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the community. The sordid bustle and low passions of the sons of the earth are still. The offices and duties to which men are called, elevate the humble, and humiliate the proud. And, while the different classes of life are brought together to listen without distinction to the same words of instruction, and to bow down with the same reverence before the same altar, all are softened and improved, and a generous conviction of brotherhood and equality is impressed upon the mind. Of an institution which thus contributes to the happiness and union of men, we shall not merely say that it is affecting and beautiful. It is more. The peace and happiness of social life are, in a high degree, indebted to it for their improvement or preservation; and the civilization of the Christian world, and the wide diffusion of the blessings and virtues which accompany it, may testify the holy and happy influence of the Christian Sabbath.
IV. The religion from whence so many noble and profitable ordinances were derived, was to require the service of a consecrated ministry for the performance of the solemnities which it enjoined, and the diffusion of the doctrines which it announced. Christ, therefore, who had his commission as a high priest from the Father,* invested the apostles, after his resurrection, with a similar commission, and sent them forth into the world to fulfil the duties of their sublime officet. Under this authority, they presided
"As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you; and he breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost." John xx. 21, 22.
+ This office was not personal to the Apostles. It is evident, that when Christ promised to be with them in the execution of their commission, "even unto the end of the world," he included their successors. Matt. xxviii. 20.
over the Christian church, became "as ambassadors "of Christ, to beseech men to be reconciled to God;" appointed assistants in proportion as the increasing harvests required additional labourers; and ordained "elders in every city, who might set all things in "order, and rebuke," or regulate, the subordinate members of the ministry. In this manner, an apostolical priesthood arose, with various and useful powers; and the wisdom and the utility of the institution was soon demonstrated by the rapid progress and effective establishment of the Gospel.
This priesthood was of three orders. The bishop was the head, possessed of authority to ordain, invested with the regulation and government of the churches, and appointed to administer the sacraments, and preach to the people.* The Presbyters, who held the second rank, were to co-operate with the bishop in the fulfilment of these latter duties; and the inferior deacon was, occasionally, to preach and pray, but, principally, to attend to the necessities of the poor, to make provision for the public festivals, to keep the treasury of the church under the episcopal authority, and to distribute to the necessitous, as circumstances might permit or require.
* The words Bishop and Elder have been considered as synoninious, but they were used distinctively. Timothy, the first bishop of Ephesus, was charged to "rebuke the presbyters that sin before all, that others also may fear." The bishops, therefore, had jurisdiction over their presbyters; and the latter, of course, must have been of an inferior order. Even St. Jerome, the opponent of episcopacy, has admitted a striking distinction between the bishop and presbyter" Quid enim fecit, excepta ordinatione, episcopus, quod presbyter non faciat." Epist. ad Evag.
+ The deacon had authority to preach and baptize, as appears from the example of Philip.
Under this institution, provision was made for the regular and exact performance of pastoral duty. The people were instructed in the truth of the Gospel, and encouraged and required, in all cases of doubt and difficulty, to consult the piety and wisdom of their ministers. The ignorant were no longer to wander without guidance and edification; the guilty were to experience the interposition of anxious and paternal reproof; the persecuted were to be fortified by holy and inspiring hopes; and the poor to be sustained by the hand of charity. In all its concerns, the maintenance and diffusion of the Gospel, the confirmation of wavering and unenlightened faith, the admission and instruction of the proselyte, and the protection of the fold of God from the inroads of the infidel, the church was to be served and advanced by the tempered zeal and holy vigilance of pastors, whose patience, whose knowledge, and whose virtues, justified their vocation. From them, as from a pure and abundant source, the stream of sacred truth, like the precious ointment that descended from the beard of Aaron, even unto the skirts of his clothing, was to reach and to refresh the last and lowest ranks of the faithful; and, to them, under the providence of God, was the religion of Christ to be indebted for its prosperity and its triumphs, in opposition to the powers of darkness and of the world.
To discover more clearly the nature, the object, and the utility of this ministry, we contemplate it in action. We behold a Peter and a Paul, going forth, in their single strength, to reclaim the idolatry, repress the crimes, and enlighten the ignorance of men. They were silenced by no menace, and intimidated by no hostility. In the sanhedrim of the
Jew, as in the temple of the Gentile, they were equally prepared to sustain the honour of their religion, not, indeed, with the arms of bigotry and violence, but of sound and sober wisdom. They were earnest to confute, but it was by truth; to proselyte, but it was by conviction. With an eloquence which was to afford a sublime example to the preacher of all succeeding times, they directed the attention of their hearers, not to fanciful theories, the feeble web of speculative brains; nor to metaphysical reveries, equally incomprehensible to the ignorant and the learned; but to righteousness, temperance, and a judgment to come-to the character, the mission, and the miracles of their Master-to the inestimable mercies of redemption and of grace--and to those hopes of immortal life which the Gospel of Christ inspires, justifies, and confirms. In this work of edification, they gave proof of a patience and perseverance, which no toils could abate, and of an energy and zeal, which no danger could extinguish. Yet, if they were firm and earnest in the maintenance of truth, they were prudent and sober in the manner in which they maintained it. The wisdom of the serpent was in them tempered with the simplicity of the dove; and, however the powerful and flagitious might have trembled as they spoke,† the spirit of
See Acts ii. Acts xiii. Acts xvii. Acts xx.
+ Felix trembled. Acts xxiv. 25. The eloquence of Cicero, in his appeal to the mercy of Cæsar, has been universally extolled. But what was the eloquence which succeeded by artful and elegant adulation, compared with that by which a despised and calumniated religion was vindicated, in the presence of its most powerful and malignant opponents, and by which the tyrant, in the very midst of his guards, and on the seat of his authority, was "almost" converted into a Christian, and taught to tremble for his crimes!
charity dwelt upon their lips, and the simple ones of the earth heard them, and were edified.
Some of the sermons yet remain, in the Acts of the Apostles, and in the apostolical epistles, which, addressed in this spirit to the people, bear witness to the temper and the toils of the primitive ministry of the church. In them, error is corrected, truth justified, righteousness proclaimed, with a simplicity without guile, an authority without presumption, an earnestness without intolerance, a dignity without pride, a zeal without fanaticism. "I beseech you," such is the language addressed in one of them to an infant church, "I beseech you, "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are
called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long "suffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond "of peace, not alienated like the Gentiles from the "life of God, speaking every one truth with his "neighbour. Be ye angry, and sin not. Let not "the sun go down upon your wrath. upon your wrath. Let him that "stole, steal no more, but rather let him labour with "his own hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice. And "be kind one to another, and tender-hearted, for
giving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, "hath forgiven you."* Such was the manner in
"Per omnem sævitiam," says the historian, speaking of Felix, "jus regium servile ingenio exercuit Felix." Hist. lib. v. Annal. xii. And this was the man whose pride was to be prostrated and appalled by the reasoning of a poor and persecuted apostle!
* Ephes. iv.