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terwards, to every Pastor of a particular congregation. Again, when they quote passages which barely enumerate Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons, as distinct officers in the Church, they can derive no assistance even from these ; because there were, doubtless, Presbyters, at that time, as well as now, who, though in full orders, were not invested with a pastoral charge; and who must, therefore, be distinguished from such as were literally Overseers or Bishops of particular flocks. Besides, we know that there were Ruling Elders in the primitive Church ; a class of Presbyters confessed to be inferior to Bishops in their ecclesiastical character. In cnumerating Church officers, then, there was frequently a necessity for making the distinction above stated, without in the least favoring the pretended superiority of order among those who labored in the word and doctrine. No; the advocates for diocesan Episcopacy, if they would derive any support to their cause from the writings of the Fathers, must do what they have never yet done. They must produce, from those venerable remains of antiquity, passages which prove, either by direct assertion, or fair inference, that the Bishops of the Primitive Church were a distinct order of Clergy from those Presbyters who were authorized to preach and administer sacraments, and superior to them; that these Bishops, when they were advanced to this superior office, had a new and distinct ordination; that each Bishop had under him a number of congregations, with their Pastors, whom he go
verned; that these Bishops were exclusively invested with the right of ordaining, and administering the rite of confirmation; and that this kind of Episcopacy was considered, by the whole primitive Church, as an institution of Jesus Christ. When any one of these facts is fairly proved, from early antiquity, the friends of Presbyterian Church Government will feel as if they had something like solid argument to contend with ; but not till then. Now, after having given much close and serious attention to this subject, I can venture to assure you, that in all the authentic writings which have come down to us, of those Fathers who lived within the first two hundred years after Christ, there is not a single sentence which can be considered, by an impartial reader, as affording the least support to any one of these positions.
When you find the friends of Episcopacy asserting that the Fathers, in the plainest terms, nimously,” and “ with one voice” declare in their favor, you would naturally expect to find these early writers saying much, and expressing themselves in decisive and unequivocal language on this subject. But, how will you be surprised to learn, that there is not a single authentic writing extant, composed within the first three hundred years after Christ, that speaks directly and formally to the purpose, on any one point in this controversy! The first writ. er who undertook to discuss the question, whether Bishops and Presbyters were distinct in the Apostle's days, was Ferome, who lived in the fourth cen
tury : and how he has decided the question we shall see in the next letter. In all the writings of earlier date, the character and powers of Church officers are mentioned in an indistinct and cursory manner ; frequently by way of remote allusion, so as to leave it doubtful whether they were intended at all; generally without any apparent design to convey information respecting them ; and always as if the subject were considered by the writers as of minor importance. It is from these hints, allusions, and occasional intimations, that we are to de duce the early opinions on the point before us.
Let us make the experiment. Let us bring forward the testimony of these ancient worthies in order. And in doing this, it shall be my aim, not only to adduce those passages which appear favorable to my own cause ; but also faithfully to state the strongest of those which are usually quoted by our Episcopal brethren in support of their claim.
In the catalogue of the Fathers, who say any thing worthy of our attention on this subject, Clemens Romanus holds the first place. He lived towards the close of the first century; had doubtless conversed with several of the Apostles ; and left behind him one Epistle, directed to the brethren of the Church at Corinth, the authenticity of which is generally admitted. The occasion of the Epistle was this. There had been a kind of schism in the Church of Corinth, in which the body of the brethren had risen up against their Pastors, and unjustly deposed them. The design of Clemens in writing
was to call these brethren to a sense of their duty, and to induce them to restore and obey their Pastors. In this Epistle the following passages are found. “ The Apostles, going abroad, preaching
through countries and cities, appointed the first 6 fruits of their ministry to be Bishops and Deacons. .“ Nor was this any thing new ; seeing that long “ before it was written concerning Bishops and Dea
For thus saith the Scripture in a certain place, “ I will appoint their Bishops in righteous#ness and their Deacons in faith*." Again“ The Apostles knew by our Lord Jesus Christ, „6 that contentions would arise about the name of
Episcopacy; and, therefore, having a perfect foreknowledge of this, they appointed persons, as we "" have before said; and gave direction how, when * they should die, other chosen and approved men * should succeed in their ministry. Wherefore we “ cannot think that those may be justly thrown out
of their ministry, who were either appointed by
** Clemens here, no doubt, refers to Isa. lx. 17. which in our English Bibles is rendered I will also make thy officers peace, and thine exactors righteousness ; but which, in the Septuagint, with which he was probably most conversant, is interpreted thus -I will appoint thy rulers in peace, and thy Bishops (ETLO XOTOUS) in righteousness. If we interpret Clemens rigidly, he will stand as an advocate for two orders instead of three. But he, doubtless, only meant to quote this passage as a general promise, that under the New Testament dispensation there should be a "regularly organized Church, and proper officers; without undertaking to define either their number or grades.
45 them, or afterwards chosen by other eminent men, “ with the consent of the whole Church. For it 66 would be no small sin in us should we cast off “ those from their Episcopate (or Bishoprick) who
holily and without blame fulfil the duties of it. “ Blessed are those Presbyters who, having finished “their course, before these times, have obtained a
perfect and fruitful dissolution. For they have no “ fear lest any one should turn them out of the place “ which is now appointed for them.” And a little afterwards—" It is a shame, my beloved, yea, a “ very great shame, and unworthy of your Christian
profession, to hear, that the most firm and ancient “ Church of the Corinthians, should, by one or two
persons, be led into a sedition against its Presby
ters. Only let the flock of Christ be in peace with “the Presbyters that are set over it. He that shall “ do this, shall get to himself a very great honor in “ the Lord. Do ye, therefore, who first laid the s foundation of this sedition, submit yourselves to your Presbyters; and be instructed into repentance, bending the knee of your hearts.”
Clemens, in these passages, evidently represents the Church at Corinth as subject not to an Indivi. dual, but to a company of persons, whom he calls Presbyters, or Elders. He exhorts the members of that Church to be obedient to these Presbyters; and expostulates with them, because they had opposed and ill-treated their Presbyters, and cast them out of their Bishoprick. This venerable Father gives not the least hint of any distinction between the of