Thoughts on Gospel Ministry, Part 5
This is a continuation of Joseph John Dymond's letters to "The Friend" of London in 1892. Part 4 was here.
In a former letter it was hinted, that in our practice we may have imposed on ourselves some limitations as regards the ministry not called for by the teaching of Holy Scripture. I must now express my conviction, that the non-payment of the pecuniary expenses of ministers (except in travelling) has been carried to an extreme not warranted by Scripture, and has been a serious hindrance to the work of the Gospel. I know that there are men amongst us who have been conscious of a call to devote the whole of their time and energies to the work of the Lord, and who have been deterred from obeying the call, because, not having pecuniary means of their own, they knew that the consequence, so far as the Society of Friends was concerned, would be practical starvation to their families. They have had to choose between two lines of service to which, in the ordering of Divine Providence, they had been called; the one that of their dependent families, the other that of the Church.
The Society of Friends having its modern practice refused to recognize the Divine ordinance that “they that preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel” (1 Cor ix. 1) these men have been turned away from a path that would probably have been one of blessing to themselves and to us; and have had to limit their attention to the higher service to those portions of their lives which could be snatched from the daily toil.
It is needless and misleading to argue that men living on the verge of the twentieth century can successfully carry on business, whilst devoting to other objects perhaps half their energies, or long intervals of time. The men of the seventeenth century seem indeed to have been able to do something of this kind with their farms and merchandise, but the world has changed since then, and the conditions of our modern business life do no admit of such intermittent attention. The attempt has been made to find remunerative occupations of that kind for Friends in the ministry and has failed.
It is a glorious thing indeed to be able to proclaim the Gospel of Christ without money and without price; but does it necessarily follow that none but the actual preachers as individuals may share the privilege and the inevitable cost? If we are, as we profess to be, one body in Christ, may not the hand minister to the lips? Is not the Gospel free, if the Church as a body, as an instrument, bears its charges?
After all, is there not a touch of irony in the system which exhorts the preacher to faithfulness in the exercise of His spiritual gift; tells him not to let business hinder him (vide Queries to M. and O., Nos. 2 and 3); receives the benefit of his self-denying labours; and then, when these land him in a financial dilemma, refuses to help him out of it? The spiritual loss which has accrued to the Society, through its restrictions and limitations in this connection, can never be measured.
This subject of the maintenance of ministers is not free from difficulties. Few subjects of importance are. But I believe it to be quite capable of solution in harmony with Scripture teaching and Apostolic example. The well-known passage in Matt. x. 8, “Freely ye have received, freely give,” is often quoted as though it were conclusive of the whole subject; but like many other texts of Scripture it receives light from being examined in connection with its context, and with reference to the occasion on which it was originally employed. If we read from the beginning of the fifth verse of the chapter, we find that the occasion was one on which our Lord was sending forth the twelve disciples on a special mission to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” “As ye go,” He said, “preach, saying, ‘the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils (a special bestowal of miraculous gifts); freely ye received, freely give. Get you no gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses; no wallet for your journey, neither two coats, nor shoes, not staff; for the labourer is worthy of his food.” (R.V.) The disciples were to go forth upon their errand in simple reliance upon the guiding and providing hand of God himself; trusting Him for food, lodging and clothing; expecting that all these things would be provided for them through the instrumentality of “worthy,” or pious persons amongst whom they laboured. Their “preaching” was to be of a very simple kind, substantially limited to the message, “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” As an attestation of the Divine authority of this message, and in evidence of the benificent character of the coming Kingdom, they were empowered to perform the prescribed miracles.
If these miracles were to convey correct impressions of the disinterested love and power of the Gospel, it was necessary that they should be exercised gratuitously. It is easy to imagine that amongst the multitudes who would press around the disciples, eager to receive the healing touch, or anxious to induce them to visit sick friends who could not themselves come, there might be some who would offer money as an inducement, and without their Master’s explicit command the disciples might through it needless to refuse such presents.
On the other hand it is difficult to associate exposure to the temptation of receiving fees with the utterance of the very simple warning, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” But whatever application our Lord’s command may have to Gospel preaching under the present conditions of human society, it is at least reasonable to conclude that the primary and immediate reason for its use had reference to the employment of miraculous powers. There appears to be no other passage in any of the four Gospels capable of being so interpreted as to forbid a preacher to receive material support.
There are many passages in the Book of Acts, and in the Apostolic Epistles bearing upon the principles which the Apostles taught and practiced, with reference to the receipt of pecuniary aid. It would occupy too much space to quote and examine all of them here; but they would be found referred to in a little essay from my pen, on the “Maintenance of Ministers” published about six years ago. For our present purpose it may be sufficient to turn to one of these passages – probably the most comprehensive of them all – to be found in the ninth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians.
The Apostle Paul is here defending his position and practice against some hostile comments. He emphatically claims it as a matter of Divine appointment that they who preach the Gospel should (if need be) live of the Gospel. He claims this right also for the believing wife of the minister (and by implication also for those dependent upon him); and yet with holy joy he delights in the privilege he had allowed himself of making the Gospel of Christ without charge by means of his own labour.
We may read the passage (from the Revised Version) thus, for the sake of brevity omitting, here and there, a few words, not essential to our purpose:–
My defence to them that examine me in this: Have we no right to eat and drink? Have we no right to lead about a wife that is a believer, even as the rest of the Apostles? Or I only and Barnabas, have we not a right to forbear working? Do I speak these things after the manner of men? or saith not the law also the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox while he treadeth out the corn. Is it for the oxen that God careth, or saith He it altogether for our sake? Yea, for our sake it is written. If we sowed unto you spiritual things, is it a great matter if we shall reap your carnal things? Nevertheless we did not use this right, but we bear all things that we may cause no hindrance to the Gospel of Christ. Know ye not that they which minister about sacred things, eat of the things of the temple, and they which wait upon the altar, have their portion with the altar? Even so did the Lord ordain that they which proclaim the Gospel should live of the Gospel. But I have used none of these things, and I write not these things that it may be so done in my case, for it were good for me rather to die, that that any man should make my glorying void. For if I do this of mine own will, I have a reward. What then is my reward? That when I preach the Gospel, I may make the Gospel without Charge, so as not to use to the full my right in the Gospel. For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more.
The lessons to be gathered from this and all the other New Testament teachings upon this subject may be summarised as follows:–
- That it should be our desire and aim, for the Gospel’s sake, to make its proclamation free.
- That if a person called of God to preach the Gospel, finds the discharge of that duty incompatible with his making by his own labour a due provision for his outward wants, he is not only permitted to receive a maintenance, but is entitled to expect that this will be provided for him.
- That it is the duty of the Church to see that under such circumstances adequate maintenance is supplied.
- That contributions for this purpose should be voluntary, not enforced.
- To make a trade of preaching, or to adopt it as a profession for the sake of pecuniary reward, is repugnant to their spirit.
- The sufficient maintenance, and no more, is all that the minister is warranted in accepting.
These conclusions are in harmony with the views of the early Friends, as set forth by Barclay in his Apology (Proposition x. Section 33), where he says:–
The ministers we plead for are such as having freely received, freely give; who covet no man’s silver, gold, or garments; who seek no man’s goods; but seek them and the salvation of their souls; whose hands supply their own necessities, working honestly for bread for themselves and their families. And if at any time they be called of God, so as the work of the Lord hinder them from the use of their trades, take what is freely given them by such to whom they have communicated spirituals, and, having food and raiment, are therewith content. Such were the holy prophets and apostles.*
Ilkley, July, 1892
Joseph John Dymond
* I shall be glad to furnish a copy of the essay referred to, to any Friend who may express a wish to receive one; or copies may be obtained from the Orphans’ Printing Press, Leominster.
Part 6 of this series is here.