By F.B. Meyer
"We have a merciful and faithful high-priest in things pertaining to God." (HEBREWS 2.17).
DO you wonder that your Lord was tempted and sorrowful? It is indeed the marvel of eternity, and yet not so marvellous, when we consider the beings whom He elected to succour, help, and save, and of whom each of us is one.
Had He chosen to lay hold of fallen angels, with a view of raising them from their lost estate, He would without doubt have taken upon Himself their nature, and descended into the pit; identifying Himself with their miseries, and paving, by His sufferings, a pathway across the great fixed gulf which intervenes between their lost estate and Paradise.
But verily He took not hold of angels, but of the seed of Abraham, and had no alternative therefore but to assimilate Himself in all points to the nature of those whom, in infinite mercy and grace, He brothered.
There are two things you need, reader; and not you only, but all men, reconciliation, and succour in the hour of temptation. These instinctive cravings of the soul are as mighty and as irrepressible as the craving of the body for sleep or food, and they are as evident amid our luxury and refinement as in primeval forests, or beside the historic rivers of antiquity - the Nile, the Indus, the Euphrates.
To meet these two needs, men have constituted one of their number a priest. That word has an ominous sound to our ears, because it has been associated with immoralities and cruelty. The world has never seen more unscrupulous or rapacious tyrants than its priests, whether of Baal or Moloch, of Judaism or the Papacy.
All through the ages it has seemed impossible for men to receive power in the spiritual realm without abusing it to the injury of those who sought their help.
Study the history of the priesthood, which murdered Christ because He threw too strong a light upon its hypocrisies and villainies, and you have the history of every priestcraft which has darkened the world with crime, and saturated its soil with the blood of the noblest and saintliest of men.
And yet the idea of the priest is a natural and a beautiful one. It is natural for men who are conscious of sin barring their access into the presence of a holy God, and demanding sacrifice in order to make peace, to say to one of their fellows, "Our hands are stained with blood, and grimed with toil, our garments spotted with pollution and dust, our lives too busy for us to spare time for those rites which alone can fit the sinner to stand before the eye of God. Do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, prepare yourself by holy rite and vigil and fasting from sin, so as to be able to stand in the presence-chamber of the All-Holy; and when you have acquired the right of audience with Him, speak for us, atone for us, make reconciliation for our sins; and then come forth to us, succouring and blessing those who cannot attain to your position, but must ever struggle as best they may with the strong, rough, bad world in which they are doomed to live."
This seems the underlying thought behind the vast system which has built temples in every land, reared altars on every soil, and constituted a priesthood amid the most degraded as well as the most civilised races of mankind.
And there is great beauty in the work and ministry of a true priest. Not always engaged in the darker work of sacrificing flocks of fleecy sheep, by which alone, in those rude days, the cost of sin could be computed; the true priest would have other, and, perhaps, more congenial work.
He would be the shepherd of the timid souls around him, listening to confessions whispered over the heads of the dumb victims, feeling compassion for erring and wayward ones, comforting those who were passing through scenes of sorrow, till faces shadowed with tears began to gleam with holy light; arresting the proud hand of the oppressor, as Ambrose did in lawless days, to rescue the poor from the mailed blow. Never studying self-interest, never consulting ease or pleasure or gain, never resting while one poor wanderer was away in the snowdrift or on the wild.
Yes, and more, he would be the spokesman of souls, praying for those who did not pray for themselves, praying for those who knew not what or how to ask, interceding for the whole race of man. Ah! how often must such a one have been compelled by the pressure of the burden to go apart from the busy crowds to some lone spot, that he might pour out before God the long litany of need and sorrow and temptation which had been poured into his heart. Lovely ideal, ah, how seldom realised!
All this is Jesus Christ, and more. Words fail indeed to say all that He is in Himself, or all that He can be to those that trust Him. And it is because of this that He is able to give such blessed help to all who need it. Let us consider that help.
IT IS SOVEREIGN AND UNEXPECTED HELP.
Angels fell. Once they were the peers of heaven. They sang its songs, plucked its flowers of amaranth, and drank its tranquil bliss. They loved its King, and served Him, like the sunbeam, with unpolluted brightness and unswerving direction. But, alas! they fell from heaven to hell. And for them there is no help, so far as we can learn. "God takes not hold of angels."
But He has set His heart upon us, the poor children of dust, the creatures of the transient moments of time, who had fallen by the same sin of self-will. Here is a theme for meditation! We cannot pierce the mystery, or understand its full import. But we may, with wondering faith and joy, accept the chalice, brimming with unmerited, unexpected, undeserved grace, and drain its draughts of bliss.
IT IS HUMAN HELP.
" Made like to his brethren." The peculiarity of this phrase testifies to Christ's pre-existence and glory, and indicates how great a stoop on His part it involved ere he could be like man. He had to be made like man, He was not like man in the original constitution of His being.
We cannot solve the mystery of the holy incarnation. And yet the thought of it has never been quite foreign to the heart of man. Many a Greek and Hindu myth rested on an instinctive craving for the presence of God in human flesh, which became parent to the belief that such a thing had been, and might be again. Even in the highlands of Galatia, the most ready explanation of the miracles of Paul was that the gods had come down in the likeness of men.
But though there be such a profound mystery resting on this subject, yet the union of the Almighty with a human life is at least not more incomprehensible than the union of a spiritual, unmaterial principle, as the soul, with a material organism, as the human body. When the secrets of our own nature have been unravelled, it will be time enough for us to demand of the Almighty that, when He assumes our nature, He should disrobe Himself of all mystery.
How exquisite is the arrangement that God's help should come to us through the Son of Man; that our Helper should shed true human tears, and feel true human pity, Jew though he was, child of the most exclusive and intolerant of peoples, yet the humanity which is greater than Judaism makes us oblivious to all else than that He is our Brother.
IT IS HIGH-PRIESTLY HELP.
The full meaning of this phrase will appear as we proceed. It is sufficient to say here, that all that men have sought to realise in human priesthoods, but in vain, is realised with transcendent beauty in Him. Nor is there any way of weaning men from the human priesthoods which deceive, but to present to them the all-glorious, immaculate priesthood of Christ.
It is of little use only to denounce the priests that are coming back to Protestant England through a thousand covert channels, or the people who go to them. There is a craving in their heart which impels them. It is of no use to fight against nature.
But satisfy it, give it its true nutriment; supply its wants with reality, and it will be content to drop the false for the true, the paste diamond for the Golconda pebbles, the human for the divine.
Men must have a priest; and they are going back to the mummeries of Rome, because there has been too scanty a presentation in our pulpits of the priesthood of Jesus.
IT IS MERCIFUL AND FAITHFUL HELP.
When we are in need, we want help wedded with mercy. The patient in the infirmary does not like to be treated as a broken watch. Oh that he were at home again, to be nursed by the soft hands of his mother, which ever feel so skilful and gentle and soft! We need merciful help, which does not upbraid, is not in too great a hurry to listen, and gladly takes all extenuating circumstances into account. Such mercy is in the heart of Jesus.
And His help is ever faithful, too. This word has a fine tint of meaning, almost lost in our translation, giving the idea of one who runs up at the first cry of distress. He neither slumbers nor sleeps. He watches us with a gaze which is not for a moment diverted from us. He sees us through the storm. He sits beside the molten metal. He will help us right early i.e. when the day breaks.
You may be bereft of all power of consecutive thought, unable to utter a single intelligible sentence, frantic with agony and remorse, but if you can only moan, He will instantly respond. "He will be very gracious to you at the voice of your cry."
IT IS HELP BASED ON RECONCILIATION FOR SIN.
Sin is one of the greatest facts in our history. It is impossible to ignore it. You cannot explain man unless you take it into account. For this the world has been covered with the apparatus of sacrifice; and the cry has rung in a monotone of despair, "How shall man be just with God?"
But Jesus met the demands of conscience, echoing those of a broken law, when on Calvary, as High-Priest, He offered himself as victim, and made an all-sufficient, satisfactory, and complete sacrifice for the sin of the world.
Burdened one, groaning under the load of sin, remember that He bore your sins in His own body on the tree. Approach the holy God, reminding Him of that fact, and daring on account of it to stand unabashed and accepted in His sight.
IT IS SYMPATHETIC HELP FOR THE TEMPTED.
" Them that are tempted." Within that circle we all stand. Each is tempted in subtler, if not in grosser, forms, in extraordinary, if not in ordinary, ways. You have been trying, oh, so hard, to be good, but have met with some sudden gust, and been overcome.
Tempted to despair! Tempted to yield to Potiphar's wife! Tempted to become a brute! No dawn without the fowler's snare! No day without its sorrow! No night without its noisome pestilence! No rose without its thorn!
Do we not need succour? Certainly; and He is able to succour the tempted, because He has suffered the very worst that temptation can do. Not that there was ever one symptom or thought of yielding, yet suffering to the point of extreme anguish, beneath the test.
Oh sufferers, tempted ones, desolate and not comforted, lean your heads against the breast of the God-Man, Whose feet have trodden each inch of your thorny path, and Whose experiences of the power of evil well qualify Him to strengthen you to stand, to lift you up if you have fallen, to speak such words as will heal the ache of the freshly gaping wound. If He were impassive, and had never wept or fought in the Garden shadows, or cried out forsaken on the cross, we had not felt Him so near as we can do now in all hours of bitter grief.
Oh matchless Saviour, on Whom God our Father has laid our help, we can dispense with human sympathy, with priestly help, with the solace and stay of many a holy service; but You are indispensable to us, in Your life, and death, and resurrection, and brotherhood, and sympathising intercession at the throne of God!