THE PRIZE OF OUR CALLING
By † D. M. PANTON, M.A.
God is calling sinners to the Cross: He is calling believers to the Crown.
Paul presents this dual truth with crystal clearness. He opens this little masterpiece of revelation with A SUPREME HOPELESSNESS. †What is it? The one man who came nearest to reaching God through his own goodness proved to be the chief of sinners. †Ponder Paulís incomparable assets: no soul, before or since, ever held up to the face of God a hand filled with such exquisite pearls. †Circumcised - stamped as Godís from infancy; of the stock of Israel - with a blood-right to salvation; of the tribe of Benjamin - a tribe which never broke away; a Hebrew of Hebrews - a full-blooded Jew to the furthest generation back; a Pharisee - intensely orthodox; persecuting the church - obedient in jot and tittle. No man ever came so near to winning life through what he was and what he did. "If any other man" - of any age, or race, or clime - "thinketh to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more:" (Phil. 3: 4). Paul towers over all leagalists for ever. But a sudden and awful discovery blasted his prospects. "I was alive [in my own eyes] apart from law once: but when the commandment ["thou shalt not lust"] came [home to my conscience], sin revived [sprang again into life], and I died [saw myself a dead man]; and the commandment, which was [in Godís design] unto life, this I found to be [in fact] unto death" (Rom. 7: 9, 10). "If any man thinketh to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more:" but what had that inward vision revealed? - a corpse before God. With Paulís failure, the whole world lapses into hopeless despair.
Next, A SUPREME RIGHTEOUSNESS. Whose? Not Paulís; for he had discovered, with Isaiah, that "we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isa. 64: 6). †He now discovers that what he could not do, Christ did; that what he could not be, Christ was; and that Christ had done it, and been it, in order to take his place. 2 Cor. 5: 21. He instantly drops his own righteousness, and seizes Christís: he exchanges his own pearls for one priceless, flawless gem. "I do count them but dung, that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of mine own, but that [righteousness] which is through faith in Christ." Paul never afterwards doubts his [eternal] salvation (Rom. 8: 38): for Christ has kept the Law, not with head, hands, and feet only, but with heart also (Psa. 40: 8): and this righteousness is now Paulís. Rom. 5: 19. The supreme hoplessness is replaced by a supreme salvation.
Yet there remains A SUPREME UNCERTAINTY. Here are startling words. "Brethren, I count not myself yet to have apprehended: but I press on." Not apprehended what? "If by any means I may attain unto the [select] resurrection from [among] the dead." ("The Apostle states not a positive assurance, but a modest hope," - Lightfoot:" ĎIf by any meansí is used when an end is proposed, but failure is presumed to be possible," - Alford). Press on to what? "Toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling." [Eternal] Salvation can never be insecure: the Prize can never be assumed until it is won. Why? †(1) Because it is a prize. If the prize be given on faith without works, it is no more a prize. "Know ye not that they which run in a race all run, but one receiveth the prize? Even so run, that ye may attain" (1 Cor. 9: 24). 2 Tim. 2: 5. (2) No splendour of past service can guarantee immunity from backsliding [or apostasy]. None so renounced, so suffered, so served as Paul: yet he assumes no prize. For backsliding [and apostasy] forfeits the crown. Rev. 3: 11; 2 John 8. (3) False doctrines which rob God of His glory will rob us of ours: therefore "let no man rob you of your prize" (Col. 2: 18). 1 Cor. 3: 15. (4) Fleshly sins also disqualify. Eph. 5: 5. †Therefore "I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected [for the crown]" (1 Cor. 9: 24-27). The insecurity of the chief of apostles binds insecurity of reward for ever on the Church of God. "Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may apprehend."
All therefore culminates in A SUPREME EFFORT. "This one thing I do." Is this for Paul only? "Let us therefore" - for he is our inspired example - "as many as be perfect, be thus minded." How? (1) "Forgetting the things which are behind." The immeasurable value of the prize may be computed by the immense sacrifices necessary to obtain it. Its cost is a crucified world. "Blessed is the man to whom the world, with all her rags of honour, is crucified, and who holds her to be worth no more than a thief on the gallows." Nothing makes the other world more real, or more blessed, than the renunciation of this. Luke 14: 33. †(2) "Stretching forward to the things that are before." It is a racer, as Professor Eadie says, in his agony of struggle and hope: every muscle is strained, every vain starting; the chest heaves, and the big drops gather on the brow; the body is bent forward, as if the racer all but touched the goal. Luke 9: 23-26. (3) "This one thing I do." All his missionary ardour, all his thirst for souls, all his toil for the churches, are bent before this overmastering passion of his soul; because the running-tracks for the prize God has laid through these channels of holy service; and to-dayís toil is the measure of tomorrowís glory. 1 Cor. 3: 8; Matt. 5: 11, 12. (4) It is a calling "upward," therefore it is God who is calling. "Walk worthily of God, who is calling you into His own kingdom and glory" (1 Thess. 2: 12). God is calling us from all earthly glories up to the Throne: brother, will you come? The Cross is ours for ever: "when he hath been approved, he shall receive the Crown" (Jas. 1: 12). We honour God in proportion as we covet His immeasurable rewards. †The apostle not only renounces, he forgets; he not only advances, he presses; he not only gazes, he stretches; he not only does it, but he does it only. "Let us, as many as be perfect, be thus minded."