The Training of the Twelve
Matt. xix. 27-30; Mark x. 28-31; Luke xviii. 28-30.
The remarks of Jesus on the temptations of riches, which seemed so discouraging to the other disciples, had a different effect on the mind of Peter. They led him to think with self-complacency of the contrast presented by the conduct of himself and his brethren to that of the youth who came inquiring after eternal life. "We," thought he to himself, have done what the young man could not do,--what, according to the statement just made by the Master, rich men find very hard to do; we have left all to follow Jesus. Surely an act so difficult and so rare must be very meritorious." With his characteristic frankness, as he thought so he spoke. "behold," said he with a touch of brag in his tone and manner, "owe have forsaken all, and followed Thee: what shall we have therefore?"
To this question of Peter, Jesus returned a reply full at once of encouragement and of warning for the twelve, and for all who profess to be servants of God. First, with reference to the subject--matter of Peter's inquiry, He set forth in glowing language the great rewards in store for him and his brethren; and not for them only, but for all who made sacrifices for the kingdom. Then, with reference to the self-complacent or calculating spirit which, in part at least, had prompted the inquiry, He added a moral reflection, with an illustrative parable appended, conveying the idea that rewards in the kingdom of God were not determined merely by the fact, or even by the amount, of sacrifice. Many that were first in these respects might be last in real merit, for lack of another element which formed an essential ingredient in the calculation, viz. right motive; while others who were last in these respects might be first in recompense in virtue of the spirit by which they were animated. We shall consider these two parts of the reply in succession. Our present theme is the rewards of self-sacrifice in the divine kingdom.
The first thing which strikes one in reference to these rewards, is the utter disproportion between them and the sacrifices made. The twelve had forsaken fishing-boats and nets, and they were to be rewarded with thrones; and every one that forsakes any thing for the kingdom, no matter what it may be, is promised an hundred-fold in return, in this present life, of the very thing he has renounced, and in the world to come life everlasting.
These promises strikingly illustrate the generosity of the Master whom Christians serve. How easy it would have been for Jesus to depreciate the sacrifices of His followers, and even to turn their glory into ridicule! "You have forsaken all! What was your all worth, pray? If the rich young man had parted with his possessions as I counsel led, he might have had something to boast of; but as for you poor fishermen, any sacrifices you have made are hardly deserving of mention." But such words could not have been uttered by Christ's lips. It was never His way to despise things small in outward bulk, or to disparage services rendered to Himself, as if with a view to diminish His own obligations. He rather loved to make Himself a debtor to His servants, by generously exaggerating the value of their good deeds, and promising to them, as their fit recompense, rewards immeasurably exceeding their claims. So He acted in the present instance. Though the "all" of the disciples was a very little one, He still remembered that it was their all; and with impassioned earnestness, with a "verily" full of tender, grateful feeling, He promised them thrones as if they had been fairly earned!
These great and precious promises, if believed, would make sacrifices easy. Who would not part with a fishing-boat for a throne? and what merchant would stick at an investment which would bring a return, not of five per cent., or even of a hundred per cent., but of a hundred to one?
The promises made by Jesus have one other excellent effect when duly considered. They tend to humble. Their very magnitude has a sobering effect on the mind. Not even the vainest can pretend that their good deeds deserve to be rewarded with thrones, and their sacrifices to be recompensed an hundred-fold. At this rate, all must be content to be debtors to God's grace, and all talk of merit is out of the question. That is one reason why the rewards of the kingdom of heaven are so great. God bestows His gifts so as at once to glorify the Giver and to humble the receiver.
Thus far of the rewards in general. Looking now more narrowly at those specially made to the twelve, we remark that on the surface they seem fitted to awaken or foster false expectation. Whatever they meant in reality, there can be little doubt as to the meaning the disciples would put on them at the time. The "regeneration" and the "thrones" of which their Master stake would bring before their imagination the picture of a kingdom of Israel restored,--regenerated in the sense in which men speak of a regenerated Italy,--the yoke of foreign domination thrown off; alienated tribes reconciled and reunited under the rule of Jesus, proclaimed by popular enthusiasm their hero King; and themselves, the men who had first believed in His royal pretensions and shared His early fortunes, rewarded for their fidelity by being made provincial governors, each ruling over a separate tribe. These romantic ideas were never to be realized: and we naturally ask why Jesus, knowing that, expressed Himself in language fitted to encourage such baseless fancies? The answer is, that He could not accomplish the end He designed, which was to inspire His disciples with hope, without expressing His promise in terms which involved the risk ox illusion. Language so chosen as to obviate all possibility of misconception caption would have had no inspiring influence whatever. The promise, to have any charm, must be like a rainbow, bright in its hues, and solid and substantial in its appearance. This remark applies not only to the particular promise now under consideration, but more or less to all God's promises in Scripture or in nature. In order to stimulate, they must to a certain extent deceive us, by promising that which, as we conceive it, and cannot at the time help conceiving it, will never be realized.[16.18 The rainbow is painted in such colors as to draw us, children as we are, irresistibly on; and then, having served that end, it fades away. When this happens, we are ready to exclaim, "O Lord, Thou host deceived me!" but we ultimately find that we are not cheated out of the blessing, though it comes in a different form from what we expected. God's promises are never delusive, though they may be illusive. Such was the experience of the twelve in connection with the dazzling promise of thrones. They did not get what they expected; but they got something analogous, something which to their mature spiritual judgment appeared far greater and more satisfying than that on which they had first set their hearts.[16.19
What, then, was this Something? A real glory, honor, and power in the kingdom of God, conferred on the twelve as the reward of their self-sacrifice, partially in this life, perfectly in the life to come. In so far as the promise referred to this present life, it was shown by the event to signify the judicial legislative influence of the companions of Jesus as apostles and founders of the Christian church. The twelve, as the first preachers of the gospel trained by the Lord for that end, occupied a position in the church that could be filled by none that came after them. The keys of the kingdom of heaven were put into their hands. They were the foundation-stones on which the walls of the church were built. They sat, so to speak, on episcopal thrones, judging, guiding, ruling the twelve tribes of the true Israel of God, the holy commonwealth embracing all who professed faith in Christ. Such a sovereign influence the twelve apostles exerted in their lifetime; yea, they continue to exert it still. Their word not only was, but still is, law; their example has ever been regarded as binding on all ages. From their epistles, as the inspired expositions of their Master's pregnant sayings, the church has derived the system of doctrine embraced in her creed All that remains of their writings forms part of the sacred canon, and all their recorded words are accounted by believers "words of God." Surely here is power and authority nothing short of regal! The reality of sovereignty is here, though the trappings of royalty, which strike the vulgar eye, are wanting. The apostles of Jesus were princes indeed, though they wore no princely robes; and they were destined to exercise a more extensive sway than ever fell to the lot of any monarch of Israel, not to speak of governors of single tribes.
The promise to the twelve had doubtless a reference to their position in the church in heaven as well as in the church on earth. What they will be in the eternal kingdom we know not, any more than we know what we ourselves shall be, our notions of heaven altogether being very hazy. We believe, however, on the ground of clear Scripture statements, that men will not be on a dead level in heaven any more than on earth. Radicalism is not the law of the supernal commonwealth, even as it is not the law in any well-ordered society in this world. The kingdom of glory will be but the kingdom of grace perfected, the regeneration begun here brought to its final and complete development. But the regeneration, in its imperfect state, is an attempt to organize men into a society based on the possession of spiritual life, all being included in the kingdom who are new creatures in Christ Jesus, and the highest place being assigned to those who have attained the highest stature as spiritual men. This ideal has never been more than approximately realized. The "visible" church, the product of the attempt to realize it, is, and ever has been, a most disappointing embodiment, in outward visible shape, of the ideal city of God. Ambition, selfishness, worldly wisdom, courtly arts, have too often procured thrones for false apostles, who never forsook any thing for Christ. Therefore we still look forward and upward with longing eyes for the true city of God, which shall as far exceed our loftiest conceptions as the visible church comes short of them. In that ideal commonwealth perfect moral order will prevail. Every man shall be in his own true place there; no vile men shall be in high places, no noble souls shall be doomed to obstruction, obscurity, and neglect; but the noblest will be the highest and first, even though now they be the lowest and last. "There shall be true glory, where no one shall be praised by mistake or in flattery; true honor, which shall be denied to no one worthy, granted to no one unworthy; nor shall any unworthy one ambitiously seek it, where none but the worthy are permitted to be."[16.20
Among the noblest in the supernal commonwealth will be the twelve men who cast in their lot with the Son of man, and were His companions in His wanderings and temptations. There will probably be many in heaven greater than they in intellect and otherwise; but the greatest will most readily concede to them the place of honor as the first to believe in Jesus, the personal friends of the Man of Sorrow, and the chosen vessels who carried His name to the nations, and in a sense opened the kingdom of heaven to all who believe.[16.21
Such we conceive to be the import of the promise made to the apostles, as leaders of the white-robed band of martyrs and confessors who suffer for Christ's sake. We have next to notice the general promise made to all the faithful indiscriminately. "There is no man," so it runs in Mark, "that heath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundred-fold now in this Timex houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life."
This promise also, like the special one to the twelve, has a twofold reference. Godliness is represented as profitable for both worlds. In the world to come the men who make sacrifices for Christ will receive eternal life; in the present they shall receive, along with persecutions, an hundred-fold of the very things which have been sacrificed. As to the former of these, eternal life, it is to be understood as the minimum reward in the great Hereafter. All the faithful will get that at least. What a maximum is that minimum! How blessed to be assured on the word of Christ that there is such a thing as eternal life attainable on any terms! We may well play the man for truth and conscience, and fight the good fight of faith, when, by so doing, it is possible for us to gain such a prize. "A hope so great and so divine may trials well endure." To win the crown of an imperishable life of bliss, we should not deem it an unreasonable demand on the Lord's part that we be faithful even unto death. Life sacrificed on these terms is but a river emptying itself into the ocean, or the morning star posing itself in the perfect light of day. Would that we could lay hold firmly of the blessed hope set before us here, and through its magic influence become transformed into moral heroes! We in these days have but a faint belief in the life to come. Our eyes are dim, and we cannot see the land that is afar off. Some of us have become so philosophical as to imagine we can do without the future reward promised by Jesus, and play the hero on atheistical principles. That remains to be seen. The annals o the martyrs tell us what men have been able to achieve who earnestly believed in the life everlasting. Up to this date we have not heard of any great heroisms enacted or sacrifices made by unbelievers. The martyrology of skepticism has not yet been written.[16.22 That part of Christ's promise which respects hereafter must be taken on trust; but the other part, which concerns the present life, admits of being tested by observation. The question, therefore, may competently be put: Is it true, as matter of fact, that sacrifices are recompensed by an hundredfold--that is, a manifold[16.23--return in kind in this world? To this question we may reply, first, that the promise will be found to hold good with the regularity of a law, if we do not confine our view to the individual life, but include successive generations. When providence has had time to work out its results, the meek do, at least by their heirs and representatives, inherit the earth, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace. The persecuted cause at length conquers the world's homage, and receives from it such rewards as it can bestow. The words of the prophet are then fulfilled: "The children which thou shalt have, after thou host lost the other (by persecutor's hands), shall say again in twine ears, The place is too strait for me: give place to me that I may dwell."[16.24 And again: "Lift up thine eyes round about, and see; all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and twine heart shall throb and swell; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the wealth of the Gentiles shall come unto thee. Thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and shalt suck the breast of kings. For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron."[16.25 These prophetic promises, extravagant though they seem, have been fulfilled again and again in the history of the church: in the early ages, under Constantine, after the fires of persecution kindled by pagan zeal for hoary superstitions and idolatries had finally died out;[16.26 in Protestant Britain, once famous for men who were ready to lose all, and who did actually lose much, for Christ's sake, now mistress of the seas, and heiress of the wealth of all the world; in the new world across the Atlantic, with its great, powerful, populous nation, rivaling England in wealth and strength, grown from a small band of Puritan exiles who loved religious liberty better than country, and sought refuge from despotism in the savage wildernesses of an unexplored continent.
Still it must be confessed that, taken strictly and literally, the promise of Christ does not hold good in every instance. Multitudes of God's servants have had what the world would account a miserable lot. Does the promise, then, simply and absolutely fail in their case? No; for, secondly, there are more ways than one in which it can be fulfilled. Blessings, for example, may be multiplied an hundred-fold without their external bulk being altered, simply by the act of renouncing them. Whatever is sacrificed for truth, whatever we are willing to part with for Christ's sake, becomes from that moment immeasurably increased in value. Fathers and mothers, and all earthly friends, become unspeakably dear to the heart when we have learned to say: "Christ is first, and these must be second." Isaac was worth an hundred sons to Abraham when he received him back from the dead. Or, to draw an illustration from another quarter, think of John Bunyan in jail brooding over his poor blind daughter, whom he left behind at home. "Poor child, thought I," thus he describes his feelings in that inimitable book, Groce Abounding, "what sorrow art thou like to have for thy portion in this world! Thou must be beaten, must beg, suffer hunger, cold, nakedness, and a thousand calamities, though I cannot now endure the wind should blow upon thee. But yet, thought I, I must venture you all with God, though it goeth to the quick to leave you. Oh! I saw I was as a man who was pulling down his house upon the heads of his wife and children; yet I thought on those two milch Kline that were to carry the ark of God into another country, and to leave their calves behind them." If the faculty of enjoyment be, as it is, the measure of real possession, here was a case in Which to forsake wife and child was to multiply them an hundred-fold, and in the multiplied value of the things renounced to find a rich solarium for sacrifice and persecutions. The soliloquy of the Bedford prisoner is the very poetry of natural affection. What pathos is in that allusion to the Mitch Kline! what a depth of tender feeling it reveals! The power to feel so is the reward of self-sacrifice; the power to Jove so is the reward of "hating" our kindred for Christ's sake. You shall find no such love among those who make natural affection an excuse for moral unfaithfulness, thinking it a sufficient apology for disloyalty to the interests of the divine kingdom to say, "I have a wife and family to care for."
Without undue spiritualizing, then, we see that a valid meaning can be assigned to the strong expression, "an hundred-fold." And from the remarks just made, we see further why "persecutions" are thrown into the account, as if they were not drawbacks, but a part of the gain. The truth is, the hundred-fold is realized, not in spite of persecutions, but to a great extent because of them. Persecutions are the salt with which things sacrificed are salted, the condiment which enhances their relish. Or, to put the matter arithmetically, persecutions are the factor by which earthly blessings given up to God are multiplied an hundred-fold, if not in quantity, at least in virtue.
Such are the rewards provided for those who make sacrifices for Christ's sake. Their sacrifices are but a seed sown in tars, from which they afterwards reap a plentiful harvest in joy. But what now of those who have made no sacrifices, who have received no wounds in battle? If this has proceeded not from lack of will, but from lack of opportunity, they shall get a share of the rewards. David's law has its place in the divine kingdom: "As his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike." Only all must see to it that they remain not by the stuff from cowardice, or indolence and self-indulgence. They who act thus, declining to put themselves to any trouble, to run any risk, or even so much us to part with a sinful lust for the kingdom of God, cannot expect to find a place therein at the last.