man in society


Man, in the history of his race, presents himself to our notice in two states – the social and the savage. The social is his original condition; the savage, that into which he has sunk as a consequence of licentiousness. At his formation, Man, who was made male and female, was propounded to be “very good;” and appointed to live in society, because it was “not good for him to be alone”. The primeval society of Eden was constituted of divine and human elements – of God, the Elohim, man and woman: of God, “whom no man hath seen;” of the Elohim, whom he hath often seen; and of man and woman, the perfection of flesh and blood. This social state was free and devoid of evil; yet was in its liberty not absolute, but restrained and regulated by law. Though “very good” and undefiled by sin, man was not permitted to do as he pleased without restriction. A law was given to him by his Creator, expressive of the divine sovereignty over society, and his position in the social state. Hence, society is a divine institution, originally characterised by intelligence, goodness, law, and liberty. Woman belonged to man, because she was his own flesh and bone, and given to him of God; and they both belonged to God, because He had formed them for himself. Society, therefore, belongs to God; so that whosoever hath the honour of membership therein is free to do whatsoever he pleases that is not contrary to the letter and spirit of His law. This is the liberty God permits in society, which is his. Beyond this man must not go if he would continue in the divine favour. Law is the boundary line between liberty and licentiousness. He that crosses it diabolises, and takes the first step in the descent, which terminates in the anarchy of the savage state.

From the constitution of society, then, at the foundation of the world, we see that law was an essential element of the social state; and that social liberty is freedom retrained by law. Absolute liberty, or freedom unrestrained by law which defines “order” and “decency”, has no place in the divine plan. Man aimed at this. He virtually asserted, that he had a right to do what he pleased with the Tree of knowledge as with all other trees; but experience at length proved to him that he had no unconditional rights; but a right only to do according to the law. He did as he pleased, and in consequence lost the favour of God, as will all others who pursue a similar course.

The existence of society depending upon the maintenance of law, it behooves all intelligent and wise people to cooperate to that end. If flesh were not sinful, or if all men were wise and good, the knowledge of the requirements of the divine law would be sufficient. They would know and do. But flesh is sinful, very sinful; and all men in society have not intelligence, nor faith sufficient to walk by, nor wisdom, nor a love of order, nor a sense of decency; therefore, a simple knowledge of what God requires in society, or a simple reference to what the law says, is not enough to answer the necessities of the case. Law cannot apply itself, it must, therefore, be placed in the hands of an administration, that lawlessness may be restrained, and decency and order maintained in society.


The savage state is the opposite to the social in every particular. The “philosophy” of the Gentiles, “falsely so called,” teaches that the savage is the original condition of man; and that society has grown up out of it as a result of necessity. One who believes in the Bible, however, discards this as mere foolishness. Divinely constituted society is the primeval state; and savage life is the extreme consequence of a departure from its laws. It originated in transgression of God’s law, or sin, which, before the flood, acquired with such force as entirely to corrupt the way of the Lord, and to fill the earth with violence. Its career was similar to that catastrophe; and where it was not antagonised by divine interference, but allowed in its fleshly inworking and manifestation to acquire absolute sway to portions of the human race, it reduced them to the condition of the natives of New Holland and the Feejees. The “liberty” of these aborigines is absolute. They do what is right in their eyes upon the principles of “liberty and equality” in the abstract. They are without law to God, and know no rule but the necessity of their own lusts. They are nature’s freemen, democrats of the largest liberty, who, under the impulse of desire, edify themselves without regard to the sensibilities and wishes of the unfortunates who fall into their hands.

This is the extremity arrived at by the uncontrolled working of that principle called, “sin in the flesh”. Cannibalism, however, is but the extreme manifestation of that “liberty” contended for by some, which impels them to a gratification of their own selfishness and vanity at the expense of the order and decency of the social state. The latter is sin modified in it’s display by circumstances, which restrain it by present consequences from murder and theft; but leave it rampant in the manifestation of “hatred, variance, jealousies, wraths, strifes, divisions, sects, envyings” which though thought little of by the carnal-minded, as effectually exclude from the Kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21).

Now, by comparing the savage and social conditions of man, it will be perceived that, in his transition from the savage to the social state, he sacrifices, as he ascends the scale of being, more and more of what the natural man calls “his liberty”. The nearer his approximation to primeval excellence, the more is the liberty of the flesh restrained, and reduced to a minimum. Between society divinely constituted, and the purely savage state, there are many intermediate social conditions. Greek, Mohammedan, Papal, and Protestant Socialisms, are sin, or the flesh, variously displayed – incorporations, in other words, of “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.” In which the works of the flesh are manifested with little rebuke. It is for this cause that they are glorified by the multitude which is religiously tolerant only of that which condemns “what they have no mind to”. Still we see in these barbarians the liberty, or rather the licentiousness of the savage state considerably retrenced. Law and legal administration are recognised and obeyed; for experience has proved that without these, human society cannot exist.


The practices tolerated in the ecclesiastical organisations of the world, cannot be permitted in a society constituted of God. Variance, jealousies, strifes, envyings, and so forth, must be abstained from. No member of such a society is at liberty to indulge in these, or in any thing tending to them. The law of love that proceeds forth of Zion positively and absolutely forbids them. The savage, the barbarian, the Papist, the Protestant, are free to serve sin; but not so the Christian; he is free only to serve righteousness, as a humble and faithful servant to God, who esteems that man most highly who is the least subservient to the lusts, passions, and instincts of the flesh. Therefore it is written: “Mortify (or put to death) your members which are upon the earth;” “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service”. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you with all malice; and be ye kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another.” “Walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil”. “Be ready to every good work; speak evil of no man; be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness with all men;” and “Let all things be done unto edifying”.

Absolute liberty, which is licentiousness, does not belong in God’s society. The members of it surrender some of their individuality for the benefit of the whole, of which each person is a very small part. This is a first principle, and there can be no society without it. Now, that portion of individuality which each forgoes, he transfers from himself to the functionaries of society in assenting to their appointment, or in applying for admission, and in being received, into a community where they exist; so that he consents that he has no right to do individually what pertains to them officially. Functionaries, then, are the acting members of the body, administering to its social requirements – its eyes, ears, mouth, hands, and feet; while the body in which they are placed itself is constituted of the generality of its constituents. These things being understood, there will be no difficulty in comprehending those which more especially pertain to what is commonly termed “a church”.


A church is a society constituted upon principles divinely revealed. It is a company of believers organised for the worship of God, the support of the truth, and their mutual benefit. Union is strength; but there must be union in fact, or association is incorporate weakness. It is not good for Christians to be alone; therefore it is a privilege and a blessing for those who are partakers of the divine nature to be together in society. They afford the truth a local standing; they give it utterance, minister to it’s necessities, encourage one another, and assist the poor.

Baptism organises believers of the gospel of the kingdom into the One Body of the Lord. In the beginning, this consisted of 120 persons, with the twelve apostles as their eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet; their eldership, in short, which comprehended all their office-bearers, who attended to the ministry of the Word, and to the serving of tables. When the 3.000 were added to this church, they continued under the apostles’ sole administration of things spiritual and temporal, until the seven assistants were added to the twelve, to relieve them of the secular concerns. Deacons, therefore, were not essential to primitive church organisation, seeing that they were only added to meet the exigencies of the case which arose some time after Pentecost. The apostolic eldership was infallible, having been imbued with the Spirit from on high, which guided them into all truth, and made them what they were. Their administration was, therefore, the “ministration of the Spirit”, by which each of them were endowed with the “word of wisdom,” “the word of knowledge,” “faith,” “the gifts of healing,” “the working of miracles,” “prophecy,” “discerning of spirits,” “kinds of tongues,” and “the interpretation of tongues.” This was the Model Church, which was of one heart and one soul, and great grace was upon them all.

The churches among the Gentiles were formed after this model; that is, with an eldership or presbytery embodying the spiritual gifts. These gifts were not common to all the baptized, but to those only which constituted the eldership; and, perhaps, the deacons, who may be indicated as the “helps.” Those who had the spiritual gifts were the spiritual men, or “members” of the body “in particular”. The elderships of the churches, however, differed from the Jerusalem church, in that each particular elder did not possess all the nine gifts, as did each apostle; but only some of them. The gifts were distributed among several for the profit of the whole body. These supernaturally endowed persons, by the particular gifts they had received, were constituted “apostles” of churches, “prophets,” “evangelists,” “pastors,” and “teachers”. They were all elders, but of different orders. Apostles ranked first; the prophets next; then the teachers; and after them the helps and governors; so that the ruling elders obtained the lowest rank in the eldership, and acting, therefore, under the direction of the ministers of the word; yet, though these diversities obtained, they were exhorted to have the same care one for another.

It was the function of these elderships to edify the body of Christ. In other words, the body edified itself through these “members in particular,” who constituted in each society the branched candlestick of the church. The unction of the Spirit burned in them, shining as lights, holding forth “the word of truth.” All these gifts worked that one and the self-same Spirit, “dividing to every man severally as He willed.” The gift most to be desired was that of “prophecy”, or the faculty of speaking by inspiration to the edification, exhortation, and comfort of the hearers. The eldership had a plurality of prophets, who might all prophesy in the meeting, provided they did so without confusion. The Corinthians were desirous of “spirits,” that is, of spiritual gifts, by which they might be distinguished. They appeared to have desired the gift of tongues above all others; but the Apostle exhorts them to desire that of prophecy; and whatever they acquired, to seek the acquisition of it, that they might excel to the edifying of the church.


From this brief outline, it is evident that democracy had no place in the apostolic churches of the saints. The Holy Spirit constituted certain of the saints overseers, that they might feed the flock of God, and minister to all its necessities, as the pillar and support of the truth. As the prophets and teachers were ministering in the church at Antioch, the Holy Spirit said unto them: “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” In this way the rulers and instructors of the body were appointed by the Spirit, and not by the brethren at large. The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the eldership, and the brethren in general, were the elements of God’s society in apostolic times. The Father and the Son, by the Holy Spirit, through the eldership, was the authority established in the church. Democratic republicanism would have been subversive of this; and, if tolerated, would have produced confusion and every evil work. The authority of the people and the authority of God cannot coexist. All things of God, and as little as possible of man, is a principle characteristic of the social state originating from heaven, in Eden, in Israel, and in the church. Decency and order can only be maintained by the authority divinely appointed and sustained by the wise and good. This co-operation suppressed turbulence, and put to silence the foolish talking of the wise in their own conceits, who thought more highly of themselves than they were entitled to.


The respect and consideration that was due to the elders is clearly set forth in the Epistles. “We beseech you, brethren,” says Paul, “that ye know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and that ye esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.” “Let the elders that rule well be counted worth of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” Again: “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God. Obey them, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you. Salute them all.”

On the other hand, the elders are exhorted to “feed the flock of God, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; nor for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over the heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder; yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility; for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”

After the manner of these exhortations were decency and order maintained in the churches of the saints; yet even with this divinely constituted authority, the heady and highminded could scarcely be restrained. It was the ministration of the Spirit, not in word only, but in power; yet evil found admission, and became the “Mystery of Iniquity, secretly working.” The power could punish, and did punish, even unto the infliction of disease and death, and could also pardon and heal the penitent. It was evidently, however, not exercised to the full, but with considerable longsuffering and forbearance; though in many instances, it was pushed to extremities, as a terror to the evil disposed.

Now, to this point I have endeavoured to show:

  1. that the social was the original condition of man, on the principle that it is not good for him to be alone.
  2. that in this state he was free, yet subject to law, which is and essential element of society.
  3. that social liberty is defined by law, by which it is prevented from degenerating into licentiousness, which is liberty unrestrained by law.
  4. That as law cannot apply itself, an administrations must necessarily exist.
  5. that man in society must needs surrender some of his natural or individual liberty for social protection from those who may be stronger than he, and for the general good.
  6. that office-bearers constituting the administration are representative of that portion of each member’s individuality surrendered for social need,
  7. that these principles were incorporated in the churches of the saints established by the apostles,
  8. that the churches of the primitive age were constituted by the apostles and evangelists, who, having gathered the baptised believers of the kingdom’s gospel into distinct societies, ordained elders in them, who being qualified for the discharge of their several duties of teaching, feeding, ruling, and serving, by spiritual gifts, were therefore constituted by the Holy Spirit.
  9. that the elderships were the many branched lamps in which the holy oil, or spirit, burned for the illumination and well-being of the generality.
  10. that the existence of these spiritual elderships necessarily excluded from the church what, in modern times, is styled democratic republicanism.
  11. that the principle upon which all church affairs were conducted is expressed in the sayings, “Let all things be done to edifying,” and, “let all things be done decently and in order;” and “let your things be done with love.” And,
  12. that the churches edified themselves through their elderships, which were composed of “members in particular;” that is, of members selected from the “multitude,” according to specified conditions.

One thing, then, is evident, from a review of the premises before us, and that is, that there is no ecclesiastical organisation extant like that which we see existed in the apostolic age, and that of the elders who outlived the apostles. And furthermore, that however intelligent and excellent of purpose and character certain Christian professors may be, they could not by any unanimity establish one. The reason of this is, that the gift of the Holy Spirit is a wanting: then, the Spirit called believers, and qualified them for the eldership, and though it instructed and ruled the body; but now, the Holy Spirit is neither in elderships nor people; at all events, neither of them afford any evidence of the fact, being more conspicuous for want of wisdom and knowledge, and understanding, than for the possession of them.

But, because we cannot have the ancient order which existed in the infancy and childhood of Christianity, (for which, indeed, it was specially designed,) is that any reason why, when “a measure of an age of the fulness of Christ” has been attained, and the ancient order discontinued, believers in society should have no order at all; but that A. B. And C., however incompetent in the estimation of all but themselves, should be at unrestrained liberty to violate all the principles embodied in that ancient order, and to set all the rules of courtesy and good breeding at defiance? Certainly not. This is a anarchy, and utterly disruptive and subversive of the social state. Men cannot live in society, literally, political, domestic, or Christian, where such licentiousness prevails. There must be system, and such an one too, as shall be a restraint upon the presumptuous, and a praise to them that do well.


Seeing, then, that the divinely constituted order of things is not attainable, and some organisation must be established if believers are to cooperate in society, it evidently follows that the God of wisdom, knowledge and love, has left it to the most intelligent wisest, and best dispositioned of His sons, to devise a system embodying the principles of His ancient order, through which may be carried out most effectually His benevolence to His children and the world. The case of Moses and his father-in-law establishes this. God had said nothing to Moses respecting the daily judging of the people, which all rested upon his shoulders, to the certain injury of his health. Jethro perceived this, and though not an Israelite, suggested a division of labour, in the appointment of “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness” who should be rulers with him, to judge the people at all seasons. “If thou do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure.” Moses took the advice; and though it is not written that God approved it, yet, as Moses was faithful in all his house as a servant, we are justified in concluding that he did; for Moses would have established nothing contrary to His will, nor, if established, would it have been permitted to continue.

We are in the wilderness state, and in a somewhat similar position. God has removed the divinely constituted elderships, or branched candlesticks, and permitted his heritages to be despoiled and scattered. We are endeavouring to gather the dispersed together in divers places; but, in doing so, we find the times vastly changed. We are here and there companies, who profess to believe the same gospel as Paul preached, and, like him and his associates, to have obeyed it. We desire to be organised, but the Holy Spirit neither calls any of us to office, nor bestows on us any special gifts. If he prescribe to us no organization for modern times, and he have cut us off from access to the ancient one, it is manifest that, if we are to organize at all, we must do as Moses did, at Jethro’s suggestion, and organise ourselves, if God command us so; and we infer he does, as he has not told us how to organize, yet exhorts through the apostle “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.”

It might be objected here that this reasoning would sanctify all the ecclesiastical organisations of Christendom. But I say, no; because, in the first place, they are not organizations of Christians, their members never having obeyed the gospel, so that they are not Christian organisations; and in the next place, the organisations do not embody the principles of the apostolic one. No organisation can be acceptable to God which is not comprehensive of his children; while, on the other hand, I believe he would not be displeased at any system of rule and order they might devise promitive of their own improvement of heart and understanding, and growth in faith, humbleness of mind, brotherly kindness and love; and which would enable them to support the truth, and sound it out effectively in the world; all which premises that their system embody the principles inculcated in The Word.

Who then should initiate the organisation of unassociated believers? I should answer, in view of Paul’s instructions to Titus, He or they who have been instrumental in opening their eyes, and in turning them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. It is reasonable that he who has been able to do this, is more competent to “set in order the things that are not done, and to ordain elders,” that any one or all the proselytes put together. He has in the nature of things more scriptural intelligence than they, seeing that they had been blind until he happily enabled them to see. The democratic mode of setting things in order, and ordaining elders, has been abundantly tried, and found wanting. It results in every evil work, and in all presumption and confusion. The vote of the majority puts men into office who are unqualified in every particular; and history shows that wherever this principle has rule in church or world, it invariably introduces turbulence, contempt of authority, and corruption; so that at length reaction necessarily supervenes for the prevention of the disruption of society which would otherwise certainly ensue.


The things Titus had to “set in order” were the prophets, teachers, helps, governments, etc, which “God had set in the churches” according to a certain order. See 1Cor 12:28. In doing this, he constituted an eldership for the edifying of the body in love. If it were necessary that these men should have certain natural, social, domestic, logical, and doctrinal prerequisite qualifications, in addition to the gifts of the Spirit, to enable them to rule well, and to edify the body; how much more important in the absence of these gifts, as in these times, that the office-bearers now should be men of wisdom, knowledge, holiness of life and disposition, courteous, and well bred! Timothy was ordered “Not to lay hands suddenly upon any man;” and to let the deacons be tried before they were made permanent. This must be attended to now. The best men and the wisest must form the Wittenagemot of the church; which indeed ought itself to be as a whole an assembly of wise men; but experience unhappily proves that such a condition is the rare exception to the rule. If all the members of a church were intelligent, wise, disinterested, and wholly devoted to the Truth, the elder, overseer, or bishop’s office would be a ruling and teaching sinecure; but this was not the case in the apostle’s day, and it is much farther from being the case now. Men are more knowing than wise and prudent in all ages; and in proportion to their untempered knowledge and self-esteem, disposed to glorify and exalt themselves. The folly and turbulence and conceit of this class, which abounds in all communities, makes it particularly necessary that the very best men a church can afford should be appointed to its oversight.

As all things then, must have a beginning, it appears that the names of brethren of the class indicated by Paul might be unanimously inscribed on a list by the members of the church, and be handed to him who called them out of darkness, that he might acquaint himself with them, and see which of them it would be advisable to leave upon the list for election. If two elders were needed, four or more good, apostolically characterised men might be inscribed on the list presented, which might be reduced, or not, according to the judgement formed of their eligibility by the scrutator who enlightened them. He might perhaps reduce the list to three. Two pieces of paper might then be each labelled “For Elder,” and put into a receiver with a third piece which should be blank. The three brethren should then successively put in his hand, and take one, upon which they of course who drew the tables would be elected, not by the people, nor by the scrutator, but by the lot. This appears to me to be as near as we can come to a scriptural election; and I cannot but think, that “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness,” so elected would be approved by the Lord himself if present: and would certainly be deserving of all that respect and consideration the Scriptures claim for those who supervise the church. Brethren who would not submit to such men in the Lord should seek society elsewhere. A congregation’s spiritual affairs might be safely confided to them, for all their endeavours would be to promote the welfare of their brethren, to diffuse the knowledge of the truth, to maintain order and decency, and to glorify the Father who is in heaven. But, if any better mode could be devised, all reasonable and truthful men would be ready to adopt it.


In some churches there are few that can speak; in others, there are many. As a general rule, brethren should be “swift to hear, and slow to speak;” for there are very few who can speak to the edification of any besides themselves. Some mistake talking for prophesying or speaking to edification, exhortation, and comfort. They talk at their brethren, to the greatest annoyance of those who listen to them, who, after they have done, are thankful, and feel no disposition to say, “Amen..” These are “unruly talkers, whose mouths must be stopped,” and to see that the time and patience of their brethren and the public are not unprofitably consumed by such. There is no worship in talking; and it should be remembered that a church convenes for worship and instruction, not to listen to unprofitable and random talk. James says, “be not many teachers, knowing that we shall receive a severer scrutiny. For we the whole miss many things. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” Let then those who desire to hear their own voices, read the exhortations of the apostles, and add few words, if any, of their own, unless they have prepared themselves as workmen righly to divide the word of truth, when they who rejoice in the truth will hear them gladly. He is a wise man who, with a small intellectual and scriptural capital, speaks few words; but shallow waters made a great noise; and so it too often comes to pass, that they who have the least depth are the most prolific of wordiness and volubility. Speech seasoned with salt is excellent; but if it have no savour, it is fit only to be cast away as unprofitable and vain.

In a word then, decency and order must be maintained; and, as far as I am individually concerned, I will identify myself with no organisation of believers in contending for the faith once delivered unto the saints that does not purge itself from the licentiousness which maintains the right of every man doing what is right in his own eyes, to the gratification of himself, and for the injury of the Truth.

John Thomas (1854)