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"God had appointed in the Church, places teachers before governments. 1 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 prophesy, 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 an exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; HE THAT RULeth, with diligence; he that sheweth 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 x11. 28. God hath set some in the Church, first Apostles, secondarily Prophets, thirdly Teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, 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 distinguish 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 con"clericos et seniores plebis, ecclesiasticos viros, et inquirant diligenter quæ sint istæ dissentiones," i. e. "call the fellow-clergymen, and Elders of "the people, ecclesiastical men, and let them "inquire diligently what are these dissentions." In that assembly, likewise, several letters were pro
* See these Gestá, &c. preserved at the end of Optatus, by Albaspinæus, his Commentator.
duced 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, and the confessor Optatus, a "Subdeacon; whom we had all before agreed to "place in the rank and degree next to that of the "clergy. Upon Easter day, we made one or two "trials of Saturus, in reading, when we were ap"proving our readers before the teaching Presby"ters; 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 of Cyprian, remarks
"It is hence, I think, apparent, that all Presby"ters 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 dis
"tinxisse videter divus Paulus, 1 Tim. v. 17." i. e. "St. Paul appears to have made a distinc"tion, in acient times, between Teaching and Ru"ling 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, perhaps, 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 "6 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 last"ed." 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 had fallen into disuse? I am really ashamed of such an attempt, on the part of a grave and "aged" divine, to pervert a passage which could scarcely have been made plainer. Hilary says that, “in the Syna
gogue, and afterwards in the Church, there were " certain Seniors or Elders, without whose counsel "nothing was done in the Church." If this language does not describe a class of persons, who held an official station, and whose official duty it was to aid by their counsel in the government of the Church, then we may despair of attaching any definite meaning to words. But what decides the question is, as he further states, that in the fourth century, this plan of having Elders, to assist by their counsel in the government of the Church, had chiefly grown into disuse. Had the Christian