SUFFERING AND REIGNING
By D. M. PANTON, B. A.
James and John besought Christ for thrones close to His own in the coming
Kingdom, our Lord replied: - "Are ye able to be
baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" (Mark 10: 38), implying that to reign with Him
is born only in a baptism of suffering. In view of this, the
suffering of the Apostles, according to tradition, becomes very
significant. According to tradition: - Matthew, martyred in Ethiopia; Mark,
dragged through the streets of Alexandria until he died; Luke, hanged on an olive tree in Greece; John, plunged into burning oil, but delivered, and dying a natural
death; James the Great, beheaded in
Jerusalem; James the Less, beaten to
death with clubs, after being thrown from the Temple; Philip, hanged on a pillar at Hierapolis;
Bartholomew, flogged; Andrew, bound to a cross till he died; Thomas, run through with a lance; Jude, shot to death with arrows; Simon Zelotes,
crucified in Persia; Matthias,
stoned and then beheaded; and Peter,
crucified with his head downwards. Our Lord sums up the results of their
baptism of suffering: - They "shall sit on
twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of
John Wesley once said: - "Christ dying for us, Christ reigning in us; - preach these two truths, and you will shake the very gates of Hell." So Paul says:- "Faithful is the saying" - a phrase meant to single it out for special study - "For if we died with him" - the aorist confines it to a single death at a given moment in the past - "we shall also" - we shall correspondingly, in due course, by sharing in His resurrection - "live with him" (2 Tim. 2: 11). "The aorist," as Bishop Ellicott says, "marks a single past act that took place when we gave ourselves up to a life that involved similar exposure to suffering and death: so ‘we shall live with him’, not in an ethical sense, but, as the antithesis necessarily requires, with physical reference to Christ’s resurrection." To have shared the cross on Calvary is to share, without doubt, and for every soul, the endless and blessed life that is our Lord’s, throughout eternity.
But now comes the supplementary truth so deeply characteristic of Scripture. "If we endure" - here is something permanent and habitual, the suffering of a godly life - "we shall also" - again, correspondingly: for the reign corresponds exactly with the endurance - "reign with him". As Mr. Spurgeon says:- "The text implies most clearly that we must suffer with Christ in order to reign with Him." "If we suffer" and "if we suffer": these sufferings therefore are not ordinary human sufferings, nor Christian sufferings under chastisement or judgment; but are such sufferings as those of Christ, who was sinless: sufferings for the truths He taught, for the principles He laid down, for the rituals He commanded, for the warnings He uttered.* These cost Him His life, and if we share them we must inevitably share His sufferings. "It belongs to the mystery of the cross of Christ that the more purely anyone preaches it, the more persecution, or at least evil report of the doctrine, he experiences on account of it," (Hadinger). Thus suffering, "not only shall we live, but be kings with Him" (Ellicott). Thus Paul states in his last letter exactly what he had stated to the Roman Church:- "We are children of God: and if children, then heirs: heirs of God" - therefore inheriting His eternal life, with no condition whatever attached, except simple saving faith; "and joint heirs with Christ, if so be" - a sharply stated condition - "that we suffer with him, that we may be also" - that we may be correspondingly - "GLORIFIED with him" (Rom. 8: 17). In the words of Archbishop Leighton (The First Epistle of Peter, p. 135):- "‘If we reign with Christ’, certain it is, ‘we must suffer with Him’; and, ‘if we do suffer with Him’, it is as certain, ‘we shall reign with Him’."
[* We are apt to forget that our Lord’s whole ministry was involved in incessant controversy, and Paul’s hardly less so; and therefore to avoid controversy is to be un-Christlike. We must suffer for the truth, or else be disloyal to it. Our Lord Himself was "made perfect through sufferings," and for ourselves we do well to remember that it is the injured oyster only that produces the pearl, and the pearl is a tear made beautiful forever.]
OUR DENIAL OF HIM
But now a still more solemn side of this exceedingly solemn truth is presented. It is obvious that a believer can be without suffering for Christ. The unbeliever converted in his last moments on his death-bed has no opportunity of suffering for Christ - a tremendous reason for not putting off decisions until the end; and "all that would live godly shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3: 12) - and Christians who avoid the godlike life can often avoid the persecution, as thousands are doing in the countries of persecution at this moment. But we can fall deeper than merely flinching from the suffering. So ‘the faithful saying’ continues:- "If we shall deny him" - the future contains the idea of the possibility of the action (Ellicott) - "he also" - He correspondingly - "will deny us". The Most High has had put on record a fact which makes all doubt of the fact impossible. Peter "began to curse and swear, I know not this man of whom ye speak" (Mark 14: 71). No denial could be more explicit, public, and deliberate, and that from the foremost apostle of the Twelve. It is no wonder, therefore, that Paul says, including himself, "If we shall deny him," for the chief of the twelve had done so. If anyone imagines that no truly regenerate believers are at this moment denying Christ, under terror or torture, in Russia - Germany - China - Korea, he is living in a completely unreal world.
HIS DENIAL OF US
The statement here of cause and effect could not be clearer. "If we shall deny him, he also will deny us." To deny Christ is, in general, to be ashamed of Him by word or deed; and so the non-recognition will spring from the hurt heart of the Lord. The Saviour Himself states it:- "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and my words, the Son of man also" - correspondingly - "shall be ashamed of him, when he cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" (Mark 9: 38). As we turned from Him in shame here, so He will turn from us in shame hereafter. Such an actual denial of Him He Himself has already expressly stated. To the five imprudent Virgins who cry, "Lord, Lord"- for He is their Lord - "open unto us." He replies, "I know you not" (Matt. 25:12). And what words does He immediately add? "Watch therefore": that is, every one of us must learn by constant alertness and the walk with God to make both denials - our own and Christ’s - impossible. This "I know not" - an exact counter of Peter’s - would, if Peter had been assassinated in the Judgment Hall, have met him in the Judgment Hall above.*
[* The word "above" implies the resurrection of believers before judgment. However, other scriptures show that judgment happens during the lifetime of a believer: "Ananias, why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie to the Holy Ghost" - a deliberate act possible only by a regenerate believer indwelt with the Holy Spirit - "to keep back part of the price of the land?"... And Ananias heraing these words fell down and gave up the ghost [spirit]," Acts 5: 3,5 R.V.; See also verse 10.)]
The Apostle feels it necessary to re-stress the fact afresh; for the refusal of any truth, however unpalatable, is exceedingly dangerous. "If we are faithless" - if we disbelieve these conditional promises and contingent warnings - "he abideth faithful; for he CANNOT deny Himself" - He cannot be untrue to His own essential nature; and therefore He cannot withdraw the everlasting life of all who have died with Christ; and equally He cannot give the [Millennial] Kingdom without the suffering. For He cannot deny Himself: that is, He cannot deny what He has said: He cannot say one thing and do another: He will abide as much by His threat as by His promise, and as much by His promise as by His threat. In the words of Lange:- "It is a gross misunderstanding to understand this last reminder as a word of consolation in any such sense as this - if we, from weakness, are unfaithful, we may calm ourselves with the thought that notwithstanding it, His faithfulness to us will be for ever confirmed: rather, fancy not, if thou art unfaithful, that the Lord’s punishment will fail."
So then we are now in Paul’s position, and are able to judge the issue deliberately, and balance the account as he did. Immediately after stating that if suffering together, we shall be glorified together, Paul says:- "For I reckon" - I calculate, I cast up the account - "that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be to-usward" (Rom. 8: 18): "when I have cast up the sum of the sufferings of this present time, they amount to just nothing in respect of that glory," (Archbishop Leighton). "I wonder many times," Samuel Rutherford used to say, "that ever a child of God should have a sad heart, considering what the Lord is preparing for him." Again Paul expresses it in one of the most marvellous utterances of the Bible. "Our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4: 17). What a vision! It is a leper who wrote:- "To the heart aglow for Thee, the Valley of the Shadow is like sunrise on the ocean"; and its meridian will be a glory indescribable.
this truth has been wonderfully summed up in one prominent saint of God.
"By faith Moses, choosing rather to be evil entreated with the people of God, accounted the reproach of Christ greater riches
than the treasures of Egypt, FOR HE LOOKED UNTO THE RECOMPENSE OF THE REWARD"
(Heb. 11: 25). He kept steadily before
him ‘the recompense of the reward’: for the
blessings at stake will not only be a ‘reward’
but a ‘recompense’ - in other words, the coming joy will be in proportion to the
suffering endured: the deliberate judgment of Moses therefore was that fidelity
at its worst - a bankrupt people exiled in a desert - is better than the world
at its best - Pharaoh’s palace. And the end of that studied
calculation was Moses on the Mount Of
Transfiguration. Do any of us realize for a moment what it will be to reign literally with
Christ over the kingdoms of the world? "They
shall war against the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them, for he is the
Lord of lords, and King of kings; and they
also shall overcome that are with him,