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The Price of Remission

by Rev. Alexander Stewart

Reverend Alexander Stewart (1794-1847) – often known as "Stewart of Cromarty" after the parish where he spent almost his entire ministry was described by one as "in many respects the most remarkable preacher in Scotland in his day." Leaving the established Church of Scotland at the Disruption, his last four years were spent in the Free Church.

This piece is found in a volume with the title: "The Tree of Promise; or, the Mosaic Economy a Dispensation of the Covenant of Grace." A study on the tabernacle, priesthood, sacrifices and stated services of public worship in the Old Testament, it was published posthumously in 1864. In his will he said humbly of his notes, "As my manuscripts are of no value, let them be destroyed." We are grateful to God that they were not.

This article was published in thePresbyterian Standard, Issue No. 10, April-June 1998.

T HE necessity of an atonement, seen in the very circumstances in which man placed himself by sin, is a confession whispered by the guilty conscience, even among the gross darkness of heathenism. Hence, although idols are vanity, and the service of idols mummery, yet the reeking altar testified to the conviction of the guilty, that remission was needed, and that it was to be looked for only through the shedding of blood. This, too, was the great lesson most impressed and inculcated by the various and multiplied sacrifices of the law of Moses. The constant travelling of animals to the temple, the everburning fire, and the crimson rivulet which flowed into the brook Kidron, all pointed to this. In a word, the presence of 'blood' gave a marked character to the whole of religion. Blood was on the doorposts in Egypt; blood was sprinkled on the book of the law; blood was on the tabernacle and on all the vessels of ministry; blood was on the horns of the altar; blood was sprinkled from age to age within the veil; the priests were consecrated by the sprinkling of blood on the garments, the ear, the thumb, the toe; and blood was sprinkled on the people. All this proclaimed the truth, that remission, the first blessing to the sinner, was only to be obtained through the shedding of blood. It is this characteristic in the Jewish law that the apostle refers to in verses 18-22. An argument, pointing to the same truth, might be built on the practice of sacrifices in all nations and ages; but I shall not enter on that. It is enough that the service was appointed by God, and that as an atonement for sin, and the means of obtaining remission. My object now is to illustrate the necessity of an atonement. Not that God was under any necessity to save sinners – that was a matter of pure, free good-will; but entertaining a purpose of mercy, He shows that the shedding of blood was essential to the accomplishment of that purpose.

God is the moral Governor of the universe. What are the qualities which constitute a good and upright governor? That his personal character should furnish an excellent example; that the laws which he enacts should be good; that under his sway the righteous should be protected, encouraged, and rewarded; and that the wicked should be punished. A failure in any of these points implies a personal defect in the ruler. If a man's personal character were bad, he could not be a sincere and consistent friend of the righteous. Be his laws good as they might, his government would be counteracted by his example. What is the use of good laws if they be not enforced? The best law in the world, unless sanctioned and enforced, is no better than an advice. Eli could give the very best advice to his people, and to his sons. His error as a magistrate was, that he did not enforce the law for the protection and encouragement of the people, and the restraint of his wicked sons; for in this consists the distinction and superiority of a law to an advice.

In respect to God, the supreme moral Ruler, all is perfect. His character comprises all moral excellence in the highest degree. His law is holy, and just, and good. It is worthy of Himself. He has sanctioned it by a most conclusive penalty, calculated to prevent the evil of transgression, and to secure the benefits of obedience. Suppose this island was enjoying the blessings of health, while a fatal pestilence was raging on the Continent, and that a law was made that any infected person coming over should be shot on the beach, the moment he set his foot on the shore. Would not such a penalty be the most effective preventive? Would it not be just to put to death one who brought disease and death to thousands? The situation of the person shot was that of one already in the jaws of death. Similar to this was the position of Adam, or any transgressor of the law of God. He has irretrievably lost the benefit himself, and is now fit only to ruin others. How can he be pardoned? God is holy. How can He but express His abhorrence of sin? The law is just, and the subject that breaks it acts unjustly. Can God be unjust too in not enforcing it? The law is good, and the breaker of it is evil. Can God do evil also by not enforcing the law? Satisfaction, then, is an expedient by which the principles of the divine character and government will be maintained in all their integrity. That expedient is intimated in the words, "without shedding of blood there is no remission." The necessity for an atonement is truly a moral necessity. Sin is not, and cannot be, pardoned, but in consistency with God's holiness, justice, and truth. This may seem a very obvious conclusion, but it is not habitually realised. Men are guilty enough to expect God to serve them at the expense of principle. Now what would you think of a bankrupt who would ask you to swear to a false debt in order to serve him? or of a criminal who would ask a jury to perjure themselves to save his life? Yet men expect that God will lie and do injustice to serve them. How fearfully this shows their want of principle! How sublimely strict is God's principle, when we think of the expedient by which it is maintained!

In the circumstances of the case, then, it is an absolute necessity that "without shedding of blood is no remission." God, as we have seen, is under no obligation to pardon at all. He might have left us to perish, without hope; but entertaining a purpose of mercy, the atonement was indispensable. This was emphatically taught in connection with the gorgeous ritual of the Old Testament dispensation. It is so by the simple ceremonial of the New Testament likewise. There is baptism, symbolical of the blood of sprinkling, as well as of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; and the wine drunk in the Lord's Supper, expressly symbolical of the blood of atonement. Both ordinances imply the hope of pardon founded on the shedding of blood.

Trust not, therefore, to the general mercy of God. It is true that human governments sometimes pardon without satisfaction; but the most justifiable instances in such a case are acts of justice rather than of mercy. Human governments are invariably imperfect. The guilty often escape, and the innocent are visited with all the severity of the law. Then you have the case of one pardoned through interest and influence; but this is not mercy, it is injustice. God cannot be merciful at the expense of justice. His mercy is perfect; it is mercy consistent with justice, through the atonement, "the shedding of blood."

Trust not to a good character as a ground for expecting mercy. Attention to religious duties, regular approach to the Lord's Supper, decency, and deeds of charity, are not accepted by God for the "remission of sin." If the most religious moral man in the country were to commit a capital crime, would not the law condemn him to die? And is not this justice? Ought his character to be a protection to commit vice with impunity? Would you say that, because a man is very respectable, he may be allowed to kill a man whenever he is angry? No, the law ever speaks the language of justice. In all such cases it would demand death. Pardon comes to us only through the death of another for us, in a word, through the shedding of blood for remission of sin.

Trust not to the efficacy of repentance. Repentance is highly proper and becoming in a criminal, but it is no reparation of the evil. David's repentance did not bring Uriah to life again. Repentance on the part of a drunkard will not give health to a shattered constitution. The spendthrift's repentance will not repair a broken fortune, or even pay a single foolish debt incurred. But even if repentance could atone, I have it not to offer to you. I can only offer atonement through the shedding of Christ's blood.

Trust not to suffering, as if much sorrow made up for sin. Suffering, disease, poverty, loss of friends, will no more atone for sin, than the hardships of a prison could annul the sentence of death. "Without shedding of blood is no remission."

I invite and implore you, then, to seek forgiveness through that blood which was expressly shed for remission of sins. How gloriously does the blood of Christ vindicate the holiness, justice, and truth of God! Yea, how His goodness is magnified in it, by the restoration of the sinner to His friendship and favour! The blood of 10,000 lambs would have been in vain; Lebanon itself would have been insufficient as an offering; but the blood of Christ was amply sufficient. What would Popish or heathen penances avail? All were vain. But not so this blood. Get it, then, on the door-posts; seek to have it sprinkled on the heart and conscience. Wash ye in it, for it is the peace-making blood of Christ.