THE LAW OF RECOMPENSE
By D. M. PANTON, B. A.
It would have the profoundest effect on our lives if only we could realise, once for all, the alarming truth that God will promote in the coming Age according to our renunciations for Him; that the law of recompense is this - that the principles of glory are in inverse ratio to our losses and renunciations for Christ, voluntarily undergone. Our Lord Himself summarises the principle once for all thus:- "Every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14: 11). This great revelation irradiates with sudden lightning the bruised and battered martyrdom’s of six thousand years, the men and women who sacrificed everything for principle - "of whom the world was not worthy," and of whom the world has never even heard, but who shall burst forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.
The concrete example, supreme for ever, not only pictures the truth, but enforces its obedience. "Have this mind in you," says the Apostle - for it is within our control and choice, and therefore within our responsibility - "which was also in Christ Jesus, who humbled himself" (Phil. 2: 5), ‘made himself void by his own act’ (Moule). The Lord Himself is the consummate example of that which He teaches: His experience is the concrete embodiment of the law of inverse recompense. He humbled Himself as none other ever did or could, and correspondingly He is exalted above and beyond all. And the principle is put in its extremist form. As the span of Christ's descent was the deepest of which the universe is capable, so the consequent enthronement is the limit which the universe affords. Our ascent is our descent reversed.
The Apostle, therefore, in few, vivid words, spans the mighty gulf created by the 'mind of Christ.' At one end is the Son of God panoplied in the glory which He had with the Father before the world was: far down, in the depthless bottom of a voluntary descent, is a gibbeted Man: therefore, by the reverse process of the law of recompense, the closing scene is exaltation on the Throne of the Universe. As Paul has expressed it elsewhere:- He that "descended into the lower parts of the earth" - Hades, [the place of the dead], is always regarded as the contrary extreme to the Heaven of heavens - "is the same also that ascended far above all heavens" (Eph. 4: 9). As Jesus sank from a higher height - the Godhead - than any other could sink, and sank to a lower depth - being 'made sin' - than any other could, so He is now enthroned where none but He could be enthroned.
For not only was every step of our Lord downward, but every descent avoided a legitimate amelioration - (i.e., the 'act or process of making or becoming better'); and each humiliation might have been far easier by another choice in itself perfectly legitimate. (1) In descending as God to earth, He might have descended as Jehovah did on Sinai; but He came shorn of the pomp, the majesty, the entourage of God. (2) In taking the creature's form, He might have come as Michael or Gabriel; but, instead, He appeared as a frail mortal. (3) In coming as a man, He might have appeared in the flawless beauty of an Absalom; but "his visage was so marred more than any man" (Isa. 52: 14). (4) The home He chose might have been the palace of a Solomon; but He who alone of mankind has ever been able to control His birth, chose an artisan's cradle. (5) In leaving the world, He could have left in Elijah's chariot and horses of fire; but He chose the pangs of death. (6) In the death He chose, He might, like Moses, have been buried by angels under the superintendence of God; but He chose to die forsaken and alone. And (7) in the actual death itself, which, however lonely, could have been honourable, He who might in a moment have had twelve legions of angels suffers Himself to be gibbeted as a public criminal.
Now we look at the exact nature of our Lord's descent, for it is the designed model of our own, and teaches us exactly what God rewards. (1) It was not sins which Christ renounced: that He renounced sin need not be stated: every step downwards here named is the renunciation of a thing perfectly legitimate in itself. He abdicated lawful rights, and abandoned sinless privileges, honours, dignities. He surrendered the good for the best. (2) His renunciation was purely voluntary. It was not the compulsory stripping of a Job, but a freely chosen loss for the sake of others. There was no compelling power in heaven or earth or hell. Being humiliated is not the same thing as humbling ourselves, though it may be a powerful help to it: "humble yourselves," says Peter, "under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time" (1 Pet. 5: 6). (3) It was not degradation for degradation's sake: it was degradation to win for others blessings they could not have without it. (4) It was done in obedience to the Word of God. The Word of God to the Lord Jesus as that He should effect salvation for a doomed race; and to obey this involved every one of the downward steps, even including the choice of crucifixion, without which the Curse could not alight on a sinless Sacrifice. Scripture lay behind all. It was the sacrifice of popularity for the sake of principle; of wealth for better investments; of ease for help to the dying; of this world for the next.*
[* It is of great comfort to remember that if our deliberate descent has not been what it might, renunciation has followed exactly to the degree that we have obeyed Scripture. No man, for example, has ever obeyed the Sermon on the Mount without becoming "of no reputation," in the eyes of both the world and of a worldly Church. Here lies the heart of the revelation. New Testament Scripture is such that to embody it in life without ostracism by the world is a radical impossibility, and the degree of our obedience is likely to be the degree of our crucifixion.]
Now is unveiled the law of recompense. The incalculable descent is only equalled by the immeasurable reverse, "Wherefore also" - wherefore correspondingly: here is the golden hinge on which the law of reward critically turns - "God highly exalted him, and gave unto him [three things] the name which is above every name" - fame; "that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow" - rank; "and that every tongue should confess [Him] Lord" - rule.* The crystal-clear fact that the whole reward falls, not on the pre-incarnate Christ, but as exact recompense for the human renunciation, brings this law within our own ambit [scope]; and that it fell with full effect even on the Son of God makes it overwhelmingly certain that none of us can escape it. Not arbitrarily, nor by divine favour, nor in grace has the Most High raised the Saviour to the Throne of the Universe; but solely in recoil to all that is essentially holiest and best as expressed, concretely, in a human life of self-renunciation: the height to which He rose is the measure of the depth to which He voluntarily sank. And this award is "to the glory of God the Father": because we see more deeply into God by seeing exactly what it is that He rewards; and it is boundless unselfishness upon which He confers boundless power. It is the very soul of justice that He who plumbed all sorrow for sheer goodness should be supreme over all; and that Law should crown Grace at last. "Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows"** (Heb. 1: 9).
[* Abraham stated the same principle, though without giving the underlying moral reason, "Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivest thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now here (in Hades) he is comforted, and thou art in anguish" (Luke 16: 25).
** For Christ will have companions in the [millennial and eternal] Kingdom who were companions in renunciation - "the strong" with whom He "divides the spoil" (Isa. 53: 12).]
Thus we reach the grand conclusion, the practical sequel, of the Apostle. "So then, my beloved" - because of this model which is also an injunction - "WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING," ‘in anxiety and self-distrust’ (Alford); since the enabling dynamic within is nothing less than God. The fearful mistake many of us Christians are making is in not gripping these facts now, while there is time to shape our lives to this mighty law, and so to transfigure our whole future. We shall not reap what we have not sown. If it cost Him so much, it must cost us also. Therefore to the Apostles, ambitious of sharing the glory of their Lord but completely ignorant of the process, the Saviour, after setting a child in the midst as our character-model, says :- "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the GREATEST in the Kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18: 4). The call to a cross is exactly the call to a throne.
For one of our Lord's parables is devoted to this single point of enormous practical consequence. "Go and sit down in the lowest place; that" - so that, in order that - "when he that hath bidden thee cometh" - the returning Lord - "he may say to thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have glory in the presence of all that sit at meat with thee. For every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14: 10)* Thus our Lord's life enormously reinforces His own parable, and shows the path to ascension glory; and His reward, in minor degree, will be ours, taking shape in government, royalty, rule. "Nothing short of the 'mind' of the Head," as Bishop Handley Moule says, "must be the 'mind' of the member; and then the glory of the Head (so it is implied) shall be shed hereafter upon the member too: 'I will grant to him to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.'"
[* The double work is well expressed in Florence Nightingale's summary of her life. "If I could tell you all, you would see a woman of very ordinary ability led by God to do in His service what He has done in her. I have worked hard, very hard, and God has done all and I nothing."]