THe Greek and Latin words which we translate Priest, are derived from words which signifie holy: and so the word Priest according to the Etymologie, signifies him whose meer charge and function is about holy things: and therefore seems to be a most proper word to him, who is set apart to the holy publick service and worship of God: especially when he is, in the actual ministration of holy things. Wherefore in the Rubricks, which direct him in his ministration of these holy publick services, the word Priest is most commonly used, both by this Church and all the Primitive Churches Greek and Latin as far as I can find, and I believe it can scarce be found, that in any of the old Greek or Latin Liturgies the word Presbyter was used in the Rubricks that direct the order of service, but in the Greek, iereuV, and in the Latin Sacerdos, which we in English translate Priest, which I suppose to be done upon this ground, that this word Priest is the most proper for him that ministers, in the time of his ministration.
If it be objected, that according to the usual acception of the word, it signifies him that offers up a Sacrifice, and therefore cannot be allowed to a Minister of the Gospel, who hath no Sacrifice to offer.
It is answered: that the Ministers of the Gospel, have Sacrifices to offer, S. Peter 1 ep. 2. 5. Ye are built up a spiritual house, a holy Priesthood to offer up spiritual Sacrifices of prayer, praises, thanksgivings, &c. In respect of these the Ministers of the Gospel may be safely in a metaphorical sence called Priests; and in a more eminent manner than other Christians are; because they are taken from among men to offer up these Sacrifices for others. But besides these spiritual Sacrifices mentioned, the Ministers of the Gospel have another Sacrifice to offer, viz. the unbloody Sacrifice, as it was anciently call'd, the commemorative Sacrifice of the death of Christ, which does as really and truly shew forth the death of Christ, as those Sacrifices under the Law did foreshew it, and in respect of this Sacrifice of the Eucharist, the Ancients have usually call'd those that offer it up, Priests. And if Melchisedeck was called a Priest, (as he is often by S. Paul to the Hebrews) who yet had no other Offering or Sacrifice that we read of, but that of Bread and Wine, Gen. 14. He brought forth Bread and Wine; and, or, for (the Hebrew word bears both) he was a Priest, that is, this act of his was an act of Priesthood, for so must it be referred, he brought forth Bread and Wine; for he was a Priest. And not thus, and he was a Priest, and blessed Abraham (for both in the Hebrew and Greek there is a Full point after these words, and, or, for he was a Priest.) If, I say, Melchisedeck be frequently and truly call'd a Priest, who had no other Offering, that we read of, but Bread and Wine, why may not they whose Office is to bless the people as Melchisedeck did, and besides that to offer that holy Bread and Wine, the Body and Blood of Christ, of which, his Bread and wine, at the most, was but a type, be as truly and without offence called Priests also?
If it be again objected, that the word Priest is a Jewish name, and therefore not to be used by Christians.
1. It is answered, first, that not every thing that was Jewish is become unlawful for Christians to use. I find indeed that those things amongst the Jews that were shadows of things to come, are abolished now that Christ is come, Col. 2. 16, 17. and therefore to use them, as still necessary and obliging to performance, is unlawful under the Gospel, for it is virtually to deny Christ to be come, Gal. 5. 3. An entangling our selves again in the yoke of bondage, from which Christ hath set us free. Col. 2. And therefore S. Paul tells the Colossians there, that he was afraid of them for their superstitious observation of Sabbaths which were shadows of things to come: and in that Chapter to the Galat. he does denounce damnation to them that entangle themselves again in that yoke of bondage, v. 2. But that other things, rites or usages of the Jews, which were no such shadows, should be unlawful to Christians if they were used without such an opinion of necessity, as we formerly spake of; I cannot perswade my self can ever be proved by either direct Scripture, or necessary inference from it. It will not therefore follow, that the name of Priest, (which is no shadow of things to come) though it were Jewish, would become unlawful to Christians.
2. The names of those rites and ceremonies, which were most Jewish, and are grown damnable to Christians, may still be lawfully used by Christians in a spiritual and refined sence. S. Paul who tells that the Circumcision of the Jews is become so unlawful, that if it be used by Christians (with an opinion of the necessity aforesaid) it forfeits all their hopes of salvation by Christ, Col. 2. 2. uses the word Circumcision frequently, particularly in that very Chapter, Ver. 11. In whom ye Christians, are circumcised.
3. The word Priest is not a Jewish name, that is, not peculiar to the Jewish Ministery. For Melchisedeck who was not of Aarons Order or Priesthood, is called a Priest by S. Paul to the Hebrews often: and our Saviour is a Priest after the Order of Melchisedeck: and the Ministers of the Gospel are call'd Priests by the Prophet Esay 66. 21. Ier. 33. 17. where they prophesie of the times of the Gospel, as will appear by the Context, and ancient Exposition. Lastly, S. Paul, where he defines a Minister of the Gospel, as well as of the Law, as hath been proved calls him Priest, Heb. 5. & 8. Chap. To sum up all then; That name which was not Jewish but common to others; that name which was frequently and constantly used by Primitive Christians; that name, by which the Prophets foretell that the Ministers of the Gospel shall be called: Lastly, that name by which S. Paul calls them, may not only lawfully, but safely, without any just ground of offence to sober men, be used still by Christians, as a fit name for the Ministers of the Gospel: and so they may be still called, as they are by the Church of England in her Rubrick, Priests.