Great Texts of the Bible
The Liberality of Christ
For 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.—2 Corinthians 8:9.
St. Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to contribute to the relief of the poor Christians at Jerusalem. First, he tells them what the churches of Macedonia had done. In persecution and poverty they had given so largely that St. Paul was reluctant to accept the gift till they prayed him with much entreaty to do so. Then he urges upon the Corinthians that, as they abounded in other endowments, spiritual and moral, they would abound in this grace also. And then he checks himself, and sums the appeal by calling on them to give proof of the sincerity of their love, for he says, “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” No argument could go above or beyond this.
The argument includes these three things—
I. What our Lord was.
II. What He became.
III. What He purposed.
What He Was
“Though he was rich.”
In what did Christ’s wealth consist? In the seventeenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel is recorded that last great prayer of the Master. In it He reminds the Father that before the world was created He shared God’s glory. This, then, is the first item in the inventory of His wealth. He shared through eternity the glory of the Infinite God. In the same prayer He reminds God that before the earth was created He possessed the Father’s love. The love of the All-Father, from time eternal, was His. This is the second item in the inventory of His wealth. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He rebukes His warlike followers, and tells them that He could pray the Father and He would send Him legions of angels. During His agony in the Garden and after His temptation in the wilderness, angels came and ministered unto Him. From this it is fair to assume that, in the ages before the Incarnation, He had the service, love, and fellowship of all the heavenly hosts. This is the third item in the inventory of His wealth. In the first chapter of John’s Gospel we read that “all things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made.” He was the Creator, and therefore, through all time the absolute Owner, of every atom of material wealth in the entire universe of God. This is the fourth item in the inventory of His wealth.
1. The conventional idea of riches is pecuniary abundance, superfluity of goods personal and heritable. The typical rich man is Dives, “clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day.” His riches are pre-eminently calculable, can be written down and reckoned up in black and white. Riches of this order the average English mind instinctively understands and appreciates. There is nothing so wonderful to it as property. To own it is to be a great man, and the more he owns the greater a man he is. The millionaire is our permanent social wonder, a man made admirable by his millions. And there is a point where material wealth is a thing of quite infinite significance, the point where it expresses immanent energies, where it is the outcome and product of a nature so rich that it must to fulfil itself burst into wealth. An empty nature feels no oppression in a vacant universe; a rich nature must strenuously labour to create a without that at once reflects and satisfies the within. And St. Paul conceives Christ as of a fulness so infinite that He could not but create, and of His fulness all creation had received. Of Him, and to Him, and through Him, were all things; in all, His thought was manifested, His energies active; He was before all things, and in Him all stood together in divinest system for divinest ends. And to be so rich within and without was indeed to have infinite wealth.
Awe comes into the soul of man as he looks into the clear midnight heaven and watches its innumerable hosts, each a point of light to the eye, yet so speaking to the imagination as to bewilder it by visions of a starlit immensity, of a space mind cannot limit, instinct with thought, throbbing with generative, progressive, mighty life. If you stood on what seems the remotest star in space, trembling like the veriest rushlight on the verge of outer darkness, you would find yourself in the heart of a mightier sun than your own, while all round new constellations would glow like the myriad eyes of God, looking through the very points that made space visible into the minds that made it living; and if there stood beside you a master spirit to teach the bewildered, his response to your cry—“Whose are these?”—would be: “The eternal Reason men call the Christ made and owns the worlds! So rich was His essential nature that He thought into being whatever is. The universe is His wealth, and its weal His joy.”1 [Note: A. M. Fairbairn, The City of God, 300.]
When we wish to show foreign potentates the glory of England, we take them in our ignorant human way to the Southampton waters, and show them ironclad ships of war as they belch out fire and smoke, and make the whole region tremble with their thunder. But when the Psalmist would show us the glorious majesty of God’s Kingdom he takes us to the corn-fields. “He openeth his hand, and satisfieth the desire of every living thing.” He rules through feeding us: and a well-fed people makes a stable government.2 [Note: D. W. Simon.]
2. The Eternal Son was rich in the wealth that is well-being. He was not doomed to the splendid misery of being alone in His ownership of the worlds, of having nothing but material, calculable wealth. He was rich in the honour God enjoys, in the worship of angel and spirit, in the happiness which is at once the essence and the manifestation of Divine perfection, in the affection given by the Eternal Father to the only begotten Son.
Did you ever think what the mystery we call Trinity means? You speak perhaps of the time when God was alone, when, before the worlds were, He dwelt solitary in His own eternity. But God was never alone, could never be alone. He is by His very nature not solitude but society. Were He solitude, He could not be the absolute perfection which is our only God. God is love, and love is social. You cannot have love without a subject loving and an object loved. The object is as necessary as the subject. Where there is no person to be loved, love is impossible. God is reason, and reason is social. Knowledge implies subject and object, the person that knows, the person known. Deny the distinction of knowing subject and known object, and the very possibility of knowledge is denied. But if God is essentially love and knowledge, He is essentially social; and if the time never was when these were no realities to Him, the time never was when His nature was without the loved person and the known object. When we speak of the person loved, we name Him “Son”; of the object known, we name Him “Word.” And who shall tell the Divine beatitude of the eternity when the Son lay in the bosom of the Father, and the arms of the Father held the person of the Son, and the tides of love flowed and ebbed with a rhythm that beat out as it were the music of the eternal joy? In that wealth of essential being Christ lived with the Father “before the foundation of the world,” so “rich” that “in him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”
What He Became
“He became poor.”
In what did this poverty consist? His Divine perfections do not admit of decrease or limitation. The infinite riches of His own nature must be ever infinite. He is the Maker of all things and the Upholder of all things which He has made. He may destroy, but He cannot alienate; for to withdraw His support from any creature would be its annihilation. And if He were to destroy He would not be less rich; for the resources of the Creator are inexhaustible, and at His will He could replace what He had annihilated. God might shed upon us the wealth of an entire creation and yet remain as rich as before He gave it. He might create and give again and again, while His own riches would remain the same and undiminished. To give is nothing with God. And as God He could not become poor.
Whatever this poverty of the Son of God might mean, it could not imply that He ceased to be the Owner and the Lord of all things! When we come to think of it, the possessions proper to this Person which made Him so rich were quite inalienable possessions. How could the Divine Creator of the universe lose His proprietary right over everything that He had made? That sort of limited ownership which the law gives me over what is mine I can renounce, I can transfer. I can make mine yours. Not so with the absolute ownership of God. All things are His by an indefeasible title. The use of them He may lend: His own proprietorship in them He cannot alienate. Still less is it possible to strip oneself of those moral and personal qualities which make up the wealth of one’s very nature. My faculties of mind and heart are too much my own for me to part with them. Could a Divine Person cease to carry in Himself the unsearchable riches of Divine power, or wisdom, or goodness? In whatever way He became poor, it was not by ceasing to be in actual right of possession the rich One.
We must recall to mind the truth that Christ’s state of humiliation was at the same time a state invested with moral dignity and glory, as one in which He had, by the favour of His Father, an opportunity of achieving a sublime task, in His high and honourable calling as the Captain of salvation. Christ Himself did not lose sight of this truth; it was ever present to His thoughts, carrying Him through the hardest experiences as the mere incidents of a congenial vocation. Hence, though a man of sorrows, He was even on earth anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows. Does this seem strange? Why, even Apollo, unjustly banished from heaven, and cherishing a sense of injury done to him by Jove, in his state of exile a neat-herd in the service of Admetus, is represented by the poet as making the vale of Pheræa vocal with the sweet sounds of his lute, and gathering the wild beasts around him by the charms of celestial music. Shall we wonder that there was Divine gladness in the heart of Him who came into this world, not by constraint, but willingly; not with a burning sense of wrong, but with a grateful sense of high privilege; and that He had a blessed consciousness of fellowship with His Father, who sent Him, during the whole of His pilgrimage through this vale of tears?1 [Note: A. B. Bruce, The Humiliation of Christ, 375.]
1. The poverty of our Lord was not an outward condition so much as an inward act. At the most, the outward condition only mirrored the inward act. All things were not less truly His own than before; only He refused to assert His right to them, or to seize upon the benefits of them; His rights of property He could not forfeit; but He forbore to exercise them. And why? That He might make Himself in all things like unto us, His human and fallen brethren. This position of voluntary poverty into which the rich Heir of all things was pleased for a time to put Himself, will be most easily understood if we say simply that He put Himself into our position. To the level of our poverty He chose to reduce Himself. That covers all the elements or ingredients in this strange self-impoverishment of God.
Inspired by the thought of poverty having been Christ’s inseparable companion on earth, Bernardine exclaims:—“Jesus, my Saviour, at Thy entry into this life, poverty received Thee in the holy crib and in the manger, and during Thy earthly sojourn deprived Thee of everything, so that Thou hadst not even where to lay Thy head. While fighting the fight of our redemption, that faithful companion was ever at Thy side, and when Thy disciples deserted and denied Thee, she, Thy sworn attendant, never swerved. Nay, then it was that she clasped Thee the more fervently. Then, when even Thy mother, who alone still honoured Thee in the faithfulness of her heart, was unable to draw nigh to Thee, owing to the height of the cross, then did victorious Poverty surround Thee with all her privations, as with a train of followers pleasing to Thy heart, pressing Thee the more tightly and inextricably in her arms. She it was who, far from lightening Thy cross, gave to Thee one hard and rough. She apportioned not the nails to the number of Thy wounds, neither did she soften nor sharpen their point, but she fashioned three of a kind, rough, ragged and blunt, so as to increase Thy sufferings. And when dying parched with thirst, Thy faithful spouse was solicitous to deprive Thee of even a drop of water; nay, she it was who prepared for Thee at the hands of Thy cruel executioners so bitter a drink that, having once tasted it, Thou couldst not partake of it. Thus in the arms of Thy beloved didst Thou breathe forth Thy last. And, faithful to the end, she assisted at Thy burial, permitting Thee only a loan of sepulchre, perfumes, and winding sheet. Nor was she absent at Thy resurrection, for gloriously didst Thou rise again in the arms of Thy holy spouse leaving everything behind Thee, both what Thou hadst borrowed and what had been offered Thee, and taking Thy spouse with Thee to heaven, leaving to worldlings the things of this world.”1 [Note: P. Thureau-Dangin, St. Bernardine of Siena, 152.]
2. The poverty of our Lord was a genuine renunciation. “I love,” says A. C. Benson in The Altar Fire, “to think of Wordsworth an obscure, poor, perverse, and absurd man, living on milk and eggs, utterly unaccountable and puerile to the sensible man of affairs; of Charlotte Brontë in the bare kitchen of the little house in the grey wind-swept village on the edge of the moor. We surround such scenes with a heavenly halo. We think of them as romantic, but there was little that was beautiful about them at the time. The most beautiful of such scenes is the tale of Bethlehem. We poor human souls, knowing what that event has meant for the race, make the bare, ugly place seemly and lovely, surrounding the Babe with a tapestry of heavenly forms and holy lights, and rapturous sounds, taking the terror and meanness of the scene away, and thereby losing the Divine seal of the great mystery, the fact that hope can spring in unstained and sublime radiance from the vilest, lowest, meanest conditions that can well be conceived.”
Poverty is a very terrible thing; so terrible that nothing seems to deal so hardly with all our fairer and gentler humanities. Where the face is pinched with habitual want, the heart is seldom the home of scrupulous veracity or chivalrous honour. When the struggle for life grows deadliest even the sternest of the virtues begin to fail. There sit two men on a raft afloat on the mighty deep: it is all that remains of a once goodly ship, they all that survive of a once jovial and kindly crew. In the solitude of the ancient ocean, faced by grim starvation, what do they? Clasp each other in a last fraternal embrace, and die together in a love victorious over famine? No, not they; rather they sit and watch each other with hungry eyes, and each thinks what chances he may have in the struggle that is to determine which of the two shall give his life for the other. Nay, poverty is not kindly, famine does not come with grace in her hand and magnanimity in her heart; and natures that find it easy to be good with riches find it hard to be good with enforced poverty. And Christ though rich became poor.
(1) He stooped to creaturely dependence.—Though inherently and divinely equal to the Father, He consented to occupy the position of a creature’s inferiority: “My Father is greater than I.” Though Almighty Maker of the Universe, He consented to receive His ability from God: “The Son can do nothing of himself.” Whatever He knew, He learned as a lesson from above. Whatever He did, He did by Divine direction. Of the infinite treasures of the earth which were His, He would not turn so much as a stone to bread to feed His own hunger. On Himself He imposed those strict bounds which bind every created man; and these bounds to His life He faithfully respected. The very basis of His earthly existence—His consenting to be born of a woman—involved this amazing abnegation of all underived rights, and of all antecedent ownership. It involved that He claimed as His own and would use for His purposes nothing but what the Divine bounty has been pleased to confer on human nature in making it what it is. Even that He did not claim as properly His own by any Divine right, but only as His in the same way in which it is ours—as what a man receives from his Maker. Thus He became poor, with a creature’s poverty.
(2) He placed Himself within the restrictions of law.—No man is free to do whatever he likes. A man is not his own property, not lord of himself, even in the sense of making what he will of himself, of his own powers, appetites, or energies. Born in a given rank, at a certain date, his little life-story is bounded from birth to death by circumstances over which he has a very moderate control indeed. The imperative of duty, the imperative of providence, and the imperative of society are lying upon him. This thing, and not that, he must eat, drink, do, or forbear from doing. Some impulses he may, some too he may not, indulge. Against this curbing and prescribing law, whether of morals or of social custom, all men fret; and Jewish men in particular were saddled with a yoke of ancient prescriptions peculiarly vexatious. Each day of the week, every act of social or domestic existence brought a Jew under some minute regulation which interfered with his freedom, and made him feel that in no sense whatever was he rich enough to be his own master. To all this Christ submitted. He became too poor to have a will of His own or to be a law unto Himself, for He was “made under the [Mosaic] law.” Beautiful acts of love which with divinely free and uncommanded choice He was spontaneously prone to do, no one bidding Him, these very acts He now submitted to perform, because they were enjoined, with a distinct recognition of law in the doing of them, and an express bowing of His own to Another’s will. Painful acts of endurance, which went against nature and were very hard for flesh and blood, these, too, even when the goodness or the need of them could not be discerned for darkness of vision, He tutored His submissive heart to accept, and His obedient will to do. Thus, also, He became very poor, with the poverty of a subject.
(3) He came into our place of poverty even as sinners.—Jesus walked on earth with a forfeited life: His own, indeed, to lay down or to take again (as He well knew), had He but chosen to assert His rightful claim, or to use what He possessed; yet no longer His own, in fact, because He had devoted it to the law, given it away for a ransom, consecrated it for a sacrifice. Here was the acme of self-impoverishment. He held not even Himself to be properly His own. On the contrary, He held Himself to be a ransom for our transgression, a price due, a person doomed; and so gave Himself to justice, to be handled at the pleasure of that righteous Father who had given Him this commandment. Himself He would not save, but committed Himself to Him who judgeth righteously. Thus poor beyond all poverty did He become, who was the most rich God and Lord of earth and heaven!
In Paris M. Coillard had the happiness of baptizing Semoindji Stephen, a Christian boy whom he had brought from the Zambesi, in the presence of a large assemblage of friends and helpers who heard his confession of faith, and to whom it was proof of his ministry. Once when they were visiting the Guinness family at Cliff College, who had treated this boy very kindly, the lad came to his master’s room one night after every one had gone to bed. He was sobbing violently, and it was long before he could control himself to speak. At last he said, “Oh, I never understood before what you gave up when you came to bring us the thuto (Gospel). I did not know your home was so different. With us, you know how it is, when we meet strangers we fly from each other, and each man seeks his weapon. When we go from village to village we meet only enemies who hate us. Here, you go from one home to another: all are friends, all is love and confidence and welcome. I know now what it must have cost you to leave it all for us.”1 [Note: C. W. Mackintosh, Coillard of the Zambesi, 413.]
3. The poverty of Jesus was purely voluntary. He stooped to it. He embraced it. He was rich enough in the purposes of His love to become poor. No one took from off His brow the crown of Heaven, He laid it aside; no one stripped Him of His royal robes, He unrobed Himself; no one paralysed the arm of His power, of Himself He chose our weakness; no one shrouded Him in mortal flesh, of His own will He assumed the limitations and bonds of our nature. He laid down the life of heaven for the life of earth, as He laid down the life of earth for the life of heaven. “I lay down my life,” He said. “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” The wealth of His poverty must for ever wear the crown of all His riches. Within the moral necessities of His own nature, in view of the requirements of ours, He possessed a free and eager joy, which led Him “out from God,” and brought Him “into the world,” to become “poor that we might become rich.”
Man, what can seem to thee bitter or hard to bear, when thou dost rightly consider that He who was in the form of God, and from all eternity in the light of the Holiest, and who was born therefrom, was as a beam and as the substance of God: that He comes into the cell and the slime of thy perverted nature, which is so unclean that all things, however pure in themselves, become impure and imperfect as they approach it; and that He, for thy sake, willed to become wholly immured therein?1 [Note: Johannes Eckhart.]
Two hundred years ago, a mighty sovereign perceived that his people were rude, ignorant savages—backward in the arts of peace and war. He left, for a season, his realm in the hands of faithful councillors. He threw aside crown and sceptre. He arrayed himself in sordid raiment, and travelled to another land. Here as a shipwright he laboured with his hands, here he dwelt in a rude wooden cottage, here he mixed with common men. After a season, he returned to his own country, and made it great and powerful by the knowledge and skill he had acquired in the time of his disguise. This was what the patriotism of the Czar Peter of Muscovy induced him to do for the aggrandizement of his country. But a mightier than human kings has worn the disguise of humanity, the aspect of a slave, for us and our salvation!2 [Note: Literary Churchman, xxxii. (1886), 532.]
4. The poverty of Jesus was the manifestation of His grace? What is grace? Grace is a free, undeserved benefit—a benefit conferred without any merit, claim, or title on the part of the recipient. Grace is opposed to debt, to hire, or wages, or anything a man can obtain for himself or establish a right to. It is a gift in the most absolute sense of the word. This is the sense in which it is used in the text. The grace referred to here is the infinite grace of the Incarnation.
“Grace” is a beautiful word, expressive of a still more beautiful thing. It awakens our oldest and sweetest memories, stands at the heart of our most sacred associations. Men explain it by “favour,” but the richest favour is poor grace. The Greek word which is in its root the cognate of the English term, was more suggestive to the Greek than even “grace” can be to the English mind. It runs back into a root expressive of joy, to be glad or happy. Now the happy is ever the benevolent man, the miserable is the malicious. The happy must create happiness, the joy of beatitude is beneficence. So He whose nature is gracious could not allow misery to prevail where He had designed happiness to abide. The sin that made sorrow was a pain to the perfection of God, and the necessity, born of grace, that had made Him Creator now made Him Redeemer. In “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” we see the beatitude of God stooping to work out the salvation or last beatitude of man.
Grace is what God is to us: disgrace is what we are to God, until His grace has charmed us into unity with Himself. The disposition, or soul of Grace, is perfect love, unselfish Love; but we must also include Loveliness of form and robe, otherwise our conception will be one-sided and defective. The Love of God in Christ Jesus makes us adoringly thankful and joyous; but it will also make us exquisite forms of luminous humanity like the Beloved Throne-Man 1:1 [Note: John Pulsford, Stray Thoughts of a Life-Time, 85.]
What He Purposed
“That ye through his poverty might become rich.”
1. Christ’s stooping to poverty was entirely unselfish. “For your sakes he became poor.” Nothing could have seemed less calculated to enrich man than Christ’s poverty; nothing has ever or anywhere so mightily added to the mass of the world’s weal. For affirming that it would do so, Paul was charged with foolishness; in confessing that it has done so, we but acknowledge “the wisdom of God.”
Here is the emphatic proof that God cares for the mass of men, cares for the poor, cares for man as man. Had Jesus been born in a palace people might still have doubted His message of the love of God. It would have seemed that there was something in poverty that was a degradation to Him. The poor would have thought that their position was despised. But the Son of God came as a poor man. That was the absolute proof that social differences were unknown and unregarded by the Heavenly Father.
Abraham Lincoln used to say, “I think God loves the common people because He has made so many of them.” So we may say that God loves the mass of men, loves the poor, because He sent His Son into the world as one of them. There would have been innumerable barriers between Christ and humanity if He had been born among the mighty of the earth. But coming in poverty He came as man to man, assuring the humblest that God loved and cared. We can scarcely measure the enrichment of the world which has come through this wondrous fact that “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”1 [Note: John Reid.]
2. Our Lord’s poverty enriches by making God’s wealth current coin. In becoming poor Jesus Christ transmuted Divine wealth into a human coin that we can trade with; He translated heavenly ideas into the broken language of earth. The deepest cause of our abject poverty as moral and spiritual beings is our lack of God, of an overwhelming sense of His glorious presence. When Philip said, “Shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us,” he uttered the deep and far-reaching need of humanity. He might have said, “We have heard of ‘the Almighty,’ with whom our father Abraham was familiar, and of ‘the Jehovah’ who declared His name unto Moses; but all the revelations of the past are dim and shadowy. Show us ‘the Father.’ ” Jesus, bending over Philip, said, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? ho that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” You may see the Father’s compassion shining through the tears which trickle down My cheeks; you may hear the accents of the Father’s voice in the tones which address you now: you may feel the touch of a Father in the hand that grips you: you may feel the throbbings of a Father’s love in this heart which beats in truest sympathy with you. The Father has limited Himself, has translated Himself into human form. “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.”
The alchemy of grace converts all events and circumstances into means and resources which belong to the believer. Men have searched in vain throughout the material world for the often-dreamed-of philosopher’s stone, the touch of which should transmute the baser metals into gold. But in the spiritual world that stone has been found. It is “a chief corner stone, elect, precious.” Those who find that Stone discern on it such inscriptions as these: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” “All things work together for good to them that love God.” “All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.”
Blessed Francis, indeed, always welcomed poverty with a smiling countenance, though naturally it be apt to cast a gloom and melancholy upon the faces both of those who endure it and of those who only dread it. Involuntary poverty is surly and discontented, for it is forced and against the will. Voluntary poverty, on the contrary, is joyous, free, and light-hearted. He would never allow himself to be called poor. To my objection that our revenues were so very small that we must be really considered poor, he replied, “If he is poor who lives by work, and who eats the fruit of his labour, we may very well be reckoned as such; but if we regard the degree of poverty in which our Lord and His Apostles lived, we must perforce consider ourselves rich. After all, possessing honestly all that is necessary for food and clothing, ought we not to be content? Whatever is more than this is only evil, care, superfluity, wanting which we shall have less of an account to render. Happy is poverty, said a stoic, if it is cheerful poverty; and if it is that, it is really not poverty at all, or only poverty of a kind that is far preferable to the riches of the most wealthy, which are amassed with difficulty, preserved with solicitude, and lost with regret.”1 [Note: J. P. Camus, The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, 133.]
At the ninth Conference, held in October 1752, at Bristol, it was agreed that the Methodist preachers should receive a stipend of £12 per annum, in order to provide themselves with necessaries. Their list of “necessaries” must have been of Spartan brevity. But more than twelve years afterwards, at the Conference of 1765, a deputation from the York circuit was admitted and allowed to plead against the “large sum of £12 a year!” Before 1752 each circuit made its own financial arrangements with the preachers, and sometimes they were of a quaint order. As late as 1764, the practice in the Norwich circuit, for example, was to divide the love-feast money among the preachers, and “this,” says Myles, with a certain accent of melancholy, “was very little indeed.” When before in history was there such an inexpensive order of preachers as these early helpers of Wesley? They laid up much treasure in heaven, but had very empty pockets on earth. One of them, John Jane, died at Epworth. His entire wardrobe was insufficient to pay his funeral expenses, which amounted to £1, 17s. 3d. All the money he possessed was 1s. 4d., “enough,” records Wesley briefly, “for any unmarried preacher of the Gospel to leave to his executors.”2 [Note: W. H. Fitchett, Wesley and his Century, 216.]
3. The wealth provided by the Redeemer corresponds as to nature with the poverty which He saw in men, and which He Himself assumed. We are poor spiritually, and He enriches us with all spiritual good. We are poor by reason of sin, and He makes us rich in righteousness. We are poor in that we are without God in the world, and He gives us God as the portion of our souls. He causes His people to become rich with His own ancestral wealth, making them in a true sense “partakers of the Divine nature.” He was not content to be rich while we were poor. He was content to be poor that we might be rich.
David Hill returned to Wusueh invigorated and cheered, and soon after, in June 1877, he wrote the following letter to his brother:—
“As to help to the poor, I find that here in Wusueh these representatives of our King come right before me, and the thought comes home that I ought to do something for them. The sight of suffering poverty is very touching, very mysterious, very sad. If we saw and knew as much of it as Jesus did, we should be men of sorrows too; and the real philosophy of life is to live near to it, mix with those burdened with it, and, as far as we can, relieve it.”
It is impossible to pass over silently David Hill’s “real philosophy of life,”—“to live near suffering poverty, mix with those burdened with it, and as far as possible relieve it.” Such a philosophy goes so deep to the heart of things that the casual and superficial observer will pass it by. In what does our life consist? Does it consist in having all we can, in getting all we can, in amassing riches, in collecting comforts and luxuries, in indulging our taste, in taking pleasure in many ways? If so, we know nothing of this philosophy. Does life consist in character, in being, in giving out? Then to such things this philosophy is intimately related. Once grasp the fact that life is a strenuous endeavour to be and to do, and we find ourselves on an ascending plane. And as it has been well pointed out, the pursuit of the strenuous and philanthropic life involves the denial of luxuries and self-indulgence for ourselves almost as an incident. Directly we begin to care greatly for the needs of others, in this absorbing interest we lose insensibly the desire to cushion our own life in ease and seek our own comforts, and we find that the highest and most unselfish ideals have the greatest return, lead to the widest outlook, to the deepest experiences, to the most perfect joys; or in other words, the true philosophy of life is given to us by our Lord when He says, “They that lose their life shall find it.”1 [Note: J. E. Hellier, Life of David Hill, 98.]
The character, the Divine grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, has so affected our eyes that they cannot at first sight catch the condescension, ay, the humiliation, ay, the even forbidding aspect of this office which He fills. His poverty hath made all things about it so rich that, looked at in His presence, they shine with supernatural splendour. But wait till the first soiled foot comes in sight, and the office of the servant is asked at your hand, and the moment to strip and gird with the towel is come. And then, be it but to wait in the house to let another out; to lose some pleasure to help somebody else; to speak cheerfully in the morning or when others enter the room; to be gracious, pitiful, courteous—be it but to help a child with his lessons, or hold an infant so that it will not cry; to give a weak one an arm to lean on, a struggling one a hand to hold, a fighting one a cheer to inspire—be it but to pick a stone out of somebody’s path; to remove by self-denial the temptation that will lead another to fall, the occasion that will bring an angry word; to mention to a friend his fault by himself—be it but to go two steps with him who asks us to go one; to spend ourselves for those whose company we gain little from; to instil a little music into one whose existence is a monotone; to visit somebody who is lonely, or sit by somebody who is sick—be it but to stand by one who is despised; or quietly company with an outcast—be it but evening by evening to wash with gentle hands the dust and toil of the day from one another’s soul—be it but to give some one a happy half-hour to enrich his life or lighten his burden—ah, how hard it is, but how blessed! What humble work, but how fit for Apostles, how fit for Christ!1 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 10.]
The Liberality of Christ
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Children’s Pulpit: 1st Sunday after Christmas, ii. 104 (B. Waugh).
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