Jesus the Great High Priest

by J. C. Philpot

Chapter I.

"My meditation of him shall be sweet," was the gracious experience and expressive language of the inspired Psalmist of Israel, when he had been favored with a view by faith of the grace and glory of the Lord; (Psalm 104:34;) and since to those who believe, Jesus is "precious," "the chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely one" to all whose eyes have been divinely opened to see the King in his beauty, our meditation of him will be sweet too, if we are indulged with the same discovery of his beauty and blessedness, and are led by the same blessed Spirit into a similar train of holy contemplation. The Lord, in his infinite mercy and goodness, has provided his believing people with various means of renewing their strength, refreshing their spirit, feeding their soul, comforting their heart, and instructing their understanding, as they journey through this waste, howling wilderness. These are "the wells" in the "valley of Baca," "the pools" at which the pilgrims drink when "the rain" from heaven "fills" them. (Psalm 84:6.)

Such are hearing the preached gospel, searching the Scriptures, prayer in the closet, in the family, and in the assembly of the saints, the ordinances of God's house, Christian conversation, and secret meditation upon the divine realities revealed in the word of truth. Without the spiritual and continual use of these divinely appointed channels of communication, the soul cannot be kept alive and lively in the things of God. They are as necessary to its health, its growth, its continuance in every good word and work—as food and drink, warmth and shelter, are indispensable to the sustenance of the natural body.

Now, of these means of grace, as they are frequently termed, one of the most edifying, and yet perhaps the least practiced, is that of spiritual meditation. The reason of this neglect of one of the choicest means of grace is evident. It is the most spiritual of them all, and, therefore, the most difficult, the most opposed to the carnal mind, and most needing the immediate power and presence of God. In hearing preaching, we have chiefly to listen. It does not necessarily require the direct and immediate exercise of the spiritual faculties of the new man of grace. It needs, indeed, faith, for unless that be mixed with the word, it cannot profit; (Heb. 4:2;) but it is rather passive faith than active, a faith that rather feeds upon the bread which Boaz reaches to it, than which goes forth to glean for itself in the field, a faith equally the sovereign and efficacious gift and work of God, but one which rather stays at home to divide the spoil than, like the merchants' ships, brings its food from afar.

So also with prayer. Though a most blessed means of grace, a living channel of communication between the exalted Head and the suffering members, yet many of us know, from painful experience, how much there may be in it of the form and how little of the power. So also with reading the Scriptures, Christian conversation, sitting down at the ordinance—these may be all duly and regularly attended to, and yet little life or power, faith or feeling, be in active exercise upon the Lord of life and glory.

But spiritual meditation, especially if its object be the Person and work of the blessed Lord, so needs the immediate and sustained help and power of the blessed Spirit, that it can be neither begun nor carried on without him. In spiritual meditation, the soul is not as a fish in a pool, which may alike swim or sleep without any sensible difference, but like the bird in the air, which, unless its flight be continually sustained by the exertion of its wings, at once drops to the ground. Some, however, of the Lord's family seem almost incapable of spiritual meditation, at least to any extent. Like a bird with wounded wing, they cannot rise. A wandering mind, an inability to fix their thoughts on divine things, hinders some; powerful temptations prevent others. Darkness, unbelief, infidel suggestions, blasphemous imaginations, doubts and fears of their own interest in the Lord Jesus, hardness of heart, the strong opposition of their carnal mind to everything spiritual and holy—all these besetments work to the same end, to grievously hinder if not wholly disable many who truly fear God, from sweet meditation on those heavenly mysteries which are the food of every regenerate soul.

But may not some help be afforded to those who thus feel their inability to meditate themselves upon the precious truth of God? May not the blessed Spirit employ the thoughts of others to aid those who cannot, from various causes, exercise their own? As in the ministry of the word the preacher breaks the bread of life on which the people feed, who perhaps could not break it for themselves, so may a writer upon the things of God afford a means of meditation to those who cannot well meditate for themselves, by bringing before them his thoughts upon the mysteries of the kingdom. This we attempted to do in our "Meditations on the Sacred Humanity of the Blessed Redeemer;" and as we have reason to believe that a blessing rested on our feeble attempts to set that subject forth in these pages, we have felt led to commence, with the Lord's help and blessing, a similar series upon the office characters of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This will form, we trust, an appropriate sequel to our papers, first on the Eternal Sonship, and then on the Sacred Humanity of our blessed Lord. In the one we viewed him as the Son of God, in the other as the Son of man; now we shall have to view him in his complex Person as the great and glorious God-Man, Immanuel, God with us. Not that we should ever view him purely as the Son of God, distinct from that humanity which he was to assume, nor purely as the Son of man distinct from his eternal Sonship and Deity; but as these two natures are really distinct, it may tend to clearness of understanding, and be a help to faith to view them sometimes, as we have done, separate from each other. But in these office characters which he sustains in behalf of his Church, there is no such necessity for viewing his two natures separately; on the contrary, to do so would much mar those spiritual views of him which are so full of blessedness to a believing heart.

We have called them the "Office characters" of the Lord Jesus Christ, meaning thereby those peculiar relationships which he sustains to the church of God as Priest, King, Prophet, Head, Husband, etc. And as of these office characters, that of the Priest is the most important, and that which laid a foundation for all the rest, we shall commence the present series by giving it the first and most prominent place. It will be necessary in so doing to bring forward much doctrinal truth; but as our object is not so much to furnish our readers' heads—as to edify and profit their hearts, we shall seek to blend instruction with experience, and as the Lord may enable, so to set forth the Lord Jesus Christ in his beauty and blessedness, grace and glory, that our faith may be strengthened, our hope enlarged, and our love drawn forth, and that thus our meditation of him may be sweet.

An objection has been taken by some good men to the word "office" as applied to the Lord Jesus Christ, as if the term rather lowered the dignity of his heavenly Majesty. The Lord ever keep us from using any term that may seem derogatory to the glory and honor of Him whose name is above every name; but if it was no degradation to him to "take upon him the form of a servant," (Phil. 2:7,) and if the Father himself said to him in prophecy, "Behold my Servant whom I uphold," (Isa. 42:1,) it cannot be degrading to him if we speak of his "offices," as understanding thereby the part which he undertook to fulfill for, and the relation which he sustains unto, the church of God. But we have chosen rather to adopt the expression, "Office characters," as embodying a fuller and wider idea than the simple term, "office," and thus more completely embracing what the Lord Jesus Christ is as the great and glorious Mediator between God and man.

The High Priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ is so wide and deep a subject that we can only hope at the best to bring forth a small measure of the treasures of mercy and grace which are stored up in it. But in order to prevent losing ourselves in so wide a field, we shall, the Lord enabling, endeavor to treat the subject as clearly as we can. We shall therefore consider,

I. The Origin and Nature of Priesthood generally.

II. The Priesthood of the Lord Jesus, as completely filling up all the requisites of that office.

III. The bearing which this has on the experience of a Christian.

The ORIGIN of priesthood lay in the mind of God from all eternity, for the whole of the Levitical priesthood, from which we gather our truest ideas of the priestly office, was but a type and figure of Him to whom God said, "You are a Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek," (Psalm 110:4,) and who was "a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." (Rev. 13:8.) But as regards its institution, which, as regards time, we may call its origin, when these hidden purposes of God first came to light, we may assign the garden of Eden as the place wherein, and the fall of man as the epoch when the office of priesthood was instituted. It was, in fact, virtually announced in the first promise; for "the seed of the woman" pointed to the sacred humanity of Jesus, as the bruised "heel" predicted his sufferings, and as the bruised "head" of the serpent proclaimed the victory gained thereby over sin and Satan.

Sacrifices are essential to priesthood—so essential that it is an acknowledged principle that where there is no sacrifice there is no priest. Thus the Apostle argues: "For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices; wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer." (Heb. 8:3.) Sacrifices meet us immediately after the fall as the only acceptable way of worshiping God; and as independently of a divine institution, there is no necessary or natural connection between sacrifice and worship, it is evident that they must be of divine appointment. But where can we so well place their institution as after the fall in Paradise? For why did "the Lord God make coats of skins" to clothe our first parents, except to show them the necessity and nature of a covering from his wrath by the righteousness of his dear Son? And as animal food was prohibited until after the flood, why were the beasts killed but as a sacrifice? We find, therefore, Abel offering sacrifice when he brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof—the fat being that part of the sacrifice which was always burnt on the altar. And that this offering of Abel was not a mere tribute of thankfulness, but a real slaughtered sacrifice, is clear from the words of the Apostle, "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain." (Heb. 11:4.) We need not stay to enumerate the sacrifices offered by Noah, (Gen. 8: 20,) by Abraham, (Gen. 15:9, 10; 22:13,) by Jacob, (Gen. 31:54; 46:1,) except as clearly establishing two facts—1, that sacrifices were still the appointed means of approaching God; and, 2, that the head of the family was, antecedently to the Levitical dispensation, the sacrificing priest.

The NATURE of these sacrifices we shall not now dwell upon, at least at any length, as we shall have occasion to consider them more fully when we approach that part of our subject in which we shall hope to show how the blessed Lord fulfilled them all by the sacrifice and offering of himself. Still we may drop a few words of explanation upon the difference between what were sacrifices in the true sense of the term, and, what were more strictly offerings. This difference is expressed by the Apostle in the words—"Every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices." (Heb. 8:3.) He here draws a distinction between what are called the unbloody offerings, such as those of corn, oil, meats, and drinks, which he terms "gifts"—and the the true "sacrifices," in which the victim was killed, and its blood shed at the foot of the altar. Taking, then, a general view of both the sacrifices and offerings which were made by the high priest, we may divide them into three distinct kinds, according to the places where they were each offered—

1. Those of the court, or the brazen altar, by blood and fire.

2. Those of the sanctuary, at the altar of incense and table of show-bread.

3. Those of the most holy place, before the ark of the covenant within the veil.

The first, being truly and properly sacrifices wherein blood was shed and the victim wholly or partially burnt by fire, represented the death of Christ and his sacrifice on the cross; the second, being the burning of incense on the golden altar morning and evening, and the offering of the show-bread weekly upon the table, figured his present intercession in heaven; and the third, or the carrying in of the blood of the bullock and the goat, and the incense beaten small, into the most holy place, represented the effect of both in atonement and reconciliation, and those divine transactions which are still now being carried on by our exalted High Priest, as our advocate with the Father in the courts of bliss.

It is, however, with the sacrifices offered upon the brazen altar that we have at present chiefly to do, and these may be divided into six kinds, as enumerated Lev. 7:37—1. Burnt offerings; 2. Meat offerings; 3. Sin offerings; 4. Trespass offerings; 5. Consecrations; 6. Peace offerings. These were distinguished by two circumstances from all the other offerings—1, in that they were all "fire offerings," being wholly or partially burnt; and, were, 2, "most holy." They were thus distinguished from the "heave offerings" and "wave offerings," which were not burnt with fire, and were not "most holy," but, as the term may be rendered, wore called "holy praises," being, for the most part, voluntary thank offerings. The substance of these sacrifices was of two sorts—1. Beasts; 2. Fowls or birds. Of beasts there were three sorts offered in sacrifice—one of the herds, that is, bullocks, and two of the flocks, that is, sheep and goats. Of birds were used two sorts—1, turtle-doves; 2, pigeons; and 3, in one case, that of cleansing the leper, (Lev. 14:4) sparrows. In all these sacrificial victims there were two necessary requisites—1, that they should be males, except in the sin and trespass offering; and 2, should be without blemish, figuring thereby the ability and the spotlessness of the Lord Jesus, both as the Priest and as the Victim.

These minute details may appear to some of our readers uninteresting and almost unnecessary, and indeed would be so were it not for their reference to the blessed Lord, and the food which they afford to a living faith, as seeing in them all a representation of the sacrifice and blood-shedding of the Son of God. To a believing heart nothing can be unnecessary, nothing uninteresting which points to him, and which tends in any way to shed a sacred light on the Person, work, sacrifice, and sufferings of our great High Priest. By these rites and sacrifices he was represented to the faith of the Old Testament church; and since the substance being come, these shadows have now no place in our worship, yet can a living faith look back to them and see them illuminated by a divine glory, as testifying of Jesus, and of salvation by his blood and righteousness.

The Priesthood of the Lord Jesus. But having thus cast a glance at these "shadows of good things to come," we may now pass on to consider the Lord Jesus Christ under that blessed character which, as we said before, lies at the foundation of all his other covenant relationships, and shall therefore proceed to view him as the great High Priest over the house of God.

Several important considerations here at once meet our view, as,

i. What is the true nature of priesthood, what is its foundation, and whence did it take its rise and origin?

1. The essential office of a priest is to offer sacrifice. But sacrifice implies three things—1, the just desert of a sinner—death; 2, the substitution of a victim in his place; 3, the acceptance of the substitute by the offended Judge. There is no natural or necessary connection between sacrifice and forgiveness. To take an innocent lamb, cut its throat, sprinkle its blood, and burn its fat on an altar, as an act of divine worship, would rather, of itself, aggravate sin than atone for it, unless this mode of worship had been instituted by God himself, with an immediate and special reference to an atonement of his own providing. "It is not possible that the blood of bullocks and of goats should take away sins;" (Heb. 10:4;) and thus sacrifice has neither validity nor significancy apart from the offering up of the Son of God as an atoning sacrifice for sin.

But a sacrifice requires a priest. We see this most clearly in the Levitical law, for in that no sacrifice was allowed to be offered but by a priest of the family of Aaron. It is true that the offerer might bring the victim to the altar and kill it, though this was usually done by the Levites, (2 Chron. 30:16, 17; 35:11,) yet none but the priest could offer the sacrifice, by taking the blood and sprinkling it round about then altar. (Lev. 1:1-5.)

But priest, as well as sacrifice, must be of divine appointment. This the Apostle expressly lays down—"And no man takes this honor unto himself, but he who is called of God, as was Aaron." (Heb. 5:4.) Moses, though "the man of God," unto whom alone "the Lord spoke face to face," did not take upon himself the office of priesthood. God chose his brother Aaron for the priesthood, as a sovereign act of his good pleasure—and fixed the priesthood in him and his family. (Exod. 28:1.) Similarly, the Lord Jesus Christ did not choose or appoint himself to the office of High Priest, as the Apostle declares—"So also Christ glorified not himself to be made a High Priest; but he who said unto him, "You are my son; today have I begotten you." (Heb. 5:5.) We are thus at once led up to the spring-head, the original source and fountain, of our Lord's priesthood. He was appointed and constituted a high priest by the express will of the Father; for he "glorified not himself to be made a high priest;" that is, he did not take to himself that glorious office of his own mind and will, without the express designation and appointment of his heavenly Father.

But when was he thus solemnly and divinely appointed? Surely in eternity. Time had neither place nor name, for as then it had neither birth nor being, in the eternal counsels of heaven. It has witnessed, it daily witnesses, their development, but it was not present at their conception. But without seeking to pry with too curious an eye into those solemn transactions in a dateless eternity wherein and whereby our blessed Lord was appointed to the office, and assumed the relationship of a High Priest to the house of God, we may perhaps draw a distinction between the counsels themselves and the open declaration of them. Prior to the open declaration of the Father to the Son—prior to the word of the oath, "You are a Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek," Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the eternal Three-in-One Jehovah, took solemn counsel concerning the salvation of the church. Her miserable condition, as sunk and ruined in the Adam fall, was foreseen, and a plan devised in the eternal mind to save her from her destructions. This was "the counsel of peace," (Zech. 6:13,) the "everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure," (2 Sam. 23:5,) in which the Father proposed, the Son accepted, and the Holy Spirit ratified that solemn compact, whereby the Son of God undertook to become the Head, Husband, Advocate, Mediator, and Redeemer of that innumerable multitude which the Father gave him to be his people, that in them he might be eternally glorified. Now, it was when this covenant had been entered into and firmly ratified and sealed by mutual compact, that the Father "spoke in vision to his Holy One—I have laid help upon One that is mighty." Then was the Son of God consecrated to the high priesthood, and all that he subsequently did and suffered in the execution of that office was but the fulfilling of what he then undertook in harmony with the will of God.

ii. But let us now see his fitness for that sacred office. The infinitely wise God would not have chosen him for the work unless he had been perfectly qualified to fulfill it. For what a work it was—a work in which the glory of God, the salvation of millions of sinners, the utter defeat and overthrow of Satan, and the destruction of sin, were all to be accomplished; and that through seas of suffering, agony, shame, ignominy, and temptation, to be waded through and overcome by the Son of God in the flesh! But God knew both work and workman; what was to be done and who alone could do it; what was to be suffered and who alone could endure it. He knew that it was a work suitable for his own dear Son to accomplish, and that he alone was qualified for the work and the work alone qualified for him. Thus the dear Redeemer, with holy joy in the sweet consciousness of his Father's approving smile, could look up just before he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and say, "I have finished the work which you gave me to do." (John 17:4.)

1. In looking, then, at his qualifications for the work, lot us first take a glance at his divine Person, as co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. None but a Person can mediate. This at once overthrows the Sabellian heresy, which denies the three distinct Persons in the Godhead. A name, a relationship, an airy nothing, cannot interpose between the Person of God and his guilty creatures. That he then should be a distinct and divine Person was absolutely necessary, or how could he mediate between God and us? And to give him power and authority to mediate he must be also a divine Person. A creature, the highest creature, the loftiest and brightest of the burning seraphim, the noblest angel, such as Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, (Luke 1:19,) had not, could not have sufficient dignity to mediate between God and man. The seraph veiled his face with his wings before the Majesty of God when his glory filled the temple. (Isa. 6:2.) Could he then mediate on equal terms with the great and glorious self-existent I AM? One was needed who, as Job speaks, as a "arbitrator," or umpire, "could lay his hand upon us both;" (Job 9:33;) that is, one who, as God, could be equal with God, and as man be equal with man, laying one hand upon God in the fullness of Deity and the other hand upon man in the identity of his humanity—near to the Father as the Son of God; near to man as the Son of man. But this wondrous arbitrator could only be found in him who "being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with h God," (Phil. 2:6)—in him who "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," (John 1:1)—in him who is God's "fellow," or equal, (Zech. 13:7,) as being the Son of the Father in truth and love.

2. We say it, then, not to stir up controversy, but as a part of divine truth, that his being the true, proper, and eternal Son of God gave him an additional and most special fitness thus to mediate between God and man. Who so suitable to plead with the Father as his only-begotten Son? Who, as ever lying in his bosom, so acquainted with his mind and will? Who so fit to come forth into visible manifestation as the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of his Person? Who so able to reveal in his own Person the love, the pity, the mercy, the compassion, the grace of the Father? We may add, who so able to manifest his holiness, his purity, his hatred of sin, and all those glorious perfections of the divine character which, hidden from the sons of men in the blaze of that light which no man can approach unto, were all brought to light in the Person of Immanuel? As, then, we view by faith the Person of the Son of God, we see how suitable he was to undertake and execute the office of a high priest. This intrinsic and eternal dignity of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God is the foundation of his priesthood, as the Apostle argues in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

We have laid thus far the foundation of the Lord's priesthood in his eternal Deity and divine Sonship, and shall hope, with God's help and blessing, to pursue our subject in the next chapter.