“We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellow helpers to the truth.”—3 John 8.
The ordination of elders over the churches was a practice among the primitive Christians, Acts 14:23. And I hope it will never be dispensed with in our churches. Besides being sanctioned by apostolical example, it is a guard against the introduction of improper characters, who, by getting an artificial majority in a church, may intrude themselves on a people to their great injury. Hence the exhortation, “Lay hands suddenly on no man.” It also furnishes an opportunity of solemnly addressing both parties on the intimate relation into which they have entered. In compliance with this custom, I would affectionately address the members of this church on the present interesting occasion.
The language of the text, I allow, has respect to Christian missionaries; but that which is said of them, and the treatment due to them, will in a great degree apply to settled pastors; for,
1. They went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles; and these give up all worldly prospects and pursuits for Christ’s name’s sake, and to serve your spiritual interests.
2. They were engaged in a great work, even the evangelization of the world; and so are these. God promised Canaan to Abraham, but Israel must take it; and the world to Christ, but Christians must conquer it.” “Go ye into all the world,” &c. Of this army, Christian missionaries and ministers are the leaders.
3. They wanted help from their brethren, and it was to the honour of private Christians to help them; for in so doing they became fellow-helpers, not to them only, but also “to the truth.” And so do these need help, and it is for you, by helping them, to be fellow helpers to the truth.
To illustrate and enforce the duty which is here enjoined upon you, we shall take a view of the work of a pastor, and observe, as we go along, how you are to be fellow helpers in it.
In general, it is spreading the truth.—This is a name by which the religion of the Bible is very properly designated, since it is not only true, but emphatically the truth; being the only true doctrine ever given to the world under the name of religion. All that went before it were false, and tended to mislead and destroy the souls of men, on the true character of God and of men, and on the true way of salvation.
The apostle spoke not the language of conjecture, but of assurance; as one having been in a mine, coming to the light of day: “We believe and are sure.”
It is the work of your pastor to spread the heavenly truth, and yours to be fellow helpers to the truth. Particularly,
I. It is his work to preach the gospel to you. There are many ways in which you may be his fellow helpers.
1. In your prayers to God for him.—I have lately read of a man who despised the prayers of a people. But so did not Paul. “Brethren, pray for us.” “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” Prepare the way to God’s house by prayer. Do not expect to profit else. It is a great mercy that God sends to us by men like ourselves; men whose everlasting interests are involved in their doctrine. But they are sinful creatures, subject to temptations in common with others, and to some peculiar to themselves; they therefore need your prayers.
2. By an early and constant attendance, and spiritual attentiveness to the word, you may be fellow helpers.—What an effect do empty pews, and yawning, sleepy hearers, produce! How delightful for a minister to enter his pulpit, as Paul speaks of coming to Rome,—in the hope of being comforted by the faith of his hearers! Rom. 1:12. Where faith is seen to glisten in the eyes of an attentive audience, it produces feelings and thoughts more interesting and affecting than could ever have been produced in the study: while the contrary has a tendency to chill and freeze the feelings of the soul, and to reduce a minister to a situation resembling a ship locked in by islands of ice near the poles.
3. By rendering his circumstances as easy as possible, so that his mind may not be harassed by worldly cares, you may be fellow helpers.—I never felt it a hardship to be dependent on a people who loved me. I have thought it an honour to be so supported. The expressions of love are sweet. But if love be wanting, all goes wrong. Little is done, and that little is not done heartily.
4: By enabling him by your habitual deportment to speak strongly is to the holy effects of religion, you may be fellow helpers.—He will wish to be able to point the world to the people of his charge, and say—There are my epistles of commendation, known and read of all men! And to address you boldly in their hearing, in the language of the apostle—“Such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” But if your conduct does not answer the description, who will believe him?
II. Another part of your pastor’s work is visiting his people from house to house, and encouraging hopeful characters to stand forward on the Lord’s side. And in this you may be fellow helpers.
1. By welcoming him, and teaching your children and servants to respect him.—Much depends on this. They will form their opinion of him by the sentiments they hear you express towards him; and if they do not think highly of him, it cannot be expected they should profit under his ministrations. On the contrary, if they witness in you a high esteem for his character and his talents, they will attend his ministry greatly prepossessed in his favour, and with minds prepared to receive his instructions.
2. By noticing those in the congregation who are inquiring after the way of salvation, and directing them to the good old way, you may be fellow helpers.—There are some who, like Barnabas with Saul, get acquainted with and assist converts in the Divine life, and introduce them to the church, Acts 9:27. Such persons are great blessings in a church, and great helpers to the pastor. Be friendly with the poor; encourage the modest and timid; visit the sick, and converse and pray with them. This will strengthen the hands and cheer the heart of your pastor, and greatly promote the interests of the truth.
III. Another part of his duty is the maintenance of a strict and faithful discipline. And in this you may be fellow helpers. He must reprove, and rebuke, and sometimes separate from the church some of whom he once thought well. This is a painful duty. But it is a duty, and it is your duty to stand by him. Say to him, as the people said to Ezra, “Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee: we also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it.” Do not consult relationship, or worldly interests, or private friendships. Do not weaken his reproofs by siding with the sinner. Act in unison. “Have no fellowship with such a one, no, not to eat!”
You especially who are deacons, you must be fellow helpers. You must be to your pastor as Aaron and Hur were to Moses. Encourage him to advise with you. It is customary in some of our churches, and I wish it were in all, for the pastor and deacons to meet and consult on the affairs of the church an hour or two, some evening immediately preceding the monthly meeting of the church. These meetings, in connexion with the stated meetings of the church, constitute a happy union of Christian wisdom with Christian liberty.
Thus, my dear brethren, I have pointed out, very briefly and plainly, a few ways in which you and your pastor may be fellow helpers to the truth. Consider what I have said as dictated by love and a desire for your own welfare, and for the promotion of the cause of our common Lord; and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.
Excerpt from: “Christians Churches Fellow Helpers with their Pastors to the Truth,” Sermon LXXIX in Sermons and Sketches.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 524–526). Sprinkle Publications.