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now, who, though in full orders were not invested with a pastoral charge; and who must, therefore, be distinguished from such as were literally overseers or bishops of particular flocks. Besides, we know that there were ruling elders in the primitive church; a class of presbyters confessed to be inferior to bishops in their ecclesiastical character. In enumerating church officers, then, there was frequently a necessity for making the distinction above stated, without in the least favouring the pretended superiority of order among those who laboured in the word and doctrine. No; the advocates for diocesan episcopacy, if they would derive any support to their cause from the writings of the fathers, must do what they have never yet done. They must produce, from those venerable remains of antiquity, passages which prove, either by direct assertion, or fair inference, that the bishops of the primitive church were a distinct order of clergy from those presbyters who were authorized to preach and administer sacraments, and superior to them; that these bishops, when they were advanced to this superior office, had a new and distinct ordination; that each bishop had under him a number of congregations, with their pastors, whom he governed; that these bishops were exclusively invested with the right of ordaining, and administering the rite of confirmation; and that this kind of episcopacy was considered, by the whole primitive church, as an institution of Jesus Christ. When any one of these facts is fairly proved, from early antiquity, the friends of Presbyterian church government will feel as if they had something like solid argument to contend with; but not till then. Now, after having given much close and serious attention to this subject, I can venture to assure you, that in all the authentic writings which have come down to us, of those fathers who lived within the first two hundred years after Christ, there is not a single sentence which can be considered, by an impartial reader, as affording the least support to any one of these positions."
Of these remarks I cannot find that Dr. Bowden has taken the least notice. He goes on, falling into the very errors, against which he was thus explicitly warned; and confidently urging the very arguments which are here shown to be worthless. For instance, when he finds one of the early fathers speaking of a particular person as bishop of a certain church, he immediately takes
for granted that a prelatical bishop was intended, and declaims. accordingly with all the parade of complete triumph. But this is a gross and most unwarrantable begging of the question. The word bishop unquestionably decides nothing in his favour; for Dr. B. and all our opponents, acknowledge, what we know to have been the fact, that this title was applied, in the days of the apostles, and is expressly used by the inspired writers, to designate the pastors of single congregations. Nay, they acknowledge, that for near an hundred years after the apostolic age, the titles of bishop and presbyter were often interchangeably applied to the same persons. When we attempt to derive an argument from the application of the title bishop to the pastors of single churches, which is undoubtedly to be found in scripture, they do not attempt to deny the fact; but insist that the argument from names is of no value. But why is it of more value in one case than another? If a name decides nothing when found in the Bible, it decides nothing when found in the fathers. When, therefore, so much is made of the mere insulated title of bishop, when found in the early writers, it is mere imposition on vulgar credulity. No inference can be legitimately drawn from it, in the least degree favourable to the episcopal cause.
Again; when Dr. B. finds bishops, presbyters, and deacons, mentioned separately, and distinguished from each other, in some of the early fathers, he never fails immediately to rush to the conclusion, that different orders or ranks of clergy were intended by this distinct enumeration. But this conclusion is no less illogical and groundless than the former. Dr. B. knows, or ought to know, that, on Presbyterian principles, though every bishop is a presbyter, yet every presbyter is not a bishop; since no man can, with propriety, according to our system, receive the latter title unless he have the pastoral charge of a congregation. We have satisfactory proof that there were, in the primitive church, clergymen in full orders, that is, empowered to preach and administer sacraments, who yet had no pastoral charge; but acted the part of assistants or curates to the pastor, rector, or bishop. Now in what manner could such persons be distinguished from those who were invested with a - pastoral charge, but by calling the one class bishops, and the other presbyters? In the Presbyterian Church, we distinguish them in this manner; and in the Church of England, they distinguish them
by calling the former rectors and the latter curates. And with just as much reason might some person, five hundred years hence, assert that pastors and assistant presbyters, or rectors and curates were different orders of clergy in the eighteenth century; as Dr. Bowden can now insist that bishops and presbyters were different orders in the primitive church. The argument is totally delusive; nor could it have been so often and so gravely repeated, had there not been, on the part of those who have urged it, a miserable deficiency of sounder proof.
But further; I have proved, in the foregoing letter, that there were ruling, as well as teaching presbyters, or elders, in the apostolic church, and for several centuries after the apostolic age. It was, doubtless, necessary, sometimes at least, to speak of this class of officers, as distinguished from those who, in the character of pastors, preached and administered sacraments. And what method of making this distinction was more convenient than that which we now employ, when we divide our church officers into three general classes, viz. bishops, elders, and deacons? In whatever point of light, then, we view this three-fold distinction, which is sometimes met with in the early writers, it cannot, in the smallest degree, serve the cause of prelacy.
Dr. Bowden makes a number of complaints respecting my manner of stating the testimony of the fathers. I shall consider, and endeavour to answer these complaints, before I proceed to exhibit such further testimony from those early writers, as appears to me favourable to the doctrine of Presbyterian parity.
He complains, in the first place, that I have omitted to state some material testimony from writers of the second century. He evidently intimates, that this omission was designed; and that it is a very important one; and undertakes to supply it by bringing forward a few detached scraps from three early writers. These writers are Dionysius, Polycrates, and Hegesippus. To render the charge of omission more serious, the doctor inserts it in a long and solemn list of accusations, to which he endeavours to give as much point as possible, at the close of his work. This charge surprises me, on a variety of accounts. Had I professed to give ALL the testimony, which the first two centuries furnish, Dr. B. might justly have complained of any omission. But when no such profession was made; when the contrary was distinctly announced;
when I formally, and more than once stated, that not the whole, but the great body of the strongest and most important testimony was intended to be brought forward; and when, from the very nature and size of my work, nothing more than a selection, and even that a very limited one, was possible; it is more than wonderful that an imputation so serious should be advanced, even if I had omitted to produce passages of real importance. But this is far from being the case. The passages concerning which so formal and heavy a complaint is made, will be found, on examination, to be of no solid value to the advocates of episcopacy. What do these writers say? Why, Dionysius, who lived about the year 170, and whose writings are all lost, excepting a few sentences, preserved by Eusebius, is represented by that historian as speaking of several persons as bishops of particular churches. Polycrates, also, who lived about the year 180, and of whose writings we have nothing except a fragment or two, preserved by a writer who lived long after him, simply says, that Timothy was ordained bishop of Ephesus, by the great Paul; speaks of Polycarp as bishop of Smyrna; and of himself and six others, as having been bishops of Ephesus, in succession, after Timothy. And Hegesippus, contemporary with Polycrates, of whom nothing remains, but a few detached sentences, recorded by Eusebius, only says that one Primus was bishop of Corinth; that Anicetus, Soter, and Eleutherius were successively bishops of Rome; and that James was constituted bishop of Jerusalem, because he was the Lord's near kinsman. But what is the amount of this testimony? It is really too frivolous to be treated with respect. What Presbyterian ever doubted that there were bishops, in the primitive church; not only in Jerusalem, Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome, but also in every other city or town on the globe, where a congregation of Christians was organized? And when it has not only been demonstrated, but also acknowledged by our opponents, that the word bishop was applied, in the days of the apostles, and for a considerable time afterwards, to those who were not prelates, it is really something worse than trifling, still to insist upon an argument founded upon an equivocal title, and only calculated to insult the discerning, or to deceive the unwary.
But why did Dr. Bowden mention the testimony of three fathers only, as having been omitted? Why did he not enumerate Bachyls of Corinth, Serapion, and others, in the second century, who
are represented as having left writings, in which, though now lost, the word bishop was found? The truth is, I considered all this testimony as vague and irrelevant; and am still confident, that in the selection of testimony from the fathers of the first two centuries, which I professed to make, I did full justice to the episcopal side of the question. There was no passage omitted which can be considered as speaking more forcibly in their favour, than several which were exhibited; nor any which wear, in my opinion, so plausible an aspect, as some which I candidly brought forward. Nor can I believe that Dr. Bowden would have complained so loudly of the omission of testimony, had he not felt that every scrap which bears the most distant appearance of plausibility, is necessary to assist his cause.
With respect to another charge of Dr. Bowden, that I have omitted to produce certain testimony from some of the fathers of the third and fourth centuries, it is scarcely worthy of an answer. In entering on this part of the controversy in my former letters, I made the following explicit declaration :
"In examining the writings of the fathers, I shall admit only the "testimony of those who wrote within the FIRST Two centuries. "Immediately after this period so many corruptions began to creep "into the church; so many of the most respectable Christian wri"ters are known to have been heterodox in their opinions; so much "evidence appears, that even before the commencement of the "third century, the papacy began to exhibit its pretensions; and "such multiplied proofs of wide spreading degeneracy crowd into "view, that the testimony of every subsequent writer is to be re"ceived with suspicion. Besides, if diocesan episcopacy existed, " and were of the fundamental importance that our episcopal breth"ren make it to be, we may surely expect to find some reference "to it in the records of two hundred years; and especially when "we consider that those were years of the greatest simplicity and "purity ever known to the church." After such a declaration, who would have expected to find it imputed to me, as an unfair proceeding, that I had not exhibited the whole testimony of the fathers of the third and fourth centuries; especially after conceding, in the most unequivocal manner, that clerical imparity had begun to appear in the third, and was established in the fourth century?