So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
This is an often-repeated saying of our Lord's; perhaps he uttered it more often than anything else - a fact which shows its importance and also the difficulty people have in believing it and acting on it. We are not to suppose that there is a Nemesis that mocks at good fortune and delights in reversing it. Prosperity is not punished as such, for it is not in itself an evil thing. God is gracious and generous. He would not torment his children with needless disappointments. Let us, then, look for the causes of the great reversal.
I. GOD DOES NOT JUDGE MEN BY THEIR WORLDLY POSITION. He does not punish rank. He takes no account of it, except in so far as it brings with it obligations, etc. We see men in honour because of their riches or their success. Such things mean nothing to God. He only looks at the naked characters of the men themselves. These are all that he puts in his scales. If these are found wanting, they are condemned, and no riches or honours can be thrown in as "make weights." On the other hand, poor, obscure, oppressed, misunderstood, or persecuted people suffer nothing whatever in God's judgment on account of those circumstances which bring on them the contempt of the world. If they have real worth they are understood and appreciated in heaven.
II. WORLDLY PRE-EMINENCE DOES NOT USUALLY SPRING FROM THOSE GRACES OF CHARACTER WHICH GOD VALUES. Sometimes, indeed, it is the reward of real merit. But too often it comes from most inferior qualities. The accident of birth confers the highest honours and the greatest wealth by the artificial law of primogeniture. Successful scheming and good fortune bring a man money and influence. A Napoleon forces his way to the head of Europe by the exercise of enormous mind and will powers at the expense of every moral consideration.
III. THERE IS A TENDENCY IN WORLDLY PRE-EMINENCE TO INJURE THE BETTER QUALITIES OF THE SOUL. Christ spoke of the difficulty of rich men in entering the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23). Other forms of pre-eminence besides that of wealth also have their difficulties. One great hindrance to spiritual progress is pride, and high rank fosters pride. Self-will is incompatible with spiritual excellence, and the great and exalted are tempted to indulge self-will. Lowliness and obedience, unselfishness and a spirit of serving, are the qualities which Christ honours. It is very difficult to cultivate these graces in high places - difficult, but possible to those who seek the help of God - as we see in a Margaret of Navarre and a Cardinal Contarini.
IV. ULTIMATELY GOD WILL TREAT ALL ACCORDING TO THEIR TRUE CHARACTERS. The irony of judgment will be terrible, just because it will be just. At the great revelation the fictitious glory of worldly pre-eminence will fade and all its tawdry tinsel will be shown in hideous distinctness. Then true worth will shine as the sun bursting forth from the clouds. That day is coming. Therefore let not the favoured boast of their temporary exaltation; and let not the lowly and oppressed despair. There will be a great reversal. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.