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that he was of a family different from that of Abraham; yet this is asserted by the apostle of Melchizedek. St. Paul concludes that Melchizedek was superior to the Levitical priests, since Levi himself paid tithes to Melchizedek, in the person of his ancestor Abraham; but if Melchizedek be Shem, his reasoning is inconclusive, since Levi might as well be said to receive tithes in Shem, as to pay them in Abraham. There is nothing in the sacred history which renders it probable that Shem ever left Chaldea, the country of his ancestors, to come and reside in Canaan, where Melchizedek reigned; and Abraham could not with propriety be said to have resided there as in “ a strange land,” if one of his ancestors was there upon the throne. For these and similar reasons, we reject the opinion of those who suppose that Melchizedek was Shem.
2. Several persons of talents and piety have supposed, from the terms in which St. Paul speaks of Melchizedek, that he was Jesus Christ himself,* who appeared on this occasion, as he doubtless did on some others, in a human form; thus nourishing the faith of the patriarch, and giving him an earnest of the incarnation. But this opinion is inconsistent with the whole design of St. Paul's reasoning, which is to show, that even among men there was a priesthood superior to Levi's. It is inconsistent with the relation of Genesis, in which no intimation is given that Melchizedek was more than a mere man; and with the assertions of the apostle, that he was made 6 like unto the Son of God;" that he was a type of the Saviour; and that Christ was “ a priest after the order
* This is the opinion of Cunæus, du Moulin, Gaillard, Alling, Satrin, &c.
of Melchizedek”-expressions which evidently mark a distinction between them. Other difficulties, insuperable on this scheme, will readily occur to you.
3. We suppose, therefore, with the majority of Christian divines, that he was a king who probably was descended from Canaan, and the seat of whose empire was at Salem, the same place which afterwards was called Jerusalem.* He was a pious man, and exempt from the idolatry which then had infected almost the whole world ; he sincerely and acceptably worshipped the living and the true God. With his regal, was united the priestly office. He was a priest of the Most High. He entered into this office, not by succession, as was the case under the Levitical law, but was immediately raised up and set apart to it by God. And as he had no predecessor in it, from whom his genealogy was reckoned; so neither did any one succeed him. This is what the apostle teaches us, when he says, that Melchizedek was 4 without father, without mother, without descent," or rather, according to the original,† “ without recorded genealogy." An examination of the context will evidently show that the apostle is here speaking of Melchizedek, not as a man, but as a priest, and contrasting his priesthood with the Levitical. As a man, he was born and died like others. As a iest, his family was unknown. Whilst the genealogies of the Levitical priests were carefully recorded and scrupulously examined, Melchizedek was a priest without any regard to the family from which he sprung; “ having neither beginning of days,” from which his priestly office was to commence, “, nor end of life,” in which it terminated. Such is the person whose history and whose resemblance to the Son of God we are now to examine.
* See Owen on Heb. vii, 1-3.
Though a king, he was yet a pious man, and an humble worshipper of God. The splendour of royalty and the pomp of power did not seduce his heart. How attractive does he appear! How delightful is the union of dignified station and humility of heart; of an affluence of the enjoyments of this world, and a soul that soars above them and looks down upon them with a holy contempt. Alas! why must we add, how rare is this union! Worldly greatness too generally fills the mind with pride and self-sufficiency, and makes it unwilling to stoop to the self-abasing terms of the gospel; too generally weighs the soul down to the earth, and indisposes it to rise by holy aspirations, by ardent devotions, to the throne of the Eternal. When all the enjoyments of the world are spread before us, and placed within our reach, there are few who will deny themselves, mortify their passions, and submit to the strict requirements of religion. There are few, like Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man and a counsellor, who show their attachment to Jesus in the presence of his enemies. There are few in dignified stations, who, like Melchizedek, habitually and devoutly remember the Most High God, the possessor of heaven and earth. Ye whom Providence has distinguished from your fellow-men; ye who have influence over others, from your dignities, your wealth, your talents, or any other circumstances, imitate this king of Salem! Whatever pride may whisper to your hearts; whatever the voice of flattery may declare unto you; your worldly advantages will only aggravate your future wo, if they engross your affections, and steal away your hearts if they are not sanctified by true
religion. Whatever distinctions Providence, or society, or a vain and self-deluding heart may place between you and others; yet think of that day, when amidst the throes and convulsions of your departing spirit, you will acknowledge that vanity has rightly been inscribed on every thing beneath the sun. Think of that awful day, when before the throne of the common Maker of all, princes and slaves, the rich and the poor, the wise and the ignorant, shall appear on a level. Whatever distinctions Providence, or society, or a vain self-deluding heart, have placed between you and others; yet still, notwithstanding these distinctions, you are sinners of the race of Adam, you are exposed to the wrath of God, and there is no shelter for you but in the blood of Christ. Oh! that you would be induced to flee to this shelter! Then your name, like that of Melchizedek, should be blessed--then would you secure the veneration and love of your fellow-men.
The piety of Melchizedek was the more unquestionable, because he was almost entirely surrounded by the impious. I have already mentioned that idolatry and false worship were at this time almost universal. The posterity of Shem, nay, even that branch of it from which Abram sprang, had not escaped the infection; and in Canaan, the crimes of the Amorites and the abominations of Sodom and the neighbouring cities, called loudly to heaven for vengeance. In the midst of such impieties, this holy man dared to lift up a standard for God and for piety; and by the lustre of his holiness threw light upon the surrounding gloom. How firm must have been that devotion which enabled him to resist that torrent which was sweeping so many thousands to perdition! It is not a small degree of grace that will enable a man thus to stand alone for God, and to despise the reproaches and the sneers of the impious ; thus, like Noah, like Daniel, like Melchizedek, to remain unshaken by the examples and solicitations of the ungodly multitude.
Such a heart was prepared to mingle with that of Abram; and Providence soon made them acquainted with each other. In the life of the patriarch, you beheld him, at an andvanced age exchanging his pastoral crook for the sword, and generously rushing to the field of war, to rescue a beloved friend and kinsman. The God of battles attended him, and rendered him signally victorious. As he returned, crowned with glory, he stopped in the king's dale, to deliver to the king of Sodom his goods and his people. Melchizedek here came forth to meet him with bread and wine, to refresh his exhausted troops. Abraham, who, with a munificence becoming a servant of God who had a better portion than earth could bestow, refused the offerings of the king of Sodom, immediately accepts the presents of Melchizedek. The royal priest, in the name of the Most High God, pronounces upon the patriarch a solemn sacerdotal blessing; and Abram bestows upon him the tithe of the spoil.
Do not wonder, my brethren, that these two holy men so soon became intimate with each other. There is a sacred sympathy in pious minds—a heavenly attraction, which causes real believers soon to forget that they are strangers, to hail each other as brethren, and mutually to feel the sentiments of brethren. Let two who have been born in distant climes; who have never heard each other's names pronounced ; who have ever been separated from each other by interposing seas and mountains; but whose hearts