‘Every man and woman whose heart made them willing to bring.’
The sharp discipline that followed the calf worship produced at least a temporary effect. The preparations for building the Tabernacle were welcome, not only as a sign of reconciliation, but as meeting the sensuous needs of the people, who had found the atmosphere of a religion without an image or a temple too pure. So this joyous and hearty response to the call for offerings had probably a double source,—in real repentance and desire to make amends, and in a less lofty but most natural preference of such outward service to more spiritual obedience. We may take this chapter as teaching great principles about acceptable offerings, whether of money, or of work, or of selves.
I. Note the motive of all true service. Four times, in the course of these verses, is it laid down: ‘Every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whose spirit made him willing.’ There were many offerings that were compulsory, and much that was of statutory obligation in the Mosaic code; but there was always a door open through which the free spirit of voluntary and glad surrender could find its way in, to put life into the formal and mechanical required service, and here, at the foundation of the whole, all is entrusted to its power. What was exceptional then is universal now.
The spontaneous glow of grateful emotion which must needs express itself, and delights in giving, is marred, not only by ‘grudging’ within, but by ‘necessity’ without. These two are, as Paul tells us, its chief foes. The one is our fault; the other has for centuries, in many lands, been the curse of Christian churches. But it is marred also by the deadening influence of habit. If all our so-called Christian service and offerings were put through the sieve, how much of it would be caught by these various meshes, and how little would fall as pure grain on the floor of Christ’s barn!
How can such glad willingness be secured and maintained? Only by looking continually to Jesus. If we keep ourselves in touch with His great love and unspeakable gift, we shall joyfully give all to Him.
Our responsibility is all the greater because we are left to assess ourselves. We stand alone with Christ, and He asks, ‘How much owest thou?’
II. Note the measure of all true service. The catalogue of gifts for the tabernacle reiterates such phrases as ‘every man with whom was found’ so and so ‘brought them.’ Each brought what each had. That seems a very obvious truism; but, like a great many other such, it is full of teaching, and often sufficiently hard to apply, and very illuminative when applied.
‘She hath done what she could’ may have been an apology for the mode of Mary’s uncalculating gift, but it was a high requirement as to the measure of service which He accepts. He asks not, How much is given? but, Is any kept back? There is little fear of any excess in the direction of over toil or liberality in Christ’s service. What it does need, is that the stringent requirement should be pressed home, and that the lesson should be learned that service short of capacity is sin.
The principle helps to settle, not only the amount, but the manner of our work. There is a woeful lack of sanctified originality among us. How seldom do we see Christians striking out a path of service for themselves, having evidently consulted their own aptitudes and found their vocation! God has made us as we are, and set us where we are, that our individuality may do work for Him which no other can do. “A poor thing, sir, but mine own,” may be said of all real work for Him.
Again, the principle that capacity settles duty, needs to be laid to heart by the people who are always seized with a sudden access of unusual humility when any request for service is made them. ‘Oh! it isn’t in my way,’ ‘I have no gift that way,’ ‘Try somebody else who would do it better,’—and so on, and so on. Disinclination for a given kind of service is often an indication of unfitness, and we work best where inclination pulls in the traces with duty; but we need to be very sure that it is the special task, and not work of any sort, that we are disinclined to; and we have to remember that capacity and inclination do not always go together, but that Christ has many offices for us which crucify flesh and blood, and has never promised to set us no tasks which we cannot do without tears and agony. We may not like the service; but if we can do it, we should do it, and we shall best ascertain whether we can, by trying. We may not like the service in itself, but if we love Him we should like it, and our spirit should make us willing.
III. Note the variety of offerings all equally needed and prized. The list is very instructive, both as to the diversity of gifts brought and needed, and as to the estimation in which they were held. All had equal consecration, because all made one whole. All was equally precious, if all was given with the same spirit. So there is room for all sorts of work in Christ’s great house, where there are not only ‘vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth,’ and all ‘unto honour, … meet for the Master’s use.’ The smallest deed that co-operates to a great end is great. The more feeble are necessary. Everybody may find a corner where his special possession will work into the general design.
So here the contributions of the princes are put last. The large subscriptions are at the end of the list, that we may learn that heaven measures by a different standard from the vulgar estimates of earth, and that all gifts laid on God’s altar are reckoned, not by what we call their value, but by their motive. There is a strange collection in God’s great storehouses, where He keeps His servants’ offerings. Cups of cold water, and widows’ mites, lie side by side with ‘all this great store,’ which David piled up for the temple. The worth of our poor work depends on its motive, and if it is done for love of Christ, He will keep it as among His precious things, and use it to build His house.
‘Preachers have on this text a fine opportunity for teaching the principles and methods of Christian giving. Careful attention may be given to these points. The duty of separating, and laying aside, as a matter of careful thought, and thankful love, a portion of what we earn, calling it “God’s money,” and having it ready at hand for all claims of worship, work, or charity, that may come to us. Christian storing is the secret of ability in Christian giving. The proportion we should lay aside, each one must decide for himself. In it he must only take care that Christian feeling gains adequate and unhindered expression. Exactly what is supremely needed in our day is, that promiscuous and impulsive charity should pass into systematic and principled separation from our means of a portion, which is to be devoted wholly to God, as the constant acknowledgment that all we have is His.
Earnestly press that right habits, in relation to the apportionment of Christian monies, need to be formed early in life.’