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As this will probably be the last time that I shall have the honour of a correspondence with you-my professional engagements neither permitting, nor the habits of my mind disposing me, to remain in the field of controversy-I am desirous that every part of your late publication which challenges particular attention, should receive its answer. With this view, my purpose is to make the present letter supplementary to those which have preceded it, by adding what has since occurred, on such points, as may not already have received sufficient notice: and happy shall I be, if any endeavours of mine, how feeble soever, may be so fortunate as to render us, what all Christians should wish to be, of one mind, and of one judgment, on the several subjects we have respectively handled.
Your first letter (though I can readily believe, that so far from intending it, you were not even aware of it) might be thought to have been written
against the established Church of this country; since, whatever was your purpose in writing it, its effect, if it has any, must be to support the cause of separation from it. For when a person, who "avows his sincere attachment to the Church of England, in doctrine, in constitution, and in disci pline," admits likewise, that "they have no bad ground to stand upon, who separate from it;” the conclusion drawn by separatists will be, that more is meant than meets the ear; and it is hardly possible that improper use should not be made of it. This subject I have thought it necessary to enter into at large, because it constitutes a considerable part of the ground-work upon which your publication stands. Some few observations, however, have since occurred upon it, which seem to have no inconsiderable weight. One, which particularly recommends itself to the attention of a steady member of the Church of England, as you profess you are, is to be found in the preface to the Ordination Service, in which the Church of England asserts, that "it is evident unto all men, diligently reading holy scriptures and ancient authors, that from the Apostles' time there have been these orders of ministers in Christ's Church, bishops, priests, and deacons."* To which may be added the judicious remark, on this subject, of that learned divine, Bishop Stillingfleet; together with the demonstration of that acute reasoner, Mr. Chillingworth. "The universal consent of the Church being proved, there is as great reason to believe the Apostolical succession to be of Divine institution, * Vide Ordination Preface.
as the canon of scripture, or the observation of the Lords'-day. We do not doubt but it is unlawful to add to, or to diminish from, the canon of scripture; and yet there is no plain text for it with respect to all the books contained in it; and some of the books were a long time disputed in some Churches: but the Churches coming at last to a full agreement in this matter, upon due search and inquiry, hath been thought sufficient to bind all after-ages to make no alterations in it. And as to the Divine institution of the Lord's-day, we do not go about to lessen it, but only to show, that some examples in scripture, being joined with the universal practice of the Church in its purest ages, hath been allowed to be sufficient ground not only for following ages to observe it, but to look on it as at least an Apos tolical institution. Now it cannot but seem unequal, not to allow the same force where there is the same evidence; and therefore our Church hath wisely and truly determined, that since the Apostles' time there have been three orders, of bishops, priests, and deacons, and in a regular well-constituted Church are to continue to the world's end."*
"Episcopal government (says Mr. Chillingworth, at the end of his demonstration) is acknowledged to have been received universally in the Church, presently after the times of the Apostles; between the Apostles and this presently after, there was not time enough for, nor possibility of, so great an alteration; and therefore there was no such alteration as was pretended." From whence it follows, "that episcopacy, being confessed to be so ancient and * Bishop Stillingfleet's Ordination Sermon preached in 1684-5.
catholic, must be also granted to be Apostolic." Q. E. D. "For so great a change as between presbyterian government and episcopal, could not possibly have prevailed all the world over in a little time. Had episcopal government been an aberration from, or a corruption of, the government left in the Churches by the Apostles, it had been very strange that it should have been received in any one Church so suddenly, or that it should have prevailed in all for many ages after. • Variasse debuerat error ecclesiarum; quod autem apud omnes unum est, non est erratum, sed traditum? Had the Churches erred, they would have varied; what, therefore, is one and the same among all, came not sure by error but by tradition. Thus Tertullian argues, very probably, from the consent of the Churches of his time; and that, in matter of opinion, much more subject to unobserved alteration. But that in the frame and substance of the necessary government of the Church, a thing always in use and practice, there should be so sudden a change as presently after the Apostles' times, and so universally as received in all Churches; this is clearly impossible.”*
The quotation which you have brought from Mr. Gisborne, in page 12, begs the question, but proves nothing; the conclusion drawn from it must, therefore, be weighed accordingly. But to the question subjoined to it, "where shall a pure Protestant Church be found, with bishops coming in succession from the Apostles to the present day?" it may be answered, that a pure Protestant Church, so far as * Vide Chillingworth's Works, fol. p. 3 322.