Eph. iv. 7-11.
I should feel tonight that my subject was dry indeed and promised little profit to souls, if we had only to look at gifts and offices in themselves. It is thus that the subject is often regarded, and is therefore apt to become not only a barren speculative question for some souls, but also a snare to others - barren to such as, looking upon it from outside think that they at least have nothing to do with gifts and offices, and a snare perhaps as often to those who conclude that they themselves are especially, if not exclusively, concerned in them. The truth is, these spiritual functions closely and materially affect both Christ and the church of God. Attached to Christ as their source, they (at any rate gifts) flow down from the same reservoir of rich grace on high, whence all the main characteristic blessings of the church proceed. They proceed from Him in heavenly places, and therein is the true answer to much., the greater part, of the aversion some feel to the subject, as if ministerial gifts were only a means of giving importance to their possessors. It would be hard to think that such a turn can be anything but a gross perversion of what comes from Christ or heaven. In truth they are of the deepest moment in God's eyes, as He deigns to use them for the glory of His Son; and surely the consideration of the light that scripture affords should be precious to those whose joy as well as responsibility it is to profit by them; and not least to those who have personally and most jealously to watch how the gift of Christ's grace is used, lest it should be diverted from the object for which the Lord gave it to some selfish or worldly account. It is evident, I think, that simply to state the source is, in the principle of it, to cut off all excuse for the earthly aggrandizement, in various forms, which the Lord's gifts are too commonly made to serve.
But then there is another remark to be made. Not only do these gifts of Christ spring from Him in heaven, and therefore must, if anything can, refuse to mingle with the vanity of the world and the pride of man (I speak, of course, of the gift itself, and not of the flesh's perversion of it); but besides there is another feature of these gifts, which is of immense interest to us as believers in the Lord Jesus. They are essentially bound up with Christianity, not on the contemplative side, but in what is equally needful, its active and aggressive character. But whether you look at the source or the character, all is founded on an eternal redemption that is already accomplished. The more these considerations are weighed, the more their importance will appear; the more also, it seems to me, the subject of the gifts of Christ will be seen to be entirely above that earthly and barren domain to which theology at least would consign it.
Further, is there not a wrong done to God and His saints, wherever that which the Lord deigned to make known to us in His word-that which constitutes, rightly applied, so essential a part of the blessing of the church-is viewed as but a secondary matter that can be taken up or laid aside at will? In point of fact, such indifference to His truth is deep dishonour done to Him, and a corresponding loss invariably to the souls of the saints who thus slight His will. It must be evident, if it were only from the scripture just read, that the Holy Ghost does not in any way banish the subject of gifts into some dark corner, if such there can be in the scriptures -whence we may, if we please, draw it forth from time to time, and wield it to the best account of our party. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, where the Holy Ghost has shown both heights and depths of blessing in Christ and in the church -in the very centre where He shows us too the Lord Himself in His own glory at the right hand of God-it is there beyond almost any other part of the New Testament, that we find the Spirit launching out into an account of the gifts of the Lord to the church.
But, observe, I say the 11 gifts of the Lord," because so it is that they are regarded here, rather than gifts of at Spirit. Indeed it would be difficult to find such an expression in scripture. There is a passage which seems to say as much in. Heb. ii; but it is properly "the distributions of the Holy Ghost." You will find also in 1 Cor. xii. that wisdom, knowledge, and the rest are said to be given by "the same Spirit." But still, in these things, the Holy Ghost, properly speaking, is not regarded as the giver, save mediately. The Lord is the real and proper giver; the Spirit of God is rather the intermediate. means of conveying the gift, distributing or making it good,-the energy by which the Lord acts. And I conceive it to be of moment, practically, that we should see that the gifts which are used to call out and build up the church, and which are the only true basis of ministry, take their rise from Christ Himself.
Ministry then may be defined to be the exercise of gift, and therefore it is evident that these gifts of grace are bound up with it in the most intimate manner. There can be no ministry of the word (properly speaking) without gift by the Spirit from Christ.
But let us look for a moment at the development which the Holy Ghost gives to the truth that these gifts flow from Christ. " Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." It is not a bare question of qualities possessed ; still less is it merely a matter of attainment, let it be ever so well meant to give honour to the Holy Ghost. It is a new thing given, the positive consequence of grace; it is the fruit of the free favour of the Lord, who in these things acts according to His own sovereign will and for the glory of God.
"And unto every one [or each] of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, [taking up Psalm lxviii.] 'When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.'"Although the Lord Jesus was in His person, one need hardly say, competent at all times, still He was pleased, in the order of the ways of God, to wait for the great work to be done-and done too, not merely as regarded man in divine mercy towards him, but in view of the enemy who was to be dealt with; the power must be broken that had led captive the children of God. Hence the spiritual enemies were first disposed of, and the Lord is accordingly represented here as ascending up to heaven on the defeat, the total defeat before God, of all the once mighty unseen power of evil. Upon this foundation ministry is built The Lord Jesus goes up into heaven. He has Himself confronted and defeated the powers of darkness. He has led captivity captive; and thereon "He gave gifts to men." How completely the door for man's energy and ambition is closed! How carefully God-alone able to teach us on this subject, and in His revealed word having, in fact, given us the perfect truth - shows us the Lord Jesus, from first to last, the one means of good to us, and glory to God the Father by the Holy Ghost I Do you view Him only as Saviour and Lord? The truth is, there is not a single seed of the Church's blessing, there is not a means of acting upon the souls of ourselves or of others, that is not, every whit of it, connected with Christ. Where we have not apprehended this vital all-embracing connexion with Him, and where that which assumes to be ministry, for instance, does not flow from Him only, it is clear there is a something not to be held fast, but on the contrary to be got rid of ; an object not to be fought for as if it were a prize, but to be suspected as contraband, brought into the light of God, and judged in His presence. For whose ministry is it if it be not of the Lord Christ? and for what are we contending if it be not for the gifts of Christ?
The Lord then is ascended on high, and from that height of bliss and glory He has given gifts to men, and the Spirit of God carefully turns aside for a little, and puts us in the very presence of the mighty work on the ground of which Christ took His seat there. 0 Now that he ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?" What grace in Him I What infinite love to us, that He might bless us-eternally bless us I He had, with the Father and the Spirit, a divine co-equal right to that place of supreme majesty. They alone were competent to fill it. But He descended first into the lower parts of the earth. He had the highest place above, if I may say so, naturally and intrinsically. It belonged to Him as the Son of God, who counted it not robbery to be equal with God; but He deigned to be made flesh; for, as a part of the counsels of God, it was needful that He should be man. Without the incarnation there could have been no retrieving of the universal ruin of man, and of the dishonour of God through sin; there could have been neither defeat of Satan, nor an adequate and righteous deliverance for man. But now He descends first into the lower parts of the earth. He takes upon Him the sorrow, the champ, the sin. To have condescended to become man, and to live as He lived rejected and abased on earth, would have been much; but what is this to the cross? He went down to the very uttermost, and in consequence of this humiliation, He is now as man exalted to the highest. In His death He retrieved all that was rained-indeed, I may say, infinitely more. He "restored that which he took not away." He brought a new and better glory to God than had ever been thought or even prophesied of in any respect; for I fear not to say that, as all types and shadows are but the feeble heralds of His glory, so too there is, there could be, no prediction rising up to the height of blessing that was found in Christ, nor fathoming the depth of His moral glory in the sight of God. Himself was needed to come forth Himself needed that the full worth of His sufferings and cross might be known. Before that there could be no sufficient expression of His glory. It was out of this descent into the lower parts of the earth that He went up - out of this thorough coming down by Him who was as truly God as man, in the very nature which before had borne such fruits of shame and disgrace to God.
But what a change! Humanity is a nature in which the blessed God could delight, as He looked upon it in the Lord Jesus. Now too He ascends; and this, not as He came down; for, descending simply as the Son of God to become the Son of man, He goes up, not the Son of God only, but also the Son of man. Indeed, it is especially in this very character of man that we find Him seated in heaven now. "He ascended up," as it is said, "far above all heavens, that He might fill all things." On this magnificent ground, whether one looks at the humiliation on the one hand, or at the exaltation on the other-on this twofold ground of a height of glory, consequent on a depth of abasement beyond all thought, is founded that ministry which is according to God, being the simple exercise of the gift of Christ. And yet could it be credited, if one did not know it that there are men, and Christians too, who can look upon such a scene unmoved, if not moved only to spite and sneer and reproach ? But it must be so. To work thus belongs to Him whom the world knew not. No wonder therefore that it recognizes not &he gifts of His grace. Whatever can be made to merge into the world's greatness, whatever can be altered to suit the age's taste, the world can admire. Even Christianity and the name of Christ-perverted, no doubt, and regarded only in some partial way-may be adopted. Why even the heathen were willing to do it! There was an emperor, as probably many of you know, who would have been glad to put the Lord Jesus as a god in the Pantheon. And so it is now. Has not Christendom something akin for its success ? It has taken up piecemeal this institution and that; it has made them the means of adorning the scene into which God "drove out the man," exiled by Him because of sin.
But we who believe are assuredly entitled to look above this world, and there to see, higher than all heavens, our Lord and Master. And what is He doing there? What is His present occupation, according to that which the Spirit of God tells us here? He is giving gifts unto men. Let us bless Him for it! He (Himself a man, for so it is that He has taken this place) is giving gifts unto men. From on high He looks round about upon this world, and His grace makes man to be the vessel of these precious gifts, which savour not only of the person who is there, and of the work He has done, but also of the glory from which He gives them. They are heavenly gifts. They will not, if He be consulted, conform to the world's thought or measure; nor were they ever intended to serve the world but the Lord Jesus, though surely for His sake serving any and every body.
Let us take care then that we truly are subject to Him in whom we believe. And let us beware of the evil heart of unbelief, lest we treat a word of His lightly. Let us remember how easy it is pretending to honour His word, to let it slip away from us, counting it something of the past-no doubt to look back on it with reverential awe, but still as a thing gone by. Is this the living word of a God that lives for ever and ever? Are you going to treat the Head of the church as if He were dead? Nay, He never was dead as the church's Head. Indeed! He only took that Headship as One alive again from the grave, and so giving life ; He only took it when both raised from the dead, and gone up to heaven : and yet men act as if the Head of the church were a dead and not a living Lord! And if He is thus living, what is it for? Is it merely as High Priest, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, to bring His people through the wilderness ? There is some tendency in Christians to overlook the priesthood of Christ; but there is a far greater danger of their forgetting Christ as the living Head, who still stands at the fountain-head of blessing, ever in faithful love giving His gifts to man. No doubt it is all summed up as if it were a given thing here - "He gave ;" and there is a very interesting reason for such a way of presenting His gifts. Assuredly the Lord would not Himself put the gifts of His grace in such a form as to interfere with the church's constant hope of His own return. On the contrary, He would fix the church in the attitude of expecting Himself from heaven. Accordingly not even the supply of ministerial gift is so put as to defer the fulfilment of the " blessed hope " from age to age. On high is the Head of the church, and as Head it is part of His work to vouchsafe all needed gifts for men.
Here then is the whole scene of His grace summed up in one- the Lord gave gifts to men; "and He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evengelists, and -some pastors and teachers." We have not a catalogue of all the gifts. It is not at all in the manner of scripture or of the Lord to furnish a mere formal list ; for the truth is not written in the word of God so as to satisfy human curiosity or form a system of divinity. What is done is infinitely better. He has given us exactly what suited His wisdom in each particular part of scripture. Hence if we compare., for instance, what we have here with the first Epistle to the Corinthians, we shall find .striking differences. There are some gifts found here, not there; and some found there which are not here. Now this is not a thing of chance, nor a matter in which the apostle used merely his own judgment and decided things after his own mind. Nobody denies that his heart and mind were deeply exercised. God forbid! But we may bless God that there was an infinitely wise mind directing all things, and that there was a judgment which knew the end from the beginning. We shall find, accordingly, that the apostle mentions these gifts according to that divine intelligence. Indeed, the reason of it, to some extent, may appear as we proceed.
First of all, the gifts () here enumerated are in view of the perfecting of the saints, which is the great primary object, branching out into the work of the ministry, and the edifying the body of Christ, as connected with it. Now, there, at once, may be discerned the key, or divine reason for presenting here certain gifts and not others. Here we have nothing, for instance, about speaking in a tongue; neither have we any mention of miracles. Why so? What have they to do with the perfecting the saints? The reason seems to me clear and adequate. Those gifts for signs were of all consequence in their place; but how could a tongue or a miracle perfect a saint? We see, in the first Epistle to the Corinthians, that, instead of perfecting, they on the contrary became a very great snare for the saints. No doubt the Corinthians were carnal, and therefore they were like children amused with a new toy -with that which was, indeed, an engine of power. And we know how great a danger this is, just in proportion to our unspirituality. We have the very solemn lesson, that even the greatest powers and most astounding manifestations of the Holy Ghost in man cannot give spirituality, and do not minister to the edification of the saints necessarily in any way; but, if there be a carnal mind, they become a positive means of the soul exalting itself, turning away from the Lord, losing its balance, and bringing discredit upon that which bears the name of Christ on the earth. In this Epistle, however, God is occupied with His counsels of grace in Christ for the church, beginning primarily with the saints as such. He always takes up the question of individuals before He deals with the church. And how blessed and wise is this! He does not begin with the body of Christ, and then end with the perfection of the saints. This would be, very likely, our thought, but it is very far from His. He first puts forward the perfecting of the saints, and then shows us the work of the ministry, and the edifying the body of Christ Thus, the true explanation of the passage is, that it is the development of Christ's love to the Church. His eye is fixed upon the blessing of souls. It is Christ not only gathering in, but building up-causing them to grow up to Him in all things. Accordingly, He gives the gifts which are of grace suited to this end. "He gave some apostles and some prophets."
These are the two gifts which the second chapter of this epistle shows to be at the foundation, we may say, of this new building, the church of God. Thus) in the 20th verse, we read, "They were built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone." Evangelists, evidently, are not the foundation; neither are pastors and teachers; but prophets, as well as apostles, are. And we can easily understand this. We can see that, as God was introducing into the world a wholly new system when He set His Son at His own right hand-a new work of God in the church, so there was a new word which had to accompany this work, whereby He would act upon the saints so as to give them to grow up to the perfecting of His will and the glory of His Son in this unprecedented thing, the church of God. Accordingly then we have the foundation laid, and here not Christ alone. Of course He is, in the greatest and highest sense, the foundation - " Upon this rock I will build my church:" the confession of His own name, His own glory as the Son of the living God, is this unquestionably. But still. as the means not only of revealing the mind of God touching the church, but also particularly of laying down with authority the landmarks of His husbandry in the earth-the church of God, the apostles and prophets were thus used. To distinguish them the former were characterized by an authority in action, the prophets by giving out according to God His mind and will about this great mystery.
It is hardly worth while to disprove the notion that the prophets here refer to the Old Testament. The phrase "apostles and prophets" is strictly limited to those that followed Christ. Had there been the inverse order-prophets and apostles, there might have been some shadow of reason for this idea; but the Spirit of God, in His wisdom, has taken care to exclude the thought. The work spoken of is altogether new. The apostles and prophets seem to be expressly introduced in this order. But in the third chapter a decisive reason is furnished by the Holy Ghost. It -is written in the 5th verse that the mystery of Christ, "which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;" so that we have there with the most perfect clearness riot only the same order AM preserved, but the positive expression "now revealed." The prophets of the Old Testament, therefore, are necessarily excluded. These prophets are of the New Testament as well as the apostles.
But more than this, let me make the remark 'before going farther, that this character of ministry was altogether new. When our Lord was upon earth, no doubt there was more or less preparative action for it. He sent out first twelve apostles; then He sent out seventy to carry a final message to His people. All this was a thing never found in any age previously. It was wholly without precedent. on the earth-an activity of love that went out with a blessing to others. God Himself had not done it; for the solemn word by a prophet, and the secret action of His grace before, are too distinct to be confounded with it. Who had ever seen or heard such a thing as a Man on earth gathering men to Himself first, and sending out from Himself afterwards a message of love. the glad tidings (not yet, of course, in the fulness which was afterwards imparted when the great work of redemption was done, but at any rate the blessed news) of the King on God's part of the kingdom of heaven on the earth? This is what the Lord did on earth : He sent out disciples or apostles with the message of the kingdom. And no doubt it was in man's eyes a strange and to faith a blessed thing, suitable only to Him who had divine grace as well as divine authority, worthy of and reserved for the Lord Jesus here below. But it is remarkable that in Eph. iv. 0 the earthly part of our Lord's action is left completely out, and the gifts here spoken of are beyond controversy dated from the ascension of the Lord, and shown to hinge on it.
Do I mean to deny that the apostles were included-the twelve, or, strictly speaking, the eleven along with the one supplied to fill the place of him that was cut off ? In no wise; but nevertheless their earthly call and mission are quite passed by. We can all understand that the Lord as Messiah might prepare a mission suited to Israel, as I have no doubt that 11 the twelve " had this distinctly as its reference; for the twelve apostles naturally answer to the twelve tribes. The sitting on twelve thrones, spoken of in connexion with them also in Matt. xx., clearly confirms the thought. What hinders these same men afterwards from becoming the vessels of a heavenly gift? Thus we can recognize in the earlier apostles a sort of double relationship. There was a link with Israel which was conferred by the Lord when He was upon earth in the midst of His people, dealing with them; but a new place became theirs when the Lord ascended on high.
But besides the Lord took care to break in upon this Israelitish form and order, and the apostleship of St. Paul becomes an event of cardinal importance in the development of the ways of God, because therein all thought of Jerusalem, all reference to the tribes of Israel, is dropped, and that takes its place which is clearly extraordinary in all its circumstances and heavenly in source and character. More particularly this was plain, that the Lord made manifest what was really true with regard to the others, that they on the day of Pentecost received that gift of apostleship which was suited to the heavenly work which they were afterwards to have, in addition to their previous earthly call and work. Apart from and towering over the twelve stood the apostle Paul, bringing out into the utmost prominence the Principle that his apostolic mission was heavenly thing, entirely and exclusively such as f as he was concerned, Therefore he was the fitted person to say, as it was of course by the Spirit of God that he did say, " Though we have known Chris after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more." The glory of the Messiah on the earth fades away for the time in a deeper and brighter glory, the heavenly glory of Him who is now at the right hand of God. It is the same Christ, the same blessed One, without doubt, but it is not the same glory; and more than this, it is a better and more enduring glory. It is the glory that is suited to the new work of God in His Church, because it is the glory of its Head. "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in him self, and shall straightway glorify him"
Thus, the church being a heavenly body, and Christ Himself, its Head, being in the actual and fullest sense a heavenly person, ministry takes a heavenly shape: and these gifts which flow from Him are its first expression. Hence, then, we have the clear intimation from the scripture before us that these gifts from Christ on high axe heavenly in their character and source.
Another thing also may be noticed by the way. If we take the bestowal of these gifts as dating from the ascension of Christ, where is there room left for the hand of man? Where can you insert that preliminary ceremonial on which tradition lays so much stress? Who ordained the apostles for their heavenly work? Who laid hands upon them, as authoritatively installing them in that high office F You will say that unquestionably the Lord called them when He was here "in the days of His flesh." He did call them for their mission to Israel; and when risen, but still on earth, He charged them to disciple the nations. (Matt. x. xxviii.) But what hands of man did He employ in setting them apart to their proper heavenly work? Will any believer breathe the thought that this was an imperfection in their case? Did the new work of God, based on a dead and risen and ascended Saviour, and carried on by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, want anything for its due commencement? If there is no appearance then of that rite of laying on of hands, which some count not merely desirable, but essential for all that minister from the highest to the lowest grade, how comes this strange omission? Who will venture to impeach the regimen of Christ? Will any zealots for "holy orders," as men speak, affirm or insinuate that the Lord did not know better than they what became His own glory in His chief ministers? Let them beware of their theories and their practice, if either lead them to become "judges of evil thoughts."
In truth, the Lord took care, now that it was a question of a new and heavenly testimony, not absolutely to abolish that ancient sign of blessing, but to break in upon and leave no excuse for the earthly order so easily abused by man. Hence, as if for the purpose of manifesting yet more distinctly the vast change which was come in the case of him who styles himself emphatically " minister of the church" (Col. i), there is no derivation from the twelve apostles that were before him. On the contrary, from His own place in heavenly glory the Lord calls one who was not going up to Jerusalem but rather from it; one who had no connexion with the apostles-nay, so much their enemy, that most stood in doubt of him, after he was arrested by sovereign grace in the midst of his determined systematic hatred of Christianity and persecution of all who bore the name of Jesus. What a proof that not only the conversion of Saul of Tarsus was of the pure and rich mercy of God, but that his apostolate sprang from the same source and bore the same stamp as the salvation which reached him 1 Thenceforward he becomes the characteristic symbol, as he was the most distinct and abundant testimony, of the grace that is now not saving only but choosing vessels and fitting them as instruments for the active blessing of mankind, and especially of the church of God. It was the Lord Jesus at the right hand of God calling and sending an apostle to the church. a chosen vessel unto Himself, to bear His name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel; but first taken out from both Jew and Gentile and then sent to them. (Acts xxvi. 17.)
The same principle embraced the other apostles no doubt: because they on the day of Pentecost were made gifts of grace in the highest degree to the church from the now ascended Lord, its Head But there is fresh and brighter light in the case of Paul, who was not more truly "as one born out of due time," compared with all those that went before, than he furnishes in the strongest colours the unmistakable intimation of the mind and will of the Lord as to the future.
But then it will be objected that after all there was a miracle in Paul's conversion and call, which takes the case out of just application to ordinary ministry. A miracle most striking and significant there was, when the Lord in glory revealed Himself as the Jesus he was persecuting in the members of His body. Notwithstanding it rested mainly on the apostle's testimony; and there were not wanting, even in the church of God and among his own converts, it would seem, those who questioned the apostleship of Paul. His call far from Jerusalem, his isolation from the other apostles, the very fulness of grace manifested toward him, the emphatic heavenly stamp imprinted on his conversion and testimony, all tended to make the case peculiar and irregular and unaccountable, wherever the old earthly order so prevailed as to cast suspicion on any display of the Lord's ways beyond or different from the past. Personally a stranger to the Lord during His manifestation here below, there was no question of his candidateship, like a Joseph or a Matthias, on the ground of his having companied with the twelve from the baptism of John till the ascension. There was no decision by lot in his instance, nor any formal numbering with the twelve. He was a witness of Christ's resurrection no less than the rest, yet it was from no sight of Him after His passion upon earth. He had seen the Lord, but it was in heaven. His was the gospel of the glory of Christ no less than of God's grace. Thus carefully was the great apostle made the witness of non-succession, that is of a ministry direct from the Lord independently of man 1 No doubt the highest expression of that ministry was in Paul, who thenceforward becomes the most illustrious exemplar of its source and character.
Allow me also to put another question. Who ordained the prophets of the New Testament? when and how and by whom were they appointed I who ever heard of hands being laid upon their heads I Search the New Testament through, if you wish the best proof that the notion is unfounded. Let me come to the point at once, and affirm farther, that neither prophets nor any other of these classes were installed of man after that fashion. Here we have apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers: can you show me a single instance among these classes where the individual was called by human authority? Is it denied then that there was such a form of blessing as the laying on of hands in the New Testament? For my part, I accept the fact not only in its apostolic application to the sick and to those who had not yet received the Spirit, but also in its connexion with our subject. The question is as to its scriptural use? Let me ask, When were hands ever laid on any save to confer a gift by the power of the Spirit, or to commend those already gifted to God's grace in a special work, or formally to assign men to the charge of secular work? It is clear, for example, that Philip, along with his six companions, had hands laid upon him; but was it for his work as preaching the gospel? On the contrary, he was one of the seven men chosen 11 to serve the tables," in order that the apostles might not be distracted from prayer and the ministry of the word. "The seven" thereon were ordained to be employed in the external service of the church. Apart from this, the Lord was pleased to send him forth in the proclamation of the word here and there; as an evangelist naturally would be a wanderer, not according to the meaning of the word so much as the exigencies of the work.
Hence, when the persecution about Stephen broke out and scattered those in Jerusalem, Philip had a new task which had nothing to do with his local duties as one of the seven. His diaconal service would station him at Jerusalem, to take care of the poor, for this was the purpose for which he was ordained; whereas his preaching Christ flowed from a gift of that character, not from ordination. In fact as far as the New Testament speaks-and it speaks fully and precisely-no one was ever ordained by man to preach the gospel. Hands were laid by the apostles upon Philip like the rest, after he was chosen by the multitude, and thus he was appointed to take charge of the tables; for the scripture, perhaps because of a certain peculiar state of things at Jerusalem, does not positively give the title of "deacon" in this case, though one does not deny its general justice, for there was something akin in their duties.
It is certain therefore that whether we look at an apostle, or a prophet, or an evangelist, or a pastor and teacher, or either of these last, there was no such ministry instituted for the church, which itself existed not, until after our Lord's ascension; and in none of these cases was there the laying on of hands as the initiatory sign or inauguration of these ministers. All admit the imposition of hands in certain cases, ordinary or exceptional. The exaggeration of clericalism should not hinder the Christian from being perfectly fair in dealing with this and every other question. There is nothing that will dispose of prevalent traditions so readily and conclusively as searching and submitting to scripture. There is full and clear instruction there, the effect of which is to confute all that tends to exalt man and lower Christ, whatever support men may try to extract from the word of God for selfish ends. It is outside the light of inspiration that all these errors live; once let that in, and it will soon be seen that the Holy Ghost is not providing for the worldly honour of man on earth, but for glorifying Christ in heaven.
What, then, is the genuine meaning and scope of Acts xiii.? It has long been the well-known stock passage which theological controversialists are wont to cite for ordination in general. Some insist on it as warranting their "three orders" of bishops, priests, and deacons; others allege it as decisive for parity of ministers, whether Presbyterian or Congregational. The Episcopalian points with triumph to Barnabas and Paul in the first rank; to Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen in the second; and to Mark in the third (as, after the dispute with Barnabas, to Paul, Silas, and Timothy respectively).*
* So Archbishop Potter, in the well-known text-book, "A Discourse on Church Government" (pp. 73, 74), if one may, without unkindness, specify a single defaulter out of the crowd. Yet the Archbishop evidently gave up the passage as bearing on ordination. "It cannot be proved that Paul and Barnabas were ordained at this time to be ministers. If they were ordained to any office or ministry, it must be that of apostles, not only because they are presently after this called apostles, before they received any farther ordination, but also because they were prophets before that time, as shown in one of the preceding chapters [chap. iii.]. But this is very unlikely, because this rite of imposing hands, whereby other ministers were ordained [an assumption of the archbishop's without and against Scripture], was never used in making apostles. It was a distinguishing part of their character that they were immediately called and ordained by Christ Himself, who gave them (nay, bat I the disciples' and not apostles only, John xx.] the Holy Ghost by breathing on them; but neither He nor any other is ever said to lay hands on them. When a place became vacant in the apostolic college by the apostacy of Judas, the apostles, with the rest of the disciples, chose two candidates, but left to God to appoint whether of them He pleased, to take part of the ministry and apostleship, from which Judas fell. Neither was St. Paul inferior to the rest of the apostles in this mark of honour; for he often asserts himself to be an apostle not of men, nor by man, but immediately, and without the intervention of men, to have been appointed by Jesus Christ, in opposition to those who denied him to be an apostle as was shown in one of the former chapters. But then it will be asked for what end Paul and Barnabas received imposition of hands? To which it may be answered, that this rite was commonly use both by the Jews and primitive Christians is benedictions. Jacob put his hands on the heads of Ephraim and Manasseh when he blessed them; and, to mention only one instance more, little children were brought to Christ, that He should put His hands on them and blew them. Accordingly, it is probable this imposition of hands on Paul and Barnabas was a solemn benediction on their ministry of preaching the Gospel in a particular circuit to which they were sent by the Holy Spirit's direction. Hance it is called in the next chapter a recommendation to the grace of God for the work of ministering the Gospel to certain cities, which they are said to have fulfilled. go that this rite was not their ordination to the apostolic office, because the end for which it was given is here said to be fulfilled, wherea's their apostolic office lasted as long as their lives. And therefore, Paul and Barnabas seem only now to have had a particular mission to preach the Gospel in a certain limited district, in the same manner as Peter and John were sent by the college of apostles to Samaria, to confirm the new converts and settle the Church there." - (or the Seventh) Edition, pp. 201, 202.
This is substantially true and sound, far preferable to Calvin's remarks (Inst. Iv., iii. 14): "Why this separation and laying on of hands, after the Holy Spirit had attested their election, unless that ecclesiastical discipline might be preserved in appointing ministers by men ? God could not give a more illustrious proof of His approbation of this order, than by causing Paul to be set apart by the Church, (?] after He had previously declared that He had appointed him to be the Apostle of the Gentiles. The same thing we may sea in the election [?] of Matthias. As the apostolic office was of such importance that they did not venture to appoint any one to it of their own judgment, they bring forward two, on one of whom the lot might fall, that thus the election might have a sure testimony from heaven, and at the same time the policy of the Church [?] might not be disregarded." The truth is, an to the case of Matthias, it was before the mission of the Holy Ghost, and there was no question of the Church's policy or election either; but by the lot the choice between the two was cast, in the Jewish form (Prov. xvi. 33), into the sole disposal of the Lord.
Only examine the passage, and the more closely you do so, the better will you be enabled to judge how little it countenances, how strongly it condemns, every scheme of ordination which men attempt to base upon it.
In the church that was at Antioch there were, it is said, "certain prophets end teachers, as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch and Saul." That is, we have these five prophets and teachers, while engaged in serving the Lord with fasting, made the object of an important communication from the Holy Ghost inspecting two of their number. 11 Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." Barnabas had been for years actively engaged in the work of the Lord; and so had Saul of Tarsus ever since his conversion. Not only was he set apart in the providential purpose of God before his birth, as we see in Galatians i,, but he was called by the grace of God from the time when he was struck down on the way to Damascus. But the Spirit of God now separates him to a special mission. It is clear that this is not an announcement of the ministerial call of either Barnabas or Saul: scripture is arrayed against scripture by all who say so. The previous part of the Acts proves that Barnabas was long blessed in the ministry of the word within and without, and that Saul especially was bold and mighty in the work. The latter, indeed, from the first, brought out the Sonship of Christ in a way which we have no reason to believe any other had done up to that time, as we learn from that very chapter which gives us his conversion. The notion therefore that ordination was the question in Acts xiii. is most manifestly false.
But how comes it that the theologians fail to notice that their determination to see ordination here destroys their respective systems, as well as contradicts other scriptures? Who was it ordained Paul and Barnabas, and to what? These are called apostles in the very next chapter (xiv. 4); and hence evidently the notion of ordaining Paul and Barnabas is quite unfounded, unless those whom God has set second and third in the church can ordain the first. (I Cor. xii. 28.) Again, the truth is that there is not the smallest reason to call Mark a deacon at that time. He accompanied them as their "minister" (probably to get lodgings, to invite people to come and hear the word, and in general to serve them on their missionary tour); but, as for his being their chaplain, it is mere illusion. John Mark preaching to Paul and Barnabas 1 The truth is that he then turned out an indifferent help in the work, because he soon tired and went home to his friends. However this only by the way.
But it is transparent, that those who turn the account into the ordination of Paul and Barnabas involve the consequence that it is actually the inferior class conferring the highest ministerial rank upon them! If they were not apostles before, they have nothing to allege in support of the dignity but the sandy foundation that the act of laying on of hands upon them at Antioch conferred the apostolate! In this case it was an equal, if not a lower grade, giving a higher rank to those above themselves. Thus, it is evident that the notion is altogether unfounded.
Is it insinuated then that there was no meaning or value in this laying on of hands ? That would be indeed to treat the word of God unwarrantably. It was a solemn and precious act of fellowship with these honoured servants of Christ. It was an act not only valid then but valid now. Bat there was no pretence of conferring anything whatever. The real drift of the transaction is expressed in chap. xiv. 26. It is said, that they "sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled." Such was the aim of the laying on of hands by their companions in labour at Antioch; for it may not have been the brethren generally, but only those engaged in the work, and I wish to make every concession that is fair to those who desire to draw the utmost from the passage. But the meaning of the act is neither more nor less than a sign of blessing, or of fellowship with those going forth on their new missionary errand. It was probably repeated. (See Acts xv. 40.)
The laying on of hands was of the most ancient date in the Old Testament. Thus Genesis gives it in the case of a father or grandfather laying his hands on the children; and so in the New Testament we have the frequent use of it where there was no pretence of conferring any ministerial chameter. It was a sign of recommendation to God by one who was conscious of being so near to God that be could count upon His blessing. The Lord takes up little children, lays His hands upon them, and blesses them; and so with the sick too when healing some. It was not at all a question of ecclesiastical order in these instances. No doubt there were cases where hands were laid on for the purpose of inaugurating an office.
It is often thought that the same rite was used in instituting elders, as in Acts xiv. 22, 23, where the apostles Barnabas and Paul were "confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must, through much tribulation, enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed." But this is an assumption. It is not exactly said here or anywhere else that hands were laid upon the presbyters. This silence, if the fact were so , is remarkable. It may have been probably the case; but scripture takes care never to say it. We have the statement that hands were laid upon deacons. We know that an elder was a much more important personage in the church than a deacon. People may reason and speculate; but I have no doubt that the Spirit of God, seeing the superstition that was attached to the form of laying on of hands, took care never to connect the two things together in a positive manner The passage which some conceive does so is in the first Epistle to Timothy (v. 22), where Paul tells him to "lay hands suddenly on no man." But the object of this is too vague for a sure conclusion, the connexion being by no means certain. There is no allusion to elders expressly after verses 17-19. Thus in the 21st verse we read, "I charge thee before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things, without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality." How can one suppose elders in particular referred to there ? I see a general description of his work in verses 20, 21, after which comes the exhortation on which so much has been built--" Lay bands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins." It is possible that there may be included in this an allusion to the danger of haste and carelessness in accrediting an elder, but the language is so comprehensive as to take in, it seems to me, every me which might call for the imposition of hands.*
* Dr. Ellicott goes so far as to think with Hammond, as well as De Wette, &c., that the words refer to the Xetpo Otaia on the absolution of penitents and their re-admission to church-fellowahip This seems to me too special in another direction.
But supposing that it did certainly refer to elders and that hands were laid on these functionaries as well as on deacons, the important and undeniable fact in scripture is, that elders were never ordained except by persons duly authorized, who had a real commission from the Lord for the purpose. Now many may imagine that this is a concession fatal to the free recognition and exercise of gifts. They may think it yet more strange to find that those who contend for the largeness of the action of the Holy Ghost lay the utmost stress upon a divine commission and a definite authority. But be assured that the two things go together, where they are held according to God. None will be found to be more tenacious of godly order than the very persons who plead most for the rights of the Holy Ghost in the church. My assertion is, that in this very matter of ordination Christendom has missed God's mind and will, and is ignorantly but not without sin fighting for an order of its own, which is mere disorder before God. If scripture is to decide, the common plan of ordination for all who minister to those without and within is a departure from the order of God prescribed in His word.
Undoubtedly in the case of "the seven" (Acts vi.) you do find apostolic appointment. The great point in this case was, that there the congregation elected and the apostles solemnly appointed. But it was no more than the congregation choosing fit persons to take care of their poor, &c. Nothing could be more proper. It shows the condescending goodness of God towards those who gave of their substance and those who received it. If the church contribute, it is according to His will that the Church should have a voice in the selection of those in whom they have just confidence that they will distribute in God's sight not only with good conscience and feeling but wisely. Thus one sees here a conspicuous instance of God's wise and gracious care. The multitude chose such men as they deemed most suited to the exigency. But even here the mere choice of the believers did not give them that place in itself ; for if all chose, none but the apostles appointed them over the business, secular as it was.
The principle tells in a directly opposite way with regard to the elders, and yet more as to the ministerial gifts of Christ. We have no such thought expressed as a congregation choosing elders--never in any part of scripture. On the contrary we have the fact that the apostles went about; and where assemblies were already formed, in which were persons possessed of certain spiritual and moral qualifications which pointed them out to their spiritual and experienced eyes as suitable for eldership, such they chose. Among these antecedents those who desired the office must be persons of good report, and who, if married, had only one wife.. There were many individuals brought to the faith of Christ in those days who had several wives. This was a scandal and sure to be felt the more as Christian truth spread. Such a direction showed what was in the mind of God. One could not rightly refuse the confession of a man who had two or three wives, if he were converted; but he must not expect to become an older or bishop; be could not be a suitable local representative of the church of God.
Again take the case of a man who had children brought up badly. Perhaps this neglect may have been before he was converted; perhaps after conversion he may have entertained the evil notion of leaving the children to themselves on the faithless plea that God, if He saw fit, would convert them some time or other. Such mistakes have been made, and miserable have been the results. Whatever the cause of an unruly house, its head could not be a bishop. No matter what might be his spiritual gifts, they could not countervail ; no such man could be charged with the oversight of God's assembly. For such an office it was not so much a question of gifts as of moral weight. A man might be a prophet, a teacher, an evangelist-his disorderly wife or children would not nullify his gifts; but he ought not to be made an elder, unless he brought up his children with godliness and gravity, and himself walked with a good report among those without.
Thus the Lord stringently required in such an official these moral qualifications as -well as spiritual capacity for his work. Even if one possessed all these things, lie was not an elder because he had them unless duly authorized. He needed to be ordained; be must have a legitimate appointment besides. And in what did this consist ? Manifestly the whole value turns upon a valid appointing power. In what consisted that competent authority ? Are we to set up or to imagine one ? It must be according to the Lord and His word. Now the Scripture allows of no valid appointing power except an apostle or an envoy who had from an apostle a special commission for the purpose.
Where is there such a delegate now that can produce an adequate (that is, an apostolic) commission for the work of ordaining? You never saw, neither do I ever expect to see, the like. The fact is, that the word of God nowhere hints at the continuance of an ordaining power. It demonstrates in the most explicit manner that, after the Lord set up churches here and there, when He established local functionaries in each church, apostolic appointment or choice and this only was what He stamped with His approval. The requisite qualifications are clearly laid down; but the fact is equally clear that none but an apostle or an apostolic delegate was warranted to nominate the elders to their office, and not a word about perpetuating that power of appointment after the apostles left the earth. We have an apostle writing, not to the church or churches to choose elders, but to one who was specially charged to do this task. Yet even to Titus there is not a word about another continuing the task; nay, not a hint that Titus himself was to continue it after the apostle was dead. Neither was Titus authorized to appoint where he pleased, but the apostle assigns him the sphere of his commission. Being a special envoy of the apostle, Titus was doubtless a teacher and preacher. But here there was a definite region where he had the duty Of Ordaining elders in every city. Titus was responsible to do this in Crete; but nothing is said of the establishment of elders elsewhere or at other times nor of his permanent continuance there. On the contrary-and this would be a strange direction for a diocesan-he was to be diligent to come to the apostle at Nicopolis. He was not to be left at Crete.
It is evident that such directions as these from the apostle to Titus afford no warrant for others to appoint elders now. This is pure assumption, whereas all depends on a valid authority. Titus was apostolically commissioned and could produce an inspired letter of instructions to him personally. Who can today do anything analogous ? " It must be so " is a poor and vain reason to him who respects due authority. It is easy to settle matters after a sort where this is allowed to pass; but, beloved friends, we want the word of God. Let me ask for a plain answer to the question, Do you believe that the word is perfect? Do you doubt whether the Lord, who cares for His own order in the church, did or did not foresee all the need and difficulty? Do you insinuate that He forgot anything of real value to us now ? Do you suppose that He omitted to take into account the death of the apostles ? He did nothing of the kind. The apostle speaks distinctly of his death (and more than one apostle too). He speaks of perilous times and the importance of scripture after he was gone; but not a thought about a line of successors to appoint afterwards, not a hint about bequeathing his powers in this case. To you who are commended to God and the word of His grace, to you who tremble at His word, is that silence nothing ? To my own mind it is a fact not more surprising at the first blush than increasingly pregnant with meaning the more it is weighed.
Popery, despising this fact, assumes the contrary from human reason and is built upon this contrariety. Not that one cares to denounce any one system in Particular by name, save only to bring out the truth which shows the will of the Lord and proves the evil by the good. In truth every earthly system no matter how opposed it may become to the word of God, begins by adding something of its own to that word. The power of ordination attaches not to bishops but to apostles and their delegates, The moment you allow men the principle of development after the scripture canon closed, the moment you clothe with apostolic authority a body of officials who never were authorized divinely for the work undertaken, you are off the ground of faith in and deference to the word of God. The present practice has not the smallest foundation in scripture.
Indeed one may safely go farther and affirm not only that the ordination, of which people talk so much, before preaching and teaching Christ, is not a thing to be coveted in the present shape in which it is found among men, but that it is now a disorderly institution, a grievous dishonour to the Lord who gives ministerial gifts by the Spirit. In short it is a mere and sorry imitation of what is recorded in the word of God. Examine well, and you will soon find it does not even resemble what we read of them God's word remains true, sure, and plain: only there once was a positive personal commission, armed with a certain apostolic authority either direct or indirect; and this you ought to have if you pretend to ordain elders as Titus did.
Permit me now to press another question. Which is the most scriptural course-to do what was always becoming in a Christian, or to copy an apostolic delegate? Which commends itself most to your conscience, to your heart, to your faith? We will suppose now in this place an assembly of God's children. They see in the word of God that beside the common privileges and duties of all saints, there were certain gifts for ministry, and that there were also certain offices which needed an apostle or his representative to fill them up. They would like to have them all of course; but what is to be done 7 Are they to neglect what was written to the assembly at Corinth or to the saints at Ephesus, and to ape what was not written to the church but to Timothy or Titus? Would it not be humbler to consult the word of God and inquire of Him, that they might learn what is His will concerning this matter? What do we see there? That as to the gifts of Christ they never required any sanction here below before their exercise; nay, they never admitted of human intervention. The only exception is where there was a positive power of the Holy Ghost conveyed by the laying on of the apostles hands. Fully do I admit that there was an exception in such circumstances. Timothy was designated by prophecies beforehand for the work to which the Lord called him. (Compare Acts xiii. 1, 2.) Guided by prophecy (1 Tim. iv. 14; 2 Tim. i. 6), the apostle lays his hands upon Timothy and conveys to him a direct power () by the Holy Ghost, suited to this special service he had to accomplish. Along with the apostle, the elders who were in the place joined in the laying on of their bands. But there is a difference in the expression the Spirit of God employs, which shows that the communication of the gift depended for effective agency not in any way on the elders but only the apostle. The particle of association () appears where the presbytery are spoken of, that of instrumental means* () where the apostle speaks of himself. It was an apostle that communicated such a gift. Never do we hear of elders thus conferring a gift: it was not an episcopal function but an apostolic prerogative, either to communicate spiritual powers or to clothe men authoritatively with a charge. Hence it is admitted that in the peculiar case of Timothy there was by the laying on of apostolic hands a very special effect produced ; but who can do this now ? Were this the claim (however one might desire to view, not indifferently but with the patience of God, the prevalent and superstitious perversion of a sign, admirable in itself when applied and understood scripturally), yet if any man now presumed to convey a spiritual power like an apostle, should one hesitate to call him an impostor? A mistaken course in assuming the rights of an earthly sovereign is or may be treason. What is it to pretend falsely to communicate the Holy Ghost or a distinct power of the Holy Ghost in the name of the Lord ?
* Dr. Crawford (" Presbyterianism Defended," pp. 34, 35, note) aye that the distinction is groundless, and that the one preposition no lea than the other often signifies the instrumental cause of a thing! The University of Edinburgh may blush for such a statement from its Professor of Divinity. in Acts xv. 4, means "in connexion with them," not "by them," like in verse 12.
Beloved friends, it is a grave thing to trifle thus with the Spirit of God. There are those in our day whose ignorant boldness fears not to arrogate the right of conveying the Holy Ghost and ministerial power in this manner; but, thanks be to God, they an otherwise known to be fundamentally unsound, so that their influence over the faithful is inconsiderable. Then we have alas I the Eastern and Western bodies of Christendom, which are hardly less guilty. But among ordinary Protestants and especially among men of average Christian respectability, such pretensions are regarded with pity or horror. Even where the formularies as in the Anglican Communion approach fearfully near the precipice, the excuse is that their godly framers intended no more than to impart fitting and scriptural solemnity to various offices in the church. I admit however, that the excuse is lame, and that it is hard to decide whether these most suffer in conscience who employ these very serious forms ecclesiastically without believing them, or those are most injured in faith who accept as divine pretensions which are doubtless more respect, ably connected and venerable but not better founded than those of a modem imposture.
But the important truth on this subject to be seen is that these ministerial gifts were given by the Lord without any form further than that He warranted and sent them. Beware of disputing His will and wisdom. How is one to judge of the possession of a gift ? Undoubtedly by its due exercise which finds an answer in the conscience. Let me ask you again, How do you know a Christian? When people talk theoretically, or discuss polemically, there are always great and numerous difficulties in the way. But if YOU went for practical reasons to a godly clergyman Or dissenting minister, he could give you ample means of judging who are Christians in what he calls his flock. Listen to many a man on his knees and, if he be it Christian, he will speak as a child to his God and Father; but hear him on his legs, and he will perhaps controvert, without knowing it, what he has been just saying in prayer, till on his perverse principle he cannot tell. whether God is his Father or not How happy that there are such seasons of devotion where people speak with simple-hearted truthfulness I Away from their systems let them speak to God, and their true characters and even condition will soon be manifest a general rule. Thus the fact is that in practice Christians have little difficulty in knowing for the most put who are converted and who are not. There may be a certain number of doubtful souls of whom we need not speak now. Let a believer be sent for to a sick man; is he wholly at a loss how to speak I Does he not seek as soon as possible to gather whether the sick man has peace in Christ, or is anxious about his soul, or whether he has ever realized his lost and guilty condition? If the believer finds no sense of sin, he will solemnly warn of judgment and set before that soul the cross, imploring him to receive Christ; or he will exhort him to rest in Christ because he is assured of his faith.
If then so little haze really rests on the question who are and who are not children of God, think you that the possession of a gift is a question so obscure and doubtful? Some may have more gift than other& But the gift of teaching implies the power of bringing out the word of God and applying it aright. Again take the power of ruling-for there is such a thing as rule in the church, and I hope none here present imagine it is gone-he who has the gift of rule seeks to exercise it of course according to the word of God. Scripture knows nothing of a blind obedience. The conscience is awakened, the heart set free and attracted to Christ. To these is the appeal of Christian ministry. It is not the blind leading the blind, nor is it the seeing leading the blind, but rather the seeing leading the seeing. Christ gives liberty as well as life, and this withal responsible to do the will of God. Therefore it is that according to the intention of God His children do not well to contrive systems to escape difficulties; they need faith to go through them with God. Let them prove their gifts, if indeed they have gifts from the Lord, by real power. There may be severe trials and difficulties now and then. Even Paul himself had to do with doubters of his apostleship, and this within the church, and among his own children in the faith. What true-hearted man should be downcast if he is slighted? But the time came when the Lord vindicated His servant, and when the self-will and pride which refused a divine gift was utterly put to shame, if the heart was not brought back to lowly thankfulness. The chief mistake we are apt to make is in the way of impatience; we do not allow time and space for the Lord to work: and that lack of patient waiting only defers the wished-for solution, because it makes the difficulty so much the greater.
But as to the discernment of a ministerial gift for preaching or teaching, it is in general plain and simple. If a brother stand up to speak in the Christian assembly without a gift from God, he will soon and painfully find it out. If self-judging, he will learn much from his own conscience; but he may quite sufficiently soon hear from others that which will make him understand that he has not a gift in the judgment of his brethren. But where there is really a gift is it not possible that prejudice may act, and this be refused ? Certainly it may be so for a tin, e. Perhaps the speaker thinks too highly of his gift; perhaps be mistakes the character of it, and the right scene and time for its exercise; perhaps he is too exclusively occupied with his line of things, and too urgent or anxious to assert his gift. All this may be, often is, and always creates difficulty. But the truth remains that what is of God approves itself in the long run. My own experience, as far as my limited range of observation and knowledge goes, inclines me to think that the children of God are prone to make too much rather than too little of gift. In the present state of the church there is but a feeble development of gift, and this is felt the more in proportion to spiritual intelligence and a true position. Do you wish to know your place fairly and fully? Look in confidence to God and search the word of His grace. Many things there are to hinder and to draw away: partly the effect of education, partly the difficulty of finding an honest livelihood, especially if a man has been a professional preacher. If he abandons (not preaching but) that profession as an unscriptural innovation, he for the most part loses everything, even his bread, unless he have private means of his own. Hence it is that the inducements for such an one to remain where he is we enormous; the difficulties of coming out at the word of the Lord are incalculable. The power of God alone can accomplish the change and sustain the. soul in peace and praise, "steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord."
While we may be sure that the word and Spirit of God give us clearly the true position for the individual Christian and for the Christian assembly, we ought not (I think, as things are,) to expect a great variety and strength in the gifts of the Lord's grace. Of course He can work sovereignly, and assuredly we ought to be most thankful for what is given. No doubt also there are gifts distributed somewhere or other. There an gifts of Christ in members and ministers of the national establishments, I do not question; there are His gifts likewise in the dissenting societies; and are we to suppose there am none of His gifts of grace in Romanism itself? For my part I cannot doubt that there are. Who would, who could, reject the testimony of facts that there have been persons therein-such as Martin Boos, for instance, not very long ago-used for the conversion of -sinners and for the helping on of saints in some degree? And are such men not gifts of Christ to the church-as truly gifts though in the false position as if they were out of it? Their being Romanists - Romish priests-does not destroy His grace, whatever we may feel as to their faithfulness. The fact is that the Lord gives according to His own will by the Holy Ghost, and we ought to acknowledge these gifts wherever they are. If a man be a dissenter, whether a minister or one of the people, in either case I am satisfied he is in a false position. It is not a question of a feeling of dislike to dissent, if one believe its foundations to be unscriptural. I ask the forbearance of any dissenters who may be here in affirming calmly and solemnly my conviction that dissent is unsound in its distinctive principles; a thorough contradiction of the very character of the church as one body; and in the popular call and choice undermining ministry as a divine and permanent institution flowing from the Saviour's grace. Dissent is religious radicalism, which essentially opposes God's will as much as and perhaps more than any other principle. The proofs are too plain. Dissent substitutes the election of the people in the place of the sovereign choice of the Lord Jesus Christ whether immediate or mediate.
But how is the truth better secured in the national bodies? By patronage, clerical, lay, or governmental! And the painful apology for this systematic self-will is that the men nominated by the government of the day, or a landlord, or a college, or a corporation, have gone through the usual forms! Is there the faintest resemblance between this worldly machinery and the divine system of spiritual gifts from Christ set forth in Eph. iv.? I see only One who has ascended up on high. Are you looking to any other person? to any other kind of ascent ? to any other heaven for the favours you crave after I I appeal to you as Christians. Do you value the word of God? Do you cherish that word only for the salvation of your souls? or do you confide in the same word and Spirit for guidance as to ministry and church office? What subjects more simply belong to the Lord? For what do we need Him more? As a believer I surely feel the want of God's word for my daily walk, no matter what my circumstances or sphere or duties. And do you, can you believe that the word that lives and abides for ever does not concern itself with so grave, delicate, and spiritually needful a thing as the ministry of the word; or that, if it speak thereon, you are not bound to hear and bow?
The sum of what has been said is then that these two great principles are revealed in scripture and recognized by the early church: namely, the Lord giving gifts of His own grace which did not require human intervention; next also a system of authority which did require that intervention, as in the appointment of elders by the apostles or persons commissioned to do their work in certain cases. It is clear that we have neither apostles living on the earth, nor representatives, like Titus, charged by an apostle to do quasi-apostolic work. The consequence is, that now, if subject to the word of God, you cannot and do not look for elders in their precise official form. If any man allege these can be, it might be well to hear his grounds from Scripture. What has been produced is in my judgment amply sufficient to disprove it. You cannot have persons formally and duly appointed to this office, unless you have a power formally and duly authorized of the Lord to appoint them. But you have not that indispensably needful power to authenticate elders: this is your fatally weak point. You have neither apostles nor functionaries commissioned by the apostles to act in their stead ; and therefore the entire system of appointment breaks down for want of competent authority. Dare you say of your elders that the Holy Ghost has made them bishops? You have none really, ie., scripturally entitled to appoint.
What then ? Are there none suitable to be elders or bishops, if there were apostles to choose them ? Thank God 1 there are not a few. You can hardly look into an assembly of His children without hearing of some grave elderly men who go after the wanderers, who warn the unruly, who comfort those that are cast down, who counsel, admonish, and guide souls. Are not these the men who might be elders, if there were a power existing to appoint them ? And what is the duty of a Christian man as things now are in the use of what remains I I say not to call them elders, bat surely to esteem them highly for their work's sake, and to love and acknowledge them as those who are over the rest of their brethren in the Lord. I ask you solemnly, beloved friends, do you acknowledge any to be over you in the Lord?-any living servants of the Lord to take the lead in Him I Do you imagine such a recognition as this an offence against the principles of God? Rather let me warn you against picking out certain favourite texts from God's word to which only you pay obeisance. If we do so, we are as far as in us lies building up a sect no less truly than our neighbours. On the other hand, beware of adopting that human invention-apostolic succession -to escape dilemmas. If tinder the fiction of succession we dare to call men apostles who are not, the Lord in due time will not fail to challenge our word or act, and demand, who entitled us to endorse such an unheard of thing as this? who gave us leave, without His word, virtually to acknowledge this or that as an apostolic man by accrediting his claim to ordain? It is evident that to ordain elders is, however well-meant, an imitation of what apostles did, and, if unauthorized, not only without validity but an unwitting usurpation of an authority which reverted and now pertains to the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Thus in the present state of the church, the difference between a true position and a false one is not at all that one has got a due ordination and the other wants it. In truth no body on earth possesses it now. Do you acknowledge the want? or are you trying to cover the humiliating but evident fact that you have not the only ordaining power which scripture sanctions? And yet you go on ordaining, though you have neither apostle nor apostolic deputy! Which course is most orderly? To do as you do; or to acknowledge oar actual lack, and carry ourselves accordingly before God and man-to confess that we want apostles or their delegates, and therefore that we cannot have presbyters duly chosen and formally appointed? There are, I repeat, men endowed with such qualifications as would render them eligible, so far as we can pretend to say, if there were a competent ordaining power, And the general principle of Scripture (Rom. xii) manifestly is, that he who had the gift of ruling, or of taking the lead among the saints, is bound to we it with diligence (as the teacher, exhorter, and others, are responsible to discharge their respective functions), even if circumstances made legitimate appointment to a charge impracticable.
But subjection to the word of God discovers readily that a state of things substantially analogous to our own defective condition is provided for in Scripture. The Lord in His wisdom let such wants be felt in the early church. Thus the apostle was inspired to write epistles to churches where there were no elders; as for instance the epistles to the Thessalonians and to the Corinthians. The last was notoriously a dis. orderly church, and elders might have been thought useful there, Nevertheless not the least word or hint about elders there is heard from first to last. Had elders been then in their midst, would not the apostle have called them to account, and blamed their want of godly care and diligence in oversight? Of this there is not a trace. Further, we know it was not the practice of the apostles to constitute elders in an infant church. Where Paul and Barnabas chose elders for the disciples, it was in assemblies that had existed probably for years, and thus there bad been time for spiritual qualifications to be developed. 1. But in a new assembly, where the saints were young comparatively, a certain time had to be allowed, so that those who were competent for such a work should be made evident, Accordingly it is rather a rare thing to read of the apostles choosing or appointing elders.
On the other hand, in the first epistle to the Thessalonians, we have in the last chapter very important instruction given to the saints. They, too, are a similar instance of a young church, yet they were told to own those that laboured among them. Hence all this may be where presbyters are. not. Thus in 1 Thess. v. 12, 13 the apostle writes, 11 We beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake." The presence of elders is not requisite in order to have and to own those who are over us in the Lord. There is much of importance for us now in that Scripture, for we have elders no more than they. I think we ought to lay its exhortations to heart, There are within and without, not a few ill-instructed souls who hold the notion that, unless there be official appointment, they cannot have anybody over them in the Lord. This is all a mistake. No doubt, when a man was officially appointed, there was a definite guarantee in the face of the church given by an apostle or an apostolic man; and there was thereby no little weight given to those who were thus appointed. Such a sanction had great and just value in the church, and would be of consequence among the unruly. But none the less did God know how to provide instruction for assemblies where there was not yet official oversight. How merciful for times when, for want of apostles, there could be no elders! But it will be noticed that the Corinthian assembly abounded in gift, though elders are seen nowhere among them. The Thessalonians do not appear to have possessed the same variety of outward power, while elders or bishops again are never hinted at. Yet at Corinth the household of Stephanas devoted themselves regularly () to the service of the saints; and the apostle beseeches the brethren to submit themselves to such, and to every one that helped and laboured. The Thessalonians be prays to know those who laboured among them, and presided in the Lord, and admonished them. Evidently this did not depend upon their being apostolically appointed, which could hardly have been in their circumstances as lately gathered. It is founded upon that which after all is intrinsically better. if we must be content with one blessing out of two. Surely, if it comes to be a question between real spiritual power and outward office, no Christian ought to hesitate between them. To have the power and the office combine is no doubt the best of all, when the Lord is please to give both ; but in those early days we see that individuals were often and rightly engaged in the work of the Lord before there could be the seal of an apostle, as it were, affixed; and such the apostle encourages and commends earnestly to the love and esteem of the saints before and independently of that sea. How precious that we can fall back on this principle now!
Even at Corinth and Thessalonica then those were raised up in the midst of the saints who showed spiritual ability in guiding and directing others. That was the work of those to whom one epistle exhorted subjection, and whom the other epistle commended as "over them in the Lord." Such men as these did not labour only; because some might be actively engaged in the Lord's work who might not be over others in the Lord. But these manifested power to meet difficulties in the church, and to battle with that which was ensnaring souls, and so to guide and encourage the weak and baffle the efforts of the enemy. They were not afraid to trust the Lord in times of trial and danger, and therefore the Lord used them, giving them power to discern and courage to act upon what they did discern. This was part of what fitted them to take the lead in the Lord. There were such at Thessalonica as well as at Corinth, and yet there is not the slightest intimation that they were regularly installed as elders, but on the contrary the strongest evidence that elders as yet had not been constituted in either place. The regular practice was to appoint elders after a certain time; indeed it could only be when the apostles came round, or sent an authorized delegate to choose fit persons and clothe them with a title before the church which none but the bad would dispute.
Need I observe how God had been graciously providing for the wants of His children? This subject will come definitely before us on the next occasion on which it will be my lot to address you. I will not therefore do more now than draw attention to His far-reaching wisdom in meeting the difficulties of the day, when a valid authority to ordain as the apostles did is not left on the earth. Not that His children are left without help; they have the same Lord and the same ever-present Spirit. Hence there is no need of some change or new invention to meet the difficulties of the day, but the return in faith to what was and is the will of the Lord; and this with intelligence of the actual state of the church, and the feelings which become it.
We have seen that, as the rule, the Lord alone gave these gifts of ministry: it depends upon His love to His church, His faithfulness to the saints. Is the Lord Jesus one whit less tender and true now than He was on the day of ]Pentecost? Who would insinuate it? Neither can I sympathize with those who look wistfully back on the earliest times, as if they only afforded scope for faithful souls. No doubt a bright halo of grace -surrounds the scene where the Holy Ghost was first poured out on men with a simplicity and power which carried all along; but who was the spring and whence the energy which produced fruits so much the more wondrous when we think of the soil once so hard, and stubborn , and cold? Was it not the Lord acting for His own name by the Holy Ghost after He took the place, in risen and ascended glory, of giving gifts to men? Is not His grace as equal to these perilous times as He proved Himself when ushering in the mystery that was hid from ages? Are there saints to be perfected and ministerial work to be done? Does the body of Christ need to be built up? Then assuredly His gifts cannot fail till the work is done and all are brought into the unity of the faith; and the many adversaries and subtle snares and increasing perils will only draw the more upon the faithful love of the Lord of all. There is fulness of blessing in Christ for the church now as truly as then. Would that we but confided in Him more for every exigency!
Are we then to disparage the truth or to doubt His grace by setting up some work of our hands, some calf of gold, as if we knew not what is become of Him who is gone on high? Far be it from God's children! Let me suppose you come together as God's assembly; you know not who is to speak, exhort, give thanks, pray. To unbelief this is but confusion. Certainly it looks unwise if I forget who is in the midst; it is unpromising if I do not believe that the Lord is there; but if assured that He, who has all power in heaven and on earth, loves and cherishes the church, and that the Holy Ghost, divine as He is, dwells with and in us, what need I fear? If this position is true for one saint, it is true for all. For my part I would not dare for a moment to stand upon any foundation which did not contemplate the whole length and breadth of the church of God, which did not in its faith and love go out to and embrace all the saints of God. Of course allowance must be made for exceptional states, as for persons guilty of sin that would require their exclusion (immorality, bad doctrine, and such like).
But then if I know that this is the ground of the church according to Scripture, and that there was no other from the first taken and acted on by the holy apostles, the question is, Am I upon it? If I am called to labour in the word and doctrine, the Lord points me out the way. He opens the door which none can shut, He shuts and none can open. He finds a path for the feeblest of His pilgrims, and gives them courage, and makes it plain if they have to serve Him. Let us never doubt Him.
But may there not be a number of gifts? So much the better. If there are five or twice five gifted men in an assembly, let us thank the Lord: there is room for all. God forbid that we should sanction the novelty of each minister having his own little flock! Is it not a degradation for those who so speak, and for those so spoken of ? No one behaves himself-nay, he does not even know how to behave himself-who does not bear the sense in his soul that the saints are "the flock of God." But evidently men do not speak of God's flock, if the divine ground of the church be forgotten: then it is a my flock," or "your flock." There is always room for the exercise of His gifts, whatever and however many they may be. Besides it is a strange time to fear that any could be spared as superfluous.
The hour warns me that this subject must now be closed. My endeavour has been to expound and enforce the fundamental distinction between gifts and offices-the one, we saw, flowing from Christ on high, the other requiring appointment here below of men themselves authorized of the Lord for the purpose. As for gifts, they always remain sure as truly as Christ abides the head and source of supply. As for formal authorization, it is no longer possible because you have not a duly authorized power to appoint. All you can do in the direction of appointing, if you will do something, is to set up a paltry and rather arrogant imitation of the apostles and their delegates. But if you really love the Lord and value godly order, is it not your bounden duty in the name of the Lord to acknowledge all His gifts in them privately and publicly in the work He has assigned them. If the gift be small, acknowledge the Lord in it as heartily as if it were a great one; and if it be a great one, acknowledge it as humbly and unjealously as a small one. On the other hand do not try to imitate what the apostles did; beware of pretending to do what ought not to be thought of unless there were apostolic power. And as to appointing deacons or choosing elders, scripture affords no warrant unless there was direct or indirect apostolic authority which does not now exist.
NOTE ON ACTS XIV. 23.
Two opportunity is taken to furnish clear and conclusive evidence against the notion that the elders were chosen by the votes of the churches. The word , if etymologically viewed, means to stretch out the hand; hence it was applied to election as we say by show of hands, and, generally, to choice or appointment without reference to the manner. Just so starts from mere reckoning with pebbles, and was used for voting thus; then for voting in general, and lastly for the simple resolve or decision of the mind. The context, not the word in itself, shows which is to be understood. Hesychius explains by (compare Titus i. 5), ; as Suidas for gives . With all this accords the usage of Aristophanes, as well as of AEschines, Demosthenes, &c., both in the narrow and literal sense, and in the general meaning of choice or designation. Appian, Dio Cassius, Plutarch, Lucian, and Libanius afford many examples where the word conveys no more than choosing. In these therefore the idea of popular suffrage with or without the hands stretched out it; quite excluded.
But a few instances must be given from Hellenistic writers familiar with the Old Testament and contemporaneous with those inspired to write the New Testament. Thus Philo, ( ) repeatedly uses . of Pharaoh's appointing Joseph his prime minister, and of Moses in the place to which he was chosen by God, and in his selection again of Aaron's sons for the priesthood. go Josephus (ANT. vi. xiii. 9) speaks of Saul as "chosen king by God," , and also (ANT. xiii. ii. 2) represents Alexander as writing to Jonathan in these terms, . "We constitute thee this day high priest of the Jews." This may suffice to prove what we are to judge of Dr.J. Owen's statement (Works, vol. xv. pp. 495, 496, Goold's edition) that 11 Paul and Barnabas are said to ordain elders in the churches by their election and suffrage; for the word there used will admit of no other sense, however it be ambiguously expressed in our translation." Indeed, Beza, Diodati, Martin, and others had committed themselves to the same thing. Dr. G. Campbell, however, Presbyterian as he was, repudiated this version of the text, and (in his Prelim. Dias. x., Part v.
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