Page:Tracts for the Times Vol 1.djvu/44

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A principal part of their office, when they were first appointed, was the distribution of the charitable gifts of the more wealthy believers among their poorer brethren: but that the power of administering baptism was a part of their commission is evident from the history of Philip the Deacon, contained in Acts ix. There were thus two classes of guides and teachers to the Church of Christ, Apostles and Deacons; the first bearing authority over the general flock by the direct word of Christ Himself; the second by commission from those thus directly authorized; a commission given by them when the Holy Spirit was most abundantly poured out upon them, and solemnly ratified by that Holy Spirit Himself in the miraculous powers and graces vouchsafed to Stephen and his colleagues.

But as the limits of the Church began to extend, and the believers, instead of dwelling in one body in the city of Jerusalem, began to spread over the adjoining regions, the want was felt of another class, to superintend the scattered divisions of Christ's flock, to act in some measure as the substitutes of the Apostles in their absence, and as their deputies and subordinate officers in their presence. This class, of higher rank in the Church than the Deacons, and forming a connecting link between them and the Apostles, bears in Scripture the name of "Elders" or "Bishops," and is, by one or other of these names, the subject of frequent mention in the later books of the New Testament. The constitution of the Church was then, for the time being, complete. The Apostles, as, in the exercise of their high office, they founded congregations from city to city, ordained (always by the laying on of hands) Elders and Deacons; in whom each congregation recognised the ministers set over them by their Lord and Master in heaven; from whom they received the blessings conveyed in His Sacraments; and to whom they looked for guidance and example in the holy course on which they had entered, the Christian warfare which they had undertaken. The Apostle himself, however, who had planted each of these congregations, continued to exercise over it a general superintending authority, and to interfere, where the case required it, in the most solemn and decided manner. The nature and extent of the power thus assumed over each local Church, in virtue of his heavenly commission, by its Apostolic head, will be manifest from a study of the two Epistles written by St. Paul to the Church of the Corinthians; and from a comparison of the second of these Epistles with the first, it will be seen how fully this authority was recog-