There is an interesting discussion among Scottish Presbyterian authors regarding extraordinary gifts and church officers in unsettled times. In one respect, Calvin left the door open for such a discussion when he suggested that, after times of widespread apostasy, certain "extraordinary officers" in the Church might be raised up again, in order to initiate ecclesiastical reform.
These three functions [apostles, prophets, and evangelists] were not established in the church as permanent ones, but only for that time during which churches were to be erected where none existed before, or where they were to be carried over from Moses to Christ. Still, I do not deny that the Lord has sometimes at a later period raised up apostles, or at least evangelists in their place, as has happened in our own day. For there was need for such persons to lead the church back from the rebellion of Anti christ. Nonetheless, I call this office "extraordinary," because in duly con stituted churches it has no place."
George Gillespie takes up a discussion of the extraordinary officers of the Church in his Treatise of Miscellany Questions. He holds prophets to be men "extraordinarily inspired by the Holy Ghost, and that they are to be reckoned among these other administrations which were not to continue, or to be ordinary in the church." Yet, Gillespie also notes that there is a secondary sense in which the terms "prophet" and "evangelist" may refer to men of eminence, whose labors are somewhat analogous to the prophets and evangelists described in the biblical narratives. Gillespie even goes so far as to denominate some of the Reformers "prophets" and "evangelists." Respecting evange lists, Gillespie notes:
This question appears 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, Institutes, lib. 4, cap. 3, sec. 4.
I say, again, the work of prophets and evangelists was extraordinary; for the distinguishing or characteristic property of a prophet, i.e., the utmost 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 names intimate so much, for propheetees and pheeteuo come from propheemi, I foretell.
But what is the distinguishing work and characteristic 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 prophet? That I may speak to this more clearly, it is to be remembered that the word evangelist is not here taken in that restricted vulgar sense, for a penman 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, Acts 21:8; 2 Tim. 4:5; and that Christ has given evangelists to his church for the work of the ministry, Eph. 4:11-12.
Now, if we take the word as the Scripture does, 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, Acts 8:5,12. And if the seventy disciples, Luke 10, were evangelists (as many think, and Calvin, Institutes, lib. iv, 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 travelling and negotiating as messengers and agents upon extraordinary occasions and special emergencies, which is oftimes between one church and another, and so distinct from the first, which is a travelling among them which 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; Titus 3:12; Acts 15:22, 25.
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 has 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 foretelling of things to come, the travelling 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 has 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 needs to be, ordinary; and so much of their work.
Elsewhere he asserts:
I must say it, to the glory of God, there were in the church of Scotland, both in the time of our first reformation, and after the reformation, such extraordinary men as were more than ordinary pastors and teachers, even holy prophets receiving extraordinary revelations from God, and foretell ing diverse strange and remarkable things, which did accordingly come to pass punctually, to the great admiration of all who knew the particulars. Such were Mr. Wishart the martyr, Mr. Knox the reformer, also Mr. John Welsh, Mr. John Davidson, Mr. Robert Bruce, Mr. Alexander Simpson, Mr. Fergusson, and others.
We must keep in mind Gillespie's statement that he takes the word extraordinary "not for that which ceased with the first age of the Christian church, but for that which is not, neither needs to be, ordinary;" thus, Gillespie is not talking about apostolic authority or inspiration. Gillespie never suggests that the reformation "prophets" produced inspired revelations which supplement the holy scriptures, or serve as a binding rule of duty. Rather, he merely refers to remarkable men who were known to have uttered predictions which later came to pass. The fulfillments of their predictions may be viewed as a subsequent confirmation of the extraordinary calling of these men, who ministered in peculiar times, when the Church was in an unsettled condition.
Gillespie's view is not uncommon among Scottish writers. Thomas M'Crie [the younger] explains:
Is there anything inconsistent with reason or religion in supposing that God may, on special occasions, such as in times of hot persecution, have granted to his faithful and prayerful servants premonitions and forewarnings of coming events, beyond what could be discovered by "an extraordinary degree of sagacious foresight?" "That the Supreme Being," says Dr. Cook, "may, in seasons of difficulty, thus enlighten his servants, cannot be doubted." To hold that this opinion is inconsistent with the perfection of the Holy Scriptures, is to mistake the matter entirely. Our worthies never pretended to be endowed with the spirit of prophecy, in the sense in which this is true of the ancient prophets; they did not lay claim to inspiration, nor require implicit faith to be placed in their sayings as divine; they did not propose them as rules of duty, nor appeal to them as miraculous evidences of the doctrines they taught. But they regarded such presentiments as gracious intimations of the will of God, granted to them in answer to prayer, for their own encouragement or direction; and they delivered them as warnings to others, leaving the truth of them to be ascertained and proved by the event.
The Second Book of Discipline, ratified by the Church of Scotland in 1578, contains the following statement, respecting the extraordinary officers in the Church:
In the New Testament and time of the evangel, he [Christ] has used the ministry of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and doctors in the administration of the word; the eldership for good order and administration of discipline; the deaconship to have the care of the ecclesiastical goods.
Some of these ecclesiastical functions are ordinary, and some extraordinary or temporary. There are three extraordinary functions: the office of the apostle, of the evangelist, and of the prophet, which are not perpetual, and now have ceased in the kirk of God, except when he pleased extraordinarily for a time to stir some of them up again. There are four ordinary functions or offices in the kirk of God: the office of the pastor, minister or bishop; the doctor; the presbyter or elder; and the deacon.
These offices are ordinary, and ought to continue perpetually in the kirk, as necessary for the government and policy of the same, and no more offices ought to be received or suffered in the true kirk of God established according to his word.
The Form of Presbyterial Government (1645), produced by the Westminster Assembly, must be understood in terms of its connection with the previously-ratified Second Book of Discipline. In the section "Of the Officers of the Church," the Form of Presbyterial Government exhibits structure similar to the Second Book of Discipline, yet the scope of the Form of Presbyterial Government is more limited. It is safe to say that the Westminster divines believed that, since the churches in Scotland and England were lawfully constituted, extraordinary principles did not apply. Thus, the Form of Presbyterial Government passes by the extraordinary officers, with only a brief notice:
The officers which Christ hath appointed for the edification of his church, and the perfecting of the saints, are, some extraordinary, as apostles, evangelists, and prophets, which are ceased.
Others ordinary and perpetual, as pastors, teachers, and other church-governors, and deacons.
With this background, we may understand how Gillespie could maintain the doctrine of the Westminster Standards respecting the sufficiency of scripture along with the section in the Form of Presbyterial Church-Government on the "ordinary and perpetual" officers of the church while simultaneously admitting the possibility of reformation "evangelists" and "prophets" (in a secondary sense of the terms), during extraordinary times.
To summarize the matter simply: In unsettled circumstances, the Church may be gifted with men of extraordinary functions and/or spiritual insight, like evangelists and prophets of old. But such "prophetic" individuals are not normal (or else they would cease to be extraordinary), and their peculiar gifts will become manifest in the aftermath, when subsequent events make them apparent. Therefore, even in unsettled circumstances, we should not go searching for contemporary prophets. Rather, we must look for men who exhibit the abiding biblical qualifications for ministerial office: men of sound doctrine, possessed with godly zeal, strong personal piety, good preaching skills, and orderly family government (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9). We should look for these distinguishing traits, because they will always mark the men who possess a heavenly calling; those with a genuine calling are preeminent in their labors for the gospel.
Samuel Rutherfurd provides some related thoughts, in his massive work, A Survey of the Spiritual Antichrist (1648). This book was written against the charismatics of his day (called Familists), so Rutherfurd had every reason to discount the spurious claims of newly-risen "prophets." Still, Rutherfurd acknowledged the existence of extraordinary "revelations" peculiar to some godly men in post-apostolic times. But he was quick to discriminate between inspiration, and the extraordinary revelations of godly men in peculiar times. And he also warned against the false revelations of the Familists and Antinomians.
In a chapter "Of Revelations and Inspirations," Rutherfurd opens his discussion by noting the outward nature of God's revelation in the scriptures. The Bible is objective revelation, declared outwardly to believers and unbelievers alike. In order to profit from the outward revelation of the Bible, men also need an inward revelation, or illumination, by the Spirit of God. Says Rutherfurd:
This revelation of the letter of the Gospel is made to thousands that never believe, and therefore, though it be but literal and external, yet none could thus reveal the mind of God to prophets and apostles, but God only, as none were inspired of God, but writers of canonical scripture, and scripture only is given by divine inspiration, 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21, etc. And as this active revelation is God's only, so, from him, as the author and fountain, men do as heralds carry this message of revelation to others; so passively, it is common to believers and unbelievers, for the letter of the gospel may be revealed to all within the Church, and yet the most part are destitute of an internal revelation.
Rutherfurd next turns to the subject of internal revelation, making a four-fold distinction: (1.) prophetical revelation; (2.) revelation special to the elect only; (3) revelation of some facts peculiar to godly men; (4) false and satanical revelation.
[1.] Prophetical revelation is that irradiation of the mind that the Holy Ghost makes on the mind and judgment of the penmen of holy scripture, whether prophets or apostles and that by an immediate inbreathing of the mind and will of God on them, whether in visions, dreams, or any other way, without men, or the ministry or teaching of men, as he did to Isaiah, Jeremiah (Isa. 1:1; Jer. 1:1) or to Paul (Gal. 1:1).
2. There is a special internal revelation, made of things in scripture, applied in particular to the souls of elect believers, by which, having heard and learned of the Father, John 6:4; there is made known and revealed to them, by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, what is the hope of their calling, and what is the riches of the glory of the inheritance in the saints, Eph. 1:17-19, and that revealed to them, which flesh and blood reveals not, but the Father of Christ, Matt. 16:17. And that which the Father reveals unto babes, and hides from the wise, and prudent, Matt. 11:25-26.
[3.] There is a 3rd revelation of some particular men, who have foretold things to come even since the ceasing of the canon of the word, as John Huss, Wycliffe, Luther, have foretold things to come, and they certainly fell out. And in our nation of Scotland, Mr. George Wishart foretold that Cardinal Beaton should not come out alive at the gates of the Castle of St. Andrews, but that he should die a shameful death; and he [Beaton] was hanged over the window that he did look out at, when he saw the man of God [Wishart] burnt. Mr. Knox prophesied of the hanging of the Lord of Grange. Mr. John Davidson uttered prophesies, known to many of the kingdom, diverse holy and mortified preachers in England have done the like.
[4.] No Familists, or Antinomians no David George, nor H. Nicholas, no man ever of that gang, Randel or Wheelwright, or Den, or any other that ever I heard of, being once engaged in the familistical way, ever did utter any but the fourth sort of lying and false inspirations. Mrs. Hutchinson said she should be delivered from the Court of Boston miraculously as Daniel from the lions, which proved false. Becold prophesied of the deliverance of the town of Munster which was delivered to their enemies, and he and his prophet were tortured and hanged. David George prophesied of the raising of himself from the dead, which was never fulfilled.
Now the differences between the third and fourth revelations, I place in these: 1. These worthy Reformers did tie no man to believe their prophecies as scriptures. We are to give faith to the predictions of prophets and apostles, foretelling facts to come, as to the very word of God; [but] they never gave themselves out as organs immediately inspired by the Holy Ghost, as the prophets do, and as Paul did, Rom. 11, prophesying the calling of the Jews; Rev 1:10, and through the whole book. Yea, they never denounced judgment against those that believe not their predictions, of these particular events and facts as they are such particular events and facts, as the prophets and apostles did. But Mrs. Hutchinson said ( Rise, Reign, p. 61, art. 27): That her particular revelations about future events were as infallible as any scripture, and that she is bound as much to believe them as the scripture, for the same Holy Ghost is author of both. Familists take the word preached for the printed inky letter, or the airy, dead sound of the gospel. We take it for letter and sound of preaching, as it includes the thing signified: to wit, Christ, and all his promises, in which sense the sounding of the gospel heard works many years after it is preached; and the word long ago preached may be waked up by a sad affliction, an inspiration from God, and produce the work of conversion, and still it is the word of truth in the scripture that produces faith and is the same seed that lies many months under the clod and grows and brings forth fruit after. And we know Antinomians reject the scriptures and build all upon inward revelations, as their binding and obliging rule.
2. The events revealed to godly and sound witnesses of Christ are not contrary to the word. But Becold, John Mathie, and John Schykerm (who killed his brother for no fault) and other enthusiasts, of that murdering spirit Satan, who killed innocent men, expressly against the sixth commandment, Thou shalt not kill; and taught the Boors of Germany to rise and kill all lawful magistrates, because they were magistrates; upon the pretence and impulses and inspirations of the Holy Ghost, were activated by inspirations against the word of God. All that the godly Reformers foretold of the tragic ends of the proclaimed enemies of gospel they were not actors themselves in murdering these enemies of God; nor would Mr. Wishart command or approve that Norman and John Leslie should kill the Cardinal Beaton as they did.
3. They had a general rule going along that evil shall hunt the wicked man: only a secret harmless, but an extraordinary strong impulse, or a scripture -spirit leading them, carried them to apply a general rule of divine justice, in their predictions, to particular godless men, they themselves only being foretellers, not co-partners of the act.
4. They [the Reformers] were men sound in the faith opposite to Popery, Prelacy, Socinianism, Papism, lawless enthusiasm, Antinomianism, Arminianism, Arianism, and what else is contrary to sound doctrine. All these being wanting in such as hold this fourth sort of revelations, we cannot judge them but Satanical characters. (1.) They are not pure and harmless; but thrust men upon the bloody and wicked practices forbidden by God. Though God bade Abraham kill his only son for him, to try his obedience, yet God countermanded him, and would not have him act accordingly. These spirits actually kill the innocent upon a pretended Spirit's impulse. (2.) They have no rule of the word to countenance them, and if they lead men from the law and the testimony, it is because there is no light in them, Isa. 8:20. (3.) These revelations lodge in men of rotten and corrupt minds destitute of the truth, and they are opposite and destructive to sanctification. (4.) They argue the scriptures to be imperfect, and to be a lame and maneked directory, of faith and manners, contrary to the scriptures, Ps. 19:7-9; 2 Tim. 3:15-16; Luke 16:30-31; John 20:30-31; Acts 26:22; Ps. 119:105, etc. (5.) Then the scripture shall not decide all controverted truths, nor be that by which we shall find the truth and the rule of trying the spirits, whether they be of God, or not, contrary to 1 John 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:21; and contrary to the laudable example of the noble Bereans, who tried Paul's doctrine by the scriptures, Acts 17:11. (6.) Christ's knocks and stirrings on the heart, sounds and breathes the breathings of God in his word; the devil's knock is a dumb and dead knock and is destitute of the word of truth. (7.) Men do and act all things from their own spirit, and walk in the light of their own sparks and there is no end of erring and wandering from God, when they act by no certain known rule of the word.
In speaking of revelation, it is clear the Scots are using terminology in some respects different from the way it is employed by many 20th-century "evangelicals." With frequent appeals to scripture, the Scots illustrate the senses in which they understand the term revelation. When modern writers use the term in a more restricted sense (i.e., revelation equals inspiration), they will misunderstand the 17th-century authors, if they impose on the Scots a restricted sense of the term.
It is important to understand Rutherfurd's four-fold division of revelation. The first sort is what contemporary theologians would restrict to inspiration: that is, the revelation of God which produced the canon of holy scripture. Rutherfurd admits no new revelation of this type. Thus he is critical of those Antinomians, who "reject the scriptures and build upon all inward revelations, as their binding and obliging rule."
The second sort of revelation is often called illumination; it is a work of the Holy Spirit common to all of God's elect.
The third sort of revelation is an extraordinary gift, bestowed upon godly men in peculiar situations. In many cases it was imparted to martyrs shortly before their deaths; and it served to seal their testimony at the conclusion of their labors, rather than draw attention to their ministry while it was ongoing. In other cases, revelations were given to men engaged in Reformation during times of heated opposition. These revelations took the form of premonitions about personal sufferings, or consisted of a prediction of God's judgment upon particular persons who were manifest enemies of the gospel. In all cases, these occurrences were extraordinary and occasional in other words, the recipients of these revelations obtained a glimpse of particular events in the future, but did not retain the ability to foretell the future throughout their careers. Further, those who did live to see their predictions fulfilled never employed these facts to impose a rule of duty upon themselves or others, beyond what was given in the sacred canon of scripture.
The fourth sort of revelation is that of lying impulses, falsely attributed to God. Throughout church history, these counterfeit revelations are found frequently among corrupt sects of enthusiasts and Antinomians. They are brought forth by men of known heretical tendencies. These new "revelations" supplant the authority of scripture among the heretics, even contradicting known precepts of the word. The heretics seek to make their "revelations" an ordinary occurrence in the church, often resulting in ludicrous proclamations and unfulfilled prophecies.
In his Commentary upon the Book of the Revelation, James Durham has a brief essay on prophesying. The essay contains comments pertinent to the subject at hand, and because Durham's work is not generally accessible, we are reproducing the entire essay below.
There is much spoken of prophesying in this book [Revelation], and of prophets, chapter 11; and Jezebel, chapter 2 is reproved for taking to her the name of a prophetess. And here the reviving of prophecy is spoken of in this chapter. It may be enquired then, how these places are to be understood? And if prophesying may be now expected in the church? Or, if that gift has now fully ceased? or in what respect?
We consider prophecy or prophets, in a threefold consideration:
1. In respect of the matter that is brought forth: which is either, (1.) Some general truth not formerly revealed in the word. Or, (2.) Some particular, contrary to what is formerly revealed there, either in doctrine or practice. Of this kind might be the Israelites' borrowing of jewels, Abraham's taking of his son to sacrifice him, and many such practices which cannot be condemned, yet do not agree with the precepts that are in the word for directing of the people of God in their ordinary carriage. Or, (3.) It is some particular, neither formerly revealed, nor yet in itself contrary to the word, but that which concerns some particular event, or personal duty allenarly [only].
2. We may consider it again, as it holds forth an ordinary or extraordinary way, how these things, or any thing else, come to be known, although the matter be a truth formerly revealed in the word, such as the matter revealed to these prophets, 1 Cor. 14, which was to be tried by the word.
3. It may be considered, in respect of the proposing of what is revealed to others, to be a direction, or, to rule them in their practice, and that either by recording it as scripture, as some of the prophets of old did, or, by taking an office or authority, and by virtue of that to do it. Or otherwise, we may answer in these assertions.
Assert. 1. There is now no gift of prophecy, either for the bringing forth of any truth not formerly delivered, nor any gift to warrant one in a particular, simply condemned in the word, as to take another's goods, life, station, etc., so as to be warranted merely by such a revelation in things otherwise unlawful, as it is like prophetical men of old, in some of their practices were, which to us are no precedent for our warrant; which appears, (1.) Because now the word is complete, furnished with truths, to make the man of God perfect for every good work, and that in respect of the last administration of the covenant; there is, therefore, no access to the
adding of any new matter. (2.) Because, if any other gospel, or duty, contrary to this word which we have received, be preached, we are not to receive it, but to account him accursed that carries it, under whatsoever pretext he do it, if he were an angel; and this leaves no place for admitting either of truths, or duties, contrary to the word, Gal. 1. (3.) The commination added in the close of this book [Revelation], chapter 22, confirms this, there being the same reason against adding unto, or detracting from the scriptures in general, or any part of them, as there is in reference to this book, all of them being of the same authority, yet is it not without weight added to this as the close of all. (4.) The gifts of prophecies, being now generally ceased, as afterward will be clear, and the Lord having thought more mediately and solidly, as it is called a more sure word of prophesy, 2 Pet. 1:19, to feed his church, viz. by his word; and he having given now much more scripture under the gospel than under the law, to supply the want of immediately inspired prophets; and, considering how rare the examples of God's calling for duties seemingly contrary to moral commands are, and what absurdities would follow, if now any such gift should be pretended unto, in reference to such matter. We conceive it therefore safe and necessary to conclude, that there is now, after reformation [Heb. 9:10], no such gift of prophecy, or prophets, to be expected or admitted, who may add any new truth to the word, or command any new duty contrary to it, by arrogating to themselves, or imposing something as duty on others, which the moral grounds of the word do not allow of; and it is confirmed by this, that we are commanded to try the spirits; and even the revelations of extraordinary prophets, 1 Cor. 14, were to be tried and judged: which can be by no rule, but by the word. It follows, therefore, that no revelation, containing anything contrary to the word, is to be admitted or received as from the Spirit of the Lord.
Assert. 2. Yet it is not altogether to be denied, but that the Lord may, in particulars of the last kind, sometimes, reveal himself to some, by foretelling events before they come, such as the famine that Agabus foretold of, or Paul's imprisonment were; of such the history of the martyrs and saints do sometimes make mention: and particularly, Athanasius is often advertised of hazards, as is recorded, and in the verity cannot be denied; and of this sort there were many at the reviving of the light of the gospel who, by foretelling of particular events, were famous, as John Huss's foretelling, within a hundred years after him, to follow the outbreaking of reformation; such, it is likely, was Hieronymus Savonarola, who was burnt by the Pope, not as was pretended, for foretelling of events, as they imputed to him, by unlawful means, but for faithful reproving of his faults, as he is described by Philip de Cumius, and other authors: of such many were in this land, as Messrs. Wishart, Knox, Welch, Davidson, etc. And this cannot be said altogether to be made void: for, although God has now closed the canon of scripture, yet that he should be restrained in his freedom, from manifesting of himself thus, there is no convincing ground to bear it out, especially when experience has often proven the contrary in the most holy men. Yet, (1.) This is not habitual or ordinary to any, but is singular at some few times, and in some few cases. (2.) Every persuasion of mind before the event comes, and answerableness in it when it comes, will not be sufficient to make it pass for a prophetical foreknowledge, more than when in dreams it may often so fall out. (3.) This will not denominate one to be a prophet, although, in some singular events, God makes this use of him. Nor, 4. Can such predictions warrant any to do a thing as a duty, which otherwise would not be warrantable unto them. (5.) There is difference to be put betwixt the simple foretelling of an event, which may be of God, and a conclusion which may be drawn therefrom; this may be of ourselves, as we may see in the predictions of these, Acts 21, who foretold of Paul's imprisonment at Jerusalem, yet was not that to divert him from his going there, as many collected; that therefore was not from God, as Paul's pressure in the spirit to go notwithstanding, does clear; every such prediction therefore cannot make be made a rule of duty, seeing the Lord may have other good ends of trial, advertisement and confirmation in it. And we will not find, that any have made use of such particular revelations, as from them to press a duty upon others, that would not otherwise be warrantable, although, when it concurs with other grounds, it may have its weight for swaying in lawful things.
Assert. 3. Prophecy, taken for an immediate revealing of gospel truth and mysteries, such as that, 1 Cor. 14, and what was frequent in the apostolic times, is now ceased; and there is neither such a gift, nor such an office: (1.) There is not such a gift; for it is not common to all that are renewed; it was not so in the apostles' days; there were diversities of gifts; and this gift is distinguished from saving grace, 1 Cor. 12, and 14, etc., neither is that particular gift of prophesy continued; for, there is no other gift continued, as these of healing, tongues, and interpretations, whereby men may come in an immediate way to the exercise of these. And, (2.) Experience shows, that that has ceased, and God calls men to the use of ordinary means for the attaining of the knowledge of his will; and there being now no such gift that will abide trial, there is therefore no such office to be pleaded for, that follows upon that; yet even these prophets, in the matter prophesied by them, were to be tried by the word and judged; and, in the gift, if it were a revelation indeed, 1 Cor. 14. Now, there being none such who can abide that proof, we are not, at least, without that, to acknowledge such a gift, or such an office.
Assert. 4. Yet, if we take prophecy for the understanding of God's mind, and for attaining to be well acquainted with the mysteries of God, by a mediate way; yea, and that beyond the applied means, or to have a gift and capacity for discerning of these things with little pains, and that beyond what some others can attain unto by any labor, we conceive, that in this sense prophecy, and prophets, may be said to be continued in the church; and such God raised up in the time of reformation, men singularly gifted with a prophetical spirit in this sense, which may be the fulfilling of this prophesied in this chapter [Rev. 10].
Assert. 5. No gift of prophecy now can warrant one authoritatively to set down his light, although it be truth, as canonical scripture, or as of equal authority from itself with the writings of Moses, etc., and other scriptures, that in the first assertion was cast, though one, by his gift, may reason from, or genuinely open these scriptures by writ, as by word.
Assert. 6. No gift can warrant one to take on him the office of an authoritative preacher, even though, in some particulars, God's mind extraordinarily should be revealed to him; for, it is not the gift that gives the authority of an office, but God's authoritative mission; otherwise a woman, as Philip's daughters, might be an officer in the church, and have public access to preach and teach, which yet the New Testament admits not, even when it speaks of this gift of prophecy, 1 Cor. 14, and orders the practice of extraordinary prophets; there, this inhibition is inferred, and elsewhere; yea, even in these primitive times, there was a trial of spirits and gifts by the prophets, before any was to be accounted such: beside, one may have a particular event revealed to him, who yet may be more unacquainted with the mystery of the gospel than others, who, by God's blessing, have attained to knowledge in an ordinary way; and if it cannot warrant an office to such, neither will it do in this case: there is now therefore no prophet by an immediate call.
Assert. 7. Yet we say, that as God, by gifts, may furnish some in a more than ordinary way; so may he, and uses he to thrust them out in a mixed way to the exercise of these for the edification of his church, and make the seal of his call extraordinarily ratify his sending of them, that is, as he may furnish men partly by means, and especially by his blessing, extraordinarily accompanying them out, partly in a mediate way, by men's opening of the door, partly by his more than ordinary thrusting of them out, making up so what was defective in his mediate call, by some extraordinary concurrences of impulse and gifts within, of circumstances of providence without, and of efficacy upon, and acceptance of it amongst others, by which it is ratified. This the Lord fulfilled at the entry of the reformation, raising up men comparatively, extraordinarily furnished and commissioned for his work, yet still ministers of the same gospel, and walking according to the common rule with others in their ministerial charge; this is not ordinarily to be imitated, but where the like cases, call, and circumstances concur; and thus the Lord in old stirred up men at times of reformation, to take on them the furtherance of his work, who yet were not properly extraordinary prophets, or officers, or Levites; nor ordinarily called magistrates, as Nehemiah, Ezra, and others, who did both differ from Haggai, Zechariah, and such who were properly called prophets on the one hand, and from Joshua, Zerubbabel, and such who were ordinarily and properly priests and magistrates on the other; which yet in ordinary and settled conditions was not done.
Like Gillespie, Durham is willing to speak of "prophets" in a secondary sense: that is, men "well acquainted with the mysteries of God, by a mediate way;" and further, having "a gift and capacity for discerning of these things with little pains, and that beyond what some others can attain unto by any labor." At the outset of the reformation, God raised up "men comparatively, extraordinarily furnished and commissioned for his work." Nevertheless, these eminent men were "still ministers of the same gospel, and walking according to the common rule with others in their ministerial charge." Thus, these reformation "prophets" are clearly distinguished from the prophets of old who had a gift "for immediate revealing of gospel truth and mysteries ... that has ceased, and God calls men to the use of ordinary means for the attaining of the knowledge of his will."
Durham is also careful to note that a revelation about a particular event, does not constitute the office of prophet, or any other office in the church: "it is not the gift that gives the authority of an office, but God's authoritative mission ... beside, one may have a particular event revealed to him, who yet may be more unacquainted with the mystery of the gospel than others, who, by God's blessing, have attained to knowledge in an ordinary way."
Moreover, Durham warns that, even if someone receives a revelation about a future event, it is easy for people to fall into misconceptions concerning the implications of that revelation. This caution is reinforced by the example of Agabus's prophecy about the opposition awaiting Paul. From the correct facts of the prophecy, many persons drew incorrect conclusions, and wrongly sought to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem. Thus, a revelation about particular events cannot be used to determine a rule of duty apart from the written word of God.
With this understanding, Durham rehearses examples of revelations of particular events, given to key individuals during unsettled times in the Church. Durham mentions the same persons named by Rutherfurd and Gillespie: Wishart, Knox, Welch, etc. The utterances of these men included predictions of judgments upon notable enemies of the gospel; or, sometimes, they expressed an assurance about the future success of the gospel.
We have examined comments by prominent Reformed writers regarding the extraordinary gifts and church officers. In all cases, the "extraordinary" officers spoken of derive their authority from their calling as ministers of the gospel. In cases where an ordinary call (or ordination) is lacking, special gifts may serve as an adjunct, though unessential, ratification of their commission from Christ. These remarkable men are basically pastors who have been given extraordinary gifts or functions: they may labor outside the bounds of a regular ministry, not being tied to a specific congregation; they are characterized by preeminent spiritual discernment, and/or extraordinary success in their labors for the gospel. In rare cases, they may receive a revelation from God about a specific event in the future.
While Calvin, Gillespie, or Durham may speak of reformation "evangelists" or "prophets," they do not view them as equivalent to the evangelists or prophets of Old Testament and apostolic times. Rather, they are speaking of ministers who have added functions or gifts similar to those of special officers of old. Thus, if these writers employ the term "prophet" or "evangelist," they do so in a secondary sense of the term. Nevertheless, when they employ these terms in a secondary sense, it should not obscure the fact that they are describing genuine occurrences of extraordinary gifts gifts which are not present when the church is in a normal, settled condition.
Modern scholastic "Calvinists" appear nervous when discussing the themes of extraordinary gifts and church officers. One reason for this reluctance is that many seminary professors, sequestered in ivory towers, are unwilling to entertain notions that might threaten their careers. After all, if the church is in an unsettled condition, someone might bear responsibility for spreading unsettling influences.
Other contemporary theologians fear that, if we acknowledge the possi-bility of extraordinary revelations, such as the Scottish writers describe, we will make dangerous concessions to Charismatics. Additionally, we have heard rumors of one speaker who is citing Rutherfurd in support of continuing revelation of a sort the Scots would never condone. The Scots provide no support for the modern Charismatics. The Scots assert the sufficiency of scripture as our rule of duty; Charismatics supplant the scripture with private impulses to guide them. The Scots hold to the gospel of the sovereign grace of God, which is the only true gospel; Charismatics hold to other "gospels," such as the gospel of "decisionalism" and other perverted corruptions flowing from Pelagianism. The Scots see extra-ordinary gifts as an accessory to genuine Reformation; Charismatic views breed anarchy. The Scots see extraordinary revelations as occasional and rare; Charismatics would make private revelations an ordinary rule in the life of the Church. The claim that the Scots lend support to modern Charismatics is totally unfounded; it is particularly odd in view of the fact that Rutherfurd's book is primarily a rebuttal of the Charismatics of his own age.
The reason why modern "Reformed" and "evangelical" authors have so much trouble with Charismatics is that they are all too much alike. The fundamental flaws of the Charismatic movement are completely overlooked if the discussion turns merely on the subject of "spiritual gifts." The real issues at stake are the nature of the gospel and true worship; and these issue are largely ignored, because modern "Reformed" and "evangelical" churches really do not believe that the Pelagianism of the Charismatics is "another gospel," or that human devices in worship are idolatry. And this is just one more proof that we presently live in unsettled times for the Church: the most "conservative" and "orthodox" congregations do not even perceive that the true gospel and true worship have been exchanged for vanities of human invention.
1. Institutes of the Christian Religion (edited by John T. McNeill, translated by Ford Lewis Battles; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), p. 1057 (Book IV, ch. III, sec. 4.).
2. Miscellany, Chapter V, section 1, point 3.
3. Miscellany, Chapter VII.
4. Miscellany, Chapter V, section 7.
5. Thomas M'Crie, The Story of the Scottish Church (1874; rpt. Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1988), pp. 21-22. For specific examples, see M'Crie's remarks about George Wishart (pp. 19-22), David Fergusson (p. 80), Robert Bruce (pp. 122-23), Robert Blair (pp. 123-24), John Welsh (p. 340), and Donald Cargill (pp. 345-46). Regarding the case of John Knox, it is widely known that he made several startling predictions during his lifetime: for examples, see P. Hume Brown, John Knox, I:85-86; and Knox's Works. IV:420, note 1.
6. The First and Second Books of Discipline (rpt. Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1993); Second Book of Discipline, Chapter 2, "Of the Parts of the Policy of the Kirk, and Persons or Office-Bearers to Whom the Administration Thereof is Committed," pp. 127-28.
7. "The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government," in The Confession of Faith; the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, etc. (Inverness: Publications Committee of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, 1976), p. 398.
8. Samuel Rutherfurd, A Survey of Spiritual Antichrist (London, 1648), p. 39
9. A Survey of Spiritual Antichrist (London, 1648), p. 39-45.
10. James Durham, Commentary upon the Book of Revelation. Glasgow, 1788 edition, pp. 484-87.
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