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“ that saith he loveth me, and keepeth not my command"ments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. Let the “ wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his “thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and he will have “mercy upon him, and to our God, and he will abundantly “ pardon him. Not by works of righteousness which we " have done, but according to his mercy doth he save us, " by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the “ Holy Spirit. As ye have received the Lord Jesus, so “ walk ye in him; rooted and built up in him, and estab“ lished in the faith, which is according to godliness, and “abounding in those works of righteousness which are by " Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God.”
Now, I ask, is it conceivable that this could have been the tenor of the directions given by the Saviour and his inspired Apostles, to inquirers after the way of christian obedience and hope, if they had coincided in opinion with modern high-churchmen? I will venture to say, it cannot be, for a moment, supposed. Can we imagine that infinite wisdom, and infinite benevolence would undertake to instruct the members of that great community, denominated the Church, in their essential duties, and yet say nothing about that great point, without which, as some think, all her privileges would be a nullity, and all her hopes vain? Can we believe that the Bible was given for the express purpose of being “a light to our feet, and a lamp to our path,” in reference to the great interests of Christians, as individuals, and as a body; and yet that it should not contain one word of explicit instruction in regard to that which is alleged to lie at the foundation of the visible church, and to be essential to its very existence, and, of course, to the validity of all its acts ? That be far from a Being who tadapts means to ends with infinite skill, and who does nothing in vain! The simple and undeniable fact, then, that he particular organ ization of the visible church; the persons invested with the ordaining power; and the uninter
rupted succession in a line of prelates, are not so much as mentioned—or, to say the least, make no such figure, in the New Testament, as in many volumes of modern episcopal origin,—ought to be considered as decisive in this controversy. Had these principles been entertained at the time in which the New Testament was written, and regarded by the inspired writers in the same light in which they are regarded by some ecclesiastical men at the present day; they could not have been silent respecting them, without forfeiting all claim to christian benevolence, nay, to common honesty. They would have dwelt upon them in every connection ; have repeated them at every turn; and have made this subject clear, whatever else was left in the dark. Now, as they, by universal confession, have not DONE THIS; as NO ONE of their number has done it; it is as plain as any moral demonstration can be, that the principles and claims in question were then unknown, and, consequently, have no divine warrant.
II. Another strong presumptive argument against the claim of modern high-churchmen, may be drawn from the well known fact, that almost every part of the outward ceremonial of the visible' church HAS ACTUALLY BEEN CHANGED, FROM TIME TO TIME, without affecting the existence or order of the spiritual community. During the first, or patriarchial dispensation, those who ministered in holy things, received, so far as we are informed, no formal ordination at all. Yet their services were considered as valid, and were accepted of God. When the Mosaic, or ceremonial economy was introduced, the first investiture of the high priest was, by divine direction, conducted by Moses, who was not a high priest, nor even a common priest, himself. On all subsequent accessions of the high priest, he was inducted into office in a different manner; such an officer as Moses having never afterwards officiated on a similar occasion. Before the coming of Christ, the regular line of hereditary succession was repeatedly broken;
yet this was not considered as affecting the validity of the high priest's ministrations; and even the Saviour and his apostles, notwithstanding this, repeatedly acknowledged, from time to time, the existing authority of that officer. When the New Testament economy was introduced, a method of investing men with the sacred office was adopted, which had never been connected with the Aaronic priesthood. This was “ the laying on of the hands of the presbytery;" for we never find an instance, in apostolic times, of an ordination performed without the presence and cooperation of a plurality of ordainers. Yet still there was diversity even here. Sometimes we find ordinations performed by apostles; sometimes, during their lifetime, by ecclesiastical men who were evidently not apostles. Similar changes and diversity of practice have taken place, from the earliest times, in reference to many other ordinances : and yet the visible church, from the family of Adam to the present day, has not ceased to be the same in substance. Nay, it is one of the principles of “ecclesiastical polity," in which the friends of prelacy, and especially the highest toned among them, have always agreed with the “judicious Hooker," as he is commonly styled, that the Church has power to decree, alter, and modify rites and ceremonies at pleasure. I shall not now stay to inquire whether this opinion be correct or not. It is quite sufficient for my purpose that the most zealous advocates for high toned prelacy, fully believe and maintain it ; and insist that every part of the external organization of the church, may be added to, or dispensed with, at the discretion of the church herself, excepting the single feature of the transmission of ecclesiastical office and authority in the line of prelates. Now, I ask, what good reason can be given why this matter should form the only exception? If various other things, confessedly found in the New Testament, may be altered or omitted, without destroying the being, or even the wellbeing of the church; why should the point of prelacy be
alone unalterable; especially when we find that the mode of investing with the sacred office, has been, in fact, again and again altered, and the integrity of the church still
preserved ? Even supposing then, that we actually found prelacy pourtrayed in the New Testament, as a historical verity in the apostolic age, which we are very sure is not the case; still, according to the general principle of our Episcopal brethren, the church, if she thought proper, would have just as much right to alter this, as any other part of her external arrangements. Besides, let it be considered that ministers of the gospel who are not prelates, are empowered, in the Episcopal church, to preach, and administer the ordinance of baptism. Now, in this ordinance, according to the doctrine of high churchmen, the recipients of it are regenerated; that is, not only brought into a new relation to the church, but “born again,” by the power of the Holy Ghost. Does it require less power, then, to regenerate men, than to set an individual apart to the sacred office? Is that man who is qualified to proclaim the message of salvation, and to administer the sacraments of Christ's house, and thus to separate between the precious and the vile, destitute of power to participate in the work of inducting into office one who shall be equal to himself, and qualified to perform the same duties? There is, surely, a wonderful inconsistency here! I am not ignorant that learned and eloquent Episcopal writers have attempted, and, as they supposed, with success, to demonstrate, that, while all the other parts of the external administration of the visible church are mutable, and may be altered at the pleasure of the church, the method of successive ordinations in the line of prelates, cannot be touched without destroying the very existence of the church. I am, however, so far from being satisfied with their reasoning, that I am more and more convinced that it leads to the grossest absurdity and error. That which God has commanded, is immutable, until he is pleased to change it; and nothing else is beyond the reach of modifi
cation and change by the church, excepting what is thus enjoined. To take any other ground, may be rery consistent for Papists ; but for Protestants, is a high-handed departure from their essential principles. Now, the highest toned prelates acknowledge, unanimously, that there is no express command in the New Testament, establishing or enjoining diocesan episcopacy. The utmost that they contend for is, that there are fucts stated by the inspired writers which indicate that this form of church government then existed. Even this allegation is wholly unfounded. No such statement is made, as has been often demonstrated. But if it were, historic fact is not divine command. To maintain, then, that, even if prelacy could be proved to have been at that time in actual use, it must for ever remain in use, and can never be dispensed with, without destroying the very being of the church, is surely a doctrine which comes with a very ill grace from those who assert that every thing else relating to the order of the visible church, however plainly represented in scripture as existing in the apostolic age, may be changed without incurring any such penalty.
III. Another consideration is worthy of notice here. THE ORIGINAL REFORMERS OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND, were so far from maintaining the divine right of prelacy, that their avowed opinions, and their whole conduct evinced a different belief. In the sixth letter of the first series, in the following volume, some evidence in support of this position will be found ; and a greater amount of testimony might be arrayed, to almost any extent. The truth is, the first reformers of that church were substantially Presbyterians in principle, and earnestly wished to conduct the reformation of their church after the model of the reformed churches on the continent of Europe. And when they accepted a system of discipline and order much less remote from the popish system, and much less conformed to the Helvetic and other continental churches than they wished,