The Best Mode of Working a Parish
Considered in a Course of Lectures Delivered in Denver Cathedral, January and February, 1888,
and in Some Sermons Prepared for Various Occasions.
2 Cor. ix, 8: God is able to make all grace abound towards you, that ye, having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.
THE subject S. Paul is here emphasizing is liberal giving. He commends the Christians at Corinth for all they had done and encourages them to do more, on the ground that he who soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly, and he who soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. They were not rich in this world's goods. Not yet had God called into His Church the rich, the noble, the mighty. If any had been rich, they had probably done as did Barnabas the son of Consolation, at Jerusalem, and many others, of whom we are told that they sold their possessions and goods and brought the money to the Apostles for the charitable work of the Church.
It must seem strange to those who make money the measure of all good things, to hear S. Paul speaking to these poor people as "being enriched in everything to all bountifulness," and always having all sufficiency in all things. And yet every one having any experience of life can see that it is, indeed, possible to have great earthly [152/153] riches and yet to be "poor and miserable, and blind and naked." Any thoughtful person can see that a bare sufficiency for subsistence, earned from day to day, with resignation, contentment, peace of mind, love of God, and love of our neighbor, and ready sympathy with all joys and sorrows, is infinitely preferable to the greatest wealth, if with it there must be the miser's covetousness and heartlessness, the indifference which the rich not seldom manifest to other's wants, and the cool selfishness with which they sometimes exact the services of others as their due, without even the poor recompense of thanks. To test the real value of anything we may possess, we must consider how it will serve us in extremity, what solace it can bring us in sickness and pain, and sorrow and bereavement. Then it is that the true riches of the heart and mind show their manifest pre-eminence. Superfluous wealth, wealth with which friends have not been made by its proper use, can bring no remedy in the terrible sicknesses of the soul, which it so often causes or aggravates, when it is sought and loved and held for its own sake. Who has not seen men going down to the grave in sufferings aggravated beyond measure by the cares which their wealth occasioned, and yet clinging to it with a grasp so tenacious that death could alone relax it, and thus dying in misery, having no treasures laid up safely where they will be forever needed and might be enjoyed to all eternity!
 It was Christ who said, "how hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven." And yet that "all things are possible with God." If they do enter therein by withdrawing the heart from their worldly possessions, esteeming them only for the good uses that may be made of them, rejoicing to do as Christ did, Who "though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor," and so, like Him, scattering blessings around on every side by giving for His sake in something of His Spirit of sacrifice, Who gave all for us, even His life, then, indeed, they may be worthy members and obtain honorable position and glorious rewards. Glad would any one be to be able to do all the good that might be in his heart. There is no prayer which should be made more constantly and with a more sincere and earnest devotion by any one to whom riches are in possession or in prospect, than this: O Lord, if with wealth must come a hard, selfish, ungrateful heart, a heart that would let money outweigh any human suffering or want that would seek relief at my hands, and a narrowness and meanness of spirit that would justify the scornful reproaches it generally receives, then let me be poor. Take from me the occasions of so great temptation, and suffer me not to sink into such moral degeneracy. Let me not be rich, unless it be without the love of money, which is the root of all evil. Let me not be rich, unless I can still enter into Thy kingdom and use all I have for Christ and His cause. Let me not be rich, [154/155] unless I can be also rich towards God, rich in good works, rich in abundant blessings to men. What right-thinking person would not, if he had the remotest prospect of more than a competence, make such a prayer the expression of the deepest desires of his heart?
We can now easily see that the persons addressed by S. Paul in the text, though poor in a worldly acceptation, might be rich in a sense far higher and more true. And, therefore, it was natural and consistent that they should be said to have always all sufficiency, all that they needed, so as to be able always to abound in every good work. The words were to them a precious promise. Having a willingness to do good, a readiness of mind and heart to give as God should prosper them, it should follow of consequence, that God would make all grace abound towards them, so that they should always have sufficient of all really good things, for themselves, for the needs of others, for the cause of Christ and the Church.
What is the meaning of the promise? It is God's guarantee of a sufficiency of all good things, temporal and spiritual, to those who give themselves to Him, and include in the gift of themselves, to make it real, their energies, their means of influence, all their power of doing good, "not grudgingly nor of necessity." Can any Christian doubt it? Does not the whole Bible assume its truth? It is Solomon's axiom (Prov. xi, 24, 25). It is the teaching of the prophets (Mai. iii, 10). The [155/156] Apostles do but reiterate in varied language a most fundamental principle of the Gospel. The use of the talents intrusted brings accumulation. "The liberal soul shall be made fat." They who are ready to give and glad to distribute, shall have all good things abounding unto them.
The ground of this truth is in God's promise and God's ability. Do you believe in Him? He is able to make all grace abound towards you. All grace is for corporate use. All His grace given, all that He intrusts to you, is to enable you to abound in all good works towards your fellows. The sufficiency you have is not for yourselves. It is given that you may be instruments for conferring blessings upon others.
Here, then, is offered to all men the greatest wealth that we can possess. It is in the grace of generosity, the love of doing good and making others happy, the desire and the ability to be instruments of the highest service to God and our fellow men, in the promotion of the cause of Christ.
Get wealth, then; accumulate property, lands, stocks, money, creaturely comforts, but set not your heart upon any of these things. Use them for the ends for which they are given you. Joys unspeakable come from doing good with a lavish hand, in utter forgetfulness of self. If a man is bent only on getting and keeping in all possible ways as much property as he can, it is not possible even for Almighty God to make him rich in his feeling; rich in [156/157] the priceless happiness that conies from doing the utmost possible of good in the world; rich in the gratitude of a Christian community, and the approval of God and man. If selfishness and covetousness be unrepressed and even intensified by long-indulged habits, it is impossible there should be the blessedness that only follows giving on a large and generous scale. What are we to say of those rich people who deny themselves habitually the means for cultivating the refinements and amenities of life, content to remain in ignorance, without appreciation of the good, the true, the beautiful, in man's works and in God's world, because they cannot spare the money which they prefer to pile up in useless accumulations for somebody to fight about, or to waste improvidently after they are gone; of those who have lands that perhaps they never saw, which they will not sell nor improve and occupy because increasing in value, the taxes and necessary expenses upon which are paid grudgingly, with a distressing feeling of poverty and inability; of those who strain every nerve to make more, using all their income and all they can borrow for coveted investments, and then say, believing it to be true, that they have nothing to give for the work of the Church, nor even enough for the necessary expenses to which their social position and their place in the Church compels them? These are the poor people in every community. God gives worldly prosperity and makes it a curse and a punishment to those who will not understand [157/158] that it is from Him, and that He has chosen them to the stewardships of its use in His service. The punishment comes by the law of cause and effect. Any selfish love, especially of any thing material and temporal, like the perishable treasures of this world, produces in the heart a contractedness, a belittling of all manly and generous impulses, and a poverty of soul which makes its possessor an object of pity to all good people, and of contempt to those who can not pity them.
But God enriches the generous and noble-hearted, so that the more they give the more they have to give, the more good they do, the more they have to enjoy, and the stronger their will to abound in giving and in all good works. In two ways He may enrich them: He gives them temporal prosperity and makes it a personal and general blessing. There are indeed cases in which bad, selfish people are greatly prospered in worldly things. But the noble, generous Christian who uses all God gives in the highest and best ways, is usually prospered the more. That this may be so will not be doubted by those who know that God rules this world by His Providence, that He gives the power to get wealth, and withholds no good thing from His children. Again, many selfish men overreach themselves by their grasping character, and are tempted to ventures which are indistinguishable from gambling, and are not honest, and so lose both money and reputation. The habits that are best [158/159] cultivated by a man who fears and serves God and trusts and loves his fellow men, are favorable to success in life-Thrift, industry and honest dealing are Christian virtues. Ability, prudence, energy and perseverance seldom fail even of earthly recompense. Besides, Christian principle will restrain a man from all those questionable speculations which so often end in ruin, and will prevent the bad habits of self-indulgence to which those who think only of themselves are liable, and which so generally prove disastrous. It would be easy to follow out the natural causes of the prosperity of those who always do right, and of the failure of those whose short-sighted, selfishness and over-eagerness to be rich, leads them into temptation and a snare. But facts are better than theories, and it is the fact, taking the words in the most literal sense, that God is able to make His grace and favor abound towards you who love to do good with what you have, and to use it generously in His service, so that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work. Thus to him that hath shall be given, who generously and rightly useth what he hath, while from him that hath not--because he hoards and will not use it--from him shall be taken away even that which he hath.
But the highest grace is spiritual. What to us is a sufficiency depends upon our disposition. If you should give for some greatly desired and noble end, for which you had been eagerly planning, one-half or all of your income, [159/160] and even so much of your property as to leave yourself with little or nothing but your hands, your brains and your love of work, you might still feel that you were rich. When Barnabas and his fellow disciples had given all they had to the Apostles for their work, do you suppose they felt poor? Do you suppose the Good Samaritan felt impoverished by the cost of the oil and wine with which he bound up the wounds of the man who had fallen among thieves, and the charges for his board and nursing and medical treatment till his recovery? Do you think the poor widow who gave all her living into the treasury of God, or the woman who poured the precious ointment upon the head and feet of the Saviour, felt that they had not in consequence greater riches than before? ~So, brethren, the money God gives into our care is for us to use for Him. It is of no value except as it is used in doing good to ourselves and others. The true wealth is that of the heart, and mind, and soul. And every one who gives in the full measure of Gospel privilege will experience this in a joy which the world could not give and cannot take away.
Not until men of wealth learn to acknowledge and meet its responsibilities, can the Church do the work that now presses upon her towards the toiling masses of men. The signs are not wanting that presage untold trouble to the men of capital, which might so easily be averted would the Christian men of wealth learn at once how to [160/161] use it. The real love of men acting itself out in true Christian beneficence, if generally prevailing, would solve all difficulties which confront us. The Church would soon be the effective agent in the amelioration of all temporal as well as spiritual wants, if only those who give themselves to God would but, with themselves, give all they have and are, as the Gospel they profess requires. The great, the imperative demand of the Church at this time is to bring not only all the members, but especially her rich and well-to-do people, to the realization of their accountability in the use of their means; to open their eyes to see that they are not generally as yet giving for God, for the Church's work, more than an infinitesimally small portion of what is required of them, and of what they must give to avert disaster from themselves, and from the Church the reproach of failure.