THE MERCY SEAT
" And thou shalt make a mercy-seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. And thou shalt make two cherubim of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy-seat. And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy-seat shall ye make the cherubim on the two ends thereof. And the cherubim shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy-seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another, toward the mercy-seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And thou shalt put the mercy-seat above upon the ark, and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. ' And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which. I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel."-Exodus xxv. 17-22.
THE mercy seat, what a beautiful name! Who does not feel his need of mercy! The highest angels know best the unutterable greatness, goodness, and purity of the Lord, and how much He humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth. "Ps. CXIII. 6. Before him no finite being is pure. The heavens are not clean in his sight, He only is absolutely holy (Rev. xv. 4). Whosoever, therefore, is saved, from the sublimest seraph to the poorest sinner, is so, because " the Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works” (Ps. CXLV. 9); and the whole redeemed universe will ever respond to the gracious words, " O give thanks unto the God of heaven; for his mercy endureth for ever."-Ps. CXXXVI. 26. There will never be any merit in any creature to purchase or to deserve salvation. Every redeeming act is of mercy; all our regeneration is of mercy; the gift of the Holy Word is of mercy; the grace of the Holy Spirit is of mercy. We are spared of mercy; we are blest of mercy; we are comforted of mercy; we are purified of mercy; and we shall be admitted to heaven at last of the purest mercy.
This grand and consolatory truth became greatly obscured by those, who, unhappily, had been taught to think the Scriptures taught that the Divine Being was in three divine persons. They attributed what they called strict and inflexible justice to the first person. He, said they, cannot pardon without the fullest penalty of sin being paid. Except some one pays the infinite punishment incurred by sin against infinite purity, no mortal can escape everlasting perdition. The second person is represented as All-Merciful, and not only has no demand for punishment to make, but also is willing to suffer in man's stead, and thus pay in full the demands of the first. Thus, not only is the mercy of the first divine person obscured by such a system for a time, but if it were true, it would be blotted out of our idea of the divine perfections for ever. For certainly he who takes payment in full can never be said to be showing mercy. As, according to this scheme, the first person in the Deity is paid in full for every ransomed sinner, and spares no mortal for whom He was not paid, it is difficult to see how anyone with such a view can really have a clear conception of the divine mercy of the first person at all.
But this difficulty does not exist in the scriptural character of the Lord. He is one Divine Person. His nature is LOVE: His mercy is infinite. "I, even I, am he," the Lord says, " that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins."-Isa. XLII. 25. He proclaimed Himself before Moses" The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty."-Ex. XXXIV. 6, 7. There was, then, a Mercy Seat under the old dispensation. There was not such an inexorable Deity as some have painted. There is a Mercy Seat now for the whole world in the Humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ; and there is a Mercy Seat in each individual soul, by which each one can approach his Saviour, and by which, and from which his Saviour will commune with him.
We might dwell upon each of these three aspects of the divine mercy suggested by the divinely appointed representation of it in the Mercy Seat; but we select the chief one as presented in the Humanity of our Lord, because a clear conception of that will enable us to understand its other applications, and because also that grand medium of our salvation is actually the Mercy Seat of the universe. God in His humanity, is " Immanuel, God with us." "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself."-2 Cor. v. 19.
The Mercy Seat was of gold, because, as we have often shown, that metal symbolizes heavenly love, here,. the divine love in the Lord's Humanity. "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself."-John v. 26. The divine love in the unrevealed Deity is above man's thought. "Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape."-John v. 37. But in the Divine Human Saviour a door of access was given. In Him, God became man, and man could approach to God. What immeasurable tenderness was revealed in the Saviour's call! "Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." The tenderness of the divine love in the Humanity of the Lord, the Father in the. Son, was manifested in so many ways, and on so many occasions, that none could mistake it. The golden Mercy Seat was there. "Come unto me," He said, " all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."-Matt. XI. 28. No man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal him.-Luke x, 22. "I am the door: by me if any man enter, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.-John x. 9. The Mercy Seat was there for every soul that had lost his way. "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."-Luke XIX. 10.
The Saviour's love is, then, the Mercy Seat, and so perfectly has it been manifested in His life, His death, and His resurrection that no one who humbly sought ever failed to find acceptance there. He gave His life for His sheep. He tasted death for every man. And when through death. He conquered him that had the power of death, even the devil (Heb. II. 24) (all hell viewed as one), then He rose in His glorified manhood, and He gives the Holy Spirit to all who ask Him.
The mercy displayed in this Mercy Seat is infinite. None who truly seek it, from the youthful to the hoary, ever go empty away. There the tender mercy of our God, the day spring from on high, hath visited us to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Words altogether fail to convey the true idea of the infinitude of the divine mercy. Those hard-souled men who have attributed their own flintiness to the Divine Being, and described God in Christianity as a Deity remorseless and terrible as the fate of Paganism, might have learned from the healing powers of nature, that mercy, as well as rectitude, are in the Most High, the God of nature.
If there is a wound anywhere how instantly the powers of renovation gather round to heal it. With how gentle a hand time touches a great sorrow, until the bitter smart has disappeared, and the stricken heart has sadly and humbly learned to smile again. The shock of battle has covered a bloody field with mangled remains; the dead and the dying make a spectacle of overwhelming ghastliness on the morning after the dread turmoil is over. But let a year pass by, and the gentle winds,
and the friendly rains, and the green grass will all conspire to cover the sad scene with new life, and so remove the wreck that the traveller will realize with difficulty the awful scene where thousands of human beings imitated infernal fiendishness, and struggled with each other, hacked each other, groaned and died, Nature, or rather God in nature, is very pitiful.
But all these indications of divine tenderness and mercy in nature, are faint in the impressions they make on the mind, especially since nature is an arena upon which all spiritual powers display themselves. It is the outer covering of the inner world of spiritual forces, and these reveal not only airs from heaven, but blasts from hell. The storm, the tornado, the earthquake, the volcano, the blight, the pestilence, express terrible forces which man cannot but dread, and when he does not know that there is an infernal inner world from which these plagues come, he attributes them all to God, and he is sorely puzzled.
But the divine tenderness in our Saviour the Lord Jesus is constant and universal. His whole life was the life of love. His works were mercy embodied. It was love reaching down to establish a new centre of activity, in which He would eventually conquer wrath, hate, selfishness, passion, lust, and every curse, and over a redeemed, regenerated, well-ordered, wise, and happy world, the Lamb, embodied divine love in glorious human form, should reign supreme. From this Seat of Mercy love is extended to all. It reigns in the heavens, on earth, and over hell. "His tender mercies are over all his works."
Mercy exists in the Saviour for all. When we read the declaration of Paul that he would willingly be accursed himself if thereby his brethren according to the flesh could be saved, and wonder at the extent of Christian love the Holy Spirit of his Master had developed in him, and, think if on earth such love can exist, we cannot doubt that the angels of the highest heaven would change places with fiends if thereby the tenants of the abode of misery could be blest. If such love as this exists in the angels, the streams, what must it be in the Fountain? Divine love, we are persuaded, would give itself altogether to unutterable torment, or to annihilation, if thereby the wicked could be transformed, be blessed, and made happy. But it is impossible. None can be happy unless they are good; none can be good unless they are free; and none can be free unless protected in that freedom by Omnipotence. Hence, Divine Love acts by divine order, and says to every soul, "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live."-Deut. xxx. 19. The owl would not be happy in the light; the fish would not be happy in the air; the tiger would not be happy upon grapes; nor would the owl and tiger souls of the lower world be joyful in the pure and loving splendours of Paradise.
It is to this subject the Divine Word invites us, in describing the cherubim at the two ends of the Mercy Seat. The cherubim were guards, the word cherub means to guard. The first mention of cherubim in the Scriptures is accompanied by the declaration that they were" to keep the way of the tree of life," against man in his fallen and not yet repentant condition. Gen. III. 24.
The two cherubs at the Mercy Seat, made of the same gold, and actually of one piece with it, represent the two grand loves from which all goodness proceeds : LOVE to God and LOVE to Man. Without these none can be happy, or can go to heaven. Hence, their symbols were as cherubs to guard the way of the Mercy Seat. There is mercy in forbidding the wicked to enter heaven, as well as in admitting the good. "Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance 1 " -Rom. II. 4.
The evil cannot; be led directly to happiness, but they can be led to repentance; and then step by step in the regenerate life, until a heavenly nature is formed within them, and then they can enter heaven and be happy.
It is, then, mercy that guards the Mercy Seat. The cherubs are made of the same piece of gold, and always" toward the Mercy Seat shall the faces of the cherubim be."-Exodus xxv. 22.
" Tis Mercy bids us all forsake,
Whate'er that all implies;
And Mercy's counsel we shall take,
If we are truly wise."
How much it would contribute to human happiness, did we constantly bear in mind, that, Infinite Love is the soul of Providence, and is as certainly regarding our eternal interest. In what it denies, as in what it grants. We are too often like children, yearning for the gratification of our present desires, and praying for self-indulgences, the granting of which would be our greatest curse. Far wiser was the ancient philosopher who, when seeing the glittering abundance of the bazaar at Athens, quietly observed,-How many things there are here that I don't want. Resistance to evil things, and moderation in good, are the true elements of Christian conduct; and when temperate wants are supplied, the really good man will gratefully exclaim,
"And, if it please Thee, heavenly guide,
May never, worse be sent;
But whether granted or denied,
Lord bless us with content."
The cherubim that forbid approach have their faces towards the Mercy Seat, depend upon that. And if you cannot yet come near to your Saviour and to heaven, it is because you have something to discover and renounce. Go and question yourself, and do the work of repentance, and come again, and you will hear the divine voice of the Merciful One saying, " Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and .shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill It ; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again: he was lost, and is found."-Luke xv. 22-24.
The cherubs were winged, and they were to stretch forth their wings on high.
We have already intimated that the two cherubs represented the two great principles which form the very life of all religion. In the prophecy of Zechariah they are described as the two olive trees which stand before the Lord of the whole earth (IV. 14); and in the Book of Revelation, the two witnesses (xi, 4) represent the same two affections which alone give energy and character to the religious state in the soul of their possessor. No man can truly love God who does not love his brother also. No man can genuinely love his brother who has no true foundation for that affection in the love of God. "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. "Matt. XXII. 40. They form the right hand and the left hand in the Lord's kingdom. Both principles must exist in every candidate for heaven: they in whom love to the Lord predominates being accepted on the right hand, and they in whom love to the neighbour predominates being received on the left hand in the heavenly world. But none are received from mercy alone without this preparation in their own souls (Matt. xx. 23).
Real spiritual love, however, always seeks truths by which to act, and by which to rise. These truths are represented by the wings of the cherubim placed over the Mercy Seat, and stretching on high. Truths raise the soul upward, as wings do birds. Truths defend and preserve good, as wings defend the body of the bird; and truths protect the interests dear to good, as wings protect the brood which the bird desires to cherish. The wings of the Almighty are His divine truths by which He protects His children. Hence we read, " He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his TRUTH shall be thy shield and buckler."-Ps. XCI. 4.
The Christian is said to mount up with wings, because by clear views of divine truths his soul soars in meditation to heaven. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." -Isa. XL. 31. Angels are sometimes represented as winged men, by symbol to tell us the same great fact, that their minds have elevated and elevating truths on which they soar upwards in divine things.
The two cherubs, then, had wings stretching on high; to teach us that genuine love to the Lord clothes itself with genuine truth. It desires to know the Lord; it wishes to embrace Him, as it were, and to abide in Him. It is not indifferent whether there is one God or many. It seeks and yearns if haply it may find Him. And having found Him in the Lord Jesus Christ" in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. II. 9), it casts its crown before Him, and rejoices with exceeding great joy. Love to the neighbour also has wings. It is not a blind purpose, but an intelligent regard for our neighbour's real good. It is charity combined with principle. It desires to promote our neighbour's well-being, and above all his eternal well-being. It does not forget his body, but it seeks to minister to his higher nature. Most of all it rejoices when it sees him growing in wisdom and intelligence; preparing to become a companion angel in the realms of peace. The heavenly cherubim have always wings, and they always stretch upward.
In our Divine Lord's own person these sublime principles have their origin, and heaven is opened or closed as those who wish to enter are in harmony with these two-winged cherubs or not. He openeth and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth (Rev. III. 7).
Before Aaron could enter into the Holy of holies, and present himself before the Mercy Seat, he was commanded to wash, and robe himself suitably, offering incense by fire, and sprinkling the blood of the goat chosen by the Lord for sacrifice, seven times, to hallow and to reconcile the holy place (Lev. XVI. 4-19).
The Saviour purified His manhood, and prepared it for full union with His eternal divine love, the Father. "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be' accomplished."-Luke XII. 50. "For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." John XVII. 19. Thus He embodied in Himself the eternal Mercy Seat In Him is the Father. He and the Father are one. Whosoever sees Him sees the Father. He is the First and the Last, the Root and the Offspring of David, the bright and the Morning Star.
Go at his command and wash. This is the first duty. Repent and renounce what God and conscience teach you to be evil in life. Whatever offence against the Lord's commandments you perceive in your conduct must be washed away, or it is vain to approach the Mercy Seat. The Lord saves a man from his sins, not in his sins. Renounce evil so far as you know it, and pray to the Lord for zeal to live a good life; then draw near to the Great Saviour and beseech Him to form within you His blessed kingdom. Then will you find a welcome from Him. He will give you to eat of the hidden manna, and impart to you a white stone. You will feel a witness within, of wisdom, joy, and peace unspeakable, which will diffuse through the soul a present heaven, and because heaven has come to you, an undoubting confidence will fill you that you will enter it. Approach, 0 my soul, to this Merciful Saviour; thou wilt not be cast out. But first wash thyself by repentance; "wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved." Jer. IV. 14. Clothe thyself with the fine linen which is the righteousness of the saints. Let the wisdom of a true faith quicken and purify thee even to fullness, like the blood of the goat sprinkled seven times, and then go in and commune with thy Saviour God. The Mercy Seat will glow with a Divine Light, and thou shalt have answers of peace. The Lord will make His abode with thee and bless thee; He will appear on the little golden Mercy Seat within thee; the cherubs will not repel, but invite thee, and never leave thee more.
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY --From From Egypt to Canaan (1867)