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James Dodson

Ministers of the gospel are often charged as being actuated by the base motives of avarice, and too often justly, as the history of the church demonstrates. This mercenary spirit, in connection with ambitious aspirations, has been long and fully exemplified by the Romish and Anglican hierarchies. But are avarices and ambition prevalent only among prelates? By no means. These corrupt, degrading and disturbing elements of unsanctified nature may be found actively operating in almost all ecclesiastical organizations. Infidels discover this and are thereby hardened in their infidelity. More than fifty years ago, I heard this reproach directed against a minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church: “Ah! That man is after the fleece, not the flock.” Some years after, an eminent physician and declared infidel, residing in a town among Associated Reformed, General Assembly Presbyterians and Methodists, expressed a fervent wish, “that the State would fix and pay the salaries of preachers, as the best antidote to their mercenary and truckling conduct!” All through the Bible the Holy Spirit, by prophets and apostles, has rebuked these unholy principles and given many solemn warnings against them.

It is indeed true that these base motives have been falsely imputed to the best of men. This aspersion was used to tarnish the reputation of the magnanimous and self-sacrificing apostle of the Gentiles; and this not from infidels, but from false brethren, themselves guilty of the sin imputed to Paul. No inspired writer insists more than he upon the divine right of adequate support to faithful ministers; and yet he was constrained to wipe off such calumnies against himself and others, 2 Cor. xi. 7-9; xii. 17-18.

Next to the example of our Lord, which is not in everything imitable, I have considered that of Paul as the fullest, plainest and best to be followed in all ages by ministers. His own repeated direction is, “Be ye followers of me, as I am of Christ.” I view this counsel as applicable to all disciples, but especially to the gospel ministry. I have debated the matter with myself, and counseled with brethren, whether I should condescend to notice such reproaches. Mercenary conduct and cheating are serious charges, whether true or false. It cannot be wrong, however some might think it inexpedient to prove the falsehood of certain imputations of this nature. In the matter of the “quota of Synod’s traveling fund,” as I only was concerned, and as it was noticed promptly at the time (1840), I deem it unnecessary to say anything in this place. But as the memory of my co-presbyter, no deceased, was and still is implicated, I consider it proper to notice, even at this late date, a slanderous charge against us both. Like most other similar imputations, it originated in Allegheny Town. The charge was this: “Lusk and Steel left town without paying their tavern-bill.” I heard it in so many words repeatedly; and it seemed so well authenticated, that doubtless it was believed by many honest people. Now, the truth is, we owed no tavern-bill, for we did not need to lodge at any hotel; our friends “lodged us courteously” during our stay in town. Mr. Lusk and I traveled many miles on horseback, and he several hundred miles more than I, towards the place of Synod’s meeting. Some miles short of Pittsburgh, we and our horses were hospitably entertained the night before Synod was to meet. Next morning, that friend (Mr. James Robinson) kindly sent his boy with us to bring back our horses to his farm, where they should stay until it might be supposed Synod’s business would be closed. Then our friend would send our horses to town by his boy. The last part of this arrangement could not be definitely fixed to a day. Our horses were accordingly sent to town, but a little too soon. They were put into a livery-stable owned, as appeared to us, by a member of our church. I was not at the stable when our horses were taken out. The person who brought our horses to us where we had been kindly entertained by Mr. John Hazlett, not very far from the stable, reported that he had not seen the landlord; but on asking the charge for keeping our horses, the landlady said her husband did not charge ministers, and supposed there was no bill against us. I have known many ministers, but none more honorable in financial matters than Mr. Lusk, and none equal to him in readiness to sacrifice worldly interests to the cause of truth; and because he left so few to imitate his self-sacrificing example, “truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.” It was the complaint of Isaiah in his time, that the prophets were like “greedy dogs which can never have enough: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain from his quarter.” And the apostle Paul expressed a similar complaint in his day, “All seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ’s.”

As some who read these lines may laudably desire to know what salary I received for ministerial services, I think it proper to gratify that curiosity, and also to show how far theory and practice have harmonized in my long ministerial life. While a probationer in the spring of 1831, the Ohio Presbytery sent me into the State of Indiana to preach a Sabbath to one family. The distance, going and returning, was not less than 300 miles. I received three dollars; but although the stipend was small, I believe it to have been a liberal contribution in the circumstances of the family to the support of the gospel. On that journey, however, I learned in early public life, some lessons of value ever afterward. As I rode along westward, I was joined by a young gentleman. His costume and the trappings of his horse, indicated that he was well furnished for his journey. After customary recognition as fellow-travelers, and assuming that I was a preacher, he asked if I was a Presbyterian? Receiving an affirmative answer, he inquired no farther as to denominational distinctions. Assuming that we were in the same fellowship, he expressed pleasure at our happening on the same direction. He at once became quite confiding and communicative, using with much freedom the pious, sentimental language in which he had been trained. He had come from Maryland, and was on his way “to establish Sunday-schools in Illinois.” “You have a long journey on horseback,” said I, “and attended with very considerable expense.” “Yes, that is true; but my expenses are paid. My agency is for six months; and on my return home I expect to have cleared about six hundred dollars.” The gentleman being from a slave State, I wished to know his views on the “peculiar institution.” He was quite prompt in expressing his approbation of the system. I did not propose to discuss the scriptural warrant for his present mission, but desired to know how a pious man could support slavery. He was evidently well posted on the scriptural argument. “Did not God himself set a mark upon Cain? and does not the nigger bear that mark?” “But how do you trace the descent of the negro from Cain, through the intervening deluge?” His first ground being obviously untenable, he shifted his position from Cain to Ham. “Did not God curse Ham and make him ‘a servant of servants unto his brethren’?” “But the curse fell upon Canaan, not upon his father, and the Canaanites dwelt in Palestine, not in Africa?” At this stage of the argument, our intercourse had become less cordial and confiding; and the road soon parting, each taking a different direction, as we parted, I said, “My friend, had my complexion been somewhat darker than it is, I should not have felt quite safe in your company.” Doubtless he “cleared the six hundred dollars.”

Some of our most impressive and abiding lessons, we learn from experience. I was specially prepared to learn at that time, for the innovation of the Sabbath-school had but recently come down from the Prelatic through the Presbyterian to the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Here is a young man who is to “establish Sunday-schools,” commissioned by neither ecclesiastical nor civil authority, nor responsible to either, but to a Sunday-school Union self-originated. A true specimen of his Biblical knowledge and competence as a teacher of youth in the knowledge of Christianity has been given above. Amid a fluency of pious cant, he is avowedly actuated by the desire of “winning souls for Christ!” No; but by the sordid desire of gain, at the rate of twelve hundred dollars per annum! The treasury of this “Voluntary Association” was well supplied, it appears at that date, and it still continues to be fully replenished.

But to return from this digression:

My salary has varied all along from a promise of six hundred dollars, to seventy dollars, maximum and minimum, per annum. Detailed statistics are dry reading, but I must give the reader a few samples of the manner in which the salary was paid. It has been already stated that my settlement in the Brush Creek congregation was at the rate of four hundred dollars a year; and that the amount of their subscription was one hundred and sixty dollars yearly. No definite times of payment were specified. These were made at any time by the members, either in cash to their treasurer, or to myself in diverse kinds of farm produce—corn, flour, pork, etc. My book account will vouch for the following results as a specimen. At the end of the first year, June 6th, 1832, the arrears were $60.25; second year, deficit $63.67: third year, $93.11, etc. Having in a few years increased three-fold in numbers and decreased in godly practice, the congregation raised my salary to three hundred dollars, and at the next semi-annual meeting lowered it again. That was the time when the abolition excitement prevailed: when I declined to descend from the pulpit and occupy a public platform with infidels, drunkards, Sabbath-breakers, to testify against slavery; and when my people were counseled from “headquarters” to erase their names from their subscription-paper and starve me out.

The question may now naturally arise, How did I manage to obtain means of living? Two ways: I supplied vacancies at different and distant places; and the most usual compensation for many years, was five dollars at Sabbath. The other way of procuring a livelihood was by cultivating a few (9) acres of ground which I owned. Those acres produced wheat, corn, rye, barley, hay, potatoes, besides an orchard of diverse fruits and garden of vegetables. When at home, with any hired help need, I attended to the cultivation of all these products of the earth, that I might not be “burdensome” to my charge. And I am not ashamed to quote, and in similar circumstances to apply, the noble words of the great apostle Paul, descriptive of his own practice, and as an example to other ministers:—“I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, it is more blessed to give than to receive.” This part of Paul’s example which he enjoined upon the elders (ministers) of Ephesus, I considered it my duty to follow when providentially placed amid similar surroundings.

I must not omit here, in gratitude to the donors and thankfulness to God, that I have been partly sustained by “widows’ mites,” long since gone, I believe, to glory; some of whom were never in the fellowship of the Reformed Presbytery. Besides, I have many times been surprised—not in the modern nauseating fashion—by donations from persons and quarters altogether unexpected. I have never been left destitute of the necessaries and many of the comforts of this life. I studied to owe no man anything, but to love even those whom “I am demanded of conscience” to oppose, and “withstand to the face.”