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don their sin, for they know not what they do. Let the illumination of thy Holy Spirit so irradiate our minds, that in seeing thee we may see the Father also. "O holy, blessed, and glorious trinity, three persons and one God, have mercy upon us, miserable sinners. Let it please thee to bring into the way of truth all such as have erred and are deceived; that we may worship thy name ever one God, world without end !" Amen.
Before the propagation of the gospel, the world abounded, even as now, with religious opinions. The Jews, philosophers, and pagans were divided into gects which combated one another's opinions. Our knowledge is so circumscribed, and our researches after truth so slow and imperfect, that we cannot help variety of opinion with regard both to the study of nature and of revelation. In this view mental errors are entitled to the same compassion as blindness and tameness in the body.
In the first three centuries, ecclesiastic history has enumerated eighty sects that troubled the church; and in the fourth and fifth centuries near fifty more. But some of these had but a short existence, and scarcely extended themselves beyond the limits of a city. The Novatians and Arians were probably five times more numerous than all the others.
The pious Montanists, Cataphrygians, as well as the Catharians, seem to have united with the Novatians, which was one cause why that sect became so great. Many of the sectarians united also with the Arians.
V. We shall next consider the general apostacy and corruption of the clergy; and true piety would : wish to draw the veil of oblivion over so painful a sub-'. ject. This being impossible, it becomes our duty to derive the best instruction we can from the desolation which sin hath made in the sanctuary of God.
The disciples, upacquainted with the nature of their master's kingdom, contended who should be greatest. Jesus, knowing the consequences of this evil, destroy
by the root. He took " a little child, and set
bim in the midst of them, and said, verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship, and are called benefactors. It shall not be so with you; but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he that is chief, as he that doth serve,” Luke xxii. 24, 25, 26.
These solemn instructions the apostles never forgot: the unity and comfort of Christian society were involved in keeping them. The church at Jerusalem they govern as a council of brethren, and with the advice of the people, Acts xv. 22. St. Paul having succeeded in planting churches in most of the great cities of Asia and Greece, ordained a proper number of pastors in each church, whom he sometimes calls bishops, and sometimes presbyters. That the office of bishop and presbyter differed but in age and honor fully appears from the following scriptures.
Paul and Barnabas “ return again to Lystra, and Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith. And when they had ordained them presbyters in every church, they prayed with fasting, and commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed,” Acts xiv.
23. From Miletus, Paul sent for the presbyters of Ephesus, and in giving them a solemn charge he said, “ take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost bath made you bishops,” Acts xx. 28.
“ Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons,” Phil. i. 1.
Hence we may fairly conclude, that the office of a bishop was but another name for the office of a presbyter; otherwise, they had many bishops in this church, but no presbyters.
" For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldst set in order the things that are wanting, and
ordain presbyters in every city, as I appointed thee. If any man be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children, not accused of riot, or unruly : for a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God,” Titus i. 5, 6, 7.
“ The presbyters which are among you I exhort, who am also a presbyter, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: feed the flock of God which is among you, performing the office of bishops," 1 Peter
1, 2. The evasive manner in which these texts have been translated, shows how much the lovers of episcopacy are terrified at the idea of having many bishops in one city; of St. Peter calling himself a presbyter; and bidding presbyters perform the office of bishops.
This was ecclesiastical polity in the age of uncorrupted simplicity. The presbyters, qualified by the Holy Ghost, instructed the church, and labored at their trades to support their families; for the church, in many places, was so small and poor, that it could not support its itinerant ministers. Among the aneients," says Jerome, bishops and presbyters were the same, the one being a name of dignity, the other
In a course of years, and even before the death of St. John, talents, experience, and age, had made considerable distinction among the presbyters; and he, who was best qualified, had gradually been called to a principal share in managing the church in every city. After this distinction, the appellations of bishopand presbyter, which had been promiscuously given to all the ministers, became appropriate. The senior or presiding was called bishop, and those ministers who assisted him, if he had any assistants, were called presbyters. These distinctions having obtained in the great churches first, spread throughout the Christian world.
Quanquam apud veteres iidem episcopi et presbyteri fuerint; quia
men dignitas est, hoc ætatis. Hieron. ep. 83. ad Ocean. Tom. 2.
These remarks are not intended to depreciate primitive episcopacy, or to serve a party interest; they intend no more than the investigation of truth on a controverted subject. Nothing could be more amiable than to see a venerable pastor at the head of the church in every large town, and governing it with the advice of his brethren and the people: so Cyprian and the other good bishops governed their churches. Their age and office, combined with a life of usefulness, conferred on tbem a salutary influence in composing the differences and rectifying the faults of their flock.
Some great evils, however undesigned, were the consequence of this innovation. Those good men who had imitated the apostles in their itinerancy, and successfully planted and nourished the churches, soon desisted from their extensive labors; and the edification of the churches was as much an object of St. Paul's travels as the planting them, Rom. i. 7-15.
Experience soon discovered another evil, too difficult to be removed. Whenever a bishop became imperious or corrupt, he could seldoin be deposed without a schism. Besides, the council of bishops, usually convened on such occasions, was ever solicitous to enlarge rather than to curtail the rights of episcopacy. Corruption having once obtained, soon secured itself a prevailing interest.
But the clergy were not long content with the simple distinction of bishop, presbyter and deacon. Wher disputes arose, it was usual for the bishop of a small town to ask advice of the bishop of the metropolis, who had many clergymen, and whose advice would be regarded as wise and weighty. This was highly proper, and often productive of happy effects. However, after the bishops of great cities were invested with civil authority, they claimed this right of advising and controlling the country bishops, as the prerogative of their sees. Hence originated the order of archbishops, and soon after the order of patriarchs.
From this period, the church was governed, as the kings of the Gentiles govern their kingdoms.
VI. Having distinguished the clergy from the laity, I feel it a duty to bring forward an observation, that the liberty of the prophesying both in the Jewish and in the Christian church, was never denied to laymen whose piety and abilities were approved. By the gift of the Holy Ghost, all believers were constituted the sons of God, and brethren of Christ. He had washed them from their sins in his own blood, and made them kings and priests to God. They were a chosen generation, and a royal priesthood. But many of the gisted men were so encumbered with families and business, that they could not be wholly devoted to the work, and it would have been wrong to have suppressed their talents, Rom. xii. 3.
In the church of Corinth, and no doubt in all the great churches, they enjoyed the liberty of instructing the people. Saint Paul expresses his approbation of these meetings, by exhorting them to preserve order. “If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at most by three, and that by course, and let one interpret. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all be comforted,” i Cor. xii. 14.
The liberty of what is now termed lay-preaching was not wholly lost in the time of Origen. Evelpis was invited to preach by Neon, bishop of Laranda, Paulinus by Celsus, bishop of Iconium; and Theodorus by Atticus, bishop of Synnada. These instances are urged in defence of the bishops of Syria, who had permitted Origen to preach. He was a deacon and catechist, but the above were only laymen.* Of this expiring liberly we hear no more; it was soon monopolized by the priesthood. But the reader will perceive, that if laymen of talents were so useful in the primitive church, it is the duty of such characters to exert themselves now in the same way for the conversion
* Euseb. Hist. Eccles. Lib. 6. cap. xix.