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Elizabeth, who began to reign in 1558, had been some time on the throne. This Queen, haughty, despotic, superstitious, and passionately fond of show and parade in ecclesiastical as well as civil affairs, was so far from being disposed to carry the reformation further than it had been carried in the reign of her brother Edward, that almost every movement was rather the other way.
The bishops and court clergy were naturally inclined, as might have been expected to retain prelacy, in other words, their own pre-eminence : but even if they had been otherwise minded, the Queen would have controlled their inclination ; as she manifested a strong desire for a splendid hierarchy, and restored several of the superstitions of popery which had been set aside in the reign of Edward. Can any one be surprised that in these circumstances, prelacy was retained in the Church of England? To suppose that a set of prelates would be likely, of their own accord, to prefer a plan destructive of their own powers and emoluments, is, of all suppositions, one of the most improbable. But they could not have carried into execution such a plan, even if they had been disposed. And yet high-churchmen gravely tell us, that the circumstance of the reformation in England, from its rise to its consummation, being in the hands of the bishops, affords the strongest presumptive proof of its being conducted on sounder principles than on the continent, where none of the leading reformers were prelates. This is, surely, one of the most extraordinary positions ever attempted to be maintained ! The presumption is, manifestly, all the other way. The principal reformers on the continent, were more deeply learned than those in England. That they were at least as pious, and as heroically firm in acting agreeably to their conscientious convictions, no impartial judge will hesitate to admit. The fathers of reform on the continent, in rejecting cpiscopacy, resisted the strongest temptations of worldly ambition, for they might have had it if they pleased; and if they had chosen
to restore it, can any one of them have doubted, or can any thinking mind now doubt, that all eyes would have been turned to themselves as candidates for the prelacy? whereas the fathers of the Protestant Church of England, in retaining the prelatical feature of their government, yielded to the plainest dictates of selfishness. The course they took was in support of their own authority and ho
The continental reformers were at full liberty to follow their own judgment in this matter. But those of England, at every step, were restrained, if not coerced, by the hand of despotic power in the state. And, finally, we have conclusive evidence, as I have shown elsewhere, that even the English reformers, while they thought best to establish prelacy in the church over which they presided, by no means considered it as resting on the footing of divine right, but regarded it as a matter of human expediency alone. Now, when the facts were notoriously as has been stated; when England, among all the protestant churches stood absolutely alone in retaining the prelatical system; and when even she regarded it, in the beginning, not as an apostolic institution, but as an ancient, venerable, and con: venient human one, and cheerfully acknowledged as brethren those who rejected it; the high-church doctrine now so confidently maintained by some, having never been thought of by one of their number; I say, when these are are unquestionable facts, on which side does the presumption lie ? Surely if human authority is of any value in this matter: if the talents, learning and piety of those who were instrumental in founding the several reformed churches, are to have any weight in our present inquiry, the presumption is extreme in favour of the side of ministerial parity; and those who conclude that this side must be wrong, when only a single nation adopted the opposite: and even that nation disclaimed adopting it on the principle of divine right-must be considered as chargeable with a presumptuousness which it is difficult to estimate.
V. The high-church doctrine is, further, in the opinion of some of the wisest and best men in our land, as IRRATIONAL as it is, presumptuous. That is, it so palpably contradicts some of the most obvious dictates of reason, and some of the most settled principles of our common Christianity, that we run no risk in saying, on this ground alone, it cannot possibly be true.
The man who can really believe that there is some wonderful influence flowing from the hands of a diocesan bishop, which can be imparted by those of no other ecclesiastic; that those who are fully authorized to preach the gospel, and administer the sacraments appointed by Christ, have yet no power to admit others to equal authority with themselves; that there is a mystical and indelible character impressed by a prelate's touch; that the validity of all official ministrations in the church of God depends on an “uninterrupted succession" of canonical ordinations, following in a regular line from the apostles to the present day ; and that of course, the validity of all gospel ordinances, and the warrant of all hopes in the covenanted mercy of God, are suspended on a point of ecclesiastical genealogy, which no man living can ascertain, and which not one professing Christian in ten thousand is competent to examine; I say, the man who can really believe all this, and, consequently, rest every Christian's comfort and peace,-not where the Bible has placed them,-but on the disputable and varying formalities of fallible men; such a man, it appears to me, is prepared to swallow any absurdity. He has put his understanding under lock and key. To say, that he departs from the whole tenor of Christian character and confidence, as laid down in the Bible, is to express but part of the truth. He turns his back on reason, as manifestly as he does on the spirit of holy scripture. He is in a fit state of mind to receive and digest any notion, however preposterous, that superstition or sinister design may propose to his acceptance.
VII. The high-church doctrine which it is the design of the following pages to oppose, cannot fail of being discredited, in the view of all serious and impartial inquirers, by the UNHALLOWED CONNECTIOns , in which it is commonly found. By this is meant, that the greater part of those who hold this exclusive and unscriptural doctrine, are found to associate with it, as parts of the same system, a variety of principles of the most delusive and mischievous kind. It is not asserted, that the principles to which I allude are always found in connection with the doctrine under consideration ; but that this is generally the case, and that there is, beyond all question, a natural alliance between them.
The principles referred to are such as these :—that baptism is regeneration :that the ordinances of the gospel, when administered by the proper hands, have a kind of opus operatum, as it has been technically called, or necessary and immediate insluence, depending upon the administrator being in the regular succession from the apostles : that the church, as such, is the only authorized interpreter of the Bible :--that there can be no acceptable or valid intercourse between heaven and earth, but through the medium of a canonical priesthood :—that the sacraments are necessary to salvation :-and that the external exhibition of them is a guaranty of saving grace to all who receive them. Such doctrines as these are naturally, I had almost said necessarily, connected with the high-toned notions of prelacy, which some modern Episcopalians entertain. For if ecclesiastics of a particular description are the only authorized negotiators between God and man ; and if none, however devout and exemplary, can have any access to the mercy seat, but through their official agency; and if all who enjoy this agency with outward regularity, are of course safe ;-then I scruple not to aver that all the principles which I have mentioned follow of course.
No wonder, therefore, that they are commonly found, in a greater
or less degree, in union with the offensive claim in quegtion. These principles, however, ought, with all sober minds, utterly to discredit the doctrine from which they naturally flow. Corruption and delusion are stamped upon them with a distinctness not to be mistaken. They are grossly superstitious. They tend to put rites and forms, in place of the Saviour as the ground of hope. They are, of course, adapted to deceive and destroy. Their reception is a revival of the claims of “ the man of sin, the son of perdition,” who professes to be the only authorized yicar of Christ upon earth. Their tendency, so far as they prevail, is to bring back the darkness and the thraldom of those ages, when haughty ecclesiastics undertook to be sovereign dispensers of the grace of God, and to make men believe, that they held in their hands all the spiritual privileges, and all the eternal hopes of their fellow men !
Can there be any thing presumptuous, my Christian brethren, in deciding that a claim which bears such relations, and leads to such unhallowed results, cannot be a scriptural one? No ; if our Saviour's test be safe and infallible;
if we are to know principles as well as men "by their fruits ;" then we may confidently pronounce, that the claim in questson is destitute of all divine warrant, and of every character which ought to recommend it to sober minded Christians, who wish to be able to give a reason” for that which they believe.
VIII. The claim under consideration, will further appear altogether inadmissible, if we consider its manifest and offensive UNCHARITABLENESS. It not only virtually, but formally and avowedly shuts out from the visible church, and from all the covenanted mercies of God," the whole protestant world, excepting the members of the Episcopal church. I know, indeed, that a very different impression is often attempted to be made by the ardent advocates of this claim. They have sometimes represented as if they were pleading the cause of almost every church on earth.