Christmas Past

The Inestimable Gift

How can we best testify our gratitude to God at this Christmas time?

Ellen G. White
The Inestimable Gift

We are nearing the close of another year. Christmas and New Year’s will soon be here. Let us candidly and carefully review our life during the year that is about to pass, with its burden of history, into eternity, and consider the many tokens we have had of the favor of God in the blessings he has bestowed upon us. The most unspeakable gift which God could bestow upon the world was the gift of his beloved Son. 

We do not half appreciate the grandeur of the plan of salvation. He who was one with the Father stepped down from the glorious throne in heaven, laid aside his royal robe and crown, and clothed his divinity with humanity, thus bringing himself to the level of man’s feeble faculties. “For your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” Infinite was the sacrifice on the part of the Father; infinite the sacrifice of the Son! The highest gift that Heaven could bestow was given to ransom fallen humanity. O, what divine benevolence! It would have been far easier to crush the world out of existence than to reform it. But Christ declares, “The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” The Son of God understood the desperate situation, and himself came to our world, that man through him might have eternal life. Son of the Most High though he was, he submitted himself to insult, mockery, and a cruel death because he loved man, and would save him from ruin. But, as if determined to cut themselves off from all communication with Heaven, as if scorning God’s mercy and defying Omnipotence, the world whom he came to save, crucified the Lord of glory. Can we, my dear brethren and sisters, behold such love, such infinite sacrifice, unmoved? O, what abundant resources divine power has provided for the fallen race! 

Let us look to Jesus, and see the amazing love for fallen man of which the cross of Calvary gives evidence. The great sacrifice has been made, and Christ has purchased man at an infinite cost. “Ye are bought with a price,” even the precious blood of the Son of God. And now Jesus says, “I have claims upon the human heart; man is the purchase of my blood.” Thus he asserts his ownership of the consciences of men; and his Spirit, sent forth into all the world, convicts men of the claim God has to all there is of them, and writes his name upon the heart of every one who accepts that claim. He engages to renovate the soul through the medium of the truth. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” All other knowledge is worthless only as Christ dwells in the heart, and is interwoven with the affections. Our Lord designed that his church should reflect to the world the fullness and sufficiency that we find in him. His children derive their enjoyment from a Source higher than the world can comprehend; and as they are constantly receiving of God’s bounty in spiritual and temporal gifts, they are to represent to the world the love and beneficence of Christ. 

The church of Christ is the only object on the earth upon which he bestows his supreme regard; yet it has grown feeble and inefficient through selfishness. While all heaven is astir, dispatching messengers to bear the divine will to every part of the earth, they expect the church of the living God also to be co-laborers with Christ. He engages to come into the midst of his church, and to honor their prayers and decisions by the manifestation of his grace and power. They are members of his mystical body. Christ is their living head, controlling all the members of the body. Jesus himself, in his infinite mercy, is experimenting on human hearts, and by his efforts, effecting spiritual transformations so amazing that angels look on with astonishment and joy. The same unselfish love that characterizes the Master, is seen in human lives and characters, and is qualifying them to bear their part in the decisions of the judgment, and to share in the pleasures of heaven. Christ expects that man will be partaker of his divine nature while in the world, and thus convey a large amount of glory from earth to heaven. In full-souled piety, devotion, and ardor, man is to be one with Christ and one with God. 

The church of Christ is the repository in which heaven’s wealth is stored, to be imparted to others, in the providence of God, as the extension of his work and the upbuilding of his cause shall demand. The rich dowry of grace, the intrusted capital of money, and the possessions in houses and lands, he has intrusted to his stewards upon the earth; and nothing can be more offensive to God, who is constantly bestowing his gifts upon man, than to see him selfishly grasping these gifts, and not rendering back to God either interest or principal. God designs that his stewards shall work as Christ worked, exerting all their influence to win souls to him, denying self as he denied himself, and practicing strict economy, in order to have means to use in Christ’s cause. I have seen that we do not answer the claims of God upon us as we should. We might invest larger treasures in the bank of heaven, to be employed in missionary work. Said Christ, “Ye are the light of the world.” God is constantly clothing us with temporal and spiritual blessings as with a garment. Jesus is today in heaven, preparing mansions for those who love him; yea, more than mansions, a kingdom, which is to be ours. But all who shall inherit these blessings must be partakers of the self-denial and self-sacrifice of Christ in the salvation of souls. 

If men and women and youth could only realize the part that it is their privilege to act in connection with Jesus Christ, they would make far greater effort than they are making now. God forbid that any who are made partakers of the mercy and the grace of Christ, should devote their thoughts and their energies to serving themselves in these precious golden hours of probation. What answer can you give to the Master when he shall call for an account of your stewardship, if you have not been the means of saving souls for Jesus Christ? If your tithes and offerings, and even yourselves, have been withheld from his service; if the precious talents intrusted to your stewardship, either in property, in physical strength, in mental ability, or in all united, are not wisely improved; if they are turned to selfish gratification, you imperil your soul, and dishonor God, your Creator. 

There are today a large number who are not rendering to God the things that are God’s. Opportunities, precious beyond price, of doing good to those around us, are being lost, because our eyes are not single to the glory of God. Satan has his devices to divert the mind to selfish purposes, so that the pressing needs of the cause, both for personal effort and means, shall be lost sight of. Not only your tithes, which belong to God by a special contract between him and his people, but your free-will offerings, are lost to his cause. One dollar now is of more value to the work than ten dollars will be at some future period. The Lord tests his people with prosperity, to see if they will consider souls of more value than money, or houses, or lands. If you cling to the means with which he intrusts you, and do not consider the wants of the cause in its various branches as more important than any temporal gain, you do not give evidence that you appreciate the gift of God’s dear Son, whose life was the price of your redemption. Souls are perishing in the very shadow of your own doors, and many of you are too indolent and indifferent to make an effort to bring them to a knowledge of the truth. 

My soul is stirred within me as the Macedonian cry comes from every direction, from the cities and villages of our own land, from across the Atlantic and the broad Pacific, and from the islands of the sea, “Come over and help us.” Brethren and sisters, will you answer the cry? saying: “We will do our best, both in s
ending you missionaries and money. We will deny ourselves in the embellishment of our houses, in the adornment of our persons, and in appetite. We will give the means intrusted to us into the cause of God, and we will devote ourselves also unreservedly to his work.” Your property, your time, your strength, your opportunities all belong to God, and for these talents you must render an account. The wants of the cause are laid before us; the empty treasuries appeal to us most pathetically for help. 

Work, brethren, work while you have the opportunity; while the day lasts. Work, for “the night cometh, when no man can work.” How soon that night may come, it is impossible for you to tell. Now is your opportunity; improve it. Invest every dollar that you can spare, in the bank of heaven. Will you believe the words of Christ? and will you be doers of his word? 

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” 

These are the words of Jesus, who loved you so much that he gave his own life, that you might have a home with him in his kingdom. Did he not know your great need? Did he not in these words present the only safe course for you to follow, if you would gain the crown of glory? Then do not dishonor your Lord by disregarding his positive commands. Do not disobey the injunctions of Him who loved you. 

There are those who seem determined to invest their means in the world, or tie them up somewhere, lest they return to the Giver in the gifts and offerings which are his due. More than this, they rob God in tithes; and he will not bless them in their selfishly withholding from him his own. O, what an amount of means and time is wasted in the indulgence of pride! God will wait for a time still imparting his blessings; but if men continue to dishonor him by withholding that which is his due, reverses will surely come, in punishment for their base ingratitude. God sees that the more he places in the hands of these men who divorce themselves from him,—men for whom he has done so much,—the more their affections are placed on the earthly treasure, and the less thought and interest they have for the eternal reward. 

God calls upon those who have possessions in lands and houses, to sell, and to invest the money where it will be supplying the great want in the missionary field. When once they have experienced the real satisfaction that comes from thus doing, they will keep the channel open, and the means the Lord intrusts to them will be constantly flowing into the treasury, that souls may be converted, and brought into the church. These souls will, in their turn, practice the same self-denial, economy, and simplicity, for Christ’s sake that they, too, may bring their offerings to God. Through these talents, wisely invested, still other souls may be converted; and thus the work goes on, showing that the gifts of God are appreciated. The Giver is acknowledged, and glory redounds from earth to heaven in the salvation of souls, through the faithfulness of God’s stewards. Although Jesus was the Prince of Life, he did not take his place with the rich and lordly ones of earth, but he honored the lowly, the oppressed, and the suffering, and bestowed upon them the blessings of his love. 

Christ was the majesty of heaven, yet the world rejected him. Let not his professed followers be guilty of this neglect. Is not the sin of covetousness fearfully denounced in the Holy Scriptures? “For this ye know, that no … covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” “The wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth.” “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come; that they may lay hold on eternal life.” 

Brethren, are your lands and houses of more value than the precious souls for whom Christ has died? Every church-member should awake, and go to work in the Lord’s vineyard. If there are some who cannot give personal effort in missionary work, let them live economically and give of their earnings. Thus they can contribute money to send papers and books to those who have not the light of truth; they can help pay the expenses of students who are fitting for missionary work. Open your hearts in gifts and offerings; bring them to Jesus; lay them at his feet, and he will bless you. The necessities of the cause of God demand a continual flow of liberality. Let those who have been selfishly withholding their means, now bring offerings to the Lord. Be prompt in rendering to God his own. One reason why there is so great a dearth of the Spirit of God, is because so many are robbing God of his just claims. 

There are poor men and women who are writing to me for advice as to whether they shall sell their homes, and give the proceeds to the cause. They say the appeals for means stir their souls, and they want to do something for the Master who has done everything for them. I would say to such, “It may not be your duty to sell your little homes just now; but go to God for yourselves; the Lord will certainly hear your earnest prayers for wisdom to understand your duty.” If there was more seeking God for heavenly wisdom, and less seeking wisdom from men, there would be far greater light from Heaven, and God would bless the humble seeker. But I can say to those to whom God has intrusted goods, who have lands and houses: “Commence your selling, and giving alms. Make no delay. God expects more of you than you have been willing to do.” We call upon you who have means, to inquire with earnest prayer: What is the extent of the divine claim upon me and my property? There is work to be done now to make ready a people to stand in the day of the Lord. Means must be invested in the work of saving souls, who, in turn, shall bring their offerings to the treasury, and win souls to the Lord. 

When we make these earnest appeals in behalf of the cause of God, and present the financial wants of our missions, conscientious souls who believe the truth are deeply stirred. Like the poor widow, whom Christ commended, who gave her two mites into the treasury, they give, in their poverty, to the utmost of their ability. Such often deprive themselves even of the apparent necessities of life; while there are men and women who, possessing houses and lands, cling to their earthly treasure with selfish tenacity, and do not have faith enough in the message and in God to put their means into his work. To these last are especially applicable the words of Christ: “Sell that ye have and give alms.” Lay up treasure in heaven. Commit some of your earthly possessions to the bank of heaven. 

Let us so manifest our faith and our love for God and the souls of men, that Jesus and his angels can look down from heaven upon us as a people, and bless us upon the coming Christmas and New Year’s. How unworthy we are of all the priceless gifts and the continued mercies with which the Lord blesses us! How marvelous has been the goodness of God to the children of men! And how can we better testify our gratitude to God than by making thank-offerings to him at this Christmas time? 

Our children have been educated to expect gifts from parents and friends upon Christmas. Christmas is celebrated to commemorate Christ’s birth. If we celebrate it only in seeking to give pleasure to our children and one another, our offerings are diverted from the true object. We should bring our thank offerings to the Lord, laying our gi
fts at the feet of Him who has opened the treasures of heaven to us. 

The enemy plans that human minds and hearts shall be diverted from God and his cause, to praise and honor one another. God has been left out of the question, and positively dishonored. Christmas has been made a day of feasting of gluttony, of selfish indulgence. Now let every family consider this matter in all its bearings. Let the parents place it in all its wonderful significance before their children and friends, and say: “This year we will not expend money in presents upon ourselves, but we will honor and glorify God. We will testify of our gratitude to him who gave his Son to die as our sacrifice, that we might have the gift of eternal life.” Let us show that we appreciate this gift, and respond as far as it is in our power, with thank-offerings. Let us celebrate Christmas by remembering God, instead of remembering our friends and relatives with gifts which they do not need. 

Will not God acknowledge the offerings thus bestowed? Will he not bless the little ones who bring some offering of their own to the Master?—Indeed he will. Is not this a most precious opportunity to educate your children in the work of self-denial for Jesus’s sake? Tell the children of the great missionary field, and talk to them of the love of Christ; of the great sacrifice made because he loved us, and wanted us to have a home with him in his kingdom. He came to our world to bless it with his divine presence, to bring peace, and light, and joy; but the world would not receive him, and put the Prince of Life to death. His death was to bring the treasures of heaven within the reach of all who should believe in Jesus. Make this glorious theme plain to your children; and as their young hearts expand with love to God, let them present their little offerings, that they may act their part in sending the precious light of truth to others. Thus the children may become little missionaries for the Master. Their little offerings coming into the treasury like many tiny rivulets, may swell the stream to a river that shall refresh many souls who are thirsting for the truth of God; and even these children may see some souls saved in the kingdom of God as the result of their self-denial.

This article originally appeared in the December 11, 1888 edition of Advent Review and Sabbath Herald.

Ellen G. White