By John Angell James, 1846


"She did what she could!" Such was the testimony borne by Christ to Mary, the sister of Lazarus, when she poured upon his sacred person, her alabaster-box of precious ointment. Mark 14:1-9. What an eulogy! And from such lips too! Blessed woman! Unknown, perhaps, beyond the boundaries of her own village, little did she imagine, when she was filling the room with the perfume of her ointment, that she was performing an act which would fill the world with the fragrance of her memory. How much greater the honor of anointing Jesus to his burial, in one of the humblest cottages of Bethany, than to be anointed upon the proudest royal throne that ever glittered with the gold of Ophir. So true is it, that piety immortalizes its subject, and invests every onewho practices it with a deathless renown.

Such was the ardor of this woman's love and gratitude to her Savior, that, in order to express her emotions, she ventured to the very verge of the rules of decorum, and, disregarding the curious eyes and censorious tongues of both the host and his guests, she lavished her box of precious ointment upon the body of her Lord. Yes, it was love to Christ that prompted this act; and the love of Christ to this daughter of Abraham, which bestowed upon her the token of his gracious approbation, which is to be seen and read by all men. Whether he meant, as in the case of the poor widow, she gave all she had, or simply, that regardless of the cost of the ointment, and without stopping to examine whether she could afford it or not, she brought it as the highest testimonial she could give of her love to Christ, and of her desire to honor him to the extent of her power, it is of no consequence to inquire. In either case, it was a costly expression of the purest and the strongest affection.

This act of Mary suggests a series of evangelical lessons, and of consecutive and important queries.

All true believers are under infinite obligations to Christ. Take your station at the cross in the hour and scene of his redeeming agony, and hear the voice which asks, "How much do you owe your Lord?" Then go and place yourselves in imagination on the borders of the bottomless and flaming pit, from whence he has delivered you, still followed by the question, "How much do you owe your Lord?" And then ascend to the celestial city, and with all its honors and felicities spread around you, once more hear the voice, "How much do you owe your Lord?"

A Christian's soul ought ever to be filled with a sense of his obligations to Christ, and fired with the love and gratitude they should inspire. In his history there should be no seasons of forgetfulness, or of coldness toward the Lord who bought him, but he should be constrained always—by the love of Christ.

His love to the Savior should ever prompt the inquiry, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me." If in a right state of mind, he is not content with the inquiry, "What shall I feel; or what shall I say for Christ; but what shall I do?" Love is practical, and so is gratitude. It is more, it is diligent, laborious, ingenious, self-denying. If we love a friend, or feel grateful to a benefactor, we ask ourselves, and ask others, what we can do to please him. We get a knowledge of his tastes, wishes, tendencies—and then do something that we suppose will be pleasing, welcome, and acceptable to him. Thus Mary acted. She looked around on her little possessions, with the question, "What can I do or give to my Lord." The alabaster-box caught her eye, and she exclaimed, "It is precious and costly; and for that very reason he shall have it." So should the Christian act.

Having found out what he can do, and what he imagines will be acceptable to Christ—he should promptly and cheerfully do it, however laborious, self-denying, or expensive it may be. "Oh what has he not given to me?" he exclaims, "his life, his death! His cradle, his cross! His agony, and bloody sweat! What can I withhold from him?"

Everything a Christian does for Christ, should be done from a pure principle of love and gratitude. Nothing should be done from vanity or a regard to fame; nothing from pride and ostentation; nothing from self-righteousness; nothing from compulsion—but all from love, and gratitude, and a clear conscience.

I make one more remark, and it is, that there is always, and especially in this age, ample opportunity for a Christian to show, by substantial acts, his love to Christ. It is true Christ is no longer upon earth going about doing good, and, therefore we cannot now open to him our door, spread for him the table, make for him a feast, or anoint his head with precious ointments. But though he has ascended on high, he has left behind him two representatives—His people, and His cause. In reference to his people, he has most explicitly told us, that "whatever we do unto the least of them," he takes as done unto himself. Matthew 10:40-42; 25:35-45. All Christians have an opportunity of doing something for Christ in the way of comforting his sorrowful disciples; relieving his necessitous disciples; or restoring his backsliding disciples.

Brotherly love is love to Christ. And it is not, perhaps, sufficiently considered by professing Christians, what an emphatic expressions this is, of our attachment to the Savior, or how kind he takes it of us—to act kindly toward his people. If a mother considers every act of favor shown to her child as shown to herself, how much more does Christ regard the benefits bestowed upon his people as bestowed upon him; for what is a mother's love to that of a Savior's?

But beside the members of his mystical body, Christ is also represented upon earth by his cause. The cause of true religion is the cause of Christ—its doctrines speak of him, its precepts refer to him, its institutes commemorate him. He is the end and object of all. This cause is promoted in various ways; by the preaching of the gospel, and of course the education of preachers; by the support of Christian missions; by the circulation of the Scriptures and religious tracts; by the education of children and adults; and numerous other methods. Whatever means are employed to diffuse the knowledge and promote the influence of true religion—if done from love to Christ—is of course an expression of attachment to him.

It is evident, therefore, that every Christian can do something for Christ. No individual is so poor, so illiterate, so obscure, as to have no opportunity of performing any substantial acts of service for the Redeemer. God has not placed a single disciple in a situation, where nothing can be done for Christ. Some have more opportunities than others—but all have some opportunity. To one is given ten talents, to others five, and to all besides, one. There is no monopoly of the honor of doing good; no chartered company of Christian philanthropists; no corner on showing mercy. To do something for spreading the cause of Christ, as a duty, is binding on every man's conscience, and every woman's too; and, as a privilege, is within the reach of everyone's desire. The peasant and the mechanic; the man-servant and the maidservant; the pauper and the cripple—may all do something for the Lord Jesus. If they cannot give dollars, they can give pennies; if they cannot influence and move a multitude, they can, perhaps, influence some individual; if they have not great abilities, they have some. No, none who love Christ can honestly say, that he has given them no opportunity to serve his cause.

Take the case of a laboring man, and see in how many ways even he can act for Christ. He can train up his children in the fear of God. He can set an example of religion to his neighbors. He can persuade some that neglect the house of God to accompany him to public worship. He can rebuke the sinner in his ways. He can subscribe his own penny, and gather the pennies of others for a religious society. He can distribute religious tracts. He can visit the sick to talk and pray with them. All these things he can do, and others which a little ingenuity can invent for his own peculiar situation.

I want to take from everyone the dead weight of helplessness and uselessness, which hangs about them to depress and discourage them, and to excite a holy and laudable sense of their just importance, and that there is some post for them to occupy, and some work for them to do in our world. In every manufactory there is something for the child, as well as the adult; and in every machine something for the least pin, as well as the flywheel, to do. None are useless, nothing is superfluous. This is encouraging, and at the same time stimulating to the poor, for whom I write, as well as for the rich. Jesus Christ has given a duty to every man—and expects every man to do his duty. God's voice says, "A great work is to be done on the earth. Do something! Do something, do it!" Let no man reply, "I can do nothing."

I now go on to propose a series of consecutive and important questions. What HAVE you done for Christ? What have you done compared with your obligations, your opportunities, your professions? Look back upon your life and course of action; examine your creed; consider what you have professed to Christ, and before the world; recollect all the opportunities of usefulness that God has thrown in your way; calculate the resources he has placed at your disposal; and then ask yourselves the solemn question, "What have I done?" Look at what others have done, with, perhaps, far less opportunity or ability than you, and again ask the question, "What have I done?" Sum it all up, and what does it amount to? Is there a soul in heaven, or in the way to it, whom you have sent there? Have you made any direct effort to save a soul? What have you done in the way of property, exertion, influence; compared with what you might have done, and should have done?

What ARE you NOW doing for Christ? What course or scheme of usefulness does this address find you pursuing? What institution points to you as one of its active and liberal supporters? What plan of modern benevolence, and Christian enterprise is indebted to you for counsel, property, labor, and time—and regards you as one of its main pillars? Where are you, in what part of the great field of the world are you working, and what work are you doing? Perhaps you say, "I love to work alone, and am not fond of these societies." Very well. Choose your own way of doing good—just so long as you do it. What then are the objects of your silent and solitary benevolence, and the channels through which you are pouring the streams of your mercy?

What CAN you do? This is a most momentous question, and should neither be dismissed hastily, nor answered carelessly. It requires great seriousness of inquiry, diligence of investigation, and cautiousness of research; and, moreover, much self-knowledge, modesty, and impartiality. "Can," and "cannot," are small, frequently repeated, and seemingly very insignificant words; but, in reality, they are immensely important, and ought not to be pronounced in haste or in levity. When we say "cannot," energy is paralyzed, and effort is suspended. We have pronounced a thing to be impossible, and who attempts impossibilities? Let us be cautious how we say "cannot." When we say "can," we become responsible, for this little monosyllable measures our accountability. We then utter a word which should be followed by action. What then can you do for Christ? Inquire, examine, study, and pray for light. Investigate your circumstances, situation, abilities, resources, opportunities.

Perhaps you have property, yet but little talent for speaking; well, give, then, and give the more from the consideration that you cannot do anything else. Give what you can, and beware how you limit what you can give. Think how much you can give, not how little. Remember God knows what you can give. Look round upon your property with the word "can" upon your lips. But perhaps you have not much property, but you have ability to influence others. Employ it, then, exert it to the uttermost, and the more because you have no wealth of your own to give. It may be you have talents for speaking; well, speak, then, for Christ, not for self under the impulse of vanity, but for Christ. Or you have a tact for business; then go to Christian societies, and work there humbly, laboriously, unostentatiously. You are young, and can employ yourself as a Sunday school teacher; go, without delay, to this scene of useful occupation. Or you can distribute tracts, or read the Scriptures to the poor, or collect moneys; do it, then. But it is needless for me to enumerate and specify, if you will but take up the question, "What can I do?" If there be but a sincere desire to do something, and to do all you can, ingenuity would soon come to your help, and you would be astonished to find out what and how much you can do. Do not say, "What can others do?" but "What can I do?" nor, "What could I do if others would do their duty?" but, "What can I do by myself and without them?"

What OUGHT you to do? Here is another important word, "ought." This is the rule of duty—it means all a man can do, and will be condemned for not doing. To the question, what ought you to do, I answer, "All you can do." This is demanded by Christ. And he set you the example; for he did all he could for your salvation. Conscience, gratitude, justice, love—demand it of you.

What WILL you do? What from this hour will you determine to do? Will the past effort satisfy you? Does it satisfy you? What, have you done enough for Christ? Stop before you answer that question. Let me take you again to the cross, to the borders of the bottomless pit, to the world of glory—and, in sight of those stupendous scenes, let me ask you, "Have you done enough for Him who thus loved you?" What should satisfy the man, as the sum total of his efforts for Christ, who knows and feels that he owes his deliverance from eternal torment, and his salvation to eternal glory—to His amazing and unutterable love? What will satisfy him? Begin afresh from the reading of this address, to study your obligations to Christ; to fathom the depth of misery from which he has delivered you; to measure the height of glory to which he is advancing you—and all by his dear cross—and then inquire by what new and more emphatic way you shall testify your love to Christ; by what new scheme of usefulness you shall seek to express the sense you bear of his sovereign and amazing love. Go afresh to him with the prayer of the converted Saul, and say to him, "Lord, what will you have me to do?" And wait and watch for the answer.

What would be the result if all professing Christians did what they could? What a mass of wealth, of intellect, and of energy, remains yet unemployed for Christ, not only in the world, but also in the church. How many of his professed disciples are doing comparatively nothing; how many more but a little; and how few can even approximate to the eulogy of Mary, and deserve the honor of having it said of them, "They did what they could." Were all to begin seriously to study, and diligently and prayerfully to employ their resources, for the glory of the Savior in the spread of his cause, what might not be expected to be the result. O if all the power of faith were called out in believing, importunate prayer for the pouring forth of God's blessed Spirit; if Christians, under a deep sense of the utter inefficiency of all means, without divine grace—were to give themselves to prayer, and to pray as if it depended on their faith and fervor, whether the world would be converted; if all rich Christian men were to give all they could of their wealth, and all other Christians were disposed to make sacrifices of luxury and comfort, that they might have the more to offer to Christ; if men of intellect, and energy, and influence, were but to consider these resources as belonging to Christ, instead of devoting them to the politics and parties of the world; if all godly females were but to consider the solemn obligations they are under to Christ, not only for his love to their souls, but for the beneficial influence his religion has had upon the condition of their sex; if all the poor were to give of their little, for the spread of the gospel; if, in short, it could be said of all the millions of the disciples of Jesus, each in his sphere, and according to his measure, "They did what they could," how far off then would be the answer of the church's prayers, in the universal conversion of the world to Christ? Nothing is lacking but for the church to feel her obligations, to prepare herself for her great work by a fresh baptism of the Spirit, to consecrate her energies to the cause of her divine Lord, and to consider that her great business is the conversion of the world to God, and then the blessing would come.

You, my dear friends, among the rest of Christ's chosen and redeemed people, are called upon to give, in the spirit of faith, and love, and prayer, of your substance to Christ. Sorrowful would be the heart of your pastor, if he saw you wholly taken up in getting wealth for yourselves, and while either hoarding it up to make your children rich, or spending it in the luxuries that constitute "the pride of life," withholding it from the cause of Christ, or niggardly, grudgingly, and scantily yielding it to the urgency of importunate appeals.

Consider, I entreat you, the different results of the money you spend upon yourselves, and that which you spend upon Christ—the former perishes in the using, the latter acquires an imperishable existence. What you spend in the comforts and elegancies of life, yes, and what you hoard unnecessarily, dies with you, when you die, and obtains no resurrection, for it has no principle of immortality. You will see it in no form in another world, for it contains no seed that bears fruit in eternity. It will pass away forever, and nothing of it remain but the remembrance, and the regret, if, indeed, regret can enter heaven, that it had not been spent for God. But the wealth which, under the influence of pure motives, we devote to Christ, will never die; this is immortal and incorruptible, not, indeed, in the form of property, for of what use would this be to us in heaven? but in what is infinitely more glorious and gratifying, in the form of those redeemed and blessed spirits of just men made perfect, whom it has been employed to convert to God.

Yes, the men who give their property for the conversion of souls, may be said, in one sense, to transform it into those living substances of holiness and bliss, which fill the upper world. This, in the best and fullest sense of the term, is "to lay up treasures in heaven;" it is to enrich the celestial city; to increase the glory of the New Jerusalem; and to place fresh gems in the mediatorial crown of the Redeemer. What a motive to liberality! What an incentive to munificence! How does it soften the labor of getting wealth, sweeten and sanctify the enjoyment of it, and compensate for any little sacrifice we may make in parting from it, to recollect that by giving it to Christ, we impart to it a principle of immortality, and add it to the incorruptible and undefiled inheritance, and that fades not away. Dull must be the heart which such a motive cannot quicken; groveling the spirit which such a prospect does not elevate. Oh Christians! how is it that we can cheat ourselves of such heavenly felicity and eternal honor, merely to have a little more comfort, luxury, or elegance here? Why do we impoverish ourselves in the eternal world, to enrich ourselves in this present world? How is it, that the prospect of seeing our property forever before our eyes, in the forms of glorified spirits; of laying it up around the throne of the Eternal; of adding, by it, to the splendors of the holy of holies; and multiplying the objects on which the eye of Christ shall rest with satisfaction, as the travail of his soul—does not induce us to part with more of it for such purposes, and make us willing to submit to every kind of sacrifice? How is it, I say? Just because of the weakness of our faith. We do not believe these facts, or we believe them with a faith so feeble and so wavering, as scarcely to deserve the name.

How much pleading, and remonstrance, and rebuke, might be spared; how much of the modern system of combating the spirit of worldliness in the disciples of Christ, and producing a spirit of liberality, which, after all, is sluggish, grudging, and reluctant, might be dispensed with; how many of the present devices for getting money, some of them unworthy of the dignity and sanctity of the cause, and nearly all of them a reproach upon its professed supporters, might be abandoned, if Christians understood and believed what they professed; if they lived by faith; if their faith regulated their doings, as well as their sayings; if it regulated their doings for others, as well as for themselves; and if it also regulated their doings in the way of disposing of their property for the salvation of men's souls. The worm at the root of liberality, as well as of every other virtue, is unbelief; and there it may be detected eating out the strength, impairing the beauty, and preventing the fertility of the plant.

But before I close this address, I come back again to the subject of love to Christ. I am not urging an abstract liberality, a mere habit of giving, apart from this holy and evangelical motive. I have directed you to the example of one whose fragrant offering was presented by a hand that was moved to the act, by a heart that burned with love, and glowed with gratitude to Christ; and that example I am anxious you should imitate, not only in its act, but in its principle. I want you to make the love of Christ the mainspring of your obedience, as it is of all true obedience—and in order to this, the mainspring must be in your heart, and the love of Jesus beat strongly there. Ah, here, here is the defect of the great multitude of professors in the present day, the love of Christ does not beat strongly there; the love of Christ does not constrain them. True, there is much activity and much liberality, and we rejoice in it, for God employs it for good; but how much of this springs from love to Christ, and how much from the compulsion of example, the force of persuasion, the love of activity, and a spirit of individual and congregational vainglory? Does this liberality flow forth silently, gush out spontaneously, welling up, like some abundant spring, motivated by secret and powerful love to Jesus, without the aid of mechanical means? Or is it not got up, in whatever quantity, with great labor and much pumping? Changing the metaphor, is this zeal kept in vigorous activity by the healthful nutriment of evangelical truth; by the bread which comes down from heaven; by eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of God? Or is it not kept alive and active by the various stimulants, cordials, and elixirs, which modern ingenuity supplies?

Have you, like your devoted sister of Bethany, done what you could? Take an inventory of the means which the Lord has put into your hands for honoring him, and then look over the list of your contributions. What proportion do your annual charities bear, compared to the cost of your furniture, your wardrobe, your entertainments, your ornaments and decorations, your luxuries? Jesus did not withhold from you his very precious blood. What are you willing to do for him? What costly alabaster-box have you broken, will you break for him?

Oh God! bestow upon my flock, and upon their minister, your grace, that when we meet you in judgment, we may hear this commendatory testimony from your gracious lips, "They did what they could!"