Elder, an overseer, ruler, or leader. The reverence paid to the aged in early times was doubtless the origin of this title, it being used as a name of office both among Jews and Christians. Macknight thinks it was applied in the apostolic ago to all, whether old or . young, who exercised any sacred office in the Christian church. Elders or seniors, in the ancient Jewish polity, were persons noted for their age, experience, and wisdom; of this sort were the 70 whom Moses associated with himself in the government of Israel, and such also were those who afterward held the first rank in the synagogue as presidents. In church history, elders were originally those who held the first place in the assemblies of the primitive Christians. The word presbyter is sometimes used in the New Testament in this signification, and as interchangeable with and hence the first meetings of Christian ministers were called presbyteria, or assemblies of elders. Among the Baptists, ministers of the gospel generally are called elders. In the Presbyterian churches they are the officers who, in conjunction with the ministers and deacons, compose the church session, representing the church itself, conducting its discipline, and aiding in the promotion of the interests of religion. They are chosen from among the people, usually for life ; are generally set apart to their office with some public ceremony ; and their number is different in different churches. - It has long been a matter of dispute whether there are any such officers as lay elders mentioned in Scripture. On the one side, it is said that these officers are mentioned separately from the brethren, and that their office is described as being distinct from that of preaching, he that ruleth being expressly distinguished from him that exhorteth or teacheth.
On the other side, it is contended that the distinction alluded to does not refer to different orders of officers, but only to the degree of diligence with which they discharge their duties.
Elder, the popular name of plants of the genus sambucus. The most common American elder, sambucus Canadensis, Linn., is a showy shrub, well known from its numerous flat cymes of white flowers appearing in June, to | be succeeded by heavy black-purple, crimson-juiced berries in August, and overtopping the wild reeds and bushes on the borders of fields. On account of its long and spreading roots it is sometimes troublesome to the farmer. A wholesome sudorific decoction is prepared from its flowers, which are carefully gathered and dried for the purpose; the fruit is much esteemed by some in the manufacture of a sort of wine, while the pith of the stem furnishes excellent pith balls for electrical experiments. The parsley-leaved elder (S. laciniata), an English variety, is one of the more ornamental species, and is often cultivated. It is one of the kinds most frequently used for medicinal purposes. The downy elder (S. pubens) has handsome flowers, of a greenish or purplish-white, borne in thyrse-like spikes, and a scarlet fruit, fully ripe at the time S. Canadensis is in blossom.
There are two very variable species of elder indigenous to Great Britain; the S. Canadensis and S. pubens are the only species peculiar to North America; southern Europe has three species, and China one.