One of the outstanding ironies of history is the utter disregard of ranks and titles in the final judgments men pass upon each other. And if this be so of men, how much more must it be so of the judgments of God.
Nero and Marcus Aurelius sat upon the throne of Rome clothed with absolute power and worshipped as gods, but what a difference! Nero, a monster of iniquity and utter cruelty, execrated of all men Aurelius, a vigorous administrator and benign philosopher, writing meditations which the wise and learned still delight to read and ponder and which, after two millenniums, are a guide to safe and useful living.
Washington and Napoleon were two great statesmen and military leaders. But what a difference! One a ruthless conqueror, building a glittering and evanescent empire on an ocean of blood, dying an exile on a lonely isle with a character for heartless selfishness which sinks lower and yet lower every year in the estimation of all right thinking men. The other refusing a crown, but laying the firm foundations of a State destined to be infinitely greater than Napoleon’s empire, and dying at last honored by his former foes, with a character above reproach, revered and beloved of all men.
John and Judas were two Apostles. But what a difference! One was a devil betraying his master with a kiss for a paltry handful of silver, and getting to himself a name that is a synonym for all infamy and treachery. The other pillowed his head on the Master’s bosom, and with wide, open eyes was permitted to look deep into Heaven, behold the great white throne and Him that sat upon it, the worshipping angel-hosts, the innumerable multitudes of the redeemed, the glory of the Lamb that was slain, and the face of the everlasting Father; while his name became a synonym for reverence and adoring love.
This summing up and final estimate of men shows that history cares not an iota for the rank and title a man has borne or the office he has held, but only for the quality of his deeds and the character of his mind and heart.
The haughty patricians of Rome doubtless passed by with contemptuous indifference or scorn as the scarred, hooked-nose Jewish prisoner, Paul, with sore eyes and wearied feet, went clanking by in chains to the dungeon, but their names have perished, while his name is enshrined in millions of hearts and embalmed in colleges, in cathedrals and cities, and libraries of books are reverently written about his character, his sufferings, and his work.
Who remembers the Lord Bishops of England in Bunyan’s day? But what unnumbered Christian hearts have turned with tears of deepest gratitude and tenderest affection and sympathy to the humble, joyous, inspired tinker, who, from the filthy, verminous Bedford jail, sent forth his immortal story of Pilgrim fleeing from the city of Destruction, and with hopes and fears, and tears and prayers, and sighs, and songs, pressing on over hills of difficulty, through sloughs of despond, past bewitching bowers of beguiling temptations and giants of despair and castles of doubt, till at last he beholds the delectable mountains, views not far away the city of the great King, hears the music of celestial harpers harping on their harps of gold, and, passing through the swelling river, is received with glad welcome on the other shore!
These men whom history acclaims, posterity reveres, and God crowns are the MEN WHO PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST.
(Excerpt from First Things First by Samuel Logan Brengle)