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Presidency and Priesthood

By Elder William H. Kelley

Chapter 3


William H. Kelley
William H. Kelley
William H. Kelley
Elder William H. Kelley

MEN in no age that we read of could assume the positions in the priesthood with impunity. They were powers with which God would honor whomsoever he pleased, and blessings followed upon the head of the obedient and called. Anathemas and chastisements overtook the haughty assumer. Hence the proud and ambitious Saul lost his kingdom, and persistent Uzziah was smitten with leprosy for arrogating the powers of the sacred offices of the priesthood. (1 Sam. xiii. 9; 2 Chron. xxvi. 18.)

Paul says: —

No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made a high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. — Heb. v. 4, 5.

He uses this language in vindication of the right that the Saviour had to officiate in the priesthood, proving thereby that he was not an usurper of authority, — did not glorify himself to be made a high priest by assuming the right, — but that he had received it by divine appointment.

As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. — Heb. v. 6.

This language was used by Paul in order to put to silence those who were disposed to question the divine call and appointment of the Saviour to the priesthood. His letter was addressed to the Hebrews, who were skilled in the Jewish law and acknowledged that a divine call was a prerequisite to the occupancy of the priest's office. Hence it is affirmed in the tenth verse, that he (Christ) was "called of God a high priest after the order of Melchisedec."

From the evidences cited it will scarcely be questioned that the Melchisedec and Aaronic priesthoods, one or both, were recognized authorities by which the people of God rendered an acceptable service during the times of the patriarchs, the law, and the prophets, although at times known by other appellations.

So we come now to inquire whether either or both of these priesthoods were introduced into the Christian dispensation.

Christ, who was the founder of the Christian system, held the Melchisedec priesthood. He was also the chief Apostle and High Priest therein. This is put beyond all question. Hence it is direct proof that the Melchisedec priesthood is a necessary authority in preaching and administering the gospel system; for Christ did not administer the "rites and ceremonies" of the law, but came "preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God." (Mark i. 14.) If he could have preached the gospel acceptably without the priesthood, why was it conferred upon him? Why impose upon him an unnecessary thing? If Christ could not preach and administer the gospel except by the authority of the Melchisedec priesthood, can others? If so, who are they, and how did they find it out? "To the law and to the testimony: and if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."

John the Baptist held the Aaronic priesthood. In proof of this I cite that he was in direct line of that priesthood, his father being a priest and his mother of the daughters of Aaron. (Luke i. 15.) He was a Nazarite from his birth (Luke i. 15), and was doubtless consecrated to the priesthood as he was to the service of the Lord, being a "Nazarite."

Back at Sinai, God said: —

Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people; for all the earth is mine:

And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests. — Ex. xix. 5,6.

Whether the Israelites ever attained to a realization of the full meaning of this promise or not, it is, nevertheless, a fact that their institution was invested with an authority and priesthood that even kings could not intrude themselves or disregard with impunity. After Moses, the Aaronic priesthood was the authority and strength of the whole Jewish ecclesiasticism or kingdom.

The high priest standing by the "ark of the covenant," with the "urim and thummim" before him, was the eyes and ears and mouth of the famed theocracy.

The priests were the educators of the people. "They [the priests] shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law." (Deut. xxxiii. 10.) Upon these (the priesthood and the law) the kingdom of Israel was built. (Ex. xix. 5, 6; Deut. xxxiii. 1–11 inclusive.) God recognized the line in which the priesthood was to be transmitted in sending his angel to good old Zacharias, "while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course," as seen in the following: —

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren: and they both were now well stricken in years.

And it came to pass, that, while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,

According to the custom of the priests office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.

And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.

And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.

And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.

And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias." — Lukei.3–17.

This priest Zacharias walked "in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless," a true representative of his honored tribe, a faithful priest of the kingdom of Israel. It was announced that his son, yet unborn, should be the "prophet of the highest," to "go before him [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elias."

Elias was invested with the priesthood, — was an Aaronic priest. John the Baptist to come in his "spirit" and "power" would need to come bearing the same priesthood and inspired with the same spirit. Hence when he cried, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," and the people gathered unto him, he baptized them by the authority of the inherited priesthood which had been conferred upon him, and at the specific call and direction of the Almighty to go and baptize. (John i. 6, 33.)

By the authority of this priesthood Jesus was baptized, together with the multitudes that came to John's baptism. The Jews would have had no regard for John's preaching and baptism had they not believed him to have been an accredited representative of their priesthood. His authority was questioned by none. In the persons of Jesus and John, therefore, there were represented upon the shores of Jordan, at the "beginning of the gospel,"the Melchisedec and the Aaronic priesthoods, by which the gospel was preached and administered.

Further: Isaiah says that while the "old wastes" are being "builded," and the "former desolations repaired," the "ministers of our God" are to be named the "priests of the Lord." (Isa. Ixi. 6.)

This is predicted to take place in the Christian dispensation, during the time of God's "preparation." At that time, among the ministers of the Lord, there are to be "priests." If they be Melchisedec priests, then we have further proof that high priests of that order belong to the Christian institution. If Aaronic priests are intended, then the Leviticus priesthood belongs with the Christian system, the very thing affirmed by us. In either case, this is proof that the priesthood and priests belong to the Christian institution.

A divine call was an essential qualification to the occupying of the office of the priesthood in olden times. During the long period that elapsed from Abel to John the Baptist, there is no rule or ecclesiastical precedent permitting self-constituted ministers; but every case of usurpation cited met with reprimand and positive rejection. Is it reasonable to conclude, therefore, that God would deviate from his usual course of four thousand years' standing, in recommitting the gospel in the Saviour's time? Would it not be most unreasonable to believe that he would not act like himself, follow in "the old paths," appoint whom he would?

Jesus and John claimed divine appointment and authority for their missions. Jesus said, "I come not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me." "The Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak." (John xii. 49.) Said John: —

He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." — John i. 33.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John." — John i. 6.

The first ministers who preached the gospel at the opening of the Christian dispensation, then, did not assume the authority to act; but like their predecessors, Melchisedec, Abraham, Moses, etc., they were sent. Jesus was "called of God a high priest after the order of Melchisedec." (Heb. v. 10.) This is irrefutable proof that the priesthood was in the church which was established by the Saviour.

If it be held that Jesus was made a high priest in order that he might offer the last sacrifice, of which all others had been the type, I answer that this could have been done by the authority of "the priest's office" in the Leviticus priesthood, which was then extant; and there were priests of that order, the descendants of Aaron, who officiated regularly at the altar.

High priests after the order of Melchisedec have a right to administer in and confer all lower orders of priesthood. This is shown in the circumstance of Moses, who was a priest of the Melchisedec order and accustomed to officiate at the altar, conferring the "priest's office" upon Aaron. (Num. xvi.; Ex. xl.) It would appear, then, that higher authorities officiating in lower offices, do so by the exercise of the authority belonging to the office in which they are acting, the less being included in the greater.

When Jesus began to form a ministry, he followed the ancient precedent; called persons to offices in the priesthood, and set them apart to their several duties. So we read: —

And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles. — Luke vi. 12, 13.


He ordained twelve ...that he might send them forth to preach." — Mark iii. 14.

They were chosen, named, and ordained apostles. Why ordain them ? Why not send them without an ordination? Ordination is the conferring of authority upon an individual that he may properly perform the duties upon which he is sent. Could the apostles have accomplished the errand upon which they were sent, or even have been sent, without an ordination? If so, why ordain them ? Why go through a useless and dead form ? To argue that the apostles could have been sent as competent ministers without an ordination, is to charge Jesus with performing a work of no validity, a sham. None knew better than he what was necessary. What was the authority to which the twelve disciples were chosen and ordained? The Aaronic priesthood? No. Paul said: —

"If therefore perfection were by the Leviticus priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? — Heb. vii. 11.

The apostles were sent to preach the "perfect law of liberty," — "the gospel," — which secured eternal life to the believers. Jesus ordained them. He was a high priest after the order of Melchisedec, as has been shown, and it is logical to conclude that he ordained the twelve apostles to offices in that priesthood which he held, as they were to preach and administer the same gospel. There is no such office in the Aaronic priesthood as that of an apostle: but there is in that of the Melchisedec priesthood. Paul says, "Inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office." (Rom. xi. 13.) Jesus was an "Apostle and High Priest." (Heb. iii. 1.)

"I admit," says the objector, "that Jesus held the Melchisedec priesthood, which was necessary to his ministry, but I do not believe that the apostles held it." Query: What was that authority, then, which was conferred upon the apostles when Jesus ordained them ? If they could preach the gospel, heal the sick, administer the Spirit, cast out devils, etc., without the priesthood, why could not Jesus? He was their chief in point of office and character. Was the priesthood of any benefit to him? If not, why was it conferred on him? Evidently it was the authority by which he ministered and established his church. The apostles were his authorized agents in preaching the gospel and building it up. They too, then, must have held a like authority.

Jesus said, "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them." (John xvii. 18.) His Father sent him into the world holding the Melchisedec priesthood. The apostles, to be sent like him, must have received a like authority or priesthood.

Again, it is written: —

The Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent two and two before his face. — Luke x. 1.

Luke is the only writer who mentions the sending of the seventy; and he does not say that they were ordained to positions in the priesthood, but there is every reason to believe that they were ordained, and that, too, to the Melchisedec order; for there was no such office as that of seventy in the Leviticus priesthood. Then, again, the seventy possessed about as much power and right as did the apostles. They went forth two and two and preached the gospel, healed the sick, cast out devils, and were given authority over all the power of the enemy. (Luke x. 1–19.)

The Saviour gave them their authority. As neither he nor the apostles could engage in the ministry until they were placed in positions in the priesthood, the sensible conclusion is that none others could. So the seventy were ordained also.

To put the question beyond all controversy that the Christian ministry was authorized by being placed in positions in the priesthood, we have but to refer to the language of Peter, as follows: —

Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. — 1 Peter ii. 5.

Here are lively stones, a spiritual house, a HOLY PRIESTHOOD to offer up spiritual sacrifices. Peter is a false witness, or the priesthood was given to the Christian ministry. It would be folly to talk of a priesthood where there was none; and where there was a priesthood there was a priest's office and a priest. When Jesus was appointed chief apostle and high priest in the Melchisedec priesthood, he had attained the highest position that was ever conferred upon God's ministry. Hence the term "royal priesthood," or kingly authority. So we read: —

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth. — Gen. xiv. 18,19.

Dr. William Smith, in his smaller Dictionary of the Bible, page 337, says: —

There is something surprising and mysterious in the first appearance of Melchisedec and the subsequent reference to him. Bearing a title which Jews in after ages would recognize as designating their own sovereign, bearing gifts which recall to Christians the Lord's supper, this Canaanite crosses for a moment the path of Abram, and is unhesitatingly recognized as a person of higher spiritual rank than the friend of God.

Jesus Christ is the royal son of David. The angel said to Mary: —

The Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. — Luke i. 32, 33.

When the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. — Matt. xix. 28. (See Matt. xx. 21; Luke xxii. 28, 29, 30.)

Again, speaking of the saints: —

And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. — Rev. v. 10. (See Rev. i. 6; xx. 6; xxii. 5.)

How could saints or others be constituted "kings and priests" where there was no priesthood or royal authority? Moses was "king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel were gathered together." (Deut. xxxiii. 5.) Moses in official standing was properly a type of Christ.

The prophets, also, have foretold that the priesthood would be on the earth during the great preparatory work of preaching the gospel and the building up of the church just preceding the coming of the Saviour, or end of the world.

Joel says: —

Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people. ...I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen. —Joel ii. 17, 19.

And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord.— Isa. Ixvi. 21.

But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers of our God. — Isa. Ixi. 6.

These texts have reference to the time when God shall redeem the land of Israel, and bring back the captivity of his people, when an abundance of wine, corn, and oil shall be given, and the Israelitish name be no more defamed among the heathen. At that time there are to be priests, the "ministers of God"; and if priests, then priesthood and a priest's office. This is yet in the future. Nothing strange, then, that it is written there was conferred upon Phineas and his posterity "the covenant of an everlasting priesthood." (Num. xxv. 13.)

Thus holy men of God have predicted, "as they were moved by the Holy Ghost," that the priesthood would be extant in the Christian dispensation, and of course men duly appointed to fill the several offices therein, of which three distinctions have been shown, viz., that of the chief apostle and high priest, those of the twelve apostles and the seventy.

As confirmatory evidence upon this question, I cite the testimony of the Fathers, some of whom were contemporary with the apostles.

Clement, who was a companion of Paul, and whose name is said to be in the "book of life" (Phil. iv. 3), wrote to the church at Corinth as follows: —

It will behoove us [Christians], looking into the depth of divine knowledge, to do all things in order, whatsoever our Lord has commanded us to do. He has ordained by his supreme will and authority, both where and by what persons they [the sacred services] are to be performed. For the CHIEF PRIEST has his proper office, and the PRIESTS their proper place is appointed, and the layman is confined to that which is commanded to laymen.

St. Clement of Rome, and St. Jerome (whom especially I cite because appealed to by our opponents), both concur in speaking of the order of the Christian ministry under the very terms of high priests, priests, and Levites, which obtained under the Mosaic dispensation. — The Hon. and Rev. A. P. PERCIVILLE, B. C. S., Chaplain in ordinary to the Queen, in his "Apology for Apostolic Succession." Also "Christian Antiquities" by Bingham, Vol. I., page 11.

What Aaron and his sons were among the Jews, the bishop and his presbyters were among the Christians. — ST. JEROME.

St. Jerome, who will be allowed to speak the sense, ... says that both in the Old and New Testaments the high priests are one order, the priests another, and the Levites another.— BINGHAM, page 50.

Of the "chief priests" he says: —

"It was no human invention, but an original settlement of the apostles themselves, which they made by divine appointment.— BINGHAM, page 54.

Again: —

Now this is most expressly said by Theodoret, that he [Ignatius] received the gift of the high priesthood from the hand of the great Peter. — Page 60. Also Vol. I., p. 16.

Here it is stated that not only was the Melchisedec priesthood conferred on the Christian ministry, but the Aaronic or Leviticus priesthood also; that the high priest under the law was at the head of the latter, and the bishop occupied its chief office under the Christian order. They were frequently called by the title which obtained under the law, "the very terms of high priests, priests, and Levites."

Says Dr. Smith, Bible Dictionary, page 1646: —

In the mean time the old name had acquired a new signification. The early writers of the Christian Church applied to the latter hierarchy and gave to the bishops and presbyters the title of priests that had belonged to the sons of Aaron; while the deacons are habitually spoken of as Levites. (Page 29)

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