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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: The Lesser Epistles

Chapter 27 - Colossians 2:17 - The Shadow and the Substance Light & Truth: The Lesser Epistles by Bonar, Horatius




The Shadow And The Substance.


"The body is of Christ."-Colossians 2:17.



     Jewish feasts and feast-days had all a meaning; a divine meaning; a meaning in connection with the sin of man and the grace of God. It was God who set them up; and as their peculiar construction indicates divine skill, so do their contents, or substance, reveal special divine truth-truth not contained in what are called the common symbols of nature.

     They all speak one language and point in one direction. As, before dawn, the clouds and hilltops, touched with radiance, tell of the one sun about to rise; so did these rites of Israel speak of the glory of the truer and brighter dayspring. They are all illustrations of the old promise respecting the seed of the woman, the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the Messiah of the prophets.

     They have been broken in pieces and have passed away; and the poor remains that we have of them among the scattered Jews are like the last rags of the beggar's garment. But each of them, though dead, yet speaketh; nor shall their voice ever cease. They will speak forever; they will continue to be heard throughout the ages, both in earth and heaven. They speak in two ways. (1)

     They have furnished the alphabet of the language in which the prophets spoke and the apostles wrote. Just as common language is constructed originally out of natural signs or forms-the tree, the mountain, the river, and the like-so the language of Scripture is all built up out of these Mosaic symbols, so that almost every word has some reference to them, and can only be fully understood by understanding them. (2) They have been concentrated in Christ Jesus; and speak now to us in Him, as of old they did of Him. They may be said to have been buried in His grave; but they were buried there only that they might rise again. They have risen with Him, and speak to us with a risen voice concerning our risen Substitute and King. When the traveler wanders over Moriah, or climbs Zion, or passes up the vale of the Kedron, or admires the majestic stones of the old temple wall, he is but seeing the empty tomb, the place where this symbol language lay; but he is reminded 'by the desolations around that it is not now here: it is risen, and is to be found, not in Jerusalem or Palestine, but in every nation under heaven to which the glad tidings of the dead and risen Saviour have come.

     Though full of meaning, yet these feasts and rites were nothing in themselves; nothing apart from something beyond them, to which they pointed. They were pictures, statues, shadows,-no more. They were not the substance; they were not the body or person; they were, like John the Baptist, a voice crying in the wilderness; they were friends of the Bridegroom, but not the Bridegroom Himself; they said, Look not at me, but at Him to whom we are looking; admire not us, but Him who is our Alpha and Omega, our beginning and our end.

     Christ was the body, the substance, the person of whom they spoke. They were the shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ,-that is, belongs to Christ; the living substance, of which these dead shadows spoke, was Christ Himself. Of the passover, the feast of tabernacles, the feast of trumpets, and the like, we say, they were all shadows, but 'the body is of Christ.' Apart from Him they were nothing; in Him they terminated, and in Him they had their fullness and their life. Apart from Him they were dumb; in Him they are not only vocal, but eloquent. Of them we may say, 'Christ is all and in all.'

     Look at the tabernacle, with its courts, and furniture, and priesthood. There Christ is all. The fabric itself declares His Person;-partly human, and partly divine: in what is visible, earthly; in what is invisible, heavenly. It announces Him as Immanuel, the God-man, God with us; and it says, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and .He will dwell' with them; and God Himself shall be with them, their God.'

     Look at the entrance, which was so free to all worshippers. It is but a shadow; the body is He who says, 'I am the door.' Look at the altar, with the sacrifice consuming there. It is but a shadow; the substance is He who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree. Look at the laver, filled with pure water from the smitten rock. It is but a shadow; the reality is He who cleanses us from all unrighteousness, who washes us from our sins in His own blood. Go in to the second court: look at the golden altar, with its ever-fragrant, ever-ascending incense. It is but a shadow; the body is He who loved us, and gave Himself for us as a sweet-smelling savor; whose name is as ointment poured forth, and whose excellencies are like the ascending incense before the throne of God. Look at the table of shew bread. It is but a shadow; the substance is He who is the Bread of God which came down from heaven. Look at the golden candlestick. It is but a shadow; the reality is He who is the Light of the world. Look at that beautifully woven veil, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen. It is but a shadow; the truth is He whose flesh was rent for us, whose body was broken on the cross. Pass through the veil: look at that mercy seat. It is but a shadow; the reality is He who is seated on the throne of grace, and ever liveth to intercede for us. Look, at that glory resting on the outstretched wings of these golden cherubim. It is but a shadow; the body is He who is the brightness of Jehovah's glory, and the express image of His Person. Look at that whole tabernacle, within and without, in all its parts, and services, and priesthood. It is but a shadow; the body is of Christ Himself; He is the sum and substance of it all. Not a vessel yonder, but is full of Jesus. Not a sacrifice yonder, but speaks of Jesus. Not a robe or ephod yonder, but reveals Jesus. Not a fragment of gold or precious gem yonder, but shines with Jesus. Not a priest or Levite yonder, but proclaims Jesus. Not a drop of blood yonder, but speaks of Jesus. Not a blaze of fire or wreath of smoke yonder, but speaks of Jesus. Ah! it is truly the figure of heavenly things; it is God's own picture or representation of Immanuel and His finished work.

     The things that strike the eye in all this are such as these: The blood; the water; the fire; the smoke; the incense; the light; the bread; the gold; the glory. All these connect themselves with the Saviour and His work; the Son of God and His varied fullness; the heavenly High Priest and His transactions with God in behalf of sinners. For it is in reference to sinners that all this goes on. No part of it has any meaning, if this be lost sight of. He is exhibited to us as the Son of Man, who came to be the servant of sinners and the Saviour of the lost;-who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. It is for sinners that He lives and serves and dies. In Him we see the just acting for the unjust; the Holy for the unholy; the Well beloved for the children of wrath. He is seeking for employment from us. He wants us to make use of Him in our transactions with God. He offers us the use of His name, the service of His priesthood, the benefit of His sacrifice, the treasures of His fullness, the consolations of His love. Oh!  let us do justice to His riches; let us make use of Him as Prophet, Priest, and King.

     In all the details of tabernacle-service we see one thing specially, everywhere meeting our eye; it is death. Every hour of the day almost, some lamb, or bullock, or goat dies, and is laid on yon altar. You have scarcely crossed the threshold when you tread on blood. As you go inwards, you see blood everywhere. When you reach the holiest of all, the very presence of God, you find blood there; blood on the floor, blood on the walls, blood on the mercy seat. From one extremity to the other you are met with this strange spectacle-blood;-blood which speaks of death. Death seems here to reign.

     Is this a slaughter-house or a charnel-house? Is this the dwelling of death and of the prince of death? It looks as if it were so. Can it be so? No. This is the abode of life, not of death. Here truly we find the living among the dead. The God of life is here. The Prince of life is here. How, then, is the awful symbol of death shaken before our eyes everywhere around, in all these courts?

     It is just because death is here that life exists. No blood, no cleansing. No death, no life for the sinner. Life is taken, that life may be given; taken from one, that it might be given to another; taken from One who could spare it, because an infinite life was His, that it might be given to those whose doom was everlasting death. This death, that seems to reign in the sanctuary, is God's assurance to us that life also reigns;-reigns through death. These manifold symbols of death are, in reality, symbols of life. The inscriptions which we read all round are not, like those of the graveyard, the memorials of death, but the proclamations of life. The blood which we tread on calls up no images of horror; it is the blood of sprinkling, which speaketh better things than that of Abel.

     The key to the sanctuary service is death; and the key to the meaning of this death is the great Bible truth of life through death; deliverance from condemnation through the condemnation of another. Let men, who never felt the burden of their own guilt, speak of all this as crude Judaism or coarse Paganism; we will own it as the very truth of God. Let men call this the religion of the shambles; we will recognize in it the religion of the one living and true God, the merciful yet just Jehovah, who, while He pardoneth iniquity, will by no means clear the guilty.

     O fruitful and wisdom fraught ceremonies of the earthly sanctuary! Let us learn from you God's way of dealing with sin and with the sinner;-with the former, that it may be condemned; with the latter, that he may be forgiven and blest. O marvelous symbols! Yourselves steeped in death and wrath, yet exhaling only life and grace to all who acknowledge you! O eloquent blood, and fire, and smoke, and death! Yourselves speaking of condemnation and woe and terror from Him who is a consuming fire, yet announcing to the chief of sinners pardon, and love, and joy, and favor, and revealing to the unworthiest the exceeding riches of the grace of God!

     If the shadows, are so eloquent, what must the substance be!  If the symbols so explicitly announce to us life through death, remission through the blood, the forgiveness of the sinner through the condemnation of the Substitute, how much more clearly may we read, how much more vividly may we perceive, these glorious truths in Him who presents Himself to us as the reality of all these emblems! In Him who knew no sin we see what sin is; we see God's way of dealing both with sin and with the sinner. In Him we read forgiveness, and acceptance, and righteousness; as well as God's way of dealing with the forgiven, the accepted, and the justified. In Him we see the provision for our continual cleansing; our spiritual food, our light, our fellowship with Jehovah in His holy dwelling. In Him, too, we see the glory to be revealed; for, as His righteousness has become ours, so is His glory yet to be ours, in the day when He comes to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe.

     Forgiveness and life to every son of man that will receive God's testimony to this great sacrifice;-this is the great Bible message, the gospel of the grace of God. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself; condemning the sin, yet acquitting the sinner; magnifying the law, yet pardoning the law-breaker; putting down rebellion, yet receiving the rebel back to His embrace,-this is our world-wide proclamation to the sons of men. Condemnation and death and woe to every sinner that rejects this testimony, and refuses to recognize this Sacrifice!  This is our warning, from the lips of God. 'Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish!'