The School Of Obedience Part 1/
The School Of Obedience Part 1
The School of Obedience.
These addresses on Obedience are issued with the very fervent prayer that it may please our gracious Father to use them for the instruction and strengthening of the young men and women, on whose obedience and devotion so much depends for the Church and the world. To all of them who read this I send my loving greeting. The G.o.d of all grace bless them abundantly!
It often happens after a Conference, or even after writing a book, that it is as if one only then begins to see the meaning and importance of the truth with which one has been occupied. So I do indeed feel as if I had utterly failed in grasping or expounding the spiritual character, the altogether indispensable necessity, the divine and actual possibility, the inconceivable blessedness of a life of true and entire obedience to our Father in heaven. Let me, therefore, just in a few sentences gather up the main points which have come home to myself with special power, and ask every reader at starting to take note of them as some of the chief lessons to be learnt in Christ's school of obedience.
The Father in heaven asks, and requires, and actually expects, that every child of His yield Him whole-hearted and entire obedience, day by day, and all the day.
To enable His child to do this, He has made a most abundant and altogether sufficient provision in the promise of the New Covenant, and in the gift of His Son and Spirit.
This provision can alone, but can most certainly, be enjoyed, and these promises fulfilled, in the soul that gives itself up to a life in the abiding communion with the Three-One G.o.d, so that His presence and power work in it all the day.
The very entrance into this life demands the vow of absolute obedience, or the surrender of the whole being, to be, think, speak, do, every moment, nothing but what is according to the will of G.o.d, and well-pleasing to Him.
If these things be indeed true, it is not enough to a.s.sent to them: we need the Holy Spirit to give us such a vision of their glory and divine power, and the demand they make on our immediate and unconditional submission, that there may be no rest till we accept all that G.o.d is willing to do for us.
Let us all pray that G.o.d may, by the light of His Spirit, so show His loving and almighty will concerning us, that it may be impossible for us to be disobedient to the heavenly vision.
Wellington, 9th August, 1898.
I. Obedience: Its place In Holy Scripture.
In undertaking the study of a Bible word, or of a truth of the Christian life, it is a great help to take a survey of the place it takes in Scripture. As we see where, and how often, and in what connections it is found, its relative importance may be apprehended as well as its bearing on the whole of revelation. Let me try in this first chapter to prepare the way for the study of what obedience is, by showing you where to go in G.o.d's Word to find the mind of G.o.d concerning it.
1. TAKE SCRIPTURE AS A WHOLE.
We begin with Paradise. In Gen. 2:16, we read: And the Lord G.o.d commanded the man, saying.' And later (3:11), Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?'
Note how obedience to the command is the one virtue of Paradise, the one condition of man's abiding there, the one thing his Creator asks of him. Nothing is said of faith, or humility, or love: obedience includes all. As supreme as is the claim and authority of G.o.d is the demand for obedience as the one thing that is to DECIDE HIS DESTINY.
In the life of man, to obey is the one thing needful.
Turn now from the beginning to the close of the Bible. In its last chapter you read (Rev. 22:14), Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have a right to the tree of life.' Or, if we accept the Revised Version, which gives another reading, we have the same thought in chapters 12 and 14, where we read of the seed of the woman (12:17), which keep the commandments of G.o.d, and hold the testimony of Jesus'; and of the patience of the saints (14:12), Here are they that keep the commandments of G.o.d, and the faith of Jesus.'
From beginning to end, from Paradise lost to Paradise regained, the law is unchangeable-it is only obedience that gives access to the tree of life and the favor of G.o.d.
And if you ask how the change was effected out of the disobedience at the beginning that closed the way to the tree of life, to the obedience at the end that again gained entrance to it, turn to THAT WHICH STANDS MIDWAY between the beginning and the end-the cross of Christ. Read a pa.s.sage like Rom. 5:19, Through the obedience of the One shall the many be made righteous'; or Phil. 2:8, He became obedient unto death, therefore G.o.d hath highly exalted Him'; or Heb. 5:8, 9, He learned obedience and became the Author of salvation to them that obey Him,' and you see how the whole redemption of Christ consists in restoring obedience to its place. The beauty of His salvation consists in this, that He brings us back to the life of obedience, through which alone the creature can give the Creator the glory due to Him, or receive the glory of which his Creator desires to make him partaker.
Paradise, Calvary, Heaven, all proclaim with one voice: Child of G.o.d! the first and the last thing thy G.o.d asks of thee is simple, universal, unchanging obedience.'
II. LET US TURN TO THE OLD TESTAMENT.
Here let us specially notice how, with any new beginning in the history of G.o.d's kingdom, obedience always comes into special prominence.
1. Take Noah, the new father of the human race, and you will find four times written (Gen. 6:22; 7:5, 9, 16), According to all that G.o.d commanded Noah, so did he.'
It is the man who does what G.o.d commands, to whom G.o.d can entrust His work, whom G.o.d can use to be a savior of men.
2. Think of Abraham, the father of the chosen race. By faith Abraham obeyed' (Heb. 11:7).
When he had been forty years in this school of faith-obedience, G.o.d came to perfect his faith, and to crown it with His fullest blessing.
Nothing could fit him for this but a crowning act of obedience. When he had bound his son on the altar, G.o.d came and said (Gen. 22:12, 18), By Myself have I sworn, in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thee; and in thy seed shall all nations be blessed, because thou hast obeyed My voice.'
And to Isaac He spake (26:3, 5), I will perform the oath which I sware to Abraham, because that Abraham obeyed my voice.'
Oh, when shall we learn how unspeakably pleasing obedience is in G.o.d's sight, and how unspeakable is the reward He bestows upon it! The way to be a blessing to the world is to be men of obedience; known by G.o.d and the world by this
- a will utterly given up to G.o.d's will. Let all who profess to walk in Abraham's footsteps walk thus.
3. Go on to Moses. At Sinai, G.o.d gave him the message to the people (Ex. 19:4), If you will obey My voice indeed, ye shall be a peculiar treasure to Me above all people.'
In the very nature of things it cannot be otherwise. G.o.d's holy will is His glory and perfection; it is only by an entrance into His will, by obedience, that it is possible to be His people.
4. Take the building of the sanctuary in which G.o.d was to dwell. In the last three chapters of Exodus you have the expression nineteen times, According to all the Lord commanded Moses, so did he,' And then, The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.' Just so again in Lev. 8 and 9, you have, with reference to the consecration of the priests and the tabernacle, the same expression twelve times. And then, The glory of the Lord appeared before all the people, and fire came out from before the Lord, and consumed the burnt-offering.'
Words cannot make it plainer, that it is amid what the obedience of His people has wrought that G.o.d delights to dwell, that it is the obedient He crowns with His favor and presence.
5. After the forty years wandering in the wilderness, and its terrible revelation of the fruit of disobedience, there was again a new beginning when the people were about to enter Canaan. Read Deuteronomy, with all Moses spoke in sight of the land, and you will find there is no book of the Bible which uses the word obey' so frequently, or speaks so much of the blessing obedience will a.s.suredly bring. The whole is summed up in the words (11:27), I set before you a blessing if ye obey, a curse if ye will not obey.'
Yes, a Blessing if ye Obey'! that is the key-note of the blessed life.
Canaan, just like Paradise and Heaven, can be the place of blessing as it is the place of obedience. Would G.o.d we might take it in! Do beware only of praying only for a blessing. Let us care for the obedience, G.o.d will care for the blessing. Let my one thought as a Christian be, how I can obey and please my G.o.d perfectly.
6. The next new beginning we have is in the appointment of kings in Israel. In the story of Saul we have the most solemn warning as to the need of exact and entire obedience in a man whom G.o.d is to trust as ruler of His people. Samuel had commanded Saul (1 Sam. 10:8) to wait seven days for him to come and sacrifice, and to show him what to do.
When Samuel delayed (13:8-14) Saul took it upon himself to sacrifice.
When Samuel came he said: Thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy G.o.d, which He commanded thee; thy kingdom shall not continue, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.'
G.o.d will not honor the man who is not obedient.
Saul has a second opportunity given him of showing what is in his heart. He is sent to execute G.o.d's judgment against Amelek. He obeys.
He gathers an army of two hundred thousand men, undertakes the journey into the wilderness, and destroys Amelek. But while G.o.d had commanded him utterly to destroy all; and not to spare,' he spared the best of the cattle and Agag.
G.o.d speaks to Samuel, It repenteth Me that I have set up Saul to be king, for he hath not performed My commandment.'
When Samuel comes, Saul twice over says, I have performed the commandment of the Lord;' I have obeyed the voice of the Lord.'
And so he had, as many would think. But his obedience had not been entire. G.o.d claims exact, full obedience. G.o.d had said, Utterly destroy all! spare not!' This he had not done. He had spared the best sheep for a sacrifice unto the Lord. And Samuel said.
To obey is better than any sacrifice. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, the Lord hath rejected thee.'
Sad type of so much obedience, which in part performs G.o.d's commandment, and yet is not the obedience G.o.d asks! G.o.d says of all sin and all disobedience: Utterly destroy all! spare not!' May G.o.d reveal to us whether we are indeed going all lengths with Him, seeking utterly to destroy all and spare nothing that is not in perfect harmony with His will. It is only a whole-hearted obedience, down to the minutest details, that can satisfy G.o.d. Let nothing less satisfy you; lest while we say, I have obeyed,' G.o.d says, Thou hast rejected the word of the Lord.'
7. Just one word more from the Old Testament. Next to Deuteronomy Jeremiah is the book most full of the word obey,' though alas! mostly in connection with the complaint that the people had not obeyed. G.o.d sums up all His dealings with the fathers in the one word, I spake not with them concerning sacrifices, but this thing I commanded them, Obey My voice and I will be your G.o.d.'
Would G.o.d that we could learn that all that G.o.d speaks of sacrifices, even of the sacrifice of His beloved Son, is subordinate to the one thing-to have His creature restored to full obedience. Into all the inconceivable meaning of the word, I will be your G.o.d,' there is no gateway but this, Obey My voice.'
III. WE COME TO THE NEW TESTAMENT.
1. Here we think at once of our blessed Lord, and the prominence He gives to obedience as the one thing for which He was come into the world. He who entered it with His Lo, I come to do Thy will, O G.o.d,'
ever confessed to men, I seek not My own will, but the will of Him that sent Me.'
Of all He did and of all He suffered, even to the death, He said, This commandment have I received of My Father.'
If we turn to His teaching, we find everywhere, that the obedience He rendered is what He claims from everyone who would be His disciple.
During His whole ministry, from beginning to end, obedience is THE VERY ESSENCE OF SALVATION.
In the Sermon on the Mount He began with it: No one could enter the kingdom, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven.'
And in the farewell discourse, how wonderfully He reveals the spiritual character of true obedience as it is born of love and inspired by it, and as it also opens the way into the love of G.o.d. Do take into your heart the wonderful words, (John 14:15, 16, 21, 23), If ye love Me, ye will keep my commandments. And the Father will send forth the Spirit.
He hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself unto him. If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him.'
No words could express more simply or more powerfully the inconceivably glorious place Christ gives to obedience, with its twofold possibility, (1) as only possible to a loving heart, (2) as making possible all that G.o.d has to give of His Holy Spirit, of His wonderful love, of His indwelling in Christ Jesus. I know of no pa.s.sage in Scripture that gives a higher revelation of the spiritual life, or the power of loving obedience as its one condition. Let us pray G.o.d very earnestly that by His Holy Spirit its light may transfigure our daily obedience with its heavenly glory.
See how all this is confirmed in the next chapter. How well we know the parable of the vine! How often and how earnestly we have asked how to be able to abide continually in Christ We have thought of more study of the Word, more faith, more prayer, more communion with G.o.d, and we have overlooked the simple truth that Jesus teaches so clearly, If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love,' with its divine sanction, Even as I kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love.'
For Him as for us, the only way under heaven to abide in divine love is to keep the commandments. Do let me ask, have you known it, have you heard it preached, have you believed it and proved it true in your experience: obedience on earth is the key to a place in G.o.d's love in heaven? Unless there be some correspondence between G.o.d's whole-hearted love in heaven, and our whole-hearted, loving obedience on earth, Christ cannot manifest Himself to us, G.o.d cannot abide in us, we cannot abide in His love.
2. If we go on from our Lord Jesus to His apostles, we find in the Acts two words of Peter's which show how our Lord's teaching had entered into him. In the one, G.o.d hath given His Holy Spirit to them that obey Him,' -he proves how he knew what had been the preparation for Pentecost, the surrender to Christ. In the other, We must obey G.o.d rather than man' -we have the man-ward side: obedience is to be unto death; nothing on earth dare or can hinder it in the man who has given himself to G.o.d.
3. In Paul's Epistle to the Romans, we have, in the opening and closing verses the expression, the obedience of faith among all nations' (1:5; 16:26), as that for which he was made an apostle. He speaks of what G.o.d had wrought to make the Gentiles obedient.' He teaches that, as the obedience of Christ makes us righteous, we become the servants of obedience unto righteousness. As disobedience in Adam and in us was the one thing that wrought death, so obedience, in Christ and in us, is the one thing that the gospel makes known as the way of restoration to G.o.d and His favor.
4. We all know how James warns us not to be hearers of the Word only but doers, and expounds how Abraham was justified, and his faith perfected, by his works.
5. In Peter's First Epistle we have only to look at the first chapter, to see the place obedience has in his system. In ver. 2 he speaks to the Elect, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and blood-sprinkling of Jesus Christ,' and so points us to obedience as the eternal purpose of the Father, as the great object of the work of the Spirit, and a chief part of the salvation of Christ. In ver. 13 he writes, As children of obedience,' born of it, marked by it, subject to it, be ye holy in all manner of conversation.' Obedience is THE VERY STARTING POINT OF TRUE HOLINESS.
In ver. 22 we read, Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth,' -the whole acceptance of the truth of G.o.d was not merely a matter of intellectual a.s.sent or strong emotion: it was a subjection of the life to the dominion of the truth of G.o.d: the Christian life was in the first place obedience.
6. Of John we know how strong his statements are. He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His Commandments, is a liar.' Obedience is THE ONE CERTIFICATE OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.
Let us love in deed and truth; hereby we shall a.s.sure our hearts before Him. And whatsoever we ask we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.'
Obedience is the secret of good conscience, and of the confidence that G.o.d heareth us. This is the love of G.o.d, that we keep His Commandments.' The obedience that keeps His commandments: this is the garment in which the hidden, invisible love reveals itself, and whereby it is known.
Such is the place obedience has in Holy Scripture, in the mind of G.o.d, in the hearts of His servants. We may well ask, Does it take that place in my heart and life? Have we indeed given obedience that supreme place of authority over us that G.o.d means it to have, as the inspiration of every action, and of every approach to Him? If we yield ourselves to the searching of G.o.d's Spirit, we may find that we never gave it its true proportion in our scheme of life, and that this lack is the cause of all our failure in prayer and in work. We may see that the deeper blessings of G.o.d's grace, and the full enjoyment of G.o.d's love and nearness, have been beyond our reach, simply because obedience was never made what G.o.d would have it be-the starting-point and the goal of our Christian life.
Let this, our first study, waken in us an earnest desire to know G.o.d's will fully concerning this truth. Let us unite in praying that the Holy Spirit may show us how defective the Christian's life is, where obedience does not rule all; how that life can be exchanged for one of full surrender to absolute obedience; and how sure it is that G.o.d in Christ will enable us to live it out.
II. The Obedience of Christ.
Through the obedience of the One shall all the many be made righteous.... Know ye not that ye are servants of obedience unto righteousness?' -Rom. 5:19; 6:16.
Through the obedience of the One shall the many be made righteous.'
These words tell us what we owe to Christ. As in Adam we were made sinners, in Christ we are made righteous.
The words tell us, too, to what in Christ it is we owe our righteousness. As Adam's disobedience made us sinners, the obedience of Christ makes us righteous. To the obedience of Christ we owe everything.
Among the treasures of our inheritance in Christ this is one of the richest. How many have never studied it, so as to love it and delight in it, and get the full blessing of it! May G.o.d, by His Holy Spirit, reveal its glory, and make us partakers of its power.
You are familiar with the blessed truth of justification by faith. In the section of the Epistle to the Romans preceding our pa.s.sage (3:21-5:11) Paul had taught what its ever-blessed foundation was-the atonement of the blood of Christ; what its way and condition-faith in the free grace of a G.o.d who justifies the unG.o.dly; and what its blessed fruits-the bestowment of the righteousness of Christ, with an immediate access into the favor of G.o.d, and the hope of glory. In our pa.s.sage he now proceeds to unfold the deeper truth of the union with Christ by faith, in which justification has its root, and which makes it possible and right for G.o.d to accept us for His sake. Paul goes back to Adam and our union with him, with all the consequences that flowed from that union, to prove how reasonable, how perfectly natural (in the higher sense of the word) it is that those who receive Christ by faith, and are so united with Him, become partakers of His righteousness and His life. It is in this argument that he specially emphasizes the contrast between the disobedience of Adam, with the condemnation and death it wrought, and the obedience of Christ, with the righteousness and life it brings. As we study the place the obedience of Christ takes in His work for our salvation, and see in it the very root of our redemption, we shall know what place to give it in our heart and life.
Through the one man's disobedience many were made sinners.' How was this?
There was a twofold connection between Adam and his descendants-the judicial and the vital.
JUDICIAL AND VITAL CONNECTION.
Through the judicial, the whole race, though yet unborn, came at once under the sentence of death. Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them' -such as little children- who had not sinned after the likeness of Adam's transgression.'
This judicial relation was rooted in the vital connection. The sentence could not have come upon them, if they had not been in Adam. And the vital again became the manifestation of the judicial; each child of Adam enters life under the power of sin and death. Through the disobedience of the one, the many were const.i.tuted sinners,' both by position subject to the curse of sin and by nature subject to its power.
Adam is the figure of Him who was to come,' and who is called the Second Adam, the Second Father of the race. Adam's disobedience in its effects is the exact similitude of what the obedience of Christ becomes to us. When a sinner believes in Christ, he is united to Him, and is at once, by a judicial sentence, p.r.o.nounced and accepted as righteous in G.o.d's sight. The judicial relationship is rooted in the vital. He has Christ's righteousness only by having Christ Himself, and being in Him.
Before he knows aught of what it is to be in Christ, he can know himself acquitted and accepted. But he is then led on to know the vital connection, and to understand that as real and complete as was his partic.i.p.ation in Adam's disobedience with the death as well as the sinful nature that followed on it, is his partic.i.p.ation in Christ's obedience, with both the righteousness and the obedient life and nature that come from it.
Let us see and understand this: Through Adam's disobedience we are made sinners. The one thing G.o.d asked of Adam in Paradise was obedience. The one thing by which a creature can glorify G.o.d, or enjoy His favor and blessing, is obedience. The one cause of the power sin has got in the world, and the ruin it has wrought, is disobedience. The whole curse of sin on us is owing to disobedience imputed to us. The whole power of sin working in us, is nothing but this-that as we receive Adam's nature, we inherit his disobedience-we are born the children of disobedience.'
It is evident that THE ONE WORK A CHRIST WAS NEEDED FOR.
was to remove this disobedience-its curse, its dominion, its evil nature and workings. Disobedience was the root of all sin and misery.