The Biblical Basis for Ruling Elders


Excerpted from his book,

An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland



THE word elder answereth to zaken in the Hebrew, and presbuteroV in the Greek. It hath four different significations: (1.) It noteth age; (2.) Antiquity; (3.) Venerability; (4.) An office. In the first signification, elder is opposed to younger, as 1 Tim. 5.1, “Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father, and the younger men as brethren.” 1 Pet. 5.5, “Likewise ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder.” In this sense was the apostle John called the elder, because he outlived the other apostles, 2 John 1.; 3.1. In the second signification, elder is opposed to modern, Matt. 15.2, “Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” that is, of them of old time, Matt. 5.21. In the third signification we find the word, Isa. 3., where the Lord saith, that he would take away from Israel “the prudent and the ancient,” vezaken; that is, the worthies among them, and such as were respected for wisdom. The same word (and peradventure, in the same sense), is turned elder, Exod. 2.16, Eth-zikne Israel, the elders of Israel. So the Spanish seijor, the French seigneur, the Italian signore, all coming from the Latin senior, signify a man of respect, or one venerable for dignity, gifts, prudence, or piety. Contrariwise, men of no worth, nor wisdom, men despicable {9.b.} for lack of gifts and understanding, are called children, Isa. 3.4,12; Eph. 4.14. But it is the fourth signification which we have now to do withal, and so an elder is a spiritual officer, appointed by God, and called to the government of the church, Acts 14.23, “When they had by voices made them elders in every church.” They have the name of elders, because of the maturity of knowledge, wisdom, gifts, and gravity, which ought to be in them: for which reason also the name of senators was borrowed from sense.

Before we come to speak particularly of those elders of which our purpose is to treat, it is fit we should know them by their right name, lest we nick-name and miscall them. Some reproachfully, and others ignorantly, call them lay elders. But the distinction of the clergy and laity is popish and antichristian; and they who have narrowly considered the records of ancient times, have noted this distinction as one of the grounds whence the mystery of iniquity had the beginning of it.2 The name of clergy appropriate to ministers, is full of pride and vain-glory, and hath made the holy people of God to be despised, as if they were profane and unclean in comparison of their ministers. Gerhard3 likeneth those who take to themselves the name of clergy, to the Pharisees, who called themselves by that name: for that their holiness did separate them from the rest of the Jews: for this etymology of the name Pharisee, he citeth Tertullian, Origen, Epiphanius, Ambrose, and confirmeth it from Luke 18.10. Hence was it that some councils discharged the laity from presuming to enter within the choir, or to stand among the clergy near the altar.4 Two reasons are alleged why the ministers of the church should be called klhroV. First, Because the Lord is their inheritance: Secondly, Because they are the Lord’s inheritance. Now, both these reasons do agree to all the faithful people of God; for there is none of the faithful who may not say with David, Psalm 16.5, “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance;” and of whom also it may be said, that they are the Lord’s inheritance, or lot; for Peter giveth this name to the whole church, 1 Pet. 5.3. Where (if it were needful) we might challenge Bishop Hall [Of Episcop. by Divine Right, p. 212.], who borroweth a gloss from Bellarmine and Gregorious de Valentia, telling us, that Peter chargeth his fellow-bishops not to domineer over their clergy, so shutting out of the text, both the duty of pastors (because the bishops only are meant by elders), and the benefit of the people, because the inferior pastors are the bishop’s flock, according to this gloss; for Peter opposeth the lording over the klhroV, to “being ensamples to the flock.” Surely, if this popish gloss be true, Protestants, in their commentaries and sermons, have gone wide from that text. But Matthias, the apostle, was chosen by lot, Acts 1.26. What then? By what reason doth the canon law draw from hence a name common to all the ministers of the gospel? [D. 21, ca. Cleros.] Let us then banish from us such popish names, and send them home to Rome. Bellarmine [De Cleric. lib. 1., cap. 1.] thought we had done so long ere now, for he maketh this one of his controverted heads, Whether we may rightly call some Christians the clergy, and others the laity, or not, ascribing the negative to Protestants, the affirmative to the Church of Rome.

Yet beside the clergy and the laity, Papists hold that there is a third sort in the church distinct from both, whom they call regulares. [Bell. Præ Fat. ante Lib. de Cleric.] These are such of their religious orders as are not taken up with contemplation alone (like the monks) but with action, such as the Dominicans, Franciscans, &c., [Bell., lib. 2.; do Mon. cap. 1.] who help and assist the clergy in their ecclesiastical employments, though they themselves be not admitted into any particular charge in the church. Now he who will needs side with the Papists in the distinction of clergy and laity, may also with them admit a third member of the distinction, and make ruling elders of that sort, especially since the reason why the regular canons are assumed as helpers to parish priests, is, propter multitudinem fidelis populi, et difficultatem inveniendi curatos sufficientes et idoneos, saith Cardinal Cajetan [In. art. 4.], adding further, male consultum populo Christiano invenitur sine hujusmodi supplemento. Which reasons agree well to ruling elders; for, (1.) Parishes contain so many, that the minister cannot oversee all and every one without help. (2.) Sufficient and fit ministers shall hardly be everywhere found. (3.) It is found by experience, that sin and scandal are never well taken heed to, and redressed, where ruling elders are not. To let all this pass, if any man will needs retain the name of lay elders, yet, saith Gersomus Bucerus [De Gub. Eccl. p. 28.] What aspersion is that to our churches? Is it any other thing than that which Papists object to us for admitting laymen into councils? They who have place in the highest and most supreme assemblies of the church, wherein the weightiest matters are determined, ought much more to be admitted into inferior meetings, such as presbyteries are.

But if we will speak with Scripture, we shall call them ruling elders, Rom. 12.8, “he that ruleth;” 1 Tim. 5.17, “elders that rule well.” They are called ruling elders, non quia soli sed quia solum præsunt. Pastors rule the church even as they do; but pastors do something more, from which they may be designed; whereas the elders of which we are to speak, have no other employment, which can give them a designation, except the ruling of the church only. That wicked railer Lysimachus Nicanor, who assumed the name, but forgot to put on the visor of a Jesuit, in his Congratulatory (I should say calumniatory) Epistle, p. 61, allegeth that they are called ruling elders, because the ministers are their ruled elders. If he were a Jesuit, he may remember {11.a.} that in their own society, besides their priests, doctors, preachers, confessionaries, &c., they have also rectors or regents,5 whose office it is to see the rules of their order kept, to observe the behaviour of every one, and, when they perceive any seeds of heresy, to signify the same to the provincial, and he to the general. Yet are these rectors among the lowest ranks of their officers, so that Jesuits need not stumble when we call our elders ruling elders.



Notwithstanding all the multiplicity of popish orders, yet Peter Lombard [Lib. 4. dist. 4.], treading the vestiges of the primitive simplicity, did observe that the apostles left only two sacred orders to be perpetual in the church, the order of deacons and the order of elders. The administration of deacons is exercised about things bodily; the administration of elders about things spiritual. The former about the goods; the latter about the government of the church. Now, elders are of three sorts: (1.) Preaching elders, or pastors; (2.) Teaching elders or doctors; (3.) Ruling elders. All these are elders, because they have voice in presbyteries, and all assemblies of the church, and the government of the church is incumbent to them all; not only to the pastor and elder, but to the doctor also. The bishop of Doune, in his Examen Conjurationis Scotica, p. 35, allegeth that our Church of Scotland did never yet determine whether doctors and deacons have right of voicing in the consistories and assemblies of the church. But had he read our Book of Policy, he might have found that it excludeth deacons from being members of presbyteries and assemblies, cap. 8, but admitteth doctors into the same, cap. 5, “The doctor being an elder, (as said is,) should assist the pastor in the government of the kirk, and concur with the elders, his brethren, in all assemblies, by reason the interpretation of the word, which is only judge in ecclesiastical matters, is committed {11.b.} to his charge.” But they differ, in that the pastor laboureth in the word of exhortation, that is, by the gift of wisdom applieth the word to the manners of his flock, and that in season and out of season, as he knoweth their particular cases to require. The doctor laboureth in the word of doctrine, that is, without such applications as the pastor useth; by simple teaching he preserveth the truth and sound interpretation of the Scriptures, against all heresy and error. The ruling elder doth neither of these, but laboureth in the government and policy of the church only. The Apostle hath distinguished these three sorts of elders, 1 Tim. 5.17, “Let elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” Where, as Beza noteth, he distinguished the word, which is the pastor’s part, from doctrine, which is the doctor’s part. Even as Rom. 12.7,8, he distinguisheth teaching from exhortation; and 1 Cor. 12.8, putteth “the word of wisdom,” and “the word of knowledge,” for two different things. Now, besides those elders which labour in the word, and those which labour in doctrine, Paul speaketh to Timothy of a third sort of elders, which labour neither in the word nor doctrine, but in ruling well. Hence it appeareth how truly the Book of Policy, cap. 2, saith, That there are four ordinary, perpetual, and necessary offices in the church, the office of the pastor, the doctor, the elder, and the deacon; and that no other office, which is not one of these four, ought to be received, or suffered in the church.

But when we speak of elders, Non personatos, &c.—’We will not have disguised and histrionical men, puffed up with titles, or idols dead in sins, to be meant, but holy men, who, being endued with faith in God, and walking in his obedience, God authorizing them, and the church, his spouse, choosing and calling them, undertake the government thereof, that they may labour to the conservation and edification of the same in Christ,’ saith Junius [Eccles., lib. 2., cap. 3.]—A ruling elder should pray for the spirit and gifts of his calling, that he may do the duties of his calling, and not be like him that played the souldan, but a souter; he must do this office neither upokritikwV and pro forma, he himself being parcus deorum cultor et {12.a.} infrequens; nor eristikwV, doing all through contention and strife about particulars. Si duo de nostras tollas pronomina rebus, prælia (I may say jurgia) cessarent, pax sine lite foret; [Meum et Tuum] nor despotikwV, empiring and lording among his brethren and fellow-elders, “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant,” Matt. 20.26,27, saith the only Lord and Head of the church; nor yet agaphtikwV, setting himself only to do a pleasure, or to get preferment to such as he favoureth; nay, nor nomoqetikwV, only by establishing good orders and wholesome laws in the church, but he must carry himself uphretikwV, serviceably and ministerially; for as his function is officium and jurisdictio, so it is munus, a burdensome service and charge laid upon him.

That a ruling elder may be such an one as he ought to be, two sorts of duties are requisite, namely, duties of his conversation, and duties of his calling. The duties of his conversation are the same which the apostle Paul requireth in the conversation of the minister of the word, that he be blameless, having a good report, not accused of riot, or unruly; vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, a lover of good men, just, holy, temperate, not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre, not self-willed, not soon angry, but patient, not a brawler, not covetous, one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection, with all gravity, one that followeth after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness, &c. 1 Tim. 3.2-7; 6.11; Titus 1.6-8. These and such like parts of a Christian and exemplary conversation being required of pastors, as they are elders, belong unto ruling elders also. This being plain, let us proceed to the duties of their calling.

For the better understanding whereof, we will distinguish, with the schoolmen, a twofold power, the power of order, and the power of jurisdiction, which are different in sundry respects: (1.) The power of order comprehendeth such things as a minister, by virtue of his ordination, may do without a commission from any presbytery or assembly of the church, as to preach the word, to minister the sacraments, to celebrate marriage, to visit the sick, to catechise, to admonish {12.b.} &c. The power of jurisdiction comprehendeth such things as a minister cannot do himself, nor by virtue of his ordination; but they are done by a session, presbytery, or synod, and sometimes by a minister or ministers, having commission and authority from the same, such as ordination and admission, suspension, deprivation and excommunication, and receiving again into the church, and making of laws and constitutions ecclesiastical, and such like, whereof we boldly maintain that there is no part of ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the power of one man, but of many met together in the name of Christ. (2.) The power of order is the radical and fundamental power, and maketh a minister susceptive and capable of the power of jurisdiction. (3.) The power of order goeth no farther than the court of conscience; the power of jurisdiction is exercised in external and ecclesiastical courts. (4.) The power of order is sometime unlawful in the use, yet not void in itself. The power of jurisdiction, when it is unlawful in the use, it is also void in itself. If a minister do any act of jurisdiction, as to excommunicate, or absolve without his own parish, wanting also the consent of the ministry and elders of the bounds where he doth the same, such acts are void in themselves, and of no effect; but if without his own charge, and without the consent aforesaid, he baptize an infant, or do any such thing belonging to the power of order, though his act be unlawful, yet is the thing itself of force, and the sacrament remaineth a true sacrament.

Now to our purpose. We aver that this twofold power of order and jurisdiction belongeth to ruling elders as well as to pastors. The power of jurisdiction is the same in both; for the power and authority of all jurisdiction belongeth to the assemblies and representative meetings of the church, whereof the ruling elders are necessary constituent members, and have the power of decisive voicing no less than pastors. Howbeit, the execution of some decrees enacted by the power of jurisdiction belongeth to ministers alone, for pastors alone exercise some acts of jurisdiction, as imposition of hands, the pronouncing of the sentence of excommunication, the receiving of a penitent, &c. Are not these things done in the name and authority of some assembly of the church, higher or lower? Or are they any other than the executions of the decrees {13.a.} and sentences of such an assembly wherein ruling elders voiced. The power of order alone shall make the difference betwixt the pastor and the ruling elder; for, by the power of order, the pastor doth preach the word, minister the sacraments, pray in public, bless the congregation, celebrate marriage, which the ruling elder cannot; therefore it is falsely said by that railing Rabshakeh (whom before I speak of), Ep., p. 7, That the ruling elders want nothing of the power of the minister, but that they preach not, nor baptize in public congregations; yet other things, which the pastor doth, by his power of order, the ruling elder ought also to do by his own power of order. And if we would know how much of this power of order is common to both, let us note that pastors do some things by their power of order, which all Christians ought to do by the law of charity. Things of this sort a ruling elder may and ought to do by his power of order, and by virtue of his election and ordination to such an office. For example, every Christian is bound in charity to admonish and reprove his brother that offendeth, first privately, then before witnesses; and if he hear not, to tell it to the church, Lev. 19.17; Matt. 18.15-17. This a ruling elder ought to do by virtue of his calling, and with authority, 1 Thes. 5.12; private Christians ought in charity to instruct the ignorant, John 4.29; Acts 18.26; to exhort the negligent, Heb. 3.15; 10.24,25; to comfort the afflicted, 1 Thes. 5.11; to support the weak, 1 Thes. 5.14; to restore him that falleth, Gal. 6.1; to visit the sick; Matt. 25.36,40; to reconcile those who are at variance, Matt. 5.9; to contend for the truth, and to answer for it, Jude, verse 3; 1 Pet. 3.15, all which are incumbent to the ruling elder, by the authority of his calling. To conclude, then, the calling of ruling elders consisteth in these two things: (1.) To assist and voice in all assemblies of the church: which is their power of jurisdiction; (2.) To watch diligently over the whole flock all these ways which have been mentioned, and to do by authority that which other Christians ought to do in charity: which is their power of order. And the elder which neglecteth any one of these two whereunto his calling leadeth him, shall make answer to God for it; for the word of God, the discipline of this kirk, the bonds of his own calling and covenant, do all bind sin upon his soul, if {13.b.} either he give not diligence in private, by admonishing all men of their duty as the case requireth; or if he neglect to keep either the ecclesiastical court and consistory within the congregation where his charge is, or the classical presbytery and other assemblies of the church, which he is no less bound to keep than his pastor, when he is called and designed thereunto.



Having showed what ruling elders are, it followeth to show Scripture and divine right for them. Our first argument is taken from the government and policy of the Jewish church thus: Whatsoever kind of office-bearers the Jewish church had, not as it was Jewish, but as it was a church, such ought the Christian church to have also. But the Jewish church, not as it was Jewish, but as it was a church, had elders of the people, who assisted in their ecclesiastical government, and were members of their ecclesiastical consistories; therefore such ought the Christian church to have also. The proposition will no man call in question; for quod competit alicui qua tali competit omni tali,—that which agreeth to any church as it is a church, agreeth to every church. I speak of the church as it is a political body and settled ecclesiastical republic, let us see then to the assumption: The Jewish church, not as it was a church, but as it was Jewish, had an high priest, typifying our great High Priest Jesus Christ. As it was Jewish, it had musicians to play upon harps, psalteries, cymbals, and other musical instruments in the temple, 1 Chron. 25.1, concerning which hear Bellarmine’s confession, de Bon. Oper., lib. 1., cap. 17, “Justinus saith that the use of instruments was granted to the Jews for their imperfection, and that therefore such instruments have no place in the church. We confess, indeed, that the use of musical instruments agreeth not alike with the perfect, and with the imperfect, and that therefore they began but of late to be admitted in the church.” But as it was a church, and not as Jewish, it had four sorts of ordinary officer-bearers, priests, Levites, doctors, and elders, and {14.a} we conformably have pastors, deacons, doctors and elders. To their priests and Levites Cyprian doth rightly liken our pastors and deacons, for howsoever sundry things were done by the priests and Levites, which were typical and Jewish only, yet may we well parallel our pastors with their priests, in respect of a perpetual ecclesiastical office common to both, namely, the teaching and governing of the people of God, Mal. 2.7; 2 Chron. 19.8; and our deacons with their Levites, in respect of the care of ecclesiastical goods, and of the work of the service of the house of God in the materials and appurtenances thereof, a function likewise common to both, 1 Chron. 26.20; 23.24,28. The Jewish church had also doctors and schools, or colleges for the preservation of true divinity among them,6 and of tongues, arts and sciences, necessary thereto, 1 Chron. 15.22,27; 2 Kings 22.14; 1 Sam. 19.20; 2 Kings 2.3,5; Acts 19.9. These office-bearers they had for no typical use, but we have them for the same use and end for which they had them. And all these sorts of office-bearers among us we do as rightly warrant from the like sorts among them, as other whiles we warrant our baptising of infants from their circumcising of them, our churches by their synagogues, &c.

Now that the Jewish church had also such elders as we plead for, it is manifest; for, besides the elders of the priests, there were also elders of the people joined with them in the hearing and handling of ecclesiastical matters, Jer. 19.1, “Take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests.” The Lord, sending a message by the prophet, would have a representative body of all Judah to be gathered together for receiving it, as Tremellius noteth. So 2 Kings 6.32, “Elisha sat in his house, and the elders sat with him.” We read, 2 Chron. 19.9, that with the priests were joined some of the chief of the fathers of Israel, to judge ecclesiastical causes and controversies. And howsoever many things among the Jews in the latter times, after the captivity, did wear to confusion and disorder, yet we find, even in the days of Christ and the apostles, that the elders of {14.b.} the people still sat and voiced in council with the priests, according to the ancient form, as is clear from sundry places of the New Testament, Matt. 16.21; 21.23; 26.57,59; 27.1,12; Mark 14.43; Luke 22.66; Acts 4.5. This is also acknowledged by the Roman annalist Baronius [Anno. 58, n. 10.], who confesseth further, That as this was the form among the Jews, so, by the apostles, was the same form observed in their times, and seniors then admitted into councils. Saravia himself [De. Divers. Grad. Minist. Evang., cap. 11], who disputeth so much against ruling elders, acknowledgeth what hath been said of the elders of the Jews: Seniores quidem invenio in confessu sacerdotum veteris synagogæ, qui sacerdotes non erant,—’I find, indeed (saith he [p. 108]), elders in the assembly of the priests of the old synagogue, which were not priests.’ Et quamvis paria eorum essent suffragia et authoritas in omnibus judiciis, cum suffragiis sacerdotum, &c.—’And although (saith he [p. 118.]) their suffrages and authority in all judgments were equal with the suffrages of the priests,’ &c. But what then, think ye, he hath to say against us? He saith [p. 108,118] that the elders of the Jews were their magistrates, which, in things pertaining to the external government of the church, ought not to have been debarred from the council of the priests more than the Christian magistrate ought now to be debarred from the synods of the church. Now to prove that their elders were their civil magistrates, he hath no better argument than this: That the Hebrew word zaken, which is turned elder, importeth a chief man, or a ruler. We answer, first, This is a bold conjecture, which he hath neither warranted by divine nor by human testimonies; secondly, Zaken doth not ever signify a ruler, or a man in authority, as we have shewed before; thirdly, Let us grant zaken to be a name of dignity, and to import a chief man; yet a chief man is not ever a magistrate, nor a ruler. It would only follow that they were of the chief of the fathers of Israel that were joined with the priests in the sanhedrim, and so it was, 2 Chron. 19.8. Non herele de plebe hominum lecti sed nobilissimi omnes, saith P. Cunœus [De Repub. Jud., lib. 1., cap. 12.] They were, saith Loc. Theol., {15.a.} tom. 6., sect. 28: Proceres tribuum qui allegabantur una cum sacerdotibus et scribes in sacrum synedrium. Fourthly, They who were so joined in council with the priests, 2 Chron. 19.8, are plainly distinguished from the judges and magistrates, ver. 11; and so are the princes and rulers distinguished from the elders, Acts 4.5; Judg. 8.14; Deut. 5.23; Josh. 8.33. Fifthly, We would know whether he thought that all the magistrates of the Jews sat in council with the priests, or some of them only—if some only, we desire either proof or probability, who they were, and how many—if all, then should we, by the like reason, admit not the supreme magistrate alone (which he seemeth to say) into the synods of the church, but all magistrates whatsoever, and what a confusion should that be? Sixthly, Those elders that sat in the civil sanhedrim were rulers by their sitting there; but the elders which sat in the ecclesiastical sanhedrim, either were not civil magistrates, or at least sat not there as magistrates. So do our magistrates sometimes sit with us, as members of our assemblies, not as magistrates, but as elders. Of the distinction of those two courts, which every one observeth not, we shall speak more afterward.

We have said enough against Saravia, but Bilson doth better deserve an answer, who allegeth more specious reasons to prove that the elders of the Jews were their civil magistrates. He saith, There was no senate nor seniors among the Jews, but such as had power of life and death, of imprisonment, confiscation, banishment, &c., which he maketh to appear thus: In the days of Ezra, the punishment of contemners was forfeiture of their substance, and separation from the congregation, Ezra. 10.8; the trial of secret murder was committed to the elders of every city, Deut. 21.3,4; they delivered the willful murderer unto the avenger of blood, to be put to death, Deut. 19.12; they condemned a stubborn son to death, Deut. 21.19; they chastened a man who had spoken falsely of his wife, that he found her not a virgin, Deut. 22.15,16,18. Answer. First, If it should be granted that the elders, spoken of in these places, were civil magistrates, this proveth not that there were no ecclesiastical elders among the Jews. Justellus, in his Annotations upon the Book of the Canons of the African Church, distinguisheth betwixt the {15.b.} civil elders mentioned,7 can. 91, who were called seniores locorum, or urbium, and the ecclesiastical elders mentioned, can. 10, who were called seniores ecclesiæ and seniores plebis: the former name distinguishing them from the civil elders; the latter distinguishing them from preaching elders. So there might be the same two sorts of elders among the Jews. And what then? It is enough for us that we find, in the Jewish church, some elders joined with the priests, and employed in things ecclesiastical. The elders and priests are joined together, both in the New Testament, as Matt. 26.59, “The chief priests and elders;” so in other places before cited. And likewise in the Old Testament, Exod. 21.1, “Come up unto the Lord, thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel;” Deut. 27.1, “Moses with the elders,” compared with ver. 9, “Moses and the priests;” Zech. 7.26, “The law shall perish from the priest, and council from the ancients;” Jer. 19.1, “Take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests.” We find, also, the commandments of God first delivered to the elders, and by them to the people, Exod. 12.21,28; 19.7,8. It is said, Deut. 27.1, “Moses, with the elders of Israel, commanded the people.” Upon which place Hugo Cardinalis saith, Argumentum, &c.—’Here is an argument that a prelate ought not to command anything without the council of the elders.’

Secondly, But it cannot be proved that these elders, in the places objected, were judges or magistrates; nay, the contrary appeareth from other places, which we have before alleged for the distinction of elders from magistrates or judges; whereunto we may add, 2 Kings 10.1, “Unto the rulers of Jezreel, to the elders, and to them that brought up Ahab’s children;” and ver. 5, “He that was over the house, and he that was over the city, the elders also, and the bringers up of the children;” Ezra 10.14, “The elders of every city, and the judges thereof.”

Fourthly, We read of threescore and seventeen {16.a.} elders in Succoth, Judg. 8.14, whereas the greatest number of judges, in one city, among the Jews, was three for smaller matters, and three-and-twenty for great matters. This objection Bilson himself moveth, but answereth it not.

Fifthly, As for the places which he objecteth against us, the first two of them make against himself. In Ezra 10.8, we find not only the civil punishment of forfeiture, but also, as Pellicanus on that place, and Zepperus, de Pol. Eccl., lib. 3., cap. 7, do observe, the ecclesiastical punishment of excommunication, or separation from the congregation: the former answering to the council of the princes, the latter to the council of the elders. The place, Deut. 21.3,4, maketh against him in three respects: First, The elders of the city did but wash their hands over the beheaded heifer, and purge themselves before the Lord from the bloodshed, which was a matter rather ecclesiastical than civil. Neque enem, &c.—’For there was no need of a judge here, who should be present formally as judge,’ saith Benfrerius, the Jesuit, upon that place. Secondly, The controversy was decided by the word of the priests, ver. 5. Thirdly, Tostatus thinketh that the elders and the judges are plainly distinguished, ver. 2, “Thy elders and thy judges shall come forth.” Quæras hic, &c.—Thou mayest here ask (saith Pelargus) why the elders of the people, and the judges, were both together called out,—I answer, because God will have both the magistrate and the subjects to be innocent, &c. As for the other places, that which seemeth to prove most for the civil power of the Jewish elders, is Deut. 22., yet hear what that famous commentator, Tostatus Abulensis saith on that place: Quando talis, &c.—’When such a cause was to be judged, because it was very weighty, the elders of the city did meet together with the judges thereof; for, in such facts, there is some place for conjecture, and the elders, who are the wiser sort, can herein be more attentive than others.’ So he noteth upon Ruth 4.3, that the elders sat in the gate about the controversy betwixt Boaz and the other kinsman, not as judges, but as witnesses and beholders, that the matter might be done with the more gravity and respect, which doth farther appear from ver. 9,11. In like manner we answer to Deut. 21.19, the judges decided that cause with advise and counsel {16.b.} of the elders; and so the name of elders, in those places, may be a name not of office, but of dignity, signifying men of chief note, for wisdom, gravity, and experience. In which sense the word elders is taken, Gen. 50.7, as Tostatus and Rivetus expound that place. In the same manner we say of Deut. 19.12; and, in that case, it is farther to be remembered, that the cities of refuge had a kind of sacred designation and use, for the altar itself was sometimes a place of refuge, Exod. 21.14; and when the six cities of refuge were appointed, they were of the cities of the Levites, Num. 35.6; that by the judgment and council of the Levites, who should best understand the law of God, such controversies might be determined, as Pellicanus on that place saith well; for this cause some read Josh. 20.7, “They sanctified Kedesh,” &c. Besides, if it be true that these causes were judged, not in the city where the murder was committed, but in the city of refuge, as Serrarius [In Jos. 20., quæst. 3.] holdeth with Masius and Montanus, and allegeth for it some very considerable reasons, then doth Bilson’s argument, from Deut. 19.12, fail also in this respect; for the elders there mentioned are the elders of the city where the murder was committed.



Our second argument we take from Matt. 18.17, “Tell the church.” Let an obstinate offender, whom no admonition doth amend, be brought and judged by the church,—where, first of all, it is to be condescended upon, That though he speaketh by allusion to the Jewish church, as is evident by these words, “Let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican,” yet he meaneth of the Christian church, when he saith, “Tell the church,” as may appear by the words following, “Whatsoever ye bind on earth,” &c., which is meant of the apostles and ministers of the gospel, John 20.23; so that he did not send them to the sanhedrim of the Jews, when he bade them “Tell the church;” nor, (2.) Doth he mean of the church universal, for then we should have none of our wrongs redressed, {17.a.} because we cannot assemble the church universal, nay, nor the representative of it, which is an œcumenic council; nor, (3.) Can we understand it of the collective body of a particular church or congregation; for he who is the God of order, not of confusion, hath committed the exercise of no ecclesiastical jurisdiction to a promiscuous multitude; nor, (4.) Can it be taken of a prelate, who, being but one, can no more be called “the church,” nor one can be called many, or a member be called a body. Non enim una persona potest dici ecclesia, saith Bell., de Eccles., lib. 3., cap. 17, Cum ecclesia sit populus et regnum Dei. It is plain that the church there spoken of is a certain number met together, “Where two or three are gathered together,” &c.; nor, (5.) Can we, with Erastus and Bilson, expound it of the Christian magistrate [De. Guber. Eccles., cap. 4, p. 70,71.], which exposition, beside that, in a new-fangled language, it calleth the magistrate the church, and goeth about to overthrow all ecclesiastical jurisdiction, It is also utterly contrary to the purpose of Christ, and to the aim of that discipline which he recommendeth to be used, which is the good of our brother, and the gaining of him from his offence, whereas the exercise of civil jurisdiction of the magistrate is not intended for the good of the offender, and for the winning of him to repentance, but for the public good of the common-wealth, and for the preservation of peace, order and justice, therein according to the laws. Wherefore, by the church whereof our Master speaketh, we must needs understand such a representative meeting of the church, wherein a scandalous and obstinate person may and ought to be judged. And what is that? Collegium presbyterorum, saith Camero [Prælect. tom. 1., p. 23.] The presbytery whereof mention is made, 1 Tim. 4.14, “Tell the church;” that is, proedroiV kai proestwsi, saith Chrysostom, expounding the place,—he meaneth the presbytery made up of pastors and ruling elders. And so Zanchius [In 4 Præcept., col. 741.] and Junius [Contr. 3, lib. 2., cap. 6.] expound him. The pastors were proedroi, because of their presiding in the consistories of the church; the ruling elders were proestwteV, because of their ruling the flock. Whitgift saith [D. of Tract. 17, cap. 2, div. 4.], “Truth it is that {17.b.} the place of Matthew may be understood of seniors, but it may be as well understood of any other, that, by the order of the church, have authority in the church.” His confession, in behalf of seniors, we accept, but that he maketh this scripture like a nose of wax, and the government of the church like the French fashion, that we utterly abhor. But how is the presbytery called the church, and why? First, Even as the body is said to see, whenas the eyes alone do see: so saith Camero [Ubi supra, p. 26.] The church is said to hear that which they alone do hear who are as the eyes of the church. Secondly, It is a common form of speech to give the name of that which is represented to that which representeth it. So we commonly say, that this or that is done by the State of Holland, which is done by the senate at Hague. Now, though bishops or pastors alone cannot represent the church, because hearers also belong to the definition of the church, yet the presbytery can well represent the church, because it containeth, beside those who labour in the word, ruling elders put in authority by the church for the government thereof, as Gerhard rightly resolveth. [Loc. Theol., tom. 6., p. 137.] Our divines prove against Papists, that some of these, whom they call laics, ought to have place in the assemblies of the church, by this argument, among the rest, because otherwise the whole church could not be thereby represented. Thirdly, The Lord commanded that the children of Israel should lay their hands upon the Levites at their consecration, and that the whole congregation should be brought together for that effect, Num. 8.9,10. This, as some have observed out of Aben-Ezra [Treat. of Eccles. Discip., p. 87.] cannot be so understood, as if the many thousands, which were then in the host of Israel, had all laid their hands upon them, but the elders of Israel only representing them. So the Lord saith, “Speak to all the congregation of Israel,” &c., Exod. 12.3-21; but the execution of this command is expressed thus: “Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said unto them,” &c.; so Josh. 20.6. Fourthly, Pastors and elders, as they are the ministers of Jesus Christ, so are they the ministers and servants of his spouse the church, 2 Cor. 4.5. From that which hath been said, we may draw our argument in this form: Whatsoever courts do {18.a.} represent the church, these are made up of ruling as well as teaching elders.

But presbyteries, and all assemblies of the church, are courts which represent the church, therefore &c. The proposition is proved thus: Whatsoever courts represent hearers as well as teachers, and the people as well as the ministry, these are made up of ruling as well as teaching elders.

But whatsoever courts do represent the church, these represent hearers as well as teachers, &c. It is plain enough that the church cannot be represented, except the hearers of the word, which are the far greatest part of the church, be represented. By the ministers of the word they cannot be represented more than the burghs can be represented in parliament by the noblemen, or by the commissioners of shires; therefore, by some of their own kind must they be represented, that is, by such as are hearers, and not preachers. Now some hearers cannot represent all the rest, except they have a calling and commission thereto; and who can those be but ruling elders?


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