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ministry they left free to all. A few grains of common sense, and the spirit of christianity, are better guides in these matters, than all the infallible priests the church has ever produced.
Upon the principles laid down and established in this essay, most, if not all, of the sects in this country may defend their church order. That class of officers in the Wesleyan societies, denominated leaders, have been more objected to than any description of officers in any other community. These leaders answer to the presbyter bishops of the primitive christians, in the following particulars :
First. One duty of the presbyter office is to feed the flock. This the leaders do, by giving instruction, advice, and counsel, in their class meetings.
Secondly. Another duty of the presbyter office is to oversee, or rule the church, and this is done by the Methodist leaders. They are well acquainted with their flocks, and give them directions as to their christian deportment. The leader's meeting has power to admit and exclude members, to elect new leaders, to inflict church censures on the immoral, and to make new regulations for the particular society to which they belong, provided these do not infringe upon the general rules of the body.
Thirdly. The presbyters were subject to the evangelists, or itinerant preachers, such as Timothy and Titus. And the Methodist leaders are subject to the itinerant preachers.
Fourthly. There were several presbyters in every church of any magnitude; and there are many leaders in all the principal societies. The epistle to the church of Philippi is inscribed to all the saints, with the bishops and deacons. Nothing, perhaps, has more puzzled the advocates for diocesan episcopacy, than the circumstance of finding, in the New Testament, a plurality of bishops over a single congregation. The episcopalians, who understand all mysteries, have ascertained the precise number of bishops which governed the church of Philippi; they,
of course, reduce the plurality to two. It is certain, however, that there were more than two bishops in the church of Ephesus. The apostle, in addressing them, says, “all of you.” It is proper to say to two persons, “ Both of you;” but ridiculous to say, “ All of you.' But what necessity for even two bishops over a few christians in one city, when one of our lord bishops thinks himself quite sufficient to oversee many hundreds of congregations ? To explain this mystery, they tell us, that the Jews and Gentiles were divided into separate churches in the same city or town, and that a bishop was appointed over each. But how could the apostle Paul countenance this, when he publicly reproved Peter for withdrawing with the Jewish converts from the communion of the Gentiles ? To remove this difficulty, they pretend that this public reproof was only a juggling trick, contrived by the apostles themselves, to sooth the resentment of the Gentiles at the haughty behaviour of the Jews; thus they sacrifice the integrity of these men of God, to justify their own lordly importance.
Fifthly. Some of the presbyters, we have seen, were preachers; and so are some of the Methodist leaders.
Sixthly. An order of female presbyters was instituted by the apostles, whose office it was to teach the young women.” To these answer the female leaders, whose business it is to instruct those of their
This coincidence is the more remarkable, as it probably never occurred to Mr. Wesley, and the preachers who assisted him in the constitution of the Methodist societies, that in making leaders, and in fixing their powers and duties, they were creating an order of church officers similar to the presbyter bishops of the first christians; but this shows how naturally good men, acting under the influence of the same religious principles, are led to adopt the same plans.
As the subject of ordination, by the imposition of hands, has recently engaged the attention of many of the Methodist preachers, it may not be amiss to observe, that, if it be introduced into the connexion, the leaders, or presbyters, are the proper subjects of it, and not the preachers; because there are a few examples in the New Testament of ordination to the presbyter office, but none whatever of ordination to the work of the ministry.* There can be no serious objection, it is presumed, to initiate the leaders, both male and female, into office by the imposition of hands; but, since there is no scripture evidence to countenance the use of this ceremony in the ordination of presbyters; and since “it is easier,” as one of the preachers has wittily remarked in a late publication, “ to put hands upon a person's head, than to put mental qualifications into it," it is humbly submitted to their consideration, whether it would not be the wisest measure to keep their hands to themselves.
ON THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS AND POWERS OF THE
Most churchmen are of opinion that Jesus Christ entrusted the Holy Ghost to the custody of bishops, with an exclusive power of communicating his spiritual gifts to the clergy, for the edification of the faithful; and that the ministrations of those who receive the episcopal benediction are full of spirit and life. These opinions cannot be supported, if the uninterrupted succession cannot be proved. For, admitting an interruption, it will follow, that wherever the succession failed, there the. Spirit was lost; the next bishop, after the chain was broken, was either self-constituted, or appointed by those who had not the Spirit to give; and, in either case, his ministrations and ordinations must have been nugatory. As the succession, therefore, has been disproved, the pretensions of the clergy must fall to the ground. But since they will not easily be persuaded that they possess no exclusive supernatural authority, we must take the trouble of investigating the particulars in which it is supposed to exist.
* This, as we have seen in a previous note, is a doubtful, if not a groundless assertion.- EDIT.
ON THE GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST IN ORDINATION.
At the ordination of a priest, the bishop, laying his hands on the head of the candidate, says, “ Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a priest in the church of God, committed to thee by the imposition of our hands." There is some controversy among churchmen about the meaning of these words. The moderate party insists, that it is the office, and not the divine Spirit, which is given by the imposition of hands; and that the words, “ Receive the Holy Ghost,” are to be understood as a pious wish or prayer.
If this explanation be admitted, it is reasonable to inquire, why any other person may not perform the ceremony of ordination just as well as a bishop ? No text of scripture can be quoted, which vests in bishops an exclusive power of making ministers. After paying the highest complements to episcopal piety, I hope it will not be deemed presumption to affirm, that the prayers of a whole congregation for the inspiration of the pastor of their choice, may possibly be as successful, as the prayers of a bishop for the inspiration of a priest; and, if this be granted, it cannot well be denied, that the ordinations of dissenters are as valid as those of churchmen. *
* Though I have modestly put the case upon the supposition that a single bishop may have as much interest with the Almighty, as a whole congregation of the people, because my argument required no more, I am not insensible, that some of the sacred order have been quite as much in love with some other things as with prayer books.
The general sentiment, however, is, that the bishop confers the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands; and it must be confessed, this seems to be the plain and obvious meaning of the words. The phrase, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” is addressed to the candidate, not to God; and, instead of expressing a wish, is imperative. It is scarcely credible, that the greatest dunce would employ such terms, either in prayer to heaven, or in wishes to a friend. All the advocates for the succession, lodge the power of giving the Holy Ghost, in the hands of the bishops, and this high authority is generally claimed by their lordships, and admitted by their admirers.
It is quite natural to suppose, that bishops would
Theophilact, patriarch of Constantinople, “who sold every ecclesiastical benefice as soon as it became vacant, had in his stable above two thousand hunting horses, which he fed with pignuts, pistachios, dates, dried grapes, figs steeped in the most exquisite wines, to all which he added the richest perfumes. One holy Thursday, as he was celebrating high mass, his groom brought him the joyful news that one of his favourite mares had foaled ; upon which he threw down the liturgy, left the church, and ran in raptures to the stable, where having expressed his joy at that grand event, he returned to the altar to finish the divine service, which he had left interrupted during his absence.”— MOSHEIM's Eccles. Hist., vol. ii., p. 400, note [o], edit. 1803.
The following advertisement, which appeared in Jackson's Oxford Journal, is a proof that something of this pious disposition still exists in the minds of some of the holy tribe :
66 NEXT PRESENTATION. “ To be sold by Auction, by Hoggart and Phillips, at the Auction Mart, opposite the Bank of England, on Thursday next, the 11th day of April, 1811, at twelve o'clock,- The next presentation to a most valuable living, in one of the first sporting coun. ties: the vicinity affords the best coursing in England, also excellent fishing, an extensive cover for game, and numerous packs of fox hounds, harriers, etc. It is half an hour's ride from one of the first cities, and not far distant from several most fashionable watering places. The surrounding country is beautiful and healthy, and the society elegant and fashionable.
“ The incumbent is about fifty years of age,” etc.
Alas! that there should be any room to advert to a fact so disgraceful to the church of England, or to any church. — Edit.