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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Justification - The Reformation v. Rome | Main | Same Sex Romantic Love Not a Sin? »

    The Hidden Treasure (8 -- Giving Away the Gold)

    It is a singular characteristic of the wealthy men of this world, that they are almost without exception parsimonious, and cling tightly to the great riches they possess. It would seem a dictate of logic that, according as one could give without jeopardizing his own security and position, he would feel more free to do so with indifference. In reality, it is often those most pressed for necessary finances, and those whose ability to provide for themselves the most basic wants is in question from day to day, who are the most willing to give to others. Thus, the wealthy tend to preserve their wealth through greediness, and the poor tend to discourage any accumulation of wealth through liberality.

    The matter stands in precisely the opposite case when it comes to the gospel gold. Those who are rich in the gospel are ever compelled by the greatness of their wealth to give it all away; and those who give little or grudgingly show thereby that they have little to give after all. But here is the mystery: the effect of this contrary attitude tends toward precisely the same result as we have observed in the case of the worldly-rich – in the one situation as well as the other, the poor tend to remain poor, while the rich grow richer yet. What can account for this strange enigma?

    The only explanation can be that, when it comes to the gospel-coin, to give away is actually to receive. To give is to get, in a very unalterable sense, and the more the currency is doled out freely, cheerfully, and with a heart of love, the more it multiplies itself in the coffers from which it is distributed. Thus that saying of the Lord is firmly established, that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

    This is because the nature of the gospel gold is the knowledge of the Savior. But we have already made it clear, that the sort of intellectual knowledge of him which even the demons have is nothing but worthless fool’s gold. The hidden treasure of the gospel consists in a knowledge of Christ which is heartfelt and joyful, and which surpasses for intimacy even the closest human relationships. It is a knowledge which shares in all of his attitudes and emotions, and follows the same path that his own feet have trod. It is a knowledge of experience and personal identification, which can never be had through the mere analysis of a few theological propositions, but springs up in a living union and a shared destiny.

    Now what this means is that, if we would grow richer in the gospel gold, we must know Christ more deeply in the full range of his characteristics, attitudes, and experiences; and as we look at his blessed life upon this earth, we immediately find that it was a life full of the sacrificial giving away of himself for the highest good of others, that is, in order to bring them to God, in whom is their greatest and lasting joy. If we would know him intimately in this ministry, it cannot just be by an operation of the mind, but through the whole person, sharing in the same kinds of experiences that he underwent, and knowing through them all the same soul-sustaining joy that once supported him in his most trying times, and that will now support us in any difficulty which we face, through our union with him.

    So it is that the apostle Paul, when he had roundly derided all the dung-heap wealth he had treasured up before, and had traded it off for the personal knowledge of Christ instead, was not content just to ask that he might know him in the power of his resurrection while avoiding the fellowship of his sufferings, but asked positively for a measure of each, so that he might feel the full range of the excellencies of Jesus Christ at operation in his own soul, as he walked the same path that our Savior had walked. A person cannot know the peace that Christ left, his own surpassing gospel peace, unless he knows the same trials through which that peace sustained him. And when one’s love of Christ has flamed up to such a degree that he would place his desire to know the Savior above his desire for a life free of any hardships, he then delights to experience persecution for the gospel, for through it he will obtain a more lively knowledge of the Savior in his sufferings.

    Now, do you see how it is that the one who gives becomes richer yet? The gospel gold is knowing Jesus. The one who gives of himself sacrificially, and lets his body be beaten and his words mocked and derided, not just because he enjoys suffering, but because through this pain he hopes to bring others to the place of their only and all-satisfying joy, in a restored relationship with God – this one is able to experience an identification with Christ in a fuller range of his various operations, and so grows much richer in the gospel currency. By giving away the gospel gold, he heaps up more of it for himself, and in this way, though rich before, he becomes richer yet by giving away everything, and so following the example of Christ.

    This one principle has for two thousand years served as the massive and unshakable foundation of the Christian mission. The more that believers have been beaten and persecuted, the more their zeal has been enflamed to tell the world about their Savior, because they have been graced to obtain a fuller knowledge of him through those very sufferings. And the more their hearts overflow with selfless, Spirit-wrought passion, the more unbelievers are drawn themselves to look to Christ for that same circumstance-transcending joy, and thus they are transformed into other Christ-lovers, who would likewise cause their wealth to grow by giving themselves away for the good of their persecutors. So then, let him who would be rich indeed give away all that he possesses, yes, even his own soul, for then he will find himself blessed beyond measure.

    Of course, one cannot simply give away the gospel gold as if it were physical money. Inasmuch as it consists of a personal acquaintance with Jesus, it can only be gathered through personal means, and can never be vicariously won. A person is never rich in the hidden treasure simply by virtue of his relationship to others who are. A father may be rich himself, but he can never give away his gold to his children, but only through prayer and diligent instruction assist them to go out and gather the treasure for themselves. Even Paul, when he was ready to give away his own share in Christ to his hardhearted kinsmen, was not at all able to do so, but instead just mourned bitterly over them. So then, the giving away of the gold to others is not at all a transfer of wealth from our own coffers to theirs; a transfer of that nature can take place only at one location, and that is at the cross of Christ, where he willingly became poor so that we might become rich, and truly placed in our coffers his own accumulated treasures of righteousness, while taking into his own bosom our putrid, stinking mass of sin. Instead, our giving follows in that same example, by which we learn to give ourselves away, in order to lead others to the cross, where they might make the same blessed exchange we have made. Jesus suffered to buy our pardon; we now suffer to proclaim that pardon has been bought. He suffered to win our great treasure; we now suffer to show others where it is to be found.

    How do we go about this self-giving task of pointing others to the hidden treasure of the Savior? First, we must be willing to tell them of the gold that we have found. We are beggars who have found a great feast, lepers who have found a free cure, paupers who have found a source of inexhaustible wealth. How shameless we should be if we turned our back on the other beggars and lepers and paupers of the world, and lived a life of indolence in our newly acquired life of prosperity! If those lepers who found the camps of the enemy abandoned, with food aplenty for their starving brothers in the city, feared at their reaction should they find out that they had hidden their knowledge from them, how much more should we fear to be found out on the day of judgment, if we have refused to tell the world of the treasure we have found in Jesus? Will we not then be as the wicked debtor in the parable, who refused to give a little leniency to another servant indebted to him, when he had been shown much leniency from his own lord? And will we not then suffer the same fate, and be cast into outer darkness, if we are ashamed to tell of the One who has made us rich in the knowledge of God? Arise then, and beat the hedges and byways! We have found the buried treasure, hidden in the gospel field – let us tell others what a wondrous field it is, and urge them with all our might to sell all their belongings that they might have a share of it too.

    Second, we must not only tell others where the gold is to be found, but we must also boast in its surpassing worth and beauty. The gold we have found is not just any gold, it is the rarest and finest treasure that the world has ever known – so let us shout its praises! How do we do this? By singing with all our hearts when the blows of the enemy fall upon us the hardest. By rejoicing fervently when we are wronged or maligned. But committing ourselves confidently to God when we have lost our jobs, or have children who are going astray, or have just been diagnosed with cancer. We boast in the gospel gold most tellingly when we live in such a way as to make it obvious that our joy transcends all the circumstances of this life. When one says with his lips, “I love Jesus,” but complains and groans when trials come, who will listen to him? What he is really saying is that, “Jesus can give me a little joy, but not so much that the devil can’t take it all away”. He is saying, “The peace that Jesus gives is like the world’s peace after all, tied to the state of worldly affairs”. Friends, we know that this is not true! We have, each one of us who belongs to Christ, tasted a joy and peace that the world can never take away; then let us boast in what we have, so that others might share in our knowledge! Let us glory in the cross of Christ, from which flows our unceasing store of every good and perfect gift, from now to eternity, and compel other miserable beggars to come and drink from the same bountiful spring!

    Finally, we must be willing to wear the gospel gold, and thus to display it before the world. So glorious is our treasure, that mere words can never convey its charm and beauty. It can only be admired properly when it is seen. But how is the gold of our Savior’s excellent character seen today, when he is bodily at the right hand of the Father? It is seen in the lives of his saints, who still function as his mystical body on earth. When the world persecutes and mocks us for our righteousness, and we respond in meekness and love, and would gladly give up our bodies to their spiteful blows, if in so doing we might help them find their eternal joy, then they see Christ shining through his members upon the earth; for it is only through a vital union with Christ that a man can respond in such a way. Christ suffered once in his physical body, to bear our sins and win our redemption. But his work is not quite done, for now he is suffering in his mystical body, to proclaim the forgiveness of sins, and spread the results of that redemption he has already accomplished. We are blessed to be a part of that glorious labor, and as we engage in the mission, giving ourselves away so that others might be brought to Christ, we are then treasuring up a most abundant and lively knowledge of the Savior in his sufferings, and assuring ourselves of an equally intimate knowledge of the Savior in his resurrection power.

    We have now uncovered the hidden treasure, and our riches can never be numbered. Let us up and be laboring, seeking with all our strength to know the Lord Jesus Christ in all his diverse excellency, to fellowship with him in all of his operations, and to draw in many other beggars, wretches for whom he died, to the same blessed union with him in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge from the foundation of the world.

    Posted by Nathan on March 28, 2008 02:54 PM

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