The priest, one who officiates in secret offices, it is the definition given in Webster's dictionary. And from the most authentic Biblical concordances we derive the following information: The priest under the law was a person consecrated and ordained of God, not only to teach the people and pray for them, but also to offer up sacrifices for his own sins and those of the people. The priesthood was not annexed to a certain family, till after the promulgation of the law of Moses.
Before that time the first born of every family, the fathers, the kings, the princes, were priests, born in their city and in their own homes. Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham and Job, Abimelech and Laban, Isaac and Jacob, offered themselves their own sacrifices. In the solemnity of the covenant that the Lord made with his people at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses performed the office of meditator, and young men were chosen from among the children of Israel to perform the office of priests. But after that the Lord had chosen the tribe of Levi to serve him in his tabernacle, and that the priesthood was annexed to the family of Aaron, then the right of offering sacrifices to God was reserved to the priests alone of this family.
Duties of the priests: The priests were required to prove their descent from Aaron, to be free from all bodily defect or blemish; must not be observed mourning except for near relatives; must not marry a woman that had been a harlot; or divorced, or profane. The priest's daughter who committed whoredom was to be burned, as profaning her father. The priests were to have the charge of the sanctuary and the altar, which being once kindled the priest was always to keep it burning. In later times, and upon extraordinary occasions, at least, they flayed the burnt-offerings and killed the Passover. They were to receive the blood of the burnt-offerings in basins and sprinkle it around about the altar, arrange the wood and the fire, and to burn the parts of the sacrifices. If the burnt sacrifices were of doves, the priest was to nip off the head with the finger nail, squeeze out the blood on the edge of the altar, pluck off the feathers, and throw them with the crop into the ash-pit, divide down the wings, and then completely burn it. He was to offer a lamb every morning and evening, and a double number on the Sabbath, the burnt-offerings ordered at the beginning of months, and the same on the feast of Unleavened Bread, and on the day of the First Fruits; to receive the meat-offering of the offerer, bring it to the altar, take of it a memorial, and burn it upon the altar; to sprinkle the blood of the peace-offerings upon the altar around about, and then to offer of it a burnt-offering; to offer the sin-offering for the sins of a ruler or any of the common people; to eat the sin-offering at the holy place; and the same way to offer offerings for all the kinds of sin and the priest should eat these offerings at the holy place; to offer for the purification of women after child-birth; to judge of the leprosy in the human body or garments (it is remarkable that the Jewish race from the beginning, has been all through the ages a heavy victim of leprosy). The priest was to make the ointment of spices; to prepare the water of separation; to act as assessor in judicial proceedings; to encourage the army when going to battle, and probably to have charge of the law.
The emoluments of the priests: The perquisites of the priests were many and various, and as Philo calls them very rich, and this statement holds good all the way down to the Christian priest who inherited most of the virtues of his Jewish predecessors. Thus no wonder for the priests to keep their people in dense ignorance of the historical originality of the priesthood. And the high priest, besides all duties and privileges already mentioned as common to him and the ordinary priest, he must not marry a widow, nor a divorced woman, or a profane, or that had been a harlot, but a virgin Israelitess. He must not eat anything that died of itself, or was torn by beasts; must wash his hands and feet when he went into the tabernacle to offer the mass. The high priest was the divinely inspired judge and truly he was the supreme ruler till the time of David, and again after the captivity. He would ask counsel of the Lord if a new ruler was worthy or not and accordingly grant or regret the appointment of the ruler. It is the privilege which the Pope derives from Eleazar and trying to exercise this privilege against the rulers of Europe for fifteen centuries became the menace in the progress of humanity. The high priest had also unlimited power upon the funds of the sanctuary. And it may be out of proportion in this book to give a complete description of all the privileges and regalia of the high priest, yet the reader could easily imagine the frivolities unfortunately existing even today in the ceremonial dress of the high priest, and to confirm this fact he only has to enter in the first Russian or Greek or Roman Catholic church at any day of some special celebration and there he cannot help but observe an imitation of the lamentable vanity of a high priest of the old Jewish faith. And the truth is visible to the naked eye. Would ever sincerity and priesthood meet in one and the same person it would make the most paradox phenomenon, and such exceptional occurrences are very rare in the ecclesiastical horizon, for virtue and priesthood are the very logical antithesis, and chemically speaking they are protogon matters not yielding to adulteration. Between priesthood and Christ there is an abyss of argument, but there is no bridge to join both sides. Priesthood on one side in the most pharisaic manner imposing its superfluous authority upon all mortals. And Jesus the Christ of God with his wounded side, in the most emphatic manner, condemning the pharisaic scheme, which is a continuation in the Greek -- Russian -- Roman Catholic church: "For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on man's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers." And if the words of the blessed Christ himself speaking in the 23d chapter of Matthew, have no effect upon the consciousness of the priest, there is all vain to any other way trying to bring him into the light of wisdom. In the history of all mankind there are three distinct stages of priesthood, and in its two former stages it had been a complete failure, in its present stage is falling so fast, and it is condemned, already, by all reasoning minds, that it is only a matter of time before the human race shall be free from these parasites. The priest, of the Jewish faith, failed because he was inhuman, the priest of the Greek idolatry failed, because he was a philosophical fraud; and the priest of the present time, shall fail, because he is the very opposing visible enemy of God's kingdom. The sacerdotal office of the priest, is anti-christian.
Here we shall attempt to only describe one piece of the dress of the high priest, the breast-plate (rationale); a gorget, ten inches square, made of the same sort of cloth as the ephod, and doubled so as to form a kind of pouch or bag, in which was to be put the urim and thummim, which are also mentioned as is already known. The external part of this gorget was set with four rows of precious stones; the first row, a serdious, a topaz, and a carbuncle; the second, an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; the third, a ligure, an agate, and an amethyst, and the fourth, a beryl, an onyx and a jasper, set in a golden socket. Upon each of these stones was to be engraven the name of one of the sons of Jacob. In the ephod in which there was a space left open sufficiently large for the admission of this pectoral, were four rings of gold, to which four others at the four corners of the breast-plate corresponded; the two lower rings of gold being fixed inside. It was confined to the ephod by means of dark blue ribbons, which passed through these rings; and it was also suspended from the onyx stones on the shoulder by chains of gold, or rather cords of twisted gold thread, which were fastened at one end to two other larger rings fixed in the upper corners of the pectoral, and by the other end going around the onyx stones on the shoulders, and returning and being fixed in the larger ring. And a splendid ornament upon the breast was a winged scarabaeus, the emblem of the Sun, and the unavoidable portion of the ceremonial dress peculiar to the high priest was the miter, mitre or Cidaris, a head gear of gold and silver and precious stones whose magnificence we would not dare to describe in this work, but the reader may in his life be fortunate enough to see one of these wonderful paraphernalia on the head of some of the now-a-days self-styled representatives of Jesus Christ, who came to seek and save the lost and he did not make of himself a show in these follies of the old Jewish faith that proved a failure.
That the priests in Israel more than once by their indulgence went down to idolatry, the old testament abounds in evidences, but I shall only mention the incidents of Eli the high priest and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. Josephus says, the high priest had also the very idolatrous symbolical meanings of every part of his dress, which being made of linen signified the earth; the blue color denoted the sky, being like lightning in its pomegranate, and in the noise of its bells resembling thunder. The ephod showed that God had made the universe of four elements, the gold relating to the splendor by which all things are enlightened, the breast-plate in the middle of the ephod resembled the earth, which has the middle place in the world. The girdle signified the sea, which goes around the world. The sardonyxes declared the sun and moon. The twelve stones are the twelve months of signs of the zodiac. The mitre is the heaven, because above all. The seven lamps upon the golden candlesticks represent the seven planets, and so on every article had a reference to some particle of the Egyptian Deities. But the time came when man understood better God's plan of salvation. And divinely inspired they fearlessly stopped all these idolatrous practises.
Who could dare say, at the beginning of the sixteenth century that God could only through Jesus Christ save a soul without the necessity of a priest? Yet today even the priest himself would not dare say, not in a civilized community, that his presence is necessary for the forgiveness of sin. But what of the millions of people that are drifting away from God with the idea, that the priest is taking care of their souls? Am I criticising the priest? God forbid, for I am not. There are good and bad priests, as far as their personal character is concerned, as there are good and bad professional Christians, I have met in my Christian experience. But I will say, in the authority of the word of God, that the man who diligently searcheth the Scriptures and sincerely read his Bible and still he insists in holding his sacerdotal office and call himself a priest, he is deceived or he is deceiving.
"Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedec." Christ is the only priest, holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens, who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's; for this he did once, when he offered up himself.
The Church makes men high priests which have infirmity but the power of God makes every man a high priest, who offers up himself to live and work for the salvation of all. "Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." God's promises are true and the reader has only to study the Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews, to be convinced that the sacerdotal office of the priest sooner or later has to go out of existence as the spirit of Christ spreads upon the hearts of men and women and the knowledge of His salvation makes them "Priests unto God and His Father" and thus establish God's kingdom upon the solid foundations of love. Then shall they all be made unto kings and priests, and they shall reign upon the earth. (Rev.1-6, etc.)