WHILST I have no wish to bring my mind under any forced constraint to preach a special subject for a special object, I am thankful that I feel myself somewhat free, as in the liberty of the Spirit, to adapt my remarks this evening to the interests of God's temporally poor children. I sincerely trust that I may have some little power in pleading their cause, and I pray that God's own blessed truth, as well as the contributions which I hope you will give freely as unto the Lord, may, through God's grace, be a means of spiritual blessing and temporal relief and succor to the poor of his flock.
The apostle, after contemplating the deep and profoundly mysterious ways of God in providence and grace, exclaimed, "How inscrutable are thy judgments, O God, and thy ways are past finding out!" And may we not say that one of the deep mysteries of Jehovah's sovereignty is that the far larger portion of his chosen and redeemed family are literally poor; many indeed distressingly poor; I mean, of course, as it respects the wealth and perishable good things of this life. According to carnal reason, we might expect that those whom God loves best, cares most for, and for the ransom of whom he gave his own dear Son to die, would, through the Lord's bountiful goodness, be the largest sharers in the blessings of his providence, as well as being made the partakers of his grace. When we take people into our friendship, and feel a strong bond of reciprocal union to them, so that they become our very bosom companions, we certainly feel our hearts more drawn out to these than to others, in whom we feel no particular interest. If our friends are poor, it is our friends we are most ready to help; if needy, we are glad to supply their needs, as far as lies in our power. But, then, in this, as in many other things, our thoughts are not God's thoughts, nor our ways his ways. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." That the majority of God's dear people are poor in a temporal point of view cannot be because God has less regard for them than for others upon whom he bestows more temporal good. If God has not spared his Son, shall he spare or withhold any good thing from those for whom Christ died? We know he will not. Love marks all God's dealings with his people; but in the free flowings forth of Jehovah's love he always exercises his wisdom and his sovereignty.
Now this explains in some measure the mystery why the majority of God's people are so poor. It is because the Lord has sovereignly determined that such should be their state. The Lord foresaw, in his own infinite wisdom, that their poverty in this world would be more for his own glory, and that it would make greater room for the display of his rich grace, in the manifestation of all those spiritual and eternal blessings with which they are blessed in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. It is not the good of this world, neither its wealth, its houses, its lands, its pomp, pageantry, or glory, that God has constituted the portion of his people. No. The world and the fashion of it passeth away. "The whole world lieth in the wicked one;" and, as Peter says, "The world and all things that are therein shall be burned up." The best things of this world are but trash, in comparison with God's eternal mercy in Christ Jesus.
"Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small."
I want salvation,—salvation from sin, salvation from a wicked world, salvation from all evil. I can say, "Give me Christ, or else I die;" and it is this that God has promised his people. As believers, we have received not that spirit which is of the world, but that spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
But then there is another point requiring a remark or two. If God, for his own glory, and for the greater display of his rich grace, has ordained that most of his dear people should be literally poor, how is it that any of the Lord's people should be rich,—that they should have all that heart could wish,—large homes, large possessions, and even more temporal good than they can possibly require during their life? Well, here again we see the sovereignty of God. The general rule is, God hath chosen the poor of this world; but the rule admits of exceptions, as we see in the case of all those whom the Lord keeps poor. The Lord, as I stated before, foreseeing that such an appointment would be most for his glory, he takes care that there shall be a dozen poor to one rich; but then the gold and the silver being the Lord's, and the cattle upon a thousand hills, and knowing that his poor people must have subsistence,—the bread that perisheth, just enough to carry them through life, he entrusts a few with wealth and riches, that they may be the almoners to the temporally poor of the flock.
I should be the last to cast reflection upon those who have riches, if only they used their riches for God's glory. Indeed, I bless God that some of his people possess wealth; and such of you who do possess it, remember, you have not got your riches by chance. What you have, you have received from God. Not a rag hangs on a beggar's back that the Lord has not given to clothe him; and not a pound do you possess who have riches that the Lord has not entrusted in your keeping. But what I would say to those of God's people who have riches is, that they are called upon to use their riches for the Lord, by distributing to the necessities of the Lord's poor in their life, as well as providing for their own families at death; for, "if any provide not for his own, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." It is a sad thing to set our hearts upon the things of this life, or to settle down in circumstances of affluence, and for our temporal blessings to be a cause of keeping our souls dead and barren in the things of God.
It would seem, by the way in which the apostle James states the truth of the text, that his own mind was very much affected by this mysterious appointment of God; that God hath chosen the poor of this world; and knowing how unpalatable this truth would be to many, and how prone even God's people would be to overlook it, the apostle claims the more special attention by saying, "Hearken! My beloved brethren." What scrambling there is, even among the people of God, to get on; what labor, toil, weariness, and care, to improve, if possible, their circumstances, their position; to add a little to what they already possess. How glad we sometimes think we should be were we as well off as other people; but how much, by all this planning and scheming, this labor and weariness, are we forgetting that the lot is cast into the lap, and that the whole disposal thereof is of the Lord. I believe that God could in a moment blast everything we possess. We have nothing, neither children, nor homes, nor wealth, nor comforts of any kind, but the Lord himself suffers us to enjoy. I could record a striking instance in my own life, which led me to see that all temporal good is at God's disposal; the Lord saw fit that I should sustain loss, rather than gain; but I would wish to say no other than,
"Lord, I would no more repine,
Though thy will should frustrate mine;
What thou doest must be right, Though conceal'd from mortal sight."
Again, we are not to understand by the expression, "God hath chosen the poor of this world," that the poverty of the Lord's people precedes his choice of them, or that God chose them because they were poor. To believe this were to attach merit to poverty. God chose his people in Christ from everlasting, without the least respect to their poverty or wealth, or to any circumstances whatever concerning them. God's object, as we have said before, in choosing his people, was his own glory, and their being eternally blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; and their poverty being sanctified of God, they are led the more to praise him, for having made them rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom of heaven.
Mr. Huntington has a remark somewhat like this: "A child of God who has never known temporal want has only seen one side of his Father's face." It is very clear that those of God's people who are poor in the things of this world can record more striking instances in their life of the goodness of God in providing for them than those who are blessed with plenty of this world's comforts. David says, "I know that God will maintain the cause of the afflicted and the right of the poor." Many a poor saint could write a "Bank of Faith;" I know some myself who for years have been dependent on the charities of the Lord's people, and are thereby provided for.
But we must pass on now, and refer to what the word of God prescribes as a rule of conduct towards the poor of the flock. Under the Levitical law, God commanded his people Israel, when they reaped the harvest of their land and when they gleaned their vineyard that they were not to gather the gleanings of their harvest nor gather every grape of their vineyard, but leave them for the poor and the stranger. You have neither fields nor vineyards; but you have professions and trades, from which some of you reap profits, more or less. Remember, then, the admonition,—not to deprive the poor of their gleanings.
Solemn woes are pronounced against those who oppress the poor. (See Is. 10:1-3; Deut. 15:9,11) The principle of Christian liberality is laid down in the New Testament as being solemnly incumbent upon all who have it in their power to give. The apostle says, "For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints at Jerusalem." Again: "But this I say, he which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver."
Let this, then, beloved friends, be your rule in responding to our appeal tonight; and let those remember who have but little to give, that, "if there be a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not." We have striking examples in the word both of poverty and of liberality,—Gideon, Ruth, the widow of Zarephath, the prophet's widow, and last, though not least, the widow who cast her mite into the treasury, of whom Christ so blessedly said that she of her poverty had cast more in than all they of their abundance.
But, in the next and last place, we refer you to a few examples of Christian liberality, first from the Old Testament. Boaz opened his generous heart to Ruth, and thus ministered to the wants of the afflicted Naomi; Job caused the widow's heart to sing for joy. He was a father to the poor, and the cause which he knew not he searched out. In the New Testament it is said of Dorcas, "This woman was full of good works and alms-deeds which she did;" of Cornelius that he was "a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house;" of the primitive Christians that they had all things common, and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men as every man had need." With such examples as these from God's own word, I feel that any more remarks of my own would be out of place. Enough has been said, with God's blessing, to provoke you to a practical proof of your sympathy and brotherly love towards the poor and needy of the "household of faith."
I have a name for being a very poor beggar for money, but the reason is obvious. In most collections announced from the pulpit, one has a direct or an indirect interest; and this, to a sensitive mind, will generally shut a man up in pressing his claims for money too urgently; but in the present case I am free from such embarrassments. I have no reserve in making au earnest appeal, and asking you, as in the fear of God, to make the collection this evening a really good one; so that the total amount, for the day, may be at least equal to that of any previous year. The Lord add his blessing to all.