The Widow Directed to the Widow's God

by John Angell James, 1841


Illustrating the character of the poor, but liberal widow

"Jesus went over to the collection box in the Temple and sat and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two pennies. He called his disciples to him and said, "I assure you, this poor widow has given more than all the others have given. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has." Mark 12:41-44

Piety and liberality should be always associated. Piety should stimulate charity; charity should be the fruit of piety. On one occasion, Christ placed himself opposite this receptacle of benevolence, to watch the offerings of the people. The affluent passed on and deposited their wealth; for "put in large amounts." This is so far to their credit; they who possess much, should give much. God expects it, yes, demands it. Among the richer worshipers came one who united in her circumstances the double affliction of poverty and widowhood. She, of course, will offer nothing. She needs to receive, rather than to impart. All she has to bestow, it may be presumed, is her good wishes. But, no! her hand is not empty. She drops in two pennies. Perhaps the smallness of the sum excited a smile of contempt from some proud contributor, as he followed her, and magnified, by contrast, the amount of his own contribution.

But there was another eye which watched the widow's offering, and another mind that drew a contrast. And Christ called his disciples to him and said, "I assure you, this poor widow has given more than all the others have given." Yes, there is the scale on which the Savior estimates the amount of our contributions to the cause of true religion and humanity; not abstractly by the sum given—but by the sum given in proportion to the wealth possessed. A penny from one, is vastly, incalculably more, than a dollar from another. 'Much' and 'little', are relative terms. That would be generosity in one, which would be stinginess in another. No commendation had been pronounced on the gifts of the wealthy; for they had, perhaps, after all, given little—compared with what they retained.

But this widow's offering has immortalized her. She gave all she had. We do not stay to enquire about the prudence of her contribution, whether it was proper to bestow her last penny; doubtless there were some circumstances in her case which justified the act, and with which the Savior was acquainted. There were, perhaps, no needy children, whose needs should have reminded her that charity begins at home—perhaps it was a thank-offering for some special mercy received; some gracious support in one of those troubles, which widows, and especially poor widows, only know. At any rate, the gift and its principle, attracted the notice, and drew forth the eulogy of the Savior. It was but two pennies—but that was as much a manifestation of her disposition, as David's almost countless amount of gold, was of his.

Our Lord Jesus Christ still holds his seat opposite the treasury of the temple, and watches from his throne in heaven, the offerings of those who give to the cause of true religion and humanity. His celestial glory has diminished nothing of his special regard to the beneficence of his people. It should be our aim in all the good we do, to approve ourselves to his all-seeing eye, both by the purity of our motives, and the amount of our donations. Alas! what are we the better for the notice of those perishing and impotent eyes, which can only view the outside of our actions; or for that word of applause which vanishes on the lips of the speaker? Your eye, O Lord, is piercing and retributive. As to see you, is perfect happiness, so to be seen of you, is true contentment and glory.

It may be fairly inferred from this passage, that the Lord Jesus, while he beholds with favor the gifts of all, receives with especial acceptance the offerings of the poor widow. It is often the sorrow of such, in this age of Christian missions, that they cannot share in the glorious undertaking of converting the world to Christ. In happier times, when the candle of the Lord shone in their tabernacle, and the light of prosperity irradiated their path, they too had something to give, and delighted to give it, to pour the blessings of salvation on this dark earth—but now they feel shut out from the feast of benevolence, and denied all fellowship in the great work of evangelizing the nations; for they have nothing to give. Nothing? "Nothing," you reply, "worth my giving, or any society's receiving!" Is that the language of pride, despondency, or stinginess? Can you not, then, stoop to give a penny, after you have had the privilege of giving a dollar? Do you blush to offer the copper, after the silver and gold have glittered in your hand, as you approached the treasury? O woman, cast away that feeling, and carry your two pennies, and if given "with a glad heart and free," that little offering will draw upon it a more benignant smile from the Lord of all, than ever he bestowed upon your costlier gifts in the days of your prosperity. If you are ashamed to give it, he is not ashamed to receive it, nor backward to reward it. Ashamed of your little! Why it is relatively more than the hundreds of the rich. It is all self-denial, and sacrifice, and generous zeal.

"In the obscurity of retirement, amid the squalid poverty, and the revolting privations of a cottage, it has often been my lot to witness scenes of magnanimity and self-denial, as much beyond the belief, as the practice of the great; a heroism borrowing no support, either from the gaze of the many, or the admiration of the few, yet, flourishing amid ruins, and on the confines of the grave; a spectacle as stupendous in the moral world, as the Niagra falls, in the natural; and like that mighty cataract, doomed to display its grandeur, only where there are no eyes to apprehend its magnificence."

Yes, there is an eye that looks on both—but with more admiration on the little offering of benevolence that drops unheeded and unheard by man, into the receptacle of mercy—than on the river that falls with the roar of thunder into the basin of its mighty waters. Think of aged widows sacrificing the sugar of their tea, and poor men giving up the small portion of their beverage at dinner, to save a penny or two for the missionary cause—O how little are the offerings of the rich, though the announcement of their hundreds from the platform makes the building to shake with applause; compared with the penny of such self-denying friends to the cause as these—but whose contributions find their way in silence, to the mighty aggregate of funds. Ashamed, my friends! Your pennies are the richest trophies of our cause; and if it were possible to divide the results of our success, and apportion so much usefulness to each particular contribution of property, we would find, perhaps, the richest allotment assigned to the widow's pennies.

Is there a less worthy motive, which holds back your slender offering? Is there a feeling of grudging? A reasoning in this strain—"Surely they cannot take the poor widow's penny for the cause of missions." Certainly not, unless she feels it to be one of poverty's deepest woes, to have nothing to give to such an object, and would esteem herself unhappy, if her little contribution were despised. Have you nothing then to give for widows poorer than yourself? "Poorer than myself," you exclaim, in a tone of indignant surprise, "who can be poorer than I am?" I answer, the Pagan woman, left forlorn and desolate, without a Bible, or a minister, to direct her to the widow's God—and there are millions of such. You have the gospel, which abolishes death, and brings life and immortality to light. You can look beyond the grave, and see the orb of celestial day rising in majesty before the eye of Christian hope, and gilding with his glorious effulgence, the dark clouds which collect over the valley of the shadow of death. You hear voices of joy, and sounds of life, floating like heavenly music, over the still chambers of mortality. In pity, then, to those who clasp their idols in silent despair, give a little, even of your little, to send them the gospel, which keeps you from sorrowing as others which have no hope. Have compassion on the widows who sit down by the grave of a husband, who has gone away in the darkness of paganism, or who still, in some parts of India, are doomed to mingle their ashes with his, in that funeral pile, the flame of which is kindled by the hand of a first-born son. Is there not, then, a widow far more wretched than yourself, for whom the scant penny of poverty, or the two pennies of all but absolute destitution, should be consecrated to God?