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LETTER X.-Of the Election of Ministers, &c.


LETTER X.-Of the Election of Ministers, &c.

James Dodson

IN these divinely qualified for the ministry, there are diversities of gifts, thought but one spirit (1 Cor. 12:4). As the same food, though abundantly wholesome and nourishing, is not equally suited to the taste, appetite, and constitution, of different persons and nations; so the same gifts in a candidate, for the gospel ministry, are not equally adapted to every person and place. To secure edification, there must therefore be, a choice of the gifts most apposite. Who fitter to make it, than these who are to enjoy the use thereof, if their senses be exercised to discern good and evil? Can any man pretend to know better, what gifts suit the case of my soul, than I do myself.

These, ignorant of the fundamental truths of Christianity: these, scandalous, profane, deniers of the divine original of the Old and New Testament, or of any truth therein plainly revealed: these, neglectors of the public, private, and secret worship of God: these, given to cursing, swearing, Sabbath profanation, drunkenness, whoredom, or other scandalous courses, are destitute of capacity and right to choose a gospel-minister. The ignorant are utterly incapable to judge, of either the preacher’s matter or method. The openly wicked have their hatred of Christ and a faithful minister marked in their forehead: neither, as has been formerly hinted (see Letter 4th), appear visible members of the Christian church. To admit them therefore, to choose a Christian pastor, would be a method, introducing ruin and woe; a method equally absurd, as for unfree men to choose the magistrates of a burgh: rather, equally absurd, as if ignorant babes, and our enemies the French, should be sustained electors of our members of parliament, and privy council (Eph. 2:12, 19).

Whether visible believers, adult, blameless, have a right to choose their pastors and other officers, must now be examined. All along from the reformation, it has been the avowed principle of Scotch Presbyterians, they have. Their first book of discipline, published A. D. 1560, declares the lawful calling to the ministry to consist in the election of the people, the examination of the ministry, and admission by both; and that no pastor should be intruded upon any particular kirk without their consent (cf. chap. IV.). Their second book of discipline declares, that the PEOPLE’S liberty of choosing church-officers continued till the church was corrupted by Antichrist: that patronage flowed from the Pope’s canon law; and is inconsistent with the order prescribed in God’s word (cf. chap. XII.). From various documents, the Assembly 1736, declared it obvious, that, from the reformation, it had been the fixed principle of this church; That no minister ought to be intruded into any parish contrary to the will of the congregation: they seriously recommended a due regard hereto, in planting of vacancies; as judicatories would study the honor of God, and the edification of men (Acts 14). It is the law of Heaven, however; the book of the Lord; that here, and everywhere, I intend to build my faith upon.

That of Matthias is the first instance of an election of an officer in the Christian church. No doubt then it is marked in the sacred history, as a pattern for the ages to come. Being an officer extraordinary, his call was in part immediately divine, by the determination of the lot. Being a church-officer, he was chosen by the church, as far as consisted with his extraordinary office. The disciples about Jerusalem, an hundred and twenty, were gathered together. Peter represented the necessity of filling up Judas’ place in the apostolate, with one who could be a meet witness of Jesus’ doctrines, miracles, death, resurrection: the hundred and twenty disciples chose, appointed, or presented two; whom they judged, proper for that work, The office being extraordinary, and perhaps, the votes equal, the decision, which of these two, was referred to the divine determination of the lot. After prayer for a perfect ONE, it fell upon Matthias; and he was Synkatepsephisthe [συγ-κατεψηφίσθη], by suffrages or votes, added to the number of the apostles (Acts 1:15-26).

Had the next election of a church-officer entirely excluded the Christian people, one had been tempted to suspect, Matthias’ extraordinary case was never designed for a pattern. Instead hereof, the choice, being of an ordinary officer, is entirely deposite[d] in their hands. Never were men better qualified for such an election, than the inspired, the Spirit-discerning apostles; yet when restrained, by laborious attendance to their principal work, the ministry of the word, and of prayer, from sufficient leisure to distribute their multiplied alms, to their now numerous poor; and directed by the Holy Ghost; they ordered the Christian people to look out, choose, seven of their number, men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom; who might be ordained to the office of deacons. Judging of the mentioned qualifications, the Christian multitude, entirely of their own accord, choose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas. These they presented to the apostles; who immediately ordained them, by prayer and imposition of hands (Acts 6:1-6). Here, by inspired appointment, the people had the whole power of electing their deacons. If they have the power of electing one ordinary officer; why not of all? If in the case of deacons, they can judge of the qualifications of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and of wisdom, what hinders them to judge of these, or the like, in the case of ministers? If Jesus and his apostles argued from the less to the greater (Mat. 6:30; 1 Cor. 9:10), who can forbid us to argue, if it be right and equal for the Christian people to choose deacons, who take of their sacred alms; is it not much more right and equal, they have the choice of their pastors, who take the oversight of their souls?

A third instance of the Christian people electing their ecclesiastic officers, relates to the joint travels of Paul and Barnabas, at Lystra, and places around (Acts 14:23). These two divinely directed messengers of Christ, having ordained, Gr. through suffrages or votes constitute, them elders, presbyters, in every city, and prayed with fastings, commended them to the Lord. Here it is plainly marked, that these elders, presbyters, WERE CHOSEN BY SUFFRAGES, votes, in order to ordination. This the Greek word CHEIROTONESANTES, in our version, by the fraud of the English bishops, rendered HAD ORDAINED, plainly imports. CHEIROTONEO, the root, is borrowed from the custom of giving votes at Athens and elsewhere of Greece, by lifting up of the hand. Where ever it is used in the Greek Testament (2 Cor. 8:19), and for ought I know in every Greek author, not posterior to Luke, the writer of the Acts; it constantly implies to give vote or suffrage. In the text before us, it agrees with Paul and Barnabas; because they presided in the choice, and finished the design of it by ordination. Here, moreover, it is evident, the person chosen for presbyters, elders, were set apart to their office, not by a hurried prayer and riotous banquet; but by prayer and fastings; and this manner of choice and ordination was used in every church. The very performance of the work of ordination in public conjunction with the church, tacitly infers their consent (Tit. 1:5).

Christ’s commanding his people to try the spirits, to try false prophets, and flee from them (1 John 4:1, 2; 2 John 10, 11; 1 Thes. 5:19, 20; Gal. 1:9 and 5:15; Mat. 8:17; John 5:35), necessarily imports a right to choose the worthy, and reject the vile; to choose what suits our edification, and reject what doth not; for if we must receive whoever is imposed; there is no occasion for trial; we can have no other. The privilege of trial, here allowed his people by Christ, plainly supposed their having some ability for it; and by a diligent perusal of his word, and consulting his ministers, they may quickly become more capable. Has our adorned Redeemer thus instructed to his adult members, the election of their pastors; at what peril and guilt do any ministers or laicks concur to bereave them thereof, thrusting men into the evangelic office by another way; thus constituting them spiritual thieves and robbers? Instead of being gentle to church-members, as a nurse cherisheth her children; instead of condescending to men of low degree, and doing all things to the glory of God, and the edification of souls; is not this, to set at nought their brethren; exercise lordly dominion over the members of Christ; and rule them with rigor?

In the oracles of God, where is the hint, that the choice of pastors for Christian people, is lodged in any but themselves? If, instead of Christians, of visible believers, there is a congregation of practical Heathens, ignorant, scandalous, or complaisant in conscience to such; no doubt, the presbytery ought, as for Heathens, to choose them a pastor. But when it is otherwise; since men apostolic, inspired, put the choice from themselves, to the Christian people; who can believe it belongs to the clergy (Acts 1 and 6)? When Christ avers his kingdom is not of this world; when he threatens judgment without mercy to such, as, in his worshipping assemblies, more readily give a feat to the rich, with his gold ring, and gay clothing (John 18:36; Jam. 2:1-13), than to the poor; can it be imagined, he has instrusted the choice of his ambassadors to men, for their greatness?

No more, my friend, repeat your contemptuous sneer, “Shall a cottager, poor, unlearned, who pays not one farthing of the stipend; and at next term will perhaps remove from the congregation, have an equal choice of a minister with his master, a gentleman, a nobleman, of liberal education, of distinguished abilities, who is head of a large family, has a fixed property and residence in the parish, and furnishes almost the whole benefice? Will you fly in the face of our civil law? Will you plead for the method of choosing church officers, which already has produced so much strife, bloody squabbling, or murder?” If Christ’s kingdom, as himself dying attested, is not of this world, how can outward learning, riches, honor, property, settled abode, or anything worldly, constitute one a member thereof? Do the learning, wealth, &c. of a French resident in Britain, constitute him a freeman, a chooser of rulers, a ruler of the nation? Do these worldly things render one a better Christian? No. Not many wise men after the flesh; not many mighty; not many noble, are called with an holy calling. How ordinarily do men oppress the saints; draw them before judgement-seats; and blaspheme Jesus’ worthy name, by which they are called (1 Cor. 1:26; Jam. 2:6)? If worldly privileges and endowments cannot make one a subject of the Mediator’s spiritual kingdom; how can they entitle any to, or raise him above his brethren, in the privileges thereof? If by the Son of God, the poor cottager has been made free indeed; has been taught to profit; is rich in faith; is a king and priest unto God; hath received a kingdom, which cannot be moved; in the view of the Omniscient, and his angels, and every man wise to salvation, how little is he inferior to his rich, perhaps, his graceless master! Your rich man has college-education, understands philosophy, history, law, agriculture; will that infer, he understands his Bible, understands Christian principles, spiritual experiences, and what ministerial gifts best correspond therewith, better than his cottager; who daily searches the Scripture, and has heard and learned of the Father? How oft are the great things of God hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes! Christ crucified was to the learned Greeks foolishness; but to the poorest believer, the power of God, and the wisdom of God. The natural man, however learned, receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them; for they are spiritually discerned (Mat. 11:25; 1 Cor. 1:23, 24 and 2:14). How easy to find the herdman, the silly woman, who will endure a trial on Christian principles to far other purpose, than many of your rich, your great! Your great man is the head of a numerous family, and has much influence in the corner. That, no doubt, is a strong motive for him, if he is a Christian, to be exceeding wary in his choice; if he is so, no doubt, his Christian judgment ought, as far as consists with spiritual liberty, to have its own weight. But while Christ’s kingdom is not of this world; while in him, there is neither male nor female, bond nor free; headship over a family can found no claim to a spiritual privilege. Thousands are heads of families, but plainly aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, without God, and without hope in the world (John 18:36; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:12). Many are heads of families, who, by neglect of the daily worship of God, of religious instruction, and other unchristian conduct, ruin the same.

Boast not, Sir, of your great man’s settled abode; boast not of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth; how suddenly disasters, death, may pluck him out by the roots. The rich fathers, where are they? Do the nobles live for ever? Shall their dwelling continue to all generations? How oft the rich inheritance, in a few years, changes its master; while the race of the poor hovers about about the same spot, for many generations! What if, the cottager attend more to gospel-ministrations, in one year, than the rich proprietor in forty! What if, removing at next term, he carry his beloved pastor in his heart, and by effectual fervent prayers, availing much; by multiplied groanings that cannot be uttered; he bring manifold blessings on the parish and ministry he leaves; while your rich man, if for no better purpose than to distress the faithful pastor, corrupt the people, bring down a curse, and cumber the ground! Your great man bears the load of the stipend no more than the poorest cottager. He purchased his property with this burden upon it: and on that account had its price proportionably abated. Suppose it were otherwise; might not a poor widow’s two mites be more in Jesus’ account, than all he gives? Will you, with the Samaritan sorcerer, indulge the thought, that the gifts of God, the spiritual privileges of his church, are to be purchased with money? For money to erect the church, or defray the benefice, will you, with the infamous traitor, betray the Son of God in his church, his ordinance, his ministry, into the hand of sinners to be crucified?

Mention not, Sir, the civil law: the very worst statute thereof, relative to the point in hand, indirectly supposes the consent of the congregation. It leaves to the presbytery, the full power to judge, whether the presentee is fit for that charge? If the congregation generally oppose; with what candour do the presbytery, in Jesus’ name, determine he is fit? The last statute relative hereto, declared the presentation void, unless it was accepted. Nor is there in being, any, but the law of sin and death within them, the law of itch after worldly gain, that obliges candidates to accept. How unmanly; how disingenuous then, my dear Amelius, is it for you, and your fellows, to blame the civil law, with the present course of intrusions! Since the resurrection of Christ, I almost defy you to produce the instance of bloody squabbling, or like outrages contention, in the choice of a pastor, where none but the visible members of Christ’s mystical body, adult, and blameless, were admitted to act in the choice. But if, at any called popular elections, the power was sinfully betrayed into the hand of such baptized persons, as in ignorance and loose practice paralleled, if not transcended Heathen men and publicans; into the hand of these, who, to please a superior, to obtain a paltry bribe, or a flagon of wine, were readily determined in their vote for a minister; let the prostitutes of Jesus’ ordinance answer for the unhappy consequences of their conduct. If they so enormously broke through the hedge of the divine law, no wonder a serpent bit them. But, Sir, have you forgot what angry, what tedious contests about civil claims, even before spiritual courts; and what necessity of a military guard at ordinations, the lodgment of the power of election in patrons or heritors, as such, has but lately occasioned?

To deprive the Christian people of their privilege in choosing their pastors; and give it to others, upon secular accounts, how pregnant with absurdity! It overturns the nature of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, sounding a claim to her privileges on worldly character and property. It gives these blessed lips the lie, which said, My kingdom is not of this world. It counteracts the nature of the church, as voluntary society; thrusting men into a momentous relation to her, without, nay, contrary to her consent. It settles the ministerial office upon a very rotten foundation: for how hard to believe the man is a minister of a Christian Congregation, who never consented to his being such! to believe he has a pastoral mission from Christ, for whom providence would never open a door of entrance to the office; but he was obliged to be thrust in by the window, as a thief and a robber! If he comes unsent, how can I expect edification by his ministry; when God has declared, Such shall not profit this people at all? It implies the most unnatural cruelty. If the law of nature allow me the choice of my physician, my servant, my guide, my master, how absurd, to deny me the choice of a physician, a servant, a guide, to my soul; and to give it to another, merely because he has some more money, has a certain piece of ground, which I have not! How do these qualify him, or entitle him, to provide, what the eternal salvation of my soul is so nearly connected with, better than myself; if taught of God?

By patronage, how oft the honor of Christ and the souls of men, are betrayed into the hands of their declared foes! If the patron is unholy, profane; how readily the candidate he prefers, is too like himself! If a candidate be faithful, be holy; how readily, like Ahab in the case of Micaiah, he hates, he sends not for him! The complaisant chaplain, who almost never disturbed the family with the worship of God; who, along with the children or others, took off his cheerful glass; sung his wanton song; attended the licentious ball, or playhouse; connived at, or swore a profane oath; took an hand at the cards; or ridiculed the mysteries, the experiences, the circumspect professor of the Christian faith; is almost certain to have the presentation; perhaps he covenanted for it, as part of his wages. For what Simony, sacrilege, and deceitful perjury, with respect to ordination vows, patronage opens a door, he that runs may read. Shocked with the view, let me forbear!