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23When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
23. When the days were fulfilled Λειτουργία is employed by Luke to denote a charge or office, which passed, as we have said, to each of them in regular order, (1 Chronicles 24:3.) We are told that, when the time of his office had expired, Zacharias returned home. Hence we conclude that, so long as the priests were attending in their turns, they did not enter their own houses, that they might be entirely devoted and attached to the worship of God. For this purpose galleries were constructed around the walls of the temple, in which they had “chambers,” (1 Kings 6:5.) The law did not, indeed, forbid a priest to enter his house, but, as it did not permit those who ate the show-bread to come near their wives, (1 Samuel 21:4,) and as many persons were disposed to treat sacred things in an irreverent manner, this was probably discovered to be a remedy, that, being removed from all temptations, they might preserve themselves pure and clear from every defilement. And they were not only discharged from intercourse with their wives, but from the use of wine and every kind of intoxicating drink, (Leviticus 10:9.) While they were commanded to change their mode of living, it was advantageous for them not to depart from the temple, that the very sight of the place might remind them to cultivate such purity as the Lord had enjoined. It was proper also to withdraw every means of gratification, that they might devote themselves more unreservedly to their office.
The Papists of the present day employ this as a pretense for defending the tyrannical law of celibacy. They argue thus. The priests were formerly enjoined to withdraw from their wives, while they were engaged in religious services. Most properly is perpetual continence now demanded from the priests, who not in their turn, but every day, offer sacrifices; more especially since the importance of religious services is far higher than it was under the law. But I should like to know why they do not also abstain from wine and strong drink. For we are not at liberty to separate commandments which God has joined, so as to keep the one half and disregard the other. Intercourse with wives is not so expressly forbidden as the drinking of wine, (Ezekiel 44:21.) If, under the pretense of the law, the Pope enjoins celibacy on his priests, why does he allow them wine? Nay, on this principle, all priests ought to be thrown into some retired apartments of the churches, to pass their whole life immured in prisons, and excluded from the society of women and of the people.
It is now abundantly clear that they wickedly shelter themselves under the law of God, to which they do not adhere. But the full solution of the difficulty depends on the distinction between the law and the gospel. A priest stood in the presence of God, to expiate the sins of the people, to be, as it were, a mediator between God and men. He who sustained that character ought to have had something peculiar about him, that he might be distinguished from the common rank of men, and recognised as a figure of the true Mediator. Such, too, was the design of the holy garments and the anointing. In our day the public ministers and pastors of the church have nothing of this description. I speak of the ministers whom Christ has appointed to feed his flock, not of those whom the Pope commissions, as executioners rather than priests, to murder Christ. Let us therefore rest in the decision of the Spirit, which pronounces that “marriage is honorable in all,” (Hebrews 13:4.)