2 Corinthians 8The first argument which our apostle makes use of to excite the charity of the Corinthians, is drawn from the example of the Macedonians, into whose hearts God had poured that excellent grace of charity: insomuch that the churches of Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea and other churches in the region of Macedonia, though under great trials and afflictions themselves, yet such was their joy in, and their affection to the Christian profession, that notwithstanding their deep poverty, they abounded in their liberality towards the necessities of the poor saints in Jerusalem and Judea.
Note here, 1. The root from which all acceptable charity to the members of Christ must arise and spring, namely, from the grace of God; from an inward principle of love to God, in obedience to his command, and with a pure and fixed eye at his glory. Liberality to the poor distressed members of Christ, as such, must flow from that habit of divine love, by which men are taught of God to love one another; for though, from a natural sympathy and compassion men may relieve the afflicted, as men, yet without a gracious inclination they cannot do good to them, as members of the household of faith. Charity then is here called the grace of God, because it proceeds from a gracious disposition wrought in the heart by God, as the root and spring, the motive and attractive, of it.
Note here, 2. The condition which the churches of Macedonia were in themselves; when they thus liberally and cheerfully administered to the necessities of others, they were first under great affliction, and then in great poverty themselves; and yet the riches of their liberality are here said to abound.-
From whence learn, That poverty excuses not from charity: If we have nothing actually to give, God accepts the inclination of the mind, and a willing desire. If we have but little to give, God will accept of our mite, and reward us for that little, if given for his sake. It is not the quantity of the gift, but the good affection of the giver, that God's eye is upon. If we give but a cup of cold water to a disciple, and as a disciple, God accepts it and rewards it, provided we have nothing better to give; for if our charity be not in some degree proportionable to what we have, it will not be acceptable, but we shall miss of its reward.
Three things are here recorded as the glory of the Macedonian's charity.
(1.) It was profusely liberal, beyond their ability: To their power, yea, and beyond their power, they were ready. Though, generally speaking, we are to consult our own ability and present circumstances in all our charitable distributions; yet there may be, and sometimes are, emergent occasions, as may make it a necessary duty to administer to other's necessities far beyond our own ability.
(2.) Their charity was purely voluntary; They were willing of themselves; that is, unsolicited by the apostle, unasked by any other, only prompted to it by the grace of God: They made a collection amongst themselves freely and cheerfully.
(3.) Their charity was accompanied with importunity to the apostle to receive and distribute it. He was so far from intreating them to give, that they intreated him to receive their collection, and to take care for its conveyance to them, and distribution among them: Praying us with much intreaty, that we would receive this their gift, and fellowship of ministry to the saints.
As if the apostle had said,"Verily these Macedonians, in the liberal distribution of their alms to the poor Christians, have exceeded our hopes and expectation."
First, they gave their own-selves to the Lord, and then unto us by the will of God. They gave themselves, their own-selves, first to the Lord. To give a man's self to the Lord, is more than to give all his estate to him, though, strictly speaking, it is rather a debt than a gift, for we owe ourselves to the Lord. And, O, how infinitely shall we gain by this giving! he gains all, who gives his all to God: God will return it with advantage to him.
Next, the Macedonians, says the apostle, gave themselves unto us by the will of God; that is, they resigned themselves up to us, to be employed by us in such services as we thought meet. It seems they were ready to assist the poor saints, as well with their persons as with their purses.
From the Macedonians giving themselves first to the Lord, and then to the church's service, in all charitable distributions, we learn, That he that does not first dedicate himself, will never dedicate his estate to God; but he that by a deliberate and voluntary dedication gives himself to God, will keep back nothing that he requires from him; yea, he will look upon all that he has and is, as the Lord's: Not an inch of his time, not a penny in his purse, but it is to be employed by, and improved for God. He looks upon God as the owner and proprietor of all, and himself as the steward and dispenser only: Oh! let us, in imitation of these noble, though poor Macedonians, first give ourselves to the Lord, and then we shall never with-hold any thing that is ours from him.
Here our apostle proceeds to make use of several other arguments to persuade the Corinthians to the exercise of the duty and grace of charity: as namely,
(1.) Because he had desired Titus to go to them; and as he had in his last visit begun to stir them up to this duty, and to exercise this grace, so he would farther promote and bring it to perfection.
And, (2.) Because they abounded in other graces and gifts; as namely, in faith, in utterance, and knowledge, &c. therefore they ought to abound in this grace also, otherwise they would not be complete in the whole will of God.
(3.) Because hereby they would testify the sincerity of their love to the saints. It is not good words, but charitable deeds, that evidence the truth of our love to our fellow members in Christ; not saying, Be ye warmed or be ye clothed; but distributing to their necessities according to our abilities.
Yet, observe, The apostle doth not command their purses, and require so much of them for charity; he mentions no particular sum, much less doth he command them to give away all their estates, and live upon a common stock, and leave nothing to themselves which they could call their own; for if a man has nothing of his own, there is no room for liberality. There must be prudence then in the exercise of our charity, prudence in finding out proper objects for our charity, prudence in timing of our charity, prudence in the measure of our charity, and prudence in the end which we propound to ourselves in the exercise of our charity.
Here we have the grand motive used by the apostle to excite their charity, namely, the example of Christ, who impoverished himself to enrich us, and emptied himself to fill us; therefore should we be ready to administer unto others: Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ &c.
Observe hence, 1. A description of Christ in his divine nature, as God: He was originally, essentially, and eternally rich; that is, in his God-head. All the riches that Christ now has in his state of exaltation, he had from all eternity; before his humiliation, with respect to his divine nature, he was rich.
Observe, 2. A description of Christ in his human nature, he became poor; that is, in the day of his incarnation, when he assumed our flesh, and was made manifest in our nature, he impoverished himself though he was rich, yet he became poor.
Observe, 3. The persons for whose sake he did thus impoverish himself: For our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich.
Observe, 4. The moving, impelling, or impulsive cause of this condescension in Christ, and that was the graciousness of his nature: Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Observe, 5. The use and improvement which the apostle makes of this gracious dignation and condescension in Jesus Christ, and that was by way of argument, to excite the believing Corinthians to exercise their charity towards the poor saints which were at Jerusalem.
Learn from hence, That the extensive charity and wonderful compassion of Christ towards us sinners, has both the force of an argument to excite us to, and also the nature of a rule to direct us in, the exercise of our charity towards all our fellow-brethren and members of Christ; Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, &c.
Here the apostle proceeds to a fresh argument for the quickening and exciting the Corinthians charity, drawn from their own reputation. He had heard, that a year ago, upon writing his former epistle, they had made several collections, at several times, as their gains came in; his advice therefore is, that they perfect and complete the good work which they had undertaken; and that as there was a readiness and willingness of mind then, so there might be a performance of their good resolutions now: For whatsoever is given to God, is accepted according to what a man has, and it is not expected he should give according to what he has not.
Learn hence, That God interprets and accepts the charity of men according to the largeness of their hearts, and not according to the straitness of their fortunes. It is not so much the quantity of the gift, as the good will and cheerful mind of the giver, that God looks at: If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted.
Learn farther, That to do any good with a willing mind, be it little or much, is very acceptable to God; if there be little of the purse, and much of the heart in it, provided that little be what we can well spare, the Lord hath a great respect unto it.
Learn lastly, That as we must give, so God will accept what is given, according to what a man has, and not according to what he has not. What is due to another, either by debt or duty, in making provision for those of our own family, cannot be charitably given, as being not our own.
Observe here, The humble modesty and holy prudence of the apostle, in what he demanded of the Corinthians by way of charity for the poor saints in Judea. He tells them freely, he did not design to lay a load upon them to ease others, or to make others rich by making themselves poor; but that there might be an equality in supplying the wants of one another, that now you abound, you may supply them; and when they abound, they may supply you; yet mark, We must not, by the equality mentioned here, understand it so, as if the wisdom of the divine providence had ordained levelling, or making all men equal in their portion of the good things of this life: But so far Christianity seems to require this equality, that we should not suffer others to lack the necessary comforts of this life, whilst we abound with them, and can spare them, and suffer them to sink in their sorrows, whilst we sin in fulness.
Learn hence, There is a debt of mercy and pity, of charity and compassion, of relief and succour, due to human nature, and payable from one man to another; and such as deny to pay it the distressed in the time of their abundance, may justly expect it will be denied themselves in the time of want.
To confirm this, the apostle draws an allusion from the gathers of manna in the wilderness; some gathered, more, and others less; but they that had more, were to give them that had less: In like manner would Almighty God have it, that they which have great riches, should impart of their abundance, to them that are in want; otherwise, Almighty God will shrink their heap into some equality with them whom they refused to relieve. With what measure we mete, in acts of charity, as well as in acts of justice, it shall be measured to us again.
As if the apostle has said, I thank God that Titus was as forward to move you to this good work as myself; for he did not barely yield to it at my request, but of his own accord was ready to come to you about it. And with him he sent Luke, a beloved brother, whose service for the gospel has made him honoured in all the churches, and who was chosen by the church to go with us in this diaconary service, namely, the ministration of your charity to the glory of God, and evidencing the readiness of your mind to so good a work.
Here note, 1. The holy apostle's constant custom and practice, to refer all good in us to God, as the author and producer of it; Thanks be to God that put this into the heart of Titus.
Note, 2. That a minister of the gospel, who declines being chargeable to his people himself, may yet put on confidence, and be bold and importunate in urging them to charity for the service and supply of others.
Note, 3. That St. Paul's importunity for collecting this charity at Corinth, shews how much the case was altered, since at Jerusalem, Acts 4:34-37 they sold all and laid it at the apostle's feet: and as that was not intended for a constant and universal practice, so we see how quickly the love of Christians grew more cold. To procure this charity, St. Paul writes, Titus is sent, exhortation is given, arguments urged, and all due means used to accomplish this collection for the poor distressed Christians.
Note, 4. That amongst Christians, renowned for gifts and parts, costly duties come hardly off, else what needed this ado? And yet it is not the cheap duties of religion (such are prayer, hearing the word, and receiving sacraments) but the costly duties of charity, that must evidence the truth of our faith and love, which are certainly dead, if barren and destitute of these fruits.
Note here, The holy wisdom of this great apostle, in joining some other persons with himself, as Titus and Luke, &c. in the distribution of this charity; lest evilminded men should suspect him of dishonesty, he takes care to cut off all occasion of suspicion, that he either kept any part of this large contribution to himself, or distrubuted it unfaithfully unto others; Avoiding this, that no man should blame us.
Note, 2. The reason also assigned by the apostle for this his prudential management; namely, because as a minister and a Christian he was obliged to provide and take care that all things be done blamelessly in the sight of God.
The apostle by this his example, recommends to all ministers and private Christians a prudential foresight of such scandalous imputations as they may be exposed to by the world, let their sincerity in their actions be what it will; and lets us see how we ought to provide against them.
Any one of these upright persons alone, either St. Paul alone, Titus alone, or St. Luke alone, were sufficient to be entrusted alone with the distribution of this charity; but the apostle did not know what a censorious world might say? and therefore to cut off all occasion, and to prevent all suspicion, he wisely appoints several persons to be witnesses of this action. If there be not in some cases overmuch caution, all is too little, and not enough.
Observe here, What pains the apostle takes to answer all cavils and objections that might hinder the free collection and regular distribution of this charity. Some might pretend, possibly, to say then, (as many amongst us do now,) "We know not into whose hands this charity-money may fall; we know not whether ever they shall be the better for it, for whom it was intended." Therefore, says St. Paul, if any make that objection, that they do not know Titus, and inquire after him, or his trustiness, tell them he is my coadjutor, my partner and fellow-helper in converting you to Christianity; and if the other two be inquired after, they are our brethren, the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ; that is, the instruments of his glory; therefore let these messengers see, and the churches which did depute them, the proof of your love to me and to the saints, and that I did not boast of your liberality in vain.
Note here, The high honour which St. Paul puts upon the ministers of the gospel, in calling them the glory of Christ, that is, the glory of the gospel of Christ, the glory of the Christian profession, the instruments of Christ's glory, by whom his honour and glory is greatly promoted; persons who by their exemplary gloriousness did bring much honour and glory to Christ. This title I conceive shows both our dignity and duty; our dignity, in that Christ accounts us his glory when we are found faithful to him; as the faithfulness of an ambassador redounds to the glory and honour of the prince that sends him. And it points out our duty, to promote the glory of Christ, to pray and endeavour that he would use us as instruments for the advancement of his glory; that as we glorify him on earth, he may glory in us, and be glorified by us, before his Father in heaven, and we be presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. Amen.
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