Article of the Month
by John Lafayette Girardeau
Matt. xxv. 40. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
These words were spoken by Him who is the Prophet of the church and the light of the world. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high.” But not only is information in regard to the judicial process of the last day communicated to us by one who is the accredited revealer of God's will, with the extraordinary credentials of His divine commission suspended around His person, but it is extended by one who is also constituted the final judge of the human race. “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son”; “and hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because. He is the son of man.”
He will discharge the judicial function, who is a partaker of the nature which will be arraigned at the bar; who, having suffered humiliation, disgrace and death in the prosecution of His work as the Savior of men, will have His claims vindicated and His glory illustrated by presiding at the last assize; who, having, in accordance with the eternal counsels of the Godhead, conducted all of the previous stages of redemption, will perform the last, decisive act by which the economy of grace will be closed.
He, who promulgated the law on Mount Sinai, who expounded the law on the Mount of Beatitudes, who fulfilled the law on Mount Calvary, who administers the law on Mount Zion, and who will execute the law on the Mount of final judgment, —He it is, who lifts the awful curtain hanging between us and the everlasting future, and lets in the light upon the throne of justice and the procedures of the day of doom. The Judge himself ascertains us beforehand of what we are to expect. It is a striking consideration, that the passage, from which the text is extracted, furnishes a particular account of the order and the steps which will obtain in the final trial that is to stamp the complexion of our destiny—the most minute description of the judicial process which is contained in the Bible. It deserves the most careful scrutiny, for meets and satisfies the strong craving of minds for knowledge of the future, and at the same time renders us inexcusable of the manner in which we will be dealt with in the great judicial day.
Nor can it fail at once to arrest our attention, that the order which, as we are informed, we will be pursued, is the inverse of that adopted in human courts; so far as their decisions are not merely grounded in the arbitrary will of an autocratic despot. In them, in consequence of human ignorance, the testimony is first taken, in order that the innocence or guilt of the party at the bar may be collected from the investigation of the facts in the case, and then the sentence is pronounced. But in that final court, the Judge will first pronounce the sentences, “Come, ye blessed,” or “Depart, ye cursed.” and then will Himself adduce the testimony which will manifest the justice of His decisions.
From the nature of the case, no one can be tried by his peers, for all will be equally impleaded before the bar—all will be on trial. Nor can it be requisite that a preliminary investigation of facts should be instituted, for, the Judge is alike omniscient and infinitely righteous. All the facts are perfectly known to Him, and the justice of the findings will be admitted and enforced by the consciousness of every individual at the bar. What there may be of momentary dissent or protest will instantly be dissipated by the incontrovertible testimony which the Judge Himself will proceed to adduce.
The passage before us, and concurrent utterances of the Word of God, assure us that men will be judged according to their works. “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” It is of the very last consequence that just here we should make no mistake. Reason would convince us, and the Scriptures definitely declare, that no transgressor of the divine law can be justified on the ground of his own works. “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.” There has been but one doer of the law, in order to justification. Christ, as the divinely appointed substitute of sinners, has completely obeyed it both as to its precept and its penalty; and his vicarious righteousness, received by faith, constitutes the only ground of acceptance with God, either in this world or at the judgment-bar. When, therefore, the Bible asserts that men shall be judged according to their works the meaning is, not that they will be pronounced in the great day to be justified and acquitted on the ground of, or on account of, their works. The meaning is, that the works of the righteous will furnish the evidence that they are justified on the ground of, or on account of, Christ's merits; and that they possess a character, which makes them meet for the enjoyment of God's presence and the fellowship of heaven. The case of the unbelieving wicked is different. They will be condemned on the ground of their works, as not only intrinsically blameworthy, but as furnishing the evidence that they had rejected the merits of Christ as the ground of their acceptance, and that they possess a character which makes them deserving of banishment from the presence of God and from the glory of His power. They will be judged not only according to, but on account of, their works. I beseech you, brethren, to commit no blunder in this matter, for it must entail disastrous consequences upon your eternal interests.
The question now springs up and challenges attention, What sort of works are those which Christ tells us will afford the evidence of the justice of the judicial sentences? The answer is, works of charity; and it is an answer which merits our maturest consideration.
Let us, first, notice the singularly conspicuous place which will be assigned to offices of charity in the inquisition of the last, great day. Turning to those on His right hand, the King will utter the thrilling words, “Come, ye blessed” But why? What title have they to such a welcome? Does the King say, Ye were just, ye were true, ye were faithful, ye were temperate, ye were orthodox, ye adhered to my church in life, and ye died in its communion? No. All that may be involved in the character of those whom He will approve and receive amidst the solemnities of that day. But He does not say that He will signalize those traits. What will the King say to the righteous? Ye fed the hungry, ye gave drink to the thirsty, ye entertained the stranger, ye clothed the naked, ye visited the sick and those who were in prison. What a marvellous preeminence will be accorded to charity in the last day! Surely it cannot be that the other Christian graces are not worthy to be mentioned on that day, but it is that charity is more worthy of distinction than they. “And now,” says the apostle Paul, “abideth faith, hope, charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity.” Great is faith. Is it not the grace which unites us to Christ as a Savior? Is it not the victory that overcometh the world? Did not the ancient heroes of Christ's cause on earth triumph by faith over every difficulty, and vanquish every foe? Did they not live by faith, and was it not by faith they died? Great is hope. Does it not sustain us under life's burdens, animate us for its conflicts, cheer us amidst its afflictions, comfort us as we walk through the valley of the death shade, and make the darkness of the dying hour blush with the morning light of heaven? Yea. Great is faith, and great is hope, but the distinction of charity is that it is greater even than they. Noble grace! It is the chief feature in that image of God which the divine Spirit stamps upon the regenerated soul. The very expression of unselfishness, it asks nothing and gives everything. The most useful of all the virtues, it leads its possessor to live for the good of others. It is emphatically the grace which contemplates the duties relating us to this present world of sin and wretchedness, while faith and hope are aspiring to the rewards of the future. It is content to hang upon a cross, while they are looking for a crown. Itself destined to chief honor in the day when the fire of an impartial judgment will try all pretensions to virtue, and calcine to ashes all the gauds and pomps of merely human and civil works, it is unconscious of its own value, and will be surprised at its recognition by the final judge. Entitled to the palm in the sisterhood of divine graces, it will modestly disown all claim to it, and shrink from its bestowal. Heavenly charity its hand, which was opened to every plea of human want, will put back the amaranth of eternal honor which will be placed upon its head with the sanction of the Godhead, and amidst the thunders of angelic acclamations; while its human beneficiaries—the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, now relieved from every earthly woe, stand ready to escort it to the gates of glory and welcome it to the abodes of bliss. Such is the distinction that will be conferred upon this grace of Charity, which in itself gentle, humble, self-renouncing, will ultimately be crowned as the impersonation in human form of the genius of Christianity! Such the honor that will be, amidst the solemnities of the last judgment, bestowed upon this self-denying but sublime virtue, which brings our poor, imperfect nature into closest likeness to Him, who dwelt among men and shared their sorrows, who healed the sick and the crippled, the deaf, the dumb and the blind, who groaned in sympathy with the bereaved and wept with them over their dead, and who at last, although entitled to universal homage, laid down His life in agony and shame to redeem His enemies from sin and death and hell!
But we have only touched the skirts of this subject. We must, in the next place, inquire what is the nature of this charity, and what the character of these works which will receive mention so conspicuous in the day of final accounts. Let us not deceive ourselves. Men are cheated by the merely superficial and phenomenal circumstances of actions—their tinsel and paint and varnish, but the divine Judge, with his omniscient eye, looks down into the profound recesses of the soul in which lurk hidden from human inspection those springs of thought and feeling, those intentions, motives and governing principles, that impart a real and permanent value to our deeds. Many are the acts emblazoned with the beautiful name of charity which can lay but a hollow claim to the illustrious title; many the deeds of splendid beneficence that extort the encomiums of the world, but which will be reduced to nothing by the solvent of the last fire.
Here, however, we are obliged to distinguish. There is the distinction between an act as it appears to man, and as it appears to God; and there is the distinction between an act materially considered—that is, as to the thing itself which is done, and the same act formally considered—that is, as to the motive which led to its performance. Generally, that which alone appears to the eye of the human observer is the outward act itself. When we witness the performance of an act of charity, we see the material benefit which is conferred, the pecuniary alms, the food, the drink, the raiment, the visit to the sick and the imprisoned, the entertainment of the strangers; and we may be able to notice the joy of the beneficiary and the material relief he experiences. And with this we should ordinarily be satisfied. It is not our province to hunt for the latent motive, which lies back of the external act and veiled from our perception. It may be a good one, it may be a bad one, but we are neither qualified nor authorized to discharge the function of judges. In most cases, we ought to infer from the material goodness of the deed the worthiness of the motive which prompted it. But there may be cases, in which the informing motive emerges from latency, and is so obtrusively thrust upon our observation, that it is impossible that it should elude our knowledge. In such cases we are compelled to take the seat of the judge, and pronounce upon the formal value of the acts. If, for example, we see alms extended to the poor, manifestly for the purpose of securing votes for office, or of eliciting applause from spectators, while we approve the material results of the benefaction, we are obliged to regard the act as possessed of no formal value as a fruit of principle and a test of character. On the contrary, contemplating it from the point of view of its internal relations, we are under the necessity of disapproving it. We feel that the outward and material benefit conferred, although it be good and deserving of applause, furnishes no evidence that the principle of charity exists as an element of character, and a spring of action.
Now, those instances, in which our knowledge is limited to the merely material and outward features of acts, afford no analogy whatever to the mode in which they are estimated by the divine judgment. “For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” He cannot be deceived as to the subtle relation which subsists between the outward action and the inward principle. To him there is no distinction, as with us, between the apparent and the real—the visible and the invisible. All is phenomenal and visible to his omniscient eye. The soul is more intimately known by Him than by its own consciousness. Its fundamental laws, its most secret thoughts, its most fugitive phases of feeling, are intuitively apprehended by Him whose knowledge has no limitations, but like His being is infinite. “Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.” The morning sun does not as clearly reveal the features of a landscape which had been veiled by the darkness of night, as does the blazing light of God's face the obscurest emotions and purposes of the human heart.
But those cases, in which we at once possess a knowledge of outward acts and of the motives which inspired them, are a shadow—an imperfect illustration, of the mode in which the moral qualities of actions are weighed in the unerring balances of the divine judgment. It should, however, not be forgotten that, as to degree, God's knowledge is infinitely clearer than ours can be, and that as to mode, he is never dependent upon inference, as we often are, for insight into the secret condition of the creature. He gazes in one undivided intuition upon the material and the formal qualities of actions, upon the outward deed itself and the intention which impresses its moral type.
Let us now apply these distinctions to the office which, Christ tells us, will be discharged by works of charity in the day of judgment. Their material and outward qualities will be, as we have already seen, recognized and mentioned by the Judge—feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, lodging the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and prisoners. But this is by no means all. He will uncover and bring out into light and distinctly state the principle from which these acts proceeded, the motive which dictated them and fixed their moral value. Addressing the righteous He will say: “I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Wonderful words! Let us pause and mark their significance. There are at least two things which they enforce upon our attention:
In the first place, they shed the light of the last judgment upon the nature of that charity which the Judge himself will approve, and the kind of charitable offices which he will adduce as evidences of a justified state and a holy character. The charity which will pass inspection, and will play so distinguished a part in that judicial day, is not one which was a mere complement—a mechanically united bundle of outward acts of beneficence. It is a deep-seated principle of the soul, a permanent habitude, which expressed itself in benefactions to the poor. But what sort of principle? what kind of habitude? The answer is—and it is furnished by the Judge himself—love for Christ. It was for my sake ye did your charitable works; they sprang from the love ye bore for me. And, therefore, I cite them from my book of remembrance, to evidence and prove your possession of the principle of love to me. This, then, is the nature of that charity which will retain its name and read its title in the revealing light of the judgment-day: it is love for Christ, a principle, a grace, an all-informing motive, which originated, characterized and transfigured mere outward and material benefactions to the poor. But love to Christ will prove the existence of faith in Christ, for “faith worketh by love”; and faith in Christ will prove the possession of his righteousness, which is the sole ground of justification and acceptance with God. Still more, love to Christ proves the existence of love to God, and love to God is “the fulfilling of the law,” and the fulfilling of the law proves the possession of the temper of universal obedience to all the divine requirements— a condition of the soul which renders it meet for the society of the Trinity, the fellowship of angels and “the inheritance of the saints in light.” Grand sorities! beginning with offices of charity to the poor, and running back by an irrefragable chain of evidence, on the one hand, to a justified relation of the person to God, and, on the other, to a character of holiness which qualifies its possessors for endless communion with God and the blissful enjoyment of His presence.
It ought not to be supposed, that the words of the Judge impose the obligation of relieving only those who are followers of Christ and members of His body. We cannot know whether one who now makes no profession of faith in the Savior will not do it before he dies; nor can we be sure that all who bear the Christian name are really brethren of Christ. The great matter is, that we help them from the motive of love to Him. There is indeed a peculiar tie which binds us to the members of the family of God into which we trust we have been adopted by the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the supernatural operation of the Holy Ghost. They are emphatically our brethren, our father's children, to whom we are linked by a closer and a tenderer bond than that of blood. But while we are required by divine command and by the instinctive affections of the renewed nature to do good, especially to them who are of the household of faith, we are also enjoined to communicate to the necessities of all men. That unhappily large community, whose name is the Poor, whose bill of rights is their wants, whose appeals are not to justice but to mercy, and whose ensigns are the famished body and the extended palm, belong peculiarly to no church or religion, no nation, tribe or tongue, but represent all shades of character, all forms of creed, all types of race. They are human. That validates their plea before a humanity whose kinship is stamped by a relation to one God, and the nexus of one bond of hope—the mediation of the man, Christ Jesus. The fact of need is what appeals to our sympathies; and in relieving it, whether found in the Christian or the infidel, the wicked or the good, we tread in the footsteps of Him who throughout a life of wondrous beneficence rejected no petition for help, and at the first keen accession of the pangs of crucifixion and the shame of a felon's death, poured our alike His prayers and blood for the inflicters of His woes. What is insisted on is, that it is the motive of love for Christ, which will impart real value to our works of charity in the day of final reckoning.
How do these words of Jesus, the appointed judge of mankind, fall like thunder-bolts upon many of those pretending and ostentatious offices, which pass current in this sophistical world under the charming guise of charity God forbid, that we should disparage any beneficent deed by which a single human want is supplied, a single human ache is cured, a single human tear is wiped away! Let it be that its only value is the material relief it affords. The importance of that in a world of suffering like this cannot be exaggerated. The hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the dying, are around us on every hand. The mournful procession has never gone by; its tread is ever in our ear. Were society to resolve itself into a vast eleemosynary institute in the effort to extinguish human woe, its united energies would not avail to make the poor man an unwonted spectacle, the sick bed a curiosity, and the grave a wonder. Poverty, disease and death are the inheritance of the race, and whatever may be the motive as it appears to omniscience, philanthropy hails every legitimate attempt to diminish the mass of wretchedness which rolls like a sea over the world. Let the generous and compassionate gratify the instincts of nature by extending material relief to the suffering and the needy. The more of this the better.
But let us not make the tremendous blunder of mistaking an ephemeral impulse for the heaven-born and undying principle of love; and by calling it charity, magnify its offices into a preparative for the trial of the last, great day. No act of charity, however laudable and splendid in the eyes of men, will have any significance in the final reckoning, if it sprang not from love to Christ. Nor can acts of beneficence which were incited by the motive of pride, or vain-glory, or the love of applause, constitute, in the day of judgment, evidences of a justified state or of meetness for the companionship of heaven. “Inasmuch”—the eternal judge will thunder—“inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment.”
One cannot forbear, in connexion with this subject, to remark upon the folly of those philosophical writers on morals, who although they live under the conditioning influence of Christianity, yet, in their analyses of the great principle of benevolence, throw out of account the love of Christ as a controlling motive to action, and expel His name from their works. They seem to forget the gigantic fact of sin, and the consequent need of redemption; and perpetuate the stupendous fallacy of treating the case of man as though he were still standing in innocence. These philosophers appear to think that the dignity of their utterances would be lowered, and the classic polish of their pages be sullied, by an allusion to the crucified Nazarene. They forget that the mediation of Christ has impressed an all-pervading type upon the divine government of the world, which nothing but utter perversity of the heart can fail to recognize, or stark blindness of the intellect can refuse to see.
It has been said, with equal truth and beauty, that the great “name of God is very close to us.” It is written as with the divine finger itself upon the nature within us and the nature without us. But, in itself, it is not a name which is a representative of hope, or an object of delightful contemplation, to a race which is conscious of sin and crime. As it stands indelibly recorded upon the foundation laws and beliefs of our souls, and proclaims itself in the penalties of conscience —fear, shame, remorse, despair; as it is spelled in the flaming characters of the heavens, or darkly frowns in their appalling omens; utters itself in the ghastly terrors of famine, pestilence and death which afflict the earth, and is heard in the crash of the thunder, the rumble of the earthquake and the roar of the storm, it is the symbol of retribution and the prophecy of doom. In our natural condition what are we, but a collection of criminals, marching under guard to the judgment-bar and the prison of hell? It is one of the most astounding facts in the history of our unhappy race, that the question of God's existence has ever been raised; and still more astounding is it, that, having been raised, it has given birth to a controversy scarcely surpassed in bulk by any other which has been waged upon a single subject. If sin had never occurred, Atheism would have been an impossibility. And could even now the idea of retributive justice be abstracted from the conception of God, the likelihood is that it would vanish from the field of speculation. It is a God of retributive justice, the registry of whose name the conscious transgressor would expunge from his own works, and whom he would thrust out, if he could, from his own habitation. As long as justice is recognized, the inseperable connexion between guilt and punishment must be felt. And as long as that terror is experienced which drives the sinner from the presence of a divine Judge, all successful endeavors after obedience to God are hopelessly excluded. There can be no love to a Being whose justice is armed for our destruction, and without love to him there can be no worship which would be accepted, no obedience which would be approved. Under such circumstances, of what avail are philosophical analyses of the principles or morals, or ethical digests of the rules of duty? They are prelections uttered in the lecture-room of the sepulchre, and addressed to the ears of the dead. Or if the intellectual and moral existence of the auditors be insisted on, they are arguments to the culprit why he should love the judge who sentences him, exhortations to him to obey the law which hangs him.
But the awful name of God is translated and interpreted to sinners by another name, which is the emblem of reconciliation and the pledge of love. Need it be mentioned? Is it not Jesus Christ? This is the name which indeed comes very close to the sinner, and close to him in ineffable tenderness and power. The mediation, the sufferings and death of Christ, have revolutionized our relations to God. The wonder is, that the name of the sinner's Savior is not seen to be inscribed on the heavens above, on the earth beneath, and on the profoundest principles of the human soul. The wonder is, that the man of science does not read it ciphered in starry letters upon the nocturnal sky, and chronicled in every element and force of the physical globe; and that the philosopher, bending the ear of consciousness to the phenomena of inward experience, does not hear it cried out from the lowest depths of his moral being. The wonder is, that he does not think as in the shadow of the Cross, and write as if his pen were dipped in atoning blood. The love of Christ is the expression of God's love to the guilty, and the responsive love which it evokes from the heart of the sinner, as it completes our reconciliation to God, and renders possible an acceptable obedience to His law. It becomes along with faith a root, and by itself, peculiar and distinguished in this regard, the very complement of all holy acts. The philosopher, who had contemptuously banished it from the category of moral virtues, will be dismayed to see it signally emphasized and magnificently crowned in that day when all human speculations, principles and actions will pass under searching and final review.
In the second place, these wonderful words of the Lord Jesus, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” enforce upon our attention His identification of himself with His poor and needy members on earth. This is almost incredible to us circumstanced as we now are. Even though we may have reason to feel that we have renounced every other ground of dependence, and have heartily embraced Christ, freely offered to us in the Gospel, as the only hope of our souls, it is a tax upon our faith to admit the oneness of so glorious a Savior with ourselves. It requires the assuming witness of His Spirit to scatter our doubts and convince us that he acknowledges us as His brethren, the adopted children of His Father, and joint-heirs with Him to all the riches of His Father's house, the boundless inheritance of God. Conscious of sin, of backsliding, of treachery, as we are, we are often ashamed to lift up our faces before Him, and would fain, like Peter under the remembrance of his fall, bow our heads and weep in the bitterness of our souls. We feel that we are unworthy of a look of recognition, of a single token of His love, and are surprised, like the dejected and penitent apostle, when we receive some reassuring message from our risen Lord, which lifts us from the dust and ashes and thrills us with gratitude and joy.
We limit the merits of Jesus' righteousness, we apply the poor measure of our sympathies to those which throb in a Savior's heart, we bound the fulness, and circumscribe the out-goings, of infinite love. Exalted as He now is, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this world, but in that which is to come, He identifies himself with the meanest of His people, and makes common cause with them as they wrestle with the world, the flesh and the Devil. From the throne of glory, as once He did from the mount of transfiguration, He comes down to the low plane of their conflicts, difficulties and woes, and takes their part and bears a hand with them in their hopeless struggle against odds. As old John Owen in effect says, He appears upon the scene, plants himself on their side, and challenges their adversaries with the demand, “What question ye with them?” Hands off! These are my brethren, these are my Father's children. I am their Savior and their Advocate. If ye have any thing against them, deal with me; I am here to answer for them. What is done to them is done to me.
Nor is this all. He declares the wants of His brethren, of the least of His brethren, to be His wants. It is not only that He, the compassionate minister to the necessities of afflicted human beings during His sojourn with them in this vale of tears, still remembers and commiserates them, although He sits on the right hand of the Majesty on high and listens to the chorus of heaven as it rolls its billow of praise to His feet. We need not be surprised that the great heart which beat on earth with sympathy for human sufferers and broke at length in a sacrificial death for their redemption, is not alienated from them by the possession of heavenly glory and universal dominion, but unchanged and unchangeable pours out upon them its wealth of love and pity from the mediatorial throne. This does not put our faith to the strain; but this is not the whole case. The ascended and glorified Redeemer identifies himself with His poor brethren on earth. In all their affliction He is afflicted. “They fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ” in their flesh. They are His exponents and representatives, in whom He still, so to speak, lingers in this world and walks among men, not now imparting blessings to the needy, but asking succor in His need. The hand which gave mercy is now extended to receive it; the mouth which spoke healing to soul and body now asks for bread and water; He who clothes us with the wedding-garment of righteousness now solicits raiment to cover His nakedness; and the great Physician who cured all manner of sickness now lies stretched on the pallet of suffering and the bed of death. Is this hard to believe? Hear, how He will, in the great day, prove the meetness of His people for His welcome of them to everlasting joy: when, in yonder scene of suffering, ye fed the hungry, it was me ye gave meat to; when ye gave drink to the thirsty, it was me whose thirst ye slaked; when ye lodged the stranger, it was me ye entertained; when ye clothed the naked, it was me to whom ye furnished raiment; when ye visited the sick, it was me ye nursed; when ye came to the prisoner, it was me of whose chain ye were not ashamed. Lord, they will exclaim, when was that? We never saw thee in the body on earth. Yea, the King will answer, yea, ye did. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. “These, my brethren,” he affectionally calls them, as with the royal sceptre in His grasp and the royal diadem upon His head, he effects the irreparable division of the human race and pronounces the changeless sentences of doom.
There is but one other thought which I shall notice as suggested by these wonderful words of Jesus. It is that no office of charity, however slight it may be, which springs from the motive of love to Christ, will ever be forgotten or overlooked by Him. It may have been lost sight of by him who did it, but it will be sure to reappear in the last day, and will not fail of meeting a gracious and everlasting reward. There are many reasons which tend to produce forgetfulness of these acts of charity by those who performed them. In a world so full as this is of suffering and want appeals for help follow each other in rapid succession, and one benefaction coming close upon another obliterates its trace from memory, as tracks imprinted upon the ocean beach are washed out by every bursting wave. Moreover, the dame sense of sinfulness and unworthiness which renders His people slow to apprehend the intimate union between their exalted Savior and themselves, blunts their perception of His fellowship in want with their poor and needy neighbors, and of the fact that they minister to His necessities when they communicate to theirs. And further, the fear of inflaming spiritual pride prevents that determinate attention to the acts which is necessary to fix their impression upon the memory. They are felt not to be worthy of registration or even of mention, no account is kept of them by their performers, and so, for one reason or another, the recollection of these deeds of beneficence fades away into what seems an irrecoverable past.
But vanished though they be from the records of our memory, these acts of charity are not forgotten, not one of them. Oh, no! That loaf of bread given to the hungry, that cup of cold water handed to the thirsty, that garment thrown around the emaciated form to protect it from the wintry blast, that dose of medicine administered to the parched lips of the sufferer on his couch of sickness, that cooling of the fevered brow, that gentle smoothing of the dying pillow, lo! they appear again. The tattered pauper whose timid knock once brought us to the door, the poor needle-woman who worked her fingers sore to get bread for herself and her children, and whose eyes glistened at the sight of the plate of food, the friendless stranger who lay on a cot under our roof, the widow who would have shivered over a cheerless hearth but for the fuel sent to her desolate home, behold, they appear again. When? Where? In that great day of doom, before yon flaming bar, in the presence of angels, men and devils, assembled to hear the sentences of destiny, as they fall from the lips of the eternal Judge. Summoned by Him who forgets nothing done for His sake, they will appear as witnesses, to prove that the love of Christ was a moving and operative principle in sinful men, which made them meet for the plaudits of the Judge, and the rewards of the blest.
Where is out faith? Where is our love to Jesus? Who of us, in view of results so transcendent, would not share His earthly means with the suffering, the sick, the poor? I say not, let us give that we may receive but let us give, and we will receive-good measure, pressed down and shaken together, and running over, poured into our bosoms by a hand which has the bliss of immortality at its disposal. The sacrifices of earth forever past, the welcome of the King extended to us, the rapture of acceptance thrilling our hearts, with what transports of joy shall we look upon the happy objects of our earthly charities, and with them join the procession of the glorified, which will move with triumphal anthems to the pearly gates and the golden streets of that city of God, where no poor shall be found, no inhabitant shall say, I am sick, no sufferer press the bed of death. O mammon of unrighteousness, we will make of thee friends in this scene of want, that when we fail they may receive us to everlasting habitations!
Go on, my friends of the Benevolent Society, go on in the fulfilment of your Christ-like mission. You reach a class of cases which are not touched by State pro vision, and are only met by such delicate offices as those which you discharge. You may seek no other reward than the privilege of expressing your love for your Savior, and the intrinsic gratification—the sweet satisfaction, which flows from abating human want; but for every pang you assuage on earth there may await you a joy in heaven, for every tear you wipe from the cheek of suffering, a smile from the face of your Lord.
This sermon was preached in the First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, S.C., on Sabbath night, January 29, 1882. It was prepared at the request of the Ladies’ Benevolent Society, and was delivered in the interest of its work. This was the only occasion on which it was preached in exactly this form.
John Lafayette Girardeau (14 November 1825 – 23 June 1898) was a Reformed theologian and minister in the Presbyterian Church in the United States. He is notable as a Calvinist defender of libertarianism, the teaching that people have free will to choose between alternatives, and that they could have chosen differently than they actually did, rather than a determinist or compatibilist view.
He was a professor of systematic theology at Columbia Theological Seminary in South Carolina.
DISCUSS THIS TOPIC
Please join others who have commented upon this and other topics in our Discussion Group.