From the ORATION I: THE PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST Delivered on the Eleventh day of July, 1603, by Arminius, on the occasion of his receiving the Degree of Doctor of Divinity.
“Do thou, therefore, O holy and merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Fountain of all grace and truth, vouchsafe to grant thy favorable presence to us who are a great congregation assembled together in thy holy name. Sprinkle thou our spirits, souls, and bodies, with the most gracious dew of thy immeasurable holiness, that the converse of thy saints with each other may be pleasing to thee. Assist us by the grace of thy Holy Spirit, who may yet more and more illuminate our minds—imbued with the true knowledge of Thyself and thy Son; may He also inflame our hearts with a sincere zeal for thy glory; may He open my mouth and guide my tongue, that I may be enabled to declare concerning the Priesthood of thy Son those things which are true and just and holy, to the glory of thy name and to the gathering of all of us together in the Lord. Amen.”
Having now in an appropriate manner offered up those vows which well become the commencement of our undertaking, we will, by the help of God, proceed to the subject proposed, after I have entreated all of you, who have been pleased to grace this solemn act of ours with your noble, learned and most gratifying presence, to give me that undivided attention which the subject deserves, while I speak on a matter of the most serious importance, and, according to your accustomed kindness, to shew me that favor and benevolence which are to me of the greatest necessity. That I may not abuse your patience, I engage to consult brevity as much as our theme will allow. But we must begin with the very first principles of Priesthood, that from thence the discourse may appropriately be brought down to the PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST, on which we profess to treat.
FIRST. The first of those relations which subsist between God and men, has respect to something given and something received. The latter requires another relation supplementary to itself—a relation which taking its commencement from men, may terminate in God; and that is, an acknowledgment of a benefit received, to the honor of the munificent Donor. It is also a debt, due on account of a benefit already conferred, but which is not to be paid except on the demand and according to the regulation of the Giver; whose intention it has always been, that the will of a creature should not be the measure of his honor. His benignity likewise is so immense, that he never requires, from those who are under obligations to him, the grateful acknowledgment of the benefit communicated in the first instance, except when he has bound them to himself by the larger, and far superior benefit, of a mutual covenant. But the extreme trait in that goodness, is, that he has bound himself to bestow on the same persons favors of yet greater excellence by infinite degrees. This is the order which he adopts; he wishes himself first to be engaged to them, before they are considered to be engaged to Him. For every covenant that is concluded between God and men, consists of two parts: (1.) The preceding promise of God, by which he obliges himself to some duty and to acts correspondent with that duty: and (2.) The subsequent definition and appointment of the duty, which, it is stipulated, shall in return be required of men, and according to which a mutual correspondence subsists between men and God. He promises, that he will be to them a king and a God, and that he will discharge towards them all the offices of a good King; while he stipulates, as a counter obligation, that they become his people, that in this relation they live according to his commands, and that they ask and expect all blessings from his goodness. These two acts—a life according to his commands, and an expectation of all blessings from his goodness—comprise the duty of men towards God, according to the covenant into which he first entered with them.
On the whole, therefore, the duties of two functions are to be performed between God and men who have entered into covenant with him: FIRST, A regal one, which is of supreme authority: SECONDLY, A religious one, of devoted submission.
(1.) The use of the former is in the communication of every needful good, and in the imposing of laws or the act of legislation. Under it we likewise comprehend the gift of prophecy, which is nothing more than the annunciation of the royal pleasure, whether it be communicated by God himself, or by some one of his deputies or ambassadors as a kind of internuncio to the covenant. That no one may think the prophetic office, of which the scriptures make such frequent mention, is a matter of little solicitude to us, we assign it the place of a substitute under the Chief Architect.
(2.) But the further consideration of the regal duty being at present omitted, we shall proceed to a nearer inspection of that which is religious. We have already deduced its origin from the act of covenanting; we have propounded it, in the exercise of the regal office, as something that is due; and we place its proper action in thanksgiving and entreaty. This action is required to be religiously performed, according to their common vocation, by every one of the great body of those who are in covenant; and to this end they have been sanctified by the word of the covenant, and have all been constituted priests to God, that they might offer gifts and prayers to THE MOST HIGH. But since God loves order, He who is himself the only instance of order in its perfection, willed that, out of the number of those who were sanctified, some one should in a peculiar manner be separated to him; that he who was thus set apart should, by a special and extraordinary vocation, be qualified for the office of the priesthood; and that, approaching more intimately and with greater freedom to the throne of God, he should, in the place of his associates in the same covenant and religion, take the charge and management of whatever affairs were to be transacted before God on their account.
From this circumstance is to be traced the existence of the office of the priesthood, the duties of which were to be discharged before God in behalf of others—an office undoubtedly of vast dignity and of special honor among mankind. Although the priest must be taken from among men, and must be appointed in their behalf, yet it does not appertain to men themselves, to designate whom they will to sustain that office; neither does it belong to any one to arrogate that honor to himself. But as the office itself is an act of the divine pleasure, so likewise the choice of the person who must discharge its duties, rests with God himself: and it was his will, that the office should be fulfilled by him who for some just reason held precedence among his kindred by consanguinity. This was the father and master of the family, and his successor was the first born. We have examples of this in the holy patriarchs, both before and after the deluge. We behold this expressly in Noah, Abraham, and Job. There are also those, (not occupying the lowest seats in judgment,) who say that Cain and Able brought their sacrifices to Adam their father, that he might offer them to the Lord; and they derive this opinion from the word הביא used in the same passage. Though these examples are selected from the description of that period when sin had made its entrance into the world, yet a confirmation of their truth is obtained in this primitive institution of the human race, of which we are now treating. For it is peculiar to that period, that all the duties of the priesthood were confined within the act of offering only an eucharistic sacrifice and supplications. Having therefore in due form executed these functions, the priest, in the name of his compeers, was by the appeased Deity admitted to a familiar intercourse with Him, and obtained from Him a charge to execute among his kindred, in the name of God himself, and as “the messenger, or angel, of the Lord of Hosts.” For the Lord revealed to him the Divine will and pleasure; that, on returning from his intercourse with God, he might declare it to the people. This will of God consisted of two parts: (1.) That which he required to be performed by his covenant people; and (2.) That which it was his wish to perform for their benefit. In this charge, which was committed to the priest, to be executed by him, the administration of prophecy was also included; on which account it is said, “They should seek the LAW at the mouth of the priest, for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.” (Mal. 2:7.) And since that second part of the Divine will was to be proclaimed from an assured trust and confidence in the truth of the Divine promises, and with a holy and affectionate feeling toward his own species—in that view, he was invested with a commission to dispense benedictions. In this manner, discharging the duties of a double embassy, (that of men to God, and that of God to men,) he acted, on both sides, the part of a Mediator of the covenant into which the parties had mutually entered. Nevertheless, not content with having conferred this honor on him whom he had sanctified, our God, all-bountiful, elevated him likewise to the delegated or vicarious dignity of the regal office, that he, bearing the image of God among his brethren, might then be able to administer justice to them in HIS NAME, and might manage, for their common benefit, those affairs with which he was entrusted.
From this source arose what may be considered the native union of the PRIESTLY and the KINGLY offices, which also obtained among the holy patriarchs after the entrance of sin, and of which express mention is made in the person of Melchizedec. This was signified in a general manner by the Patriarch Jacob, when he declared Reuben, his first born son, to be “the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power,” which were his due on account of the right of primogeniture. For certain reasons, however, the kingly functions were afterwards separated from the priestly, by the will of God, who, dividing them into two parts among his people the children of Israel, transferred the kingly office to Judah and the priestly to Levi.
But it was proper, that this approach to God, through the oblation of an eucharistic sacrifice and prayers, should be made with a pure mind, holy affections, and with hands, as well as the other members of the body, free from defilement. This was required, even before the first transgression. “Sanctify yourselves, and be ye holy; for I the Lord your God am holy,” (Lev. 19:2, &c.) “God heareth not sinners.” (John 9:31.) “Bring no more vain oblations, for your hands are full of blood.” (Isa. 1:15.) The will of God respecting this is constant and perpetual. But Adam, who was the first man and the first priest, did not long administer his office in a becoming manner; for, refusing to obey God, he tasted the fruit of the forbidden tree; and, by that foul crime of disobedience and revolt, he at once defiled his soul which had been sanctified to God, and his body. By this wicked deed he both lost all right to the priesthood, and was in reality deprived of it by the Divine sentence, which was clearly signified by his expulsion from Paradise, where he had appeared before God in that which was a type of His own dwelling-place. This was in accordance with the invariable rule of Divine Justice: “Be it far from me, [that thou shouldst any longer discharge before me the duties of the priesthood:] for them that honor me, I will honor; and they that despise me, shall be lightly esteemed.” (1 Sam. 2:30.) But he did not fall alone: All whose persons he at that time represented and whose cause he pleaded, (although they had not then come into existence,) were with him cast down from the elevated summit of such a high dignity. Neither did they fall from the priesthood only, but likewise from the covenant, of which the priest was both the Mediator and the Internuncio; and God ceased to be the King and God of men, and men were no longer recognized as his people. The existence of the priesthood itself was at an end; for there was no one capable of fulfilling its duties according to the design of that covenant. The eucharistic sacrifice, the invocation of the name of God, and the gracious communication between God and men, all ceased together.
Most miserable, and deserving of the deepest commiseration, was the condition of mankind in that state of their affairs, if this declaration be a true one, “Happy is the people whose God is the Lord!” (Psalm 144:15.) And this inevitable misery would have rested upon Adam and his race for ever, had not Jehovah, full of mercy and commiseration, deigned to receive them into favor, and resolved to enter into another covenant with the same parties; not according to that which they had transgressed, and which was then become obsolete and had been abolished; but into a new covenant of grace. But the Divine justice and truth could not permit this to be done, except through the agency of an umpire and a surety, who might undertake the part of a Mediator between the offended God and sinners. Such a Mediator could not then approach to God with an eucharistic sacrifice for benefits conferred upon the human race, or with prayers which might intreat only for a continuance and an increase of them: But he had to approach into the Divine presence to offer sacrifice for the act of hostility which they had committed against God by transgressing his commandment, and to offer prayers for obtaining the remission of their transgressions. Hence arose the necessity of an expiatory sacrifice; and, on that account, a new priesthood was to be instituted, by the operation of which the sin that had been committed might be expiated, and access to the throne of God’s grace might be granted to man through a sinner: this is the priesthood which belongs to our Christ, the Anointed One, alone.
But God, who is the Supremely Wise Disposer of times and seasons, would not permit the discharge of the functions appertaining to this priesthood to commence immediately after the formation of the world, and the introduction of sin. It was his pleasure, that the necessity of it should be first correctly understood and appreciated, by a conviction on men’s consciences of the multitude, heinousness and aggravated nature of their sins. It was also his will, that the minds of men should be affected with a serious and earnest desire for it, yet so that they might in the mean time be supported against despair, arising from a consciousness of their sins, which could not be removed except by means of that Divine priesthood, the future commencement of which inspired them with hope and confidence. All these purposes God effected by the temporary institution of that typical priesthood, the duties of which infirm and sinful men “after the law of a carnal commandment” could perform, by the immolation of beasts sanctified for that service; which priesthood was at first established in different parts of the world, and afterwards among the Israelites, who were specially elected to be a sacerdotal nation. When the blood of beasts was shed, in which was their life, (Lev. 17:14,) the people contemplated, in the death of the animals, their own demerits, for the beasts had not sinned that they by death should be punished as victims for transgression. After investigating this subject with greater diligence, and deliberately weighing it in the equal balances of their judgment, they plainly perceived and understood that their sins could not possibly be expiated by those sacrifices, which were of a species different from their own, and more despicable and mean than human beings. From these premises they must of necessity have concluded, that, notwithstanding they offered those animals, they in such an act delivered to God nothing less than their own bond, sealing it in his presence with an acknowledgment of their personal sins, and confessing the debt which they had incurred. Yet, because these sacrifices were of Divine Institution, and because God received them at the hands of men as incense whose odor was fragrant and agreeable, from these circumstances the offenders conceived the hope of obtaining favor and pardon, reasoning thus within themselves, as did Sampson’s mother: “If the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt-offering and a meat-offering at our hands.” (Judges 13:23.) With such a hope they strengthened their spirits that were ready to faint, and, confiding in the Divine promise, they expected in all the ardor of desire the dispensation of a priesthood which was prefigured under the typical one; “searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the SUFFERINGS of Christ, and the GLORY that should follow.” (1 Pet. 1:11.) But, since the mind pants after the very delightful consideration of this priesthood, our oration hastens towards it; and, having some regard to the lateness of the hour, and wishing not to encroach on your comfort, we shall omit any further allusion to that branch of the priesthood which has hitherto occupied our attention."
- James Arminius, The Works of Arminius, Volume 1, trans. James Nichols and W. R. Bagnall (Auburn; Buffalo: Derby, Miller and Orton, 1853), 19-27.