REASONS WHY THE ARGUMENT ON THE CONSTITUTION OF THE CHURCH SHOULD BE CONFINED TO THE SCRIPTURES.
In the discussion pursued in this volume, the argument will be confined wholly to the Scriptures, for the following reasons:
1. The whole subject of the organization and government of the church is one of mere revelation. It is connected with a revealed religion, and there can, therefore, be no authority in the case, except that which is derived from the declared will of God. It is claimed for the church, by all the parties in the controversy, that it is a diyine institution ; and the advocates of Episcopacy, with one voice, maintain that their ministry is of divine appointment. It never occurs to them to affirm that the arrangement of the clergy into " three orders" is a mere matter of expediency, or is adopted because experience has shown that this is the best arrangement, or because other methods have failed in promoting the spirituality of the church, or even because it has unbroken tradition in its favour. It is urged that the arrangement is of divine authority, and it is adopted primarily because it is believed to be founded on the Bible. So uniform are the claims on this point, that, if this were abandoned, the whole fabric would fall, and the claim of being the only arrangement which God has made for the government of the church, which is now set up by the advocates of prelacy, must then be given up; for, if it were a mere matter of expediency, any other system founded on expediency would be equally proper and binding.
Such being the case, it is clear that the whole argument should be confined to the Scriptures. If the religion with which the ministry is connected were a matter of mere human origin or human appointment, then an appeal to the Bible as a supposed revelation would be impertinent and improper. If it were a religion of the state, then all that would be needful would be to appeal to the statutes of the land. If it were a question of expediency, then the appeal should be to what experience has shown to be the best methods of government, and to the different degrees of probable advantage which could be urged in favour of different systems. If it were to be settled by mere custom, or by antiquity—as it may occur that the claim to title to lands is to be settled, or as it may be necessary to determine some usage or right under a civil government—then it would be proper to appeal to antiquity, and to call in the aid of the Fathers. But none of these things exist. It is not a human institution; nor is it a mere creature of the state; nor is it a thing of expediency; nor is it a simple question about antiquity :—it is a question whether God has appointed the Episcopal orders of the ministry to govern the churches; and this question can be settled only by an appeal to the Scriptures.
2. No authority has been given to the "Fathers" to determine this question. There is no evidence that they were authorized by the Head of the Church, either individually or by councils, to determine what should be the arrangement in the government of the church ; nor is there *ny evidence that they were to be regarded as the infallible expounders of what the will of the Author of the Christian system was. It was not promised that they should have any special wisdom to arrange matters in the church; to appoint officers; to settle controversies, or to appoint orders in the ministry which should be regarded as commissioned by God. If the importance which has been attached to their views in this matter had been contemplated by the Saviour, it is remarkable that he left no intimation that their sentiments would be entitled to such deference, or that their declarations should be authoritative in the churches. If it had been intended that councils should be regarded as having authority to settle this, then there is every reason to suppose that some intimation of this would be furnished in the discourses of the Saviour. It is needless, however, to say that no such authority from the New Testament can be adduced.
3. There is evidence in the New Testament itself, that the appeal should be confined to the Scriptures, and that Christ meant that the inquiry should be limited to them. This evidence is found in such , facts as these: The account of the manner in which he organized the church looks as if he designed to arrange the whole subject himself, so as to leave no ground for the necessity of an appeal to coming generations of men. He set apart an order of men with great solemnity, and invested them with great authority, for the purpose of preaching the gospel and organizing the church. He taught them personally more than three years, and in such a way as to make them fully acquainted with his views and designs. He gave them full authority in the case to "bind and loose;" to establish and dissolve; with no intimation that this duty was to devolve on any of their successors. The instructions which he gave, were given to them, not to a fancied order of successors; to those whom he had trained under his own eye, not to those who were to be trained under theirs. He never intimated that they would be unable to complete the arrangement, and to settle the church on a permanent basis; or that it would be necessary for them to leave any part of the arrangement to be perfected in future times. Those men, thus appointed, actually undertook the work, fully believing that they Vere competent to it, and acting just as if they were empowered to complete the arrangement. They went forth and preached; they founded churches; they appointed officers; they gave directions in regard to the rites and observances of worship; and they undeniably left the impression everywhere that they regarded themselves as invested with the fullest authority to organize the church. A record has been preserved, containing a full account of what was done by them in establishing churches; and to what can we so naturally look as to that, to know in what manner the Saviour designed that it should be done? There is no intimation in that record, or in any of the writings of these apostles, that they left any thing to be done by those who should succeed them. There is no hint that their successors were to complete or to perfect the plan; or that they were to give information about what the apostles had done. Any one who reads the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, cannot fail to be convinced that the writers supposed they were giving all the information which was needful for the guidance of maflkind about the organization of the Christian church. •
4. The "Fathers" of the church were not in circumstances so favourable to give the proper information as the apostles themselves. The " Fathers" comprise a succession of men who lived in the first centuries of the Cnristian era—usually supposed to include those who lived in the first four or five centuries. Subsequent to that period no one appeals to the "Fathers" in proof of what was the early constitution of the Christian church. Yet, within that time, what extraordinary advantage had they for knowing what was done by the apostles ? Why should we appeal to them, rather than to the record which the apostles themselves made of what they had done ? They were not inspired men; most of them lived in places remote from the fields where the apostles laboured; and not a few of them, undeniably, several generations after the apostles. Why should we go to them to know what order the apostles established in the church ? Why should we dip up water from the Ganges or the Mississippi where they pour their floods into the ocean, after they have worn the shores and mingled with the streams flowing into them for thousands of miles, to know what the water is at the fountains ? He who could stand near those fountains, and drink the water there, would never think of wandering by the course of the turbid river to examine it as it flows along, or as it mingles with the ocean, to know what were its qualities.
5. It is impossible to settle the question by an appeal to the " Fathers." The attempt has been made in this controversy for centuries, and with no prospect of coming any nearer to a termination. To whatever cause it may be traced, it is a simple matter of history, that no witnesses of facts have ever been less satisfactory than the so-called Christian Fathers. No set of writers has ever lived, from whom so contradictory statements are derived; who can be appealed to with so much plausibility on both sides of a question, and whom it is so easy to set in array against each other. As this will be conceded by all who have ever read them, or who have ever looked into the controversies on the subject of the organization of the church, it is unnecessary to adduce any proof of it. This remark can be made without, in the least, impeaching the piety of the "Fathers," or undervaluing the services which they rendered to the cause of truth, or displacing them from the position which they ought to hold in the affections and grateful remembrance of mankind. Whatever may be the fact about the actual contradictions, or want of consistency, of any of the "Fathers," it can be traced to other causes than to a want of piety or general excellence of character. Much may be said, on each of these points, with more plausibility and probability than would be desirable when speaking of good men, but it is not necessary to say this in order to see their entire unfitness to decide the Episcopal controversy. In the management of this controversy hitherto, it is impossible for any one, who has any suitable regard for the authority of the Bible, not to feel pain at the manner in which the argument has been conducted.
By common consent, almost, the writers on both sides have turned from the New Testament, where the controversy might have been brought to a speedy issue, to listen to the decisions of the "Fathers;" and as might have been expected, have
" Found no end, in wandering mazes lost."
It was the policy of the friends of prelacy to do so; and it was the folly of their opponents to suffer them to choose the field of debate, and to weary themselves in an effort to fix the meaning, to secure the consistency, and obtain the suffrages of the " Fathers." Full well was it known by the friends of Episcopacy in other times, that the New Testament could furnish only the most slender support for their claims. In the times of the papacy, it had always been defended by an appeal to the "Fathers." The system had risen there, sustained not even professedly by the authority of the Bible, but by the traditions of the elders. The ranks and orders of the papal priesthood could be defended only by the authority of a church which claimed infallibility, and 'which might dispense, therefore, with the New Testament. The Reformers came forth from the bosom of the papacy with much of this feeling. They approached this subject with high reverence for the opinions of past times; with a deference for the Fathers, nourished by all the forms of their education, by all existing institutions, and by the reluctance of the human mind to break away from the established customs of ages. On the one hand, the advocates of Episcopacy found their proofs in the common law of the church—the institutions which had existed " time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary;" and, on-the other hand, the opponents of prelacy were equally anxious to show that they had not departed from the customs of the Fathers, and that the defence of their institutions might be found in times far remote, and in records which received the veneration and commanded the confidence of the Christian world. Into this abyss both parties plunged. In this immense chaos of opinions and interpretations—into these moving, disorganized, jostling elements, where, as in the first chaos, light struggled with darkness, and confusion reigned, they threw themselves, to endeavour severally to find support for their opinions. " Whatsoever time, or the heedless hand of blind chance," says Milton, "hath drawn down from of old to this present, in her huge drag-net, whether fish or sea-weed, shells or shrubs, unpicked, unchosen, those are the Fathers." With those who, according to Mosheim,* deemed it not only lawful, but commendable, to deceive and lie for the sake of truth and piety, how could any point be settled that involved controversy ? With men who held to every strange and ridiculous opinion; to every vagary that the human mind can conceive ;f it would be strange if both sides in this controversy did not find enough that had the appearance of demonstration, to perplex and embarrass an opponent. In examining this controversy, as it was conducted in former times, no one could help being amused or pained at the perfect complacency with which a passage from one of the Fathers is adduced in defence of either side of the question, and the perfect ease with which, by a new translation, or by introducing a few words of the context, or, more frequently, by an appeal to some other part of the same author, not studious himself of consistency, the passage' is shown to mean just the contrary; and then again a new version, or yet another quotation, would give it a new aspect, and restore it to its former honours.J Thus, the Fathers became a mere football between the contending parties; and thus, in this controversy, the weary searcher for truth finds no solid ground. Eminently here, " he which is first in his cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him." Prov. xviii. 17. To this wearisome and unsatisfactory toil he is doomed who will' read all the older controversies on Episcopacy. There he,
* Murdock's Mosheim, vol. i. p. 159. f See Tillemont's Ecclesiastical History, passim. J See the Letters of Dr. Miller, and Dr. Bowdon on Episcopacy, passim.
" O'er bog or steep, through strait, rough, dense, or rare, With head, hauds, wings, or feet, pursues his way, And swims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies."
The following very striking remark of Bishop Jeremy Taylor—himself one of the brightest ornaments of Episcopacy—expresses undoubtedly the true view in regard to the value of the Christian Fathers as instructors and guides:—" It must be acknowledged," says he, "that the writers of the ancient dispensation were such as those should be who were looking onward toward the bright day of gospel splendour; while the early Christian doctors were just such as one might expect to find in those who were looking onward toward that deep night of superstition which covered Europe during the Middle Ages. The dawn is seen to be gleaming upon the foreheads of the one class of writers, while a sullen gloom overshadows the brows of the other."*
* Quoted in the Biblical Repository for January, 1824, p. 105.
Were we to adduce the most striking instance of the plastic nature of the proof adduced from the Fathers, we should refer to the epistles of Ignatius. They seem to be a plain, straight-forward account of the existence of Presbyterianism in his time. They are substantially such a description as a man would give, writing in the inflated and exaggerated manner in which the Orientals wrote, of Presbyterianism as it exists in the United States. Yet it is well known that, with the utmost pertinacity, those letters have been adduced as proving the divine origin of Episcopacy. And so confident have been the assertions on this subject, that not a few non-Episcopalians have given them up as unmanageable, and have stoutly contended, what may be very true, that no inconsiderable part of them are forgeries.
Any man- can see what a hopeless task is before him if he endeavours to settle this controversy by the authority of the Fathers. The waste of time, and talent, and learning, on this subject, is fitted deeply to humble the heart. And the passion has not ceased. Even now, men high in office and in rank, leave the New Testament and appeal to the Fathers. Episcopacy is discarded, not principally because the New Testament is a stranger to it, but because Jerome was not a prelatist; it is rejected, not because it cannot be made out from the Bible, but because it is a matter of debate whether the Fathers teach it or not.
But, apart from all that might be said to impugn the authority of the Fathers on certain points, there are other circumstances which show, in the most ample manner, that such a controversy cannot be settled by an appeal to them. One is, the great number of the authorities to be examined, aad the amount of writing with which a man must become familiar who relies on this testimony—putting it wholly out of the power of the great mass of Christians, and even -of ministers of the gospel, to determine what was the organization of the church, if the appeal is to be made to them. In the works of the Fathers to which I have access, embracing those of the first five centuries of the Christian era, there are no less than fifty-four folio volumes, besides a considerable number of smaller size. How could the mass of Christians hope to obtain sufficient familiarity with those numerous and massive tomes, to be able to educe from them a correct view of the constitution of the primitive church ? How different is such an appeal, in regard to the facility of coming to any satisfactory conclusion, from that which all men may make to the small volume of the New Testament!—A second circumstance is this : those volumes are all in languages now unspoken. There is of necessity, therefore, much difficulty in arriving with certainty at the exact meaning of the writers. There is much ambiguity; much to perplex the scholar; much which may be plausibly interpreted in different modes, and which may, by a new translation, or by being presented in a different connection, be adduced on both sides of a question. Besides, how are the mass of Christians all over the world to have access to those volumes ? Can it be presumed that they are sufficiently familiar with the Greek and Latin languages to be able to settle a controversy of this nature ?—A third circumstance is this : there is much that is vague in statement; unsettled in definition; loose in narrative or declamation among those writers, as there must be always among so voluminous authors. It is undeniable, too, that they not unfrequently contradict each other and themselves.—A fourth circumstance may be adverted to: it is the remarkable difference in regard to simplicity, clearness, directness, apparent honesty, and all that gives value to written testimony, between the character of the writings of the Apostles and the Fathers. This difference I cannot better express, than in the language of one eminently qualified to express it, and who has noticed the difference with no reference to the point now under discussion. It is the testimony of Neander.* "Thefirst authors which succeeded the apostles are the so-called Christian Fathers, who began at the apostolic times, and should have been the scholars of the apostles. In this kind of writers, a particular
* Geschichte d. Christlichen Religion und Kirehe, 1. c. 1009.
thing deserving attention is, the remarkable difference between the writings of the apostles and the writings of the apostolic Fathers who lived even so near to their times. The transition from one class of writers to another, is usually gradual; here it is sudden. There is here no gradual transition, but a spring, [or leap—ein Sprung^ which is sufficient to turn the attention to the recognition of the special efficiency of the Divine Spirit in the souls of the apostles."
On this subject, also, the following remarks of Archbishop Whately will commend themselves to every candid mind; and they are of the more value as they come from one who has been honoured with the highest office in the gift of the Episcopal Church:
" For when referred to the works of the orthodox ancient Fathers, they [men] find that a very large portion of these works are lost; or that some fragments or reports of them by other writers alone remain : they find again that what has come down to us is so vast in amount that a life is not sufficient for the attentive study of even the chief part of it: they find these authors by no means agreed, on all points, with each other, or with themselves, and that learned men again are not agreed in the interpretation of them; and still less agreed as to the orthodoxy of each, and the degree of weight due to his judgment on several points; nor even agreed by some centuries as to the degree of antiquity that is to. make the authority of each decisive, or more or less approaching to decisive.
" Every thing in short pertaining to this appeal is obscure—uncertain—disputable—and actually disputed—to such a degree, that even those who are not able to read the original authors may yet be perfectly competent to perceive how unstable a foundation they furnish. They can perceive that the mass of Christians are called on to believe and to do what is essential to Christianity, in implicit reliance on the reports of their respective pastors as to what certain deep theological antiquaries have reported to them, respecting the reports given by certain ancient Fathers, of the reports current in their times concerning apostolical usages and institutions ! And yet, whoever departs in any degree from these, is to be regarded at best in an intermediate state between Christianity and heathenism! Surely the tendency of this procedure must be to drive the doubting into confirmed (though, perhaps, secret) infidelity, and to fill with doubts the most sincerely pious, if they are anxiously desirous of attaining truth, and unhappily have sought it from . such instructors."*
In settling an important question, how different is the argument derived from such writings, from an appeal to the New Testament! That is one small volume; simple in its character and statements; easily perused; with no ambiguity, no pomp of rhetoric, no prejudice in favour of an existing custom ; with no contradiction between one writer and another, and no inconsistency in the statements of the same writer at different times and in different circumstances. It contains not, moreover, the language of conjecture; it does not depend for its authority on human reasoning; and it is undiluted in any of its statements by the reasonings of philosophy or by tradition.
* Kingdom of Christ Delineated, Essay ii. \ 21.
If it should be said here, that experience has shown that it is impossible to settle this controversy by an appeal to the Scriptures; that men differ as much about the meaning of the sacred writers on the constitution of the church as they do about the testimony of the Fathers; and that, though the churches have had the Bible for eighteen hundred years, the Christian world is still wholly divided in opinion on the subject,—I reply, (1.) That whatever may be the reasons why men have varied so much in their interpretation of the New Testament in the case, it is still true that it is easier to come to a determination of the question by an appeal to that than by an appeal to the Fathers. To the eye of common sense it is clear, that the testimony of a small volume like the New Testament, written at the time when the church was organized, and by the men who did it, can be more easily arrived at than those of a succession of voluminous writers such as the Fathers are, extending through a period of several hundred years. I reply, (2.) That one main reason, and perhaps the only reason, why the sentiments of men have been divided in the case, and why the whole controversy has not been long since settled is, that they are constantly leaving the New Testament and appealing to the Fathers. The argument has never been confined, on either side, to the Bible. Each party has felt itself bound, either in self-defence or to meet its opponent, to appeal to the Fathers. The war has raged there. The triumphs or defeats have been on that field; and, in the whole range of the controversy, it is believed there is not a single volume, on either side, that makes the appeal solely and exclusively to the Bible. And if this be so, then it should not be said that experience has shown that it is impossible to settle this inquiry by an appeal to the Scriptures. Were the volumes of the Fathers all burned and forgotten, and were all the influence which they have exerted over this controversy removed, it would require but a brief period to determine whether Episcopacy is founded on the Bible.
6. That the appeal should be made to the Scriptures alone is now conceded by Episcopalians themselves. It was long, indeed, before the advocates for prelacy were willing to concede, in so many words, that the controversy was to be determined by the Bible; and that it is conceded in principle is a point gained of inestimable importance, and will bring the controversy to a termination whenever it is honestly and fully applied. That it is conceded is clear from the admissions of one who, as a prelate of the Episcopal Church, has a right to express the prevalent sentiment in that church, and whose words may be regarded as having the force of authority. The sentiment, also, should be allowed to have greater weight because the tract in which it occurs has been issued by the "Protestant Episcopal Tract Society," and may be supposed, therefore, to express the present views of the whole Episcopal Church, at least in the United States. The language of Dr. Onderdonk, in the tract referred to,* is the following: " The claim of Episcopacy to be of divine institution, and, therefore, obligatory on the church, rests fundamentally on the one question: Has it the authority of Scripture ? If it has not, it is not necessarily binding. This one point should be kept in view in every discussion of the subject; no argument is worth taking into the account that has not a palpable bearing on the clear and naked topic—the scriptural evidence of Episcopacy." P. 3. The simple and honest avowal of a sentiment like this from such a quarter, should be hailed by every friend of the truth as placing the whole of this discussion on a proper basis. It is a subject of sincere congratulation that it is now conceded that we may bring to this subject the great principle of the Reformation, that all religious opinions are to be tested by the Scriptures. It indicates a healthy state of things in the Episcopal Church in this country. It will save endless disputes about words, and much useless toil in endeavouring to give consistency and sense to the Fathers. This mode of reasoning, too, will soon decide the controversy. Hereafter, let it be held up as a great principle from which, neither in spirit nor in form, we are ever to depart, that if the peculiar doctrines of Episcopacy are not found in the Scriptures, they are to be abandoned, or held, as Cranmer held them, as matters of mere expediency. Let this truth go forth, never to be recalled; and let every man who attempts to defend the claims of prelates appeal to the Bible alone. On this appeal, with confidence, we rest the issue of this case.
* "Episcopacy tested by Scripture." I quote now, and shall hereafter, from the tract published at the " Protestant Episcopal Press," in connection with other articles on the subject. and called "Episcopacy Examined and Rc-exarained." New York, 1836.
For reasons such as have now been stated, it is proposed to conduct the following investigation solely with reference to the testimony of the Scriptures. By the results of such an investigation the Protestant community must ultimately abide.