The Priesthood of Christ.

J. A. Trench.

Article 16 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.

The present service of the Lord Jesus for His redeemed is presented to us in a double way, first as our High Priest with God for all that connects with our condition in weakness here, and then as Advocate with the Father in case of sin. The epistle to the Hebrews gives us His Priesthood; the epistle of John, His place as Advocate, which will form the subject of another paper if the Lord will. Priesthood we find from Hebrews is founded on the work the Lord Jesus has accomplished on the Cross, where for the moment He was both Priest and victim. (Heb. 2:17) "A merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God to make propitiation" (as it is) "for the sins of the people." Hebrews 8:4, "if he were on earth he should not be a priest" shows that this was not His proper priestly work, which as in the types only began on the death of the victim (with the remarkable exception of the great day of atonement, Lev. 16, when the high priest offered the sin-offering). He did not then enter upon Priesthood till He took His place on high, where the epistle steadily keeps Him before our eyes: Hebrews 1:3, in the glory of His Person; Hebrews 8:1, as to the character and perfection of His Priesthood displacing that of Aaron; Hebrews 10:12, in the perfection of His work, set down uninterruptedly as having nothing more to do with sins as to which He has perfected our consciences uninterruptedly, and Hebrews 12:2, as having reached the goal of the race of faith of which He is leader and finisher.

This is important as to the place of Priesthood, because it proves that it has nothing to do with any question of sin, being only taken up on the ground of an eternal redemption that has put away sin for ever for God and the faith of our souls. A merciful and faithful High Priest exercises it for us that we may not sin, sin being looked at as hopeless apostasy in the epistle. It is too sadly possible that we may sin, nor does the service of the Lord Jesus fail for us in that case; but that is as Advocate with the Father. (1 John 2:1)

Priesthood is with God for weakness, which is our only true condition as long as we are here. It supposes then a justified and delivered people, as Israel were in type, when brought to God through the Red Sea, with the wilderness lying before us, and the rest and glory of God at the end. He who is our Moses, the leader of our salvation is conducting us there as the sons of God, Hebrews 2:10; whom He has brought to His own ground as set forth in the risen man, Christ Jesus, the sanctifier and the sanctified all of one, not ashamed to call them His brethren, in the midst of whom He can take His place to lead us in our song of redemption (Ex. 15), at the very opening of the path. (Ver. 12) The path in which He would sustain us by Priesthood is His own in which He has gone before as opened out in three great characteristics of it in the epistle — perfect dependence, "I will put my trust in Him," verse 13; obedience learned by the things He suffered (Heb. 5:8), and faith, of which He is the great prototype. (Heb. 12:2)

So much as to the epistle generally, and the Christian's place in it, will help as to the precious details of the service of Priesthood in which He is ever in love actively engaged for us. And first, "in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour the tempted." With what reality it brings Him before us as having been in our path, to know that He was tempted. At the very opening of His public path in the Gospels He had to meet the temptations of Satan in the wilderness. His perfection is seen in that He suffered being tempted: with Him the effect of the presentation of anything contrary to God was only to produce suffering. With us, if not by faith reckoning ourselves to be dead to sin, and walking in the Spirit as the power of the deliverance that Christ has wrought for us, there is the horrible answer of the flesh within to the temptation, presented from without. There was none such with Him: He suffered being tempted, and that is the absolute opposite of sinning. He that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin, as Peter (1 Peter 4:1) says, exhorting us to arm ourselves with the same mind as Christ. Tempted we shall be, but just at the point in which in weakness we take sides with God against ourselves refusing the evil, the mighty succour of the Lord comes in to our support, lest weakness without support should turn to wilfulness and sin.

In Aaron's garments of glory and beauty in type he bore the names of the children of Israel engraved upon the onyx stones on the shoulders of strength, and also upon the breastplate of judgment upon his heart. We have the reality of both as we consider the High Priest of our confession. For besides strength to succour as in Hebrews 2, Hebrews 4 brings out the wonderful sympathy of His heart. "We have not an high priest who cannot sympathise" (for this is the literal translation) "with our weaknesses but was in all points tempted like as we, without sin" (or "sin apart"). I use the word "weaknesses" because there is but one word to express our two English words "weakness" and "infirmity" in Greek. There is no shade of any other meaning than weakness in the passage. The last clause excludes what is sinful. Besides no Christian would look for the sympathy of the Lord Jesus with what had that character. Weakness is not sinful. Christ was crucified in weakness. We have to be reduced to it as Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, who glories in it because of the proved strength of Christ made perfect in it. It is in weakness that our path has to be made good for God in the midst of temptations, subject to the assaults of the enemy, in the teeth of the opposition of every principle of man and his world, in need of patience in carrying out the will of God, in danger of being wearied and faint in our minds, and through varied exercise. How blessed that there is not a detail of our weakness, under every form of trial and testing, that Jesus, our great High Priest, the Son of God who is passed through the heavens, does not enter into, in the perfect sympathy of a human heart on the throne of God, and with all the divine strength of His compassion. So that the throne where He sits becomes a throne of grace where we can come boldly with every phase of need and obtain mercy and grace for seasonable succour.

But the question may arise how can one so exalted as the Son of God enter into all the details of His people's weakness and need down here. The answer is given us in Hebrews 5. He has been here, and in circumstances of pressure and sorrow such as never fell to the lot of man beside. Not that He is in them now. For it is a common mistake that I must be in the same circumstances as another to be able to sympathise. It is not true. If in them myself I am not so free to enter into those of another. But if I have been in them, and am now out of them, I can fully sympathise with those of another. How infinite the love and grace that brought the Son of God into the path of testing, "who in the days of his flesh when he had offered up strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him out of death, and was heard for his piety" (that is, His meek submission to God). "Though he were a Son yet learned he obedience by the things that he suffered." It is Gethsemane that comes before us, with all its unfathomable sorrow, the last and most crucial of all the scenes of testing and trial He had to go through, and that fitted Him perfectly for our hearts to be all we need in our High Priest. Out of His own deep experience of human sorrow and trial, we have the consciousness that there is nothing that we have to pass through that He cannot enter into, to sustain us as we seek to walk in the same path of His obedience.

But the truth of Priesthood goes farther. I do not here refer to the order of it as that of Melchisedek, proved to be superior to that of Aaron by so many points of contrast in Hebrews 7: because the present exercise of it is analogous to Aaron's as having to do with the sanctuary. The Melchisedek priesthood will not be in exercise till He comes out in manifested glory, and takes His place as Priest upon His throne. But at the close of Hebrews 6 He is presented as having entered within the veil, and that as our forerunner. So that, not only have we the immutability of God's counsel confirmed by an oath, as Abraham for the fulfilment of promise, — and we are just where he was as to the rest and glory of God, — but we have a personal guarantee for its fulfilment in the place "whither the forerunner has for us entered, Jesus made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek": and this also gives us the sanctuary of God as the refuge and home of our hearts. He had, indeed, first of all secured all that was needed for us in the way of succour and sympathy for the path through the wilderness, but this was our side of things. Now He seeks to conduct our hearts to where He is, to His side of things in the bright scene of God's presence, so that we be not slothful but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Nor is He inactive there, for we are still on the way, and love engages Him in His intransmissible priesthood to be ever occupied with us, "able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." (Heb. 7:25) It is thus the dependent life of Christ in us is sustained by the resources of grace and strength that are ministered to us by His priestly intercession and service. Were that exercise of priesthood to cease for a moment we should soon find out where we were, and how dependent we are upon it. But it is not possible: it says, "He ever liveth to make intercession" for us, as if He had nothing else to do but to think of and care for us. All our resources thus being derived moment by moment from what Christ is, "made higher than the heavens" (Heb. 7:26), we are prepared for what I may speak of as the full positive side of Priesthood, which we hear from Hebrews 8 - 10, and which carries us in heart and spirit into the heavenly scenes themselves. For as the epistle says (Heb. 8:1), "Of the things which we have spoken this is the sum" (or summing up): "we have such an high priest who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man," of which the tabernacle in this world was but the type and shadow. (Ver. 5) But if the perfect heavenly sanctuary of God's presence is what is in question now, there is a perfect sacrifice that answers to it (Heb. 9:11-14), and that introduces us there as perfected worshippers, having no more conscience of sins. (Heb. 10:1) It is the witness of the Holy Ghost to the work of the Son of God to make good the counsels of the divine will that gives us this perfect conscience, our sins and iniquities remembered no more.

And now (ver. 19) the Spirit of God summons us to take up our place before God accordingly "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having a great Priest" (as it is now) "over the house of God, let us draw near." Thus once more Christ is presented to us as Priest when He appears representatively for us in the presence of God (see Heb. 9:24), giving us a home link to connect our hearts in the most intimate way with all that is there. The house of God over which He is Priest consists as we know from Hebrews 3, of all who are Christ's, "whose house are we if we hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end." Each true Christian then has this wondrous place of unhindered access to God in the sanctuary of His own presence. "With a true heart," it is added "and in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water," applying this typically without further development, the two parts of the consecration of the priests. Not only perfect rest of conscience and heart as to all the past in the presence of God through the blood of Christ, but the water of the word applied to bring us into a nature capable of enjoying and free to enjoy that holy presence. We are in truth a consecrated priesthood, but it was not the object of the epistle to bring out our priesthood but that of Christ, and so it is left thus in the language of the type.

Nor do I seek to follow out the glorious consequences for us further. Let it suffice that all has been thus prepared for worship, only needing the added truth of the revelation of the Father, as in John 4, for it to burst forth from full hearts, who having access to God within the holiest, have gone forth without the camp, from all that was once instituted of God as a religion for men upon earth, to Christ, bearing His reproach. (Heb. 13:13)

May it be ours then by His grace to realise more and more not merely the blessedness of having every need of our way in weakness through a wilderness world met by the priesthood of Christ, but of becoming more familiar with the sanctuary of which He is the minister, and the holy occupation of it that He connects us with and would maintain us in the enjoyment of, by His priesthood, when first by His work, finished on the Cross, He has given us our title and fitness for the unclouded light of the presence of God.