Page images

"ordination; and it is because Episcopal bishops are presbyters, "and assisted in all ordinations by other presbyters, that we con"sider their ordaining acts, on the principles of Scripture and primi❝tive usage, as valid." In this passage, Mr. H, asserts, that I have pronounced Presbyterian ordination alone to be valid, and, of course, have unchurched all who are destitute of it. Now as the whole strain of my volume is of a different kind; and as, in various parts of it, an opposite doctrine is explicitly avowed and maintained, candour, I think, should have dictated to this gentleman a more favourable construction, even supposing my language to admit of that which he puts upon it. But, in truth, when this passage is examined, it will be found that the doctrine which it contains, is so far from being high-toned and offensive, that it is taking the very lowest ground that any denomination of Christians, who hold to a regular ministry at all, have maintained. What does it say? It affirms that ordination by presbyters is valid, and that it is the only ordination which the Scriptures warrant. Now the Presbyterian pastors, the episcopal bishops, the ministers of the Independent, Lutheran, Methodist, and Baptist churches, are all presbyters; and of course, are all empowered to ordain. The doctrine of the above cited passage, therefore, instead of being high-toned or exclusive, recognizes as valid the ordinations of every church on earth, which receives and acts on the principle that clerical ordination of any kind is necessary.

But after all, how has the episcopal claim been construed by impartial judges? If, as these gentlemen assert, the most zealous and high-toned advocates of prelacy, do not lay greater stress on their particular form of church order, than Presbyterians do on theirs; if they make no greater nor more offensive claims; how has it come to pass that the contrary has been, by all parties, so generally understood and acknowledged? How has it happened, that every respectable Presbyterian who ever wrote on this subject has utterly disclaimed sentiments in anywise resembling those of the jure divino prelatists? How has it come to pass that many warm friends of episcopacy have reprobated the claims of some of their own denomination, as peculiar to themselves, as well as groundless and offensive? How could such men as archbishop Wake, be so grossly deceived? He, in a letter to a Presbyterian minister of Geneva, in the year 1719, pronounced the high-church

men of his day, for advancing exactly such claims as those of Dr. Bowden and Mr. How, to be madmen.* Was this respectable prelate; were the great body of the most eminent writers, both Presbyterian and episcopal, who have treated of this subject for the last two hundred years, all ignorant and mistaken? I must be allowed to believe that they were at least as learned, and discerning, and that they understood the points in dispute, at least as well as either Dr. Bowden or Mr. How.

Dr. Bowden and Mr. How, more than once accuse me of departing from the doctrine of our Confession of Faith, concerning the christian ministry; and express some apprehensions that I may be called to an account by my own church, for deviating from her standards. The former of these gentleman also observes, that, before he saw my Letters, he had supposed me to be a Presbyterian; but that to such Presbyterianism as mine both Calvin and Knox were entire strangers. The best refutation of these charges will be found in the facts exhibited in the following sheets; the slightest attention to which will convince you, that, until my opponents become better acquainted with our Confesssion of Faith, and also with the writings of Presbyterian Reformers, they are but ill qualified to pronounce what system agrees or is at variance with these great authorities.

But although I am not conscious of departing either from the letter or the spirit of that Confession of Faith which I have solemnly subscribed; and although I am confident that my Presbyterianism is substantially the same with that of Calvin and Knox; yet let us remember that we are to call no man, or body of men, Master on earth. One is our Master, even Christ. HIS WORD is the sole standard by which, as Christians, or as churches, we must stand or fall. Happy will it be for us, if we can appeal to the great Searcher of hearts, that we have not followed the traditions and inventions of men, but the sure word of prophecy, which is given us to be a light to our feet, and a lamp to our path, to guide us in the way of peace!

See my former letters, p. 174, 175




In the second letter of my former series, I endeavoured to estabjish the principle, that the only testimony by which the controversy in question ever ought to be, or can be decided, is that of Scripture. The word of God is the only perfect and infallible rule of faith and practice. The moment we quit this ground, we are plunged into all the uncertainty of tradition, and into all the confusion of contradictory testimony. The moment we quit this ground, the defence of Protestantism against the Papists is impossible. In this general principle, our episcopal brethren concur. They acknowledge that the question before us is a matter of fact, to be ascertained by a sound interpretation of Scripture. And yet, for the most part, they have no sooner made the acknowledgment, than they contradict themselves, by setting human authority above the inspired volume.

In this inconsistent course, Dr. Bowden has signalized himself. He has, indeed, pursued it with a degree of boldness which is truly rare. He does not think it necessary even to save appearances. Instead of assigning to Scripture the first and highest place; instead of beginning with it, and permitting it to stand on its own proper eminence, he begins with the fathers! Nor is this all. As if afraid of examining and exhibiting the testimony of the fathers in their natural order, from the apostolic age downwards, he begins

with the fathers of the fourth century; reasons backward; assumes the corrupt principles and language of that age as genuine, and then employs them to interpret the primitive writers; and thus endeavours to make his readers believe that the order of the church was the same in the fourth, that it had been in the first century; and that the words bishop, elder, deacon, meant exactly the same thing in the days of Eusebius, Basil, and Jerome, that they had done in the days of the apostles. I thank Dr. Bowden for the important concessions which this course of reasoning tacitly discloses. I thank him for the manifest unwillingness which he discovers to encounter either the testimony of Scripture alone, or the testimony of the early fathers alone. His very arrangement of evidence speaks more than volumes. Of the fairness of this arrangement, I say nothing. No reader of the smallest discernment needs a single remark to aid him in judging of this point. But I could scarcely have asked for a more humiliating confession of the weakness of his cause, and of his distressing consciousness that neither Scripture nor early antiquity will bear him out in his claims, than is to be found in this management, which he, no doubt, considered as a master stroke of policy. But this gentleman goes a step further. After conducting his readers through a catalogue of quotations, placed in retrograde order, from the fourth century upward to the apostles; after presenting to them a corresponding series of pictures in an inverted, and therefore deceptive light; and after bringing them, wearied and perplexed, to the dividing line between the fathers and the canon of Scripture, he expresses himself in the following terms: "As episcopacy appears from a cloud of wit

nesses to be the government of the church at the close of the apos"tolic age, it can never be admitted that any thing in the New "Testament militates against this fact." Letters, 1. p. 240. The plain English of this declaration is, " The controversy is to be de❝cided by the fathers. In approaching the inspired volume, we are "previously to take for granted that it does not, and cannot con"tain any thing contrary to their testimony. And even if it appears "to contain facts or principles inconsistent with their writings, we "are to draw our conclusions from the latter rather than the former. "Were the scriptures to teach otherwise than the fathers, we could "not believe them." I do not say that this doctrine is, in so many

words, avowed by the reverend professor; nor even that he distinctly recognizes such a monstrous position in his own mind: but I will say, that such is the spirit of the principle which he lays down, and that I verily believe him to have been governed by it in all his reasonings.

But although my opponents discover so much reluctance to be judged by the law, and the testimony, I hope, my brethren, we shall never so far forget our character as Christians and Protestants, as to suffer our faith or practice to be tried by any other test. I will, therefore, request your serious and impartial attention to some further remarks on the scriptural evidence relative to the subject before us. You will not expect me, however, again to go over the whole ground of the scriptural argument. I shall only advert to a few points on which either the most plausible or the most exceptionable strictures have been made on our principles, as formerly advanced and defended.

I again assert, then, that there is not to be found in the whole New Testament a single doctrine or fact, which yields the least solid support to the cause of prelacy; but that, on the contrary, the whole strain of the evangelical records is favourable to the doctrine of ministerial parity.

Dr. Bowden still insists that the angels of the seven Asiatic churches, spoken of in Rev. ii. and iii. were no other than diocesan bishops. But really he does little more than assert and re-assert this, without producing any proof that deserves to be considered even as plausible. I had asked, "Is it certain that by these "angels are meant individual ministers ?" Dr. Bowden replies "I think there can be no doubt of it." A very strong argument, it must be acknowledged! But unfortunately there is much doubt of it. Some of the most learned and able Episcopalians that ever lived, have not only doubted, but denied it. And Dr. Mason has lately shown, with a force of argument which, in my opinion, no impartial mind can resist, that the title of angel in this portion of scripture, is a symbolical term, intended to express the ministry collectively of each of those churches; that both the phraseology and matter of the addresses made to the angels are, in several instances, such as could only be directed to collective bodies; and that to consider the title as designating an individual, is a con

« PreviousContinue »