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Containing a digression concerning the name of “priests,” the right of Christians thereunto by their interest in the priesthood of Christ, with the presumption of any particularly appropriating it to themselves.
And now the transaction of these things in the Christian church presents itself to our consideration; in handling whereof I shall not at all discourse concerning the several church-officers instituted by Christ and his apostles for the edification of his body, nor concerning the difference between them who were partakers at first of an extraordinary vocation and those who since have been called to the same work in an ordinary manner, divinely appointed for the direction of the church. Neither yet doth that diversity of the administration of government in the churches, then when they were under the plenitude of apostolical power, and now when they follow rules prescribed for their reiglement, come in my way.
Farther; who are the subject of the keys, in whom all that secondary ecclesiastical power which is committed to men doth reside, after the determinations of so many learned men by clear Scripture light, shall not by me be called in question. All these, though conducing to the business in hand, would require a large discussion; and such a scholastical handling as would make it an inconsutilous2525 Improperly sewn together, not suited to the rest of the discourse. — Ed. piece of this popular discourse; my intent being only to show, — seeing there are, as all acknowledge, some under the New Testament, as well as the Old, peculiarly set apart by God’s own appointment for the administration of Christ’s ordinances, especially teaching of others by preaching of the gospel, in the way of office and duty, — what remaineth 20for the rest of God’s people to do, for their own and others’ edification.
1. But here, before I enter directly upon the matter, I must remove one stone of offence, concerning the common appellation of those who are set apart for the preaching of the gospel. That which is most frequently used for them in the New Testament is διάκονοι, so 1 Cor. iii. 5; 2 Cor. iii. 6, vi. 4, xi. 15, 23; 1 Tim. iv. 6, and in divers other places; to which add ὑπηρέται, 1 Cor. iv. 1, a word though of another original, yet of the same signification with the former, and both rightly translated “ministers.” The names of “ambassadors,” “stewards,” and the like, wherewith they are often honoured, are figurative, and given unto them by allusion only. That the former belonged unto them, and were proper for them, none ever denied but some Rabshakehs of antichrist. Another name there is, which some have assumed unto themselves as an honour, and others have imposed the same upon them for a reproach, namely, that of “priest;” which, to the takers, seemed to import a more mysterious employment, a greater advancement above the rest of their brethren, a nearer approach unto God, in the performances of their office, than that of “ministers;” wherefore they embraced it either voluntarily, alluding to the service of God and the administration thereof amongst his ancient people the Jews, or thought that they ought necessarily to undergo it, as belonging properly to them who are to celebrate those mysteries and offer those sacrifices which they imagined were to them prescribed. The imposers, on the contrary, pretend divers reasons why now that name can signify none but men rejected from God’s work, and given up to superstitious vanities; attending, in their minds, the old priests of Baal, and the now shavelings of Antichrist. It was a new etymology of this name which that learned man cleaved unto, who, unhappily, was engaged into the defence of such errors as he could not but see and did often confess,2626 Hooker’s Eccles. Polit. lib. v. — to which, also, he had an entrance made by an archbishop,2727 Whitgift, Ans. to the Admon. — to wit, that it was but an abbreviation of “presbyters;” knowing full well, not only that the signification of these words is diverse amongst them to whom belong “jus et norma loquendi,” but also that they are widely different in holy writ: yea, farther, that those who first dignified themselves with this title never called themselves presbyters by way of distinction from the people, but only to have a note of distance among themselves, there being more than one sort of them that were sacrificers, and which, “eo nomine,” accounted themselves priests. Setting aside, then, all such evasions and distinctions as the people of God are not bound to take notice of, and taking the word in its ordinary acceptation, I shall briefly declare what I conceive of the use thereof, in respect of 21them who are ministers of the gospel; which I shall labour to clear by these following observations:—
(1.) All faithful ministers of the gospel, inasmuch as they are ingrafted into Christ and are true believers, may, as all other true Christians, be called priests; but this inasmuch as they are members of Christ, not ministers of the gospel. It respecteth their persons, not their function, or not them as such. Now, I conceive it may give some light to this discourse if we consider the grounds and reasons of this metaphorical appellation, in divers places of the gospel ascribed to the worshippers of Christ,2828 Rev. i. 6, v. 10, xx. 6; 1 Pet. ii. 5, 9, etc. and how the analogy which the present dispensation holds with what was established under the administration of the Old Testament may take place; for there we find the Lord thus bespeaking his people, “Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation,” Exod. xix. 6: so that it should seem that there was then a twofold priesthood; — a ritual priesthood, conferred upon the tribe of Levi; and a royal priesthood, belonging to the whole people. The first is quite abrogated and swallowed up in the priesthood of Christ; the other is put over unto us under the gospel, being ascribed to them and us, and every one in covenant with God, not directly and properly, as denoting the function peculiarly so called, but comparatively, with reference had to them that are without: for as those who were properly called priests had a nearer access unto God than the rest of the people, especially in his solemn worship, so all the people that are in covenant with God have such an approximation Unto him by virtue thereof, in comparison of them that are without, that in respect thereof they are said to be priests. Now, the outward covenant, made with them who were the children of Abraham after the flesh, was representative of the covenant of grace made with the children of promise, and that whole people typified the hidden elect people of God; so that of both there is the same reason. Thus, as “the priests the sons of Levi” are said to “come near unto God,” Deut. xxi. 5, and God tells them that “him whom he hath chosen, he will cause to come near unto him,” Num. xvi. 5, — chosen by a particular calling “ad munus,” to the office of the ritual priesthood; so in regard of that other kind, comparatively so called, it is said of the whole people, “What nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for?” Deut. iv. 7. Their approaching nigh unto God made them all a nation of priests, in comparison of those “dogs” and unclean Gentiles that were out of the covenant. Now, this prerogative is often appropriated to the faithful in the New Testament: for “through Christ we have access by one Spirit unto the Father,” Eph. ii. 18; and chap. iii. 12, “We have boldness and access with confidence;” so 22James iv. 8, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you;” — which access and approximation unto God seemed, as before was spoken, to be uttered in allusion to the priests of the old law, who had this privilege above others in the public worship, in which respect only things then were typical; since, because we enjoy that prerogative in the truth of the thing itself, which they had only in type, we also are called priests. And as they were said to “draw nigh” in reference to the rest of the people, so we in respect of them who are “strangers from the covenants,” that now are said to be “afar off;” Eph. ii. 17, and hereafter shall be “without;” for “without are dogs,” etc., Rev. xxii. 15. Thus, this metaphorical appellation of priests is, in the first place an intimation of that transcendent privilege of grace and favour which Jesus Christ hath purchased for every one that is sanctified with the blood of the covenant.
(2.) We have an interest in this appellation of priests by virtue of our union with Christ. Being one with our high priest, we also are priests. There is a twofold union between Christ and us; — the one, by his taking upon him our nature; the other, by bestowing on us his Spirit: for as in his incarnation he took upon him our flesh and blood by the work of the Spirit, so in our regeneration he bestoweth on us his flesh and blood by the operation of the same Spirit. Yea, so strict is this latter union which we have with Christ, that as the former is truly said to be a union of two natures into one person, so this of many persons into one nature; for by it we are “made partakers of the divine nature,” 2 Pet. i. 4, becoming “members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones,” Eph. v. 30. We are so parts of him, of his mystical body, that we and he become thereby, as it were, one Christ: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ, 1 Cor. xii. 12. And the ground of this is, because the same Spirit is in him and us. In him, indeed, dwelleth the fulness of it, when it is bestowed upon us only by measure; but yet it is still the same Spirit, and so makes us, according to his own prayer, one with him, as the soul of man, being one, makes the whole body with it to be but one man. Two men cannot be one, because they have two souls; no more could we be one with Christ were it not the same Spirit in him and us. Now, let a man be never so big or tall, so that his feet rest upon the earth and his head reach to heaven, yet, having but one soul, he is still but one man. Now, though Christ for the present, in respect of our nature assumed, be never so far remote and distant from us in heaven, yet, by the effectual energy and inhabitation of the same Spirit, he is still the head of that one body whereof we are members, still but one with us. Hence ariseth to us a twofold right to the title of priests:—
23[1.] Because being in him, and members of him, we are accounted to have done, in him and with him, whatsoever he hath done for us: We are “dead with him,” Rom. vi. 8; “buried with him,” verse 4; “quickened together with him,” Eph. ii. 5; “risen with him,” Col. iii. 1; being “raised up,” we “sit together with him in heavenly places,” Eph. ii. 6. Now, all these in Christ were in some sense sacerdotal; wherefore we, having an interest in their performance, by reason of that heavenly participation derived from them unto us, and being united unto him that in them was so properly, are therefore called priests.
[2.] By virtue of this union there is such an analogy between that which Christ hath done for us as a priest and what he worketh in us by his Holy Spirit, that those acts of ours come to be called by the same name with his, and we for them to be termed priests. Thus, because Christ’s death and shedding of his blood, so offering up himself by the eternal Spirit, was a true, proper sacrifice for sin, even our spiritual death unto sin is described to be such, both in the nature of it, to be an offering or sacrifice (for, “I beseech you, brethren,” saith St Paul, “by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice,” etc., Rom. xii. 1), and for the manner of it; our “old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed,’’ Rom. vi. 6.
(3.) We are priests as we are Christians, or partakers of a holy unction, whereby we are anointed to the participation of all Christ’s glorious offices. We are not called Christians for nothing. If truly we are so, then have we an “unction from the Holy One,” whereby we “know all things,” 1 John ii. 20. And thus also were all God’s people under the old covenant, when God gave that caution concerning them, “Touch not my Christians,2929 Owen here alludes to the meaning of the name, as derived from Christ — “the anointed.” — Ed. and do my prophets no harm,” Ps. cv. 15. The unction, then, of the Holy Spirit implies a participation of all those endowments which were typified by the anointing with oil in the Old Testament, and invests us with the privileges, in a spiritual acceptation, of all the sorts of men which then were so anointed, — to wit, of kings, priests, and prophets: so that by being made Christians (every one is not so that bears that name), we are ingrafted into Christ, and do attain to a kind of holy and intimate communion with him in all his glorious offices; and in that regard are called priests.
(4.) The sacrifices we are enjoined to offer give ground to this appellation. Now, they are of divers sorts, though all in general eucharistical; — as, first, Of prayers and thanksgivings: Ps. cxvi. 17, “I will offer unto thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord;” and again, “Let my prayer be set forth 24before thee as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Ps. cxli. 2: so Heb. xiii. 15, “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God,” — that is, the “fruit of our lips.” Secondly, Of good works: Heb. xiii. 16, “To do good and to communicate forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Thirdly, Αὐτοθυσίας, or self slaughter, crucifying the old man, killing sin, and offering up our souls and bodies an acceptable sacrifice unto God, Rom. xii. 1. Fourthly, The sweet incense of martyrdom: “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, etc., Phil. ii. 17. Now, these and sundry other services acceptable to God, receiving this appellation in the Scripture, denominate the performers of them priests. Now, here it must be observed, that these aforenamed holy duties are called “sacrifices,” not properly, but metaphorically only, — not in regard of the external acts, as were those under the law, but in regard of the internal purity of heart from whence they proceed. And because pure sacrifices, by his own appointment, were heretofore the most acceptable service of Almighty God, therefore now, when he would declare himself to be very much delighted with the spiritual acts of our duty, he calls them “oblations,” “incense,” “sacrifices,” “offerings,” etc.; to intimate, also, a participation with Him in his offices who properly and directly is the only priest of his church, and by the communication of the virtue of whose sacrifice we are made priests, not having authority in our own names to go unto God for others, but having liberty, through him, and in his name, to go unto God for ourselves.
Not to lose myself and reader in this digression, the sum is, — The unspeakable blessings which the priesthood of Christ hath obtained for us are a strong obligation for the duty of praise and thanksgiving; of which that in some measure we may discharge ourselves, he hath furnished us with sacrifices of that kind to be offered unto God. For our own parts, we are poor, and blind, and lame, and naked; neither in the field nor in the fold, in our hearts nor among our actions, can we find any thing worth the presenting unto him: wherefore, he himself provides them for us; especially for that purpose sanctifying and consecrating our souls and bodies with the sprinkling of his blood and the unction of the Holy Spirit. Farther; he hath erected an altar (to sanctify our gifts) in heaven, before the throne of grace, which, being spread over with his blood, is consecrated unto God, that the sacrifices of his servants may for ever appear thereon. Add to this, what he also hath added, the eternal and never-expiring fire of the favour of God, which kindleth and consumes the sacrifices laid on that altar. And to the end that all this may be rightly accomplished, he hath consecrated us with his blood to be kings and priests to God for evermore. So that the close of this discourse will 25be, that all true believers, by virtue of their interest in Jesus Christ, are in the holy Scripture, by reason of divers allusions called priests; which name, in the sense before related, belonging unto them as such, cannot, on this ground, be ascribed to any part of them distinguished any ways from the rest by virtue of such distinction.
2. The second thing I observe concerning the business in hand is, that the offering up unto God of some metaphorical sacrifices, in a peculiar manner, is appropriate unto men set apart for the work of the ministry; as the slaying of men’s lusts, and the offering up of them, being converted by the preaching of the gospel, unto God. So St Paul of his ministry, Rom. xv. 16, “That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ unto the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable,” etc. Ministers preaching the gospel to the conversion of souls are said to kill men’s lusts, and offer them up unto God as the fruit of their calling, as Abel brought unto him an acceptable sacrifice of the fruit of his flock; and so also in respect of divers other acts of their duty, which they perform in the name of their congregations. Now, these sacrifices are appropriated to the ministers of the gospel, not in regard of the matter, — for others also may convert souls unto God, and offer up prayers and praises in the name of their companions, — but in respect of the manner: they do it publicly and ordinarily; others, privately or in extraordinary cases. Now, if the ministers, who are thus God’s instruments for the conversion of souls, be themselves ingrafted into Christ, all the acts they perform in that great work are but parts of their own duty, of the same nature in that regard with the rest of our spiritual sacrifices; so that they have not by them any farther, peculiar interest in the office of the priesthood more than others. But if these preachers themselves do not belong unto the covenant of grace, as God oftentimes, out of his care for his flock, bestows gifts upon some for the good of others, on whom he will bestow no graces for the benefit of their own souls, men may administer that consolation out of the word unto their flock which themselves never tasted, — preach to others, and be themselves cast-aways. St Paul tells us that some preach Christ out of envy and contention, not sincerely, but on purpose to add to his affliction; and yet, saith he, “whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice, Phil. i. 16–18. Surely, had there been no good effected by such preaching, St Paul would not have rejoiced in it; and yet, doubtless, it was no evidence of sanctification to preach Christ merely out of contention, and on purpose to add to the affliction of his servants. But, I say, if the Lord shall be pleased at any time to make use of such as instruments in his glorious work of converting souls, shall we think that it is looked upon as their sacrifice 26unto God? No, surely. The soul of the Lord is delighted with the repentance of sinners; but all the sacrifices of these wicked men are an abomination unto him, and therefore they have no interest in it. Neither can they from hence be said to be priests of God, seeing they continue “dogs” and “unclean beasts,” etc. So that all the right unto this priestly office seems to be resolved into, and to be the same with, the common interest of all believers in Christ, whereby they have a participation of his office. Whence I affirm, —
3. That the name of priests is nowhere in the Scripture attributed peculiarly and distinctively to the ministers of the gospel as such. Let any produce an instance to the contrary, and this controversy is at an end. Yea, that which puts a difference between them and the rest of the people of God’s holiness seems to be a more immediate participation of Christ’s prophetical office, to teach, instruct, and declare the will of God unto men; and not of his sacerdotal, to offer sacrifices for men unto God. Now, I could never observe that any of those who were so forward of late to style themselves priests were at all greedy of the appellation of prophets. No; this they were content to let go, name and thing. And yet, when Christ ascended on high, he gave some to be prophets, for the edification of his body, Eph. iv. 11; none, as we find, to be priests. Priests, then (like prelates), are a sort of church-officers whom Christ never appointed. Whence I conclude, —
4. That whosoever maintaineth any priests of the New Testament as properly so called, in relation to any altar or sacrifice by them to be offered, doth as much as in him lieth disannul the covenant of grace, and is blasphemously injurious to the priesthood of Christ. The priest and the sacrifice under the New Testament are one and the same; and therefore, they who make themselves priests must also make themselves Christs, or get another sacrifice of their own. As there is but “one God,” so there is but “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” 1 Tim. ii. 5. Now, he became the mediator of the New Testament chiefly by his priesthood, because “through the eternal Spirit he offered himself to God,” Heb. ix. 14, 15. Neither is any now called of God to be a priest, as was Aaron; and without such divine vocation to this office none ought to undertake it, as the apostle argues, Heb. v. 4. Now, the end of any such vocation and office is quite ceased, being nothing but to “offer gifts and sacrifices” unto God, Heb. viii. 3: for Christ hath offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, and is “set down at the right hand of God,” chap. x. 12; yea, “by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified,” verse 14; and if that did procure remission of sins, there must be “no more offering for sin,” verse 18; and the surrogation of another makes the blood of Christ to be no better than that of bulls 27and goats. Now, one of these they must do who make themselves priests (in that sense concerning which we now treat), — either get them a new sacrifice of their own, or pretend to offer Christ again.3030 For offering the host, or their Christ, they pray: “Supra quæ, propitio ac sereno vultu respicere digneris, et accepta habere sicut dignatus es munera pueri tui justi Abel, et sacrificium patriarchæ nostri Abrahæ;” with many more to that purpose. The first seems to have been the fault of those of ours who made a sacrifice of the sacrament, yet pretended not to believe the real presence of Christ in or under the outward elements or species of them; the other of the Romanists, whose priests in their mass blasphemously make themselves mediators between God and his Son, and offering up Christ Jesus for a sacrifice, desire God to accept him, — so charging that sacrifice with imperfection which he offered on the altar of the cross, and making it necessary not only that he should annually, but daily, yea hourly, suffer afresh, so recrucifying unto themselves the Lord of glory. Farther; themselves confessing that, to be a true sacrifice, it is required that that which is offered unto God be destroyed, and cease to be what it was, they do confess by what lies in them to destroy the Son of God; and by their mass have transubstantiated their altars into crosses, their temples into Golgothas, their prelates into Pilates, their priests into hangmen, tormentors of Jesus Christ! Concerning them and ours, we may shut up this discourse with what the apostle intimates to the Hebrews, — namely, that all priests are ceased who were mortal. Now, small cause have we to believe them to be immaterial spirits, among whom we find the works of the flesh to have been so frequent.
And this may give us some light into the iniquity of those times whereinto we were lately fallen; in which lord bishops and priests had almost quite oppressed the bishops of the Lord and ministers of the gospel. How unthankful men were we for the light of the gospel! — men that loved darkness rather than light. “A wonderful and horrible thing was committed in the land; the prophets prophesied falsely, the priests bare rule by their means;” almost the whole “people loved to have it so: and what will we now do in the end thereof?” Jer. v. 30, 31. Such a hasty apostasy was growing on us as we might justly wonder at, because unparalleled in any church, of any age. But our revolters were profound hasty men, and eager in their master’s service. So, what a height of impiety and opposition to Christ the Roman apostasy in a thousand years attained unto! and yet I dare aver that never so many errors and suspicions in a hundred years crept into that church as did into ours of England in sixteen. And yet I cannot herein give the commendation of so much as industry to our innovators (I accuse not the whole church, but particulars in it, and that had seized themselves of its authority), 28because they had a platform before them, and materials provided to their hand, and therefore it was an easy thing for them to erect a Babel of antichristian confusion, when the workmen in the Roman apostasy were forced to build in the plain of Christianity without any pre-existent materials, but were fain to use brick and slime of their own provision. Besides, they were unacquainted with the main design of Satan, who set them on work, and therefore it is no wonder if those Nimrods ofttimes hunted counter, and disturbed each other in their progress. Yea, the first mover in church apostasy knows that now his time is but short, and therefore it behoves him to make speedy work in seducing, lest he be prevented by the coming of Christ.
Then, having himself a long tract of time granted unto him, he allowed his agents to take leisure also; but what he doth now must be done quickly, or his whole design will be quashed: and this made him inspire the present business with so much life and vigour. Moreover, he was compelled then to sow his tares in the dark, “while men slept,” — taking advantage of the ignorance and embroilment of the times. If any man had leisure enough to search, and learning enough to see and find him at it, he commonly filled the world with clamours against him, and scarce any but his avowed champions durst be his advocates. In our time he was grown bold and impudent, working at noonday; yea, he openly accused and condemned all that durst accuse him for sowing any thing but good wheat, that durst say that the tares of his Arminianism and Popery were any thing but true doctrine. Let us give so much way to indignation. We know Satan’s trade what it is, — to accuse the brethren: as men are called after their professions, one a lawyer, another a physician, so is he “The accuser of the brethren.” Now surely, if ever he set up a shop on earth to practice his trade in, it was our High Commission Court, as of late employed; but ἀπέχεσθε.
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