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Circular Letter
The Georgia Association of Baptist Churches
By Rev. T. Rhodes, 1808

The Official Duty of a Deacon

      The ministers and other brethren, who compose the Georgia Association, to their constituent christian friends, send greeting:

     Beloved in the Lord -- Being again assembled, and somewhat filled with each of her's company, and the intelligence received from you; it has seemed good to us, at this, time, to address to you a few admonitory remarks on the official duty of a Deacon. To this we are induced from the frequency of inqury on that head, the incompetency of a mere answer to query, to give satisfaction, and that (probably) the queists desire more to know how than what they are required to do.

     We shall take up this subject as it is stated in our last minutes, to wit: "Is it to serve tables, or to attend to the temporal necessities of the Church, the Poor and the Minister."

     I. By the temporal necessities of the Church, are intended the Bread and Wine used in the Supper of the Lord, and the vessels in which they are borne. To procure which you should keep a sufficient fund in the hands of the Deacons, and not suffer them to say, "brethren, your money is out, &c." nor leave them to drag their private vessels into your service, (or rather the service of the Lord's house;) lest you should be ignobly eating at another's expence, offering a sacrifice which cost you nothing, or chargeable of robbing the table or house of the Lord of its meats, &c. 2 Samuel 24:21. Malachi 3:8- 10.

     II. The necessities of the poor are to be relieved by the Deacons at your cost. To this yon may say, there is no such description of persons in this free, fruitful and, generous land. But this may be an egregious mistake; there are poor of several denominations.

     1. The World's Poor; or those who, though able bodied, strong limbed and healthy, are so lazy they will not labour for a support, and are therefore in want.

     2. The Devil's Poor; or those, who have spent good livings in gambling, drinking, and lewd houses.

* * * * * * *
     4. The Lord's Poor; or those who, industriously and frugally, endeavour for a support, but still are in want, &c. But are all these to be relieved by the Church's bounty? No. Let the World take care of theirs; the Devil of his; the covetuous, ambitious, rich Man of his; and the Church of the Lord's. -- Enough of whom may be found with as little labor, as the rake takes to find occasions of mischief; the fop, new fashions; or the drunkard, the tavern. Read Deuteronomy 15:9, 10, 11. Proverbs 19:17. -- also 28:27. Zechariah 7:10. and James 1:27.

     III. It is the duty of the Deacon to attend to the temporal needs of the Minister. This, though a very plain, is a very much neglected duty; probably from the want of unanimity, the indulgence of apology and dissension among yourselves. Of which the following may be a specimen:

     The Church in Conference assembled: The Deacon arose and said, "It is time brethren, to make up something for the support of our minister." (Offering a subscription) Whereupon,

     A. said, he thought it to be a matter of mere charity, and (as charity begins at home) he was bound to provide for his own; at any rate he thought the minister to be as well off as he, and many of his brethren were; and therefore, considered himself under no obligation.

     B. replied, that it could not be a matter of charity at all, since the laws of nature and of God enjoined it; and their own call of the brother made it to them a matter of moral obligation.

     C. alledged, that he had subscribed liberally to an useful institution, and must be excused in that case.

     D. said, he had assisted freely in building the meeting house, and must have time to recover it.

     E. rejoined, he had been building houses, or mills, and had no left for any purpose.

     F. said, he had a son lately married, and it had called for all he could raise.

     G. stated, that he had made several contracts, and feared he should not be able to meet them, &c.

     H. arose and said, he was very much astonished at the pleas urged; as if liberalities to other institutions, aiding to build meeting houses, erecting costly houses, making sumptuous marriages, or contracts to amass wealth, could exonerate from a positive duty.

     I. remarked, he had made a short crop, and had nothing to spare. To which agreed J. K. L. & M.

     N. said, he was poor, and though willing, was unable to do any thing. With whom O. P. & Q. agreed

     R. stated, that short crops and poverty might excuse from doing much, but could be no just plea for doing nothing; since it is required according to what he has, and not according to what he has not.

     S. said, he never subscribed to any paper. To whom said T. Yes, brother, "I am for none of this obligation, if I get any thing to spare I will give it and be done with it."

     V. W. X. & Y. alledged, that they thought it rather dangerous to give liberally, lest they should make their minister proud, and so hinder his usefulness, &c.

     Z. rising soberly said, he had attended to what had been said on the subject, and was grieved in spirit to hear so many objections to the discharge of a reasonable and just duty; he feared that a spirit of pride and covetousness had disposed them to serve themselves of the good things of God, without returning him one thankful offering; he wondered how christians could expect the continuance of the blessings of life, who are more abusive of, and unthankful for them than heathens, who never use any of a new crop till they have offered the first fruits to the Great Giver of all good. To the brethren, who are so afraid of spoiling the minister by liberalities, he said, "are not your sons and daughters as lovely, and their souls as precious in your sight as your minister? If so, why do you not govern them by the same rule; and when the sons request superfines to wear, high priced, gaily horses, fifty or sixty dollar saddles to ride, and the daughters lutestring dresses with trails from 3 to 5 feet in length, fine bonnets and feathers, and other costly equipage of dress, why do you not say, no, my lovely children, these will make you proud and ruin you? No; your families can be and appear all the fashionable elegance of dress, and your hoards loaded with all the luxuries of life, without adverting to the evil consequences of such conduct. "I would," said he, "that brethren would be consistent."

     Dear brethren, the spirit and result of the above are often seen in the face of your subscription papers. There we see annexed to some names ten dollars, to others five, others one, and others nothing, some giving and others withholding more than is meet; by which it much oftener happens that the preacher is like the colt tied where two ways met, than likely to be exalted by the abundance of your liberality. And indeed, if any of you think the standing and usefulness of your minister, depend on his poverty, we would advise you to be liberal to him that he may be proven and stand in his true light; and especially we recommend this measure, as thereby you will have done your duty, and relieved a poor minister of God on the one hand, or have detected a hypocrite, freed the Church of a pest, and the world of an impostor ors the other.

     The faithful servant of Christ, instead of being haughty, would be humbled by the abounding of your liberality. O how relieved and comforted would the poor minister be, if his brethren were to say to him, as a late, meek, old minister did to a young one in his start -- "Go on brother in the cause of your Master, and be not anxious about the family, for they shall never suffer as long as I live." But we speak not with respect to want, or that we desire a gift; but that you may have fruit which may abound to your account, to praise and honor at the coming of Christ, the chief shepherd. Philippians 4:11-17.

     Finally, dear brethren, emotions of grief have been excited by the frequency of complaint in your letters. We exhort you to quit you like men -- resist the evil of the day -- be separate from the world -- do your duty -- honor your high calling -- love the brotherhood -- and strictly trust in God. And then you will have a just right, though troubled on every side, not to be distressed; though cast down, not to be in despair. -- Yea, considering him who suffered such contradictions of sinners against himself, you will be strong and valiant in your minds; and especially knowing all things work together for good to them who love God.

     Lord God Almighty! grant to thy servants all that grace which shall possess them all of well-informed, well-governed and pious minds, of useful lives, honorable characters, and triumphant deaths! To these petitions, dear brethren, we add but one word more, the appropriate and solemn word, Amen.
     A. MARSHALL, Moderator.
     J. MERCER Clerk.


[From Jesse Mercer, A History of the Georgia Baptist Association, Washington, GA, 1838, 114-117. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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