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« these points of external order must continue, why may we not be " of one heart and of one mind? or why should this disagreement
break the bonds of good brotherhood ?" How different the language and the spirit of some modern advocates for the divine right of diocesan episcopacy !
The same practical concession was made by the eminently learned and pious Bishop Davenant, while professor of divinity in the university of Cambridge. He accepted of a seat in the synod of Dort, and gave the sanction of his presence and aid in organizing the Presbyterian church of Holland. We are informed, indeed, that Bishop Carleton, and the other English delegates, expressed their opinions very fully in the synod, in favour of the Episcopal form of government: but their sitting in that body and assisting in its deliberations, their preaching in the pulpits of the Presbyterian ministers of Dort, and attending on all the public religious services of the synod, were among the strongest acknowledgments they could make, that they considered the ministrations of non-episcopal ministers as valid. But Bishop Davenant went further. After his advancement to the bishoprick of Salisbury, he published a work, in which he urged with much earnestness and force, a fraternal union anong all the reformed churches.* A plan which, it is obvious, involved in it an explicit acknowledgment that the foreign reformed churches, most of which were Presbyterian, were true churches of Christ; and which, indeed, contained in its very title, a declaration that those churches “ did not differ from " the church of England in any fundamental article of Christian 6 faith."
Bishop Croft's concessions on this subject are equally candid and decisive. I had occasion in a former letter to take notice of an acknowledgment of the most pointed sort in his work, entitled Naked Truth, a work written and published while the author was bishop of Hereford, and powerfully defended by some of the most learned men of his day. The following additional passages from the same work deserve our notice. “ The scripture no where
expresses any distinction of order among the elders. We find
* Ad Fraternam Communionem inter Evangelicas Ecclesias restauran. dam Adhortatio; in eo fundata, Quod non dissentiant in ullo Fundamentali Catholicæ Fidei Articulo. Cantab. 1640.
" there but two orders mentioned, bishops and deacons. The "scripture distinguisheth not the order of bishops and priests; for " there we find but one kind of ordination, then certainly but one "order; for two distinct orders cannot be conferred in the same "instant, by the same words, by the same actions.” With respect to the office of deacon, this bishop entirely coincides with scripture and the Presbyterian church. In the work above mentioned, (p. 49.) he remarks that he will not dispute, “Whether this of dea“conship be properly to be called an order or an office, but “certainly no spiritual order; for their office was to serve tables, " as the Scripture phrases it, which in plain English, is nothing else “ but overseers of the poor, to distribute justly and discreetly the “alms of the faithful, which the apostles would not trouble them"selves withal, lest it should hinder them in the ministration of the “ word and prayer. But as most matters of this world, in process "time, deflect much from the original constitution, so it fell out in " this business; for the bishops who pretended to be successors to “the apostles, by little and little, took to themselves the dispensa“tion of alms, first by way of inspection over the deacons, but at “ length the total management: and the deacons, who were mere “ lay-officers, by degrees crept into the church ministration, and “ became a reputed spiritual order, and a necessary degree and “ step to the priesthood, of which I can find nothing in scripture, “ and the original institution, nor a word relating to any thing but “the ordering of alms for the poor."
Lord George Digby, an eminent English nobleman, who flourished in the reigns of Charles I. and Charles II. and who wrote largely on the questions which agitated the church in his day, in a letter to Sir Kenelme Digby, on the subject before us, expresses himself in the following terms:-“ He that would reduce the 6 church now, to the form of government in the most primitive 6 times, would not take, in my opinion, the best nor wisest course; “ I am sure not the safest : for he would be found pecking towards “the presbytery of Scotland, which, for my part, I believe, in
point of government, hath a greater resemblance than either “yours or ours, to the first age, and yet it is never a whit the “ better for it; since it was a form not chosen for the best, but “ imposed by adversity under oppression, which, in the beginning, « forced the church from what it wished, to what it might ; not
“suffering that dignity and state ecclesiastical which rightly “ belonged unto it, to manifest itself 10 the world :-and which, “soon afterwards, upon the least lucid intervals, shone forth so “ gloriously in the happier as well as more monarchical condition “ of Episcopacy : of which way of government I am so well per6 suaded that I think it pity it was not made betimes an article of “ the Scottish Catechism, that bishops are of divine right."
"* The character of Archbishop Usher stands high with Episcopalians. He was one of the greatest and best of men. His plan for the reduction of Episcopacy into the form of Synodical government, received in the Ancient Church, is well known to every one who is tolerably versed in the ecclesiastical history of England. The essential principle of that plan is, that bishop and presbyter, were originally the same order; and that in the primi. tive church, the bishop was only a standing president or moderator among his fellow presbyters. To guard against the possibility of mistake, the illustrious prelate declared he meant to restore " that kind of Presbyterian government, which, in the church of “ England, had long been disused.” The archbishop, further, “ being asked by Charles I. in the Isle of Wight, whether he found 6 in antiquity that presbyters alone ordained any ?” answered,
Yes, and that he could show his Majesty more, even where “presbyters alone successively ordained bishops, and brought “as an instance of this, the presbyters of Alexandria choosing and “making their own bishops, from the days of Mark, till Heraclas "and Dionysius." The following declaration of the same learned dignitary, is also full to our purpose. It having been reported of him, that he had expressed an uncharitable opinion concerning the church of Holland, as no true church, because she was without diocesan bishops, when they were within her reach, if she had chosen to accept them, he thus repels the calumny: “I have ever “declared my opinion to be, that bishop and presbyter differ only “ in degree, and not in order ; and consequently, that in places " where bishops cannot be had, the ordination by presbyters “ standeth valid. Yet, on the other side, holding, as I do, that a “ bishop hath superiority in degree over a presbyter, you may “ easily judge, that the ordination made by such presbyters, as
* Jus Divinum Minis. Evang. II. p. 107.
“have severed themselves from those bishops unto whom they had
sworn canonical obedience, cannot possibly by me be excused “ from being schismatical. And howsoever, I must needs think, " that the churches which have no bishops, are thereby become
very much defective in their government, and that the churches "in France, who, living under a popish power, cannot do what " they would, are more excusable in this defect, than the Low “ Countries, who live under a free state; yet, for the testifying of “my communion with these churches, (which I do love and honour
as true members of the church universal,) I do profess, that with “like affection I should receive the blessed sacrament at the hands " of the Dutch ministers, if I were in Holland,, as I should do at “ the hands of the French ministers, if I were in Charenton."*
Bishop Forbes, a zealous Episcopalian, in his Irenicum, Lib. “II. cap. xi. Prop. 13. expresses himself thus : “ Presbyters “ have, by divine right, the power of ordaining, as well as of “preaching and baptizing. They ought, indeed, to exercise this “ function under the inspection and government of a bishop, in “places where there are bishops. But in other places, where the “government of the church is administered by the common coun“sel of presbyters alone, that ordination is valid and effectual “ which is performed by the imposition of the hands of presbyters 6 alone.” In confirmation of this doctrine, Bishop Forbes quotes two passages from the fathers. The first is from Hilory, (Ambrose,) who, he says, tells us, in his commentary on the Ephesians, that in Egypt, presbyters ordain if a bishop be not present; which passage in Hilary he interprets precisely as I have done, in a preceding letter. The second is from Augustine, who, he informs us, declares, that in Alexandria, and through the whole of Egypt, if a bishop be not present, presbyters ordain. Again, he says: “ From all these things, it is manifest, that, in the ancient church, “ it was lawful for presbyters alone, if bishops were not present, to 6 ordain presbyters and deacons; and such ordinations were held 66 to be valid, although it was prudently appointed, for the preser6 vation of discipline, that this should not be done without the « consent of a bishop. That is to say, in those places in which “ there were bishops, it was held to be criminal to despise their
* See the judgment of the late Archbishop of Armagh, 110–123
"authority. But in those places in which presbyters only governed « the church, it was sufficient to stainp validity upon an ordination " that it be performed under the authority of an assembly, or bench « of presbyters."
The concessions of Dr. Stillingfleet, (afterwards bishop of Worcester) on this subject are well known. The avowed object of his Irenicum, one of the most learned works of the age in which it appeared, was to show, that no form of church government is prescribed in the word of God ; that the church is at liberty to modify the details of her external order, both with respect to officers and functions, as well as discipline, at pleasure ; and of course, that ordinations and government by presbyters are equally valid with those administered by diocesan bishops. He seems to acknowledge, indeed, that Presbyterian parity, is on the whole, more agreeable to scripture, and to the practice of the primitive church, than prelacy; but, at the same time, denies that this ought to be considered as establishing the divine right of presbytery. In the course of this work, the learned author exhibits a mass of evidence from scripture and primitive antiquity against the episcopal claims, and quotes declarations made by some of the most distinguished divines of different ages and denominations, which will doubtless be read with surprise by those who have been accustomed to believe that the whole Christian world, with very little exception, has always been episcopal.
To destroy the force of Dr. Stilling fleet's concessions, it is urged, that he afterwards became dissatisfied with this work, and retracted the leading opinion which it maintains.* To this suggestion I will
The Irenicum has been stigmatized by some high-toned Episcopalians, as an hasty, indigested work, written at an early period of the author's life, and soon repented of. The following facts will show how far this representation is correct. After having been several years engaged in the composition of this work, the author published it in 1659, at the age of twenty-four. Three years afterwards, viz. in 1662, he published a second edition ; and the same year, he gave to the world his Origines Sa
Soon after these publications, he met his diocesan, the celebrated Bishop Saunderson, at a visitation. The bishop seeing so young a man, could hardly believe it was Stilling fleet, whom he had hitherto known only by his writings; and, after having embraced him, said, he much rather expected to have seen one as considerable for his age as he had already