A Review of "The Ecclesiastical Polity of the New Testament,"

By the Rev. G. A. Jacob, D.D., Late Headmaster of Christ's Hospital.

1874 187 It is certainly not the most profitable occupation, nor a service of the highest order, to be reviewing books of this kind, for it does not minister to the direct intercourse of our souls with the Lord: which alone, whatever be our learning, will make us spiritual. Yet this sort of investigation is necessary in the present day, when the question of "What is the church?" is continually brought before men's minds, and especially when the arrogant pretensions of popery are anew occupying the foreground of Christendom, and when, in smaller spheres, a mongrel Judaic Christianity is presented to us in lieu of the heavenly bride ministered to by direct intercourse through the Spirit from Christ on high. Thus, having so recently reviewed Dr. Lightfoot on the same or nearly the same subject, we find ourselves in presence of Dr. Jacob, who has written a more interesting history, and one which goes farther into the question of "gifts," than did Dr. Lightfoot, who ignored the subject almost entirely, and limited himself to the history of episcopacy. Dr. Jacob takes a larger range, and confronts the question of gifts, although it be deliberately to deny their existence in the present day. For the rest, it is remarkable how the modern inquirers into church government are obliged to allow that episcopacy whether ancient or modern does violence to scripture, although they contrive as episcopalians to find excuses for remaining at their posts. Tradition is with them "sub-apostolic," or "post-apostolic," and thus they connect themselves with apostolical succession.

Before coming to the subject of gifts, it is well to notice that Dr. J. repudiates the idea that "church" ever means a building or place of worship, or that it ever means "christian ministers, as distinguished from the general body of Christians" (p. 10). So likewise a strong protest is entered by him against the authority of the Nicene period or church. "Notwithstanding," says he, "the still generally acknowledged supremacy of holy scripture among us, the main current of church opinion on all questions of polity and practice (to say nothing here of doctrines) has for a very considerable time been setting strongly towards the ecclesiastical system of the third and fourth centuries, to the neglect in this respect of the New Testament" (p. 21). He says, "the church of the apostolic period is the only church in which there is found an authority justly claiming the acknowledgment of christian bodies in other times" (p. 25), with more to this effect in pages 26, 29.

Dr. Jacob's book is well worth perusal. From the posts he has occupied, he must be a scholar, and certainly his "Ecclesiastical Polity" is the result of much research, and the fruit of much reflection. He has not spared the Establishment in his incisive attacks upon her organization, but his suggestions for her reform are feeble after the impressions he has left upon his readers as to her present condition. It is with his review of the ministry of gifts in the church, and their merging, according to him, subsequently into the "ministry of orders," that we have principally to do.

As much turns upon this in relation to all church questions, we shall devote a short space to some of Dr. J.'s statements with a view to their refutation. We quote Dr. J. at page 42, lecture 2 — "The first organization of the church." "These two forms of the christian ministry may be called the ministry of gifts, and the ministry of orders. The ministry of gifts comes first. It belonged to apostolic times alone, when preternatural or spiritual gifts, charismata, usually by imposition of the apostles' hands, were abundantly shed abroad in the church. In the earliest part of this period it was exercised the most extensively, and probably in some places exclusively, before the ministry of the other form was sufficiently matured" (pp. 42, 43). Again, "It is evident from the circumstances mentioned by St. Paul, in connection with the church at Corinth (1 Cor. xi. — xiv.) that the public worship there was not conducted by one or two ministers expressly chosen and appointed to the office; but anyone who possessed a spiritual gift available for general edification was permitted to pray or prophesy; to address words of exhortation, instruction, or encouragement; to lead the devotional singing with psalms or hymns of his own selection; to speak in a foreign language, if either he himself or some one else interpreted his words; and in short to exercise his peculiar gifts, with the full sanction of apostolic authority, and without any other restraint than a conformity to such wholesome general admonition as, 'Let all things be done unto edifying,' 'Let all things be done decently and in order' "(pp. 43, 44). Again, "The possessors of these spiritual gifts were not, as far as we are informed, ordained or specially appointed to their office by any ceremony; and hence these functions have been sometimes represented as merely one phase of the operation of that universal priesthood which belongs to all Christians; or as the absence of all ministry in those times when, as it is alleged, all Christians were allowed before the church was fully settled to preach, baptize, and expound the scriptures in the church. But that this was really acknowledged and authorized ministry attached to the possessors of such gifts, and exercised because of this possession, and not merely a liberty indulged in from the absence of all rule, appears still more plainly from its not being confined to edifying ministrations in social worship, but extended to other spheres of labour also" (p. 45).

These extracts, it is needless to say, we think excellent. Dr. J. allows that they are not in the nature of the priesthood of all believers, but "an acknowledged and authorized ministry." Now, however the tone changes, and we have a new phase of thought in the following extract. "This ministry of gifts was, from its very nature, only for a time. It was liable to obvious abuses; and it did not contain the elements of order and sobriety in sufficient strength to make it suitable for a permanent institution. The gifts moreover not being conferred by any hands but those of apostles, the ministrations which depended on them must have gradually passed away. And long before they disappeared, the other form of the christian ministry was introduced and extended generally throughout the church. As this became more and more fully established, it was not unnatural that the ministry of gifts — once the glory and, it may be said, the pride of christian congregations, should suffer some disparagement, and possibly, should at times be regarded as an irregularity, or an interference with established order" (p. 47).

We must trouble our reader with one more extract in order to put him in possession of the mind of Dr. Jacob. "The ministry of orders which gradually superseded the more free and unrestricted form of church administration was exercised by men especially selected for this purpose, and ordained or solemnly appointed by ecclesiastical authority to minister in their respective congregations. If we may judge from recorded instances of St. Paul's practice, the apostles ordained 'elders' in the churches which they founded, as soon as intelligent and suitable men could be found for this purpose; and long before the end of the apostolic age, the ministry of orders had become a generally received and ordinary institution throughout the churches. And as doubtless many of those who were thus formally ordained were also possessors of spiritual gifts, the earlier ministrations which these gifts supplied, must commonly have passed into the later form, without difficulty or any painful change, until at last they were quietly merged in its permanent establishment. In the meantime, while both these forms of the ministry were in operation together, those who had gifts of 'teaching' and of 'prophecy,' and other charismatia of a similar nature were subject to the general superintendence and control of the ordained officers, who always acted as rulers and overseers — episkopoi — of the christian communities, whether they themselves took a prominent part or not in the instructions, prayers, and other services of their religious assemblies, And, as might be expected, several different phases of the working of the double system, might be seen in different churches and at different times during the period embraced by the New Testament, and before the disappearance of the ministry of gifts as a distinct ordinance of the church" (p. 51).

Dr. Jacob's meaning is plain. Gifts exercised for a time along with the permanent ministry of elders became very soon absorbed into a stated ministry, represented by those ordained as elders by the apostles. Now how can we allow that such passages as those in Acts xx. and 1 Peter 5, convey the idea that the possessors of gifts are or were for the most part elders? Thus they run, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God," etc. (Acts xx. 28), and "The elders which are among you I exhort . . . . Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof," etc. (1 Peter 5:1, 2.) 'Would these official men supersede or set aside the permanent provision made by our Lord for His church in such words as "he gave some, apostles, and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers . . . . for the work of the ministry . . . till we all come . . . . unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ"? (Eph. iv.) or did they (the elders) absorb every gift in their own persons? Did not the Apostle Peter, whilst using such language as we have recorded regarding elders, inculcate on the saints at large in the previous chapter the propriety of using the gifts committed to them? Thus," as every man hath received the gift (charisma) even so minister the same one to another . . . . if any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth?" Is it possible that Dr. J. can so attempt to supply the need of divine power as to write such a sentence as the following? "At the same time, since natural gifts in an extraordinary degree, and of a kind most available for extensive good, are sometimes found even now in christian men and women, it would seem that churches might still advantageously imitate the example of the apostolic age, by employing such powers to supplement though not to supplant their more regular ministrations"!! Does he seriously believe that Christ on high is the Head of the church which is united to Him by the Holy Ghost, who is as to the dispensation now personally on the earth? Will Dr. J. seriously maintain that the beautiful recommendation of the Apostle Paul in Romans xii., beginning at verse 6, as to the use of charismata, involving the whole action of a christian community, was transitory, and to be superseded by bishops ordained by ecclesiastical authority? or, on the other hand, that these so gifted, if in exercise, are only "natural gifts"?

The reasoning of Dr. J. on the charismata is fallacious. He supposes that they "belonged to apostolic times alone (and) usually by the imposition of the apostles' hands," and that therefore they would naturally die out. This is only partly true, namely, of those which might be called miraculous; for we have no reason to think that any apostle had been at Rome, and yet these gifts were abundant when the Apostle Paul wrote there. (Rom. xii ) But supposing Dr. J.'s ideas were correct, the charismata would not be the same as the domata of Ephesians iv. 8. These latter were men — not merely that a gift (charisma) had been imparted (though of course this may have been the case), but the men themselves were the gifts. Dr. J. by rejecting everything but "orders of ministers" of whatever grades by ministerial succession, loses sight of those engagements of Christ the Lord, which provide supplies of pastors, teachers, and evangelists for His church at large apart from local organization, although it may be and is often true, that those local officers, such as elders, may also be these very gifts.

It cannot however be too distinctly held that office in the christian church is not hereditary. It does not descend in any way by succession. Where is the apostle or where is his delegate Timothy to ordain? There is no clerical caste. There is no provision for the continuation of elders. The true succession is by gifts, and these are in the hands of Christ Himself, whilst eldership is an apostolic institution, and fails when there are no apostles; although, observe, men may be and are found with their characteristics as recorded in Timothy and Titus, and should as a principle thus be known and owned.

It is a matter of grave consideration whether eldership in itself, by the hands of the apostle, ever gave a title to preach, although it did to rule, or whether any laying on of hands did, although such laying on of hands conferred a gift of some kind.

It may be remarked indeed, as an occasion of grief, in connection with the state of Christendom, that both the treatises which have been under our notice, display a lamentable lack of knowledge as to the presence and power of the Holy Ghost in the church.

How strange that men — divines, cling to episcopacy or eldership in the way of succession, which since Paul's time has failed, and deny "gifts," which Christ, speaking with reverence, is bound to maintain until He Himself come

We have left ourselves but small space to record how Dr. Jacob, like Dr. Lightfoot, reaches episcopacy.* He reaches it by the very same steps as Dr. Lightfoot (whom he follows closely), there not being as he acknowledges any authority for the office in the word of God. He says, "It is necessary to distinguish clearly between what the apostles themselves established in the church, and what was afterwards found to be expedient as a further development of their polity" (p. 65). Again of presbyters and deacons, "These were established in the churches by the apostles themselves; while the episcopate, in the modern acceptation of the term, and as a distinct clerical order, does not appear in the Now Testament." We need not go further, only that Dr. J. fortifies the position we took up in reviewing Dr. Lightfoot, that the sources of all the subsequent deflection and departure from apostolic writings began after the decease of the apostles, and before the church history period, properly speaking, begins. He says, "Before the end of the second century, the episcopal form was probably established by general consent in all the churches of the Roman empire" (p. 78). Finally, Dr. J. says, though not in such strong language as Dr. Lightfoot, "The establishment of episcopacy saved the church, whatever mischiefs were wrought by the abuse and perversion of the system" (p. 80). We would piously ejaculate, "I understand more than the ancients; because I keep thy precepts." W. W.

[*It must be understood that our review is limited to Dr. Jacob's second lecture, "The First Organization of the Church," extending over some forty-five pages. The others are Lecture 1, "The Apostles and the Christian Church." Lecture 3, "A Further Consideration of the Christian Ministry." Lecture 4, "The Laity a Christian Body at large." Lecture 5, "Public Worship." Lecture 6, "Christian Baptism." Lecture 7, "The Lord's Supper." Lecture 8, "Application and Conclusion," with four appendices — four hundred and twenty-one pages in all. Although widely differing from Dr. J. we must allow the gracious spirit which pervades his pages.]