CHAPTER XI: The Apostles, from "The Christian Ministry According to the Apostles" by Thomas Hughes Milner
Jesus called unto him his disciples, and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles, Luke vi. 13.
1. THE WORD apostolos signifies one sent forth, a messenger, or ambassador. As respects meaning, it is the same as angelos, an angel; being simply a messenger, as an apostle is. Both words are employed with considerable variety of reference. In popular acceptation the angels are the messengers of God, the apostles those of Christ. Both terms intimate a particular embassy or service: by the one is meant the embassies peculiar to the heavenly and spiritual universe, and by the other the mission of human redemption. The word presbuo, ambassador, is also employed twice by Paul respecting the apostolic office. 2 Cor. v. 20. And the correlate term, presbia, ambassage, is twice employed by the Saviour in his parables, Luke xiv. 32, xix. 14, in one of the cases in immediate connection with the verb apostello, to send forth. The king sending forth his ambassadors gives the most correct view possible of the Messiahmic apostleship. The apostles of Christ are the ambassadors of Jesus, the Messiah of God, the King of kings.
2. The whole question between the Lord Jesus and the Jews was, whether he were the Sent of God. His constant averment was, that the living Father had sent him, John v. 36; vi. 57. He hinged salvation on the knowledge of this, for, said he, This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent, John xvii. 3. And as he was himself the apostle of the Father to the world, so chose he the twelve as his ambassadors to men. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world, John xvii. 18. Again, his words in John xv. 16, refer simply to the election to the apostleship of the twelve, though generally misapplied to election to salvation–You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain. Referring to Judas on the same occasion, Jesus said: I speak not of you all; I know whom I have chosen, John xiii. 18. And, again, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a demon? John vi. 70. Thus the twelve held the same commission from the Lord that he did from the Father; they were the apostles of Christ, as he was the apostle of the Father.
3. A man is the apostle alone of the party whose commission he holds. The ambassadors of the British Court, as of every other, must prove their apostleship by the credentials of their mission. No power, save the one represented, can constitute its plenipotentiaries. The apostles, therefore, were not only careful to style themselves properly as the apostles of Jesus Christ, but distinctly to state his divine authority as that by which they claimed to be his representatives. Hence, the peculiar subscriptions of their epistles: Paul a servant of Jesus Christ, called an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, Rom. i. 1. Paul, called an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, 1 Cor. i. 1. Paul, an apostle, not of right, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, Gal. i. 1. And hence also the argumentation of this apostle in respect of those who sought to damage his authority in the churches: Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are not you my work in the Lord? 1 Cor. ix. 1. It was needful to the proof of his apostleship that Paul establish that he had “seen the Lord,” for this was alike essential to his holding the commission of the Messiah, and to his fulfilling the office of apostle, which was that of a witness. In promising the Holy Spirit to the eleven as his Advocate, the Messiah said: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. So according to Acts xxvi. 18 the words of Jesus to Paul read thus: I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness, both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in which I will appear unto thee.
4. But it were easy for “false apostles”–”deceitful workers,” to say they had seen the Lord. In this false world the genuine has almost always to contend with the counterfeit; and the more important and precious the real, the more likelihood is there of the false competitor. The high office of ambassador of heaven’s King carried with it too much honour not to form a chief object of desire to the cupidity and ambition of designing men. Thus, of all assumption that of priestly pretension has been the most continuous, universal, and defiant. But notwithstanding that many false christs, false prophets, and false apostles have gone out into the world, God has never left either himself, his Son, or his apostles or prophets without witness. Jesus was attested of God by miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did by him in the midst of the people, and the word of the great salvation which he at the first thus spoke has been confirmed unto us by those who heard him, God also bearing them witness alike with signs, and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The miraculous, the superhuman, the doing of that which none save the Deity could empower the performer to do, is, therefore, the sure and invariable proof of the divine legation of any man. So was it with Moses and the prophets, with Jesus and the apostles. There was no successful denying of their credentials. Paul, therefore, had whereof to glory through Jesus Christ in those things that pertain to God, for in order to make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed, he fully preached the gospel of Christ through mighty signs and wonders by the power of the Spirit of God, Acts ii. 22; Rom. xv. 17-19; Heb. ii. 4.
5. His apostleship was thus evidenced. Except for these miraculous attestations of his preaching, it could not have been known that he was the ambassador of Christ to the nations. Here it is that all pretenders fail. Not that they do not affect miraculous power, but that they merely mimic it, as did Jannes and Jambres the wonders of Moses. Lying wonders––false miracles, are the concomitants of every attempt to support pretensions to a divine embassy, and thus not only do we find them characterize every false religion, but every individual attempt to make out the holding of a divine legation, and thus also also do we find them in the apostolic enumeration of the characteristics of the apostasy from the faith. 2 Thess. ii. 9 describes the advent of the deceiver as after the energy of Satan, with all the powers, and signs, and wonders of falsehood. It might be thought that such adventurers would have little success in their mad endeavours, but when we consider the credulity and ignorance of mankind, and remember that nothing except the receiving of the truth in the love of it can save any man from the belief of a lie, it is not so astonishing, that armed with all the arts of unrighteous deceptiveness these pseudo-apostles should secure under a strong delusion those who believe not the truth. It is quite as remarkable that those who would deprecate the thought of presuming to the apostolic functions should yet really do so, quoting in public address the very words of 2 Cor. v. 20, designating the ambassadorial standing of the twelve: Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as if these misquoters of the word could shew one single shred of evidence of their being the successors of the twelve!
6. Why, then, do we find the word apostolos in the evangelic Scriptures applied to others than the twelve? Why find we Barnabas, Epaphroditus, Timothy, and Titus called apostles? For the best of reasons––they were the messengers of the churches, and they are, therefore, spoken of as apostles of the ecclesia. Nothing could be more correct than that those who were chosen by the churches to travel with their bounty to the Lord’s servants and poor should be called the apostles of the churches. If Jesus was called the apostle of God because the Father sent him, and if first the seventy, and subsequently the twelve, were called the apostles of Christ because he chose and named them, why should not the brethren whom the churches sent on their missions of fraternal enquiry and benevolence be called the apostles of the churches, and the glory of Christ? Now, this is the simple fact. These brethren are not called the apostles of Christ, but of the ecclesia, whence they held their commission. If there be any exception to this it is in the case of Barnabas, who, with Paul, was singled out by the express voice of God for the particular mission recorded in Acts xiii., xiv., and xv. The narrative opens with the statement that there were in the church in Antioch certain prophets and teachers, as Barnabas, and Simeon surnamed Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, foster-brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said: separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them; and when they had fasted, and prayed, and laid hands on then, they sent them away. So they being sent forth by the holy Spirit departed. Nothing, then, can be plainer than why in Acts xiv. 14, in continuation of the narrative, Paul and Barnabas should be written of as “the apostles.” In this embassy they were the apostles the Holy Spirit as well as of the church or brethren sending them by the divine direction. All this is but confirmatory of the accuracy of our position, and of the exactness with which terms are employed in Scripture.
7. And here we have opportunity of pointing out the unsupported character of the endeavour of interested parties to prop up the modern invention of a single pastor for each church, from the mention of the angel of the churches intimated in Rev. ii. 1, 8, 12, 18; iii. 1, 7, and 14. What is an angel but a messenger? And what should we fancy these angels to be but the individual messengers of the churches respectively, as they are as plainly named as language could name them. As already said, the churches maintained communication with the apostles by individual messenger or messengers. 2 Cor. viii. 23 names Titus and those others, chosen of the churches to travel with the gift to be jointly administered by Paul and them, the apostles of the churches. And Phil. ii. 25 calls Epaphroditus, who was sent by the ecclesia in Philippi to minister to the wants of Paul while a prisoner at Rome, their apostle in particular. And who does not see the correctness of this? And who does not also see that the word angelos would have expressed the idea intended quite as correctly as the term apostolos? Here, then, when John was away in the solitude of Patmos, are we to suppose that he was forgotten by the churches? That they never sent to minister to his wants, or to hear another word from his lips, now that he was the only apostle of Jesus on earth? But we are not left to supposition, for the word angel, as clearly as the word apostle, proves that he held communication with the seven churches through their messengers.
8. As to the power of the apostles, they had no more than simply to do what they were commanded. A very needless question is in almost perpetual agitation in these days of official assumption: What is the extent of authority attached to such and such an office? Once for all we answer, that there is no authority attached to any office in the church of God other than that of carrying out the will of the Lord. In many minds the idea of power is very indefinite, and it may serve to establish some in the truth that we indicate such varieties of power as the Scriptures speak of in connexion with the good work of the Lord. Power is commonly spoken of as of two kinds, physical and moral, but these are subdivided into almost interminable variety, as chemical, mechanical, electrical, animal, mental, spiritual, legislative, judicial, &c., &c. In the common English New Testament the one word power is made to stand for seven or eight Greek terms. There is arkee, signifying beginning, or first, chief, or principal, and commonly rendered beginning, or principality, as in Col. i. 18, where Christ is called “the beginning of the creation,” and in ii. 10, where he is declared “the head of all principality.” Be it noted that this word is never applied to any in the church save the Messiah: he alone holds the rule, power, authority, or place of the principal. There is dunamis, i.e., power or might, frequently rendered miracle and mighty works. With this power the kingdom of God was, Mark ix. 1, predicted to come, which it did on Pentecost, and for it the apostles were commanded, Luke xxiv. 49, and Acts i. 8, to wait in Jerusalem. It, however, denotes potency in almost any real form. Rom. i. 16 calls the gospel the power of God unto salvation; Matt. xxv. 15 speaks of the King’s servants as entrusted with talents, each according to his ability; 2 Cor. i. 8 says, the apostle was pressed out of measure beyond strength; 2 Cor. viii. 3, that the disciples were willing to help beyond their power; Eph. iii. 16 intimates Paul’s prayer that the brethren might be strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man. Actual power, not mere official authority, is what this word indicates. So it is with dunatos, i.e., possible or able. Matt. xix. 26 says, that with God all things are possible; Acts xviii. 24, that Apollos was mighty in the Scriptures; 2 Cor. ix. 8, that God is able to make all grace abound; x. 4, that the apostolic weapons were mighty for God; xii. 10, that when Paul was weak (in himself), then was he strong (in the power of the Lord); and Tit. i. 9, that the teacher be able by sound doctrine to convince the objector. Power of office is not implied in this term. Not so with exousia, which is power in the sense of authority: it is a governmental term. Matt viii. 9 introduces the Roman officer as a man under authority; xxi. 23 reports the common enquiry made of Jesus, By what authority he spoke and acted; Mark xiii. 34 represents the leaving of the Son of man as the occasion of his giving authority to his servants, and to every man his work; Luke xix. 17, as rewarding the faithful at his return with authority over certain cities; 1 Cor. ix. 4, 5, 6, 12, 18 indicates the apostle and his co-labourers as the possessors of power to eat and drink, to lead about a wife or sister, to forbear manual labour, and to depend on the faithful for support; 2 Cor. x. 8, and xiii. 10, speak of the apostolic authority as for the upbuilding, not the destruction of the ecclesia; Heb. xiii. 10 intimates the exclusive right of the disciples to eat at the Christian altar. Significantly, this word is not applied to any other ecclesiastical office than the apostolic. Iskus, i.e., strength, is found in Eph. i. 19, and vi. 10, where the mighty power of God, which he wrought in Christ in raising him from the dead, is said to accord with the working of the exceeding greatness of his power toward those who believe, and who are, therefore, exhorted to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might; and 1 Pet. iv. 11 urges the brethren to serve as by the ability that God gives. Kratos, i.e., power in the sense of dominion, is in the apostolic writings ascribed only to God and his word; Acts xix. 20 says the latter mightily prevailed; 1 Tim. vi. 16, 1 Pet. iv. 11, and other passages, ascribe power and dominion to the King eternal, immortal, invisible. But Col. i. 11, as Eph. vi. 10, prays Christians to be strengthened with all might according to to God’s glorious power. Megaliotees, the mighty power, the majesty of God, is alone indicated, as in Luke ix. 43; 2 Pet. i. 16. So with energia, i.e., energy or working; Gal. ii. 8 says that he who wrought effectually in Peter was mighty in Paul; 1 Cor. xii. 6, that it is God who worketh all in all in the ecclesia; Phil. ii. 13 encourages the believers to work out their own salvation, seeing God worketh in them; and 1 Thess. ii. 13 describes the Word of God as working effectually in all the believing. Thus in vain do we search for a single instance of a word being used denoting the possession of irresponsible, sovereign, despotic, or autocratic power on the part of any man, office-bearer, or other, in the ecclesia of Christ. There is no military authority attributed to any member of his body; that is to say, no functionary in the church has a right to claim implicit obedience as has a military officer. The military commandant has simply to say to his subordinates, Do this! and without question the command is obeyed. But in Christian obedience the very opposite is the rule, and not even an apostle ventured an injunction, except by the sanction of a “thus saith the Lord.” All question, then, as to the extent of power or authority attachable to offices in the Christian church is utterly vain; the entire conception of an ex cathedra, or an ex officio authority of any such kind as would warrant any office-bearer to command the Lord’s people, by mere virtue of the office held, is utterly irreconcilable with the liberty that is in Christ Jesus. He alone is arkon, chief, ruler, magistrate, prince, in his church. To none else therein is the title or the authority given. Rom. xv. 12; Rev. i. 5.
9. The practical difference, then, between the the position of the apostles and prophets and of all other servants of the Lord is simply this, that the former delivered and obeyed the commandments of the Lord Jesus, while the latter have to ascertain and obey them. By the former the faith has been once for all delivered to the saints, with the injunctions to build themselves up in it, to contend earnestly for it, to keep the ordinances as delivered, and to note and withdraw from every one who fails so to do.
10. On the apostles, as the first in the field, devolved the entire work of the Christian economy. The apostolic office combined all the duties that followed its accomplishment. It was not, nor in the nature of things could it be, a permanent office. Its object was to found or establish the new institution; this accomplished, the varied work of the administration fell to be done by those raised and gifted by God in his providence towards his church. But while the planting period lasted, especially in the beginning of the gospel, before the apostles had been instrumental in converting, gifting, and placing men as co- and sub-workers in the Christian edifice, on themselves necessarily devolved all the duties of prophet, preacher, teacher, overseer, and servant. The apostles were all these. Paul spoke the word of the Lord by revelation as much as did Isaiah or Jeremiah; he says he was ordained a preacher and teacher of the Gentiles; that on him fell the care of all the churches; and while the other apostles were likewise the first prophets, preachers, teachers, bishops, and deacons of the church, Paul also, even in the midst of his multiplied labours, did not refuse the entreaty of the Macedonian disciples to take upon him the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And it was because they fulfilled the ministry which they had received in the Lord, because they declared the whole counsel of God, and kept nothing back, that they could appeal alike to their doctrine and manner of life, entreat the brethren to be imitators of them, even as they also were of Christ, and so offer themselves for the remembrance of the faithful in every duty of the heavenly service. In this way Peter, remembering the charge of the Lord to himself, Feed my sheep;...Feed my lambs, could style himself an elder, a witness, and a participant, in exhorting the elders to oversee and pastor the flock. Every apostolic precept has thus the double weight of combined example.
11. And it is much more in the power of example than in mere official authority that the apostles and all the servants of the Lord are introduced to our notice. It is rarely that we find even the apostles referring to their authority: Paul does it once or twice, simply because some put him to the proof by denying his apostleship. And John once speaks of his apostolic authority in reference to Diotrephes, who sought to be a lord-bishop, maliciously prating against the apostles. But even when thus put to the test, how did they evidence their authority? By fulminating presbyterial, episcopal, or papal bulls? Certainly not. But simply by calling attention to what things the Lord had wrought by them. Their works, miracles, converts, were the seals of their apostleship. Paul says: I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed, through mighty signs and wonders by the power of the Spirit of God. When a man can thus refer to what God has wrought by him, he silences all objection, if so be that he claims no more authority than his works prove him to possess. So dealt the apostles with this question of authority, and, therefore, we say that it was chiefly, if not altogether, by the power of example that they established themselves in the confidence of the people of God. They sought not to have dominion over the faith of the disciples, but to be helpers of their joy. And in this, as in everything, they were examples to all the servants of the Saviour, and hence the entreaty of Paul: Be ye followers––imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.
12. The Lord Messiah is the possessor of all authority in the universe. All power, said he, in heaven and on earth is given to me. In virtue of this he gave the eleven his commission to disciple the nations to him. All ecclesiastical or sacerdotal power must, therefore, emanate from him. He is the Head of his body the church, and headship consists undeniably in the authorization of the action of the members of the body. With this in fullest view the apostle spoke of himself as possessed of no power save that which the Lord had given him for edification, not for destruction. It was because the Lord had given the apostles the power to loose and bind, that they authoritatively propounded the terms of salvation, assigning the obedient to salvation, and consigning the obdurate to perdition. The terms which they laid down remain in force till the Lord himself the author of them repeal them. No tribunal inferior to that which instituted may annul. The repeal of the acts of the Imperial Parliament rests with the same supreme legislature that gave them being and force. For any inferior court, much less a self-constituted one, to venture to alter or amend the laws so enacted, is high treason. It follows, therefore, that submission to the apostolic deliverances is the sum of all Christian action. No disciple, or body of disciples, holding any office or doing any work, may assert their independence of these prescriptions, or do aught else than is provided therein in any case whatever. It is not competent for brethren doing oversight-work, to act as lords or dictators over the heritage, nor for any brother who speaks, to speak else than as do the oracles of God. One doing the work of an evangelist has no authority to preach another gospel than that proclaimed by the apostles; he has no right to propound terms of discipleship or salvation other than they announced; he has no warrant to plant churches on another model than that of those which were imitations of the churches of God, which in Christ Jesus were in Judea; he has no liberty to admit persons to the privileges of the faithful, by different rule or by other steps, more or fewer than what the acts and letters of the apostles exemplify. This rule observed, the question of power is a very simple one. A Christian’s power is square with his conformity in word and deed to the oracles of God. Beyond this he has none, and is not to be recognised as having any. In this there is all authority that is either needful, wholesome, or safe for the churches of the saints. “Whatever is more than this comes of evil.”
13. Christ and his apostles comprise the only Christian legislature in the universe. All ecclesiastical legislatures else are frauds, impositions, usurpations, seditions, heresies, treasons, tyrannies, robberies. We impugn not the intentions of their authors, but we do combine every epithet to denote the illegality of all and sundry religious legislative tribunals other than the one founded by the Messiah in the persons of his chosen twelve, of whom alone he said, “You shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
14. The institution, the reign, the administration, the faith, the ecclesia, and all that is implied in ministry, privilege, order, and ordinances, delivered, ordained, founded, and established through them, their labours ceased, they entered into rest, and though dead, they yet speak. Successors they had none, nor could they have. The edifice planned, founded, and reared, the architects were no longer needed about the building. To talk of apostles of Christ on earth now, is to manifest a folly that might be laughed at as the offspring of childish ignorance, but for the ruinous danger of the assumption.
15. But the mimicking of apostolic power is not confined to the establishing of legislative church courts and councils, and the framing, promulging (editor: promulgating), and enforcing of ecclesiastical decrees, but extends to the presumptuous action following thereon. One most reprehensible form of such procedure is the pretended communication of grace, virtue, power, or gift, by the imposition of clerical hands. There is no propriety in Protestants pronouncing against the pretended transubstantiation and other false miracles of the Romish church, while they themselves pretend to convey a spiritual or sacerdotal virtue by the onlaid hands of their own priesthood. By the onlaying of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was really communicated, spiritual gifts were actually bestowed, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, Acts viii. 12-17. But where find we any such verities in the clerical imposition of hands of these times? Not at all. Yet, albeit, the actors know they have no power so to convey either the Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit, they impiously say in performing the farce, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” That the apostles and other brethren laid on hands in the giving of charge, and in commending those charged to the grace of God, Acts vi. 6, xiii. 3, xiv. 23, and xv. 40, testify. To this custom there can be no objection, in so far as it is not made the occasion of false and priestly pretension. That brethren who have had a charge lay hands on others, now to be associated with them in its duties, or to whom they are to surrender the work, and in so doing, mean simply to commend them by this act, combined with prayer and fasting, to the favour of God, is quite within apostolic precedent; but that men who hold no charge in a congregation should enter it, and, by laying on their hands, ordain one to an unscriptural monopoly of service therein, and that with the idea of his being thereby introduced into the holy ministry, is altogether a thing of the apostasy.