COUNTY, N. Y. ON THE FESTIVAL OF THE
ASCENSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST,
THURSDAY MAY 9th, 1839
WESTERN NEW-YORK; AND PROFESSOR OF THE NATURE, MINISTRY,
AND POLITY OF THE CHURCH, IN THE GENERAL THEOLOGICAL
SEMINARY OF THE PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL
CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES.
 To the Right Reverend WILLIAM HEATHCOTE DE LANCEY, D. D., Bishop of the Diocese of Western New York, and to the beloved clergy and people of his charge, the author affectionately dedicates this discourse.
Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the Churches.--2 CORINTHIANS xi. 28.
St. Paul is warning his Corinthian brethren against the false teachers, who, with a specious appearance of sanctity and zeal, were endeavouring to subvert the faith of those about them. These hypocritical pretenders maintained their influence among the people by constantly sounding their own praise, and magnifying the power of their assumed ministry. St. Paul has reluctant recourse to meeting their vanity in a way which, however just in itself, was rendered unpleasant to him by its apparent opposition to the Christian meekness and humility that distinguished him. As there was danger, however, that the mass of the people might be imposed upon by the proud boasting of his enemies, he thought it proper to convince them that on the ground of labour and suffering for their sakes, his claim to their confidence and affection was far superior to that of the false teachers. He accordingly speaks of his not having urged his right to the support that was due him as a minister of religion; and yet of the fidelity and perseverance with which he devoted himself to their spiritual interests. He reminds them of the dangers and persecutions through which he had passed, the hunger, thirst, and weariness that he had endured, and the relentless malice of open enemies, and the galling cruelty of faithless friends, which he had suffered; and then concludes in the words of the text, "Besides those things that are without"--besides these external labours and sufferings,--"that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches,"--the constant labour, solicitude, and anxiety, connected with the office which I hold in the Church of Christ.
The expression, "that which cometh upon me," possesses, in the original, the greatest possible force. It contains the idea of being beset [3/4] or encountered as by an overwhelming host, and therefore indicates the magnitude and pressure of the Apostle's labours, cares, and anxieties.
The character of the holy apostles presents a most interesting subject of reflection under three heads: the first arising out of their office generally as ambassadors of God; the second out of their more particular function as the highest order of the ministry; and the third out of the peculiar circumstance of their having been the first sent to brave the prejudices and passions of a wicked world, and preach the religion of the cross.
To the sufferings and persecutions which they endured, they were peculiarly exposed by their sustaining the last of these characters, and engaging so faithfully, under its special disadvantages, in their high and holy duties as ministers of Christ. "The care of all the Churches," with the mention of which St. Paul closes the account of his labours, sufferings, and anxieties, came upon him by virtue of his station as a member of the highest order of the ministry.
In their general office, the apostles were the first of a body of men which, as the christian ministry, has been handed down to our day, and is to continue, by uninterrupted succession, unto the end of the world. As members of the highest order of the ministry, they held a station clothed with dignity and power superior to those connected with two lower orders, and which was to remain permanently in the Church, with its original distinction, and to constitute the particular channel through which was to flow the authority, conferred on them immediately by Christ himself, to impart the ministerial office.
This is the sum of the catholic doctrine respecting the Apostolic office, and its succession to the end of the world. In certain duties and prerogatives of that office, considered generally as of the Christian ministry, all christian ministers succeed to it; but in precedence of station, supremacy in government, and especially the power of transmitting the ministerial succession, it is held solely by the highest order of the ministry.
This doctrine has proof of its divinity in Holy Scripture and primitive catholic reception.
Besides the original twelve, there were seventy commissioned by our Lord to preach his gospel. These, however, were obviously placed in inferiority to the Apostles; and especially were not included with them in the plenary commission which Christ gave to them [4/5] as he had received it from the Father, and which contained the blessed promise, recognising and securing their continuance through and in successors, to the world's end,--that he would be with them even unto that consummation. In all the ordinations recorded in Scripture, in which the agents are mentioned, they were apostles only, although the seventy, and subsequently the seven deacons, and other elders and deacons were also vested with ministerial powers. In two passages in St. Paul's Epistles to Timothy, in which he may appear to a superficial reader to advocate both this doctrine, and that which extends the right of ordination to every minister, there is a marked difference between them having a very important bearing on their true import. "Neglect not," he says to Timothy, "the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery." [* I Tim. 4:14] The original word here properly translated "with," denotes mere assent or agreement. "Stir up the gift of God," he says to him in another place, "which is in thee by the putting on of my hands." [* 2 Tim. 1:6] Here the original word rendered "by" denotes a cause or efficient operation. Timothy, then, received the gift of his office by the laying on of St. Paul's hands. He put him into that office; however the solemnity may have been attended with the laying on of the hands of others in certification of their consent to the act.
When St. Paul addressed the elders of the Ephesian Church, [* Acts 20:17-35] he said not a word of the just exercise of discipline, or of care in admitting persons into the ministry; but simply exhorted them as pastors of their respective flocks. But when he wrote to Timothy, one of the ministers of that city, he reminded him that he left him there as a special overseer; gave him directions for the choice of suitable persons to fill the offices of elders and deacons; and particularly exhorted him to "lay hands suddenly on no man."
In all the details of the duties of elders, nothing is said of that most important ministerial act, imparting the ministerial commission. Yet, in addition to the case of Timothy, Titus was told that he was "left in Crete" to "set in order the things that" were "wanting, and ordain elders in every city;" [* Titus 1:5] and was particularly directed as to the proper qualifications of those whom he should ordain.
The angels of the churches mentioned in the Revelation were evidently [5/6] ministers of those churches, sustaining, each to his respective Church, a connection vesting him with such an influence, such a power, and such a responsibility, as that the character of that Church was mainly owing to him; so that he received commendation for what in it was praiseworthy, and he the blame, reproof, and threatening, which were due for its departures from the right way. And yet no one will contend that there were not more than a single pastor in each of these churches. Their pastors were numerous; but in each, one is addressed as its representative, and its responsible officer. This one, then, must have filled a station to which both pastors and people owed allegiance, and which thus enabled him to exert over them a controlling influence.
This is a brief view of the Scripture ground for the catholic doctrine that the power of general superintendence in the Church of God, and especially of admitting men into the divine ministry, was not given by our Lord and his Apostles to Ministers generally, but to a chief order among them, in which, in the fullest sense, the apostolic succession was to be transmitted to the end of the world.
Corroborative of this claim to Scripture authority, is evidence drawn from the primitive records of the church. This evidence, usually denominated tradition, is far from being adduced as comprising a separate and independent rule of faith. This unchristian abuse of it by a large and influential body of Christians has excited against it, in the minds of others, a prejudice decidedly unfavourable to a rational and enlightened study of Holy Scripture, and investigation of religious truth.
Every well informed christian who has a just and enlightened appreciation of the great protestant principle that religious truth is to be ascertained by a careful examination of Scripture, and embraced as the result of intelligent conviction, must be aware that from the peculiar structure which God has been pleased to give to His revealed word, and from the necessity, in the dispensations of His wise and good providence, of its being brought to the knowledge of the great body of Christians, only through translations of man's effecting, and therefore sharing the imperfection unavoidable in every thing human, there must be much of study and diligent and careful inquiry, in order to the full understanding and due appreciation of its invaluable contents. The present occasion does not call for a studied irradiation of this interesting particular in the ordering of God's ways to man. It [6/7] may, however, be remarked, in passing, that it is in gracious accordance with the design, wise in itself, and fraught with enjoyment and happiness of the highest order to our race, of having our religion an intelligent one, a principle calling into action all the best powers of our nature--a homage paid by human intellect to the sovereignty of Divine wisdom, right, and mercy--an offering, in gratitude, meekness, and devotion, to their great Author, of the very best properties with which He has endowed our nature.
In prosecution of the high and momentous duties thus devolving upon us, we need to bring to our study and investigation of God's holy book, such rules of interpreting and understanding it, as will aid us in the momentous enterprise, and secure for the decisions to which it may lead us, the reasonable assurance of their being enlightened and correct.
Among the most valuable and important of such rules ranks tradition, or the light thrown on our inquiries by primitive catholic principles and usages.
It is a moral certainty, which a truly reasonable mind can hardly fail to admit as a safe postulate, that while the Apostles lived, and while they lived whom the Apostles deemed meet to be admitted to government and ministration in the Church of God, yes, and while yet the memory and influence of their personal services yet lingered among christians--especially considering that the outward state of the Church was then such as to give it sad but wholesome experience of the purifying influence of the fires of affliction and of persecution--no general or even extensive departure from the primitive model of faith, order, and duty, in important matters, can be thought probable, or hardly possible.
I have said that this is a principle which a truly reasonable mind can hardly fail to admit as a safe postulate. I may go farther, and say that it is a principle admitted and acted on by christians generally. When the duty of dedicating children to Christ in baptism is questioned on the ground of there not being a positive precept in the New Testament, requiring it, what friend to that delightful, comfortable, and highly useful doctrine, hesitates to assume, as ground of the strongest and most enlightened confidence in its Divine truth, that the fair inferences in its favour drawn from holy writ amount to positive proof, when it is found that the Church universal, when it must have best known the will of Christ and His Apostles received the doctrine, [7/8] and uniformly and devoutly acted upon it? What friend, too, to the application to the first day of the week of Heaven's high behest for the sanctification of the seventh of our time, will hesitate to look through the medium of well established primitive catholic observance, on the incidental notices which the New Testament affords of the hallowing of that day, and thence conscientiously to regard it as, therefore, claiming to be viewed as a divine ordinance? Nay: even in the great fundamental mystery of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the mightiest champions who have entered the lists with plausible and presumptuous opposers, when they have demolished all the objections furnished by cavils, called criticisms on the sacred text, so boldly marshalled against the truth of God, have not failed to confirm their victory by an exhibition of the strong and varied evidence afforded by ancient history that that cardinal truth was held in all its fulness as an essential article of faith, made fundamental in all provisions for worship, and incorporated with the holiest affections of evangelical devotion, at a time when Christians must have known whether it was true or false.
This mode of argument, thus general among the friends of evangelical truth, is founded on the obvious principle that in matters of importance, it is morally impossible that the great body of Christians, in the first ages of the Church, should have erred from that system of evangelical truth, order, and duty, which Christ and His Apostles established and approved. We do not thus set up an authority to establish right, and enforce its observance; but we do see in it one of the fairest rules for the due understanding of the sense of Scripture, where there may appear uncertainty or ambiguity in its letter.
The application of the same rule, also, it ought in justice to be remarked, very materially aids the enlightened protestant in detecting and exposing the errors of the Church of Rome. He sees no occasion for joining in the unreasonable, not to say ungodly, desire to repudiate tradition as such. He is thankful to God for the holy, interesting, and satisfactory light which He, in mercy, has thus caused to shine on the path of christian faith and duty; and gratefully using, would devoutly guard against the abuse, of this as of every other blessing. He places it not in the stead of the revealed word, neither does he raise it to an equality with it. Such procedures he knows full well are in unchristian opposition to the fundamental gospel principle of the sufficiency of Scripture for man's guidance in all that concerns his [8/9] right believing, and his conforming to the holiness and virtue of the evangelical system. But, as before observed, he receives this light as a guide which the Divine Inspirer has graciously provided in the studies, investigations, and meditations consecrated to the ascertaining of the true meaning of what He has caused to be written for our learning; humbly supplicating on that, as on every other means of attaining to a correct knowledge of holy writ, that heavenly blessing without which all means are valueless.
Thus, honestly protesting against the Romish error of regarding tradition as a rule of faith, he adheres, nevertheless, to the great catholic principle of reverencing and studying it as leading to a correct understanding of that only admissible rule of faith which is provided for us in Holy Scripture. He is aware, also, that tradition, being not, like Scripture, a rule direct from God, given with infallible correctness, and preserved by the merciful and powerful constant overruling of His providence and grace, is itself to have exercised upon it an enlightened judgment, and due christian discrimination. It commends not, as therefore entitled to our acquiescence and adoption, every point on which it sheds its light; but only those in which it proves the general acquiescence of the Church, under circumstances evincing moral certainty that the church generally could not be justly suspected of being in error. The rule, too, thus qualified, is of more or less weight of controlling authority, according to the degree of importance, in reference to the Divine economy revealed in Scripture, of the points on which it is brought to bear.
In accordance with these principles, we regard tradition as valuable in proportion to its antiquity. We object to the Romish expedient of drawing it from the testimony of all who have borne the name of fathers, or the decision of all the synods and councils that may have ever met, however extensively the Church may have therein been represented. We look with especial reverence to what was universally held as of God in the first three centuries of the Church; because then, christianity not being the religion of the empire, christians had no temporal purposes to be answered by indifference or opposition to the truth; but on the contrary, its frequent, long, and sore exposures to persecution called on its ministers and members to cling to the purity of their Master's cause, and thus enjoy that support and comfort in their trials which the testimony of a good conscience only can afford. For a large part of this period also, there were those living who had [9/10] received the truth from inspired Apostles themselves, or from those who had been brought up at the Apostles' feet, and approved by them, had received, by the imposition of their hands, the precious gift of a right to feed and guide and rule the Church of Christ.
But as length is added to the line of time which connects a present generation with that which enjoyed such precious privileges, and such distinguished advantages for knowing, keeping, and safely and purely transmitting, the truth, our confidence in tradition weakens. When religious profession and state policy were blended, and christians had civil purposes to answer by adhering to, or departing from the integrity of evangelical requirement in faith and practice; and when the patronage which gave worldly security, support, and favour, to the church and its ministers, was quite as likely to reward talent which was characterized by learned and ingenious speculations, as that which was consecrated, in humility and piety, to the pure and simple, yet august and holy and mysterious truths of the everlasting gospel; and maintain religious services with a chief view to the preservation and strengthening of civil power, and of the dignity of the state; sound reason bids us look with still greater caution to even the boldest conclusions of authorized theological expounders, and the most pointed, and most pointedly sanctioned, decisions of ecclesiastical councils. And especially, when a new element, claiming to be of God, was introduced, not merely into the polity of His Church, but also into the articles of its faith, required to be received under pain, of everlasting damnation; whereby, with claim of infallibility, a throne was erected in the midst of Christendom, and one was set thereon, claiming to be the vicar and representative of Christ himself in His capacity as Head over all things to the church; this we regard as fatal to all claim to reverence of tradition moulded under such unchristian auspices. And the conclusion thus brought in by sound reason, and enlightened christian views, is greatly strengthened, when we see such enormities producing their natural effect, and severing--God grant it may not be forever!--the unity which thus far had kept the christian body, in a good degree one; thus setting up council against council, decision against decision, and arming them with threatenings and with curses disgraceful to the christian name.
Such reflections lead us to receive tradition in the exercise of sound christian discrimination. Affectionately desirous to do what we may to heal the existing unfortunate differences among professed followers of the same Saviour; where there appears to be an honest difference [10/11] of opinion respecting the true meaning of portions of Scripture having a bearing on any important point on which we differ, we invite to a mutual application of a rule derived from what we think will not be denied to be the true principle, that they who lived in, or nearest to the Apostles' times must be supposed to have had the best means of rightly understanding the holy oracles; and that, therefore, what they generally received, and especially what they incorporated into the Catholic Christian system, must be regarded as furnishing the best and truest light in which to view the parts of Scripture having a bearing on the points concerned. Come with us, then, brethren, we say, and let us see what Clement, whose name St. Paul declares is written in the Book of Life, and Polycarp, and Ignatius, and Irenaeus, who had the confidence and love of those whom the Saviour put into the Apostolic office, and Justin, the early martyr in the cause of Christ, and men like them, believed to be the truth of God on the points which unhappily divide us. We say to those of Rome, show us in the testimonies of these men any evidence of the Catholicity of your doctrines of papal supremacy, transubstantiation, communion in one kind, the merit of works, purgatory, invocation of saints and angels. They cannot, and knowing that they cannot, they bring down the tradition to which they presume to give the dignity of a divine infallible rule to times far removed from primitive antiquity, and obtrude it under all the deteriorating and degrading influences produced by circumstances most unfavourable both to an enlightened knowledge, and a devout and holy appreciation, of the truth; and then fasten, for the tradition in which they confide, on that portion of it which is thus deprived of all claim to christian confidence. Surely there is clear evidence in this procedure, that the Church of Rome has placed herself in decided opposition to the Catholic Church.
We invite our fellow Protestants, too, to join with us in this most promising effort to arrive at christian unity; and to our great joy, we have herein the valued companionship of many who are associated under names different from that which distinguishes our communion. On the before mentioned important points of infant baptism, and the hallowing of the first day of the week, and for confirmation strong of faith in the Holy Trinity, they unite with us in seeking, and rejoice with us in finding, the testimony afforded in their favour by the Catholic principles of the Church in the days of her primitive unity and purity; because they reverently receive that testimony, as we do, as the fairest [11/12] indication of the true meaning of those Scriptures which have a bearing on the points concerned. But why will they not still go with us? Why should we not take sweet counsel together, and inquire of our fathers who were before us, how they considered and received the ordinances which our common Master and His inspired apostles set forth for the regulation of His church, and the extending and securing to men of its spiritual and eternal blessings? Why, on this point, should they endeavour to bring discredit upon the testimony which, in other matters, they so much and justly value? The latter expedient certainly involves a concession in favour of our claim to the true bearing of that testimony; and the indifference connected with the former, results, it is to be feared, from a very prevalent mistaken view of the real character and bearing of the great subject now contemplated, and the introduction of which, in a former part of this discourse, led to this long digression.
The question of the organization of the christian ministry is, by many, most erroneously supposed to be one connected with the mere circumstantials of religion, a question of only an external bearing, but little, and very remotely, if at all, connected with the inward and spiritual part of our holy faith. This is built on the supposition that it has to do but with the government of the Church, a point, they say, of by no means essential importance, which may vary without any infringement of the gospel, and which it were better, indeed, should be so moulded as to be most likely, by giving satisfaction to the parties to be affected by it, to promote among them good order and efficient action. And hence the ground, not unfrequently taken, that to have various communions, under various organizations, provided they agree in the great essentials, is best, inasmuch as they are calculated to give satisfaction to a greater number, and secure a wholesome emulation. The result of all is the idea that Church government, being in its own nature variable, and a mere appendage to the gospel, which may and should be modelled to meet the varied circumstances in which christians may be placed, there is no great importance in inquiring into early testimony on the subject, and the time given to it had better be employed in more important matters.
It should be observed, however, that the government of the Church is far from being foremost in our minds, when we direct their inquiries to the great question of the scriptural and apostolic constitution of the ministry. Not but that it is a subject to which we ought to give the [12/13] most pious and reverent consideration. If it is so, that Christ and his apostles left the Church provided with a government such as they saw to be the best and most fitting, and no where gave liberty to alter it, the ground that it may in all things, be modelled to meet emergencies, and suit prejudices, tastes, and feelings, surely involves a most serious responsibility. A judicious mind, too, paying due regard to the warning voice of history, and taking due note of extensive results now developing throughout the Christian world, will ask, with the most serious earnestness--I had almost said with the most serious sadness--what, in unity and purity of faith, in the practical exhibition of the piety of the gospel, in the decency and order of religion, and in christian meekness and concord, has been gained by the loose views of church polity, which regard it as a very inferior concern, much attention to which savours of coldness and formality in religion, and which Christians may and should so model as they may deem to be most conducive to the interests of the evangelical cause.
At present, however, I enter not into this department of the subject. I have now to do with one of infinitely greater moment. There is a question anterior to any connected with the mere government and polity of the Church. It is the being of the Church with the essential elements which Christ connected with it.
Spiritual as the Church obviously is in its nature and its designs, it is equally obvious that it has been made visible and tangible, in gracious condescension to the ruined bodily and spiritual nature of the favoured beings whom it is designed to bless with the exalted blessings of which it is the divinely appointed medium and channel.
Chief among those essential elements which Christ has incorporated with His Church in this its visible and tangible character, are obviously its sacraments--that by which men are brought into this holy body, and that by which they are to make a solemn commemoration of the great atonement which lies at the foundation of the whole christian scheme; and seek its great and precious blessings. And in connection with these leading provisions for the Church, there are appointed to be found therein other services and ordinances as mediums of communion between God and us, and holy instructions in the way that leadeth into life.
A question obviously connected with the most genuine principles and affections of evangelical devotion, is, whether God has been pleased to make any standing provision for extending to men, in all ages, the benefits [13/14] of the sacraments, services, and instructions of the Church. If not, one of three conclusions must follow--either that no provision at all has been made; or that the original provision was left to be altered by man as he might see fit; or that rules are given whereby such provision may be changed from time to time, as circumstances may require.
On the first supposition, it would follow that every human being is authorized, without special divine designation, to minister in the christian sacraments, ordinances, and instructions; in other words, that no ordination or setting apart to the ministry is necessary.
The second and third suppositions clearly imply either an express warrant in the word of God, for man to alter the original divinely constituted order, as he may deem necessary; or certain revealed rules whereby alterations are, from time to time, to be made. And these are points of fact easily brought to the test of the inspired page; and when such warrant, or such rules, are assumed to be found therein, it will be time enough to enter on the consideration of them.
The position that no ordination whatever is necessary to give a right to minister in holy things, it is not now intended to combat, except so far as this may incidentally be done by the exhibition of a few principles on the subject, designed to detect the inconsistency of not maintaining this position, and yet regarding discussion touching various modes of ordination, as giving too much prominence to a question of mere unessential form, comparatively beneath the notice of the christian who has grace duly to appreciate the pure spirituality of the gospel.
The ministry of Christ evidently supposes a commission from him. This commission can be given only in two ways,--either directly from Him, or indirectly, through the medium of those to whom he has given power to act for him, in imparting the commission.
An immediate direct commission, since the great event which, as on this day, separated from the earth the personal visible presence of the Redeemer, can be given only by a supernatural act on his part, as it was given to Saul of Tarsus; and of this, of course, no man's own unsupported testimony can be received. We cannot suppose that the gracious Head of the Church would adopt such a method of commissioning His ministers, without guarding that Church from the delusion or imposition which might lead to the unreal, however plausible, profession of such commission; either by so ordering His providential dispensations as that there shall be credible witnesses of His act, or by [14/15] allowing to him who professes to have been its subject, the proof of the validity of his claim afforded by the exercise of miraculous power. The latter species of evidence, also, is the only satisfactory security against imposition or delusion, flowing from the mournful extent of infamous hypocrisy, and of crazed mental obliquity, to which our poor nature is exposed to being brought in bondage, which we can suppose to attend the imparting of an inward spiritual call, designed to be itself a sufficient commission to the ministry.
For the continuance of the christian ministry, therefore, we must look to the indirect and intermediate action of the Divine Source of authority; that is, to His action through the medium of appointed representatives. These are obviously, either, first, the members of the church at large, acting each for himself, or according to some appointed system of concert and representation; or secondly, the ministry in general, each minister also acting for himself, or the body aggregate acting through the medium of appointed smaller bodies representative; or thirdly, a distinct order of the ministry, specially invested with peculiar power to this effect.
The scriptural references given in a former part of the discourse go to the illustration of this matter; and I think I may say, clearly show that the last, and neither of the first two of those positions is the true one; that is, that neither the members of the Church at large, nor its ministry at large, but only a particular and superior order of the ministry, has power given it by Christ to act for him in the great work of imparting the ministerial commission.
Time will not now admit of a consideration, in detail, of the bearing on Scripture, in reference to this subject, of the rule of interpretation above noticed, derived from the Catholic testimony of the primitive Church. A leading object for which the subject has been introduced will be answered, if God will be graciously pleased so to bless it as to make it instrumental in effectually commending to my Reverend brethren present, a faithful, diligent, and serious study of what records yet remain of the principles, and of the usages founded on principle, which had Catholic sanction in the primitive Church; accompanied with humble faithful prayer that they may thereby be led to the true understanding of Holy Scripture, and to the imbibing of those principles and affections of the gospel, the cherishing and practical influence of which adorned the doctrine of God our Saviour with that fidelity to Him, and that pure devotion to His holy law and will, which shone with increasing [15/16] brightness, as persecution tried the constancy of His followers, and martyrdom took them to their great reward.
To the intelligent Laity present, also, I would commend the same study as one of the most gratifying and profitable departments of historical research, to which, as men and Christians, they can give their attention.
Without, however, entering into any detail of the evidence afforded by the early fathers respecting the original constitution of the ministry, there is an unquestionable fact on the subject which furnishes a very strong and valid ground of argument leading to a conclusion as clear in just reasoning as it is valuable as an indication of an important feature in the dispensation of the Gospel.
It is agreed by all conversant with early ecclesiastical history, that at least from the second or third century after Christ, the principle was incorporated into the practice of the Church universal, that the right of imparting to men Christ's commission to minister in his Church was held only by the highest of three orders of the ministry. It is remarkable, too, that that history furnishes no evidence whatever of a change in this matter from an anterior state of things; for the assertion to this effect of Jerome, who lived in the fourth century, unsupported as it is by anterior testimony, and inconsistent with the spirit and legitimate bearing of other parts of his own writings, can hardly be called evidence.
Hence, it is perfectly fair to argue the impossibility of the supposed change. It would obviously be a change of great magnitude in itself and in its consequences. It would introduce a total revolution in the polity of the Church, and very materially affect the rights and privileges of the great body of the Clergy. Nay, farther: it would involve the surrendry by those Clergy, of functions, responsibilities, and duties, which their Lord had enjoined upon them, and which, of course, they were, conscientiously bound to fulfil. Consequently, both the impure motives of ambition, and the merely selfish advancement of personal influence and importance, and the holy Christian motives of devotion to the will and ordinance of Christ, and a desire faithfully to improve whatever means and facilities of good may have been attached to the ministry as He established it, would naturally lead the latter to an honest and conscientious, and both to a very decided opposition, to such a change. It could not, therefore, have taken place without producing such an effect as would not have failed to make a deep and permanent [16/17] impression on the history of the age. We look in vain, however, for the least trace of what can fairly be called a record of any such change. Most justly, therefore, is it thrown on those who assume that such a change did take place, to give even plausible evidence touching the time when, the place where, and the process by which, it was effected. In default of this--and such is here fearlessly pronounced to be the fact in the case--it is certainly most reasonable to demand the concession that no such change took place; but that the principles on which the ministerial commission had been received, was held, and was transmitted, at that period, were those established by Christ himself; that is, that the right to impart that commission was not held by the ministry at large, but by the first of three orders into which the ministry was divided by its Divine Author.
As then, none can be ministers of Christ but by a commission from Him, and as this commission can ordinarily come from Him only by the regular uninterrupted transmission of the ordaining power, it must remain in the line originally appointed. This is a necessary conclusion from true faith in God's sure and everlasting promises to His Church. And the application of the principle is the Church's justification for the high ground she takes in declaring Episcopal orders necessary to the lawful exercise of ministerial functions, and acting upon it, even to the extent of thus imparting admission to the ministry of God to those who, through other modes, have been received by Christian communities into the pastoral relation, and have discharged its duties for whatever length of time, and with whatever fidelity and success. The charge of bigoted and intolerant attachment to a mere matter of form could hardly be evaded on any other principle than that the ground thus taken is deemed one of essential connexion, not with external order, but with the carrying out of God's merciful plans of grace and salvation through Jesus Christ, in short with the evangelical system in its genuineness and integrity.
My Right Reverend and Reverend brethren present will excuse the length and minuteness with which this subject has now been considered. They will, I am sure, unite with me in deploring the manifold evils that have resulted to the evangelical cause, from the tendency, so strong in the present age, to set lightly by principle, and urge religion mainly on the feelings; to sacrifice that dependence on God's blessing which comes of faith, to the restless desire to have at once the indulgence of sight; to turn away from the good path whose very antiquity is its highest [17/18] praise, and seek rather that which is better suited to new and daring speculations.
Right views of the ministry, sacraments, and services of the Christian Church, may safely be pronounced among the most important, if not decidedly the most important, means of bringing back the endlessly varying Christianity of the present day to the blessed unity of the days of its greatest purity. For these, considered in the connexion, not into which man's unlicensed fancy has brought them, but which is established for them in God's word, include in their legitimate bearings, operations, and results, the whole system of the faith, holiness, and virtue of the Gospel.
If there is any truth in the views which have now been taken, the office to which the godly and well-learned man whose consecration has called us together, is thus to be admitted, holds a chief place among the instruments and agencies which God is pleased to honour in carrying out the great scheme of mercy and salvation revealed in His holy Gospel. It is not merely vested with superiority in legislation and government in God's Church. It is not merely that office the legitimate influences of which on the external unity, prosperity, and welfare of the Church are daily becoming more and more realized by both their enjoyment and the want of them, and are felt and known to be thus conducive also to its spiritual advancement; but that on which God, in the wise ordering of the dispensations of His providence and grace, has been pleased to bestow the abundant honour of making it the chief link in the chain whereby the means by Him established in the Church, are to unite the Christian soul to the Divine Spirit, from whom comes every gift that leads to holiness and virtue. Let it be thoroughly viewed in this, its true and scriptural light, and the solemn transaction of the day will be attended with its highest spiritual interest; and its essential connexion with the evangelical covenant will secure the devout prayers of all true disciples of the Saviour, that it may be richly blessed to the loved and honoured servant of the Lord who has in it the nearest interest, and to the portion of the Redeemer's household who look to it for the descent of the heavenly commission on the chief pastor of their choice.
Reverend and Dear Brother,--I trust I am not wrong in hoping that many such prayers have ascended, and will now ascend, in your behalf. This great and delightful festival of the Church, recalls the august period when our Divine Master, just returning to His heavenly [18/19] home, commenced, by the solemn inauguration of His eleven, the Apostolic succession which was to hand down to the end of the world the mission which he gave as the Father had sent Him. In the exercise of authority received in that succession, you are now to have committed to you the sacred deposite of the fullness of the pastoral commission, and of power to hand it down to another generation. The possession of that power involves a most awful responsibility. God give you grace to sustain it with all consistency of life and character! Sent, through his authorized agents by Christ, as He was sent by the Father, keep that one all-absorbing thought ever in your mind. In your going out and coming in, in all you say, and all you do, remember that you have received the Holy Ghost for an office and a work which call to constant advances in the holiness and virtue of the Gospel, and incessant devotion of all your powers, to that great cause of God's glory and man's salvation, which the Divine will has been pleased to place in so near and intimate connexion with the holy functions to which you are to be set apart.
You are to carry the exercise of your heavenly commission among a most kind and affectionate people. They will cheer you on your way. They will pray for you that the abundant blessings of God's grace may descend upon you. O be you kind and affectionate to them. Be to them a true and faithful pastor. Devote yourself in prayers and labours, to their spiritual and eternal welfare.
You are to be accompanied and aided in your pastoral duties by a zealous, devoted, and affectionate Clergy. I know them well, and thank God that that knowledge has been to me a source of unspeakable comfort and happiness. Go before them in being in all things a good example. Faithful, devoted, unremitting, in your pastoral duties, strive thus to aid, encourage, and sustain them. Have a ready sympathy with them in all their trials, and be constant in your faithful commendation of them to the blessing, guidance, and holy keeping, of God's providence and grace. Nor let the solemn thought fail duly to be improved, that the apostolic mantle falls upon you almost on the very spot where it was laid down by one whom we both knew but to love and honour, and the remembrance of whose holy labours among the beloved people now to be committed to your charge,--I speak with an awakened sense of my own deep interest in the thought--should not fail to be an effectual incentive to constant prayer and effort that their benign influences may be carried on to their consummation in a better world.
 Brethren of the Diocese,--God has been kind indeed in providing for this day of my final separation from you such abundant alleviations of the pain thence arising. The process through which the maturing of your Diocese has been carried forward has shown love and mercy written by the finger of God on its every step. O ever be jealous, with a godly jealousy, of the unity and harmony which now prevail among you. Let not the foot of pride come nigh to mar them, nor the hand of the ungodly to cast them down. In the faithful cherishing and manifesting of love, and confidence, and due obedience, towards him who is now to be over you in the Lord, seek constantly to strengthen among you these heavenly virtues. And in their exercise, fail not in humble fervent prayers and efforts to derive from his godly ministrations that Divine blessing whence will flow their influence in promoting the renewal of your hearts, the strengthening of their faith, and their growth in all heavenly grace.
And now, my brethren, the Clergy and Laity of the Diocese, with a heart tenderly impressed with a sense of obligation to you for all your kindness, deeply solicitous for your future, and especially your eternal welfare, but with much cheering hope of the favourable influences among you of the solemn peculiar transaction of the day, I bid you all an affectionate farewell. God bless you!