Vigo County, Indiana
Dear Brother Beebe: - Time admonishes me to renew my subscription; and I will also write a few lines to acquaint you of my removal to Permento, Vigo County, Indiana. Your valuable paper, the Signs of the Times, has come to me very regularly, filled with the rich treasures of gospel truth; and they have been a great satisfaction to me. I would not do without them for double the amount of what they cost, as long as they can be had, and I am spared to read them; for they contain so many communications from the scattered lambs of Zion’s fold. I am made to rejoice and thank the Lord that he has not left himself without witnesses. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever; for he changes not. He said, “For lam the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” (Mal. 3:6) Brother Beebe, is not this a dark time - a time of thick darkness that can be felt? I hope the lambs of the Redeemer will continue to write, as we read; “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard it: and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and thought upon his name.” If I could write like some of the brethren and sisters, I think I would write a great deal; for their writings are strengthening to me on my pilgrimage, and I love to hear from God’s chosen ones. They all understand each other, and speak the same things.
The church of Christ is a unit here, and will be a unit through the countless ages of eternity. I will have to conclude this poor scribble. I would like to have your views on Acts 6:1: “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.” What I desire to know is, what the daily ministration was, seeing that the apostles appointed seven chosen men over this business, and they, being scattered abroad, went every where preaching the word. Your views on this subject will greatly oblige an anxious inquirer after the truth. Hoping that the Lord may long continue to send your welcome messenger abroad, and give you wisdom and strength according to your day, I subscribe myself,
Your brother in hope of eternal life,
Shadrack J. Payne
Reply: - The daily ministration spoken of in the text was that of food, as we clearly infer from the reason assigned for appointing the seven men; for it was not reason that the apostles should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Brother Payne will observe that in those trying times of early persecution, those who professed the religion of Christ and united with the disciples, according to an agreement of their enemies, were cast out of the synagogues of the Jews, and disfranchised from the privileges which other Jews enjoyed as citizens of a province under the Roman government. They were generally deprived of their property and driven away from their homes by the violence of the persecution. Under this trying state of things it was agreed that those who came into the number of the disciples should sell their property, which otherwise they would lose by confiscation, and bring the proceeds in money, and lay it down at the apostles’ feet. “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all as every man had need.” (Acts 2:44,45) Again: “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart, and of one soul; neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own: but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessed of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need,” etc. (Acts 4:32-35) See also verses 36 and 37, and chapter 5:1,2.
From these scriptures we see that the disciples cheerfully cast all that they possessed into a common stock for the common benefit of all the disciples, without reserving any special claim of ought that they had possessed. And all the disciples were to be supplied daily from this common stock. But, as the disciples had made the apostles the trustees of all their property, it is not strange that when the number of the disciples had multiplied to thousands, and the common fund had accumulated accordingly, that the trusteeship had become too great a burden to the apostles, and interfered with the discharge of their apostolic duties in preaching the word. Hence, the necessity of electing suitable men to take this trusteeship, or supervision of the funds, and to minister, or deal out from it daily to all the disciples, as every one had need. The apostles, it seems, in attending to the word of God, had necessarily paid less attention to the daily ministration, or distribution of the provisions than they otherwise would. This had produced some disaffection and murmuring among the Grecian disciples, who complained that their widows were neglected, and did not fare as well as did the Hebrew widows. Whether their disaffection was based on jealousy or reality, we are not told: but the apostles availed themselves of the occasion to propose the selection of seven men, of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost; as in such men all the disciples would have the most perfect confidence; and in transferring the labor and responsibility of supplying all the tables daily of all the disciples, the apostles would be greatly relieved.
As we have this apostolic example before us, the question very naturally arises, whether the church, in all ages, is not bound to conform to the same pattern? The apostles have informed us that we have them for examples. And it is our candid judgment that in this matter, as in all others, we are bound to be governed by their examples. But, still it is to be remembered that this arrangement was confined to the peculiar circumstances of their case, as we do not find the same requisition made on the Gentile churches, when each one was allowed the right of stewardship over his own property, but with the injunction, however, that each one should appropriate, according as the Lord had prospered him, for the relief of destitute saints, or any other necessary expenditures of the church, and for sustaining those who labored among them in word and doctrine. Were we situated precisely now, as the disciples were at that time, there can be no doubt that it would be our duty to relinquish the stewardship of all our worldly possessions, to be disposed of for the common benefit of all the saints.
Even as we are now situated, having (to some extent) the constitutional right to hold the title of our houses and lands, in our own names, still, as disciples of Christ, there is not, in all his church, a single disciple who has an exclusive right, according to either the letter or spirit of the gospel, to call ought that he possesses his own. Every saint is taught by the Word and Spirit that he or she is a steward, under God, of all our possessions, and that we do not possess one farthing of it all, so exclusively as our own, as to permit us to withhold it when the cause of God, the welfare of his church, or the sufferings of any of his saints require it. To the full extent of all God has entrusted us with we are solemnly bound to appropriate it, according as God has prospered us, for the relief of the destitute saints, whether they be Grecians, or Hebrew, Jews, or Gentiles.
There was instruction given to the Gentile churches to support their widows, who were widows indeed; and that too without exacting of them to labor after they had attained the age of sixty years, if they had entertained strangers, washed the disciples’ feet, etc. But to prevent lazy drones from coming into the church, to be fed on the bounty of the church, Paul gave orders that those able-bodied men and women in the churches who would not work, or exert themselves to procure a living for themselves, that neither should they eat. But widows, who were widows indeed, were to be honored, and double honor should be awarded such Elders as ruled well, especially to such as labor in word and doctrine; for said he, “For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And the laborer is worthy of his reward.” (I Tim. 5:9,10,17,18) So also in all the necessary expenses of the church, in providing a comfortable place of meeting, assisting the poor of the church to get to the meetings of the churches, or in assisting traveling ministers, to bring them on their way, or the expenses of the messengers of the churches in visiting sister churches as messengers, or as messengers to the associations of the churches, the burden of the expenses should be borne according as God had prospered every one. And no one will be allowed to shirk out from his or her equitable share of such burdens, without bringing leanness into their own souls. To withhold more than is meet tendeth to poverty.
But there is one thing more we will notice while on this subject; The seven men appointed to have charge of this matter have generally been regarded as deacons. The character they were required to bear, as honest men, full of the Holy Ghost, men in whom all the church has the fullest confidence, agrees well with the character and qualification required of deacons, (I Tim. 3:8-13) strongly favors the conclusion that the seven men, their qualifications and their special work, is to be regarded as pointing out the office and work of deacons. If our conclusions be admitted, it must follow that the deacon’s work is to make requisition from the churches of the necessary means, and to find out the needy of the churches, and to apply the relief faithfully, honestly, and in the fear of the Lord. The daily or weekly, or annual ministration of the churches to secure the comfort of the saints is embraced in his appropriate work. Also, to see to the administrators of the word, that they be not involved with serving tables, or embarrassed with temporal things, so as to hinder their usefulness in the gospel ministry. Every disciple of Christ, as we understand, is bound to contribute, according as the Lord has prospered him, or her, and so supply the deacons of the church with the means to carry out the instructions implied in the precepts and examples which we have called attention to in the consideration of this subject. The fearful example of Anamas and Sapphira, in keeping back part of the price, should admonish every disciple who has professed to consecrate himself with all that he is or has to the Lord, against the sin and idolatry of covetousness. May we all be prepared to sing with the poet -
“All that I am, and all I have,
Shall be forever thine:
What e’er my duty bids me give,
My cheerful hands resign.”
January 15, 1863
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 5
Pages 303 – 308