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had fallen into disuse? I am really ashamed of such an attempt, on the part of a grave and "aged" divine, to pervert a passage which could scarcely have been made plainer. Hilary says that, "in "the synagogue, and afterwards in the church, there were certain "seniors or elders, without whose counsel nothing was done in the "church." If this language does not describe a class of persons, who held an official station, and whose official duty it was to aid by their counsel in the government of the church, then we may despair of attaching any definite meaning to words. But what decides the question is, as he further states, that in the fourth century, this plan of having elders, to assist by their counsel in the government of the church, had chiefly grown into disuse. Had the christian church become so corrupt, in a little more than three centuries from its commencement, as to thrust all aged persons out of its communion? Or, if the more venerable and aged were suffered to remain, were they never more consulted in cases of difficulty and danger? Besides, if there was no intention to distinguish between teaching and ruling elders, why is it said that these seniors or elders were laid aside" on account of the sloth, or rather the pride of the "teachers, who alone wished to be something?" I can very well conceive that both the pride and the sloth of the teaching elders, should render them willing to get rid of a bench of officers, of equal power with themselves in the government of the church, and able to control their wishes in cases of discipline; but I cannot conceive why either sloth or pride should prefer consulting the young, rather than the aged, on the affairs of the church. But you will scarcely pardon me for detaining you so long with the refutation of reasonings so totally unworthy of notice.
Augustine, bishop of Hippo, who also lived in the fourth century, often refers to this class of officers in his writings. Thus, in his work, Contra Crescon. lib. iii. cap. 56. he speaks of Peregrinus, Presbyter, et Seniores Musticana regionis, i. e. " Peregrine, the 66 presbyter, and the elders of the Mustacan district." And again, he addresses one of his epistles to his church at Hippo, [epist. 137,] Dilectissimis fratribus, Clero, Senioribus et universæ plebi ecclesiæ Hipponensis. i. e. "To the beloved brethren, the clergyman, the elders, and all the people of the church at Hippo." There were some elders, then, in the days of Augustine, who were not clergymen, i. e. lay-elders. It would be easy to produce, from
the same writer, a number of other quotations equally to our purpose. But Dr. Bowden has rendered this unnecessary, by making an explicit acknowledgment, that Augustine repeatedly mentions these seniors or elders as belonging to other churches as well as his own. And to what expedient do you suppose the Doctor resorts to avoid the consequence of this acknowledgment? Why, he gravely tells us, that he fully believes, with the "learned Bingham," that there were, within the first three or four centuries, a class of aged and respectable men in the church, who were styled seniors or elders, and whose official duty it was to assist in promoting the interests of the church: That some of these were called Seniores Ecclesiæ, i. e. elders of the church, who were chosen to assist the bishop, with their advice and counsel in the weighty affairs of the church: and that another class were called Seniores Ecclesiastici, i. e. ecclesiastical elders, who were sometimes entrusted with the utensils, treasures, and outward affairs of the church; but had no share in the administration of discipline. These he compares with the vestrymen and church wardens, which are generally found in episcopal churches. Vol. I. p. 205-207. Now, I ask, what material difference can any man see between the seniores Ecclesiæ, which Dr. Bowden acknowledges to have existed in the primitive church, and the ruling elders of the Presbyterian church? Our elders are appointed to assist the bishop of each particular church with their counsel, in conducting the spiritual concerns of the church. And is not this precisely the duty which he assigns to the seniores ecclesiæ of the primitive church? It is really laughable to find Dr. B. conceding, in substance, all that we desire; and yet, on account of some petty points of difference, which are too frivolous to be noticed, and which do not affect the main question, insisting that there is nothing like our ruling elders to be found in primitive times!
Though the readers of my former volume, know that I have no great respect for the authority of the work generally styled Apostolic Constitutions; yet many episcopal writers have expressed very high regard for this work, and entire confidence in its authenticity. And, although, when it claims apostolic origin, it is to be rejected as an "impudent forgery;" yet there is a high degree of probability that it was composed, by different hands, between the second and fifth centuries. The following quotation from it will,
therefore, have some weight. "To presbyters also, when they "labour in teaching, let à double portion be assigned." 11. 28. Here is, obviously, a distinction between elders who are employed in teaching, and those who are not so employed. How the others were employed, indeed, is not said; but teaching made no part of their official duty. We may take for granted their duty was to assist in the other spiritual concerns of the church, viz. in maintaining good order and discipline. This is precisely the distinction which we make, and which we are confident was made in the primitive church.
It would be easy to produce many more quotations from other early writers, which ascertain the existence of these elders, within the first three or four centuries of the Christian æra. But it is needless. Our opponents acknowledge the fact. Bishop Taylor, a great authority with them, among others, explicitly grants, that a class of men, under the name of seniors or elders, distinguished from clergymen, are mentioned by a number of early writers, as having existed in the church at an early period, and as holding in it some kind of official station. The only question is, what kind of elders they were? These gentlemen exceedingly dislike the idea of their being such elders as are found in the Presbyterian church, and assert that they were not; but really they offer nothing against it that deserves the name even of a plausible argument.
In my former letters, in exhibiting the testimony usually produced from Ignatius, I spoke of the presbyters or elders so fre "Some quently mentioned by that father, in the following terms. "of these elders were probably ordained to the work of the minis"try, and of course, empowered to preach and administer ordi
nances: but this is not certain. They might all have been ❝ ruling elders for ought that appears to the contrary. For in all "these epistles, it is no where said that they either preached or "dispensed the sacraments. It cannot be shown, then, that Igna"tius, by his presbyters and presbytery, or eldership, means any « thing else than a bench of ruling elders in each church." p. 96. This suggestion Dr. Bowden not only opposes with much zeal, but he also endeavours to cover it with ridicule, as perfectly frivolous
I think this concession is to be found in his Episcopacy Asserted. That it is to be found in one of his works, I am certain.
and improbable. So far as he reasons on the point, the arguments which he employs are two. The first is, that "there is no proof "whatever that there ever was such an order of men in the church "as ruling elders." Of the force of this argument you will be able to judge, after reading what has been advanced, and what is yet to come in proof of the apostolic institution of this class of officers. The second argument, is that "the epistles of Ignatius are totally "inconsistent with such a notion." Now, I think, in direct opposition to Dr. B. that the epistles of Ignatius are strongly in favour of this "notion." When that father says, "It is not lawful, without "the bishop, either to baptize, or to celebrate the holy communion," it is evident that his presbyters could not have been the same with those who bear that title in modern episcopal churches, who in virtue of their original commission, and without any subsequent permission of the bishop, are empowered, at all times, and in all places, when called upon, to administer both baptism and the Lord's supper. Again; when Ignatius says, "Let that eucharist be looked upon "as valid, which is either offered by the bishop, or by him to whom "the bishop has given his consent;" Dr. Bowden chooses to take for granted that the person to whom the bishop might give his consent, and who, with that consent, might dispense the eucharist, was one of the presbyters whom Ignatius distinguishes from the bishop. But this is not said by Ignatius; he might mean the bishop of some neighbouring congregation. There is not a single instance in which the pious father represents his presbyters as, in fact, preaching or administering sacraments. But even supposing his presbyters to be ruling elders, and supposing him to mean, that they, with the bishop's (or pastor's) leave, might administer both sacraments; this would only show that Ignatius was in an error, as Tertullian was after him, who, in his work de Baptismo, after asserting that the administration of baptism was appropriated to the office of bishop, does not scruple to say, that even a layman may baptize with the bishop's leave. There is, then, nothing in the epistles of Ignatius at all inconsistent with the supposition that a portion, or even the whole of his presbyters were ruling elders, whose official duty it was to assist the pastor in maintaining order and discipline in the church.
It is no solid objection to this argument from the fathers, that they
sometimes mention these elders after the deacons, as if the former were inferior to the latter. Nothing can be inferred from a fact of this kind. Ignatius, speaking of the different classes of church offcers, expresses himself thus: "Let all reverence the deacons as "Jesus Christ; and the bishop as the father; and the presbyters "as the sanhedrim of God, and college of the apostles." But, notwithstanding the extravagance and impiety of this exhortation, did any one ever suppose that Ignatius designed to represent deacons as a higher order than bishops? In like manner, Clemens Alexandrinus speaks of "presbyters, bishops, and deacons ;" but whoever dreamed that any inference with respect to the order of authority was to be drawn from this arrangement? Again; Dr. Bowden objects, that "Ignatius makes the deacons a branch of the minis"try; but every branch of the ministry had authority to preach; "consequently the deacons, instead of being inferior to the ruling "elders, must have been superior to them." This objection is of as little force as the last. It is notorious that the word ministry, both in scripture and the writings of the fathers, is by no means confined to the clergy, but is frequently employed to express any kind of official service rendered to the church. To produce instances in support of this position is needless. Every well informed divine knows it to be so. When, therefore, the word ministry, unaccompanied with any distinctive epithet, is applied either to elders or deacons, it no more implies a power to preach, or administer sealing ordinances, nor does it throw any more light on the point of order and precedence, than the general word officer.
But the truth is, deacons being called ministers or even clergymen, does not militate in the least, against our view of their office. It is well known, as was stated in a former letter, that in the third and fourth centuries, all classes of church officers, even readers and acolyths, as well as elders and deacons, were numbered among the clergy, that is, as the term obviously imports, those who were set apart to spiritual or sacred work.
Having seen that both scripture and the fathers afford a clear warrant for the office of ruling elders in the church; let us next inquire whether the reformers and other distinguished witnesses for the truth, in different ages and countries, declared for or against this office. I know that the authority of the reformers is not to