Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

them with an official character, will cause them to stand up in your societies, more exposed to public observation than yourselves. Be concerned, therefore, to place in such a position only those who will present our holy religion to the gaze of the alien and the stranger without the camp, in all her heavenly purity and beauty, that attention may be arrested by manifested excellence, and a favourable verdict be conciliated. The age in which we are living renders it peculiarly desirable, that strict attention should be paid to the influence which our personal character and habits is calculated to exert. Man, naturally social aud gregarious, is every day becoming more so. The vast undertakings which are now attempted, which can only be conducted by the combined energy of many wills, tend to destroy individuality of action, and to produce a closer intercommunion between different classes of society-a powerful reason why all who profess the Gospel of Christ should walk worthy of it, presenting nothing unlovely to disgust and shock the observer. Especially is the church called upon to regard its influence in society, in all its official appointments, giving prominence to none but men who “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things,” in words true-in actions just-in temper chastened—in commerce honourable—in politics honest—in friendship stedfast--as masters considerateas parents kind—as citizens peaceable at home beloved—abroad respected.

It is important, brethren, likewise, that those whom you select as deacons should be men of fervent religious spirit, "full of the Holy Ghost," in order that they may be prepared to enter into those aggressive movements, in relation to the world, which are incumbent upon

all local churches.

The office being subsidiary to the ministerial—instituted to allow "pastors and preachers" to give themselves unshackled to the “ministry of the word,” devolving upon others those secular services which are incident to their “high and holy calling,” it follows that none can worthily sustain it, but men who are zealously affected towards the Gospel, who will be ready to co-operate in all plans of usefulness. Anxious to open new channels for the exercise and display of your Christian principles, to forward the kingdom of Christ, and benefit a larger number of your fellow-men, your ministers will be concerned to have those arrangements made for this purpose, which will involve pecuniary assistance and personal exertion on the part of the church, in order to carry them into effect. In such cases it will devolve upon the deacons, as one of the duties of their office, to take the lead in devising means and superintending measures, to meet the exigencies of the occasion. But if they are men who are not “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord,” the great probability is, that, disliking to be burdened with any onerous service, they will look coldly upon the suggested schemes, they will withhold from them a cordial concurrence,

[blocks in formation]

and instead of forwarding the plans required to render your churches the instruments of greater good to the souls of men, they will damp the zeal of those who propose them by predicting their failure. Under the influence of sloth, or the temporisings of fear, or the cravings of avarice, no measures which require activity, courage, or expenditure, will have their approbation. They will stand away from those enterprises by which alone the multiplied population of the land can be brought under evangelical instruction ; and their example will exert a withering influence upon others, repressing energies in many a willing mind, which only wanted stimulation, to be roused into active play. Thus, instead of being “always abounding in the work of the Lord,' prepared to go up and possess any field that may be open to your cultivation, sowing therein the “good seed of the kingdom," your churches will be straitened in themselves, and will languish in a state of passive inertness. We would urge, therefore, and entreat you, brethren, to introduce none to the deaconship among you, but men who are strongly interested in the cause of God, who are prepared to “endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.” To elect those who are under the mastery of an absorbing worldliness, is to assign important duties to individuals indisposed to discharge them; and to place in an office designed to render the energies of the church more efficient, men whose care it will be to keep them inactive. Do not court a spiritual paralysis. Remember that, evangelised yourselves, your mission is to evangelise others. Choose your deacons with a special reference to this part of your "high vocation.” You will then fix upon those who cry unto God day and night, “Oh that thou wouldst bless us indeed, and enlarge our coast !” What would you think of the general, who placed his troops in the hands of indolent and disaffected officers, in the presence of a bold and vigorous enemy?

But besides what may be considered as a religious fitness for the office, there are various qualities of natural temper, and habits of life, which it is very desirable that they should possess, who associate with you in a public capacity. The station which your deacons occupy, will invest them with a certain amount of influence, while its duties are conscientiously discharged. “They that have used the office well, purchase to themselves a good degree.” Their counsel will be sought by the inexperienced ; their opinion be consulted on questionable matters ; and where a real difference has unhappily occurred, and parties are divided from each other in sentiment and feeling, their intervention will be solicited to effect an amicable adjustment. It is of no slight importance, to answer useful purposes in these respects, that your deacons should be men of kind spirit and inviting manners, attentive to all those conventional observances which are the signs of good-will in society, and so familiar with them by training in home circles, as to show that they are the natural emanations of a benevolent heart, and not the

gloss of an artificial politeness. The cultivation of Christian courtesy is a subject which is treated with too much neglect, yet it is strongly enjoined in the Scriptures, and demands attention in the church, as tending to add to the influence of its members, and to secure for their opinions, virtues, and talents, the reception they may deserve. It is an advantage to possess that conciliating spirit, and those manners, apart equally from ruggedness and affectation, which may persuade or allure men to the adoption and imitation of what is right; and you will act wisely, in choosing your officers, to let your election fall upon those who can be unobtrusive and yet considerate, tender and yet true, whose outward deportment is invested with the charm of that gentleness, of which we have so bright an example in our Lord Jesus Christ. To us also it appears a point of some practical moment, and in itself manifestly right, that as your deacons will often be brought into friendly association with your minister, you should consult his natural tastes and acquired habits," when lovely or of good report," in their appointment, and regard assimilation, in them to him, as an additional recommendation. You will evince also a sound discretion, when you have to associate one or more in office with others who already hold it, to study their tone of mind and manner of life, and, as far as you can do it conscientiously, to place in alliance with them kindred spirits. You may then expect with the greater confidence, that your existing officers, and those newly elected, will proceed harmoniously in the execution of their duties; and that “no root of bitterness,” owing to discordant tempers, will “trouble” them.

There are some subordinate particulars connected with the choice of deacons, upon which the Scriptures are silent—as, for instance, their number, and temporal condition; in these respects, your conduct must obviously be determined by your local circumstances. We are fully prepared, brethren, to give honour to eminent spirituality, and to think lightly of all worldly glory in comparison with it. We are well aware that “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called,” that God hath “chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom," and that a large majority of those in our churches, who "walk worthily of God unto all well-pleasing," are in the humbler grades of society. Still, while elevation above the common daily labour to which poverty is obliged to submit, is no qualification in itself for office in the church, it is a recommendation when in union with a religious meetness. It affords leisure for the discharge of those duties which make demands upon time, in order to be fitly executed. It is appropriate that they who have to dispense the charities of the church should be contributors rather than receivers ; and be in circumstances, when a display of abounding liberality is needed, to stimulate others by their own example. If, therefore, you are so happily situated, as to have men fitted to become your officers

by religious character and spirit, whose temporal condition will enable them to devote time to your service, and devise “liberal things," we conceive that such have a strong claim to your suffrages.

Such are the persons whom we think the Scriptures indicate as most eligible to serve you as deacons. The choice rests with you, who are the “ children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” The elective franchise is a trust committed to your charge by the will of the Master of “assemblies.” It is a right which you are to exercise, one and all. Just as the church in Jerusalem, “ the whole multitude,chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch,” so you, being united in the fellowship of the Gospel

, are to select from your own body your own officers. Their appointment lies not with the ministry—nor with an oligarchy among yourselvesbut is a right, a privilege, and a duty, common to every member of the “ household of faith.”* We have no particular mode of election to recommend. No precise method is suggested in the Scriptures. We leave that to your own judgment and conscience, only reminding you, that it will be for your peace, and is essential to the due exercise of your right, whenever an election occurs, for that mode to be adopted which shall ensure a fair expression of the mind of the church. Bring

* In the discussion which preceded the vote for the adoption and printing of this letter, it was by some brethren suggested, that the passage adopted, in which the appointment of deacons is assigned altogether to the brotherhood of the churches, required limitation. The sentiment was advanced, that while the choice of brethren to sustain the deacon's office rests with the church, the appointment to their office, of the persons so selected, is in the hands of the pastors; such having been the order of procedure in the first institution of the deaconate. “ Look ye out," said the apostles, “ men of honest report,whom we may appoint.This concurrence of the pastors, as necessary to the full and orderly introduction of brethren into the office of deacons, being further advocated as the more equitable and necessary, because the practice of our churches being to assign the provision for the table” of the minister, as well as of the poor, and of the church, to the deacons, he ought, in reason and justice, to have opportunity to obtain satisfaction of the fitness of the persons by whom his interests are to be managed. There was no time for full discussion of these views, and the sense of the assembly upon them was not, in any clear and formal manner, obtained. The matter was confided for adjustment to the Committee and the respected authors of the letter, when jointly engaged in revising it for the press. Now, as it is tolerably certain that there would not be exact concurrence and entire unanimity among us on these views, and as it is no function of the annual assembly of the Union to define and decide on points respecting which we can and do differ among ourselves as a body of Christians, with no breach of peace or serious difficulties of practice, it has been deemed best by the Committee of the Union, and the authors of the letter, to leave the text in this place unaltered, and by means of this note to give publicity to the sentiments of brethren not conourring in these statements; so leaving all our churches and pastors to form their judgment and regulate their practice on matters of this character, as they shall “ be fully persuaded in their own minds."

to the duty a thoughtful regard for the will of God, your own prosperity, and the efficiency of those institutions among you which aim at the conversion of men. Approach it in the spirit of prayer. Seek the "wisdom profitable to direct.” “Let nothing be done in strife and vain-glory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than himself.” If it ever unhappily is the case, that one to whom you have given your confidence shows himself unworthy of it by falling into open sin, it will be for you who appointed him to his office to take it away, and you will deal with him in the same righteous spirit as with any other member of the church so guilty. Should any of your officers be inadvertently betrayed into commercial difficulties, it will be their duty to retire from a public station, that your reputation be not tarnished. And when any are disqualified, by age or natural infirmities, from efficiently discharging their usual duties, it will be highly honourable in them to give place to those whose capabilities for active service are unimpaired. But have respect to the past labours of those who have "used the office of a deacon well,” when the “outward man" is failing. Have respect also to human feeling. Let it be left entirely to their option whether they will retire or not. It will be far more in accordance with the generous spirit of the Gospel, for you to propose an addition to their number, than the resignation of any one who has been a "good and faithful servant.” There

There may be cases, doubtless, in which it would be desirable for you to change your officers, arising from the accession of members more decidedly adapted to be public men than those whom you have chosen ; and when this can be effected without risk of schism in your body, it appears to us that you are left at liberty to adopt such an arrangement. But we cannot advise periodical elections for this purpose, because, without a Divine authority for them, and deeply convinced that in thus attempting to remove or prevent a lesser evil, one more formidable would probably be the result. We find nothing in the Scriptures to justify a septennial, triennial, or annual election of church officers ; but much in the known infirmities of human nature, and the painful experience of human life, to lead us to admire the deep and holy wisdom of our statute-book, the Bible, in not imposing the practice. Permit us to remark, that, considering the unsettled temper of the times, it behoves you to guard against imbibing the love of change for the sake of change, for hereby you will forfeit your moral stability, sink in public esteem, and have your capacities of usefulness neutralized.

Accept now, dear brethren, these imperfect advices upon a deeply important subject, as a sign of our desire to promote your Scriptural order, and anxiety to see the end of your incorporation as the churches of Christ answered, in benefits to the world, by means of those Divine institutions with which you are favoured. Ever remember, that your deacons are not appointed to relieve you from all active service in the

« AnteriorContinuar »