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Church, and the power of ordination in particular, were never committed to that order; but remained in the apostles, and in persons whom they associated with themselves, with a view to those higher ends.
It is essential to the Anti-Episcopalian scheme, to say, that the confessedly superintending authority of the twelve apostles, was peculiar to themselves, and died with them. On the other hand, the contrary— according to our ideas-is shown in actual instances: in that of Barnabas, who is expressly called an apostle;* in those of Timothy and Titus, who governed the elders ordained by them; and in that of St. James, who was not of the number of the twelve, as some imagine from the identity of name; but concerning whom, there are strong appearances in scripture, of the truth of what ecclesiastical history affirms, that he presided in the mother Church of Jerusalem, being constituted its bishop by the apostles. It was a natural course for events to take, that while the most of the apostles were alive, the economy should not be generally carried into effect, of having local episcopal authorities, attached to the respective districts. And there seem to have been but few instances, in addition to the case of the episcopacy in Jerusalem; until we come down to what we read in the figurative language of the Apocalypse, concerning the seven Churches of Asia. The only member of the apostolick college, then surviving, was St. John. And accordingly, it is natural to find the system more generally carried into effect; as is the fact. For that those seven angels of the Churches were so many presiding officers in the same, we consider as a matter abundantly proved by ecclesiastical history. Some contend, that the angel of each Church is a figurative expression, for a college of presbyters: but this we think disproved by the tenour of the several messages. Others presume, that each Church, meaning by that term the collective body of Christians in each city, was furnished with only a single pastor: but this.
Acts xiv. 14,
we contend to be contradicted by the great increase of the number of believers, at the time in question; and to be supposed especially applicable to a region, which had been eminently blessed by apostolick labours.
There is one circumstance, which has been thought to hang heavy on the cause of episcopacy, under the present question. It is the acknowledged fact, that the two Greek words, translated bishop and presbyter, are applied in scripture to the same order. This appears especially in St. Paul's address to the Ephesian pastors, in the twentieth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, and in the address of the same apostle to the Philippian Church. Our answer to this is, that having proved a disparity of authority, we think nothing can be fairly inferred from the intercommunity of name; when we perceive a cause for a change in regard to two names, at first indiscriminately used; but afterwards separated, in consequence of the gradual growth in number of an order, the need of which was called for by the gradual decrease of the apostles. Two of the number call themselves "Elders:"* And yet none deny, that they were of a grade above the persons, to whom that name was ordinarily applied. Our Lord himself is called a deacon,+ (in the common translation a minister) of the circumcision; although he is the supreme shepherd and bishop of our souls: which latter name it would have been blasphemous to have applied to him, in common with ecclesiastical persons of any grade, if there were so much in names as some contend for in the present instance. In short, custom which gives the law to speech, has exercised her legislative authority in this particular: while the discrimination contended for in the ministry, has been provided for by the great ordainer of it.
Episcopalians lay great stress on the testimony of the primitive Church, on the present subject. It is not that they conceive of it, as bringing any addition to the
1 Pet. v, 1.-2 John i. and iii. 1.
Rom. xv. 8.
authority of holy writ. But on any question, in which opinion is mixed with fact; they think that much depends on the testimony of those who lived the nearest to the time, when the fact is said to have happened: and this is a use of antiquity very commonly made, with great advantage, in sustaining the evidences of revealed religion. Now we read of no other government than the Episcopal, in the very early times. There is something very remarkable, in the care with which we often find an early Church deducing the line of its episcopacy. This would deserve the less stress, if it were done in the way of disputation; for it would imply an opposite party, whose arguments may not have reached us. But there was no such party, until within these three hundred years.
Episcopacy had its undisputed sway during all the centuries preceding: unless it can be proved, to have begun about the middle of the second century, as is gratuitously affirmed; this being the hinge on which the whole merit hangs of the anti episcopalian system. The very few writers between the death of the apostles and the date assumed, has made it the easier to set up the plea. But although the time was barren of writers, it was fruitful of saints and martyrs; and of all times the least likely to favour the entry of an innovation, thought to originate in and to favour the corruption of the human heart. But independently on this, we think the hypothesis altogether inconsistent with the most obivous properties of the human character generally. One of the apostles had compared the spreading of the gospel in his own day, to the universally extending influence of the heavenly bodies. That it had a proportionate progress in the age succeeding their decease, is a fact which none deny. Now, that in so widely extended a body as the Christian Church, with no other government than what subsisted in the Church of each district within itself, there should be a general consent to exchange presbytery for episcopacy; and that there should not be any record of consultations and determinations to the effect-for nothing of this kind is
alleged; and above all, that if Christian integrity omitted to raise its voice against the usurpation, the same should not proceed from those passions of our frame, which sometimes impel to resistance of legitimate authority, but scarcely ever fail to set themselves against unfounded and arrogant pretensions; is a combination of unaccountable events, of which we think that they could not have happened; while yet they must be supposed, in order to render the opposite theory con
Hitherto we have been occupied on a question of fact: and I must take the liberty to say, without the least wish to show disrespect to the persons or the opinions of any, that I hardly know any facts better attested, than first, there having been in the apostolick age, as is confessed, an authority paramount to what was ordinarily vested in the presbyters of the Church; and then, the transition of the same paramount authority to an order of clergy, under the denomination of bishops; designated to the office by the imposition of hands, although they may have been presbyters before; and competent to certain offices not permitted to the others.
But the facts being supposed; the question is raised, whether it be evidence of divine institution; obligatory like the sacraments, at all times, and under all circumstances of the Church. If the moving of this question had originated in the mere rage for innovation; it would be hardly worth the resolving, at the expense of the danger of disparaging an institution, made venerable by apostolick origin, and by the uninterrupted usage of fifteen centuries. But it happened at the refor mation, that in some countries, Christians were so circumstanced, as that they had no alternative, between dispensing with this particular regimen, and the con. tinuing in the bosom of a Church extremely corrupt in doctrine: and under this embarrassment, many ecclesiastical systems of discipline were established, without the requisition of Episcopal ordination.
It should be remembered, that I am engaged in opening and in defending the sense of the Episcopal Church, as received from the Church of England. At the same time, that, on the point of fact, she decidedly set her feet on the ground of the apostolick origin of episcopacy, she carefully avoided passing a judgment on the validity of the ministry of other Churches; or the determining, in any shape, on the question the last proposed. This line of conduct, on the part of the Church, has left room for considerable variety of sentiment among her clergy. For my own part, I profess to admire the moderation of the Church of England, transmitted to the Church in these states, in this particular. And although I am fully persuaded, that when the time shall come of consent and communion among Churches, now unhappily estranged from one another; a circumstance distinguishing the change, will be a restoration of the episcopacy of the early ages; yet in the meanwhile, I am content to adopt the words of one of the wisest men who ever wrote in the Church of England, where, speaking of non-episcopalian Churches, he delivers himself as follows-"This their defect and imperfection I had rather lament in such a case, than exaggerate; considering that men, oftentimes, without any fault of their own, may be driven to want that kind of polity or regimen, which is best; and to content themselves with that, which either the irremediable errour of former times, or the necessity of the present hath cast upon them."+ [See Dissertation X.]
Having gone over the ground which was opened to the prospect in the beginning; I will so far take a retrospect of the argument as to show, in regard to each of the points wherein we differ from other communions, its obvious tendency in practice, as to the operation to be expected on the condition of the social body.
First, in regard to the ministry as a divine institution, and transmitted in succession, in opposition to the idea of the performance of its duties being open
† Book 3, section 11.