By John Angell James
It is true our churches do not abound with such people--but, enriched as our cause is with the principles of divine truth, and patronized by the smiles of Heaven, we can dispense with the blazonry and patronage of secular distinctions.
There are men, however, who, amid the accumulations of increasing wealth, remain firmly attached to the principles of the gospel, and who delight to lavish their fortunes in supporting the cause they love and espouse. Let them consider it as their incumbent duty, to consecrate no small portion of their affluence, not merely in propagating the principles of Christianity abroad--but upholding the cause of truth at home. The erection of chapels, the support of seminaries, the maintenance of poor ministers, the establishment of churches--should with them be objects of deep concern.
Let them, in order to abound more and more in such efforts, as well as to exhibit a bright example of pure and undefiled religion, avoid all unnecessary worldly conformity, and all expensive modes of living. Something is due to their rank and station--but more than is necessary, ought not to be conceded. There is, in the present age, a disposition, even in professing Christians, to a showy and expensive style of living, which cannot be more effectually repressed, than by the plain and simple habits of those who are known to have an easy access to all the elegancies and splendors of life. "Tell those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone. But their trust should be in the living God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give generously to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may take hold of real life." 1 Tim. 6:17-19.
Such was the admonition of Paul to Timothy, from which we gather, that rich Christians ought to be far more anxious to give--than to hoard their fortunes. When we enter their mansions and see magnificence in every room, luxury on every table; when we see their extravagant dress and decor, we cannot help saying, "How much ought a disciple of Jesus, who lives in this manner, to give away to the cause of religion and humanity, before he is justified in such an expenditure." There appears to me to be yet lacking a proportionate liberality on the part of the rich. Their giving bears no comparison with those of the middle classes, and of the poor. The former give of their abundance, the latter of their little; at most, the former only give of their luxuries--but the latter, their comforts and necessaries.
Rich Christians should be exceedingly attentive to the needs and comforts of their poorer brethren. There is a great lack of this in the churches of Christ. "If one of you has enough money to live well, and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help--how can God's love be in that person?" 1 John 3:17. Such people should carefully and tenderly inquire into the condition of the poor, and not content themselves with a monthly contribution at the Lord's supper, to be disposed of by the deacons. And it would be well if the deacons were often to go to the habitations of the more affluent members of the church, and lay before them the case of their destitute brethren.
The more wealthy members should be very cautious not to assume undue power in the government of the church. The distinctions of wealth have no place in the kingdom of Christ. No haughty airs, no proud scorn of the opinions of others less affluent than themselves, no overbearing urgency in stating their own views, should ever be seen in their conduct in the transactions of church business. Their superior wealth, if not attended with a spirit of domination, is sure in every case to procure for them all the deference that is compatible with the independence of the church.
In short, the VICES to which rich Christians are more particularly exposed, and against which they should vigilantly guard, are pride, haughtiness, love of money, idleness, self-indulgence, luxury, extravagance, worldly conformity, ecclesiastical domination, and oppression of the poor.
The VIRTUES they are called to exercise are gratitude to God; humility and meekness to men; frugality and temperance towards themselves; and liberality, together with tender sympathy to their poorer brethren, and a generous regard to the support of the cause of pure religion and general benevolence.