« PreviousContinue »
great work, and then heap blessings on the head of Abram, whose magnanimity and prowess had led him to attempt it under protection of that Providence which they both acknowledged.
Melchizedec furnishes one among the many instances which go to prove that in this bad world of ours piety and christian intelligence may be a much more common thing than even the most charitable are apt to suppose. Who would have expected in this land of Canaanites, where the pollutions of Sodom offend the eye continually,
, where the ear is stunned with the blasphemies of Gomorrah, who would have expected when reading Abram's story that any sanctity or any light were to be found in Canaan, except that which may be supposed to be cherished in the circle that bowed with our patriarch around his many altars. But lo! at once, after Abrana had spent so many years in Canaan, unconnected it would seem with any worshipper of the Most High, lo! at once, when returning from his victories, the first that hails him is a man of God; at once a prince in Canaan and a priest of the Most High. And he does not barely meet him with warm gratulations; as the minister of God he invokes blessings on the hero; as a prince and patriot he flings wide his stores and brings forth refreshment for the band who had behaved themselves so nobly. It is the first and the last that we hear of this Melchizedec, except in those allusions to his character and standing which present him as a type of the Saviour of the world, at once the King and great High Priest in Zion. The fact that he only gleamed like the sudden flash of lightning that shews itself but for a moment and then leaves the world to darkness, in connection with these allusions of prophets and apostles, has thrown around the
character of this Melchizedec a grandeur and awe to which it is not entitled. The psalmist had said that Messiah should be a Priest after the order of Melchizedec, and the apostle Paul seizes on this prophecy to prove to the Jews that Jesus of Nazareth was such a priest. He was without father and without mother. For it is manifest, says he, that our Lord sprang from Judah, of whom Moses spake nothing as concerning the priesthood. From this it has been inferred that Melchizedec was really a being without parentage; that he was an angel, or the Holy Spirit, or Jesus Christ himself. We will not detain
with the formal refutation of these many idle speculations. It is sufficient to say they are all unauthorized; and that they are unnecessary to the interpretation of the apostle's language. Paul says that Jesus was without father and without mother as Melchizedec was. And he gives this proof of it; for it is manifest that our Lord sprang from Judah.” Now Judah had no title to the priesthood. No man but a Levite could be a priest in Israel. In fact the line was kept so unmixed that it was in all cases requisite that the mother as well as father should be of the tribe of Levi. A marriage with the females of another tribe destroyed for ever the title to the priesthood. This was the Mosaic order. But Melchizedec was not of the tribe of Levi; neither his father nor mother were of the house Aaron; he lived long before their day. Now, said the prophecy, Messi.ah shall be such a priest. Now, says the apostle, Jesus is such a priest. He is of Judah's tribe; he inherits his of fice neither from father nor mother; as concerning the priesthood he is without father and without mother; he stands alone like Melchizedec king of Salem; he inherits not his office from a line of priests; to a line of priests he. never will transmit it.
Melchizedec then was a man, a common man, but a great and good and patriotic man, the first to hail the den liver of his country.
And now mark how bows the spirit of our exalted pata. riarch as he bends to receive the blessing from this priest of God. Abram is great, but there is a greater than he; to the God of battles he owes his distinguished victory, and he will not exalt himself against the hand that raised him up. Behold the fruits of true magnanimity! behold the course that sound intelligence dictates. That mind is weak and little which prosperity so intoxicates that it spurns subjection to the Great Supreme:-that spirit is imbecile as well as impious that loses sight, amid the splendor of its own attainments, of the intelligence and grandeur that exalt the throne of God. It is a mistaken dignis ty that cannot stoop here where all things owe subjection; it is puerile vanity that exalts itself here where all should be humility and docility and reverence. Shew me that warrior who when he has earned his laurels will bow them to the dust at the foot of Messiah's cross; shew me that intelligence which when it has scanned creation through, sees him who sits at the head of this creation, and bends with reverence to hear his deep instruction: shew me in one word the person who has strength to sustain his weight of honours and yet reverence and fear his God, and I will shew you then a hero whose worth has many witnesses, less equivocal and more lasting than courage and coolnesss in the battle's shock. Many are the men who are courageous as our patriarch; but few can wear their laurels with such a modest mien. The tythes which Abram gave of the spoils he had redeemed it was his right to give. The custom of those rude ages had no respect in war to pri
vate property. The persons as well as property of the vanquished became alike the victor's right. Of course where our patriarch overcame the spoiler, all the fruits of the victory were his own. And in conformity with a custom which had obtained from early times, and was contine ued down to the end of the Old Testament dispensation, a tenth of the property as a seventh of the time was devoted exclusively to religious uses, in formal acknowledgment that to God men owed their all. It was for the most part immaterial to what particular use this tenth was devoted. Sometimes it was employed in the service of the altar; sometimes the possesser sold it and with the money made purchase of such things in Jerusalem as pleased his taste or fancy. This was a point of inferior consideration. The main thing was that it should be withdrawn from common uses on the principle we have named. According to the custom of the times our patriarch was now the owner of all the spoil. He therefore made his acknowledgments in the usual way. But it was all that he would use. When the king of Sodom bade him take the residue to himself, he magnanimously refused to touch the smallest article. There were three men who had accompanied him, natives of the country; let them, said Abram, take if they will their portion. But not a thread, not a shoe-latchet shall ever fall to me. No man shall have it in his power to say I have made Abram rich. It was right in the patriarch not to interfere with that portion of the spoil which custom set apart as due to God the giver. It was not his to merge the rights of others, or to make his own disinterestedness a rule to shape the course of other men. Justice demanded that he should not tax their magnanimity. But no man's suggestion should rob him of his own. And here a gain we have an example of that true gallantry of spirit, which shapes its feelings and its course without that tame subjection to custom or to law, which all but master spirits own in every case. We have seen men who would be generous when the world had stamped a deed with the name of generosity; men who would act nobly when noble acting was the order of the day; but who never knew to soar above the common standard in things and circumstances where custom had always sanctioned a low and selfish course. We love those gallant and independent spirits who are a law only to themselves, whose keen discernment and delicate perception will always incline them to the path of magnanimity whether custom has decked it with epithets of greatness or branded it with names of imprudence and folly. We love the lofty spirit that is magnanimous from impulse and not because its vanity seeks the praise of magnanimity; we love the noble soul whose magnanimity plays as freely when coupled with loss and censure as when followed with loud applauses. We love such magnanimity as that of Abram, which wilt guard most sacredly the smallest rights of others, while prodigal-beyond all example prodigal of his own. This is the highmindedness of our bible worthies. God of A bram, may it be all our own!
But we cease our enconium on the spirit of the patriarch. We admire it, we love it, we would imitate it through life; but we know there are excellencies more exalted though less splendid, and there are enjoyments far more solid and incomparably more durable than any that can arise from performing acts of virtue in the sight of Come with me now-we will detain
but a moment-come with me home to the tents of Abram on the