Thankfulness and generosity are among the most striking and wonderful signs of God’s grace at work in the life of an individual or group. In the early days of the church, Luke draws our attention to the fact that Christians sold their possessions to share with those in need and “received their food daily with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:45-6) as proof of God’s “great grace” at work in the lives of these new Christians (Acts 4:33). Because you can’t legislate for behaviour like that. It’s a fruit of the Gospel which demonstrates the transformative, supernatural power of the living God in a person’s life to the astonishment of and for the good of the watching world (Acts 2:47; 6:7).
I’ve recently finished reading a biography on William Wilberforce, a man whose efforts to bring to an end the British slave trade are legendary, and who also played a significant role in the future evangelisation of Ausustralia. Far less well-known, however, is the fact that Wilberforce was also a man of remarkable generosity. Born into great wealth at the top of British society, Wilberforce gave away vast sums of money throughout his life to innumerable people and projects around the world and his kind spirit was evident in the eclectic and unorthodox assemblage of people which made up his household:
“The house thronged with servants who are all lame or impotent or blind, or kept from charity, an ex-secretary kept because he is grateful, and his wife because she nursed poor Barbara, and an old butler who they wish would not stay but then he is so attached, and his wife who was a cook but now he is so infirm… (as described by Marianne Thornton, a friend).”
Indeed, so great was Wilberforce’s generosity that when a business venture went wrong at the end of his life, he and his wife were left completely destitute, without a home of their own. And yet even then, in the face of disaster, his biographer notes that “Wilberforce’s marked habit of perpetual gratitude in all circumstances actually seemed to increase” (Metaxas, Amazing Grace, 287), as we see in Wilberforce’s own reflections on his situation:
“The loss incurred has been so heavy as to compel me to descend from my present level and greatly to diminish my establishment. But I am bound to recognise in this dispensation the gracious mitigation of the severity of the stroke. Mrs Wilberforce and I are supplied with a delightful asylum under the roofs of two of our children. And what better could we desire? A kind Providence has enabled me with truth to adopt the declaration of David, that goodness and mercy have followed me with all my days. And now, when the cup presented to me has some bitter ingredients, yet surely no draught can be deemed distasteful which comes from such a hand.”
What grace, joy and thankfulness! What contentment Wilberforce demonstrates with whatever he received from the hand of his Lord! Here was a man who knew the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, though He was rich, had become poor for his sake so that through his poverty he might become rich (2 Cor 8:9); a man who had been transformed by this experience. May you and I likewise never stop revelling in the grace that we have received in Christ, that we too might live lives of ever increasing thankfulness, joy and generosity!
In His grace,
PS. Last week, at the morning service we heard from Carol Martin. A number of people have said how helpful it was. It shows in ‘real life’ the damage done by the teaching of ‘different doctrine’ (1 Tim 1:4) but also the joy that comes through the true gospel of grace. Here is the link if you missed it. Thank you for praying as we begin this ‘church wide’ series in 1 Timothy. Please pray that the Lord would address us all and shape us as a church to be fit for his great gospel purpose.