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Of Prophets and Evangelists, in what sense their Work and Vocation might be called extraordinary; and in what sense ordinary.


Of Prophets and Evangelists, in what sense their Work and Vocation might be called extraordinary; and in what sense ordinary.

James Dodson


George Gillespie,
Scottish Commissioner
To the Assembly of Divines
At Westminster.




THIS Question appeareth to be very perplexed and thorny, yet I am led upon it both by the controversies of the times, concerning the necessity of Mission and Ordination unto all Ministers of holy things, and likewise by occasion of that which is maintained by some men of Learning that there are still or may be Evangelists in the Church. Calvin holds indeed that in that age of his, God raised up Evangelists to rescue the Church from Popery Instit lib. 4. cap. 3. § 4. and Mr. Hooker in his Ecclesiastical policy, lib. 5. Sect: 78. tells us out of Eusebius eccles: hist: lib. 3. cap: 34. that in Trajan’s days many of the Apostles Disciples and Scholars who were then alive, sold their possessions, which they gave to the poor, and betaking themselves to travel, undertook the labour of Evangelists, that is, they painfully preached Christ, and delivered to them who as yet never heard the doctrine of Faith. Concerning Prophets, I have before shewed out of Justin Martyr dial: cum Tryph: Iud. That in his days there were still some in the Church, who had an extraordinary gift of prophesy, and such there have been also in other places, and at other times. Of which there might be diverse instances given, I shall here speak somewhat, first of the work of Prophets and Evangelists.

Their Work and Administration, I conceive to be partly ordinary, partly extraordinary. Ordinary, because the higher degrees. Eph. 4. 11. are comprehensive of the lower, not contrariwise, a Pastor doth the work of a Teacher, an Evangelist doth the work of a Pastor and Teacher, a Prophet doth the work of an Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher, an Apostle the work of all those, which I have also before touched, following Chrysostom, and Mr. Bayne. Prophets and Evangelists edify the Church by preaching as well as ordinary Pastors, 1 Cor. 14. 3. Eph. 4. 11. 12. 2 Tim. 4. 2. 5. From which Scriptures and others of that sort, as Tit. 1. 5. 1 Tim. 3. 15. Some have collected that Evangelists had a fixed charge in some certain Church, which they attended and took the oversight thereof for the work of the Ministry as often, and as long as other pressing and public occasions of the Church could permit. See Zepperus de polit: eccl: lib: 2. cap: 1. Aret: probl: Theol: loc: 62.

I say again the work of Prophets and Evangelists was extraordinary, for the distinguishing or characteristical property of a Prophet, i.e., the outmost he could do, which the ordinary officers could not do, nor any other, but an Apostle, is the opening of great secrets or foreshowing things to come, by the special and extraordinary inspiration of the holy Ghost. Their very name intimateth so much for προφήτης and προφητεύω come from προφημι I foretell. According to which sense of the word, all these were called Prophets of old, who foretold things to come, as Magicians, Astrologians, Prognosticators, Nativity or figure-casters, &c. See Olivarius de Prophetia pag: 9. 10. The Priests and Interpreters of the Oracles were also called Prophets, and the Apostle Tit: 1. 12. calls Epimenides a Prophet of the Cretians, qui quasi praesenserit futura, saith Erasmus. As likewise saith he, because that book of Epimenides out of which that verse is cited hath its title περὶ τῶν χρησμῶν de oraculis. But in the Church notion of the word which the Fathers took from Scripture: Prophecy is a prediction of things to come from a special inspiration of the holy Ghost.

But what is the distinguishing work and characteristical property of an Evangelist, i.e., that which an ordinary Pastor and Teacher might not do, and which none else could do but an Apostle or a Prophet? That I may speak to this more clearly, ‘tis to be remembered, that the word Evangelist is not here taken in that restricted vulgar sense, for a pen-man of the holy Ghost writing Gospel; for in that sense there were but four Evangelists, and two of them Apostles. But this is not the Scripture notion of the word, which tells us that Philip and Timothy were Evangelists, Act. 21. 8. 2 Tim. 4. 5. And that Christ hath given Evangelists to his Church for the work of the Ministry. Eph. 4. 11, 12. Now if we take the word as the Scripture doth, the proper work of an Evangelist i.e., that which none but an Evangelist as an Evangelist, or he who was more than an Evangelist could do, I conceive to stand in two things: the first is, to lay foundations of Churches, and to preach Christ to an unbelieving people, who have not yet received the Gospel, or at least who have not the true Doctrine of Christ among them. So Philip the Evangelist preached Christ to the city of Samaria, and baptized them before any of the Apostles came unto them. Act. 8. 5. 12. And if the 70 Disciples Luke 10 were Evangelists (as many think, and Calvin Instit: lib: 4. cap: 3. 4. thinks it probable) their proper work as Evangelists, was to preach the Gospel to those cities which had not received it. Their second work is a traveling and negotiating as Messengers and Agents upon extraordinary occasions, and special emergencies which is oft times between one Church and another, and so distinct from the first which is a traveling among them that are yet without. Of this second there are diverse examples in Scripture, as 2 Cor. 8. 23. Phil: 2. 19. 25. 2 Tim: 4. 9. Tit: 3 12 Act: 15 22 25. In this last example, although some are of opinion that Silas was of Jerusalem, and had an ordinary Ministerial function there, yet the best writers do commonly reckon Silas among the Evangelists, and I do not doubt but as he was a Prophet, Act. 15. 32. so also an Evangelist, which may appear by his traveling through many places, in the work of preaching the Gospel, sometimes with Paul, as his fellow labourer and helper: Act 16 19 &c. 17. 4. 10. sometimes with Timothy, Act: 17. 14. 15. & 18 15.

Now when I call these works and administrations of Prophets and Evangelists extraordinary, my meaning is not, that they are altogether and every way extraordinary even as Apostleship. For I dare not say that since the days of the Apostles there hath never been, or that to the end of the world there shall never be any raised up by God with such gifts, and for such administrations, as I have now described to be proper to Prophets and Evangelists, i.e: the fore telling of things to come, the traveling among Unbelievers to convert them by the preaching of the Gospel, and between one Church and another, upon extraordinary errands. But I call the work of Prophets and Evangelists extraordinary in Calvin’s sense (expressed by him in the place before cited) i.e., it is not ordinary like that of Pastors and Teachers, which hath place constantly in the best constituted and settled Churches. Shortly, I take the word Extraordinary here, not for that which ceased with the first age of the Christian Church, but for that which is not, neither needeth to be ordinary. And so much of their work:

As for the vocation of Prophets and Evangelists, 1. I cannot pass without an animadversion, a passage in Mr. Hookers Ecclesiastical policy. lib: 5 sect: 78. where he will not have the Prophets mentioned, 1 Cor. 12 28. to be reckoned with those whom he calleth (after the then common idiome) the Clergy, because no man’s gifts or qualities can make him a Minister of holy things, unless Ordination do give him power; and we nowhere find Prophets to have been made by Ordination. If we shall take the word Prophets so largely as to comprehend all who have any gift of Prophesy, and so Prophetesses also, I shall not contend against that which he saith, but if we shall understand that the Apostle in that place doth enumerate not only diversities of Gifts, but diversities of Administrations, which God hath appointed in the Church (and this may easily appear by comparing v. 28. with v. 4. 5.) and so take prophesy for an Administration or Service in the Church as well as a Gift; surely it was not without a Mission or Vocation thereunto. For as they were extraordinary Ministers, so they had an extraordinary Mission or Ordination as well as the Apostles, Luke 11. 49. Christ saith, I will send them Prophets and Apostles, and 1 Cor: 12 28. God hath set or appointed Prophets in the Church. Yea as their work was partly ordinary and common to Pastors and Teachers, so a Prophet was examined and allowed by an Assembly of Prophets, as well as an Elder by an Assembly of Elders, which I gather from 1 Cor: 14 32. And the Spirits of the Prophets are subject to the Prophets.

Touching the Vocation of an Evangelist, the Author of the Queries concerning Ordination, quest. 19. to elude our argument for the standing ordinance of Christ, for Ordination of Ministers drawn from 1 Tim. 4. 14. answereth among other things, that Timothy being an Evangelist, and Evangelists being (by common consent) extraordinary by Calling, he had no need to pass through the common door of Ordination. The extraordinariness of Evangelists is not so much without controversy, as he would bear his reader in hand, as may appear by what I have but now said: Neither can he prove that at that time, when the Presbytery laid hands on Timothy, he was even then an Evangelist or more than a Presbyter. However, this I will say, that as the work, so also the Vocation of Evangelists, was partly extraordinary and partly ordinary, and as there may be still occasion for some of their extraordinary work, so there ought to be a special Mission and Vocation thereunto, not only inwardly from the Spirit of Gods stirring up unto and enabling for the work, but outwardly also and orderly in the Church The 70 Disciples were ordained by Christ himself, Luke 10. 1. The Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two. An Angell of the Lord spake unto Philip and called him from one place to another, Acts 8. 26. The Apostle Paul sent Epaphroditus and resolved to send Timothy to the Church of the Philippians, Phil: 2. 25. 28. These are examples of extraordinary Mission, such I mean as ceased with that age, none being now immediately sent by Christ or his Apostles. But there are other examples of a Mission or Calling to somewhat of the proper work of Evangelists, which are not to be restricted to that age only; for they who were Agents and did travel and negotiate in the great and special affaires of the Church, had a special delegation and orderly call thereunto. So I understand that of the Messengers of the Churches, 2 Cor: 8. 23. And Epaphroditus being sent from the Church of Philippians to Paul, is called there Apostle or Messenger. Phil. 2. 25. So Judas and Silas who went out for the settlement of the distracted Churches, had a special commission and delegation thereunto from the Synod of the Apostles and Elders. ‘Tis therefore most agreeable to the Primitive pattern, that where Synods or at least Classes may be had, and are not by persecution scattered or hindered to meet, such as undertake either to go & preach the Gospel to Infidels, Papists, Turks or the like, or go about any negotiation abroad in any common business of the Church ought to be approved, and authorized by a national Synod, or (when that cannot be had, & if there be withal great danger in the delay) by a provincial Synod, or at least, (where this cannot he had) by a Classis.