THE GENEROSITY OF JESUS
"It is more blessed to give than to receive."
PAUL is speaking farewell words to the officers of the church to which he has given more time and love than to any other. He reminds them of things he has often said to them before, and in closing calls to their minds one of the most illuminating and helpful of all the sayings of the Master, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." These words express with rare fullness one of the finest of the traits of Jesus, his generosity.
If one were asked to mention a half dozen keywords of Christian duty, he would be sure to place the word "give" high in the list. One cannot read the New Testament without being halted by that word, for it occurs repeatedly, and always with an emphasis which arrests the heart. Indeed, it has been often claimed that the Man of Galilee is wild and reckless in his theory of giving. His saying, "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away," has been to many a mystery and an offense. But the exhortation need stagger no one if it is remembered that all action is to be subjected to the limitations of love. Mortals are urged to give as God gives, and Godís giving is always fashioned and conditioned by his love. He does not give to every man the precise thing that the man asks for. He says to all of us not once but many times, "No," "no," and "no!"
Love can never give where giving would work hurt. The mother cannot give the razor to the little girl who pleads for it, nor can the father grant his son every favor that he asks. The man half drunk who begs for a quarter on the street comer must be refused, and in every case the petitioner must be dealt with according to the requirements of the law of love. But to write down all the considerations and qualifications which must be taken into account in dealing with a world which is always asking, was for Jesus a plain impossibility. It was better to throw out the great word "give," unqualified and naked, allowing it to speak unhindered to the human heart, as a word which holds in it a revelation of the mind of God. St. Luke tells us that one day when Jesus was unfolding his idea of generosity, he said: "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." To understand this you must have been some time on a farm and watched the farmer measure grains or small fruits. The pressing down and the shaking together and the running over all are graphic and meaningful expressions intended to picture to the mind the kind of measure in which the king of heaven takes delight. A man who does not skimp or dole out with a niggardly hand is, says Jesus, a man whom the universe likes and blesses. He will lose nothing by his liberality, for the world is constructed on a generous principle, and by surrendering himself to the divine spirit of giving he will be in tune with the Infinite, and shall by no means lose his reward. He need not be anxious about the precise time when such action shall bring its recompense. It is enough to go forward, giving and asking nothing in return, assured that somewhere and somehow his recompense shall be forthcoming. Let him therefore when he makes a dinner or supper not invite simply his friends or his brethren, or his kindred or his rich neighbors, expecting that they will invite him again. Let him feast the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, men who cannot give anything in return, and then let him expect from God the blessing which is provided for the generous heart. That blessing may not come in all its fullness in the world that now is, but there will be a complete recompense at the resurrection of the just. What Jesus said to his disciples he says to all, "Freely ye have received, freely give."
Jesusí dislike of the stingy and parsimonious heart comes out in several of his parables. When he speaks of Dives in his fine linen at his banquet table while the sick beggar eats crumbs at his gate, we can feel the hot flame of an indignant soul. When he tells of the rich man who thought of nothing but his overflowing barns and his own selfish enjoyment, there is a scorn in his language that scorches. In the parable of the Hours recorded in the twentieth chapter of Matthew, he passes condemnation on men who are so penurious and mean that the beauty of a generous act does not appeal to them. The owner of the vineyard pays the men who worked longest all that he agreed to pay them, and then because of the generosity of his heart he pays the men who have worked only one hour as much as if they had worked an entire day. He does this because he wants to be generous. But selfish and mole-eyed men began to murmur. An act that should have charmed them by its loveliness excited only their envy and ill-natured grumblings. The story is told in a way that reveals clearly what Jesus thinks of a man who is generous. Where in the New Testament will you find more exuberant praise than that which he lavishes upon the woman who poured four hundred dollarsí worth of perfume on his head and feet? Miserly souls near him were offended by such extravagance, but he liked it. He appreciated the lavish expenditures of love. When he sees a poor widow throwing her two bits of copper into the treasury in the temple, all the money the had in the world, he does not criticize her for doing a foolish thing as most of us would have done, but he cries out in a shout which has in it the music of a hallelujah, "She has given more than they all." In a world so filled with grudging and closed-fisted men, it cheered his great heart to see now and then a person who had mastered the divine art of giving. He liked givers because he himself was always giving.
When he said it is more blessed to give than to receive he was speaking from personal experience. He had not read that in a book. He had found it out in life. When he urged men to give freely, abundantly, lavishly, gladly, continually, he was only preaching what he himself practiced. He had no money to give, but he gave without stint what he had. He had time and he gave it. The golden hours were his and he gave them. He gave them all. So recklessly did he give them that in order to find time to pray it was necessary to use hours when other men were sleeping. He had strength and he gave it with a liberality that astonished and alarmed his friends. He poured out his energy to the last ounce. At one time we see him seated, exhausted, on the curbing of Jacobís well; at another time we see him falling asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow on the little boat which was carrying him back to Capernaum. When on the last day of his life they laid a beam of timber upon his shoulder he staggered under it and then fell, so completely had he been exhausted by the arduous labors of the preceding months and years.
He saved others but himself he did not know how to save. He had thought and he gave it. He had ideas and he scattered them. He had truth and he shared it with men. Behold a sower goes forth to sow! It is Jesus. Look at him. Watch the swing of that arm. What a generous arm! He scatters the seed upon the beaten path. No matter. He scatters the seed on the soil that is rocky. What of it? He scatters the seed in brier patches and thorny comers. He does not mind that. The seed is abundant, and he will scatter it with a prodigal hand, hoping that some of it will find the soil which is fertile and which will bring forth a harvest to make glad the heart of God. Many a teacher has saved his best ideas for a chosen few. Jesus scattered his broadcast. He had often ignorant and prejudiced and unresponsive hearers, but he threw his pearls by the handful wherever he went. What glorious ideas he scattered over the crowds of Galilean farmers, what heavenly truths he unfolded to men and women of whom the world took no notice!
Never was a teacher such a spendthrift in the squandering of ideas, never did a great thinker pour out his treasures in such wild and immeasurable profusion. Freely he had received, and therefore freely he gave. It was not merely the work of the intellect, but also the blood of the heart that he gave. His affection toward men flowed in a stream constant and full. His sympathy covered all classes, and no individual, however low and despised, ever appealed to him in vain. Blind men on hearing of his approach lined themselves along the road crying as he passed, "Have mercy also on us." Lepers who were counted unclean and treated worse than dogs ventured to push their way into his presence and ask for a healing touch. Samaritans, the very offscourings of the world in the estimation of the orthodox Jew, knew that in this new rabbi they had a benefactor and friend. When he drove the traders out of the Temple it was the blind and the lame who came to him, knowing that they would not be cast away. Sympathy eats up the blood of the nerves, and he who sympathizes draws heavily on the fountains of energy. This Jesus always did. He was a man with a loving heart. He loved both his friends and his enemies. He loved them at the beginning and he loved them to the end. The love that he lavished upon his disciples purified them and bound them to him with bonds that nothing could break. But his love went out also to those who hated him and schemed to bring about his death. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," it is in such a prayer that the loving heart of Jesus is clearly revealed. He poured out his love with a generosity that reminded men of the generosity of God. Having given time and strength and thought and sympathy and love, he finally gave up his life. More than this can no man give. He was not an unwilling victim of circumstances, or the helpless prey of ungovernable political forces, or a martyr like Caesar, or William the Silent, or Lincoln. He gave his life consciously and deliberately. It was not snatched from him by accident or fate, but freely surrendered by a heart willing to pay the great price. Again and again he endeavored to make this plain. "I have power to lay down my life," he said, "and I have power to take it again." It was his conviction from the beginning that he came into the world to minister to menís needs, and to give his life a ransom for many. It was only by the giving of his life that he could soften menís hearts and bring a lost world back to the Fatherís house.
This, then, was the earthly career of Jesus Ė one continuous manifestation of generous and boundless love. In his character we see not only what is possible for man to be, but we also behold a revelation of the character of the Eternal. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father," so said Jesus to those who were the nearest to him, and it is a saying which should be often in our thoughts. In studying the character of Jesus we get light not only upon the possibilities of man, but also upon the disposition and the will of God. The God revealed by Jesus is the same God revealed by Nature. The God of Nature has always been known as a generous God. The days and nights, the sky and sea and land, the changing seasons, all bear witness to His amazing generosity. He is prodigal in all His doings. He is lavish in all His benefactions. He scatters good things with the bountiful munificence of a King. He scatters the stars not in paltry thousands but in countless millions. He creates flowers not in numbers that we can count, but in a profusion that confuses and confounds the imagination. He always gives more than can be accepted. He throws sunsets away on eyes that do not care for them. He gives fruit trees more blossoms than the trees can use. At every feast that He spreads, there are fragments remaining filling twelve baskets. He is a munificent, freehanded, bountiful, and extravagant God. He runs constantly to profusion and exuberance and overflowing plenty. He fills the measure, presses it down, shakes it together, and causes it to run over. The measure is full of beauty apparently going to waste. He breaks the alabaster box upon our head every day we live. He spreads a table before us, He makes our cup run over. There are a thousand toothsome things to eat, and a thousand lovely things to see, and a thousand exquisite pleasures to experience, and a thousand sublime truths to learn, and a thousand good opportunities to seize Ė more than we can ever make use of in the short span of life allowed us. In the realm of nature He is assuredly a lavish and bewilderingly bounteous God, and what He is in the world of nature He is likewise in the realm of the spirit. Jesus says, "Ask and ye shall receive." Do not hesitate to do it. No matter who you are, you may do it. "For every one that asketh, receiveth." It is an eternal principle, deep-seated in creation and deep-rooted in the heart of God, that gifts rich and royal may be had for the asking. It is the purpose of the Christian religion to bring us to a God who is willing to give us above what we are willing to ask or able to think. The generosity of Jesus is intended to remind us of the measureless beneficence of the all-Father. His message thrills with the thought that we constantly get not what we earn or what we deserve, but what an ungrudging and open-handed God is delighted to give.
If you ask why was Jesus generous, the answer is, God is love. When was love anything but liberal? When has love ever dealt out good things with a scant and skimping and miserly hand? When Peter suggested a certain number as being enough to indicate the limits of forgiveness, Jesus told him not to count at all. Love never counts. When did a mother ever count the number of times she kissed her baby, and when did a friend ever catalogue the number of favors toward his friend, or when did a parent ever make a list of all the good things he gave his children? Love never counts. It is the nature of love to give, and to keep on giving, and then to devise new ways of larger giving, and to imagine still additional needs that may be supplied. Speaking to fathers, Jesus says: "What man is there of you, who, if his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone; or if he shall ask for a fish, will he give him a serpent ? If ye then being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" If you are ever tempted to question the generosity of the heart of God, look at Jesus! Once in the worldís history there has lived a man whose supreme joy was ungrudging giving. He knew as no other man has ever known how much more blessed it is to give than to receive. He lived not to be ministered unto, but to minister; not to receive, but to give; not to save his life, but to pour it out for others. If generosity so great has appeared in Time, it must be because there is a generous heart in Eternity; if a grace so beautiful has blossomed on our earth, we have a right to expect the same grace in heaven.
"Thereís a wideness in Godís mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea:
Thereís a kindness in his justice,
Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in his blood.
"For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of manís mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more simple,
We should take him at his word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord."