which it will have been attained. At last, the song will be true—
In Christ the tribes of Adam boast
More blessings than their father lost:
This revealed employment of man’s “own voluntary will” in the achievement of the divine object in the creation of the earth and man, is as much in harmony with every revealed principle in the case as it is in conflict with the gloomy tenets of Calvinism. If God purpose to fill the earth with His glory, He employs means to accomplish that purpose. The means and the purpose are not incompatible. If He foresee the result of the means, His foresight does not displace the operation of the means. If He allow man to fall, it is that man may know that he cannot stand without God. If He humble man in a deep acquaintance with evil, it is that He may exalt man without danger of usurpation or ingratitude. If evil reigns for a season, it is that the good which will extinguish it may be appreciated, and that its dependence on the power of God may be discerned and joyfully recognized in the songs of everlasting joy that will yet fill the earth with His praise.
As for the myriads of sinners that flit across the stage of transient being during the process and disappear, they are a needful accessory to the work, and their employment thus is no offence to reason. Human sentiment may be offended by such an apparently useless use of flesh and blood: but it is only the objection of children who object to the slaughter of animals for the supply of the table. If men were immortal souls, there would be a difficulty, especially with an endless hell in the background—worse than all Papal Inquisitions (and they were diabolical enough). It would be something more than a difficulty: it would be a maddening enormity. But recognizing man at his intrinsic value (or rather, valuelessness) both as manifest to experience and testified in the Scriptures, any difficulty exists only in human imagination. Man is a mere passing form of divine power, and when out of harmony with God, he is no more than the vegetation or the summer insects, which are also but forms of His power. “All nations before him (in this relation) are as nothing: they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity” (Isa. 40:17). When they vanish into death, they are as a dream, “whom thou rememberest no more” (Psa. 88:5). Hence, in the bright morning of God’s perfected work on earth, when the stirring of resurrected obedient men of all ages fills the earth as with the holiday joy of children, the absence of the ungodly will not only be no drawback, but a contributive element of well-being: and their recollected existence in dark ages past will be no burden on the spirits of the chosen in view of their clean disappearance from creation. “Evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be … . But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shah delight themselves in the abundance of peace … . Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it” (Psa. 37:9–11, 34).
The place Mosaically assigned to man’s “own voluntary will” has also an illuminative bearing on the question of responsibility and judgment. These two things (that a man should be held accountable according to his knowledge and that he should receive “the due reward of his deeds”) are as distinctly affirmed in the teaching of the apostles and prophets as they are ignored or denied in the current thoughts of men. There is no need to prove this, as the work has often been done in other publications. What is called for is the discernment of their logical relation to the requirements of man’s “own voluntary will” in the act of divine subjection. It is sufficient to suggest the thought for it to be seen in its full force. How could a man be held responsible if he did not possess the power of compliance with the divine will? And on what principle of justice could the Lord propose to “reward every man according to his deeds” if those deeds were beyond his control?
True it is that a man in a pure state of nature has no developed will that he can control. He is as much the slave of blind impulse as an animal. But there is no question as to man in this state: the Scriptures declare and experience proves that such men are “like the beasts that perish” (Psa. 49:20). Men are not accountable when they are thus blind and beyond the reach of law (John 9:41; Rom. 5:13). The law of responsibility comes into operation only when men are sufficiently enlightened to know (John 3:19; Jas. 4:17). That such should be held responsible is a recognition of “voluntary will” as the basis of human character. Whoever would have questioned such a palpably manifest truth if it had not been for the bewildering effects of the Greek dogma of the immortality of the soul, and the resultant speculations of metaphysical theologians, who have reasoned themselves and their disciples into the most absurd hypotheses of human action, and involved, not only the Bible but all human life, present and future, in an impenetrable cloud? The fatalism of the Turk and the gloom of the Calvinist are the practical fruits of the nonsensical speculations of the men, dignified by the name of philosophy. The natural recoil from such an intellectual nightmare is seen in the scientific libertinism of the present day, which in its exclusive study of the microscopic raw material of life forgets the huge life-ocean in which all the small phenomena subsist, and the practical results at which all life manipulations are aimed by the Supreme Intelligence of the Universe, as illustrated in the history of divine intervention in the affairs of men.
All this may appear much of a digression from the theme of “individual approaches” to the tabernacle of the congregation. It is not really a digression. The subject lies at the root of all such approaches, and is placed in the forefront of them in the statement (Lev. 1:3) that the man offering sacrifice “shall offer it of his own voluntary will”, On this foundation, we may proceed with profit to consider the various forms of individual approach invited.