Shepherd Work and Rule in the Church.
An Address delivered in Grosvenor Hall, Dublin.
LET me invite your attention to 1st Corinthians, 12th chap., 27th verse: "Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular." It is most important to observe, that the three special figures of the Church—the body, the building, and the flock—are presented in the Word of God, both in an inclusive, wide, and general aspect, and also in a local and narrower one. The whole Church is the body (see Eph. i. 22-23), but so, though in a narrower sense, is the local assembly. "Now ye are the body"—"Ye (Corinthians) are the body, and members in particular." The whole Church in the aspect of the building—a temple—"groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord;" but we also have it referred to in I Cor. iii., where the local church is a temple—"Ye are the temple of God," and based upon that, is the solemn warning, "Take heed lest ye defile the temple of God; if any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy." And so, with reference to the flock, we have the words in Acts xx. "all the flock;" but we also have the local aspect of the flock: "Feed the flock of God which is among you" (1 Peter v. 2)—that is, the local flock. So that, I take it, wherever there are a number of true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is a flock, there is a temple, there is a body. And those sweet thoughts that radiate from each of these figures, harmonize without collision with the wider and general thought that the whole Church is the temple, and that it is also the body of Christ. Now, I am struck with the way that the Spirit of God, suddenly, as it were, turns and says: "God hath set some in the Church." When we think of the membership of the body and the ministry of the body, we find a ministry that includes all believers, sisters as well as brothers, old as well as young, novices, newly-converted as well as fathers; but when we come to think of the ministry in the Church, it does not include sisters, nor all men—not all the male sex because they are male,—but "God hath set some in the Church." So, He turns from the body to the Church—"first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, and diversities of tongues."
Then, "are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gift; and yet show I unto you a more excellent way." Now, most of those are supernatural and miraculous gifts—"charisma," and in the 13th chapter, we have an intimation, that these were given for a temporary period in the Church, and were meant to pass away when the purpose for which they were given was fulfilled. And whilst we speak about the failure of the Church and the sinfulness and worldliness of the Church—true, sadly true—yet do not let us say these "charisma" have been removed, that we have no working of miracles, or gifts of healing, because the Church has been unfaithful. To this I demur. 1 Cor. xiii. shows that these miraculous gifts were given for a period in the Church, and that the time would come when prophecy would cease—when knowledge would cease and tongues would fail, in the perfect state of things, without interfering with the thought that there is a sense in which the perfect would come by and by. But there is also a sense in which the perfect has come, for we have a full revelation of God given to us in the Holy Scriptures, and the special purposes for which these miraculous or supernatural gifts were given having been accomplished, they have been withdrawn.
This being so, a very great deal of what preceeds in the 12th chapter and what follows in the 14th chapter is primarily connected with a condition of things which has passed away, being instructions for the control and directions of miraculous and supernatural gifts in the Apostolic Church. And I would like to say that I know of no case of 1 Cor. xiv. strictly having been carried out in our days. I have never heard during the years that I have been connected with the assemblies of saints, anyone stand up and say, "Something has been revealed to me, and let the first hold his peace." The more I study these chapters, the more I am convinced that though the principles there set forth are the truth of God, are there for all time, they were specially meant to guide the exercise of the miraculous and supernatural gifts which existed then. And I am further struck with this solemn fact, that the Holy Spirit of God puts a restriction—I say it with reverence—upon Himself; so that to those who were under the impulse, the "afflatus," the outpouring and lifting up of the Holy Ghost in marvellous measure in their souls, the apostle says, "Better not speak at all, than speak in an unknown tongue." If a man cannot speak so as to be heard by others, or if he has some difficulties of voice or style, and cannot be heard by those present, he had better not speak at all. But if a brother says, "Oh, I must speak," the apostle say, "My brother, sit down and keep silence."
Turning to the Epistle to the Ephesians, there, it seems to me, we get upon lines—where we are not met with difficulties concerning this miraculous or supernatural condition of things—we get on to lines that the Holy Spirit lays down very clearly, and which were distinctly meant to continue during the whole period of this dispensation while the Church is on earth (read Ephesians iv. 8-13). Here we have the ascension gifts of the Lord Jesus Christ given to His Church for certain purposes, and for a certain tenure, or period. And it is perfectly evident that we still are living in a time that the Lord meant to be covered by these gifts of His ascension grace (for they are connected, not with His resurrection, but with His ascension—"He ascended up on high and gave gifts unto men)." And the gifts are until the Church comes into the "unity of the faith"—we are not there yet—and to "the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect Man." So that these gifts are given still. I cannot see the distinctive difference—the clear-cut difference that some would draw, between ministry and rule or oversight. Of course, I see the difference intellectually, but when I come to examine the Scriptures upon it and seek to draw from them my teaching and inspiration, I do not see the difference. For instance, take the word "Pastors." Now, we find that that word and those others that are closely connected with the subject—I mean flock, pasture, care, feed, rule, tend—we find that they are all of them from the same root, they are all like "first cousins" to each other; they are from a parent stock, and the parent stock conveys just this idea, one who tends, feeds, guides, enlightens, rules, leads, directs, or any other such words—all meaning the same thing, or different aspects of the same thing, a shepherd, the shepherd. The word is the very same as is used of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself in Heb. xiii. 20, which is rendered "The Great Shepherd" also "The Chief Shepherd of the sheep," and it is the word which Peter uses in his 1st Epistle: "Ye were as sheep going astray, but are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." Only notice that just as when in Hebrews, our Lord Jesus Christ is spoken of, it is not as a High Priest, but He is the Great High Priest; because it is a high priest's privilege to enter into the presence of God, and this is our privilege as priests. But as in all things, He must have the pre-eminence, He is called the Great High Priest. And in like manner, when the Holy Spirit comes to speak of pastors, shepherds, He speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ (still giving Him the pre-eminence) as the "Great Shepherd," the "Chief Shepherd," as the Shepherd and Bishop of souls, plainly thus intimating that there are under-shepherds and pastors.
Now, this is the same word as is related to the word "flock" in Acts xx. ver. 28: "Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves and to all the flock,” and whatever difficulties of thought we may have about the Church in its corporate capacity, in its visible unity, as it was undoubtedly established under the apostles, I must confess that when I come to think of the Church, not as the building, nor yet as the body, but as "the flock," all such difficulties vanish from my mind at once, and I see the thing as plainly as anything can be—the flock—the flock, yes, there is the flock. And there are those pastors whom the ascended Lord gives for its guidance and tending. In the 5th chapter of 1st Peter, 2nd verse, he addresses certain elders and says, "the elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder." But what are those "elders" to do? To feed, tend, care for, cherish, guide, lead, instruct defend, reprove—all shepherd work. "Feed the flock of God, which is among you, taking the oversight." Oh, then they are "elders!" Oh, then they are "overseers!" Oh, then they are "pastors" and "shepherds!" Yes, here I find all these thoughts blended together; and so I don't see how we can make a clean cut between teaching and oversight, for in the figure of the flock and the proper care of the flock, they are intimately connected. Read 1 Peter v. 2, 3, to the word "heritage.” If you take that as God's clergy, then what the world calls "laity" are God's clergy—or, as perhaps some would more fittingly have it, "neither as lording it over your allotted portions" because these pastors, elders, teachers, leaders, bishops, were not bishops or such like, over a large district composed of a considerable number of assemblies, but in a special assembly—and the word would be "in this assembly do not lord it over your allotted portions, but be ensamples to the flock." We have heard it pressed, and we cannot have it pressed too strongly, the necessity of the example character; but we should not press one passage of Scripture against another. Most certainly, those who are the shepherds and pastors of the flock, should be those who set an example to the flock. But that cannot nullify the other distinct aspect, that there ought to be a very clearly marked and scriptural recognition of those whom the Ascended Lord has given to His Church, to be known, esteemed, revered, obeyed, and prayed for, by saints.
We have had the word "feed the flock", but now, what about ruling? It is important to know that in other places, the same word is translated "rule": "He shall rule My people, Israel;" also in the Book of Revelation: "Rule the nations with a rod of iron"—showing that in the feeding and tending, there is a ruling and caring for the flock, and if there be members of the flock, sheep that go this way or that way which they ought not to, the shepherd-rulers are to rectify that and call them back. May I ask you to notice a few other Scriptures in connection with this word "rule," not that which we have been looking at, and which is the same as tend, feed, pasture, etc., but another word which the Holy Spirit of God uses in connection with those who have the care of the flock. It is in Romans xii. 8. If you consult an English-Greek lexicon, you will find that the meaning of this word is given as "to stand before," "to preside over," "to rule over," "to maintain," and this is the word that the Holy Spirit of God selects for use here, thus supplementing the meaning of the word used in the other Scriptures. In Romans xii. 8, "He that exhorteth on exhortation; he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity, he that ruleth with diligence, he that showeth mercy with cheerfulness." Then in I Thessalonians v. verse 12, "Those who are over you in the Lord"—of course it does not appear there in the English—but we find in the 14th verse the word "unruly." I have for years believed, and the more I read and study the Scriptures, the more I am convinced that in the last chapter of 1st Thessalonians, these verses of the latter part, are specially addressed to those elders or pastors of the Church; and I believe that an honest and careful investigation of the subject we are now upon will show its connection with the portion before us, because the Apostle says, 12th verse, "We beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord"—the English translation of this is "those who rule." Rotherham translates it," those who preside over you in the Lord." But what is the duty of those that are "over you in the Lord?" After having stated in the 13th verse, that the saints are "to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake, and be at peace among yourselves," he turns, and in the 14th verse, he addresses those pastors, "Now we exhort you brethren, to warn them that be unruly." Is it the duty of everyone in the Church to warn the unruly? Is it the duty of the young brother converted last year, or the young sister? Certainly not. It is the duty of the pastors to warn the unruly. It is the duty of those whom Christ has given to His Church to "comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak," etc. “To prove all things, hold fast that which is good." "Quench not the Spirit" (ver. 19), because those in the oversight of the flock; those who preside over the Church might be in very great danger of quenching the Spirit, showing that the Holy Spirit contemplated such a thing as possible in the case of those whom He has set in the care of the flock or in the ministry of the Word.
In 1 Timothy, the word "rule" occurs over and over again, chiefly in connection with a man who rules over his own house; and in these dark, evil days, there is a break-down of rule everywhere; there is in families a disobedience to parents, it is a sin of the day, and an unholy Eli-like laxity amongst parents. Shall we say, "Oh, we are living in days of apostacy in which parental rule is broken down, and in which we see children leaving and disobeying their parents; I shall let my child do as he likes, it does not matter how I rule my family?" God forbid! All the more reason I should rule my family in the fear of God, and all the more carefully and prayerfully because of the evil character of the days. Do not let us treat large portions of the Word of God as a dead letter, but take the plain teaching of this Scripture and accept it as the Holy Spirit's own divine standard, "ruling well" your own household, "having faithful children." For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God? But if he has proved unfit or unfaithful in the former, the Scripture debars him from the latter and wider sphere. May God give us each one, grace to feel the power of His Word, and to obey it.
“The Believer’s Magazine” 1900