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gaticn, such a succession is far from being clearly established. Every age of the Christian period has had a multitude of Christ's true confessors; and it is possible, perhaps probable, that churches essentially of the divine constitution have also existed. But we deny that an unbroken chain of succession is an essential mark of a true church. Such a doctrine is unprotestant, as it rests the validity of the Christian church on human tradition, and not on the divine word.
II. A CHURCH IS VALID ONLY BY VIRTUE OF CONFORMITY IN CHARACTER, DOCTRINE, AND ORGANIZATION TO THE CONSTITUTION GIVEN IN GOD'S WORD.
The divine constitution of the church has been given in the principles, precepts, and examples of the New Testament; it follows that any body of Christians conformed in its character, doctrine, and organization to that constitution is, by virtue of such conformity, a true church, invested with all the powers conferred on the church by Christ, and acting under his authority; for it is evident that Christ promised to the apostles inspired guidance in establishing the church, and that they, in directing their assistants, required them to organize churches modelled after apostolic example, and the apostolic church was thus indicated as the divine model for all the ages. The church constitution, as given in the New Testament, is thus of the nature of a general law of incorporation. In legislation, for example, we have the general banking law and the law for incorporating religious societies, and any body organized in conformity with that law is legal and becomes a body corporate, empowered by the State to do all the acts the law contemplates. In like manner, the constitution of the church has been framed by its only Lawgiver and Head, and is recorded and illustrated in the Bible. An association formed in conformity with that constitution is a divine church by virtue of such conformity, and acts under divine authority. It may have no formal connection with any previous church, but it is nevertheless apostolic and in the true succession. Conformity to the apostolic model makes it as true a church of Christ and invests it with as much divine authority as the original church of which the apostles themselves were members at Jerusalem.
A Christian man, therefore, is not compelled to trace a church through ages of superstition, in the mist and darkness of tradition, in order to know whether it is the true church of Christ. He need only open God's own word and study the model there delineated by God's own hand, and, following the infallible guidance of this, he shall know with assured confidence what is "the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
THE CHURCH: HISTORICAL CONFIRMATION.
The constitution of the church, as here explained, is derived from the Scriptures, the only and sufficient authority in matters of faith and practice. The highest Patristic and historical authorities, however, confirm this view.
Mosheim says of the primitive churches: “Every church was composed of three constituent parts: 1. Teachers, who were also invested with the government of the community according to the laws; 2. Ministers of each sex (deacons and deaconesses); 3. The multitude or people. Of these parts the chief in point of authority was the people, for to them belonged the appointment of the bishop and presbyters, as well as of the inferior ministers; with them resided the power of enacting laws, as also of adopting or rejecting whatever might be proposed in the general assemblies, and of expelling, and receiving into communion, any depraved or unworthy members. In short, nothing whatever of any moment could be determined or carried into effect without their knowledge and concurrence.” He adds: “With regard to government and internal economy, every individual church considered itself as an independent community, none of them ever looking, in these respects, beyond the circle of its own members for assistance, or recognizing any sort of external influence or authority."*
Neander, when speaking of the terms episcopos and presbuteros, says: “Originally both names related to the same office, and hence both names are frequently interchanged as perfectly synonymous. ...
. . Every church was governed by a union of the elders or overseers chosen from among themselves, and we find among them no individual distinguished above the rest who presided as primus inter pares, though probably, in the age immediately succeeding the apostolic, of which we have, unfortunately, so few authentic memorials, the practice was introduced to apply to such an one the name of episcopos by way of distinction. The government of the church was the peculiar office of such overseers. It was their business to watch over the general order, to maintain the purity of the Christian doctrine and the Christian practice, to guard against abuses, to admonish the faulty, and to guide the public deliberations, as appears from the passages in the New Testament where their functions are described. But their government by no means excluded the participation of the whole church in the management of their common * Commentaries on First Three Centuries, pp. 179, 196 (Murdock's ed.).
concerns, as may be inferred from what we have already said respecting the nature of Christian communion, and is also evident from many individual examples in the apostolic church."*
Gibbon, who on this subject may surely be regarded as an impartial witness, says of the early churches: “The societies which were instituted in the cities of the Roman Empire were united only by the ties of faith and charity. Independence and equality formed the basis of their internal constitution. ... The public functions of religion were solely entrusted to the established ministers of the church, the bishops and presbyters-two appellations which in their first origin appear to have distinguished the same office and the same. order of persons. .. tion to the respective numbers of the faithful, a larger or smaller number of these episcopal presbyters guided each infant congregation with equal authority and united counsels." After describing the subsequent appropriation of the term bishop to the presiding officer among the presbyters, and the powers committed to him, the historian continues: “These powers, during a short period, were exercised according to the advice of the presbyterial college, and with the consent and approbation of the assembly of Christians. The primitive bishops were considered only as the first among equals, and the honorable servants of a free people. Whenever the episcopal chair became vacant by death, a new president was chosen from among the presbyters by the suffrage of the whole congregation, every member of which supposed himself invested with a sacred and sacerdotal character. Such was the mild and equal constitution by which the Christians were governed more than a hundred years after the death of the apostles. Every society formed within itself
* Planting and Training of the Church, book iii., ch. 5.
a separate and independent republic; and although the most distant of these little states maintained a mutual as well as friendly intercourse of letters and deputations, the Christian world was not yet connected by any supreme authority or legislative assembly."*
Archbishop Whately, in his Kingdom of Christ, speaking of the early churches, says: “Though there was one Lord, one faith, and one baptism for all of these, yet they were each a distinct, independent community on earth, united by the common principles on which they were founded, by their mutual agreement, affection, and respect, but not having any one recognized head on earth or acknowledging any sovereignty of one of these societies over others. Each bishop originally presided over an entire church. A church and a diocese seem to have been for a considerable time coextensive and identical, and each church a diocese, and consequently each bishop or superintendent, though connected with the rest by the ties of faith, hope, and charity, seems to have been perfectly independent so far as regards any control, occasionally conferring with brethren in other churches, but owing no submission to any central authority.”
The apostolic and Christian Fathers are full and distinct in their testimony respecting the primitive church organization. Clement of Rome, at the close of the first century, says: “The apostles, preaching in countries and cities, appointed the first-fruits of their labors bishops and deacons, having proved them by the Spirit.” Polycarp, in the middle of the second century, exhorts the church at Philippi to “be subject to the elders and deacons," and makes no allusion to other officers. Jerome says: “A presbyter, therefore, is the same as a bishop; and before there were, by the devil's instigation, parties in re
* Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch. 15.