THOUGHTS of a judgment to come may well occupy the minds of those who, living in a state of probation, are liable any hour to be called to enter upon an eternity where change can never be.
Prone as we all are to put such considerations aside, right well is it for us that the Church in the Advent season "sings of mercy and judgment," tells of CHRIST'S coming in great humility to redeem, long ages past, tells of His second coining in glorious majesty to be our Judge, a coming which cannot be long delayed and may be soon. "Who may abide the day of His coming, who shall stand when He appeareth?" If we judge ourselves we shall not be judged of the LORD. If we examine our lives and conversation by the rule of GOD'S Holy Word, and whereinsoever we perceive we have offended, accuse and condemn ourselves for our faults with full purpose of amendment of life, we shall find mercy in that day, for JESUS' sake.
The demand of our text will soon be made to each of us "Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward." Let us conceive the question put to each of us now, could we give in our account with joy? or would it not be given in the case of very many of us, with deepest shame and grief?
The talents for which we must give account are the opportunities of all kinds for honoring GOD and doing good to our fellow men.
But, as a searching inquiry is best conducted by coming down from generalities to particulars, let us on the present occasion--putting aside for the time being the thought of health, strength, influence, mental abilities--ask ourselves how we have used, how we are using, the earthly possession GOD has put into our hands.
The question is one more important than we are apt to think. It is our SAVIOUR Himself who asks, "If ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?" The gift of GOD cannot be purchased with money, but money not rightly used may cause us to miss heaven.
It is of our use of the good things of this life that St. Paul speaks, when he warns us "Be not deceived; GOD is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
We all admit that whatever we have comes to us from GOD. We do not say in words "My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this competence which I enjoy." But though we admit with our lips that we have nothing but what we have received from GOD, and that all belongs to Him, still to do with it as He pleases, while we are but His stewards, do we say the same in our actions, as in our words? How far could any one gather from our use of our means that we believe at all as we profess to believe? Men of the world see Christians give, too often--too generally--in scant measure, and with evident want of heartiness. And for the giving of even so much, and in such way, worldly men are apt to ascribe to Christians the motives they feel would influence themselves. Too often the Christian's conscience, if honestly appealed to. cannot but admit, that the motives alleged are, in part at least, the true ones; that of the little he has given, no small portion has been given from motives defective, if not worse, motives of which he does not himself care to think afterwards, which he trusts man does not imagine, and which he vainly wishes might escape the eye of Him to "Whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from Whom no secrets are hid."
How seldom can the Christian say to himself "This I give back to my Heavenly Father Who gave it to me, caring not to have men know of my gift, wishing only to show my love to Him and to win His approval.
We admit, I say, that all we have comes from God, and to make us realize it the better, GOD sometimes takes away, in a moment, possessions in the holding of which we felt secure. But must we force GOD in His goodness to employ such means to make us recognize the true position in which we stand to Him? Should we not, as reasonable creatures, freely and fully own our dependence upon Him Who made and Who preserves us, and from Whom all good things do come? Should the wish ever enter into our minds to even seem independent of Him Who not only made and keeps us and all, but when men had rebelled against Him, gave His only Begotten SON to redeem us, and by His death give back tons the life our sins had forfeited?
How does it become us, being the stewards of GOD to use what His bounty has entrusted to us?
Certainly not as if it were all our own, to advance our own plans and promote simply our own interests.
All our time belongs to GOD. By hallowing each Lord's Day as He has bidden us, we admit that our time is His And when we fully admit this, He grants us His blessing on the days of the week which He permits us to use in great part for ourselves. Now let the same principle be applied to our means as to our time. That this should be so, we could not only gather by fair inference, but we are taught it by express words of our SAVIOUR, "Give alms of such things as ye have, and behold all things are clean unto you." Use part of your means religiously for GOD and when you have paid Him thus due honor, you can with a good conscience enjoy with thanksgiving the gifts of His bounty.
If we duly realized that we owe everything to GOD, we should not need a command to give, an intimation that He would mercifully receive what we might offer would be sufficient. Just as we grudge nothing we can do for those we love on earth, so would hearts grateful to GOD for His goodness gladly give Him what they might give.
In order to test our love to Him, and by exercising to strengthen and deepen this love, GOD has seen fit to provide many--almost numberless ways in which we can so use earthly good things as to promote His glory. It is for our own good He has appointed this. He might have caused that those who proclaimed His word should be supported by miracle, instead of ordaining that "they who preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel," that he "that is taught in the Word minister unto him that teacheth, in all good things." The Christian who grudges to give those who have sown to him spiritual things a fair share of worldly things, shows little appreciation of GOD'S goodness in sending the Gospel to him. GOD might have provided in other ways, had he seen fit, for the relief of the poor and needy, but He has been pleased to permit us to relieve them, enticing us thereto by most precious promises. "He that hath pity upon the poor, lendeth unto the LORD, and look, what he layeth out, it shall be paid him again." "Blessed is the man that provideth for the sick and needy, the LORD shall deliver him in time of trouble." And our SAVIOUR tells us, that what we minister to one of the least of His brethren an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, he counts as done to Himself.
GOD might have ordained that we should worship Him, not in houses set apart for His Name, but in buildings erected and used for other purposes; or if we built sanctuaries, that, whatever our abilities might be, these should be of the plainest and least expensive kind--that His worship should cost us as little as might be. But, on the other hand, when "devout and holy men, as well under the Law as under the Gospel, moved either by the express command of GOD, or by the secret inspiration of the blessed Spirit, and acting agreeably to their own reason and sense of the natural decency of things, have erected houses for the public worship of GOD," the best that they could build, such pious works have ever been "approved of, and graciously accepted by our Heavenly Father."
GOD has, in His love, permitted that in these and other ways, we may use our means for Him; "not as though He needed anything," for "the whole world is His and all that is therein." We should feel that we have a high honor and privilege conferred upon us in being allowed to do anything for Him, rather than, as I fear we too often do, consider it an tin welcome duty to give to Him in supporting His Church, or helping His poor.
Very often, when we give, we fail of obtaining all the blessings we might have, through acting from motives not wrong in themselves, but defective. For instance, we give with kindly heart, to relieve the necessities of the poor, and thus obey the second part of the law bidding us "love our neighbor as ourselves. But, if all the motives which should influence us be brought into play, we should realize that in helping the poor we were giving to GOD, and in thus showing honor to Him, we would keep not merely the second, but also the first and great commandment "Thou shalt love the LORD thy GOD with alt thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind."
So too, in duly supporting those set over you in the LORD, let not what you do be a mere business transaction, fulfilling honorably pledges made, nor merely an expression of personal kindness and consideration. All this let it be, but above all, try to realize that what you do for GOD'S sake to His Minister, you do for Him, as CHRIST said to His first ambassadors, "He that receiveth you, receiveth Me."
If we felt as we should how blessed a thing it is that we are permitted to do anything for GOD, we should never think "how little dare I give," but rather "how much can I give," we should not then ask "how can I give without feeling it."
And as we commence the week with the LORD'S day, so should we consider GOD'S portion of our means the first to be set aside, not providing for our own comforts and tastes, then giving to GOD of what is left, if there be any left.
If we would be good stewards of GOD'S bounties, we should not act on mere impulse. If all set times for prayer were done away with, should we be likely to continue prayerful? If GOD had not seen fit to appoint a day for His especial service, think you that we should give Him even as much of our time as we now give on other days of the week?
And let us neither give what we give all at once, as wishing to be through with a distasteful duty, nor put off as long as we can the discharge of an obligation we would not fulfil if we could avoid it. Our LORD does not bid us pray for sufficient to be given us now, to supply next year's wants--but puts into our mouths the words, "Give us this day our daily bread." He wishes to keep us in constant dependence upon Him. So He would have us delight in finding occasion to give---would have us give frequently.
St. Paul lays down the rule for the Churches of Galatia and Corinth, "Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by in store as GOD hath prospered him." On the spirit of this rule let us act, if not on its very letter. Let us from time to time examine our gains and set apart for GOD a fair proportion of them. Then, as opportunity presents itself, let us use this fund in GOD'S service.
The pledge system, as it is called, is an excellent way of imparting method to our giving, combining many of the advantages of the subscription and the unpledged offering, yet free from some of their objectionable features.
Let us not be afraid of giving too much. It is no common fault. If you have not others dependent on you, surely you can deny yourself a little in order to give. If you have others so dependent, would it not seem like loving father or mother, wife or child, brother or sister, more than GOD, to spend well nigh all on the objects of your earthly affection, to keep little for Him Who most of all deserves your love?
Could we not all give a tenth of our incomes and yet give little enough?
Offering to GOD a tithe was the practice of good men even before the giving of the law. Abraham gave tithes to Melchisedec, Priest of the Most High GOD; Jacob vowed at Bethel "Of all that Thou givest me, I will surely give a tenth to Thee." The Jews were required by the law to give a tenth of their gains for religious uses, and including all their offerings, gave far more.
True, in the Christian Church the law of tithes no longer exists as a law. Yet let us not use liberty as a cloak for covetousness. St. Augustine tells us we should set apart for GOD something from our gains, and that a tenth is but a small proportion. He reminds us of the words of the Pharisee "I give tithes of all I possess," and that our LORD declared "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of heaven." And then he asks, and the question is a most pertinent one, "If he whose righteousness you are to exceed give a tenth, how can you be said to exceed him whom you do not so much as equal?"
It is not necessary to give much to win the world's approval; indeed if we give freely worldly men will be apt to set it down as foolishness. But it is a small thing to be judged of man's judgment.
The day will soon come when the MASTER whose stewards we are shall say to each of us "Give an account of thy Stewardship."
When our account is rendered, may we each hear from His lips the plaudit, "Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy LORD."