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§ 2. Christ our only Priest.
This follows from the nature and design of the office. (1.) No man, save the Lord Jesus Christ, has liberty of access unto God. All other men, being sinners, need some one to approach God on their behalf. (2.) No other sacrifice than his could take away sin. (3.) It is only through Him that God is propitious to sinful men; and (4.) It is only through Him that the benefits which flow from the favour of God are conveyed to his people.
The priests of the Old Testament were, as before remarked, only symbols and types of the true priesthood of Christ. Their sacrifices could not purify the conscience from the sense of sin. They availed only to the purifying of the flesh. They secured reconciliation with God only so far as they were regarded as representing the real sacrifice of Christ as the object of faith and ground of confidence. Hence, as the Apostle teaches, they were offered continually, because, being ineffectual in themselves, the people needed to be constantly reminded of their guilt and of their need of the more effectual sacrifice predicted in their Scriptures.
If the Old Testament priests were not really priests, except typically, much less are ministers of the gospel. When among Protestants any class of ministers are called priests, the word is the substitute for presbyter, for which it is constantly interchanged. It stands for πρεσβύτερος and not for ἱερεύς. (It is defined, Greek, πρεσβύτερος, elder; Latin, presbyter; Spanish, presbitero; French, prêtre; Anglo Saxon, preost; Dutch and German, priester; Danish, præst.) Among Romanists it is not so. With them the minister is really a priest. (1.) Because he mediates between God and the people. (2.) Because he assumes to offer propitiatory sacrifices. (3.) Because in absolution he effectually and authoritatively intercedes, rendering the sacrifice for sin effectual in its application to individuals, which is the essential element in the intercession of Christ. The Roman priests are mediators, because it is taught that the sinner cannot for himself draw near to God through Christ and obtain pardon and grace, but can secure those blessings only through their intervention. They are sacrificers, because they assume to offer the real body and blood of Christ to God, as an expiation for the sins of the people. And they aro intercessors, not as one man may pray for another, but as having the power to forgive sins. They have therefore the power of life and death; the keys of the kingdom of heaven. They bind, and no man can loose; they loose, and no man can bind. This is the highest power which man has ever assumed over his fellow-men, and when recognized, reduces the people to a state of the most absolute subjection. No greater benefit was rendered the world by the Reformation than the breaking of this iron yoke. This was done by demonstrating, from Scripture, that the ministers of religion under the gospel are not priests in the official sense of the term. It was shown,
1. That the word priest, ἱερεύς, is never once applied to them in the New Testament. Every appropriate title of honour is lavished upon them. They are called the bishops of souls, pastors, teach. ers, rulers, governors, the servants or ministers of God; stewards of the divine mysteries; watchmen, heralds, but never priests. As the sacred writers were Jews, to whom nothing was more familiar than the word priest, whose ministers of religion were constantly so denominated, the fact that they never once use the word, or any of its cognates, in reference to the ministers of the gospel, whether apostles, presbyters, or evangelists, is little less than miraculous. It is one of those cases in which the silence of Scripture speaks volumes.
2. No priestly function is ever attributed to Christian ministers. They do not mediate between God and man. They are never said to offer sacrifices for sins; and they have no power as intercessors which does not belong to every believer.
3. All believers are priests in the only sense in which men are priests under the gospel. That is, all have liberty of access to God through Christ. He has made all his people kings and priests into God.
4. This Romish doctrine is derogatory to the honour of Christ. He came to be the mediator between God and man; to make satisfaction for our sins, to secure for us pardon and reconciliation with God. To suppose that we still need the priestly intervention of men, is to assume that his work is a failure.
5. The sacred writers expressly teach what this doctrine denies. They teach that men have everywhere free access to Christ, and through Him unto God; that faith in Him secures an interest in all the benefits of his redemption, and that, therefore, a thief on the cross, a prisoner in a dungeon, a solitary believer in his own chamber is near to God, and secure of his acceptance, provided he calls on the name of the Lord. To deny this, to teach the necessity of the intervention or ministration of men, to secure for us the salvation of our souls, is to contradict the plainest teachings of the Word of God.
6. This doctrine contradicts the intimate convictions of the people of God in all ages. They know that they have through Christ, and by the Spirit free access unto God. They are thus taught by the Holy Ghost. They avail themselves of this liberty in spite of all men can do. They know that the doctrine which subjects them to the priesthood as the only authorized dispensers of grace and salvation, is not of God; and that it brings the souls of men into the most slavish bondage.
7. All the principles on which the doctrine of the priesthood of the Christian clergy rests are false. It is false that the ministry are a distinct class from the people, distinguished from them by supernatural gifts, conveyed by the sacrament of orders. It is false that the bread and wine are transmuted into the body and blood of Christ. It is false that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice applied for the remission of sins and spiritual benefits, according to the intention of the officiating priest. Christ, therefore, as He is the only mediator between God and man, is the only and all-sufficient High Priest of our profession.
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