Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

seven men.

seven deacons, they say to the multitude of the disciples, · Look out seven men of good report, for this office. And in obedience to this direction, they chose

And so the practice continued, as late at least as the council of Paris, in 552; that of the election to all the offices of the church by the people. Clemens Romanus, who was a cotemporary of the apostles, says, They appointed bishops by the consent of the whole church.' Cyprian says, 'Let nothing be done but by the consent of the people. Again, God appoints that sacerdotal ordinations should not be made without the assistance and consent of the people.' Himself, he declares, Chosen to his office by the favor and vote of the people. To the people,' he says, “belongs the power of either choosing worthy ministers, or rejecting the unworthy. The decrees of various councils, of Nice, Constantinople, Carthage, Paris, go to show, that the bishops were in those days chosen by the people.

Such, then, was the unquestionable practice of the apostolic age, and of the first century of the church. The officers of the church, its various ministers, were in no sense appointed either by a civil or ecclesiastical power ; but were chosen immediately by the people; and by virtue of this choice, and of nothing else, they became deacons, presbyters, or bishops, or whatever the offices to which they were elected, were called.

But beside elections on the part of christians at large, in order to constitute a person a minister in the church, there was what is called ordination. And what was ordination, as understood and practised by the

1

apostles ? Was it the communication of any extraordinary power, or divine right and authority, which was not possessed before, by the hands of a bishop? It was nothing of the kind. It was simply prayer for the blessing of God, accompanied by the laying on of the hands of him or those who prayed, upon the head of the person prayed for. But this ceremony of laying on of the hands was nothing peculiar to this occasion, but, let it be particularly remembered, was a custom in the east, in all cases when a person was prayed for. Blessing a person was performed, as innumerable instances in the Old Testament show, by laying the hand on the head of the person, and calling upon God. This was all that was ever done by the apostles, in the much talked of, and much misunderstood ceremony of ordination.

The minister or deacon, the presbyter or bishop, was elected by the people, according to their ideas of fitness; and when this was done, a prayer was made to God for his blessing to accompany the transaction. Could any thing be more natural, inore proper, more simple? This view of ordination has been held, not only by the advocates of Presbyterian ordination, but by many also of the members of the English church. It is a recorded opinion of archbishop Cranmer, who was under Edward VI. president of a convocation for the settling of important affairs relating to the church, “That, though in the admission of bishops, parsons, vicars, and other priests to their office, there be divers comely ceremonies and solemnities used, (he is speaking of ordination,) yet these be not of necessity, but only for good order and seeming fashion ; for if such of

fices and ministrations were committed without such solemnity, they were nevertheless truly committed.' • In the New Testament,' he says, 'he that is appointed to be a bishop or a priest, needeth no consecration by the scriptures ; for election or appointing thereto is sufficient.

And this is the true ordination. He who is chosen by christians to a christian office, is by that act ordained. If this act, to render it the more solemn and impressive, be accompanied by prayer, it is well. Though still the subject of the prayer is in no higher or other sense a christian minister after the prayer, than before. Still less, has the laying on of the hands of the elders, presbytery, or other clergy, any thing to do with ordination. In its original use, it was the oriental form of giving, or asking of Heaven a blessing; and then the custom was of good observance. But why it should be retained here, where it is not understood, and wears merely the air of a mystery, it is not easy to see.

In asking the blessing of Heaven upon other occasions, it is not the usage to impose the hands upon the individual; why should it be done in ordination ?

Truly does Cranmer say, that election only is necessary to constitute one a minister of the church.' Suppose there should gather together in a distant place, from various quarters, a society, a company of christians, who sincerely desired among them religious services, and the administration of the christian ordi

There is no one among them who has been what is called regularly ordained. Are these christians to live, and die, without the ordinances and

nances.

rites of their church? Is the sound of the gospel to die away among them, their children or their converts to go unbaptised, the mercy of their Lord uncelebrated, the services of the sabbath to be neglected, because there is no one among them who is a christian minister, no one who has been regularly ordained ? Surely not, you will say; and the scriptures say so too. Let them come together and cast lots, and choose him or those whom they will have for their spiritual guide, servant, priest, elder, or bishop; assign to him the duties they will that he should perform, and the ordinances he should administer; and there will not be one in the church, in any age of it, from the election of Matthias, through the long line of bishops, popes, archbishops, and priests, of all the various churches, whose title can be shown to rest upon a more sure and scriptural basis.

I have, so far, shown who christian ministers were, in the first institution of christianity, and how they became such.

What, in the next place, were their office and authority?

Their office was, at first, to travel from place to place, and spread the knowledge of christian truth. When christianity became more diffused, and in the more considerable places large numbers were converted, a minister, by the name either of presbyter or bishop, was fixed over them, and became resident among them. There he performed, as we learn from history, all the various services which are now performed by one who is invested with the same office. They met on the Lord's day, on the first day of the

[ocr errors]

week, to read the scriptures, to explain them, or to preach, to sing psalms, to pray, and to administer the Lord's supper.' The religious services of the primitive church, are well copied in the simple services of the English dissenters, and in the Congregational and Presbyterian churches of our own country. Gradually this simplicity was lost, till in a few centuries it wholly disappeared; and each church seemed to vie with every other, in nothing so much as in the number and variety of its services, the pomp and gorgeousness of its rites.

As to the power, the authority, committed to the early ministers of the church, it seems to have been simply that of advice. This may be concluded with great certainty, from the record which St Luke has preserved, of the doings of the first christian council, as it has been called, assembled to determine the question as to the necessity of converts from heathenism becoming subject to the law of Moses. This was simply an advisory council. Although composed of apostles, of those who stood higher, and even clothed with a mightier power than any who came after them, still no harsh and imperious sentence was sent forth, enforced with threats of excommunication and the divine wrath, after the manner of more modern councils; but all was done in the very spirit of christian gentleness. If ye do these things,' their letter to the churches concludes, if ye do these things, ye shall do well. Over the faith of christians, no control was exercised or attempted. The apostles indeed cautioned their followers and the several churches to beware of heretics, and said harsh things of some who

« AnteriorContinua »