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XVII. THE SUPERLATIVE GREATNESS OF CHRIST.
"Able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them."-HEBREWS vii. 25.
THIS chapter needs to be read under a deep sense of sin, to be properly understood and appreciated. It is the conscious sinner who needs the Priest. We can do very well with Christ as Teacher, Philanthropist, Ideal Man, until we see ourselves as we are in the sight of God; but when that vision is given to us, our hearts cry out with an exceeding great and bitter cry for the Priest, who can stand for us with God, and for God with us.
There is urgent need for a fresh consciousness and conviction of our sinnership, both amongst unbelievers and professing Christians. Light views of sin give slight views of the sacrifice of Calvary, of the need for propitiation, and of the dread future penalty on willful wrong-doing. Did men really understand what sin is, they would not talk so glibly of their complete deliverance from it; confounding as they do the few sins of which they are cognizant with the mass of evil that lies still in their nature, like the mud at the bottom of a pellucid lake, only needing to be stirred to show itself. And if men really felt their sins, there would be a unanimous rush to the precious Blood and to the only priest for absolution and pardon.
It is hardly likely that these poor words can affect the set of the current; yet, if it were possible to reach the great mass of the preachers of the present day, one would urge them to lay aside their literary essays, their arguments with evolutionists, their poetry and rhetoric, and to bring the trenchant teaching of God's Word to bear on human consciences and lives. Let them attack sin as sin. Let them deal with the sins of their congregations specifically, as the Boer marks his man for his bullet. Let them show what God thinks of the sins which we treat so lightly. And as soon as we get back to the old fashioned style of preaching, we shall see a revival of old fashioned conversions. It is of no use complaining, when we are ourselves to blame. Human nature is unaltered. The law of God is unchanged. The cry of the conscience is stifled, not silenced. Again shall we hear of multitudes pierced to the heart, and crying for mercy. And then the Priesthood of Christ, as described here, will acquire a new preciousness.
HE IS A GREAT HIGH-PRIEST (ver. 4). How great, appears from the episode here referred to. Flushed with victory, bringing with him all the captives and goods which Chedorlaomer had swept away from Sodom, the patriarch Abraham had nearly reached his own camp. But as he drew nigh to Salem, where peace and righteousness dwelt beneath the rule of Melchizedek, he was met by this saintly figure, bearing in his hands the sacred emblems of bread and wine: meet type of him who often accosts us on the road of life, when weary with conflict, or when entering into subtle temptation, and refreshes us with the bread of his flesh, and the wine of his blood. And Abraham knelt to receive a blessing at his hand, and gave him tithes of all (Gen. xiv. 19, 20).
Does not this prove the greatness of Melchizedek? The Levites and priests were indeed permitted to take tithes of their brethren; but this glorious priest feels no compunction to take tithes of one of another race. He rose above the narrow boundaries of race or blood, and was prepared to do his office with equal care for an alien as for his own. This unsectarian, cosmopolitan, large-hearted view of his obligations to man as man is a true mark of greatness. And in this he manifests a trait of the greatness of our dear Lord, whose Priesthood overleaps the limits which might be set by nationality or birth, and deals with man as man; with thee, reader, and me, if only we will come to him.
Besides this, since the greater must bless the less, it is obvious that Abraham, great and good though he was, the friend of God, and the recipient of the promises, must have felt that Melchizedek was his superior, or he would never have treated him with such marked respect (Heb. vii. 6, 7). Surely, then, this holy man was a fit representative of our blessed Lord, to whom all the noblest in heaven and earth bow the knee; confessing that he is Lord; and consecrating to him, not a tenth only, but the whole of what they have and are.
HE IS A GREATER HIGH-PRIEST THAN AARON OR HIS SONS. When Abraham knelt beneath that royal and priestly hand, he did not do so for himself alone, but as a representative man. First and head of his race, his descendants were identified with him in his deed. Levi, therefore, who receiveth tithes paid tithes in the patriarch; and, in doing so, forevermore took up the second place as inferior, and second best.
"Stop," cries an objector; "if you affirm this inferiority of the Jewish priesthood to that of Melchizedek, you are making an assertion so far-reaching in its results as to need some further corroboration. Are you quite sure that this is as you say?"
"Certainly," is the reply; "else, why should there be so emphatic an announcement made in David's Psalms of the coming of another Priest long after the Jewish priesthood had been in operation? 'If perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, what further need was there that another Priest should arise after the order of Melchizedek and not be called after the order of Aaron?'"
"But stay," again interposes the objector; "if you are going to supersede the Levitical priesthood, you are of necessity making a change in all that ceremonial law which rested on the priesthood as an arch upon its keystone. Are you prepared to sweep away a system so venerable, so religiously maintained, the bulwark of religion, the institution of God?"
"I am prepared for this," is the reply; "the previous commandments that relate to sacrifices and rites and ceremonies will have to go. They were temporary and imperfect. Types, not realities; molds, not the real vessels; shadows, not the substance. They made nothing perfect. Their office was to bring in a better hope; but, now that this is come, they may be annulled and laid aside."
It seems a light thing to us; but it was of the gravest import to those who were here addressed. To them the Jewish priesthood and ceremonial were more than a state religion; they were religion itself. Tradition, custom, ancestral veneration, personal admiration, and adherence, all these ties had to be rudely snapped, as they were compelled to admit the cogency of this inspired and irresistible argument. If Jesus were indeed the Priest spoken of by David in Psalm cx.- and of this there seemed no doubt because it was so often applied to him (Matt. xxii. 44; Acts ii. 34)- then there could be no doubt that his Priesthood was better than Aaron's; and that the whole system of which the Levitical priesthood was the essential characteristic must pass away before that system which gathers around the person and work of the Lord Jesus.
We must distinguish between the moral and the ceremonial law: the latter is transient, and was fulfilled in Jesus Christ; the former, of course, is of permanent and eternal force, written on the conscience of man and the government of the world.
We can only stay for a moment here to show how absurd it is for either the Roman or the Anglican priest to base his pretensions on the example of the Old Testament. To do so is to confess their inferiority to the only Priesthood which is recognized in the present age. They are in evil case. Press them for their warrant of existence. If they quote Rev. i. 6, then we all have an equal right to wear their dress and fulfill their office. If they quote Leviticus, then are they hopelessly undone; for that priesthood has been superseded. The time is coming when all his people will have to disavow connection with those men whose pretensions are baseless, or worse, delusive; and an unwarrantable intrusion into the sacred offices of Christ. Alas I poor souls, deluded and fleeced by them!
HE IS THE GREATEST OF HIGH-PRIESTS. Because he was made priest by the oath of God (vv. 20, 21). Ordinary priests had no such sanction to their appointment; but he by an oath. Jehovah sware, and will not change his mind. His appointment is final, absolute, immutable. It never can be superseded, as that of Aaron has been. Heaven and earth may pass away, but it will not pass away.
Because he continueth ever. His is the Priesthood in which throbs the power of an endless life (ver. 16). It is witnessed of him, that he liveth. "Behold," said he, "I am alive forevermore." What a contrast to all human priests, on whose graves this epitaph may ever be inscribed, "Not suffered to continue by reason of death." One by one they grow old and die: the eye, often filmed with tears, is closed; the heart stands still; the hands, often raised in absolution, crossed meekly on the breast, as if asking for pardon. But he ever liveth. And of this perpetual life there are two blessed results. On the one hand, he has an untransferable Priesthood (ver. 24); on the other hand, he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him (ver. 25). There is no limit to his salvation, no barrier beyond which he may not pass. Uttermost in time, and in character, and in desperation, you may be at one of the ends of the earth; yet you shall be lifted to the uttermost degree of glory. To the uttermost-from sins of thought as well as of word and deed; to the uttermost, in cleansing the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Because of his blameless character. Holy toward God; harmless toward man; undefiled in heart; separate from sinners in life. Not needing to offer up sacrifice for himself, as the priests did always before offering for the congregation; not requiring to make a daily or yearly repetition of that perfect sacrifice and oblation which was once made on the cross (vv. 26, 27).
Because of the dignity of his Person (ver. 28). The office of mediation is no longer intrusted to a man, or set of men, encompassed by infirmities. See! through the shining ranks of being there advances the Son, Light of Light, Fellow of Jehovah, Co-equal with God, One with Father and Spirit in the ever-blessed Trinity. He is solemnly consecrated to this task of reconciling and saving sinners. All heaven hears and ratifies the oath. And surely we may well ponder what must be our worth in the thought of God, and what our destiny, when our case is undertaken, amid such solemnities, by One so August, so glorious, so divine, as the High-Priest, who now awaits the appeal of the humblest penitent of the human race. "Such a High-Priest became us."
"To THE UTTERMOST." Eyes may light on these words, weary with weeping, of those who have been reduced well-nigh to despair through the greatness and virulence of their sins. Not only does the record of the past seem too black to be forgiven, but old habits are perpetually reasserting themselves; ridiculing the most steadfast resolutions, and smiting the inner life of the soul down to the ground. At such times we are disposed to envy the vegetable and animal creation, which are not capable of sin; or the myriads of sweet children who have been taken home to God before the time of conscious rebellion and war could rend their infant hearts. But the greatness of our sin is always less than the greatness of God's grace. Where the one abounds, the other much more abounds. If we go down to the bottoms of the mountains and touch the heart of the deep, deeper than all is the redeeming mercy of God. The love and grace and power of Jesus are more than our unutterable necessities. Only trust him, he is "able to save unto the uttermost"; and he is as willing as able.
There are many in these days filled with questionings about the clean heart, the extent to which we may be delivered from sin, and such like speculations. To these we say: Cease to think of cleansing, and consider the Cleanser; forbear to speculate on the deliverance, and deal with the Deliverer; be not so eager as to the nature of the salvation, but let the Saviour into your heart; and be sure that so long as he is in possession, he will exert so salutary an effect, that sin, however mighty, shall instantly lose its power over the tempest-driven soul that comes through him to God, the source of holiness.
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