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OF THE MINISTERIAL COMMISSION IN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST.
I COR. IV. 1.
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
FROM these words, in which St. Paul describes his own ministerial office, and that of his brethren the apostles, I shall take occasion to enquire into the constitution of that ministry to which Christ committed the care of his church. And, first of all, I shall consider the credentials of the apostolical appointment.
When our Lord had, by his meritorious passion and death, accomplished the great work of man's redemption, and was now about to leave the world, and go to the Father, he committed the visible superintendance of his church to his apostles, in the following memorable words :
All power is given to me in heaven and in
earth. Go ye, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things; whatsoever I have commanded you. He adds-And lo! I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. (Matt. xxviii. 18—20.)
Here we learn, that the power or authority which is to be exercised in the government of the church, originally belongs to God, the Father of all: this power is given to the Son; and, by the Son, committed to his apostles. But where does it proceed afterwards? To whom does our Lord promise the continuance of his presence, even to the end of the world? It cannot be to the apostles exclusively; for they finished their course in a few years, and were removed by death from their important station. Nor can we understand this promise, as extending to every one who should take upon himself the office of a teacher; for we are told by these very apostles, and by Christ himself, that many should come, in his name, in his name, and should deceive many. He did not promise the
continuance of his presence with such deceivers.
It was, then, to the apostles themselves, in the first instance, that this divine promise was given; and, after them, to those disciples whom they should have made, in all nations, and should have taught to observe all things, whatsoever he had commanded them. For, observing all things, that were given in charge to the apostles, must include an observance of the duties of the ministry, and must, therefore, necessarily suppose a deputation of that authority, by which the ministry was constituted and established. Hence, we must regard this promise as extending to that succession of ministers to whom the apostolical charge should be duly committed; and to that church which should faithfully remain under their care and superintendance, even to the end of the world.. All these our
Saviour regards as so intimately united with his apostles, that he addresses them as if they had been all present:-Lo! I am with you alway-with you, as an integral body.
In another record of the apostolical com
mission, we are told-Jesus said to his apostles again, Peace be unto you! As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, saying, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. (John, xx. 21-23.)
This power of absolution and authoritative censure is expressly committed to the apostles, as governors of the church, for the maintenance of good order, and the enforcement of just discipline. And as the obligation of maintaining the decency of conduct and good order could never cease, whilst an apostolical church should remain upon earth, it must be admitted, that this power has also remained with the duly constituted ministers of Christ throughout all succeeding ages. Accordingly, we find that, in the days of the apostles, and in the times immediately subsequent to them, it was a branch of ministerial discipline, to pronounce an authoritative censure on the disorderly and irregular, who could not, after this, be received into full communion, by
any local congregation of the church, till they should have manifested signs of true repentance; and have obtained the sentence. of reconciliation, from the same constituted authority. Upon the powers with which the apostles were duly invested, they acted regularly, and orderly, for the propagation of the Gospel, and the edification of the one and undivided body of Christ's visible church, in which they were, at first, the sole ministers. But, as the work of the ministry increased with the extent of that church, they began to exercise that authority which our Lord had deputed to them, in ordaining ministers of distinct orders, each order for the discharge of its respective and appropriate office. And, that no man might have an opportunity of intruding into the ministry, without lawful authority; that the church might not be exposed to danger, or deceived by false and self-constituted teachers; this ordination was conducted with visible form, and ostensible ceremony; one part of which was the solemn and public imposition of hands, by those who had