By S.D. Gordon
Money seems almost almighty in its power to do things, and make changes. It can make a desert blossom as a rose. It can even defy death. Medical skill holds the life here that otherwise would have been snuffed out. Great buildings go up. Colleges begin their life with apparatus and books, skilled instructors, and eager students. Mammoth enterprises spring into being. Hospitals and churches rise up with skilled attendants and talented preachers.
We have come, in our day, and perhaps peculiarly in our country, to think that there is no limit to the power of money. Our ideas of its value are really greatly exaggerated. That first sentence I used would be revised by many to read, "Money is almighty." The cautious words "seems" and "almost" would be promptly cut out.
Yet money has great limitations. It will help greatly to remember what they are. And many of us need the brain-clearing of that help. Of itself money is utterly useless, so much dead-weight stuff lying useless and helpless. It must have human hands to make it valuable. It gets its value from our conception of its value and from our use of it. It must have a human partner to be of any service at all.
In bad hands it becomes devilish in its badness. And I needn't put an "almost" in that sentence. It may be as a very demon, or as the arch-devil himself, as really as it may seem to be divine in its creative and changing power.
Then it is valuable only in this world, on the earth. At the line of death its value wholly ceases. Over that line it takes its place as a pauper. It is represented as being used for cobble stones in the streets of the new Jerusalem. Yet it would need to go through some hardening process to make it of any account at all as paving material.
We ought to remind ourselves of something else, too, that the crowd constantly forgets, and that we are tempted to forget when touched by the contagion of the crowd. And that is, that money is always less in its power than a strong, sweet, pure life. Maybe you think that comparison can't properly be made. You say that things so unlike can't be compared. But, whether consciously or intentionally or otherwise, that comparison is being made constantly in practical life, and most times to the advantage of money. Commonly the crowd reckons money more than character.
We do well to remind ourselves that its influence for good is always distinctly less than that of a life. To live a life pure and strong and wholesome in its ideals out among men is more than to be able to give money in any amount. To keep one's life up to such ideals in the heartless drive and competition of modern life means more than to extract large quantities of gold out of the mine of barter and trade, and to give some of it away.
And money is less than personal service. Great deference is paid to checks and subscriptions. The man who can draw a large check for some good object, and who may by dint of much dexterous handling be induced to write his name under some large figure, is treated with awe. But there's another man who stands higher up in the scale, and to whom hats should go farther off and more quickly. That is the strong man who gives personal service. There may be a blessed partnership between the man of money and the man of service. There often is. But he is an unfortunate man, to be pitied, who lets anything else crowd out of his life the privilege of giving some of his self out in personal service for others. These are some of gold's limitations.
The Best Partnership.
Give money good partners, and there is no end to what it can do. Let prayer and sacrifice and money form a life-partnership, and that first sentence can be revised, and greatly strengthened by the revision: Money is almost almighty. It gets all the good qualities of its partners as long as it stays in the partnership, on good working terms.
It isn't the head of the firm, however. Prayer belongs in that place. It must direct. It is the prayer's touch with God that hallows the gold and gives to it some of God's omnipotence. Money is the working partner, best when hard at work, and famous for the amount of work it can do in obeying orders from the head of the house.
It gives a strange sense of awe to realize that the bit of money you hold in your hand can be used to change a life, aye, more, to change many lives. That money is yours to control. It came to you in exchange for your labor or your skill. It is yours, for the sweat of your brow or your brain is upon it. And now it can be sent out, and the result will be a life utterly changed, purified, and redeemed.
Through your partnership the money produces something greater than itself. And that changed life becomes the centre of a new power, changing other lives out to the far rim of an ever-widening circle. It may have cost you much. Some of your very life has gone out in the work that brought into your hands that bit of gold. It is red with your blood. And now, if you choose, it can be sent out and made to bring new life in to some one else. Life has gone from you in getting it, and life will come to another in your giving it out, under the blessed Master's transmuting touch.
Jesus' teaching about money is startling. I mean that it stands in such utter contrast to the commonly accepted standards out in the world, and inside in the Church, that the contrast startles one sharply.
There are four passages in which His money teachings group, largely. There's the "Lay-not-up-for-yourselves-treasure-upon-the-earth" bit in the sermon on the Mount; with the still stronger phrase in the Luke parallel, "Sell that ye have, and give." There is the incident of the earnest young man who was rich; the parable of the wealthy farmer in Luke, twelfth chapter; and the whole sixteenth chapter of Luke, with that great ninth verse, whose full meaning has been so little grasped. The truth taught in each of these is practically the same thing.
The Master is evidently talking about what a man has over and above his personal and family needs. It's a law of life, from Eden on, that a man should work to supply his daily needs and the needs of those dependent upon him. Just how much that word "needs" means each man settles for himself. It means different things at different times to the same man.
It is surprising how little it can be made to mean when the pinch comes, and yet a man have all actual necessities supplied. The man who would have his life count for most for the Master, and the Master's plan, thinks over that word prayerfully and sensibly with full regard to personal strength, and loved ones, and the future. Whatever it may be made to mean, this teaching is plainly about what is left over after the needs are met.
Now, about that left-over amount the Master gives three easily understood rules, or bits of advice, or commands. First: Don't treasure it up for the sake of having it. If you do it is in danger, and you are in danger. It may be stolen. Every vault, and safe, and safety-deposit company, and lock, and key backs up that statement. Or it may be lost through rust or moths, the two things that threaten all inactivity. The stuff that isn't in use wears away. The wear of use can't compare with the wear of disuse or neglect.
Then you are in danger of your heart being affected. It will be wherever your treasure is. It may get locked up, and so dried up for lack of air or poisoned by bad air. The blood must have fresh air. The heart must have touch with men to keep its vigor. It may get all dried up with things, instead of keeping vigorous by touch with needy men. That's the twofold danger. That's the first thing Jesus says: Don't store it up, down here, in the ordinary way.
The second thing is this: Store your surplus up. Be careful of it. Keep strict tally. Let the books be well kept and balanced. Let no thoughtlessness nor carelessness nor thriftlessness get in. Store it up. But be careful where you store it. Keep it carefully guarded against the action of thieves and moths, and against the inaction of decaying, destroying rust. That is the second thing. Store it up carefully.
Be Your Own Executor.
The third thing is this: Store it up by means of exchange. Keep it safe by giving it away. The whole value of money is in exchange. It must be kept moving. But, but--and the whole heart of the teaching is here--be very wary about your exchanges. Invest your money in men, wherever the need may be. All that you invest wisely in men is stored up against any violence or craftiness of thieves and any corroding of rust.
All that is not out in active use directly among men, for men, in Jesus' name, is in danger of being stolen, or of decaying, or of injuring you, or of being left behind, utterly worthless to you when you are through down here. Be your own executor.
Some years ago one of the religious papers of New York City told of the death of a maiden lady named Elizabeth Pellit. Her home was in the hall-room of a tenement-house, and at her death all her earthly possessions could be put into one common trunk. No executor or administrator was needed. Living in narrow circumstances, her friends thought she had denied herself all luxuries and even many comforts. But in the forty years of her Christian life she had been able to give over thirty thousand dollars to missionary work. She had supplied the money to send out and sustain one missionary in Salvador, and also for another who was to go out soon. She seemed to have grasped the meaning of the Master's teaching.
Good common sense comes in for free play here, both in adjusting one's personal and family schedule and in giving. Giving may be done foolishly, or not wisely. There is no place where there is more room for good sense in avoiding both the extreme of unwise giving and the other extreme of handicapping one's gifts.
It is a question of personal judgment how far to give money out directly and how far to invest some of it and use the income wholly in gifts. You may think that in some directions you can invest it better, and direct the income better than some organization. That is an important detail. But the chief thing is that the money itself is dedicated wholly for use out among needy men.
Now you will please mark keenly that in all this I am not talking about what I think about money. I am simply putting into plain talk Jesus' own teaching about it, in these four great passages.
Missing the Master's Meaning.
Christian men, generally, seem to have missed the meaning of Jesus' words. I think it due largely to the lack of teaching in the Church that world-evangelizing is a first obligation.
Recently a fire destroyed the home of a man of large wealth who lives some distance east of San Francisco. It was a beautiful palace, full of art treasures. The value of house and furnishings and the art collection was reckoned at about two million dollars. He is a Christian man, prominently identified with active Christian work, and reckoned a liberal giver. He has visited foreign-mission lands, and made special gifts to missions.
But his gifts to missions seem like a copper cent or a silver quarter given to a beggar in contrast with the two million dollars tied up for himself in the house that burned. Two millions stored up in a home, while many millions of men have lived and died in ignorance of the light and peace that comes with Jesus! Yet this man calls Jesus his Master, and sincerely, I have no doubt. And his Master said the one great thing was to tell all men of His love and death.
By no extension of the meaning of that word "need" could he be said to need a two-million-dollar home for himself and family. And there are other millions under the same man's control. It looks very much as if this good man had missed the meaning of Jesus' words. The criticism, however, must be first upon the Church and its leaders, with whose general trend of teaching this man is in accord. According to the Master's teaching, most of the money in his house, and stored up in other ways of the sort for himself, is being lost. Far more serious, the opportunity of investment in men is being lost. That money will be all loss to him when he reaches the line of departure over into the next sphere of life.
It is very difficult to use such an illustration from life. There is danger that the words will sound critical in a bad or unkind sense. I earnestly pray to be kept from that. You will know that I am talking to myself first of all; and speaking of this only to help. The bother is that this man is not an exception. Rather he represents the habit and standard of his generation.
I recall another Christian man as I speak, of large wealth, by inheritance and by dint of business keenness. His face showed plainly his fine Christian character. He gave liberally in many directions, sometimes very large sums. But he lived in a home whose value ran close to a half-million of dollars. When he died, full of years and honors, he left many millions to a son who does not inherit his father's generous hand with his wealth. Of course, the son didn't need the vast wealth.
And I wondered, silently, within my heart, how things looked to that man, as he slipped out of life up into the Master's presence, and looked down on the earth through the eyes of the One whose teaching we have been talking about. He could see China and India and Africa then as plainly as America.
How did the lost opportunity of laying up his treasure in the lives of men look to him then, I wondered. He was a good man. I saw him smile once, and his face seemed to shine as an angel's. I think probably no faithful friend had ever talked to him of the plain meaning of Jesus' words, and of world-winning being a first obligation. He hadn't been taught it from the pulpit. And he hadn't thought into it himself.
Many are losing a great opportunity of silently preaching Jesus to their fellows by their habit of giving. Two men were discussing the evidences of the Christian religion. The one was a Christian; the other not, and inclined to be sceptical. Arguments were freely exchanged. At last the sceptic, who was a blunt, out-spoken man, said frankly, to his friend and neighbor: "I think we might as well drop this matter. For I don't believe a word you say. And, more than that, I am quite satisfied in my own mind that you do not really believe it yourself. For to my certain knowledge you have not given, the last twenty years, as much for the spread of Christianity, such as the building of churches and foreign and domestic missions, as your last Durham cow cost. Why, sir, if I believed what you say you believe I'd make the church my rule for giving, my farm the exception."
That Christian man's life was contradicting every word he uttered to his neighbor. Money talks. His was talking very loudly to his sceptical neighbor. His neighbor was unusually frank in saying out what thousands are thinking. He had lost a great opportunity of winning his friend.
In a simple little sentence Paul reveals how thoroughly he had grasped Jesus' meaning. He said, "I am debtor both to Greeks and barbarians"--to all men. Now that word, "debtor," commonly means two things: that you have received something of value from some one, and that therefore you owe him for what he gave to you.
But Paul hadn't gotten anything special from the men of whom he is speaking. His birth and training and whatever else he had were Jewish. And the Jews were a minority in the world. He was not under the debtor obligation of having gotten something from the men he is speaking of.
In his use of that word, "debtor" means three things: first, something received from God, and that something everything; then something owing to God; and then that something payable to man. He counted himself in debt to all men on Jesus' account. And so are we. How much owest thou to thy Lord? That's how much you are to pay to men on your Lord's account.
We are not even our own, much less our goods. We were bought up when we were bankrupt A great price was paid for us, even the life-blood of Jesus. And our Owner bids us pay up by paying out. We are badly and blessedly in debt; badly, for we can never square the account; blessedly, because we can be constantly paying on account, out to men in Jesus' name.
"Over against the Treasury this day
The Master silent sits; whilst, unaware
Of that Celestial Presence still and fair,
The people pass or pause upon their way.
And some go laden with His treasures sweet,
And dressed in costly robes of His device
To cover hearts of stone and souls of ice,
Which bear no token to the Master's feet.
And some pass, gaily singing, to and fro,
And cast a careless gift before His face,
Amongst the treasures of the holy place,
But kneel to crave no blessing ere they go.
And some are travel-worn, their eyes are dim,
They touch His shining vesture as they pass,
But see not--even darkly through a glass--
How sweet might be their trembling gifts to Him.
And still the hours roll on; serene and fair
The Master keeps his watch, but who can tell
The thoughts that in His tender spirit swell,
As one by one we pass him unaware?
For this is He who, on one awful day,
Cast down for us a price so vast and dread,
That He was left for our sakes bare and dead,
Having given Himself our mighty debt to pay!
Oh, shall unworthy gifts once more be thrown
Into His treasury--by whose death we live?
Or shall we now embrace His cross, and give
Ourselves, and all we have, to him alone?"
Is not that the meaning of Paul's "Owe no man anything, save to love one another." We owe a debt of love to all men on Jesus' account. We can be paying on it continually, and yet never get a receipt in full that discharges the debt. But then we get other things in full--peace, and joy, and a life overflowing in fulness.
With an honorable business man a debt is a first obligation. His personal expenditures and his home schedule are shaped by his debt. The extras that he would feel quite free in allowing himself and his home are not allowed until the debt is cleared. The debt controls his spendings until it is paid off in full. That's reckoned a matter of honor.
James, the first bishop of Jerusalem, had caught the Lord's very language as well as His thought. He says, "Your gold and silver are rusted, and their rust shall be for a testimony against you." It would seem as though there were quite a bit of rusty money entered in Christian names and controlled by Christian people. It is lying in vaults, and lands, and savings-societies, and old stockings, gathering rust.
It is in sore need. It needs friction, the friction of use. Without that its real, rare value will be completely lost. It is furnishing food for moths when it was meant to be furnishing food for men, bread of wheat and bread of life. There'll be many a striking scene when some men come up into the Master's presence with loaded purses, "caught with the goods," while millions of their brothers are living such pitiable lives because of their ignorance of Jesus.
But there are men who do understand. And their number is increasing. There are those who understand the Master's basis for conducting their business matters. That basis is shrewd, faithful management of the business itself as good stewards of God; full, proper provision for home and loved ones--simple, but ample and intelligent; and then all the rest out in active service for men in Jesus' name. If that basis were more largely understood and accepted, what wondrous changes would come; changes out in the world, and changes in the home, and changes in the home church.
Many men are supporting their own representatives in the foreign field. Many a church now sustains its own missionary or missionaries. The ideal toward which the Church might well aim is that every family should have its own missionary. The real unit of life is the family. The children would then grow up with the world-vision dearly and deeply marked. There are thousands of families in circumstances that are reckoned moderate that could support a missionary by planning. But the relationship should be carefully kept one of warm sympathy and prayer, as well as one of money. The reflex blessing upon the home would be immeasurable in its sweetness and extent.
Are We True To Our Friend's Trust?
Jesus admits us into the inner circle of friendship. He gives us the one rarest token of friendship, that is, a task to do for our Friend's sake. He asks us to go out to all men, and tell them about His love and sacrifice for them. And He asks that everything we have be held and used for this sacred friendship trust. Are we being true to our Friend's trust? Is there more stored away for ourselves than is being sent out on His errand? Is there any discoloration on our gold? Anything that looks like rust, a dull-red color--ah, it looks strangely like the color--the stain--of blood.
Is Judas so lonely, after all? He coupled a token of friendship with a betrayal of his Friend's trust. In his heart he meant far less than the act actually involved. Is he so much alone?
"The latest years shall tremble hearing this
And burn for human shame unto the end,
That one of us betrayed the tryst his Friend
Would keep with God. A sign that none might miss
He named--the pledge of love. The soul's abyss,
Christ saw, the heart of night, the purse, the end;
Knew all, a Man, and knowing stui could bend
With soul unpoisoned to receive the kiss.
Before the multitude have I kist Thee
Fresh come from my blood-barter--thou but come
From intercession for all souls--and me.
And, mocking Love Divine, amazed and dumb,
I learn Love's deathlessness, and trembling press
The lips that kiss away my faithlessness."