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me, my dear
that the whole subject will be presented as fairly and impartially as I am able to present it. With respect to authorities, indeed, I have endeavoured, in all cases in which I could obtain access to them, to quote the most distinguished Episcopal writers themselves. The concessions of learned and wary adversaries, in favour of our doctrines, carry with them peculiar weight.
But before I conclude this introductory letter, suffer brethren, to remind you, that the names and powers of Christ's ministers, and the form of government adopted in his Church, though objects of inquiry, on various accounts, highly interesting, are yet to be numbered among the externals of religion. You may entertain perfectly correct opinions on these subjects, and yet, after all, have no just claim to the Christian character.
You may be connected with the purest Church on earth, and may receive all its ordinances, from the hands of the most regular and valid ministry in Christendom, and yet be aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise. It is true, the externals of religion have a closer connexion with its spirit and power than is commonly imagined; but still they are externals only, and must not be suffered to usurp a disproportioned share of our regard. The scriptures speak to us frequently respecting the outward organization of the Church; but they speak to us much more frequently; they dwell with much more fervent and solemn emphasis, on that faith, which unites the soul to Jesus Christ; that repentance which is unto life ; and that holiness of temper and of practice, without which no man can see the Lord. Let me beseech you, then, to remember, in every stage of this discussion, that, in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature ; and that, while one saith, I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos, and another, I am of Cephas, unless we are all of Christ, united to him by a vital faith, and built upon him as the only foundation of our hope, we cannot see the kingdom of God. “Every believer in Jesus,” says an eminent Episcopalian," who is a partaker of the grace of God in “truth, is a member of the true Church, to whatever particular " denomination of Christians he may belong ; without this, Popes, “Bishops, Presbyters, Pastors, or Deacons, are but the limbs of " Antichrist and of the Synagogue of Satan; and belong to no “ Church which the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls will "acknowledge for his own."
TESTIMONY OF SCRIPTURE.
In all disputes relating either to the faith or the practice of Christians, the first, and the grand question is, What saith the Scripture? This is the ultimate and the only infallible standard. Whatever is not found in the Bible cannot be considered, in any sense, as essential either to the doctrine or the order of the Church. This maxim is especially applicable to the subject now under discussion. As the Christian ministry is an office deriving its existence and its authority solely from Jesus Christ, the King and Head of his Church, it is obvious that his Word is the only rule by which any claims to this office can properly be tried, and the duties and powers of those who bear it, ascertained. Every other standard is unauthorized, variable, and uncertain. On the word of God alone can we with confidence and safety rely for direction in things relating to his spiritual kingdom. The declarations of two eminent Episcopal writers on this subject are just and weighty. “ The Scripture," says Dr. Sherlock, " is all of a piece; every “part of it agrees with the rest. The Fathers many times contra6 dict themselves and each other.” In the same strain speaks the celebrated Chillingworth.—"], for my part, after a long, and (as I « verily hope and believe) impartial search of the true way to " eternal happiness, do profess plainly, that I cannot find any “ rest for the sole of my feet, but upon this rock only, viz. the “ Scripture. I see plainly, and with my own eyes, councils against “ councils, some Fathers against others, the same Fathers against “themselves, a consent of Fathers of one age against a consent of “ Fathers of another age, and the Church of one age against the « Church of another age."-But it is needless to multiply reasonings or authorities on this subject. The sufficiency and infallibility of the Scriptures alone, as a rule of faith and practice, was assumed
as the grand principle of the Reformation from Popery, and is acknowledged to be the foundation of the Protestant cause.
Let us, then, examine what the Scriptures say on the point in dispute. And here it is proper to premise, that whoever expects to find any formal or explicit decisions on this subject, delivered by Christ or his apostles, will be disappointed. It is true, the discourses of the Saviour, and the writings of those who were inspired with the knowledge of his will, contain many observations and instructions concerning the Christian ministry : but they are chiefly employed in prescribing the qualifications, and urging the duties of those who serve God in the Gospel of his Son, rather than in defining their titles, in settling questions of rank and precedence among them, or in guarding the immunities and honours of their office. The necessity of knowledge, piety, zeal, diligence, self-denial, meekness, patience, fortitude, and eminent holiness, in ministers of the Gospel, is urged with a frequency, a minuteness, and a force, which evince that, in the estimation of infinite Wisdom, they are regarded as of primary importance. While questions respecting priority, and grades, and privileges, are never once formally discussed, only occasionally alluded to, and then in a manner so indistinct and cursory as to show that they were considered as objects of inferior moment. What are we to infer from this want of absolute explicitness in the sacred writings? Not that Church Government is a matter of small importance. It would be easy to prove that this is a very mischievous extreme. But we certainly must infer, that the Spirit of God does not teach us to lay so much stress on points of ecclesiastical order, as on those precious doctrines which relate immediately to the Christian character and hope, which “ form the essence, and fill the volume of the sacred records."
But while the scriptures present no formal or explicit decisions on this subject, we find in them a mode of expression and a number of facts, from which we may, without difficulty, ascertain the outlines of the apostolic plan of Church order. By a careful attention to this language, and to these facts, if I mistake not, it will be easy to show
That Christ gave but one commission for the office of the Gospel ministry, and that this office, of course, is one.
That the words Bishop, and Elder, or Presbyter, are uniformly
used in the New Testament as convertible titles for the same office.
That the same character and powers which are ascribed, in the sacred writings, to Bishops, are also ascribed to Presbyters ; thus plainly establishing the identity of order, as well as of name. And finally,
That the Christian Church was organized by the apostles after the model of the Jewish Synagogue, which was unquestionably Presbyterian in its form.*
If these four positions can be established, there will remain no doubt on any candid mind how the question in dispute ought to be decided.
I. It is evident that Christ gave but one commission for the office of the Gospel ministry, and that this office, of course, is one.
The commission which our Lord gave to his apostles, and in them to his ministers in every age, is expressed in the following words--And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost-Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you : and lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: As my
Father hath sent so send I
And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost-whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. These passages form the grand commission under which all lawful ministers have acted from the moment in which it was delivered to the present time; and under which they must and will act to the end of the world.
This commission, it is confessed on all hands, was originally given to one order of ministers only, viz. the eleven Apostles. The
* Though the word Presbyterian is commonly used to designate those Churches, which are governed by Presbyteries and Synods, as the Churches of Geneva, Holland, Scotland, and those of this denomination in the United States; yet all those Churches are, in the leading sense of the word, Presbyterian, in which Presbyters ordain, and are regarded as holding the highest ecclesiastical office.
† Matth. xxviii. 18, 19, 20. # John xx. 21, 22, 23.
seventy disciples had been employed on a temporary service, and that, strictly speaking, under the Jewish dispensation. For as the Christian Church did not receive its distinct constitution till after the resurrection of Christ; as the Apostles were made fixed officers of the Church, by virtue of this new commission, and not of any former appointment; and as no such new commission was given 10 the seventy disciples, it is manifest that they are not to be considered as ministers of the New Testament dispensation at all. The Saviour, then, in this last solemn interview, addressed the eleven only. To them he committed the whole ministerial authority in his kingdom. The commission, therefore, when it was first delivered, certainly constituted no more than one order of Gospel ministers.
That this commission embraces the highest and fullest ecclesiastical power, that has been, is, or can be possessed by any of the ministers of Christ, all Protestants allow. And that it conveys a right to preach the word, to administer sacraments, and to ordain other men to the work of the ministry, Episcopalians, as well as others, grant. Now this commission either expired with the apostles, to whom it was originally delivered, or it did not. If it did expire with them, then no ministers of the Gospel, since their day, have had any commission, for there is no other left on record. But if it did not expire with them, then it is directed equally to their successors in all ages. But who are these successors ? Densonstrably all those who are authorized to perform those functions which this commission recognizes, that is, to preach, and to administer the sealing ordinances of the Church. Every minister of the Gospel, therefore, who has these powers, is a successor of the apostles, is authorized by this commission, and stands on a footing of official equality with those to whom it was originally delivered, so far as their office was ordinary and perpetual.
It is remarkable, that, in this commission, dispensing the Word of life, and administering Sacraments, are held forth as the most prominent, important, and solemn duties of Christian ministers. The power of ordaining others is not mentioned at all; and we only infer that it is included, because the commission recognizes the continuance of the office and duties of ministers to the end of the world. Must we not infer then, that all who have a right to preach and baptise, have a right, of course, to ordain? Does it