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said to have received imposition of hands by Paul and the presbytery. We say prelacy, because prelacy and episcopacy are very different.
The following passage of holy Scripture deserves some notice: "Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins," 1 Tim. v, 22. Mr. Hammond, on this text, refers the imposition of hands to the absolution of penitents. Others think Paul referred to the ordination of ministers. It is unquestionable that this ceremony was used as a form of prayer on some occasions; it was used as a benediction, also, to cure diseases, and to confer spiritual gifts, as well as for other purposes. Hence it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain on which of these uses Timothy receives instruction from St. Paul. Accordingly the best critics are divided when they come to give their respective opinions. The lesson which we are to learn from this is, to leave the matter in that state of obscurity in which we find it; except to learn this weighty truth, that where the written word leaves such matters undecided, it is dangerous for man to pronounce authoritatively, and rash for him to form theories, and establish rites and ceremonies, from unauthorized authorities. From the text in question, therefore, nothing can be defined respecting the use of imposition of hands in appointment to the ministry: and consequently the injunction to Timothy cannot be quoted as decisive that imposition of hands here referred to appointing to the ministry.
One other passage will claim our attention in reference to this point. It is that where St. Paul mentions this as one of the first principles of the doctrine of Christ: "Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands," Heb. vi, 2. Dr. Hammond thinks the imposition of hands here refers to the absolution of penitents or apostates. Others apply it to confirmation, and scarcely any believe that it refers to ministerial appointment. The ceremony answered great purposes in the Christian church, as the appointed method of communicating important gifts; but it is by a very uncertain consequence that any can infer from thence the universal obligation of this rite in admitting persons into full church-membership, or even to the ministry. The ceremony, as here spoken of, seems to have been connected with baptism, and cannot apply to ordination to the ministry.
IV. The extent, use, and obligation of this ceremony.
To ascertain the extent to which the ceremony was used, it will be necessary to enumerate the cases in which it was omitted, as well as those wherein it was practiced. We must subtract from the list of ordinations the appointment of Paul and Barnabas to preach to the gentiles. "Lay hands suddenly on no man," must be thrown into the list of doubtful injunctions, as to the case to which the ceremony belonged; and the imposition of hands mentioned by St. Paul in Hebrews must also be rejected as inappropriate to the case in hand. The different cases, too, where the several Greek words rendered ordain, appoint, constitute, make, occur must be stricken out of the list; as these Greek words, being eight in number at least, do not mean or imply imposition of hands.
In the two orders or grades of clergy of the Old Testament, the
priests and Levites, imposition of hands was employed at the consecration of the one, and not in that of the other. The priests, Aaron and his sons, were not set apart to their priesthood by laying on of hands; and though their dedication was formal, and Jehovah enjoined that Aaron should have prepared for him an ephod and girdle, a breastplate of judgment, the robe of the ephod, &c., and that the inferior priests also should have garments, and the whole accompanied with various rites and ceremonies; yet there is no mention of imposition of hands, which certainly would not be omitted in so minute a detail of particulars had it been practiced on the occasion. (Exod. xxviii, 29.) But when the Levites or inferior order were consecrated, who answered very nearly to the deacons under the New Testament, the ceremony of imposition of hands was used.
Under the new dispensation neither the twelve original apostles, nor Matthias, who was chosen to fill the place of Judas, nor Paul, who was added to the original twelve, were dedicated to their work by imposition of hands. We must not, as we have seen, reckon the imposition of Ananias's hands, in the case of Paul, as a consecration to the apostleship. Ananias was only a disciple, or a private member of the church, and so could not confer it; and indeed he seems to use this ceremony in St. Paul's case only as an expression or form of prayer. We have, moreover, the apostle's own testimony, that he was not consecrated by this worthy disciple; for he received his authority neither from man, nor by man, but by revelation of Jesus Christ. Thus imposition of hands was not used in the appointment of the first twelve apostles. And when a breach was made in the original college by the apostacy of Judas, there was no imposition of hands used in appointing a successor, though there were eleven still alive, and present on the occasion. And when the college was strengthened by the addition of another to be the apostle of the gentiles, no imposition of hands was used, nor any such formal procedure as is connected with modern ordinations. Wherefore in these three cases of apostolic appointment, viz., in the original appointment of the apostles, in continuing the succession, and adding to the number, no laying on of hands was used. Consequently as these were the highest grade of ministers in the church, we may draw this conclusion, as an undeniable corollary or consequence, that in appointing the chief or principal ministers in the Christian church imposition of hands is not necessary, or enjoined by Scriptural precept or example.
Nor can it be shown that in the appointment of such ministers as immediately filled the apostles' places imposition of hands was used, as in the case of the evangelists, Timothy and Titus. In the case of Titus we have no account of his being appointed to his office by imposition of hands. And we have seen that this ceremony, in the case of Timothy, was used to confer a spiritual gift, and not ministerial appointment; or, at any rate, the elders of Lystra took part in the ceremony equally with St. Paul. Thus in the appointment of those ministers who approach nearest to the apostles we have no command or example to use this ceremony, as the case of Timothy at best presents too much uncertainty to establish authoritatively the thing, and, as far as it is innocent or permissible to copy it in 3
VOL. X.-Jan., 1839.
ordination as an example, it furnishes a refutation of the system of the high churchman, as the elders held quite too conspicuous a place in the supposed ordination of Timothy to authorize or justify the claims of prelacy, which rejects with disdain, and as sacrilegious, the interference or action of presbyters, pastors, or elders in appointing to the ministry.
In the appointment of elders no imposition of hands was used of which we have any account. When Paul and Barnabas ordained or appointed elders in every church, (Acts xiv, 23,) no imposition of hands is mentioned; and where Titus is instructed "to ordain elders in every city," there is no account of the use of this rite; (Tit. i, 5;) and where St. Paul, in form, gives particular instructions respecting the appointment or ordination of bishops or elders, (1 Tim. iii, 1, &c.,) there is no account informing us that this ceremony was used.
The ordination of elders among the Jews was by three persons; yet they did not use imposition of hands; but, on the contrary, strictly forbade it, as appears from the following quotation from Maimonides, in his Sanhedrim, chap. iv: "After what manner is the ordaining of elders for ever? Not that they should lay their hands on the head of an elder; but only that they should call him Rabbi, and say to him, Behold, thou art ordained, [appointed,] and hast power of judging," &c. See Clarke's Com., Acts xiii, 3.
In the appointment of deacons the imposition of hands was used, but then they were not ministers of the word. Their office was similar to that of the Levites. Both were inferior to the priests and apostles, bishops or presbyters. On the. Levites, inferior to the priests, imposition of hands was enjoined, while it was not practiced on the priests in the temple service, nor on the elders in the synagogue. The deacons of the Christian church were introduced into their service of tables by this ceremony; while at the same time neither apostles, elders, nor bishops were thus consecrated. The Scriptural usage then was, to initiate, by imposition of hands, church officers answering to stewards in the Methodist Episcopal Church, to deacons in the Congregational Churches, to elders in the Presbyterian Church, &c.; while the ministers of the word, who preached the gospel and governed the church, were not consecrated or appointed by this ceremony. The following is the sum of the evidence on this point:
First. In the appointment of apostles imposition of hands was not used.
Secondly. It was not used in appointing evangelists.
Thirdly. Nor was it in use in ordaining bishops, elders, or pas
Fourthly. It was employed in appointing deacons or servants of the church, but who were not ministers of the word.
Such is the extent to which imposition of hands was practiced in selecting church officers. The obligation of the church to practice this may occupy here a little space. There is certainly no preceptive obligation to practice this ceremony in appointing ministers of the gospel. There is also the absence of all apostolic example. In appointing persons to fill the office occupied by the primitive deacons there is the example of the apostles. Now we must contend
that in appointing ministers of the gospel to their appropriate work this ceremony is not essential, nor is it obligatory by Scriptural precept or example. Consequently there may be Scriptural ordination to the ministry where no imposition of hands is practiced.
Imposition of hands, therefore, in selecting to the ministry of the gospel is not taught by precept or example in Scripture. It is merely of ecclesiastical use, and may be used or not, as the church of God directs. The ceremony, however, possesses, from its significancy, peculiar claims for adoption. In itself it is a form of prayer. It marks out its subject as separated from every other employ, and as devoted to God, to be his, and his wholly. Yea, it singles out the person as a sacrfiice to God, to be inviolably and exclusively his. But it is absurd to suppose there can be no ordination without imposition of hands, seeing there are several other ceremonies or rites that are as often attendant on ordination as this: such as fasting and prayer. The former is sometimes omitted by those who think imposition of hands indispensable. Now if fasting, which was frequently and generally used, be sometimes omitted, and yet ordination in such cases is considered valid, why should we think there can be no person authorized to be a minister without imposition of hands, especially if he be otherwise duly qualified?
But is it by fasting, prayer, and imposition of hands that persons are qualified for the work of the ministry? By no means. It is God who must both call men by his Spirit, and then qualify them for this great work. Both their call and qualifications come from God; but still he chooses that they should have the sanction of that church to which they belong.
It may, however, be objected, "When God has called, qualified, and given authority, there is no need of ordination or appointment from man." If this sentiment be correct, why was it, when Paul and Barnabas were sent by the Holy Ghost on an especial mission, (Acts xiii, 1–5,) that the Holy Ghost said also, "Separate me Barnabas and Paul for the work whereunto I have called them?" And why did they, in obedience, fast, pray, and lay their hands upon them? Besides, the church or its officers do not endow persons with authority to preach the word of God. This is the prerogative of the Head of the church. The Spirit calls, gives authority, qualifies the persons called, and blesses their labors. The church can only discern and recognize the persons thus called and qualified. Ecclesiastical persons might as well undertake, and they have just as much power, to bless the labors of ministers, or bless the people with grace, as to authorize any person to be a minister whom God has not called and qualified. They can discern, if they will attend to Scriptural marks, and recognize those whom God calls. Thus far they can go, but no farther. Some Scriptural form is necessary to express the opinion of the church respecting persons whom they judge fit to instruct others.
But to answer the objection fully, it should be considered that, although the sanction of any church may not be absolutely necessary to authorize those whom God has truly called and sent, there is still another obvious reason why the church should sanction.The reason is not merely to sanction those whom God has sent and qualified, but, what is of more importance, it is to prevent those
whom God never called from entering into the ministry,-not to call whom God has called, but to prevent those whom he has not called. The church sanctions, but does not authorize properly qualified persons, and she debars wolves from entering into the ministry of Christ.
Is any church, whether of those who claim to be apostolic, or those who do not, at liberty knowingly to authorize a wicked man to preach the gospel? I think not. The wicked man, though ordained by man, is still as unauthorized as he was before; and no congregation, church, parish, or circuit under heaven ought to receive him as an ambassador of Christ, should all the ecclesiastical persons and bodies on the face of the earth endow him with all the power they possess. In such a case they have no power. They have no authority to choose improper persons for the ministry. Such persons are not eligible. They are no more eligible for preachers of the gospel than a foreigner or minor is eligible to be president of the United States. And the people of the Union would manifest as much wisdom and consistency, and far less wickedness, in choosing a foreigner or minor to be president, in opposition to their constitution, to common sense and the good of the people, than professed ministers of the gospel would show in selecting either the wicked, or those ignorant of divine things, or the unqualified, to preach holiness, instruct the ignorant, and build up the church of God. Not but that the hypocritical may occasionally "creep in unawares" into the priests' office, but then a vigilant and pious people and ministry can either prevent most persons of such character from entering the ministry, or detect them when entered, so that the church will receive little or no damage from that quarter. We do not now dispute upon the comparative excellence of the presbyterian or episcopal form of ordination. If all the preliminaries be right, they are in our opinion equally valid, as far as we can ascertain from Scripture, antiquity, or the reason of the thing. There should be some Scriptural form; and considering the significancy of imposition of hands, the practice of the ancient church, and its very general adoption by almost all Protestant churches, it seems to be a suitable ceremony for ministerial ordination.
But what shall we say to the superstitious views as well as practice of some respecting this ceremony? By them it is considered more in the light of a charm or spell than a significant rite, whereby persons are separated for the ministry. Better certainly would it be not to use it at all than to pervert it in this manner.
While, therefore, imposition of hands may be viewed as a decent and appropriate ceremony, it cannot be considered as an essential accompaniment of ordination. The Wesleyan Methodists, until very lately, did not practice it, except occasionally. And we must acknowledge that their late recurrence to it adds very little to the true value of their ordination, which, without it, may challenge comparison with that of any church under heaven, whether ancient or modern. The Rev. Mr. Gillmer, of the Presbyterian Church, in letters published on the point under consideration, affirms that the Wesleyan form of ordination, or of admitting persons into the full ministry, comes nearer the apostolic method than any other. The Rev. Dr. Miller asserts that imposition of hands is no essential part