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QUALIFICATIONS OF A BISHOP.

"BROTHER BEEBE: - As it is no trouble to you to sit down and write, I request you to give your views on the qualifications of a bishop; those named by Paul to Timothy. - 1 Tim. iii. 1-7. I wish you to treat particularly on hospitality, no striker, no novice. Your brother, - CYRUS GOODE."

REPLY: - By the office of a bishop, we understand a pastor, or elder; one whom God has called by his Spirit, and qualified by special gifts, to feed the flock of God, over which the Holy Ghost has made him oversee. The notion that bishops are a superior grade of officers in the house of God, would imply an aristocracy in the kingdom of Christ; and such a notion is but a relic of popery.

Of the indispensable qualifications laid down by apostolic authority, the first is, He must be blameless; by which we understand, he must not be justly culpable, or subject to the censure of the church, while holding the office. We do not understand the apostle that a bishop is to be more holy in his nature than others; but as he is to administer the laws of Jesus to the saints, it is indispensably necessary that he should himself be subject to the same laws.

Second.  He must be the husband of one wife. It is generally believed that the true sense of this requisition, only means that he shall have but one wife; we do not feel at liberty to give the text such a loose construction; we would prefer that every bishop should have a wife; and certainly but one.

Third.  He must be vigilant. Not like those careless, lazy drones, that the prophet describes, as sleepy dogs, laying down, loving slumber, or, like many in our day, so lilly fingered and delicate that they cannot bear fatigue; they must be vigilant, active, not only in the affairs of Zion, doing what their hands find to do, with their might; but when occasion requires, they are not to be above laboring with their hands, as Paul and others have done.

Fourth.  They must be sober. Not jocular, frolicsome, or playful, not liable to become intoxicated with false doctrines, vain philosophy, vainglory, or pride; such imperfections have destroyed the usefulness of thousands. The bishop, should be sober, not frantic, not enthusiastic, but with all gravity and soberness, contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.

Fifth.  Of good behavior. This is to be regulated by apostolic instructions - See verse 15. The behavior of a bishop can only be good when he is governed by the laws of Christ, and when with diligence he is engaged in teaching the saints to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded.

Sixth.  Given to hospitality. On this item of the qualification of a bishop, brother Goode desires us to dwell particularly. That which passes off currently at the present day for hospitality, and pure benevolence, is not the kind which we understand the apostle to enjoin on gospel bishops. The most popular bishops of our day, although they would have been called greedy dogs in Isaiah's time, claim an exclusive right to the name, (benevolent) while that description that would lead them who obey the gospel of our Lord, to deal their bread to the hungry, to clothe the naked, minister of their own to the necessities of the afflicted, and to visit and relieve the widow and the fatherless, &c., is not with them a ruling passion, not a predominating propensity of their kind hearts. True, they make many flourishes and pretensions to hospitality; they send swarms of hungry missionaries to eat out the substance of the poor heathens, the Indians, and the Africans; and this to afford the greater facilities to their schemes of polished priestcraft by which they have their wealth at home. They do their alms when they have sounded their trumpet; but not by giving bread to the starving. To the hungry, the starving, the dying, who may be suffering the most severe want, they will give a tract, and then boast of their benevolence.

Many instances might be named; we will mention one or two. One of those bishops, of modern hospitality, in the city of brotherly love, invited a poor blind man to preach in his pulpit; the arrangement was made, the appointment made public, and an overflowing concourse of people came to hear the blind preacher hold forth. At the close of the service, the hospitable bishop arose, and in a most pathetic, whining and sobbing manner, told the assembly that this poor blind preacher was very poor, had a large and helpless family, was in debt, was about to lose a small piece of land, which was all his dependence for the support of his family, wept much and loud, and begged the wealthy to contribute largely. They did so, and the collection amounted, probably, to several hundred dollars; of which the Rev. Mr. K-d handed over to the poor blind man on the next day, (before witnesses) a five dollar bill! and that was all the blind man received of that collection. Was that bishop, who could plead for, weep over, and take up a collection for the poor blind man, given to hospitality? Yes, to modern clerical hospitality; but not to that kind that Paul enjoined.

Another instance in the same city. A certain church having plunged deeply in debt, to build a magnificent temple, in Sansom street, mortgaged the premises for much more than it would sell for; when tired of paying interest on their debt, which, if our memory serves, amounted to from fifty to eighty thousand dollars; dissolved the church, suffered the house to be sold under the Sherff's hammer, and actually bought back the property for about eight or ten thousand dollars; for the new church , formed of the members of the old one. Thus by changing their name, they evaded the obligation to pay their just debts – and now stand rank and file, head and head, with the most extravagant patrons of New School benevolence.

Altogether unlike the above, is that hospitality of which the apostle speaks. The Bishop of a gospel church is fleece­sarily called to mingle with the poor of his flock, to visit the afflicted, to weep with those that weep; and if he should be destitute of the principle of hospitality, he is disqualified for the important ground he is to occupy. The bishop's house, too, must be accessible to the poor, as well as others; and if he be penurious, inhospitable, and unkind in his disposition, the cause he stands in the defense of, will be reproached. We have known some instances which might serve to illustrate. One minister, who soars high among the New School order in the city of New York, who having visited and preached for a poor, little flock in the eastern part of this county, declared in the presence of a number of brethren, that he would visit that church no more, because they did not take up a collection for him. Some instances (nearer home) have come to our knowledge, of bishops' refusing to attend funerals, or render like services without pay; and in some of our city churches it is quite common to leave brethren to pay for their horse-keeping at the livery stables, even where wealth and luxury are. This is not gospel hospitality; nor is the hospitality of the bishop or the christian, to be confined to the pale of the church; they are exhorted to "Be careful to entertain strangers; for some have entertained angels unawares." And it is also enjoined on them to "Do good unto all men, as much as in them lieth." If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he be thirsty, give him drink. And this ornament of the christian life, shines with still superior lustre in the servant of the church of God, who holds the sacred office of a bishop.

Seventh.  The bishop must be apt to teach. This requisition depends not on any human preparation, or classical training; an aptness to edify the disciples of the school of Christ, is a special gift; and where it is not manifested, the church ought not to set apart to the work of the ministry. Men may be very flowery, fluent, and interesting in their pulpit performances, and yet not apt to teach. Their flocks, fed on moonshine, will be like the Egyptian lean kine; they may set under such preaching for an age, and not be able to guess what are the doctrinal sentiments of their bishop. While others, comparatively unlearned and rude, are divinely qualified to edify, comfort, instruct, and establish the saints.

Eighth.  Not given to wine. By this negative description of what a bishop should be, we are not to understand what is now called teetotalism; for in chapter v. verse 23, of this epistle, he exhorts Timothy to use a little wine. We would rather understand the apostle, that a bishop should not be a man given to an immoderate or unbecoming use of wine; while a little may be used by the bishops, for medical or other purposes; yet, when a bishop shows a decided propensity for wine, cannot feel comfortable without his periodical drains, a development of such a propensity is very much against his usefulness. He is to be an ensample to the flock; and if he indulges in an improper use of wine, others are encouraged by his example to follow suit, and perhaps go far beyond the copy.

How unbecoming the character of a christian, and much more so the standing that a bishop should sustain, to manifest a perpetual thirst for intoxicating drinks; so much so, that having such propensities, they are by the divine rule disqualified for the pastoral office. What can be more disgusting to a company of christians, than to see men professing to be commissioned of God to preach the everlasting gospel, coming to them disguised with intoxication? As men of the like description are not to be admitted to the office of bishop, so we infer the duty of the church to withhold their countenance and fellowship from such as fall into such habits, until they can be reclaimed.

Ninth.  No striker. A quarrelsome, peevish disposition, ready to break forth unbridled in rioting; or one that would lead its possessor to take it upon himself to avenge him of his adversaries, would destroy all the usefulness of a bishop, that might be in every other respect qualified to hold the office with profit to the house of God.

Tenth.  Not greedy of filthy lucre. If a greedy, avaricious disposition to accumulate earthly treasure, disqualifies a man for the work of the christian ministry, how few indeed will be found standing on apostolic ground! What multitudes, when weighed in the balance, are found wanting! In writing to Titus, this apostle tells him of many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, especially they of the circumcision, (or covenant of works) whose mouths must be stopped; who subvert whole houses; teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake. Nor are there less of this description of bishops at the present day, who teach things that have neither precept nor example in the New Testament, for the sake of gain. Who would teach the organization of Missionary Societies, Mite Societies, Cent Societies, and all the long catalogue of humanly devised tricks, if there was no money to be made by such departures from the simplicity of the gospel? As a greedy disposition to accumulate earthly substance will lead bishops to teach unwarrantable doctrines, to the subversion of whole houses, such a disposition is not to be tolerated by the church, in those who profess to be the ministers of Christ. That the ministers of Christ, whom he has called to leave their worldly employment's and serve the church, have a right to expect that their brethren will contribute freely to their support, we are bound to admit; but to leave the peculiar work of their vocation, (the preaching of the word) to form conventions to contrive ways and means to extort from the people all that by hook or by crook they can persuade them to give, betrays the disposition of Isaiah's greedy dogs.

Eleventh.  But patient. It was a special charge of our Lord to those primitive heralds of his gospel to take no thought for the morrow, what they should eat or drink, or wherewith they should be clothed; but to leave all this with him who knows that his ministers have need of all these things; and he who clothes the grass with beauty, that paints the lilly with more glory than Solomon possessed, could and would assuredly provide fir them. Patiently it becomes the ministers of Jesus to make it their first business to seek the kingdom (or church) of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto them. Truly, many of God's dear ministers at this day need patience while toiling in the service of the church, while in perhaps too many instances their faithfulness is far from being reciprocated by the kind attention of those on whom that part of the responsibility rests.

Twelfth.  Not a brawler. There is a wide difference between brawling and the appropriate work of the bishop; men may make a great noise about religion, raise a tumult, disturb the peace and fellowship of the saints, and yet know nothing of the savor of divine grace. Not such are the called to be bishops of the house of God.

Thirteenth.  Not covetous. Covetousness is idolatry, and there is no agreement between the temple of the Lord and an idol. We knew a man sent from a church in New York City to preach to us poor, illiterate country people, of whom it has become proverbial that he always happens to be in great want of whatever he sees. Now such men are extremely troublesome to the churches - men that cannot look upon the property of their brethren without coveting it; and if such men could preach like the old apostle Paul, the churches would not be half so glad to see them come. We had one pass through these parts not many months since, exhorting the sisters to sell their carpets and give the assails to their preachers. Although this man's preaching is, as far as we know of, unexceptionable, his covetousness has kept him in difficulty with the churches, to our knowledge, for the last twenty years. How important then that the ministers of Jesus should look to it lest they indulge in a fretful and impatient covetous disposition.

Fourteenth.  One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity. On this point perhaps all the ministers of Christ feel their deficiency, yet it is nevertheless incumbent on them, as far as ability is given, to rule well their own families. They are not required to make christians of their carnal offspring, as that is exclusively the work of the Spirit; but by precept and example exert an influence that shall be felt and respected by their children; for the apostle adds, (in a parenthesis) "If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God.

Fifteenth.  Not a novice; lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil. This text has been used as a kind of hobby, by the New School, in support of Theological Schools, and an educated ministry; but no man ever so used this text but a novice; not the want of these human embellishments, but the possession of them, is what bloats with pride, self-importance and conceit, and brings the delinquent into the condemnation of the devil.

A novice is one that does not understand his business. The business of a bishop is to feed the flock of God, to preach unto them the preaching that the Lord bids him. No human aid or scholastic preparation can qualify a man to occupy the gifts of the Spirit; but to all that are truly qualified for the work, the words of Christ to Simon are applicable. "Blessed art thou; for flesh and blood hath not revealed these things to thee, but my Father which is in heaven." So far is human learning from subduing the pride of the human heart, we have known many young men of at least common modesty when they went to the seminary, came out as straight as an arrow, as stiff as a brick, and as foppish as any dandy we have ever seen. Finally, whatever natural or acquired talents we may possess, every man that is not taught of God, in the old school of Christ, is, in regard to the things of the Spirit, a novice. Although he may be ever learning, he shall never be able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

The sixteenth and last qualification named is in these words: "Moreover, he must have a good report of them which are without, lest he fall into reproach, and the snare of the devil." Those that are without are dogs, sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolators, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. See Rev. xxii. 13. To have a good report of such characters certainly does not mean that they shall report us as being of their number, for our Lord says, "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake." We conclude, then, the good report is that in which the enemy is constrained to admit the propriety of our outward deportment, while raging against the doctrine we hold and that holds us. For example, to be called "antinomians" by the Arminians, to be accused of "turning the world upside down," of bringing "strange things to their ears," &c., while they are unable to point out in our walk and deportment anything that does not comport with sound doctrine.

We submit these views, hastily thrown together as they are, to brother Goode, and to our brethren and readers at large. May the Lord bless his truth to us, and bless us with a knowledge and love of his truth for his name's sake. Amen.

NEW VERNON, N. Y.,
March 15, 1841.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 1
Pages 662 - 671