It is impossible to imagine such a thing as a united and happy family where there is no parental authority. Recognition of that authority is the bond of union. If there be no control, there can be no order; if there be no government, there must be anarchy.
Government, the enforcement of recognised authority, is the safeguard of every intelligent community. How could a country, an army, or a family subsist but for this?
Hence men speak of “the majesty of law;” for law, being amongst men the principal or central power of the nation, and that which obtains as the most suitable bond for the good of all, is clearly superior to every other power, so that any infringement of it, being a common injury, is necessarily and justly punishable.
If this be so with men, it is also true in the ways of God; and, therefore, we read that “justice and judgment are the habitation of Thy throne” (Ps. 89:14), the habitation (or establishment) indicating the pillars, as it were, on which the throne of God is built.
Order is the law of the universe, else all would be mere chaos, for in no sphere is God the author of confusion. Every thing must obey His voice and submit to His power. Each department of His kingdom must recognise His government and be under his control.
This is true of the sphere of grace as of all else. Far as the kingdom of God extends, so far does He claim obedience.
Now, if we trace His ways we shall find how He always makes His authority the chief idea. The first consideration before Him is His own authority, and the judgment of all opposition and evil, in order that He may conserve His holiness and His glory.
Prior to the exercise of mercy there must necessarily (if justice and judgment establish His throne) be the actual condemnation of sin. Otherwise mercy would not be required.
But that throne must stand without a rival, and sin in its every form must be punished, in order that righteousness may be paramount. No truth is of more importance than this. The rebellious heart would oppose it, the self-will of the day deride it, whilst even in the Church it may be overlooked, and that not only to personal loss, but to a weakening of the testimony we would bear to the Word of God as a whole.
We value grace, and well we may. To it we are debtors for all that we are and for all we have. Oh, how sweetly do the words “according to the riches of His grace” sound in our ears!
It was grace that sought us, found us, sustained us. It is by the grace of God we are what we are (1 Cor. 15:10); and assuredly when the top-stone shall be laid, there will be shoutings of “Grace, grace” (Zech. 4:7).
All that is true; and the more we live in the clear, unclouded light of grace the better. In fact, the knowledge and joy of it have of late years been so granted of God to His people, that where formerly the heavy yoke of the law galled the neck, now the soul is free. Where clouds of legal self-occupation hung dense and dull, now, thank God, the light of liberty has shone. Where hearts were bound and burdened, there are now spirits emancipated, vigorous, and devoted to God.
Grace has done this, and shall therefore receive all the praise. Grace—the grace of God—has brought salvation, and such a salvation! How boundless, but how appropriate! Oh, how suitable to poor sinners, dear reader, like you and myself! And then we know it, and love it, and prize it, and will enjoy it for ever. Grace has brought us the knowledge of ourselves in our guilt and ruin, and of God in His holiness and love. We know God; we are His dear children; we are placed in that blessed and abiding relationship; we adore His grace.
But the God whose sons we are is holy, and demands in His children obedience. He would have us recognise His authority. If we stand in His grace, we are also under His government. We are equally the subjects of His kingdom and the objects of His favour. We are no less disciples in His school than saints of His household. We are as much His servants under control as His sons in liberty. Grace attaches to this, but government to that. The consciousness of my sonship makes me cry, “Abba, Father.” The sense of my subservience leads me to say, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
Is this slavery? No! Legality? No! It is “the obedience of faith,” and the glad response of love. Hence the Lord. Jesus said, “If ye love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Being placed then by grace in relationship with God, we find responsibilities attaching to it. We may be in relation to Him as His Church, as His family, His saints, or His servants, but each position carries its own kind of responsibility.
Observe, most particularly, that responsibility flows from relationship, and not the reverse. It would be the principle of law to assert otherwise, and it would plunge souls into bondage. It is the nature of Christianity, to place the believer in highest blessing, and then to expect conduct corresponding. This is holy liberty. Hence the grace that brings salvation teaches the denial of ungodliness and worldly lusts. (See Titus 2:11-12.) The “denial” of them! Yes; the most positive refusal of evil. The golden coin of grace has for one side salvation, and for the other, practical holiness. If you possess that coin at all you must have both its sides—obverse and reverse. If it brings the joy and peace of salvation, it enjoins also sobriety and righteousness and godliness.
Now to this we are bound in Christian responsibility, and it is a truth of immense value for the present day. We have seen, blessed be God, wave on wave of saving grace roll over the earth during these thirty years; we have read reports of innumerable conversions; we have heard of Bibles, books, and tracts of a scriptural nature being disseminated broadcast over the world; we have seen men of all kinds and classes abandoning their avocations in order to go and preach the gospel. Never was there such a mighty effort, nor such a gracious or abundant seal of blessing! But, alas! it is no new thing “to turn the grace of God into lasciviousness,” or to make the tender outflowings of His mercy an occasion for the flesh. This has happened. The state of the Church today is deplorable. The tide having ebbed, she, through indolence, is being swept back from her position of holy separation to Christ. Willing to be carried on the breast of the flowing wave souls have allowed themselves to drift backward as trial or temptation, persecution or isolation have come. The result is unfaithfulness to Christ, self-indulgence, mixing up with the world in various ways, so that the peculiar separation that should mark the Christian (2 Cor. 6:17) is unseen, and much, very much, blessing is lost. Where is the fault? In the grace of God? Far otherwise! It is in ourselves! And He, whose voice of old called the churches to repent, is loudly calling to us now. He dealt in government with those churches (see Rev. 2-3) because of their failure; and His hand is upon the Church today. Who will hear His voice?
There are present warnings, there are future awards; there is the Word of God now, there is “the judgment-seat of Christ” by-and-by. There is the grace of God on the one hand, and our responsibility on the other.
God deals with us intelligently. We know His will. He has given us His Spirit. He regulates and orders His household. He educates and trains His children. Now, what shall we do? Shall we be a disgrace to that Father, and a dishonour to that family?
There is such a thing as “pride of birth” amongst men, and family dignity too; but are we children of God to be a reproach to Him, and a shame to the heavenly family by our worldly ways or sinful deeds? May God forbid! “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).