Page images
PDF
EPUB

own city, a Lutheran minister, on uniting himself with the Episcopal church, re-ordained,* and the baptism of his children, which had been performed by the venerable senior of the Lutheran church in this State, pronounced invalid, and performed a second time by episcopal clergyman. If the Lutherans are Episcopalians in the same sense with the church of England, why treat their church with this pointed disrespect? If they have no claim to this title, why, for the purpose of endeavouring to support by the weight of numbers an unscriptural principle, is the contrary insinuated ?

But although the Lutherans in America and in the south of Europe are not episcopal ; perhaps it will be contended, that this form obtains among the Lutherans of Sweden. This plea, however, like the former, is altogether destitutc of solidity. It is readily granted that the Lutheran churches in that kingdom have officers whom they style bishops ; but when we examine the history and the principles of those churches with respect to their clergy, these bishops will be found to have no other character, according to the doctrine of the church of England, than that of mere presbyters. For, in the first place, all ecclesiastical historians agree, that when the reformation was introduced into Sweden, the first ministers who undertook to ordain were only presbyters. Their ministerial succession, of course, flowing through such a channel, cannot include any ecclesiastical dignity higher than that of presbyter. Further ; in Swedish churches it is not only certain that presbyters, in the absence of those who are styled bishops, ordain common ministers, without a scruple; but it is equally certain, that in the ordination of a bishop, if the other bishops happen to be absent, the more grave and aged of the ordinary pastors supply their place, and are considered as fully invested with the ordaining power. Finally; the Swedish churches explicitly renounce all claim of divine right for their ecclesiastical government. They acknowledge that the Scriptures contain no warrant for more than one order of gospel ministers ;t that their system rests on no other ground than human expediency; and that an adherence to it is by no means necessary either to the validity or regularity of christian ordinances.

* The Rev. George Strebeck, late pastor of Zion church, in Mott-street; now minister of St. Stephen's Church, in the Bowery. + The Swedish churches wholly discard deacons as an order of clergy.

U

Several of the foregoing remarks apply to the United Brethren or Moravians. They, indeed, have Bishops in their churches. But they explicitly renounce all claim of Divine right for their system. Of course, they utterly deny the necessity of Episcopal ordination in order to the institution of a valid ministry. And, in full consistency with this belief, they freely admit into their church, clergymen who have received no other than Presbyterian ordination, without requiring them to be re-ordained. They have, and have long had, a large number of this class actually incorporated with the rest of their clergy, and standing on a perfect level with those who have been ordained by their bishops.*

Finally ; in order to swell the list of episcopal churches as much as possible, the Metliouist church is frequently represented as such; but how justly, a little examination will evince. Mr. Wesley, the venerable founder of that church, when he undertook, a number of years ago, to digest a plan for its external organization, especially in the United States, formally avowed himself to be of the opinion, with Lord Chancellor King, that Bishop and Prebyter, in the primitive church, were the same. And in perfect conformity with this belief, he himself, being only a presbyter in the church of England, united with other presbyters in ordaining ministers for his new church. These presbyters ordained the first Methodist Bishops, from whom all succeeding ordinations in that body have been derived. So that in the Methodist church, there is no other, strictly speaking, than Presbyterian ordination to the present hour. In consistency with this acknowledged fact, they receive, without re-ordination, ministers who have been ordained by Presbyters alone in other churches. They practise their own ordination, which is acknowledged by themselves to be no other than Presbyterian, in Scotland, where they are surrounded with Episcopal Bishops, whose ordination might be obtained, if it were deemed necessary. In a word, though, for the purposes of government, they have ministers of different titles and ranks; yet they neither possess, nor recognize any higher power than that of Presbyters. And, what confirms the representation I have given is, that when Methodist ministers consider it as their duty to enter

* See A Concise Historical Account of the Constitution of the Unitas Fratrum. 8vo. Lond. 1775.

the Episcopal church, they are always laid under the necessity of practically renouncing their former orders, and submitting to be re-ordained.

If I mistake not, I have now demonstrated, that the whole body of the reformers, with scarcely any exceptions, agreed in maintaining that ministerial parity was the doctrine of scripture, and of the primitive church : That all the reformed churches, excepting that of England, were organized on this principle ; and that even those great men who finally settled her government and worship, did not consider prelacy as founded on divine appointment, but only as resting on the basis of expediency. In short, there is complete evidence, that the church of England stands alone in making bishops an order of clergy superior to presbyters ; nay, that every other protestant church on earth, has formally disclaimed the divine right of diocesan Episcopacy, and pronounced it to be a mere human invention.

Now is it credible, my brethren, that a body of such men as the early reformers; men who to great learning, added the most exalted piety, zeal, and devotedness to the truth; men who counted not their lives dear to them that they might maintain what appeared to them the purity of faith and order in the church; is it credible that such men, living in different countries, embarrassed with different prejudices, all educated under the system of diocesan bishops, and all surrounded with ministers and people still warmly attached to this system: Is it credible, I say, that such men, thus situated, should, when left free to examine the scriptures and the early fathers on this subject, with almost perfect unanimity, agree in pronouncing prelacy to be a human invention, and ministerial parity to be the doctrine of scripture, if the testimony in favour of this opinion had not been perfectly clear and conclusive ? It is not credible. We may suppose Calvin and Beza to have embraced their opinions on this subject from prejudice, arising out of their situation; but that Luther, Melancthon, and all the leading reformers on the continent of Europe, differently situated, and with different views on other points, should embrace the same opinion; that Cranmer, Grindal, and other prelates in Britain, though partaking in the highest honours of an episcopal system, should entirely concur in that opinion ; that all this illustrious body of men, scattered through the whole protestant world, should agree

in declaring ministerial parity to be the doctrine of scripture and of the primitive church ; and all this from mere prejudice, in direct opposition to scripture, and early history, is one of the most incredible suppositions that can be formed by the human mind.

I repeat again, the question before us is not to be decided by human opinion, or by the number or respectability of the advocates which appear on either side. We are not to be governed by the judgment of reformers, or by the practice of the churches which they planted. But so far as these considerations have any weight, they are clearly and unquestionably on the side of Presbyterian parity.

LETTER VII.

CONCESSIONS OF EMINENT EPISCOPALIANS.

CHRISTIAN BRETHREN,

The concessions of opponents always carry with them peculiar weight. The opinions of Presbyterians, in this controversy, like the testimony of all men in their own favour, will of course be received with suspicion and allowance. But when decided and zealous Episcopalians; men who stand high as the defenders and the ornaments of Episcopacy; men whose prejudice and interest were all enlisted in the support of the episcopal system ; when these are found to have conceded the main points in this controversy, they give us advantages of the most decisive kind. Some instances of this sort, I shall now proceed to state.

When I exhibit episcopal divines as making concessions in favour of our doctrine, none certainly will understand me as mean ing to assert, that they were Presbyterians in principle. So far from this, the chief value of their concessions consists in being made by decided friends of Episcopacy. Neither will you understand me to assert, that none of these writers say any thing, in other parts of their works, inconsistent with these concessions. Few men who write and publish much, are at all times so guarded as never to be inconsistent with themselves. It is enough for me to know what language they employed, when they undertook professedly to state their opinions on the subject before us, and when they were called upon by every motive to write with caution and precision. You will likewise find most of these writers, differing among themselves; some taking higher ground, and others lower. For this you are doubtless prepared, after being informed that there are three classes of Episcopalians, as stated in my first letter.

Some of the concessions which might with propriety be here introduced, have been already exhibited in various parts of the foregoing letters. You have been told that Mr. Dodwell frankly

« EelmineJätka »