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1 Timothy 5:17-21

17. Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

17. Presbyteri, qui bene praesunt, duplici honore digni habeantur; maxime qui laborant in verbo et doctrina.

18. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.

18. Dicit enim scriptura: Non obligabis os bovi trituranti, (Deuteronomy 25:4) et, Dignus est operarius mercede sua, (Matthew 10:10).

19. Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.

19. Adversus presbyterum accusationem ne admittas, nisi sub duobus aut tribus testibus.

20. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.

20. Peccantes coram omnibus argue, ut et caeteri timorem habeant.

21. I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.

21. Contestor coram Deo, et Domino Iesu Christo, et electis angelis, ut haec custodias absque praecipitatione judicii, nihil faciens, alteram in partem declinando.

17 Elders 9898     “Les prestres ou anciens.” — “Presbyters or elders.” For preserving the good order of the Church, it is likewise highly necessary that elders should not be neglected, but that due regard should be paid to them; for what could be more unfeeling than to have no care about those who have the care of the whole Church? Here πρεσβύτερος (elder) is not a name of age, but of office.

Accounted worthy of double honor Chrysostom interprets “double honor” as meaning “support and reverence.” I do not oppose his opinion; let it be adopted by any one that chooses. But for my own part, I think it is more probable that a comparison is here drawn between widows and elders. Paul had formerly enjoined that honor should be paid — to widows; but elders are more worthy of being honored than widows, and, with respect to them, ought therefore to receive double honor.

But in order to shew that he does not recommend masks, he adds, who rule well; that is, who faithfully and laboriously discharge their office. For, granting that a person should a hundred times obtain a place, and though he should boast of his title; yet, if he do not also perform his duty, he will have no right to demand that he shall be supported at the expense of the Church. In short, he means that honor is not due to the title, but to the work performed by those who are appointed to the office.

Yet he prefers those who labor in word and doctrine, that is, those who are diligent in teaching the word; for those two terms, word and doctrine, signify the same thing, namely, the preaching of the word. But lest any one should suppose him to mean by the word an indolent, and, as it is called, a speculative study of it, he adds doctrine 9999     “He shews that we might do many other things, and might allege that we had no leisure; but yet we must consider chiefly what it is to which God calls us. They who would wish to be reckoned pastors ought to devote themselves especially to that word. And how? In order to study it secretly in their closet? Not at all; but for the general instruction of the Church. That is the reason why Paul chose to add the term doctrine. It was quite enough to have said, word; but he shews that we must not privately speculate what we shall think fit, but that, when we have studied, it is that others may profit along with us, and that the instruction may be common to the whole Church. — This is the true mark for distinguishing properly between the pastors whom God approves and wishes to be supported in his Church, and those who claim that title and honor, and yet are excluded and rejected by him and by the Holy Spirit.” — Fr. Ser.

We may learn from this, that there were at that time two kinds of elders; for all were not ordained to teach. The words plainly mean, that there were some who “ruled well” and honorably, but who did not hold the office of teachers. And, indeed, there were chosen from among the people men of worth and of good character, who, united with the pastors in a common council and authority administered the discipline of the Church, and were a kind of censors for the correction of morals. Ambrose complains that this custom had gone into disuse, through the carelessness, or rather through the pride, of the doctors, who wish to possess undivided power.

To return to Paul, he enjoins that support shall be provided chiefly for pastors, who are employed in teaching. Such is the ingratitude of the world, that very little care is taken about supporting the ministers of the word; and Satan, by this trick, endeavors to deprive the Church of instruction, by terrifying many, through the dread of poverty and hunger, from bearing that burden. 100100     “In this passage Paul did not look to himself, but spoke by the authority of God, in order that the Church might not be destitute of persons who should teach faithfully. For the devil, from the beginning, had the trick of attempting to hunger good pastors, that they might cease to labor, and that there might be very few who were employed in preaching the word of God. Let us not view the recommendation here contained as coming from a mortal man, but let us hear God speaking, and let us know that there is no accepting of persons, but that, knowing what was profitable to the whole Church, and perceiving that many were cold and indifferent on this subject, he has laid down a rule, that they whose duty it is to preach the gospel shall be supported; as we see that Paul speaks of it in other passages, and. treats of it very fully in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, though he likewise mentions it in the Epistle to the Galatians.” — Fr. Ser.

18 Thou shalt not muzzle the ox This is a political precept which recommends to us equity and humanity 101101     “Equite et humanite.” in general; as we have said in expounding the First Epistle to the Corinthians; 102102     See Commentary on the Corinthians, vol. 1, p. 294. for, if he forbids us to be unkind to brute animals, how much greater humanity does he demand towards men! The meaning of this statement, therefore, is the same as if it had been said in general terns, that they must not make a wrong use of the labor of others. At the present day, the custom of treading out the corn is unknown in many parts of France, where they thresh the corn with flails. None but the inhabitants of Provence know what is meant by “treading it out.” But this has nothing to do with the meaning; for the same thing may be said about ploughing.

The laborer is worthy of his hire He does not quote this as a passage of Scripture, but as a proverbial saying, which common sense teaches to all. In like manner, when Christ said the same thing to the Apostles, (Matthew 10:10,) he brought forward nothing else than a statement approved by universal consent. It follows that they are cruel, and have forgotten the claims of equity, who permit cattle to suffer hunger; and incomparably worse are they that act the same part towards men, whose sweat they suck out for their own accommodation. And how intolerable is the ingratitude of those who refuse support to their pastors, to whom they cannot pay an adequate salary!

19 Against an elder receive not an accusation After having commanded that salaries should be paid to pastors, he likewise instructs Timothy not to allow them to be assailed by calumnies, or loaded with any accusation but what is supported by sufficient proof. But it may be thought strange, that he represents, as peculiar to elders, a law which is common to all. God lays down, authoritatively, this law as applicable to all cases, that they shall be decided “by the mouth of two or three witnesses.” (Deuteronomy 17:6; Matthew 18:16.) Why then does the Apostle protect elders alone by this privilege, as if it were peculiar to them, that their innocence shall be defended against false accusations?

I reply, this is a necessary remedy against the malice of men; for none are more liable to slanders and calumnies than godly teachers. 103103     “Que les docteurs ou pasteurs fideles.” — “Than faithful teachers or pastors.” Not only does it arise from the difficulty of their office, that sometimes they either sink under it, or stagger, or halt, or blunder, in consequence of which wicked men seize many occasions for finding fault with them; but there is this additional vexation, that, although they perform their duty correctly, so as not to commit any error whatever, they never escape a thousand censures. And this is the craftiness of Satan, to draw away the hearts of men from ministers, that instruction may gradually fall into contempt. Thus not only is wrong done to innocent persons, in having their reputation unjustly wounded, (which is exceedingly base in regard to those who hold so honorable a rank,) but the authority of the sacred doctrine of God is diminished.

And this is what Satan, as I have said, chiefly labors to accomplish; for not only is the saying of Plato true in this instance, that “the multitude are malicious, and envy those who are above them,” but the more earnestly any pastor strives to advance the kingdom of Christ, so much the more is he loaded with envy, and so much the fiercer are the assaults made on him. Not only so, but as soon as any charge against the ministers of the word has gone abroad, it is believed as fully as if they were already convicted. This is not merely owing to the higher degree of moral excellence which is demanded from them, but because almost all are tempted by Satan to excessive credulity, so that, without making any inquiry, they eagerly condemn their pastors, whose good name they ought rather to have defended.

On good grounds, therefore, Paul opposes so heinous iniquity, and forbids that elders shall be subjected to the slanders of wicked men till they have been convicted by sufficient proof. We need not wonder, therefore, if they whose duty it is to reprove the faults of all, to oppose the wicked desires of all, and to restrain by their severity every person whom they see going astray, have many enemies. What, then, will be the consequence; if we shall listen indiscriminately to all the slanders that are spread abroad concerning them?

20 Those that sin rebuke before all 104104     “Repren publiquement.” “Rebuke publicly.” Whenever any measure is taken for the protection of good men, it is immediately seized by bad men to prevent them from being condemned. Accordingly, what Paul had said about repelling unjust accusations he modifies by this statement, so that none may, on this presence, escape the punishment due to sin. And, indeed, we see how great and diversified are the privileges by which Popery surrounds its clergy; so that, although their life be ever so wicked, 105105     “Combien que la vie de leurs moines et prestres soit la plus meschante et desbordee qu’on scauroit dire.” — “Although the life of their monks and priests be the most wicked and dissolute that can be described.” still they are exempted from all reproof. Certainly, if regard be had to the cautions which are collected by Gratian, 106106     “Gratian, a Benedictine of the 12th century, was a native of Chiusi, and was the author of a famous work, entitled “Decretal,” or “Concordantia Discordantium Canonum,” in which he endeavored to reconcile those canons that seem to contradict each other. He was, however, guilty of some errors, which Anthony Augustine endeavored to correct in his work entitled “De emendatione Gratiani“ Gratian’s “Decretal“ forms one of the principal parts of the canon law.” — Gorton’s Biog. Dict. (Caus. 2, Quest. 4 and Quest. 7,) there will be no danger of their being ever compelled to give an account of their life. Where will they find the seventy-two witnesses for condemning a bishop, which are demanded by the disgusting bull issued by Pope Sylvester? Moreover, seeing that the whole order of laymen is debarred from accusing, and as the inferior orders, even of the clergy, are forbidden to give any annoyance to the higher classes of them, what shall hinder them from fearlessly mocking at all decisions?

It is therefore proper, carefully to observe this moderation, that insolent tongues shall be restrained from defaming elders by false accusations, and yet that every one of them who conducts himself badly shall be severely corrected; for I understand this injunction to relate to elders, that they who live a dissolute life shall be openly reproved.

That others also may fear Wherefore? That others, warned by such an example, may fear the more, when they perceive that not even those who are placed above them in rank and honor are spared; for as elders ought to lead the way to others by the example of a holy life, so, if they commit crime, it is proper to exercise severity of discipline toward them, that it may serve as an example to others. And why should greater forbearance be used toward those whose offenses are much more hurtful than those of others? Let it be understood that Paul speaks of crimes or glaring transgressions, which are attended by public scandal; for, if any of the elders shall have committed a fault, not of a public nature, it is certain that he ought to be privately admonished and not openly reproved.

21 I adjure thee before God Paul introduced this solemn appeal, not only on account of the very great importance of the subject, but likewise on account of its extreme difficulty. Nothing is more difficult than to discharge the office of a public judge with so great impartiality as never to be moved by favor for any one, or to give rise to suspicions, or to be influenced by unfavorable reports, or to use excessive severity, and in every cause to look at nothing but the cause itself; for only when we shut our eyes to persons 107107     “Et qu’on regarde seulement le faict.” — “And when we look at nothing but the fact.” do we pronounce an equitable judgment.

Let us remember that, in the person of Timothy, all pastors are admonished, and that Timothy is armed, as with a shield, against wicked desires, which not infrequently occasion much trouble even to some excellent persons. He therefore places God before the eyes of Timothy, that he may know that he ought to execute his office not less conscientiously than if he were in the presence of God and of his angels.

And the Lord Jesus Christ. After having named God, he next mentions Christ; for he it is to whom the Father hath given all power to judge, (John 5:22,) and before whose tribunal we shall one day appear.

And the elect angels. To “Christ” he adds “angels,” not as judges, but as the future witnesses of our carelessness, or rashness, or ambition, or unfaithfulness. They are present as spectators, because they have been commanded to take care of the Church. And, indeed, he must be worse than stupid, and must have a heart of stone, whose indolence and carelessness are not shaken off by this single consideration, that the government of the Church is under the eye of God and the angels; and when that solemn appeal is added, our fear and anxiety must be redoubled. He calls them “elect angels,” 108108     “Let us remark that he wishes to distinguish them from those who rebelled. For the devils were not created wicked and malicious as they now are, enemies of all that is good, and false and cursed in their nature. They were angels of God, but they were not elected to persevere, and so they fell. Thus God reserved what he chose among the angels. And so we have already a mirror of God’s election of us to heaven, by free grace before we came into the world. Now, if we see the grace of God displayed even to angels, what shall become of us? For all mankind were lost and ruined in Adam, and we are an accursed, and, as the Scripture tells us, are born “children of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:3.) What must we become if God do not choose us by pure goodness, since from our mother’s womb (Psalm 51:6) we are corrupted, and are alienated from him? This gracious election must prevail, in order to separate us from the reprobate, who remain in their perdition. We ought, therefore, carefully to remark this passage, that Paul, when speaking of the angels, shews that their high rank proceeds from their having been chosen and elected by God. And so, by a still stronger reason, we are separated from all other visible creatures, only because: God separates us by his mercy.” — Fr. Ser. not only to distinguish them from the reprobate angels, but on account of their excellence, in order that their testimony may awaken deeper reverence.

Without hastiness of judgment 109109     “Sans jugement precupite, ou, sans preferer l’un a l’autre.” — “Without hasty judgment, or, without preferring one before another. . The Greek word προκρίμα, to translate it literally, answers to the Latin word proejudicium, “a judgment beforehand.” But it rather denotes excessive haste, 110110     “Une trop soudaine hastivete.” — “A too sudden haste.” as when we pronounce a decision at random, without having fully examined the matter; or it denotes immoderate favor, when we render to persons more than is proper, or prefer some persons as being more excellent than others; which, in the decisions of a judge, is always unjust. Paul, therefore, condemns here either levity or acceptance of persons.

To the same purpose is that which immediately follows, that there must be no turning to this side or that; for it is almost impossible to tell how difficult it is, for those who hold the office of a judge, to keep themselves unmoved, amidst assaults so numerous and so diversified. Instead of κατὰ πρόσκλισιν, 111111     “Κατὰ πρόσχλισιν, ‘through partiality’ or undue favor. So Clemens, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, has χατὰ προσχλίσεις (through partialities.) The word properly signifies a leaning towards, or upon.” — Bloomfield. some copies have κατὰ πρόσκλησιν But the former reading is preferable.


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