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As the apostle has introduced into his discourse the priesthoods of Melchisedec, Aaron, and Jesus-we shall inquire into the divine origin of these three priesthoods.
As he has asserted that Melchisedec's priesthood is, and that Aaron's priesthood is not, the examplar of Christ's-we shall inquire, in what sense Jesus is said to be a priest after the order of Melchisedec, and not after the order of Aaron.
As he has produced the prophecy of David, that Messiah should be a priest after the order of Melchisedec-we shall inquire, what could be David's motive; or rather, what could be the intention of the Divine Spirit, in assigning that order of priesthood to him, rather than the order of Aaron.
And, in fine, as the apostle's discussion of the order of Messiah's priesthood is long, minute, and precise- we shall inquire, why he found it necessary to argue this subject so pertinaciously with the Jews.
I. Of the divine origin of the priesthoods of Melchisedec, Aaron, and Jesus.
According to the evidence of scriptural history, the only admissible evidence in the case,
these three priesthoods were divinely constituted; and the only divinely constituted priesthoods that ever existed among men. Of these, calculating from the commencement of sacrificial functions, Melchisedec's was the first. It is obvious, that by priest is here meant an official character, a man "taken from among men," and "ordained for men, in things pertaining to God, that he might offer both gifts and sacrifices for sin."* Of such, Melchisedec was the first. Previous to his day, the offering of gifts and sacrifices for sins was, like prayer, the common right of the faithful; as appears from the offerings of Cain and Abel,† of Noah, &c. &c. In this situation matters continued in respect to worshippers generally, (the tribe which Melchisedec.represented probably excepted,) and to the posterity of Abraham in particular; even after the constitution of God's covenant with him, and down to the consecration of Aaron. Previous to this latter period, there was not a priest in Abraham's family; but, as numerous instances attest, every worshipper offered up his own sacrifice, or invited and employed what assistants he pleased. For ages after the calling of Abraham, the institutions of true religion, and the dispensation of the Spirit of grace,
* Heb. v. 1.
+ Gen. iv. 3, 4.
‡ Gen. viii. 20.
were continued to several other tribes of men: among these also, the right to offer sacrifice, belonged, for any thing we know, to the faithful in common.
In the early ages of the world, religion had not received that organization, which has distinguished religious societies in subsequent periods. Prophets every age had: Adam, no doubt, was the first; Enoch, Noah, and others succeeded; for there could not be any such thing as religion, without a divine revelation: and by a procedure, the wisdom and goodness of which are equally apparent, God raised up from among men the instruments by which his will should be made known to their respective generations. But these were extraordinary characters, and are not known to have had any peculiar functions in the ordinary offices of religious worship. The faithful had no fixed teachers, to preach the truths, or doctrines of religion; no fixed priests, to present their sacrifices and offerings. Every pious man, no doubt, was ready to embrace such opportunities as might offer of instructing others, and presented his sacrifice in person. We are not to imagine, however, that religion was, in the times alluded to, so entirely a private and personal concern, as to be wholly destitute of social character. It
did always possess social character, and admitted the communion of saints: but that character was defined, not by ecclesiastical constitution, but by the natural arrangements of human society. Thus we find Job offering up sacrifices for his children,* and Jethro, in communion with Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel, offering up sacrifice in the Israelitish camp. Such a course things would naturally take. For, as families and states are equally bound with individuals, to acknowledge the Supreme Being; so it is plain, that those religious solemnities, by which such acknowledgment is made, must of right and necessity, (no divine constitution withstanding,) be conducted by the chief ruler; by the head of the family in the one case, and by the magistrate in the other.
Let us indulge a passing glance down the vista, which opens to us a prospect of the domain of heathenism. There too, we find the priesthood an appendage to the magistracy. Omitting other instances, it shall suffice to notice that the priesthood was a prerogative of royalty in the original constitution of Rome. This connection of offices commenced with Romulus, expired with Tarquin, and was revived, after a long interval, in the person of
* Job i.
Exod. xviii. 12.
Julius Cæsar. There is a fact too remarkable to be omitted, even in this short notice of the subject; that so fixed and inveterate had the idea of a king-priest become among the Romans, that they considered such a character essential to the state; and, accordingly, when they abolished royalty and instituted a republican form of government, they judged it necessary to elect a Rex Sacrorum, or king of the sacred rites, to attend to those sacerdotal functions, which had belonged to the kings, under the ancient regimen.* There is, however, no good reason for the allegation, that kings originally usurped the priesthood. For from whom should they usurp it? The same constitution which made them the representatives of their states, gave them a necessary precedence in the expressions of national devotion. But time would show the importance of a prerogative, which exhibited them to the eyes of their subjects in the august character of ministers of the gods; and which, by giving them the control of the popular conscience, or, what in most cases is the same thing, of the popular superstition, rendered that mighty engine subservient to their
* Rerum deinde divinarum habita cura, et quia quædam publica sacra per ipsos reges factitata erant, ne ubiubi regum desiderium esset, regem sacrificulum creant.-Liv. lib. ii. cap. 2.