Christian Fellowship

By John Angell James, 1822


It is the will and appointment of the Lord Jesus Christ, the King and Head of his churches, that they should behave towards their pastors as his ministers, who come in his name, bear his commands, and transact his business; and who are to be treated, in every respect, in a manner that corresponds with their office. In a subordinate sense, they are ambassadors for Christ, and are to be received and esteemed in a way that corresponds with the authority and glory of the Sovereign who commissions them. Whoever slights, insults, or neglects them, in the discharge of their official duties, disobeys and despises their divine Master, who will keenly resent all the injuries that are offered them. No earthly sovereign will allow his messengers to be rejected and insulted with impunity; much less will the Lord of the church. Those who entertain low thoughts of the pastoral office, and neglect its ministrations; who speak contemptuously of their ministers; who excite a spirit of resistance to their counsels, admonitions, and reproofs; who endeavor to lessen that just reverence, to which, for their works' sake, and on their Master's behalf, they are entitled, certainly despise them, and not only them—but Him that sent them also, and for such conduct will incur the heavy displeasure of Christ, Luke 10:16. 1 Thess. 5:13. But to descend to particulars; the duty of church members towards their pastors includes—

I. SUBMISSION to their just and scriptural authority.

It is readily admitted that the unscriptural, and therefore usurped domination of the priesthood is the root whence arose the whole system of papal tyranny; which, springing up like a poison tree in the garden of the Lord, withered by its shadow, and blighted by its influence, almost every plant and flower of genuine Christianity. It is matter of no regret, therefore, nor of surprise, if a ceaseless jealousy should be maintained by those who understand the principles of religious liberty, against the encroachments of pastoral authority. Priestly dominion, as it appears in the Vatican, is the most detestable and the most mischievous of all tyranny. But when it appears in the pastor of an independent church, divested at once of the elements of power and the trappings of majesty, the mere mimicry of authority, it is rather ridiculous than alarming, and bears no nearer resemblance to its prototype at Rome, than the little croaking, hopping frog of the pond, did to the ox of the field, which his pride led him to emulate, until he burst.

Still, however, there is authority belonging to the pastor; for office without authority is a contradiction. "Remember those who have the rule over you," said Paul to the Hebrews, 13:7. "Obey those who have the rule over you. Submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls," ver. 17. "They addicted themselves to the ministry; submit yourselves to such." 1 Cor. 16:15, 16. These are inspired injunctions, and they enjoin obedience and submission on Christian churches to their pastors. The authority of pastors, however, is not legislative or coercive—but simply declarative and executive. To define with precision its limits, is as difficult as to mark the boundaries of the several colors of the rainbow, or those of light and darkness at the hour of twilight in the hemisphere. This is not the only case, in which the precise limits of authority are left undefined by the Scriptures. The duties of the marital union are laid down in the same general manner—the husband is to rule, and the wife to obey; yet it is difficult to declare where, in this instance, authority and submission end. In each of these instances, the union is founded on mutual love, confidence, and esteem, and it might therefore be rationally supposed, that, under these circumstances, general terms are sufficient, and that there would arise no contests for power.

If the people see that all the authority of their pastor is employed for their benefit, they will not be inclined to ascertain by measurement whether he has passed its limits. The very circumstance of his prerogative being thus undefined, should, on the one hand, make him afraid of extending it, and on the other, render his church cautious of diminishing it. It is my decided conviction, that, in some of our churches, the pastor is depressed far below his just level. He is considered merely in the light of a speaking brother. He has no official distinction or authority. His opinion is received with no deference, his person treated with no respect.

Those people who are anxious to strip their pastors of all just elevation, cannot expect to derive much edification from their labors; for instruction and advice, like substances falling to the earth, impress the mind with a momentum proportionate to the height from which they descend.

II. Church members should treat their pastor with distinguishing HONOR, ESTEEM, and LOVE.

"Let the elders that rule well be accounted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine." 1 Tim. 5:17. * "Know those who have the rule over you, and esteem them very highly in love, for their works' sake." 1 Thess. 5:11, 12. To prescribe in what way our love should express itself, is almost needless, as love is the most inventive passion of the heart, and will find or make a thousand opportunities for displaying its power. Love is also PRACTICAL, as well as ingenious, and does not confine itself either to the speculations of the judgment, or the feelings of the heart. It breathes in kind words, and lives in kind deeds. Where a minister is properly esteemed and loved, there will be the greatest deference for his opinions, the most delicate attention to his comfort, a scrupulous respect for his character.

Some people treat their minister as if he could feel nothing but blows. They are crude, uncourteous, churlish. Instead of this, let him see the most studious and constant care to promote his happiness and usefulness. When he is in sickness, visit him. When in trouble, sympathize with him. When absent from home, take a kind interest in his family. When he returns, greet him with a smile. At the close of the labors of the Sabbath, let the deacons and leading members gather round him in the vestry, and not allow him to retire from his scene of public labors without the reward of some tokens of their approbation, if it be only one friendly pressure of the hand. Let him see that his prayers, and sermons, and solicitude, render him dear to the hearts of his flock.

It is astonishing what an influence is sometimes produced upon a minister's mind and comfort, even by the least expression of his people's regard. Of this we have a beautiful instance in the life of Paul. On that important journey to Rome, which was to decide the question of life or death, he appears to have felt a season of temporary depression when the imperial city presented itself to his view. In silent meditation he revolved, not without some degree of dismay, his approaching appeal to a tribunal from which he had nothing in the way of clemency to expect. For a little while the heroism of this exalted man was somewhat affected by his situation. At this juncture, some of the Roman Christians, who had been apprized of his arrival, came out to meet him—and when Paul saw them, he thanked God, and took courage." From that moment, fears of Nero, of prison, and of death, all left him. He sprung forward with new ardor in his career, prepared to offer himself in sacrifice on the altar of martyrdom. If, then, the love of these brethren, who had traveled a few stages to meet Paul, produced so happy an effect upon the mind of this illustrious apostle, how certainly might the members of our churches calculate upon a similar influence being produced upon the hearts of their pastors, by even the smaller expressions of their affection!

* 1 Tim. 5:17. It is surprising to me that an attempt should have been made to found on no other basis than this passage, a double office of eldership in the church, and to establish a distinction between ruling and preaching elders, when nothing more can be fairly inferred from the passage, than that the apostles intended to show the whole design and duties of the elder's office, and to pronounce him entitled to peculiar respect, who fulfilled them all, and who to ruling well added much diligence in preaching the word.

III. ATTENDANCE upon their ministration, is another duty which church members owe their pastors.

This attendance should be constant, not occasional. Some of our members give unspeakable pain to their pastors by the irregularity of their visits to the house of God. A little inclemency of weather, or the slightest indisposition of body, is sure to render their seats vacant. Sometimes a still more guilty cause than this exists. Oh! "Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in Askelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines triumph." Many professors do not scruple to devote a part of the Sabbath to traveling. They do not probably set off upon a journey in the morning of the Sabbath, and travel all day—but they set off perhaps on Saturday evening, and arrive at home late on Sunday morning; or they leave home after tea on Sunday evening, and thus take only a part of the hallowed day from its destined purpose. This practice, it is to be feared, has much increased of late, and is become one of the prevailing sins of the religious world. Such people deserve to be brought under the censures of the church.

Some people are irregular in their attendance through the distance at which they live from their place of public worship. Oftentimes this is unavoidable—but it is a great inconsistency for professing Christians voluntarily to choose a residence which, from its remoteness from the house of God, must often deprive them of the communion of the saints. Such a disposition to sacrifice spiritual privileges to mere temporal enjoyment, does not afford much evidence that religion is with them the one thing needful, or that they have the mind of David, who thought the threshold of the sanctuary was to be preferred to the park or the palace. Injurious as the practice necessarily must be to the individuals themselves, it is still more so to their servants and children.

In the families of the poor, and in others, indeed, where no servant is kept, the mother is detained from public worship far more than she ought to be, in consequence of her husband not taking his share of parental duty. Many fathers will allow their wives to be kept from the sanctuary for weeks together, rather than take charge of their children—even for one part of the Sabbath. This is most unkind, and most unjust. A mother, it might be thought, has pain and toil enough already, without being called to suffer unnecessary privations in godly matters. That must be an unfeeling husband, who would not gladly afford an hour's rest and respite to his wife, on the day set apart for sacred repose.

Professing Christians should feel the obligations to attend week day services. Most ministers have often to complain, that they are half deserted on these occasions. Surely, with such hearts and amid such circumstances as ours, it is too long to go from Sabbath to Sabbath without the aid of public worship. All people have not the command of their own time—but in the case of those who have, the neglect is inexcusable, and argues a very low state of religion in the soul. And what shall be said of those members whom their pastor, on his way to the house of God, either meets going to parties of pleasure, or sees in the very circles of gaiety?

A minister has a right to expect his members at the meetings for social prayer.* The Christian that neglects these betrays such an utter indifference to the interests of the church, and the comfort of the pastor, as well as so much lukewarmness in his own personal religion, as to be a fit subject for the exercise of discipline.

* Unfortunately for the interests of our prayer meetings, some brethren who lead our devotions are so outrageously long, that after enjoying the first half of their prayers, the congregation are anxiously waiting for the close of the other half. We are often prayed into a good frame, and then prayed out of it again, by those who extend their supplications to the length of twenty or five and twenty minutes at a time. A prayer on these occasions should rarely exceed ten minutes. I do most earnestly recommend this to the consideration of those brethren who are in the habit of engaging in public prayer. Devotion ends when weariness begins. Brevity, fervor, and variety, are the qualities which all should seek. It is also to be regretted that the prayers are so much alike in the arrangement of their parts. Each individual seems to think it necessary that he should pursue a regular routine. How much more edifying would it be, if one were to confine himself to one topic, and the next were to enlarge on what the preceding one had omitted. If a person feels his mind impressed and drawn out by any particular subject, let him confine himself to that subject, and not suppose that his supplications will be unacceptable either to God or man because he has not brought in the sick, the church, the minister, the nation, the world, etc. etc. How affecting and impressive would it be to hear a brother sometimes confine his whole intercession to his minister's usefulness; sometimes to the church; sometimes to the spread of the gospel in the world!

IV. Earnest prayer.

How often and how earnestly did the great apostle of the Gentiles repeat that sentence, which contained at once the authority of a command and the tenderness of a petition, "Brethren, pray for us." In another place, he ascribes his deliverance and preservation to the prayers of the churches, "You also helping together by prayer for us." 2 Cor. 1:11. Surely, then, if this illustrious man was dependent upon, and indebted to the prayers of Christians, how much more so the ordinary ministers of Christ! Pray, then, for your ministers; for the increase of their intellectual attainments, spiritual qualifications, and ministerial success. Pray for them in your private approaches to the throne of grace; pray for them at the family altar; and thus teach your children to respect and love them. Reasons both numerous and persuasive enforce this duty. It is enjoined by divine authority. It is due to the arduous nature of their employment. Little do our churches know the number and magnitude of our temptations, discouragements, difficulties, and trials.

Our office is no bed of down or of roses, on which the indolent may repose with careless indifference, or uninterrupted slumbers. Far, very far from it. Cares of oppressive weight; anxieties which can be known only by experience; labors of a mental kind almost too strong and incessant for the powers of mind to sustain, fall to our lot, and demand the prayerful sympathy of our flocks. And then, as another claim for our people's prayers, we might urge the consideration of their own interest, which is identified with all our efforts. We are to our people just what God makes us, and no more; and he is willing to make us almost what they ask. A regard to their own spiritual profit, if nothing else, should induce them to bear us much on their hearts before the throne of divine grace. Prayer is a means of assisting a minister within the reach of all. They who can do nothing more, can pray. The sick, who cannot encourage their minister by their presence in the sanctuary, can bear him upon their hearts in their lonely chamber. The poor, who cannot add to his temporal comfort by financial donations, can supplicate their God "to supply all his needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." The timid, who cannot approach to offer him the tribute of their gratitude, can pour their praises into the ear of Jehovah, and entreat him still to encourage the soul of his servant. The ignorant, who cannot hope to add one idea to the stock of his knowledge, can place him by prayer before the fountain of celestial radiance. Even the dying, who can no longer busy themselves as aforetime for his interests, can gather up their remaining strength, and employ it in the way of prayer for their pastor.

Prayer, if it be sincere, always increases our affection for its object. We never feel even our dearest friends to be so dear, as when we have commended them to the goodness of God. Prayer is the best extinguisher of enmity—and the best fuel for the flame of love. If some professing Christians were to take from the time they spend in praising their ministers, and others from that which they employ in blaming them, and both were to devote it to the act of praying for them, the former would find still more cause for admiration, and the latter far less reason for censure.

V. Members should encourage others to attend upon the ministry of their pastors.

'Let us go up to the house of the Lord!' is an invitation which they should often address to the people of the world, who either attend no place of worship at all, or where the truth is not preached. A minister cannot himself ask people to attend his place of worship—but those who are in the habit of hearing him can; and it is astonishing to what an extent the usefulness of private Christians may be carried in this way. I have received very many into the fellowship of the church under my care, who were first brought under the sound of the gospel by the kind solicitations of a godly neighbor.

To draw away the hearers of one faithful preacher to another, is a despicable ambition—mere sectarian zeal. But to invite those who never hear the gospel, to listen to the joyful sound, is an effort worthy the mind of an angel. Shall sinners invite one another to iniquity—to the brothel, the theater, the tavern—and Christians not attempt to draw them to the house of God? This is one way in which every member, of every church, may be the means of doing great good; the rich, the poor, male and female, masters and servants, young and old, have all some acquaintance over whom they may exert their influence; and how can it be better employed than in attracting them to those places,
"Where streams of heavenly mercy flow,
 And words of sweet salvation sound?"

VI. It is incumbent on church members to make known to their pastor anything of importance that occurs within the scope of their observation, or the course of their experience, relating to his church and congregation.

For instance, their own spiritual confusions, trials, temptations; the declensions, backslidings, and sins of others, which they imagine may have escaped his notice, and which they have first tried, by their own personal efforts, to remove. If they perceive any root of bitterness growing up, which they have not strength or skill enough to eradicate, it is then manifestly their duty to inform him of the circumstance. If they perceive any individual whose case has been overlooked, any one in circumstances which need sympathy or relief, any who are struggling with affliction—but are too modest or timid to disclose their situation; they should bring all such occurrences under his notice.

Especially should they encourage, by their own personal attentions, any people in the congregation who appear to be under religious concern; in such cases, they should put forth all their tenderest solicitude to shelter and cherish these hopeful beginnings, and introduce the subjects of them to their minister. There are some Christians—but do they indeed deserve the name?—who would see all the process of conversion going on in the very next seat to theirs, and observe the fixed attention, the anxious look, the tearful eye, the serious deportment—and all this repeated one Sabbath after another—without the least possible interest, or ever exchanging a single syllable with the inquiring penitent! Shame, shame on such professors! Can the love of Christ dwell in such cold and careless hearts? Can they have ever felt conviction of sin? How easy and how incumbent is it to introduce ourselves to such individuals; a word, a look, would be received with gratitude.

I am aware that the part of a member's duty, enforced under this division of the subject, requires extreme caution and delicacy, not to degenerate into a busy, meddling, officious disposition. All impertinent obtrusion, all fawning activity, should be carefully avoided by the people, and as carefully discouraged by the pastor.

VII. Zealous cooperation in all schemes of usefulness proposed by the pastor, whether for the benefit of their own society in particular, or the welfare of the church, and the world at large, is the duty of Christians.

This is an age of restless activity, practical benevolence, and progressive improvement. One scheme of benefit often contains the germs of many more. The love of innovation and the dread of it, are equally remote from true wisdom. Zeal, when guided by wisdom, is a noble element of character, and the source of incalculable good. A church ought always to stand ready to support any scheme which is proved to their judgment to be beneficial either to themselves or others. It is most disheartening to ministers, to find all their efforts counteracted by that ignorance which can comprehend nothing different—that bigotry which is attached to everything old; by that timidity which startles at everything new; or by that avarice which condemns everything expensive. Usages and customs that are venerable for their antiquity, I admit, should not be touched by hot spirits and crude hands, lest, in removing the sediment deposited by the stream of time at the base of the fabric, they should touch the foundation itself. But where the word of God is the line and the plummet; where this line is held by the hand of caution, and watched by the eye of wisdom; in such cases, innovation upon the customs of our churches is a blessing, and ought to receive the support of the people. It is a scandal to any Christian society, when the flame of ministerial zeal is allowed to burn, without enkindling a similar fire.

VIII. A most delicate and tender regard for the pastor's reputation.

A minister's character is the lock of his strength; and if once this be sacrificed, he is, like Samson shorn of his hair—a poor, feeble, faltering creature, the pity of his friends and the derision of his enemies. I would not have bad ministers screened from scrutiny, nor would I have good ones maligned. When a preacher of righteousness has stood in the way of sinners, and walked in the counsel of the ungodly, he should never again open his lips in the great congregation, until his repentance is as notorious as his sin. But while his character is unsullied, his friends should preserve it with as much care against the tongue of the slanderer, as they would his life against the hand of the assassin.

When I consider the restless malignity of the great enemy of God and holiness, and add to this his subtlety and craft; when I consider how much his malice would be gratified, and his schemes promoted—by blackening the character of the ministers of the gospel; when I consider what a multitude of creatures there are who are his vassals, and under his influence, creatures so destitute of moral principle, and so filled with venomous spite against true religion, as to be prepared to go any lengths in maligning the righteous, and especially their ministers—I can account for it on no other ground than that of a special interposition of Providence, that the reputation of Christian pastors is not more frequently attacked by slander, and destroyed by calumny.

But probably we see in this, as in other cases, that wise arrangement of Providence by which things of delicacy and consequence are preserved, by calling forth greater solicitude for their safety. Church members should therefore be tremblingly alive to the importance of defending their minister's character. They should neither expect to see him perfect, nor hunt after his imperfections. When they cannot but see his imperfections; imperfections which, after all, may be consistent with not only real—but eminent piety—they should not take pleasure in either magnifying or looking at them—but make all reasonable excuse for them, and endeavor to lose sight of his infirmities in his virtues—as they do the spots of the sun amid the blaze of radiance with which they are surrounded.

Let them not be the subject of conversation even between yourselves, much less before your children and the world. If you talk of his faults in derision, who will speak of his excellences with admiration? Do not look at him with suspicion—but repose an honorable confidence in his character. Do not make him an offender for a word, and refuse to him that charity and kindliness of judgment, which would be granted to every one else. Do not magnify indiscretions into immoralities, and exact from him that absolute perfection, which in your own case you find to be unattainable. Beware of whispers, innuendos, significant nods, and that slanderous silence, which is more defamatory than the broadest accusation.

Defend him against the groundless attacks of others. Never hear him spoken of with undeserved reproach, without indignantly repelling the shafts of calumny. Express your firm and dignified displeasure against the witling that would make him ridiculous, the scorner that would render him contemptible, and the defamer that would brand him as sinful.

Especially guard against those creeping reptiles which infest our churches, and are perpetually insinuating that their ministers do not preach the gospel, merely because they do not incessantly repeat the same truths in the same words; because they do not allegorize and spiritualize all the facts of the Old Testament, until they have found as much gospel in the horses of Pharaoh's chariot—as they can in Paul's epistles; and because they have dared to enforce the moral law as the rule of the believer's conduct. This antinomian spirit has become the pest of many churches. It is the most mischievous and disgusting of all errors. If the heresies which abound in the spiritual world were to be represented by the noxious animals of the natural world, we could find some errors that would answer to the vulture, the tiger, and the serpent—but we could find nothing that would be an adequate emblem of antinomianism, except, by a creation of our own, we had united in some monstrous reptile, the venom of the wasp, with the deformity of the spider, and the slime of the snail.

IX. Liberal financial support.

The Scripture is very explicit on this head, "Those who are taught the word of God should help their teachers by paying them." Gal. 6:6. "What soldier has to pay his own expenses? And have you ever heard of a farmer who harvests his crop and doesn't have the right to eat some of it? What shepherd takes care of a flock of sheep and isn't allowed to drink some of the milk? In the same way, the Lord gave orders that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it." 1 Cor. 9:7, 14. The necessity of this appears from the injunctions delivered to ministers to devote themselves exclusively to the duties of their office. 2 Tim. 2:4. 1 Tim. 4:13, 15. I by no means contend that it is unlawful for a minister to engage in secular employment; for necessity is a law which supersedes the ordinary rules of human conduct—And what are they to do, whose pastoral income is too small to support a family, and who have no private source of supply? A minister is under additional obligations to provide for things honest, not only in the sight of the Lord—but of men; to owe no man anything, to provide for his own house; and if he is not enabled to do this by the liberality of his flock, and has no private fortune—he must have recourse to the labor of his hands. It is to the deep, and wide, and endless reproach of some churches, that, although possessed of ability to support their pastors in comfort, they dole out but a wretched pittance from their affluence, leaving the pastor to make up the deficiency by secular work; and then, with insulting cruelty, complain that their sermons are very meager, and have a great sameness.

Such congregations, if they were treated as they deserve, would be put upon abstinence for at least a twelve month, or until they were willing to support their pastor in comfort. They love him dearly with their lips—but hate him as cordially with their pockets. They keep him poor to keep him humble, forgetting that as humility is no less necessary for themselves than for him—this is an argument why the things which minister to their pride should be reduced—in order to support his comfort. This is certainly not drawing them with the cords of love and the bands of a man—but treating them like animals who are tamed into submission by hunger, and kept humble by being kept poor. It is curious to hear how some people will entreat of God to bless their minister in his basket and his store, while alas! poor man, they have taken care that his basket should be empty, and his store nothingness itself. Is not this mocking both God and his minister with a solemn sound, upon a thoughtless tongue?

Many rich Christians spend more in the needless luxuries, than they contribute towards the support of their pastor. Some give more for the sugar that sweetens their tea, than they do for all the advantages of public worship. A reproach of this kind yet rests upon multitudes, which it is high time should be rolled away.

It is extremely difficult, where a matter of this kind must be left to voluntary contribution, and the dictates of individual liberty, to lay down particular rules; all that can be done, is, to state general principles, and leave these to operate in particular cases. Let all Christians therefore consider what is a just and generous recompense for the labors of a man, who is devoting his life to assist them in obtaining an incorruptible, undefiled inheritance, and that fades not away; an exceeding great and eternal weight of glory—who, in assisting them to gain eternal life, exerts at the same time an indirect—but a beneficial influence upon all their temporal prosperity—who, by his ministrations, soothes their cares, lightens their sorrows, mortifies their sins, throws a radiance over their darkest scenes, and gilds their brightest ones with additional splendour—who brings heaven down to earth for their comfort, and elevates them from earth to heaven; and who, after mitigating for them the ills of time with an anticipation of the joys of eternity, is prepared to attend them to the verge of the dark valley, and irradiate its gloom with the visions of immortality.

Let it not be thought that what is given to a minister is a charitable donation; it is the payment of a just debt. It is what Christ claims for his faithful servants, and which cannot be withheld without robbery. I spurn for myself and for my brethren, the degrading apprehension that we are supported by charity. We are not clerical pensioners upon the mere charity of others. Our appeal is to justice; and if our claims are denied on this ground, we refuse to plead before any other tribunal, and refer the matter to the great day of judgment.*

*Since the first edition of this work was printed, the author has received a letter from a very valuable and much respected deacon of his own church, which is justly entitled to the most serious attention, an extract from which is here inserted.

"My Dear Sir,
"I intimated to you that I should probably take the liberty to suggest to you an idea or two upon a subject which you have considered in your 'Church Member's Guide;' and I feel persuaded you will not attribute my suggestions to any improper motive, or deem me "intruding into those things which I ought not."

The subject is that of a minister's support. You know, Sir, that it is a principle which I have on several occasions inculcated; and the more I think of it, the more I am convinced of its perfect accordance with the law of equity, 'That it is the duty of every person connected with a congregation to contribute somewhat towards the support of the gospel in his own place of worship.'

The principle which I now lay down I consider to be of universal obligation, and applying as much to the domestic servant and to the poor man in his cottage, as to the more affluent members of our congregation. I am quite aware how difficult it is for ministers to bring this subject before their hearers, and how few are those occasions, when, consistently with delicacy and propriety, such a topic can be urged—but I do think your 'Guide' affords one of the most suitable opportunities of urging it, and its extensive circulation will, I think, bring the matter fairly before the view of the religious public. I verily believe that if all the members of our congregations—for I confine it not to church members—were to act on the principle I have laid down, and every man to do his duty, not only would the evil you justly deplore cease to exist—but a much more general effort of diffusive benevolence be the result.
Yours, very affectionately,
J. P.