In resuming our Meditations on the Priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ, we feel our need of that anointing "which teaches of all things, and is truth, and is no lie," (1 John 2:27,) and without which, as resting upon the lips or the pen, no preaching, however eloquent or powerful, no writing, however clear, fluent, or argumentative, can be of any spiritual profit or of any abiding benefit to the Church of God. But if this "unction from the Holy One" be necessary to the gracious understanding and experimental unfolding of every part of the truth of God, so indispensable to all true light upon and life from every portion of holy writ, that without it all is darkness and death, how much more is it needed when we have to meditate upon the Person and work of the blessed Lord, and to lead up the thoughts and affections of the living family to him who is now seated on his throne of grace and glory as the great High Priest over the house of God!
The special work and office of the Holy Spirit is to testify of Jesus, (John 15:26,) to glorify him, to take of the things that are his, and to show them to the soul; (John 16:14;) and therefore without these teachings and testimonies of the Holy Spirit we have no true, no saving knowledge of him, no living faith in him, no sweet communion with him, no tender and affectionate love toward him. And are not these the marks which peculiarly distinguish the living family of God, from the dead in sin and the dead in profession? A bare knowledge of the letter of truth can communicate no such gracious affections as warm, soften, melt, and animate the soul of a child of God, under the felt power and influence of the Holy Spirit; can create no such faith as gives him manifest union with Jesus; can inspire no such hope as carries every desire of his heart within the veil; can produce no such godly sorrow for sin as makes him loathe and abhor himself in dust and ashes; can shed abroad no such love as makes him love the Lord with a pure heart fervently.
But let us not be misunderstood. The same blessed and holy Teacher who takes of the things that are Christ's and reveals them to the soul, thus raising up faith, hope, and love, and bringing into living exercise every other spiritual gift and grace, first prepares the heart to receive him in all his gracious characters and covenant relationships by deeply and powerfully convincing us of our need of him as our all in all. Is he a Priest? We need his atoning blood and his all-prevailing intercession that we may have peace with God, and that our prayers and supplications may rise up with acceptance into his ears. Is he a Prophet? We need his heavenly instruction, that we may sit at his feet and hear his word, so as to believe his promises and obey his precepts. Is he a King? We need his powerful and peaceful scepter to subdue every foe, calm every fear, subdue every lust, crucify the whole body of sin, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
But it may well be said of the present day, as recorded in the roll of ancient prophecy as indicating "the time of the end," "Many run to and fro, and knowledge is increased." Is not this true of the professing Church as well as of the profane world?—as much fulfilled in the pulpit and the pew as in the railway train, the electric telegraph, and the scientific lecture room? From book to book, from chapel to chapel, from preacher to preacher many run, and by this increase their knowledge of Gospel truth; but how few run so as to obtain that spiritual and experimental knowledge of the only true God and of Jesus Christ whom he has sent which is eternal life! The truths of the Gospel are widely spread; the Person and work of the Lord Jesus are proclaimed from many pulpits; but it is still now as true as ever it was, that "many are called but few chosen;" that "strait is the gate and narrow the way which leads unto life, and few there be that find it;" that "no man knows the Son but the Father; neither knows any man the Father but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him;" and that "no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Spirit."
It is not, then, the increase of knowledge—that knowledge which "puffs up," that either makes or manifests a true believer in Jesus. The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are still hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed to babes; and however plainly they may be set forth in the word of truth, or enforced by the lips of men, it still remains true—that only trembling hearts and wounded consciences know them in their saving power. For such we write, and if any word drop from our pen which may comfort and encourage such, we shall little heed the cavils of those who are settled on their lees and are at ease in Zion.
We attempted in our last chapter to show that the intrinsic and eternal dignity of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God is the foundation of his priesthood; and we may further add that the Person of our blessed Lord is so intimately connected with his office characters that without a gracious and experimental knowledge of his Deity and Sonship we cannot have any true or saving experience of his love and blood. We insist upon this, not in a spirit of controversy, nor with a view directly or indirectly to be over pertinaciously bringing forward a disputed doctrine, whether necessary or not for the maintenance of our point or the elucidation of truth—but from a deep and solemn conviction of its truth, and that upon it, as the only firm basis, the priestly as well as every other office of our blessed Lord rests.
Among the devices of Satan to obscure the truth of God, this is not the least or last—first to raise up opponents to it, and then, when controversy arises, with its usual attendant warmth, to try and persuade the defenders of truth to soften down their statements, to keep back their views, or even quietly drop them altogether, lest further confusion should arise among churches, or weak brethren be stumbled. Apply this to the present case.
The true, proper, and eternal Sonship of our blessed Lord lies at the very foundation of his priestly office. Because he is a Son, and only because he is God's true and proper Son, is he qualified to mediate between God and us. His true and real Sonship, therefore, is as necessary, as indispensable to his assuming that office as his Deity. The grace and glory of this present dispensation, as unfolded by Paul, (Heb. 1,) is that, whereas "Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. But now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he made the universe and everything in it. The Son reflects God's own glory, and everything about him represents God exactly. He sustains the universe by the mighty power of his command. After he died to cleanse us from the stain of sin, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God of heaven. This shows that God's Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is far greater than their names." Hebrews 1:1-4
Thus, according to the Apostle's testimony, that Jesus is and ever was the Son of God, that as such he is and ever was "the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his Person," and that "by him," as his Son, and therefore before his incarnation, "he made the worlds," is the distinguishing grace and glory of this present dispensation as a covenant of mercy and peace. He could not otherwise "by himself have purged our sins," nor could he have been "made so much better than the angels," unless, as the eternal Son of the Father, he had "by inheritance,"—his lawful inheritance as his true and only-begotten Son, obtained a more excellent name,"—the name because the nature of a Son, "than they." His name, his nature, his inheritance, all, therefore, necessarily preceded his covenant engagements, and were the foundation of them all.
Nor is he the eternal Son of God because his people were chosen in him from before the foundation of the world, as if eternal love to the Church were the foundation of his Sonship, but because such is the natural and necessary mode of his divine Personality as a Person in the ever blessed Trinity.
But having thus far seen his blessed fitness for the office of Priest as the true and proper Son of God, we may now direct our thoughts to a consideration of the office character which he thus assumed. In attempting to do this, it will perhaps be desirable to obtain a clear view of the nature of that office. A priest implies a sacrifice, and a sacrifice implies three parties—1, a guilty transgressor, for whom the sacrifice is offered; 2, a holy God, to whom the atonement is made; 3, a priest, who shall stand as a mediator between God and the sinner, and who shall offer the sacrifice required.
We see all this strikingly shown when the children of Israel sinned in murmuring against the Lord for his destroying Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. The children of Israel were the guilty transgressors; the Lord God of Israel was he against whom they had sinned; Aaron, offering incense and making an atonement for the people, was the priest, the typical Mediator. As such he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. (Num. 16:48.) Thus we, as we know by painful experience, are guilty sinners before God; he, in all the perfections of his justice, purity, and holiness, his wrath against sin, and his inflexible determination by no means to clear the guilty, is our most just and righteous Judge; our adorable Lord, the Son of God in our nature, Immanuel, God with us, is the Mediator, the only Mediator between God and us; and he, as our High Priest, has offered a sacrifice, even himself, as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
We should, however, carefully observe that there is no necessary or natural connection between sin and sacrifice, or that God is at all bound by his moral perfections to pardon sin. It is wholly owing to the all-wise and all-gracious will of God that any pardon should be extended to any sinner, that any grace should be shown to him, or that any way should have been devised and executed to open a way of escape from the wrath justly due to his transgressions. It pleased God, in the depths of his infinite wisdom and mercy, that a way of salvation should be provided for the lost; but as justice must be amply satisfied, as the righteous law of God could not be violated with impunity, as his infinite purity and holiness could not be tarnished by passing by iniquity as if it were a slight thing for man to deface the image of God, and, by listening to Satan, to defy the authority of his Maker, this could only be accomplished through a sacrifice of God's own providing, which was no less than that of his dear Son, that "he should be made sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
But here let us for a moment pause to apply these thoughts to our own consciences, and to examine our spiritual and experimental acquaintance with them; for however clearly we may seem to see, or however boldly acknowledge these as important truths, however they may form a part of the creed for which we contend, yet what is all this short of their experimental power? And how deeply do we need that they should not only be at first made known to us by divine manifestation, but that they should be kept warm, fresh, and alive in our bosom as every-day realities for our faith, hope, and love to be actively engaged upon as the very life of our soul. We therefore need on all these points the special teaching and testimony of the Holy Spirit, not only to lead us feelingly and experimentally into them under the first convictions of sin and the early suings for mercy, but to seal them daily upon our consciences as living realities, so as to live continually under their power and influence.
The great mark of divine life in the soul is, that it makes itself manifest by its internal movements, and that all these movements, whether up or down, in or out, all really tend upward to the Fountain of life, who said, "Because I live, you shall live also." "I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." If I have no daily sight or sense of sin, no deep and abiding conviction of my state by nature before God as a most miserable transgressor, a guilty criminal of no common dye, I shall certainly neither know nor care to know anything experimentally and savingly of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But, again, if I have no spiritual view of that just, holy, and righteous God with whom I have to do, who in himself is "a consuming fire," and whose indignation as such burns to the lowest hell, what sense can I have of needing a sacrifice for my sins, and that that sacrifice should have been consummated by nothing less than the blood shedding, sufferings, and death of his co-equal, coeternal Son?
And further, unless I have some spiritual knowledge of and faith in the only-begotten Son of God—what can I know of his having shed his precious blood to redeem my soul from the lowest hell? Or again, whatever may be my views and feelings upon these points, how can I spiritually apprehend them, or live from day to day upon them, except the blessed Spirit be continually opening them up and applying them to my heart? But we are rather anticipating our proposed intention of showing the peculiar bearing which the priesthood of the Lord Jesus has upon the experience of the saint of God, and shall therefore pursue no further this train of thought.
Our present object is rather first to establish its truth on a firm, scriptural basis, and open up its nature and character, its end and object, before we enter upon the experience of its benefits and blessings as made known by a divine power to the soul.
Having, then, seen that the original and eternal dignity of the Son of God, as a Person in the glorious Trinity, is essential to his Priesthood, and that his being God the Son fitted him in a manner, full beyond all conception of ineffable grace and glory, to sustain that office, we may now look at what was further necessary that he might execute it according to the will of God, and in perfect harmony with "the counsel of peace which was between them both." (Heb. 10:9; Zech. 6:13.)
One main object of our blessed Lord's assuming, according to the will of his heavenly Father, the office of a Priest was that he might "put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." (Heb. 9:26.) To offer sacrifice, we know, was one chief part of the priestly office, for priesthood and sacrifice are so indissolubly connected that it is a received axiom, that where there is no priest there is no sacrifice, and where there is no sacrifice there is no priest. Sin could not be put away without a sacrifice, and this sacrifice must be no less than the obedience, blood shedding, sufferings, and death of the Son of God, wherein and whereby he offered up himself as an atoning sacrifice to put away the wrath of God; for "it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin." (Heb. 10:4.)
Sin being such an abominable thing in the sight of God, such a violation of his word and will, such a daring rebellion against his majesty and glory, such a casting aside of his righteous government and authority, rendering the sinner so polluted and unclean, so filling him with a teeming mass of ungodliness, and so making body and soul a very temple of Satan—it could not be forgiven and put away without a sacrifice in some way commensurate to its flagrant and hideous enormity.
That sin should be visibly and effectually punished, the righteous character of God be fully and openly cleared, the claims of his holy law be thoroughly satisfied, his truth and justice be amply vindicated, his wrath be wholly appeased, and yet that his mercy and love might be displayed in all their gracious and eternal fullness in the complete salvation of an innumerable company of chosen sinners—this was the grand mystery of infinite wisdom, infinite love, and infinite power, to be accomplished and revealed in the Person and work of the Son of God, as "giving himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor." (Eph. 5:2.)
But this sacrifice of himself he could not offer unless he took a body capable of doing and suffering the whole will of God. Deity, as pure Deity, can neither obey nor suffer. The Son of God, as the true and proper Son of God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, could neither obey, nor bleed, nor die. And yet without obedience, the law cannot be fulfilled; without blood, sin cannot be remitted; without death, the sacrifice cannot be completed. Yet must it be obedience without failure, blood without blemish, and death without desert. A Lamb, therefore, was needed "without blemish and without spot;" (1 Pet. 1:19;) a Lamb "slain," in the purposes of God, "from the foundation of the world;" (Rev. 13:8;) and that Lamb one which God had "provided for himself," as Abraham prophetically assured Isaac he would do. (Gen. 22:8.)
Here, then, we see, in some measure, the beauty and blessedness, the grace and glory of that pure and sacred humanity which the Son of God took in the womb of the Virgin Mary, under the overshadowing power and operations of the Holy Spirit, and whereby he became "Immanuel, God with us." This was "the body" which his heavenly Father "prepared" for him, and which was "curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth," (Psalm 139:15,) when at one and the same instant the divine Person of the Son of God took a pure and perfect human body and a pure and perfect human soul in the womb of the Virgin. Then could he say, "Lo, I come to do your will, O God. Sacrifice and offering (that is, such as are offered by the law) you would not, but a body have you prepared me. (Heb. 10:5.)
But the question may now arise, When did our gracious Lord more particularly enter upon the discharge of his priestly office? Was he a priest from the moment of his assumption of the body prepared for him, or did he enter upon his priestly office at any subsequent period? To answer this question we must draw a distinction between his virtual—and his actual taking up of his covenant offices. The Lord Jesus Christ was invested with all his offices from the moment of his conception and birth. He became, therefore, virtually the Priest, Prophet, and King of his Church and people when his human nature, as "the holy thing," was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, for he received all his offices, at one and the same moment by the unction of the Holy Spirit communicated to him in all its fullness. He was therefore "born Christ the Lord," (Luke 2:11,) and was consequently Prophet, Priest, and King at his birth; for as under the law prophets, (1 Kings 19:16, ) kings, (1 Sam. 10:1; 16:13,) and priests, (Exod. 29:7,) were consecrated to their office by being anointed with oil—so our blessed Lord, when anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows, in the womb of the Virgin, received in that unction of the Holy Spirit all those graces, gifts, and abilities, and all that right and authority which qualified and entitled him to the discharge of all his covenant offices. And yet there was a space between his virtual and his actual entering upon his offices as regards their discharge.
We believe, then, that though he assumed the body prepared for him at the moment of his incarnation, and thus virtually took upon him the office of priesthood under the unction of the Holy Spirit, yet that strictly speaking he did not then actually enter upon his priestly office. There were, so to speak, degrees in his assumption of it. 1. There was first his taking up of it with his other offices at his incarnation. 2. There was, secondly, his visible and declarative anointing at his baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove and filled him with all his graces and gifts. 3. And there was, thirdly, his especial dedication and consecration of himself to his work of suffering and dying when he said, "And for their sakes I sanctify myself;" (John 17:19;) that is, I dedicate and consecrate myself as a sacrificer and as a sacrifice.
Thus we may place the time when the Lord Jesus Christ more especially entered upon the execution of his priestly office in that intercessory prayer which he offered up John 17. It is true that he assumed it initially when he became the Lamb of God that bore the sins of the world; but as he did not enter upon his prophetical office until after his baptism, nor upon his kingly office until after his resurrection, so he did not enter upon his priestly office, that is, fully—until just prior to his crucifixion.
But as the distinction may not be immediately seen by all our readers, let us explain the difference between entering upon an office initially and completely. When he was yet a child of twelve years old, Jesus was found by his parents "sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions." (Luke 2:46.) There Jesus was entering initially into his prophetical office, though he did not really and fully enter upon it until he returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee after his temptation in the wilderness, and "taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all." So when he cast out devils, fed hungry multitudes, bade stormy winds and waves cease and be still, he was executing initially his kingly office. Yes, even when he stood before Pilate, and answering his question, "Are you a king, then?" replied, according to the Jewish mode of affirmation, "You say (that is, 'You say truly') that I am a king," he claimed then and there, even in the hour of his lowest humiliation, his regal dignity. Pilate, therefore, wrote a title which he put upon the cross, and which he would not alter for all the loud clamor of the chief priests, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." And yet he did not fully assume the kingly office until after his resurrection, when he said to his disciples, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth."
Thus we see that entering upon an office initially differs from, and yet is perfectly consistent with, taking it fully and completely. So, therefore, in the priestly office, which our Lord assumed according to the will of God, he entered upon it initially before he fully and completely entered upon its discharge. He was, in a sense, bearing sin from the moment of his conception. His life was a life of suffering; he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and he was always perfectly obeying the law in thought, word, and action, and thus working out a robe of righteousness for the justification of his people. But this was not precisely the same thing as offering himself a sacrifice for sin on the cross.
We may illustrate this by the type of the paschal lamb; the lamb was to be taken on the tenth day of the month Abib, and kept up until the fourteenth day. When then it was taken out of the fold and kept apart by itself for four days, it was initially a victim, but it was not killed until the evening of the fourteenth day. So our Lord from his first separation unto the office was a Priest, and from his incarnation was a Lamb without blemish, but as a Priest he did not offer the sacrifice until the blood of his pure humanity was shed on the cross. But he more especially consecrated and dedicated himself as the Priest, when, as if anticipating that part of his priestly office which he now carries on in the courts of heaven, he offered up the intercessory prayer recorded in John 17.
With the Lord's help and blessing, we shall attempt to show in our next paper the nature of this sacrifice, and that indeed it was an atoning sacrifice for sin.