"The Priesthood of the Laity: An English Church Union Paper."

1889 380 Such is the title of an essay, written in a good and temperate spirit, now lying before me. The argument is based on the analogy of Israel, who all had the promise of priesthood (Ex. xix. 5), and yet none but the family of Aaron could minister in the sanctuary. So in the church is the plea.

The truth is that N.T. Scripture here proves not a resemblance but a contrast; and this is not a merely apparent circumstantial difference, but radical and essential, from the nature of Christianity and the church, as compared with Judaism.

If the writer of the paper had looked more closely into Scripture with a spiritual eye, he would have observed that the promise to the people was conditional. If ye will obey My voice and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine, and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (R.V.). The people in fact disobeyed and did not inherit any such blessing. The law was broken in its foundation by the worship of a false god before the tables of stone were conveyed by Moses, as they were indeed shattered in holy indignation, the sign of Israel's total failure in responsibility. If they were given afterwards, it was to shut them up in the ark, the type of Christ Who alone made the law honourable.

To the Christian all is in contrast. He stands on and in Christ alone. In Him he has eternal life, in Him redemption; his characteristic blessings flow from unconditional grace. By grace he has been and is saved through faith; and that not of himself: it is the gift of God. It is not of works, that no man should glory. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.

Hence the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is full of typical allusion to the O.T., always speaks of the christian as such enjoying priestly access to God, drawing near not only to a throne of grace, but into the holies at all times through the rent veil; and this as a present privilege, not as a promise for the future. It is in marked superiority for every believer over not the priests only but the very high priest of Israel. (See Heb. iv., Heb. x., Heb. xiii.)

Not otherwise speak Peter and John. Cf. 1 Peter ii. 5, 9; Rev. i. 6. It is a privilege conferred unconditionally, and actually enjoyed by the entire body of Christians.

And as this is proved positively, so the notion that christian ministers draw nearer, and thus are priests for the alleged christian laity, is unknown to the N. T. Even the inspired apostle puts himself, along with those he is instructing by the Holy Ghost, in one common nearness of approach to God. "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He dedicated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and [having] a Great Priest over the house of God; let us 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" (Heb. x. 19-22).

Nor could any one wonder at this ground of nearness, which is laid down in Rom. 5, in 1 Cor. i., in 2 Cor. i., in Gal., above all in Eph. i., Eph. ii., in a word almost everywhere supposed; for it is the fruit of that infinite work of Christ which has already brought the believer to God (though not yet to heaven). It has made us "heavenly," even before we put on the image of the Heavenly, as we shall at His coming. This is far more than blotting out sins, though, if they were not remitted, all else would be vain.

The assertion of a human priesthood on earth for the christian is therefore a virtual denial of the gospel, as it is without a shred of support from the N.T., which excludes all ground for such an order.

That Israel by-and-by will have an earthly priesthood, besides being a priestly nation as compared with the nations then to be blessed, is clear from Ezek. xliv., etc. But our position is heavenly, even while we are on earth: for we are Christ's body, which will not be their relationship in that day.

Finally, there is as usually confusion of priesthood with ministry; which last is as characteristic of Christianity as earthly priesthood is of Israel. Ministry is the exercise of a spiritual gift from the Lord, each in the place assigned sovereignly and for the purposes of His love. Priesthood was an order of men to draw near to God for others who had no such access. But every Christian has this access to God, not as a shadow like the sons of Aaron, but in the fullest and abiding reality. Ministry is the divinely given service of some for the good of all. As priests we all draw near to God, ministry by chosen vessels proclaims the truth from God.