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and the head of all authority. And still he appointed ministers under him of different grades. He chose the twelve who were his constant attendants, and to whom he sometimes explained in private, doctrines which he taught the people only in parables. He also appointed the seventy. These were under his special and immediate
But when his time was drawing towards a close and his work was nearly finished, he fixed the great outlines of that spiritual community which was to include all his followers. After this solemn declaration, 66 as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, receive ye the Holy Ghost." This the church has viewed as the ordination of the apostles and two inferen ces flow from it of great importance. The first is as the authority derived from his Father included the right to ordain others; so this right of ordaining successors was conveyed to them. The second is--the Holy Ghost was given unto them, that is, the gift of office was bestowed; for until the day of Pentecost miraculous powers were not conterred. Still, to understand these things fully, we must, as in the former case, refer to the meaning annexed to them by the apostles, and the manner in which they carried them into effect. He then added, "whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them: and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." Before this, he told Peter, in allusion to his name, upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven." This power, whatever it was, was not confined to St. Peter, for it was afterwards conferred upon all the apostles. And we may well suppose that it was included
in the grant of authority given at the ordination.
To possess the keys of any community is expressive of the right of admission into that community; and to bind and loose, in Jewish phraseology, meant to decide upon acts, whether they were lawful or unlawful. And should it be contended, that from the authority conferred at ordination the apostles had any official right to forgive sins, it will plainly appear from their conduct that they laid claim to no such right. To govern the church, to admit members, to declare the terms of pardon, and to exclude offenders, was all they pretended to.
In the same solemn manner were the apostles commissioned that they had been ordained. "All power," said our blessed Lord, "is given unto me in heaven and in earth; go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world." In this short commission, there is a great deal included. In the first place, they were to convince the world that Jesus Christ was the Messiah-that he had atoned for the sins of men. They were then to explain the leading doctrines of the Christian religion, particularly repentance and faith, and their converts they were to place by baptism, under the authority, direction, and influence of God the Father, of God the Son, and of God the Holy Ghost. And having thus received them into the holy community of Christians, they were to instruct them more particularly in all the minute points of Christian doctrine, and by a salutary and spiritual discipline to bring them on, till they should attain that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” We come next to the institution of the
The sacrament of the Lord's supper
was instituted before the crucifixion. And from its reference to the Jews' passover, inasmuch as our Saviour was the Lamb of God-as he declared the bread and wine to be his body and blood, and required his followers to receive them in remembrance of him; we should suppose that the nature of this sacrament could hardly have been misunderstood.
The passover was instituted in memory of the Lord's passing by the houses of the Israelites, when he smote the first-born of the Egyptians. The sacrifice was a lamb without blemish, a male of the first year. The Christian passover is kept in memory of that sacrifice, which consisted of the Lamb of God, that once for all atoned for the sins of the world. And it would really seem that there was not the slightest ground for that tenet which has long held a prominent place in the creed of a large portion of the Christian world, that the bread and wine were actually the body and blood of our Lord. It might as well be contended that our Saviour was literally a lamb. The figures are both of the same kind, and both highly characteristick of the nature of eastern language.
Upon the part of those who receive this sacrament, it implies a renewal of their repentance, and their faith in the atonement and while these are the erms as they regard the recipients, the thing secured is a renewed application of that atonement for the pardon of their sins.
Baptism was not a new institution. The Jews baptized their proselytes, John baptized his penitents, and our Lord his followers. And he explicitly declared that the way to enter into his kingdom was by being born of water and of the Holy Spirit. The initiatory character of this sacrament then is unquestionable. And when it was com, manded that the apostles should baptize their converts in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, it must have meant, that
they were to be received into that holy community, which was designed by the Father, established by the Son, and preserved and sanctified by the Holy Ghost.
Thus far then did our divine Master fix the principal arrangements of his holy church, before he ascended into heaven. He ordained his apostles, and constituted them the governours of his church. He commissioned them to preach the gospel, and to administer the sacraments. But before they should enter upon this high and arduous work, in a world full of idolatry and of sin, he told them to wait in Jerusalem till they should receive power, "after that the Holy Ghost was come upon them."
Upon the day of Pentecost, this promise was literally fulfilled; and immediately the apostles began to execute their sacred commission. Under this commission then, and vested with spiritual powers, let us see how they proceeded; and first, with regard to the sacraments.
When St. Peter had made a powerful appeal to the Jews, and convinced a large number of them, that Jesus, whom they crucified, God had made both Lord and Christ, while their hearts were pricked with remorse, and they manifested the most anxious solicitude for their condition, he told them," repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." And this was uniformly the way pursued with all adults. A conviction that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, repentance of sin, and faith in the atonement, were always required before baptism. And when these requisites were found, it was never questioned, but that the baptized stood justified from their former sins, and placed under the gracious direction and influence of the Holy Spirit, For even independent of the declaration of St. Peter, no other meaning could be annexed to the expressions of the commission.
It is true, the Holy Ghost fell on Cornelius and his company before baptism. These were, no doubt, the extraordinary gifts, but still baptism was commanded and practised; and no man can baptize a person in the name of the Holy Ghost, without believing that such person is put under his gracious influence, and holy keeping.
But it has been supposed, that a difficulty arises in the case of those, who have been baptized in hypocrisy, professing a faith which they did not hold, and pretending to a repentance, which they had not effected. With regard to ministers, no difficulty exists, because they are never to baptize, with out a profession of faith and repentance. And in the case of hypocrisy at baptism, or a falling away after wards, the course is clear-they are to admonish them to repent and to pray to God for pardon. No instance, however, is recorded of a second bap tism, from which the inference seems to be clear, that they were vested with the privileges of the Christian covenant, although they were either not in a condition to apply these privileges, or afterwards abused them. And certainly, it is far from being the case, that a baptized sinner stands in the same situation with one who was never baptized. He is in the dreadful state of those unhappy persons to whom much has been given, and of whom much will be required; or of those to whom a valuable talent has been committed but they have kept it without improvement, and of course, they will be cast into outer darkness, where there will be weeping, and gnashing of teeth.
Nor can it be doubted, that the command to baptize all nations was understood to include infants, because the apostles baptized whole families. And in this construction, they were supported by the practice of the Jews, who circumcised infants--by our Lord's declaration, that of such is the kingdom of heaven-and by the con
sideration that infants are capable of receiving covenanted blessings and knowledge. Nor was it easy for the first Christians to fall into any material errour with regard to the benefits of baptism, while they were explicitly taught to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
When irregularities had crept in, particularly among the Corinthians, with regard to the sacrament of the Lord's supper, the apostle Paul referred them to the original institution of that ordinance by our Saviour himself; and taught them, that unless they viewed the bread and wine as symbols of the body and blood of Christ, and unless they received them in remembrance of him, the sacrament would only be to them a ground of condemnation.
To these, the apostles added another ordinance, not indeed of the high character of a sacrament, but still as a mean of grace, resting on apostolick institution, and highly calculated for spiritual edification; I mean, confirmation.
We now resume the Christian ministry, under the apostles. They first ordained deacons; and although the reason assigned for their appointment was to relieve the apostles from the care of the charities of the church, still the qualifications required, and the solemnity of their ordination indicated, that they were destined for higher purposes. That they should have been pious and honest men, was certainly right. But they were required to be full of the Holy Ghost, and of wisdom: and this surely implied higher gifts than were necessary for mere temporal concerns. Besides, the direction given by St. Paul to Timothy with regard to the qualifications and characters of deacons, fully show, that they were an order of the ministry; and if in that station they conducted themselves correctly, they would be raised to a higher grade. Still, however strong these considerations may be, the
matter does not rest here; for we find that Philip, one of the deacons, both preached and baptized, although he proceeded to no other ministerial act. They next ordained elders in every church. Now, the word translated to ordain, means to appoint to office by the laying on of hands. And this ac. companied by prayer and fasting, marks the solemnity and importance of the act. Such spiritual officers too being appointed in every church, implies that the charge of these churches was committed to them by the apostles.
Thus, then, we have three orders of ministers, apostles, elders, and deacons. And on this plan, the church of Jerusalem was constituted.
We might proceed in delineating the different duties assigned to these different orders; and to some other parts of the constitution of the Christian church. But the limits of a sermon will not admit that we should farther pursue the subject.
In addition to the inferences occasionally drawn from this view of the formation of the Christian church, we shall add two. The first is, there must be a regular succession in the Christian ministry. However much this point has been misunderstood, even in an age laying claim to high attainments, it is an attribute of every government, civil as well as ecclesiastical; nay, of every organized association. When a government is once formed, all things must proceed agreeably to its provisions. And under the government of the United States, a senator can no more appoint an ambassador, than under the government of the Christian church, a presbyter can ordain a minis ter. Authority of every description -rights of every kind, must remain wherever they have been lodged, while the constitution continues unchanged. Besides, it is of the Christian church that our Saviour is the head: it was to it that he promised his presence to the end of the world-it is
into that spiritual community that we are baptized, and over it the Holy Spirit shed his sanctifying influence, and not over any or every association formed by the wisdom or the caprice of
The next inference that we draw from this view of the formation of the Christian church is, that its constitution can never be changed, inasmuch as the Christian seems to be the last dispensation. It has been fixed by our Saviour, and by his apostles, whom the Holy Spirit led into all truth; and of course, it is not the offspring of human, but of divine wisdom.
To form a constitution for the civil government of a country, requires the highest exertions of human wisdom. And when these exertions are applied, even under the most favourable circumstances, still it is the work of cominon men, and by common men it may he modified or changed. But who would venture to modify or change a work of divine wisdom! Consequently, when we are asked, where is the command to continue this form of government, we may justly reply, that such a command was rendered unnecessary by the very nature of the thing. As well might we pretend to improve the doctrines of the gospel, as to change the constitution of the Christian church. It is too perfect for human wisdom to improve, and whenever this has been attempted, the result has been deformity and confusion.
The kingdom of God is not of this world. The church of Christ can exist, under all governments, and in every state of human society.
It is true, we make canons, andform rules for the regulation of our ecclesiastical concerns. But to borrow terms from civil affairs, the constitution of the church is the great Christian charter, and these canons are mere by-laws.
While this great plan of salvation manifests the goodness of God in the highest degree, the manner in which
it was displayed to the world, and has been preserved and applied, is also an illustrious proof of his tenderness and compassion to the sons of men. For the whole, originated in pure love, was conducted by divine wisdom, and stands fortified by divine power. And what was the object of all this? Not to excite wonder, or to show authority, but to save fallen man; to enlighten him by its doctrines to destroy the power of sin by its influence, and to reinstate man in the family of God.
"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.". And the establishment of the church, and the appointment of the ministry, were for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ."
With regard to us, my right reverend and reverend brethren, in what a responsible situation are we placed As men, we must feel terrified at the very thought of our being intrusted with such a dispensation! As ambassa-. dors for Christ, our sufficiency is of God. Our high commission, we must zealously and conscientiously execute. The duties of our office, we must faithfully discharge. And while we are engaged in the work of our divine Master, the man with all his little turbulent passions must disappear, and the minister of Jesus Christ, animated by his Spirit, must stand conspicuous. Then will our church continue to be a model and a light to the world; and thus shall we be the happy instruments of extending the kingdom of Christ; of fixing it permanently upon the ruins of that of satan, and of saving many a soul and when our ministry shall be ended, we shall receive a crown of glory.
To the Editor of the Gospel Advocate.
THE author of the letter in your last number, "on the nature and evidences of conversion," appears to me to have misapprehended the opinions of the great body of those who hold to the doctrine of sudden conversion. I do not indeed pretend to any extensive acquaintance with this subject as a controverted doctrine in theology. I can only say, that almost the whole of my life has been spent among those who believe conversion, as they understand the term, to be the immediate effect of the operations of the Holy Spirit; but I have never heard any one speak of it, as being such a change, as the author of the letter supposes, from a state of sin to entire holiness and perfect obedience. The mistake seems to have arisen from the circumstance that the same word is used in a very different sense by different classes of Christians. The author of the letter acknowledges, "that there may be instances in our day of persons being suddenly brought to see their wickedness, and to turn from it, yet without any miracle wrought for their reformation; such, for instance, as those who all their life long have lived in the practice of gross vices. Their repentance, however, is but the commencing-point of their reformation; they must still go on perfecting holiness in the fear of God."" Now this, I believe, is precisely what a great number of Christians in this country call conversion, or regeneration. They speak of conversion as the ing-point" of the Christian character,not its completion; and they would perfectly agree with the author of the letter in the necessity of persevering in the way of holiness. There may, perhaps, be some few enthusiasts, who believe that an entire change of heart is sometimes suddenly wrought from sin to perfect holiness; but if there are such, the number is small; and those who hold a very different doctrine, surely ought not to be confounded with them, mere