Nicolaitanism - The Rise and Growth of the Clergy

Nicolaitanism, Or

The Rise and Growth of the Clerisy
F.W. Grant

this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I
also hate. " "So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the
Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate" - (Rev 2:6,15)

address to Pergamos follows that to Smyrna. This next stage of the
Church’s journey in its departure (alas!) from truth may easily be
recognized historically. It applies to the time when, after having
passed through the heathen persecution, and the faithfulness of many an
Antipas being brought out by it, it got publicly recognized and
established in the world. The characteristic of this epistle is, the
Church dwelling where Satan’s throne is. "Throne" it should be, not
"seat." Now Satan has his throne, not in hell, which is his prison, and
where he never reigns at all, but in the world, he is expressly called
the "prince of this world." To dwell where Satan’s throne is, is to
settle down in the world, under Satan’s government, so to speak, and
protection. That is what people call the establishment of the Church.
It took place in Constantine’s time. Although amalgamation with the
world had been growing for a long time more and more decided, yet it
was then that the Church stepped into the seats of the old heathen
idolatry. It was what people call the triumph of Christianity, but the
result was that the Church had the things of the world now as never
before, in secure possession: the chief place in the world was hers,
and the principles of the world every-where pervaded her.

very name of "Pergamos" intimates that. It is a word (without the
particle attached to it, which is itself significant,) - really meaning
"marriage," and the Church’s marriage before Christ comes to receive
her to Himself is necessarily unfaithfulness to Him to whom she is
espoused. It is the marriage of the Church and the world which the
epistle to Pergamos speaks of - the end of a courtship which had been
going on long before.

There is something, however,
which is preliminary to this, and mentioned in the very first address;
but there it is evidently incidental, and does not characterize the
state of things. In the first address, to the Ephesians, the Lord says,
"But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes,
which I also hate" (2:6). Here it is more than the "deeds" of the
Nicolaitanes. There are now not merely "deeds," but "doctrine." And the
Church, instead of repudiating it, was holding with it. In the Ephesian
days, they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes; but in Pergamos, they
"had," and did not reprobate, those who held the doctrine.

question now before us is, How shall we interpret this? and we shall
find that the word "Nicolaitanes" is the only thing really which we
have to interpret it by. People have tried very hard to show that there
was a sect of the Nicolaitanes, but it is owned by writers now almost
on all sides to be very doubtful. Nor can we conceive why, in epistles
of the character which we have seen these to have, there should be such
repeated and emphatic mention of a mere obscure sect, about which
people can tell us little or nothing, and that seems manufactured to
suit the passage before us. The Lord solemnly denounces it: "Which
thing I hate." It must have a special importance with Him, and be of
moment in the Church’s history, little apprehended as it may have been.
And another thing which we have to remember is, that it is not the way
of Scripture to send us to church histories, or to any history at all,
in order to interpret its sayings. God’s Word is its own interpreter,
and we have not to go elsewhere in order to find out what is there;
otherwise it becomes a question of learned men searching and finding
out for those who have not the same means or abilities, applications
which must be taken on their authority alone. This He would not leave
His people to. Besides, it is the ordinary way in Scripture, and
especially in passages of a symbolical character, such as is the part
before us, for the names to be significant. I need not remind you how
abundantly in the Old Testament this is the case; and in the New
Testament, although less noticed, I cannot doubt but that there is the
same significance throughout.

Here, if we are left
simply to the name, it is one sufficiently startling and instructive.
Of course, to those who spoke the language used, the meaning would be
no hidden or recondite thing, but as apparent as those of Bunyan’s
allegories. It means, then, "Conquering the people." The last part of
the word ("Laos") is the word used in Greek for "the people," and it is
the word from which the commonly used term "Laity" is derived. The
Nicolaitanes were just those "subjecting - putting down the laity" the
mass of Christian people, in order unduly to lord it over them.

makes this clearer is, that, - side by side with the Nicolaitanes in
the epistle to Pergamos, - we have those who hold the doctrine of
Balaam, a name whose similarity in meaning has been observed by many.
"Balaam" is a Hebrew word, as the other is a Greek; but its meaning is,
"Destoryer of the people," a very significant one in view of his
history; and as we read of the "doctrine of the Nicolaitanes," so we
read of a "doctrine of Balaam."

You have pointed out
what he "taught" Balak. Balaam’s doctrine was, "to cast a
stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed
to idols, and to commit fornication." For this purpose he enticed them
to mixture with the nations, from which God had carefully separated
them. That needful separation broken down was their destruction, so far
as it prevailed. In like manner we have seen the Church to be called
out from the world, and it is only too easy to apply the divine type in
this case. But here we have a confessedly typical people, with a
corresponding significant name, and in such close connection as
naturally to confirm the reading of the similar word, "Nicolaitanes,"
as similarly significant. I shall have to speak more of this at another
time, if the Lord will. Let us notice now the development of
Nicolaitanism. It is, first of all, certain people who have this
character, and who (I am merely translating the word.) first take the
place of superiors over the people. Their "deeds" show what they are.
There is no "doctrine" yet; but it ends in Pergamos, with the doctrine
of the Nicolaitanes. The place is assumed now to be theirs by right.
There is a doctrine - a teaching about it, received at least by some,
and to which the Church at large - nay, on the whole true souls, have
become indifferent.

Now what has come in between
these two things, - the "deeds" and the "doctrine"? What we were
looking at last time - the rise of a party whom the Lord marks out as
those who said they were Jews and were not, but who were the synagogue
of Satan: the adversary’s attempt (alas! too successful) to Judaize the

We were looking but a little while since at
what the characteristics of Judaism are. It was a probationary system,
a system of trial, in which it was to be seen if man could produce a
righteousness for God. We know the end of the trial, and that God
pronounced "none righteous - no, not one." And then alone it was that
God could manifest His grace. As long as He was putting man under
trial, He could not possibly open the way to His own presence and
justify the sinner there. He had, as long as this trial went on, to
shut him out; for on that ground, nobody could see God and live. Now
the very essence of Christianity is that all are welcomed in. There is
an open door, and ready access, where the blood of Christ entitles
every one, however much a sinner, to draw near to God, and to find, in
the first place, at His hand, justification as ungodly. To see God in
Christ is not to die, but live. And what, further, is the consequence
of this? The people who have come this way to Him, - the people who
have found the way of access through the peace-speaking blood into His
presence, learned what He is in Christ, and been justified before God,
are able to take, and taught to take, a place distinct from all others,
as now His, children of the Father, members of Christ - His body. That
is the Church, a body called out, separate from the world.

on the other hand, necessarily mixed all together. Nobody there could
take such a place with God: nobody could cry, "Abba, Father," really;
therefore there could not be any separation. This had been then a
necessity, and of God, no doubt; but now, Judaism being set up again,
after God had abolished it, it was no use, it is no use, to urge that
it was once of Him; its setting up was the too successful work of the
enemy against His gospel and against His Church. He brands these
Judaizers as the "synagogue of Satan."

Now we can
understand at once, when the Church in its true character was
practically lost sight of, when Church-members meant people baptized by
water instead of by the Holy Ghost, or when the baptism of water and of
the Holy Ghost were reckoned one, (and this very early became accepted
doctrine,) how of course the Jewish synagogue was practically again set
up. It became more and more impossible to speak of Christians being at
peace with God, or saved. They were hoping to be, and sacraments and
ordinances became means of grace to insure, as far as might be, a
far-off salvation.

Let us see how far this would
help on the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes. It is plain that when and as
the Church sank into the synagogue, the Christian people became
practically what of old the Jewish had been. Now, what was that
position? As I have said, there was no real drawing near to God at all.
Even the high- priest, who (as a type of Christ,) entered into the
holiest once a year, on the day of atonement, had to cover the
mercy-seat with a cloud of incense that he might not die. But the
ordinary priests could not enter there at all, but only into the outer
holy place; while the people in general could not come in even there.
And this was expressly designed as a witness of their condition. It was
the result of failure on their part; for God’s offer to them, which you
may find in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus, was this: "Now,
therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, ye
shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people; for all the
earth is Mine; and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy

They were thus conditionally offered equal
nearness of access to God, - they should be all priests. But this was
rescinded, for they broke the covenant; and then a special family is
put into the place of priests, the rest of the people being put into
the background, and only able to draw near to God through these.

a separate and intermediate priesthood characterized Judaism, as on the
other hand, for the same reason, what we should call now
missionary-work there was none. There was no going out to the world in
this way, no provision, no command, to preach the law at all. What, in
fact, could they say? that God was in the thick darkness? that no one
could see Him and live? It is surely evident there was no "good news"
there. Judaism had no true gospel. The absence of the evangelist and
the presence of the intermediate priesthood told the same sorrowful
story, and were in perfect keeping with each other.

was Judaism; how different, then, is Christianity! No sooner had the
death of Christ rent the vail, and opened a way of access into the
presence of God, than at once there was a gospel, and the new order is,
"Go out into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."
God is making Himself known, and "is He the God of the Jews only?" Can
you confine that within the bounds of a nation? No; the fermentation of
the new wine would burst the bottles.

intermediate priesthood was, on the other hand, done away; for all the
Christian people are priests now to God. What was conditionally offered
to Israel is now an accomplished fact in Christianity. We are a kingdom
of priests; and it is, in the wisdom of God, Peter, ordained of man the
great head of ritualism, who in his first epistle announces the two
things which destroy ritualism root and branch for those who believe
him. First, that we are "born again," not of baptism, but "by the word
of God, that liveth and abideth for-ever;" and this, "the word which by
the gospel is preached unto you." Secondly, instead of a set of
priests, he says to all Christians, "Ye also, as living stones, are
built up a spiritual house, a holy priest-hood, to offer up spiritual
sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (2:5). The sacrifices
are spiritual, praise and thanksgiving, and our lives and bodies also
(Heb. 13:15, 16; Rom. 12:1); but this is to be with us true priestly
work, and thus do our lives get their proper character: they are the
thank-offering service of those able to draw nigh to God.

Judaism, let me repeat, no one drew really nigh; but the people - the
laity (for it is only a Greek word made English,) - the people not even
as the priest could. The priestly caste, wherever it is found, means
the same thing. There is no drawing nigh of the whole body of the
people at all. It means distance from God, and darkness, - God shut out.

us see now what is the meaning of a clergy. It is, in our day, and has
been for many generations, the word which specially marks out a class
distinguished from the "laity," and distinguished by being given up to
sacred things, and having a place of privilege in connection with them
which the laity have not. No doubt in the present day this special
place is being more and more infringed on, and for two reasons. One is,
that God has been giving light, and, among Protestants at least,
Scripture is opposing itself to tradition, - modifying where it does
not destroy this. The other is a merely human one - that the day is
democratic, and class-privileges are breaking down.

what means this class? It is evident that as thus distinguished from
the laity, and privileged beyond them, it is real and open
Nicolaitanism, if Scripture does not make good their claim. For then
the laity has been subjected to them, and that is the exact meaning of
the term. Does Scripture, then, use such terms? It is plain it does
not. They are, as regards the New Testament, an invention of later
date, although, it may be admitted, as imported really from what is
older than the New, - the Judaism with which the Church (as we have
seen,) was quickly permeated.

But we must see the
important principles involved, to see how the Lord has (as He must
have) cause to say of the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, "Which I also
hate." We too, if we would be in communion with the Lord in this must
hate what He hates.

I am not speaking of people (God
forbid!): I am speaking of a thing. Our unhappiness is, that we are at
the end of a long series of departures from God, and as a consequence,
we grow up in the midst of many things which come down to us as
"tradition of the elders," associated with names which we all revere
and love, upon whose authority in reality we have accepted them,
without ever having looked at them really in the light of God’s
presence. And there are many thus whom we gladly recognize as truly men
of God and servants of God in a false position. It is of that position
I am speaking. I am speaking of a thing, as the Lord does: "Which thing
I hate." He does not say, Which people I hate. Although in those days
evil of this kind was not an inheritance, as now, and the first
propagators of it, of course, had a responsibility, self- deceived as
they may have been, peculiarly their own. Still, in this matter as in
all others, we need not be ashamed or afraid to be where the Lord is; -
nay, we cannot be with Him in this unless we are; and He says of
Nicolaitanism, "Which thing I hate."

Because what
does it mean? It means a spiritual caste, or class, - a set of people
having officially a right to leadership in spiritual things; a nearness
to God, derived from official place, not spiritual power: in fact, the
revival, under other names, and with various modifications, of that
very intermediate priesthood which distinguished Judaism, and which
Christianity emphatically disclaims. That is what a clergy means; and
in contradiction to these, the rest of Christians are but the laity,
the seculars, necessarily put back into more or less of the old
distance, which the cross of Christ has done away.

see, then, why it needed that the Church should be Judaized before the
deeds of the Nicolaitanes could ripen into a "doctrine." The Lord even
had authorized obedience to scribes and Pharisees sitting in Moses’
seat; and to make this text apply, as people apply it now, Moses’ seat
had of course to be set up in the Christian Church: this done, and the
mass of Christians degraded from the priesthood Peter spoke of, into
mere "lay members," the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes was at once

Understand me fully, that I am in no
wise questioning the divine institution of the Christian ministry. God
forbid! for ministry in the fullest sense is characteristic of
Christianity, as I have already in fact maintained. Nor do I, while
believing that all true Christians are ministers also by the very fact,
deny a special and distinctive ministry of the Word, as what God has
given to some and not to all - though for the use of all. No one truly
taught of God can deny that some, not all, among Christians have the
place of evangelist, pastor, teacher. Scripture makes more of this than
current views do; for it teaches that every true minister is a gift
from Christ, in His care, as Head of the Church, for His people, and
one who has his place from God alone, and is responsible in that
character to God, and God alone. The miserable system which I see
around degrades him from this blessed place, and makes him in fact
little more than the manufacture and the servant of men. While giving,
it is true, a place of lordship over people which gratifies a carnal
mind, still it fetters the spiritual man, and puts him in chains; every
where giving him an artificial conscience toward man, hindering in fact
his conscience being properly before God.

Let me
briefly state what the Scripture-doctrine of the ministry is - it is a
very simple one. The Assembly of God is Christ’s body; all the members
are members of Christ. There is no other membership in Scripture than
this - the membership of Christ’s body, to which all true Christians
belong: not many bodies of Christ, but one body; not many Churches, but
one Church.

There is of course a different place for
each member of the body by the very fact that he is such. All members
have not the same office: there is the eye, the ear, and so on, but
they are all necessary, and all necessarily ministering, in some way or
sense, to one another.

Every member has its place,
not merely locally, and for the benefit of certain other members, but
for the benefit of the whole body.

Each member has
its gift, as the apostle teaches distinctly. "For as we have many
members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we,
being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of
another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is
given to us, etc. (Rom. 12:4-6.)

In the twelfth
chapter of first Corinthians, the apostle speaks at large of these
gifts; and he calls them by a significant name - "manifestations of the
Spirit." They are gifts of the Spirit, of course; but more, they are
"manifestations of the Spirit;" they manifest themselves where they are
found, - where (I need scarcely add that I mean,) there is spiritual
discernment, - where souls are before God.

instance, if you take the gospel of God, whence does it derive its
authority and power? From any sanction of men? any human credentials of
any kind? or from its own inherent power? I dare maintain, that the
common attempt to authenticate the messenger takes away from instead of
adding to the power of the Word. God’s Word must be received as such:
he that receives it sets to his seal that God is true. Its ability to
meet the needs of heart and conscience is derived from the fact that it
is "God’s good news," who knows perfectly what man’s need is, and has
provided for it accordingly. He who has felt its power knows well from
whom it comes. The work and witness of the Spirit of God in the soul
need no witness of man to supplement them.

Even the
Lord’s appeal in His own case was to the truth He uttered: "If I say
the truth, why do ye not believe Me?" When He stood forth in the Jewish
synagogue, or elsewhere, He was but in men’s eyes a poor carpenter’s
son, accredited by no school or set of men at all. All the weight of
authority was ever against Him. He disclaimed even "receiving testimony
from men." God’s Word alone should speak for God. "My doctrine is not
Mine, but His that sent Me." And how did it approve itself? By the fact
of its being truth. "If I speak the truth, why do you not believe Me?"
It was the truth that was to make its way with the true. "He that will
do God’s will shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or
whether I speak of Myself." He says, "I speak the truth, I bring it to
you from God; and if it is truth, and if you are seeking to do God’s
will, you will learn to recognize it as the truth." God will not leave
people in ignorance and darkness, if they are seek-ing to be doers of
His will. Can you suppose that God will allow true hearts to be
deceived by what- ever plausible deceptions may be abroad? He is able
to make His voice known by those who seek to hear His voice. And so the
Lord says to Pilate, "Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice."
(John 18:37.) "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow
Me;" and again, "A stranger will they not follow, but will flee from
him; for they know not the voice of strangers." (John 10:27,5.)

is the nature of truth, then, that to pretend to authenticate it to
those who are themselves true is to dishonor it, as if it were not
capable of self- evidence, and so dishonor God, as if He could be
wanting to souls, or to what He Himself has given.

the apostle speaks of "by manifestation of the truth commending
ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God" (2 Cor. 4:2):
and the Lord, of its being the condemnation of the world, that "light
is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light,
because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). There was no lack of
evidence: light was there, and men owned its power to their own
condemnation, when they sought escape from it.

so in the gift was there "the manifestation of the Spirit," and it was
"given to every man to profit withal." By the very fact that he had it,
he was responsible to use it - responsible to Him who had not given it
in vain. In the gift itself lay the ability to minister, and title too;
for I am bound to help and serve with what I have. And if souls are
helped, they need scarcely ask if I had commission to do it.

is the simple character of ministry - the service of love, according to
the ability which God gives, mutual service of each to each and each to
all, without jostling or exclusion of one another. Each gift was thrown
into the common treasury, and all were the richer by it. God’s blessing
and the manifestation of the Spirit were all the sanction needed. All
were not teachers, still less public teachers, of the Word; still in
these cases, the same principles exactly applied. That was but one
department of a service which had many, and which was rendered by each
to each according to his sphere.

Was there nothing
else than that? Was there no ordained class at all, then? That is
another thing altogether. There were, without doubt, in the primitive
Church, two classes of officials, regularly appointed, or (if you like)
ordained. The deacons were those who, having charge of the fund for the
poor and other purposes, were chosen by the saints first for this place
of trust in their behalf, and then appointed authoritatively by
apostles mediately or immediately. Elders were a second class, -
elderly men, as the word imports, - who were appointed in the local
assemblies as "bishops," or "overseers," to take cognizance of their
state. That the elders were the same as bishops may be seen in Paul’s
words to the elders of Ephesus, where he exhorts them to "take heed to
. . . . all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you
overseers." There they have translated the word, "bishops," but in
Titus they have left it - "that thou shouldest ordain elders in every
city, as I had appointed thee; if any be blameless . . . . for a bishop
must be blameless." (Acts 20:28; Tit. 1:5,7.)

work was to "oversee," and although for that purpose their being "apt
to teach" was a much-needed qualification, in view of errors already
rife, yet no one could suppose that teaching was confined to those who
were "elders," "husbands of one wife, having their children in
subjection with all gravity." This was a needed test for one who was to
be a bishop; "for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how
shall he take care of the Church of God?" (1 Tim. 3:1-7.)

gifts they had they used, as all did, and thus the apostle directs -
"Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor,
especially they who labor in the Word and doctrine (5:17). But they
might rule, and rule well, without this.

The meaning
of their ordination was just this, that here it was not a question of
"gift," but of authority. It was a question of title to take up and
look into, often difficult and delicate matters, among people too very
likely in no state to submit to what was merely spiritual. The
ministration of gift was another thing, and free, under God, to all.

much, very briefly, as to Scripture-doctrine. Our painful duty is now
to put in contrast with it the system I am deprecating, according to
which a distinct class are devoted formally to spiritual things, and
the people - the laity - are in the same ratio excluded from such
occupation. This is true Nicolaitanism, - the "subjection of the

Again I say, not only that ministry of the
Word is entirely right, but that there are those who have special gift
and responsibility (though still not exclusive) to minister it. But
priesthood is another thing, and a thing sufficiently distinct to be
easily recognized where it is claimed or in fact exists. I am, of
course, aware that Protestants in general disclaim any priestly powers
for their ministers. I have no wish nor thought of disputing their
perfect honesty in this disavowal. They mean that they have no thought
of the minister having any authoritative power of absolution; and that
they do not make the Lord’s table an altar, whereon afresh day after
day the perfection of Christ’s one offering is denied by countless
repetitions. They are right in both respects, but it is scarcely the
whole matter. If we look more deeply, we shall find that much of a
priestly character may attach where neither of these have the least

Priesthood and ministry may be distinguished
in this way: Ministry (in the sense we are now considering) is to men;
priesthood is to God. The minister brings God’s message to the people,
- he speaks for Him to them: the priest goes to God for the people, -
he speaks in the reverse way, for them to Him. It is surely easy to
distinguish these two attitudes.

"Praise and
thanksgiving" are spiritual "sacrifices:" they are part of our offering
as priests. Put a special class into a place where regularly and
officially they act thus for the rest, they are at once in the rank of
an intermediate priesthood, - mediators with God for those who are not
so near.

The Lord’s supper is the most prominent and
fullest expression of Christian thankfulness and adoration publicly and
statedly; but what Protestant minister does not look upon it as his
official right to administer this? what "layman" would not shrink from
the profanation of administering it? And this is one of the terrible
evils of the system, that the mass of Christian people are thus
distinctly secularized. Occupied with worldly things, they cannot be
expected to be spiritually what the clergy are. And to this they are
given over, as it were. They are released from spiritual occupations,
to which they are not equal, and to which others give themselves

But this must evidently go much further.
"The priest’s lips should keep knowledge." The laity, who have become
that by abdicating their priesthood, how should they retain the
knowledge belonging to a priestly class? The unspirituality to which
they have given themselves up pursues them here. The class whose
business it is, become the authorized interpreters of the Word also,
for how should the secular man know so well what Scripture means? Thus
the clergy become spiritual eyes and ears and mouth for the laity, and
are in the fair way of becoming the whole body too.

it suits people well. Do not mistake me as if I meant that this is all
come in as the assumption of a class merely. It is that, no doubt ; but
never could this miserable and unscriptural distinction of clergy and
laity have obtained so rapidly as it did, and so universally, if every
where it had not been found well adapted to the tastes of those even
whom it really displaced and degraded. Not alone in Israel, but in
christendom also, has it been fulfilled: "The prophets prophecy
falsely, and the priests bear rule through their means, and My people
love to have it so!" Alas! they did, and they do. As spiritual decline
sets in, the heart that is turning to the world barters readily, Esau-
like, its spiritual birthright for a mess of pottage. It exchanges
thankfully its need of caring too much for spiritual things, with those
who will accept the responsibility of this. Worldliness is well covered
with a layman’s cloak; and as the Church at large dropped out of first
love, (as it did rapidly, and then the world began to come in through
the loosely guarded gates,) it became more and more impossible for the
rank and file of christendom to take the blessed and wonderful place
which belonged to Christians. The step taken downward, instead of being
retrieved, only made succeeding steps each one easier; until, in less
than three hundred years from the beginning, a Jewish priesthood and a
ritualistic religion were every-where installed. Only so much the
worse, as the precious things of Christianity left their names at least
as spoils to the invader, and the shadow became for most the substance

But I must return to look more particularly
at one feature in this clerisy. I have noted the confounding of
ministry and priesthood; the assumption of an official title in
spiritual things, of title to administer the Lord’s supper, and I might
have added also, to baptize. For none of these things can scripture be
found at all. But I must dwell a little more on the emphasis that is
laid on ordination.

I want you to see a little more
what ordination means. In the first place, if you look through the New
Testament, you will find nothing about ordination to teach or to
preach. You find people going about every where freely exercising
whatever gift they had; the whole Church was scattered abroad from
Jerusalem except the apostles, and they went every where preaching
(literally, evangelizing) the Word. The persecution did not ordain
them, I suppose. So with Apollos: so with Philip the deacon. There is,
in fact, no trace of any thing else. Timothy received a gift of
prophecy, by the laying on of Paul’s hands with those of the elders;
but that was gift, not authorization to use it. So he is bidden to
communicate his own knowledge to faithful men, who should be able to
teach others also; but there is not a word about ordaining them. The
case of elders I have already noticed. That of Paul and Barnabas at
Antioch is the most unhappy that can be for the purpose people use it
for; for prophets and teachers are made to ordain an apostle, and one
who totally disclaims being that. "of men or by man." And there the
Holy Ghost (not confers power of ordaining any, but) says, "Separate Me
Barnabas and Saul for the work whereto I have called them," - a special
missionary journey, which it is shown afterward they had fulfilled.
(See Acts 8, 11, 13, 18; 1 Tim., etc.)

Now, what
means this "ordination"? It means much, you may be sure, or it would
not be so zealously contended for as it is. There are, no doubt, two
phases of it. In the most extreme, as among Romanists and ritualists,
there is claimed for it in the fullest way that it is the conveyance,
not merely of authority, but of spiritual power. They assume with all
the power of apostles to give the Holy Ghost by the laying on of their
hands, and here for priesthood in the fullest way. The people of God as
such are rejected from the priesthood He has given them, and a special
class are put into their place to mediate for them in a way which sets
aside the fruit of Christ’s work, and ties them to the Church as the
channel of all grace. Among Prot-estants, you think perhaps I need not
dwell on this; but it is done among some of these also, in words which
to a certain class of them seem strangely to mean nothing, while
another class find in them the abundant sanction of their highest

Those, on the other hand, who rightly
and consistently reject these unchristian assumptions do not pretend
indeed to confer any gift in ordination, but only to "recognize" the
gift which God has given. But then, after all, this recognition is
considered necessary before the person can baptize or administer the
Lord’s supper, - things which really require no peculiar gift at all.
And as to the ministry of the Word, God’s gift is made to require human
sanction, and is "recognized" on behalf of His people by those who are
considered to have a discernment which the people as such have not.
Blind themselves or not, these men are to become "leaders of the
blind;" else why need others to be eyes for them, while their own souls
are taken out of the place of immediate responsibility to God, and made
responsible unduly to man? An artificial conscience is manufactured for
them, and conditions are constantly imposed, to which they have to
conform in order to obtain the needful recognition. It is well if they
are not under the control of their ordainers as to their path of
service also, as they generally are.

In principle,
this is unfaithfulness to God; for if He has given me gift to use for
Him, I am surely unfaithful if I go to any man or body of men to ask
their leave to use it. The gift itself carries with it the
responsibility of using it, as we have seen. If they say, "But people
may make mistakes," I own it thoroughly; but who is to assume my
responsibility if I am mistaken? And again, the mistakes of an
ordaining body are infinitely more serious than those of one who merely
runs unsent. Their mistakes are consecrated and perpetuated by the
ordination they bestow; and the man who, if he stood simply upon his
own merits, would soon find his true level, has a character conferred
upon him by it which the whole weight of the system must sustain.
Mistake or not, he is none the less one of the clerical body, - a
minister, if he has nothing really to minister. He must be provided
for, if only with some less conspicuous place, where souls, dear to God
as any, are put under his care, and must be unfed if he cannot feed

Do not accuse me of sarcasm; it is the system
I am speaking of which is a sarcasm, - a swathing of the body of Christ
in bands which hinder the free circulation of the vitalizing blood
which should be permeating unrestrictedly the whole of it. Nature
itself should rebuke the folly - the enormous inference from such
scriptural premises as that apostles and apostolic men "ordained
elders"! They must prove that they are either, and (granting them
that,) that the Scripture "elder" might be no elder at all, but a young
unmarried man just out of his teens, and on the other hand was
evangelist, pastor, teacher - all God’s various gifts rolled into one.
This is the minister (according to the system, indeed, the minister,) -
the all in all to the fifty or five hundred souls who are committed to
him as "his flock," with which no other has title to interfere! Surely,
surely, the brand of "Nicolaitanism" is upon the forefront of such a
system as this!

Take it at its best, the man, if
gifted at all, is scarcely likely to have every gift. Suppose he is an
evangelist, and souls are happily converted; he is no teacher, and
cannot build them up. Or he is a teacher, sent to a place where there
are but a few Christians, and the mass of his congregation unconverted
men. There are no conversions, and his presence there (according to the
system) keeps away the evangelist who is needed there. Thank God! He is
ever breaking up these systems, and in some irregular way the need may
be supplied. But the supply is schismatical and a confusion: the new
wine breaks the poor human bottles.

For all this the
system is responsible. The exclusive ministry of one man or of a number
of men in a congregation has no shred of Scripture to support it; while
the ordination, as we have seen is the attempt to confine all ministry
to a certain class, and make it rest on human authorization rather than
on divine gift, the people, Christ’s sheep, being denied their
competency to hear His voice. The inevitable tendency is, to fix upon
the man the attention which should be devoted to the word he brings.
The question is, Is he accredited? If he speak truly is subordinated to
the question, Is he ordained? or, perhaps I should say; his orthodoxy
is settled already for them by the fact of his ordination.

an apostle, not of men, nor by man, could not have been, upon this
plan, received. There were apostles before him, and he neither went up
to them nor got any thing from them. If there were a succession, he was
a break in the succession. And what he did he did designedly, to show
that his gospel was not after man (Gal. 1:11), and that it might not
rest upon the authority of man. Nay, if he himself preached a different
gospel from that he had preached, (for there was not another,) - yea,
or an angel from heaven (where the authority, if that were in question,
might seem conclusive), his solemn decision is, "Let him be accursed."

then, is nothing if it be not the au-thority of the Word of God. That
is the test - Is it according to the Scriptures? "If the blind lead the
blind, shall they not both fall into the ditch?" To say, "I could not,
of course, know: I trusted another," will not save you from the ditch.

the unspiritual and unlearned layman, how can he pretend to equal
knowledge with the educated and accredited minister devoted to
spiritual things? In point of fact, in general he does not. He yields
to the one who should know better; and practically the minister’s
teaching largely supplants the authority of the Word of God. Not that
certainty, indeed, is thus attained. He cannot conceal it from himself
that people differ - wise and good and learned and accredited as they
may be. But here the devil steps in, and, if God has allowed men’s
"authorities" to get into a Babel of confusion, as they have, suggests
to the unwary soul that the confusion must be the result of the
obscurity of Scripture, whereas they have got into it by disregarding

But this is every where! Opinion, not
faith; - opinion to which you are welcome and have a right, of course;
and you must allow others a right to theirs. You may say, "I believe,"
as long as you do not mean by that, "I know." To claim "knowledge" is
to claim that you are wiser, more learned, better, than whole
generations before you, who thought opposite to you.

I show you how infidelity thrives upon this? how Satan rejoices when
for the simple and emphatic "Yea" of the divine voice he succeeds in
substituting the Yea and Nay of a host of jarring commentators? Think
you can fight the Lord’s battles with the rush of human opinion instead
of "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God"? Think you "Thus
saith John Calvin, or John Wesley," will meet Satan as satisfactorily
as "Thus saith the Lord"?

Who can deny that such
thoughts are abroad, and in no wise confined to papists or ritualists?
The tendency, alas! is, in the heart of unbelief ever departing from
the living God, - as near to His own to-day as at any time through the
centuries His Church has traveled on, as competent to instruct as ever,
as ready to fulfill the word, "He that will do His will shall know of
the doctrine, whether it be of God." The "eyes are of the heart," and
not the head. He has hidden from wise and prudent what He reveals to
babes. The school of God is more effectual than all colleges combined,
and here layman and cleric are equal: "he that is spiritual discerneth
all things," and he alone. Substitute for spirituality there is none:
unspirituality the Spirit of God alone can remedy. Ordination, such as
practiced, is rather a sanction put upon it, - an attempt to manifest
what is the manifestation of the Spirit, or not His work at all, and to
provide leaders for the blind, whom with all their care they cannot
insure not being blind also.

Before I close, I must
say a few words about "succession." An ordination which pretends to be
derived from the apostles must needs be (to be consistent,) a
successional one. Who can confer authority (and in the least and lowest
theories of ordination authority is conferred, as to baptize, and to
administer the Lord’s supper,) but one himself authorized for this very
purpose? You must, therefore, have a chain of ordained men, lineally
succeeding one another. Apostolic succession is as necessary on the
presbyterian as on the episcopalian plan. John Wesley, as his warrant
for ordaining, fell back upon the essential oneness of bishop and
presbyter. Nay, presbyterians will urge against episcopalians the ease
of maintaining succession in this way. I have nothing to do with this:
I only insist that succession is needed.

But then,
mark the result. It is a thing apart alike from spirituality and from
truth even. A Romish priest may have it as well as any; and indeed
through the gutter of Rome most of that we have around us must
necessarily have come down. Impiety and impurity do not in the least
invalidate Christ’s commission. The teacher of false doctrine may be as
well His messenger as the teacher of truth. Nay, the possession of the
truth, with gift to minister it and godliness combined, are actually no
part of the credentials of the true ambassador. He may have all these
and be none; he may want them all and be truly one nevertheless.

can believe such doctrine? Can He who is truth accredit error? - the
righteous One unrighteousness? It is impossible. This ecclesiasticism
violates every principle of morality, and hardens the conscience that
has to do with it. For why need we be careful for truth if He is not?
and how can He send messengers that He would not have to be believed?
His own test of a true witness fails; for "he that speaketh of himself
seeketh his own glory; but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the
same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him." His own test of
credibility fails, for "If I speak the truth, why do ye not believe
Me?" was His own appeal.

No: to state this principle
is to condemn it. He who foresaw and predicted the failure of what
should have been the bright and evident witness of His truth and grace,
could not ordain a succession of teachers for it who should carry His
commission unforfeitable by whatever failure! Before apostles had left
the earth, the house of God had become as a "great house," and it was
necessary to separate from vessels to dishonor in it, He who bade His
apostle to instruct another to "follow righteousness, faith, love,
peace, with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart," could not
possibly tell us to listen to men who are alien from all this, as His
ministers, and having His commission in spite of all. And thus notably,
in the second epistle to Timothy, in which this is said, there is no
longer, as in the first, any talk of elders or of ordained men. It is
"faithful men" "who are wanted, not for ordination, but for the deposit
of the truth committed to Timothy: "The things which thou hast heard of
me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who
shall be able to teach others also."

Thus God’s holy
Word vindicates itself to the heart and conscience ever. The effort to
attach His sanction to a Romish priesthood or a Protestant hierarchy
fails alike upon the same ground, for as to this they are upon the same
ground. Alas! Nicolaitanism is no past thing - no obscure doc-trine of
past ages, but a wide-spread and gigantic system of error, fruitful in
evil results. Error is long-lived, though mortal. Reverence it not for
its gray hairs, and follow not with a multitude to do evil. With cause
does the Lord say in this case, "Which thing I hate." If He does, shall
we be afraid to have fellowship with Him? That there are good men
entangled in it, all must admit. There are godly men, and true
ministers, ignorantly wearing the livery of men. May God deliver them!
may they cast aside their fetters and be free! May they rise up to the
true dignity of their calling, responsible to God, and walking before
Him alone!

On the other hand, beloved brethren, it
is of immense importance that all His people, however diverse their
places in the body of Christ may be, should realize that they are all
as really ministers as they are all priests. We need to recognize that
every Christian has spiritual duties flowing from spiritual
relationship to every other Christian. It is the privilege of each one
to contribute his share to the common treasury of gift, with which
Christ has endowed His Church. Nay, he who does not contribute is
actually holding back what is his debt to the whole family of God. No
possessor of one talent is entitled to wrap it in a napkin upon that
account: it would be mere unfaithfulness and unbelief.

is more blessed to give than to receive." Brethren in Christ, when
shall we awake to the reality of our Lord’s words there? Ours is a
never- failing spring of perpetual joy and blessing, which if we but
come to when we thirst, out of our bellies shall flow rivers of living
water. The spring is not limited by the vessel which receives it: it is
divine, and yet ours fully, - fully as can be! Oh to know more this
abundance, and the responsibility of the possession of it, in a dry and
weary scene like this! Oh to know better the infinite grace which has
taken us up as channels of its outflow among men! When shall we rise up
to the sense of our common dignity, - to the sweet reality of
fellowship with Him who "came not to be ministered unto, but to
minister"? Oh for unofficial ministry - the overflowing of full hearts
into empty ones, so many as there are around us! How we should rejoice,
in a scene of want and misery and sin, to find perpetual opportunity to
show the competency of Christ’s fullness to meet and minister to every
form of it.

Official ministry is practical
independence of the Spirit of God. It is to decide that such a vessel
shall overflow though at the time, it may be, practically empty; and,
on the other hand, that such another shall not overflow, however full
He may have filled it up. It proposes, in the face of Him who has come
down in Christ’s absence to be the Guardian of His people, to provide
for order and for edification, not by spiritual power, but by
legislation. It would provide for failure on the part of Christ’s sheep
to hear His voice, by making it as far as possible unnecessary for them
to do so. It thus sanctions and perpetuates unspirituality, instead of
condemning or avoiding it.

It is quite true that in
God’s mode of treating it the failure in man’s part may become more
evident externally; for He cares little for a correct outside when the
heart is nevertheless not right with Him, and He knows well that
ability to maintain a correct outside may in fact prevent a truthful
judgment of what is our real condition before Him. Men would have
upbraided Peter with his attempt to walk upon those waves which made
his little faith so manifest. The Lord would only rebuke the littleness
of the faith which made him fail. And man still and ever would propose
the boat as the remedy for failure, instead of the strength of the
Lord’s support, which He made Peter prove. Yet, after all, the boat
confessedly may fail, - winds and waves may overthrow it: but "the Lord
on high is mightier than the noise of many waters - yea, than the
mighty waves of the sea." Through these many centuries of failure, have
we proved Him untrustworthy? Beloved, is it your honest conviction that
it is absolutely safe to trust the living God? Then let us make no
provision for His failure, however much we may have to own that we have
failed! Let us act as if we really trusted Him.