THE HIGHWAY OF OUR GOD
The GOSPEL TRUTH
PART II: TREADING THE HIGHWAY
Charity True and Counterfeit
I suppose that in no department of roguery in this roguish world has there been more time and ingenuity expended than in making counterfeit money, especially bank notes. Just as wicked men have tried to imitate the most valuable of human productions for their own profit, so the devil has been trying to counterfeit God's most precious things from the beginning, and to produce something so like them that mankind at large should not see the difference.
Perhaps in no direction has he been so successful as in producing a spurious charity. Almost he has got it to perfection and cannot very well improve on the present copy. Charity, or love, is God's most precious treasure. It is dearer to His heart than all the vast domains of His universe, dearer than all the glorious beings He has created. So much so that when some of the highest spirits amongst the angelic bands violated this love He hurled them from the highest Heaven to the nethermost Hell, because He saw that it was more important to the well-being of His universe to maintain the harmony of love in Heaven than to save those spirits who had allowed selfishness to interfere with it. So our Lord says, 'I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.'
What is this precious, beautiful charity? For one thing it is divine. It must be shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost. In vain do we look for this heavenly plant amongst the unrenewed children of men. It grows not on the corrupt soil of fallen nature. It springs only where the ploughshare of true repentance has broken up the fallow ground of the heart, where faith in a crucified Saviour has purified it, and where the blessed Holy Spirit has taken permanent possession. It is the love of God--not only to God, but like God, from God, and fixed on the same objects and ends as those which God loves. It is a divine implantation by the Holy Ghost.
Our first work is to have this love shed abroad in our hearts. It is a divine principle, in contradistinction to the mere emotion of love. All men have love as an emotion, mere natural love toward those whom they like, or who do well for them. 'If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?' Wicked men love one another from mere natural affinity, as the tiger loves its cubs.
There is great confusion amongst professors of religion on this subject. They feel sentiments of pity and generosity toward their fellow-men, and they may even give their goods to feed the poor, and yet not have a spark of divine charity in their hearts. King Saul, after God had departed from him, was not wholly destitute of generous feeling respecting his family and his kingdom. Dives in Hell had some pity for his brethren. But neither of them had a spark of this divine charity. Consider one or two points wherein a spurious and a divine charity utterly and for ever diverge and disagree in their nature. For example, spurious charity is never exercised but to gratify some selfish principle in human nature. Many motives inspire it. We read in the Bible that a man may give his goods to feed the poor, and his body to be burned, and yet be destitute of true charity.
What an anomaly. But we have wonderful illustrations that such a thing is possible. A man may do this to support and carry out a favourite system of intellectual belief of which he has become enamoured, just as men become absorbed in politics, or in what they consider the good of their nature, and will even go to the cannon's mouth to promote it. A man may do it in order to merit eternal life. Paul did this when he went about to establish his own righteousness. He tells us that his own exaltation was the mainspring of all his zeal. There was no divine love; he was an utterly unrenewed, Christless and selfish man at the very time he was doing this.
Another motive may be to gratify a naturally generous disposition. To a friend of mine, when he was talking in a confidential way about his giving and the delight it gave him, attributing it to divine grace, I used to say, 'Hold I my friend; I am not so sure it is all grace. You like giving better than other people like receiving.'
Look out that you don't lose your reward through not taking the trouble to see what you give to; don't give your money to any and every scheme. You are answerable to God for your wealth, and God will demand of you how you have bestowed your goods. True charity takes the trouble to find out the best channels in which to give for God's glory and the salvation of men.
A false charity begins in self and ends on earth. It always contemplates the earthy part of man in a superior degree to the spiritual part; and here it exactly crosses and contradicts the divine charity, which always contemplates man in the entirety of his being, and always gives the first importance to the soul.
We have plenty of spurious charity. People will say, when speaking of godless and even wicked men, 'You must be charitable, you must not judge.' Satan does not care how much of this one-sided charity there is; the more the better for his purpose; it will make people all the more comfortable in their sins, and get them all the more easily down to Hell.
If you are more concerned about relieving temporal distress than you are about feeding famished souls you may know where your charity comes from. Do not misrepresent me and say that I teach all of one and none of the other. God forbid, for if any man 'hath this world's goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?' But, on the other side, if he sees him spiritually famishing--dying for want of the bread of life--how dwelleth the love of Christ in him if he does not minister to this spiritual destitution? I know that real Christianity cares for body and soul. Bless God, it does. But always mind that it sets the soul first. The Master fed the multitude but before that He had them with Him three days trying to save their souls, and when they grew hungry in the process then He made them sit down while He fed their bodies. He always looked after the soul first, and so does everyone possessed of divine charity.
This divine charity makes everything subservient to the salvation of souls. On one occasion the Master had fed the multitudes, and when they came to Him again to be fed He said, 'Ye seek Me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.' You would have said, 'Quite right; the people want to be fed; they are hungry.' But do you hear the divine lament that comes out in these words, that the people were so spiritually obtuse that they valued the earthly bread more than the heavenly?
People are so unphilosophical in religion. They talk about not knowing. But you can find out in two minutes whether you love God or yourself more. What woman does not know whether she loves her husband more than herself? What is the proof? She seeks to please him and is willing to sacrifice herself for him--in fact, merges her interests altogether in his. Do you love God best? Are you willing to forgo your interests and to seek him?
Another main point of difference between a true and a false charity is that divine charity is not only consistent with, but very often necessitates, reproof and rebuke on the part of its possessor. It conforms in this, as in everything else, to its divine model--'As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.' The possessor of this divine charity can afford to rebuke and reprove sin wherever he finds it. He will not suffer sin upon his neighbour, but will in any wise reprove Him, and strive to win him to the right. For a beautiful illustration of the working of this divine charity look into the heart and life of the apostle who wrote the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. It is Paul himself who, writing to the Galatians, says:
"But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We . . . are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles."
It would be exceedingly painful to Paul thus publicly to rebuke Peter. They loved one another, for we find Peter, long after this, in one of his epistles, calling Paul 'our beloved brother Paul.' Paul understood the claims of true charity, or he could not have written this thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. If he loved Peter, and if he understood the claims of true charity, why did he thus openly rebuke Peter, and why did he inflict upon himself the pain of doing so? Faithfulness to Peter himself, faithfulness to the truth, faithfulness to Jesus Christ demanded it; therefore he sacrificed his personal feelings and inflicted this pain upon himself, rather than allow Peter to go wrong, the Romans to be misled, and the Jews to be carried away with worldly policy.
There is a greater example still in our Lord Himself whose whole soul was love. How faithfully He reproved even His own when they erred from the truth, and how fearlessly He exposed and denounced the shallowness and hypocrisy of those who professed to love God and yet contradicted this profession in their lives. He said to His disciples on one occasion, 'Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.' And again to the hypocrites and Pharisees He said, 'If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham . . . If God were your Father, ye would love Me: for I proceeded forth and came from God . . . Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.' And yet His divine heart was full to breaking of love, and broke itself on the Cross for them. Would to God there were more of this faithful, loving charity that dares to reprove sin, instead of the false charity that fawns on a man to his face and goes behind him and stabs him in the back.
Do you suppose that the great mass of the professors of this generation think one another to be right? Witness what they say behind each other's backs. Yet not one in a thousand ever went privately to his brother, lovingly took hold of his hand, and reproved him.
If everybody who sees sin upon his neighbour would do that--if he would take the Lord's counsel and go and see his brother alone and tell him his fault--how many would be saved from backsliding, and how many a disgraceful split and controversy in churches might be saved.
But where are the people who will do it? If it were a pleasant duty, many would do it easily enough; but it is a painful duty, and a man does not like to screw himself up to it. Where is the man who would rather himself suffer than that his brother should go to sleep in his sin and the precious cause of Christ be disgraced and injured?
False charity is the opposite of this. Its possessor cannot afford to reprove anybody. He would faint at the very idea, and he calls people hard and censorious who dare to do it. But he will not be afraid to stab a man behind his back. The speech of this false charity flattereth. Honey is on its tongue, but the poison of asps is underneath. Beware of it! Even when it professes to commend a brother or neighbour, it rolls up its sanctimonious eyes and always puts in a 'but'. Oh, the fair reputations that this slime of the serpent has trailed over!
Mind which charity you have got. True charity rejoiceth not in iniquity. Are you conscious in your soul of a feeling of triumph when anybody that you do not like happens to fall on some evil thing? If you have, the devil has got hold of you. Do you rejoice in iniquity when it happens to an enemy? If so, woe be to you unless you get that venom out. 'Love your enemies' love them; 'bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven.'
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