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The whole history of the church furnishes no instance of liberality, on the part of any body of Christian believers, more remarkable, or more worthy of honorable record, than that of the churches of Macedonia, which St. Paul has commemorated in the eighth chapter of his second Epistle to the Corinthians :
“Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia ; how that in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy, and their deep poverty, abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, 1 bear record, yea, and beyond their power, they were willing of themselves; praying us with much entreaty, that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.”
The Apostle holds up this rare example of beneficence to the more flourishing and wealthy Corinthians, to stimulate them to more liberal contributions in aid of the poorer members of the Christian community, and to further the missionary operations which were the chief joy and glory of the apostolic churches.' And truly theirs was a most noble “forwardness" in giving, richly meriting the lavish encomiums of Paul, — worthy of being admired and imitated in every age of the church.
Persecuted on the one hand by the Gentiles, and on the other by the Jews; professing and holding to their faith at the expense of scorn and injury; at the hazard of imprisonment and death; in the severest trial of affliction, and in the deepest poverty; they had not only contributed to the general fund for benevolent and missionary purposes, but contributed joyously and abundantly, - contributed not after long and earnest solicitation on the part of the Apostles, but voluntarily; not only according to their means, but altogether beyond their ability. So that Paul, in speaking of their unprecedented liberality, makes mention of it as an express favor of God to them, in that he had so largely inspired their hearts, in the midst of their distresses, with such a generous and noble spirit, – a disposition as conducive to their own joy and improvement as it was creditable and honorable.
But, - so devoted were the Macedonian churches, this forwardness in benevolent action was not the only subject of apostolic commendation. They not only gave spontaneously and abundantly of their property, but even, as St. Paul continues, went altogether beyond his hopes in their sacrifices for Christianity, and first of all gave
their own selves to the Lord. This is beneficence worthy the name! This is Christian charity of the genuine stamp! None of your slow-hearted, calculating contributions, drawn out with extreme difficulty, and in scanty mites, after the whole catalogue of reasons and motives for benevolent action has been gone through with and reiterated, after persuasion has exhausted its winning acts, and the heart-sickened pleader for necessities not his own, has been forced to condescend to beg in his brother's behalfnone of your stinted and reluctant benevolence, which yields to the urgency of the solicitation, rather than to the claims of the object for which it is asked, - none of this was the Macedonian communication; but a large, free, whole-hearted offering, which the churches begged the Apostles to take, rather than waited for them to solicit, - a willing and cheerful, though costly sacrifice on the altar of Christian sympathy and love, – a magnanimity of munificence, amounting even to heroism, and which it sets the generous heart on fire to contemplate.
In this light Paul evidently regarded it, for there is a glow in his language as he records it; and he relates it to the Corinthians in the expectation that it would produce a kindling effect upon them, as, if there was any spirit of generosity in their souls, it could not fail to do.
I have said that missionary operations were the joy and glory of the apostolic churches. This was emphatically the fact. The Apostles themselves, like the Saviour of whose spirit they were full, looked out upon the vast world as the field of Christian sympathy and enterprise. Broad and expansive was their charity Grand, generous, sublime, were the aims of their beneficence, in sympathy with those of the universal Father and the universal Redeemer, whose sons, whose ambassadors, whose co-laborers they felt themselves to be. They looked out upon a world around them lying in darkness, and upon themselves as holding in their hands the torch of heavenly truth, which Jesus had lighted, and which, wherever they carried it, would spread illumination and gladness in the hearts and
along the paths of their benighted brethren. There was, indeed, a peculiar grandeur in the position of those primitive Christians, and they had grandeur of soul enough to feel it. There they stood, a little company of devoted but despised men, having entrusted to their charge the doctrines which were by and by to renovate the world. The light of ages, the light of the whole earth was concentrated in their minds, as in living and sacred urns. The bread of heaven, which should feed the spiritual life of all peoples, and kindreds, and unborn generations, was deposited with them, as in consecrated arks. The water of immortality, that should at length flow out over continents and islands, causing every moral desert to rejoice and blossom like the rose, and slaking the thirst of every fainting pilgrim to the eternal world, was swelling and streaming from their sur-charged souls, as from the hallowed fountain of Siloa.
And all their Christian enterprises were on a scale of grandeur that showed them equal to their position and their trust. We Christians of these modern days esteem it a great undertaking to make even one convert to our faith. The Apostles thought it easier to found a church. We are easily disheartened from our efforts, in a community where there are none to molest or make us afraid. They prosecuted their nobler plans without discouragement, in the face of an opposing world. We are satisfied to restrict our sympathy and our energies within the horizon of our homes and the pale of our own little church. They struck far off into savage wilds, and wandered on foot over continents, bounding their desires and endeavors to do good only by the circuit of the sun.
And their converts, every where; they sought to inspire with something of their own benevolence. All their