Sermon III. "BUT WE DESIRE TO HEAR OF THEE WHAT THOU THINKEST: FOR AS CONCERNING THIS SECT, WE KNOW THAT EVERY WHERE IT IS SPOKEN AGAINST."
IT is not a little remarkable, that in the assaults made upon Christianity, both in ancient and modern times, the chief point of attack has ever been the ministry of the church. The reason is plain. Every system which proposes to teach men their duty in what most nearly concerns them, must have defenders. And this is more especially necessary, in a case where the instructions delivered, are professedly based upon the expression of the divine will. If there were not an order of men set for the defence of the Gospel, it would very soon cease to exert any influence, and like other systems, sink into oblivion, from the attacks of its enemies, and from the indifference of mankind to whatever does not in some way subser ve their present interests. This must be apparent enough to any one who has been observant of the prevailing tone of moral feeling, in those communities where the gospel is seldom or never preached, and in those countries where its truths are much obscured and its doctrines much corrupted. The principles of Christianity impose a check upon the passions of men, and thus offer a restraint to those pursuits in which their passions lead them to engage. Its present rewards are not attractive to the unrenewed mind of man, while its promises are for the most part, future and distant. Hence its sanctions are of that awful and impressive character which the Bible addresses to our natural and instinctive fears, warning us of a judgment to come, and the solemn retributions of eternity; and hence it uses the language of authority. [46/47] Christ did not, by his own authority, assume the office of high priest in the house of God; but he bestowed that dignity upon him, who declared him his son, by raising him from the dead." Aaron was set apart and consecrated to the priesthood,--he and his sons,--after an open and public manner, according to the express command of God, by Moses. His consecration was the visible and declared designation to the office to which God had called him and his family. And when afterwards Korah and his company assumed to themselves the same office, and undertook to offer incense to the Lord, upon the alledged plea, that all the congregation were holy, God interposed in a singular and awful manner for their punishment, and commanded a memorial to be made to be a token to the children of Israel through their generations that no one who was not of the seed of Aaron, should come near to offer incense before the Lord--that is to execute the office of priesthood--"lest he perish as did Korah and his company." As Aaron was publicly called to his office--so was Christ. For it was not until his baptism in Jordan and the voice which came from God, proclaiming him to be his beloved Son, that Jesus began his public ministry.
Whatever then be the piety, the righteousness, and the learning of any man, they do not in themselves confer the power of office, however necessary they may be to the proper discharge of its duties. There are doubtless many men in our country qualified to fill the office of ambassador to foreign courts, yet no one is competent to fill the station unless he have received the requisite grant of authority to do so from the President and Senate. His knowledge and talents, be they ever so great, will not be taken as his credentials, to act as the representative of the government. Neither will his declaration cause him to be received as the nation's accredited agent. In short, he must present his commission and when that is received, his acts, whether he possess learning and skill in diplomacy or not, are valid and binding to the full extent, letter and spirit of his instructions.
Just so there are many possessed of high and eminent qualifications, by reason of their piety, knowledge and other gifts, to act as ambassadors of Christ. Still these talents, however [47/48] essential to the efficiency of the ministry do not any more make one a minister of Christ's religion--than knowledge and skill make another minister to a foreign court. The commission or authentic letter of authority derived from the true and proper source of power in both cases is indispensable to give validity to ministerial acts. In either instance, the minister acts not in his own name, but in the name of another. He is an agent and must act according to the tenor of given and prescribed instructions. The message which he bears may be most unpleasant to deliver; but it is not his own, but his who sends him, and he must deliver it even in the terms in which he received it, or prove faithless to his trust. Unless these things be so, Brethren, the government which God has established in his kingdom on Earth--called the Church--is less certain in its provisions--less definite in its objects--less wise in its appointments--less fixed in its arrangements and less sure in its results than the institutions of men. Once make the Church the mere figment of man's creation--once regard it in the light only of a human contrivance and subject to the alteration or amendment of man's presuming wisdom, in any of its original and essential features, and all vitality is gone from its laws--all authority from its enactments--all confidence from its promises and all the assurance of heavenly hope from the participation of its ordinances. It becomes the frail and tottering fabric of man's caprice--built up of "hay and stubble," and doomed to "suffer loss" when proved by the purifying fires of God's truth--Such is not the church of God built upon the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone--Such is not the holy citadel of faith, hope and charity, against which the gates of Hell shall not prevail. "Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark. ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces. As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it for ever." Thus sang David, under the law: and if his words, inspired by the Holy Ghost, were true of Jerusalem or Zion, the type of the christian church, how much more shall they not he thought applicable in every respect to that which St. Paul calls the "House of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
 In these views perhaps we shall all be found to agree. None will deny the authority and perpetuity of Christ's church: none will question the fact that the christian ministry is a purely delegated power deriving its authority alone from God. If any deny this last position, we leave him to settle the point with St. Paul, who says: "As we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts." And again, "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." Language of the like import, abounds in the New Testament. "The glorious gospel of the blessed God," which says St. Paul, "was committed to my trust." "So account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man. be found faithful." "Approving ourselves as the ministers of God." "Seeing we have this ministry we faint not." "All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and, hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation." "1 thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry." "Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord that thou fulfil it." "Make full proof of thy ministry." Thus, by whatever terms, office in the church is described--whether trust, ambassadorship, stewardship or ministry, we are at once reminded of its delegated character, and that great and solemn responsibility, from the very nature, design and authority of the charge, attaches to its management.
Indeed it seems wonderful that any other view should ever have been taken of this subject, and that the idea should have been entertained that the ministry was not to be perpetuated as originally constituted in the New Testament. For when we open that little volume and inquire into the character of Christ's religion, we are met at the outset by the information that the Gospel is to be preached to all nations and that its institutions are to nut co-eval with its propagation and extension even to the end of the world. We read that sacraments were ordained of Christ and were to be observed by all those in all places where the faith was embraced. Has not this religion come [49/50] down even to us? Have not its sacraments been administered for the last eighteen centuries, wherever faith in the Saviour has been proclaimed and received. By whom, Brethren, has this faith been preached and these sacraments been duly administered? There can be but one answer to these questions. We must say by the ministry. The church, sacraments and ministry thus become witnesses to the truth of Christ's religion. During the darkest period of the world's history--when the light of God's truth shone dimly, when the doctrine of Christ was most obscured by the traditions of men and when corruptions most marred the fair form of Christianity under papal misrule and usurpation, still the church, sacraments and ministry existed and gave united testimony to the world that Jesus had died and that through his name salvation was yet assured to the hope of perishing man. The great facts upon which the doctrine of redemption is founded, have thus been preserved to the world and would be again, should darkness once more cover the earth and gross darkness the people.
It is not denied by any, so far as I know, that Christ, after his resurrection and previous to his ascension into Heaven, commissioned the eleven Apostles to gather his church and settle its order and government. During the last forty days of his continuance upon earth, we are told, he came to them from time to time, giving them commandments, and "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." It is not to be supposed in reason then, that they were left in ignorance as to the extent of their powers or as to the order of administration which Christ would have established in his church. Still less is this supposition reasonable when we remember that the Apostles were under the guidance of that holy spirit which was to lead them into all truth and to bring to their remembrance all things whatsoever that Jesus had said unto them. In fulfilment of their trust, it is certain that they in a public manner ordained Matthias in the place of Judas, and "he was numbered with the eleven Apostles." Equally clear and certain is it, that others, as Paul and Barnabas and Silas, and Timothy and Titus and James, were called Apostles--and that they exercised the powers of Apostles in governing the church, and in ordaining to the holy ministry. These [50/51] therefore according to the express language of scripture, constituted the first or highest order of the gospel ministry. The testimony is equally direct and conclusive as to the constitution of the second and third orders of the ministry, viz: the order of Elders, Bishops or Presbyters as they are interchangeably termed in the New Testament, and the order of Deacons. ["It is freely admitted by Episcopalians that these terms are thus interchangeably used in the New Testament. The admission is improved into an argument in the hands of the opponents of Episcopacy, who most preposterously argue from a community of names to a community in rank or order. The fallacy of the argument has been too frequently exposed to need repetition here. But it may nevertheless be useful to subjoin the testimonies of Theodoret and Isidore on this subject, who lived in the 5th century and whose evidence in the case will probably be considered by the "wise and prudent," conclusive. Theodoret. "Epaphroditus was called the Apostle of the Philippians, because he was entrusted with the Episcopal government, as being their Bishop. For those now called Bishops, were anciently called Apostles; but in process of time, the name of Apostle was left to those who were truly Apostles, and the name of Bishop was restrained to those who were anciently called Apostles: Thus Epaphroditus was the Apostle of the Philippians, Titus of the Cretans, and Timothy of the Asiatics." Isidore. "The Bishops succeeded the Apostles--they were constituted through the whole world in the place of the Apostles." Isidore then says, that "Aaron the High Priest, was what a Bishop is, and Aaron's sons prefigured the Presbyters." Mosheim, who will not be suspected of any undue partiality towards Episcopacy, says of Isidore, the Bishop of Pelusium. "He was a man of uncommon leaning and sanctity. A great number of his Epistles are yet extant, and discover more piety, genius, erudition and wisdom, than are to be found in the voluminous productions of many other writers."] These are the orders of the christian ministry as unquestionably established in the days of the Apostles. The testimony of the New Testament is silent as to any other order of administration. Its canon closes with this arrangement, and if any change or alteration of this order was made, the evidence of it must be sought for elsewhere than in the records of inspiration. The assertions therefore that Christ and his Apostles left no specific directions as to the order and government of the church, and that the whole subject was left open to the exigencies of times and occasions, are wholly gratuitous--utterly destitute of proof and flatly contradicted by the fact that Christ continued forty days with the Apostles giving them commandments and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God--and by the fact also that the Apostles did [51/52] admit others into their number, and did ordain Presbyters and Deacons. The obscurity and lack of precision which some men allege to be thrown around the order and government of the Apostolic Church, are nothing short of empty pretences, and are about as available to excuse their irregularities and schisms, as the alleged mysteries of faith are to excuse the indifference and sin of unbelief.
The three-fold constitution of the ministry as above stated, composed of Apostles, Presbyters and Deacons in their respective orders, we hold to be the form of church government as clearly defined in the New Testament. As it was established by divine authority and undeniably continued till the canon, and of course the testimony of sacred scripture, was closed we are compelled to regard it as of perpetual obligation and unchangeable, until authority can be shown to alter it. [Archbishop Whately's preposterous concessions upon this point to the contrary notwithstanding.]
If we would inquire as to the powers which these three orders exercised respectively, we must look at their commissions and at their acts. As to the Apostles we find that thirteen of them were special witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They were chosen for that specific purpose; and so far could have no successors. For the idea of witnesses having successors carries absurdity on its very face. They may be cotemporaneous witnesses to the same matters of fact, as the five hundred brethren who saw Christ after his resurrection on a mountain in Galilee, were with the Apostles then present, witnesses of one and the same fact. But to bear testimony to the resurrection of Christ was not the only duty with which the Apostles were charged. If we turn to their commission we shall see that they were specially charged to preach the gospel to all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Accordingly we find, in tracing the history of their acts, that they not only testified that Christ was raised from the dead, but also preached, and baptized for the remission of sins, and that they ordained others to the performance of the like offices. They, or at least a portion of them, possessed also the power of conferring the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost by [52/53] the imposition of their hands. Some of them also were endowed with the spirit of prophecy. In these things then: as witnesses of the resurrection of Christ--as prophets--as bestowers of miraculous gifts, their office was extraordinary and as such they had no successors.
But it is remarkable that in the commission given to the apostles, which was antecedent to the day of Pentecost when they received the gift of the Holy Ghost--no reference is made to their extraordinary powers. The tenor of their commission as recorded by St. Matthew and St. John, runs thus. "All power is given to me in Heaven and in Earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo I am with you alway even unto the end of the world." "Then said Jesus to them again," are the words of St. John, "Peace be unto you: As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you: And when he had said this he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and whosesoever sins ye retain they are retained."
These last words, respecting the power of remitting and retaining sins, are generally understood as conveying the power of discipline--of inflicting and removing church censures--a power claimed and exercised by all denominations to this extent, and indeed indispensable to the preservation of purity and order in any society whatever.
The commission of the Apostles sets forth that they are to preach--to baptize--and to exercise discipline. And certainly so far at least no one will deny that they may and ever have had successors in office. But the commission, as recorded by both the evangelists, clearly indicates that they were invested with yet higher powers. Besides making disciples of all nations--which is regarded as a more correct rendering, than teaching all nations--and baptizing them; they are furthermore to teach them to observe all things whatsoever Christ had commanded. Now as these things whatever they were, are not specifically set forth in the commission itself, it seems reasonable to conclude that we must search for them in what the Apostles taught and in what they did. They have [53/54] recorded what they taught and what they did also: at least to a sufficient extent, we must suppose, to furnish the man of God thoroughly unto every good word and work. And among the things which they did, acting under Christ's commission, we know that they ordained to the ministry, and in so doing not only established a precedent for those whom they thus ordained, to do as they had done, but moreover gave express directions to that end. "The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses," says St. Paul to Timothy, "the same commit thou, to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."
The words of St. John in recording the grant of authority to the Apostles, convey the idea of still more ample powers. "As my Father hath sent me, even so I send you:" and then breathing on them said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." Whatever may be made out of these words, no one will deny that this much at least is certain, that Christ invests his Apostles with full power and authority to settle the order, and administer the affairs of his kingdom on earth. Whatever then they taught, and commanded in pursuance of this object, we hold to be binding upon the consciences of all believers. That they ordained elders is not denied--that these elders ministered in the church in subordination to a higher order of the ministry called Apostles, is as clear as any other fact recorded in the sacred writings--that not a single instance of the elders exercising the power of ordination, has ever been clearly made out is just as certain, as that the higher or apostolic order did exercise that power. That the Apostles ordained Deacons is admitted--that these deacons both preached and baptized, and so far were ministers, stands as plainly recorded in the Acts of the Apostles as any thing else to be read therein. Here then, Brethren, in the ministry of the church thus constituted of Apostles, Presbyters and Deacons, is that Episcopacy for which we contend as the order established by divine wisdom in Christ's kingdom on earth. Christ said he would be with the Apostles "always, even unto the end of the world." Are we to suppose then that the Apostles left the church destitute of a ministry--that they left the whole body of believers throughout the world, in Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Rome, [54/55] Corinth, and a hundred other places where they had planted the faith of the gospel, in an unorganized state--left them to choose a ministry and ordain them from among themselves--to define their powers and settle the limits of their jurisdiction? Such a supposition lies not within the boundaries of the most extravagant credulity. It would be an example without precedent in the history of man. It was a thing plainly impossible from the very nature of the christian institution, having ordinances to be administered, and by necessary consequence, requiring an order of men for that purpose, invested with power and authority to perpetuate the office of administration. And accordingly the very first witnesses that present themselves to our examination, after the writers of the New Testament had passed off the stage of action--witnesses, some of whom saw and conversed with the apostles and laboured with them in their ministry--witnesses, upon whom we are obliged to rely, to prove the authenticity and genuineness of the new Testament--these witnesses testify, with one voice, that the ministry of the church in their day was constituted after the model of the Apostolic age--that they did not establish it, after the form or order in which it existed among them; but that they had so received it from the apostles themselves. To illustrate the value of these witnesses, let us ask, how know we that the book called the New Testament was written in the age of the apostles and by the disciples of Christ? Thomas Paine asserts that it was written three hundred years later. How do we meet this bold and unblushing assertion of infidelity? Simply by referring to the writings of the Fathers of the first three centuries. They make mention of the gospels of the New Testament and of other portions of the same work and quote passages from it. Is their testimony then good and sufficient to settle the simple question of fact, whether the New Testament was in existence in their respective ages or not? If yea, then why is not the same testimony equally available to settle the question of fact, as to what was the order of the Christian ministry. Let us hear them speak for themselves. We begin with Clement of Rome, whom St. Paul commends as his fellow laborer in his epistle to the [55/56] Philippians. He wrote about 40 years after our Lord's death and during the life-time of St. John.
He says in his 1st Epistle to the Corinthians. "The apostles preaching through countries and cities, appointed the first fruits of their conversions to be bishops and ministers over such as should afterwards believe."--"The apostles knew by our Lord Jesus Christ, that there should contentions arise concerning the episcopal name (or order) and for this cause, having perfect foreknowledge (of these things,) they did ordain, those whom we have mentioned before; and moreover, did establish the constitution, that other approved men should succeed those who died in their office and ministry."--"To the high priest his proper offices were appointed; the priests had their proper order, and the levites their peculiar services or deaconships; and the laymen what was proper for laymen." This St. Clement applies to the distribution of orders in the Christian Church, bishops, priests and deacons. [See Oxford Edition, 1677, §. 42, p. 89.]
Such is the plain, unequivocal and decisive testimony of the earliest ecclesiastical writer, whose works have reached us, next after the apostles. A writer who was himself chosen by the apostles and appointed to preside as bishop over one of the churches which they had planted.
The next witness we produce is Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, A. D. 71. He was constituted Bishop of Antioch, by the apostles then living, and wrote epistles to various churches, while on his journey to Rome, in which he exhorts the inferior ministers, presbyters and deacons, to be in subjection to their bishop. He sealed the truth of his religion by suffering martyrdom, being thrown to wild beasts at Rome, by order of Trajan, less than ten years after the death of St. John, or about A. D. 107. To the Ephesians, after speaking of their "excellent bishop Onesimus," he thus writes: "For even Jesus Christ our inseparable life, is sent by the will of the Father; as the bishops, appointed unto the utmost bounds of the earth, are by the will of Jesus Christ."
To the Magnesians: "I exhort you that you study to do all things in a divine concord; your bishop presiding in the [56/57] place of God, your presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles; and your deacons most dear to me, being entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ." Such language partakes largely, you perceive, of the hyperbolical style of the orientals. We are quoting Ignatius, you will remember, not to settle the point of reverence and dignity due to the ministry, but to show the fact stated, that. the ministry consisted of three orders. In this same epistle he mentions by name, the bishop Damas, the presbyters Bassus and Apollonias, and the deacon Sotia.
To the Trallians: "Let all reverence the deacons as Jesus Christ, and the bishop as the Father, and the presbyters as the Sandhedrim of God and college of the apostles--he that does any thing without the bishop and presbyters and deacons, is not pure in his conscience."
To the Philadelphians: "To those who were in unity with their bishop and presbyters and deacons--there is one bishop with his presbyters, and the deacons my fellow servants--Give heed to the bishop and to the presbytery and to the deacons--do nothing without the bishop."
To the Smyrneans, over whom Polycarp the disciple of St. John, presided as bishop: "See that ye all follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ did the Father; and the presbyters as the apostles; and reverence the deacons as the command of God--my soul be security for them that submit to their bishop with their presbyters and deacons."
Is it possible for any intelligent and sound mind to read these quotations and come to any other conclusion than that there were three orders,--bishops, priests and deacons--in the christian ministry in the age of Ignatius? If his words prove any thing they undoubtedly show that in the first century, the Christian Church was episcopally constituted--that the three orders of the ministry were regarded as of divine institution and considered necessary to the regular constitution of every church.
We next cite Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. In his epistle to the Philippians he says: "Polycarp and the presbyters that are with him, to the Church of God which is at Philippi, &c."--"the deacons must be blameless as the ministers of God in Christ and not of men"--"being subject to the priests and [57/58] deacons--and let the elders be compassionate--and merciful towards all." Here again is direct evidence against that parity which opposes itself to episcopacy.
We come to the second century, and here we find Tremens the disciple of Polycarp, and Bishop of Lyons, A. D. 180, using the succession of Bishops from the apostles as an argument against heretics. He says: "We can reckon up those whom the apostles ordained to be bishops in the several churches and who they were that succeeded them down to our time." And he proceeds to give us the succession from the apostles down to Eleutherius, the 12th in order, who was Bishop of Rome when Irenaeus wrote. Clement of Alexandria, the cotemporary of Irenaeus, enumerates the three several and distinct orders, with their respective offices. His words are, "There are some precepts which relate to presbyters, others which belong to bishops, and others respecting deacons."
Tertullian, a celebrated presbyter of the church in Africa, lived at the close of the 2nd and in the forepart of the 3rd century. He testifies that bishops were settled in his native land and had been so from the earliest introduction of the gospel into the country. Writing against heretics, he says, "let them show the order of their bishops, that by their succession deduced from the beginning, we may see whether their first bishop had any of the apostles or apostolical men, who did likewise persevere with the apostles, for his founder and predecessors; for thus the apostolical churches do derive their succession, as the church of Smyrna from Polycarp, whom John the apostle placed there--the church of Rome from Clement, &c."
Speaking of baptism, Tertullian says: "The bishop has the power of conferring baptism, and under him the presbyters and deacons, but not without the authority of the bishop."
Origen, another famous presbyter of the same age, in his comment on the Lord's prayer has these words--"there is a debt due to deacons, another to presbyters, and another to bishops, which is the greatest of all and exacted by the Saviour of the whole church and who will severely punish the non payment of it."
Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, A. D. 240. From the writings of this illustrious Father, we might compile a volume upon the [58/59] subject before us. He expressly refers the constitution of the ministry in the orders of bishops, presbyters and deacons to the will of Christ and the apostles.
Ep. xlv. to Cornelius, bishop of Rome. "We ought chiefly, my Brother, to endeavour to keep that unity which was enjoined by our Lord and his apostles to us their successors, to be carefully observed by us."
Ep. lxvi. to Florentius. "Christ said to the apostles and by that, to all Bishops or governors of his church who succeed the Apostles by vicarious ordination and are in their stead 'He that heareth you heareth me.'"
Ep. 1xxx. to Successus. "Valerian (the emperor) wrote to the Senate that the Bishops and the Presbyters and the Deacons should be prosecuted."
Optatus Milevitanus, A. D. 365, Bishop of Mileve, or Mela, in Africa. "The church has her several members, bishops, presbyters, deacons, and the company of the faithful."
"You found in the church, deacons, presbyters, bishops; you have made them laymen; acknowledge that you have subverted souls." L. 2. Con. Parmenianum.
If the time allowed we might quote from Ambrose of Milan, A. D. 370. Jerome, A. D. 380. St. Augustin, A. D. 420, and many others both before and after them--particularly Eusebius, A. D. 320, the first ecclesiastical historian, and who has given us catalogues of the bishops by name, in the order of their succession, in all the principal churches from the Apostles down to his time--They all testify to the three-fold constitution of the ministry and the authority of bishops to ordain and to govern the church. We might quote from that very ancient work, certainly existing in the 3rd century, called the Apostolic canons to prove the same thing. ["The Apostolic Canons are eighty-five ecclesiastical laws or rules, professedly enacted by the Apostles, and collected and preserved by Clemens Romanus. The matter of them is ancient; for they describe the customs and institutions of Christians, particularly of the Greek and Oriental churches, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. But the phraseology indicates a compiler living in the 3rd century." Murdoch's Mosheim, vol. i. p. 224,v. 13. (New Haven, 1832.)] From the decrees of councils, in ages when the faith, doctrine and order of the Gospel were confessedly kept pure by the great body of the faithful. We might travel along down the stream of time, through all the adverse and prosperous conditions of the church--when [59/60] oppressed and when protected--when maintaining purity of doctrine and practice, and when introducing and sanctioning corruptions, and all along we shall find an accumulation of evidence to the fact we have been laboring to establish, that Episcopacy was the settled order and government of the church. We might cite abundant authorities, even the most learned and distinguished of those who have rejected Episcopacy to show that from the 2nd century down to the 16th it was of universal prevalence in the christian church. We might bring forward the Lutherans, Calvin, Beza, Melancthon and others to prove not only the lawfulness of Episcopacy, but the lamentable necessity which some of them pleaded to justify their formation of another and different system of church government. [See Appendix A.] But what would it all avail? Men of this age have become wiser than the Apostles, the Fathers and the Reformers--wiser and holier than those who sealed their testimony to Christ's truth, and their fidelity to his cause with their blood--and they ask what are all your proofs worth? The succession is incapable of proof or it has been broken or it has been vitiated and rendered worthless by the corruption of those through whose hands it has come!--Let us then meet them on these grounds and consider these their strong reasons. 1. The succession is incapable of proof. Is the testimony of Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Eusebius, Ambrose, Jerome, Austin and others, sufficient to prove the authenticity and uncorrupted preservation of the books of the New Testament in their respective ages? Then why is their testimony to be rejected when it equally proves the establishment and universal prevalence of Episcopacy? Is the New Testament to be rejected because you cannot show by direct and positive evidence, that it was in existence every year since it was written? Then why is Episcopacy to be repudiated, unless you prove its existence every single year by positive proof, since the death of the Apostles? But copies of the New Testament were multiplied very soon and spread over the world and most carefully guarded against alteration.
And so bishops were multiplied as the faith of the gospel spread, and their office was neither sought after, because it [60/61] was the post of chief danger in times of persecution, and in this state the church was till 320--and the office itself was most carefully fenced by canons against intrusion into it, or unwarrantable assumption of its powers. The first of the Apostolical canons reads "Let a Bishop be consecrated by two or three Bishops."
Now here is the statement of a principle, Brethren, upon which this whole controversy about the succession turns. What is ordination? It is nothing more nor less than designation to office--or the right to exercise certain powers delegated by the great head of the church for the edification of his members? You are not to imagine that we hold that a sort of mysterious influence or invisible virtue has been streaming down from the hands of Bishops upon the heads of those whom they have ordained in all past ages, and that this is the Apostolical Succession. No! It is simply the right to exercise certain functions, certified by its proper evidence--ordination is a thing transacted openly and publicly in which ordinarily many persons take part. But the Apostolical canon requires that a bishop shall be ordained by at least two or three bishops, and the proof of this fact, in the absence of miracles, is the proper certificate to all persons that the person ordained is invested with that delegated authority, which he could not of right assume. In short, ordination is the regular induction to office by lawful authority in opposition to its unauthorised and arrogant assumption. Now it is clear that such a fact is as capable of proof as any other fact. And consequently a succession of ordinations is of far more easy proof--than lineal succession--such for example as the succession of the Aaronic priesthood. For the ordination of a bishop would only take place at the end of his predecessor's life--consequently the proofs would have to be produced at long intervals--after considerable periods of time had elapsed, and the longer a Bishop lived, the fewer would be the number of links in the chain of succession. Thus the Episcopate of the late Bishop White of Pennsylvania extended through fifty years; he is therefore the only link between John Moore, archbishop of Canterbury, consecrated Feb. 12, 1775 and Jackson [61/62] Kemper, the present Bishop of Missouri, consecrated by Bishop White, Sept. 25, 1835. And hence,
It is far easier to trace the Episcopal succession through hundreds of years, than it is for any living man to trace his descent to his great grandfather. The truth of lineal descent, in every step, is dependent upon the veracity of a single witness--and that is the mother in each case: Whereas the truth and certainty of the Episcopal succession are made evident by the testimony of many witnesses to a public transaction, which is made matter of public record. No one questions the succession of the Aaronic priesthood which we all know was transmitted by carnal descent; although the truth of that succession depended in each descent, upon the single testimony of a woman as to a point of which no human being besides herself could have any certain knowledge. And yet, with such a fact as this admitted and unquestioned, men who stand up before the people to argue questions of theology, will in the face of day, gravely assert that the Apostolical succession is incapable of proof!
Is it morally possible, think you, that any man could successfully claim and exercise the Episcopal office in the Catholic Church of this country or in England at this day, without showing that he had received Episcopal consecration or ordination? You know well what would be the fate of any such effort--you know that it would meet with the ridicule and contempt which have attended the foolish attempts of Dashiell and George M. West, to set up a pseudo-Episcopacy. If then such a thing be morally impossible now, let those who declaim against the apostolical succession, show how it was morally possible in any preceding age of the church, acting under identically the same rule of ordination or consecration. The rule of the church of the first three centuries was, as we have already shown, that "a Bishop be ordained by two or three Bishops"--this rule is repeated at the general council of Nice, 325, A. D.--only with its provisions extended so as to make Episcopal consecrations more difficult of performance, thereby increasing the evidence to the tact in each case, in these words: "A Bishop ought to be constituted by all the Bishops of the province, but if this be not practicable by reason of urgent [62/63] necessity, three must by all means meet together, and with the consent of those that are absent, let them perform the ordination." Such was the regulation established in every church throughout the world--in the British, the Gallican, the Spanish, the Roman, the Carthaginian, the Alexandrian, the Antiochean and all others. Such is nearly the identical Wile that prevails in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States.
Trace the lines of Episcopal succession where you please, that at Canterbury, at Arles or Lyons in France, or at Rome, or at Constantinople, and what does it prove? Why, that these churches never allowed of any other than Episcopal consecration or ordination. If then the rejectors of Episcopacy will take any of these lists and show where it is defective--if they will show us cause to believe that in any one case or in any number of cases, the rule established throughout the church has been violated or neglected or evaded, we shall then have before us a matter admitting of discussion--But until this is done, we shall take their broad declarations about the Episcopal succession, as naked assertions, which can only be met by positive and direct and unequivocal denial. (Appendix B.) But the Episcopal succession, they say, has been broken. When asked in what instance, we are referred to the alleged alleviation of a woman named Joan, to the Papacy in the 9th century. Now be it observed here that whether the story be true or false, it does not invalidate the succession even as maintained by Romanists--much less does it oppugn the strength of the argument and evidence which sustains the succession in the Episcopal churches which have dissented from Rome. I am in no way concerned to prove or disprove the truth of the story, otherwise than as every man is concerned to know the certainty of history; for as. I shall show the succession for which we contend, although it is indirectly connected with the Roman church, as christianity itself at one time was, yet it does not run through the line of Roman Pontiffs at all--But let us consider the story itself. Mosheim, the ecclesiastical [63/64] historian, whose authority in this case at least will not be questioned, says that "between the pontificate of Leo IV. who died in the year 855, and that of Benedict III. a certain woman, who had the art to disguise her sex for a considerable time, is said by learning, genius and dexterity, to have made good her way to the papal chair, and to have governed the church with the title and dignity of pontiff about two years." [Gieseler, who cares little for the Apostolic succession, shows that the alleged Papacy of Joan, is not only apocryphal, but chronologically impossible, there being scarce any interval between LEO IV. and BENEDICT III. See Cunningham's Translation, vol. ii. p. 20. (Philadelphia edition.)] After stating that this story gave rise to long and embittered discussion, some asserting and others denying its truth, he expresses his opinion that some unusual event had occurred at Rome, and concludes by observing that "what it was that gave rise to this story is yet to be discovered, and is likely to remain so." According to history the whole rests upon a say so--it is at best but a flimsy argument that can be constructed upon so insecure a foundation. But take it as all true, out and out, does it invalidate the Episcopal succession? Not at all. For first of all, if it did, it must be shown that the Popes of Rome consecrate bishops--which they do not--and secondly, it must be shown that during the two years in which Joan is said to have swayed the papal sceptre, all the bishops in the Roman Church must have died--and that Joan herself consecrated successors to them--and this would indeed have broken the chain of Roman succession. But it must be shown, thirdly, in order to invalidate the succession in other churches, that all the bishops the world over must have died in those two years--that the churches in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, in all Greece, in all Africa, in all the East, lost all their bishops within those two years when Joan was in the papal chair. Now, willing as we are to stretch the line of credulity to the measure of other men's demands in order to please them, this is rather further than in reason or in common sense we can go. The truth is, that those who have thrown away Episcopacy, feel bound to show reason for abandoning an institution so ancient and attended by so many marks of its scriptural authority; and being hard pressed for arguments, they have caught at this story about Pope Joan, which combines the plausible with the ridiculous, to demolish the whole theory, as they think, of the apostolical succession. They know well that ridicule often prevails, when solid arguments are lacking, and boldly asserting that a woman was once Pope, [64/65] ask what is such a succession worth?--as though they had destroyed the apostolical succession by showing that a link was lacking in the Roman chain! But I would ask what becomes of the succession in the British church?--The bishops of that church were not consecrated by the pope of Romethe same may be asked of any other church?--what becomes of the succession in Spain, in France, in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, in Greece, in other Eastern churches? Why, had the Pope undertaken to consecrate bishops for all these, he might have abandoned every thing else, and the triple crown had sat heavily indeed on his brows--too heavily indeed for any mortal to bear! The truth is, as before stated, the Pope does not consecrate bishops at all--unless it be some in Rome or parts adjacent, of which I am not certainly informed one way or the other,--and therefore the validity of the succession has nothing to do with the question who is Pope, or whether there be any Pope at all. One remark more before quitting this part of the subject: I would ask those who are so fond of quoting Pope Joan and her reign of two years to destroy the succession, whether the usurpation of Queen Athaliah for six years of the throne of David--and the destruction by her of all the seed royal but Joash, vitiated the promise of God to David that a man should not fail him to sit upon his throne! Did the intrusion of Athaliah for six years destroy or break the line of succession of kings to come from his loins? or invalidate God's promise?
But after all, say the opponents of the apostolical succession, although you make out your case by historical testimony, yet the succession comes through channels so impure that we cannot receive it. This objection is grounded on the gratuitous assumption, that the succession must be traced through the Roman pontiffs. Now as already stated, the succession does not run in this channel, because the pontiff does not consecrate. We will state here upon the authority of the Romish canon law, what power the Pope does claim in reference to bishops, that we may see how far his pretensions interfere, if good, with the validity of the succession. "The Pope holds the place of God in the earth, so that he can confer ecclesiastical benefices without dimunition." In opposition to this [65/66] claim, Henry 8th proclaimed himself head of the realm and church of England. Again. "The translation, the deposition or resignation of a bishop is reserved to the Roman Pontiff alone, not so much by any canonical constitution as by the divine institution." It is hardly necessary to remind you that this claim was long and successfully resisted by the British church--and that it was ever opposed by the Greek and oriental churches--It has ever been the policy of the Pope to diminish the power of bishops, and nothing has he labored more to destroy than an independent Episcopacy. No barrier stands so much in his way now as the Episcopacy of the English church--and that of the independent Eastern dioceses; the independence of dioceses presents, in fact, the most effectual check to that consolidation of power which Rome has long endeavored to effect by concentrating all rule and authority in the hands of the Pope. Our own system of church government in the United States is a confederacy of independent dioceses--and like the state sovereignties, by having each its own governor and legislative assembly or council, effectually counteracts the tendency to consolidation. Once more, the canon law says: "As the translation, the deposition and resignation of bishops, so likewise the confirmation of those who are elected, after their election, is reserved to the Roman Pontiff alone, by reason of the spiritual bond." Not one word about consecration. These are the claims of the Pope--exorbitant enough as all will allow: but remember that these claims were not always admitted, and had they been so, we see not how the admitting of them can destroy or corrupt the succession. For although the bishops in nearly the whole of the western church did at one time yield to and acknowledge the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff, still that did not deprive or divest them of the right and authority to ordain--a right which they always claimed in virtue of their office, and which they always continued to exercise. It was only so late as the council of Trent in the 16th century, that the question was agitated whether the bishops held their office "de jure divino:" or "de jure pontifico"--i. e. from Christ or the pope. The archbishop of Grenada strenously maintained in the council, that "wheresoever a bishop shall be, whether in Rome or in Augubium, all are of the same merit, [66/67] and of the same priesthood, and all successors of the Apostles. He inveighed against those who said St. Peter had ordained the other apostles, bishops. He admonished the council to study the scriptures and observe that power to teach throughout the world, to administer the sacraments and to govern the church, is equally given to all. And therefore as the Apostles had authority, not from Peter, but from Christ, so the successors of the Apostles have not power from Peter, but from Christ himself." The archbishop of Paris manfully upheld the same sentiments, nor did they meet with opposition in the council but from the Monks, Jesuits, Legates and Cardinals. It is through these, who are not of the regular order of the clergy, that the Pope has ever endeavored to enlarge and strengthen his power. The conclave which elects the Pope consists of seventy cardinals in all, of which six only are bishops, fifty of them are priests and the rest deacons: from which it is clear that he relies much more upon the presbytery, than any thing else, for the gift and maintenance of his authority.
But suppose for argument's sake that the succession does come through the Roman church--that the Pope did confirm the election of bishops, and order their consecration by other bishops, which is the utmost that can be said, does this invalidate or vitiate the succession? Why, we might just as well say that the pure faith or doctrine of the scriptures, which all the reformed churches now teach, is corrupted and vitiated, because it passed through the hands of the Romanists. They had in their keeping at one time the Bible, to the very same extent that they had in their keeping the power of ordination. If the word of salvation has been transmitted to us through their instrumentality, and we now have it in its simplicity and integrity, why may we not have the authority to administer that word, transmitted through the same channel, in. its integrity also? Were the doctrine and sacraments of Christ's religion corrupted by the church of Rome?--so was the order of the gospel. Were these corruptions rejected and thrown off at the reformation, in respect to the faith of the gospel?--so were they also in respect to the order of the Gospel ministry. So that there exists not one reason for rejecting Episcopacy because of its having passed through the Roman church, that [67/68] does not apply with equal strength on the same grounds, for rejecting the Gospel itself.
The idea that the succession is vitiated by its having come through an impure channel, gains no countenance whatever from the sentiments and practice of men in other things. Thus the truth of God was not less his truth because it was proclaimed by Balsam and afterwards by Judas. The sacrament of baptism is not less a sacrament to him who receives it, because the minister who performs it, shall afterwards prove to be an unholy and wicked man. His wickedness furnishes a just reason for depriving him of office, but affects not the validity of the act which he executed, by virtue of the delegated authority with which he was invested. If it were otherwise--if our faith were directed to the minister and not to Christ, the institutor of the ordinance--and if we cannot be certain of receiving the sacraments until positively certified and assured of the piety of him who administers them, we never can be certain of receiving them at all.
Again, take the position that the channel of transmission corrupts that which descends through it, and what do you make of the holy Saviour of the world? Trace the line of succession through which the promised deliverer, the holy seed of salvation, came according to the flesh, and then ask yourselves, are you prepared to admit the principles contended for? There is in. the line of the Saviour's ancestry, Kahal, the harlot--Thamar, who sought and obtained incestuous connexion with her own father-in-law.--There is Ruth, the Moabitess, the offspring of Lot and his own daughter--there is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who admitted the adulterous embraces of David. If then the promised seed of redemption was neither tainted nor destroyed by transmission through this line of ancestral succession--and it would be impious to say so--why should it be supposed that the spiritual seed for the ministration of salvation has suffered injury or been destroyed, because some of the agents for transmitting it have shown themselves as unworthy of the high honor vouchsafed to them, as those pointed out in the line of the Saviour's ancestry?
But let us carry the principle contended for, to its practical results, by applying it to those who most strongly urge its force.
 The bishops of the British church were in communion with the Church of Rome, and Rome being a corrupt church, therefore ordination by the British bishops is worth nothing. We might ask here, what then was the worth of Mr. Wesley's ordination, since he received it from a British bishop? But we will let that pass for the present.
The great plea which the Methodists put in to justify their separation from the church, and their setting up a different communion, was that the Church of England was a corrupt church. In the letter of the Methodist bishops to their members prefixed to their book of discipline, they quote the words of the Messrs. Wesley, saying, "God then (1737) thrust them out to raise a holy people." In ch. i. s. 1. they speak of being convinced "that there was a great deficiency of vital religion in the Church of England in America." The book of discipline proceeds to state that Mr. John Wesley did "solemnly set apart by the imposition of his hands, and prayer, Thomas Coke, Doctor of civil law, late of Jesus College, in the University of Oxford, and a Presbyter of the Church of England, for the Episcopal office." [See appendix C.] Now if the plea of corruption can be made good against the Church of England, and there was "a great deficiency of vital piety" in it, so that the Methodists felt constrained to withdraw and set up for themselves, I desire to ask whether Mr. Wesley's maintaining communion with this corrupt church, deficient as it was "in vital piety," and his continuing in that communion to the day of his death, and his declaring that he believed it the purest national church in the world--whether all this does not destroy the validity of his ordination of Thomas Coke, L. L. D., Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, &c. &c. &c. In a word, if communion with Rome destroy, because of Rome's corruptions, the ministerial authority--does not the communion of Mr. Wesley with the Church of England destroy, because of its corruptions, his authority to ordain also? If the principle contended for avail in one case, why not in both? If not in both, why in either?
We are not concerned to answer these questions, Brethren: Nor are we disposed to press the subject further at. present upon the attention of those whose sensibility is the more easily [69/70] excited, when investigation is directed to the weak points of their system. The man whose title deeds are defective, above all others, is sensitive to any intimation of a flaw of which he is painfully conscious himself. And so it is in religious systems: the upholders of them know their defects, and these they keep out of view and manifest any thing but a gracious temper towards those who would examine into them.
In conclusion, we would just remind you, that we have showed from scripture that the office of the ministry is a delegated authority, and that the ministry of the Apostolic church consisted of three orders. We have endeavored to establish by argument, that a ministry thus constituted was left by the apostles in the church when they quitted the earth. We have arrayed before you the testimony of credible witnesses to prove that this ministry, so constituted, was continued in the church till such time as is acknowledged on all hands, that it prevailed universally and without a single exception in any country. We have argued, and as we think conclusively, that it was morally impossible for the chain of Episcopal succession to be broken, and that any such alleged interruption is destitute of proof. We have considered the objection grounded on the papal corruptions to vitiate or invalidate the succession, and shown that it is without force. It may be asked then whether, if the position we take upon this subject be made good, we do not unchurch all other denominations of Christians and leave them to the uncovenanted mercies of God? I reply, in the first place, we do not unchurch them. It is an inference which those make who, by a voluntary act of their own, have separated themselves from that order of the gospel which we have endeavored to prove was established in the primitive church. It is therefore unjust and ungenerous to charge us with consequences which do not flow from any act of ours, but which are the legitimate results of their own deliberate proceedings. We have endeavored in every possible way consistent with christian charity, to prevent these divisions--and come what may--charge upon us whatever men may please--we can never, for a moment, by word or act, give any countenance or sanction, to the infidel maxim that division into sects is advantageous to the cause of truth [70/71] and piety, while the affecting prayer of Christ for the unity of his church, shall be received and acknowledged as part and parcel of divine revelation. "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." No, we shall do all we can by declaring the truth in the love of it, and by fair argument--by instructing those who oppose themselves to us, in the spirit of meekness--and by endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, to bring all believers to "that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there be left no place among them, either for error in religion, or for viciousness in life."
How far the various bodies of professed Christians around us, united under rules and regulations for their government, which they have drawn from the word of God, and sanctioned by what they honestly believe to he a just and fair interpretation of its meaning--how far they are to be regarded as churches of Christ, I shall not undertake to say. I honestly think it is a matter admitting of serious question. While I freely concede that some of them preach the faith of the gospel, and that this faith, wherever received, will manifest, and does in them manifest, its appropriate fruits in righteousness--in charity--and in hope--still candor obliges me to declare, that in the exercise of the best reason and judgment which God has given me, and enlightened by all the information which the most diligent search has afforded to my mind, I think them destitute of an essential feature or mark of the visible Catholic church of Christ: that is, a ministry, deriving authority to act in the appointments of religion, from the Apostles. At the same time, I grant that their ecclesiastical organizations have all the force and obligation, on those who have submitted to their authority, which the most solemn vows and engagements can bring upon the soul. Their ordinances, administered by the ministry which they have--such for example, as baptism and the Lord's supper--are to those who receive them, with the understanding they have of their nature and obligation, [71/72] properly sacraments--just as much so as an oath taken before a private citizen, instead of a magistrate or judge, is binding on the conscience of him who takes it--See Appendix D.
And now is there just reason to charge upon such sentiments the odium of illiberality and uncharitableness? It is often said that the differences among christians are unimportant--not of that grave and serious character to cause emulations, strifes and divisions. If so, why do not those who have gone out from us, return? and why should every attempt like the present, to state the true grounds of difference be frowned upon as ungracious and be met by weapons which calumny employs against stubborn facts, honest statements and candid and fair arguments? We have no wish whatever to multiply causes of difference between ourselves and other denominations of christians. On the contrary, the terms of communion which the Episcopal church requires are so free and liberal, as more frequently to give others occasion to charge her with laxity, than afford fair opportunity to them, as she justly does, to commend her catholic spirit--she offers no disputed points in theology as tests to her members of the soundness of their christian character, but stating the facts and doctrines of the Apostles' creed as the articles of her faith, and inculcating charity, she prays for "all who profess and call themselves christians, that they may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace and in righteousness of life." She goes further, and in accordance with the Apostle's directions that prayers and supplications be offered up for all men--the language of her liturgy is that it "may please God to have mercy upon all men." She stops not here, but in obedience to the blessed Saviour's injunctions and in the spirit of his meek and lowly example, instructs us to pray "that it may please thee to forgive our enemies, persecutors and slanderers, and to turn their hearts."
Such is the spirit I pray may rule ever more in my heart-and while I shall!'contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints," and "speak the truth boldly as I ought to speak," God being my helper, I shall endeavor to utter not a word or sentiment inconsistent with the spirit of sincerity and truth in which that prayer should be offered.