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" could not have proceeded from a proper motive;" and that, if “they were even well-founded, they ought not to have been ad6 yanced.” On what ground Dr. Bowden should have taken so much offence at this passage, it is not easy to see.
Was it going either an indecent or an unreasonable length, when I was fairly called to speak on the subject, to say, that prelacy has been proved to be quite as favourable to heresy, contention, and schism, as Presbyterianism; and prelates as chargeable with violence and outrage as presbyters? If this was indecent, then what shall be said of this gentleman himself, who has asserted that every charge which I have brought against prelacy“may be retorted opon presbytery, in a ten-fold degree? If my motives were bad for merely alleging that Presbyterians stand on as good ground, with regard to the practical influence of their system, as Episcopalians do; what must have been the motives of Dr. B. in alleging that the former are ten-fold worse than the latter? What must have been his motives in expressing himself frequently in much more severe and indelicate terms of Presbyterians and Presbytery? But the cases are, in his estimation, essentially different. The abuse of Presbyterians is no crime. That this must be his opinion is evident from the reproachful charges which he unreservedly heaps upon them, in those very parts of his work in which he censures me for my unexceptionable comparison.
Dr. Bowden still insists that there is peculiar efficacy in the episcopal form of government in securing the unity of the Church; and undertakes to give a contrasted view of Presbyterian and Episcopal churches with respect to this point. I utterly deny the correctness of his alleged facts on this subject; and have no fear in repeating my assertion, that ihe history of any number of Episcopal Churches exhibits quite as large a share of heresy, contention, schism, as the history of any corresponding number of Presbyterian Churches. I am perfectly willing to go for an example to the Church of England, or to any part of the world, where prelacy has ever existed; and am sure that no impartial student of ecclesiastical history will be of a different opinion. What does Dr. Bowden mean by unity, as applied to a church? Does he mean unity of spirit or unity of name? If the latter, then no one who understands Christianity can respect or value it: if the former, then it may be shown, that the church of England, (which probably
Dr. B. would consider as the most favourable specimen the world has ever seen,) is, and has long been, as much a stranger to it, as any of her neighbours. If all manner of discordant sentiment; if every grade of heresy, from that of Arminius, to the cold, gloomy, semi-deistical scheme of Socinus ; if the constant public manifestation of this discordance, and of these contending heresies ; and that not only among the people, and the inferior clergy, but also among the prelates themselves; if embracing multitudes of clergy who disbelieve her articles, who dislike her liturgy, and who yet have consciences which admit of their canonically swearing to the belief and support of both ;—if these things constitute unity, then indeed she may be said to possess it. But this is a kind of unity of which the apostles knew nothing, and which, if they were now on earth, they would pronounce of no value. There is unspeakably more real unity among all the different portions of Presbyterians in the United States, though called by different names, than exists, or has for near 200 years existed, in the Church of England, though nominally one. They have the same confession of faith, the same mode of worship, the same form of church government, and are, in all important points, so entirely united, that many of their best members often wonder and lament, that they are not one in name as well as in reality.
With respect to the doctrine of uninterrupted succession, I have little to add to what is contained in my former letters. Dr. Bowden is indeed right in suspecting that I lay no great stress on this doctrine, as he understands and states it. That there always has been, since the days of Christ, and that there always will be to the end of the world, a true church, and a true and valid gospel ministry, in that church, I firmly believe. But as to the historical proof that this succession in the ministry has never been interrupted, by any event which might be called an irregular or uncanonical ordination, I neither care for it, nor believe in it.
The promise of the Saviour that neither the church nor her ministry shall ever become extinct, is enough to satisfy me. That the succession in this ministry will be kept up in the same exact manner in every age, I consider neither scripture nor common sense as requiring me to believe. There is no Presbyterian who contends more zealously for a strict adherence to ecclesiastical rules than I
am disposed to do; nor one who deems it of more importance that we set our faces against every kind of spurious investiture, and that we retain the scriptural method of ordination by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery ; yet I have no hesitation in saying, that if it were to be discovered, that, about two hundred or five hundred years ago, the regular succession of our ordinations had been really interrupted by some ecclesiastical oversight or disorder, I should not consider it as in the least degree affecting either the legitimacy of our present ministry, or the validity of our present ordinances.
The learned and acute episcopal divine Chillingworth, if I understand him, takes the same ground, and views the subject in the same light. Though he is a warm advocate for the apostolical institution of prelacy; yet he evidently considers the doctrine of uninterrupted succession, and especially the idea of attaching fundamental importance to it, as a popish error; and the historic proof of the fact as equally ridiculous and impossible.*
Dr. Bowden, however, objects that, even on Presbyterian principles, the episcopal succession is better than ours; or rather that ours is utterly invalid, because, at the æra of the reformation, the presbyters, in different parts of Europe, who first began to ordain, had not the ordaining power specifically or professedly imparted to them by the bishops who ordained them; so that they did not even stand on equal ground with modern Presbyterian ministers; on whom in their ordination, the ordaining power is formally bestowed. But this objection has no force. The popish doctrine, "that it is the intention of the administrator which constitutes the validity of an ecclesiastical ordinance,” is discarded by all protestants. And as the first presbyters who undertook to ordain, after emerging from the darkness of popery, were regularly invested with the power of preaching the gospel, and administering sacraments, all Presbyterians consider the right to ordain as necessarily included in those powers, whether the fact be mentioned, or even thought of at the time of ordination or not.
Dr. Bowden, toward the close of his last letter, expresses much irritated feeling at my having represented clerical imparity as a
Sce his Safe Way of Salvation, Part 1, Chapters 2. and 6.
“ popish doctrine.” He demands, in a tone to which I forbear to give a name, whether I “ know what popery is ?” In the next page he calls upon me to “ lay my hand upon my heart, and in " the fear of God to say, whether I do not think that I have most “ grossly libelled the whole Episcopal church throughout the “world;" and adds, that “something explicit upon this point will “ be expected from me.” This good gentleman shall have “ something explicit.” Let me assure him, then, that, after the most serious and conscientious review of all that I have written, I am so far from thinking that I have “libelled" the episcopal church in representing prelacy as a “ popish doctrine,” that all my inquiries convince me, more than ever, of the justness of my representation, and embolden me to repeat and urge it with new confidence. In answer to Dr. Bowden's question, what is popery? I answer, Popery, strictly speaking, as was remarked in a former letter, is the ecclesiastical supremacy usurped by the bishop of Rome. But, more generally speaking, it implies that system of corruption, both in doctrine, government, and practice, which characterizes, and has, for nearly fifteen hundred years, characterized the Romish, or Latin church.
Hence transubstantiation, purgalory, auricular confession, the worship of images, the invocation of saints, and the adoration of the cross, are all spoken of by the most accurate writers, as popish errors ; although most of them had crept into the church, long before the period which Dr. Bowden assigns for the rise of the papal usurpation; and although none of them, excepting perhaps the first, could ever be traced to the Roman pontiff himself as their immediate author.
I say then, again, that, in this sense, clerical imparity is a "popish error," nearly coeval in its rise with the commencement of the papacy ; originating from the same source; and tending, in a degree, to the same mischief. And though I would by no means place the former of these errors on a par with the latter ; nor venture to pronounce the one, as I do the other, an antichristian abuse, being fully persuaded that many of the greatest and best men that ever lived have been friends of prelacy; yet all my inquiries have more and more confirmed me in the persuasion, that it is a real and a mischievous departure from apostolic simplicity, and that it first arose from the same principle of clerical ambition which gave rise to the papacy. I hope this is “ explicit” enough
Nor is this all. When I look over the charges and reasonings urged by the popish writers, against the Waldenses and Albigenses, as they are preserved and exhibited in Perrin's history of those illustrious witnesses for the truth; when I read the language used by the popish persecutors of the English reformers, as it is recorded in different parts of Fox's Acts and Monuments ; when I examine the cavils and objections made by Harding, Saunders, Stapleton, Campian, and other zealous Catholics, against the church of England; and when I look into the writings which Chillingworth, in his Safe Way of Salvation, examines and refutes, I could almost fancy myself listening to the pleas of some high-toned Episcopalians in the United States against their Presbyterian neighbours. Could you make it convenient to examine those writings for yourselves, you would find in them so large a portion of the same reasonings, and the same language, which are now found in certain episcopal writers; so much of the same cry, in exactly or nearly the same words, about the church! the true church! the apostolic church! so much of the same kind of charges, respecting schism, departure from the covenanted way of salvation, loss of the apostolic succession, and having no true priesthood, or valid ordinances, as would fill you with astonishment, if not with emotions of a more unfavourable nature. Nor would your astonishment be at all diminished by finding, as you would find, that the friends of the Church of England, in defending themselves and their cause against the writers in question, resorted, in a multitude of instances, to the very same scriptural authorities, and the very same arguments, which Presbyterians employ against the high-toned prelatists of the present day !-Reflect seriously on these facts, and then ask yourselves, whether Dr. Bowden has any just reason to complain of me for speaking of an affinity between his claims and those of popery? I have, indeed, repeatedly suggested the idea of such an affinity, and distinctly meant to do so. I have done it, however, without passion, and without any wish to give unnecessary pain ; but with a calm, deliberate, and firm conviction, that the suggestion was well-founded. And I can assure the gentlemen who have written so much and so resentfully for the purpose of removing it, that their publications are far, very far, from having diminished the force of this conviction.