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THE EXTRAORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE.-OFFICERS OF THE
Acts vi. 1–6.-And in those days, when the number of the disciples were mulliplied,
there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their vidors were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the Twelve called the mul. tilude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason, that we should leare lhe word of God and serve tables. Wherefore, brelhren, look you oul among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom, whom we may appoint orer this business. But we will give ourselves continually lo prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole mullilude ; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyle of Antioch; whom they sel before the Apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
passage of Scripture is the history of the transaction, in which Deacons were instituted in the Christian Church; and is in my view the only instance in which their origin is mentioned. Dr. Mosheim indeed, and several other respectable writers, suppose that Deacons existed before this time, and are spoken of by Christ, Luke xxii. 26, in the following passage : But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
Here the word for
younger VEWTEGO5, and for he that doth serve, siaxovwv. The latter word he supposes to be unanswerably explanatory of the former, and to denote here appropriately the office of a Deacon in the Christian Church. Msigw, also, the Greek word for greatest, he considers as denoting a Ruler 'or Presbyter; because it is explained by my suevos chief, and contrasted to diaxovwv.
In conformity to this interpretation he supposes, that the young men, who carried Ananias and Sapphira to their burial, were deacons in the proper sense. In support, and as he thinks in absolute confirmation of this opinion, he observes, that St. Peter says, And likewise ye younger submit yourselves to the elder. Here the
words used are veregor and aspeo@urepor: the latter meaning, as he appre· hends, the Elders of the Church, and the former the Deacons. To : all this he adds, that this sense of the word vewTEROI might be confirmed by numberless citations from Greek and Roman writers, and a variety of authors sacred and profane.
From these considerations, Dr. Mosheim concludes, that there were Deacons in the Church antecedently to the transaction, recorded in the text. These, he observes, were elected from among the Jews who were born in Palestine, and were suspected by the foreign Jews
of partiality in distributing the offerings, which were made for the support of the poor. Hence was derived, in his view, the mur. muring of the Grecian, or Hellenistic Jews against the Hebrews, mentioned in the text. To remedy this disorder, seven other Deacons were chosen by order of the Apostles; of whom, he supposes, six are by their names determined to have been foreigners ; and the other was a proselyte from Antioch.
This account must be allowed to be both ingenious and plausible. I cannot, however, think it just; for the following reasons.
1. It seems to me incredible; that Christ should have formed an order of officers in his Church by his own immediate appointment, and yet that no writer of the New Testament should have furnished us any account, nor even any hint, concerning this fact.
The passage quoted from St. Luke is, to say the most, not an account, but a mere recognition, of the fact. At the same time, the words in their customary acceptation are capable of a better, as well as a more obvious, meaning than that, annexed to them by Dr. Mosheim. His interpretation of the text is, He that performs the office of a Presbyter; or an Elder, among you, let him not think himself superior to the Ministers or Deacons.
The amount of this interpretation is no other, than that Christ requires the Presbyter not to think himself, as an officer of the Church, superior to a Deacon. But this certainly cannot be jusi. The superiority of the former to the latter, both in station and authority, is every where disclosed in the Scriptures. The Presbyter, therefore, cannot but know this, and plainly ought to think it, because it is true. If Dr. Mosheim intends, that the Elders should feel that humble disposition only, which the words evidently indicate; I answer, that humility is unquestionably the great thing, here inculcated by the Saviour. But this is much more naturally, and forcibly, inculcated, if we take the words in their common acceptation, than by supposing them to denote these officers. The general phraseology, greatest and chirf, the younger and he that serveth, indicates to every man the spirit and deportment, enjoined by Christ, as perfectly as they can be indicated. When we are told, that the greatest is bound to feel and act, as a youth, or child;; ought to feel, and act; and that he, who is chief, ought to behave with the modesty and humility of him, whose business it is to serve ;: humility is certainly inculcated with as much explicitness and force, as language admits. Christ, accordingly, adopted this very manner of instruction concerning the same subject on other occasions. In Mark ix. 34, we are informed of a dispute, which the Disciples had among themselves, who should be greatest.. Christ, to reprove this foolish ambition, called the twelve, and said unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of thcm s. and when he had taken him into his arms, he said unto them, Whosom. eder shall receive one of such children in my name receideth me.
At the same time, humility is enjoined by an allusion, not only obvious and familiar, but applicable also to all men, and therefore much more extensively instructive to those, who should either hear, or read, the precept.
2. The followers of Christ were not, at this time, sufficiently numerous to be organized in the manner, here supposed.
The number of Christ's followers was, at this time, very small. A great part of these, also, followed him occasionally only; and seem to have been, at other times, at their own proper places of habitation, pursuing their customary business. In these scattered and changing circumstances, we can scarcely conceive, that Christians can have been so organized into a body, as to constitute a Church with its proper officers. The first mention, made of Elders in the Christian Church, even at Jerusalem, I mean as distinguished from the Apostles, is in Acts xi. 30, about eleven or twelve years after the Ascension. Until this time, there is not a hint in the New Testament, that any other men exercised authority in the Christian Church, beside inspired men, as such, and the seven Deacons, although the office of Elder was constituted by Christ in the general commission given to Ministers.
3. In the act of choosing the Deacons, recorded in the text, there is not the least allusion to any pre-existing officers of that tille or character.
On the contrary, the spirit of the passage appears to forbid this construction. The murmuring of the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews is not specified as directed against the Hebrew Deacons, but against the Hebrews, or the body of Hebrew believers. If it was really directed against the Hebrew Deacons, the record, as it now stands, cannot be true.
To remove the cause of this murmuring, the Apostles summoned the Church together; and addressed them, as in the text. It is not reason, that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. If the business of serving tables had been already committed to Deacons, as the proper and known officers to transact this business; could the Apostles suppose the Church would expect them to undertake it? Would not the Grecian Jews have complained of the Hebrew Deacons in form; and required that others, of a more satisfactory character, should be appointed ? The Apostles would then, I think, have called the faulty Deacons to an account, and censured them for their misconduct. After this, they would either have ejected them from office, or added to them others, or required of them a more faultless future behaviour. But they would not have supposed, that the Church could expect them to perform this duty; contrary to a known instilution of Christ.
Again; they direct the Church to choose seven men of specified qualifications, whom they might appoint over this business. If the appointment was now made the first time; this language was datural; but, if Christ had already instituted the office, would
scarcely have been used. The Apostles, I believe, no where speak of any institution of Christ under the style of an appointment of their own. On the contrary, they always appeal to his authority, where he had expressly exercised it: and it is, I think, to be believed, that the Evangelists have recorded every such ap-. pointment.
The Apostles further say, But we will give ourselves to prayer, and the Ministry of the word. This language seems plainly to be that of persons, who were expected in some measure to desist from prayer and the ministry of ihe word, in order to perform other necessary business; but cannot have been an answer to persons, soliciting them to appoint an additional number of Deacons in the Church. On the contrary, it is the proper language of men, who considered themselves, and were considered by those around them, as the sole officers of the Church at that time. In consequence of this fact, their brethren naturally thought, that every office was to be executed by them, or by others under their direction. The subject was, 1 ihink, left to them indefinitely; that they might resolve on such measures, as they should choose to have pursued. In this view of ihe subject, the observations, made by the Apostles, seem natural and proper ; but, according to the scheme of Dr. Mosheim, are scarcely capable of a satisfactory explanation.
4. If this passage does not contain the original appointment of Deacons; there is no allusion to it in the New Testament.
Is this credible? The appointment, and the office, are of Divine authority; and therefore are required to be upheld by the Church. Yet the Church is no where informed when, or where, or how, this office was instituted. We are not, I acknowledge, warranted to determine in what manner Christ would direct the records of his mission, and pleasure, to be written. But we are, I believe, authorized to say, that the case, here proposed, would be singular, and without any parallel in the Scriptures.
The argument of Dr. Mosheim is made up of these two parts. First, That the word vewregos, is used in the Scriptures as equivalent to diaxovos: and Secondly, that all bodies, of men must have their officers. To the former of these I reply, that, although this use of the term NEWTECOS should be conceded, as in the passage alleged from St. Peter, perhaps it ought; yet it is, I think, evident, that this use of the word in the New Testament is very rare. I know of no other instance in which this interpretation of it can be even plausibly supported. It is, therefore, urged with little success for the purpose in view. To the latter, my answer is, that, although all bodies of men must have their officers, such bodies must be formed, and established, in some numbers, and must have a known and stable existence, before those officers can be needed; and that the Church had barely arrived at this state, when the Deacons, mentioned in the text, were appointed. Vol. IV.
I have felt myself obliged to consider this opinion of Dr. Mosheim, and others, on account of its connexion with the history of the subject. If the text contains the original institution of this office; the history of it is one thing: if not, it becomes quite another and, from this supposed diversity, men, considerable for their num bers and respectability, have been inclined to derive inferences, very differently affecting the office, and its duties.
Assuming the account, which has been given of this subject, as just, I proceed to observe, that the whole history of the transaction is the following.
When the Disciples, in the infancy of the Church, saw some of their number poor and suffering, others necessarily devoted to the public service, and both standing in absolute need of support from the community ; they determined, with one voice, to sell each man his possessions, and to throw the whole into a common stock. From this stock all the members were to derive their sustenance. A considerable number of the disciples were Grecian, or as they are more usually styled, Hellenistic Jews. The Widows belonging to this part of the fraternity were, or were thought to be, neglected in the supplies which were daily administered. These brethren brought their complaint to the Apostles. The Apostles seem, plainly, to have considered it as well-founded: for they directed the remedy, mentioned in the text: viz. that the Church should choose seven men, of unquestionable qualifications, to superintend this business. They, accordingly, chose the persons, whose names are here recited; and, to satisfy the complaining brethren, selected most of them from among the Foreign Jews. The men chosen, were approved by the Apostles, and regularly ordained to their office. Immediately after this event, St. Luke, observes, the word of God increased; and the number of disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly. God, therefore, approved the measure, and annexed to it his blessing.
From this history, cleared, as I hope, of embarrassments, and connected with other passages of Scripture relating to the subject , I propose to examine, 1. The Manner in which Deacons were introduced into office. II. The Character which they are to sustain ; and, III. The purposes for which they are appointed.
I. I shall inquire into the Manner in which Deacons were introduced into office.
Concerning this I observe,
Wherefore brethren, said the Apostles, look ye out among you seden men of good report, full of the Holy Ghost, and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. And the saying pleased the whole multitude, says the historian, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and