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Bishops! Bishops! Bishops!

by C. H. Spurgeon
From the October 1867 Sword and Trowel

Spurgeon

IF BISHOPS be, as certain ecclesiastics appear to think, the panacea for all the ills of the church, the church in London ought to be in the soundest condition, for the town swarms with bishops* as Egypt once swarmed with frogs. English, Scotch, Irish, Colonial, American, all the varieties are abundant, and make their appearance in public too, in processions, and sermons; indulging humanity with beatific visions of lawn and black silk. Now that they are all here, there is one questions which we should like to ask them. Dr. Watts asks the youthful catechumen, "Can you tell me, child, who made you?" Now, your grace of Oxford, Nassau, Quebec, Graham's Town, never mind which, can you tell me who made you? Who made you bishops? Who gave you prelatical power over the ministers of the gospel? Who anointed you to be lords where Jesus says that all are brethren? That the Holy Spirit did it, is impossible, for he did never by a single line in Scripture so much as sanction anything like a prelate; indeed, the office lives in defiance of all inspired canons. Moreover, my lords, to make short work of a long story, you know as well as any of us, that Lord Palmerston and other prime ministers, made the most of you; indeed, they created all of your Britannic graces; and you know equally well that election by your brethren, and your special call by the Spirit, were all a matter of course, after C'sar's representative had resolved to frock you. You cannot say with the apostle that your office is "not of man, neither by man;" you are the creatures of the civil power, and owe your crowns of rejoicing, in other words, your pontifical mitres, to a decree of the rulers of this world. Another question we might also trouble you with. We have heard of your being enthroned, in fact, in cathedrals we have seen your thrones; can you tell us where the apostles, pastors, or evangelists appointed by Jesus of Nazareth, were ever enthroned upon this earth? My lords, these men who were not lords, nor prelates, waited for their thrones in heaven, but rested upon far other seats on earth. Your throne is here below, as your dominion is of the earth earthy, but they looked for another kingdom, invisible and eternal. Did it ever strike you what Bible-reading Christians must think of you and your claims, or what the great Judge of all will say to your pretensions at the last great day? "Right Reverend Fathers in God," when you have to stand like common mortals before the judgment-seat, how will those infamous words of flattery grate in your ears! It will be a dread scene indeed, if the great mercy of God does not forgive you for your arrogance, when your graces will have to give an account for having tolerated such titles as addressed to your sinful selves. You have lived long enough in your sinful dignities, lay them down, drop your titles of pride, go on with your work wherein it may be good, walk humbly before men, and then you may hope to rest in peace.
    This is far too much to expect from their lordships, and we do but hint at the path of duty, knowing that it will not be followed. We have a great respect for some of these dignitaries personally, although their office we hold in utter abhorrence, but we must confess to some little amusement, when we found one of them, last Sunday, September 15, magnifying his office at a rate the most surprising, and in a manner the most novel. It is a fact not generally known, that the revolt of the American states from British rule was mainly caused by the absence of bishops in America, in those benighted times; and moreover, the United States as a nation, is not at all what it might have been if bishops had been there from the very dawn of colonisation. If any should doubt this new historical fact, we refer them to the infallible testimony of a bishop, and who can ask for more convincing evidence? The Bishop of Louisiana, according to the daily papers, "spoke of the manner in which the work of the church was advancing in the colonies and dependencies of the British crown, a matter in which he said he had much experience. If the same had been done for America in days gone by, it might have been a greater and a better country than it was now. For a hundred years there existed in America an Episcopal church without bishops, and the church which had government protection was that which was left without any organisation. In vain that church pleaded with the government of England for redress. Archbishops and bishops pressed the matter upon the attention of the crown, and year after year the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel made strenuous efforts to remedy the evils; but while it was allowed to the Roman Catholic Church to have what bishops she pleased in her discretion, the sons and daughters of the Church of England were left without the ministrations which were pledged to them at their baptism. Nothing so much us this strengthened the Americans for their struggle against this country; nothing induced them more than this to look with interest upon the struggle for independence, and to delight in seeing the secular power scattered into fragments, until at length it entirely disappeared."
    He who doubts must be a heretic indeed. Receiving the episcopal statement for truth, we see the proper method of securing our colonies to us for ever. Should Australia grow perverse, or Canada become restive, our government cannot do better than double or treble the dose of bishops. We shall heartily concur in the plan of sending off Oxford, and Salisbury, and others, to Botany Bay, and hope they may prove a blessing abroad, for they are the reverse at home. But no, we are supposing what cannot possibly occur, these colonies can never grow rebellious, for they have imbibed the specific, they are blessed with bishops; even Natal has its Colenso.
    We venture to predict that when the Christian church returns to her pristine purity, it will be difficult for her young members to believe the profane history in which the existence of officers, such as those meeting at Lambeth, will be recorded. The unsophisticated mind of an enlightened Christendom in another two or three centuries, if time keeps on its axles so long, will be staggered at the possibility of the past existence of many things in our professedly Protestant church, but at nothing more than at the creation of prelates, and the reverence given to such unscriptural lordlings by avowed believers in the lowly Jesus. If all Christians will at this present, search the word of God as to the true position and office of a Christian bishop, the present swarm of bishops may not have come together in vain. Otherwise, we can only repeat the answer which we gave the other day to the question, "What will be the end of this synod of bishops?" We ventured to predict that it boded no good to anybody, and was only one wheel in the machinery by which it is hoped to re-establish a universal Popedom, under certain modifications. First the fusion of all Anglican episcopacy, then union with the Greek church, and then with the Roman; this we suspect to be the full programme, not perhaps endorsed by all, but clearly in the minds of those who pull the strings, that is to say, the Ritualists, to the music of whose pipes of Pan the broad church, and many of the evangelicals, are made to dance. May the Lord deal with them and their manœuvres according to his wisdom.


*Spurgeon is here referring to the regular meeting of the Lambeth Conference, or Synod. Named for the Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury's home, the Anglican council convenes every ten years in London. As he notes at the end of this article, Spurgeon accurately observed that such pomp and extravagance was the predecessor of the Anglican Church's eventual return toward Rome. [This note is taken from Timothy F. Kauffman, ed. Geese in Their Hoods: Selected Writings on Roman Catholicism, (Huntsville, AL: White Horse Publications, 1997).]

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