WHICH IS THE GOSPEL WAY?
How to raise money for God's cause is surely the great question the church is asking to-day, North and South, East and West. Among both white and colored it is the great theme.
We have been told that the prayer meeting is the thermometer of the church, or in other words, shows how much religion the church has. But it seems to me that the money we give, the real amount of self-sacrifice we make, is a better proof of our piety than even our prayers. If every member felt that all they had belonged to the Lord, it would surely be freely given whenever the work of the Lord needed it. Even the last cent would be given as we would pay any honest debt, and yet every Christian says he is not his own. He knows he has been bought with the precious blood of Christ, and before he could be converted he gave everything up to God. "Now as ye have received Christ so walk ye in him." Col., 2:6. But after we give it up we grab it back again, and forget we are stewards, and act is if we were proprietors and had a deed for all that was simply given us on trust.
The early converts were so full of the thought that all they had belonged to God that they acted it out by selling all they had and putting the money in a common fund, and I have never found where the Holy Spirit censured them for so doing.
I do not know if Lydia kept her house in her own name after her conversion or not, but this I do know: She opened wide her doors for God's people, and the church had its home there. Acts, 16:13-40.
Take our modern plan of raising money by means of fair entertainments, excursions, etc., and see if you can find any proof for it in the New Testament or in the Old.
Again, notice how the pastor's salary is raised in most churches in Louisiana?a common tax levied on rich and poor alike. The bible says, "If there be first a willing mind it is accepted according to what a man hath and not according to that he hath not." 2 Cor., 8:12. But here all must give their 25 cents or 50 cents, as the case may be. The roll is called and all come up and pay. I was at one of these meetings lately where a poor sister owed two months' dues, 50 cents, and could not pay. She said she had been sick, but would pay as soon as she could; but it was all of no use, she could not speak in the covenant meeting, nor sit down at the Lord's Supper, if she did not pay that 50 cents. I felt so sorry for her that I paid the 50 cents; I kept her in the church. I am told by the deacons that they must be just that strict or they would not get their money.
We would also call attention to the great amount of time spent in calling for collection at the close of the sermon, noisy singing and urging all to give, "Saints and sinners, all come on with your nickels." Surely in this way the good seed of the sermon is taken out of hearts even before they leave the church. Is this according to God's plan? He intended that all our worship should be with a willing heart, joyfully as unto the Lord. A free-will offering, for "God loves a cheerful giver."
Can we take this as a foundation truth? Giving of our substance to God is a means of grace as important as that of prayer. I think all will admit this. The command to give was not to enrich God but to make us better. A means by which we are brought into intimate and close connection with God. A gift is only between friends. We would not accept it from an enemy. Nor will God accept any work or offering at our hands till we have first accepted Him as our Savior, as the friend that sticketh closer than a brother. In Old Testament times most of these gifts were consumed in smoke?burned up. God did not need them, but in all these gifts He had a lesson to teach His people?a lesson about the coming of Christ and their dependence on Him for all they had, and we need the same lesson. How appropriate was the gift of first fruits. God is the real owner and He should have the first and best. Then thank offerings, how beautiful. You and I have felt the joy of this to-day, as we sit here and contrast our hope of heaven and joy in Christ with the sad state of our brethren in Africa. Our hearts overflow with thanksgiving, and they must have an outlet in our glad thank offering to missions. How good God is to let me give him back as a gift what God had first given to me.
King David saw the beauty of this. 1 Chron., 29:14. Nothing brings me so near to God as my gifts to Him. I seem to feel the clasp of His hand and see Jesus' smile of approval as I lay my gift on the altar. Praise the Lord!
Giving in this way is devotion, is prayer, is real worship. To share this means of grace with the world would be sacrilege, would be downright wicked. The world cannot understand it. You might as well ask a sinner to come and sit down at the Lord's Supper as to ask him to give to God. Think before you say I am not correct. Remember we started with the proposition that giving was religious worship. But I am told that the sinner receives God's blessings, and that it is his duty to give. Granted that it is his duty, is it not also his duty to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Until he performs this duty he is not ready for either the Lord's supper or giving gifts to God.
How much we think we need it all for ourselves and give it before we spend one cent for self. How disrespectful it is to grab our wages and run off and spend it without stopping to say "thank you," to the dear "Father from whom comes every good and perfect gift."
Again, how shall we lay aside the one-tenth? If you have a family you belong to your family, and also what you earn, just the same as your home belongs to you, wife, and child, so also your wages. If you give a part away they will have to live on less. Therefore you should lay the plan before your wife and your children as soon as they are old enough to understand. Your wife, who keeps your home, has a share in all you earn, and a gift from the husband is also a gift from the wife. I hope the husband will take notice of this fact.
Let us illustrate: It is Saturday evening, you have earned $5 this week, you sit down and take it out before your wife and little ones, aged 1, 3, 6 and 8 years, respectively. You kneel down and in a short prayer thank God for the $5 and ask Him to show you how to spend it, which is a far more difficult task than earning it. Wife says baby needs a new dress, 3-year-old Jane a pair of shoes, John a hat, and Mary a book for school, wife wants a set of cups and saucers, and you, she says, must have a new shirt, and you add, "Can't we have something extra for dinner?" First of all you take out 50 cents, and show it to the children, who can understand, you say, "God was very good to let me earn this money, shall we give him 50 cents of it?" All say, "Yes, only 50 cents is too little to give to God." Then you reckon what the week's board will cost, the rent, etc., you find you must give up the extra dinner and there is no money for John's hat; you call him to you and say, I can get you the hat if I do not give God any money. But John, young as he is will not take God's money and Mary stands up and says, "I will do without my book and let John have a hat." But John says, "No"; I can do better with my old hat than you can without the book." The dear mother's eyes fill with tears of joy as she witnesses the unselfish spirit of her children. All the result of sharing with God and putting God's claim first. The scant dinner tastes good because shared with God.
Again, it is Saturday, all are seated around the precious $5. Wife says: "Here is $1 that I earned by sewing" and dear little Mary's eyes dance with joy as she lays down beside the $1, 10 cents, saying, "I got this for running errands." Though young, she has given her heart to the Lord and now gives her earnings. Put it all in one pile and divide it?61 blessed cents for God's purse to-night.
The happy family are again on their knees, all are happy, all are learning to give as God prospers. God and his part have been first in the thoughts of all. This way of dividing with God weaves our religion into our every-day life as nothing else can.
Some Saturday night our family finds as the money is laid down that they have more than usual. Not so many things needed for the family. The father tells of the great need of a school-house over in Africa for Brother Colley. The mother says, "I went to see poor old sister Ann, and she needs coffee and sugar. I wish I could send her some." Here is 50 cents for Africa, 25 cents for sister Ann, the father adding, you all helped to give this. Mary and John take a little basket with sugar and coffee to poor sister Ann, Mamma saying as she kisses the little faces, "I will tell sister Ann you helped give this nice present," and away they go, happier than if you had given each $1 worth of candy. O, parents, do study till you find the true secret of happiness for your children, and you will find it lies in doing good, in giving rather than in receiving.
Sabbath evening; father reads in African Missions an account of the needed school house to his family, saying, "I am so glad we could help, if only 50 cents." Then the little faces brightened up and the little hearts say, "I will give more next time."
Years roll on; Mary is now 14, John 12 years old. There is to be a Sunday school picnic. Mary tells of a nice dress her playmate, Maggie, has, and wants one like it. Mother says, "Wait till Saturday and see if we have money enough to get it." Our family in remembering to pay God a part have learned "to owe no man anything."
How one good thing follows another. "Godliness is profitable unto all things." Saturday comes, no money for Mary's dress. The tears will come, for the child had set her heart on that dress. It is hard to give it up.
But years ago the sweet girl had learned the lesson of self-sacrifice. The tears are soon wiped away as she goes softly to her mother's side, and, putting her arms around her neck, says, "I can be happy without the dress." All the children are looking on and learning the lesson. John says, "You are the best sister in the world, and when I get big I will buy you the nicest dress in the store."
All this unselfishness is the result of honoring God, putting His claim first?it makes all I have holy?it leads me to think first of others. It helps me to remember that "I am not my own."
But you say my family is an imaginary one. No, it is not. There are some such families in our selfish world. You go home, my dear brother and sister, and try this plan with your family. Try it faithfully. Learn to "deny thyself" and teach the lesson to your children while young, remembering Jesus said, "Deny thyself, take up thy cross and follow me." You are safe as long as you follow Jesus. Oh, if all would give as we have suggested?all, rich and poor. Then would the Lord's treasury be full of money and the church full of joy and peace.
Let us take God into all our plans, into all our work; he is the friend with whom we should share all we earn. We will illustrate by the example of the fond wife and husband. Visions of what he shall buy for his wife, and her smile of approval sweetens all his toil, and the dear wife cannot enjoy a meal without her husband. Every delicacy must be shared with him. A still nearer and dearer place should God hold in all our hearts. Dear friends, this is a proud and happy day for us. God has greatly honored us by making us the medium by which He sends His gifts to the heathen world. It makes me think of the words when the temple was finished, "Go your way; eat the fat, and drink the sweet and send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy unto the Lord, neither be ye sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." Neh., 8:10. Yes, send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared. That means for his own starving brethren in Africa. Let us send them a large portion. We are feasting on the bread of life and drinking joyfully from the well of salvation. Our temple is built. "We are dwelling in the Tabernacle of the Most High, and abiding under the shadow of His wing." Let us spread the joyful news to the end of the earth. Surely God did plan for our happiness when He gave us this work to do. Let us make sacrifices, gladly, joyfully, willingly, for the work of the Lord. Let there be no whining because our religion costs us so much and because the calls are so great, but rejoice that God accepts our offering at our hands.
I want to add that most of the white churches, North and South, practice this unlawful way of raising money, by appealing to the unconverted, and by fairs, suppers, etc. Indeed, it was from the white people, and not from the Bible, that the colored people learned it, and they are far more guilty than the colored people.
It is true that we teach our children to give just on the same principle that we teach them to pray, but along with it we teach that neither the prayer nor the gift will be accepted unless done with the heart.
We will sum up the whole matter: First, as giving to God is a part of religious worship, devotion, communion with God, the same as prayer and the Lord's Supper; therefore it cannot be shared with sinners. If we do so we desecrate holy things. No one is prepared to worship God till he is converted. Second, our present plan of getting money from the unconverted and asking lukewarm Christians to give to God under the excitement of a supper or entertainment is wrong. There is no worship in it. It is only a desecration of holy things to call it giving to God. When money is raised in this way the church is robbed of a great means of grace and brought down to a sinful mingling with the world. Lord help us to keep the worship of the church pure; help us to build up the wall of separation between us and the world, strong and high. Help us to be "a peculiar people, zealous of good works," and unto thy name will we give all the glory for Jesus' sake, Amen.
When we go out and beg the world for money for God's cause we open the door and bring the world into the church. Let us repeat this, when Christians go out and beg the world for money they bring the world into the church. Just here is one place where the church and the world begin to walk together, and are now walking till you can scarcely tell saint from sinner. It is a positive injury to both?the world and the church. It makes the church less spiritual. It demoralizes this precious part of worship, so that not one in ten gives from a pure motive. We have come down and give as the world does. You can have our money if you give us a supper or an excursion or some excitement. Pastors tell me that they cannot get their people to give as unto the Lord?come and hand their money right into God's hand, as they should. No, they will not do that. Therefore, in order to drag money out of the pockets of the unconverted and of lukewarm Christians we must need have an entertainment, etc., and this tends to make the whole church lukewarm. Can you not see how it harms the church. I never heard a pastor say that any of these unlawful means of raising money, or even the noisy way of taking a collection, was a spiritual blessing to the church. They only do it because they cannot get the money any other way. But they began at the wrong end. They begin by saying, We must have money, instead of saying, We must obey God. "To obey is better than sacrifice." To obey God is better than building a church or sending a missionary to Africa. They make the same mistake that Saul did 2,000 years ago, when he brought the sheep and the oxen that he should have destroyed to offer as a sacrifice. 1 Sam., 15:15. That is the same excuse our pastor makes to-day?"The people took of the spoils," thus throwing the blame on the people, but the leader wasto blame; and on your leaders of to-day lie the blame of offering an unlawful sacrifice. We expect the teacher, then, to show us what to do. He has been to the "law and the testimony." Many of the people cannot read God's word, and must depend on what the preacher says. We said our plan of giving was also an injury to the sinner, because it makes him feel that he has gained some merit; that God was pleased with his gift and will bless him for it. Every day some sinner tells me, I give as much to the church as any one, etc. I cannot make him see that it will do no good. His gift has had a tendency to quiet his conscience.
I heard a preacher not long since say that all the churches along the Mississippi River in Louisiana were built with the proceeds of fairs, etc. Far better to have worshipped in private houses, as the early Christians did, than to build churches in that way. God does not need our gifts. In Ps., 60:10, He says, "Every beast of the field is mine and the cattle upon a thousand hills. If I were hungry I would not tell thee, for the world is mine and the fullness thereof."
THE GOSPEL WAY.
Then you ask, what is the Gospel way of giving? We answer, give cheerfully, give willingly, give as the Lord prospers you, give on your knees in prayer. This is the sweetest way to give. I have tried it.
Kneel in your closet and say, "Here, Lord, take this money for Jesus' sake." Many good people take the Old Testament plan of giving one-tenth of all they earn. But this is not enough. They gave thank offerings and "first fruits" besides, and surely our gifts should be more than theirs, but we will use their plan to illustrate. Suppose you earn $5 a week, then give 50 cents; if $2.50, then 25 cents.
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