The subject assigned to us touches upon many practical problems in the matter of giving relief to the poor, but it also touches upon the God-ordained office of mercy, as instituted in the Church of God by her head Jesus Christ. Especially in our day can such a discussion of Relief be of immense value, for many false theories and practices exist that should be abhorred by the people of God, and concerning which they should repent and return unto the way of Jehovah.
Often Relief is given the poor by both the government and the Deaconate, as though both these agencies operate for the same goal, from the same principle and unto the same purpose. Now this must be opposed with all that is in us. To give relief is an act of mercy and of love bestowed upon the poor and distressed. This act of mercy and love can impossibly be done by the government agencies, even if these agencies have been called into being for the expressed purpose of helping those who cannot help themselves. The government is not an agency of mercy and love, nor can it ever be this. It is not the calling of the government to show mercy unto the poor first of all. It is the government’s calling to exercise the sword-power to protect the good and to punish the evil-doer. If now the rich exploit the poor and rob them of their meager belongings, yes, then the government has the duty and obligation to protect the poor and punish the rich. The government’s duty is then clearly not to allow the one unit of society infringing upon the rights of the other. But this does not mean that the government itself has then the right to infringe upon the rights of either of the units of society. The government may, strictly speaking, only be busy in the sphere wherein God has placed it, and regulate the affairs of its people in such a way, that each unit of society remains free and independent to exercise its own calling and duty.
We do not believe that the government can exercise relief to the poor, for it is not the agency wherein love and mercy are poured out. Even as our formula for the administration of the deaconate so plainly states, that to extend relief to the poor is not merely a matter of extending some financial aid, but “also with comforting words from Scripture”, give spiritual “relief” for the poor is also one who is “poor of spirit”. Therefore it is plain that the government has no calling whatsoever to speak comfortable words from Scripture, and to give spiritual aid and comfort in the midst of poverty. When the government provides relief to its poor, then it is but a matter of cold, hard cash, given to those who seek only the cold, hard cash and nothing more. Of course we realize that the government is interested in the fact that her citizens remain as contented as possible, that all spirit of revolt and rebellion be as much as possible banished. Thus it is to the interest of good government to help the poor of the land. Yet we maintain that it is not the calling, nor the duty of the government to afford relief, for strictly speaking, it cannot and may not.
The Deaconate, however, CAN, and MAY, and MUST administer relief to the poor. It CAN because it is the God-ordained office in the Church, to afford relief to the poor and distressed. There is no one who will deny that the office of deacon was instituted, according to Acts 6 to show mercy and love in the name of Christ our merciful High priest. Officially the work of mercy had its origin then and there. Surely individual acts of mercy were performed long before this. This is plain from the first chapters of the book of Acts. However, the official, God-ordained work of mercy began when the Holy Spirit guided the Apostles to institute the office of deacon, in the Church of Christ. So that it is plain first of all that God Himself, when determining an agency for the relief of the poor, determined upon the Church as the agency of relief. This is of course perfectly understandable and logical, for the Church is the body of Christ, and consists of members wherein the love of God is shed abroad. In that body of Christ, each member has his or her own place it is true but they are members one of another. They serve one another and love one another. They together possess one spirit, have one hope, stand under one Lord, and are inseparably connected one to another. Therefore in that body of Christ, the love of God is shed abroad. This love is not merely a little sympathy for one another, but is a love rooted in God’s own love, whereby He gave His only begotten Son. This Son loved them unto death, and unto the end. When on Pentecost Christ enters anew into His Church, He works that love in and through the members of His body. And let us not forget that His love is such that it gives its life, it offers Himself and all His benefits. He does not merely offer something of Himself, but completely does He give unto the members of His body ALL THINGS. Therefore when this love of Christ now meets with a poor or distressed member, it can only reveal itself in an act of mercy and love. For when one member suffers, all the members suffer. And this suffering of love with the distressed, is the root principle from which is born all work of mercy. Outside of this principle there is no work of mercy. There is essentially no relief outside the body of Christ.
The above stated principle therefore will result in two things. First of all as respects the Church of Christ, the Deacons will not want any of the poor to go anywhere else for relief, than alone to this God-ordained agency of mercy. To go anywhere else is a disgrace to the Deacons. The Deaconate refuses to recognize any other agency than the one established in the Church. For the Deaconate represents Christ as the sympathetic High priest. And this sympathetic High priest comes to manifestation and revelation in the midst of the world, only through the High priests office of Deacon. Therefore the deacons alone CAN administer relief to the poor, for the more they relieve the poor the more they are busy in the work of Christ. Blessed the Deacons and the Church who has poor to relieve. On the other hand the above stated principle, will also cause the poor to seek their relief nowhere else than from the deacons. This does not mean that the poor will immediately apply to the deacons for aid when they are in need. They will surely recognize the duty of member of the same family to help in time of need. But when the resources of the family have been exhausted, or when the family has become so unspiritual that they do not care to help the other member of the family in his or her need, then the poor will desire to go to no one else than to the Deaconate. He is then poor of spirit also, desiring comfort from also the Scripture. He therefore turns to the sympathetic High priest, as represented in the Deacons, and prays for mercy and love, from the only body that can indeed give this mercy and love. Then the body of the deacons, being filled with bowels of mercy for Christ’s sake, give aid and comfort and relief to the needy.
This body of deacons also MAY and MUST give this relief. It may do this, for it is capable of giving relief. God Himself gives the right to administer relief to the poor unto this body. Therefore the deacons have rights alone to officially give this aid. God produces in the members of the body of Christ, the desire to give liberally to the Deaconate, so that this body may administer its aid. It may do this in various ways, according to discretion and wisdom. In the earlier church the deacons even bought prisoners out of their prison cells. And this must all be done in the name of Christ, out of the principle of mercy and love of Christ, for the salvation of the sinners, pointing to the blessed, incomparable gift of mercy which God gave unto His people in giving His only begotten Son. And the Deaconate MUST give this relief, because if they do not, then they are withholding the mercy and love of Christ to the needy, which of course would bring the wrath of God upon those who are unfaithful. God loves a cheerful giver, both in the members of the body of Christ in general, but also in the Deaconate that remains faithful to its calling of being the administrator of God’s manifold mercies.
The result of this all is then too that the poor are actually receiving aid from the God of their salvation. They then actually do not receive help from man, but from the sympathetic High priest. It is because the poor are conscious of this, that they are also poor in spirit. Truly they need not be beggars, but they also do not demand in a highhanded way. They desire then the mercies of Christ. They long for His love, and its manifestation. They are then also grateful and truly thankful for the aid extended them, and their own bowels of mercy will open for the poor and needy, when they can give of their abundance later.
In concluding this essay, concerning “government Relief and the Deaconate”, let me state first of all that the members are duty bound then to furnish the deacons with the necessary funds and goods to provide for all the poor. Give liberally, even as God has dealt liberally with you. Government relief should not be necessary in the Church of Jesus Christ. The day will come when also the government will be part of the antichristian kingdom of this world. This antichristian kingdom will demand the mark of the beast on every one of her citizens. Not to bring the members of the body of Christ in further distress, we may not allow its members to even ask the government for relief. In that day it may be necessary to share the very last crust of bread with another member of the body of Christ. Brethren let us be faithful. Secondly, let relief be given only in the name of Christ our Lord. That the testimony of the truth may resound into the homes and institutions of all those who are on distress or in need. Cutlerville and Bethesda and all the institutions of mercy, must manifest in all its work that the merciful High priest dwells there with His good and Holy Spirit of love and grace. So that when even the wicked enter such an institution, or receive aid from the Deacons, they may behold your good works and glorify God in the day of visitation. Surely we must take care first of all of the household of faith. But thereafter it is not our duty to shut up the bowels of mercy. It is rather our duty to continue this work of mercy, also to the world around us. BUT ONLY AS A TESTIMONY OF THE TRUTH, over against the tender mercies (?) of the wicked which are cruel. Thus shall the righteous sing of the tender mercies of the Lord, and they shall know that His mercy endureth forever, for time and eternity, in life and death, as to body and as to soul.