MAN, sinful and guilty, could not make an acceptable offering for his sins, neither free himself from his guilt; for he had broken the righteous law of his infinitely holy Sovereign, and only a perfect offering and holy service could fulfill the divine law. It is righteous, and hence it requires righteousness from all the children of men. "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled," is the word of the King who reigns in righteousness, and who came not to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them. It is impossible, therefore, for the sinful world to meet and satisfy the outraged law of God, and approach unto him in holiness; yet in no other way can any one come to him and be accepted with him.
This solemn truth was shown by all the sacrifices and offerings under the Levitical dispensation and divine priesthood of Aaron; for all those sacrifices were required to be faultless or without blemish, or else they were rejected. Both the priests and the worshipping people were likewise required to be ceremonially sanctified and holy in all their service and worship, or God would not accept them. All this rigid ceremonial purity enforces the awful fact that sin separates all sinful beings from the presence and worship of God, who is HOLINESS itself; therefore all who enter into his presence must also be holy and without blemish. So, when the high priest of Israel went into the presence of the Lord in the Holy of holies, he was not only sanctified and clothed with the holy vestments, but upon his miter or crown he wore a. plate of pure gold engraved with "HOLINESS TO THE LORD," that the people of that priesthood might be accepted before their holy God. It was only as thus ceremonially purified from their sins, by a divine atonement and consecration, that the children of Israel, the people of that priestly covenant, were accepted in their divine service and worship.
From all this we learn the absolute necessity on the part of the children of men, who would come and worship before the Lord, of a mediator between God and men; and he who mediates must be able to put away their sins, purify and make them holy, and thus make them nigh unto God. All this he must do for them by himself, by his own holiness and power; thus making a sinful people a holy priesthood, washed and sanctified and justified in the sight of God; that they may come and worship the Father in spirit and in truth, and in righteousness make their offerings of peace and praise unto him. For both nature and revelation prove, that the bitter fountain cannot make itself sweet, nor the guilty soul make itself righteous. "The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous." Ps. I. 5. To Moses, upon the terrible Sinai, the Most High said that he would by no means clear the guilty. "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." Gal. III.10. No son of Adam has ever thus continued in righteous obedience, but "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," is the divine testimony of the word. The holy law is the ministration of justice, without mercy; but there is no hope for sinners, only according to the rich mercy of God.
Cain, the first-born of Adam, labored to make an acceptable offering unto God for himself, but sin laid at his door, and he and his offering were justly rejected. So it is with all the offerings that men can make for their sins, or the sins of others. The defect, however, is not in the law of God, but in sinful man, whose unholy sacrifice and selfish service cannot fulfill the righteous law nor please the Holy One.
To the Hebrew people God gave excellent laws, sacred oracles, a priesthood, and sacrifices; but none of these could take away their sins, nor make the worshippers perfect. The Holy One said he had no pleasure in them. All was a woeful failure! All flesh had become corrupt. Man had sinned, hence he was driven out from the presence of the Lord, and Eden was lost to him. "Death reigned from Adam to Moses," and from Moses to Jesus, and the grave boasted of the victory. The religious history of the first four thousand years is God's great object-lesson, as a wonderful panorama, standing out so plain that "he may run that readeth it;" and the lesson is: "By man came death." Hence, sin and death run through all his offerings and works, and they are "dead works." "There is none righteous; no, not one," of all the children of the first man.
How vain, then, are all the expectations and boastings of men, who think to find acceptance with God and obtain his favor and blessing by what they do! This was the fatal error of the Pharisees, a very zealous religious people, the people of God in the old covenant; but they trusted in themselves, depended upon their services and works, and went about to establish their own righteousness. Multiplied thousands are doing the same now. From all these things we must be separated and turned away. For the prophet of God said to his people: "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." Isa. LXIV. 6.
Therefore, of all the sons of Eve, the mother of all the children of men, there is only One Righteous Man, and there is no other righteousness save his; and so no man can come unto God, and receive his salvation and blessing, only in this Divine Man and his righteousness. Every spiritual and heavenly blessing is in him, and of his fullness must all we receive, and grace for grace. In him only are we accepted as righteous before God, and for his sake alone are we saved and blessed, both now and forever.
Now, all this presentation of the children of men in their sinful separation and guilty alienation from God, and their utter unrighteousness and hopeless insufficiency, prepares us to see and realize the necessity of the bringing in of a better testament, and a far more perfect priesthood, by which we may draw nigh unto God and be accepted with him.