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THE DE ACON:
AN INQUIRY INTO
THE NATURE, DUTIES, AND EXERCISE
OFFICE OF THE DEACON,
JAMES M. WILLSON, A.M.,
PASTOR OF THE REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN CONGREGATION, PHILA.
“ Let the Deacons be grave, &c.”—1 Tim. iii. 8.
This Essay has for its object the illustration of a part of the Order of the Church of God, which has, in modern times, been remarkably overlooked. The office of the deacon is not, it is true, so important as either that of the pastor or the ruling-elder, yet it is not without its importance as a distinct part of the Building of God. The care of the church's poor, and the wise and faithful administration of the contributions of the saints for the promotion of Christ's cause, are matters that cannot, without injury to the church, be forgotten or neglected: and it is worth our serious inquiry, whether the manifest deficiency in the first of these, and the almost insuperable difficulties that often beset the church in regard to the last, may not be in part owing to the want of the deaconship as an actively executed function in the churches. For two other reasons, however, this subject should engage the most careful and solemn attention of the members of the Christian church. 1st. If the deacon's office be, as it is generally admitted to be, a divinely instituted office, can the churches be guiltless in the neglect of it? And, 2dly, most of the churches explicitly recognise this office in their standards as of divine right, but how few have such an officer as the deacon! It should, at least, awaken the attention of Christians to the subject, when they look into the Scriptures, and find the deacon often mentioned there—when they look into the standards of their churches, and find the deacon recognised there, but when they look round upon their congregations they can find no deacons, or very few, there. That we may know Christ's will as King in Zion, and pay our own vows, we ought to ex
amine this subject honestly and prayerfully; and not only examine but act, by restoring this office to its original and proper position in the Christian Church.
Such an examination has been attempted in the following Essay. The general, and yet not concerted action, in reference to the deacon's office, which has taken place and is now going on, in many churches in Scotland and Ireland, and in the United States, seems to indicate a providential movement, and to invite such an examination. Let not the reader reject at once propositions that may be new to him. Weigh the evidence.
Much obscurity may be expected to prevail upon a subject that has occupied so little attention for some generations, until a very late period. The writer is, in some respects, a pioneer on this subject. Dr. MILLER, of Princeton, has, indeed, discussed the office of the deacon in his Essay upon the Ruling-Elder, with his usual accufacy and research. It will be found, however, that this Essay embraces a larger field, and one which has for some time past been little cultivated. Owing to this circumstance, there may be some inaccuracies which might otherwise have been avoided; and that, notwithstanding much care has been taken to avoid the mis-stating either of facts or principles. Let the attention of the churches be directed to the subject in a proper spirit, and with an humble dependence upon the Spirit of Christ, for teaching and direction, and then mistakes will in due time be rectified-errors removed, and the truth not only discovered, but reduced to practice. To furnish some assistance in bringing about these results, is the object of the following Essay.
deacons: for this appi, distinct fromass of officers
The Deacon's Office is ordinary and perpetual in the Christian
Church. DEACONS were ordained in the apostolic churches soon after the day of Pentecost. Of the election and ordination of seven deacons in the church at Jerusalem, we have the history in Acts vi. 1-6. When the epistle to the Philippians was written, there was a class of officers in the churches in Philippi, distinct from Bishops, and called deacons: for this epistle is addressed “to the saints, with the bishops and deacons.” They are mentioned in 1 Tim. iii. 8, 12, 13, as standing officers of the church. This epistle contains directions for the right ordering of the house of God. Among the things to be set in order are the “bishops” and the “deacons:" ver. 8, “Likervise must the deacons be grave.” The manner in which the deacons are referred to here, in a letter of instructions to an evangelist, whose duty it was. to set in order in the churches the things that were wanting, is almost, if not altogether, equivalent to a command to all congregations to choose them and have them ordained. They must have been a known and established class of ecclesiastical officers at that time; as much so as “bishops;" for they are mentioned exactly in the same way. There are plain allusions to this office, as an established function in the church, in other epistles. In Rom. xii. 6, 7, Paul exhorts the deacon, with the other ecclesiastical officers: “having, then, gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith: or ministry, (saxoviar, the deaconship) let us wait on our ministering, (ev in draxovia, on the deaconship.) Besides, the duties of the deacon are unequivocally referred to, in the eighth verse, in the expressions, “giving," and, .“showing mercy.”* There can be no reasonable
* Henry, “ministry”-the office of a deacon. Scott, “ if a man were called to the office of a deacon." Guyse, " or if any of us be called