The Priesthood of Believers

Notes of an address given in Edinburgh in April, 1921, on 1 Peter 2:1-10

The Lamb of God has redeemed us and made us kings and priests to God, and when He reigns we shall reign with Him. All who are redeemed by His blood shall reign, whether we be over one city, five cities, ten cities, or whatever our place may be, we shall reign with Christ, because we are both kings and priests. In kings, you have the expression of power from God downward; in the priests the privilege of approach to God upwards. As priests we approach God; as kings, we reign over the inheritance. In this Scripture the subject is our privilege as priests.

The first chapter of 1 Peter and part of the second chapter show us some great contrasts. What is true in the present dispensation is contrasted with that which was true in the past dispensation. You get the shadows—they belong to the past; you get the substance, and that belongs to the present. The shadows were connected with Israel in the past dispensation; we have come to the substance of those shadows. I shall just run over a few of them before I come to the verses that I read.

Chapter 1:2, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ; grace unto you, and peace be multiplied.” That is a great contrast with that which was true in the past dispensation for Israel. They were sanctified; but it was an external and positional sanctification only; it was not the sanctification of the Spirit. They had only the sprinkling of the blood of bulls or of goats, and not that of the blood of Christ as we have.

Verse 3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” There was not a hope in Christ in any human heart that survived His death. Even Mary of Bethany, who knew more about the Lord than anybody else upon earth, anointed Him for His burial. But His resurrection brings in a new hope altogether for the believer, a hope upon which the shadow of death can never fall. Risen from the dead, He dies no more, death has no more dominion over Him.

Verse 4, “To an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.” The inheritance that Israel got in the land of Canaan was corruptible, was defilable; it was possible for it to pass away from them. They corrupted it; they defiled it, and they lost it. But here is an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that fades not away, and it is not in any part of the earth; it is reserved in heaven for us who are kept by the power of God.

Verse 5, “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Not by our own resources are we to maintain ourselves in the grace and favour of God, nor by the fulfilment of our obligations, or it would cease at once to be grace.

Israel’s inheritance depended upon their conduct, if they were willing and obedient, they were to eat the good of the land. Do you think—does anyone here think—that his obedience could get him to heaven; that his obedience would secure for him that inheritance that is reserved in heaven for believers? If he does, he is very greatly mistaken, and in having such a thought he is not obeying God but only disobeying Him, for the one who is trusting to his own obedience or faithfulness is not trusting Christ at all; he is not really believing the Gospel. But here it is, “To an inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven” for a certain class of people. “For you, who are kept by the power of God.” You are not thrown upon your own resources at all; you are kept by the power of God, and through faith, not through works, but through faith, and unto a salvation ready to be revealed, a salvation that is not yet revealed. Your salvation is not yet revealed. I may tell a man I am saved; he doubts it very much; perhaps he does not know what I mean by saying I am saved until I explain it, but what evidence is there that I am saved? The only evidence that I am saved at all is that I act as one that is subject to God, and as one that is not dominated by the evil that dominates the world, by selfishness, which is sin. Our salvation will be revealed when the Lord comes, but it is not revealed yet.

Verse 9, “Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” Take the salvation that was accorded to Israel at the Red Sea; they were to stand still on the Egyptian side of those impassable waters and see the salvation of God. Moses lifted up his rod and the sea was divided, and Israel marched over to the other side on dry land. That was a salvation the whole earth heard of. Rahab told the spies that went into the land not long after that the report of them had reached the land of Canaan, and they were all trembling because of the God of Israel; that salvation was a public thing; it was a salvation that men could take account of; they could see it with their eyes, and it was a temporal salvation. But here is a salvation that Peter calls “The salvation of the soul.” That is not a temporal salvation at all, but a spiritual one. A man might be in the worst of circumstances imaginable, but the word of God reaches him, the Gospel comes to him and he believes it, and by it he is saved, but the next day his circumstances are just the same as they were the day before; they are not altered. The salvation does not refer to his circumstances at all. There is no outward evidence that there is any intervention by God at all; his circumstances are just as wretched as they were before, but the man is different, his soul is emancipated. His soul is delivered from sin and lust and self dependence, and for ever saved from the power of the devil and the power of death. He is delivered from evil, from spiritual forces, from spiritual evils, but he is not delivered from his hard circumstances yet; his salvation is not revealed; it has not come to light; it is not manifested—it will be by-and-by. When he enters the inheritance in heaven he will be like Christ. But, you say, Scriptures say we hope to be saved, “In hope of salvation.” Yes, that is perfectly true, but that has reference to our bodies; they are to be changed, but our souls are saved. We are emancipated from the powers of evil that hold this world, and the people of this world in bonds. If a man who professes to be a believer is dominated by the lust and pride of this world, then whatever he may say about himself he is not delivered; he is still under the power of sin.

Verse 23, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” It is really the bringing into existence of a new being. When you were born into this world, a being was born into it that had not existed before. If you are born again, you are born a second time; born of God, you are a child of God now, which you were not before. The Word of God is the instrument used, that is the seed of God, and it is the only thing that abideth for ever. The passage here is from the 40th of Isaiah, and everything there is grass. The forerunner of Christ is told in the 40th of Isaiah to cry, “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” Israel grass, the Gentiles grass, all of us grass; all perishable, none abiding at all, is there anything on the earth that shall abide? Yes, the Word of God shall abide, that shall stand; if you are born of that, you will abide for ever; if not, you will perish away from the presence of God altogether.

Chapter 2:1-2, “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil-speakings, as new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” You feed upon the same thing that has brought you into existence as a child of God—the Word of God has brought you into existence as God’s child, and you feed upon that; that is, if you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. Have we all here tasted that the Lord is gracious?

Verse 4, “To whom coming, a living stone, disallowed of men, but chosen of God and precious.” It is not disallowed of some men and chosen by others; it does not say disallowed by unbelievers and chosen by believers—no, it is man and God in contrast, not believers and unbelievers—disallowed of men, you and I and everyone else disallowed Him; as children of Adam we all disallowed Christ. But you say, “I don’t disallow Him,” not if you are born again. You love Him; you know Him as the One that laid down His life for you, and we love Him because He first loved us. In our own natural state we disallowed Him, but being born of God we received Him. Of the disciples it was said, “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” All that were born of God when Christ came received Him, and all that are born of God today receive Him. You rejected Him until you were born again; then when you were born of God, you received Him, and so we have it here.

Verse 5, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” There you come to the contrast between what exists today and what existed in the past—here you come to a spiritual house, spiritual stones. The stones of the temple in the past dispensation were hewn from the quarry, were shaped there, and then were brought to the place where they were building the temple, and were put into the building, and the building grew to a holy temple; but it was a material structure, and in it were the sons of Aaron, who officiated as priests; but when you come to the present house of God, the present temple, it is the spiritual house, and the stones and the priests are the same thing—the stones are the priests, and the priests are the stones, they are all who have tasted that the Lord is gracious and have come to Him, the Living Stone. We are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit; we are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, and we grow to an holy temple in the Lord. We are the stones in that vast building; but we are also the priests; the temple is composed of believers, but the priests are believers. Peter says to these newborn babes, you, believers, are an holy priesthood. Oh, but says one, I thought the priest was not the same as the congregation. Is there not a distinction between clergy and laity? But who has separated them in that way? Peter, inspired by the Holy Ghost, tells us that all believers are priests. Who are you to believe? Do you believe God or man? “You are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”

The stones of this house are living stones, because they live in the life of Christ, and they are priests of God, and draw near to God in that same life, and offer up acceptable spiritual sacrifices. In the past dispensation they offered carnal sacrifices—a very rich man brought a bullock and offered it to God, and a very poor man brought a turtle dove, or two young pigeons, or whatever he could get. And there are rich and poor among the priests of God today. I speak now of faith; a man might be very rich in worldly goods, and very poor in faith; and a man might be very poor in worldly goods and very rich in faith; but whichever you are, whatever you bring to God must be Christ; it was Christ that was typified in the rich man’s bullock and the poor man’s turtledoves: it is all Christ that is brought. Those ancient sacrifices would have had no meaning otherwise; they represented God’s great sacrifice, which is Christ. The offerer may not have known that; that was a shadow—we have come to the substance, and the substance is Christ. How do we bring Christ to God? We tell God about Him in songs of praise. When the heart is full of Christ we pour it out before God, and it is acceptable to God. He wants to hear about His Son. If a man brought an offering in the past dispensation with a blemish, it was accounted a sin to him, it was not acceptable. You must not bring anything but Christ in your praise and worship; you tell God about Christ, so far as you know Him. You may not know Him as well as some other believer knows Him; you may not be rich in faith, but if you are rich in faith, you bring a large presentation of Christ to God; but if you are only poor in faith, you bring a poor presentation of Christ to God. But we should all be able to bring a great presentation of Christ to God. Get to know Christ better every day, and when we know Christ we are able to offer Him up to God in sacrifices of praise, the praise of our lips. In doing this you are giving to God what He has given to you. He has given you Christ, and as you learn Christ, you will then be able to present Christ to God. He doesn’t want anything of what is merely nature from you; He wants Christ. He wants to hear about Christ, He is never tired of listening to what you have to say about Christ to Him—thus you offer spiritual sacrifices to God, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

Verse 9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.” This is another side to the priesthood; but believers have both, they are holy priests and royal priests. Holy priests offer up the sacrifices in the spiritual house, the stones and the priests are one—they offer up sacrifices to God, they approach God to present Christ to Him. A royal priest is the same person presenting God to man. Why did not God take you to heaven when you were converted? He wanted you here. What for? What are lights for in this city, and why in a very dark, wretched corner do you generally get a good light? It is to shine, to drive away the darkness because of the evils that abound in the city; it would be a terrible thing if there were not these lights. Well, you are lights in the world, and God may put you in a very dark corner; indeed the whole world is in darkness, but we are here to shine in it. But how do you shine? By presenting Christ to men. You come out here in the beautiful characteristics of Christ’s life; you shine for Him in your words, and in your walk, and in your ways; you whole behaviour here is to set forth Christ. It is well to be a royal priest, but we are both holy priests and royal priests, and the great thing is to exercise the functions of holy priests, and as we exercise the functions of holy priests, we are able to exercise the functions of royal priests; you come from God’s presence where all the light is to shine in the darkness; the better you are able to approach God, the better you are able to approach men; the better you are able to exercise the functions of an holy priest, the better you are able to exercise the functions of a royal priest. If you cannot bring Christ to God, you will never be able to bring Christ to men. It is only in the measure that you can bring Christ to God that you are able to bring Christ to men. Jesus was here as the light because He showed God in His true character, and that is what you are here for, along with being here to learn more about God and His marvellous grace, and His counsels, we are here to shine as lights in this world. We are here to shine, shine in the light of Christ, just as the moon shines—it shines not in its own light; it shines in the light of the sun; it sees the sun when we do not see it, and the sun shines upon it, and it shines upon us here in this world, so God says, “Arise, shine.” That will be said to the Jew one day, but it can be said to us now. He has shined upon us now, and if He shines upon us, we shall shine here in this world; but we cannot shine ourselves, we must get occupied with Him, and then when we are occupied with Him, we shall be able to come out like Him here in this world, and be witnesses to all those that walk in darkness.