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The directions of our Saviour, are certainly all general: and as Christianity solicited admission into every country in the world, and cautiously refrained from interfering with the
the municipal regulations, or civil conditions of any, this reserre, if I may so call it, in the legislature of the Christian church, was wisely suited to its primitive condition, compared with its expected progress and extent. The circumstances of Christianity, in the early period of its propagation, were necessarily, very unlike those which took place, when it became the established religion of great nations. The rudiments indeed of the future plant were involved within the grain of mustard seed; but still a different treatment was required for its sustentation, when the birds of the air lodged amongst its branches ; a small select society, under the gaidance of inspired teachers, without temporal rights, and without property, founded in the midst of enemies, and living in subjection to unbelieving rulers, without any appropriated seasons, or places of religious worship, differed as much from the Christian church, after Christianity prevailed as the religion of the
state ; that the greatest inconvenience would have followed from establishing a precise constitution, obligatory both upon the infant and adult state of Christianity ; as the same disposition of affairs which was most commodious, and conducive to edification in the one, would become probably impracticable under the circumstances, or altogether inadequate, to the wants of the other.
But though the laws which respect the discipline, instruction, and government of Christ's flock, are delivered in such indefinite forms, as to admit an application suitable to the mutable condition and varying exigences of the Christian church, yet I hope to prove most satisfactorily, that episcopal government has existed in the church from the commencement of the Christian era,
allow that the orders which we now call Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not always distinguished in Scripture by these names. The orders themselves are plainly pointed out in Scripture, but each name is not particularly and constantly applied to a distinct order. Bishops, by way of eminence, were called by St. John, angels, (a Greek word, signifying a messenger) thus we read in the book of Revelation, of the angel of the church of Ephesus, Rev. ii. 2. of the angel of Pergamus, the angel of Sardis, that is, the governors of these particular churches.
that it rests upon the same authority, as that of the Christian sabbath-apostolic practice, (which, after the ascension of our Lord, changed indeed the day, for a weighty reason, but still sanctified a seventh,) and like the faith it was appointed to preserve, is therefore unchangeable, and intended to remain the same, yesterday, to-day, and for
But it is not the distinction of names but of office for which I contend. Those whom we now call Bishops were first distinguished by the name of Apostles : but as Dr. Bentley observes, when the Apostles had appointed their successors in the several cities and communities, and were themselves removed from this world; the holy men thus appointed, though evidently the successors of the Apostles, were too modest to assume the title of Apostles, and contented them. selves with that of Bishops, and, “ from that time, it was agreed, over Christendom, in the very next generaration after the Apostles, to assign and appropriate to them the word ETISYON OS, or Bishop.” See Phileleutherus Lipsiensis. Remark 35. The name of an archbishop imports only a bishop having chiefty of certain prerogatives, in their character, Archbishops, and Bishops are equal, archbishops were established for the order of provinces, and for the avoiding of confusion in the intervals of provincial synods, or national councils.
* The Apostles, we are told, did not enter upon the discharge of their commission, till they had received the promise of the Father, in the gift of the Holy Ghost. They were commanded to tarry, in Jerusalem, till they were endued with power from on high. Luke xxiv. 49. What form of government, therefore, the apostles agreed to establish in the church, if not expressly communicated to them, by Christ in person, must be considered as established under the direction of the Holy Ghost.
Thus apostolical practice, with respect to the government of the church well ascertained, must in this instance, be equivalent to apostolical precept with re. spect to the doctrine of it, because the Holy Spirit, by whoin the apostles were directed, and whose office it was to teach them all tbings necessary to the welfare of the Christian church, would not lead them into error, in one case, more than in the other.
What that form of government was, we shall be at no loss to determine, if we enquire fairly into the subject. Indeed, the practice of the primitive church (was the language of scripture, on this subject, less clear than it is) throws such light upon it, as must determine the judginent of every unprejudiced man.
“What need we,” said a judicious writer, who bad paid particular attention to this subject, and whose writings have been frequently referred to, as a standard of
That episcopal government was received universally in the church, in the time of the apostles, is so evident, and unquestion
judgınent in church matters, " what need we,” said he, “to seek for proofs that the apostles who began their order of regiment, by bishops, did it not, but by divine instinct; when without such direction, things of far less weight and moment, they attempted not ? Paul and Barnabas did not open their mouths unto the Gentiles, till the spirit had said, 'separate me Paul and Barnabas for the work whereunto I have sent them.' The eunuch, by Philip, was neither baptized nor instructed, before the angel of God was sent, to give him notice, that so it pleased the Most High. In Asia, Paul and the rest, were silent, because the spirit forbad them to speak. When they intended to have seen Bythinia, they stayed their journey, the spirit not giving them leave to go. Before Timothy was employed in those episcopal affairs of the church, about which the apostle Paul used him, the Holy Ghost gave special charge for his ordination, and prophetic intelligence, more than once, what success the same would have. And shall we think that Evodius was made bishop of the church of Antioch—the angels in the churches of Asia bishops--that bishops every where were appointed to take away factious contentions, and schisms, without some like divine instigation, and direction of the Holy Ghost? Wherefore let us not fear to be herein bold, and peremptory, that if any thing in the church's regiment, surely the first institution of bishops was from heaven ; was even of God, the Holy Ghost was the author of it." Hooker's Ecc, Pol. Book 7.