In the former paper we have found that all believers in Jesus are constituted perpetual worshippers, by the will of God, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. We have now to consider the sphere of their worship.
In Israel, under the law, the high priest being nearer to God than the priests, the priests nearer than the Levites, and the Levites nearer than the people, the sphere of worship was the tabernacle on the earth. But now, not only is all this relative nearness to God done away with, but the once-purged worshippers are introduced into "the sanctuary and true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man," because it is there that Jesus now ministereth. (Heb. 8:2.)
Consequently the pattern of our worship, and of the sphere of it, is not found in the people's worship under the law, but in the priest's service. (Heb. 8:4, 5.) We have properly no people's worship — all is priestly now. Even in the holy city itself, we have prophetically presented to us the outer court, where the people worshipped as cast out — those alone being owned by God who worshipped as priests in the holy or heavenly places. (Heb. 11:2.) We are, indeed, a peculiar people — God's own special treasure; and our privilege as such is, that we worship not in the distance of the people, but in the nearness of the priests; not in the outer court, but in the temple itself.
We know, indeed, that there are in the church those who teach, and those who are taught — those who minister, and those ministered unto — those who rule, and those who obey — those who feed, and those who are fed; all this is most true, but this does not in the least degree interfere with the blessing, common to one as well as the other, that they are priests unto God. "And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father." (Rev. 1:6.)
"Ye are a royal priesthood." (1 Peter 2:9.) The apostle Paul was a priest unto God, but not more so than any of the individuals he salutes in his epistles, or than the most uninstructed believer in the whole church. The diversities among the members, formed by the diverse gifts of the Spirit, must be carefully distinguished from their priestly equality. Our worship, then, is priestly worship, and consequently the heavenly courts are its sphere.
The fearful warning given by the apostle, which at one time or another has made every awakened soul tremble (Heb. 10:28, 29), is a warning against the fatal consequences of turning back to the old order of worship, as if it were to be a pattern of our worship, instead of the contrast unto it. To return, therefore, to the order of worship under the law, is to reject the heavenly order for a copy of the earthly. It marks the apostacy of worship. And is not this the peculiar mark of the professing church? It has followed the old pattern of the law, instead of the heavenly pattern. It has made again the difference in its priests and people, — a distinction unknown to the New Testament. Thus has the professing church put its priests in a place of comparative nearness to God, and the people at a distance.
And what is this but to trample under foot the Son of God? As if, after all that he has suffered and done, we were at as great a distance as before; and as if with his priestly ministration, we still needed the intervention of others in our approaches to God? God has cast out the outer court, and will not regard worship offered therein; but men have profanely sought to sanctify it, and in so doing have trodden under foot the Son of God. We have already noticed the command given to Moses, to sanctify the people to meet God, and also that we, by the will of God, are sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all; but this return to the old form is characterized by the Apostle as accounting the blood of the covenant wherewith we have been sanctified as an unholy thing, — as that which would still keep us without, instead of that which entitles us to enter into the holiest of all. And what an insult to the Spirit of grace, who witnesses to the soul of the wondrous grace of God and of Christ, and who is himself in the once-purged worshipper the power of nearness of worship: for God is a Spirit, and they who worship him must worship him in Spirit. What an insult to that blessed Spirit to put ourselves back to the distance in which the flesh must ever stand before God. Hence, therefore, this solemn warning, Take heed lest, after having received the knowledge of the truth with respect to your priestly standing and nearness to God, ye wilfully sin. For to worship God as we think fit is the very essence of wilfulness. God leaves nothing to our choice in the matter of worship; it is not allowed us to choose whether we will go back to the old pattern. God has set it aside, and to return to it is to choose the place of judgment. For nothing can await the outside worshippers but a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. There remaineth no more sacrifice for sin to bring you nearer, or to make you accepted. Jesus is not waiting to offer that; for he has done it once for all, but waiting till his enemies be made his footstool.
But even the priest's service in the holy place, near as it was, is but partially the pattern of the service of the saints now. For now all relative nearness is done away with, and we must take the sphere of the ministry of the high priest himself to complete the pattern of our standing now.
While the first tabernacle was standing, the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest; i.e., laid open. (Heb. 9:8.) The priests, though able always to enter into the holy place, could proceed no further. The beautiful veil concealed from their eye the most holy place. The veil of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, with its cunning work of cherubims, all open to their view, might indeed tell them of the glories concealed behind it; but the golden altar, the ark of the covenant overlaid with gold, with the golden pot of manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant, were all concealed from their sight. The immediate presence of him who dwelt between the cherubims on the mercy-seat was inapproachable by them. That was accessible to the high priest alone, and to him but once a year, and then not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the errors of the people. Mark: the high priest could not enter into the holiest of all at all times, as the priests could into the holy place; he could not enter there as a once purged worshipper, for he went there on the very ground of sin not being put away for ever.
But now all is laid open. By the blood of Christ the way is opened into the holiest of all. How significantly was this marked by the veil of the temple being rent in twain when Jesus hung upon the cross. Yea, Jesus himself is the way, the living way. If there be a veil, he is that veil; not to conceal anything of God behind it, but to bring out all that may be known of God to view. And here the worshippers once purged have constant liberty to enter.
"Having, therefore, brethren." The Apostle does not take the stand of one in pre-eminent nearness himself to God, inviting others to draw nigh, as though he had been the priest and they the people — he on the inside and they without; but he classes himself with those whom he addresses, calling them brethren, and three times repeating, "Let us." How different this to the order of old. Moses alone was to come near, and others were to worship afar off; but now it was equal nearness, equal liberty of access into the holiest of all.
What has the blood of Jesus left unaccomplished? In the shedding of it we have remission of sins. By the sprinkling of it we are pronounced clean, and sanctified as worshippers. It is ever on the mercy-seat, and before the mercy-seat; for by it Christ hath entered in, having obtained eternal redemption. His thus entering in is not an annual solemnity, nor one ever to be repeated. The blood of the sin-offering was carried within the veil by Aaron on the great day of atonement, that he might "make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins." (Lev. 16:16.) This has now been done once and for ever. The atonement for the holy place is unto continuance — it is as much once and for ever purged as is the worshipper himself. Yea, no worshipper entering there need fear lest he should bring defilement there, because that blood that cleanseth all sin away is there for ever before God. Why are we so distant in our hearts from God? Is it not because we have so little sense of the real power of the blood within the veil, as the gracious provision of God himself for our holy and unhindered communion with him? "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus."
But mark the way of access. At Mount Sinai all was distance. "Thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourself, that ye go not up into the mount, nor touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death." (Ex. 19.) This distance ever characterized the worship under the law; there were constant bounds set, to pass which would have been death. Even Aaron himself could not pass the bounds of the veil at all times, "lest he die." The outside worshipping Israelite could not pass the bounds of the curtains which hung at the door of the tabernacle, "lest he die." To see God and live was impossible under the law; but now Jesus is the way, the living way, into God's presence. To see him is to see God, and live. He is not the barrier between us and God, but the way to God. All the distance, and every bound, is done away by Jesus. Did an Israelite on the outside gaze on the beautiful curtain, and long to pass it — but death would have been his portion had he attempted it — let him look to Jesus, who says, "I am the door: by me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved." Yes, the death of Jesus is become to us the living way into the holiest of all. But if, having proceeded within the curtains of the door, the veil seemed to forbid further entrance, let him again look to Jesus, and the veil, says the apostle, is his flesh. The very God with whom we have to do is thus brought before us as full of grace and truth. And if he perceived it rent, again let him look to Jesus and him crucified, and the holiness of God invited instead of forbade an entrance. What words of blessing to the once purged worshipper! — "By a new and living way which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh."
But farther. Not only the work of Jesus and his character inspire confidence, but he himself is the High Priest over the house of God. His ministry is never for a moment interrupted. He is in the holiest of all, on the very ground of atonement having been made both for the people and the place, and therefore the present is to us one continued season of worship. How needful is this promise to give us confidence in entering into the holiest! The High Priest has not to go into the house; he is there constantly, and has taken a place which Aaron never could take in the tabernacle; he is over the house as his own; he is master of it; he openeth, and no man shutteth.
It is literally a great Priest over the house of God, or "great High Priest," as we have it in the fourth chapter. The worshippers themselves now enter into the privileged place of the High Priest, themselves taking the standing of high priests in this respect, not simply of priests entering into the holy place. Hence they need a great Priest — one who is over the house, even over them. (Heb. 3:6.) This must not be forgotten. We are not priests in our own right, neither are we free of the house in our own right — all hangs on the great Priest; and our entrance into the holiest of all, now by faith, and in due time actually, is that which declares to us how much we are debtors to his grace.
May we indeed, by these meditations, find fresh virtue in the blood of Jesus, and learn what its preciousness must be before God, when it can give us liberty to enter into the holiest of all!
And now pause for a moment to contemplate what has been done for us, what has been done for every one whose eye has been turned away from the things which are visible, and with which he himself is conversant, to see Jesus, now hidden in the heavens from the sight of the world, but revealed to faith as at the right hand of the throne of the majesty of heaven.
The worshippers have been once and for ever purged by His sacrifice once offered. By the will of God they have been sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. A living way has been opened for them through the blood of Jesus into the holiest of all. The place of worship is as much prepared for them to worship in by the blood, as they by the same blood are prepared to worship in it. The great Priest is abidingly in that place of worship; no ministration is wanting; He is the minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. He, too, is over the house; and its gates are always open — entrance is always to be had, all things are ready without our having done anything. What then remains but for us to use our high privileges, and to listen to the word — "Let us draw near:" but this, the Lord permitting, shall be the subject of the next paper.
But is there not reason for deep humiliation on the part of Christians, who own assuredly the preciousness of the blood of Jesus for remission of sins, but who do not regard its preciousness as having purged the place of worship for those whose sins are forgiven? An Israelite was taught two things by the blood of the sacrifice. "Almost all things are by the law purged with blood, and without shedding of blood is no remission." Many a soul which has been taught the value of the blood in the latter sense has never regarded it in the former. Many a Christian, who would be alarmed at anything which would imply that something was yet to be done by Jesus for justification, is quite unconscious of nullifying a most important part of the work of Jesus, that affecting worship, by the ritual to which he is subjected. The truth preached cheers his soul and leads into happy liberty — the ritual is submitted to as a point of decency, and in many instances tolerated only for the sake of the sermon. But what a fearful degradation of worship is this! What an undervaluing of the blood of Jesus! What a forgetfulness of our priestly place as worshippers once purged for the heavenly courts themselves
The Lord pardon his saints for having so insulted his grace in the mode and character of their worship, and lead them by his Spirit into the only place of acceptable worship the holiest of all.