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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
The Widow with the Two Mites
SHE was a widow. And she was surely the poorest widow in all the city that day. But she had this-that she was rich toward God, and that He was rich toward her. For she loved the house of God. She was another Anna. Only, Anna lodged in the precincts of the temple, and departed not from the temple night and day, whereas this poor widow somehow and somewhere had an impoverished house of her own. "O God, thou art my God," she kept saying to herself all the way up from her own impoverished house with the two mites in her hand; "my soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips, when I remember Thee upon my bed, and meditate on Thee in the night watches." When one after another of her neighbours and her kindred railed on her for going up to the Court of the Women in her deep poverty, she answered them not again. Only, she did not turn back, nor did she lose hold of her two mites. "Two mites," says Mark, "make a farthing." She had no great temptation to let her left hand know what her right hand intended to do. And thus it was that without once lifting her eyes off the temple steps she cast her contribution into the temple-chest, and passed on into the temple to offer her morning prayer, and then went down to her own house. She had seen nobody, she had spoken to nobody, and nobody had seen or spoken to her. And she does not know to this day what we know. Nor will she know till that day when everything shall be known and made manifest. What would she have thought if she had been told Who had watched her that day, and what He had said about her, and that we would be reading about her tonight in this far-off island of the sea? As also that her two mites would multiply, all down the ages, into millions upon millions of gold and silver, the same Eyes still watching the process all the time? And what will she think and what will she say when all that is told from the housetop on that day about her, and about her two mites, by the Judge of all? And still He sits over against the treasury in this temple tonight, and calls unto Him His disciples among us, and says to us, 'Verily I say unto you also.' And as He sits and speaks to us, and points us to this poor widow, we lay to heart from Him many lessons.
In every department of merely secular finance money is just money. The Chancellor of Her Majesty's Exchequer does not care one straw what our feelings toward him and toward his office are when he sends us in our income-tax schedule. He does not interrogate us as to our political principles, or even as to our loyalty to the throne. Only pay your taxes promptly and he will not trouble you again till next year. But it was very different from that in those communities where Paul was the collector of the contributions of the apostolic churches. "Brethren," he wrote, "we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia, who first gave themselves to the Lord. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor. Therefore, see that ye abound in this grace also." And, as our Lord sat over against the thirteen chests in the temple that day, and all thirteen for the temple upkeep in one way or another, it was not the money so much as the mind of the contributors that He watched and weighed. And thus it was that this poor widow's mind weighed out for her this never-to-be-forgotten approval and applause of our Lord, "Verily I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast more in than all they which have cast into the treasury." Because, as Paul has it, she had first cast in herself. That, then, is our first and fundamental lesson in all church finance. It is ourselves first; and then, after ourselves, it is our time, and our money, and our work. Two mites of mind and intention outweigh out of sight a million of mere money in the balances of the sanctuary.
"For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not." And thus it comes about that such a noble and ennobling equality is established in the Church of Christ. Why, our very Lord Himself, though He was rich, yet for our sakes had become so poor that the poor widow was richer than He was that day. He had absolutely nothing; not so much as two mites, to call His own that day. He had literally and absolutely nothing but a willing mind. And thus it was that He sat so near the treasury enjoying the sight of the liberality of those who had both the willing mind and money also. He had no money. He had only Himself. And as they cast in their money, He again cast in Himself. All the time the poor widow was coming up the street singing to her own heart the sixty-third Psalm, our Lord was sitting in the treasury singing to His Father the fortieth Psalm. "Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire. Mine ears hast thou opened; burnt offering and sin offering hast Thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come. In the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Thy will, O my God; yea, Thy law is within my heart." I have an ancient friend in this congregation who, also, has God's law in this respect within her heart. Like Paul's Macedonian saints she has very little more than a willing mind. She puts on her old bonnet once a year and is announced into my study with five shillings in her hand. Where she gets it I cannot imagine, but this is what she does with it. I have another fellow-communicant who calls on me annually with a pound. But the five-shilling one touches me most. For her little room looks to me when I visit it as if she had far more need, not of five shillings, but of five pounds every year either from me or from the poor's box. But she has always a clean chair and a cup of tea for me when I call to see her. "A shilling," she said to me the other day when she came on her annual errand, "for Armenia. A shilling for the Jewish schools in Constantinople. A shilling for the miners, mission. A shilling for the Zenana ladies. And a shilling, over and above Dr. Chalmers's penny a week, for the Sustentation Fund." I would be a brute if I refused to take it. I would have yet to learn the first principles of the grace of God if I were tempted to say to her to take it away and to buy coals with it. For all the coals in the bowels of all the earth would not warm her heart and mine; and, shall I not say it, her Master's heart, as her love for these causes of His warms His heart, and hers, and her minister's heart. A well-to-do worshipper sent me the other day a hundred pounds as a special donation, over and above the hundred he gives in monthly instalments to his deacon. For more reasons than the coming dividend in May I was mightily delighted with his noble and timeous donation. But the five shillings melted my heart far more. He who sits over against His treasury here also, will Himself tell you in your hearing that day what He has to say about these two, and all such like princely minds. "That"-it was said by a great preacher in a land of vineyards and olive yards in illustration and in enforcement of this very same subject of a willing mind-"that which comes from His people at the gentle pressure of their Lord's simple bidding, comes as the fine and sweet and golden-coloured olive oil which runs freely from the fruit, almost before the press has ever touched it. That, again, is as the dark and coarse dregs, which is wrung out by the force of a harsh constraint at the last." "When I was in France," says Bacon, "it was said of the Duke of Guise that he was the greatest usurer in all the land, because he had turned all his estates into obligations; meaning that he had left himself nothing, but only had bound great numbers of persons in life-long indebtedness to him." It is not for the lip of mortal man to say it, but it is true, that Almighty God holds Himself under obligations to us all, corresponding to all the estates, great or small, that we have spent upon Him and upon His house. And if it is only the inward estate of a more and more willing mind, what usurers we are, and what an obligation will He acknowledge and repay!
Mutatis mutandis, as the Latin lawyers said; making all allowance, that is, for the immense change of dispensation and of all other circumstances, the thirteen temple-chests of our Lord's day were just the Endowment Funds, and the Augmentation Funds, and the Sustentation Funds of our own land and day. There were special chests elsewhere in the temple for the poor, and for the education of the children of the poor, but the treasury chests over against which our Saviour sat that day were just the Deacons' Courts of our own Free Church and other churches. It is doing no exegetical or homiletical violence to this exquisite scene to transfer every syllable of it to ourselves as a congregation and a court. Indeed it would take some blindness of mind and some pulpit ineptitude to lead us past the outstanding lessons and applications of this delightful Scripture. For our own Sustentation Fund is just that very same temple treasury over again exactly. By means of those chests the temple worshippers by their daily and weekly and monthly and yearly contributions supported the priests, the doctors, the readers of the law, and all the other office-bearers of the sanctuary. And, like our Sustentation Fund also, all classes contributed to the support of the sacred house; from the rich among the people down to this poor widow. Just as with ourselves where some give to this one fund hundreds of pounds a year and others a penny a week. And then out of our great central fund an equal dividend is made every May to every minister of the Free Church, from John O'Groats to Maidenkirk. So much so, that wherever you see a Free Church door open on a Sabbath morning, in town or country, and the people flocking up to it, you have had a hand in opening that door, and in sustaining that minister, and in preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ to that congregation. And if, under God's hand, you are such a widow that you have nothing to give to your deacon but a willing mind, and a word of God-speed, that is quite enough. You are a rich contributor and a true pillar of the Free Church. It is no irreverence, but only a becoming gratitude and love to say it, that as I sit at the head of the monthly table of our Deacons' Court I have something in my heart not unlike what was in His heart who sat that day in the treasury of the temple. As I see our deacons coming in and laying down on the table, one a few shillings, and another hundreds of pounds, like Him I rejoice at the sight, and a little like Him I hope, I give myself again to the service of God and to the service of His people. If you could all see, as I every first Monday of every month see, our splendidly-equipped and splendidly-managed Deacons' Court, the sight would both move, and inflame, and sanctify your heart also. Tens and twenties of the finest young fellows in the city; arts, law, medical, and divinity students; young merchants, young bankers, young advocates, young tradesmen,-all tabling the income of their districts, and all received with the applause of the elders sitting around. And if you could hear the treasurer's monthly report, and then the censor's so stringent monthly scrutiny, and then the thanks-giving psalms and prayers, you would give far more to this so sustaining and so sanctifying Fund than you have yet given. And you would see, not by any means to perfection, but to a certain honest approximation, what a modern treasury-chest of the Lord's house ought to be, and what it will yet be in every congregation in the coming days of the Church of Christ in Scotland. For it is not by any means the enormous wealth of this congregation that has given to Free St. George's its honourable place at the head of this honourable Fund. It is, I shall say it in your presence, the exceptional intelligence in church matters and in personal religion that has all along, with all its drawbacks, characterised Dr. Andrew Thomson's and Dr. Candlish's congregation. And, taken along with all that, its absolutely unique and unapproached Deacons' Court.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'The Widow with the Two Mites'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wbc/t/the-widow-with-the-two-mites.html. 1901.
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13