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No mention is made in the New Testament, of any ordination to the ministry by presbyters, without the presence of one of the apostles, or of some superintendent appointed by them. There can be no period fixed on before the Reformation, when ordination to the ministry belonged to any other minister than a bishop.
To whom was committed the choice of persons to fill the office of presbyter or deacon?
Not to the people, but to those whom the apostles appointed as superintendents or bishops.
And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. 2 Tim. ii, 2.
Besides, Timothy and Titus would not have had such minute directions about the character of persons proper to fill these offices, except to guide their choice: and the former is commanded to use great caution in his choice, and,
To lay hands suddenly on no man. 1 Tim. v, 22.
But if the bishop was to ordain only those who had been set apart by the election of the people, no matter how suddenly he laid his hands upon them. And St. Paul tells him, that these directions were given, that if he tarried,
He might know how to behave himself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God. 1 Tim. iii, 14, 15.
What was the office of a deacon?
The Scriptures have not informed us; but it must have been perfectly understood by Timothy and the Church of that period. In 1 Tim. iii, 8-13, the same character for piety and good conduct, is required in deacons as in presbyters.
Let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. 1 Tim. iii, 10.
And the deacons were to look forward to a higher office; for
They that have used the office of a deacon well, purchase to themselves a good degree. 1 Tim. iii, 13.
But were not the seven persons mentioned in Acts vi, deacons ? Probably not. They are not called deacons in the Acts of the Apostles, but only in the title of the chapter.
What account have we of the order of the Church, after the death of the apostle Paul?
The seven churches in the Revelation, addressed by St. John, had each an officer called an Angel, who presided over both the presbyters and the flock, and was therefore a superintendent, or bishop.
What reason have we for thinking that these angels were bishops?
Because we find, that during St. Paul's stay at Ephesus, Not only at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, he had persuaded and turned away much people. Acts xix, 8, 10, 26.
So that the number of Christians would require the care of several presbyters. And when St. Paul passed by this city in his way to Jerusalem,
He sent to Ephesus, and called the presbyters of the Church. Acts XX, 17.
So that the angel was the person presiding over them all.
What proof have we that the angel of the Church at Ephesus exercised the authority of a bishop?
Thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, &c. Rev. ii, 2.
And he received approbation for this conduct from the Lord Jesus, through St. John.
What proof have we that the angel of the Church at Thyatira was a bishop?
He is blamed for suffering Jezebel, who called herself a prophetess, to teach. Rev. ii, 20.
Now he could not have been the subject of blame, unless he had had the power to silence her, which is the office of a bishop.
Is there any reason to think that the government of the Churches of Asia, mentioned in the Revelation, was different from that of other Christian Churches? No: there is great reason to believe, that the Church of Christ was governed every where by Superintendents or Bishops, each presiding over his own district, though subject to a general synod of bishops and presbyters. The apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. Acts IV, 6.
They delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders. Acts xvi, 4.
What further account have we of the order of the Church after the death of the Apostles?
We learn from the writings of men who lived in the times of the apostles, Clement, afterwards Bishop of Rome, who is mentioned in Phil. iv, 3; Polycarp, who was Bishop of Smyrna, and a disciple of St. John; and Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, that immediately after the death of the Apostles, there was, in every church, a superior officer, called a Bishop, and other two orders of priests and deacons.
Was this order generally received in the pimitive Church?
The three-fold distinction of bishops, priests, and deacons, was acknowledged, and was scarcely called in question for one thousand five hundred years after the death of Christ; nor was there any christian church without a bishop during that time. Besides, if this order was not established by the Apostles, it could not have been afterwards introduced without being noticed in history.
Is the personal holiness of a man a sufficient warrant for his taking the office of a minister of Christ?
The minute directions which the Apostle Paul gave to Timothy and Titus, to enable them to make a right choice of the persons whom they were commissioned to ordain for the ministry, must have been unnecessary, if persons, upon presumption of their own holiness, or other qualifications, might, consistently with the appointed order of the christian church, take upon themselves the office of minister.
But are we not informed, that after the martyrdom of Stephen,
Saul made havock of the Church, entering into every house, and hailing men and women, committed them to prison. Therefore, they that were scattered abroad, went every where preaching the word? Acts viii, 1, 4.
This example would undoubtedly be a warrant to private christians to act in like manner, under severe persecution, in an enemy's country, where ordination could not be obtained; but it affords no authority for such conduct in a settled and peaceable state of the christian church.
Why is it necessary that a Church should now copy the example of the Apostles, as to government?
A Church must be formed after some model, and we have no right to deviate from the model given us in the New Testament, except in such matters as are now impracticable.
Do the Scriptures give any directions on this subject?
Walk so as ye have us for an ensample. Phil. iii, 17.
And his example as a superintendent of the christian church calls for imitation, as well as his private life.
Is it a proof that the government of a Church is right, when God blesses the labours of her ministers?
No. Errors to a certain degree are not inconsistent with success: but there can be no excuse for wilful neglect of a divine command; and we should remember, These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Matt. xxiii, 23.
Besides, we cannot tell what injury religion may sustain in course of time, by departing from that order which God has established: and we have no right by leaning to our own understandings, to do evil that good may come.
But are there not good men of most religious persuasions ?
Yes. But we shall not be excused in any neglect or error by pleading the example of others-Let God be true and every man a liar. It is not our business to condemn others who profess to follow the Scriptures as their guide.
ON THE LITURGY.
How long have those short prayers, called Collects, been used in the Christian Church, which are appointed to be used in the Church of England?
Not less than one thousand three hundred years.
What instances have we in Scripture, of forms of prayer or praise being used?
The ancient Jews always used pre-composed forms in
their synagogues; and as our Lord regularly attended at the service of the synagogue, he gave his sanction to the propriety of them.
As his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. Luke iv, 16.
John Baptist appears to have taught his disciples a form of prayer.
Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. Luke xi, 1. The book of Psalms is a series of forms.
Our Lord taught his disciples a form of prayer.
After this manner, therefore, pray ye. Matt. vi, 9.
St. Paul speaks of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, both for the social and private worship of christians. Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. Col. iii, 16.
And hymns are merely forms of prayer in verse. The primitive christians did very early use forms of public worship, which are called in their writings "common prayers."
What are the excellencies of the Liturgy of the Church of England?
1. It is so comprehensive," that nothing is omitted which is fit to be asked in public; and so particular, it compriseth most things which we should ask in private."
2. The prayers are each so short as not to fatigue the attention, and yet are considerably comprehensive, constantly concluding with a reference to the mediation of Jesus Christ.
3. It tends to secure an unity of doctrine; and as both minister and people have their separate parts to perform, this division of service is well calculated to keep up attention, and to excite devout feelings.
4. Another advantage is, that of knowing before-hand the prayer and praises which are to be offered to God. By this means the mind has time given to consider the nature of the petition, and our own need of the thing we
Mr. Wheatley has shewn, by sundry appeals to ancient Christian writers, that the three first centuries joined in the use of precomposed set forms of prayer, besides the Lord's prayer and Psalms; and that these were styled by so early a writer as Justin Martyr, who died in the year of our Lord, 165, "Common Prayers; by Origen, Constituted Prayers; and by Cyprian, "Solemn Prayers." Hence the inference is fairly drawn, that a Liturgy composed for public use, is warranted by the practice of our Saviour, of his Aposiles, and of the primitive Christians.