Page images

to God on the altar; the rest, except the breast, which was given to Moses, became their own share, and was to be eaten on the same day in the holy court of the Sanctuary. -6. They were to abide in the court seven days without going from it by day or by night, and every day a new sin-offering was to bleed at the altar, for atonement.

When employed in their sacred duties, the priests were required to wear a particular dress. An account of the holy garments which God directed to be made for their use, we have in the 28th chapter of Exodus. Those which the common priests were required to wear, are hardly more than mentioned, toward the end of the chapter; so that we can learn little about them from scripture, except that they were, on the whole, very beautiful and rich. Reverence, it was supposed, could not allow the use of sandals or shoes in the performance of their holy ministry. Accordingly, they served with naked feet at all times; though the cold marble pavement of the temple rendered such exposure often injurious to health.

The duties of the priests at the sanctuary comprehended all the more solemn services of its worship, and such as, by reason of their direct and immediate reference to God, constituted the true life and substance of that worship. They had charge of the altar and its fire, and presented upon it the sacrificial offerings; all the ministry that was done in the Holy Place was theirs, &c. To them was entrusted the superintendance of the whole sanctuary, with all its service: all was ordered under their care and direction: it was their business to see that the sacred system of worship which God had appointed, was carried forward in all its parts with decent and solemn action from day to day. The age at which they entered upon their office was the same as in the case of the Levites.

To be qualified for discharging the priestly office, it was necessary, not only that a man could clearly show his descent from Aaron, (Ezra ii. 62,) but that he should also be free from bodily defects. (Lev. xxi. 17-24.) The meaning of this last requirement is plain. In the outward ceremonial arrangement by which the old dispensation shadowed forth things spiritual and heavenly, freedom from bodily imperfection represented that moral

soundness which is needed in such as draw near to the Holy One, and without which no man in the end shall see the Lord. (Heb. xii. 14.) So, in other respects, the priestly character was to be guarded with more than common care from every thing that might seem to detract from its worldly honour, or to stain it with the smallest outward defilement, in signification of the spiritual dignity and purity which should characterize all who come nigh to God. (Lev. xxi. 1–9. xxii. 1-13.) In later times, it became the business of the Sanhedrim to examine candidates for the holy office, and determine their fitness for it in all respects. If they could not bring sufficient evidence of their descent from Aaron, they were clothed in black, covered with a black veil, and sent home in disgrace. If they had such evidence, they were then examined as to their freedom from blemishes. Such as were found defective in this trial, were excluded from serving in the court of the priests; but that they might have some service to perform at the temple, they were put to the business of examining the wood that was provided for the altar, in order to detect any pieces that might have worms in them, which were considered unfit for the sacred fire. The wood was deposited for this purpose in the building that occupied the north-east corner of the Court of the Women: here these blemished priests attended from day to day, carefully searching every stick, to be sure that none polluted with a worm was carried to the altar. Thus human authority added its uncommanded ceremonies to the original institution of God, disfiguring it, in this case, as in a thousand others, with vain and foolish superstition?

The priests were forbidden to drink any wine or any strong drink when employed in the service of the sanctuary, lest they should become guilty of irreverence, and so provoke the anger of God. Nadab and Abihu, it seems, owed their crime, and their ruin, to an undue use of such liquor. (Lev. x. 1—11.)

In the time of David, the whole number of priests, which had then become very considerable, was divided into twenty-four classes, or courses, which were required to attend at the sanctuary in succession, each for a week

at a time. (1 Chron. xxiv. 1-18.) Thus only a twentyfourth part were employed, at once, in the service of God's House, and each part was called to engage in this employment only once in about six months. The change of one class for another, week after week, always took place on the Sabbath; on that day still, the courses, both of the priests and the Levites that had served their week, went out, and the next in order came in, to take their turn for the week to come. (2 Chron. xxxiii. 4--8. 2 Kings xi. 5-7.) Each course had its own chief, and embraced within itself a particular great family of the general stock. At the return from the Babylonish captivity, as many as twenty of the original courses or families were found to be without representatives: only four, the Jews tell us, were represented among the priests that came back, so far as genealogical inquiry could ascertain. A new distribution, therefore, was necessary, in order to revive the old plan of twenty-four classes. Each of the four families that returned was divided, for this purpose, into six parts, which became so many new courses for the service of the second temple. To these new courses the names of the old ones were assigned by lot, and so they were numbered according to the original order of their first appointment. Thus the twenty-four ancient classes were revived in form and in name, though so many of them had been lost in reality. The ancient course of Abijah, which was the eighth in order, had been so lost with the captivity; but a new one had, in this way, taken its place and name, and this was that course of Abia to which Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, belonged. (Luke i. 5.)

The various daily services to be attended to, were distributed among the several priests of each course, by lot. Thus it fell upon one to kill the sacrifice; upon another to sprinkle the blood; upon another to dress the lamps, &c. According to this custom of the priests' office, it was the lot of Zacharias, while he ministered before God, in the order of his course, on the occasion mentioned in the gospel, to burn incense on the golden altar, in the Holy Place. As the number belonging to each course grew to be large, it seems that when one performed its week of service, all its members were not required to minister every day; but a

portion of them on one day, another portion on the next, &c., according to their families.

The whole Aaronick priesthood was a ceremonial instistution, shadowing, in solemn and expressive type, the mediatorial character of the Lord Jesus Christ. Its meaning was not properly in itself, but in this great and glorious reality, of which it was the unsubstantial image. Accordingly, when Christ came, the ancient priesthood was brought to an end, as having accomplished all its purpose: the image yielded to the reality-the shadow to the substance. The priestly office is not wanting in the new dispensation introduced by the gospel. On the contrary it is found here in its highest dignity, and in its only true worth; not committed to a great family, and handed down from fathers to sons, as under the law, but gathered and consecrated, with unchangeable perfection, in one person. Jesus combines in himself, in the fullest reality, all that the Levitical priesthood represented. It was established in the Ceremonial System, to be a mediating ministry between God and the church it intimated that men, in themselves, are unfit to draw near to their Maker, and that he cannot regard them with any favour, or extend to them any blessing, except through some mediatorial agency interposing with sufficient merit on their behalf. All this agency is realized in Christ. He is fully qualified to act for men, in things pertaining to God; and, through him, God is abundantly willing to communicate to the most unworthy of our family, the richest blessings of his grace. In every respect the church is blessed, in him, with such a priesthood as her wants demand.

Figuratively, or by way of metaphor, Christians are called priests. In the Old Testament, the whole Jewish nation, because it was so distinguished in religious advantages from the rest of the world, and brought so near to God, in comparison with other people, is thus styled a kingdom of priests. (Ex. xix. 6.) So, in the New Testament, believers in Christ are said to be a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, &c., (1 Pet. ii. 9,) made kings, and priests unto God, by the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rev. i. 6.) Through his redeeming mercy, they are washed and clothed in robes of righteousness; consecrated by blood, and by the holy anointing of God's Spirit; separated

from the world that lieth in sin, and permitted to come very near to the Lord in all spiritual services; qualified to offer acceptable sacrifices of prayer, and praise, and sincere obedience, and to feed upon the holy provisions of God's house, and to enter within the Holy Place, and to approach, with sacred liberty, even to the mercy-seat, in the Holiest of all. (Heb. x. 19-22. 1 Pet. ii. 5.) Still, however, Christians are in all these respects only like priests, not priests in reality. Their privileges and services have their whole reason and value only in the priesthood of Christ. There is no other true priesthood in the church but this, of the Allsufficient Mediator, now passed into the heavens, and set on the right hand of the throne of the majesty on high.



THE office of the High Priest claims a separate consideration. It embodied in itself all the attributes and all the meaning of the priesthood, in their highest perfection. The multitude of duties that belonged to the priestly office in the Jewish Ceremonial System, made it necessary to have a number of priests; but to show that was still considered one single and undivided thing, the whole ministry was united and bound together in subordinate relation to one representative Head. This Head was the High-priest. He was the centre and soul of the entire priesthood, comprehending its most essential agency exclusively in himself, and gathering, as it were, into one simple whole, all the action of its several inferior parts.

We have seen how he was consecrated. His sacred dress was still more costly and beautiful than that of the other priests, and is more particularly described in the divine volume. (Ex. xxviii. 2-39.) The Robe and Ephod have been already noticed, in the first part of this work; chap. v. sec. 1. The last was exceedingly splendid, and full of curious ornament. On each shoulder of it was fixed an onyx stone, having graven upon it the names of six of the

« PreviousContinue »