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the opinion, therefore, that its characteristics should be thoroughly understood.
In the scriptures are contained the only grounds of this faith. No mode of church government can be considered of divine origin, which is not enjoined in the most absolute terms in the scriptures, and no articles of faith can be considered of divine authority, which are not there explicitly stated. Possible de. signs, and probable inferences are not here to be taken. We must have plain arguments, positive proofs, direct conclusions, before we can venture to pronòunce any scheme of government, or any summary of arti. cles, to be built on divine authority. The decrees of councils, and the traditions of the church can be of no weight, and ought not to be quoted on these points, while we have the scriptures in our hands. In discussing this subject, therefore, I shall not think it important to resort to any other authorities, than such as are contained in the word of God. The plain truths of scripture will always remain the same, whatever may have been, or may still be, the opinions of
Your first proposition, in regard to the ministry of the episcopal church, is as follows. “This ministry consists of three distinct orders, bishops, priests, and deacons. From the promulgation of the gospel by Jesus Christ, these three orders were apparent, designated by different names, and possessing and exercising different powers," p. 11.
These orders you represent to have consisted of our Saviour, the apostles, and the seventy, who were sent forth to preach. Now, is it not a little remarkable, if Jesus intended the ministry of his church to
consist of three orders, and to be transmitted in this form through all succeeding ages, that he should not have given some directions on so important a subject? Is it credible, that, if he intended a particular class of persons only should be qualified for administering the ordinances of his religion, he would not have given some positive instructions in regard to the nature of their qualifications? But what is the truth? Not a hint is found in the whole four gospels, that he designed either to establish or perpetuate any such form of church government, as the one you have mentioned. His last commission to his disciples is given in the following words: “Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Matt. xxviii. 19, 20. He never mentioned three orders, or any number of orders of priesthood. He never spoke of bishops or deacons. He pointed out no particular modes of ordination, nor designated any description of persons by whom this ceremony should be performed.
What is the natural conclusion, except that he did not think it important what mode his followers should adopt to preserve the outward forms of his religion, provided they were careful to embrace its doctrines, imbibe its spirit, and live by its precepts? Whatever conclusion we may draw, we must rest in this certainty, that our Saviour left no instructions respecting any particular form of churcb government. We bave no other scripture authority on this subject, than what we derive from the writings and example of the
apostles after the resurrection of Christ. I will next examine your statements as drawn from that source.
You go on to observe, “when our Lord had ascended up on high, the apostles ordained the seven deacons to discharge the inferior offices of the minis. try, and to preserve the system inviolate.” What system had been broken? Our Lord had not mentioned any system. And even, if he had commanded his disciples to preserve the three orders, which you suppose he established, would they not have chosen some one to supply the place, which had become vacant? Would it not be most rational to believe, if it were intended they should keep the "system inviolate,” that they would have appointed some person to constitute the order, which had ceased, when Christ ascended to heaven; and to take charge of the general concerns of the church, as he had done wbile on earth? How else could the orders have been regularly preserved? But what is the fact respecting the seven officers, whom you call deacons? For what purpose were they chosen? Instead of being appointed to su. perintend the concerns of the church, or indeed to supply any order of the ministry, their office does not seem to have been designed even for an ecclesiastical purpose.
The reason for this appointment is seen in the following text. "And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a mura muring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” Acts vi. 1. Here the Gentile, or more properly the Hellenistic converts complain, that they were neglected by the Hebrew officers, whose duty it was to provide for the poor.* T'he apostles immediately advised them to choose a certain number of persons, to whom this duty might be entrusted, intimating that it was not an office, with which, in the exercise of their more important calling, they ought to be troubled. The people accordingly chose seven from among themselves, who were approved and appointed to tbeoffice by the apostles.
But this office did not constitute a new order. They were chosen to aid others, who had neglected to do their duty. Their appointment was merely a matter of expediency, or convenience, to afford more extensive relief to the poor, and to prevent the jealousy and complaints, which bad begun to spring up among the Hellenistic and Hebrew converts. It was in no respect an office for spiritual purposes, and certainly cannot be considered as forming a part of the christian ministry. One of them, Stephen, is represented as “a man full of faith, and of the Holy Spirit;" and Philip, in another place, is called an evangelist, but in no connexion with this office. Why you call them deacons, I cannot tell, as no such name is given
* The “Grecians,” or Hellenists, mentioned in the text, were probably proselytes to the Jewish religion from among the Greeks, or the descendants of such persons, who had embraced christianity. See Kenrick's Exposition, vol, iii. p. 109. and Newcome, in loc. It is well known, that these proselytes did not enjoy, the same civil privileges in Judea, as the native Israelites. This caused prejudices to be kindled among them, which were not entirely removed after their conversion to christianity. We may hence see the reason of the complaint in the text. The Hebrews attended to their own poor, and neglected those of the proselyte converts. This is the more probable, as Nicolas of Antioch, one of the seven officers, was a proselyte.
them. Neither is the word used in the whole book of Acts.
Let us proceed to your next statement of the orders of the ministry. After the appointment of the seven officers just mentioned, you say, “there were then the apostles and those associated with them, as Titus, Timothy, &c. being the first order; the seventy, bishops, elders, or presbyters, as they were promiscuously called, being the second order; and the deacons, the third order; p. 12. Do you mean to consider Timothy and litus on an equality with the apostles? If a line of distinction existed any where, between the different officers of the ministry, could any be more strongly marked, than that which separated those persons, who had been the companions of our Lord, and had been the special messengers of his gospel, from all who were afterwards chosen or appointed by them? Were Timothy and Titus ever called apostles? Why then should you assign them the same rank? If being "associated” with the apostles entitled them to a place in the first order, why were not all bishops, or elders, equally entitled to this place? They were all associated with the apostles in the great work of preaching, and teaching, and extending the kingdom of Christ. In this respect they all composed but one order.
As you allow the words bishop, elder, and presby• ter to be used promiscuously for the same thing, I should not stop to prove so obvious a fact, were it not denied in the book of “Festivals and Fasts," which is a manual in the church, and which you recommend very highly to your readers. In remarking on the testimony of Ignatius, the author, or editor,