Why does "Christ became poor" matter to us? ...

How Christ Can Enrich Your Life

J. Chalmers Lyon: Both in my missions and in my regular ministry I have ever sought to present the gospel as something intensely real and practical, something that works. And no wonder it works, for it is the power of God, and there's no other power like that. And thank God, it is the power of God unto salvation.

Now salvation means the deliverance by that power from powers of another kind, e.g., the power of evil habit and of evil thought. It means a new and holy life instead of the old life of selfishness and uncleanliness, ay, and positive harmfulness, for my own sin makes other folk sin. Bad men make other men bad. How often is it repeated [21 times!], Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, made Israel to sin (1 Kings 14:16)! Now, God's cure for the world's evil is this gospel, and the heart of the gospel and the whole of the gospel is Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus means Saviour. That is the name he deserves. (See Matt. 1:21.)

In the following address I am specially speaking of the gospel as deliverance from what St. Peter calls, "Your vain conversation," (1 Peter 1:18) or more literally - and intelligibly, "Your empty life!" The empty life - empty of God, empty of holiness, of hopefulness, of inward peace and outward service. I am not just piling up pious phrases. I speak what I know in my own experience and testify what I have seen in other people.

I have a little explored the unsearchable riches of Christ, and I have known many and many a life unspeakably enriched by the incoming of Christ. Perhaps the most useful parts of such an address as is here reprinted are omitted. For I would not dream of delivering it in an evangelistic service without giving instances by way of illustrations.

I think of two men, one a Lancashire miner whom I knew. What a change Christ wrought in that life! From being a rough, ignorant, drunken sot he became a little child in the family of our Father. He learned to read, and he read his Bible through scores of times. He taught himself Greek and Hebrew to read it in the original tongues, and from his Bible classes many a young man went forth into the service of God. At least eighteen became ministers of the gospel.

I knew another man of different birth - a peer of the realm - a man of violent passions, a gambler and a cruel brute. What a change when Christ came in! How that life was enriched and ennobled and what a blessing his testimony became to many. For this gospel is of universal application! It is freely offered unto all and its power is seen "upon all them that believe." (Rom. 3:22)

After such an address I would invite all who would to accept some simply-worded Decision Card, e.g., "I am resolved gratefully to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour." - Signature ... ; or, to remain afterwards for personal talk. The personal talk will generally be found far more difficult for the preacher than was the address. But its value cannot be overestimated.

To myself and to my brothers in the ministry I would say finally, that, if with our lips we declare all the judgments of His mouth, if His word is nigh us even in our mouth and heart, and if we seek to deliver that word in the power of the Holy Spirit, it is bound to do its work in some hearts and prove its inherent power unto salvation, even when we are most conscious of our own inefficiency and burdened with sense of failure.

So carry on!

"He shall not fail nor be discouraged, and the isles are waiting for his law." (Isa. 42:2) Wherefore in God's strength "make full proof of thy ministry, do the work of an Evangelist!" (2 Tim. 4:5)

J. Chalmers Lyon: John Ruskin [poet and critic, 1819-1900] must have startled his Manchester working-class audience when he began an art lecture by expressing his just and wholesome contempt for poverty, and his profound respect for wealth. His hearers doubtless breathed a little more easily when he added, "True wealth, that is to say: for, of course, we ought to respect neither wealth nor anything else that is false of its kind" ("A Joy for Ever," Lecture 1.); and then he rambled on in that easy intimate fashion, which always lent charm to his talk.

A greater than John Ruskin spoke once about "the true riches," (Luke 16:11) and I want to commend to you His teaching on that subject. For I have found that the Lord Jesus Christ knows how to enrich life by putting us in possession of what, in a far deeper sense than Ruskin's, He calls "the true riches."

"Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9).


"He was rich." No commentator, no preacher, not Paul himself could fully explain that. The words lift us away from Earth to Heaven, from Time to Eternity, into the presence of God, to those celestial regions, where before creation, the Son of God, holiest among the mighty and mightiest among the holy, is seen in His preincarnate glory and deity. And He was rich - rich in the wisdom and the might by which He created all things: rich in blessedness: rich in the glory which He had with the Father before the world was made (John 17:5). Beyond all conception of human thought or expression in human speech He was rich. Then, in the light of these things, let us look at the next words if we would know what Paul means by the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ - "He became poor."


There is the story of the Incarnation put into three words, "He became poor." And how poor? "Equal with God . . . He emptied Himself" (Phil. 2:6, 7). He became so poor that the poorest on earth was richer than One Who had not where to lay His head (Matt. 8:20). The world was His; He came unto His own. But He laid aside all and came where He possessed nothing, and where He experienced poverty and cold and hunger and weariness, and other things worse than any or all of these.

1. He became poor. He laid aside His Omnipotence. Creator of all (John 1:3), He became in all things like one of His creatures. In olden times rough shelters were sometimes built by lonely roadsides and left untenanted that any traveller overtaken by the night and far from the cheerful warmth of the inn fire might, at least, find some protection from the wind and rain. These were called "Cold Harbours," or "Cold Cots." The world was, indeed, a cold harbor to Him. His birthplace, an inn yard; His cradle, a manger [animal's food trough]; His home, the humble cottage of a citizen in a provincial village; His lot, one long struggle with poverty. He became poor in His friends. It looked like a bad bargain when He exchanged the goodly fellowship of the heavenly hosts for the small circle of sinful human beings - so frail, so fickle, so slow of understanding, so ready to misinterpret and misjudge, so forward with plans that were mean and impossible, with advice that was foolish and impertinent.

Well, the writer of "Hebrews" in that wonderful second chapter, says there is some Divine necessity in all this. "In all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren." (Heb. 2:17) So Omnipotence had to be laid aside, for man's redemption had to be wrought out on the human plane. It is as "Man" He meets the Devil. "Man shall not live by bread alone." (Matt. 4:4) By Man came death; by Man came Resurrection.

2. He became poor. He laid aside His glory. "Mild, He laid His glory by." That is especially true so far as "glory" refers to the inconceivable majesty and beauty of His outward form. That was all laid aside. He had no form or comeliness, no beauty that we should desire Him (Isa. 53:2). It was not the external appearance of our Lord that first attracted. His glory was shaded when on earth save for one brief unveiling on the Mount of Transfiguration when from Him the Shekinah blazed forth (Matt. 17:2). But when John said, "We beheld His glory," (John 1:14) I don't think he had in mind the Transfiguration. The unique glory of His stainless character was never laid aside, not even shaded for one instant of time. In Him was no sin. He did always the things that pleased God.

3. He became poor. He laid aside His Omniscience and conformed to all the hard conditions of acquiring knowledge incident to humanity. As a child He had to grow in knowledge like other children, had to learn His alphabet, a few rules of arithmetic, facts of geography and history, even as the other boys in the Synagogue school at Nazareth. He had to learn His trade like any other carpenter's apprentice, and, as Joseph is generally thought to have died when Jesus was a youth, the heavy responsibility of maintaining the home would devolve upon His shoulders, and He had to learn business habits like other folks.

Do let us accept the Scripture record and beware of any unreality here. The Docetic heresy, that Christ only seemed human is not merely false, it's contemptible. It makes our Lord's incarnation a mere pretence, His humanity a mere masquerade. "In all things He was made like unto His brethren:" I know that some would hereupon assert that if His Omniscience be laid aside then He was liable to ignorance and error and, therefore, His teaching is in no sense final and authoritative. A word on this vital point.

Had His teaching been given forth in the days of His immaturity when He was growing in knowledge, and had it been the product of His voluntarily limited powers, that suggestion might have some shadow of justification. But we must remember two things, the thirty years of silence and preparation, and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him in His baptism when the silence was about to be broken and the preparation was complete. God gave not the Spirit "by measure" (John 3:34, "in limited quantity") unto Him. All His days on earth had been lived in God's fellowship, but now He was so measurelessly filled and possessed by the Spirit of God that He could say, "The words that I say unto you I speak not of myself, but the Father abiding in me death His works!" (John 14:10). "I do nothing of myself, but as the Father taught me I speak these things" (John 8:29). "I speak not from myself; but the Father that sent me, He hath given me a commandment, what I should say unto you" (John 12:49). "My teaching is not mine, but Him that sent me" (John 7:16). And there are other like passages. No wonder even His foes said, "Never man spake like this man!" (John 7:46). He whom God sent spoke the words of God, and unhesitatingly, unquestioningly, this teaching must be regarded as final, authoritative and worthy of all acceptation.

4. He became poor. He laid aside His Immortality. As God He is Immortal. The holy angels are immortal. The redeemed in glory enter into immortality, and shall judge the angels. But in taking a human frame Jesus was made lower than the angels. And the writer to the "Hebrews" very clearly states that He was made for a little while lower than the angels in order that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man (Heb. 2:9). That was one of the purposes of the Incarnation.

"Yea, once Immanuel's orphaned cry His universe hath shaken-
It went up single, echoless, `My God, I am forsaken!'
It went up from the Holy's lips amid His lost creation.
That of the lost, no son should use these words of desolation."
Mrs. Browning, Cooper's Grave.

His own testimony is clear as crystal. "The Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many." (Matt. 20:28)

That is not the whole story. The great work of redemption cannot be put into a single sentence. He came to reveal God, to destroy the works of the Devil, to establish the Kingdom of God. But remember, without the Incarnation and Death nothing in the way of salvation were possible for us men. "Without shedding of blood is no remission of sins" (Heb. 9:22). Therefore, He became poor, poor indeed in His birth, throughout His life, and at the last betrayed, forsaken, denied, subject to every form of cruelty and insult. Gethsemane, Gabbatha and Golgotha crown with their awful and tragic exegesis the words, "He became poor."

I cannot tell how He thus laid everything aside and "Emptied Himself of all but love!" 'Tis mystery all - part of the hidden counsels of God. "School thy lips to say I do not know," said the old-time schoolmen. This we do know, that here was no other way of achieving the desire of His heart. His ways are not our ways (Isa. 55:8).

Ours would have been very different. "If Thou be the Son of God then so come into the world as to demonstrate Thy Deity in fashion unmistakable. If Thou be the Son of God unveil Thy Glory, strike dumb Thy foes, put them in terror to utter confusion!" That would perhaps have been our way. That would certainly be the Devil's way. "Cast Thyself down from the temple pinnacle: descend among the waiting worshippers. Let the Lord they seek come suddenly to His temple. Then all will believe"; and perhaps they would. But obviously a belief compelled by such demonstrations would have no moral value whatever.

Fear and amazement and demonstrations of power are not among the primary regenerative forces. They occupy a very minor position in God's redemptive plans. "'Through the greatness of Thy power Thine enemies shall yield a feigned obedience unto Thee" (Ps. 66:3, Adam Clarke's Commentary; other translations: "cringe"). That is all that even God's power can do - extract an imitation obedience. Real obedience can only be awakened in grateful, trustful, loving hearts. And only love can do that.

"If ye love Me ye will keep My commandments." (John 14:15) The real omnipotence of God is His love. That's the power on which He relies. Hence the Cross. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son!" (John 3:16) That's the gospel, the power of God unto salvation.


But if I cannot tell how He became poor I can, with adoring gratitude, tell why. It Was "For your sakes ... that ye through, His poverty might become rich." (2 Cor. 8:9) Do let us be clear about this. There's nothing desirable or specially meritorious about mere poverty. And I need not say that with our Lord His choice of poverty was no heroic pose, no whim, no affectation of humility.

I couldn't say that about some others who have chosen poverty. Diogenes in his tub was as proud as Lucifer. You remember him snatching Plato's beautiful robe and trampling it in the mire with "Thus I trample upon the pride of Plato." "And with another kind of pride," added Plato quietly.

Our Lord never flaunted His poverty; rarely referred to it except perhaps to warn off sentimentalists who would have joined Him without realizing the conditions or counting the cost. No, Christ didn't make poverty His bride. He simply doesn't talk of it either in boast or complaint. His great concern is to reach men, men of all classes, so He came among the poorest that He might be accessible to all.

But He did talk about riches - the false riches that were so often a hindrance to candidates for the Kingdom: and the true riches by which He longs to enrich the souls of men. And some who knew Him best tell of the "unsearchable riches of Christ," (Eph. 3:8) and assure us that "the same Lord over all is rich unto them that call upon Him" (Romans 10:12).

Preachers of the gospel are poor yet making many rich. They tell of the riches of His glory, the riches of His wisdom, the riches of His goodness, the exceeding riches of His grace. Now what about it? Has He enriched you "That ye through His poverty might become rich." (2 cor. 8:9)?

I ask again, how stands the case with you? Seventy years after His ascension to glory the Lord said unto the Church at Smyrna, "I know thy poverty, but thou art rich" (Rev. 2:9): while to Laodicea He says, "Thou sayest I am rich, ... and knowest not that thou art poor?" (Rev. 3:17) But He also adds, "Thou mayest become rich."

Which of these words is He saying to you to-day? Is it, "Thou art rich"? Or is it, "Thou art poor, but thou mayest become rich?"

My brothers, unless we know the Lord Jesus as our Saviour and Friend, unless we possess the riches He provides we are poor indeed. Now what are those riches? I can tell you one or two. I cannot tell you all. Life here and eternity hereafter will be needed to explore His riches which are inexhaustible and unsearchable.

1. First, He enriches us with an adequate idea. of God. And isn't that the first thing we need? I think it was [T. H.] Huxley who said the one question above all others to which he longed for an answer was, "Is the universe friendly!" He wanted to know what we all want to know, "What is God really like!" Not in form, or mode of existence - but in character. To such a question the world has no answer. It knows not God. The world by its wisdom knows not God. "Eye hath not seen" (1 cor. 2:9) - our observations will not discover Him; it can suggest much but affirm little.

The world by its philosophies knows not God. "Ear hath not heard" - discussion, tradition cannot enlighten us. We can only "guess and fear!" And the world by its imagination knows not God. The heart cannot conceive Him. The world by its science knows not God. The French astronomer laughs at the idea of a God whom he cannot see through his telescope. The world by its religion knows not God. Buddhism denies God. Confucianism ignores God. Islam degrades God. (Let Armenia's age-long agonies shed their lurid light on this vile travesty of religion.) Pantheism confuses the very idea of God. Polytheism knows nothing of "the only God." Agnosticism worships before a mark of interrogation "?".

But Jesus reveals God. "No man path seen God at any time: the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" (exegesato) (John 1:18). And how has this exegesis or revelation been made? Listen: "If ye had known Me ye would have known My Father (John 14:7). He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father (John 14:7). I am in the Father and the Father in Me (John 14:11). I and the Father are one!" (John 10:30). Do read that whole passage again (John 14:6-11).

Do you know Jesus? Do you know what manner of man He was? Holy, just, considerate, absolutely true, absolutely trustworthy, eager to help, to bless, to heal, to save. That is Jesus and that is God. That is "Our Father which art in Heaven" (Matt. 6:9). For me the word "God" has little meaning apart from the word "Jesus." Now isn't that an enrichment worth possessing? It is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)

2. And further, He not only shows us what God is: He shows us what we are. In this light we get light to see ourselves. And it is none too flattering a sight either. I know that to-day the whole idea of sin and human responsibility is being called into question. For instance, I have repeatedly heard the strangely silly phrase, "I never asked to be born," or "I was never consulted whether I wished to exist," put forth as a reason for denying all responsibility towards our Creator. - How the Creator was to consult us about our existence before we existed is left unexplained! How could you ask to be born before there was any "you" to ask?

But being born and being here and having all our priceless faculties - physical, mental, moral and spiritual - let us ask, "Why am I here?" "Am I fulfilling the purpose God had in view when He placed me here?"

And once again the Lord Jesus alone gives the adequate answer. We know perfectly well the meaning of right and wrong. Conscience - which just means consciousness - knowledge of what's what - is part of the normal human outfit. And conscience has "told us off" many a time. And conscience has been stilled many a time. Its voice can become muffled and our spiritual ear dull of hearing (Acts 28:27).

Jesus is the great Awakener of Conscience. He is the means by which God's convicting Spirit cries, "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead and Christ shall give thee light" (Eph. 5:14). I know what I say. I have seen consciences seared as with a hot iron become active and alert under the blessed awakening ministry of the Holy Spirit, taking the things of Christ and showing them to the soul.

For the purity of Christ shows up our vileness, the truthfulness of Christ rebukes all deceits and shams, and His gracious winsome ways of dealing with us sinners, shame us into contrition and confession, till we are ready with Peter to cry, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (Luke 5:8)

3. But even yet we are only at the beginning of things. Our Saviour not only enriches us as the Light of the world, revealing God and revealing ourselves. He is also the Lamb of God that beareth away the sins of the world. Let me quote some words of R. W. Dale [Robert William, 1829-1895] of Birmingham: a passage well worthy of being laid to heart in these days.

"I am weary of listening to fervent and rhetorical declamation, perfectly sincere and beautiful as it often is, on the incidental benefit conferred upon the world by Christianity. It is true that by the Christian faith barbarous races have been civilized, and the morality of Christian nations made more pure and more robust. It is true that this faith has been the inspiration of great poets and great artists: that it has stimulated and exalted the intellectual life of Europe: that it has been the spring of a thousand fair and gracious charities: that it has taught men to relieve the poor, to care for the sick, to reclaim the outcast and to vindicate the rights of the oppressed. It is true that it gives a more urgent authority to human laws, and the surest defence to the stability of nations. But the great work that Christ came to do is too often forgotten, namely, `To die the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God.' (1 Peter 3:18) The mightiest empires are destined to decay, and all their intellectual glories, all the triumphs of their literature and art will perish too. The miseries of human life are but imperfectly alleviated in the wisest and most generous charity or the most just and gracious legislation. But the restoration of man to God is an immortal work - it will endure when the heavens and earth have passed away. And, as it is the most enduring, it is infinitely more glorious than any of the benefits which God Himself can confer upon the temporary life of man. To be restored to Him through faith in the Son is the crown of our blessings and a crown that "fadeth not away." (1 Peter 1:4)

And you know that crown is freely offered to you. I wonder if you have, indeed, beheld the Lamb of God? Have you looked away from yourself to Him for salvation from sin's guilt and power? Have you? If not, do it now as you hear these words. "As many as received Him to them gave He the right to become the Sons of God, even as many as believed in His name." (John 1:12)

4. And furthermore. "This is He that baptizeth with the Holy Spirit." (John 1:33) What an expressible enrichment of the life that is! The Baptism of the Holy Spirit. That is the crown and completion of the work of Christ. That, says Paul, is really the blessing promised long ago to Abraham and his seed, and through them it is for the whole world. "It shall come to pass in the last days," saith God, "that I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh ... that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, that we might receive the promise of the spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:13, 14). The work of the Holy Spirit is to make us holy and make us spiritual. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, making us Christlike; the Spirit of truth guiding us into all truth; the Spirit of Power. You receive power for life and service after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you.

The Holy Spirit convinces of sin - not the preacher. The Spirit regenerates - not the Sacraments. The Spirit keeps us from doing the things, that otherwise we would, by striving within us. The Spirit helps us to pray and to understand our Bibles. The Spirit forms Christ within us. Through the Spirit, we are transformed from glory to glory until the hope of glory is fulfilled within us and we are made "like Christ."

Ah! What would this poor old world be like if it were filled with people like Jesus? Well, that's what is going to happen when the King comes into His own. We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). Ask for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit from Him that supplieth the Spirit. He will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him (Luke 11:13).

5. In short the great enrichment is that He gives Himself. "As many as receive Him." (John 1:12) "Behold I stand at the door and knock ... open, and I will come in!" (Rev. 3:20) "My Father and I will ... make our abode with Him" (John 14:23).

Fellowship with God. That is the purpose of creation. That is Paradise regained. Everything else is contained in that. Here is the hope of glory; here is life everlasting. Here is everlasting blessedness and growth from glory to glory in the Father's House. Here is enrichment for the life that now is, and for that which is to come.

I close my address to you with a shameful sense of the inadequacy of this attempt to set forth some of the unsearchable riches. I haven't said the things I wished to say. I can't. I'd like to have told you some of the things He has done for me, and for many another. But I beg you to try Him for yourself. "O taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man that trusteth in Him" (Psa. 34:8).

Sermon preached by J. Chalmers Lyon, Hampstead, London, 1925. BV3797.A1T4

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