"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." -- Hebrews 4:12-16.
THE subject that I desire to bring before you, this evening, is the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The question of sins is first settled, as you find in the first chapter of Hebrews. In Hebrews we have the greatness of the priest; the greatness of the sanctuary; and the greatness of the offering. At the end of chapter 9 you get the testament in consequence of death. It would be of no value at all until the death of the testator.
"By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." "There is no more offering for sin." Now we have a great Priest over the house of God. It is little understood amongst Christians, that priesthood has to do with infirmities and not with sins. The question of sin must first be settled. In the opening of Hebrews it is, "Having purged our sins he sat down"; but in chapter 8, "We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens." In order to understand what priesthood is, the first great thing to know is, that you are clear of your sins, and of sin, too.
The question of sin has been entirely settled in the death of Christ, and now we have to do with another thing; He has gone up to the right hand of God; He has entered within the veil, the Forerunner for us; that place is secured for us by His blood, and now His service is to support and help us all along the road until we get there -- and that is priesthood.
It has been remarked, that it was not the rod of Moses that budded, for that was authority; but it was the rod of Aaron, and that was priesthood. Priesthood has to do with a feeble folk. In fact, one gets a good deal of instruction about it, even in the family circle. The mere authority of the father will not be enough for the children, you must have grace also. I am not saying now how you are to deal with their wilfulness, that is another thing; that brings in the advocacy -- I am not going to touch on advocacy more than this. The moment you sin, it is not priesthood you want:it is advocacy. Though it is the same Person who is Advocate, and you have to be exercised, as in Numbers i9, on account of the sin.
Now the main thing is that the question of sin is altogether settled; there is no imputation of sin whatever. Priesthood is, that the One who has gone the road, and gone up to the top, and has secured that top for me, is now conducting me along the road in the very same grace in which He walked that road Himself.
But the great thing for the heart to enter into is the nature of this ministry, which, as I have said, is prefigured by Aaron's rod. The rod budded and blossomed and brought forth fruit, and was placed in the ark of the covenant.
Now the ground is cleared immensely by seeing that it is not a question of sin at all, but of infirmity. Infirmity is not sin. For instance, a nervous character. I know very well what it is to be startled, and to be so annoyed at being startled as to be ready to express myself very angrily. It was not wrong to be startled, but it was very wrong to be in a passion. Therefore you see you are very near sin in infirmity. The priesthood is to preserve me from it. The priesthood has to do with my infirmity. It was not wrong of Sarah to be afraid; but Sarah told a lie, and that was wrong. Children, if you frighten them, will tell a lie; better avoid such things. Their feebleness makes them liable; still it is no excuse for the lie. Timidity is infirmity; a lie is not infirmity, it is sin.
I think, when you get hold of this point, you will find immense comfort in studying the priesthood of Christ. It is that Christ having secured the end, has entered within the veil, He is the Forerunner for us entered, and now His service is to lead us to the very place where He is. In John 14 He says, "I go to, prepare a place for you," and "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do." That is the measure of His power. He is telling us that there is no limit to His power up to the place He has prepared for us. You will find immense blessing when you understand this ministry.
Now if you turn to the passage I have read, there are the word and the priesthood. The word exposes your motives. "The entrance of thy words giveth light." I am vexed:well, the question is whether I am rightly vexed or not. There is such a thing as being angry rightly:I may be rightly indignant with a man for beating a horse; but if he were to turn around and beat myself, I might lose my temper and be vindictive. Well, the object of the word is to expose, and put me on my guard. It penetrates; it is not here to restore, but to preserve. In John 13, a the word is restorative. Here it is to make all patent, there is nothing hid from it, it penetrates to the depth of everything: "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do." Therefore, when you come to deal with trials, common as they are all day long, you never can get on if you have not Christ's sympathy; it has a marvellous effect upon you; God grant we may know more of it. If you are sensible of the continued support of the Lord Jesus Christ in all the little worries of daily life, you gain much spiritually. That is the real reason why trials do good. Trials in themselves do not mellow; as a rule, you will find people hardened by trials. If I learn the grace of Christ in the trials, I am a different person, I am mellowed by them.
I am dwelling now on the difference between the word and the priesthood. The word exposes my motive -- whether the rest of God is before me. All is open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
It shows the continued exercise of heart which goes ,,con when we are in the light. Then, "we have a great "High priest that is passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, sin apart."
Now let us look at the difference between knowing Christ as a Saviour, and as a Priest. Look at 1 Samuel 17 and 18. It is surprising, when we come to investigate, how little we know of the priesthood of Christ. We know something of the Saviour. One may say, But knowing Him as the Saviour is greater than knowing Him as Priest. In one sense, it is greater, no doubt; but I think I shall show you that it is as I learn the priesthood, that I begin fully to appreciate the Saviour. I turn to this passage, because, here you have the mind of a person who enjoys a Saviour, and this in order that you may see the difference between the affection which one has when saved, and the affection one has who has known Christ as Priest. Here is David with the head of Goliath in his hand; and Jonathan is so affected by what David did, that he loves him as his own soul, and strips himself to give to David. He had a right sense as to the greatness of what David had done for him in slaying Goliath, but he had not learnt what David's company was, or he would have gone with David, and been able to bear up against all the difficulties which lay between that time and David's time. I am not saying now whether Jonathan was right or wrong in his course, but that he did not learn the effect of David's company or priesthood. Now I turn to Ruth 1:16. "And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God." I bring this forward as an example of the difference between a person who knows Christ as Saviour, and the one who knows Him as Priest. Of course, I only use it as an illustration. I want to bring before you the effect of knowing Christ as a Companion in your trials and difficulties here:sustaining you in the very grace He walked in. I say there is an advance in Ruth beyond Jonathan. Ruth says, "Intreat me not to leave thee." Now you find Jonathan can leave David. When I learn Christ as Priest, I cannot do without Him; He is my stay. I have an invisible Friend; He supports me as He had gone the road Himself. It is not a new path that I make for myself; but as He had gone the road, He supports me. And thus is my heart drawn out in attachment to Him -- as the child is attached to the mother by nursing; and the more you enjoy this ministry, the less you can do without it. Therefore Paul could say, I take pleasure in infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
How was this peculiar affection produced between Ruth and Naomi? No doubt, Ruth, in the time of her widowhood, found out that Naomi was so necessary to her, that she could not do without her. "Entreat me not to leave thee . . . for whither thou goest, I will go." This peculiar affection for Christ, I doubt not, is the great effect of knowing Him as Priest.
I get it beautifully illustrated in the Lord's life with His disciples. I get there these two things always together; the word, and His sympathies. He was the light that shielded them from the working of their own will, while, on the other hand, He led them to regard everything in a right way. So that we can understand what a blank it was to them when He went away. It was not the blank of a Saviour only, it was the blank of One who knew how to lead, according to God, in every step. It was this perfect leading that so attached them to Him. And we all know how a companion of the kind affects our hearts. In Luke 18 Peter tells the Lord, "We have left all, and followed thee." The Lord answers, "There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting." And what had He given them? Nothing but His company!
Manifold more in this present time. "In Hebrews we are looked at as individuals fit to be companions of the Lord. There is nothing said there about the greatest thing, namely, that we are united to Him. I see that all our individual greatness is prospectively with reference to union, and thus it is that we are fit for union. Thus it comes out in Ephesians. I mean that it is not by union I get my fitness; I get my fitness by being of Christ; we are all of One" -- "accepted in the Beloved" -- in order that we might be fit to occupy the position of members of His body. His ministry as Priest produces another thing, even your attachment to Him.
Take the illustration of a babe. A babe does not know the relationship that subsists between it and the mother, though that is the greatest relationship. Now it is the nursing which attaches the child to the mother. And we know that sometimes the child is more attached to the nurse than to the mother, simply because it has been more in the arms of the nurse. This illustrates Christ's priestly service. It is most wonderful when you know and feel that He is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities." He knows every shade of difficulty in your path, and He would lead you through it, not according to your will, but as He has gone through it, in order that you should have His support in it. He knows how you feel in it, and He would have you to behave as He behaved. For instance, the Lord felt the inattention of the Pharisee, but He never expressed it; the Lord never says a word about it until the Pharisee found fault with the poor sinner. It was not because it affected Himself that He spoke; but when the Pharisee reviled the poor woman, He presents to him the difference between him and her.
In a subject like this, it is very hard to give a history of it in detail, because every one of our histories is different. But I do ask you -- and you will find the good of it if you do it -- whenever a trial comes (I have done it myself often) to say to yourself, How does the Lord feel this? If my own will works, I do not know His sympathy nor learn the way He acted. Many look to the Lord in their trials, to get help out of them, instead of sympathy in them. I do not mean by this to make little of His mercy; not at all. If I have a cold, it is a mercy to get well; I am relieved. His sympathy supports me when suffering. If you are in some great trouble, in prison, for instance, and you get out; well, that would be a great mercy. But the question is, How did I behave in the prison or in the trouble? If you notice your prayers, you will find that, as a rule your desire is to get out of the difficulty; but it is a great thing to bear up like Christ in the difficulty, because I share His grace in it. When He pleases, the difficulty is removed, and that is mercy; as Paul said, "The Lord had mercy on him, and not on him only, but on me also."
Now I turn to some examples in our Lord's life, which will perhaps explain His sympathy more fully to us. Look at Matthew 8:23-26: "And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves; but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us; we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm." It is interesting to get an example, because, as I said before, you must learn Him in the trial -- and this is real blessing. I have seen many get out of trial, who did not gain by it. Why? Because, as a rule, trial hardens you. The sympathy of the Lord, in the trial, mellows you, and you find out what the Lord is to you at such a time -- this is His priestly service. Hence it is not, how can I get out of the trial, but how am I in it?
Here there was a storm, and they were all troubled, and the Lord was asleep. It requires great nearness to the Lord to know how He regards the trial in which I am. He is always in the aspect suited to my need. He can say, I have been through it all, I am able to bring you out of it fully -- for He is fully out of it. Now here is a storm, and He was asleep, the disciples are troubled and awake Him to save them by His power. If they had sought His sympathy, they would have said, We will see what He can be to us now. Look what an effect the trial would then have had upon them. True they got out of the trial. Many a one has got out of a trial who has gained nothing in it. But how different would have been their gain if they had said, Well, He is asleep, He is superior to the storm. You may say, But how can we know? Well, the Lord is ever thinking about you, He never leaves nor forsakes us.
Supposing a man offends me, I look to the Lord to learn how He would take it. I see the way I feel about it, but I want to know His feeling; for with His feeling I shall have His grace, He will bear me up in it. Oh! you might say, that would be a continual exercise. Yes; but would it not be a very happy exercise to be finding out what Christ is to you? See how your heart would become attached to Him. Thus attachment grows. Attachment is properly before union is known -- union is the consummation of attachment; thus a person attached to the Lord, as Ruth was to Naomi, appreciates union with Him.
I now turn to the end of Matthew 17, to show you how the Lord acts in an emergency, when an unjust demand is made. "They that received tribute -- money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers." Do you not feel, beloved friends, that the Lord beside His disciples gives you wonderful insight into His sympathy? Yet, by the Spirit of God, we have greater opportunity of knowing Him and walking in company with Him, than they had. How did He act in this case? This is what we call an emergency:He says, "Lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up." You are unprepared for the emergency; He is not unprepared. It was an unjust demand, but He was not without resource. And if an unjust claim came unexpectedly upon you, you can count on His sympathies -- He will show you that He is not without resource. I turn now to John 2, to see the intimate way in which the Lord walks with His own. We are all acquainted with sorrow. Here are two sisters suffering from the same sorrow; but very differently. Martha does not get sympathy; the Lord speaks to her, tries to correct her, but more according to John 13. She is not subject; she is in the same sorrow as Mary, and she is eventually relieved. Many are relieved, but that is not sympathy. The great value of the priesthood is learning what the Lord is to me in the sorrow. I get to know Him better. He walks with Mary; He makes known to her what He can be to her in that blank. The blank was caused by the death of Lazarus. He is using that blank as an opportunity to make known what He can be -- "a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother " -- and makes her feel that He feels it more deeply than she does He groaned in spirit and was troubled."
But He never says a word about raising up Lazarus; that would have spoiled the sympathy. The sympathy is making known to her the way He Himself would act in the circumstances. It is right to feel the loss of a brother; but you must be subject to the Lord in your sorrow, and then you find the cheer and help of His company in it. Mary, as soon as she hears that Jesus called for her, makes haste and goes to Him, and she falls down at His feet. She has the sense of who He is; and the Lord says, "Where have you laid him? "He enters into her sorrow in order to acquaint her with His own sensibility in it, so that she comes out of the sorrow with a deeper knowledge of what the Lord is. It is not that she gets out of the sorrow; but she is comforted by the immense gain that she has acquired -- a divine sensibility in it. I cannot conceive anything greater than this; I have been in a trial, and in the trial I have learnt how the Lord would feel in it:I have gained His grace in it. The trial has given me a fuller acquaintance with the Lord's heart for me, as well as a greater knowledge of Himself.
When you get the subject before your mind, it is easy to find examples and illustrations of His sympathy. There is one passage I must dwell a little on, because it shows the completeness of how Christ bears us up all the way. I turn to the end of Acts 7. In the case of Stephen, you get Christ's present support beautifully brought before us in the smallest compass "He, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus." That is, he saw the spot Christ's work had secured for him -- in fact, he crossed the Jordan. I have no doubt of my right to the spot; but I have to get there. Our blessed Lord, who has gone the road, bears us through everything all the way. There are two things here; one is, that I can pass out of it all here, in the power and joy of the Holy Spirit to that of eternal life, where Christ is. But mark, that if you are really carried up, another thing follows, even that you can, in Christ's power, resume here in the face of all opposition. Now I get these two combined in Stephen. He saw Jesus, who had done everything for him, and he saw the place where He is. He is within the veil, and when I see Him there I have laid hold of eternal life.
Now Stephen resumes his place here; he finds the type of Joshua 3 fulfilled: "Hereby shall ye know that the living God is among you." How? You know that the waters of Jordan are gone, that there is not a single thing between you and the presence of God, that it is your home, and knowing this, you can predicate that you will be superior to every power here. Mark the words, "Hereby shall ye know that the living God is among you." How? Stephen is over Jordan in spirit; but he comes back, as a man over Jordan, to prove that the power of Christ which led him up to glory, will enable him to overcome evil with good. Stephen seems to me to learn here Christ's superiority over everything on man's side. Borne by the power of the One who has gone up to glory, and sustained by Him through every opposition here, so that he overcomes evil with good. To be equal to the occasion is true power. It is not that Stephen's circumstances are mine; but still I should be able to say, "I can do all things through him who gives me power."
I need not add more. The Lord lead us to prove His grace for ourselves. I trust what I said at the commencement may rest with you; because I think, as a rule, souls do not enter into the priesthood of Christ. It is regarded as the way of approach to God, instead of the support of Him who, by His blood, has secured for me a right to be where He is. Stephen has illustrated this. Both John 14 as well as Matthew 14 are thus known to you. You are made superior to the circumstances here. Tomorrow, when someone annoys you or some vexation occurs, will you bear up? will you overcome evil with good? will you say, I am sure that the power which leads me to Christ in glory is the power that will enable me to walk superior to evil and overcome it with good?