The gifts of God to the sons of men are very costly. The carrying out of the great plan of redemption involved a stupendous sacrifice of feeling. When one generous soul loves another, he is eager to promote the happiness of that other, and cheerfully robs himself to do his friend a pleasure. The love of the Father for his Son was infinite, and it must have been with a bitter pang that he consented to send his Son away from his arms, away from the heaven of which he was the glory, to this world of sin and sorrow, to endure long years of exile, to be a stranger to the heavenly joy, and to be numbered with the transgressors.
It was no holiday task on which the Second Person in the blessed Trinity entered when he undertook the work of restoring us to God and holiness. It was like death for him to resign his close and endeared companionship with the Father; and when he saw himself stripped of the good which was his rightful portion, made the mark of the popular odium, stung with the undeserved insults, branded as an offender against God and man, arraigned before tribunals which God had instituted, convicted of the most horrible crimes and impieties, deserted by his friends, assailed by the powers of darkness, forsaken of God, loaded with the guilt of a ruined race -- then it was that the iron entered into his soul.
The Holy Spirit also has his share in the sad ministry of sacrifice. His long-suffering is sorely tried by the high-handed sins and the persistent unbelief of ungodly men. God in his word warns us against grieving the Holy Ghost. When the Spirit points the transgressors to the fountain of cleansing, they turn away with indifference. When he lays hold of them, as if by sweet compulsion to constrain them to secure eternal life, they pull away the harder. When he entreats and implores them to have pity on themselves and flee from the wrath to come, they laugh him to scorn. How often he knocks at the door of the heart and begs for admission and listens and waits, his head wet with dew and his locks with the drops of the night! and waits and listens and importunes in vain! And how sorely is his patience tried with the haltings and wanderings of the Israel of God! their violations of covenant, their worldliness, their unprofitableness! Surely it is at an inconceivable expenditure of feeling that salvation is brought nigh to us in Christ our Lord.
Who then shall deny that God is worth of the costliest gifts in return! In his character he is spotlessly and ineffably excellent. All his works praise him. His kindness of heart, his pity, his beneficence are unparalleled. His common, daily mercies he showers, with a liberal hand, alike on the evil and the good. The offer of pardon and of eternal life is made to all indiscriminately, on the easiest of terms. On all who will accept this offer, he proposes to confer the gift of adoption, heirship with Christ, all his fullness. He accounts nothing too good for those who from love to him break off from sin. believe in his dear Son, yield themselves to the guidance of his Spirit, and consecrate themselves to his service. He makes sure their perserverance in holiness, their final victory over all their foes, support in death, triumphant entrance into heaven, an acquittal at the Judgment Seat of Christ, the enjoyment of the saints' everlasting inheritance. Who will venture to dispute the testimony of the angels, whom John, in apocalyptic vision saw and heard, as with load voice they said "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing?["] Can any limit be put to his worth? Is there any danger that we overestimate our obligation to him? That we give him too central a place in our affections? Any danger that our self-denials transcend his merit? Any danger that our praises ring out in too triumphant strains?
God, moreover, requires of us costly gifts. To every man he comes with the demand, "My son, give me thine heart." He insists that we accord to him the first place in our thoughts, in our affections, in our plans and ambitions; that we live for him, that we seek his honor, that we devote ourselves to the building up of his kingdon. He assures us in the most pointed terms that we have no right to ourselves; that we are his, altogether his. He would have us put him on the throne and profess ourselves his servants, his willing slaves. The first fruits of our labor, our fairest, our choicest, that which is most precious in our eyes, that which we are naturally most reluctant to part with, he claims for himself. We are to be diligent in business, eager to accumulate, in order that we may have something of value to give to the Lord. We are to be economical in our expenditures, to guard against needless and sinful waste, to be prudent and saving, that the cause of our blessed Master may not be crippled because of our extravagance. Our King requires that we give to him, not our superfluities, nor that which is of no worth to us, not that which we can let go as well as not, nothing of which we shall not feel the loss; but our goodliest, our costliest, our best. He would have us feel what we give; just as he felt the gift of his Son.
The prevalent theory of Christian giving to the Lord
is utterly wrong and needs to be revised. God
demands of his children -- of every man -- his largest,
his choicest, not his poorest. Said our Devine
Lord, "If any man will come after me, let him deny
himself, and take up his cross and follow me."
So long as the world shall stand, the religion of
Christ will be a cross-bearing religion. It
is a heaven-daring sin to pamper self and let the work of
Observe, again, that it is the costliest gifts that are the most pleasing to God. What hot scorn Jehovah poured out on his people, in the days of old, for the niggardly gifts they laid on his alter! "If ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And if ye offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil? Offer it now unto they governor. Will he be pleased with thee, or accept they person? saith the Lord of hosts." The great Jehovah sniffs at offerings of the refuse of the farm and the game of cold victuals and old clothes. But when his loving children give their most precious treasures to Him; when they are glad to pinch themselves to do Him honor; when they consider it a matter of conscience, a Christian duty, to respond liberally to every call of Providence on their charities; God looks down upon them with his most benignant smile; and the smoke of their sacrifice comes up before Him as sweetest incense. He considers their giving to be an act of obedience and so is pleased with it. He never forgets that he is their King and so has a right to their service; and he would not have them forget it. Still more he is pleased with their self-denying and generous gifts regarded as an expression of their gratitude. Paul had a clear apprehension of this truth when he wrote "Ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." We cannot in any wise repay the Lord Jesus for his matchless love in our redemption; we can add nothing to his resources; but we can testify that we appreciate his goodness, and that it is our proudest privilege to be permitted to lay ourselves with all we have on his alter; our sweetest joy to decrease that He may increase.
Watts never penned sweeter lines than these:
The eyes of the Lord look approval when we sing these words with joyful lips; most of all, when we sing them in our godly living, in the utter unselfishness of our consecrations, in our bountiful giving to him who loved us.
Brethren, we should be ashamed to give to the Lord that which costs us nothing. After the queen of Sheba had communed with Solomon and had received answers to the hard questions which she propounded to him, and had seen the magnificence of his court and the majesty of the temple worship, "she gave the King an hundred and twenty talents of gold, (=3 1/4 millions of our money) and of spices of very great store and precious stones: there came no more such abundance of spices as those which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon." Her gifts were the suitable expression of her admiration and were on a scale befitting the dignity and worth of the monarch who received them. She would have disdained the very thought of bestowing on one who commanded her loftiest esteem a gift of little value. David was actuated by the same feeling when, obedient to the voice of Jehovah, he proceeded to rear an altar in the threshing floor of Arannah the Jebusite. -- Verses, 20-24. When David was verging toward old age, it was in his heart to build a temple for the worship of the Lord, but he was not suffered to do so, because he had shed much blood. This honor, he was informed, was reserved for his son Solomon. At once he saw his opportunity and spent the remainder of his life in accumulating stores for the work; and as the result of his effort, left to Solomon 94,000,000 dollars of consecrated money, besides vast quantities of brass and iron and all manner of precious stones and marbles. The reason he assigned for making such colossal provision was this: "The palace is not for man but for the Lord God." It was utterly beneath him to offer to the Lord that which cost him nothing. Was not his feeling commendable? Have not some who bear the name of Christ reason to blush for the smallness of thief gifts to him? Is it decent to ask one's self, "How little?" instead of "How much?" "Can't I get off with the merest pittance, doled out reluctantly, because I must?"
Perhaps some one will say, "I would love to give, if I only had the means. If I had the wealth of a Gould or a Vanderbilt,it would be my joy to devise liberal things for the Lord. But I am poor. My income is uncertain and meagre. I find it difficult to make both ends meet. Let others give of their abundance: it is unquestionably their duty; it is their privilege; but as for me, it is impossible. I pray thee have me excused."
Now in reply to pleas of this character, I which to say that costly gifts are not beyond any man's reach. I do not affirm that a poor man can bestow in charity as large sums as the rich man; but if he gives according to his ability, as God recons ability, his gift is of the costliest. Says Paul, "If there be first a willing mind it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not." When our Devine Lord was on the earth, on one occasion he "sat over against the treasury and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples and saith unto them that this poor widow hast cast more in than all they which have cast into the treasury: for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living."
Costly givers are the objects of God's special care, and so costly gifts are not beyond their reach. "Honor the Lord with the substance and with the first fruits of all thine increase: so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine." "He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully . . . And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that life, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work."
You remember the riddle propounded by old father Honest:
Also the solution given by Gaius, the pilgrims' host:
The widow of Zarephath found this true; for when, having in her possession, in the time of famine, only a handful of meal in a barrel and a little oil in a cruse, she made a little cake first for the man of God, she saw the fulfillment of the gracious promise, "The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth."
Observe, again, that the costliest gifts are the most useful. Peter and Andrew, James and John, humble fishermen, at the call of Christ, forsook all and followed him; and as the result of their whole-souled consecration, who shall tell the amount of good they achieved! The men who accomplish the most for Christ are they who make the greatest sacrifices for His honor in the building up of his kingdom. If Paul had made it his ambition to serve God and mammon, he never would have been heard of as Christ's chosen apostle to the Gentiles. When Dr. John Scudder resigned his lucrative practice as a city physician, that he might give himself to self-denying labor for his Master among the heathen, he laid the foundation for his rare usefulness. A penny dropped into the contribution box by a pious washerwoman, who knows not whence her supplies for the morrow are to come, may be instrumental in the conversion of an immortal soul. The day laborer, who with loving heart gives one fifth of hard-earned wages to the Lord, is, on the score of usefulness, the peer of the successful city minister. Those gifts which are the fruit of the most self denial, are accompanied with the most fervent prayer, and are the embodiment of the most ardent love, are the most acceptable to God and are the most effective in advancing his cause among men.
To crown all, the costliest gifts entitle to the amplest rewards. Peter, officiating as spokesman for the twelve, said to Christ, "Behold, we have forsaken all and followed thee: what shall we have therefore?" And Jesus said unto them, "Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." That noblest of women, Mary of Nazareth, who gave the best of her life in personal, loving devotion to her royal Son; that other Mary, who poured out her money like water that she might anoint the head of her Lord with the precious ointment; that queenly band of Galilean women, who counted it their highest privilege and their sweetest joy to minister to the Lord Jesus of their substance, that so relieved of all care for a livelihood, he might devote all his time to the proclamation of his gospel; and who, so much in earnest were they, followed him from Galilee to Judea and kept company with him to the last, that they might anticipate his daily needs -- are decked with crowns rich with an exceeding weight of glory, such as the loftiest archangels never merited and shall never wear.
Our King will well know how to overwhelm with his bounties those who, when on earth, spared no toil, and denied themselves every indulgence, that they might give the more to him. Thus it is that we may make to ourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, and lay up in store for ourselves a good foundation against the time to come, that we may lay hold on eternal life.
We are indebted to Patrica Dean,
great granddaughter of the Rev. Benjamin Franklin Marable