J. A. Trench.
from 'Truth for Believers' Vol. 3. — Miscellany.
In death Christ for the moment was both Priest and victim (Heb. 2:17), but Hebrews 8:4 shows that this was not His proper priestly work, which in the type only began on the death of the victim. He did not assume this till He took His place on high, where the Epistle steadily keeps Him before our eye; Hebrews 1:3 as connected with the glory of His Person, Hebrews 8:1 the character and perfection of His priesthood, Hebrews 10:12 the completeness of His work as to every question of sin, for the glory of God and our consciences, and, fourthly (Hebrews 12:2), as the terminus and reward of the path of faith for Him who was the Leader and Completer of it. But it is not merely that He is there, giving us a link of the most intimate character with the bright scene of God's presence, but that He is actively occupied in love and its willing service for us, whom He has left here in weakness — able to succour the tempted — not untouched with the feeling of our weakness; though He has now passed out of the condition, in which He was tempted once in all points like as we, sin apart (necessarily and absolutely as to the truth of His Person, but also as to His priestly relation with us, observe). For sin does not enter into the scope of priestly service, it is all Levite service for this; but neither does the Epistle look at us as sinning (though easily beset with sin), but as laying it aside, to run with patience the race of faith through all present and entangling things; and such an High Priest becomes us, who is "Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners," etc. He made experience of them as Hebrews 5:7-8 presents Him — ever living to make intercession for us; able therefore to save completely — right through to the end — those who come unto God by Him. And here it is important to clear the expression "infirmity" (Heb. 4:15) of any allusion to sin; the verse itself absolutely excludes it; yet through the wretched trifling of our hearts it is sometimes taken to imply what is sinful. But the word is one and the same in Greek as "weakness" and means no more and no less. Weakness is not sinful. Christ was crucified in weakness, and it is the point we have to be reduced down to because we are naturally wilful; as in 2 Corinthians 12 Christ's strength is made perfect in weakness, and Paul glories in his weaknesses. This leads us to the exact point at which the Epistle looks at us, and the priesthood of Christ meets us; it is in the weakness of our present condition, subject to temptation from without (for the Epistle does not suppose the drawing away of lust — that character of temptation as in James 1:14), exposed to the power of the adversary, deeply tried and persecuted, in need of patience in carrying out God's will, and liable to faint and be wearied in mind with the contradiction of sinners and of every principle of the scene, to the path of faith.
In fine, it is the path of faith and its support in Hebrews, the path of the renewed man, making its way through the scene of Christ's rejection, the dependent life of Christ in us, with Divine resources of grace and strength ministered to us, through the unceasing ministry of our ever-living Priest. I take John 6:57 and John 14:19 as the expression of this dependent life that thus for us gets its support. It found its perfect expression in the path of Christ. It is thus He gained the experience that perfected Him to be all my heart needs in my weakness and trial. He suffered being tempted. It is not that He is in the circumstances in which I need His sympathy, but He was in them.
What infinite love and grace brought Him into the circumstances of human sorrow; but the sorrow not of an unsubject will, impossible as that was for Him, but of a heart perfectly subject, carrying its anguish to God and making supplication with strong crying and tears.
There is not one circumstance, difficulty, or trial we meet with as we seek to walk with God — carrying out His will in obedience, the heart set for this and refusing to be turned from it, yet tested by everything we meet in such a scene — that Christ has not gone through; put to every conceivable test, yet thus proved only absolutely perfect. "He suffered being tempted." Suffering is not sinning. "He that hath suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin." But, such was temptation to Him the presenting of it was only suffering. With us, if not reckoning ourselves to be dead to sin, walking thus in the truth and power of our deliverance, there is the horrible answer of the flesh within; none such was there in Him; He suffered, that was all, but how really this brings Him into our path; how really tempted! But all this is passed now, He is not, nor ever will be again, in such circumstances; but out of them all He is thinking of us in them, feeling our weakness, entering into our trial, anticipating our need with the suited mercy and grace and succour. His heart and His hand both engaged for us, that weakness in us may not become an occasion for wilfulness and sin. Now we can study the scene of His "temptations" (Luke 22:28) and learn more perfectly where and how His Priesthood applies.
Take the three classes of temptation in the wilderness which embrace in them, I suppose, the whole range of Satan's power, save that which was reserved for the closing scenes of Gethsemane. Think of us exposed to the same adversary, although his power be for faith a broken thing. Are we never tempted to act without a word from God and thus to leave the path of obedience? Or to test God to see if He will be as good as His word and thus depart from dependence? Or to take something in this world as an object (for so Satan can give it to whom he wills now), when our only safety is to refuse this world absolutely, till we receive it — time enough — with Christ by and bye from the Father? Just at the point at which the heart is true, He who has proved the force and wiles of Satan and foiled him, meets us to sustain us by His Divine resources, yet ministered by a Man who has known human weakness and feels for us in the trial, and, in the measure in which we are only tried in having to do with evil and with Satan.
Take again the last scenes of His testing as Luke gives them to us — "Pray that ye enter not into temptation" — and so He meets the temptation by prayer. Is it wrong to carry our trial to God? It is the only right way to meet it, even if this only makes it the more intense, for as we get near Him everything comes out in its true character. When Paul prayed thrice that the thorn might be removed from him, lest the heart in its earnestness should get out of subjection to God, He watches over us — His heart and His hand again — for what was it but Priesthood in exercise, as Paul heard Him say, "My grace is sufficient for thee."
So He prays for us even before we are conscious of the sifting, as in Peter's case, before he fell. How little we think of it, but five minutes of faith, obedience, dependence, communion, of walking with God, nay, each moment is the fruit of that present work of Christ. Alas! that we should ever put ourselves out of the reach of it by accepting the flesh's leading, yet not out of the reach of the service of Christ, or where should any of us be? Only it is not the Priesthood then with God for weakness, but an Advocate with the Father for sins; nor has He to take any action with God in the case of sins, for it is not "advocacy," not what He does, but what He is, and what He has done which remains for ever in its perfectness. The action in this last case is with us, to bring us to the detection of what has interrupted communion, as a single thought of the flesh must do absolutely — to bring us to the confession of it, for the restoration of communion, the Father's forgiveness.
Philippians is the outcome of Priesthood, though not of course disconnected with the power of the Holy Ghost in us.