Northamptonshire Baptist Association
Circular Letter, 1815
By Andrew Fuller
"Thr Situation of the Widows and Orphans of Christian Ministers, etc."
THE subject to which we this year invite your attention, is THE SITUATION OF THE WIDOWS AND ORPHANS Of CHRISTIAN MINISTERS, AND OF MINISTERS THEMSELVES WHO BY AGE, OR PERMANENT AFFLICTION, ARE LAID ASIDE FROM THEIR WORK.
We have not been used to address you on subjects relating to our own temporal interests; nor is this the case at present; for the far greater part of those who have been most active in forming the institution for which we plead have no expectation of deriving any advantage from it, but, feeling for many of their brethren, they are desirous of alleviating their condition.
Mercy is a distinguishing character of the religion of the Bible, especially to the fatherless and the widow. The great God claims to be their Protector and Avenger. "A Father of the fatherless, and a Judge of the
widow, is God in his holy habitation." - "Ye shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry. And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword: and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless." Mercy to the fatherless and the widow is introduced as a test of true religion. "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world." The affliction of the fatherless and the widow is a subject taken for granted. From the day of their bereavement, dejection takes possession of their dwelling, and imprints its image on every object around them. And when to this is added, that from time to time their sources of the necessaries of life are in a great measure dried up, a full cup of affliction must needs be their portion. At first many feel for them, and weep with them: but time and a number of similar cases wear away these impressions; and, being unprotected, it is well if they be not exposed to oppression; and even where there is no particular want of kindness towards them, yet their cases, being but little known, are often but little regarded.
The widow and fatherless children of ministers have peculiar claims on the benevolence of the churches. The ministerial profession, like that of arms, requires the subjects of it, if possible, not to "entangle themselves with the affairs of this life, that they may please him who has chosen them to be soldiers." On this ground, a large proportion of ministers, living entirely on the contributions of their hearers, have no opportunity of providing for their families after their decease. You, brethren, by the blessing of God on your diligent attention to business, are generally enabled to meet this difficulty. You have business in which to bring up your children from their early years; but they seldom have: and when you have taught them an honourable calling, you can spare something to set them up in trade; but it is rarely so with them.
Yet the post occupied by your ministers is honourable and important. Regardless of the sneers of the irreligious, they feel it to be so. To be chosen and approved by a Christian congregation, next to the choice and approbation of Christ, is their highest ambition. This honour, however, involves them in circumstances which require your consideration. You expect them to maintain a respectable appearance, both in their persons and families; but to do this, and at the same time to pay every one his due, often renders it impossible to provide for futurity.
Our churches, when in want of ministers, are solicitous to obtain men of talent. There may be an excess in this desire, especially where personal godliness is overlooked; and it is certain that great talents are far from being common. But view Christian ministers as a body, and we may appeal to you whether they be not possessed of talents, which, if employed in business, would with the blessing of God, ordinarily bestowed on honest industry, have rendered both them and their families equally comfortable with you and yours. And shall their having relinquished these temporal advantages to serve the cause of Christ, and to promote your spiritual welfare, be at the expense of the comfort of their widows and children when they have finished their course?
In the persecuting times which preceded the revolution of 1688, our Protestant Dissenting forefathers had but little encouragement to provide for futurity, as the fruits of their industry were taken from them: but it is not so with us; our property is secure; and we are therefore able to contribute to those benevolent objects which tend to the good of mankind.
It was an object that attracted the attention of our fathers, early in the
last century, to provide for the widows of their ministers; and a noble fund it is which was then established in London for the widows of the three denominations. Besides this, a liberal plan has been pursued within the last two-and-twenty years to increase the sum, by an addition from the profits of a magazine. It is not to supersede these benevolent means of relief, but to add to them according to the exigences of the times, and to include not only widows, but superannuated ministers and orphans, that societies like ours have of late been formed in various counties and religious connexions.
The case of superannuated ministers, or ministers who by affliction are permanently laid aside from their work, has a serious influence on the well-being of the churches. Where no provision of this kind is made, every humane and Christian feeling revolts at the idea of dismissing an aged and honourable man, even though his work is done. Yet if the congregation continue to support him, they may be unable to support another. The consequence is, in a few years the congregation has dwindled almost to nothing. To meet these cases, along with those of the fatherless and the widow, is the object of this institution.
Brethren, we feel it an honour to be supported by the free contributions of those whom we serve in the gospel of Christ. To receive our support as an expression of love renders it doubly valuable. And if you view things in a right light, you will esteem it a privilege on your part. If your places of worship were ready built for you, your ministers supported, and their families provided for, would it be better? Would you feel equally interested in them? Would you not feel as David did when Araunah the Jebusite offered his thrashing-floor, his oxen, and his wood? "Nay, but I will not offer burnt-offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing!"
Should any object that ministers ought to set an example of trust in their heavenly Father, who knoweth what things they need, and of leaving their widows and fatherless children with him; we answer, when all is done that can be done to alleviate their wants, there will be abundant occasion for these graces. The trust that we are called to place in our heavenly Father does not however preclude the exercise of prudent foresight, either in ourselves, or in the friends of Christ towards us for his sake.
It is one of the most lovely features of our mission in the East, that, while our brethren are disinterestedly giving up all their temporal acquirements to the cause in which they are engaged, they have provided an asylum for their widows and orphans; so that when a missionary dies, he has no painful anxiety what is to become of them. They have a home, which some have preferred to their native country. Is it any distrust of the Lord's goodness to be thus tender of those who are flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone, and who have helped to bear the burden of their cares? Say, rather, is it not a truly Christian conduct? But, if so, why should we not go and do likewise?
It is one of the most endearing traits in the character of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, while the salvation of the world was pending, he did not neglect to provide for his aged mother. Joseph is thought to have been dead for some years, and Mary seems to have followed Jesus, who, while upon earth, discharged every branch of filial duty and affection towards her. But now that he is going to his Father, who shall provide for her? Looking down from the cross on her, and on his beloved disciple, he saith to the one, "Behold thy son!" and to the other, "Behold thy mother!" What exquisite sensibility do these words convey! To her it was saying, Consider me as living in my beloved disciple; and to him, Consider my mother as your
own. It is no wonder that "from that time that disciple took her to his own home."
We live in times very eventful; and it cannot have escaped your observation that the success of the gospel has kept pace with the mighty changes which have agitated the world. Never, perhaps, were there such great calls on our liberality as of late years, and never were more honourable exertions made. Yet God, that giveth us all things richly to enjoy, has not suffered us to want, and has promised to supply all our need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
[From Joseph Belcher, editor, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, Volume III, 1845, reprint, 1988, pp. 363-366. Document on CD provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, ID. Formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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