Page images
PDF
EPUB

the Church was infidel from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot.

If it be true that the Holy Ghost is solely at the disposal of the bishops, is tied to the succession, and has no possible way of access to a minister but through the medium of episcopal hands ; it must follow, since the success of the ministry depends upon the divine blessing, that it is absolutely necessary, not only that priests should be episcopally ordained, but that their people should be able to trace their spiritual descent from some apostle. Every man must be damned, according to this prelatical divinity, who is not under the guidance of a minister included in the succession. As the laity are so deeply interested in this affair, they ought to be furnished with faithful copies of all the orders received by the succession of priests, who have transmitted the Holy Ghost from an apostle down to their present pastor.

Without this they can be at no certainty respecting their salvation. It can avail them nothing to believe the divinity of the Scriptures, repeat an orthodox creed, worship with a most excellent liturgy, receive the sacraments with the profoundest reverence, practise christian morality with the greatest strictness, and rejoice in the hope of heavenly bliss with the most rapturous delight; for if their parson be not in the succession, they will soon be in hell. This point, therefore, must be settled first of all; and it would be folly to enter on a religious course before the succession is scrupulously traced, and clearly made out.

No clergyman, however, has had the goodness to favour his flock with this famous history. Not one in fifty of the people know who ordained their priest; and not one in a thousand know who consecrated the bishop.*

*“ No man ever did to this day,” says Mr. Baxter,“ demonstrate such a succession, for the proof of his ministry; nor can all our importunity prevail with papists to give us such a proof. It is a thing impossible for any man now alive, to prove the regular ordination of all his predecessors to the apostles' days, yea, or any ordination at all. How can you tell that he that ordained you,

It is a singular circumstance, that Churchmen should make the validity of their ministrations to depend upon the succession, when not one of them pretends to trace it; but all agree to make confident assertions supply the place of proof. This is the more remarkable, as they are liberal enough in the production of historical evidence, to support matters of minor importance. When, for instance, the dispute relates to some trivial ceremonies, a folio is soon filled with citations from the primitive fathers.

In disputing with the Methodists, the clergy very often call for a miracle, in proof of their inspiration. A Methodist pleads that he received the Spirit immediately from God, in answer to prayer; a Churchman, that he received the Spirit from the bishop, by the imposition of hands. Now, why should we be credulous enough to be satisfied with a mere ipse dixit, in one case, and require even a miracle to overcome our scepticism in the other? Is not God both as able and as willing to give the Holy Ghost, as a bishop? The Methodist, however, does not, like his opponents, desire his mere assertion to supply the place of evidence; he believes he can prove his inspiration without disturbing the order of nature ; he appeals to the purity of his doctrine, the integrity of his character, and the success of his labours; he insists that these

did not counterfeit himself to be ordained ? or, at least, that he was not ordained by an unordained man? or that his predecessors were not so? It is a mere impossibility for us to know any such thing; we have no evidence to prove it."

“ If the foresaid uninterrupted succession be necessary to the being of our ministry, or churches, or ordinances, then it is incumbent on all that will prove the truth of their ministry, churches, or ordinances, to prove the said succession. But this is not true; for then none could prove any of them. Either it is meet that we be able to prove the truth of our ministry, churches, and administrations, or not. If not, then why do our adversaries call us to it? If yea, then no man among the churches in Europe, on their grounds, hath any proof; and therefore must not pretend to the ministry, churches, or ordinances; but we must all turn Seckers today, and infidels to-morrow.”—BAXTER'S Disputatiors, p. 169-175.

D

evidences are sufficient, without showing signs from heaven; he is ready to dispute this point with his adversaries; and he will allow them to call him an enthusiast and a fanatic, when they have shown that his ground is untenable. A miracle ought only to be demanded, when no other sufficient proof can be produced, and then the demand is reasonable. The Churchman affirms, that no man is a true minister who is not included in the succession ; the succession, therefore, must be proved to justify his ministry. But, strange to tell, he has no proof to offer. Upon his own principles, therefore, he must either work a miracle to supply the defect of historical evidence, or expose himself to a retort of the charge of enthusiasm and fanaticism, for pretending to have received the Spirit of God from a man, who, it is doubtful, never possessed it.

As the clergy do not choose to give us the history of this succession, I have a right to assume that they cannot do it; but as so much stress is laid upon it, and as they take it for granted that they are all in it, I will show that this famous succession cannot be proved, and that there is very strong presumptive evidence, that our episcopalians are all out of it.

Tertullian is quoted with triumph by the clergy, as though he had brought the succession down to the present generation of bishops. Speaking of the heretics, this holy father demands—“Let them show us the original of their churches, and give us a catalogue of their bishops in an exact succession from first to last, whereby it may appear, that their first bishop had either some apostle, or some apostolical man, living in the time of the apostles, for his author or immediate predecessor. For thus it is that apostolical churches make their reckoning. The church of Smyrna counts up to Polycarp, ordained by St. John; the church of Rome to Clemens, ordained by St. Peter; and so all other churches in like manner exhibit their first bishops ordained by the apostles, by whom the apostolical seed was propagated and conveyed to others.” *

* Tertul. de Prescript. c. 32.

It will be proper to make two or three remarks on this celebrated passage.

I. It appears that in the second century, when this father flourished, there were many heretical bishops not included in the succession. Even in the apostolic age, there were false apostles and false teachers, and the church in all ages since, has complained of swarms of unauthorised and unaccredited ministers. Now, how can we know that our bishops are the lineal descendants of the apostles, and not rather derived from the heretics, unless they can give us a catalogue of their bishops, in an exact succession from first to last,” and show us the apostle from whom they originate ? For if it was necessary in the days of Tertullian, that a bishop, in order to prove his legitimacy, should make out an exact catalogue of all his predecessors; how much more necessary must it be now, when so many thousands have, since that time, intruded into the episcopal office.

II. Though we have Tertullian's authority for it, that the heretical bishops were not in the succession, yet it was the custom of the church, when these heretics returned to her communion, to permit them to retain the rank of bishops, without re-ordination. Thus the African and Roman churches received the donatist bishops, upon their repentance; and, without giving them new orders, permitted them to exercise their pastoral functions. Bingham has shown this at large :

Anisius, bishop of Thessalonica, with a council of his provincial bishops, agreed to receive those whom Bonosus, an heretical bishop of Macedonia, had ordained. Liberius admitted the Macedonian bishops to communion, and allowed them to continue in their office, upon their subscription to the Nicene creed, and abjuration of their former heresy. The general council of Ephesus made an order concerning the Massalian beretics, otherwise called Euchites and Enthuasts, that if any of their clergy would return to the church, and in writing anathematise their former errors, they should continue in the same station they were in before. The council

of Nice is thought* to have made the like decree in favour of the Novatian clergy. And there is nothing more certain than that the African fathers so treated the Donatist.”

When it is considered how many hundreds of heretical bishops, who were out of the succession, have in several ages been received into the church, and that these, by ordaining others, have perpetuated a race of prelates in the church, not lineally descended from the apostles ; there is much room to fear, that the true succession is run out, and that the present bishops are the offspring of the spurious race of heretics.

But admitting there are still some legitimate descendants of the apostles, the odds are many against our English bishops being of that number, they are so few in comparison of the immense multitudes which formerly belonged to the Romish church ; and as there is no possible way of distinguishing the true from the false, but by giving the exact catalogue, the production of this curious document is absolutely necessary, in order to obtain any satisfaction respecting the apostolical origin of our prelates. But who can make out this catalogue of bishops, from the apostles down to

* There is no room for a moment's doubt upon this subject. The following is the canon: “ As to those who call themselves Puritans, if they come over to the catholic and apostolic church, the holy synod decrees, that they who are ordained shall continue in the clergy; having first professed in writing, that they will adhere to the decrees of the catholic church; that is, that they will communicate with those that have married a second time, and such as have lapsed under persecution, (who have had a time given, and a term fixed for their penance,) so that they will in all things follow the doctrine of the catholic church. When none but they are found to be ordained in any city or village, they shall all remain in the same order; but if any come over where there is a bishop or priest of the catholic church, it is clear that the bishop of the church ought to retain his dignity; and he that had been called a bishop by the Puritans, shall have the honour of a priest, unless the bishop think fit to impart to him the nominal honour [of a bishop]. Otherwise he shall provide for him the place of a village bishop, or priest; that so there may not be two bishops in one city.” Canon 8. See Clergyman's Vade mecum, part ii., p. 49, 50.

+ Bingham's Antiquities, b. iv., ch. 7, sect. 8.

« PreviousContinue »