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ON THE UNINTERRUPTED SUCCESSION.
Most episcopalians hold, that Jesus Christ imparted to the apostles the gift of the Holy Ghost, for the office and work of the ministry; and that they conferred this gift, by the rite of ordination, upon their coadjutors and immediate successors, from whom have descended to the present time, a regular succession of episcopally ordained, and divinely inspired ministers.
All who are included in this succession are deemed regular clergymen, who are fully qualified for the office of spiritual guides, and whose labours are accompanied with the divine blessing. On the other hand, it is stiffly maintained that those ministers who cannot trace their spiritual descent through this episcopal line, are unauthorised and unaccredited teachers; intruders into the sacred ministry; vain pretenders to inspiration, and deceivers of the people; merely, because they have not received the Holy Spirit through the touch of a right reverend prelate's fingers, as you receive a spark of electric fire.
The scheme of high churchmen, for the sake of consistency, should be carried a little farther. It should be extended to family worship.
The succession is of importance only as it is the channel through which the Spirit of God is supposed to be conveyed to his ministers; and the influence of the Holy Ghost, in divine worship, is of importance only on the presumption that no religious service can be of any benefit without it. But should you allow the Holy Spirit to assist a layman in teaching his family, how can you deny divine assistance to the same person when holding forth in the conventicle? To make the succession of any value, it ought to be shown, that no person can read the Scriptures, pray, or teach to edification, in his family, without first receiving the episcopal benediction; and then every householder must either be ordained a priest himself, or keep one under his roof, or not suffer any religious service to be performed in his house.
But further; suppose a few neighbours, or relations should be present at family worship; will the Holy Spirit be startled at the appearance of these strangers, and take his flight? Or will he continue his aid, that all present may receive a blessing ? The new Act of Toleration permits twenty strangers to be present at, family worship ;* and I have never heard that the clergy object to this as unlawful or irregular. A master of a family then may instruct and pray
with his wife, eight children, six servants, and twenty others, without committing a church-sin, though here is a congregation of thirty-five persons, which is more than assemble in many parish churches for divine service. Here the Spirit has free course. It would require a profound casuist to show, that though he may do all this legally and profitably, yet it would be sinful in him to hold a meeting with the same persons in another house, or with thirty-five other persons in his own house. The Bramins taught, according to Arrian, that no private sacrifice would be acceptable to the gods, if not presented by one of the sacred order; and if the succession be a matter of any consequence, the private worship of Christians should be dispatched to heaven by an episcopal priest.
More than twenty may be present at a revel, and there is nothing the matter; but moral instruction and devotion is, with many people, a greater sin than drunkenness.
It deserves to be noticed too, that public instruction may be given by writing, as well as by preaching. Is it not to the full as wicked in a layman to address us from the press as from the pulpit? Shall we then anathematise the theological writings of Locke, Lyttleton, West, Addison, etc., merely because the authors were not in holy orders ? No advocate for the succession, I presume, will carry matters quite so far as this. And yet it must be extremely absurd to permit the laity to write on the subject of religion, but forbid them to speak upon it. He must be a subtle Jesuit who can prove, that a layman may print a discourse which will edify all his readers, but, should he preach it, it will poison all his hearers. Is the same sermon, as it comes from the pen, “the savour of life unto life;" but as it comes from the tongue, “the savour of death unto death ?”
Another little circumstance should not be omitted here. It is well known that laymen, and even laywomen, have sometimes composed the discourses which the clergy preach. As the authors do not belong to the sacred order, it may be doubtful whether such productions can profit a congregation of the faithful; but the holy orators may possibly possess the art of putting spirit and life into these carnal compositions.
Once more: When it is affirmed that episcopalians only have a right to teach religion, it is not intended, we may hope, that other people have no right to talk about it. But how shall we draw the line betwixt conversation and preaching ? To talk to one or two persons about their souls may possibly not be thought an invasion of the priest's office. But how far may the layman venture ? may he converse with five, ten, twenty, or a hundred people at once, without transgressing the law of holy orders? One would hope that a discourse from which one or two might receive profit, could do no harm to fifty, or a hundred. In some parts of the east, according to Dr. Buchanan, the preaching of the priest is a sort of religious conversa
tion, carried on between him and the people. He asks questions, and they return answers. If it should be said that the laity may talk about religion anywhere but in a place of worship: it may be demanded, and why not there too? Can any place be too sacred for religious improvement? If a layman be permitted to open his mouth upon so sacred a subject, I am afraid it will be difficult to prove that he has not as much right to instruct a thousand people, as two or three. Philip is said to have preached to the eunuch; but this preaching was nothing more than an instructive conversation. (Acts viii. 30, etc.)
“No bishop, no church,” is a favourite saying with the advocates for the succession.
If there be any truth in this saying, it is fatal to the sentiment which has given it birth." We find bishops," says Stillingfleet, “ discontinued for a long time in the greatest churches. For if there be no church without a bishop, where was the church of Rome when, from the martyrdom of Fabian and the banishment of Lucius, the church was governed only by the clergy? So the church of Carthage, when Cyprian was banished; the church of the east, when Miletius of Antioch, Eusebius, Samosatenus, Pelagius of Laodicea, and the rest of the orthodox bishops were banished for ten years' space, and Flavianus and Diodorus, two presbyters, ruled the church of Antioch the mean while. The church of Carthage was twenty-four years without a bishop, in the time of Hunneric, king of the Vandals; and when it was offered them that they might have a bishop,” they refused to accept of him. *
The succession cannot be supported without admitting the church of Rome to be a true church, and her priests the ministers of Christ. But as the papists are not polite enough to return the compliment to the church of England and her clergy, many weak and timorous persons, in order to be on the safe side, embrace popery. What bishop Burnet says of James II.
is worth transcribing : It shows how easy it is to convert a high Churchman to the catholic faith. gave me this account of his changing his religion. When he escaped out of the hands of the earl of Northumberland, who had the charge of his education trusted to him by the parliament, and had used him with great respect, all due care was taken, as soon as he got beyond sea, to form him to a strict adherence to the church of England. Among other things, much was said of the authority of the church, and of the tradition from the apostles in support of episcopacy. So that when he came to observe that there was more reason to submit to the catholic church than to one particular church, and that other traditions might be taken on her word, as well as episcopacy was received among us, he thought this step was not great, but that it was very reasonable to go over to the church of Rome. And Dr. Steward having taught him to believe a real but unconceivable presence of Christ in the sacrament, he thought this went more than half way to transubstantiation."'*
A successionist maintains that the ministrations of others are invalid, from whence it follows, that those whom they baptize are not christians. Archbishop Secker was baptized by a dissenting minister, who had not episcopal ordination; his Grace therefore was not a christian, and all his ministrations, of course, were of none effect. Now, it is a remarkable fact, and deserving of special notice by bigots, that Secker baptized the King, and mostof the Royal family; t it will follow, from this high church logic, that they were not made christians. I should be glad to know what sort of a body the church of England was, when its spiritual and political heads were both infidel? The apostle informs us that “ from the head, the whole body is fitly joined together and compacted;" which figure, if we may apply it to this case, will prove that
* History of his own Times. Vol. I., p. 275, 276. + Eclectic Review, Vol. vi., p. 368.