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The Officers of a Gospel Church
Northampton Baptist Association
The Circular Letter, 1777
By John C. Ryland

     These are appointed and furnished by God our redeemer, for the edification, strength, beauty, and happiness of the church, and are chosen and set apart, with solemn prayer, by the vote of the church, to promote the general welfare of that society to which they belong.

     There are two classes or orders of officers in a christian church. The first 1 is appointed and ordained to represent the whole system of truth in the law and gospel, in the most striking and amiable light to the people, and to lead the worship of the whole church, in all its branches to administer all public ordinances, and to take the sense and votes of the church with respect to the admission of new members, and to execute every part of the peoples' determinations. The other order of officers2 have the honour to be ordained of God our saviour, to represent his compassionate heart to the poor of the church; and also to represent and express the affections and bowels of the church to their dear pastors, that they may be supplied with a competence of temporal good, and rendered easy and happy in their studies and labours.

     With respect to the character and office of christian preachers: there are no men in the whole world who are dignified in the scriptures with such a variety of names and titles as gospel ministers; and every name and image under which they are represented, implies some excellent property or perfection. As far as our limits will allow, we will give you a view of their qualities and duties, to the end that you may discern the respect that is due to them, and give them that attention which their work and their great Lord demand.

     They are stiled [styled] Labourers, and they must work - Servants, and they must obey their divine master - Watchmen, and they must keep awake, and be full of eyes within and without - Overseers, and they inspect - Workmen, and they must study to approve themselves to God, that they may not be ashamed - Husbandmen, and they must cultivate the field of God - Shepherds, and they must feed the sheep and lambs of the flock - Householders, and they must provide for the family - Builders, and they must edify - Stewards, and they must be faithful! - Soldiers, and they must valiantly fight - Elders, and they must be serious and grave - Oxen, and they must be patient in labour - Eagles, and they must soar to the sun of righteousness - Lions, and they must be full of courage and fortitude, Cherubs, and they must plough - Seraphs, and they must burn with zeal for God - Lights of the world and stars in the church, and they ought to shine to the honour of their master - Fathers, and they must be tender, 1 Thessalonians ii. 11. - Nurses, and they must be gentle, 1 Thessalonians ii.7. - Saviours and they must proclaim salvation, Obadiah, ver. 21. - Justifiers,3 (Daniel xii. 3.) and their glory is to turn many to the righteousness of Christ for justification - Ambassadors, and they must be wise and noble - Earthen Vessels, and they must be humble. - To crown all, and to lift the character of a gospel minister to the highest pitch of honour, they are stiled Angels - Angels that have power over fire, Revelation xiv. 18. - Angels that stand in the sun, Revelation xix. 17,. i.e. in the full noon-tide blaze of the sun of righteousness. Angels are wise and illuminated creatures, so are true gospel preachers - Angels are holy creatures, so ought gospel ministers to be - Angels are active zealous creatures - Angels are affectionate and generous creatures - Angels love to gaze incessantly on the person, offices, and glories of Christ - Angels love to attend upon and minister to the children of God, so do gospel ministers - Angels rejoice at the conversion of sinners, Luke xv. - they watch over God's people in their infancy, Matthew xviii. 10. - have brought food to the saints, 1 Kings xix. - assist in healing diseases, John v. 4. - direct and guard the saints of God in their journies, Genesis xxxii. - keep off dangers, Psalm xci. 11. Acts xii. 15. Psalm xxxiv. 7. - make known the mind and will of God to men, Acts vii. 59. Luke ii. 10-14. - comfort saints in distress, Luke xxii. 43. Acts. xxvii. 23, 24. - repel the devil's temptations, Daniel x. 13, 20. - attend the saints on their dying beds, Luke xvi. 22. - and will attend their Lord when he comes in all his glory to judge the world at the last day, Matthew xxv. 31. - and in these instances the work of gospel ministers resembles the work and duties of angels.

     And now place all these images, good qualities, labours, and services before your eyes in one view; and what cordial esteem, what ardent affection, what encouragement, attention, succour, and support, ought the people to afford to their dear pastors, who are zealously ambitious to fill up these characters!


1 Pastors, Elders, or Bishops.
2 Deacons. See their office, qualities, honors described. 1 Timothy iii. 8-13.
3 So it is in the original.

[From John C. Ryland, "The Beauty of Social Religion, or, the Nature and Glory of a Gospel Church," Northamptonshire Baptist Association, Circular Letter, 1777. The complete Circular Letter is here. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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