Daily Reading for February 24 • Saint Matthias the Apostle
The very first Act of the Apostles, after Christ was gone out of their sight, was that commemorated this day;—the ordination of Matthias in the room of the traitor Judas. That ordination is related very minutely. Every particular of it is full of instruction; but at present I wish to draw attention to one circumstance more especially; namely, the time when it occurred. It was contrived (if one may say so) exactly to fall within the very short interval which elapsed between the departure of our Lord and the arrival of the Comforter in His place: on that “little while,” during which the Church was comparatively left alone in the world. Then it was that St. Peter rose and declared with authority that the time was come for supplying the vacancy which Judas had made. “One,” said he, “must be ordained”; and without delay they proceeded to the ordination. Of course, St. Peter must have had from our Lord express authority for this step. Otherwise it would seem most natural to defer a transaction so important until the unerring Guide, the Holy Ghost, should have come among them, as they knew He would in a few days.
On the other hand, since the Apostles were eminently Apostles of our Incarnate Lord, since their very being, as Apostles, depended entirely on their personal mission from Him . . . in that regard one should naturally have expected that he Himself before His delegation would have supplied the vacancy by personal designation. But we see it was not His pleasure to do so. As the Apostles afterwards brought on the ordination sooner, so He had deferred it longer than might have been expected. Both ways it should seem as if there were a purpose of bringing the event within those ten days, during which, as I said, the Church was left to herself; left to exercise her faith and hope, much as Christians are left now, without any miraculous aid or extraordinary illumination from above. Then, at that moment of the New Testament history, in which the circumstances of believers corresponded most nearly to what they have been since miracles and inspiration ceased—just at that time it pleased our Lord that a fresh Apostles should be consecrated, with authority and commission as ample as the former enjoyed. In a word, it was His will that the eleven Disciples alone, not Himself personally, should name the successor of Judas; and that they chose the right person, He gave testimony very soon after, by sending His Holy Spirit on St. Matthias, as richly as one St. John, St. James, or St. Peter.
Thus the simple consideration of the time when Matthias was ordained, confirms two points of no small importance to the well-being of Christ’s kingdom on earth. First, it shows that whoever are regularly commissioned by the Apostles, our Lord will consider those persons as commissioned and ordained by Himself. Secondly, it proves that such power to ordain is independent of those apostolical functions, which may be properly called extraneous and miraculous. It existed before those functions began; why then may it not still continue, however entirely they have passed away?
We must not pretend to be wise above what is written; but there is, I trust, nothing presumptuous or unscriptural in supposing that Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, purposely abstained from nominating St. Matthias in his life-time, in order that Christians in all times might understand that the ordained successors of the Apostles are as truly bishops under Him, as ever the Apostles were themselves.
For this is the constant doctrine of the ancient Church, delivered in express terms by our Lord in the text, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”
From “St. Matthias” in Sermons for Saints’ Days and Holidays by John Keble, Tracts for the Times, number 52; found at http://anglicanhistory.org/tracts/tract52.html.