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TESTIMONY OF THE SUCCESSORS OF THE REFORDIERS.
By the successors of the reformers, I mean those great and good men who adorned the protestant churches, and took the lead in the direction of their affairs, for sixty or seventy years after the establishment of the reformation. Some of these excellent men have been quoted by our episcopal brethren as witnesses in their favour; especially some of the greatest ornaments of the Dutch and French churches. Mr. How speaks with confidence of their testimony, as decisively favourable to his system ; and Dr. Bowden, by refering, with approbation, to what Dr. Hobart has advanced on this part of the controversy, virtually speaks the same language.
These gentlemen, in giving this representation, surely count largely on the ignorance of their readers. For although, if one might believe Durell, and other collectors and perverters of scraps from the writers in question, they sometimes speak like believers in the apostolic institution of prelacy; yet when we come to peruse their works, and especially to examine the passages in which they formally deliver their opinion on this subject, we shall find them, almost with one voice, speaking a language directly opposite to that which is ascribed to them.
The truth is, when the nonconformists in England, after the establishment of the reformation, began to revolt from the episcopal hierarchy,and to oppose its unscriptural pretensions, a number of the bishop, and other divines of the established church in that
country, wrote to some of the most eminent Presbyterian divines of the foreign reformed churches, soliciting their influence, and the authority of their names, to quiet the minds of the discontented. In answer to solicitations of this kind, some of the foreign divines wrote letters, in wbich they spoke politely and respectfully of the church of England; and plainly expressed an opinion that the nonconformists ought not to make the point of church government a cause of separation. Still, however, these men were Presbyterians in principle; they had solemoly subscribed Confessions of Faith, which declared ministerial parity to be the doctrine of scripture, and the practice of the primitive church ; and when they came to discuss and decide the question concerning prelacy, they spoke a language corresponding with their creed. And I venture to add, that for every concession in favour of prelacy, which my opponents produce from the French, Dutch, Swiss, and German divines, who succeeded to the reformers, any man of reading might safely engage to produce ten, more pointed concessions from divines of the church of England, in favour of Presbyterianism.
It would be perfectly easy to fill a volume with quotations in proof of what has been advanced. The following selection will be sufficient to answer my purpose. It will be clearly seen, that, as the great body of the reformers never offered the plea of necessity for establishing Presbyterian parity ; but steadily appealed to the word of God, and primitive usage as their warrant ; so the great and excellent men who came after them, with scarcely any important exception, took the same ground, and made the same appeal.
The learned Le Blanc, a French protestant divine of great eminence who flourished in the age immediately succeeding that of the reformation, says, “ It is the most general opinion of the “ English, that episcopacy and presbytery, are distinct offices ; " but the rest of the reformed, as also those of the Augustan “ Confession, (the Lutherans,) do unanimously believe that there “is no such distinction by divine right; and that the superiority “ of bishops above presbyters is only of ecclesiastical right, and
has been introduced into the church by degrees. In the ages “after the apostles, a custom was introduced, that one of the
presbyters should be chosen, by the votes of the whole college,
" to preside over the other presbyters; and these, after a while, « assumed to themselves the name of bishops, and, by degrees, " gained more and more prerogatives, and brought their colleagues “ into subjection to them, until, at length, the matter grew up to " that tyranny which now obtains in the church of Rome."*
The very learned Chamier, a French protestant divine of great distinction, contemporary with Beza, has been sometimes quoted by Episcopalians, as making concessions in favour of their causeThe following quotation will show his opinion of ministerial imparity. “ Prelacy was not, by those who first began it, judged to be € absolutely better than presbytery; but only in a certain respect. “ Upon the same account we may likewise say, that equality
among pastors is better in a certain respect, viz. for the avoid“ing of the tyranny of a few over the rest of their brethren, yea, of s one over all. And how great an evil tyranny is, and how wide “ a gate was opened to it from the ambition for this presidency, “ experience hath, long since, more than sufficiently shown.”+ In another part of the same work, he speaks still more strongly, « There is no one who doubts that this custom of giving one pres“ byter a presidency over the rest, was introduced by good men, " and upon a good design. Would to God that it had not rather “ arisen from carnal prudence, than from the direction of the “ Spirit! Would to God it had been attended with as happy and “prosperous success, as it was introduced with applause."! In the next chapter, after having shown at large how episcopacy introduced the papacy, he closes the account with the following remark: 6 Thus human wisdom, if once it decline but a jot from the “ original truth, becomes worse and worse."'S
M. Danau, a every eminent divine of the French protestant church, also contemporary with Beza, treating of the subject under consideration, thus writes. “ So long as the apostolic constitution " continued in the church, the presbyters that laboured in the word " and doctrine differed not at all from bishops. But after that, " by the ambition of those who presided over other presbyters,
* Thes. de Grad. Minist.
56 and took to themselves the name of bishops, the apostolic form s and discipline was abolished ; then the bishops began to be dis
tinguished even from those presbyters that preached the word; “ and to these bishops, contrary to God's word, the whole dignity “ was ascribed ; scarcely any part thereof being left to the presby“ ters; which thing, and the ambition of the bishops, did in time “ ruin the whole church, as the fact of the papacy itself proclaims: " And so the apostolic episcopacy was abolished, and a human “ episcopacy began, from which sprang the satanic episcopacy, as “ it now is in the papacy.—The distinction of a bishop from a
preaching presbyter is juris pontificii, of pontifician and positive
right, being brought in after the foundations of the tyranny of the “ bishops were laid ; but is not of divine right."*
The celebrated Bochart, a French protestant divine of great learning and authority, has often been quoted by episcopal writers, as baving expressed himself in favour of prelacy. The following declarations from his pen are found in a letter which he wrote to Dr. Morley, an English bishop, who had requested his opinion on the subject. “ In the office of Overseer or bishop, there are three “ things which we must not mix together,— the ageo Bursgrov, i. e. “ the eldership or pastoral office, which scripture ascribes to the
overseer or bishop ;—the unsgoxív, i. e. the pre-eminence above “other pastors, which the ancient church added to the bishops; " and the lordship over God's heritage which some in these last “ times have strenuously advocated. The first of these is of “ divine authority, the second of ecclesiastical authority; and the “ third of neither, but a mere abuse. The first, the church cannot
dispense with ; the second may be borne ; but the third ought “ at once to be rooted out.”—In answer to Bishop Morley's question, whether it was better for the English church to be governed
by presbyters than by bishops, Bochart replies—“ The episco
pal government was not of divine, but ecclesiastical appoint6 ment ; but since the English church has hitherto been governed « by bishops, that form of government may and can with propriety “ be borne. For every where men live; but men cannot live every “ where in the same way. As in political society some prefer
being governed by one, and others by many ; so it is in ecclesi
* Danxi. Controv. 5. Lib. i. Cap. 14.
“ astical society. In England they are so accustomed to episcopal " government, that though of no divine or apostolic authority, it “cannot be dispensed with. In other places, government by over“ seers, or ministers, or presbyters, is preferred. But in churches “ which have never been governed by bishops, they may be dis“peosed with, even though the civil government be monarchical ; " since this new institution of hunan origin, sprung merely from “ pride and ambition, and has never been of the least advantage to " the church, which in every change of things ought always to be
contemplated. And since it will neither diminish nor increase “the glory of a prince, whether he receive his own crown from a “bishop or pastor."--In another part of the same letter, be says
_“ If you ask for the opinions of the ancients, I entirely agree 6 with Jerome, that, in the apostolic times, there was no difference “ between bishops and presbyters, or elders, and that the church “ was governed by a common council of presbyters.”*
In this manner did Bochart, unquestionably one of the most jearned men of his day, speak on the subject under consideration, when his opinion was formally requested. And when it is considered that he communicated this opinion to a respectable prelate; and, of course, had every inducement to speak as favourably of the English hierarchy as possible, the quotation carries with it peculiar weight.
But none of the writers of the reformed churches have been quoted, by our episcopal brethren, with more confidence, as a witness in their favour, than the very learned and celebrated M. Claude. The following quotation leaves no room to doubt what were his real sentiments on the subject in dispute.
“ The apostles have left no successors in their office, which was “ unique. It was an extraordinary office; and they continue to “ teach and instruct the church in all ages, by their writings. The “ apostles first collected churches by their preaching. These "churches, when assembled, with their advice and assistance, ap" pointed their own presbyters or elders, overseers or bishops ; and " they received the symbol, or ceremonial investiture of office, by " the laying on of the hands of the presbytery or eldership : The
+ See Outhof's Verklaringe over denbrief aan Titus. p. 294. \ 210. and p. 297, 298. § 620.