Priests unto God
C. H. Mackintosh
Too often, alas! we are robbed of our high priestly privileges by the workings of nature and the influences of earth. These things must be watched against. Nothing save realized priestly nearness to God can ever preserve the heart from the power of evil or maintain its spiritual tone. All believers are priests unto God, and nothing can possibly deprive them of their position as such; but though they cannot lose their position, they may grievously fail in the discharge of their functions. These things are not sufficiently distinguished. Some there are who, while looking at the precious truth of the believer's security, forget the possibility of his failing in the discharge of his priestly functions: others, on the contrary, looking at the failure, venture to call in question the security.
Now, I desire that my reader should keep clear of both the above errors. He should be fully established in the divine doctrine of the eternal security of every member of the true priestly house; but he should also bear in mind the possibility of failure, and the constant need of watchfulness and prayer, lest he should fail. May all those who have been brought to know the hallowed elevation of priests unto God be preserved, by His heavenly grace, from every species of failure, whether it be personal defilement or the presentation of any of the varied forms of "strange fire", which abound so in the professing church.
"And the Lord spake unto Aaron, saying, 'Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations: and that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; and that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses'".
The effect of wine is to excite nature, and all natural excitement hinders that calm, well-balanced condition of soul which is essential to the proper discharge of the priestly office. So far from using any means to excite nature, we should treat it as a thing having no existence. Thus only shall we be in a moral condition to serve in the sanctuary, to form a dispassionate judgment between clean and unclean, and to expound and communicate the mind of God. It devolves upon each one to judge for himself what, in his special case, would act as "wine or strong drink".*
The things which excite mere nature are manifold indeed — wealth, ambition, politics, the varied objects of emulation around us in the world. All these things act with exciting power upon nature, and entirely unfit us for every department of priestly service. If the heart be swollen with feelings of pride, covetousness, or emulation, it is utterly impossible that the pure air of the sanctuary can be enjoyed, or the sacred functions of priestly ministry discharged. Men speak of the versatility of genius, or a capacity to turn quickly from one thing to another; but the most versatile genius that was ever possessed could not enable a man to pass from an unhallowed arena of literary, commercial, or political competition, into the holy retirement of the sanctuary of the divine presence; nor could it ever adjust the eye that had become dimmed by the influence of such scenes, so as to enable it to discern, with priestly accuracy, the difference "between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean". No, God's priests must keep themselves apart from "wine and strong drink". Theirs is a path of holy separation and abstraction.
* Some have thought that, owing to the special place which this direction about wine occupies, Nadab and Abihu must have been under the influence of strong drink when they offered the "strange fire". But be this as it may, we have to be thankful for a most valuable principle in reference to our conduct as spiritual priests. We are to refrain from every thing which would produce the same effect upon our spiritual man as strong drink produces upon the physical man.
It needs hardly to be remarked that the Christian should be most jealous over himself as to the use of wine or strong drink. Timothy, as we know, needed an apostolic recommendation to induce him even to touch it for his health's sake (1 Timothy 5). A beauteous proof of Timothy's habitual self-denial, and of the thoughtful love of the Spirit in the apostle. I must confess that one's moral sense is offended by seeing Christians making use of strong drink in cases where it is very manifestly not medicinal. I rarely, ever, see a spiritual person indulge in such a thing. One trembles to see a Christian the mere slave of a habit, whatever that habit may be. It proves that he is not keeping his body in subjection.
They are to be raised far above the influence of earthly joy as well as earthly sorrow. If they have aught to do with "strong wine", it is only that it may "be poured unto the Lord for a drink-offering, in the holy place" (Numbers 28:7). In other words, the joy of God's priests is not the joy of earth, but the joy of heaven — the joy of the sanctuary. "The joy of the Lord is their strength."
Would that all this holy instruction were more deeply pondered by us! We surely stand much in need of it. If our priestly responsibilities are not duly attended to, all must be deranged. When we contemplate the camp of Israel, we may observe three circles, and the innermost of these circles had its centre in the sanctuary. There was first the circle of men of war (Numbers 1-2); then the circle of Levites round about the tabernacle (Numbers 3-4); and lastly, the innermost circle of priests, ministering in the holy place.
Now, let it be remembered that the believer is called to move in all those circles. He enters into conflict as a man of war (Ephesians 6:11-17; 1 Timothy 1:18; 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7); he serves, as a Levite, in the midst of his brethren, according to his measure and sphere (Matthew 15:14-15; Luke 19:12-13); finally, he sacrifices and worships, as a priest, in the holy place (Hebrews 13:15-16; 1 Peter 2:5,9). The last of these shall endure forever. And, moreover, it is as we are enabled now to move aright in that holy circle that all other relations and responsibilities are rightly discharged. Hence, every thing that incapacitates us for our priestly functions — every thing that draws us off from the centre of that innermost circle, in which it is our privilege to move — every thing, in short, that tends to derange our priestly relation, or dim our priestly vision, must, of necessity, unfit us for the service which we are called to render, and for the warfare which we are called to wage.
These are weighty considerations. Let us dwell upon them. The heart must be kept right, the conscience pure, the eye single, the spiritual vision undimmed. The soul's business in the holy place must be faithfully and diligently attended to, else we shall go all wrong. Private communion with God must be kept up, else we shall be fruitless as servants, and defeated as men of war. It is vain for us to bustle about, and run hither and thither in what we call service, or indulge in vapid words about Christian armor and Christian warfare. If we are not keeping our priestly garments unspotted, and if we are not keeping ourselves free from all that would excite nature, we shall assuredly break down. The priest must keep his heart with all diligence, else the Levite will fail, and the warrior will be defeated.
It is, let me repeat it, the business of each one to be fully aware of what it is that to him proves to be "wine and strong drink" — what it is that produces excitement — that blunts his spiritual perception, or dims his priestly vision. It may be an auction-mart, a cattle-show, a newspaper, — it may be the merest trifle. But no matter what it is, if it tends to excite, it will disqualify us for priestly ministry; and if we are disqualified as priests, we are unfit for every thing, inasmuch as our success in every department and in every sphere must depend upon our cultivating a spirit of worship.
Let us, then, exercise a spirit of self judgment — a spirit of watchfulness over our habits, our ways, and our associations; and when we, by grace, discover aught that tends, in the smallest degree to unfit us for the elevated exercises of the sanctuary, let us put it away from us, cost what it may. Let us not suffer ourselves to be the slaves of a habit. Communion with God should be dearer to our hearts than all beside; and just in proportion as we prize that communion, shall we watch and pray against any thing that would rob us of it — every thing that would excite, ruffle, or unhinge.*
* Some, perhaps, may think that the wording of Leviticus 10:9 affords a warrant for occasional indulgence in those things which tend to excite the natural mind, inasmuch as it is said, "Do not drink wine nor strong drink ... when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation". To this we may reply that the sanctuary is not a place which the Christian is occasionally to visit, but a place in which he is habitually to serve and worship. It is the sphere in which he should "live, and move, and have his being". The more we live in the presence of God, the less can we bear to be out of it; and no one who knows the deep joy of being there could lightly indulge in aught that would take or keep him thence. There is not that object within the compass of earth which would, in the judgment of a spiritual mind, be an equivalent for one hour's fellowship with God.
Extract from Notes on the Pentateuch, by C. H. Mackintosh.
Priests Unto God