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Testimony in favour of the office of Ruling Elder.
CHRISTIAN BRETHREX, In several passages in my former Letters, I ad- . verted to the office of Ruling Elder, and offered some considerations to show that it was instituted in the primitive Church. Dr. Bowden, perceiving that this position, if maintained, would prove fatal to his cause, has endeavoured, with all his force, to drive me from it, and to persuade his readers, that no such officer was known in the Christian Church until modern times. As this will hereafter appear to be a question of great importance, not only on account of the office itself, but also on account of its close connexion with the doctrine of ministerial parity, I hope you will pardon me for discussing it more carefully, and at greater length than I was able to do in my former volume.
There is, independent of all historical testimohy, strong presumptive evidence that such an office must have been instituted by the Apostles. There is a demand, little short of absolute necessity, that one or more persons, under some name, to perform the duties of Ruling Elders, should be appointed in every well ordered. Congregation. The Minister, whether he be called Pastor, Bishop, Rector, or by whatever title, cannot individually perform all the duties which are included in maintaining government and discipline in the Church, as well as ministering in the word and sacraments. He cannot be every where, or know every thing. He must have a number of grave, judicious, and pious persons, who shall assist 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, preciscly such officers as we recognize under the Scriptu. ral 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.
“ The Elders," says he, “ of the Jewish Synagogue corresponded with " the Lay-Elders of your (the Presbyterian) “ Church.” Letters, Vol. 1. 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 duty it was to labour in the word and doctrine, and another who did not thus labour, but only ruled in 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 or 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 de. claration 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 In“ spectors 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 u 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 66 the study of theology, I must either mean that 46 all do not apply themselves to the study of theo
“ logy, or I should speak nonsense. Wherefore “ I confess that to be the most genuine sense by “ which pastors and teachers are distinguished " from those who only governed."-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. “The " Elders of the Jews," says he, were of two 6 sorts ; 1st. Such as governed in the Synagogue; < and 2dly. Such as ministered in reading and “ expounding their Scriptures and traditions, and " from them pronouncing what did bind or loose,
or what was forbidden, and what was lawful to “ be done. For when, partly 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 crimi“ nal causes ; and also Rabbins to teach them the 6 law, and the traditions 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 docen. a dum, sed non ad judicandum, i. e. to teach but not to judge or govern.
And these the Apos66 tle here declares to be the most honourable “ and worthy of the chiefest reward. Accor. " dingly, the Apostle, reckoning up the offices