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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

The Riches and Poverty of Christ

J. L. Burrows, D.D.

From the book, What Baptists Believe and Other Discourses, 1887

For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. - 2 Cor. 8:9

There is music in these words—plaintive as a dirge, exulting as a paean. What glorious sym­phonies might a skillful hand, educated by a holy heart, strike out from these chords. But alas! Our harps hang on the willows and their strings are broken. In this strange land we can sing the Lord's songs but stammer­ingly at best, interrupted by many a jarring discord. But oh! What ravishing harmony must the mighty choir of the New Jerusalem evoke from such a theme, from harps of gold with strings attuned by perfect love, and practiced hands guided by holy, happy hearts. The chorus of those heavenly songs runs in the same strain as this text, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and blessing."

Oh! that we may in spirit get so near to heaven this day as to hear one strain of that ravishing melody pour through its golden gates to give key-note to our praise. It needs affinity of heart with Heaven to apprehend aright a theme like this. Just listen to it again: "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich."

Let us strive to gain some just idea of the AMAZING CONTRASTS expressed in the text: "He was rich, became poor—we poor, are made rich." And here at the outset we are lost. What does the word "rich" mean, when applied to the Lord Jesus Christ? Ye who doubt the pre-existent divinity of Jesus, what meaning is there in this passage for you? When was he rich?

The first you know of him he is very poor, a stable his birth-place, a manger his bed. If he was only a man, then when was he rich? Certainly, never while he was upon earth. It must, therefore, have been be­fore he came into this world. Nothing is taught clearly in Holy Scripture, if the fact of our Lord's pre-existent divinity is not taught clearly. "In the beginning was the word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." He shared "glory with the Father before the world was." He was "God manifest in flesh." (Read Col. 1:12-20)

It was before he came into this world, then, that he was rich. But when we try to conceive what his riches were, as the only begotten and well-beloved Son of the all-crea­ting God, we are bewildered and lost.

What constituted his wealth in heaven? What were the treasures he abandoned?

Can we conceive that his riches consisted in gold, silver and precious stones, piled up in treasure chambers of heaven? Can we imagine that his riches consisted in mines and masses of solid gold, forming ranges of huge mountains, bounding and crossing every celestial landscape? We instinctively feel that this would be but a degrading conception. Gold is trampled upon in the heavenly city like common stones. It forms the pavement. "The street of the city is pure gold, as it were transparent glass."

What would gold or silver be to him, at whose omnific word the yellow metal flowed in molten veins through all the granite fissures whence men dig it out with toil? He could create a world of it with a word. What to him who made them all and who could with a word multiply each one by a million, would be the "cattle on a thousand hills?" What to him would be mansions, who by speaking, so multiplies them as to give a separate one to each of his saints?

No, my brethren, not this palpable sort of wealth constituted the riches of Christ. We feel that we must rise to a higher idea than any associated with what the world calls wealth in order to gain any adequate notion of the riches of Christ Jesus.

All these he possessed, it is true, but as the ready Creator of all, we are sure that all are too insignificant to be named, except as the smallest item in the inven­tory. Let us climb a little above this.

He was rich in the felicity which infinite love receives and imparts.

In heaven he looked upon none whom he did not complacently love, in whose holy character and conduct he did not delight. Every angel and seraph was as worthy of affection as his capabilities would permit. How rich is he who looks upon everything within his survey with pleasure and finds all worthy of his love. There was no being, nor thing in all heaven, to excite a pang or a frown. And then he was himself the centre in which concentrated the love and adoration of all celestial intelligences. He was himself beloved of all.

St. John tells us that Isaiah saw his glory and spake of him. And what was it that Isaiah's piercing eye be­held, long before Christ's coming to the earth, and which the inspired evangelist assures us refers to Jesus? Lis­ten to it:

"I saw also the Lord upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim, each one had six wings, with twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another and said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory." (Isaiah 6:1-2)

Was he not rich? The love of one pure heart is a treasure which we could not buy and which we would not sell for all the material stores of earth. And here was our Lord, beloved, adored of all heaven. What ineffable opulence was his!

Even the Eternal Father concentrated all the love of his infinite heart upon Jesus, "his well-beloved Son." Is he not rich whom God loves? And our Lord "was as one brought up with him daily, his delight, rejoicing always before him." The little of God's love which we can take in enriches us more than all earth could give. But the great heart of Jesus could take it all in and absorb it, understand it, enjoy it all. Lazarus, ulcer-eaten, hungry, in rags, the salve for whose sores was the tongue of a dog, was rich compared with the sumptuously-faring, purple-arrayed Dives, because God loved him. How infinite, then, must have been the affluence of the Son of God, into whose soul was poured the full stream of the everlasting Father's love.

He is rich whose treasures are so abundant that he can dispense the means of subsistence and comfort to a hundred, a thousand of his fellow-creatures, and who has the heart to do it. How rich must he have been whose benefactions could supply the wants of all crea­tures and make all happy! From Christ's exhaustless treasures, ministered by his loving heart, millions of myriads were supplied with all they needed to sustain and bless them. "He opened his hand and supplied the wants of all living things."

In everything to which the word can he applied, lit­erally or metaphorically, was our Lord rich beyond what' fancy in its highest flights can conceive. He was rich in wisdom, in power, in goodness, in love. Rich in all that beings mighty and holy could bring to him and lay at his feet. Rich in all they could ask, which they could need, or which they had capacities to enjoy. They wanted nothing, could imagine nothing which he had not in abundance to bestow.

Brethren, if you can stretch your conceptions wide enough to embrace the thought that absolutely all the wealth of all the universe, material, emotional and spir­itual, was in the actual possession of Jesus, and at his complete disposal, you will gain something like a just idea of his riches.

He was rich enough to give away all that all crea­tures could receive or appropriate of good and yet diminish nothing of the treasures he still held in possession. No amount of giving could impoverish him or lessen his stores. The full, broad currents, rivers, oceans of his beneficence, flowing profusely and perpetually over every section and to every individual of his vast uni­verse, never lowered the springs whence they all issued. When he had given all away which all crea­tures could appropriate, he had fully as much left. He could fill up all capabilities without reducing his treas­ures. No profusion, no waste of beneficence could de­crease his riches.

But I must stop here; I can go no further, though I painfully feel that I cannot gain for myself nor give to you anything like an adequate idea of the riches of Christ.

Now contemplate the contrast. "He became poor." Brethren, did you ever apprehend this thought?

It is no strange sight to see human fortunes topple and crash! Rich men are ejected from mansions and creep into hovels and alms-houses. Kings have become beg­gars and lived upon charity. These are small and not infrequent changes. Dives loses but little in passing to the condition of Lazarus.

But how was it possible for Jesus to become poor? "Giving did not impoverish him." No benevolence could ever exhaust or decrease the wealth. No fraud nor robbery nor violence could deprive him of his treas­ures. How was it possible for him to sink into poverty? Ah! he became poor. Voluntarily he gave up all his riches, abandoned all his wealth, exiled himself to a remote corner of his dominions and wandered in deepest humiliation and poverty, a homeless, often a weary and often a hungry man.

Oh! What a change! Talk of reverses, of contrasts of condition. The worst of them conceivable are equal­ity and permanence compared with this. An angel digging ditches, Michael working as a scavenger, Ga­briel serving as a scullion, Lucifer hurled into hell, all are nothing as compared with this transformation. The only begotten and well-beloved Son of God became poor. And how poor!

The mother of Jesus found shelter in a cold stable when the Christ was born. All she could do in her weakness and poverty was to "wrap him in swaddling bands and lay him in a manger."

Mother, your heart was glad, even in the hour of your anguish, when you saw your little one lying in the arms of tender nurses and provided with everything that could insure its comfort. Think of that birth of the heavenly babe in a rude stable, and the straw of the manger its first bed. Why, even the poorest beggar and outcast might creep into a stable and lay her new-born babe in the manger. We can scarcely imagine a scene of sadder destitution. And this first hour of Jesus' poverty was but a type of his whole earthly life.

The beneficent provider of food for all creatures was himself often hungry.

He who "giveth his beloved sleep" and assures to all the heavy-laden rest, was himself often weary.

He who had studded space with grand star-worlds, listen to his own touching plaint as the chill shadows of night fell upon his homeless path: "The foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his bead."

The bread he ate and probably the coat he wore were gifts of loving disciples. "Certain women, Mary called Magdalene and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's stew­ard, and Susanna and many others ministered unto him of their substance." He had no money with which to pay a trifling poll-tax.

When a furious mob raged for his murder, no coun­selor pleaded for his life, no friend sustained or com­forted him.

He could not obtain a cup of water with which to moisten his fevered lips when in the dying agony he cried, "I thirst." And when he was dead charity fur­nished him a winding-sheet and a tomb. He was very poor.

But as such material resources had been the least of his riches before he came to earth, so the want of them was the least of his poverty while here. His pure heart still yearned for the love of the holy, and it was hidden from him.

He whose richest treasure had been the adoring and concentrated love of all the myriads of the celestial hosts was now so poor that he rarely heard an expres­sion of affection save from the rude lips of a few hum­ble fishermen and lowly women, who often themselves scarcely knew whether they ought to cling to him and love him or not; one of whom traitorously sold him to his enemies for thirty pieces of silver, another of whom denied him, and all of whom in his bitterest extremity "forsook him and fled." At his trial before Pilate and Caiaphas he stood without a friend.

The one treasure richest of all, the sustaining con­sciousness of a Father's love, was withdrawn from him. Brethren, there is a depth of mystery here which we cannot fathom. That the Father loved him during all his awful trial we cannot doubt. But that the assur­ance—the consciousness—of this love was withdrawn from the soul of Jesus, we must also believe.

The most agonizing wail of bereavement which this earth ever heard was that which burst from his soul as he hung on the cross, when nothing but scowls of human hate and the vengeful mockery of demon eyes met his gaze; when he sought in vain for one glance of an angel's pitying face, and could not see a Father's loving eye, nor feel a Father's supporting hand, then broke from his bursting heart that woeful cry at which the solid earth groaned and trembled and at which the very sun grew black, "My God, my God, why hast thou for­saken me?"

That was an hour of poverty, of stark, dolorous beg­gary, of which the universe could furnish no parallel. He became poor.

Now let us look a little at the reasons given for this poverty of the Son of God. Why did he thus become poor? What necessity compelled this humiliation?

Only the necessity of benevolence. It was "for your sakes." Not to gain new glories, felicities or treasures for himself, except the glory of redeeming man, the felicity which their happiness might reflect upon his own loving soul, the treasures of their grateful affec­tions. "For your sakes."

And what were you that Jesus should submit to such poverty for you? -Hear how this same Jesus describes your condition: "Poor and wretched, miserable, blind and naked." "Dead in trespasses and sins." “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men to see if any did understand and seek God. All gone aside, all together became filthy—none that doeth good, no, not one." In such a race Jesus felt no com­placency. There was no joy to him in coming among them or mingling with them. Everything associated with them was hateful and repulsive to his holy nature.

Why then did he come? He pitied us. A condition so degraded, guilty and ruined awakened compassionate love. You may well say, "This is very strange;" with difficulty can you conceive of it. It is impossible to understand it. It is not at all like man; it is only like God.

There was only one way in which his pitying love could be made effective. He must himself become man ; get beneath men in his humiliated humanity, and then, rising, bear them up with him, securing to them pardon, purity and heaven.

We are so poor that we are famishing. He gave his heart to the spear and impoverished himself of his own blood that it might flow out for us as the water of life.

We are so poor that we are starving. Jesus gave his own body that it might be "broken" and become for us the bread of life. We are so poor as to be naked. Jesus gave his own flesh to be rent into fragments from which might be constructed "robes of righteousness" to clothe us. In our deep poverty we are loathsomely diseased, "from the head to the sole of the foot." Jesus parted with the very blood of his heart, that it might be the balm of Gilead for our healing.

Between us and heaven was a deep, impassable gulf, which we were too poor and weak to bridge. Jesus prostrated his own body across that gulf to furnish a bridge for our feet.

Through his poverty we are made rich. You are rich, very rich, my brother, if you have availed yourself of the benefits of Christ's sacrifice. But oh! Never forget that Jesus made himself very poor to secure these riches to you.

You are rich! For the debts contracted by your sins, owed to the divine law, have all been paid. But in order to pay those debts your Lord stripped himself of all his riches.

You are rich! For you have a robe of righteousness, spotless as an angel's garment. But Jesus wrought up all his wealth into that robe, which he has given to you. And when there was no other dye that could give it the purple lustre of heaven, he drew the blood from his own heart and dyed it in that. When the Lamb had nothing else to give, he gave his blood, that in that we might wash our robes and make them white.

You are rich you have obtained a pardon. But to secure that pardon your Lord gave up his throne, and toiled as a servant and lived as a pauper.

You are rich! For you have peace with God. But to gain you that peace Jesus alone and in want fought for you a terrible battle—nay, a prolonged war.

You are rich! You are an heir of God and have a title to a heavenly inheritance. But to purchase for you that inheritance Jesus expended all his riches and subjected himself to all the wretchedness of the deepest poverty.

"Through his poverty you are made rich." You have not a blessing, a joy, a comfort or a hope which the Son of God did not buy for you, at an expense which deprived him of every joy and comfort and left him destitute, the victim of direst want.

There is a story told in fiction (it could hardly be true in fact) of an orphan girl who lived very happily with kindred whom she dearly loved and who cherished her very tenderly. She one day accidentally discovered an old will, by which the head of the family, long dead, had so disposed of his large estate that it was legally settled upon herself.

If it was discovered, as it soon must be, she would be enriched. But the family, who had given her a kind home as a poor orphan, would be impoverished. She could not bear the thought of becoming rich at their ex­pense. She would not make them poor. And so she stole away from her happy home, sought a place as a servant among strangers, labored with her own hands for daily bread, hid her retreat from the loving ones who anxiously sought for her, and submitted to a life of poverty and toil rather than take from them the wealth to which they had been accustomed.

Noble disinterestedness and love! you say. She made herself poor, that those she loved might be rich. You can scarcely conceive such self-sacrificing love among mortals to be possible. You think that human affection could scarcely go farther than this.

But oh, how feeble an illustration is this of the sacri­fice which Jesus in his love made for us!

He sought to make us rich, though we had no claim upon him, though we loved him not, though we hated him. Not for those who had done him favors, but for savage enemies, did our Lord part with all his own treasures and subject himself to penury and wretchedness.

My brethren, if I only could do justice to this theme, if I only could make you see it. Nay, if I could only see it myself, clothe it in such burning words, enforce it by such irresistible appeals as should enable you to comprehend it, as should fasten it forever in your hearts, it seems to me you would never need another argument or motive to excite your profoundest and most constant love or to induce entire and unwearied conse­cration to his service. If such love cannot move and perpetually control our spirits and lives, then have we the saddest evidence of the power of depravity that this world can furnish.

Do not let us try to divide out the gratitude and ser­vice which should respond to this great love, by saying that it was for all, and therefore mine is only one little share of the return. The whole that Christ did was neces­sary for the redemption of your single soul. You have all the benefits and blessings of his whole atonement. Have you given or are you giving a whole love service to Jesus your Redeemer? He did not give a half devo­tion to you. Will you give a half devotion to him?

But let us endeavor to give a little more emphasis to the prominent word in this text. It is GRACE! "Ye know the grace!" Grace! Grace! What does that mean? It means favor unmerited, undeserved by us. It was not compulsion; it was not unavoidable necessity that induced our Lord to submit to this stupendous sacrifice for our redemption. It was Grace. He was not even invited to it by us.

He was not even welcomed when he did come. "He came to his own and his own re­ceived him not." He was rejected, despised and mur­dered. And he foreknew that it would be so. Yet out of heavenly compassion, resolved to bless us against our own will, to save us in spite of our insane opposition, Jesus undertook this mighty work of redemption, though he knew that we deserved nothing but damnation. He knew that we would receive him ungratefully, with en­mity and hatred, and yet, uninfluenced by any motive save the benevolence of his own loving heart, be aban­doned heaven and all its felicities and endured earth and all its wretchedness.

This was grace. It was virtue bending in pity over vice. It was holiness throwing its arms around guilt in order to raise it to purity. It was happiness lying beside misery to minister to its anguish. It was health forcing its way into a pestilential lazar house to relieve and heal loathsome and ungrateful disease.

It was more than an angel giving up bowers of par­adise for a home in a Dismal Swamp. It was more than a seraph abandoning a celestial mansion for an abode in a Hottentot kraal. It was infinitely more than this! It was a God descending from his glory to hide himself for a season in stables and deserts. This was grace which it is impossible for any but a God to propose or express. It requires the mind and heart of a God even fully to comprehend it. We must know all that a God could enjoy, and then all that a God could suffer before we can understand all that is involved in this sacrifice.

My brethren, let me ask in closing, do ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? I do not mean in all its mysterious fullness. That has never yet been compre­hended even by angels who have long "desired to look into these things." Much less do I mean in its mere surface theory, which even Sunday-school children and ungodly men may learn. But do you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ by a spiritual apprehension?

Has your heart, as well as mind, become engrossed in its wonders? Has it won your love as well as admira­tion? Do your affections apprehend it better than your intellect? For, after all, this whole subject is more clearly to be understood by the heart than by the mind. Faith comprehends it better than reason. Do you dwell in heart upon this grace as your support, reliance and hope? Does your soul fix upon it and cling to it as your only solace and promise? Have you wept over guilt that rendered such grace necessary? Have you felt some of the "joy unspeakable and full of glory" which its special revealing has inspired? Does your daily experience test the blessedness of this grace?

Do ye know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ as the most effective motive to holiness? The most effective! It is the only effective motive to holiness. We may talk of danger and awaken fear—of guilt and excite sorrow—of ingratitude and induce shame—but it is only the sacrificing, loving Jesus that can so move our hearts as to incite disgust and loathing of sin because of its own inherent hatefulness, and infuse heart-longings after holiness.

Do you feel this, my brother? Do you hate sin be­cause it murdered Jesus for your sake? Do you hate your own sins because they were a part of your Lord's sufferings? Are you striving after conformity to God's law because this brings you into closer affinity of nature with the Lord Jesus Christ, makes you more like him, multiplies the points of sympathy between your soul and him?

Brethren, if the love of Christ for you can­not impel you to pursue after holiness, then nothing can. If you can look upon his cross and still love sin, if you can think of a bleeding Saviour and still cherish in­iquity in your heart, then there are not influences and motives left that can make you pure. But you cannot! If ye know his grace, you are longing and striving after holiness. Do ye know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ as the great argument and motive for beneficent and munif­icent liberality. If you notice the whole chapter, you will observe that the apostle is treating of giving money; he is pleading for contributions to the poor.

His reasoning is simply this: if our Lord Jesus Christ in his grace has done all this for you, then should you not always be ready to contribute? Should not the measure of his grace to you be the measure of your grace to others? This is the burden of the whole chap­ter. Giving is a grace to be cultivated—exercised. If ye know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, can you be satisfied with giving nothing, or only a little of a sur­plus which you can conveniently spare, without any sacrifice? Can you withhold any possible contribution or influence from the cause of him who withheld noth­ing from the cause of your salvation?

Do you ask why you should be wholly devoted, mind and spirit and soul, to promoting the interests of his kingdom? Here is the reason: Jesus sacrificed and died for you and expects you thus to express your love for him. Is not this enough? Do your sluggish graces require any other stimulus? Oh, that our souls may be always so ab­sorbed and controlled by this grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that we shall deem no labor too hard, no gifts too precious, no sacrifices too exacting, no devotion too intense to render as the returning proof and expression of our love.