Изображения страниц

larly to the sacrament of Baptism. St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, reckoning up the principles of the Christian doctrine, places repentance first in order, then faith, then baptism, and after that the laying on of hands: which cannot signify the imposition of hands in ordination; for then it could never have been placed among the first elements of instruction, proper to those only who were unskilful in the word of righteousness*. His meaning is best explained by his own example, who, when he had found some disciples but partially instructed at Ephesus, baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus, and then laid his hands upon them †, that they might receive the Holy Ghost. From all which it certainly follows, that the laying on of hands was the ordinary practice of the Christian Apostolical Church, and that it was next in order to Baptism. That it was not a part of Baptism itself, appears from the example of those at Samaria, whom Philip had baptized, but had left them to be confirmed at some other time by some other hands.

This matter being so clear according to the terms of the Scripture, I think it needless to enquire into the practice of the first Ages of the Church next after the Apostles. It is certain that Confirmation was universally observed, and that more strictly than in the lower ages; but instead of being known by the term of Confirmation, it was more usually signified by sealing, anointing, and the imposition of hands. Yet the term now in use seems to be warranted by the language of the New Testament. When Paul and Barnabas had determined to visit their brethren in every city where they had already preached the word of God, it is said of Paul, that "he went through Syria

[blocks in formation]

"and Cilicia, confirming the Churches." His design was to advance those who had already been converted and baptized; and as he had no time to waste, it is most probable that his visitation was official; that he acted in the Apostolical character, and confirmed his converts by the imposition of hands. But whatever ambiguity there may be in the name, in the thing itself there is none at all. So we may pass from the -Institution, to consider the persons by whom it is administered.

III. Philip the Deacon had preached the Word to the people of Samaria, and baptized them, both men and women, and was still amongst them. But though signs and miracles were done by him, it is plain he was not qualified to administer imposition of hands, because other persons were formally sent out from the Church for this purpose: and as the persons so sent out were of the Apostolical Order, to them the office properly belonged.

By this example we are taught, that God hath appointed certain distinctions of ministerial Duty, for the sake of Peace, Order, and Edification in his Church and farther, that the holiness and other personal qualifications of any minister, are distinct from the holiness and authority of his office. For though Philip was a person considerable enough to work such miracles as astonished the Samaritans, and procured him the good opinion of Simon Magus himself, he had no Right to administer Confirmation. And if Confirmation was proper to the Apostles in the first age of the Church, it is now proper to a Bishop. For Bishops have succeeded to that Character with which the Apostles were invested; at least, to those parts of their Character which are necessary for the Church in the latter times. Through all the inter

mediate ages down to the Reformation, the Christian Society has been governed by ministers of three dif ferent Orders, with the names, of Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons. A Church without a Bishop was never heard of till the fifteenth Century; when some Protestants, who were willing to shake off the errors of Rome, and thought they could reform on no other terms but those of Presbytery, pleaded necessity in excuse for the defect. The Scripture shews us what the government of the Church ought to be by shewing us what it was. For a fact or precedent, where the example is authoritative, may be depended upon with greater certainty than a verbal distinction. Words are liable to different meanings; and an artful man can mould them into so many forms, and invest them with such a cloud of Criticism, that they shall have no discernible meaning at all. The fact I speak of, is the government of the Church by three Orders of Ministers, at its first Establishment. The twelve Apostles were first ordained by Christ himself out of the number of his Disciples; of whom he chose twelve, and named them Apostles; accommodating their number to the primitive partition of the Church of Israel. After these he After these he appointed other seventy also, who were sent out with a ministerial Character, but were inferior to the Apostles, both in name and authority: for the Apostles, even after their ordination, are frequently called by the general name of Disciples; but it does not appear that any of the seventy were ever called by the name of Apostles. This Appellation was restrained to the twelve who were first appointed; and none other could be intitled to the name, till they were formally invested with the office. Accordingly it appears, that when the traitor Judas was gone to his own place, and the Apostles

were reduced to Eleven, two persons were set apart from the disciples as candidates, and one of them taken by lot to the Apostolical office. The solemnity of this appointment would have been unnecessary and vain, unless the Apostles were distinguished to a superiority above the other disciples.

As the business of the Christian Society increased upon the hands of its ministers, seven more were ordained; who in respect of their superintending the distribution of ecclesiastical charities, were called deacons; and in respect of their office as teachers of those converts to whom they administered the sacrament of Baptism, were called Evangelists.

By the most early constitution of the Christian Church, it was committed to the ministry of three different orders, not yet so exactly ascertained by their names as in the succeeding ages, but always distinct in office and authority. We are not to suppose that these three orders were a novel institution, peculiar to the Christian Church; but rather a translation of the three essential parts of the ministry from the Priesthood under the Law to the ministry of the New Testament*.

Such was the form of the Church in every city and region, till it was interrupted by the encroachments of the Bishop of Rome. Other Bishops had exercised such an authority only, and in such a form as the Scripture itself had delivered down to them. And this case is so plain, that Calvin himself could not but allow, that the ancient Bishops had invented no other form of governing the Church, but such as the Lord had prescribed by his own word. So that a

* Consult Ep. Overall, Book ii. chap. vi.

+ Calvin Inst. lib. iv. cap. 4. sec. 4.

Church which preserves this form by succession, and administers Confirmation by the first of the orders above mentioned, is according to the Apostolical pattern, our enemies themselves being judges. This being now clear, as to the persons whose office it is to administer Confirmation; we must enquire who are the persons proper to receive it.

IV. When the Apostles heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent Peter and John to lay their hands upon them: therefore they who have received the Word of God are the proper subjects of Confirmation. By receiving the word of God, the case itself instructs us we are here to understand the taking upon themselves the Christian profession in baptism; and baptism includes faith and repentance. He that perseveres in his repentance, retains his faith, and has a competent knowledge of the Word of God, is qualified for the farther endowments of divine grace. If the Apostles when they visited Samaria, or any other of the first Churches, found therein persons who had departed from the conditions of their baptism, without question they regarded such persons as utterly unfit for the imposition of hands. This was the case of Simon, a man of a vain worldly spirit, who neither understood nor relished the purity of the Gospel, and was therefore declared to have neither part nor lot in that matter.

V. The circumstances of the Church being now so different from what they were formerly, it will be a matter of some difficulty to explain the benefit of Confirmation. In the Apostolical age, the benefit in very many who received it, was immediate and conspicuous; because other ends were to be served besides the progress of private persons in the Christian life. While the Church was surrounded with heathen

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »