A Treatise on the Eldership
J. W. McGarvey  (1870)


      The titles applied to the Eldership are well chosen, and constitute an exhaustive classification of its duties. When the Elders learn how to be shepherds, how to be overseers, and how to be teachers, they have learned how to discharge all the functions of their office. We propose now to inquire how they may perform those duties which belong to them as shepherds.

      All the duties of a literal shepherd, as understood by the people who gave the word its religious significance, are embraced in these three: 1. To keep the sheep from straying. 2. To lead them to water and pasturage by day, and back to the fold, when need be, at night. 3. To protect them against [33] all danger by night and by day. The pastoral, or shepherd duties of the Eldership, as the nature of the title shepherd and the apostolic precepts both require, correspond strictly to these three.

      First then, in order to be a good shepherd, the Elder must exercise the utmost care to prevent individual sheep from straying away from the flock; and when one, as it sometimes will, eludes all vigilance and strays away, he is to be prompt and energetic in going out to search for it and bring it back. Jesus, with special reference to his own work in hunting up the lost sheep of the house of Israel, beautifully illustrates this duty by a parable. He says to those who condemned him for receiving sinners, "What man of you, having a hundred sheep. If he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine, and go after that which is lost till he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing; and when he cometh home he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance." What can be the meaning of this parable, unless it be that when a disciple strays away from the path of duty, the very first obligation of the shepherd, rising above all the obligations at that moment due to the faithful brethren is to go and hunt up, and try to win back, the wanderer? He is to leave the ninety and nine, even in the wilderness, and go. If a congregation were assembled on the Lord's day for worship, and the Elders, upon looking over their faces, were to miss one, and ascertain that he was [34] absent in some gay company, or at home in an ill humor, or about to start out for the day on a pleasure excursion, would they be pressing the teaching of this parable too far, should one of them immediately leave the house of God, and go to bring in that person? How much joy it would create among the saints on earth, and among the angels in heaven, if such a thing were done successfully and often! Should any one, however, be unwilling to press the analogy to this extent, he must still admit that the nearest possible approach to this degree of vigilance can alone meet fully the demands of the shepherd's duty.

      Such reflections make it very painful to look abroad at the well known condition of many congregations--the sheep scattered far and wide through the wilderness, and the shepherds eating and drinking, or asleep on the ground. Oh, that we had some Jeremiah to lift up his voice against the unfaithful shepherds of the flock of God!

      If such vigilance as we have named is needed in hunting up those who wander away, how much more is needed to prevent such wandering? The good Shepherd will endeavor to have as little of the former work to do as possible, by doing more of the latter. When the disposition of wander is discovered, he will be prompt to counteract it. All this requires constant watchfulness and inquiry on the part of each Elder, and very frequent consultations of the board of Elders. We will speak of the latter more fully at another time.

      Secondly. We have already spoken sufficiently for the purposes of this treatise, on the second class of the shepherd's duties. To lead the flock whither [35] they should go, by going before, and calling them to follow, is simply to be an example to the flock, as we have stated and endeavored to enforce in a former section.

      Thirdly. The duty of protecting the church against foes both from within and from without, is not only implied in the title of shepherd, but specifically enjoined by Paul in a passage already cited more than once. He warns the Ephesian Elders that ravenous wolves would come in among them, not sparing the flock; and that schismatics would spring up within, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them; and says to them, "Therefore watch." They must watch, then, against these two dangers, and this makes the Elders the proper guardians of the church against false teachers and schismatics.

      In order to discharge faithfully this duty, they must scrupulously avoid any action on their own part which would unnecessarily excite faction in the church, and when they find any man showing the slightest disposition to be a factionist, they must bring to bear upon him promptly every good influence which can be devised to prevent the anticipated evil. They must also know every man whom they invite or allow to address the brethren at their stated meetings. They must deny this privilege to every stranger who comes among them unrecommended, and every man whom they know to be a promoter of dissension and a teacher of false doctrine. A very small wolf in sheep's clothing can scatter a large flock of sheep, and a very feeble man in the shape of a Soul-sleeper or Universalist can sometimes disaffect and ruin many souls; and a man who teaches [36] nothing false, but aims at strife and division can often do more harm than a false teacher. With a firmness, then, that knows no yielding, but with a caution and prudence which guards against unjust judgment, must the shepherd watch the door which opens into their folds.

[ATOTE 33-37]

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