The fourth and last of the Dudleian lectures was given last evening by Professor George P. Fisher, D. D. of Yale University. Paul Dudley. the founder of the course, was a Harvard graduate and became a Chief Justice of Massachus tts. According to his instructions the lecture was purely defensive. The theory has been advanced that episcopacy is the only lawful method of church government, and that there can be no true church with-out bishops. No man not ordained by a bishop has any warrant for his ministry. This idea is based on the supposed unbroken succeseion of bishops from the apostles, transmitted by laying on of hands. It is doubtful, however, whether such a succession can be made out. The question is largely one of history, and not of religion. We find in the early church no definite organization, the members merely gathered together in fraternities. Afterwards deacons and deaconesses were instituted to care for the poor. From among the numerous pastors in each town several were selected to superintednd the church. These men were called indiscriminately elders, in Greek, presbyters, or bishops, and were all on an equality. There was no bishop above the elders, and the only higher officers were the apostles. In later times, one of the elders was given the presidency and was often called bishop. We find no trace, however, of the selection of the bishop by the apostles, or even of diocesan episcopacy. The bishops were not priests, but officers of the church, charged with preserving order and repressing heresy. The imposition of hands, upon which so much stress is often laid, was a Jewish custom used in inaugurating both civil and religious officers. The universal verdict of scholars is that episcopacy arose from presbytery. In the early anglican church no effort was made to put the biship on a higher level than the rest of the priesthood, and it was even admitted that the church had the right to abolish bishop if expedient. It was only in later times that that tyrannical prelacy was established, to escape which our Puritan ancestors left England.
It was one of Luther's cardinal doctrines that there was no separate pries ly order and every Christian was his own priest, and the clergy were only appointed to perform certain functions as the delegates of the congregation. The chosen priest is equal to the ordained, and the divine institution of episcopacy must follow after the kindred dogma of the divine right of kings, otherwise there can be no liberty in the church.
The Anglican bishops have recently proposed a union with the other evangelical churches, but they make the acception of episcopacy a condition of fellowship. Although many are willing to accept episcopacy as a means of diminshing sectarianism, yet it is too much to admit that it is an essential of Christianity.
Several hymns were sung by the choir, and prayers was offered by Professor Peabody.