Christ's Object Lessons
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 28: The Reward of Grace
Based on Matt. 19:16-30; 20:1-16; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30
"If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast,
and give to the poor, and thou shalt have
treasure in heaven, and come and follow Me."
Review and Herald Publ. Assoc.
The truth of God's free grace had been almost lost
sight of by the Jews. The rabbis taught that God's
favor must be earned. The reward of the righteous they
hoped to gain by their own works. Thus their worship was
prompted by a grasping, mercenary spirit. From this spirit
even the disciples of Christ were not wholly free, and the
Saviour sought every opportunity of showing them their
error. Just before He gave the parable of the laborers, an
event occurred that opened the way for Him to present the
As He was walking by the way, a young ruler came
running to Him, and kneeling, reverently saluted Him.
"Good Master," he said, "what good thing shall I do, that
I may have eternal life?"
The ruler had addressed Christ merely as an honored
rabbi, not discerning in Him the Son of God. The Saviour
said, "Why callest thou Me good? There is none good
but one, that is, God." On what ground do you call Me [p. 391] good? God is the one good. If you recognize Me as
such, you must receive Me as His Son and representative.
"If thou wilt enter into life," He added, "keep the
commandments." The character of God is expressed in His
law; and in order for you to be in harmony with God,
the principles of His law must be the spring of your every
Christ does not lessen the claims of the law. In
unmistakable language He presents obedience to it as the
condition of eternal life—the same condition that was required
of Adam before his fall. The Lord expects no less of the
soul now than He expected of man in Paradise, perfect
obedience, unblemished righteousness. The requirement
under the covenant of grace is just as broad as the
requirement made in Eden—harmony with God's law, which is
holy, just, and good.
To the words, "Keep the commandments," the young
man answered, "Which?" He supposed that some ceremonial
precept was meant, but Christ was speaking of the
law given from Sinai. He mentioned several commandments
from the second table of the Decalogue, then summed
them all up in the precept, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour
The young man answered without hesitation, "All these
things have I kept from my youth up; what lack I yet?"
His conception of the law was external and superficial.
Judged by a human standard, he had preserved an
unblemished character. To a great degree his outward life had
been free from guilt; he verily thought that his obedience
had been without a flaw. Yet he had a secret fear that
all was not right between his soul and God. This prompted
the question, "What lack I yet?"
"If thou wilt be perfect," Christ said, "go and sell that
thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure [p. 392] in heaven, and come and follow Me. But when the young
man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful; for he
had great possessions."
The lover of self is a transgressor of the law. This
Jesus desired to reveal to the young man, and He gave
him a test that would make manifest the selfishness of his
heart. He showed him the plague spot in his character.
The young man desired no further enlightenment. He had
cherished an idol in the soul; the world was his god. He
professed to have kept the commandments, but he was
destitute of the principle which is the very spirit and life
of them all. He did not possess true love for God or man.
This want was the want of everything that would qualify
him to enter the kingdom of heaven. In his love of self
and worldly gain he was out of harmony with the principles
When this young ruler came to Jesus, his sincerity and [p. 393] earnestness won the Saviour's heart. He "beholding him
loved him." In this young man He saw one who might
do service as a preacher of righteousness. He would have
received this talented and noble youth as readily as He
received the poor fishermen who followed Him. Had the
young man devoted his ability to the work of saving souls,
he might have become a diligent and successful laborer
But first he must accept the conditions of discipleship.
He must give himself unreservedly to God. At the
Saviour's call, John, Peter, Matthew, and their companions
"left all, rose up, and followed Him." Luke 5:28. The same
consecration was required of the young ruler. And in this
Christ did not ask a greater sacrifice than He Himself had
made. "He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor,
that ye through His poverty might be rich." 2 Cor. 8:9.
The young man had only to follow where Christ led the way.
Christ looked upon the young man and longed after
his soul. He longed to send him forth as a messenger of
blessing to men. In the place of that which He called
upon him to surrender, Christ offered him the privilege of
companionship with Himself. "Follow Me," He said. This
privilege had been counted a joy by Peter, James, and John.
The young man himself looked upon Christ with admiration.
His heart was drawn toward the Saviour. But he
was not ready to accept the Saviour's principle of
self-sacrifice. He chose his riches before Jesus. He wanted
eternal life, but would not receive into the soul that unselfish
love which alone is life, and with a sorrowful heart he
turned away from Christ.
As the young man turned away, Jesus said to His
disciples, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter
into the kingdom of God." These words astonished the [p. 394] disciples. They had been taught to look upon the rich as
the favorites of heaven; worldly power and riches they
themselves hoped to receive in the Messiah's kingdom; if
the rich were to fail of entering the kingdom, what hope
could there be for the rest of men?
"Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children,
how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into
the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through
the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the
kingdom of God. And they were astonished out of
measure." Now they realized that they themselves were
included in the solemn warning. In the light of the Saviour's
words, their own secret longing for power and riches was
revealed. With misgivings for themselves they exclaimed,
"Who then can be saved?"
"Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is
impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are
A rich man, as such, cannot enter heaven. His wealth
gives him no title to the inheritance of the saints in light.
It is only through the unmerited grace of Christ that any
man can find entrance into the city of God.
To the rich no less than to the poor are the words of the
Holy Spirit spoken, "Ye are not your own; for ye are
bought with a price." 1 Cor. 6:19, 20. When men believe
this, their possessions will be held as a trust, to be used
as God shall direct, for the saving of the lost, and the
comfort of the suffering and the poor. With man this is
impossible, for the heart clings to its earthly treasure. The
soul that is bound in service to mammon is deaf to the cry
of human need. But with God all things are possible.
By beholding the matchless love of Christ, the selfish heart
will be melted and subdued. The rich man will be led,
as was Saul the Pharisee, to say, "What things were gain [p. 395] to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and
I count all things but loss for the excellency of the
knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." Phil. 3:7, 8. Then they
will not count anything their own. They will joy to regard
themselves as stewards of the manifold grace of God, and
for His sake servants of all men.
Peter was the first to rally from the secret conviction
wrought by the Saviour's words. He thought with satisfaction
of what he and his brethren had given up for Christ.
"Behold," he said, "we have forsaken all, and followed
Thee." Remembering the conditional promise to the young
ruler, "Thou shalt have treasure in heaven," he now asked
what he and his companions were to receive as a reward
for their sacrifices.
The Saviour's answer thrilled the hearts of those Galilean
fishermen. It pictured honors that fulfilled their highest
dreams: "Verily I say unto you, That ye which have
followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall
sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve
thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." And He
added, "There is no man that hath left house, or brethren,
or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or
lands, for My sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an
hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and [p. 396] sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with
persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life."
But Peter's question, "What shall we have therefore?"
had revealed a spirit that uncorrected would unfit the
disciples to be messengers for Christ; for it was the spirit
of a hireling. While they had been attracted by the love of
Jesus, the disciples were not wholly free from Pharisaism.
They still worked with the thought of meriting a reward in
proportion to their labor. They cherished a spirit of
self-exaltation and self-complacency, and made comparisons
among themselves. When one of them failed in any
particular, the others indulged feelings of superiority.
Lest the disciples should lose sight of the principles of
the gospel, Christ related to them a parable illustrating the
manner in which God deals with His servants, and the spirit
in which He desires them to labor for Him.
"The kingdom of heaven," He said, "is like unto a man
that is an householder, which went out early in the morning
to hire labourers into his vineyard." It was the custom for
men seeking employment to wait in the market places, and
thither the employers went to find servants. The man in the
parable is represented as going out at different hours to
engage workmen. Those who are hired at the earliest
hours agree to work for a stated sum; those hired later
leave their wages to the discretion of the householder.
"So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith
unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their
hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they
came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received
every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed
that they should have received more; and they likewise
received every man a penny."
The householder's dealing with the workers in his [p. 397] vineyard represents God's dealing with the human family.
It is contrary to the customs that prevail among men. In
worldly business, compensation is given according to the
work accomplished. The laborer expects to be paid only
that which he earns. But in the parable, Christ was
illustrating the principles of His kingdom—a kingdom not of
this world. He is not controlled by any human standard.
The Lord says, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither
are your ways My ways. . . . For as the heavens are higher
than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways,
and My thoughts than your thoughts." Isa. 55:8, 9.
In the parable the first laborers agreed to work for a
stipulated sum, and they received the amount specified,
nothing more. Those later hired believed the master's
promise, "Whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive." They
showed their confidence in him by asking no question in
regard to wages. They trusted to his justice and equity.
They were rewarded, not according to the amount of their
labor, but according to the generosity of his purpose.
So God desires us to trust in Him who justifieth the
ungodly. His reward is given not according to our merit
but according to His own purpose, "which He purposed in
Christ Jesus our Lord." Eph. 3:11. "Not by works of
righteousness which we have done, but according to His
mercy He saved us." Titus 3:5. And for those who trust in
Him He will do "exceeding abundantly above all that we
ask or think." Eph. 3:20.
Not the amount of labor performed or its visible results
but the spirit in which the work is done makes it of value
with God. Those who came into the vineyard at the
eleventh hour were thankful for an opportunity to work.
Their hearts were full of gratitude to the one who had
accepted them; and when at the close of the day the
householder paid them for a full day's work, they were [p. 398] greatly surprised. They knew they had not earned such
wages. And the kindness expressed in the countenance of
their employer filled them with joy. They never forgot the
goodness of the householder or the generous compensation
they had received. Thus it is with the sinner who, knowing
his unworthiness, has entered the Master's vineyard at
the eleventh hour. His time of service seems so short, he
feels that he is undeserving of reward; but he is filled with
joy that God has accepted him at all. He works with a
humble, trusting spirit, thankful for the privilege of being
a co-worker with Christ. This spirit God delights to honor.
The Lord desires us to rest in Him without a question
as to our measure of reward. When Christ abides in the
soul, the thought of reward is not uppermost. This is not
the motive that actuates our service. It is true that in
a subordinate sense we should have respect to the recompense
of reward. God desires us to appreciate His
promised blessings. But He would not have us eager for
rewards nor feel that for every duty we must receive
compensation. We should not be so anxious to gain the [p. 399] reward as to do what is right, irrespective of all gain. Love
to God and to our fellow men should be our motive.
This parable does not excuse those who hear the first
call to labor but who neglect to enter the Lord's vineyard.
When the householder went to the market place at the
eleventh hour and found men unemployed he said, "Why
stand ye here all the day idle?" The answer was,
"Because no man hath hired us." None of those called later
in the day were there in the morning. They had not
refused the call. Those who refuse and afterward repent,
do well to repent; but it is not safe to trifle with the first
call of mercy.
When the laborers in the vineyard received "every man
a penny," those who had begun work early in the day were
offended. Had they not worked for twelve hours? they
reasoned, and was it not right that they should receive
more than those who had worked for only one hour in the
cooler part of the day? "These last have wrought but
one hour," they said, "and thou hast made them equal unto
us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day."
"Friend," the householder replied to one of them, "I
do thee no wrong; didst not thou agree with me for a
penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way; I will give
unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me
to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because
I am good?
"So the last shall be first, and the first last; for many
be called, but few chosen."
The first laborers of the parable represent those who,
because of their services, claim preference above others.
They take up their work in a self-gratulatory spirit, and do
not bring into it self-denial and sacrifice. They may have
professed to serve God all their lives; they may have been [p. 400] foremost in enduring hardship, privation, and trial, and
they therefore think themselves entitled to a large reward.
They think more of the reward than of the privilege of
being servants of Christ. In their view their labors and
sacrifices entitle them to receive honor above others, and
because this claim is not recognized, they are offended.
Did they bring into their work a loving, trusting spirit,
they would continue to be first; but their querulous,
complaining disposition is un-Christlike, and proves them to be
untrustworthy. It reveals their desire for self-advancement,
their distrust of God, and their jealous, grudging
spirit toward their brethren. The Lord's goodness and
liberality is to them only an occasion of murmuring. Thus
they show that there is no connection between their souls
and God. They do not know the joy of co-operation with
the Master Worker.
There is nothing more offensive to God than this narrow,
self-caring spirit. He cannot work with any who
manifest these attributes. They are insensible to the working
of His Spirit.
The Jews had been first called into the Lord's vineyard,
and because of this they were proud and self-righteous.
Their long years of service they regarded as entitling them
to receive a larger reward than others. Nothing was more
exasperating to them than an intimation that the Gentiles
were to be admitted to equal privileges with themselves in
the things of God.
Christ warned the disciples who had been first called
to follow Him, lest the same evil should be cherished among
them. He saw that the weakness, the curse of the church,
would be a spirit of self-righteousness. Men would think
they could do something toward earning a place in the
kingdom of heaven. They would imagine that when they
had made certain advancement, the Lord would come in to [p. 401] help them. Thus there would be an abundance of self
and little of Jesus. Many who had made a little advancement
would be puffed up and think themselves superior to
others. They would be eager for flattery, jealous if not
thought most important. Against this danger Christ seeks
to guard His disciples.
All boasting of merit in ourselves is out of place. "Let
not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty
man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his
riches; but let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he
understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord which
exercise loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness in
the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord."
Jer. 9:23, 24.
The reward is not of works, lest any man should boast;
but it is all of grace. "What shall we say then that
Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof
to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture?
Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto
him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the
reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that
worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the
ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Rom.
4:1-5. Therefore there is no occasion for one to glory over [p. 402] another or to grudge against another. No one is privileged
above another, nor can anyone claim the reward as a right.
The first and the last are to be sharers in the great,
eternal reward, and the first should gladly welcome the last.
He who grudges the reward to another forgets that he
himself is saved by grace alone. The parable of the
laborers rebukes all jealousy and suspicion. Love rejoices
in the truth and institutes no envious comparisons. He
who possesses love compares only the loveliness of Christ
and his own imperfect character.
This parable is a warning to all laborers, however long
their service, however abundant their labors, that without
love to their brethren, without humility before God, they
are nothing. There is no religion in the enthronement of
self. He who makes self-glorification his aim will find
himself destitute of that grace which alone can make him
efficient in Christ's service. Whenever pride and
self-complacency are indulged, the work is marred.
It is not the length of time we labor but our willingness
and fidelity in the work that makes it acceptable to
God. In all our service a full surrender of self is demanded.
The smallest duty done in sincerity and self-forgetfulness is
more pleasing to God than the greatest work when marred
with self-seeking. He looks to see how much of the spirit
of Christ we cherish, and how much of the likeness of
Christ our work reveals. He regards more the love and
faithfulness with which we work than the amount we do.
Only when selfishness is dead, when strife for supremacy
is banished, when gratitude fills the heart, and love
makes fragrant the life—it is only then that Christ is abiding
in the soul, and we are recognized as laborers together
However trying their labor, the true workers do not
regard it as drudgery. They are ready to spend and to be [p. 403] spent; but it is a cheerful work, done with a glad heart.
Joy in God is expressed through Jesus Christ. Their joy
is the joy set before Christ—"to do the will of Him that sent
Me, and to finish His work." John 4:34. They are in
co-operation with the Lord of glory. This thought sweetens
all toil, it braces the will, it nerves the spirit for whatever
may befall. Working with unselfish heart, ennobled by
being partakers of Christ's sufferings, sharing His
sympathies, and co-operating with Him in His labor, they help
to swell the tide of His joy and bring honor and praise
to His exalted name.
This is the spirit of all true service for God. Through a
lack of this spirit, many who appear to be first will become
last, while those who possess it, though accounted last, will
There are many who have given themselves to Christ,
yet who see no opportunity of doing a large work or making
great sacrifices in His service. These may find comfort
in the thought that it is not necessarily the martyr's
self-surrender which is most acceptable to God; it may not be
the missionary who has daily faced danger and death that
stands highest in heaven's records. The Christian who is
such in his private life, in the daily surrender of self, in
sincerity of purpose and purity of thought, in meekness
under provocation, in faith and piety, in fidelity in that
which is least, the one who in the home life represents the
character of Christ—such a one may in the sight of God
be more precious than even the world-renowned missionary
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copy of this enlightening book about the parables of Christ.
Oh, how different are the standards by which God and
men measure character. God sees many temptations
resisted of which the world and even near friends never
know—temptations in the home, in the heart. He sees
the soul's humility in view of its own weakness; the [p. 404] sincere repentance over even a thought that is evil. He sees
the wholehearted devotion to His service. He has noted
the hours of hard battle with self—battle that won the
victory. All this God and angels know. A book of
remembrance is written before Him for them that fear the Lord and
that think upon His name.
Not in our learning, not in our position, not in our
numbers or entrusted talents, not in the will of man, is to
be found the secret of success. Feeling our inefficiency we
are to contemplate Christ, and through Him who is the
strength of all strength, the thought of all thought, the
willing and obedient will gain victory after victory.
And however short our service or humble our work, if
in simple faith we follow Christ, we shall not be
disappointed of the reward. That which even the greatest and
wisest cannot earn, the weakest and most humble may
receive. Heaven's golden gate opens not to the self-exalted.
It is not lifted up to the proud in spirit. But the
everlasting portals will open wide to the trembling touch of a
little child. Blessed will be the recompense of grace to
those who have wrought for God in the simplicity of faith
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"To Meet the Bridegroom"