by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 5 - The Priestly Company
READING: Lev. 8; Heb. 1:1-2,5,8; 2:1; 3:1; 4:14; 5; 6.
Coming back to chapter 8 of the book of Leviticus, we have presented to us a priestly company, a company that belonged to the sanctuary. That is represented by the passage in the chapter which says that this priestly company was not to depart from the sanctuary, not to go out of the door of the sanctuary for seven days, the whole period of their consecration. "Seven" stands for spiritual completeness, and here we have spiritual completeness as governing a whole period, or as represented in a whole period, and it says to us that this separating, this consecrating, this binding to the sanctuary was to extend over a perfect period, and thus they belonged to, and were, so to speak, part of the sanctuary unto a full period. What that period is we need not say for the moment.
Another thing that is said is that their ministry is to the Lord. There is an aspect of ministry which is to the world, and to the people, but the specific or principal aspect of the ministry of this priestly company is to the Lord.
Before we go more fully into the chapter before us, let us say one or two general things which are brought out quite clearly in the Word of God.
A Priestly People
The first is this, that the Lord's thought for all His people is that they shall be a priestly company. You will look in vain in the Word of God for anything that will indicate that God has a certain level for some people and a higher level for others. The thought of God, the calling of God, and the provision of God, is full, complete, for all His people, and He has made no provision, given no instructions concerning a people who will not come to His full thought. There are levels recognised, there are differences taken account of, as we shall see, but the Lord has not so ordered it; and any one who will say, Well that high level is not for me, something less than that is for me, I am not called to such high things, I am one of the simple kind and must be satisfied with something less! has altogether misconceived the mind of God. God always regards His people as though they were going to attain unto the fulness of His thought. That is to say, you may find the people in anything but a satisfactory spiritual condition as you read the Word of God, but the Lord never comes down to that level to accommodate Himself to it. He always speaks as though these very people were destined to come to something fuller. It is an important thing to recognise. We must get it settled in our minds very clearly that, although there are differences amongst the Lord's people, and although there are ranges of light and knowledge and understanding and truth, and some have a smaller, and some a very much greater measure than others, the Lord never arranged it to be like that. The Lord does not intend it to be like that. That does not represent what the Lord wants. The Lord's thought for His people is His fulness, and this priestly company, while it looks to be a very solid company, something that is right on the inside of things in a particularly honoured, privileged position, does not represent God's thought as an arrangement for any special number or class of His children. That can be proved from the Word of God.
A great and all-embracing statement about the Lord's people is that they are chosen to be a kingdom of priests unto God. That is to say, not some few of His people but all of them are called to be a kingdom of priests unto God. That is how God regarded Israel from the beginning, as a priestly kingdom, an entire people in a priestly position. That is why the firstborn in every house took the place of the priest in the house. This in turn was taken up in the tribe of Levi, representing the firstborn in all Israel, and brought before the Lord, and separated unto ministry in the sanctuary. In the Lord's thought this was the bringing of all Israel into that position in representation. Yet at the same time you cannot fail to recognise that there are differences. There are the Levites, and there are the priests. There are the Levites, and there are the sons of Aaron. They are not the same, they are different; but the difference is not because the Lord intended that there should be a difference.
We will make that plain in a moment, but first of all we must get this settled, that the highest and fullest that God has is for all His people, and not just for some. If at any time you feel that some things are beyond you, and the Lord never intended you to attain unto them, will you remember this. The thought that His fulness is for some alone must be dismissed from your mind completely.
Differences because of Failure in God's People
Yet, while that is true, there is this second thing, which is equally a fact, that there are differences; not because God appointed it, determined that it should be so, but because it is so by reason of the people themselves. There will be in the innermost place a priestly company. Then you will have in a more outward place another company which is not a priestly company, but which may be termed a Levitical company. Then more outward still you will have the great mass of what we might call the common people. That latter is not necessarily a term of reproach, but simply means a general mass of the Lord's people who are not in any special way standing in relation to His testimony, and yet they are His people, called by His Name. That is how it works out, and that is how you see it in this book of Leviticus.
God to Obtain a Priestly Company
Our concern at the moment is with the priestly company, for that is where God's full thought for His people is realised and represented. God must have such a company. With all that He will have - and He will have a great multitude, a great Levitical company in general service - He must nevertheless have a priestly company, or His whole intention and thought breaks down, and He is defeated.
So then, what is in view with us at this time is this, that God in all that He has, and is set upon having, must have that which is represented by the sons of Aaron, a priestly company. You can work back from that position to all kinds of true service for the Lord. The priests will work through the Levites, but, mark you, the Levites can never do the work of the priests. The Levites will work to the general mass, but the general mass can never do the work of a Levite. You have to be a Levite to do a Levite's work, and you have to be a priest to do a priest's work, but when you are a priest you can equally do the work of a Levite, and can serve all the Lord's people. Do not think that you are going to be cut off from the service of the Lord if you go right on to that which is specifically the Lord's thought for His people.
Now have you got the point? The Lord's heart is set primarily, ultimately, supremely upon a priesthood, and He is for such. To possess such He will work in the midst of His people, in the midst of the Levites, who are doing more or less general service for Him, though valuable. The Levites do all sorts of necessary things for the Lord, but He will work in the midst of the Levites, who are the doers of general service for Him, to get a priestly company, who represent something more than that.
We must note the relatedness of these things again, because the Levites cannot function without the priests. It is true that the priests must have the Levites, but let us note that God can never really fulfil all His purpose until He has this priestly company, and special pains, special provisions, special undertakings, are made for the securing of that company. To a detail it was all "as the Lord commanded Moses".
The Truth as Presented in the New Testament
The language of the New Testament is very similar in its terms with regard to this matter. You cannot fail to see the first thing that we said, that God is always dealing with, and speaking to, His people in the light of His full thought, and has never made any provision for anything less, and can never be satisfied with anything less. There will be less, but it never satisfies Him.
Then you can see in the New Testament perfectly clearly that the Lord, recognising quite well that many will not come to His full thought, is taking pains, nevertheless, to get a company there. Where shall we look for that? Take the Apostle Paul himself, and all that he has to say in this connection. Take, for example, the first chapter of the letter to the Colossians. In that chapter, as well as in others, the utterness of the Lord's mind is set forth in such urgent words as these: "Christ... whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily." Or again, take the great third chapter of the letter to the Philippians. Here you have Paul, who is the Lord's, and has served the Lord, who, though he has reached such a point of spirituality and life and development, in the depths of his being is yet conscious that the Lord does not want any man to stop there, but that He has called to something higher than that. The Apostle puts it in this way: "If by any means I may attain"; or, again: "That I may apprehend that for which I have been apprehended of Christ Jesus". He says these things as an example, and is urgent upon other believers to come that way.
Take the letters to the churches in the first chapters of the Revelation. I am not one who believes that those churches are not such as consist of the Lord's people, but represent just general, formal, nominal and professing Christendom. I believe that they are the churches such as the Lord holds in His hand; they are stars, and the Lord is in the midst of them. I do not believe such a thing to be true of a merely professing church that has never been the Lord's at all. Here they are on a lower level than His desire for them. He takes account of them, and the things which are good the Lord takes account of - the history of the true child of God - what they have passed through, what they have endured, what they have been, what they have done, what they are that still remains commendable, but He can never settle down and accept a measure, a part; He can never be content with their just reaching a point. To them all He addresses straight and strong words about overcomers, and when you begin to consider the matter, the word "overcomer" - in the light of what is said about the churches, and especially about those who have not gone into apostasy but simply lost out on the way, not maintaining their high level - means something utter, something more than ordinary. But it requires a going on beyond much. "I know thy labour and thy patience". What more do you want? What more can God expect? "...thou canst not bear them which say they are Jews and are not..." What more do you want? The Lord is standing for His full thought, and He is not satisfied with anything less than that, and has made provision for it. It is perfectly clear that the New Testament takes up the fact that there is a difference, but never allows the thought that the Lord has arranged that difference, nor that that difference represents what He intended.
So we are confronted with this, that ultimately the Lord is out for a priestly company, whatever that may mean. Chapter 8 of the book of Leviticus makes it clear what that is. We cannot deal with all the details of the chapter, it is so comprehensive, but we can touch on one or two things which will make clear to us what a priestly company is.
We have seen that it is a company wholly separated unto the Lord, shut up to the sanctuary, and whose main ministry is to the Lord. This ministry is entirely governed by one thought. It is not so much the ministry of the Levites, which is that of a more general ministry; the first consideration of the priests is the satisfaction of the Lord. There is a lot of difference there. The priest is not governed by the thought that he is going to work for the Lord, and do all sorts of things for the Lord, but he concentrates upon that which answers to the Lord's own need and desire, that which satisfies the Lord. It is ministry unto the Lord.
God's Good Pleasure
Now you see in the chapter in question what that meant. You notice that Moses filled the hands of Aaron's sons with that which represented both sides of Christ's work; that is, the side of Christ's work which had to do with the putting away of sin, the utter putting away of sin, by atonement, so that the way is absolutely clear and free from that which is the old creation and man by nature, the death side; then representing the other side, he took out of the basket the unleavened bread, which speaks of the perfect sinless human nature of the Lord Jesus. The old man put away, the sinful man, and the new man brought in, the Christ, the perfect humanity. These priests have both hands full, full of that with which God is satisfied. That is not the nature of general service for the Lord. In general service for the Lord there is a good deal that is of the old man by nature. That does not satisfy the Lord. The Lord does not want the old man going into His service, in his own energies of mind, of will, and body, his zeal, enthusiasm, enterprise, judgment and ideas. If the truth were known, the proportion of real satisfaction to the Lord in that is very small.
The priest comes on to much higher ground. It is a spiritual position that is taken. On the one hand, that spiritual position rules out by the Cross all that is of man by nature from the service of God, and, on the other hand, brings in the Man who can serve God. It is simple, but these are laws which are underlying the Divine revelation, and it is for us to recognise them. A priest does not belong to a certain class of people called priests. A priest is one who has come to a spiritual position, and anybody who has come to this spiritual position can fulfil priestly ministry. The spiritual position is where it is recognised, on the one hand, that by the Cross man in nature has been put away from the service of God. Whatever God may get by sovereignty is quite another matter. The Lord does get something in a sovereign way, even when a sinning man is doing work for Him. But that never comes to the Lord's satisfaction so far as the man is concerned, so far as the state is concerned, and in the long run the man will find that he was never pleasing to the Lord while in that state. On the other hand, the priest is one who has come to the place where Christ is the basis of all service, and where His resources alone are adequate. He is the Man of God's right hand. That is a priest spiritually set forth.
A Further Figure of the Same Truth
That this is a spiritual state can be seen by regarding it from another standpoint, or in the light of other words. Sonship and priesthood are synonymous in the Word of God. It is Aaron and his sons who are the priests. It was the firstborn son in Israel who was the priest, and the Levites took up the firstborn's place, and then the principle was carried right through to its highest form of expression in Aaron's sons. That is sonship governing priesthood all the way through. Priesthood is one with sonship. When you come to the New Testament, apart from the types and symbols, you know that there is this distinction between children and sons of God. Unfortunately in the Authorised Version these terms are confused, and the distinction is not made. In the Revised Version you get the distinction. Why use two different words? They represent two different things. A child, according to the usage of the Greek word, is an infant, whilst a son is one who has come to maturity, grown up in the family, and come to a place of responsibility. The Lord employs the two words. Now that is the point underlying Hebrews 3 and 4 and when you go on to chapter 5 you are still dealing with priesthood. You have reached Melchizedek as the highest type and expression of priesthood, and the Apostle says: "Of whom we have many things to say, but..."! They cannot be said. Why? Because they are still infants, and not sons; they are still immature, babes. Then, in order to go on with this matter of priesthood, to bring the real meaning of priesthood to them, he has to bring this word right upon them: "Let us go on to full growth". It is like a tremendous parenthesis. He is talking about priesthood, and reaches a point where he is still about to say something more, but is arrested, and the things are never said. He has met a hindrance in the immaturity of these believers. It is not that there is anything wrong with being a babe, but there is something wrong with being a babe when it is time you were a man. The Apostle, therefore, breaks off to bring in this urgent appeal to press on, and having given expression to it, he goes on to talk about priesthood again. So that to come to the priestly company we must come to spiritual maturity. We must get further away from infancy every day. That is according to nature, and it is according to grace. We should be coming progressively into the priestly position.
Right at the end of chapter 3 of the letter to the Ephesians we get what is really expressive of a priestly condition: "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named... (here you come to the Father, and have the priestly family in view) that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell (the word here is "settle down", make His home) in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love (love is always a priestly feature; the first thing said about Aaron was something about his heart - the Lord said to Moses: "When he shall see thee, he shall be glad in his heart"), may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height (spiritual intelligence is the mark of a priest), and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." What does all this lead to? Let us read on. "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the Church..." Surely that is fulness! When is there glory in the Church? When the priests are in their place, when the priests have come to their measure, when the priests are functioning.
Really that speaks to us of the Lord's thought for all His people. You will look in vain in the letter to the Ephesians, which is the great Church letter, for any discrimination between the Lord's people, and you will look in vain in the New Testament and in all Paul's writings for anything which suggests such a thing as this: 'Now some of you are called to that and others are not'. The Lord's thought is that all saints should come to His fulness. The Lord knows they will not all come, nevertheless He does not change His thought, and say, 'All ,right, I will excuse some of you, and I will make provision for some of you just to go so far'. Priesthood is a spiritual thing. It is the value to the Lord of a company who are moving into His full thought for His people.
The Lord is seeking to bring His people, wherever they will respond to Him, on to the highest and fullest ground of His desire. That makes possible a ministry of peculiar value and richness in all directions. Please do not think that if you are going on this way it means you are going to have to give up some service for the Lord. I have heard it said that some men react to this sort of thing in this way: 'Well, the Lord has called me to be an evangelist, and all this teaching about the Church does not interest me at all. It is not my job, it has nothing to do with me; I do not understand it, and I do not want to; the Lord has made perfectly clear to me what my job is'. Well, you have nothing like that in the New Testament. If you are a priest in the full spiritual sense you will do very much better evangelistic work, if you are going to call it that. If you have a fulness of Christ to bring, those to whom you bring it can be brought into that at once. Do we not need to bring the greater fulnesses of Christ to men right at the beginning of their life with the Lord? Multitudes of Christian people, who have been born again ten, twenty, thirty, forty years, are no further on today than when they were born again, because there was nothing more brought to them at the first. So many say, Oh, if only it had been presented to us at the beginning!
Please do not think this is to take you from useful service of some kind. It is to strengthen, and deepen, and enrich all kinds of service that is really valuable to the Lord. The Lord give us understanding.
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