Christ's Law of Christian Beneficence
"Freely you have received, freely give." Matthew 10:8
Our Lord addressed these words to His disciples, on sending theirs forth as the appointed heralds of His own beneficence; as the chosen dispensers of the divine and precious blessings of His Gospel to all people. They were to consider themselves, not proprietors, but stewards; not as originating, but as dispensing the gifts and grace with which He, their Lord and Master, had furnished them. This will explain the special law which was to rule them in the exercise of their marvelous powers. They had received this treasure and these endowments at no cost to themselves, but simply and entirely as a gratuity- as the free gift of God's favor. The law of their reception was to be the law of their dispersion. Freely they had received, freely they were to give. They were, by no means, to barter their gifts, to sell their favors, or in any way to make gain of godliness. They were not to be influenced in the exercise of their miraculous powers of healing the sick, and of expelling demons from the possessed, or in their higher ministerial vocation of preaching the Word, by an avaricious spirit, by sordid motives- laborings for filthy lucre's sake; but, as generously, as heartily, and as freely as they themselves had been dealt with by their Divine Master, so were they, His messengers, to deal with those to whom He sent them.
This law, however, had its wise and just exception. It was not to clash in any way with another law our Lord laid down on a similar occasion, in which He enjoined that, the "laborer was worthy of his hire." Nor was this unfettered and spontaneous exercise of their powers to preclude them from receiving a competent support as the ministers of the Gospel, or as the stated pastors of the Churches. "Even so has the Lord ordained that those who preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel." (1 Cor. ix. l4.) "If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?"
But, as it regarded the sin of making merchandise of souls, the crime of bartering the costly wares they were Divinely commissioned freely to dispense, the law laid down by their Lord and Master was clear and imperative- that, freely as they had received, as freely were they to give. The crime of "Simony," as in ecclesiastical law it is termed, originated in the case of Simon the sorcerer, who offered the Apostles money in exchange for the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit, and whom Peter thus sternly rebuked, "Your money perish with you: because you bast thought the gift of God may be purchased with money, you have neither part nor lot in this matter; for your heart is not right in the sight of God."
In the control and negotiation of modern ecclesiastical affairs, of what moment is it that there should be not the slightest appearance of compromise with so dire a crime as that of making merchandise of godliness- of selling and purchasing the "souls of men." But this law of Christ thus laid down for the regulation of the Apostles, is of equal application to us, as defining the rule which is to regulate our Christian beneficence. It stands closely connected with an important precept of practical religion, but seldom expounded, but little understood, and consequently, but imperfectly observed- namely, the precept of giving. It is not our purpose, however, in the present limited space, fully to discuss this subject, but simply to suggest a few instructions tending to guide and stimulate the reader touching the obligation and the privilege of all the Lord's people of giving a portion of their worldly substance to the Lord. "Freely you have received, freely give."
The subject as presented in the text, is based upon two facts. The first is- that we are all the recipients of certain blessings. "You have received." This would seem a self-evident proposition, requiring not a single proof or illustration; and yet, obvious as it is, we have need constantly to be reminded of it. For what, among countless blessings, are we more especially indebted to God? In the first place, we have received from Him our present life. "We thank You for our creation," should be our daily litany. Our life is a wondrous, responsible, and deathless thing. It is from God- a pulse, a stream, a spark from the "Fountain" of His own being. God is the Author, as He is the Arbiter, of our life. From Him it came, by Him it is preserved, and at His fiat it returns to Him again. Thus life, with all its powers and sources of enjoyment -with its rainbow hues, its sparkling gems, its springing fountains, its murmuring music, its light and its song- is a divine thing, a sacred, beauteous thing, emanating from God, and is destined to return to God again; and if redeemed, renewed, and sanctified, to enjoy Him forever.
Many, alas, take their views of life, form their conception of its obligations, and their estimation of its worth, from the ten thousand ills which afflict and sadden, taint and degrade it and then contemptuously inquire- "Is this the life for whose creation I am daily to chant my litany?" In this they charge God with folly. Little do they think that God never made life as now they behold it. God created it holy- man tainted it with sin. God made it teeming with beauty- man marred it by disobedience. God made it a reservoir, pure and sparkling- man poisoned the fountain, and sent its baneful streams circling through the world. God made it bright and luminous- man draped it with darkness and woe. Charge not God, then, with the sins and crimes, with the ills and sorrows with which life is laden and cursed: but thank and praise Him, that, notwithstanding all that fallen man has done to blast and ruin it, life is yet so bright, so beauteous, and so sweet a thing.
But some are the recipients of spiritual life. This is the higher, yes, the highest form of life- life redeemed by Christ and renewed by the Spirit. The moment a man begins to live for God- the selfishness of His nature supplanted by love to his Creator, constraining him to devote his life to the glory of Him to whom by right of creation it belongs- that moment he really begins to live, and enters upon the highest and noblest sphere of his being. My reader, until you are "born again," passing out of the old into the new birth, you cannot be said truly to live. It is death that lives in you, not life! "Dead in trespasses and in sins," your whole existence is but a prolonged and lingering death. O implore the Holy Spirit to quicken you with spiritual life, that henceforth you may live no longer to yourself, but to God. Ponder the remarkable and precious words of Christ," I have come, that they might Have Life." "Those who hear the voice of the Son of God Shall Live."
Christ is our life, and until we know Christ, we are dead. Let it, then, be the one aim and goal of your being- the one desire, prayer, and aspiration of your heart, until it is realized- that Christ may be formed in you the hope of glory. Are we the happy recipients of spiritual life? Then, let us remember how great our indebtedness to sovereign love, and how solemn and imperious our obligation to devote its every pulse, its every thought, its every act to Christ.
As intellectual beings, we are distinguished recipients of God's mercy. God has conferred upon us mind; and he who, under God is instrumentally the teacher, the regenerator, the restorer, and the comforter of mind, is the greatest benefactor of his race. To administer to a mind diseased- to restore its balance, to dispel its delusions, to dislodge its ignorance, to raise its depression, and to shed around it the sunshine of gladness and of hope; above all, to lead it simply to Christ, and through Him up to God, is the noblest, holiest mission intrusted to mortal man.
As an intellectual being, then, you must acknowledge yourself as having received a vast boon from God. He created, as He has preserved, your mind. The possession of intellect involves you in a great and solemn responsibility. God holds you accountable for its use. Beware how you employ it! If used to pervert the minds of others by the teaching of erroneous doctrines, by the propagation of a frivolous or licentious literature, by the circulation of principles injurious to the morals of society, or periling to the stability and happiness of the domestic constitution, in a word, a literature that panders to vice and laughs at virtue, that fosters infidelity and superstition, while it ignores true religion and spiritual worship- we say, if the intellectual powers God has conferred upon you, are thus employed and prostituted, your present responsibility and your final account are more tremendous and appalling than imagination can conceive or language describe. Who is sufficient to bear such a weight? Remember, oh remember, your Maker holds you accountable for your intellect!
But still more precious this treasure, and yet more solemn our obligation, if by His regenerating grace, God has renewed us in the spirit of our mind. To what a noble sphere of intellectual being does the renewing of the Holy Spirit raise us! In its natural state, the human mind is made a little below the angels: but, in its renewed and restored state, it is raised to but one remove from the Divine. In the strong and emphatic language of the Apostle, all true believers are "partakers of the Divine nature; created after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness." As such, what a powerful engine we possess for good! To be the author of a tract blest by the Spirit to the conversion of thousands; to compose a hymn that shall soothe many a sick and suffering couch; to speak a word about Jesus that shall lift up a bowed or heal a wounded spirit; to explode a fatal error, to vindicate a Gospel truth- O what a noble consecration this of renewed mind, of sanctified intellect.
And what providential blessings have we not received? Who can count their number? Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads me with benefits." Our HOME, with all its precious attractions, He provides- a roof to shelter us, a hearth to warm us, a couch to refresh us, food and clothing to sustain and cover us, and all the domestic affection that graces and sweetens all. He gives us health to enjoy the benefits of His providence; blesses our industry, succeeds our enterprises, and fills our barns with plenty. He rebukes our diseases, sustains our trials, soothes our mental and bodily sufferings, and makes all our bed in sickness. He holds up our goings, shields our bodies, and guards us with an eye that never slumbers by day, nor sleeps by night. Truly we "have received."
But, we turn to the child of God, the believer in Jesus. If in this vast universe there is a being who has received of God, that recipient is he! God's gifts of nature are great: His gifts of providence are greater but His gifts of grace are greatest. What have we as believers received? First, we have received the greatest of all gifts, the gift of God's dear Son. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." "To as many as received Him." "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift." Have you, my reader, received Christ Jesus the Lord? If so, you have received the greatest, the costliest, the most loved and lovely gift God could bestow upon you. Receiving this precious gift, you receive in it the Divine Giver. For Christ has said- "He that receives Me, receives Him who sent Me." Rich indeed are you who have received Christ into your heart, the Savior of your soul, and the hope of your glory.
In Him you have all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and all the infinite treasures of grace mediatorily. In Him you have a Divine Savior, with a heart as willing, as He has a hand able, to save. In Him you possess a loving Brother, a faithful Friend, a sympathizing, wise, merciful, and ever interceding High Priest within the veil. Oh prize highly your Divine treasure, make much of your precious gift. Let Jesus be all to you. Repair to Him for every thing. Take to His blood all your guilt: confess beneath His cross all your sin: suspend upon His arm all your care: breathe upon His heart all your sorrow- and draw from His fulness all your supply. Oh that He may become increasingly precious to our hearts!
What more as believers have we received? We have received a free pardon- a complete justification- a gracious adoption- a present salvation, and a hope of future glory- even an "inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away." We have received, too, a throne of grace to repair to in all times of need; the Divine Word, with all its precious promises and rich instructions; the means of grace in all their richness; the communion of saints; and ten thousand streams all flowing from the heart of God, through Jesus, and gliding along our every homeward path.
The second fact referred to, relates to the principle upon which we have received these blessings. "Freely you have received." Bankrupt of all worthiness, and having forfeited all claim- without righteousness, without strength- rebels against God's government, and outlaws of His kingdom- there dwells in our flesh no good, but every evil thing. If ever these blessings become ours, it must be as a gratuity, and not as a purchase; as a gift, and not as a claim. Freely, "without money and without price," irrespective of all works of merit, of all personal worthiness whatever on our part.
And so it is. The declarations of the Gospel are as explicit on this matter as they are precious. Listen to them. "By grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." "Not of works, lest any man should boast." "Who has justified us freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." "The free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." "Ho, every one that thists, come you to the waters, and he that has no money; come you, buy, and eat; yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." And with the same gracious declaration- a free grace salvation, the Bible closes- "And whoever will, let him take the water of life freely."
Such are the gracious, unfettered, precious revelations of the Gospel of the grace of God: nothing more and nothing less. Soul burdened with sin, oppressed with guilt, bankrupt of all righteousness and strength, you have nothing to pay in return for God's full forgiveness of all your sins. "And when they had nothing to pay, He frankly forgave them both." You have nothing to pay; and over the portal it is written- "There is nothing to pay:" why then should you hesitate coming to Christ? There is but one applicant for His salvation whose suit He rejects: but one soul whom He sends empty away- it is the sinner who, in the boldness and presumption of his proud, unhumbled heart, comes with a price in his hand, profanely -and vainly imagining that the precious, priceless gift of God's forgiveness, of Christ's salvation, can be purchased with money. Accept, then, you sin-convinced soul, the free pardon of your sins, and the free justification of your person, as the free gift of God's unmerited and unpurchasable grace, and you shall be saved.
We reach the application of this law to the subject of our present reading- Christian beneficence. We have remarked that the subject of consecrating our worldly substance to the Lord, as a Divine precept of our holy religion, is but seldom brought before the Christian Church with that distinct prominence, and enforced by those powerful motives, with which it is set forth in the Word of God. It is a part of practical religion much and sinfully overlooked. We do not assert that real religion consists in giving: far from this; but we do venture to affirm that, while there may be great liberality without true religion, there cannot be true religion without liberality. Giving of our worldly substance may not of itself be a religious act, but where vital religion has a place, the love of God a home, Christ and the Spirit a temple in the soul, selfishness, parsimony, and covetousness- in other words, a withholding from the Lord of our worldly substance, cannot possibly co-exist in the same individual. A Christian man, recognizing himself as bought with a price, regards his earthly possessions as much the Lord's as his being. A money-loving, a money-hoarding, a money-withholding disciple of Jesus, are not synonymous terms. "The covetous whom the Lord abhors," have no part or lot with Him who emptied Himself of His glory and for our sakes became poor.
Let us trace a few of the characteristics of Christian liberality, and thus test our observance of this precept. In the first place, it is of Divine authority. It is a command of God: a precept of Christ: a revealed principle of our holy faith. It was God's command to His people of old, that a tenth of their herds should be holy unto Him. And when building and furnishing the temple, God enjoined the people of Israel to bring freely and abundantly of their offerings- their gold and silver and wood, to rear the sacred edifice, and their beaten oil with which to keep its lamps perpetually burning. How reasonable the precept- "Honor the Lord with your substance, and with the first fruits of all your increase;" and how God-like the promise- "so shall your barns be filled with plenty, and your presses shall burst forthwith new wine." Who has ever honored the Lord in the observance of this precept, whom the Lord has not honored in the fulfilment of the promise?
Christian beneficence also recognizes the truth that, it is the Lord's which we give to Him, and not our own. We are recipients and not originators, stewards and not owners of our earthly possessions. The principle is this- "All things come from You, and of Your own have we given You." In devoting, then, any portion of our worldly goods to the Lord, we are to remember that we are not thereby making God our debtor, placing Him under an obligation to ourselves; we are but laying at His feet what already He has poured into our cup, and is His by original right, by free bestowment, and by temporary loan. And as we cast our offerings into the treasury, justice and humility extort the exclamation- "All this store comes from Your hand, and is all Your own."
Remember this, disciple of Jesus! God asks, yes, demands at your hands but that which already belongs to Him. It is He that has prospered your plans, has blessed your industry, and has enriched you with wealth; and, in giving to the Lord you give nothing which He has not loaned to you. "Of Your Own Have We Given You."
Our liberality is to be corresponding to our possessions. The Divine rule is- "You shall give unto the Lord your God according as the Lord your God has blessed you. Every man shall give as he is able." How wise and equitable this law of Christian beneficence! God does not require of us to give beyond, but commensurate with, our ability. See well to this. Are you giving to the cause of God in proportion to God's gifts to you? Are your contribution's to aid the kingdom of the Savior in the world, on a scale with your worldly possessions and your income? Are you in this sense a faithful steward of your Lord's goods? Remember, the Master has said- "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required."
Our beneficence is to be willing and not begrudged, cheerful and not reluctant. "And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering: of every man that gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering." The same rule is to govern the servants of Christ. "Every man according as he purposes in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, out of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver."
The love of Christ constraining us, this will be the spirit actuating our liberality. It will not be wrung from us by constraint or by argument, neither will it be exercised under the influence of impulse or excitement- it will be the spontaneous, free-will offering of the heart, and exercised upon the principle of obligation and love. It is not at the costliness of the gift God looks, but the heart which prompts it. "For if there be first a willing heart, it is accepted according to that a man has, and not according to that he has not."
Our giving should be, as far as possible, systematic. "Upon the first day of the month, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God has prospered him." Such is the Apostolic injunction. When this plan can be conveniently adopted, it will be found the most simple and successful. Those who are in the receipt of daily or weekly returns, have it in their power to adopt this systematic mode of contribution, which in the end will be found in all respects the best. They will be surprised to discover how this small tax upon their daily earnings, this weekly setting apart of a portion of their income for the Lord, has gradually accumulated to an amount as astonishing and gratifying to themselves, as helpful to the cause of Christ and pleasing to the Lord.
This plan of systematic giving enters essentially into home-religion. Cultivated by each member of the household, from the master down to the humblest domestic, it will be found to aid marvelously the economy and happiness of the home-circle, and in the end to contribute richly towards the claims and calls of Christian beneficence.
Our liberality should be prompt. A slow, tardy benevolence, postponed to a more convenient season, often fails of its object. There are occasions when the necessity of a Christian brother, or the cause of truth, or the kingdom of Christ and the glory of God, demand a prompt and immediate, as well as a generous and unconstrained, response and action. Promptness in giving frequently enhances the value of the gift. It is a significant aphorism, "He gives double who gives promptly."
A seasonable liberality, a timely aid, a helping hand just at the crisis, may often be of tenfold more worth to a society, an enterprise, or an individual, than if bestowed at a later period, and with a more profuse hand.
But little space in the present reading is left for a consideration of the blessings connected with giving. "Blessed is he that considers the poor; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble." "He who gives to the poor lends to the Lord;" and of this we are assured, none shall lend to the Lord and not receive an ample return, full measure and running over will the Lord give to him. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, when He said- "It is more blessed to give than to receive." And again- "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom." And those of the Apostle- "Let us do good unto all men, especially unto those who are of the household of faith." How noble the character and how encouraging the promise- "The liberal soul devises liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand."
In conclusion, let us seek grace, that we may walk in this Christian precept of liberality with all faithfulness and simplicity; giving, not as to man, but as to the Lord. The responsibility of wealth is tremendous. Money is a talent. We must give an account to God of the manner in which we have employed it. Do not be ambitious of dying rich. "How hardly shall a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven!" Hesitate not to lay down at Christ's feet of your substance, retaining only that which is absolutely necessary to enable you to walk honestly and uprightly before men. "Freely You Have Received, Freely Give."
"With my substance I will honor
My Redeemer and my Lord;
Were ten thousand worlds my manor,
All were nothing to His Word
While the heralds of salvation
His abounding grace proclaim,
Let His friends of every station
Gladly join to spread His fame."