The Cheerful Giver
Whether we carry on our business, or are engaged in our trade, art, or profession, as stewards of the Lord. To the child of God it ought not to be enough that he is in a calling in which he can abide with God, nor that he is engaged in his calling because it is the will of his Lord and Master that he should work, but he should consider himself in his trade, business, art, or profession, only as the steward of the Lord with reference to his income. The child of God has been bought with the precious blood of the Lord Jesus, and is altogether his property, with all that he possesses, his bodily strength, his mental strength, his ability of every kind, his trade, business, art, or profession, his property, etc.; for it is written, “Ye are not your own; for ye are bought with a price.” 1 Cor. vi. 19, 20. The proceeds of our calling are therefore not our own in the sense of using them as our natural heart wishes us to do, whether to spend them on the gratification of our pride, or our love of pleasure, or sensual indulgences, or to lay by the money for ourselves or our children, or use it in any way as we naturally like, but we have to stand before our Lord and Master, whose stewards we are, to seek to ascertain his will, how he will have us use the proceeds of our calling.
But is this indeed the spirit in which children of God generally are engaged in their calling? It is but too well known that it is not the case! Can we then wonder at it, that even God’s own dear children should so often be found greatly in difficulty with regard to their calling, and be found so often complaining about stagnation or competition in trade, and the difficulties of the times, though there have been given to them such precious promises as, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you;” or, “Let your conversation (disposition or turn of mind) be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Heb. xiii. 5. Is it not obvious enough that when our heavenly Father sees that we his children do or would use the proceeds of our calling, as our natural mind would desire, that he either cannot at all intrust us with means, or will be obliged to decrease them? No wise and really affectionate mother will permit her infant to play with a razor, or with fire, however much the child may desire to have them; and so the love and wisdom of our heavenly Father will not, cannot, intrust us with pecuniary means, except it be in the way of chastisement, or to show us finally their utter vanity, if he sees that we do not desire to possess them as stewards for him, in order that we may spend them as he may point out to us by his Holy Spirit, through his word.
In connection with this subject, I give a few hints to the believing reader on three passages of the word of God. In 1 Cor. xvi. 2, we find it written to the brethren at Corinth, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God has prospered him.” A contribution for the poor saints in Judea was to be made, and the brethren at Corinth were exhorted to put by for it, every Lord’s day, according to the measure of success which the Lord had been pleased to grant them in their calling during the week. Now, ought not the saints in our day also to act according to this word? There is no passage in the word of God why we should not do so, and it is altogether in accordance with our pilgrim character, not only once or twice, or four times a year, to see how much we can afford to give to the poor saints, or to the work of God in any way, but to seek to settle it weekly. If it be said, I cannot ascertain how much I have gained in the course of the week by my business, and therefore I cannot give accordingly; my reply is this, Seek, dear brethren, as much as possible, to bring your business upon such a footing as that you may be able, as nearly as possible, to settle how much you have earned in your calling in the course of the week. But suppose you should be unable to settle it exactly to the shilling or pound, yet you will know pretty well how it has been with you during the week, and therefore, according to your best knowledge, contribute on the coming Lord’s day towards the necessities of the poor saints, and towards the work of God, as he, after your having sought his guidance, may lead you.
Perhaps you say, the weeks are so unlike; in one week I may earn three or even ten times as much as in another week, and if I give according to my earnings from my calling during a very good week, then how are such weeks, when I earn scarcely any thing, or how are the bad debts to be met? How shall I do when sickness befalls my family, or when other trials productive of expense come upon me, if I do not make provision for such seasons? My reply is, 1. I do not find in the whole New Testament one single passage in which either directly or indirectly exhortations are given to provide against deadness in business, bad debts, and sickness, by laying up money. 2. Often the Lord is obliged to allow deadness in business, or bad debts, or sickness in our family, or other trials which increase our expenses, to befall us, because we do not, as his stewards, act according to stewardship, but as if we were owners of what we have, forgetting that the time has not yet come when we shall enter upon our possessions; and he does so in order that, by these losses and expenses, our property which we have collected may be decreased, lest we should altogether set our hearts again upon earthly things, and forget God entirely. His love is so great, that he will not let his children quietly go their own way when they have forsaken him; but if his loving admonitions by his Holy Spirit are disregarded, he is obliged in fatherly love to chastise them. A striking illustration of what I have said we have in the case of Israel nationally. The commandment to them was, to leave their land uncultivated in the seventh year, in order that it might rest, and the Lord promised to make up for this deficiency by his abundant blessing resting upon the sixth year. However, Israel acted not according to this commandment, no doubt saying, in the unbelief of their hearts, as the Lord had foretold, “What shall we eat in the seventh year? Behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase.” Levit. xxv. But what did the Lord do? He was determined the land should have rest, and as the Israelites did not willingly give it, he sent them for seventy years into captivity, in order that thus the land might have rest. See Levit. xxvi. 33-35. Beloved brethren in the Lord, let us take heed so to walk as that the Lord may not be obliged by chastisement to take a part of our earthly possessions from us in the way of bad debts, sickness, decrease of business, and the like, because we would not own our position as stewards, but act as owners, and keep for ourselves the means with which the Lord had intrusted us, not for the gratification of our own carnal mind, but for the sake of using them in his service and to his praise.
It might also be said by a brother whose earnings are small, should I also give according to my earnings? They are already so small that my wife can only with the greatest difficulty manage to make them sufficient for the family. My reply is, Have you ever considered, my brother, that the very reason why the Lord is obliged to let your earnings remain so small may be the fact of your spending everything upon yourselves, and that if he were to give you more you would only use it to increase your own family comfort, instead of looking about to see who among the brethren are sick, or who have no work at all, that you might help them, or how you might assist the work of God at home or abroad? There is a great temptation for a brother whose earnings are small to put off the responsibility of assisting the needy and sick saints, or helping on the work of God, and to lay it upon the few rich brethren and sisters with whom he is associated in fellowship, and thus rob his own soul!
It might be asked, How much shall I give of my income? The tenth part, or the fifth part, or the third part, or one half, or more? My reply is, God lays down no rule concerning this point. What we do we should do cheerfully and not of necessity. But if even Jacob, with the first dawning of spiritual light (Genesis xxviii. 22), promised to God the tenth of all he should give to him, how much ought we believers in the Lord Jesus to do for him: we, whose calling is a heavenly one, and who know distinctly that we are children of God, and joint heirs with the Lord Jesus! Yet do all the children of God give even the tenth part of what the Lord gives them? That would be two shillings per week for the brother who earns one pound, and four shillings to him who earns two pounds, and two pounds per week to him whose income is twenty pounds per week.
In connection with 1 Cor. xvi. 2, I would mention two other portions: 1. “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” 2 Cor. ix. 6. It is certain that we children of God are so abundantly blessed in Jesus, by the grace of God, that we ought to need no stimulus to good works. The forgiveness of our sins, the having been made forever the children of God, the having before us the Father’s house as our home;—these blessings ought to be sufficient motives to constrain us in love and gratitude to serve God abundantly all the days of our life, and cheerfully also to give up, as he may call for it, that with which he has intrusted us of the things of this world. But whilst this is the case, the Lord nevertheless holds out to us in his holy word motives why we should serve him, deny ourselves, use our property for him, etc., and the last mentioned passage is one of that kind. The verse is true, both with reference to the life that is now, and that which is to come. If we have been sparingly using our property for him, there will have been little treasure laid up in heaven, and therefore a small amount of capital will be found in the world to come, so far as it regards reaping. Again, we shall reap bountifully if we seek to be rich towards God, by abundantly using our means for him, whether in ministering to the necessities of the poor saints, or using otherwise our pecuniary means for his work. Dear brethren, these things are realities! Shortly, very shortly, will come the reaping-time, and then will be the question whether we shall reap sparingly or bountifully.
But while this passage refers to the life hereafter, it also refers to the life that now is. Just as now the love of Christ constrains us to communicate of that with which the Lord intrusts us, so will be the present reaping, both with regard to spiritual and temporal things. Should there be found, therefore, in a brother, the want of entering into his position as being merely a steward for the Lord in his calling, and should he give no heed to the admonitions of the Holy Ghost to communicate to those who are in need or to help the work of God, then can such a brother be surprised that he meets with great difficulties in his calling, and that he cannot get on? This is according to the Lord’s word. He is sowing sparingly, and he therefore reaps sparingly. But should the love of Christ constrain a brother, out of the earnings of his calling, to sow bountifully, he will even in this life reap bountifully, both with regard to blessings in his soul, and with regard to temporal things. Consider in connection with this the following passage, which, though taken from the Book of Proverbs, is not of a Jewish character, but true concerning believers under the present dispensation also: “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat; and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.” Prov. xi. 24, 25.
In connection with 1 Cor. xvi. 2, I would also direct my brethren in the Lord to the promise made in Luke vi. 38: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” This refers evidently to the present dispensation, and evidently in its primary meaning to temporal things. Now let any one, constrained by the love of Jesus, act according to this passage; let him on the first day of the week communicate as the Lord has prospered him, and he will see that the Lord will act according to what is contained in this verse. If pride constrain us to give, if self-righteousness make us liberal, if natural feeling induce us to communicate, or if we give whilst we are in a state of insolvency, not possessing more perhaps than ten shillings in the pound, were our creditors to come upon us; then we cannot expect to have this verse fulfilled in our experience; nor should we give at any time for the sake of receiving again from others, according to this verse; but if indeed the love of Christ constrain us to communicate according to the ability which the Lord gives us, then we shall have this verse fulfilled in our experience, though this was not the motive which induced us to give. Somehow or other the Lord will abundantly repay us, through the instrumentality of our fellow-men, what we are doing to his poor saints, or in any way for his work, and we shall find that in the end we are not losers, even with reference to temporal things, whilst we communicate liberally of the things of this life with which the Lord has intrusted us.
Here it might be remarked, But if it be so that even in this life, and with regard to temporal things, it is true that “to him that gives shall be given, good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over,” and that “he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully,” then in the end the most liberal persons would be exceedingly rich. Concerning this remark we have to keep in mind, that the moment persons were to begin to give for the sake of receiving more back again from the Lord, through the instrumentality of their fellow-men, than they have given; or the moment persons wished to alter their way, and no more go on sowing bountifully, but sparingly, in order to increase their possessions, whilst God is allowing them to reap bountifully, the river of God’s bounty toward them would no longer continue to flow. God had supplied them abundantly with means, because he saw them act as stewards for him. He had intrusted them with a little which they had used for him, and he therefore intrusted them with more; and if they had continued to use the much also for him, he would have still more abundantly used them as instruments to scatter abroad his bounties. The child of God must be willing to be a channel through which God’s bounties flow, both with regard to temporal and spiritual things. This channel is narrow and shallow at first, it may be; yet there is room for some of the waters of God’s bounty to pass through. And if we cheerfully yield ourselves as channels for this purpose, then the channel becomes wider and deeper, and the waters of the bounty of God can pass through more abundantly. Without a figure, it is thus: At first, we may be only instrumental in communicating five pounds, or ten pounds, or twenty pounds, or fifty pounds, or one hundred pounds, or two hundred pounds per year, but afterwards double as much; and, if we are still more faithful in our stewardship, after a year or two four times as much, afterwards perhaps eight times as much, at last perhaps twenty times or fifty times as much. We cannot limit the extent to which God may use us as instruments in communicating blessing, both temporal and spiritual, if we are willing to yield ourselves as instruments to the living God, and are content to be only instruments, and to give him all the glory.
But with regard to temporal things it will be thus, that if indeed we walk according to the mind of God in these things, whilst more and more we become instruments of blessing to others, we shall not seek to enrich ourselves, but be content, when the last day of another year finds us still in the body, to possess no more than on the last day of the previous year, or even considerably less, whilst we have been, however, in the course of the year, the instruments of communicating largely to others, through the means with which the Lord had intrusted us. As to my own soul, by the grace of God, it would be a burden to me that however much my income in the course of the year might have been, I were increasing in earthly possession; for it would be a plain proof to me that I had not been acting as a steward for God, and had not been yielding myself as a channel for the waters of God’s bounty to pass through. I also cannot but bear my testimony here, that in whatever feeble measure God has enabled me to act according to these truths for the last fifteen years [this was written in 1845]; I have found it to be profitable, most profitable to my own soul; and as to temporal things, I never was a loser in doing so, but I have most abundantly found the truth in 2 Cor. ix. 6, and Luke vi. 38, and Prov. xi. 24, 25, verified in my own experience. I only have to regret that I have acted so little according to what I have now been stating; but my godly purpose is by the help of God, to spend the remainder of my days in practising these truths more than ever; and I am sure that when I am brought to the close of my earthly pilgrimage, either in death, or by the appearing of our Lord Jesus, I shall not have the least regret in having done so; and I know that, should I leave my dear child behind, the Lord will abundantly provide for her, and prove that there has been a better provision made for her than her father could have made, if he had sought to insure his life or lay up money for her.
Before leaving this part of the subject, I mention to the believing reader, that I know instance upon instance in which what I have been saying has been verified, but I will only mention the following: I knew many years ago a brother as the manager of a large manufactory. Whilst in this capacity he was liberal, and giving away considerably out of his rather considerable salary. The Lord repaid this to him; for the principals of the establishment, well knowing his value to their house of business, gave him now and then, whilst he thus was liberally using his means for the Lord, very large presents in money. In process of time, however, this brother thought it right to begin business on his own account, in a very small way. He still continued to be liberal, according to his means, and God prospered him, and prospered him so that now, whilst I am writing, his manufactory is as large as the one which he formerly managed, or even larger, though that was a very considerable one. And sure I am that if this brother shall be kept by God from setting his heart upon earthly things, and from seeking more and more to increase his earthly riches, but shall delight himself in being used as a steward by God, cheerfully communicating to the need of God’s poor children, or to his work in other ways, and doing so not sparingly, but bountifully, the Lord will intrust him more and more with means; if otherwise, if he shut up his hands, seek his own, wish to obtain sufficient property that he may be able to live on his interest, then what he has to expect is that God will shut up his hands, he will meet with heavy losses, or there will be an alteration in his affairs for the worse, or the like.
I also mention two other cases, to show that the Lord increases our ability of communicating temporal blessings to others if we distribute according to the means with which he has intrusted us, though we should not be in a trade or business or profession. I know a brother who many years ago saw it right not only to spend his interest for the Lord, but also the principal, as the Lord might point out to him opportunities. His desire was not, as indeed it ought never to be, to get rid of his money as fast as possible, yet he considered himself a steward for the Lord, and was therefore willing, as his Lord and Master might point it out to him, to spend his means. When this brother came to this determination, he possessed about twenty thousand pounds sterling. According to the light and grace which the Lord had been pleased to give, he afterwards acted, spending the money for the Lord, in larger or smaller sums, as opportunities were pointed out to him by the Lord. Thus the sum more and more decreased, whilst the brother steadily pursued his course, serving the Lord with his property, and spending his time and ability also for the Lord, in service of one kind or another among his children. At last, the twenty thousand pounds were almost entirely spent, when at that very time the father of this very brother died, whereby he came into the possession of an income of several thousand pounds a year. It gives joy to my heart to be able to add, that this brother still pursues his godly course, living in the most simple way, and giving away perhaps ten times as much as he spends on himself or family. Here you see, dear reader, that this brother, using faithfully for the Lord what he had been intrusted with at first, was made steward over more; for he has now more than one third as much in a year coming in as he at first possessed altogether.
I mention another instance: I know a brother to whom the Lord has given a liberal heart, and who bountifully gave of that over which the Lord had set him as steward. The Lord, seeing this, intrusted him with still more, for through family circumstances he came into the possession of many thousand pounds, in addition to the considerable property he possessed before. I have the joy of being able to add also concerning this brother, that the Lord continues to give him grace to use his property as a steward for God, and that he has not been permitted to set his heart upon his riches, through the very considerable increase of his property, but that he continues to live as the steward of the Lord, and not as the owner of all this wealth.
And now, dear reader, when the brethren to whom I have been referring are brought to the close of their earthly pilgrimage, will they have one moment’s regret that they have used their property for the Lord? Will it be the least particle of uneasiness to their minds, or will their children be the worse for it? O no! The only regret they will have concerning this matter will be, that they did not serve the Lord still more abundantly with their property. Dear reader, let us each in our measure act in the same spirit. Money is really worth no more than as it is used according to the mind of the Lord; and life is worth no more than as it is spent in the service of the Lord.
Whilst the three points mentioned—1. That our calling must be of that nature that we can abide in it with God; 2. That unto the Lord we should labor in our calling, as his servants, because he has bought us with his blood, and because he will have us to labor; 3. That as stewards we should labor in our calling, because the earnings of our calling are the Lord’s and not our own, as he has bought us with his blood;—I say, whilst these three points are particularly to be attended to in order that the Lord’s blessing may rest upon our calling, and we be prospering in it, there are, nevertheless, some other points to be attended to, which I mention in love to my brethren in the Lord, by whom they may be needed.