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


      Having pointed out, and stated in general terms, the duties of the office, we now inquire as to the manner in which these duties are performed. We will be led by this inquiry to consider more in detail the duties themselves, seeing that an essential part of every duty is the prescribed method of performing it.

      Having collected together, and placed in a single group before me, all the Scripture specifications on this subject, I feel constrained to recognize as first of them all, the requirement that elders shall be examples to those over whom they are called to preside. It is not only required of them that they be examples, but being examples is as an essential element in the manner of executing their official duties. Peter exhorts Elders in these words: "Be shepherds to the flock of God which is among you, taking the [29] oversight thereof not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock." "Being examples to the flock" is one of the specifications of the manner of taking the oversight. The Apostle Paul indicates the same though, when, in the beginning of his admonitions to the Ephesian Elders, the charge, "Take heed to yourselves" is made to precede the charge, "Take heed to all the flock." Acts xx: 28. He also holds the Elders up to the brethren as an example to be imitated, when he says, "Remember them who have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their behavior." Heb. xiii: 7. Here faith is considered as to its practical working in the behavior, and the Greek word rendered follow, means, more strictly, imitate. The disciples are required to imitate in behavior the faith of those who rule over them; and thus, indirectly, but most forcibly, these rulers are admonished that their example must be worthy of imitation. It is assumed, indeed, as a fact, the evidence of which should never be in doubt, that an example is actually presented in the lives of the Elders.

      Jesus teaches the same idea under the figure of a shepherd and his flock. He says of the shepherd, "When he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him." (John x: 4.) There is no driving, but constant leading. A Judean shepherd going before his flock and calling them with a voice which they know and always follow, is an inimitably beautiful picture of the chief Shepherd himself, and of all the under shepherds, leading their flocks toward the gates of heaven. That voice never [30] directed to a path which the shepherd himself did not tread; and even if it did the sheep would take no heed to it but ever followed the footsteps of the shepherd. How fearfully important that those footsteps should never vary from the strait and narrow way!

      These admonitions are expressed in general terms, and cover all the duties of a christian life. To be examples to the flock, to go before and call the flock to follow after, is a present a model not of one but of every virtue. To be worthy of imitation in faith and behavior, is to be free from habits that would be avoided. Shall we be content with the statement of these generalities, or shall we enter into details? Perhaps the Elder who reads this will think that the demands made upon him are sufficiently exacting even in these general terms; but at the risk of exciting his fears, and the further risk of some repetition hereafter, we venture to specify some of the items of behavior which constitute this example.

      We revert again to Paul's conversation with the Ephesian Elders, and find him committing to them the following charge: "I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, you yourselves know that these hands have ministered to my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have showed you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how be said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." Acts xx: 33-35. Thus the Elders are required, in addition to their labors for the church, to imitate Paul's example, and, by diligent attention to business, help to support the weak. and [31] to exemplify the blessedness of giving. The importance of this is clearly seen in the fact, that Elders must teach the brethren to practice liberality, and must see to the enforcement of the law of God upon the covetous; neither of which is practicable unless they themselves set an example of liberality. For this reason also, in the directions to both Timothy and Titus, Paul prescribes that Elders shall not be "greedy of filthy lucre;" and Peter directs that they shall take the oversight "not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind." They are to keep themselves free from the appearance of sordid motives in their official action, as well as in their secular business. This forbid doing any official duty with a view to promoting business enterprises and equally forbids neglect of duty when the performance of it would involve pecuniary loss. An Elder whose secular business depends upon popular favor is tempted in both these directions. He must keep himself pure and above suspicion.

      In the second place, the Elder is required to maintain a blameless reputation; 1 Tim. iii: 2; Ti. i: 7. This includes a great deal. He must not be "selfwilled;" for this excites self-will in those with whom he must deal, and causes them to speak evil of him. He must not be "soon angry," for the same reason. And for the additional reason that the moment he becomes angry he loses all his moral power over those whom he is seeking to influence. He must not be "given to wine," for it is disreputable, and will render him powerless in his efforts to control the intemperate. If the Elder drinks a little, his words will be like the idle winds to those who drink much. He must be "a lover of good men," for he will be judged by the company he keeps. He must [32] be "sober", lest his levity should deprive him of weight; "just," lest he be suspected of dishonesty and partiality; "holy," lest his exhortations to holiness appear to be the cant of a hypocrite. All these specifications, and more, are made by the apostles, and the Elder must not content himself a moment without the possession of them all.

      If any Elder who reads this, after searching carefully into his own life, finds that he is not, in some good degree, setting the example herein described, let him at once either resign his position or amend his ways. It is a fearful thing to be placed in a position the very nature of which proclaims one an example to the church of God, if the example actually exhibited is not a good one. O that the great Shepherd and Overseer of all may guide the under shepherds, and help them to go before their flocks in the unerring pathway of truth and holiness.

[ATOTE 29-33]

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