|The Pastors' Advocate:|
AN EPISTLE TO THE MEMBERS OF THE BAPTIZED CHURCHES OF JESUS CHRIST.
by C. H. Spurgeon
From the January 1867 Sword and Trowel
An exceedingly great and bitter cry has gone up unto heaven concerning many of us. It is not a cry from the world which hates us, nor from our fellow-members whom we may have offended, but, (alas that it should be so!) it is wrung from hundreds of poor, but faithful ministers of Christ Jesus who labor in our midst in word and doctrine, and are daily oppressed by the niggardliness of churls among us. Many of our churches honorably discharge towards their pastors the duty of ministering to them in temporal things, but by far the larger number dole out to them a pittance upon which they do not live but barely exist. Brethren of abundant liberality are among us, but those of an opposite disposition abound. I should be very sorry to be compelled to adduce the many cases in which the hire of the spiritual laborer who has reaped down our fields is wickedly kept back; but this I know full wellthat at the cries of them which have reaped have entered into the ears of the Lord God of Sabaoth, and it is high time that a voice should be lifted up to warn the churches of their sin, and of the consequences which will surely fellow unless there be a speedy amendment. Having no end to serve but the glory of God, and having no pecuniary gain to seek, and having personally seen and lamented the affliction and poverty of my fellow-servants in the ministry, I feel bound with all affection, but much earnestness, to press the matter upon the hearts of the faithful in Christ Jesus.
Hundreds of our ministers would improve their circumstances if they were to follow the commonest handicrafts. The earnings of artisans of but ordinary skill are far above the stipends of those among us who are considered to be comfortably maintained. Is this the way in which we show our appreciation of their spiritual gifts, their fervent prayers, their earnest labors, their watchings for souls? In thousands of cases church members do not give so much as one penny a week towards the maintenance of the man whom they call their "beloved pastor," and if they pay the mean and paltry pittance of a shilling for a quarter of a year they reckon themselves to have done liberally, and as becometh saints. Is this the manner in which we show our gratitude to the great Head of the church for sending us pastors after his own heart to feed us with knowledge and understanding? Worthy devoted men are obliged to sue for alms at the hand of our charitable Fund in London, in order to eke out the scanty portions which their people allot to them; while in many cases there are those connected with their churches who dwell in sumptuous houses, own farms of many acres, and ride in their carriages. Is the Lord well pleased with those professors who thus constrain others to maintain a ministry of which they enjoy the fruit, and which they are therefore bound in common honesty to support by their own gifts? Do not many of the wealthy and of those who are thriving in business need to blush when they see themselves giving towards their pastor's maintenance no more than is given by domestic servants and day laborers? Is it not a thing to be wept over that men's consciences should allow them to speak of being consecrated to Christ, while the servant of Christ pines in poverty, and they of their abundance do not minister to him? "If," says the apostle, "we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we reap your carnal things?" 1 Corinthians 9:11. But is it not in these days thought to be a very great thing if the preacher be properly sustained, and if he be left to be humiliated by debt or to be pinched by want, is it not thought to be a trifling grievance? The last great day alone will reveal the secret sorrows, the bitter anguish through which many a servant of the Lord has had to pass because of the niggardliness of the people who professed to be his loving and faithful flock. "Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things, live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar, are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel." 1 Corinthians 9:13-14. Is not this ordinance of God greatly trifled with? Might it not even be conceived that the churches feel it to be a yoke of bondage, or think it to be better that men should starve of the gospel than live of it? If it be our conscientious belief that the pastors of the churches should give their whole time gratuitously, let us say so, and be consistent. If the laborer be not in our esteem worthy of his hire, let us tell him so, and bid him go about his business. Those who deny the right of the ministers to temporal support fly in the teeth of Scripture, but they are at least consistent in withholding their money; but to hold with a paid ministry, to make even more than commendable stir about electing a pastor, to expect him to be instant in season and out of season, in the pulpit, and from house to house, and then to deny him even enough of bread to eat, and raiment to put on, is shameful. One would imagine from the excitement frequently attending the choice of a minister that the office was held in the most eminent esteem, but alas! the wretched contributions prove the reverse. For this there is no excuse. If you will have the man, be honest enough to pay him. What right-minded man would wish another even to do the work of his scullery for nought? Who would consent to be pauperized by receiving another man's labor without returning him a recompense? How is it with your consciences, ye non-subscribing church-members, or have ye no consciences at all?
Some hearers appear to imagine that all their duty towards their ministers lies in criticizing them, and they judge themselves to have done the preacher a great service if they speak a good word of his discourses. They use the preacher as the old carriers did their pack-horses, when they heaped heavy burdens upon their backs, and afterwards hung bells at their ears to make them music. As an old writer says, "ministers empty their books, empty their veins, and empty their brains, but they must feed upon turnips and leave their posterity beggars." The world maintains its players and fiddlers far better than the Christian church remunerates its ministers; and a dancer or an actor will receive more than the most learned and edifying divine. Many farmers spend more on their dogs than upon their minister, and one dinner will cost some traders as much as a year's gospel; and yet these persons would be in a fine fever if their piety were doubted. The lives of many professors so far as their gifts to the Lord's cause are concerned, would, if fairly written out, read like a libel upon human nature, and would be a mere burlesque of Christianity. Many, it is to be hoped, have never thought upon this matter carefully. Would to God it were in my power to let those who withhold from thoughtlessness see the sorrow which they inflict upon those whom they respect. The ambassadors of peace do indeed weep bitterly with a weeping which is neither profitable to themselves nor convenient for us. At the present moment the great advance in the price of all the necessaries of life is very keenly felt in the pastor's house; but has the fact been taken into consideration by the churches? The wages of workmen have advanced, but not the incomes of the workers for God. Bricklayers, carpenters, printers, all draw their extra pay at the week's end, but there is no increase to the scanty quarterage of the poor preacher. Even kind friends forget this, and unkind ones only remember it to make cruel remarks thereon. Meanwhile the evil recoils; the poverty of the minister is visible in the flock. He is meanly fed temporally, and they are scantily fed spiritually. They give unto the Lord scant measure, and even so is it measured unto them again. Want of books must impoverish the hearer quite as much as the preacher; debt must distract the thoughts, and so impair the discourse; children poorly clad, and rent unpaid, must injure the mind and so the sermon. I do not ask luxuries for my brethren, although many of them might claim even these; but I would with all my heart and soul say, "Deacons of churches, stir up the members, and set the example yourselves of giving our preachers at least a generous supply of necessaries." You, the deacons of our churches, know from your own experience, that £100 per annum, for a man with a wife and children, is not wealth, but far from it, and yet how many ministers would be happy if their incomes came near to this moderate sum. We are asked repeatedly to send students to spheres where £40 is mentioned as if it were competence, if not more, and those who so write are not always farm-laborers, but frequently tradesmen, who must know what penury £40 implies. A church contributing £70, frequently counts itself munificent, but many of its members must know that such a sum is not respectability, nor much less than hard, pinching, but covert want. I heard the other day of a minister whose congregation would be shocked to know it, and I hope ashamed also, who very seldom sees a joint of meat, except on other people's tables, and is indebted to gifts from friends in other denominations for parcels of left-off clothing, which are made up for his otherwise ragged children. With desperate self-denial alone is he kept from debt; comfort he never knows. If these things needed to be so, it were a theme of rejoicing that our brethren are honored to endure hardness for Christ's sake, but these are in many cases needless hardships, and should not be inflicted upon our honored brethren. If their Master called them to it, well and good, but it is not the Master, it is the thoughtless fellow-servant who puts them to so severe a trial. Persuaded that a great reform is needed, I propose to publish such cases of deep necessity as may be supplied to me by Baptist ministers and are well authenticated. The names and addresses shall be sacredly kept secret, but the facts shall be published that holy shame may induce a speedy amendment. Any person can reprint this article, and the more widely it is distributed the better. I speak not without abundant cause. I am no retailer of baseless scandal. I am no advocate for an idle and ill-deserving ministry. I open my mouth for a really earnest, godly, laborious, gracious body of men, who are men of God, and approved of his church. Are these for ever to be starved? Shall the ox that treadeth out the corn be always muzzled? Shall he who planteth the vineyard eat none of its fruit? It is our shame as Baptists to be mean towards our pastors. Brethren, help to roll away this reproach at once and for ever.
C. H. SPURGEON.