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or communion table; and that they were constantly divided, agreeably to certain established rules between the bishop and elders. It must be obvious to every impartial reader, that this account agrees only with the system of parochial episcopacy, and that on any other principle such a plan of procedure would be at once impracticable and absurd.
The last circumstance relating to the primitive bishop which serves to fix his character, as the pastor of a single congregation, is the nature of that service which he was accustomed to perform. We have seen something of this in the foregoing quotations; but it will be proper to bring together into one view the duties incumbent on the bishop, in the apostolic and immediately succeeding ages. The early writers, then, speak of the primitive bishop as performing, in general, all the baptisms in his flock; as the only person who, ino rdinary cases, administered the Lord's Supper ; as constantly present with his people when convened; as the leader of their worship; as their stated public instructor; as visiting all the sick under his care; as catechising the young people several times in each week; as having the superintendency of the poor, none of whom were to be relieved by the deacons without, in each particular case, consulting the bishop; as celebrating all marriages; as attending all funerals; as under obligations to be personally acquainted with every individual of his flock, not overlooking even the servant-men and maids; as employed in healing differences among neighbours; and besides all these, attending to the discipline of his society, receiving and excluding members, &c. &c. Now is it not evident that no man could perform these duties for more than a single congregation? Can any impartial reader believe that the officers to whom all these details of parochial labours were allotted, were any other than the pastors of particular churches? To suppose that they were diocesan bishops, having a number of congregations, with subordinate pastors, under their control, is a supposition too absurd to be for a moment admitted.
Such is the testimony of the later fathers on the subject before us. We can find much evidence that, after the close of the third century, a difference of rank between bishops and ordinary presbyters began to be generally acknowledged; but we can find no evidence whatever, within the first four centuries, that the Christian church considered diocesan Episcopacy as the apostolic
and primitive form. On the contrary, we have found several fathers of high reputation expressly declaring, that in the primitive church bishop and presbyter were the same; and that prelacy, as it existed in the fourth and following centuries, was a human invention, and gradually adopted in the church, as a measure of prudence. We have found, in particular, one father, who stands at the pinnacle of honour, for learning as well as piety, maintaining both these positions with a clearness, a force of argument, and a detail of illustration, which one would imagine might satisfy incredulity itself. And we have seen in these early writers, a variety of facts incidentally stated; facts which, taken alone, would be considered by any court on earth as affording conclusive proof, that even after a moderate kind of prelacy arose, the bishops were still the pastors of single congregations.
I will not exhaust your patience, my brethren, by pursuing further a chain of testimony so clear and indisputable. I have intentionally disguised nothing that seemed to favour the Episcopal cause; and, indeed, amidst such poverty of even plausible evidence in their behalf, there is little temptation to disguise any thing. It has truly filled me with surprise at every step of my progress, to observe, that, with all the confidence of assertion, and all the parade of testimony, exhibited by the friends of prelacy, they should be able to produce so little from the fathers, their strong hold, which can yield them even the semblance of support. I cannot, therefore, conclude this letter in words more expressive of my fixed opinion, than those of a distinguished bishop of the Church of England, who, though he regarded prelacy as a wise human institution, steadfastly resisted the claim of divine right, which some high churchmen in his day were disposed to urge. After having stated some of their most plausible arguments, he declares, "I hope my "reader will now see what weak proofs are brought for this "distinction and superiority of order. No scripture; no primitive "general council; no general consent of primitive doctors and "fathers; no, not one primitive father of note, speaking particularly " and home to their purpose."
* Bishop Croft's Naked Truth, p. 47.
TESTIMONY OF THE REFORMERS, AND OTHER WITNESSES FOR THE
You have been already reminded, that neither the question before us, nor any other which relates to the faith or the order of the church, is to be decided by human authority. We have a higher and more unerring standard. But still, when there is a remarkable concurrence of opinion among learned and holy men, in favour of any doctrine or practice, it affords a strong presumptive argument that such doctrine or practice is conformable to Scripture. Thus the fact, that the great body of the reformers concurred in embraceing and supporting that system of evangelical truth, which has been since very improperly styled Calvinism*, is justly viewed by the friends of that system as a powerful argument in its favour. Let us apply this principle to the case under consideration.
It has been common for the zealous friends of prelacy to insinuate, that the Presbyterian doctrine of parity was unknown till the time of Calvin; that he was the first distinguished and successful advocate for this doctrine; and that the great body of the reformers totally differed from him on this subject, and embraced Episcopacy. How persons even tolerably versed in the history of the reformed churches, could ever allow themselves to make such a representation, I am altogether at a loss to conceive. Nothing certainly can be more remote from fact. The smallest attention to the subject will convince every impartial inquirer, that the most distinguished witnesses for evangelical truth, through the dark ages, long before Calvin lived, maintained the doctrine of ministerial parity; that the earliest reformers, both in Great Britain and
*I say improperly styled Calvinism, because, to say nothing of its much greater antiquity, the same system had been distinctly taught by several eminent reformers, and among others, by Luther himself, before Calvin appeared.
on the continent of Europe, admitted the same principle; that all the reformed churches, excepting that of England, were organized on this principle; that the church of England stands alone in the whole Protestant world, in making diocesan Bishops an order of clergy, superior to presbyters; and that even those venerable men who finally settled her government and worship, did not consider this superiority as resting on the ground of Divine appointment, but of ecclesiastical usage and human expediency.
If I mistake not, it will be easy to satisfy you, by a very brief induction of facts, that these assertions are not lightly made,
In the honourable catalogue of witnesses for the truth, amidst the corruption and darkness of papal error, the Waldenses hold the first place. They began to appear about the close of the seventh century, when they resided chiefly in the valleys of Piedmont. But they afterwards greatly multiplied, spread themselves extensively in France, Switzerland, and Italy, and, under different names in different districts, continued their testimony in favour of evangelical truth, for a number of centuries. All Protestant historians concur in representing them as constituting the purest part of the Christian church for several ages and Reinerius, who had once lived among them, and who was their bitter persecutor, says, "They are more pernicious to the church of Rome than any other "sect of heretics, for three reasons: 1. Because they are older than "any other sect; for some say that they have been ever since the "time of Sylvester; and others say, from the time of the apostles. "2. Because they are more extensively spread than any other sect; "there being scarcely a country into which they have not crept. "3. Because other sects are abominable to God for their blasphe"mies; but the Waldenses are more pious than any other heretics; "they believe truly of God, live justly before men, and receive all "the articles of the creed; only they hate the church of Rome."
Among the numerous points in which these witnesses for the truth rejected the errors of the Romish church, and contended for the doctrine of Scripture, and the apostolic age, one was that there ought to be no diversity of rank among ministers of the Gospel ; that bishops and presbyters, according to the word of God, and primitive practice, were the same order. Nor did they merely embrace this doctrine in theory. Their ecclesiastical organization was Presbyterian in its form. I know that this fact concerning the
Waldenses has been denied ; but it is established beyond all reasonable question by authentic historians. Perrin, Eneas Sylvius,* Thuanus, Walsingham, and others, who considered the tenet as a most offensive one, expressly assert that they held it. And although at some periods of their history they had persons among them whom they denominated bishops; yet it is well known that they were mere presbyters, who received no new consecration as bishops; and that they laid claim to no superiority of order or power.
The noble stand in defence of evangelical truth, made by the celebrated Dr. John Wickliffe, is well known. This illustrious English divine was professor of divinity in the university of Oxford, and has been frequently called "the morning star of the reforma❝tion." He protested with great boldness and zeal against the superstitions of the church of Rome, and taught a system, both of doctrine and order, remarkably similar to that which Luther, Calvin, and the great body of the reformers, two hundred years afterwards, united in recommending to the Christian world. "He was for rejecting all "mere human rites, and new shadows or traditions in religion; "and with regard to the identity of the order of bishops and "priests in the apostolic age, he is very positive: Unum audacter "assero," &c. "One thing I boldly assert, that in the primitive "church, or in the time of the Apostle Paul, two orders of clergy "were thought sufficient, viz. Priest and Deacon; and I do also say, that in the time of Paul, fuit idem presbyter atque episco
* Eneas Sylvius declares, "They deny the hierarchy; maintaining "that there is no difference among the priests by reason of dignity of "office." Quotations equally decisive might be produced from other authentic writers.
"Wickliffe," says Bishop Newcome," was not only a good divine, "and scripturist, but well skilled in the civil, canon, and English law. "To great learning and abilities, he added the ornament of a grave, un"blemished, and pious conduct."
He renounced the supremacy of the pope; rejected the heresy of transubstantiation; and taught, that the Bible is a perfect rule of life and manners, and ought to be read by the people; that human traditions are superfluous and sinful; that we must practise and teach only the laws of Christ; that mystical and significant ceremonies in religious worship are unlawful; and that to restrain men to a prescribed form of prayer, is contrary to the liberty granted them by God.