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JANUARY, 18 6 6.
ART. I.--Sustentation Fund.
At the recent meeting of the Synod of New Jersey, the Rev. Samuel J. Baird, D. D., as chairman of a committee appointed a year ago, presented an elaborate report on the subject of “unemployed ministers.” One reason assigned for the fact that so many ministers, well qualified for the sacred office, were destitute of regular employment, was the insufficiency of support. Many of them had been forced to leave their fields of labour because they could not sustain themselves and families upon the salaries which they received. As the truth of this statement could not be denied, it naturally gave rise to the inquiry, What could be done to meet the dificulty, and to secure to every faithful minister devoted to his work an adequate support? The importance of this question and its bearing on the interests of individuals and of the church, secured for it the earnest consideration of every member of the Synod. In the course of the discussion which arose on this subject, reference was made to the attempt originated in 1847 to secure the adoption of the plan of a general sustentation fund analogous to that which had been so successfully carried out in the Free Church of Scotland. In that year, James Lenox, Esq., of New York, caused to be printed a pamphlet on Church Economics by the late illustrious Dr. Chalmers, a copy of which was sent to every
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minister in our church. The sermon before the General Assembly which met May, 1847, in Richmond, Virginia, was devoted to a recommendation of that plan. In the Princeton Review for July, 1847, the same scheme was pressed upon the attention of the church. All these efforts proved powerless. They produced no sensible impression. When, however, the same views were presented to the Synod they met with immediate and general approbation, and that body resolved to memorialize the next General Assembly in favour of the adoption of the plan of a sustentation fund. This resolution, we believe, was adopted by an unanimous vote.
The subject was presented to the last General Assembly in an overture from the North River Presbytery, drawn up by the Rev. J. K. Wight. This overture proposed the plan of separate presbyterial sustentation funds; each presbytery being expected to take measures for raising the salaries paid by the feebler churches up to a given standard. The obvious objections to this plan are, 1. That it cuts off the distant, small, and feeble presbyteries from the abounding resources of those which are more numerous and wealthy. 2. It throws the burden of selfsupport after all on those who are least able to bear it, and effectually prevents the progress of the church towards, and beyond its extremities. Another overture on the same subject was presented to the Assembly from the Presbytery of Indianapolis. It was hardly to be expected that the Assembly could favourably entertain these propositions in the state of the country and of public feeling then existing. The subject was therefore laid aside, with the expression of the judgment of the Assembly, that the object aimed at by these overtures is desirable, and referring to “the unsettled condition of the country,” as the reason why it was deemed inexpedient “to adopt measures at present to raise a special sustentation fund by collections in the churches for that object.” At the last meeting of the Synod of New York this subject occupied the attention of that body, and a committee of fifteen was appointed to prepare a report to be made at the next meeting.
The facts above mentioned indicate that the mind of the church is awake to the importance of this subject, and is in a favourable state for its consideration. We, therefore, hope
that the following exhibition of the principles and facts which should control our action in this matter, may not prove altogether useless. As God has ordained the preaching of the gospel to be the great means of salvation, and has appointed a class of men to be devoted to that work, and expressly declared that those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel, the duty of providing for the support of the ministry has been recognized in all ages and in all parts of the church. The great practical question has ever been, How can this duty be most advantageously performed? Our limits will not admit of an enumeration of the different methods which have in fact been adopted, much less of any attempt to exhibit their comparative advantages and disadvantages. In this country we are shut up to one or the other of two plans. First, we may throw the responsibility upon the particular congregation of which the minister is the pastor; or, second, we may make the support of the ministry of the church the common duty of the whole church.
The former of these plans has been generally acted upon by Presbyterians in this country from the beginning. It has become so familiar, and regarded so much as a matter of course, that it will probably be a long and difficult process to convince the people that it is not the best or the most righteous plan. It is so obviously unjust and unreasonable, and so out of analogy with the action of the church in other matters, that it has never been adhered to with strictness or uniformity. From the earliest periods of our history we were accustomed to send out missionaries to destitute portions of the church, supported by a general contribution from the church as a whole. And in later times we have made it the duty of the Board of Missions to supplement the salaries of the pastors of feeble congregations in every part of the land. This, as far as it goes, is a recognition of the right principle, and has been the means of incalculable good. Hundreds of churches have been organized, and hundreds more have been cherished until they have become not only self-supporting, but able to aid in sustaining others. But it is obvious, and almost universally admitted, that this mode of operation does not accomplish all that is desirable and obligatory. It leaves a very large proportion of our ministers
to suffer under the greatest privations. They are subjected not only to great self-denials, but to a course of life which is injurious to their health, and to that of their families. Females, delicately brought up and encumbered with the care of children, are obliged to do all their own household work. The children themselves are deprived of the advantages of education, and the minister is either harassed and broken down, or he is forced to turn his attention to secular affairs in order to gain the necessaries of life. If a fair and full statement of the sufferings of a large class of the most faithful of our ministers could be presented to the church, it would fill every heart with shame and sorrow.
Our present system not only works this great injustice to the ministers, it is no less unjust and injurious in its operation on the people. A poor man who desires the preaching of the gospel for himself and family, is obliged to pay a larger portion out of his daily earnings than the wealthy members of our flourishing churches. It is a far greater burden for some congregations to raise two or three hundred dollars for their pastors, than for others to raise five or six thousand. The present system throws the burden on those least able to bear it.
But the greatest evil of our present plan is that it cripples the energy of the church, and prevents its progress. Churches begun and cherished for a while are abandoned; promising fields are neglected, and to a large extent the poor have not the gospel preached to them. Hundred of thousands in our cities and in every part of the land are as ignorant almost as the heathen, and they must so continue, and their children after them, so far as we are concerned, if our present plan be persisted in. It is the crying sin and reproach of the Presbyterian Church that it does not preach the gospel to the poor. It cannot do so to any great extent or with real efficiency, if the preacher is to be supported by pew-rents, or by the contributions of those to whom he preaches. What provision have we for preaching to the destitute? How many missionaries have we at home sustained as are our foreign missionaries, independently of those to whom they carry the news of salvation ? How is it in New York, Philadelphia, or Baltimore? How is it with large districts in our country where a Presbyterian minister