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James Dodson

Note A.

The discontinuance of the office of the deacon in the Scottish churches, and those which have derived their system of doctrine and order from them, is a subject of inquiry which possesses both an historical and a practical interest at the present time. The Act Recissory, in 1661, broke down at once most of the fabric which had been erected during the Second Reformation. It left, however, the congregations in possession of their organization, until further acts of legislation, and deeds of violence, destroyed in many districts, even this part of the Presbyterian structure. This was particularly the case among those who faithfully resisted seduction, as well as violence; and refusing to accept of any indulgence, were driven into the mountains and caves, by the dragoons of Dalziel and Claverhouse. After the Revolution settlement, in 1688, when William and Mary were called to the throne, and Presbyterianism re-established (but not upon pure scriptural principles), deacons existed for a short time in the Scottish Establishment. It appears, that this once had been, at least partially, neglected before the year 1719; for in that year an act of assembly required “ministers to take care that deacons, as well as elders, be ordained in congregations where deacons are wanted.” This law was ineffectual. The causes which had led to the previous neglect, still continued to operate; and that, too powerfully for legislative enactments to counteract. Not very long after that period, deacons were not generally found in the congregations of that establishment. This accounts for the want of this class of officers in those denominations which derive their origin from that church, since the period when she ceased to have deacons.

As to the causes of this: the chief was, unquestionably, the transferring to other hands the deacon’s duties. The charge of providing and erecting places of worship; of furnishing funds to the ministry of the church for their support, and, in some measure, of providing for the poor, was given into the hands of civil officers. It was in vain to expect the office of deacon to be kept in the church by laws, when the duties of the office were almost entirely discharged by civil officers. The few that remained to the deacon were afterwards quietly appropriated by the session; and then the deacon, as a necessary consequence, dropped out of the church’s organization.

As to the Covenanters, who dissented from the Revolution Settlement, it is not difficult to ascertain why this office should have disappeared from among them also. While the persecution raged, it was impossible to preserve their perfect organization. Whether the deacons, which James Renwick in a letter to Sir Robert Hamilton, says he “was about to ordain,” were ever actually ordained, or not, is uncertain. His speedy martyrdom probably prevented it. After the year 1688, their “Societies” were left eighteen years without a minister. Of course, no ordinations took place during that period among them, either of elders, or of deacons. They were, literally, “like sheep without a shepherd.” This was their state for many years after the constitution of a presbytery. They could scarcely be said to have congregations; they were rather missionary stations, dispersed here and there. A full and regular organization could hardly be looked for. Moreover, it ought to be remembered, that before the period when their congregations had become compacted, the churches around them had dropped the deacon’s office. There was, consequently, nothing in their circumstances to recall this office. Other plans had gradually grown up for the accomplishment of the objects contemplated in its institution. It is a ground of rejoicing that the Scottish churches are, generally, awaking to the consideration of this subject.

The observations just made, apply with equal truth to the same denomination in Ireland. It is not more than one generation since most of the congregations of the Reformed Presbyterian Church there have passed from the condition of missionary stations. While a church exists in so scattered a state, the want of deacons is not sensibly felt, and passes unobserved.  [return]

Note B.

The following list of texts in the Old Testament, which relate to the ecclesiastical finances, has been prepared with some care. Passages referring to private pecuniary concerns are not given. The list contains, it is believed, all the texts in which mention is made of any arrangement respecting the public fund of the Church.

Lev. 5, trespass money to be given to Aaron and his sons.

Lev. 27, laws regarding dedicated things.

Num. 3:46-61, directs the redemption-money of the first-born to be given to Aaron and his sons.

Num. 4, chapter throughout, directs the distribution of the “charge of the tabernacle,” among the families of Kohath, Gershon, and Merari.

Num. 18, the provision made for the maintenance of the priests and Levites, was all to be “ devoted,” and under their charge.

Num. 31:26-54, a prescribed portion of the spoils of the Midianites to be brought to “Eleazar the priest,” vvs. 29, 31, 41, 51, 54, and given to “the Levites,” vvs. 30, 47.

2 Kings 12, the priests were ordered by Jehoash to repair the temple. They were negligent, and the king and Jehoiada took the matter into their own hands. An extraordinary case.

2 Kings 22:4-7, the high priest to take charge of the funds to repair the temple, in Josiah’s reign.

1 Chron. 9:26, certain Levites were over the “treasuries of the house of God.”

1 Chron. 23:28-32, the whole charge of “the tabernacle – of the holy things – of Aaron and his sons,” assigned to the Levites.

1 Chron. 26:25-28, Levites had “charge over all the treasures of the dedicated things.”

1 Chron. 29:8, all the treasures devoted to the building of the temple, put into “the treasure of the house of the Lord, by the hand of Jehiel the Gershonite.”

2 Chron. 8:15, the same order was observed during Solomon’s reign, concerning the treasures.

2 Chron. 24:5-14, the repair of the temple, as in 2 Kings 12.

2 Chron. 31:11-19, the treasures of the dedicated things were put into the hands of the Levites, vs. 14, “to distribute the oblations of the Lord, and the most holy things;” vs. 15, “to give to their brethren by courses, as well to the great as to the small;” vs. 19, “to give portions to all the males among the priests, and to all that were reckoned by genealogies among the Levites.” The latter were, “the sons of Aaron the priest.”

2 Chron. 34:10-19, the same as 2 Kings 22.

Neh. 10:37-39, and 13:13, tithes, etc., given to the Levites. The “priest was to be with the Levites, when the Levites took tithes.”

Neh. 12:44, 47, the holy things given to the Levites, who gave them to the sons of Aaron.

These are the principal texts, if not all, from which we can gather any information concerning the fiscal administration of the Old Testament Church. One principle pervades the whole. The property dedicated to ecclesiastical purposes was always committed, for safe keeping and distribution, to the Levites, or priests: all of whom were ordained officers.

Besides, there was a distinct state-treasury, under civil control. 1 Chron. 27:24-31.  [return to Chapter 2]  [return to Chapter 4]

Note C.

The question respecting the title to church property – that is, in whom it should vest – is connected with the subject of our investigations, and deserves some notice. There is great diversity of practice on this subject among the churches. Some have incorporated boards of trustees; others, incorporated consistories; some, unincorporated boards of trustees, or deacons; some vest their property in private individuals, in trust. This diversity of practice shows the entire want of fixed principles, in regard to this whole subject in the churches. An inquiry of this kind could not arise in a nation truly Reformed, and doing its duty in reference to the Church. At present, there can be very satisfactory reasons given why the title should be vested in the officers of the congregation:

1. They are its natural representatives. 2. They and their successors will remain while there is an organized congregation. 3. In their hands it is less likely to be used in any way injurious to the congregation. These considerations show both the equity and propriety of the title so vesting. However held, it is of course understood, that the whole is a trust in law, and cannot, without moral and legal guilt, be perverted from the ends for which it was contributed.  [return]