« VorigeDoorgaan »
unsafe any where among his countrymen. And what could he expect at Jerusalem ? His very departure from Corinth was marked with plots against him, which obliged him to change his intention of going by sea, and to retrace his steps through Achaia and Macedonia. Mitylene, Chios, Samos, Trogyllium, and Miletus, formed the next line of his course ; and by this time the feast of Pentecost, at which, for some reason, he earnestly desired to be present, was so near as to render it impossible that he should visit Ephesus, which he thought it equally incumbent on him to do. To obviate this difficulty, he requested the attendance of the Ephesian Elders or Presbyters at Miletus; a circumstance which is here noticed,
because in the interview which thereupon took place, he reminds Episcopi. them that the Holy Ghost had made them Bishops, (étvxórous,) a
term which has not before occurred in the sacred narrative. Having, in the last section, examined into the nature of offences against the Church, and of the penalties due to them, I shall take this occasion of inquiring, with whom the power of inflicting and remitting these penalties was lodged; and not only this power, but all other
authority and administration, whether supreme or subordinate. Inquiry into One previous caution may, perhaps, be requisite. Various objecinstitution tions have been urged from time to time against our Church governand offices. ment, against the three orders of the Church, and the functions
which they respectively exercise. To answer these merely by an attempt to prove their existence in the apostolical age, and their scriptural sanction, is to allow the objector an unfair advantage, and to submit our own minds to an unfair view of the question. The proof of the contrary rests with those who object. We find these matters so established, and tracing them further and further back, we still find evidence of them, without any coincident marks of human innovation. Tried by the touchstone of Scripture, they are found to be at least not inconsistent with its records; and therefore it would be a wanton and dangerous exercise of the Church's discretionary power to annul them. This was the spirit of the Reformation in England; and on this principle it has taught us, Thus far shalt thou
further. There are two questions which, in a discussion of this point, require distinct consideration. The first is, What were the orders of the primitive Church? The second, Were they intended altogether, or partly, or not at all, as models for the formation of ecclesiastical establishments of after-times?
As to the first question, it may admit of a different answer from different periods of the apostolical history; inasmuch as the Church economy was certainly not framed at once, but rose progressively with the exigencies of the Church. At the very period on which we are now dwelling, it is obvious, that the term Bishop and Presbyter were not only applied to the same order, but that no order of ministers (setting aside the apostles) was generally established,
superior to the presbytery. At a later period in the apostolical history, the same assertion would be altogether untenable.
The assembly, or èxranoia, must, from its nature, have been the only order, besides that of the apostles, on the first attempt of the Christians to act as a society. All Christians composed this body, and the term, in short, signified the Church. But whether this general assembly at any period exercised any elective, legislative, or other powers, may perhaps be questioned. No doubt the Church or Assembly is mentioned as taking part with the presbyters in the elections and enactments; but when we consider the immense concourse, which a general meeting would suppose in the very earliest times, is it likely that any one private room would be found capable of containing all? On the other hand, is it likely that in Jerusalem, especially, so large a multitude would be permitted to meet in public, openly discuss their affairs, and take measures for the support and propagation of obnoxious doctrines, when even individuals were exposed to continual risk in their preaching and other ministry? The meetings of Christians for purposes of prayer, and other devotional exercises, must, for the same reason, have taken place in different houses assigned for the purpose. And this (as has been before observed) may illustrate the expression used by the historian in his account of Paul's search after the disciples • in every one of Acts viii. 3. the houses,” (xactoè tous oírovs ;) which, no doubt, implies, that he obtained information concerning their several places of meeting, and by going from one to another at the time of prayer was sure of apprehending some. The same allusion may be perceived in St. Paul's expression of “the Church in the house of Aquila and 1 Cor. xvi. 19. Priscilla,”* &c. Such a division of the Christian body into separate congregations would require the appointment of some one, at least, to preside over and officiate in each; and also of some one or more subordinate ministers or deacons, such as have been before noticed. When, therefore, we read that a decree was made, &c., by the apostles, presbyters, and the whole Church, one of two things must be supposed to have taken place: either the presbyters took each the sense of his own congregation; or the presbyters and other official persons, it may be, met as the representatives, each of his own congregation, and all of the Church collectively.
The former supposition is certainly encumbered with more and greater difficulties than the latter. The subject proposed at these Christian meetings seems, from the tenor of the narrative throughout, to have been then first presented to the Church in any shape ; and the decisions took place before the meeting was dissolved. There are no marks of any previous notice of the matter to be discussed, so as to enable the several presbyters to consult the opinions and wishes of their constituents; and the decision took place without any interval to allow of an after consultation. Against the remaining supposition, namely, that the presbyters
and other official persons, perhaps, met as the plenipotentiaries each
of his own body, the strongest obstacle lies in the phrase, “ It Acts xv. 22. seemed good to the presbyters with the whole Church. Now this
expression, after all, may imply no more than that it seemed good to the presbyters, and whatever other members of the Council, in conjunction with them, may be called the whole Church, because appointed to represent it. In like manner, when the Council of
Jerusalem declared respecting their famous decree, that “it seemed Acts xv. 28. good to them and to the Holy Ghost,” our knowledge of the relation
in which these stood to one another, prevents all doubt; but the expression itself, without any such clue, would make it questionable, whether the Council and the Holy Spirit were not recorded as two separate sources of the ecclesiastical authority from which the decree had emanated. Now the sentences on which we ground our conjectures respecting the authority of the whole Christian body, are
precisely so circumstanced. Apostolical The appointment of deacons has been elsewhere discussed, and Episcopacy, the origin of the presbytery has been now suggested. The order
of bishops therefore only remains to be accounted for. At the period of St. Paul's summons to the Church of Ephesus, no such order could have existed there; and, if not in so large and important a Church, probably no where. The title cannot imply it, for it is one used for all the presbyters of Ephesus; and their number proves that he was not addressing bishops, for they came from one Church. Again, although the word occurs elsewhere in St. Paul's Epistles, it cannot mean an order of men in whom the chief authority was vested; because his Epistles are addressed to the Churches, as to assemblies in whom such authority was vested. The term bishop became afterwards appropriated to an order, of which we cannot infer the existence, certainly from any expression of St. Luke. How such an order should have arisen, it is not difficult to discover.
St. Paul's Epistles to Timothy and Titus present us with at least ? Tim. v. 22; its embryo form. Not only are both commissioned to ordain
ministers, to determine matters left undetermined, and to inflict
ecclesiastical punishments, even to excommunication ; but their 1 Tim. i. 3; respective dioceses are distinctly marked out. Ephesus was assigned
to Timothy, Crete to Titus. At the same time it would certainly seem that, in Timothy's case especially, the appointment was rather that of locum tenens for the apostle, and so far a temporary office. But this, far from being an objection to the apostolic authority of episcopacy, really supplies us with the clue to trace its origin and object. What was needed for a time at Ephesus or Crete, in the temporary absence of the presiding apostle, would be permanently requisite, when death for ever deprived these Churches of apostolical superintendence. The same cause, in short, which produced the appointment of presbyters, continued, as the number of congregations in each Church increased, to render the rise of a new order
Titus i. 5; iii. 10.
Titus i. 5.
equally necessary. A small presbytery, occasionally visited by an apostle, might not require a head; but a large one, especially as the apostles were removed by death or accident, would soon feel this want. That such an order was required before the close of the apostolic era, the then state of Christianity would render of itself nearly certain. Although at the time of the appointments of Titus and Timothy they may not have been general, yet when St. John: wrote his Revelations, each of the seven Churches of Asia had its own bishop. And if this were so in that district, which then alone enjoyed the guidance of an apostle, much more was it likely to have been the case elsewhere. St. John, we know, addressed them as angels; but whether by a figure of speech, or because such was at that time their only designation, no candid mind can doubt that an episcopal order is intended ; and that to them, as such, commands and revelations were given by God through his last apostle.75 Thus, episcopacy would seem to be the finishing of the sacred edifice, which the apostles were commissioned to build. Until this was completed and firm, they presented themselves as props to whatever part required such support. One by one they were withdrawn; and at length the whole building having " grown together into an Eph. ii. 21. holy temple,” the Lord's promise was fulfilled to the one surviving apostle. He only tarried until God's last temple was complete, and the Lord's second “coming” unto it 78 had been announced by an especial vision."
75 The genuine remains of the apostolic Fathers show, that during the age immediately following, official letters were addressed indifferently to and from “ the Church,
,” “the bishop and presbyters,” and “the bishop,” although the more usual form was still “ the Church.” But that this was then considered in the same light, as if the bishop of the Church alone had been specified, may be inferred from the first Epistle of Clement, which although called Clement's, by the united testimony of all who mention it, professes to be, and is in substance, an Epistle from the Church of God at Rome, to the Church of God at Corinth.” Polycarp's is addressed from “Polycarp and the presbyters with him” to “the Church of God at Philippi.” Ignatius addresses two Epistles to the Smyrnæans, one to " the Church at Smyrna,” the other to * Polycarp, bishop of the Church at Smyrna." And that this latter, no less than the former, was a letter to the Church, and not to its bishop personally, will be evident from the following passages in it: “ Hearken unto the bishop, that God also may hearken unto you. My soul, be security for them that submit to their bishop, with their presbyters and deacons," Sec. VI. “ Labour with one another, contend together, run together,” &c.
76 See Mal. iii. 1.
77 The revelation to St. John, in the close of his life, presents several obvious points of connexion with the prophetic promise, that he should tarry until the Lord's coming. Throughout the Scriptures, and especially in our Saviour's language, the Christian Church is designated by the emblem of the temple. Its foundation stones, its corner stone, its holy of holies, its one high priest, are images familiar to the sacred writers. Nor the connexion to be considered as fanciful, and merely founded on an accidental analogy, serving the purpose of illustrations. The temple, its uses, and its ordinances, were designed, like the other portions of the older establishment, as types of the new. It was, therefore, the image in which ancient prophecy represented the future Church. Of this last temple it was foretold, that its glory should surpass Solomon's; and into this it is that Malachi proclaimed the Lord's coming. The final mode of Divine residence, intended by this coming, commenced when the various parts of the Church were completed, and the extraordinary portions removed. St. John was permitted to see all ready for this before his death. He was permitted to do more. The future fate and history of that figurative temple was revealed to
of this Order.
There is still another point to be settled. Was this form of Church government intended to be perpetual, and universal,—is it
enjoined on all Christian societies in every age ? Permanency On the one hand it may be maintained, that this arrangement
having been originally made by the Holy Spirit, through which his office as governor of the Church was to be exercised, we have no right to alter it, any more than we are authorized to alter the means of grace, unless some positive permission can be shown; and that it is, moreover, a wicked presumption to suppose, that any other means, (however humanly probable,) would more truly obtain the object of Church government. As a reason why this form of Church government was not positively enjoined, it may be suggested, that it was not like an abstract doctrine or precept, the only safe mode of recording which is “ the written word,” but a matter which is its own record. Like the Mysteries of the heathen, it was a practical document; the daily and continual practice of the Church, perpetuated from one age to another, superseded all need of other record.
On the other hand, it may be urged, that as the constitution of the Church was only what was then most convenient for the support and propagation of religion, whenever that end may be better attained by any alteration or deviation, the innovators are acting up to the spirit of the original institution, and thereby are more truly followers of the apostles, than those who sacrifice the object to the observance of the means, which are only valuable as regards that object.
And, certainly, had it been intended that we should regard Episcopacy as indispensable to a Church, we should have had some scriptural record of the Institution, and some scriptural declarations of its being essential, as in the case of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. We are not bound, by any Divine authority, to retain Episcopacy under all circumstances; but neither may we depart from it, as if the question was simply one of temporary convenience. The apostles did not leave the Christian world to determine how the churches were to be modelled and governed; they founded Episcopacy, and handed over the Christian communities so ordered to succeeding times. Those of other generations had not to form an ecclesiastical polity for themselves; they found one already settled. Now, considering how important the form of governing å Church may be to its efficiency as the channel of our gospel privileges, how important, too, uniformity of government to a certain extentis, to the free intercommunion of Christians belonging to different Churches
him, at the time his Master came to announce the filling of it with his glory. The prophetic history is of course all that concerned us, the fulfilment of the promise only him. Yet he has not left the former without a memorandum, as it
were, of the import of that revelation to him. The terms in which it opens are, “Behold he cometh ;" and the close, “ He which testifieth these things, saith, Surely, I come quickly: Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”