The Ruling Elder

by Samuel Miller





We have seen how utterly groundless is the assertion, that Ruling Elders were invented and first introduced by Calvin at Geneva, If there be any truth in history, they were in use long before Calvin was born, and in the purest Churches on earth, to say nothing of their apostolical origin. Nor is this all. It may further be maintained, that a great majority of the Reformers, in organizing those Churches which separated from the Church of Rome, either actually introduced this class of officers, or, in their published writings, freely and fully declared in its favor. And this was the case, as we shall presently see, not merely on the part of those who followed Calvin, both as to time and opinion: but also on the part of those who either preceded, or had no ecclesiastical connexion whatever, with that illustrious man; and who were far from agreeing with him in many other particulars. Now this is surely a marvellous fact, if, as some respectable writers would persuade us to believe, the office in question is a mere figment of Genevan contrivance, toward the middle of the sixteenth century.

The first Reformer whose testimony I shall adduce, in favor of this office, is Ulrick Zwingle, the celebrated leader in the work of Reformation in Switzerland. And I mention him first, because, as he never was connected with Calvin; nay, as he was removed by death, in 1531, five years before Calvin ever saw Geneva, or appeared in the ranks of the Reformers, and ten years before the introduction of Ruling Elders into that city, he cannot be suspected of speaking as the humble imitator of that justly honored individual.

On the subject of Ruling Elders, Zwingle speaks thus:-The title of Presbyter or Elder, as used in Scripture, is not rightly understood by those who consider it as applicable only to those who preside in preaching: For it is evident that the term is also sometimes used to designate Elders, of another kind, that is, Senators, Leaders, or Counsellors. So we read Acts xv., where it is said, the Apostles and Elders come together to consider of this matter. Here we see, that the Elders spoken of are to be considered as Senators or Counsellors. It is evident that the presbuteroi mentioned in this place were not Ministers of the word; but that they were aged, prudent and venerable men, who, in directing and managing the affairs of the Church, were the same thing as the Senators in our cities. And the title Elder is used in the same sense in many other places in the Acts of the Apostles."[1]

Again; Oecolampadius, who also died before Calvin appeared as an active Reformer, and of course before the introduction of Ruling Elders in the Church of Geneva, speaks thus, in an Oration which he pronounced before the Senate of Basil, in 1530, about a year before his death. "But it is evident that those which are here intended, are certain Seniors or Elders such as were in the Apostle's days, and who of old time were called presbuteroi, whose judgment, being that of the most prudent part of the Church, was considered as the decision of the whole Church."

Here, again, is the testimony of a man, who could not have been influenced by any knowledge of the opinions of Calvin, for Calvin had, as yet, published no opinions on the subject:-and who yet speaks in very unequivocal terms of a class of officers, as not only existing afterwards, but as of apostolical institution; which, according to some, were not known in the "Church, either in theory or practice, for ten years after the decease of this distinguished reformer.

The testimony of Martin Bucer, as one of the most venerable and active of the Reformers, properly belongs to this branch of the subject. But as his sentiments were so fully detailed in the quotation from him, presented in the preceding chapter, it is not deemed necessary to repeat the statement here. From that extract it is evident, not only that he approved of the office of Ruling Elder, as of eminent use in the Church; but also that he considered Ambrose as asserting that officers of this class were found in the primitive Church, and that he agreed with the pious Father in maintaining this assertion. Here was another eminently learned man, and a contemporary of Calvin, who bears testimony, that Ruling Elders were in use, in the purest portion of the Christian Church, as a laudable and scriptural institution, centuries before the Reformer of Geneva was born.

The character of Peter Martyr, a celebrated Protestant divine of Italy, whose high reputation induced Edward VI., to invite him to England, where he was made Professor of Divinity at Oxford, and Canon of Christ Church, speaks of Ruling Elders in the following decisive terms:-"The Church" (speaking of the Primitive Church) "had its Elders, or, if I may so speak, its Senate, who consulted about things which were for edification for the time being. Paul describes this kind of ministry; not only in the 12th chapter of the Epistles to the Romans, but also in the first Epistle to Timothy, where he thus writes:-Let the Elders that rule well, be counted worthy of double honor, especially those that labor in the word and doctrine. Which words appear to me to signify, that there were then some Elders who taught and preached the word of God, and another class of Elders who did not teach, but only ruled in the Church. Concerning these, Ambrose speaks, when he expounds this passage in Timothy. Nay, he inquires whether it was owing to the pride or the sloth of the sacerdotal order that they had then almost ceased in the Church."[2]

The celebrated John A Lasco, a devoted and eminentlv useful Reformer, is also a decisive witness on the same side. A Lasco was a Polish nobleman, of excellent education, and great learning. He was offered two Bishoprics, one in Poland, and another in Hungary: but he forsook his native country, and all the secular and ecclesiastical honors which awaited him, from love to the reformed religion. In his youth he enjoyed the special friendship of Erasmus, who speaks of him in one of his letters, (Erasmi Epist. Lib. 28. Ep. 3,) as a man of uncommon excellence and worth. The Protestant Churches in the Low Countries being scattered in consequence of the agitation produced by the celebrated ordinance, called the Interim, published by Charles V., A Lasco was invited to England, by King Edward VI., at the instance of Archbishop Cranmer. He accepted the invitation, and was chosen Superintendent[3] of the German, French and Italian congregations erected in London, which are said to have consisted, in the aggregate, of more than three thousand souls. He afterwards published an account of the form of government and worship adopted in those congregations. The affairs of each it is distinctly stated in that account, were managed by a Pastor, Ruling Elders, and Deacons, and each of these classes of officers was considered as of divine appointment. We also learn, from his statement, that the Ruling Elders and Deacons of these Churches, as well as the Pastors, were ordained by the imposition of hands. He further informs us, that, in the administration of the Lord's Supper, in the Churches under his superintendency, the communicants sat at the table; and he occupies a number of pages in showing that this posture ought to be preferred to kneeling. In short he declares "We have laid aside all the relics of Popery, with its mummeries, and we have studied the greatest possible simplicity in ceremonies."

Notwithstanding the publication of these sentiments, and the establishment of these practices marking so great a non-conformity with the Church of England, A Lasco was highly esteemed, and warmly patronized, by Archbishop Cranmer, and also by the King, who granted him Letters Patent, constituting him and the other ministers of the foreign congregations, a body corporate, and giving them important privileges and powers. These letters may be seen among the Original Records subjoined to Burnet's History of the Reformation, ii. 202. The following remarks by A Lasco himself, will serve at once to explain the design of the King in granting, his royal sanction to these people, and also his own view of the principles upon which he and his brethren acted in founding the Churches in question.

"When I was called by the king, and when certain laws of the country stood in the way, so that the public rites of divine worship used under the Papacy, could not be immediately purged out, (which the king himself greatly desired,) and when I was anxious and earnest in my solicitations for the foreign Churches, it was, at length, his pleasure, that the public rites of the English Churches should be reformed by degrees, as far as could be accomplished by the laws of the country; but that strangers, who were not strictly and to the same extent bound by these laws, should have Churches granted to them, in which they should freely regulate all things WHOLLY ACCORDING TO APOSTOLICAL DOCTRINE AND PRACTICE, without any regard to the rites of the country; that by this means the English Churches also might be excited to embrace apostolical purity, by the unanimous consent of all the estates of the kingdom. Of this project, the king himself, from his great piety, was both the chief author and the defender. For although it was almost universally acceptable to the King's Council, and the Archbishop of Canterbury promoted it with all his might, there were not wanting some who took it ill, and would have opposed it, had not his majesty checked them by his authority, and by the reasons which he adduced in favor of the design." Again, in the Appendix to the same book, p. 649, he says:-"The care of our Church was committed to us chiefly with this view, that in the ministration thereof we should, follow the rules of the Divine Word, and apostolical observance, rather than any rites of other Churches. In fine, we were admonished, both by the king himself, and his chief nobility, to use this great liberty granted to us in our ministry, rightly and faithfully; not to please men, but for the glory of God, by promoting the reformation of his worship."[4]

On the whole, we have in this case a witness as unexceptionable and weighty as can well be desired. A man of eminent learning, piety and devotedness. A man formed, not in the school of Calvin, but of Zuingle. A man who, when the transactions and publications above alluded to, occurred, lived in England, where Ruling Elders were unknown: and who, yet, in these circumstances, declared himself in favor of this class of officers, as of Divine appointment, and as important to the purity and edification of the Church.

But there is a still more conclusive fact in reference to this stage of the Reformation in England. A Lasco, it will be observed, asserts, that both king Edward, and Archbishop Cranmer, were strongly favorable to the plan of discipline which he and others had introduced into the Churches of Foreign Protestants in England. In confirmation of this statement, there is evidence that Cranmer, and the rest of the Commissioners in Edward's reign, did directly propose the introduction of Ruling Elders in the national Church. They drew up a body of laws, which, though not finally ratified, partly on account of opposing influence, and partly from the premature decease of the monarch; yet clearly show the opinion and wishes of Cranmer and his associates, One of the proposed laws is as follows:-"After evening prayers, on which all shall attend in their own parish Churches, the principal minister or Parson, and the Deacon, if they are present: or, in case of their absence, the Curate and the Elders, shall consider how the money given for pious uses had best be laid out; and then let discipline be exercised. For those whose sin has been public, and given offence to the whole Church, should be brought to a sense of it, and publicly undergo the punishment of it, that so the Church may be the better for their correction. After that the minister shall withdraw, with some of the Elders, and consult how all other persons who are disorderly in their life and conversation may be conversed with; first by some sober and good men in a brotherly manner according to the direction of Christ in the Gospel; and if they hearken to their advice, God is to be praised for it; but if they go on in their wickedness, they are to be restrained by that severe punishment, which is in the Gospel prescribed for such obstinacy."[5]

The testimony of Calvin will next be introduced. As he is charged with being the inventor of this class of officers, the weight of his opinion as a witness in its favor, will probably be deemed small by its opposers. But there is one point of view in which his testimony will surely be regarded with deep respect, and, may I not add, as decisive? That he was a man of maturc and profound learning, no one can doubt. Joseph. Scaliger, himself a prodigy of erudition, pronounced him to have been the most learned man in Europe in his day; and, particularly, "that no man understood ecclesiastical history so well." Now, it is certain that Calvin did not consider the office of Ruling Elder as originating with himself; but that he regarded it as an apostolical institution; that he refers to Scripture for its support; and that be quotes Ambrose, (whose testimony has been so often referred to,) as an unquestionable witness for the existence of the office under consideration in the primitive Church. The following extracts from his Commentary and his Institutions, will fully establish what is here asserted.

In his exposition of 1 Tim. v. 17, he speaks thus "From this passage we may gather that there were then two kinds of Presbyters, because they were not all ordained to the work of teaching. For the words plainly mean that some ruled well, to whom no part of the public instruction was committed. And verily there were chosen from among the people, grave and approved men, who, in common council, and joint anthority with the Pastors, administered the discipline of the Church, and acted the part of censors for the correction of morals. This practice Ambrose complains, had fallen into disuse, through the idolence, or rather the pride of the teaching elders, who wished alone to, be distinguished.

In his Institutions, (Book iv. Chapter iii.,) he has the following passage, equally explicit. "In calling those who preside over Churches by the appellations of "Bishops," "Elders,"' and "Pastors," without any distinction, I have followed the usage of the Scriptures, which apply all these terms to express the same meaning. For to all who discharge the ministry of the word, they give the title of "Bishops." So when Paul enjoins Titus to "ordain Elders in every city," he immediately adds, "For a Bishop must be blameless." So, in another place, he salutes more Bishops than one in one Church. And in the Acts of the Apostles, he is declared to have sent for the Elders of the Church of Ephesus, whom, in his address to them, he calls "Bishops." Here it must be observed, that we have enumerated only those offices which consist in the ministry of the word; nor does Paul mention any other in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians which we have quoted. But in the Epistle to the Romans, and the first Epistle to the Corinthians, he enumerates others, as "powers," "gifts of healing," "interpretation of tongues," "governments," "care of the poor." Those functions which are merely temporary, I omit, as foreign to our present subject. But there are two which perpetually remain, "governments," and "the care of the poor." "Governors," I apprehend to have, been persons of advanced years, selected from the people, to unite with the Bishops in giving admonitions and exercising discipline. For no other interpretation can be given of that injunction, "He that ruleth, let him do it with diligence." For from the beginning, every Church has had its senate, or council composed of pious, grave, and holy men, who were invested with that jurisdiction, for the correction of vices, of which we shall soon treat. Now, that this was not the regulation of a single age, experience itself demonstrates. This office of government is necessary, therefore, in every age."

I ask, was Calvin, honest, or dishonest, in these declarations? If he had invented and introduced the office himself, could he have been ignorant of the fact? And whether it was so or not, who may reasonably be considered as best able to judge-HIMSELF, or those who live nearly three hundred years after him? And who would be most likely to know whether it were of ancient or modern origin;-the most learned man then, perhaps, in the world;-or men with not a tenth part of his erudition, at the present day? The truth is, these passages, considered in connexion with that quoted in a former chapter, in which he speaks of himself, in reference to this office, as following the example of the pious Witnesses of the truth who preceded him;-prove, either, that Calvin did not consider himself as the inventor of the office, but believed that it bad been in the Church in all ages;-or that he was gratuitously and profligately regardless of the truth to a degree never laid to his charge.

Nor is the testimony to the primitive existence of the class of officers, confined to those of the Reformers who were favorable to their continuance in the Church. Some, by no means friendly to their restoration, were yet constrained to acknowledge their early origin. That there were Ruling Elders in the primitive Church, is explicitly granted by Archbishop Whitgift, a warm and learned friend of diocesan Episcopacy. "I know," says he, "that in the Primitive Church, they had in every Church certain Seniors, to whom the government of the Congregation was committed; but that was before there was any Christian Prince or Magistrate that openly professed the Gospel; and before there was any Church by public authority established."

And again:-"Both the name and office of Seniors were extinguished before Ambrose's time, as he himself doth testify, writing upon the fifth of the first Epistle to Timothy. Indeed, as Ambrose saith, the Synagogite, and afterwards the Church, had Seniors, without whose counsel nothing was done in the Church; but that was before his time, and before there was any Christian Magistrate, or any Church established."[6] The learned and acute Archbishop, it seems, was not only convinced that there was Ruling Elders, distinct from Preaching Elders, in the Primitive Church, but with all his erudition and discernment, he understood Ambrose just as the friends of this class of officers now understand him.

There is another testimony on this subject, from one of the most conspicious and active friends of the Reformation in England, which is worthy of particular notice. I refer to that of the Rev. Dean Nowell, who flourished in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and whose celebrated Catechism, drawn up in 1562, obtained, perhaps as much currency and respect as any publication of that period. Nor are we to consider it as expressing the sentiments of the illustrious divine whose name it bears, alone; for it was unanimously approved and sanctioned by the same lower house of Convocation which passed the 39 Articles of the Church of England, and directed to be published and used as containing the true doctrine of that Church. In this Catechism, toward the close, when speaking of the evils of retaining unworthy members in the Church, the following questions and answers occur:-

"Q. What remedy for this evil heart can be devised and applied?"

"A. In Churches well constituted and governed, there was, as I before said, a certain plan and order of governnment appointed and observed. Elders were chosen, that is, ecclesiastical rulers, who conducted and maintained the discipline of the Church. To these pertained authority, reproof and chastisement; and they, with the concurrence of the Pastor, if they knew any who, by false opinions, troublesome errors, foolish superstitions, or vicious and profligate lives, were likely to bring a great public scandal on the Church of God, and who could not approach the Lord's Supper without a manifest profanation, repelled them from the communion, and no more admitted them until, by public penitence, they gave satisfaction to the Church."

"Q. What is to be done?" (when those who have been excluded from the Church, repent, and desire to be restored to its communion.)

"A. That they may be received again into the Church, and to the enjoyment of its holv mysteries, from which they have been deservedly cast out, they ought humbly to supplicate and pray. And, on the whole there ought to be such moderation used in administering public penance, that neither by too much severity the offender may be reduced to despondency; nor by too much lenity, the discipline of the Church relaxed, its authority diminished, and others encouraged and incited to similar offences. But when, in the judgment of the Elders and of the Pastor, proper satisfaction shall be made, by the chastisement of the offender, for an example to others, he, may be admitted again to the communion of the Church."[7]

Nothing can be more unequivocal or decisive than this testimony. In the opinion not only of the writer of the Catechism before us, but also of the leading clergy of the Church of England, who sanctioned it, and enjoined its general use, there ought to be, in every Church, besides the Pastor, a bench of Elders, or ecclesiastical Rulers, whose duty it should be to preside over the discipline, and, in conjunction with the Pastor. to receive, admonish, suspend, excommunicate, and restore members,-in a manner precisely agreeable to the well known practice of the Presbyterian Church. In truth, Dr. Nowell could scarcely have expressed in more distinct and unqualified terms his approbation of this part of our system, than in telling us, what, in his judgment, and that of his brethren, every well regulated Church ought to have.

Ursinus, a learned German divine, contemporary with Luther and Melancthon, speaks a language still more to our purpose. "Ministers," says he, "are either immediately called of God, or mediately, through the instrumentality of the Church. Of the former class, were Prophets and Apostles. Of the latter class there are five kinds, viz: Evangelists, Bishops, or Pastors, Teachers, Ruling Elders, and Deacons. Evangelists are ministers appointed to go forth and preach the gospel to a number of Churches. Bishops, are ministers ordained to preach the word of God, and administer the sacraments, in particular Churches. Teachers are ministers appointed merely to fulfil the function of teaching in particular Churches. Ruling Elders are ministers elected by the voice of the Church, to assist in conducting discipline, and to order a variety of necessary matters in the Church. Deacons are ministers elected by the Church, to take care of the poor, and distribute alms."[8]

In the Confession of Saxony, drawn up by Melancthon, in l551, and subscribed by a large number of Lutheran divines and Churches, we find this class of officers recognized, and represented as in use in those Churches. Speaking of the exercise of discipline, in its various branches, they say:-"That these things may be done orderly, there be also Consistories appointed in our Churches." Of these Consistories, a majority of members, it is well known, were Ruling Elders.

Szegeden, a very eminent Lutheran divine, of Hungary, contemporary with Luther, also speaks very decisively of the apostolic institution of Ruling Elders. The following passage is sufficient to exhibit his sentiments. "The ancient Church had Presbyters, or Elders, of which the Apostle speaks, 1 Corinth. 5. 4. And these Elders were of two kinds. One class of them preached the gospel, administered the sacraments, and governed the Church, the same as Bishops; for Bishops and Presbyters are the same order. But another class of Elders consisted of grave and upright men, taken from among the laity, who, together with the preaching Elders before mentioned, consulted respecting the affairs of the Church, and devoted their labor to admonishing, correcting, and taking care of the flock of Christ."[9]

The Magdeburgh Centuriators, who were eminently learned Lutheran divines, contemporary with Melancthon, and who have been regarded, for three hundred years, as among the highest authorities on questions of ecclesiastical history, speak in the following decisive terms with regard to the office in question. And although the extract has been given in a former page; yet as it is brief and pointed, it may not be improper to assign it a place in this connexion. Speaking of the third century, they say:-"The right of deciding respecting such as were to be excommunicated, or of receiving, upon their repentance, such as had fallen, was vested in the Elders of the Church."[10]

The learned Francis Junius, a distinguished divine and professor of Theology of the Church of Holland, who lived at the commencement of the Reformation in that country, and was, of course, contemporary with Martyr, Bucer, Melancthon, &c., wrote very fully and explicitly in favor of the office of Ruling Elder. In his work entitled Ecclesiastici, he decisively, and with great learning, maintains, that Pastors, Ruling Elders and Deacons, are the only three spiritual orders of Church Officers; that Pastors, or ministers of the word and sacraments, are the highest order, and, of course, are invested with the power of ordaining; that the second class, are men of distinguished piety and prudence, chosen from among the members of the Church, to assist the Pastor in the government of the Church; and that the Deacons are appointed to collect and distribute the alms of the Church. He affirms that these three orders are set forth in Scripture, and existed in the primitive Church: and that the disuse of Ruling Elders, as well as the introduction of Prelacy, is a departure from the primitive model.[11]

The Protestant Churches of Hungary and Transylvania, although, in organizing their Churches, they did not actually adopt and introduce the office of Ruling Elder; yet in the Preface, and other statements, published with their ecclesiastical Formularies, they spoke, in the most unequivocal terms, both of the value, and the early origin of this class of officers. The following extract may be considered as a fair specimen of their testimony on this subject. "Most other nations, belonging to the Evangelical Confession, have been in the habit of choosing and constituting Elders, in every village and city, agreeably to the practice of the Old Church, and also of the New Testament: men sound in the faith, blameless, the husbands of one wife, having faithful children, chargeable with no crime, grave, prudent, &c.-It is made the official duty of these men diligently to watch over the lives and conversation of all the members of the Church, to rebuke the dissolute, and, if need be, to refer their case to the Pastors and to the whole Eldership, &c." Here they make a clear distinction between these Elders and the Pastors, of the Churches, and represent the former as assistants to the latter in the spiritual concerns of the Church. They then proceed to state why a class of officers, so useful, in most cases so necessary, and which they also considered as having existed in the apostolic, Church, was not received among them.[12]

The character of Jerome Zanchius, a learned divine of Italy of the sixteenth century, who greatly distingushed himself among the Reformers, is so well known, that a detailed account of his great accomplishments and reputation is unnecessary. On the subject before us, he speaks thus:-"The whole ministry of the Christian Church may be divided into three classes. The first consists of those who dispense the word and sacraments, corresponding with those who, under the Old Testament, were called Priests and Levites; and under the New Testament, Apostles, Pastors, and Teachers. The second consists of those whose peculiar office it is to take care of the discipline of the Church, to inspect the lives and conversation of all, and to take care that all live in a manner becoming Christians: and also, if at any time there should be a necessity for it, in the absence of the Pastor, to instruct the people. There were such, under the Old Testament in the Synagogue; and such also were the Senators who were added to the Bishop in the administration of the New Testament Church. These officers are styled Presbyters, (Presbyteri,) and Elders, (Seniores,) of which the Apostle speaks, besides other places, in 1 Timothy v. 17; Let the Elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. In this passage the Apostle manifestly speaks of two sorts or classes of Elders, as he was understood by Ambrose and others, among the ancients, and by almost all our modern Protestant Divines, as Bullinger Peter Martyr, &c., &c.[13]

The most cursory reader of this extract will not fail to take notice, not only that Zanchius evidently approved of this office, but that he thought it of Divine appointment; that he interpreted as we do the famous passage in Ambrose, which the opposers of Ruling Elders have expended so much ingenuity in laboring to explain away; and that he considered ALMOST ALL THE REFORMED DIVINES as being of the SAME OPINION WITH HIMSELF.

The high reputation of Paraeus, a learned and pious German divine, contemporary with Melancthon and Zanchius, is also well known. His testimony respecting the office under consideration is very explicit. In his Commentary on Romans xii. 8, he observes:-"Here the Apostle understands the function of that class of Elders, who, united with the Pastors, watch over and correct the morals and discipline of the Church. For there were two classes of Elders, as may be gathered from I Timothy v. 17. Some who labored in the word and doctrine, who were to be accounted worthy of double honor; such as Teachers, Pastors, or Bishops; the others, such as labored in conducting discipline, who are here called governments." And in his Commentary on 1 Corinthians xii. 28, he says: "The Apostle here, undoubtedly, speaks of the Elders who presided in the administration of discipline. For the primitive Church had its Senate, who attended to the morals of the congregation, while the Apostles and Teachers were left at leisure to preach. This the Apostle indicates very clearly in the first Epistle to Timothy v. 17, where two classes of Presbyters are represented as constituted. The governments here spoken of were not of Princes or Praetors, armed with the sword, but grave, experienced men, exercising authority over others, chosen out of the Church, by the consent of the Church, to assist the Pastors in conducting discipline, and to alleviate their burdens."

The celebrated Piscator, who held a distinguished place among the divines who adorned Germany, and maintained the Protestant cause, in the sixteenth century, is equally decisive, as an advocate of the office under consideration. ln his Commentary on 1 Tim. v. 17, he says:-"The Apostle distributes Elders into two classes-those who preside in maintaining ecclesiastical discipline, but did not publicly teach; and those who both taught, and co-operated in ruling, and were therefore worthy of a great honor, and a more liberal support than the others."

Few ministers of the Church of England, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, were more distinguished for talents, learning and piety, than Thomas Cartwright, Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge, the opponent of the high prelatical claims of Archbishop Whitgift, and concerning whom the celebrated Beza pronounced, that he thought "the sun did not sbine upon a more learned man." This eminent divine, commenting on Matthew xviii. 17, Tell it unto the Church, &c., thus remarks:-"Theophylact upon this place, interpreteth, Tell the Church, that is many, because this assembly taketh knowledge of this and other things, by their mouths, that is, their governors. Chrysostom also saith, that to tell the Church is to tell the governors thereof. It is, therefore, to be understood, that these governors of the Church, which were set over every several assembly in the time of the law, were of two sorts for some had the handling of the word; some other watching against the offences of the Church, did, by common council with the ministers of the word, take order against the same. Those governing Elders are divers times in the story of the gospel made mention of, under the title of "Rulers of the Synagogue." And this manner of government, because it was to be translated into the Church of Christ, under the gospel, our Saviour, by the order at that time used among the Jews, declareth what after should be done in his Church. Agreeably hereunto the Apostle both declared the Lord's ordinance in his behalf, and put the same in practice, in ordaining to every several Church, beside the ministry of the word, certain of the chiefest men which should assist the work of the Lord's building. This was also faithfully practised of the Churches after the Apostle's times, as long as they remained in any good and allowable soundness of doctrine. And being fallen from the Churches, especially from certain of them, the want thereof is sharply and bitterly cast into the teeth of the Church's teachers,-by whose ambition that came to pass."[14] And as proof of this the author quotes in the margin that very passage of Ambrose, cited in the preceding section, and which has always given so much trouble to Prelatists and Independents.

The same writer, in his Second Reply to Whitgift, speaking of the class of Elders under consideration, expresses himself thus:-"For proof of these Church Elders, which, being occupied in the government, had nothing to do with the Word, the testimony of Ambrose, is so clear and open, that he which doth not give place unto it, must needs be thought as a bat, or an owl, or some other nightbird, to delight in darkness. His saying is, that the Elders fell away by the ambition of the Doctors; whereby opposing the Elders to Doctors, which taught, he plainly declareth, that they had not to do with the Word: whereupon it is manifest that it was the use, in the best reformed Churches, certain hundred years after the times of the Apostles, to have an Eldership which meddled not with the word, nor administration of sacraments.[15]

The testimony of the Rev. Richard Greenham, a divine of the Church of England, who flourished in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and who was greatly revered both for his learning and piety, is very unequivocal and pointed on this subject. It is in these words:-"The Apostle St. Paul, doth notably amplify the honor due to the true and faithful minister. The Elders that rule well, (saith be,) let them be had in double honor, specially they which labor in the word and doctrine; 1 Timothy v. 17. As if he should say, let those Elders which are appointed to watch and look to the manners and behaviour of the children of God, if they execute this charge faithfully, be had in double honor; but above all, let the faithful ministers, such as labor in the word, be honored: for why? the other are overseers of your outward behaviour, but these have another manner of office; they watch over your souls which tendeth to the salvation both of body and soul." And again:-"The rulers of the Church are called the Church, to whom discipline appertaineth. Not the whole company of the Jews, but the Rulers of the Synagogue, are called the Church of the Jews.[16]

The celebrated Estius, the learned Popish expositor and Professor at Douay, in his Commentary on 1 Tim. v. 17 delivers the following opinion:-From this passage it may be gathered that, in the time of the Apostles there, were certain Presbyters in the Church who ruled well, and were worthy of double honor, and who yet did not labor in the word and doctrine; neither do the heretics of the present day (meaning the Protestants) deny this." And, in speaking of the establishment of this class of Elders in Geneva, about half a century before he wrote, he seems only to blame Calvin for considering and styling them laymen. He expresses a decisive opinion, that the Elders spoken of by Paul, in this place, were ecclesiastical men, set apart by ecclesiastical rites, and devoted to ecclesiastical duties; but they did not preach,. And he explicitly acknowledges that Ambrose, in the fourth century, speaks of such Elders as having existed long before his day. It is worthy of remark, that the same learned Romanist, in another work, not only avows, in the most distinct manner, his belief in the apostolic appointment of non-preaching Elders, and quotes 1 Tim. v. 17, in support of his opinion; but he also refers to Jerome, and Augustine, as witnesses to the same fact.[17]

The, opinion of the learned Professor Whitaker, a divine of the Church of England, who flourished in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, as to the true meaning, of 1 Timothy v. 17, was given, at length, in a preceding page. The same distinguished divine, in writing against Dury) expresses himself thus, concerning the office under consideration. "Art thou so ignorant as not to know that in the Church of Christ there ought to be Elders who should devote themselves to the work of government alone, and not to the administration of the word or sacraments, as we are taught in 1 Tim. v. 17?"[18]

To these testimonies might be added many more, from learned men of the samedistinguished character with those already mentioned, and to the same effect. Chemnitius, of Germany; Salmasius, of Holland; Marloratus, and Danaeus, of France; Hemmingius. of Denmark,[19]-with a long list of similar names, might all be cited as warm advocates of the class of Elders under consideration, and almost all of them decisive advocates of its divine authority.

Nor are these individual suffrages, though numerous and unequivocal, all that can be alleged in favor of our cause. The great body of the Protestant Churches, when they came to organize their several systems in a state of separation from the Papacy, and from each other, differing, as they did, in many other respects, were almost unanimous in adopting and maintaining the office of Ruling Elder. Instead of this office being confined, as many appear to suppose, to the ecclesiastical establishments of Geneva and Scotland, it was generally introduced, with the Reformation, by Lutherans as well as Calvinists; and is generally retained to the present day, in almost all the Protestant Churches, excepting that of England. Those of France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, &c., received this class of Elders early, and expressly represented them in their public, Confessions, as founded on the word of God. It is probably safe to affirm, that, at the period of the Reformation, more than three-fourths of the whole Protestant world declared in favor of this office, not merely as expedient but as warranted by Scripture, and as necessary to the order and edification of the Church.

Does all this, it may be confidently asked, look like the office in question being a mere Genevan innovation? How shall we reconcile with this extraordinary position, the undoubted fact, that Lutherans and Reformed, in every part of Europe; those who never saw Calvin as well as those who were within the sphere of his aquaintance and influence; nay, some of those who died before the illustrious Reformer of Geneva ever appeared at all either as a writer or preacher;-are found among the decisive zealous advocates of the office in question, and quoting, as of conclusive authority, in its favor, the principal passages of Scripture, and the principal Father, relied on by Presbyterians to establish its Apostolical warrant, and its actual existence in the early ages of the ancient Church? Truly, it is difficult to conceive how any one, who seriously and impartially weighs these facts, can resist the impression, that an Institution, in behalf of which so many eminently learned and pious men, of different and distant countries, without concert with each other, and without any common interest to serve, in reference to this matter, have so remarkably concurred in opinion, must have some solid foundation, both in the inspired volume, and in the nature and necessities of the Church.


1.This quotation from Zuingle, is taken from the Politicae Ecclesiasticae of Voetius, in which it is cited for the same purpose as here; as copy of the works of the Swiss Reformer not being at present within the reach of the writer of the Essay. [back]

2.P. Martyris Loci Communes. Class. iv. Cap. 1. Sect. 2. [back]

3.It is worthy of notice here that although a Superintendent was regarded by A Lasco as one who had the inspection of several congregations; yet "he was greater than his brethren only in respect of his greater trouble and care, not having more authority than the other Elders, either as to the Ministry of the word and sacraments, or as to the exercise of ecclesiastical discipline, to which he was subject equally with the rest." [back]

4.See M'CRIE's Life of Knox, Vol. i. p. 392-396. See also, GISBERTI VOETTI Politicae Ecclesiasitcae. Tom. i. 420-422. See also, Forma et Ratio totius Ecclesiasticae Ministerii EDVARDI SECTI in Peregrinorum, maxime Germanorum Eccles. Also, De Ordinatione Ecclesiarum Peregrinarum in Anglia. Epist. Dedicat. et. p. 649. [back]

5.PEIRCE's Vindication of the Dissenters, p. 23. BAXTER's Treatise of Episcopacy, part. ii. p. 112. Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum, ex authoritate Regis, Hen. viii. et. Edv. vi. 4to. 1640. [back]

6.Defense against Cartwright, p. 638, 651. [back]

7.See Bishop RANDOLPH's Enchiridion Theologicum. Vol. i. 326, 327. Third Edition. [back]

8.URSINI Corpus Doctrinae. Par. iii. p. 721. [back]

9.SZEGEDENI Loci Communes. p. 197. Edit. quint. folio-- Basil, 1608. [back]

10.Cent. iii. cap. vii. p. 151. [back]

11.Ecclesiastici, sive de nat. et administrat. Ecclesiae &c Lib. ii. Cap. 2, 3, 4. [back]

12.See G. VOETII Polit. Eccles. Par. ii. Lib. ii. Tract. iii. [back]

13.ZANCHII Opera. Tom. iv. In Quartum Praeceptum, p. 727. [back]

14.CARTWRIGHT's Commentary on the New Testament -- Against the Rhemists. [back]

15.Second Reply. Part Second, p. 44. 4to. 1577. [back]

16.Works. p. 352, 342. fol. 1612. [back]

17.ESTII Sententiarum Commentaria. Lib. iv. Par. 2. Sect. 21. [back]

18.Contra Duraeum, Lib. ix. p. 807. [back]

19.See these writers, as well as a number of others, referred to in the Politicae Ecclesiasticae of Voetius. Par. ii. Lib. ii. Tract. iii. [back]


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