If I give all I possess to the poor and exult in the surrender of my body, but have not love, I gain nothing.
I. ALMSGIVING MAY ORIGINATE IN INFERIOR AND UNWORTHY MOTIVES. The apostle supposes an extreme case, viz. that one should give away all his substance in doles to the poor; and he gives his judgment that such a course of action may be loveless, and, if loveless, then worthless. For it may proceed from:
1. Ostentation. That this is the explanation of many of the handsome and even munificent gifts of the wealthy, we are obliged to believe. A rich man sometimes likes his name to figure in a subscription list for an amount which no man of moderate means can afford. The publication of such a gift gratifies his vanity and self importance. His name may figure side by side with that of a well known millionaire.
2. Custom. A commentator has illustrated this passage by reference to the crowds of beggars who gather in the court of a great bishop's palace in Spain or Sicily, to each of whom a coin is given, in so-called charity. Such pernicious and indiscriminate almsgiving is expected of those in a high position in the Church, and they give from custom. The same principle explains probably much of our eleemosynary bestowment.
3. Love of power. As in the feudal days a great lord had his retinue and his retainers, multitudes depending upon his bounty, so there can be no question that individuals and Churches often give generously for the sake of the hold they thus gain upon the dependent, who become in turn in many ways their adherents and supporters.
II. ALMSGIVING MAY IN SOME CASES BE INJURIOUS. In fact, it often is so.
1. To the recipient. The wretch who lives in idleness on rich men's doles is degraded in the process, and becomes lost to all self respect, and habituated to an ignominious and base contentedness with his position.
2. To society generally. When it is known that the man who begs is as well supported as the man who works, how can it be otherwise than that demoralization should ensue? The system of indiscriminate almsgiving is a wrong to the industrious poor.
3. To the giver. For such gifts as are supposed, instead of calling forth the finer qualities of the nature, awaken in the breast of the bestower a cynical contempt of mankind.
III. NEVERTHELESS, TRUE CHARITY MAY EXPRESS ITSELF IN GIFTS. The man who doles away his substance in almsgiving, and has all the while no charity, is nothing; but if there be love, that love sanctifieth both the giver and the gift. For he who loves and gives resembles that Divine Being whose heart is ever filled with love, whose hands are ever filled with gifts. - T.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and... give my body to be burned.I. "THOUGH I BESTOW ALL MY GOODS TO FEED THE POOR." Literally, "bestow all my substance in food": turn it all into charitable doles. Well, all this lavish benevolence will bring no profit if unaccompanied with love.
1. A man may be liberal from the mere bent of his natural disposition.(1) "But is it not a blessed thing to have such a disposition? "Yes; but the brightest lamp leaves many corners dark and cheerless, while the bright day spring flows into every nook. So it is with the human character, according as natural liberality, or Divine love, prompts it to action. Under the first, much may be bright and lovely, but there will ever be left lurking spots of darkness — enmities, prejudices, partialities, etc.; whereas, if lighted up by Divine love, all these will be resisted and vanish by degrees, and the man will become just and large-hearted. The naturally liberal may give to satisfy his wish and ease his desire of giving; true Christian charity gives in self-denial, often withholding where nature prompts to give; often giving where nature would fain withhold.(2) Of those who bestow largely without the spirit of love, the indiscriminate almsgiver is one of the chief examples. Not one of the characteristics of love here described is in operation upon him. The indolent giving way to an amiable propensity, the hypocritical getting rid of a troublesome duty, must not for an instant be confounded with the yearning and painstaking self-denial of Christian love.
2. A man may bestow all his goods to feed the poor, out of motives of mere display.(1) "But is it not a laudable thing to give as befits a man's station and income?" That depends on the motive. One man bestows up to the mark which is required of him. If he goes further than this, he expects, and gets, no small share of credit. But in this I can see nothing laudable. But another man bestows as responsible to God. He acts not up to, but down upon his earthly position; not as sparing that which is his own, but administering that which is not his own. Now, love is set free, and in that alone is capable of working great and lasting good.(2) But such is the infirmity of our nature, that the existence of a motive is by no means a guarantee for its full operation. There may be conscientious bestowal in a hard, rigid spirit of duty, without kindliness of heart or manner, just as the seed may appear in the plant, but after all be nipped by unkindly skies and winds. And of a bestowal so defective, what our text says is true. Note how true it is found to be in our public legal provision for the poor. Not that we could in our present state of society do without such a provision. But no one thanks us for it, no one is softened by it: all look to it as a sort of right, and feel no gratitude to its bestowers.
II. "IF I GIVE MY BODY TO BE BURNED, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing" — i.e., all toil, all sacrifice, etc. How different would have been the history of the world and the Church, if this had been borne in mind by Christians!
1. How many lamentable instances have we seen of self-denial on a vast scale, followed by rule and prescription, where every sign of the spirit of love was wanting; nay, where hatred and rancour not only burned in men's breasts, but led on to wars and massacres, nominally for the truth's sake! On what is the greatest amount of self-denying labour spent among men? What answer could be given, but that it is but after all for ulterior objects?
2. And then rise to a higher kind of sacrifice. How often do we see men earnestly devoting themselves, even without any prospect beyond, to the interest or advancement of some favourite scheme, the maintenance of one side of some debated question? Sometimes substance, and family, and peace of mind, are offered generously up; many a man is a wreck of some hopeless voyage, but evermore fitting himself out again for undertaking it afresh. Then again, as in the former case, but here even more, there is temptation, from the very glory of self-sacrifice, to make it unworthily. Often have the words of our text been literally verified. The body has been burned, but no flame of love was lit up in the soul: the martyr has met death with smiles perhaps on his persecutors, but with unsubdued polemical hatred. And many who have not reached this consummation have stripped themselves of all they had, and have gone forth into deserts, there to become renowned in the eyes of the Church, and thence to launch their anathemas upon others, wiser perhaps and better than themselves. Well indeed might it be written, that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. And just in proportion to this character of our hearts is the necessity of constant and unwearied watchfulness, that in our own case neither our bestowals nor our self-denials may be without love, but indeed all prompted and regulated by it. And how may this be? Now as at the first, by the Spirit of God.
(J. Cross, D.D.)I. THERE MAY BE GREAT PERFORMANCES AND SUFFERINGS WITHOUT LOVE.
1. Great performances (Philippians 3:3; Luke 18:11, 12). Many have been exceeding magnificent in their gifts for pious and charitable uses from fear of hell, hoping thereby to make atonement for their sins, others from pride, or from a desire for reputation.
2. Great sufferings. Many have undertaken wearisome pilgrimages, or spent their lives in deserts, or suffered death, of whom we have no reason to think they had any sincere love in their hearts. In the Crusades thousands went voluntarily to all the dangers of the conflict, in the hope of thus securing the pardon of their sires and the rewards of glory hereafter. And history tells us of some that have yielded themselves to voluntary death, out of mere obstinacy of spirit. Many among the heathen have died for their country, and many as martyrs for a false faith.
II. WHATEVER MEN MAY DO OR SUFFER, THEY CANNOT MAKE UP FOR THE WANT OF LOVE.
1. It is not the work or the suffering that is, in itself, worth anything in the sight of God. "The Lord looketh not on the outward appearance, but on the heart."
2. Whatever is done or suffered, yet if the heart is withheld from God, there is nothing really given to Him.
3. Love is the sum of all that God requires of us. And it is absurd to suppose that anything can make up for the want of that which is the sum of all that God requires. As to things without the heart, God speaks of them as not being the things that He has required (Isaiah 1:12), and demands that the heart be given to Him, if we would have the external offering accepted.
4. If we make a great show of respect and love to God, in the outward actions, while there is no sincerity in the heart, it is but hypocrisy and practical lying unto the Holy One (Psalm 78:36).
5. Whatever may be done or suffered, if there be no sincerity in the heart, it is all but an offering to some idol. In all such offerings, something is virtually worshipped; and whatever it is, be it self, or our fellow-men, or the world, that is allowed to usurp the place that should be given to God, and to receive the offerings that should be made to Him.Conclusion: It becomes us to use the subject —
1. In the way of self-examination. If it be indeed so — that all we can do or suffer is in vain, if we have not sincere love to God in the heart — then it should put us upon searching ourselves whether or no we have this love in sincerity in our hearts. There are these things that belong to sincerity —(1) Truth — that is, that there be that truly in the heart of which there is the appearance and show in the outward action (Psalm 51:6; John 1:47).(2) Freedom. Christ is chosen and followed because He is loved.(3) Integrity — wholeness. Where this sincerity exists, God is sought, and religion is chosen with the whole heart.(4) Purity.
2. To convince the unregenerate of their lost condition. If by all you can do or suffer, you cannot make up for the want of love, then it will follow that you are in an undone condition till you have obtained God's regenerating grace to renew a right spirit within you.
3. To exhort all earnestly to cherish sincere Christian love in their hearts. If it be so, that this is of such great and absolute necessity, seek it with diligence and prayer. God only can bestow it.
(Jon. Edwards.)I. ITS COMMON FORMS.
2. Attachment to the truth.
II. ITS WORTHLESSNESS.
1. It cannot please God.
2. It fails in motive.
3. It profits nothing.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)
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