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The officers of the church.
The church is considered either as it is essential, with respect unto its nature and being, or as it is organical, with respect unto its order.
The constituent causes and parts of the church, as unto its essence and being, are its institution, matter, and form, whereof we have treated.
Its order as it is organical is founded in that communication of power unto it from Christ which was insisted on in the foregoing chapter.
The organizing of a church is the placing or implanting in it those officers which the Lord Jesus Christ hath appointed to act and exercise his authority therein. For the rule and government of the church are the exertion of the authority of Christ in the hands of them unto whom it is committed, that is, the officers of it; not that all officers are called to rule, but that none are called to rule that are not so.
The bishops or elders are of two sorts:— l. Such as have authority to teach and administer the sacraments, which is commonly called the power of order; and also of ruling, which is called a power of jurisdiction, corruptly: and, 2. Some have only power for rule; of which sort there are some in all the churches in the world.
Those of the first sort are distinguished into pastors and teachers.
The distinction between the elders themselves is not like that between elders and deacons, which is as unto the whole kind or nature of the office, but only with respect unto work and order, whereof we shall treat distinctly.
The first sort of officers in the church are bishops or elders, concerning whom there have been mighty contentions in the late ages of the church. The principles we have hitherto proceeded on discharge us from any especial interest or concernment in this controversy; for if there be no church of divine or apostolical constitution, none in 43being in the second or third century, but only a particular congregation, the foundation of that contest, which is about pre-eminence and power in the same person over many churches, falls to the ground.
Indeed, strife about power, superiority, and jurisdiction over one another, amongst those who pretend to be ministers of the gospel, is full of scandal. It started early in the church, was extinguished by the Lord Christ in his apostles, rebuked by the apostles in all others, Matt. xviii. 1–4, xxiii. 8–11; Luke xxii. 24–26; 1 Pet. v. 1–5, ii.John ix., x.; yet, through the pride, ambition, and avarice of men, it hath grown to be the stain and shame of the church in most ages: for neither the sense of the authority of Christ forbidding such ambitious designings, nor the proposal of his own example in this particular case, nor the experience of their own insufficiency for the least part of the work of the gospel ministry, have been able to restrain the minds of men from coveting after and contending for a prerogative in church-power over others; for though this ambition, and all the fruits or rewards of it, are laid under a severe interdict by our Lord Jesus Christ, yet when men (like Achan) saw “the wedge of gold and the goodly Babylonish garment” that they thought to be in power, domination, and wealth, they coveted them and took them, to the great disturbance of the church of God.
If men would but a little seriously consider what there is in that care of souls, even of all them over whom they pretend church power, rule, or jurisdiction, and what it is to give an account concerning them before the judgment-seat of Christ, it may be it would abate of their earnestness in contending for the enlargement of their cures.
The claim of episcopacy, as consisting in a rank of persons distinct from the office of presbyters, is managed with great variety. It is not agreed whether they are distinct in order above them, or only as unto a certain degree among them of the same order. It is not determined what doth constitute that pretended distinct order, nor wherein that degree of pre- eminence in the same order doth consist, nor what basis it stands upon. It is not agreed whether this order of bishops hath any church-power appropriated unto it, so as to be acted singly by themselves alone, without the concurrence of the presbyters, or how far that concurrence is necessary in all acts of church order or power. There are no bounds or limits of the dioceses which they claim the rule in and over, as churches whereunto they are peculiarly related, derived either from divine institution or tradition, or general rules of reason respecting both or either of them, or from the consideration of gifts and abilities, or any thing else wherein church-order or edification is concerned. Those who plead for diocesan episcopacy will not proceed any farther but only that there is, and ought to be, a superiority in bishops over presbyters in order or degree; but whether this must be over presbyters 44in one church only, or in many distinct churches, — whether it must be such as not only hinders them utterly from the discharge of any of the duties of the pastoral office towards the most of them whom they esteem their flocks, and necessitates them unto a rule by unscriptural church officers, laws, and power, — they suppose doth not belong unto their cause, whereas, indeed, the weight and moment of it doth lie in and depend on these things. Innumerable other uncertainties, differences, and variances there are about this singular episcopacy, which we are not at present concerned to inquire into, nor shall I insist on any of those which have been already mentioned.
But yet, because it is necessary unto the clearing of the evangelical pastoral office, which is now under consideration, unto what hath been pleaded before about the non-institution of any churches beyond particular congregations, which is utterly exclusive of all pretences of the present episcopacy, I shall briefly, as in a diversion, add the arguments which undeniably prove that in the whole New Testament bishops and presbyters, or elders, are every way the same persons, in the same office, have the same function, without distinction in order or degree; which also, as unto the Scripture, the most learned advocates of prelacy begin to grant:—
1. The apostle describing what ought to be the qualifications of presbyters or elders, gives this reason of it, Because a bishop must be so: Tit. i. 5–9, “Ordain elders in every city, if any be blameless,” etc., “for a bishop must be blameless.” He that would prove of what sort a presbyter, that is to be ordained so, ought to be, [and] gives this reason for it, that “such a bishop ought to be,” intends the same person and office by presbyter and bishop, or there is no congruity of speech or consequence of reason in what he asserts. To suppose that the apostle doth not intend the same persons and the same office by “presbyters” and “bishops,” in the same place, is to destroy his argument and render the context of his discourse unintelligible. He that will say, “If you make a justice of peace or a constable, he must be magnanimous, liberal, full of clemency and courage, for so a king ought to be,” will not be thought to argue very wisely; yet such is the argument here, if by “elders” and “bishops” distinct orders and offices are intended.
2. There were Many bishops in one city, in one particular church: Phil. i. 1, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” That the church then at Philippi was one particular church or congregation was proved before. But to have many bishops in the same church, whereas the nature of the episcopacy pleaded for consists in the superiority of one over the presbyters of many churches, is absolutely inconsistent. Such bishops whereof there may be many in the same church, of the same order, equal in power and dignity with respect unto office, will easily be granted; 45but then they are presbyters as well as bishops. There will, I fear, be no end of this contest, because of the prejudices and interests of some; but that the identity of bishops and presbyters should be more plainly expressed can neither be expected nor desired.
3. The apostle, being at Miletus, sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church to come unto him; that is, the elders of the church at Ephesus, as hath been elsewhere undeniably demonstrated, Acts xx. 17, 18: unto these elders he says, “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops, to feed the church of God,” verse 28. If “elders” and “bishops” be not the same persons, having the same office, the same function, and the same duties, and the same names, it is impossible, So far as I understand, how it should be expressed: for these elders are they whom the Holy Ghost made bishops, they were many of them in the same church, their duty it was to attend unto the flock and to feed the church, which comprise all the duties, the whole function of elders and bishops; which must therefore be the same. This plain testimony can no way be evaded by pretences and conjectures, unwritten and uncertain; the only answer unto it is, “It was indeed so then, but it was otherwise afterward;” which some now betake themselves unto. But these elders were either elders only, and not bishops; or bishops only, and not elders; or the same persons were elders and bishops, as is plainly affirmed in the words The last is that which we plead. If the first be asserted, then was there no bishop then at Ephesus, for these elders had the whole oversight of the flock; if the second, then were there no elders at all, which is no good exposition of those words, that “Paul called unto him the elders of the church.”
4. The apostle Peter writes unto the “elders” of the churches that they should “feed the flock,” ἐπισκοποῦντες, “taking the oversight,” or exercising the office and function of bishops over it; and that not as “lords,” but as “ensamples” of humility, obedience, and holiness, to the whole flock, 1 Pet. v. 1–3. Those on whom it is incumbent to feed the flock and to superintend it, as those who in the first place are accountable unto Jesus Christ, are bishops, and such as have no other bishop over them, unto whom this charge should be principally committed; but such, according unto this apostle, are the elders of the church: therefore these elders and bishops are the same. And such were the ἡγούμενοι, the guides of the church at Jerusalem, whom the members of it were bound to obey, as those that did watch for and were to give an account of their souls, Heb. xiii. 17.
5. The substance of these and all other instances or testimonies of the same kind is this: Those whose names are the same, equally common and applicable unto them all, whose function is the same, whose qualifications and characters are the same, whose duties, account, and reward are the same, concerning whom there is in no one 46place of Scripture the least mention of inequality, disparity, or preference in office among them, they are essentially and every way the same. That thus it is with the elders and bishops in the Scripture cannot modestly be denied.
I do acknowledge, that where a church is greatly increased, so as that there is a necessity of many elders in it for its instruction and rule, decency and order do require that one of them do, in the management of all church-affairs, preside, to guide and direct the way and manner thereof: so the presbyters at Alexandria did choose one from among themselves that should have the pre-eminence of a president among them. Whether the person that is so to preside be directed unto by being first converted, or first ordained, or on the account of age, or of gifts and abilities, whether he continue for a season only, and then another be deputed unto the same work, or for his life, are things in themselves indifferent, to be determined according unto the general rules of reason and order, with respect unto the edification of the church.
I shall never oppose this order, but rather desire to see it in practice, — namely, that particular churches were of such an extent as necessarily to require many elders, both teaching and ruling, for their instruction and government; for the better observation of order and decency in the public assemblies; for the fuller representation of the authority committed by Jesus Christ unto the officers of his church; for the occasional instruction of the members in lesser assemblies, which, as unto some ends, may be stated also; with the due attendance unto all other means of edification, as watching, inspecting, warning, admonishing, exhorting, and the like: and that among these elders one should be chosen by themselves, with the consent of the church, not into a new order, not into a degree of authority above his brethren, but only unto his part of the common work in a peculiar manner, which requires some kind of precedency. Hereby no new officer, no new order of officers, no new degree of power or authority, is constituted in the church; only the work and duty of it is cast into such an order as the very light of nature doth require.
But there is not any intimation in the Scripture of the least imparity or inequality, in order, degree, or authority, among officers of the same sort, whether extraordinary or ordinary. The apostles were all equal; so were the evangelists, so were elders or bishops, and so were deacons also. The Scripture knows no more of an archbishop, such as all diocesan bishops are, nor of an archdeacon, than of an archapostle, or of an archevangelist, or an archprophet. Howbeit it is evident that in all their assemblies they had one who did preside in the manner before described; which seems, among the apostles, to have been the prerogative of Peter.
The brethren also of the church may be so multiplied as that the 47constant meeting of them all in one place may not be absolutely best for their edification; howbeit, that on all the solemn occasions of the church whereunto their consent was necessary, they did of old, and ought still, to meet in the same place, for advice, consultation, and consent, was proved before. This is so fully expressed and exemplified in the two great churches of Jerusalem and Antioch, Acts xv., that it cannot be gainsaid. When Paul and Barnabas, sent by the “brethren” or church at Antioch, verses 1–3, were come to Jerusalem, they were received by “the church,” as the brethren are called, in distinction from the “apostles and elders,” verse 4. So when the apostles and elders assembled to consider of the case proposed unto them, the whole “multitude” of the church, that is, the brethren, assembled with them, verses 6, 12; neither were they mute persons, mere auditors and spectators in the assembly, but they concurred both in the debate and determination of the question, insomuch that they are expressly joined with the apostles and elders in the advice given, verses 22, 23. And when Paul and Barnabas returned unto Antioch, the “multitude,” unto whom the letter of the church at Jerusalem was directed, came together about it, verses 23, 30. Unless this be observed, the primitive church-state is overthrown. But I shall return from this digression.
The first officer or elder of the church is the pastor. A pastor is the elder that feeds and rules the flock, 1 Pet. v. 2; that is, who is its teacher and its bishop: Ποιμάνατε, ἐπισκοποῦντες, “Feed, taking the oversight.”
It is not my present design or work to give a full account of the qualifications required in persons to be called unto this office, nor of their duty and work, with the qualities or virtues to be exercised therein; it would require a large discourse to handle them practically, and it hath been done by others. It were to be wished that what is of this kind expressed in the rule, and which the nature of the office doth indispensably require, were more exemplified in practice than it is. But some things relating unto this officer and his office, that are needful to be well stated, I shall treat concerning.
The name of a pastor or shepherd is metaphorical. It is a denomination suited unto his work, denoting the same office and person with a bishop or elder, spoken of absolutely, without limitation unto either teaching or ruling; and it seems to be used or applied unto this office because it is more comprehensive of and instructive in all the duties, that belong unto it than any other name whatever, nay, than all of them put together. The grounds and reasons of this metaphor, or whence the church is called a flock, and whence God termeth himself the shepherd of the flock; whence the sheep of this flock are committed unto Christ, whereon he becomes “the good shepherd that lays down his life for the sheep,” and the prince of 48shepherds; what is the interest of men in a participation of this office, and what their duty thereon, — are things well worth the consideration of them who are called unto it. “Hirelings,” yea, “wolves” and “dumb dogs,” do in many places take on themselves to be shepherds of the flock, by whom it is devoured and destroyed, Acts xx. 18, 19, etc.; 1 Pet. v. 2–4; Cant. i. 7; Jer. xiii. 17, xxiii. 2; Ezek. xxxiv. 3; Gen. xlix. 24; Ps. xxiii. 1, lxxx. 1; John x. 11, 14–16; Heb. xiii. 20; 1 Pet. ii. 25, v. 4.
Whereas, therefore, this name or appellation is taken from and includes in it love, care, tenderness, watchfulness, in all the duties of going before, preserving, feeding, defending the flock, the sheep and the lambs, the strong, the weak, and the diseased, with accountableness, as servants, unto the chief Shepherd, it was generally disused in the church, and those of bishops or overseers, guides, presidents, elders, which seem to include more of honour and authority, were retained in common use; though one of them at last, namely, that of bishops, with some elating compositions and adjuncts of power, obtained the pre-eminence. Out of the corruption of these compositions and additions, in archbishops, metropolitans, patriarchs, and the like, brake forth the cockatrice of the church, — that is, the pope.
But this name is by the Holy Ghost appropriated unto the principal ministers of Christ in his church, Eph. iv. 11; and under that name they were promised unto the church of old, Jer. iii. 15. And the work of these pastors is to feed the flock committed to their charge, as it is constantly required of them, Acts xx. 28; 1 Pet. v. 2.
Of pastoral feeding there are two parts:— 1. Teaching or instruction; 2. Rule or discipline. Unto these two heads may all the acts and duties of a shepherd toward his flock be reduced; and both are intended in the term of “feeding,” 1 Chron. xi. 2, xvii. 6; Jer. xxiii. 2; Mic. v. 4, vii. 14; Zech. xi. 7; Acts xx. 28; John xxi. 15–17; 1 Pet. v. 2, etc. Wherefore he who is the pastor is the bishop, the elder, the teacher of the church.
These works of teaching and ruling may be distinct in several officers, namely, teachers and rulers; but to divide them in the same office of pastors, that some pastors should feed by teaching only, but have no right to rule by virtue of their office, and some should attend in exercise unto rule only, not esteeming themselves obliged to labour continually in feeding the flock, is almost to overthrow this office of Christ’s designation, and to set up two in the room of it, of men’s own projection.
Of the call of men unto this office so many things have been spoken and written by others at large that I shall only insist, and that very briefly, on some things which are either of the most important consideration or have been omitted by others; as, —
491. Unto the call of any person unto this office of a pastor in the church there are certain qualifications previously required in him, disposing and making him fit for that office. The outward call is an act of the church, as we shall show immediately; but therein is required an obediential acting of him also who is called. Neither of these can be regular, neither can the church act according to rule and order, nor the person called act in such a due obedience, unless there are in him some previous indications of the mind of God, designing the person to be called by such qualifications as may render him meet and able for the discharge of his office and work; for ordinary vocation is not a collation of gracious spiritual abilities, suiting and making men meet for the pastoral office, but it is the communication of right and power for the regular use and exercise of gifts and abilities received antecedently unto that call, unto the edification of the church, wherein the office itself doth consist. And if we would know what these qualifications and endowments are, for the substance of them, we may learn them in their great example and pattern, our Lord Jesus Christ himself. Our Lord Jesus Christ, being the good Shepherd, whose the sheep are, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, the chief Shepherd, did design, in the undertaking and exercise of his pastoral office, to give a type and example unto all those who are to be called unto the same office under him; and if there be not a conformity unto him herein, no man can assure his own conscience or the church of God that he is or can be lawfully called unto this office.
The qualifications of Christ unto, and the gracious qualities of his mind and soul in, the discharge of his pastoral office, may be referred unto five heads:—
(1.) That furniture with spiritual gifts and abilities by the communication of the Holy Ghost unto him in an unmeasurable fullness, whereby he was fitted for the discharge of his office. This is expressed with respect unto his undertaking of it, Isa. xi. 2, 3, lxi. 1–3; Luke iv. 14. Herein was he “anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows,” Heb. i. 9. But this unction of the Spirit is, in a certain measure, required in all who are called, or to be called, unto the pastoral office, Eph. iv. 7. That there are spiritual powers, gifts, and abilities, required unto the gospel ministry, I have at large declared in another treatise, as also what they are; and where there are none of those spiritual abilities which are necessary unto the edification of the church in the administration of gospel ordinances, as in prayer, preaching, and the like, no outward call or order can constitute any man an evangelical pastor. As unto particular persons, I will not contend as unto an absolute nullity in the office by reason of their deficiency in spiritual gifts, unless it be gross, and such as renders them utterly useless unto the edification of the church. I only say, 50that no man can in an orderly way and manner be called or set apart unto this office in whom there are not some indications of God’s designation of him thereunto by his furniture with spiritual gifts, of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and utterance for prayer and preaching, with other ministerial duties, in some competent measure.
(2.) Compassion and love to the flock were gloriously eminent in this “great Shepherd of the sheep.” After other evidences hereof, he gave them that signal confirmation in laying down his life for them. This testimony of his love he insists upon himself, John x. And herein also his example ought to lie continually before the eyes of them who are called unto the pastoral office. Their entrance should be accompanied with love to the souls of men; and if the discharge of their office be not animated with love unto their flocks, wolves, or hirelings, or thieves, they may be, but shepherds they are not. Neither is the glory of the gospel ministry more lost or defaced in any thing, or by any means, than by the evidence that is given among the most of an inconformity unto Jesus Christ in their love unto the flock. Alas! it is scarce once thought of amongst the most of them who, in various degrees, take upon them the pastoral office. Where are the fruits of it? what evidence is given of it in any kind? is well if some, instead of laying down their lives for them, do not by innumerable ways destroy their souls.
(3.) There is and was in this great Shepherd a continual watchfulness over the whole flock, to keep it, to preserve it, to feed, to lead, and cherish it, to purify and cleanse it, until it be presented unspotted unto God. He doth never slumber nor sleep; he watereth his vineyard every moment; he keeps it night and day, that none may hurt it; he loseth nothing of what is committed to him. See Isa. xl. 11. I speak not distinctly of previous qualifications unto an outward call only, but with a mixture of those qualities and duties which are required in the discharge of this office; and herein also is the Lord Christ to be our example. And hereunto do belong, — [1.] Constant prayer for the flock; [2.] Diligence in the dispensation of the word with wisdom, as unto times, seasons, the state of the flock in general, their light, knowledge, ways, walking, ignorance, temptations, trials, defections, weaknesses of all sorts, growth, and decays, etc; [3.] Personal admonition, exhortation, consolation, instruction, as their particular cases do require; [4.] All with a design to keep them from evil, and to present them without blame before Christ Jesus at the great day. But these and things of the like nature presenting themselves with some earnestness unto my mind, I shall at present discharge myself of the thoughts of them, hoping for a more convenient place and season to give them a larger treatment; and somewhat yet further shall be spoken of them in the next chapter.
51(4.) Zeal for the glory of God, in his whole ministry and in all the ends of it, had its continual residence in the holy soul of the great Shepherd. Hence it is declared in an expression intimating that it was inexpressible: “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up,” John ii. 17. This also must accompany the discharge of the pastoral office, or it will find no acceptance with him; and the want of it is one of those things which hath filled the World with a dead, faithless, fruitless ministry.
(5.) As he was absolutely in himself “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners,” so a conformity unto him in these things, and that in some degree of eminency above others, is required in them who are called unto this office.
2. Again; none can or may take this office upon him, or discharge the duties of it, which are peculiarly its own, with authority, but he who is called and set apart thereunto according to the mind of Jesus Christ. The continuation of all church order and power, of the regular administration of all sacred ordinances, yea, of the very being of the church as it is organical, depends on this assertion. Some deny the continuation of the office itself, and of those duties which are peculiar unto it, as the administration of the sacraments; some judge that persons neither called nor set apart unto this office may discharge all the duties and the whole work of it; some, that a temporary delegation of power unto any by the church is all the warranty necessary for the undertaking and discharge of this office. Many have been the contests about these things, occasioned by the ignorance and disorderly affections of some persons. I shall briefly represent the truth herein, with the grounds of it, and proceed to the consideration of the call itself, which is so necessary:—
(1.) Christ himself, in his own person and by his own authority, was the author of this office. He gave it, appointed it, erected it in the church, by virtue of his sovereign power and authority, Eph. iv. 11, 12; 1 Cor. xii. 28. As he gave, appointed, ordained, an extraordinary office of apostleship, so he ordained, appointed, and gave, the ordinary office of pastorship or teaching. They have both the same divine original.
(2.) He appointed this office for continuance, or to abide in the church unto the consummation of all things, Eph. iv. 13, Matt. xxviii. 19, 20; and therefore he took order by his apostles that, for the continuation of this office, pastors, elders, or bishops, should be called and ordained unto the care and discharge of it in all churches; which was done by them accordingly, Acts xiv. 22, 23, xx. 28, 1 Tim. iii. 1–7, Tit. i. 5–9: wherein he gave rule unto all churches unto the end of the world, and prescribed them their duty.
(3.) On this office and the discharge of it he hath laid the whole weight of the order, rule, and edification of his church, in his name 52and by virtue of his authority, Acts xx. 28; Col. iv. 17; 1 Tim. iii. 15; 1 Pet. v. 1–4; Rev. ii. 1–5, etc. Hereon a double necessity of the continuation of this office doth depend, — first, That which ariseth from the precept or command of it, which made it necessary to the church on the account of the obedience which it owes to Christ; and, secondly, From its being the principal ordinary means of all the ends of Christ in and towards his church. Wherefore, although he can himself feed his church in the wilderness, when it is deprived of all outward instituted means of edification, yet where this office fails through its neglect, there is nothing but disorder, confusion, and destruction, will ensue thereon; no promise of feeding or edification.
(4.) The Lord Christ hath given commands unto the church for obedience unto those who enjoy and exercise this office among them. Now, all these commands are needless and superfluous, nor can any obedience be yielded unto the Lord Christ in their observance, unless there be a continuation of this office. And the church loseth as much in grace and privilege as it loseth in commands; for in obedience unto the commands of Christ doth grace in its exercise consist, 1 Tim. v. 17; Heb. xiii. 7, 17.
(5.) This office is accompanied with power and authority, which none can take or assume to themselves. All power and authority, whether in things spiritual or temporal, which is not either founded in the law of nature or collated by divine ordination, is usurpation and tyranny; no man can of himself take either sword. To invade an office which includes power and authority over others is to disturb all right, natural, divine, and civil. That such an authority is included in this office is evident, — [1.] From the names ascribed unto them in whom it is vested; as pastors, bishops, elders, rulers, all of them requiring it. [2.] From the work prescribed unto them, which is feeding by rule and teaching. [3.] From the execution of church-power in discipline, or the exercise of the keys of the kingdom of heaven committed unto them. [4.] From the commands given for obedience unto them, which respect authority. [5.] From their appointment to be the means and instruments of exerting the authority of Christ in the church, which can be done no other way.
(6.) Christ hath appointed a standing rule of the calling of men unto this office, as we shall see immediately; but if men may enter upon it and discharge it without any such call, that rule, with the way of the call prescribed, is altogether in vain; and there can be no greater affront unto the authority of Christ in his church than to act in it in neglect of or in opposition unto the rule that he hath appointed for the exercise of power in it.
(7.) There is an accountable trust committed unto those who undertake this office. The whole flock, the ministry itself, the truths 53of the gospel, as to the preservation of them, all are committed to them, Col. iv. 17; 1 Tim. vi. 20; 2 Tim. ii. 2, 16, 23; Acts xx. 28; 1 Pet. v. 1–4; Heb. xiii. 17, “They that must give account.” Nothing can be more wicked or foolish than for a man to intrude himself into a trust which is not committed unto him. They are branded as profligately wicked who attempt any such thing among men, which cannot be done without falsification; and what shall he be esteemed who intrudes himself into the highest trust that any creature is capable of in the name of Christ, and takes upon him to give an account of its discharge at the last day, without any divine call or warranty?
(8.) There are, unto the discharge of this office, especial promises granted and annexed of present assistances and future eternal rewards, Matt. xxviii. 19, 20; 1 Pet. v. 4. Either these promises belong unto them who take this office on themselves without any call, or they do not. If they do not, then have they neither any especial assistance in their work nor can expect any reward of their labours. If it be said they have an interest in them, then the worst of men may obtain the benefit of divine promises without any divine designation.
(9.) The general force of the rule, Heb. v. 4, includes a prohibition of undertaking any sacred office without a divine call; and so the instances of such prohibitions under the old testament, as unto the duties annexed unto an office, as in the case of Uzziah invading the priesthood, 2 Chron. xxvi. 16–21; or of taking a ministerial office without call or mission, as Jer. xxvii. 9, 10, 14, 15, having respect unto the order of God’s institutions, may be pleaded in this case.
(10.) Whoever, therefore, takes upon him the pastoral office without a lawful outward call, doth take unto himself power and authority without any divine warranty, which is a foundation of all disorder and confusion; interests himself in an accountable trust no way committed unto him; hath no promise of resistance in or reward for his work, but engageth in that which is destructive of all church-order, and consequently of the very being of the church itself.
(11.) Yet there are three things that are to be annexed unto this assertion, by way of limitation; as, — [1.] Many things performed by virtue of office, in a way of authority, may be performed by others not called to office, in a way of charity. Such are the moral duties of exhorting, admonishing, comforting, instructing, and praying with and for one another. [2.] Spiritual gifts may be exercised unto the edification of others without office-power, where order and opportunity do require it. But the constant exercise of spiritual gifts in preaching, with a refusal of undertaking a ministerial office, or without design so to do upon a lawful call, cannot be approved. [3.] The rules proposed concern only ordinary cases, and the ordinary state 54of the church; extraordinary cases are accompanied with a warranty in themselves for extraordinary actings and duties.
(12.) The call of persons unto the pastoral office is an act and duty of the church. It is not an act of the political magistrate, not of the pope, not of any single prelate, but of the whole church, unto whom the Lord Christ hath committed the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And, indeed, although there be great differences about the nature and manner of the call of men unto this office, yet none who understands aught of these things can deny but that it is an act and duty of the church, which the church alone is empowered by Christ to put forth and exert. But this will more fully appear in the consideration of the nature and manner of this call of men unto the pastoral office, and the actings of the church therein.
The call of persons unto the pastoral office in the church consists of two parts, — first, Election; secondly, Ordination, as it is commonly called, or sacred separation by fasting and prayer. As unto the former, four things must be inquired into:— I. What is previous unto it, or preparatory for it; II. Wherein it doth consist; III. Its necessity, or the demonstration of its truth and institution; IV. What influence it hath into the communication of pastoral office-power unto a pastor so chosen.
I. That which is previous unto it is the meetness of the person for his office and work that is to be chosen. It can never be the duty of the church to call or choose an unmeet, an unqualified, an unprepared person unto this office. No pretended necessity, no outward motives, can enable or warrant it so to do; nor can it by any outward act, whatever the rule or solemnity of it be, communicate ministerial authority unto persons utterly unqualified for and incapable of the discharge of the pastoral office according to the rule of the Scripture. And this has been one great means of debasing the ministry and of almost ruining the church itself, either by the neglect of those who suppose themselves intrusted with the whole power of ordination, or by impositions on them by secular power and patrons of livings, as they are called, with the stated regulation of their proceedings herein by a defective law, whence there hath not been a due regard unto the antecedent preparatory qualifications of those who are called unto the ministry.
Two ways is the meetness of any one made known and to be judged of:— 1. By an evidence given of the qualifications in him before mentioned. The church is not to call or choose any one to office who is not known unto them, of whose frame of spirit and walking they have not had some experience; not a novice, or one lately come unto them. He must be one who by his ways and walking hath obtained a good report, even among them that are without, so far as he is known, unless they be enemies or scoffers; 55and one that hath in some good measure evidenced his faith, love, and obedience unto Jesus Christ in the church. This is the chief trust that the Lord Christ hath committed unto his churches; and if they are negligent herein, or if at all adventures they will impose an officer in his house upon him without satisfaction of his meetness upon due inquiry, it is a great dishonour unto him and provocation of him. Herein principally are churches made the overseers of their own purity and edification. To deny them an ability of a right judgment herein, or a liberty for the use and exercise of it, is error and tyranny. But that flock which Christ purchased and purified with his own blood is thought by some to he little better than a herd of brute beasts Where there is a defect of this personal knowledge, from want of opportunity, it may be supplied by testimonies of unquestionable authority. 2. By a trial of his gifts for edification. These are those spiritual endowments which the Lord Christ grants and the Holy Spirit works in the minds of men, for this very end that the church may be profited by them, 1 Cor. xii. 7–11. And we must at present take it for granted that every true church of Christ, that is so in the matter and form of it, is able to judge in some competent measure what gifts of men are suited unto their own edification. But yet, in making a judgment hereof, one directive means is the advice of other elders and churches; which they are obliged to make use of by virtue of the communion of churches, and for the avoidance of offence in their walk in that communion.
II. As to the nature of this election, call, or choice of a person known, tried, and judged meetly qualified for the pastoral office, it is an act of the whole church; that is, of the fraternity with their elders, if they have any; for a pastor may be chosen unto a church which hath other teachers, elders, or officers, already instated in it. In this case their concurrence in the choice intended is necessary, by way of common suffrage, not of authority or office-power; for election is not an act of authority, but of liberty and power, wherein the whole church in the fraternity is equal. If there be no officers stated in the church before, as it was with the churches in the primitive times, on the first ordination of elders among them, this election belongs unto the fraternity.
III. That, therefore, which we have now to prove is this, that it is the mind and will of Jesus Christ that meet persons should be called unto the pastoral office (or any other office in the church) by the election and choice of the church itself whereunto they are called, antecedently unto a sacred, solemn separation unto their respective offices; for under the old testament there were three ways whereby men were called unto office in the church:— 1. They were so extraordinarily and immediately, by the nomination and designation of God himself: so Aaron was called unto the priesthood; and others 56afterward, as Samuel, to be prophets. 2. By a law of carnal generation: so all the priests of the posterity of Aaron succeeded into the office of the priesthood without any other call. 3. By the choice of the people, which was the call of all the ordinary elders and rulers of the church: Deut. i. 13, הָבוּ לָכֶם, “Give to yourselves.” It was required of the people that they should in the first place make a judgment on their qualifications for the office whereunto they were called. Men known unto them for wise, understanding, righteous, walking in the fear of God, they were to look out, and then to present them unto Moses, for their separation unto office; which is election. It is true that, Exod. xviii. 25, it is said that Moses chose the elders; but it is frequent in the Scripture that where any thing is done by many, where one is chief, that is ascribed indifferently either to the many or to the chief director. So is it said, “Israel sent messengers,” Num. xxi. 21. Moses, speaking of the same thing, says, “I sent messengers,” Deut. ii. 26. So, 1 Chron. xix. 19, “They made peace with David and became his servants;” which is, 2 Sam. x. 19, “They made peace with Israel and served them.” See also 2 Kings xi. 12, with 2 Chron. xxiii. 11; as also 1 Chron. xvi. 1, with 2 Sam. vi. 17; and the same may be observed in other places. Wherefore the people chose these elders under the conduct and guidance of Moses: which directs us unto the right interpretation of Acts xiv. 23, whereof we shall speak immediately.
The first of these ways was repeated in the foundation of the evangelical church. Christ himself was called unto his office by the Father, through the unction of the Spirit, Isa. lxi. 1–3, Heb. v. 5; and he himself called the apostles and evangelists, in whom that call ceased. The second, ordinary way, by the privilege of natural generation of the stock of the priests, was utterly abolished. The third way only remained for the ordinary continuation of the church, — namely, by the choice and election of the church itself, with solemn separation and dedication by officers extraordinary or ordinary.
The first instance of the choice of a church-officer had a mixture in it of the first and last ways, in the case of Matthias. As he was able to be a church-officer, he had the choice and consent of the church; as he was to be an apostle or an extraordinary officer, there was an immediate divine disposition of him into his office; — the latter, to give him apostolical authority; the former, to make him a precedent of the future actings of the church in the call of their officers.
I say, this being the first example and pattern of the calling of any person unto office in the Christian church-state, wherein there was an interposition of the ordinary actings of men, is established as a rule and precedent, not to be changed, altered, or departed from, in any age of the church whatever. It is so as unto what was of common right and equity, which belonged unto the whole church. And 57I cannot but wonder how men durst ever reject and disannul this divine example and rule. It will not avail them to say that it is only a matter of fact, and not a precept or institution, that is recorded; for, — 1. It is a fact left on record in the holy Scripture for our instruction and direction. 2. It is an example of the apostles and the whole church proposed unto us; which, in all things not otherwise determined, hath the force of an institution. 3. If there were no more in it but this, that we have a matter of common right determined and applied by the wisdom of the apostles and the entire church of believers at that time in the world, it were an impiety to depart from it, unless in case of the utmost necessity.
Whereas what is here recorded was in the call of an apostle, it strengthens the argument which hence we plead; for if in the extraordinary call of an apostle it was the mind of Christ that the fraternity or multitude should have the liberty of their suffrage, how much more is it certainly his mind, that in the ordinary call of their own peculiar officers, in whom, under him, the concernment is their own only, this right should be continued unto them!
The order of the proceeding of the church herein is distinctly declared; for, — 1. The number of the church at that time, — that is, of the men, — was about an hundred and twenty, Acts i. 15. 2. They were assembled all together in one place, so as that Peter stood up in the midst of them, verse 15. 3. Peter, in the name of the rest of the apostles, declares unto them the necessity of choosing one to be substituted in the room of Judas, verses 16–22. 4. He limits the choice of him unto the especial qualification of being a meet witness of the resurrection of Christ, or unto those who constantly accompanied him with themselves from the baptism of John; that is, from his being baptized by him, whereon he began his public ministry. 5. Among these they were left at their liberty to nominate any two, who were to be left unto the lot for a determination whether of them God designed unto the office. 6. Hereon the whole multitude ἔστησαν δύο, “appointed two;” that is, the ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί, the “men and brethren,” unto whom Peter spoke, verse 16, did so. 7. The same persons, to promote the work, “prayed and gave forth their lots,” verses 24–26. 8. Συγκατεψηφίσθη Ματθίας, — Matthias was, by the common suffrage of the whole church, reckoned unto the number of the apostles.
I say not that these things were done by the disciples in distinction from Peter and the rest of the apostles, but in conjunction with them. Peter did nothing without them, nor did they any thing without him.
The exceptions of Bellarmine and others against this testimony, that it was a grant and a condescension in Peter, and not a declaration of the right of the church, that it was an extraordinary case, that the determination of the whole was by lot, are of no validity. 58The pretended concession of Peter is a figment; the case was so extraordinary as to include in it all ordinary cases, for the substance of them; and although the ultimate determination of the individual person (which was necessary unto his apostleship) was immediately divine, by lot, yet here is all granted unto the people, in their choosing and appointing two, in their praying, in their casting lots, in their voluntary approbatory suffrage, that is desired.
This blessed example, given us by the wisdom of the apostles, yea, of the Spirit of God in them, being eminently suited unto the nature of the thing itself, as we shall see immediately, and compliant with all other directions and apostolical examples in the like case, is rather to be followed than the practice of some degenerate’ churches, who, to cover the turpitude of their acting in deserting this example and rule, do make use of a mock show and pretence of that which really they deny, reject, and oppose.
The second example we have of the practice of the apostles in this case, whereby the preceding rule is confirmed, is given us Acts vi., in the election of the deacons. Had there ensued, after the choice of Matthias, an instance of a diverse practice, by an exclusion of the consent of the people, the former might have been evaded as that which was absolutely extraordinary, and not obliging unto the church: but this was the very next instance of the call of any church-officer, and it was the first appointment of any ordinary officers in the Christian church; for, it falling out in the very year of Christ’s ascension, there is no mention of any ordinary elders, distinct from the apostles, ordained in that church; for all the apostles themselves yet abiding there for the most part of this time, making only some occasional excursions unto other places, were able to take care of the rule of the church and the preaching of the word. They are, indeed, mentioned as those who were well known in the church not long afterward, chap. xi. 30; but the first instance of the call of ordinary teaching elders or pastors is not recorded. That of deacons is so by reason of the occasion of it; and we may observe concerning it unto our purpose, —
1. That the institution of the office itself was of apostolical authority, and that fullness of church-power wherewith they were furnished by Jesus Christ.
2. That they did not exert that authority but upon such reasons of it as were satisfactory to the church; which they declare, chap. vi. 2.
3. That the action is ascribed to the twelve in general, without naming any person who spake for the rest; which renders the pretence of the Romanists from the former place, where Peter is said to have spoken unto the disciples, — whereon they would have the actings of the church which ensued thereon to have been by his concession and grant, not of their own right, — altogether vain; for the rest of the apostles were as much interested and concerned in what 59was then spoken by Peter as they were at this time, when the whole is ascribed unto the twelve.
4. That the church was greatly multiplied [at] that time, on the account of the conversion unto the faith recorded in the foregoing chapter. It is probable, indeed, that many, yea, the most of them, were returned unto their own habitations; for the next year there were churches in all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, chap. ix. 31. And Peter went about “throughout all quarters,” to visit the saints that dwelt in them, verse 32, of whose conversion we read nothing but that which fell out at Jerusalem at Pentecost; but a great multitude they were, chap. vi. 1, 2.
5. This whole multitude of the church, — that is, the “brethren,” verse 3, — assembled in one place, being congregated by the apostles, verse 2; who would not ordain any thing, wherein they were concerned, without their own consent.
6. They judged on the whole matter proposed unto them, and gave their approbation thereof, before they entered upon the practice of it: Verse 5, “The saying pleased the whole multitude.”
7. The qualifications of the persons to be chosen unto the office intended are declared by the apostles: Verse 3, “Of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.”
8. These qualities the multitude were to judge upon; and so, absolutely, of the meetness of any for this office.
9. The choice is wholly committed and left unto them by the apostles, as that which of right did belong unto them, “Look ye out among you;” which they made use of, choosing them unto the office by their common suffrage, verse 5.
10. Having thus chosen them, they presented them as their chosen officers unto the apostles, to be by them set apart unto the exercise of their office by prayer and imposition of hands, verse 6.
It is impossible there should be a more evident, convincing instance and example of the free choice of ecclesiastical officers by the multitude or fraternity of the church than is given us herein, Nor was there any ground or reason why this order and process should be observed, why the apostles would not themselves nominate and appoint persons whom they saw and knew meet for this office to receive it, but that it was the right and liberty of the people, according to the mind of Christ, to choose their own officers, which they would not abridge nor infringe.
So was it then, οὕτω καὶ νῦν γίνεσθαι ἔδει, saith Chrysostom on the place, “and so it ought now to be;” but the usage began then to decline. It were well if some would consider how the apostles at that time treated that multitude of the people, which is so much now despised, and utterly excluded from all concern in church affairs but what consists in servile subjection; but they have, in this pattern and 60precedent for the future ordering of the calling of meet persons to office in the church, their interest, power, and privilege secured unto them, so as that they can never justly be deprived of it. And if there were nothing herein but only a record of the wisdom of the apostles in managing church affairs, it is marvellous to me that any who would be thought to succeed them in any part of their trust and office should dare to depart from the example set before them by the Holy Ghost in them, preferring their own ways and inventions above it. I shall ever judge that there is more safety in a strict adherence unto this apostolical practice and example than in a compliance with all the canons of councils or churches afterward.
The only objection usually insisted on, — that is, by Bellarmine and those that follow him, — is, “That this being the election of deacons to manage the alms of the church, that is, somewhat of their temporals, nothing can thence be concluded unto the right or way of calling bishops, pastors, or elders, who are to take care of the souls of the people. They may, indeed, be able to judge of the fitness of them who are to be intrusted with their purses, or what they are willing to give out of them; but it doth not thence follow that they are able to judge of the fitness of those who are to be their spiritual pastors, nor to have the choice of them.”
Nothing can be weaker than this pretence or evasion; for, — (1.) The question is concerning the calling of persons unto office in the church in general, whereof we have here a rule whereunto no exception is any way entered. (2.) This cannot be fairly pleaded by them who appoint deacons to preach, baptize, and officiate publicly in all holy things, excepting only the administration of the eucharist. (3.) If the people are meet and able to judge of them who are of “honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom,” which is here required of them, they are able to judge who are meet to be their pastors. (4.) The argument holds strongly on the other side, namely, that if it be right and equal, if it be of divine appointment and apostolical practice, that the people should choose those who were to collect and distribute their charitable benevolence because of their concernment therein, much more are they to enjoy the same liberty, right, and privilege, in the choice of their pastors, unto whom they commit the care of their souls, and submit themselves unto their authority in the Lord.
Thirdly. Accordingly they did use the same liberty in the choice of their elders: Acts xiv. 23, Χειροτονήσαντες αὐτοῖς πρεσβυτέρους κατ’ ἐκκλησίαν, προσευξάμενοι μετὰ νηστειῶν, — that is, say Erasmus, Vatablus, Beza, all our old English translations, appointing, ordaining, creating elders by election, or the suffrage of the disciples, having prayed with fasting. The whole order of the sacred separation of persons qualified unto the office of the ministry, — that is, to be bishops, elders, or pastors, 61— is here clearly represented; for, — 1. They were chosen by the people, the apostles who were present, namely, Paul and Barnabas, presiding in the action, directing of it and confirming that by their consent with them. 2. A time of prayer and fasting was appointed for the action or discharge of the duty of the church herein. 3. When they were so chosen, the apostles present solemnly prayed, whereby their ordination was completed. And those who would have χειροτονία here mentioned to be χειροθεσία, or an authoritative imposition of hands, wherein this ordination did consist, do say there is an ὑστερολογία in the words, — that is, they feign a disorder in them to serve their own hypothesis; for they suppose that their complete ordination was effected before there was any prayer with fasting, for by imposition of hands in their judgment ordination is completed: so Bellarmine and à Lapide on the place, with those that follow them. But first to pervert the true signification of the Word, and then to give countenance unto that wresting of it by assigning a disorder unto the words of the whole sentence, and that such a disorder as makes, in their judgment, a false representation of the matter of fact related, is a way of the interpretation of Scripture which will serve any turn. 4. This was done in every church, or in every congregation, as Tindal renders the word, namely, in all the particular congregations that were gathered in those parts; for that collection and constitution did always precede the election and ordination of their officers, as is plain in this place, as also Tit. i. 5. So far is it from truth that the being of churches dependeth on the successive ordination of their officers, that the church, essentially considered, is always antecedent unto their being and call.
But because it is some men’s interest to entangle things plain and clear enough in themselves, I shall consider the objection unto this reddition of the words. The whole of it lies against the signification, use, and application of χειροτονήσαντες. Now, although we do not here argue merely from the signification of the word, but from the representation of the matter of fact made in the context, yet I shall observe some things sufficient for the removal of that objection; as, —
1. The native signification of χειροτονέω, by virtue of its composition, is to “lift up” or “stretch forth the hands,” or a hand. And hereunto the LXX. have respect, Isa. lviii. 9, where they render שְׁלַח אֶצְבַּע, “the putting forth of the finger,” which is used in an ill sense, by χειροτονία. Χειροτονεῖν is the same with τὰς χεῖρας αἴρειν, nor is it ever used in any other signification.
2. The first constant use of it in things political or civil, and so consequently ecclesiastical, is to choose, elect, design, or create any person an officer, magistrate, or ruler, by suffrage or common consent of those concerned. And this was usually done with making bare the hand and arm with lifting up, as Aristophanes witnesseth:—
62― Ὅμως δὲ χειροτονητέον
Ἐξωμισάσαις τὸν ἕτερον βραχίονα.
He is a great stranger unto these things who knoweth not that among the Greeks, especially the Athenians, from whom the use of this word is borrowed or taken, χειροτονία was an act ὅλης τῆς ἐκκλησίας “of the whole assembly” of the people in the choice of their officers and magistrates. Χειροτονέω is “by common suffrage to decree and determine of any thing, law, or order;” and when applied unto persons, it signifies their choice and designation to office. So is it used in the first sense by Demosthenes, Orat. De Corona, οδʹ, — Ὁ δῆμος τὰς ἑμὰς γνώμας περὶ σωτηρίας τῆς πόλεως ἐχειρότονει,— “The people confirmed my sayings by their suffrage;” and in the other, Philip. i., Οὔτε βουλῆς, οὔτε δήμου χειροτονήσαντος αὐτόν,2121 This passage is not in the first Philippic, though in that speech χειροτονέω occurs frequently in the sense referred to. Owen seems to have found this sentence in Stephens, who does not specify where it actually occurs in Demosthenes. The following expressions, however, are to be found in it, and are sufficient authority for the statement of our author: Οὐκ ἐχειροτονεῖτε δὲ ἐξ ὑμῶν αὐτῶν δέκα ταξιάρχους … Εἰς τὴν ἀγορὰν χειροτονεῖτε τοὺς ταξιάρχους — Ed. —— “Neither the senate nor the people choosing him to his office.” So is the passive verb used, “to be created by suffrages.” Χειροτονία was the act of choosing; whose effect was ψήφισμα, the determining vote or suffrage. “Porrexerunt manus: psephisma natum est,” saith Cicero, speaking of the manner of the Greeks, Pro Flacco, 7. And when there was a division in choice, it was determined by the greater suffrage: Thucyd. lib. 3 cap. 49 Καὶ ἐγένοντο ἐν τῇ χειροτονίᾳ ἀγχώμαλοι· ἐκράτησε δὲ ἡ τοῦ Διοδότου. As many instances of this nature may be produced as there are reports of calling men unto magistracy by election in the Greek historians; and all the further compositions of the word do signify to choose, confirm, or to abrogate, by common suffrage.
3. The word is but once more used in the New Testament, 2 Cor. viii. 19, where it plainly signifies election and choice of a person to an employment: Χειροτονηθεὶς ὑπό τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν συνέκδημος ἡμῶν· — “He was chosen of the churches to travel with us.”
4. It is acknowledged that after this was the common use of the word, it was applied to signify the thing itself, and not the manner of doing it. Hence it is used sometimes for the obtaining or collation of authority, or dignity, or magistracy, any manner of way, though not by election: “to appoint, to create.” But this was, by an abusive application of the word, to express the thing itself intended without regard unto its signification and proper use. Why such a use of it should be here admitted no reason can be given; for in all other places on such occasions, the apostles did admit and direct the churches to use their liberty in their choice. So Acts xv. 22, “The apostles and elders, with the whole church, sent chosen men of their own company to Antioch,” such as they chose by common suffrage for 63that end; so again, verse 25. “Whomsoever ye shall approve, them will I send,” 1 Cor. xvi. 3: the church chose them, the apostle sent them. “Who was chosen of the churches to travel with us,” 2 Cor. viii. 19. “Look ye out among you,” Acts vi. 3. If on all these and the like occasions, the apostles did guide and direct the people in their right and use of their liberty, as unto the election of persons unto offices and employments when the churches themselves were concerned, what reason is there to depart from the proper and usual signification of the word in this place, denoting nothing but what was the common, practice of the apostles on the like occasions?
5. That which alone is objected hereunto, by Bellarmine and others who follow him and borrow their whole [argument] in this case from him, namely, that χειροτονήσαντες, grammatically agreeing with and regulated by Paul and Barnabas, denotes their act, and not any act of the people, is of no force; for, — (1.) Paul and Barnabas did preside in the whole action, helping, ordering, and disposing of the people in the discharge of their duty, as is meet to be done by some on all the like occasions; and therefore it is truly said of them that “they appointed elders by the suffrage of the people.” (2.) I have showed instances before out of the Scripture, that when a thing is done by the people, it is usual to ascribe it unto him or them who were chief therein, as elsewhere the same thing is ascribed unto the whole people.
The same authors contend that the liberty of choosing their own officers or elders, such as it was, was granted unto them or permitted by way of condescension for a season, and not made use of by virtue of any right in them thereunto. But this permission is a mere imagination. It was according to the mind of Christ that the churches should choose their own elders, or it was not. If it were not, the apostles would not have permitted it; and if it were, they ought to ordain it and practice according to it, as they did. Nor is such a constant apostolical practice, proposed for the direction of the church in all ages, to be ascribed unto such an original as condescension and permission: yea, it is evident that it arose from the most fundamental principles of the constitution and nature of the gospel churches, and was only a regular pursuit and practice of them; for, —
First, The calling of bishops, pastors, or elders, is an act of the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. But these keys are originally and properly given unto the whole church, unto the elders of it only ministerially, and as unto exercise. Pastors are eyes to the church. But God and nature design, in the first place, light to the whole body, to the whole person; thereunto it is granted both subjectively and finally, but actually it is peculiarly seated in the eye. So is it in the grant of church-power; it is given to the whole church, though to be exercised only by its elders.
That the grant of the keys unto Peter was in the person and as 64the representative of the whole confessing church is the known judgment of Austin and a multitude of divines that follow him: so he fully expresseth himself, Tractat. 124. in Johan.: “Peter the apostle bare, in a general figure, the person of the church; for as unto what belonged unto himself, he was by nature one man, by grace one Christian, and of special, more abounding grace one and the chief apostle. But when it was said unto him, ‘I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ etc., He signified the whole church,” etc. Again: “The church, which is founded in Christ, received from him, in (the person of) Peter, the keys of the kingdom of heaven, which is the power of binding and loosing.”
Unto whom these keys are granted, they, according to their distinct interests in that grant, have the right and power of calling their bishops, pastors, or elders; for in the exercise of that trust and power it doth consist. But this is made unto the whole church; and as there are in a church already constituted several sorts of persons, as some are elders, others are of the people only, this right resideth in them and is acted by them according to their respective capacities, as limited by the light of nature and divine institution; which is, that the election of them should belong unto the body of the people, and their authoritative designation or ordination unto the elders. And when in any place the supreme magistrate is a member or part of the church, he hath also his peculiar right herein.
That the power of the keys is thus granted originally and fundamentally unto the whole church is undeniably confirmed by two arguments:—
1. The church itself is the wife, the spouse, the bride, the queen of the husband and king of the church, Christ Jesus, Ps. xlv. 9; John iii. 29; Rev. xxi. 9, xxii. 17; Matt. xxv. 1, 5, 6. Other wife Christ hath none; nor hath the church any Other husband. Now, to whom should the keys of the house be committed but unto the bride? There is, I confess, another who claims the keys to be his own; but withal he makes himself the head and husband of the church, proclaiming himself not only to be an adulterer with that harlot which he calleth the church, but a tyrant also, in that, pretending to be her husband, he will not trust her with the keys of his house, which Christ hath done with his spouse. And whereas, by the canon law, every bishop is the husband or spouse of his diocesan church, for the most part they commit an open rape upon the people, taking them without their consent; at least they are not chosen by them, which yet is essential unto a lawful marriage. And the bride of Christ comes no otherwise so to be but by the voluntary choice of him to be her husband. For the officers or rulers of the church, they do belong unto it as hers, 1 Cor. iii. 21, 22, and as stewards in the house, chap. iv. 1; the servants of the church for Jesus’ sake, 2 Cor. iv. 5.
65If the Lord Christ have the keys of the kingdom of heaven, that is, of “his own house,” Heb. iii. 6; if the church itself be the spouse of Christ, the mother of the family, the bride, the Lamb’s wife, Rev. xxi. 9; and if all the officers of the church be but stewards and servants in the house and unto the family; if the Lord Christ do make a grant of these keys unto any, whereon the disposal of all things in this house and family doth depend, the question is, whether he hath originally granted them unto his holy spouse, to dispose of according unto her judgment and duty, or unto any servants in the house, to dispose of her and all her concernments at their pleasure?
2. The power of the keys as unto binding and loosing, and consequently as unto all other acts thence proceeding, is expressly granted unto the whole church: Matt. xviii. 17, 18, “If he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” What church it is that is here intended we have proved before, and that the church is intrusted with the power of binding and loosing; and what is the part of the body of the people herein the apostle declares, 1 Cor. v. 4, 5; 2 Cor. ii. 6.
Secondly, This right, exemplified in apostolical practice, is comprehended in the commands given unto the church or body of the people with respect unto teachers and rulers of all sorts: for unto them it is in a multitude of places given in charge that they should discern and try false prophets, flee from them, try spirits, or such as pretend spiritual gifts or offices, reject them who preach false doctrine, to give testimony unto them that are to be in office, with sundry other things of the like nature; which all of them do suppose, or cannot be discharged without, a right in them to choose the worthy and reject the unworthy, as Cyprian speaks. See Matt. vii. 15–20; John v. 39; Gal. ii. 9; 1 Thess. v. 21, 1 John iv. 1; 2 John 10, 11.
What is objected hereunto from the unfitness and disability of the people to make a right judgment concerning them who are to be their pastors and rulers labours with a threefold weakness: for, — 1. It reflects dishonour upon the wisdom of Christ, in commanding them the observance and discharge of such duties as they are no way meet for. 2. It proceeds upon a supposition of that degenerate state of churches in their members, as to light, knowledge, wisdom, and holiness, which they are for the most part fallen into; which must not be allowed to have the force of argument in it, when it is to be lamented and ought to be reformed. 3. It supposeth that there is no supply of assistance provided for the people in the discharge of their duty, to guide and direct them therein; which is otherwise, seeing the elders of the church wherein any such election 66is made, and those of other churches in communion with that church, are, by the common advice and declaration of their judgment, to be assistant unto them.
Thirdly, The church is a voluntary society. Persons otherwise absolutely free, as unto all the rules, laws, and ends of such a society, do of their own wills and free choice coalesce into it. This is the original of all churches, as hath been declared. “They first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God,” 2 Cor. viii. 5. Herein neither by prescription, nor tradition, nor succession, hath any one more power or authority than another, but they are all equal. It is gathered into this society merely by the authority of Christ; and where it is so collected, it hath neither right, power, privilege, rules, nor bonds, as such, but what are given, prescribed, and limited, by the institution and laws of Christ. Moreover, it abides and continues on the same grounds and principles as whereon it was collected, namely, the wills of the members of it, subjected unto the commands of Christ. This is as necessary unto its present continuance in all its members as it was in its first plantation. It is not like the political societies of the world, which, being first established by force or consent, bring a necessity on all that are born in them and under them to comply with their rule and laws. For men may, and in many cases ought to submit unto the disposal of temporal things in a way, it may be, not convenient for them, which they judge not well of, and which in many things is not unto their advantage; and this may be just and equal, because the special good which every one would aim at, being not absolutely so, may be outbalanced by a general good, nor alterable2222 Not attainable? — Ed. but by the prejudice of that which is good in particular. But with reference unto things spiritual and eternal it is not so. No man can by any previous law be concluded as unto his interest in such things; nor is there any general good to be attained by the loss of any of them. None, therefore, can coalesce in such a society, or adhere unto it, or be any way belonging unto it, but by his own free choice and consent. And it is inquired, how it is possible that any rule, authority, power; or office, should arise or be erected in such a society? We speak of that which is ordinary; for He by whom this church-state is erected and appointed may and did appoint in it and over it extraordinary officers for a season. And we do suppose that as he hath, by his divine authority, instituted and appointed that such societies shall be, he hath made grant of privileges and powers to them proper and sufficient for this end; as also, that he hath given laws and rules, by the observance whereof they may be made partakers of those privileges and powers, with a right unto their exercise.
On these suppositions, in a society absolutely voluntary, among 67those who in their conjunction into it by their own consent are every way equal, there can but three things be required unto the actual constitution of rule and office among them:—
And the first is, That there be some among them that are fitted and qualified for the discharge of such an office in a peculiar manner above others. This is previous unto all government, beyond that which is purely natural and necessary: “Principio rerum, gentium nationumque imperium penes reges erat; quos ad fastigium hujus majestatis, non ambitio popularis, sed spectata inter bonos moderatio provehebat,” Just., lib. cap. 1. So it was in the world, so it was in the church: “Præsident probati quique seniores, honorem istum non pretio, sed testimomo adepti,” Tertul. This preparation and furniture of some persons with abilities and meet qualifications for office and work in the church the Lord Christ hath taken on himself, and doth and will effect it in all generations. Without this there can be neither office, nor rule, nor order in the church.
Secondly, Whereas there is a new relation to be made or created between a pastor, bishop, or elder, and the church, which was not before between them (a bishop and a church, a pastor and a flock, are relata), it must be introduced at the same time by the mutual voluntary acts of one another, or of each party; for one of the relata can, as such, have no being or existence without the other. Now, this can no otherwise be but by the consent and voluntary subjection of the church unto persons so antecedently qualified for office, according to the law and will of Christ; for it cannot be done by the delegation of power and authority from any other superior or equal unto them that do receive it. Neither the nature of this power, which is incapable of such a delegation, nor the relation unto Christ of all those who are pastors of the church, will admit of an interposition of authority by way of delegation of power from themselves in other men; which would make them their ministers and not Christ’s. Nor is it consistent with the nature of such a voluntary society. This, therefore, can no way be done but by free choice, election, consent, or approbation. It cannot, I say, be so regularly. How far an irregularity herein may vitiate the whole call of a minister we do not now inquire.
Now, this choice or election doth not communicate a power from them that choose unto them that are chosen, as though such a power as that whereunto they are called should be formally inherent in the choosers antecedent unto such choice; for this would make those that are chosen to be their ministers only, and to act all things in their name and by virtue of authority derived from them. It is only an instrumental, ministerial means to instate them in that power and authority which is given unto such officers by the constitution and laws of Christ, whose ministers thereon they are. These gifts, 68offices, and officers, being granted by Christ unto the churches, Eph. iv. 11, 12, wherever there is a church called according to his mind, they do, in and by their choice of them, “submit themselves unto them in the Lord,” according unto all the powers and duties wherewith they are by him intrusted and whereunto they are called.
Thirdly, It is required that persons so chosen, so submitted unto, be [al]so solemnly separated, dedicated unto, and confirmed in their office by fasting and prayer. As this is consonant unto the light of nature, which directs unto a solemnity in the susception of public officers, whence proceeds the coronation of kings, which gives them not their title, but solemnly proclaims it, which on many accounts is unto the advantage of government, — so it is prescribed unto the church in this case by especial institution. But hereof I shall speak further immediately.
This order of calling men unto the pastoral once, namely, by their previous qualifications for the ministry, whereby a general designation of the persons to be called is made by Christ himself, the orderly choice or election of them in a voluntary subjection unto them in the Lord, according to the mind of Christ, by the church itself, followed with solemn ordination, or setting apart unto the office and discharge of it by prayer with fasting, all in obedience unto the commands and institution of Christ, whereunto the communication of office-power and privilege is by law-constitution annexed, is suited unto the light of reason in all such cases, the nature of gospel societies in order or churches, the ends of the ministry, the power committed by Christ unto the church, and confirmed by apostolical practice and example.
Herein we rest, without any further dispute, or limiting the formal cause of the communication of office-power unto any one act or duty of the church, or of the bishops or elders of it. All the three things mentioned are essential thereunto; and when any of them are utterly neglected, — where they are neither formally nor virtually, — there is no lawful, regular call unto the ministry according to the mind of Christ.
This order was a long time observed in the ancient church inviolate, and the footsteps of it may be traced through all ages of the church, although it first gradually decayed, then was perverted and corrupted, until it issued (as in the Roman church) in a pageant and show, instead of the reality of the things themselves: for the trial and approbation of spiritual endowments, previously necessary unto the call of any, was left unto the pedantic examination of the bishop’s domestics, who knew nothing of them in themselves; the election and approbation of the people was turned into a mock show in the sight of God and men, a deacon calling out that if any had objections against him who was to be ordained, they should come forth and speak, whereunto another cries out of a corner, by compact, 69“He is learned and worthy;” and ordination was esteemed to consist only in the outward sign of imposition of hands, with some other ceremonies annexed thereunto, whereby, without any other consideration, there ensued a flux of power from the ordainers unto the ordained!
But from the beginning it was not so. And some few instances of the right of the people, and the exercise of it in the choice of their own pastors, may be touched on in our passage:—
Clemens, Epist. ad Corinth., affirms that the apostles themselves appointed approved persons unto the office of the ministry, συνευδοκησάσης τῆς ἐκκλησίας πάσης, “by (or with) the consent (or choice) of the whole church.” Συνευδοκεῖν is “to enact by common consent:” which makes it somewhat strange that a learned man should think that the right of the people in election is excluded in this very place by Clemens, from what is assigned unto the apostles in ordination.
Ignatius, Epist. ad Philadelph., cap. x., Πρέπον ἐστὶν ὑμῖν, ὡς ἐκκλησίᾳ Θεοῦ, χειροτονήσαι ἐπίσκοπον, writing to the fraternity of the church, — “It becomes you, as a church of God, to choose or (ordain) a bishop.”
Tertullian, Apol., “Præsident probati quique seniores, honorem istum non pretio, sed testimonio adepti,” — “The elders came unto their honour (or office) by the testimony of the people;” that is, by their suffrage in their election.
Origen, in the close of his last book against Celsus, discoursing expressly of the calling and constitution of churches or cities of God, speaking of the elders and rulers of them, affirms that they are ἐκλεγόμενοι, “chosen to their office” by the churches which they do rule.
The testimony given by Cyprian in sundry places unto this right of the people, especially in Epist. lxvii., unto the elders and people of some churches in Spain, is so known, so frequently urged, and excepted against to so little purpose, as that it is no way needful to insist again upon it. Some few things I shall only observe concerning and out of that epistle; as, —
1. It was not a simple epistle of his own more ordinary occasions, but a determination upon a weighty question, made by a synod of bishops or elders, in whose name, as well as that of Cyprian, it was written and sent unto the churches who had craved their advice.
2. He doth not only assert the right of the people to choose worthy persons to be their bishops, and reject those that are unworthy, but also industriously proves it so to be their right by divine institution and appointment.
3. He declares it to be the sin of the people, if they neglect the use and exercise of their right and power in rejecting and withdrawing themselves from the communion of unworthy pastors, and choosing others in their room.
4. He affirms that this was the practice not only of the churches 70of Africa, but of those in most of the other provinces of the empire. Some passages in his discourse, wherein all these things are asserted, I shall transcribe, in the order wherein they lie in the epistle:—
“Nec sibi plebs blandiatur, quasi immunis esse a contagio delicti possit cum sacerdote peccatore communicans, et ad injustum et illicitum præpositi sui episcopatum consensum suum commodans … Propter quod plebs obsequens præceptis Dominicis et Deum metuens, a peccatore præposito separare se debet, nec se ad sacrilegi sacerdotis sacrificia miscere; quando ipsa maxime habeat potestatem vel eligendi dignos sacerdotes vel indignos recusandi, quod et ipsum videmus de divina authoritate descendere;” — “For this cause the people, obedient to the commands of our Lord and fearing God, ought to separate themselves from a wicked bishop, nor mix themselves with the worship of a sacrilegious priest; for they principally have the power of choosing the worthy priests and rejecting the unworthy, which comes from divine authority (or appointment),” as he proves from the Old and New Testament. Nothing can be spoken more fully representing the truth which we plead for. He assigns unto the people a right and power of separating from unworthy pastors, of rejecting or deposing them, and that granted to them by divine authority.
And this power of election in the people he proves from the apostolical practice before insisted on: “Quod postea secundum divina magisteria observatur in Actis Apostolorum, quando in ordinando in locum Judæ apostolo, Petrus ad plebem loquitur. ‘Surrexit,’ inquit, ‘Petrus in medio discentium, fuit autem turba hominum forte centum viginti.’ Nec hoc in episcoporum tantum et sacerdotum, sed in diaconorum ordinationibus observasse apostolos animadvertimus de quo et ipso in actis eorum scriptum est. ‘Et convocarunt,’ inquit, ‘illi duodecim totam plebem discipulorum, et dixerunt eis,’ ” etc.; — “According unto the divine commands, the same course was observed in the Acts of the Apostles;” whereof he gives instances in the election of Matthias, Acts i., and of the deacons, chap. vi.
And afterward, speaking of ordination “de universæ fraternitatis suffragio,” “by the suffrage of the whole brotherhood of the church,” he says, “Diligenter de traditione divina, et apostolica observatione servandum estet tenendum apud nos quoque et fere per universas provincias tenetur;” — “According to which divine tradition and apostolical practice, this custom is to be preserved and kept amongst us also, as it is almost through all the provinces.”
Those who are not moved with his authority, yet I think have reason to believe him in a matter of fact of what was done everywhere, or almost everywhere, in his own days; and they may take time to answer his reasons when they can, which comprise the substance of all that we plead in this case.
71But the testimonies in following ages given unto this right and power of the people in choosing their own church-officers, bishops and others, recorded in the decrees of councils, the writings of the learned men in them, the rescripts of popes, and constitutions of emperors, are so fully and faithfully collected by Blondellus, in the third part of his apology for the judgment of Jerome about episcopacy, as that nothing can be added unto his diligence, nor is there any need of further confirmation of the truth in this behalf.
The pretence also of Bellarmine, and others who follow him and borrow their conceits from him, that this liberty of the people in choosing their own bishops and pastors was granted unto them at first by way of indulgence or connivance, and that, being abused by them and turned into disorder, it was gradually taken from them, until it issued in that shameful mocking of God and man which is in use in the Roman church, when, at the ordination of a bishop or priest, one deacon makes a demand, “Whether the person to be ordained be approved by the people,” and another answers out of a corner, “That the people approve him,” has been so confuted by protestant writers of all sorts, that it is needless to insist any longer on them.
Indeed, the concessions that are made, that this ancient practice of the church in the people’s choosing their own officers (which to deny is all one as to deny that the sun gives light at noon-day), is, as unto its right, by various degrees transferred unto popes, patrons, and bishops, with a representation in a mere pageantry of the people’s liberty to make objections against them that are to be ordained, are as fair a concession of the gradual apostasy of churches from their original order and constitution as need be desired.
This power and right which we assign unto the people is not to act itself only in a subsequent consent unto one that is ordained, in the acceptance of him to be their bishop or pastor. How far that may salve the defect and disorder of the omission of previous election, and so preserve the essence of the ministerial call, I do not now inquire. But that which we plead for is the power and right of election, to be exercised previously unto the solemn ordination or setting apart of any unto the pastoral office, communicative of office-power in its own kind unto the person chosen.
This is part of that contest which for sundry ages filled most countries of Europe with broils and disorders; neither is there yet an end put unto it. But in this present discourse we are not in the least concerned in these things; for our inquiry is, what state and order of church-affairs is declared and represented to us in the Scripture; and therein there is not the least intimation of any of those things from whence this controversy did arise and whereon it doth depend. Secular endowments, jurisdictions, investiture, rights of 72presentation, and the like, with respect unto the evangelical pastoral office and its exercise in any place, which are the subjects of these contests, are foreign unto all things that are directed in the Scriptures concerning them, nor can be reduced unto any thing that belongs unto them. Wherefore, whether this “jus patronatus” be consistent with gospel institutions; whether it may be continued with respect unto lands, tithes, and benefices; or how it may be reconciled unto the right of the people in the choice of their own ecclesiastical officers, from the different acts, objects, and ends required unto the one and the other, — are things not of our present consideration.
And this we affirm to be agreeable unto natural reason and equity, to the nature of churches in their institution and ends, to all authority and office- power in the church necessary unto its edification, with the security of the consciences of the officers themselves and the preservation of due respect and obedience unto them, and constituted by the institution of Christ himself in his apostles and the practice of the primitive church. Wherefore, the utter despoiling of the church, of the disciples, of those gathered in church-societies by his authority and command, of this right and liberty, may be esteemed a sacrilege of a higher nature than sundry other things which are reproached as criminal under that name.
And if any shall yet further appear to justify this deprivation of the right laid claim unto, and the exclusion of the people from their ancient possession, with sobriety of argument and reason, the whole cause may be yet further debated, from principles of natural light and equity, from maxims of law and policy, from the necessity of the ends of church-order and power, from the moral impossibility of any other way of the conveyance of ecclesiastical office-power, as well as from evangelical institution and the practice of the first churches.
It will be objected, I know, that the restoration of this liberty unto the people will overthrow that jus patronatus, or right of presenting unto livings and preferments which is established by law in this nation, and so, under a pretence of restoring unto the people their right in common, destroy other men’s undoubted rights in their own enclosures.
IV. But this election of the church doth not actually and immediately instate the person chosen in the office whereunto he is chosen, nor give actual right unto its exercise. It is required, moreover, that he be solemnly set apart unto his office in and by the church with fasting and prayer. That there should be some kind of peculiar prayer in the dedication of any unto the office of the ministry is a notion that could never be obliterated in the minds of men concerned in these things, nor cast out of their practice. Of what sort they have been amongst many we do not now inquire. But there hath been less regard unto the other duty, namely, that these prayers should 73be accompanied with fasting; but this also is necessary by virtue of apostolical example, Acts xiv. 23.
The conduct of this work belongs unto the elders or officers of the church wherein any one is to be so ordained. It did belong unto extraordinary officers whilst they were continued in the church, and upon the cessation of their office it is devolved on the ordinary stated officers of the church. It is so, I say, in case there be any such officer before fixed in the church whereunto any one is to be only ordained; and in case there be none, the assistance of pastors or elders of other churches may and ought to be desired unto the conduct and regulation of the duty.
It is needless to inquire what is the authoritative influence of this ordination into the communication of office or office-power, whilst it is acknowledged to be indispensably necessary, and to belong essentially unto the call unto office; for when sundry duties, as these of election and ordination, are required unto the same end, by virtue of divine institution, it is not for me to determine what is the peculiar efficacy of the one or the other, seeing neither of them without the other hath any at all.
Hereunto is added, as an external adjunct, imposition of hands, significant of the persons so called to office in and unto the church; for although it will be difficultly proved that the use of this ceremony was designed unto continuance, after a cessation of the communication of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, whereof it was the sign and outward means in extraordinary officers, yet we do freely grant it unto the ordinary officers of the church, provided that there be no apprehension of its being the sole authoritative conveyance of a successive flux of office-power, which is destructive of the whole nature of the institution.
And this may at present suffice, as unto the call of meet persons unto the pastoral office; and, consequently, any other office in the church. The things following are essentially necessary unto it, so as that authority and right to feed and rule in the church in the name of Christ, as an officer of his house, may be given unto any one thereby, by virtue of his law and the charter granted by him unto the church itself. The first, is, That antecedently unto any actings of the church towards such a person with respect unto office, he be furnished by the Lord Christ himself with graces, and gifts, and abilities, for the discharge of the office whereunto he is to be called. This divine designation of the person to be called rests on the kingly office and care of Christ towards his church. Where this is wholly wanting, it is not in the power of any church under heaven, by virtue of any outward order or act, to communicate pastoral or ministerial power unto any person whatever. Secondly, There is to be an exploration or trial of those gifts and abilities as unto their 74accommodation unto the edification of that church whereunto any person is to be ordained a pastor or minister. But although the right of judging herein doth belong unto and reside in the church itself (for who else is able to judge for them, or is intrusted so to do?), yet is it their wisdom and duty to desire the assistance and guidance of those who are approved in the discharge of their office in other churches. Thirdly, The first act of power committed unto the church by Jesus Christ, for the constitution of ordinary officers in it, is that election of a person qualified and tried unto his office which we have now vindicated. Fourthly, There is required hereunto the solemn ordination, inauguration, dedication, or setting apart, of the person so chosen, by the presbytery of the church, with fasting and prayer and the outward sign of the imposition of hands.
This is that order which the rule of the Scripture, the example of the first churches, and the nature of the things themselves, direct unto; and although I will not say that a defect in any of these, especially if it be from unavoidable hindrances, doth disannul the call of a person to the pastoral office, yet I must say that where they are not all duly attended unto, the institution of Christ is neglected, and the order of the church infringed. Wherefore, —
The plea of the communication of all authority for office, and of office itself, solely by a flux of power from the first ordainers, through the hands of their pretended successors in all ages, under all the innumerable miscarriages whereunto they are subject, and have actually fallen into, without any respect unto the consent or call of the churches, by rules, laws, and orders foreign to the Scripture, is contrary to the whole nature of evangelical churches and all the ends of their institution, as shall be manifested, if it be needful.
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