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XII. TIMELY AND NEEDED HELP
"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."-HEBREWS iv. 16.
NEED! Time of need! Every hour we live is a time of need; and we are safest and happiest when we feel our needs most keenly. If you say that you are rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing, you are in the greatest destitution; but when you know yourself to be wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked, then the traveling merchantman is already standing on your doorstep, knocking (Rev. iii. 17-20). It is when the supply runs short, that Cana's King makes the vessels brim with wine.
Have you been convinced of your need? If not, it is quite likely that you will live and die without a glimpse of the rich provision which God has made to meet it. Of what use is it to talk of rich provisions and sumptuous viands to those already satiated? But when the soul, by the straits of its necessity, has been brought to the verge of desperation, when we cry with the lepers of old, "If we say we will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there; and if we sit still here, we die also", then we are on the verge of discovering the rich provision that awaits us (2 Kings vii. 8): all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies (Eph. i. 3); and all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. i. 3). There are two causes, therefore, why many Christians are living such impoverished lives: they have never realized their own infinite need; and they have never availed themselves of those infinite resources which hang within their reach, like fruit from the stooping boughs of an orchard in autumn.
Our needs are twofold. We need mercy. This is our fundamental need. Mercy when we are at our worst, yes, and at our best; mercy when the pruning knife cuts deep, yes, and when we are covered with foliage, flower, or fruit; mercy when we are broken and sore vexed, yes, and when we stand on the paved sapphire work upon the mountain summit to talk with God. The greatest saint among us can no more exist without the mercy of God than the ephemeral insects of a summer's noon can live without the sun.
We need grace to help. Help to walk through the valleys; and to walk on the high places, where the chamois can hardly stand. Help to suffer, to be still, to wait, to overcome, to make green one tiny spot of garden ground in God's great tillage. Help to live and to die.
Each Of these is met at the throne. Come, let us go to it. It is not the great white throne of judgment, but the rainbow-girt throne of grace. "No," you cry, "never! I am a man of unclean lips and heart; I dare not face him before whom angels veil their faces; the fire of his awful purity will leap out on me, shriveling and consuming. I exceedingly fear and quake; or, if I muster courage enough to go once, I shall never be able to go as often as I need, or to ask for the common and trivial gifts required in daily living." Hush, soul! thou mayest approach as often and as boldly as thou wilt; for we have a great High Priest, who is passed through the heavens, and not one who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
A PRIEST.-Deep down in the heart of men there is a strong and instinctive demand for a priest, to be daysman and mediator, to lay one hand on man and the other on God, and to go between them both. Wit and sarcasm may launch their epithets on this primordial craving; but they might as well try to extinguish by the same methods the craving of the body for food, of the understanding for truth, of the heart for love. And no religion is destined to meet the deepest yearnings of the race, which does not have glowing at the heart the provision of a priest to stand before the throne of grace; as, of old, the priest stood before the mercy seat, which was its literal prefigurement under the dispensation of the Levitical law.
A curious proof of this human craving for a priest is given in the book of Judges. On the ridge of the hills of Ephraim stood the ancestral home of a wealthy family, containing within its precincts a private sanctuary, where though there were teraphim, ephod, and vestments, yet there was no priest. Nothing, however, could compensate for that fatal lack. And Micah said to a Levite, who happened to pass by: "Dwell with me, and be unto me a father and a priest." And when he, nothing loath, consented, Micah comforted himself by saying, "Now know I that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest." But the same feelings that actuated him were shared by a portion of the tribe of Dan, on their way to colonize a remote part of the country. They, too, must have a priest; and so, while six hundred armed warriors stood around the gate, five men stole through the court, broke into the little chapel, carried off its images and other apparatus for worship, bribed the priest, by the offer of higher wage, to accompany them; and, long before the theft was discovered, the whole party had resumed their journey, and were far upon their way.
All families of mankind have followed the same general programme. Wherever they have built homes for themselves, they have erected the wigwam, the pagoda, the parthenon, the obelisk guarded temple, the Gothic minster fashioned after the model of the forest glade, a leafy oracle petrified to stone; and they have chosen one of themselves, set apart from ordinary work, and sanctified by special rites to minister, treading its floors, and pleading at its altars, interceding for them in times of famine, pestilence, and plague; blessing their arms as they went forth to fight, and receiving their spoils of victory; making propitiation for sin, and assuring of forgiveness.
This craving was most carefully met in that venerable religion in which these Hebrew Christians had been reared. The sons of Aaron were the priests of Israel. They wore a special dress, ate special food, and lived in special towns; whilst every care was taken to accentuate their separation to transact the spiritual concerns of the nation. For sixteen centuries this system had prevailed, relying around it the deepest and most sacred emotions; and, like ivy, entwining itself around the oak of the national life. And, as we have seen, it was no small privation for these new converts to wrench themselves from such a system, and accept a religion in which there was no visible temple, ceremonial, or priest.
But here we learn that Jesus Christ is the perfect answer to these instinctive cravings which blindly pointed to him in all ages of human and Hebrew history. This is the aim of these opening chapters, and by two lines of proof we have been led to the same conclusion. Before us stand two mighty columns: the one is in chapters i. and ii. of this Epistle; the other is in iii. and iv. They have a common base from which they spring, the Sonship of Christ. The first column is called, Christ superior to Angels; and this is the scroll around its capital, that Jesus, as man's representative, has entered into the glories promised in the eighth Psalm. The second column is called, Christ superior to Moses; with this scroll around its capital, that Jesus, as our representative, has entered into the Rest of God. And each of them helps to support a common chapiter, the Priesthood of Christ. The first two chapters end with a description of the merciful and faithful High Priest, who makes reconciliation for the sins of the people (ii. I 7, I 8). The next two chapters close with the words on which we are dwelling now, concerning the Great High-Priest (iv. 14). In the mouth of two witnesses every word is established. We need no human priests. Their work is done, their office is superseded, their functions are at an end. To arrogate any priestly functions of sacrifice, of absolution, or of imparting sacramental grace, is to intrude sacrilegiously on ground which is sacred to the Son of God; and, however royal such are in mien or intellect, they must be withstood, as Azariah withstood Uzziah-saying, "It appertaineth not unto thee to burn incense unto the Lord, but to Jesus, our Great High-Priest; go out of his office, for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honor from the Lord God."
A HIGH PRIEST. A Priest of priests, able to sacrifice, not only for the people, but for all the priests of his house; and alone responsible for the rites of the great day of Atonement, when every other priest was banished from the precincts of the Temple, while the high priest, clad in simple white, made an atonement for the sins of himself, his family, and his people.
We have been made priests unto God; but our priestly work consists in the offering of the incense of prayer and praise, and the gifts of surrendered lives. We have nothing to do with atonement for sin; which is urgently required by us, not only for our sins as ordinary members of the congregation, but for those which, consciously or unconsciously, we commit in the exercise of our priestly office. Our penitential tears need to be sprinkled by the blood of Jesus; our holiest hours need to be accepted through his merits; our noblest service would condemn us, save for his atoning sacrifice.
A GREAT HIGH PRIEST. All other high priests were inferior to him. He is as much superior to the high priests as any one of them was to the priests of his time. But this does not exhaust his greatness. He does not belong to their line at all, but to an older, more venerable, and grander one; of which that mysterious personage was the founder, to whom Abraham, the father of Israel, gave tithes and homage. "Declared of God a High Priest after the order of Melchisedek." Nay, further, his greatness is that of the Son of God, the fellow and equal of Deity. He is as great as his infinite nature and the divine appointment and his ideal of ministry could make him.
PASSED THROUGH THE HEAVENS. Between the holy place where the priest daily performed the service of the sanctuary, and the inner shrine forbidden to all save to the high priest once each year, there hung a veil of blue. And of what was that blue veil the emblem, save of those heavenly curtains, the work of God's fingers, which hang between our mortal vision and the marvels of his presence chamber? Once a year the high priest carried the blood of propitiation through the blue veil of separation, and sprinkled it upon the mercy seat; and in this significant and solemn act he typified the entrance of our blessed Lord into the immediate presence of God, bearing the marks and emblems of his atoning death, and taking up his position there as our Mediator and Intercessor, in whom we are represented, and for whose sake we are accepted and beloved.
TOUCHED WITH THE FEELING OF OUR INFIRMITIES. He hates the sin, but loves the sinner. His hatred to the one is measured by his cross; his love to the other is infinite as his nature. And his love is not a dreamy ecstasy; but practical, because all the machinery of temptation was brought into Operation against him. It would take too long to enumerate the points at which the great adversary of souls assails us; but there is not a sense, a faculty, a power, which may not be the avenue of his attack. Through eye-gate, ear-gate, and thought-gate his squadrons seek to pour. And, marvelous though it be, yet our High Priest was tempted in all these points, in body, soul, and spirit; though there was no faltering in his holy resolution, no vacillation or shadow of turning, no desire to yield. "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me."
All his experiences are vividly present to him still; and whenever we go to him, pleading for mercy or help, he instantly knows just how much and where we need it, and immediately his intercessions obtain for us, and his hands bestow, the exact form of either we may require. "He is touched." That sympathetic heart is the metropolis to which each afferent nerve carries an immediate thrill from the meanest and remotest members of his body, bringing at once in return the very help and grace which are required. Oh to live in touch with Christ! always touching him, as of old the women touched his garment's hem; and receiving responses, quick as the lightning flash, and full of the healing, saving virtue of God (Mark .28).
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