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in the Gospel of His dear Son, even the cleansing of our souls through His blood, and the sanctifying grace of His Spirit; by which we daily put on more and more the garments of holiness and virtue. Let us not refuse it, as too many do! "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord;" without this wedding garment we cannot eat bread with Christ in the kingdom of heaven; for nothing that defileth can enter there.
But let us see what the Scribes and Pharisees were doing whilst our Lord was thus instructing the people. We may be sure that, though they had withdrawn themselves, they had not forgotten their rage against Him. They did not, indeed, venture to approach Him now again themselves, but they sent instead a mixed body of their own disciples and Herodians, who, pretending to be good men, might watch Him, and take hold of some of His words, and find reason from them to accuse Him to the governor.
Though enemies till now, (as you know the Pharisees and Herodians were,) they became friends for the sake of persecuting Jesus! Though separating widely from each other on all other occasions, they could unite in a work of wickedness! Approaching our Saviour with smooth and flattering expressions, (for "their words," as the Psalmist says, "were smoother than oil,") and praising Him for His courage in speaking the truth, they asked Him whether it was lawful to pay tribute to Cæsar or not.
E. I am afraid that would be a very difficult question to answer, Mamma: you know He could not please both Herodians and Pharisees, whatever He might say.
M. It was a very ensnaring question certainly,
and one intended to do great mischief for our Lord. Had He simply answered "Yes," He would have enraged the multitude, who had been listening to Him so attentively; for the people, as I have told you before, hated the Roman yoke, of which this tribute always reminded them. On the other hand, had our Saviour said, that it was not lawful to pay tribute to Cæsar, they could immediately have accused Him to the Roman governor. But they had forgotten the wisdom of Him whom they hoped to ensnare. Though He was about to die, He would not give them the slightest excuse for putting Him to death; though His doctrine was such as offended the people, He would not irritate their minds unnecessarily. It was a subtle snare that His enemies had laid for Him, and I dare say they thought they were now sure of their prey. But Christ perceived their wicked intention, and destroyed their net as easily as if it had been a spider's web.
E. I am so glad! but how did He do it?
M. Calling for a piece of money, such as they used in paying the tribute, the Roman penny of which we have spoken before, "He saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?" The coin you know, was Cæsar's; and by receiving it among them, they acknowledged themselves, whether willingly or not, to be Cæsar's subjects, and, therefore, were bound to render what was due to him as their acknowledged conqueror and king. "And Jesus answering, said unto them, Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's and to God the things that are God's:" thus putting to confusion at once, both Herodians and Pharisees, who "marvelled and left Him, and went their way."
But our Lord had other enemies still in the infidel Sadducees, who denied that there was any resurrection of the body after death. They came to Him also with ensnaring questions, but with no better success: they too were caught in their own net, and brought confusion upon themselves; so that none of His enemies dared any more to ask Him any questions.
E. It was of no use indeed; it only showed their own foolishness, and our Saviour's great wisdom. And it was so provoking of them, Mamma, to interrupt our Lord when He was telling the people such beautiful parables.
M. No disturbance could ruffle the blessed Jesus, nor interrupt His sacred thoughts. He immediately continued His instructions, as calmly as if nothing had occurred. Indeed it was now that He pronounced that blessing on the poor widow, which I have often mentioned to you.
E. You mean the poor woman our Lord saw casting two mites into the Treasury. I remember it well: but what was the Treasury?
M. Besides the stated provision made for the public worship of God, especially at the Passover, it was also the custom among the Jews to make free will offerings, or oblations, for the same purpose, which were kept in a chest, called the Treasury, in one of the apartments of the temple. Here each person might cast in, from time to time, exactly what he could afford or liked to give a custom which pious persons in all ages have been glad to observe, and for which there will always be abundant room, even in those churches which are the best provided for in other ways.
E. Were these offerings for the use of the poor? M. No, they were for the use of the temple. They were not alms, but oblations. Alms are the sacrifices of charity: oblations, those of piety. We give alms, when we distribute to the poor: we offer oblations, when we devote any thing for the immediate service of God. Both are becoming; both are necessary, but they are different services, which cannot be put in the place one of another. We must give alms, but not instead of oblations: we must give oblations, but not instead of alms.
E. Ah, I remember how much you said on this subject, dear Mamma, when we were talking of the rich offerings David and Solomon made to the house of the Lord.
M. Their oblations were munificent indeed, (for they were magnificent princes,) but, perhaps, not more acceptable to God than the two mites which this poor widow threw into the treasury of the Lord; for they, as our blessed Saviour said of the other rich people who cast in much, gave "of their abundance; but she of her want for she did cast in all that she had, even all her living." So much, Edward, does the value of an action, in the sight of God, depend upon the spirit and motive with which it is done; and so great is the encouragement held out to us by our Lord, to do what we can in God's service. To men, the gifts of many of us may appear very insignificant; but God accepts them according to what we have, and not according to what we have not. The reckoning of the temple is not like that of the exchange. Love and devotion are there taken into account; and when these are added to the gift of a poor widow, or, it may be,
to the gift of a child, they may make it more than the costliest offerings of the rich. It reminds me of what the son of Sirach says: "The bee is little among those that fly; but her fruit is the chief of sweet things Least among them that crowded to the treasury was the poor widow with her two mites; yet her oblation was chief among the offerings they made, a sweet smelling sacrifice to the Lord her God.
E. Then, Mamma, I suppose we may learn from this, to give what we can, though it be but very little, towards building a Church or a school, or towards teaching the Gospel to the Heathen? I am glad to think that even I may join in these great works.
M. Yes; the conduct of the widow is set forth as an encouragement and example to all, and happy those who determine to follow it; and happier still those who begin to do so even in their childhood! We cannot learn too soon, whenever we read or hear of any thing good, to " go and do likewise." I should delight to see my dear children's hands early engaged in works not only of charity, but of piety also.
See Matt xxi. 33-46; xxii. Mark xii. Luke xx. 9-47; xxi. 1-4.
1 Ecclus. ii. 3.