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in the primitive church, there was a class of Presbyters which had too much fallen into disuse, at the time when Hilary wrote; but this cannot apply to teaching Presbyters, for we know, from the unanimous voice of history, and from the acknowledge ment of all parties in this dispute, that they were in no degree discontinued at any period. And finally, here is a further declaration that they were discontinued from very improper motives; chiefly,. as the writer supposes, because the teaching Elders were unwilling to having persons sitting with them on the same bench, and having an equal vote and power, as to government, with themselves, while they were confessedly inferior with respect to the function of teaching. But though this office had fallen into disuse in some churches, and probably in most of them, when Hilary wrote, yet it was not wholly discontinued; for Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, often refers to these Elders in his writings. Thus Con. Crescon. lib. iii. cap. 56. he speaks of Peregrinus, Presbyter et Seniores Musticanæ regionis, i. e. “ Peregrine, the Presbyter, and the El" ders of the Mustacan district.” And again, he addresses one of his Epistles to his church at Hippo, Epist. 139, Dilectissimis fratribus, Clero, Senio oribus et universæ plēbi ecclesiæ Hipponensis. i. e. « To the beloved brethren, the Clergyman, the “ Elders, and all the people of the church at Hippo."
We have complete evidence, then, from the Fathers, as well as from Scripture, that the office of ruling Elder existed in the primitive church; and
we have a direct assertion from a Father of undoubted authority, that this class of officers had been generally discontinued before the middle of the fourth century. Presbyterians, in retaining this office, adhere to the apostolic model ; while Episcopalians, in rejecting it, depart from that model, and lay themselves under the necessity' of erecting offices in their church, for which they do not pretend to produce a scriptural warrant*,
Such is the testimony of the later Fathers on the subject before us. We can find much evidence that, after the close of the third century, a differ. ence of rank between Bishops and ordinary Presbyters began to be generally acknowledged; but we
* No church can long proceed in a regular and orderly manner, without appointing some of its more grave and distinguished lay-members to assist the minister in performing ecclesiastical duties. Episcopalians have their Vestry, and Independents their Committee; both of whom, among other things, discharge many of the duties which properly belong to ruling Elders. And yet both Independents and Episcopalians concur in rejecting this class of officers; and thus virtually fix on themselves the charge of having offices for which no scriptural warrant can be produced. How numerous are the difficulties and absurdities to which men reduce themselves, when they depart from primitive order! And how strongly does the aspect of every other religious communion testify, that Presbyterian church government is the only convenient and adequate form ; inasmuch as none of them can proceed a step without adopting, in practice, her radical principles !
can find no evidence whatever, within the first four centuries*, that the Christian church considered diocesan Episcopacy as the apostolic and primitive form. On the contrary, we have found several Fathers of high reputation expressly declaring, that in the primitive church Bishop and Presbyter were the same; and that prelacy, as it existed in the fourth and following centuries, was a human invention, and gradimly adopted in the church, as a measure of prudence. We have found, in particufar, one Father, who stands at the pinnacle of honor, for learning as well as piety, maintaining both these positions with a clearness, a force of argument, and a detail of illustration, which one would imagine might satisfy incredulity itself. And we have seen in these early writers, a variety of facts incidentally stated ; facts which, taken alone, would be considered by any court on earth as affording conclusive proof, that even after a moderate kind of prelacy arose, the Bishops were still the Pastors of single congregations.
I will not exhaust your patience, my brethren, by pursuing further a chain of testimony so clear and indisputable. I have intentionally disguised nothing that seemed to favor the Episcopal cause ; and, indeed, amidst such poverty of even plausible evidence in their behalf, there is little temptation to disguise any thing. It has truly filled me with
* I believe that this position might be extended several senturies further ; but I forbear at present to urge it beyond the first four hundred years.
surprise at every step of my progress, to observe, that, with all the confidence of assertion, and all the parade of testimony, exhibited by the friends of prelacy, they should be able to produce so little from the Fathers, their strong hold, which can yield them even the semblance of support. I cannot, therefore, conclude this letter in words more expressive of my fixed opinion, than those of a distinguished Bishop of the church of England, who, though he regarded prelacy as a wise human institution, steadfastly resisted the claim of Divine right, which some high churchmen in his day were disposed to urge. After having stated some of their most plausible arguments, he declares, “I
hope my reader will now see what weak proofs,
are brought for this distinction and superiority of " order. No Scripture; no primitive general " Council ; no general consent of primitive Doc
tors and Fathers ; no, not one primitive Father • of note, speaking particularly and home to their
* Bishop Crofi's Naked Truth, p. 47.
Testimony of the Reformers, and other Witnesses for
the Truth, in different ages and nations.
You have been already reminded, that nei. ther the question before us, nor any other which relates to the faith or the order of the church, is to be decided by human authority. We have a higher and more unerring standard. But still, when there is a remarkable concurrence of opinion aniong learned and holy men, in favor of any doctrine or practice, it affords a strong presumptive argument that such doctrine or practice is conformable to Scripture. Thus the fact, that the great body of the Reformers concurred in embracing and supporting that system of evangelical truth, which has been since
very improperly styled Calvinism*, is justly viewed by. the friends of that system as a powerful argument in its favor. Let us apply this principle to the case under consideration.
I say improperly styled Calvinism, because, to say no, thing of its much greater antiquity, the same system had been distinctly taught by several eminent Reformers, and among others, by Luther himself, long before Calvin appeared.