LIBERALITY TO THE POOR
2 Corinthians 8:1-5. Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the Churches of Macedonia; how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; praying its with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.
THE texture of the human mind is extremely delicate: and every one, who would produce any beneficial effect upon others, must approach them with tenderness and care. We may, by an unseasonable urgency, cause a person to revolt from a measure, to which by a more gentle address he might have easily been persuaded. The mind of man naturally affects liberty; and will be more powerfully moved, when its decisions appear to be the consequence of volition, than when they are called forth by the compulsory influence of persuasion. This the Apostle Paul well understood, and bore, as it were, in constant remembrance. Not that he on any occasion acted with artifice: no; his caution was the result of his own exquisite delicacy and holy refinement: and his success in affecting the minds of others bore ample testimony to the wisdom of his measures. He was anxious to obtain from amongst the Gentile Churches relief for the distressed and persecuted saints at Jerusalem. In writing therefore to the Church at Corinth who were more opulent, he endeavoured to interest them in behalf of their suffering brethren in Jud ζa. But he did not proceed, as we might have expected, to expatiate upon the wants of the sufferers, or on the obligations of the Church at Corinth to relieve them; but simply communicated, as an article of pleasing intelligence, the liberality that had been displayed towards them by the poorer Churches of Macedonia; and then stirred them up to imitate so laudable an example.
With the same view we shall now,
I. Consider the example here set before us—
The Churches here referred to were those of Thessalonica, Ber ζa, and Philippi: and truly their example was most eminent in respect of,
1. Their liberality—
[The real extent of liberality must not be judged of by the sum given, so much as by the circumstances under which it is given: our blessed Lord has told us, that the widow’s mite exceeded in value all that the most opulent had bestowed, because their donations were a small portion only of what they possessed, whereas her’s was her all, even all her living. To view the liberality of the Macedonians aright, we must particularly notice the time and manner of its exercise.
It was in a time of “great affliction and of deep poverty.” Now persons in great affliction are for the most part so occupied with their own troubles, as to have but little either of leisure or inclination to enter into the concerns of others — — — And, if they be at the same time in a state of deep poverty, they seem by their very situation, as it were, to be exempt from any obligation to relieve the wants of others: if they shed a tear of sympathy, it is as much as, under their circumstances, can be expected of them — — — But behold, it was in this very state, and under these circumstances, that the Macedonian Churches exerted themselves for the relief of persons belonging to a different and distant country, of persons too, who, though agreeing with them in the profession of Christianity, differed widely from them in many points of subordinate importance.
The manner too in which their liberality was exercised deserves particularly to be noticed. It was put forth voluntarily: they waited not for any application to this effect from the Apostle; they were willing of their own mind to embrace the opportunity afforded them of fulfilling a duty so congenial with the best feelings of their hearts. It was exercised also bountifully. Their ability was the only measure of their gifts. In some respect they seemed, as it were, to exceed even that: for “to their power, and beyond their power,” they exerted themselves, insomuch that, according to God’s estimate of their gifts, they “abounded unto the riches of liberality.” And what they did, they did zealously. They did not make an offer which they hoped would be refused, and then, on the refusal, feel pleased that the will had been accepted for the deed: no; they forced the Apostle to accept their donations: they would not suffer him to decline their offer; “they prayed him with much entreaty that he would be their almoner, and be the medium of conveying to their afflicted brethren the relief which God had enabled them to bestow.
If we would know whence it was that they were enabled so to act, the text informs us: it was, primarily, from “the grace of God” operating powerfully on their hearts; and, next, from the joyful frame of their minds, which bore them up above all their own trials, and exulted in every opportunity of manifesting their love to their blessed Lord and Saviour. They had “an abundance of joy” in the midst of their deep poverty; and that “joy in the Lord was their strength.”]
2. Their piety—
[This was not a whit less remarkable: indeed, it was the foundation, of which their liberality was the superstructure. They “first gave up themselves to God” in a way both of secret surrender, and of open profession.
They surrendered themselves wholly to Christ as his willing subjects and servants. Without this, all their liberality would have been a mere heathen virtue. If, without love to man, a person might “give all his goods to feed the poor, and yet be no better than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal,” much more would his best actions be of no value, if not springing from love to God. It is this principle that constitutes the perfection of every thing we do, and makes a wish, a sigh, a groan more acceptable to God than the most splendid action without it. Every thing emanating from it has “an odour of a sweet smell, and is a sacrifice truly acceptable and well-pleasing to God.”
At the same time they openly and boldly confessed Christ before men: “They gave themselves to the Apostle and to the Church, by the will of God.” They were not timid Christians, fearful of augmenting their afflictions by an open profession of the Gospel: they were willing to bear any cross which their adherence to Christ might bring upon them. They had already been brought into “a great trial of affliction, and to deep poverty,” for his sake: but none of these things moved them, nor did they “count even life itself dear to them,” if only they might but honour their Divine Master, and finish their course with joy. This put an additional value on their services, as manifesting the very spirit that was in Christ, “who willingly impoverished himself to enrich a ruined world [Note: ver. 9.].”]
Having so excellent an example before us, we will now,
II. Propose it to your imitation—
First, we would call you to imitate their piety—
[This, though last mentioned in the text, was first in point of time, and was, in fact, the source and fountain of all the graces which they exercised.
We call upon you then to “give yourselves up wholly to the Lord.” This is the indispensable duty of every child of man. As creatures, we are bound to serve and glorify our God, from whom we have received all that we are and have; but, as redeemed sinners, our obligation to serve him is infinitely enhanced. The Apostle tells the Corinthians in his former epistle, “Ye are not your own; ye are bought with a price:” so say I to every one amongst you, “Ye are not your own.” Nothing, that you either are or have, is your own: the members of your bodies, the faculties of your souls, your time, your property, your influence, all belong to him, “whose you are, and whom you are bound to serve:” all are to be improved for his glory; as St. Paul has said, “Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify him with your body and your spirit, which are his.” And this is as reasonable as it is necessary; agreeably to what he has elsewhere said, “Yield yourselves a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
But with this secret surrender of yourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ there must also be an open avowal of your adherence to him. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” “If we will be Christ’s disciples indeed, we must take up our cross daily and follow him:” we must follow him “without the camp, bearing his reproach:” and so far must we be from dreading his cross, that we must “glory in it,” and “rejoice that we are counted worthy to bear it,” and “esteem as Moses did, the reproach of Christ as greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt.” We must never be ashamed of Christ; for, if we be, he will be ashamed of us “in the presence of his Father, and of the holy angels.” “If we confess him, he will confess us; but, if we deny him, he will deny us.” When the Apostle says, “they gave themselves unto us by the will of God,” it must not be understood as if he gloried in gaining proselytes to himself: it is of their union with the Church, as avowed friends and followers of Christ, that he speaks; and this all must be, if they would approve themselves faithful to their Lord and Master: this is the will of God respecting every child of man; that we “come out from the world, and be separate” from it, and be “as lights shining in a dark place,” “holding forth in the whole of our spirit and conversation the word of life.”
Let me then urge upon you all this duty. The Churches of Macedonia acted thus in defiance of all the malice of men or devils: though brought by means of it into “a great trial of affliction and deep poverty,” they turned not back, but strove the more to glorify their God in proportion as their enemies sought to suppress their zeal. So then do ye also: harbour not for a moment that “fear of man which bringeth a snare;” “fear not man, who can only destroy the body; but fear him, and him only, who, when he has destroyed the body, can destroy both body and soul in hell.”]
Next, we would invite you to imitate also their liberality—
[Your obligations to it are as great as theirs: for you, as well as they, “have been redeemed by the precious blood of that spotless Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ” — — — The occasion too, if not altogether similar, is quite as urgent: for if we plead not now in behalf of persons reduced to the deepest distress by persecution, we plead for those whose circumstance are most indigent, and whose temporal benefit is consulted with an ulterior view to the welfare of their souls [Note: This was delivered in aid of a Visiting Society, where the souls of the persons visited are the chief object. But the subject may be adapted to any charity, by stating its peculiar purposes.] — — — May I not add too that the means afforded you are similar? You cannot personally perform all the offices that are executed by those who have undertaken to dispense your charity [Note: Here again, the statement must be varied according to circumstances: if the charity be a hospital, or school, or any other, a suitable statement will be necessary.] — — — Nor will it be necessary for you to “pray others with much entreaty” to be your agents; since a number of suitable persons have voluntarily devoted themselves to this good work.
Let me then call upon you all to “manifest” by your liberality “the sincerity of your love to Christ.” I will not except any from this labour of love. Are any of you “in a great trial of affliction,” and at the same time “in deep poverty?” I would not on that account dispense with your exertions; nor would you wish me so to do, if you have received the grace of God in truth. I will not indeed be importunate with you, as with others: but I will remind you of what was done by the Christians of former days in circumstances more afflictive than your own: and I will add, that their conduct is set forth by the Apostle as worthy to be followed by Christians in every age: I say, I will not urge you to liberality on this occasion; but I well know what you will do, if “God has bestowed his grace upon you:” I know, that “to your power, and even beyond your power, you will be willing of yourselves.” But to those who are in circumstances of ease and affluence I would say, Look at the example set before you; and think what exertions your circumstances require. O, give not in a grudging or sparing manner; but let it be seen by your donations what you understand by “abounding unto the riches of liberality:” and, as God in his providence has enabled you to stretch forth Corinthian hands, shew that he has also in his mercy given you Macedonian hearts — — —]
LIBERALITY TO THE POOR RECOMMENDED
2 Corinthians 8:7-8. As ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.
THOUGH there is no such thing as absolute perfection in this life, the Christian, if his life really correspond with his profession, is in some sense a perfect character. In this respect, the new creation of the soul resembles the first creation of the body. A child, the very instant it comes into the world, is perfect in all its members: advancing years will strengthen him, indeed, in every one of them, but will add to him no new faculty, or sense, or power. So the child of God, when once he is truly regenerate, possesses in himself the whole circle of Christian graces, though at first in a state of infantine weakness only: but the more he cultivates them, the more will they all improve. The particular grace which is here mentioned requires more than ordinary attention, because of its transcendent excellency, and because of the frequent occasion which arises to the whole Christian world for the exercise of it. The Apostle acknowledged, that in other graces the Corinthians greatly excelled; and therefore he took encouragement to recommend to them a similar pre-eminence in this grace also.
To bring this subject before you to advantage, I must mark,
I. The commendation given—
The approbation here manifested was doubtless exceeding strong—
[Many are afraid to express approbation of what is good, lest the person commended should make it an occasion of pride. But this was not the mind of the Apostle Paul. He would not indeed pay a compliment to any man at the expense of truth: he even appeals to man, and calls God himself also to witness, that “he had not at any time used flattering words [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:5.]:” but yet he saw no reason for withholding from men a testimony of his approbation, when the expressing of his sentiments would encourage them to increased exertions in the cause of God. To the Christians at Rome he expresses himself thus: “I am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another [Note: Romans 15:14.].” To the Corinthian Church he speaks in yet stronger terms: “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you; so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:4-7.].” So again, after the high eulogium which he had given them in my text, he tells them, in the very next chapter, that all who had heard of their liberality “both prayed for them and longed after them for the exceeding grace of God in them [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:14.].”
And good reason there was for this commendation: for their “faith” was genuine; their “utterance” easy and intelligible to all whom they addressed: their “knowledge” was diversified; so that they delivered their sentiments to great advantage: and so devoted were they to the service of God in their respective spheres, that nothing could exceed their “diligence:” and in addition to all this, instead of setting up themselves or others against him, as had formerly been the case with many amongst them, they abounded also in “love to him,” as their common parent [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:7.]. Truly this was a state highly creditable to them, and most honourable to Christianity itself.]
And may I not adopt, in some measure at least, the language of my text towards you?
[God knoweth, my brethren, that I would not knowingly “use flattering words towards you:” but I must and will say, in reference to many of you, that your “faith” is remarkably simple, unmixed with erroneous notions of any kind. You do also, in your respective spheres, communicate instruction to others with a ready “utterance,” and with a “knowledge” that is at once enlightened and discreet. You discharge also, with “diligence, all” your offices in common life. And I should be ungrateful in the extreme, if I did not acknowledge also your “love to your minister,” and your readiness to promote any measures for the good of others which he proposes for your adoption and support [Note: Of course, no minister will use such an Address as this, but to a very peculiar audience, and on a very peculiar occasion.]. And, from this view of your character, I am emboldened to exhort you to bear with me, whilst I call your attention to,]
II. The advice administered—
“See that ye abound in this grace also,” the grace of liberality to the poor. The words added in our translation here are too strong. The Apostle tells us, that “he did not speak by way of commandment, but only in a way of advice [Note: γνώμηνδίδωμι.].” He tells us, also, on what grounds he offered this advice; namely,
1. Because he wished them not to be outdone by others—
[He had said of the Macedonians, that “they, out of their deep poverty, had abounded unto the riches of liberality [Note: ver. 1, 2.].” Now, shall the rich Corinthians be exceeded by the poor and afflicted Macedonians? God forbid. It would be a disgrace to them to be found wanting in a duty which they were so much better able to fulfil: and therefore, “from the forwardness of others, he takes occasion” to excite in them a holy ambition to excel. Some would be ready to think that such a motive was low, and carnal, and unworthy of a Christian mind. I grant there is an unholy ambition; but there is also a holy emulation, to which men may with propriety be called; such as that which St. Paul endeavoured to excite in his Jewish brethren, when he addressed the Gospel to the Gentiles, and “magnified his office as a minister of the Gentiles, if by any means he might provoke to emulation them who were his flesh, and might save some of them [Note: Romans 11:13-14.].”
And on this ground I would now address myself to you [Note: There are occasions, such as great and public calamities, which have called forth the benevolence of the public, when such an Address is peculiarly called for. This was addressed to a Society for Visiting and Instructing the Poor. The examples should be stated.] — — —]
2. Because he would have them “place beyond a doubt the sincerity of their love”—
[Love must be operative, if it be sincere; yea, and must operate too in this way: for “if we see a brother have need, and shut up our bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in us [Note: 1 John 3:17.]?” or, “if we see a brother or sister have need, and bid him be warmed and filled, whilst we administer nothing for his relief, what are our professions of love to man, but downright hypocrisy [Note: James 2:15-17.]?” If we have truly Christian love, it will resemble “the love of Christ, who, though he was rich. yet for our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich [Note: ver. 9.].” Then I call you, brethren, to this proof of your love. Let it be seen that “you love not in word, and in tongue; but in deed, and in truth [Note: 1 John 3:18.].” The occasion for your liberality is great and urgent [Note: It should here he stated at large.] — — — and I trust, that “as ye abound in” every other grace, so ye will not merely exercise, but every one of you according to your ability “abound in” this grace also.]
Brethren, let me, in conclusion, entreat you,
1. To merit this commendation—
[Verily, if the Christian world at large were addressed in such terms as these, it would be as keen a satire as the most malignant infidel could utter — — — But I must say, that if you answer not, in some measure at least, to this character, you have no just title to the Christian name: you resemble those rather in the Church of Philadelphia, “who said that they were Jews, but did lie [Note: Revelation 3:9.].” “He who is a Jew in deed, must be a Jew inwardly; and have the circumcision, not of the flesh only, but of the Spirit also; the praise of which is not of men, but of God [Note: Romans 2:28-29.].”]
2. To fulfil this duty—
[Need I say, that charity brings with it its own reward? You may conceive that the indigent and distressed are greatly comforted by the seasonable relief that is administered to them: but this I tell you with confidence, that they who on Christian principles administer to their relief, are the happier of the two: for we have authority to declare, and it was a favourite saying of our Lord, that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”]
THE GRACE OF CHRIST
2 Corinthians 8:9. 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 be rich.
THE excellence of Christianity with respect to the mysteries it reveals, and the precepts it inculcates, is generally acknowledged; but few see it with respect to the motives by which it enforces the performance of our duty. But in this last respect it differs as widely from all other religions as in either of the former; and claims an undoubted superiority over all the dogmas of philosophy, and over Judaism itself. The love of Christ in dying for us is not merely proposed as a tenet to be believed, but is urged as the most powerful, and indeed the only effectual, argument for the quickening of us to an universal and unreserved obedience. This was the consideration by which St. Paul enforced his exhortations to liberality when writing to the Corinthian Church: and it will be universally operative, wherever it is understood and felt.
In discoursing on this subject we shall not enter in a general way into our fall, and our recovery by Christ, but will,
I. Set forth the grace of Christ as it is here delineated—
There are four distinct considerations in the text, every one of them reflecting light upon this point, as so many mirrors uniting their rays in one common focus. These we shall view in their order:
1. The pre-existent state of Christ—
[In the text we are told, “He was rich.” This idea when applied to our fellow-creatures we can easily understand: but who can comprehend it when applied to Christ? What adequate conception can we form of his glory or felicity? He was from all eternity “in the bosom of his Father [Note: John 1:18.],” and was “daily his delight [Note: Proverbs 8:30.].” He had a communion with the Father in all that he knew [Note: Matthew 11:27.], in all that he did [Note: John 5:19.], in all that he enjoyed [Note: John 17:10.]. He had a most perfect Oneness with the Father [Note: John 10:30.], possessing in himself all the fulness of the Godhead [Note: Colossians 2:9.], and receiving together with him the adoration of all the angels in heaven [Note: Isaiah 6:3. with John 12:41.]. Such was the glory which Christ had with the Father before the world was brought into existence [Note: John 17:5.]. Nor was he capable of receiving any addition either of honour or of happiness from his creatures [Note: Psalms 16:2.]. He would have been equally great and glorious though no creature had existed either in earth or in heaven to behold him [Note: Job 22:2.]; or though all who transgressed against him should perish for ever. Yet such was his love, that in the midst of all his blessedness he thought of us, and undertook our cause, and engaged to become our substitute and surety [Note: Psalms 40:7-8.].
How infinitely does this “grace” transcend our highest conceptions! Indeed we do but “darken counsel by words without knowledge,” when we attempt to speak on this mysterious subject.]
2. The humiliation to which he submitted—
[It was a marvellous act of grace that he should condescend to form creatures, and to give them a sight of his blessedness and glory. But that he should notice them after they had left their first estate, and despoiled themselves of their original righteousness, this was an act of condescension which we should have deemed impossible, if he had not actually evinced by his conduct that it could be done. But who would believe it possible that he should stoop so low as to take our nature upon him? Yet even that he did; and that too not in its primitive state, but in its present fallen state, subject to numberless infirmities and to death itself. He was “made in the likeness of sinful flesh [Note: Romans 8:3.],” and was in all things like unto us, sin only excepted [Note: Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15.]. Nor did he assume even our fallen nature in its highest condition: he was born, not in a palace, but a stable; he spent his life, during the first thirty years, in the low occupation of a carpenter; and, for the four last years, he was often destitute of the common necessaries of life, yea, even of a place where to lay his head [Note: Matthew 8:20.]. He was aware that he should meet with nothing but contempt and persecution from men; and yet he submitted to it for their sakes. But even this, great as it was, by no means reaches to the full extent of his debasement: No; he put himself in the place of sinners, that he might endure the curse due to their iniquities [Note: 1 Peter 2:24.]: he submitted to bear the assaults of Satan, and the wrath of God [Note: Isaiah 53:10.]. If therefore we would form a just idea of his humiliation, we must visit the garden of Gethsemane, and see him bathed in a bloody sweat, and hear him “making supplication to his Father with strong crying and tears,” for the removal of the bitter cup [Note: Luke 22:44. Hebrews 5:7.]: we must then follow him to Calvary, and hear his bitter complaints under the depths of dereliction [Note: Matthew 27:46.], and behold him in the midst of inexpressible agonies of soul and body, dying the accursed death of the cross: and lastly, we must view him imprisoned in the grave under the sentence of the law, of that law which doomed us all to everlasting death [Note: Galatians 3:13.]. Here, here was humiliation, such as filled all heaven with wonder; here was poverty, such as never can be comprehended by men and angels.
In this view the Apostle elsewhere describes the grace of Christ, contrasting the dignity of his pre-existing state with the state he assumed, and the degradation he endured [Note: Philippians 2:6-8.]. O that we might have worthy conceptions of it, and be enabled in some poor measure to comprehend its unexplored heights, its unfathomable depths [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.]!]
3. The objects for whom he interposed—
[It was not for angels, the highest order of created beings, that Jesus interested himself, but for man: he passed by them, and deigned to notice us [Note: Hebrews 2:16.]. But was there any thing in us more than in them, to recommend us to his regard? No: we were destitute of any the smallest good; and full of all imaginable evil [Note: Jeremiah 17:9. Genesis 6:5.]. There was not a faculty of our souls that was not debased by sin, nor a member of our bodies that was not polluted with iniquity [Note: Romans 3:10-18.]. We were even haters of God himself [Note: Romans 1:30.]; and so full of enmity against him, that we were actually incapable of obeying any of his laws [Note: Romans 8:7.], and as far as our influence or example could prevail, we strove to banish him from the world [Note: Romans 1:28. Ephesians 2:12 and Psalms 14:1. “No God,” that is, I wish there were none,].
Our misery too was as great as our wickedness. We were under sentence of condemnation, and exposed to all the curses of the broken law: “the wrath of God abode upon us;” and nothing remained but that the thread of life should be cut, and we should have been miserable in hell for evermore. Yet such was his compassion that he interposed for us, and became our mediator with God, our “advocate with the Father.” How wonderfully does this enhance the grace he has manifested! It would be a marvellous effort of love, if a king should put himself in the place of a condemned rebel, and suffer the sentence of the law in his stead: but for the Creator himself to become a creature, that he might suffer in the place of those who deserved nothing but death and hell, well may this be termed “the exceeding riches of his grace,” the very masterpiece of Divine love [Note: Ephesians 2:7. Romans 5:8.]!]
4. The state to which, by that interposition, he exalts us—
[If he had procured a remission of our sentence, and the favour of annihilation, what a mercy would it have been! and what a mercy would the devils account it, if they could obtain such a favour at his hands! But this would not satisfy our adorable Saviour: he had far higher views in undertaking for us: he determined to restore us to a state of reconciliation with God; to renew our nature, and thereby fit us for the enjoyment of God. Moreover, to all the blessings of grace and peace he determined finally to add that of everlasting glory. He determined, not merely to remove our poverty, but to make us “rich.” And in order to see how rich he makes his people, contrast for one moment the state of Dives in hell, crying in vain for one drop of water, and Lazarus enjoying all the fulness of God in Abraham’s bosom. Such are the riches he designs for us: to procure them for us was the very end of his incarnation and death: nor will he ever relinquish those whom he has purchased with his blood, till he makes them “joint-heirs with himself,” and puts them into possession of that “inheritance which is incorruptible, and undefiled, and never-fading.” In a word, he became bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh [Note: Ephesians 5:30.], that we might be one spirit with him [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:17.]. He emptied himself of his glory [Note: ἐκένωσε, Philippians 2:7.], and descended, as it were, to the lowest hell, that he might “pluck us as brands out of the burning,” and exalt us to the throne from whence he came [Note: Revelation 3:21.].
Such, such was the grace of Christ: it was infinitely more than words can express, or than imagination can conceive.]
Having endeavoured to unfold this mystery, we will,
II. Inquire what you “know” respecting it—
It is here taken for granted that all Christians “know” this grace. Let me ask then, What you do know of it,
1. As an article of faith—
[Multitudes who are called Christians, know scarcely any thing respecting the faith which they profess; and, if interrogated concerning the ground of their hopes of salvation, would be found to expect it, not as purchased for them, by the death of Christ, but as obtained and merited by their own repentance and good works.
Many indeed are decidedly opposed to the principles of the Gospel, denying strenuously the divinity of Christ, and the atonement made by him, and the doctrine of justification by faith in him. As for such persons, they, with all their pretended knowledge, are as ignorant of the Gospel as if they had never heard it at all: and, if they were to attempt to expound my text, would reduce it to the veriest absurdity; divesting the work of Christ of all its grace and of all its efficacy.
But ye, I hope, brethren, “have not so learned Christ.” Ye, I trust, do indeed believe in him as “Emmanuel, God with us.” Ye believe that all the glory of the Godhead was his; and that laying aside, as it were, for a season that glory, he become a man, and lived and died for you; that by his atoning blood he might reconcile you to God, and by his all-perfect righteousness he might obtain for you a title to an heavenly inheritance. You believe that if ever you possess the felicity of heaven, it must be altogether through the poverty which he submitted to for you: and all your hopes of heaven you found on him alone.
Hold fast then this faith. Yet let it not be in you as a mere speculative truth, but seek to improve it,]
2. As an influential principle—
[It is in this view that it is particularly brought forward in my text. And in this view chiefly was it endeared to the Apostle Paul, who bears this testimony respecting it; “The love of Christ constraineth me.” He rightly judged, that, “if one died, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they who live, should not live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them and rose again [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14.].” Now then has it that same influence on you? Does it fill you with wonder and admiration, that the God of heaven and earth should stoop so low for you, and submit to such indignities for you, and endure such sufferings for you, and by such mysterious methods obtain eternal glory for you? My dear brethren, if you know this mystery aright, it will so operate upon you, as to make you feel, that all you are, and all that you have, is Christ’s, to be employed solely and exclusively for him, whose you are, and whom you are bound to serve [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.]. “You will live not to yourselves, but altogether for him who is by every possible claim the rightful Lord both of the dead and living [Note: Romans 14:7-9.].
The consideration of this love too will lead you to walk in his steps, and to shew to others, as far as you are able, the love which he has shewn to you [Note: If this be a subject for a Charity Sermon, this idea must be greatly amplified.] — — — True indeed, you are not in existing circumstances required to impoverish yourselves to enrich others; but to make “your abundance the means of supplying the necessities of your poorer brethren” you are called [Note: ver. 13, 14.]; yea, and you are bound so to improve your talents, in order “to shew the sincerity of your love to Christ [Note: ver. 8.]” — — —]
1. Seek then this knowledge—
[You well know with what labour and industry worldly knowledge is obtained: and will you grudge the labour that is necessary for the attainment of divine knowledge? What are all earthly sciences in comparison of “the grace of Christ?” St. Paul, the most learned man of his day, “accounted all things but dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord [Note: Philippians 3:8.].” And you also, if you estimate things aright, will never rest, till you have acquired some insight into the great mystery of redemption through the sufferings of your incarnate God — — — As to the poor and illiterate, the knowledge of philosophy is far beyond their reach: but not so the knowledge of divine mysteries. “What God has hid from the wise and prudent, he does and will reveal to babes [Note: Matthew 11:25.].” “The weak and foolish he has chosen in preference, in order that he may confound the wise and mighty, and constrain all to glory in him alone [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.].” Only ask of God to enlighten your minds by the influence of his good Spirit, and “he will give to every one of you liberally, and without upbraiding [Note: James 1:5.]” — — —]
2. Endeavour to improve it for the good of others—
[This is the knowledge which saves the soul [Note: 2 Timothy 3:15.]. In “this is eternal life,” which is the inalienable property of all who possess it [Note: John 17:3.]. Will you then “hide this light under a bushel, instead of making use of it for the benefit of all around you [Note: Matthew 5:15.]?” That be far from you. No, my brethren, seek to “grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” yourselves, and diffuse it, if possible, to the very ends of the earth — — —]
2 Corinthians 8:13-15. I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: as it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.
YOU have heard the king’s letter read to you [Note: This was for the Relief of the Distressed Manufacturers, Jan. 1827. And this exordium is inserted, in order to shew what, on such an occasion, may justly be admitted. But to such occasions it should he confined. Of course, for any other Charity, the exordium should be changed.]: and if St. Paul thanks God for “putting into the heart of Titus an earnest desire” to improve his influence at Corinth for the relief of the distressed Christians at Jerusalem [Note: ver. 16.], well may we acknowledge with thankfulness the goodness of God, who has “put it into the heart of our king” to exert his influence with us in behalf of our distressed brethren in the north: and I do trust, that a measure of the same success which Titus was favoured with at Corinth, will attend the appeal now made in the king’s name to your liberality on this occasion. The distress being extremely great and urgent, I will shew you,
I. What the inequalities of Divine Providence call for at our hands—
That there are great inequalities in the states of men, is obvious, in all places and in all ages. Even in the country which was governed more immediately by God himself, it was declared, that “the poor should never cease out of the land [Note: Deuteronomy 15:11.]:” much more, therefore, may we expect to see the same dispensations in our land.
Certainly there are great inequalities in the states of men—
[These occur, from birth, from education, from accident. One person is born to opulence, and, from the moment he comes into the world, enjoys all that this world can afford: another, from the first instant of his birth, is destitute of the most common necessaries of life, or would be so if they were not supplied by the hand of charity — — — One, from early infancy, is instructed in some branch of knowledge that may fit him for a higher sphere; whilst the mind of another is left without any culture whatever: and hence we see some, even of the lower classes of society, rise to wealth and eminence; whilst others, for the want of such advantages, are left to perform the most degrading offices in life — — — And from what we call accident, that is, from occurrences which could neither have been anticipated nor avoided, have the most astonishing changes been produced; the rich being reduced to penury, and the poor being elevated to situations of wealth and dignity. The greatest acquisitions have been made by some unforeseen event, that has prepared the way for them, and almost forced them, as it were, upon us. On the other hand, what bereavements have been suffered, from fire, from inundation, from reverses in trade, from the failure of others, from war, from civil commotion, or even from sickness, which has incapacitated men for their proper duties! — — —]
And what do these call for at our hands?
[Are the rich to sit down satisfied, as if their abundance was given them for themselves alone? or are they not rather to consider themselves as stewards of the Lord, appointed by him to minister to the necessities of their poorer brethren? God himself, in the wilderness, shewed us what his end was, in so diversifying the lots of men. He gave to his people manna from the clouds of heaven; and he appointed that every one should gather an omer of it daily, for his own use. But it frequently happened, through some accidental circumstance, that some gathered less than the measure prescribed, and some, perhaps through illness, gathered none at all: yet, without any concerted plan, it constantly happened, that if some of a family gathered less than their proper measure, others had gathered more: and in all the families of Israel, for the space of forty years, it was found, that when the whole of a family put their gatherings together, they amounted to the precise quantity that was enjoined; “those who had gathered much having nothing over, and those who had gathered little having no lack [Note: See Exodus 16:16-18.].” Now God would have us also to know, that all which we have, however laboriously gathered up by us, was His gift, and given by him for the express purpose of administering to the necessities of our more indigent brethren. True, we are not called now to put all we have into a common stock; but we are called to “make our abundance a supply for the necessities of others;” that so there may be such a measure of “equality,” as will consist with a due maintenance of all the different orders in civil and social life.]
With these inequalities we shall be well satisfied, if we consider,
II. The vast advantages derived from them—
Exceeding great benefits arise from such dispensations: for,
1. They call forth from men the greatest possible exrecise of grace—
[To all classes of the community, the poor as well as the rich, are these dispensations truly beneficial. The poor derive instruction, which they would not attain in any other way: they learn both resignation to the Divine will, and dependence on the care of heaven. If tempted at any moment to repine, they learn to say, ‘”Shall a living man complain?” If I had my desert, it is not bodily sustenance that I should want, but a drop of water to cool my tongue in hell — — — I see the birds, that plow not, nor sow, nor gather into barns, have food in due season provided for them: why, then, should I despond? The God that feedeth the ravens, can feed me: and he will rather send me food by the very ravens themselves, than suffer me to want what he sees to be good for me.’ — — —
The rich, too, are taught most invaluable lessons by what they see around them. From beholding the distresses of others, they learn to sympathize with the afflicted — (what an invaluable lesson is that!) They learn, also, self-denial, which they gladly practise, “that they may have to give to him that needeth.” And I hesitate not to say, that they have more exquisite pleasure in any instance of self-denial, than any person upon earth has in the most unbridled sell-indulgence. But what shall I say of the delight they feel in acts of beneficence? This is the very occupation, if I may so speak, of God himself, “who is good to all, and whose tender mercy is over all his works.” This, too, is pre-eminently the point in which they are conformed to the image of “their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be rich [Note: ver. 9.].”
And now tell me, I pray you, whether these different classes be not greatly benefited, when called to the exercise of such graces; for which there would be comparatively no scope, if these inequalities in providence did not exist? — — —]
2. They bring to God the greatest possible acquisition of glory—
[Take all these persons in their respective stations: and see how all of them admire and adore God for the manifestations which he thus gives of his providence and grace; the poor, in having their wants so seasonably supplied; and the rich, in being made God’s honoured instruments of good to man — — — This is very particularly noticed by St. Paul, in the following context; and in comparison of this honour accruing to God, the relief conferred upon the poor he accounts as nothing: “The administration of this service,” says he, “not only supplieth the want of the saints, (that is comparatively a small matter,) but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; while, by the experiment of this ministration, they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the Gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; and by their prayer for you, who long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you.” And then he adds, with a heart overflowing with gratitude to God, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:12-15.]!”
Now, if there were no such inequalities, there would be no scope for the rectifying of them; and, consequently, none for the adorations and thanksgivings offered unto God by those for whom he had so mercifully interposed. Say, then, whether these inequalities be not, on the whole, an unspeakable blessing to mankind; and whether, instead of repining at them, we ought not to adore and magnify our God, who makes such use of them, for the exercise of such grace, and for the manifestation of such glory unto men?]
Let me not, however, forget your necessities, brethren, whilst I plead for the relief of others: but let me entreat you,
1. To seek from God the supplies which you yourselves need—
[None of your fellow-creatures, how destitute soever they may be in respect of temporal necessities, are half so necessitous as you, in relation to your spiritual condition. In this respect, all, whether rich or poor, are on a level. Truly, there is a sad “equality” with respect to this: all being not only “wretched and miserable,” in a general view, but “poor, and blind, and naked,” in particular. And who shall give you relief? Shall any fellow-creature be able to succour you? No: the best man on earth has “no more oil in his vessel than is needful for himself.” There is no help for any man, but “in Christ Jesus, in whom it has pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell;” and “from whose fulness he has ordained us to receive.” Get then, I pray you, brethren, a just sense of your necessities; and look to Christ for a supply of them: for “he is able to make all grace abound towards you, that you, having always all-sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:8.].”]
2. To impart to your fellow-creatures the relief which they need—
[The occasion is indeed urgent [Note: Here the occasion, whatever it may be, should be set forth.] — — — And I may well call upon you to impart out of your abundance, according to your ability. Of course, some of you are able to give but little: but, “if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not [Note: ver. 12.].” This, however, I must say, “He that soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:6.].” Nor is it unwise for you to consider what changes may yet occur with respect to your own temporal condition: and how much you yourselves may hereafter need relief from the very persons you now relieve. In this view, I would say, for your encouragement, that “what you give to the poor, you lend to the Lord;” and in the hour of necessity he will repay you. Arise, then, all of you, to this good work; and “cast your bread upon the waters, that you may find it after many days.” In heaven, at all events, you shall find it: for God has promised, that not so much as “a cup of cold water given for his sake shall lose its reward.”]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany