Read CHAPTER XV - “SELL THAT YE HAVE” of The First Soprano, free online book, by Mary Hitchcock, on

Three years had passed, and the snows of winter had lain heavily for weeks upon all the region surrounding New Laodicea. It spread soft mantles over lawns and roofs in the city, and only in the streets was its white purity turned by the traffic of man into vileness. On a sharp, clear morning Hubert Gray walked through the cutting air toward his office, and meditated thus:

“What am I doing? What is the occupation that employs so much of my waking time and the powers that God has given me? ’Diligent in business,’ the Scripture says. Yes, I am certainly that, but what is it all for? I am trading in iron, as my father has done, and laying up treasure on earth. That is something the laying up treasure on earth that the Lord Jesus said not to do. But did He really mean it? Nobody takes it very literally, I suppose.

“‘Sell that ye have and give alms.’ That is what I read this morning. ’Make for yourselves purses which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not.’

“How much does it mean? We cannot always press the words of the Lord to their utmost literal meaning. I suppose He used language a great deal as we do, to be taken at its face value, and not screwed and pressed and tortured into literal exactness until all the spirit is taken out of it? But these words sound very bald and unequivocal. I wish I knew what they meant. Would I act on them if I did? There’s the rub. It is undoubtedly hard for a man with money to look at the matter disinterestedly. And Jesus said, ’How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!’

“But if a man wishes to know how to interpret these words, I suppose he may consider other words of the Lord and their evident interpretation and find a rule. For instance, He said, ’Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life.’ He evidently did not literally mean not to labor for daily bread, for that is something we are told to do. ’Work with your hands, that ye may . . . have need of nothing,’ it says. And, ’If any will not work, neither let him eat’; and again, ’That with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.’ So that is clear enough. Apparently what He meant was to emphasize the supreme need of the other kind of food ’the meat that endures unto everlasting life.’ The one pales into such insignificance into nothingness! compared with the other, that He puts His hand over it He puts it out of sight completely, and says, ‘Look at this! This is the supreme thing, the one thing needful!’”

Hubert grew enthusiastic as he meditated the meaning of the text and the supreme need. He walked faster, and trod the snowy walk emphatically.

“What a splendid text!” he thought. “If I go to the mission to-night perhaps I shall speak from it. ’Labor not . . . but for’ ah! that word ‘labor,’ as applied in the second phrase needs explaining also, and Jesus did explain it. ’This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.’ That is ‘labor’ for the living bread to believe on Him!”

But he returned to his former consideration. “’Sell that ye have and give alms.’ I wonder if the principle in the other text will apply to that? Did He mean, not literally that they were to sell all and give, but rather to emphasize the supreme importance of the treasure in heaven? Did He push aside one and bring forward the other, saying, ’Look at this! Let go the other, and lay hold of this. Lift up your eyes to the kingdom it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you. Take stock in that. Little flock, you are so very rich yonder, you can afford to give up what you have here. Give to the poor that have no treasure here, and perhaps none yonder.’ Ah, but my paraphrasing has not led me far from the literalness of the text! And how beautiful it is! That Man of Glory, ‘Heir of all things,’ poor for a little while for our sakes, counseling His little flock to follow for a brief season in the steps of His poverty, laying up more abundant treasure in His eternal kingdom!”

By this time Hubert had reached his place of business and was stumbling over the office boy in the hall. When alone in his office, at his desk, he leaned his head upon his hands and prayed:

“O Lord, teach me what those Scriptures mean that I may obey them. Save me from the bias of self-interest. Help me to live by the understanding I had with Thee at the outset of our walk together. What may I do to please Thee? My time and my energies are Thine, for I am bought with a price. Thou seest my possessions. What shall I do with them?”

He lifted his head with a lightened heart. “He will show me what to do,” he thought.

That day at lunch Hubert propounded a question to his father.

“Father,” said he, “what do you think Jesus meant by saying, ’Sell that ye have and give alms?’”

Mr. Gray reflected. “Hm!” he observed, “eh well ” then, with a sly twinkle as though rather enjoying a coat that fitted tightly, “it doesn’t sound very obscure, does it? The language is simple. What would you think it meant?”

“That is a point I am studying. If a man came to it without prejudice or self-interest, it would seem very simple, I imagine. But I am not sure that it should be pressed to absolute literalness. But, granted that it means something, was it of limited application, or would Christ say the same thing to His followers to-day?”

“Well,” said Mr. Gray, whose theological studies had been greatly stimulated in recent months, and who had fallen into the hands of a variety of teachers, “you know some people draw pretty fine distinctions now-a-days. They may tell us that that does not belong to the church. I shouldn’t wonder a bit if some of them would slip this over our heads and let it fall on some other people. But I should say, if you ask me, that such a principle, if it applied to anybody, might certainly to us; that if heavenly-mindeduess could be enjoined upon any it might certainly upon those who are raised and seated with Christ in heavenly places.’”

“I think you are right, father. But now, just what is the principle what is the true spirit of the text? In short, what are we to do about it?”

Mr. Gray looked at his son curiously before replying. Was it for the sake of doing the word that he pondered its meaning? To expound a text and to act upon it were two separate things. The former was sometimes the pleasanter task. But he answered honestly:

“I suppose the true way to understand a Scripture is to read it in its relation to other Scripture in the light of every other Scripture. I confess I have not so studied it. And,” he added cautiously, “one must be very sure of the meaning of a word before he acts upon it.”

“Certainly,” said Hubert. Then he added privately that they had not waited to understand the text before proceeding to pile up treasure upon earth in abundance. “I intend to look up the subject,” he said aloud, “and see what the Bible really does teach about it; that is, what the New Testament says. I suppose if we searched the Old Testament we should find earthly prosperity guaranteed the Lord’s people on the ground of obedience. But we are under the new covenant, with heavenly riches assured.”

“Just so just so,” murmured Mr. Gray.

The next morning the subject was renewed.

“I have found, father,” said Hubert, “that the apostolic church did precisely what Jesus had told His flock to do. They sold what they had. It was an effect of the coming of the Holy Spirit. I suppose the heavens were so opened through that illumination that earthly possessions shriveled into nothingness by comparison. What precept alone could never have power to do the entrance of the Spirit did. It turned out the love of the world and ’the things that are in the world.’”

An enthusiastic light glowed in Hubert’s face as he spoke. His father eyed him curiously as on the day before.

“Just so just so,” he replied, absently.

Presently, however, he rallied to the discussion. “But, Hubert,” he said, “do you remember what they did with the proceeds of their sales?”

“Yes,” said Hubert, “they laid them at the feet of the Apostles, and distribution was made to the needs of all the company.”

“That was not an indiscriminate alms-giving,” said Mr. Gray.

“No,” replied Hubert. “But the parting with their possessions of those who had property supplied the need of those who had none. That could be called alms-giving, I should think.”

“That seemed to be confined to the church,” said Mr. Gray meditatively.

“Yes,” said Hubert, “and when a beggar solicited alms of Peter and John, they had nothing to give him! No I beg pardon they had much to give him, through the ‘riches in glory.’ They gave him ability to make his own living, which was far better than an alms. But is there not some other Scripture that will tell us the relative positions of the church and the world to us in our giving?”

“I think so,” said Mr. Gray. “How is this? ’As we have opportunity let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.’”

“That is to the point,” said Hubert.

“But to return to the Pentecostal precedent,” said Mr. Gray; “if we were to sell out, at whose feet would you propose laying the proceeds?” He looked slyly at Hubert. “At Doctor Schoolman’s?”

“Never,” said Hubert, and then he laughed. “I beg the gentleman’s pardon for my emphasis,” he said, “but it never would occur to me to turn over my money to him.”

Mr. Gray smiled. He felt that he had scored a good point against any rash procedure in the matter of possessions.

“At whose feet, then,” he persisted, “would you think to lay it down?”

“There’s the rub,” said Hubert grimly.

“Ah, just so,” said his father.

There was silence for a few moments and then Mr. Gray began again:

“Those early conditions at Jerusalem have never been reproduced since they were broken up by the scattering of the church, and I do not remember any hint in the Epistles to the Churches that there should be an effort to establish a similar communism in any place.”

“No?” said Hubert. “I shall search farther and see what they do say.”

And he did. A less disinterested disciple would not have pressed such a vigorous search toward an end that might mean his own monetary disadvantage. But a supreme longing to know the will of God and to do it was master of the situation. Moreover he remembered the vision of the cross that stood at the outset of his Christian way, and the terms of complete abandonment of himself and his circumstances to which he consented in his heart.

He pursued diligent and business-like methods in his study. With the aid of a concordance he found and tabulated what the Gospels had to say about “money,” “gold,” “silver,” “goods,” “riches” and “treasure,” words that might serve as clews to discover the mind of God in the matter he searched out. Also he read carefully the Epistles to see what, in the more settled state of the church, was enjoined after the dissolving of the community at Jerusalem.

His thoughtful study involved the spare hours of many days, and he emerged from it with certain convictions which were not likely soon to be shaken. He set his arguments in order with a deliberation and logic with which a lawyer might prepare his brief. His leading conclusions as to the teaching of the Scriptures on the subject were somewhat as follows:

First, that the possession of riches is a disadvantage to a man as to his entering the kingdom of heaven. Indeed, that it would render it impossible but for the grace of God with whom all things are possible.

Second, that the teaching of the Lord Jesus placed the seeking of worldly goods in utter contempt and disregard as compared with heavenly riches. Indeed, they might well be abandoned for the sake of that treasure. That even the necessities of life were not the things to be anxiously sought, but were guaranteed by God in response to the diligent, first-in-order, whole-hearted seeking of His kingdom and righteousness. That this teaching, however, was guarded against misinterpretation by practical instructions in the Epistles to work for honest support and in order to have to give.

Third, that an instant effect of the coming of the Holy Spirit was a practical illustration of that disdain of earthly goods inculcated by the teaching of the Lord Jesus; and the result was not the want of any, for “neither was there among them any that lacked.”

Fourth, that that striking example, set at the head of the age as an object-lesson for its entire course, was not literally followed by the Churches subsequently formed, but its principle was carried forward to them also, Paul enjoining an “equality,” saying to the Corinthians, “Your abundance being a supply at this present time for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want; that there may be equality.”

Fifth, that the giving up of possessions at Pentecost was spontaneous and voluntary, not forced; and the subsequent giving was to be not a legal necessity, but as the heart inclined. The flavor of delight to God would be lost if otherwise. The giving would have value in His eyes only as it was done, not of necessity, but cheerfully.

Hubert reviewed the articles of his newly formed financial creed, feeling that it was far from exhaustive, but that its principles must help to clear his vision as to the attitude a Christian man should take toward this world’s gain. From the whole trend of the teaching he gathered that the true Gospel of Christ demanded a complete reversal of the generally accepted rudiments of worldly thrift, and that its key word for the use of money was not “get,” but “give.” Sometimes he hesitated and turned pale before a radical step which he found his heart prompting, and again he looked at the possessions now in his own right and was glad he had so much to place at the absolute disposal of the Lord he loved.

“It is not a necessity,” he said. “I may do as I will. And I will to do that which will serve Him best.”

He read the text, “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.” Tears, to which his eyes were unused, made them glisten for a moment. “Ah, if through my poverty some might be made forever rich!” he thought.

How to put in practice what he desired to do became a problem. He went to his office with the sense of a new relationship to its business. A new Proprietor sat at the desk with him, and, afraid to act rashly, on Him he wisely waited for the clear instructions which should show how best His interests might be served.

The new Proprietor looked on him and saw a man triumphing where the multitude of essaying disciples fail: not in lofty ideals, not in emotional experiences, not in grand works undertaken; but in the prosiest, hardest spot albeit the touchstone of many a man’s consecration the money question.