DEACONS AND ELDERS;PASTORS AND TEACHERS.
SINCE I came to London, I have seen the last of a former race of deacons,—fine, gentlemanly men, rather stiff and unmanageable, not quite, according to my mind, but respectable, prudent grandees of Dissent, in semi-clerical dress, with white cravats. The past generation of deacons is to be spoken of with reverence in all places where holy memories are cherished; but, out of them all, my friend, counselor, and right hand, was Thomas Olney. Never did a minister have a better deacon, nor a church a better servant. He was for sixty years a member, for thirty-one years a deacon, and for fourteen years treasurer of the church. He was ever remarkable for his early and constant attendance at the prayer-meeting and other week-day services. He had a childlike faith and a manly constancy.
To believe in Jesus, and to work for Him, were the very life of his new and better nature. He was eminently a Baptist; but he was also a lover of all good men. The poor, and especially the poor of the church,, always found in him sincere sympathy and help. His name will be had in lasting remembrance.
Among my first London deacons was one very worthy man, who said to me, when I went to preach in Exeter Hall and the Surrey Gardens Music Hall, “I am an old man, and I cannot possibly go at the rate you young people are going; but I don’t Want to hang on, and be a drag to you, so ‘I will quietly withdraw, and go and see how I can get on with Mr. Brock.” I think that was the kindest thing that the good man could have done, and that it was probably the best course for himself as well as for us. I went over to see him, some time afterwards, and he asked me to take my two boys that he might give them his blessing. He said to me,” Did I not do the very best thing I could have done by getting out of the way, and not remaining to hinder the work? I always read your sermons, and I send in my subscriptions regularly.” Dear good man, he died the next day.
At the meeting of the Tabernacle church, in connection with the’. opening of the new building, it was my privilege to present testimonials to two of the deacons who had then been for more than fifty years members of the church. The resolutions had been unanimously passed at the previous annual church-meeting, and they were appropriately illuminated and framed. They we. re as follows:— “That we desire to record our devout gratitude to our Heavenly Father for His continuing to us, as a church, the eminently judicious and valuable services of our esteemed and beloved senior deacon, JAMES LOW, who has been a member of this church for a period of 50 years, and a deacon for 25 years.
We desire also to express to our beloved brother our hearty congratulations that God has so long spared his valuable and useful lite, and granted him grace to serve the Church of Christ so faithfully and so well.
May that Master whom he has so long served, graciously continue to our brother His special and comforting presence, and give him in his future life much nearness of communion with Him, and at a distant period an abundant entrance into His Kingdom and glory!” “That this church desires to record its devout gratitude to Almighty God for that abundant grace which has preserved our dear and honored brother, THOMAS OLNEY, as a consistent, useful, and beloved member of this church for the lengthened period of 51 years; and while to the: grace of God all the varied excellences of our brother are to be. ascribed, the Pastor, officers, and church-members cannot refrain from returning unfeigned and hearty thanks to our brother for his indefatigable labors as deacon for 22 years, and for his most valuable services as treasurer.
No man can be more truly worthy of the esteem of his Christian brethren, and we most earnestly invoke a blessing upon him, upon our beloved sister the partner of his life, and upon his godly family, which is by so many ties united with us as a people.
We trust that, in that: great house of prayer, over every stone of which he has watched so anxiously, he may be spared to see the largest wishes of his heart fulfilled in the gathering of immense assemblies, the salvation of many souls, and the daily increase of our numbers as a church.” (When “Father Olney” was taken home, in 1869, his much-loved Pastor was just recovering from an attack of small-pox, and therefore was unable to visit him in his last illness, or to conduct his funeral service, but had to be content with writing the following letter to his son, Mr. Thomas H. Olney:— “Nightingale Lane, ““Friday, Nov. 26, 1869. “My Dear Mr. Olney, “It seems so strange to be so near to you, and yet to be virtually in another land. It would have seemed an idle tale if anyone had told me that I should not be at your father’s death-bed. Nevertheless, it is well,—well especially for him to whom a longer sojourn here would have meant pain, weakness, and failure of mind, while his departure means a glory too resplendent for us to imagine it. “I quite think that, if you can get Mr. Brock, it will be just what he himself would have desired in my absence. I have sent to the deacons my request to have the pulpit hung with black, for his death is as much a bereavement to us all as anything could be. “My dear friend, I devoutly pray to God to incline your heart to be henceforth to me all that your father has been till he fell asleep. Not that you have not ever been the soul of goodness; but now he is gone, you must undertake, more publicly the responsibilities which in private you re. ally have borne; and if the Lord accounts me worthy to have in Thomas Olney the same tender friend that I have had in Thomas Olney, sent my pathway in life will be smoothed, and my labor cheered. The Lord be with you! My devoutest wishes are for your best happiness. “Yours most truly, “C. H. SPURGEON.”
Mr. T. H. Olney accepted the position of treasurer; year by year, he has been re-elected by the church; and the following letter shows how faithfully he has fulfilled the duties of the office:— “Westwood, “Beulah Hill, “Upper Norwood, “June 26, 1883. “Dear Friend, “The cheque reached me safely this morning. Many thanks for all your care of the finances, and for your extreme punctuality in payment. If the cheque did not come at the exact time, I should think the Monument had walked over to Fountain Court, and killed the Chancellor of my Exchequer. I can only pray, ‘God bless Thomas Olney and all he undertakes!’ “Yours most lovingly, “C. H. SPURGEON.”
Fountain Court was Mr. Olney’s City address.)
My present staff of deacons consists of peculiarly lovable, active, energetic, warm-hearted, generous men, every one of whom seems specially adapted for his own particular department of service. I am very thankful that I have never been the pastor of a dead church, controlled by dead deacons. I have seen such a thing as that with my own eyes, and the sight was truly awful. I recollect very well preaching in a chapel where the church had become exceedingly low, and, somehow, the very building looked like a sepulcher, though crowded that one night by those who came. to hear the preacher.
The singers drawled out a dirge, while the members sat like mutes. I found it hard preaching; there was no “go” in the sermon, I seemed to be driving dead horses.
After the service, I saw two men, who I supposed were the deacons,—the pillars of the church,—leaning against the posts of the vestry door in a listless attitude, and I said, “Are you the deacons of this church?” They informed me that: they were the only deacons, and I remarked that I thought so. To myself I added that I understood, as I looked at them, several things which else would have been a riddle. Here was a dead church, comparable to the ship of the ancient mariner which was manned by the dead. Deacons, teachers, minister, people, all dead, and yet wearing the semblance of life. “The helmsman steered the ship moved on, Yet never a ‘breeze up blew; The mariners all ‘gan work the ropes, Where they were wont to do; They raised their limbs like. lifeless tools,— We were a ghastly crew.”
All my church-officers are in a very real sense my brethren in Christ. In talking to or about one another, we have no stately modes of address. I am called “the Governor,” I suppose, because I do not attempt to govern; and the deacons are known among us as “Brother William,” “Uncle Tom,” “Dear Old Joe, “Prince Charlie,”. Son of Ali,” and so on. These brethren are some of them esquires, who ought also to be M.P.’s’, but we love them too well to dignify them. One day, I spoke rather sharply to one of them, and I think he deserved the rebuke I gave him; butt he said to me,!’ Well, that: may be so; but I tell you what, sir, I would die for you any day.” “Oh!” I replied, “bless your heart, I am sorry I was so sharp; but, still, you did deserve it, did you not?” He smiled, and said he thought he did, and there the: matter ended.
One of my deacons made a remark to me, one night, which would have mortally offended a more sensitive individual than I am. It was the first Sabbath in the month, the preaching service was over, and we were just going down to the great communion in the Tabernacle. I inquired how many new members there were to be received, and the answer was, “Only seven.” In an instant, my good friend said, “This won’t pay, Governor; running all this big place for seven new members in a month!” He was quite right, although a Christian church is not “run” on exactly the same lines as a business undertaking; but I could not help thinking, at the time, that it would not have done for some deacons to. make such an observation to certain ministers of my acquaintance; or if the remark had been made, it would have been attended with very serious consequences. I know one pastor who is very decidedly of opinion that the Lord never made anyone equal in importance to a Baptist minister (that is, himself); but it so happened that one of his church-officers had the notion that a deacon is a being of a still higher order, so it was not very surprising that the time came when they could no longer work together harmoniously.
On going into the Tabernacle, one day, I gave directions about some minor alterations that I wished to have made, not knowing at the time that I was canceling the orders given by the deacon who had the main care of the building resting upon him. When he arrived, in the evening, he saw what had been done, and at once asked who had interfered with his instructions.
The reply was, “the Governor, sir.” The spirit of unquestioning loyalty at once asserted itself over any temporary annoyance he may have felt, and he said, “Quite right; there must be only one captain in a ship;” and, for a long while, that saying became one of our most familiar watchwords. I have often been amazed, at the devotion of our brethren; I have told them, many a time, that, if’ they would follow a broomstick as they have followed me, the work must succeed. To which Mr. William Olney, as the spokesman for the rest, has answered, “Yes, dear Pastor; but it is because we have such absolute confidence in your leadership that we are ready to follow you anywhere. You have never misled us yet, and we do not believe you ever will do so.”
After one long illness, which kept: me for many weeks out of the pulpit, I said to the deacons, “I am afraid you will get quite tired of your poor crippled minister;” but on of the least demonstrative of the brethren replied, “Why, my dear sir, we would sooner have: you for one month in the year than anyone else in the world for the whole twelve months!” I believe they all agreed with what he said, for they have often urged me to go away for a long sea voyage, or to rest for a year, or for several months at the least; but I have always had one answer for them:—“It is not possible for me to leave my work for any lengthened period until the. Lord calls me home; and, besides, there is a Scriptural reason why a minister should not be away from his people for more than six weeks at a time.” “What is that?” they asked. “Why, don’t you remember that, when Moses was up in the mount with God for forty days, Aaron and the children of Israel turned aside to the worship of the golden calf?”
I had one most touching proof- of a deacon’s loving self-sacrifice and generosity. During a very serious illness, I had an unaccountable fit of anxiety about money matters. There was no real ground for apprehension, for my dear wife and I were scrupulously careful to “owe no man anything,” and there was no pecuniary liability in connection with the Lord’s work under my charge which need have caused me the slightest perplexity. I had fallen into one of those curious mental conditions that are often the result of extreme pain and weakness, in which the mind seems to lay hold of some impalpable object, and will not let it go. One of the brethren came to see me while I was in that sad state, and after trying in vain to comfort me, he said, “Well, good bye, sir, I’ll see what I can do.”
He went straight home, and before very long he came back to me bringing all the stocks and shares and deeds and available funds that he had. Putting them down on the bed where I was lying in great agony, he said, “There, my dear Pastor, I owe everything I have in the world to you, and you are quite welcome to all I possess. Take whatever you need, and do not have another moment’s anxiety.” Of course, as soon as I got better, I returned to my dear friend all that he had brought to me under’ such singular circumstances. Even if I had needed it, I could not have taken a penny of it, for it seemed to me very much as the water from the well of Bethlehem must have appeared to David. Happily, I did not require any part of the amount so freely placed at my disposal, but I could never forget the great kindness of the brother who was. willing to give all that he had in order to allay the groundless fears of his sorely-afflicted minister.
When I came to New Park Street, the church had deacons, but no elders; and I thought, from my study of the New Testament, that there should be both orders of officers. They are very useful when we can get them,—the deacons to attend to all secular matters, and the elders ‘to devote themselves to the spiritual part of the work; this division of labor supplies an outlet for two different sorts of talent, and allows two kinds of men to be serviceable to the church; and I am sure it is good to have two sets of brethren as officers, instead of one set who have to do everything, and who often become masters of the church, instead of the servants, as both deacons and elder I should be.
As there were no elders at New Park Street, when I read and expounded the passages in the New Testament referring to elders, I used to say, “This is an order of Christian workers which appears to have dropped out of existence. In apostolic times, they had both deacons and elders; but, somehow, the church has departed from this early custom. We have one preaching elder,—that is, the Pastor,—and he is expected to perform all the duties of the eldership.” One and another of the members began to inquire of me, “Ought no we, as a church, to have elders? Cannot we elect some of our brethren who are qualified to fill the office?” I answered that we had better not disturb the existing state of affairs; but some enthusiastic young men said that they would propose at the church-meeting that elders should be appointed, and ‘ultimately we did appoint them with the unanimous consent of the members. I did not force the question upon them I only showed them that it was Scriptural, and then of course they wanted to carry it into effect.
The church-book, in its records of the: annual church-meeting held January 12, 1859, contains the following entry:— “Our Pastor, in accordance with a previous notice, then stated the necessity that had long been felt by the church for the appointment of certain brethren to the office of elders, to watch over the spiritual affairs of the church. Our Pastor pointed out the Scripture warrant for such an office, and quoted the several passages relating to the ordaining of elders: Titus 1:5, and Acts 14:23;—the qualifications of elders: 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and Titus 1:5-9;—the duties of elders: Acts 20:28-35, Timothy 5:17, and James 5:14; and other mention made of elders: Acts 11:30, 15:4, 6, 23, 16:4, and 1 Timothy 4:14. “Whereupon, it was resolved,—That the church, having heard the statement made by its Pastor respecting the office of the eldership, desires to elect a certain number of brethren to serve the church in that office for one )rear, it being understood that they are to attend to the spiritual affairs of the church, and not to the temporal matters, which appertain to the deacon only.”
I have always made it a rule to consult the existing officers of the church before recommending the election of new deacons or elders, and I have also been on the lookout for those who have proved their fitness for office by the work they have accomplished in their private capacity. In our case, the election of deacons is a permanent one, but the elders are chosen year by year. This plan has worked admirably with us, but other churches have adopted different methods of appointing their officers. In my opinion, the very worst mode of selection is to print the names of all the male members, and then vote for a certain number by ballot. I know of one case in which a very old man was within two or three votes of being elected simply because his name began with A, and therefore was put at the top of the list of candidates.
My elders have been a great blessing to me; they are invaluable in looking after the spiritual interests of the church. The deacons have charge of the finance; but if thee elders meet with cases of poverty needing relief, we tell them to give some small sum, and then bring the case before the deacons. I was once the unseen witness of a little incident that greatly pleased me. I heard one of our elders say to a deacon, “I gave old Mrs. So-and-so ten shillings the other night:.” “That was very generous on your part,” said the deacon. “Oh, but!” exclaimed the elder, “I want the money from the deacons.” So the deacon asked, “What: office do you hold, brother?. Oh!” he replied, “I see; I have gone beyond my duty as an elder, so I‘ll pay the ten shillings myself; I should not like ‘the Governor’ to hear that I had overstepped the mark.” “No, no, my brother,” said the deacon; “I’ll give you the money, but don’t make such a mistake another time.”
Some of the elders have rendered great service to our own church by conducting Bible-classes and taking the oversight of several of our homemission stations, while one or two have made it their special work to “watch for souls” in our great congregation, and to seek to bring to immediate decision those who appeared to be impressed under the preaching of the Word. One brother has earned for himself the title of my hunting dog, for he is always ready to pick up the wounded bird. One Monday night, at the prayer-meeting, he was fitting near me on the platform; all at once I missed him, and presently I saw him right at the other end of the building. After the meeting, I asked him why he went off so suddenly, and he said that the. gas just shone on the face of a woman in the congregation, and she looked so sad that he walked round, and sat near her, in readiness to speak to her about the Savior after the service.
That same brother did a very unusual thing on another occasion. A poor fallen woman accosted him in the street, and in an instant he began to plead with her to leave her sinful ways, and come to Christ. Rain came on while he was talking to her, so he rapped at the door of the nearest house, and asked if he might stand in the passage while he spoke and prayed with a poor soul under conviction of sin. The good woman invited him into her front room, and when he thanked her for her kindness, he took the opportunity of asking her also if she knew the Lord. I believe he had the joy of leading booth of them to the Savior, and bringing them to join the church at the Tabernacle. Eternity alone will reveal how many have thus been arrested and blessed by a wise and winning word spoken in season, and accompanied by earnest prayer and clear Scriptural teaching concerning the way of salvation. Others of the elders have also exercised a most gracious ministry in various parts of the metropolis, and in the home counties, through the agency of the Tabernacle Country Mission and Evangelists’ Association. Many churches, that are now self-supporting and flourishing, were started in a very humble fashion by the brethren connected ‘with one or other of these two useful Societies. The labors of the elders in visiting the sick, see. king to reclaim the wandering, pointing inquirers to the Savior, and introducing candidates to the fellowship of the church, are recorded in the Lord’s Book of Remembrance, and are gratefully recollected by their Pastor and fellow-members. (One of the ministers who took part: in the services in connection with the opening of the Tabernacle was Pastor James Smith, whose portrait was given in Volume 2, page 3. Not many months afterwards, he was laid aside by serious illness. A letter of condolence and sympathy was sent to him from the church, in which it was said:—“ Many of us remember your useful and honored ministry when you went in and out before us, and sought to feed the flock; all of us know you by you: valuable writings, and to this day we hear of instances of conversion wrought by means of your sermons in our midst. We therefore all of us feel a true union of heart towards you, and devoutly pray that every covenant mercy may rest upon you and your family in this hour of affliction and sorrow.”
The venerable minister was greatly cheered by this token of love from his former church, He lingered for more: than a year, and in October, 1862, Mr. Spurgeon went to see him, and on the following Sabbath, thus reported to the friends at the. Tabernacle how he found him:—“ I saw, this week, one whom many of you greatly respect,—the former Pastor of this church, Mr. James Smith, of Chiltenham,—a name well known by his innumerable little works which are scattered everywhere, and cannot fail to do good. You will remember that, about a year ago, he was struck with paralysis; one half of his body is dead, but yet, when I saw him on the bed, I had not seen a more cheerful man in the full heyday of strength I had been told that he was the subject of very fearful conflicts at times; so, after I had shaken hands with him, I said, ‘ Friend Smith, I hear that you have many doubts and fears.’ ‘Who told you that?’ he inquired, ‘ for I have none.’ ‘Do you never have any?’ I asked. ‘Why, I understood that you had many conflicts.’ Yes! he said, ‘I have many conflicts, but I have no doubts; I have many wars within, but I have no fears. Who could have told you such a thing? I hope I have not led anyone to think so. It is a hard battle, but I know the victory is sure. After I have had an ill night’s rest,—of course, through physical debility,—my mind is troubled, and then that old coward, Satan, who would, perhaps, not meddle with me if I were strong, attacks me when I am weak. But I am not afraid of him; don’t you go away with that opinion; he does throw many fiery darts at me. but I have no doubt as to my final victory.’ Then he said, in his own quaint way, ‘I am just like a packet that is all ready to go by train,—packed, corded, labeled, paid for, and on the platform, waiting for the express to come by, and take me to glory;’ and he added, ‘I wish I could hear the whistle now; I had hoped I should have been carried to Heaven long ago; but, still, it is all right.’ He also said to me, ‘ I have been telling your deacon, George Moore, that I am not only on the rock, but that I am cemented to the rock, and that the cement is as hard as the rock itself, so there is no fear of my perishing; unless the rock falls, I cannot fall; unless the gospel perishes, cannot perish.’” He had not to wait much longer for the home-call, as the following entry in our church-book, under the date of December 15, proves:— “The church was informed that our late Pastor and beloved brother, Rev.
James Smith, of Cheltenham, had fallen asleep in Jesus yesterday. The members, therefore, joined in expressions of sympathy with the bereaved family, and they were glad to hear that, a few days previously, the sum of 50 pounds had been forwarded to him by friends in connection with the church to aid him in his time of affliction.”)