Christ's Present Ministry - Part I
by James C. Trench
THE present ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, at God's right hand, is a great and most blessed reality, and it is a subject which we only begin properly to apprehend and appreciate after our souls have been brought into rest and peace in the presence of God----all our sins having been blotted out, judgrnent past, ourselves justified, and eternal life and salvation grasped as our present possession, by faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is all-important for us to understand that Christ is not engaged in any service now for those who are unsaved or unconverted. "I pray not for the world." (John xvii. 9.) Neither is He continuing or completing in heaven, the work He did on the cross. Either of these thoughts would be dishonouring to God, and a slur upon the work of redemption so gloriously completed by Jesus before He passed hence to God's right hand.
The Lord Jesus can do no more for a lost sinner as such than He has already done on Calvary. He" died for the ungodly" (Rom. v. 6), and that death has atoned to God for sin. God is satisfied with it, yea, glorified by it, and the sinner's salvation depends upon his having faith in God's acceptance of that death as a full satisfaction for all his sins. The sinner who believes in the Lord Jesus is saved, he has eternal Iife, has ''no more conscience of sins," and shall never come into judgment; is "accepted in the Beloved," a child of God, and can never be separated from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now, mark, this is all the result of the work; that our Saviour accomplished when down here. It was finished here, and He never returned to glory until He had absolutely completed the work which sets the believer in the presence of God'' perfected for ever," "as pertaining to the conscience." (Heb. ix. 9; x. 14) God raised Him from the dead because all was finished to God's everlasting glory.
Meeting a person one day, in the course of our conversation, I expressed the hope that she was saved. "Oh," she replied, "I cannot say that; but trust the Lord will do something for me." ''You make a terrible mistake, madam; the Lord will do nothing for you." She appeared shocked. "No," I continued, "He has done all that divine wisdom, power, and love combined could do; He has died for you, borne the judgment of sin, glorified God in doing it, and He is now at God's right hand. If He were to do any more to atone for your sins, it would prove His work down here had been left unfinished."
But if all this be so, what is the character of Christ's present service on high? For whom, and with what objects, is it exercised? Let us examine the word of God, and we shall ascertain.
The present rninistry of the Lord Jesus divides itself into two great branches, entirely distinct one from the other. One of these is His Priesthood, the other (for the want of a better word) we must call Advocacy, or Feet-washing. The first is preventive, the last is restorative. In other words, His Priesthood is exercised to sustain me in my path of faith down here, and to prevent my giving way to sin amidst all the weakness, temptation, and opposition I have to encounter on my way through the wilderness to the Father's house. His other service---- that is, His Advocacy, or Feet-washing----is exercised for me when I have been heedless, careless, or sinning, to restore me to the enjoyment of God's holy presence.
It helps us, in distinguishing between the two, to observe that Priesthood is to be found only in Hebrews, and Advocacy is to be found only in the gospel of John, and his first epistle, though there are allusions to both elsewhere.
What power there is for our souls in knowing that there is a living Christ up there in heaven for us now----the Man whose loving heart unfolded itself to us in all its depth on Calvary, occupied actively for us every moment, in service that He will never lay down until He has us with Him and like Him in the Father's house! Then "we shall no longer need a priest, for the condition of weakness will have ended; nor will our feet require washing in a scene where defilement is unknown. His service then will assume another character; for, marvellous to say, He will gird Himself once again, and make us to sit down to meat, and come forth and serve us. (Luke xii. 37)
If it were not for this present active ministry of the Lord Jesus for us in heaven, we could not get along consistently for a single hour, and I feel that it has not as prominent a place in our hearts as it ought to have.
Now let us consider His Priesthood in some of its bearings. First, let us observe that His priestly work began only when He ascended up to heaven after completing the work of redemption. By that work, He has rendered us as fit for the presence of God as He is Himself, and as Priest, He now acts to maintain us in the enjoyment of that position. "If He were on earth, He should not be a priest." (Heb. viii. 4)
And yet it was on earth He qualified Himself, so to speak, for this blessed ministry. The eternal God has taken upon Himself humanity, that He might as Man become acquainted down here with all the sufferings and infirmities (or weaknesses) necessarily attendant upon a human condition, in order that, having done so, He might from His place of power on the throne of God, be able to succour His beloved people in perfect human sympathy and love divine, and furnish them with all the grace and strength needed to sustain them in the place He has left.
"In that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted." (Heb. ii. 18) "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, sin apart. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.'' (Heb. iv. 14-16)
And what a character and value this gives to the life-sufferings of the Lord Jesus! It was on the cross, when forsaken of God, that He rnade atonement for sin, and only there. His life-sufferings had no part in that wondrous work. But how needed they were to qualify Him for the service in which He is now engaged, we have seen from the scriptures quoted from Heb. ii. and iv.; "Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto Him who was able to save Him out of death, and was heard in that He feared; though He were a SON, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered." (Heb. v. 7)
But again, His death, and the marvellous work accomplished by it, was necessary as a basis for His Priesthood. "This man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down on the right hand of God . . . for by one offering, He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified," and "we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (Heb. x. 10, 12, 14)
Before the Lord Jesus could assume this service for us, it was necessary that the work of atonement should be absolutely complete. In the exercise of His Priesthood, He has not to do with sin or sins at all.
In the epistle to the Hebrews, sin is looked at as so completely removed from the believer that he is fit for the holiest of all, and there is no more sacrifice for sin. If a believer sins, he will find in other parts of the New Testament how his God and Father has provided for his restoration; but not in Hebrews, for Christ's Priesthood has nothing to do with sin.
Now let us examine a little more in detail what it is that the Lord Jesus does for us as Priest. In chap. iv. 15, already quoted, we read, He is touched with the feeling of our infirn1ities" (or weaknesses, not our sins), and "was in all points tempted like as we are----sin apart," or "sin excepted;" and in chapter ii. 18, "In that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted."
There are two words here used, namely, the word "tempted" and the word "infirmities," the bearing of which it is all-important to grasp. "Temptation" is used in two senses in the New Testament----as to "sin" and as to ''trial." Now the Lord Jesus was not tempted by sin; "He was in all points tempted like as we are----without sin" (that is, sin apart, or sin excepted).
Satan tempted Him we know, but he "found nothing " in Him; there was no evil nature in Him as there is in us to act upon. He was in all points tempted like as we are with the one exception of sin. James says, "Count it all JOY when ye fall into divers temptations." Clearly he does not mean "sins." Again the Lord teaches His disciples to pray to the Father, "Lead us not into temptation." But God would not lead His people into temptation in the sense of temptation from sin. (James i. 13) The word here again means trial or testing.
Then as to the other word "infirmities," we read the Lord Jesus can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Does this mean "our sins"? Certainly not. Jesus was not touched with the feeling of our sins, nor do we want sympathy from Him for our sins. God's wrath was poured out upon His blessed head for our sins, because He could have no sympathy with us in them. Some people are inclined to regard as weakness or infirmity, and to look for the Lord's sympathy in it, what ought plainly to be judged as sin. For instance, a bad temper. Is that an infirmity? It is sin, and Christ endured the woes of Calvary for it. The Lord Jesus must not be looked to for sympathy in this sin any more than in other forms of it.
In all our battlings against sin, and the exercises which the new man passes through in consequence, we have His fullest sympathy. When sin was presented to the Son of man down here, it caused Him the keenest spiritual suffering. In our case, when tempted with sin, how often we yield and find pleasure instead of horror at the barest thought of it. But if we are walking in communion with God, and something sinful is encountered, the new man suffers, and shrinks back from the danger, and there is safety. "Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind: for he that hath sufferecl in the flesh hath ceased from sin. (1 Peter iv. 1) "In that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted." (Heb. ii. 18)
To return to the subject of "infirmities." The Lord Jesus took part in human weaknesses or infirmitics (Matt. viii. 17; 2 Cor. xiii. 4), and He can therefore be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Now what are they?
Paul says, "I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Cor. xii. 10) .Again he says, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities; that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (Chap. xii. 9.)
Now it would be wickedness to "take pleasure" or "glory'' in "sins;" but a saint is enabled to "take pleasure" and "glory" in "infirmiities.'' The Lord Jesus took part in them in wondrous grace to us, and His sympathies and succour support us.
What then is infirmity in this sense? Infirmity is that weakness which naturally and of necessity attaches itself to a human condition as such, whether it be innocent humanity, as Adam's before He fell; fallen humanity, as ours; or holy humanity (Luke i. 35), such as our blessed Lord's. For example, the Lord was hungry (Matt. iv. 2; xxi. 18); He was thirsty (John iv. 7); He was wearied (chap. iv. 6); He knew what reproach was (Ps. lxix. 23), and what it was to be tempted and betrayed.
Now it is no sin to be hungry or thirsty or weary! These are infirmities inseparable from a human condition under possible circumstances, and rendering such a condition a dependent one, so fully so, that a perfect human condition is that of perfect dependence and obedience.
Can we not be hungry, thirsty, weary? Do we not know what reproach, distress, and persecution are in greater or less measure? Well, He felt these things, as none but He could, that He might lend to us the power of His wondrous sympathy. See Him at the grave of Lazarus, feeling with such perfect tenderness and depth, the loss those two dear women had sustained. How He groaned in His spirit, and was troubled, as He witnessed the havoc and desolation sin and death had brought in; and those human tears expressed what words could do but imperfectly ----"Jesus wept."
Yes, beloved, tried, and burdened one, He knows every sorrow, every pressure of thy heart; He has drunk deeply of every cup of human woe; He knows every turn of the road, having trodden the sands of our wilderness journey before us, and from His present place of glory and exaltation, He ministers to us all the grace we need.
But although these infirmities that He shared with us down here are not sins they may lead to sin in us. Hunger has often led to theft; thirst has led millions to destruction. When weary, at just the moment we like to be at our ease, then is Satan's opportunity. How often has sleep resulted in a fall (Judges xvi. 19, 20; Matt. xxvi. 36-45, 56); but never so with Him. Reproach and persecution, testing, trial, and pressure of whatever kind, are very apt to drive us into unfaithfulness and failure; for example, Peter----and this is where the Priesthood of the Lord Jesus intervenes by His intercession for us on high, anticipating and sheltering us from the danger.
"This Man . . . hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore He is able also to save to the uttermost those who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever "liveth to make intercession for them." (Heb. vii. 24, 25) See also Rom. viii. 34: ''Who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us."
And since "it is of necessity that this Man have somewhat also to offer," therefore "through the eternal Spirit" He "offered Himself without spot to God;" but not "that He should offer Himself often . . . for then must He often have suffered . . . but now once in the end of the world, hath He appeared, to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself," and "after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down" (or continuously, in contrast to the priests who stood daily ministering) "on the right hand of God . . . for by one offering He hath perfected forever, (or continuously) "them that are sanctified." (Chap. viii. 3; ix. 14, 25, 26; x. 12, 14)
The Lord Jesus has offered Himself once to God as a sacrifice for sin, and "by His own blood, He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" (chap. ix. 12), and the value of that one sacrifice is ever before God. On the ground of it, Jesus intercedes with God for us, and the result is, a constant supply of grace kept up to meet our every need.
And this is the double way in which we derive comfort and blessing from our great High Priest. His sympathy as the result of His humiliation down here on the one hand, and His intercession in His place of exaltation on the other, leading us to "come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace for seasonable help." (Chap. iv. 16) With God, He intercedes to us, He ministers His sympathy.
How simply the difference between Priesthood and Advocacy, or Feet-washing, is illustrated by the case of Peter. (Luke xxii. 31-33) The Lord, foreseeing His poor disciple's danger, warns him----"Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat, but I have PRAYED for thee, that thy faith fail not, and when thou art converted" (or restored; lit.," hast returned back''}, "strengthen thy brethren."
Here was the Lord interceding for Peter before he had failed----just as He now prays for us, knowing the constant danger to which we are exposed. But Peter does not mind the warning, "Lord," he says, apparently indignantly, "I am ready to go with thee, both into prison and to death." Just after the Lord says, "Pray that ye enter not into ternptation;" but before many moments have elapsed, Peter is sleeping instead of watching and praying. We know the rest; deeper and deeper he fell, till at last, he denied his Lord with oaths and curses.
But now mark the Lord's action; too late now for His intercession. Sin had now to be dealt with. "And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said unto him, "Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice."
The Word entered his conscience----this is the application of the water to the feet (John xiii.) and the bitter tears told how well it was doing its work. After the resurrection, the Lord continues the work of restoration. Thrice Peter denied Him, and thrice must the searching question be put," Lovest thou me?" And when the root of self-confidence is reached, and Peter is brought to confide in the Lord----the One he had sinned against----the Lord shows His confidence in him again by those cheering words, "Feed my sheep;" "Feed my lambs;" "Follow thou me."
Thus does this illustration help us to understand how that as Priest, He intercedes for us, to anticipate or prevent failure; and as Advocate, He applies the water of the Word (Eph. v. 26) to the conscience, when we have sinned, to restore us to communion with the Father and the Son.
There is another aspect of His priesthood presented to us in Hebrews x. and xiii. We read, "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus . . . and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near," &c.
We are exhorted to enter the holiest of all by the blood of Jesus, and because our High Priest is there. He presents our worship and praise to God. (Chap. xiii. 15) "By Him therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually; that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name." Here we have the Lord Jesus in another character, namely, as the glorious medium through whom our worship and praise goes up to God, with all His own fragrance and sweetness added thereto.
Some have difficulty about reconciling this branch of Christ's priestly service with the nearness of our place as children with the Father, appearing, as it does, to imply a distance inconsistent with that relationship. To such, it will be helpful to note that we do not want a priest as children with our Father, and Scripture never puts priesthood in such a connection. It is as worshippers with God in the holiest that we "offer up spiritual sacrifices, [made] acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (1 Peter ii. 5.) The thought will occur to many; In what way is Aaron's priesthood a type of the Lord Jesus Christ?
The purpose of priesthood is to maintain a people in relationship with God; and this is true in principle of both Aaron's priesthood and that glorious one to which it pointed forward. In order to this, Aaron's priesthood had, however, to do with sins, and with the offering of sacrifices for the cleansing of the people ceremonially from defilement. This is not so in the case of our great High Priest, because by one offering, He made infinite satisfaction to God, and put all our sins absolutely away forever; and since there are no sins upon any of God's children, no further sacrifice is needed.
In Aaron's day no one was "once purged," no one could speak of having "no more conscience of sins," all were alike without a purged conscience, and there was "a remembrance again made of sins every year.'' (Heb. x. 3) As to us, our sins and iniquities He will remernber no more; and "where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin." So that Christ is not now offering for our sins. There is no necessity for Him to do so; for the believer's sins are gone out of God's sight and memory for ever.
In this, as in many other details, Christ's Priesthood has to be contrasted rather than compared with Aaron's; necessarily it must be so where the reality so far surpasses the shadow. As has already been said, however, the principle remains true in both cases; priesthood being an institution necessary to maintain God's people in relationship with Himself, and giving access to Him. As we know, there was no real access to God in Aaron's day, because there was not the absolute putting away of sin, and this again because there was no sacrifice of sufficient value to satisfy the claims of infinite holiness. The Aaronic priesthood fades away before the transcending glory and perfection of that of the Lord Jesus Christ, made an High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
In the coming day ot glory, when He shall reign for a thousand years, He will come forth in the Melchizedekian character of priesthood, blessing Israel and the nations. At present, the character of His priesthood is Aaronic, although He is a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
In conclusion, if it be asked what provision has been made for the sins of the believer----that is, those committed after he is saved----the answer is, this has to do with the other branch of Christ's present ministry; namely, that of Advocacy, a subject which I propose to consider in a separate paper, intended as a companion to this. J. C. Trench