Sermon 5. The Three Offices of Christ Seasons - Easter

"Full of grace are Thy lips, because God hath blessed Thee for ever. Gird Thee with Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O Thou most mighty, according to Thy worship and renown." Ps. xlv. 3, 4.

[Note] {52} OUR Lord is here spoken of in two distinct characters. As a teacher,—"Full of grace are Thy lips;" and as a conqueror,—"Gird Thee with Thy sword upon Thy thigh;" or, in other words, as a Prophet and as a King. His third special office, which is brought before us prominently at this season, is that of a Priest, in that He offered Himself up to God the Father as a propitiation for our sins. These are the three chief views which are vouchsafed to us of His Mediatorial office; and it is often observed that none before Him has, even in type or resemblance, borne all three characters. Melchizedek, for instance, was a priest and a king, but not a prophet. David was prophet and king, but not a priest. Jeremiah was priest and prophet, but not a king. Christ was Prophet, Priest, and King.

He is spoken of as a prophet by Moses, as a prophet {53} like, but superior, to himself.—"A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; Him shall ye hear." And Jacob had already described Him as a king, when he said, "Unto Him shall the gathering of the people be." Balaam, too, speaks of Him as a conqueror and great sovereign.—"There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel ... Out of Jacob shall come He that shall have dominion." And David speaks of Him as a priest, but not a priest like Aaron.—"Thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek;" that is, a royal priest, which Aaron was not. And again, the very first prophecy of all ran, "He shall bruise thy head (that is, the serpent's), and thou shalt bruise His heel." [Acts vii. 37. Gen. xlix. 10. Numb. xxiv. 17, 19. Ps. cx. 4. Gen. iii. 15.] He was to conquer through suffering.

Christ exercised His prophetical office in teaching, and in foretelling the future;—in His sermon on the Mount, in His parables, in His prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. He performed the priest's service when He died on the Cross, as a sacrifice; and when He consecrated the bread and the cup to be a feast upon that sacrifice; and now that He intercedes for us at the right hand of God. And He showed Himself as a conqueror, and a king, in rising from the dead, in ascending into heaven, in sending down the Spirit of grace, in converting the nations, and in forming His Church to receive and to rule them.

Further, let it be observed, that these three offices seem to contain in them and to represent the three {54} principal conditions of mankind; for one large class of men, or aspect of mankind, is that of sufferers,—such as slaves, the oppressed, the poor, the sick, the bereaved, the troubled in mind; another is, of those who work and toil, who are full of business and engagements, whether for themselves or for others; and a third is that of the studious, learned, and wise. Endurance, active life, thought,—these are the three perhaps principal states in which men find themselves. Christ undertook them all. On one occasion He said, with reference to His baptism in Jordan, "This it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." [Matt. iii. 15.] Every holy rite of the law did He go through for our sakes. And so too did He live through all states of man's life up to a perfect man, infancy, childhood, boyhood, youth, maturity, that He might be a pattern of them all. And so too did He take man's perfect nature on Him, body, and soul, and reason, that He might sanctify it wholly. And therefore in like manner did He unite in Himself, and renew, and give us back in Him, the principal lots or states in which we find ourselves,—suffering, that we might know how to suffer; labouring, that we might know how to labour; and teaching, that we might know how to teach.

Thus, when our Lord came on earth in our nature, He combined together offices and duties most dissimilar. He suffered, yet He triumphed. He thought and spoke, yet He acted. He was humble and despised, yet He was a teacher. He has at once a life of hardship like the shepherds, yet is wise and royal as the eastern sages who came to do honour to His birth. {55}

And it will be observed, moreover, that in these offices He also represents to us the Holy Trinity; for in His own proper character He is a priest, and as to His kingdom He has it from the Father, and as to His prophetical office He exercises it by the Spirit. The Father is the King, the Son the Priest, and the Holy Ghost the Prophet.

And further this may be observed, that when Christ had thus given a pattern in Himself of such contrary modes of life, and their contrary excellences, all in one, He did not, on His going away, altogether withdraw the wonderful spectacle; but He left behind Him those who should take His place, a ministerial order, who are His representatives and instruments; and they, though earthen vessels, show forth according to their measure these three characters,—the prophetical, priestly, and regal, combining in themselves qualities and functions which, except under the Gospel, are almost incompatible the one with the other. He consecrated His Apostles to suffer, when He said, "Ye shall drink indeed of My cup, and be baptized with My baptism;" to teach, when He said, "The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, He shall teach you all things;" and to rule, when He said to them, "I appoint unto you a kingdom, as My Father hath appointed unto Me; that ye may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." [Matt. xx. 23. John xiv. 26. Luke xxii. 29, 30.]

Nay, all His followers in some sense bear all three offices, as Scripture is not slow to declare. In one place it is said, that Christ has "made us kings and priests {56} unto God and His Father;" in another, "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things." [Rev. i. 6. 1 John ii. 20.] Knowledge, power, endurance, are the three privileges of the Christian Church; endurance, as represented in the confessor and monk; wisdom, in the doctor and teacher; power, in the bishop and pastor. And now to illustrate this more at length, by way of showing what I mean.

1. I mean this,—that when we look abroad into the world, and survey the different states and functions of civil society, we see a great deal to admire, but all is imperfect. Each state, or each rank, has its particular excellence, but that excellence is solitary. For instance,—if you take the highest, the kingly office, there is much in it to excite reverence and devotedness. We cannot but look up to power, which God has originally given, so visibly and augustly displayed. All the pomp and circumstance of a court reminds us that the centre of it is one whom God, the Almighty King, maintains. And yet, on second thoughts, is there not this great defect,—that it is all power, and no subjection; all greatness, and no humiliation; all doing, and no suffering? Great sovereigns indeed, like other men, have their own private griefs, and, if they are Christians, have the privileges of Christians, painful as well as pleasant; but I am speaking of kingly power in itself, and showing what a contrast it presents to Christ's sovereignty. Princes are brought up princes; from their birth they receive honours approaching to worship; they will a thing, and it is done; they are on high, and {57} never below. How different the sovereignty of Christ! Born, not in golden chambers, but in a cave of the earth, surrounded with brute cattle, laid in a manger; then bred up as the carpenter's son; when He displayed Himself as the King of Saints, still without a place to lay His head, and dying on the Cross a malefactor's death. He was not a king without being a sufferer too. And so in like manner His followers after Him. He washed His brethren's feet, and He bade them in turn do the like. He told them that, "whosoever would be chief among them, let him be their servant, even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." [Matt. xx. 27, 28.] He warned them that they should receive "houses and lands, with persecutions." [Mark x. 30.] Such is the kingly power of Christ,—reached through humiliation, exercised in mortification.

2. Take another instance. How much is there to admire and revere in the profession of a soldier. He comes more nearly than a king to the pattern of Christ. He not only is strong, but he is weak. He does and he suffers. He succeeds through a risk. Half his time is on the field of battle, and half of it on the bed of pain. And he does this for the sake of others; he defends us by it; we are indebted to him; we gain by his loss; we are at peace by his warfare. And yet there are great drawbacks here also. First, there is the carnal weapon: it is a grievous thing to have to shed blood and to inflict wounds, though it be in self-defence. But again, which is more to our present purpose, after all, the soldier is {58} but an instrument directed by another; he is the arm, he is not the head; he must act, whether in a right cause or in a wrong one. His office is wanting in dignity, and accordingly we associate it with the notion of brute force, and with arbitrariness, and imperiousness, and violence, and sternness, and all those qualities which are brought out when mind, and intellect, and sanctity, and charity, are away. But Christ and His ministers are bloodless conquerors. True, He came as one from the battle; and the Prophet cried out on seeing Him, "Who is this that cometh with dyed garments? … wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel, and Thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat?" [Isa. lxiii. 1, 2.] But that blood was His own; and if His enemies' blood flowed after His, it was drawn by themselves, by the just judgment of God, not by Him. "He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth." [Isa. liii. 7. Acts viii. 32.]

But there is "a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;" so in season He spoke, and then He was a Prophet. In season He opened His mouth and said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit;" and so with the other beatitudes upon the mount. "In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;" "Full of grace are His lips, because God hath blessed Him for ever." He not only commands, He persuades. He tempers His awful deeds, He explains His sufferings, by His soothing words. "The Lord hath given unto Him the tongue of the learned, that He may be able to speak a word in season to him that is weary." And when He {59} began to teach, "All men marvelled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth." He taught them "as one having authority." David, himself a prophet and king, a man of sacred song, though a man of blood, had shown beforehand what kind of ruler the promised Christ must be;—" He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God; and He shall be as the light of the morning." And Moses before him, another ruler of God's people; "My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass." [2 Sam. xxiii. 3, 4. Deut. xxxii. 2.] And hence it was said of the Saviour to come, "He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall any hear His voice in the streets; a bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench, till He send forth judgment unto victory." [Matt. xii. 18-20.] Hence such stress is laid in the Prophets on His being a Just God and a Saviour; on "righteousness and peace kissing each other;" on "righteousness being the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins." [Isa. xi. 5.] Such is the Divine Prophet of the Church, the Interpreter of secrets, ruling not like conquerors of the earth, but by love; not by fear, not by strength of arm, but by wisdom of heart, convincing, persuading, enlightening, founding an empire upon faith, and ruling by a sovereignty over the conscience. And such, too, has been the rule of His servants after Him. They have been weak personally, without armies, without strongholds, naked, defenceless, yet sovereigns, {60} because they were preachers and teachers, because they appealed to the reason and the conscience; and strange to say, though the arm of force seems as if it could do all things, the sovereignty of mind is higher, and the strong and the noble quail before it.

3. Once more. We know that philosophers of this world are men of deep reflection and inventive genius, who propose a doctrine, and by its speciousness gather round them followers, found schools, and in the event do wonderful things. These are the men, who at length change the face of society, reverse laws and opinions, subvert governments, and overthrow kingdoms; or they extend the range of our knowledge, and, as it were, introduce us into new worlds. Well, this is admirable, surely, so vast is the power of mind; but, observe how inferior is this display of intellectual greatness compared with that which is seen in Christ and His saints, inferior because defective. These great philosophers of the world, whose words are so good and so effective, are themselves too often nothing more than words. Who shall warrant for their doing as well as speaking? They are shadows of Christ's prophetical office; but where is the sacerdotal or the regal? where shall we find in them the nobleness of the king, and the self-denial of the priest? On the contrary, for nobleness they are often the "meanest of mankind;" and for self-denial the most selfish and most cowardly. They can sit at ease, and follow their own pleasure, and indulge the flesh, or serve the world, while their reason is so enlightened, and their words are so influential. Of all forms of earthly greatness, surely this is the most {61} despicable. One sorrows to think that the soldier is by his profession but a material and brute instrument; one owns that great defect in earthly royalty, that it is worshipped without worshipping, that it commands without obeying, and resolves and effects without suffering; but what shall we say to men like Balaam, who profess without doing, who teach the truth yet live in vice, who know, but do not love?

Such is the world: but Christ came to make a new world. He came into the world to regenerate it in Himself, to make a new beginning, to be the beginning of the creation of God, to gather together in one, and recapitulate all things in Himself. The rays of His glory were scattered through the world; one state of life had some of them, another others. The world was like some fair mirror, broken in pieces, and giving back no one uniform image of its Maker. But He came to combine what was dissipated, to recast what was shattered in Himself. He began all excellence, and of His fulness have all we received. When He came, a Child was born, a Son given, and yet He was Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Angels heralded a Saviour, a Christ, a Lord; but withal, He was "born in Bethlehem," and was "lying in a manger." Eastern sages brought Him gold, for that He was a King, frankincense as to a God; but on the other hand myrrh also, in token of a coming death and burial. At the last, He "bore witness to the truth" before Pilate as a Prophet, suffered on the cross as our Priest, while He was also "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." {62}

And so His Apostles after Him, and in His likeness, were kings, yet without the pomp; soldiers, yet with no blood but their own; teachers, yet withal their own disciples, acting out in their own persons, and by their own labours, their own precepts.

And so, in after-times, those Saints and Fathers to whom we look up, have joined these three offices together. Great doctors they have been, but not mere philosophers or men of letters, but noble-minded rulers of the churches; nor only so, but preachers, missionaries, monastic brethren, confessors, and martyrs. This is the glory of the Church, to speak, to do, and to suffer, with that grace which Christ brought and diffused abroad. And it has run down even to the skirts of her clothing. Not the few and the conspicuous alone, but all her children, high and low, who walk worthy of her and her Divine Lord, will be shadows of Him. All of us are bound, according to our opportunities,—first to learn the truth; and moreover, we must not only know, but we must impart our knowledge. Nor only so, but next we must bear witness to the truth. We must not be afraid of the frowns or anger of the world, or mind its ridicule. If so be, we must be willing to suffer for the truth. This was that new thing that Christ brought into the world, a heavenly doctrine, a system of holy and supernatural truths, which are to be received and transmitted, for He is our Prophet, maintained even unto suffering after His pattern, who is our Priest, and obeyed, for He is our King.

Top | Contents | Works | Home


Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home

Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.