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of Divines, than which a more venerable body of miaisters never convened. This illustrious ecclesiastical council consisted of more than a hundred divines, besides the lay members. And it is remarkable, that all of these divines, excepting about seven or eight, had received episcopal ordination and no olher. Is it credible that these men, assembled as ministers, judicially deliberating and acting as ministers, could have intended to pronounce their own ordination null and void ? Or that they would frame articles de claring all such ordinations in future invalid ? No; such a sentence was never pronounced ; and I may confidently assert, was never thought of by a member of that assembly. While they declared the Presbyterian form of church government to be the apostolic and primitive plan; they explicitly acknowledged the validity of episcopal orders and ministrations. · And the same has been the language and the conduct of every Presbyterian Church that ever existed on earth.
Ministers episcopally ordained have frequently applied to be received into Christian and ministerial communion with Presbyterian churches, both in Europe and America. But did Mr. How ever hear of one of them being re-ordained? I will venture to say he never did. Ministers have offered themselves to the church to which I have the honour to belong, not only from the episcopal, but also from the Methodist and the Baptist churches. But was a re-ordination ever attempted, in any one of these cases ? I can confidently affirm that no such case ever occurred; certainly none ever came to my knowledge. In every instance in which it was ascertained that the minister applying to be received, had been regularly set apart to the sacred office, by the imposition of the hands of men authorized to preach and administer sacraments in their own church, he was freely received, and his ordination sus, tained as valid. Does this look like pronouncing our precise form of church order indispensable to a regular ministry, to valid ordinances, or to final salvation ? Had we been accused of being zealous advocates for the doctrine of purgatory or transubstantia. tion, the charge would have been equally true, and equally creditable to the candour of its author.
But perhaps Mr. How will plead, that, although our church, in the language of her public standards, is, on the whole, liberal and conciliatory; yet that other branches of the Presbyterian body,
particularly those with which Dr. Mason, and Mr. M'Leod are connected, go the whole length of asserting the exclusive validity of the Presbyterian ministry and ordinances. Such is one of the arts to which this gentleman resorts, when he cannot find materials enough in our confession of faith, to satisfy his insatiable appetite for proscription and excommunication. But neither will this subterfuge avail him. He accuses others as unjustly as he accuses us. It is not true that the most high-toned Presbyterians on earth, go any thing like the length, in maintaining the necessity of our particular mode of constituting the christian ministry, that ibis gentleman and his friends do in asserting the exclusive validity of episcopal ordination. And, although both Dr. Mason and Mr. M’Leod may hold some opinions concerning the Christian church in which I do not entirely concur with them; yet there cannot be greater injustice than to speak of them and their writings in the manner in which Mr. How has permitted himself to do. To what this mistatement of their opinions is to be ascribed, it becomes not me to say. I dare not impeach the integrity of Mr. How. For acquitting his honesty at the expense of his understanding, he would not thank me : And to suppose that he has allowed himself to speak with so much positiveness of their tenets, without any acquaintance with them, would be as offensive as either.
But are there not some Presbyterians who hold that their form of church government was the apostolic and primitive form? Undoubtedly, many. And are there not some also, who go further, and insist that this form is binding on the church, under all circumstances and states of society, and, of course, ought to be adopted in all ages ? There are certainly some who go even this length. Well! my opponents will reply, is not this holding to the divine right of Presbyterian government? It is. And is it not, of consequence, going the whole length with us, and denying that there can be any true church, or valid ordinances without it? Certainly not. The conclusion has no more connexion with the premises, than with the most remote object in creation.
As both Dr. Bowden and Mr. How have evidently yet to learn the sentiments of the jure divino Presbyterians, and as, for want of information on this point, they are groping in the dark, whenever they approach it; I will endeavour to enlighten this part of their path, and, if possible, prevent, in future, those perpetual
wanderings, which are really much more calculated to excite the ridicule, or the commiseration, than the resentment of their Presbyterian readers.
The advocates, then, for the divine right of presbytery, (I now speak of the most rigid class of them,) believe that, in the apostolic church every regularly organized congregation of Christians was furnished with three classes of church officers, with a bishop, (or pastor,) ruling elders, and deacons ; that the bench of elders, with the bishop as their standing moderator or president, constituted the spiritual court, for directing all affairs purely ecclesiastical in the congregation ; that the bishops of a number of neighbouring congregations, were in the habit of statedly meeting together, not only to cherish a spirit of union and fraternal affection, but also to deliberate on matters of more general concern, than those of a particular church; that in these larger assemblies or presbyteries, (or by whatever name they were called,) a delegation from the eldership of each church attended with their bishop; and that, either statedly or occasionally, (it matters not which, as to the principle,) the bishops and elders of much larger districts, convened under the title of synods or councils, for the purpose of discussing and deciding great questions, and of making general arrangements. This, they suppose, was the form of government which the apostles, acting under the inspiration of God, established in the primitive church. They believe, moreover, that as this form of ecclesiastical polity was adopted by inspired men, it is the best form; that it was intended to be perpetual ; that it is the duty of churches, in all ages, and in all states of society, to adopt it; and that in proportion as any deviate from it, they deviate from the simplicity and purity of the apostolic age, and contravene the will of God.
But, while this class of Presbyterians zealously maintain the principles which have been stated, they, at the same time, explicit ly grant, that there may be deviations from this apostolic form of government, without destroying, or, in any essential degree, impairing, the character of a Christian church. They suppose that imperfection attends every thing human. That although every church, as well as every man, is required to be in all respects perfectly conformed to the divine will; yet that neither any church, nor any man is, in fact, thus perfect. They suppose that, among individual professors of religion, there may be all manner of
variety as to the degrees of exemplariness which they manifest; and yet that they may all be entitled, in the judgment of charity, to be considered as visible Christians ; and further, that cases may arise, in which it would be difficult to decide whether a mans deviations had proceeded so far, as that he ought, on the whole, to be excluded from this class or not. In like manner, the Presbyterians of whom we are speaking, admit that there are churches which differ considerably as to the degrees of purity which they have preserved, but which, notwithstanding, are all entitled to the character of visible churches of Christ. They suppose, indeed, that all deviations from primitive simplicity, whether in doctrine, in worship, or in government, are blamable and ought to be corrected; but still, that such may exist, in a certain degree, without excluding those who are guilty of them from the class of churches. And in what actual cases these deviations have become so numerous and important as to render them no longer churches of Christ, but Synagogues of Satan, they have seldom undertaken to pronounce.
The most rigid Presbyterians have, at different times, both as individuals and judicatories; both by their writings, and their decisions, explicitly acknowledged different denominations of Christians to be true churches of Christ. They have acknowledged our Congregational brethren in New England ; the regular Independents in various parts of Great Britain ; the Episcopalians in England and America; the Lutherans in Germany and the United States; and the Methodist and Baptist denominations, as all churches of Christ. They consider all these, indeed, as more or less corrupt; and have, accordingly, at different times, and without reserve, written, preached, aud printed their testimony against those corruptions; but still they have never said of any of them, that they had no church, no ministry, no valid ordinances, but acknowledged the contrary without hesitation or scruple.
In short, the high-toned Presbyterians, of whom we are speaking do not carry the divine right of church government further than they carry the divine right of doctrine and worship in the church. Nay, it may be asserted, that, without a single exception, they have always laid more stress on the two latter than on the first, as entering more immediately than that into the vital interests and character of the church. Now, it is well known, that this class of Presbyterians, as well as all others, freely admit that there may be
departures from absolute purity, both in doctrine and worship, without unchurching those who admit them. They believe, for instance, that Arminianism is a doctrinal corruption; but yet they would shudder to pronounce that those churches which receive it, have no valid ministry or ordinances, or to deny that any of their members may be saved. They are pursuaded, that in the primitive church there were no forms of prayer used in public worship; and that the introduction of them is unwarranted and inexpedient; yet I never heard of any one who considered this as so essential an innovation, as either to doubt the piety of those who used forms, or even to pronounce it absolutely unlawful to unite in worship conducted by a liturgy. They know that kneeling at the Lord's supper, and the doctrine of transubstantitation came into the church together, and have no doubt that together they ought to have been discarded; yet they do not imagine, that this mode of receiving is inconsistent with pious and acceptable communicating ; much less that it vitiates the sacrament; and least of all, that it infers a belief in the grand popish error with which it was originally connected. I have known Episcopalians to receive the sacred bread and wine, kneeling, from the hands of a Presbyterian minister, when all the rest of the communicants were sitting ; and have no reason to suppose that any other Presbyterian minister would have scrupled to comply with a similar application.
It is to no purpose to say, “ that if these be the opinions of jure divino Presbyterians, they are inconsistent with themselves; for that a belief that Presbyterianism was the apostolic form of church government, necessarily carries with it, on every principle of sober reasoning, a belief that there can be no church, no ministry without it.” This conclusion is as illegitimate in reasoning, as it is false in fact. The Presbyterians of whom we are speaking, utterly disavow this doctrine which is, by inference, imputed to them; and declare, that, as it is not deducible from their principles, so it makes no part of their creed.
The warmest advocates of the divine right of prelacy admit that a church may depart in many respects, from the primitive model, without forfeiting the title of a church of Christ ? They consider the church of Rome as a true church of Christ, though a degenerate and corrupt one. In one of the Homilies of the church of England, drawn up by archbishop Cranmer, and the