Practising What Jesus Preached

From “The Problem of Poverty”
by Abraham Kuyper, 1837-1920

In ancient times, because of corruption and poverty, the Roman Empire, following Greece, sank away. But before it sank, a light arose in Bethlehem, a dying cry was heard from Golgotha and through them, a new hope was awakened for all peoples. A new hope, not as might be felt by those who today degrade the Christ of God by casting him as a more social reformer, but the kind of hope inspired by the Saviour of the World, which was his higher, richer and more honourable title. The blessedness that he brought to humanity contained a promise not only for the future but also for the present life (I Tim. 4:8), although Jesus always emphasised the primacy of man‘s eternal welfare.

If then you ask what Jesus did to bring deliverance from the social needs of his time, here is the answer. He knew that such desperate needs grow from the malignant roots of error and sin, so he placed the truth over against error and broke the power of sin by shedding his blood and pouring out his Holy Spirit on his own. Since rich and poor had become divided because they had lost their point of union in God, he called both together back to their Father who is in heaven. He saw how the idolising of money had killed nobility in the human heart, so he held up the service of Mammon before his followers as an object for their deep contempt. Since he understood the curse that lies in capital, especially for the man of great wealth, he adjured him to cease his accumulation of capital and to gather not treasure on earth, where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break in and steal (Matt.6:19). He rejected the rich young man because he could not decide to sell all his goods and give to the poor. In his heart, Jesus harboured no hatred for the rich, but rather a deep compassion for their pitiable condition. The service of Mammon is exceedingly difficult. Sooner would a camel go through the eye of a needle than would a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. l9:16-24).

Furthermore. Jesus did not limit his work to moral motivation. He also preached by the way he lived. When rich and poor stood opposed to one another. he never took his place with the wealthier but always with the poorer. He was born in a stable: and while foxes have holes and birds have nests, the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head. His apostles were to give no consideration to the accumulation of capital. Powerful is the trait of compassion, imprinted on every page of the Gospel where Jesus came into contact with the suffering and the oppressed. He did not push aside the masses who were ignorant of the law. but drew them to himself. He extinguished no wick that was even barely smouldering. He cured the sick. He did not shy away from touching leprous flesh. When the crowds were hungry, even though as yet they did not hunger for the bread of life, he broke the loaf into many pieces and gave them an abundance of precious fish. Jesus practised what he preached.

If we have food and clothing then the holy apostle demands that we should content ourselves with that. But where our Father in heaven wills with divine generosity that an abundance of food grows from the ground, we are without excuse if, through our fault, this rich bounty is divided so unequally that one is surfeited with bread while another goes with an empty stomach to his pallet (bed) and sometimes must even go without a pallet. If there are still some who, God forgive them, try to defend such abuse by an appeal to the words of Jesus, “For you have the poor always with you” (Matt. 26:11), then out of respect for God’s holy word I must register my protest against such a misuse of the scriptures. I invite those who so judge first to trace through the same scriptures to see how the condition of the poor in Israel was almost luxurious compared to the misery in which our proletariat lies sunk.

If then you ask me whether still more ought to be given, I answer without hesitation, most certainly. But I hasten to add that a charity which knows only how to give money is not yet Christian love. You will be free of guilt only when you also give your time, your energy and your resourcefulness to help end such abuses for good. and when you allow nothing that lies hidden in the storehouse of your Christian religion to remain unused against the cancer that is destroying the vitality of our society in such alarming ways.

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