The doctrine of the priestly office of Christ is so excellent in
itself, and so essential a part of the Christian faith, that the
apostle loves to dwell upon it. Nothing made the Jews so fond of the
Levitical dispensation as the high esteem they had of their priesthood,
and it was doubtless a sacred and most excellent institution; it was a
very severe threatening denounced against the Jews
that the children of Israel should abide many days without a prince or
priest, and without a sacrifice, and with an ephod, and without
teraphim. Now the apostle assures them that by receiving the Lord Jesus
they would have a much better high priest, a priesthood of a higher
order, and consequently a better dispensation or covenant, a better law
and testament; this he shows in this chapter, where,
I. We have a more particular account of Melchisedec,
II. The superiority of his priesthood to that of Aaron,
III. An accommodation of all to Christ, to show the superior
excellency of his person, office, and covenant,
||A. D. 62.|
1 For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high
God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings,
and blessed him;
2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by
interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of
Salem, which is, King of peace;
3 Without father, without mother, without descent, having
neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto
the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.
4 Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the
patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.
5 And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the
office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of
the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren,
though they come out of the loins of Abraham:
6 But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes
of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.
7 And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the
8 And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth
them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.
9 And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid
tithes in Abraham.
10 For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec
The foregoing chapter ended with a repetition of what had been cited
once and again before out of
Jesus, a high priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedec.
Now this chapter is as a sermon upon that text; here the apostle sets
before them some of the strong meat he had spoken of before, hoping
they would by greater diligence be better prepared to digest it.
I. The great question that first offers itself is, Who was this
Melchisedec? All the account we have of him in the Old Testament is in
&c., and in
Indeed we are much in the dark about him; God has thought fit to leave
us so, that this Melchisedec might be a more lively type of him whose
generation none can declare. If men will not be satisfied with what is
revealed, they must rove about in the dark in endless conjectures, some
fancying him to have been an angel, others the Holy Ghost; but,
1. The opinions concerning him that are best worthy our consideration
are these three:--
(1.) Therabbin, and most of the Jewish writers, think he was Shem the
son of Noah who was king and priest to their ancestors, after the
manner of the other patriarchs; but it is not probable that he should
thus change his name. Besides, we have no account of his settling in
the land of Canaan.
(2.) Many Christian writers have thought him to be Jesus Christ
himself, appearing by a special dispensation and privilege to Abraham
in the flesh, and who was known to Abraham by the name
Melchisedec, which agrees very well to Christ, and to what is
Abraham saw his day and rejoiced. Much may be said for
this opinion, and what is said in
does not seem to agree with any mere man; but then it seems strange to
make Christ a type of himself.
(3.) The most general opinion is that he was a Canaanite king, who
reigned in Salem, and kept up religion and the worship of the true God;
that he was raised to be a type of Christ, and was honoured by Abraham
2. But we shall leave these conjectures, and labour to understand, as
far as we can, what is here said of him by the apostle, and how Christ
is represented thereby,
(1.) Melchisedec was a king, and so is the Lord Jesus--a king of God's
anointing; the government is laid upon his shoulders, and he rules over
all for the good of his people.
(2.) That he was king of righteousness: his name signifies
the righteous king. Jesus Christ is a rightful and a righteous
king--rightful in his title, righteous in his government. He is the
Lord our righteousness; he has fulfilled all righteousness, and brought
in an everlasting righteousness, and he loves righteousness and
righteous persons, and hates iniquity.
(3.) He was king of Salem, that is, king of peace; first king of
righteousness, and after that king of peace. So is our Lord Jesus; he
by his righteousness made peace, the fruit of righteousness is peace.
Christ speaks peace, creates peace, is our peace-maker.
(4.) He was priest of the most high God, qualified and anointed
in an extraordinary manner to be his priest among the Gentiles. So is
the Lord Jesus; he is the priest of the most high God, and the Gentiles
must come to God by him; it is only through his priesthood that we can
obtain reconciliation and remission of sin.
(5.) He was without father, without mother, without descent, having
neither beginning of days nor end of life,
This must not be understood according to the letter; but the scripture
has chosen to set him forth as an extraordinary person, without giving
us his genealogy, that he might be a fitter type of Christ, who as man
was without father, as God without mother; whose priesthood is without
descent, did not descend to him from another, nor from him to another,
but is personal and perpetual.
(6.) That he met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings,
and blessed him. The incident is recorded
&c. He brought forth bread and wine to refresh Abraham and his servants
when they were weary; he gave as a king, and blessed as a priest. Thus
our Lord Jesus meets his people in their spiritual conflicts, refreshes
them, renews their strength, and blesses them.
(7.) That Abraham gave him a tenth part of all
that is, as the apostle explains it, of all the spoils; and this
Abraham did as an expression of his gratitude for what Melchisedec had
done for him, or as a testimony of his homage and subjection to him as
a king, or as an offering vowed and dedicated to God, to be presented
by his priest. And thus are we obliged to make all possible returns of
love and gratitude to the Lord Jesus for all the rich and royal favours
we receive from him, to pay our homage and subjection to him as our
King, and to put all our offerings into his hands, to be presented by
him to the Father in the incense of his own sacrifice.
(8.) That this Melchisedec was made like unto the Son of God, and
abideth a priest continually. He bore the image of God in his piety
and authority, and stands upon record as an immortal high priest; the
ancient type of him who is the eternal and only-begotten of the Father,
who abideth a priest for ever.
II. Let us now consider (as the apostle advises) how great this
Melchisedec was, and how far his priesthood was above that of the order
&c.): Now consider how great this man was, &c. The greatness of
this man and his priesthood appears,
1. From Abraham's paying the tenth of the spoils unto him; and it is
well observed that Levi paid tithes to Melchisedec in Abraham,
Now Levi received the office of the priesthood from God, and was to
take tithes of the people, yet even Levi paid tithes to Melchisedec, as
to a greater and higher priest than himself; therefore that high priest
who should afterwards appear, of whom Melchisedec was a type, must be
much superior to any of the Levitical priests, who paid tithes, in
Abraham, to Melchisedec. And now by this argument of persons doing
things that are matters of right or injury in the loins of their
predecessors we have an illustration how we may be said to have sinned
in Adam, and fallen with him in his first transgression. We were in
Adam's loins when he sinned, and the guilt and depravity contracted by
the human nature when it was in our first parents are equitably imputed
and derived to the same nature as it is in all other persons naturally
descended from them. They justly adhere to the nature, and it must be
by an act of grace if ever they be taken away.
2. From Melchisedec's blessing of Abraham, who had the promises;
and, without contradiction, the less is blessed of the greater,
(1.) Abraham's great dignity and felicity--that he had the promises. He
was one in covenant with God, to whom God had given exceedingly great
and precious promises. That man is rich and happy indeed who has an
estate in bills and bonds under God's own hand and seal. These
promises are both of the life that now is and of that which is to come;
this honour have all those who receive the Lord Jesus, in whom all the
promises are yea and amen.
(2.) Melchisedec's greater honour--in that it was his place and
privilege to bless Abraham; and it is an uncontested maxim that the
less is blessed of the greater,
He who gives the blessing is greater than he who receives it; and
therefore Christ, the antitype of Melchisedec, the meriter and Mediator
of all blessings to the children of men, must be greater than all the
priests of the order of Aaron.
|Melchisedec and Christ Compared.
||A. D. 62.|
11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood,
(for under it the people received the law,) what further need
was there that another priest should rise after the order of
Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity
a change also of the law.
13 For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another
tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar.
14 For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of
which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.
15 And it is yet far more evident: for that after the
similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest,
16 Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but
after the power of an endless life.
17 For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the
order of Melchisedec.
18 For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going
before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.
19 For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a
better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.
20 And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest:
21 (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with
an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not
repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of
22 By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.
23 And they truly were many priests, because they were not
suffered to continue by reason of death:
24 But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an
25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that
come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession
26 For such a high priest became us, who is holy, harmless,
undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the
27 Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up
sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for
this he did once, when he offered up himself.
28 For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity;
but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the
Son, who is consecrated for evermore.
Observe the necessity there was of raising up another priest, after the
order of Melchisedec and not after the order of Aaron, by whom that
perfection should come which could not come by the Levitical
priesthood, which therefore must be changed, and the whole economy with
I. It is asserted that perfection could not come by the Levitical
priesthood and the law. They could not put those who came to them into
the perfect enjoyment of the good things they pointed out to them; they
could only show them the way.
II. That therefore another priest must be raised up, after the order of
Melchisedec, by whom, and his law of faith, perfection might come to
all who obey him; and, blessed be God, that we may have perfect
holiness and perfect happiness by Christ in the covenant of grace,
according to the gospel, for we are complete in him.
III. It is asserted that the priesthood being changed there must of
necessity be a change of the law; there being so near a relation
between the priesthood and the law, the dispensation could not be the
same under another priesthood; a new priesthood must be under a new
regulation, managed in another way, and by rules proper to its nature
IV. It is not only asserted, but proved, that the priesthood and law
The priesthood and law by which perfection could not come are
abolished, and a priest has arisen, and a dispensation is now set up,
by which true believers may be made perfect. Now that there is such a
change is obvious.
1. There is a change in the tribe of which the priesthood comes.
Before, it was the tribe of Levi; but our great high priest sprang out
of Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning the priesthood,
This change of the family shows a real change of the law of the
2. There is a change in the form and order of making the priests.
Before, in the Levitical priesthood, they were made after the law of a
carnal commandment; but our great high priest was made after the power
of an endless life. The former law appointed that the office should
descend, upon the death of the father, to his eldest son, according to
the order of carnal or natural generation; for none of the high priests
under the law were without father or mother, or without descent: they
had not life and immortality in themselves. They had both beginning of
days and end of life; and so the carnal commandment, or law of
primogeniture, directed their succession, as it did in matters of civil
right and inheritance. But the law by which Christ was constituted a
priest, after the order of Melchisedec, was the power of an endless
life. The life and immortality which he had in himself were his right
and title to the priesthood, not his descent from former priests. This
makes a great difference in the priesthood, and in the economy too, and
gives the preference infinitely to Christ and the gospel. The very law
which constituted the Levitical priesthood supposed the priests to be
weak, frail, dying, creatures, not able to preserve their own natural
lives, but who must be content and glad to survive in their posterity
after the flesh; much less could they, by any power or authority they
had, convey spiritual life and blessedness to those who came to them.
But the high priest of our profession holds his office by that innate
power of endless life which he has in himself, not only to preserve
himself alive, but to communicate spiritual and eternal life to all
those who duly rely upon his sacrifice and intercession. Some thing
the law of the carnal commandment refers to the external rites
of consecration, and the carnal offerings that were made; but the
power of an endless life to the spiritual living sacrifices proper
to the gospel, and the spiritual and eternal privileges purchased by
Christ, who was consecrated by the eternal Spirit of life that he
received without measure.
3. There is a change in the efficacy of the priesthood. The former was
weak and unprofitable, made nothing perfect; the latter brought in a
better hope, by which we draw near to God,
The Levitical priesthood brought nothing to perfection: it could not
justify men's persons from guilt; it could not sanctify them from
inward pollution; it could not cleanse the consciences of the
worshippers from dead works; all it could do was to lead them to the
antitype. But the priesthood of Christ carries in it, and brings along
with it, a better hope; it shows us the true foundation of all the hope
we have towards God for pardon and salvation; it more clearly discovers
the great objects of our hope; and so it tends to work in us a more
strong and lively hope of acceptance with God. By this hope we are
encouraged to draw nigh unto God, to enter into a covenant-union with
him, to live a life of converse and communion with him. We may now draw
near with a true heart, and with the full assurance of faith, having
our minds sprinkled from an evil conscience. The former priesthood
rather kept men at a distance, and under a spirit of bondage.
4. There is a change in God's way of acting in this priesthood. He has
taken an oath to Christ, which he never did to any of the order of
Aaron. God never gave them any such assurance of their continuance,
never engaged himself by oath or promise that theirs should be an
everlasting priesthood, and therefore gave them no reason to expect the
perpetuity of it, but rather to look upon it as a temporary law. But
Christ was made a priest with the oath of God: The Lord hath sworn,
and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of
Here God has upon oath declared the immutability, excellency, efficacy,
and eternity, of the priesthood of Christ.
5. There is a change in that covenant of which the priesthood was a
security and the priest a surety; that is, a change in the dispensation
of that covenant. The gospel dispensation is more full, free,
perspicuous, spiritual, and efficacious, than that of the law. Christ
is in this gospel covenant a surety for us to God and for God to us, to
see that the articles be performed on both parts He, as surety, has
united the divine and human nature together in his own person, and
therein given assurance of reconciliation; and he has, as surety,
united God and man together in the bond of the everlasting covenant. He
pleads with men to keep their covenant with god, and he pleads with God
that he will fulfil his promises to men, which he is always ready to do
in a way suitable to his majesty and glory, that is, through a
6. There is a remarkable change in the number of the priests under
these different orders. In that of Aaron there was a multitude of
priests, of high priests, not at once, but successively; but in this of
Christ there is but one and the same. The reason is plain, The
Levitical priests were many, because they were not suffered to
continue by reason of death. Their office, how high and honourable
soever, could not secure them from dying; and, as one died, another
must succeed, and after a while must give place to a third, till the
number had become very great. But this our high priest continues for
ever, and his priesthood is aparabaton--an unchangeable
one, that does not pass from one to another, as the former did; it
is always in the same hand. There can be no vacancy in this priesthood,
no hour nor moment in which the people are without a priest to
negotiate their spiritual concerns in heaven. Such a vacancy might be
very dangerous and prejudicial to them; but this is their safety and
happiness, that this ever-living high priest is able to save to the
utmost--in all times, in all cases, in every juncture--all who come to
God by him,
So that here is a manifest alteration much for the better.
7. There is a remarkable difference in the moral qualifications of the
priests. Those who were of the order of Aaron were not only mortal men,
but sinful men, who had their sinful as well as natural infirmities;
they needed to offer up sacrifices first for their own sins and then
for the people. But our high priest, who was consecrated by the word of
the oath, needed only to offer up once for the people, never at all for
himself; for he has not only an immutable consecration to his office,
but an immutable sanctity in his person. He is such a high priest as
became us, holy, harmless, and undefiled, &c.,
(1.) Our case, as sinners, needed a high priest to make satisfaction
and intercession for us.
(2.) No priest could be suitable or sufficient for our reconciliation
to God but one who was perfectly righteous in his own person; he must
be righteous in himself, or he could not be a propitiation for our sin,
or our advocate with the Father.
(3.) The Lord Jesus was exactly such a high priest as we wanted, for he
has a personal holiness, absolutely perfect. Observe the description we
have of the personal holiness of Christ expressed in various terms, all
of which some learned divines consider as relating to his perfect
[1.] He is holy, perfectly free from all the habits or principles of
sin, not having the least disposition to it in his nature; no sin
dwells in him, though it does in the best of Christians, not the least
[2.] He is harmless, perfectly free from all actual transgression, has
done no violence, nor is there any deceit in his mouth, never did the
least wrong to God or man.
[3.] He is undefiled, he was never accessory to other men's sins. It
is a difficult thing to keep ourselves pure, so as not to partake in
the guilt of other men's sins, by contributing in some way towards
them, or not doing what we ought to prevent them. Christ was
undefiled; though he took upon him the guilt of our sins, yet he never
involved himself in the fact and fault of them.
[4.] He is separate from sinners, not only in his present state (having
entered as our high priest into the holiest of all, into which nothing
defiled can enter), but in his personal purity: he has no such union
with sinners, either natural or federal, as can devolve upon him
original sin. This comes upon us by virtue of our natural and federal
union with the first Adam, we descending from him in the ordinary way.
But Christ was, by his ineffable conception in the virgin, separate
from sinners; though he took a true human nature, yet the miraculous
way in which it was conceived set him upon a separate footing from all
the rest of mankind.
[5.] He is made higher than the heavens. Most expositors understand
this concerning his state of exaltation in heaven, at the right hand of
God, to perfect the design of his priesthood. But Dr. Goodwin thinks
this may be very justly referred to the personal holiness of Christ,
which is greater and more perfect than the holiness of the hosts of
heaven, that is, the holy angels themselves, who, though they are free
from sin, yet are not in themselves free from all possibility of
sinning. And therefore we read, God putteth no trust in his holy
ones, and he chargeth his angels with folly
that is, with weakness and peccability. They may be angels one hour and
devils another, as many of them were; and that the holy angels shall
not now fall does not proceed from an indefectibility of nature, but
from the election of God; they are elect angels. It is very probable
that this explanation of the words, made higher than the
heavens, may be thought too much strained, and that it ought to be
understood of the dignity of Christ's state, and not the perfect
holiness of his person; and the rather because it is said he was
made higher genomenos; but it is well known that
this word is used in a neutral sense, as where it is said,
genesthe ho Theos alethes--Let God be true. The
other characters in the verse plainly belong to the personal perfection
of Christ in holiness, as opposed to the sinful infirmities of the
Levitical priests; and it seems congruous to think this must do so too,
if it may be fairly taken in such a sense; and it appears yet more
probable, since the validity and prevalency of Christ's priesthood in
are placed in the impartiality and disinterestedness of it. He needed
not to offer up for himself: it was a disinterested mediation; he
mediated for that mercy for others which he did not need for himself;
had he needed it himself, he had been a party, and could not have been
a Mediator--a criminal, and could not have been an advocate for
sinners. Now, to render his mediation the more impartial and
disinterested, it seems requisite not only that he had no present need
of that favour for himself which he mediated for in behalf of others,
but that he never could stand in need of it. Though he needed it not
to-day, yet if he knew he might be in such circumstances as to need it
to-morrow, or at any future time, he must have been thought to have had
some eye upon his own interest, and therefore could not act with
impartial regard and pure zeal for the honour of God on one hand, and
tender pure compassion for poor sinners on the other. I pretend not
here to follow the notes of our late excellent expositor, into whose
labours we have entered, but have taken the liberty to vindicate this
notion of the learned Dr. Goodwin from the exceptions that I know have
been made to it; and I have the rather done it because, if it will hold
good, it gives us further evidence how necessary it was that the
Mediator should be God, since no mere creature is of himself possessed
of that impeccability which will set him above all possible need of
favour and mercy for himself.