Carl J. Haak is pastor-elect of the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington.
Mercy—how we love that word!
“The Lord is merciful . . .”; “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him . . .”; “Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses . . . .”
God’s mercy looks at us as we are miserable and wretched in our sins and it is His tender pity and loving compassion towards us whereby He does us good. “God be merciful to ME the sinner, . . . this man went down to his house justified.”
Sharing the anointing of Christ, we are made to be merciful. “And be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” One concrete way the believer shows this grace of mercy is by giving to the causes presented to us by our deacons.
Let us consider this in the light of Deuteronomy 15:7-11. (Will you please look this up now in your Bible?)
God gives us direction how we are to give:bountifully and willingly. We should give bountifully, that is, sufficiently to supply the needs the deacons have called upon us to support. If the causes go lacking we have not given bountifully, even though we may attempt to justify ourselves with saying, “I have done my part.” Observe how this duty is insisted upon us. It is repeated over and over again, and enjoined in the strongest terms: vs. 7, “Thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother”; vs. 8, “But thou shalt open thy hand wide unto him”; vs. 10, “Thou shalt surely give him”; vs. 11, “I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thy hand wide unto thy brother and to thy needy.” When the collection plate is passed in divine worship services, God calls us to give bountifully, that is, sufficient unto the needs.
The Word of God anticipates and warns against objections. “Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release is at hand; and thy eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him naught, and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee.” The matter concerning the seventh year of release was that God had given Israel a law, that if any man had lent anything to his neighbors, and if the latter had not been able to repay it, then on the seventh year he was to release his neighbor of the debt and not exact it of him. God warns the children of Israel not to withhold giving because they anticipated that they would not be repaid. The wickedness of their hearts would reason that they would lose their loan, because the law would require them to release their debtor. Therefore they would be hesitant to supply the wants of the needy. “Thou shalt be willing to lend, expecting nothing again.”
When we make objections against our calling of Christian giving, God speaks of it as a manifestation of the wickedness of our hearts. “Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart.” The warning is very strict. God does not say, “Beware that you do not actually refuse to give,” but, “Beware that you do not have one objecting thought against it.” God warns against the beginnings of uncharitableness in the heart, and against anything which tends to hold us back in our giving.
Although this applies to all our giving, the offerings for the poor are especially the way in which the Christian shows mercy, and thus functions in the office of all believers. God says to us that we shall never be in want for objects of benevolence. “For the poor shall never cease out of thy land” (vs. 11). Christ has said the same to us in Matthew 26:11: “The poor have ye always with you.” This cuts off the excuse that we can find nobody to give to, none who are in need. God shall so order His providence, that His people everywhere, and in all ages, will have occasion for the exercise of the virtue of mercy in giving for the poor.
It is our duty to give bountifully. It is commanded twice in the text, “Thou shalt open thy hand wide unto thy poor brother.” Merely to give something is not sufficient; it answers not to the rule, nor comes up to the holy command of God. What we give, considering our brothers’ wants and our abilities, ought properly to be called a liberal gift. This is explained in verse 8: “Thou shalt open thy hand wide unto him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his want, in that which he needeth.” By lending, the text means giving, as inLuke 6:35: “Do good and lend, hoping for nothing again.” The poor are to receive what is sufficient for their needs. There ought to be none in the church who live in pinching want. When we give sparingly, it is not revelation of charity, but of covetousness. “Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort you brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up beforehand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness” (II Cor. 9:5).
We are to do this freely, without grudging. It is not at all pleasing in the sight of God if when we extend the hand to drop our gift in the plate, we are grieved in our hearts, and it hurts to give what we give. “Thou shalt surely give, and thy heart shall not be grieved.” God looks at the heart, and the hand is not accepted without it. “Every man according as he hath purposed in his heart, so let him give, not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver” (II Cor. 9:7).
The exercise of the office of all believers in Christian giving is a great duty and calling. It is not only a commendable thing for a man to be kind to the poor and generous to the Kingdom causes, but it is our sacred calling, as much as it is to pray, or to attend public worship. It is mentioned in the Bible as one of the more essential duties of true religion acceptable to God. “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8). To love mercy is one of the three things which sums true religion. So also is it mentioned by James as one of the two things in which true religion consists: “Pure religion and undefiled before God the Father is this; to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Christ tells us that it is one of the weightier matters of the law. “Ye have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Matt. 22:23). Again, “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). The Scripture again and again teaches us that the display of mercy in giving of what the Lord has given to us to the needs of the Body of Christ, is an essential and weighty matter of our office of believer.
The willingness we will have to support the causes presented by our deaconates only originates in a sincere understanding of the mercy of God towards us. Consider how greatly God has loved us, what He has given to us, when we were so unworthy. Christ loved and pitied us, when we were poor and laid out His own life for us and shed His blood for us without grudging. He emptied Himself for us vile wretches, in order to make us rich, and to clothe us with kingly robes, when we were naked. He brought us to feast at His own table when we were totally without. He raised us from the dunghill and made us inherit the throne of glory. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (II Cor. 8:9).
Considering all these things, what a horror it would be that we cannot support the needs of the church without grumbling or inward regret. How unsuitable it is for those who live only by the kindness and mercy of God to be unkind and unmerciful. The uncharitable giver, the one who holds back his hand from the offering because his money goes for other things first and he fears he will not have enough for himself, this one knows not experientially the mercy of God.
Christ by His redemption has made us members one of another. Therefore we ought to be united and serve one another’s good. “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Let us apply these things to ourselves and inquire in our hearts whether in these things we are walking in a way which is pleasing to God and worthy of our Lord Whose anointing we share. Have you given cheerfully until the need is supplied? Have we done it grudgingly and with grief of heart? Do the causes of the Kingdom and the poor cry out to God due to our falling behind in wholehearted giving?
God tells us that what we have done in our giving we have done unto Him, and what we have denied we have denied unto Him. “He that hath pity on the poor lendeth to the Lord” (Prov. 19:17). God in His infinite mercy has bound Himself to the poor in the church and His heart loves the causes of His kingdom. When we deny them, we rob Him. (See Malachi 3.)
To give to the poor in the manner prescribed to us by our Lord is a difficult duty, and it is very contrary to corrupt nature. Man is naturally governed by the principle of self-love. Part of the blessed liberty in Christ is the ability worked in us of grace to walk not according to some, but according to all the commandments of God. If this seems hard and difficult to you, let not that be the objection against doing it. Also in this area of the redeemed life of grace the way to walk is the narrow way.
But we ought not to look upon it as loss. If we believe the Scriptures, when a man charitably gives, the giver has the greatest advantage by it, even greater than the receiver. “I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to given than to receive,” (Acts 20:35; see also Prov. 14:21, Ecc. 9:1, Prov. 19:17).
The spiritual principle is simple but oh so true. Experiencing God’s mercy we are made to be merciful. In the way of being merciful we receive the approval of our Lord and are blessed. May the Lord cause us to function and to grow in the office of believer by giving to the causes of the kingdom and the needy.