WE may now assume that there is in the Church a divinely constituted Ministry, and that in this Ministry there are different grades of office. The question arises, what are these grades and what are the powers and functions pertaining to them. An authoritative statement of the Church's doctrine on the subject is found in the preface to the Ordinal in the Prayer Book: "It is evident unto all men diligently reading Holy Scripture and ancient authors, that from the Apostles' times there have been these orders of Ministers in Christ's Church: Bishops, Priests and Deacons." The term by which such a Ministry is usually designated is Episcopacy. The Episcopal or highest order, to which is restricted the powers of Ordination, Confirmation and general supervision, gives its name to the Ministry. Even the Church itself, from this fact in its Ministry, is often called Episcopal. When we speak of the Episcopal Church, we do not mean in contradistinction from other Churches, for the whole Church is properly and should, in fact, be Episcopal. We mean the Christian Church, which is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, whose Ministry is rightly constituted in three orders. [69/70] Episcopal is a term of Catholicity, not of Sectarianism. The whole question whether this is the Ministry of the Church turns upon the first or highest order, [f the Episcopal order were proved to be a usurpation, or were shown to be an infringement upon the Apostolic Constitution of the Ministry, nobody would think of disputing about the relations of Presbyters and Deacons. The Presbyterian or Congregational theory might be admitted. To prove, therefore, that there is an order of Ministers superior in office and functions to Presbyters is all that will be necessary.
Two methods of argument may be pursued: that from Holy Scripture, and that from History. Both are indeed historical, but one is from inspired or biblical, the other from Church or ecclesiastical history. Either is valid and is sufficient in itself. All will admit that it is sufficient to prove it from Scripture. For the Ministry we find in the Church when the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles were written, is undoubtedly the Ministry of Christ, and the perpetual model for the Universal Church. If it was Episcopal then, it is Episcopal always, the intimations of Scripture being authoritative and obligatory. The argument from History is equally satisfactory. For the Ministry we find prevailing in the Church when history became cognizant of its existence, is undoubtedly the Ministry that was originally given in the Church's organization and constitution. The question is one of fact. [70/71] The historical proofs of the fact must settle it. For if the fact is proved that the Ministry of the Church has been Episcopal wherever and so long as the Church has had a history beyond that which may be gathered from the New Testament, that is to say, from the beginning of the second century onwards, then it must without question have been so constituted, by the Lord Himself, and His Apostles, acting by His direction and in the power of His Spirit.
I propose, now, to prove Episcopacy from History. The scope of the argument is this: The Church is Episcopal, from its having in its Ministry an order of men who have the general supervision of inferior Ministers and of the people, and through whom, by the laying on of hands, the three orders of Ministers are perpetuated. This order has been called Apostles, Apostle-Bishops, Bishops, but it is the office, and not the name, that is important. The general prevalence of this order from the beginning leads to the inference, from which, indeed, there is no escape, that it comes from the inspired Apostles, and therefore has the sanction of Jesus Christ. I trust to be able to take you by sure steps to the solid ground of this conclusion.
But first let me deprecate a shallow kind of criticism which is common. Logic cannot be uncharitable. Fact is not, Truth is not, uncharitable. To get at the truth is all that we desire. To convince of the truth those who are in error is the greatest charity; and they are the ones [71/72] of all others who will so esteem it. I wage no war against those who find themselves, by birth, association, education, and training, in Churches not Episcopally constituted. Those who framed such Churches have long since gone to their account. We need not judge them nor weigh the validity of their reasons or prejudices, whatever they may have been, in the circumstances of their times. The living have inherited their position and are only in part responsible for it. If they are non-Catholic in respect of Episcopacy, we are not harshly to blame them. It is their duty, doubtless, to investigate this as all other subjects pertaining to the Christian life. To cherish ignorant prejudices is always culpable. But we ought to entertain towards them the most charitable feelings, considering with what difficulty they could be other than they are, under their surroundings. We ought to rejoice in the fact, that by the grace of God through the Word and Truth, they are saved as well as we. They are baptized with the one baptism into the Triune Name. They are members of the one Catholic Church. Whatever we may think of their Church polities, we may and do give thanks to God that through such instrumentalities as they enjoy in the providence of God,--and we believe the Sacraments and Ordinances they devoutly use are to them according to their faith,--so much of grace and truth are still preserved, and so many precious souls are gathered into the [72/73] Fold above. [Dr. Pusey's Eirenicon, pp. 273-75.] Jesus Christ is the good Shepherd and Bishop of souls, and they all come, so far as faithful, under His Episcopate. If we believe that it would be far safer and better for them to be under the Apostolic Ministry, in a Church that wants no marks of being the Church of History, and which, through all its successions, proves its identity with that of the Apostles, and gives assurance of possessing and bestowing Grace, wo may still, lovingly and with our prayers, leave them to the watchful care and powerful protection of the Bishop Who is above and over us all; Who, if it be, as it doubtless is, His purpose to gather them at length to Himself can accomplish it, though some of the instrumentalities of His own ordaining be neglected, the setting aside of which we should for ourselves deem sinful. We have no right to say that He may not make effectual, agencies which men may have established in violation of historic example and without the sure warrant of Holy Scripture. That the Gospel is preached and souls are saved, we may and do rejoice. At the same time the truth must be set forth distinctly, though it seems incidentally to condemn those who deny it. But now to the argument.
Cast your glance for a moment over the whole extent of Christendom. It is wider than you may have thought it. There are the Oriental Churches, Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, the Sees of Greece and of all the Russias, etc. These are called the Greek Church. [73/74] They go back to the cradle of Christianity, to the time when James was Bishop of Jerusalem, whence they were planted or derived their succession. Somewhat younger are the Western, now called Latin Churches, of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria, France, parts of Germany and others. Then there are those in communion with Rome called Tridentine, in Europe, in both Americas and other parts of the world, planted by Roman Missionaries. Further there are Churches called abnormal, which are in no way Roman, and as against Rome, are, with all the Oriental Churches, distinctly Protestant--Armenian, Syrian, Chaldean, Maronite, Coptic or Abyssinian--and may we not add with some of our learned writers who have investigated the subject, the Scandinavian and the Moravian. Then there are the Anglican Churches in all their branches in the colonies of England throughout the world, and the American Church with her Missions at home and abroad. Besides these there are the Protestant Churches of various names in Germany and other parts of the continent of Europe, in England and in this country, which do not claim to be Episcopal, the origins of which were recent and which have no root in the historic past.
Now, all these Churches, except the Protestant last mentioned, claim, and undoubtedly have, an historical identity with the primitive Church. The Eastern are those where Christianity first existed, whence it was spread abroad into all lands. The first Apostles planted [74/75] most of them, and nurtured them with their fostering care. The Great Western Sees were also Apostolic, and you can trace them back in unbroken succession to their Apostolic planting. Western Christianity was originally and for several centuries Greek in language and literature. The world-wide importance of the See of Rome gave to its Bishops a prominence that had been otherwise impossible. From this fact grew the primacy and afterwards the claimed supremacy of its Bishops. Thus the inherent equality of all Bishops came to be forgotten. But all the Churches of the West as of the East were, as everybody knows, Episcopal in polity. So also are the Tridentine Churches, although their Episcopacy is vitiated by the modern Roman doctrine of the Papacy, the policy of which has been, from the time of the Council of Trent and even earlier, to make all Bishops in communion with it, mere instruments of its usurpations, with no real independence, but deriving their powers and life from the Roman See. What we have called abnormal Churches are also all Episcopal, and all, through their Episcopacy, branch off in different ages, most of them from the fourth century onwards, from the Apostolic tree. Some are reformed, as the Swedish and Moravian. The Waldensian Episcopacy, lost in Piedmont, is, by many, believed to have been preserved in the Moravian Church. The Anglican and Anglo-American Churches all have the Episcopacy derived by succession from the early English Church.
 These Episcopal Churches comprise the great body of Christendom. The number of their membership is more than 312,000,000, of which the Anglican and the Churches derived from it number about 30,000,000. The number of non-Episcopal Christians is about 60,000,000. The bodies not inheriting nor adhering to the polity of the Church Catholic, are all confessedly modern. You can put your ' finger on the very time, and tell just how they originated. They neither have nor claim to have an organic or historical identity in organization with any Churches before them. Or if any of them claim it, it is without any single well-attested fact to substantiate it. Their break with the past was complete.
Let me illustrate the difference between these non-Catholic bodies of Christians and one of the former class. Dr. Claudius Buchanan, an English missionary in India, gives an account of the Syrian Christians who "inhabit the interior of Travancore and Malabar in the south of India." "The first notices," he says, "of this ancient people in recent times are to be found in the Portuguese histories." "When the Portuguese arrived (under Vasco de Gama in the year 1503) they were agreeably surprised to find upwards of a hundred Christian Churches on the coast of Malabar. But when they became acquainted with the purity and simplicity of their worship they were offended. 'These Churches,' said the Portuguese, 'belong to the Pope.' 'Who is the Pope,' said the natives, 'We [76/77] never heard of him?' The European priests were yet more alarmed when they found that these Hindoo Christians maintained the order and discipline of a regular Church under Episcopal jurisdiction, and that for 1300 years past, they had enjoyed a succession of Bishops appointed by the Patriarch of Antioch. ' We,' said they, 'are of the true faith, whatever you from the West may be,' for we come from the place where the followers of Christ were first called Christians.' When the power of the Portuguese became sufficient for the purpose they invaded these tranquil Churches, seized some of the clergy and devoted them to the death of heretics. The Portuguese, finding that the people were resolute in defending their ancient faith, began to try more conciliating measures. They seized the Syrian Bishop, Mar-Joseph, and sent him a prisoner to Lisbon, and then convened a Synod at one of the Syrian Churches called Diamper Mar Cochin, at which the Romish Archbishop, Menezes, presided. At this compulsory Synod one hundred and fifty of the Syrian clergy appeared. They were accused of the following practices and opinions: 'That they had married wives; that they owned but two Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper; that they neither invoked Saints, nor worshipped images, nor believed in purgatory; and that they had no other orders or names of dignity in the Church than Bishops, Priests and Deacons.' ****** The Churches on the sea coast were thus compelled to [77/78] acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope; but they refused to pray in Latin, and insisted on retaining their own language and liturgy. This point, they said, they would only give up with their lives. The Pope compromised with them, Menezes purged their liturgy of its errors, and they retain their Syrian language and have a Syrian college unto this day. These are called the Syro-Roman Churches, and are principally situated on the sea-coast. The Churches in the interior would not yield to Rome. After a show of submission for a little while, they proclaimed eternal war against the inquisition; they hid their books, fled occasionally to the mountains, and sought the protection of the native princes, who have always been proud of the alliance." [Christian Researches in Asia, Baltimore edition, 1812, pp. 65-7.]
If these are facts, what do they prove? They prove most strikingly that Episcopacy is primitive and that the novelties of Rome are modern. 1300 years go back from 1503 to the beginning of the third century. Could there have been a Pope then? Could the Church then have been non-Episcopal? But so all the Churches of Catholic origin we have named, go back to the same primitive age, and even to the times of the Apostles, either in themselves by direct succession, or by a succession derived from other Churches in which such Apostolic derivation is a matter of historic record.
Let us now go back three and one-half centuries to the [78/79] beginning of the Reformation period. The Oriental Churches and the Western Churches of course all existed as they do now. The Eastern and Western are separated and not in Communion, as had been the case since the ninth century, though attempts had been made, as at the Council of Florence, 1438-42, to effect a reconciliation. But there were no Churches throughout the whole world not Episcopally constituted. That the terrible disorders that prevailed in the administration of the Latin Church should lead to a Reformation, was inevitable. The Spirit of Reform was in the air. It stirred the heart of Luther, and soon after Melancthon, Calvin and Zwinglius, and other earnest men of that time. They believed the pure word of God had been made known to them beneath the Monkish glosses and perversions. They felt they could not do otherwise, any more than could Elijah of old, than to proclaim what they regarded as the truth, though it involved war with the corruptions and idolatries of the Papacy and a hopeless breach with Rome. At first they did not intend nor desire a separation. Luther and his coadjutors professed to stand on primitive ground and justified their teaching by St. Augustine and other great Doctors of the Church, and appealed to a General Council. All of the Reformers were Episcopalians by education and most of them by mature conviction. They would gladly have retained Episcopacy, though doubtless many of them came ultimately to justify the setting up of a polity against it. [79/80] Had the Bishops, as in England, taken the lead in the Reformation, there would have been no departure from the ancient Ecclesiastical regime. It was the Roman policy of degrading Bishops to a level with Presbyters and of making the Episcopate only an office in order to make them subservient to Papal encroachments upon their rights, that suggested the idea of framing Churches not Episcopal in polity. But they did it reluctantly, and at first considered it but a temporary measure to which they felt themselves driven by necessity; however afterwards, under the pressure of circumstances, many of them may have changed their opinions. There were no non-Episcopal Churches before them. If there had been, they did not know that such had ever existed. They acknowledged no identity with Waldenses, Hussites, Bohemians, Wickliffites, nor any other sects or parties. Luther professed that if "the Popish Bishops would cease to persecute the Gospel, he and those of his Communion would acknowledge them as Fathers and willingly obey their authority, which we find supported in the Word of God." [Bowden's Letters to Dr. Miller, p. 216.] Melancthon lays the blame on "the cruelty of the Popish Bishops that that canonical polity was destroyed which we so earnestly desired to preserve." [Bowden, p. 217.] Calvin held that "the Episcopate had its appointment from God." "The office of a Bishop was instituted by the authority and defined by [80/81] the ordinance of God." [Stephens' History of the Church of Scotland, Vol. 1, p. 121. Institutes Lib. 18, CIV, Sec. 4; CV, Sec. 11.] The great Scottish Reformer, John Knox, actually gave to his reformed Church in Scotland a modified though not real Episcopacy, an order of superintendents, or titular Bishops, which though twice for a short time interrupted, it preserved till the early part of the seventeenth century. [Stephens' History of the Church of Scotland, Vol 1, Chap. V. et seq. Spotteswood's History of the same, Vols. II. and III.]
Let us now look at England. Here there was no such supposed necessity of organizing the Church anew and according to human arrangements instituted by good men. The Bishops themselves were the leading Reformers. The Reformation in no respect changed the order and organization of the Church. It was Episcopal before. It remained Episcopal. It simply restored, as it had the unquestionable right, and was in duty bound to do, the ancient purity of doctrine and discipline and the liturgic forms of worship, with the Word of God in a "language understanded of the people." The Reformation was simply a restoration. The Church remained as it had always been and been called, the National Church of England; Catholic, but reformed and purified. Indeed, there had never been a Roman Catholic Church in England. The name itself was later, devised by the Council of Trent. The Roman intrusion did not occur till the eleventh year [81/82] of Elizabeth, when the Bull of Pope Pius V. produced the Roman Schism from the English Church.
They who tell you that the English Church dates from Henry VIII. would in consistency have to maintain that the Kingdom of England begins from the same time. For the Church and Kingdom had sustained before a like relation to the Roman Bishops. England was sovereign in spite of Roman intrusion and usurpation. So was England's Church. Both alike had often resisted these encroachments. They had been opposed by many statutory enactments. Protests had been frequent by Ecclesiastical authorities. Both alike, in their sovereign capacity, threw off the temporary shackles with which it had been attempted to enslave them, and determined thenceforth to allow no interference from Italy. The first principle of Magna Charta, the author of which was Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, declared in its first sentence, was carried out: "The Church of England shall be free, and shall possess all its liberties whole and inviolate." A man might as well say that Samson, shorn of his locks in the temporary power of the Philistines, and Samson with his locks grown, standing by the pillars of the Temple of Dagon, were different persons; or that the sick man, recovered, loses his identity and becomes somebody else when he is restored to health; or that a prisoner, again master of himself, has ceased to be the same individual, as to say that the reformed Church of England is another [82/83] and a different Church from that out of which it was reformed by its own Bishops, clergy and people in accordance with its own fundamental principles.
But now the question of Church polity becomes marvellously simplified by going back 350 or 400 years from the present day. In all the world the Church is Episcopal. There is no historian who does not vouch for this fact. If any represent it otherwise, they are only ignorant sectaries who, with blinded eyes, write in the interests of some novel system. We stand here at a point anterior to Ministerial parity, independency, and all those schemes growing from these which in later times became so prolific. There is and there has been from time immemorial one Church in organization throughout the world. Parts may have grown corrupt. The outcry for reformation of the Church "in its head and members" was doubtless justified. Parts may have been schismat-ical, parts heretical, but in respect to Episcopacy there is and has been no discrepancy of view, no difference of custom. Nor had there ever been any controversy on the subject. So fur as was then known as a fact, yes, so far as it had ever been believed as a doctrine, as implicitly confessed in the Nicene Creed, Episcopacy had prevailed universally and from the beginning. Innumerable writers in the ages all along refer to it. Councils, local, provincial, general, from the third century downward, are composed of Bishops, and from them derived their authority. A [83/84] Church Council of Presbyters alone, or of laymen, had never been known. What must be the conclusion? Is there a sane intellect, a mind capable of making a logical deduction from premises universally admitted, who does not see that the Church of Christ, and His first Apostles, which had been in the world from the Day of Pentecost, ever standing in its own rights and claiming authority as a Divine institution, with a Divinely appointed Ministry, was an Episcopal Church, and as such Apostolic and Catholic, or universal?
Let us now go back to the second century. At its beginning the last of the twelve Apostles has only recently departed. There are many thousands of Christians living who had been baptized and instructed by, and had long conversed with, Apostles and those to whom they had committed the care of the Churches. Three generations of men have scarcely passed away since the Day of Pentecost. When Ignatius, the great Bishop of Antioch, is thrown to the wild beasts, most of the Bishops and most of the clergy living, had been contemporary with St. John. Many Christians need not have been very aged to have seen St. Paul and other Apostles in their youth or even early manhood. Doubtless there were Christians living, eighty years old. These were in their cradles at the time of our Lord's Resurrection. We put the date of Ignatius' martyrdom, with most recent scholars, in the year 107. It was only fifty years earlier that St. Paul had written his [84/85] Epistle to the Romans, and forty-five years earlier that he was dwelling at Rome in "his own hired house," "preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching those things that concern our Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him." (Acts xxviii, 30, 31.)
From the beginning to the end of the second century, the Church is pure. Christians have not lost their first love. The seductions of the world have not corrupted them. It is a Martyr Church. Throughout the Roman Empire the fires of persecution periodically rage. It is rationally impossible to believe that, supposing it non-Episcopal at the first, it is radically changed so soon in its constitution, polity and Ministerial orders.
What was it at this time? I am spared the trouble of making quotations from the early Fathers of the second and third centuries, from whom might be selected a voluminous catena of testimonies of Episcopacy as a fact in their times, and in whom can be found no evidence whatever to the contrary. There is not a Church historian of any authority who does not record the fact that the Church at this time and thenceforward, everywhere is Episcopal.
The great modern Church historians are Germans. They belong to a Church Presbyterian in polity. But Mosheim, Neander, Hase, Gieseler, and the rest, with one voice, assert that the Church from the beginning of the second century and onwards is Episcopal. Mosheim says: "It appears to me that the bare consideration alone of the state of the [85/86] Church in its infancy must be sufficient to convince any rational, unprejudiced person that the order of Bishops could not have originated at a period considerably more recent than that which gave birth to Christianity itself." [Commentaries. Vol. I, p. 170.] Neander: "What we find existing in the second century enables us to infer respecting the preceding times that soon after the Apostolic age, the standing office of President of the Presbytery must have been formed, which President, as, having pre-eminently the oversight over all, was designated by the special name of Episkopos, Bishop." [History, Vol. I, p. 190.] Neander gives good grounds for the truth of "the tradition current at the end of the second century, respecting individuals who had been placed at the head of communities by the Apostle John and ordained by him as Bishops." [Page 191.] Hase, like the others, tries to account for the early rise of Episcopacy, and yet sees that "in the Epistles which bear the name of Ignatius, the Episcopate is represented as the Divinely appointed pillar which sustains the whole Ecclesiastical structure." [History, p. 59.] Gieseler says: "The want of unity required something to compensate for it, and this was presented in the Episcopate which had been adumbrated for a time in the Mother Church of Jerusalem by the position of James and his successors." Again: "The new Churches everywhere formed themselves on the model of the Mother [86/87] Church at Jerusalem. At the head of each were the Elders, all officially of equal rank, though in several instances a peculiar authority seems to have been conceded to some one individual from personal considerations." "Thus James, who always remained at Jerusalem, was considered as the head of that Church (Gal. i, 19; Acts xxi, 18), and hence may be regarded as the first Bishop in the modern acceptation of the term. Thus Epaphras at Colosse (Col. i, 7; iv, 12) seems for a time to have had a certain authority, as afterwards Archippus" (Col. iv, 17; Philem. i, 2; Comp. Phil, iv, 3.) [History, Sec. 29.] Again: "After the death of the Apostles and the pupils of the Apostles, to whom the general direction of the Churches had always been conceded, some one amongst the Presbyters of each Church was suffered gradually to take the lead in its affairs. In the same irregular way the title of Bishop was appropriated to this first Presbyter. Hence, the different accounts of the order of the first Bishops in the Church at Rome. The oldest authorities give them in the following order: Linus (2 Tim. iv, 21) A. D.80; Anencletus, Anacletus, or Cletus, A. D.92; Clemens (Philip iv,3) A. D. 102; Evarestus, A. D. 110; Alexander, A. D. 120. At Antioch: Evodius, Ignatius, Heros. At Alexandria: (Marcus) Annianus, Abilus, Cerdo. [History, Sec. 32, Cunningham's Edition.] Dr. Schaff, in the first edition of his "Apostolic Church" and "Church History," finds Episcopacy in the first century. [87/88] He tells us that Dr. Rothe had of late set forth the hypothesis "that the germs of Episcopacy are to be found as early as the close of the first century, and particularly in the sphere of the later labors of St. John." He admits that "in the second century the Episcopal system existed as an historical fact in the whole Church East and West, and was unresistingly acknowledged, nay, universally regarded as at least indirectly of Divine appointment" (pp. 539-41). In his revised edition, he says "the institution of Episcopacy cannot be traced to the Apostolic age so far as documentary evidence goes, but is very apparent and well nigh universal about the middle of the second century." And again: "It is a matter of fact that the Episcopal form of government was universally established in the Eastern and Western Churches as early as the middle of the second century" (Sec. 108). Prof. Geo. P. Fisher is even more decided. He says: "All candid scholars must concede that the Episcopal arrangement in the form described may be traced back to the verge of the Apostolic age, if not beyond; and that early in the second century it had become widely established." He goes even further than this: "We must allow (supposing the seven shorter Epistles of Ignatius to be genuine, as he believes them to be), we must allow that the precedence of the Bishops was an established feature in the polity of the Churches of Antioch and Asia Minor in the first decade of the second century. [88/89] There is nothing to contradict this supposition." [Beginnings of Christianity, p. 379.] The historian Gibbon, is generally considered impartial in statement of facts. And as he had no bias in favor of the Church or of Christianity, his witness is valuable, and on this point has never been impeached. "Bishops," he says, "under the name of Angels, were already instituted in the seven cities of Asia (Minor)." "Nulla ecdesia sine Episcopo has been a fact as well as a maxim since the days of Tertullian and Irenaeus." "After we have passed the difficulties of the first century, we find the Episcopal government universally established till it was interrupted by the republican genius of the Swiss and German Reformers. [Bonn's Ed., Vol. 1, p. 52.]
Of course, nobody pretends that Episcopacy was from the first Diocesan. Dioceses were gradually organized as the need for separate fields of labor became apparent. Nobody can suppose that Diocesan Episcopacy is essential to Episcopacy. Another remark may be here made. Some contend that Ignatius and others were Bishops of single congregations. But James at Jerusalem certainly had many Presbyters and Congregations under him. So had Titus and Timothy at Crete and Ephesus. So Archippus at Colosse; Epaphroditus at Phillippi; Dionysius at Athens; Papias of Hieropolis; Sergius of Laodoctea; Melito of Sardis; the Angels of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor. Some of the cities mentioned were very [89/90] populous. Antioch must have had about 500,000 souls. It is time, the See was the Paroikia. The city in many instances was the Diocese. But all Christians were of one and the same Church. If Christians were all one in Denver, and all under the Episcopacy, there would be work enough for one Bishop to superintend them and be the leader in the work. But nothing is more certain than that every considerable city had its own Bishop, as should be the case to-day.
I. need but refer to the lists of Bishops of Apostolic Sees preserved and recorded by Irenaeus and other Fathers of the second and third centuries, and by the Church Historians, Eusebius, Theodoret, etc., of the fourth century. Writers on the Canon of the New Testament insist on the conclusiveness of the testimony of Ireneous and other Fathers to the genuineness and authenticity of the four Gospels, the Epistles, etc., as having been handed down by the Bishops of the Apostolic Sees. The testimony of this Father and of other Fathers to the fact and Apostolic origin of Episcopacy is far stronger than it is for the Canon of the New Testament. That it should not be seen and recognized by such scholars seems incredible. A man, who with all the evidence before him and with not a solitary fact not reconcilable with it, would deny the general prevalence of Episcopacy from the beginning of the second century onward till the Reformation, might as well deny that Washington lived, or that the government he and the [90/91] other statesmen of the time established was a Confederated Republic. To such an one nothing which is not already believed could be proved from history.
We have now this problem. Supposing the Church, as at first established, was not Episcopal, is it possible that in the short period from the time of the Apostles to that of Ignatius, it should have been quietly and everywhere transformed into the Episcopal body that confessedly it was then and has ever continued to be? Examine the conditions of this problem. The Church at the time we speak of is well established in widely distant regions. The Seven Churches to which Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, wrote Epistles on his way to martyrdom at Rome, were all Episcopal. He must have known whether from the year 70 and even earlier the Church had been Episcopal or not. "Thirty years of his Ministerial life had been contemporaneous with that of St. John." [Mahan's Ch. History, p. 73.] He mentions by name, Onesimus, Bishop of the Ephesians; Damas, Bishop of the Magnesians; Polybius, Bishop of the Trallians; Poly-carp, Bishop of Smyrna. To nearly all of these Churches he exhorts obedience to their Bishops. His constant exhortation is, "do nothing without the Bishop." Dr. Schaff says of him: "In the Catholic Church, an expression introduced by him, the author sees, as it were, the continuation of the mystery of the Incarnation, on the reality of which he laid great emphasis against the [91/92] Docetists, and in every Bishop a representative of Christ and a personal centre of Ecclesiastical unity which he presses home upon his readers with the greatest solicitude." [History, 1st Ed., Vol. I, p. 488.] Could he have supposed these Churches had Bishops, and referred to most of their Bishops by name, had they had at that time no Bishops? Consider how far apart were these Churches, and what vast regions of country they represented. We find no signs in any part of the world of a transition from one form of Church government to another. Episcopacy is part of its essential constitution. Nobody complains of it. Nobody speaks of it as an intrusion. Nobody disputes its right. It is nowhere called upon to defend itself.' It is received everywhere and by all as the Ministry of Christ. I say everywhere, for the Church is widely diffused. This appears not only from the Churches to which Ignatius wrote. Pliny, Governor of Bithynia, writes to the Emperor Trajan: "The contagion of this superstition has not seized cities only, but the lesser towns and the open country." Justin Martyr (A. D. 140) can say: "There is not a nation, either of Greek or Barbarian, or of any other name, even of those who wander in tribes and live in tents, amongst whom prayers and thanksgivings are not offered to the Father and Creator of the universe in the Name of the Crucified Jesus." And Tertullian, in his Apology for the Faith, can claim triumphantly: "We are but of yesterday, and we have filled your cities, towns, [92/93] islands and boroughs, the camps, the senate and the forum." From frozen Scythia in the North to the burning deserts of Africa in the South, from Scotland in the West to the borders of India in the East, Christianity and the Church prevail. And everywhere it is one and the same Church, governed and taught by Bishops, Priests and Deacons, as among us at the present day. If it was not Episcopal at first, how could it have been changed in all places, however remote; changed everywhere in precisely the same manner; changed by the adoption of precisely the same polity: changed simultaneously and without consultation, in the brief time, when many who had seen the Apostles and thousands who had long been conversant with those who had been taught by the Apostles, were alive!
But this is not all of the difficulty. It is an age of great intelligence. The Roman Empire, which is nearly universal, is at the height of its civilization. Literature is abundant. Voluminous writings of the great doctors and teachers of the time, and times immediately subsequent, are extant. We are to suppose that this change went on in the East and West, in the North and the South, in every Church at the same time, noiselessly, quietly, without commotion or opposition, without a single remonstrance anywhere, with not a word written about it, leaving no sign or memorial by which it would be possible to prove it in after generations; that Ignatius and his contemporaries in A. D. 107; that Polycarp and all in communion with him from A. D. [93/94] 85 to A. D. 165 should have, somehow, come to believe that they were baptized, confirmed and were communicants in a Church that was Episcopal, when it was not, when it was all the while Presbyterian or Congregational; that it was changed under their own eyes after they had reached the age of manhood without their ever having heard a word about it, and while all believed the Church they belonged to, was Episcopal or Apostolic, because so constituted from the beginning.
Still more improbable does such change become, when you consider the difficulty of intercourse, the slowness of communication between countries separated by hundreds and thousands of miles. Concert of action in making such change between Christians of Spain, Lyons, Britain, and Italy, Greece, Macedonia, Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, the remote East, was surely impossible. And how could the change have been the same everywhere without consultation and previous agreement? And more than this: If this great change took place, by whom was it effected? Who were the wicked persons who, against the Divinely settled constitution of the Church and the teaching and example of the Apostles, subverted all at once and everywhere the ancient foundations and made the Church "prelatical"? They must have been Presbyters, non-Episcopal Ministers, all of whom were equal. These were the guilty ones who succeeded without anybody's knowing or suspecting it at [94/95] the time, and only leaving it to be discovered fifteen hundred years afterwards; in subverting the foundations laid by Jesus Christ and his Apostles! They must have done it wilfully, knowing what they were doing and how contrary to Scripture and wrong it was. And still more incredible: they may have done it by an abridgment of their own powers. They must have surrendered their own title to pre-eminence, by exalting to a position and a dignity above them, a small number of their equals. To these they give up the power of ordination, chief government and discipline over themselves and the brethren alike. They must have done this, too, at the cost of martyrdom, for the policy of heathenism was to "smite the chief Shepherd that the flock might be scattered." And so it was done throughout the world!
For what purpose could they have done it? It is inconceivable that they should have made so radical a change unless the non-Episcopal polity, which the hypothesis supposes the Apostles had established, had completely failed, and they felt themselves driven to the adoption of the Episcopal regimen as a necessity to secure the good government, the strength and efficiency, that in an aggressive, struggling, but everywhere triumphing Church, was clearly demanded. But who is willing to admit that the Apostolic polity of which our Lord had spoken during the great forty days before he ascended, (Acts i, 3), and of which the Holy Ghost was the [95/96] inspirer, could have failed in the single generation after the Apostles, and while one of them, St. John, was still living!
But let us dismiss these impossible and lately invented fictions. It could not be that the Church of Christ, which was everywhere Episcopal in the second century, was, otherwise as first founded. The change could not have been made so soon, so universally, a change so radical, so opposed to the interests of the vast majority of influential Christians, with no opposition or notice, no traces of it left in history, in the writings of Mends or enemies. It is impossible to believe it. We may conclude, therefore, with the great Chillingworth, author of "The Bible Only the Religion of Protestants," in his unanswerable "Demonstration of Episcopacy": "When I shall see all the fables of the Metamorphoses acted and prove true stories: when I shall see all the democracies and aristocracies in the world lie down to sleep and awake into monarchies, then will I begin to believe that Presbyterian government, having continued in the Church during the Apostles' times, should presently after, against the Apostles' doctrine and the will of Christ, be whirled about, like a scene in a mask and transformed into Episcopacy. In the meanwhile, while these things remain thus incredible and in human reason impossible, I hope I shall have leave to conclude thus:
"Episcopal government is acknowledged to have been [96/97] universal in the Church presently after the Apostles' times. Between the Apostles' times and this presently after, there was not time enough for, nor possibility of, so great an alteration; and, therefore, there was no such alteration as is pretended. And, therefore, Episcopacy, being confessed to be so ancient and Catholic, must be granted also to be Apostolic. Quod erat demonstrandum.'"
Well might Sir Edward Bering, who had been a Puritan and violently opposed to the Established Church, say as he did in his place as a member of the Long Parliament: "They who deny that ever any such Bishops, that is to say, Bishops presiding over Presbyters, were in the best and purest times, I entreat some one of them to show and teach me how I may prove that ever there was an Alexander of Macedon, or a Julius Caesar, or a William the Conqueror." In fact, all such denial and all such hypotheses invented to reconcile acknowledged facts with the notion that in the Apostles' times the Church was not Episcopal, must result in subverting all historic truth. You can not consistently with such denial, prove infant baptism or the observance of the Lord's day to have been Apostolic. You can not prove that the Books of the New Testament are a part of the Word of God and belong to the Canon of Holy Scripture. You can not prove anything from history.
Let us be thankful that we belong to a Church whose succession from that of the Apostles is undoubted. Let [97/98] us rejoice that we in common with all Christians may attain to certainty regarding the all important question, What is the true Church? what its polity and constitution? what its Ministry? But let us not forget, that though we are certain that we were baptized into this Church by validly ordained Ministers and are taught from their lips and receive the Bread of Life and the Cup 6f Salvation from their hands, yet all this alone can not save us. We are saved by the Blood of Jesus Christ that cleanseth from all sin and by a life of faith and obedience.