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claims—to denounce the pretensions of others. It may involve some difficulty to believe that they deem their ministrations alone authorized by the Saviour, and efficacious for human salvation; and those of all other preachers of the Gospel an unhallowed intermeddling with things sacred, connected with the wrath of God, and with the delusion and ruin of souls. They act certainly as if this sentiment fully possessed their minds; as if they regarded it their very first duty as true and faithful shepherds, to drive all others from the fold as wolves in sheep's clothing. Hence their extensive, indefatigable activity in the distribution of tracts among the people universally, whether within or without the pale of their own church, not so much arguing as asserting their claims; not treating them as points to be proved, but as rights to be enforced; and calculated to impress and awe by vehemency and positiveness of assertion.
This must be met, if not with like weapons, yet with like zeal, by the friends of more scriptural views. Nor must they content themselves with denying or disproving these arrogant and exclusive claims of the episcopal clergy—the men may not be arrogant, but the claims are— they must also produce and show their own claims to a valid Christian ministry, the grounds on which they vindicate to themselves a right to preach the Gospel, and to administer the institutions of Jesus Christ. They, too, must show the application, both positive and negative, of their own principles. That Congregational pastors, and other ministers of non-episcopal communions, have a valid Gospel ministry; and not that the clergy of the Episcopal church have no valid ministry, but that they have it not solely and exclusively. The argument is not now against episcopacy as unscriptural, or against the clergy as not scriptural ministers, but it is against episcopacy as alone conveying, and its ministers as alone holding a true ministerial character.
It will not be difficult to disprove the exclusive claims of the episcopal clergy. They, indeed, hardly require to be disproved. They are of such a character as to require the most plain, distinct, indisputable proof. If such proof is not given, they are disproved. The clergy make such claims as other men need not labour to invalidate. It is a case in which they are entitled to call on those who advance them to prove them, and it is reply enough, if the case be so, to assert or show that the claims are not made out. Nothing can give them force but the most distinct, positive proof.
To sustain the claims of the episcopal clergy, the following points must all be clearly proved—not one of them, but all—not made to appear probable, not brought out as remote inferences, however plausible, but proved by strong, immediate evidence :—First, That the benefits of the Christian religion are conveyed to men, if not solely, yet primarily and chiefly by its positive institutes; and if not solely by them, yet never without them. Second, That the efficacy of the positive institutes of Christianity is dependent on the true ministerial office of the administrator. Third, That such true ministerial office depends entirely on a right human, ecclesiastical ordination; so depends on it that where a man has not such ordination he cannot be a true minister, however wise, holy, or devoted he may be j and where a man has it, he is a true minister, however unfit, however unworthy in character. Fourth, That such right ordination can be given, such true ministerial character imparted, only by a diocesan bishop, an elder ruling other elders, a minister in Christ's church of higher rank, and prerogatives, than other ministers. Fifth, That this platform of order, on which the efficacy of Gospel ordinances was made to depend, having been instituted by the apostles, has secured itself by an unbroken succession, in virtue of which it is now as firm and entire as at its very origin. Sixth, That this succession has been secured solely and exclusively in a line of uninterrupted episcopal ordinations. Seventh, that this valid ministry has always been seen, and still is seen to be, and to do, what no other ministry is, or can accomplish. It being a thing utterly unsupposable that such a ministry of sole authority and validity, should have been appointed by Jesus Christ, and maintained by him unbroken and unimpaired for eighteen centuries, and yet that its fruits should not be distinguishable from those produced by the various forms of false, presumptuous, intrusive ministrations that have appeared.
Let it be further considered, not only how much requires to be proved, but how strongly and plainly, and from what unobjectionable, unanswerable sources. Great part of these assertions must have clear scriptural proof to sustain them. They cannot possibly be made good without it. The efficacy of the sacraments must rest on the New Testament for proof. Their appointment is there recorded, and thence they derive their authority. He that enjoined their observance, could alone explain their efficacy, and give warrant and guidance to the expectations of the benefits to be derived from them, by those who should receive them. The same authority could alone prove that these institutes must be administered by a certain order of men—of whom that order of men should consist—that unless dispensed by them the ordinances would be not only fruitless but profane. Genealogy, history, experience, all sources of certain knowledge, must prove the succession, the superiority, the efficacy of this true and valid ministry.
Again: two reasons, cogent and not to be gainsaid, may be assigned, why the proofs required in this case, must be thus clear, definite, and strong. The first is, that the claims, and system in question reduce the Christian religion very much to an economy of positive institutions. It is not now disputed whether or not our religion is a dispensation of that character. But it is asserted, that those who represent it as such, are bound to be prepared with the proofs which are requisite and appropriate in the case of positive appointments. It is enough to remark, that these having their authority, and even their existence, from statute, must always be proved from the statute-book. General reasonings, analogies, inferences, probabilities, have no force in respect to them. They fall not within the range of moral evidence. Moral or spiritual truths, like our common law, may have grown up before the memory of men, and may have a standing more ancient than any records. Positive institutes, like our statute laws, originated in enactment, and were ordained by courts of record. He who pleads them must produce chapter, section, and page. He who enforces them must refer to the very words of the legislature, and strictly interpret them.
The other reason is, that when God did once see fit to establish an economy of positive institutes, he did also accompany all its arrangements with those clear statements, and strict proofs necessary in such cases, and now demanded of those, who represent the Gospel of Christ as in this respect similar to the law of Moses. He did define what was the elficacy of those ancient sacraments. He did make their validity depend on the ministrations of a certain order of men. He did clearly mark out what should alone qualify any man to belong to that sacred class, and to execute those sacred functions. He did provide for a sure and provable succession of that class. He did put marks of approval on their ministrations, and of indignant rejection on those of unauthorised, presumptuous intruders. Many centuries after the original institution, some were put from the priesthood, not because it could be proved that they were not of the Aaronic family, but because it could not be proved that they were. At this day the Jews cannot resume their ancient solemnities; not because it is certain that the house of Aaron is utterly extinct, but because no man can show he is descended from that saint of the Lord. Let it be shown that similar institutes would be now incapable of similar proofs. Whatever will show that the Christian religion does not admit of such evidence, will equally prove that it does not embrace such appointments.
Now we are at ease with respect to these exclusive pretensions of the Episcopal clergy. They neither alarm nor trouble us. They have never been thus proved. They never can be thus proved. While they fail of such proof they are in point of validity nothing. But they are as pregnant with mischief as with error. They corrupt the Gospel, divide the church, and delude the souls of men. They substitute the sacraments for the truth, as the chief instrumentality for applying to men the benefits of the Gospel. They teach that submission to the minister, not faith in the master, is the true way of personal salvation. They destroy the simplicity and liberty of the Gospel, by establishing the prerogatives of a priesthood. The claim of the Apostolic succession as now advanced, is the pivot position of a contest which includes in its range the very character and essence of the Gospel; the true nature of personal religion; the grounds of a sinner's peace and hope; the sole authority of sacred Scripture; the truth in respect to the highest points of our holy religion, and charity in regard to the most subordinate.
It may be more difficult, it cannot be less necessary, to vindicate our own just and moderate claims to a true ministry, than to refute the exaggerated claims of others to an exclusive ministry. For we, too, believe there is by Divine institution a valid and orderly ministry in the Christian church. If we would not unduly exalt, neither would we destroy the ministerial office. The teachers, and the taught; the shepherds, and the flock; the elders, and the brotherhood; the churches, and their bishops and deacons, are classes distinctly recognized in the authoritative teachings of Christ and his apostles. These distinctions we would not make void, but establish. It is doubtful whether the Christian church could long exist, it is certain it could not flourish and extend, if deprived of its ministry.
We maintain that we have a ministerial office, both valid and orderly, in our Congregational churches. It docs not grieve but delight us to know, that the same considerations which prove the validity and order of the ministry of Congregational pastors, will equally avail to support those of other evangelical communities. It does not shake our minds in holding just principles on these important subjects, to know that the liberty we claim and use for wise and holy purposes, may by some be abused for such as are contrary to Scripture, and injurious to religion. Truth and liberty must be maintained for necessary uses. Let those that wrest the one, and abuse the other, bear their own burden.
We distinguish the order from the validity of the Christian ministry. They are not only distinguishable, but separable. They are often in fact found apart. In some, the order without the validity. In others, the validity without the order. In happier instances they are combined —validity and order constituting a truly apostolical ministry in whatever community it may be found. Both are important, but not equally so. Order is excellent, but validity excelleth in value. We magnify validity, but we do not depreciate order. Our opponents make validity to depend on order. As we judge this is their great, their fatal error. It is not argued that this is a thing impossible in itself. Under the law of Moses it was so. But then God expressly ordained it. The arrangement was suited to the economy and functions for which it was adopted—a ritual dispensation and a ritual ministry. Under the Gospel it is not so. Christ has not so ordained. He has not distinctly described a class, and established a form, so that the class shall alone be his ministers, and the form shall alone and of itself introduce men into that class. This would not be suited to the dispensation of the Gospel, or to (he functions of its ministry; an economy of truth and doctrine principally, of rites only in a subordinate, incidental way— a ministry not ritual, but spiritual; not occupied in bodily exercises of sacrificings, divers washings, and burnings of incense, but in proclaiming and defending truth, influencing character, watching for souls, presiding amidst the spiritual solemnities of the faithful in prayer and praise.
It is of course perceived and granted that where ministerial character is conveyed by a form, the proof of its possession is more easy, compendious, and palpable. The evidence of fact exceeds in simplicity and directness, evidence of character. Moral proof may be as strong and sure as that derived from facts; but it must be gathered with care, and considered with candour, or its force will not be felt. The question whether a man were a Jew was easily and surely decided. It was but an inquiry into the facts of his birth and circumcision. The question whether a man is a Christian is of quite another kind, and of much more difficulty. It is to be decided by the state of his heart and life. So of the ministry under the two dispensations. A man was born to the Levitical priesthood. His genealogy determined his claim to the sacred office. Under the Gospel the ministry is constituted not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of a spiritual fife. It is in the spirit, not in the letter. The proof that a man is a minister of Christ, is to be sought not in the circumstances of his natural birth, or in the forms of his human ordination, but in his heavenly gifts and gracious qualifications.
When we distinguish between the validity, and the order, of the ministry, it is meant that a ministry is valid because it has the sanction of Christ; orderly, when it has that of the church. Whatever can be expressed by the term 'validity,' as applied to the Christian ministry, must be included in the fact that it has the approval of Christ. If an adequate authority is intended, His sanction alone can give it. If, a moral force of qualification suitable to realize success, He alone can impart it. If, a blessing imparted as with the services of an accepted labourer, that influence is his to command. If, approbation, in the great day of audit, of the undertaking and discharge of the office by him that has sustained it, His sentence is supreme and final. We hold that nothing can constitute a ministry valid but the approval of Christ. He that has.entered the fold by any other way than the great Shepherd's introduction, whatever he may have thought, or intended, has climbed unlawfully into the sacred inclosure. We know that while this rule will plainly condemn the ministry of some high in office, and high in claims, in the visible church, whose characters too clearly indicate the divine disapproval, and as plainly confirm that of many much contemned, whose labours, virtues, successes are the seal of heaven; it will leave a wide range of ministerial character and service under uncertainty, open to doubt. We do not hold that God