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however, in being long before this period. Cain and Abel performed the public duties of it for themselves; and there is no reason to doubt that it was regularly continued from their time, through every succeeding period, to the coming of Christ.
So soon as mankind became distributed into families, it appears highly probable that the Father of the family exercised this office in all instances, in behalf of himself and his household. Several instances of this nature are recorded : Noah was plainly the priest of his own family, and Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job, of theirs'. It is probable that heads of families generally held the office in the same manner.
When mankind became settled in tribes and nations, the prince, or chief ruler, and at times some other ruler of great distinction, became the priest of the nation. Thus Melchisedek was at the same time the king and priest of the people of Salem ; and thus, as we know from profane history, many other princes held the same office among the people over whom they presided.
Under the Mosaic economy the office was, by divine institution, appropriated to a particular class of men. All these,
, except one, were originally ordinary priests, over whom that one presided, in the character of high priest. To this officer peculiar duties and privileges were attached. His weight and influence were almost invariably second only to those of the Prince, and not unfrequently paramount even to them. Similar establishments were early made among the gentiles. In the time of Joseph, we find the priests a separate class of men in the land of Egypt. An institution, essentially of the same nature, appears to have existed in many other nations at a very early date, and a priesthood, in one form or another, bas been found in almost all the nations of men in every age of the world. This fact proves, unanswerably, that the priesthood has its origin either in a divine appointment, handed down by universal tradition, or in such a sense felt by the human mind of its utility and importance, as to persuade all nations, for this reason, not only to institute, but to maintain it with great expense and self-denial. As we find the office commencing with the very first age of the world, we are furnished by this fact with a strong presumptive argument, to prove that it was derived originally from a divine institution. This argument receives no small strength from the consideration that the office, however corrupted and mutilated, was in substance everywhere the same, and was professedly directed to the same objects.
II. The office of a priest involved the following things. 1. Intercession.
This is so universally acknowledged to have been always a part of the duties of a priest, as'to need neither proof nor explanation. In conformity to it Aaron and his sons were commanded to bless the children of Israel, by praying for them in this remarkable language : Jehovah bless thee, and keep thee. Jehovah make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee. Jehovah lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. In the same manner also, in the
' days of the Prophet Joel, 'the priests, the ministers of the Lord,' were commanded to weep between the porch and the altar, and to say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them. Wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?'
Among the Gentiles also priests customarily prayed for the people.
2. Another branch of the priest's office was the offering of sacrifices and other oblations.
• Every high priest, taken from among men,' says St. Paul, • is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sin.' Intercession seems to be a duty of natural religion, and may be easily supposed to be a service properly performed by beings who have not fallen from their obedience. But, in such a state, the offering of sacrifices could evidently have no propriety, nor foundation. Sacrifices are, in my view beyond all doubt, of divine appointment, and have their foundation in the apostasy of man. Of this the proof seems to me complete, both from reason and Revelation. It cannot be supposed, as it cannot be proper, that on this occasion I should enter upon a detailed account of this proof.
It will be sufficient to observe, that sacrifices existed among all the ancient nations, and that therefore they are derived from one common source ; that no vation beside the Jews can give any account of the origin of this rite, or any reason for which it was founded; nor show, unless loosely and unsatisfactorily any purpose which it could rationally be expected to answer; that all nations still hoped by means of their sacrifices to become acceptable, though they could not tell how or why, to their gods, and accordingly made the offering of sacrifices the principal rite of their respective religions ; that, to a great extent, they offered the same sacrifices, and those chiefly such as are styled clean, in the Scriptures. These sacrifices were also esteemed in some sense or other, though none of the heathen could explain that sense, expiations for sin. At the same time it ought to be observed, that there is, to the eye of reason, no perceptible connection between sacrifices and r ligion ; and that there is nothing in this rite, particularly, which can lead the understanding to suppose it in any sense expiatory. The true dictate of reason on this subject is, that the causeless destruction of the life of an animal niust be in itself an evil, an act of inhumanity, a provocation to God, only increasing the list of crimes in the suppliant; while, on the contrary, the supposition that God can be appeased or reconciled by the death of an animal burnt upon an altar, is an obvious and monstrous absurdity. Well might Balak doubt, when he asked so anxiously under the strong influence of traditionary custom, . Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil ? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?' The only sacrifices of God,' that is the only sacrifices which God will accept, if he will accept any from man, are, in the
eye of common sense, as well as in that of David, ' a broken spirit and a contrite heart;' a disposition, as specified by Balaam in his answer to Balak, 'to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. From these observations, taken in their connection, it
' is, I think, fairly evident, that sacrifices were not, and cannot have been devised by mankind.
In the Scriptures the same doctrine is, I apprehend, rendered unquestionably certain. Abel offered a sacrifice to God, and was accepted. By St. Paul we are informed, that he
, offered this sacrifice in faith. While it is incredible, that he should have devised this rite as an act of religion, it is antiscriptural, and therefore incredible, that he should have been accepted in any act beside an act of obedience to God. But
such an act his sacrifice could not have been, unless it had been commanded of God. Nor is it possible to conceive in what manner his faith could have been exerted, or to what object it could have been directed, unless it was directed to some divine promise. But no divine promise is, in the Scriptures, exhibited as made to mankind, except through the Redeemer. Abel, therefore, must have believed in the future existence and efficacious interference of that seed of the woman,' which was one day' to bruise the head of the serpent.' With the eye of faith he saw that, through this glorious person, there was forgiveness with God,' and therefore • feared,' or reverenced him. He hoped' in the divine promise, that through him there was plenteous redemption' for the children of men, and in the exercise of this hope he performed such acts of worship as God had enjoined. Had be, on the contrary, like Nadab and Abihu, brought an offering which the Lord had not commanded, we are warranted from analogy to conclude that he would have been rejected, as they were.
After the deluge, Noah, as we are told, builded an altar unto the Lord ; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar.' On this occasion, also, the offering was accepted. To this fact the same reasoning is applicable with the same force. But it is farther evident from this story, that both fowls and beasts were, at that time known and designated as clean, and unclean. That this designation existed in the time of Noah, and was customary language, known to him and others at that time, is certain from the fact, that he selected only such as were clean : and is still farther illustrated by the fact, that God directed him to take of every clean beast, and every clean fowl, by sevens, into the ark ;' and that Noah exactly obeyed this command, and therefore perfectly knew what it imported. Beasts and fowls were, of course, distinguished as clean and unclean ; or, in other words, as those which might, and those which might not, be offered to God. But beasts, in themselves, are all equally clean and equally unclean ; nor can common sepse discern a reason why one should be offered rather than another, any more than why any of them should be offered at all. The distinction of clean and unclean, or acceptable and unacceptable, cannot have been found in any thing but the divine appointment. But this distinction we find thus early made ; and, as Abel offered clean beasts also, and the firstlings of his flock, the very sacrifice commanded afterwards to the Israelites, there is ample reason to conclude that the same distinction was made from the beginning
The sacrifices of the Scriptures involve a plain, and at the same time a most important meaning. All of them were typical merely, and declared in the most striking manner the faith of the worshipper in the great propitiatory sacrifice of the Redeemer, and in the blessings promised by God through his mediation. Considered in this light, sacrifices are highly significant acts of worship, worthy of being divinely instituted, deeply affecting the heart of the suppliant, naturally and strongly edifying him in faith, hope, and obedience, and well deserving a place among the most important religious rites of all who lived before the oblation of the great sacrifice made for mankind.
From this view of the subject it is, I think, clearly evident, that sacrifices were divinely instituted; and that this institution was founded in the future propitiatory sacrifice for sin made by the Redeemer. It is, of course, evident also that this part of the priest's office is derived from the apostasy of mankind, and can have a place only among beings who need an expiation.
3. Another part of the priest's office was to deliver the oracles, or answers of God to the people.
This was done, partly by the now inexplicable mode of Urim and Thummim, and partly by declarations made in the common manner.
The heathen priesthood, in imitation of that which was instituted by God, gave the pretended answers of their oracular divinities to such as came to consult them.
4. Another part of the priest's office was deciding the legal controversies of individuals, or judging between man and man.
For the institution of this duty of the priests, see Deuteronomy xvii. 9, 10. Accordingly, several of the priests are mentioned, in succeeding ages, as judges of the people.
5. Another part of the priest's office was to instruct the people in the knowledge of the divine law.