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WHAT PARTS OF THE APOSTOLIC MINISTRY WERE INTENDED FOR
THE MERE FOUNDATION OF CHRISTIANITY ?
Difference In the formation of any society, nothing is more likely than that between the the means adopted for its first establishment should be also the and Human means proposed for its continuance and security. Thus, the same
institutions by which Lycurgus, or Solon, each established a community of that description which best pleased himself, were by them considered as the most conducive to perpetuate it in its genuine purity. This, indeed, will be mostly the case in all human societies. But the reverse occurs in the history of the Church. It was established by miracles exhibiting an infinite variety of superhuman power; it has been perpetuated without any. Its very rulers and agents (as if to make the contrast more striking) have not remained the same. The terms apostle, prophet, interpreter, &c., denote offices which seem to have been designed only for the formation of the Church; and, accordingly, to have been dropped on its complete establishment. Even some of the customary usages of Christianity partook of this temporary character; and these, if preserved, have been applied by the purest Churches to purposes different from those which they originally served.
The reason of this peculiarity in the character of the Christian diference. society, or Church, is not simply that its object is spiritual, but
consists in its particular mode of reference to that object. The Church was founded, not that new truths should be revealed through it, but to preserve a revelation already made. The distinction is very important, and although so obvious as not to require any proof, deserves to be familiarized to the mind in every possible way. The Church was founded by miracles; and the Christian is often tempted, rather hastily, to assert that God might, if it had been requisite, properly and consistently have perpetuated it by miracles. But that this cannot be the case, a moment's reflection will lead us to determine. Miracles are the appropriate evidence of one who has himself received a miraculous communication; but what purpose would miracles serve for attesting a revelation fully given to a preceding generation ? A Christian who in the nineteenth century should perform miracles, would naturally be regarded as giving evidence of his possessing, not merely the Christian truths as hitherto
Reasons for this
revealed, but some new light also. A miracle, and a new revelation, Miracles the go together; when the one ceases, the other also is withdrawn. signs of a For what is the import of a miracle? A miracle is a change in the Revelation. order of the visible and material universe, and therefore an appropriate indication that some corresponding spiritual or moral change has taken place. It is the sign of God revealing and appointing, and is inconsistent with the permanent course of an appointment once made. God's first great miracle was the creation and the establishment of the order of the universe; and this being done, the system was left to work as by a power created with it. God's last great scene of miracles was, the revelation of the Christian scheme; and this being established, its continuance is, in like manner, left to the ordinary operation of that appointment.
If, on the other hand, Christ and his apostles had taught Christi- Unnecessary anity partially, had only revealed part of the religious knowledge Revelation which was designed for the world; in this case it is very conceivable, be complete. that until such knowledge should be complete, individuals in the Church, from time to time, or a regular succession of persons, should have been inspired; and the new light would in each case have required the power of working miracles. The Pope's infallibility supposes such a need; and if it be well founded, every successive Pope, as long as the age of infallibility lasts, ought to have this power; because infallibility is the power of revealing on any given point, and supposes, therefore, a constant extraordinary intercourse with God; which has never been found separate from the power of working miracles. The withdrawing of this Divine power would in this, as in all other cases, be the negative sign that the infallibility had ceased.
But, it may be said, that although the connexion between a Why miracle and a new revelation be reasonable in theory, do we really after Moses. find it in the history of God's dealings? The Mosaic revelation was established by miracles; but miracles did not cease with the death of Moses and Aaron, or even of their immediate successors. To this the reply is very obvious. The Mosaic revelation contained neither all, nor, perhaps, the most considerable portion of that stock of Divine truth, for the preservation of which the Israelites were formed into a Church. Miracles were from time to time performed; but by whom, and for what purpose ? By the prophets; who attested thereby the Divine communication of new light, which from time to time was added to the former, and which did not complete the sum of the old revelation, until four hundred years before the coming of Christ. It was then that they were left with the Old Testament complete, to employ it to their benefit, or to abuse its light, as they chose. Occasionally, too, the performance of miracles arose out of a peculiarity of the old dispensation, which is scarcely ever sufficiently attended to in the parallels drawn between God's former and present Churches. They were the temporal enactments
of God, as the extraordinary temporal Ruler of the Iraelites; and had Christ established a kingdom of this world, then, and in that case only, might we expect a corresponding interference of miracu
To the patriarchal dispensation, as it is termed, the same remarks are still more applicable. New revelations were continually wanted, and appropriate miraculous interpositions occurred. Every revelation was planted by these extraordinary means; and whenever one of God's servants arose to work fresh miracles, it was to establish
some new truth. Arguments Notwithstanding, therefore, the pious hope of many good Chrisagainst their tians, that miracles may perhaps be once more permitted for the
speedier conversion of the heathen, there is, even in this pious hope, something perhaps inconsistent with the sufficiency of the New Testament revelation. A power of working miracles would place the missionary in a new character. If wrought in testimony of his preaching, his language would become equivalent to holy Scripture. He would no longer be a minister of the New Testament record ; and even if he preached no new doctrine, he must be supposed to preach, not as from the Bible, but by revelation,—as one guarded against error, and inspired with correct views, in the same manner as the apostles. It should be recollected, too, that Christianity can now be proved, to any mind capable of understanding it, by the various sources of testimony which we ordinarily use. Miracles were employed at first, because no other testimony belonged to it; but, although Gentiles and Jews were directed to search the Old Testament for authority, would it not have been strange to have found the apostles performing miracles to attest the ministry of Moses or Isaiah ? Equally so would it be, under any
circumstances, for a modern preacher of the Gospel to be furnished with miraculous testimony in support of the apostolical ministry. The volume of revelation has been closed and sealed. Christ's kingdom is come. Miraculous interposition now would indicate that the Christian scheme hitherto has not conveyed all the truth requisite for mankind; and the assumption of a power of revelation, or infallibility, amounts
to the same thing." Unwilling- All miracles, then, may be considered as forming that part of the Church to apostles' ministry intended for the establishment, and not for the
preservation, of Christianity, whether these miracles were Signs and this power.
Wonders, or Spiritual Gifts. At the same time, as nothing could be so mortifying to the pride of the Church as the loss of this splen
11 Of course any miracle, which was and which would, no doubt, be repeated, the fulfilment of a prophecy delivered if ever a similar emergency required it. during the inspired age, would not be That Julian did encounter miraculous inconsistent with this view, e.g. the inter- opposition, has been placed beyond all ference of the Almighty to prevent the reasonable doubt by Warburton. See building of the temple at Jerusalem ; for his “Discourse on the attempt of the which there is certainly sufficient evi- Emperor Julian to rebuild the Temple dence in the case of Julian's attempt, of Jerusalem."
did power, many might be expected to repeat the attempt to perform them again and again, after this power was withdrawn, with the fond hope that the attempt might be successful. Any occasional appearance of success would be hailed, from time to time, by the superstitious, as an omen of returning miraculous agency, and would afford a ready instrument for fraudulent practices, as the Church began to offer temptation to ambition or avarice. No wonder, then, that the notice of miracles extends through its history; and that, however inconsistent with the character of God's final dispensation, they should become the constant boast of Christians, exactly in proportion as that dispensation has been least understood.
But not only miracles ceased, because designed solely for the similar establishment of the Church; but the obligation to perpetuate those cassation of customs which were connected with miraculous agency ceased connected also together with it. As instances of these, may be noticed the Miracles. practice of anointing the sick, and that of laying on of hands by the apostles, subsequent to baptism.
The first of these customs, evidently, was established as a form Unction of of miraculous cure. It was, no doubt, the mode in which the apostles fulfilled the Lord's especial injunction to “heal the sick." When, therefore, such cures ceased, the cessation itself was equivalent to a formal annulment of the practice by God. Nevertheless, as nothing could have been more mortifying to the spiritual pride of a Christian, than the loss of so splendid an appendage to the Church as miraculous power, (agreeably to the remarks above made,) the designing, the superstitious, and, perhaps, the truly pious themselves, would naturally be slow to admit the evidence that its virtue had ceased. To the dying man and to his distressed friends, even the faintest possibility of success would be a sufficient motive for the experiment. Thus it would be continued, by some from a hope that its efficacy might be renewed; by others, from reverence for a custom, which, although ineffectual, had once been blessed by the Spirit; by others, finally, it would be persisted in from a view, created by enthusiasm or fraud, that where no palpable miracle was wrought, a secret miraculous influence must be communicated in lieu of the specific benefit attached to it. Hence, in latter ages, its invariable use in a great part of the Christian world as a means of grace to the departing Christian.
Had the custom, when its miraculous use ceased, been in its nature at all applicable to edification, the reverence which retained it for such a purpose, in preference to the introduction of any new ceremony, would have been even praiseworthy. As it is, its preservation in the Greek and Roman Churches is a curious monument of human weakness.
The origin and meaning of Confirmation, as performed by the Imposition apostles, have been elsewhere explained. The apostles used to lay after their hands on those who had been baptized, in order that they Baptism. might receive some spiritual gift,--that is, some miraculous sign
that the unseen descent of the Holy Ghost on them at baptism was real." None but an apostle could do this, and it was done, sometimes immediately on baptism, sometimes after a long interval; but all Christians seem to have claimed
it as a privilege, whenever they had opportunity of receiving it. The rite was called confirmation, and the gift, the sign of confirming.
Properly, then, confirmation was a temporary usage, connected
with a miraculous display, and, indeed, appended to the apostolical Reasons
for office, together with which it ceased. Like the unction of the sick, retaining
however, it was still kept up by those who succeeded the apostles in the government of the Churches, but apparently from a more rational respect for a rite with which such important results had been so long associated. Between the apostolical Church and that even which immediately followed it, 10 difference could have been more remarkable than that arising from the increased proportion of infants baptized. Hence arose one of the first demands on the uninspired Church for its discretionary power in matters left indeterminate. Those Christians admitted to a participation of the Sacrament before they could, “by reason of their tender years," be taught the meaning of the rite, seemed to require some further formal and public ceremony, in order to enable the Church to discharge its duty of solemnly informing them of this meaning, whenever they should be capable of receiving the information. The apostolical rite of confirmation had been already made sacred in the eyes of Christians, and would on that account be far preferable to any new form which might have been appointed for the new object required. It was more—its former object was, to a certain extent, analogous to that for which it was now adopted. It had once solemnized the visible sign of assurance to the baptized, that he was a portion of the Christian temple; its present object was to awaken the baptized to an inquiry into the evidence which he then possessed of the same state of grace. Hence, in the most judicious ecclesiastical regulations, it is made to take place when the mind is supposed to be just capable of appreciating the evidences of Christianity, and the Christian is capable of beneficially partaking of those rites by which he celebrates and renews bis spiritual union with Christ. It is not a sacrament, nor would that Church be unapostolical which should reject it; but it is the most venerable institution of the uninspired Church, and the object of it is so consonant to Christian principles, that if such a form had never been used by the apostles, that object would, doubtless, still have been provided for by their successors.
Another branch of the Christian institution, which was designed only for the foundation of Christianity, and not for its perpetuation,
12 See Mark xvi. 17, 18, where confir- 11; “I long to see you, that I may impart mation is promised indiscriminately to unto you some spiritual gift.” At that all believers, and the particular gifts time the Church at Rome had not yet, specified. St. Paul must allude to this it would seem, been visited by an apostle. in his Epistle to the Romans, chap. i.
Not a Sacrament.