In Connection With The Priesthood Of Christ:
With Reply To Some Tracts On The Latter Subject.
When the will is engaged in any doctrine, it leaves one but a faint hope of its being given up by him who holds it. Still I would not abandon that hope altogether, as regards the author of the “Remarks on the Intercession of Christ,” and at any rate the enquiry into the truth on the subject may be useful to many souls. I confess I have been surprised at the statements in the tract. If anything had been needed to convince me of the totally unscriptural and unfounded character of the doctrine, this tract would have supplied it. Scarcely a single principle or statement is scriptural or sound. But God’s grace is almighty, and I can only heartily desire and pray for the clearing up of the mind of one whose Christianity I should not bear to doubt.
The theory is, that the Epistle to the Hebrews is for the remnant after the Church is gone, not for us Christians; and that Christ’s intercession is simply His presence before God for us in the worth of His work—nothing active; that there is no exercise of any priesthood after the pattern of Aaron’s on the part of Christ. I could hardly have thought any one could have made such statements. But they are made. “The only priesthood of Christ is Melchisedec, and that is for blessing, not intercession. The intercession, as I have before said, is His maintaining us before God in all the value of His own person and work.” “Israel will be in the land in unbelief, keeping the commandments of Moses— this epistle takes them up on that ground and tells them Christ is the end of the law,” &c. “Christ is indeed on the right hand of God—He is there by right and title; but He is there also for us, and so He is there presenting Himself as the Head and the representative of the redeemed. It is His presence intercedes or avails for us.” “Some who would not say quite so much [that Christ had a double priesthood], yet say that though Christ is a priest after the order of Melchisedec only, yet He exercises it at present after the character of Aaron… Thus they make the word of God of none effect by their tradition.” Referring to Christ’s work and the Spirit’s, the writer says, “Still, one is a finished work abiding before God in all its finished perfectness, the other is that which is carried on from age to age in the world; and from day to day in the heart of the believer; and the two works, for they are two, are effected by different persons and differ greatly in character; one is completed, the other not; and it is because one is completed and not to be added to and is ever in its completeness before God, that the other is being carried on by that other person.” “And certainly, if we take the testimony of the book itself, it is clear that it is the world (or, habitable earth) to come whereof we speak, and that is assuredly connected with Israel, not the Church being gathered.” Again, “Melchisedec priesthood is prominently presented, and from Psalm no we know that to be coincident with the rod of strength out of Zion.” And, quoting from me as to this priesthood, he says, “it is blessing and refreshment after and consequent upon the destruction of all enemies; it is not that which Christ the Lord now exercises.” “And the way in which they [these matters] are here treated … shews that it is not the Church as being gathered that is contemplated, but that which follows after the Church is caught up to meet the Lord in the air.”
My purpose is to go through the Epistle to the Hebrews sufficiently to see what its true aim and bearing is, and then I will take up particular statements to shew how utterly groundless they are. But before I do this I have one remark to make, and that is, that the notion that our church position as such is the whole, or even the highest we have, is quite unfounded. Mistakes connected with this I will note in their place. I only notice the principle now. Our union with Christ casts its preciousness on every part of our blessings, and the last thing I should be inclined to do is to compare these where all is sovereign grace. But in itself this is not a relationship with the Father. With Him we are individuals, we are sons. Christ owns us as brethren, is the Firstborn among many brethren. Our union with Christ, though divine, is with Him as man, as made Head over all things. See Ephesians 1:22, 23, and so Ephesians 2. And all our relationship with God and the Father is developed before that, and this in the epistle where church privileges are peculiarly taught, and many of the most precious exhortations to practice are on this ground: see chapter 5:1 for example.
We speak of what belongs to the Church, according to the common use of language, when we really mean what belongs to those who compose it. And this has no great practical harm when it is not used to make the idea, exclusively as such, our only blessing. I might say, The corporation are very good men, when I mean the men that compose it. But when an idea newly acquired gets hold of the soul, men are apt to be exclusively full of it. It shuts out other important truths. If any one has been filled with the sense of the importance of the doctrine of the Church, I think I may say I have. But conscience is individual; justification is individual; sonship is individual; communion, in perhaps its most important and certainly necessary part, is individual. Take all the writings of the apostle John, and, unless one allusion to a local body, you would never know that a church existed. I never lose, or at any rate never should lose, the consciousness of being a member of Christ; as I have said, it throws, when I have it, its light on all. I add the idea of unity in the body to union in the family. I am one with all those who are my brethren. But surely there is a vast flood of unspeakable blessing in John, in whose writings the thought or name of the Church never comes. I speak of the Gospel and Epistles. All is individual there. Those who enjoy it belong to the Church, and do not put themselves out of the Church mentally in enjoying it; but it is not, for all that, the less individual.
This principle will be found to be of large application. Thus justification is not found in Ephesians. It speaks of the new creation according to God’s counsels. The sinner has to be justified, not God’s new creation. Yet every word blessedly confirms the doctrine of Romans—Galatians also; but the subject is taken up differently. Romans deals with man’s responsibility, and the Ephesians with God’s counsels. They meet in Christ and in the cross, and nothing can be more deeply instructive to heart and soul, but they are distinct.
But I turn to Hebrews. Now I fully admit, and have often stated, that the Epistle has the Jews as a people in view, Christ having died for the nation; and it is interesting to enquire in its place as to the bearing of this on the remnant, after the Church is gone. I will try and touch on it briefly; but our present enquiry is, Does the Epistle apply to Christians?
The Epistle to the Hebrews at the time it was written was written to somebody. To whom? Either to Christians who at the same time were Jews,94 or to unbelieving Jews who rejected the Saviour. The answer to this question is an answer to the whole theory. No doubt there are interesting and important details to consider after it is answered. But if it was written to Christians the whole theory is proved false. I have not to enquire as to my use of it and to whom it may apply. I have learned to whom it did apply—to Christians, and though specially addressed to Jewish Christians (for such there were, Christians jealous of the law and frequenting the temple, and offering sacrifices) and adapted to their case; yet available for all Christians, in the doctrines by which it acts on these Jewish Christians, though not as to the circumstances in which they were found, for we are not in them; though we may be in very similar ones, when the professing church has judaized.
I repeat then my question: To whom was it addressed when written? Were the unbelieving Jews then “partakers of the heavenly calling?” If not, it applies to Christians. Had the unbelieving Jews taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that they had in heaven a better and enduring substance? Had they to consider the end of the conversation of their departed rulers whose faith they were to follow? Who had an altar which they had no right to eat of, who served the tabernacle? The unbelieving Jews? Why, they are in express contrast. Christians, christian Jews, were therefore to leave the system which they up to that time had been walking with. I ask any sober person to read chapter 13 through and say, Was the epistle addressed then to Christians or not? If it was addressed to Christians, as Christians, and because they were such, the question is answered and set at rest: most interesting for Christians to enquire its import and value for themselves, but as belonging to themselves and addressed to themselves.95
But I anticipate a little the details, and will enquire now regularly what proofs the Epistle gives of being addressed to Christians, though not speaking of church privileges as such. The writer places himself amongst those he writes to. This is not denied, and is clear from the beginning of the second chapter. Was the writer among the unbelieving Jews? For it was addressed to some one then. Those addressed had received the teachings of the apostles. There was danger of letting them slip; but they had heard and received them. He speaks of the world to come, but was not in it, for Jesus was sitting at the right hand of God, all things being not yet under His feet. But he speaks for himself and those he writes to: “We see Jesus… crowned with glory and honour.” This last is an important point. Besides His divinity—it is that which the first chapter insists on—it is characteristic, specifically characteristic of the whole Epistle. I mean that Jesus was sitting at the right hand of the majesty in the heavens: not, after the destruction of His enemies, a priesthood of blessing on His own throne. Thus, in the wonderful statement in chapter 1:3: the groundwork of the epistle, the place Christ is found in, is, having “by himself purged our96 sins, he sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high.”
The position which makes the basis of the whole Epistle is Christ’s present position, not his Melchisedec position, but a heavenly Christ sitting at the right hand of God on high. So when the writer has gone through his doctrine on this subject, he gives the summing up of it:—“We have such an high priest who is set at the right hand of the majesty in the heavens.” When His position is considered in reference to His manhood, as we have seen, all things are not put under His feet; He sits at the right hand of God till they are. We see Him crowned with glory and honour. He suffered being tempted here, that He may be able to succour those that are tempted. Neither the position nor the service has any possible application to a Melchisedec priesthood on earth. Temptation and conflict will not exist then. The Melchisedec priesthood, the writer agrees and insists on, is, in its exercise, after the destruction of all enemies; Satan will then be bound. Antichrist’s time is not the time of Melchisedec’s priesthood; and the exercise of Melchisedec’s priesthood is not the time of temptation. Further, the object in view is bringing many sons to glory. The remnant are not the object of this purpose. The place of Christ, the service of Christ, and the object of God all refer to the saints at this present time, not, as such, to a Jewish remnant to be blessed on earth, or to a Melchisedec priesthood in its acknowledged exercise as such.
Does chapter 3 teach us any other doctrine, or the same founded on the same truth of Christ’s heavenly present glory? Christ is as Son over God’s house. That is the position in which the Epistle views Him, not in a Melchisedec one. And note here, He is the high priest of our profession, compared to Moses and Aaron; that is according to the doctrine of chapters 1 and 2. Whose profession? The unbelieving Jews’? An unbelieving remnant when the heavenly saints are gone? A Christian, more than a Christian, we are told, writes the Epistle, and says, “our profession,”—and this means unbelieving Jews, or an expectant remnant!
But I prefer at present to follow out the direct teaching of this Epistle, which makes all clear, if anything can, if there is spiritual intelligence. Further, then, in this chapter it is said, “Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” To whom does this apply? For whom is it written? Are unbelieving Jews, however inclined to listen, the house of Christ as the exalted Son of God? Are they to hold fast their profession, the beginning of their confidence and rejoicing of hope, firm to the end? The Jewish remnant is not, further, a partaker of the heavenly calling, but of the earthly. In a word, thus far we have Christ, not as Melchisedec priest, but as sitting at the right hand of God, the high priest of our profession; and those addressed are “partakers of the heavenly calling,” and are to hold fast their first confidence. We, says the writer, are His house if we do. “Made partakers of Christ,” which in English might embarrass a soul, offers no difficulty, but the contrary. It is final partaking with Him in glory, according to chapter 1:9, where “fellows” is the same word. Some remarks on how far this chapter may subsequently suit the remnant in its use of the wilderness history I will make when I refer to that point.
In chapter 4 it is said, “For we which have believed do enter into rest.” Does “we which have believed” (pisteuvsante") apply to unbelievers? and this of the rest of sons whom God was bringing to glory? Again I read, “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.” Whose? Whose then? The unbelievers willing to listen, or even the Jewish remnant after the Church is gone, have no profession to hold fast which a Christian could call “ours,” when he referred to having a high priest in the heavens. This priesthood moreover, a present priesthood which “we have,” has nothing to do with a Melchisedec priesthood; it is a priesthood for the time of need, a priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, tempted in all points like as we are, except sin; so that we can come boldly to the throne of grace for mercy and help in time of need. This is priesthood, and not Melchisedec priesthood, after enemies are destroyed; but what enables us to come boldly to a throne of grace for mercy and help.
In chapter 5 the “for” of this first verse shews that the Aaronic priesthood was founded on this very principle. It is not Christ’s priesthood itself, as the fifth verse very clearly and positively shews; but it takes the Aaronic priesthood as a sample of the thoughts of God in priesthood, clearly not Melchisedec priesthood. It was different from Christ’s, inasmuch as the Aaronic priesthood had sympathy while in, and because they were in, the same weakness as the others who drew nigh to God; whereas Christ’s priesthood is exercised in the heavens. The partaking of the sorrows, when here, fitted Him for it, as chapters 2:1854:15, 16 shew, and chapter 5:7. But these took place in the days of His flesh before He became a priest. He became that when perfected on high, for “we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens.” This makes the place and nature of His priesthood as clear as possible. He was tempted and suffered here below, as we suffer, to be fitted for it, touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but He exercises it on high. These two points are the fundamental and essential ones of the doctrine of the Epistle, while it clearly states that it is for us. He is the high priest of our profession. He is the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him. That those whom the apostle thus addresses were Christians will appear in the strongest light from what is here and afterwards said of them—Christians in danger of being led away by Judaism and of apostatizing.
“For the time ye ought to be teachers.” (Ver. 12.) What had time to do if they were unbelievers or Jews? or how could the writer say to the Jewish remnant after the Church was gone, that they for the time ought to be teachers? Ye ought to be teachers. Who? The unbelieving remnant?
And now let the reader remark here what lies at the root of all this question.
We have seen, as clearly as scripture could make it, a priesthood based on Christ’s being exalted at the right hand of the ma jest}’ in the heavens on the one hand, and on His having been tempted and having suffered and having learned obedience here below in the days of His flesh on the other; the priest of our profession who has the heavenly calling; a priest, as we shall see, who is entered into the heavens as our forerunner; and able, as having suffered, to help those who are tempted; and this priest is the priest according to the order of Melchisedec. (See chap. 5:7-10.) We have the whole process of His perfecting for priesthood; and then He is saluted of God a high priest after the order of Melchisedec.
Is it not perfectly clear that, though personally the priesthood be not after the order of Aaron, but a new one, the exercise of the priesthood is not after the similitude of Melchisedec? Save what belongs to the person, not one element of Melchisedec priesthood is here found. The priest is in heaven, and profits by sufferings experienced here below to succour a tempted and suffering people. So that we come boldly to the throne of grace.
I add to this, that it is after He has perfected the work of propitiation, chapter 1:3 to chapter 2:17, where reconciliation should be propitiation (iJlavskesqai); but His priesthood is wholly and expressly on high, and He is on no Melchisedec throne, no throne of His own at all, but on the Father’s throne, on the right hand of the throne of God; not after His enemies are all subdued, but expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. His priesthood is this; not Melchisedec priesthood in its place or exercise.
I remark, further, that though the application of every blessing —all the work of God in good from creation on—is by the Spirit, yet that this truth is not taught here. The person who feels for us has had experience, so as to be able to feel for us. “Who is able to succour the tempted” is not the Spirit here, but Christ, and Christ as priest. And this is a most important thing. For the heart of the Christian Christ is an object of affection, which the Spirit—though we are indebted to His working for every blessing—cannot be.
I pursue my enquiry into the contents of the Epistle. They for the time ought to be teachers; and (chap. 6) the writer will not go back to Jewish elements. How does he speak of the responsibility of those he addresses? He will go on to perfection (that is, the estate of full age: it is the same word as in chapter 5:14, “full age”) with those he addresses. “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God.” Is this the state of Jews disposed to listen then, or of the Jewish remnant in the last days? Falling away from having enjoyed their privileges is the thing contemplated. But these two categories of persons had never enjoyed them at all. And this is the aim of the whole epistle—to guard against falling away. The nation had crucified Christ—they might be forgiven it as an act of ignorance. But these, after the enjoyment of christian privileges, did it for themselves; then there was no help. But in spite of this so solemn warning, he hoped better things of those he addressed, for they had brought forth fruits of grace. He could not think they could fall away from their privileges; for fruits of life had been shewn. Only he desired that every one of them might shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end. Is that addressed to a then unbelieving remnant, or to Christians who had received all fulness of privileges, and whose fruits made their teacher fully hope they would not abandon them? What was falling away from unbelief? The best thing they could do was to give it up. What was the same diligence to be shewn to the end in unbelievers? And what was the hope that belonged to them? It entered in within the veil whither the Forerunner was entered for them, even Jesus. That is not the hope of the remnant, any more than the beginning of the chapter was the state of the remnant. Their hope is deliverance. The forerunner is for us entered within the veil. We hope to be with Him in heaven. Jesus is gone in: we are to follow Him there. Yet this is He who is made a high priest after the order of Melchisedec.
The inspired writer then unfolds this priesthood of Melchisedec; but of the exercise of the priesthood not a word. All relates to His person, and the setting aside of the law by the setting up of another priest. There is large allusion to the history, or to His person and personal dignity; but not a word as to what He did. But we have the bringing in of a better hope, by the which we draw nigh to God. Who? the unbelieving Jews ready to listen? Of whom does the writer say, “We draw nigh unto God;” and “He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them? “Here we have an ever living priest, by whom we draw nigh to God, able to save through and through to the end (not because He has perfected us by His offering, infinitely precious, unspeakably precious, as that is; not because He has died for us, though that be the ground of all, a ground even for the Father’s love to Him; but) because He ever fives to make intercession for us. It is what He is active in, as life, that is here before us.
Appearing in the presence of God for us is another thing, and otherwise expressed in this epistle. (Chap. 9 :24.) And really “ever living to appear,” has very little sense. That He is able, since He ever lives, to do something which requires activity, is plain enough; but “ever living to appear” is not a sentence which could commend itself to any sober mind taught of God. But ejntugcavnein does not mean that; it means “to intercede.” If he who has given occasion to this paper likes to take the dictionary sense given by his correspondent as a general idea, I have no objection:—“talking with, or getting to the spirit of another.” This is, activity; not appearing before another, but talking with that other, getting to his spirit, if we are so to express it. And I insist distinctly, that the use of it in Romans 8 is a very distinct and plain proof of its meaning. The Holy Ghost in us does not appear before God for us. He is active in us, and makes us groan, and God recognizes it as His activity in us— finds the mind of the Spirit in us; for He makes intercession for the saints. This is activity. It is talking to another, even to God, in a groan; and, if I am reverently to use such an expression, “it gets to His spirit.” God apprehends His mind when even we cannot, and recognizes it as His, accepts it. He talks to another, and it gets as far as we may venture to use the words, it gets to His spirit—it reaches God’s mind and heart.97 Christ ever lives to intercede for us on high. I say “for us,” not as sitting in heavenly places, but as coming to God by Him. I say “us,” “for such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, made higher than the heavens”— “became us” because we belong to heaven—go in spirit into heaven in our coming to God. We have not to do with a priest on a throne on earth, or on His own throne anywhere; but with One who is now made higher than the heavens.
Such is the priesthood of Christ always in this Epistle, a present priesthood, a priesthood in heaven, a priesthood on the right hand of the majesty in the heavens, exercised there; a priesthood, not after the order of Aaron as to person or descent, but our Lord, priest on high after the power of an endless life, personally similar to, and after the order of, Melchisedec, but never introduced as exercising His priesthood after the pattern, or in the place, of Melchisedec; always, from chapters 2 and 3 as compared and contrasted with Aaron’s, to lift Jewish Christians (for they were Jewish Christians specifically) then from Jewish habits of association with that which was on earth, in shewing a present priesthood exercised above the heavens, and to preserve them by grace from falling away from the heavenly things to what they were used to; and, I may add, to bring them out from, what they had hitherto stayed in, the camp—outward association with Israel and a judged system, and by teaching, which, for us, is based on the truth, in its continual exercise, that He ever lives to do it, now as then. It is the exercise of a continual priesthood after He had offered up Himself once for all.
It is well that the reader should remark, that though the sacrifice has been stated (it is spoken of in the very first chapter, so in the second, as it is again here), we have not one word as yet of being made perfect in fact or in conscience, but the priest’s fitness for tempted exercised souls down here—a priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He is gone on high, but we have no perfecting by sacrifice, no appearing as yet in the presence of God for us. Though the value of His priesthood for tried ones, and its fitness, are fully stated, as yet it is not our perfectness, before God, but help for the feeble and tried, who need help and mercy. It is to this last that priesthood is applied, and priesthood at the right hand of God, on the right hand of the throne of majesty on high, not at all on any Melchisedec throne. And this application of the priesthood of Christ to our infirmities and help in time of need is the more remarkable, because, when the author of the epistle comes to speak of perfectness through His offering and His appearing in the presence of God for us, he does not speak of Him as priest at all; the reference to His priesthood is wholly dropped. Though contrasted with the Jewish priesthood, infirmities, help, intercession, ever living to make it, and these alone are identified with His priesthood— save the fact of propitiation in chapter 2, which is admitted to be an exceptional case, in which the high priest represented the people (not a proper act of priesthood, though of the high priest on the day of atonement); and, on the other hand, when our perfecting by His offering of Himself, and His appearing in the presence of God for us, are spoken of, priesthood is wholly dropped. There is distinct and marked contrast. That is not priesthood, intercession is, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews.
In chapter 8 we have the whole doctrine of the priesthood summed up before the unfolding of the worth of the sacrifice, and His appearing in the presence of God for us, are gone into. We have an high priest set on the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary, a purely heavenly one. None of this belongs to Melchisedec. The priesthood spoken of is solely while Christ is on high. It is in the sanctuary—that is, in heaven itself—exercised in that of which the tabernacle man pitched was the shadow, made according to the pattern of things in the heavens, a heavenly priesthood in a heavenly sanctuary. This is so distinctly the case, that if He were on earth He would not be a priest. (Of Melchisedec’s exercise of priesthood on His throne no trace or hint is found.) There were priests who served to the example and pattern of heavenly things; we have to do with the heavenly things themselves. And Christ has obtained a more excellent ministry. When and where according to this chapter? What is—“But now hath he obtained?” What, as to the priesthood and ministry of Christ, “replaces here? “—the heavenly things and a heavenly service and a heavenly sanctuary as a present thing, or a Melchisedec priesthood after all enemies are put down on earth? Is that shadow and pattern, according to which it is exercised, the sanctuary set up by Moses, or the Melchisedec service? For a calm and straightforward mind there can be but one answer. It may be said he speaks of the covenants. He does. But to what end? Solely here to shew that the old is passing away and ready to vanish, that the Jewish Christians might not hang on to it. The new covenant is surely not made with us at all. The basis of it is laid in Christ’s blood, as the institution of the Lord’s Supper shews, and we have all the advantages of it (but a great deal more), and Paul was a minister of it.
But this allusion to the pattern of heavenly things has led the inspired writer to the whole order of the sanctuary, to unfold the worth of Christ’s work and sacrifice. And here let me make a remark not without its importance in the study of the Hebrews. The mention of the temple is carefully excluded. That was connected with royalty, with the establishment on earth of what was practically Melchisedec rule and priesthood, the rule of the Son of David. The tabernacle only is mentioned; this was the pattern of heavenly things. The temple is never given as such, whatever analogies there may be; the tabernacle is. Even when he speaks of the system as having still its standing (chap. 9:8), it is the tabernacle, not the temple. It is the camp they were to leave, and come outside. The analogy of Christ’s service is distinctly, definitely, and declaredly after the similitude of the Aaronic service in the tabernacle, not after any Melchisedec service. The pattern is what Moses gave, but it is in heaven, and in heaven only and specifically. It is a present thing, specifically a present thing, as He is in heaven now; not a future thing as Melchisedec is. He is entered in, not come out. (Chap. 9:12.) The veil is rent, the way into the holiest is open, and the blood of Christ purges the conscience. And the apostle speaks to those to whom the epistle is addressed, who are partakers of the heavenly calling, and can say, He is the high priest of our profession. The heavenly things themselves are in question. Christ is entered into heaven itself now to appear in the presence of God for us.
In this, as we have seen, though compared with what Aaron did, there is no mention of priesthood. It is another matter. In chapter 4:14 we have the analogy strikingly stated: “a great high priest that is passed through [not into] the heavens,” as Aaron through the court and holy place into the sanctuary. But here we have no priest but Christ appearing in the presence of God for us. He has appeared, not to restore Israel and the world, but to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. He has been once offered, not to redeem Israel, but—in contrast with death and judgment, man’s portion as a child of Adam—to bear the sins (not of Israel, but) of many. Does this mean that He did not die for the nation, or that the remnant will not be restored on the ground of this sacrifice? Surely not. But the passage speaks of other things.
In chapter 10, still in express comparison and contrast with the law, the application of Christ’s sacrifice is gone into; but it is fact and efficacy—no priesthood now. It is application; we are sanctified. It is taught as that which is known by him who teaches it, a present thing. The position of Christ is still the opposite of that of Melchisedec. He is expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. It is not a reign and kingly priesthood after they are destroyed. It is only heavenly; He sits at the right hand of God. The sanctified ones, already spoken of, are perfected for ever. He is not, as Aaronic priests were, standing ever renewing inefficacious sacrifices; but sitting at the right hand of God, because His is complete, and those having a part in it perfected for ever; that is, not merely for eternity, but in uninterrupted and unbroken continuity, just as He sits there. It is those who have part in it while He is sitting there. And the Holy Ghost is a witness of it, to the writer and those he writes to, as a present possession of peace. And mark the consequence. We brethren, “have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” When and where? Jews under Melchisedec? And now we come back to the high priest. Where? In the holiest in heaven, or in the house of God, whose house (we have read) are we if we hold fast, I suppose, what we have got.
It will be remarked, that with chapter 10:18 the doctrine of these two chapters ends, and exhortation begins. We are to draw near with full assurance of faith into the holiest, having a high priest over the house of God. I will suppose for the moment, what clearly could not possibly be, that this exhortation was addressed to unbelievers disposed to listen, which is the theory of the deniers of priesthood as to any present application. I ask, Was not that into which they were brought the christian position? Those living men could not be brought into the residue position in the last days; they could be brought, if anywhere, among Christians. That, then, to which they were called, was where Christians were: a rent veil; access into the holiest by it; a purged conscience; full assurance of faith; and a great High Priest over the house of God. I do not believe that this is the position of the remnant in the latter day at all, but I leave that aside. It is the position of Christians now, for it is what the then listeners, according to the theory, were called into.
When we go on with the chapter it becomes evident, beyond all possible question, that it is the christian position. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith.” Does the writer of the epistle identify himself with unbelieving Jews in the profession of a common faith? What were the unbelieving Jews to hold fast? “The profession of our faith” in the mouth of a Christian must be christian faith; and if it be “our,” he must write to Christians. We (who?) are to “provoke one another to love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together”—who is that? Was it a Jewish assembly, or Christians and unbelieving Jews together? Besides, it supposes that the knowledge of the truth had been received; and, as in chapter 6, if the Spirit, whose presence distinctively characterized Christians, and Christianity was received in vain, so here, if the one sacrifice which characterized it was departed from, there was no remedy, no room for repentance. Only judgment remained. They were christian professors, and enjoyed the advantages of Christianity, and if they cast them away, there was nothing else to come but judgment. What distinguished the remnant is that there is deliverance to come, because they have not had these privileges, and had not cast them away. What characterized any Jews disposed to listen then was the same fact, they had not had them. What characterized those to whom the writer addressed himself is that they had. They, if they departed from the faith—drew back, had trodden under foot the Son of God, counted the blood of the covenant wherewith they were sanctified an unholy thing, and done despite to the Spirit of grace—there was no remedy left. Are unbelieving Jews, however disposed, as to their position, sanctified by the blood of the covenant? What does verse 32 mean? “After ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;” and “knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance?” What is the confidence they were not to cast away? In a word, they were not of those—the writer hoped—who drew back to perdition, but of those who believed to the saving of the soul, and certainly had the privileges from which they could draw back.
I resume the proof from these exhortations. The Epistle— the practical exhortations were addressed in fact to some one. Those to whom they are addressed are illuminated, had received the knowledge of the truth, are exhorted not to forsake the assembling of themselves together (they had taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing they had in heaven a better and enduring substance), and even not to cast away their confidence; were not to be of those who drew back, but believing to the saving of their souls; in a word, were believers, or at least professed believers, and believers then were Christians. Profession left them in danger of drawing back to Judaism, and gave occasion to warning in this respect; but, if Christians, Christians had and therefore have a great high priest over the house of God—a priest gone into heaven, and who exercised his priesthood there, and, as here described, there only—a priest who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and who ever lives to make intercession for us: our perfection by His offering, and His appearing in the presence of God for us, not being connected with His priestly service.
What remains of the Epistle, after such evidence, needs not very enlarged reference. In chapter n I notice one passage— “God having provided [or foreseen] some better thing for us, that they [Abraham, &c] without us should not be made perfect.” Is it for Christians or for the Jewish remnant that some better thing than Abraham’s heavenly portion is provided? Is not the perfection resurrection glory, not blessing under Melchisedec?
All the exhortations in the beginning of chapter 12, if they mean anything, are addressed to Christians. They were not come to Sinai, but to the full heavenly and earthly blessing, in which the Church of the firstborn and the Old Testament saints are included. Here alone we have the Church in the Hebrews. They were come to Jesus. It will be said, To Jesus, mediator of the new covenant. Quite true: and I do not doubt that this refers in accomplishment to the millennial earth. But they were come to Jesus, and this is the essential point; and it is a Jesus not coming back from heaven, but speaking from heaven while He is there. Chapter 13:8, 9, clearly shews with whom they were in connection. The Christ they had been taught to know, by those whose faith they were to follow, was the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. I do not connect the verses as in the English Bible; but it is quite clear that the faith a Christian exhorts to follow is christian faith, and here suggests Christ as the One whose un-changeableness should guard them from strange doctrines: grace, not Jewish meats, was to be their portion.
But further, “We,” says the writer, “have an altar of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle.” Who had an altar in contrast with the Jews? the unbeliever willing to listen? Of a future remnant there is no idea or question. The writer declares that he and those with whom he was associated had (had then) an altar, a place of worship, where the food of and communion with God was, at which those who held to (now by-past and soon to be judged) Judaism had no right to partake. Who had, who could then or now have, this but Christians? Judaism as a system is then rejected as being a religion for this earth, a camp of God (now left of Him) here. Such a religion was now rejected. When the blood was carried within the sanctuary, the body of the victim was carried without the camp. The true sanctuary, heaven (as is expressly taught in chapter 9:11, 12, 24), is one essential element of the position spoken of; abiding rejection of and by worldly religion, made for or suited to the flesh, “outside the camp,” or the earthly holy city, is the other. This is distinctly Christianity. The remnant at the end look for and will have the restoration of an earthly system, and the Lord’s presence and throne in Jerusalem. The system into which men are called in this epistle (and, if Christians, are, and warned not to fall away from) is exclusively and uncompromisingly christian and heavenly, in contrast with what the remnant could have at the end, founded on this same work, but established in a restored throne on earth and a holy city here, not a rejected Saviour and a heavenly throne. Verses 20, 21, are most clearly addressed to Christians, and outside all old and new covenants; and the rest, as the whole chapter, suppose that in faith, joy, hopes, interest, and warnings, the writer and those addressed are alike Christians, though the latter Christians in danger of slipping back into Judaism, from which they are called finally to separate themselves. The result of this survey of the Epistle to the Hebrews is, that our being perfected by the offering of Jesus Christ, and His appearing in the presence of God for us, is not referred to priesthood, but that there is a priesthood of intercession available for us because the priest can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; and, having suffered, being tempted, is competent to succour those that are tempted. That this priesthood is exercised in heaven specifically, in its whole character and nature, and only there, is here brought forward as that which became us; that the comparison and contrast of this priesthood in its exercise is wholly with the ordering and service of the tabernacle. The priest is according to the order of Melchisedec, but of the exercise of a Melchisedec priesthood there is no mention, hint, or trace. It is a priesthood exercised in heaven only, into which Christ is entered as Aaron into the holiest made with hands. It is addressed to Christians formally and expressly in all its parts; if it reach over—as a groundwork of Israel’s future hopes, as what is taught in it surely does—it has no direct application to them, save as Christ’s present position and His accomplished work secure these hopes; and as it does not take proper church ground (that is, our sitting in heavenly places in Christ), it can reach over in certain parts to their hopes and blessings as an accessory. But the hopes given in the Epistle are not theirs, but heaven and glory. Further, it is written to christian Jews, that is, to Christians from among the Jews, and who in fact clung to their old thoughts, and feelings, and system, and were in danger, if not kept of God, of falling back into Judaism, which was ready to be judged, and are warned moreover to come out and leave their connection with it—warned that the faith of Christ, which they had, and Judaism could no longer be connected as it had been, many thousand Jews, as we know, holding fast to their ancient law.
I now take up some of the remarks which have given occasion to this paper.
The first goes to the root of the whole matter. I have touched upon it, but it is too important to pass over, namely, that church position is our only position. That we are never out of the position of those who belong to the Church is quite true, but that is not church position. Church position is the unity of the body which thus sits in heavenly places in its Head, inseparable from it and so perfect. Now, this position belongs to all true Christians, but they are not always viewed in this position. Were it so, all individual relationship with the Father would cease. Christ would have nothing to do with calling us brethren; could not be the Firstborn among many brethren; has ceased to be the good Shepherd; as, on the other hand, individual responsibility has ceased; we cry no more, Abba, Father. None of these things have to do with the body, though they belong to those who are in the body.
But, further, the Epistle to the Romans, save chapter 12, does not apply to this position, but to individual responsibility, and individual death to sin, and individual position and privilege. The Colossians, though the doctrine is once referred to, does not set us on this ground. In that epistle we are dead and risen with Christ, but not sitting in heavenly places, but taught to look up there. The Philippians never takes this ground at all, yet the whole of it is individual christian experience, of one down here, but, as down here, of the highest practical kind. Sin is not mentioned. He did not know whether to desire life or death; decides his case when, thus, self has no place at all, by that which is useful for the Church; never does but one thing, has but one object; and as Christ had always been magnified in him, so he hopes He ever will be. Yet church position is never thought of. In church position I am always perfect. The moment I am an individual, my responsibility comes in and liability to failure. The author of the tract speaks of “nation,” “family,” “brethren,” as belonging to Israel, but, though to be used as principles, not the right way of dealing with souls. (“Remarks,” p. 16.) “Nation” of course is Israel. The word “family” is not used that I remember, though oi\ko" is; but children continually. And as to “brethren,” it is, every one knows, the common term for Christians in the Acts and Epistles: “all the holy brethren,” “our brother Timothy,” “the brethren,” “I beseech you, therefore, brethren.” This is so true that it is only after His resurrection that Christ so addresses them. “Quartus, a brother.” I should be wasting my reader’s time in quoting passages—let him take a Concordance and see if it be not the habitual name given to the saints. The remark I refer to is only a proof how an absorbing idea has led away this brother from scripture.
Another very serious mistake which I refer to as a general principle is, that God owns no kind of relationship with God out of Israel on the ground of profession. The words are these in page 9: “I repeat, Israel and Israel only, ever had any link with God upon the ground of profession without the reality of internal life.” “It is not now Jew or Gentile, but Christ’s or the world’s.” Link is a vague word: real link of course there cannot be. But if it be meant that men are not dealt with as in a recognized relationship with Christ, it is a very dangerous and mischievous mistake. The house of God may certainly be built with wood, and hay, and stubble here on the earth. The apostle warns the Corinthians that Israel were baptized to Moses and partook of the same spiritual meat and drink, referring to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, yet fell in the wilderness, and they were to take heed by their example. In John, we read that he who hates his brother is a murderer and has not eternal life. The seven churches are all treated by the Lord as on the footing of churches, though judged, and the last spued out of His mouth. Peter tells us that judgment begins at the house of God. But more, in Matthew 24 the servant who says, My lord delays his coming, is treated as a servant. The lord of that servant comes; and he has his portion with hypocrites. The servant who had one talent is treated as a wicked and slothful servant, and is judged as a servant, cast out as an unprofitable servant. The scripture is full of relationships, bringing judgments according to those relationships, where no internal life is. It is the whole history of Christianity in this world, going on to judgment as such. Involved in it is the weightiest and most solemn thought which can affect the Christian on the side of evil and its consequences, when himself at peace with God.
Another important principle is, our personal standing before God and the Father as regards Christ’s work. Nothing is thought of in the tract but perfection of standing, and with this is connected the total exclusion of Christ from all loving service for the saint. His presence in heaven secures us, the Holy Ghost works in us; but Christ has nothing to do for us at all: no care, no love in exercise, no advocacy. His presence secures us, but He does nothing up there, and the Holy Ghost does all down here. So that He does nothing anywhere. This is a serious statement. Such is the doctrine of page 19 of “Remarks,” &c, which allows no intercession or advocacy unless to propitiate God. “The intercession or advocacy needful and consequent upon failure in the walk, as it is put in the tract, must be to propitiate God, because Christ is up there and we down here. If imputation of sin is impossible (which is true, for Christ is there for us as having put away our sin), it is something in the heart of the saint that is needed: and one down here to do that needed thing. Now that is just the place and work of the Holy Ghost, and nowhere do we read that it is the work of Christ for us in heaven. The Holy Ghost tells us—witnesseth within us—of the permanent, perfected work of Him who is our ‘Guardian’ in heaven, and so maintains us there before God in all the virtue of His own person and work, notwithstanding our failure down here; and the practical result of this—the Spirit’s witness to this—is to lead the soul, not only away from the failure, but back to communion with God.”
“Again, I ask, in what way can Christ’s intercession or advocacy restore the soul, as the tract says, unless the Holy Ghost work in the soul, giving it an apprehension of what has been done afresh before God for its failure? I say ‘afresh’ because it says ‘there can be no thought of imputation’ of sin which is put away for ever, and therefore it must be some fresh thing done (even if connected with atonement), something with respect to the special act of failure, and done after its commission.”
“I apprehend the intercession of Christ before God for us is continued and uninterrupted; and in virtue of this, the Holy Ghost continues His work in the world, and in the saint, however the world may reject, and the flesh in the saint may lust against Him and His work. The repeated intercession of Christ, on each and every occasion of failure, involves the remembrance of sin before God, and so touches the perfection of His work which has put away sin, as well as overlooks also the present work of the Holy Ghost in the saint. Three points of solemn moment.”
Now this is all a mistake. It is not to propitiate; it is no continued and uninterrupted. The last phrase I allude to may mislead the reader. The author believes no intercession in the ordinary sense of the word; he says “The only priesthood of Christ is Melchisedec, and that is for blessing, not intercession. The intercession, as I have before said, is His maintaining us before God in all the virtue of His own person and work.” (Page 21.) And “He is there also ‘for us,’ and so He is there presenting Himself as the head and representative of the redeemed; it is His presence intercedes or avails for us.” The repeated intercession of Christ on each failure is denied—is a fresh work. I have only to quote 1 John 2 to shew the falseness of all this. “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins.”
I do not see how we could have a more complete answer to the author’s statement on every point. The righteousness is there in the person of Christ, the propitiation is accomplished in all its perfectness. Both are supposed to be complete and perfect, and then if any man sin, that is “in each and every failure,” we have an advocate with the Father. The paravklhsi" or advocacy of Christ is set in activity when there is failure; “if any man sin, we have.” The presence of the righteous One is perpetual; the propitiation, a finished work. If further were needed, it is Christ, not the Holy Ghost, whose work is referred to when any man sins; it is not our looking to some fresh work, but something which avails us when we sin. God forbid that it should be thought I do not recognize the Spirit’s work graciously dealing with, and in, and bringing back, the soul, or right thoughts in it. I believe every good thing in us is wrought by the Holy Ghost, but I say that this passage refers us, when a man has sinned, as an occasional evil thing, to Christ’s advocacy as restoring, not to the Spirit’s work.
And let my reader here note the subject in question in John, and he will at once see the bearing of it, and the difference of John and Hebrews. The subject in John is communion or fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Not access to God, but communion when grace is known in the full revelation of the Father and the Son; the names of grace and eternal hfe in John. Our fellowship is with them; common thoughts, joys, feelings, however weak and feeble we may be. It must be so. The Holy Ghost cannot give us different ones from the Father and the Son’s. We delight in Christ; we know the Father does. We delight in the Father’s love, so does the Son, a holy, blessed, wondrous thought, and which will only keep us humble when it is real. But God in His nature is light; and if we say we have communion with Him, and we walk in darkness, we he, and do not the truth.
I cannot say I have no sin, I cannot say I have not sinned. But I need not go on sinning, I may walk in the Spirit. But suppose I do not: the righteousness and propitiation remain in all their value or the link would be wholly broken, my acceptance gone. That is not so, but my communion is wholly gone, at least for the time. It were a blasphemy to talk of communion with God when I have sinful thoughts or acts. What is now to be done? Christ is above, as advocate for the occasional failure, not to win righteousness—He is the righteous one there: not to propitiate (His propitiation for our sins is all complete) but as advocate with the Father. It is not the Holy Spirit’s work I am referred to, however surely He thereon works in us, as I all-thankfully acknowledge.
In every point the author is wholly wrong. The repeated intercession on each and every occasion of failure does not touch the perfection of His work, it is founded on it. It does not involve the remembrance of sins before God in the sense here spoken of and as scripture speaks of it. It refers to the loss of communion by allowance of sin, which is most certain. Restoring and chastening both suppose God’s taking notice of sin in us when such there is. His not remembering sins does not, thank God, refer to that as if He would allow sin in us, but to His imputing or bearing them in His mind against us.
Even as to intercession in connection with priesthood the writer is all wrong. He tells us that (p. 21) “the only priesthood of Christ is Melchisedec, and that is for blessing, not intercession.” But I read in Hebrews—He “hath an unchangeable priesthood, wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost who come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” That is, priesthood is connected with intercession, and intercession the work of priesthood, such as Christ has it now.
I have already spoken of what intercession means in scripture. The reader has only to look out the passages and see, Acts 25:24; Romans 8:27-31; 11:2; Hebrews 7:25.
The difference between Hebrews and John is not without importance. Hebrews speaks of access to God, coming to God; John, of communion. Hebrews shews that, being perfected for ever, we have boldness to enter into the holiest, Jesus appearing in the presence of God for us. Now this is always so. We have always access. When we have sinned it is there we have to go— go to confess and humble ourselves in the dust; but to go there because there is our place with God. There alone sin is fully judged. But that is never in question, and that is the subject of Hebrews: the veil is rent, and we are perfected for ever. Hence priesthood in Hebrews applies to infirmities, help, mercy on the road; blessed thing too! Whereas communion is interrupted, and in respect of this sin does come in question: hence the advocacy of Christ does apply to this, and this is the subject in John.
I enter now into some more details of the “Remarks.” I read, page 6, “He is there presenting Himself as the head and representative of the redeemed. It is His presence intercedes or avails for us.” Which?—Head or representative? The two ideas are wholly distinct. As Head we are one with Him, members of His body, of His flesh, of His bones—part of Himself. There is no representation—we are part of Himself. If He represents us, He is there instead of us, for us. Thus in the Hebrews, which the writer tells us is not properly for us, He appears in the presence of God for us, because union and headship are not contemplated. And this is confusion as to the whole point in question. I believe we are united by one Spirit to Christ in heaven: that is the eternal counsel of God. I believe He represents me as a responsible being here on earth; first, for everlasting righteousness secured in Him, so that nothing is imputed to me, and I have a place before God according to His title in righteousness; and, secondly, to secure help and assure me of living sympathy in my responsibility, and for communion; and if I fail, as an advocate with the Father to restore my soul, the good Shepherd who knows His sheep and is known of them.
The use of Hebrews 5:1, 2 is a great mistake. It is the description of what high priests taken from among men are, as Aaron, in contrast with Christ. They had the same infirmities, and at the time of their priesthood. And as regards the sacrifices for sin spoken of, the careful doctrine of the epistle is, that this He did once when He offered up Himself, and that it is accomplished before He enters into the regular exercise of His priesthood. It is a mistake as to the whole teaching of the epistle. It is asked, “What is that which subsisted de facto, not by divine authority, not yet actually set aside, which Christians were called to come out of?” (Page 10.) It was Judaism at Jerusalem. It did subsist de facto till the destruction of Jerusalem; had no real divine authority after the cross, but was left by the patience of God, not yet set aside; and Christians, that is, Jewish Christians, had remained in it by thousands, nay, wanted to subject Gentile Christians to it, though God did not allow that; and the Jewish Christians were now called to come out of it. A great many of the priests even, it is said, were obedient to the faith. This was now to close.
I have already spoken of the contents of page 11. It is wholly contrary to scripture. Though the same truth may be found scattered about and referred to as known, no epistle takes Ephesian ground but the Epistle to the Ephesians itself—not even Paul’s. As to John, he never alludes at all to church truth. All is individual, though he teaches that “as he is, so are we in this world.” Let the Christian read Philippians, the most experimental of all epistles, in the third chapter running on to win Christ in glory; the second, looking for his mind on earth; the Church or church truth is never found in it—could not be; surely it is blessedly consistent with it. But this is what I contend for: that he who is in the Church can be contemplated in the exercises of his soul on other ground, though not on ground inconsistent with it. If we know what it is to be in Christ and united with Him, we all know that there is another ground I am on. There I am perfect always; in fact, down here, a feeble creature, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. I have eternal life, for I have Christ; yet “the end” is “everlasting life,” and I am to lay hold upon it. I am sanctified, yet look to be sanctified, body, soul, and spirit, and follow after holiness: God chastises me to be made partaker of His. I am saved and called with a holy calling; yet things turn to my salvation, and I work it out, or should do so, with fear and trembling, though knowing God works in me for it.
The pre-occupation of page 14 is singular. I do not again go over the ground that the Christian can be contemplated individually, and even in his imperfections, and his actual state here below, none of which are the Church as such; but I refer to what is said: “If we take the testimony of the book itself, it is clear that it is the world or habitable earth to come whereof we speak, and that is assuredly connected with Israel, not the Church now being gathered.” Is it not strange to see this passage quoted when its object is to shew that this was not the object of faith for those to whom the epistle is addressed, but what came before that time?—Christ in a position the opposite of that of Melchisedec. “Howbeit,” the writer continues, “we see not all things put under him.” That is, this habitable earth to come is not the present subject of your faith and attention; “but we see Jesus made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour.” Christ is to be viewed in a place where He cannot have that of Melchisedec. So far from all enemies being subdued—a phrase which the author quotes with approbation very often—they are not yet put under His feet. Can anyone find a single passage in which the world to come, or the Melchisedec priesthood in its only exercise, is spoken of in the epistle? I know of none. I affirm, that its uniform object is to make those addressed see that the Aaronic priesthood is set aside, and that they must look up to where Christ is now, having a heavenly calling, and see Jesus where He must wait till the time comes when all things will be put under His feet, when He will have the Melchisedec throne and exercise the Melchisedec priesthood, which He cannot do now—the time when the world to come will be there. The author makes that priesthood to be, “most definitely” … one of “blessing and refreshment after and consequent upon the destruction of all enemies.” That is clearly not the priesthood spoken of in Hebrews, for He is a priest at the right hand of God; and such a high priest became us who is made higher than the heavens, and ever lives to make intercession for us, whatever it means, as priest. But what the author admits Melchisedec priesthood to be is clearly not the present condition of things, declared not to be so in the Hebrews. Yet Christ ever lives to occupy a priesthood now! We have a high priest, sitting at the right hand of God, a high priest over the house of God, a priest who makes intercession for us, where it is admitted the exercise of Melchisedec priesthood is impossible. Nor is this view of Melchisedec priesthood a casual admission of the author’s.
In a second tract, which I had not seen when I began this, I find what follows. In pages 20, 21 of that tract he quotes a series of passages, nine in number, closing with, “it [the Melchisedec priesthood] is not that which Christ the Lord now exercises;” and adds, “with all this I fully agree.” So page 23. It is admitted there that Christ does not exercise Melchisedec priesthood now. Is there none exercised in Hebrews? Let the reader now read chapter 2:17, 18; 3:1, “of our profession,” “whose house are we;” chapter 4:14-16, “let us hold fast our profession;” chapter 5:5-10; 3:19, 20; 7:14, 24-27; 8:1, 2, 4 (this is now, and not Melchisedec, for if on earth He would not be a priest; but He is a priest now, set down on the right hand of God: the Lord as Melchisedec will be on earth and a priest upon His throne); 10:19-22, and what follows. Let my reader, I say, now go through these passages and say if a priesthood is not now in exercise, when the Melchisedec, it is admitted, cannot be. It is in vain to say, that if the priest is after the order of Melchisedec, the present exercise of the priesthood must be. That is just the question which is to be answered by the Hebrews, not by “must be.” The writer says that scripture speaks of two priesthoods—Aaronic and Melchisedec. As regards the Hebrews, at any rate, it is a mistake, it is more exact than the author is aware. It never speaks of Melchisedec priesthood, and on our present question this is of all importance. At least I have found no passage, and I have searched too in the “Englishman’s Greek Concordance.” It speaks of a priest after the order of Melchisedec, that is, of Christ personally, as after the order of Melchisedec, but never of a Melchisedec priesthood. That would bring the idea of its exercise as such—has brought it to our brother. The priest is after his order, but there is absolutely no Melchisedec priesthood in the Hebrews. Whether priestly service is spoken of, every one must judge after looking at the passages I have referred to, which treat of our profession, of holding it fast, of our Lord, of not drawing back to perdition, of a heavenly calling, of which those addressed were partakers.
Our heavenly calling, let me add, is not, as the author would have it, in itself our union with Christ at all. And it is very important, as I have learnt some twenty-five years, to make the difference. Those who have the heavenly calling may be united. But union with Christ is not a calling but a state, an acquired place and position. Through the calling we may, in God’s counsels and by His power, be come into this union; but I believe there are those who are saints of the high places, at least there will be, but who never will be in union. At any rate, a calling is that to which we are called by faith, and is never in itself union, though those called may be united. We are called to something, and our spirit and our walk are to be conformed to it. I may be actually, in a certain sense, in it in Christ, but this is not my calling. My calling is that which God has set before my soul, as that which is to form my soul, by my heart being set upon it as given to me by grace, and by grace called to it; and scripture constantly deals with the soul on this ground.
I do not desire, God forbid, that any one for an instant should forget or lose the consciousness of his church standing. I doubt a good deal whether the author has ever got fully hold of it; it ends in perfectness of standing in his tracts in general, at any rate. The Lord grant that all that have it, and he too, may hold the consciousness of it always fast in their mind; but we know in part, and we prophesy in part, and we have to learn various parts of truth, and to learn them separately, and to learn ourselves and our dependence, what the flesh is, and what the Lord is. Now, I desire to learn this as united to Him, that is, when standing in grace, never losing sight of my union.
But the scripture teaches me these things, and many things I have to learn; never as denying the fulness of grace in union, never inconsistently with it, never taking me off that ground; nay, I believe other truths can only be rightly learned on this ground, I mean as consciously on it. But scripture has other truths to teach me. It teaches me of the blessed person of Christ, of what He was on earth when I was not united to Him; and it teaches me these truths separately, in part, as it is the only way a poor creature like me can learn them; and I bless God for that patient grace with such as we are who so teaches us. The question is not at all, then, whether I get out of the consciousness of union, but of what Christ is for me in every respect while I am in union, as I have said before. I am justified individually from my sins. It must be individually. When I see the blessedness of that, do I give up the consciousness of union? God forbid. But justification from my sins is not union. It is a part of the blessing which belongs to me, who by grace am united to Christ, necessary for it but reserved too—if not in the same fulness that the light of union casts on everything—for those who are not united. Jehovah tsidkenu will be said by others; but it concerns my conscience, and conscience is always and must be individual. Responsibility to God is distinct from God’s counsels, though when united we have a new responsibility according to our new position. The title of Christ as Lord, as Son of man, is not union. I do not go out of union to learn it, nor of the consciousness of union; but the truths I have are learned, as truths, apart from union, as before my mind. All is learned by us ejn mevrei: so scripture teaches me one truth in one epistle, another in another. In Philippians, as I have said, the saint is running a race, is down here, not sitting in heavenly places—is otherwise looked at; in Colossians, risen but not sitting in heavenly places, but having his hope there. None of these take the saint out of union, or faith in it, or consciousness of it; but they teach him different truths, and these truths do not contemplate him in his union with Christ.
I pass over the remarks in John 13 and 17, because it is a question of spiritual discernment. I only ask the reader to look into the passages and say whether the Lord does not contemplate His ascension on high; as is said, “These are in the world, and I am no more in the world, and I come to thee.”
But another question must occupy me a while. That subject is the Holy Spirit’s work and place in this respect. I have said, and I repeat it because of its importance, nothing good is in us but by the work of the blessed Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit characteristically distinguishes Christianity, and is the main truth revived among “Brethren” in the present day. The counsels of God, of the Father, are the source; the work of Christ, the sure ground; the coming of the Lord, the bright and blessed hope of our blessings and state; but present realization is all by the Spirit. So in restoring, as to communion, the good thoughts, I doubt not, are wrought by Him.
The author of the tracts complains that those who have written on the priesthood of Christ have not spoken of the Spirit. They have not perhaps, I know not, spoken of it there; though, as to my own teaching on it, I know I have always referred to it in connection with 1 John 1, 2. But so far as it is the case, the reason is simple—they were treating another subject. But the author of the tracts is wholly wrong in his statements on the subject, and very seriously wrong. He shuts out Christ wholly from the care of our weakness as priest and from the restoring of our souls. Christ in heaven secures our position by His work and the fact of His presence, he tells us; and having obtained the Holy Ghost for us, the Holy Ghost, he says, works this restoration in us. Now, I repeat, as a general truth, the Holy Ghost works all good in us. The author thus states it: “Now that is just the place and work of the Holy Ghost, and nowhere do we read that it is the work of Christ for us in heaven.” (Page 19.) This restoring is solely by the Holy Ghost witnessing to the perfectness of Christ’s work and the accomplishment of reconciliation. (“Four Letters,” p. 31.) “The Spirit’s witness to this is to lead the soul, not only away from the failure, but back to communion with God.” “As to Christ, it cannot be that having perfected for ever those that are sanctified He has aught more to do.” (“Four Letters,” p. 17; see pages 6, 7 of the same.) All work and activity of Christ is excluded. “If the Holy Ghost has to make good in the soul some fresh or additional service, what are we to say about the finished work?” “Has not the Father given all things into His hands, what more then can He ask for?”
Now Christ’s finished work, and our being perfected by His one offering, has made us perfect before God; I add, our being dead with Him has set us free, and we are in a new position and a new responsibility consequent on and in this new position. God has been pleased, not only to make us perfect in Him in His sight, but to leave us here to manifest the life of Christ, to have our senses exercised to discern good and evil, to learn and unlearn too. He has started us by redemption in a life of exercise in the wilderness, and in conflict in Canaan. We need constant help, not merely the knowledge of our position by the Holy Ghost, but a strength that is made perfect in weakness; we need restoring of soul if we have failed, perhaps messengers of Satan, thorns in the flesh, to buffet us. That is not the Holy Ghost. To whom did Paul go that he might get rid of it? Who answered him? Whose strength was made perfect in his weakness?
Our perfectness is just the ground and starting-point of an exercised life here, which, when that perfectness is known, is never meant to raise the smallest doubt or question as to it; but in which, because we are perfect, we are wholly free to learn good and evil—what God is, the fulness of Christ, and be conformed to Him by His word. The Lord stands by us and strengthens us. The grace of Christ is sufficient for us. His grace is with us; He Himself is with us; He does not leave us comfortless. Is all this, and much more than this, having nothing more to do? Paul had obtained mercy of the Lord to be found faithful. It is, I trust, unnecessary to quote the passages in which grace is attributed to or sought for others from Christ. Can the author produce one passage where the Spirit is so spoken of? This destruction of the living solicitude of Christ because we are perfect, and in that which is our place because we are perfect, is, I confess (I trust I have not used a hard word in all this paper), terrible to my spirit. Does the Lord Jesus Christ Himself not comfort our hearts and make us perfect in every good word and work?
But I go further and I ask, Is there a single passage98 where restoration is ascribed to the Spirit, or His work referred to in restoration? There may be some, but I cannot recall any. Joy, love, peace, power, liberty, the love of God shed abroad in the heart, the earnest of the inheritance, changing into Christ’s image from glory to glory, intercession, in the sense of evil around, according to God, are ascribed to Him; witness with our spirit that we are sons of God; fellowship: but I cannot remember any passage which refers to our restoration in which He is spoken of. And the reason is simple. He is the power of God in us, and the power of good. Sympathy and solicitude, however divine, are attributed to Him who has been tempted in all points like as we are; who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; who, while His love is divine, is a man, not ashamed to call us brethren. Hence it is attributed to Christ. Christ washed the feet, and it was not what He was doing then that He referred to. When He speaks of Lord and Master, it is the lowliness of love and service to others in which we are to imitate Him. But it was only afterwards they were to know the import of what He did. They were washed, and needed only to have their feet washed, which might pick up dirt in their path.
In the Hebrews the operation of the Spirit is never spoken of; sympathy, grace, and help are, when Christ’s priesthood is spoken of, His priesthood at the right hand of God; for there it is explicitly that He is priest; there only in the Hebrews; there as diligently taught as the main subject of the Epistle. In i John i:2, when the blood-cleansing is spoken of, our failure is not. The author says, and he is right, We may be and walk in the light; and, alas! not walk according to it. And the difference is important in its place. But this last is not spoken of at all in the passage. What is said in the passage is: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light … the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” When failure is spoken of (chap. 2:1, 2), the Spirit is not at all spoken of, but the advocacy of Christ is.
It is strange how scripture is neglected to follow a system in this tract. Thus we are told, “But now of them as a nation [the italics are the author’s] it may be said ‘by one offering he hath perfected for ever’ even them. They are perfected in Him … But as a nation they are not yet sanctified.” But the passage says, “He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” Pages 24, 25 are the simplest contradiction. If “when it [our walk] is in the light, it is perfect.” The case supposed in John has no room according to the author’s statement. The passage says, “If we walk in the light as he is in the light… the blood cleanses.” The author says, “our standing is in the light; our walk should be, but is not always;—in that case, the Holy Ghost, we see, uses the blood to cleanse.” The statement is wholly without foundation in the passage. The author’s, if our walk is not in the light, the Holy Ghost uses the blood to cleanse. What is said is the contrary. It says, If we walk in the light, it cleanses.
The attempt to separate the work of Christ and the Spirit, as the author does, is quite unscriptural. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his,” and “if Christ be in you, the Spirit is life;” but then Christ also is our life. Their work in many respects may surely be considered apart. But we have seen how much the work of Christ, and the Lord by His grace, is spoken of in scripture. To say it is either He or His Spirit absolutely, is unsound. Even when on earth Christ could say, “the Father that dwelleth in me He doeth the works,” and yet He wrought, and yet He by the Spirit cast out devils.
We meet in page 29 with the same totally unscriptural denial of the work of Christ in us in grace, of which the scripture is quite full. Is the good Shepherd’s voice dumb and unheard for ever? A priest’s office was not merely to offer sacrifice. This is another unscriptural mistake, from following a system, and necessary for the author’s. He offered incense within, as well as sacrifice without; indeed it was not as priest, the author admits, properly speaking, he offered the sacrifice.
Again we meet this terrible phrase, “He [Christ] has emphatically sat down as having nothing more to do.” I appeal to every page, so to speak, of the New Testament, referring to what took place after He went up on high, whether He is not presented as active in grace. The statement in page 31 as to the quotation from “The Three Appearings” in page 30 of “Remarks,” is unfounded. It is not said in the passage quoted “forgiveness asked.” The Holy Ghost, it is said, brings back the soul in the sweet sense that the sin is forgiven. The author’s own words are, “the Holy Ghost, we see, uses the blood to cleanse.” (“Remarks,” page 25.) Does he not, in his view of the matter, give the sense of it? “Cleansing it” is much more than “the sweet sense of it.” The statements of pages 25 and 31 do clash completely.
Many things I might notice, but I feel that my object is sufficiently attained in considering the great principles in question. The contradiction in page 14 of “Four Letters” is no contradiction at all. Christ is not a priest according to the order of Aaron; His priesthood is not according to that order; but the exercise of priesthood in Hebrews is wholly according to that type. He enters into the holiest not without blood, only here His own; that was what Aaron did. Aaron did not make himself a priest, nor did He. Aaron passed through the tabernacle into the holiest, so did He into a better, made without hands. Aaron was consecrated to offer to God, so must He have something. Aaron was a minister of the sanctuary, so is He. They served to the example and pattern of heavenly things, He in the heavenly things themselves. The tabernacle and its service were the pattern and type of the heavenly things in which Christ now ministers. The epistle compares Him to Moses and Aaron. He is the high priest of our profession. Now take the Melchisedec priesthood in its exercise as presented. It is, after all enemies are subdued; that in Hebrews is expressly not so; they are not under His feet. Melchisedec offers no sacrifice; Christ has: Melchisedec goes into no sanctuary; Christ does here: Melchisedec is a priest upon his throne; Christ here is not, but on the right hand of the majesty on high: Melchisedec brings out blessing on earth; Christ here does not: with Melchisedec, the rod of God’s strength goes out of Sion; here it does not. Though every way superior the priesthood of Christ in Hebrews has every element of the Aaronic priesthood as a type, which is stated to be a pattern of these heavenly things in which Christ is exercised; not one of the Melchisedec. As far as any analogy or change of law goes, the analogy is much greater when an earthly Jerusalem is restored, the change much greater when all is in heaven.
94 See Acts 21:20.
95 I am aware that the author says, “Were there not at that time a Jewish remnant, some of whom might listen to these last words of exhortation, own Jesus, and be brought into church position?” But this alters nothing. However God might dispose their hearts to hear, they were still unbelievers—had no part in Christ—and belonged to that part of the nation which had refused Messiah. The question is, Is the Epistle addressed to believers or to unbelievers? I do not even admit that the remnant in the last day will be in the state of those here spoken of. These were yet unbelieving, with a full present Christianity; those, though not a freed people knowing salvation, will be a repentant and expectant people, otherwise prepared to say,” Blessed is he that cometh,” &c. But, though confirmatory of what I say, this is not the question. These were unbelievers: is the Epistle addressed to such?
96 I do not insist on our sins, as the reading is questionable. It would otherwise be—having made the purification of sins, He sat down. I insist on the position, which is the basis of the Epistle.
97 Ejntugcavnw never means anything else in scripture than active intervention. It is used five times: Acts 25:24; Romans 8:27, 34; 11:2; Hebrews 7:25. The reader can easily see if these are active interventions or not.
98 I will not go into Acts 9. It might be said it is miraculous. But let the reader read it through and say if Christ has nothing to do. We may have lost much of this blessed familiarity. But is the love of it lost?
I have no doubt that as, we know, the blessed Lord died for that nation, so His present abode in heaven as priest preserves the title and hopes of Israel as a nation till He comes and confers upon them the promised blessings by His? presence, when His enemies here below will be put down. We have not seen and have believed, and have a higher and far higher blessing, a heavenly one in God’s rest above. Connected with Christ by the Holy Ghost while He is hid in God, and made heavenly in our place and character, we shall, besides far higher blessings, reign with Him; but they—with indeed all the earth, but they especially —will be reigned over, and enjoy in the highest way the privileges which flow from His immediate government, and the place nearest Himself on earth. They have not the heavenly portion, surely not the Church’s; but Christ is to gather all things in one, in heaven and on earth, and they will have the highest on earth. Those who have suffered like Him somewhat, the remnant, will learn at least one heavenly song, and be His companions wherever He goes, connected with His royalty in Sion, while those born in peace, it appears, will not learn it. (See Rev. 14.) Hebrews 12:22-24 gives a summing up of the whole in heaven and in earth.
Now, as the Epistle to the Hebrews reveals Jesus to us as He is now in heaven for us on earth, and has the Jewish people as connected with Messiah specially in view, it is quite natural that—though it reveals Christ’s present place in heaven and His intercession there, inasmuch as their future blessing as well as the security of every blessing depends on His presence in heaven—it should leave open and give room for the application of the efficacy of the place He holds to that people in the latter-day. It is not an accommodation, not the proper subject of the apostle; but it is an accessory thought and extension of its application, for which room is purposely left in certain passages; and the omission of the relationship of sons with the Father, and of the Church as such with Christ, adapts it to this end. And it is this view of Christ’s present position in heaven, which is meant by all this period being foreshadowed by the great day of atonement. Till the high priest came out, Israel could not know that the sacrifice had been accepted, and waited as a people who could not draw, in any way, nigh to God till the sacrifice was accepted. But for us who believe, while He is yet hidden within, the Holy Ghost is come out, so that we know His work is accepted, and that He sits at the right hand of the majesty in the heavens, expecting till His enemies be made His footstool; and hence we have assurance. But His work is accepted for them as a nation, and in virtue of it they will enjoy all their promises, only they will believe when they see. Then He will be king and priest upon His throne. So Moses and Aaron went in and came out (Lev. 9), and fire came down and the people worshipped. The blessing from the priesthood alone was a distinct thing.
This leaving of room for blessing to the Jewish people, through the sacrifice and priesthood of Christ, is referred to, I may say fully, already in the “Synopsis.” Christ is on high, securing the blessing for the people, and the people for blessing; but He is not yet revealed, and by the Holy Ghost we know and are connected with Him there. I do not say united: this, thank God, is true too. But we are associated with Him there in hope, desire, communion; have heaven open, as Stephen, and see Him there; and by the Holy Ghost are changed into His image from glory to glory. The Christianity preached, unfolded, and enjoyed before Paul’s commission was not done away by it, though the doctrine of the Church was committed specially to him to complete the word of God. The turning point of the revelation made at Jerusalem was in the death of Stephen. Then that part culminated, and the then present Jewish hope finally closed, and the full doctrine of the Church and new creation shone out in Paul’s conversion, at least in principle and in its elements. But the church and Christianity were already there upon earth, and the admission of Cornelius by Peter, after Paul’s conversion, was the proof that in its earthly administration God would not allow a disowning of, or separation from, what He had begun to build, as it is impossible and out of question in its heavenly completeness. But the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. It was no mistake, no work to be undone, any more than the admission of Cornelius after Paul was called, though the doctrine of the Church was not yet revealed.
This position of Christ exalted on high we have in the first two chapters of Hebrews, and though directly applied, as we have seen, to Christians, yet, as never entering on distinct church ground, it can go back to Jewish Christians on the ground they had been upon, to call them out of it as to its connection with Judaism which they had insisted upon, make them recognize in a heavenly Christ the reality of the shadows of the law, which were only patterns of things in the heavens, of which the heavenly things themselves to which they were called were the reality, and look at Christ’s position as that which was available for the future blessing of the people through faith. It is not that blessing, nor their state in the blessing. That is under Melchisedec, while this is Christ on high, but it is Christ in the position that secures it for them. Thus, in chapter 2, it is certain that it is for Christians. He is bringing sons to glory, and those referred to are the separated remnant of Isaiah 8 (we know historically now, the Church); but in what position do the passages quoted view them? Signs and wonders to both houses of Israel. It is the blessing of Israel as such? No; it is while God hides His face from them. It is now, but with a testimony that the Lord Jesus, as interested in them, waits for Him who does hide His face. He took up the cause of the seed of Abraham. This applies to us, we know, but in language which leaves application open to others too, who are such according to flesh and faith.
The third chapter is distinctly addressed to Christians. They were to exhort one another, which no unbeliever could. But “while it is called to-day” it will continue till the great tomorrow, when the Lord appears for His people. So in chapter 4: there remains a rest for God’s people. God forbid that this should not apply to us, a heavenly rest—God’s rest. Still a rest for God’s people can go over to the tried and exercised Jew. Compare Psalm 15, which refers to Jews.
The priesthood as now exercised could not apply to the unbelieving, save in the fact stated of securing them by His presence in heaven. Its exercise is only for believers, applies to them only, but as it does secure Israel’s promises, it holds the matter open, so to speak, so that die blessing will come. The fact of Christ’s presence in heaven, which is made our part of the matter, is theirs too: only that for us it is present perfectness, because we are sanctified; for them, it is holding the matter sure, while God hides His face from them. But the exercise of priesthood applies to us only. The word and promise may be applied by us in hope for them, and be available to them when the time comes. A rest remains to them as a people, as well as to us, and in such cases heaven and glory are not spoken of; and the rest is spoken of in language blessedly applicable to us, but which can be used as to them; for rest in itself is not glory.
Chapter 8 gives a striking example of thus leaving room for future blessing, while not going beyond the ground of present dealings in grace. We have the two covenants, both made with Israel and Judah; Christ the mediator of the new, a minister of the heavenly things themselves, as Paul was a minister of it (in spirit, not in letter, and the Lord founded it in principle, as to God’s part of it, in instituting the Lord’s Supper); but no new covenant made, only the old ready to vanish away; preparation for blessing fully made, but no blessing there yet; that is, no Melchisedec, but Christ in the heavenly places, according to the pattern of the tabernacle into which Aaron entered. This is developed in chapter 9. Christ is come an high priest of good things to come, of the whole blessing reserved for heaven and earth in millennial times, spoken of in chapter 12. The blood of the covenant is shed; Christ is entered into the heavenly places, into God’s presence for us; not yet come out to bless. But then, no church privileges as such are touched upon, the rapture is not spoken of, and consequently the teaching has such a shape as that, while full blessing for us, and the deliverance of heaven and earth by power, (though not our entrance into the cloud, Luke 9, nor the Father’s house, John 14) are before us, yet it is such as the redeemed people when brought in by God can wait for; not confined to them, could not be when the blood was spoken of, but which when called and wrought in by God they will enjoy. In contrast with judgment, not in the sovereign counsels of privilege, He will appear to them that look for Him without sin to salvation.
The hortatory part of the Epistle affords and can afford no reference to future hopes; it must address itself to those who were in the present circumstances to which the exhortations could apply. But the motives given afford a remarkable and complete summary of the whole blessing of heaven and earth, to which I have already alluded. I refer to chapter 12:22-25. The first point is only a general principle: Sion in contrast with Sinai; not itself Melchisedec, the Son of David, but grace triumphant by power; not the temple, not the tabernacle (this last was at Shiloh where Solomon went), but, when Ichabod was written on the people under the old covenant, God coming on in grace to deliver—a principle which applies alike to us and to the remnant, which is the ground those who stand on Mount Sion with the Lamb will stand upon, but which is the principle to which every Christian can say “we are come,” as is said here.
Nor is this all; it is in fact accompanied here by the full introduction of both parts of the fruits of grace, the heavenly, and the earthly. All is ours, and blessing secured to the remnant by blood, but nothing in actual possession—characteristic of the whole epistle and of our position. After Sion we have, the city of the living God the heavenly Jerusalem, an innumerable company of angels, the general assembly, the church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven. Thus far we have our proper place, but unfulfilled: only the church of the firstborn named, as soon as heaven is looked to. That is purpose according to grace. Now another side of truth is referred to: “God the judge of all.” This leads us to the Old Testament, where responsibility was developed, and even to Christ’s earthly history. Thus the spirits of just men made perfect is our next element, but as yet no resurrection. Old Testament saints entered into perfection personally, but no glory in the resurrection of the body.
Further, and here we descend to the earth and coming blessing, Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, but no new covenant yet, only the Mediator there; then lastly the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than that of Abel. Abel’s blood cried from the ground for vengeance, but in Christ, the blood of that better Abel (whom Israel had slain, yea, called His blood, in their unbelief, to rest on their own and their children’s heads) called in God’s sight in grace for mercy and blessing, and that for the Cain who had rejected and slain Him with wicked hands —to call them (blessed time!) from their vagabond estate to the blessings that grace had given them so rich a part in, though on the earth.
Thus this passage, while it puts all de facto in the present state, looks out—inasmuch as the Mediator and the blood of the new covenant are there—beyond present things: the branches reach over the wall; and, while for us what is heavenly will be fulfilled, being come to grace, we can look on to what will belong to Israel when the time is come. I have only touched on the great principle here, as helpful to clear up the Epistle. More indeed will be found in the “Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.” But I am not aware of any connection of the priesthood in exercise with Israel’s hopes at all. The word, and the place Christ is in, do refer to them; and the fact that He is mediator of the new covenant, and that the blood of sprinkling has been shed, does. The exercise of priesthood is for those who are in relationship.
I add two cautions. The Epistle to the Ephesians tells us what we should always be, our true and holy standard. Let us surely dwell upon and keep ourselves there. That to the Hebrews gives us what we need, the comfort called for in the midst of weakness and trial. Let us thank God that it is there, not as the measure of our relationships with God, but our comfort when we feel our weakness in them. I would urge, as much as any could, the keeping of the faith of the soul and the thoughts of the heart on Ephesian ground. Another important point is, that priesthood has nothing to do with obtaining righteousness. It is exercised by One who is our everlasting righteousness in heaven, and on that ground.
Further, we do not go to the priest: he goes to God for us, and we to God. On this point scripture is clear, however God may bear with weakness. Priesthood is, in its present exercise, for those who are reconciled.