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IT may perhaps be proper to explain the occasion of the ensuing discourses. This requires a concise statement of facts. But as the writer has not resided long in this place, he is obliged, for this statement, to rely principally upon credible testimony.
It appears that this town had continued, almost half a century, under the ministry of the Rev. Dr. NEWTON, united, tranquil, and happy. But, in the decline of his life, a few individuals undertook to introduce and establish an Episcopal society.Their prospect of success evidently depended upon detaching, under every concurrence of favorable circumstances, as many as possible from the Dr's. socie ty. They labored, by conversation, by the circulation of Episcopal books, and by such allurements as they were able to offer, to accomplish their purpose. In this manner, they succeeded in forming a society, and in procuring to it the accession of a considerable number.
They assumed high ground. The exclusive valid. ity of Episcopal ordination was boldly asserted, The efficacy of Episcopal ordinances was extolled. Nor did they hesitate in making loud claims to the exclusive possession of the primitive and apostolic mode of divine worship. As might have been expected, the validity of Presbyterian ordination was denied. Congregational ministers were represented as possessing no right to administer christian ordinances, Nor could those ordinances be profitably or safely received from intruders into the sacred office. They seemed desirous of propagating a belief, that the Episcopal
church is the only true church of CHRIST; and that those, who are saved out of that church, must be indebted for salvation to the uncovenanted mercy of God.
To a well-informed man these anti-scriptural pretensions would appear as harmless, as the arrogant claim of the Papist, that there is no salvation out of the Roman Catholic church. But such bold pretensions were calculated to intimidate those who had not attended to the subject, and to induce them, from an apprehension of danger in the Congregational communion, to resort for safety to the Episcopal system.
Indeed many of their popular arguments were obviously designed for those, who were not expected to reason or reflect. Whilst they asserted that Episcopacy was originally adopted to prevent division, and endeavored to recommend it to others as a system admirably calculated for this purpose; why, it might be asked, should they attempt to produce that very evil in order to introduce it, which it was intended to prevent? What gratitude would be due to a physician, who should induce a dangerous or fatal disease upon his patient, that he might have an opportunity to apply some supposed sovereign remedy, which he had discovered?
With no less assurance, it was pretended, that nothing but ignorance of the subject prevented any intelligent man from becoming an Episcopalian. And it was charitably imputed to no worse reason, that the clergymen in the vicinity did not embrace Episcopaey. These gentlemen continued in their unhappy
and dangerous error, because (as it was said) "they did not read any thing upon the other side of the question."
But to an intelligent man it must have occurred, that this was an implicit acknowledgement that Episcopacy is not to be found in the Bible. For, it could not be pretended that those gentlemen, and many other Congregationalists, were not in the habit of reading the Bible. If then, Episcopacy were the system contained in this sacred book, they must have been in the habit of reading the best of all books upon that side of the question. But if it is not to be found in the Bible, it can form no part of the faith or practice of a christian.
It is not to be understood that the preceding remarks are applicable indiscriminately, to all who profess to be Episcopalians.
But as the regularity and validity of the ministry and ordinances, which we had believed to be scriptural and correct, were openly called in question, or denied, it seemed to have become indispensable to enter into a more particular examination of the subject. Nor was it less necessary to inquire upon what foundation were placed those high pretensions of Episcopalians to the exclusive character which they assumed. It did not appear proper to direct my people to take it for granted, that we were in the right, and those who differed from us in the wrong. It was unquestionably our duty to imitate the example of the noble Bereans, and "search the scriptures daily wheth. er those things were so." If we were in an error, it was