To make all grace abound toward you. God can give you such abundant gifts that you will not feel the loss of a generous contribution to his service. Sufficiency . The word autarkeia ( 1 Timothy 6:6 ) in the Stoic philosophy was used for the perfect independence which enabled a man to stand alone. The term is here softened and Christianized to express the contentment which arises from the full supply of all our needs by God. The affirmations of the original are as emphatic as language can make them. They express that the man who places all his trust upon God will be "perfect and entire, lacking nothing" ( Philippians 4:11 , Philippians 4:19 ).
Reviewing the reasoning on the duty of Christian beneficence, the apostle concluded that he had expounded the subject in a manner so clear and explicit as to make any addition "superfluous" on the score either of logic or of appeal. Recall the argument for a moment, and see if he was not justified in this opinion. The appeal was for the poor of the Church at Jerusalem. Macedonia was depressed and sorely troubled, Achaia was internally agitated by Judaizers and free thinkers; and between this upper and nether millstone the young Churches were well nigh ground to powder. St. Paul himself was greatly afflicted. But he had strong faith in Christ and in human nature under the influence of Christ's grace, and having this confidence he was hopeful, resolute, and courageous. Macedonia had done nobly. Corinth would not fall below the standard he had set for their generosity. Full of heart, he presses the claim of the occasion, bat his zeal and anxiety never betray him into using a false motive or into pushing a true motive too far. The "rod" is not threatened. All through, the appeal is to the best elements of our nature, for he recognizes, as "the sacred writers constantly recognize, the fact that the freest and most spontaneous acts of men, their inward states and the outward manifestations of those states where good, are due to a secret influence of the Spirit of God which eludes our consciousness. The believer is most truly self-determined when determined by the grace of God" (Hodge). We have seen that the apostle never loses sight for a moment of the one inspiring motive—the love of Christ towards us and his Divine sacrifice in our behalf. Equal with God and infinitely blessed, he left his glory, assumed our flesh took its infirmities, bore its sins, endured its shame and humiliation, and expiated its guilt. The abnegation was so complete that he depended on the Holy Ghost for wisdom, fortitude, and strength. A man of prayer, he sought the Spirit's aid on every occasion, and was so dependent as to say, "I do nothing of myself." Every adventitious help was set aside; loneliness and sorrow were his self-chosen lot; and he made himself the poorest of men, that he might show how supremely he rested upon the Father in his mediatorial work. But poverty and sorrow were not thus borne for their own sake, nor, indeed, was it the circumstances of his lot, but the lot itself, that marked the greatness of his condescension. The argument of St. Paul is directed to one point, viz. what Christ was and what he became, so that the contrast between his earthly position and that of other men is not so much as hinted at, but the whole force is thrown upon the contrast as to his being "rich" and becoming "poor," that we "through his poverty might be rich." On this basis Christian beneficence was founded. Christian "equality" was a natural sequel. For this was, in the order of Providence, the one specific and preeminent sphere in which Christian conscience and affection and humane impulses would most fully and freely combine to glorify God in Christ. On no other ground could a Church be a spiritual human community, and hence the stress laid on human virtues sanctified by the grace of Christ. There is emulation; how he exalts it! There is imitation; how he emphasizes it! There is prudence; what an excellence it is to protect our good from being spoken of as evil! After such a presentation of gospel truth and its effective enforcement, he might well say that it was "superfluous'' to write concerning "the ministering to the saints." One bright spot had all along lingered on that murky horizon; "Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many." Men who are backsliding in religion do not lose their hold all at once on the Christian virtues. Happily for us, some of these virtues are stronger than others, and these act as a breakwater against the incoming surges of temptation. One or more qualities exist in us that are more receptive of grace than other qualities, and they are specially resistant of decay. As in physical disease life would often succumb were it not that some organs have so much more functional vitality than others, so in religious life, a single vigorous principle or sentiment may save us from spiritual death. So it was with the Corinthians. Despite of their corruptions, they had one redeeming excellence, viz. the "forwardness" of their "mind" in this benevolent enterprise of helping the poor saints in Jerusalem. God honoured this trait of their character. Many a virtue had gone down under the pressure of worldliness and carnality. This survived, and it was capable of being evoked into healthy and energetic action. St. Paul knew his opportunity. He saw the good in these erring brethren. If he had not, he could never have seen the evil. And seeing the good so clearly, he recognized it and laboured for its immediate development in a very earnest form. The true growth would choke out the weeds, and to this he directed his wise husbandry. Every way the prospect was encouraging. Yet he would make assurance doubly sure. He had boasted of the Corinthians. If they should not be ready in time with the collection, "we [too delicate to say, 'ye'] should be ashamed in this same confident boasting." On this account he sent Titus and the deputies to "make up beforehand" their bounty. It must be "bounty," not a matter of "covetousness." Postponing the work might open the way for selfishness to suggest reasons for less giving. Love of money might have a sudden quickening. Risks were numerous when men believed that the heart of today would be the heart of tomorrow. Satan was mightier at some times than at others, and Christian men were not always quite themselves. "Make up beforehand." The right thing was ennobled by doing it at the right time, and the right time was now. "Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it."—Debts of love mature when the heart is first warmed by the Spirit. Fatting off invites covetousness. "Beforehand" is the watchword of the bountiful soul.—L.
2 Corinthians 9:6-9 - Correspondence between Christian sowing and reaping.
There was nothing of chance or luck in the operations of beneficence. It was a transaction with God, who had instituted certain laws for its government.
1 . As to the law of proportion. If they sowed sparingly, they reaped sparingly; if bountifully, they reaped bountifully. This was natural law. It was also spiritual law. If the law met them everywhere, addressed the senses and the soul, and enforced itself both in providence and grace, surely they could not but give very profound heed to a principle which was so amply illustrated.
2 . As to the spirit of giving. The law was spontaneity of sentiment—"according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give;" and again, it was cheerfulness of feeling—not "grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver." On this aspect of giving, the apostle had delivered his mind without reservation. Freedom here was scrupulously insisted on. To be Christ-like it must be wholly self-directed. It must be born directly of the Spirit. Vast and indeed sacred as human agency is, there are seasons when the Spirit bids it retire, and he takes the soul into his solitary communion.
3 . The element of recompense is stated. "God is able to make all grace abound toward you." Blessings used rightly would bring other and larger blessings. Benevolent contributions were disciplinary. The act was educative. If a man gave because of his love to Christ, if he gave willingly and cordially, if he gave freely, then he was being trained as a giver, and of course was, in this particular, a growing man. Any sort of arrested development in goodness is bad enough, but this checking of progress in charity is peculiarly harmful. Worldliness rushes back with an overwhelming current. Avarice, denied its food for a time, has a voracious appetite. And, therefore, the very urgent need of growth in this sentiment, which the apostle argues in a manner uncommonly forcible. Spiritual blessings are assured. "All grace abound toward you." Temporal blessings are promised. "Always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work." There was to be an " all sufficiency, " an overflowing measure on God's part, so as to furnish the means or resources for continued and enlarged benevolence, or otherwise the growth would stop. "Every good work" has a very broad signification. We take it to mean a very wide and generous activity in kind deeds, an "enthusiasm," not for "humanity," but for Christ in humanity, and a desire and a purpose expanding in the ratio of new blessings, spiritual and temporal, to pour forth its heart in ministration to others. "God is able." Yet we must not forget that he never resigns his Divine sovereignty in a promise or to a promise, but is infinitely wise and considerately tender in the administration of providential blessings. To elucidate his meaning, St. Paul quotes from Psalms 112:9 , "He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor, his righteousness endureth forever." The rule is that God gives us what we have in order that he may give us more. There is a future in everything, a future in every seed, a future in every dollar honestly made, a future in every blessing God bestows. But it is for him alone to order this future, so as to "make all grace abound" in us, and to enable us to "abound to every good work."—L.
2 Corinthians 9:10-15 - Unity in nature and grace; manifold results of beneficence; thanksgiving.
St. Paul had spoken in the sixth verse of the law of the spiritual harvest—proportion of reward in reference to quantity, so much sowing followed by so much reaping. But there is another law—a grain of corn or wheat produces many grains. In some instances hundreds of seeds come from one seed. Seeds multiply seeds, and the harvest of a county may sow a large territory. Nothing in the vegetable kingdom is on a stinted scale. Omnipotence touches a clod of earth, and in a few months it is transformed into bread; but this is not all the wonder, for that clod has yielded far more than it received. Thus it is that, in the physical world, labour becomes accumulative, producing over and above its own wants a vast surplus, which goes to feed those who are unable to work. Not abundance but superabundance is the lesson nature teaches. We make enough to supply necessities, comforts, and luxuries; enough to meet artificial wants; enough to compensate for impotence, idleness, and dissipation; enough to allow far a waste that can scarcely be computed. So it is in spiritual things. The productive power is immensely rewarded. This striking correspondence was in his view when St. Paul said, "He that supplieth seed to the sower and bread for food, shall supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness" (Revised Version). The fact is always grander than the figure and hence we may believe that the fruits of righteousness will infinitely surpass the work done. Observe now that this was a present thing as well as a future thing. Just then a gracious influence was spreading through the Churches and uniting them in closer fellowship by reason of a common interest in behalf of Jerusalem. And, furthermore, they should be "enriched in everything to all bountifulness," no lack of seed for sowing, fruits of righteousness abounding, and especially their liberality should cause thanksgiving to God. This idea of thanksgiving fills a large space in his mind. It becomes in the twelfth verse "many thanksgivings." What joy would it bring to Jerusalem! How far would the glad tidings spread! Not only for the pecuniary aid afforded, but for this new and cheering evidence of their obedience unto the gospel of Christ, what praise would ascend to God! If we could transfer ourselves into the position of these early Christians and enter into their feelings, especially those of the Jerusalem Church, we should realize the apostle's meaning where he lays such a stress on the results of this Gentile beneficence. But we can hardly approximate this state of mind. The loneliness of the saints at Jerusalem, the large sacrifice of property after Pentecost, the loss of employment because of professing faith in Christ, the destitution and suffering that had befallen them, the growing disturbances with Rome, the increase of bitter strife among the Jews, the darkness with its prophetic woes descending on the doomed city, parties becoming more and more virulent in their antagonisms to one another, and amid it all, the "poor saints" subjected to all sorts of insult and grievance, give us but a general idea of the misery and wretchedness they were enduring. It was all very real to St. Paul. No such earthly reality as Jerusalem occupied his intellect and heart. Was he looking forward to the day (as Stanley suggests) when he should stand in the holy city and witness the gratitude of the Church for this great benefaction? Likely enough; but whether so or not, it is certain that his soul overflowed with joy. It was a grand proof of brotherhood between Jewish and Gentile Christians. It was the perfecting link in the chain that was to bind them together. It was a blessed testimony to the divineness of the gospel Contemplating the gifts, he rises in a moment to the Divine Gift, and exclaims, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable Gift!"—L.
Let us not take our standard of Christian life and experience from our own hearts, or from the customary piety which shows itself around us. The Lord requires and expects of us constancy—a life regulated by the steady action of principle, and animated daily by faith, hope, and love. Alas! how many are unsteady in his service! How their light flickers! how their faith wavers! how their convictions and affections fluctuate! This is so common that it seems to be regarded as inevitable. Vacillation and inconstancy are supposed to be not so much sins as very pardonable infirmities. But is constancy, while theoretically right, practically impossible? When called to maintain a steady tenor of Christian life and conduct, may we say, Non possumus? What says Reason? And what says Holy Writ?
I. WE ASK THE QUESTION OF REASON , AS A FAIR JUDGE OF THE NATURE OF THINGS . Physical life is maintained in us by certain natural processes which never cease from the moment of birth to the moment of death. The lungs play always, and the heart beats always. We call these automatic movements, as being not dependent on our volition. They continue when we are fast asleep. But moral and spiritual life rises above mere automatism, and requires for its continuance and growth a succession of moral volitions, a steady and well-directed purpose. Now, is this state of the will possible? Reason will answer that it is the proper habit of a healthy and vigorous mind. Weak minds are obstinate or fickle; dull minds are stolid and monotonous; but those that are strong and intelligent have a steady moral pulse, a wise tenacity of purpose, and a careful balance of temper and will. It is the most rational, healthy, and happy condition of man to believe firmly what he believes, and to maintain an even tenor of conduct in harmony with his belief. George Herbert is right to praise the man of constancy, who
"Doth still, and strongly, good pursue;
To God, his neighbours, and himself most true."
II. WE ASK THE QUESTION OF HOLY SCRIPTURE . Does it admit excuses for inconstancy? or does it assume and require that men who believe in God should live to him always? David said, "I have set the Lord always before me." No doubt this is absolutely true only of the great Son of David, of whom the Spirit of prophecy spake in the sixteenth psalm, as St. Peter taught on the day of Pentecost. But of all that was most worthy in the career of the poet king of Israel this was the sustaining principle; and of his character this formed the sacred charm, that he constantly kept his eyes upon God. In great deeps of sorrow, in dens and caves of the earth, in exile, in peril by the sword, among temptations of ambition, tumults of war, cares of government; in the obscurity of his youth, in the sudden promotion and the stirring adventures of his early manhood; in all the publicity of his later years, in "that fierce light which beats upon a throne;"—always and everywhere the son of Jesse looked to God, and sought to walk in the light of his countenance. Alas! he looked off, and sinned grievously. We find no perfect example but that of the Man Christ Jesus, the Son of David, who maintained a constant obedience to, and therefore a constant communion with, God (see John 8:29 ; John 11:42 ). In the midst of incessant occupations and in the face of frequent "contradiction of sinners against himself," he found it possible to look always to the Father in heaven, and do always the Father's will. So he knew that the Father heard him always. Now, every one admits that the life of Christ is, in its principles and motives, the supreme model for the life of Christians. But the force of the admission is sadly weakened for any practical purpose by the prevailing impression that actual conformity to so perfect a Pattern is not to be expected of any one. Let us take the example of a servant of Christ. It will not be disputed that we may and should emulate the attainments and experience of St. Paul. Now, he had extraordinary vicissitudes in the course of his ministry, and does not conceal from us the changing moods of his mind—now depressed and sorrowful, now bold and enthusiastic. But as respects the main current of his life and service, Paul was, ever after his conversion, gloriously consistent. In love to God, in zeal for Jesus, in fidelity to the gospel, in care for the Churches, in abhorrence of sin, in esteem of holiness, in vigilant resistance to the devil, and in tender affection for the saints, he was always the same, and wavered not. Accordingly we find the word "always" often used in regard to his own spiritual experience and missionary life (see Acts 24:16 on conscience; 2 Corinthians 2:14 on the career of a missionary; 2 Corinthians 4:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:6 on sufferings and joyful hope). What a living sacrifice to God was this apostolic man! What singleness of purpose he had, what integrity of heart, what constancy, in serving the Lord always. Why may not similar constancy be shown by us? God is able to make all grace abound toward us. And all the injunctions for Christian life given in the Holy Book assume that we are to be always and wholly the Lord's. Our speech should be "always with grace, seasoned with salt." Our prayers should be offered up alway; and in active service we should be "always abounding in the work of the Lord." The proper season for piety is always. Labour sometimes, study sometimes, recreation sometimes, sleep sometimes; but the fear of the Lord always, and the life of faith always. No day of the week, no hour of the day, without the Lord. This is not bondage: it is the best liberty. This is not being "righteous overmuch." It is simply to order our character and conduct habitually by the highest aims and models set before us. It is the aspiration of the meek and lowly, not of the proud. It is the path of the just, which shines more and more until the perfect day.—F.