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ministration, who would there be of us, or of any Christian congregation, who could possibly say whether he had been baptized or not; or what preparation or self-examination could give to a penitent the confidence that he had truly partaken of the Body and Blood of Christ, were the reality of that partaking to depend upon something of which he had no knowledge, and over which he could exercise no control; upon the spiritual state not only of the officiating minister himself, but of every individual Bishop through whom that minister had received his authority, through the long lapse of eighteen hundred years ? He who receives unworthily, or in an improper state of mind, either ordination or consecration, may probably receive to his own soul no saving health from the hallowed rite; but while we admit, as we do, the validity of sacraments administered by a Priest thus unworthily ordained, we cannot consistently deny that of ordination, in any of its grades, when bestowed by a Bishop as unworthily consecrated.
The very question of worth indeed, with relation to such matters, is absurd. Who is worthy? Who is a fit and meet dispenser of the gifts of the Holy SPIRIT ? What are, after all, the petty differences between sinner and sinner, when viewed in relation to Him whose eyes are too pure to behold iniquity, and who charges His very angels with folly? And be it remembered that the Apostolic powers, if not transmitted through these, in some instances corrupt channels, had not been transmitted to our times at all. Unless then we acknowledge the reality of such transmission, we must admit that the Church which Christ founded is no longer to be found upon the earth, and that the promise of His protection, so far from being available to the end of the world, is forgotten and out of date already.
The unworthiness of man, then, cannot prevent the goodness of God from flowing in those channels in which He has destined it to flow; and the Christian congregations of the present day, who sit at the feet of Ministers duly ordained, have the same reason for reverencing in them the successors of the Apostles, as the primitive Churches of Ephesus and of Crete had for honouring in Timothy and in Titus the Apostolical authority of him who had appointed them.
A branch of this holy Catholic (or universal) Church has been, through God's blessing, established for ages in our island ; a branch which, as has been already stated, we denominate the Church of England. Its officiating ministers are divided into the three original orders of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, and into no other. In the exercise of that authority which is inherent in every society, of making salutary laws and regulations for its own guidance, it has been found expedient to vest in two of the principal members of the episcopal order in England a certain authority over the rest, and to style them Archbishops, but this is not by any means to be understood as constituting them another order in the Church. They are but, in strictness of language, the first and leading Bishops of our land.
The Priests and Deacons, (whom we usually class together under the common name of Clergymen,) who officiate in the Churches and Chapels of our Establishment, have each received ordination to the discharge of their holy office by the laying on of hands of a Bishop, assisted, in the case of Priests, by members already admitted into the presbytery or priesthood, as St. Paul was assisted in the ordination of Timothy. (iv. 14.)
And each Bishop of our Church has, at the hands of another Bishop, (himself similarly called to the office,) received in the most solemn manner the gift of the Holy Ghost, and that Apostolical power over the Church, for the support of which the Redeemer pledged Himself that His assistance should never be wanting to the end of time.
Wonderful indeed is the providence of God, which has so long preserved the unbroken line, and thus ordained that our Bishops should, even at this distance of time, stand before their flocks as the authorized successors of the Apostles ;-as armed with their power to confer spiritual gifts in the Church, and, in cases of necessity, to wield their awful weapon of rejection from the fold of Christ ;-as commissioned, like Titus, to bid, on heavenly authority, no man despise them, and to point to those who, as a class, as Bishops of the Church, do despise them, the solemn words, “ He that despiseth you, despiseth Me ; and he that despiseth “ Me, despiseth Him that sent Me."
The mode in which new candidates for the episcopal station have been presented to existing Bishops for consecration, has differed in different ages and countries. They have sometimes been chosen by the laity, sometimes selected by other Bishops, and sometimes by civil magistrates. In our own country the latter mode has for some centuries prevailed, and the King of England has presented to the Prelates of its Church persons for their approval and consecration.
As the King and Legislature were the pledged defenders of the purity and integrity of that Church, this was perhaps a mode as unobjectionable as any which could have been substituted for it, and it possessed the advantage of being free from the turmoil and party feeling which have always been generated by proceedings in the way of popular election.
The mode, however, in which this presentation is made is, after all, of minor importance, it being understood that it is upon the responsibility of the Bishop himself that the solemn rite at last takes place. No earthly authority can compel him to lay his hands upon what he may conceive an unworthy head, or can presume to dispense with his concurrence, and arrogantly assume to itself the power to confer the Holy Ghost. The solemn words in which the offices of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon, are respectively conferred, are annexed to these pages, and from their perusal it will be seen how impious it would be, in any one but the deputed minister of Heaven, to utter them over a fellow-mortal, or to conceive that he, whatever his earthly rank or station, could bestow, or even aid in bestowing, the gifts imparted thereby.
Many ages ago the civil rulers of our country recognised the principle that a Christian nation should, as such, consider itself a branch of the Apostolical Church of Christ; they therefore acknowledged, and gave temporal dignity, and a voice in the general councils of the state to her ministers; privileges which they to the present day enjoy. And the Church, on her part, the above principle having been adopted by the State, acknowledged the head of that State, the King, to be her temporal head ; investing him with that general supremacy in ecclesiastical affairs, which he already possessed in civil. But we are not thence to infer that she gave, or that she could give, to an earthly mona
onarch, or to his temporal legislature, the right to interfere with things spiritual, with her Doctrines, with her Liturgy, with the ministration of her Sacraments, or with the positions, relative to each other, of her Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.
When corruptions, prevalent among the professedly Christian world, render it necessary for her to state the substance of her faith in articles, (as was done in A.D. 1562,) or when circumstances appear to require any change or variation either in the forms of her Liturgy, or in her general internal government, the King has the constitutional power of summoning the houses of convocation, a sort of ecclesiastical parliament composed of Bishops or Clergy, from which alone such changes can fitly or legally emanate.
Such are the circumstances under which a branch of Christ's Church is domiciled among us, and claims over us, while acting according to His SPIRIT, the delegated authority of her Founder. She makes no pretensions to that immediate inspiration of the Spirit which, by positively securing her ministers from error, would clothe her decisions with absolute infallibility. She puts the Bible into the hand of every member of her communion, and calls upon him to believe nothing as necessary to salvation which shall not appear, upon mature examination, to be set down therein, or at least to be capable of being proved thereby; but showing, at the same time, her authority as its appointed interpreter, she cautions him not rashly, or without having fully weighed the subject, to dissent from her expositions, the results of the accumulated learning and labour of centuries. She warns him not, without cause, to run the risk of incurring the fearful sin of schism, or unnecessary separation from, and violation of the unity of Christ's fold; a sin of which, surely, none can think lightly, who remembers the Saviour's affecting and repeated prayer, (see John xvii.) that His followers might be one, even as He and His AlMIGHTY FATHER were one. She bids him in that Bible itself read her credentials; she there exhibits, in the recorded indications of her Lord and Master's will, the rock on which she is built; the foundation which, whatever changes may convulse the globe
around it, is to abide unmoved and immoveable, till time shall be
The duties which our knowledge of these things, Brethren of the Laity, makes incumbent upon us, are almost too clear to need recapitulation. Filial love and affectionate reverence towards the collective Church, and toward those, her Pastors and Masters, who are set in spiritual authority over us; a zeal for the inculcation of her pure doctrine and the extension of her beavenly fold; a determination in evil report and in good report to stand by her, and to approve ourselves her faithful members and children ; these, and such feelings as these, are, by our bond of communion with her, peremptorily required of us; these let us make it the business of our lives to cultivate and comply with; and if tempted, as any one of us may be, hastily and needlessly to forsake her hallowed pale, let us reply to the temptation by addressing her in words somewhat similar to those of Peter to his Divine Master, “ To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life; " and we believe and are sure that Thou art the" Minister and Representative of " CHRIST, the Son of the living God."