Tracts for the Times
BY A LAYMAN.
I believe one Catholic and Apostolic Church. NIC. CREED.
THERE are many persons who have the happiness of being members of that pure and Apostolical branch of Christs 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 to 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 ad minister 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 Lords Supper. Such a proceeding would, it is evident, involve the highest degree of arrogance and impiety, and would be nothing short of a 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 Christs 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 Christs 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 ordained. 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 gave them the 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 baptized 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 necessary; a class, of thc 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 viii. 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 Christs 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, 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 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 away from the scene of their labours. It was necessary that the Apostles should appoint successors to themselves; persons to be armed with at least all that portion of their authority which did not depend on their miraculous powers, or extraordinary gifts of the Spirit; with neither of which was the power of ordination to any rank of the ministry necessarily connected. They felt this necessity, and they did appoint such persons; but from the altered condition of the Church, and the number of converts in each particular place, it became expedient, instead of giving to each person so appointed that species of general commission with which the Apostles themselves had commenced their labours, to fix the residence of each in some particular city, and to give him the peculiar superintendence of the Church therein, and in the districts adjoining. It was thus that St. Paul appointed Timothy to preside, as (what we now call) Bishop, over the Church at Ephesus; and Titus over that of Crete: and the Holy Spirit, by dictating to the Apostle those directions to them for the discharge of the duties of these offices which form the Epistles bearing their names, gave the fullest and most solemn ratification, not only to their individual appointment, but also to the establishment in perpetuity of the episcopal order in the Church.
Though this event in the history of the Church has been narrated as occurring subsequently to the appointment of the lower classes of ecclesiastical ministers, it must not be supposed that it was as after thought, or that the Apostles were not from the first aware that their office was to be perpetuated by succession. Our Lord ended the sentence in which He endued them with power to baptize, with the promise of His assistance in the discharge of their functions through all time: " Go," said He, "baptize all nations: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world:" a phrase which, as addressed to mortal men, must clearly have been understood as a promise of continual assistance to them and to their successors. We find, accordingly, that so far were they from understanding this gracious promise as applying solely to the individuals to whom the words were spoken, that one of their very first joint acts, when deprived of the presence of their Lord, was to select a person to be associated with themselves in the apostolic office, that the number originally named to the office by our Saviour might be complete. They did not, it is true, ordain him, in the manner afterwards adopted by the laying on of hands; for they referred the act of ordination to Almighty God by casting lots "whether of the twain" He would choose; and in the pouring out of the gifts of Pentecost upon the head of Matthias, as well as upon those of the eleven, the Spirit bore a testimony, which could hardly be misunderstood, to the will of the Almighty that the Apostles should from time to time, as it became necessary, nominate such associates in their general Apostolic toils and powers as they might select; associates on whom, as they themselves were gradually withdrawn from the world, the whole government of the Church, and the whole care of providing for its further continuance, must ultimately devolve.
The miraculous gifts and graces, which God in the first instance showered upon his Church, answered their purpose in giving it its first footing in the world; and, when no longer necessary for that purpose, were consequently withdrawn; but it should never be forgotten, that these, wonderful and striking as they must have been, were but secondary and subsidiary to those invisible spiritual gifts, which are the real fulfilment of Gods promise of constant aid to his Church. With regard to these latter, it was indeed necessary that they should be her portion through all ages; but the others derived in truth their chief value from the evidence which they bore to the evidence of these more precious boons; an evidence which, though immediately addressed to converts in the first ages, was intended to convince, not them alone, but all those to whom their report of these miraculous gifts should come, of the reality of Gods promises with regard to those gifts which were not palpable to earthly senses; of the truth of Christs saying, already quoted, that He would be with His Church even unto the end of the world; and of His declaration that the Comforter, whom He would send; would abide with that Church for ever.
What name was originally applied to the office borne by Timothy and Titus, of destined successors to the Apostles, is not very clear. There was perhaps at first no one name especially used to designate it. They may have sometimes been called Evangelists (see 2 Tim. iv. 5.); sometimes, from their bearing in some measure the character of heavenly messengers to mankind, the Angels of their respective Churches By this name, at least, the heads of the different Churches of Asia are addressed in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of the book of Revelations. Consecrated as they were by different Apostles in different parts of the world, some little time would necessarily elapse, before one general name would be applied by the whole Christian Church to the associates and successors of its first inspired governors.
Of the powers entrusted to these persons, a good idea may be formed from the study of the Epistles address to two of them. Timothy, it appears, had Apostolic authority to superintend and arrange the celebration of divine service, to prescribe the nature of prayers to be used therein, and to give general directions for the decent and orderly behaviour of the congregation. (See 1 Tim. ii.) copious instructions were given him as to the persons whom he should choose to ordain as Bishops (or Elder ) and Deacons, (chap. iii.) He had power to select among the Elders such as should rule, (ver. 17.) probably over different portions of his congregation; and to hear and decide upon any accusations brought against them in the discharge of their office, (ver. 19.) He was reminded by St. Paul to stir up the gift that was in him by the putting on of his hands, (2 Tim. i. 6.) and of the hands of the Presbytery; (1 Tim. iv. 14 ;) to ordain no man suddenly, (1 Tim. v. 22.) or without due examination into his character, but to commit the doctrine which he had learnt of St. Paul to faithful men, who should be able to teach others also. (2 Tim. ii. 2.)
Titus was left in Crete that he might set in order the things that were wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as St. Paul had appointed him. (Tit. i. 5.) He was taught what sort of characters befitted those whom he should make Bishops; he was to exhort and rebuke with all authority, and let no man despise him. (ii. 15.) He was to be the general instructor of his flock, and to have the power of expelling thence obstinate heretics. (iii. 10.) But it is unsatisfactory to quote particular passages: the whole of these three epistles should be seriously studied by those who wish to form a good general idea of the powers with which the Apostles, or rather the Holy Ghost, by their means, invested those who were to bear rule in the Church in times when they themselves should have gone to their reward.
Those times came.-St. John, the last of the glorious company of the Apostles, entered into his rest, and the Church found itself committed, under Heaven, entirely to the charge of the three established orders of its ministers. To each of these a specific title was now ascribed, and applied with greater exactness than before. The title "Bishop," which had at first been used indifferently with "Elder," became the exclusive property of the highest class of functionaries, the colleagues of Timothy and Titus. The word "Elder" served to designate the second, and from its Greek equivalent, "Presbuteros," we have formed our English word "Priest," by which "Elder" is now, in common use, superseded. The third class preserved its original and appropriate name of " Deacons."
Such, then, was the constitution of which the Church, when first deprived of outward supernatural aid, found herself possessed; the machinery at her disposal for the dispensation to mankind of those glorious gifts and privileges, which it was hers, and hers alone, to confer. As Priests or Deacons were required for the ministration of the Word and Sacraments to the different portions of her flock, the Bishops, in exercise of the heavenly gift confided to them, laid hands upon such individuals as they deemed suited to the charge, and as vacancies occurred among the Angels of the churches, the successors of the Apostles themselves, or as additions were required to their number, the existing members of the sacred band, consecrated new individuals to the participation of their privileges, or the candidates for the office being presented to the laity for their approval, or fit and proper persons being selected by themselves.
The gift conferred by their ordination was now no longer confirmed by outward ocular demonstration; but, while they reverently complied with all the particulars and forms of these holy rites, as established under the guidance of inspiration by their predecessors, they would have held it a most guilty instance of want of faith had they presumed to doubt the continued fulfilment of the Redeemers promise, or the continued abiding, with the Church which he had framed, of the Almighty Comforter.
Since the Apostolic age seventeen centuries have rolled away: exactly eighteen hundred years have elapsed since the delivery of Christs recorded promise; and, blessed be God, the Church is with us still. Amid all the political storms and vicissitudes, amid all the religious errors and corruptions which have chequered, during that long period, the worlds eventful history, a regular unbroken succession has preserved among us Ministers of God, whose authority to confer the gifts of His Spirit is derived originally from the laying on of the hands of the Apostles themselves. Many intermediate possessors of that authority have, it is true, intervened between them and these, their hallowed predecessors, but "the gifts of God are without repentance;" the same Spirit rules over the Church now who presided at the consecration of St. Paul, and the eighteen centuries that are past can have had no power to invalidate the promise of our God. Nor, even though we may admit that many of those who formed the connecting links of this holy chain were themselves unworthy of the high charge reposed in them, can this furnish us with any solid ground for doubting or denying their power to exercise that legitimate authority with which they were duly invested, of transmitting the sacred gift to worthier followers.
Ordination, or, as it is called in the case of Bishops, Consecration, though it does not precisely come within our definition of a sacrament, is nevertheless a rite partaking, in a high degree, of the sacramental character, and it is by reference to the proper sacraments that its nature can be most satisfactorily illustrated. And with respect to these, it would lead us into endless difficulties were we to admit that, when administered by a minister duly authorised according to the outward forms of the Church, either Baptism or the Lords Supper depended for its validity either on the moral and spiritual attainments of that minister, or on the frame of mind in which he might have received, at his ordination, the outward and visible sign of his authority. Did the Sacraments indeed rest on such circumstances as these for their efficacy in each case of their 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 duly 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 adr4itj as we do, the validity of sacraments administered by a Priest thus unworthily ordained, we can not 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 Gods blessing, established for ages in our island; a branch which, as already stated, we denominate the Church of England. Its officiating ministers are divided into the original orders of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, and 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 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 monarch, 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 Christs 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 Christs fold; a sin of which, surely, none can think lightly, who remembers the Saviours 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 Masters 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 no more.
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 toward 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 heavenly 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."
THE following are the words addressed respectively to Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, when their offices are conferred upon them by the laying on of hands.
TO A BISHOP.
"Receive the Holy Ghost, for the Office and Work of a Bishop in the Church of God, now committed unto Thee by the Imposition of our hands; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. And remember that thou stir up the grace of God which is given thee by this Imposition of our hands; for God hath not given us a Spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and soberness."
TO A PRIEST.
"Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful dispenser of the Word of God, and of His holy Sacraments; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
TO A DEACON.
"Take thou the authority to execute the Office of a Deacon in the Church of God committed unto thee; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
return to Project Canterbury