« EelmineJätka »
that the Lutherans, as well as the Presbyterians in our own country, have, at this hour, lay elders to assist in the government and discipline of the church. The truth is, that at the period of the reformation, three-fourths of the whole protestant world declared in favour of this class of elders; not merely as expedient, but as appointed in the apostolic church, and as necessary to be restored. And to the present time a decided majority of protestants maintain the same opinion and practice.
Many of the objections against ruling elders, on which my opponents lay the greatest stress, are entirely groundless, and arise from a total want of acquaintance with the nature and duties of the office. Mr. How speaks of them as officers invested with “ temporal functions.” Now this is so far from being the case, that they are not invested with a temporal functions” at all. Their office and duties are purely spiritual. Dr. Kemp represents them as “ unordained" officers, and expresses much astonishment that I should insist on the church having been organized after the model of the synagogue, since the elders of the synagogue were ordained, while he asserts that those of the Presbyterian church are not. This gentleman gives us to understand that he was bred a Presbyterian, and speaks of it as one of the advantages which he enjoys in conducting the controversy. But, truly, he discovers, on a variety of occasions, that he left our church without being acquainted with even the elementary principles of its government. To prove this I need not go further than the case under consideration. The fact is, that in every regular Presbyterian church, ruling elders are always ordained; sometimes with the imposition of hands, and sometimes without it. Both methods are in use, in different parts of Europe, as well as our own country. But an ordination of some kind is never omitted by those who act regularly. Perhaps Dr. Kemp would say, that the imposition of hands is essential to every ordination, and that, as we ordain our ruling elders more frequently without this ceremony than with it, he is warranted in representing them generally as “unordained.” If so, he is of a different mind from some of the most learned and pious bishops of the church of England, who have decided that it is not the formality of laying on hands which constitutes the essence of a
lawful vocation to office in the church; but the election and appointment to the office.
Dr. Bowden makes an objection to the office of ruling elder, as it exists in the Presbyterian church, which I scarcely expected from so grave a reasoner. It is this : That is the office be such as we represent it, and the scriptural warrant for it such as we are in the habit of quoting, especially if i Tim. v, 17. be considered as pointing out this class of elders, that then there ought to be a salary or some kind of temporal support annexed to the office. “ But," he adds, " to put a ruling elder in this respect, upon a “ footing with a minister of the word, is altogether preposterous. " And I am convinced that your congregations would think it so, 6 were it proposed to allow the ruling elders as ample a salary as " they do their ministers, or any salary at all. Let the experiment “ be made universally in your churches, and I will commit myself, " that we shall never see the face of a ruling elder again." 1. 201. But what has this to do with the apostolic institution of the ruling elder's office ? Suppose it conceded, that a compensation ought to be made to this class of officers, for their services; and suppose it also conceded, that no such compensation is ever, in fact, made; will it follow that such officers cannot be of divine appointment ? Dr. B. would think it strange reasoning in any man to infer, that, because the labourer is worthy of his hire, his clerical commission depends on the payment of his salary; and that if the one should be withdrawn, the other would cease with it. Did the apostle Paul cease to be a minister of Jesus Christ because he laboured, working with his own hands, that he might not be chargeable to any ; while, at the same time, he declared, that they who serve at the altar, should live by the altar ? Nothing
* When I began these sheets, it was my intention to take notice of all the material points in the letters of Dr. Kemp, as well as in the writings of my other opponents ; and accordingly I made a kind of engagement to do so, in a former letter. But I had not gone far on this plan, before it became apparent that fulfilling my engagement would be equally useless and irksome. The fact is, that the " rector of Great Choptank,” has scarcely stated a single objection or argument, but what has been exhibited with more plausibility and strength by Dr. Bowden. In refuting the latter, therefore, the former is, of course, refuted. On this account I beg to be excused in future, for passing over the attack of Dr. Kemp in silence.
can be more absurd than to suppose it. Yet this, even conceding the fact for which Dr. B. contends, is the amount of his whole argument.
But the fact cannot be conceded. If Dr. Bo wden had been as well acquainted with the Presbyterian church, as a discreet man would have taken care to be, before he suffered himself to speak so confidently on the subject, he would have known, that a compensation for their services has often been made to ruling elders ; and that the nature and amount of this compensation, depend on the circumstances of the elders themselves, and of the church which they serve.
But, leaving this collateral inquiry, it is time that we should return to the main question ; which shall be resumed in the next letter.
TESTIMONY OF THE FATHERS.
In my former volume, while I insisted that the cause in question should be tried at the bar of scripture alone, and utterly protested against the jurisdiction of the fathers, I still consented to examine their testimony, and devoted two long letters to that examination. In those letters, if more impartial judges, as well as myself, are not deceived, there is abundant proof, that the fathers of the FIRST TWO CENTURIES, do not contain a sentence that can be justly construed in favour of prelacy; but that, on the contrary, their testimony is decisively favourable to Presbyterian parity. Dr. Bowden, indeed, is of a different opinion, and speaks with great confidence and asperity in a different strain. But after the specimen which has been given of the manner in which that gentleman can treat demonstrative proof, and even plain declarations of scripture, we need not wonder that, in his eyes, every argument is “ frivolous,” and even “ contemptible cavilling," which opposes hi episcopal creed.
I have neither the leisure nor the patience again to go over the whole ground of the testimony of the fathers on this subject. My only design in the present letter, is, with great brevity, to examine a few of the strictures of Dr. Bowden ; to confirm some of my statements which have been most confidently and boldly called in question ; and to supply some of the defects of my former letters on this part of the controversy.
Suffer me, my brethren, again to remind you of the principle on which we proceed, in this part of our inquiry. If it could be demonstrated from the writings of the fathers, that, in one hundred, or even in fifty years, after the death of the last apostle, the system of diocesan episcopacy had been generally adopted in the church, it would be nothing to the purpose. As long as no traces of this fact could be found in the Bible, but much of a directly opposite nature, we should stand on a secure and immovable foundation. To all reasonings, then, derived from the fathers, I answer, with the venerable Augustine, who, when pressed with the authority of Cyprian, replied, “ His writings I hold not to be
canonical, but examine them by the canonical writings : And in « them, what agreeth with the authority of divine scripture, I " accept, with his praise; what agreeth not, I reject with his “ leave."*
But our refusal to be tried by the fathers, is founded on principle, and not upon any fear of the result of such a trial. We know what their writings contain ; and are sure that our episcopal brethren would lose instead of gaining, by an impartial examination of their testimony. We are perfectly ready, then, to meet Dr. Bowden, or any other man, and to hear what he has to say on this department of evidence.
In entering on this branch of the controversy in my former letters, I made the following remarks: “ Before we proceed to examine the testimony of the fathers, 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
* Contra Crescon, II. Cap. 32.