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important are covered with still greater darkness; if the history of the first general council that ever met, and which agitated to its centre the whole christian church, is so obscure that even the place of its meeting is disputed, and no distinct record of its acts has ever reached our times; what might be expected concerning an ecclesiastical innovation, so remote in its origin, so gradual in its progress, so indefinitely diversified in the shapes in which it appeared in different places at the same time, and so unsusceptible of precise and lucid exhibition ? To this question, no discerning and candid mind will be at a loss for an answer. No; the whole of that reasoning, which confidently deduces the apostolical origin of prelacy, from its acknowledged and general, but by no means universal, prevalence in the fourth century, is mere empty declamation, as contradictory to every principle of human nature, as it is to the whole current of early history.
PRACTICAL INFLUENCE OF PRELACY-UNINTERRUPTED SUCCESSION
The practical influence of any doctrine, has been generally considered as a good test of its truth. By their fruits ye shall know them, is a rule which applies to principles as well as to men. Let us apply this rule to the case before us. If prelacy be of exclusive and unalterable divine right : If it be so essential, that there is no true church, no authorized ministry, no valid ordinances without it: If episcopal churches alone are in covenant with Christ, in the appointed road to heaven, and warranted to hope in the promises of God; then we may reasonably expect and demand that all churches of this denomination, should display more of the spirit of Christ than any other classes of professing christians. The blessing of God is, beyond all question, most likely to attend those institutions which are most agreeable to his will. But we may go further. All who believe the Bible will acknowledge that there is more religion in the church, than out of it; more of the image and love of the Redeemer among his covenanted people, than among those who are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise. To deny this, would be to call in question every promise which the King of Zion has made to his people, and every advantage of union with him as their head. Now if all non-episcopal societies are to be considered as mere uncommanded associations, which have nothing to do with the church of Christ; and, if union with that church is a privilege which belongs to Episcopalians alone; then those who believe this
doctrine, are bound, on every christian principle, to show, that episcopal churches contain within their bosom more pure and undefiled religion, more harmony, more love for the truth as it is in Jesus, more universal holiness of heart and of life, than any, or than all other religious denominations. But is this in fact the case ? Will the friends of prelacy undertake to show, that they alone give this evidence that they belong to Christ? Will they even undertake to show, that Episcopalians exhibit in a pre-eminent degree, this practical testimony, that they are the chosen generation, the peculiar people, who are purified by the blood, and quickened by the spirit of the Redeemer ?
The efficacy of episcopal government in securing the unity of the church, in guarding against schism, and in promoting harmony and peace, has been much celebrated. But is there such a peculiar and benign efficacy in that form of ecclesiastical order? I am willing to refer the decision of this question to any man who is acquainted with ecclesiastical history. If we consult Eusebius, he will present us with a picture of the violence, the strife, and the divisions among bishops, and among different portions of the church, through their means, which is enough to make a christian weep. If we consult Gregory Nazianzen, he will tell us, in language before quoted, that prelacy“ has caused many fruitless conflicts and “ bruises, has cast many into the pit, and carried away multitudes 5 to the place of the goats.” If we examine the history of any episcopal church on earth, we shall find it exhibiting, to say the least, as large a share of heresy, contention, and schism, as any which bears the Presbyterian form; and, what is more, we shall ever find the prelates themselves quite as forward as any others, in scenes of violence and outrage. The episcopal professor Whitaker, had no high opinion of the benign effects of prelacy, when he declared, that if ihis form of government were introduced as a remedy against schism, “ the remedy was worse than the “ disease.” “ The first express attempt,” says the learned Dr. Owen,“ to corrupt and divide a church, made from within itself,
was that in the church of Jerusalem, made by Thebulis, because “ Simon Cleopas was chosen bishop, and he was refused. The
same rise had the schisms of the Novations and Donalists, the “ heresies of Arius and others.” In short, the animosities and - divisions in the church of Christ, which have taken their rise
from the contending interests, the lawless ambition, and the indecent strife of diocesan bishops, are so numerous, that history is full of them; and so disgusting to every mind imbued with the spirit of Christianity, that it would give pain even to an opponent to dwell upon the subject. But further ; do we not all know episcopal churches, at the present day, in which all varieties of theological creeds are received, from the purest orthodoxy, down to the most blasphemous heresies, and that by all ranks of their clergy, as well as their lay members. Is this that unity of the spirit of which the Scriptures speak ? Is this that unity which constitutes men one body in Christ, and which will prepare them for the more sublime and perfect union of the church triumphant above?
Again ; if the episcopal church alone is in communion with Christ; if she possesses the only authorized ministry, and the only valid ordinances; then we have a right to expect that she will preeminently display the purifying effects of these peculiar privileges. For if the christian ministry and ordinances were given to edify the body of Christ, and are the great instruments which God does, in fact, employ for this purpose, as both Presbyterians aud Episcopalians concur in believing; then we must suppose that more, much more, of their sacred influence will appear among those who possess these precious gifts, than among those who possess them not. To suppose that an invalid ministry and ordinances will be, in general, as useful in their effects, as those which are valid, is to surrender one of the most important distinctions between truth and error.
Do we, then, actually find in episcopal churches more real and vital religion, than in other churches ? Do we actually find among them more of the image of Christ; more attachment to evangelical truth ; more faithful preaching of Jesus Christ, and him crucified; more brotherly love; more pure and holy living; more care to avoid a sinful conformity to the world; more vigorous and scriptural discipline; more zeal for the divine glory; and a temper and conversation more suited to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour, than in the mass of non-episcopal churches ? In short, are episcopalians, as a denomination, more serious, devout, self-denied, benevolent, meek, forgiving, and heavenly-minded, than Presbyterians, as a denomination ? Perhaps it will be said, that much of what we call vital religion, is rather superstitious, and that with
respect to true and rational piety, there is full as much, if not more, in episcopal than in other churches. On this question I will not dwell long. By real religion, I mean a conformity of temper and practice with that system of evangelical truth which is exhibited in the writings, and which adorned the lives of bishop Jewel, bishop Hall, bishop Davenant, archbishop Usher, and many other illustrious prelates of the church of England, of former ages; that system which has been since defended and exemplified by the Herveys, the Romaines, the Nerotons, the Scotts, and a multitude more of unmitred divines of the same church, in later times; that evangelical system which is embodied in the articles of that church, and which breathes in the greatest part of her liturgy and offices; that system which exalts the divine Redeemer to the throne; which places the penitent sinner in the dust, at his footstool ; which teaches men to rely solely on the atoning sacrifice and perfect righteousness of the Saviour, for pardon and life; and which, at the same time, prompts them to follow holiness, and to be zealous of good works. Is there more of this kind of religion in episcopal churches than in any others? I cannot suppose that there is a single Episcopalian in our country, either so ill informed or so prejudiced, as to believe, for a moment, that his own church is in the least degree superior, in any of these respects, to her Presbyterian neighbours
but, perhaps, this reasoning will be objected to by our episcopal brethren. They will tell us, that there is often a wide difference between entertaining correct opinions, and pursuing a suitable practice ; that men may and do hold the truth in unrighteousness; and, that the same reasoning, if admitted, would prove that no form of religion is true, because in every church we may find many lukewarm and immoral professors. This objection, however, is nothing to the purpose. It is merely an evasion of the argument. We all daily make and allow the distinction between principles, and the conduct of those who profess them. The former are often excellent, while the latter is base. We protest, and with the strongest reason, against the conclusion, that religion is false, because some men who profess to believe it are immoral; or that a particular church is not a true church of Christ, because many of her members act in a manner unworthy of their profession. But our reasoning and conclusion, in this case, are wholly of a different kind.