J. N. Darby.
There are two things that God employs in carrying us through the desert as spoken of in Hebrews 5. One is the word of God, and the other is the priesthood of the Lord Jesus.
The word of God is used for the detection and discerning of the thoughts and intents of the heart. It is "quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword … and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Whatsoever is flesh it cuts down mercilessly; and, thank God for it, because. it is a hindrance to our blessing. The warning of which the apostle speaks here, alluding to the history of Israel, is that their carcases fell in the wilderness. They had got out of Egypt, and yet their carcases fell in the wilderness. There is, of course, for us, the danger answering to that — a very real danger. No doubt God will keep His own to the end, but there is the principal danger; and if we are kept, it is through faith. Now that which tends to make us fall in the wilderness is the flesh; and the means that God uses that we should not fall in the wilderness, is the word that is sharper than any two-edged sword. Whatever is not a thought that comes from God, and an intent that goes to God, the word of God judges: that is, whatever springs naturally up in the heart of man, whatever comes from the flesh (which, of course, is everything in a mere natural man, in the heart, out of which are the issues of life). The flesh never gets from the wilderness into the land. It may die in the wilderness, but it never can get out of it. The flesh belongs to it, in a sense, and may die in it, but cannot get from it. There is nothing for the flesh but the sword — a figure, of course, of that which judges, detects, and condemns it; and let us thank God for that.
As regards acceptance with God, we can say the flesh is condemned already. "What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." Thus, looked at as a question of righteousness in the cross of Christ, God has condemned sin in the flesh; and then, when we come to journey through the wilderness, the word of God judges whatever is not according to that word. The cross has dealt with the flesh already: whatever did not suit the death of Christ in a thought or act was thereby judged and condemned. The word of God is one means for the practical carrying out of this; and the second means employed is the priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
257 The word of God, we saw, judged the thoughts and intents of the heart, while the priesthood applies to all infirmities and failures. The moment it is a question of a thought or intent of the heart, it has to be judged as coming from the flesh; and this is done by the word of God, which is sharper than any two-edged sword. On the other hand, looked at as regards trials and weakness, there you get the priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. The word of God is the eye of God, judging everything in my soul that is not according to Himself. And then we have "a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God." Where it is a time of need and difficulty, it is the High Priest full of tenderness and mercy, "that we may find grace to help in time of need." It cannot be, evidently, anything inconsistent with the word of God. It cannot be the one to cut and the other to spare the flesh; and therefore the priest must sustain us, according to the blessing which is given us entirely out of reach of the flesh. And so it is that Christ becomes High Priest. He is gone up where the flesh cannot enter. That is the place in which we have to say to God; and therefore, as our high priest, He has to carry on our affairs in that presence of God where nothing that defiles can enter. He lays the foundation of that in the sacrifice by virtue of which He can go there; so that this very priesthood of Christ is founded on our acceptance.
As a figure, the redemption of Israel out of Egypt, which preceded all their journey in the wilderness, is here used. We have done with Egypt altogether. The Red Sea put death and judgment between the journeyers and Egypt; and so with the saint now. Death and judgment form the starting-point of the saint. There is that which goes before it in exercise of heart; and when a soul sets out to leave this world of ruin and condemnation, it often finds itself, as Israel did, on the banks of the Red Sea, the waters before and their enemies behind them. There they were completely shut in to this judgment, where Satan was driving them. But the moment they had passed over the Red Sea, all that was entirely and finally closed. What had been a barrier when Israel could go no farther, was now left wholly behind, and served as a barrier against Egypt. And to us, death and judgment are a securing barrier between us and all that are against us. It is not that there may be no conflict after — no weariness after; but there is no question of deliverance after that. If Israel were not faithful, they failed in gaining victories; but there was no question of God's being against them. Next comes this journey through the wilderness, the judgment of the flesh by the word, and then the priesthood of Christ which is exercised for us. And when I come to see where Christ is, I find that it is the very One that has gone through the death and judgment that were due to me, and has taken His place in the presence of God, where He is exercising His priesthood. He has settled the point where I belong to, where I worship; and it is in the presence of God that is my place. All that belongs to me, as in the first Adam, is done with in my intercourse with God — not as regards conflict with it, but as regards my place with God. The old nature is there still, and the word comes and judges all the movements of it that would hinder me in my path. But the place where Christ exercises His priesthood is out of the flesh altogether; it is in heaven. "Such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens." Israel had a place on earth, and a priest on earth; we have a place in heaven, and a priest in heaven.
258 "And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him." He must first be made perfect in His place as priest, before He begins to lead and administer to those who were to worship through Him. We shall find that Christ exercises this priesthood because we belong to a place where flesh cannot enter, because He has set aside all that we were connected with in the first Adam. He gives us access into the presence of God, and there He maintains us. The high priest in Israel, taken from among men, was not there. They did not go even in figure within the veil, save once a year, and that was with clouds of incense, to hide the glory of God from them. They were men in the flesh, and therefore could not be connected with the holiest. We are men in the Spirit, and therefore we are in the holiest; but the flesh has no part there in any way. The Jews, as a nation, being in the flesh, they must have a high priest in flesh, compassed with infirmities, because they had infirmities; as it is said here, "who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity." He was outside like them; He was on the same ground. Well, in a sense, we are on the same ground with our high priest, and it is on the ground of the new thing that is in heaven. We are associated with God in this new place that He has made for us in Christ. But Jesus, as our high priest, is the very contrast of the Jewish high priest taken from among men. He must be separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens, because we are. All the question of our capacity to go on with joy, as being there, depends upon the intercession of Christ.
259 There are three things here, as regards this fitness of Christ for the priesthood. The first is the title of His Person. "No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest." He did not set up to be a person worthy in dignity to take such an office, but God says it of Him, He is My Son. And there He was, having a competency in His own Person. "But he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee." In Psalm 2 we find it said, "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree, the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee." When I look at Christ as a man upon earth (for it is not His eternal Sonship that is spoken of here), and say, Who is this man that He can have a priesthood? What is His title? He is the Son of God. He has a competency in His Person to have such an office.
Then we come to the installing of Him in this office. "As he saith, also, in another place, Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedec." Not like a high priest taken from among men, who dies and gives the office to some one else, but He is a priest for ever, etc. The carrying on of the priesthood of Christ in heaven is founded upon an already completed salvation, as regards both blood-shedding and righteousness. If the righteousness were not already perfect, the failure must bring down judgment instead of intercession. If propitiation had not been made for the sin, the sin must be the cause of judgment. But righteousness having been perfectly made in Christ, and made for us, He sits now in heaven, and intercedes for those for whom propitiation has been made through His blood. The atonement has been perfectly accomplished, sin is put away, and I am made the very righteousness of God in Christ. But the question still remains of our intercourse in this holy place with God in blessing, and in the perfect enjoyment of the position He has brought us into by this death and judgment through which Christ has passed. Here the intercession comes in: "We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Thus we have the Lord Jesus Christ in the dignity of His Person, as Son of God, and in the title for office, as priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. If He is to be our priest in the presence of God, we have Him in the dignity in which He can carry it on.
260 But, then, there is another difficulty. If He has this mighty title, if He is the Son, how can He enter into all the sorrows and trials of such poor creatures as we are? If He were a priest like another man, He could understand the infirmities of other men.
But I answer, The priesthood is carried on where there cannot be a thought of infirmity, where the enjoyment is spiritual enjoyment, where, if there were a thought of the flesh or of sin, there could be no communion with God. Therefore the place of Christ, as priest, is necessarily out of reach of all infirmity. Another priest could join with sinners, and feel their infirmities, as being himself a partaker of them. How, then, can the Lord Jesus Christ be fitted, in that sense of the word, to be our high priest? It is not while He has His priesthood that He is thus fitted for the office. It is what He was upon earth, not what He is now as a priest, that has fitted Him for such a work. "Such an high priest became us," etc. He has gone through the difficulties and trials of a godly and perfect man upon earth. He has known every possible difficulty which a godly man can find in his path through this world, and the trials too. He suffered and was "tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin." Now that is just what I want. I do not want sympathy with my sin; I find the word of God to cut it down, but no sympathy with it. Christ does not intercede for the flesh. What I want Christ's help for is for the new man against my flesh. I want to be helped as a believer going through this world, against myself, so far as the flesh is there.
261 "Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared. Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered." That is what I am to learn; only in His case I hear "Though he were a Son," etc. Christ had to learn obedience. Why? Because He commanded everything through all eternity. I have to learn obedience because I have a wicked heart and will; Christ had to learn it because He was God over all, and therefore obedience was new to Him. It is new to me because I am a disobedient creature; it was new to Him because He was not a creature at all. He was put into all the difficulties and trials that we can possibly go through; and more than that, He was even put under the wrath of God that we might never be there. Into those sufferings we can never enter. In His sufferings as a righteous man on earth, we can, in our little measure, sympathize with Him. Supposing I am seeking to lead a godly life in this world, I must take up my cross and follow Him. "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." And if we get too much ease in this world, it is not a safe thing for us. Suffering must be my portion. If I am godly in my ways, I shall find suffering; and if I walk in the power of the love of Christ, there I shall find suffering too. I may suffer for righteousness' sake and for Christ's sake; but whatever it be, we find there, in our path through this world, the Lord Himself going before us, suffering first and most of all.
In the sufferings of Christ about our sin, He was entirely alone; but there is another kind of suffering which Christ went through, of which we cannot say that we suffer with Him, but in which He can sympathize with us, and that is in the close of His life. The special character of that, though not exclusive, was the suffering of the Jewish remnant in the last days. They are under law; they do not know what it is to be reconciled to God; but they come into the most awful conflict with Satan, Antichrist, and all the terrors of that day. They will be under the sufferings which come from the full letting loose of the power of Satan upon them, without the knowledge of God's favour resting upon them. That is anything but suffering with Christ; but still they will have the sympathy of Christ. Christ has gone through that too. When things were entirely changed in His whole position (not yet as drinking the cup from God but) when He comes and has Satan's power let loose upon Him (and there He can look forward to wrath), He was going through all that darkness which the power of Satan could bring upon Him, with the wrath of God staring Him in the face. For that reason He can sympathize with the remnant of Israel in the sufferings that they will pass through. Wherever this character of suffering comes in, judgment against man is what we find called for. Hence the constant appeal to God to arise and avenge them on their adversaries, which we find throughout the Psalms. Whereas when expiation is made, it is mercy that is called for. In the one case, it is calling for judgment upon men, because men, as the instruments of Satan, are making Christ suffer; but the moment He is suffering from God, because of atonement for sin, it is exactly the contrary. You then read, "I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I sing praise unto thee." It is all grace, and nothing else.
262 But how does that apply to us? Take souls that are under the law, finding out something of the depth and extent of their sin — not quite in despair, but all the terrors of the law drinking up their spirit. Christ can sympathize with them; having passed through all this terror and distress from the power of Satan, there is a sustaining grace that hinders the soul from being completely overwhelmed. The sufferings of expiation are another thing. Christ only has drunk that cup, because He suffered from God — entirely apart, totally alone; and nothing but grace remains. After He has said, "Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorn," you will not find one single thing but grace. It is the wrath of God He was bearing for others.
Christ, in going through the first two classes of sufferings, can sympathize with me, where it is the trial and suffering of a godly soul, and can intercede for us and help us on. I have no doubt, too, that the presence of Christ in heaven now sustains Israel as a separate nation.
"And being made perfect," etc. The whole thing has been passed through, and He becomes a qualified high priest, as regards my sorrows and difficulties, because He has gone through all the difficulties of a godly life on the earth; and therefore now, while He gives us this place in heaven, He is competent to sympathize with us as we pass through the world. My place is in heaven, and my path upon earth is that which belongs to, and is consistent with, this place that I have in heaven. My path ought to be the expression of that. What was Christ's path in this world? Even as the Son of man upon earth, He was ever "the Son of man who is in heaven." Every atom of His life was the expression of this blessed One in heaven; and so it is with us, so far as we are consistent. The Christ who is in heaven, and who gives me this place in light, in the presence of God, is the Christ that is in me. So the apostle says, "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." The life of the Christian upon earth is the manifestation of that life in Jesus, with whom he is in heaven: he is the expression of that Christ upon earth. Where we fail, where our life is not the expression of that life in Jesus, there comes the word of God, which is the expression of it, and searches us; and thus there is sanctification by the truth. The word brings Christ to me where I am not shewing forth Christ, and judges it.
263 But what if I find difficulties and trials by the way? There I have the intercession of Christ. I have Christ interceding for me, as knowing all the comfort of the grace of God that flows out to this life upon earth. He has known how a soul is comforted in this trial, and He takes it all for me, and pleads for me before God, according to His own knowledge of my need. There I find the supplies of grace I want, through a person who understands the application of grace to a heart that is going through these difficulties. Before He stands in His place of priesthood, He has gone through them all. Thus His walk upon earth was ever that of a dependent man, and now He intercedes for us as dependent ones, and thereby maintains our communion with the blessedness of God, in the place where our title is. You may be conscious of much infirmity, but if you say, I am weak, you are also entitled to say, God is for me in that. Do I want light? God is for me in that. Do I want direction for my path? God is for me in that. I get all that God is for my need; and such is the effect of the intercession of Christ. In all this path of trial below, there is not one of the difficulties to which grace does not apply it. There is not a step of my life that God is not thinking of me. There may be that in me which requires that God should deal with it, as, for instance, was Job's case. He sees that Job is not going on well, and He says, I must take that case up and deal with it. And so He lets Satan loose upon Job, till Job was made nothing of in his own eyes; and that is exactly what was wanted. In Peter's case Satan took the start. The Lord says, "Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." He prays there before the sin was ever committed. The Lord was thinking about him, and, when the fitting moment was come, looks at him, and Peter weeps bitterly. It was good for him to be sifted. He was a man true and sincere, but with too much confidence in himself, and in his love for the Lord. Then, in order thoroughly to restore his soul, the Lord applies the word, "Lovest thou me more than these?" And Simon, conscious of how little love he had shewn, is forced to appeal to divine knowledge of it — "Thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee." You know that I love you, though nobody else could. The Lord then says to him, "Feed my lambs." There we get the application of it. "When thou art restored," He had before said to him, "strengthen thy brethren."
264 Christ, having "learned obedience by the things which he suffered," associates our hearts with Himself in the perfectness in which God is, by applying that perfectness in grace to all the wants of our souls. Then, when we fail, intercession comes in and restores the soul, and yet it always maintains the soul in the confidence of divine love. The Lord intercedes for us without our even asking. We do not gain Him to intercede for us because of our repentance or prayers. He did not intercede for Peter when he repented, but before he sinned; He interceded for Peter because he needed it. "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father." It does not say, If any man repent of his sin, but "If any man sin." That is, he wants it. It is the exercise of grace in His own heart towards us to restore our souls.
"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." People are apt to talk about "strong meat," as if it meant something very great. But the simple truth taught here is that milk is fitted for babes, and strong meat for grown people, and therefore if you are not able to eat solid meat, you are in a bad state. I do not give milk to a grown man because meat suits him. If we cannot take the solid food, the fact is that we have been content to stay babes, because we have not been growing up into Christ; the thought and intent of the heart is not right. We are called upon to have our senses exercised to discern both good and evil, and that is impossible except as we are walking in reality with God. But the place where Christ keeps our hearts is in the holiest of all. He has sanctified Himself in the presence of God for us, and that is the place where He keeps us. We may forget Him, we may fail in appreciating the position in which He has set us, and in walking according to it; but in the holiest He keeps us, in unmingled untiring enjoyment of what is there — there in perfect love and in the light, as God is in the light, sin put away, and ourselves made the righteousness of God in Him. I have nothing more to think about my competency to be there. I am there, and I cannot get there except as being perfectly cleansed. All sin blotted out, and there, consequently, as thus cleansed, I enjoy the unclouded favour of God. The place into which I am introduced is the unclouded favour of God that has been brought in by the death of Christ, which has cleansed me. And now here, in this earth, I am to manifest Christ. But in the midst of all the trials and difficulties of the way, we find these two means which God uses to carry us on: the word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, which judges everything that is contrary to God; and the intercession of Christ which meets all our weakness and failure. He has trodden the same path which we have to tread, and has met the same temptations in that path. And now our very weakness, if we are kept in dependence upon Christ, is but the continual exercise of affection to Christ and the drawing out of His affections towards us.