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THE EXTRAORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE.-OFFICERS OF THE
CHURCH.-MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL. --WUO ARE MIN-
1 PETER v. 1-3.— The Elders, which are among you, I exhort, who am also an El
der, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a parlaker of the glory thal shall be revealed. Feed the Nock of God, which is among you; laking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; nol for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's herilage, bui being ensamples to the flock.
IN the preceding discourse, concerning the Constitution of the Christian Church, I observed, that the Church is composed of its Ordinary Members, and its Officers. The character of its Ordinary Members I investigated at that time. I shall now consider,
The Character of its Officers.
Before I commence the direct examination of this subject, I shall make a few preliminary observations.
1. The Scriptures have actually constituted certain Officers in the Church.
Whatever differences of opinion exist concerning the kinds of officers in the Church, designated by the Scriptures, it is agreed by most, if not all, Christians, that such officers, of some kind or other, are established by the Sacred Volume. We there read of Ministers, Pastors, Teachers, Bishops, &c. By these names, it is generally acknowledged, officers of one or more classes were denoted, who were intended always to be found in the Christian Church. Certain powers, also, they were intended to possess, and certain duties to perform.
2. Whatever the Scriptures have said of these men is of Divine Authority and Obligation : but nothing else is of such authority, nor at all obligatory on the consciences of mankind.
Whatever the Scriptures have instituted, required, or directed, is instituted, required, and directed, by God; and is invested with his authority. All else, by whomsoever said, or in what age soever, is said by man.
But man has no authority over the conscience ; and can never bind his fellow-man in any religious concern whatever. If, then, we find in the present, or any past age, any thing said on the subject, whether by divines or others, however learned and esteemed ihey may have been, which at the same time is not said in the Scripiures; it is totally destitute of any authority or obligation with respect to us. It may, or may not, be said wisely.
It may be good, or bad, advice or opinion; but it cannot, in any degree, have the nature of law; nor be at all obligatory on their fellow-men.
The Fathers of the Church, for example, were in many instances good, and in some, wise, men. They are often valuable witnesses to facts. On a variety of occasions they help us to the true meaning of words, phrases, and passages, in the Scriptures. They often edify us also by their picty. But their opinion, or judgment, or injunctions, are totally destitute of authority; and stand upon exacıly the same level with those of men, who now sustain a similar character. If we could rely on the authenticity of the smaller Epistles of St. Ignatius ; or had we the Autographs in our possession; all the injunctions, and declarations, contained in them, exclusively of those derived from the Scriptures, would be mere advice or information.
3. Whatever Church Officers the Scriptures have established as standing Officers, are appointed by God himself. The Church, therefore, is bound to receive them as having been thus appointed ; and to take effectual care, that they always exist.
This will not be denied by any man, who admits the Divine revelation of the Scriptures. 4. No other officers, beside those thus appointed, have any
authori. ty to plead for their e cistence in office. All others are of mere human institution; convenient and useful perhaps; but never to be regarded as possessing any authority, except what arises from the personal consent, or engagement, of those who receive them: and this can nen. er be obligatory on the consciences of others.
It is to no purpose, here, to allege, that they have been introduced, and established, by the deliberate determination of wise and good men; or of the whole Church. It is to no purpose to allege, that they have existed for any length of time, however great; nor that they have existed in various churches, however distinguished for learning and piety. It is to no purpose to allege, that these Churches have believed them to be divinely instituted. This belief, respectable as those are who have entertained it, can claim no more authority, and involves no more obligation, than any other opinion concerning any other subject.
5. If the Scriptures have constituted Officers in the Church, and have partially, and imperfectly, designated their classes, numbers, offices, and duties, then this imperfect exhibition of the subject, and this alone, is of divine authority and obligation.
It has been often supposed, that God has, of design, left the subject of Ecclesiastical Government partially exhibited in the Scriptures. Whatever else was necessary to complete the system, he is further supposed to have left to be supplied by the prudence of Christians, as the various circumstances of the Church, in various ages and countries, might require. If this supposition be admitted; then whatever is contained in this imperfect institution of
Ecclesiastical Government, in the Scriptures, is authoritative and obligatory; and whatever is supplied by human wisdom to complete the system, is merely advisory and prudential.
The full admission of these principles would, as it seems to me, prepare the way for a final removal of most disputes concerning this subject.
These things being premised as indispensable to a just decision concerning this subject; I observe, that the system of Ecclesiastical Government, mentioned in the Scriptures, is disclosed by them either completely, or partially. If they have completely disclosed this system, then we shall find it all in the sacred volume; and cannot need to search for it elsewhere. If they have disclosed it partially; then a partial disclosure was sufficient; and this part is all that possesses, or can possess, any authority to bind the consciences of men. Whatever additions are made to it, and however wisely or necessarily they are made, by men, they cannot pretend to the least authority or obligation. It is in vain to say, that in this case the Church would be left at loose ends, and unprotected against disorder and schism. The answer to this objection is obvious, and complete. The Church is left, as Infinite Wisdom chose to leave it. Should we grant, contrary to truth and decency, that the situation, in which it is left, is not the best ; still the evil is without remedy: for we cannot add to the words of God.
Let us now.inquire what Ecclesiastical officers are mentioned in the Scriptures as instituted by God.
The largest, and most particular, account, given of this subject in the Scriptures, is in Eph. iv. 11. And he gave some Apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. Here we find at least four sorts of officers in the Church ; four classes of men, who are empowered, each, to do some things in the Church, which they, and they only, had a right to do.
The office of Apostles is acknowledged, on all hands, long since to have terminated.
Of Prophets, it is only necessary to observe, that their office must terminate, of course, when inspiration terminates.
Evangelists, the third class here mentioned, are universally acknowledged to have been extraordinary officers, and to have ceased in a very early period of the Church ; unless the word be supposed to denote merely a minister without a cure.
There remain, then, only Pastors and Teachers. From the phraseology, here used, it appears to me evident, that they were not two distinct orders of men, but one, destined to feed and teach the Church. The language is not, as in the preceding clauses, some pastors, and some teachers, but some pastors and teachers, that is some, who were both pastors and teachers. To teach the Church is to feed it with the bread of life.
Some Christian churches have supposed, that teachers were men, who, holding the pastoral office, were particularly to be employed in teaching Candidates for the ministry whatever was necessary to qualify them for this office. Others have believed, that they were destined to the employment of teaching, and defending, cvangelical truth generally ; without taking upon themselves the care of particular Churches. As all these, so far as I know, consider both kinds of oflicers as of the same rank, and as invested with exactly the same powers; it will be unnecessary, at the present time, to examine this opinion.
We are come, then, to one class of permanent Ecclesiastical offirers, mentioned in this text; viz. That, which is known by the word, Pastors.
The Apostle is here recounting those officers, which Christ çave to the Church, when he ascended to Heaven : and it must, I think, be admitted, that he mentions all those, which Christ gave to the Church directly, or in his own person. All other ecclesiastical officers, constituted in the Scriptures, were therefore coustituted, afierwards, by the Apostles. Of these I know of but une class, mentioned in the Scriptures ; viz. Deacons. In Acts vi. seven men are said to have been chosen to this office, and set apart by prayer and the laying on of hands.
The only debate concerning this subject respects the class, or classls, of Oficers, denoted by the word Pastors. In my own opinion, this word includes a single class only; spoken of elsewhere in the Scriptures under the names Elders, Bishops, Ministers, Teachers, and some others. This opinion I shall endeavour to support by the following arguments, derived from the Word of God. Of these I allege,
1. The Text. The text is addressed directly to the pastors of the Christian Church, under the name Elders' ; derived as is that of Pastor also from the Old Testament. In the customary language of the Jews, the word Elders denoted thc Rulers and Counsellors of that nation: as some corresponding word has often denoted, either generally or particularly, the Rulers and Counsellors of other nations. Thus among the Romans Senator, and among ourselves Senator, denote an officer, similar to the Jewish Elder. Human wisdom is chiefly the result of experience; and experience is the result of years. Nations therefore, peculiarly when unenlightened by science, have committed the direction of public affairs, and public counsels, almost exclusively to the aged. The name, in this appropriate sense, was naturally transferred to those, who were to counsel and direct the Church; especially by the Apostles, as being Jews and writing originally for their own countrymen. These Elders are exhorted to feed, that is, to teach, edify, and rule, the flock of God. That the Greek word Touasiw, a derivative of which is here translated feed, signifies to rule, in the most extensive manner, can be doubted by no man, at all conversant with the Greek language, either in the Classics, or the New Testament. They are also directed to take the oversight of it, or, in more exact language, to oversee it, (they had already taken the oversight of it) willingly; not of constraint, nor for the sake of gain. The Greek word, rendered taking the oversight, is ETIO XOF XVTES, exactly rendered overseeing, or exercising the office of an overseer, or bishop.
Elders, therefore, were to exercise the office of a Bishop, or Overseer; and of course were invested with that office. To this the only reply is, that Elder is a generic term, including both Bishops and ordinary Elders, or Ministers. This will be considered farther on. At present, I observe, that these directions are given to Elders absolutely, and as Elders, merely; and to all Elders, therefore, without distinction. I know not by what warrant we can suppose, that St. Peter, writing with the Spirit of Inspiration, has written so loosely, as to express that in the most absolute manner, which was intended in a very limited sense; so limited, as to exclude nineteen-twentieths of all those, who are apparently included in his direction : while at the same time, he has given no notice, either before or after, of this design. What, in such a case, must be the construction of this passage by the Elders, to whom it was written; and what their consequent conduct, in obedience to it? If it be supposed, by us, who have the whole Bible before us, that this strange construction ought to be given to it; would it be possible for these Elders, who had no other writing of this Apostle, and few of them, probably, any other writings of the New Testament, to understand, that what is here obviously made the duty of every Elder, was really the duty of one only, out of many ?
2. I allege, Acts xx. 17, 28, And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the Elders of the Church. A part of the directions which he gave to these Elders is recited thus : Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you Overseers, to feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
On these two verses, thus connected, I remark,
The word, rendered in the English Translation, Overseers, is in the original Ericsomss, the only word, in the New Testament, which is rendered Bishop. The word Bishop, is synonymous with Over. seer.
Thirdly. That the Holy Ghost constituted, or made, these sede ral Elders, Bishops. The original word is costo, constituted.
Fourthly. That in Ephesus all the Elders of the Church wer Bishops. These were plainly all the Elders of that Church : al is evident from the phraseology. The words are, And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the Elders of the Church. Vol. IV.