Christian Devotedness

Matthew 5:16; Luke 9:59-61; 2 Corinthians 4:10; 2 Corinthians 5:14; 2 Corinthians 8:5; Ephesians 5:1-2  •  23 min. read  •  grade level: 7
If there be one thing of importance now, it is Christian devotedness. I do not separate this from Christian doctrine, but found it on it. I do not surely separate it from the presence and power of the Spirit (one of the most important of these doctrines), for it is produced by it. But Christian devotedness founded on the truth, and produced by the power of the Spirit, I believe to be of the utmost importance for the saints themselves and for the testimony of God. I believe surely that doctrine is of deep importance now: clearness as to redemption, and the peace that belongs to the Christian through divine righteousness, the presence and living power of the Comforter sent down from heaven, the sure and blessed hope of Christ's coming again to receive us to Himself that where He is we shall be also, that we shall be like Himself seeing Him as He is, and that if we die we shall be present with Him, the knowledge that risen with Him we shall be blessed not only through but with Christ, the deep practical identification with Him through our being united with Him by the Holy Spirit. All these things, and many things connected with them, held in the power of the Holy Spirit separate us from the world, shelter the soul by the spiritual possession of Christ glorified, the conscious possession of Christ, from the cavils of current infidelity, and give a living spring to the joy and hope of the whole Christian life. But the expression of the power of them in the heart will manifest itself in devotedness.
Christianity has exercised a mighty influence over the world, even where it is openly rejected, as well as where it is professedly received. Care of the poor and the supply of temporal wants have become recognized duties of society. And where the truth is not known and Christianity is corrupted, diligent devotedness to this, on the false ground of merit, is largely used to propagate that corruption. And even where infidelity prevails the habits of feeling produced by Christianity prevail, and man becomes the object of diligent, though often of perverted, care. The testimony of the true saint surely should not be wanting where falsehood has imitated the good effects of truth. But there are higher motives than these; and it is of the true character of devotedness I would speak.
I accept as the general rule that, any special call of God apart, Christians should abide in the calling wherein they are called. This is only the place of their walk, its motives and character are behind. These are summed up in one word— Christ. He is at once the life and the object or motive of life in us, giving thus its character to our walk. “To me,” says the apostle, “to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:2121For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)). There are two great parts of divine life of which devotedness is one. Both are infinite and unspeakable privileges for us and both perfected by, manifested in, Christ. The one God Himself, the other the actings and display of His nature, as love, the divine witness of His nature which is love. This was seen in Christ. His communion with His Father was perfect, as was His desire to glorify Him. Life to Him here below was life on account of the Father (John 6:5757As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. (John 6:57)). But He was the display, at all cost to Himself, of divine love to men. These could not be separated in His soul. His Father was His continual delight and object, His exercise of love and display of His Father, of the divine nature by it, constant and perfect. But this was His devotedness.
Another principle must be added to this to complete those which governed His walk: undivided obedience to His Father's will, His having that will for His constant motive. Love to the Father and obedience to Him gave form and character to His love to us. And so it is with us, only that He Himself comes in as the more immediate object, but this in no way hindering the display of the divine nature in love. “Be ye imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love even as the Christ hath loved us, and delivered himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor” (Eph. 5:1-21Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; 2And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savor. (Ephesians 5:1‑2) JND). Note here the fullness of motive and character which is shown, and how high and blessed that motive and character is. We are followers and imitators of God. We walk in love as Christ loved us. It is the exercise of divine love as displayed in Christ. There is no stint in it. He gave Himself, nothing short of Himself, wholly; a principle often repeated as to Christ, His love to us, for He gave Himself for us. Yet God was the object and motive constituting its perfection: “an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.” It is thus we are called to walk, to imitate God, to follow Him as He displayed Himself in Christ.
If it be blessed to joy in God, who is love, it is blessed to follow Him in the love He has exercised. Yet as displayed in Christ as a man, it has God Himself for its object: and so with us. The love that descends down from God working in man rises up always towards and to God as its just and necessary object. It can have nothing lower as its spring, towards whomsoever it is exercised. All the incense of the meat-offering was burnt on the altar, however sweet the savor to others. This constitutes, as I have said, its essential character and excellence; nor do its just actings in us come short of its actings in Christ. “Hereby,” says John, we know love, “because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:1616Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3:16)). There is no question of any cup of wrath for us. Here Christ stood, of course, alone; but all self-sacrifice displayed in Him we are called upon to display, as having His life, Himself, in us.
But I will consider this a little more methodically before I press it hortatively on my brethren. As to reward, as motive or merit, it is clear that any such thought destroys the whole truth of devotedness, because there is no love in it. It is self, looking, like “James and John,” for a good place in the kingdom. Reward there is in Scripture, but it is used to encourage us in the difficulties and dangers which higher and truer motives bring us into. So Christ Himself, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:22Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)). Yet we well know that His motive was love. So Moses: “He endured, as seeing him who is invisible ... for he had respect to the recompense of reward.” His motive was caring for his brethren. So reward is ever used, and it is a great mercy in this way. And every man receives his reward according to his own labor.
The spring and source of all true devotedness is divine love filling and operating in our hearts: as Paul says, “the love of Christ constraineth us” (2 Cor. 5:1414For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: (2 Corinthians 5:14)). Its form and character must be drawn from Christ's actings. Hence grace must first be known for oneself, for thus it is I know love. Thus it is that this love is shed abroad in the heart. We learn divine love in divine redemption. This redemption sets us too, remark, in divine righteousness before God. Thus all question of merit, of self-righteousness, is shut out, and self-seeking in our labor set aside. “Grace,” we have learned, reigns “through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:2121That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:21)). The infinite perfect love of God towards us has wrought; has done so when we were mere sinners; has thought of our need; given us eternal life in Christ when we were dead in sins—forgiveness and divine righteousness when we were guilty; gives us now to enjoy divine love, to enjoy God by His Spirit dwelling in us, and boldness in the day of judgment, because as Christ, the Judge, is, so are we in this world. I speak of all this now in view of the love shown in it. True, that could not have been divinely without righteousness. That is gloriously made good through Christ, and the heart is free to enjoy God's unhindered love: a love shown to men in man. For the very angels learn “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:77That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:7)). This knits the heart to Christ, bringing it to God in Him, God in Him to us. We say nothing separates us from this love.
The first effect is to lead the heart up, thus sanctifying it: we bless God, adore God, thus known; our delight, adoring delight, is in Jesus. But thus near to God and in communion with Him, thus not only united, but consciously united, to Christ by the Holy Spirit, divine love flows into and through our hearts. We become animated by it through our enjoyment of it. It is really “God dwelling in us,” as John expresses it; His love “shed abroad in our hearts,” as Paul does. It flows thus forth as it did in Christ. Its objects and motives are as in Him, save that He Himself comes in as revealing it. It is the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord; not the less God, but God revealed in Christ, for there we have learned love. Thus, in all true devotedness, Christ is the first and governing object; next, “His own which were in the world”; and then our fellow-men. First their souls, then their bodies, and every want they are in. His life of good to man governs ours, but His death governs the heart, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:1616Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3:16)). “The love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:14-1514For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: 15And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. (2 Corinthians 5:14‑15)).
We must note, too, that as redemption and divine righteousness are that through which grace reigns and love is known, all idea of merit and self-righteousness is utterly excluded, so it is a new life in us which both enjoys God and to which His love is precious; which alone is capable of delighting, as a like nature, in the blessedness that is in Him, and in which His divine love operates towards others. It is not the benevolence of nature, but the activity of divine love in the new man.
Its genuineness is thus tested, because Christ has necessarily the first place with this nature, and its working is in that estimate of right and wrong which the new man alone has, and of which Christ is the measure and motive. “Not as we hoped,” says Paul (it was more than he hoped), speaking of active charity; “but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God” (2 Cor. 8:55And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God. (2 Corinthians 8:5)).
But it is more than a new nature. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit; and God's love is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit which is given to us. And as it springs up like a well in us unto eternal life, so also living waters flow out from us by the Holy Spirit which we have received. All true devotedness, then, is the action of divine love in the redeemed, through the Holy Spirit given to them.
There may be a zeal which compasses sea and land, but it is in the interest of a prejudice, or the work of Satan. There may be natural benevolence clothed with a fairer name, and irritated if it be not accepted for its own sake. There may be the sense of obligation and legal activity, which, through grace, may lead farther, though it be the pressure of conscience, not the activity of love. The activity of love does not destroy the sense of obligation in the saint, but alters the whole character of his work. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:1717Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (2 Corinthians 3:17)). In God love is active, but sovereign; in the saint it is active, but a duty, because of grace. It must be free to have the divine character—to be love. Yet we owe it all, and more than all to Him that loved us. The Spirit of God which dwells in us is a Spirit of adoption, and so of liberty with God, but it fixes the heart on God's love in a constraining way. Every right feeling in a creature must have an object, and, to be right, that object must be God, and God revealed in Christ as the Father; for in that way God possesses our souls.
Hence Paul, speaking of himself, says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:2020I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)). His life was a divine life. Christ lived in him, but it was a life of faith, a life living wholly by an object, and that object Christ; and known as the Son of God loving and giving Himself for him. Here we get the practical character and motive of Christian devotedness—living to Christ. We live on account of Christ: He is the object and reason of our life (all outside is the sphere of death); but this is the constraining power of the sense of His giving Himself for us. So, in a passage already referred to, “The love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but to him which died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:14-1514For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: 15And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. (2 Corinthians 5:14‑15)). They live to and for that, and nothing else. It may be a motive for various duties, but it is the motive and end of life. “We are not our own, but bought with a price,” and have to “glorify God in our bodies.”
What is supposed here is not a law contending or arresting a will seeking its own pleasure, but the blessed and thankful yielding of ourselves to the love of the blessed Son of God, and a heart entering into that love and its object by a life which flows from Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Hence it is a law of liberty. Hence too, it can only have objects of service which that life can have, and the Holy Spirit can fix the heart on; and that service will be the free service of delight. Flesh may seek to hinder, but its objects cannot be those the new man and the Holy Spirit seek. The heart ranges in the sphere in which Christ does. It loves the brethren, for Christ does; and all the saints, for He does. It seeks the all for whom Christ died, yet knowing that only grace can bring any of them; and endures “all things for the elect's sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:1010Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:10)). It seeks to “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:2828Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: (Colossians 1:28)); to see the saints grow up to Him who is the Head in all things, and walk worthy of the Lord. It seeks to see the church presented as a chaste virgin unto Christ. It continues in its love, though the more abundantly it loves, the less it be loved. It is ready to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
The governing motive characterizes all our walk: all is judged by it. A man of pleasure flings away money; so does an ambitious man. They judge of the value of things by pleasure and power. The covetous man thinks their path folly, judges of everything by its tendency to enrich. The Christian judges of everything by Christ. If it hinders His glory in oneself or another, it is cast away. It is judged of not as sacrifice, but cast away as a hindrance. All is dross and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. To cast away dross is no great sacrifice. How blessedly self is gone here! “Gain to me has disappeared. What a deliverance that is! Unspeakably precious for ourselves and morally elevating! Christ gave Himself. We have the privilege of forgetting self and living to Christ. It will be rewarded, our service in grace; but love has its own joys in serving in love. Self likes to be served. Love delights to serve. So we see, in Christ, on earth, now; when we are in glory, He girds Himself and serves us. And shall not we, if we have the privilege, imitate, serve, give ourselves to Him, who so loves us? Living to God inwardly is the only possible means of living to Him outwardly. All outward activity not moved and governed by this is fleshly and even a danger to the soul—tends to make us do without Christ and brings in self. It is not devotedness, for devotedness is devotedness to Christ, and this must be in looking to being with Him. I dread great activity without great communion; but I believe that, when the heart is with Christ, it will live to Him.
The form of devotedness, of external activity, will be governed by God's will and the competency to serve; for devotedness is a humble, holy thing, doing its Master's will; but the spirit of undivided service to Christ is the true part of every Christian. We want wisdom: God gives it liberally. Christ is our true wisdom. We want power: we learn it in dependence through Him who strengthens us. Devotedness is a dependent, as it is a humble spirit. So it was in Christ. It waits on its Lord. It has courage and confidence in the path of God's will, because it leans on divine strength in Christ. He can do all things. Hence it is patient and does what it has to do according to His will and word: for then He can work; and He does all that is done which is good.
There is another side of this which we have to look at. The simple fact of undivided service in love is only joy and blessing. But we are in a world where it will be opposed and rejected, and the heart would naturally save self. This Peter presented to Christ, and Christ treated it as Satan. We shall find the flesh shrinks instinctively from the fact and from the effect of devotedness to Christ, because it is giving up self, and brings reproach, neglect, and opposition on us. We have to take up our cross to follow Christ; not to return to bid adieu to them that are at home in the house. It is our home still, if we say so, and we shall at best be John Marks in the work. And it will be found it is ever then “suffer me first! If there be anything but Christ it will be before Christ, not devotedness to Him with a single eye. But this is difficult to the heart, that there should be no self-seeking, no selfsparing, no self-indulgence! Yet none of these things are devotedness to Christ and to others, but the very opposite. Hence, if we are to live to Christ, we must hold ourselves dead, and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And in point of fact, if the flesh be practically allowed, it is a continual hindrance; and reproach and opposition are then a burden, not a glory. We have with Paul to bear “about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Cor. 4:1010Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:10)), and so to have the sentence of death made good in ourselves. Here the Lord's help, through trials and difficulties, comes in. But we are “more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:3737Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. (Romans 8:37)). Nothing separates us from that love. But if we come to the management of our own heart, we shall find that this “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus” is the great difficulty and tests the inward state of the soul. Yet there is no liberty of service nor power but in the measure of it; only, remark, we have this power in the sense of grace. It is the power of the sense we have of His dying and giving Himself for us, which by grace makes us hold ourselves as dead to all but Him. Outwardly it may be comparatively easy, and so is outward labor when self and Satan's power are not felt in opposition. But to have Christ's dying always made good against self, detected by the cross, supposes Christ to be all in the affections. The true power and quality of work is measured by it—the operations of God's Spirit by us. This is the one way of devotedness in God's sight, and God's power and the having the mind of Christ in the service we do render. This only is life.. All the rest of our life, not to speak of loss or judgment, perishes when our breath goes forth. It belongs to the first Adam and to the scene he moves in, not to the Second. It is only the life which we live by Christ which remains as life.
Its motives and character are twofold: the cross and Christ in glory. The love of Christ constrains us in the cross to give ourselves wholly up to Him who has so loved us, given Himself wholly up for us. The winning Christ and being like Him in glory gives energy, and the spring and power of hope to our path. But how constraining and mighty is the first motive, if we have really felt it! Yet how lowly! It makes us of little esteem to ourselves in the presence of such love. We see we are not our own, but bought with a price. Nor is that all. The sense of the love of Christ takes possession of the heart and constrains us. We desire to live too to Him who gave Himself for us. The perfection of the offering and the absoluteness and perfectness with which it was offered, alike His love to us in it, has power over our souls. “Through the eternal Spirit he offered himself without spot to God” (Heb. 9:1414How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14)). The sense that we are not our own deepens the claim in our hearts, yet takes away all merit in the devotedness. So wise and sanctifying are God's ways! How does the thought too of winning Him make all around us but dross and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Him! What is all compared with pleasing Him, possessing Him, being with Him and like Him forever! It puts the value of Christ, as the motive, on everything we do. It leads to true largeness of heart, for all dear to Him becomes precious to us, yet keeps from all looseness of natural feelings, for we are shut up to Christ. What is not His glory is impossible. It puts sin practically out of the heart by the power of divine affections, by having the heart filled with Him. Practically the new nature only lives with Christ for its object.
It applies too, remark, to everything, because we have to please Christ in everything. Dress, worldly manners, worldliness in every shape, disappears; they cannot be alike or agreeable to Him whom the world rejected, because He testified to it that its works were evil. The tone of the mind is unworldly, does not refer to it, save to do good to it when it can. The place of the Christian is to be the epistle of Christ. Christ thus possessing the heart has a circumscribing power. The motives, thoughts, relationships of the world do not enter into the heart. But, Christ moving all within, and all being referred in the heart to Him, it carries its own character in Him out into the world. Kept from the evil, it is the active exercise of good that is in Him, the love of God: the heart shut up to God, but all the blessedness of God going out in the measure in which the vessel contains it.
The love is thus active. Christ has purified to “himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:1414Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:14)). Christ's love is active, but it is guided by the mind of Christ. It loves the brethren as Christ did; that is, has its spring in itself, not in the object; but feels all their sorrows and infirmities, yet it is above them all so as to bear and forbear, and find in them the occasion of its holy exercises. It is alike tender in spirit and firm in consistency with the divine path, for such was Christ's love.
It has another character: whatever its devotedness and activity, it is obedience. There cannot be a righteous will in a creature, for righteousness in a creature is obedience. Adam fell, having a will independent of God. Christ came to do the will of Him that sent Him, and in His highest devotedness His path was that of obedience. “The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me. But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father hath given me commandment, even so I do” (John 14:3030Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. (John 14:30)). This both guides in devotedness and keeps us quiet and humble.
Our conclusion, then, is simple undivided devotedness to Christ; Christ the only object, whatever duties that motive may lead to faithfulness in; nonconformity to the world which rejected Him; a bright, heavenly hope connecting itself with Christ in glory, who will come and receive us to Himself and make us like Him, so that we should be as men that wait for their Lord; His love constraining us, in all things caring for what He cares for, Christ crucified, and Christ before us as our hope, the centers round which our whole life turns.
There is another point one may do well to notice, which makes the plain difference between devotedness and natural kindness. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:1616Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)). The Lord does not tell them to let their good works shine before men; elsewhere He says the contrary. But their profession of Christ is to be so distinct that men may know to what to attribute their good works, and glorify their Father which is in heaven. What is wanted among Christians, is that through grace they should be Christians devoted, plainly devoted, in all their ways, devoted in heart and soul to Him who loved them and gave Himself for them.