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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Thomas F. Curtis
From The Progress of Baptist Principles in the Last Hundred Years, 1855
Two of the most deservedly popular writers of Ecclesiastical history in the present day, Neander and Merle D'Aubigne, consider "the essential priesthood of all true Christians" as one of the most important and original features presented in the history of the Christian Church.
In his "History of the Reformation" the latter of these says, "At the beginning the Church was a society of brethren. All Christians were priests of the living God with humble pastors for their guidance. But in popery the holy and primitive equality of souls before God is lost sight of, Christians are divided into two strangely unequal camps, on the one side, a separate class of priests, on the other, timid flocks reduced to blind submission."
Indeed he declares that one of the two most important features in which Christianity differed from all the human systems which fell before it was, that "whereas the priests of Paganism were almost the gods of the people, Jesus Christ dethroned those living idols, abolished this proud hierarchy—took from man what man had taken from God, and re-established the soul in direct communication with the Divine fountain of truth, proclaiming himself the only Master and Mediator. One is your Master, even Christ, and ye are all brethren."
Neander traces out the departure from this principle as one of the first great corruptions—"revolutionizing," in fact, the Christian Church.' He speaks of "the formation of a sacerdotal caste in the Christian Church" as "an idea alien to the Christian principle—an idea which could not fail to bring about a revolution of views, destined to last for ages, and even to unfold itself in a wider circle from the germ which had once been implanted."
"The great principle of the New Testament, the universal priestly character, grounded in that common and immediate relation of all to Christ as the source of the divine life was repressed, the idea interposing itself of a particular mediatory priesthood attached to a distinct order."
After this "Although the idea of the (universal) priesthood, in the purely evangelical sense, grew continually more obscure and was thrust further into the background, in proportion as that unevangelical point of view became more and more predominant, yet it was too deeply rooted in the very essence of Christianity to be totally suppressed. When the idea of this universal priesthood retired into the background, that of the priestly consecration which all Christians should make of their entire life went along with it."
But a higher authority among Christians than Neander addressed himself to the members generally of the first Churches of Christ, and said, "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (I Peter 2:5, 9)
All true Christians, then, are by nature and inheritance, priests, and as such it is their highest privilege and imperative duty to pray for and teach all mankind the knowledge of the true God.
That which in this country forms the basis of all our liberties, is the acknowledged fact of the sovereignty residing in the people, and not in the rulers. So, that which constitutes the liberty and excellency of true Christianity as opposed to false, is the essential priesthood of all true Christians. In heaven the souls of the blessed continually do praise the Redeemer, not only that He hath redeemed them to God by his blood, but hath made them kings and priests to "God and to the Lamb."
The universal priesthood of the Church does not do away with distinct ministries and pastor-ships. But there is much work in the Church which never can be adequately performed by ministers alone, or while all other Christians forget that they, too, have sacrifices to offer and duties to accomplish. For many a man might easily afford to give his hundreds or his thousands, if he could thus buy himself off from the duty of personal labors and services for the cause of Christ.
While the Christian, however, as a priest, has got to present the sacrifices and the thank offerings of his gold and his silver upon the altar of God, he has far more than this all to do. He has first of all to present himself a living sacrifice. His time, his talents, his personal labors, and instructions, must all be fully consecrated to the service of his Master.
The greatest difficulty is not to find men who are willing to contribute for the support of all church and missionary expenses cheerfully. There are thousands who will pay a minister liberally to pray for them and preach to them, and to the whole world besides, if they may but sit still in spiritual idleness or follow their wonted pursuits from Monday morning to Saturday night, unmolested by the claims of religion and by the duties of this universal priesthood.
We cannot help asking whether those who are in Scripture addressed as "a holy priesthood," have not got some spiritual sacrifices to offer up themselves, whether it is not their duty to instruct their children at home in the ways of piety, and to pray in their families and in the prayer meetings, and to take part in Bible classes. It is as truly their prerogative to labor directly for the conversion of souls to God as it is of those who preach.