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XVI THE PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST
"Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."-HEBREWS vii. 17.
VARIOUS fancies have gathered around the person of Melchizedek, investing him with extraordinary qualities; but it is better far to think of him simply as the head or chieftain of a large family or clan, which gathered around the site to be known, in after years, as the holy city." Already its name was shadowed forth in the term "Salem," which designated the clustered rude huts or tents. Amid the almost universal lawlessness and depravity which swept over Palestine, righteousness and peace seem to have fled for shelter to this little community, where alone due reverence was given to the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth.
How this oasis had come into existence amid the surrounding moral desert we cannot tell; but it may have been due to the commanding personal influence of the king, who, according to patriarchal custom, as father of the family, was not only the ruler of the family life, but leader in the family devotions; and thus, while Melchizedek was king of Salem, he was also priest of the Most High. Moreover, it would appear that he bore a special commission, and was raised up for a specific purpose, as the ordained messenger between God and men; and as embodying a striking portraiture of the priesthood to be exercised for man by the Son of God.
Note the significance of the words, made like unto the Son of God (ver. 3). Christ's eternal Priesthood vias the archetypal reality, after the similitude of which that of Melchizedek was fashioned. It was as if the Father could not await the day of his Son's priestly entrance within the veil but must needs anticipate the marvels of his ministry by embodying its leading features in miniature. Let us now study some of them.
CHRIST IS KING AS WELL AS PRIEST (ver. 1). History gives its unanimous judgment against the temporal and the spiritual power being vested in the same man. In Israel the two offices were kept rigorously separate; and when, on one occasion, a king passed the sacred barrier, and, snatching up a censer, strode into the inner court, he was at once followed by the remonstrances of the priestly band, whilst the white brand of leprosy wrote his doom upon his brow; "and he himself hastened to go out, because the Lord had smitten him." But the simple monarch of whom we write, living before gathering abuses forbade the union, combined in his person the royal scepter and the sacerdotal censer. And herein he foreshadowed the Christ.
Jesus is King and Priest. He is King because he is a priest. He is highly exalted, demanding homage from every knee, and confession from every lip, because he became obedient to the death of the cross. He bases his royal claims, not on hereditary descent, though the blood of David flowed in his veins; not on conquest or superior force; not on the legislation that underpins the kingdom of heaven among men: but on this, that he redeemed us to God by his blood. He is the King of glory, because he is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. The cross was the stepping-stone to his throne.
And he cannot fulfill his office as Priest unless he be first recognized as King. Many fail to derive all the blessing offered to men through the Priesthood of Christ, because they are not willing to admit his claims as King. They do not reverence and obey him. They do not open the whole of the inner realm to his scepter. They endeavor to serve two masters; and to stand well with empires as different as light and darkness, heaven and hell, God and Satan. There must be consecration before there can be perfect faith; coronation before deliverance; the King before the Priest.
The order is invariable first King of Righteousness, and after that also King of Peace (ver. 2). " Peace, give us peace!" is the importunate demand of men; peace at any price; by all means peace. But God, in the deep waters, lays the foundation of righteousness; "and the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever." It is of no use to heal the wound slightly, saying, "Peace, peace," when there is none. Infinitely better is it to probe to the bottom, and to build up from a sound and healthy foundation to the surface of the flesh. And the King of Peace will never enter your soul until you have first acknowledged him as King of Righteousness, submitting yourself to his righteous claims, and renouncing the righteousness which is of the law for that which is by faith.
It is lamentable to find how few Christians, comparatively, are realizing the full meaning or power of Christianity. Joyless, fruitless, powerless, they are a stumbling block to the world, and a mockery to devils. And is not the reason here? They are not right. They are harboring traitors and aliens in their souls. They constantly condemn themselves in things that they allow. No doubt they excuse themselves, and invent special reasons to palliate their faults, so that what would be inadmissible with others is pardonable in them. What special pleading! What ingenious arguments! What gymnastic feats are theirs! But all in vain. Let any such who read these lines learn that it is peremptory to make Christ King, and King of Righteousness, before ever they can appreciate the peace which accrues from his Priesthood on our behalf.
CHRIST'S PRIESTHOOD WAS NOT INHERITED (ver. 3). This also comes out clearly in the history of the priest-king of Salem. The Levitical priest had carefully to trace his connection with Aaron, and hence the elaborate genealogies of which some parts of the Bible are full. The priests, at the time of the return from Babylon, who could not prove their pedigree, were suspended until a priest arose with Urim and Thummim. But Melchizedek's priesthood had evidently nothing to do with his descent. He was independent of priestly pedigree. Of course it is not necessary to infer that he really had no human parentage and that he knew neither birth nor death. This is neither stated nor assumed. The argument is simply built on the omission of any reference to these events in ordinary human life; and aims to prove that, therefore, this old-world priesthood was quite independent of those conditions which were of prime importance in the Levitical dispensation. It was of an entirely different order from that which officiated in the Jewish Temple; and was, therefore, so capable to represent Christ's.
As God, our Lord had no mother. As man, no father. He did not Spring from a family of priests; for it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah, of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning the priesthood. What was allegorically true of Melchizedek was literally true of Jesus; who has had neither beginning of days nor end of life. His Priesthood, therefore, is utterly unique. He stands amongst men unrivaled. There have been none like him before nor since. His functions derived from none, shared by none, transmitted to none. Made what he was from all eternity by the foreknowledge and counsel of God.
There never was a beginning to the priestliness of our Saviour's heart. There is no date in heaven's calendar for the uprising within him of mercy and pity, and of the intention to stand as the Advocate and Intercessor for our race. Before the mountains were brought forth, or the heavens and earth were made, there was already in his thoughts the germ of that marvelous drama which is slowly unfolding before the gaze of the universe. He was Priest, as well as the Lamb slain, from before the foundation of the world. Love is eternal. Sacrifice is one of the root principles of the being of God. Priesthood is part of the texture of the nature of the Second Person in the adorable Trinity. There need be no fear, therefore, that he will ever desert his office; or lay it aside for some other purpose; or cease to have compassion on the ignorant and erring, the tempted and fallen.
CHRIST'S PRIESTHOOD IS CONTINUAL (ver. 3). The priests of Aaron's line were not suffered to continue by reason of death. But of him "it is witnessed that he liveth" (ver. 8). Hallelujah! a Priest has arisen "after the power of an endless life" (ver. 16). "The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a Priest forever" (ver. 21). "Because he abideth forever, his Priesthood is unchangeable" (ver. 24). "He ever liveth to make intercession" (ver. 25). "Consecrated forevermore" (ver. 28). What explicit and abundant testimony! Our High-Priest shall never ascend Mount Hor to be stripped of his robes of office and die. The secrets confided to him need never be told again to his successor. The tender love which links him and us shall never be snapped or cut in death. No one else will ever be called in to take his place in the superintendence of our souls.
This teaching rebukes two errors-(1) The error of those who teach sinlessness in the flesh. It is impossible to exaggerate the mischief which is being wrought just now by some who take advantage of the universal yearning for a higher experience, and are holding out to credulous souls the prospect of reaching a position in which they will no longer need to confess sin, no longer require perpetual cleansing in the blood of Christ, no longer be sensible of their sinnership.
They who speak thus confound sin and sins. They apply the term infirmity to acts and dispositions which the Word of God calls by blacker, darker names. This teaching lowers a man's standard of sin to suit the erroneous doctrine which he has imbibed. It is contrary to the distinct teaching of Scripture that the flesh in the believer may yet lust for the upper hand. It is in Opposition to all deeper experience of the Christian life, which goes to show that, even when we know nothing against ourselves, yet are we not hereby justified; because there may be many evils of which, for want of clearer light, we are completely ignorant, but which stand out patent enough to the eye of him who judges us, the Lord who searches the heart and reins.
The error of those who teach the perplexity if sacrificing priesthood. Of course all believers are priests, in the sense of offering the sacrifice of praise and prayer, the offerings of self-denying love. But there are many among us who persist in affirming that they are called, in addition, constantly to offer the perpetual sacrifice of Calvary, in the elements of the Lord's Supper. Amid the ceremonial of the mass, as offered in too many of our English churches by professed Protestants, claiming to be priests, it is hard to see any trace of the simple institution of the Lord's Supper. And it makes one tingle with righteous indignation to see the way in which these blind leaders of the blind are deceiving the multitudes to the ruin of their soul Sometimes one longs for the withering sarcasm of an Erasmus, the sturdy common sense of a Latimer, the vehemence of a Knox, to show up the unscriptural pretensions of these men, tricked out in the gaudy finery of pagan costumes, and going through mummeries which would provoke to laughter, if the whole system were not so inexpressibly sad. "How long, Lord, how long!"
But, after all, the true way to meet these errors is to insist upon our Lord's continual and unchangeable intercession and priesthood. Surely if he lives and continues his work, it is a piece of impertinent and arrogant folly to intrude upon his functions. We must revert to the earlier methods of Scriptural interpretation and exposition before ever we shall be able to forearm our young people against the monstrous errors of our times, or win back those who have been so disastrously led astray.
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