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Act 15, 1863 (XV) – Act anent Address to Vacant Congregations. 2nd June 1863.

The General Assembly called for Report of Committee appointed to prepare an Address to be read to Vacant Congregations, according to the Act of Assembly as to the Election of Ministers.

The Report was given in and read by Mr Charles John Brown, the Convener, who addressed the Assembly thereanent.

The Assembly approve of the Report, adopt the following proposed Address,  and appoint it to be printed along with the Acts of this Assembly, that it may be in the possession of all Presbyteries, to be used in every case of vacancy, viz. :—

BELOVED BRETHREN,

In your present solemn circumstances, as a Congregation about to choose a pastor, we feel constrained to address to you a few words of counsel and exhortation, earnestly praying that the Divine Head of the Church may own and bless the endeavour, towards promoting the harmonious settlement of a faithful and acceptable pastor among you.

We affectionately remind you first of all, that the ministry is an ordinance of the  Lord Jesus Christ, which He has been pleased to bestow on his Church, and to continue with her, for her increase and edification, until all his people ” come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” The giving of pastors and teachers to the Church as her permanent instructors and rulers, is spoken of by the Apostle as a distinguishing prerogative of the exalted Saviour ; so that each faithful minister must be regarded as sent by Jesus into the world to carry forward upon earth, under Him, the grand design for which He himself was sent into the world by the Father. It is this which stamps the office of the ministry with its most peculiar sacredness and responsibility. This it is which makes the election of a pastor by a Christian congregation, at once a precious privilege, whereof none may lawfully deprive them, and a weighty and responsible trust, which they have need to see that they do not sinfully neglect or abuse.

Enjoying, then, as you do, this privilege, and having this trust reposed in you, it is required of you that you be found faithful to the Lord, as those who have one day to give an account of their stewardship in this matter to Him. Whatever means, accordingly, you may adopt, or whomsoever you may see fit to consult in regard to the selection of a pastor, we exhort and beseech you, under a profound sense of responsibility to the Lord, to abound in prayer to Him, for grace and guidance, that you may be directed to a pastor according to his own heart, who shall feed you with knowledge and understanding, and long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. We would that you felt the full weight of the responsibility which attaches to you in the choice of a minister ; for the want of this on the part of any congregation will lead to the restraining of prayer before God, and, in all probability, to the adoption of means for attaining the end, which the Head of the Church cannot regard with favour, nor crown with a blessing. ” Them that honour me,” it is written, ” I will honour.” It was in answer to the prayer of the devout Cornelius, that Peter was sent to acquaint him with the gospel message. It would seem to have partly been in answer to the pleadings of the devout company by the river-side in Macedonia, that the apostle of the Gentiles was sent to preach Christ for the first time on European ground. If you are to obtain that most desirable of blessings, a minister who will faithfully break the bread of life among you, you must persevere in pleading with the Lord in this behalf, assured that your pleading will not be in vain. Besides obtaining for you, at His hands, a pastor ” who will take the oversight of the flock, not by constraint, but willingly ; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind,” and who will, like the Apostle, teach publicly, and from house to house, testifying to all’repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ—such believing and united prayer will be attended with the most beneficial results-

1. In the way of engendering a right feeling among you, and leading you to see eye to eye, in the choice of a minister. For, while we have great reason to bless the Lord for the degree of harmony that has generally prevailed in cases of settlement during the last twenty years, we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that there have been instances also of very painful and unseemly strife and division in congregations. The Church, as such, knows nothing of, and will not concern herself with, parties in the calling of a minister. The congregation must agree among themselves in a matter  which so nearly concerns them, and not come with their divisions to the Church  Courts, to transfer them from their own shoulders to theirs. Not, of course, that the Courts of the Church are at all indifferent to the welfare of the congregations, or unwilling to take their fair share of responsibility in the adjustment of any differences that may arise. But this, after all, must rather be in the way of counselling the congregation to cultivate a brotherly spirit among themselves, than by any active interference, ordinarily at least, in their differences. We long to be instrumental, however, rather in preventing the rise of disputes in our congregations, than in healing them after they have arisen ; and it is in the hope of promoting that spirit of unanimity, brotherly kindness, and mutual, loving forbearance, which is so becoming in the Church of Christ, that we thus exhort you to united prayer, convinced as we are that it is only through the outpouring upon you of the Spirit of all grace, in answer to prayer, that you are likely to join as with one heart and hand in the calling of a man to be over you in the Lord in holy things. Met with one accord to pray the Lord for a minister,—seeking of Him so precious a gift, alike in secret prayer, and in the prayers of the family and the church, we doubt not that you will feel yourselves so knit together in the bonds of the gospel of peace, that your hearts shall readily unite on the man whom, in these circumstances, you cannot but regard as sent by the Lord in answer to your prayers. Such is one of the beneficial results which may be expected to attend united prayer for a pastor. We only mention another :

2. It will prepare you to welcome the minister of your choice when he comes among you, as commissioned by the Lord with a message from Him to your souls. It will predispose you to wait on his ministry, in no captious and critical, but in a humble and teachable frame of mind, such as shall constrain him to feel that, like Cornelius of old, you are all present before God, to hear all things that are commanded him of God. And it will tend greatly to foster a spirit of habitual prayer among you, such as, above all things else, will strengthen the hands and gladden the heart of the pastor you have thus received from the Lord, and give both to him and you reason to hope for a copious shower of blessing, that shall make your congregation as a field which the Lord hath blessed. While your pastor watches for your souls as one that must give account, you, abounding in prayer for him, and bearing him much on your hearts before the Lord, will thus esteem him the more highly in love for his work’s sake, and live in unbroken peace among yourselves.

Finally, and in one word, it were well to bear in solemn remembrance those times of which the apostle speaks, ” when men will not endure sound doctrine ; but, after their own lusts, shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” Assuredly, in the days we live in, a loud call is addressed to every follower of Christ, whether he look to the interests of his own soul, or to those of the Church at large, to see well to it that, in the choice of a minister, he “try the spirits, whether they be of God,” and long for such a pastor only, as, besides being manifestly devoted to the Lord, and to the winning o precious souls, will faithfully also and fearlessly maintain the time-honoured and scriptural principles and practices of our beloved Church, as set forth in our Standards—cordially attached to its doctrine, worship, government, and discipline, and so likely to prove himself, in the hand of the Lord, worthy of his calling in a Church, which has been signally honoured of Him to contend for those crown rights of the Redeemer, which were so nobly vindicated by our martyred forefathers.

And now, dear brethren, we commend you to ” Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.” And ” unto the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”