Page images
PDF
EPUB

of honoring either of us. The state of your affairs does not admit of a diversity of rites, because other sects are rising up among you: so that, though a variation of ceremonies is of little account among truly spiritual persons, yet among those in whom charity is more defective, if new and singular observances are introduced instead of those which commend themselves to the majority, this must lead to contentions. We have no wish to induce you to adopt our ceremonial, or that of Zuric, or that of Berne; but uniformity among yourselves is very important; and if this be in conformity with your neighbors it will tend the more to exclude ostentation and silence enemies. Is there any religion in a gold or wooden cup? or in the mystic bread being administered from silver or a glass dish? Has Christ any more regard for those who sit, than for those who stand or kneel? Does he obtain less who receives the sacrament from his own hand, than he who takes it from the hand of another person? ( wretched beings that we are, that in calamitous times like these, when the light of the gospel hath so clearly shone upon us, we should be so in bondage to elements, and forget how our liberty is to be used to the edification of our neighbors !"*

This spirit, in contrast with that of the Romanists and Prelatists, who like the ancient Pharisees are most severely strict in enforcing uniformity in all the lesser matters, (the tithing of mint and anise and cummin, while they overlook the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith,) has ever been the spirit of Presbyterianism. In further proof of this, we will only mention that as early as the year 1690, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland "authorized the moderator to declare in their names, that they would depose no incumbents simply for their judgment about the government of the church;”+ and that on this very subject of Ruling Elders, the French Reformed church left all its particular churches to act as they thought best and most accordant to the word of God.

We do not hesitate, therefore, to say that there have been, are, and will be points of order, discipline, and law, about which differences of sentiment cannot but exist; and the attempt to coerce opinion, or to make brethren offenders for a word, or to magnify such matters into points of fundamental importance, or on their account to stir up controversy, discord and jealousy, we cannot but regard as equally unchristian and unpresbyterian.

Believing therefore these things, we have not hesitated to give our opinions freely and fully on the question of the Elder

*See in Scott's Contin. of Milner, vol. ii. Stewart's Collections, B. I. § 30.

ship. This we believe to be one of the subjects on which we may attain to unity, but not to uniformity of views; and the very admission, that while maintaining the office in some essential form, minor differences would be left to the determination of particular presbyteries or churches, would at once hush all sounds of “strife among brethren," and lead us “whereto we have attained to mind the same thing.” The spirit that would enforce uniformity, is the very spirit of intolerance and spiritual despotism, and therefore is the rule laid down by Augustine, as necessary to be remembered now as in his day: "In things essential, unity; in things not essential, liberty; and in all things, charity."

For any peculiar opinions, therefore, presented in this work, not at present general in our church, we offer in conclusion, the apology given by the learned Vitringa, for similar views : “Non culpo itaque nos Presbyteros Laicos; quin agnosco eos et probo ut qui maxime. Ne peccem tamen in leges Fraternitatis cujus partem facio si rotunde enunciem, ejusmodi me Presbyteros nullos reperire in Ecclesia apostolica primi temporis, nullos etiam in Ecclesia temporum sequentium, nullos in Scriptis apostolorum aut monumentis sequentium ætatum quantum illa seu a me seu ab aliis perlustrata sunt. Haec opinio sane mihi ita diu sedit ut in ea procedente tempore plenissime sim confirmatus et ut vitio mihi non reputem quod eam liberrime evulgem, etsi non æque consonam communi Ecclesiarum nostrarum sententiæ. Cum enim hæc quæstio inter articulos fidei nostræ levissimi sit momenti, quam proinde cuique liberum est modeste et reverenter ventilare et veritas mihi at altera parte admodum aperte blandiatur, nullus æqui et veri studiosus mihi invidebit, opinor libertatem defendendi sententiam, quam nulla alia ratio aut præsumptio præter vim veritatis me coegit amplecti.*

*De Vet. Synag. p. 484.

THE NAME, NATURE AND FUNCTIONS

OF

RULING ELDERS.

CHAPTER I. The nature, end, and object of the Church of Christ, its officers and ordi

nances, with a general review of the origin, title, and history of the office of Ruling Elder.* We will introduce the subject by quoting the words of the Apostle in his epistle to the Ephesians 4: 8-16: "Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive: but speaking the truth in love, may grow up unto him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."

In this passage of holy Scripture, we have a delineation of the polity and design of the church. The object of Christ's ascension was twofold. In the first place, it was the consummation and the triumph of his incarnate mystery. He had come down from heaven, and dwelt in this earth of ours: yea, and submitted, for a time, to lie in its caverns, under the power of death, that by this humiliation, abasement, and suffering in the room of sinners, he might purchase eternal redemption for

*N. B.-This chapter formed the substance of two Discourses with Addresses to the Elders and the People, on the occasion alluded to in the Dedication.

those who had been hopelessly enslaved by sin, Satan, the world, and death. These enemies Christ had vanquished on the cross, and put them to an open shame: and now, as a triumphant conqueror, he returned to his Father, ascending beyond the regions of the air into the highest heavens—"going up,” as the Psalmist elsewhere expresses it, "with a shout, and with the sound of a trumpet”-leading in his train, and dragging, as it were, at his chariot wheels, those conquerors and oppressors who had enslaved his people; entering the heavenly gates with the acclamations of all the celestial hierarchy; and sitting on a throne of glory that he might fill all things with his influence, and direct and overrule all things by his wisdom and power. And as conquerors were accustomed to give largesses to their soldiers, so did the ascended Saviour pour down his royal donatives upon his faithful subjects—yea, gifts in which they even who had been long rebellious, were also to share.

Having, therefore, laid the foundation of his church, in his complete and finished work of righteousness, and endowed it with its charter in his final commission, Christ now shed down a rich variety of gifts and graces from his triumphal seat at the right hand of the Father, to qualify and endow his servants for those various offices which he has wisely and graciously instituted for the advancement of his kingdom and glory upon the earth. For this purpose, he appointed extraordinary officers, endowed with the gifts of tongues, of miracles, and of inspiration, to organize, construct, and legislate for his infant church. The office of such supernaturally qualified men was personal, and terminated with its first incumbents, whose writings and example perpetuate and extend their influence and authority to the remotest generations. But besides those who were thus extraordinary and adapted to the emergency of a new and rising commonwealth, Christ also provided for the settled and continued order and polity of his churches, by instituting the office of pastors and teachers, who are more technically called bishops or presbyters, whose duty it should be to preside in the several congregations of his people; to take the oversight of them in the Lord; and to instruct them out of his word, teaching them to observe all things whatever he had commanded, either while personally on earth or by the mouth of these inspired apostles and prophets. To these officers, and to the body of his people, Christ gave the power, and assigned the duty of carrying out the purposes of his redeeming love; gathering congregations, celebrating his ordinances, obeying all his laws, and perpetuating his church to the end of the world. And as, in accordance with the great fundamental principle of representation, which lies at the foundation of all

« PreviousContinue »