Of the Rules Set Down in Scripture for Those that Minister in Holy Things,
and of the Corruptions That are Set forth in them.
Intend to write with all possible simplicity, without the affectations of a strictness of Method: and therefore I will give one full view of this whole matter, without any other order than as it lies in the Scriptures: and will lay both the Rules and the Reproofs that are in them together, as things that give light to one another. In the Law of Moses we find many very particular Rules given for the washing and consecration of the Priests and Levites, chiefly of the Holy Priest. The whole Tribe of Levi was sanctified and separated from the common Labours, either of War or Tillage: and though they were but one in twelve, yet a tenth of all was appointed for them: they were also to have a large share of another tenth; that so they might be not only delivered from all cares, by that large provision that was made for them, but might be able to relieve the necessities of the Widows and Fatherless, the Poor and the Strangers, that sojourned among them; and by their bounty and charity, be possessed both of the love and esteem of the People. They were holy to the Lord; they were said to be sanctified or dedicated to God; and the Head of their Order carried on his Mitre this Inscription, Holiness to the Lord. The many washings that they were often to use, chiefly in doing their Functions, carried this signification in them, that they were appropriated to God, and that they were under very strict obligations to a high degree of purity; they might not so much as mourn for their dead Relations, to show how far they ought to rise above all the concerns of flesh and blood, and even the most excusable passions of human nature. But above all things, these Rules taught them, with what exactness, decency and purity they ought to perform those Offices that belonged to their Function; and therefore when Aaron's two Sons, Nadab and Abihu transgressed the Law that God had given, fire came out from the Lord, and devoured them; and the reason given for it, carries in it a perpetual Rule. I will be sanctified in all them that draw near to me, and before all the people I will be glorified: Which import, that such as minister in Holy things, ought to behave themselves so, that God's Name may be glorified by their means; otherwise, that God will glorify himself by his severe Judgments on them. A signal Instance of which we do also find in Eli's two Sons, whose Impieties and Defilements, as they made the People to abhor the offering of the Lord: so they also drew down, not only heavy Judgments on themselves, but on the whole House of Eli; and indeed on the whole Nation.
But besides the attendance which the Priests and Levites were bound to give at the Temple, and on the Public Service there, they were likewise obliged to study the Law, to give the People warning out of it, to instruct them in it, and to conduct them, and watch over them: And for this reason they had Cities assigned them in all the Corners of the Land; that so they might both more easily observe the Manners of the People, and that the People might more easily have recourse to them. Now when that Nation became corrupted both by Idolatry and Immorality, God raised up Prophets to be extraordinary Monitors to them; to declare to them their Sins, and to denounce those Judgments which were coming upon them, because of them; we find the silence, the ignorance, and the corruption of their Pastors, their Shepherds, and their Watchmen, is a main Article of their Charge; so Isaiah tells them, that their Watchmen were blind, ignorant, dumb dogs, that could not bark; sleeping, lying down, and loving to slumber: Yet these careless Watchmen were covetous and insatiable, They were greedy dogs, which could never have enough; Shepherds they were, that could not understand; but how remiss soever they might be in God's Work, they were careful enough of their own: They all looked to their own way, every one to his own gain from his quarter. They were, no doubt, exact in levying their Tithes and First-fruits, how little soever they might do for them, bating their bare attendance at the Temple, to officiate there; so guilty they were of that reigning Abuse, of thinking they had done their duty, if they either by themselves, or by Proxy, had performed their Functions without minding what was incumbent on them, as Watchmen, or Shepherds. In opposition to such careless and corrupt Guides, God promises to his People, To set Watch-men over them that should never hold their peace day nor night.
As the Captivity drew nearer, we may easily conclude, That the Corruptions both of Priest and People increased, which ripened them for the Judgments of God, that were kept back by the Reformations which Hezekiah and Josiah had made: but at last, all was so depraved that though God sent two Prophets, Jeremy and Ezekiel, to prepare them for that terrible Calamity, yet this was only to save some few among them; for the Sins of the Nation were grown to that height, that though Moses and Samuel, Noah, Job and Daniel, had been then alive, to intercede for them, yet God declared that he would not hear them; nor spare the Nation for their sakes: so that even such mighty Intercessors could only save their own Souls. In this deplorable state we shall find that their Priests and Pastors had their large share. The Priests said not, Where is the Lord? They that handled the Law, knew me not, the Pastors also transgressed against me; and their Corruption went so far, that they had not only false Prophets to support them, but the People, who, how bad soever they may be themselves, do generally hate evil Priests, grew to be pleased with it. The Prophets prophecy falsely; and the Priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: From the Prophet even to the Priest, every one dealt falsely. And upon that, a woe is denounced against the Pastors that destroyed and scattered the sheep of God's pasture. They by their Office ought to have fed the People; but instead of that, they had scattered the flock, and driven them away, and had not visited them: both Prophet and Priest was profane; their wickedness was found even in the house of God. In opposition to all which, God promises by the Prophet, that he would set Shepherds over them, that should feed them; so that the people should have no more reason to be afraid of their Pastors, or of being mis-led by them; and he promised upon their return from the Captivity, to give them Pastors according to his own heart, who should feed them with knowledge and understanding.
In Ezekiel we find the solemn and severe charge given to Watch-men, twice repeated; that they ought to warn the wicked from his wickedness; otherwise, though he should indeed die in his sin, God would require his blood at the Watchman's hand; but if he gave warning, he had by so doing, delivered his own soul. In that Prophecy we have the guilt of the Priests set forth very heinously. Her Priests have violated my Law, and profaned my holy things; they have put no difference between the holy and profane, the clean, and the unclean, and have hid their eyes from my Sabbaths; the effect of which was, that God was profaned among them. This is more fully prosecuted in the 34th Chap. which is all addressed to the Shepherds of Israel, Woe be to the Shepherds of Israel, that do feed themselves: Should not the Shepherds feed the Flock? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the Wool, ye kill them that are fed, but ye feed not the Flock: Then follows an enumeration of the several sorts of troubles that the people were in, under the Figure of a Flock, to show how they had neglected their Duty, in all the parts and instances of it; and had trusted to their Authority, which they had abused to Tyranny and Violence. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force, and with cruelty have ye ruled them; upon which follows a terrible Expostulation, and Denunciation of Judgments against them: I am against the Shepherds, saith the Lord, I will require my Flock at their hands, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the Shepherds feed themselves any more. And in the 44th Chap of that Prophecy, one Rule is given, which was set up in the Primitive Church, as an unalterable Maxim, That such Priests as had been guilty of Idolatry, should not do the Office of a Priest any more, nor come near to any of the Holy Things, or enter within the Sanctuary, but were still to bear their shame: They might minister in some inferior Services, such as keeping the Gates, or slaying the Sacrifice; but they were still to bear their Iniquity.
I have past over all that occurs in these Prophets, which relates to the false Prophets, because I will bring nothing into this Discourse, that relates to Sins of another Order, and Nature. In Daniel we have a noble Expression of the value of such as turn men to Righteousness, That they shall shine as the Stars, for ever and ever. In Hosea we find among the Sins and Calamities of that time, this reckoned as a main cause of that horrid Corruption, under which they had fallen, there being no truth, no mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land, which was defiled by swearing, lying, killing, stealing and committing Adultery. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: To which is added, Because thou hast rejected knowledge (or the instructing the People) I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no Priest to me; seeing thou hast forgot the Law of thy God; I will also forget thy children. That corrupt Race of Priests attended still upon the Temple, and offered up the Sin-Offering, and feasted upon their Portion; which is wrong rendred, They eat up the sin of my people; for sin stands there as in the Law of Moses, for Sin Offering: Because of the advantage this brought them, they were glad at the abounding of Sin; which is expressed by their setting their heart, or lifting up their Soul to their iniquity: The Conclusion of which is, that they should be given up for a very heavy curse, of, Like Priests, like People. In Joel we find the Duty of the Priests and Ministers of the Lord, set forth in times of great and approaching Calamities, thus, They ought to be Intercessors for the People, and to weep between the Porch and the Altar; and say, Spare thy People, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the Heathen (Strangers and Idolaters) should rule over them: Wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God? There is in Amos, a very black Character of a depraved Priesthood, Their Priests teach for hire, and their Prophets divine for money.
These were the forerunners of the destruction of that Nation: But though it might be expected, that the Captivity should have purged them from their dross, as it did indeed free them from all inclinations to Idolatry; yet other Corruptions had a deeper root. We find in Zachary, a Curse against the Idol Shepherd, who resembled the true Shepherd, as an Idol does the Original: But he was without sense and life. Woe be to the Idol Shepherd that leaveth the Flock: The Curse is figuratively expressed, The sword shall be upon his arm, and his right eye: (the things that he valued most) his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened: But this is more copiously set out by Malachi, in an Address made to the Priests; And now, O ye Priests, this Commandment is for you; If you will not hear, and if you will not lay it to heart, to give Glory unto my Name, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your Blessings; yea I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart - Then the first Covenant with the Tribe of Levi is set forth; My Covenant was with him, of Life and Peace: The Law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many from their iniquity: For the Priests lips should preserve knowledge, and they should seek the Law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts: All this sets forth the state of a pure and holy Priesthood: But then follow terrible Words; But ye are departed out of the way, ye have caused many to stumble at the Law: Ye have corrupted the Covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of Hosts. Therefore have I also made you contemptible, and base before all the people; according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the Law. Their ill example made many loath both their Law, and their Religion: They had corrupted their Institution, and studied by a gross partiality, to bring the people to be exact in those parts of the Law, in which their Wealth, or their Authority was concerned; while they neglected the more essential and indispensable Duties.
Thus far have I gone over the most important places, that have occurred to me in the Old-Testament, relating to this matter; upon all which, I will only add one Remark, That though some exception might be made to those expressions, that import the Dignity and Sanctification of those who were then consecrated to the Holy Functions, as parts of that instituted Religion, which had its period by the coming of Christ; yet such Passages as relate to Moral Duties, and to the Obligations that arise out of Natural Religion, have certainly a more binding force, and ought to be understood and explained in a more elevated and sublime sense, under the new Dispensation, which is Internal and Spiritual, compared, to which, the Old is called the Letter and the Flesh: Therefore the Obligations of the Priests, under the Christian Religion, to a holy strictness of Life and Conversation, to a diligent attendance on their Flock, and for instructing and watching over them, must all be as much higher, and more binding, as this New Covenant cancels the old one.