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“were not always the same; for, while some of “ them confined their labors to the instruction of the “ people, others contributed in different ways to the “ edification of the church. Among the first pro“fessors of Christianity, there were few men of “learning; few who had capacity enough to insi“nuate, into the minds of a gross and ignorant mul“ titude, the knowlege of divine things. God, there“fore, in his infinite wisdom, judged it necessary to “raise up, in many churches, extraordinary teachers, “who were to discourse, in the public assemblies, upon “the various points of the Christian doctrine, and to “ treat with the people in the name of God, as “guided by his direction, and clothed with his au“thority. Such were the prophets of the New “Testament, an order of men which ceased, when “the want of teachers, which gave rise to it, was “abundantly supplied. “The church was undoubtedly provided from the “beginning with inferior ministers or deacons. No “society can be without its servants, and still less “ such societies as those of the first Christians were ; “ and it appears not only probable, but evident, that “the young men, who carried away the dead bodies “of Ananias and Sapphira, were the subordinate “ministers or deacons of the church of Jerusalem, “who attended the apostles to execute their orders. “All the other Christian churches followed the “example of that of Jerusalem, in whatever related “to the choice and office of the deacons. Some, “ particularly the eastern churches, elected dea“conesses, and chose, for that purpose, matrons or “widows of eminent sanctity, who also ministered to “the necessities of the poor, and performed several “other offices, that tended to the maintenance of “ order and decency in the church. * Such was the constitution of the Christian “church in its infancy, when its assemblies were “neither numerous nor splendid. Three or four “presbyters, men of remarkable piety and wisdom,
“ruled these small congregations in perfect harmony; “nor did they stand in need of any president or “superior to maintain concord and order where no “dissensions were known. But the number of “presbyters and deacons increasing with that of the “churches, and the sacred work of the ministry “growing more painful and weighty, by a number “ of additional duties, these new circumstances re“quired new regulations. It was then judged “necessary that a man of distinguished gravity and “ wisdom should preside in the council of presbyters, “in order to distribute among his colleagues their “several tasks, and to be a centre of union to the “whole society. This person was at first styled the “angel of the church to which he belonged, but was
“afterwards distinguished by the name of bishop, or
“inspector; a name borrowed from the Greek lan“guage, and expressing theprincipalpart of the episco“pal function, which was to inspect and superintend “the affairs of the church. It is highly probable, that “the church of Jerusalem, grown considerably nume“rous, and deprived of the ministry of the apostles, “who were gone to instruct the other nations, was the “first which chose a president or bishop; and it is no “less probable, that the other churches followed by “degrees such a respectable example. “A bishop, during the first and second centuries, “ was a person who had the care of one Christian “ assembly, which, at that time, was, generally “speaking, small enough to be contained in a private “house. In this assembly he acted, not so much “with the authority of a master, as with the zeal “ and diligence of a faithful servant. He charged, “indeed, the presbyters with the performance of “ those duties and services, which the multiplicity of “his engagements rendered it impossible for him to “fulfil; but he had not the power to decide or enact “any thing without the consent of the presbyters “ and people; and, though the episcopal office was “both laborious and singularly dangerous, yet its
“revenues were extremely small, since the church
* Cent. II, part ii, chap. ii. sect. 1, 2, 3.
the Christian doctors had the good fortune to per
suade the people, that the ministers of the Christian.
church succeeded to the character, rights, and privi-
Thyatira". These angels are described as eminent
for their “good works, charity, service, stedfastness “in the faith, and patience; ” and yet they are both severely blamed, and the former threatened for suffering in their respective churches false teachers,
* Rev, chap. ii. 12–21.
whom, if they were themselves nothing more than such presidents of congregational presbyteries as Dr. Mosheim describes, it is obvious that they could not remove from their churches. According to him, these presidents, afterwards called bishops, were
chosen by the joint suffrages of the other presbyters.
and of the lay-members of the congregation to which they respectively belonged; when thus chosen, they acted in their respective congregations, not with the authority of masters, but with the zeal and diligence of faithful servants; they had not the power to decide or enact any thing without the consent of the presbyters and the people, who were in every church the first in authority; and therefore the censure and threatening, for suffering false teachers in the churches of Pergamos and Thyatira, were on his principles due, not to the angels of those churches, but to the presbyters and people ! That the principles are erroneous which infer injustice in the Son of God, Dr. Mosheim would have been as ready as any man to confess; and therefore we have not a doubt that, if, instead of paying undue deference to the opinions of some of his less candid countrymen, he had duly weighed in his own mind the import of what the Spirit said to the seven churches, he would have perceived that the angels must have been of an order superior to the presbysters properly so called; and that they must have derived their superiority from some other source than the mere choice of the presbyters and people. To the truth of this inference it is no objection, that, in the New Testament, all officers in the church above the order of deacons are indiscriminately called sometimes bishops and sometimes presbyters. In the Old Testament, the individuals of every order of priesthood, with the exception of the mere Levites, are generally styled priests without any distinction; though every Jew and every Christian know, that the high-priest was of an order superior to the rest, and authorised to perform at least one