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labourer with St. Paul, writes to the members of the church at Corinth, for the express purpose of pressing upon them the duty of ecclesiastical subordination and obedience.“ To the high-priest,” says he, “ were allotted his proper offices; to the priests their proper place was assigned; and to the Levites their services were appointed; and the laymen were restrained within the precepts of laymen.”
Now were there no fimiliarity at that time acknowledged between the Jewish economy and Christian church; were there no offices in the latter corresponding with those of high-priest, priest, and Levite, in the former; the force of argument, other
. wife to be deduced from the application in this case, must have been totally loft upon the parties to whom it was addressed.
But upon appeal to St. Paul's writings we find, that
part of the charge delivered to TIMOTHY, appointed bishop of the church in Ephesus, was, that “ he should lay hands suddenly on no man;" that he should receive no accusation against a presbyter, but before two or three witnesses; and that the deacons in his church should be men of sober and orderly conversation. Here, then, we have the form of the Christian church, after the model drawn out
by the Apostles themselves, with its officers distinguished by their respective stations; the bishop, as supreme governor, answering to the high-priest under the law; the presbyters and deacons to the priests and Levites, as subordinate ministers in it. And by an appeal to ecclesiastical history it will be found, that immediately from the death of the Apostles, or a very few years after, the government of the Christ- . ian church throughout the world was in every part of it settled upon this fame Apostolic plan.
Under this form of government has the church continued, from the days of the Apostles down to the present time; and, doubtless, will continue so to the end, whatever occasional interruptions it has met with, or may still meet with from the prevailing passions and prejudices of sinful men. " For it is impoffible,” we are told, “ but that offences will come;" and “ there must be heresies; that they which are approved may be made manifest.” Luke xvii. 1; 1 Cor. xi. 19.
Should further testimony in favour of the government of the church, as here described, be necessary, we are furnished with what must be deemed direct to the purpose, in the writings of St. CLEMENT above-mentioned; where he says, in his first epistle
to the Corinthians, that " the Apostles knowing of the LORD JESUs, that contests would arife concerning the Episcopal name, (or order) and for this cause having perfect fore-knowledge (of these things,) they did ordain those whom we have mentioned before; and moreover did establish the constitution, that other approved men fhould fucceed them who died in their office and ministry.'
Thus then, upon the authority of ST. PAUL, who was called to be an Apostle by JESUS CHRIST, together with that of ST. CLEMENT, who was a bishop within forty years after our LORD's refurrection, and who, as living with the Apostles, must have been made acquainted with the conftitution of the church over which he was appointed to prefide; fupported by the confideration of that uniform fyftem of government which has prevailed in the church from the beginning, we are warranted in determining; that where we find the order of bifhops, priests, and deacons regularly appointed, there we find the church of CHRIST according to its original conftitution; and without these (to make use of the words of ST. IGNATIUS, who it is to be observed was the difciple of ST. JOHN) it is not called a church. "Let all," fays this holy man, 66 reverence the deacons,
as the minifters of JESUS CHRIST; and in like manner the bishop, as JESUS CHRIST, the Son of. the Father; the prefbyters, as the fenate of GOD, and college of Apoftles; without thefe, it is not called a church."
From whence the obvious conclufion is, that the Church is not merely a number of people, agreeing in the fame articles of faith, or in the fame acts of religious worship; but it is moreover a fociety, holding one vifible communion under the fame divinelyinftituted government: a fociety, not of man's but of Chrift's forming; a fociety or fpiritual incorporation, of which He is the head, and all individual Chriftians, who have been regularly admitted into it, the members. For the church is not a creature of the fancy, deriving an imaginary existence from the whim and caprice of man, but a fettled and permanent eftablishment, the work of Divine Wisdom. It is, moreover, not hid in a corner, that men need be at a lofs to find it; but a visible society, poffeffed of thofe characteristic marks, by which it may at all times be known. Like all other focieties compofed of fallible men, it has, indeed, been deformed by corruptions and abuses; but corruptions and abuses affect not
the nature and constitution of the church itself, but the parties only by whom they have been occafioned.
To form a proper judgment, therefore, upon this fubject, recourse must be had to thofe records which contain an account of the original plan, upon which the church was established by its Divine Founder. In them we find, that every figure under which it is defcribed, has application, not to a confused multitude of men independent of each other, but to a regular fociety under an appointed government. It is a body having many members, of which CHRIST is the head." It is " a kingdom of which CHRIST is the king." It is "a family," of which CHRIST is the master. It is a building fitly framed together, built upon the foundation of the Prophets and Apoftles, JESUS CHRIST himself being the chief corner-ftone." It is the fold of sheep, of which JESUS CHRIST is the fhepherd. All which feveral descriptions lead to the fame general idea of affociation, order, and agreement, fubfifting among the feveral members of the church, confidered as parts of the fame body; in confequence of which, they regularly discharge their respective offices, continuing in constant dependence upon the Head, from whence their power of life and action is derived.