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There is a sense in which the disciples of Christ are forbidden to call any man on earth their father. In Matthew 23:8-10, our Savior, in speaking to the multitude, and to his disciples, said, “But be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth; for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters; for one is your Master, even Christ.” Although we are told in the first verse of this chapter that Jesus spake to the multitude and to his disciples, we can clearly distinguish which part of his sayings were for the multitude, and which for his disciples; for he denounced the former as scribes, pharisees and hypocrites, while of the latter he says, “All ye are brethren.” The admonitions and instructions are for the brethren; and their attention is called to a well known practice among the Jewish hypocrites of that age, of giving flattering titles to each other, calling them Fathers, Rabbis, or Masters, and ascribing to men honor and dominion which the saints are forbidden to ascribe to any but God. We are not to infer from this prohibition that as children of the flesh, the disciples were to repudiate the paternal relationship of their earthly progenitors, for that would be a violation of the divine law they were then under, commanding them to honor their father and their mother, &c. Nor can we construe this command so as to conflict with the sense in which the apostles have used the terms father and fathers, in designating the peculiar gifts which God has set in the church, as the family and household of God; for then John, and Paul and Peter would be found among the transgressors. It is important then that we closely and carefully consider in what sense we are to call no man on earth our father; and in what sense the apostle Paul could claim the appellation among the Corinthians, and enjoin on Timothy, and through him, on the churches, that the elders should be entreated as fathers, and the younger as brethren. See I Cor. 4:15, and I Tim. 6:1. As the apostles were inspired by the Holy Ghost to expound to us all the laws, ordinances, doctrine and institutions of Christ, we must regard all their decisions perfectly harmonious with the true import of every precept uttered by our Lord to his disciples. If in any case there seems to be the least want of harmony between the words of Christ and his apostles, we may, rest assured that we have failed to comprehend the true intent and meaning of their words. How then, the inquiry may arise, could Paul claim the saints at Corinth, and Timothy, and Titus, and Onesimus, as his children, and Peter speak of those who have fallen asleep, as fathers, {II Peter 3:4} and John distinguish among those to whom he wrote, some as fathers, and claim them all as his little children, without transgressing the law of Christ as recorded in Matt. 23:9, “And call no man your father upon the earth; for one is your Fatter, which is in heaven?”

Clearly the sense in which our Lord forbids us to apply the word to any man, is that implying spiritual paternity, which can only be lawfully ascribed to God. Our spiritual, immortal and eternal life could only come from him, and it is not lawful to ascribe it to any other being. “Of his own will hath he begotten us with the word of truth.” James 1:18. “ But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12,13. Here is a sufficient reason why we should not accredit our sonship and heirship to any man. First, because it would be false; for none have power to become the sons of God by blood, or the will of the flesh, or of man, and only by the will and power of God; and secondly, because it is idolatry to ascribe to any other being or power, that which belongs exclusively to God. In this sense one, and but one is our Father. As the members of the body of Christ, our sonship is in his Sonship. He is the only begotten of the Father, and all his members are and were begotten in him, and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is our God and Father, as he has said. “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” John 20:17. “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren; Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.” Heb. 2:11,12. From these considerations it is forbidden as sacrilegious and idolatrous to ascribe our heavenly birth or our sonship to blood, or to the will or works of men. No system of means or instrumentalities, nor will, nor works of men, can possibly beget or produce for us the relationship of sons of God; and to ascribe that relationship to any other being, thing or power, is an attempt to rob God of his glory, and to deceive the credulous children of men. The multitude of carnal Jews, scribes, pharisees and hypocrites which were present, were accustomed to look upon and to speak of Abraham, Moses and others, as giving them a right to be regarded as the people of God. They claimed the right of baptism of John, because Abraham was their father; and boasted on another occasion that they were Moses’ disciples. And to this day it is common among the carnal professors of religion to attribute what they call their religions conversion, to some revivalist, or to some being, power or thing short of God. But they are of another family. All whom Jesus denominates brethren, have one Father, are all begotten of him, of his own will, and with the word of truth; and they being all taught of God, know better than to give his glory to another, or his praise to images. They will not ascribe their heavenly birth and divine relation as sons of God to any being or thing, but to God himself; hence, in this sense they will call no man on earth their father.

Let us now consider in what sense the apostles speak of fathers in the church of God. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul says, in the first epistle, 4:15, “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” This declaration without close investigation would seem to conflict with what we have been considering of Christ’s words in Matt. 23:9; but if correctly understood they must harmonize. We have attempted to show that Christ was speaking of the quickening, life-giving power of God, by which we are begotten and brought into manifestation as the sons of God and heirs of immortality, by making manifest in us that eternal life which was with the Father, and was given us in his Son. But Paul is speaking of what we are as the quickened and organized church and body of Christ. “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ,” {that is, in the church, which is his body, which is called by his name} “yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus {that is, in the organized body, the church} I have begotten you through the gospel.” While Paul would claim no part in the work of quickening the saints, or in the regeneration of the body of Christ, in which body God has chosen all the members before the foundation of the world, yet he could and did with great propriety transfer “these things” in a figure to himself and to Apollos. See verse six. And among those things transferred to himself and Apollos, he mentions first that they were to be accounted as stewards of the mysteries of God; as he has said, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” II Cor.4:7. But he firmly repudiates that paternity against which Christ warned his disciples, by demanding of these Corinthians, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” I Cor. 3:5-7. He charges them with carnality, in attributing to him, or to Apollos, or Cephas, the authorship of their vitality; and reminds them that Paul was not crucified for them, neither were they baptized in the name of Paul. This shows very conclusively that he did not claim or accept the appellation, father, in any sense forbidden by Christ, or implying that they had received their immortality from him. But the question returns, In what sense did he beget them in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Paul does not assume that he had begotten them or any of them into Christ Jesus; for God the Father had chosen and created them in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world. Paul found them already in Christ, and ministered to them as the members of Christ. And in the relation which he as an apostle sustained to them as being already in Christ, he imparted to them that instruction and comfort which was committed to him for their special benefit. He was a minister, by whom they believed. That is, God their Father in heaven, having quickened them by his Holy Spirit, had circumcised their hearts and ears that they might hear and treasure up the testimony of the gospel. Paul so proclaimed and expounded that testimony to them that they understood it, received it, and abode in it. As the eternal life of all the church was hid in God, and by him in due time communicated to the saints in their spiritual birth; so the inspired truth of the gospel was committed to Paul, and to Apollos and Cephas, and others had this treasure in them as earthen vessels, and by their ministry it was imparted to the understanding of the quickened children of God. It is in this figurative sense we understand the apostle Paul had through the gospel, through its ministry, begotten them; or in other words, had imparted to them that clear understanding of the truth as it is in Jesus, which was before made known to him by special revelation.

But it was our design to notice the distinction which the apostle makes between instructors and fathers. The former seems to have been numerous, but the latter very few. Perhaps all the members in the church of God may instruct others to some extent; for a measure of the Spirit and of spiritual gifts is given to every one, to profit with all the other members. God has set the members in the body as it hath pleased him, and to every member some gift for mutual edification, so that no one member can say to a fellow member of the same body, I have no need of thee. So we perceive that in the church there are a diversity of gifts, but all by one spirit, all useful in the place where God has placed them. The beloved John recognized this diversity of gifts in the church as addressed by him, fathers and young men, and little children, but all belonging to the household of God, and all required to make up the family. Most unquestionably among ministers of Christ, some who are eminently qualified to instruct the saints lack the peculiar gift of paternal sympathy, fatherly care and solicitude which Paul so abundantly possessed. In modern times, some whose gifts for instructing the saints have seemed remarkably brilliant, and whose usefulness in the ministry as evangelists, or itinerant preachers, has been great, have developed but little qualification for the pastoral oversight of the flock; while others of no more ability for expounding the scriptures, so as to edify and instruct the saints, are peculiarly gifted with those paternal qualifications so vitally important in fitting them to take the oversight of the flock. Some are far more accessible to the weak and trembling lambs, than others, being evidently designed for the pastoral work.

It was in reference to this, we think, that the apostle made the distinction between instructors and fathers. There were in the primitive church elders who ruled well, and some who labored in word and doctrine; not than any of them were permitted to make laws, or dictate rules, but they ruled well who kept before the saints the rule which Christ has given for the government of the church. And we infer that there were some administered the gospel rule, besides those who labored in word and doctrine. And there were elders which were to be honored for their work sake above others. Some to be entreated as fathers, and others as brethren, on a perfect level with the rest of the church. In the primitive or apostolic state of the church, we have the pattern of what the church should be throughout all subsequent time. Our ascended King has received gifts, and has given gifts to the church. “ And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Eph. 4:11-13.

Middletown, N.Y.
April 1, 1870.
Elder Gilbert Beebe