Chapter 34—Systematic Benevolence
Should all whom God has prospered with earth’s riches carry out His plan by faithfully giving a tenth of all their increase, and should they not withhold their trespass offerings and their thank offerings, the treasury would be constantly replenished. The simplicity of the plan of systematic benevolence does not detract from its merits, but extols the wisdom of God in its arrangement. Everything bearing the divine stamp unites simplicity with utility. If systematic benevolence were universally adopted according to God’s plan, and the tithing system carried out as faithfully by the wealthy as it is by the poorer classes, there would be no need of repeated and urgent calls for means at our large religious gatherings. There has been a neglect in the churches of keeping up the plan of systematic benevolence, and the result has been an impoverished treasury and a backslidden church.
“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts.”
God has been robbed in tithes and offerings. It is a fearful thing to be guilty of withholding from the treasury or of robbing God. Ministers who preach the word at our large gatherings feel the sinfulness of neglecting to render to God the things that are His. They know that God will not bless His people while they are disregarding His plan of benevolence. They seek to arouse the people to their duty by pointed, practical discourses, showing the danger and sinfulness of selfishness and covetousness. Conviction fastens upon minds, and the icy chill of selfishness is broken. And when the call is made for donations to the cause of God, some, under the stirring influence of the meetings, are aroused to give who otherwise would do nothing. As far as this class is concerned, good
results have been realized. But under pressing calls many feel the deepest who have not had their hearts frozen up with selfishness. They have conscientiously kept their means flowing out to advance the cause of God. Their whole being is stirred by the earnest appeals made, and the very ones respond who may have given all that their circumstances in life would justify.
But these liberal, wholehearted believers, prompted by a zealous love for the cause and a desire to act promptly, judge themselves capable of doing more than God requires them to do, for their usefulness is crippled in other directions. These willing ones sometimes pledge to raise money when they know not from what source it is coming, and some are placed in distressing circumstances to meet their pledges. Some are obliged to sell their produce at great disadvantage, and some have actually suffered for the conveniences and necessities of life in order to meet their pledges.
There was a time at the commencement of our work when such sacrifice would have been justified, when God would have blessed all who thus ventured out to do for His cause. The friends of truth were few and their means very limited. But the work has been widening and strengthening until there is means enough in the hands of believers to amply sustain the work in all its departments without embarrassing any, if all would bear their proportional part. The cause of God need not be crippled in the slightest degree. The precious truth has been made so plain that many have taken hold of it who have in their hands means which God has entrusted to them to use in advancing the interests of the truth. If these men of means do their duty, there need not be a pressure brought upon the poorer brethren.
We are in a world of plenty. If the gifts and offerings were proportionate to the means which each has received of God, there would be no need of urgent calls for means at our large gatherings. I am fully convinced that it is not the best plan to bring a pressure upon the point of means at our camp meetings. Men and women who love the cause of God as they
do their lives will pledge upon these occasions, when their families must suffer for the very means that they have promised to give to advance the cause. Our God is not a taskmaster and does not require the poor man to give means to the cause that belongs to his family and that should be used to keep them in comfort and above pinching want.
The calls for means at our large camp meetings have hitherto been attended with apparently good results so far as the wealthy are concerned. But we fear the result of a continued effort to thus replenish the treasury. We fear that there will be a reaction. Greater effort should be put forth by responsible men in the different churches to have all follow the plan of God’s arrangement. If systematic benevolence is carried out, the urgent calls at the camp meetings for means for various enterprises will not be necessary.
God has devised a plan by which all may give as He has prospered them, and which will make giving a habit without waiting for special calls. Those who can do this, but will not because of their selfishness, are robbing their Creator, who has bestowed upon them means to invest in His cause to advance its interests. Until all shall carry out the plan of systematic benevolence, there will be a failure in coming up to the apostolic rule. Those who minister in word and doctrine should be men of discrimination. They should, while they make general appeals, become acquainted with the ability of those who respond to their appeals, and should not allow the poor to pay large pledges. After a man has once consecrated a certain sum to the Lord, he feels that it is sacred, consecrated to a holy use. This is true, and therefore our preaching brethren should be well informed of whom they accept pledges.
Each member of the different families in our churches who believes the truth may act a part in its advancement by cheerfully adopting systematic benevolence. “Let every one of you lay by him in store [by himself at home], . . . that there be no gatherings when I come.” The burden of urging and pressing individuals to give of their means was not designed to be the work of God’s ministers. The responsibility
should rest upon every individual who enjoys the belief of the truth. “Let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him.” Every member of the family, from the oldest down to the youngest, may take part in this work of benevolence.
The offerings of little children may be acceptable and pleasing to God. In accordance with the spirit that prompts the gifts will be the value of the offering. The poor, by following the rule of the apostle and laying by a small sum every week, help to swell the treasury, and their gifts are wholly acceptable to God; for they make just as great, and even greater, sacrifices than their more wealthy brethren. The plan of systematic benevolence will prove a safeguard to every family against temptations to spend means for needless things, and especially will it prove a blessing to the rich by guarding them from indulging in extravagances.
Every week the demands of God upon each family are brought to mind by each of its members fully carrying out the plan; and as they have denied themselves some superfluity in order to have means to put into the treasury, lessons of value in self-denial for the glory of God have been impressed upon the heart. Once a week each is brought face to face with the doings of the past week–the income that he might have had if he had been economical and the means that he does not have because of indulgence. His conscience is reined up, as it were, before God, and either commends or accuses him. He learns that if he retains peace of mind and the favor of God he must eat and drink and dress to His glory.
Systematic and liberal giving in accordance with the plan keeps the channel of the heart open. We place ourselves in connection with God, that He may use us as channels through which His gifts may flow to others. The poor will not complain of systematic benevolence, for it touches them lightly. They are not neglected and passed by, but are favored with acting a part in being co-workers with Christ, and will receive the blessing of God as well as the wealthy. In the very process
of laying aside the littles as they can spare them they are denying self and cultivating liberality of heart. They are educating themselves to good works, and are as effectually meeting the design of God in the plan of systematic benevolence as are the more wealthy who give of their abundance.
In the days of the apostles, men went everywhere preaching the word. New churches were raised up. Their love and zeal for Christ led them to acts of great denial and sacrifice. Many of these Gentile churches were very poor, yet the apostle declares that their deep poverty abounded to the riches of their liberality. Their gifts were extended beyond their ability to give. Men periled their lives and suffered the loss of all things for the truth’s sake.
The apostle suggests the first day of the week as a proper time to review the course of Providence and the prosperity experienced, and in the fear of God, with true gratitude of heart for the blessings He has bestowed, to decide how much, according to His own devised plan, shall be rendered back to Him.
God designs that the exercise of benevolence shall be purely voluntary, not having recourse even to eloquent appeals to excite sympathy. “God loveth a cheerful giver.” He is not pleased to have His treasury replenished with forced supplies. The loyal hearts of His people, rejoicing in the saving truth for this time, will, through love and gratitude to Him for this precious light, be earnest and anxious to aid with their means in sending the truth to others. The very best manner in which to give expression to our love for our Redeemer is to make offerings to bring souls to the knowledge of the truth. The plan of redemption was entirely voluntary on the part of our Redeemer, and it is the purpose of Christ that all our benevolence should be freewill offerings.
Chap. 35 – Individual Independence
Dear Brother A: My mind is exercised in regard to your case. I have written you some things which have been shown me in regard to your past, present, and future course. I feel anxious for you because I have seen your dangers. Your former experience in spiritualism exposes you to temptations and severe conflicts. When once the mind has been yielded to the direct control of the enemy through evil angels, that person should be very distrustful of impressions and feelings which would lead him on an independent track, away from the church of Christ. The first step that such a one would take independently of the church should be regarded as a device of the enemy to deceive and destroy. God has made His church a channel of light, and through it He communicates His purposes and His will. He does not give one an experience independent of the church. He does not give one man a knowledge of His will for the entire church, while the church, Christ’s body, is left in darkness.
Brother A, you need to watch with the greatest care how you build. There is a storm coming which will test your hope to the utmost. You should dig deep and lay your foundation sure. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.” Steadily the builder places one stone upon another until the structure rises stone upon stone. The gospel builder frequently carries on his work in tears and amid trials, storms of persecution, bitter opposition, and unjust reproach; but he feels deeply in earnest, for he is building for eternity. Be careful, Brother A, that your foundation is solid rock, that you are riveted to it, Christ being that Rock.
You have a strong, set will, a very independent spirit, which you feel that you must preserve at all hazards. And you have carried this same spirit into your religious experience and life. You have not always been in harmony with the
work of God as carried on by your American brethren. You have not seen as they see nor been in union with their manner of proceeding. You have had very little acquaintance with the work in its different departments. You have not felt very anxious to become acquainted with the various branches of the work. You have looked with suspicion and distrust upon the work, and upon God’s chosen leaders to carry it forward. You have been more ready to question and surmise and be jealous of those upon whom God has laid the heavier responsibilities of His work, than to investigate and to so connect yourself with the cause of God as to become acquainted with its workings and advancement.
God saw that you were not fitted to be a shepherd, a minister of righteousness to proclaim the truth to others, until you should be a thoroughly transformed man. He permitted you to pass through real trials and feel privation and want, that you might know how to exercise pity and sympathy, and tender love for the unfortunate and oppressed, and for those borne down with want and passing through trial and affliction.
While you prayed in your affliction for peace in Christ, a cloud of darkness seemed to blacken across your mind. The rest and peace did not come as you expected. At times your faith seemed to be tested to the utmost. As you looked back to your past life, you saw sorrow and disappointment; as you viewed the future, all was uncertainty. The divine Hand led you wondrously to bring you to the cross and to teach you that God was indeed a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Those who ask aright will receive. He that seeketh in faith shall find. The experience gained in the furnace of trial and affliction is worth more than all the inconvenience and painful experience it costs.
The prayers that you offered in your loneliness, in your weariness and trial, God answered, not always according to your expectations, but for your good. You did not have clear and correct views of your brethren, neither did you see yourself in a correct light. But, in the providence of God, He has
been at work to answer the prayers you have offered in your distress, in a way to save you and glorify His own name. In your ignorance of yourself you asked for things which were not best for you. God heard your prayers of sincerity, but the blessing granted was something very different from your expectations. God designed, in His providence, to place you more directly in connection with His church, that your confidence might be less in yourself and greater in others whom He is leading out to advance His work.
God hears every sincere prayer. He would place you in connection with His work that He might bring you more directly to the light. And unless you should seal your vision against evidence and light you would be persuaded that if you were more distrustful of yourself and less distrustful of your brethren you would be more prosperous in God. It is God who has led you through strait places. He had a purpose in this, that tribulation might work in you patience, and patience experience, and experience hope. He permitted trials to come upon you, that, through them, you might experience the peaceable fruits of righteousness.
Peter denied the Man of Sorrows in His acquaintance with grief in the hour of His humiliation. But he afterward repented and was reconverted. He had true contrition of soul and gave himself afresh to his Saviour. With blinding tears he makes his way to the solitudes of the Garden of Gethsemane and there prostrates himself where he saw his Saviour’s prostrate form when the bloody sweat was forced from His pores by His great agony. Peter remembers with remorse that he was asleep when Jesus prayed during those fearful hours. His proud heart breaks, and penitential tears moisten the sods so recently stained with the bloody sweat drops of God’s dear Son. He left that garden a converted man. He was ready then to pity the tempted. He was humbled and could sympathize with the weak and erring. He could caution and warn the presumptuous, and was fully fitted to strengthen his brethren.
God led you through affliction and trials that you might
have more perfect trust and confidence in Him, and that you might think less of your own judgment. You can bear adversity better than prosperity. The all-seeing eye of Jehovah detected in you much dross that you considered gold and too valuable to throw away. The enemy’s power over you had at times been direct and very strong. The delusions of spiritualism had entangled your faith, perverted your judgment, and confused your experience. God in His providence would try you, to purify you, as the sons of Levi, that you might offer to Him an offering in righteousness.
Self is mingled too much with all your labors. Your will must be molded by God’s will, or you will fall into grievous temptations. I saw that when you labor in God, putting self out of sight, you will realize a strength from Him which will give you access to hearts. Angels of God will work with your efforts when you are humble and little in your own eyes. But when you think you know more than those whom God has been leading for years, and whom He has been instructing in the truth and fitting for the extension of His work, you are self-exalted and will fall into temptations.
You need to cultivate kindness and tenderness. You need to be pitiful and courteous. Your labors savor too much of severity and an exacting, dictatorial, overbearing spirit. You are not always kindly considerate of the feelings of others, and you create trials and dissatisfaction needlessly. More love in your labors, and more kindly sympathy, would give you access to hearts and would win souls to Christ and the truth.
You are constantly inclined to individual independence. You do not realize that independence is a poor thing when it leads you to have too much confidence in yourself and to trust to your own judgment rather than to respect the counsel and highly estimate the judgment of your brethren, especially of those in the offices which God has appointed for the saving of His people. God has invested His church with special authority and power which no one can be justified in disregarding and despising, for in so doing he despises the voice of God.
It is not safe for you to trust to impressions and feelings. It has been your misfortune to come under the power of that satanic delusion, spiritualism. This pall of death has covered you, and your imagination and nerves have been under the control of demons; and when you become self-confident and do not cling with unwavering confidence to God you are in positive danger. You may, and frequently do, let down the bars and invite the enemy in, and he controls your thoughts and actions, while you are really deceived and flatter yourself that you are in favor with God.
Satan has tried to prevent you from having confidence in your American brethren. You have regarded them and their moves and experience with suspicion, when they are the very ones who could help you and would be a blessing to you. It will be Satan’s studied effort to separate you from those who are as channels of light, through whom God has communicated His will and through whom He has wrought in building up and extending His work. Your views and your feelings and experience are altogether too narrow, and your labors are of the same character.
In order to be a blessing to your people, you need to improve in many things. You should cultivate courtesy and cherish a tender sympathy for all. You should have the crowning grace of God, which is love. You criticize too much and are not so forbearing as you must be if you would win souls. You could have much more influence if you were less formal and rigid, and were actuated more by the Holy Spirit. Your fear of being led by men is too great. God uses men as His instruments and will use them as long as the world shall stand.
The angels who fell were anxious to become independent of God. They were very beautiful, very glorious, but dependent on God for their happiness and for the light and intelligence they enjoyed. They fell from their high estate through insubordination. Christ and His church are inseparable. To neglect or despise those whom God has appointed to lead out and to bear the responsibilities connected with His work and with the advancement and spread of the truth is to reject the means which God has ordained for the help, encouragement, and strength of His people.
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 3 pp. 409-418