Among the various aspects in which the Lord Jesus is presented to us, it is well oftentimes to distinguish between that which he is properly in his own Person, and that which he is as constituted of God.
It is most legitimate to trace him from the manger of Bethlehem, to his coming in the clouds of heaven in fully manifested glory. The Holy Spirit delights in this theme in tracing the lowly rod of the stem of Jesse, growing up before the Lord as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground, to the stately Branch in manifested beauty. (Isa. 11:1; Isa. 53:2; Jer. 33:15; Zech. 3:8; Zech. 6:12; Luke 1:78.) So, again, it is now the special office of the Holy Ghost to glorify Jesus by testifying to us what he is, and is owned to be in heaven, whilst he is rejected on earth. In the reception of this testimony is found the great strength of the Church in its militant state here in the world.
But there is something before all this. There is the tracing him down from heaven to earth, as well as tracing him up from earth to heaven, to return thence in manifested glory. It is this character of testimony to Jesus which the Holy Ghost presents to us in the commencement of the epistle to the Hebrews. It is true that the prominent subject is the official dignity of the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Apostle, Captain, and High Priest of our profession, — elevated far beyond Moses, or Aaron, or Joshua. But this elevation, whilst true of him officially, is far more true by reason of the essential dignity of his own person. God hath in these last days spoken to us by the Son. This is not an official title, it is his own real, proper, native standing, — belonging to him in a sense in which it belongs to no other.
And herein is the grand characteristic difference between the Lord Jesus and all others. Many indeed are those of old upon whom the Lord hath put honour, who would have been nothing but for the honour thus put upon them. They are constituted and appointed to various offices, and not to own them in those offices would be to reject God. So also God has made Jesus both Christ and Lord. But who is he who is thus constituted, or made, of God? He is the Son. These constituted dignities cannot excel his own real glory, that which he had with the Father before the world was. His offices, dignified though they be, cannot in this sense exalt him. But he can give, and does give, the power and character of his own divine person unto every office which he sustains — unto every work which he has done. If he could be stripped of all his official glories, his own personal excellency and glory must remain untouched and undiminished. It is this which makes him alone the fit one "to bear the glory" which God may put upon him. When God put various glories on others, as on Moses or Aaron, or David, or Solomon, their failure to sustain the glory was marked in them all. And why? They were but men, having no power in themselves to stand at all. But Jesus is the Son, and "in him was life." And let it be remembered, in passing, that the only security for the saints bearing the glory which grace has made theirs, is that they are in union with him who is thus in his own person above all glory. "He who sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one."
To have office conferred by God is indeed a solemn responsibility, both as it respects him who is so honoured, and as it respects others to acknowledge the honour conferred of God. It is thus our responsibility to acknowledge office in magistrates, and not to speak evil of dignities. To resist the power is to resist God. Those who bear the dignity may be nothing, the vilest of men, but the honour is put on them of God, and is to be acknowledged by us. If this be so, how fearful in the sight of God must it be to refuse to acknowledge any of the offices, styles, dignities, which God has conferred on his own Son. How fearful in any wise to trench on them by arrogating them to ourselves. This is the last form of manifested evil under the present dispensation, and that which will bring down the terrible judgment of God. It is the denial of "Jesus Christ, the only Lord God, and our Lord" (Jude) that is, the denial of him both in his own essential glory, and his conferred mediatorial glory. Let us then beware of anything which derogates from the honour due to Jesus, the Son of God. For how infinitely elevated is he above all others on whom official dignity has been conferred by God. God will strip men of all the glories he has conferred on them, and then what are they? Nothing. Man being in honour is like the beasts that perish. But when man is thus abased, in that day the Lord Jesus Christ alone shall be exalted. (Isa. 2.)
I desire, because of the importance of the subject, to refer to the eighty-second Psalm for illustration of the truth, that any honour conferred by God on men brings them out of obscurity, taken away it sinks them into their own proper nothingness. On the other hand, honour conferred on the Son adds nothing really to him: if it be taken from him or disowned by man, it only leads to his exaltation by God to every office in which man has failed, "that in all things he might have the pre-eminence." "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty: he judgeth among the gods. How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. They know not, neither will they understand: they walk on in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are out of course. I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you children of the Most High: but ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes. Arise, O God, judge the earth; for thou shalt inherit all nations."
The reference of the Lord Jesus to this Psalm, in the tenth chapter of John, is very remarkable. He had asserted, in the most unequivocal manner, his own proper divinity, "I and my Father are one" (ver. 30). This, they said, was making himself God (ver. 33). Afterwards in verse 38, Jesus again asserts this, and again they sought to take him (ver. 39). But he had previously (verses 34, 35) referred to this Psalm, to prove that they ought at least to have owned him in his official authority and power. His works testified of him that he was the sent one of the Father. Not one "unto whom the word of God came" merely, but him whom the Father had sanctified and sent into the world, he could say, "I am the Son of God." They should have believed him for his works' sake, for he did the works of his Father, and he and the Father were one. To others the word of God has only come — "I have said, Ye are gods." They had no dignity at all in themselves; they were of the earth, earthy, raised in official dignity by God. But he was the Son; he had been "sanctified and sent into the world;" he was "the Lord from heaven." How infinitely contrasted is Jesus the Son of God to all those of whom God has said, "Ye are gods." The moment their conferred dignity was taken from them, they would die like the common herd of men. They had no essential, inherent power or dignity. But he was one with the Father, he was in the beginning with God; nothing therefore could really touch his dignity, for it was intrinsically divine. It was not the word coming to him which made him what he was — though he had indeed been sanctified and sent into the world — it was what he ever was in himself which enabled him to be so sent, and to sustain and give efficiency to all that was laid upon him. Hence, though in his humiliation his judgment was taken away, yet God would divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong. This shall be manifestly true when all official and delegated power shall be taken out of the hands to which God has entrusted it, and actually assumed by Jesus. Then shall that word be proved true of him — "Arise, O God, judge the earth; for thou shalt inherit all nations."
The connection between the personal and the official glories of the Lord Jesus Christ is indeed the prominent subject of the Epistle to the Hebrews. In the first chapter the Son is presented to us as both in person and office far above angels. And it is the Son who is also the apostle of our profession. In the second chapter he is presented to us as our High Priest; and then we are exhorted, in the third chapter, to "consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus." Moses indeed was great. God had magnified him before Pharaoh, yet he was but a servant — one to whom the word of God had come — although God humbled Miriam and Aaron before him. But, mark, Jesus was not only officially greater than Moses, but it was his personal greatness which gave him the infinite superiority. He was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he that hath builded the house hath more honour than the house; and every house is builded by some man, but he that built all things is God. Moses was faithful as a servant in another's house, but Christ as a Son over his own house. So again as concerning the high priesthood. Aaron was the high priest, but Jesus was the Great High Priest, — higher thus indeed than Aaron even officially. But this is not all; it is "Jesus the Son of God," infinitely higher personally than he is officially. "Seeing then that we have a Great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God." (chap. 4.)
But yet further. It pleased God to constitute one individual a perfect type of the Lord Jesus Christ; that individual was Melchizedec. He stands before us typical of Jesus, both in person and office. The mystery with which God has so remarkably surrounded Melchizedec makes him a fit type of the Person of the Son; for "no man knoweth the Son, but the Father;" and so, no man knoweth Melchizedec, but God. And his being thus presented to us without genealogy, "having neither beginning of days, nor end of life," shows us also how truly he is "made like unto the Son of God." Thus, Melchizedec is so brought before us in the word of God, as to be made a most wonderful type of the divine and eternal Son of God — he is thus the personal type. "Abideth a priest continually;" for we know not when Melchizedec's priesthood began or ended; he had not as Aaron an official life — "beginning of days and end of life," — in this he is the official type. Melchizedec is indeed the only individual mentioned in the scriptures, as one whose own person qualifies him for office. And in this respect how apt a type is he of Jesus.
With this general opening, let us meditate on the contrasts presented to us in the seventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews; that we may be able to draw the character of the worship from the order of the priesthood.
Most prominently do we here find the Person of the Priest set before us — "the Son of God," (Heb. 7:3), in contrast with every office-bearing person. This might have been enough; but there are contrasts immediately resulting from the Person of the Priest, which must also be noticed. After the order of Aaron, they were men that die; but after the order of Melchizedec, it is he that liveth — liveth because he is the Son — because be has life in himself. True, he has laid it down and taken it again, that he might enter on his priesthood, having first by himself purged our sins.
Again. The order of Aaron was continued by succession. It was necessarily so. Aaron was a man in the flesh, and provision was made in case of his death for his son, that should minister in his stead; as it is written, "And the priest whom he shall anoint, and whom he shall consecrate to minister in the priest's office in his father's stead, shall make the atonement, and shall put on the linen clothes, even the holy garments." (Lev. 16:32.) This was the "carnal commandment," by which the priesthood of the Aaronic order was to be perpetuated. Succession is the only mode which man knows of perpetuating anything; this is necessary human order. The king cannot die, we are told. Why? Because his last breath is the placing his successor on the throne; so that the functions of royalty may never for a moment be suspended. Succession is necessarily after the law of a carnal commandment. We need not wonder, therefore, that men, should have turned back to this order, as being that which is most natural and human. But God has made other provision for his Church; his Church knows no successional priesthood. The Son is made Priest, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. It is still what he is in himself that gives the character to his priesthood. And that which is characteristic of this priesthood is equally so of the whole order of priesthood in the Church — it is unsuccessional. The Church's position in this dispensation is in life and in power. There is no room for a carnal commandment in the matter of priesthood or worship either, because Christ's Priesthood in heaven is perpetuated in himself. No one succeeds to him there; he is "a High Priest for ever;" and none is needed to succeed the Holy Ghost in the Church on earth; "he shall abide with you for ever." If man were to succeed man as the head of authority in the Church, a carnal commandment is necessitated — the order cannot be maintained without it. And this is what man has introduced into the Church; thus putting the Church under human headship and carnally appointed authority. But how awful is this, when God's order for his Church is the presence of the Holy Ghost dispensing gifts according to his will. Where, under this divine order, is there room for a carnal commandment?
I no longer marvel at the strength of the language of the preceding chapter, relative to the certain consequences of turning back from the proper order and hope of the Church. It must be subversive of the whole order of the dispensation. It must be virtually putting Jesus out of his priesthood, crucifying him afresh, and putting him to an open shame. Once admit succession, and, as a necessary consequence, union with Jesus in the power of an endless life is denied; for such union must be utterly incompatible with the law of a carnal commandment.
And let the contrast be distinctly marked; it is not after the law of an endless life, but after the power of an endless life. The kingdom of God is in power; the Spirit we have received is the Spirit of power; the peril against which we are warned is the form of godliness, but the denial of its power. It is not now form against form, carnal order against carnal order, place against place; but it is power, that is life, against everything. "We are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." Such are the Israel of God, who have power with God and man, and prevail.
But to pursue the contrast. The priests after the order of Aaron were called indeed of God; but Jesus was constituted by an oath. "The Lord sware and will not repent, thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedec." The priesthood in Israel under the law, like all with which it was connected, stood on the ground of the competence of the priests to maintain their place in faithfulness to God. It was based upon a carnal commandment it was conditional. The word of the Lord to Eli was, "I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now the Lord saith, Be it far from me; for them that honour me I will honour, and those that despise me shall be lightly esteemed." And the oath to Eli was an oath of irreversible judgment on his house. (1 Sam. 3:14.) And this setting aside of the house of Eli was to raise up a faithful Priest (1 Sam. 2:35; Heb. 2:17), to do according to all that was in the heart and mind of God, even the Priest who is made with an oath.
And how blessedly in keeping is the New Covenant with this new order of priesthood. It is a covenant of promise, of promise made sure by God's having engaged his own power to render it effectual; and, therefore, to show the immutability of his counsel, he has confirmed it with an oath. (Heb. 6:17.) The New Covenant, therefore, belongs to the Melchizedec priesthood, and both are with an oath. And it is here written, "And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made Priest . . . . by so much was Jesus made a surety of a better covenant."
Once more; although it has been somewhat anticipated. Under the order of Aaron there were "many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death."
The high priesthood passed from one to another; there was succession. God in judgment had indeed set aside one family of Aaron, and brought in another; still there was a succession of men through whom the high priesthood descended. This alone was enough to destroy all dependence on that priesthood; for though there might be a merciful and faithful priest, still he would die, and he might be succeeded by one who would make the offering of the Lord to be abhorred, as did Eli's sons, using their office for exaction of their dues, and more than dues, but not aiding the worshipper. This must always attend the connection of office with a succession of men appointed after a carnal commandment. "But Jesus, because he continueth ever, hath a priesthood that passeth not from one to another. Wherefore he is able to save to the uttermost [i.e., from the beginning of their career unto the end] those who come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." This necessarily, and most simply, perpetuates the perfectness of High Priesthood after the order of Melchizedec; one divinely perfect is for evermore consecrated thereunto.
How marked is it, that in everything which came under the law of a carnal commandment, there wanted perpetuity; it was so, whether we look at the persons, the sacrifice, or the intercession. But now that there is perpetuity in the Person, the like character attaches to the priesthood, the sacrifice, and, the intercession.
Surely, the priesthood being changed, there must of necessity be a change in the whole law and order of worship. To go back to the old pattern now, what is it but virtually to deny the personal glory of the Son, as giving efficacy to his work and office? It is, as has been before noticed, to tread under foot the Son of God. It must necessarily transfer the thought from his order of priesthood to another order. It must introduce human copies of patterns and shadows once given by God, claiming for such things the value due only to the heavenly things themselves. It must sink the place of worship from heaven to earth. It must consecrate that which God has left out as profane. It must establish form, instead of leaving room for power: producing uniformity, to which the flesh can bend, but to the utter denial of unity in the Spirit, of which the flesh must be ignorant.
Let us then most seriously consider what Christian worship really is. Whether we look at our own standing or at the change which has taken place in priesthood, there is necessitated an entire change in the order of worship. We have seen Aaron's priesthood adapted to the law, and Christ's to the new covenant. Aaron's priesthood was intercessional, so also is Christ's. The Church is alone sustained by the constant intercession of Christ. It is what our necessities require, beautifully and graciously adapted to them. But whilst this is most blessedly true, is there not another and very different sense in which it is said, "such an High Priest became us." The intercession of the Great High Priest for us is only for us whilst the Church needs it, it has, so far as the Church is in question, a termination, and it may well be said to be an Aaronic service carried on after the Melchizedec order. But if we take a larger thought of the priesthood of Jesus, comprehending his Person and the whole Melchizedec order, do we not find his priesthood adapted to us, not only because of our infirmities and necessities, but likewise because of that high standing which we by his grace have received — that we might hold fast our profession?
Surely when the Church needs not a priesthood of intercession, as it will not in glory, it will enjoy all the peculiar privileges proper to the Melchizedec order — a constant reciprocation of blessing and praise. But our standing is really as high now as then — "now are we the sons of God;" and the saints are now to know the High Priest suitable to their greatness. We are "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling." To such Aaron's priesthood is not suitable. "For such an High Priest became us." What is it that has constituted us holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling? Surely these two things — that the Son has by himself purged our sins, and that he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one, for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren. If there is not the same life in them as in himself, he could not call them brethren. "Because I live," says he, "ye shall live also." Is he anointed with the Holy Ghost? they too, in virtue of having been cleansed by his blood, and united with him as risen, are anointed with the same. He indeed above his fellows, but they with the same blessed Spirit; for he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. Now the High Priest suitable to such a standing as this must not only be holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, but also "made higher than the heavens."
The old order would necessarily keep the holy brethren out of the holy place, making those who are partakers of the heavenly calling mere earthly worshippers. And is not this a present fact? Worship should so elevate the soul of the worshipper that nothing should be known between him and God, save the Great High Priest; but instead of this the ritual to which many saints are subjected causes them to bow the head like a bulrush.
But to proceed. Such an High Priest became us, "who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath which was since the law — the Son, who is consecrated for evermore."
How unlike Aaron is Jesus our Great High Priest! All his present priestly ministration is based upon the one accomplished sacrifice of himself. This entirely affects the order of worship, and changes it; for our worship is just as truly based upon the already accomplished sacrifice as is his Priesthood. It is our starting-point as worshippers. We are only in the profane place, if we approach not God on the ground of our sins having been for ever purged by Jesus; we cannot avail ourselves of his priesthood until this be acknowledged. The Great Priesthood is alone suitable for those who have come to God through him. Into what an elevated place then has that one sacrifice brought us! No place under heaven is suitable for his ministry or our worship. Both are properly heavenly. Worship therefore should ever lift us up to where Jesus is — the Great High Priest who is passed into the heavens. Aaron was called of God to his priesthood in the tabernacle made with hands, but Jesus has been called of God to his priesthood in the heavens, the true tabernacle, and we are made partakers of the heavenly calling. The dignity of his Person, the groundwork of his priestly ministry, and the place of its exercise, all alike proclaim the necessity of a change in the law and order of worship. The law with its ritual and worship all hang consistently together, but it made nothing perfect — it bore on its front plain marks of infirmity. There is great strength of contrast in the last verse; it is not merely men contrasted with the Son, but men having infirmity. And so the word of the oath has its priesthood and order in beautiful harmony; but to attempt to blend the two, as the Church has done and is doing, is to introduce the worst confusion. Jesus has not his honour, and the saints have not their privilege.
Let us remember that under the Levitical priesthood there was no provision made for any, either priest or people, to follow Aaron within the veil. Aaron in this respect had no fellows. Now the Son also takes this place of Aaron's. He has no fellows in any of his sacrificial work, or in offering the incense. But he has fellows within the place of his ministry. Under the Levitical priesthood there was no fellowship even as to place between the people and the priests; they worshipped in distinct places: but now all is changed, for that order is now introduced of which it is said, "He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one." We are one in life, and therefore identified as to position with Christ Jesus. He can say in heaven itself, "Behold I and the children which God hath given me." There was indeed the great principle of representation in the Levitical priesthood, Aaron bore the names of the tribes of Israel on his shoulders and on his heart, — but there was not the truth of union. There could not be; or even on the supposition that there could have been, what would it have availed — union with a man having infirmity. But now that we have such an High Priest as the Son, in the power of an endless life; and that he who sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; to have such an one not only as our representative, but as him with whom we are united, what an entire change must this effect as to the whole order of worship.
Aaron bore the names of the tribes as something apart from himself, but our High Priest as completely identified with himself. How far all typical representation falls short of the reality! Just as in the sacrifices, one might see the innocent suffering for the guilty; but the reality — the Holy Lamb of God suffering for sin, feeling the shame of it as his own, and enduring the wrath of God — was incapable of being represented. So there might be some faint shadow of identity between the priest and the people but the reality of living union with the Son was incapable of being typically expressed. It is the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus which is now the great order of God. It is not only through him, that we come, but now in Christ Jesus ye who were far off are brought nigh by the blood of Jesus. There is now therefore the anointed High Priest, even Jesus, but he has fellows anointed also those who worship through him are not the people who stand without, but priests sanctified for the immediate presence of God. The law of worship now is entirely priestly. "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name."
Can we find language so suitable to describe the danger of returning to ordinances, or the setting up again a priesthood on the earth between the Great High Priest and his fellows, as that found in the sixth and tenth chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews? May not these passages well make the ear that hears them in these our days to tingle? And can we find any occupation so blessed, whilst journeying through the wilderness, — any so fitted to raise our souls out of the dust, and make us tread in spirit the heavenly courts, — as to consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus?
Holy brethren, does it appear to you that this paper is not strictly on the subject of worship? You will find it only so in appearance; for our power of real acceptable worship is in allowing nothing to come in between our souls and our Great High Priest. It is what he is, not what we are, that we have to consider. Are we ever so truly exalted as when magnifying him? Is it not most practically true in this sense also, that he which humbleth himself shall be exalted?