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I now pass on to the main subject of your letter. The three positions with which you say I set out in my work, and which meet the reader in every part of it, are these:
First, That the original institution of Church government, by Christ and his Apostles, consisted of three distinct orders among the clergy, viz. bishops, priests, and deacons.
Second, That in no case whatever, the external polity of the Church may be altered.
Thirdly, That all who are out of the pale of the Church thus established, have no promise of salvation, but must be left to the uncovenanted mercies of God.
The first of these positions, it is most certainly one professed object of my book to maintain; and I see no reason, from any thing that has been advanced against it, to tread back my ground. And though I do not think it is in my power to establish the position more firmly than I have done already, yet, Sir, as you profess yourself to be sincerely attached to the constitution of the Church of England, and no voluntary schismatic; I shall hope that what I may still say on this subject, in answer to the objections brought against it, may produce some good effect.
With this view it will be proper to give an answer to those Presbyterian arguments, which have been brought together, for the strange purpose of invalidating a position, which you yourself, if I understand you right, professedly maintain.
The ground upon which the position respecting the original institution of Church government was
built in my book, was briefly this: That our Saviour did, after his resurrection, deliver a commission to his eleven disciples relative to the government of his Church; and that the manner in which this commission was to be carried into effect is to be ascertained by the subsequent practice of the Apostles; on the supposition that our Saviour would not fail to accompany the delivery of so important a charge with the information necessary for the parties entrusted with it.* But even admitting, what is more than we are bound to admit, that particular information respecting Church government was not delivered by our Saviour to his Apostles, yet, when it is considered that the Apos tles were forbid to enter on the discharge of their commission till they had received the gift of the Holy Ghost, whose office it was "to lead them into all truth;' we are authorized to conclude, that whatever form of government the Apostles agreed to establish in the Church, if not expressly communicated to them by Christ in person, must be considered as established under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Thus far, I presume, it will be admitted, that the position before us stands upon firm ground.
But a difference of opinion has arisen in the world, from different interpretations of the Apos tolic writings, on the subject of Church government. What step, then, shall wise and prudent men take for clearing up the difficulty? There is but one that appears equal to the occasion, and that has been taken; namely, an appeal to the
* Guide, p. 16, et seq.
testimony of those persons who lived with the Apos tles; in whose authentic writings, if any passages can be found which speak decidedly and authoritatively on those points, which the supposed ambiguous language of the Apostles may have left uncertain, the validity of evidence drawn from such writings must, it is presumed, be admitted as competent to the determination of the dispute. For, as it is observed in my second Discourse, if it can be supposed that those who lived with the Apostles, and exercised the office they had received in the Church by virtue of their appointment, and in some measure under their superintendence, could deviate from the plan laid down by the Apostles, who were considered as acting under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit; or that the immediate disciples of the Apostles did not know the minds of their masters; or if it be imaginable that the whole world should, immediately after the death of the Apostles, conspire together to seek themselves, and not the things of Jesus Christ; to erect a government of their own devising, not ordained by Christ, not delivered by his Apostles, and to relinquish a Divine foundation, and the Apostolic superstructure, which, if it were at all, was a part of our Master's will; we may suppose and imagine any thing; and there is no ground left, on which any conclusive reasoning on the subject can be built. The two primitive writers produced on this occasion, and upon whose testimony, should it be required, I am contented to rest the whole weight of this cause, are Clemens Romanus * Guide, p. 25.
and Ignatius. The former, one of the first bishops, and a fellow-labourer with St. Paul; the latter, a disciple of St. John. Proof, drawn from such sources, is the best of which the subject in question is capable; and is, indeed, much stronger than any on which many historical facts of great moment have been and are received. It is, therefore, that proof with which every reasonable man will remain satisfied.
After having, in the thirteenth and fourteenth pages of your book, said something about the regular succession of bishops, and the fate of Uzza, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; of the particular circumstances of whose case you do not seem to have formed a just conception; after having said something about the Pope, the titular bishops in this kingdom, and the nonjuring bishops, which have nothing to do with the subject in hand; you conclude by telling me, that you will leave me in peaceable possession of all my quotations, from the time of Ignatius down to the Rev. Mr. Law.
Now, Sir, there are two ways in which this concession may be understood. You leave me in peaceable possession of my quotations, either because you are sensible that the force of them is irresistible, or, that being of no weight or moment in determining the point in question, they are, on that account, beneath your notice. For my own part, I feel perfectly satisfied in taking advantage only of part of your concession. In granting me the authority of Clemens and Ignatius, you put me in possession of ground which is not to be shaken. And though I do not mean to be understood, that the authority
of subsequent writers upon the subject of the Church establishment is to be despised; yet, as I consider their authority to stand on the original foundation, time need not be wasted in drawing your attention to those different parts of the superstructure, which have from time to time been raised upon it. As you have (and I think unnecessarily) introduced the nonjuring clergy, you will permit me, Sir, to say a short word on their subject, before I pass on; because I have always been taught to see those persons in such a light, as to make me wish that their names should never be mentioned but with becoming respect. When I consider, that among the nonjuring clergy are to be found some of the most pious, most learned, and most conscientious Divines that ever adorned the Church of England, I cannot help thinking that the government would have gained more in honour than it would have lost in security, had such men been permitted to have remained in possession of their preferments. But admitting that policy demanded that the nonjuring clergy should be deprived, you will observe, Sir, they were deprived of those secular possessions which the Church had derived from her connexion with the state. Their offence, if it may be called by even so harsh a name, was of a political nature; their punishment corresponded to it. They offended against the ruling powers; they, in consequence, lost their patronage. But, can it be necessary to remind you, all the rights, dignities, and emoluments which the priesthood derives from the piety and patronage of civil rulers, are quite distinct from that spiritual commission, by which the clergy