The Priesthood of  Christ. Part 1 of 5

Hebrews iv. 14-16.

Taken from: THE BIBLE TREASURY, Edited by William Kelly #2 (New Series), February, 1896


Vagueness is often found in the thoughts of many a child of God as to the priesthood of our Lord Jesus, its place and proper action, as well as what it is founded on—what its relation to other truths, more particularly to redemption—what the design is that God secures by it—what the portion that the saint enjoys in virtue of it, or consequently loses if he have it not. All these various ways in which priesthood may be examined will be found somewhat indefinite in the minds even of-most real believers; and it is wise in general never to assume that a truth is known till we have proved it.

We often take for granted, finding the children of God happy together in fellowship, that they must know this or that truth; but it by no means follows. They may be using language beyond what they have actually learnt from God. The mass are apt to be carried along (and this even where their words would give little suspicion) by the faith of others. This is easily understood. They do not doubt in their own minds that it is all quite true, having the general sense and savour, and surely not without some enjoyment, of it; but still they have not thoroughly sought out and realised the mind of God for their souls, receiving the truth distinctly and decidedly from God. If exposed to misleading influences they might soon and seriously be turned aside, at the least be perplexed and tried by questions easily raised, and often for the very purpose of confounding those whose general confession puts to shame such as are walking in the ways of the world. And these are days, when we need to have everything from God for our own souls.

Assuredly one need say no more to urge the importance for every child of God of simply and thoroughly searching into His word; if they do know, of having it so much the more happily confirmed to their souls, and if they have not yet ascertained it for their own souls, of searching and seeing what God has to show and give them. We have the truth in having Christ; but it is well to have it explicitly for our souls. His priesthood goes on for us whether we enter intelligently or not into what our portion is in it and by it. But is it not of great importance that we should know how suited, and rich, and constant is the grace of our Lord Jesus? Indeed it is this which makes it so blessed, because the truth we are about to look at now is bound up with Christ. He is all in it. There may be the reflexion of His grace, there may be the working of it (no doubt poorly and imperfectly), in souls on earth who enter a little into their priestly character and blessing. But this is altogether of a different bearing after all from His relation to us; for it is not now simply priestly grace in activity of love for others, but that which our own souls indispensably ant in order to be carried through the wilderness.

Let me call your attention to this point at the start of any observations I have to make (and you will see how true it is when you reflect upon it): the whole Epistle to the Hebrews supposes a redeemed people pilgrims and strangers on the earth. They are not in Egypt, nor are they in Canaan; they are passing through the wilderness. The very same people may be viewed if not in Egypt, certainly as being in heavenly places even now; but such is not the aspect in which the children of God are viewed in this Epistle. In no case here do we find them invested with that character of blessings which we have, for instance, in Ephesians and in a measure even in Colossians. We do not find anything at all of resurrection with Christ either; although this too, of course, it need hardly be said, has its immense importance, and several Epistles take it up.

But here we have distinctively the Spirit of God starting first of all with Christ at God’s right hand in heaven; and this is an essential feature of His priesthood. “For if He were upon earth, He should not be a priest.” His is an exclusively heavenly priesthood; and those for whom He is acting are a heavenly people. The time was come for God to form and fashion them accordingly. There were saints of old waiting, with more or less light of heavenly hopes, looking for the city above the saints of the high or heavenly places, as the Spirit of God in the. New Testament explains the expression to us. But still they looked up only in hope, and this too necessarily with vagueness. Here it is still in hope; but the veil is rent, and heaven opened, and the Spirit sent down because of Christ’s redemption and glorification. Here all is definite, without the least vagueness whatever. The ground and scene are clear and distinct from the very fact that Christ Who purged our sins is in heaver, yet in living relationship with those He is not ashamed to call His brethren on earth. Thus, even if we look at the Christian in this point of view, having such a Priest and passing through the wilderness, still there is-a positive and present imprint of heaven upon all.

Hence therefore in chapter iii. those who are particularly contemplated in the Epistle are called “partakers of a heavenly calling.” It was not only that they were called to heaven by and by, but the One that called them was already in heaven, and in heaven on the ground of redemption already accomplished. This is another truth of the greatest possible, yea indeed primary, importance; for the heavenly place of our Lord Jesus is here viewed as consequent on the accepted sacrifice of Himself for our. sins, as in fact it was. It is no question at all of our Lord Jesus coming by-and-by from heaven. This, we know, is most true; and it too has its revelation elsewhere in a suited manner. But the point here with which the Epistle opens is the great truth that the Lord by Himself purged the sins (or our sins, it may be). I merely say this because there is a question of reading; but the question raised has nothing to do with the indisputable truth (and that is all that I affirm now, as it is perfectly certain), that the Lord Jesus went up to heaven, and took His place at the right hand of God, to enter on a new kind of action there; and this founded on the purgation of sins by the sacrifice of Himself.

But this at once clears the way for the application of Christ's priesthood to the believer. I supposes a people already redeemed. It supposes that the great and absolutely necessary work of grace on their behalf has been accomplished. It supposes that they are resting on it without a question, the main danger being that some may be tempted to give it and Him up, because of the difficulties, the trials, the snares, the persecutions, the dangers of the way. And this we see to be before the mind of the Spirit of God every now and then in the Epistle to the Hebrews. You will find it very early brought up in chapter iii., and you may trace it continuously to perhaps the last. It was What Satan was seeking to separate them from; but it was no question of whether the work was done. The whole doctrine of the Epistle supposes that the Lord single-handed had finished the work which He undertook on earth. All that God contemplated to be done as to sin—that God Himself could do in the way of blotting out sins—was already done before the Lord entered on His priesthood on high.

It is the want of seizing and holding fast that great truth which has thrown such confusion and darkness into the minds of most on the subject of Christ’s priesthood. That it is which has made it vague to better instructed souls, and just in proportion to the weakness with which they hold the completeness of redemption. For naturally, if the believer be not resting’ with his conscience purged and perfect now, the priesthood of Christ is thrown in to complete what is deficient. The true grace of the priesthood therefore is impaired, yea lost; it becomes a mere maker up of weight; for the preliminary question must naturally be to know Christ, and one’s sins forgiven through His blood. With most nowadays there is but a hope (for it rarely amounts to more throughout Christendom) of favour with the Lord by-and-by. Thus the true place of the priesthood disappears, because redemption hag never been received from God in its simplicity and its fulness; and Christ's walk and priesthood are thrown into the scale to make up what His death on the cross has done perfectly.

Certainly the Epistle to the Hebrews leaves no ground for any such hesitation. Before the Spirit of God enters on priesthood, we have, with the greatest precision and fulness, the person of the Lord Jesus brought out, and this in a twofold way. We hear of Him as the Son of God; we see Him as the Son of man. And both natures were necessary to His priesthood. If He had not been God’s Son pre-eminent, unique, and eternal, there had been no such priesthood as that which this Epistle sets before us. On the other hand, if He had not been the Son of man, in a sense too that was as real as that of others, but in a character that was peculiar to Himself, there had been no such priesthood available for us. The Lord Jesus was both; and as the first chapter presents Him particularly as Son of God, so the second as Son of man. At the end of. chap ii. we have the first allusion to His priesthood.

In both these chapters we have the fulness of redemption set forth. We have already seen this in the first chapter; the second supposes the same truth. There we read, “It became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified [i.e. set apart to God] are all of one.”

Here again, then, we have a very important relation to His priesthood. It is a question of the sanctified, and of the sanctified only. None but the sanctified, we must see, have to do with the priesthood of Christ. They are the persons contemplated. On the other hand, “by the grace of God he [Jesus] tasted death for every man (or thing).” But after this the apostle begins to narrow the sphere; for he is about to treat of the priesthood of Christ. He shows us certain that are sanctified, or set apart. They are therefore spoken of not merely as the seed of Adam, for this would take in the whole human family, but as the seed of Abraham. Thus it is a less general class taken as the seed of Abraham, not merely in the letter after the flesh, but, as it really means, after the Spirit; for none but such are viewed here as sanctified.

Sanctification in the New Testament is not fleshly, as in the Old Testament. If of profession simply, it might be given up by those that take it up of themselves, and are not born of God; but still it is separation to God in the name of Christ. We find persons afterwards spoken of as treating the blood wherewith they were sanctified as an unholy thing. They became apostate, as we know; but as yet He does not contemplate such an issue. He speaks of certain as real. “Both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” They are His brethren and He owns them.

In short, then, the priesthood of Christ is in no way & work which looks out to the whole of mankind, as the propitiation of Christ does. That which was represented by the blood on the mercy seat contemplated all. It was sprinkled on the mercy-seat, and before it. It was not merely a question of those that were in the immediate circle of God’s dealings. That blood was too precious, being infinite in its value, to be thus limited. “By the grace of God he tasted death for every man.” Indeed, the word may go a little farther, and take in “every thing;” but still it includes every man fortiori. As we approach Christ in His action and sufferings and qualifications for priesthood, we find a special regard to those that had an actual relationship of grace. “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death (that is. the devil), and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

(To be continued D.V.)