HAS our adored Master instructed the government of his Christian church, to diocesan bishops, superior to teaching presbyters? These, my friend has often told me, “are expressly mentioned in the sacred page their office established on the pattern of the Hebrew high priest. They succeed to the twelve apostles; as presbyters do to the seventy. James the less, was bishop at Jerusalem; Timothy at Ephesus; Titus at Crete. The seven angels of the Asian churches, mentioned in the apocalyptic vision, and epistles, were their diocesan prelates. The whole current of orthodox fathers in the Christian church, join to support the office.” But, knows not my dear Amelius, that the sagacious Ussher, the learned Stillingfleet, the famed Dodwel, with almost every abler author of the Prelatic persuasion, readily grant the office of diocesan bishop to have no foundation in scripture? Knows he not, that till this moment, the English parliament would never establish Prelacy, as founded on the oracles of truth? Knows he not the mournful plight of our Episcopalian brethren, between these of the Presbyterian and Popish persuasion? If, on church-government and discipline, they dispute with the former; they are unmercifully drubbed with the arguments, themselves had used against the latter. If they dispute with these, they are mauled with the very arguments, they had used against those. Intestine war too, rages in all their borders. Scarce a text, scarce an argument, is produced, in favors of Prelacy, but their principal writers are by the ears about it; Dodwel against [Henry] Hammond; the critical [Daniel] Whitby against the zealot Pair [i.e., Dodwel and Hammond]: the more judicious Stillingfleet, and his brethren [William] Whitaker, [John] Whitgift, [Thomas] Bilson, &c. against all the three. To refute what has been hinted in favor of the Prelatic office; no more would be necessary, than a rehearsal of what its supporters have published. But, this apart, for present reply.
Bishops are indeed mentioned in our authorized translation of the oracles of God. The name, however, of itself, imports no lordly rule. It signifies no more than OVERSEER, as every presbytery is to his flock. Some, if not most, of the framers of our last translation, hearty friends to the Episcopal cause, were fond to find anything resembling its stuff. In the very house of Baal, they happily found VESTRY and VESTMENTS (2 Kings 10:22). The bishops, who revised the work, were equally zealous for their own honour. They altered fourteen places of the New Testament version, to make it speak in a more Episcopalian strain. Where the word EPISCOPOS was found; if the rendering it bishop, seemed to support the Prelatic cause; it was done (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7). Where it seemed to do hurt, they translated it OVERSEERS (Acts 20:28). EPISCOPE, which they render bishopric, signifies just THE OFFICE OF AN OVERSEER (Acts 1:20), and by themselves, it is translated VISITATION (Luke 19:44; 1 Pet. 2:12).
In vain you mentioned the pattern of the Hebrew high priest. His office was wholly typical (Heb. 10:1). Christ, the great high priest of our profession, long ago came in his stead, and abolished the typical office, by the death of his cross (Col. 2:14). After this, to argue from the Hebrew high priesthood, in the manner you do, is to seduce us from the amiable Jesus, to Moses and his fiery law; to Moses and his burdensome yoke. Nor will the argument avail; unless you instruct, that the officers of the Christian church enter their function by lineal succession; unless you fix his holiness, or some other, universal bishop, or high priest, at their head; unless sacrifices, altars, and sacred mansions, be restored to their ancient form.
Nor, till after the Savior’s resurrection, was any Christian church formed on earth. Till then, he and his missionaries preached, not that the kingdom of God, the Christian dispensation was come; but that it was at hand (Mat. 4:17 and 10:7; Luke 21:31 and 22:16, 18). Till then, the sacred mission of the twelve was therefore no less temporary, than that of the seventy. In mission, in success, where lies the preference of the one to the other, in what errand they went, before the Savior’s death? The seventy had an immediate mission from Christ. They appear solely subjected to him. They had power given them to preach the gospel; to heal the diseased; to cast out devils. They had distinguished success. In their mission, what more had the twelve (Mat. 10; Luke 10:1-22)? When, after his resurrection, the twelve received their function; wherein they can have no successor. An immediate call from Christ; a commission extending equally to every nation; authority to found, and equally govern every church; an infallibility in teaching; a constant power to work miracles; to speak with tongues unlearned; and to confer the miraculous influence of the Holy Ghost, distinguished their character (Mark 16:15-20; John 20:21-23; Acts throughout). Where is the diocesan prelate, his Holiness not excepted, that brings such credentials? If there is none, why an absurd pretence, to succeed the apostles in their superior office?
Was James diocesan of Jerusalem? I desiderate the proof. What author, that lived within 200 or 300 years of his death, says anything coming up to the point? He much resided at Jerusalem. What then? He there directed the church. What proves this? That he threw off his apostolate, his general charge; and degraded himself into a diocesan, who has the charge of nor more than a particular province? Nothing more absurd.
The Episcopal power of Timothy and Titus, you no doubt found on their ordination of presbyters or bishops; and the postscripts to their epistles. These postscripts are of no weight; are of no divine authority; but were added, at least in their present form, ages after their death, by some bold imposter. That neither of the two were diocesan bishops anywhere, is clearly marked in the true sayings of God. There we find, that both were evangelists, who, at the direction of the inspired Paul, travailed along with him; or were sent by him, to plant, or water churches; and to ordain officers therein. When he wrote his epistles to the Thessalonians, Romans, Hebrews, Colossians, Philippians, and 2nd to the Corinthians, Timothy was with him; and ordinarily, along with him, salutes the churches. He was sent to Corinth: charged to abide still at Ephesus: was afterward in Italy: at least was intended to be sent to Philippi: and was called to Rome (1 Thes. 1:1; 2 Thes. 1:1; Rom. 16:21; Heb. 13:23; Col. 1:1; Phil. 2:19; 2 Cor. 1:1; 1 Cor. 4:17 and 16:10; 2 Cor. 1:19 and 3:2, 6; 1 Tim. 1:3; Heb. 13:23; Phil. 2:19; 2 Tim. 4:9, 12). Titus was Paul’s PARTNER; attendant to him at Jerusalem. With grief he missed him at Troas; he was sent to Corinth; left at Crete; called to Nicopolis; departed to Dalmatia (Gal. 2:1, 3; 2 Cor. 2:13 and 7:6, 7, 16, 23 and 12:28; Tit. 3:12; 2 Tim. 4:10). In constitute churches, it doth not appear, that even apostles had the least superiority in government, to an ordinary pastor. A presbytery established at Lystra, Paul finding Timothy there: by laying on of his own hands, he conferred the Holy Ghost: to ordain him an evangelist he required the laying on of the hands of the presbytery along with himself. Is it, my friend, for the honor of most diocesans, to claim these two evangelists for their pattern? Like them, are they ordained by a presbytery? Give they themselves wholly to the ministerial work, preaching in season, and out of season? Carefully keep they the gospel-trust committed to them? Conscientiously commit they the ministry to faithful men? Avoid they rash ordination of church-officers? Without partiality, rebuke they before all, the notorious sinner (1 Tim. 4:14 and 4:14-16; 2 Tim. 2:4 and 4:2; 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Tim. 5:20-22)? No: but the very reverse.
Where, in the infallible oracles of God, is the remotest hint, the angels of the seven Asian churches were diocesan bishops? The character angel is given to any messenger of God, created or divine (Hag. 1:13; Mal. 2:7; Mat. 11:10). Sometimes it signifies a number of persons; one put for many: it even signifies a number of ministers, they being one in their common work and design (Psal. 34:7; Dan. 8:3, 20; Zech. 1:18-21; Rev. 8:13 and 14:6, 8, 9). When Paul planted the church of Ephesus, he left a number of presbyters there; but no hint of a superior bishop: nay, he calls each of these presbyters, a bishop or overseer, constitute such by the Holy Ghost (Acts 20:17-28). Jesus, the divine walker amid these churches, addresses the angel of Smyrna, as a plurality of persons; Fear none of these things, which thou shalt suffer; the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. The angel of Pergamos, the angel of Thyatira, is addressed in the same plural terms (Rev. 1:10, 13, 24). Shews not this plainly, that these angels, instead of diocesans, were unite bodies of presbyters; many in person, one in office and work?
For about 250 years after the death of most of the apostles, we have nothing but a few broken shreds of church-history, that deserve our credit. Providence left this period a kind of dark chaos, that we might rest solely on his infallible word. Then the most aged pastors in a place, especially if he presided in their judicatures, was often, by way of eminence, called bishop: but till, in the 4th century, Constantine’s sword overthrew the Heathen abominations; and his well-designed, but extravagant favor to the clergy, almost overturned Christianity; I defy my friend, to document the existence of spiritual lords. Afterward, indeed, ambitious minds rested not to heap spiritual dignities, one over another; till the cope-stone was laid in his Holiness’ claim, to universal, to infallible head hip, over the whole Christian church. Nay, suppose you could prove, that in the very year next to that of the apostles, Prelacy prevailed in every church: no more would follow, but that numbers, who, like Diotrephes, loved the preeminence, had quickly gained their point; and changed the statutes of Heaven. Where is the impossibility of that? Who remembers not, how suddenly the Hebrew race, at Sinai’s foot, awfully, divinely warned to the contrary, changed the worship of the true God, into that of a golden calf (Exod. 32; Psal. 106:21)? That all the Christian fathers allow Prelacy to have warrant in the sacred word, is not yet proven. Clemens Romanus, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clemens, Alexandrinus, Origen, Cyprian, Basil the Great, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine, Theodoret, Primasius, Sedulius, Theophylact, Oecumenius, and others; chiefly Jerome, whose extensive learning and judgment was scarce matched by any or all of his companions, declare themselves on the opposite side. Suppose they had been all for his lordship’s claim; my conscience could not be moved. The fathers were fallible men, like myself: my faith ought not to stand in their wisdom; but in the authority and power of God: their writings which have reached my time, either by original mistake, or after corruption of men, dishonest, designing, are too thick sown with palpable blunders, to merit my distinguished regard. In vain, I have heard of their miracles. The story is oft so foolish, and trifling; that my unbiased reason rejects it with contempt. Nothing wondrous appears true, but what I find matched, if not more, by some Prelacy-hater, in the British church.
The fallible, the oft mistaken fathers apart, let the unerring oracles of Heaven decide the point. Among his ministers, Jesus prohibits, peremptorily prohibits, the very least degree of lordly dominion. Ye know, said he to his apostles, that the princes of the Gentiles EXERCISE DOMINION over them; and they, that are great; EXERCISE AUTHORITY upon them; but it shall not be so among you (Mat. 20:25, 26; Luke 22:25, 26). By the Greek interpreters of the Old Testament, the word here rendered to EXERCISE DOMINION is used to signify Adam’s divinely warranted rule over the inferior creation, and Christ’s government in his mediatory office (Gen. 1:28; Psal,. 72:8 and 110:2); where it is impossible the remotest idea of tyranny can be included. In the parallel text, Luke useth a term, never pretended to import violence or tyranny. Lordly dominion itself, not the tyrannic exercise of it, must therefore be here, by our Saviour, prohibited. To refuse this, is to pervert the original term of the holy One; is to reproach the mother of Zebedee’s children as guilty of begging the adored Jesus should grant her children authority to exercise tyranny and violence; is to calumniate him as guilty of falsehood, representing every ruler of the Gentiles a tyrannic oppressor of mankind. In imitation of their blessed Master, and inspired of God, Zebedee’s son condemns and threatens Diotrephes, for loving, and pushing for, the preeminence; solemnly Peter, his follow apostle, prohibits church-officers, to behave as lords over God’s heritage (3 John 9; 1 Pet. 5:3).
The sameness of bishops and presbyters is brightly marked in the sacred page. Departing from Ephesus, Paul convened the ELDERS, presbyters, of that church, and charged them to feed the flock, over which the Holy Ghost had made them EPISCOPOIS, bishops (Acts 20:17, 28). To the saints at Philippi with EPISCOPOIS, the bishops, overseers, and deacons, he directs his epistles (Phil. 1:1). Bishops and deacons are marked for the only settled governors of the Philippian church: the former must therefore, as at Ephesus, be the presbyters, elders, which the Holy Ghost had made bishops, overseers, over that Christian flock. Here are bishops without presbyters under them. Here is a number of bishops in one city, not very considerable; how agrees this to their being diocesan lords? Not in the least. To pretend Epaphroditus was bishop or archbishop at Philippi, because that church sent him as their servant, with a supply of money to the apostle’s necessity, is such absurd foolery, as merits no answer. Can none but a bishop bear money from one place to another? Or is none but he fit to be trusted with it? Nor can the bishop mentioned by Paul to Timothy be a diocesan lord. No officer, but the deacon, is marked as inferior to him. He must be apt to teach; an endowment not presently necessary for a diocesan prelate (1 Tim. 3:3). Paul appoints Titus to ordain ELDERS, PRESBYTERS, in every city of Crete; persons of good report: For, saith he, a BISHOP must be blameless as the steward of God (Tit. 1:5, 6). What sense, my friend, is in this reason, in this mention of bishop, unless he be the same with the ELDER, presbyter, in the preceding verse? The inspired Peter charges elders, presbyters, to feed the flock of God, EPISCOPOUNTES exercising the office of bishop, taking the oversight thereof. Is Judas marked to have had a BISHOPRIC, a charge of oversight; two not inferior apostles, characterise themselves ELDERS, presbyters (1 Pet. 5:1, 2; 2 John 1).
What the diocesan bishop claims as his distinguishing prerogative, the power of ordaining pastors and teachers; the statutes of God lodge in the hand of no one standing officer of the church; but in the PRESBYTERY, the college of elders, teaching and ruling. By the laying on of Paul’s hand, Timothy received the Holy Ghost: but by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery, he was set apart to his office (2 Tim. 1:6; 1 Tim. 1:14). In vain were I told, the presbytery signifies PAUL, or the OFFICE of presbyter. An elder Paul was, but never a company of elders, presbyters, as the word expressly signifies. The OFFICE of presbytery has no hands to lay upon anyone.
If Jesus prohibits all lordly dominion among his ministers: if his infallible oracle marks the office of bishop and presbyters, to be ONE and the SAME: if it lodges ordination of pastors, which the diocesan claims as his peculiar prerogative, in the hand of presbyters; it follows, that the whole office of bishop, above a teaching presbyter, with all appendages thereof, deans, vicars, chancellors, cardinals, patriarchs, pope, &c. are an Antichristian invention, obtruded on the church of God.
In vain, should I hear that men, holy, renowned, have been bishops, or their underlings. Must I be a follower of such rather than of Jesus Christ and his word? Before the reformation, men, holy, renowned, Bernard, Anselm, and others, supported the dignity, supported manifold abominations, of the Romish pope. Luther, holy, renowned, with all his might propagate consubstantiation, a notion never a whit less stupid, than its Romish sister of an almost similar name. David, a man according to the heart of his Maker, indulged himself to have a multitude of wives. Must I improve the holiness of these, as a bait to decoy, as a reason to imitate their palpable errors? When the prejudice of education, the darkness of the time, the custom of the place, the temptations of honor, profit, or hazard, concur to blind the conscience; the crime is less aggravated; but none of these change the statutes of Heaven.
In vain, should I hear the Protestant churches mostly submit to, or allow of diocesan bishops. I know it to be false and inconclusive. Expressions of this amount may have dropt from foreign Protestant writers, through flattery or misinformation: but certain it is, no Protestant church, besides England and Ireland, have diocesan bishops properly so called. In Sweden, in Denmark, and Norway, some pastors possessed of more eminent places and benefices, are termed bishops, or superintendents, but have scarce a shadow of more power or authority than the rest of their brethren. In vain, were I told, the Scotch superintendents at the reformation, were almost the very SAME with diocesan bishops. Their power of superintendency was considered as merely temporary, relating to that broken state of the church. Their labor in preaching, and other ministerial work, was more abundant than others. Their power was granted by one assembly, and continued but for about half a year, till the sitting of the next; to which they were to account for their conduct; and receive censure, if they had done amiss. Is not this the very reverse of the diocesan lordship? Nothing, therefore, but deceit, noted and daring, will pretend to parallel diocesans to our antiquated superintendents.
In vain, should I hear, the grandeur of bishops dignifies the Christian church. If so, why did not Jesus, whose is the earth, and fulness thereof, secure outward pomp and greatness to his blessed apostles, and their fellow-labourers in him? If the kingdom of Christ consist not in meat and drink, but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost: if it is not of this world; it must be ministers pure adherence to his truth, their holy lives and painful endeavours to win souls to Christ; not their stately houses, their numerous retinue, their fine horses, coaches, or robes, that adorn their profession and office. Who knows not, that by the unaccountably unequal distribution of the church’s revenues in England and Ireland, so many of the clergy riot in pride and wealth; scarce remembering their connections with the souls of men: while multitudes, to the scandal of their religion and country, oppressed with almost beggaring poverty, are driven to adjoin some carnal trade; or, like parasites, sneak to the liberal great?
To no purpose, were I told, that diocesan bishops are a center of unity; a means of preventing ecclesiastic divisions. The heavenly oracles represent Christ, his Spirit, and truth, as her genuine centre. One Lord, one Spirit, one faith, one baptism, one hope of our calling, constitute all the saints, all the churches, ONE BODY of Christ (Eph. 4:3-5). Diocesans rather divide the church into large parcels; unless you admit his Holiness, or some other, for their universal lord. Nor are contentions less rise among those who have lordly bishops, than with those who detest them. With pleasure, I mark, that the English church, in her articles and homilies, plainly exhibits every leading truth of the glorious gospel. She allows not of purgatory; of prayer for the dead; or worshipping saints, angels, images. She maintains not the monster of transubstantiation. She encourages the common use of the sacred word. Her religious worship is performed in a known tongue. The grosser abominations of Popery are detested; at least not openly approven by her members. No doubt, there are in her a goodly number of valuable saints. No doubt, sundry of her bishops have been, or are of the number. Their hierarchic office, however, being destitute of warrant in the oracles of truth, I cannot apprehend to be a center of union to anything, but corruptions almost unnumbered; in contradiction to the word of God, borrowed from Antichrist, and by him mostly, from Heathenish Rome.
How shocking, to observe most of her clergy indulged, in habitually preaching and writing, as occasion offers; in plain contradiction to the articles and homilies they solemnly espoused or subscribed! Is this a whit better than Jesuitic equivocation? As if ignorance was believed the mother of devotion; how shocking to see the bulk of the common people, as ignorant of the Christian faith as at Rome! And not a few ordained to the ministry, who, Burnet informs us, for ignorance could scarce be admitted to the Lord’s table, in any well constitute Christian church! As if the mere act of receiving the sacraments rendered them effectual to salvation; how shocking, that pastors should be in danger from the law, for refusing the sacred seals to such as, they know, are the most abandoned rakes, not excommunicate by the lay chancellor! How shocking to observe thousands of professed ambassadors of Christ, in practice scarce distinguishable from these religious gentlemen who command our troops! How shocking to observe one man allowed to hold a variety of congregations as pastor; to serve whose immortal souls, he hires a curate at the easiest rate! To see not only reading of sermons, but of prayer, prevail; and patronage, with all her native attendants, abound!
Has his Holiness two swords, his power ecclesiastic and civil? Are not English bishops, lords in the church, and peers in the state? In the worship of God, are numerous rites not warranted by his word, imposed at Rome? In England, how similar the case! The English holydays, ten moveable, twenty-six fixed, festivals; fifteen vigils; about ninety-five fast-days; in Lent, Fridays, Ember, and Rogation days; are they not the same with the Romish? Their collects, confessions, absolutions, lessons of psalms, prophets, gospels, epistles; nay, of the vilest part of the Apocrypha, instead of God’s word; and their six canticles: are they not generally the very same with these at Rome? To the same occasions of feasts, fasts, vigils, offices of baptism, Lord’s supper, marriage, burial, confirmation, visitation of sick, churching of women, &c. are they applied. The epistles, gospels, and psalms, used in their liturgy, are not according to our own translation; but according to the Romish. Their fourfold, or in cathedrals, tenfold or more, repetition of the Lord’s prayer; their kneeling at confession and absolution; their repeating the Lord’s prayer on their knees after the minister; their standing up at the Gloria Patri; their standing at the reading or singing of the falsely termed Athanasian creed; their standing and repeating the common one; their crying out after the parson, Lord, have mercy on us; Christ have mercy on us; their responding to him, as he repeats the litany; their reading the psalms alternately with him; their asking mercy and grace on their knees, after the reading of each commandment; their singing psalms and anthems with musical instruments; their baptism of children upon godfathers or godmothers ridiculously declaring, as if the infant itself, that he renounces the devil, the world, and the flesh, believes the creed, and desires to be baptized; their baptizing with the sign of the cross made over the child’s forehead; their confirmation of children about ten or twelve years of age, by the laying on of the bishop’s hands, for conferring the Holy Ghost; their fixing the celebration of the Lord’s supper, chiefly to the superstitious seasons of Christmas, Pasch, &c.; their idolatrous bowing at the altar in partaking of it; their private administration of the sacraments; their idolatrous bowing at the sound of the name Jesus, and towards the east; their consecration of churches; their observing feasts of dedications and wakes; their marriage by the symbolic ring; their consigning to eternal happiness, in their office for burial, all but unbaptized and excommunicate persons; their cruel supposal of the damnation of infants unbaptized; whence came they all, but from Rome? The division of their clergy into archbishops, bishops, deans, chapters, prebends, archdeacons, parsons, vicars, curates; their sacred habits for ministering in, albs, surplice, chasuble, amict, gown, maniple, zone; their presumptuous pretence, in ordination, to confer the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the bishop’s hands; whence derived, but from Rome? Their rules for ordination of ministers and deacons, are they not almost to an hair the very same with these of the Romish PONTIFICAL?
In the reign of Elizabeth, was not the English liturgy made liker the Romish, than it had been in the days of her godly brother Edward? To please the Popish party, the prayer for deliverance from the tyranny and detestable enormities of the bishop of Rome, was kindly expunged: the office for the Lord’s supper was altered, that it might not so much as seem to condemn transubstantiation, and the worshipping of the elements. The renowned Cambden, and others, inform us, that not a few Papists highly applauded the English service, and expressed their hopes it would in time reduce the nation to their holy father the Pope. Pius the IVth, and Gregory the XIIIth, liked it so well, that they offered it their papal ratification. Who that reads the Romish Breviary, Ritual, and Mass-book, sees not that IT is collected therefrom?
You ask me, Amelius, “Why the church, by her own power, may not appoint holy-days, or significant rites in her worship? and what the worse are things that the Papists used them before us?” Knows not my friend, that the God of infinite wisdom understands better what rites are proper for his worship, than our learnedest mortals; that he hath laid aside many once institute by himself; that he hath peremptorily forbid us to add to, or take from his statutes; hath charged us to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free; entangled in the yoke of bondage to no human imposition in his worship, hath condemned all will-worship, and prohibit us to touch, taste, or handle it; hath assured us, that in vain we worship him, if we teach for doctrines the commandments of men; and that our observance of uncommanded holy-days, marks our abuse of the gospel (Deut. 12:32; Gal. 5:1; Col. 2:18-23; Mat. 15:9; Gal. 4:9-11)? that he hath peremptorily forbid us to worship himself in the manner of idolaters; hath assured us, that our observance of idolatrous rites lead us away from him; and kindles his fury against us; hath commanded to destroy every monument of idolatry and superstition (Deut. 7:23 and 12:30 and 14:1)? With divine approbation, Hezekiah destroyed the brazen serpent, once an ordinance of God, because the Jews idolized it (2 Kings 18:6). Under pain of being held guilty of destroying our brother, we are charged to beware of offending him by eating of flesh, or like practice of things in themselves indifferent (Rom. 14:13-23; 1 Cor. 8:11-13 and 6:12). Is it not the prerogative of God alone, to bless a religious rite? Why then should any church affect to be wise above what is written? Why affront the wisdom of their Maker, their Saviour, by attempting to adorn his worship beyond what himself judged proper? What God commands, is certainly no worse, use it who will. But why, for the sake of popish traditions, make his commandments of none effect? Why desert his statutes, unerring, easy, and plain; to extract our rules of worship, from the canons of his idolatrous foes? In his worship, why use rites, we cannot, and he never promised, to bless? For indifferent things or worse, why harden the Romanists, encouraging them to hope, their ceremonies practices will quickly promote our return to their church, a synagogue of Satan? For the sake of what is far less innocent than eating of flesh, why offend our Protestant brethren; force the Puritans from our church-fellowship; from part of their liberties, and sometimes their life?