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THE QUALIFICATIONS OF A PRIEST.
Heb. v. 1-10. For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no man taketh this honor 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. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; 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 Melchisedec.
THE full and satisfactory establishment of Christ's priesthood, and a complete answer of all the objections which Jewish ingenuity could bring against it, were matters of essential importance to the apostle's purpose in this epistle. Accustomed to look upon themselves as heaven's exclusive favorites, and to regard their priesthood and its rites and sacrifices as the only efficacious in the world, Paul might have talked and written about the atonement of Christ and its glorious sufficiency until the end of Time, and not gained one single convert from Judaism, so long as he had not proven his authority to exercise the sacerdotal functions. Nor were the Jews to blame for contending for a properly authorized priesthood, and one bearing as strong evidences as the priesthood of Aaron, as necessary to the existence of true religion among men. Knowing that the Aaronic order was of Divine appointment, it was the part of piety and wisdom to hold it fast to the utter exclusion of every other, until that which was proposed in its place was shown to be of equal authority, and to possess even more desirable excellencies. This was the true principle in the case; one which Paul fully acknowledges, and upon which he agrees to join with them in resting the issues of the controversy. In the text the apostle proceeds to inquire into the requisite qualifications of an Aaronic
priest; and secondly, to show, that Christ really did possess these very qualifications, and that in a superior degree.
The first particular mentioned, is, that every true priest must be ordained from among men to superintend and direct the concerns which man has with his God. "For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins." Here we have a clear definition of the priestly office, and a brief statement of all its constituent elements. 1st. A priest must be "ordained;" i. e. he must be set apart for the particular purposes of his office. There must be a formal recognition of his right to hold the priestly dignity.All legitimate priests were thus ordained. The house of Aaron and the sons of Levi were set apart by the most solemn ceremonies. Nor was the exercise of the priestly functions ever tolerated in any one who had not been ordained. 2nd. A priest must be "taken from among men" for this office. It is human interest that is concerned, and it requires a human being to superintend the matter. None but man is admitted into the presence of God in man's behalf. There must be an identity of nature in the person offering gifts and sacrifices, and those for whom they are offered. Otherwise there would be incongruity in the manner in which the law is met. Debts are transferable, but not crimes. The same nature which sinned must make and present the atonement, or die. It was man that transgressed, and it is only with man that an adjustment can be effected. Hence every high priest is "taken from among men."3d. A priest is one who ministers as the representative of his fellows. He is set apart for the performance of a work touching the welfare of the multitude in whose name he officiates. He stands between a sinful world and an angry God, to propitiate the offended Lawgiver toward his guilty subjects. 4th. His province is essentially confined to religion. "For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God." None but religious transactions and devotional exercises primarily belong to the duties of his office. 5th. It devolved upon him particularly
to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins." The Jewish worship consisted of two kinds of offerings: thank-offerings and sacrificialofferings. The former acknowledged God as the Creator and bountiful Dispenser of good; the latter acknowledged him as Sovereign and Judge, whose laws they had broken, and whose favor
they desired to secure. The gifts spoken of in the text, refer to all those oblations which were expressive of gratitude; such as the fruits of the earth, wine, meal, wafers, and sometimes slain animals. The sacrifices comprehend all those bloody offerings which were made for the atonement of guilt, consisting of various kinds of victims, whose lives were taken and whose blood was poured out before the Lord to expiate the sins of the people. These gifts and sacrifices when presented by the people, it was the chief business of the priest to offer. To this intent was the priestly office instituted. Nor can any one properly be called a priest, unless he have offerings of this kind to make; much less could a priesthood having no sacrifices to present avail anything in behalf of those for whom it is exercised. The offering of gifts and sacrifices constituted the very marrow and life-the great and essential element of the priestly dignity. And there never was a legitimate priesthood where this did not enter as the chief idea.
But the apostle mentions some further natural qualifications as indispensable to a legitimate priesthood. "Who can have compassion on the ignorant and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins." From these words we learn, that a priest must be able to enter into the feelings and wants of those for whom he is to officiate. Two things may be affirmed of guilty men, they are ignorant and erring. Their ignorance consists in wrong views of God and of man's relations and obligations to him. And having no proper conceptions upon these fundamental points, they are subject to stumble, fall, and run into every imaginable wickedness. A priest must be able to make allowances for their untoward circumstances, and to consider the difficulties of their situation and the infirmities which beset them, in order that he might be kind and lenient, as well as faithful to their spiritual interests. And this may be intended as another reason why every priest must be taken from among men. He must have a fellow-feeling for those whose interests he superintends.Nothing but the actual experience of the infirmities of human nature can furnish a proper conception of them. Men often blame and denounce each other for not breaking off from certain vices or evil practices; but doubtless their condemnation would be considerably modified and much kindlier means employed, if those rigid
judges could only once feel the power of the temptations or the difficulties of instant reform. Hence a priest must have a common nature with the people, so as to have an experimental knowledge of their feelings and their wants, and be able to press his intercessions with a corresponding urgency. "Being himself compassed with infirmity," and feeling himself the power of sin and the necessity and importance of his office, he will be the more disposed to faithfulness in the exercise of its functions, and be the more diligent in presenting those sacrifices which alone can atone for guilt.
Another particular mentioned by Paul as necessary to make out the claims of an individual to the priestly office is, a Divine call. "And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron." The necessity of a Divine vocation to the priestly order is manifest from the nature of the case. We have seen that a priest is one who ministers between man and God, to effect a reconciliation between them. And though it can be productive of no advantage to the Deity, and man's interests alone are concerned; yet, the appointment of the individual to this office devolves entirely upon God, for two reasons. 1st. He is the injured party and man the offender, and it belongs to him, and not to the criminal to say whether a priest shall be admitted at all. God could be just, and yet refuse to be reconciled. Men can enter no claims upon the least favor from him. They have no reasonable plea why the full penalty of the law should not be executed upon them. Hence it is for the Almighty to say whether a mediator shall be admitted. 2nd. It is the sole prerogative of God as the Sovereign and proprietor of the world to say who is acceptable to him, and who is the proper person to be intrusted with so important a work. Had men the selection of their own priests, they might call such as Jehovah would not regard, or such as were otherwise unworthy of the office.
In accordance with these principles God has ever claimed the appointment of the Priests. Aaron who was the first and greatest high priest of the Mosaic economy, was called by the Lord in a peculiar and miraculous manner. He was even named by name.— The law respecting his successors also required as clear evidence that they were called to the holy office by the Lord, as though they had been designated by name. The sacred enactments of Moses very clearly defined all the necessary qualifications, and none could
be legitimately endowed with holy orders who had not these prescribed qualities. Where they existed however, they furnished the most decisive evidence of a Divine vocation. And though this office was greatly degraded from its original dignity in the days of Paul, and the prescriptions of the law in reference to it were but little regarded; yet, such was the only priesthood which the Lord acknowledged.
Having defined the requisite qualifications of a Jewish priest, the apostle proceeds to show that Jesus Christ eminently possessed them all. In discussing this branch of the subject, he reverses the order observed above, and begins with the qualification last mentioned; viz: the Divine call. "So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; for he that said unto him, (as before quoted i. 5,) Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee; also saith in another place, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." (Psa. cx. 4.) That these words, and the Psalm from which they are taken, apply to Christ the Messiah is evident from the following considerations. 1st. It is a Psalm of David, but it applies to one superior to him whom he even calls "Lord." 2nd. It does not refer to Jehovah, for there is a very plain distinction made between him and the personage addressed. 3d. There cannot be a reference to any of David's contemporaries, for there were none to whom he could or would have attributed this exalted superiority. 4th. Nor were there any but the Messiah among all his posterity to whom it could apply. 5th. Christ has expressly ascribed it to himself. (Matt. xxii. 43, 44.) 6th. The whole scope of the Psalm is such as to intimate its application to Christ. 7th. The apostle proceeds upon its application to the Messiah in a manner which plainly indicates the admission on the part of the Jews that they so understood it. If then the position refering this Psalm to a description of Christ be established, the question respecting the Divine authority of his priesthood is conclusively settled. He did not glorify himself to be made an high priest-he did not ambitiously obtrude himself into this great office. The Lord Jehovah himself has called him to this dignity; and though he was neither of the house of Aaron, nor of the tribe of Levi, has said unto him, "Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." So far then as respects the Divine appointment of Christ's priesthood, all difficulty is obviated, and the point is decided.