« PreviousContinue »
"alives" to his Apostles
"after his pas
"sion by many infallible proofs, being seen "of them forty days, and speaking of "the things pertaining to the kingdom of "God." If then these unrecorded discourses must unquestionably have embraced matters so essential, as the means to be pursued in the formation of the society of his Church; if we know besides, that they acted under the influence of the Holy Spirit, who was to be sent "to guide "them into all truth;" which we cannot interpret to mean less than all necessary truth, every truth connected with the due discharge of their Divine commission; can we hesitate to conclude, that the form of polity which the Church assumed under their superintending care, was of Divine appointment?
For a professed and regular detail of this polity we must not look to the holy Scriptures. It is sufficient that, from the incidental information which they supply, illustrated by the opinions and practice of the primitive ages, we are enabled to arrive
g Acts i. 3.
h John xvi. 13.
at conclusions completely satisfactory. Accordingly the Church is soon found to discover indisputable traces, at least, of that threefold ministry, which decides its episcopal character.
Of the apostolical appointment and solemn ordination of deacons we have a distinct account. And though the original institution of elders, or presbyters, is not recorded, we find a council of them at Jerusalem, assisting in the management of the Church, and manifestly subordinate, first to the Apostles, during their continuance at Jerusalem, and afterwards to their own immediate Bishop, St. James. Paul and Barnabas in their progress through the various cities of Asia Minor, "ordained "them elders in every church m.”—St. James, writing "to the twelve tribes which 66 are scattered abroad," directs, that “if any is sick among them, he should call "for the elders of the Church, that they might pray over him, and anoint him
i Acts vi. 2-6.
k Acts xi. 30, and xv. 6.
m Acts xiv, 23.
" with oil in the name of the Lord". Peter, who writes" to the strangers scattered "throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, "Asia, and Bithynia," exhorts the Elders to "feed the flock of God which is among "them, taking the oversight thereof "." The Epistle to the Philippians is addressed, "to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are
at Philippi, with the Bishops and Dea"cons P." St. Paul tells the Corinthians, that God hath set some in the Church, "first Apostles, secondarily prophets, third
ly teachers, after that miracles "," and other gifts. St. Paul in his travels is sometimes attended by a minister of the second order, and one or more deacons, as by Silas', who is called a prophet, and Timothy an evangelist or deacon; and sometimes by deacons only, as by Timothy and Erastus".
Thus whatever may have been the case in particular instances, where the Gospel was not sufficiently established to admit of o i Pet. i. 1. and v.
n James i. 1. and v. 14. P Phil. i. 1.
I Acts xv. 32, 40.
q 1 Cor. xii. 28.
s Acts xix. 22.
a standing ministry, there is the most indisputable evidence from the books of the New Testament', that even at the early period to which those writings refer, there were, besides the Apostles, at least two orders of ministers, both inferior to the Apostles, and receiving their ordination from them; viz. presbyters or elders, occasionally called bishops, and sometimes, from their peculiar gifts, prophets; and deacons, styled sometimes evangelists or teachers. I say at least two orders, because learnedmen have differed in their opinions, whether the persons called both bishops and presbyters in St. Paul's Epistles are all to be considered as mere presbyters, or whether some of them were not really of that superior order, afterwards known as bishops, when those titles were more distinctly appropriated". But I am not anxious to
t See this argument more fully detailed by Potter, p. 96-105.
"I will not take upon me to decide this contro"versy," says Potter, "which has exercised the pens of "many wise and learned men; but only suggest a few "things, which I shall leave to the judgment of the im
express even an opinion on this point, as it is altogether unnecessary to my argument. All that I would contend for as already proved, is, that there were very generally two distinct orders of ministers in the early Church, in the appointment and under the control of the Apostles.
But the Apostles, it has been urged, must not be considered as a precedent for - episcopal authority, inasmuch as their office was peculiar to themselves, and in their apostleship they could have no successors. That no future ministers could succeed to them as Apostles, strictly so called, will be readily admitted; but that they might
"partial reader." These suggestions (which see) tend to shew, that it is very probable that in the writings of the New Testament the terms bishop and presbyter sometimes implied two distinct orders of ministers. But he concludes, that "though we should allow that the "names of bishop and presbyter did in that age signify "the same office, as some of the Fathers in the fourth "century seem to have thought; and farther, that all "the bishops spoken of in the forementioned texts of "Scripture were mere presbyters, and of the next order "above deacons, which is the utmost concession that
can be desired;".......(including the Apostles)" there "were three distinct orders of ministers, by whom the "Christian Church was governed." Potter, p. 106-111.