« AnteriorContinuar »
the persons, whether one or many, by whom that succession is to be conveyed.
Involved, as this topic of the order and constitution of the ministry may now appear to be, it is one which can scarcely be said to have been made the subject of question and discussion, until since the period of the reformation. That event found the whole Christian world Episcopal in its ministry; and although errors in doctrine, and abuses in practice, had marred the simplicity of the faith once delivered to the saints, and in one branch of the Church, papal usurpation had assumed a power belonging only to its ascended Head, yet, in respect of the eternal fabric, the original design was preserved, and in both the eastern and the western Church, the apostolical constitution of the ministry in three orders, with the right of ordination confined to the first, was every where recognised, and its authority unquestioned. This is a fact which we may boldly assert. For, although as early as the reign of Constantine, in the beginning of the fourth century,* Aerius, a presbyter who had been disappointed of his election to the episcopate, had undertaken to argue, from the assent of the presbytery to ordination, as mentioned by St. Paul in his First Epistle to Timothy, and from the indefinite and interchangeable use of the
words Bishop and Presbyter, which obtained, so long as the apostles were yet in the supreme government of the Church, that there was no necessary distinction between the offices themselves, yet was his error immediately condemned, and unhesitatingly imputed to his ignorance of the Scriptures; and he himself (I use the language of history) not only branded as a heretic, but considered as no other than a madman; “ for “ how was it possible,” said Epiphanius, who notices his heresy, “how was it possible that he “ should constitute or ordain a presbyter, who “ had no authority to impose hands in ordination." And while this and other similar facts are conclusive as to the opinions which were held on this subject, the practice was so uniform, that the opponents of the Episcopal authority have in vain been appealed to, to point out a single instance of a Christian Church constituted on any other principle than that which we maintain, during the long period of 1500 years; beginning with the very origin and establishment of Christ's kingdom.
This universal prevalence of Episcopacy, though a strong presumptive argument in favour of its divine and primitive original, is not contended for as final and conclusive. On the contrary, because gross innovations had obtained in many other things, there was a possibility that in this respect also, the Church might be corrupt; and VOL. JI.
this was a sufficient reason to submit the whole subject to examination and discussion. Indeed, when we consider the spirit of inquiry which prevailed at the reformation, and when we reflect also how the corruptions of the Church had become identified with the character and even with the persons of the clergy, the danger evidently was, not that through affection or respect for a venerated order, their claims should remain unscrutinized; but that because of the perversion and abuse which marked the exercise of their power, that power itself justly originating and rightly acquired though it might be, should be overlooked through passion, or set aside by violence.
That the authority of the ministry was thoroughly investigated, and therefore, that the constitution of it which we possess, was not a system adopted by chance, not a prejudice fondly retained, nor an error blindly perpetuated, when other errors were done away, we all well know. On the contrary, the truth most evidently appears to be, that even those of the first reformers who did not embrace it, so far from regarding the Episcopal government of the Church as unscriptural, were only prevented by circumstances over which they imagined they had no control, from uniformly adopting it in their respective churches; and that they pleaded what they believed to be the neces. sity of the case, for deviating from a form for which
they expressed the utmost reverence.
« Even “ those, then, who are considered as the founders “ of the Presbyterian form of church govern
ment,” says Bishop Skinner, * “ did not object “to Episcopacy on account of any doubt either
as to its primitive character, or of any uncer
tainty as to the regular succession of bishops. “ So far from entertaining any suspicion or prejudice of that kind, they reckoned it a most
unjust aspersion to say that they condemned or " threw off Episcopacy, because they were obliged “ to do without it in Geneva, where they thought “ it impossible to have bishops, without submit“ ting to that papal supremacy which they had “ lately renounced. But whatever weight may “ be allowed to their plea of necessity, it is evi“ dent, from their having recourse to this plea as
an excuse for their conduct, that they considered " the reformation in which they were engaged, as * a renunciation not of pure and genuine Epis
copacy, but of the corruptions which papal “ usurpation kad grafted upou it. This is plainly " and openly avowed by Calvin, who, in opposing “ the claims of the Romish Church, says, 'If they " would give us an hierarchy, in which the bi" shops did so rise above others, as that they “ would not refuse to be subject to Christ, and to
depend on him as their only Head ; in which
• Skinner's Truth and Order, p. 248.
" they would so preserve brotherly communion
among themselves, as to be united by nothing
so much as his truth; then indeed I should - confess, that there is no anathema of which “ those persons are not worthy (if any such there “ be,) who would not reverence such an hierarchy, « and submit to it with the utmost obedience.' “ Such an hierarchy he acknowledges that the • Church of England possessed; to which he “ therefore professes to give both inward rever“ence and outward respect. To the same pur
pose speaks Beza, in language as strong as it “ was possible to use on such an occasion, · If, “ however, there be any,' says he, which you can
hardly make me believe, who reject the whole " order of bishops, God forbid that any man of a " sound mind should assent to the madness of “ such persons.
This is strong language, my brethren, and shows how natural is the horror of schism in pious minds. Pity it is that habit, and long custom, and the force of education, should familiarize men to disregard it. Nay, that prejudice and blindness should so prevail, as to cause at last to be defended and justified, deviations begun in necessity, submitted to with regret, and only palliated and excused by those who introduced them.
But we rest not the claims of Episcopacy upon the opinions or concessions of men, however