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THE PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST.
HOLINESS OF HIS CHARACTER.
IMPORTANCE OF THIS ATTRIBUTE
TO THE DISTINCTION OF HIS CHARACTER, &c.
HEBREWS vii. 26.
For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, un
defiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the hea
In the two preceding discourses, I have considered the personal holiness of Christ in its three great divisions of piety, benevolence, and self-government. I shall now proceed to a discussion of the 2d head of discourse, originally proposed concerning this subject, and endeavour to
Explain the importance of this attribute to Christ, as the High Priest of mankind.
I wish it to be distinctly remembered, that I am not inquiring why personal holiness, or inherent moral excellence was necessary to Christ. Personal holiness is indispensable to every rational being, in order to his acceptance with God: being no other than the performance of his duty in whatever situation he is placed. My inquiries respect solely the necessity of Christ's manifesting to the world his holiness of character in a life of perfect obedience; such as he actually exhibited. Christ might
have become incarnate, and died immediately; and yet have been a perfectly holy being. I ask here why it was necessary for him, as the High Priest of men, to exhibit such a life, as he actually lived.
The pre-eminent holiness of Christ was, in this character, necessary to him.
1. To give him that distinction, which was indispensable.
We are so accustomed to regard Christ as an extraordinary Person, as hardly to ask for any reason, why this peculiarity of character was necessary to him ; or what influence it had, or was intended to have, on his priesthood. I shall not be able to do justice to this subject; yet I will suggest a few considerations, which have occurred to me, at the present time.
It will be readily believed by all persons, who admit the priesthood of Christ, that this office was the most important, ever assumed in the present world. He who has expiated the sins of mankind, and opened the way for their reconciliation to God, their restoration to holiness, and their introduction to heaven, has, undoubtedly, sustained the most important character, and performed the most important acts, which have been ever known to the human race. That a person, of whom these things can be truly said, must be rationally supposed to be separated from the rest of mankind by many marks, both of personal and official distinction, is an assertion, which needs no proof. All men are by the very nature of the case prepared to admit, beforehand, that he, who is destined to so extraordinary an office, must also possess an extraordinary character.
The Jews, led by the several predictions, given in their Scriptures concerning the Messiah, and perhaps in some degree, also, by the nature of the case, formed concerning him apprehensions, generally of this nature. They mistook, indeed, the things, by which his personal character was to be distinguished; but were perfectly correct in their belief, that his character was to be singular, as well as his office. His life, in their view, was to find its peculiar distinction in external splendour, conquest, and dominion over all nations; who were to be subjugated by his arın. He was to reign with a glory, utterly obscuring that of every preceding conqueror ; and was to divide among them, his favourite people, the pomp, wealth, and power, of this lower world. To them, as the People of the Saints of the Most High, was, in a literal sense, to be given the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven. To a people, conquered as they were, impatient of their yoke, panting for liberty and independence, proud of their pre-eminence as the chosen people of God, gross in their conceptions of divine truth, and confining, with an animal relish, all real good to the gratifications of sense; it can scarcely seem strange, that this should appear a rational interpretation of the prophecies concerning the Redeemer; particularly of some, which are couched in terms highly figurative. From such a people, in such a state, we could hardly expect just apprehensions concerning those sublimer glories of the Messiah, which lay in excellence of mind, and excellence of life ; obtain
; ed the unmingled complacency of the Father; and called forth the admiration, love, and homage, of all the virtuous among mankind. Still, even the expectations of the Jews accord with the general truth, that he, who sustains such an office, must also possess a character suited to that office.
The necessity of this character to give distinction to Christ as the High Priest of mankind, appears in a striking manner from several considerations. Particularly, it was indispensable to the accomplishment of the end of his priesthood; and, therefore, of his whole Mediutorial office, that he should engage, to a great extent, the attention of mankind. On this, in a great measure, depended the importance and success of his public ministry, both among his cotemporaries, and among men of all succeeding ages. Had he not been an object of public curiosity, and inquiry, in his own time; his instructions, if uttered at all, must have been uttered to the rocks and the winds; and his character, unregarded in that age, would have been forgotten in the next.
Or, if we suppose a record to have been made of his instructions, they would have been the instructions of an individual, obscure, not only on account of his parentage, and the humble circumstances of his life, but on account of every thing else. Whatever they were; however wise, pure, and unexceptionable, they would have failed to arrest the attention, and command the regard, of future times, because they were not enforced by a distinguished character in their author. For extraordinary sentiments the mind instinctively looks to an extraordinary man. If Christ had not been separated from the rest of the children of Adam by singular characteristics, it would have been boldly questioned whether these instructions ever came from him; and the record, which asserted them to be
i his, could scarcely have been furnished with such proofs of authenticity, as to place the question beyond rational doubt. If this point had been admitted ; new and equally perplexing inquiries would have arisen concerning the authority of the teacher; concerning the strangeness of the fact, that God had destined such a man to the office of giving such precepts to the world; and concerning the irreconcileableness of so insignificant an appearance with a character, distinguished by such wonderful wisdom. Strong objections are even now made by Infidels to the humble character, in which Christ appeared. What would they not have objected, if he had been marked by nothing extraordinary?
These observations respect Christ in all his offices. Had he not possessed this distinction in some clear, acknowledged manner, and in a degree unquestioned, he would never, in any sense, have become the object of any peculiar regard ; and would, of course, have failed of the end of his mission. The arguments, already alleged, are, therefore, applicable to every part of his character as Mediator. But they are, in some respects, peculiarly applicable to his Priesthood. A great part of the truths, which he taught, respected himself, as the High Priest of the human race. These were truths, indispensable to the salvation of mankind. The Atonement, made by him in this office for the sins of men, is the only foundation, even for the hope of eternal life. The belief of men in this great fact is the basis of all our confidence in Christ as our Saviour; and this confidence is the only mean of our justification. But in this fact few men, to say the most, can be supposed to have believed, had not CHRIST been distinguished from other persons by peculiar and very honourable characteristics. There is something so rcpugnant to ali our most rational and satisfactory thoughts, in the supposition, that a person, ranking in all things with such beings as we are, should sustain this glorious office, and accomplish this marvellous end; that it can hardly be imagined to have gained admission into the mind of any sober man.
Should it be answered, that a distinction of some kind or other, in the degree specified, was indeed, necessary to the character of Christ, in order to render him the object of the confidence, or even the attention, of mankind; but that this distinction was sufficiently established by his power of working miracles, so often, and so illustriously, exemplified while he was in the world: I answer, that this power distinguished Christ from other inhabitants of the earth very honourably, but could not distinguish him sufficiently for the purpose in view. For, to say nothing of the fact, that in this respect he was not sufficiently unlike Moses and Elijah, who also wrought many and great miracles, or his Apostles, who did greater works than his own; to say nothing of the contrariety to all rational thinking, in the supposition, that a man, invested with no other proofs of an extraordinary character, should work such stupendous miracles, or any miracles at all : It is perfectly evident, that he could never be the object of any moral regard, unless in his moral character he had appeared sufficiently important to claim it; much less of that supreme moral regard, Evangelical Faith. In the exercise of this Faith, the Soul surrenders itself absolutely into the hands of Christ. But such a surrender cannot be made, unless to a being of such consequence, as to make the act rational, and warrantable, in the view of the understanding. But the understanding can never be persuaded, that a person, undistinguished by pre-eminent holiness, however superior might be his natural, or supernatural, endowments, could be regarded by God as an acceptable propitiation for its sins. Nor could it by any means, of which I am able to conceive, feel itself warranted to exercise this confidence toward any being, unpossessed of that consummate rectitude, particularly of that sincerity and good-will, upon which it is ultitimately founded. If Christ had not, in this respect, been superior to other men, the faith placed in him would, I think, have been the same with that, which is placed in other men; and have differed from that, neither in kind, nor degree.
Holiness is the supreme distinction of moral beings, and the supreme object of moral regard. Especially, in all cases, where