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Mark x. 21; Luke xviii. 22.
of their property. Else, wherein the offence of Ananias? The
following suggestion, then, may perhaps be more satisfactory. Explained. Nothing is more certain than that the ministers of the word,
including the apostles, were maintained out of this public purse. If some, like St. Paul, relieved it by daily labour, his own words prove that they were not required to do so. And why were they thus maintained ? Because, no doubt, they had, in strict conformity
with our Lord's words, forsaken lands, houses, and all their goods Matt. xix. 21: for his sake, for his service. “ Sell all that thou hast, and follow
me," may perhaps aptly describe the first qualification of one who was to have, for the most part, no certain abode, and whose time and attention were necessarily to be withdrawn from the pursuits of gain, and even from the ordinary cares for the morrow. From the character, then, in which the original preachers of Christianity
present themselves to our notice, from the promise of our Lord to Luke xviii. those“ who should forsake lands, houses, &c. for his sake and
the Gospel,' and from the fact, that they all did receive support from the public fund—from these circumstances taken together, does it not seem likely, that a resignation of all individual and separate property into the apostles' hands, was the first step taken by those who devoted themselves to the ministry ?—the pledge, that they, having now forsaken all, were ready to follow the standard of the Cross ? On this pledge, perhaps, then, they were put into office by the apostles, their other qualifications having been at the same time ascertained by the power of discerning spirits.
One remark there is, certainly, in St. Luke's account, which may be considered by some to stand in the way of this suggestion. He states, that on the second manifestation of the Holy Ghost, “all who had lands and houses sold them, and brought in the amount.”
But, when we remember the prophetic exclamation of the Psalmist, Ps. Ixviii. 11. “ The Lord spake, and great was the company of the preachers,
and consider how many were required now for the dispersion of the faith, this, in a society of poor men, cannot imply a very disproportionate number. Add to this, that the statement of their bringing in their money to the apostles, by no means implies that it was in all instances accepted. In the general excitement, produced by two rapidly successive manifestations of the Holy Ghost and of its gifts,
23 There is a passage in Eusebius's his- Therapeutæ were Christians, (Lib. II. C. tory, (Lib. III. C. 137,) which certainly 17,) he argues in favour of their being so, seems to confirm this suggestion. Ad- from the existence of such a custom verting to the fact, that in the first days amongst them, and, appealing to this of Christianity, a great portion of the very passage of the Acts, asserts that it converts became themselves preachers was practised in one period of the Church. and ministers of the word, he expressly That the custom should require this kind mentions, as a preparatory step, the resig- of notice by the historian, at the close of nation of their property for the relief of the third century, proves, however, that the poor, την σωτήριον ΠΡΟΤΕΡΟΝ απεπ- it was soon abandoned. The temptation λήρους παρακέλευσιν, ενδεέσι νέμοντες τας to employ spiritual talents for worldly ουσίας: ΕΠΕΙΤΛ ΔΕ αποδημίας στελλομένοι advantage, might have created an expeέργον επετελούν ευαγγελιστών. . Again in diency and need for the rule, which discussing the question, whether the would only last during the inspired age.
Mark iii. 28,
Luke xii. 10.
all may have rushed eagerly to claim employment in a service so evidently Divine, and so gloriously sanctioned by God. All who had property would naturally have thrown it up, as a pledge that they were ready to be employed, leaving the apostles and the Holy Spirit who guided them to decide whether the offer of themselves would be accepted. So considering the matter, the crime of Ananias and Sapphira Sin against
the Holy assumes a very peculiar character. They sought to obtain the office of ministry, and the spiritual gifts and privileges attached to it, under a false pretence. The pledge which they gave, in offering, as their all, only a portion of their property, to the apostles,—the agents of God the Holy Ghost, —was a bold test applied to the omniscience of God in his present government of the Church, a practical lie unto the God of truth. Theirs was not a negative but a positive offence against the Holy Spirit; not, like other sins, an act of disobedience, but one of aggression; and as such perhaps falling under that denomination, of which Christ had said, that they should not be forgiven, “neither in this world, neither in the world Matt. xii. 31 to come. Their awful sentence might have been twofold in its 32 effects, the one temporal, the other eternal; the one for the crime 29, of treason, in attempting to corrupt the pure constitution of the Church, the other for the sin of blasphemy against the omniscient God.
That besides this consecration of the whole of the ministers' property to the service of the Church, frequent and large contributions were made by others, cannot be doubted. Mosheim's interpretation, therefore, as applicable to the great body of Christians, is undoubtedly true, that with them it was a community of use, not of possession. Besides the ministers, the poor were supplied from this fund; and especial mention is made of the widows,” if indeed these were not rather an order of ministers than part of the poor. More properly, perhaps, they belonged to both classes. As deaconesses were early required in the Church, it seems most natural, that those females who, from their poverty and widowhood, were deriving support from the Church, should be employed in this capacity, according to the apostle's precept, “If any work not, 2 Thess. ili. neither should he eat." The name of deaconesses might not have been given them for some time after they exercised the duties belonging to that order, for they are called widows before the term deacon even appears in the Acts. Wherein their service consisted, may be sufficiently understood from the office of deacons, which will be next considered. It may be enough to observe, that their order was requisite in the first promulgation of Christianity; because the frequent intercourse between male catechists and the young female catechumens might have brought a scandal on the Church. In the East, where the strict separation between male and female society was then as now proverbial, this measure was quite indispensable.
APPOINTMENT OF THE SEVEN DEACONS.
Acts vi. 3.
The terrible display of the Holy Spirit's power, in the death of Ananias and Sapphira, was succeeded by many illustrious miracles, performed through the apostle Peter. In frequency, and perhaps
in their extraordinary character, they equalled our Lord's; agreeJohn xiv. 12. ably to his promise, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do
shall he do also, and greater works than these shall be do.” On the line of difference between them, some remarks have been already made and a reason suggested, why, during this first period of the Holy Spirit's dispensation, this apostle's ministry was so prominent. This latter point, as one of some importance, will be again adverted to.
The effect of all this was what might be expected. The number of converts daily increased, and the spirit of persecution was exasperated. The apostles were again imprisoned, scourged, and threatened with heavier vengeance. But God released them by his angels; and, in proportion to their need, his Spirit emboldened and guided them, and his strength was made perfect in weakness.” But the storm was now only gathering.
Meanwhile within the Church itself were displayed some slight the Grecian symptoms of discontent, which deserve to be noticed particularly, Widows. on account of the measure to which they gave rise. The complaint
is called "a murmuring of the Grecians (or foreign Jews) against the Hebrews, (or native Jews,) because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” Who these widows probably were has already been suggested; and if the suggestion, that they were deaconesses, be admitted, the grounds of the complaint may be readily surmised. As the greater share of duty would at this time devolve on the Hebrew widows or deaconesses, they might have been paid more liberally, as their services seemed to require, and hence the discontent.
This, it is true, supposes that the order of deacons and deaconesses already existed, and may seem at first to contradict the statement of St. Luke, that in consequence of this murmuring deacons were appointed. It does not however really contradict it; for evidently some dispensers there must have been, and if so, either the apostles must have officiated as deacons, or special deacons there must have been, by whatever name they went. That the apostles did not officiate, is plain from the tenor of the narrative, which indicates that the appeal was made to them, and that they excused themselves from presiding personally at the “ministration,” (as was probably desired by the discontented party,) alleging that it was incompatible with their proper duties. “It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.' This
very assertion, then, is proof certain that they did not officiate. Again, on reading over the names of the seven deacons, we find them all of the Grecian or Hellenistic party. Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon,
Acts vi. 5.
Parmenas, and Nicolas, the last of whom is expressly described as a proselyte of Antioch. Now this surely would have produced a murmuring of the Hebrews against the Grecians, unless they had already some in office interested in looking after their rights. With these presumptions in favour of a previous appointment of deacons, it would seem, then, that these seven were added to the former number because of the complaint.”
All that is thus far intimated of their office is, that they were employed in the daily distribution of the alms and the stipends due from the public fund. Whether, even at the first, their duties were limited to this department of service, 25 may be reasonably doubted. Of this portion of their duties we are now informed, obviously, because to the unsatisfactory mode in which this had been hitherto performed it was owing, that the new appointment took place, and that the subject was noticed at all. It is, however, by no means improbable, that the young men who carried out the dead bodies of Ananias and Sapphira, and who are described as “ready in attendance, were of the same order; in other words, deacons by office, if not by name. What may serve to confirm this view of it is, the opposition between what would seem to have been their original title, and another order in the Church. They are called "juniors ” and “young men,” (vebstepor and vedvíoxos,) terms so strongly opposed to presbyters or elders, as to incline one at the first glance to consider them as expressive of the two orders of the ministry, the seniors and the juniors, the teperButé pou dréexovor and the veátepor dos xovou ; the two orders, in short, which at length received the fixed and perpetual titles of presbyters and deacons.27
Accordingly, there is no just ground for supposing, that when the same term deacon occurs in the Epistles of St. Paul, a different 1 Tim. iii. 8, order of men is intended ; first, because an office may preserve its 12, 13. original name long after the duties originally attached to it have been changed; and, secondly, because whatever duties may have been added to the office of deacons, it is certain that the duty of attending to the poor was for several centuries attached to it. Even after the deacons ceased to hold the office of treasurers, and the bishops began to receive the revenues of their respective sees, the distribution of that portion which was allotted to charity still passed through
24 Vitringa de Synagoga Vetere, Lib. III. p. ii. Č.5; or p. 188 of the excellent English compendium of that work, by the Rev. J. L. Bernard.
25 Διακόνια. ,
26 It should be observed that, in the Scripture narrative, “the seven not called Deacons.
because that one would now have been
27 It may be objected, indeed, that although the terms might have been different at different periods, yet the writer would have adopted one only,
of the person.
Acts vi. 8; viii. 5.
the hands of the deacons. Hence, in a still later period, the title of cardinal deacon; and hence, too, the appropriation of the term diaconice to those Churches wherein alms used to be collected and distributed to the poor."
Not that it is possible to point out, with any thing like precision, the course of duty which belonged to the primitive deacons. That it corresponded entirely with that of our present order of deacons, is very unlikely, whatever analogy be allowed from their relative situation in the Church. As the Church, during the greater part of the first century, was a shifting and progressive institution, their duties probably underwent continual change and modification. If we were to be guided, for instance, by the office in which we find the “ young men (vsavíoxol) engaged when the dead bodies of Ananias and Sapphira were removed, we should say that they performed the business, which, in the present day, would devolve on the inferior attendants of our churches. If, again, we were to judge of their character from the occasion on which we find them acting as stewards of the Church fund, a higher station would be doubtless assigned to them; but still, one not more nearly connected with the ministry of the word, nor approaching more to the sphere of duty which belongs to our deacons. On the other hand, the instances of Stephen and Philip prove, that the title was applied to those who were engaged in the higher departments of the ministry, although not in the highest.
After all, it is most likely that the word deacon was originally applied, as its etymology suggests, to all the ministers of the Gospel establishment. But the apostles having from the first a specific title, it more properly denoted any minister inferior to them,—any, however employed in the service of the Church. Between these, also, there soon obtained a distinction. If we suppose, then, that the seniors, or superior class, were distinguished by the obvious title of elder deacons, (Tepeoßútspor diérovou,) the generic and unappropriated term “ deacon ” would devolve on the remaining class. And thus the present order in the Church, to which that name is applied, may be truly asserted to be deacons in the apostolical and primitive sense of the word; and yet, nevertheless, much may be said about deacons, both in the New Testament and in the writings of the early fathers, which will not apply to them.
The mode in which the present appointment was made must not pass unnoticed. The apostles are said to have called to them “ the multitude of the disciples;” to have specified the qualifications for
28 Lud. Anton. Muratori Antiquitates sion are represented as speaking of their Italicæ Medii Ævi, Tom. III. p. 571. own office under the title of a deaconship, Also Du Cange, in Glossar. Latin. Medii ημείς δε τη προσευχή και τη ΔΙΑΚΟΝΙΑι του Ævi: ad v. Diaconia, Diaconites, Dia- nózou spooreceptep hoouer.. So also St. Paul conus. Moshemii Comm. De Reb. Christ. writes to the Corinthians, 1 Ep. xii. 4, ante Const.
5: Διαιρέσεις δε χαρισμάτων εισι, το δε αυτό
πνεύμα και διαιρέσεις ΔΙΑΚΟΝΙΩΝ, εισι, 29 Thus the apostles on this very occa
και ο αυτός Κύριος. .
Mode of appointment. Acts vi. 2.