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Peter was not acknowledged by the primitive church. “ And the apostles and brethren, that were of Judea, heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God; and when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him.” Acts xi. 1, 2. Contended with a pope, and laymen too! Why, it is somewhat hazardous, in these days, for priests to contend with a bishop even, how much more so for laymen to contend with a pope! And then, moreover, Peter did not, in these circumstances, act very much like a pope. He did not say, You unreasonable, disbelieving heretics, if you do not surrender your faith to my opinions, and your approbation to my conduct, I will shut you up in the Inquisition, and send the thumbscrew and the rack to convince you how causeless are your doubts. He forgot his supremacy, which his successors never do, and reasoned with them as any rational man would do ; in fact, more like an apostle than a' pope. To be sure, there were no Inquisitions,—no Star-chambers in those days. The church then, and the apostles at her head, were weak enough to think that the truth, with the Divine blessing, might be trusted to its own powers of conviction and persuasion. They had not then learnt the better and more approved art of silencing opposition by cutting out the opposer's tongue; nor of extirpating heresy by exterminating the heretic himself. That art was reserved for later times, when the church was in the acme of her temporal glory, but when Ichabod was inscribed upon her temples : for, seriously and solemnly, we would declare of any church which practises and sanctions persecution, that it must be a church of Belial, and not of Jesus Christ.
· The third assumption of the Catholics, viz., that Peter had authority to transmit, and that he actually did transmit, this supremacy to his successors in the see of Rome, scarcely deserves notice ; for if Peter was not the bishop of Rome, and did not possess supremacy over the other
apostles, as we trust we have proved, he could, of course, transmit none to his successors. But I am disposed to say to the Romanists, that, if they could sustain the two former assumptions, they would fail in supporting this : for, in the first place, we have no evidence, not even a particle, of its being the will of Christ that there should always be a visible head of the church on earth; or, secondly, if so, that the bishop of Rome should be that head. Thirdly, the ancient church were ignorant of any such supremacy, and resisted all attempts to assume it. Even a bishop of Rome anathematized the bishop of Constantinople for assuming the very title in which the successors of the former now glory. He could not, then, at that time, have assumed it himself. Fourthly. “It is incredible,” says one, “that Jesus Christ intended that they should be his vicegerents, whose ignorance and profligacy have stamped their names with infamy.”
THE EPISCOPALIAN FORM.
The distinguishing characteristic of this form of government is, that it vests the whole power of ruling in a class of office-bearers, with the distinctive name of bishops, who are declared to constitute a higher order of officers than the ordinary presbyters or clergy, and who are, consequently, clothed with this superior authority. The priest, or presbyter, may read prayers, preach, administer the sacraments, and pronounce absolution upon penitents; but in the government of the church he has no share whatever,-the bishop engrossing the whole. The preceding statements exhibit all that is essential to episcopacy. In the Church of England, as it is improperly called for it is now the church of a fraction only of the population, the government is vested in diocesan bishops; i. e., not men presiding singly over a particular congregation, with two or more presbyters, it may be, acting with them, or rather under
their direction; but over a number of congregations, together with their presbyters, located within certain geographical limits, generally fixed by the civil power to which the whole body is attached,—the alliance constituting, as I am constrained to think, spiritual adultery, in condemnation of which much is said in the inspired volume. This is diocesan episcopacy, in distinction from simple episcopacy, as it exists, I believe, in America. The former (at least, English diocesan episcopacy,) does not render it the duty of the bishop to preach. He may preach, indeed, as we have already seen, but it is not a part of his office. He is appointed to rule.
Now it is manifest that the system of episcopacy rests upon the assumption that bishops are a higher order of ministers than others. If it can be shown that bishop and presbyter are, in the New Testament, convertible terms,--that a bishop is a presbyter, and a presbyter a bishop, the whole fabric of episcopacy sinks to the ground. We have already done this in the chapter on the office-bearers of the church ; to which the reader, whose memory should not instantly supply him with those proofs of this important point which were then adduced, is requested to refer. On this form of government it is not necessary to say more.
THE CONGREGATIONAL AND PRESBYTERIAN FORM.
It will be advantageous to consider these two forms of government together, placing, as we proceed, the distinctive features of each in the light of contrast.
The two essential principles of the Congregational form of church government, and, as it appears to me, the only two which serve, at least, to distinguish it from the Presbyterian form, are as follows:- First, That a single congregation of visible believers, agreeing to walk together in the faith and order of the Gospel, is a complete church; and, secondly, that every such congregation has the entire power of government within itself. In
opposition to these principles, Presbyterians contend that such separate congregations constitute only a part of the church, which consists properly of a number of such congregations; and, further, that the entire (because not final) power of government is not lodged in each separate congregation, that there is a right of appeal from the lowest church court, (which is not, be it observed, the body of church members with their pastor or pastors at their head,—for presbyterianism does not allow any application for church fellowship, or any case of discipline, to be laid before the body of church members at all, but before the office-bearers exclusively,) called the kirk session, consisting of the preaching and lay elders of a particular congregation, to a higher tribunal, viz., the presbytery, composed of representatives from the kirk sessions of a certain district. It generally establishes, also, a yet higher court, viz., the synod; and sometimes, also, a more splendid and imposing one than the synod, viz., the General Assembly ; both of which, like the presbytery, are courts of appeal: so that the decision of the kirk session may be reviewed, first, by the presbytery, then .by the synod, and finally by the General Assembly; in either of which courts it may affirmed, or reversed, at the pleasure of the court. · Now there is, I admit, something in this form of church government which, prima facie, is rather seductive. It might, for instance, appear at the first blush, that to take the full and final power of government from particular congregations, and to establish this regular gradation of courts of appeal, might tend, on the one hand, to repress the spirit of turbulence and commotion in these individual congregations; and, on the other, to secure the certainty of justice being done between conflicting parties, in any particular case, by removing the ultimate decision from prejudiced to unprejudiced judges. So far as I think it right to go into a reply to these arguments, I should, perhaps, admit that it might tend, as supposed, to suppress turbulence ; but so would imprisoning or hanging the quarrellers; and, therefore, as the latter would not be the right course, though it drew after it this good consequence, so neither may the former. And, though it is confidently affirmed that greater justice would be done to the conflicting parties by following the Presbyterian model, I more than doubt it. Innumerable cases will occur in which it will be utterly impossible to put a foreign court into an equal capacity of judging correctly with the congregational court. Our opinion as to what should be done, in any case of offence for instance, does not altogether, sometimes not chiefly, depend upon the overt act, but upon the previous character of the offender-upon his manner when dealt with —- his countenance — tones of voice even. No adequate impression of these things can be conveyed to such as did not see and hear them. It is conceived, then, that any advantage which might be derived, in a foreign court—if there be any advantage, which, however, is doubtful—from freedom from local prejudice and prepossession, would be more than counterbalanced by inferior capacity of judging.
Besides, what must be the consequence, in many cases at least, of removing the power of final decision from the congregational court? How can it avoid happening that an individual, cast out by the latter court, as one in whom its members have lost confidence, and whom they find it impossible to love, will, by the superior court, be thrown back into their fellowship ? and thus the great principle which binds the members together the principle of voluntary combination-is rudely violated.
I feel reluctant, however, to prosecute this argument further, because it evidently removes us from scriptural ground. It raises the question, “What thinkest thou?” The exclusive inquiry should be, “How readest thou?” I place the congregational form of church government on the basis of Divine revelation, and not on the ground of expediency; and shall, accordingly, proceed to test