What Is the Responsibility of the Saints?

 •  34 min. read  •  grade level: 8
It is an unhappy circumstance that many Christians have an idea that responsibility and grace are incompatible (and by grace I mean full saving grace), and if strongly impressed with the necessary truth of the one, they reject the other. This arises partly from the groundless supposition that responsibility and uncertainty, as to the result, necessarily go together; partly from a confusion between the responsibility of man, sinful man, and the saint’s responsibility; and partly from the supposition that responsibility and power must necessarily go together. All these suppositions are founded on human reasonings, and are all alike groundless. When a Roman cut off his thumb, so that he could not hold a spear, his responsibility to the State to be a soldier had not ceased, although he had not the power to fulfill his responsibility. The responsibility flowed from another course, namely, his being a Roman subject or citizen. If I command my child to come, and it will not, alleged incapacity to come, if true, is not an excuse, if it willed not to come. Had the will been there, the incapacity might have been removed.
Again, the elect angels are bound to do God’s will, but there is no uncertainty. God sustains them in will and deed they delight to do His will, and there is no question at all about the result. Such a question cannot be raised. Their delight to do God’s will is a part of their existence, in which they are sustained by infinite power, and thus they do it by the strength given to them. Even Christ Himself was responsible to do His Father’s will when He had undertaken it; but there could be no question for a moment as to failure. His moral being was perfectness, was never anything else, nor could be. But every created being is responsible; that is, he ought always to do God’s will, not his own. It flows from the necessary and immutable relation of the creature to the Creator. The creature ought to be, in all its thoughts and ways, what suits the relationship in which it subsists. All relationships as such have duties in the including thoughts and feelings which correspond to and express the relationship. Husband and wife, father and child, master and servant, brother and sister, by virtue of the relationship in which they are, ought to be what the word expresses, and all that is implied in it. The husband is bound to be a husband: that is, he is bound to be what the word means; and so the wife; and the rest. The relationship is not the duty; but the duty is inseparable from the thought of it. It will be found that this is not the idea that men have of their responsibility to God (and in part they are right, but that they are so is the consequence of the fall), and in practical result they are wholly wrong.
The idea men generally have of responsibility is, that they must live in a certain way to escape judgment, and to gain eternal life. Now there is a fundamental truth in this, as in every testimony of conscience. “To them who by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life” (Rom. 2:77To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: (Romans 2:7)). They who are contentious, and do not obey the truth, will have “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil.”
As a general principle, we have the knowledge of good and evil (which in itself is a divine perfection, though we have acquired it through the fall), and we know that God approves good and hates evil. So far as the fact of a natural conscience, thus judging, goes, men are right. But they do not really believe, till taught of God, that we are in this state as fallen. Yet all their life betrays it—I do not merely mean betrays the fact that they are sinners, but the thought that they must gain eternal life, find God’s favor, and as they hope in the end come to God, and be happy. They have not yet found Him then, nor know His thoughts concerning them. They are in no relationship with God, from which duties flow, save that in which they have already failed; but while they look at God as a Judge, they hope to win a place of safety in a happy relationship, by doing their best, and with God’s help, and the like.
This may have a more or less religious coloring, but the general idea remains the same; that man has to win the happy relationship to God by his conduct; that he is responsible to please God in his conduct, and by this means inherit (really at bottom, merit, whatever makeweight they may throw in) eternal life and happiness. God’s goodness, Christ’s merits, religious duties and ceremonies, come in to help the account, and make up for failures; but account it is, to be decided by the day of judgment, and uncertain till then. There is no present subsisting relationship with God. There is no real consciousness of being either saved or lost. Man, perhaps, is admitted to have been lost, but in some vague way. Christianity, it is thought, has put an end to this (without, after all, saving him), at least provided men behave themselves properly. The result is, a man’s responsibility is to maintain a conduct required in order to inherit eternal life, and a real present relationship to God is unknown. It is to be acquired. Some indeed pretend by ceremonies to place you in a perfect relationship with God; but it is lost before it is found or known, so that it has nothing moral in it, and the result is, man has to make it out, after all, by his own conduct.
Now, though there is an abstract principle of truth in the groundwork of this idea, the real truth of man’s condition and Christianity is wholly set aside by it.
God does love good and hate evil. There must be a life in true purpose of what is good, to be with Him in bliss; and natural conscience gives a true, if not an adequate sense of good and evil, and of its result. But these general principles say nothing of my actual state, be I in or out of Christ. They are true, but they say nothing of me, nor do they tell me what responsibility is, nor what my actual relationship to God is, if I am in one. Responsibility there is. The maintenance of responsibility is the maintenance of the rights of God—of His authority over us. Where it is objected to, there lies always at the bottom of the objection either the notion that man must have power of his own to be responsible, or that the result is uncertain, which is only another form of the same idea. But if God creates any being, He creates it in and for the position it is in, whatever be His ultimate purpose, and cannot mean it to abide in inconsistency with the position He has placed it in. It would be a kind of blasphemy against Him and deny judgment. No, the angels that kept not their first estate are reserved in chains of darkness. Man, who kept not his first estate, is passed under death, and excluded from paradise, awaiting also the judgment of God, except as delivered and saved in Christ. “So he drove out the man” (Gen. 3:2424So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)).
But then the notion man has of responsibility—that of conduct by which eternal life may be won—is a mere consequence of our fallen state, of our alienation from God. It is a laboring, working, to win what we have not, and to gain by our conduct a position in which we are not. Yet, though this is consequent on the fall, on our distance from God, that distance is not really known. What man is, as fallen is not really acknowledged: for if such be our position, we are already lost. We need to be saved.
But responsibility to pursue a course of conduct by which we gain a position or a reward is not the only character of responsibility: nay, it is an unnatural one—one which flows from disordered relationships. True, genuine responsibility is the walking according to a position in which we are, and which carries its obligations with it. The impossibility of losing the position does not alter the responsibility, but makes it perpetual. A child is always a child to its parent, be he a good child or a disobedient one. We must get the thought well fixed in our minds, that responsibility connected with labor for the yet uncertain attainment of a relationship in which we are not yet, is an extraordinary, and, so to speak, an unnatural, kind of responsibility.
When we come to the real fact of what a creature is, we shall find that uncertainty does not characterize responsibility so much as we suppose. If not sustained of God by divine strength, we shall fail; if sustained, we shall not. Our sense of this dependence is our daily safety. “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:55I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5)). The angels that fell, and Adam, are witnesses of the path of a creature left to his responsibility, untempted or tempted. The elect angels and renewed men are examples of beings sustained of God in responsibility. But man is not of this mind. He is, he says, in a state of probation; he thinks that, though fallen, he may (doubtless, he will say, with God’s help) make out the leading a life which will adequately satisfy his responsibility. Many, of course, will add the goodness of God (as they will feel their path imperfect) and the merits of Christ, to make up what fails.
It is not my purpose to dwell on this point; but the truth is, what is here called goodness is merely a hope that God will think as lightly of our sins as we do, and as we, for safety’s sake, should like Him to do, which is a sure proof of not being converted. As to the merits of Christ, they are not meant to make sin excusable, but righteousness perfect before God. His blood cleanses from sin, because God will have none before Him. He is our righteousness, and it is a divine and perfect one: but He is not to make up ours, so that our failures are forgotten.
But, for man, out of God’s presence, with the thought of having to do with God, this question must arise—how to have His favor, how to have life. And God has met it. Man is responsible to live before God according to the position he is in as man. He has got wholly out of this. Morally he is a sinner. But the character of the responsibility depends on the relationship between man and God, and man and man. He has to act according to the relationship in which he is as man toward each. That is abstractedly what he ought to be. He pretends to be or to will it, and takes his position on this ground to seek God’s favor and life. God takes him up on this ground: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke 10:2727And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. (Luke 10:27)). Or, if man will, He presents to him the duties even of the second table, as it is called—”this do, and thou shalt live” (Luke 10:2828And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. (Luke 10:28)). This is written in the law, and sanctioned by the Lord as the answer to the question, What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? Let man, away from God, do that, and he shall live.
Promises had been given unconditionally, which center all in Christ, the Seed of the woman, and of Abraham, and of David. Here no question of righteousness was raised: none of responsibility. It was the free gift of God, His promise. If we dare to say so, He was responsible alone; His accomplishment of the promise therefore sure. But, with a creature knowing good and evil, and with a God who judges it, the question of righteousness must come. God could not be indifferent to evil. The question of responsibility and righteousness was raised in the law, There the promises were taken on condition of obedience, and “this do and live” became the rule for man. Responsibility took partially the character of a position to be acquired by conduct, and the fulfillment of the duties of a position in which man already was. I speak of course as between him and God. In that conduct relative duties are contained, but the accomplishment of them was to be the means of possessing life. The real result was the discovery that the righteousness was not to be had, that the condition which had made it necessary made it impossible. Man was a sinner away from God. Therefore he had to seek life; but therefore he had not the righteousness needed to acquire it. As the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda, the disease of which he had to be cured disabled him from doing that by which he was to acquire health.
The law was given, as Scripture expressly declares, that this state of things might be made plain to the conscience of man. It entered that the offense might abound. By it was the knowledge of sin. Sin, by it, became exceeding sinful; and it proved not only that sin was there but a harder lesson, namely, that we were slaves to it—”without strength”—that the law was weak through the flesh, and that flesh could not be subject to it. As many as were of the works of the law were under the curse. The responsibility was undertaken, not fulfilled; and what was ordained for life was found to be for death. This is not all that man has done, but I confine myself to my subject, namely, what was done as to inheriting eternal life, by meeting our responsibility as men. It is closed. We have lost our created position in innocence; we cannot gain another by our conduct. We are, as men, lost! The responsibility was there in paradise, and man failed. He places himself under it when really already ruined, under the law, and makes his ruin evident. Such is the only result, as to our relationship with God, of our being on the ground of responsibility as men. What is needed for us is the distinct discovery of it. We are under sin, death, and condemnation already, looked at as in ourselves.
But God’s salvation is another thing That is not our responsibility. Christ comes in grace and love into the state in which we were by sin, Himself sinless; and the object of divine favor in doing it; but He came and died, and drank the cup of wrath. He has closed for all who believe on Him, and in the Father’s love in Him, the whole question relative to the first Adam and our sinful life. We own that we were in enmity against God, condemned, guilty: this He has taken upon Himself as bearing it before God; that is, the whole consequence of our responsibility as men, and it is closed. He has died as bearing it; He has died to sin once: and he that is dead is freed from sin. Thus, in our representative, all whose work is available to us, the whole question of our responsibility as men has closed in judgment and death for me, as I had discovered it had as to myself: the life has passed away in which I lived and was responsible to God. I exist no more, as living, as a child of the first Adam. “If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world why as though living in the world?” says Paul. “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:33For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)). “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I” etc. “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin” (Rom. 6:1111Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:11)). Christ has perfectly glorified God’s righteousness in respect of all the evil; but all has passed away in His death judicially as to which God had to be glorified. The nature, being, sins, guilt, existence in which he was responsible and subsisted before Him, are, as regards the believer, gone before God. “When we were in the flesh,” says Paul, “the motions of sin which were by the law.” “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.”
The whole question of our responsibility, as living in the life of man before God, is settled by Christ’s judicially bearing the consequences before God, and by the death of the life in which we stood as sinners. But then Christ is now in a new life. He is risen, and we are alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me. I am quickened together with Christ, and raised up together. God has quickened us together with Him, having forgiven us all trespasses. They are buried in His grave, and I am alive anew and without them.
But more than this. There is a divine righteousness in which Christ stands before God, as risen; that is, in which I stand in the power of a new life as risen with Him. I am made the righteousness of God in Him. As He is, so am I in this world. This is in the reality of a life in which we live, which is Christ: and of a divine righteousness in which we stand before God, which is Christ. “Not I, but Christ liveth in 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)). It is a real, living, certain position before God, in which I through grace and Christ are one, though all flows from, and, thank God, is dependent on Him. God has given us eternal life, and that life is in His Son. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:1212He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. (1 John 5:12)): but then it is perfect righteousness already before God.
More than this, I am a child, a son. Such is my relationship with God. I have eternal life. I am in a known blessed fixed relationship with God, where grace has placed me through the working of the same power in which Christ was raised from the dead, and set at God’s right hand. I am not only in it, but it is my relationship with God, and there is none but this. The old one is passed; the new one, founded on divine righteousness, flows from my being really born of God, made partaker of the divine nature. I cannot be in any other. It is my being, my existence, before God—the life and relationship in which He has placed me, and in which I live from Him. The old one is gone in Christ’s grave.
What is now my responsibility? To make all efforts to obtain eternal life by my conduct? I have it. To make out righteousness? I am the righteousness of God in Christ: He is my righteousness. To seek to win God’s favor? He has loved me so as to give His Son for me, and accepted me in the Beloved. To win a position with God? He has made me His child and son. “Now are we the sons of God” (1 John 3:22Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)). What can I seek other, or more, than to say, “as he is, so are we in this world”? (1 John 4:1717Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. (1 John 4:17)). Here my soul is at peace—a precious thing! At peace with my God and Father, in known relationship with Him. Christ is gone to His Father and my Father, His God and my God. Blessed thought! What a place of peace and love, according to the very nature of God, and the revelation of Him by the Son, it sets me in.
Here then I enter into the true kind of responsibility, in contrast with the hopeless and sin—convincing one into which I got by the fall; a responsibility which was really according to a lost position, that I might find out my ruin and condemnation. My responsibility now is a responsibility flowing from the position in which I am; which belongs in peace to it, not one by which it is to be attained—a responsibility such as all our responsibilities are according to God, that of walking according to the position in which I am already. He that says he abides in Christ ought to walk as He walked. A child of God, and such forever, ought to walk as a child of God, “as dear children.” My responsibility is that of a Christian. I am to walk as one, because I am one, not that I may be one. The fact that I am a child forever is not a reason for not walking like one. It is only the baseness of a morally ruined being, that he could suppose that he was not to be consistent with the relationship he was in because it was an unchangeable one. As we are in our Christian position in virtue of a new life, such a thought cannot at bottom be that of a Christian. This is the reasoning of the apostle in Romans 6 —not that I ought not, but that I cannot, if dead, live to what I am dead to.
My responsibility then is not as a man in the first Adam, but as a Christian in the Last. On the first ground I am wholly lost already; it is vain to talk of responsibility, unless to convince of sin. On the second, because I am saved, and a child of God in the family, I am become responsible for walking as such, like the example of the Firstborn of many brethren. It is not connected with the possibility of losing my position more than of my gaining one. It flows from the position I am in. I am to walk like a child of God since I am one. It is a responsibility of peace and joy—what James calls “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:2525But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. (James 1:25)), because my new nature finds its delight in what God wills and commands, and in obeying Him. It finds delight in Him, but therefore in obeying Him, and also in what He wills. The nature I have received is that divine nature which expresses itself in the commands given to me; only there is also authority in them. But the commands are morally the expression of the nature which I have, and which delights in them, and finds the comfort of perfect light and guidance in them. And here is the immense and total difference of the commands of the law and Christ’s commands. The law says, “This do and thou shalt live.” Christ’s commands are the expression of the life which He had, and the guide of that which I have. The life was the light of men. The perfect expression of the will and nature of God in man, which His words and commands expressed; and now we can say, “Which thing is true in him and in you” (1 John 2:88Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. (1 John 2:8)), because He is our life in the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ was the real expression of divine life in man; that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested to us.
Hence it was the light of men. It was in the place, condition, and state of men, and hence obedient also dependent. Thus was it brought out in His temptation. This life is ours, since His exaltation on high, when He had presented a perfect righteousness to the Father. In that I have a perfect peace and perfect favor, and now the only thing I have to do is to glorify Him, “that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:1111For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:11)). I can say, “I abide in him”—placed with the Father in His perfectness before Him—a place of joy and peace, and witness of eternal love. I ought then so to walk as He walked. Christian responsibility is the responsibility of being a Christian; that is, of walking because we are in Christ, as Christ walked, through Christ dwelling in us.
Our place before God is Christ—our part to exhibit Christ before men. This, while the flesh is still in us, and the world around us, needs the daily cross: “always 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 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)). Our responsibility is not to attain unto life, but to manifest it, in spite of hindrance, yea, through hindrances, and in the midst of the world. Two things have to be noticed here. First, the manifestation of the divine life, in which, through the Holy Spirit, we are united to Christ, has to be carried on in the midst of temptation, and in spite of the existence of the old nature, the flesh, in us, by which all that is in the world can become a temptation to us. Communion with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, and the manifestation of the divine life, can only have place so far as the flesh is practically held—as we have the title to hold it—for dead, always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal body.
Here is the daily exercise of the life we have got, in which we learn what we are practically; and the faithfulness, graciousness, and tenderness of God are daily experienced, and to be felt by us; in which we have our senses exercised to discern good and evil, the contrast between God and the flesh is deeply learned, what is mere nature discerned through what is spiritual; while the effect of all is, that one is emptied of self, and Christ acquires, in a certain sense, an exclusive place, and becomes all in all. The soul is satisfied with Him, and hence in lowliness and singleness of eye can discern what is flesh, and either avoid it, or content itself without the false support its efforts or objects give to the natural heart, which leans on them.
Two means are employed of God to carry the redeemed through the desert, the word of God, and priestly intercession. They may be found in Hebrews 4:11-1511Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. 12For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. 14Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. 15For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:11‑15). The word is the weapon of God to discern between that which is of the Spirit, and everything in which the will of the flesh works. All that is mere nature, which is ever a snare, and positive sin where the will is at work, gets often so closely allied to what God Himself has created and owned, that the close application of the word in the power of the Spirit, is needed to distinguish. Yet morally they are most different and opposed, because God is not in the one, but human will, and is in the other, as affections, for example, which become idolatrous (though legitimate and in themselves right) or passions. In these, and in all cases, the word, sharper than any two-edged sword, the true sword of the Spirit, the truth, the bringing home of the living Word, who has sanctified Himself for us, is the means by which God first of all judges in us all that would tend to make us fall in the desert.
Then for all weakness and even failure comes the priesthood; for it is to the course of this exercise, in which above all our entire dependence on God is brought to light, and the heart is practically purified, that the priesthood of Christ also applies. It is not exercised to obtain justice for us, nor to bring us to God. It is founded on perfect righteousness, and the propitiation made for our sins, and is exercised to maintain or restore the communion of the saint, while walking in weakness, with the perfect light into which he is brought, through the rent veil, by that righteousness and propitiation.. Nor do we go to Christ in repentance that He may intercede for us: this would be distrust of the perfect love of the Father, into whose presence He has brought us as children, nor would any one do so really; but He intercedes for us that we may repent. Our souls are thus restored through grace to communion, or maintained in it. Intercession is for the saints. For will, the word is used; for weakness and for failure, the grace of priesthood.
The other point to which I allude is our encouragement in the course we have to run. This is afforded us in promises and rewards, to which is annexed the careful and faithful government of the Father, who chastens where needed. God is sovereign in the revelation of His goodness to the heart, and knows when to grant it; but He has revealed principles of government. “He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to 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.” It is evident that God cannot have communion even with an idle thought. Christ does not say as to salvation, If a man love Me, God will love him. “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:1919We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)). The very characteristic of God’s love is, that He loved us when we were sinners. But though God can visit and restore in grace, His communion is in holiness, and with the obedient; while we are dependent on His grace for both.
Here comes too the scripture doctrine of rewards. As regards righteousness and salvation, reward can have no possible place. These privileges are in Christ, and perfect. They are the reward, so to speak, of His labors and work. So, if one takes reward as the motive for work, he is wholly on false ground. Love and obedience are the only true motives, as they were in Christ Himself. “That the world may know,” He says, “that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do” (John 14:3131But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence. (John 14:31)). And again, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” But rewards are presented as encouragements in the difficulties which are on the road into which love and obedience bring us. Thus it could be said of Christ, “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” (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)). So Moses is approved by the Holy Spirit, saying, “He had respect unto the recompense of the reward”; and of all, “Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour” (1 Cor. 3:88Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. (1 Corinthians 3:8)). The Thessalonians are a crown, a glory, to Paul, as they are not to us.
Yet the word keeps steadily before us, that it is of grace, and that, in rewarding His laborers, God does what He will with His own: but in overabounding grace, to sit on Christ’s right hand and on His left is given to them for whom it is prepared of His Father. But as to righteousness and salvation all are alike. We shall be conformed to the image of God’s Son. But, though sovereign as to the place God gives us, in connection with the Holy Spirit’s work in and by us (for it is in connection with this that reward is; it has nothing to do with our righteousness, which is Christ Himself), this sovereignty is exercised in giving the reward according to the labor in gift and calling; so that God’s government and the saint’s responsibility may be displayed; yet so as that the saint is brought more clearly to say, “Not I, but the grace of God which was in me” (1 Cor. 15:1010But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)). It is exactly he who has the deepest sense of his responsibility who will the most deeply feel his entire dependence upon grace. If these questions are mixed up with that of salvation, all is legal and false; but when clear on this, the exercise of the heart in them is most useful, as leading to the sense of dependence, confiding in Him who is able to bless, and delights to do it—the sense that there is a living God, that we can do nothing of ourselves, nothing without Christ. It humbles and leads to daily confiding dependence upon God.
The principle I have alluded to above will be found to be universal, namely, that reward is in Scripture never the motive of action, always the encouragement of him who is active from other motives. Thus, we well know, it was love, eternal, divine love, and thence obedience to His Father, which led Christ in the path of sorrow. In that path, for the joy that was set before Him, He endured. Moses visited his brethren because God put it into his heart to prefer suffering with the people of God to a life of ungodly ease in a court. He endured as seeing Him who is invisible, for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.
“In due season we shall reap,” says the apostle, “if we faint not” (Gal. 6:99And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. (Galatians 6:9)). The love of Christ constrained him too, the excellency of the knowledge of Christ; but he knew that a crown of righteousness was laid up for him, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, would give to him in that day. Where reward is the motive, all is wrong; but the gracious Lord encourages us in our labor with His approbation, and His promise of reward at the end. We believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them who diligently seek Him.
Thus our relationship with God is founded on a perfect and divine righteousness, so that it is divine, and His perfect love enjoyed in a known relationship, and in a divine way. Hence holy affections are free, and God is glorified. All is from Him, and according to Him. No question of righteousness can be raised outside Christ. Blessed be God, such a relationship is ineffably sweet, and sure as divine perfection can make it. At the same time, the active moral energies of a life which pursues its object under the hand of God are maintained. “One thing I do,” says the apostle, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God.” “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection from among the dead” (Phil. 3:1111If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Philippians 3:11)).
The whole Epistle to the Philippians goes on this ground, and hence speaks of attaining, working out salvation, and the like. The moral development which is connected with personal responsibility under grace takes place, and under the eye of a gracious and holy Father and holy God. We are set in the path in which Christ walked, to follow His steps. Sweet to be allowed to do it, and that His servant, walking in this path, shall be where his master is. The word, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:2323His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:23)), sounds sweet in the ears, and most so in his who knows that by His grace alone can we be one or the other. If we were not His, we could not serve; His, by a new life; His, by the purchase of His blood! And in the service all hangs upon His daily grace; and the place He has given to us, and the special glory in which each faithful servant will be set, is part of the purpose and operation of God. But all our responsible moral exercises, once we are free, are connected with it, the lively energies of hope, the watchfulness and keeping under of the body. We fight the good fight of faith and lay hold on eternal life.
What has secured us as salvation, has set before us, as this salvation, a hope of glory which sets in play the whole energy of the new man through the Holy Spirit. Paul saw Christ glorified. There was an end of legal righteousness, and the certainty of divine. There was the glory to be attained. All was dross and dung that he might win Christ; and if it cost him his life, good! on the road to a resurrection from among the dead. It was not a responsibility in which he labored alone, so to speak, as obliged under law to fulfill his tasks or fail. It was closely allied with the attachment of his heart to Christ—that he might win Christ. Christ had laid hold of him for it; but he longed to lay hold therefore of the blessed prize.
This is carried on as under the moral government of God. The flesh cannot serve Christ—it can only hinder. To be vessels made to honor, we must be clean. Hence the apostle kept his body under. Hence Peter tells us, “If ye call on the Father, who, without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1:1717And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: (1 Peter 1:17)). The Father judges no man as regards final definitive judgment; so the apostle says, “the time of your sojourning here in fear.” Is it fear of not having part in redemption? On the contrary, it is founded on the solemn greatness and excellency of it, the moral depth of God’s judgment of good and evil. “Forasmuch,” he continues, “as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation ... .but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-1918Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: (1 Peter 1:18‑19)). Thus the bright energies of hope, the joy of communion, the sweetness of dependence, the holy watchfulness of fear as engaged in this great conflict with evil and on God’s side—all unite to bring out through known grace, and as founded in grace, every moral development of which a human being, as quickened of God, is capable, so as to connect him with the perfection of God, in communion with whom it is all wrought; and to make him like Christ, who is the perfect model of it, as His communion with His Father was perfect—to grow up to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
For the need in which this service and path sets us inwardly and outwardly—the path in which Christ walked—sets us in communion with God, in all that is in Him to meet it in grace to our souls. It is not only help for the circumstances, but what God is for the soul, in all that is discovered in it by its passing through the circumstances. The wilderness makes the heart of man known; but it makes God known to the heart too. The full joy of it will be hereafter. In the type, as in the reality, it was founded on a perfect redemption; and as Israel at the Red Sea chanted the salvation which had brought them to God, so at the close Balaam must testify that no divination was of any avail. God had not seen perverseness in Israel, nor iniquity in Jacob. He would treat him for his faults in wisdom Himself, as His; but no accusations were of avail. It is beautiful to see God thus answering for Israel on high, while poor foolish Israel was ignorantly murmuring and disobeying below.
Finally, grace is such, that what God gives as the ground of destruction in judgment, “for thou art a stiffnecked people; lest I consume thee in the way,” once grace is known, Moses can give as a reason for God’s going with them: “If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiff-necked people.”