THE CONTINUITY AND PERPETUITY OF THE EPISCOPAL OFFICE.
S. JAMES' CHURCH, WILMINGTON, APRIL 17, 1884
REV. ALFRED AUGUSTIN WATSON, D.D.
RT. REV. THEODORE BENEDICT LYMAN, D.D.
Published by request of the Bishops and other Clergy present
Acts 1:20--“His Bishoprick let another take."
THESE words, in their original application, point us to the sad breach which was made in the ranks of the Apostles by the perfidy and defection of Judas. And they show, also, that the office which he bore was not one which was linked solely to those who originally shared it, but that it was meant to be continued and perpetuated. The term Bishoprick which is here applied to the responsible position which Judas was called to fill signifies an office of oversight and supervision. And as, in this connection, it is expressly employed as synonymous with Apostleship, so it more fully defines the nature of that office. New, the Christian Ministry, in all its parts, implies more or less of oversight: There is the care and the supervision which is exercised by those who minister to single congregations, and to whom the cure of souls is committed. And then, again, there is that higher responsibility which is devolved upon those who are called [3/4] to the general supervision and government of the Church; who are made, in a more Special manner, the guardians of the faith: and whose it is also to admit men to the ranks of the sacred ministry, and to exercise a godly discipline. Now, I think no one can carefully read the New Testament without seeing that the special training and instruction which was given by our Lord to the twelve Apostles was intended to prepare and qualify them for this higher position. This was the Bishoprick which belonged o the twelve whom Jesus called. All this seems to be very generally admitted, but with many there is a serious doubt as to whether this office was meant to be continued. They are inclined to regard it as altogether an extraordinary office, which was linked inseparably to the first Apostles.
But the history which stands connected with the text shows, I think, how very erroneous is any such supposition. When Judas, through the temptation of Satan, was led to abandon the high office and distinguished privileges which he was permitted to share, another was at once chosen to take the office which was thus abandoned and forfeited. "His Bishoprick let another take."
Nor was it a part of our Lord's plan, as some have supposed, to confine this high office simply to [4/5] twelve persons, so that it would only be necessary, as one by one they passed away, to fill up the ranks thus successively vacated. St. Paul, who was called only a little later, was surely summoned to the same office. He says, most explicitly, that he was not a whit behind the very chiefest Apostles. And this entire equality, which St. Paul thus claims, was fully and freely accorded to him by all the Apostles. Barnabas, too, who, for a while, was closely associated with St. Paul, is also spoken of as an Apostle, and did certainly fulfil all the duties which the other Apostles discharged. And when he entered upon a separate field of labour from St. Paul there is no indication that he was clothed with any less power, or any less authority. True it is, the exercise of this office was not limited, as it afterwards was, to a specific district. And the reason of this is plainly apparent. The whole world was one vast missionary field, which the Lord had committed jointly to his Apostles. "Go, ye," saith He, "into all the world, and make disciples of all nations." A division into separate and definite districts was an aftergrowth, just as it is now, in extended missionary territories. And it required no little time to train up and properly instruct a body of men who should, when thus qualified, be called to there higher duties of general oversight and government. If we [5/6] watch the successive steps, in the progress and extension of the Church, we shall see very clearly how all this was overruled and directed. When St. Paul had laid the foundations of the Christian Church in Ephesus, and ordained a number of Presbyters, to whom he committed the care of the several congregations in that populous district, and when other duties and engagements made it necessary for him to withdraw from that personal care and oversight, which he had all along exercised, he sent Timothy to stand in his place, and perform there all the duties which he had hitherto discharged: Now, what those duties were, and how very different in character from those which devolved upon the ordinary Pastors, we may see very clearly by contrasting the instructions given by St. Paul to these Pastors, with the exhortations and instructions which he gave to Timothy. In the 20th chapter of the Book of the Acts we have a detailed account of the meeting of these Presbyters with St. Paul at Miletus, and there he gives them a comprehensive and earnest farewell charge, enjoining upon them the faithful performance of their varied pastoral duties. But when, a little later, this same Apostle sent Timothy to Ephesus, we find him clothing this earnest and carefully instructed disciple of his, with the full care and government and discipline of the whole Church in [6/7] that district. To the Pastors, whom he addressed at Miletus, he says not one word about the qualifications of those who are to be admitted to the ministry--not one word about any part which they are to take in such ordinations; nor does he enjoin upon them any exercise of discipline. But when Timothy goes by appointment to the same city, how full and complete are the instructions which the Apostle gives in the two Epistles which he sends to him, on all these most important particulars. Very clear it is that Timothy had committed to him an office of government, of supervision, of discipline, and of widely extended authority. The whole Ephesian Church was placed under his direction, and the supervision which, at the first, St. Paul had exercised over it, is now devolved upon Timothy.
And the same order of things which we thus find in Ephesus, is seen also in Crete. The Church had gained no little strength and influence there, and as St. Paul could no longer retain the supervision and direction of its affairs, so now he leaves Titus who had been his co-worker, to occupy his place, and discharge the like responsible and important duties. "For this cause," saith he, "left I thee in Crete, that thou mightest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders or presbyters in every [7/8] city." And then, as in the case of Timothy, he proceeds to point out the varied qualifications which he is to seek, in those who are to be admitted by him to the ranks of the sacred ministry. The whole government and direction of the Church is placed under his control, and he is encouraged to use the authority thus committed to him, for the protection and defense of the pure faith of the Gospel, and in the stern rebuke of all who depart from that faith. False teachers he is exhorted to "rebuke sharply, that they may be sound in the faith." Surely here is a Bishoprick, as clearly defined as language can express it. Nor let any suppose that these examples, in Ephesus and Crete, were in any respect peculiar and extraordinary. On the contrary, we find just this office of supervision and authority in all districts where the Christian Church was established. The seven Churches of Asia, which are specifically mentioned in the Revelation of St. John, had each its Angel or Apostle. These are words of nearly the same meaning, and both alike signify ollesen, and thus call our attention to the Divine Commission with which they were each invested. Now these Angels or Apostles, because they were clothed with power and authority to guide and to govern, so were they each held responsible for the spiritual condition of the Churches under their care.
 Nothing seems clearer, then, from the plain teachings of the New Testament, than that from the very beginning, in all places where the Christian Church was established, there were found those who were clothed with Special authority as Chief Pastors, and recognized Rulers in the Kingdom of God. The minute arrangement of separate and independent Dioceses, grew up, step by step, under the guidance of the first Apostles, as Christianity extended its sway more widely, and in proportion as their own personal care and guidance became no longer possible. For a time, the original Apostles were as I have already intimated, more like Missionary Bishops, exercising their office over a very widely extended territory, where they often went as the very first teachers of the Gospel. But, as their faithful labours were abundantly rewarded, and multitudes of people were gathered into the fold of Christ; when men were raised up who were sufficiently instructed and qualified to be invested with the higher responsibilities of Chief Pastors, then it was that separate and independent Dioceses, each with its own Head, were gradually built up and established. In every part of the world, where the Christian Church gained a successful lodgment, we find it always organized under the guidance of a superior officer, whose position was recognized as of Divine [9/10] Appointment and whose authority was everywhere acknowledged.
True it is that, even in the days of the Apostles, there were found here and there those, who were jealous of this authority, and sought to resist it. Men like Diotrephes, "who loved to have the pre-eminence," were ready to stir up strife, and contend even with those whom Christ Himself had commissioned, as Rulers in His Kingdom. But the Stern rebukes which were given to such men, the bold denunciation of others "who said they were Apostles and were not," only marked, the more plainly, that true and real authority which had been lodged in the Church, for edification and not for destruction. These sad strifes and contentions, the fruits of man's sinful nature, are carefully recorded in the Word of God, for our warning and instruction. We find very clear indications of this rebellious spirit in the old, as well as in the new dispensation. What contests had Moses and Aaron with those who boldly and profanely resisted the Authority, with which God had invested them, and how sorely were they punished for this sinful opposition! And the like contests reappeared in the Christian Church, when men showed themselves unwilling to submit to what Christ had ordained and established. But that organization and polity which was so uniform in the [10/11] beginning, and which was everywhere constituted under the immediate guidance of the Apostles, was openly recognized as of Divine Appointment, and as its influence extended wherever the sound of the Gospel was heard, so it became a part of the universal law, in the One Kingdom of God.
Now there are many in our time, who are most impatient of all reference to questions of this sort. They persist in regarding them as matters bearing only upon Church Government, and they wonder why sensible men should be willing to lay so much stress upon what seems to them of so little importance. But the grand error lies in regarding this as a mere question of Church Government. It rather has to do with the very organization of the Church of God: with the means and agencies which Christ has established for the guardianship and protection of the faith; for perpetuating a Divinely Authorized Ministry; and for the maintenance of godly discipline.
Surely, my brethren, if Our Lord Jesus Christ, has made clear and definite arrangements for the guidance and extension of His Kingdom here on Earth, what is it but the highest presumption for any of us to find fault with His plan, and seek to make some substitution of our own.
We read that during the forty days which intervened between Our Lord's resurrection from the dead, and [11/12] His triumphant Ascension into Heaven, He manifested Himself from time to time, to His chosen Apostles, and "spoke to them of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." He sought this more carefully to instruct them as to the proper organization of that kingdom, and the fitting methods for its successful extension. And afterward, in fulfilment of His promise, He sent down upon them His illuminating Spirit, to be ever with them, and in them; to "guide them into all truth"; to "bring all things to their remembrance, whatsoever He had said to them," to be an inward source of strength, of courage and support, and thus more fully to qualify them for the discharge of those responsible duties, which He had laid upon them. And when thus strengthened, animated and directed by this inward spiritual power, how true that declaration of the Saviour, "It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you." And hence whatsoever was ordered and appointed by them, came with the high sanction and authority of God. Theirs it was under this Heavenly guidance, to lay deep the foundations,--to guide and direct all things which had to do with the development and extension, of the Kingdom of God.
Century after century passed by, without any material alteration of what was thus considerately [12/13] established. Everywhere, by universal consent, there was found in all the Churches, scattered through the world, a Presiding Officer, whose office was not temporary but permanent; to whom the care and oversight, the guidance and direction of the Church was committed; who stood and was recognized as the special representative of Christ; as one of the Chief Shepherds of his flock.
We all know how, in process of time, the attempt was made, and with too much success, to break down this Divinely appointed equality among those who thus shared a common office. We are well acquainted with the successive steps by which the Bishop of Rome sought to gain a pre-eminence over all other Bishops, and extend more widely his authority, until it finally culminated in his claim to be, in a special sense, Christ's Vicar on Earth; the infallible Head of the whole Church of God; the One Supreme Bishop, from whom all others derive only a delegated authority!
Thanks be to God that all there arrogant and impious claims have long since been boldly rebuked and resisted, and our privilege it is to be in full communion with, yea to derive our corporate existence from one of those Ancient Churches, which more than three hundred years ago, shook off the shackles by which the Bishop of Rome was seeking to hold her in [13/14] subjection, and openly proclaimed and asserted the essential equality of all Bishops in the one Kingdom of God. Christ alone we acknowledge as Supreme Head and King, in that Kingdom which, here on Earth, He has established.
But, my dear brethren, because proud and extravagant claims have been set up; because the Apostolic Office has been magnified into a kind of spiritual royalty, we should act most unwisely to infer that, therefore, the office itself should be given up and abandoned. What is so clearly an office of Divine institution, and with which Christ has promised his presence to the end of the world, it is surely our duty thankfully to accept, and faithfully to perpetuate; only in this, as in all other particulars, we must strive to make His Appointments harmonize with the original ideal.
To-day, the Holy Church of God stands just as much in need of those who bear rule in His Kingdom, as they were needed in the beginning. And it is because this great truth has been lost sight of, and this Divinely appointed office has been, in so many quarters, surrendered, that we find such widespread contradictions and oppositions, among those who profess to be followers of the same Master. When the order of things which Christ has established is set aside, and men follow their own tastes, and their own favorite [14/15] theories, what may be reasonably looked for, but the utmost confusion on the one hand, and on the other, the most grievous departures from the truth as it is in Jesus. With the loss of the divine organization, there comes sooner or later, the grievous loss of the fundamental teachings of Christianity. The sad spectacle which is presented, here in our own land, of more than one hundred different and discordant sects, all ostensibly ranged under the banner of Christ, yet holding no organic connection with each other, this is the natural and legitimate outgrowth of the rejection of that simple organization of Christ’s Kingdom, which was so plainly set forth and established by the first Apostles. Now, as these divisions go on increasing and multiplying, and extending more and more widely their disintegrating influence, what a waste of energy--what confusion and strife--what jealousy and suspicion--what bitter hostility and antagonism, must be the necessary result, and how great the consequent hindrance to the growth and extension of all true religion.
And when these varied and antagonistic forces seek to carry the Gospel into heathen lands, oh what are the doubts which must be enkindled,--what the unbelief which must be strengthened, when such fearful contradictions are witnessed among those who profess [15/16] allegiance to one and the same Lord. How little does such a spectacle as this, harmonize with the spirit of our Saviour's earnest prayer--"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." That true organic unity, which Christ so fervently prayed for, we must not be tempted to regard as an idle vision, which can never be realized. Any such view can only spring from lack of faith in the power of Christ. And the first step to its realization must surely be seen, in the cultivation by us all of a spirit of true humility,--the abandonment of pride and arrogance and self-will; and the faithful acceptance, in all meekness, of the Gospel system, as it was originally established, and of that holy "faith, which once for all was delivered to the Saints." To those venerable Churches which have grafted new and strange doctrines upon the primitive and Apostolic faith, to those later organizations, which have been content to depart from the original constitution and polity of the Church as well as from many of its holy teachings, to all alike who have in any way wandered from the ancient landmarks, we say in the expressive language of the Prophet, "Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls." [16/17] All personal tastes, and personal preferences, must bend to that which is Ancient, and Primitive and Catholic. All variations and alterations and imaginary improvements, must give place to that one organized system which in the beginning was everywhere the same, and which Our Divine Lord surely meant should be perpetuated to the end of the world.
The Apostolic office--the holy Bishoprick, which was designed to be the centre of unity, the bond of Christian brotherhood, that office may not be lightly undervalued, or carelessly thrust aside.
When Judas by transgression fell, how speedily did his fellow Apostles proclaim the continuity and perpetuity of his holy office, as they unitedly declared, "His Bishoprick let another take."
Now, my dear brethren, in advocating the principles which I have thus sought to exhibit, the idea will at once suggest itself, that we, who hold these views, are claiming for ourselves the sole possession of the truth, and demanding that all men should meekly submit themselves to our guidance and direction. And it is not strange that those who so interpret our teachings, should regard them as arrogant and presumptuous.
Now just here it is that we are grievously misunderstood. We do not claim for ourselves any infallibility, yea more, we are willing to confess that, in [17/18] many particulars, we fail to illustrate the spirit and the principles of the Church of the earliest days. But those principles and that spirit we would ever seek to hold up before our own eyes, and before the eyes of all men, as the one fixed standard to which we should ever be striving to conform. Private opinions and private judgment, when exercised in open disregard of the authorized teachings of the first and purest ages, can only lead to the most grievous errors, and the most dangerous delusions. Nothing is more needed on every side, than the diligent and careful study of the historic faith, on the one hand, and the historic Church on the other. We must be ready to look well to the foundations upon which we are building, and see to it that they rest securely upon the Eternal Rock of Ages. God's truth we must be ready to follow, wherever it may lead us. And to those religious bodies around us, whole organization has been established in entire independence of the Apostolic office, we would humbly address the earnest inquiry whether, on this account they are not suffering a serious loss, yea more, whether the blessed unity of God's household has not, thereby, been chiefly disturbed.
This sacred, Apostolic office which, in our esteem, is the very root and life of all Church order and authority, we are met here to day to pass on to another [18/19] who, as we believe, has been called of God to its high and holy functions. As all along the ages, we find a continuous line of successors in this office of supervision and government, so would we recognize the high privilege of a joyful acceptance of an office we believe has been thus wisely and Divinely ordained.
This venerable Diocese of North Carolina has been judged too large and laborious a field, to remain any longer under the care and supervision of one single Head. And the separation of a portion of its territory into a new and independent Diocese, having been sanctioned and ratified by the General Convention of the Church, we come now to place over this separate part, one well known and well tried, who as its Chief Shepherd, may guide and direct its affairs.
Upon you, my Reverend Brother, thus called by the unanimous voice of the Diocese, and with the approval of the whole Church to this high and holy office, upon you this solemn responsibility is now to be devolved. And we meet here to-day, to invest you with a share in this Apostolic Bishoprick. How weighty are the cares, how varied and engrossing the duties which this office imposes. Even the heart of the great St. Paul was deeply touched, when he dared to think of what was involved in it. And what seemed most heavily to press upon his loving heart, he unfolds to us in those [19/20] touching words, "Besides that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the Churches." And there is nothing but the thought of Christ's love for us, and our own responsive love for Him, which can uphold and strengthen us, under these weighty and ceaseless burdens. And, without that love, the Episcopal office can only be a hard and irksome toil. In the power of that holy love, how faithfully did the first Apostles fulfil their great commission. Labour and sacrifice, trials and sufferings, cares and anxieties were all made sweet by the power of holy love. Ah! yes, it is the love of Christ in the heart, and the thought of His tender sympathizing love for us, that will ever exert a cheering and comforting influence, amid all the cares and trials of our holy office. And the blessed truth of God which we are called on to unfold and illustrate, we may speak only in this spirit of love. Harshness, and arrogance, and severity, and bitterness, are surely not the agencies by which His truth can be advanced. These are clear indications of an unchastened spirit. These are weapons out of the armoury of this world, and belong not to the kingdom of Christ.
Go forth then, my dear brother, in the Spirit of your Heavenly Master, and yours it shall be to find the abundance of encouragement and comfort and consolation. I need not tell you, what you know so well [20/21] already, that your lot will be cast among a kindly, loving and sympathizing people. It is, indeed, one of the saddest crosses of my life to be separated from the dear people of East Carolina. The ten years in which I have been going in and out among them, have knit them to me in the bonds of the tenderest affection. No Bishop ever labored among a more warm-hearted, generous and affectionate people. Their sympathy and good will--their zealous co-operation, their confiding regard you can fully count on. And Oh! what is there, besides the grace of God, which can so sustain, encourage and comfort, as this sympathy of loving hearts. May these sacred bonds, in your case, be only daily strengthened. May the varied desolate places, in this fair district, soon rejoice and blossom as the rose. And may it be your solace and comfort to find, on every side of you, the abundant tokens of God's richest blessing, and the steady advance of that kingdom which is righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. And may we all, to day, join earnestly, with heart and voice, in the triumphant aspiration, of the Psalmist "Peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces."
"O ever pray for Salem's peace;
For they shall prosp'rous be,
Thou holy city of our God,
Who bear true love to thee."