OUTSIDE THE VEIL IN THE HOLY PLACE
Not only a proclamation that “the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest”, and a prophecy of the method by which that way was to be opened,—the secret chamber of the sanctuary and its furniture were also an actual meeting-point between God and Israel for the time being: “There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony” (Exod. 25:22). This is a highly suggestive fact, whether in type or antitype. It brings with it a truth which is lost sight of by natural thinkers and yet which is the true explanation of the weariness and futility which characterize all their efforts to search after God. They propose to discover God as a man discovers a new element, such as argon; or to manipulate Him as a man manages electricity by adjusting apparatus to its physical laws; or to commune with Him as a man communes with light and air by going out into them and opening himself to their full action.
It is a common thing with sentimental writers of this sort to speak of communing thus with God in nature, or to hear His voice in the rush of the breeze, the song of the birds, the rustle of the swaying trees, the murmur of the ocean, etc. All this is beautiful, but mistaken. God and his works are separate, though all His works are in Him. You may see the marks of His wisdom or the evidence of His power in the constitution of nature; but He Himself is out of reach. He hides Himself from sinful man. He is the highest object of search, and will be found at last by all the inhabitants of the earth, but not by any method of investigation which they can adopt. There is no communion with Him at present, in the true sense of the term. Communion is a mutual and reciprocal act between two friends. It is not communion if all the talk or all the letter-writing is on one side. What men call communing with God in nature is only the contemplation of the greatness and the wisdom of His works—which is far from being a profitless exercise, but still it is not of the nature of communion, and is apt to be a vacuous and wearisome effort for mortal mind. What is wanted is response from God to what we say or think, like a father’s answers to his children’s prattle as they walk through the woods. This could be, for God is everywhere present in the fulness of His universe-filling spirit. It will be yet, for God has promised it. But it is not now, for reasons which man is slow to appreciate.
“THERE will I meet with thee” is a revelation, and a prophecy—not anywhere: not with wilful unhumbled man as he roams in his pride through the earth with a sense of misconceived rights—but there over a blood-sprinkled ark, or through a God-vindicating slain lamb; over an ark containing the God-written law on indelible stone, the miraculously budded rod, and the golden pot of manna; or through men in the profoundest submission to the authority of God; conforming in punctilious and reverential affection to His appointments, and rejoicing in everlasting life received from His hand as the reward of faith and obedience.
The curse is removed when “the tabernacle of God is with men” in the corporeal establishment of all these Mosaically shadowed realities of coming experience. Then will the angels of God be seen “ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:51). Then shall His servants “see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there” (Rev. 22:4). Then shall Israel hear a voice behind him, saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isa. 30:21). Then shall they experience the blessedness of the communion promised. “Before they call, I will answer’ and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” Till then, communion is but half truth. We pray, and our prayers are known to ourselves, and they are known to God; but His thoughts or dispositions towards our prayers are not made known to us till the right time, and so we pray the prayer of faith in the darkness. It befits not His greatness or His holiness that He should speak familiarly in an age like this, when little less than perfect barbarism prevails in all the earth.
It would be refreshing, as no language can describe, to have His response to our advances. He will guide our affairs in answer to our requests; but this is a silent answer, and all the answer suitable to a state of things described by a David as “a dry and thirsty land”, The day of “streams in the desert” is coming.
The tabernacle is a prophecy of it, but it is also a prophecy of the days of drought that now prevail, when men, as foretold, “run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and find it not” (Amos 8:12). A recognition of these things is of great value to us while the time of silence lasts. They save us from the destructive disappointment that awaits the anticipations universally fostered by a false theory of God’s relation to man.
We have now to look at that portion of the tabernacle which was divided off from the holiest of all by the veil which concealed the ark from outside view. The veil itself challenges our attention first. Why was it there? As a literal element of the tabernacle, we know that it was there to provide a concealed recess for the symbols of the divine presence in Israel’s midst; but the question now concerns the significance of the veil as part of the Mosaic shadow. Why was there a veil? We see the answer when we ascertain what it represents. This we ascertain from the circumstance recorded by Matthew, that when Jesus died, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Matt. 27:51), considered in connection with the exegetical remark of Paul in Heb. 10:20, that there is a “new and living way which Jesus hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh”. The veil, then, stands for the flesh of present mortal nature, as possessed by Christ in his natural days. This nature veils off or stands between us and the glorious realities signified by the golden ark-throne in the Holiest of all. It was natural, therefore, that in a structural prophecy of good things to come, there should be a counterpart to this time of waiting and preparation. The veil divided the two apartments; the veil of the flesh divides the two states.
The veil had to be torn asunder that we might enter from the one to the other. This was done in Christ. It could not be done in any other; for while any man could have been crucified, any man could not, under the law of sin and death, have risen to glory, honour and immortality. Any one could have died, but mere death was not passing through the veil. The inner side of the veil was the immortal state, and this is not entered except by resurrection. If Christ had not risen, his death would have been in vain, as Paul teaches (1 Cor. 15:17). A successful rending of the veil required the righteousness of a perfectly obedient man, which existed only in Christ. Therefore, the veil, while standing for the flesh-nature, stood particularly for the Christ form of that nature—through which only could the new and living way be opened.
The concurrence of the rending of the Temple veil with the death of Christ might seem to indicate death simply as the rending: and so it might be considered in the case of Christ, in which it was the completion of a perfect course of obedience. The resurrection sequel was ensured, and was only a question of a few days. He could exclaim, “It is finished”, though resurrection and many other things remained to complete the glorious programme of the divine work in him, because all was secured by the course completed in his death. So the rending of the Temple veil could proclaim the opening of the new and living way, though resurrection had to follow crucifixion before the opening was actually achieved.
Popular religion easily adjusts itself to the figure of the veil in so far as it attempts any elucidation of the Mosaic significance. It finds the counterpart of the veil in the “body”, and the counterpart of the interior of the Holy of Holies in the Spirit (or, in their language, the disembodied) state, “whither the forerunner is for us entered”, This is neat enough as a matter of plausible exposition, but it is in conflict with many elements of the truth, and notably with the most proximate fact in the case, viz. :—That it was not as a so-called “disembodied spirit” that Christ entered the holiest (state) as “our forerunner”, but as a glorified body which the apostles handled, and which they afterwards saw visibly ascend out of their sight.
The veil was a composite fabric. It was not a simple sheet of linen or of any other woven stuff: it was composed of various materials and various colours, “blue, purple, and scarlet, and fine-twined linen of cunning work” (that is, clever, complicated needlework), and it was embroidered with cherubic figures. Where are we to look for the significance of this complexity? Looking at Christ (who “opened the new and living way through the veil, that is to say, his flesh”) we readily get the answer. The veil did not stand for the flesh merely, but for the form of it provided in Christ, who blended in himself all the elements foreshadowed by the different materials of the symbolic veil. If it had been a prophecy of the flesh merely, a red cloth would have sufficed. But such a prophecy and such an appointment were impossible, as we readily discern when all the truth involved is seen. “Fine-twined linen” is a speaking part of the symbolism. Linen alway stands as a figure for righteousness, as illustrated in the bridal array at the marriage supper of the Lamb, which it was explained to John represented the righteousness of the saints (Rev. 19:8), and also in the wedding garment, for lack of which the speechless guest was expelled from the marriage feast (Matt. 22:11–12). Hence we easily read righteousness in the fine-twined linen of the veil; and that a special righteousness, a perfect righteousness deftly wrought, as signified by fineness of the twining or working. It is the prophecy of a perfectly righteous man who should be no product of accident, but the express provision of divine workmanship, as exampled in the begettal of Jesus by the Spirit (Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:35), giving point to the apostolic declaration that “he of (or by) God is made unto us righteousness, sanctification, wisdom and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). Mere flesh and Adamic generation would have lacked this element of the veil. A mere son of Adam would have been fit for death, but not for raising to immortal life, because a mere son of Adam would have been, as he is everywhere, a mere sinner. It was needful that the Adamic nature should be divinely handled, divinely shaped, divinely embroidered with the antitypical “fine-twined linen”, before there could be in the nature of Adam the undefiled and holy one required for the taking away of the sin of the world, that the way into eternal glory might be opened through the veil. Those who allege Jesus to have been the son of Joseph come into collision with this part of the Mosaic prophecy.
But though a sinless man was needed for this work of wisdom and mercy, yet he had to be a man clothed in the very nature that is the historical sinner, and that has come under death by sin; for the very aim of the whole institution was that this nature should be redeemed in him. Hence the scarlet enters into the composition of the veil. It was not all linen. Had it been all linen, the prophetic import would have been that an angel or an immaculate man (a new man provided outside the Adamic race) would open the way into the holiest of all by death and resurrection. But it was fine linen, blended with scarlet. Scarlet always stands for sin in scripture metaphor, e.g., “Though your sins be as scarlet” (Isa. 1:18); “a scarlet-coloured beast” (Rev. 17:3), etc. But the difficulty with some is how to associate such an ingredient with the sinless Son of God. There ought to be no difficulty if the whole case is kept before the mind. It is not the whole case that “he was without sin”: it is part of the case that he was “made sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21); that he was made of a woman in the likeness of sinful flesh (Gal. 4:4; Rom. 8:3), and that by a figure God hath laid on him the iniquities of us all (Isa. 53:6), and that he bore our sins in his own body to the tree (1 Pet. 2:24).
These are the testified facts; they need have no difficulty for us in view of the historic fact that he was born of a mortal woman who was under death because of sin. As we contemplate the babe of Bethlehem, born after nine months’ gestation, built out of his mother’s blood, and nourished by his mother’s milk, we cannot resist the conclusion forced on us by the words of Paul, that “he partook of the same flesh and blood” as those he came to redeem, and that he was made in all points like unto his brethren (Heb. 2:14–17). He was palpably and before our eyes thus made subject to the sin-constitution of things that has prevailed on the earth “through one man’s offence”, which enables us to understand the otherwise unintelligible statement of Paul that, when he died, “he died unto sin once” (Rom. 6:10). A sinless man made subject to the consequence of sin: this is the combination of the fine-twined linen and the scarlet. There is no difficulty when each element in the case is allowed its place. The difficulties arise from looking too exclusively at one or two elements. Rome has created difficulty by her doctrine of immaculate conception, in which she has latterly included Mary herself. This doctrine has gone through the world by tradition, and breaks out here and there in unsuspected places. Renunciationism has troubled us with it in a special shape, and well-meaning minds perpetuate the trouble by their superficial partiality for a view that seems more honouring to Christ than the truth.
There remain the blue and the purple. Blueness is scripturally associated with healing (Prov. 20:30).This is the prophesied result of the Christ work, “with his stripes we are healed” It was fitting that the veil prophecy should contain the counterpart of this. As to the purple, while without the specific indication of its import that we have in the other cases, we have a general clue in the fact that it is always associated with royalty. “They put on him a purple robe” in mock recognition of his claim (John 19:2). So the queenly rider of the apocalyptic scarlet-coloured beast “was arrayed in purple and scarlet” in token of her power and the character of it. Consequently, we may, without fear of mistake, recognize in the purple ingredient of the veil fabric the prophecy that he who should take away the sin of the world, and open the way unto eternal glory, should be a royal personage (purple) as well as an holy one (white), a sufferer (scarlet), a king as well as a sacrifice, a healer (blue) as well as a ruler, and the bearer of the divine glory (the cherubic figures) at both stages of his manifestation.
All these foreshadowings have had their perfect fulfilment in the righteous Son of David, heir to David’s throne, the coming Kings of kings and Lord of lords—who hath opened for us a new and living way, “through the veil, that is to say, his flesh”, in being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit, and exalted far above all heavens, waiting for the appointed time for his enemies to be made his footstool.
The pillars upon which the veil was hung may have a meaning. They were four in number, made of shittim wood covered with gold, standing in sockets of silver, and filleted with hooks at the top for the suspension of the veil. We all know that pillars are used figuratively to denote leading and upholding men, as when it is written, “James, Cephas and John seemed to be pillars” (Gal. 2:9), or when it is said, “He is a regular pillar” Here are four pillars on which the Christ-veil is exhibited to view and held in its place for tabernacle use. It is a remarkable fact that the testimony for Christ has been shown to the world by and hooked upon four particular writers who were “eye-witnesses and ministers of the word”—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (Luke was an eye-witness at the second stage). Was this the meaning of the Mosaic prophecy in this particular? We have no positive authority for alleging it, but it looks wonderfully like it. There must have been a reason in a structural parable why four, and not six or any other number, was adopted for the pillars holding the veil. We are not told the reason, but the facts seem to point to it.
The composition of the pillars agrees with the understanding of them. Wood, perishable human nature, coated and beautified with the gold of faith in preparation for the clothing upon with the immortal; and as regards their official pillar position, standing upon the silver foundation of purity for which they were chosen. (Silver is always the figure of purged character. Mal. 3:3; Isa. 1:22, 25). The hooks of gold would stand for the pens of faith by which the “evangelist” testimony was given to the world.
And now we are outside the holiest of all, and outside the veil, but still inside the tabernacle in the holy or first chamber —corresponding to the present life in its divine relations. We have considered the second chamber first because it is first described, though last made, for the reasons already glanced at. But the first chamber is first in our experience, and therefore the first in which the qualified visitor would have found himself on entering by the door of the tabernacle from the outside. It differs from the holiest of all in several important respects. There is no manifested glory of God, and no light except what comes from the lit candlestick with the seven branches. The natural light is excluded by the coverings of the tabernacle, and the light of the cherubic glory in the holiest is intercepted by the veil. Darkness artificially dispelled is the characteristic, then, of the holy place.
To this there is a complete parallel in the holy state pertaining to the present life of the saints. There is no manifested glory of the Lord: that is veiled off by the earthly nature of present experience. There is light, but it is merely “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” irradiated by the lit candlestick of the word of the Lord. The saints walk by faith, and, therefore, by the light of the golden candlestick, which is sevenfold, as intimating its perfection for the purpose in view. This is a real light, though faint by comparison with that which is within the veil. It is a light of actual demonstrated truth. It is neither cunningly devised fables nor uncertain opinions, but the exhibited realities of divine operations in Israel’s history, authenticated to us by the testimony of eye-witnesses (from Moses to the companions of Christ), and confirmed in various ways apparent to attentive intelligence.
The light was caused by the combustion of oil supplied to the lamps morning and evening, without which the light would have gone out—whence we may gather the idea that the candlestick does not represent the word of the Lord in the abstract, but that word as incorporate in living believers, after the example of the seven apocalyptic candlesticks which stood for seven light-bearing communities of saints. It is manifest that the word of the Lord can have no operative existence apart from living reflectors. Inspiration itself is but the intelligence of God apart from a living medium. And when this inspiration, acting through the prophets and apostles, had incorporated itself in writing, the writing was not in itself the light, but the mere means of the light when it enters into the knowledge and understanding of living believers. The word as oil becomes in them the light, when combusted in their understanding, and by this light they walk in the darkness. This will enable us to understand why the lamps had to be replenished morning and evening.
The candlestick, though all of gold (pure faith), did not stand for perennial light, like the glory shining between the cherubim: such light is only possible in the spirit state in which we shall know as we are known, and never faint or weary. The only light we can have at present is the light of illuminated brains, and this is not a fixed light, but a light that requires constant renewal by daily supplies of the oil of the word. “Order the lamps upon the pure candlestick from the evening unto the morning before the Lord continually”, is the type. Nothing less than the daily reading of the word can answer to this type.
The light of the truth burns steadily under such a process: under any other, it goes out for all practical purposes of saintship. This view of the case gives the reading of the Scriptures a place of importance which it does not receive in current forms of religion. It also strikes at the root of the ecclesiastical idea that religious enlightenment is a kind of semi-miraculous illumination by the “Holy Ghost”. It emphasizes the declaration of David’ “The entrance of thy words giveth light”; and of Paul: “The Scriptures are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through the faith that is in Christ Jesus”.
The oil was to be supplied by the children of Israel; “pure oil olive beaten for the light” (Lev. 24:2). This is in harmony with the fact that Israel has furnished the men who were the mediums of the oil-word, and that the same was delivered in much affliction—beaten for the light. Whether this was an intended meaning we are not informed, but the correspondence is striking.
The exclusion of the natural light is evidently a part of the symbolism. There was no window in the tabernacle, and the light that would have come from the open roof was intercepted by the several coverings that were laid across. We have no indication of the divinely intended meaning of this, beyond what may be furnished in the Scriptural question: “Who can by searching find out God?” and the apostolic statement: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned”, As we behold the darkened interior of the structure intended to symbolize the relation of God to man, lit only by an apparatus forming part of the symbolism, we are plainly informed that “the light of nature” can throw no light on the question of what man’s relation to God is, or what God’s purpose with him is, or how man can be acceptable with God. In short, that “religion” is an affair of revelation exclusively, and that “natural religion” is a myth. There is truly no such thing as natural religion. Religion, to be religion, must be a means of actual reconciliation with God, and it is from God only that we can learn the terms of this reconciliation. What man devises is not religion, but will-worship, or worship according to human will. It may be acceptable to man: but if it is not acceptable to God it has no reconciling power, or power to bind again what has been broken, and, therefore, is not religion—all which is in perfect accord with the fact that natural light had no place in the interior of the tabernacle of the congregation.
The golden candlestick stood on the left hand of the holy place as one entered from the door. The next object catching the eye was an altar, standing in front before the veil of the most holy —not an altar for offering sacrifice but an altar for offering incense. The altar for offering sacrifice—a much larger altar—was outside the tabernacle. The interior of the holy place would not have been a fitting place for this altar when the significance of things is considered. The holy place typified the holy state arising out of the divine appointments for the purpose, chief among which is the sacrifice of the holy one. It would not have been appropriate to give a place to this sacrifice in the place signifying the state arising our of it. It was more in harmony with the relation of things that the altar of burnt offerings should be outside the tabernacle, though in the holy court. But though there is no altar of sacrifice in the holy place, there is the altar of incense on which morning and evening it was the high priest’s part to offer incense with fire taken off the altar of sacrifice. The incense altar was of wood covered with gold, and resembled the ark in being finished on the top with a royal crown, and having gold-covered staves always in the rings ready for use. All these features would have the meanings we identified in connection with the ark in the last chapter. They represented the same community but in a different state and time—namely, now instead of then; in the mortal instead of the immortal. Incense we saw to symbolize acceptable prayer. The altar of incense represents the sacrifice of prayer offered with Christ-fire on the gold-plate foundation of faith, without which it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). The presence of this altar in the Mosaic Holy and the daily consumption of incense upon it is a powerful inculcation of this truth from God, which is otherwise so often declared in the Scriptures, that men are not acceptable to Him who do not “pray without ceasing”, and in “everything give thanks”, offering “the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:15)—“a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations”. No strange incense was to be used. Only God’s own promises and God’s own commandments must be breathed in prayer. God’s own truth is the only acceptable basis of approach. Man’s thoughts and inventions are odious to Him. This is only natural, as we might say; great men can only be acceptably approached by inferiors on the basis of the great men’s own views of what is proper. How much more must man conform to God. “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me”, was His comment on the destruction of Nadab and Abihu when they presumed to offer strange fire.
The altar of incense, though wholly a symbol of prayer, was associated with atonement, in being touched once a year with” the blood of the sin-offering” slain and offered outside (Exod. 30:10), which is an intimation that prayer is not acceptable except at the hands of those who have come into contact with the sacrifice of Christ in the way appointed—the understanding, belief and obedience of the gospel, in being baptized into his death. Men who worship apart from this are worshippers on the outside of the tabernacle, and invoke death in presuming to come near without the blood of the sacrifice required. The altar of incense had no relation to the stranger in any sense or way. It was in the holy which no stranger dare enter, and it was both anointed with the holy oil and sanctified with the atoning blood, with which the stranger has not come in contact. Also it was to be served only by the priests, with whom the stranger has no connection. It is only those who have submitted to the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus that are “a royal priesthood”, qualified to acceptably “show forth the praises of him who hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God” (1 Pet. 2:9).
On the right-hand side of the holy place, against the inner side of the south wall of the chamber, stood a table about 3 ft. long, 18 in. broad, and 2 ft. 3 in. high, made of hard wood covered with gold (Exod. 25:23). On it were placed two piles of cakes, of fine flour, six in a pile, twelve in all. On each pile (or row) was placed a vessel containing a quantity of frankincense in process of burning. The cakes were to be renewed every sabbath, and the old ones eaten by the priests in the holy place. They were called the shewbread (Exod. 25:30), because always on show, “before the Lord”. But what were they there to show? First, the national constitution in twelve tribe subjection to the law of Moses. We learn this from their number, which connects them with the “twelve tribes of Israel”, and from the statement that the cakes were to be considered as taken from them as an offering for a memorial (Lev. 24:7–8). This clue unites with certain apostolic expressions in attaching an Israelitish character to the whole economy of true religion and hope and holiness, as existing in this imperfect state. The holy place figures this economy, and it is meet, therefore, that it should contain the insignia of its national association. We know who said “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22), “to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and giving of the law … and the promises” (Rom. 9:4). We are all familiar with Paul’s description of the hope of the gospel as “the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20), “unto which hope”, as he further said, “our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come” (26:7).
The moderns have entirely forgotten this aspect of the salvation which the gospel discloses and offers. The twelve cakes of the shewbread may suffice to recall them to the truth in this matter. “The bread of God” (as the shew-bread is called, Lev. 21:6) “is he that cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (John 6:33); but the essence of it is Israelitish, not only in its historical associations, but in its future development. We not only see in Jesus a Jew (John 4:9), “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1); but as we look forward, we see him enthroned in Zion, on David’s throne, as King of Israel and Lord of the whole earth (Micah. 4:7; Isa. 9:6; Jer. 23:5; Zech. 14:9). We not only see the twelve cakes piled on the table in the Mosaic holy place to “show” the truth; but in the finished antitype we see twelve thrones for the twelve apostles, over the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30). Thus the law and the prophets and the gospel coincide in exhibiting this much-forgotten feature of divine truth.
The divine plan is one from the beginning. “In Abraham and his seed” is the basis of blessing ]aid. There has been no departure from the purpose formed at the beginning. There have been adjustments and accommodations arising out of Israel’s disobedience, but the main plan has been steadily pursued even in the calling of the Gentiles to be grafted into the good olive tree (Rom. 11:24). But because “they are not all Israel that are of Israel”, the vast majority in their generations having been rebels like those who fell in the wilderness under Moses, the main position has become obscured, and may have jumped to the conclusion deprecated by Paul, that “God hath cast away his people whom he foreknew”. The fact is that in the midst of all the confusions inseparable from an enterprise operating on flesh and blood, there has always been a remnant like Elijah’s seven thousand. This remnant in our age is mainly to be found among adopted Israelites (Gentiles adopted through Christ). Still, even these are the same class spiritually, and will be incorporated with the accepted natural remnant in the day when the plan is brought to its full completion.