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doctrine, as received and practised in the Apostolic . age, you have seen with your own eyes. And, finally, that Cranmer and his associates, who commenced the Reformation in England, did also, at least at one period, concur in the same acknowledgment, has been placed beyond all reasonable doubt.
After viewing this body of testimony, what must we think of Mr. How's repeated declarations, that “the Reformers, universally admitted “ the Apostolic claims of the Episcopal constitu" tion;" that “ Luther and Melancthon acknowledge “ed the obligation of Episcopacy; excusing their
departure from it on the ground of necessity;" that “ Episcopacy was never ranked, by the Re. “ formers, among the corruptions, or innovations “ of the Papacy;" that they all recognized it as “ an institution primitive and apostolic; acknow“ ledging without reserve, their obligation to con66 form to it?" And what must we think of Dr. Bowden, (from whom better information and more caution might have been expected,) when he fully concurs with Dr. Hobart and Mr. How, in this language of bold and unqualified assertion? How Gentlemen who have any accurate knowledge of the rise and progress of the Reformation; or who have attended to the history and the contents of public Confessions, could write thus, is, indeed, unaccountable ! I am lost in astonishment when I think of the fact !
It only remains that we notice, for a moment, the assertion of Dr. Bowden and Mr. How, that in the Lutheran churches of Sweden and Denmark, Prelacy, both in fact and name, is received. If these Gentlemen mean, that there are ministers in Sweden and Denmark, who bear the titles of Bishop and Archbishop, their assertion is undoubtedly correct; and this is no more than I explicitly stated in my former Letters. But if they mean, that the Swedish and Danish churches believe in the divine right of Prelacy; that they consider Episcopal or. dination as necessary to constitute the Christian ministry; or that they do, in fact, always insist upon such ordination--they are unquestionably in a gross error; and have given their readers a most delusive view of the subject.
With respect to Sweden, it is well known, that those who planted the Reformation, and ordained the first Protestant ministers in that country, were mere Presbyters. And although, from the influence of habit, they chose to retain the names and some of the functions of Bishops and Archbishops ; yet it is equally certain, that the first persons who bore these titles, were set apart to their office by Presbyters; and, of course, received themselves, and were enabled to communicate to others, no other than Presbyterian ordination. As to the point of light in which this subject is regarded by the church of Sweden, I am happy in being able to produce the testimony of the Rev. Dr. Collin, Pastor of the Swedish church in Philadelphia ; a Gentleman whose acquaintance with the ecclesiastical system of his native country cannot be doubted; and whose character is a sufficient guarantee for the accuracy of his statements. He assures me, in a let. ter, written at my request, that all the Swedish Divines, and particularly those who themselves enjoy the Episcopal dignity, consider Episcopaey merely as a human regulation; that this is the doctrine of all their standard books ; that accordingly, in the absence of those who are styled Bishops, ordinations are performed by ordinary clergymen; and that even Bishops and Archbishops, may be set apart to their office by Presbyters. In support of these facts, Dr. Collin produces the most decisive testimony from Swedish wri. ters of the highest authority ; and declares, that there is but one opinion among them on the subject. He adds, " The Danes agree with us in this " matter.
Vandalin, Primarius Professor of Theology in Copenhagen, in a much esteemed work published in the year 1727, has the following pas
sage, p. 354. An jure divino Episcopi a Presby35 teris distincti sunt? Negatur ; contra Pontificios " et quosdam Anglos.” i. e. “ Are Bishops and “ Presbyters distinct orders by divine right? We 6 deny it; in opposition to the Papists, and to cer“ tain persons of the church of England.” He then goes on to establish his opinion by reference to a number of passages of Scripture, which are precisely those which Presbyterials usually quote.
The result of all the testimony exhibited in the present Letter, is this. That the Waldenses,
the Bohemian Brethren, and all the great individual witnesses for the truth, prior to the time of Luther, were almost without exception, decidedly anti-prelatical in their sentiments. That at the period of the Reformation, the Presbyterian form of church government was established in all the Reformed churches in Germany, Scotland, France, Geneva, and Holland; and its establishment in all these countries, accompanied with public and solemn declarations that they considered this as having been the A postolic and primitive form. And, that, although in the Lutheran churches of Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and other parts of Europe, some ministers were invested with pre-eminent powers, under different titles; yet that they all, with one voice, declared, that in the Apostolic church, ministerial parity prevailed; and acknowledged, that the order of Bishops was brought in by human authority, and was a regulation of expediency alone. Such was the doctrine maintained by those church. es, at that interesting period; and the same doctrine has been maintained by them uniformly to the present hour. It follows, then, agreeably to my declaration in a former Letter, that the church of England stands absolutely ALONE, in the whole Protestant world, in asserting the divine institution of Prelacy, (if indeed, she, as a church, does assert it, which many of her own most respectable sons have denied); that every other Protestant church on earth has formally disclaimed this doctrine, and pronounced the distinction between Bishops and Presbyters to be a mere human invention ; and, consequently, that the doctrine of the jure divino prelatists, is so far from being the general doctrine of the Reformed churches, that it never has been, and is not now, received, by more than a very small portion-a mere handful of the Protestant world.
I repeat once more--the Bible is the Statute. book of the church of Christ; and by this book alone, must the question before us be finally decided. But, so far as human opinion, fortified by all the considerations of talents, learning and piety, is of any value, the doctrine of Presbyterian parity stands on the most elevated and triumphant ground.