from the nature of the subject, and from the notices which are left us of such proofs being resorted to, by Eusebius and others.

Even in the days of the apostles and inspired teachers, such a rule we know was insisted on by St. Paul; “Though we,” (writes Gal i. 8, 9. he to the Galatians,) " or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you, than that we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you, than that you have received, let him be accursed.

The antecedent claims, which would induce them to bring any writing to this test, would be the evidence of particular churches, in which the writing had been deposited; the autography of the MSS. in some cases furnishing particular signs, such as may be supposed to have been the case with the original copy of St. Paul's Epistle Gal vi. 11. to the Galatians, and the traditional account of its contents, or of any circumstances connected with it. The seal and confirmation of its authenticity would be its agreement with such scriptural doctrine as was contained in those books which were so widely circulated, and so clearly sanctioned, as to furnish the basis of a standard for Scripture. One work settled, became a measure for others, and Scripture was made the test of Scripture. The sacred volume thus formed, becomes the depository of a power hardly less effectual than that which the inspired Church possessed of trying spirits; and is our unfailing security against the forgeries of distant ages, and the pretended revelations of later times.




To the apostles a revelation had been given, which on their removal was supplied by a sacred record. The apostles had been commissioned and empowered to preserve that revelation pure and perfect, by the extraordinary suggestions and corrections of the Holy Spirit; and also to attest it by miracles and miraculous endowments. The Church, as has been shown, was qualified to fulfil the same purposes with regard to the sacred record. But, then, the apostles were not only commissioned and empowered to preserve their revelation entire and uncorrupted, and to furnish evidence to its Divine character; they had a further duty to perform; that, namely, of dispensing the truths it contained-of “rightly dividing the word of truth," as it is expressed by one of them. For this portion of their ministry, likewise, they received from our Lord himself an assurance of extraordinary assistance ever at hand; 64 which the narrative of that ministry clearly shows to have been fulfilled. The sacred record required, of course, a corresponding dispenser; and the Church was accordingly so shaped and modelled, as to assume that character. In what manner it discharged this portion of its duty, on the first ceasing of Divine interposition, is the point of inquiry at which we are now arrived. The measures adopted will be considered briefly and separately; and first, among these, may be noticed the perpetuation of a clerical order, as distinct from the laity, in every Church.


In sacred history, we find the apostles, and others duly appointed, considered as exclusively officiating in a course of ministerial duties; and, if it be Dispensers of admitted, that these, or many of these offices, were designed to be the Gospel.


63 2 Tim. ii. 15. 'OgDoTopcūvTo means the before what ye shall answer; for I will fashioning of the word preached, so as to give you a mouth and wisdom, which all render it intelligible, acceptable, effec- your adversaries shall not be able to tual; as the workman cuts the stone or gainsay nor resist.” 2 Cor. xii. 9: “My wood, to suit the particular object about grace is sufficient for thee; for my which he is employed.

strength is made perfect in weakness; 64 E.G. Luke xxi. 14, 15: “Settle it and the like. therefore in your hearts, not to meditate

perpetual, the perpetual obligation on Christians to have a separate officiating order to succeed the first, seems to be a necessary inference. The character and pretensions of this order may, indeed, become changed, so far as to be inconsistent with Christianity itself; but this should only induce us to ascertain clearly, and to keep steadily in view, the true object and intent of the institution. Beyond this connexion with the formal observances of religion, however, the ministers of the Gospel may be viewed in the light of special dispensers of the truths contained in the New Testament. This is their chief and most important office; and if it be true, that one of the purposes divinely intended in the formation of the Church was the dispensing of these truths; the appointment of this order, as one of the methods, becomes an obligation, independent even of apostolical precedent or specific rule. The great caution to be observed in the Church was, strictly to adhere to this view of its ministers. There was a continual temptation presented to the Jewish converts, in the habit of looking at religion, as it existed in the former Church of God; and equally so to the Gentile converts, in their long familiarity with the corruptions of the heathen world. In both, the minister of religion had been regarded as the mean of communication between the worshipper and the Being worshipped; between Man who sought Divine instruction, and the Deity from whom it was supposed to proceed. But Christians were left without any such mediator on earth. Their High Priest was no longer visible; and the sacred record was the only mode of sensible communication which had been left; Christ was seen no more, and the Holy Ghost was no longer outwardly manifested. The Christian ministers, therefore, were designed to be the organ of the Church,66 in dispensing these Divine oracles; not themselves the oracles and sources of information.

That the primitive bishops claimed for themselves no higher Bishops character, is very plain from the tenor of their lives, and from the language of their genuine remains. It is evident from the writings of Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp, that the terms “ Priest, (iepews,)67 “ Vicar of Christ, Mediator, “ Order of the altar,"


56 Ignatius's assertion is strictly correct, Without these it cannot be called a Church ;', that is, the Christian society could no longer fulfil the object of its institution, whatever other means might be substituted.-Ep. ad Trall. Sec. 3.

56 Ignatius calls them, in his Epistles to the Trallians, “servants of the Church of God," see Sec. 2.

57 It may be necessary to state to the mere English reader, that there are two Greek words, of very different import, which we translate indifferently “priest.' 'Isgròs is one, and is the term applied to him whose office it was to sacrifice, or otherwise to mediate between the worshipper and the Being worshipped ; the

other, xgeolútigos, signifies an elder; and was applied to those ministers in the Christian Church, whose age or office entitled them to such distinction. To Christ alone, under the Gospel dispensation, was the term isgeùs applicable, and to him alone it is applied in the New Testament; but, from the common custom among the early Christian teachers, of illustrating the respect and observance due to the Gospel ministers, from that which had been paid to the Jewish priests, the term legsùs gradually became transferred to the Gospel minister. The same occurred with respect to many other Christian institutions. The Lord's table, e.g. acquired the title of “the

[ocr errors]

and Deacons.

(τάξις του βηματος,) were not yet the appropriate vocabulary of the Christian's language. Although the order of bishops had succeeded the apostles in the government of the Church, yet they presumed not to assume the title. • They who are now called bishops, writes St. Ambrose.69 “ were originally called apostles; but the holy apostles being dead, they who were ordained after them to govern the Church, could not arrive at the excellency of the first; nor had they the testimony of miracles, but were in many other respects inferior to them. Therefore they thought it not decent to assume to themselves the name of apostles; but dividing the names, they left to presbyters the name of the presbytery, and they them

selves were called bishops.” Preshyters The same modest pretensions are manifested in the titles of the

other ministers. No other official distinction was preserved beyond that of presbyter and deacon. Prophets, Interpreters, Helps, and the long list of extraordinary agents, had found successors and substitutes in men qualified by ordinary means; but these presumed no more than the bishops, to retain the titles of the

persons whose place they occupied only in part. This scruple about assuming titles of distinct rank, has inclined many to think, that what are

afterwards found in the Church, under the general denomination of Five inferior the five inferior orders of clergy, did not yet exist. These were the

sub-deacons, acolythists, exorcists, readers, and door-keepers. It is certainly true, that these words do not occur in the genuine remains of the apostolical Fathers; and, in short, no term indicating a lower order than that of deacon. Nevertheless, as has been before pointed out, this term was very comprehensive, and originally included even apostles. Its specific application became gradually more and more narrowed, as the distinct kinds of ministers or deacons received appropriate names. At the period to which we are now arrived, this general appellation may still have been the only one, for some or all of these five offices, which were afterwards distinguished by specific names. The deaconship of the New Testament evidently comprehended many offices not afterwards included under it. These very five offices, and others, may possibly then


altar;" the bread and wine, that of "the sacrifice."

It is surprising, how much the accidents which befal language affect even the practical views of those who employ it. At this day, we may trace to these very ambiguities a proneness to apply to the several parts of the Christian institution, reasoning drawn from those parts of the Jewish which do not coincide with them, further than that both now bear the same name. The use made of this fallacy by the Church of Rome, in its gradual assumption of those powers and privileges for its bishop, which can only belong to a pontiff or high priest, are now too well known to require fur

ther notice. See particularly Encyclop. Metropolit. Art. Logic, and whately's Sermons, Sermon V.

68 Bp. Beveridge, in answer to Mr. Daillé's objections to the authenticity of the apostolical canon, has maintained the primitive use of these terms; but his testimonies really prove no more than that they were sometimes used, always perhaps, figuratively. His remarks on the use of επισκόπος and πρεσβυτέρος, are more correct. See Beveregii Codex Can. Lib. II. C. 10.

69 Cited by Amalarius, de Offic. Ecc. Lib. II. C. 13, and by Bingham, Ecc. Ant. B. II. C. 11.

[ocr errors]

61 66

have existed long before they were separately named. Among the deaconesses even, similar distinctions may have obtained, without any distinguishing title. We read, at least, of employments assigned to them, which it would be obviously inconvenient to unite generally in the same person ; for instance, the offices of doorkeeper, and of attendant on the sick.

The principal need of these female ministers has been already Deaconesses. pointed out: and, accordingly, as the character of the Christian preachers became better known, the suspicions and scruples of strangers were less likely to be awakened, by the visits of male catechists to all ages and sexes, for the purpose of instruction; and the order of deaconesses would naturally be discontinued. This very soon began to be the case: although the remnant of such an order existed in the Latin Church until the tenth or eleventh century; and in the Greek Church a century later. In the age of the apostolic Fathers they are spoken of under the same title which St. Luke may be supposed to apply to them in the Acts, that of Acts vi. 1. widows.6

Over all these different orders, the authority of the bishop was Superior, distinct and supreme.

“Let nothing, writes Ignatius to the the Bishops. Church of Smyrna, relating to the Church, be done without the bishop;” and, again, to Polycarp, “ Let nothing be done without your sanction.” The superintending authority in all spiritual matters seems to have extended even to the right of administering the Sacraments. For the same Father writes, to remind the Church of Smyrna, that “it is not lawful either to baptize, or celebrate the feast of love, without the bishop. Nothing, indeed, seems more reasonable and natural, than that the discretionary exercise of the minister's office should be various in different ages. Education, and other circumstances, might render the clergy, universally, fit in one age, for that which only some were qualified to perform in another. We expect, accordingly, to find at different periods a different authority exercised by the bishop over the subordinate clergy. It was once deemed inexpedient in our own Church, to allow all the clergy to preach; and a similar prudence may have dictated a like caution in the regulation of the duties of the primitive clergy; which would gradually and of course relax, as the cause ceased.

It is, however, the office of the Christian ministers, as dispensers of the truths of the New Testament record, to which our attention is now directed; and if it be inquired, in what way these several orders discharged this office, under the superintendence of their bishop, and what part the bishop himself took in this common


60 Ignat. Ep. ad Smyrn. C. 13.

'Arτάζομαι τους οίκους των αδελφών μου συν γυναιξί και τέκνοις, και τας παρθένους τάς λεγομένας Xhgas. See Cotelerius's note on the

expression; see also Ep. ad Polyc. C.
61 Ch. 8.

62 Ch. 4.
83 Ep. ad Smyrn. C. 9.

« VorigeDoorgaan »