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CHRISTIAN SPECTATO R.
NONCONFORMIST CHURCH FINANCE.
THE FOURTH PAPER ON THE CUSTOMS OF THE DISSENTERS.
In continuation of our former plan we open the new year by a short discussion of a subject the most delicate, the most difficult, yet the most important, in the series ; for it is the financial obstacle that will be pleaded in arrest of the practical adoption of those organic improvements of Independency, which have been advocated in the preceding papers. How would you provide for the respectable maintenance of a body of presbyters in a church, when we have already discovered the difficulty in the large majority of instances of properly supporting one ?? Before proceeding to attempt a reply to this question, let us premise a few general considerations on the sustentation of ministers of religion.
The Levitical economy has passed away, but the truths which it embodied, and which cannot be shaken, remain. Of these one is that so long as the multitudes of mankind are ignorant, they will require instruction; another, that so long as they are occupied in secular business they will require a ministry of professed instructors and overseers; and another, that the persons who are called to this ministry in the congregation are entitled to an honourable maintenance at the hands of those who receive the benefit of their labours. Such occupations are at least as worthy of reward as that of supplying bread to the body. The Mosaic law accordingly provided for the support of the tribe of Levi by the edict for the annual payment of tithes from the produce of the sacred territory. These tithes were of the nature of voluntary offerings. If refused by the people they could not be recovered by the force of the State ; but the defaulters were regarded as enemies of God and of the theocracy and were exposed to the maledictions of the Almighty. Clearly it was not the project of the divine legislator that the ministers of VOL. IV. -NEW SERIES.
religion should sink into a tribe of pauperized mendicants, but that they and their families should enjoy a social status of honourable competence, and be held to their duties not only by the higher considerations of allegiance to truth and heaven, but by the assurance of a secular living in the performance of them. The best days of the Jewish history were those in which the people at large recognised the claims of God and of their brethren of the house of Levi, and when consequently the system of national instruction flourished in its fullest vigour; and the worst were those when through sacrilegious robbery the tithes were withheld from God's storehouse, and the Levites either sank into the profane habits of a perfunctory ministry, or still lower into the fraudulent practices of a rapacious and poverty-stricken priestcraft.
The advent of Christianity left unaltered the chief conditions of human life in relation to religious knowledge and guidance. All the believers became 'priests and kings; all were exalted to the rank of a holy hierarchy, ‘having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus ;' all because the 'portion of God, the lot of his inheritance,' all were entitled to offer 'sacrifice;' all who were endowed with suitable qualifications were invited to exercise their ' gifts ’ in the congregation; but these 'priests and kings' still re quired further instructions in the truths of revelation ; they still required guidance in the church, the sacred community still required the services of those who should labour in the work and doctrine,' and 'take the oversight of the Church of God.' Accordingly, we find that from the beginning of the gospel He who has all power in heaven and earth' provided for the existence of an official ministry in his church, and explicitly commanded his disciples to support them in their spiritual functions by the 'wages' of an honourable maintenance. Wilful blindness alone can account for the denial of the truth that the Apostles ordained ‘elders in every church,' appointed bishops’or overseers in every community, and distinctly required their support from the free-will offerings of the people. The statements of the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. ix., form the charter of the ministry in this particular. In this passage he points out(even to a church where he himself had foregone the exercise of his rightful claim, in order thai he might demonstrate his disinterestedness to a captious society)—that this appointment of Christ is of a most positive character, in accordance with the provisions made by God for the Jewish priesthood. Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple ? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar ? Even so hath the Lord jordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospe ,' v. 13, 14. Paul next asserts the universal application of this rule ; it being as much the right of himself and of Barnabas as it was of Peter, James, and Jolin, to 'forbear working' at a trade,
and to receive a maintenance from the churches, v. 2–6. He unfolds the coincidence of this method with ordinary arrangements in the departments of nature, labour, and peril. “Who goeth a warfare any time at his own expense; who planteth a vineyard and eateth not of the fruit thereof; or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? or saith he it altogether for our sakes?" And lastly he shows the divine carefulDess to secure this provision, and proves that this should be liberal and ample, not as a charity, but as an obligation of justice, and necessarily inferior to the advantages derived from a spiritual ministry. “If we have sown unto you spiritual things is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things ?'**
The measure and degree of this commanded support of the ministry of the church, as designed by the master builders' of the Temple may be learned from several indications in their writings, which are the plans and specifications of the sacred edifice. A bishop is a man who may have a wife' and a 'family' receiving maintenance from the church. There is no indication that he is to 'live' without meat, without clothing, firing, or pocket-money. He may have a 'house,' for which, therefore, rent must be paid, as well as incident rates and taxes both to the municipality and to the imperial government. More than this, one of the special require. ments in the episcopal character is that he must rule well his own house,' which no man can very well do in a state of celibacy or of semi-starvation; and he must be given to hospitality,' which is impossible to one who has not even sufficient for his own support. The idea which we gather from the apostolic writings of a 'presbyter' who is to help to 'take care of the church of God,' is certainly not that of a nan who is reduced to the function of a chiffonier, or a mendicant-friar, spending his time in picking up fragments and halfpence to eke out the funds on which the holy brethren' are starving him at home, but rather that of a person in moderate circumstances of middling respectability, suitable to the civilisation in which he lives; and established in a social position where not only himself but his well-ordered household may exert a powerful influence for good over those who are placed mnder his * cure.' “ Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” And then adds the Apostle,“ Be not deceived, GOD IS NOT MOCKED; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” As if he intended that in this matter it was quite possible for the churches' to ‘mock 'the Almighty, and that those who did so would do it at their peril For God’is mocked when good ministers are neglected, and are left to wear out
• See Ross's Essay on the Church. Ward and Co.
their lives in respectable penury, gnawed by anxieties for their families, both as to maintenance and education, from which they might easily be delivered by the combined forethought of the people. God is inocked and insulted when a professed Christian's offerings in the temple form but an inappreciable fraction of his annual and weekly expenses, when he ventures to present to the sacred treasury the small change left from his worldly transactions, and to offer on the altar the crumbs which have fallen from his well-furnished table.
It is with considerable reluctance, and a strong sense of the onesidedness of our reflections, that we venture to hint at any shortcomings in this department of duty among the free churches of England. If the object of these papers were to celebrate the excellence of Nonconformity there would be abundant material for praise in the liberality of vast numbers of its adherents. Many of our smaller societies are wonderfully generous givers. The whole body of these free churches themselves forms a noble monument of the free-will offerings of the past and present generations. Enormous sums of money have been subscribed for the erection of churches and school-rooms, and for the various ministries which they both require. In nearly every congregation there are some fine examples of liberal and cheerful givers. Far be it from us to under-rate the manifold liberality of those to whom the praise truly belongs. But Dissenters, like other men, are of two principal sorts—the noble and generous, and the narrow-minded and penurious, with every shade
of character between these two extremes. We much fear, however, that the far larger part of the scale is occupied by the dark shades, and it is with the characters represented by these less brilliant colours that we have now to deal Let not men of another order imagine that our strictures are levelled at themselves."
In vain, then, shall we advocate the consolidation of our small churches into larger communities, with a plurality of elders, until there is a complete revolution brought about in the notions commonly entertained by the larger proportion of Nonconformists, on the measures of contribution requisite for the support of the Church's ministry. They who too frequently sustain their one man' so miserably would not do better in a confederation. The large Independent churches in great towns must not be taken as specimens of exertion in ministerial maintenance. In such cases the sufficient income of the minister arises not from the liberality of the church, but from the number of the seat-holders, each paying a very small sum. The rule in town and country is, not to be generous, large-hearted, and considerate, but to cut down the minister's salary' almost to the lowest point on which he can be induced quietly to subsist. Even in the wealthiest counties the
scale of ministerial sustentation is, with few exceptions, a disgrace to our religious community, their voluntary principle being far more a matter of speculation than of practice. We know instances, both in northern and southern districts, where, in prosperous times, congregations are full of money, where an additional hundred a year would make all the difference between comfort and a wretched struggle to live, to a laborious and deserving minister, where this additional hundred could be contributed by less than half-a-dozen members of the church, and yet not even be missed in their accounts; yet where they, notwithstanding, permit men of thought, refinement, and undoubted sincerity and diligence, to remain in a depressed condition for years together, rather than give, with an open hand, of their abundance.
Notwithstanding the notable liberality of many individuals, the conception of the Lord's portion of a Christian's income requires reconstruction in the public mind. The iniquity of the pew-rent system, like that of the Amorites, is "come to the full. It has lowered the rate of giving to the cause of God, in the richest nation in the world, down to a level beneath that at which even idolators often tax themselves for their wicked but expensive religions. The high and holy feelings connected with the offerings of God’ in His temple have been exchanged for the sale of 'seats,' which regulates a man's contribution not by his income, but by the magnitude of his family, this often being in the inverse ratio of
Men have been led to think that they must pay a small sum for a piece of board to sit upon while they listen to the word of God, and have forgotten that what God commanded was a loving, liberal, ample recompence in temporal support, for human services, whose results shall be eternal. The Christian religion was not designed to relieve the worshippers of God from the expenses at which the Jewish Temple, with its carnal ordinances, was maintained, but rather to cause at least an equal expenditure to be devoted to spiritual ends. A man who can successfully interpret and 'open the Scriptures is at least as well worth his salt as one who can eviscerate a bullock, or burn his “inwards' upon the altar. A man who can unfold the mysteries of the New Covenant, bring down the lofty truths of redemption to the comprehension, and apply them to the hearts, of the people, is at least as well worthy of house and meal as one who can skin a Passover-lamb, or trim with a fresh wick the golden lamps in the temple. A man who can wrestle with God in prayer, and bring down fire from heaven into hearts that are dry as summer's dust, who knows how to speak a word to him that is weary, to minister loving counsel to the young, and to lead the way to a heaven of unimaginable blessedness in Jesus Christ, is surely as deserving of a decent habit, a decent aliment, and a decent provision for his children, as one who