First being by interpretation King of Righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is King of Peace.—Heb. vii. 2.
'""TVHAT mysterious, shadowy figure of the priest
JL king Melchizedec has been singularly illuminated and solidified by recent discovery. You can see now in Berlin and London, letters written fourteen centuries before Christ, by a king of Jerusalem who describes himself almost in the very words which the Old and the New Testaments apply to Melchizedec. He says that he is a royal priest or a priestly king. He says that he derived his royalty neither from father nor mother, nor by genealogical descent; and he says that he owes it to " the great King "—possibly an equivalent to the "Most High God;" of whom Melchizedec in Scripture is said to have been a worshipper. The name of the letter writer is not Melchizedec, but the fact that that royalty was not hereditary, like a Pharaoh's, may explain how each monarch bore his own personal appellation, and not one common to successive members of a dynasty.
And are not the names of King and city significant —" King of righteousness : : : King of peace?" It sounds like a yearning, springing up untimely in those dim ages of oppression and strife, for a royalty founded on something better than the sword, and wielded for something higher than personal ambition. Such an ideal at such a date is like a summer day that has wandered into a cold March.
But the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews imposes a meaning not only on the titles, but on their sequence. Of course therein he is letting a sanctified imagination play round a fact, and giving to it a meaning which is not in it. None the less in that emphatic expression "first King of righteousness, and after that also King of peace," he penetrated very deeply into the heart of Christ's reign and work, and echoed a sentiment that runs all through Scripture. Hearken to one psalmist: "The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness." Hearken to another: "Righteousness and peace have kissed each other." Hearken to a prophet: "The work of righteousness shall be peace ; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever." Hearken to the most Hebraistic of New Testament writers: " The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace." Hearken to the central teaching of the most Evangelical, if I may so say, of New Testament writers: "Being justified "—made righteous— "by faith, we have peace with God." So the "first" and the "after that" reveal to us the very depth of Christ's work, and carry in them not only important teaching as to that, but equally important directions and guides for Christian conduct; and it is to this aspect of my text, and this only, that I ask your attention now.
The order which we have here, "first of all King of righteousness, and after that King of peace," is the order which I shall try to illustrate in two ways. First, in reference to Christ's work on the individual soul; second, in reference to Christ's work on society and communities.
First, then, here we have laid down the sequence in which
L Christ Comes With His Operations And His Gifts To The Soul That Clings To Him.
First "righteousness . . . after . . . peace." Now I need not do more than in a sentence remind you of the basis upon which the thoughts in the text, and all right understanding of Christ's work on an individual, repose, and that is that without righteousness no man can either be at peace with God or with himself. Not with God—for however shallow experience may talk effusively and gushingly about a God that is all mercy, and who loves and takes to His heart the sinner and the saint alike ; such a God drapes the universe in darkness. And if there are no moral distinctions which determine whether a man is in amity or hostility with God, then "the pillared firmament itself is rottenness, and earth's base built on stubble." No, no, brethren; it sounds very tender and kindly; at bottom it is the cruellest thing that you can say, to say that without righteousness a man can please God. The sun is in the heavens, and whether there be mist and fog down here, or the bluest of summer skies, the sun is above. But its rays coming through the ethereal blue are warmth and blessedness, and its rays cut off by the mists are dim, and itself turned into a lurid ball of fire. It cannot be—and thank God that it cannot—that it is all the same to Him whether a man is saint or sinner.
I do not need to remind you that in like manner righteousness must underlie peace with oneself. For it is true to-day, as it was long generations ago, according to the prophet, that "the wicked is like the troubled sea which cannot rest, whose waters throw up mire and dirt," and, on the other hand, the promise is true still and for ever; "0 that thou hadst hearkened unto me, then had thy peace been like a river," because "thy righteousness " is " like the waves of the sea." For ever and ever it stands true that for peace with God, and for a quiet heart, and a nature at harmony with itself, there must be righteousness.
Well then, Jesus Christ comes to bring to a man the righteousness without which there can be no peace in his life. And that is the meaning of the great word which, having been taken for a shibboleth and "test of a falling or a standing Church," has been far too much ossified into a mere theological dogma, and has been weakened and misunderstood in the process. Justification by faith; that is the battle-cry of Protestant communities. And what does it mean? That I shall be treated as righteous, not being so? That I shall be forgiven and acquitted? Yes, thank God! But is that all that it means, or is it the main thing that it means? No, thank God! for the very heart of the Christian doctrine of righteousness is this, that if, and as soon as, a man puts his trembling trust in Jesus Christ as his Saviour, then he receives not merely pardon, which is the uninterrupted flow of the Divine love in spite of his sin, nor a crediting him with a righteousness which does not belong to him, but an imparting to him of that new life, a spark from the central fire of Christ's life, "the new man which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness." Do not suppose that the great message of the Gospel is merely forgiveness. Do not suppose that its blessed gift is only that a man is acquitted because Christ has died. All that is true. But there is something more than that which is the basis of that other, and that is that by my faith in Jesus Christ, I am so knit to Him—"He that is joined to the Lord" being "one spirit"—as that there passes into me, by His gift, a life which is created after His life, and is in fact cognate and kindred with it.
No doubt it is a mere germ, no doubt it needs cultivating, development, carefully guarding against gnawing insects and blighting frosts. But the seed which is implanted, though it be less than the least of all seeds, has in itself the promise and the potency of triumphant growth, when it will tower above all the poisonous shrubs and undergrowth of the forest, and have the light of heaven resting on its aspiring top. Here is the great blessing and distinctive characteristic of Christian morality, that it does not say to a man: "First aim after good deeds, and so grow into goodness," but it starts with a gift, and says, "Work from that, and by the power of that. 'I make the tree good,' " says Jesus to us, "do you see to it that the fruit is good." No doubt the vegetable metaphor is inadequate, because the leaf is wooed from out the bud, and "grows green and broad, and takes no care." But that effortless growth is not how righteousness increases in men. The germ is given them, and they have to cultivate it. First, there must be the impartation of righteousness, and then there comes to the man's heart the sweet assurance of peace with God, and he has within him "a conscience like a sea at rest, imaginations calm and fair." "First, King of righteousness; after that, Bong of peace."
Now if we keep firm hold of this sequence, a great many of the popular objections to the Gospel, as if it were merely a means of forgiveness and escape, and a system of reconciliation by some kind of forensic expedient, fall away of themselves. And a great many of the popular blunders that Christian people make fall away too. For there are good folks to whom the great truth that " God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing to them their trespasses," and welcoming them to all the fulness of an overflowing love, has obscured the other truth that there is no peace for a Christian man continuous through his life, unless equally continuous through his life are his efforts to work out in acts the new nature which he has received.
Thus my text, by the order in which it places righteousness and peace, not only illuminates the work of Christ upon each individual soul, but comes with a very weighty and clear direction to Christian people as to their course of conduct. Are you looking for comfort? Is what you want to get out of your religion mainly the assurance that you will not go to Hell? Is the great blessing that Christ brings to you only the blessing of pardon, which you degrade to mean immunity from punishment? You are wrong. "First of all, King of righteousness "—let that which is first of all in His gifts be first of all in your efforts too; and do not seek so much for comfort as for grace to know and to do your duty, and strength to "cast off the unfruitful works of darkness," and to "put on the armour of light." The order which is laid down in my text was laid down with a different application, by our Lord Himself, and ought to be in both forms the motto for all Christian people. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things"— comfort, sense of reconciliation, assurance of forgiveness, joyful hope, and the like, as well as needful material good—" shall be added unto you." And now, secondly, my text gives the order of II. Christ's Work In The World, And Of His Servant's Work After Him.
Of course, our Lord's work in the World is simply the aggregate of His work on individual souls. But for the sake of clearness we may consider these two aspects of it somewhat apart. In regard to this second part of my subject, I would begin, as I began in the former section, by reminding you that the only basis on which harmonious relations between men in communities, great or small, can be built, is righteousness, in the narrowest sense of the word, meaning thereby justice, equal dealing as between man and man, without partiality or class favouritism. Wherever you get an unjustly-treated section or order of men, there you get the beginnings of war and strife. A social order built upon injustice, just in the measure in which it is so built, is based upon a quicksand which will suck it down, or on a volcano which will blow it to pieces. Injustice is the grit in the machine ; you may oil it as much as you like with philanthropy and benevolence, but until you get the grit out it will not work smoothly. There is no harmony amongst men unless their association is based and bottomed upon righteousness.
Jesus Christ comes into the world to bring peace at the far end, but righteousness at the near end, and therefore strife. The herald angels sang peace upon earth. They were looking to the deepest and ultimate issues of His mission, but when He contemplated its immediate results He had to say, "Suppose ye that I bring peace on earth? I tell you nay, but rather division." He rode into Jerusalem "the King, meek, and having salvation," throned upon the beast of burden which symbolized peace. But He will come forth in the last fight, as He has been coming forth through all the ages, mounted on the white horse, with the sword girt upon His thigh in behalf of meekness and righteousness and truth. Christ, and Christianity when it keeps close to Christ, is a ferment, not an emollient: The full and honest application of Christ's teaching and principles to any society on the face of the earth at this day is bound to result in agitation and strife. There is no help for it. When a pure jet of water is discharged into a foul ditch, there will be much uprising of mud. Effervescence will always follow when Christ's principles are applied to existing institutions. And so it comes to pass that Christian men, in the measure in which they are true to their Master, turn the world upside down. There will follow, of course, the tranquillity that does follow on righteousness ; but that is far ahead, and there is many a weary mile to be trod, and many a sore struggle to be undertaken, before the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and strife ends for ever.
Now, if this be so, then in this necessary characteristic of Christ's operation on the world, viz., disturbance arising from the endeavour to enthrone righteousness where its opposite has ruled—there results very plainly important teaching as to the duties of Christ's servants to take their full share in the fight, to be the Knights of the Holy Ghost, the champions of righteousness. The Church ought to lead in the van of all assaults on hoary wrongs or modern forms of unrighteousness in municipal, political, national life. And it is the disgrace of the Church that so largely it leaves that contest to be waged by men who make no pretence to be Christians.
There is, unfortunately, a type of Christian thinking and life, of which in many respects one would speak with all sympathy and admiration, which warns the Christian Church against casting itself into this contest, in the alleged interest of a superior spirituality, and a loftier conception of Evangelical truth. I believe, as heartily as any man can—and I venture to appeal, to those who hear me Sunday by Sunday, and from year to year, whether it is not so—that the preaching of Jesus Christ is the cure for all the world's miseries, and the banishment of all the world's unrighteousness, but am I to be told that the endeavour to apply the person and the principles of Jesus Christ, in His life and death, to existing institutions and evils, is not preaching Christ? I believe that it is, and that that is one thing that the Church wants to-day,—not less of holding up the Cross and the Sacrifice, but more of pointing to the Cross and the Sacrifice as the cure of all the world's evils, and the pattern for all righteousness.
It is difficult to do, it is made difficult by our own desire to be what the prophet did not think a very reputable position, "at ease in Zion." It is also made difficult by the way in which, as is most natural, the world, meaning thereby Godless, organized society, regards an active Church that desires to bring its practices to the test of Christ's word. Muzzled watchdogs that can neither bark nor bite are much admired by burglars. And a Church that confines itself to theory, to what it calls religion, and leaves the world to go to the devil as it likes, suits both the world and the devil. There was once a Prime Minister of England who came out of church one Sunday morning in a state of towering indignation because the clergyman had spoken about conduct. And that is exactly how the world feels about an intrusive Church that mil push its finger into all social arrangements, and say about each of them, "This must be done as Christ commanded."
Brethren, would God that all Christian men deserved the name of "troublers of Israel." There was once a prophet to whom the men of his day indignantly said, "0 sword of the Lord, how long will it be ere thou be
quiet? Put up thyself in thy scabbard, rest and be
still." And the answer was the only possible one,
"How can it be quiet, seeing that the Lord hath ap-
pointed it?" If you and I are Christ's servants, we
shall follow the sequence of His operations, and seek to
establish righteousness first and then peace.
The true Salem is above.
"My soul, there is a country
Afar beyond the stars."
There "sweet peace sits crowned with smiles." The swords will then be wreathed with laurel, and men "shall learn war no more," for the King has fought the great fight, "and of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end ... in righteousness and justice, from henceforth even for ever." Let us take Him for "the Lord our righteousness," and we shall blessedly find that "this Man is our peace." Let us take arms in the Holy War which He wages, and we shall have peace in our hearts whilst the tight is sorest. Let us labour to "be found in Him . . . having the righteousness which is of God by faith," and then we shall " be found in Him in peace, without spot, blameless."