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this authority was to be transmitted in the church alway, even to the end of the world.”
Whether the priesthood vested with these high and spiritual powers was to subsist under only one order, or under several orders, with powers in some respects distinct and appropriate, is a question which the practice of the apostles, who were appointed by Christ to constitute the church, must determine. That the apostles ordained elders and deacons in the different churches, and vested them with certain ministerial powers, will readily be admitted. And that there was an order constituted superior to these, with the exclusive power of ordaining to the ministry, is a fact equally undeniable. In Ephesus certainly, and most probably in Crete, elders were at an early period appointed, (Acts xx.17, 28.) Afterwards Paul commissioned Timothy and Titus, and sent them to those places, for the express purpose of ordaining elders in every city, (1 Tim. v. 22. Titus i. 5.) Was not this commission an absurd and useless one, if the elders in those places possessed the power of ordination ?
of ordination ? Even allowing that the concurrence of the elders was necessary in ordaining to the ministry, and governing the church, the commission given to Timothy and Titus certainly proves that the supreme power was vested in them; and that without them power in the church could not be legitimately exercised. That the priesthood, therefore, was constituted under three orders; and that to the first order belonged
power of ordaining to the ministry, and of thus perpetuating the priesthood through all ages of the church, are facts established by the testimony of Scripture. That these orders are not now distinguished by the same names by which they were designated during the age of the apostles; that the name of bishop, now applied to the first order, is frequently, in the sacred writings, applied to the second order, are points unworthy of a moment's attention in this important inquiry. By the clear evidence of Scripture fact, the division of the Christian ministry into three orders; the appropriation of the power of ordination to the first order, thus constituted the only legitimate channel of conveying the divine commission necessary to the exercise of the ministry, may be satisfactorily proved. The changes which may have taken place in the names by which these orders have been designated, cannot affect the distinction of office and power among them.
But if it should be conceived, that the Scripture testimony on this important subject is in any respect dubious, where may we seek for satisfactory light and information ? Certainly in the faith and practice of the primitive church. These, unquestionably, afford the clearest and best light by which to elucidate and establish the meaning of Scripture in parts which admit of doubt and controversy. Founded, as the primitive church was, by the inspired apostles; and having access, as its venerable fathers had, to the source of divine truth and knowledge; it is scarcely possible that we can err, if we take its universal faith and usage as the standard by which to interpret the sacred writings. To trust, indeed, to the single testimony of any one father of the church, or to embrace his speculative opinions or interpretations of Scripture, would be indiscreetly to take as our guides, imperfect and fallible men. But though liable to error in judgment, the primitive fathers must be revered as men of exalted piety and integrity. As witnesses to matters of fact, to the doctrines which were universally received, and to the usages which universally prevailed in the church, their testimony is invaluable; and in all controverted points, should be decisive. Whenever we find the primitive fathers concur in testifying that any doctrine or usage was universally received in the church as of divine authority and institution—to doubt or reject their testimony would be at once to relinquish the very foundations of the Christian faith. For their testimony is necessary to establish the canon of Scripture; to prove that the books which we now receive as inspired books, were revered and received as such in the apostolic and primitive age.
To the first writers of the church, therefore, we may safely recur for information in regard to its constitution, and the orders of the ministry. As these were matters of fact, it is not possible that the primitive fathers could err in regard to them: and since they were men of
undoubted piety and integrity, they would not attempt to deceive. It may confidently be asserted, that their testimony is not more clear and decisive, in regard to the genuineness and authenticity of the books of the sacred volume, than in regard to the facts—that the ministry was instituted by Christ and his apostles, under three distinct and subordinate orders; that these orders, retaining uniformly the same distinct ecclesiastical authority, were first styled apostles-bishops, presbyters or elders—and deacons; and afterwards bishops-presbyters, priests or elders and deacons; that no one could lawfully exercise the ministry, unless ordained by a bishop; and that, through the order of bishops, as successors to the apostles, the priesthood was to be perpetuated, and all power to be derived from Christ, the supreme Head of the church.
It is conceded by those who, within these few last centuries, have advanced the novel opinion of the original parity of the orders of the ministry, that bishops were universally considered in the fourth century as superior to presbyters and deacons. It is unfortunate for them, when they maintain that the supremacy of bishops was an innovation on the apostolic constitution of the church, that no vestiges can be traced of a revolution which must have shaken the foundations of the church; that no record can be found of this daring usurpation of authority, by a few ambitious presbyters, over the rest of their brethren;
and that there are scarcely any two of those who assert this usurpation, who agree as to the time when it took place. Is not the conclusion irresistible and irrefragable, that if the church universal, from the third to the sixteenth century, was governed by bishops, as superior to presbyters and deacons--and if no period can be ascertained when this
government was introduced into the church, it must be traced to apostolic institution, and of course rest on divine authority ?*
This discussion is of the highest importance to him who is preparing to receive the holy eucharist. For the important truth results from it, that none can possess authority to administer the sacraments but those who have received a commission from the bishops of the church. It must be essential, therefore, to the efficacy of the Lord's supper, as a means and pledge of divine grace, that it be administered by those who have received lawful authority to administer it.
To this statement, which makes the blessings of the Gospel to depend on communion with the church, by the participation of its ordinances, administered by duly authorized ministers, the objection may be opposed, that it is narrowing the path of salvation. But if a solicitude be commendable to prevent the path of salvation from being unduly narrowed and confined, the solicitude to prevent it from being made more wide and easy than God has made
* See note A at the end of the volume.