Charity and Its Fruits - great sacrifices and great sufferings are vain without love
(This week we continue our reading together of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded the reading of the "Doctrine" portion of Lecture Three. We will continue with the "Application" portion of Lecture Three in next week's reading. This is the pattern we will be using for the entirety of the reading. The notes below will follow Edwards' own outline directly, with all direct quotes from the text in italics. My goal is to make each post edifying on its own, even for those who are not reading along with us. I will welcome your questions or comments in the form below.)
First,...our performances, which are in vain without it:
Certainly we are instructed in Scripture of our duty to give and do for others:
"Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have." 2 Cor. 8:6-12
Here Paul indicates that while giving is an evidence of love, that giving is yet acceptable to God only when it comes from the readiness which love provides. And so, when giving is the evidence of the love, it is acceptable before God, however, giving, no matter to what degree of sacrifice, when done without love is worthless in the sight of God. “And yet, though he says so much in both these epistles, to stir them up to the duty of giving to the poor, still he is very careful to inform them, that though they should go ever so far in it, yea, though they should bestow all their goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it would profit them nothing.”
Secondly "...our sufferings, which are of no avail without charity."
“...our sufferings are of no avail without charity. Men are ready to make much of what they do, but more of what they suffer. They are ready to think it a great thing when they put themselves out of their way, or are at great expense or suffering, for their religion.”
“Therefore the doctrine that I would derive from these words is this: THAT ALL THAT MEN CAN DO, AND ALL THAT THEY CAN SUFFER, CAN NEVER MAKE UP FOR THE WANT OF SINCERE CHRISTIAN LOVE IN THE HEART.”
I. "There may be great performances, and so there may be great sufferings, without sincere Christian love in the heart."
1. "There may be great performances without it."
Edwards calls us to consider Paul's own exploits prior to his conversion: “...If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more...as to the law, a Pharisee...” (See Philippians 3:4-7). He then points us to the famous words of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11,12: “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'”
“The Pharisee mentioned in Luke 18...boasted of the great things that he had done, both towards God and men, and thanked God that he so exceeded other men in his doings. And many of the heathen have been eminent for their great performances; some for their integrity, or for their justice, and others for their great deeds done for the public good. Many men, without any sincerity of love in their hearts, have been exceeding magnificent in their gifts for pious and charitable uses, and have thus gotten to themselves great fame, and had their names handed down in history to posterity with great glory. Many have done great things from fear of hell, hoping thereby to appease the Deity and make atonement for their sins, and many have done great things from pride, and from a desire for reputation and honor among men....”
According to Edwards there are a number of things which can motivate a person to great sufferings which in the eyes of God are worthless: pride, reputation, honor, fame, recognition, guilt – the desire to atone for one's sins. But, none of these things evidence love for God, rather, love for self.
What motivates you? Do you recognize any of these sinful motivations at work in your life?
Now, at this point, you may have found yourself wondering about all the real good that is done in the world by people with just such motives. What are we to make of all these good deeds? Are they of no value at all? To that I would respond, these deeds, depending upon what they are, of course, may indeed be of real benefit to the recipients, but they are of no eternal, or saving value to the doer. The eternal value is measured by the heart of the giver. The temporal value, is just that. Another thing to keep in mind is the sovereign providence of God, who is in the long and inexplicable habit of using sinful people (there are no other kind after all) to accomplish His perfect purposes. And so, after the current disaster in Haiti, for instance, God, in His compassion, is using gifts given from every kind of motive, to extend His hand of provision to the suffering. Though, for reasons we cannot know, He has permitted them to suffer, yet He has not left them entirely without help. The evidence of that is in the ships and airplanes loaded with food, medical supplies, prayers, and willing hands.
unless the Lord has commanded it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that good and bad come?"
and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
And so we find, time after time, that what man does for His own sinful reasons, God uses to accomplish His own perfect plans. (Gen. 50: 19-20)
2. "There may be great sufferings for religion, and yet no sincerity of love in the heart."
Here Edwards sets up as examples the Pharisees, for their religious severity, the Crusaders, the religious pilgrims, monks, and recluses of the Catholic faith, the Turks (the Muslims of his day) who even in his time were, because of the Crusades, “enraged...so as to venture their lives, and rush, as it were, upon the very points of the swords of their enemies, because Mahomet has promised that all that die in war, in defense of the Mahometan faith, shall go at once to Paradise.”
Several motives besides Christian love can lead individuals to suffer even to the point of death:
"And history tells us of some that have yielded themselves to voluntary death, out of mere obstinancy and sturdiness of spirit, rather than yield to the demand of others, which they might, without dishonor, have saved their lives. Many among the heathen have died for their country, and many as martyrs for a false faith.... And in all these cases, many doubtless have endured their sufferings, or met death, without having any sincere divine love in their hearts.”And so, fear of hell, national pride, religious pride, and even plain old stubbornness can be powerful inducements to endure great suffering which have nothing to do with love for God. I think of the 84 year old man, who died in the eruption of Mt. St. Helen's in 1980. With ample warning, he refused to leave, and died there along with all his pets. I think of Patrick Henry and his famous, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” He felt life was not worth living without autonomous self-rule – hardly a Christian sentiment. I think of parental love, and maternal instinct, which has driven countless numbers to suffer and even die for the sake of their children. (While admirable from our human perspective, Christ states clearly that even evil people are capable of such love: “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mt. 7:11) And I can't help but think of countless Muslim radicals even all these years since Edwards wrote, still willing to sacrifice their own lives along with the lives of others for the sake of earning paradise, and without concern for of the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
II."Whatever men may do or suffer, they cannot, by all their performances and sufferings, make up for the want of sincere love in the heart."
“If they lay themselves out ever so much in the things of religion, and are ever so much engaged in acts of justice and kindness and devotion; and if their prayers and fastings are ever so much multiplied; or if they should spend their time ever so much in the forms of religious worship, giving days and nights to it, and denying sleep to their eyes and slumber to their eyelids, that they might be the more laborious in religious exercises; and if the things that they should do in religion were such as to get them a name throughout the world, and make them famous to all future generations, it would all be in vain without sincere love to God in the heart. And so if a man should give most bounteously to religious or charitable uses; and if, possessing the riches of a kingdom, he should give it all, and from the splendor of an earthly prince should reduce himself to a level of beggars; and if he should not stop there, but when he had done all this, should yield himself to undergo the fiercest sufferings, giving up not only all his possessions, but also giving his body to be clothed in rags, or to be mangled and burned and tormented as much as the wit of man could conceive, all, even all this, would not make up for the want of sincere love to God in the heart.”1. It is not the external work done, or the suffering endured, that is in itself, worth anything in the sight of God.
“The motions and exercise of the body, or anything that may be done by it, if considered separately from the heart – the inward part of the man – is of no more consequence or worth in the sight of God than the motions of anything without life.”Edwards goes on to explain that God is in no need of anything and so in no way benefits by our actions or gifts:
“He is not fed by the sacrifices of beasts, nor enriched by the gift of silver, or gold, or pearls....And as there is nothing profitable to God in any of our services or performances, so there can be nothing acceptable in his sight in a mere external action without sincere love in the heart....The heart is just as naked and open to him as the external actions. And therefore he sees our action, and all our conduct, not merely as the external motions of a machines, but as the actions of rational, intelligent creatures, and voluntary free agents; and therefore there can be, in his estimation, no excellence or amiableness in anything we can do if the heart be not right with him....No matter what may be done or suffered, neither doings or sufferings will make up for the want of love to God in the soul. They are not profitable to God, nor lovely for their own sake in his sight; nor can they ever make up for the absence of that love to God and love to men, which is the sum of all that God requires of his moral creatures.”
2. "Whatever is done or suffered, yet if the heart is withheld from God, there is nothing really given to him..."
“...The act of the individual, in what he does or suffers, is in every case looked upon,not as the act of a lifeless engine or machine, but as the act of an intelligent, voluntary, moral being. For surely a machine is not properly capable of giving anything; and if any such machine that is without life, being moved by springs or weights, places anything before us, it cannot properly be said to give it to us...”
I've often heard people object to Calvinism, claiming that the Calvinistic view of mankind makes them nothing more than robots – beings without freewill and with no capacity for choice. This is a misrepresentation. Jonathan Edwards was Calvinistic to his core and yet held that men are “rational, intelligent creatures, and voluntary free agents”. This section should give Calvinists, and non-Calvinists alike plenty to consider in regard to such objections.
In fact, the heart is all that matters. The heart is what makes us more than machines or brute, instinct-driven beasts. Our actions are seen by God entirely and only in relation to our motives. We are not machines, but reasoning and understanding beings capable of valuing what is good – or what is evil – and with volition to pursue whatever it is we value most. Not only is nothing really given to God, unless it is given from a heart of love to Him, but such an act of giving is nothing more than pretense, which makes a mockery of God:
"He that has no sincerity in his heart, has no real respect to God, in what he seems to give, or in all his performances or sufferings, and therefore God is not his great end in what he does or gives...The gift is an offering to him to whom the giver's heart devotes, and for whom he designs it. It is the aim of the heart that makes the reality of the gift; and if the sincere aim of the heart be not to God, then there is in reality nothing given to him, no matter what is performed or suffered. So that it would be a great absurdity to suppose that anything that can be offered or given to God, can make up for the absence of love in the heart to him, for without this, nothing is truly given and the seeming gift is but mockery of the Most High.”
3. This further appears...From the fact, that this love or charity is the sum of all that God requires of us...
“It would be absurd to suppose that we can make up for one thing that is required by offering another that is required, that we can make up for one debt by paying another. But it is still more absurd to suppose that we can make up for the whole debt without paying anything, but by continuing still to withhold all that is required."
says the LORD;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?
Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.
Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required. Then I said, "Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
I delight to do your will, O my God.
your law is within my heart."
This is perhaps best summed up in the words of Jesus,who,when asked what is the greatest commandment, answered: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 22: 37-40.
4 If we make a great show of respect and love to God, in the outward actions, while there is no sincerity in the heart, it is but hypocrisy and practical lying unto the Holy One.
“...surely it is as absurd to suppose that we can make up for the want of sincere respect by flattery and guile, as to suppose we can make up for the want of truth by falsehood and lying.”
5. Whatever may be done or suffered, if there be no sincerity in the heart, it is all but an offering to some idol.
If we offer something, but it is not truly to God, then we are actually offering it to whatever it is which really motivates us, whether it be “self, or our fellow-man, or the world, that is allowed to usurp the place that should be given God....It is as absurd as it is to suppose that the wife can make up for want of love to her husband, by giving that affection which is due to him to another man who is a stranger; or that she can make up for her want of faithfulness to him, by the guilt of adultery.”