by JOSEPH IRONS - Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Tuesday evening, November 4th, 1851
Perhaps my hearers are ready to ask, "What! are you going to preach up priestcraft at last?" No, indeed, I am going to preach it down. But here stands the portion of Scripture which furnishes me with data for so doing. I should not have attempted to appear in public tonight at all but for the peculiar circumstances of the day and of the things which surround me. I suppose you are aware that this evening I have finished my sixty-sixth year, and I have some hope that I shall never see another. However, I must leave that to God. I would not wish to dictate. I thought this day, when I was about giving up, of my Master, who said, "With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." And I said, "Well, with desire I have desired to bear one more testimony against Antichrist. I know I cannot do it tomorrow, but I will try tonight." And then I thought of good old John Bradford, who was told he must not preach, but must lie by, and rest. It is very foolish of people to talk in that manner. And he said, "If you won't let me preach, don't let me live." Then I thought of dear Toplady (I cannot help going back to these worthies,) who insisted on being carried into the pulpit to confront the lies of Arminianism just before he died. And at last I thought of dear Isaac Saunders. "Well," I said, "if I may but jump out of the pulpit into heaven, as he did, what a mercy it will be." And so I determined, if strength could be at all afforded, that I would once more bear my testimony against priestcraft. That is my point.
But say you, the text says that "the priest shall make an atonement for him." Very well. If you will find me the priest that can make an atonement, I will allow him to pronounce absolution; but I will not allow any of them to pronounce absolution till they can make an atonement. If they pretend to do that by the sacrifice of the mass and the rest of their superstition, I shall say, "Get out of my way; the atonement is already made; it is full and complete; I do not want any of your help. I shall say no more." Sure I am that one of the most faithful and honest testimonies that any minister of God can deliver in these days, is to protest, in the strongest terms, against priestcraft, for that is what has drowned the world and made it drunk. You must bear with me if I am a little vehement upon this point. But, say you, what do you make of this "the priest shall make an atonement for him?" Why, I make the priest stand for Aaron's dispensation till the time of Christ. I see clearly this. "The priest shall make an atonement." He has made atonement. It is done, it is complete, it is accepted; and there are millions in glory who have got home by that atonement; and there are more getting home.
Now there are three things in my text that I want, if I am favoured with strength enough, to say a few words upon. The first is the atonement "the priest shall make an atonement;" the second is the Lord's promise connected with it" he shall be forgiven." Come, come, we have got atonement and absolution both, if we come to God's own word. And the third point is the lasting blessings that must follow. If an atonement is made for all my sins, as I attempted to show you on Lord's Day, and God has promised forgiveness in consequence of that atonement, what lasting blessings are before me! What sacred realities may I not anticipate! Now, you will see, beloved, that in these three things there is enough to employ the talent of any divine all his lifetime; and my only difficulty is in apprehending a want of power. But why should I apprehend that, when God has said, "As thy day is, so shall thy strength be?"
1. Well, then, let us come to the point at once, the atonement. Why, beloved, this is the sum and substance of the Bible; it is the sum and substance of the Old Testament, and the sum and substance of all the Mosaic rites, the sum and substance of all the Aaronic priesthood, the one grand doctrine of atonement.
Mark, I beseech you, that that atonement is a full satisfaction, and nothing else will do. Now that full satisfaction was so typified under the law, that whatever animal they were directed to present before God as a sacrifice and atonement, it must be without blemish and without spot. Nothing blind or lame must be offered to God. Well, does not this point out very strikingly the purity, and holiness, and perfection of our precious Christ, "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," (Rev. 13:8) the one only acceptable offering unto God for sin. Had there been a spot in His life, a blemish in His humanity, any more than in His Godhead, He had never been received and accepted as the atonement; but it is beautifully set forth in all the New Testament language that He was "without spot and blemish." (1 Pet. 1:19)
Now this satisfaction in the atonement of Christ met all the demands of the law and all the requisitions of inflexible justice, and honoured and glorified all the attributes of Deity. There is satisfaction. Well, then, as God is satisfied with it, so are all His elect family. And here I bring the matter to a test as regards your Christianity. If you are not satisfied with the perfect work of Christ, so as to reject everything else in point of merit, you are not a Christian, and you will perish for ever. Now that is the sum and substance of Christianity, that I am just perfectly satisfied with the complete work of Christ, the atonement that He has made on behalf of His entire family the election of grace, and rest there with implicit confidence, looking for nothing else.
Now you must bear in mind, for that is the point of my text I want to dwell upon considerably, you must bear in mind that this atonement was made officially. The priest was to do it. "The priest shall make an atonement." I should not ask any Popish, or any Pagan priest, or any Jewish priest, or any Protestant priest, I class them altogether, I will not have them to make atonement for me. Can you satisfy God's justice on my behalf? Can you fulfil His law? Can you glorify all the perfections and attributes of Deity on my behalf? Were I to put such a question to any of those robed infidels, it would confound them. Well, I should say, "If you cannot make an atonement for me, I will not accept of your forgiveness nor your absolution. If you cannot do both, you shall not do either." I come to that simple point. Then I turn to the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews; and I find that the priesthood is changed, and the law is changed; and the priest that can make atonement for me is "after the order of Melchisedec," and not after the order of Aaron, of whom Aaron was but a type. Here I come to a fixed point, that the priest who has made atonement for me is the Lord Jesus Christ, the co-equal, co-eternal Son of the Father, in my nature; that His order was of a new description "after the order of Melchisedec," and not after the order of Aaron. Well, now, these beings that will so much, and are deceiving the world, and dragging millions of souls to hell blindfold, why they are talking about a line of succession. Very well, in Aaron's family there was a line of succession, and it was among carnal men; the greater part of them were carnal men, and knew nothing of God. You will watch the account given of them, how vile they made themselves in many instances. But in the order of Melchisedec there is no succession, without father, without mother, without descent "a priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedec." So the Lord commissioned the Psalmist to set it down in the 110th Psalm, which seems to be an epitome of the whole gospel, that Jesus was appointed for ever after that same order, not after the other. Well, then, the apostle, in the seventh chapter of the Hebrews, was so delighted with that account of Jesus that he quoted it, repeated it, confirmed it, under the immediate inspiration and direction of the Holy Ghost. So that the atonement made for the election of grace, the family of God, was made officially. Now, mind that, here I make a firm stand. All God's family are chosen and appointed to be kings and priests unto God; but none of them are appointed to be officially so. I beg of you to mark that distinction. An official priesthood for the Christian dispensation exists nowhere but in Christ; and I count it a high crime, an awful crime, for any Christian minister to call himself a priest. Now I beg of you to bear that in mind. It may be my last testimony, and I must bear it well out. Call them what the word of God calls them, and it is all right. I read, in New Testament language, of the apostles writing to the saints which are at Philippi, with their bishops and deacons. There is not a word about priests, official priests, in all the New Testament, search where you will. I grant, indeed, that the term bishop has been grossly perverted; that the office belongs to every ordained minister, and, if used properly, and with humility, is a very proper one to employ. I grant that deacons are under appointments in churches, to manage and superintend secular matters; but I hear of no other officers in the Church of the living God. I read, indeed, that the apostle ordained elders in every city. Well, what did that mean? Why, just that they made choice of men (as commended to them by the Church that elected them) who were elder in years; and they ordained them in every city, and by ordaining them constituted them bishops to watch over the flocks. That is the simple meaning of the New Testament. Well, then, to multiply offices, and to foist in upon us robed Infidels, as I have said, who call themselves priests, who have to give absolution, though they cannot give atonement, yet they falsely pretend even to that, seems to me such a horrid corruption of the very name of Christianity, that I felt I could not die in peace without bearing another testimony against it. And sure I am, that what was printed a year or two ago, in one of my sermons, is true, though I have received many letters abusing me about it. Never mind that, they can come again if they like; sure I am that the world can never have peace, that the Church can never have prosperity, while an official priesthood exists upon earth, save and except Christ. I wish that to go all through the empire.
Just step on a little further, and see that this atonement is not only made official, but relative. It is an atonement for the family of God, for the election of grace, for those who are ultimately made the recipients of grace and life Divine, and there the matter ends. It is for those whom the Father gave to the Son, whom the Son accepted and betrothed in love, whom the Holy Ghost registered in the Book of Life. The family inheritance must be their portion in time, and throughout eternity. I had hoped to have said a little more upon these points, but I find I cannot through weakness.
II. We will go on to the second particular, and try and say a few words about the Lord's promise "he shall be forgiven." Not only shall the priest make atonement, and remove all the guilt, and take away all the accusation, and for ever recover the culprit, who has sinned the sin of which the language of my text speaks, from the wrath of God, and the vengeance of Justice, but "he shall be forgiven." Well, now, I have looked at this expression, because I have been told of a number of instances, and read of a number, in which the Popish priests hold the absolution, as they term it, of sinners, as a threat over the heads of those who do not pay them, or will not leave their property to them, or will not make their wills in favour of them, and the like. Very well, they may go on according to their infidelity as long as God permits them. I do not envy them the wills or the money they have got under such false pretences. It is a known fact, that that is their constant practice, they will not give absolution. You may go to the confessional, and there let them extort from you all the wicked things they please, all the things they think proper to put in questions, often too filthy to be repeated by mortals. "I will not give you absolution," the priest says, "but upon such and such conditions." Now, my God gives me absolution; He says I shall be forgiven, and that upon no other condition than that the atonement was made by my Priest. Then I can say to any human priest, "If you will not give me absolution, you will not make atonement for me. Then God will forgive me; for God has said, when the priest has made atonement, 'he shall be forgiven.' It is not in your power to withhold it, it is not in your power to send me to hell, it is not in your power to deny me forgiveness. God has said, when the priest has made atonement he shall be forgiven." "Will you go and make an atonement?" I might ask. "Yes, I will go and celebrate mass, but I will be paid for it first" they would say that at once. "Then I shall not pay for it, for I do not think it worth a straw." When I come to the point of my glorious High Priest having made atonement for me, I hear the Lord's promise in the most positive terms "he shall be forgiven" a gracious act in the mind of God; a gracious act of the Triune Jehovah. I do not want man's forgiveness. If I have committed any fault against a fellow-worm I ask him to forgive me, and I ought to have his forgiveness, but for a poor fellow-worm to pretend to forgive my offences against God is abstract lying, I will not hear a word of it. No, as I have offended against God, I shall go to God for forgiveness; and when I go He says, "The Priest has made atonement for you, and I cast all your sins behind my back; I drown them in the depths of the sea. When they are sought for they shall not be found; and when they are asked for there shall be none." (Jer. 50:20) Then what do I want of mortals? What do I want of creatures in this respect? My hearer, it is the most frightful delusion that ever was known on earth, for poor sinful worms to imagine that a fellow-worm can forgive sins. I do really think it lowers man infinitely below the brute creation to imagine such a thing. Bear with me in these bold expressions.
Let us look for a moment at the gracious act of our covenant God. "He shall be forgiven." The Father forgave him in the purpose of His love; the Son forgave him in the redemption of His blood" in whom we have redemption, even the forgiveness of sins" (Eph. 1:7)and the Holy Ghost forgives him by a powerful application. There is pardon recorded in heaven; there is Calvary's blood to testify the promise on which it is obtained on earth; and there is the Holy Ghost witnessed and sealed in his heart that he has got it; and he goes about with it in his bosom, in sacred enjoyment, saying, "He has cast all my sins behind His back." (Isa. 38:17)
Go on a step further. Imputation is essential to forgiveness. Don't imagine that the forgiveness of sin is ever vouchsafed as a gracious act without satisfaction. There must be the imputation of all guilt to a divine substitute, and the imputation of all perfect righteousness from that substitute to the poor sinner that has sinned. Well now, when I come to look at the expression, "The Lord hath laid upon Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all," (Isa. 53:6) and then turn to the apostle's account that "His righteousness is unto all and upon all them that believe," (Rom. 3:22) I have only to cast an eye from Calvary to Sinai, at Sinai I see all my sins laid upon Him; at Calvary I see all His righteousness and purity imputed to me. There I stand complete in Christ. This is the priesthood I like, and this is the absolution I claim, my iniquity charged upon Christ, and Christ's righteousness imputed to me, and by virtue of both, the double imputation, the grace of my God refusing to see any iniquity in me, the grace of my God accepting me in the Beloved as one standing perfect and complete. Ah! that memorable sentence of dear Saunders, with which he dropped from the pulpit, is worth a thousand worlds. "Ye are complete in Him." (Col. 2:10) There is no completeness elsewhere.
Well then, mark, I beseech you, a little further, the veracity of all that is pledged. There is no probability, there is no peradventure, there is no condition, but shall "it shall be." Oh! how I do delight to drop upon the shalls and wills in God's word. To give me a proposal, an overture, a condition, an offer, is only to mock my misery, and to insult my God. I won't hear of it at all. Give me God's shalls and wills, and I have something to rest upon. "It shall be forgiven him." Then I have only just to ask, Has the priest made atonement for me? To be sure, no Mohammedan priest ever did, no Popish ever did, or could, no, nor any Protestant priest, nor any Jewish priest. There is not a creature who can make atonement for me; and for you to pretend to do so would be only to insult me. But my Priest has shed His blood, poured out His soul unto death, fully satisfied all claims that could be made upon me, and consequently it is called an atonement. I once met in the country with a rather whimsical critic, and he made his remarks upon the word atonement. I thought there was something in it worth looking at, though I did not like the witticism of the thing. He said, "I divide the word in this way, a-t, at, o-n-e, one, m-e-n-t, mentat-one-ment, making three words of it; so that it is just to bring the sinner at one with God, in union, in perfect agreement and accordance." Well, I have no objection to the doctrine, though I do not know whether the word would bear such criticism. I say, I have no objection to the doctrine, because the atonement of Christ brings the poor sinner into a state of union, oneness, uniformity, agreement, concord, with God's method of saving him, so that they are perfectly agreed. You will forgive this little digression, and dwell a moment longer upon the point I was about to invite you to, the veracity of God being pledged. Can the Lord err? "He is not a man that He should lie, nor the Son of man that He should repent." (Num. 23:19) He has said it, shall He not perform it? Balaam was obliged to admit so much concerning God, and having said, "he shall be forgiven," and the prerogative of forgiveness resting wholly with Himself, it cannot possibly fail. The veracity of God is pledged. Do not tell me about the anathemas and curses of those robed Infidels that I have been describing. Do not tell me about their threatenings and menaces, they are not worth a straw; ten thousand of them would not frighten me for a single moment, for this reason, God hath said, "It shall be forgiven him." I think I hear a silent whisper which says, "Ah! I know something more than that about it." "Do you, indeed, what is it?" say you, "I am forgiven? I have got the roll in my bosom; I have been carrying it about for a good many years, I know it is a settled matter; I am not to be frightened, I am not to be menaced, or insulted by any of these slaves and vassals of Antichrist."
Now contrast all I have said of our great High Priest, who is "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners," (Heb. 7:26) with the modern race of official priests, Mohammedan, Jewish, or Popish, especially the latter, for to these we naturally refer on the Powder Plot anniversary, and say does not history and personal knowledge confirm the appalling fact, that these professors of superior sanctity and Divine authority are the most unholy, mischievous, defiled, and sinful of mankind? Is there a nation under heaven which is not corrupted with her fornications, who is so emphatically called the Harlot, and whose representatives are her priests? Why is France always in convulsions? Why is Spain degraded to vassalage? Why has Italy been deluged with human blood? Why is Ireland a scene of perpetual disorder? And why is dear old England intoxicated with superstition? The one answer to all these frightful inquiries is, in one word, PRIESTCRAFT. I ask again, Has there been a war which the priests have not fermented? Has there been a treasonable plot which did not originate with them? Well may we commemorate the 5th of November, in the well-known language of our boys, "Remember, remember, the fifth on November, the gunpowder treason and plot;" for though that plot was mercifully discovered in time, yet the diabolical spirit of priestcraft, which invented it, did not die with it, but has been at work, and is still at work, as the mystery of iniquity, both publicly and privately. To bring the matter home to dear old England, I ask, Is there a city, town, or village in this kingdom, in which priestly intrigue is not going on? Is there a family into which these robed Infidels are introduced where female chastity is preserved? In a word, I ask, Is there a grade of human society which is not debased, deceived, corrupted, and plundered by these deceivers? Where, then, is the common sense of mankind, who are so duped and oppressed?
But, beyond all this, I ask, Is there a doctrine of the gospel which Popery does not pervert and virtually contradict? Take, for instance, the two grand fundamental doctrines in our text, atonement and forgiveness; and these Baal priests attempt to snatch both out of the hands of our great High Priest, by talking of a sacrifice and of an atonement which they are to make for their dupes by being well paid for it, in which they virtually deny the satisfaction of Christ, but go on to confess their own incompetency by calling in the aid of the Virgin Mary, and a host of saints! What frightful mockery! What a despising of Him who refused all help when in His greatest extremity, could have called down twelve legions of angels, but refused all help in His lowest humiliation; and will He accept of it now He is exalted at the Father's right hand, having all power in heaven and earth? Away, ye blasphemous insulters of my merciful and faithful High Priest, my soul can rest exclusively in His atonement without your pertinacious interference, your penance, payment, or purgatory. So also in the doctrine of forgiveness: "Who can forgive sins but God?" asketh the Jews of old, with great propriety; yet these impostors presume with impunity to give or withhold absolution according to their own caprice, and so attempt to rob Christ of His prerogative. So of all the doctrine of the gospel, such as justification, sanctification, etc., they are all perverted and virtually denied by the priests. And what shall we say of the second-hand Popish priests, who emanate from Oxford and Cambridge, like swarms of locusts, to devour the produce of the earth? They are of the same family, and the most dishonest; they agree to reject the priesthood of Christ in order to set up their own. Let all such read Christ's woes against them in the 23rd chapter of Matthew. Nor do we find much relief by looking into the regularly drilled ranks of Nonconformity, for there also has priestcraft gained ground, and arbitrary authority is assumed. Beloved, get your Christianity from the Bible and from the throne, trust all to your glorious High Priest, and reject all His rivals.
III. Well, now, if I can, I will say a word or two upon the lasting blessings that must follow. (I did not think I should have been able to preach a quarter of an hour; but I see God will have His own way.) What is to follow? The first thing that strikes me is an introduction to all family blessings. If my sins are forgiven because my Priest has atoned for me, and given me absolution, spoken it with His own voice, put it in my own heart, written it with His own blood, and sealed it in my personal experience; why then what stands in the way of my being introduced to all the privileges of the perfect, adoption, comfort, liberty, education, clothing, the best of all things, all the luxuries of the Father's table, all the choice fruits of His vineyard, everything that pertains to vital godliness, every promise of His word, every provision in His covenant, every blessing His hand can bestow, be introduced to it all, and, as faith is bestowed and called into exercise, lay hand upon them all, claim them as my Father's gift and my heavenly portion?
Well, then, among these family blessings I think is included the negotiation which the child of God is enabled to keep up with the Most High in His real character; for we are no longer, as Watts says, to "lie like slaves beneath the throne," but by faith to cry, "Abba, Father." He is one with His children. Then in coming before this throne to negotiate with the great Eternal for the things we need, for the present and the future, for time and for eternity, we have just to plead the merit and righteousness of our glorious High Priest, and, as moved by His Holy Spirit, enter into His presence as our Father, crying, "Abba, Father," and just soliciting at His hands the blessings we need as a child would ask them of a parent.
One thing more, and then I must close, the glory that shall consummate the family dignity and the family privilege. That one word "glory" often cheers my heart; that one word "glory" outweighs everything that this trying state can lay upon me, especially when I can add what the apostle said when he called it "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." (2 Cor. 4:17) All that belongs to the family that are forgiven, the family that the Priest has made atonement for.
Now I have to beg of you that you will never pay any attention to the infamous lies of human priests, but just attend to the promise of my text. Carry it home with you, and compare it with the 7th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. See that your entire confidence is placed upon such a High Priest, who knows how to be touched with a feeling of our infirmities, and whose prerogative it is to forgive sins, and now, having atoned and forgiven sins, and demanding, at the right hand of the Father, "Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, and behold my glory;" (John 17:24) and He will not be denied.
May He command His blessing on these few hints, for His name's sake. Amen.