It is very easy without watchfulness to fall into an error even with regard to matters with which we are familiar, and the more so if it be an error into which others have fallen, because then we are exposed to the powerful effect which their example exercises.
I make this remark because it is not an uncommon thing to hear persons speak of "the widow's mite"; and, further, there is more than one instance of writers, from whom we might reasonably expect differently, adopting the same incorrect language. This mistake is noticed here not out of a love of finding fault with others, but with the object of pointing out how even such a slight slip (as it may seem to some) seriously mars the beauty and force of the incident given in the Gospels.
You are familiar with the circumstances there recorded. The Lord was sitting in the temple over against the treasury. And He saw the rich cast their gifts into the box provided for such contributions. He also saw a poor widow bring her offering, consisting of two mites, which make one farthing. Whereupon the Lord said to His disciples, "Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in than all they which have cast into the treasury; for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living" (Mark 12:43, 44).
Now, to speak of this incident under the heading of "The Widow's Mite" is manifestly incorrect. The widow did not contribute her mite; she gave both her mites — all that she had. And it was her whole-hearted, self-denying devotion in yielding up all her living to the service of God that drew forth the Lord's commendation and approval. Anything that even suggests that the widow kept back part of her possessions like Ananias and Sapphira is unjust as well as untrue.
Besides, the fact of the widow having two coins and parting with them both proves how entire her purpose was. Zaccheus said to the Lord, "The half of my goods I give to the poor;" but this woman gave, not half, but all her goods. If she had had one farthing instead of two mites, she must then have given the whole or none; but having two coins it was within her power to divide her living — to keep one mite, and contribute the other. It is therefore to the widow's credit not to conceal the fact that when she might have given one, she bestowed the two mites. You can imagine the case of a person with the collection box before him and a single shilling in his pocket which he gives. If however he had had two sixpences, the smaller coin would have found its way into the box. Is such an act, think you, of such value in the eyes of Him Who searcheth the hearts, as that of a person who having two sixpences deliberately contributes the two?
It is well to bear in mind that the Lord estimates the value of a gift from what is in the heart, not from what is in the hand. He does not compute in money as we do. In His sight the two mites of the widow represented more than all the liberal donations of the rich put together.
It is not that the Lord will refuse to accept a larger gift. When Mary gave the alabaster box of ointment, worth more than three hundred pence, He caused His approbation to be recorded (Mark 14:3-9). He looks at the motive that prompts the heart to give, whatever the value of the gift. Mary anointed His body beforehand to the burial. The widow gave her mites for the maintenance of the temple, doomed to speedy destruction. The Lord commended both, though the direct purpose of the gifts was so different.
Another point I must just indicate to you, if you have not already observed it. The Lord attached great importance not so much to what was actually given, as to what remained after the gift. The rich cast in of their abundance, the Lord said. And when they had made their contributions they were still rich. They had even then enough and to spare. They were put to no personal inconvenience because of their donations. But not so with the widow. She was poor. Her total assets amounted to one farthing. Yet if she was poor in pence, she was rich in grace. And like the Macedonian assemblies (2 Cor. 8:2), her deep poverty abounded unto the riches of her liberality. She could not give more than two mites; she would not give less, though it left her bereft of everything. And you may be sure that He Who marked her noble gift saw her empty scrip also, and ministered to her, as He loved to do.
O Lord of Heaven, and earth, and sea,
To Thee all praise and glory be;
How shall we show our love to Thee,
Who givest all?
For peaceful homes, and healthful days,
For all the blessings earth displays,
We owe Thee thankfulness and praise,
Who givest all.
Thou didst not spare Thine only Son,
But gav'st Him for a world undone,
And freely with that Blessed One.
Thou givest all.
For souls redeemed, for sins forgiven,
For means of grace and hopes of Heaven,
What can to Thee, O Lord, be given,
Who givest all?
We lose what on ourselves we spend,
We have as treasure without end
Whatever, Lord, to Thee we lend,
Who givest all.
Whatever, Lord, we lend to Thee
Repaid a thousand-fold will be;
Then gladly will we give to Thee
Who givest all.