The Gospel and its Ministry - ch 16 - THE PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST


THE writer of the Hebrews found the truth of the priesthood of the Lord Jesus "hard to be uttered"; and the reason is obvious, namely, that with the Jew the idea of offering sacrifices for sins was inseparable from priesthood. The fact of the priesthood of Christ thus reacted on the Jewish mind to cast discredit on the sufficiency of the great sacrifice of Calvary; whereas the teaching of Scripture is unequivocal, that the priesthood of the Son of God is based on eternal redemption accomplished. In a preceding chapter I have dealt with the doctrine of priesthood, but so much confusion of thought exists on this subject, that I may be pardoned perhaps for going into it more closely, even though it should involve some repetition.
‘At Professor Sanday’s Oxford Conference on this subject, the Rev. Mr. Puller of the "Cowley Fathers" was the only member who seemed to grasp the elementary truth that the work of priesthood began after the sacrifice had been killed, and that the priesthood of Christ dates from His ascension. "On earth He would not be a priest at all" (Heb. viii. 4, R.V.).
The R.V. of Heb. v. i makes havoc of the truth. It tells us that every high priest is taken from among men, and is appointed to offer sacrifices for sins. The teaching of the verse is correctly given in A.V., that every high priest taken from among men (i.e., every Aaronic priest) is appointed for that purpose. But our High Priest is the Son of God"(iv. x4); and His priesthood is based upon the Sacrifice which has for ever put away sin, so that now "there is no more offering for sin"

Sin, we as have seen, has a relation both to righteousness and to holiness, but, essentially, it is lawlessness : lawlessness and sin are. synonymous terms. The answer to the guilt of sin is justification, and to its defilement, sanctification. In virtue of the blood we are both justified and sanctified. But the fact that for the believer guilt is not imputed in no respect changes the essential character of sin. On the contrary, it intensifies the heinousness of it. This, moreover, is the clew to the true character of the Christian life, which is too often lost sight of. Sin against grace is far more heinous than sin against law. It is a greater outrage upon God ; and if, as with.the Christian, there be a real desire to avoid it, it is a greater proof of weakness. Here then it is that we learn the power and value of Christ’s priestly work. It is not to justify, nor yet to sanctify. These blessings are secured to us in Him in virtue of Calvary. But if we have right thoughts of God and of ourselves, and of the nature of sin, we must know that all the blessings with which grace has crowned us would not avail to maintain us for one hour in the place they give us before God, were it not for what Christ is to us, and for us, in heaven now. In regard to our position under God’s moral government we know Him as a Saviour, -"we shall be saved from wrath through Him." In view of fellowship in the Father’s house we have a Paraclete; and for the sanctuary and the wilderness journey we rejoice to own Him as a great High Priest.

It is with sin then in this its deepest character that priesthood has to do. For the believer, law has no penalties and the glory of the mercy-seat no terrors. The blood has for ever purged his conscience, arid there is no question now of guilt; and he stands in indissoluble relationship with God. But it would indeed be strange levity to suppose because of this that sin could fail to cause estrangement. Just in proportion to his knowledge of God, and to his appreciation of the blessings grace has given him, will be his sense of the moral distance between himself and God. The truth that his sin is purged, that he is a child of God, and that he is "accepted in the Beloved," can only serve to make his sin seem blacker. How then can he approach with confidence, and have a heart at rest ? Here it is that the word comes home to him, "Seeing that we have a great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, let us come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy."

The answer to the guilt of sin is righteousness, I repeat, and to its defilement, sanctification. And both depend on the blood - the blood shed, ahd the blood sprinkled. But the answer to the practical estrangement sin produces is reconciliation ; and this is the present work of priesthood. "to make reconciliation (or atonement) for the sins of the people."
But this "reconciliation" must not be confounded with the reconciliation treated of in a previous chapter. The latter is a finished work accomplished by the death of Christ, and the sinner enters into the benefit of it by faith; whereas the reconciliation I am now speaking of is the present work of priesthood. They have this in common, however, that both relate to sin in its essential character. Reconciliation for the sinner who believes, is a result of the death of Christ: reconciliation for the believer who sins, depends upon His priesthood. it is akin to the twofold aspect of forgiveness. We have the forgiveness of our sins in virtue of redemption ; but yet, in another sense, forgiveness depends upon confession.
And by reason of this it is that, even as sinners, we can come boldly to the throne of grace, confident that we shall find compassion; not as an encouragement to sin again, but allied with grace to help in time of need. It is because of Him who is sitting at the right hand of God that the throne of "the Majesty on high" is a throne of grace.

I will not enter on the consideration of Christ’s priestly functions in relation to worship, for that lies beyond my subject. But apart from worship, His priestly work, according to the Hebrews, is confined to making reconciliation and intercession. Everything beyond this is mere Judaism or Popery.

Putting aside special teaching, such as the cleansing of the leper, and the consecration of the priests, four of the great types - viz., the Passover, the inauguration of the covenant, and the two principal sin-offerings of the great day of atonement, and of Numbers xix., may be taken as giving a complete view of what the death of Christ is to us. As already shown, the two first were not priestly sacrifices. In the third, it was a priest doubtless who led the victim forth, and sprinkled its blood before the tabernacle; but observe, it was not Aaron. The act was typical of the work of Christ, but no.t of His high-priestly work. A like remark applies to the great day of atonement, when Aaron himself officiated. The ordinance consisted of two distinct parts - first, the sacrifice of sin-offerings, and afterwards of burnt-offerings. Both these were in the highest sense typical of the work of Christ; but mark the difference in Aaron’s position respecting them. For the sin-offering he divested himself of all his high-priestly robes, and put on the holy linen garments; from which we learn that though his action here was typical of what our High-Priest would do for us, this would not be accomplished by Him in His priestly character. The sin-offering concluded in all its parts, Aaron came out in high-priestly splendour, arrayed in his "garments of glory and beauty," and offered the burnt-offerings.