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be considered, any more than that of the fathers, as a rule either of faith or practice; but when we recollect the great talents, the profound learning, the fervent piety, and the eminent services of many of those distinguished men, in clearing away the errors of popery, and restoring the faith and order of the primitive church we cannot fail to acknowledge that their opinions and decisions are worthy of high regard. It is worth while, therefore, to inquire what those opinions and decisions were, with respect to the question before us.
John Paul Perrin, the celebrated historian of the Waldenses, and who was himself one of the ministers of that people, in a number of places recognises the office of ruling elder as retained in their churches. He expressly and repeatedly asserts, that the synods of the Waldenses, long before the time of Luther, were composed of ministers and elders.*
The same writer tells us, that, in the year 1467, the Hussites being engaged in reforming and separating their churches from the church of Rome, understood that there were some churches of the ancient Waldenses in Austria, in which the purity of the gospel was retained, and in which there were many eminent pastors. In order to ascertain the truth of this account, they (the Hussites,) sent two of their ministers with two elders to inquire into, and know what those flocks or congregations were.†
The same historian, in the same work, speaks of " the ministers "and elders of the Bohemian churches."
The testimony of Perrin is supported by that of Gillis, another historian of the Waldenses, and also one of their pastors. In the Confession of Faith of that people, inserted at length in the " addition" to his work, it is declared, (p. 490. Art. 31.) that “It "is necessary for the church to have pastors to preach God's word, "to administer the sacraments, and to watch over the sheep of "Jesus Christ; and also elders and deacons, according to the rules
* Hist. of the old Waldenses, part 11. Book 11. chap. 4.
† Ibid. chap. 10.
+ Ibid, chap. 9.
§ This confession, Gillis expressly declares to have been the confession of the ancient, as well as the modern Waldenses.
"of good and holy church discipline, and the practice of the "primitive church."
Here, then, is direct and unquestionable testimony that the Waldenses, the Hussites, and the Bohemian Brethren, had ruling elders in their churches long before Calvin was born. Yet Calvin, we are gravely told by Dr. Bowden and his friends, was the inventor of this class of church officers! I cannot help thinking that a "learned man," and a "scholar," (a character which Dr. B. often impliedly assumes to himself) ought to have taken care to be better informed before he ventured to make such an assertion.
But we have still more pointed evidence that the churches which ecclesiastical historians have generally distinguished by the title of the Bohemian Brethren, and which flourished before the time of Luther, bore their testimony in favour of the office of ruling elder, by retaining it, amidst all the degeneracy of the times. This fact is attested by Martin Bucer, a learned Lutheran divine, whose fame induced archbishop Cranmer to invite him to England, where he received preferment and patronage, and was held in high estimation. He speaks of it in the following terms:
"The Bohemian Brethren, who published a confession of "their faith in the year 1535, with a preface by Luther, and who "almost alone preserved in the world the purity of the doctrine, "and the vigour of the discipline of Christ, observed an excellent "rule, for which we are compelled to give them credit, and espe"cially to praise that God who thus wrought by them; notwith"standing those brethren are preposterously despised by some "learned men. The rule which they observed was this: besides "ministers of the word and sacraments, they had, in each church, "a bench or college of men excelling in gravity and prudence, who 66 performed the duties of admonishing and correcting offenders "composing differences, and judicially deciding in cases of dispute. "Of this kind of elders, Hilary (Ambrose) wrote, when he said, "Therefore the synagogue, and afterwards the church had elders, "without whose counsel nothing was done."*
*Scripta duo Adversaria Latomi, &c. in Cap. De Eccles. Authoritat. p.
The celebrated Peter Martyr, a protestant divine of Italy, whose high reputation induced Edward VI. to invite him into England, where he was made professor of divinity at Oxford, and canon of Christ Church, speaks of ruling elders in the following decisive terms: "The church," (speaking of the primitive church) "had its elders, or if I may so speak, its senate, who consulted "about things that were for edification for the time being. Paul "describes this kind of ministry, not only in the 12th chapter of "the epistle to the Romans, but also in the first epistle to Timothy, "where he thus writes, Let the elders that rule well be counted "worthy of double honour, especially those that labour in the "word and doctrine. Which words appear to me to signify, that "there were then some 'elders who taught and preached the word "of God; and another class of elders who did not teach, but only "ruled in the church. Concerning these Ambrose speaks, when "he expounds this passage in Timothy. Nay, he inquires wheth"er it was owing to the pride or the sloth of the sacerdotal order "that they had then almost ceased in the church."*
In the Confession of Saxony, drawn up by Melancthon, in 1551, and subscribed by a large number of Lutheran churches, we find this class of church officers, recognized, and represented as in use in those churches. Speaking of the exercise of discipline, in its various parts, they say "That these things may be done orderly, "there be also consistories appointed in our churches." Of these consistories, the principal members, it is well known, were ruling elders.
That there were ruling elders in the primitive church, is also explicitly granted by archbishop Whitgift, a warm and learned friend of diocesan episcopacy. "I know," says he," that in the "primitive church, they had in every church certain seniors, to "whom the government of the congregation was committed; but "that was before there was any Christian prince or magistrate that openly professed the gospel; and before there was any "church by public authority established." And again, "Both "the names and offices of seniors were extinguished before "Ambrose his time, as he himself doth testify, writing upon the
* P. Martyris Loci Communes. Class IV. Cap. I. Sect. 2.
"fifth of the first epistle to Timothy. Indeed, as Ambrose saith, "the synagogue, and after the church, had seniors, without whose "counsel nothing was done in the church; but that was before "his time, and before there was any Christian magistrate, or any "church established."*
Szegedin, a very eminent divine, of Hungary, contemporary with Luther, also speaks decidedly of the apostolic institution of ruling elders. The following passage is sufficient to exhibit his sentiments. "The ancient church had presbyters or elders, of "which the apostle speaks, 1 Corinth. 5. 4. And these elders "were of two kinds. One class of them preached the gospel, "administered the sacraments, and governed the church, the same "as bishops; for bishops and presbyters are the same order. But "another class of elders consisted of grave and upright men, taken "from among the laity, who, together with the preaching elders "before mentioned, consulted respecting the affairs of the church, "and devoted their labour to admonishing, correcting, and taking "care of the flock of Christ."+
Hieronymus Kromayer, a learned Lutheran divine, and professor of divinity in the university of Leipsic, who lived in the age immediately following that of Luther, bears decided testimony to the apostolic institution of ruling elders. "The title of bishop," says he," takes its name from a Greek word, which signifies an over"seer. This title differs from that of presbyter, because the lat❝ter is taken from age. Of presbyters or elders, there were for"merly two kinds, those who taught, and those who exercised the "office of rulers in the church. This is taught in 1 Timothy v. 17. "Let the elders that rule well be accounted worthy of double hon
our, especially those who labour in the word and doctrine. The "latter were the same as our ministers, at present; the former " were like the members of our consistories. Jerome tells us that "the practice of choosing one to preside over the rest, was brought "in as a remedy for schism; so that a bishop is nothing more "than the first presbyter. This doctrine is very offensive to the "papists; but we have the word of God going before us, as a
* Defence against Cartwright, p. 638. 651.
Szedigini Loci Communes, p. 197. Edit. quint. folio-Basil, 1608.
"light and a guide, and this plainly represents presbyters and "bishops as the same thing."*
The learned Voetius, a Dutch divine of great eminence, also contends for the apostolic institution of ruling elders. He speaks of a number of popish writers, as particularly warm and zealous in their opposition to this class of church officers; " Nor is this," says he, "any wonder, since nothing is more opposite to the papal "monarchy, and antichristian tyranny, than is the institution of "ruling elders." Voetius is of the opinion that the church wardens in the church of England are the "vestiges" of these "ruling seniors."+
Ursinus, an eminent German divine, who lived about the same time with Luther, in enumerating the officers of the church, as laid down in the word of God, speaks of ruling elders and deacons. The former he defines to be officers" elected by the voice of the "church, to assist in conducting discipline, and to order a variety "of necessary matters in the church." And the latter as officers, "elected by the church, to take care of the poor, and to distribute "alms."
After this view of the opinions of some of the most distinguished reformers and others, in favour of the office of ruling elders, you will not be surprised to hear, that the great body of the reformed churches adopted, and have always maintained, this class of officers. Instead of being confined, as Dr. Bowden and his friends seem to imagine, to Geneva and Scotland, they were generally introduced, with the reformation, by Lutherans as well as Calvinists ; and are generally retained to the present day, in almost all the protestant churches, excepting that of England. We have seen that the Waldenses, the Hussites, and the Bohemian brethren had them long. before Calvin was born. It is notorious that the reformed churches of Germany, France, Holland, &c. received this class of elders early, and expressly represented them in their public confessions, as founded on the word of God. And it is a fact equally notorious,
* Historia Ecclesiastica Autore Hieronymo Kromayero, D. D. & S. S. T. P. in Acad. Lips. 4to. p. 59.
Polit. Eccles. par. 11. Lib. ii. tract. 3. cap. 4. sect. 1. 2. + Corpus Doctrinæ. par. iii. p. 721.