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and a pure religion. As you have thought it your duty to undertake a public explanation and defence of these doctrines, you cannot be surprised, that 1 should think it mine, to adopt a similar mode of expressing my opinions, and of stating my objections.
I propose first to consider what you have said on the Ministry of the Episcopal church; and afterwards to examine its RITUAL and DOCTRINES.
I confess I was not entirely prepared to find, at this advanced period of moral and intellectual improvement, any member of a protestant religious society, and especially in this country, who would seriously engage in the attempt to establish the divine origin of any particular form of church government, and claim its lineal descent from the apostles. I had thought the long agitated controversy, about the die vine right of episcopacy, was generally allowed to be at rest, even in those countries where the civil, as well as ecclesiastical interests are intimately concerned in the result. In more scholastic times, when the world was busied in visions and dreams as unprofitable as they were imaginary, this was a theme sufficiently obscure to interest the lovers of speculation, and suf. ficiently pretending to engage the ambitious. Few at this day, I supposed, could be found, who would not at least consider it a doubtful cause; and still fewer, who would think it of sufficient importance publicly to engage in its defence. The termination of the con- . troversy, which was carried on a few years ago in New York on this subject, was not such, one would think, as to warrant in the friends of episcopacy a desire for its renewal.
In my estimation the subject in itself is of very little importance, because I am convinced, that the grounds which you and some others take are unscriptural, and consequently untenable. Yet in its consequences it is by no means unimportant. If any order of men can prove to the satisfaction of the people, that, as an order, they are lineal descendants from the apostles, and inherit a right to their office by virtue of this descent, they will almost necessarily possess an influence over the minds and opinions of the weak and credulous, which, unless their pretensions are well founded, they ought not to possess. In religion, if in any thing, the mind should be left unshackled. The right of private judgment should be held sacred, and no improper means should be used to restrain inquiry, or enlist credulity.
As we are all accountable beings, and accountable only for ourselves, it is our duty to judge for our. selves. But when we are made to believe, that any man is endowed with a portion of the inspired intel. ligence of the apostles, and is, from the nature of the office he sustains, more holy than other men, shall we
, not be in danger of forgetting our obligations to ourselves, and be likely in our religious concerns to yield up the highest prerogatives of our nature—those of thinking, and reasoning, and judging? What merit can we claim for thinking and acting right, if we do not think and act from our own understanding and freedom? To believe articles, because others have believed them, can scarcely be called a religious faith. That faith can be worth very little, and have little efficacy on the life, which is not built on personal knowledge and conviction.
Another evil consequence of believing in a divine. ly protected succession of officers in the church, is the perpetuity of error. Amung protestants I believe there are no advocates for infallibility. In the christian church, as in every thing else, error has always been mingled with truth, and it does not appear, that the edicts of emperors, the decrees of councils, or the mandates of popes have been able to preserve a pure, a uniform, or consistent system of faith. If such a system had been transmitted without change from the primitive ages, and it were certain, that it is the one now adopted by your church; then I should say, your scheme of episcopacy is a good one, and the notion of its divine origin would add to its value. It would be the best means, that could be devised, for perpetuating such a form of faith, and fixing it in the minds of the people.
But is it not obvious, that such a system would have a tendency equally strong to perpetuate any form of belief, whether false or true? And are not all articles of faith, which are not expressed in the language of scripture, subject to be more or less clouded with error? If episcopacy be of divine origin, why has it not preserved a pure and consistent faith. The, Greek church is episcopal, and so is the Roman, and still they differ in many essential points from each other, as well as from the English church. And does not the episcopal church of the United States reject some parts of the old book of Common Prayer, which are thought so important in the English church, as to be commanded by the laws to be publicly read at stated times? Why are the Athanasian creed, and some other parts of the liturgy left out, unless it be that they are thought unscriptural? The creeds of episcopal churches have changed essentially from time to time, and at present they differ essentially among themselves.
It is evident, then, that these churches have many errors in their articles of belief, and my position is, that the scheme of episcopacy is peculiarly calculated to perpetuate these errors.
There is another consideration of some importance to me, and to all, who do not agree with episcopalians on the subject of church government. If you are right, we are all wrong. If, as you say, “to the order of bishops alone belongs the power of ordaining ministers," then no ministers out of the pale of episcopacy have ever been ordained. They have usurped an office, wbich did not belong to them; they have undertaken the discharge of duties, for which they were not qualified; they have been guilty of a rashness, which nothing but their obstinacy could account for, or their ignorance excuse. The positive ordinances of the church, administered by them, have been invalid, and unaccompanied by any of those good effects for which they were designed. Baptism performed by them has had no efficacy; and the celebration of the Lord's supper, althougb done in com. pliance with the express commands of our Saviour, has been ratber a dishonor to his name, than a means of procuring spiritual comfort, and the rewards of obedience for his followers. These, you will allow, are serious considerations, not only to ministers, but to the people of their charge, who, if your statement be correct, are ignorantly entrusting their spiritual concerns to an unauthorized and unprofitable min, istry,
It certainly cannot be thought strange, that any clergyman, who is implicated in this charge, should feel it his duty to assert and maintain what he con. ceives to be his just claims, and show the fallacy of such pretensions, as arrogate to any class of men the conclusive character of being descendants from the apostles. The first part of your discourse is taken up in
proving, that the episcopal church is the only true church, that its ministry originated with the apostles, and has descended down to the present time, “through an unbroken and divinely protected succession," and that ordinations, performed by any other persons than bishops, are “devoid of every degree of validity and efficacy in conferring spiritual office and power." This shall be the subject of my first letter.
I agree with you, that when the gospel enjoins us 'to be ready always to give an answer to every man tbat asketh us a reason of the hope that is in us,' and
to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints;' it equally obliges us to ascertain and thoroughly understand what the characteristics of that faith may be," p. 10. It is true, if we do not ascertain, we believe without knowledge; and if we do not understand, we believe without evidence. Faith without knowledge, or evidence, can scarcely be called a rational faith; and to believe what we do not understand, if it be possible, is useless. A religious faith is meant to be the guide to a religious life, and if its objects are unintelligible, it must indeed be a blind guide. The same may be said of the faith of prejudice, or of ignorance. I unite with you cordially in