The early church in Greco roman world were notorious for bring stingy with how they gave their bodies away sexually and promiscuous about how they gave their money away. The Pagan Emperor Julian said this about Christians and their charity “Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity . . . These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agape . . .”[1] Did you see what has happened because of Christians attitude to the poor the emperor is proclaiming the merits of the Christians!

This kind of promiscuity with money and possessions was preached in the puritan era of the church. Jonathan Edwards, a man whose preaching was notable in its orthodoxy and whose theology is a passionate and yet extremely balanced and carefully weighted exposition of biblical truth nevertheless can say this “Tis the most absolute and indispensable duty of a people of God to give bountifully and willingly for the supply of the wants of the needy.”[2] For Edwards, one of the ways the church (notice the language of a people of God) displays the gospel is in its attitude to the poor. For Edwards it is the riches we behave been given in Christ which forms the basis of why we give generously to the poor. Speaking of Jesus Edwards says: “Consider that silver, and gold, and earthly crowns, were in his esteem but mean things to give us, and he hath therefore given us his own Son. Christ loved and pitied us, when we were poor, and he laid out himself to help, and even did shed his own blood for us without grudging. He did not think much to deny himself, and to be at great cost for us vile wretches, in order to make us rich, and to clothe us with kingly robes, when we were naked; to feast us at his own table with dainties infinitely costly, when we were starving; to advance us from the dunghill, and set us among princes, and make us to inherit the throne of his glory, and so to give us the enjoyment of the greatest wealth and plenty to all eternity. Agreeably to 2 Cor. 8:9, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” Considering all these things, what a poor business will it be that those who hope to share these benefits yet cannot give something for the relief of a poor neighbour without grudging! That it should grieve them to part with a small matter, to help a fellow servant in calamity, when Christ did not grudge to shed his own blood for them!”[3]For Edwards, as well as for us, the basis for social Justice is the Gospel it is not in competition with the Gospel!

The last person from the history of the church I want to look at is the great Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  Spurgeon was known as the prince of preachers by many who heard him and yet he was no mere orator. He was a man who was possessed by the gospel so much so that he not only preached it with passion and compassion but he defended the truth of the gospel like a young lioness defends her cubs.[4] This is significant because here is a man of very strong reformed theology who defends the truth but when found in the midst of the squalor of inner city London in the 19th century Spurgeon not only preached the gospel but he also did many started many organisations that cared for the poor and needy. Here is a list of the works Spurgeon started:

  • An almshouse for needy Widows[5]
  • A free school for poor children[6]
  • A theological college to train young men who couldn’t afford to go to university
  • In 1867 an orphanage for young boys[7]
  • In 1879 An orphanage for girls[8]
  • A fund for the poor [9]
  • A Sunday school for the blind[10]

So alongside his preaching and defending of the gospel Spurgeon showed a deep concern for the poor which overflowed in social justice.

This all too brief survey of church history shows that Social justice and the gospel go hand in hand and therefore we cannot say that if we do social justice we will neglect the gospel because that statement is historically unfounded. We have also seen that the church throughout the ages has cared for the poor as an outworking of its adherence to the gospel


[1] Quoted in Keller, Ministries, 108

[2] Edwards, Jonathan, Christian Charity: or, The Duty of Charity of the Poor, Explained and Enforced. In The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 163

[3] Edwards, Christian Charity, in Works,

[4] See Murray, Iain. The Forgotten Spurgeon. (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1966),

[5] Dallimore, Arnold, C. H. Spurgeon: A New Biography [Moody Press: Chicago, 1984)],125

[6] Dallimore , C. H. Spurgeon,125

[7] Dallimore , C. H. Spurgeon, 126

[8] Dallimore, C. H. Spurgeon, 129

[9] Drummond, Lewis A. Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1992),437

[10] Drummond, Spurgeon, 438

 

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