For many years my wife and I have been using J.C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels in our family worship. We were reading through the section on Matthew 14:1-12 a few days ago and I was particularly struck and refreshed by Ryle’s remarks on the death of John the Baptist:
Let us learn…that God’s children must not look for their reward in this world. If ever there was a case of godliness unrewarded in this life, it was that of John the Baptist. Think for a moment what a man he was during his short career, and then think to what an end he came. Behold him, that was the Prophet of the Highest, and greater than any born of woman, imprisoned like a malefactor! Behold him cut off by a violent death, before the age of thirty-four–the burning light quenched–the faithful preacher murdered for doing his duty–and this to gratify the hatred of an adulterous woman, and at the command of a capricious tyrant! Truly there was an event here, if there ever was one in the world, which might make an ignorant man say, “What profit is it to serve God?”
But these are the sort of things which show us that there will one day be a judgment. The God of the spirits of all flesh shall at last set up an assize, and reward every one according to his works. The blood of John the Baptist, and James the apostle, and Stephen–the blood of Polycarp, and Huss, and Ridley, and Latimer, shall yet be required. It is all written in God’s book. “The earth shall disclose her blood, and no more cover her slain.” (Isaiah 26:21.) The world shall yet know, that there is a God who judges the earth. “If you see the oppression of the poor, and violent taking away of justice and righteousness in a district, don’t marvel at the matter–for one official is eyed by a higher one, and there are officials over them.” (Eccles. 5:8.)
Let all true Christians remember that their best things are yet to come. Let us count it no strange thing if we have sufferings in this present time. It is a season of probation. We are yet at school. We are learning patience, gentleness, and meekness, which we could hardly learn if we had our good things now. But there is an eternal holiday yet to begin. For this let us wait quietly. It will make amends for all. “Our light affliction which is for the moment, works for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory.” (2 Cor. 4:17.)
Excellent post, Tom. This was helpful to me.