Page images
PDF
EPUB

him with information and counsel ; whose official duty it shall be to aid him in overseeing, regulating, and edifying the church. We can hardly have a better comment on these remarks, than the practice of those churches which reject ruling elders. Our episcopal brethren reject them ; but they are obliged to have their vestrymen and church-wardens, who perform the duties belonging to such elders. Our independent brethren also reject this class of church officers; but they too are forced to resort to a committee, who attend to the numberless details of parochial duty, which the ministers cannot perform. They can scarcely take a single step without having in fact, though not in name, precisely such officers as we recognise under the scriptural appellation of elders. Now, is it probable, is it credible, that the apostles, acting under the inspiration of Christ, the king and head of the church, should entirely overlook this necessity, and make no provision for it ? It is not credible. We must, then, either suppose that some such officers as those in question were appointed by the apostles, or that means, acknowledged by the practice of all, to be indispensable in conducting the affairs of the church, were forgotten or neglected.

Again ; Dr. Bowden acknowledges, and with perfect correctness, that there were such officers in the Jewish synagogue. 66 The elders," says he,“ of the Jewish synagogue corresponded with the lay-elders of your (the Presbyterian) church." Letters, Vol. I. 330. But if the Christian church was organized after the model of the synagogue, a fact of which there is the fullest evidence, then we may presume that similar elders were included in this organization. This class of officers, so familiar to every Jew, and so indispensable in his eyes to the maintenance of ecclesiastical government and order, would, by no means, be likely to be left out, when every other was notoriously retained.

But we have better evidence. The New Testament makes express mention of such elders. There is undoubtedly a reference to them in 1 Timothy, v. 17. Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. Every man of plain good sense, who had never heard of any controversy on the subject, would conclude, on reading this passage, that, when it was written, there were two kinds of elders, one whose duly it was to labour in the word and doctrine, and another who did not thus labour, but only ruled in

or

the church ; the apostle says, elders that rule well are worthy of double honour, but ESPECIALLY those who labour in the word and doctrine. Now if we suppose that there was only one kind of elders then in the church, and that they were all teachers labourers in the word, we must make the inspired writer speak a language utterly unworthy of his character. There was, therefore, a class of elders in the apostolic church, who did not preach, nor administer sacraments, but assisted in government. These, by whatever name they may be called, were precisely the same with those officers which we denominate ruling elders.

For this construction of the passage, Dr. Whitaker, a zealous and learned episcopal divine, and professor of divinity in the university of Cambridge, zealously contends. And though his declaration on the subject was quoted in my former letters, I cannot help repeating it here.“ By these words,” says he,“ the “ apostle evidently distinguishes between the bishops and the inspectors of the church. If all who rule well be worthy of “ double honour, especially they who labour in the word and “ doctrine, it is plain there were some who did not so labour; for “ if all had been of this description, the meaning would have been “ absurd; but the word especially points out a difference. If I “ should say, that all who study well at the university are worthy “ of double honour, especially they who labour in the study of theology, I must either mean that all do not apply themselves “ to the study of theology, or I should speak nonsense. Where“ fore I confess that to be the most genuine sense by which pastors " and teachers are distinguished from those who only govern.” -Prælect. ap. Didioclav.p. 681. Equally to our purpose is the opinion of that acute and learned episcopal divine, Dr. Whitby, in his note on this passage, which was also in part before quoted. 66 The elders of the Jews,” says he, “ were of two sorts ; 1st. “ Such as governed in the synagogue ; and 2dly. Such as minis“ tered in reading and expounding their scriptures and traditions, 6 and from them pronouncing what did bind or loose, or what was “ forbidden, and what "vas lawful to be done. For when, parily

by their captivity, and partly through increase and traffick, they " were dispersed in considerable bodies through divers regions of " the world, it was necessary that they should have governors or " magistrates, to keep them in their duty, and judge of criminal

causes; and also rabbins to teach them the law, and the tradi" tions of their fathers. The first were ordained ad judicandum, « sed non ad docendum de licitis et vetitis, i. e. to judge and

govern, but not to teach : The second, ad docendum, sed non ad " judicandum, i. e. to teach, but not to judge or govern. And " these the apostle here declares to be the most honourable and " worthy of the chiefest reward. Accordingly, the apostle, reck“ oning up the offices God had appointed in the church, places " teachers before governments. i Corin. xii. 28.”

I am aware that several glosses have been adopted to set aside the testimony of this text in favour of ruling elders. To enumerate and expose them would be a waste of time and patience. It is sufficient to say, that none of them possess any real force, and scarcely any of them even plausibility. And you will hereafter find, that, notwithstanding all these glosses, the text in question has been considered as conclusive in support of our doctrine, by some of the best judges, and by the great body of orthodox Christians, from the apostles to the present day.

The next passage of scripture which affords a warrant for the office of ruling elder is to be found in Romans xii, 6, 7, 8. Having then gifts, differing according to the grace given to us ; whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering ; or he that teacheth, on teaching ; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation : he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity ; HE THAT RULETH, with diligence ; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness. With this passage may be connected another, of similar character, and to be interpreted on the same principles. I mean the following from 1 Corinthians xii. 28. God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, GOVERNMENTS, diversities of tongues. In both these passages, there is a reference to the different offices and gifts bestowed on the church, by her divine king and head; in both of them there is a plain designation of an office for ruling or government, distinct from that of teaching, and in both, also, this office evidently has a place assigned to it below that of pastors and teachers. This office, by whatever name it may be called, and however its character may be disguised by

ingenuity, is, to all intents and purposes, the same with that which Presbyterians distinguished by the title of ruling elder.

Let us now proceed to inquire what the fathers say concerning this class of church officers. And here, for the sake of presenting a connected view of the argument, I shall incorporate a portion of the evidence adduced in my former letters, with such further testimonies as I find to my purpose.

In the Gesta Purgationis Cæciliani et Felicis,* we meet with the following enumeration of church officers, Presbyteri, Diacones et Seniores, i. e. “ The presbyters, the deacons and elders.” And a little after it is added—“ Adhibite conclericos et seniores plebis, ecclesiasticos viros, et inquirant diligenter quæ sint iste dissen" tiones," i. e." call the fellow-clergymen, and elders of the “ people, ecclesiastical men, and let them inquire diligently what 66 are these dissentions.” In that assembly, likewise, several letters were produced and read; one addressed Clero et Senioribus, i. e. “ to the clergyman and the elders ;” and another, Clericis et Senioribus, i. e.“ to the clergymen and the elders.” Now I ask, what can this language mean? Here is a class of men, expressly called ecclesiastical men, or church officers, who are styled elders, and yet distinguished from the CLERGY, with whom, at the same time, they meet, and officially transact business. If these be not the elders of whom we are in search, we may give up all the rules of evidence.

Cyprian, in his 29th epistle, directed “ To his brethren, the presbyters and deacons,” expresses himself in the following terms:

" You are to take notice that I have ordained Saturus a reader, 6 and the confessor Optatus, a subdeacon ; whom we had all “ before agreed to place in the rank and degree next to that of the .6 clergy. Upon Easter day, we made one or two trials of Saturus, “ in reading, when we were approving our readers before the teaching presbyters; and then appointed Optatus from among “ the readers, to be a teacher of the hearers.” On this passage the Rev. Mr. Marshall, the episcopal translator and commentator

See these Gesta, &c. preserved at the end of Optatus, by Albaspinæus, his commentator,

of Cyprian, remarks_“It is hence, I think, apparent, that all “presbyters were not teachers, but assisted the bishop in other parts of his office.” And bishop Fell, another editor and commentator on Cyprian, remarks on the same passage in the following words : “ Inter Presbyteros rectores et doctores olim “ distinxisse videter divus Paulus, 1 Tim. v. 17.” i. e.“ St. Paul

appears to have made a distinction, in ancient times, between teaching and ruling elders, in 1 Timothy v. 17.Here two learned episcopal divines explicitly acknowledge the distinction between teaching and ruling elders, in the primitive church ; and one of them, an eminent bishop, not only allows that Cyprian referred to this distinction, but also quotes as an authority for it, the principal text which Presbyterians adduce for the same purpose.”

Hilary (frequently called Ambrose) who lived in the 4th century, in his explication of 1 Timothy v. 1. has the following passage : “ For, indeed, among all nations, old age is honourable. Hence “it is that the synagogue, and afterwards the church, had elders, “ without whose counsel nothing was done in the church; which " by what negligence it grew into disuse I know not, unless, per“haps, by the sloth, or rather by the pride of the teachers, while

they alone wished to appear something." It is scarcely credible to what a miserable expedient Dr. Bowden resorts to set aside the force of this testimony. He insists upon it that the pious father only meant to say, that " in former times the elderly men of the • “ church used to be consulted, which custom is now laid aside." And again—“He says nothing more than that it was formerly

customary to consult the aged; no doubt in difficult situations " of the church, which frequently occurred in the first three “ centuries, while persecution lasted.” It is difficult to answer suggestions of this kind in grave or respectful language. Can any man in his senses believe that Hilary only designed to inform his readers that in the Jewish synagogues there were persons who had attained a considerable age; that this is also the case in the Christian church; and that, in difficult cases, these aged persons were consulted ? This would have been a sage remark indeed! Was there ever a community, ecclesiastical or civil, which did not include some aged persons ? Or was there ever a state of society, or an age of the world, in which the practice of consulting the aged

« EelmineJätka »