Chapter 1: Christian Stewardship (cont.)
Nor does God bestow the goods that He gives to everyone according to His sovereign dispensation upon man in His common grace. For, to be sure, “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,” but this cannot be quoted as proof that God loves the righteous and the wicked alike, or that His favor is upon the elect and reprobate. For in that case it would mean that the Lord loves the rich capitalist, that has an abundance of goods, more than the poor laborer that works for starvation wages in his factory, and the rich landowner, that reaps his abundant harvest, more than the laborer whose hire is kept back by fraud. For even as the preaching of the gospel, that is general and promiscuous to all that hear, does not mean that God loves all the hearers and is favorable to them, elect and reprobate, but that His favor rests only upon the elect; so the general rain and sunshine from heaven that falls upon the just and the unjust alike by no means is a proof of the fact that God loves all the just and the unjust promiscuously, and that the bestowal of earthly goods may be regarded as a common favor of God upon all. The rest of the Scriptures teach us the very opposite. For “the curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked,” no matter whether that house is a veritable palace; and in it the wicked dwells in luxury. But, on the contrary, “he blesseth the habitation of the just,” no matter how humble and poor that habitation may be. Prov. 3:33. Psalm 73 speaks of the prosperity of the wicked: “There are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish. They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.” And the psalmist for a time indeed looks upon this prosperity of the wicked as a sign of the favor of God upon them, and even in distinction from the poor people of God that suffered in the world. But in the end of the psalm he teaches us that he went into the sanctuary, and that in the sanctuary he saw all this prosperity of the wicked in a different light. For he saw their end. And in the light of that end he beheld that prosperity of the wicked as slippery places, on which God set them, and on which He sent them into everlasting destruction. The same is true of Psalm 92. There the psalmist speaks of the deep thoughts of God and the greatness of His works: “O Lord, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep. A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this. When the wicked spring as the grass, and all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed forever.” Psalm 93:4-7. Although, therefore, God in His sovereign dispensation bestows the material goods of this world upon the wicked and the righteous alike, and usually bestows upon the former more than upon the latter, this by no means signifies that He is gracious to the wicked. His grace rests upon His people, His elect, the righteous, the believers in Christ Jesus alone.
Only the Christian, the believe in Christ Jesus, therefore, is again the true steward of God, also with regard to the things of this present world. For, in the first place, Christ Himself is the principal steward over the whole house of God, over all things in heaven and on earth, both in respect to the things of the present world and of the world to come. For He is Lord. To Him is given all power in heaven and on earth. And every knee must bow and every tongue must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father. In Him we have become true stewards of God, also with regard to our present material and earthly possessions. In Him we have again received the right to receive all things from God. In Him we have received the power to acknowledge the God of our salvation and to serve Him also with our material possessions. And in Him we have received the will to serve Him and principally to glorify Him in the midst of the world, whether we are rich or poor. For we are called out of darkness into His marvelous light even as we are redeemed by the blood of the cross from the dominion of sin and death. Principally we are no more thieves, thieves with respect to God and with respect to one another. But it is our joy to consecrate ourselves and all things to the service of the most high. And even as we acknowledge the Lord our God in Christ Jesus our Savior for all our material possessions and for all that we receive in the present life, whether it be riches or poverty, health or sickness, prosperity or adversity; and even as we are called to and principally endeavor to manage all things in the name of God and to His glory; so we expect the reward of faithful servants from Him, and from Him alone, through Jesus Christ our Lord. “For as the apostle writes in I Cor. 3:21-23: “Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all things are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.”
Chapter 2: The Grace of Contentment
Christian stewardship, we said, implies that God is the proprietor of all things through Jesus Christ our Lord, and that therefore. He distributes all our material possessions to each one according to His will. We receive all things from Him, and acknowledge Him as the Lord. Secondly, it implies that we manage all our earthly possessions in the name of God and according to His precepts. The Christian is simply God’s manager in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And thirdly, we said that as God’s managers in Jesus Christ our Savior we expect the reward, both in time and eternity, from Him alone.
This implies, of course, that the Christian does not and cannot believe in communism as a system of society, or in community of goods. It has been objected that nevertheless this community of goods is a Scriptural idea, and that a certain system of communism existed in the early church. For we read in Acts 2:44, 45: “And all that believed were together, and had all things in common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” And in Acts 4:33-37 we read: “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither. was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The Son of Consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” But as Ursinus remarks in his “Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism;” “1. The examples are not the same: for a community of goods in the time of the apostles was easy and necessary. It was easy, because the disciples were few in number. It was necessary because there was great danger, that if they did not sell them, they would be wrested from them by violence. It is different, however, as it respects the church at the present time; for such a community of goods would now be neither easy nor necessary. The apostles were, therefore, led, for just and sufficient reasons, to have such a community of goods, which causes are now no more in existence. 2. They did it freely, and not by any law constraining them to adopt such measures. Each one did it of his own accord. Hence Peter said to Ananias, ‘While it remained was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?’ (Acts 5:4). It was, therefore, voluntary. 3. It was a particular custom not having respect to the whole church: for it was not observed in the churches. Alms were collected in Macedonia and Achaia, and sent to Jerusalem. 4. It was temporary; for it was afterwards abolished when the causes which first gave rise to it passed away.” To this we may add, in the first place, that evidently it was not a community of goods in the stricter sense of the word, as if, for instance, no one had any private homes in which they dwelled, as if in their homes they did not have their own furniture, and as if they did not have their own clothes. They evidently sold so much of their possessions as was necessary to provide for them that had need, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. And secondly, we may well remark that this community of goods in the church was an impossible situation, and that in a sinful world it could not possibly be maintained. The example of Ananias and Sapphira is sufficient proof of this. And the situation came to an early end, as is shown by the fact that in Acts 6 we already read of the appointment of deacons, occasioned by the fact that “In those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.”
The Christian therefore believes in what is called private property, and what we rather call the private stewardship of the Christian. Communism is in conflict with the organic existence and development of the human race, according to, which God distributes to every man his own material possessions. This distribution is accomplished through all kinds of ways and means, such as buying and selling, labor and wages, contracts and partnerships, lending and borrowing, inheritance, and other ways and means. But it is always God that is the proprietor of all things, that must be acknowledged as such in Christ Jesus our Lord, and in whose name and for whose sake the Christian manages his earthly possessions.
According to Ursinus, there are various Christian virtues presupposed in the keeping of this eighth commandment, such as commutative justice, contentment, fidelity, liberality, hospitality, parsimony, and frugality. All these virtues may very well be subsumed under the head of the one principal virtue of contentment, which is the very opposite of covetousness, which is the root of all evil. According to Ursinus again: “Contentment is a virtue, by which we are satisfied and contented with our present possessions, which we have honestly acquired, and by which we quietly endure poverty and other inconveniences, not desiring what does not belong to us, or what is unnecessary.”
The grace of contentment is beautifully described by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:11: “For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” It is therefore a grace by which we are conscious of being victorious: over all external things, conditions, states, circumstances. For it is evident from the passage in its context that it deals with external things, with things that are earthy, with material possessions and earthy states. To these external things our earthly life is related, in a measure, we may say, that we are dependent on them. We are in need of earthly possessions.