You ask me “How did you come into these new notions of giving?”
Well, it was this way: A year ago this winter our house took fire. It was in the middle of the night, and we were all asleep. The flames were first discovered by a poor neighbor, who at once gave the alarm, and then burst in the door. The house was full of smoke, and the fire had already attacked the staircase which led to the rooms in which we were still sleeping.
It seems almost a miracle that we were got out alive. We were dazed and suffocated, and it was only the heroic courage and strength of our neighbor that brought us down the blazing stairway into the open air. But it nearly cost him his life. Indeed, we thought the man, gasping there for breath, would die on the spot. Intent on protecting us, he had exposed himself so that he was terribly burned about the arms and chest. He had, too, drawn into his lungs the almost furnace-like air. As he stumbled out of the door with the last child in his arms, he fell down, utterly spent.
I shall never forget the anguish of that hour. He had saved us, but himself seemed dying -- dying for our sakes. All thought of our misfortune at once left us. The best physicians were summoned, and we bore him tenderly to his own house. When the immediate danger had been averted, it became plain that it would take careful nursing of many months to bring him back to his ordinary health, if, indeed, he had not become disabled for life.
And now it was our turn. He was a laborer, and his family were wholly dependent on his daily earnings. It did not take us long to decide upon our course. In fact, there was no debate or counseling about it. The immediate and common thought of each of us, down to the youngest child, was, that we should at once take the whole care of this family upon ourselves. They were now allied to us by a tie stronger than any bond of kindred, and we did not for a moment hesitate what to do.
I had a business that gave us a comfortable support, though we had followed the custom of our acquaintances generally, of living in a liberal way, quite up to the extent of our means. But we did not stay to ask whether we could afford it or not. We just settled it at once that this should be done first, and then we would somehow contrive to live on what remained.
We arranged that the women of our family should relieve the heart-broken wife of the poor man from all household cares, that she might devote herself wholly to him. They were very tenderly attached, and no one could care for him as she could.
"It was just like Jo," she said, as she patiently sat by his bedside; “he never thinks of himself.” But a happy smile flitted across her wan face, as she added, “ I wouldn’t have him different.”
My oldest daughter soon secured a class in music, and the next one found a place in a kindergarten. It was a great, delight to me, and a stimulus to my own efforts, to see how intent the younger children were, each one of them, to earn or save something for the great purpose which had now come into our hearts. It sometimes brought the tears to see especially how Charlie, the last one saved, took wholly upon himself to look after one of the children of our brave friend, a boy about a year younger than himself, he could enjoy nothing, neither garment, schoolbook nor plaything, until he had seen to it that his little mate was fitted out as he himself was. And often this was done at a real sacrifice by the little fellow.
Indeed, this was the way with us all. It did not occur to us to ask whether we could do what we had undertaken without feeling it. We wanted to feel it. We could not take upon ourselves any of the bodily anguish of this poor suffering man; suffering for our sakes. But it was a genuine satisfaction to be doing something for him, at some cost to ourselves, some real self-denial, that should be as constant as was the pain he was enduring. We somehow felt that it was the only way we could emphasize to our own hearts our great obligation, and show to him our gratitude; the only way in which we could in some small measure - it seemed very small to us sometimes-suffer with him in his great sufferings for us. I do not say that there was no conflict in doing this.
After the excitement of the first few days was passed, it was often necessary to reinforce our variable impulses by calling up to our minds a sense of duty. The close quarters into which we had moved were inconvenient. Our former tastes and luxurious indulgences now and then stoutly asserted themselves. They had grown into headstrong habits, and it sometimes cost a real conflict to put them down.
There was one untidy and expensive habit, which, it seems to me, I never could have broken off, had it not been for this new power that had come into my life. Upon a little calculation I found that it cost me more than a hundred dollars a year. This might be saved. It was a defiling and unwholesome thing, and I could not but feel a loss of self-respect every time I gave way to its use. But I had no idea it had gained such a mastery over me; and when the intense craving for my daily indulgence came on, the battle would certainly have gone against me had I not been wont to say to myself:
“It is for his sake -- for his sake!” That one word gave me the victory, and it was a real deliverance.
There was another stout fight I had to make. One day a business friend of mine drove up with his well-matched span, and took me to see the new house he was building. I was glad to look it over, for I had planned that, some day, I would build such a house for myself. The rooms were spacious and many. The outlook from the bay windows was delightful. No modern convenience or appliance for comfort had been omitted. It was not strange that for a time my former desire for such a mansion-like residence came upon me with almost overpowering strength. It was a moment of weakness.
The spirit of self-indulgence came back to its old home, and before I was aware, the chafing and impatience of my heart at the new expenses laid on me grew into a tumult; but it was only for a moment. As I walked away, and began to come to myself, and to see what I was really thinking about, what do you suppose I did? Just stood still and hated myself for about half an hour!
Oh, what indignation! What clearing of myself! Yea, what revenge! To make sure that I had utterly rid myself of meanness of this contemptible thought, I immediately went with my wife and bargained for a neat cottage in the next block, arranging easy terms which I could meet in the year to come; and then directed that the deed should be given to my brave, suffering deliverer, the first day he should be able to walk out. I felt as if I had grievously wronged him, and that nothing short of this would satisfy the demands of the case.
As our friend began to he able to walk, we found that there was something weighing upon his mind. It soon came out that he was the superintendent of a little Mission School which he had gathered in a neglected part of the town. Somehow it had come to him that in his absence it had sadly run down. You may be sure the whole teaching-force of our family was turned into that school the very next Sunday. I am ashamed to say that it was new business to us; but for his sake we were there, and we threw our whole souls into it.
And it was a great satisfaction to see how like medicine it was to the poor man, to hear our weekly report of the growing interest and numbers. And when in the winter there came a blessed revival, his joy knew no bounds. It was noticeable that from that time on, he showed a marked improvement.
There was a natural, but unlooked for result from the self-denials and solicitudes of this year. We were drawn, not only to this man, who was making a brave fight for life in at the next door-for we were continually running in and out- but we were also drawn to each other as we had never been before. A new tenderness and patience came into our lives. Somehow the common service and sacrifice upon which all our hearts were set, softened us and brought us together in a sympathy and oneness of feeling which was altogether new; and thus it proved to be the happiest period of our domestic life.
It is a year now since that terrible night. Our neighbor, to our great joy, has so far recovered that he has moved to the new house, and will soon be back again to his accustomed work.
Yesterday, as I looked over the footings of my inventory found, to my surprise, that after all, it had been one of my most successful years. Indeed, I had scarcely ever had so large a balance in hand. This was altogether unexpected. There had been no marked successes, or special interpositions. But I could see, on looking back, that my own business habits had been toned up by the necessities which faced us; that needless expenses had been cut off; that my business men had steadily improved, and that I had been somehow kept from mistakes and bad adventures, and misplaced credits. Indeed, we have a settled and sweet consciousness that the hand of a good Providence had been constantly with us.
Last evening, as it was the anniversary of the fire, we gave up the accustomed hour of family worship to a review of the experiences. It was a delightful and precious season. We felt with humble gratitude, that we had come up to a higher plane of life, and no one of us desires to go back to the old way of self-indulgence. There had been quietly growing in our hearts for some months, the thought:
If for this man’s sake, why not even more for Christ’s sake?
When we had read at our morning worship such passages as the 53rd of Isaiah, or the closing scenes of our Lord’s life in the Gospels, and many expressions in the Epistles, the sufferings, sometimes the intense anguish in at the next door of which we were often the witness, and which were almost never out of our thoughts seemed to make very real to us our Lord’s sacrifice and sufferings for us. We were also much moved by the beautiful patience of our neighbor, and by his joy in what he had done.
He seemed to feel, with all his lowliness, a sense of having somehow gained an ownership in us, and in a quiet way, he rejoiced over us as if we were the trophies of a great victory. We were, indeed, as “brands plucked from the burning;” and this often led us to turn to the Lord Jesus, with much yearning and tenderness of soul. And there would sometimes appear to us, with the vividness of a new revelation, the words: “Ye are bought with a great price;” “Ye are not your own.”
And so, at the close of our review, there came out, in a formal covenant, the purpose which had thus been quietly growing in all our hearts, that we would never, any more, live unto ourselves; that we would keep right on doing for our Lord, just what we bad been doing for this man. It seemed easy and natural, and the most reasonable thing in the world, that for the next year, and for all the years, we would make Christ’s business our business; that we would take to our hearts the things that were nearest to His heart; that henceforth His Church, His poor, His little ones, and the salvation of the world, for which His soul is still in travail, should be the chief care of our lives.
Our daughters have wrought and hung on the walls of our rooms a motto. It is only a faint reflection of that which is deeply, and we believe, permanently graven on our hearts:
FOR HIS SAKE-FOR HIS SAKE!
And so I have answered your question: How did you come into these new notions of giving? -- S.J. Humphrey.