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CONTEMPLATION XX.-THE WIDOW'S MITES.
The sacred wealth of the Temple was either in stuff, or in coin. For the one, the Jews had a house ; for the other, a chest. At the concourse of all the males to the Temple, thrice a year, upon occasion of the solemn feasts, the oblations of both kinds were liberal, Our Saviour, as taking pleasure in the prospect, sets himself to view those offerings, whether for holy uses or charitable. Those things we delight in, we love to behold. The eye and the heart will go together.
And can we think, 0 Saviour, that thy glory hath diminished aught of thy gracious respects to our beneficence ? or that thine acceptance of our charity was confined to the earth ? Even now, that thou sittest at the right hand of thy Father's glory, thou seest every
hand that is stretched out to the relief of thy poor saints here below. And if vanity have power to stir up our liberality, out of a conceit to be seen of men, how shall faith encourage our bounty, in knowing that we are seen of thee, and accepted by thee! Alas, what are we better for the notice of those perishing and impotent eyes, which can only view the outside of our actions ; or, for that vast wind of applause, which vanisheth in the lips of the speaker ? Thine eye, O Lord, is piercing and retributive. As to see thee is perfect happiness, so to be seen of thee is true contentment and glory.
And dost thou, O God, see what we give thee, and not see what we take away from thee? Are our offerings more noted, than our sacrileges? Surely, thy mercy is not more quicksighted, than thy justice.
In both kinds, our actions are viewed, our account is kept ; and we are sure to receive rewards for what we have given, and vengeance for what we have defalked.
With thine eye of knowledge, thou seest all we do ; but what we do well, thou seest with thine
eye of approbation. So didst thou now behold these pious and charitable oblations. How well wert thou pleased with this variety! Thou sawest many rich men give much ;
and one poor
Widow they, in lesser room.
T'he Jews were now under the Roman pressure. They were all tributaries, yet many of them rich ; and those rich men were liberal to the common chest. Hadst thou seen those many rich give little, we had heard of thy censure; thou expectest a proportion betwixt the giver and the gift, betwixt the gift and the receipt : where that fails, the blame is just.
That nation, though otherwise faulty enough, was in this commendable. How bounteously open were their hands to the
gave more than
house of God! Time was, when their liberality was fain to be restrained by proclamation ; and now it needed no incitement : the rich gave much, the poorest gave more.
He saw a poor widow casting in two mites. It was misery enough, that she was a widow. The married woman is under the careful provision of a husband ; if she spend, he earns; in that estate, four hands work for her; in her viduity, but two. Poverty added to the sorrow of her widowhood. The loss of some husbands is supplied by a rich jointure. It is some allay to the grief, that the hand is left full, though the bed be empty. This woman was not more desolate than needy. Yet this poor Widow gives. And what gives she? An offering like herself. Two mites; or, in our language, two half-farthing tokens. “Alas, good woman, who was poorer than thyself? Wherefore was that Corban, but for the relief of such as thou? Who should receive, if such give? Thy mites were something to thee, nothing to the Treasury. How ill is that gift bestowed, which disfurnisheth thee, and adds nothing to the common stock !” Some thrifty neighbour might perhaps have suggested this probable discouragement. Jesus publishes and applauds her bounty: He called his disciples, and said unto them, Verily, I say unto you, this woman hath cast in more than they all
. While the rich put in their offering, I see no disciples called ; it was enough that Christ noted their gifts alone; but when the Widow comes with her two mites, now the domestics of Christ are summoned to assemble, and taught to admire this munificence; a solemn preface makes way to her praise, and her mites are made more precious than the others' talents : She gare more than they all. More; not only in respect of the mind of the giver, but of the proportion of the gift, as hers. A mite to her was more than pounds to them : pounds were little to them, two mites were all to her : they gave out of their abundance, she out of her necessity. That which they gave, left the heap less, yet a heap still ; she gives all at once, and leaves herself nothing. So as she gave, not more than any, but more than they all. God doth not so much regard what is taken out, as what is left.
O Father of Mercies, thou lookest, at once, into the bottom of her heart and the bottom of her purse; and esteemest her gift according to both. As thou seest not as man, so thou valuest not as man: man judgeth by the worth of the gift ; thou judgest by the mind of the giver and the proportion of the remainder. It were wide with us, if thou shouldest go by quantities. Alas, what have we but mites, and those of thine own lending? It is the comfort of our meanness, that our affections are valued and not our presents: neither hast thou said, God loves a liberal giver, but a cheerful. If I had more, O God, thou shouldst have it; had I less, thou wouldst not despise it, who acceptest the gift, according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath
not. Yea, Lord, what have I but two mites, a soul and a body? mere mites, yea, not so much, to thine Infiniteness. Oh that I could perfectly offer them up unto thee, according to thine own right in them, and not according to mine. How graciously wouldst thou be sure to accept them! How happy shall I be in thine acceptation!
CONTEMPLATION XXI.-THE AMBITION OF THE
TWO SONS OF ZEBEDEE.
HE, who had his own time and ours in his hand, foreknew and foretold the approach of his dissolution,
When men are near their end, and ready to make their Will, then it is seasonable to sue for legacies. Thus did the mother of the two Zebedees; therein well approving both her wisdom and her faith : wisdom, in the fit choice of her opportunity ; faith, in taking such an opportunity.
The suit is half obtained, that is seasonably made. To have made this motion at the entry into their attendance, had been absurd ; and had justly seemed to challenge a denial. It was at the parting of the angel, that Jacob would be blessed. The double spirit of Elijah is not sued for till his ascending.
But, oh the admirable faith of this good woman! When she heard the discourse of Christ's sufferings and death, she talks of his glory; when she hears of his cross, she speaks of his crown. If she had seen Herod come and tender his sceptre unto Christ, or the Elders of the Jews come upon their knees with a submissive proffer of their allegiance, she might have had some reason to entertain the thoughts of a kingdom ; but now, while the sound of betraying, suffering, dying, was in her ear, to make account of and suit for a room in his kingdom, it argues a belief able to triumph over all discouragements.
It was nothing for the disciples, when they saw him after his conquest of death and rising from the grave, to ask him, Master, wilt thou now restore the kingdom unto Israel ? but for a silly woman to look through his future death and passion, at his resurrection and glory, it is no less worthy of wonder than praise. To hear a man, in his best health and vigour, to talk of his confidence in God and assurance of Divine favour, cannot be much worth; but if, in extremities, we can believe above hope, against hope, our faith is so much more noble, as our difficulties are greater Never sweeter perfume arose from any altar, than that, which ascended from Job's dunghill, I know that my Redeemer liveth.
What a strange style is this, that is given to this woman!
It had been as easy to have said, the wife of Zebedee, or the sister of Mary or of Joseph, or, as her name was, plain Salome: but now, by an unusual description, she is styled The mother of Zebedee's children. Zebedee was an obscure man: she, as his wife, was no better. The greatest honour she ever had or could have. was to have two such sons as James and John: these give a title to both their parents. Honour ascends, as well as descends. Holy children dignify the loins and womb from whence they proceed, no less than their parents traduce honour unto them. 'Salome might be a good wife, a good housewife, a good woman, a good neighbour: all these cannot ennoble her, so much as The mother of Zebedee's children.
What a world of pain, toil, care, cost, there is, in the birth and education of children! Their good proof requites all with advantage. Next to happiness in ourselves, is to be happy in a gracious issue.
The suit was the sons', but by the mouth of their mother. It was their best policy, to speak by her lips. Even these fisherinen had already learned, craftily to fish for promotion. Ambition was not so bold in them, as to show her own face. The envy of the suit shall thus be avoided, which could not but follow upon their personal request. If it were granted, they had what they would; if not, it was but the repulse of a woman's motion : which must needs be so much more pardonable, because it was of a mother for her sons.
It is not discommendable in parents, to seek the preferment of their children. Why may not Abraham sue for an Ishmael? So it be by lawful means, in a moderate measure, in due order, this endeavour cannot be amiss. It is the neglect of circumstances, that makes these desires sinful. Oh the madness of those parents, that care not which way they raise a house; that desire rather to leave their children great, than good; that are more ambitious to have their sons lords on earth, than kings in heaven!
Yet I commend thee, Salome, that thy first plot was to have thy sons disciples of Christ; then, after, to prefer them to the best places of that attendance. It is the true method of Divine prudence, O God, first to make our children happy with the honour of thy service, and then to endeavour their meet advancement upon earth.
The mother is but put upon this suit by her sons: their heart was in her lips. They were not so mortified by their continual conversation with Christ, hearing his heavenly doctrine, seeing his Divine carriage, but that their minds were yet roving after temporal honours. Pride is the inmost coat, which we put off last, and which we put on first. Who can wonder, to see some sparks of weak and worldly desires in their holiest teachers, when the blessed Apostles were not free from some ambitious
thoughts, while they sat at the feet, yea in the bosom of their Saviour ?
The near kindred, this woman could challenge of Christ, might seem to give her just colour of more familiarity; yet now that she comes upon a suit, she submits herself to the lowest gesture of suppliants. We need not be taught, that it is fit for petitioners to the great, to present their humble supplications upon their knees. O Saviour, if this woman so nearly allied to thee according to the flesh, coming but upon a temporal occasion to thee, being as then compassed about with human infirmities, adored thee ere she durst sue to thee: what reverence is enough for us, that come to thee upon spiritual suits, sitting now in the height of heavenly glory and majesty?
Say then, thou wife of Zebedee, what is it, that thou cravest of thine Omnipotent Kinsman? A certain thing. Speak out, woman; what is this certain thing, that thou cravest? How poor and weak is this supplicatory anticipation to Him, that knew thy thoughts, ere thou utteredst them, ere thou entertainedst them! We are all in this tune ; every one would have something ; such, perhaps, as we are ashamed to utter. The Proud man would have a certain thing; honour in the world : the Covetous would have a certain thing too; wealth and abundance : the Malicious would have a certain thing ; revenge on his enemies : the Epicure would have pleasure and long life ; the Barren, children; the Wanton, beauty. Each one would be humoured in his own desire ; though in variety, yea contradiction to other; though in opposition, not more to God's will, than our own good.
How this suit sticks in her teeth, and dare not freely come forth, because it is guilty of its own faultiness! What a difference there is, betwixt the prayers of faith, and the motions of self-love and infidelity! Those come forth with boldness, as knowing their own welcome, and being well assured both of their warrant and acceptation : these stand blushing at the door, not daring to appear, like to some baffled suit, conscious to its own unworthiness and just repulse. Our inordinate desires are worthy of a check : when we know that our requests are holy, we cannot come with too much confidence to the Throne of Grace.
He, that knew all their thoughts afar off, yet, as if he had been a stranger to their purposes, asks, What wouldest thou? Our infirmities do then best shame us, when they are fetched out of our own mouths: like as our prayers also serve not, to acquaint God with our wants, but to make us the more capable of his mercies.
The suit is drawn from her. Now she must speak: Grant, that these my two sons, may sit, one on thy right hand, the other on thy left, in thy kingdom. It is hard to say, whether out of more