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1 TIMOTHY iii. 13.
They that have used the office of a deacon well, purchase to them
selves a good degree.
The Son of God, in that buman nature which he assumed for the salvation of mankind, is constituted the Head and Ruler of all those who believe in his name; and it has pleased him that they should be associated in a visible society, constituted with certain officers and ordinances, in order that, by communion with these officers, in the devout participation of these ordinances, they may become assured of their interest in his merits, and be established in those holy graces and virtues which will qualify them for the enjoyment of the blessings of his salvation.
This spiritual society in which believers in Christ must be united, and which is ruled by these officers, and which possesses these ordinances, is styled in the sacred writings, “ the church,” “ the church of the living God;" and it is constantly exhibited as that body of Christ to which all must be united who would derive from its divine Head those spiritual blessings which he has purchased by his merits, and which he dispenses through the instrumentality of the ministry and ordinances of this his mystical body. .
It must be apparent, from the very nature and the objects of this society, that it is not temporal, but spiritual in its character; not human, but di-. vine in its origin and destination. The officers. who are set over it, must therefore be spiritual in their powers and duties, and the commission divine by which they exercise their functions. ' Originating in no human source, this commission can proceed only from that divine Personage who is the head over all things to his church, and to whom all power is given in heaven and in earth.
When be constituted that visible society “the church,” to which were to be applied the merits of bis precious blood, and which was to be sanctified and ruled by the Spirit of his grace, he delegated the apostles to send others as he sent them, by an external commission, to be the instructors, the priests, and the rulers of his spiritual family, “alway, even unto the end of the world.”
The apostles were, at the first, the sole officers of the Christian church; with them, and with them only, rested the power of constituting the officers of that spiritual kingdom which they were commanded to establish, and of conferring that commission, without which there can be no authority to minister in holy things. “Our blessed Lord glorified not himself to be a High Priest, but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee.” And the apostle expressly declares concerning the office of ministering in holy things, “ No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron;" and Aaron was designated by an express commission. Whatever, then, may be the intellectual or spiritual qualifications of any man-let him be learned as Ga
maliel, or holy as Aaron, the servant of the Lordhe will not be authorized to take upon him the functions of the ministry, until he receives an ex.ternal commission for the purpose from the great Head of the church, and the only source of power in it, through that order of men whom he hath constituted successively to convey it " alway, even unto the end of the world.” For the ministry, as originally constituted, must be unchangeable: it is of divine authority; and the apostles alone being empowered by their blessed Lord to constitute the ministry, its divine authority would necessarily be lost by any change in their appointments. They established, as their successors in their standing prerogatives of commissioning to the ministry and governing the church, a particular order of men : among these were ranked Timothy, at Ephesus, and Titus, at Crete; and also the seven angels, as they are styled in the book of Revelation, or messengers of the Asiatic churches. From these, through their successors, has been transmitted to the present day that external commission which is necessary in order to minister in sacred things.
This order was first called Apostles, or, as the word in the original signifies, messengers; but afterwards, the name Apostles was confined to the disciples of our Lord. Their successors then took the title of Bishops, or overseers--which is applied to the elders, or presbyters, not as having the superior powers of the apostles and their successors, but in reference to their being vested with the oversight of their respective flocks. This superior order of bishops, in all places and at all periods, from the time of the apostles until within these two centuries, has exercised the functions of ordina
tion and supremacy. in government. If they had not been originally vested with these functions, an attempt to usurp them would have been marked by the decided resistance of those over whom they thus claimed lawless dominion. The usurpation, in all places where the cross of Christ had been planted, in the extreme regions of Europe and Asia, and in the sequestered vallies of the Indian Peninsula, so as to leave no trace of equality in the ministry, would have been morally impossible ; and if effected, it would have constituted an era memorable for a radical change in the apostolical constitution of the ministry, and an era that would have been prominent and easily distinguished, and not, as now, to be sought for in vain on the page of history.
Subordinate to this first order of the ministry, we trace, in the apostolic history, the appointment of elders, or presbyters, who, as before observed, were originally also called Bishops, or overseers, in reference to their oversight of their respective flocks, and not to their oversight of other clergy, and of several congregations, constituting a diocese. This superintendence over the inferior clergy and congregations appertained to the superior order, first styled Apostles, and then Bishops. When the title Bishops became appropriate to this first order of the ministry, the second order became known by their other title, Presbyters, and afterwards by the term Priests. This last appellation has respect to their spiritual oblation of the body and blood of Christ, under the symbols of bread and wine; and this oblation was regarded as equivalent and analogous, in the Gospel, to the sacrifices of the Jewish law, the offering of which appertained to the priests.
In this power of celebrating the holy communion, the order of priests is principally distinguished from that of deacons, the third order of the ministry.
There seems great expediency, independently of its divine authority, in this distinction and gradation of the orders of the ministry. As they rise in their functions and their responsibility, the inferior grade becomes a test of qualification as well as a mean of preparation for the higher; and they have each their appropriate functions more or less restrained, the inferior in subordination to the higher, and all in subjection to that divine Head of the church from whom all their power is derived. Moving thus in distinct, and subordinate, and dependent spheres, and yet in entire unison, they exhibit, in the spiritual world, that variety, and yet that order and harmony, which, in the natural universe, reflect so much lustre on the wisdom and the power of the great Creator. But it is the peculiar recommendation of this distinction and gradation of office, and that which gives it the force of indispensable obligation, that it was established by Christ and his apostles, who were the head and the founders of the church.
Our present business is with the inferior gradeof deacons, to which the persons present are to be admitted. That deacons are an order of the ministry, is apparent from the circumstance that they were set apart by the laying on of hands, which was the mode of conveying ministerial authority. It is recorded also, in 'the Acts of the Apostles, that they preached and baptized; but it does not