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LETTER XII.-Of Ruling Elders and Deacons.


LETTER XII.-Of Ruling Elders and Deacons.

James Dodson

NOR is the office of the ruling elder, presbyter, less truly authorized in the inspired mandates of our blessed Redeemer. Its threefold cord of divine warrant, is not easily broken. Writing to the Romans, our inspired apostle affords us this remarkable document: “We being many, are one body in Christ, and members one of another. Having then gifts, differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation; he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence (Rom. 12:5-8),” &c. Here we have a list of the ordinary officers of Christ; one body, the church. Here is the teacher; he that teacheth. Here is the pastor; he that exhorteth. Here is the deacon; he that giveth. Here is another officer distinct from them all; he that ruleth. His description attests, that RULING is, if not his sole, his principal work. Though this ruler, he that ruleth, is placed after the deacon, it infers no inferiority. In the sacred lists, Christ reckons one, prophets are placed next to apostles; in another, evangelists are placed between them (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). The divine persons themselves are not alway reckoned in the very same order (Mat. 28:19; Rev. 1:4, 5). He that RULETH, is here marked by a distinct character; as having a different gift, and a distinct work, from his fellow-officers. His office, therefore, must be distinct. His furniture is of God; is gifts,—grace given; by God, his character of ruler, is imposed; and his manner of executing his office, prescribed: his function is therefore divinely warranted.

Elsewhere, the divine Spirit informs us, that God hath set some in the church, GOVERNMENTS (1 Cor. 12:28). These must be understood of GOVERNORS; as miracles are afterward explained, of workers of miracles. these governments or governors, are marked to be SET in the CHURCH, not the state; by GOD, not men; they are marked to be distinct officers by themselves. Their character, GOVERNMENT, implies, that RULING is their principal work; rather, the whole execution of their office.

But nowhere shines the divine warrant of ruling elders, which more illustrious brightness, than from that noted oracle, Let the elders, that rule well, be counted worthy of double honor; ESPECIALLY, they who labor in word and doctrine (1 Tim. 5:17). The ruling elders here mentioned necessarily pertain to the church. The whole epistle is writ to Timothy, to direct him how to behave in the church of the living God; and its directions are to be kept till the day of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 3:15 and 6:14). Here two sorts of elders are plainly distinguished; some that only rule well; others that also labor in word and doctrine. Not one place is in the New Testament, nor perhaps in any Greek author, where the word MALISTA, here rendered ESPECIALLY, does not distinguish between different persons or things (Gal. 6:20; Phil. 4:22; 1 Tim. 4:10 and 5:8; 2 Tim. 2:7, 13; Tit. 1:11; 2 Pet. 2:10; Acts 20:38 and 26:3). How absurd then to imagine, it does not distinguish here! The ruling elders who labor not in word and doctrine, are here divinely commanded, and have a reward of double honor assigned to them; but if it were their duty, to labor in word and doctrine; how could God commend, or charge them to have double honor given them, while, however well they ruled, they neglected, or slothfully performed, the principal part of their work; did not diligently labor in word and doctrine? Are, my friend, the laborious apostle, and the Holy Ghost, who inspired him, turned advocates for the lazy preacher; or for him, who, like the diocesan bishops, rules, well I say not; but labors not in word and doctrine. The manifold torture, this text hath suffered, to wrest it from the native sense just now given, serves almost only to display, what enmity men have to the truth. Their shiftings I dismiss, as unworthy of regard.

The ruling elder not being called to preach the mysteries of Christ; it is not absolutely necessary, he possess the same degree of aptness to teach, as the presbyter, who labors in word and doctrine. As to every other qualification, neither scripture nor reason appear to plead any difference. No scripture I have observed hints their election or ordination to differ from that of the pastor; nor that in matters of ecclesiastic rule, they have either more or less authority than he. The same manner of holy conversation, watching over the flock, impartial receiving of members, warning and censuring the unruly, visiting and praying over the sick, is required of them (1 Tim. 5:17; Acts 20:31, 35; Jam. 5:17).

In the whole sacred record, nothing is more clear than the divine appointment of deacons. In the apostolic history, as has been already declared, on another subject, we are informed of the occasion, the manner of entrance, and the end of their office (Acts 6:1-6; see Letter 10th). At Philippi the inspired epistle finds and approves them in function, Phil. 1:1. In his missive to his beloved Timothy, the same inspired apostle prescribes their necessary qualifications (Rom. 12:8). In aforecited text, their office is divinely approven, and the manner of distributing the church’s store prescribed. He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity. In another, by their designation of HELPS, their usefulness is sufficiently marked (1 Cor. 12:28). They ought to be men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and of wisdom and gravity. They are to be set up in the church by the choice of the people, and ordination by the ministers of Christ. Their business is to serve tables, inspect the case of, and provide for the poor, and manage the temporal affairs of the church (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim. 3:3, 12). In managing these, their power is the very same, with that of the pastor and ruling elder.

Ruling elders and deacons indeed are not equally necessary with pastors, to the very existence of the Christian church; yet both are appointed, without any hint, that their office is temporary; both are appointed upon moral grounds, equally respecting every Christian period; the necessity of ruling the church; of supplying the poor; and serving tables, still continue; both are appointed, amid rules to be kept till the day of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 3 with 6:14). Both the offices ought, therefore, to be continued distinct, till the end of time.