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DUTIES OF ELDERS IN THE HIGHER CHURCH COURTS.
It is usual for presbyteries, synods, and assemblies to consist of ruling elders and ministers in nearly equal proportions. But the balance, though respected in theory, is not much exemplified in practice. Generally speaking, the ministers are most fully in attendance; and the part which elders take in the business transacted is still more limited than their numerical strength. It is impossible to witness the proceedings on these occasions with an unprejudiced eye, and not perceive that if the principle of a ruling eldership be sound, the application of it in this province is greatly defective. As ministers are trained and habituated to public speaking, they may be expected perhaps to have always the greater share of discussions ; but no such circumstance can adequately explain or justify the depressed condition of the eldership in all our courts of review. Various remedies have been proposed. It has been suggested that the sessions might elect elders belonging to other sessions to represent them in the higher courts, when it was not convenient for any of their own number to be present. No doubt a fuller attendance of elders might be secured in this way, and the most competent persons would also be the most likely to be chosen. But the scheme is attended with difficulties. It is somewhat questionable in its principle: it would give a decided pre
ponderance of power to elders, in or near the seat of the court; and instead of stirring up sessions to greater activity, it would indispose them for action, by profferring a transference of duty from themselves to others. If the measure remarked on be, for such reasons, incxpedient, much may nevertheless be done to advance the efficiency of elders in our ecclesiastica' judicatories. Those elders who can best attend presbyterial and synodical meetings, may be appointed to represent sessions; and all proper steps should be taken to facilitate their attendance. The appointment may be prolonged beyond a half-year, or even a whole year; for when the term is so very brief, an elder is only beginning to know the duties, and to feel some freedom in discharging them, when he is replaced by his successor. The more vigorous performance of other duties by elders, and especially those of a public and beneficial character, will also be found an admirable preparation for the right discharge of those functions of which we are now speaking. In these days elders are often associated with ministers in visiting congregations and rousing them to a juster sense of what they owe to themselves and to the world; and if more of our elders were so occupied, the happy effects of such discipline on their more judicial services would be speedily apparent.
In addition to all this, the treasurers, secretaries, and presidents of important boards connected with Presbyterian denominations, might perhaps be appointed members of court ex-officio — at all events, corresponding members; and if elders were eligible
to these trusts, some of the ablest and best men among them would be enabled, possibly for many years, to benefit the church by their advice. They might justly be termed representatives, for they would represent their religious society in some of its most important interests interests demanding their presence and guidance; and if the mode of their appointment would be somewhat anomalous, it may be questioned whether any such rigid pattern of presbytery be found in the New Testament as would forbid the anomaly.
It is by some such means as these that elders would become more influential in the church courts. To no purpose is jealousy sown between ministers and elders, as if the former wished to keep down the latter, when they meet on a common platform to promote the same objects. Equally vain is it to think of mending matters by urging elders to speak who are strangers to the effort, and cannot even make themselves audible. Let men be brought into court who can meet its requirements, who have devoted time and zeal to ecclesiastical engagements in other fields of labour, and there acquired the facilities which only experience can impart, and there is no danger but they will receive the attention and respect to which they are entitled.
It is not designed by these observations to represent the usefulness of ruling elders in the church courts as wholly dependent on effective speaking. They may render essential service by their general attention to the business transacted. If they would
use their office well, and set an example to their ministerial coadjutors, let them
1. Preserve a decorum of manner befitting the recollection that they are convened in the name of Christ, and under the eye of an evil, but discerning, world. A heedless inattention to the affairs in hand, an idle talking with neighbours, and unrestrained laughter at the jokes of speakers, all these liberties, beyond very narrow limits, are utterly unsuitable to the occasion and circumstances, and cause injury than is suspected to the interests of religion. Let them
2. Attend to the entire argument of a case in which they are to give judgment. An elder may not have it in his power to participate in all the proceedings of a presbytery or synod; but in these circumstances he should not subdivide his time among many causes, and give an ill-informed vote on all of them. It is much better to sift certain questions thoroughly, and to evince his mind on these alone. Let them
3. Make a careful selection of the business to which their attention shall be mainly devoted. Personal squabbles and bitter controversies have an exciting interest, and commonly secure a full house and ample time for their consideration. Little apprehension need be entertained that such matters will be neglected. If an elder would be very useful, he should set his heart, and expend his time very principally, on those measures of beneficence which are apt, from being of a general nature, to be deferred to thin meetings, or summarily disposed of, although they
vitally affect the reformation of the church, and the conversion of the world. Let them
4. Beware of yielding to prejudices of their own, or passionate appeals by others, which would disturb tranquil and candid deliberation. A strong effort of self-denial is often indispensable that we may
fulfil the mandate: "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.'* Nor is it enough that a cool and unbiassed temperament be preserved in these judicatories. Their nature and ends call not only for impartiality, but for devotion and spiritual-mindedness; and he who has not the gift of addressing his brethren with fluent utterance, will perform a far nobler service in looking above men, to address a throne of grace, and entreat the Head of the church to direct his servants by his Spirit, and crown their efforts with his blessing.
* John vü. 24.