ALMSGIVING A THREEFOLD BLESSING: SECOND SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. (FROM THE EPISTLE)
But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his compassion from him; how dwelleth the love of God in him? 1 (St. John iii. 17.)
St. John the Apostle in these words exhorts us to the practice of' almsgiving for three reasons, for he who does almsgiving obtains three good gifts (1) temporal good; (2) spiritual good; (3) eternal good.
It is essential for us to remember that if we are not givers, we shall not be blessed. It is the first principle of those who pray for salvation that they should be vessels and conduits of kindness, generosity, and liberality. When the self gives to himself before giving to God, the self turns inward and away from the bountiful Giver of all good things. And thus he becomes a kind of idiolater. God gives so much to us, and if we hope to perfect His image and likeness in ourselves, we too must be givers. So if we are focused on the undeserved and unmerited mercy and Grace of God’s gift, then we cannot help but assist those in need. And this must be done especially since the poor are sent our way to be helpers in our own sanctification. Their need is essential to our spiritual growth. The Christian who forgets the poor man’s need refuses to see that that very man was sent to make his Christianity grow and increase. The poor man helps the Christian’s religion to be true, not in word and appearance only, but in truth and in deed.
(2) Defense from his enemies: The alms of man is as a signet with him, and shall preserve the grace of a man as the apple of the eye.(Ecclus. xvii. 22) He shall fight for thee against thine enemies better than a mighty shield and strong spear. (Ecclus. xxix. 13), Gloss.: Alms will rather prevail against the enemies far more than earthly weapons.
When the gift of God’s Grace moves a man to help his fellow, He confounds and frustrates the knavish tricks of the Devil. The Devil wants nothing more than that ‘the haves’ should have more, know it, and thus and close up his bowels of compassion against the poor. The Devil delights equally in the poor man whose resentment and bitterness grows into a murderous and vengeful hatred against the rich. But when the Christian gives to his brother in need, the giving and gratitude of both overcome the two sins. The rich man gives thanks to God for enabling him to help his brother and even to be helped by him out of potential sin in return. The poor man thanks God for the liberality and generosity that overcomes difference and division with love and compassion. And so both end up enraging the devil and his soldiers in their mutual exchange of love and goodwill.
(3) The prolongation of the present life: Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. (1 Tim. iv. 8)
Godliness in generosity gives a man a long life here and continues to carry him into the life which is to come. In addition, few realize that generous souls often live long. God the Fatherrdxr uses them to open the spiritual eyes and ears of those who do not yet know His Christ. Their giving to others softens men’s hearts and inspires their minds to seek after God and find Him. And thus the generous Christian is one who, because he cannot stop giving, is, unbeknownst to himself, kept in time and space for a bit longer for the great purposes of evangelization.
(2) The hearing of prayers: Shut up alms in the heart of the poor, and it shall obtain help for thee against all evil ;" that is to say, in removing evil. (Ecclus. xxix.12) Gloss. : Alms shut up in the heart, are useful for advising and consulting.
We deprive ourselves of helpmates and assistants in our spiritual journey when we withhold our alms from the poor. The poor have much to teach us. They are sent to temper and moderate our lives. They have a spiritual claim upon us because God wants them to help us to come to our spiritual senses. And because they have not had the luxury of being tempted by the false god of mammon, they redirect our eyes to the treasures of heaven and our need to seek it first. They also help us to become poor in spirit, depending only upon God for our needs in this life. Poverty of spirit goes hand in hand with earthly poverty. And that the one might help us to the other, we ought to give generously to the poor.
(3) The preservation of grace: The alms of man is as a signet with him, and shall preserve the grace of a man. (Ecclus. xvii. 22)
The giving-man is surrounded by and founded upon the Grace of Almighty God. His habit of life is generosity. Being filled with gifts of the all-generous Giver, man cannot help but overflow with the liberality and munificence of His Master and Lord. Thus Grace defines the life of the man who loves his brother as himself. In his brother he finds another self, and thus gives to his neighbor what he gives to himself.
III. Of the third good, it is to be similarly noted, that by almsgiving men acquire a threefold eternal good. (1) Liberation from eternal death: For alms deliver from all sin and from death…(Tobit iv. 11)
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven. (St. Matt. vii. 21) and, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. The key that opens Heaven’s door is generosity, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. Without a mercy-filled heart a man cannot be saved. Christ’s commandment is that ‘ye may love one another’. Christ is the condescending mercy and liberality of God the Father made flesh. He ministers the Father’s forgiveness to all of us. We are to minister forgiveness and kindness to all whom we encounter. Love as forgiveness and generosity alone delivers man from eternal death. Love as forgiveness and generosity constitute a life lived unto the Lord and what then conquers and vanquishes eternal death.
(2) The possession of eternal life: Godliness is profitable, &c., having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. (1 St. Tim. iv. 8)
So the habits of love acclimate the soul to eternal life. To live unto God is to love Him with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Life is a gift of God’s love. Life is made to be lived in God’s love. To live in God’s love is to live according to His wisdom, desire, and power. To live in God’s love is to love Him in all things and all things in Him. And thus we should do good to all men that at the Great Day of Reckoning we might recognized as those who are full of God’s love.
(3) The increase of eternal reward: He which soweth sparingly shall also reap sparingly, and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully, and shall obtain eternal life; to which may we be brought.
With whatsoever measure we have meted it shall be meted unto us again. We must lavish the world with our generosity. Earthly riches are dangerous to the Christian soul. The best recipe for the Christian is to give liberally that his spiritual progress might not be hindered by perishable commodities. The Christian ought always to give to his brothers and sisters that he might be rid of what can only stand to disturb and distract him from his earthly pilgrimage to the heavenly city. ‘The Lord liveth a cheerful giver'. (2 Cor. ix. 7)
We love Him because He first loved us. If a man say, I lore God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar. (1 S. John iv. 19, 20)
THE Apostle S. John asserts three propositions in these words. Firstly, he exhorts us to love: We love Him. Secondly, he assigns the cause of our love. Because He first loved us. Thirdly, he exhorts us to the love of our neighbour If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother…
Firstly, we must pray that we might love the Lord our God as completely as possible. Of course, we cannot love Him perfectly since we are imperfect. But we can desire to love Him more perfectly as our love for Him is grown, made better, and refined. So we pray that the Holy Ghost will grow the love of God in us. We pray we might love Him above all things. We pray that our love might be made better as we pray for the imperfect to be perfected. God does not allow us to love Him perfectly yet since we must be humbled, and thus acknowledge that our love for Him has been weak, fragile, wavering, and competing with the love for other things. In this way we become more dependent upon God alone because His love alone can always be made better in us. Our love for Him must be refined as we begin to love all others things as if we loved them not.
Second, that we should love nothing except for His sake. St. Augustine says, He loves Thee less, who with Thee loves anything else, which he loves not for Thy sake.
Secondly, we must love all things in and for God. Thus we love all other creatures in so far as they enhance and strengthen our love for God. If we love anyone or anything more than God, then we are fools. Other men and things are perishable commodities. They cannot promise us lasting happiness and joy. The happiness we derive from them derives from a repetition of their indulgence. They are relative goods. And thus we must love God in all things and all things in God. So when we love other men, we love the image and likeness of God in them, and we pray that they might join us in loving God above all things.
Third, that no enemy should turn us away from His love. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution," &c. (Rom. viii. 35)
It is a simple fact that those who threaten to destroy our love for God most are our enemies. This is because our anger, resentment, bitterness, and desire for vengeance against them tend to unhinge, move, and distract us from our love of God. For this reason, we must always place those who are our enemies on the tops of our prayer lists. We must pray for them. We must pray that the image and likeness of God will be perfected in them. We must pray, that if possible, we might be reconciled to them. If we are not able to be reconciled to them in this life, we must pray that we might meet and greet them in the arms of Jesus in the end times. So we must love our enemies in God and God in our enemies. Now we must remember that there are three kinds of enemies. There are those whom we have made enemies through our sins against them. Thus we must confess that we have failed to honor the Image and Likeness of God in them. Then we should pray that they might be led to forgive us. There are those who have made themselves our enemies, and we must simply forgive them. There are those whom we have made enemies and who have made themselves our enemies simultaneously because both we and they have been sinning against each other in equal degrees. With regard to this latter group, we must pray for healing and merciful reconciliation. Now, just to note, there are also those whom we think are our enemies, but in point of fact, are not. Sometimes we imagine things because of our insecurity and paranoia. We must pray the Lord to rid us of such narcissistic and vain phantoms that we may truly love those who do not need to be forgiven since their offence against us has been a pipe-dream.
God Himself is pure goodness. He need not do anything to us or for us for us to cause our love for Him. He being, knowing, and loving in Himself are worthy always of our love. We ought to love Him because He is good. Goodness is worthy of love because it is what we behold when we have a vision of God. God is simply Himself, and His goodness ought to be loved. Now we love Him in Himself, but we love Him also because He is the cause of love. So His goodness causes love since every love that we express, be it ever so imperfect, comes from Him. When we love anything, we are participating in God’s goodness. So God’s goodness commands our love.
Second, on account of His love as in text, We love God because He first loved us. St. Augustine writes, I, wretched man that I am, as much as possible, ought to love my God, Who made me what I was not ; Who redeemed me when I was about to perish ; Who when I was sold on account of my sins, gave Himself for me, and Who loved me so much that He gave the price of His blood for me.
We must love God because His goodness moves Him to love us. His goodness is His Grace that desires and longs to make us what we were not before He decided that His love should remake us. So He makes us what we were not. He redeemed us when we were about to perish and die in our sins. His redemption of the world is in our Lord Jesus Christ. So in and through Jesus alone we are redeemed, made right with God, and justified. Because of our sins, we were sold to Satan for a season. In this state we were powerless, hopeless, and lost. But God’s Word of Love was made flesh and took it upon Himself to pay the price for our sins, to buy us back, by shedding His blood and dying for us. And so we were repurchased by God with the cost of Christ’s blood and His forfeited life. And thus He insinuated Himself into our human nature that out of that condition’s potential limitations, He might reconcile us to God. He has died the death we could never die so that we might live the life that we could never merit. So this is the love of God for us expressed in His Word of Love made flesh that loves us so much that He has died for us, in order that we might live to the Father through Him forever.
Third, we ought to love God on account of our profit, for He has prepared good things which are not able to be spoken of for those who love Him. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. (1 Cor. ii. 9)
So God has prepared for us ‘such good things as pass our understanding.’ God’s goodness is imparted to us as His love. His Love is expressed for us in the Word made flesh that died once for all that we might live forever. And so God desires to share His eternal goodness with us in a knot of unbreakable communion with Himself. And we love God because of that Love which not only overcomes our self-willed alienation from Him, but rewards us with a Love that surpasses anything we could either deserve or desire. Oh the depth, the length, the height, the breadth of God’s love for us is too great to every imagine or understand. He has such love for us that He will grow and perfect it beginning even here and now in us through His Holy Spirit. We need only say “yes” to His love and embrace His presence in our hearts. And so we must love with His love, make good returns on His love for us, and love all others in that same Love, that they too might be awakened to its presence in our sin-sickened world.
III. On the, third head it is to be noted that we ought to love our neighbour for three reasons.
First, on account of the command. A new commandment I give unto you. (St. John xiii. 34)
First we are to love our neighbours because God in Christ has commanded it. If we are going to enjoy the love of God forever there are certain preconditions that must lay the groundwork for the growth of God’s love in our souls. We must love all men. If we do not, then false gods vie for our attention and love. The commandment to love one another is simply an absolute condition without which we cannot be saved. God will fill us with His love only if we first obey Him. Obedience to God is not impossible. Countless numbers of theologians have led many astray by squinting and straining their eyes on the gnat of obedience. God made us with the ability to obey. We may not be able to save ourselves, but we can obey Him. Jesus says, ‘If ye love me keep my commandments.’ (St. John xiv. 15) And so obey Him we must if we are to discover the purely gratuitous motions of His love in our lives. The condition for the Holy Spirit’s entry into our hearts is obedience.
Second, on account of the example of nature, for we see that all things naturally love similar things. Every beast loveth its like, so also every man him that is nearest to himself : all flesh shall consort with the like to itself. (Eccl. xiii. 15, 16)
Now we must love our neighbors as ourselves because our neighbour ‘is another self’ (Nic. Ethics: IX) Both we and our neighbours are made in the Image and Likeness of God. And so because we share a nature we ought to extend love for one another. We are all made by God for God –to know Him, to know all things in the light of His intelligence, and to use all things to ensure our deeper love of Him. Thus when we love our neighbours, we are loving what we share with them. Now Augustine says that ‘we should love our neighbours even more than our own bodies.’ (De. Doctr. Chr. I, 27) What this means is that we should love the Image and Likeness of God in all others. Thus we must love the perfection of other men’s souls before we love our own bodies. It may come to pass that we must offer our bodies to burned for the sake of our brethren’s souls. So be it. We will die in body having loved the good of our neighbours’ souls. This is a good thing, since we shall love ourselves as Christ has loved us, who gave His body a living sacrifice for our sins. So we must imitate Christ in this expression of love.
Third, on account of the evil which follows him who does not love his neighbour, because he incurs the death of sin and hell. ‘He that loveth not his brother abideth in death’. (1 St. John iii. 14) from which death may He deliver us, &c.
Now if we do not love our neighbours as ourselves, we shall not be reconciled to God’s love in eternity. Many a Christian has gone down to his grave failing to forgive just one person. And for this singular reason that man enters into utter and perfect alienation from God’s love. There is no other reason for a man to be damned save that he has failed to forgive just one other man. To love is to forgive. To forgive is to hope. When we fail to forgive, we fail to embrace hope for our enemy’s conversion and salvation. Then we have decided to return to playing at being God. But we are a poor actors and imitators indeed. For if we would play God, we should know that we must embrace His all-loving, all-forgiving, all-hoping nature for all men. No offense against God or man is so great that it cannot be forgiven. So we must forgive. And we must remember that the only sin that will land us in Hell is the refusal to forgive and earnestly desire and hope for every man’s salvation. It is a sure sign that we have not felt the unmerited, undeserved, and unearned gift of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ, if we have not forgiven our enemy. So let us today share the forgiveness of God with all others, and in so doing keep God’s commandments and allow our souls to be changed truly through His love. Let us remember that the proof that the love and forgiveness of God has sanctified us, is our determination to share it with all men. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons