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been published on the subject of these letters been in general circulation among you, or had it been easy to put them in circulation, I should have thought it unnecessary to ask your attention to the following sheets. But as most of those works are too voluminous to be generally read; as several of the best of them are in a language not generally understood ; as many of them contain much matter inapplicable to the state of our country; and as others, being intended to answer particular purposes, are too confined in their views, I have thought myself justifiable in attempting to lay the subject before you in a form somewhat different from that of any work with which I am acquainted. And in doing this, I am not without the hope, that you will be disposed to receive with some partiality, and to peruse with a kind interest, an address from one who has laboured sincerely, though with many infirmities, for more than twelve years, to promote your spiritual interest, and who has no greater pleasure than to see you walking in the truth.
To treat the question considered in the following pages, in all its extent, and even to present the principal arguments with a fulness desirable to some readers, would be to fill several volumes. In contracting the discussion, therefore, within the limits of this little manual, I have laid myself under the necessity of being every where extremely brief, and of totally excluding many topics, both of argument and illustration, which might be profitably introduced. But, amidst this unavoidable brevity,
I hope you will do me the justice to believe, that no assertion will be made but what I conscientiously consider as susceptible of the most abundant proof; that no arguments will be stated, but those which I believe to have stood immoveably solid, after every attempt to answer them ; that no authorities will be produced, but those which are generally admitted to be of the most respectable character; and, in a word, that the whole subject will be presented as fairly and impartially as I am able. With respect to authorities, indeed, I have endeavoured, in all cases in which I could obtain access to them, to quote the most distinguished Episcopal writers themselves. The concessions of learned and wary adversaries, in favour of our doctrines, carry with them peculiar weight.
But before I conclude this introductory letter, suffer me, my dear brethren, to remind you, that the names and powers of Christ's ministers, and the form of government adopted in his Church, though objects of inquiry, on various accounts, highly interesting, are yet to be numbered among the externals of religion. You may entertain perfectly correct opinions on these subjects, and yet, after all, have no just claim to the Christian character. You may be connected with the purest Church on earth, and may receive all its ordinances, from the hands of the most regular and valid mi. nistry in Christendom, and yet be aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise. It is true, the externals of reli.
gion have a closer connexion with its spirit and power than is commonly imagined; but still they are externals only, and must not be suffered to usurp a disproportioned share of our regard. The scriptures speak to us frequently respecting the outward organization of the Church ; but they speak to us much more frequently; they dwell with much more fervent and solemn emphasis, on that faith, which unites the soul to Jesus Christ; that repentance which is untu life; and that holiness of temper and of practice, without which no man can see the Lord. Let me beseech you, then, to remember, in every stage of this discussion, that, in Christ fesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature ; and that, while one saith, I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos, and another, I am of Cephas, unless we are all of Christ, united to him by a vital faith, and built upon him as the only foundation of our hope, we cannot see the kingdom of God. “ Every believer in Jesus," says an eminent Episcopalian, “who is a partaker of the grace of God “ in truth, is a member of the true Church, to “ whatever particular denomination of Christians “ he may belong; without this, Popes, Bishops, “ Presbyters, Pastors, or Deacons, are but the « limbs of Anti-christ and of the Synagogue of “ Satan ; and belong to no Church which the
great Shepherd and Bishop of souls will ac“knowledge for his own.”
CHRISTIAN BRETHREN, Ix all disputes relating either to the faith or the practice of Christians, the first, and the grand question is, What saith the Scripture? This is the ultimate and the only infallible standard. Whatever is not found in the Bible cannot be considered, in any sense, as essential either to the doctrine or the order of the Church. This maxim is especially applicable to the subject now under discussion. As the Christian ministry is an office deriving its existence and its authority solely from Jesus Christ, the King and Head of his Church, it is obvious that his Word is the only rule by which any claims to this office can properly be tried, and the duties and powers of those who bear it, ascertained. Every other standard is unauthorized, variable, and uncertain. On the word of God alone can we with confidence and safety rely for direction in things relating to his spiritual kingdom. The declarations of two eminent Episcopal writers on this subject are just and weighty. “ The Scripture, says Dr. Sherlock," is all of a piece every part of sit agrees with the rest.
The Fathers many
6 times contradict themselves and each other." In the same strain speaks the celebrated Chillingworth.-" I, for my part, after a long, and (as I .
verily hope and believe) impartial search of “ the true way to eternal happiness, do profess
plairly, that I cannot find any rest for the sole of my feet, but upon this rock only, viz. the Scrip
ture. I see plainly, and with my own eyes, " councils against councils,some Fathers against oth
ers, the same Fathers against themselves, a con
sent of Fathers of one age against a consent of " Fathers of another age, and the Church of one
age against the Church of another age.”—But it is needless to multiply reasonings or authorities on this subject. The sufficiency and infallibility of the Scriptures alone, as a rule of faith and practice, was assumed as the grand principle of the Reformation from Popery, and is acknowledged to be the foundation of the Protestant cause.
Let us, then, examine what the Scriptures say on the point in dispute. And here it is proper to premise, that whoever expects to find any formal or explicit decisions on this subject, delivered by Christ or his Apostles, will be disappointed. It is true, the discourses of the Saviour, and the writ. ings of those who were inspired with the knowledge of his will, contain many observations and instructions concerning the Christian ministry: but they are chiefly employed in prescribing the qualifications, and urging the duties of those who serve God in the Gospel of his Son, rather than in defining