SIR ROBERT ANDERSON
Secret Service Theologian
TYPES IN HEBREWS
A GREAT PRIEST
"HAVING a Great Priest over the house of God."1 Upon this
depends our right of access to the divine presence. For His priesthood is a
necessity, not only because of human infirmity and need, but because of the
holiness and majesty of God. And yet, owing to our inveterate habit of
regarding redemption from our own standpoint, we forget this highest aspect of
In the miracles of Scripture within the sphere of the natural, there is nothing so seemingly incredible as that God should allow a sinner to come into His presence. Yet such is the blindness of unspiritual men, that they carp at the miracles, while treating these amazing truths of grace as commonplaces of Evangelical doctrine. A comparison between our Christian hymn-books and the old Hebrew Psalms will indicate how much lower is our conception of God, than that of the spiritual Israelite of a bygone age.
And we forget that man is not the only created being in the universe. Of the Gospel of our salvation it is written, "which things angels desire to look into." No good man would refuse to meet a repentant criminal or magdalen. But none save a fanatic or a fool would bring such into his home, and give them a place of special nearness and honour in his family and household. And yet this would be but a paltry illustration of what the grace of God has done for sinful men. "While the first tabernacle was yet standing," not even the holiest of the sons of the old covenant, not even the divinely appointed priests, were allowed to enter His holy presence. But under the new covenant the worst of men may receive not only pardon and peace in Christ, but a right of access to God. And this would be impossible were it not for the presence of Christ at the right hand of the Majesty on high: it might well strain the allegiance of the heavenly host, and raise doubts respecting the righteousness and holiness of God. But all this is well-nigh forgotten, because of our unworthy appreciation of what is due to God, and our false estimate of what is due to man. That the Son of God - He who was with God, and was God, the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, He who upholds all things by the word of His power - came down to earth to take part of flesh and blood, and here to live a life of poverty and suffering and reproach, "despised and rejected of men," and to die a death of infamy as a common malefactor; and that now, with "all power in heaven and on earth," He is at the right hand of God, to make atonement and intercession for us, and to sympathize and succour in all the needs and trials of our chequered life - if men were not so superstitious and stupid in the religious sphere, this would divide the world into two hostile camps, and every one would become either a devout worshipper or an open infidel. For in all the fables of the false religions of the world there is nothing so utterly incredible as this.
But breaking away from this train of thought, let us try to realize in some little measure what His Priesthood means for those who are His own. If we are saved from wrath by what He has done for us, and what He is to us, our access to the divine presence depends on what He is to God for us. But we do well here to shun all fanciful thoughts and phrases, and to keep closely to what is revealed in Scripture. Phrases in common use, as, for example, that He "pleads His blood" before the throne, are greatly to be deprecated. In coming into the world to accomplish the work of redemption, He was doing the will of God; and in His High priestly work for us, He is doing the will of God in glory now. His present work of atonement and intercession are not needed to appease: an alienated Diety, nor to overcome divine unwillingness to bless a sinner. But He thus makes it possible for God to bless us consistently with all that He is, and all that He has declared Himself to be. And this, moreover, is a public fact in heaven. For our redemption is no "back-stairs" business. Our "drawing near" to the divine presence is in open view of all the heavenly host;2 and the "principalities and powers in heavenly places" will find in it a revelation of "the manifold wisdom of God." (Ephesians 3:10)
Had the Lord not taken part of flesh and blood, the death to which we owe our redemption would have been impossible. But though the sufferings of His sojourn upon earth may not have been essential to His redeeming work, it is to that life we owe it that as our High-priest He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. And this, moreover, even in respect of the common troubles and privations of the humblest lot.
Our pity is stirred at times by hearing of destitute and homeless paupers who spend their nights in the streets of our great cities. If a true and trusting child of God could be found in such a company - and I say "if" advisedly, for after a long and varied experience I would say with David, "I have not seen the righteous forsaken" - what peace might guard the heart of such an one in remembering that the Lord Himself knew what it meant to be hungry! And homeless, too; for we recall His words, "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head." And in dark days of persecution, before the Reformation stamped out the fires of Smithfield, the martyrs could look away from earth to heaven, rejoicing in the remembrance that their Lord and Saviour "was made perfect through suffering," and "endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself."
But the trials which engross the thoughts of most of us are of a baser kind. Can we look for divine sympathy as we resist temptations due to evil lusts and passions? The Scripture is definite that He "was in all points tempted like as we are." But the Commentaries tell us that the added words, "yet without sin," do not mean that He never fell, but that "in all His temptations, whether as to their origin, their process, or their results, sin had nothing in Him." And this seems to separate Him from us by a barrier which is impassable. But a right appreciation of the essential character of sin will break that barrier down, and teach us to "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
"Sin is the transgression of the law." This perversion of the words of Scripture robs us of important truth. Law-breaking is merely one phase of sin. In its essence "Sin is lawlessness"3 - the assertion of our own will against the will of God. And further, we construe the word "tempt" in its sinister and secondary acceptation as inciting to what is morally evil. It means first and chiefly to prove, or try, or test. And it is in this sense that the Greek term is used in the majority of its occurrences in the New Testament. In this sense alone it is that men are said to be tempted of God. And thus it was that Christ was "tempted." There is no sin in satisfying a natural craving for food when we are hungry, and when food is within our reach. And yet He bore the pangs of hunger, although by a touch He could make food for a multitude of starving men,. and by a word He might have changed the stones to bread. But he was treading the: path of absolute dependence upon His Father; and no pangs of hunger or of thirst, no sense of homelessness, could make Him swerve from that lonely and tragic path. And if Christians ever give a thought to the sufferings of His life on earth, it is for the most part only in relation to such privations and needs as these. And yet not even the most exquisitely sensitive of mortals can realize what the sufferings of that life must have been to Him. The immorality, the baseness, the meanness, the very vulgarities of men, "the contradiction of sinners" -
"every day they wrest my words" (Psalm 56:5)
who can estimate what all this was to Him. What a long drawn-out martyrdom must that life have been!
And what may we dare to say about Gethsemane? When the Lord was "tempted of the Devil" He spurned the thought of reaching the glory save by the path which led to death. And the suggestion is impious that He faltered at the last. But Scripture warrants our believing that while the horrors and agonies of Cavalry give proof of the limitlessness of divine love to man, they could add nothing to either the preciousness or the efficacy of the blood of our redemption. And may not this throw light upon the mystery of His prayer in the garden? Sure it is that the cup which, He pleaded, might pass from Him was not the death He had come to die. But might He not be spared the attendant horrors, as foretold in the Psalms, and detailed in the Gospel narratives?
One element in His sufferings, for example, which we pass almost unnoticed, may have been to Him more cruel even than physical pain. A pure and delicate woman can possibly appreciate in some measure what an ordeal it must have been to hang in nakedness upon the Cross, a public spectacle to that "great company of people, and of women," that had followed Him to Golgotha. "And sitting down they watched Him there," the Gospel narrative records a cruelly literal fulfillment of His words by the Holy Spirit in the twenty-second Psalm, "They look and stare upon Me!"4
If, as He had said in Gethsemane, a prayer would have brought legions of angels to His help, we may be sure that He might have sought immunity from all these shameful indignities and cruelties. For His sufferings were not endured in obedience to an iron decree of fate, but in submission to His Fathers will. Therefore it was - therefore, and not in the spirit of a stoic - that He drank that cup of suffering to the dregs. He might, as I venture reverently to suggest, have claimed relief. But we recall His words in Gethsemane, "How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled!" and His words after the resurrection, "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things?" and again, "That all things must be fulfilled that were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning Me." And yet, we doubt and cavil at the word that He was in all things tempted like as we are! The trial surely was in His case all the fiercer just because it was not an incitement to sin in the sense of moral evil, but merely to a turning aside from the path of dependent obedience.
The doubt and the cavil are based upon the fact that we are sinful and He was sinless; for on this ground it is that we question whether He can understand our struggles. This is as unintelligent as it is dishonouring to Him. Is it only the reclaimed drunkard who can help one who is a slave to drink? Can no woman help a magdalen unless she herself has fallen? The struggles of pure and holy souls, though waged in a different sphere, may be keener far than any which coarser natures ever know. And if this be true even on the plane of our fallen humanity, it is far more true of Him. If we yield to sin and have recourse to evil practices, we need not look to Him for sympathy, though a penitent confession will bring pardon full and free through His atoning work. But an incitement or tendency to evil if resisted and kept down is reckoned an "infirmity," and we can look with confidence to One who can be "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" - to One who in doing the will of God has suffered as we have never suffered, as we, with our fallen nature, are incapable of suffering. Forgetting this we miss the significance of chapter 12, "Ye have not yet resisted unto blood." It is still the imagery of the arena; but instead of the race, as in the opening verses of the chapter, it is now the combat. That brutal "prize-fight" which lately agitated all America was preceded by a series of "sparring matches" between noted pugilists. Our "striving against sin" is compared with combats such as theirs, in which no blood was drawn. Hence the exhortation which immediately precedes the above-quoted words: "Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds." Every day of His earthly life two paths lay open to His choice. The one the path of suffering in doing His Fathers will; the other a path of peace and ease, yet just as free from every element of what we call sin. And every day He made choice of the martyr path; for Gethsemane was but an intenser and more terrible phase of the struggle of His daily life. Yes, yes! "He was in all points tried as we are, without sin." And He who never faltered and never failed "is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them."
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