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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)



      There is nothing in which modern Christians, even the best, are farther behind the ancient, than in the spirit and practice of liberality; not liberality of opinion, for in this the modern far excel the ancients--but liberality of purse and scrip. The ancient Jews were the most liberal nation on earth--the modern Jews the most selfish. Great faith has always been the parent of great liberality. Little faith makes a man large in spirit. Abraham, the Father of the Faithful, is as much distinguished in eternal fame for his liberality as for his faith. His donations to Melchisedec became the measure and standard of all good Jews towards the ministers of religion among the elect nation. Independence of Mind, and Liberality of Spirit are twin sisters. Faith and love are their parents. The Father of all Believers is a model of the noblest independence of mind, of genuine hospitality, and of the most rational liberty [sic].

      Since the days of righteous Abel to the present time, true religion has always been an expensive and an expending thing. A cheap religion, [88] and a religion that costs but little, is of no account in the Reign of Heaven. Jesus Christ and all the martyrs gave life itself away, and the first converts gave up to heaven all they had on earth. Times and circumstances always have been not only the occasion, but an army of volunteers who are ready at a moment to give up all at the beck of Heaven. Christians of old were industrious, frugal, economical--that they might be liberal. One of the precepts of our Apostle, still extant, is couched in the following words:--"Let him that stole, steal no more; but rather let him labour, working with his hands that which is good--that he may have to impart to him who has need." To labor for the purpose of having to distribute; to seek to be rich for the purpose of being rich in good works, is not the most ordinary virtue in this age. But such belongs to the calendar of Heaven's virtues; and this, more than the purest orthodoxy, is a blessing to society.

      If all the hours that are expended in strifes and debates about orthodox opinions were devoted to business for the purpose of accumulating to bless the poor and to teach the ignorant, the Christian communities would wear a quite different aspect in society. But this spirit has been quenched; and, instead of it, the selfishness of avarice, the pride of opinion, the furious zeal of orthodoxy, have converted the green fields of the plantations of grace into a dry and parched land, in which no waters flow. The sterility and barrenness of the church is the proper fruit of the commercial, trading, speculating, and peculating spirit of this age and country. Young men of ardent spirit, and of much devotion and useful talent, who might have turned many to righteousness, are induced to study law, physic, or trade, because of the neglects arising from the avarice and secular spirit of the church. The best talents of the country are thus alienated from the Lord, and made tributary to the world, the flesh, and Satan, often directly, without the professor intending it or forming a due estimate of his course. Thus the Lord is robbed to help the world, under the pretext of honesty and good faith.

      Men complain if the Lord demand from them more than the state; and they think they have done a great deal for the salvation of the world if they should give as much in twelve months for the furtherance of the gospel as they pay to government to protect their political rights: as if they owed more to Caesar than to God--to the reign of Jackson than to the reign of Christ. Until men can duly appreciate the things of Caesar and the things of God, the affairs of the forum, the barn, the cellar, the worship, and the counting-room, and the affairs of the church, the cause of salvation must languish, and the cause of destruction must advance with fearful rapidity. [89]

      The spirit of the world, like a gangrene, is wasting away the strength of the church; and health and beauty can not be restored to the body of Christ till the church adopts the regimen of heaven and appreciates the balm of Gilead more than all the nostrums of religious quackery. But we now speak of liberality; and we regret to say that the disciples of the Reformation do not generally excel in their contributions for the poor, the ignorant, and the perishing, the votaries of human creeds and the supporters of human inventions.

      Because the avarice of a corrupt priesthood is worthy of reprobation, and the credulity of a priest-ridden and misguided liberality loudly calls for Christian pity, some think that it is a virtue to keep all to themselves, and to make martyrs of the public servants of the Lord. There are, indeed, honorable and noble exceptions; but what is the honor of the few ought to be the boast of the majority. Every believer of the ancient gospel ought to be as eminent for liberality as for faith in God and zeal for his institutions. A great majority of the disciples in works of benevolence, charity, and in general liberality. are in no respect conspicuous above the devotees of human institutions. They are, indeed, equal in their zeal for themselves, and in endeavors to promote their own interest in all things temporal anal worldly; but in the works of self-denial there is no very convincing weight of argument on their side. This is not at all what it ought to be. Christians ought to be industrious, frugal, economical, in order to have more than they want for themselves that they may be rich in good works, liberal, and communicative to the necessities of saints and to the exigencies of society: "that they may lay up in store for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life." It is much more blessed to give than to receive; and the soul of the liberal shall wax fat, and he that watereth others shall himself be watered again.

      It is rather a rare occurrence to see a person laboring daily and assiduously for the sake of expending even a proportionate part of all the avails of his industry in the promotion of piety and humanity. However we may theorize about duty, privilege, and the use of means and money as one of the chief means of doing good, one thing is becoming more and more obvious--that until Christians, especially the rich and affluent, labor as devotedly for a constant revenue to expend under the guidance of the Messiah, and faithfully apply a just proportion of their incomes to the furtherance of the gospel, it will not run and be glorified as in the days of yore.

Vol. 1835, pp. 381-383.      

      When a person becomes a member or citizen of any state, the constitutional compact secures to him all that the government can bestow, and it also secures him and all that he has to the support of the state. His person, talents, property, and all that he calls his own, belong to [90] the state; and all the privileges, immunities, and rights which the state has to bestow on its citizens belong, by constitutional right and guarantee, to him. Hence, if the state want his person, his talents, or his property, or any portion of his talents or property, it levies upon it without any apology, by virtue of the social covenant. The benefits which he expects from civilized and social life, compared with the savage state, or the simple state of nature, authorize him to make such a surrender of his person, talents, and property as the state requires for the pledges which it stipulates to him. Such is the nature and design of the national compact.

      Now be it observed, that the imposts or taxes levied upon his time, his talents, or his property, for the simple support of the national compact, are always regarded, not as bounties or donations, but as just debts. Therefore, when a person pays off all the imposts of the government, he does no more than pay off a debt, which he has, by his naturalization or birth, contracted. So far justice, and not generosity, demands. But should he, after paying off all such taxes to the last farthing, consider that by volunteering his services personal, or by making a donation of land or money, out of pure patriotism for some public interest, which may either extend the resources or the territory of the state, and should actually tender such services or such donation; then is it that he acts liberally, and such appropriations of time or money are regarded as bounties, favors, or gifts to the whole community, which secure to him not merely the character of a just, but of a generous man.

      Now, is it otherwise in the kingdom of heaven? Is not the Christian community a religious commonwealth, under a government which guarantees to it the greatest--even spiritual and eternal immunities and privileges? And is not every citizen, from the instant of his adoption or regeneration, secured and transferred to the community, body, soul, spirit, and property? Does not the government claim his person, talents, and property, so far as it needs him, or his talents, and property, in consideration of the immense privileges which the constitution guarantees to him? Does not the law of Christ require the same--and does it not propound this as a fundamental maxim on which it bases all its claims--"YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN"--"All things are yours"--"YOU ARE CHRIST'S property."

      Now, if personal services or property are of any account in the kingdom of heaven, or church of Christ, will not all that we have said on the social compact, by the most exact analogy, apply to the Christian community? For so all the names and characters of the house, family, kingdom, city, or holy nation of God undeniably indicate.

      The first question of importance, then, is, Are personal services or property of any account in the church? Does the Lord need them? [91] Has he placed himself and his people in such earthly circumstances as to need men's services, talents, or property for the extension of the territory of his kingdom, (the multiplication of its citizens,) or for the comfort and happiness of the community under his presidency? Most certainly he has: for as clearly and as unequivocally as Jesus once said of a colt, "The Master needs it," so clearly has he and his Apostles called for the ministrations of his people in personal services, talent, and earthly substance. Nay, the Lord sometimes condescends to borrow from his disciples, as a father borrows from his children the property he has given them: "He that giveth to the poor" in advance of his just dues to them, "lends to the Lord." But it is not of charity we now write. The Lord "has ordained that they who preach the gospel should live by the gospel." Not only the Apostles who first announced it, but "others partook of this authority" to live by the gospel, and "the Apostles rather" (I. Cor. ix. 14). "Contributions for the gospel" is a part of the Christian's tax in the kingdom of heaven. I will not argue this as if it were a matter of dispute, for it is not. It is as clear as that there is a gospel, and that Christ commanded it to be preached and taught. The law, Paul says, taught it--the gospel ordains it--and reason sanctions it.

      But the question is, On what principle must these gracious imposts of the Christian government be levied? Paul decides as the laws of our American government decide not on the principle of gratuitous Donations--not on the principle's of generosity and liberality; but on the principles of immutable justice. "I mean," says Paul, "EQUALITY"--"not that one should be eased, and another burdened." I mean equality; and what is equality but justice?

      This reminds us of a suggestion made to me by brother Thomas Bullock, of Versailles, Kentucky, last April. "Our brethren," said he, "wish to be liberal in supporting the government of Jesus Christ. I want to be first just, then liberal. Now the difficulty with many is, How shall we have equality or justice in all contributions for our government? My plan," continued he, "would be as follows:

      "The state, in its wisdom, aiming at equality, has levied taxes, ad valorem, on our property; so that every man's political tax and imposts are levied on a just principle--he that has most property pays most to the government; because he has most at stake, or because he has derived the most benefit from it. Now," said he, "as we at least owe as much to the government of Heaven as to the government of the state, I am willing that on the ground of simple justice we pay on the same ratio to the furtherance of our spiritual privileges, annually, as much as we pay to the state. Let this be adopted as a basis principle, and if every church in the Union paid as much annually into the Lord's treasury as into the state treasury, we would then see how [92] much was left to our liberality. I would not, indeed, make the pittance of our political taxes the standard of our obligations to the government of Jesus Christ; but I would fix it as a sort of minimum to ascertain equality; and then, this being paid as the lowest demand of justice, let the brethren talk of liberality."

      It is not so much admiration of the plan, as it is of the principle recognized in the suggestion, that we quote from our recollections so largely. Yet as many brethren seem at a loss to find some standard of justice in these matters, it may not be amiss to state that they have in the suggestion a principle which would at once introduce equality at the minimum demands of justice. I have, however, too high an opinion of the good sense of our brethren to imagine that any of them would think so meanly of the government of Jesus Christ, and of their privileges, temporal and spiritual, derived from it, as to make its demands no more imperious, obligatory, or enlarged than those of the state government for its guarantee of political advantages.

      But, really, I am sometimes astonished to hear persons talk of liberality to Jesus Christ, who have not come up to the minimum demands of justice to his government.

      It is sometimes said that we are to blame for this, having said so much against the hireling systems now in fashion. On that subject we have, indeed, written much; but if any one confound the views inculcated in this essay with the system we denominate the hireling system, he has mistaken us altogether. The hireling is one who works for wages merely; but every one who receives wages is not a hireling. Were that the truth, then Paul himself was a hireling; for he says, "I received wages of other churches to do you service." There is priestcraft, and in opposing that, shall we establish laycraft? And, indeed, when I see men sent out by congregations to republish the gospel, and impoverished by their labors so as to become objects of sympathy, if not of positive charity--then I think it is time to watch against laycraft, if indeed we ought to use the word priestcraft or laycraft at all.

      But the only point now before us is to remind the brethren; that in coming into the kingdom of Heaven, they have surrendered themselves and all that they have to Jesus Christ, and as far as they judge he needs their services it is their honor and their duty to contribute--according to equality? No; but according to ability and exigency. I thank the Lord that I write not thus that so it should be done to me; but I write thus that it should be so done to the brethren who labor in the word, and whose modesty and devotion to the Lord and the brethren forbid their opening the law or the testimony on this topic. I have already volunteered twenty-five years of my life, and by far the best part of it, at my own expense and charges.

A. C. [93]      

      1. Alexander Campbell. "Reformation.--No. 7: Liberality." The Millennial Harbinger 6 (September 1835):
      2. ----------. "Reformation.--No. 8: Liberality." The Millennial Harbinger 6 (October 1835): 472-475.


[MHA2 88-93]

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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)