Rulers and Clergy

Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12‑13; 1 Corinthians 16:15‑16  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The principle of Heb. 13:1717Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17) (to which I would add 1 Thess. 5:12, 1312And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12‑13) Cor. 16:15, 16) is in our days more important than ever, because a regular authority, established by the apostle and confirmed by his sanction, no longer exists. Only one thing modifies the application, namely, that the case which is in question in these verses is so extensive generally in practice that it has not the same hold on the conscience.
Then on the other side God permits jealousy of the clergy, the pre-eminent bane of the church, the great barrier to the progress of souls. Clericalism is opposed to the progress necessary for their deliverance from the influences of this present age and from the principles which carry away the exterior church in the way of perdition which will be accomplished in the last days. Whatever the case be, examine the effect of a clerical position, and you will find souls stunted, hardly any spiritual growth, or intelligence in the ways of God.
As to the moral state of individuals, I believe that it consists in many cases in despising the influence God gives the services rendered to His church by the power of His Spirit. But as soon as this influence is placed between the action of the conscience and God, the clerical principle is established, and moral decline begins.
The relation of individual conscience with God is the great true principle of Protestantism, without doubt much buried now by what has happened to it. It is not the right to judge for oneself, as they say, but the direct relation of the conscience with God. “We must obey God rather than man.”
Man has no right to judge; but no more has he the right to interfere between God and man so as to intercept the direct action of God on the conscience. The ordinary interpretation of this principle of Protestantism is the root of rationalism; the denial of this same principle, taken in its true sense, is Popery. The true relations between God and the soul preserve the Christian from each of these errors. When there is only man, he has only room for the one or for the other of these two things, because it is but a question of man. If God enters the case, He can have neither the one no the other, because God is there. But for it to be practically, one must be kept before Him.
When the conscience is before God, one is individually humble, and in that very place one owns God in others. When the will acts, one rejects God, in person as well as with others, and there is what is evil; it is also what the apostle had in view in the above exhortations. When the influence of true ministry is exercised (and it is of great value), it is sweet as the relation of a nurse with its child, as Paul says; so much the more as spiritual power acting in personal devotedness is hardly manifested now as in the cases indicated by the apostle. Also it supposes a workman “manifested to God,” and consequently manifested to the consciences of those in the midst of whom he acts. I have never seen that, when such an one acts and his action flows from much communion with God, this influence, this moral authority, has not been acknowledged. Further, such a workman is not pushed in that case beyond what he has received from God, so that his ministry is found justified in hearts without any pressure.
Nevertheless there are cases where things go badly, and the workman is put to the proof. In such a case he should keep himself before God and act only for Him; he should be at the service of Christ, and leave the result with Him alone. The Lord will always hold the reins, and decidedly, if patience have its perfect work, the wisdom and justness of the judgment of the person who has acted will be made plain. Without seeing it, his authority will be even greatly increased thereby, although it may have perhaps in appearance been wholly lost. But for that one must have to do with God. I speak of what happens, and of the principles connected with this question.
I find that in these times the principle of our passages makes them of great value, because it is a question of a sort of authority which no state of the church can weaken. Every other authority will be lost; this will but shine out the more. It is exercised by the direct action of the Spirit of God in service. Besides, he who seeks this authority will not have it; whilst he, who heartily and with the love of Christ acting in him makes himself servant of all as Christ did, will obtain it. To be servant of all is what Christ is essentially in grace—is what love is always.
There is another kind of authority. Christ exalted on high could establish apostles to represent Him officially; they could establish other servants to exercise a delegated and subordinate authority, each in his sphere. This has taken place. In the passages that occupy us the apostle speaks of another sort of authority. He does not speak of that which represents Christ exalted on the throne, regulating the official order of His house, but of that which represents Christ's servant in love. Be this my portion!
Now, in the present state of ruin and scattering of the church, this last authority, which is acquired by service in love, is of great value. But it is evidently exercised in the conditions of devoted service, humility, and nearness to Christ such as to exclude all other influences and make us act only on His part. As to the measure of confidence afforded, it is a question as in every other case of spirituality. By-sloth flesh confides in flesh. The soul is not then before God. Walking according to the Spirit I am before God, and I have the consciousness that there is more spirituality, more of the action of God, in another; and I own these things. This never stifles spirituality in me and cannot stifle it, for it is the same Spirit who produces spirituality with the workman and with me; only it increases my spiritual capacity as to the fact which is realized and raises it to the height of him who has more of it. An inferior degree of spiritual intelligence and affection in a Christian can discern what is more excellent in another, and accept it where the will does not act, although he could not himself have made the discovery of such or such a step proposed by greater spirituality and love beyond his own. As I have said at times in Geneva, wagoners know if a road is good and well formed, and can make use of it; but engineers alone could have planned and made it.
Now the presence of God in the church comes in aid and regulates all when the difficulty does not without that vanish. God is there for the purpose, and He suffices to do so. If the assembly is too unspiritual, if the will acts with such force that one can only follow what one knows by divine intelligence to be God's will, one has but to leave the thing to God and wait till He manifests His will or manifests Himself so as to put others in the good way.
I do not speak of that which demands an absolute separation. When an assembly accepts positively an evil which the Spirit of God cannot endure, God maintains His rights in favor of what He has given. One must have recourse to Him for that. I believe that the confidence of a simple soul and its submission by conscience, not to man as man, but to the manifestation of God in man, is one of the sweetest and most useful things possible.
The difference between the influence of true ministry and that of clerisy which has borrowed its name is as clear and simple as possible. Ministry presents God to the soul and places it in His presence. It desires to do so, seeks to do so, by blotting itself out in order to succeed in it. Clerisy puts itself between God and the soul and seeks to guard its position before others. Every spiritual person will discern clearly its place. He will find God in one of the cases; in the other he sees Him despised and sent off to a distance that the influence usurped by man may be exercised.