A Mission These Had

From “Sermon at the Consecration of Francis White as Bishop of Carlisle” (1626)

We are here this day about the consecration of a reverend father, and St. Paul tells it in one place that we are about a good work; in another, that we are about an honorable work; St. John in this place, that we are about Christ’s own work. This work is the solemn deriving of a sacred ghostly power upon the persons of the holy apostles, for the use and benefit of Christ’s Church ever after…

We have his band and his seal for it; his own words first, which he spoke here, as my Father sent me, so send I you, (I trust we will believe him,) and then his own Spirit… as says St. Paul, to make his word good and to seal up his saying, “Receive the Holy Ghost.” …

For we say, with the consent of all, that this is the original privy-warrant of ordering and of sending bishops into the church, that here it is first found, and here founded first too; that to this very place we reduce the whole practice of the Church for these fifteen hundred years and upwards, the practice of the holy apostles themselves, so often mentioned in scripture, a man would think, of purpose to let us know how they understood this place in Acts… “over which the Holy Ghost has made you bishops,” and, “his bishopric let another man take,” and again, that of St. Paul to Timothy, “Stir up the gift that is in you, by the imposition of my hands,” and again, “lay hands suddenly on no man,” that to Titus, “for this cause have I set you, that you should ordain priests;” …

Paul says that he and his fellow apostles had a commission to be ambassadors for Christ; and under the notion we can best tell what to make of this text, for here was their commission and their embassage drawn up for them at large. Ambassadors are men commonly that must have some special quality in them above other people; their treaties are ordinarily for concord, and therefore above all other things they should be peaceable men.

The quality and disposition, then, which Christ requires here in ambassadors to be our first part, and this out of the first words of the text, “Peace be unto you,” set there, as it seems, as a preparation for their mission, and a prerequisite condition before they could be sent; for whatsoever other ambassadors be, Christ’s must be sure to be peaceable men.

Our second point is their mission, “I send you.” For be it that men are never so fitly and so ably disposed, yet unless they are sent, and have letters of credence with them, they can be no ambassadors; step up of their own head and run they may not, but expect a mission. A mission these had, and a commission too, that to be our third part; the nature and authority of their mission, which the passage gives us here, such another as Christ had from his Father, “as my Father sent me.” …

Next note the enabling of them to perform and execute their commission; in other commissions it goes by putting to the seal, in this also by putting upon them the seal of the Holy Ghost, “Receive the Holy Ghost.” This was given here with a ceremony as most commissions have a ceremony. The ceremony used was a blast of Christ’s breath, “He breathed upon them, and said, ‘Receive’” …

The last being but one part of his great commission, a power of the Holy Ghost to remit and retain sins, which in one sense is communicable to priests, but in another is kept proper and peculiar to bishops only. These are the parts; you see they depend all upon the Holy Ghost, which is the earnest and the seal of all.

Now, because there is no speaking, nor hearing neither, of him without his assistance, no discoursing of his gift of the Spirit without the Spirit itself, I shall therefore desire you that we may call upon God the Father, in the name and mediation of God the Son, for the aid and help of God the Holy Ghost.

John Cosin (1594-1672) was an English theologian and liturgical scholar. A committed high churchman, he lost his position as master of Peterhouse College, Cambridge during the English Civil War, and went into exile in France. At the Restoration, he returned to England, becoming Bishop of Durham in 1660. Cosin’s sermon at the consecration of Francis White was written during his early ministry, when he was serving as Archdeacon in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

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