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Moses did as the Lord commanded him: and he took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation. And he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge,” Num. xxvii, 22, 23. This charge is briefly expressed in the following words of Moses to Joshua in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and of good courage," Deut. xxxi, 7. And Joshua was duly qualified for this work, because he had the spirit of wisdom: “And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him,” Deut. xxxiv, 9.
The Levites were, in a very solemn manner, separated from among the children of Israel to perform the service of the tabernacle by the imposition of the hands of the Israelites: "And thou shalt bring the Levites before the tabernacle of the congregation; and thou shalt bring the whole assembly of the children of Israel together, and thou shalt bring the Levites before the Lord, and the children of Israel shALL PUT THEIR HANDS UPON the Levites. And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the Lord. Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine. And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt cleanse them and offer them for an offering; for they are wholly given unto me from among the children of Israel, instead of the first-born,” Num. viii, 5–19. Here we may observe, 1. The Levites were first to be cleansed. 2. Then the children of Israel put their hands on them before the tabernacle. 3. They were next offered up to God as a wave-offering. 4. By this imposition of hands by the people, and an offering by Aaron, they were separated from the children of Israel, and dedicated to God in the place of the first-born. 5. After that, and not before, they were to go in and do the service of the tabernacle. 6. They were peculiarly the Lord's: “They are mine;"' and not only so, but wholly given up to God, without reserve.
At the appointment of deacons, (Acts vi, 6,) imposition of hands was practiced by the apostles. We have also an account of the use of this ceremony in several cases in the New Testament, where it is affirmed by some that it was used in ministerial appointment; while others maintain that it was only a mere circumstance, which did not enter into the essence of ordination. The particular instances where imposition of hands was used are reserved for the following head of our discussion.
III. The different instances in which the ceremony is and is not used in appointment to the ministry.
Under the old covenant, no imposition of hands was used in the appointment of the priests to their office. In the case of the Levites this rite was performed by the Israelites, as we have already seen. In the New Testament the following cases are presented for our consideration :
THE APOSTLES.—This presents three distinct cases, namely, the appointment of the twelve original apostles, the appointment of Matthias to succeed Judas, and the appointment of Paul to be the apostle of the gentiles.
In the appointment or ordination of the original apostles we have no account of any imposition of hands, as will clearly appear from a perusal of those passages of Scripture where their appointment is mentioned. (See Matt. x, 1-15; Mark iii, 13-19; vi, 7-13; Luke vi, 13-16; ix, 1-6.) From these it will be seen that no imposition of hands was enjoined, and none was practiced, of which we have any account. As, therefore, no such ceremony was enjoined, and none such practiced, by our Lord, we have ample reason to believe that none was essential or even important or useful in their appointment.
In the appointment of a successor to Judas in the person of Matthias no imposition of hands was used. We have already seen that the word rendered ordained, Acts i, 22, does not mean or imply to impose hands; nor is there any expression or circumstance in the narrative of Matthias's appointment which would lead us to conclude that any such ceremony was used.
The case of St. Paul, who was a supernumerary apostle, added to their number after the resurrection of Christ, presents us with some facts which would seem to say that imposition of hands was used in his appointment to the apostleship. We find two instances in which St. Paul received the imposition of hands—the one was by Ananias, immediately at his conversion; the other was in company with Barnabas, when they were sent by the church at Antioch on a particular embassy to the gentiles. But we affirm that neither of these cases was an ordination, and that the imposition of hands was not used as a consecration to the ministry in either of these cases. This will appear manifest if we examine the passages where these are recorded.
The following passage furnishes the account of Ananias's imposition of hands on St. Paul: “And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and PUTTING HIS HANDS ON him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forth with, and arose and was baptized,” Acts ix, 17, 18. That this was not an appointment to the ministry, or an ordination, will be seen from the following considerations :-1. The design of this imposition of hands was, that Paul might receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost
. The restoration of sight is particularly intended in the twelfth verse. Therefore the object of the imposition of hands was not to appoint to the ministry, but to restore sight and confer miraculous gifts. 2. Besides, Ananias was not an apostle or minister of any kind. He was only a disciple, i. e., a private Christian. Hence the appointment to the ministry could not be intended. In short, the laying on of hands here, as elsewhere, is no more than a form of prayer, used on several occasions. In the case in hand it was a prayer by Ananias, in behalf of Paul, that he might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and be relieved from his blindness.
From another place in the Acts we learn that hands were laid on St. Paul, on another occasion, by the prophets and teachers Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen. This is the portion of Scripture which refers to this matter: “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia ; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus,” Acts xiii
, 2-4. This passage appears to us to mean that Barnabas and Paul were separated to perform a peculiar ministerial work, and not appointment to the ministry. That it was not an ordination in its common acceptation, we learn from this, that Paul and Barnabas had been ministers some time before this. Paul had been nine or ten years before this time a minister. The case, therefore, does not present a specimen of ministerial appointment, because they were ministers before this. Nor could this appointment mean that they were thereby raised to a higher grade in the ministry, as among moderns, from deacon to elder, or from elder to bishop, because both were already apostles, the highest order ever in the church. It could not be an ordination to holy orders, for they were in holy orders; and it could not be a step higher in the ministry, for they were then in the very highest. They were simply sent to perform a particular work, and then re. turn, as is plain to any one who will carefully examine the passage.
The word rendered separate here is apopoare, and signifies to take from the rest. It is used in Matt. xiii, 49; xxv, 32; Acts xix, 9; 2 Cor. vi, 17; Gal. i, 15; ii, 12; Luke vi, 22; Rom. i, 1. Thus these two apostles were appointed to a certain field of labor. The imposition of hands, therefore, in this place, was not an act of ordination. It was a form of prayer, or a rite of devoting these men to God, and to the particular work to which they were called.
It is true, high churchmen, and even some others, take this passage to furnish a model for our imitation in ordaining ministers. In this light it is mortal to prelacy, because Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen were no more than prophets and teachers, and therefore of inferior grade to the apostles. Those that take this for an ordination to the ministry are misled from the consideration, that as there is no other account of the formal ordination of St. Paul into the ministry, and that such a formal ordination, according to mo. dern usage, is necessary; that therefore the imposition of hands by the teachers and prophets must be such an ordination. This, however, is a mistake, as we shall see when we come to consider the particular appointment of St. Paul to the apostleship.
That the appointment of Barnabas and Paul to preach through a certain district in Asia was not ordination to the ministry, many of the best commentators and critics are of opinion. Mr. Wesley, in his note on Acts xiii, 2, says, " This was not ordaining them. St. Paul was ordained long before, and that not of man, neither by man. It was only inducting him into the province for which our Lord had appointed him from the beginning, and which was now revealed to the prophets and teachers.” Mr. Benson is of the same opinion, as also is Mr. Henry, Doddridge, &c.
On the whole, though the present appointment was not to initiate into the ministry, nor to graduate in it, still the process was similar to that which obtained in ordination. Nor would we seriously object to this use of it, except that it has been quoted in favor of sentiments at variance with Scripture. The example, however, is fatal to the hypothesis of the high churchman, which requires that those who ordain must be of equal or superior degree with the persons ordained; but in this case the prophets and teachers were manifestly inferior in authority to the apostles.
The case of the seven deacons is next to be considered, of whom it is said, " And when they had prayed, they LAID THEIR HANDS ON them,” Acts vi, 6. On this imposition of hands we remark, 1. These men were not ordained to the ministry of the gospel, but simply to the deaconship. The ordination or appointing here refers only to the authorizing of these seven to take care of the widows and poor, and the temporal concerns of the church. 2. That miraculous gifts were communicated by this act is evident from the 8th verse of this chapter, which says, “ And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” The design, therefore, of the laying on of hands seems to have been to confer miraculous gifts. At any rate, it can claim to be nothing more than a significant ceremony, used as a form of prayer, to express the design of the church in designating the deacons formally to their office, and consequently cannot enter into the essence of ordination.
In the account given of the seventy disciples there is no mention of imposition of hands. And were it of as much importance as some maintain, we have reason to believe that it would not be overlooked by the sacred historians, had it been used at their appointment.
In the appointment of elders in the various churches there is no account of imposition of hands. Of this we have these instances : “And when they had ordained [appointed] elders in every church," &c., Acts xiv, 23. So Titus was instructed to “ordain or appoint elders in every city,” Tit. i, 5. In the former passage Paul and Barnabas publicly appointed these elders in the several churches. In the latter case Titus was instructed to appoint elders in every city, yet in neither is there any account of imposition of hands, and we have no reason to believe that, were it used, it would be mentioned by the sacred writers.
The case of Timothy, perhaps, furnishes one of the strongest arguments for imposition of hands which the New Testament presents. The two following passages furnish all the information we have on this point: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery," I Tim. iv, 14: "Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God which is in thee by the putting on of my hands," 2 Tim. i, 6. For the elucidation of this, the following remarks are offered :
The word xaploua, gift, here used, commonly denotes some spiritual gift conferred on believers in the first age of Christianity, whether by an immediate effusion of the Holy Spirit, or by means of the imposition of hands. It also appears that these miraculous gifts might be improved, and that the continuance of them with individuals depended, in a great measure, upon the right temper of their minds and upon their making a proper use of their gifts.
This gift was bestowed upon Timothy by or rather according to prophecy, that is, by a particular inspiration or divine direction; for in conferring the spiritual gifts, as well as in working miracles, the apostles were not left to their own prudence, but were directed by a particular inspiration, called in this passage prophecy. (1 Cor. xii, 10; Acts xxi, 10.) By the same kind of inspiration particular persons were pointed out to be fit persons to be invested with sacred functions. Thus Timothy had the inspection of the Church of Ephesus committed to him by St. Paul, 1 Tim. I, 18: “According to the prophecies which went before concerning him."
It is stated in one of the texts quoted above that Paul laid his hands on Timothy, and also that the presbytery did the same; and as it was the same gift to which the two impositions of hands referred, the most consistent interpretation is, that Paul and the presbytery conjointly laid hands on Timothy.
Furthermore, the eldership or presbytery embraced all who exercised
sacred function in any one church or city, as is plain from Acts xx, 28; Tit. i, 5; Acts xiv, 21; Phil. i, 1; 1 Thess. v, 12. Agreeably then to apostolical usage, the elders of Lystra, who laid hands on Timothy, were all those who filled ecclesiastical offices. And with this agree the earliest accounts of the apostolical churches.
On the whole, it is very doubtful whether it was any ministerial installation that took place in the case of Timothy by the imposition of hands. The phraseology and similar passages of Scripture would favor the opinion, that it was merely a spiritual gift which was bestowed upon Timothy, and that the imposition of hands here has no reference to ordination to the ministry. And indeed this is farther strengthened from this consideration, that in one of the places the imposition of hands is ascribed to St. Paul, in the other to the presbyters, yet both clearly referring to the same gift. Thus it is obvious that the apostle was not intent on delivering down an accurate ceremonial, such as successionists contend for. He had higher aims in view. He was reminding Timothy of his solemn obligations, as a minister of Christ, to stir up the gift of God's Spirit given to him, according to prophecy. And this seems to be the more probable, seeing the decisions of prophecy by which he was designated to the ministry have more force, by way of ministerial appointment, than any particular ceremony, such as imposition of hands is.
The most fanciful interpretation is given to the word "presbytery" by prelatical high-churchmen. Slater interprets it to mean the whole college of the apostles.-(Original Draught.) Hammond, in his paraphrase of 1 Tim. iv, 14, would have the presbytery composed of apostles, though he would not embrace the whole college. He says that, together with St. Paul, “some others of the apostles, one or more, laid hands on Timothy.” The Biblical scholar knows
very well that in no place in the New Testament does the word bear this meaning. To support the theory, however, of high churchmen, such forced interpretations are necessary. To the candid and intelligent examiner it will be confessed that in the case of Timothy it is doubtful whether ordination is at all referred to; but at any rate its ceremonial was performed by Paul and the elders of Lystra, or in other words by Paul and those who filled ecclesiastical stations, or, at any rate, the presbyters of Lystra. Hence the pretensions of prelacy have no support from the passages of Scripture where Timothy is