This text of this edition is based upon An Essay, on the Warrant, Nature and Duties of the Office of the Ruling Elder, in the Presbyterian Church (New York: Jonathan Leavitt; Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1831). The material selected for this reprint was extracted from Chapter 11, pp. 192-204, 208-15 and Chapter 11, pp. 244-59. The present text has been grammatically revised in order to bring it into greater conformity with contemporary spelling, punctuation, and usage.
Copyright © 1984 by Presbyterian Heritage Publications
Second Edition, 1994
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During the nineteenth century, Samuel Miller was a premier spokesman for Presbyterianism. His concerns reflected the interests of the American Presbyterian Church. Throughout his writings, Miller displayed a special concern for church government.
Samuel Miller was ordained in 1793, and he began his pastoral career in the presbyterian church in New York City. Over the next two decades, he became a prominent figure within the American presbyterian church. He was elected moderator of the general assembly in 1806.
In 1809, Miller preached a sermon on The Divine Appointment, the Duties, and the Qualifications of Ruling Elders. The sermon was published in 1811, and it would serve as the basis for his book on the ruling elder.
Princeton Seminary began classes in 1812, with Archibald Alexander serving as its first professor. One year later, the general assembly selected Samuel Miller as the second instructor for Princeton, to serve as the professor of ecclesiastical history and church government, a position he held for thirtyfive years.
In 1816, the general assembly placed Miller, with two others, on a committee to revise the Form of Government. The amended Form of Government was ratified by the General Assembly in 1821.
Miller issued an expanded treatment of the eldership in 1831, under the title of An Essay, on the Warrant, Nature and Duties of the Office of the Ruling Elder, in the Presbyterian Church. By the time the volume was published, Miller had the benefit of twenty years of pastoral experience, and almost twenty more years of academic pursuits.
Miller's book contains an extensive scriptural and historical presentation on the ruling elder. He asserts the biblical warrant for presbyterian government, focussing especially on the basis for the office of elder. Miller treats passages in both the Old and New Testaments. He discusses the governmental structure of the Jewish synagogue, and how certain elements were carried over into New Testament Church government. He then offers an historical treatment of the elder's office _ traced from the church fathers, through the Reformation, and up to contemporary practice.
Following this presentation, the reader finds a section of tremendously practical material on the duties and qualifications of elders. At one point, Miller remarks:
There is no advantage whatever to be gained by electing unsuitable men to this office, for the sake of adding mere numbers to the church session. It is much better to get along with three or four pious, wise and prudent elders, than to add two or three dozens to their ranks of men of an opposite stamp, who, by their want of piety and wisdom, might be a nuisance instead of a comfort _ a curse, instead of a blessing. Pastors, then, and their churches, instead of making haste to fill up the ranks of their congregational senators with unsuitable members, had better wait patiently until the Head of the church shall provide for them candidates in some measure after his own heart.
Prior to Miller's book on the ruling elder, there was no work in American presbyterianism which provided a systematic treatment of the subject. After Miller's work was published, it became a textbook for all subsequent discussion on the eldership.
Many presbyterians are aware of a number of disputes which developed about the eldership during the nineteenth century. In the mid1800s, R. J. Breckinridge and James Henley Thornwell carried on a dispute with Thomas Smyth and Charles Hodge. Later in the century, it was Thornwell and R.L. Dabney against Smyth and Hodge. What is often overlooked is that all of these theologians were compelled, in some measure, to come to terms with Miller's work on the eldership. Miller's book provides the starting point for all subsequent discussion about the topic by American authors. As one of Miller's contemporaries stated: "By his writings, and by his instructions, he [Miller] became, perhaps more than any other man, the recognized authority of the presbyterian church in all matters relating to her polity and order."
Much of the controversy over the eldership reached a peak after Miller's death (in 1850). Nevertheless, men on each side of the controversy continued to cite Miller's writings, in an attempt to bolster their arguments. Thornwell and Dabney tended to draw on several of the practical elements in Miller's writings. Hence, the reader cannot fully understand the discussions in these later debates, unless he first has a grasp of Miller's previous writings on the eldership.
During the course of the debates, Thornwell made an astute observation concerning his opponent, Charles Hodge:
In the departments suited to his genius he has no superior. But there are departments to which he is not adapted. Whether it be that Dr. Hodge has never been a pastor, and knows little of the actual working of our system, or whether his mind is of an order that refuses to deal with the practical and concrete, it so happens that he has never touched the questions connected with the nature and organization of the church without being singularly unhappy.
Regardless of what one thinks of Hodge, or of Thornwell's opinion of him, Thornwell has struck upon an important theme. There is a crying need for practical treatments respecting the components of the presbyterian system of church government. Unlike Hodge, however, most contemporary authors are not unhappy from attempts to deal with such questions. Rather, they are oblivious to them; they scarcely ever touch the issues connected with the nature and organization of the church.
An emphasis on the practical aspects of the eldership needs to be restored in presbyterian churches. Congregations need to ask the questions: "What should be expected from our elders? What duties should they perform? What characteristics should we expect to find in men suited for the office of elder?" The present selection from Miller's writings should help to promote thought about the eldership.
A brief word needs to be added respecting the stylistic changes in this new edition of Miller's writings. Miller's original publications suffered greatly from erratic punctuation and awkward sentence construction. This may be attributed to two factors: (1.) the English language passed through many changes over the course of Miller's lifetime; and (2.) most of Miller's material was initially produced for oral delivery, such as in classroom lectures and sermons. Consequently, Miller's written style is rough.
The publisher has sought to make Miller's style a bit more readable through a numberof grammatical revisions: the deletion of many superfluous commas, the elimination of the excessive use of the subjunctive mood, the introduction of semicolons to set apart lengthy clauses within long sentences, and the use of parentheses and dashes to set apart many parenthetical phrases. Even with these changes, Miller's style remains rough. If the reader still encounters difficulty in spots, it is recommended that he read the material aloud, as it would be delivered in an oral presentation. It is worth a little extra effort, in order to grasp the emphasis of the text.
It is the desire of the publisher that this booklet will challenge church members to exercise care in the selection of their officers. Further, it is hoped that the elders of the church will see the importance of the sacred duties of their office. May all work together to rebuild the walls of Zion, to the glory of Christ.
Footnotes for Publisher's Introduction
1. An Essay on the Warrant, Nature and Duties of the Office of the Ruling Elder (New York, 1831), pp. 272-73.
2. Dr. Leroy J. Halsey, cited in The Life of Samuel Miller, D.D., ll.d. (by Samuel Miller [the younger]; Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen and Haffelfinger, 1869), vol. 2, p. 507.
3. The Collected Writings of James Henley Thronwell (1875; rpt. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), vol. 4, pp. 243-44.
The essential character of the officer of whom we speak is that of an ecclesiastical ruler. "He that ruleth, let him do it with diligence" (cf. Rom. 12:8), is the summary of his appropriate functions, as laid down in scripture. The teaching elder is, indeed, also a ruler. In addition to this, however, he is called to preach the gospel and administer [the] sacraments. But the particular department assigned to the ruling elder is to cooperate with the pastor in spiritual inspection and government. The scriptures, as we have seen, speak not only of "pastors and teachers" (Eph. 4:11), but also of "governments" (1 Cor. 12:28) _ of "elders that rule well, but do not labour in the word and doctrine" (cf. 1 Tim. 5:17).
There is an obvious analogy between the office of a ruler in the church, and in the civil community. A justice of the peace in the latter has a wide and important range of duties. Besides the function which he discharges when called to take his part on the bench of the judicial court in which he presides, he may be, and often is, employed every day (though less publicly) in correcting abuses, compelling the fraudulent to do justice, restraining, arresting, and punishing criminals, and, in general, carrying into execution the laws formed to promote public tranquility and order, which he has sworn to administer faithfully.
Strikingly analogous to this are the duties of the ecclesiastical ruler. He has no power, indeed, to employ the secular arm in restraining or punishing offenders against the laws of Christ. The kingdom under which he acts, and the authority which he administers, are not of this world. He has, of course, no right to fine, imprison, or externally molest the most profligate offenders against the church's purity or peace _ unless they are guilty of what is technically called "breaking the peace:" that is, violating the civil rights of others and thus rendering themselves liable to the penalty of the civil law. And even when this occurs, the ecclesiastical ruler, as such, has no right to proceed against the offender. He has no other than moral power. He must apply to the civil magistrate for redress, who can only punish for breaking the civil law. Still there is an obvious analogy between his office and that of the civil magistrate. Both are alike an ordinance of God. Both are necessary to social order and comfort. And both are regulated by principles which commend themselves to the good sense and the conscience of those who wish well to social happiness.
The ruling elder, no less than the teaching elder (or pastor), is to be considered as acting under the authority of Christ in all that he rightfully does. If the office of which we speak was appointed in the apostolic church by infinite wisdom _ if it is an ordinance of Jesus Christ, just as much as that of the minister of the gospel _ then the former, equally with the latter, is Christ's officer. He has a right to speak and act in his name; and though elected by the members of the church (and representing them in the exercise of ecclesiastical rule), yet he is not to be considered as deriving his authority to rule from them, any more than he who "labours in the word and doctrine" derives his authority to preach and administer other ordinances from the people who make choice of him as their teacher and guide.
There is a reason to believe that some, even in the presbyterian church, take a different view of this subject. They regard the teaching elder as an officer of Christ and listen to his official instructions as to those of a man appointed by him [Christ], and coming in his name. But with respect to the ruling elder, they are wont to regard him as one who holds an office instituted by human prudence alone, and, therefore, as standing on very different ground in the discharge of his official duties from that which is occupied by the "ambassador of Christ" (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20). This is undoubtedly an erroneous view of the subject, and a view which, so far as it prevails, is adapted to exert the most mischievous influence. The truth is, if the office of which we speak is of apostolic authority, we are just as much bound to sustain, honour, and obey the individual who fills it, and discharges its duties according to the scriptures, as we are to submit to any other officer or institution of our Divine Redeemer.
We are by no means, then, to consider ruling elders as a mere ecclesiastical convenience, or as a set of counsellors whom the wisdom of man alone has chosen, and who may, therefore, be reverenced and obeyed as little or as much as human caprice may think proper; but as bearing an office of divine appointment _ as the "ministers of God for good" (cf. Rom. 13:4) to his church _ and whose lawful and regular acts ought to command our conscientious obedience.
The ruling elders of each church are called to attend to a public and formal, or to a more private sphere of duty.
With regard to the first, of the PUBLIC and FORMAL duties of their office, they form, in the church to which they belong, a bench or judicial court, called among us the church session, and in some other presbyterian denominations, the consistory: both expressions importing a body of ecclesiastical men sitting and acting together, as the representatives, and for the benefit of the church. This body of elders, with the pastor at their head and presiding at their meetings, forms a judicial assembly, by which all the spiritual interests of the congregation are to be watched over, regulated, and authoritatively determined. Accordingly, it is declared in the ninth chapter of our Form of Government:
The church session is charged with maintaining the spiritual government of the congregation; for which purpose they have the power to inquire into the knowledge and Christian conduct of the members of the church; to call before them offenders and witnesses, being members of their own congregation, and to introduce witnesses, where it may be necessary to bring the process to issue, and when they can be procured to attend; to receive members into the church; to admonish, to rebuke, to suspend, or exclude from the sacraments, those who are found to deserve censure; to concert the best measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the congregation; and to appoint delegates to the higher judicatories of the church. [Form of Government, 1821 revision, 9:6.]
This general statement of the powers and duties of the church session, it will be perceived, takes in a wide range. Or rather, to speak more properly, it embraces the whole of that authority and duty with which the great Head of the church has been pleased to invest the governing powers of each particular congregation, for the instruction, edification and comfort of the whole body. To the church session it belongs to bind and loose; to admit to the communion of the church, with all its privileges; to take cognizance of all departures from the purity of faith or practice; to try, censure, acquit, or excommunicate those who are charged with offences; to consult and determine upon all matters relating to the time, place, and circumstances of worship, and other spiritual concerns; to take order about catechizing children, congregational fasts or thanksgiving days, and an other observances, stated or occasional; to correct, as far as possible, everything that may tend to disorder, or is contrary to edification; and to digest and execute plans for promoting a spirit of inquiry, of reading, of prayer, of order, and of universal holiness among the members of the church. It is also incumbent on them, when the church over which they preside is destitute of a pastor, to take the lead in those measures which may conduce to the choice of a suitable candidate, by calling the people together for the purpose of an election when they consider them as prepared to make it with advantage.
Although, in ordinary cases, the pastor of the church may be considered as vested with the right to decide whom he will invite to occupy his pulpit (either when he is present, or occasionally absent), yet, in cases of difficulty or delicacy _ and especially when ministers of other denominations apply for the use of the pulpit _ it is the prerogative of the church session to consider and decide on the application. And if there is any fixed difference of opinion between the pastor and the other members of the session in reference to this matter, it is the privilege and duty of either party to request advice of their presbytery in the case.
In the church session, whether the pastor is present and presiding or not, every member has an equal voice. The vote of the most humble and retiring ruling elder is of the same avail as that of his minister, so that no pastor can carry any measure unless he can obtain the concurrence of a majority of the eldership. And as the whole spiritual government of each church is committed to its bench of elders, the session is competent to regulate every concern, and to correct everything which they consider amiss in the arrangements or affairs of the church which admits of correction. Every individual of the session is, of course, competent to propose any new service, plan, or measure which he believes will be for the benefit of the congregation; and if a majority of the elders concur with him in opinion, it may be adopted. If, in any case, however, there should be a difference of opinion between the pastor and the elders (as to the propriety or practicability of any measure proposed) and insisted on by the latter, there is an obvious and effectual constitutional remedy _ a remedy, however, which ought to be resorted to with prudence, caution, and prayer. The opinions and wishes of the pastor ought, undoubtedly, to be treated with the most respectful delicacy. Still, they ought not to be suffered, when it is possible to avoid it, to stand in the way of great and manifest good. When such an alternative occurs, the remedy alluded to may be applied. On an amicable reference to the presbytery, that body may decide the case between the parties.
And as the members of the church session, whether assembled in their judicial capacity or not, are the pastor's counsellors and colleagues in all matters relating to the spiritual rule of the church, so it is their official duty to encourage, sustain and defend him in the faithful discharge of his duty. It is deplorable, when a minister is assailed for his fidelity by the profane or the worldly, if any portion of the eldership either takes part against him, or shrinks from his active and determined defence. It is not meant, of course, that they are to consider themselves bound to sustain him in everything he may say or do, whether right or wrong; but that, when they really believe him to be faithful, both to truth and duty, they should feel it their duty to stand by him, to shield him from the arrows of the wicked, and to encourage him as far as he obeys Christ.
But besides those duties which pertain to ruling elders, with the pastor, in their collective capacity as a judicatory of the church, there are others which are incumbent on them at all times, in the intervals of their judicial meetings, and by the due discharge of which they may be constantly edifying the body of Christ. It is their duty to have an eye of inspection and care over all the members of the congregation; and, for this purpose, to cultivate a universal and intimate acquaintance, as far as may be, with every family in the flock of which they are made "overseers." They are bound to watch over the children and youth, and especially baptized children, with paternal vigilance, recognizing and affectionately addressing them on all proper occasions; giving them, and their parents in reference to them, seasonable counsel, and putting in the Lord's claim to their hearts and lives as children of the church. It is their duty to attend to the case of those who are serious and disposed to inquire concerning their eternal interest _ to converse with them, and, from time to tune, to give information concerning them to the pastor. It is their duty to take notice of, and admonish in private, those who appear to be growing careless or falling into habits in any respect criminal, suspicious or unpromising. It is their duty to visit and pray with the sick, as far as their circumstances admit, and to request the attendance of the pastor on the sick, and the dying, when it may be seasonable or desired.
It is incumbent on them to assist the pastor in maintaining meetings for social prayer; to take part in conducting the devotional exercises in those meetings; to preside in them when the pastor is absent; and, if they are endowed with suitable gifts, under his direction, occasionally to drop a word of instruction and exhortation to the people in those social meetings. If the officers of the church neglect these meetings _ the importance of which cannot be estimated _ there is every reason to apprehend that they will not be duly honoured or attended by the body of the people.
It is the duty of ruling elders, also, to visit the members of the church and their families _ with the pastor, if he requests it, without him, if he does not _ to converse with them; to instruct the ignorant; to confirm the wavering; to caution the unwary; to reclaim the wandering; to encourage the timid; and to excite and animate all classes to a faithful and exemplary discharge of duty. It is incumbent on them to consult frequently and freely with their pastor on the interests of the flock committed to their charge; to aid him in forming and executing plans for the welfare of the church; to give him, from time to time, such information as he may need to enable him to perform aright his various and momentous duties; to impart to him, with affectionate respect, their advice; to support him with their influence; to defend his reputation; to enforce his just admonitions; and, in a word, by every means in their power, to promote the comfort and extend the usefulness of his labours.
Although the church session is not competent to try the pastor in the case of his falling into any delinquency (either of doctrine or practice), yet, if the members observe such delinquency, it is not only their privilege, but their duty to admonish him tenderly and respectfully, yet faithfully, in private; and, if necessary, from time to time; and, if the admonition is without effect, and they think the edification of the church admits and demands a public remedy, they ought to represent the case to the presbytery, as before suggested in other cases, and request a redress of the grievance.
But the functions of the ruling elder are not confined to the congregation of which he is one of the rulers. It is his duty at such times, and in such orders as the constitution of the church requires, to take his seat in the higher judicatories of the church, and there to exercise his official share of counsel and authority. In every presbytery, synod and general assembly of the presbyterian church, at least as many ruling as teaching elders are entitled to a place _ and in all the former, as well as the latter, have an opportunity of exerting an important influence in the great concerns of Zion. Every congregation, whether provided with a pastor or vacant, is entitled, besides the pastor (where there is one), to be represented by one ruling elder in all meetings of the presbytery and synod; and as, in those bodies, vacant congregations and those which are supplied with pastors are equally represented, each by an elder, it is manifest, if the theory of our ecclesiastical constitution is carried into effect, there will always be a greater number of ruling elders than of pastors present. In the general assembly, according to our constitutional plan, the numbers of each are precisely equal.
In these several judicatories, the ruling elder has an equal vote and the same power, in every respect, with the pastors. He has the same privilege of originating plans and measures, and of carrying them, provided he can induce a majority of the body to concur in his views; and thus [he] may become the means of imparting his impressions and producing an influence greatly beyond the particular congregation with which he is connected, and, indeed, throughout the bounds of the presbyterian church in the United States. This consideration serves to place the nature and importance of the office in the strongest light. He who bears it has the interest of the church as a spiritual trust, as really and solemnly _ though not in all respects to the same extent _ committed to him as the elder who "labours in the word and doctrine." He not only has it in his power, but is daily called, in the discharge of his official duties, to watch over, inspect, regulate, and edify the body of Christ; to enlighten the ignorant; to admonish the disorderly; to reconcile differences; to correct every moral irregularity and abuse within the bounds of his charge; and to labour without ceasing for the promotion of the cause of truth, piety, and universal righteousness in the church to which he belongs, and wherever else he has an opportunity of raising his voice and exerting an influence.
But when it is considered that those who bear the office in question are called upon, in their turn, to sit in the highest judicatories of the church, and there to take their part in deliberating and deciding on the most momentous questions which can arise in conducting ecclesiastical affairs; when we reflect that they are called to deliberate and decide on the conformity of doctrines to the word of God _ to assist, as judges in the trial of heretics, and every class of offenders against the purity of the gospel, and to take care in their respective spheres that all the ordinances of Christ's house are preserved pure and entire _ when, in a word, we recollect that they are ordained for the express purpose of overseeing and guarding the most precious concerns of the church on earth (concerns which have a bearing not merely on the welfare of a single individual or congregation, but on the great interests of orthodoxy and piety among millions); we may surely conclude, without hesitation, that the office which they sustain is one, the importance of which can scarcely be overrated; and that the estimate which is commonly made of its nature, duties, and responsibility is far, very far, from being adequate.
If this view of the nature and importance of the office before us is admitted, the question very naturally arises, whether it is correct to call this class of elders "layelders;" or whether they have not such a strictly ecclesiastical character as should prevent the use of that language in speaking of them? This is one of the points in the present discussion concerning which the writer of this essay frankly confesses that he has, in some measure, altered his opinion. Once he was disposed to confine the epithet clerical to teaching elders, and to designate those who ruled only, and did not teach, as layelders. But more mature inquiry and reflection have led him first to doubt the correctness of this opinion, and finally to persuade him that, so far as the distinction between clergy and laity is proper at all, it ought not to be made the point of distinction between these two classes of elders, and that, when we speak of one as clergymen and the other as laymen, we are apt to convey an idea altogether erroneous, if not seriously mischievous.
Some judicious and pious men have, indeed, expressed serious doubts whether the terms clergy and laity ought ever to have been introduced into our theological nomenclature. But it is not easy to see any solid reason for this doubt. Is it wise to contend about terms, when the things intended to be expressed by them are fully understood and generally admitted? The only question, then, of real importance to be decided here is this: "Does the New Testament draw any distinct line between those who hold spiritual offices in the church and those who do not? Does it represent functions pertaining to those offices as confined to them, or as common to all Christians?" Now, it seems impossible to read the Acts of the apostles and the several apostolic epistles, especially those to Timothy and Titus, and to examine in connection with these the writings of the apostolic fathers, without perceiving that the distinction between those who bore office in the church and private Christians was clearly made, and uniformly maintained, from the very origin of the church. That the terms clergy and laity are not found in the New Testament, nor in some of the earliest uninspired writers, is freely granted. But is not the distinction intended to be expressed by these terms evidently found in scripture, and in all the early fathers? Nothing can be more indubitably clear. The titles of "rulers" in the house of God, "ambassadors of Christ," "stewards of the mysteries of God," "bishops, leaders, overseers, elders, shepherds, guides, ministers," etc. _ as distinguished from those to whom they ministered _ are so familiar to all readers of the New Testament, that it would be a waste of time to attempt to illustrate or establish a point so unquestionable. If the inspired writers everywhere represent certain spiritual offices in the church as appointed by God; if they represent those who sustain these offices as alone authorized to perform certain sacred functions _ and teach us to consider all others who attempt to perform them as criminal invaders of a divine ordinance _ then surely the whole distinction intended to be expressed by the terms clergy and laity is evidently and most distinctly laid down by the same authority which founded the church.
* * * * *
The scope of the foregoing remarks will not, it is hoped, be mistaken. The author of this essay has no zeal either for retaining or using the terms clergy and laity. So far as the former term has been heretofore used, or may now be intended, to convey the idea of a "privileged order" in the church _ a dignified body, lifted up in rank and claim above the mass of the church members: in a word, as designating a set of men, claiming to be vicars of Christ, keepers of the human conscience and the only channels of grace _ he disclaims and abhors it. He is a believer in no such meaning or men. But so far as it is intended to designate those who are clothed with ecclesiastical office, under the authority of Christ, and authorized to discharge some important spiritual functions, which the body of church members are not authorized to perform _ and to mark the distinction between these two classes _ the writer is of the opinion that the language may be defended, and that either that, or some other of equivalent import, ought to be used, nay, must be used, if we would be faithful to the New Testament view of ecclesiastical office as an ordinance of Jesus Christ. And if the term clergy (in this humble, Christian, and only becoming sense) is applied to those who preside in the dispensation of public ordinances, it may with equal propriety be applied to those who preside with pastors, in the inspection and rule of the church.
If any should be disposed to remark, on this subject, that the use of the term clergy is so appropriated, by long established public habit, to a particular class of ecclesiastical officers, that there can be no hope that the mass of the community will be reconciled to an extension of the title to ruling elders _ the answer is _ be it so. The writer of this volume is neither vain enough to expect, nor ambitious enough to attempt, a change in the popular language to the amount here supposed. But he protests against the continued use of the term layelder, as really adapted to make an erroneous impression. Let the class of officers in question be called ruling elders. Let all necessary distinctions be made by saying "ministers, or pastors, ruling elders, deacons, and the laity, or body of the people." This will be in conformity with ancient usage. This will be maintaining every important principle. This can offend none; and nothing more will be desired by any.
Were the foregoing views of the nature and duties of the elder's office generally adopted, duly appreciated, and faithfully carried out into practice, what a mighty change would be effected in our Zion! With what a different estimate of the obligations and responsibilities which rest upon them would the candidates for this office enter on their sacred work! And with what different feelings would the mass of the people, and especially all who love the cause of Christ, regard these spiritual counsellors and guides in their daily walks, and particularly in their friendly and official visits! This is a change most devoutly to be desired. The interests of the church are more involved in the prevalence of just opinions and practice in reference to this office, than almost any other that can be named. Were every congregation, besides a wise, pious and faithful pastor, furnished with eight or ten elders, to cooperate with him in all his parochial labours, on the plan which has been sketched: men of wisdom, faith, prayer, and Christian activity; men willing to deny and exert themselves for the welfare of Zion; men alive to the importance of everything that relates to the orthodoxy, purity, order and spirituality of the church, and ever on the watch for opportunities of doing good; men, in a word, willing to "take the oversight" of the flock in the Lord, and to labour without ceasing for the promotion of its best interests _ were every church furnished with a body of SUCH ELDERS, can anyone doubt that knowledge, order, piety, and growth in grace, as well as in numbers, would be as common in our churches as the reverse is now the prevailing state of things, in consequence of the want of fidelity on the part of those who are nominally the overseers and guides of the flock?
While discussing the nature of this office, and the duties which pertain to it, it seems to be natural to offer a few remarks on the manner in which those who bear it ought to be treated by the members of the church: in other words, on THE DUTIES WHICH THE CHURCH OWES TO HER RULING ELDERS.
And here the discerning and pious mind will be at no loss to perceive that these duties are correlative to those which the rulers owe to the church. That is, if they are the spiritual rulers of the church _ and bound to perform daily, and with fidelity and zeal, the duties which belong to this station _ it is evident that the members of the church are bound to recognize them in the same character, and to honour and treat them as their spiritual guides. Were it, then, in the power of the writer of this volume to address the members of every presbyterian church in the United States, he would speak to them in some such language as the following.
Every consideration which has been urged to show the importance and duties belonging to the office of ruling elders ought to remind you of the important duties which you owe to them. Remember, at all times, that they are your ecclesiastical rulers: rulers of your own choice, yet by no means coming to you in virtue of mere human authority, but in the name and by the appointment of the great Head of the church _ and, of course, the "ministers of God to you for good" (Rom. 13:4).
In all your views and treatment of them, then, recognize this character. Obey them "in the Lord" (1 Thess. 5:13): that is, for his sake, and as far as they bear rule agreeably to his word. "Esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake." And follow them daily with your prayers, that God would bless them, and make them a blessing. Reverence them as your leaders. Bear in mind the importance of their office, the arduousness of their duties, and the difficulties with which they have to contend. Countenance and sustain them in every act of fidelity; make allowance for their infirmities; and be not unreasonable in your expectations from them.
Many are ready to criminate the elders of the church for not taking notice of particular offences as speedily or in such a manner as they expect. And this disposition to find fault is sometimes indulged by persons who have never been so faithful themselves as to give that information which they possessed respecting the alleged offences; or who, when called upon publicly to substantiate that which they have privately disclosed, have drawn back _ unwilling to encounter the odium or the pain of appearing as accusers, or even as witnesses. Such persons ought to be the last to criminate church officers for supposed negligence of discipline. Can your rulers take notice of that which never comes to their knowledge? Or can you expect them, as prudent men, rashly to set on foot a judicial and public investigation of things concerning which many are ready to whisper in private, but none willing to speak with frankness before a court of Christ? Besides, let it be recollected that the session of almost every church is sometimes actually engaged in investigating charges, in removing offences, and in composing differences which many suppose they are utterly neglecting, merely because they do not judge it to be for edification, in all cases, to proclaim what they have done, or are doing, to the congregation at large.
Your elders will sometimes be called _ God grant that it may seldom occur! _ but they will sometimes be called to the painful exercise of discipline. Be not offended with them for the performance of this duty. Rather, make the language of the psalmist your own: "Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness; and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head" (Ps. 141:5). Add not to the bitterness of their official task by discovering a resentful temper, or by indulging in reproachful language, in return for their fidelity. Surely the nature of the duty is sufficiently selfdenying and distressing, without rendering it more so by unfriendly treatment. Receive their private warnings and admonitions with candour and affectionate submission. Treat their public acts, however contrary to your wishes, with respect and reverence. If they are honest and pious men, can they do less than exercise the discipline in Christ's house against such of you as walk disorderly? Nay, if you are honest and pious yourselves, can you do less than approve of their faithfulness in exercising that discipline? If you were aware of all the difficulties which attend this part of the duty of your eldership, you would feel for them more tenderly, and judge concerning them more candidly and indulgently than you are often disposed to do. Here you have it in your power, in a very important degree, to lessen their burdens and to strengthen their hands.
When your elders visit your families for the purpose of becoming acquainted with them, and of aiding the pastor in ascertaining the spiritual state of the flock, remember that it is not officious intrusion. It is nothing more than their duty. Receive them not as if you suspected them of having come as spies or busy intruders, but with respect and cordiality. Convince them, by your treatment, that you are glad to see them; that you wish to encourage them in promoting the best interests of the church; and that you honour them for their fidelity. Give them an opportunity of seeing your children, and of ascertaining whether your households are making progress in the Christian life. Nay, encourage your children to put themselves in the way of the elders, that they may be personally known to them, and may become the objects of their affectionate notice, their occasional exhortation, and their pious prayers. Converse with the elders freely, as with fathers who "have no greater joy than to see you walking in the truth" (cf. 2 John 4; 3 John 3). And ever give them cause to retire under the pleasing persuasion that their office is honoured, that their benevolent designs are duly appreciated, and that their labours "are not in vain in the Lord" (cf. 1 Cor. 15:58). In short, as every good citizen will make conscience of vindicating the fidelity and holding up the hand of the faithful magistrate (who firmly and impartially executes the law of the land), so every good Christian ought to feel himself bound in conscience and in honour, as well as in duty to his Lord, to strengthen the hands and encourage the heart of the spiritual ruler, who evidently seeks, in the fear of God, to promote the purity and edification of the church.
The nature of the office before us also leads to another remark with which the present chapter will be closed. It is that there seems to be a peculiar propriety in the ruling elders (and the same principle will apply to the deacons, if there be any of this class of officers in a congregation) having A SEAT ASSIGNED TO THEM, FOR SITTING TOGETHER, in a conspicuous part of the church, near the pulpit, during the public service, where they can overlook the whole worshipping assembly, and be seen by all. The considerations which recommend this are numerous. It was invariably so in the Jewish synagogue. The same practice was adopted in the early church as soon as Christians began to erect houses for public worship. This official and conspicuous accommodation for the elders is constantly provided in the Dutch reformed church in this country, and it is believed by most of the reformed churches on the continent of Europe. It is adapted to keep the congregation habitually reminded who their elders are, and of their official authority; and also to remind the elders themselves of their functions and duties. And it furnishes a convenient opportunity for the pastor to consult them on any question which may occur, either before he ascends the pulpit, or at the close of the service.
The account which has been given of the nature and duties of the office of ruling elder is adapted to reflect much light on the qualifications by which he who bears it ought to be distinguished. Those who are called to such extensive, interesting and highly important spiritual duties _ duties which enter so deeply into the comfort and edification of the church of God _ it surely requires no formal argument to show, ought to possess a character in some degree corresponding with the sphere in which they are appointed to move. There cannot be a plainer dictate of common sense. Yet to attempt a brief sketch of the more important of the qualifications demanded for this office may not be altogether unprofitable.
And here it may be observed, in the outset, that it is by no means necessary that ruling elders should be aged persons. For although it cannot be doubted that the title is literally expressive of age; and although it is equally certain that originally the office was generally conferred on men somewhat advanced in life, as being most likely, other things being equal, to possess wisdom, prudence, experience, and weight of character; yet the term, from a very early period, came to be a mere title of office, without any respect to the years of the individual who bore it. This is evident not only from the history of Jewish practice, but also from the statements of the New Testament. If Timothy was not merely a ruling, but also a teaching elder, though so young a man that the apostle said to him, "Let no man despise thy youth" (1 Tim. 4:12); and if, in every age of the church, young men have been considered as qualified on the score of age to be "elders that labour in the word and doctrine, as well as rule" (cf. 1 Tim. 5:17); there can be no doubt that young men, if otherwise well qualified, may with propriety be appointed elders to assist in ruling the church of God. Nay, where such persons with other suitable qualifications are to be found, it is expedient to introduce some in younger life into the eldership of every church, not only that there may be individuals in the body fitted for more active duties, but also that some of the number may have that kind of official training _ and that familiarity with ecclesiastical business _ which early experience and long habit alone can give.
It may be remarked, however, that although neither scripture nor the constitution of the presbyterian church prescribes any absolute rule with respect to the age of those who may be considered as candidates for the eldership; yet it is very manifest that those who are either minors in age, or "novices" in the Christian character and profession (cf. 1 Tim. 3:6; 5:22), ought by no means, in ordinary circumstances, to be elected to this office. In the church of Scotland, the rule is that no one can be chosen an elder who is not twentyone years of age. A similar regulation, it is believed, exists in some other foreign churches; and it may be considered as a dictate of common prudence.
But, though the circumstance of age, as a general rule, does not enter into the essential qualifications of ruling elders, there are other qualifications which are highly important, and, indeed, indispensable. These are stated by the inspired apostle, in writing to Timothy, in the following comprehensive and pointed language: "An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children; one that ruleth well his own house, having children in subjection with all gravity; not accused of riot, or unruly; not selfwilled; not soon angry; not given to wine; no striker; not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality; a lover of good men; sober, just, holy, temperate, sound in the faith, in charity, in patience." See 1 Timothy 3 compared with Titus 1:6-8 and 2:2, which passages evidently appear, on tracing the connection, to be equally applicable to teaching and ruling [elders].
The design of appointing persons to the office of ruling elder is not to pay them a compliment; not to give them an opportunity of figuring as speakers in judicatories; not to create the pageants of ecclesiastical ceremony; but to secure able, faithful and truly devoted counsellors and rulers of the church _ to obtain wise and efficient guides, who shall not only go along with the flock in their journey heavenward, but go before them in everything that pertains to Christian duty.
It cannot be doubted, indeed, that every member of the Christian church is bound to exhibit a holy, devout and exemplary life; to have his mind well stored with religious knowledge; to "be able to give an answer to everyone that asketh a reason for the hope that is in him" (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15); and to avoid everything that is criminal in itself, that may be just cause of offence to his brethren, or that may have even the appearance of evil. But it is equally manifest that all of these qualifications are still more important, and required in a still higher degree, in those who are entrusted with the spiritual inspection and regulation of the church. As they occupy a place of more honour and authority than the other members of the church, so they occupy a station of greater responsibility. The eyes of hundreds will be upon them as elders, which were not upon them as private Christians. Their brethren and sisters over whom they are placed in the Lord will naturally look up to them for advice, for instruction, for aid in the spiritual life, and for a shining example. The expectation is reasonable and ought not to be disappointed. The qualifications of elders, therefore, ought, in some measure, to correspond with it.
1. An elder, then, ought, first of all, to be A MAN OF UNFEIGNED AND APPROVED PIETY. It is to be regretted when the piety of any member of the church is doubtful, or evidently feeble and wavering. It is deplorable when any who name the name of Christ manifest so much indecision in their profession; so much timidity and unsteadiness in their resistance to error and sin; so much conformity to the world; and so little of that undaunted, ardent, and thorough adherence to their professed principles, as to leave it dubious with many whether they are "on the Lord's side" (Ex. 32:26) or not. But how much more deplorable when anything of this kind appears in those who are appointed to watch, to preside, and to exert an extensive influence over a portion of the family of Christ! What is to be expected when the "watchmen on the walls of Zion" (cf. Isa. 62:6) _ for such ruling elders are undoubtedly to be regarded _ appear as beacons to warn private Christians of what ought to be avoided, rather than as models to guide, to attract, and to cheer them on to all that is spiritual, and holy, and becoming the gospel?
Can he who is either destitute of piety, or who has but a small portion of it, engage in the arduous and deeply spiritual duties of the ruling elder, with comfort to himself, or with any reasonable hope of success? It cannot be supposed. To fit ecclesiastical rulers for acting in their appropriate character, and for performing the work which pertains to it with cordial diligence, faithfulness and perseverance, will require cordial and decisive attachment to the service of the church; minds intent upon the work; hearts filled with love to Jesus, and to the souls of men, and "preferring Jerusalem above their chief joy" (cf. Ps. 137:6). Unless they are animated with this affectionate interest in their work; unless they are habitually impelled by an enlightened and cordial attachment to the great cause in which they are engaged; they will soon become weary of their arduous and selfdenying labours; they will find waiting on the flock, visiting and praying with the sick, instructing the serious and inquiring, correcting the disorderly, watching over the spiritual interests of all, and attending the various judicatories of the church an irksome task.
But with such a zeal as has been described, they will be ready to contend for the truth, to engage in the most self denying duties, nay, to "spend and be spent" (2 Cor. 12:15) for Christ. To promote the best interests of Zion will be their "meat and drink." No labours, no trials, no difficulties will move them; neither will they "count their lives dear unto themselves," so that they may "finish their course with joy, and accomplish the work which they have received of the Lord Jesus" (cf. Acts 20:24). A few such elders in every church would, with divine blessing, do more to silence infidelity _ to strike even the scorner dumb _ to promote the triumph of gospel truth, and to rouse, sustain and bear forward the cause of vital piety, than hundreds of those ministers and elders who act as if they supposed that supplying the little details of ecclesiastical formality was the whole purpose of their official appointment. And, in truth, we have no reason to expect, in general, that the piety of the mass of members in any church will rise much higher than that of their rulers and guides. Where the latter are either lifeless formalists or, at best, but "babes in Christ" (1 Cor. 3:1), we shall rarely find many under their care of more vitality or of superior stature.
2. Next to piety, it is important that a ruling elder be possessed of GOOD SENSE AND SOUND JUDGMENT. Without this he will be wholly unfit to act in the various difficult and delicate cases which may arise in the discharge of his duty. A man of a weak and childish mind, however fervent his piety, is by no means adapted to the station of an ecclesiastical ruler, counsellor and guide. He who bears the office in question is called to have intercourse with all classes of people, to engage in the most arduous and trying duties, and to deliberate and decide on some of the most perplexing questions that can come before the human mind. Can it be doubted that good sense and solid judgment are indispensable to the due discharge of such official work as this? How would a judge on the bench, or a magistrate in his office, be likely to get along without this qualification? Much more important is it, if possible, that the ecclesiastical ruler be enlightened and judicious: because he deliberates and decides on more momentous subjects, and because he has no other than moral power with which to enforce his decisions. Moses, therefore, spoke the language of good sense, as well as of inspired wisdom, when he said to the people of Israel (Deut. 1:13): "Take ye wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you." This point, indeed, it would seem, can scarcely be made more plain than common sense makes it; and might, therefore, be considered as foreclosing all illustration, did not some churches appear disposed to make the experiment, how far infinite wisdom is to be believed when it pronounces, by the prophet, a woe against those who make choice of "babes to rule over them" (cf. Isa. 3:4).
3. A ruling elder ought to be SOUND IN THE FAITH, AND WELL INFORMED IN RELATION TO GOSPEL TRUTH. The elder who is not orthodox in his creed, instead of contributing, as he ought, to build up the church in the knowledge and love of the truth, will, of course, be the means of scattering error as far as his influence extends. And he who is not well informed on the subject of Christian doctrine will not know whether he is promoting the one or the other. Accordingly, when this class of officers is ordained in our church, we call upon them to do what we do not require from the private members of the church, viz., solemnly and publicly to adopt the Confession of Faith "as containing the system of doctrine taught in the holy scriptures." When this is considered; and _ also that they are expected to be, to a certain extent; instructors and guides in divine things to many of those committed to their oversight; and, above all, that they will be often called to deliberate on charges of heresy, as well as immorality; and to sit in judgment on the doctrinal belief not only of candidates for admission into the church as private members, but also on cases of alleged aberration from the truth in ministers of the gospel; the necessity of their being "sound in the faith," and of their having enlightened and clear views of the system of revealed truth is too plain to need argument for its support.
The truth is, the ruling elder who is active, zealous and faithful, will have occasion almost every day to discriminate between truth and error; to act as a guardian of the church's orthodoxy; to pass his judgment, either privately or judicially, on real or supposed departures from it; and to instruct the inexperienced and the doubting in the great doctrines of our holy religion. And although all elders are not expected to be profound theologians (any more than all ministers), yet that the former, as well as the latter, should have a general and accurate acquaintance with the gospel system, and to be ready to defend its leading doctrines by a ready, pertinent, and conclusive reference to scriptural testimony, and thus able to "separate between the precious and the vile" [cf. Jer. 15:19] (in theory as well as in practice), is surely as little as can possibly be demanded of those who are placed as leaders and guides in the house of God.
4. Again, an elder ought to be a man of EMINENT PRUDENCE. By prudence here is, of course, not meant that spurious characteristic which calls itself by this name, but which ought rather to be called timidity or a criminal shrinking from duty, on the plea that "there is a lion in the way" (Prov. 26:13). Yet, while we condemn this as unworthy of a Christian, and especially unworthy of a Christian counsellor and ruler, there is a prudence which is genuine and greatly to be coveted. This is no other than practical Christian wisdom, which not only discerns what is right, but also adopts the best mode of doing it _ which is not at all inconsistent with firmness and the highest moral courage, but which regulates and directs it.
It has been often observed that there is a right and a wrong way of doing the best things. The thing done may be excellent in itself, but may be done in a manner, at a time, and attended with circumstances which will be likely to disgust and repel, and thus prevent all benefit. Hence a man who is characteristically eccentric, undignified, rash, precipitate, or indiscreetly talkative, ought by no means to be selected as an ecclesiastical ruler. He will probably do more mischief than good, will generally create more divisions than he heals, and will rather generate offences than remove them. Perhaps there is no situation in human society which more imperiously calls for delicacy, caution, reserve, and the most vigilant discretion, than that of an ecclesiastical ruler. If popular rumor begins to charge a church member with some delinquency, either in faith or practice, let one of the elders _under the notion of being faithful _ implicitly credit the story, go about making inquiries respecting its truth, winking and insinuating, and thus contributing to extend its circulation; and however pure his motives, he may, before he is aware, implicate himself in the charge of slander and become so situated in respect to the supposed culprit, as to render it altogether improper that he should sit in judgment on his case. The maxim of the wise man, "be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (Jam. 1:19), applies to every human being, especially to every professing Christian; but above all to everyone who is appointed to maintain truth, order, purity, peace and love in the church of God.
It requires much prudence to judge when it is proper to commence the exercise of discipline against a supposed offender. Discipline is an important, nay, a vital matter in the Christian church. But it may be commenced indiscreetly, vexatiously, when that which is alleged cannot be shown to be an offence against the divine law _ or when, though really a censurable offence, there is no probability that it can be proved. To attempt the exercise of discipline in such cases is to disgrace it _ to convert it from one of the most important means of grace to an instrument of rashness, petulance, and childish precipitancy. Often, very often, has the very name of discipline been rendered odious, the peace of families and neighborhoods grievously disturbed, the influence of ecclesiastical judicatories destroyed, and the cause of religion deeply wounded, by judicial proceedings which ought either never to have been commenced, or to which the smallest measure of prudence would have given a very different direction.
The importance of the subject constrains me to add that prudence, much prudence, is also imperiously demanded in the exercise of a dignified and cautious reserve while ecclesiastical process is pending. One great reason why it is thought better by presbyterians to exercise discipline by a bench of wise and pious ecclesiastical senators, than by a vote of the whole body of church members, is that the public discussion and decision of many things concerning personal character _ which the exercise of discipline necessarily discloses respecting others (as well as the culprit) _ is adapted in many cases to do more harm than good, especially before the process is closed. To guard against this evil, it is very important that the elders carefully avoid all unseasonable disclosures in respect to the business which may be at any time before the session. Until they have done what shall be deemed proper in a delicate case, it is surely unwise, by thoughtless blabbing, to throw obstacles in their own way, and perhaps to defeat the whole purpose which they have in view. Yet how often, by one imprudent violation of this plain rule, has the discipline of the church been disgraced or frustrated, and the character of those who administered it exposed to ridicule?
These, and similar considerations, serve clearly to show that no degree of piety can supersede the necessity of prudence in ecclesiastical rulers; and that, of all characters in a congregation, an indiscreet, meddling, garrulous, gossiping, tattling elder is one of the most pestiferous.
5. It is important that an elder be of "GOOD REPORT OF THEM WHICH ARE WITHOUT" (1 Tim. 3:7). The circumstance of his being chosen to the office by the members of the church does, indeed, afford strong presumption that he sustains among them an unexceptional character. But it is also of great importance that this class of officers, as well as those who "labour in the word and doctrine" (1 Tim. 5:17), should stand well with those who are without, as well as those who are within the pale of the Christian community. The ecclesiastical ruler may often be called, in discharging his official duties, to converse with the worldly and profane, who have no particular regard either for his Master or his office. Nay, he must be, almost every day that he lives, the object of the scrutiny of such men. In this case, it is peculiarly desirable that his personal character is such as to command universal respect and confidence; that it is not liable to any particular suspicion or imputation; but that, on the contrary, it possesses such weight and respectability in the community as will render him an aid and a blessing in his ecclesiastical connection. To this end, his unbending integrity in all the walks of life, his spotless probity and honour in every pecuniary transaction, his gravity and dignity in all the intercourse of society, his exemplary government of his own family, his abstraction from all unhallowed conformity to the world, ought to present (in some good measure) a pattern of Christian consistency. It is saying little in favour of a church officer to allege that his reputation is such that he does no harm to the ecclesiastical body with which he is connected. It is to be regretted if he does not promote its benefit every day by his active services, and extend its influence by the lustre of his example.
6. A ruling elder ought to be A MAN OF PUBLIC SPIRIT AND ENLARGED VIEWS. He who is called by his official duty to plan and labour for the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom surely ought not, of all men, to have a narrow and illiberal mind _ to be sparing of labour, parsimonious in feeling and habit, or contented with small attainments. It is eminently desirable, then, that a ruling elder be a man of expanded heart toward other denominations, as far as is consistent with entire fidelity to scriptural truth and order; that he aim high in spiritual attainment and progress; that he be willing to give much, to labour much, and to make sacrifices for the cause of Christ; and that he be continually looking and praying for the further enlargement and prosperity of Zion. Such a man will not be willing to see the church fall asleep or stagnate. Such a man's mind will be teeming with desires, plans, and prayers for the advancement of the Saviour's cause. Such a man will not content himself, nor be satisfied to see others contenting themselves, with a little round of frigid formalities, or with the interests of a single parish. But the aspirations of his heart and the active efforts of his life will be directed to the extension and prosperity of the church in all its borders, and to the universal establishment and triumph of that gospel which is "the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth" (cf. Rom. 1:16).
The qualification of which we speak has been in all ages, and from the nature of the case must ever be, of inestimable importance in every ruler and guide of the church. But we may venture to pronounce that it never was so important to the church that she should have such rulers as it is at the present day. Now that she is awaking from her slumber, and arousing to a sense of her long forgotten obligations; now that she is, as we hope, arising from the dust, and "putting on her beautiful garments" (cf. Isa. 52:1), and looking abroad in the length and breadth of all those conquests which have been promised her by her Almighty Head; now that all her resources, physical and moral, are called for in every direction, with an emphasis and a solemnity never before equalled; is it not manifest that all who in such a stage of her course, undertake to be her counsellors and guides, ought to be neither drones nor cowards _ neither parsimonious of labour and sacrifice, nor disposed to sit down contented with small acquisitions?
Ruling elders at the present day have, perhaps, an opportunity of serving the church more extensively and effectually than ever before. How desirable and important, then, that they have a heart in some measure commensurate with the calls and opportunities of the day in which their lot is cast! How desirable that they cherish those enlarged and liberal views, both of duty and of effort, which become those who are called to act a conspicuous and interesting part in a cause which is dear to all holy beings! So important is this, that it is probable we shall generally find that, in liberality of contribution to various objects of Christian effort, and in enlargement of mind to desire and seek the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom, the mass of the members of any church may commonly be graduated by the character of their elders. If the leaders and guides of the church are destitute of public spirit _ and are not found taking the lead in large plans, labours and sacrifices for extending the reign of knowledge, truth and righteousness _ it will be strange indeed if a more enlarged spirit is found prevailing among the generality of their fellow members.
7. The last qualification on which I shall dwell, as important in the office before us, is ARDENT ZEAL and importunate prayer. Large views and liberal plans and donations will not answer without this. The truth is, the church of God has the most serious and unceasing obstacles to encounter in every step of her progress. As long as she is faithful, her course is never smooth or unobstructed. In maintaining truth, in guarding the claims of gospel holiness, and in sustaining discipline, the enmity of the human heart will not fail to manifest itself, and to offer more or less resistance to that which is good. The worldly and profane will ever be found in the ranks of determined opposition. And alas! that some who bear the name of Christ are not infrequently found in the same ranks _ thus grieving the hearts and trying the patience of those who are called to act as the representatives and leaders of the church. To meet and overcome difficulties of this kind requires all the fixedness of purpose, and all the zeal in the service of Christ, which his most devoted servants can bring to their work.
Besides all this, there is much in the daily duties of the ruling elder which puts to a very serious test all his devotedness to the cause of his Master. He is called to live like a minister of the gospel, in the very atmosphere of prayer and religious conversation. In the chamber of the sick and dying; in conversing with the anxious inquirer, and the perplexed or desponding believer; in the private circle, and in the social meeting for prayer; abroad and at home, in the house and by the way; it must be "his meat and drink" to be found ministering to the best interests of his fellow men. So that if he has but little zeal, but little taste for prayer, but little anxiety for the welfare of immortal souls, he will not _ he cannot _ enter with proper feeling into his appropriate employments. But if he is animated with a proper spirit, he will find it pleasant to be thus employed. Instead of shunning scenes and opportunities of usefulness, he will diligently seek them. And instead of finding them wearisome, he will feel no happiness more pure and rich than that which he experiences in such occupations as these.
It is evident, then, not only that the ecclesiastical ruler ought to have unfeigned piety, but that his piety ought to be of that decisive character, and accompanied with that fervent zeal, which bears its possessor forward without weariness in the discharge of selfdenying duties. The higher the degree in which he possesses this characteristic _ provided it is accompanied with wisdom, prudence and a knowledge of human nature _ the greater will probably be his usefulness in the church which he serves; and the greater, assuredly, will be his own personal enjoyment in rendering that service.
It is more than possible that this view of the qualifications proper for the office which we are considering may cause some, when solicited to undertake it, to draw back, under the conscientious impression that they have not the characteristics which are essential to the faithful discharge of its duties. And it would be wrong to say that there are not some cases in which such an impression ought to be admitted. There can be no doubt that there are those who bear this office who ought never to have accepted it. To this class, unquestionably, belong all those who have no taste for the appropriate duties of the office, and who do not resolve sedulously and faithfully to perform them.
But let no humble devoted follower of Jesus Christ, who truly desires to serve and glorify him, and who is willing, from the heart, to do all that God shall enable him for the promotion of the Redeemer's kingdom _ let not him be deterred, by the representation which has been given, from accepting the office, if called to it by his Christian brethren. The deeper his sense of his own unfitness, the more likely will he be to apply unceasingly and importunately for heavenly aid; and the nearer he lives to the throne of grace, the more largely will he partake of that wisdom and strength which he needs. There are, no doubt, some (as we have said) who are really unqualified for this office; but in general, it may be maintained that those who have the deepest impression of the importance and arduousness of its duties, and of their own want of adequate qualifications, are far better prepared for those duties than such as advance to the discharge of them with unwavering confidence and self-complacency.
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Presbyterianism: The Truly Primitive and Apostolic Constitution of the Church of Christ bound together with Infant Baptism: Scriptural and Reasonable; and Baptism by Sprinkling or Affusion Most Suitable (1835) by Samuel Miller