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ministers are appointed to serve and to govern. If all the interests of the Church are precious in the view of every enlightened Christian, it is evident that the mode of organization cannot be a trivial concern; and if the Saviour, or those who were immediately taught by his Spirit, have laid down any rules, or given us any information on this subject, it behoves us carefully to study what they have delivered, and to make it our constant guide. Under these impressions, I have determined to request your candid attention to some remarks on the doctrine held by our Church respecting the Christian Ministry, and especially as to the points in which we differ, on this subject, from our Episcopal brethren.
You will do me the justice to acknowledge, that, in the course of my ministry among you, I have never manifested a spirit of bigotry or disputation. Indeed, some of you, I know, have considered me as too reluctant to engage in the public discussion of various subjects disputed between our Church and those of other religious denominations. My great attachment to peace among Christians, and my earnest desire to promote that charity without which faith and hope are vain, have always rendered me unwilling to embark in controversy. My readers, therefore, will do me great injustice if they suppose that any thing in the following sheets is dictated by a spirit of animosity or bitterness towards any portion of the religious community, or is intended to cherish such a spirit in others. My object is, not to intrude into another. society for the purpose of making proselytes; not to disturb the convictions, or irritate the feelings of any who are fixed in a different creed from mine; but to inform and satisfy you, who are not only of my own denomination, but more particularly committed to my charge, that you have not followed cunningly devised fables; that you are connected with a Church as nearly conformed to apostolic and primitive order as any on earth: and that Christian ordinances come to you in a channel at least as pure and legitimate, and in a manner at least as agreeable to the simplicity that is in Christ, as to those who make the most extravagant and exclusive claims.
In the discussion of all controverted subjects it is of the utmost importance to ascertain, at the commencement, the precise state of the question. Much has been said and written on the main subject of dispute between the Presbyterian and Episcopal
Churches, without understanding, or, if they were understood, without distinguishing, the points in which these denominations agree, and in which they differ. To guard against mistakes here, it will be proper to state explicitly, in what respects their opinions are at variance.
We agree with our Episcopal brethren in believing, that Christ hath appointed Officers in his Church to preach the word, to administer sacraments, to dispense discipline, and to commit these powers to other faithful men. We believe, as fully as they, that there are different classes and denominations of officers in the Church of Christ; and that, among these, there is, and ought to be, a due subordination. We concur with them in maintaining, that none are regularly invested with the ministerial character, or can with propriety be recognized in this character, but those who have been set apart to the office by persons lawfully clothed with the power of ordaining. We unite with such of them as hold the opinion, that Christians, in all ages, are bound to make the apostolic order of the church, with respect to the ministry, as well as other points, the model, as far as possible, of all their ecclesiastical arrangements. And, finally, we contend, equally with them, that both the name and the office of Bishop were found in the primitive Church, and ought to be retained to the end of time. Many Episcopalians of narrow views, and of slender information, seem to take it for granted that we discard Bishops in every sense of the word; and therefore, when they find this term in scripture, or in early uninspired writers, they exult, as if the word established. their claim. But nothing can be more unfounded than this triumph. We all acknowledge that there were Bishops in the days of the apostles, and that there must be Bishops in every regularly constituted Church in every age.*
But we differ from that denomination of Christians in our views
* In the Form of Government of the Presbyterian Church, the pastors of Churches are expressly styled Bishops; and this title is recommended to be retained, as both scriptural and appropriate. The same may be proved with respect to most, if not all the Reformed Churches. I am sensible that this title, as applied to ordinary pastors, has been the subject of much ridicule among the friends of prelacy; a ridicule, however, which recoils with double force upon those who thus betray a want of acquaintance with the primitive application of the word.
of the character and powers of Church officers. They suppose that there are three orders in the Christian ministry, viz. Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons: The first possessing the highest ecclesiastical power; the second invested with authority to preach and administer both sacraments; and the third empowered only to preach and baptize. We suppose, on the other hand, that there is, properly speaking, but one order of gospel ministers; that there are, indeed, two other classes of Church officers, viz. ruling Elders, and Deacons ; but that neither of these are authorized to labour in the word and doctrine, or to administer either of the Christian sacraments. We suppose that there is a plain distinction made in scripture between Elders who only rule, and Elders who, to the power of ruling, join also that of teaching and administering sealing ordinances. And we believe, that the friends of modern Episcopacy, in considering Deacons as an order of Clergy, and in empowering them to preach and baptize, are chargeable with a departure from the apostolic pattern.
But we differ from our Episcopal brethren, principally, with respect to the character and powers of the scriptural Bishop. They contend that Bishops are an order of ministers superior to Presbyters, having a different ordination, different powers, and a different sphere of duty. That while Presbyters have a right, by virtue of their office, to preach the word, and administer sacraments, to Bishops exclusively belong the powers of ordination, confirmation, and government. On the other hand, we maintain, that there is but one order of ministers of the gospel in the Christian Church; that every regular pastor of a congregation is a scriptural Bishop; or, in other words, that every Presbyter, who has been set apart, by the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery, and who has the pastoral charge of a particular Church, is, to all intents and purposes, in the sense of scripture, and of the primitive Church, a Bishop; having a right, in company with others, his equals, to ordain, and to perform every service pertaining to the Episcopal office. We can discover no warrant, either from the word of God, or from the early history of the Church, for what is called the Diocesan Episcopacy, or the preeminence and authority of one man, under the title of Bishop, or any other title, over a number of Presbyters and Churches: On the contrary, we are persuaded and affirm, that Christ and his
Apostles expressly discountenanced such claims of pre-eminence ; and that all those forms of ecclesiastical government which are built upon these claims, are corruptions of apostolic simplicity, and deviations from the primitive order of the Church.
This being the case, you will readily perceive the necessity of clearly marking and keeping in view a distinction between the primitive and the modern sense of the word Bishop. Accordingly, in the perusal of the following sheets, you are earnestly requested to recollect, at every step, that by a scriptural or primitive Bishop, is always meant a Presbyter, Minister, Pastor, or whatever else he may be called, who has the pastoral care of a particular congregation; and that by scriptural or primitive Episcopacy, is meant that government of the Church, by such Bishops, which existed in pure apostolic times, and for near two hundred years afterwards. And, on the other hand, that, by modern Bishops, and modern Episcopacy, is meant that government of the Church by prelates, which took its rise from ecclesiastical ambition, long after the days of the apostles, and which, with other innovations on primitive. order, has since claimed to rest on the authority of Christ.
It ought further to be understood, that among those who espouse the Episcopal side in this controversy, there are three classes.
The first consists of those who believe that neither Christ nor his Apostles laid down any particular form of ecclesiastical government, to which the Church is bound to adhere in all ages. That every Church is free, consistently with the divine will, to frame her constitution agreeably to her own views, to the state of society, and to the exigencies of particular times. These prefer the Episcopal government, and some of them believe that it was the primitive form; but they consider it as resting on the ground of human expediency alone, and not of divine appointment. This is well known to have been the opinion of Archbishops Cranmer, Grindal, and Whitgift; of Bishop Leighton, of Bishop Jewel, of Dr. Whitaker, of Bishop Reynolds, of Archbishop Tillotson, of Bishop Burnet, of Bishop Croft, of Dr. Stilling fleet, and of a long list of the most learned and pious divines of the Church of England, from the reformation down to the present day.
Another class of Episcopalians go further. They suppose that the government of the Church by Bishops, as a superior order to Presbyters, was sanctioned by apostolic example, and that it is the
duty of all Churches to imitate this example. But while they consider episcopacy as necessary to the perfection of the Church, they grant that it is by no means necessary to her existence; and accordingly, without hesitation, acknowledge as true Churches of Christ, many in which the Episcopal doctrine is rejected, and Presbyterian principles made the basis of ecclesiastical government. The advocates of this opinion, also, have been numerous and respectable, both among the clerical and lay members of the Episcopal Churches in England, and the United States. In this list appear the venerable names of Bishop Hall, Bishop Downham, Bishop Bancroft, Bishop Andrews, Archbishop Usher, Bishop Forbes, the learned Chillingworth, Archbishop Wake, Bishop Hoadly, and many more, whose declarations on the subject will be more particularly detailed in another place.
A third class go much beyond either of the former. While they grant that God has left men at liberty to modify every other kind of government according to circumstances, they contend that one form of government for the Church is unalterably fixed by divine. appointment; that this form is Episcopal; that it is absolutely essential to the existence of the Church; that, of course, wherever it is wanting, there is no church, no regular ministry, no valid ordinances; and that all who are united with religious societies, not conforming to this order, are "aliens from Christ," "out of the appointed road to heaven," and have no hope but in the "uncovenanted mercies of God."
It is confidently believed that the two former classes taken together, embrace at least nineteen parts out of twenty of all the Episcopalians in Great Britain and the United States; while, so far as can be learned from the most respectable writings, and other authentic sources of information, it is only the small remaining proportion who hold the extravagant opinions assigned to the third and last of these classes.
Against these exorbitant claims there is, prior to all inquiry into their evidence, a strong general presumption, for the following
First-It is placing a point of external order on a par with the essence of religion. I readily grant, that every observance which the great Head of the Church enjoins by express précept, is indispensably binding. But it is certainly contrary to the genius of the