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THE HIGH PRIEST AND HIS OFFICE.
In every religion, a very great deal, as to ffect and utility, depends upon its ministers and leaders. Some there have been in all ages who, because they were in advance of their professed teachers, rather formed the character of the lessons they received than derived much improvement from them ; but the number of such persons has generally been very small, while the greater part of mankind have been just what they were made by those to whom they committed themselves, and regarded as their spiritual guides, and their religion has been viewed nearly as it was represented to them. So true are the above remarks, that it is common for persons to say, “Like priests like people;" and it is in consequence of the inAuence exerted by spiritual functionaries, that so much is said in the Scriptures on the character and conduct required in those who would fill the ministerial office, in order to direct persons in their choice of them. The control exercised, however, will always be greater or less in proportion as men become enlightened, spiritual, and free, or are unable to exercise a judgment independent of the influence of the inferior powers.
Now the Jewish religion had much to do with the senses. It “stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances. It taught men by what they saw,
* Heb. ix. 10.
and tasted, and felt. This being the case in general, it is natural to expect that while so important a person as the High Priest had great influence with the people, the office he sustained, and the attire he wore on certain occasions, would be designed to instruct those for whom he officiated, and have some symbolical import connected with it; especially as most of the prophets, at some particular times, taught many important lessons by their habit and dress, as well as by their doctrine.
This conclusion, however, is not left to mere deduction, but seems supported by the Scriptures; for the Apostle, alluding to the priest, says, Heb. viii. 4, 5, “For if he (Christ) were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law; who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See (saith he) that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount.”
That the “heavenly things" spoken of in this passage mean the affairs that are transacted in the celestial world, and particularly the mediation of Christ, and his intercession before his Father's face, must be admitted ; and what the writer says, in allusion to Moses, appears to imply that, as the great Jewish legislator saw a model of what he was to construct—the priesthood being a part of that model—was like the rest of it, a representation ; and as the tabernacle was a type of heaven, the priests who ministered in that holy place were also types of
Christ, in his priesthood, in the glorious temple on high.
As the above passage stands in the translation, it is the tabernacle, and not the priest, that is the shadow; although, being connected with it, he, of course, was part of one typical whole, and certainly was allied to the all things that Moses was to make. The word unto, however, will admit of the sense with, and is so translated by M‘Knight. It is also rendered after the same example in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the 11th verse. So that whether we consider the word of the writer as implying that the priests served unto the tabernacle, or that they themselves served as a shadow, there is no difference in point of fact. In either case the priest and the High Priest particularly was so,
I. In the restrictions which God laid down with respect to him. These had reference to three things:
1. His origin.
Exercising his own sovereign prerogative, not only as to the kind of worship he would receive, but also in regard to the persons officially to conduct it, Jehovah had fixed upon Aaron to be his first High Priest, and entailed the priesthood upon his family; and thenceforth it became strictly required that every one succeeding to that honour should be of the tribe of Levi, and of the house of Aaron; and such was the importance attached to this arrangement, that no one was permitted to officiate until his genealogy had been submitted to the strictest scrutiny. To intrude into the priest's office was deemed a capital crime. Hence Korah and his company were visited with the severest marks of the Divine displeasure, for daring to interfere with its sacred functions.* It is true we find, at different times, other persons besides priests ministering at the altar of God, as Saul, David, and Solomon; but then this was only allowed as an occasional thing, or they took upon them the sacred office for a particular time and purpose, and when called to it by a special direction of the Spirit of God.
That this strictness was dictated by some immediate design relating to the state of the Israelites, as a select, peculiar people, may be readily allowed; but such being the case does not at all destroy its symbolical intention, which was to show the uniqueness of the person of Christ-the importance of being satisfied concerning his Divine character, and the clear proof of which this most essential doctrine will admit.
It may, indeed, seem strange, since the priesthood was confined to the tribe of Levi, and to the family of Aaron in that tribe, that it was not so ordained in the economy of redemption, that our Lord should be of that tribe; which, it is particularly noted, was not the case; for the Apostle says, “For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda, of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood." op It is to be remembered, however, that the design of our Lord's becoming a priest was not that he might succeed * Numb. xvi. 32.
† Heb. vii. 14.
Aaron literally, but to sustain a priestly office peculiar to himself; which, strictly speaking, would harmonize with no order, although it came nearest to that of Melchisedec. It was, therefore, not only unnecessary that he should be of the tribe of Levi; but as it would tend to prevent error on the subject, so the wisdom of God is much more seen, and his purpose better accomplished, by connecting him with a family into which the Mosaic priesthood never entered.
2. Equal to the strictness of the injunction relative to the origin of the High Priest, was the requisition with respect to his physical constitution. Any defect in this rendered him incapable of sustaining the office, nor was he allowed to hold it beyond that age when bodily strength is retained in its vigour. That this restraint could not have been required by the duties of the High Priest is evident; for, admitting that they demanded vigour of body, yet the more secular part of the labour fell upon the Levites and the inferior priests, whose work appears to have been to assist the High Priest, and relieve him of his more servile exercises. It must, therefore, like the selection of his person from a particular family, have had a symbolic meaning; and what could it represent in Him, of whose office the High Priesthood was a type, so fully as the perfect, spotless innocency of his person?
That Christ should be absolutely without sin, was necessary to the validity of his atonement; and that he was so is expressly declared