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15 May, 2014

REWARDS by Arthur Pink

To the infidel, much in the Scriptures seems 
so inconsistent and inharmonious, that he charges them with "abounding in contradictions." That there should be no variableness or shadow of turning with God—yet that He is frequently said to "repent"; that He claims to be omnipotent and invincible—yet complains, "you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke" (Prov 1:25); that He is love—yet abhors the wicked (Psalm 5:6); that He is of tender mercy—yet has appointed an eternity of torment for all those whose names are not written in the book of life—to mention no others—all appear to the skeptic, as irreconcilable teachings. To the natural man, the Christian life appears to be a mass of bewildering paradoxes! That the poor in spirit and those who mourn should be pronounced happy; that we have to be made fools in order to become wise; that it is when we are weak we are strong; that we must lose our life in order to save it (Matt 16:25) and that we are bidden to "rejoice with trembling" (Psalm 2:11) transcend his comprehension. Yet none of these things present any insuperable difficulty unto those who are taught of God.

In like manner there is much in the teaching of Holy Writ which perplexes the theologian. As he studies and ponders its declarations, one doctrine—for a time, at least—seems to clash with another. If God has predestinated whatever comes to pass—then what room is left for the discharge of human responsibility and free agency? If the Fall has deprived man of all spiritual strength—then how can he be held blameworthy for failing to perform spiritual duties? If Christ died for the elect only, then how can He be offered freely to "every creature"? If the believer be Christ's "freeman," then why is he required to take upon him His "yoke"? If he has been set at "liberty" (Gal 5:1) then how can he be "under the Law" (1 Cor 9:21). If the believer is preserved by God—then how can his own perseverance be necessary in order to the attainment of everlasting bliss? if he is secure, how can he be in danger? If he has been delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son, why does he so often have occasion to cry "O wretched man that I am"? If sin does not have dominion over him, why do "iniquities prevail against" him (Psalm 65:3)? These are real problems.

We have commenced this article thus because the subject which is here to engage our attention seems to many to clash with other articles of the Faith. In ordinary speech the word "reward" signifies the recognition and requital of a meritorious performance, the bestowment of something to which a person is justly entitled. But what can the creature merit at the hands of the Creator, to what—save condemnation and punishment—is a sinful creature entitled to from a holy God? If salvation be "by grace" and eternal life is a "free gift" then what place is left for the recompensing of human effort? Yet whatever difficulties may be involved, the fact remains that Scripture has much to say about God's rewarding the obedient, and crowning the overcomer. The Dispensationalists (among them most of the so-called "Fundamentalists") have realized there is a knot here—but instead of patiently seeking to untie they have foolishly cut it, by asserting that rewards have a place only under the Legal Dispensation and are entirely excluded from the Age of Grace; yet the very Epistles which, as they allow, belong to the present Era, contain many passages postulating "rewards."

Our present subject is by no means a simple one, and certainly it is not suited for a novice to take up and descant upon. Not that the teaching of Scripture thereon is at all obscure or hard to be understood—but rather that much wisdom is needed in the handling of it, so as to avoid conveying false impressions, weakening the force of other articles of the Faith, and failing to preserve the balance of the Truth. Very little attention was given to the subject of Divine rewards either by the Reformers or the Puritans (less by the latter than the former), probably they felt that most of their energies needed to be devoted unto counteracting the evil leaven of Romanism, with its strong emphasis upon creature "merits" and salvation by works. Yet in avoiding one error—there is always the danger of going to the opposite, and even where that is avoided, it is usually at the price of depriving God's children of some portion of their needed and Divinely-provided Bread. Whatever is the explanation, the fact remains that our present theme is a much-neglected one for comparatively little has been said or written upon it. We are therefore the more cast back upon God for help.

The servant of God must not allow the fear of man to muzzle him, as he will if he deems it wisest to remain silent on the subject lest he be charged with "leanings towards Romanism" —their very perversion of this truth renders it all the more necessary and urgent that he should give a plain and positive exposition of the same. On the other hand, the fact that Papists have so grievously wrested it, should warn him that great care needs to be exercised in the way he presents it. He needs to make it crystal clear, that it is utterly impossible to bring God under obligation to us or make Him in any way our Debtor. In like manner, it must be shown that the creature cannot acquire any merit by the most self-sacrificing or benevolent deeds he performs. By so doing, he will preclude the laying of any foundation for pharisaic pride. Nevertheless, he must see to it that he does not so whittle away the passages holding up "rewards" to believers, as to render them meaningless and valueless, for they are among the motives, encouragements, incentives, and consolations which God sets before His people.

In a brief and incidental statement upon this doctrine, Calvin beautifully preserved the balance when in his "Institutes" (bk. 3, chapter 15) he said, "The Scripture shows what all our works are capable of meriting, when it represents them as unable to bear the Divine scrutiny, because they are full of impurity; and in the next place, what would be merited by the perfect observance of the Law, if this could anywhere be found, when it directs us 'when you have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants' (Luke 17:10), because we shall not have conferred any favor on God—but only have performed the duties incumbent on us, for which no thanks are due. Nevertheless, the good works which the Lord has conferred on us, He denominates our own, and declares that He will not only accept—but also reward them. It is our duty to be animated by so great a promise, and to stir up our minds that we 'be not weary in well doing' (2 Thess 3:13) and to be truly grateful for so great an instance of Divine goodness.

"It is beyond a doubt, that whatever is laudable in our works, proceeds from the grace of God, and that we cannot properly ascribe the least portion of it to ourselves. If we truly and seriously acknowledge this truth, not only all confidence—but likewise all idea of merit, immediately vanishes. We, I say, do not, like the sophists, divide the praise of good works between God and man—but we reserve it to the Lord completely and entirely. All that we attribute to man is, that those works which were otherwise good—are tainted and polluted by impurity. For nothing proceeds from the most perfect man which is wholly impeccable. Therefore let the Lord sit in judgment on the best of human actions, and He will indeed recognize in them His own righteousness—but man's disgrace and shame. Good works, therefore, are pleasing to God, and not unprofitable to the authors of them; and they will moreover receive the most ample blessings from God as their reward—not because they merit them—but because the Divine goodness has freely appointed them this reward." Let us attempt to offer some amplification of these excellent remarks.

First, no creature is rewarded by God because he justly deserves what is bestowed upon him, as a hired laborer who has performed his duty is entitled to the wage he receives. For, in this sense, even the angels in heaven are incapable of a reward—according to strict justice, they merit no favor. They are no hirelings, for God has a natural, original, undisputed right in them, as much as He has in the sun, moon and stars; and these, therefore, deserve to be paid for their shining, as much as the angels do for their service. If the angels love God, it is no more than He infinitely deserves. Moreover, the angels do not profit God, and so lay Him under no obligation, any more than the birds profit the risen sun by their morning songs or render that luminary under obligation to shine all day upon them. "Can a man be of benefit to God? Can even a wise man benefit him? What pleasure would it give the Almighty if you were righteous? What would he gain if your ways were blameless?" (Job 22:2,3).

It is most essential that this should be insisted upon, more especially in these days, that the Most High God may be accorded His due place in our thoughts, His solemn majesty, exalted independency and self-sufficiency, preserved in their integrity. That the creature may be allotted his proper place—as being not only a creature—but as less than nothing in the sight of Him who gave him being and is pleased to maintain his existence—that the axe may be laid at the very root of self-righteousness. Papists are far from being alone in indulging the flesh-pleasing conceit that even a fallen and sinful creature is capable of performing meritorious deeds, which entitle him to favorable regard by the Lord God. Unless Divine grace has given our pride its death-wound, every one of us secretly cherishes the belief—though we may not be honest enough to openly avow it—that we deserve a reward for our good works; and hence we are apt to think that God would be very hard and severe, if not cruel and unjust—were He to take no notice of our best endeavors and damn us because of our sins. "Why have we fasted—and you have not seen it?" (Isa 58:3).

But, second, The fact remains, that Scripture abounds in declarations that God has promised to reward the fidelity of His people and compensate them for the sufferings they have endured in His service. "The recompense of a man's hands shall be rendered unto him" (Prov 12:14). "Whoever despises the Word shall be destroyed—but he who fears the commandment shall be rewarded" (Prov 13:13). "Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven" (Matt 5:11,12). "His Lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many" (Matt 25:23). "But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:13,14). "Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor" (1 Cor 3:8). "Whatever good things any man does—the same shall he receive of the Lord" (Eph 6:8). Now these, and all similar passages, must be allowed their legitimate force and given a due place in our minds and hearts.

The principal difficulty which this subject presents to the thoughtful Christian is, What have I done which is fit for reward? and even though I had, how could reward consist with free grace? The solution to this problem is found in noting the grounds on which God bestows rewards.
First, in order to manifest His own excellencies. It is in His office as moral Governor that He exercises this function, in which office He evidences His holiness, goodness and benevolence, as well as His sovereignty and justice. As the Ruler of all, it befits Him to manifest His approbation of righteousness, to put honor upon virtue, and to display the bountifulness of His nature. Though according to strict justice, the angels in Heaven deserve nothing at His hands—yet God is pleased to reward their sinless obedience in testimony of His approbation of their persons and service. God rewards them not because they do Him any good, nor because they are entitled to anything from him—but because He delights in that which is amiable, and because He would demonstrate to the universe that He is a Friend of all who are morally excellent, He liberally recompenses them. Since they love Him with all their hearts and strength—He deems it fitting that they should be made eternally blessed in the enjoyment of Himself.

Second, in the case of His people who fell in Adam and who have also themselves sinned and come short of the glory of God, they neither merit anything good at His hands, nor is it fitting that their persons and conduct—considered merely as they are in themselves—should be approved; nay, so much corruption still indwells them and so much impurity is attached to all that proceeds from them, that the Divine Law condemns them. Thus it must be on quite a different ground that God considers them suited to reward. What that is, the Gospel of the grace of God makes known.

It is on account of the believer's interest in the righteousness and worthiness of Christ that his person and performances are accepted and peculiar favors are shown unto and bestowed upon him. He is "accepted in the Beloved" (Eph 1:6), and his consecration (Rom 12:1), his gifts or benevolences (Phil 4:18) and his worship are "acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5); yes, his prayers ascend up before God only because the "much incense" of Christ's merits is added to them (Rev 8:3,4).

Third, in showing His approval of the service of His saints God is, at the same time, owning the Spirit's work in them—for it is by His gracious operations and power that they are enabled to perform such service.


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