It were easy to fill a volume with testimony to the same amount. But it is not necessary. If there be any fact in the history of the British churches capable of being demonstrated, it is, that their venerable reformers uniformly acknowledged the other protestant churches formed on the Presbyterian plan, to be sound members of the Universal Church, and maintained a constant and affectionate intercourse with them as such. This is so evident from their writings and their conduct, and has been so fully conceded by the ablest and most impartial judges among Episcopalians themselves, that it would be a waste of time further to pursue the proof.

From the English reformers let us pass on to those distinguished worthies who were made the instruments of reformation on the continent of Europe. Luther began this glorious work in Germany, in the year 1517. About the same time the standard of truth was raised by Zuingle, in Switzerland; and soon afterwards these great men were joined by Carlostadt, Melancthon, Oecolampadius, Calvin, Beza, and others. The pious exertions of these witnesses for the truth were as eminently blessed as they were active and unwearied. Princes, and a multitude of less celebrated divines, came their to help. Insomuch that before the close of that century, numerous and flourishing Protestant churches were planted throughout Germany, France, Switzerland, the Low Countries, Sweden, Denmark, and various other parts of Europe, from the Mediterranean to the confines of Russia.

Now it is well known that all these Protestants on the continent of Europe, when they threw off the fetters of papal authority, and were left free to follow the word of God, without any exception, recognized the doctrine of ministerial parity, and embraced it, not only in theory, but also in practice. They established all their churches on the basis of that principle; and to the present hour bear testimony in its favour. This may be abundantly proved, by recurring to their original confessions of faith; to their best writers; and to their uniform proceedings.

When the churches began to assume a systematic and organized form, they were all arranged by ecclesiastical writers under two grand divisions-the reformed and the Lutheran. The reformed churches, which were established in France, Holland, Switzerland, Geneva, and in some parts of Germany, from the beginning,

as is universally known, laid aside diocesan bishops; and have never, at any period, had an episcopal government, either in name or in fact. That these churches might have had episcopal ordination, and the whole system of prelacy, continued among them, if they had chosen to retain them, no one can doubt who is acquainted with their history. But they early embraced the doctrine of ministerial parity, which had been so generally adopted by preceding witnesses for the truth; and erected an ecclesiastical organization in conformity with this doctrine. Accordingly, the venerable founders of those churches, having been themselves ordained presbyters by Romish bishops; believing that the difference between these two classes of ministers was not appointed by Jesus Christ or his apostles, but invented by the church; and persuaded that, according to the practice of the primitive church, presbyters were fully invested with the ordaining power, they proceeded to ordain others, and thus transmitted the ministerial succession to those who came after them.

But it is said, that, although the reformers of France, Holland, Geneva, Scotland, &c. thought proper to organize their churches on the Presbyterian principle of parity; yet that Calvin, Beza, and other eminent divines of great authority in those churches, frequently expressed sentiments very favourable to diocesan Episcopacy, and spoke with great respect of the English hierarchy. It is not denied that those illustrious reformers, on a variety of occasions, expressed themselves in very respectful terms of the church of England, as it stood in their day. But whether we consider the sentiments which they expressed, or the circumstances under which they delivered them, no use can be made of this fact favourable to the cause of our opponents. The truth is, the English reformers, prevented, on the one hand, by the crown and the papists, from carrying the reformation so for as they wished; and on the other, urged by the Puritans, to remove at once, all abuses out of the church, wrote to the reformers at Geneva, whom they knew to have much influence in England, soliciting their aid, in quieting the minds of the Puritans, and in persuading them to remain in the bosom of the church, in the hope of a more complete reformation afterwards. Is it wonderful, that, at a crisis of this kind, Calvin and Beza, considering the church of England as struggling with difficulties; viewing Cranmer and his associates as eminently

pious men, who were doing the best they could in existing circumstances; hoping for more favourable times; and not regarding the form of church government as an essential, should write to the English reformers in a manner calculated to quiet the minds of the Puritans, and induce them to remain in connexion with the national church? This they did. But in all their communications, they never went further than to say, that they considered the hierarchy of England as a judicious and respectable human institution; and that they could, without any violation of the dictates of conscience, remain in communion with such a church. And what is the inference from this? Could not thousands of the firmest Presbyterians on earth, under similar circumstances, say the same? But did Calvin or Beza ever say, even in their most unguarded moments, that they considered prelacy as an institution of Christ, or his apostles? Did they ever express a preference of this form of government to the Presbyterian form? Did they, in short, ever do more than acknowledge that Episcopacy might, in some cases, be useful and lawful? But, on the other hand, how much these same reformers have said against prelacy, and in favour of ministerial parity; how strongly they have asserted, and how clearly they have proved, the former to be a human invention, and the latter to have the sanction of apostolic example; and how decidedly they speak in favour of Presbyterian principles, even in some of their most complaisant letters to the English reformers, our opponents take care not to state.* Their caution is politic. For no human ingenuity will ever be able to refute the reasonings which those excellent men have left on record against the episcopal cause.†

* It is almost incredible how far the declarations of Calvin on this subject, have been misunderstood and misrepresented. Who would imagine, when that venerable reformer, in his Institutes, represents the scriptures as affording a warrant for three classes of church officers, viz. teaching elders, ruling elders, and deacons, that any could interpret the passage as favouring the doctrine of three orders of clergy?

Beza, in his celebrated work De Triplici Episcopatu, declares that there are three kinds of Episcopacy: The first, instituted by Christ, in which all pastors are equally bishops. This he calls divine episcopacy. The second, instituted by man, in which certain aged and venerable presbyters are presidents or moderators for life, without any new ordina

With respect to the Lutheran churches, it is known to all well informed persons, that they also, from the beginning rejected diocesan episcopacy, considered as an institution of Christ, and have, to the present time, acted on this principle, acknowledging but one order in the christian ministry. I know that attempts have frequently been made to give a different representation of this matter. Whether these attempts have arisen from ignorance, or from a less excusable source, I will not inquire; but the position which they aim to establish is unquestionably groundless. Luther, the great founder of the church which bears his name, gave a practical declaration of his opinion on this subject, by one decisive fact, which is, that, though only in priest's orders, he himself undertook, in 1524, a few years after commencing the work of reformation, to ordain, and actually performed this rite, with great solemnity. His coadjutors and followers, though of no higher ecclesiastical dignity than himself, did the same. Could more decisive testimony be given as to the principles of the first Lutherans on this subject.

It is true, Luther and the leading divines of his denomination, differed from Calvin and his associates, with respect to one point in church government. The latter totally rejected all ministerial imparity. The former supposed that a system embracing some degree of imparity, was, in general, expedient; and accordingly, in proceeding to organize their churches, appointed superintendants, who enjoyed a kind of pre-eminence, and were vested with peculiar powers. But they explicitly acknowledged this office to be a human, and not a divine institution. The superintendants in question were mere presbyters, and received no new ordination in consequence of their appointment to this office. The opinion of their being a distinct and superior order of clergy, was formally rejected. And all regular Presbyterian ordinations were recognized by the church in which they presided, as valid. Nor have modern Lutherans apostatised in any of these points from the principles of their fathers. In all the Lutheran churches in America, and in Europe, to the south of Sweden, there are no bishops. Their superintendants, or seniors, have no other ordination than that of

tion: this he calls human episcopacy. The third, in which prelates are regarded as a superior order, he sytles Satanical episcopacy. This statement is introduced merely to show with how little propriety Beza can be quoted as a friend to prelacy.

presbyters. When they are not present, other presbyters ordain without a scruple. And the ordinations practised in Presbyterian churches they acknowledge to be as valid as their own; and accordingly receive into full ministerial standing, those who have been ordained in this manner.

The testimony of Dr. Mosheim, the celebrated ecclesiastical historian, who was himself a zealous and distinguished Lutheran, will doubtless be considered as conclusive on this subject. He remarks, (Vol. iv. p. 287.) that "the internal government of the Lutheran "church is equally removed from Episcopacy on the one hand, and "from Presbyterianism on the other; if we except the kingdoms "of Sweden and Denmark, who retain the form of ecclesiastical government that preceded the reformation, purged, indeed, from "the superstition and abuses that rendered it so odious. This con"stitution of the Lutheran hierarchy will not seem surprising, when "the sentiments of that people with regard to ecclesiastical polity "are duly considered. On the one hand, they are persuaded that "there is no law of divine authority, which points out a distinction "between the ministers of the gospel, with respect to rank, dignity, "or prerogatives; and therefore they recede from episcopacy. "But, on the other hand, they are of opinion, that a certain subor. "dination, a diversity in point of rank and privileges among the "clergy, are not only highly useful, but also necessary to the per"fection of church communion, by connecting, in consequence of "a mutual dependence, more closely together the members of the "same body; and thus they avoid the uniformity of the Presby"terian government. They are not, however, agreed with respect "to the extent of this subordination and the degrees of superiority "and precedence that ought to distinguish their doctors; for in "some places this is regulated with much more regard to the "ancient rules of church government, than is discovered in others. "As the divine law is silent on this head, different opinions may be "entertained, and different forms of ecclesiastical polity adopted, " without a breach of christian charity, and fraternal union."

In perfect correspondence with this representation, it is an undoubted fact, that the church of England, and those of the same sect in this country, consider the Lutheran church as being destitute of an authorized ministry, and her ordinations as completely a nullity as those in Presbyterian churches. You have seen, in our

« VorigeDoorgaan »