If God has a temple, He must have priests; else were there no song, no service, no worship. In His eternal plan, priesthood is provided for; a priesthood not of angels but of redeemed men; of those who seemed the least likely to fulfil such an office in such a temple.
It is a “holy priesthood” that he has provided (1 Peter 2:5). It is a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9); for He has made us kings and priests. It is a heavenly priesthood like that of His own Son.
As such we minister at God’s altar, we tread His courts, we eat His shew-bread, we kindle and trim His lamps, we offer His sacrifices, we burn His holy incense.
God is seeking priests among the sons of men. A human priesthood is one of the essential parts of His eternal plan. To rule creation by man is His design; to carry on the worship of creation by man is no less part of His design.
He is now in search of priests; and He has sent His Son to prepare such for His temple. In order to their being such, He must redeem them; He must reconcile them; He must cleanse them; He must clothe them with the garments of glory and of beauty. All this He does. “The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”
The embassy of peace which is going forth from the cross is an embassy in quest of priests. His ambassadors of peace beseech men to be reconciled to God in order to their becoming priests. God Himself in His glorious gospel comes up to the sinner and asks him to become a priest to Him.
And what does this priesthood mean? What does it embrace? Let us consider this.
Priesthood is the appointed link between heaven and earth; the channel of communion between the sinner and God. God and man can only come together on the ground of mediatory priesthood. Such a priesthood, in so far as expiation is concerned, is in the hands of the Son of God alone; in so far as it is to be the medium of communication between Creator and creature, is also in the hands of redeemed men,–of the Church of God.
Sin had broken up all direct or open communion, as we have seen; and the veil declared this. All access to God was to be debarred till a new medium should be provided, such as should secure the ends of righteousness; such as should make it honourable for the Holy One to receive the unrighteous; and such as should make it safe for the unholy to stand in the presence of the Holy.
Priesthood is the link between the sinner and God, between earth and heaven,–earth, where all is vile; heaven, where all is pure. Without priesthood, God and we are at awful and unremoveable distance from each other. Without priesthood, there can be no transference of guilt, no remission of sin, no reconciliation to God, no restoration either to fellowship or blessing.
Priesthood involves and accomplishes all these, because it is through it that the substitution of life for life is effected. It is the conducting medium through whose agency the exchange is brought about between the sinner and the Surety. In nothing less than this does its purpose terminate, and wherein it falls short of this, it is but a pretext or a name. If priesthood be not the living link between God and the sinner, it is nothing.
All this was exhibited in symbolic rite under the former law. It was through priesthood that all communion with God was carried on. It was the priest that led the sinner into God’s presence, that presented his offering, that transacted the business between him and God, and that received the blessing from God to bestow upon the sinner. God set up the Aaronic priesthood on very purpose to exhibit this; to let men know what His idea of priesthood was, and what He intended a priest to be.
True, this ancient priesthood had only to do with the flesh; it pertained but to the outward person of the sinner, and the mere visible courts of God. It could not reach the inner man; it could not take hold of the conscience; it could not lead the worshipper into the true presence of the invisible Jehovah. It fell short of these ends, and thus far was defective. Still, it did fully accomplish its end as a medium of communication, in so far as the outward man and the material courts were concerned. It was complete according to its nature; and in so far as it went, it established communion between the sinner and God.
In so doing, it brought out most fully God’s idea of priesthood, as if to prevent the possibility of any mistake upon the point. It showed God’s ultimate design in regard to this; His intention of bringing in a perfect priesthood in His own time and way. His object was not to show men how to construct and set up a priesthood of their own, but to tell them what He Himself meant to do, so as to hinder their attempting such a thing.
His object was to teach them the true meaning of priesthood, in order that when He brought in His own High Priest, they might fully understand the nature of His work, and the end to be accomplished. It was a new and a great idea that He sought to teach them, an idea which would never have occurred to themselves; an idea which it required long time to unfold to them; an idea most needful for them fully to grasp, as upon it depended the new relationship which grace was to introduce between them and God.
But then when the old priestly ritual had thus served its ends, it was of no more use. It behoved to be taken down, as being more likely to hinder than help forward the sinner’s communion with God, as being certain to confuse and perplex, and lead to innumerable mistakes in the great question of approach and acceptance.
It was not to be imitated, for any imitation would but mislead men from the true priesthood. It was not to be set up in another form, for every part of it was merged, and, as it were, dissolved irrecoverably in the priesthood of the Son of God. The High Priest of good things to come had absorbed it all into Himself, so that any attempt to reconstruct it in any form is undoing what God has done; restoring what He Himself has taken to pieces; committing sacrilege with His holy vessels; nay, profaning with irreverent touch what He has removed out of sight, and forbidden to be handled or used.
So far, then, is the old ritual from being a model or example for us now, that it forbids the attempt to imitate its rites. Its very nature, so purely symbolic and prospective, forbids such an attempt. Its abolition still more strongly prohibits this. For that abolition is God’s proclamation that its ends are served, and its time accomplished. But specially its abolition, through fulfilment in the person of Messiah, declares this. Before it was cast away, everything in it that was of value was gathered out of it, and perpetuated in Him. Every truth that it contained was taken from it, and embodied in Him.
It did not pass away simply because its time had come, but because the need for it had ceased; it had been superseded by something infinitely more glorious in its nature, and more suitable to the sinner. Who thinks of preserving the sand when the gold that it contained has been extracted? Or who misses the beacon-light when the sun has risen?
The coming of the Son of God, the Great High Priest, thus involves the abolition of priesthood in the old sense, for He has taken it wholly upon Himself: it is now centred in Him. All the ends of priesthood are fully met by Him. There is not one thing which we need either as sinners or as worshippers which we have not in Him.
So that the question arises, What end can it serve to set up another priesthood apart from His? Has He left anything incomplete which ought to be completed by us? Has He left any of the distance unremoved between us and God? Has He left the work of atonement, and mediation, and intercession, in such a state of imperfection, that we require a new priestly order to perfect it? If not, then is it not strange profanity, as well as perversity in man, to insist upon setting up what is so wholly unnecessary, and what cannot but cast dishonour upon the divine priesthood of Messiah as being imperfect in itself, and as having failed in its ends?
In the present age, then, there are none on earth exercising priestly functions. There is ministry, but not priesthood. The apostles were not priests. They never claimed the office, and never sought to exercise it in the Church. Nor did they enjoin their successors to claim it, nor give them the slightest hint that, as ministers, they were priests. They taught them that priesthood had passed away; that the priestly raiment had been rent in pieces; that there was no longer any temple, or altar, or sacrifice needed upon earth under this dispensation. The epistle to the Hebrews gives the lie to all priestly pretensions, and the epistles to Timothy and Titus show how totally different ministry is from priesthood.
Yet we read of the “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9); we read of “kings and priests”; we read of those who claimed to themselves the priestly name even here. But these were not apostles, nor prophets, nor evangelists, but simply saints. As saints, they were priests. As one with the Great High Priest, they were entitled to this name. As those who were called to share with Him the future honours of the throne and altar, they are the “royal priesthood.” Other priests upon earth there are none. Usurpers of the name and office there are many. Of true, God-chosen priests, there are none save these.
Their priesthood is still in abeyance, so far as the actual exercise of it is concerned. They are priest-elect; but, at present, no more. Their title they have received, when brought into the Holy of Holies by the blood of Christ; but on the active functions of priesthood they have not entered. It does not yet appear what they shall be. They wear no royal crown; they are clothed with no priestly raiments; their garments for “glory and for beauty” are still in reserve among the things that are “reserved in heaven, ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Both their inheritance and their priesthood are as yet only things of faith; they are not to be entered on till their Lord returns; they are priests in disguise, and no man owns their claim. Yet it is a sure claim; it is a Divine claim; it is a claim which will before long be vindicated. The day of the MANIFESTATION of those priests is not far off. And for this they wait, carefully abstaining from usurping honours and dignities which God has not yet put upon them.
The High Priest whom they own is now within the veil; and till He come forth, they repudiate all priestly pretensions, knowing that at present all sacerdotal office, and authority, and glory, are centred in Him alone. To attempt to exercise these would be to rob Him of His prerogative, to forestall God’s purpose, and to defeat the end of the present dispensation.
Their priesthood is after the order of Melchizedek. The King of Salem and priest of the Most High God is he whom they point to as their type. Their great Head is the true Melchizedek; and they, under Him, can claim the office, and name, and dignity. Melchizedek’s unknown and mysterious parentage is theirs, for the world knows them not, neither what nor whence they are. Melchizedek’s city was Salem; theirs is the New Jerusalem, that comes down out of heaven from God. His dwelling was in a city without a temple, and He exercised His priesthood without a temple; so their abode is to be in that city of which it is said, “I saw no temple therein, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.”
Distinct from Abraham, and greater than he, though of the same common family of man, was Melchizedek; so they, “the church of the first-born,” distinct from Israel, and greater than they, yet still partakers of a common nature, are to inherit a kingdom more glorious and heavenly than what shall ever belong to the sons of Abraham according to the flesh.
It is in the age to come that they are to exercise their royal priesthood. They are the kings, while the dwellers on earth are the subjects. They are priests, and, as such, carry on the communion between earth and heaven.
For priesthood is not merely for reconciliation, but for carrying on communion after reconciliation has been effected. It is not merely for securing pardon, but for forming the medium of communication between the pardoner and the pardoned. Thus priesthood may exist after all sin has passed away, and the curse has been taken from sky and earth, and all things have been made new.
For this end shall priesthood exist in the eternal kingdom, both in the person of Christ Himself, and of His saints. A link is needed between the upper and the lower creation; between heaven and earth; between the visible and the invisible; between the Creator and the created. That link shall be the priesthood of Christ and His redeemed.
They shall be the channels of communication between God and His universe. They shall be the leaders of creation’s song of praise; from all regions of the mighty universe gathering together the multitudinous praises, and presenting them in their golden censers before Jehovah’s throne. Through them worship shall be carried on, and all allegiance presented, and prayer sent up from the unnumbered orbs of space, the far- extending dominions of the King of kings.
Whether the kingly or priestly offices are to be conjoined in each saint, as in Christ Himself, or whether some are to be priests and some kings, we know not. The separation of the offices is quite compatible with the truth as the Church forming the Melchizedek priesthood: for the reference may be to the Church as a body, and not to each individual. And is it not something of this kind that is suggested to us by the four living ones and the four-and-twenty elders in the Revelation? Do not the former look like priests, and do not the latter look like kings?
Yet it matters not. In either way, the dignity is the same to the Church; in either way will the “royal priesthood” exercise their office under Him who is the Great Priest and King.
Our priesthood, then, is an eternal one. There will be room for it, and need for it hereafter, though the evils which just now specially call for its exercise shall then have passed away.
We greatly narrow the range of priesthood when we confine it to the times and the places where sin is to be found. Such, no doubt, is its present sphere of exercise; and it is well, indeed, for us that it is so. Did it not extend to this, where should we be? Were it not now ordained specially for the alienated and the guilty, to restore the lost friendship, and refasten the broken link between them and God, what would become of us?
But having accomplished this, must it cease? Has it no other region within which it can exercise itself? Has it not a wider range of function, to which, throughout eternity, it will extend, in the carrying out of God’s wondrous purposes?
And just as the humanity of Christ is the great bond of connection between the Divine and the human, the great basis on which the universe is to be established immovably for ever, and secured against a second fall, so the priesthood of Christ, exercised in that humanity, shall be the great medium of communication, in all praise, and prayer, and service, and worship of every kind; between heaven and earth; between the Creator and the creature; between the King Eternal, Immortal, and Invisible, and the beings whom He has made for His glory, in all places of His dominion, whether in the heaven of heavens, or in the earth below, or throughout the measureless regions of the starry universe.