Ver. 1. This Melchisedech. If we look for the construction, Melchisedech may be joined with what follows, (v. 3.) continueth a priest for ever. Wi.
--- The excellency of this personage was so transcendent, that some of the ancients took him to be an Angel, and some the Holy Ghost. This the Fathers condemn; for had he not been a man, a king, and a priest, he would not have been so worthy a type of our Saviour.
Ver. 2. King of justice, according to the signification of the word Melchisedech, and of peace, signified by the place Salem, of which he was king. By Salem is commonly expounded Jerusalem, though S. Jerom thinks it was a town in Samaria afterwards called Sichem. This king was also a priest of the Most High; i.e. of the true God. He blessed Abraham, after he had defeated Chodorlahomor and the other kings; (Gen. xiv.) and Abraham gave him the tithes of all things which he had taken from his enemies. He is said (v. 3.) to have been without father, without mother, without any genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, inasmuch as we have no account in the Scripture of these particulars. He is said in Genesis to have brought out, inasmuch as he was a priest, that is, to have offered up a sacrifice to God of bread and wine. The apostle here shews two things, that Melchisedech was greater than Abraham, and that he is a figure of Christ, who is a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech. Ps. cix. 4. Wi.
Ver. 3. Without father, &c. Not that he had no father, &c. but that neither his father, nor his pedigree, nor his birth, nor his death, are set down in Scripture. Ch.
--- Not that he was without father and mother, says S. Jer. (ep. cxxxvi.) for Christ himself was not without a Father according to his divinity, nor without a Mother in his humanity; but because his genealogy is not given in Genesis, as that of the other patriarchs is, but he is abruptly introduced without any mention of either his birth or death. In Melchisedech all was prophetical and figurative of Jesus Christ; and Abraham undoubtedly in this patriarch saw Jesus Christ in spirit, and exulted that all the nations of the earth were to be blessed in him. Abraham, your father, greatly desired, says our Lord to the Jews, to see the day of my coming: he saw it, and was filled with joy. Jo. viii. 56.
Ver. 4. Consider how great this man (Melchisedech) was, and greater than our great patriarch, Abraham: 1. Because Abraham, of his own accord, paid tithes to this priest of all the chief things he had: which was to own himself inferior to him: as the rest of the Jewish people are inferior to the sons of Levi, the descendants of Aaron, who being raised to the dignity of the priesthood by the command of God, have a right to take tithes or tenths of the people; and so are honoured above the rest. 2. This Melchisedech blessed, or gave a benediction to our great father Abraham, to whom the promises of blessing all nations was made. Now he that gives a blessing to another, must be better or greater than he to whom the blessing is given; therefore Melchisedech was greater than Abraham. 3. To shew another pre-eminence of the priesthood of Melchisedech (which was a figure of the eternal priesthood of Christ) above the priesthood of Aaron, the apostle takes notice that the sons of Levi, the priests of the ancient law, to whom tithes were to be paid, were no more than mortal men, always dying, whereas the Scripture only witnesseth of Melchisedech that he liveth; he is represented as one that hath neither beginning nor end of his days. This agrees chiefly with Christ, who by the psalmist is called, a priest for ever. And, though Christ also died for us, for it was chiefly by his death that he offered his sacrifice, yet he presently rose again, and continues for ever a priest, without a successor as to his priesthood, and as to the sacrifice of expiation for the sins of mankind. His priesthood, his sacrifice, and oblation for our redemption, lasts for ever. 4. Another reason that shews the priesthood of Melchisedech (and of our Saviour, Christ) to be above the Aaronical priesthood, is, that not only Abraham, but even Aaron and Levi, and all their successors, may be said in the person of Abraham to have paid tithes to Melchisedech, because we may consider them as yet in the loins of Abraham, from whom they descended; though it cannot be said, in like manner, that Christ himself was in the loins of Abraham, because though he was Son of Abraham, yet his conception was not in the ordinary way of human generation, but by the operation of the Holy Ghost. See S. Aug. l. x. de Gen. ad lit. c. 20. tom. 3. p. 270. nov. edit. 5. S. Paul (v. 11.) brings another reason to shew that the priesthood according to the order of Melchisedech was more perfect, because true justice and sanctification could not be given either by the priesthood of Aaron or by the law of Moses, which began as it were together; for if the former law and sacrifices offered by the priests of Aaron, had been sufficient for man's justification and salvation, there would have been no necessity of a new priesthood according to the order of Melchisedech. Of this S. Paul speaks elsewhere to the Romans. And, as there is a new priesthood, so there is a new law, by which the former is no longer in force. 6. He takes notice of this difference from the former priesthood, that they were priests of the tribe of Levi, but that Christ, the priest according to the order of Melchisedech, is of the tribe of Juda. 7. Another difference is, that the former law, and all belonging to it, consisted of carnal precepts, (v. 16) in outward ceremonies and sacrifices, with promises of temporal blessings and a long life in this world; but the new law and sacrifice of Christ, is according to the power of an indissoluble and never-ending life, conferring inward graces, with the remission of sins, by which men are justified and saved, with promises of eternal happiness. 8. He tells us that Christ's priesthood was confirmed by God himself with an oath: not so the priesthood of Aaron. This second testament therefore is much better, and more excellent. 9. The former testament brought nothing to perfection. v. 19. It had nothing but types and figures of what was to be fulfilled under the priesthood of Christ. The priests died, and succeeded one to another; and there was need of different sacrifices, which they were to offer daily for their own sins and for the sins of the people; but Christ was innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, (v. 26) could not sin, but by suffering once has redeemed all, has satisfied for the sins of all mankind, and by this one sacrifice can save all that come to him by faith, hope, and love; he lives for ever to make intercession for us, as our Mediator and Redeemer. As he remains for ever, he is a priest for ever; and by virtue of that one sacrifice on the cross, all that believe in him and obey him may be may be saved, and be happy for eternity. Christ's sacrifice and oblation on the cross, is that one sacrifice of the new law which remains and will be continued by his ministers, the priest of the new law, to the end of the world, the manner only being different, but not the sacrifice. This is the doctrine of the Catholic Church, delivered to the faithful in the Council of Trent,† (sess. 22. cap. 2.) where it is declared, that in the Mass is continued the same sacrifice and oblation which Christ offered, who is still the chief priest, in whose name only his ministers, the bishops and priests, speak and act as his instruments. The Victim that is offered is also the same, to wit, the body and blood of Christ, after a spiritual and unbloody manner, according to his command at his last supper. The oblation at the Mass is indeed a true and proper sacrifice, yet not a new or different sacrifice of expiation for the sins of mankind, but an application of Christ's satisfactions and merits, which, though of infinite value, and more than sufficient to satisfy for the sins of the whole world, yet by the will of God are to be applied to us by faith, by the sacraments, by the same sacrifice of Christ's body and blood, offered at the mass, &c. Wi.
[†] V. 4. Una eademque est Hostia, idem nunc offerens sacerdotum ministerio, qui seipsum tunc in cruce obtulit, solâ offerendi ratione diversa. Sess. 22. c. 2. Can. 1. Si quis dixerit in missa non offerri verum et proprium sacrificium, &c. anathema. Can. 3. Si quis dixerit missæ sacrificium tantum esse laudis, et gratiarum actionis, aut nudam commemorationem sacrificii in cruce peracti, non autem propitiatorium, vel soli prodesse sumenti, &c. Anathema sit.
Ver. 12. After giving a decided preference to Melchisedech, and his priesthood, over the Levitical priesthood, S. Paul proves the abrogation of the latter, and even of the law, by the introduction of a new priesthood, according to the order of Melchisedech.
Ver. 20. The old law was good in itself, being established by God, who does nothing in vain; but it was weak and imperfect, and the shadow and figure of that which was to come. It was preparatory to a more perfect dispensation under Jesus Christ, who, as our new high priest, was to finish by the gospel what Moses began by the law.
Ver. 23. Many priests, &c. The apostle notes this difference between the high priests of the law, and our high priest, Jesus Christ: that they being removed by death, made way for their successors: whereas our Lord Jesus is a priest for ever, and hath no successor; but liveth and concurreth for ever with his ministers, the priests of the New Testament, in all their functions. Secondly, that no one priest of the law, not all of them together, could offer that absolute sacrifice of everlasting redemption, which our one high priest, Jesus Christ, has offered once and for ever. Ch.
Ver. 25. Make intercession. Christ, as man, continually maketh intercession for us, by representing his passion to his Father. Ch.
Ver. 27. Jesus Christ offered himself but once in a bloody manner on the cross; but, besides this bloody offering, he still continues to offer himself in an unbloody manner. This he does both in heaven and upon earth; in heaven, by presenting his sacred humanity continually to his Father; and on earth, by daily offering himself, under the appearances of bread and wine, on our altars. Hence this eucharistic sacrifice is both a commemoration and continuation of the sacrifice of the cross. To understand this, it must be observed, that the essence of a sacrifice includes several actions, the principal of which are the immolation of the victim, and the oblation of the victim when immolated. Now the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, ended only as to the bloody immolation; the same victim is still immolated mystically, by the separate consecration of the bread and wine, and continues as the oblation. Jesus Christ, in quality of the eternal high priest, has carried his victim, i.e. his body, into heaven, and there offers it continually to his Father. He continues also his sacrifice here on earth, by the ministry of his priests: who to the end of time will offer to God the same immolated victim, present on our altars under the appearance of bread and wine—a sacrifice infinitely perfect, since a God is the priest, and a God the victim. The chief-priest who offers it is a God-man; the victim offered is a Man-God: a God the victim, offered by a God the priest! Behold a sacrifice truly worthy of God—a sacrifice capable of atoning not only for our sins, but for the sins of ten thousand worlds. What confidence then ought Christians to have in such a sacrifice! How solicitous ought they to be to assist daily at these awful, or, to use S. Chrysostom's expression, these tremendous mysteries! Let us now examine the sentiments of learned Protestant divines: "It is certain," says Dr. Grabe, "that Irenæus and all the Fathers, either contemporary with the apostles, or their immediate successors, whose writings are still extant, considered the blessed Eucharist to be the sacrifice of the new law, and offered bread and wine on the altar, as sacred oblations to God the Father; and that this was not the private opinion of any particular Church or teacher, but the public doctrine and practice of the universal Church, which she received from the apostles, and they from Christ, is expressly shewn by Irenæus, and before him by Justin Martyr and Clement of Rome." Nota in Irenæum. p. 323.
--- "The elements being really changed from ordinary bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, mystically present, as in a sacrament, and that by virtue of the consecration, not by the faith of him that receives, I am to admit and maintain whatsoever appears duly consonant with this truth, viz. that the elements so consecrated are truly the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, inasmuch as the body and blood of Christ are contained in them. . . . And the sacrifice of the cross being necessarily propitiatory, and impetratory both, it cannot be denied that the sacrament of the Eucharist, inasmuch as it is the same sacrifice with that upon the cross, is also both propitiatory and impetratory." Thorndike Epil. p. 44 and 46.
--- "The holy Fathers frequently say, that in the Eucharist is offered and sacrificed the very body of Christ, as is evident in almost innumerable places." Bp. Forbes' de Euch. l. iii. c. 2. sect. 10.
--- "The sacrifice of the supper is not only propitiatory, and may be offered up for the remission of our daily sins, but likewise is impetratory, and may be rightly offered for the obtaining all blessings. Although the Scripture does not plainly and in express words teach this, yet the holy Fathers with universal consent have thus understood the Scripture, as has been demonstrated by many; and all the ancient liturgies prescribe, that in time of the oblation, prayers be offered for peace, &c. as is evident to all." Id. Sect. 12.
--- "The Church, commemorating the sacrifice of Christ with the usual rites and words, in this also sacrificeth and offereth that which is her own, given to her by Christ; that she placeth before the eyes of God; by that she beseecheth God; and it is the same sacrifice that Christ offered; the same one, true, and singular sacrifice, as S. Austin calls it; a sacrifice of memory according to Eusebius; a spiritual sacrifice, according to others. After that the faithful offer themselves according to the example of Christ, &c. In all this what is there new, what deformed, what hurtful? But minds once distracted, distract all things into a depraved meaning, and then are glad to find a hint for it in any of the schools." Grotius of Christian sacrifice.
--- To these we may add the authority of Ed. Burke, in his speech to the electors of Bristol: "The mass is church service in the Latin tongue, not exactly like our liturgy, but very near, and contains no offence whatever against the laws of good morals." p. 29.