RPM, Volume 17, Number 29, July 12 to July 18, 2015

Systematic Theology

Appendix B:
Apostolic Succession and Sacramental Grace Shown to be a Blunder

By R. L. Dabney, D. D., LL. D.

Appendix B

Apostolic Succession and Sacramental Grace

The scriptural doctrine of the sacraments is so vital, so widely corrupted, and so involved in the claims of Prelacy and Apostolic Succession, that it is important for the student to gain a firm grasp of the relation. Hence I desire, before proceeding to the specific discussion of the two sacraments, to clear up that connection.

Two theories of redemption prevail in Christendom, which are, in fact, essentially opposite. If one is the gospel of God, the other cannot be; and it must be condemned as "another gospel," whose teachers ought to be "Anathema, Maranatha." The one of these plans of salvation may be described as the high—Prelatic; it is held by the Roman and Greek Churches, and the Episcopalian Ritualists. It is often called the theory of "sacramental grace;" not because true Protestants deny all grace through sacraments, but because that theory endeavors to make sacraments essential to grace. The dogma of factual succession through prelates from the Apostles, is a corner stone; for it teaches that the Apostles transmitted their peculiar office by ordination, to prelates, and with it, a peculiar carisma of the Holy Spirit, making every "priest" through this laying on of hands, a depository of the spiritual energy, and every "bishop," or Apostle, a "proxy" of the Savior Himself, endued with the redemptive gifts in the same sense in which He was endued with them by His Father. Thus, for instance, prelacy interprets John. 20:21. "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." The theory, then, amounts to this: that Christ's provision for applying redemption to man consisted simply in His instituting on earth a successive, prelatic hierarchy, as His "proxies," empowered to work, through His sacraments, the salvation of submissive participants, by a supernatural power precisely analogous to that by which He enabled Peter to speak in an unknown tongue, and by which Peter and John enabled the lame man to walk. Let the student grasp distinctly what prelacy means here. It is, that the "Bishop" (who is literally Apostle), in ordaining a "priest," does the identical thing which Paul did, Acts 19:6, to the first Ephesian converts: "when he laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spake with tongues and prophesied;" and that when this priest baptizes an infant, for instance, he supernaturally removes the disease of original sin by the water and the chrism, as the man whom an Apostle had endued with the carisma of miracle working healed epilepsy by his touch. It follows of course, that the agency of these men, divinely endued with the carisma of spiritual healing, and of the sacraments they use, are essential to the reception of redemptive grace. So, the priestly efficiency, through the sacrament is "ex opere operato," and does its work on all souls to which it is applied, independent of their subjective exercises of receptive knowledge, Title and penitence; provided the obstacle of mortal sin be not interposed.

Now, if our rival theory is true, it is perfectly obvious this scheme of "sacramental grace" is a profane dream, and is related to the Gospel precisely as a fetish, or a Pagan incantation. It is an attempt to cleanse the soul by an act of ecclesiastical jugglery. This enormous profanity is not charged upon every misguided votary of prelacy. As in so many other cases, so here, grace may render men's inward faith better than their dogma; the Holy Spirit may mercifully turn the soul's eye aside from the soul—destroying falsehood of the scheme, to the didactic truths so beautifully taught in the scriptural sacraments and the Word. But the godliness of such semi—prelatists is in spite of, and not because of, the scheme, which is essentially Pagan and not Christian. What a bait this dogma offers to the ambition of one like Simon Magus, greedy of the power of priestcraft, need not be explained. It is not charged that every prelatist adopts the delusion from this damnable motive; many doubtless lean to it from the unconscious prompting of self—importance. It is a fine thing, when a poor mortal can persuade himself that he is the essential channel of eternal life to his fellow, the "proxy" of the Son of God and king of heaven. The major part of the nominal Christian world has gone astray after this baptized paganism, from motives which are natural to sinful beings. They are instinctive superstition�"one of the regular consequences of man's fall and apostasy�"his unbelieving, sensuous nature, craving, like all other forms of idolatry, the palpable and material as the object of its exercises, and the intense longing of the sinful soul, remorseful and still enamored of its sin, for some palpable mode of reconciliation without hearty, inward repentance and mortification of sin. As long as men are wicked, superstitious, conscious of guilt and in love with sin, the prelatic scheme will continue to have abundance of followers.

The rival doctrine of the application of redemption is summed up in the words of our Savior, "Sanctify them through thy truth: Thy word is truth." Or, of the Apostle: "It pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." (1 Cor. 1:20). "So then, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Rom. 10:4—17. Or, of the Evangelist, (John. 1:1—12) "To as many as received Him, to them gave the power (exousia) to become the sons of God; even to them which believed on His name." Or, of Eph. 3:17. "Christ dwells in your hearts by faith." Or, of 1 John. 5:11—12. "This is the record, that God bath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that bath (ecei holds to) the Son, bath the life, and he that bath not the Son of God hath not the life." We learn by the previous chapters, that the "holding" of the Son is simply faith. To exhaust the Bible—proofs of this view would be to repeat a large part of both Testaments. Ps. 19:7—10; 119:9, 93, 98, 104, 130; Prov. 4:13; Isa. 33:6; 53:11; Jer. 3:15; Hos. 4:6; Hab. 2:14; 1 John. 5:1; 1 Pet. 1:23; Luke 8:11; 1 Cor. 4:15; John. 8:32; 5:24; 15:3; James. 1:18; Acts 13:26; 20:32. The prelatic view of sacramental grace conflicts with the whole tenor of Scripture. This constantly teaches, that the purchased redemption is applied by the Holy Spirit, through Gospel truth intelligently believed and embraced, without other conditions or media: that hence, all preachers, even inspired Apostles, are only "ministers by whom we believed:" that Christ is the only priest in the universe: that the sacraments are only "means of grace" doing good generally like sound preaching: and that Christ reserves the administering of them to the ministers, not on any hierarchical or sacerdotal ground, but simply on grounds of eutaxia and didactic propriety.

Now our refutation takes this form. First, that the whole prelatic structure rests on the assumption that whatever is said about the laying on of the Apostles' hands to confer the Holy Spirit, relates to ordination to clerical office. Second: that this reference is a mere blunder, an utter perversion of the Scriptures.

1. As a matter of fact, this unwarranted confusion does present the sole scriptural basis to which prelacy pretends. This we Drove by the Romanist standards. Rom. Cat. pt. a, ch. 7., qu. 25, asserting that the administration of the sacrament of orders belongs to the bishop, cites Acts 6:5, 6; 14:22. 2 Tim. 1:6. An examination of these texts (in the proper place) will show that the very blunder charged is made�"Council of Trent, Sess. 23rd, De Ordine. "The Sacred Scriptures" show�"that the power of consecrating, sacrificing and distributing His body and blood, and also of remitting sins, has been delivered to the apostles and their successors in the priesthood. 3. "Grace is conferred in holy orders." Canon 4. If anybody says that the Holy Spirit is not given by holy orders, and that accordingly the bishops have no ground to say (to the recipient) "Receive ye the Holy Spirit;" or that the character is not impressed through this sacrament, etc. let him be accursed. That the grace supposed to be received in orders is not that of sanctification and redemption, is clear from Rome's assertion, that the Canonical priest may, like Judas, wholly lack this. The grace in orders must then be the other; the miracle working carisma.

The Anglican Church bases its claim, so far as it is sacramentarian, on the same confusion, abusing the same texts. In the form for ordination, the prelate, in laying on hands, says; "Receive ye the Holy Spirit, for the office and work of a bishop in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands," etc. So, the Scripture here alluded to, John 20:21, is the one directed to be read before the consecration; and the words which follow are precisely those of 2 Tim. 1:6. The Anglican Church has learned her lessons from Rome well. The prelatic expositors disclose the same foundation for the sacramentarian doctrine. Theophylect, on 2 Tim. 1:6, gives, as the equivalent of the words dia th" epiqesew" twn ceirown mou, flow, this gloss: Tout esti ote se eceipotonoun episkopon confounding the appointment to clerical office, with an apostle's bestowal of spiritual gifts. Chrysostom, on Acts 6:8, says: "This man (Stephen) derived a larger grace. But before his ordination he wrought no signs, but only after he was manifested. This was designed to teach them, that grace alone was not sufficient; but that ordination is requisite, in order that the access of the spirit may take place." Dr. Hammond (Perainesis, Quere. 5th) "ceiroqesia is answerable to that imposition of hands in ordination, so often mentioned in the New Testament�"as generally, when by that laying on of hands, it is said they received the Holy Spirit: where the Holy Spirit contains all the carismata required for the pastoral function, and also signifies power from on high," etc. Hear him again: "Of this ceremony thus used (meaning ordination to the clerical office), several mentions there are. First, Acts 8:17, where, after Philip the deacon had preached and baptized in Samaria, Peter and John the Apostles came from Jerusalem to perfect the work, and laid hands on them [not on all that were baptized, but on some special person whom they thought meet] and they received the Holy Spirit." Dr. Hammond was high authority with prelatists.

Another evidence of the fatal confusion, which is the basis of their whole scheme, involving the whole body of prelatists, is their own invention of the word, "Simony," to describe the procurement of "orders" by money. This term is confessedly taken from Simon Magus, of Acts 8: and of course it is meant to describe the sin which he proposed to commit, verses 18, 19. Note that the thing Simon craved was not the ability to speak with tongues, or work some such miraculous sign. Possibly he had already received this: as a reprobate Judas had. He desired the ability to confer this power on others. And this criminal proposal, so perfectly defined by Simon's own words, is precisely the thing selected by Rome and the Anglican Church, to denominate the sin of procuring clerical orders by money. The disclosure is complete. Prelacy deems that the thing Peter and John had been doing in Samaria, and the thing Simon wished to do, was transmitting the Apostolic succession by ordination.

It is thus proved, that the sole basis of Scripture which prelacy has to offer is the mistaken notion, that the "laying on of hands," by which "the Holy Spirit was given," was prelatic ordination. The theory is, that the bishop (Apostle) thus confers a supernatural charism on the priest; by virtue of which the latter works the real presence in the eucharist and the "sacrifice of the altar," remits sin, and cleanses the infant's soul with baptismal water, precisely in the same generic mode in which the primitive disciple, endued with a carisma, wrought a miracle.

2. But we complete the utter destruction of the scheme by proving that their conception of this ceiroqesia is a blunder, and a baseless folly. To effect this, we first describe the true understanding, and then establish it. We assert that this laying on of hands to confer the Holy Spirit was not ordination at all, and did not introduce its recipients into a clerical order, or make them less laymen than before. It was the bestowal of an extraordinary power, for a purely temporal purpose; to demonstrate to unbelievers the divine claim of the new dispensation. See 1 Cor. 14:22, with 14, 19; Mark 16:15—18; Acts 4:29, 30; 5:12; Heb. 2:4, and such like texts. The fact of Christ's resurrection is the corner stone of the Gospel—evidence. This fact was to be established by the witness of twelve men. An unbelieving world was invited to commit its spiritual destiny to the "say—so" of twelve men, strangers and obscure. It was absolutely essential that God should sustain their witness by some supernatural attestations. See again, Mark 16:18; Acts 2:32, 33. But twelve men could not preach everywhere: whence it was at first equally important that others should be armed with these divine "signs." Through what channel might these other evangelists best receive the power to emit them? The answer displays clearly the consistency of our exposition: It was most suitable that the power in others should come through the twelve witnesses; because thus the "signs" exhibited, reflected back an immediate attestation on their truth. Thus, let us represent to ourselves a child of Cornelius the Centurion, exercising gifts unquestionably supernatural before pagans in Caeserea. This proves that God has here intervened. But for what end? That boy can be no eye witness to Christ's resurrection; and he does not claim to before he did not see it, and he was not acquainted with Jesus' person and features. But he can say, that he derived his power from the witness, Peter; and, Peter assured him, direct from a risen Christ. Just so far, then, as spectators verify the supernatural character of that boy's performances, they are a divine attestation to Peter's word concerning the resurrection. So Timothy's carismata were related to the witnessing of Paul, who conferred them. In brief: it was proper that others' ability to exhibit "signs" should proceed visibly from the Apostles, because the use of the signs was to sustain the testimony of the twelve. Hence the rule in the Apostolic day, which the acute Simon so clearly perceived; that it was "through laying on of the Apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given." And I assert that there is not a case in the New Testament, where any other than an Apostle's hand was employed to confer the Holy Spirit, if any human agency was employed. Search and see. Hence it follows, that since the death of the original twelve, there has never been a human being in the Church who was able to give this gift.

For, the necessity was temporary. After the death of the Apostles, the civilized world was dotted over with churches. The Canon of Scripture was complete. The unbelieving world was furnished with another adequate line of evidence (which has been deepening to our day) in souls sanctified and pagan society purified. The charismatic signs ceased because they were no longer essential. See Luke 16:31. The world is now in such relation to the Scripture testimony, as was the Jew of Christ's day.

Now, we claim a powerful and a sufficient proof of the correctness of this theory, in its satisfying consistency. It reconciles everything in the Scripture teachings and history. We claim that it sallies exactly with Paul's prediction of the cessation of the charismatic powers, in 1 Cor. 13:8. It explains exactly the date and mode of the Cessation of genuine miracles out of the Church. Church historians know how anxiously miracles were claimed by the Fathers down to the 4th (and indeed the present) century, and the obscurity in which the facts in the 2nd and 3rd centuries are involved. Well: on our view, real miracles might have continued just one generation after the Twelve. John, the aged, might have conferred the power on some young evangelist, the year of the former's death. The Church would be naturally reluctant to surrender the splendid endowment, The discrimination between surprising, and truly supernatural events, was crude. The age of "pious frauds" was at hand. Thus, as the genuine miracles faded out, the spurious had their day.

Again: that this laying on of hands was not ordination and did not confer orders at all, and had nothing to do with an apostolic succession, is proved beyond all question, by these points. Paul ordains that a "neophyte" must not be permitted to receive orders. But this endowment was bestowed immediately after baptism; as in Acts 8:15, 16; 10:44, 45; 19:6. Soundness in the faith was an absolute requisite to ordination. 1 Tim. 3. These charisma were exercised by unbelievers. 1 Cor. 13. Again, apostles forbade women to receive orders: these powers were enjoyed by women, and by children. Acts 21:9; 10:44

Once more: that these endowments were not wrought by ordination is proved by the scriptural rule of election of all deacons and ministers, by the brotherhood, in order to their ordination. This usage proves that the ceremony of orders did not confer qualification, but only recognized its possession by the candidates; because its prior possession by them furnished to the brotherhood the sole criterion by which they were to judge the candidates suitable persons to vote for. It is on this principle, that the instructions of Acts 6:2—6; 1 Tim. 3., and Titus 1:5—9, are given. Let this point be pondered.

But when we proceed to the examination of the places claimed by the Prelatists, and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit by putting on of apostles' hands, it can be proved exegetically that each place falls under our theory. We have seen that the main place, perverted by Rome and the Anglican Church, is John 20:21, 22. To the Protestant, these words are plain enough. Christ is God—man, Redeemer, High Priest, Sacrifice, Advocate and King to believers. These offices He devolves on nobody, but holds them always. He condescends, however, to be "sent" of His Father, in the humble office of preacher in the Church. This office He now devolves on the Twelve. They, as His ministers, are to teach men the terms of pardon: for "who can forgive sin but God only?" But as they were to be inspired, their teachings of the terms would be authoritative and binding. This needed inspiration had been already promised. John 16:15; end so had the miraculous attestations which would be requisite. Acts 1:4, 5. But the time was now so near at hand, that Christ renews the promise in the significant act of John. 20:22. This gift of the Holy Spirit was no other than that realized at Pentecost. Acts 2:4. The proofs are, 1. That Christ already recognized the Eleven as endued with that form of the Holy Spirit's power which works faith, repentance, and salvation. See and compare Matt. 26:75; Luke 22:31, 32; John. 21:15. Hence, the form promised in that place must have been the only other known in Scripture; that namely, which wrought "signs." 2. Our Lord's words Acts 1:4, Sir prove it. "Wait," says He, "for the promise of the Father which ye have heard of me." Heard of Him, where? Evidently in John 20:2I, 22. The fulfillment was to be "not many days hence." This fixes it as the spiritual effusion of Pentecost. But now He anti—prelatic demonstration is perfect; for notoriously, the thing the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to do at Pentecost was not "the consecration of priests," or the transmitting of an apostolic succession; but the exhibition of miracles to attest the resurrection.

Peter's own explanation of the Pentecostal endowment gives us another demonstration against the prelatic theory. He tells the multitude (Acts 2:14—36. See especially his main proposition in verse 36th). This is the New Dispensation of the Messiah. (Proposition) Proved by two signs; (a.) The spiritual effusions promised in Joel and such like places. (b.) The resurrection of the sacrificed Messiah. Now the structure of this inspired argument is ruinous to the Prelatist in (at least) two points. 1. 5. 33. The spiritual results were to be palpable to the senses "this which ye now see and hear." But no Prelatist pretends that the "grace in holy orders" is visible and audible. The bestowal was one of visible, sensible "signs," the very one, and the only one relevant to the demonstration. 2. Verses 17, 18. The spiritual endowment was one which would fall on children and females. But neither of these, according to scripture, can receive ordination. So that the prelatic theory is again absolutely excluded.

Let us now proceed to Acts 6:3—8, because this is one of the places, on which Prelacy builds chiefly. It has been proved that Stephen's and Philip's possession of the Drama of Miracles was the prerequisite, not the consequence, of their election and ordination to diaconal office. But in 1 Tim. 3:8, to end, where this office is expressly defined, we hear of no such qualification or function. It is not a part of the regular, permanent diaconal endowment. But the Pentecostal Church in Jerusalem was adorned with many instances doubtless among its laymen, women and children (Acts 2:17, 18), of this gift of "signs," as well as among its ministers. The juncture demanding the separate development of the diaconal office, was critical. The spirit of faction was already awake between the Christians of Hebrew and of Hellenistic blood. The duty was going to be a nice and delicate one. Hence the Apostles' advise that the men first chosen for it be not only commended to the whole brotherhood by their moral character, but by the seal of this splendid gift. We repeat: this endowment was the prerequisite to their appointment, not the consequence of it. It was, expressly an appointment to "serve tables." And it cannot be argued that still Stephen and Philip had received this carismata of the Spirit, if at some previous time, yet by some ordaining act to a lower clerical grade; because the diaconal was then the lowest grade known to the Church. Thus their argument is fatally hedged out at every point.

In Acts 8:15, etc., "Simon saw that through laying on of the Apostles' hands, the Holy Spirit was given." The endowment was, then, a visible one. But according to Prelatists, the grace in "holy orders" is invisible (so invisible indeed, to the sober senses of Protestants, as to be wholly imaginary!) Hence, this case was not one of ordination at all, or of apostolic succession. So, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles, in Cornelius house (Acts 10:46), they of the circumcision "heard them speak with tongues." So, when Paul laid hands on the Ephesian converts, Acts 19:6, "the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spake with tongues and prophesied." Here again the result was palpable. And that this was not a case of ordination at all, is proved also by the fact, that the endowment was given to all the little company, which was so small that it included but twelve males. (Verse 7.)

In 1 Cor.12—14., the discussion of this carismata is so explicit and full, as to leave nothing to be desired. The Apostle speaks of it, not as a clerical endowment, but a popular. He expressly says that its object is to be a sign to unbelievers. He expressly foretells its utter vanishing out of the Church after a time, which our experience has long verified. But ordination and the ministry are permanent.

Let us proceed, now, to the case of Timothy, 1 Tim. 4:14; and 2 Tim. 1:6; because Prelatists suppose that here we have the clearest instance of an ordination conferring the Holy Spirit. But let us see: If these references are only to Timothy's ordination, then it was a presbyterial ordination ("by the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery"), and thus the prelatic scheme is ruined. But if the two tests do not describe one and the same transaction, then the proof is gone that ordination by prelate imparted the Holy Spirit to Timothy; because, if two transactions are alluded to, the Holy Spirit may have been imparted by the other. And 2. This was doubtless the case. The "presbytery" ordained Timothy to the ministry, the Holy Spirit having moved some prophetic person to advise it, as in the case of Barnabas and Saul. Acts 13:2. But the Apostle ("who was also a presbyter." See 1 Pet. 5:1,) acting by his apostolic power, added some Papa of "signs," to assist his "beloved son in the ministry" in convincing unbelievers. This is our solution: it is evinced by its perfect correspondence with the history in Acts 16. On this solution, Timothy's carismata was derived, not from his ordination, but from a distinct action. Let the Prelatist reject this, and he inevitably falls back into the doctrine of presbyterial ordination abhorred by him. 3. Timothy's qualification for the ministry was not conferred by the ordaining act, but recognized in it as pre—existing in him. For Paul himself ascribes much of this qualification to the instructions of his mother and grandmother, 2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14—17; and the whole of it, instrumentally, to the inspired Scriptures. He here declares that by the instructions of the Scriptures, the minister of the gospel is "qualified and thoroughly equipped," (artio" exertismeno") for his work. This leaves nothing for the prelate's hands to do. From this fatal answer the Prelatist has no escape, except to attempt to render the term "man of God," believer, instead of minister. But this is absurd, being totally against the old Testament usage, against Paul's usage, who has always his own distinctive terms, pisto", agio", adelfo", for believers; and against his express precedent in the First Epistle, to Tim. 6:11; where "man of God" unquestionably means minister.

We have thus dealt with the cases on which the Prelatist chiefly builds, and have wrested them from him. The student can examine for himself all the. other cases of ceiroqeoia in the New Testament, in the same way. It is thus evinced that the whole basis of this scheme, of Apostolic Succession and sacramental grace, is a blunder and a confusion.

Other heads of argument against this figment might be expanded; but they would lead us aside from the doctrine of the sacrament, which is our present object. There can be no apostolic succession, because there could not be an Apostle in the earth, since the death of John. It is impossible that any one but a contemporary of Jesus, personally acquainted with His features, and personally cognizant of His resurrection, should be an Apostle. There cannot be any apostolic succession, again, because there is nothing to succeed to. Every Prelatist who understands himself says, the thing succeeded to is priesthood. But there has not been any priesthood on earth, and could not be any, for eighteen hundred years. The figment has been refuted again, by showing that Prelacy has no continuous succession of any kind in its ministry. It has been broken fatally a hundred times, by heresy, or atheism, or impiety, or simony, or anarchy. Last: the whole scheme is refuted by the substantial identity which Scripture asserts between the redemption of the new dispensation, and the old. Under the old, redemption was certainly not applied by sacramental grace. Rom. 2:26—29; 4:11, 12. But the argument of 1 Cor. ch. 10., teaches that it is no more so under the New Testament. (The student may find these views expanded, in the Southern Presbyterian Review, January 876 p. 1.)

The high prelatic scheme of sacramental efficiency is essentially involved in that of the apostolic succession and the "grace of orders." Hence, the doctrine of the sacraments cannot be effectually cleared up here, without an understanding of the latter. Its discussion verges towards another department of sacred science, that of Church government. But the introduction of this argument will be excused on account of the insoluble connection.

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