All believers are justified without works by faith in the righteousness of Christ Jesus. (Rom. iii.) They attain to the possession of saving faith only by the free grace of God electing them in Christ before the worlds were (Eph. i., ii.).
But another truth also asserted most distinctly in the same word of the Most High, is, that the believer will have to give account of himself to Christ at His appearing: and that reward or dishonour will follow that account. Nay, it is further attested, that the principle by which the Saviour's distribution of recompense will be regulated, is, that each shall be dealt with "according to his works." As the present tract is intended very briefly to touch this great question: the surest, the firmest, and the most speedy way of effecting conviction in the minds of believers, evidently is, to give the Scripture passages which affirm the doctrine.
1. JESUS WILL BRING HIS SAINTS TO ACCOUNT.
i. "But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at naught thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, ‘As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.' So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." (Rom. xiv. 10,12)
ii. "With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged (examined) by you or by man's day: (margin) yea, I judge not mine own self. For I am not conscious to myself of anything: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall each have praise from God." (1 Cor. iv. 3, 5)
iii. "Therefore we are ambitious, that whether present or absent, we may be well-pleasing to him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of the Christ; that each may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. " (2 Cor. v. 9, l0)
iv. "So speak ye, and so act, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy that showed no mercy: mercy rejoiceth against judgment." (James ii. 12, 13).
2. THE RULE OF DISTRIBUTION TO EACH IS "ACCORDING TO WORKS."
i. "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, ‘ If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For the Son of man is about to come in the glory of his Father, with his angels and then shall he reward each, according to his works.’" (Matt. xvi. 24, 27)
ii. "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planted anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: but each shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour. " (1 Cor. iii. 6, 8)
Does not this in effect declare, that no two believers will receive the same amount of reward ?
iii. "All the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give to each of you according to your works." (Rev. ii. 23)
iv. "Behold, I come quickly: and my reward is with me, to give to each according as his work shall be. " (Rev. xxii. 12)
Now to award according to works stands opposed the principle of acceptance of persons: or the giving to those in loftier stations greater rewards than their deeds call for, and overlooking those in inferior position.
Such a principle, we are therefore informed, has no place with God: and the extremest case is taken as the occasion of denying it.
v. "Slaves, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh. with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ, knowing that whatsoever good thing each doeth, the same shall he receive from the Lord, whether he be slave or free man. And ye masters, do the same thing unto them, forbearing threatening, knowing that your Master too is in heaven, neither is there respect of persons with him. " (Eph. vi. 5, 8, 9)
vi. "Slaves obey in all things your masters according to the flesh: knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance, for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong, shall receive for the wrong which he hath done; and there is no respect of persons. " (Col. iii. 22, 24, 25)
Also we are informed, that our future account will depend greatly upon the principles which we have acted upon in our dealings with one another.
i. "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye measure, it shall be measured to you again. " ( Matt. vii. 1, 2; Luke vi. 37)
ii. "He shall have judgment (justice) without mercy, that showed no mercy; mercy rejoiceth against judgment. " (James ii. 13)
That is, if we act towards our fellows on the principle of justice, this will be one day brought to bear on us in apportioning our reward; and likewise, if we have taken mercy as our principle, with the same measure will it be hereafter meted to us.
But perhaps the inquiry will arise, - 'How can these statements be reconciled with other scriptures, which assert, that the believer shall never come into judgment ( John v. 24), and that we enter into eternal life as a free gift from God ? '
To which I would reply, - Whether reconciliation can be found or not, we must receive both of these truths. Both are affirmed by God, and both are to be believed, and acted on by his saints, whether they see the link that reconciles and unites them, or not. But moreover the passage from John is a mistranslation. It is really - " He that believeth, doth not come into judgment, but is passed from death to life."
We know that eternal life is a free gift, and that the ransomed will enter it of God's grace: Rom. vi. 23. But two objects are set before our eye - ETERNAL LIFE, and the MILLENNIAL KINGDOM. Eternal life is the free gift. But the kingdom is the prize to be striven for (Phil. iii). Even in the kingdom there will be degrees, and in these different degrees will consist the differences of reward: and the appearing before Christ will be with a view to the apportionment of these. Life eternal is a bounty purchased by Christ, bestowed by God in his sovereignty. But equity will take the oversight and distribution of reward in its several degrees.
Behold the mighty multitude of the saved! All enter into glory through Him that loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood. But will all be equal in station and reward? Will Paul, that laboured more than all the other Apostles, receive only the same degree of glory with the dying robber, who, an hour or two before his decease laid hold of Christ, and was saved? Scripture, I am persuaded, teaches the contrary; and I would now offer to the candid believer some testimonies of Holy Writ, exhibiting some of the many forms which this solemn principle takes in the word of God.
3. THERE ARE DEGREES AND PECULIARITIES OF REWARD IN THE KINGDOM OF THE THOUSAND YEARS.
"The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."
i. "He that receiveth a prophet in the name (character) of a prophet, shall receive a prophet’s reward: and he that receiveth a righteous man, in the name of a righteous man, shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward." (Matt. x. 41-42)
Here are three different degrees of reward: the prophet's, the righteous man's, and the reward of the cup of cold water.
ii. "Verily, I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist, notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." ( Matt. xi. 11) Degrees of greatness then in the Millennial kingdom are assumed. The meaning of the passage I suppose to be - that the least honourable of those that rise from the dead, and shine forth in the kingdom of their Father, will be greater than one occupying the standing of John the Baptist, who was simply the greatest of mortals, and living on the earth. The enterers into the kingdom of glory will be immortals, gifted with greater knowledge, their habitation the New Jerusalem above, their dignity and power far loftier and acknowledged by all. This denies not, of course, that John the Baptist will be in the kingdom.
iii. "At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven ?' And Jesus, called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them and said, ' Verily I say unto you, except ye turn and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."' (Matt. xviii. 1-6; Greek.)
iv. "Then answered Peter and said unto him, 'Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?' And Jesus said unto them, 'Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me - in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of his glory - ye too (as well as myself) shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life." (Matt. xix. 27-29)
The reward of a throne for the twelve over each tribe of Israel of course destroys equality of station among the ransomed. But even among Apostles themselves there were to be greater and less; and the degree of greatness was to be dependent, not as in this world, upon pushing and intriguing for the mastery; but upon suffering like Jesus, upon lowliness, and usefulness to their brethren in this life.
v. "Jesus called them unto him and said, ‘Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and the great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you, but whosoever wishes to become great among you, let him be your servant: and whosoever wishes to become chief (first) among you, let him be your slave: Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."' (Matt. xx. 25-28)
To Peter's inquiry, How the doctrine of watchfulness for Christ's return applied to the rulers of the Church, as distinct from the disciples in general? Jesus replied:
vi. "Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh, shall find so doing. Of a truth, I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath." (Luke xii. 42-44)
vii. 'There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. " (1 Cor. XV. 41-42)
In the heavenly heights there are three different classes of glories; that of the sun, that of the moon, and that of the stars: and in those very glories there are individual differences, such as exist between star and star.
viii. "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, ‘'The Lord knoweth them that are his.’ And, ‘Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.’ But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour and some to dishonour. If any therefore purge himself from these (things), he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work." (2 Tim. ii. 19-21)
In this remarkable passage the sovereignty of God in the election of his saints, and his unchanging purpose to bring them to glory, appear side by side with the declaration that they are to maintain holiness; and that if they do not, while they will enter the great house, they will be arranged, not amidst its vessels of gold or of silver, but of wood and of earth. Many are supposing the 'great house ' to be the Church. Now this is a mistake. The future adjustment of our place is dependent on conduct now. On the contrary, by avoiding the things forbidden, they would be both now and hereafter vessels of glory employed by God in his purposes of glory.
ix. "Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love. If ye do these things ye shall never fall (stumble); for so the entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ shall be abundantly ministered unto you." (2 Pet. i. 5-11)
x. "The Lamb* stood on the mount Zion, and with him an hundred and forty-four thousand, having his name* and his Father's name written on their foreheads. They sing as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures, and the elders: and none could learn the song but the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth. These are those who were not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These are they who follow the Lamb whithersoever he may go. " (Rev. xiv. 1, 3, 4)
[* Scholtz, Tregelles, etc.]
Thus a peculiar glory is given to those who have received that saying, which not all can receive (Matt. xix. 10-12). As the Bridegroom's intimate companions they chant his marriage-song, and attend his movements to and fro in the glory.
xi. "And he saith unto me, ' Write, blessed are the invited ones unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. "' (Rev. xix. 9)
That this glory is not attained by all, the parable of the Ten Virgins shows.
xii. "Then came the first (servant) saying, 'Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.' And he said unto him, ‘ Well done, thou good servant, because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority* over ten cities.’ And the second came saying, ' Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds.' And he said likewise to him, ' Be thou also over five cities."' (Luke xix. 16 - l9)
[* Or, "Know that thou hast authority."]
The preceding texts prove, that in the coming glory there will be great varieties and various degrees of reward.
But Scripture declares likewise that
4. REWARD IS IN PROPORTION TO DIFFICULTY OVERCOME; AND IS GRANTED TO SUFFERING FOR CHRIST AS WELL AS ACTING FOR HIM.
i. "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven. " (Matt. v. 11 - 12)
ii. "Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children, with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, ‘What wilt thou ?' She saith unto him, 'Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, the other on thy left in thy kingdom.' But Jesus answered and said, ' Ye know not what ye are asking for. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I am about to drink, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with ?' They say unto him, ‘ We are able.’ And he saith unto them, ' Ye shall indeed drink of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give, except to those for whom it has been prepared by my Father."' (Matt. xx. 20-23)
The Saviour then acknowledges diversity of places in the glory. He only warns the petitioners of their ignorance of the truth, that peculiar glory must first be balanced by peculiar suffering.
iii. "It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead (if we died) together with him, we shall also live together with him. If we suffer, we shall also reign together with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us." (2 Tim. ii. 11, 12; also 1 Peter iv. 12, 13, 16)
To die with Christ belongs to every saint: and therefore all will live with him. But not all suffer with Christ and for him, and therefore not all will reign with him during the thousand years.
iv. "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. " (Matt. x. 32, 33)
v. "If ye love them that love you, What reward have ye ? Do not even the publicans the same ? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so ? " (Matt. v. 46)
Our Lord therefore teaches, that there is no reward for actions to which even the fallen sons of men are competent; because there is no difficulty: while the severer the difficulty, the greater the glory.
In this principle, therefore, a noble scope for holy ambition is thrown open. That faculty of the soul which pants for glory is implanted of God. In the natural man, it is, like every other power of the soul, misdirected; and leads him away from God, and from true glory at the same time. But God has spread a wide field of ambition before the eye of the believer; and not only permits him, but exhorts him to pursue it. He has set before our eyes five crowns, as rewards for different kinds of service; and each may, by divine grace, win not only one, but several. Let us pass them in review.
FIRST CROWN - THE CROWN OF INCORRUPTION.
i. "Know ye not, that those who run in a race, run indeed all of them, but one (only) receiveth the prize ? So run that ye may attain. And every one that enters the contest is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown: but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly: so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest by any means, after having acted the herald to others, I myself should be rejected. " (1 Cor. ix. 24-27; Greek)
The crown promised above appears to belong to those who use self-denial in subduing the lusts of the flesh. He that sows to the flesh, reaps of it corruption: he that sows to the spirit, reaps of it incorruption, and the crown of incorruption. For the flesh is an enemy to be conquered, and to the victor is promised the crown.
SECOND CROWN - CROWN OF REJOICING.
ii. "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his appearing ?" (1 Thess. ii. 19)
This is offered to those who have been the means of converting souls from the errors and enmity of nature. But there is another crown for those who rule the saints.
THIRD CROWN - CROWN OF GLORY.
iii. "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness to the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that is about to be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive the unfading crown of glory. " * (1 Peter v. 1 - 4)
[* The article has been omitted by the translators in this case and in very many others. Errors concerning the article constitute one of the principal faults of the English translation.]
FOURTH CROWN - CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
iv. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me in that day: and not to me only, but to all them also that have loved his appearing." (2 Tim. iv. 7, 8; Greek)
This crown then is proposed to every believer who maintains the good fight with his spiritual adversaries, who is steadfast in the faith, and looks with holy desire for the coming of Jesus.
FIFTH CROWN - THE CROWN OF LIFE.
v. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for having become approved, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to them that love him. " (James i. 12)
vi. "Fear none of the things which thou art about to suffer: behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison that ye may be tried: and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life. " (Rev. ii. l0)
This last crown is especially for the endurance of persecution and martyrdom for Christ's sake.
HUMILITY OR PRIDE INFLUENCES FUTURE REWARD
We are informed, too, that humility or pride manifested in this life, will exercise the utmost influence upon our future reward.
i. "Neither be ye called leaders: for one is your leader, the Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. Now whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted." (Matt. xxiii. l0-12; xviii. 4; Luke xviii. 14; l Peter v. 5-6)
"And he put forth a parable to those that were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief seats, saying unto them, ' When thou art bidden by any to a wedding-feast, sit not down in the highest seat; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden by him; and he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, ' Give this man place :' and thou begin with shame to take the lowest place: But when thou art bidden, sit down in the lowest place; that when he that bade thee cometh he may say unto thee, ' Friend, go up higher :' then shalt thou have glory in the eyes of those who sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (Luke xiv. 7-ll; Greek)
The force of the parable is this. -There are two estimates of our value; the one, our own; the other, Christ’s. Our own estimate has scope to display itself now, for, like guests assembling, we may choose our place: and as there are different places of honour for different ranks, the seat we take is the manifestation of the estimate we have formed of ourselves. But the guest's estimate of himself is not the real one: nor is the seat he takes the lasting place that he is to assume. The Master of the feast, the Lord Jesus, is coming, and he will at length and finally assign the place of each of the guests. It becomes us therefore to be jealous of our own thoughts of ourselves, and to heighten our thoughts of the other guests. For if we have taken too high a place, we shall be displaced with shame before the assembly of the saved. But if we have voluntarily placed ourselves too low, Christ at his coming will set that right: and his award to us of a higher post will give us glory in the eyes of all the ransomed and risen saints.
But do objections occur to the minds of some? I will notice one or two that are most commonly made.
Objection 1. First then it may be said, that the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard proves, that there will be no difference of reward; for all the labourers, at whatever times they were hired during the day, receive but an equal recompence at the close.
To this we must reply, First, that we may not rest upon a parable as proving anything contrary to the clear, unambiguous statement of a principle in Scripture. For, owing to the mystery that clothes the parable, it is very possible that we may have mistaken its meaning. Secondly, the parable in question does not refer to the recompence of individuals, but of classes and dispensations; as will be apparent to any one who studies the parable.* But thirdly, the equal recompence of all the labourers, refers to their all alike enjoying eternal life. Thus, the principle of reward according to works is untouched by the parable of the vineyard-labourers.
[* See, for explanation of this parable, "The Jews, the Gentiles, and the Church of God, in Matthew" p.38.]
Objection 2. Others, unwilling to admit differences of reward hereafter, have said, that all such reward is spoken of as being bestowed on the saints in this life.
But such a statement is refuted by many of the texts already brought forward, and by others now to be cited. For the Saviour more than once cautions His disciples against receiving their reward now. Thus:
i. "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen by them; otherwise ye have no reward from your Father which is in heaven. Therefore, when thou doest thine alms do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily, I say unto you, they HAVE their reward" (Matt. vi. l - 2)
That is, 'The Pharisees obtain in this life the reward of their good works; but be it not so with you: do you seek to obtain yours hereafter from your Father on high.' And the word made use of is very expressive - - "They have their reward off-hand."
ii. "Then said he also to him that bade him, ‘ When thou makest a dinner or a supper call (invite) not thy friends nor thy brethren, nor thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed, for they cannot recompense thee; for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.’ " (Luke xiv.12-14)
Moreover in passages before quoted the time when each shall receive his reward according to his works, is declared to be at the appearing of Jesus (Matt. xvi. 27; 1 Cor. iv. 4, 5). It is when the master of the feast comes in, that the humble guest is to be raised from his lowly place, and to have glory in the eyes of the rest: Luke xiv. 7. It is after we fail that we are to give account of our stewardship, and to be received by the friends we have made during life: (Luke xvi. 9.) And the crown of life (together with the others) looks forward to recompence as to be expected only after faithfulness unto death: (Rev. ii. 10.) But so clear is this point, that the full strength of the proof of which it is capable, is not attempted to be given.
PRESENT ACTS INFLUENCE FUTURE REWARD
But there is a very interesting illustration of the subject more than once used in Holy Scripture, which, with the Lord's blessing, will confirm and seal the principle more strongly yet upon the believer's heart. What is the relation, then, in which our present acts stand to the future reward? Let us listen to the Apostle and teacher of the Gentiles.
i. "But this I say, he which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bounteously shall reap also bounteously." (2 Cor. ix. 6)
ii. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his own flesh, shall out of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good unto all, but especially unto them who are of the household of faith: " (Gal. vi. 7-10; Greek)
In the above passages we are taught, that our present deeds stand related to the future glory, as the seed does to the harvest. Harvest is God's natural recompence of the labourer: and this is fixed on as the appropriate image to teach us concerning God's future and eternal recompence. There is no harvest without the sowing of seed; so that he who sows not, even while he obtains eternal life, will not attain the reward offered. But moreover, as in nature the quantity gathered into the barn is in the main according to the quantity sown; thus it will be strictly in eternity. The liberal giver will meet abundant sheaves in the kingdom; the sparing giver will reap according to his niggard gifts.
Thus the Apostle teaches us, that our future harvest (in a sense) depends on ourselves. Such as the sowing is, such will be the reaping. But the emblem is most special The harvest is not an average and general balance struck; it is the exact result of the grain sown. The sower may not remember how many grains he cast into the soil; but there is not an ear there, for which there was not a seed committed to the soil. And thus our recompence will be the exact result and requital, not of our deeds in the main and on the average, but each special act will contribute its part and portion to the amount; even as the harvest is the exact aggregate of every seed sown.
Every holy deed then of each saint is increasing his reward; it is seed, incapable of perishing. The corn of earth may be destroyed by the seasons, disease, the depredation of animals, or the violence of the plunderer; but not so the acts of men, which are the seeds of eternity.
RECOMPENSE TO THE UNBELIEVERS
The same principle applies to the ungodly. Recompence will be awarded to the wicked also according to their works. For among them also there are degrees of sin, and differences of damnation.
i. "Whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city." (Matt. x. 14, 15; xi. 20-21)
ii. "Woe unto you scribes and pharisees, hypocrites! For ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive greater damnation." (Matt. xxiii. 14; Luke xx. 45)
iii. "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto me. " (Matt. xii. 31)
The wicked therefore may be exhorted on this ground to abstain from sin. ‘Young man ! do not recklessly rush into sin, contenting yourself with the thought, that do what you may, you can but be damned at last! Nay, but there are degrees of damnation; and every fresh crime entails a heavier load of punishment, is heaping up more of agony, and treasuring to yourself a greater wrath against the day of wrath.’
WARNINGS FOR THE BELIEVER
The same principle also applies to the transgressions of the saint. Each trip and stumble, and open offence of word or deed, is diminishing his reward hereafter. And therefore the word of God gives us cautions not a few; and teaches us that to the erroneous teacher, the careless, worldly, cowardly, covetous, sectarian believer, there will be shame, rebuke, and even loss of the kingdom. For what mean such words as these?
i. "Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; the work of each shall become manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try the work of each, of what sort it is. If any one’s work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any one’s work be burned, he shall be fined; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.'' (1 Cor. iii. 12 - 15; Greek)
What can this mean, but that each teacher shall be held responsible for the doctrines he has taught? If he have taught the truths of God, he shall, after his teaching has undergone the scrutiny of Christ, receive reward. If his doctrine has been merely or mainly the traditions of men, he shall barely escape at last with eternal life, but experience loss and shame, like one escaping in terror through a house on fire.
ii. "The just shall live by faith; but if he draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him." (Heb. x. 38)
[The addition of "any man" is unwarrantable.]
iii. "Abide in him, that when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. " (1 John ii. 28)
iv. "Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. " (2 John 8)
v. "If any defile the temple of God, him will God defile." (1 Cor. iii. 17)
vi. "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. " (Rev. xvi. 16)
vii. "At my first defence no one stood with me, but all forsook me; may it not be laid to their charge. " (2 Tim. iv. 16)
Here is an actual fact, a sin of omission on the part of the saints in Rome; a very excusable one, to our eyes. Yet Paul takes it for granted that it would be noted against them, and that they would receive rebuke because of it, unless his prayer to the contrary prevailed on their behalf. This passage has struck me more than almost any.
viii. "Let no one deprive you of your reward by an affected humility, and worshipping of angels." (Col. ii. 18)
ix. "That servant which knew his lord's will and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. " (Luke xii. 47-48)
A CLOSING WORD
Beloved, are these things so? Then how much of mischief has arisen from narrow and one-sided views of the word of God! The Protestant teacher has seen that we are justified by faith only; but has depreciated good works, fearing lest the pernicious doctrine of Rome should overpower the truth. Thus however he has put out of sight many most important statements of Scripture; and has himself lost, and has kept back from the saints instructed by him, a motive and stimulus to exertion, which God intended to bring to bear on every conscience. We are taught that to have "respect unto the recompence of reward" is one of the motives of the child of faith, which enables him to overcome the world (Heb. xi 24-26).
When we see that God presents two objects to us, sets them on different grounds, the difficulty is removed. Eternal life is ours as soon as we believe, but to enter the millennial kingdom is a matter of reward. Let us put therefore good works in their due place, and then exhort to them.
i. "For the grace of God teaches, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present age, looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ ;* who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. " (Titus ii. 1-15; Greek)
[*See the Greek]
Thus the preaching of good works is commanded: and the very end of Jesus' death was to procure a people zealous for good works.
ii. "This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God be careful to maintain good works." ( Titus iii. 8)
But to conclude. It has been customary to take for granted, that every believer, in virtue of his faith, fulfills all the commands of his Lord. But is this true?
It is usual to suppose, that all the saints, when they appear before our Lord Jesus Christ, will be received with joy. But do not several Scriptures teach that some will be ashamed before Him at His coming; and speak of confidence, joy, and praise, in the presence of Christ, as peculiar blessings, to be carefully sought?
i. "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him." (1 John iii. 18-19)
ii. "God is love: and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because, as he is, so are we in this world." (1 John iv. 16-17)
iii. "The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another and toward all, even as we do toward you, to the end he may stablish your hearts unblamable in holiness before God even our Father in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints." (1 Thess. iii. 12-13; Greek)
With deep solemnity would I take leave of the subject, commending it to the careful and prayerful regard of all the saints: desiring that they may see in it a call to exercise all their opportunities and powers for God, and to burn with a holy ambition for the glories of the kingdom. And, on the other hand, a sense of our infirmities and many trespasses should teach us to hold fast "grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire. " (Heb. x. 28, 29)