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THE FIRST SHALL BE LAST AND THE LAST FIRST.
A SERMON BY THE REV. T. A. SEED.
Matt. xix. 30,
This favourite saying of our Lord admits of many illustrations, and is capable of all but universal application. In the passage before us, it is used in reference to the Day of Judgment; but in many minor judgments, before that of the Great Day, this saying is seen to be true.
In the judgment of reason, e.g., many things that were first come to be last. A man often turns right round the judgment he formed in earlier days concerning men and things. “When I was a child I thought as a child ; but when I became a man I put away childish things.' Thus, in some degree, in the judgment of our reason, things which were first come to be last, and the last first.
So it is, too, in the judgments of life. Boys who, in the opinion of the school, have been first, in the judgment of life have come out last. On the other hand, the boy who was the last at school bas often taken the prize of life. Mr. Gladstone is said to have been thought quite a dunce at figures when he was at school; but the all but universal judgment of life has placed him first among the Chancellors of the Exchequer. And so it has been with thousands of others. I need not multiply instances to show that many who have been last in early life have come to be first in their maturer years, and that many who have been first have come to be last.
Nor need I more than remind you how the truth of the text has been illustrated and confirmed by the judgment of history. The records of time are crowded with examples. Indeed, I might say that all history is one long illustration and confirmation of this saying. Instances in abundance will occur to you of men and of nations that have sunk from the highest to the lowest, or that have risen from the lowest to the highest positions. But not only has this actually been the case ; the judgments which men have formed of men and things have often been reversed, as time has marched along. It is not, therefore, surprising that we should be foretold (as we are here) that the final judgment will, on a still larger scale, show the first to be last and the last to be first.
In many cases, then, the judgment of time will be reversed at the last Great Day. Why?
I. Because the standard by which men will be judged will be different. The rule by which men now judge human actions, is results. The world pays according to results. If a man does much, even though in doing it he has made no great moral effort, men will applaud and reward him greatly; but if he does little, even though that little may have cost him a supreme moral effort, men will give him but little reward.
For one man to resist a certain temptation, it requires an agony of moral effort; but for another man to resist the very same temptation, it requires no effort
at all. To attain a certain excellence, one man has to strive with all his might for many long laborious years ; whereas to another man the very same grace seems to come without any effort. Men who are highly gifted in head and heart, may confer a boon upon society with no more selfdenial than is exercised by a very rich man in giving a handsome donation; whereas a man who is poor in such gifts of head and heart, is only able, after much prayer and effort, to do a very little good; just as a poor man is able only, by positive self-denial, to give away a little of his substance.
Now, the world, and I am ashamed to say the Church, reward both these classes simply according to what they do, or do not do. They do not take into account the different gifts and means of different men, and then, comparing these with the results, try to form an equitable judgment. There are exceptions, I know; here and there you will find a man, who, in forming his opinions and distributing his rewards, takes all the circumstances into account. But such men are exceptions. The mass of men judge simply by results. Let a man be successful, and society will crown him ; let him be unsuccessful, and, though he may deserve many crowns, society will pass him by. So much the worse for society.
But the final standard is not results, but faithfulness. « Well done, good and faithful,” not successful, “servant," is the sentence of the last tribunal, Not simply according to what is done, but according to what
. a man has, or has not to do with, will be the rule in that judgment; “ for unto whomsoever much is given, of him much will be required.”
" If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath and not according to what he hath not.” Such a rule will reverse many of the judgments of men. The widow who gave her two mites, which was her all, though last, in the judgment of the keepers of the treasury, will there be first; while many who cast in only of their abundance will be last. Many, who in adverse circumstances, and in spite of fierce temptations, have maintained an upright and godly character, though here they may be last, will there be first; while many who are here applauded for a saintly character, which their temperament and training and circumstances almost thrust upon them, will be last. Many a popular preacher, many a prominent leader in the Church, first here in honour and reward, will be last there ; while many humble, obscure workers here, because of their fidelity will there be first.
II. But, secondly, there is another reason for this reversal of human judgments.
Men judge the act ; God will judge the motive as well as the act. Human judgment, in very serious and public cases, endeavours to take note of the motive; but, usually, it is felt that, as motives are beyond our sight, so they should be beyond our praise or censure. Bad men will sometimes take refuge in this fact, and appealing to the common sentiment will say :
“ You have no right to call in question my motives.”
But God knows our motives, and will take them into account at the Great Day. They lie at the back of all our actions, and determine their moral worth. They will also determine God's judgment of us.
What a revolution in the estimate of men and deeds will such a principle produce ! Men’s motives are usually mixed. There are very few in this world, even among Christians, who are utterly sincere and true.
Much that passes for good Christian work is substantially the outcome of selfishness and vanity and pride. Much that is called Christian zeal is made up largely of party spirit, pride of sect, ambition, rivalry, or even nothing more than physical excitement. Alas, much of the fire that is kindled on our altars is false fire; much of the good work that we do is but wood, hay, stubble, and such-like worthless stuff. In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ how great and terrible will be the surprises and disclosures ! In the fire of that judgment how the wood, hay, stubble, will burn and crackle and vanish away! Many whose deeds were first in bulk and number and show, but last in real worth, will be last. And many whose deeds were but as the giving of a cup of water out of love to Christ will be first.
III. Then, thirdly, we must not forget that not only will the standard be different in the final judgment, that not only will motives be weighed as well as actions; but in that day much secret good and evil will be disclosed, and so the judgments of time will be reversed.
There is much good purposely done in secret as well as much evil. Many a right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. There is much self-sacrifice and self-denial that is known to God alone. Thousands on thousands of quiet, holy women live in every generation, whose voices are not heard in the streets, but who daily offer themselves up in sacrifice, and render unto God a reasonable and acceptable service. Thousands of men, too, in their homes and at their work manifest a heroism and a patience that is not surpassed in the arena of more public life. Christlike lives and godly deeds are often hidden in this world by the glare of flashy words and flashier deeds. But all these are seen and chronicled by God against the day of reckoning. And in the day when the Books are opened and men are judged by their works, both good and bad, there will be a startling change of places. Many a Lazarus will find himself in Abraham's bosom, while Dives is afar off in his appropriate flames. The fishermen of Galilee will stand at the side of the glorified Redeemer, while the chief priests and rulers are cast out; and from a multitude of hearts like Mary's will the song ascend, in honour of the Judge: “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted them of low degree.” “For many that are first shall be last, and the last first.”
What then especially should be the outcome of our meditation Patience! Our text recognises the fact that in this world all men are not in their right places. The last are sometimes first, and the first last. That was the standing puzzle to the Old Testament worthies—the good
fortune of bad men, the bad fortune of good men. Thanks to the influence of Christianity a wonderful improvement has taken place in these respects since then. Character does not so often now go unrewarded; for the kingdom of God is now more widely extended and more deeply rooted in the earth. Still, it must be confessed that very often the false and unscrupulous get the prizes while the true and upright get the blanks of life. But this cannot go on for ever. The time of reckoning and adjustment is approaching. Every reversal of human judgment is a prophecy and a precursor of the Great Day of account. Let us be patient, then, and admire the patience of God. For a long time He bears with men and nations, pleads with them, lavishes His gifts upon them, warns them of their peril. He holds back the avenging band so long as restoration is possible. But at length there comes a period when He says: “I have long still holden My peace and refrained Myself, now will I destroy;" and with a crash the blow is struck and one more hoary iniquity perishes. The history of the world is one long illustration of this long patience and of this sudden destruction ; and what it behoves us most solemnly to ask ourselves is this: “Do we use aright this patient goodness which is the mark of the present; are we ready for that swift and fiery judgment which is the mark of the future ?" If we do, if we are, we shall bear without a murmur the seeming and the real inequalities in the lot of men. “ I have seen the wicked in great power and spreading himself like the green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and lo, he was not; yea, I sought him, but he could not be found. Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace.” “ For I say unto you, many which are first shall be last, and the last first."
GOOD WOMEN OF SCRIPTURE MISUNDERSTOOD
No. V.-MARY OF MAGDALA.
PERHAPS no New Testament saint has had greater discredit cast upon
her good name than has Mary Magdalene. Writers and painters have for ages vied with each other in depicting her as one eminently fair and frail. Even in our own Protestant land, homes for reclaiming fallen women are called after her name; and, as if to add insult to injury, the fine Magdalen College at Oxford is commonly spoken of as “ Maudlin ” * College ; as if
6 drunkenness were another vice of this Mary.
There is no Scriptural warrant for all this, nor for any of it. St. Luke (viii. 2), it is true, informs us that, out of Mary called Magdalene, devils had been cast, no doubt by our Lord; but what effect these evil spirits had upon her, or how they made their evil presence known, we are
* A nickname abbreviation of “Magdalen."
not informed. Had they made her unfit for chaste company, it is not at all likely that we should immediately read of her as attending upon our Lord and His disciples, in company with “ Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto Him of their substance."
A monument of the mercy of Jesus, who came to destroy the works of the Devil, she was; beautiful she may have been, but that she had ever done anything which would cause a blush to rise on the modest cheek of any one who saw her with this company, is utterly improbable.
Grateful for deliverance from Satanic power, and having wealth at command, she devoted herself to the work of ministering to our Lord's necessities, from this, the first year of His public ministry, until the end. How many of the two or three thousand miles, which make the aggregate of our Lord's journeys to and fro, Mary of Magdala travelled, cannot be
but a large share of them, no doubt; and, certainly, as she was with Jesus in the first year's journeyings, so was she one of those who went up with Him from Galilee on His last journey to Jerusalem. She was one of those women who went with Him weeping, as He bare His Cross to Calvary, and stood near Him when He died ; for John says (xix. 25), “ Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother's sister, and Mary Magdalene.” So patiently watching and weeping, she would see the soldier pierce His side, and would witness the taking down of His body by Joseph of Arimathæa and Nicodemus; also its hasty interment in a new cave in a garden near at hand. Then, like the rest, she went away to prepare spices and ointments, and to pray and weep, and weep and pray,
until the Sabbath came and had passed away, Then on “ the first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre." With her were also “ Mary the mother of James" and Joses, Salome the wife of Zebedee, Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and certain others. They found that there had been an earthquake ; for the stone was rolled away from the cave's mouth. Mary Magdalene instantly ran back (about half-a-mile) to tell Peter and John that the sepulchre was open, and doubtless, the body taken away. The disciples ran to see, and Mary followed them. Meantime the other women, looking in, beheld the angel who kept guard over the folded linen and the empty cave; who bade them return and tell the dirciples that Jesus was risen from the dead. Soon after came Peter and John, who went into the Sepulchre, and saw only the folded up
linen clothes. Then they returned to the city ; but Mary Magdalene remained behind, weeping ; and, looking into the sepulchre, saw two angels sitting there, one at the head, the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Turning herself, she saw Jesus standing there, but it was not light enough for her to see His features; so she said, “ Sir, if thou have borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away." Jesus saith unto her, “Mary." She knew the voice, and joyfully exclaimed, “Rabboni !"