Revelation i. 5, 6.
Who are the Priests?
"Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." Rev. i. 5, 6.
THUS doth the apostle John preface the word of exhortation, warning, and prophecy, which his and our Lord commissioned him to write to us his fellow-servants, gathered to the name of Jesus out of this evil world, though for the present sojourning in it; and represented by the seven assemblies in the seven cities of Asia Minor as addressed by him in the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. The grand subject of this Book being, according to its title, the future and approaching revelation of Jesus Christ from heaven with the angels of His power to assume the everlasting dominion assigned to Him in heaven and earth; John might well open it with this ascription, of glory and dominion to Him, who having loved us, hath not only washed us from our sins in His own blood, but associated us with Himself in that royal priesthood wherewith God the Father had anointed Him, "Not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life;" for he testifieth, "Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec."
I would, therefore, that we note well—First, How the apostle associates us all whom he addresses with himself in the blessings that he so thankfully and adoringly declares we have received at the heart and hands of our dear Lord Jesus Christ; secondly, What is the peculiar standing, and what the blessing into which His love and justifying blood have so wonderfully brought us with present privileges and services?
First then:—Nothing can be clearer than this, that the ministration of the gospel or glad tidings of Christ was the ministration of Christ Himself as the gift of God to man for righteousness and spiritual life; and that the apostles first received Him for themselves, and then called their fellow-sinners to partake with them of the same perfect salvation. They were themselves first reconciled to God, and then had committed to them the ministration of the same reconciliation to others.
All the apostles agree in this declaration, that we are called into the fellowship or partnership of Christ, and heirs together of the coming glory. Peter writes to those, who had like precious faith with himself and others in the righteousness of our God and Saviour. Jude speaks of the common salvation, and of the faith once delivered to the saints; exhorting us in the days of apostacy to build up ourselves in our most holy faith, keeping ourselves in the love of God. John writes, that seeing they, the apostles, had beheld with their eyes and handled with their hands, the Word of Life, who,—that is the eternal life,—was with the Father in the beginning but now became manifested to them; they declared Him to us, in order that we also might have fellowship with them, and truly their fellowship was with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ; and these things, he adds, write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
None of them arrogate to themselves any superior place or privilege. They invited, in the name of Christ, all poor sinners of the Jews, or Gentiles, to receive the blessings freely; to come and stand with them on the same foundation, receive the same anointings, walk in the same light, and enjoy the same hope with themselves. There is but one common salvation for all. The one blood of Christ cleanses from all sin. The one Christ, the Son of God, risen from the dead, justified all who believe. The one spirit of Christ quickened all together with Him.
The apostles were most faithful to their trust in this matter. They showed how, through the cross of Christ, they were able to reckon themselves dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God in Christ; though their peculiar temperment had been ambitious, and the question might sometimes be raised among them, "which of them should be greatest?" Yet, they carried out in their Christian life, the warnings of their Lord against the leaven of the Scribes and Pharisees, and obeyed the command, "Be not ye called Rabbi, for One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are Brethren;" and "let him who would be greatest, be the servant of all."
While faithfully carrying out their service to Christ and their fellow saints, they made themselves servants of all: "Not as Lords over God's heritage, but as examples to the flock:" "Not as having dominion over the faith of others, but as helpers of their joy." They were members in the body for the general good of their fellow-members; all equally precious to Christ the Head.
They never arrogated to themselves any peculiar privileges, such as baptizing, or consecrating bread and wine, or as if their presence was necessary to the worship of assembled brethren and the administration of ordinances. Neither did they arrogate to themselves the distribution of spiritual gifts; for, though they appointed some to minister in the churches, they taught the brethren not to wait upon man for their powers of service, seeing that the Holy Ghost distributed such severally as He willed. They generally contented themselves with stating to the saints the gifts and the moral character that must be manifested in those whom they recognised as overseers or teachers of others. Peter writes, "as every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, as of the ability which God giveth, that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ." The Apostle Paul exhorts all as his brethren in the Lord, to present their bodies as living sacrifices; and shows that while all were one body, each had his several qualifications for service to God, to one another, and to the world without. As, therefore, there was no difference in our state as sinners, so now there is no difference in our calling and standing in Christ; for "as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name!" Yes! We are all one in Christ Jesus.
Let us now, secondly, consider what is that calling, that standing we have all received who are in Christ?
We are all sons of God as raised from the dead in Him, the first begotten of the dead, the first-born among His many brethren. We are all of one life. His Father is our Father, and as such, He calls us brethren. We are of the assembly of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven. We are the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb. In this we answer to the Priests and Levites, whom God chose in the place of His first-born from among the children of Israel. We are separated by the blood of Christ as His purchased ones, of whom He says, "they are Mine." We are the house of God in which He dwells by His Spirit, and where the Lord Jesus is as a Son over His own house. We are also Priests to minister in His holy things and offer up spiritual sacrifices. We all have access into the holiest, as being one with Christ. Justified by His blood, we have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Yea, our place is in the Sanctuary, the holy of holies! There "our life is hid with Christ in God." We "go in and out and find pasture." Yes! into this place of blessing, as sons of God, and priests in the true sanctuary, we are now brought, and there kept, until the Lord comes again.
Who then, are the worshippers in spirit and truth, whom the Father thus honours during the present dispensation? Those who, by union with Christ, are made sons, whom He brings to His glory. They are the royal priesthood, who will draw nigh to God in the sanctuary above. There is the mercy seat sprinkled with the blood of Christ. There is our worship-place. There we shall offer up our spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Having the privilege of entrance by the blood of Jesus, we draw near as true accepted worshippers in the holiest of all.
There, in union with Christ, we shall minister in holy things before God, whether it be at the golden altar of incense, or at the golden table of the shew bread, or before the seven-lamped golden candlestick. This, dear brethren, is our proper place and service in the sanctuary above as worshippers in our priestly service. What then, are we down here, in our priestly and Levite service, as God's first-born in the world? Surely it is our blessed service, to bear the holy things, and the sanctuary itself, in our persons, through the wilderness to its resting place; to bear before men the sanctuary, which is Christ, the holy One of God; to bear Him in all His personal excellency, His perfect work and character, both as He once suffered here, and as He is now glorified above in the presence of God for us, where He has entered with His own blood, having obtained for us eternal redemption.
Yes! this is our most blessed service before the world. As Kohathites, to bear in our persons the ark with the holy furniture of the sanctuary, also the brazen altar with its implements, emblem of our Lord's cross and humiliation, and obedience unto death. As Gershonites, to bear in our persons, His holy, heavenly character, represented by the curtains and hangings of the court and Sanctuary. As Merarites, to carry in our persons, the sanctuary itself, or God-tabernacling in flesh. This is the mystery which hath been hidden before in symbols and shadows, but the substance of which God has now made known by his apostles, namely, "Christ in you, the hope of glory!"
This is the dispensation of God, given to the apostle to make known unto us; and as long as the Lord is hidden from the world, it is given to us, who are His brethren by manifestation of the truth as it is in Jesus, to commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. Thus, while as sons and priests of God, we shall dwell in Christ by faith as ministers in the sanctuary above; we also as priests, bear Christ our Lord on the shoulders of our faith through this wilderness below. Is not this our calling in Christ Jesus? Moreover, dear brethren, if, as Christ-bearing priests, we come to the brink of Jordan, we may cry with the Psalmist, "What aileth thee, thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?" for, the moment our priestly feet are dipped in the brink of the waters, they are staid from their flowing, and we stand as Christ-bearers on firm, dry ground, in the midst of death, or the floods of divine judgment upon others. "Surely in the floods of great waters, they shall not come nigh unto him." But there is another important office for us as priests of God, connected also with our hope of glory.
Babylon must fall, the cities of the Gentiles also, in God's own time. The walls of Jericho fell down after they had been compassed about seven days. Compassed about by whom? By the priests bearing the ark of God and blowing with the jubilee trumpets;—the trumpets of Jubilee, heralding the coming day, when the sons and heirs of God must possess their inheritance, and Satan's dominion shall cease. Thus, in patient obedience, as the bearers of Christ, with the gospel trumpet at our mouths, we are unceasingly to sound forth the truth that, "the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our God and His Christ."
Babylon is doomed. Come out of her My people! Let the Rahabs hear the sound and shelter themselves in the grace of Christ. Then, when the last trump has sounded, and the shout of Christ and the archangel's voice have been heard, they shall "receive not of her plagues." Who then are the kings and priests unto God the Father? Even they whom Jesus loveth, and hath washed from their sins in His own blood. If this be the apostles' doctrine, this their fellowship, this our calling in Christ Jesus, Why have we not continued in it? If we had, would there have been occasion for all this strife and contention, whether a man is born again through faith in Christ, or by the sprinkling of water?
If the Church had been true to its heavenly calling, its heavenly priesthood, should we witness any perplexity of choice between the crown and its councilors, or the bishop whom that crown creates? Should we have contentions for the right of buying and selling pastorships and cures of souls? Could it be possible for any holding the Head, from whom alone the whole body of believers are nourished and built up in truth and love, to receive appointments as members of Christ's body, from the princes of this age, who crucified the Lord of glory, and whose wisdom must come to nought? Could we, as crucified with Christ to this world, consent to receive dignities and honours as Christian ministers, from the princes of that world, whose very knell our priestly trumpets should sound! It must be with us—God or Caesar; Christ or the world! The two can never be amalgamated any more than iron and clay.
O what a flood of evil has long since come by departing from the divine simplicity of the apostles' doctrine! It is the flood cast out of the mouth of the dragon. "An enemy hath done this." Oh! what evils have come from reviving an earthly priesthood in the flesh, partly Jewish and partly Pagan. Men setting up temples on earth, sanctuaries on earth of human structure and device, in order to blind the eyes of others and their own, and shut them out from the sanctuary above, which Jesus shed His blood to open for them!" “We have an altar in heaven whereof they have no right to eat, which serve" an earthly "tabernacle."
True Christianity is a heavenly, not an earthly calling. It is a heavenly priesthood composed of sons of God, begotten by God the Father, through the resurrection of Christ from the dead. "Therefore, the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not." While sojourning on earth as Christ-bearing witnesses in the world, we, in obedience to our Lord, submit ourselves "to the powers that be" in their proper places, giving honour to whom it is due, &c., but as God's sons and priests, we can never be lorded over by any earthly potentate, whether Pope or Caesar. We cannot put ourselves under any hierarchy on earth and be at the same time faithful to our own great Priest in heaven.
O, my brethren in Christ, why are we so tossed to and fro by the sleight of men, beguiled on the one hand by philosophy and vain deceit, and on the other, by carnal ordinances and rudiments of the world? If we were all holding the Head, we should all be nourished and knit together in love and increase with the increase of God. The testimony lately given to the destructive evil of the sad abuse of gospel ordinances, would not have aroused such indignation in the hearts of God's children, if they had been walking in the simplicity of Christ.
By the grace of God, we should have submitted to the correction, saying, though the words seem harsh, are they not true? Oh, Christian brethren! Let us go out from the tents of the sensual religionists, who have not the Spirit of Christ. "We are the circumcision which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." We have an unction from the Holy One, and by the anointing of the Spirit of Truth, we know all things. The intrusion of fleshly wisdom defileth the temple of God. Let that, therefore, remain in us which we have heard from the beginning, and then we also shall remain in the Son, and in the Father, and in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship!
Yes, beloved, we are now the Sons of God. We are the royal priesthood, and if any should enquire, "Who are the priests?" we reply, None but those, who like our great Priest, are called of God after the order of Melchisedec, in whom we claim also to be sons of God, priests of God, and unite our hearts and voices with the beloved apostle in singing, "Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father, to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
Receive this word, beloved brethren, for the truth's sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever.
“The Sword and the Trowel” 1865