Of Ruling Elders.
The rule and government of the Church, or the execution of the authority of Christ therein, is in the hand of the elders. All elders in office have rule, and none have rule in the church but elders: as such, rule doth belong unto them. The apostles by virtue of their special office were intrusted with all church power; but therefore they were elders also, 1 Pet. v. 1; 3 John i.: see Acts xxi. 17; 1 Tim. i. 17. They are some of them on other accounts called bishops, pastors, teachers, ministers, guides; but what belongs to any of them in point of rule, or what interest they have therein, it belongs unto them as elders, and not otherwise, Acts xx. 17, 18. The Scriptures affirm, 1st, That there is a work and duty of rule in the Church, distinct from the work and duty of pastoral feeding, by the preaching of the word and administration of the sacraments, Acts xx. 28; Rom. xii. 8; 1 Cor. xii. 28; 1 Tim. v. 17; 2 Tim. iv. 5; Heb. xiii. 7, 17; Rev. ii. 3.
2d. Different and distinct gifts are required unto the discharge of these distinct works and duties. This belongs unto the harmony of the dispensation of the gospel. Gifts are bestowed to answer all duties prescribed. Hence they are the first foundation of all power, work, and duty in the church. Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ, that is, ability for duty, according to the measure wherein Christ is pleased to grant it; Eph. iv. 7: see also 1 Cor. xii. 4, 7, 8-10; Rom. xii. 6-8; 1 Pet. iv. 10: wherefore different gifts are the first foundation of different offices and duties.
3d. That different gifts are required unto the different works of pastoral teaching on the one hand, and practical rule on the other, is evident, 1st, From the light of reason, and the nature of the works themselves being so different. And, 2d, From experience; some men are fitted by gifts for the dispensation of the word and doctrine in a way of pastoral feeding, who have no useful ability in the work of rule; and some are fitted for rule, who have no gifts for the discharge of the pastoral work in preaching, Yea, it is very seldom that both these sort of gifts do concur in any eminent degree in the same persons, or without some notable defect.
4th. The work of rule, as distinct from teaching, is in general to watch over the walk or conversation of the members of the church with authority, exhorting, comforting, admonishing, reproving, encouraging, and directing of them, as occasion shall require. The gifts necessary hereunto are diligence, wisdom, courage, and gravity; as we shall see afterwards. The pastoral work is principally to reveal the whole counsel of God, to divide the word aright, or to labor in the word and doctrine, both as unto the general dispensation and particular application of it, in all seasons and on all occasions. Hereunto spiritual wisdom, knowledge, sound judgment, experience, and utterance are required; all to be improved by continual study of the word and prayer. But this difference of gifts unto these distinct works doth not of itself constitute distinct offices, because the same persons may be suitably furnished with those of both sorts.