Brethren Archive

The Pocket-Book, And Its Uses In The Closet

by John Dickie

AN old farmer, who had lived to make the best, as he thought, of this world, was in the habit of seeking consolation, under all his troubles, from his well-filled pocketbook. If, at any time, his spirits were depressed by losses from falling markets, or from failing merchants; if he were fretted by domestic troubles, or by disputes with neighbours—he would carry his old pocket-book, crammed with documents each of which represented so much wealth, into some quiet nook on his farm, and would there count over his treasures, till he had counted himself back to his wonted good-humour. A man who had begun life, like him, with nothing, and who had now so much to count that it tasked his humble powers to do it, was surely not the man who should lose her for a passing trifle. So, at least, the poor-rich man thought; and, replacing his book in his pocket, he returned home with a lighter heart.

Now, the believer under discouragement cannot do better than take a hint from this worldly-minded old man. Nothing cheers a drooping spirit like a sight of its treasures; and a believer's melancholy would in general, be put to speedy flight, if he could only be persuaded to count over the "things that are freely given to us of God." Let the Christian, then, in his hours of sadness, take his pocket-book, which is the Word of God, and let him, in quiet, count over, one by one, the exceeding great and precious promises which God has given him, and of which every one is the representative of untold spiritual wealth. But withal, let him take heed to count the treasures as his own treasures; for if he be a member of Christ, all the promises of God are his. Let him do this, and he shall speedily find that the man who can truly say, and who is believingly saying it, "God is mine—Christ is mine—heaven is mine—eternity is mine—life is mine—death is mine,"—that this man cannot refrain from joyously adding, however distressing his outward circumstances may be. "Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted in me?"

But we have referred to this old farmer and his pocket-book for another purpose. His book was to him something more than a mere apparatus of leather and pasteboard, it was a companion for his soul; it had a voice, and could speak to him; nay, so fallen was he, that the pocket-book could commune with the poor heart on its own level, and could minister to its miserable consolation. Will the reader permit me to suggest a happier use for his pocket-book, in the way of an occasional conference with it—a use for it in the closet as a humble handmaid to the Bible. Employed in this way, from time to time, no longer the Bible's rival, but the Bible's ally, the reader may find that his pocket-book is an excellent aid towards self-knowledge; and can give him better help for eternity, than its contents, whatever they may be, can do for time. And we need some such subordinate plain-speaking teacher; which, taking up the Bible lesson, shall so apply it to our individual selves, as to leave us in no doubt whether or not we are truly submissive to the divine Word. The Bible itself plainly tells us what, as Christians, we are responsible for being and for doing; it also plainly tells us how we are to get the needed help for so being or for so doing; but there is a minor question, yet of great importance, to which the Bible furnishes no direct reply. And the question is this: Am I, who profess to have taken up my cross, and to be now following Jesus, so employing these spiritual helps as actually to live, in some degree, conformably to my lofty calling? To settle this, we must not trust our own hearts, for they are deceitful, nor the testimony of our friends, for they are partial; we must seek other witnesses, and we shall find none more truthful or more useful than our own pocket-book. It will neither flatter us nor slander us, but will tell us the simple truth; only our hearts must be sufficiently guileless not to misinterpret its testimony.

For the pocket-book, rightly consulted, will tell us a great deal about the reality of our profession. A cab-man, who had been rough and cruel to all about him, said after his conversion, "Why, sir, my very horse knows that I am a new man." And something similar is the case in every true conversion. Among other changes, the pocket is sure to be converted as well as the tongue. That profession of faith is a very unsatisfactory one which does not lay the purse, with its contents, at the Saviour's feet. The true believer gives his own self first (2 Cor: viii. 5); and this secures that he also give his all. So, then, though a man may have got a new mouth, which can speak fluently the language of Canaan; and though he may have got a new creed which has in it every acknowledged Christian doctrine, sharp and clear; and though he may have got a new set of habits, and a new circle of friends—let him not be satisfied with these, unless he has also got a new pocket-book. Without this, all the rest, it is likely, is but vanity of vanities. The old pocket-book was either one of his idols hitherto, or, at the least, one of the unholy implements degraded to the worship of the grand idol Self. Has he now cast all his idols with their temple furniture to the moles and to the bats? Has he now got in his pocket a pocket-book which is no longer his, but his Master's; and which is entrusted to him for a little, but entrusted to him as a mere steward, who is to use it all according to the Master's plain instructions.

Now, if any one wishes to get satisfactory light on the reality of his Christian profession, let him not overlook this plain and practical aspect of the question. He will be in less danger here of getting lost in the quicksands of metaphysical casuistry. Unbelief is fully as likely to lurk in the pocket-book as anywhere else, and it can often be more easily detected here than in the creed. There are many whose verbal confession is all that can be desired, whose system of doctrines is perfectly orthodox, whose general walk is morally blameless; but who, if they were to examine conscience in the light of the Bible, and by the help of the pocket-book, would find that, instead of being already within the kingdom, they are not even attempting to walk towards it. Indeed, so far from having any controlling sense of responsibility to God for all that they have or can do, they are prepared to resist the practical enforcement of his claims; and if he were to say to them, as he once said to the young man in the gospels, "Sell that thou hast, and give to the poor," they also would be sure to go away very sorrowful. They should indeed be happy to be assured of having fellowship with Christ in the heavenly glory, after the present life of selfishness is over; but to have present fellowship with Christ in the daily use of their own pocket-books, why, they could scarcely consent to this. And yet it was on a similar point that Abraham's faith was tested, and was gloriously triumphant. He was called to leave his country, and to give up all for God; and he did it. He was commanded to offer up his beloved son; and he rose up early in the morning in his instant readiness to obey. We, too, are called on now to walk along a path as trying to flesh and blood; do we too hasten to obey the call? Whether we do or not, this much is certain, that all who are Abraham's children have the spirit, and do the works of Abraham (John viii. 39). Wherefore, in settling this weighty question regarding the genuineness of our Christian profession, let us, by no means, overlook the evidence of the pocket-book.

The pocket-book is also an admirable test of a professor's love. "God is love;" and when he proceeds to restore his lost image on the hearts of his children, one of the first and most prominent fruits of the Spirit is love. Jesus is incarnate love; and his disciples are called not only to enjoy his grace, but to be the instruments of its exercise to others. The amazing love of Christ's heart is to be manifested to a wondering world by the display of it, in part at least, in the loving lives of his believing little ones. There may be varying measures of love in different individuals, but the family temper is holy love; and a true Christian without love to God and love to man is an impossibility (1 Cor. xiii.) Now, do we love God, and do we love our neighbours, and how much do we love? Nay, let there be no fervent professions, which only tend to self-deception; let there be no words at all. Love—genuine love—in a world like this is always a very costly thing; and in settling a question like this, let us appeal to the pocket-book. How much does our love really cost us? This will afford us material for an approximate estimate of its real amount; of our real compassion for the souls that are perishing, and for the bodies that are suffering everywhere around us. Not, indeed, that the mere amount given can of itself indicate this; for there may be much given where there is more kept back, and where there is therefore little love; and there may be little given where there is nothing kept, and where there is therefore much love. We see both cases illustrated in the offerings to the temple treasury, when the poor widow, with her two mites, cast in little with much love, for she kept back nothing; while the rich donors, of their abundance cast in much, yet with little love, for they kept back almost all. The true question then is, but what is the amount of money given, but what self-denial has been cheerfully exercised in the giving of it? What personal convenience, what comfort, what necessity, what urgent necessity, has been denied in order to minister in love to the still more urgent need of others? Ah, my friends, our own pocket-books can tell us many things on this point which it may be profitable for some of us to listen to; and let us not forget that the religion which spares the pocket-book is but a mockery.

Another weighty question, which the pocket-book will help us to answer, is the question that relates to our individual responsibilities, and how far we are cultivating a sense of obligation to discharge them. All that we have, we have in trust. It is God himself who, after all, fills the pocket-book (Eccles. v. 19); that same God who also claims that we use the whole of it for him. To deny this is to take the ground of virtual atheism. We are but stewards now, mere stewards of all the good things which, for the present, we seem to possess. By-and-bye, we shall get our own eternal things (Luke xvi 12), and what these may be depends very much on the way in which we discharge our present stewardship. What a pity that this is so little remembered now! but though it be forgotten for the present, it shall erelong be felt to have been the most important fact of life. In what a different light the large balance of profits, at the year's end, looks to two men, the one of whom regards it as his own, to be disposed of as he pleases; and the other looks on it as so much more entrusted to him, and for which he is to give strict account in a little while. However, we must never forget that we are entrusted with many other things as well as money. Every Christian has had committed to him talents unspeakably more precious than any amount of gold whatever. We would neither undervalue nor yet overvalue the power of money; but, after all, what can it by itself accomplish? Unless it be under the control of something infinitely better than itself, it is perfectly useless for doing the work of God. Of all the gifts with which their gracious Lord has endowed his servants, perhaps money is the very least that is entrusted to a regenerate man; and we have but poorly learned the lessons which our Bibles teach us, if we have not been taught to value, far above any measure of earthly wealth whatever, the gentle power of a sympathizing heart, the special gift of prevailing prayer, the blessed influence of a holy life, or any other one of the complete circle of graces that spring out of an Enoch-walk with God. But still, even in regard to these elements of a Christian's trust, the pocket-book may be usefully employed as a sort of general test whether or not we be faithful stewards. If a man be prayerful and conscientious in the use of all the money with which God entrusts him, the probability is that he employs his other talents in the same spirit; while if he be unfaithful and selfish here, is it presumption to conclude that he is an unfaithful steward all through? In the higher matters, then, of a believer's responsibility, as well as in the more humble one of mere pecuniary trust, the pocket-book will throw considerable light upon the question of our faithful stewardship.

Alas, what cheats we practice on ourselves. No public plunderer, living by his wits, so works on the credulity of his fellows, as we are, each of us, tempted to practice on our own. He that best knows his own heart will be the humblest and the wisest man. And this complete self-knowledge will scarcely be attained without the aid of the pocket-book. How many have learned themselves, to their own humbling, by God's dealing with their purse. There have been not a few who, while they remained poor, have seemed quite contented; nay, they seemed even to be exceedingly generous. Their little surplus was cheerfully expended in doing good; and if, at any time, they expressed regret for their poverty, if was only when it restrained the large-handed benevolence on which their hearts, they thought, were set. Whatever else they wanted, they did not seem to want a giving spirit. "Oh," perhaps it was said, "if I had only half as much as such another has, in what different fashion would I use it!" Well the wish has been met, the purse has been filled, the coveted ability for doing good on an extensive scale has been bestowed, and how has it been used? Used! ask the pocket-book, and it will tell how it has been shamefully abused. Many a poor man, if he had continued poor, would never have learned how perfectly fitted that word is to the heart of man, "When riches increase, set not your hearts upon them;" and would have been spared the humiliation of furnishing a fresh illustration of the old story, "How rich Jacob forgot, what poor Jacob promised."

And if the filling of the pocket-book has revealed to many their own hollowness, the emptying of the pocket-book has done the same service to others. Ah, it is often felt to be a trying thing, when the Lord lays his hand on the pocket-book and empties it of thousand after thousand till the whole is gone. Many an unsuspecting soul has thus learned how strong were its attachments to its earthly idols; while not a few humble but morbidly self-jealous spirits have been surprised to find how cheerfully, amid their blighted comforts, they could sing Habakkuk's song.

Perhaps the reader has not been in the habit of practically regarding the right use of the pocket-book as an actual ordinance of God, and a most helpful and precious means of grace. And yet it is so. God has been graciously pleased to link us to himself by the happy tie of our universal and continual need, by which we are constantly constrained to come to him, that thus we might have the glory and the joy of continually giving to us, and we might have the joy of continually receiving from him. And he has also linked us to each other by the most sweet and happy tie of our mutual dependence, a bond that is most blessed where it is recognized and acted on in the power of a true Christ-like spirit. He bestows an over-fulness of temporal good on one, that this one may have the joy and honour of supplying another's lack; and this in order that each may be drawn more lovingly to each, and all more thankfully and trustingly to him. Of course, the world is completely out of harmony with God's holy mind on this, as on all other matters; but his children, who have been renewed in order that they may again be made after his image, should seek the largest measure of sympathy with their heavenly Father's mind. And has he not given the witness of his Spirit to our attendance on this ordinance, as well as on any other? Who is there that has been faithful to this ordinance of giving, and who has never tasted the sweet tokens of his approval, which God bestows in secret on the self-denying worshipper? So then, while we thank God for the ordinance of the weekly Sabbath, and the Lord's Supper, and the preaching of the Word, and the throne of grace, let us not forget to thank him also for this ordinance of Christian stewardship, with all its connected mercies. And let the Sabbath-keeping church-goer be aware that a pilfered pocket-book will bring on his soul a guilt as dark as broken Sabbaths, or the house of God forsaken. In our own day, when so many innovations are being introduced, exciting fear in some and hope in others, it is matter for rejoicing that Christ's claims upon the pocket-book are being more and more recognized. Would that it were everywhere practically realized, as one of the elementary teachings of the holy Word, that the forgiven soul has been redeemed with all its be longings for the service of God. But, alas, how far are many of us behind, I shall not say the ancient Christians, but behind even the world around us! The heathen still, like their ancestors in Bible times, "lavish gold out of the bag," and that, too, on a scale which might make many professing Christians blush. And, not to speak of the world's costly vices, let us look to men of taste in the indulgence of their taste, and men of science in the pursuit of science. The Christian, too, ought to have his special taste and his peculiar pursuit. What this taste, what this pursuit should be, the Bible leaves us little room to doubt; and if the heart were wholly given up to it, then he would not scruple to use the pocket-book, and "spare not" in gratifying his heavenly passion for good' works.

But, ere we close, let us not forget the case of the poor disciple who has not been trusted with a pocket-book. Beloved brother, that incomparable story of the widow and her two mites was told for your encouragement. Do not let your heart be troubled about the poverty that has come to you in an honest way. It helps to make you all the more like your blessed Lord; and as for holy service in self-denying giving, why it is easier to you than others. Your every gift, my brother, is, what the rich man's gift not always is, a self-denial. His often costs him nothing, but your gift always costs you much. And though your gift in itself is small, offer it up with much love, and its outward meanness shall not make it any the less precious, for it is the love, and not the gold, that is to God an odour of a sweet smell. And again, though you cannot serve God by your great gifts out of your abundance, you can render equal service by your humble faith and thankful patience in the midst of trying penury. You have it quite as much in your power as any one has, to make the best of both worlds, and that in the true and highest sense. So then, in a word, whether God has given us riches or given us poverty, for in truth both are gifts (Prov. xxx. 8), let us never cease to carry with us a sense of our solemn responsibility, and to aim continually that we may receive at last his "well-done, good and faithful servant."

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