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ADHERENCE TO THE APOSTOLICAL SUCCESSION
THE SAFEST COURSE.
WE who believe the Nicene Creed, must acknowledge it a high privilege, that we belong to the Apostolic Church. How is it that so many of us are, almost avowedly, so cold and indifferent in our thoughts of this privilege ?
Is it because the very idea is in itself overstrained and fanciful, apt perhaps to lay strong hold on a few ardent minds, but little in accordance with the general feelings of mankind ? Surely not. The notion of a propagated commission is as simple and intelligble in itself, as can well be; is acted on daily in civil matters, (the administration of trust property, for example,); and has found a most ready, sometimes an enthusiastic, acceptance, in those many nations of the world, which have submitted, and are submitting themselves to sacerdotal castes, elective or hereditary. “ Priests self-elected, or appointed by the State,” is rather the idea which startles ordinary thinkers; not “ Priests commissioned, successively, from heaven.”
Or is our languor rather to be aceounted for by the want of express scriptural encouragement to the notion of a divine ministerial commission ? Nay, Scripture, at first sight, is express; whether we take the analogy of the Old Testament, the words of our Lord, or the practice of His Apostles. The Primitive Christians read it accordingly; and cherished, with all affectionate reverence, the privilege which they thought they found there. Why are we so unlike them?
I fear it must be owned, that much of the evil is owing to the comparatively low ground, which we ourselves, the Ministers of God, have chosen to occupy in defence of our commission. For many years, we have been much in the habit of resting our claim on the general duties of submission to authority, of decency and order, of respecting precedents long established; instead of appealing to that warrant, which marks us, exclusively, for God's AmBASSADORS. We have spoken much in the same tone, as we might, had we been mere Laymen, acting for ecclesiastical purposes by a commission under the Great Seal. Waving the question, “ was this wise ? was it right, in higher respects ?"-I ask, was it not obviously certain, in some degree, to damp and deaden the interest, with which men of devout minds would naturally regard the Christian Ministry? Would not more than half the reverential feeling, with which we look on a Church or Cathedral, be gone, if we ceased to contemplate it as the House of God, and learned to esteem it merely as a place set apart by the State for moral and religious instruction?
It would be going too deep in history, were one now to enter on any statement of the causes which have led, silently and insensibly, almost to the abandonment of the high ground, which our Fathers of the Primitive Church, i.e. the Bishops and Presbyters of the first five centuries, invariably took, in adopting their claim to canonical obedience. For the present, it is rather wished to urge, on plain positive considerations, the wisdom and duty of keeping in view the simple principle on which they relied.
Their principle, in short, was this: That the Holy Feast on our Saviour's sacrifice, which all confess to be “ generally necessary to salvation," was intended by Him to be constantly conveyed through the hands of comniissioned persons. Except therefore we can shew such a warrant, we cannot be sure that our hands convey the sacrifice; we cannot be sure that souls worthily prepared, receiving the bread which we break, and the cup of blessing which we bless, are Partakers of the Body and Blood of Christ. Piety, then, and Christian Reverence, and sincere, devout Love of our Redeemer, nay, and Charity to the souls of our brethren, not good order and expediency only, would prompt us, at all earthly risks, to preserve and transmit the seal and warrant of Christ.
If the rules of Christian conduct were founded merely on visible expediency, the zeal with which those holy men were used to maintain the Apostolical Succession, might appear a strange unaccountable thing. Not so, if our duties to our Saviour be like our duties to a parent or a brother, the unalterable result of certain known relations, previous to all consideration of consequences.* Reflect on this, and you presently feel what
resently feel what a difference it makes in a pious mind, whethier ministerial prerogatives be traced to our Lord's
* Butler's Analogy, p. ii. c. l.
own institution, or to mere voluntary ecclesiastical arrangement. Let two plans of Government, as far as we can see, be equally good and expedient in themselves, yet if there be but a fair probability of one rather than the other proceeding fronı our Blessed Lord Himself, those who love Him in sincerity will know at once which to prefer. They will not demand that every point be made out by inevitable demonstration, or promulgated in form, like a State decree. According to the beautiful expression of the Psalmist, they will consent to be “guided by” our Lord's "eye;" * the indications of His pleasure will be enough for them. They will state the matter thus to themselves : “ Jesus Christ's own commission is the best external security I can have, that in receiving this bread and wine, I verily receive His Body and Blood. Either the Bishops have that commission, or there is no such thing in the world. For at least Bishops have it with as much evidence, as Presbyters without them. In proportion, then, to my Christian anxiety for keeping as near my Saviour as I can, I shall of course be very unwilling to separate myself from Episcopal communion. And in proportion to my charitable care for others, will be my industry to preserve and extend the like consolation and security to them.”
Consider the analogy of an absent parent, or dear friend in another hemisphere. Would not such an one naturally reckon it one sign of sincere attachment, if, when he returned home, he found that in all family questions respect had been shewn especially to those in whom he was known to have had most confidence ? Would he not be pleased, when it appeared that people had not been nice in enquiring what express words of command he had given, where they had good reason to think that such and such a course would be approved by him ? If his children and dependants had searched diligently, avhere, and with whom, he had left commissions, and having fair cause to think they had found such, had scrupulously conformed themselves, as far as they could, to the proceedings of those so trusted by him; would he not think this a better sign, than if they had been dextrous in devising ex, ceptions, in explaining away the words of trust, and limiting the prerogatives he had conferred ?
Now certainly the Gospel has many indications, that our best Friend in His absence is likely to be well pleased with those who do their best in sincerity to keep as near to His Apostles as they can. It is studiously recorded, for example, by the Evangelists, in the account of our Lord's two miraculous Feasts, that all passed through His Disciples' hands : (His twelve Disciples; 'as is in one instance plainly implied in the twelve baskets full of fragments.) I know that minute circumstances like this, in a Parable or symbolical act, must be reasoned on with great caution. Still, when one considers that our Blessed Lord took occasion from this event to deliver more expressly than at any other time the doctrine of communion with llim, it seems no unnatural conjecture, that the details of the miracle were so ordered, as to throw light on that doctrine.
* Ps. xxxii.9.
But, not to dwell on what many will question, (although on docile and affectionate minds I cannot but think it must have its weight,) what shall we say to the remarkable promise addressed to the Twelve at the Pascal Supper? “Ye are they which have continued with Me in My temptation : and I appoint unto you a Kingdom, as My Father bath appointed unto Me; that ye may eat and drink at My table in My Kingdom, and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Thus much nobody will hesitate to allow, concerning this Apostolical Charter: that it bound all Christians whatever to be loyal and obedient to Christ's Apostles, at least as long as they were living. And do not the same words equally bind us, and all believers to the world's end, so far as the mind of the Apostles can yet be ascertained ? Is not the spirit of the enactment such, as renders it incumbent on every one to prefer among claimants to Church authority those who can make out the best title to a warrant and commission from the Apostles ?
I pass over those portions of the Gospel, which are oftenest quoted in this controversy; they will occur of themselves to all men; and it is the object of these lines rather to exemplify the occasional indications of our Lord's will, than to cite distinct and palpable enactments. On one place, however,—the passage in the Acts, which records, in honour of the first converts, that “they continued stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship,”-one question must be asked. Is it really credible, that the privilege so emphatically mentioned, of being in communion with the Apostles, ceased when the last Apostle died? If not, who among living Christians have so fair a chance of enjoying that privilege, as those,
who, besides Purity of Doctrine, are careful to maintain that Apostolical Succession, preserved to them hitherto by a gracious and special Providence? I should not much fear to risque the whole controversy on the answer which a simple unprejudiced mind would naturally make to these two questions.
Observe, too, how often those principles, which are usually called, in scorn, High-Churchmanship, drop as it were incidentally from the pens of the sacred writers, professedly employed on other subjects. “How shall they preach, except they be sent ?"_“Let a man so account of us, as of the Ministers of Christ, and Stewards of the mysteries of God.”- -“ No man taketh this honour to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” I do not think it possible for any one to read such places as these with a fair and clear mind, and not to perceive that it is better and more scriptural to have, than to want, Christ's special commission for conveying His Word to the people, and consecrating and distributing the pledges of His holy Sacrifice, if such commission be any how attainable ;—better, and more scriptural, if we cannot remove all doubt, at least to prefer that communion which can make out the best probable title, provided always, that nothing heretical, or otherwise immoral, be inserted in the terms of communion.
Why then should any man here in Britain, fear or hesitate boldly to assert the authority of the Bishops and Pastors of the Church, on grounds strictly evangelical and spiritual : as bringing men nearest to Christ our Saviour, and conforming them most exactly to His mind, indicated both by His own conduct, and by the words of His Spirit in the Apostolic writings ? Why should we talk so much of an establishment, and so little of an APOSTOLICAL SUCCESSION ? Why should we not seriously endeavour to impress our people with this plain truth ;—that by separating themselves from our communion, they separate themselves not only from a decent, orderly, useful society, but from the ONLY CHURCH IN THIS REALM WHICH HAS A RIGHT TO BE QUITE SURE THAT SHE HAS THE LORD'S BODY TO GIVE TO His PEOPLE?
Nor need any man be perplexed by the question, sure to be presently and confidently asked, “Do you then unchurch all the Presbyterians, all Christians who have no Bishops? Are they to be shut out of the Covenant, for all the fruits of Christian Piety, which seem