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“ sembly. A regard for the public tranquillity, " which would so frequently have been interrupted
by annual, or by occasional elections, induced the primitive Christians to constitute an honorable " and perpetual magistracy, and to choose one of “ the wisest and most holy among their Presbyters,
to execute, during his life, the duties of their ec- clesiastical governor.
It was under these cir. · cumstances that the lofty title of Bishop began to “ raise itself above the humble appellation of Pres
byter ; and while the latter remained the most "natural distinction for the members of every “ Christian senate, the former was appropriated to “the dignity of its new President. The pious and “humble Presbyters who were first dignified with 56 the Episcopal title, could not possess, and would
probably have rejected the power and pomp which
now encircle the tiara of the Roman Pontiff, or “ the mitre of a German Prelate. The primitive “ Bishops were considered only as the first of their
equals, and the honorable servants of a free people.. Whenever the episcopal chair became va
cant by death, a new President was chosen “ among the Presbyters, by the suffrage of the “ whole congregation. Such was the mild and equal ~ constitution by which the Christians were govern“ed more than an hundred years after the death of
the Apostles*." Decline and Fall. Vol. II. 272 -275.
* Here is an explicit declaration, that the presidency or standing moderatorship of one of the Presbyters, among his
Concerning the state of Episcopacy in the third century, Mr. Gibbon thus speaks. “As the legis"lative authority of the particular churches, was
insensibly superseded by the use of Councils, the “ Bishops obtained by their alliance, a much larger " share of executive and arbitrary power ; and, as
soon as they were connected by a sense of their
common interest, they were enabled to attack “ with united vigour the original rights of the cler
gy and people. The prelates of the third century “ imperceptibly changed the language of exhorta* tion into that of command, scattered the seeds of “ future usurpations, and supplied by scripture alle“gories, and declamatory rhetoric, their deficiency " of force and of reason. They exalted the unity " and power of the church, as it was represented in " the Episcopal office, of which every Bishop enjoy" ed an equal and undivided portion. Princes and “ magistrates, it was often repeated, might boast
an earthly claim to a transitory dominion. It was " the Episcopal authority alone, which was derived “ from the Deity, and extended itself over this, and over another world.
The Bishops were the “ vicegerents of Christ, the successors of the Apos“tles, and the mystic substitutes of the High-priest “ of the Mosaic law. Their exclusive privilege " of conferring the sacerdotal character, invaded the s freedom both of clerical and of popular elections ; colleagues, without any claim to superiority of order, was the only kind of Episcopacy that existed in the church until near the close of the second century.
« and if, in the administration of the church, they " sometimes consulted the judgment of the Presby.
ters, or the inclination of the people, they most “ carefully inculcated the merit of such a voluntary “ condescension.” I. p. 276, 277.
Dr. Haweis, an Episcopal divine, in his Ecclesiastical History, a late and popular work before quoted, substantially agrees with Dr. Mosheim, and Mr. Gibbon, in their representations on this subject. He explicitly pronounces with them, that primitive Episcopacy was parochial, and not diocesan ; that clerical pride and ambition gradually introduced prelacy; that there was no material innovation, however, on the primitive model, until the middle of the second century; and that after this, the system of imparity made rapid progress, until there arose, in succession, Diocesan Bishops, Archbishops, Metropolitans, Patriarchs, and, finally, the Pope himself.
The great body of ecclesiastical historians give, in substance, the same account. There is indeed, some difference of opinion among them concerning the times at which the various steps in the rise and progress of prelacy were taken, and concerning the means which ambitious ecclesiastics employed in making their successive encroachments; but I know of no Protestant historian who has the character of even tolerable impartiality, who does not represent prelacy as a human invention, which was brought in some time after the Apostle's days, and which arose gradually and almost insensibly from
small beginnings, until it terminated in the grand and triumphant usurpation of the Bishop of Rome. Hence professor Whitaker, an Episcopal divine of great learning, and of high authority, speaking of the conceded fact, that prelacy was introduced after the Apostolic age, and as a remedy against schism, frankly declares, that “ the remedy was al“ most worse than the disease; for as at first one
Presbyter was set over the rest, and made Bishop, " so afterwards one Bishop was set over the other
Bishops. Thus that custom begot the Pope and “ his monarchy, and brought them by little and lit“ tle into the church.” Regim. Eccles. p. 540.
The fact being thus established, that diocesan Episcopacy was not sanctioned by the Apostles ; that it was the offspring of human ambition; and that it was gradually introduced into the church; I shall not detain you long in considering the precise gradations by which it was introduced, or the
precise date to be assigned to each step in its progress. Such an inquiry is as unnecessary and unimportant as it is difficult. But as it may gratify some readers to know how those who have most deeply and successfully explored antiquity, have considered the subject, I shall attempt a sketch of what appears to have been the rise and progress of this remarkable usurpation.
The Christian religion spread itself during the Apostolic age, over a large part of the Roman empire. It was first received in the principal cities,
Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome. Here congregations appear to have been first formed, and church officers first appointed. As the places of worship were usually private houses, it follows of course that each congregation was comparatively small. And as we read of great multitudes having believed in several of the larger cities, we may infer that there were a number of these congregations, or small house churches in each of those cities.
Each primitive congregation was furnished with one or more Elders, and also with Deacons. The Elders were of two kinds: the first class were mi. nisters of the Gospel, and therefore taught and led the devotions of the people, as well as ruled in the church. The other class assisted as rulers only. It is not certain that both these classes of Elders were found in every church. We only know that they both existed in the Apostolic age ; and that all the Elders of each congregation, when convened, formed a kind of parochial Presbytery, or church Sesa sion. The teaching Elders were also called Bishops. Of these each congregation was always furnished with one, and sometimes with several, according to the number of its members, and other cireumstances. We are expressly told in the sacred history, that in the days of the Apostles there were a number of Bishops in each of the cities of Ephesus and Philippi ; and it is most probable that these were the pastors of different congregations in those cities respectively.