Page images







It is more than two years since I addressed you in a series of "Letters on the Constitution and Order of the Christian Ministry, "as deduced from Scripture and Primitive Usage," The resolu. tion to call your attention to that subject was reluctantly formed, after much deliberation, and in compliance with what appeared to me an evident and imperious demand of duty. A love of controversy makes no part of my character. Neither my taste nor my talents are by any means suited to the field of contention. But when a minister of the gospel perceives any thing which is likely to have an unfriendly influence on the church of Christ, to which he has solemnly devoted himself, every consideration of faithfulness forbids him to be idle. Such influence I saw, or thought I saw, was likely to result from certain publications, and other efforts, which had been made by some respectable individuals among our episcopal brethren, in this city, and in different parts of the state, for several years preceding. The nature and tendency of these efforts are well understood by many of you, but they ought to be understood by all.

For more than twenty years after the establishment of American Independence, the Presbyterians of New York dwelt in peace and harmony with their episcopal neighbours. They well recollected, indeed, the long course of oppressions and provocations which they

had suffered, by means of episcopal influence, prior to the revolution. They recollected that, for more than half a century, besides supporting their own churches, they had been forced to contribute to the support of the episcopal church, already enriched and strengthened by governmental aid. They recollected in how many instances the fairest and most laudable exertions to promote the interest of their denomination, were opposed, thwarted, and frustrated, by the direct interference of the same favoured sect. But when our national independence and equal rights became established; when all denominations of Christians were placed on the same footing, with respect to the state, and left to enjoy their privileges together, the Presbyterians were disposed to forget every injury; to cover every former subject of uneasiness with the mantle of charity; to dwell in equal concord and love with their brethren of every name. It was not supposed, indeed, during this period of tranquillity, that Presbyterians and Episcopalians were agreed in their iews either of evangelical truth, or of ecclesiastical order; or that they considered all the points in which they differed as of small importance. But while both thought for themselves, and pursued their own views of doctrine and worship, they avoided an unnecessary, and especially, an irritating and offensive obtrusion of their points of difference; and, above all, never seem to have thought, on either side, of that system of proscription and attack, which our episcopal brethren have since chosen to commence.

The formal and open commencement of this system may be dated in the year 1804. Previous to that period, indeed, several sermons, and other fugitive pamphlets, had evinced a disposition on the part of some individuals, to revive and urge certain claims, as unfounded in scripture as they are offensive to liberal minds. But in that year there appeared, in the city of New York, the first of a series of larger publications, which evidently had for their object a system of more bold and decisive proscription than had been ventured upon for a considerable time before. These publications, among other doctrines, were professedly intended to maintain and disseminate the following, viz. "That the power of ordination to "the christian ministry is, by divine appointment, vested exclusive"ly in diocesan bishops; that where these bishops are wanting, "there is no authorized ministry, no true church, no valid ordi"nances; that, of course, the Presbyterian, and all other non-epis

"copal churches, and ministers, are not only unauthorized, and "perfectly destitute of validity, but are to be viewed as institutions "founded in rebellion and schism; and that all who are in com"munion with such non-episcopal churches, are aliens from Christ," "out of the appointed road to heaven," have no interest in the promises of God, and no hope but in his "uncovenanted mercy," "which may be extended to them, in common with the serious and "conscientious heathen." Books containing doctrines of this kind, had been published and sent abroad with much assiduity, for more than a year, before any Pre-byterian came forward to refute them, or to vindicate primitive simplicity and order; and since that time, similar books have been printed, re-printed, new modelled, and circulated, especially in the city and state of New York, with a degree of zeal and perseverance altogether new and extraordinary.

Nor is this all. These books have been put into the hands of non-episcopalians. Presbyterians have been personally addressed on the subject, and attempts made to seduce them from their church, on the express allegation that they were totally destitute of an authorized ministry, and of valid ordinances. And, that nothing might be wanting to fix the character and purpose of these measures, they were accompanied with declarations, that a state of warfare with the Presbyterian church, on the subject of episcopacy, was earnestly wished for, and considered as one of the most probable means of promoting the episcopal cause.

It was not possible for one denomination of christians to act in a more inoffensive manner towards another, than we had uniformly done towards our episcopal brethren. We had never attempted to unchurch them. We had never, directly or indirectly, called in question the validity of their ministrations or ordinances. We had never, on any occasion, obtruded our particular views of church order, as essential either to the being or prosperity of the body of Christ. On the contrary, whenever we had occasion, from the pulpit or the press, to instruct our people on those points in which we differ from Episcopalians, it was always done in a manner respectful and conciliatory, and perfectly consistent with acknowledging them as a sister church; a sister, by no means, indeed, in our estimation, free from error; but yet sufficiently near the primitive model to be regarded as a church of Christ. All this,

however, did not secure us from the treatment of which you have hear d.

Under these circumstances, when we were virtually denounced and excommunicated; when the name of a christian church was denied us; when our people were warned to abandon the ministry of their pastors, under the penalty of being regarded as rebels and schismatics both by God and man; when more than insinuations of this kind were presented and reiterated, from the pulpit and the press, on every practicable occasion, and in almost every possible variety of form; when, by the frequency and the confidence with which they were brought forward, some in our communion were perplexed, others, more discerning and better informed, rendered indignant, and all appeared to feel the propriety of vindicating the abused ordinances of Christ; it became at least excusable to say something in our own defence. It was no bitterness against our episcopal brethren; no love of controversy; no restless ambition; no desire to intrude into another denomination for the purpose of making proselytes, that dictated an attempt to justify our principles. The attempt was purely defensive, and was demanded by every consideration of duty to the souls of men, and of fidelity to our Master in heaven.

Impressed with this conviction, I addressed to you my Letters on the Christian Ministry. Such a manual appeared to me to be much wanted; a manual which was intended to present a concise view of the whole subject, without the useless appendages, and the offensive recriminations which have been too frequently admitted. In composing this work, it was my sincere aim to render it as free from every thing personal or irritating as possible. Accordingly I attacked no particular writer. I avoided even mentioning the name of any American who had written in opposition to that apostolic truth and order which we maintain. My arguments were stated, as far as the nature of the undertaking admitted, in the abstract; and a studious care was exercised to exhibit the whole in language of the most mild and conciliatory character. In all this it was not supposed that offence could reasonably be taken by any, and least of all by our episcopal brethren. As they had been in the habit, for several years before the appearance of my volume, of publishing, and distributing, even beyond the bounds of their own society, books, in which the episcopal doctrine was

« PreviousContinue »