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Jesus did should be written, every one, the world itself could not contain the books that should be written;" thereby giving us to understand, that the histories written by the Apostles furnish but a very short abstract of our Saviour's life and conversation, by no means sufficient to qualify the reader to form a minute and circumstantial jndgment, with respect to any particular transaction recorded. .
Upon the subje&t before us, for instance, we have no information but what is derived from the mere recital of the fact; that our Saviour, did, after his resurrection, deliver a commission to his elev en difciples, relative to the government of his church. The manner in which this commission was to be carried into effect, is to be ascertained by the subsequent practice of the Apostles; which doubtless conformed to the direction they had received from their Divine Master. For it is not to be supposed, that our SAVIOUR would fail to accompany the delivery of so important a commission with all the information necessary for the parties entrusted with it. Indeed it should seem, as if this were one of the principal objects our Saviour had in view, in remaining so long upon earth after his resurrection; since we are expressly told, that he employed that time in speaking of the things “ pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Acts i. 3. If the Apostles have not recorded the directions which accompanied the delivery of their commission, we are not from thence warranted to conolude, that no directions were given; but that they were judged unnecessary to be particularized; for this reason, it may be, because the government of the Christian church was to correspond with that of the Jewifh. For the Jewish and Christian church are to be considered, not so much different establishments, as two editions (if we may fo say) of the fame church of God; the former constituting, as it were, the ground-plan upon which the latter has been built.
Indeed, as the economy of man's falvation forms one complete whole, it is but to be expected, that there should be an uniformity in its several parts; : although the modern Christian, by confining his attention to one particular part of the Divine difpensation, is thereby unqualified to trace the resemblance between them. .
If God, then, thought proper Himself to regulate the service of the Jewish church, by the express appointment of those who were to bear office in it, it is reasonable to suppose, that He would adopt a
fimilar plan in the Christian church. Nor is it to be imagined, that He who did all things with regu. larity and order; who in his own person paid a delicate regard to the ordinances of the old dispenfation, which were to be done away; should leave the affairs of his new church only in an irregular and disorderly condition. - The history of the Christian church proves that He has not done so; it being taken for granted, that the practice of the Apostles, in the execution of their commission, will be admitted as authority fufficient to establish this fa&t. The Apostles, we are told, did not enter upon the discharge of their commission, till they had received the promise of the Father, in the gift of the Holy Ghost. ' “ They were commanded to tarry in Jerusalem till they were endued with power from on high.” Luke xxiv. 49. Which power the Apostles actually received at the subsequent day of Pentecost; when, according to our Saviour's promise, the Holy Ghost visibly descended upon them, as their previous qualification for the discharge of their high office. What form of government, therefore, the Apostles agreed to establish in the church, if not expressly communi. cated to them. by Christ in person, must be
considered as established under the direction of the Holy Spirit. . . . .
Thus, Apostolical practice, with respect to the government of the church, well ascertained, must in this matter be equivalent to Apostolical precept with respect to the doctrine of it; because the Holy Spirit, by whom the Apostles were directed, and whose office it was to teach them all things necessary to the well-being of the Christian church, would not lead them into error in one case more than in the other.
What that form of government was, we shall be at no lofs to determine, if we are disposed to enquire fairly into the subject. Indeed, the constitution of the Christian church, as established by the Apostles, may be considered to be sufficiently notorious from their writings, to render particular proof on the subject unnecessary. Web. . ..
But did the conclusion upon this matter stand upon less firm ground than it really does, or were the language of Scripture in this case less clear than it is, the practice of the primitive church furnishes such a comment upon it, as must, we should think, determine the judgment of every unprejudiced man.
It is a known axiom, that every law is best explained by the subsequent practice. Let this maxim be applied in the present case.
“ Be ye followers of me, (fays St. Paul in his directions to the church at Corinth) even as I also am of Christ. Now I pray you, brethren, that you remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I have delivered them to you.” 1 Cor. xi. 1, 2. To every careful reader of the New Testament, it will evidently appear, that the Apostles were the followers of CHRIST in the administration of his kingdom on earth; no act of power being done by our Lord in the flesh, which was not, at least in some degree, exercised by the Apostles after his ascenfion. Their prescribing rules and ordinances for the church, and enforcing them by suitable punish. ments; their judging and condemning transgressors, and their pardoning and absolving penitents; their ordaining ministers, and superintending the discharge of their ministerial duty; together with the obedience and attendance paid to the Apostles by the inferior ministers; are circumstances, which prove, that the government of the infant church was in their hands: and that it was managed by them on the plan now distinguished by the word Episcopal. From Apoftolical authority descending to Catholic practice, which (as Bishop Taylor* has observed) “ is the
* “Of the Sacred Order of Episcopacy.” Sect. 22.