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To cut this inquiry short, He alone is evidently entitled to confer the power of conveying, by the appointed means, the gifts of His Spirit, who Himself gave, in the first instance, that Spirit to His Church. It is to Ilim that such commission must be traced in the case of every individual who would establish his right to this holy office.
He appointed in the first place, as is well known to every reader of the Scriptures, the Apostles ; to whom He at different periods entrusted all such powers as were necessary to the formation and continued protection of His Church, which they, under His Spirit, were to establish. He gave them the power of admitting members into it; and He put into their hands that power of expulsion from it, which it was necessary, for the well being of the society, should be vested somewhere : assuring them, at the same time, that their decrees in this respect should be ratified on high ; that what they 6 bound on earth, should be bound in heaven.” To them it was that he entrusted the power of baptizing all nations; and still more emphatically the power of celebrating the sacred rite which commemorates His passion* They undertook the sacred trust, preached to all, and at first baptized all converts ; though, when the number of these increased, when the Church could reckon its three thousand and its five thousand members, and when thus, to borrow the prophetic language of Daniel, the stone began to swell which was destined in time to become a great mountain, and to fill the whole world, it was plainly impossible that the small band of Apostles, employed as they were in the business of teaching the word, should suffice themselves to baptize all who should accept their offers of salvation. For this, among other purposes, the formation of a class of ministers, distinct from, and subordinate to, themselves, became necessary; a class, of the first establishment of which we read in the 6th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The members of this new class were called “ Deacons :" they were at first only seven in number : they were chosen, at the suggestion of the Apostles, by the believers in general, or, in the language of the Church, by the laity; but they were ordained to the office by the Apostles themselves, by the laying of their hands on them, accompanied by prayer. A principal part of their office, when they were first appointed, was the distribution of the charitable gifts of the more wealthy believers among their poorer brethren : but that the power of administering baptism was a part of their commission is evident from the history of Philip the Deacon, contained in Acts viii. There were thus two classes of guides and teachers to the Church of Christ, Apostles and Deacons; the first bearing authority over the general fock by the direct word of Christ Himself; the second by commission from those thus directly authorized; a commission given by them when the Holy Spirit was most abundantly poured out upon them, and solemnly ratified by that Holy Spirit Himself in the miraculous powers and graces vouchsafed to Stephen and his colleagues.
* “ This do, in remembrance of me,” Luke xxii. 19. The commission to baptize, though delivered to the Apostles, yet was not given in private, but in the presence of the disciples. Matth, xxviii. 18, 19.
But as the limits of the Church began to extend, and the believers, instead of dwelling in one body in the city of Jerusalem, began to spread over the adjoining regions, the want was felt of another class, to superintend the scattered divisions of Christ's flock, to act in some measure as the substitutes of the Apostles in their absence, and as their deputies and subordinate officers in their presence. This class, of higher rank in the Church than the Deacons, and forming a connecting link between them and the Apostles, bears in Scripture the name of “ Elders” or “ Bishops,” and is, by one or other of these names, the subject of frequent mention in the later books of the New Testament. The constitution of the Church was then, for the time being, complete. The Apostles, as, in the exercise of their high office, they founded congregations from city to city, ordained (always by the laying on of hands) Elders and Deacons; in whom each congregation recognised the ministers set over them by their Lord and Master in heaven; from whom they received the blessings conveyed in His Sacraments; and to whom they looked for guidance and example in the holy course on which
The Apostle himself, however, who had planted each of these congregations, continued to exercise over it a general superintending authority, and to interfere, where the case required it, in the most solemn and decided manner. The nature and extent of the power thus assumed over each local Church, in virtue of his heavenly commission, by its Apostolic head, will be manifest from a study of the two Epistles written by St. Paul to the Church of the Corinthians; and from a comparison of the second of these Epistles with the first, it will be seen how fully this authority was recognised, and the directions thus sanctioned were obeyed, by the primitive believers.
It may not be amiss here to point out a circumstance from which we may most decidedly infer it to have been the will of the Holy Spirit that ordination, or the solemn ceremony above mentioned of the laying on of hands, should be the only mode of admission to the ministration of His gifts in the Church. Were there any one person who might, from the very peculiar circumstances of his call and conversion, have had grounds for conceiving himself entitled to dispense with this ceremony, that person was undoubtedly St. Paul; yet we find that, favoured as he had been, when it was seen meet to send him as an Apostle to the Gentiles, the Holy Ghost deigned to give express directions that he should be separated for the purpose; ordained, that is to say, to such ministry; and that, in compliance with those directions, the heads of the Church at Antioch, when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them*, sent him and Barnabas away.
The Church, under the government of its Apostles, Elders, and Deacons, was, as we have already stated, for the time being, complete. One thing, however, was still wanting to give perpetuity to its constitution, and that was, a provision for the supply of ordained ministers to distribute the gifts of the Spirit to the generations who should live when the Apostles themselves, and those who had received ordination from their hands, should have alike passed away from the scene of their labours. It was necessary that the Apostles should appoint successors to themselves ; persons to be armed with at least all that portion of their authority which did not depend on their miraculous powers or extraordinary gifts of the Spirit; with neither of which was the power of ordination to any rank of the ministry necessarily connected. They felt this necessity, and they did appoint such persons ; but from the altered condition of the Church, and the number of converts in each particular place, it became expedient, instead of giving to each person so appointed that species of general commission with which the Apostles themselves had commenced their labours, to fix the residence of each in some particular city, and to give him the peculiar superintendence of the Church therein, and in the districts adjoining. It was thus that St. Paul appointed Timothy to preside, as (what we now call) Bishop, over the Church at Ephesus; and Titus over that of Crete : and the Holy Spirit, by dictating to the Apostle those directions to them for the discharge of the duties of these offices which form the Epistles bearing their names, gave the fullest and most solemn ratification, not only to their individual appointment, but also to the establishment in perpetuity of the episcopal order in the Church.
* Acts xiii. 3.
Though this event in the history of the Church has been narrated as occurring subsequently to the appointment of the lower classes of ecclesiastical ministers, it must not be supposed that it was an after-thought, or that the Apostles were not from the first aware that their office was to be perpetuated by succession. Our Lord ended the sentence in which He endued them with power to baptize, with the promise of His assistance in the discharge of their functions through all time: “Go,” said He, “ baptize all nations : and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world :” a phrase which, as addressed to mortal men, must clearly have been understood as a promise of continual assistance to them and to their successors. We find, accordingly, that so far were they from understanding this gracious promise as applying solely to the individuals to whom the words were spoken, that one of their very first joint acts, when deprived of the presence of their Lord, was to select a person to be associated with themselves in the apostolic office, that the number originally named to that office by our Saviour might be complete. They did not, it is true, ordain him, in the manner afterwards adopted, by the laying on of hands; for they referred the act of ordination to Almighty God by casting lots “ whether of the twain” He would choose ; and in the pouring out of the gifts of Pentecost upon the head of Matthias, as well as upon those of the eleven, the Spirit bore a testimony, which could hardly be misunderstood, to the will of the Almighty that the Apostles should from time to time, as it became necessary, nominate such associates in their general Apostolic toils and powers as they might select; associates on whom, as they themselves were gradually withdrawn from the world, the whole government of the Church, and the whole care of providing for its further continuance, must ultimately devolve.
The miraculous gifts and graces, which God in the first instance showered upon His Church, answered their purpose in giving it its first footing in the world ; and, when no longer necessary for that purpose, were consequently withdrawn: but it should never be forgotten, that these, wonderful and striking as they must have , been, were but secondary and subsidiary to those invisible spiritual gifts, which are the real fulfilment of God's promise of constant aid to His Church. With regard to these latter, it was indeed necessary that they should be her portion through all ages; but the others. derived in truth their chief value from the evidence which they bore to the existence of these more precious boons; an evidence which, though immediately addressed to converts in the first ages, was intended to convince, not them alone, but all those to whom their report of these miraculous gifts should come, of the reality of God's promises with regard to those gifts which were not palpable to earthly senses; of the truth of Christ's saying, already quoted, that He would be with His Church even unto the end of the world; and of His declaration that the Comforter, whom He would send, should abide with that Church for ever.
What name was originally applied to the office borne by Timothy and Titus, of destined successors to the Apostles, is not very clear. There was perhaps at first no one name especially used to designate it. They may have sometimes been called Evangelists (see 2 Tim. iv. 5.); sometimes, from their bearing in some measure the character of heavenly messengers to' mankind, the Angels of their respective Churches. By this name, at least, the heads of the different Churches of Asia are addressed in the 2d and 3d chapters of the book of Revelations. Consecrated as they were by different Apostles in different parts of the world, some little time would necessarily elapse, before one general name would be applied by the whole Christian Church to the associates and successors of its first inspired governors.
Of the powers entrusted to these persons, a good idea may be formed from the study of the Epistles addressed to two of them. Timothy, it appears, had Apostolic authority to superintend and arrange the celebration of divine service, to prescribe the nature of prayers to be used therein, and to give general directions for the decent and orderly behaviour of the congregation. (See 1 Tim. ii.) Copious instructions were given him as to the persons whom he