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There are many persons who have the happiness of being mem. bers of that pure and Apostolical branch of Christ's holy Church, which as it is established in this our country, we call " the Church of England ;" persons who attend with regularity and devotion to her services, and have participated in the benefits of her Sacraments ; who may yet have no very clear idea either of the nature of that body which we call “the Church” in general, or of the peculiar circumstances and events which have led to the present position and constitution of that portion of it to which we belong.
To such persons it may not be unacceptable if we present them in these pages with a short account of “ the Church ;” of that institution which, previous to His return to the regions of His heavenly glory, our LORD bequeathed to the world, to be cherished and enjoyed as a precious legacy, until His coming again ; of that body which He framed for the reception of the first gifts of His ALMIGHTY SPIRIT, and for the transmission of those precious gifts from
age age, to the end of time. Such an account will naturally lead to a brief statement of the manner in which it has pleased
Providence to bless us, in this our own island, with a branch of that holy institution; and thus to have established, and to continue among us a body of men bearing a commission direct from Himself, to admit us into His fold by the waters of Baptism, and to nourish us in the same, not only with the pure word of His doctrine, but with the spiritual nourishment of His most blessed Body and Blood.
It would have been in vain that the two Sacraments had been instituted, had no persons, no set of men, been appointed to administer them. You cannot suppose that you or I, (for he who thus addresses you is a layman like yourselves, that is, has never received the ordination of a clergyman,) you cannot, I say, suppose that any one of us might, with no other authority than his own good pleasure, proceed to baptize, or to administer the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper. Such a proceeding would, it is evident, involve the highest degree of arrogance and impiety, and would be nothing short of mockery of that great and awful Being, of whose gifts these sacred ordinances are alike the appointed means and pledges.
And if, as men, simple members of Christ's Church, we have not this power, the next question to ask is, Who could give us this authority? If admitted into the great Christian congregation, if the promise, confirmed to us in Baptism, of the assistance of Christ's , Holy Spirit, cannot give it, is it to be supposed that any act emanating from men, from sinful creatures like ourselves, should be of force to convey it? Clearly not; no command of an earthly king, no ordinance of an earthly legislature, could invest us with power over the gifts of the Holy Ghost ; for such may we well term the power duly to administer the Sacraments which Christ has ordajned. No Act of Parliament, however binding the provisions of such Acts may be with regard to the temporal affairs of the nation, could make any one of us a Priest, or clothe us with one jot or one tittle of power over the things of the unseen world.
As little, surely, could popular election invest us with this power from on high. Men may express their readiness to receive the gifts of Heaven at our hands ; but is it not absurd that those who are to be the receivers from us of any boon whatsoever,
should themselves be the persons to supply us with the means of bestowing it ? It cannot be, then, that those to whom we are to administer the Sacraments should themselves confer upon us the power of their ministration.
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 Him 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
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 “ 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 baptised 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
1 “ Thi: 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. Matt. xxviii, 18, 19.
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 viji. There were thus two classes of guides and teachers to the Church of Christ, Apostles and Deacons ; the first bearing authority over the general flock 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.
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 they had entered, the Christian warfare which they had undertaken. 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
1 Acts xiii. 3.