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TgEO Eutégous (1 Peter v. 5.) relate to offices and not to age, and that vectepos may, in both these texts, mean those ministers of the church, who, from the beginning, have been known by the designation of deacons ; but it does not therefore follow that the young men, who carried out the dead bodies of Ananias and Sapphira, were likewise deacons in the ecclesiastical sense of the word.
Among the Jews, every person who touched a dead body was thereby rendered unclean; and it is not very probable that St. Peter would wantonly give offence to that people, by ordering the ministers of the religion which it was his duty to preach, but against which he knew them to entertain the most inveterate prejudices, to render themselves unclean by doing what the door-keepers could have done as well as they. The young men who were employed to carry away the dead bodies, may indeed have been dicxovor in the sense of menial servants of the infant church; but, in the Acts of the Apostles, there is not the slightest allusion to ordained deacons until we come to the sixth chapter, which gives so full an account of the ordination of the seven. Accordingly an ancient commentator, whose testimony, respecting a matter of fact, is surely entitled to greater credit than the mere conjecture of the most learned modern, says expressly, when speaking of the conversion and baptism of Cornelius the centurion,--Adhuc enim præter septem diaconos nullus fuit ordinatus
The difficulty in ascertaining the original constitution of the church is indeed greater than he can easily conceive, who has not attended to the power of prejudice. The controversies on the subject have been so acrimonious, and the tendency to confound Christianity with a mere system of what is called natural religion, is in the present age so very prevalent, that few men have brought, to the inquiry, minds so completely divested of prepossession, as to
u Hilar. in Eph. cap. iv.
be capable of judging impartially. The truth may be detailed in the Scriptures with sufficient clearness; but we all study those writings under a bias, more or less powerful, in favor of the party to which we belong; and that bias, especially if we have ourselves been engaged in controversy, is very apt to prevent us from seeing what is written even as with a sun-beam. We may be ambitious of making discoveries in theology, and of becoming the founders of new sects; and such ambition must necessarily impel us to differ as much as possible from the luminaries of antiquity, that we may display the vigor of our own minds, and our superiority to what we are pleased to call prejudice: or we may be so attached to antiquity as to consider every practice and every rite of the primitive church, as of perpetual obligation, not distinguishing between what was deemed essential, and what was even then considered as only expedient, in consequence of the circumstances in which the church was placed.
To avoid as much as possible the errors which flow from these sources, it will be proper to trace the progress of the Gospel from the first preaching of John the Baptist, to the completion of the canon of the New Testament ; ascertaining, as we proceed, the import of the principal doctrines preached, as well as the offices and authority of the several preachers; and pointing out at the same time the privileges of the people. As all parties appeal to Scripture in support of their own opinions and sya stems, it would be fortunate if men could agree on some rule, by which Scripture, where it appears obscure, should be interpreted ; and the constitution of the church being a matter of fact obvious to all mankind, it seems not difficult to find the rule, by which whatever relates to it may be interpreted with little danger of mistake. If the principles of the persons, to whom the writings which compose the New Testament were immediately addressed, can be ascertained, it will be easy, in cases of any import
ance, to discover how those writings should themselves be understood; and, with respect to matters of fact, there can be no doubt, that they who conversed with the apostles, perfectly understood their meaning. Indeed, as long as the pastors of the Christian church had no worldly ámbition to gratify, by bringing themselves into public notice; as long às pre-eminence among them led not to opulence and power, but to poverty, persecution and death; it would be in the highest degree unreasonable to question their veracity, when they are giving an account of the constitution of the church, as established by the apostles. Their testimony therefore may be safely employed, not as of authority in itself, but as an authentic commentary on what is taught on that subject in the sacred pages ; and as such only do we mean to appeal to it.
That the church, whatever be its constitution, is something of great importance, is unquestionable, since it was deemed worthy of being alluded to, even by the forerunner of our Lord. The very first words on record, of the venerable Baptist's preaching, are,“ repent ye, for the kingdom of Heaven is at " hand;" by which was undoubtedly meant the kingdom of the Messiah, or the church of Christ, soon to be established instead of the Jewish polity and temple. He goes on, to say, “ that every valley “ should be filled, and every mountain and hill be “ made low; that the crooked should be made “ straight, and the rough ways smooth; and that all “ flesh should see the salvation of God;" and soon afterwards, when he saw Jesus coming unto him, he said to the multitude, “Behold the lamb of God, " which taketh away the sin of the world.”
Our blessed Lord began his own preaching with the very same words“ Repent, for the kingdom of "heaven is at hand;” or, as St. Mark expresses it, “ Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of “ the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is ful“ filled, and the kingdom of God is at hand : repent
“ ye, and believe the Gospel." According to St. Luke, “ When Jesus returned, in the power of the “ Spirit, into Galilee, from the scene of his tempta“tion, he came to Nazareth, where he had been “ brought up; and, as his custom was, he went into “ the synagogue on the Sabbath-day, and stood up “ to read. And there was delivered to him the book “ of the prophet Esaias ; and, when he had opened “ the book, he found the place where it is written, “ the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath “ anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor, he “ hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach “ deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight “ to the blind, to set at liberty then that are bruised; “ to preach the acceptable year of the Lord;” and this passage of the prophet, he applied to himself.
No Christian can be ignorant, that, in this first preaching of our Lord and his faithful forerunner, there is at least one very important truth, which was wholly unknown to the Gentiles, and very little understood by the generality of the Jews. It is contained in these words of the Baptist" Behold the Lamb “ of God which taketh away the sin ( tùy amapríar), “ not the sins, of the world.” What is the sin of the world? Evidently the transgression of our first parents, which brought death and many other miseries on themselves, and all their posterity; and to take away these consequences of that sin, was the purpose for which a redeemer was first promised to the fallen pair, and from which the “ “ Word, which was in the
beginning with God, and was God,” condescended to take upon him human nature, and, with the patience of a lamb led to the slaughter, to die on a
Controversies have been agitated in the church from a very early period, concerning the nature of that death, which was brought upon the human race by the fall of our first parents. This is not a proper place for discussing such topics ; but, whatever more may be included in the significa
it is evident from the ,מות תמות tion of the words
whole scope of the Christian revelation, that the death incurred by the first transgression was absolute, without any reason to hope for a resurrection from the dead, but through the interposition of that seed of the woman, which was to bruise the head of the serpent.
Our Saviour says expressly—“ I am the resurrec« tion and the life: he that believeth in me, though “ he were dead, yet shall live; and whosoever liveth, “ and believeth in me, shall never die ;” and, in another place, he says" I am he that liveth and
was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore; “ and have the keys of hell (hades) and death.” In perfect conformity with this, St. Paul taught the Corinthians, and, through them, the whole Christian world, that “ Christ is risen from the dead, and “ become the first fruits of them that slept ; for, “ since by man came death, by man came also the “ resurrection of the dead : and, as in Adam all die, “ even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” That these salutary truths were not wholly unknown to the ancient prophets, and such other Israelites as could look through the shadows of the law to the substance of the Gospel, is indisputable; but that they were not fully comprehended by any Jew, in the days of our Saviour's sojourning on earth, is evident from a variety of passages in the New Testament, as well as from the unquestionable fact, that the Sadducees, “ who said that there is no resurrection, nei" ther angel nor spirit,” were not only in communion with the other Jews, but capable even of executing the office of high-priest. The people therefore were not prepared, at our blessed Lord's first appearance, to receive these truths in all their lustre; but, as it would have been improper-and too like the common practice of impostors—to conceal entirely the great object of his mission even for a moment, he proclaimed in the words of the prophet Isaiah, that he was sent to preach the Gospel to the poor, and deliverance to the captives, and to set at liberty them