Lipscomb on the Poor III

The situation in the South through 1866 and for several years thereafter was critical. The hungry, naked and homeless were present in overwhelming numbers. The War had devastated the country. I think this is one reason we see a constant stream of small blurbs from Lipscomb in the 1866 Gospel Advocate on the poor and the responsibility of Christians to share with others.

In addition, there is a not-so-subtle protest against wealthy religion and how it fosters something other than the kingdom of God. In the following two blurbs–both appearing on the same page (March 27, 1866, p. 205)–we see the two themes in juxtaposition.  The first is titled “Giving,” but the second is untitled.

The two seem related.  Lipscomb encourages a private, daily sharing of resources instead of a public, occasional large gift. The former arises out of a lifestyle but the latter arises out of a desire for reward. The former is the daily life of a Christian but the latter is more tuned to the formal religion with its love of a holy place that is “worldly.” The former practices the gospel in sharing with the poor but the latter practices the religion of building and forms.  I think this all sounds a bit too familiar.

Perhaps the two blurbs are not connected in Lipscomb’s own mind as they are in mine. See what you think.

It seems to me, as well, that there are hidden agendas in his words.  There is a class consciousness present (maybe even class envy?) as well as a latent sectionalism. The Civil War with its wealth and sectional dimensions still lies in the background. Moreover, one hears the plea for simplicity in life and worship as the key to faithful obedience to the will of God.

First blurb, “Giving”:

He who wants to be able to do a great amount of good before he does any, will die without benefitting his race.  “Do good as opportunity offers,” is Heaven’s law. He who takes an interest only in doing good on a large scale, generally does it for the sake of display. He who does good for the sake of obeying God and benefitting the oppressed and afflicted, will relieve the wants of the needy in the quiet, humble, unobserved walks of life, wherever he may find them. Will avoid all ostentation and publicity in giving. The reason it is so much easier to raise means for a public charity than a private one, is because the greater portion of the human family wish to be seen of men in their giving, hence will give publicly when they refuse to add more needy and deserving private objects of charity. The true Christian acts not so. “When thou doest alms, let not they left hand know what thy right hand doeth; that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father, who seeth in secret, himself shall reward thee openly.” God has never promised to reward alms that are done openly. We should not await to be able to give largely before we give. A pittance, a kind word, an encouraging smile, a cup of cold water, in the Master’s name, to the suffering, distressed, weary, faint-hearted children of misfortune and sorrow, comes in remembrance before God, and verily, has its reward.”

Second blurb:

A letter from Hannibal,Missouri, contains the following: “Brother Wilkes appeared at Palmyra for trial on Monday last, to answer to the charge brought against him, viz: Preaching the Gospel. The man who had sworn to the fact, did not appear, consequently the suit was dismissed. When he first informed against  Bro. Wilkes, he charged him simply with preaching. When asked what he preached, he replied the gospel. He was then asked, “What is the Gospel?” He frankly answered, he did not know.”

So it goes. Why is it that zealous religionists do not know what the Gospel of Christ is? Ask almost any one you meet, of any denomination, and you get no answer. Is it because the preachers are so indefinite in their discussions that is is impossible to learn? They are, then, blind leaders of the blind. The prevailing ignorance is almost lamentable. It is appears to be the popular feeling that anything will answer to save a sinner. A large house of worship, called a church, a grand organ, and music by a choir, rented pews, respectability, a handsome preacher, a soulless sermon, containing no [sic] one word of Scriptural instruction, a ritual unknown to the New Testament–performed by a  clerical dignitary, and an exclusive and selfish spirit, seem to satisfy the longings of such, and they are legion as love to worship? In “a worldly, holy place.” When will a dying world learn that the gospel itselfin its original simplicity and beauty, as found in the New Testament, is, alone, “the power of God under the salvation of every one that believes” and obeys it.

2 Responses to “Lipscomb on the Poor III”

  1.   Patti Summers Says:

    Wars historically produce cynicism about social institutions; war is seen as a failure of those institutions. I’m thinking a religious reformer would feel that acutely after the Civil War. I’m also looking ahead a generation past Reconstruction to economic recovery and Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth.” Still another view of how to respond to poverty will emerge among proponents of the “Social Gospel.” Both have in common solutions for poverty with institutional or systemic scope. Carnegie embodies the conceit that no successor could match his expertise when applied to philanthropy, and the Social Gospel has its progressive institutional reform sensibility. In contrast, Lipscomb’s emphasis is on the encounter: that the awareness of a need should immediately provoke in us the Master’s compassionate response. On the one hand is the question of how to respond to poverty; on the other hand, how to respond to a person in need. In Matthew 25 Christ challenges us to envision in the judgement scene an evaluation of our encounters with those people. In the era of the mega church with the slate of excellent ministries, it’s useful to be reminded that Christ calls us to personal–not to outsourced–service.


  1. this went thru my mind |

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