Page images

position can no more be an impeachment of Christ's fidelity, than the not appointing any form of Civil Government is an impeachment of the goodness of God, as the Creator and Governor of mankind ; and that there seems to be no reason why the Redeemer of the world should do that in the one case, which the Cre. ator of it left undone in the other. It is evident that general reasoning cannot decide this question. It is necessary to its decision, that the particular institute of Heaven be pointed out in the New Testament, ." Tilt this is done, conviction will not be produced. When it is done, every Christian should consider the question as set at rest.

Some respectable men and pious Christians have supposed, that the quantum of power, which was necessary to be committed to the Ministers of Christianity, is a question of prudence, and must be settled by particular circumstances. . These have often been called Latitudi. narians on this subject. Their general maxim has been that which Pope has adopted, on the subject of civil Government,

[ocr errors][merged small]

Those who are advocates for a particular form of Church Government must be careful, not only to examine the practice of the Apostolic Churches, but also the institutions of the Apostles. The use of any particular form of Church Government by the Apostles, is certainly a strong argument for its excellence, and well entitle it to a decided preference to any other mode whatsoever ;

[merged small][ocr errors]

but it will not prove that every other mode of it is absolutely interdicted and unlawful. It is to the insti. tutions, or to the general prescriptions of the Apostles, therefore, that their references should be made, and if those references be accurate, and fully made out, the mode which is established must be considered as a matter of sound doctrine, which no circumstances can alter, or modify. The forms of Church Government, the obligations of which have been vehemently debated in the Christian world, are four. One is, the universal authority of the Pope of Rome. This is justly exploded by all Protestants. The other three are the subjects of dispute, among Protestants themselves. On this subject we shall endeavour, impartially to give the outlines of the arguments used by the advocates of these different systems. A moderate volume could hardly compress the substance of what has been urged, in the dilated argu. ments of the disputants, on each side of the question. Among Protestants, there are many who have adopted the Episcopalian form of Church Government, as the Apostolic, and the only regular mode: there are many who contend that the Presbyterian form is the only legitimate and scriptural one; and there are many who consider both these forms as equally unknown to the Scriptures, and argue that Independency was the government of the first Christian Churches, and the rule by which all Christian Societies are bound to regulate themselves.

We shall begin with Episcopacy. Impartiality requires us to state, that the controversy here is not, whether Bishops or Overseers be acknowledged as officers who constitute an essential part of Church rulers.

Both Presbyterians and independents contend that they are

essential to the formation of Church Government. The question is, are Bishops a distinct and superior order, who rank by themselves, and whose office differs from that of the Pastor and Elder, as one which was designed to rule and govern the latter? The advocates for Episcopal Government plead for the superiority of Bishops; Presbyterians and Independents contend that Bishops and Elders, or Pastors, are only different names for the same office.

Episcopalians consider their position, that Bishops are a superior order to Elders, as clearly supported by such proofs as these :-First. They argue from our Saviour's institution of the twelve Apostles, as an order distinct from the Seventy whom he commissioned to preach the Gospel, that they are superior to them. That the Seven. ty were ordained Ministers of the Gospel is evident from our Saviour's address to them, immediately after they were selected, to go two and two, before him. 66 He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me.”—Luke, x. 16. Now, say the friends of Episcopacy, that these Seventy occupied the place of Presbyters or Elders, is so evident, that it is confessed by all. But the twelve Apostles were always distinguished from them, and are represented as chosen from the whole disciples, to fill a distinct and an appropriate office. Had the offices and ranks of the Seventy and of the Apostles been the same, they would not have been so carefully distinguished, as we see that they are. It is likewise to be attended to, that in the catalogue of Ecclesiastical Ministers, (Eph. iv. II, 1 Cor. xii. 28,) they are mentioned as distinct offices, and that of the Apostles is declared to be the primary office, “God hath set some in the Church, first Apostles, &c.” The testimony of antiquity also proves that from the Seventy, those were generally selected who succeeded in any vacancy of the Apostolic office. Matthias, who succeeded Judas, is affirmed by Eusebius and Epiphanius to have been one of the Seventy. Philip is represented by these fathers of the Church, as succeeding St. Paul at Cæsarea; and Clement, St. Peter at Rome. Now, if these Elders and Presbyters succeeded by election to the Apostolic office, it is demonstrable that the offices must have been different, and the one superior to the other; for no man can succeed to an office which he had before, nor receive an accession of power and trust when he receives nothing with which he is not already invested.

66 So that here are plainly two sorts of Ecclesiastical officers, the one superior to the other, of our Saviour's own institution and appointment; and therefore if this institution be still valid, there must still be a Superiority and a Subordination between the Officers and Minister of his Church, and consequently the Government thereof must still be Episcopal, i. e. by some superior Officers, presiding and superintending over other inferior ones. I know it is objected, that this superiority of the Apostles over the Seventy was only in office, but not in power or jurisdiction, but since it is the office that is the immediate subject of the power belonging to it, I would fain know whether superiority of office must not necessarily include superiority in power? for office without power is an empty name, that signifies nothing: and every degree of superiority of office must be accompanied with power to exert itself in acts of superiority, otherwise it will be utterly in vain and to no purpose ; so that either the superiority of the Apostolic office over other church


officers must be void and insignificant, or it must have a proportionable superiority of power over them, inseparably inherent in it. But it is further objected, that, supposing the Apostolate to be superior to the other Ecclesiastical orders in power, and office, yet it was but temporary; it being instituted by our Saviour in subservience to the present exigency and necessity of things, without any intention of deriving it down to the Church in a continued succession. To which I answer in short, that this is said without so much as a plausible colour of reason; both that our Saviour instituted this office, and that in his institution he never gave the least intimation to the world, that he intended it only for a certain sea

Now, if men will presume to declare Christ's institutions temporary, without producing the 'least intimation of his will, that he so designed them, they may with the same warrant peal all the institutions of Christianity; and even the two sacraments will lie as much at their mercy as the institution of the Apostolic order, which, unless they can prove it repealed by the same authority which establisted it, will be sufficient to prescribe to all ages and nations ; for the obligations of Divine Commands are dissolvable only by Divine Countermands, and for men to declare any Divine institution void, before God had so declared it, is to over-rule the will of God by their own arrogant presumptions."*

Second.—The advocates of Episcopacy contend that the Apostles, not only exercised in their own persons, that superiority over Presbyters or Elders, which they received with their office, but conveyed it down to their

• Scott's Christian Life, Vol. 111, p. p. 391, 392:

« PreviousContinue »