Page images

the title bishop. Now when the advocates of Episcopacy find this title in the New Testament evidently applied to presbyters, they gravely tell us that the mere title is nothing, and that the interchange of these titles is nothing, but that immediately after the apostolic age, the title of bishop became appropriated to the higher order. But when we find precisely the same titles in the early fathers, and the same interchange of these titles, they are compelled either to alter their tone, and to abandon their former reasoning, or else to submit to the mortification of being condemned out of their own mouths.

The friends of prelacy have often, and with much apparent confidence, challenged us to produce out of all the early fathers, a single instance of an ordination performed by presbyters. Those who give this challenge might surely be expected, in all decency and justice, to have a case of Episcopal ordination ready to be brought forward, from the same venerable records. But have they ever produced such a case? They have not. Nor can they produce it. As there is, unquestionably, no instance mentioned in scripture of any person, with the title of bishop, performing an ordination; so it is equally certain that no such instance has yet been found in any christian writer within the first two centuries. Nor can a single instance be produced of a person already ordained as a presbyter, receiving a new and second ordination as bishop. To find a precedent favourable to their doctrine, the advocates of Episcopacy have been under the necessity of wandering into periods when the simplicity of the Gospel had, in a considerable degree, given place to the devices of men; and when the man of sin had commenced that system of unhallowed usurpation, which which for so many centuries corrupted and degraded the church of God.

Such is the result of the appeal to the early fathers. They are so far from giving even a semblance of support to the Episcopal claim, that, like the Scriptures, they every where speak a language wholly inconsistent with it, and favourable only to the doctrine of ministerial parity. What then shall we say of the assertions so often and so confidently made, that the doctrine of a superior order of bishops has been maintained in the church," from the earliest "ages," in "the ages immediately succeeding the apostles," and


by "all the fathers, from the beginning?" What shall we say of the assertion, that the Scriptures, interpreted by the writings of the early fathers, decidedly support the same doctrine? I will only say, that those who find themselves able to justify such assertions, must have been much more successful in discovering early authorities in aid of their cause, than the most diligent, learned, and keen-sighted of their predecessors.




IN citing the fathers, it was necessary to draw a distinct line between those who are to be admitted as credible witnesses, and those whose testimony is to be suspected. I have accordingly drawn this line at the close of the second century. About this time as will be afterwards shown, among many other corruptions, that of clerical imparity appeared in the church; and even the Papacy, as we have before seen, had begun to urge its antichristian claims. From the commencement of the third century, therefore, every witness on the subject of Episcopacy is to be received with caution. As it is granted, on all hands, that the mystery of iniquity had then begun to work: as great and good men are known, from this time to have countenanced important errors, errors acknowledged to be such by Episcopalians as well as ourselves as uncommanded rites and forms, both of Jewish and Pagan origin, began to be introduced into Christian worship, and to have a stress laid upon them as unreasonable as it was unwarranted; we are compelled to examine the writers from the commencement of the third century downwards, with the jealousy which we feel towards men who stand convicted of having departed from the simplicity of the gospel; and concerning some of whom it is perfectly well known, that many of their alleged facts are as false as their principles.

But though the fathers from the beginning of the third century are not to be contemplated with the same respect, nor relied upon with the same confidence as their predecessors; still they deserve much attention; and in the perusal of their writings, we shall find many passages which confirm the doctrine and the statements exhibited in the foregoing pages. We shall sometimes, indeed, meet with modes of expression and occasional hints, which indicate that the love of pre-eminence, which has so much disturbed

the church as well as the state, had begun to form into a system its plans and claims. Not a sentence, however, can be found until the fourth century, which gives any intimation that bishops were considered as a different order from presbyters; or that the former were peculiarly invested with the ordaining power. Let us then inquire in what manner some of these later fathers speak on the subject under consideration.

Tertullian began to flourish about the year 200. His writings are voluminous, and their authenticity is generally admitted. And though he has been often quoted by our opponents in this controversy, as a witness favourable to their cause, yet if I mistake not, a little attention to the few hints which he drops on this subject, will show that his testimony is directly of an opposite kind. The following passages are found in his works.

Apolog. "In our religious assemblies certain approved elders "preside, who have obtained their office by merit and not by "bribes." De Corona. "We receive the sacrament of the Lord's "Supper from the hands of none but the presidents of our assem"blies." In the same work, cap. 3. he informs us, that the Christians among whom he dwelt, were in the habit of receiving the Lord's Supper three times in each week, viz. on Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as on the Lord's days. Ibid. "Before we go "to the water to be baptized, we first in the church under the "hand of the president, profess to renounce the devil." De Baptismo. "It remains that I remind you of the custom of "giving and receiving baptism. The right of giving this ordi"nance belong to the highest priest, who is the bishop; then "to elders and deacons; yet not without the authority of the "bishop, for the sake of the honour of the church. This being "secured, peace is secured; otherwise, even the laity have the "right." He then goes on to observe, that although the laity have the right of baptizing in cases of necessity, yet "that they

ought to be modest, and not to assume to themselves the ap"pointed office of the bishop. De Hæretic. "Let them (the "heretics) produce the original of their churches; let them turn "over the roll of their bishops; so running down in a continued "succession, that their first bishop had some one of the apostles, "or of the apostolic men (who persevered with the apostles) for his "author and predecessor. Thus the apostolical churches have

"their rolls, as the church of Smyrna has Polycarp constituted "there by John, and the church of Rome, Clement ordained by "Peter. And the other churches can tell who were ordained "bishops over them by the apostles, and who have been their suc"cessors to this day.

These quotations are the strongest that Episcopalians produce from Tertullian in support of their system. Let us examine them. This father tells us, that in his day, presbyters presided in their assemblies; that the presidents of their assemblies alone, in ordinary cases, baptized; and that they received the Lord's Supper from no other hands but those of the presidents: and at the same time he informs us, that administering baptism is the appropriate right of the highest Priest, who is the bishop. What are we to infer from this representation, but that presbyter, president, and bishop, are employed by Tertullian as titles of the same men? Again; this father, while he declares that each bishop or president performed all the baptisms for his flock, and that they received the eucharist from no other hands than his, mentions that they were in the habit of attending on the eucharist three times in each week. Now the man who performed every baptism in the church under his care, and who administered the Lord's Supper three times every week to all the members of his church, could only have been the pastor of one congregation. To suppose that any minister, however great his activity and zeal, could statedly perform this service for more than a single church, involves a manifest impossibility. Nor is this all absurdity is added to impossibility, by supposing, as Episcopalians must, that the bishop did all this when he had many presbyters under him, who were all invested by the very nature of their office, with the power of administering both sacraments as well as himself.

But it will be asked-why then is the bishop called by Tertullian the highest Priest? Does not this expression indicate that there was one priest in a church, at that time, who had some kind of superiority over the other priests of the same church? I answer, this expression implies no superiority of order. The highest priest might have been the only pastor of the church; nor is there any thing in the title inconsistent with this supposition. To draw a conclusion either in favour of diocesan Episcopacy, or against it, from language so entirely ambiguous in its import, is surely more

« PreviousContinue »