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* The priest's lips,' says Malachi, should keep knowledge ; and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.'
Of all the parts of this office the offering of sacrifices and other oblations is undoubtedly the most prominent and important. It was originally enjoined in the authoritative separation of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood. It is everywhere more insisted on as the great business of the priests, throughout the law of Moses, and throughout the whole history of the Jewish economy. It is accordingly mentioned alone by St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter v. verse 1, as the sum of the duty of the high priest. • Every high priest is ordained—that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.' This, then, is the peculiar office orduty of the priesthood, while the others are only appendages.
In the performance of this duty, the priest was everywhere considered in the law of Moses as making an atonement for the sins of the person or persons by whom the offerings were presented; sometimes for individuals, sometimes for the whole nation. This great object, the only rational means of explaining the institution of sacrifices, is abundantly inculcated in the formal institution itself, and in all the precepts by which the duties of it are regulated, so abundantly, that I know not how it can be misconstrued. Accordingly, the Scriptures have been understood in this manner only by the great body of Christians from the beginning.
But nothing is more evident, than that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take away sins.' These sacrifices, therefore, were never designed to purify those by whom they were offered. They were plainly and certainly mere types, holding forth to the suppliant the great and real sacrifice, by which the author of it. hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. In burnt offerings and sacrifices
' for sin,' God said by David, Psalm xl. • he had no pleasure.' They were not, therefore, ordained for their own sake, but to point the eyes of worshippers to the Son of God, who camo to do his will; for whom a body was prepared ;' and who, · having offered,' in that body,'one sacrifice for sins, sat down for ever at the right hand of God.'
The scheme of atonement, then, appears evidently to have
been a part, and a chief part, of the divine economy in the present world in all ages, or from the beginning.
Accordingly, when Christ had performed this great duty of his own priesthood, the priesthood of men ceased. The Jewish priesthood was terminated within a few years after his ascension. The office, except as holden by Christ, has no place in the Christian church, and, unless in a figurative sense, cannot be applied to Christian ministers without a solecism.
III. The character of a priest, as disclosed in the Scriptures, consisted principally of the following things:
1. A priest must be called of God.
• No man,' says St. Paul, “ taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest, but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.' Nothing is more plain, than that he who ministers to God in divine things, ought to be approved of God; and it is clearly evident that he, who is not called, cannot expect to be approved. To thrust one's self into an office of this nature must be the result of mere impudence and impiety; a spirit which cannot meet the divine acceptance.
2. A priest must be holy.
Aaron and his sons were originally sanctified, externally, by a series of most solemn offerings and ceremonies. The garments of the High Priest were also pronounced holy, and styled holy garments. The oil with which he was anointed was styled holy, and was forbidden to all other persons, on a severe and dreadful penalty. •HOLINESS TO THE LORD' was engraved on a plate which he was directed to wear upon his mitre,
. Such an high priest,' says St. Paul, “became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.”
No absurdity can be more obvious or more gross than an unholy, polluted character in a man whose professional business it is to minister to God. The very beathen were so sensible of this, that their priests claimed generally, and laboured to preserve, that character which they esteemed sanctity.
3. A priest must be learned in the Scriptures. As the Priests were to “teach,' so they were to keep
knowledge.' Ezra, accordingly, is declared to have been ready scribe in the law of Moses,' and to have prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.' Artaxerxes, also, in his decree testifies, that the wisdom of God was in the hand of Ezra.' Every priest was implicitly required to possess theso three great characteristics of the priesthood.
I have discussed the preceding subjects, viz. The origin, the office, and the character of the priesthood, that the various observations which I shall have occasion to make in the farther examination of the priesthood of Christ may be the more distinctly understood.
IV. I shall now inquire in what manner the office and character of a priest may with propriety be said to belong to him.
In the text, God the Father is exhibited as having sworn with a solemn and unchangeable decree to the Son, Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedek. As the person to whom this oath was addressed is expressly declared, both by Christ and St. Paul, to be Christ, there can be no debate concerning this part of the subject.
Farther: As Christ is here declared by God the Father to be a priest, it cannot be questioned that he sustained this office. It may, however, be proper to remind those who bear me, and who wish to examine the scriptural account of this subject, that the establishment and explanation of the priesthood of Christ occupies a great part of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
But, although this fact cannot be questioned, it cannot easily fail to be a useful employment in a Christian assembly to show, that Christ actually sustained the whole character and performed all the duties of a priest of God. This purpose
I shall endeavour to accomplish in the remainder of the present Discourse.
1. Christ sustained the whole character of a priest of God.
(1.) He was called of God to this office. Of this the proof is complete in the passage already quoted, from Hebrews v. 4, 5.
No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not
himself, to be made an high priest ; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee.' In the following verse the apostle, with unanswerable force, alleges the text as complete proof of the same point. “As he saith also in another place, Thou art a Priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedek.' In the 9th and 10th verses also he renews the declaration in a different form, from the same words. • And, being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedek. In consequence of this divine call to the priesthood, he was anointed to this office, not with the holy anointing oil employed in the solemn consecration of the Aaronic priesthood, but with the antitype of that oil, the Spirit of grace, poured upon him without measure' by the hand of God.
(2.) He was holy. "Such an high priest,' says St. Paul, became us, who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sipners.' • Who did no sin,' says St. Peter, ‘ neither was guile found in bis mouth.' • The prince of this world cometh,' says our Saviour, and has nothing in me :' that is, nothing on which he can found an accusation against me.
(3.) He was perfectly acquainted with the law of God. This is abundantly declared by Christ himself in many forms; particularly, when he says, ' For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things, whatsoever he doeth. And again : No one knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.'* And again · I am the light of the world.'+ And again : Thy law is within my heart.' + Of this acquaintance with the divine law he gave the most abundant proofs while he resided in this world, in his discourses generally. But in bis Sermon on the Mount he gave a more clear, minute, and comprehensive explanation of its nature and extent than was ever furnished elsewhere to the children of men.
2. He performed all the duties of a priest of God, except one, to wit, determining judicially the controversies between men ; a thing irreconcileable to his office as a priest.
(1.) He taught the Law, or will of God to his people, and ultimately to mankind, in a manner far more extensive, perspicuous, forcible, and every way perfect, than all the priests * Matt. xi. 28. + John ix, 5.
(Psalm xl. 8.
and all the prophets who preceded him had been able to do. On this subject I have dwelt, while considering his character as a prophet, with so much minuteness as to preclude all necessity of farther discussion.
In this instruction he has included all things pertaining to lise and to godliness,' necessary to be known by man; and, therefore, bas involved in them every oracular answer, or answer of God, to the inquiries of mankind after their interest and duty, which they can ever need on this side of the grave.
(2.) He has performed, and still performs for this sinful world the great office of an intercessor.
• But this man,' says St. Paul, · because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able, also, to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him ; seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.' • If any man sin,' says St. John, “ we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.' Of this intercession his prayer in the xviith chapter of John has been considered as an example.
Finally: He performed the great duty of offering sacrifice. • Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's : for this he did once, when he offered up himself.' And again : • Now, once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin, by the sacrifice of himself. And, as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many.' It will be unnecessary farther to multiply proofs of this point.
It may, however, be useful to obviate a difficulty which may, not very unnaturally, arise in the mind when contemplat
, ing this subject. It is this :-How can Christ be said to have offered himself, when he was apprehended, condemned, and crucified by others? This difficulty will be easily removed, if we remember the following things :
[1.] That Christ could not, without incurring the guilt of suicide, have put himself to death: and therefore could not be virtuously offered, on his own part, unless put to death by the hand of others.
[2.] That he voluntarily came into the world to die for sinners.