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It had no affinity to the existing forms of state government, nor any connection with them. It vested the church power in the only appropriate source of all social power,in the people. It is only in this voluntary system, in which neither state power nor church power can interfere with the religious convictions of men, that the church of Christ finds an asylum for the preservation of its purity and the exercise of its legitimate influence.
But the church soon began to be assimilated to the form of the existing civil governments, and in the end a hierarchy of bishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs arose, corresponding to the graduated rank of the civil administration. Ere-long the Roman bishop assumed pre-eminence above all others." 153 United with the civil authority in its interests, assimilated to that power in its form of government, and secularized in spirit, the church, under Constantine and his successors, put off its high and sacred character, to become a part of the machinery of state government. It first truckled to the low arts of state policy, and then, with insatiable ambition, assumed at last the supreme control of all power, human and divine.
4. It is another advantage of the system of the primitive church, that it was fitted for any form of government, and for any state of society.
Voluntary and simple in their organization, entirely removed from all connection with the civil government, with no confederate relations among themselves, and seeking only by the pure precepts of religion to persuade men in every condition to lead quiet and holy lives, these Christian societies were adapted to any state of society and any form of government. This primitive Christianity commended itself, with equal facility, to the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlearned, the high and the low; whether it addressed itself to the soldier, the fisherman or
153 Ranke's Hist. of the Popes, Eng. Trans., Vol. I, p. 29.
the peasant, it equally suited their condition. It gathered into its communion converts from every form of government, of every species of superstition, and of every condition in life, and by its wholesome truths and simple rites trained them up for eternal life. Stern and uncompromising in its purity and simplicity, it stood aloof from all other forms, both of government and of religion. It neither sought favor from the paganism of the Gentile, nor the prejudice of the Jew; nor yielded compliance to the despotism of Rome, or the democracy of Greece, while it could live and flourish under either government and in any state of society. Can the same be said with equal propriety of Episcopacy? Are its complicated forms and ceremonials, its robes and vestments, its rituals, and all its solemn pomp, equally adapted to every state of religious feeling, or suited alike to refined society, and to rude and rustic life? In its complicated forms of government, are all its grades of office, its diocesan and metropolitan confederacies, and its absolute, monarchical powers, equally congenial to every kind of civil government?
5. It subjected the clergy to salutary restraints by bringing them, in their official character, under the watch of the church.
The apostles, as we have already seen, recognized their own accountability to the church. This continued afterwards to be an established principle in the primitive church. The consciousness that their whole life was open to the judicial inspection of those to whom they ministered, and by whom they were most intimately known, could not fail to create in the clergy a salutary circumspection, the restraints of which an independent ministry under another system can never feel.
6. It served to guard them also against the workings of an unholy ambition, a thirst for office, and the love of power.
This thought is necessarily implied in the preceding, but it is of such importance that it deserves a distinct consideration. Those disgraceful contests for preferment, the recital of which crowds the page of ancient history, belong to a later and a different ecclesiastical polity.
7. It was adapted also to guard the clergy against a mercenary spirit.
The vast revenue of a church-establishment, and the princely annuities of its incumbents, offer an incentive to this sordid passion which Paul in his poverty could never have felt, and which none can ever feel, who receive no more than a humble competence, as a voluntary offering at the hands of those for whom they labor.
8. The system was well suited to guard the church from the evils of a sectarian spirit.
In the church of Christ were Jews, jealous for the law of their fathers. There were also Greeks, who, independent of the Mosaic economy, had received the gospel and become Christians, without being Jews in spirit. Had now the church assumed the form of a national establishment, with its prescribed articles of faith, its ritual, agenda, &c., it is difficult to conceive how the opposing views of these different parties could have been harmonized. The older apostles, with the Jews, might have maintained with greater firmness their Jewish prejudice as they observed the pure direction of Christianity in Paul and his Gentile converts, who again might have been more determined in their opposition to a Judaizing spirit. So that these germinating differences might have ended in an irreconcilable opposition. As it was, this disturbing influence was strongly manifested in all the churches, so that it required all the wisdom and influence of the apostles to unite their Christian converts in an organization so simple as that which they did establish.
9. It left the apostles and pastors free to pursue their great work, without let or hindrance from ecclesiastical authority or partizan zeal.
It allowed free scope for the fervid zeal of the early promulgators of the gospel of Christ, and permitted them to range at large in their missionary tours for the conversion of men, unrestrained by the rules of ecclesiastical authority or canonical laws. An explanation, given and received in the spirit of mutual confidence, reconciled the brethren whose prejudice was excited by the preaching of Peter to the Gentiles. The unhappy division between Paul and Barnabas ended in the furtherance of the gospel, both being at liberty, notwithstanding this sinful infirmity, to prosecute their labors for the salvation of men without being arrested by the bans of the hierarchy, or trammelled by ecclesiastical jealousy lest the souls, whom one or the other should win to Christ, might chance not to have been canonically converted.
10. The order of the primitive church was calculated to preserve peace and harmony among the clergy.
One in rank and power, and holding the tenure of their office at the will of their people, they had few temptations, comparatively, to engage in strife one with another for preferment; or to repine at the advancement of one of their number, who by his superior qualifications was promoted to some commanding post of usefulness above them.
I know indeed that Jerome assigns the origin of Episcopacy to the ambitious contentions of the clergy in the primitive church; as though this were an expedient to heal their divisions. Now, if this be so, I have only to say, that the remedy proved to be infinitely worse than the evil which it would cure. All the ecclesiastical historians of antiquity most fully and strongly attest the fact, that after the rise of diocesan Episcopacy, and the establishment of the various grades of the hierarchy, the spirit of
faction rose high among the clergy. Insatiable ambition possessed all orders among the priesthood, raging like a pestilence through their several ranks. The age of Constantine and his successors, within which the system of prelacy was matured, was pre-eminently the age of clerical. ambition.
"In the age we speak of, which seems too justly styled ambitionis saeculum, the age of ambition,-though those, whose designs agree with the humor of it, have esteemed it most imitable-scarce any in the church could keep their own, that had any there greater than themselves; some bishops, and not only the presbyters found it so, the great still encroaching upon those, whose lower condition made them obnoxious to the ambition and usurpation of the more potent.
In that unhappy time, what struggling was there in bishops of all sorts for more greatness and larger power! What tugging at councils and court for these purposes!" 153
Socrates, the ecclesiastical historian, A. D. 439, alleges that he has intermingled the history of the wars of those times, as a relief to the reader, that he may not be continually detained with the ambitious contentions, qılovızlą, of the bishops, and their plots and counter-plots against each other.154 But more of this hereafter.
11. It was also happily suited to bless the people with an useful and efficient ministry.
Select a few from among their ministerial brethren, exalt them to the high places of Episcopal power, encircle them with the mitre, the robe, and all the "paraphernalia of pontifical dignity," enthrone them securely in authority, settle them quietly in their palaces to enjoy the ample benefices of an irresponsible office; and, however gratify
153 Clarkson's Primitive Episcopacy, pp. 142, 143.