By William S. Plumer, 1867
"Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord, shout
THE PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST
In Scripture much is said of the offices of Christ. In particular, his priesthood is distinctly stated. One of the epistles, that to the Hebrews, is an inspired treatise on this subject. It is clear and simple. It discusses the chief points in a natural order, and concludes with practical inferences fairly drawn. Christ's priesthood is our theme at present. We can find no better order in which to present the matter than that suggested by Paul.
1. The first thing asserted and proved by the apostle is, that our High Priest, Jesus Christ, is DIVINE.All his offices required that he should be God. None but God could be such a King as Christ is. None but God knows the things of God, or could infallibly declare them to us as the Prophet of the church. None but God could satisfy justice, and bring in everlasting righteousness sufficient for lost men. On Christ's divinity, the power of his priesthood must rest. So Paul thought; and he takes up the whole of the first chapter of Hebrews in proving it. He uses four arguments, which to a pious mind are conclusive.
1. He says that Christ is "the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person."Then he says Christ's holy Father calls him "God:" "Your throne O God, is forever and ever." Heb. 1:3, 8. Then he shows, from Psalm 102:25, 26, that he is called Lord. In that psalm the word Lord occurs eight times. In every instance the original word is Jehovah, the great and incommunicable name of the self-existent God.
2. Paul argues the divinity of Christ from the fact that he is CREATOR.He says expressly, "By him God made the worlds;" and, "You, Lord, in the beginning have laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands." Heb. 1:2, 10. He also says: "This man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who has built the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by some man, but he who built all things is God." Heb. 3:3, 4.
3. The third argument for Christ's divinity here employed is, that he is the author of PROVIDENCE.He governs and sustains the universe. Paul says of Christ, "He upholds all things by the word of his power;" and, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever." Heb. 1:3, 8. Again Paul says: God "has appointed him heir of all things." Heb. 1:2. Well does Whitby say, "I believe it is as impossible to understand how a man should have this empire over all things in heaven and earth, and over death itself, and yet be a mere man—as it is to understand any mystery of the sacred Trinity."
4. Paul's fourth argument for the divinity of our High Priest is, that by command of his Father, he is to be WORSHIPED."When he brings the first-begotten into the world, he says, And let all the angels of God worship him." Heb. 1:6. Any one of these arguments, fairly stated, is conclusive. If Christ is fitly called God and Lord, or if he is the Creator, or if he is the author of providence, or if he is rightly worshiped—he is divine. What higher or better evidence have we that the Father is possessed of supreme divinity than that he is rightly called God and Jehovah, that he made all things, that he governs all things, and that it is proper to pay him religious worship? If we cannot prove the Son divine, neither can we prove the Father divine.
II. The second proposition of Paul respecting our High Priest is, that he is HUMAN, has our nature, is a man.We can conceive how our Lord might have been King in his divine nature alone. He could have ruled the world without becoming incarnate. To some extent, perhaps to a saving extent, he might have done the work of a prophet, and taught us the mind and will and nature of God, without becoming man. True, we should have very much missed his perfect example, set us in the days of his flesh. But by his word and Spirit he might have made men wise unto salvation without his example. He did this for four thousand years, and gathered many sons to glory. But how could he have been a priest without a nature capable of obeying, of suffering, and of dying. Divinity cannot obey, cannot suffer, cannot die. Without a nature capable of suffering, he could make no atonement. Although Christ's humanity has at divers times and under various pretexts been denied, yet it is now seldom impugned. It is not necessary therefore to argue this matter at length. A few verses on the point will be enough.
In Hebrews 2:7 we have these words applied to him: "You made him a little [or for a little while] lower than the angels." In Hebrews 2:9, Paul says that he "was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death." In Hebrews 2:10 Paul says that it was by suffering that Jesus became a perfect Captain of salvation. Then in Hebrews 2:14 he says: "Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself took part of the same, that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death." And in Hebrews 2:17: "Therefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people." And in Hebrews 2:18: "For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted."
These passages assign four distinct reasons why our Lord must be human:
1. Thus only could he be lower than the angels.
2. That he might suffer, and so atone.
3. That by death he might destroy him that had the power of death. And
4. That he might by experience learn what temptation and sorrow were, and so be a merciful High Priest.
III. Jesus Christ was duly called of God to be our High Priest.He was no bold intruder into those solemn functions. Every step he took was agreeable to the counsels of God. This is to us a matter of great importance; and so we are not left in doubt upon it. In Hebrews 5:4, 5 we read: "No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him—You are my Son; today I have become your Father." If it can be shown that any man was ever called of God to any office, much more can it be proved that the Son was called of his Holy Father to be a High Priest.
IV. Not only ancient usage, but the law of Moses required that the high priest should be ANOINTED.Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord's Anointed. Twice in God's word, once in prophecy, and once in direct and inspired application to Christ, do we find these words: "God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows." Psalm 45:7; Heb. 1:9. In his first great sermon after his baptism and return to Nazareth, Jesus Christ clearly and unequivocally applied to himself these words of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek," etc. Compare Luke 4:16-22 and Isaiah 61:1-3. He said: "This day is this Scripture fulfilled."
V. Jesus Christ was SENT of God into the world on the very work of a high priest.Malachi had foretold that he should be the "Messenger of the covenant;" and Paul well calls him "the Apostle and High Priest of our profession." Mal. 3:1 and Heb. 3:1. In John's gospel Christ is thirty times declared to have been sent by his Father: "I must work the works of him who sent me;" "It is my food to do the will of him that sent me," are examples. Indeed, Jesus said expressly that he both taught and wrought miracles that men might believe that God had sent him. John 11:42. And in his days humble souls so received him; for Nicodemus said: "We know that you are a teacher sent from God."
VI. Jesus Christ was FIT to be our High Priest, because he was "without sin."Heb 4:15. He was without original sin, for he was not represented in Adam, our first parent standing only for such as descended from him by ordinary generation. So the angel who announced him to Mary called him "the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God." It was every way necessary that our High Priest should be holy. God could have been in no way pleased with a high priest acting, offering, or interceding for us—if like ourselves he was a sinner, tainted and vile. Nor could we, with any just sense of sin, ever have been brought to put our confidence in one who was himself guilty and rebellious.
Jesus was not only not a sinner, but he was impeccable. It is with great delight that we read: "For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens." God the Father knew how vital this point was, and so he has given us the most ample satisfaction respecting it. At Christ's baptism a voice from heaven said: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Matt. 3:17. So on the mount of transfiguration, a voice out of the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear him." Matt. 17:5. John says he was "full of grace and truth." John 1:14. Even the miserable trifler who sat in judgment on our Lord said: "I find no fault in this man." Nay, more; he says, "I find no fault at all;" "I find no fault in him;" "I find no fault in him." Luke 23:4; John 18:38; 19:4, 6. Even infidels generally have admitted that his character was blameless. The only true thing his enemies ever said in their malice against him while on earth was, that in which we glory: "This man receives sinners." Luke 15:2. Though not a sinner himself, he loves sinners, he pities sinners, he died for sinners, he saves sinners, he saves none but sinners, he had no other errand on earth. O blessed be God, the Lord Christ owed no obedience to the law for himself, for he was the Lawgiver. He needed not, as other high priests, daily to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's. Heb. 7:27. We have his merits and his blood for our salvation. He needed no sacrifice to make him personally a sweet savor unto God.
VII. Christ is a priest, not after the order of Aaron, but after the order of Melchizedek.Under the law, the high priest held no other office; but Melchizedek and Christ held the two offices of King and Priest. Melchizedek signifies king of righteousness; and he was also king of Salem, which is King of peace. So Jesus, by reason of his infinite supereminence, is most fitly styled both king of righteousness and king of peace. He brought in everlasting righteousness, so that God is now as righteous as he is merciful in pardoning sin and in accepting the sinner. And Jesus is the King of peace. He is the author of all the peace between God and penitent sinners, between Jews and Gentiles. His blood speaks peace to the conscience. He is our Peace. Neither the name of Melchizedek, nor that of his parents is found in the genealogical tables of the tribe of Levi. "And it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood." Melchizedek was greater than Aaron, greater than Levi, greater than Abraham; for to him Abraham paid tithes, and from him received a blessing; "and without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better." In the whole history of Melchizedek he appeared but once; so "now once in the end of the world has Christ appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." And as Melchizedek, so Christ had no predecessor and no successor in office. He needed none. None was fit for such a work. Christ's work is perfect.
VIII. Jesus Christ made a suitable OFFERING to God."Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer." Heb. 8:3. Accordingly Christ gave "himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor." Eph. 5:2. In order to Christ's oblation availing for us, it must be something that he had a right to offer, something that he was willing to offer, something that was itself very precious, and something that God entirely approved and highly esteemed. On each of these points the Scriptures give us the most entire satisfaction. Not a doubt is left on the mind of one who takes God's word for his guide. Other priests offered bulls and goats and lambs; but Jesus offered himself, his entire human nature. "We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." Heb. 10:10. Here, as in many other places, body means the whole man. First he offered his corporeal nature. It was spit upon, smitten, crowned with thorns; was nailed to the cross, was filled with agony, was dead and buried. He also offered his soul. Even before his arrest, so terribly did the wrath of God press upon him that his sweat was as great drops of blood. He exclaimed: "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." All this was according to prophecy, for the evangelical prophet had said, "You shall make his soul an offering for sin." Isaiah 53:10.
His divinity was the altar, which sanctified his oblation. His whole person made the offering, or presented the gift. And his entire human nature was the sacrifice. His sacrifice was true, not fictitious; real, not imaginary; proper, not typical. His one oblation was enough. It opened the gates of heaven to all believers. God has accepted it before angels and men. Under the law of Moses no sacrifice took away sin. Heb. 10:4. All was type, figure, shadow of something to come. But when Christ came he slew the enmity, he took away the hand-writing that was against us, he satisfied divine justice, he brought redemption. Under the law sacrifices were ordained only for sins of ignorance, sins against the law of ceremonies, and sins admitting of restitution. No provision was made for sacrifices for murder, or unbelief, or pride, or malice. Accordingly, when David found himself convicted of violating the sixth and seventh commandments, he said, "You desire not sacrifice, else would I give it." But "the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world." "The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin." So that "he has perfected forever those who are sanctified." He has made the comers to his altar perfect, as concerning offering for sin.
IX. When the high priest under the law had shed the blood and offered the victim, he made his intercessions in this lower world, in a place made with hands; but Christ has entered "into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us."Heb. 9:24. Thus he is "made higher than the heavens." Heb. 7:26. None else was ever permitted to stand before the blazing throne in heaven and with authority plead with God. In all things Jesus has the preeminence. Now "if any man sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." We know where he is and what he is doing. He "is passed into the heavens." He is at the right hand of God. He is preparing a place for his people. "He ever lives to make intercession for us." His blood speaks peace. His appearance is our advocacy. The arguments he uses are the wounds he received. His intercession never fails. "Him the Father hears always." If you would see how he prays, study John 17th. It is remarkable, however, that the law of Moses gives no form of words to be used by the high priest in the holy of holies. So Christ's intercession may be very much in his "appearance for us." When an Athenian was about to be sentenced for crime, his worthy brother, who had terribly bled for the liberties of his country, came into court, looked at the prisoner tenderly and at the judges imploringly, at the same time lifting up the stump of an arm, as if to plead. It was enough. The argument was decisive. The prisoner went free.
X. The high priest, having fulfilled his office in the holy place, came forth and gave his benediction to Israel, saying: "The Lord bless you, and keep you: the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace." Num. 6:24-26. "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation." Heb. 9:28. O yes! He will come again not in sadness, not with lips swollen with grief, not with his visage marred more than any man; but in his glory, and all the holy angels with him. Then shall he say, "Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." O that our ears may hear that blessed plaudit!
XI. Under the law men came into the high priest's office, and went out of it again; but Jesus Christ, "because he continues ever, has an unchangeable priesthood."He "ever lives." He "is consecrated forever more." He is made a high priest, not "after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life." He "is a priest forever." Heb. 7:16, 17, 24, 25, 28. He abides forever over the house of God. O I am glad—are not you?—that there is to be no change in the priesthood of our profession. No change is possible. None but Jesus is worthy of the office. Any change would be for the worse. We could never have another like Jesus.
His priesthood suggests theseLESSONS:
1. How vain are all other sacrifices for sin.No tears, no blood, no offerings but those of Christ can avail for us. He who pleads other merits before God is a thief and a robber. John 10:1. A few years ago, an archbishop of Paris was dying of wounds received in an uprising. He said: "O God, I offer to you my present bodily sufferings as an atonement for the errors of my episcopate." But the sufferings of a sinner have no merit, no efficacy to atone. Jesus only, Jesus alone—has so suffered as to make reconciliation for the people.
2. In Christ we have all we need.Jesus is so excellent in person and character, and is so highly in favor with God, that if he will but manage our cause and plead for us before the throne—we cannot fail. He counts it not robbery to be equal with God, and yet he is not ashamed to call us brethren. He can lay his hand upon God and upon us. In all things he suits our case and meets our necessities. His offering was perfect. It was fully accepted of God. He was a sin-offering. He bore the sin of many. This suits us. Sinners, sinners only, sinners always need expiation. The effect of Christ's oblation has been marvelous. Its wonders will never cease. It is now filling heaven with a happy throng of worshipers, and with thundering hallelujahs.
3. With Christ for our high priest, we may exercise great boldness in prayer. Thus Paul reasons: "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." Again: "Having a high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." Heb. 4:16 10:21, 22.
4. In Christ's priesthood we have a sure foundation for Christian steadfastness.So Paul reasoned: "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." Again: "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for he is faithful who promised." Heb. 4:14; 10:23. It cannot but be safe to rely on such a Redeemer, and fearlessly do our duty.
5. This doctrine is essentially connected with the whole life of faithas Paul shows at length in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews.
6. This doctrine is full of comfort to the afflicted.So Paul uses it at length in the twelfth chapter of Hebrews.
7. This doctrine leads the pious soul to acts of thanksgiving, as nothing else does. "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name." Heb. 13:15. The great gospel feast is that of the Lord's Supper.
8. The great motive to a life of benevolence is drawn from this doctrine of Christ's priesthood.So Paul uses it: "Let brotherly love continue. Don't neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily." "And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased." Heb. 13:1-3, 16.
9. It is at our peril, that we reject the priesthood of Jesus.Yes more, we are undone if we do it. On this point Paul is urgent: "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" "See that you refuse not him who speaks." "Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" Heb. 2:3; 12:25; 10:28, 29. These solemn texts establish these points:
1. Neglect of Christ is refusal of his grace.
2. Persistent neglect of Christ is followed by inevitable damnation.
3. There is something worse than dying without mercy under Moses' law.
4. Sin reaches its height when we trample on the blood of Christ.
5. He who neglects Christ, despises and insults the Holy Spirit. A gospel despiser is acting as foolishly, as he is wickedly. O impenitent man! your condition is indeed sad. Your worst fears are not as bad as the truth would justify. The solemn sentence of a broken law is against you; your own conscience will sooner or later flash damnation in your face; even now your polluted heart often writhes in agony; your wicked life is a token of perdition. The day of your death is near at hand; there is a dreadful hell just before you, and you deserve to be cast into it. O turn, O turn, O turn to God—before the door of mercy closes forever!