"Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession." Hebrews 4:14.
In a day like this, when the authority of Scripture is either questioned or not listened to, and error abounds on almost every hand, it is impossible that believers can overrate the value of acquaintance with the truth of God's present order of priesthood. Like many other parts of divine teaching, it has been greatly lost sight of because a false order of things has usurped its place. But the knowledge and enjoyment of priesthood according to God greatly sustains our hearts, as well as draws us out into the most precious exercises of communion and worship; though, no doubt, Satan and men have sadly corrupted the truth in order to damage souls, and dishonour the Lord Jesus; and thus rapidly bring about that condition of things which we know will end in apostasy and judgment.
On turning to the eleventh verse of Jude's epistle, we perceive the three principal ways in which men and Satan are acting so as to bring about that character of false profession, which will end in judgment, and in being spued out of Christ's mouth. (See Jude 14, 15, and Rev. 3:16.) We read, "Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Baalam, and perished in the gainsaying of Core." Thus we have Cain's way, Baalam's error, and Korah's gainsaying, characterizing people professing Christianity. "The way of Cain" was religiousness without the sacrifice of a life; "the error of Baalam," ministering in divine things for reward; and "the gainsaying of Korah," the despising of God's order of priesthood, and setting up a false one. Now, if you look around, you can scarcely fail to see that the three characteristics of Christianity which have been, and still are being attacked by the enemy, are the infinite value of the one sacrifice of Christ, the divine order of ministry by gifts bestowed by Christ in heaven, and the present divine order of priesthood sought to be supplanted by another of human appointment. This warning voice of. Scripture therefore as to "the gainsaying of Core" is most solemn, and shows that a true acquaintance with God's present order of priesthood is one of the ways of escaping Satan's wiles, and of living and acting more according to God's mind. On turning to the sixteenth chapter of Numbers, we find that "the gainsaying of Core" was not an effort to set aside priesthood altogether, but to supplant God's order by a false one; and we know how summary and severe the judgment of God was upon them for it. May we know God's mind about this!
It is quite true that God had an order of priesthood in the last dispensation; but it was earthly in its character, that is for service on earth, and successional; though it was divine in its appointment. It consisted of Aaron and his sons, which in some respects, as we shall see, remarkably shadowed forth God's present order of priesthood, which is divine in its appointment too, but heavenly, and not successional. It consists of Jesus the Son of God, gone into heaven itself-THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST, and those who believe in Him who are PRIESTS — an holy priesthood, and a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:5.) It is an enquiry into Scripture-teaching on the priesthood of Jesus the Son of God which we now propose to enter upon; and may God help us by His Spirit to approach this most glorious subject with that reverence and godly fear which it demands.
In the fourth chapter of Hebrews, the priesthood of Jesus the Son of God is presented to us in connection with the sharp and powerful searchings of the word of God, by which the thoughts and intents of the heart are discerned. The great High Priest is therefore introduced to us there to sustain and comfort us before God as His creatures, while conscious of infirmities under the scrutinizing power of His written word. (Heb. 4:12-16.)
In the eighth chapter of Hebrews, our High Priest is brought before us in relation to the throne of God — "set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens." Not only does He hold the highest place, but is seated there, because He had perfected us for ever by His one offering. Now, how could we think of approaching God's throne, unless we knew One was there who had glorified God in the accomplishment of our eternal redemption? (Heb. 8:1.)
In the tenth chapter of the Hebrews, priesthood is again set forth concerning our being in the presence of God, our entering into the holiest. This is therefore specially connected with communion and worship. Thus "Jesus the Son of God, who is passed into the heavens," is presented as a "High Priest," which "we have" when exposed to the searching qualities of "the word of God," when thinking of the infinitely holy claims of the throne of God, or entering into the holiest, the presence of God.
But observe the greatness of this Person. He is called a great High Priest, and He is declared to be Jesus the Son of God. The essential Son surely, and yet perfect man, and gone into the very glory of God — "passed through the heavens" —
"Who knows what sore temptations are,
For He has felt the same."
Perfect man, made of a woman, who completely did the will of Him that sent Him; yet no less God, the essential and eternal Son, who had glory with the Father before the world was; for "in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." What infinite glory, perfection, almightiness, and everlastingness, therefore are in Him! What a Priest! How transcendently glorious is He! How the glory of an earthly, fallible, mortal priesthood, though in a former dispensation of divine institution, fades away before the eternal excellency of our great High Priest!
Before entering further on the contemplation of this blessed Person and His precious ministry, there are some erroneous thoughts current among Christians which call for a few remarks. The common idea that Christ is now interceding in heaven for everybody, is entirely without Scripture authority. No doubt He is the one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; but mediation or standing between God and men for a time to avert the blow of divine vengeance, is very different from the activity of a heart going out in deepest interest toward God for blessing on the objects of His love, who have been reconciled to Him by the death of His Son. Was Aaron a high priest for any but those who were standing in relationship with God, a people who had been delivered from judgment by the blood of the lamb? Again, did not our Lord say, "I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine?" (John 17.) On this point Heb. 7:25 is also very clear, for it plainly states for whom Jesus is now interceding. We are told it is "for them that come unto God by Him," which certainly includes all believers on Him, and excludes all others. It is really unaccountable how Christian people have picked up the idea, that Christ is a High Priest and Intercessor for all men. But how precious is the fact that Christ sends the gospel to every creature, and that His heart in heaven is ever going forth in living ministry on the behalf of those who believe; and about this there can be no doubt, because such "come unto God by Him." Oh the unutterable preciousness of this truth! An honoured servant of the Lord once said, "If I heard Christ interceding for me in the next room, how happy it would make me! But distance makes no difference." Let us, then, dear Christian reader, lift up our hearts with joy and thanksgiving for the precious fact, that the heart of Christ on high, who ever liveth, is ever active in loving ministry on our behalf.
There are some who speak of the intercessory work of Christ in heaven as necessary to appease God's anger lest it should break loose upon us, and some who have received this error actually call on the Lord Jesus to pray for them. Such, however, have greatly mistaken God's mind on the matter. The truth is, that the same grace that moved the heart of God to give His only-begotten Son, and deliver Him up for our offences to the death of the cross, also appointed Him to the work of priesthood. We are told that "Christ glorified not Himself to be made a priest," and also that "the Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec." (Heb. 5:5, and Heb. 7:21.)
Again, it is the thought of not a few that it is by Christ's sacrifice and priesthood put together that we are saved. If this were the case, then neither His work on the cross as sacrifice was perfect, nor His work on the throne as Priest; but the truth is that both are perfect, as His sitting there shows. It is because His work on the cross was finished according to the will of God that we are "perfected for ever by that one offering." It therefore needs nothing to be added to it. And it is because of the everlasting efficacy of the work of the cross, never needing another offering to be added to it, that He sat down in perpetuity on the right hand of God. This Aaron could not do. He could never sit down, because the same sacrifices needed constant repetition, and even then, however numerous, could not take away sins. The priesthood of Christ was not needed to add to the perfect efficacy of the sacrifice; for, as we have seen, "by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." (Heb. 10:14.)
The fact is, that the priestly office of Christ is exercised on behalf of saved people, those who were far off, but now in Christ, and made nigh by His blood — "for them that come unto God by Him." (Hebrews 7:25.) Both in Aaron the typical priest, and in Christ the anti-type, their functions were set in activity for the benefit of those who already stood in relationship with God.
Priesthood, too, is always "in things pertaining to God," not the Father, but God. (Heb. 2:17.) He is called of God. He sat down on the right hand of God. He now appears in the presence of God, or before the face of God, for us. He intercedes for them that come unto God by Him. It is because of this that priesthood does not take up the believer's sins; for being brought to God, reconciled to God, born of God, and children of God, the question of our sins as God's children has to do with the Father. Hence the Father's injunction to His children is to "sin not;" but "if any man sin we have an Advocate with (it does not say God, but with) the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Our Advocate is the Righteous One. Priesthood then has to do with us in relation to God, and that not about sins, while advocacy has to do with us and the Father, and that too about our sins. It is very important to be clear about this; for having been cleansed from all sin by the blood of Jesus on believing, and made children of God, our path is to walk in the light, in love, in truth, in faith, and in the Spirit according to our Father's will; in fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. Any disobedience, or transgression, or failure is unsuitable to the Father, and consequently communion is broken, and we become accountable to Him, not as sinners, as we once were, but as children. Here self-judgment and confession on our part come in, and also the advocacy of the Lord Jesus, prior to restoration to the Father's fellowship. It is a question of communion, not of justification; for "by Christ all that believe are justified from all things;" but the Father cannot give us to enjoy His fellowship while our sins and transgressions are unjudged. And, blessed be His name, "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9.)
There is also another ministry of Christ in heaven on our behalf which must not be confounded with priesthood. I refer to the Lord's washing of His disciples' feet. (See John 13.) This is not Christ as priest appearing before the face of God for us, neither is it the precious action of His advocacy with the Father about our sins; but it is a most gracious activity of our blessed Lord on our behalf to maintain us in communion with Himself; as He said to Peter, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me." It is the warm desire of our adorable Lord, that during His absence we may know what entering into His own love, and mind, and ways, and councils, and service are — having part with Himself. When Peter saw the blessed Lord gird Himself with a towel, take water, pour it into a basin, and begin to wash the disciples' feet, he cried out, "Thou shalt never wash my feet;" which brought from our Lord the gracious announcement already referred to, of the imperative necessity of this ministry in order to maintain us in communion with Himself. "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me." (v. 8.) And when Peter, with equal rashness, replied, "Not my feet only, but also my hands, and my head," it served to bring out from the Master's heart the true meaning of this most precious ministry. "Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit." (v. 10.) Clearly showing us that a believer in the Lord Jesus, having been completely cleansed from sin by the blood, never needs to have that process repeated; but he does need to have the defilement removed from him which he may contract in his daily walk. In other words, he that has been washed all over in a hath, needs only to have his feet washed from the defilement he may have contracted in his subsequent walk. And this charmingly illustrates one of the most blessed ministries of Christ on our behalf while He is seated on the right hand of God. It is the needed application of His word to our souls, to cleanse away from us the evil we pick up in our daily walk, so as to keep our hearts free and happy for communion with Himself. We read in Ephesians of "the washing of water by the word." All this too was blessedly foreshadowed by the altar of burnt-offering and laver. After the priests had been washed all over, and sprinkled with blood, it needed never to be repeated; but after this, when they had been consecrated to the service of the sanctuary, though often handling the sacrifices, etc., they went to the laver, and washed their hands and feet, every time they went into the tabernacle of the congregation, to have to do with the things of God and the service of the sanctuary. It is a mistake therefore to suppose that when a believer is conscious of defilement, and of having failed and dishonoured the Lord, that he needs, as some say, to take his place again as a sinner, and to be sprinkled again with the blood; that would be in type to go back to the altar of burnt-offering instead of the laver. But what we have here is the wondrous care of Christ Himself over us, so ministering His word as to wash our souls clean, and (as the wiping with the towel sets forth) making us feel so comforted in His presence as to be able to go on in happy fellowship with Himself. While defilement is on our consciences, communion with our precious and infinitely holy Lord must be hindered; but He restoreth our souls, washes us with the word, and gives us again to enjoy the blessedness of His own presence with us.
But there is another character of ministry on our behalf most graciously carried on by our adorable Lord at this present time. I refer to His being the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. Not only overseeing everything concerning us, but also feeding, tending, leading us into varied pasture, guiding us in difficulties and dangers, bringing us out of mischief, and setting us right when wrong. Here also we see a difference as to the character of the ministry. The truth is that the same blessed Lord, who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, sustains various offices and exercises different ministries on our behalf. And all being conducted by the same loving heart, and the objects of all these ministries being the same persons, they must necessarily in some respects run one into another. Still their distinctness cannot be questioned, and the knowledge of all are needful in order to meet the varied need of our souls. We may say then, speaking in general terms, that the Priesthood of Christ has to do with us in things pertaining to God, and not about our sins. The advocacy of Christ has to do with the Father, and about the sins of His children. The action of washing the feet is to sustain our souls in conscious, happy communion with Christ Himself; while Christ as Shepherd cares for the state of our souls, so as to preserve us in health and strength, according to His own gracious will.
Having thus grouped together some of the precious offices of our adorable Lord, in order to show that, strictly speaking, His priesthood is not the same as His advocacy, His washing of our feet, and His shepherding of our souls, the way has been cleared to enable us to pursue our inquiry as to the priesthood of Christ in the next lecture. We can scarcely ascribe too much importance to the subject, because it has to do with the conscious sustainment of our souls day by day in the presence of God. This and every other present ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, and all our blessings, are no doubt based upon His atoning work; as we sometimes sing, and truly so —
"Our every joy on earth, in heaven,
We owe it to Thy blood."
But while the death of Jesus is the foundation, the alone foundation, of all our confidence and hope, yet the precious lessons of divine grace do not end here; for Jesus is risen from among the dead; which shows that He has triumphed over death, and Satan, and the grave for us, as well as put away our sins; that we have been quickened together with Him, thus giving us new life, resurrection-life, life in One who is on the other side of death; a subject of the deepest comfort, and large in its wealth to our souls. But more than this, Jesus has ascended, gone into the presence of God; and there we are now, as to standing before God, complete in Him, who is our righteousness for evermore. And besides all this, as we have seen, He is our ever-living, ever-loving, ever-faithful High Priest, our Advocate, the Washer of our feet, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. What an incalculable loss to those who are in ignorance of what the finished work of Jesus has accomplished for us, and what He is to us, and for us, now as risen and ascended! How terribly defective, not to say damaging to souls, to suppose that the proper place of a Christian is, as they say, "to be always at the foot of the cross!" It is impossible that Christians in such a state can be enjoying the peace, liberty, and triumph to which the grace of God so richly entitles them. How can they be in the true place of separation from the world, delivered from self, and consciously true worshippers of the Father, enjoying communion with the Lord, or be free to live unto God, and have leisure to help the souls of others.
Happy indeed are those who can look back upon the cross, and adoringly praise Him for His finished work; who can look up to the throne and now "see Jesus" by faith "crowned with glory and honour," and delight in all He is to God there, and all He is to us and for us; happier still to be rejoicing in the glorious prospect of His soon coming to receive us unto Himself, that where He is, there we may be also.
"Oh, precious Saviour! deep Thy pain
When forth the life-blood flowed,
That washed our souls from every stain,
That paid the debt we owed.
"Cleansed from our sins, renewed by grace,
Thy royal throne above,
Blest Saviour, is our destined place,
Our portion there, Thy love.
"Thine eye, in that bright cloudless day,
Shall with supreme delight
Thy fair and glorious bride survey,
Unblemished in Thy sight."
"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace." Heb. 4:16.
In considering the priesthood of the Lord Jesus, we should never forget that this most gracious office is not added as necessary to give effect to His atoning work. On the contrary, we are told that He for ever sat down on the right hand of God, because He had by His one offering (and by that alone) perfected for ever them that are sanctified. We are also told that we are sanctified by the will of God, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10, 12, 14.) Therefore the believer is both sanctified and perfected for ever by the one offering of Jesus upon the tree; hence the people for whom He exercises the office of priesthood are both sanctified and perfected for ever, before His priestly functions in heaven are active on their behalf. The veil having been rent from the top to the bottom, and Jesus having gone into heaven by His own blood, He, the risen, glorified man, now appears before the face of God for us; and we, by the Spirit, in virtue of His blood, and because He is there, enter into the holiest of all, and realize what it is to be there. We are not trying to get near, for we are near. In Him most assuredly we are, as other Scriptures show; but because of the blood which speaks to us and for us, and because Jesus is there as priest, we simply and happily go into the presence of God. As we are told, "Having therefore, brethren, boldness or liberty to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus . . . and having a High Priest over the house of God; let us draw near." And observe also it is added, that we thus draw near not to be washed and to have guilt removed, but, on the contrary, we "draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." In other words, it is now our unspeakable privilege to enter into the holiest of all, in conscious nearness to God, for communion and worship, because our sins are remitted, our consciences purged, the veil rent, and Jesus, in resurrection triumph and ascension glory, gone in there by His own blood, and there engaged as a merciful and faithful High Priest continually on our behalf.
In looking now at the teaching of Scripture on the functions of Jesus as our great High Priest, it is clear that His place for its exercise is the heavenlies; for us, no doubt, yea, for the very feeblest believer, for the weakest in the faith, as the precious words of the Holy Ghost plainly set forth — "for all that come unto God by Him." His priesthood was not formally exercised on earth, however sweetly the loving heart of Jesus flowed out toward His own; "for if He were on earth, He should not be a priest, seeing there are priests that offer gifts according to the law. . . But now hath He obtained a more excellent ministry." (Heb. 8:4, 6.) Our High Priest then, blessed be His name, is in heaven; and among other perfections of the office, He is not a standing, but a sitting priest, "set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens." (Heb. 8:1.)
"In heaven itself He sits,
A heavenly priesthood His."
He is also a High Priest "after the order of Melchisedec;" that is, not a changeable priesthood, like Aaron's, which did not continue by reason of death, but made with an oath, and set up in perpetuity; as it is written, "The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec." (Heb. 7:21.) He is thus engaged officially also, not as those of old, who were compassed with infirmity, but as one "who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens," and who did not need to offer sacrifice for Himself. Hence we read, "The law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore." He is, moreover, like Melchisedec, a royal Priest, both King and Priest, which Aaron was not; for in millennial times "He shall sit as a Priest upon His throne." (Zech. 6:13.) He is also, like Melchisedec, a blessing Priest, who brought forth bread and wine to Abraham after his battles were over, and blessed him; so will our precious Lord not only refresh and cheer our hearts by the ministry of His own grace, after all our conflicts here are ended, but will make us sweetly realize throughout all eternity that we are objects of His unchanging and everlasting blessing.
But while Jesus the Son of God will be for ever our blessing Priest, and in the day of Israel's glory will be both their King and their Priest, He now exercises on our behalf the Aaronic functions. While the High Priest's order is Melchisedec, being established by oath, perpetual and unchangeable, He is in some respects, as to His present activities, the antitype of Aaron, in appearing now in the presence of God for us. He is thus before the face of God for us, ever caring for and ministering to us.
If we turn to Exodus 28 we shall there see blessedly illustrated by the types drawn by the Holy Ghost, something of the meaning of Christ's being in God's presence for us. The whole chapter is full of the deepest possible interest, and profoundly charming and instructive; but at present we can only look at a few leading points. Let us not forget that all these things were made according to the pattern which God showed to Moses in the mount, and that Bezaleel was energized by no less power than that of the Holy Ghost to fashion them. We can only take a brief glance at some of those glorious and beautiful shadows of our most blessed Lord. "And thou shalt take two onyx stones, and grave on them the names of the children of Israel: six of their names on one stone, and the other six names of the rest on the other stone, according to their birth. With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings of a signet, shalt thou engrave the two stones with the names of the children of Israel: thou shalt make them to be set in ouches of gold. And thou shalt put the two stones upon the shoulders of the ephod for stones of memorial unto the children of Israel: and Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord upon his two shoulders for a memorial. And thou shalt make ouches of gold; and two chains of pure gold at the ends; of wreathen work shalt thou make them, and fasten the wreathen chains to the ouches. And thou shalt make the breast-plate of judgment with cunning work; after the work of the ephod thou shalt make it; of gold, of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine-twined linen, shalt thou make it. Foursquare it shall be being doubled; a span shall be the length thereof, and a span shall be the breadth thereof. And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, even four rows of stones: the first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and a carbuncle: this shall be the first row. And the second row shall be an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond. And the third row a ligure, an agate, and an amethyst. And the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper: they shall be set in gold in their inclosings. And the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, like the engravings of a signet; every one with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes. And thou shalt make upon the breast-plate chains at the ends of wreathen work of pure gold. And thou shalt make upon the breast-plate two rings of gold, and shalt put the two rings on the two ends of the breast-plate. And thou shalt put the two wreathen chains of gold in the two rings which are on the ends of the breast-plate. And the other two ends of the two wreathen chains thou shalt fasten in the two ouches, and put them on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod before it. And thou shalt make two rings of gold, and thou shalt put them upon the two ends of the breast-plate in the border thereof, which is in the side of the ephod inward. And two other rings of gold thou shalt make, and shalt put them on the two sides of the ephod underneath, toward the forepart thereof, over against the other coupling thereof, above the curious girdle of the ephod. And they shall bind the breast-plate by the rings thereof unto the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, that it may be above the curious girdle of the ephod, and that the breast-plate be not loosed from the ephod. And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breast-plate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually. And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim: and they shall be upon Aaron's heart, when he goeth in before the Lord: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD. And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be. And it shall be upon Aaron's forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord." (Exod. 28:9-38.)
Observe, in these types, that the names of the tribes of Israel were engraved both on the onyx stones and on the breast-plate. In the former, they are looked at collectively; in the latter, individually. In one sense the Church, which is His body, or the saints, looked at in their unity, must always be presented in Him who is their Head before God; while, on the other hand, as the smallest tribe in Israel, as well as the greatest, was represented by a separate jewel and distinct engraving, so each believer is now always kept before the face of God held up, as the shoulders show us (the place of strength), by His almighty power, as well as by His perfect love, as the breast-plate worn over the heart sets forth. Each precious stone being enclosed in gold, seems to imply that we are thus kept before our God in Christ, who is our subsisting righteousness — "Made the righteousness of God in Him." But observe also that the shoulder-pieces are connected, divinely connected (gold being the emblem of divine righteousness) by two golden chains of wreathen work of pure gold, to assure us that the almightiness of Jesus the Son of God, and His perfect love, both combine to preserve us in righteousness and acceptance in Himself continually before the face of God. And concerning the breast-plate, we find that it was also tied underneath with a lace of blue to the rings of the ephod, that it might never slip away from the high priest's heart; so that the type of Him, the loving One, who is "the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever," might be most carefully preserved. Hence we read that "Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breast-plate of judgment UPON HIS HEART, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel UPON HIS HEART before the Lord continually." But there is another point to be noticed before passing from this chapter — the golden plate on which was engraved "Holiness to the Lord," which Aaron wore on a lace of blue on the forefront of the mitre "always," that he might bear the iniquity of their holy things. And surely it is the sense of our shortcomings, defects in our service, and in our most solemn acts of worship, that tend to cast us down, and would even perhaps sap our confidence, did we not see that we are always presented before God in and by Him who is holiness to the Lord, and that our service is alone acceptable to God through Him. As it was the priest's office to pluck away the crop and feathers of a sacrifice of burnt-offering of fowls, and burn the rest upon the altar, so our adorable Lord is able to take up our holy things, and present what is acceptable to God through Him.
With regard to the beautiful materials with which the breast-plate was made, we have, in the "gold, blue purple, scarlet, and fine-twined linen," the personal glories of the great High Priest typically set forth. So immediately did failure and sin come in after the introduction of priesthood, that there is no reason to believe that these garments of glory and beauty were ever worn before the Lord. But we can, I trust, easily see how all will be made good, when the true Melchisedec sits as a Priest upon His throne, and all the twelve tribes of Israel are set in terrestrial glory in their proper lots in the land; and with what unspeakable glory all these typical blessednesses will shine forth in moral worth, and unfading excellence, in their true Messiah, when He reigns before His ancients gloriously. We can, also, happily enter into and enjoy the precious lessons these types and shadows read to us, as to the meaning of that blessed One having entered into heaven itself by His own blood, and now appearing before the face of God for us. And how touching to the feeblest believer to find that he is included among all those who are thus so wondrously blessed; for it is for "all who come unto God by Him!" This surely every believer can say, even the weakest babe in the faith, that he comes unto God by Christ.
1. The first practical lesson for our hearts suggested by the contemplation of this glorious High Priest in heaven for us, is, that He both demands and warrants our unwavering confidence. Hence the apostle says, "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession," or let us hold fast the confession. This does not say, "Hold fast your faith," or "Hold on in faithfulness," blessed and important as it is to continue both in faith and faithfulness; but seeing that Christ has so taken hold of us, that, whether we are thinking of Him or not, He is faithful, He changes not — that His merciful and unwearying heart is continually taken up with us, in presenting us always before the face of God, — we cannot hesitate to confess Him as our life, righteousness, never-failing security and hope, spite of all the changes within and around in this chequered and sinful scene. Let us then "hold fast the confession." It is His faithfulness, His grace, His abundant goodness, which is the ground of true confidence; and especially when we see that Jesus our great High Priest is presenting us, in divine righteousness, in His own acceptance before God continually. Dear Christian brethren, we do well thus to contemplate the moral perfections and excellencies of our High Priest. When we grow cold and forgetful of Him, does He forget us? Never. Nothing can and nothing will ever cause Him for one moment to cease to bear us up before our God in the perfectness of His unchanging love, and in the almightiness of His everlasting strength. What an unspeakable basis of rest and confidence our God has given us in Christ Jesus!
"I change, He changes not,
My Christ can never die;
His love, not mine, the resting-place,
His truth, not mine, the tie.
I know He liveth now
At God's right hand above;
I know the throne on which He sits,
I know His truth and love."
2. The second point to notice in the functions of our precious priest in heaven is His sympathy. For "we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities." Observe, it is not sins, but infirmities; for surely that infinitely Holy One could have no sympathy with us in sin, nor could we
wish Him; besides, we know that He suffered for sins.
But "infirmities" are short of sins and transgressions.
He knows that often our spirits are willing, but the flesh is weak; that again and again we break down through natural weakness in our efforts to serve and glorify Him. We would praise Him with untiring voice, but soon grow weary. We are sometimes sleeping when we ought to be praying; and are overcome with fatigue in His blessed service when our inner man would delight to go on much further. But Jesus knows all about us.
He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust.' He understands our frailty, feebleness, and shortcomings; and His heart is touched with deep consideration for us. He knows, too; what we are, not only as knowing all things, but as having lived here among men, and having had, as perfect man, thorough personal acquaintance with every element at work in man. And He is certainly not less mindful of His own dear ones now than He was then. If the sorrowing hearts of Mary and Martha drew forth tears of sympathy from their loving Saviour, when He knew that in a little while Lazarus would again be by their side in all the vigour of health and brotherly affection, though He has changed His place from earth to heaven, His heart cannot love less on that account. How sweet then to be able to look up to Him, when conscious of our own infirmities, and fully to count upon Him as a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother —
"Whose heart is filled with tenderness,
Whose very name is love."
We have not then an High Priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but who is —
"Touched with a sympathy within,
And knows our feeble frame;"
Now in the presence of God for us, —
"And, though ascended, feels afresh
What every member bears."
3. Our High Priest is also our Succourer in temptation. "In that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted." (Heb. 18.) His watchful eye never taken off us, His heart ever caring for us, and thus being objects of His constant care and activity, there is not an advance of Satan towards us that escapes His vigilance, not a snare laid, not a fiery dart hurled, not a wile projected against the feeblest of His saints, but all is open and manifest to His all-seeing eye; and, blessed be His name, He is able to succour us. He has known terrible temptation Himself. The foul breath of the great adversary must have been exquisite suffering to His holy heart; and it is true that. He did suffer thus; for "He was in all points tempted like as we are," sin excepted. He is then able to defeat Satan, to strengthen us to resist him, to keep us from being carried away by him, to preserve our feet from being entangled in the meshes of his net, to uphold us lest we fall, to deliver us from his wiles, to strengthen our faith to quench his fiery darts, and to enable us to stand fast in Christ, stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. How comforting then is the thought, that there is a perfect One in the glory who resisted Satan in temptation, and, through death rendered null him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, who triumphed over him in resurrection from among the dead, and who assures us that "He is able to succour them that are tempted."
4. Our Lord in the glory as our great High Priest is deeply concerned about our need. He is constantly saving us from the ten thousand difficulties and perplexities which cross our path. In this way He saves us to the uttermost, or right on to the end. Having saved our souls, saved us from the wrath to come, He saves us day by day from the things of men, and Satan, and the world, which sometimes threaten to swallow us up. For this, too, He is ever living to intercede for us. His intercession then as our High Priest is not about our sins, but about our need. We are therefore enjoined to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Heb. 4:16.)
Oh how precious is the fact that Jesus, having saved us from the wrath to come by the blood of the cross, is now pleading for us in heaven about our present need! As the Captain of our salvation, He is leading us on our way, and, unlike other captains, has actually gone before His soldiers to break down every impediment for them, and now as our great High Priest ever intercedes for us with God. He never forsakes, never forgets us, never slumbers nor sleeps, but is always active on our behalf, ever merciful and faithful, ever living to make intercession for them that come unto God by Him. He will thus carry us through every difficulty thrown in our way by men and Satan, and bring us off more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
Oh the blessedness of having such a great High Priest to sustain our hearts in happy, holy liberty in God's presence! One, too, who can sympathize with us as to our infirmities, succour us in temptation, and daily save us through His ever-living and all-prevalent intercession. How unspeakably precious to be able to look up, and see that no weakness nor failure on our part, no, not even eternity itself, can erase the graving of our names from His heart! And when we would be easily cast down with humbling views of our weakness, forgetfulness, and shortcomings, oh the unutterable blessedness of looking up and seeing that infinitely loving, faithful heart ever engaged about us, and ever presenting us before the face of God in all the virtue and fragrance of an everlastingly anointed High Priest! And if the precious ointment, with its exquisite perfume, when poured upon the head of Aaron, ran down to the skirts of his garments, surely the precious savour of Christ must, by the Holy Ghost, rest upon every member of His body. It was the same precious anointing oil which was poured upon the sons of Aaron as upon Aaron himself and so the same Holy Ghost that Jesus received of the Father has also been given to, and has anointed those, who are, through grace, brought into everlasting relationship with Him. But this leads us to the consideration of God's present priests on earth, which will occupy us on another occasion, if the Lord will. Meanwhile, let us not forget, that because the veil is rent, and Jesus is gone into heaven with His own blood, that there we now are, and there is our sanctuary. Because of the blood, and also because our High Priest is there, we have liberty to enter into the holiest at all times, and abide there and worship. As we sometimes sing —
"'Tis finished — here our souls can rest,
His work can never fail;
By Him, our Sacrifice and Priest,
We pass within the veil.
"Within the holiest of all,
Cleansed by His precious blood,
Before the throne we prostrate fall,
And worship Thee, O God."
Rev. 1:5, 6; 1 Peter 2:5-8.
The fact is here plainly stated, that all those who are loved by Jesus, and washed from their sins in His own blood, are made priests unto God. They are also called "an holy priesthood," and "a royal priesthood." Their life is one of entire dependence and faith, as the apostle so forcibly expresses it — "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." (Gal. 2:20.) But in the typical instruction of Old Testament Scriptures we have abundant details as to the characteristics, maintenance, and occupation of priests.
We know from the epistle to the Hebrews how remarkably the Aaronic high priest was a type of Jesus, our great High Priest; and we know also that Aaron's sons only were priests, and that they were chosen of God, washed, clothed, consecrated by blood, anointed with oil, and in relationship by birth with the high priest. All pretensions to priesthood apart from these realities were accounted false. When any did come forward professing to be priests, and could not trace their genealogy, they were put from the priesthood as polluted. (Neh. 7:64.) And when the sons of Korah sought to set aside God's order of priesthood by setting up another of their own, He caused the earth to cleave asunder and swallow them up, and all that appertained to them. (Num. 16:20.) The order of priests that God now has, is, as we have seen, composed of those who are washed from their sins in the blood of Jesus. Such are made priests unto God. They need no other qualification than God gives them. The order is divine. They are priests unto God. They are consecrated to the office, made priests — and in some striking particulars were remarkably set forth in type by the sons of Aaron. Let us consider a few of these similarities.
Firstly, Aaron's sons were priests by the election of God. God chose them, and no others. They were priests unto God by His gracious choice. Of all the tribes and families in Israel, no other people than the sons of Aaron could fulfil the office of priesthood. So now it has pleased God to choose those only who are washed from their sins in the blood of Jesus. Such only are made nigh to Him, and have liberty to come into His presence to minister in holy things; for "in Christ Jesus we who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." (Eph. 2:13.) Such too, according to the Father's eternal purpose and grace, were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. We are priests therefore by God's election.
Secondly, Aaron's sons were priests by birth — priests as sons of Aaron. When a son of Aaron was born, he was necessarily at a certain age a priest. No one else in Israel could be a priest. No interest, talents, wealth, or anything besides, could procure the office. These only were priests. Such only were recognized by God. They must be Aaron's sons. So now no one is a priest who is not born of God, and every one who is born of God is a priest, and every believer is this through grace; for He is born of the Spirit; he is a child of God; he is in everlasting relationship with Jesus the great High Priest. Scripture therefore speaks of us as "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." (1 Peter 1:23.) We are priests then by a new and spiritual birth.
Thirdly, Aaron's sons were priests by consecration made priests unto God. They were washed. "Moses brought Aaron and his sons, and washed them with water." So we are washed from our sins in the blood of Jesus — thoroughly cleansed by that blood which cleanseth us from all sin. They were clothed with garments provided by God. So we stand in Christ, who is our righteousness. Sins being thus remitted, and the conscience purged by the blood of Jesus, we can "draw near to God with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." They were also consecrated, or set apart by God for Himself, by being sprinkled with the blood of the ram of consecration. "He brought Aaron's sons, and Moses put of the blood upon the tip of their right ear, and upon the thumbs of their right hands, and upon the great toes of their right feet: and Moses sprinkled the blood upon the altar round about." (See Lev. 8:6, 24.) Thus they were sanctified by the blood, set apart for God and His blessed service. The right ear was marked with blood to teach us that we are to hearken to God's voice. Not to lend our ears to receive the evil and foolish communications which men would make, but amid the clatter of ten thousand conflicting voices to hearken to what God says. "A wise man will hear." The blessed Lord said, "He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious." (Isaiah 1. 4, 5.) There are two great avenues to the heart — the eye and the ear. By attracting the eye, Satan often succeeds in turning away the heart, by taking us off the true object of faith, and occupying us with something else to gratify the lust of the eye. Some of the most serious falls in Scripture have been through the lust of the eye. The other principal avenue to the heart is the ear. If Satan can get us to hearken to the voice of the flatterer or to the roar of the lion, he will often turn us away from the posture of listening to the voice of Him whose we are, and whom by grace we serve. It is then our true posture of soul to be consciously set apart for God, and for Him only, as sanctified by the blood of Jesus; and waiting upon and for Him, hearkening to His voice, we always find to be the true path of blessing. "Whoso hearkeneth to me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil." But we should never forget that "the flattering mouth worketh ruin," and "a whisperer separateth chief friends."
The thumb of the right hand being sprinkled with blood, is no doubt to teach us that we are now to work for God, to minister according to His will; that we are set apart to be thus active in His blessed service; for we all have some service committed to us. "He gave to every man his work;" "To every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." We each have ministry of some kind to carry out in faithfulness to God. We are all His children, and His servants. The hand is sprinkled with blood, sanctified, set apart for His service, and for none other. Whether therefore we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we should do all to God's glory. We are not to live unto ourselves, but unto Him who died for us, and rose again. Our bodies are to be consecrated to His service. We are to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service; for we are not our own, but bought with a price; we are therefore to glorify God in our body. On these accounts also the great toe of the right foot was sprinkled with blood, to show that our walk should be in obedience to Him, every step ordered by the Lord. The ear was first sprinkled to show that we must receive all our commands and instructions from God, in order then to minister for Him, and walk with Him. We thus see that another characteristic of those priests, so typical of us, was that they were wholly set apart for God, by being sprinkled with the blood of the ram of consecration — a point of the utmost practical importance, and never to be lost sight of; and if there were no other reason, this is enough to show the utter folly and complete delusion of people being made priests by human appointment, not to refer to the exceeding sinfulness of despising God's present order of a heavenly, spiritual, holy, and royal priesthood.
But this was not all. The last point to notice in this solemn business of consecration of the priests, is, that they were anointed with oil, an unmistakable type of our being anointed with the Holy Ghost, as an inspired apostle writes: "Now He which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God;" while another apostle writes: "The anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you." (See 2 Cor. 1:21; 1 John 2:27.) This is our power for service, and this makes the character of priesthood now to be spiritual and holy, not merely human or educational, not to say successional. The latter is but a poor caricature of the former, and not only lifeless and powerless, but, far worse than anything else, it sets aside the divine order by substituting another. Those who are God's priests now, then, are sanctified by the blood of Jesus, and anointed by the Holy Ghost.
Fourthly, Aaron's sons were in such relationship with Aaron the high priest as no others were, and were also associated with him in the service of the sanctuary. So now every believer, whether man, woman, or child, is by the new birth, and by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, brought into real relationship with Jesus our great High Priest. Being sanctified by God, and made children, "He is not ashamed to call us brethren." We are also united to Him by the Holy Ghost; so that "we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones." Thus are we in spiritual and eternal relationship with Jesus now in the heavens, our life and righteousness. Moreover, having liberty to enter into the holiest of all, where Jesus acts as Minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched and not man, we offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Him. As none but Aaron and his sons had access to the sanctuary for the service of priesthood (Moses being a type of Jesus, as mediator and king, being king in Jeshurun), so now all who are priests, and none else, have liberty to enter into the holiest where Jesus is.
Thus we see that, like Aaron's sons, believers now are priests unto God, by election, by birth, by consecration, by being in relationship with the High Priest, and associated with Him in the service of the sanctuary; the distinction between high priest and priest being always preserved. Jesus, though King of kings, as well as High Priest, has not yet come forth to reign; and we too, though both kings and priests, await His time of manifested glory ere we reign with Him. Now we exercise our priestly office, and ere long through matchless grace shall sit on thrones and wear crowns. Now we are both "an holy priesthood," and "a royal priesthood;" now we suffer with Him, then we shall reign with Him.
Again, because they were God's priests, He provided everything for their sustenance. He prescribed what they were to eat, and what they were to abstain from, so as to be fitted for their office. To feed on what was forbidden, or to have abstained from what God ordered, would alike have rendered them incompetent for the true work of priesthood. Here also the typical instruction set forth touching the sons of Aaron is deeply instructive. The food prescribed, too, was for priests only — "a stranger shall not eat thereof." The priests were to eat and be satisfied, and the remainder might not be eaten by a stranger, but it was for God; it was burnt, and offered up to God by fire. "If ought of the flesh of the consecrations, or of the bread, remain unto the morning, then thou shalt burn the remainder with fire; it shall not be eaten, because it is holy." (See Exodus 29:33, 34.)
The priests were to feed on the sacrifices, in order to be fitted for their service. Observe the divine directions: "They shall eat of those things wherewith the atonement was made, to consecrate and to sanctify them." This is both simple and positive. We know who has made atonement, and by what sacrifice alone it has been accomplished; and it is upon that blessed, spotless, perfect One, who loved us and gave Himself for us, that we have to feed for real strength and blessing. Remark here, that the priests were to eat; not merely to look upon and talk about, but to handle and receive, so as to derive nourishment and strength, refreshment and comfort, from the same sacrifice by which atonement had been made; thus teaching us that it is personal communion with the Lord which can alone qualify for the activities of priestly service. The believer, already washed from his sins, having a purged conscience, accepted in Christ, is therefore to find his daily strength for priestly service in drawing blessing from Him who was the one Sacrifice which was once offered. We are to feed upon Him — to taste, enjoy, and enter into the qualities, worth, perfections, and glory of Him who redeemed us by His death upon the cross, so as to be strengthened for the faithful discharge of our priestly office. "But how are we to feed upon Him?" some may ask. We reply, The written word reveals Him, and the Holy Ghost given unto us testifies of Him. Thus, pondering the Holy Scriptures in dependence on the Holy Ghost, and receiving God's thoughts in faith, we enter into the divine testimony of Jesus the Son of God — His personal glories, His finished work, what He was and is to God, what He is to us and for us; thus our hearts are gladdened, and our inner man strengthened. In this way we shall be so attracted to Him, so taken up with His perfections, that in our measure we shall be able to say, "We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." And being occupied with Him, He will be to us the attractive, absorbing, commanding, and satisfying object of our hearts. We thus obtain strength for service. It is communion, entering into the love and power of Christ, and finding satisfaction and delight in that same object which perfectly satisfies and delights the heart of the Father. "Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ;" for, by the communion of the Holy Ghost, we have thoughts, feelings, joy, and rest produced in our souls in joint-participation (wondrous grace!) with those of the Father and His Son. Does the Father delight and rest in that beloved Son, who glorified Him on the earth, and finished the work which He gave Him to do? So do we. Is He an object capable of filling and satisfying the Father's heart? Assuredly He is. He is then much more than enough for our hearts. And does that beloved Son, now in the glory, delight in all the results of His accomplished work? And do not we? Does He not take deepest interest in His present work on earth, both in evangelizing and in care for His own flock? And do not we? Is He not looking forward with earnest expectation of having us with Him to behold His glory? And are not we looking and waiting for Him? And if we ponder it for a moment, we must see that the blessed Spirit, the other Comforter, who has been given by the Father to dwell in us, could not produce in us a lower order of thought, feeling, joy, and hope, than suit the Father and the Son, though our apprehensions may be small and poor. Oh the blessedness of this precious fellowship! How it kindles our hearts to go out in adoring worship and thanksgiving, attracts and sets our minds on things above where Christ sitteth, and draws us onward in testimony for Him who so richly loved us, and so willingly gave Himself for us! What a mine of wealth, what untold treasure, is wrapt up in those precious words, "They shall eat of those things wherewith the atonement was made, to consecrate and to sanctify them!" (Ex. 29:33.)
It has always been God's way to feed His people. In the sandy desert He rained down bread from heaven day by day, and they had only to gather up and eat of His gracious and abundant provision. When they arrived in the land flowing with milk and honey, and the manna ceased, they ate of "the old corn of the land." But when Jesus came and announced Himself to be "the bread of God," "the bread of life," He said, "The bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." He is now, then, "the bread of God," and "the living bread;" concerning which He added, "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, shall live by Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever." (John 6:56-58.) Enough has been quoted from Scripture to show the imperative importance of the believer being occupied with Christ as drawing his resources from Him, so as to be strengthened and fitted for service; not only to do the will of God, but to do it in the spirit and mind of Christ. By feeding on the same sacrifice "wherewith the atonement was made," as we have seen, we are in communion with Him, we dwell in Him, and He dwells in us. His thoughts engage our minds, His grace pervades our souls, we enter into His unspeakable love, and He has a place in our hearts; thus His presence is enjoyed, and we find our place with Him in the true sanctuary inside the veil. Without this personal intercourse and communion with the Lord, we cannot possibly carry on the high and holy functions of priesthood; and though, through marvellous grace, we are objects of His untold love, washed from our sins in His blood, and have been made a royal and holy priesthood, we shall have little or no sense of it, and lose one of the highest occupations of soul, and one of the most exalted privileges that could possibly be known by us on the earth, during the absence of our precious Lord Jesus. Blessed be God, the Scriptures testify of Christ, and the Holy Ghost guides into all truth, and takes of the things of Christ and shows unto us, so that we are well furnished for the life and walk of faith through "a barren and thirsty land where no water is;" where, with all the bodily comforts and blessings we enjoy, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, for our souls; but in Christ we have enough to satisfy our every need, a sufficiency for every requirement. Oh the blessedness of thus finding more than we could possibly have desired or needed in Christ, instead of complaining of the dry and disappointing character of broken cisterns, and the barrenness of the desert path! Thus we can look above, and step out with quickened step and freshly-girt loins, singing —
"His word a light before us spreads,
By which our path we see;
His love, a banner o'er our heads,
From harm preserves us free.
"Jesus, the bread of life, is given
To be our daily food;
The Rock that gave the streams from heaven,
The Spirit of our God.
"Lord, 'tis enough; we ask no more;
Thy grace around us pours
Its rich and unexhausted store,
And all its joy is ours."
Besides abstaining from unclean things, which every Israelite was bound to do, the priests were on no account to drink wine or strong drink. This direction was simple enough, but doubtless reads to us very serious lessons. The effect of wine and strong drink is to inflame or stimulate the natural passions, which cannot be done without soul damage. Hence the Holy Ghost, by Peter, enjoins us to "abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." If we are doing anything for the strengthening of the passions of an evil nature, the result must be disastrous to our spiritual health, and therefore unfitting for the due exercise of our priestly office.
There are three reasons given why we should avoid thus gratifying the fleshly appetite. First, they were told not to drink wine nor strong drink, when they went into the tabernacle of the congregation, "lest ye die." And what believer of any experience does not know the lethargy and dead state of soul which fleshly indulgence induces? "To be carnally minded is death" is surely a divine axiom, and ought to be well pondered by us. Were this principle more heeded by saints, it may be that many would be able to ascertain why they have so often to complain of indolence and deadness as regards the things of the Lord. If we would live godly, ungodliness and worldly lusts must be denied. We are quickly influenced either by good or evil, and the Spirit within us, the power of godliness, is easily grieved, and "he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption." Secondly, "That ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean." (v. 10.) From this we gather that another effect of fleshly ways, is to obscure spiritual vision and hinder spiritual discernment. One of the first symptoms of souls having departed from the Lord often is, that they justify what they have formerly condemned. After Samson's folly and trifling with Delilah, the first thing the Philistines did was to put his eyes out. Such blindness, too, the enemy will effect on souls who give way to fleshly indulgence; at least they will be unable to put difference between holy and unholy, between unclean and clean, qualities which are absolutely necessary for the priestly office. (See Lev. 13:2, etc.) If we would then have discernment according to God, we must abstain from fleshly lusts. Why have some dear saints such difficulty in perceiving what to others is clearly unholy and unclean in God's sight? And why is there sometimes such a difference of judgment about evil among many of the Lord's people? The answer is plain. There will be no ability to put difference between holy and unholy, when the walk is careless and fleshly habits or ways encouraged. We are told that the Hebrew Christians were unable to enter into a true discernment of the Lord's things; for they were dull of hearing. Not having been practically engaged in the due exercise of priestly functions, and turning back to legal and worldly religiousness, their discernment had been little cultivated, and the disastrous effect was most manifest to the apostle. He writes: "Of whom" (speaking of the Lord Jesus) "we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." (Heb. 5:11-14.) I have quoted the passage at length, because of its solemn importance, and also because it almost seems like a divine commentary on the subject now immediately before us. Thirdly, "That ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses." (v. 1.) This point has been already anticipated by the quotation from Hebrews, where we are told that they ought to be able to teach others, instead of needing elementary teaching themselves. But this must be so, if souls are damaged by fleshly indulgence, instead of denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and living a life of faith upon the Son of God, who loved us, and gave Himself for us. If we would then be lively, earnest Christians, and fit for our priestly functions, be able to discern between holy and unholy, and qualified to teach others, we must abstain from fleshly lusts, and feed upon those things wherewith the atonement was made to consecrate and to sanctify us.
Avoiding wine and strong drink for the reasons given, the priests were to eat the meat-offering in the holy place, and the peace-offering in a clean place. How significant all this is! The meat-offering shows the perfect humanity of Jesus in life, the spotless One, in whom was nothing rough and inconsistent, but who was perfectly pure and even in all His ways, as the fine flour sets forth. That holy One was conceived by the Holy Ghost — "fine flour mingled with oil" — and He was anointed with the Holy Ghost, as the oil poured upon the fine flour would teach us. As, however, God only could enter into the fulness and perfections of this precious One, a "handful of the flour and of the oil" was offered to God, burnt upon the altar by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord. The remainder was food for the priests. And here we are told they were to eat the meat-offering in a clean place. No leaven was to be with it. Nothing unclean was to be associated with it. Elsewhere we read that they were to eat it with unleavened bread, and in the holy place. As free from leaven or uncleanness, and occupied with what is unleavened and holy, in a clean place — that is, apart from every impure association, and in the holy place, or where God's presence is — the priests were to eat the meat-offering. How profoundly precious yet solemn this is! How searching too, inasmuch as it shows us that no careless walk, no unjudged evil, no association with uncleanness of any kind, can be allowed in those who are exercising the holy office of priests according to God! But if self-judged, separate from all iniquity, as purged worshippers, consecrated priests, consciously in God's presence, there occupied adoringly with the infinite perfections of Him who was represented by the fine flour anointed with oil, delighting our souls in Him, and gathering strength and grace from Him, what a deep reality and precious privilege we then know the priestly office to be! This, be it observed, is emphatically communion; for God had His part as well as the priests. So we feed on the same spotless One, in whom the Father was well pleased, and to whom we must be everlastingly thankful.
But more than this. They were not only to be occupied (typically) with the perfect man Christ Jesus in His life, but also as the One who had offered Himself without spot to God. This must also be eaten in the holy place, for the consciousness of being in God's presence, apart from every thing unsuited to Him, is necessary for true enjoyment and appreciation of the food which His abundant grace has provided for us. It is important, too, to notice the parts of the peace-offering which were set apart for their food. They were "the wave breast and the heave shoulder." (v. 14.) Parts of the same victim which had been offered to God, and in which He had found a sweet savour. It is like the father who had provided the fatted calf, calling his returned prodigal to feast and rejoice with himself, saying, "Let us eat and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found: and they began to be merry." What a peace-offering! What holy joy! What matchless love! And, blessed be God, we may add too, what precious fellowship!
Now what are we to learn from this rich and abundant gift of "the wave breast and heave shoulder" for the priests' food, but that all the unsearchable, perfect love, as well as the almighty power of Christ, are laid open to us for our souls' everlasting consolation and strength? The breast the seat of the affections, and the shoulder the source of power, are thus specially before us. And in feeding, the need of our souls is very preciously met, by spreading out before us both the affections and strength of Him who made peace for us by the blood of His cross. And these parts too they could wave before the Lord as infinitely acceptable to Him, as well as most precious to us.
And what, beloved, I would ask, do we know of those exercises of soul in God's most holy presence? Do we enter into the unspeakable privilege of being in the holy place — inside the veil? And, when in the holiest of all, is it the ever-living Jesus there for us that attracts and delights our souls? Do we triumph in His exceeding preciousness, as well as His perfect love, and His almighty power to usward? And do we rejoice thus in Him? Can we say, In whom, though now we see Him not, yet, believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory? Oh to beware of all uncleanness! We are careful not to have a spot of defilement on our bodies, then why should we not be equally jealous as to a spot of unjudged and uncleansed evil on our souls? Without sustaining food, this blessed, happy fellowship, we must become weak and faint but feeding on the finest of the wheat, on pure honey out of the rock, the life, and strength, and perfectness of Jesus the Lord, who has washed us from our sins in His own blood, we shall be qualified for our daily continual work of priesthood. Thus by the word of God and Spirit we shall be tracing, entering into, and enjoying His unsearchable love, and infinite power — love that met us when dead in sins, and knows no change; power that has triumphed over all our enemies, even death itself, and taken the place of Headship over all principality and power. What joy, and peace, and vigour to our hearts the reception of these glorious realities impart! What encouragement, too, all this divine instruction gives, to keep close to the Lord Jesus! How all this grace attracts and binds our hearts to Him! How necessary, too, for how else could we be fitted for faithfully exercising our functions as priests unto God!
A few words on priestly service. Some may ask, What was their official occupation? No one could trace the inspired account of the service of the "sons of Aaron," without being struck with how much they had to do with the sacrifices. They were constantly serving in the sanctuary — "the priests went always into the first tabernacle accomplishing the service of God." (Heb. 9:6.) But they washed their hands and feet at the laver every time they went into the tabernacle, or drew near to the altar to minister. (Exod. 30:19-21.) They were also to order the lamps, and were in frequent association with the high priest. Moreover, as we have seen, they were sustained in their service there by feeding on the various parts of the offerings that were allotted to them. This is communion, and it forms no small part of priestly occupation.
But besides the work immediately connected with the sacrifices, and other service of the sanctuary, it was for them, on certain occasions, to sound the silver trumpets, so as to make known the will of God, as they had learned it in the place of His presence, whether for the calling of the assembly, or for the journeying of the camps. (See Num. 10:2-8.) Sure it is that only those who now know what it is to abide in the Lord Jesus — our sanctuary — living upon Him by faith, and thus by the Spirit entering into His counsels and truth, will know His mind, and be the fitting instruments of communicating it to their brethren. But observe it was not a terrifying, harsh sound that characterized this ministry, it was the sweet melody of the silver trumpet that enjoined them thus to be obedient to the divine will. We should never forget this for it is one thing to inform our brethren of what the will of the Lord is, but it is quite another thing to do so in the way and spirit which suits Him who is full of grace and truth.
The sons of Aaron, the priests, were to "blow an alarm" when the people were to go forward and take their journeys. And who now can enjoin their brethren to go onward and forward in their pilgrim course according to the will of God, but those who have tasted the blessing and enjoyed the privilege of being in His presence, as set apart for Him, both by the blood of Jesus, and the anointing of the Holy Ghost? How important, yea, indispensable, then, if we would really be a help and blessing to others, that we ourselves should have the comfort in our own souls of nearness to God, and happy relationship and intercourse with Him. Again, "When the congregation is to be gathered together, ye shall blow, but ye shall not sound an alarm." (v. 7.) And who, I would ask, are there in the present day to sound a note sufficiently clear, certain, and distinct for gathering together the members of the body of Christ, in His most precious name? Can they be any other than those who know personal communion with the Lord Himself, and the sweetness and joy of being in the sanctuary where Jesus our great High Priest is, and where His blood is ever speaking for us? Who can know, and long that others should taste, the reality and preciousness of being gathered together in the name of the Lord Jesus who is in the midst, but those who realize personal intercourse with that blessed One, who is the central object of the Father's heart, the alone centre of coming glories, whether celestial or terrestrial, and the only true centre around which, according to the will of God, every member of the body should now by the Spirit be gathered? "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them," is a cardinal truth, and as fresh and real as ever.
And further. In time of distress from the oppression of the enemy, the priests were also to blow the silver trumpet, "an alarm." And why? that they might be remembered before the Lord Their God, and be saved from their enemies. (v. 9.) How touching this is! for it shows the deep interest in the welfare of God's people, and the sympathy in time of affliction and distress those will manifest who are living in communion with the Lord Jesus, feeding in the holy place, and in a clean place, upon those things wherewith the atonement was made. Such go out in heart and soul to God on their behalf. Thus they blow the silver trumpet; for they only can intelligently discern and enter into the blessedness of going forward in His name, following Him, of being gathered together in His name, or in time of difficulty thinking of His name, and being saved from their enemies. In days of gladness, in solemn days, and in the beginning of months, the trumpets were also blown over the sacrifices of burnt-offerings and peace-offerings; for holy rejoicing cannot fail to be associated with those wondrous aspects of Jesus in His entire surrender to God, as well as for the ground that has been laid for our fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ, and with one another. (v. 10.) The priests then were the great movers in this time of rejoicing and solemn gladness.
But priestly work now is spiritual. These shadows instruct us, but are not the very image. Jesus the Son of God has come, and is gone up into heaven, and has given us the Holy Ghost; and He teacheth and searcheth all things — yea, the deep things of God. We are therefore now no longer groping our way in uncertainty and obscurity; for "the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth." We are then "an holy priesthood," to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance;" and we are to offer up spiritual sacrifices; not carnal religiousness, "the desires of the flesh and of the mind," but that which is in the energy of the Holy Ghost, who glorifies Christ, in all the variety of His workings, in bringing forth fruit in its season. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise!" We read, too, of "sacrifices of joy;" of "presenting our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God;" and we are also exhorted "by Him to offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name." (Heb. 13:15.) Thus as "an holy priesthood" are we to "offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ."
We are also "a royal priesthood," to exemplify Christ in all our ways. "Ye are a royal priesthood, . . . that ye should show forth the praises (virtues) of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvellous light." (1 Peter 2:5, 9.) Thus in every relationship of life, at all times and under all circumstances, are we to walk as He walked. The office of priesthood, therefore, is not occasional, but continuous, whether looked at Godward or manward; whether in offering the sacrifice of praise to God continually, or in showing forth the way of godliness in daily details. Like every other aspect of divine truth, the relationship is first set forth, and then the entire consecration suited to it. "The sons of Aaron," it is true, had a place of distinction before men, as well as the work of the sanctuary where God's presence was; but they were to be distinguished from others, not so much by their official trappings as by their practical nearness to the place of God's presence, and their life of consecration to Him as those who were marked with the blood and anointed with oil.
This double aspect of priesthood — "an holy priesthood" and "a royal priesthood" reads deeply serious and practical lessons to us. We are redeemed to God, children of God, and we are God's; not our own, but His. Hence we are to live, not unto ourselves, but unto Him who died for us, and rose again. As another has said, we have a bright specimen of this double action of priesthood in Paul and Silas when at Philippi. With backs aching and bleeding with cruel scourging, and heartlessly thrust into the inner prison, with their feet made fast in the stocks, not all this suffering could check the outflow of praise from these holy priests. Even at midnight they sang praises, and not only God heard them, but the prisoners also. Thus we see the living activities of "an holy priesthood." And when in the darkness and stillness of the night God sent an earthquake, so that the prison doors flew open, and every prisoner's bands were loosed, and the jailor himself was so terrified that he drew his sword in readiness to commit suicide, the loving voice of the "royal priest" was solemnly and quietly heard, "Do thyself no harm!" How like the blessed Master, who loved His enemies, prayed for them, and instructed us to do the same! The Christ-like word of kindness, "Do thyself no harm," was used to bring the stout-hearted jailor down at the apostles' feet, crying out, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" The result we are familiar with. Enough has been said to illustrate the difference between "an holy priesthood", and "a royal priesthood." It is for us not only to enter into and enjoy the various relationships into which the grace of God has brought us, as in His most holy presence, but also to see how, when truly entered upon and enjoyed, they must give a complexion and a character to all our ways. If we really enjoy the blessedness of being inside the veil, where else can it put us here but "outside the camp," the religious camp? If we are conscious that we are consecrated or "made priests unto God," and feed upon that which He has provided for our sustenance in a clean place in His most holy presence, and offer up praise to God continually, what else could characterize us here but showing forth the virtues of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvellous light?
"Unto Him that loveth us, and hath washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."