PRIESTHOOD fills a very prominent place in the Bible, and it is shown to be essential in the worship of God. Indeed no son or daughter of Adam could approach unto God with acceptance only through a proper priestly offering for sin. The offering itself must be sinless and without blemish, a living sacrifice. It must be put to death, and its blood offered unto God as an atonement for the sins of the worshiper. In no other way could any sinful person obtain the forgiveness, mercy and favor of God. This was solemnly shown in the offering of Cain, the first-born of Adam and Eve. It was a bloodless offering, and it did not show either confession of sin or an atonement for sin, but rather it expressed meritorious works on his part. God therefore rejected Cain and his offering, because he had no faith in the atonement of another, but trusted in himself. For this he was angry with God, and slew his brother Abel. All he could have against Abel was, because he by faith in God offered in sacrifice for his sins the firstling of his flock, and God accepted him and his offering, because it represented in type his faith in the Lamb of God, which should take away sin. Doubtless Abel understood and believed the promise of God, that the Son of the woman, who should be bruised and put to death, should thus bruise the serpent's head, and put away sin. This is a wonderful faith in God. It was the faith of Enoch, of Noah, of Abraham, and of all the true worshipers of God. On the other hand, all who bring their own works as an offering to God, and claim his favor and blessing therefor, are trusting in themselves, but not by faith in the Lamb of God. Those are Cainites, and they hate God and persecute their brother Abel, for his faith and simple trust in God, and because his faith (not his works) is counted to him for righteousness.
Now this leads us to see the absolute necessity of a priesthood approved unto God, who shall make a spotless atonement for the sins of those who come unto God in his worship, a sacrifice acceptable unto him. For God is just and most holy; therefore none of his people, no, not Abraham nor Samuel, Isaiah nor Daniel, can come unto him in their sins, for the sword of justice would cut them down as cursed. Sin cannot dwell with holiness. So God will not receive nor bless any person, or his service, in unrighteousness. It would outrage his nature and stain his holy law to do so. Perfection only can please God and receive his blessing. This is so evidently true that it seems all would see it, and seeing it, would cease from their own works, and in very truth say, "Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling." So far from all thus coming, many talk of meritorious obedience of their own, and expect, like Cain, to receive in return the smiles and blessing of the most holy God. To all those the sentence of the holy Son of God is, "Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity." The word of truth says, "There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not." Therefore, there is not a man upon earth whom God will receive or bless for what he is, or for what he does. If he thus comes to God, he is rejected and must depart.
We are thus made to feel in very soul that, unless God has given us a perfect High Priest to bring us unto God in true holiness, we must forever perish. God himself has taught us this solemn truth, both in the Scriptures and by his Holy Spirit in our hearts. And so we found that, not in the letter only, but in awful reality, our sins separated between us and God.
Another truth is, that both the priest and the offering he makes must be ordained of God, and approved by him. For no man may thrust himself into this sacred office.
The sixteenth chapter of Numbers contains a fearful example of such an attempt, and a warning against it. Korah, Dathan and Abiram, with two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown, rose up before Moses in the camp of Israel, and gathered themselves against Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, "Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD? And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face: and he spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Even tomorrow the Lord will shew who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto him; even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him. This do: Take your censers, Korah, and all his company; and put fire therein, and put incense in them before the LORD tomorrow; and it shall be that the man whom the LORD doth choose, he shall be holy; ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi."
And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; which said, We will not come up." Then Moses went to them, and the elders of Israel followed him, and to the congregation he said, "Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest ye be consumed in all their sins. So they got up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side: and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children. * * * And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them; and they perished from among the congregation. And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said: Lest the earth swallow us up also. And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense."
Thus the Lord shows us the wicked presumption of any who thrust themselves before him, whom he hath not chosen and consecrated. All should give earnest heed to it.
We come now to consider the priesthood of Aaron. His name signifies, enlightened, illumined. This he had from the Lord. Aaron was the brother of Moses, and three years older, and he was given to Moses to be his speaker, being eloquent. The Lord commanded Moses to ordain and consecrate Aaron to be the high priest unto the whole house of Israel; and to also thus set apart the four sons of Aaron as priests in the first sanctuary of the tabernacle, called the holy place. It was in this place that the two hundred and fifty Levites thrust themselves, and died.
"And the LORD said unto Aaron, Thou and thy sons and thy father's house with thee shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary: and thou and thy sons with thee shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood. * * * Therefore thou and thy sons with thee shall keep your priest's office for everything of the altar, and within the vail; and ye shall serve: I have given your priest's office unto you as a service of gift; and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.
Nadab and Abihu, the first two sons of Aaron, had died before the Lord for their sin of offering strange fire in their censers, when they burned incense before him. Applying this to the gospel ministry, the strange fire, which the Lord had not commanded, fitly represents strange or false doctrine. Paul therefore wrote to the churches of Galatia, saying. "But there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." This is the just sentence of the Lord. Purity and holiness becometh the house of God for ever, and nothing unclean can dwell in his presence.
Only through a priesthood, therefore, can even the people of God have access unto him; and the priesthood must be holy in his sight. The office of the priest is to make an acceptable atonement, satisfaction, or reconciliation, for the sins of the people for whom he makes the sin offering, and then to make intercession unto God for them. When the People of God are thus accepted with him in their priest, they then have access unto God in his worship as one with their priest, and are a family of priests.
This was true of the house of Israel. Aaron, their first high priest, made an atonement, first for his own sins, then for the sins of the priests, and also for the sins of all his people. The Lord their God had himself ordained the sin offerings or sacrifices for the atonement, even as he had ordained the priests. Their own acceptance with God, and the acceptance of their people, was through the spotless atoning sacrifice and in virtue of it; for it was sinless and well pleasing unto God. No other offering or sacrifice for sin would God accept. He himself must provide the lamb for an offering, because he only knew what was sufficient and had the power to provide himself with it.
The religious belief prevails that, just so the worshiper is sincere, and brings the best he has, and does the best he knows, that is sufficient, and God will accept him. This would admit all heathen superstition and false worship, and deny perfection and holiness in God. It would even count the blood of the covenant of God, wherewith we were sanctified unto him, a needless and unholy thing. A more fatal error and delusion could not exist among men. Yet this is the very soul and deadly essence of all legal religious worship in the world, which claims acceptance with God and his favor upon the ground of personal works of obedience. If such a doctrine could hold good with God, then there was no need of an high priest and a priesthood, and Christ need not have died. "For if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain," testifies inspired Paul. He again says, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." This is the deadly mistake of expecting to come unto God in our own works of obedience to his commandments, and of thus obtaining his favor and blessing. Instead of this, the curse of his holy law will certainly drive us away from his great white throne, for we would stain it with our impure offerings. Yet this fatalistic error too lamentably obtains and prevails among the people who profess faith in Christ; for they teach that, though Christ died for us, and grace reigns in our salvation unto eternal life by him, yet we must now come unto God in our own personal conditional works of obedience (good works, they call them), or we cannot be saved now in time. This is a repudiation of the perfect and finished work of our High Priest, Christ Jesus, and of the fullness of salvation in him, and a denial that we are saved by grace.
So far from this worldly and false religion, that God accepts and blesses us with rewards of salvation for our voluntary conditional service, being in the least true, he has proven to all his people for all time by the great example of the priesthood of Aaron, and the people of that first covenant, which was legal and conditional on their part, that it is utterly impossible for his people to be saved in this way. It was necessary that the Lord teach his people this truth, that their righteousness and salvation is of him, and that their only acceptance with him is in his holy Son, in whom and for whose sake alone God loves them and has blessed them. Let it be repeated with strong assurance, that God ordained the law and the priesthood under Moses and Aaron, and called his people of that covenant down into Egypt, and up out of it into Canaan, unto this very end and purpose, to teach and convince his people forever, that there is only ONE HIGH PRIEST who can save them - the Man Christ Jesus. The examples of Adam, and Melchisedec, and Isaac, and Joseph, and Moses, and Joshua, and Aaron, all, alt prove this one great object-lesson, this divine truth. They stand out as a grand picture in the spiritual heavens, saying to all who have eyes to read, "WITHOUT HOLINESS NO MAN SHALL SEE THE LORD."
All those typical men bore witness that holiness was not in them, but they pointed to One who is holy, who should come to Zion, meek and having salvation, and should turn away ungodliness from his people. "The law made nothing perfect." There was no perfection in the priesthood of Aaron, but in it there was a continual remembrance of sins; for it and all that priestly people were under the law, and all died because they were sinners. So all that all those typical examples could do was to point "the prisoners of hope" onward and upward, to a glorious High Priest to come, whose holy sacrifice should take away our sins forever, and who should as a Man enter into the holy presence of God for us, set down at the right hand of God upon his throne, our Advocate with the Father, and make intercession for us.
To deny this divine meaning and purpose of the law and the priesthood, is to make them a total disappointment and failure; for they made nothing perfect, but proved only that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," as says Paul. But with God there are no mistakes, disappointments or failures; but all that he appoints fulfills his purpose. "The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand."
Having now seen all this design of the priesthood under the law, we are prepared to specially consider Aaron, whose priesthood was ceremonial, typical, and to pass away at the coming of the eternal High Priest.
The Lord himself called and sanctified Aaron as high priest over his people Israel. To all this people Aaron was their brother. Without this close relation, he could not have been their high priest. He and they must all be the children of Abraham, the people of God's covenant and promise. No stranger could thrust himself into the priest's office. And not Aaron himself could make an atonement for strangers, because he did not bear any sacred relation to them; but he represented and officiated before the Lord for his father's house only. All this was typical, and was fulfilled in Christ, as we shall see.
"For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee." "To day" refers to the resurrection day of Christ, who "was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." "And he is the Head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the First-born from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell."
Of the priesthood of Aaron Paul most truly and forcibly says, "If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. * * * For there is verily a disannuling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God." Paul says, Christ is our hope. It is by him only that we draw nigh unto God.
"We have such an High Priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched and not man. For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this Man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things."
How solemn and blessed is the truth here revealed, that the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, the Man Christ Jesus, is passed into the heavens, and that in entering into his holy priesthood, he must first be sacrificed in his flesh for his people, and then rise up in immortality and pass away from earth. Our faith in him follows him there within the vail, our Forerunner into the glory of God.
"Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered 'for himself, and for the errors of the people: the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience. * * But Christ being come an High Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us."
"And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." O how blessed this truth, "for us!" Since Christ is in the presence of God "for us," we shall also appear in the presence of God with him and like him.
"For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshipers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. * * * Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein: which are offered by the law; then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this Man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an High Priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." We have now been led through the law and its priesthood, and have been made to see that they were only examples, figures and shadows, pointing us onward, ever onward, saying, There is no perfection, no rest, here; look unto JESUS.
"Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator" (Moses). * * * "But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our school-master to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster." This is very clear and plain, as the Lord revealed it to Paul. The law and its priesthood were to give knowledge of sin to the people of God, and to keep them in remembrance of their sins continually, but could never take away their sins. In every atonement made by their high priest once a year, and in every bleeding sacrifice offered daily by their priests, the awful truth was shown to all that people that they were yet under the law of sin and death. And every yearly entrance of the high priest into the holy place within the veil with atoning blood, where no other Israelite could enter and live, was a solemn showing that their sins shut them out of heaven. But it was also the testimony of God to them, that as he had ordained Aaron their high priest to enter within the sacred veil, and make the typical atonement for them, and thus carry their sins forward from year to year, so he would in the end of all that typical service, send his sin-burdened people a glorious High Priest to succeed Aaron, who, like him, should be the Son of Abraham, the near kinsman and Brother of all the people of God, who should pass through this veil, rend it in two from top to bottom, make an end of both sin and death, and give all his dear people boldness to enter into the holy presence of God in heaven.
This was the spiritual meaning of the solemn priesthood of Aaron, type of Christ, God's ordained high priest under the first testament, even as Jesus is God's ordained High Priest for ever under the better testament. Aaron died, and his priesthood passed away; but our High Priest lives, to die no more, and his priesthood shall abide as endless as heaven. And, blessed be his name! he will present all his dear people and brethren, whom he loves, an holy priesthood unto God in holy and blissful heaven, and say, "Father, here am I and the children whom thou gayest me."
Elder David Bartley
"The Christ-Man in Type