Here we step once more on sure ground. We have the privilege and satisfaction of appealing to the sacred writings. Before the canon of scripture was closed, many of the errors, both in doctrine and practice, which have since troubled and rent in pieces the professing church, were allowed to spring up. These were, in the wisdom and grace of God, detected and exposed by the inspired apostles. If we keep this in mind, we shall not be surprised to meet with many things in the internal history of the church entirely contrary to scripture. Neither need we have any difficulty in withstanding them. We have been armed by the apostles. The love of office and preeminence in the church was manifested at an early period, and many observances of mere official invention were added. The "grain of mustard seed" became a great tree — the symbol of political power on the earth: this was and is the outward aspect of Christendom; but inwardly the leaven did its evil work, "till the whole was leavened."
Those who have carefully studied Matthew 13 with other passages in the Acts and the Epistles relating to the profession of the name of Christ, should have a very correct idea of both the early and later history of the church. It embraces the entire period, from the sowing of the seed by the Son of man, until the harvest, though under the similitude of the kingdom of heaven. This is a great relief to the mind, and prepares us for many a dark and distressing scene, wickedly perpetrated under the fair name and cloak of Christianity. We will now turn to some of these passages.
1. Our blessed Lord, in the parable of the wheat and tares, predicts what would take place. "The kingdom of heaven," He says, "is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way." In course of time the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit. This was the rapid spread of Christianity in the earth. But we also read "then appeared the tares also." These were false professors of Christ's name. The Lord Jesus sowed good seed. Satan, through the carelessness and infirmity of man, sowed tares. But what was to be done with them? Were they to be rooted out of the kingdom? The Lord says, No; "lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest;" that is, till the end of the age or dispensation when the Lord comes in judgment.
But here, some may inquire, Does the Lord mean that the wheat and the tares are to grow together in the church? Certainly not. They were not to be rooted out of the field, but to be put out of the church when manifested as wicked persons. The church and the kingdom are quite distinct, though the one may be said to be in the other. The field is the world, not the church. The limits of the kingdom stretch far beyond the limits of the true church of God. Christ builds the church; men have to do with extending the proportions of Christendom. If the expression, "the kingdom of heaven," meant the same as "the church of God," there ought to be no discipline at all. Whereas the apostle, in writing to the Corinthians, expressly says, "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person." But he was not to be put out of the kingdom, for that could only be done by taking away his life. The wheat and the tares are to grow together in the field until the harvest. Then the Lord Himself, in His providence, will deal with the tares. They shall be bound in bundles and cast into the fire. Nothing can be plainer than the Lord's teaching in this parable. The tares are to be put away from the Lord's table, but not rooted out of the field. The church was not to use worldly punishments in dealing with ecclesiastical offenders. But alas! the very thing which the Lord is here guarding His disciples against came to pass, as the long list of martyrs so painfully shows. Pains and penalties were brought in as discipline, and the refractory were handed over to the civil power to be punished with fire and sword.
2. In Acts 20 we read that "grievous wolves" would make their appearance in the church after the departure of the apostle. In Paul's Epistles to the Thessalonians — supposed to be his first inspired Epistles — he tells them that the mystery of iniquity was already at work, and that other evil things would follow. In writing to the Philippians he tells them, weeping, that many walk as "the enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things." Many were calling themselves Christians, but minding earthly things. Such a state of things could not escape the spiritual eye of him whose one object was Christ in glory, and practical conformity to His ways when on earth. In his Second Epistle to Timothy — probably the last he ever wrote — he compares Christendom to "a great house," in which are all manner of vessels, "some to honor and some to dishonor." This is a picture of the outward universal church. Nevertheless, the Christian cannot leave it, and individual responsibility can never cease. But he is to clear himself from all that is contrary to the name of the Lord. The directions are most plain and precious for the spiritually minded in all ages. The Christian must have no association with that which is untrue. Such is the meaning of purging himself from the vessels to dishonor. He is to clear himself from all that is not to the Lord's honor. John and the other apostles speak of the same things, and give the same divine directions; but we need not here pursue them farther. Enough has been pointed out to prepare the reader for what we must meet with in that which calls itself Christian.
Here an important question arises, and one that has been often asked, At what time, and by what means, did clericalism — the whole system of clergy — gain so firm a footing in the professing church? To answer this question fully would be to write in detail the internal history of the church. Its constitution and character were wholly changed by the introduction of the clerical system. But its growth and organization was gradual. Arguments were drawn from the Old Testament, and, in a short time, Christianity was recast in the mould of Judaism. The distinction between bishops and presbyters, between a priestly order and the common priesthood of all believers, and the multiplication of church offices, followed rapidly as consequences. But however difficult it may be now to trace the inroads of clericalism, the synagogue was its model.
We learn from the whole of the New Testament that Judaism was the unwearied and unrelenting enemy of Christianity in every point of view. It labored incessantly, on the one hand to introduce its rites and ceremonies; and on the other to persecute unto the death all who were faithful to Christ and to the true principles of the church of God. This we see especially from the Acts and the Epistles. But when the extraordinary gifts in the church ceased, and when the noble defenders of the faith, in the persons of the inspired apostles, passed away, we may easily imagine how Judaism would prevail. Besides, the early churches were chiefly composed of converts from the Jewish synagogue, who long retained their Jewish prejudices.
Clericalism, then, we firmly believe sprang from Judaism. From the days of the apostles until now the root of the whole fabric and dominion of clericalism is there. Philosophy and heterodoxy, no doubt, did much to corrupt the church and lead her to join hands with the world: but the order of the clergy and all that belongs to it must be founded on the Jews' religion. It is more than probable, however, that many may have been persuaded then, as many have been since, that Christianity is a continuation of Judaism, in place of being its perfect contrast. The Judaizing teachers boldly affirmed that Christianity was merely a graft on Judaism. But throughout the epistles we everywhere learn that the one was earthly and the other heavenly; 'that the one belonged to the old, and the other to the new creation; that the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
We will now return to the immediate followers of the apostles.
The Apostolical Fathers, as they are called, such as Clement, Polycarp, Ignatius, and Barnabas, were the immediate followers of the inspired apostles. They had listened to their instructions, labored with them in the gospel, and probably had been familiarly acquainted with them. But, notwithstanding the high privileges which they enjoyed as scholars of the apostles, they very soon departed from the doctrines which had been committed to them, especially as to church government. They seem to have completely forgotten — judging from the Epistles which bear their names — the great New Testament truth of the Holy Spirit's presence in the assembly. Surely both John and Paul speak much of the presence, indwelling, sovereign rule, and authority of the Holy Spirit in the church. Joh 13:1-Joh 16:1; Ac 2:1; 1Co 12:14; Eph 1:1-Eph 4:1 give plain directions and instructions on this fundamental truth of the church of God. Had this truth been maintained according to the apostle's exhortation, "Endeavoring to keep" not to make — "the unity of the Spirit," clericalism could never have found a place in Christendom.
The new teachers of the church seem also to have forgotten the beautiful simplicity of the divine order in the church. There were only two orders of office-bearers — elders and deacons. The one was appointed to attend to the temporal, the other to the spiritual need of the assembly of the saints. Elder, or bishop, simply means overseer, one who takes a spiritual oversight. He may have been "apt to teach," or he may not; he was not an ordained teacher, but an ordained overseer. And as for the institutions of divine appointment, we only find in the New Testament, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Nothing could be more simple, more plain, or more easily understood, as to all the directions given for faith and practice; but there was no room left for the exaltation and glory of man in the church of God. The Holy Ghost had come down to take the lead in the assembly, according to the word of the Lord, and the promise of the Father; and no Christian, however gifted, believing this, could take the place of leader, and thus practically displace the Holy Spirit. But, from the moment that this truth was lost sight of, men began to contend for place and power, and of course the Holy Spirit had no longer His right place in the assembly.
Scarcely had the voice of inspiration become silent in the church, than we hear the voice of the new teachers crying loudly and earnestly for the highest honors being paid to the bishop, and a supreme place being given to him. Not a word about the Spirit's place as sovereign ruler in the church of God. This is evident from the Epistles of Ignatius, said to have been written A.D. 107. Many great names, we are aware, have questioned their authenticity; and many great names contend that they have been satisfactorily proved to be genuine. The proofs on either side lie outside of our line. The Church of England has long accepted them as genuine, and considers them as the basis, and as the triumphant vindication, of the antiquity of episcopacy. The following are a few specimens of his admonitions to the churches.
Ignatius, in the course of his journey from Antioch to Rome, wrote seven Epistles. One to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Traillians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrneans, and one to his friend Polycarp. Being written on the eve of his martyrdom, and with great earnestness and vehemence, and having been the disciple and friend of St. John, and at that time bishop of Antioch, probably the most renowned in Christendom, his Epistles must have produced a great impression on the churches; besides the way to office, authority, and power has always a great charm for vain human nature.
In writing to the church at Ephesus he says, "Let us take heed, brethren, that we set not ourselves against the bishop, that we may be subject to God... It is therefore evident that we ought to look upon the bishop even as we do upon the Lord Himself." In his Epistle to the Magnesians he says, "I exhort you that ye study to do all things in a divine concord; your bishops presiding in the place of God; your presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles; and your deacons, most dear to me, being entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ." We find the same strain in his letter to the Traillians: "Whereas ye are subject to your bishop as to Jesus Christ, ye appear to me to live, not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ who died for us... Guard yourselves against such persons; and that you will do if you are not puffed up: but continue inseparable from Jesus Christ our God, and from your bishop, and from the commands of the apostles." Passing over several of his letters to the churches, we only give one more specimen from his Epistle to the Philadelphians: "I cried whilst I was among you, I spake with a loud voice, Attend to the bishop, and to the presbytery, and to the deacons. Now some supposed that I spake this as foreseeing the division that should come among you. But He is my witness for whose sake I am in bonds, that I knew nothing from any man; but the Spirit spake, saying on this wise: Do nothing without the bishop; keep your bodies as the temples of God: love unity; flee divisions; be the followers of Christ, as He was of His Father."
In the last quotation it is very evident that the venerable father wishes to add to his theories the weight of inspiration. But, however extravagant and unaccountable this idea may be, we must give him credit for believing what he says. That he was a devout Christian, and full of religious zeal, no one can doubt; but that he greatly deceived himself in this and in other matters there can be as little doubt. The leading idea in all his letters is the perfect submission of the people to their rulers, or of the laity to their clergy. He was, no doubt, anxious for the welfare of the church, and fearing the effect of the "divisions" which he refers to, he probably thought that a strong government, in the hands of rulers, would be the best means of preserving it from the inroads of error. "Give diligence," he says, "to be established in the doctrine of our Lord and the apostles, together with your most worthy bishop, and the well-woven spiritual crown of your presbytery, and your godly deacons. Be subject to your bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh; and as the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union among you both in body and in spirit." Thus the mitre was placed on the head of the highest dignitary, and henceforth became the object of ecclesiastical ambition, and not unfrequently of the most unseemly contention, with all their demoralizing consequences.
It is assumed that these Epistles were written only a few years after the death of St. John, and that the writer must have been intimately acquainted with his mind, and was only carrying out his views. Hence it is said, that episcopacy is coeval with Christianity. But it matters comparatively little by whom they were written, or the precise time; they are not scripture, and the reader must judge of their character by the word of God, and of their influence by the history of the church. The mind of the Lord, concerning His church, and the responsibility of His people, must be learnt from His own word, and not from the writings of any Father, however early or esteemed. And here, it may be well, before leaving this point, to place before our readers a few portions of the word, which they will do well to compare with the above extracts. They refer to christian ministry and individual responsibility. Thus learn the mighty difference between ministry and office; or, between being esteemed for your work's sake, not merely office' sake.
In the Gospel of St. Matthew, from verse 45 of chapter 24 to verse 31 of chapter 25, we have three parables, in which the Lord addresses the disciples as to their conduct during His absence.
1. The subject of the first is the responsibility of ministry within the house — in the church. "Whose house are we." Thus we read, "Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods." Real ministry is of the Lord and of Him alone. This is what we have to note in view of what took place on the very threshold of Christianity. And He makes much of faithfulness or unfaithfulness in His house. His people are near and dear to His heart. Those who have been humble and faithful during His absence will be made rulers over all His goods when He returns. The true minister of Christ has to do directly with Himself. He is the hireling of no man, or of any particular body of men. "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing." Failure in ministry is also spoken of and dealt with by the Lord Himself.
"But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken." This is the other and sad side of the picture. The character of ministry is greatly affected by holding or rejecting the truth of the Lord's coming. In place of devoted service to the household, with his heart set on the master's approval on his return, there is assumption, tyranny, and worldliness. The doom of such, when the Lord comes, will be worse than that of the world. He shall "appoint him his portion with the hypocrites" — Judas' place — where "there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Such are the fearful consequences of forgetfulness of the Lord's return. But this is more than a mere doctrinal mistake, or a difference of opinion, about the coming of the Lord. It was "in his heart," his will was concerned in it. He wished in his heart that his Lord would stay away, as His coming would spoil all his schemes, and bring to a close all his worldly greatness. Is not this too true a picture of what has happened? and what a solemn lesson for those who take to themselves a place of service in the church! The mere appointment of the sovereign, or the choice of the people, will not be enough in that day, unless they have also been the chosen of the Lord and faithful in His house.
2. In the second parable, professing Christians, during the Lord's absence, are represented as virgins who went out to meet the Bridegroom and light Him to His house. This was the attitude of the early Christians. They came out from the ' world, and from Judaism, to go forth and meet the Bridegroom. But we know what happened. He tarries: they all slumbered and slept. "And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him." From the first till the beginning of the present century, we hear very little about the coming of the Lord. Now and then, here and there, a feeble voice may be heard on the subject; but not until the early part of the present century did the midnight cry go forth. Now we have many tracts and volumes on the subject, and many are preaching it in nearly all lands under heaven. The midnight is past, the morning cometh.
The revival of the truth of the Lord's coming marks a distinct epoch in the history of the church. And, like all revivals, it was the work of the Holy Spirit, and that by instruments of His own choosing, and by means which He saw fitting. And how like the Lord's long-suffering, that in this great movement there should be time given between the cry and the arrival of the Bridegroom to prove the condition of each. Five of the ten virgins had no oil in their lamps — no Christ, no Holy Spirit dwelling in them. They had only the outward lamp of profession. How awfully solemn the thought, if we look at Christendom from this point of view! Five of every ten are unreal, and against them the door will be shut for ever. How this thought should move to earnestness and energy in evangelising! May we wisely improve the time thus graciously given between the going forth of the midnight cry, and the coming of the Bridegroom.
3. In the first parable, it is ministry inside the house; in the third, it is ministry outside the house — evangelising. In the second parable, it is the personal expectation of the Lord's coming, with the possession of that which is requisite to go in with Him to the marriage supper of the King's son.
"The kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey."
Here the Lord is represented as leaving this world and going back to heaven; and while He is gone there, His servants are to trade with the talents committed to them.
"Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two."
Here we have the true principle and the true character of christian ministry. The Lord Himself called the servants, and gave them the talents, and the servant is responsible to the Lord Himself for the fulfillment of his calling. The exercise of gift, whether inside or outside the house, although subject to the directions of the word, and always to be exercised in love and for blessing, is in no wise dependent on the will of sovereign, priest, or people, but on Christ only, the true Head of the church. It is a grave and solemn thing for any one to interfere with Christ's claims on the service of His servant. To touch this is to set aside responsibility to Christ, and to overthrow the fundamental principle of Christian ministry.
Priesthood was the distinguishing characteristic of the Jewish dispensation; ministry, according to God, is characteristic of the Christian period. Hence the utter failure of the professing church, when it sought to imitate Judaism in so many ways, both in its priesthood and its ritualism. If a priestly order, with rites and ceremonies, be still necessary, the efficacy of the work of Christ is called in question. In fact, though not in words, it strikes at the root of Christianity. But all is settled by the word of God.
"But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down at the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified... Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin." (see Heb 10:1-25.)
Ministry, then, is a subject of the highest dignity and the deepest interest. It testifies to the work, the victory, and the glory of Jesus, that the lost may be saved. It is the activity of God's love going out to an alien and ruined world, and earnestly beseeching souls to be reconciled to Him.
"God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." (2Co 5:19-21.)
Jewish priesthood maintained the people in their relations with God: christian ministry is God in grace by His servants delivering souls from sin and ruin, and bringing them near to Himself, as happy worshippers in the most holy place.
To return to our parable, there is one thing specially to be noticed here, as showing the Lord's sovereignty and wisdom in connection with ministry. He gave differently to each, and to each according to his ability. Each one had a natural capacity which fitted him for the service in which he was employed, and gifts bestowed according to the measure of the gift of Christ for its fulfillment.
"He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." (Ephesians 4.)
The servant must have certain natural qualifications for his work, besides the power of the Spirit of God. If the Lord calls a man to preach the gospel, there will be a natural ability for it. Then the Lord may create in his heart by the Holy Spirit a real love for souls, which is the best gift of the evangelist. Then he ought to stir up and exercise his gift according to his ability, for the blessing of souls and the glory of God. May we remember that we are responsible for these two things — the gift graciously bestowed, and the ability in which the gift is to be exercised. When the Lord comes to reckon with His servants, it will not be enough to say, I was never educated for, or appointed to, the ministry. The question will be, Did I wait on the Lord to be used by Him according to what He had fitted me for? or did I hide my talent in the earth? Faithfulness or unfaithfulness to Him will be the only thing in question.
That which distinguished the faithful from the unfaithful servant was confidence in their master. The unfaithful servant knew not the Lord: he acted from fear, not from love, and so hid his one talent in the earth. The faithful knew the Lord, trusted Him, and served from love, and was rewarded. Love is the only true spring of service for Christ, either in the church or in the outside world. May we never be found making excuses for ourselves, like the "wicked and slothful" servant, but be ever reckoning on the love, grace, truth, and power of our blessed Savior and Lord.
It may be only fair to suppose that those good men, by whose means a new order of things was brought into the church, and the free ministry of the Holy Spirit in the members of the body excluded, had the welfare of the church at heart. It is evident that Ignatius, by this arrangement, hoped to avoid "divisions." But, however good our motives may be, it is the height of human folly — if not worse — to interfere with, or seek to change, the order of God. This was Eve's mistake, and we all know the consequences too well. It was also the original sin of the church, from which it has suffered these eighteen hundred years.
The Holy Ghost sent down from heaven is the only power of ministry; but the Lord must be left free to choose and employ His own servants. Human arrangements and appointments necessarily interfere with the liberty of the Spirit. They quench the Holy Spirit: He only knows where the ability is, and where, when, and how to dispense the gifts. Speaking of the church as it was in the days of the apostles, it is said, "But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He [the Holy Ghost] will." And again, we read, "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal," or for the profit of all. (1 Corinthians 12.) Here all is in divine hands. The Holy Spirit dispenses the gift. It is to be exercised in acknowledgement of the Lordship of Christ; and God gives efficacy to the ministry. What a ministry — Spirit, Lord, and God — its source, power and character! How great, how sad, the change to king, prelate, or people! Is not this apostasy? But while we object to mere human appointment to office, qualified or not qualified, we would contend most earnestly for the ministry of the word to both saints and sinners.
The church alas! soon found that to hinder ministry, as it is set before us in the word of God, and to introduce a new order of things, did not hinder divisions, herestes, and false teachers springing up. True, the flesh, in the most real and gifted Christian, may manifest itself; but when the Spirit of God is acting in power, and the authority of the word owned, the remedy is at hand: the evil will be judged in humility and faithfulness to Christ.
From this time — the beginning of the second century, and before it — the church was greatly disturbed by herestes; and as time rolled on, things never grew better, but always worse.
Irenaeus, a Christian of great celebrity, who succeeded Pothinus as bishop of Lyons, A.D. 177, has left us much information on the subject of the early herestes. He is supposed to have written about the year 183. His great book "against heresies" is said to contain a defense of the holy catholic faith, and an examination and refutation of the false doctrines advocated by the principal heretics.
Christianity at the beginning had no separate priestly order. Its first converts went everywhere preaching the Lord Jesus. They were the first to spread abroad the glad tidings of salvation, even before the apostles themselves had left Jerusalem. (Ac 8:4.) In course of time, when converts were found sufficient in any place to form an assembly, they came together in the name of the Lord on the first day of the week to break bread, and to edify one another in love. (Ac 20:7.) When the opportunity came for an apostle to visit such gatherings, he chose elders to take the oversight of the little flock; deacons were chosen by the assembly. This was the entire constitution of the first churches. If the Lord raised up an evangelist, and souls were converted, they were baptised unto the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. This was, of course, outside the assembly, and not a church act. After due examination by the spiritual as to the genuineness of the evangelist's work, the assembly being satisfied, they were received into communion.
It will be seen, from this brief sketch of the divine order of the churches, that there was no distinction such as "the clergy," and "the laity." All stood on the same ground as to priesthood, worship, and nearness to God. As the apostles Peter and John say, "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." And thus could the whole assembly sing, "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood; and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." The only priesthood, then, in the church of God is the common priesthood of all believers. The humblest menial in the palace of the archbishop, if washed in the blood of Christ, is whiter than snow, and fitted to enter the most holy place, and worship within the veil.
There is no outer court worship now. The separation of a privileged class — a sacerdotal order — is unknown in the New Testament. The distinction between clergy and laity was suggested by Judaism, and human invention soon made it great; but it was episcopal ordination that established the distinction, and widened the separation. The bishop gradually assumed the title of Pontiff. The presbyters, and at length the deacons, became, as well as the bishops, a sacred order. The place of mediation and of greater nearness to God was assumed by the priestly caste, and also of authority over the laity. In place of God speaking direct to the heart and conscience by His own word, and the heart and conscience brought direct into the presence of God, it was priesthood coming in between them. Thus the word of God was lost sight of, and faith stood in the opinions of men. The blessed Lord Jesus, as the Great High Priest of His people, and as the one Mediator between God and men, was thus practically displaced and set aside.
Thus alas! we see in the church what has been true of man from Adam downwards. Everything that has been entrusted to man has failed. From the time that the responsibility of maintaining the church as the pillar and ground of the truth fell into man's hands, there has been nothing but failure. The word of God, however, remains the same, and its authority can never fail, blessed be His name. One of the main objects of these "Short Papers" is to recall the reader's attention to the principles and order of the church, as taught in the New Testament. "God is a Spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." That is, we must worship and serve Him according to the truth, and under the guidance and unction of the Holy Spirit, if we would glorify His name, and worship and serve Him acceptably.
Almost all ecclesiastical writers affirm that neither the Lord Himself nor His apostles gave any distinct precepts as to the order and government of the church — that such things were left to the wisdom and prudence of her office-bearers, and the character of the times. By this assumption the
widest range was given to the human will. We know the consequences. Man sought his own glory. The simplicity of the New Testament, the lowly path of the Lord and His apostles, the zeal and self-denial of a Paul, all were overlooked, and worldly greatness soon became the object and ambition of the clergy. A brief sketch of the bishop's office will set these things in a clear light, and, we doubt not, will greatly interest our readers.
The humblest peasant is familiar with the grandeur and worldly greatness of a bishop; but he may not know how a minister of Christ, and a successor of the humble fishermen of Galilee, came to such dignity. In the days of the apostles, and for more than a hundred years after, the office of a bishop was a laborious but "good work." He had the charge of a single church, which might ordinarily be contained in a private house. He was not then as a "lord over God's heritage," but in reality its minister and servant, instructing the people, and attending on the sick and poor in person. The presbyters, no doubt, assisted in the management of the general affairs of the church, and also the deacons; but the bishop had the chief part of the service. He had no authority, however, to decree or sanction anything without the approval of the presbytery and people. There was no thought then of "inferior clergy" under him. And at that time the churches had no revenues, except the voluntary contributions of the people, which, moderate as they doubtless were, would leave a very small emolument for the bishop after the poor and needy were attended to.
But in those early times office-bearers in the church continued, in all probability, to carry on their former trades and occupations, supporting themselves and their families in the same manner as before. "A bishop," says Paul, "must be given to hospitality." And this he could not have been, had he depended for his income on the earnings of the poor. It was not until about the year 245 that the clergy received a salary, and were forbidden to follow their worldly employments; but towards the close of the second century circumstances arose in the history of the church, which greatly affected the original humility and simplicity of its overseers, and which tended to the corruption of the priestly order. "This change began," says Waddington, "towards the end of the second century; and it is certain that at this period we find the first complaints of the incipient corruption of the clergy." From the moment that the interests of the ministers became at all distinguished from the interests of Christianity, many and great changes for the worse may be considered to have begun. We will notice some of these circumstances; and first,
The bishops who lived in cities, were either by their own preaching, or by the preaching of others — presbyters, deacons, or people — the means of gathering new churches in the neighboring towns and villages. These young assemblies, very naturally, continued under the care and protection of the city churches by whose means they had received the gospel, and were formed into churches. Ecclesiastical provinces were thus gradually formed, which the Greeks afterwards denominated dioceses. The city bishops claimed the privilege of appointing office-bearers to these rural churches; and the persons to whom they committed their instruction and care were called district bishops. These formed a new class, coming in between the bishops and the presbyters, being considered inferior to the former, and superior to the latter. Thus were distinctions and divisions created, and offices multiplied.
Churches thus constituted and regulated rapidly increased throughout the empire. In the management of their internal affairs every church was essentially distinct from every other, though walking in spiritual fellowship with all others, and considered as part of the one church of God. But, as the number of believers increased, and churches were extended, diversities in doctrine and discipline sprang up, which could not always be settled in the individual assemblies. This gave rise to councils, or synods. These were composed chiefly of those who took part in the ministry. But when the deputies of the churches were thus assembled, it was soon discovered that the control of a president was required. Unless the sovereign action of the Holy Spirit in the church be owned and submitted to, there must be anarchy without a president. The bishop of the capital of the province was usually appointed to preside, under the lofty title of the Metropolitan. On his return home it was hard to lay aside these occasional honors, so he very soon claimed the personal and permanent dignity of the Metropolitan.
The bishops and presbyters, until about this time, were generally viewed as equal in rank, or the same thing, the terms being used synonymously; but now the former considered themselves as invested with supreme power in the guidance of the church, and were determined to maintain themselves in this authority. The presbyters refused to concede to them this new and self-assumed dignity, and sought to maintain their own independence. Hence arose the great controversy between the presbyterian and the episcopalian systems, which has continued until this day, and of which we may speak more particularly hereafter. Enough has been said to show the reader the beginning of many things which still live before us in the professing church. In the consecrated order of clergy he will find the germ out of which sprang at length the whole mediaeval priesthood, the sin of simony, the laws of celibacy, and the fearful corruptions of the dark ages.
Having thus glanced at what was going on inside the church from the beginning, and especially amongst her rulers, we will now resume the general history from the death of Marcus Aurelius.
Chapter 9 - From Commodus till the Accession of Constantine A. D. 180-313