Paying the Pastor

Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856


"Money, money, money! That's the everlasting cry! I just won't go to church I'll stay at home and read the Bible! Not that I care for a few dollars more than I do for the dust that blows in the wind; but this selling of salvation for gold disgusts me. I'm sick to death of it!"

"But hear, first, Mr. Larkin, what we want money for," said Mr. Eldridge, one of the vestrymen of the church to which the former belonged. "You know that our minister's salary is very small; in fact, entirely insufficient for the maintenance of his family. He has, as might be supposed, fallen into debt, and we are making an effort to raise a sufficient sum to relieve him from his unpleasant embarrassment."

"But what business has he to go in debt, Mr. Eldridge? He knows the amount of his income, and, as an honest man, should not let his expenses exceed it."

"But you know as well as I do, that he cannot live on four hundred dollars a year."

"I don't know any such thing, friend Eldridge. But I do know, that there are hundreds and thousands who live on much less and save a little into the bargain. That, however, is neither here nor there. Four hundred dollars a year is all this church can afford to pay a minister and that Mr. Malcolm was distinctly told before he came. If he could not live on the salary offered, why did he come? Mr. Pelton never received more."

"Beg your pardon, Mr. Larkin. Mr. Pelton never received less than seven hundred dollars a year. There were always extra subscriptions made for him."

"I never gave anything more than my regular subscription and pew-rent."

"Having been in the vestry for the last ten years, I happen to know that there was always something to make up at the end of the year, and it generally came out of the pockets of a few."

"Well, it isn't right, that is all I have to say," returned Mr. Larkin. "A minister has no business to saddle himself upon a congregation in that way for less than his real weight. It's an imposition, and one that I am not going to stand. I'm opposed to all these forced levies, from principle."

"I rather think the first error is on the side of the congregation," said Mr. Eldridge. "I think they are not only to blame, but really dishonest, in fixing upon a sum for the support of a minister that is plainly inadequate to his maintenance. Here, in our church, for instance, a thousand dollars might be paid to a minister with the greatest ease in the world, and no one be oppressed by his subscription. And yet, we are very content and self-complacent in our niggardly offering of four hundred dollars."

"A thousand dollars! I don't believe any minister ought to receive such a salary. I have no notion of tempting, by inducements like that, money-lovers into the sacred office."

"Pardon me, Mr. Larkin, but how much does it cost you to live? Not less than two thousand five hundred dollars a year, I presume."

"But I don't put my expenses alongside of the minister's. I can afford to spend all that it costs me. I have honestly made what I possess, and have a right to enjoy it."

"I didn't question that, Mr. Larkin. I only turned your thoughts in this direction, that you might realize in your own mind, how hard it must be for a man with a family of three children, just the number that you have, to live on four hundred dollars a year."

But the allusion to matters personal to Mr. Larkin gave that gentleman a fine opportunity to feel offended; which he did not fail to embrace, and thus close the interview.

This was Mr. Eldridge's first effort to obtain a subscription for paying off the minister's debt. It quite disheartened him. He had intended making three calls on his way to his store that morning, for the purpose of trying to raise something for Mr. Malcolm; but he felt so discouraged by the reception he had met with from Mr. Larkin, that he passed on without doing so. Near his store was a carriage repository. The owner of it put his hand upon his shoulder as he was going by, and said, "Just step in, I want to show you something beautiful."

Mr. Eldridge went in, and was shown a very handsome and fashionably-made carriage, with all the modern improvements.

"This is something very elegant, certainly. Who is it for?"

"One of the members of your church."

"Ah?"

"Yes, it is for Larkin."

"Indeed! How much does it cost him?"

"Eight hundred dollars."

"He ought to have a fine pair of horses for so fine a carriage."

"And so he has. He bought a noble pair, last week, for a thousand dollars."

Mr. Eldridge said what he could in praise of the elegant carriage; but he couldn't say much, for he had no heart to do so. He felt worse than ever about the deficiency in Mr. Malcolm's salary. On the next day he was in better spirits, and called in upon one of the members of the church, as he passed to his store. He stated his errand, and received this reply

"I'll tell you what, Mr. Eldridge, I am of Larkin's opinion in this matter. If our minister agreed to come for four hundred dollars then he should stick to his contract. He's no business to go in debt, and then call upon us to get him out of his difficulties. It isn't the right thing. I don't mind a few dollars any more than you do; but I like principle. I like to see all men, especially ministers, stick to their agreement. Malcolm knew before he came here what we could afford to give him, and if he couldn't live upon that, he had no business to come. That's what I think of it, and I always speak out my mind plainly!"

Mr. Eldridge made no more begging calls on that day. But he tried it again on the next, and found that Larkin had been over the ground ahead of him, and said so much about "the imposition of the thing," that he could do little or nothing. There was a speciousness about Larkin's manner of alluding to the subject, that carried people away with him; particularly as what he said favored their inclination to keep a tight hold on their purse-strings. He was piqued with Eldridge, and this set him to talking, and doing more mischief than he thought for.

Rev. Malcolm was a man of about thirty years of age. He had been ordained a couple of years previous to the date of his call to the church where he now preached. At the time of doing so, he was engaged in teaching a school; from which he received a very comfortable income. The one who ordained him recommended the church at Dayville for Mr. Malcolm; which was done. The latter was an honest, conscientious man, and sincere in his desire to do good in the sacred office to which he believed himself called. When the invitation to settle at Dayville came, he left home and visited the church, in order that he might determine whether it was his duty to go there or not. On his return, his wife inquired, with a good deal of interest, how he liked the place, and if he thought he would go there.

"I think I shall accept the call," said he. This was not spoken with much warmth.

"Don't you like the people?" inquired Mrs. Malcolm.

"Yes, as far as I saw them, they were very pleasant, good sort of people. But the salary is entirely too small."

"How much?"

"Four hundred dollars a year, and the parsonage a little house, which would rent for about a hundred dollars."

"We can't live on that!" said Mrs. Malcolm, in a disappointed tone; "it is out of the question!"

"No, certainly not. But I am assured that at least seven or eight hundred will be made up during the year. This has always been done for Mr. Pelton, and will be done for me, if I accept the call."

"That might do, if we practiced close economy. But why do they not make the salary seven or eight hundred dollars at once? It would be just the same to them, and make the minister feel a great deal more independent."

"True, but we must let people do things in their own way. We can live on seven hundred dollars, and I therefore think it my duty to give up my school, and accept the call."

"No one, certainly, can charge you with sordid views in doing so, for your school yields you now over a thousand dollars, and is increasing."

"I will try and keep my mind free from all thought of what people may say or think," returned Mr. Malcolm, "and endeavor to do right for the sake of right."

The wife of the Rev. Malcolm fully sympathized with her husband in his wish to enter upon the duties of his sacred calling, and was ready to make any sacrifice that could be made in order to see him in the position he so much desired to occupy. She did not, therefore, make any objection to giving up their pleasant home and sufficient income, but went with him cheerfully to Dayville, and there made every effort to reduce all their expenses to their reduced means of living.

It is a much easier thing to increase our expenses than to reduce them. We get used to a certain style of living, and it is one of the most difficult things in the world to give up this little luxury, and that pleasant indulgence and come right down to the meager necessities of life. This fact was soon apparent to Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm; but they were in earnest in what they were about, and practiced the required self-denial. Their expenses were kept within the limits of seven hundred dollars, the lowest sum that had been named.

At the end of the first three months, one hundred dollars were paid to the minister. When he gave up his school, he sold it out to a person who wished to follow him, for two hundred dollars. The expense of removing to Dayville, and living there for three months, had quite exhausted this sum. Mr. Malcolm paid away his last dollar before the quarter's salary was due, and was forced to let his bread-bill and his meat-bill run on for a couple of weeks; these were paid the moment he received his salary.

"I don't like these bills at all," said he to his wife, after they were paid. "A minister should never owe a dollar; it does him no good. Above all things, his mind should live in a region above the anxieties that a deficient income and consequent debt always occasion. We must economize what we have, and make it go as far as possible."

By the end of two months, the hundred dollars were all expended; but not a word had been said about the additional three or four hundred that had been promised, or that Mr. Malcolm fully believed had been promised. Bills had now to be run up with the baker, grocer, and butcher, which amounted to nearly fifty dollars when the next quarter's salary was paid.

Mr. Malcolm did not doubt but the additional amount promised, would be made up when he consented to accept the call; still he could not help feeling troubled. If things went on as they were going, by the end of the year he would be in debt at least two hundred dollars; and, of all things in the world, he had a horror of debt.

During this time, he was in familiar fellowship with the principal members of his church, and especially with the leading vestrymen who held out inducements to him beyond the fixed salary; but no allusion was made to the subject, and he had too much delicacy to introduce it.

At last, matters approached a climax. The minister was about two hundred dollars in debt, and bills were presented almost every week, and their settlement politely urged. This was a condition of things not to be endured by a man of Mr. Malcolm's high sense of right and peculiar delicacy of feeling. At length, after lying awake for half of the night, thinking over what was to be done, he came to the reluctant conclusion that it was his imperative duty to those he owed, to mention the necessities of his case to the vestry, and learn from them, without further delay, whether he had anything beyond the four hundred dollars to expect.

The hardest task Mr. Malcolm had ever performed was now before him, and he shrank from it with painful reluctance. But the path of duty was plain, and he was not a man to hold back when he saw his way clear. If there had been any hesitation, he would have effectually dispelled it.

Mr. Malcolm went to the store of Mr. Eldridge, one of the vestrymen, and found him quite busy with customers. He waited for half an hour for him to be disengaged, and then went out, saying, as he passed him at the counter, that he would call in again.

"Oh, dear!" he murmured to himself, with a long-drawn sigh, as he emerged upon the street, "is not this humiliating? If I had engaged for only four hundred dollars a year I would have lived on bread and water, rather than have exceeded my income; but at least seven hundred were promised. It was, however, an informal promise; and I was wrong, perhaps, in trusting to anything so unsettled as this. Of course, it will be paid to me when I make known my present situation; but the doing of that I shrink from."

"Mr. Thompson was here again for his bill," were the first words which greeted the ears of the minister when he returned home.

"What did you say to him?" he asked.

"I told him that you would settle it very soon. He said he hoped you would, for he needed money badly, and our bill had been overdue for some time."

"He was rude, then!"

"A little so," replied the wife, in a meek voice.

Mr. Malcolm paced the floor with rapid steps; he felt deeply disturbed.

An hour afterwards, he entered the store of Mr. Eldridge, and found the owner disengaged. He did not linger in preliminaries, but approached the subject thus:

"You remember, Mr. Eldridge, that in the interview I had with you and two of the vestry previous to my accepting the call of this church, you stated that my income would not be limited to the four hundred dollars named as the minister's salary, which I then told you was a smaller sum than I could possibly live upon?"

Mr. Eldridge exhibited a momentary confusion when the minister said this; but he immediately replied, "Yes, I believe something was said on that subject, though I have not thought of it since. We always had to make up something for Mr. Pelton, and I suppose we must do the same for you, if it is necessary. Do you find your salary inadequate?"

"Entirely so and I knew it would be inadequate from the first. It is impossible for me to support my family on four hundred dollars; and had I not been assured that at least three or four hundred dollars extra would be made up during the year I never would have dreamed of accepting the call. It has been a principle with me not to go in debt; and since I have been a man, I have not, until this time, owed a dollar; and would not have owed it now, had I received, since I have resided in Dayville, the income I fully expected."

Mr. Malcolm spoke with warmth, for he felt some risings of the natural man at the indifference with which a promise of so much consequence to him had been disregarded.

"How much do you owe?" inquired the vestryman.

"About two hundred dollars."

"Indeed! so much?"

A bitter remark arose to the minister's lips, but he forced himself to keep silence. He was a man, with all the natural feelings of a man.

"Well, I suppose we must make it up for you somehow," said Mr. Eldridge, the tone in which he spoke showing that the subject worried him. "Are any of the demands on you pressing?" he inquired, after a pause.

"All of them are pressing," replied the minister. "I am tormented every day."

"Indeed! That's bad!" returned Mr. Eldridge, speaking with more real kindness and sympathy than at first. "I am sorry you have been permitted to get into so unpleasant a situation."

"It certainly is very unpleasant, and entirely destroys my peace. Were I not thus unhappily situated, I would not have said a word to you on the subject of my salary."

"Don't let it distress you so much, Mr. Malcolm. I will see that the amount you need is at once made up."

The minister returned home disturbed, mortified, and humiliated.

"If this is the way they pay their minister," he remarked to his wife, after relating to her what had happened, "it is the last year that I shall enjoy the benefits of their peculiar system. But little good will my preaching or that of anyone else do them, while they disregard the first and plainest principles of honesty. There is no lack of ability to give a minister the support he needs; and the withholding of that support, or the supplying of it by constraint shows a moral dullness which argues but poorly for their love of anything but themselves. I believe that the laborer is worthy of his hire; that when men build a church and call a minister for their own spiritual good, they are bound to supply his natural needs; and that, if they fail to do so, it is a sign to the minister that he ought to leave them. Some may call this a selfish doctrine, and unworthy of a minister of God; but I believe it to be the true doctrine, and shall act up to it. It does men no good to let them quietly go on, year after year, starving their ministers while they have abundant means to make them comfortable. If they prize their wealth higher than they do spiritual riches, it is but casting pearls before swine to scatter even the most brilliant gems of wisdom before them; and in this unprofitable task, I am the last man to engage. I gave up all hope of worldly good, in order to preach the everlasting gospel for the salvation of men. In order to do this successfully, my mind must be kept free from the depressing cares of life, and there must be something reciprocal in those to whom I minister in heavenly things. If this is not the case, all my labor will be in vain."

On the next day, as the minister was walking down the street, he met Mr. Larkin. The allusion to this gentleman's personal matters, which the vestryman had made, still caused him to feel sore; it touched him in a vulnerable part. He had been talking quite freely, since then, to every member of the church he happened to meet, about the coolness with which Mr. Malcolm, after running himself in debt, a thing he had no business to do, called upon the church to raise him more money. He for one, he said, was not going to stand any such nonsense, and he hoped every member of the church would as firmly set his face against all such impositions. If they were to pay off this debt then they would just have another twice as large to settle in a few months. It was the principle of the thing which he went against; not that he cared about a few dollars. As soon as Mr. Larkin saw the minister a little ahead of him, he determined to give him a piece of his mind. So when they paused, face to face, and while their hands were locked in a friendly clasp, he said

"Look here, friend Malcolm, I have got something against you; and as I am an independent plain-spoken man, you must not be offended with me for telling you my mind freely."

"The truth never offends me, Mr. Larkin," said the minister, with a smile. "I am not faultless, and willing to correct my faults when I see them."

"Very well." Mr. Larkin spoke in a resolute voice, and seemed to feel pleasure rather than pain in what he was doing. "In the first place, then, I am sorry to find that you possess one very bad fault, common to most ministers and that is, a disposition to live beyond your means, and then come down upon the church to pay your debts."

The blood came rushing to the face of the minister, which his monitor took to be the plainest kind of evidence that he had hit the nail fully upon the head. He went on more confidently.

"Now, this, Mr. Malcolm, I consider to be very wrong very wrong, indeed! and especially so in a young minister in his first year, and in his first church. If such things are in the green tree, what are we to expect in the dry? You accepted our call, and were plainly informed that the salary would be four hundred dollars, plus housing. Upon this, our former minister had lived quite comfortably. If you thought the salary too little, you should not have accepted the call. And accepting it, you should have lived upon it, if you had lived on bread and water."

Mr. Larkin paused. The minister stood with his eyes cast upon the pavement, but made no answer. Mr. Larkin resumed

"It is such things as this that bring scandal upon the church, and drive right thinking men out of it. It isn't that I value a few dollars more than I do the wind; but I like to see principle; and hate all imposition. You are a young man, Mr. Malcolm, and I speak thus plainly to you for your good. I hope you will not feel offended."

Mr. Larkin paused, thinking, perhaps, that he had said enough. The minister's eyes were still upon the pavement, from which he lifted them as soon as his monitor was done speaking. The flush had left his cheeks, that were now pale.

"I thank you for your honesty in speaking so plainly, and will try to profit by what you have told me," said he, calmly. "The best of us are liable to err."

There was something in the words, voice, and manner of the minister, which Mr. Larkin did not clearly comprehend. He had spoken harshly, and, he now felt, with some rudeness; but, while there was nothing in the air with which his reproof was received that evidenced the conviction of error there was no resentment. A moment before, he felt like a superior severely reprimanding an inferior; but now he stood in the presence of one whose calmness and dignity oppressed him. He was about commencing a confused apology for his apparent harshness, when Mr. Malcolm bowed and passed on.

Larkin did not feel very comfortable as he walked away. He soon more than half repented of what he had done, and before night, by way of atonement for his error, called upon Mr. Eldridge, and handed him a check for twenty-five dollars, to help pay off the minister's debt. So much for the principle concerned.

On the next Sabbath, to his great surprise, when the text was announced, it was in the following unexpected words

"Owe no man anything."

The sermon was didactive and narrative. In the didactic portion, the minister was exceedingly close in laying down the principles of honesty in all transactions between man and man, and showed that for a man to live beyond his known income, when that was sufficient to supply his actual needs, was dishonest. Then he gave sundry examples of very common but dishonest practices in those who withhold from others what is justly their due, and concluded this portion of his discourse, by plainly stating the glaring dishonesty of which too many congregations were guilty, in owing their ministers the difference between their regular and fixed income, and what they actually needed for their comfortable support and freedom from care. This, he said, was but a poor commentary upon their love for the church, and showed too plainly its sordid and selfish quality.

This was felt by many to be quite too pointed and out of place; and for a young man, like him, very bold and arrogant. One member took out his tobacco box and struck the lid a smart, emphatic rap before taking a pinch of snuff; another coughed and three or four of the older ones gave several loud "a-h-h-hems!" Throughout the church there was an uneasy movement. But soon all was still again, for the minister had commenced the narrative of something which he said had occurred in a church at no great distance. For a narrative, introduced in a sermon, all ears are open.

Very deliberately and very minutely did Mr. Malcolm give the leading facts which we have already placed before the reader, even down to the sound lecture he had received from Mr. Larkin, and then closed his sermon, after a few words of application, with a firm repetition of his text:

"My brethren, 'Owe no man anything!'"

Of course, there was a buzzing in the hive after this. One made inquiries of another, and it was soon pretty well understood throughout, that seven or eight hundred dollars had actually been promised to the minister instead of the four, which all were very content that he should receive, thinking little and caring little whether he lived well or poorly upon it. But who was it that had rated him so soundly? That was the next question. But nobody knew. Some of those most familiar with Mr. Malcolm boldly asked him the question, but he declined giving an answer. Poor Mr. Larkin trembled, but the minister kept his own counsel.

On the Tuesday following this pointed discourse, Mr. Malcolm received his last quarter's salary four weeks in advance, and three hundred dollars besides. Two hundred of this had been loaned by Mr. Larkin until such time as it could be collected.

At the next meeting of the vestry, the resignation of Mr. Malcolm as minister of the church was received. Before acting upon it, a church-meeting was called, at which it was unanimously voted to double the minister's salary. That is, make it eight hundred. Much was said in his favor as a man of fine talents and sincere piety. In fact, the congregation generally had become much attached to him, and could not bear to think of his leaving them. Money was no consideration now.

The vote of the meeting was conveyed to Mr. Malcolm. He expressed his thanks for the liberal offer, but again declined remaining. Another church-meeting was called, and a thousand dollars unhesitatingly named as the minister's salary, if he would stay. Many doubled their subscriptions, and said that, if necessary, they would quadruple them.

When Mr. Malcolm determined to leave Dayville, he had no church in view; but he did not think it would be useful for him to remain. Nor had he any in view when he declined accepting the offer of eight hundred dollars. But it was different when the offer of a thousand dollars came, for then he held in his hand a call to a neighboring church, where the salary was the same.

The committee to wait upon him, and urge him to accept the still better terms offered, was composed of Eldridge, Larkin, and three others among the oldest and most influential members. He answered their renewed application by handing them the letter he had just received. It was read aloud.

"If money is any object, Mr. Malcolm," said Larkin, promptly, "you need not leave us. Twelve hundred can be as easily made up to you as a thousand."

The minister was slightly disturbed at this. He replied in a low, unsteady voice:

"Money has no influence with me in this matter. All I ask is a comfortable maintenance for my family. This, your first offer of eight hundred dollars would have given; but I declined it, with no other place in view, because I thought it best for both you and me that we should separate. I have tried only to look to the good of the church in my decisions, and I will still endeavor to keep that end before my eyes."

"Have you accepted the call?" asked Mr. Eldridge.

"No, I have but just received it!"

"Have you positively determined that you will not remain with us?"

"I would not say positively."

"Very well. Now, let me say that the desire to have you remain is general, and that the few who have the management of the church affairs, and not the many who make up the congregation, are to blame for previously existing wrongs and errors. From the many, comes a strong desire to have you stay. They say that your ministrations have been of great spiritual benefit to them, and that if you go away, they will suffer loss. Under these circumstances, Mr. Malcolm, will you please stay with us?"

"Give me a few hours to reflect," replied the minister, a good deal affected by this unlooked-for appeal. "I wish to do right; and in doing it, am ready to cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye. As Heaven is my witness, I set before me no earthly reward. If I do consent to remain, I will not receive more than your first offer of eight hundred dollars, for on that I can live comfortably."

When the committee again waited on Mr. Malcolm, to receive his answer, it was in the affirmative; but he was decided in his resolution not to receive more than eight hundred dollars. But the congregation was just as much decided on the other side, and although only two hundred dollars a quarter were paid to their minister by the treasurer, more than fifty dollars flowed in to him during the same period in presents of one useful thing and another, from friends known and unknown.

The church of Dayville had quite reformed its mode of paying the minister.