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I PROCEED to examine your letters; and it gives me pleasure to observe that they are expressed, for the most part, in terms of politeness, and courtesy. But, while I ack readily acknowledge this, the sacred regard, which is due to truth, compels me to say, that they are, not infrequently, marked with a spirit of extreme bitterness; and that they, too often, present assertions and insinuations, which, on every principle of consistency, and of candor, should have been spared. They appear to me, also, to be, not a little, distinguished by that positiveness which you so freely charge upon Episcopal writers; settling the questions, which they discuss, in a tone of the most peremptory decision.
Before entering upon an examination of your reasoning, I think it proper to take a brief notice of some passages, in your letters, which do great injustice to the Episcopal church and its advocates.
You repeatedly charge your opponents with embracing every opportunity to denounce the Presbyterial ministry, and ordinances.* All this, when properly interpreted, amounts to nothing more than that we think the priesthood was constituted in one way; you, in another; and, if to presume to differ from you in opinion is to denounce you, we plead guilty to the charge.
But let us see how this matter is.
In her standards, the Episcopal church expressly declares that there have been three orders of ministers from the Apostles' times; that these orders are Bishops, Priests and Deacons; that Almighty God, by his Holy Spirit, did institute them; and that no man shall be accounted a lawful
Letters, p. 19, 350, 352.
minister without having received Episcopal ordination.*— In saying this, she merely expresses her sense of scripture, and her opinion as to the constitution of the priesthood.She casts no censure upon others; nor utters any denunciation against them. And is it not the duty of those minis ters who have subscribed her standards to defend them? Can they preserve total silence without violating the ties which bind them to their church, and disregarding the solemn duty of delivering to their people the whole counsel of God?
What, sir, do we denounce you because we cannot be lieve Presbyterial ordination to be valid? A stranger, upon reading your book, would suppose that the Episcopal church declares against you as unfit to be tolerated, and calls upon the civil magistrate to crush you by the force of his author ity. He never could imagine that her crime consists in thinking for herself, on an important subject of religion; or in decently declaring the principles in which she conscientiously believes.
But from you, sir, this charge astonishes me. You be long to a denomination which hold that the ministry is essential to the church;† that there is no ministry without an outward ordination ;‡ no outward ordination but such as is Presbyterial; and that, except in a church so constituted, there can be no covenanted possibility of salvation.§ In your letters themselves the doctrine is expressly laid down.¶ If, then, episcopal writers are guilty of denunciation, how will you defend your society, and yourself, from the charge!
But the presbyterian confessions of faith stop not here; expressly declaring diocesan episcopacy to be a corrupt innovation, and all subordination, in the ministry, to be "unscriptural and antichristian."* Nay, your coadjutor, Mr. M'Leod, asserts that presbytertanism is essential to lawful government both in church and state; hesitating not to
* Book of consecration of Bishops and of ordering of Priests and Deacons.
† Presbyterian Confession of Faith, chap. xxv. 3.
Ibid. chap. xxvii. 4.
Letters, p. 347.
§ Presbyterian Confession of Faith, chap. xxv. 2. connected with chap. xxvii. 1. 4. ¶ Letters, p. 347.
*Constitution and Standards of the Associate reformed church in North America.
charge impiety upon all the civil constitutions of this country because not constructed, throughout, upon true presbyterial principles.*
Now, sir, is it not surprising that you should thus declaim against Episcopal writers, after setting up your own denomination as the only true church upon earth, and expressly charging every society, differently constituted, with corruption and apostacy? Yes, sir, I say that you set up your own denomination as the only true church upon earth; and I trust I shall be able to prove it, to the satisfaction of every candid mind, before I cease to address you. I know, perfectly well, that you talk quite loosely, upon this subject, in many parts of your work; representing certain internal qualifications as alone necessary to constitute a church;† but, here, you are, evidently, in the regions of fancy; trampling upon the presbyterian confession of faith; contradicting your own positive declarations; making saintship the criterion of church membership; and, thus, overthrowing the visible church, its ministry, and ordinances, altogether.
See how very freely your friend, Mr. M'Leod, expresses himself!
"A person who is not ordained to office by a presbytery has no right to be received as a minister of Christ: His administration of ordinances is invalid: no divine blessing is promised on his labors: it is rebellion against the head of the church to support him in his pretensions: Christ has excluded him, in his providence, from admission through the ordinary door; and, if he has no evidence of miraculous power to testify his extraordinary mission, he is an impostor." And this, let me observe, is the spirit of all the presbyterian confessions of faith. You yourself lay the doctrine down in so many words.
"It is only so far as any succession flows through the -line of presbyters that it is either regular or valid. It is the laying on of the hands of the presbytery that constitutes a scriptural ordination; and it is because episcopal bishops are presbyters, and assisted in all ordinations by other presbyters, that we consider their ordaining acts, on the principles of scripture and primitive usage, as valid." And it is
* Reformation Principles, part. I. p. 134, to 137. Letters, p. 344.
+ Ecclesiastical catechism, p. 29, 30. S Letters, p. 347.
only, in this view of the subject, says Mr. M'Leod, that the re-ordaining and re-baptising of episcopal priests and lay. men can be dispensed with.*
The Deacons of our church are ministers of the word, and of baptism. Being ordained by the Bishop alone, they are, according to Mr. M'Leod, and yourself; and let me add, according to the language, or spirit, of all the presbyterian confessions of faith, no better than impostors. The divine blessing is not promised upon their labors; and to support them, in their pretentions, is to be guilty of rebellion against the great Head of the church.
And, sir, episcopal presbyters receive no better treatment at your hands. Their ordination is valid only when viewed with a presbyterial eye. Now, our church regards the Bishop, in ordination, as a superior officer, conveying the sacerdotal authority; considering presbyters as associated with him, merely to guard the exercise of the power, and on the ground of ecclesiastical usage alone.† In the point of light, then, in which episcopalians view the subject, and in which their standards expressly place it, the whole ceremony of ordination is a farce, nay, an act of rebellion against God. But you choose to take a different view of the matter, and to regard the Bishop as a mere presbyter acting with his fellow presbyters. This, sir, is your mode of ordination. We have nothing to do with it. The Bishop alone conveys the authority. He acts as a superior officer; and his presbyters do nothing more than express concurrence. The ordination is good without their agency. Episcopal presbyters, then, are impostors; their ministrations are a nullity; and to support them is to be guilty of rebellion.
It is very easy to see why Presbyterians are so solicitous to give some turn to this part of the subject, which will enable them to subscribe to the validity of episcopal ordina
* E. Cat. p. 31.
†The practice of Presbyters uniting with Bishops, in imposi tion of hands, has never prevailed in the Greek church, and was not introduced into the western, until the latter part of the fourth century. Ecclesiastical history points out the very council by which the canon was passed. This single fact is sufficient to overthrow the whole fabric of presbyterial reasoning, from the very foundation. It shews, conclusively, what the universal practice of the church has been with respect to ordination.
tion. It is the basis on which they rest. To deny it would be to destroy themselves. They call it, therefore, presbyterial, which it is not; and then, to be sure, admit it to be very good: What, sir, becomes of the Presbyterian sect, if Episcopal ordination be invalid! You are seceders from the Episcopal church. Whatever spiritual authority there may be among you, it flows through the line of Bishops. If, then, ordination by Bishops is a nullity, you have no priesthood, and, of course, no ordinances.-Ah! this will not do. Such a conclusion can never be admitted. And to evade it, we are presented with one of the most curious specimens of logic, that ever insulted the understanding of
Suppose the Quaker should charge you with intemperate denunciation; exclaiming in your own language, "why can we not quietly and meekly enjoy our privileges together." What reply could you make to him! Any excuse which you might be disposed to offer would be annihilated, at once, by a reference to your bitter complaints against your Episcopal brethren. Do you not consider baptism as the appointed method of initiation into the church, and as, generrally, necessary to salvation? Is not this the language of the Presbyterian confession of faith?* Why, then, will you denounce the Quakers; denying them to be members of the church of Christ, and cutting them off from all covenanted title to eternal happiness?
Ah! but you have some reserve. And a very curious one it is. Every believer is a member of the church; all holy persons belong to it. Is it, indeed, so? Do faith and holiness constitute a church? Who sees not that this is a method of talking altogether vague, and ridiculous! The church upon earth is a visible church. It has a visible ministry, visible ordinances, and consists of good and bad members. So says the scripture. So say the Presbyterian confessions of faith. But it seems that the only essential characteristics of the church are faith and holiness. These are invisible. No man knoweth the heart. The visible church, then, is a society consisting of invisible people.
Into all this confusion and inconsistency, you seem to be driven by your desire to avoid the appearance of uncharita
* Presbyterian confession of Faith, chap. xxv. 3. xxvii, 4. xxviii 1. Letters, p. 20, 344.