So the last shall be first, and the first last.
It is not a question of calling, but of moving from second to first place, or falling back from first to second place. There is a disparity between those who are in the kingdom of heaven. This seen in Bible history. There is a difference between Abraham and Lot. Look at several passages of Scripture. In Exodus 20:4
, we read that Pharaoh's chosen captains were drowned in the Red Sea. This does not mean that they were favoured captains, but that they had distinguished themselves by their bravery (Judges 20:15, 16
). Of the 26,000 Benjaminites who drew the sword, there were 700 chosen men, left-handed. All the 26,000 men called to be soldiers, but there were 700 men who, in addition to the first calling, were called again as a chosen band, not independent of any fitness in themselves, but because there was fitness in them — they could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.
Before we go to the Scriptures let us look at some analogies around us. In the White Mountains there are many peaks, but there is one which towers above the others. It is the choice, the elect peak. There are many organists in the world, but here and there is one who has such mastery over the instrument that all who hear him recognize him as a choice organist. All the others are organists; but here we have the best, the choice players. There are many business-men, but now and then we see one who, by singleness of aim, by untiring devotion to his affairs, rises above all other business-men. He is the chosen one from among all. In the orchard are many apples. Some are full, rounded, beautiful in colour. These are the ones that find their way, by wonderful unanimity, to the top of the barrel at Washington Market; but the gnarled, worm-eaten, sour apple is an apple just as much as the pippin and bellflower. These latter are among apples the chosen ones. I think it will be found eventually that all Christians are the called ones, and that the elect are those who from among Christians are selected for the higher positions in the kingdom of grace.
Sir Thomas Browne, in his "Christian Morals," bids himself look contentedly upon the scattered differences of things, and not expect equality in lustre, dignity, or perfection, in regions or persons here below, where large numbers must be content to stand like lacteus or nebulous stars, little taken notice of, or dim in their generations. All which, he goes on to say, may be contentedly allowable in the affairs and ends of this world, and in suspension unto what will be in the order of things hereafter, and She new system of mankind which will be in the world to come; when " the last may be the first, and the first the last; when Lazarus may sit above Caesar, and the just obscure on earth shall shine like the sun in heaven, when personations shall cease, and histrionism of happiness be over; when reality shall rule, and all shall be as they shall be for ever." Divine is the voice, as divine the strain, which Dante hears and records in "Il Paradiso."
"But lo! of those
Who call, 'Christ, Christ,' there shall be many found,
In judgment, farther off from Him by far,
Than such to whom His name was never known."Leslie, the painter, tells of his hearing the preference expressed by Rogers for seats in churches without pews, opposed by a gentleman who preferred pews, and said, "If there were seats only, I might find myself sitting by my coachman." Rogers replied, "And perhaps you may be glad to find yourself beside him in the next world."
Such is the solemn sentence which Scripture has inscribed on the curtain which hangs clown before the judgment seat. The secrets of the tribunal are guarded, and yet a finger points which seems to say, "Beyond, in this direction, behind this veil, things are different from what you will have looked for." Suppose, that any supernatural judge should appear in the world now, and it is evident that the scene he would create would be one to startle us; we should not soon be used to it; it would look strange; it would shock and appal; and that from no other cause than simply its reductions; that it presented characters stripped bare, denuded of what was irrelevant to goodness, and only with their moral substance left. The judge would take no cognisance of a rich imagination, power of language, poetical gifts, anal the like, in themselves, as parts of goodness, any more than he would of riches and prosperity; and the moral residuum left would appear perhaps a bare result. The first look of Divine justice would strike us as injustice; it would be too pure justice for us; we should be long in reconciling ourselves to it. Justice would appear, like the painter's gaunt skeleton of emblematic meaning, to be stalking through the world, smiting with attenuation luxuriating forms of virtue. Forms, changed from what we knew, would meet us, strange unaccustomed forms, and we should have to ask them who they were: "You were flourishing but a short while ago, what has happened to you now?" And the answer, if it spoke the truth, would be — "Nothing, except that now, much which lately counted as goodness, counts as such no longer; we are tried by a new moral measure, out of which we issue different men; gifts which have figured as goodness remain as gifts, but cease to be goodness." Thus would the large sweep made of human canonisations act like blight or volcanic fire upon some rich landscape, converting the luxury of nature into a dried-up scene of bare stems and scorched vegetation.
Noah preached the coming flood to the old world for a hundred years; but only eight souls were saved thereby. To the cities of the plain, Lot preached; but only three souls were chosen from them. Six hundred thousand men, besides women and children, passed through the Red Sea; but only two entered the promised land. Gideon went to fight the Midianites with thirty-two thousand men; but only three hundred were allowed to participate in the victory. These are types of the "many called, but few chosen."
The expression is supposed to refer to the manner in which the ancients selected men for recruiting their armies. The honour of being chosen was esteemed the reward of superiority; and, among the Romans, was as follows: — The consuls summoned to the capital, or the Campus Martius, all citizens capable of bearing arms, between the ages of seventeen and forty-five. They drew up by tribes, and lots were drawn to determine in what order every tribe should present its soldiers. That which was the first order chose the first four citizens who were judged the most proper to serve in the war; and the six tribunes who commanded the first legion selected the one of these four whom they liked best. The tribunes of the second and third legions likewise made their choice one after another; and he who remained entered into the fourth legion. A new tribe presented other four soldiers, and the second legion chose four. The third and fourth legions had the same advantage in their turns. In this manner each tribe successively appointed four soldiers, till the legions were complete. They next proceeded to the creation of subaltern officers. whom the tribunes chose from among the soldiers of the greatest reputation. When the legions were thus completed, the citizens who had been called
, but not chosen
, returned to their respective employments, and served their country in other capacities.
I. That God in communicating His benefits to men, acts in a sovereign manner, making the last first, and the first last.
II. That in bestowing His rewards on mankind, God does not render unto men according to the amount of the means they participate, but the use they make of them.
III. That the bestowment of rewards on this principle is most expressive of the goodness and justice of God.
We [Bishop Latimer] read a pretty story of St. Anthony, who, being in the wilderness, led there a very hard and straight life, insomuch that none at that time did the like; to whom came a voice from heaven, saying, "Anthony, thou art not so perfect as is a cobbler that dwelleth at Alexandria." Anthony, hearing this, rose up forthwith, and took his staff, and went till he came to Alexandria, where he found the cobbler. The cobbler was astonished to see so reverend a father come to his house. Then Anthony said unto him, "Come, and tell me thy whole conversation, and how thou spendest thy time?" "Sir," said the cobbler, "as for me, good works have I none, for my life is but simple and slender. I am but a poor cobbler. In the morning, when I rise, I pray for the whole city wherein I dwell, especially for all such neighbours and poor friends as I have; after I set me at my labour, where I spend the whole day m getting my living; and I keep me from all falsehood, for I hate nothing so much as I do deceitfulness; wherefore, when I make to any man a promise, I keep it and perform it truly. And thus I spend my time poorly with my wife and children, whom I teach and instruct, as far as my wit will serve me, to fear and dread God. And this is the sum of my simple life." In this story you see how God loveth those that follow their vocation, and live uprightly, without any falsehood in their dealing. Anthony was a great holy man; yet this cobbler was as much esteemed before God as he.
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