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LETTER VIII.-Of the Subject of Church-Power, &c.

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LETTER VIII.-Of the Subject of Church-Power, &c.

James Dodson

THAT neither in the Christian people, the civil magistrate, or in diocesan bishops, Christ has lodged the office-power of his church, has been illustrated. Hath he placed it in the officers of his own appointment? Yes. To these alone, his oracles mark, he hath given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. To these alone, he hath given POWER for the edification of his church. To these alone, he commands his church to be subject. To these alone, he assigns double honour (Mat. 16:19 and 18:18-20; 2 Cor. 10:8; Heb. 13:7; 1 Tim. 5:17).

These officers of the New Testament church, are either extraordinary, requisite to lay her foundation; or ordinary, necessary for the continued government thereof. The former, now ceased, were apostles, evangelists, prophets (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). An immediate mission from Jesus Christ, equally extending to all nations, as occasion offered; infallibility in doctrine, and in founding and directing the churches; power to confer the miraculous influence of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of their hands; a constant power to work miracles, as divinely directed, and to speak in languages they never learned; a power to send forth evangelists, ordain presbyters and deacons, marked the apostles (Mark 16:15-20; Acts 1 to 28 chap.). To travel, preach, and baptize, &c. along with the apostles; or sent by them, to plant and water the churches, and settle ordinary officers and courts therein, was the work of the evangelist (1 Tim. 1:3, &c.; 2 Tim. 4; Tit. 1). To be, on proper occasions, divinely inspired with the knowledge of future times, and enabled infallibly to explain obscure passages of the Old Testament, characterized their prophets (Acts 21:10, 11; 1 Cor. 14:29-32). The ordinary, the fixed officers, are variously represented to us in the sacred lists. Now they are comprehended under the names of bishops and deacons. Anon we are informed, that these bishops, overseers, elders, presbyters, are of two sorts; such as only rule well; and such as also labor in word and doctrine; these last are at least seemingly distinguished into pastors and teachers (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1; 1 Tim. 5:17; Eph. 4:11); whatever may be the difference betwixt the two, whether the teacher signifies somewhat like the ancient catechists, or like our probationers; or perhaps such as train up others for the ministry; it is certain, the whole substance of the office is resident in every gospel-minister. To examine what divine claim the pastor, the ruling elder, the deacon, has to his office, with the scripture account of their qualifications and work, now requires our attention.

The pastoral office, is a spiritual relation to the Christian church; whereby one is empowered to preach the word, dispense the sacraments to her members, and concur in ruling them. Its divine institution is marked with a sun-beam, in the sacred page. There I find, that God hath set some in the church, TEACHERS; that our ascended Redeemer hath given her PASTORS and TEACHERS; that the Holy Ghost had made some, BISHOPS, OVERSEERS, to feed her; and furnishes some for prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11; Acts 20:28; Rom. 12:6-8). Divinely are the qualifications requisite in candidates for the ministry prescribed; that they be blameless; of good report; apt to teach; such as hold fast divine truth, and are able to convince gainsayers (1 Tim. 3:1-8; Tit. 1:5-9). Divinely it is required, these qualifications be impartially tried, ere one is ordained to the ministry; that hands be not laid suddenly upon him (1 Tim. 5:21, 22). Divinely are such characters given to gospel ministers, as import authority and call to their work; pastors, teachers, right rulers, stewards of the mysteries of God, preachers or heralds, ambassadors for Christ, bishops, overseers of God’s flock, angels of the churches, over the saint in the Lord, stars in Christ’s right hand, ministers of Christ, faithful ministers in the Lord, laborers sent forth by the Lord of the harvest (Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28; 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Cor. 4:1; Luke 12:42; Rom. 10:14; 2 Cor. 5:19, 20; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2; Rev. 1:20; 1 Thes. 5:12; Col. 1:7; Eph. 6:21; Mat. 9:38). The manner of entrance on their office as divinely marked out, that they be invited by the votes, the suffrages, of the Christian people; and ordained in every church, by fasting, prayer, and laying on of the hands of the presbytery (Acts 1:15-26 and 14:23; 1 Tim. 4:14; Tit. 1:5). The ministerial work is divinely prescribed; that they take the oversight of the flock willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; not as lords over God’s heritage, but as ensamples to the flock; that they neglect not the exercise of the gifts of office given them by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery; leave not the word of God to serve tables, even to the poor; give themselves wholly to reading, meditation, exhortation, doctrine; preach the word, be instant in season, and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine, in meekness instructing them that oppose themselves (1 Pet. 5:2, 3; 1 Tim. 1:14; Acts 6:2, 4; 1 Tim. 4:15; 2 Tim. 4:2 and 2:25); be habitually willing, and under an inward necessity to preach the gospel, ready to spend and be spent for the service of the faith of the saints; feed not themselves, but the flock; watch for the souls of men, as these that must give an account to Christ; exert themselves earnestly to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God; and prepare them for the inheritance of the saints in light (2 Cor. 12:15; 1 Cor. 9:16, 17; Ezek. 34:2; Heb. 13:17; Acts 26:18); that they dispense the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper; ordain others to the ministry; commit the gospel to faithful men; censure, reject, and deliver to Satan the unruly and obstinate; absolve from censure, offenders penitent (Mat. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:23-29; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Cor. 5:4, 13; Tit. 3:10; 2 Cor. 2:6, 7). Divinely prescribed is the carriage of people toward ministers as such; that they know and acknowledge them as his servants; esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake; give them double honour; remember them and their instruction; follow their scriptural rulers; communicate to them in all temporal good things; pray for them with an holy conversation, and otherwise encourage them; that the word of the Lord have free course and be glorified; and that they may give their account with joy and not with grief (1 Thes. 5:12, 13; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:7, 17; Gal. 6:6; 1 Cor. 9:7-19; 1 Thes. 3:1). Divinely secured is the pastor’s proper encouragement; that their sufficiency is of God; Jesus walks among them; holds them as stars in his right hand; is with them alway unto the end of the world, to assist them in their work; will ratify the discipline they exercise in his name, binding whom they bind, and loosing whom they loose; will sympathize with them in what treatment they receive in the discharge of their office, rewarding every kindness, and resenting every injury done them (2 Cor. 3:3, 5, 6; Rev. 2:1; Mat. 28:20 and 16:19; John 20:23; Mat. 10:40-42; Luke 10:16; John 13:20). Are these things so? Who then can doubt the heavenly warrant of their function?

But is the office of the gospel-ministry perpetually necessary? Is it divinely institute to continue, till the end of time? The scripture attests it is. The foundations thereof, just mentioned, are of a moral and permanent nature, equally respecting every period of the Christian church. The ordinances connected therewith, remain till the end of time; the work of the ministry is for edifying the body of Christ, till they all come, in the unity of the faith, to the fulness of the stature of perfect men in Christ (Eph. 4:11-13). Instruction, and baptism of the nations, are to continue even unto the end of the world. In the Lord’s supper, his death is shewed forth till he come again at the last day; and in dispensing these ordinances, he promiseth to be with his apostles, and their ministerial successors, even until the consummation, or end of the world. Amen (Mat. 28:19, 20; 1 Cor. 11:26). The need of a gospel-ministry is perpetual. Till the end of time, the nature of man continues corrupt; Satan continues to deceive; gospel-mysteries continue sublime, and much unknown; erroneous teaching rages, or is ready to break forth (1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:1-7; 2 Thes. 3:2-13). The ends of a gospel-ministry, the converting and confirming of the elect, and the silencing of gainsayers, are perpetual (Acts 26:18; Eph. 4:11-15; Tit. 1:11). The removal of the gospel-ministry from a particular place, is marked as a heavy judgment, which, no more than the abolition of the Hebrew ceremonies, it could be, if it was not institute to continue, till the end of the world (Rev. 2:5). To mark its permanent appointment, wonderfully, as pages divine and human record, the Almighty preserves it, amid even the reign and rage of the Antichristian beast (Rev. 11 and 12). No scripture insinuates, that ought is provided to supply its room; therefore itself must continue, God having provided for us, under the Christian period, not worse, but better things, than under the old (Heb. 11:40). The giving of the Spirit can no more exclude a gospel-ministry, afterward; than in the apostolic age, it did; can nor more exclude the necessity and usefulness of this, than of the scriptures itself.