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Julian Period, 4745. Vulgar Era,
among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles Jerusalem. forth a little space;
35 And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.
36 For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.
37 After this man rose up Judas of Galilee, in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.
38 And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men,
39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest
40 And to him they agreed: and when they had called
41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.
42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
The appointment of seven Deacons.
ACTS vi. 1-6.
1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples
Old died, the honour of the law failed, and purity and Phari-
They tell us that Rabban Gamaliel the Old died eighteen
(a) The Talmudists say, he succeeded his father, and was president of the council.-See Biscoe on the Acts, vol. ii. p. 220.
כל עצה שהא לשם,,It was a common saying among the Jews 29
“phnb now, omne consilium, quod ad gloriam Dei suscipitur, prospero eventu gaudebit.-Schoetgen Hor. Heb. vol. i. p. 424.
an Pe- was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians Jerusalem. 4745. against the Hebrews, because their widows were neggarra, lected in the daily ministration.
2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business 30
30 We now read the first account of the election of any order of men in the Christian Church, from among its own members. The Apostles and the Seventy had been ordained to their sacred work by their divine Master himself. The increased number of converts now made additional assistance necessary, and the manner in which the seven were set apart deserves both the attention and imitation of every Society united together in the name of Christ.
It is the misfortune of the Christian Church, that every, even the most minute point, has been made the subject of con troversy; we must begin therefore our inquiry into the nature of the office to which the Seven were appointed, by endeavouring to ascertain from what body of men they were selected, before they were set apart by the apostles. It has been questioned whether they were of the seventy-of the hundred and eight, who, together with the apostles, composed the number of the hundred and twenty upon whom the Spirit fell at the day of Pentecost-or, of the general mass of converts, now added to the Church. Lightfoot (a) supposes them to have been of the hundred and twenty. These he observes were they that were of Christ's constant retinue, and "companied with him all the time that he went in and out among them;" and who, being constant witnesses of his actions, and auditors of his doctrine, were appointed by him for the ministry. These are they that the story meaneth all along in these passages, They were all together"" They went to their company"-" Look ye out among yourselves"-" They were all scattered abroad, except the apostles"-" They which were scattered abroad, preached," &c. The Jews say, "Ezra's great synagogue was of a hundred and twenty men." And their canons allow not the setting up of a Sanhedrim of three and twenty judges in any city, but where there were a hundred and twenty men fit some for one office and employment, some for another (b).
If we may give credit to Epiphanus, the seven deacons were of the number of the Seventy. If this was the case, and if they had been made partakers of the miraculous gifts, they were already invested with the power both of preaching and administering the sacraments. No imposition of hands therefore was necessary to set them apart for this office. The fact seems to be, that the difficulties and embarrassments arising from the incipient disputes between the widows of the Hellenists and of the Hebrews, might have increased so much, and excited so much dissension and unkindness, that it became necessary to select some of the next rank to the apostles, and appoint them for this express purpose. The general opinion however is, that the deacons were chosen from among the general mass of believers.
The second and the following verses are thus paraphrased by Hammond-And the twelve apostles calling the Church together, said unto them, we have resolved, or decreed, that it is no.
4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and Jerusale: riod, 4745. to the ministry of the word:
way fit or reasonable, that we should neglect the preaching of
Therefore do you nominate to us seven men, faithful and
And by that means we shall be less disturbed, or interrupted, in our daily employment of praying and preaching the Gospel. The general opinion, as it is here expressed by Hammond, certainly is, that the deacons were selected from among the mass of believers ; and that the Greek words το πλῆθος τῶν μαθητῶν, here rendered the multitude of the disciples, refers to the community or society of Christians, called sometimes πávres, the All, (1 Tim. v. 20.) πλetoves, the many, (2 Cor. ii. 6.) and sometimes xpisiávo, Christians, or followers of Christ; and also Matt. xviii. 17. επiríμα vжо πávtwv tλecóvwv, before the Church.
From whatever body of men the deacons were selected, the narrative before us informs us of two important facts. The utmost caution was used on the part of the apostles, to prevent the admission of inferior or unworthy men into the offices of the Christian Church. The apostles, the heads of the Church, prescribed the qualifications for the office, the people chose the persons who were thus worthy, and the apostles ordained them to the appointed office. Every Church we infer, therefore, is entitled, and is bound to follow this plan of conduct. Its ecclesiastical heads are the sole judges and directors of the qualifications required for the fulfilment of any sacred office; the persons who are to fill those offices must be taken from the general mass of the people, and they are then, when thus known and approved, to be set apart by prayer, and laying on of the hands of those to whom that power is rightly committed. Till they are thus set apart, their own qualifications, and the general approbation of the people, do not constitute their right of admission to the offices of the Christian Church. If Scripture is to be our guide in matters which concern Christian societies, as well as in those which interest us as individuals, these are the directions it has for ever given to the Churches of Christ, in every nation, wherever its sacred pages have been imparted. The apostles alone called the Church together, and gave them directions to look out from among them seven men of good report, specifying at the same time their necessary endowments and numbers; and reserving to themselves the power of appointing them to the sacred office. And when we consider that the gifts of the Holy Ghost were one indispensable qualification, and may be regarded as the præelection to some sacred function; no possible authority can be derived from this portion of Scripture to sanction the laity in taking upon themselves the choice and appointmeut of their respective ministers. The same rules which were on the present occasion prescribed, we have reason to suppose, were observed likewise in the nomination of bishops and deacons in other Churches. For in St. Paul's Epistle to Timothy and Titus, we read he desires the bishop who ordains, to inquire most parti
5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and Jerusalem.
cularly into the character of those who were admitted into the
We are now to inquire into the nature and extent of the dea-
The evidence of the Fathers is no less clear; their writings are to be valued not only for their testimony to the opinions of the Primitive Church, but for their statements of facts. The customs of the cotemporaries of the apostles, or their successors in the next age, when those customs were universal in every country where Christianity was established, are related by the Fathers and they have ever been esteemed therefore as useful chroniclers, and as our best guides in all questions concerning the faith or discipline of the early Church When the Fathers are unanimous in asserting the prevalence of a custom in the day in which they lived; when they describe it as universal ; when they declare it to have prevailed in the age of the apostles; and when their testimony is confirmed either by the positive affirmation of Scripture, or is alluded to in Scripture, or is supported by rational inference from the language of Scripture, we are justified in pronouncing such opinion, custom, or practice, to have been either instituted, or at least sanctioned by the apostles. If there be any thing of a doubtful nature in the pas
Julian Pe- they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Jerusale
sages of Scripture, which relate the opinion or practice in ques-
In answer to those who consider that the order of deacons is
Many other similar references might be given; but it is only necessary here to add, they were ordained by the imposition of hands by the apostles, in the very same manner as priests were ordained; and that this solemn ceremony could not have been used, had the deacons been designed only for civil and temporary purposes.
Mosheim has endeavoured to shew that the seven deacons were not the only persons appointed by the apostles to take charge of the poor, as there must have been curators for that office long before this period, in consequence of the increasing numbers of the Church; and there must, therefore, in fact, have been deacons before there were any such by name. He argues, these ministers having been selected from amongst the indigenous Jews, who in number far exceeded the foreign ones, it was found that they were not strictly impartial, but were apt to lean a little more than was right in favour of their fellow citizens, and those of their own country, and discovered a greater readiness in relieving the widows of native Jews than the others. The foreign Jews, whom St. Luke terms Greeks, being much dissatisfied at this, and murmuring greatly against the Hebrews on account thereof, the apostles convoked the members of the Church, and commanded them to nominate seven men of approved faith and integrity, to whom the management of the concerns of the people might without apprehension be committed. The people complied with these directions, and chose by their suffrages the appointed number of men, six of them being Jews by birth, and one a proselyte, of the name of Nicolaus. These seven deacons, as we commonly call them, were all of them chosen from amongst the foreign Jews. This be thinks is sufficientlyevident, from the circumstance of their names being all of them Greek for the Jews of Palestine were not accustomed to