Acts 6:1
These opening verses prove to us that a condition of exceptional virtue may abruptly pass into one of common infirmity. From the height of holy enthusiasm the Church falls down, by steep and quick descent, into the depth of unlovely wrangling. From all the verses of the text we gather -

I. THAT PROSPERITY BRINGS DANGER TO A CHRISTIAN CHURCH AS WELL AS TO INDIVIDUAL SOULS. "When the number of the disciples was multiplied there arose a murmuring" (ver. 1). Enlargement often brings with it pride, or false confidence, or sloth, or worldliness. It is a "slippery place," where there is great danger of falling. It is frequently the condition of disagreement and even serious discord. When the number is small and the band feeble, each member of the community feels that he must stand by the rest, and let all his strength be put out in advancement of the common cause; but when there is a consciousness of strength, the sense of responsibility is lessened, and men permit themselves to indulge a spirit and to manifest signs of impatience, querulousness, complaint. But no Christian Church can afford to have any of its members introduce the discordant note. It may, indeed, be lost and silenced in the harmonies which prevail; but it may throw everything out of tune and be the beginning of endless dissonance and dire confusion.

II. THAT THE HARMONIOUS ACTION OF THE CHURCH IS LARGELY DEPENDENT ON THE WISE APPORTIONMENT OF ITS FUNCTIONS. It is not reasonable that we [the apostles] should leave the Word of God and serve tables" (ver. 2). It was altogether undesirable that the apostles of Christ, who were charged with such high functions, should expend their strength and time in small monetary arrangements. They would probably do that ill when they might be doing their own proper work admirably. They wisely divided the duties of the Church into two different parts, of which they would take one, and leave the other to those whose habits and faculties made them suitable for its discharge: then all went well. If we do not assign functions with discretion, all affairs will speedily be out of joint; the machinery will work with the maximum instead of the minimum of friction. Let the minister take his post or posts, and there be found in full activity; let the other officers have theirs, and keep them. Let activity be well directed, and there will be peace as well as fruitfulness.

III. THAT THE OFFICERS OF THE CHURCH OFTEN DO WELL TO CONSULT THE COMMUNITY INSTEAD OF SETTLING EVERYTHING THEMSELVES. "The twelve called the multitude... and said,... look ye out," etc. (vers. 2, 3). The members of the Church should remember that affairs are greatly expedited, order maintained, and peace preserved by their delegating much business to a few chosen men; on the other hand, the leaders should remember that even the inspired apostles of our Lord did not stand upon their dignity as such, but consulted "the multitude of the disciples," and that what they did with propriety we may do with advantage.

IV. THAT EVEN FOR THE HUMBLER DUTIES OF THE CHURCH SOME STERLING CHRISTIAN GRACES ARE NEEDFUL. The seven men now appointed "to serve tables" were to be "men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom" (ver. 3); i.e. they were

(1) to enjoy a good reputation;

(2) to be spiritual men in whom God dwelt by his Spirit;

(3) to be men of prudence and capacity.

They who do not possess these qualifications have no right to expect any position in the Church of Christ. Without the confidence and esteem of their brethren they could not make a good beginning; without Christian character they would be out of place altogether; without requisite gifts of the understanding and disposition they would certainly not make a good ending.

V. THAT WE MAY EXPECT MINISTERIAL FIDELITY TO BE FOLLOWED BY ABOUNDING AND EVEN SURPRISING TRIUMPHS. When the apostles were relieved of other more secular duties, and "gave themselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word" (ver. 4), then "the Word of God increased" (ver. 7); then came abounding success - "the number of the disciples multiplied greatly;" surprising success - "a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith." It does not necessarily follow that ministerial faithfulness will be attended with such results; prayerlessness, or discord, or inconsistency on the part of the members may defeat the exertions of the holiest and ablest minister of Christ. But, nothing being in the way, the Church itself being in sympathy, an earnest, faithful ministry will witness very blessed spiritual results -

(1) some that will rejoice,

(2) and some also that will surprise the hearts of the holy. There will be added unto the Church many, and of these some who seemed utterly and hopelessly removed, by their prejudices, their temporal interests, the heinousness of their wrong-doing, or their long continuance in sin. - C.







And in those days... there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews.
The Church on earth has always trouble; if it is not persecuted from without, disorders arise from within which is still more dangerous.

(Starke.)

1. They stir up its spiritual gifts.

2. They exercise its brotherly love.

3. They are its ornament before the world.

4. They bear interest to it in eternity.When Laurentius the martyr was commanded by the Roman governor to bring out the treasures of the Church, he led forth the poor of the congregation.

(K. Gerok.)

I. To POVERTY. Only in Christianity, in the kingdom of Him who became poor that we might become rich —

1. Is the Divine right of the poor recognised.

2. Has the Holy Ghost awakened a genuine care of the poor.

II. To CHRISTIANITY. In the care of the poor.

1. It has from the beginning developed its most Divine powers — Love, compassion, patience, self-denial, contempt of death, and trust in God.

2. It has proved before the world its right of existence in the world.

(K. Gerok.)

There never has been a perfect Church, and never will be this side the Lord's coming. There is much here which has been reproduced in modern times. Consider —

I. THE OCCASION AND CHARACTER OF THIS DISSENSION. The local association of believers was composed of men separated by various nationalities and degrees of culture. There was much freedom and simplicity, for under the influence of a first creative enthusiasm the need of order and discipline had hardly become apparent. Whenever that declined, dissension was inevitable. Christianised human nature is long before it shakes itself free from petty ambitions and other ignoble sentiments. That the outbreak came soon need awaken no surprise. Men need to be trained for a life of free self-government. The causes were here ready to manifest themselves whenever the occasion presented itself. There were two chief parties — Jews, born in Palestine, of narrow views and restricted sympathies; and Jews or proselytes born in other lands, who had been affected by the refinement, art, poetry, and beauty of Greek culture, and who spoke the Greek language. These differences were sure to provoke collision. But the predominating influence was Jewish, and the Jewish officers were blamed by the Grecian portion of the community for neglecting Grecian widows in the daily administration. A small thing suffices for a great disturbance when latent differences already exist. Sectarianisms and divisions of Churches have often arisen from matters of the smallest importance. Watch the beginnings. Church dissensions are created by wrong feelings much more than by the maintenance of great principles and sacred interests. But few will bear looking at from the Saviour's Cross or in the light of the Saviour's throne.

II. THE EXPEDIENT RESORTED TO.

1. This was a new stage in the development of a complete Church life. What was demonstrably lacking was supplied. The Lord did not furnish His Church with an apparatus of government already complete. But He gave His Holy Spirit by whom it was to be guided according to the emergencies and needs of the times.

2. Here is a plain manifestation of apostolic initiation and of Church co-operation. The apostles proposed a plan which the members freely accepted, a procedure natural, seemly, orderly, and most efficient. This may be regarded as the charter of Church rights. The apostles consulted the laity to ascertain their opinions and desires. At the same time there is nothing of lawlessness here. Power was not wholly in their hands. The apostles actually appointed and ordained the seven Hellenists whom the people selected. The principle is of the first importance, for it is exactly what we know as constitutional government.

3. Here is the principle of division of labour, as essential to Church efficiency. As those already engaged in the daily administration were not equal to all the work, others were associated with them. It was enough for apostles to do their proper work in founding churches, preaching the Word, praying, seeking the supply of the Spirit, exercising spiritual and miraculous gifts, leading the Church in the ways of the Lord. Other men could and must do what was merely secondary and secular. In free Christian society the specialty of each is needed and is to be employed. There is room for all who have a mind to work; but none for idlers. Division of labour in this case prevented schism. A Church active and consecrated will keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

4. What a solemnity was attached to even the meanest work for the Lord in His Church! The deacons are presented to the apostles, who pray for them, and lay their hands on their heads, setting them apart to such duties. Prayer sanctifies all Christian endeavour. Work for Christ is never to be thought of in a mean spirit. It should be associated with what is best and highest in Christian life, and be done ever "as under the great Taskmaster's eye."

(W. H. Davison.)

From the first the Church had held within its bosom two opposed tendencies. So long as its numbers were not too large, and its enthusiasm had not spent itself, this underlying division created no difficulty. A moment, however, was reached when the jealousy of Hellenist and Hebrew began to give promise of that deep schism which ended only by the extinction of one of the divisions (the Hebrew) altogether.

I. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN HELLENIST AND HEBREW. Its origin goes back to the captivity. Previously to this the Jews had dwelt as far as possible alone, but through that catastrophe they were scattered through all the huge empire which stretched from India to the AEgean. The numbers that returned under Zerubbabel, and again under Ezra, fell far short of the number of the dispersed; and it was impossible but that prolonged contact with pagan nations should greatly modify their customs and modes of thought. Especially was this the case during and after the wars of Alexander. .4. new spirit of commercial enterprise awoke within them as a new world opened to their wandering feet, and the ancestral faculty for acquiring wealth which their Palestine life had crushed, developed itself. While the home Jews recoiling from defiling contact with foreigners grew prouder and more narrow, their foreign brethren took on a strong tinge of Greek culture, and the spirit of secular gain broke down the feeling of separatism which had been the very kernel of ancient Judaism. All this tended to modify their religion, and for the better. Cut off from the temple ritual, they carried with them neither priest nor sacrifice; they carried only the Septuagint and the synagogue. What they retained was just what was portable, and what was most portable was most spiritual. When at last Christianity arose it found everywhere in the synagogues its first base of operations. It was from Hellenised Jews that Christianity obtained its first and best missionaries, and it is to them we owe it that the Church grew out of all risk of continuing a Judean sect and became the religion of civilised mankind.

II. THE MURMURING OF THE HELLENISTS AGAINST THE HEBREWS. Being men of higher average intelligence and energy than the villagers of Judea or the small traders of the capital, the former were not likely to acquiesce silently in any neglect on the part of the other. There was always a tendency amongst the Palestine Jews to pride themselves on retaining the purest type of orthodoxy, and to suspect as well as dislike their countrymen who had taken on Greek manners. On the other hand, it came very naturally to the foreign Jew to look down on stay-at-home and old-fashioned Hebrews as bigoted and ignorant. A grave danger threatened the young Church if her members imported into her communion such mutual jealousies as these; and the slight "murmuring" about the widows' rations meant nothing less.

III. How THE MURMURING WAS ALLAYED. The apostles took alarm, for the murmurs reflected on them. The work had evidently grown beyond their power of personal supervision, and now that one side of the Church grumbled about an unfairness some new arrangement was clearly called for. Even the apostles were no autocrats; the Church was an oligarchy which rested on a democratic basis. The supreme legislative power was felt to reside in the "crowd of disciples." What the apostles did at first was to initiate measures, and at the last to confirm appointments. But the adoption of the measure and the election of the officers were the work of "the whole multitude." This act —

1. Established certain principles — the right of the Church to transact under Christ its own business; the ministerial, not lordly character of even its highest offices; the subordination of all material interests to its spiritual work; and the ultimate seat of Church authority in the whole body.of believers. Any Church system whose arrangements flatly contravene these principles must be held to have departed from primitive order.

2. Began the severance between the spiritual and temporal work of the Church. It became impossible to combine the serving of tables with the ministry of the Word. A division of labour was called for, and the apostles could not hesitate which side of their double office they should abandon. To bear witness to the saving work of Christ is not a secondary function of the Church, but its one task for which all other things must minister. The Church, however, declined to treat even its secular work as wholly unspiritual, and lifted it out of the atmosphere of mere business into that of worship. The candidates are to be full of the Holy Ghost as well as wisdom, and are set apart with solemn services. The only two among them of whom we know anything are known for the zeal and success with which they preached Christ. Stephen and Philip were a good deal more than almoners.

IV. WITH THE ORDINATION OF THESE SEVEN MEN A NEW PAGE OF CHURCH HISTORY OPENED.

1. It marked a stage in the Church's progress towards separate existence.

2. It was the first step towards permanence. The apostles cannot live for ever; but if the new society has the power, under Christ, of founding new orders of office bearers, then it carries within itself the conditions of self-preservation and self-adaptation to changed times and perpetual progress.

3. It brought a new element to the front. The seven bear Greek names, which affords a presumption that they belonged to that section of the Church whose complaints had led to the election. The result, therefore, was this, that, through the murmurs of a few widows, those members of the Church were lifted into office who represented its most free, spiritual, un-Hebrew, and catholic elements. One man especially was thrust forward who was destined to rouse the narrow and ultra-national party of the Pharisees to persecution, as Peter had already roused the Sadducees, and whose death was to be a signal for the scattering of the Church. It was even to lead to the conversion of another man who should one day become an apostle himself and vindicate as an inheritance for Christendom that larger and more spiritual view of Christianity of which Stephen was the first exponent.

V. THE STORY REBUKES OUR SHORT-SIGHTED ALARMS AT THE SMALL DISSENSIONS AND APPARENT DISASTERS OF THE HOUR. We see the divided congregation; we hear its murmuring voices, but we forget to see the hand which guides the Church's destinies, and causes all things to work together for its good.

(J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)

I.ITS OCCASION.

II.ITS ADJUSTMENT.

III.ITS BLESSING.

(Langbein.)

I. THE MURMURING IN THE CHURCH.

1. When it arose. With multiplying numbers, new dangers arose. It was more difficult to keep the unity for which the believers had been distinguished. Many a Church that has withstood adversity has been wrecked by prosperity.

2. How it arose. By the jealousy of the Grecians. If that was not stopped, there was a great disaster before the Church. How it came about that the Grecian widows were neglected, the record does not say. It may have been unintentional oversight, or the result of a feeling against the Greeks as being foreigners. It is worthy of note that the first two dangers to the early Church, hypocrisy and schism, arose from the distribution of its charities.

II. THE HARMONY OF THE CHURCH. How was it restored? By the prompt, wise, and magnanimous action of the apostles. They did not wait for the "murmuring" to become a pronounced disaffection. They did not rebuke the murmurers, nor try to justify themselves. They simply asked that the work might be put in the hands of others who could properly attend to it.

1. They made a protest against doing the work at all. They were chosen of Christ to be His witnesses — not to dole out alms. The lower work was encroaching upon the higher. They were liable to be so much engaged in caring for the bodies that they could do nothing for the souls of men.

2. They showed to whom the work should be committed. They directed the disciples to look out seven men among them.(1) "Of good report" — so that, to begin with, they would receive the approval of every one. The apostles went upon the principle of never putting a doubtful man into aa important office.(2) "Full of the Spirit" — so that their godliness might be apparent. Men full of the Spirit would not be likely to do injustice through partiality — or become defaulters.(3) "And of wisdom" — so that the funds would be wisely disbursed. The Church that has a charity fund has to look out that pauperism is not encouraged, that dead-beats are not supported, and that the really needy are generously cared for.

3. They declared what their own work should be. The world was famishing for the gospel more than the disciples for bread. Others could give the bread, but the apostles were chosen especially to give the gospel. First they would get from God, and then they would give to men. There is no giving without first getting. No water can be poured from an unfilled pitcher.

III. THE GROWTH OF THE CHURCH.

1. The choice of the seven. The seven were chosen in accordance with the recommendation of the apostles. Their Greek names show how generously the Church acted in giving "the daily ministration" largely into the hands of the element from which the murmurs had arisen. That made it impossible for Grecian Jews any longer to complain. The suggestion of the apostles "pleased the whole multitude"; for they saw that it not only would do away with dissensions, but would result in the greater efficiency of the apostles. The seven finally were inducted into office with as much solemnity as though they were to preach the Word instead of to serve tables! In those days no work for Christ, it would seem, was unworthy of a consecration.

2. The increase of the disciples. That, naturally, was the result of the increase of power resulting from the new state of things. The Church was a greater power, because in it there no longer was any division. The apostles were a greater power; for now there was no obstacle to giving their whole strength to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Notable among the accessions was the great company of priests that became "obedient to the faith." The new faith demanded of them so much that in their case obedience meant a great deal more than with others.

IV. THE WITNESS FOR THE CHURCH. Among the chosen seven there was one especially prominent from the first, Stephen. Observe that he was a witness for the Church —

1. In his endowments. He was "full of faith and the Holy Spirit" — "full of grace and power." The mere fact that a man is so endowed is a great testimony for the Church.

2. In the exhibitions of his power. He "wrought great wonders and signs among the people." He showed apostolic power, though he was not an apostle. The layman may be as full of the Holy Spirit and of the power of the Spirit as the minister.

3. In his encounters with adversaries. "They were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spake." They were cunning, but he was wise. They were learned, but he was inspired.

4. In his appearance before the council.

(M. C. Hazard.)

I. THE ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE.

1. We are introduced to a class of people here called Grecians, who were proselytes to the Jewish worship, and Jews born and bred in foreign countries, whose language was Greek. In Acts 2. a long catalogue is given us of the countries from which they came. The home Jews, or Hebrews, looked down upon their foreign brethren as having contracted contamination by their long contact with the heathen. As a natural result, considerable jealousy sprang up between them. The Church did not create the division; on the contrary, its direct influence was to merge the two factions into one — they were all of "one accord." But in process of time the old spirit of rivalry manifested itself. The world often taunts the Church with having within its fold contentious and hypocritical people. But where have they come from? The Church has black sheep; but they were black when they first came in from the world, and remain black in spite of the cleansing influences around them.

2. The Grecians murmured. There was no open hostility, or any unseemly ebullition of temper. You place a shell by your ear, and hear the subdued murmur of the air as it winds its way through the intricate convolutions. That is the comparison of St. Luke — there was a low, half-articulate mutter. This disposition to grumble formed the gravest danger the Church had yet had to encounter. The earth is exposed to two perils — from storms without, and volcanic fires within. Of the two, the last is the most dangerous. Let the winds beat as they will, the earth continues firm. But when the internal fires burst forth, the earth quakes to its foundations. In ,like manner the Church is exposed to persecution in the world. This has attacked the Church repeatedly; but it did not fall, because it was founded upon a rock. But the gravest danger arises from within — the spirit of discontent in the members.

3. The Grecians "murmured because their widows were neglected." It appears that only the " widows" received charitable relief, and of course those who were disabled by age or decrepitude. Men able to earn a living doubtless had to go and work. Who were the almoners? The text seems to hint that the apostles had partly delegated their power to certain members of the Hebrew party. The "widows" were overlooked probably by accident, arising from defective organisation. But the Grecians insisted that there was a set purpose in it, and inquired for sinister motives, and, as is always the case, found them! Jealousy always distorts facts to suit its own morbid fancies.

4. The murmurings of the Grecians induced the apostles to "call the multitude of the disciples unto them," in order to confer together. The Jewish Church was constituted on mechanical principles. God Himself elected His own officers, and the nation was expected loyally to submit. But the Christian Church is a living organism; its functionaries are therefore dependent on the vote of the members. Governments are of two kinds — the parental and representative. The government of the Jewish Church was on the parental principle, the members being, in the language of the apostle, under age. But the government of the Christian Church is representative; it is self-government — its members having attained their majority. And in calling "the multitude of the disciples unto them," the apostles acknowledged the principle of manhood suffrage. But we must not forget the promise that the "Spirit of Truth" should guide the Church into all the truth of government not less than the truth of doctrine. This promise holds good for us as for the age of the apostles. No doubt precedent has its value, and no conscientious Christian will speak lightly of the past history of the Church. But if webs be woven of it to tie the hands and bind the feet of the Church now living, we make of it a bad and unjustifiable use. The Church of to-day is as free as the Church of the first century, and is in as close communion with its Head as ever it was. But there is a distinction between the scripturalness of a doctrine or usage and the ecclesiasticalness thereof. What is taught by the apostles is not subject to alteration or capable of improvement. What St. Paul taught the Corinthian Church I accept without cavil or objection; but what the Corinthian Church practised I feel at liberty to adopt or reject.

5. Having summoned the "multitude of the disciples together," the apostles proposed "they should choose from among themselves seven men of honest report" to supervise the distribution, which instantly quelled the discontent. In ver. 1 they murmur; in ver. 5 they are pleased. Were many in the place of the apostles they would have stood upon their dignity, and ignored the complaint; and the low "murmuring" of ver. 1 would have grown into loud and fierce denunciation in ver. 5. But kindness, straightforwardness, and discretion at once surmounted the difficulty. Evil had always better be grappled with in its incipient stage. A small injustice is more easily remedied than a great one, and the facility makes the duty more imperative. Thus we are taught that the Church is a growth. It was not launched upon society with all its organisation perfected. Herein again it contrasts strikingly with Judaism. Moses was commanded "to do everything according to the pattern shown him in the mount" — by Divine revelation. The people had to originate nothing — they had to receive everything. But the Christian Church is a living organism — it gradually unfolds from within. It began on the day of Pentecost without any regulations or offices except the apostolate. It was simply a germ, but a germ which had within it the "power of endless life." By degrees the germ grew and threw out new offices, just as the tree shoots out new branches. Its functions are the healthy outgrowth of its life. The diaconate is instituted when the temporal requirements of the Church urgently demand it, and not a day before. It is, therefore, idle to endeavour to give the Church a rigid, cast-iron shape for all countries and ages. The exigencies of time and place are to determine its outward form.

II. THE DUTIES OF THE OFFICE.

1. The "seven men" were elected to "serve." The noun "deacon" is not used, but the corresponding verb is — "they diaconised." Is there not a quiet hint to their successors to be more covetous of discharging the duties than of wearing the name? In the Acts we find only the verb; in the Epistles we find the noun. Here we perceive the fundamental law of language and of life; for language and life are at bottom one — first get the thing, next get the name. The probability is that these men were not officially styled "deacons" — they were simply known as the "seven." Gradually, however, the Church felt a need for an official title, and from the verb it developed the noun. Living in an age noted for its appearances, we go about in the first place to invent names, and care but little about things. All our goods are electro-plate. But the primitive Church was living face to face with stern realities. If it could procure the thing, it let the name take care of itself. A deacon is one who ministers or serves. The same words are used to describe the work of deacons as that of apostles, the object only being different. In each case it was "serving," "ministering." A deacon etymologically means one who waits at table, who runs to do service. The very word signifies that diaconal work should be characterised by docility and alacrity. People of imperious temperament are scarcely fit to act as servers of the Church; instead of running themselves, their disposition is to bid others run.

2. "They were elected to "serve tables," to attend to the temporalities of the Church. It was not, however, absolutely necessary that they should confine themselves to this; hard and fast lines are not known in the kingdom of God. Their chief duty is to manage the finances of the kingdom; but, that done, they may extend the sphere of their usefulness. The public mind is confused upon this subject. Preachers are supposed to have no right to meddle with the service of tables; the right they indisputably have, but the expediency may be questioned, except in very rare cases. On the other hand, deacons are supposed to be guilty of presumption when they preach. But they are guilty of nothing of the kind; for Stephen and Philip "preach the Word" with irresistible power and success. Everywhere in the Apostolic Church are traceable the liberty and elasticity of life. "The tools to him who can use them."

3. The deacons are to "serve the tables" of the ministers. We may rest assured that, whilst waiting on the tables of others, they did not leave the apostles' table empty. One important object was to relieve the preachers of anxiety and distraction in their own peculiar work.

4. They are to "serve the tables" of the poor. This was about the most impoverished period in Jewish history. Mendicants everywhere flocked the highways. "The poor ye have always with you." Many of them joined the Church, and the exceptional poverty called forth exceptional liberality. Many, "having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet." At their feet. Money should always be kept at people's feet. Many keep it in their safes, and, alas I many in their hearts. In this institution we discover the first germ of the philanthropic efforts of modern civilisation. Judaism doubtless stood alone among ancient religions for the humane feeling pervading it. Nevertheless, its highest result was negative — not to oppress or defraud. Being the first stage of religious culture, Judaism consisted in not doing evil rather than in doing good. The Old Testament dealt in prohibitions rather than in positive injunctions. But the gospel bids you do something. Christ went about doing good. In the text a committee of seven is organised to supervise the distribution of the doles. Occasional outbursts of benevolent impulses were witnessed in previous ages and other countries; now for the first time was a deliberate effort made to reduce impulse into system, and benevolence into an organisation. The "seven men of honest report" constituted, I believe, the first "board of guardians" in the world. Modern civilisation is replete with "boards" — Poor Law Boards, School Boards, Boards of Guardians, and Boards of Health. But they are all natural developments of the board or "table" of which the text speaks, to "serve tables" being precisely the same as to serve boards. In the Gospels we witness the conception, in the Acts the birth of philanthropy.

III. THE QUALIFICATIONS FOR THE OFFICE.

1. Integrity "Honest report" — men of uprightness and straightforwardness. The funds being entrusted to their care, it is of prime importance that they be men above suspicion. Judas once "kept the bag"; but he was a thief. It is therefore of great consequence that men of strict integrity be put into this office.

2. Piety. "full of the Holy ghost." The judicious management of money requires the special aid of God's Spirit. Pecuniary interests occupy the middle ground, and are peculiarly liable to corruption. It is popularly imagined that, if a man is "full of the Holy Ghost," he cannot attend to temporal duties; that he is only fit to sing and pray. But it strikes me you do not want a very great deal of the Spirit to do that; but you want a great deal of Him to give and collect money. Show me a Church's collection books, and I can estimate pretty nearly how much of the Holy Ghost that church has. A Church of one hundred members giving fifty pounds a year towards the support of the gospel at home and its propagation in foreign parts, has not much of the Spirit. Wolff elaborated a system to reduce all truths of philosophy into truths of mathematics; and, if I had the leisure, I could invent a system to reduce the truths of theology into truths of arithmetic. A man says, "I have faith." "Show me thy works," urges James; the works are the measure of the Faith. You say, "We have had a powerful revival." I answer, "Show me your collection-books." A small collection means baptism by sprinkling; a large colleclection — well, baptism by immersion. 3.Wisdom. That a man is honest and pious is not enough. Without wisdom his administration will do incalculably more harm than good. Wisdom is a right application of knowledge (gnosis). But this implies two things. (First, that he possess the knowledge, to be applied. A deacon should be "mighty in the Scriptures." Ignorance should never hold office in the Church. God does not need our knowledge to carry on His kingdom; but He can do without our ignorance. Second, that he possess tact to apply his knowledge in the pursuit of his official duties. Men require to be managed with great delicacy and discernment. They are very sensitive instruments to play upon; a rude touch may snap the strings, and in vain you afterwards endeavour to get them to "discourse sweet melody." You have heard of Phaeton, the son of Sol; he was desirous of driving the chariot of the sky. Many persuaded him against the attempt, as he had not the necessary practice to guide with a steady hand its fiery steeds. But he insisted on driving; and he broke his own neck and sent horses and chariot spinning through infinite space. His intentions were good, but his skill was defective. And we have known men taking into their hands the reins of Church govern° recur — upright, pious men enough, no doubt; but for lack of tact they drew upon themselves no end of personal discomfort, drove the Church over the precipice, and plunged it into inextricable confusion.

(J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)

There is nothing concealed in the action of the New Testament Church. The case of Judas is not covered up nor made the least of. Ananias and Sapphira are not names Withdrawn because of the lies they told. And the murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews is not passed over without reference. The Church is not a secret institution, and was never meant to be a concealed force in society. Christianity abhors all official secrecy. It is a religion which lives in the daylight. Its registers are not hidden away in iron safes; its writing is written as with a pencil of the sun. Who would publish an expurgated edition of the Bible! We undertake to adapt our poets to modern tastes and readers. It is refreshing to belong to a Church that is so open and fearless.

I. HOW WAS THIS DIFFICULTY OF THE EARLY CHURCH ADJUSTED?

1. To-day it would surely terminate in many instances with a secession; but the spirit that guided the Church aright; was the spirit of love. There can be no permanent difficulties where this is supreme. If a Church is only a religious debating society, then we shall determine: many issues merely by numbers.

2. The apostles argue the question out, from the standpoint of a clear conception of apostolic work. Your first conception will generally determine the whole course of your argument. Starting with a noble conception, a man will naturally fall into a noble course, and reach a useful conclusion. The apostles magnified their office. "We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word." And the apostles could pray! Just lately, in this very story, we heard them pray, and the place where they were assembled was shaken! And the apostles could also preach. They divided their hearers into two classes — friends and enemies. The mere critic could not play his little game at pedantry under the apostolic sermon. It was one of two things — repentance, surrender, crying to Heaven for pardon, or gnashing of teeth, and malignant hatred, the very fire of hell!

3. The apostles, conceiving their work to be of this high and supreme kind, were rather anxious than otherwise to escape the daily ministration of the tables, and gladly seized the opportunity of leaving this necessary routine to others who were ready to undertake it. This supreme conception of apostolic service was itself ennobled by the trust which the apostles reposed in the people. Christianity is the people's religion pre-eminently. There are those in the ministry of Christ who can testify that they owe all their comfort, prosperity, and influence to their trust in the people. The apostles did not select certain notables; but having to deal with a people's question, they consulted the people's instinct, and therein they have set an example to all Christian associations.

4. Whilst this was the case at the outset, it was impossible that the whole Church could constitute a committee of action, therefore the apostles said, "Look ye out seven men," who shall really be yourselves condensed. Such men as shall themselves be equal to the whole multitude. Large-minded, generous men, who can see every aspect of a case, and deal with noble wisdom with the practical difficulties of life. The qualifications of the seven are plainly stated. They were to be "men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom." There are no merely secular duties in the Church. Church matters are not merely matters of political system. There is nothing done in Christ's Church — whether the opening of a door, the lighting of a lamp, or the preaching of the everlasting gospel — that is not to be done under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. A door may be so opened as to affront the Spirit of God; a visitor may be so shown to a seat as to manifest a truly Christian spirit on the part of the indicator. There is no part of our work in any section that is not holy unto the Lord. The ministry is one. I have no doubt that the men chosen in this text were better able to serve tables than the apostles. We have not all the same gifts. We must rid ourselves of the mischievous sophism which teaches us that some kinds of service are menial. There is no menial service in the Church, unless you make it menial by an unworthy spirit.

5. Looked at as a piece of Church statesmanship, can you suggest a single amendment to this policy? Do not the apostles vindicate their apostleship by their noble wisdom and practical sagacity? It is not every man in the apostleship who could have settled a case so. The ancient proverb tells us that "every fool will be meddling." The reason why some ministers are uncomfortable and unsettled is that they will meddle with things that they really cannot arrange. Impose a duty upon a friend, and show by your manner of doing it that you mean him to reveal his best quality. When this spirit seizes us, all distribution of labour will not be a division of front, but will rather show that the front is more united because the labour is wisely divided. Jealousy kills us all to-day.

II. WHAT WAS THE EFFECT?

1. The Word of God increased (ver. 7). A united Church means a world. impressed by the noble scene. The Church of Christ is not united to-day. The noble purpose of Christ is marred by certain geographical distinctions and ecclesiastical arrangements, in the making of which Providence had neither part nor lot. The Church must be united before the world will be redeemed. Hence Christ's great prayer, "May they all be one, that the world may believe." We want the apostle now who can bring men together, who can magnify points of union, who can show that the Church, though divided on many minor points, ought to realise its vital union, magnify and display it, and thus Christ's soul would be satisfied.

2. Stephen was brought out (ver. 8). They made him a minister of tables, and he became the first martyr. Stephen was developed by circumstances. Being put into this office, he developed his true quality of mind and heart. There are those who cannot be kept in obscurity, and who cannot be limited to merely technical publicity. What if this man had been unintentionally neglected?

(J. Parker, D. D.)

I. THE REASON OF THEIR ELECTION.

1. The temporal necessities members of the Church. "Widows" are especially mentioned, in all communities the most deserving of aid. The Bible, therefore, particularly commends them to the compassion of the benevolent. "Pure religion and undefiled," etc. It is the duty of the Church to attend to the temporal as well as the spiritual necessities of its members. In this Christ has left us an example. The gospel is more a record of His beneficent acts than of His doctrinal ideas.

2. The absorbing work of the gospel ministry. This the twelve referred to as a reason. The deacons were elected not to rule, as some arrogant modern deacons fancy, but to relieve the preachers; so that, undistracted, they might give themselves wholly to their proper work.

II. THE METHOD OF THEIR ELECTION.

1. The Church had its part — to look out the seven most suitable men, a work requiring inquiry, good judgment, and responsibility.

2. The apostles had their part.(1) They originated the election. The suggestion for new officers came from them, not from the members; and they, not the members, called the Church together for the purpose.(2) They directed the election, describing the character of the men to be elected.(3) They confirmed the election. The men the Church elected were set before the apostles for ordination. Had they not, however, been up to the standard, the apostles had assuredly the right of rejection.

III. THE QUALIFICATION FOR THEIR ELECTION.

1. Unblemished reputation.

2. Eminent godliness.

3. Practical sagacity.

IV. THE RESULT OF THE ELECTION (ver. 7). The election operated —

1. By quelling the spirit of contention, which would obstruct the advancement of the Church.

2. By the augmented agency of the Church. Seven noble men set to work.

3. By enabling the apostles to give themselves entirely to the preaching of the gospel.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

In the beginning of the preceding chapter, we had a sad account of an act of fraud and falsehood on the part of some that contributed to this common fund among the disciples in Jerusalem; and now we have an account of the murmuring of some of those who received it. The first was the offspring of great depravity; this is the result of human imperfections. The one was met by a very strong measure; this is met by conference, by advice, by calling into exercise the principles of common sense and the feelings of their common Christianity.

I. THE NARRATIVE. Notice —

1. The increase of the disciples. In spite of the persecution which the Church was continually meeting with, we have continual statements of its prosperity and increase. I have no doubt that by this time the number of Christians in Jerusalem was ten thousand.

2. When you think about these ten thousand people, you see at once that this common fund cannot mean that all these people had given up all their property, and that there was a distribution made to every one of this whole multitude. What! had they given up their trades? had they left their workshops, their farms, and merchandise? No; they were going on, I suppose, fulfilling their daily duties. Then did they bring all their wages and profits, throwing all this into a common fund, and taking back every day what was required, more or less according to their circumstances? You cannot suppose any such thing. Why, if they were to call the whole ten thousand together every morning, and give them only a shilling each, there would be five hundred pounds wanted every day. We must look at this fund as just a provision for those who were in necessitous circumstances.

3. Now things went on for some time, till at last "there arose a murmuring," a dissatisfaction. Some began to feel that there was not proper attention paid them, and it reached the ears of the apostles, who proceed to make the arrangement here mentioned. You will see at a glance that previous to this somebody must have done this work. The thing had been done before. In Acts 2:44, 45, it is said, "All that believed were together, and had all things common, and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need" — i.e., each one at first distributed his own benevolence. The advance upon that you have at the end of the fourth chapter. The first rude idea was for every man to act for himself, and come with his hands full and his heart full, and just dispense according to the impulse of his feeling; and the first modification of that was, for all to bring what they had to give, and lay it down at the apostles' feet, and so there would be something like regularity in the distribution, and investigation, and examination of the particular case and circumstances; whereas in the other way it could not be done, and one might be receiving from many. And that goes on, the apostles (I suppose) trying to do it. But not, I apprehend, without assistance from the hundred and twenty, who would probably all be Hebrews. But here were the Grecians; and there might be a feeling rising up, with no foundation, that there was a neglect of their widows in the daily ministration. So difficult it is, you see, even under the guidance of the Divine Spirit, and with the first love and strong affection of the early Christians, to get rid of all those party prejudices and suspicions which rise up in society and array class against class. But the murmuring comes to the ears of the apostles, and something must be done to meet it.

4. "Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them," Does that mean the whole ten thousand? Supposing there were not ten thousand? Could five thousand men transact business? Any of you that know anything about business, know how difficult it is to get anything done even in a large committee. In order to get through business, you must have a few heads, with strong hearts and hands connected with them, that will really do something. I cannot, therefore, feel myself warranted in stating that this is really to be taken positively and literally. I do not know where they would meet in Jerusalem — so many of them. I know that, afterwards, when Peter was in prison, "prayer was made without ceasing of the Church," meeting in a private house — in the house of the mother of John Mark; and I dare say there were little knots of such all over the city. I think, in this case, the principal part of those they would call together would be Grecians — the principal persons of that party — and it would be a full meeting, and open for any to attend who felt interested in the matter; but we cannot suppose that there was the whole, or anything like the whole, of the mass of Christians in Jerusalem. When they were come together, the apostles said, "It is not reason that we should leave the Word of God and serve tables," which may mean, "The thing does not work well, does not give universal satisfaction; we are doing the best we can, but it is not reasonable that we should be exclusively devoted to this thing; we have had our heads and our hearts full of anxiety about this matter, and we find it is not reasonable that we should 'serve tables,' for we feel that in doing so we must 'leave the Word of God,' and we must not do that; and therefore, as we have already made one departure from the first rude idea to a better, we must try now to get a best, and we propose now that seven men be looked out for this duty."

5. "And the saying pleased the whole multitude; and they chose Stephen," etc. It is remarkable that all these names are Greek; and this was probably done to satisfy the Grecians. Or if, in "the multitude of the disciples," there were included some of the principal persons among the Hebrews, then this marks also the kindly and liberal feeling among them, arranging that from that party and that class that complains, every individual of the seven was chosen. "Whom they set before the apostles." We do not know how they chose them. There was some meeting of the brethren — the more distinguished and influential, I think; and these individuals were fixed upon, and they were presented to the apostles.

6. "And when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them." I think this was just the solemn and public representation before the eyes of the people that they parted with so much of that power which they had hitherto exercised in relation to this business, and that henceforth these men were to be held responsible for the exercise of it.

7. There was peace restored to the Church; no longer divisions, or heart-burnings, or jealousies; and then, as the result, one might think, we immediately read again that "the number of the disciples multiplied greatly." Just as you find in the beginning of the fifth chapter, that when purity was restored, then as the result there was a great increase of the Church, so now peace and purity are favourable to all those affections and feelings and activities by which an increase of the body may be expected. The Word of God increased and prevailed in two ways.(1) With respect to the number of the disciples.(2) With respect to a particular class of person; so that some of the most unlikely men; — "a great company priests, Were obedient to the faith." Some people can hardly believe this; but "why should it be thought a thing incredible with us," that in those days of miracle and the pouring down of the Divine Spirit, there should be manifested the power of the faith and grace of Christ upon these men?

II. THE LESSONS. Now see —

1. How difficult it is, even when men's hearts are in the right place and in a good state, to prevent jealousies and misunderstandings among a large body of people.

2. How a liberal, open, manly, common-sense pilicy, under the blessing of God, may meet and allay this sort of thing; when men will calmly look at it, and observe that something must be done, and endeavour in an open and honest spirit to do it.

3. What an admirable opportunity this would have been to mention something about priesthood! There are some men that are very fond of getting priests into the Christian Church; but here was a great number of real priests actually brought into the Church, and we hear nothing about them. They stand as simple disciples. Standing there upon the common floor of the Christian temple, they had a greater, purer, more elevated priesthood than that which they had sustained as the offspring of Aaron.

4. Have we the origin of the office of deacons here? They are not called deacons. The word, indeed, from which "deacons" comes, is used in the account two or three times. It is used with respect to the apostles' "giving themselves to the deaconship of the Word"; and then these men to "the deaconship of tables." The word "deacon" is a very general term, signifying ministry or service, occurring a great many times in the New Testament. It is applied to the apostles, to Timothy, to Jesus Christ. But yet it did come to a technical and an official sense, and to signify a particular officer in the Christian Church, as the Church began to grow. And I think that this was the origin of the office of the deacon; though, perhaps, that office, in the course of time, took some degree of modification, as distinct from the one thing for which these men were appointed; for they were chosen with a very limited duty with respect to this particular thing.

(T. Binney.)

I. THE INNER LIFE OF THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH.

1. The election sprang out of the multiplying, and the multiplying begat a murmuring. Increase of numbers does not always mean increase of happiness and true spiritual life. God has made all things double one against another; and when He bestows such notable increase, He adds some counterbalancing disadvantage to keep His people humble.

2. The distribution of alms is always attended by jealousies and disputes, rendering the work one of the most unpleasant tasks which can be undertaken. Fretting and worry, weary days and sleepless nights, are often the only reward a Christian philanthropist receives. But here comes in the Acts of the Apostles to cheer. The apostles themselves did not escape the accusation of favouritism, and we may well content to suffer what they were compelled to endure.

3. The primitive Church was no ideal communion, but a society with failings and weaknesses and discontentent, exactly like those which exist in the Church of our own times. The apostolic Church did not disdain a mere economic question.

II. WHAT LAY AT THE BASIS OF THIS MURMURING, AND OF THE JEALOUSIES THEREBY INDICATED? If we wish to understand the course of events in the Acts, we must refer to the books of Maccabees, where is told the romantic story of the struggle of the Jews against the Greek kings of Syria, who tried to force them into conformity with the religion of Greece, which then was counted the religion of civilisation and culture. The result was that the intensely national party became bitterly hostile to everything pertaining to Greece and its civilisation. "Cursed be he who teacheth his son the learning of the Greeks," was a saying among the Hebrews; while again, we hear of Rabban Simeon, the son of Gamaliel, who used to embody his hatred of the Grecians in the following story: "There were a thousand boys in my father's school, of whom five hundred learned the law., and five hundred the wisdom of the Greeks; and there is not one of the latter now alive, excepting myself here and my uncle's son in Asia." Heaven itself was supposed by the Hebrews to have plainly declared its hostility against their Grecian opponents. Hence, naturally, arose the same divisions at Jerusalem. The bitter dissensions which racial and linguistic differences have made in the Church of every age are here depicted in miniature. The quarrels between East and West, Greeks and Latins, European Christians and Hindoo converts, all turn upon the same points and embody the same principles, and may best find solution upon the lines laid down by the apostles. There are diversities of function and of work in the Church — a ministry of the Word, and a serving of tables. One class should not absorb every function.

III. THE PEOPLE NOMINATED, WHILE THE APOSTLES APPOINTED. They took the most effective plan to quiet the trouble which had arisen when they took the people into their confidence. The Church has been often described as the mother of modern freedom. The councils of old time were the models and forerunners of modern parliaments. How many a quarrel in life would be avoided, how many a rough place would be made smooth, were the apostolic example always followed. Men naturally resist a law imposed from without, without any appearance of consultation with them or of sanction on their part; but men willingly yield obedience to laws, even though they may dislike them, which have been passed with their assent and appeal to their reason.

(G. T. Stokes, D. D.)

Some kinds of work are easier to learn than others. Some callings and professions require a long and special training, others are more easily acquired. All cannot teach, all are not called to the higher offices of the Church. The work of the Church may be compared to that of some extensive manufactory. Do not we seek from the raw, or at any rate from the unrefined material, to produce the perfect fabric? The material upon which we work is in every stage of refinement; it is of every class of texture. All have not to pass through the same process; what may refine some would surely damage others. We do not place the message in the same words before the uneducated and the highly cultured. And just as there are degrees of know]edge in the learners, so there may be in the teachers. Because we are not fitted to explain Christian truth to those who have learnt much, we have no right to conclude that there is no sphere in which we may teach. In a manufactory there are workers of every degree of skill and capacity, from the hewers of wood and drawers of water, to those by whose brain power, knowledge, thought, and foresight the working of the great concern is directed. The opportunities of the Church worker to-day are manifold indeed; and they vary according to the local conditions. Think how musical gifts and abilities may be devoted to the service of God, by making more beautiful, more devotional, the services of the Church, the mission room, the Sunday school, the cottage lecture! Think how financial and business capabilities may be employed in the careful management of various philanthropic agencies! How a knowledge of elementary science and the laws of life may be directed towards improving the conditions under which the ignorant and careless live! I might go on to speak of the work on behalf of temperance, purity, thrift. Then, again, a band of earnest district visitors is among the clergyman's very greatest helps. The abilities necessary for the successful performance of this work are within the reach of many. The first requisite is sympathy, the next a knowledge of human character.

(W. E. Chadwick, M. A.)

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