Have we been with Jesus? Then...

What Has God to Give Through Us?

"Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee." - Acts 3:6

W. W. Gauld: There is no need to exercise our ingenuity to find a modern parallel to this striking scene at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple at Jerusalem. The lame man is always with us, an abiding challenge to the Christian conscience. We pass him on our way to Church every week. He is not, perhaps, literally sitting on the steps of the sanctuary; but he is there all the same for those who have eyes to see him.

Here, right at the outset, is the first lesson the story is meant to teach us, that we must use our eyes and face the facts of the situation. It is amazing how blind we can be to what is unpleasant or disquieting.

It is not only the horses that go through our streets in blinkers. Shame and need stare us in the face every day, and we resolutely refuse to look at them. In part, it may be due to familiarity. The inner eye, like the outer, has a wonderful power of accommodation [adjustment]. We only really see what we want to see.

One day I watched an artist friend at work in the Pass of Leny [in Scotland]. As I looked on that scene of indescribable beauty and majesty - the confusion of myriad-leaved trees amid a tangle of bracken and wild flowers, the foaming cataract laughing defiance to the jagged rocks in mid-stream, and in the background the huge bulk of [Mount] Ben Ledi - I wondered at the skill which was able to put it upon canvas. I asked my friend the secret of his craft, and he told me in a single sentence: "You must eliminate the unessential." That is a faculty we all exercise more or less unconsciously.

The test of our character is - What do we consider essential? - What picture of life do we see with the eye of our imagination? Is the lame man in it?

I suppose there were hundreds entered the Temple that day and never saw the cripple at all: he was too familiar an object there to attract attention. Some few, perhaps, flung him a contemptuous coin - caught him, so to speak, with the tail of their eye - and forgot him the next instant. To one or two his presence may have been a positive offence: they saw him "in the small cracked mirror of their mind" with the blurred and distorted vision of prejudice as a mere blot upon the landscape; and they were the blindest of all.

"And Peter, fastening his eyes on him with John, said, Look on us" (Acts 3:4).

That is the Christian attitude to the lame man. It recognizes his existence. It acknowledges his right to be heard and helped. Peter and John were going into the Temple; for they were devout men and loved the House of God: but they had been with Jesus of late and learned something of His mind and habits. His ear was never deaf to a cry for help, whatever His preoccupations. He had ever an eye for the lame man. So Peter and John stopped to look - and look again. It was precisely what Jesus would have done; and we who call Him Lord must have in us the mind that was in Him, and cultivate the habit of using our eyes.

It is not enough to give a passing glance at the social misery around us or heave a sympathetic sigh over some peculiarly pathetic incident. However others take it, it must be a poignant and personal concern to us.

The friends of the lame man, whether they fully realized it or not, were utterly right in laying him at the door of the Church. That is his proper place; and the people who go to Church cannot disclaim responsibility. What, indeed, do we go to Church for? To worship God! Yes! to worship a God Who said, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6, Matt. 9:13).

Of what avail can our prayers be with God here, if we have hardened our hearts against the prayer of the lame man outside the door yonder? For herein is that word of the Master fulfilled: "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there the gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Matt. 5:23-24).

This, then, to begin with, that the Church must be prepared to recognize the lame man. She must have vision to see and own his need. But more than vision is required: she must have courage as well. The apostles not only fastened their eyes on the cripple. They did something much more remarkable than that. They commanded him to fasten his eyes upon them. "Look on us,", said Peter with the daring of a great faith. He not only had the will to help, but was conscious of the power to help. And that is where the Church so often fails.

Her critics are in most cases wide of the mark when they charge her with sheer heartlessness and unconcern. With all their faults the followers of Christ have not been altogether lacking in charity. You will find, I believe, more sympathy with the needy and more genuine concern for their welfare within the Church than without it. The real weakness of the Church lies elsewhere.

Jesus exposed it with unmistakable clearness, when His disciples asked Him why they were powerless to heal the epileptic at the foot of the Mount of Transfiguration. It was because of their want of faith (Matt. 17:20). That verdict stands. We meet our lame man and our heart goes out to him. We would give him a hand, if we believed it would do him any good. But we are not conscious of any saving power within us. We shrink from raising false hopes in him. And so we hurry past him, not in callousness but in cowardice. We simply dare not challenge him in the word of the apostle: "Look on us."

Here is the open secret of our tragic inefficiency as Christian men and women. We need more of Peter's godly daring. Let us give it its true name - faith; for what is faith but simply courage raised to its highest power? And it does take courage to face your lame man and bid him trust you. For one thing, you run a grave risk of being misunderstood. He may ask or expect from you what you cannot give him; and sometimes in his chagrin he will curse you for your pains. But at all events you will have roused him from despair or bitterness. Your mere interest in him will at least assure him that somebody cares, that there are in this low-browed world resources of human compassion and kindness which are at his disposal if he cares to have them. You have already done something - often far more than you think - when you have lit a gleam of hope in some lonely, darkened heart.

But this brings us sharply up against the crucial question: What have we to give the lame man? Have we anything at all to give him? In what sense can you and I reply with the apostle, "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee"?

I. In the first place, you must give what you have.

If you have silver and gold, then you must give that. You have no right to quote Peter in excuse for your lack of generosity. Remember that noble word of the Arabs: "He that hath bread is debtor to him that hath none." Beware of that blessed phrase "indiscriminate charity." It covers a multitude of sins - meanness and greed and hardness of heart. Sheridan in his School for Scandal has pilloried that contemptible type in Joseph Surface. "A man of the most benevolent way of thinking," says Sir Oliver with biting sarcasm; and Rowley replies: "As to his way of thinking, I cannot pretend to judge; for, to do him justice, he appears to have as much speculative benevolence as any private gentleman in the kingdom, though he is seldom so sensual as to indulge himself in the exercise of it."

Watch and pray against this sin of "speculative benevolence." It is far more common than you would imagine. It is a peculiar temptation to us who sing and pray and preach and hear sermons about the love of God and the Brotherhood of men. It is a big part of the opposition in some hearts to the political activities of the Church. They profess a pious concern for the spirituality of the House of God and the sanctity of the pulpit: they are really alarmed at the practical consequences of applied Christianity. It is still a more potent factor in creating those selfish, close-fisted, money-grabbing Christians who bring discredit upon the fair name of Christ amongst them that are without.

"Money talks!" says the world. It is the only language many, people understand; and of the meaning of one text they are absolutely sure "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon." (Matt. 6:24)

Lord Kelvin used to declare that he had never really grasped a scientific principle in mathematics until he was able to make a model of it. Depend upon it, you have not grasped the meaning of Christian charity until you have put it into practice. Nowhere is it more necessary to be concrete, detailed, personal; for nowhere is it easier to delude ourselves with misty fancies and a vague emotional religiosity.

As George Eliot [1819-1880] reminds us with her profound insight into the workings of the human heart: "There is no general doctrine which is not capable of eating out our morality, if unchecked by a deep-seated habit of direct fellow-feeling with individual fellow-men." You must bring your "speculative benevolence" to the touchstone of reality. It is not enough to pity the lame man. If you have money in your pocket, you must pay him that which is due. You must give what you have.

II. In the second place, you can only give what you have.

That statement is not quite so innocent as it looks. The problem of the lame man is not primarily a financial one. It goes much deeper than that. Even a full purse in generous hands cannot solve it. It were a criminal folly to belittle the power of money in the service of philanthropy. But it is a still grosser foolishness to imagine that the poor want nothing but "things to eat." It is written not merely in Scripture but in human nature, "Man shall not live by bread alone" (Matt. 4:4); and it is they who feed the hungry hearts of men who are the truest philanthropists and will be held in grateful remembrance when more practical well-doers are buried deep in oblivion. That is just the boast of the poet:

"The sleep-flower sways in the wheat its head,
Heavy with dreams, as that with bread:
The goodly grain and the sun-flushed sleeper
The reaper reaps, and Time the reaper.

I hang 'mid men my needless head,
And my fruit is dreams as theirs is bread:
The goodly men and the sun-hazed sleeper
Time shall reap; and after the reaper
The world shall glean of me, me the sleeper."

It is the still juster boast of the apostle, who with a proud humility owned himself "a pauper," yet claimed to be "the means of wealth to many, without a penny, but possessed of all" (2 Cor. 6:10). And in precisely the same spirit Peter faced the paralytic and answered his appeal. He had no silver or gold, but he did have something to give: "Such as I have give I thee." There was no shame in his confession of poverty: there was no false modesty in his claim to power. The Chief of the Apostles was never a humbler or a greater man than when he spoke to the lame man at the Temple gate.

He made his boast that day in his Lord. He had no money in his purse, but he had that in his gift which no wealth could buy or bestow. In the presence of the beggar's need he knew himself the almoner of God, and out of a full heart he bore his testimony: "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk."

Do not miss the significance of this by saying that you could not perform the miracle of healing Peter wrought. It was not Peter who wrought the miracle: it was God. All Peter had was faith, based on a personal experience of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. And that is within the reach of us all. The question for you and me is not, Will God use us as He used the apostle? but, Have you and I a witness to bear as real and convincing as the apostle's? Have we the right to speak in the name of Christ?

It is passing easy, as we have seen, to quote the words of Peter as the purest cant; but to quote them in sincerity and truth is an acid test of the reality of our religious life. Despite the cheap sneers of the world, it is in plain fact far easier to give a shilling to a beggar in his want than to speak a word in season to him in his weariness. If ever you have tried it, you will acknowledge that with a great humility.

There is no poverty so dire and so humiliating as the spiritual poverty that has nothing to give to the hungry hearts of men. There is no shame like the shame of man or woman who claims to be a Christian and dare not speak in the name of Christ. Nothing more surely reveals the emptiness of our profession. For in presence of such a challenge no counterfeit will be accepted. As it has been put, "A man can only be a witness to the Christian faith piety if his life can only be accounted for by the Christian faith." In this deepest and truest sense, you can only give what you have.

III. But remember, you ought to have something to give.

Else what are you a Christian far? Have you no witness of your own to bear of God's goodness and mercy to you? You may not be able to say much or say it eloquently; but surely, if need arise, you can give some reason of the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).

Perhaps you envy Peter for the certainty and boldness of his faith. There was a day, however, when he was neither bold nor certain. There is none so poor or weak or unworthy but may take heart of grace from the story of the son of Jonas. No life is too obscure or insignificant for God to use. Its very obscurity or insignificance may be its highest qualification in His eyes. "For God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are that no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Cor. 1:27).

That is not pulpit rhetoric. It is the verdict of history. The Church of Christ stands to-day a living witness to its truth. And God still can and still does fulfil His purposes by very humble means.

When Stewart of Lovedale urged the St Andrews Students' Club to take up Livingstonia, they shrank from so grave a responsibility on the ground that they were all unknown men. "That matters not," came the swift reply, "if we are earnest men." It was in essence the testimony of Peter: "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee." Can you and I say as much? It is not a question of what we have, but of what we are.

It is not required of us as Christ's stewards that we be rich or learned or influential: it may not be so true as once it was, but it is still in large measure true, that "not many wise men (that is, judged by human standards), not many leading men, not many of good birth, have been called" (1 Cor. 1:26). It is not even required of us that we be successful: some of God's noblest servants have died in the dark, with a sense of defeat in their hearts.

What is required of us is that we be found faithful, men of faith. That is a New Testament title for Christians, and it is one to which the lowliest and least of us all can attain. We are not called to work miracles: our high calling in Christ is to be miracles - miracles of God's redeeming grace, men and women whom the world cannot explain, who are a mystery to it, whom it is compelled to recognize as the product of forces other and higher than its own.

"I know the face of him who with the sphere
Of unseen presences communion keeps.
His eyes retain its wonders in their clear
Unfathomable deeps.

His every feature, rugged or refined,
Shines from the inner light; and large or small
His earthly state, he from the world behind
Brings wealth that beggars all.

This in his face I see; and when we meet,
My earthliness is shamed by him; but yet
Takes hope to think that, in the unholy street,
Such men are to be met."

Can that in any measure be said of you and me? Are we in any sense marked men as we walk "the unholy street"? Do men take knowledge of us, not so much for what we give or do as for what we are, that we have been with Jesus? (Acts 4:13)

Sermon preached by W. W. Gauld, Edinburgh, Scotland, ca. 1920

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