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What Jonathan Edwards Teaches Us About Giving to the Poor (Part 1)

by Jason on March 17, 2011

Jonathan Edwards is perhaps the greatest American preacher to have ever lived.  It’s hard to find someone more often quoted, referenced, and revered in American church history than Edwards.

Most famous for his, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon, Edwards had a deep compassion for the poor.

Though he lived nearly 300 years ago, he offers some great insight in terms of generosity and charity that we would do well to consider.

In his sermon entitled The Duty of Charity to the Poor, Explained and Enforced dated 1732, Edwards offers some challenging words.

Giving to the Poor Should Be Done Generously

It is the duty of the people of God to give bountifully for the aforesaid purpose. It is commanded once and again in the text, “Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy poor brother.”

Merely to give something is not sufficient. It answers not the rule, nor comes up to the holy command of God. But we must open our hand wide. What we give, considering our neighbor’s wants, and our ability, should be such as may be called a liberal gift.

What is meant in the text by opening the hand wide, with respect to those that are able, is explained in Deu. 15:8, “Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his want, in that which he needeth.”

By lending here, as is evident by the two following verses, and as we have just now shown, is not only meant lending to receive again; [for] the word lend in Scripture is sometimes used for giving; as in Luke 6:35, “Do good and lend, hoping for nothing again.”

Giving to the Poor Should Be Done Cheerfully

Edwards says:

It is the duty of the visible people of God to give for the supply of the needy, freely, and without grudging. It doth not at all answer the rule in the sight of God, if it be done with an inward grudging, or if the heart be grieved, and it inwardly hurt the man to give what he gives.

“Thou shalt surely give,” says God, “and thine heart shall not be grieved.” God looks at the heart, and the hand is not accepted without it. 2 Cor. 9:7, “Every man according as he hath purposed in his heart, so let him give, not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver.”

Giving to the Poor Should Be Done Dutifully

Edwards says that giving to the poor isn’t something that we simply do to be nice, it is a command of Scripture:

This is a duty to which God’s people are under very strict obligation. It is not merely a commendable thing for a man to be kind and bountiful to the poor, but our bounden duty, as much a duty as it is to pray, or to attend public worship, or anything else whatever. And the neglect of it brings great guilt upon any person.

How Should We Respond?

Notice that Edwards says it is as much a duty to give to the poor as it is to pray or worship.  Those are strong words!  So how should we respond?

  1. Repent from any lack of generous giving – this probably means recognizing there will need to be lifestyle changes and a reorientation back to the gospel.
  2. Commit to God and to others (friends, family, a pastor, etc) that you’ll start giving generously – leave a note in the comment section if you’d like to share how you plan to change.
  3. Start living with open hands and open hearts – create a generous budget and find people you can help (whether a single mom struggling to make ends meet, or an elderly neighbor on a fixed income, or someone else)

Share your story of giving in the comments below to motivate and encourage the rest of us!

Check out Part 2 Here!

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