THE UNIVERSAL PRIESTHOOD OF THE BELIEVERS.
In the Old Testament there was a hierarchy, a special class of priests, by Godís institution. The members of the tribe of Levi were expressly designated by God as the men that were to have charge of the public worship of the people and to perform all the ordinary functions which served to mediate between God and man. Among these, the members of the family of Aaron were the bearers of the high-priesthood, being charged with the performance of the most important sacrifices during the entire year, those of the great Day of Atonement, Lev. 16. None but the members of the hierarchy were so much as permitted to enter into the Court of the Priests and into the Holy Place of the Tabernacle and--of the various Temples, and as for the Most Holy Place, only the high priest was permitted to enter, and he only once a year. The priests were the official mediators between God and the people, having charge of the public and private sacrifices at all times.
And yet, there was one great exception to this rule. The Lord had expressly called the entire nation of the children of Israel a kingdom of priests, Ex. 19, 6. And this fact was brought out upon one of the great festivals with peculiar emphasis. The Lord expressly ordered that every housefather among the children of Israel was to slaughter the Passover lamb with his own hand, this order holding good not only for the first celebration in Egypt, on the eve of the exodus, but being observed throughout the history of the people. Every householder was a priest at the Feast of Passover, thus typifying the relation which was to obtain between God and His people.
This type has found its antitype and fulfillment in the New Testament. St. Peter, in applying the passage taken from Exodus to the believers of the New Testament, 1 Pet. 2, 9. 10, indicates that hierarchical distinctions between priests and laity are a thing of the past, that every person in the world who, through faith, has received Christ as his Savior, is a priest before God the Father in heaven and may, in firm reliance upon the reconciliation effected by Christ, approach directly to the Throne of Grace, offer the sacrifices of prayer and praise, and be certain of a merciful hearing on the part of God. For, as John puts it, Christ has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father, Rev. 1, 5. 6; 5, 9. 10. There is no need, then, of a hierarchy, of intercessory mediators, here on earth, Christ, our one Mediator, having perfected forever that relation between God and men whereby the believers are a great band of priests, with equal rights and privileges before Him.
As royal priests, then, the Christians have all the blessings and all the rights which Christ earned for His Church with His blood. They have the grace of God in Christ Jesus, they have the means of grace, the Gospel and the Sacraments, for their own use as well as for the application to others. They have, in the organization of congregations, the office of the keys, the power to forgive and to retain sins, every Christian possessing the right to apply the Word of God to these two ends. The Christians have the obligations, which might be called privileges with greater propriety, of praying to God, of offering to Him the sacrifices of the heart, the lips, the hands.
It is true, of course, that the universal priesthood of the believers does not take the place of, does not encroach upon, the office of the ministry. It is Godís order that the congregations should discharge the public functions of their priesthood through certain men, elected or appointed to that office by the congregations themselves. In the home the functions of the priesthood are discharged through the housefather and, under circumstances, through the housemother. In case of necessity, also, the Sacrament of Baptism, although belonging to the public manifestations of the universal priesthood, since it is the admission to the Christian congregation, may be administered by any Christian, regardless of sex. But under normal conditions, the public administration of the means of grace, preaching before the assembled congregation, instructing the catechumens and other inquirers after the truth, performing the work of taking heed to the entire congregation, administering the Sacraments, publicly and privately, is the work of the minister, or pastor, whom the congregation calls. On the other hand, this office does not abolish the general priesthood of the members of the congregation; for it is they that put men into office as preachers and teachers, it is they who watch over the pure proclamation of the Word of God, it is they who in time of need discharge the duties of the office freely and gladly. If these facts are kept in mind, there will be neither presumption on the part of the church-members nor pride on the part of the pastors.
Christians must ever be conscious of their rights and privileges as spiritual priests, but also of the obligations which rest upon them as holders of this wonderful priesthood. Their sacrifices will be brought with a cheerful heart, their prayers will be made with all fervor and confidence, they will discharge the duties of their office at home, in their ordinary intercourse with men, publicly, when there is need and they do not become busybodies in other menís matters. They will watch over the doctrine which is taught by their pastors, they will apply the doctrine for comfort, for admonition, for rebuke, and, in extreme cases, for excommunication. They will make it their business to extend the kingdom of God, not only in the midst of their own congregation, but also elsewhere, wherever the Lord opens doors to the preaching of the Gospel. And they will, finally, show that they appreciate the honor which the Lord has conferred upon them by walking as it becomes the Gospel of Christ, conscious at all times that the priests of the most high God will naturally be the first to cause His name to be hallowed here on earth and His praise to be extolled both now and forevermore. 9)