"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers, etc. (Romans 13:1,2)."
In resuming the subject of the subordination enjoined by the apostles upon "every soul," as we proposed in our last, we will now speak of the principalities in heavenly places; "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephesians 3:10,11)." As in our former article we called the attention of our readers to the various institutions of power or authority ordained by God for the punishment of evildoers, and for the protection of the just, in the civil, social and secular department; we propose to devote this article to the powers which be, as institutions of God, for the government of the spiritual kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the organization of the gospel church as the spiritual kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ every institution of power is of God, as we propose to show, so that none can be disregarded by the saints without disobedience to God, and any claim of power or authority in any department of the church which God has not given, is usurpation, which cannot be respected without disobedience to God. In setting forth these principalities and powers we begin with:
First, The King. Of him Isaiah prophesied saying, "Behold a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment (Isaiah 32:1)." As the "King of Righteousness, and after that also king of Salem, which is the king of Peace, and Priest to the Most High God," our Lord Jesus Christ presides over all the affairs of his church and kingdom, the King Eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, our Savior (Hebrews 7:1-2; I Timothy 1:17). "The only and blessed Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords (I Timothy 6:15)." His power and regal majesty he received from the Father. "But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy Kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows (Hebrews 1:8,9; Psalm 14:6)." "He that sitteth in the heavens" has said, "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession (Psalm 2:6-8)." In his assumption of his Mediatorial throne, as preached by Isaiah 61:1-3, his inaugural proclamation is published thus: "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the weak; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called the trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified."
Of the perpetuity of his kingdom, dominion or government we are assured that his "kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him (Daniel 7:27)." It is called "The everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 1:11)." "The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion; rule thou in the midst of thine enemies (Psalm 110:1,2)." "I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, Thy seed will I establish forever, and build up thy throne to all generations, and the heavens shall praise thy wonders. O Lord, thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints." "Then thou spakest in vision to the Holy One and saidest, I have laid help on one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people, I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him; with whom my hand shall be established; mine arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him. I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him." "He shall cry unto me, Thou art my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation, also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth, my mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed also will I make to endure forever, and his throne as the days of heaven (Psalm 89:26-29)." From these scriptures we are assured that the government and kingly power shall endure as the days of heaven; he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet (I Corinthians 15:25).
Second. His reigning power embraces all the power of earth and heaven, as he said to his disciples, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth (Matthew 28:18)." This universal and unlimited authority was given him of the Father as he said in that most solemn appeal, when he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, "Father, the hour is come; glorify thy son, that thy son also may glorify thee; as thou has given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him (John 18:1,2)." His power is not derived from men; but is infinitely superior to all the powers of the earth, "And he hath on his vesture and his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:16)." Hence all earthly principalities and powers are put under him, and he is exalted "Far above all principality and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:21-23)." This unlimited power embraces his power in providence in governing and controlling all things in heaven and earth, and also his power or dominion in, over, and through the church which is his body.
Third. His reigning power over all things to the church embraces his power to redeem, quicken, justify, and glorify all his members; to protect, sustain, deliver and comfort them in all their pilgrimage on earth, and exalt them to their mansions of unfading glory. He alone is endowed with power to reign in, and rule over his body, the church. No other power to legislate is known in his kingdom. All laws in his church, to be valid, must bear his royal seal. Nor are any ordinances to be known or observed in his kingdom but those which he has ordained. The keys of death and hell are in his grasp. He openeth and no man can shut, and shutteth and none can open, and he holds the stars in his right hand, and can at any moment command more than twelve legions of angels to execute the sovereign orders of his throne.
Fourth. In the organization of the gospel kingdom, Christ has given authority to his princes to rule in judgment (Isaiah 32:1). Not to make laws but to rule in judgment, that is to interpret his laws, and apply them as the only divinely authorized rule for the government of the subject of his spiritual authority. Jesus said to his apostles, "Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28)." To qualify the apostles for the discharge of this important work, they required a greater amount of power than that which was given to their brethren. To them the King gave the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, that whatsoever they bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever they loosed on earth should be loosed in heaven. By the keys, we understand the immediate inspiration of the Holy Ghost. In their commission he commanded them to teach baptized believers to observe all things whatsoever he had commanded them; and lest any precept, ordinance or rule might be forgotten, he promised to send the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, who, when he came, should bring all things to their remembrance. And as, without this key, they were utterly incompetent to give judgment with infallible certainty that their decisions were ratified in heaven, he bade them tarry in Jerusalem until they should be endowed with power from heaven. As all power is of God, it must come from heaven. Therefore, "When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4)." Their ability to sit in judgment, to bind and loose, as God would approve and ratify in heaven, was the power with which they were to be endowed from heaven, when filled with the Holy Ghost, and speaking only as the Spirit gave them utterance, they could not fail to bind and loose according to the will of God. Consequently their decisions are final and conclusive, admitting of no appeal to any higher tribunal. As the apostle John declares, "We (the apostles) are of God; he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error (I John 4:6)." As these authorized apostles judge and speak as the spirit of truth dictates, all who profess the same spirit of truth in their hearts will hear, and be governed by their decisions. They know that, as the authority of the apostles is of God, they cannot reject the apostles' decisions, instructions and admonitions without involving themselves in disobedience to God. Thus next to the King, the apostles occupy the highest position of power or authority in the church of Jesus Christ, and let every soul in the spiritual kingdom be subject to them as the higher power; knowing that their power is of God. All that is approved of God in doctrine, discipline, ordinances and order, faith or practice is found in their decisions and instructions to the church of God; and all the saints are as imperatively required to reject all that the apostles have not enjoined as they are to observe and obey all that they have enjoined.
Fifth. Paul, as one of the enthroned judges, has given us a list of smaller gifts which God has clothed with less authority than that of the apostles or judges. "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues (I Corinthians 12:27,28)." Compare this with Ephesians 4:11,12, "And he gave some, apostles, and some, prophets, and some, evangelists and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints," etc.
The next grade below the apostles in authority in the church are called prophets. The prophets under the old dispensation were holy men who spake as they were moved of the Holy Ghost, or by whom God spake to the fathers (Hebrews 1:1). In the gospel church Paul speaks of the gift of prophesying as a higher than ordinary gift for preaching and exhortation. "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understanding all mysteries, and all knowledge (I Corinthians 13:2)." Again, "Follow after charity and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying (I Corinthians 14:1-5)." The apostle evidently gives a decided preference to the gift of prophesying, and recommends that it be desired rather than other gifts; especially from the consideration of its being more useful in edifying the church of God. "Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them (Acts 13:1,2)." These prophets were certainly very eminent ministers of the gospel, who being separated to the work whereunto the Holy Ghost had called them, went forth preaching the word in the synagogues of the Jews (see verse 5). These were endowed with authority or power, which was respected in the churches of the saints.
Sixth. The next grade of importance and power is that of teachers, or as stated in Ephesians 4:12, "Evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." An evangelist is, according to Butterworth, a bearer of good tidings; and Webster says, a preacher or writer of the gospel, who is not the pastor of any particular church. But Paul enjoined on Timothy, who was at the time pastor or bishop of the church of Ephesus, to do the work of an evangelist, and make full proof of his ministry (II Timothy 4:5). There certainly is a distinction between the gift of preaching the word and that gift which qualifies for the pastoral office. There are those who preach the word to the edification of the saints, who seem very deficient in those pastoral qualifications which are requisite for taking the oversight of the church of God. But in either case, the preacher, or the pastor, must be called to the work as was Aaron, and invested with divine authority to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. Although the pastor, or bishop, is not to be a lord over God's heritage, yet is he to take the oversight of the flock, and he is under a solemn charge to "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; to reprove, rebuke and exhort with all long suffering and doctrine (II Timothy 4:2)." "These things command and teach. Let no man despise thee (Titus 2:15)." "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in word and doctrine (I Timothy 5:17)." From these and other portions of the word we see that God has given power or authority to pastors and teachers to rule in the church, and that their authority, being of God, must be respected by all the saints. But it is to be remembered that they have no discretionary power, not a particle of authority outside of the law of Christ. With all authority they are commissioned to teach the saints to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded them, but no power of God, or from God, to teach for doctrine the commandments of men. They are to rule by applying authoritatively the divine rule which Christ as Head over all things to his church has given. No apostle, bishop, elder, prophet or evangelist has any legitimate power in the church of God beyond that; all beyond is usurpation and disobedience to it is rebellion against God. With this distinct understanding of the ruling power vested in the ministers of Christ whom he has authorized to take the oversight of the flock, we will next consider the obligation of the saints to respect their authority.
"Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation; Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever." "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:1,17)." While the ministers of Christ are to apply the divine rule for government of the church they are themselves held under strict responsibility to Christ for the manner in which they discharge their responsible duty, and they are to be remembered and obeyed. No Christian can release himself from the obligation, the instructions, warnings, reproofs, admonitions or rebukes which Christ has commanded them to administer in his name, according to his word, without disobedience to Christ. Jesus said to his commissioned ministers, "He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me (Luke 10:16)."
In the church, as in the world, every soul is commanded of God to be subject to the higher powers; and to recognize no legitimate power, in the church or in the world, but such as God has instituted and ordained for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them who do well.
The apostle John, in instructing the saints by what standard to try the spirits, has said of the many anti-christs which were already in the world, "They are of the world; therefore, speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God; he that knoweth God heareth us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error (I John 4:5,6)." Let us then carefully and prayerfully try ourselves by this standard, that we may know beyond the shadow of a doubt what manner of spirit we are of. Are we adhering steadfastly to what the inspired servants of God have spoken, or are we listening to what the world approves? And in our connection, communion and fellowship with others, do they hear what God, by the mouth of his servants, has spoken; or do they speak of the world? We cannot serve God and mammon. "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils; ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table and the table of devils (I Corinthians 10:21)."
December 15, 1864.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 122 - 129