THE DEACONS BY REV.

WILLIAM ARNOT

"And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration," etc. ACTS vi. 16. As an introduction to the narrative of the discontent that sprang up, it is intimated that "the number of the disciples was multiplied." We gather here that the bulk of the society had something to do with the trou bles that arose. In a large community certain disor ders are apt to occur, from which a smaller body may be comparatively free. It was necessary to institute new offices to meet new demands. But besides the increased numbers, we must also take into account the liberal provision for the poor that had been made through the generosity of a fresh young faith. It is remarkable that both the internal disorders the hypocrisy recorded in chapter v., and the murmurings recorded in chapter vi. sprang directly from the open-handed charity exercised towards the poor. In that rich soil, several rank weeds suddenly sprang up, to test and exercise the wisdom and faithfulness of the infant Church. The falsehood of Ananias, and the discontent of the Hellenists, grew in different compart ments of the same field. One root of bitterness grew in the givers, and another in the receivers. Both are re corded, that Christians in subsequent ages might be warned on either side. From the beginning hitherto, the Church has been exposed to manifold dangers at the point where she comes into necessary contact with the world. How many sorrows and how many sins have sprung up with

gifts with money! Contributions are necessary: with out them, even the faith of disciples would often be crippled in its action for want of instruments. But the contributions, especially in large bodies and in an arti ficial state of society, afford a cover in which the ad versary conceals himself when he seeks to devour.

The Deacons. 133 Both givers and receivers need to be watchful. No Church on earth can be free altogether from danger here. Our prayer should be, not that we should be taken out of the world, but that we should be kept from the evil. Great liberality is a beautiful fruit oi faith ; yet in this sweet fruit a worm may gnaw. Hitherto the apostles had personally superintended the distribution of the gifts. It was not possible that they should take charge of every detail. The work must have been to a large extent delegated. It was natural that Jews of Palestine should in the first in stance be employed. These would be best acquainted with their own countrymen; and so it might happen that the native poor were at first better provided for than the poor Jews who had been born in Greek countries and understood only the Greek tongue. How far the grievance was real, and how far sentimental, we do not know; we know only the fact that the Hellenists com plained of undue partiality in favor of the Palestinians. Murmurings are dangerous to the peace and prosperity of the Christian society. As soon as the apostles heard of the complaint, they took effective measures to sat isfy, and so remove it. They surveyed the case, and promptly formed their resolution. At a glance they perceived that if the same methods should be contin ued, they must personally attend more minutely to the details of the distribution. But this would distract their attention, and occupy their time with secondary

affairs, to the manifest detriment of their chief work, the ministry of the Word. A new order of officials must be appointed to su perintend this business. The apostles, in the first in stance, made up their own mind as to the kind of office that should be instituted, and the qualifications which the officials should possess; then they submitted their proposal with reasons to "the brethren." Thereupon "the whole multitude" accepted the proposal, and at once proceeded to choose fit and proper persons for this specific work. Having elected the seven deacons, they presented them to the apostles. The apostles on their part accepted the choice of the people, and or dained the deacons by prayer and the imposition of hands.

134

The Church in the House.

In making the proposal regarding the institution of the deacons, the apostles state briefly the grounds of their decision. These grounds are permanently true and precious. The foundation so laid will bear more than the particular weight then and there imposed. If the apostles declined to administer charitable gifts to poor disciples, lest it should interfere with their spiritual ministry, many other things, if they had lived in our days, they would have declined for the same reason. It becomes all Christian ministers to walk humbly in the apostles footsteps, rather than to set up an exclusive claim on some transcendental ground, to be accounted their successors.

It is eminently worthy of regard, that although the specific work to which the deacons were in the first in stance called was the distribution of money and other material gifts, a necessary qualification for office is, that they be "full of the Holy Ghost." Grace in large measure is announced to be a necessary requisite in one who shall handle " the outward things of the house of God." It is on this border belt, where the Church and the world meet, that corruption is apt to spring; and it is especially important that those who are called to duty in that sphere should be eminently spiritual men. In distinguishing the specific sphere of the deacon, the apostles incidentally define their own. This defi nition is of great value. The duties of their office are "prayer, and the ministry of the word." Like the rest of the "acts" recorded in this book, and in strong con trast with the flimsy and fantastic ideas of the sub-ap ostolic age, the definition exhibits both the clearest logic and the broadest common sense. The work con sists of two parts; and these two are arranged in their natural order. By prayer they get from God, and through the ministry of the Word they^zW to men. Like Paul, they are "vessels;" the vessels must first be filled, and then they bear about and spread the blessed Name that fills them. We find no priesthood and no ritualism here. These two constitute the apos tolic ministry as understood and explained by the apostles. They knew their own mind better than monks of the Middle Ages. It is in the Scriptures

TJie Deacons. 135 that you breathe the free fresh air of heaven; when you descend into the arena of the fathers, real mountains and mist-clouds are so intermingled that you cannot

distinguish with certainty between them. Prayer and preaching, alternate or simultaneous, are the right and left side of a living ministry. The preach ing work may be laboriously and conscientiously per formed without comfort and without success if the other side be from a*iy cause paralyzed. I watched once with interest the operations of a brick-maker in a field of clay. There was great agility in his movements. He wrought by piece, and the more he turned out the higher was his pay. His body moved like a machine. His task for the time was simply to raise a quantity of clay from a lower to a higher level, by means of a spade. He threw up one spadeful, and then he dipped his tool in a pail of water that stood by. After every spadeful of clay there was a dip in the water. The operation of dipping the spade occupied almost, if not altogether, as much time as the raising of the clay. My first thought was, if he should dispense with these apparently use less baptisms, he might perform almost double the amount of work. My second thought was wiser; on re flection I saw that if he had attempted to continue the work without the alternate washings, the clay would have stuck to the tool, and his progress would have been altogether arrested. Right well did the skilful work man know that to plunge his instrument in water every time it was used furthered and did not hinder his work. Indeed, it was this that made his work possible. I said to myself, Go thou and do likewise. The min istry of the Word, as the world goes, is like the effort of the workman to lift the clay; prayer is the baptism which makes progress quick makes progress possible. 1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books 2. ALL WRITINGS

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