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In truth, when men have once grasped the idea that the destiny of the Christian faith is nothing short of universal dominion, some such system seems of necessity to be required; otherwise the ambassadors of the Gospel would be precluded by the very laws of nature from that close and individual application of its principles to the heart and home of every man, which becomes the servants of Him “ who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” To attend, alike and at the same time, to things great and small, to regulate the fate of churches and nations without overlooking the minute and separate concerns of any individual, is an incomprehensible and probably an incommunicable attribute of the Almighty. We may without presumption infer from the hints contained in several passages of Holy Scripture, that He “who has appointed the services of angels and men in a wonderful order," has assigned even to the heavenly host, those angels of his who excel in power, their several places upon earth ', wherein to watch over its nations and churches, and over every member thereof: and whatever may be thought on this subject, it is at least manifest that if any number of mortal men were entrusted with the undivided spiritual care even of a single populous city, many of their charge must of necessity escape unnoticed in the crowd; that the more docile, the more willing, the more zealous, the more forward, would occupy the pastor's attention; while the obdurate would be unwarned, the reluctant uninvited, the lukewarm would be left to grow cold, the modest and retiring would be overlooked.
i Dan. x. 13. St. Matth. xviii. 10, &c.
From the earliest periods, accordingly, the Gospel field has been locally divided among the labourers. Not to mention the divine mission of one apostle to the circumcision, and of another to the Gentiles; we learn from Scripture, that from the very foundation of churches, apostolic men were charged with the episcopal care of separate and defined districts; and history informs us, that as the promise of Christ was more and more fulfilled, and the leaven worked in secrecy and silence through the whole lump, and the great cities began to number a multitude of converts too large to meet in one place and live under the same immediate inspection; these primitive episcopal parishes were subdivided, and their several portions entrusted to the charge of parochial priests. At Rome something of this nature existed within one hundred years after the ascension of our Lord, and the precedent seems to have been generally followed'. In
1 See Jer. Taylor, “ Episcopacy asserted,” ch. xliii. (vol. vii. Heber.) In inquiring into the origin of parishes, we must distinguish between territorial divisions for the pastoral cure, and distinct parochial endowments. Those authors (as Bingham) who have represented the institution of parishes as commencing in the reign of Theodosius, or even later, have referred to the latter; but it is certain that parish churches existed long before a separate maintenance was provided for their
succeeding ages again, as all men thronged into the Church, and these earliest parishes became too populous for separate superintendence, they were farther subdivided by the same episcopal authority from which they had originated.
The division of labour, and the concentration of responsibility, is therefore a principle entwined with the original constitution of the Church. Every one of Christ's flock has his appointed shepherd, who must give account for his soul. The bishop is bound', either by himself or by those commissioned by him, to oversee every inhabitant of his diocese, the parish priest each of his parishioners. Nor are the services of the laity unappropriated : for, while all are bound together as members of the same Lord, they are more especially united who are committed to the superintendence of the same bishop, and yet more of the same pastor; and the efforts of Christian benevolence in the alleviation of bodily suffering, the education of youth, and the edification of all, are no longer dispersed over a desultory and uncertain range, but are united and concentrated, that with a wise and well-ordered alacrity we may
66 bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ ?.” incumbents, who with the bishop shared a common stock. The establishment at Hippo, in the time of St. Austin, seems to have been of this nature.
1 See Wilson's Sacra Privata ; Andrews's Devotions, &c,
2 See Acts vi. It may be observed, that the state poor laws, a most inadequate substitute for the bounty of the Church, yet still recognise the connexion existing between fellow parishioners; and under all changes of the law, in proportion as the poor depend less on a legal provision, they ought to find a more plentiful supply in the alms of the Church.
And this principle of the Catholic Church is strongly maintained in the rules and canons of our own branch of it, and in those ancient laws of England of which we boast that “ Christianity is part and parcel.” Our land is divided into dioceses, and every diocese into parishes; and while these divisions are recognised by law, and their limits annually defined and continually retraced, so that every man may always be assigned to his own; it is a recognised principle, that the bishop is put in charge of the whole population of his diocese, and that under him the priests have the care of all within their several parishes. Hence they are solemnly charged at their ordination not only as men intrusted with the ministry of Christ's Church, but also as those who are about to undertake the care of a certain defined portion thereof: “ See that
you never cease your labour, your care, and diligence, until you have done all that lieth in you, according to your bounden duty, to bring all such as are or shall be committed to your charge, unto that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there be no place left among you either for error in religion, or for viciousness of life.” The ceremonial of institution and collation again im
press the same lesson; and the canons and rubrics fill up the description of a parish priest as the pastor of the whole flock within its limits; requiring that he shall know and report to his diocesan their peculiar sins and temptations, and the local evils to which they are exposed'. They imply that he is to be acquainted with all by name and face, for he is to distinguish those who avail themselves of the means of grace,
and those who neglect them, those who are at peace or at variance with each other, those who are an example or a scandal to the flock. His pervading influence is to hallow every joy and sorrow of their lives; he is to bless every wedded pair, to receive every infant into the communion of the Church, to superintend the religious education of every child within his bounds, to attend and minister at every sick bed, and finally to commit to rest in the church's shade the mortal remains of
every member of her holy brotherhood. Such are the laws by which it is provided, that no dark corner of our land shall ever be found where Satan may muster his forces, and reign unmolested by the ministers and ambassadors of Christ; that there shall never be any one of our population, whether old or young, rich or poor, to whom life and light and liberty are not offered; that every man among us shall be numbered either with Christ's faithful and obedient children and
See especially the rubrics appended to the Visitation of the Sick, to the Catechism, and to the Holy Communion.