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favour, we must, on the same principle, discard infant baptism, and the christian sabbath, neither of which, say they, can be fully established on the ground of Scripture, unconnected with the writings of the carly fathers.
To this plea I answer without hesitation, that if it be true that a divine warrant for infant baptism and the christian sabbath is not to be found in the Bible; if it be true that they cannot be distinct. ly supported from the sacred volume, independent of all other authorities ; then we ought instantly to discard them. Under such circumstances, we should be unworthy of the name of protestants if we retained them an hour. Nor is it any valid apology for the addition of human devices to the institutions of Christ, that other additions stand on the same ground, and are equally inde. fensible.
But it is not true that these important articles of Christian belief and practice, cannot be directly proved from Scripture. And to assert that they stand, in this respect, on a footing with the doctrine of diocesan episcopacy is, though certainly not an intended, yet a real and gross imposition on the credulity of mankind. THE DIVINE RIGHT OF INFANT BAPTISM CAN BE DECIDEDLY AND FULLY
We can prove from Scripture, with absolute certainty, the divine right of INFANT CHURCH MEMBERSHIP; and we can prove, from the same source, and with equal certainty, the divine right of BAPTISM TO ALL CHURCH MEMBERS. This is warrant as express as could be desired. On these two great facts, as on a rock, the friend of infant baptism may stand undaunted and immovable to the end of time* : and he would be able to do this, if every volume in creation, excepting the Bible, were committed to the flames. Scarcely less evident is the scriptural warrant for the christian sabbath. When we find one day in seven kept by the people of God, as a day of sacred rest, from the creation till the giving of the law by Moses : when we find the great principle, that a seventh part of time must be solemnly
PROVED FROM SCRIPTURE ALONE.
These two facts by no means comprise the whole of the evidence found in Scripture in favour of infant baptism. The impartial reader of t e sacred oracles will find in them much more to the same effect. But these are sufficient; and constitute, to all intents and purposes, a full and abundant warrant.
consecrated to God, explicitly laid down in the decalogue, and declared to be of universal and perpetual obligation :* when we find the disciples of Christ, after the resurrection of their Lord, invariably convening on the first day of the week, for public worship : when we find this day formally and emphatically styled the Lord's day: when we find all this in Scripture, could any man doubt of the divine right of the first day sabbath, even if no uninspired author had ever written a line ? It is certainly gratifying to find such abundant evidence as we do in favour of both these ordinances in a number of early and authentic writers; but we do not stand in need of human testimony. We have a higher and belter warrant. This alone we quote, before a christian tribunal, as conclusive. And yyhen the friends of episcopacy produce any thing like a similar warrant from Scripture, in behalf of their doctrine, we will believe them.
On the whole, then, brethren, I trust you will find little difficulty in deciding what conclusion ought to be formed concerning a system which cannot claim the least solid scriptural warrant on which to rest; and which flies to the writings of fallible men to help out its scanty evidence. You will feel no disposition, I hope, to call it by hard names; or to load its advocates with reproaches. But you will understand your principles, as Christians and as protestants, too well to receive for doctrines the commiundments of men ; or to take ground which will oblige you even indirectly to concede the imperfection and insufficiency of the Word of God.
* It seems to be taken for granted, by many, that the fourth command. ment, enjoins the perpetual observance of the seventh day in order. This is certainly a mistake. It merely consecrates to God a seventh part of time , leaving the precise day in order to be made the subject of after regulation. That this regulation was made we have satisfactory evidence.
TESTIMONY OF THE PRIMITIVE FATHERS.
The most respectable and authentic writers in the christian church, who lived during the first four or five centuries after Christ, are emphatically styled, by ecclesiastical historians, the fathers. The writings of these venerable men have been much resorted to in this controversy. Many, even of those who acknowledge the feebleness and insufficiency of the episcopal arguments from Scripture, believe that the fathers speak decidedly in their favour. Whatever doubts may attend the evidence in support of their system, drawn from other sources, here, they imagine, there can be no question. For the sake of such persons; and to enable you to decide how far many positive declarations which are made by the friends of episcopacy are entitled to credit, it becomes necessary to inquire what these early writers attest on the subject before us.
I shall not now stay to ascertain what degree of respect is due to the writings of the fathers in general. It is my duty, however, to state, that we do not refer to them, in any wise, as a rule either of faith or of practice. We acknowledge the Scriptures alone to be such a rule. By this rule, the fathers themselves are to be tried; and, of course, they cannot be considered, properly speaking, as the Christian's authority for any thing. It is agreed, on all hands, that they are no infallible guides : and it is perfectly well known to all who are acquainted with their writings, that many of them are inconsistent both with themselves, and with one another. We protest, therefore, utterly against any appeal to them as an authority on this subject. Though they, or an angel from heaven, should bring us any doctrine, as essential to the order and wellbeing of the church, which is not to be found in the Word of God, we are bound by the command of our Master to reject them.
But, as our episcopal brethren have frequently complained, that we treat the fathers with too little respect; and even insinuated that we have no way of avoiding the force of their testimony, but by
endeavouring to destroy their credibility; I will give as little ground of uneasiness on this head as possible. Waiving, therefore, all further discussion of their title to credit, I will cheerfully admit them as credible witnesses with respect to matters of fact, which might be supposed to come within their knowledge. On this ground, then, I will join issue with our opponents; and not only admit, but engage to abide by the testimony of their chosen witnesses.
In examining the writings of the fathers, I shall admit only the testimony of those who wrote within the First TWO CENTURIES. Immediately after this period so many corruptions began to creep into the church; so many of the most respectable christian writers are known to have been heterodox in their opinions ; so much evidence appears, that even before the commencement of the third century, the papacy began to exhibit its pretensions; and such multiplied proofs of wide spreading degeneracy crowd into view, that the testimony of every subsequent writer is to be received with suspicion. Besides, if diocesan episcopacy existed, and were of the fundamental importance that our episcopal brethren make it to be, we may surely expect to find some reference to it in the records of two hundred years; and especially when we consider that those were years of the greatest simplicity and purity ever known to the church.
Before we proceed to examine what the fathers say on this subject, let us be careful to recollect precisely, what our episcopal brethren contend for, and what they are bound to prove by these witnesses, in order to make good their claims. When they show us passages in which these early writers merely speak of bishops, they seem to imagine that their point is gained : but such passages are, in fact, nothing to their purpose. We do not deny that there were bishops in the primitive church : on the contrary, we contend that the word bishop was a title given, in apostolic times and long afterwards, to every pastor of a particular congregation. Again, when they quote passages which barely enumerate bishops, presbyters, and deacons, as distinct officers in the church, they can derive no assistance even from these; because there were, doubtless, presbyters, at that time, as well as now, who, though in full orders, were not invested with a pastoral charge ; and who must, therefore, be distinguished from such as were literally overseers or
bishops of particular flocks. Besides, we know that there were ruling elders in the primitive church; a class of presbyters confessed to be inferior to bishops in their ecclesiastical character. In enumerating church officers, then, there was frequently a necessity for making the distinction above stated, without in the least favouring the pretended superiority of order among those who laboured in the word and doctrine. The advocates for diocesan episcopacy, then, if they would derive any support to their cause from the writings of the fathers, must do what they have never yet done. They must produce from those venerable remains of antiquity, passages which
prove, either by direct assertion, or fair inference, that the bishops of the primitive church were a distinct order of clergy from those presbyters who were authorized to preach and administer sacraments, and superior to them; that these bishops, when they were advanced to this superior office, had a new and distinct ordination; that each bishop had under him a number of congregations, with their pastors, whom he governed; that these bishops were exclusively invested with the right of ordaining, and administering the right of confirmation; and that this kind of episcopacy was considered, by the whole primitive church, as an institution of Jesus Christ. When any one of these facts is fairly proved, from early antiquity, the friends of Presbyterian church government will feel as if they had something like solid argument to contend with ; but not till then. Now, after having given much close and serious attention to this subject, I can venture to assure you, that in all the authentic writings which have come down to us, of those fathers who lived within the first two hundred years after Christ, there is not a single sentence which can be considered, by an impartial reader, as affording the least support to any one of these positions.
When you find the friends of episcopacy asserting that the fathers, in the “ plainest terms,” “ unanimously,” and “ with one voice," declare in their favour, you would naturally expect to find these early writers saying much, and expressing themselves in decisive and unequivocal language on this subject. But, how will you be surprised to learn, that there is not a single authentic writing extant, composed within the first three hundred years after Christ, that speaks directly and formally to the purpose, on any one point in this controversy! The first writer who undertook to