How far limited.

site; in which Christians, as such, join, and through which, as members of a community, grace was to be imparted. To Christians, as a society, the promise of the Spirit was made; and, accordingly, to them, as a society, it was to be conveyed. The apostles had begun and established precedents, which, of course, would be naturally adopted by their uninspired successors. But still, as these were only the formal means of grace, and not the blessing itself, it was equally to be expected that the Church should assume a discretionary power, whenever the means established became impracticable or clearly unsuitable, and either substitute others, or abolish such as existed, without appointing any in their stead. At the same time, so great a license would leave the Church liable to be disturbed by the caprice of mankind; and it was accordingly necessary that the boundary of its liberty should be strongly marked. The obvious line is this: the appointments made by the apostles had a twofold object, some were designed to convey extraordinary gifts, some ordinary. Whatever form was instituted by them for conveying extraordinary gifts, was evidently not to be continued by the uninspired Church ; at least not with the original purpose in view. As to the other appointments, it might seem at first that the apostolical precedents were literally binding on all ages: but this cannot have been intended; and for this reason, that the

greater portion of the apostolical practices have been transmitted to us, not on apostolical authority, but on the authority of the uninspired Church : which has handed them down with an uncertain mixture of its own appointments. How are we to know the enactments of the inspired rulers from those of the uninspired ? and, if there be no certain clue, we must either bring down the authority of apostolical usage to that of the uninspired Church, or raise that of the uninspired Church to that of the apostolical. Now the former is, doubtless, what was, to a certain extent, intended by the apostles themselves, as will appear from a line of distinction by which they have carefully partitioned off such of their appointments as are designed to be perpetual, from such as are left to share the possibility of change with the institutions of uninspired wisdom. If, then, we look to the account of the Christian usages contained in Scripture, nothing can be more unquestionable, than that while some are specified, others are passed over in silence. It is not even left so as to make us imagine that those mentioned may be all;

while some are noted specifically, the establishment of others is implied, without the particular mode of observance being given. Thus, we are equally sure from Scripture, that Christian ministers were ordained by a certain form, and that Christians assembled in prayer ; but while the precise process of laying on of hands is mentioned in the former institution, no account is given of the precise method of Church Service, or even of any regular forms of prayer, beyond the Lord's Prayer. Even the record of the Ordination Service itself admits of the same distinction. It is quite

as certain that some prayer was used, as that some outward form accompanied the prayer; but the form is specified, the prayer left unrecorded. What, now, is the obvious interpretation of the holy Dispenser's meaning in this mode of record ? Clearly it is, that the apostles regulated under his guidance the forms and practices of the Church, so as was best calculated to convey grace to the Church at that time. At the same time, part of its institutions were of a nature, which, although formal, would never require a change; and these therefore were left recorded in the Scriptures to mark the distinction of character. The others were not, indeed, to be capriciously abandoned, not at all, except when there should be manifest cause for so doing; but as such a case was supposable, these were left to mingle with the uninspired precedents, the claims of which, as precedents, would be increased by this uncertain admixture, and the authority of the whole rendered so far binding, and so far subject to the discretion of the Church. They might not be altered, unless sufficient grounds should appear; but the settling of this point was left to the discretion of the Church; and this discretion, again, was subject to the check above described, as arising out of the well-defined characteristics of the Church.

Among the methods of communicating Divine grace, the Sacraments, of course, are distinguished as having been the appointment of our blessed Lord himself. As far, however, as their permanent claim extends, in common with that of other institutions, to be celebrated according to all the form found in Scripture, the foregoing general remarks are sufficient. It will be time enough to enter more fully into this particular branch of inquiry, when we arrive at it in the detail of the practices of the primitive Church; for the better estimate of which, this previous view has been taken.


From A.D. 100—167.



Of the three leading questions, whereby it was proposed to elicit a view of the primitive Church, two have been briefly, but, perhaps, sufficiently discussed. We have now seen, first, what parts of the apostles' ministry were intended for the foundation of Christianity, and next, what parts were intended

for its preservation and application. The third inquiry remains, How far was the design of the Church's inspired founders preserved and followed up by the first uninspired Churches or their rulers ?

As this can only be satisfactorily answered by a detail of the proceedings of the primitive Church—so far, at least, as those proceedings are known to us—little more will be requisite in most instances, than to observe such an arrangement of these historical facts, as shall connect them with the general view to which they refer. This arrangement will be formed in reference to the view already taken of the character of the Church and its several offices; so as that each point of ecclesiastical history necessary for our purpose may be brought under one of these four heads.

I. How the first uninspired Church fulfilled its office of preserving and attesting the sacred record.

II. How the first uninspired Church fulfilled its office of dispensing the truths contained in this sacred record.

III. How the first uninspired Church fulfilled its office of conveying

IV. How far its discipline, or method of self-preservation, was conformable to the design of its inspired founders.

Divine grace.



One of the preceding remarks on the uses of the Church was, that of the Sacred it was designed to be to the sacred record, what an inspired order of withdrawn, and Scripture left in its room. As revelation had been secured against misrepresentation or curtailment, by Divine suggestion and correction, and also attested to be Divine by signs, wonders, and spiritual gifts; so, in the establishment of the Church, we see a corresponding provision made for the preservation of the Scriptures, and also for a perpetual testimony to their authority. Among the means whereby this was effected, the principal have been :


ministers had been to the unrecorded revelation. Revelation was

1. THE PUBLIC READING OF THE SCRIPTURES. It is not to the utility of this practice as a mode of promulgating By Public the Divine truths of the Gospel, that I am now alluding; but to its Reading. effect in preventing the loss or corruption of the sacred record itself, in any, or in all societies of Christians; and also in keeping up a perpetual testimony to its Divine authority, of which evidence the Church was the especial and appointed vehicle. The value of the Its value. practice, in this point of view, can only be justly estimated by recollecting, how much more difficult it was to keep up a chain of evidence to the identity of a record such as this, (in which the smallest doubt was likely to vitiate the claim of the whole,) before reading was common; and still more, before the art of printing was invented. The language of Scripture continually sounding in the ears of Christians of all classes, would leave no interval for the introduction of false records. The Church would thus keep up a familiarity with its Divine Guide, which might be compared to that which holy men of old, probably, acquired with any particular mode of Divine communication from the frequency of their revelations. They learned to know the voice of the Lord God, and could not be imposed on by a lying spirit. And so, doubtless, it was intended, that the written word of God should be made continually to speak to his Church, in order that his Church never may be subject to delusion from the cunning devices of impostors.

That the primitive Church contemplated this purpose, in its careful observance of the usage, may be questioned. It is, indeed, probable, that its main, perhaps its sole, object was the instruction thereby afforded. But, granting this to be so, neither in this nor in any other of the Christian practices, was it requisite that the whole or the main design of the Church's Divine Ruler should have been comprehended by his obedient ministers. The apostles themselves, perhaps, saw not the full operation and progressive results of their own plans; and we, at this moment, may be cherishing among the rites and ordinances of Christianity some, the full effect of which it may be reserved to future times, to a period beyond this world, to develop.

As far back as we can trace any accounts, incidental or direct, of Early the service of the primitive Church, the public reading of the Scriptures is recognised. Even the minute arrangement of particular upon it. portions for particular seasons was observed. Occasional deviations,

customs attendant


Translation of the Scriptures.

too, from the general practice of the Christian world are known to

As, for instance, that for the first four hundred years, the Romish Church confined itself to the public reading of the New Testament, to the exclusion of the Old.17 That in the observance of this duty, something more was felt than a desire for instruction, some respect and veneration, in short, for the deposit intrusted to their care, and an anxious wish to attach to its preservation every solemn circumstance, may be inferred from the custom which long generally prevailed, of rising when the Gospel was read ; 18 and also from the words with which its reading was prefaced, “Thus saith the Lord.” It denoted a feeling that Scripture was the appointed substitute for what had in times past taken place, “God speaking in divers manners ;” and a scrupulous respect for it, as for the new Shechinah.

The object of this custom would clearly have been defeated, had the Scriptures been read in a tongue unknown to the congregation. Without any direct testimony therefore to this point, we should reasonably take it for granted, that the Word of God was read in a language “understanded of the people. But, it is clearly ascertained, that for the convenience of those Churches wherein the original of the Scriptures was unintelligible, translations were early made and used ; 19 as early, perhaps, as the close of the first century; and what is, perhaps, no less conclusive than direct testimony, is the inference to be deduced from the language of the apostolical Fathers in their Epistles to different Churches. In these, the writers are addressing themselves to each Church as a body, and appealing continually to the words of the Gospels and Epistles, as to documents with which those addressed are supposed to be familiar. Now as the greater portion of every Church cannot be imagined, at that time certainly, to have had copies of the Scriptures in their hands,

have learned to read, this habitual familiarity with its texts could only have been acquired by the public reading of them.20 Clement, accordingly, in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, quotes

or even

17 Strabo, de Reb. Eccl. C. 12, cited by Stillingfleet, in his Orig. Britan. C. IX.

18 Constitutions, Lib. II. C. 57. See also Chrysostom, Hom.1, in Matth. Sozomen (Lib. VII. C. 19) notices it as a peculiarity of the Alexandrian Church, that the bishop did not conform to this custom. St. Jerome records a custom in the Eastern Churches, of ushering in the Gospel with lighted candles. Cave, however, doubts the primitive antiquity of this practice; and there is certainly no reason to suppose that it was universal. See Bingham's Eccl. Antiq. Book XIV. C. III. Sec. 11.

19 See the ancient testimonies cited in Bingham's Eccl. Antiq. Book XIII. C. IV. Justin Martyr is the earliest.

20 It appears from Eusebius, that in the age of Constantine there was a custom

established, of leaving in each Church one or more copies of the Bible for the use of those who could read, and who might wish to refer to it. The emperor himself is said to have been in the habit of using them, (see Eusebius, Vit. Constant. Lib. IV. C. 17.) There is extant a distich of Paulinus, which was written by him on the walls of the Secretarium of the church of Nola, in allusion to this custom:

“Si quem sancta tenet meditandi in

Lege voluntas
Hic poterit residens sacris intendere


Paulin. Epist. ad Severum, cited by
Bingham, Eccles. Antiq. B. VIII. C.

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