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Good Words 1860
The Rewards which God bestows upon Men, and the Principle of their Distribution


Into whatever difficulties or confusions men may have fallen in describing God's method of assigning rewards, there can be no question that the God of the Bible is represented to us as a re-warder, and as rewarding accurately and impartially. "He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek him." I need not quote passages to shew how frequently and emphatically this is declared of God in every part of Scripture. I say, in every part of Scripture, because there is a feeling in many minds as if just and accurate retribution belonged to another dispensation, and not to the gospel or the dispensation of grace. It is sometimes, indeed, almost implied, that the righteous Governor of the universe, who rewards men according to their doings, is a different being from the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is necessary, therefore, to remember, that the righteous Judge is the loving Father; that justice is not done away in Christ, but revealed in Christ; that the Son of man Himself is appointed the Judge, and that He says expressly that He will come in the glory of His Father, and will reward every man according to his works. There can be no question as to this fact: the Scriptures assert as plainly as possible that the nerw or gospel dispensation, however it may be a system of grace and love, is no less truly a system of impartial reward.

But are we not told that a man can plead no merit with God, but that whatever God does for him must be the fruit of forgiveness and bounty? Most assuredly: and therefore we have to reconcile these two aspects of God,—to see how God can be an impartial rewarder, and at the same time a free-giver. Unless we attain to the right conception concerning God, we cannot satisfactorily reconcile these two aspects: we shall be in danger of thinking at one moment of God as a just Judge without love, and at another moment as a God of grace without justice, imagining two distinct Beings, with no unity of will.

But if we think of God as His Son has declared Him to us, shall we not find the apparent contradiction disappear? Take the Sermon on the Mount. In that most precious exposition of God's will and nature, we find several allusions to rewards : and in it, God is set forth from beginning to end as a true Father. We are taught there that it is the Father in heaven who rewards, dealing with men justly according to what He sees them to be in their hearts. If, therefore, we meditate upon the true fatherly method of rewarding, I believe we shall be in the way to understand the principles on which God deals with men, and the spirit which we ought to cultivate in ourselves towards God.

It has been said by pious persons, and there is always a tendency to maintain, that it is a low and degrading habit to be seeking for rewards; that love ought to be the sufficing principle of right and good action. Let us beware how we reply to such an assertion. Bo not say that it demands something too high and heavenly for poor human nature ; that angels might do without rewards, but sinful men require them. Consider whether all right principle be not high and heavenly, and above the natural state of men. Are we not taught to clothe ourselves with the mind of Christ, and can there be anything higher than that? It is a most dangerous and a most unscriptural practice, to make such a compromise with human infirmity, as to allow that any principles but those of Christ are proper for any man. But may not such persons be forgetting that there are different kinds of ambition, and that one kind of ambition is not unworthy of Christ himself? Let them think of a family,—of a true father and true children. Would they deny that a father can reward his children? Would they enact that his children shall hope for nothing, look forward to nothing? A mercenary child would be an abomination, no doubt; but is it impossible for an unmercenary child to look for reward from a father? Shall there be nothing to draw the good onwards, as the fear of punishment deters the evil?

It will be seen that we have to distinguish sharply between the mercenary hope of reward, and the filial hope of reward. Assume the selfish theory of rewards, and all God's ways are a confusion. Assume the filial theory of rewards, or look upon God's government as a fatherly one, and all becomes clear.

Let us dwell upon each of these theories, and see how they bear, respectively, upon the questions we are considering.

1. The mercenary, or bargaining spirit, may be called, as I have assumed, the selfish spirit. Now, all the speculations and calculations of this spirit are utterly confounded in the gospel. There is a radical error in them which vitiates all its arithmetic. Go to God to barter with Him, and He not only-refuses, but He rebukes you. It signifies nothing what the mercenary spirit may bring in its hand to trade with God. It may be the costly victim, the gold and precious stones, of the wealthy bargainer. It may be the good works of the religious, the long prayers, the feeding of the poor, the body given to be burnt. It may be, just as well, the correct belief, the supposed change of heart, the vital religion of a more intellectual time. It is a grievous snare to imagine that we ourselves are less likely to trade with God than those who offer Him gifts or penances. The mercenary spirit may not only flourish with equal vigour under the most varied forms, but it will mix itself with the true spirit in the best. We have an example of this danger in St Peter. In the nineteenth chapter of St Matthew's Gospel, St Peter is represented as pleading, ''Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee ; what shall we have therefore?" Our Lord's answer is a most delicate warning, and taught the disciples to discriminate carefully between true sacrifice and mere bargaining. ''What shall we have for our sacrifices?" "The highest reward shall be given," our Lord virtually answers, ''to genuine sacrifice, and, as the crown of all, everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last, and the last first." And then He spoke the parable which begins the twentieth chapter, to shew how the mercenary shall be disappointed.

We need not suspect that the apostles, when they forsook all, were calculating what they should get by it, in this world or in another. If they had been, should we not be pained by the disclosure of such a motive? What a change it would make even in our estimate of the worth of their sacrifices! But, it seems clear, that for the moment, the mercenary thought entered into the heart of Peter, that others who have never felt his devotion may learn to take warning.

Now, the purpose of the parable seems to be chiefly to confound the calculating spirit. Christ declares that the policy of the kingdom of heaven, as it concerns rewards, may seem to the selfish and the exclusive as strange as it would seem for an employer of labour to pay for an hour's work the same wages as for a day's. Our Lord, of course, does not mean to say that if there were no other consideration than that of so much work done for so much pay, it would be reasonable or just to recompense so unequally. But He means to say that the Divine government is something deeper and higher than the competition of the market;— that God does not bind Himself to pay so much for so much work turned out of hand. He means that if you take some human measure of quantity, and judge the Divine recompenses by it, they will be unintelligible. He teaches us that those who are greedy for themselves and grudge anything to their neighbours, may fancy they deserve most at God's hands, and may receive least.

The observation of life would teach us the same lesson,—that God does not distribute superficial wages according to superficial work. Are there not great apparent inequalities in the regulation of human destinies? Does not wickedness often arrive at a throne, virtue at a cross? Even in the matter of spiritual peace and happiness, do not those who have led a long religious life often seem less favoured than those who have recently been brought to know the grace of God? Certainly there are instances enough of the first being put last and the last first.

Well, this experience exhibits God's policy as baffling the selfish or mercenary spirit. Does that policy, however, leave things altogether in confusion, or does it vindicate itself as perfectly just, —infinitely more just than if it suited itself to the apparent claims of a mercenary service?

2. God's righteousness will thus justify itself, we may be sure, if we regard Him as a parent, and ourselves as His children. Our reasonable instincts tell us, as I have already said, that children must look to be justly rewarded; and at the same time they revolt from the thought of a mercenary child.

Just imagine a family of children, and conceive that each of them is saying to himself, Now if I do this and that, if I give up this or that, I shall find it answer exceedingly well; and if I do or give more than my brothers, I shall of course expect to get much more than they, and shall complain if we are all treated alike. Such a spirit would not only be detestable, but it would be the precise contrary to the family spirit,—it would be the unfilial, unbrotherly spirit.

But you may imagine a child desiring to gain, by obedient service, more and more of his father's approbation,—hoping to enter more fully into his plans and desires, and to help in carrying them out, —striving to grow up into closer unity of mind and heart with him. The gaining of such ends would surely be to a child the noblest and best of rewards. Such a reward would act more powerfully, also, for every good influence, than any less noble. The father, seeing such a desire to serve him, would reward his child with approbation, with admission into his heart and his counsels, with advice and support tenderly and affectionately given. He might also reward him with favours and presents, might seek to make him comfortable and happy; but he would be grieved to the heart to suppose that his child could care more for these outward tokens than for his affection and sympathy. On both sides, and by every one but the base and sordid, it would be felt that admission into real and active sympathy, and into the participation of designs, is the best reward.

And a child, as he came to know and to honour a true father's feelings towards his brothers, would be saved from comparing himself with them, and wishing to be favoured. He would hate partiality, even if he were to benefit by it. One of his greatest delights must be in the welfare and happiness of his brothers.

Similarly with regard to punishment. A father might use many methods of punishing his children, in order to bring them out of disobedience and rebellion into their true behaviour; but he would feel, and so would they, in their better moments, that the worst of punishments is to be cut off from favour and sympathy, to lose communion of heart and interest.

By meditating practically and faithfully upon these illustrations, chosen and interpreted by God himself, of His ways towards us, we may come to a satisfactory understanding of His methods of rewards and punishments. Assume God to be a Father and men His children, and all His ways will appear strictly reasonable and consistent, no less than loving and merciful. I do not mean to say that we shall never be perplexed by passages in our own lives, or in those of others; but I believe that a sure path to the understanding of such difficulties will be the growing knowledge of God as our Father.

What, then, is the reward that we should reasonably expect of God, and that we may profitably look forward to ? Why, this ; that if we give ourselves up to God, as Christ gave Himself up to the Father, we shall enjoy God's goodness more, shall enter more fully into the knowledge of His perfections, shall grasp His love more closely to our hearts, and shall become more like Him. It is false to say that such hopes are vague and utopian. They are substantial and practical. They do not, indeed, stimulate the cravings of selfishness and vanity: they throw away the sort of power over men's lives which may be gained by an appeal to their selfishness and vanity. But that apparent loss is a real gain. Do you suppose that if you deliberately persuade a child, by a toy or a cake, or by no better inducement, to do a good action, you benefit the child?—you know you do the child a fatal injury. And so, if the hope of pleasing our heavenly Father, and of knowing Him, and working effectually for good with Him, be powerless upon our hearts, the desire of chief places, and of exclusive happiness, can only exercise a mischievous power over us. God save us from attempting to do good that we may reap solitary advantage. There is something very solemn and alarming in those words of Jesus, ''They have their reward." "Take that thine is, and go thy way." Find out how unsatisfying the banquet of vanity is to the heart. See if you can fill yourselves with husks, that you may learn, if possible, to long for a father's affection, and for the fellowship of home.

But in seeking to rise above the selfish coveting of rewards, we are not called upon to throw away the encouragement which a hope of recompence inspires. God says to us in the gospel of redemption and grace, not, "I will give you no rewards;" but, "I will give you infinitely better rewards than the selfish can covet. I will give you deliverance from selfishness;" and would that be no reward? Would it be nothing to be rescued from the degradation of selfishness, and to be filled with the liberal Spirit of Christ? Let us fix our eyes, then, without misgivings, upon the prize of our high calling. Let us learn a right estimate of life eternal, the knowledge of God, conformity to Christ, true freedom, and nobility, and glory. Let us confide in God that He will give us these, and that He will withhold what will make us despise these.

Remember that one effect of the coming of the Son of God has been to make these rewards clear and distinct to men. The Son of God having been manifested, and claiming men as His brethren in God's affections, reveals to us what the prize is which men have always been blindly seeking after, which we may pursue with our eyes Open. He went into the vineyard at His Father's bidding, hoping to receive His appointed wages. He sought the accomplishment of His Father's good will, the joy of communion with His Father. He invites us to follow His steps, and to seek for His rewards. The humblest, not the proudest and most ambitious, are those who can best accept His invitation, and claim His glory.

Each one of us, then, may hear a Divine voice saying to us, ''Go thou into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give thee." And is not this a welcome voice? Is it not a relief and a comfort to hear, in all the iron necessities of life, in all its enjoyments and satisfactions, in all its hopes and aspirations, the accents of the Father's voice, "Go into My vineyard, and I will reward thee?" Can we wish that our daily work should weigh upon us as a mere burden of which we cannot get rid, rather than that it should become a cheerful and hopeful task, appointed us by a wise and gracious Taskmaster? Can we prefer that the enjoyments of life should seem to us as if they were snatched by our own violence, the mere booty of a more or less fortunate plunderer? Will they not be sweeter and more abundant, if we can be sure that they are tokens of the watchful love of Him who has better rewards yet than any temporal pleasures, that they are earnests of an inheritance of which we do not yet know the greatness? Can we prefer that the present and the visible should limit our hopes, and that there should be no bright and glorious goal, the sight of which might make all the toils of our race as nothing in comparison of it?

Nay, let us believe that we are sent into a heavenly vineyard, appointed to work for a longer or shorter day, with a night coming in which no man can work, but which is changed, to the eye of faith, into an evening of payment, into a day of service without weariness. Only let us be careful not to neglect our Lord's warning. Let us watch every disposition to murmur against God, to claim anything which He does not give us. If once we find ourselves comparing ourselves grudgingly with our brethren, denying them the same hope and the same calling, let us bethink ourselves that we are, in that instant, forfeiting the claim, which nothing but love and sacrifice can urge with God, that we are. casting ourselves out of our election. May faith be given to us—real confidence in God's goodness, justice, and watchfulness—such as may enable us to commend both our own spirits, and those of our brethren, into the hands of God our Redeemer. May every experience of our own carnality, of our bondage to the world, and the things of the world, of our worship of visible things, be a new stimulus to us to fix our eye upon the glory of God, and upon the face of Jesus Christ. May we be enabled to regard the pleasures and pains of life as instruments which love handles, consecrated by their subordination to love, distributed with unerring wisdom by love, but as themselves nothing in comparison of love. May our deepest fear be that of being cast out from union with God and our brethren; our strongest ambition that of losing ourselves in Christ, and being brought by Him to the perfect enjoyment of the presence of our Father and our God.


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