KINGS AND PRIESTS.
Kings and priests.
Revelation i. 6; v. 10.
S. Paul's Cathedral, May 7, 1883, at the Anniversary Service of the Church of England Sunday School Institute.
What does this mean—this absolute, comprehensive, paramount authority, implied in this combination of titles? The king and the priest together cover the whole domain of human life. The king is supreme over the lives and property of men; the priest holds sway over the hearts and consciences. If the legal and the sacerdotal power be combined in one person, nothing can escape from its domination. The thoughts, the feelings, the conduct—all the inward springs of action, and all the external accompaniments of human existence, wealth and poverty, freedom and slavery, life and death, every hope and every fear of which man is capable—all are subject to his sway. He who possesses this twofold authority stands on the loftiest pinnacle of human power, of human pride, of human glory.
But again, not only is this power absolute in itself, but the offer is universal. It is made not to this or that individual, not to one family, to one tribe, to one caste, to one nation. Its special characteristic is its universality. It makes no distinctions; it imposes no limitations. It welcomes all comers, irrespective of kindred or race, of education or descent or language.
Once more. See how it is emphasized by reiteration. It is declared by the apostle himself, writing to the militant churches in the first chapter; it is proclaimed again before the eternal throne by the myriad voices of the Church triumphant, in the fifth. Heaven and earth are the strophe and antistrophe of this magnificent chorus, chanting this glorious theme. Nor is it confined to the visions of the apocalyptic seer, whose language therefore might seem to require some limitations as applied to the matter-of-fact life of ordinary men. S. Peter likewise, writing as a pilgrim to pilgrims, writing in the midst of cruel persecutions, writing to a harassed, maltreated, downtrodden Christian brotherhood, can still address them in this language of self-exultation and triumph: 'Ye,' says the Apostle, 'are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood,' a regal, a kingly priesthood. Aye, these despised slaves and freedom, these proselytes and outcasts, these miserable lower classes of Rome, living from hand to mouth, hunted down by their persecutors, not having where to lay their head—these too are kings and priests.
But pause for a moment. When I gave out my text I read the words as they stand in the Authorised Version. In both passages it is there stated that Christ made us 'kings and priests.' But turn to the Revised Version, and you will find a notable difference. Perhaps at first sight you may be disappointed. A very simple, forcible, and intelligible expression has disappeared; and in its place you have words which seem somewhat awkward and stand in need of explanation. I do not doubt that these passages will seem to many readers to justify the charges brought against the Revised Version of harshness and obscurity. But, in fact, the Revisers had no choice. They were constrained to translate the words as they found them in the best-supported Greek text. How then do the passages run in the Revised Version? In the first passage we are told that Jesus Christ, the ruler of the kings of the earth, 'made us,' not 'kings and priests,' but 'made us to be a kingdom, to be priests, unto S. s. 13
His God and Father.' In the second passage the Lamb is glorified by the heavenly minstrelsy, because He 'purchased unto God with His blood men of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and made them to be unto our God'—again not, as in the Authorised Version,' kings and priests,' but 'a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth.' In both passages alike the change is the same. The word 'kingdom' is substituted for 'kings.' Here, as elsewhere, the Revisers did not adopt the reading which would give the smoothest and simplest English, but the reading which had the highest support. Here, as elsewhere, readers of the Revised Version would do well to ask, not whether they are glad or sorry to lose the familiar cadences, but whether the altered reading is or is not more significant and more forcible than the text which it has displaced. If they will only ask this question, they will not be disappointed in the answer.
For, first of all, this substitution of 'a kingdom' for 'kings' places the promises of the new dispensation in direct connexion with the facts of the old. The language of S. Peter and S. John was no novel coinage. It was merely an adaptation to the Israel after the spirit of the titles and distinctions accorded of old to the 'Israel after the flesh'. There was a holy nation, a peculiar people, a regal priesthood, before Christianity. It was only enlarged, developed, spiritualised, under the Gospel. The foundation passage in the Old Testament on which the/language of both Christian apostles alike was moulded is the promise made to the Israelites through Moses on Sinai,' If ye will obey My voice and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people ...ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.' Thus the mention of the kingdom links Sinai with Sion—the old with the new.
But, secondly, if we lose the idea of the kingdom we lose with it the most valuable lesson of the passage. A kingdom denotes an organised, united whole. It implies consolidation and harmony. It is not enough that we should realise the individual Christian as a king; we must think of him as a member of a kingdom. The kings of this world are constantly at war one with another. Self-aggrandisement and selfassertion seem natural to their position. Solitariness, isolation, independence, these are ideas inseparable from the kingly throne. But this is not the conception of the true disciple of Christ. He is before all things a member of a body. In the kingdom of Christ indeed all the citizens are kings, because all are associated in the kingliness of Christ. But they are citizens still. They have the duties, the responsibilities, the manifold and complex relationships of citizens. This kingdom of God, this Church of Christ, exists for a definite end. Its citizen-kings have each their proper functions; perform each their several tasks; contribute each their special gifts to the fulfilment of this purpose.
How then shall we define this purpose? Will you tell me that the Church was planted for the saving of individual souls—your soul and mine? Will you say that its design was the amelioration of human society? These are only intermediate and secondary objects in its establishment. Its final end and aim is far higher than this. It is nothing less than the praise and glory of God.
So this kingdom is a priesthood. Its citizen-kings are citizen-priests also. Under the old dispensation one nation was selected from all the nations. It was consecrated a holy people. It was chosen to be a witness of Jehovah to all the tribes of the earth. It was charged to glorify Him by perpetual prayer and sacrifice and thanksgiving—to serve Him instantly day and night. We—we clergy and you laity alike—are the heirs of their privileges, their functions, their ministrations. A nobler service indeed is ours. The theme of our praise and thanksgiving— the human birth, the human life, the passion, the resurrection of the Incarnate Son of God—the theme of all themes, far transcends the conceptions which inspired the worship of the old dispensation. But so far as regards this idea of a kingdom which is also a priesthood, the Church of Christ now is the direct continuance, is the immediate development, of the Church of the Israelites.
And may we not say that it is the direct call, the special duty of our own age, to grasp, to foster, to energize, to develop in all its manifold bearings, this idea of a royal priesthood, co-extensive with the Church of Christ? This conception of the priesthood of Christ's people has never yet had its fair chance. In the ages before the Reformation it was eclipsed by the exaggerated claims of the ordained ministry, the special representative priesthood. In the ages since the Reformation it has been marred and discredited by being made a plea for individualism and self-assertion and lawlessness. Men have forgotten that the Church of Christ is a kingdom, howbeit a priestly kingdom. They have done every man that which is right in his own eyes.
This, I say, is the main problem of our own day. From all sides voices are clamouring for its solution. What else is this rapid aggregation of our masses in populous centres, but a passionate appeal, a piercing cry? When only yesterday the wants of this densely populated diocese were pleaded in all your churches, and you were reminded that this metropolis is growing at the rate of some forty thousand human beings annually, did it occur to you to inquire how little would be effected even by the most liberal response to the appeal? A church would be planted here and there; a clergyman would be given to this or that district. But what then? What are one or two clergy to ten or twelve or fifteen thousand men and women, vast numbers of them practical heathens, living not only without Christ, but without God in the world? What have you done after all for the relief of these myriads of dying souls? What can you do, unless the laity are prepared to step forward and recognise their responsibilities as a royal priesthood, to undertake the work of evangelists and teachers, to visit the sick and poor, to enrol themselves in the definite organisation of the Church, to devote some portion, not only of their wealth, but of their time and their thoughts, to Christ's service?
Of this lay ministry, which it is the special duty of our Church to organise and develop, the assemblage gathered together under this dome to-night is no mean illustration. Yes, I ask you to magnify your office. I ask you to do so, because, while you exalt it, you will humble yourselves, you will contrast the meanness of the instruments with the greatness of the work, and you will throw yourselves on your faces before the throne of the Eternal Grace, pouring out your souls to Him and entreating that your weakness may be made strong through His strength. Are you not evangelists? Are you not pastors and teachers? Has not Christ committed His little ones specially to you? Has He not charged you, as distinctly as He charged S. Peter of old by the shores of the Galilean lake, to feed His lambs? And if so, will you not 'have ever in remembrance into how high a dignity and to how weighty an office and charge you are called'? Will you not recognise the seal of the royal priesthood which is set upon you?
But what is implied by this priesthood of the laity? We shall clear the way for an answer to this question if we inquire first what is not implied.
When then we speak of the universal priesthood, we do not supersede an authorised apostolic ministry. We do not allow the proper functions of this inner representative priesthood to be usurped. We do not encourage self-will and self-assertion. We lend no countenance to unruliness and disorder. God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. Above all, there is no standing-ground for those who could claim the privileges, while they repudiate the obligations, of the sacerdotal office.
This is the fountain-head of all the error and confusion. Men have begun at the wrong end. They have clutched eagerly at the privileges of the universal priesthood—its independence, its dignity, its right of direct access to the eternal presence-chamber; but they have ignored at the same time its obligations— the consecration of self, the duty of active ministration, the continual service of the sanctuary. On the other hand, the true ideal of the office is summed up in the two designations which the text sets forth. Remember first that you are a kingdom, and remember next that you are priests.
i. You are a kingdom; you are not isolated units, but members of an organised whole. You must not only realise this in yourselves, but you must lead your scholars also to realise it. Train them up, not only as responsible beings who must give an account of themselves individually to God, as immortal souls which have each severally limitless capacities of good or evil, of weal or woe; but teach them also to regard themselves as members of Christ's body; show them what this means; point out the duties which it involves, not only to Christ the Head, but to each other as the limbs; lead them to consider their responsibilities and their duties, as Churchmen. You will not lack the opportunities of dwelling on these points. Your scholars will be looking forward to Confirmation. This subject may with advantage enter more largely into your teaching. The rite of Confirmation is a moral and spiritual lever in the education of the young, of which we are yet, I am convinced, very far from realising the full capacity. And your instructions will react most beneficially upon yourselves. You will apprehend more fully what is conferred upon you and what is required of you, as baptized, confirmed, communicant members of Christ's body.
This idea of the kingdom thus realised will lead you to act together; to associate yourselves for conference and devotion; to subordinate your individual preferences to the common work; to seek strength from combination. Thus doing, you will reap a hundred-fold from the seed which you have sown. You will not only be nerved and purified by the discipline, but you will feel that you have at your back the power of numbers, the power of a mighty kingdom. Indeed it is no slight service rendered by an institution like this—a Church within a Church— that in addition to its more direct aims it fosters this principle of association for religious ends, and thus it educates you to a truer appreciation of your position as members of Christ's body.
2. But the kingdom to which you belong is no secular kingdom, like the kingdoms of this world. It is in its essential character a kingdom of priests. Lead your scholars to master this lesson; but first master it yourselves. The lesson is twofold. Realise your consecration as priests first, and then learn to exercise your priestly functions.
Realise your consecration. Wherein does it consist? In your baptism you were admitted as members of the kingdom, you were accepted as children of God. The consecrating act of Christ was thus individualised to you; but in itself it was something different. In both passages of the Revelation it is described :' He loved us and washed us,' or (according to another reading) 'loosed us from our sins by His own blood, and He made us to be a kingdom, yea, priests.' So we read in the one passage; and the language of the other closely resembles it: 'Thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with Thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests.' This is the consecration—this transcendent manifestation of God's mercy, this redeeming act of Christ's love—the blood which was shed on Calvary. So then you were baptized into Christ's death; you were consecrated by the sign of the cross. Why need I say more? Shall you not, living and dying, bear ever fresh in your hearts this seal of your consecration—the sanctity, the awe, the strength, the glory, of the blood of the covenant, wherewith you were sprinkled?
And as was your consecration, so also shall be your priestly functions. It is yours to minister at the altar; yours to offer sacrifice continually day and night, the sacrifice of your lips, the sacrifice of your hearts, the sacrifice of your lives; yours to enter with your great High Priest into the inmost sanctuary, and there to plead the blood of the atonement before the Eternal Throne; yours, as you are reminded at this season, to ascend in heart and mind into the heavenly places with your ascended Lord, and there continually to dwell; yours as a royal priesthood to 'show forth the praises of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light'; yours to echo back from earth the thanksgiving of the myriad voices of the redeemed in heaven,'Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.'