A Sermon by John A. Broadus
"God loveth a cheerful giver." — II Corinthians 9:7
One of the greatest privileges of human life on earth, is to give. Who has not felt the joy of giving? It may be personal attention that you gave, or instruction and counsel, or property, or the most convenient form of property for giving, money. To give is a far pleasanter thing than to receive. We have all found it gratifying to receive gifts of personal help, or pecuniary aid, when we really needed it, but more delightful still to give to others. You need not raise any objection to this position of mine, because I can support it by the highest authority. Did you ever notice that there is a striking saying of the Founder of Christianity, which is not recorded in the gospels? The Apostle Paul, at the end of the twentieth chapter of Acts, says to the Christians whom he is addressing, that they must "remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." Literally translated, this would be, it is a happier thing to give than to receive. Now I am quite sure, friends, that many of you have found this true in your experience from childhood until now. But our social usages and our Christian labors involve a great variety of occasions for giving. Many good men and women, interested in pushing some
particular benevolent enterprise, besiege their friends and acquaintances with frequent entreaties to give. Our churches take many contributions for many objects. And so you will hear some persons say, "I don't like to go to such and such a church, they talk too much there about giving.'' Now my dear friend, please don't say that any more, because you remember that the Saviour said, — "He himself said," — It is a happier thing to give than to receive.
When the Western or Latin Christians began the practice of observing a certain day in commemoration of the Saviour's birth, a thing which we first find mentioned about two centuries after that event, and had settled upon the last week of the year for that purpose, they very naturally transferred to this celebration some old Roman customs which had for many centuries attached to the feast called the Saturnalia, observed by the Romans in connection with the winter solstice. And none of the other customs which gradually became connected, in different countries, with this celebration have proved more agreeable. The practice of lighting many candles was borrowed from a Jewish feast held about that time. The Yule log, or Christmas log, — some of you older gentlemen remember what a happy ado we used to make over the Christmas log when we were boys on the plantation, — this came from the Scandinavian tree-worship. But from the Roman feast they took at the beginning the practice of allowing holiday to slaves and school children, and that families and friends should make gifts to each
other. And so this has come down to you and me, and your children and mine, as a delightful custom. Perhaps I may suggest about it, in passing, that when money is scarce and there are so many other things to be done with it, we may compensate for making the gifts less expensive than usual by taking more than ordinary pains in the way of adapting them to the particular persons. The loving care we thus show may give more pleasure than would be given by greater financial cost.
Since giving is so delightful and every way so desirable a thing, we are not surprised to find much about it in the Bible. The Old Testament speaks often of giving to the poor. The Saviour especially urged giving. And here in the 8th and 9th chapters of II Corinthians we find reference to a quite remarkable transaction. It had long been the custom for wealthy and generous Jews living in foreign countries to send contributions to Jerusalem for the support of poor Jews who lived there, many of whom had themselves come from foreign conntries to spend their last years and find their graves at the holy city. Now when any of these poor Jews became Christians, they were at once cut off from all share in such contributions. And that was one occasion of the magnificent outburst of Christian generosity which occurred in the first years at Jerusalem, when the brethren regarded their property as held by them for each other's benefit and would not say that it was their own, and some of them even sold real estate and brought the money for the support of
the needy. Such a plan as this was of course a temporary thing. But as Christianity became diffused in foreign countries, and a good many Gentiles became Christians, the idea very naturally arose, that these Gentile churches might send contributions to Jerusalem for the support of the Christian poor, as the Jews had been wont to do for the Jewish poor. Soon after the Apostle Paul's first great missionary journey, when a conference was held at Jerusalem about the relations of the Gentile and Jewish Christians, some of the other apostles suggested to Paul that his churches ought to remember the poor, — meaning the poor Christians at Jerusalem, — and the Apostle says that he himself was also forward to do so. Now a few years later, we learn from these chapters of II Corinthians that he has not merely been doing this on a small scale, but has for a year or more been organizing a general contribution among the churches which he and his associates had founded in three or four great provinces of the Roman Empire, — certainly in Galatia, which was in the center of what we call Asia Minor, and in Macedonia, which included the northern part of what we call Greece, and in Achaia, which was the southern part of Greece, and probably also in what the New Testament calls Asia, the district of which Ephesus was the capital, — he had been making personal appeals and sending representatives, and he refers to the subject in several of his inspired letters. We can see that great moral benefit came from this wide-spread contribution, apart from the immediate practical help given
to the community. This large and general gift of Gentile Christians for the benefit of Jewish Christians at Jerusalem, served to show that these Gentiles had real Christian love, and to break down the Jewish prejudice. Besides, the independent and scattered churches in these great Roman provinces were thus brought into active co-operation for an object of common interest. What a blessed thing it would have been if in the growing centuries Christians had only left all this where the Apostle placed it, — independent churches, but gladly co-operating and thus maintaining the sense of free Christian unity?
Now as to the various means of promoting this great collection, we find the Apostle devoting a portion of his second epistle to the Corinthians to that subject. He gives a variety of reasons why the Christians in Achaia, of which Corinth was the capital, should gladly contribute for this great object. He does not say anything about their furnishing money to support their own worship. You may have noticed that there is nothing on that subject in the New Testament. I suppose that was merely taken for granted. Of course people would support their own worship — the meetings of their own church. The Jews were familiar with this idea in their synagogues, for which they erected buildings and supported officials, and the Greeks and Romans had a great variety of societies, educational or literary, social or religious, and were familiar with the idea of contributing for the support of any such organization
to which a person belonged. So that might be taken for granted. And reasons why they should give for objects far away would apply at the same time to the propriety of gladly contributing for the support of their own church.
Now I wish to gather out of these chapters viii. and ix., first, a number of reasons for giving; and then some directions as to the manner of giving.
I. Reasons for giving. (1) It is a very notable thing to observe how promptly the Apostle states one of the great reasons for glad giving, namely, imitation of Christ. "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich."* My Christian hearers, do you not feel moved by the thought of imitating Christ? At a bookstore, yesterday, while anxiously searching for books I could afford to buy and give to friends, I observed, as I have often done in past years, what a great number of copies they had in different size and binding, of the famous little book called "The Imitation of Christ." The very name of the book attracts attention and awakens interest. What a privilege to have such an example! What a duty to walk in his steps! But sometimes people are discouraged at the very elevation and perfection of the example. They say: "How can I hope to imitate the Divine Redeemer in all his unspeakable
* This was no doubt said for the purpose of awakening gratitude, as well as of exciting to imitation. The former topic will be introduced further on.
sacrifice, in all that he gave up, and all that he endured to accomplish the salvation of men? "Well, we are often stirred by notable examples of persons in very different circumstances from our own. Every college lad, when he makes his speech, likes to quote:
"Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime."
Every generous youthful spirit is stirred by that thought, yet they do not expect to be all conquerors, or sovereigns, or philosophers, or inventors. A great example standing high on a lofty pedestal does not dishearten us by its elevation. And oh! shall we not arouse our souls and earnestly strive to imitate our Saviour? to imitate him in many ways, and among them, to imitate him in self-sacrificing generosity for the benefit of others? Though he was rich, oh how rich! yet for your sakes he became poor, oh so poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.
(2) We ought to give through love to our fellow-men, and especially to our fellow-Christians. One of the great leading ideas of the Christian religion is love. The Old Testament enjoined it. "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." But there was room for a quibble, as to what was meant by neighbor, and we find that the Jewish teachers had become accustomed to limit the term. They would say: "An enemy is not my neighbor. A hateful Samaritan, a dog of a Gentile, is no neighbor of mine." And so they were accustomed to quote this
great precept with an addition of their own. Our Lord refers to this in his sermon on the Mount. "Ye have heard the saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy." The last was stuck on, and he at once tears up their distinction by the roots: — "but I say to you, love your enemies." An enemy too is a neighbor, in the sense of the law. On a later occasion, when a man was thinking of the same Jewish distinction — a sharp lawyer he was — and said to Jesus: "Ah, but who is my neighbor?" the Saviour told a beautiful and touching story of a good Samaritan who showed himself neighbor to a Jew that was in trouble. He thereby pointed out that even a Samaritan was a neighbor in the sense of the divine precept. Thus the Saviour broadened out the Old Testament teaching into a yet wider universal application. We must love our fellow-men. At the same time he taught his disciples that they ought to have a peculiar love for one another, declaring this to be a new commandment which he gave them, and that all men would know them to be his disciples by their mutual Christian love. So then the Apostle appeals to those sentiments of Christian love, and at the close of the eighth chapter bids the Corinthians to give "the proof of their love" by gladly contributing for the benefit of their brethren. Thus we have seen two of the reasons for giving which he presents. Now notice two others.
(3) They must give in emulation of other givers. When he first introduces the subject, at the beginning
of the eighth chapter, he tells the Corinthians about the zealous liberality of these Macedonian Christians among whom he is staying at the time of writing. "We make known to you, brethren, the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia" — you see it is not mere human goodness, it is the fruit of God's grace — "that in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded — or overflowed — unto the riches of their liberality." By this example he would stir the Corinthians to like zeal in giving. And, notice, it is the example of the poor. The Macedonian Christians were comparatively poor, and their generosity was on that account all the more impressive an example. Ah, if all Christian people would only be stirred by Christian love, to give! The example of the poor would often cause those who are rich, or who are going to become rich, to give, and thus some gift very small in itself might become the occasion hereafter of great and mighty gifts. Let not the poor stand back. Let them do their duty and enjoy their privilege as a personal matter, and remember also that their example may have great power. The Apostle wishes those whom he addresses to emulate these Christians around him. Emulation is a very powerful tendency in human nature, easily corrupted into envy, but in itself a healthful and useful tendency. Whenever we see other people doing some handsome thing, it ought to awaken in us a desire to do likewise. This is natural, and we ought to encourage and control so helpful a
disposition. There are many known to us who give generously, some who are rich, and some who are poor. Let us gladly emulate their noble example.
(4) On the other hand, we ought to give out of self-respect, knowing that other people have a right to expect it of us. In the beginning of the ninth chapter, the Apostle says that he had stirred up these Macedonians by telling them that the brethren in Achaia and Corinth had long before been zealous in this matter; and this example had been quite helpful in Macedonia. Now then he says, I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they may go and have your contribution all ready sure enough, according to the good account I gave of you: for otherwise, if I come, and some of these Macedonians with me, and it appears that after all you are not ready. I don't say that you will be ashamed, but I know that I shall. "Well, well," says some Christian hearer, "is it possible that the inspired Apostle appeals to such motives as these? I thought we ought to give simply and alone from a sense of duty, and that to think about emulation, and pride, and shame, would be all wrong." Yet you see the inspired Apostle does appeal to these motives, to emulation on the one hand, and to self-respect on the other hand. These are not the highest motives, but they are real and powerful, and, rightly used, they are valuable. Human nature is a complex affair. I wonder if any person ever performs any action from only a single motive. Usually, beyond question, we
act from a variety of motives, and if the greater motives are only in their due supremacy, then these other considerations will be helpful. Christianity proposes to take hold of the entire man, with all his complex constitution, and to subordinate and consecrate his whole being to the benefit of mankind and to the glory of Christ.
(5) Two other reasons for giving remain to be mentioned, as presented by the Apostle. One is the hope of divine reward. Notice this: "He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." He promises that God will reward them for generous giving in behalf of their needy brethren. Now if a man were to give simply for the sake of such a reward, he would not get it; just as we all know if a man makes happiness the exclusive object of his efforts, he will not get happiness. But if his attention is turned mainly to duty, and he tries to do his duty, the happiness comes along unsought. And so if we are influenced in giving mainly by other considerations, it is not wrong to remember, it is a comfort to remember, that we shall be rewarded. We shall be rewarded in this life. What a comfort it is to know that we have been able to help others. And we shall be rewarded amid the great and blessed and perfect rewards of the life eternal.
(6) And now comes the last and greatest of all these reasons for giving, with which the Apostle closes and completes all that he has to say on this subject, — "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable
gift." What an impressive conclusion to all these exhortations! We are called on to give, and to give gladly, and the highest of all motives for so doing is gratitude for God's unspeakable gift. I suppose there can be no doubt as to what gift is here referred to. We have many things to thank God for, many gifts of his providence, many yet richer gifts of his grace, and when we are tempted to repine at the ills of life we cannot remedy, at the burdens we are called to bear, better occupy ourselves with thanking God for all his many mercies. But when the Apostle says, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift," you know what he must mean. "God so loved the world that he gave," — that he gave, — Oh, what did he give? Oh, heaven and earth! do ye know? Oh, time and eternity! can ye ever fully tell? "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but might have eternal life." Let this great gift lift up our souls to look upon all Christian giving as a privilege and a delight.
II. Now we turn to what the Apostle says in this same passage about the manner of our giving. (1) We must give according to our ability, and sometimes more. Observe what the Apostle says at the beginning of the eighth chapter, about the way the Macedonians are giving: "For according to their power, yea, and beyond their power." Now people ought always to give up to their ability. They ought not usually to give beyond their ability. That would not be prudent, and would soon cut off
their opportunity of giving largely. But sometimes it is commendable to give beyond one's ability, and the Apostle does warmly commend these Christians for so doing. There is a still more notable example. Only yesterday I was reading with my class the story of the poor widow, who, as Jesus declared, put in more than all the rich people. It was but two little coins, the size of a fish-scale, and the Greek word used in Mark signifies "fish-scale coin." The two together amounted to much less than half of a cent in our money, but they would have bought something there — and this was all she had to live on. It would not be right, as a rule, for people to give all they have to live on, but sacred enthusiasm might sometimes make this justifiable, and the Saviour commends her for it. Look at her as she draws near to the contribution box! See the glow on her face, of devout zeal. She is very poor, she can't do much, but she wants to do all she can. Dear old woman! she doesn't know who is looking at her. Ah! how little she imagines that one is looking on who knows the depths of her heart and the whole story of her life, and appreciates her love and enthusiasm! She does not know who is looking at her — one more than mortal, more than man, more than the high angels. I wonder if he does not look now at people who make contributions. He has not changed. He is "the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever." He must look on now with like interest and like understanding, as to the relation of our gifts to our means, of our actions to our motives.
Dear old woman! she does not know that all the world will hear of her, that her story will go down embalmed to the coming ages. Better, doubtless, that she does not know. Leave her alone in her simplicity and sincerity, and let us lay to heart the lesson which through her the Great Teacher has taught to us all. It is sometimes right, in a holy enthusiasm, to give what would generally be sheer imprudence.
(2) We must give systematically, yet sometimes make an extra gift outside of the system. In his previous epistle to the Corinthians, near the end of it, the Apostle expressly enjoined on them that they should systematically lay up money for the purposes of this contribution. "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store." This was the day on which the Christians had begun to worship, the first day of the week, on which their Saviour arose from the dead; and on this day of worship and gratitude they should lay by something, thus once a week making a contribution. This is not directly an injunction to contribute money at church on the day of worship, for in this case it was to be a fund laid up in the man's own charge, and gradually accumulating until the Apostle came. But it involves the principle of systematic giving, and obviously suggests the propriety of giving weekly on the first day. Let us beware of thinking that we shall do our duty by mere occasional and impulsive giving, when some strong feeling sweeps us away. Let us have system in our giving, and, in
the good sense, make a business of giving. But then when system is established and the habit assured, it will sometimes be proper to give outside of the system, just as it is about praying. I hope that each one of you has regular times for prayer, and when the time comes, then you must pray, whether you feel like it or not. If you feel like praying, it is of course proper that you should do so; and if you do not then feel like praying, it is all the more important that you should pray, beginning with the confession that you do not feel as you ought to, and asking that you may be enabled by divine grace to feel your need. So then pray when the time comes, and be regular and systematic about it. But besides that, whenever any special occasion arises for prayer at some other time, or any strong impulse stirs your soul, making prayer necessary or natural, then do not wait for the time to come, but pray at once. Now just so as to giving. Have your system about giving, and follow your system, but be willing to give sometimes outside of your system, when you see special need or feel any special interest.
(3) We must give cheerfully, for "God loveth a cheerful giver." Let us tutor ourselves to regard giving as not simply a duty, but a high privilege. Let us remember that all the reasons for giving at all are reasons for giving gladly. Let us think how we owe all things to God, and that what we give to others is in the highest sense giving to God. Let us remember how the Saviour will say on the great
day, "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, ye did it unto me." Let us not be satisfied to give grudgingly, but educate ourselves into giving cheerfully. Some people pervert this saying. I once heard a man say: "'God loveth a cheerful giver.' I can't give this cheerfully, and so I had as well not give it at all." Suppose a boy should try that. His father, as he leaves in the morning, tells John of certain work he wants him to do. After he has gone, John dawdles and frets, and his mother says: "John, you ought to do this work cheerfully, to please your father. Your father doesn't want you to work with fretful complaining; he wants you to work cheerfully." Suppose the boy seizes on that, and says, "Well, I can't work cheerfully, as father wants me to do, and so I reckon I had as well not do it at all." Wouldn't he catch it that evening when father comes home? He ought to catch it, but boys nowadays don't always catch it as often as might be good for them. Ah, fellow-Christians, children of the great and loving Father, shall we thus trifle with him? Shall we not recognize the duty and the dear privilege of giving, as in his sight and in his service? Shall we not rebuke ourselves if ever tempted to neglect this privilege, or to perform it grudgingly? Shall we not learn to give gladly, and always remember with grateful hearts that "God loveth a cheerful giver?"
[From Ben M. Bogard, editor, Pillars of Orthodoxy, or Defenders of the Faith, 1900 - jrd
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