Chapter 3. Obedience.

We all know, beloved, what was the character of the first sin that entered the world, and has made it what it is — a scene of violence and corruption, sorrow, death, and judgment. It was disobedience. Pride and independence had led Satan, the prince of this world, to disobedience, and thus brought him to fall. That once exalted and bright angelic spirit, whose name was "Lucifer," or "Day Star," and "Son of the Morning," had said in his heart, "I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of God … I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High" (Isa. 14.) He had "sealed" up the sum, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. He had been in Eden, the garden of God. Every precious stone was his covering — the sardius, the topaz, and the diamond; the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper; the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold; the workmanship of his tabrets and of his pipes was prepared in him in the day that he was created. He was the anointed cherub that covereth; and God had set him so; he was upon the holy mountain of God; he had walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. He was perfect in his ways from the day that he was created, till iniquity was found in him. And what was his  iniquity? "Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty; thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness; I will cast thee to the ground; I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee" (Ezek. 28.*).

{*There is no doubt that these passages from Isa. and Ezek. refer not merely to the then king of Tyre, but to Satan, the prince of this world, of whom the prince of Tyre is a figure. Tyre represents the world as to the "lust of the eyes" (in commerce and traffic). Sodom, as to the "lust of the flesh;" and Nineveh, as to the "pride of life; and Babylon, as to "spiritual or religious pride and whoredom."

That sin of disobedience, which characterized the fall of "Lucifer, the Day Star," turned that beautiful "covering cherub" into the arch deceiver; "that old serpent," which is the devil ("accuser") and Satan ("adversary"), and his bright fellow angels into "wicked spirits," and "rulers of the darkness of this world" (let us ponder, beloved, these effects of pride and disobedience even upon such beings). But not only so. It appears to have produced the "chaos." For it would appear (though I say it only by way of suggestion) as if the fall of Satan and his angels, as created beings, took place during the time, indicated by the apparent gap between the first and second verses of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. And after God had commanded the light to shine out of darkness, and "finished the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them," it was again the same spirit of disobedience that led to the fall of another number of those bright angelic beings. They "kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation," and are "reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day" (Jude). They "saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and they took them wives of all which they chose" (Gen. 6). Their offspring were the "giants in the earth," a race characterized by self-confidence, pride, and self-will. After these solemn accounts, in holy writ, of the fall of those once perfect and happy heavenly beings, it is a relief to turn to the same divine record as to the character of the good angels, so beautifully and concisely given at the end of Psalm 103. We find they "excel in strength," and "do his commandments." There is strength combined with obedience. How unlike their fallen former companions and fallen mankind, where strength and disobedience go hand in hand, not only in the case of Jeshurun (Israel), who "waxed fat and kicked," but even with the godly King Uzziah. But how like their heavenly Master, who, when he said, in the consciousness of His own Sovereign divine power: "No man taketh it (life) from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again," did not fail to add, in the same breath, as it were: "This commandment have I received of my Father."

But there is a third characteristic given us in the psalm as to those bright angelic beings 1, they "excel in strength;" 2, they "do his commandments;" and 3, they are "hearkening to the voice of his word." Their obedience is not a lukewarm, mere dutiful obedience, but it is an obedience of the heart. They "hearken," i.e., they incline their ears to (not only "his word," but) "the voice of his word." Their hearts, as well as their ears, love to hear the voice of their Divine Sovereign, and take an interest in everything that concerns His glory; may it be as to creation, when "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God" i.e., the angels — (Job 38:7) "shouted for joy;" or as to salvation and redemption, "which things the angels desire to look into" (1 Peter 1:12), so beautifully typified by the stooping posture of the Cherubim upon the mercy seat), "or may they be engaged in studying in the church, as their lesson-book, the manifold wisdom of God" (Eph. 3.) With them it is the same hearty obedience to the will of God; the same heartfelt interest in all the counsels of His Divine will, even where the objects of those counsels belong to a fallen and rebellious race, who were once "children of wrath" and "children of disobedience;" and even though they themselves remain but "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation"* (Heb. 2:14).

{*Compare, further, in both respects, the beautiful angelic character of the angel Gabriel in Daniel 7 and Luke 1 and 2. What a contrast to his fallen former companions!}

There is no envy with those blessed attendants at the heavenly courts above, where everything is perfect, and every heart has but one object and motive — the glory of God and His Christ, and to do His will, hearkening to the voice of His word.

We now come to man's fall through disobedience. No sooner had God brought light out of darkness and order out of the chaos, and placed man in the garden of Eden, as the head of the lower creation, when Satan, whose character, ever since his fall, it was to envy all that was good and happy, and try to defile and destroy everything which God had established for blessing — succeeded in instilling into man the same spirit of pride and independence that had caused his own fall, and thus to lead him to disobedience. Thus the first sin entered into the world, by which Adam betrayed himself and the lower creation, over which God had placed him as head, into the hands of the usurper, who thus became in fact, though not by right, "the prince of this world." And not only became Adam an exile from that scene of perfect earthly bliss, to eat in the sweat of his face, in sorrow, all the days of his life of a ground that was cursed for his sake, but by his sin of disobedience he brought in death and judgment, and opened upon the world the flood-gates of sorrow, pain and misery, under which creation groans, subject to vanity for man's sake.

But though disobedience was the first sin, and the root and cause of all the evil in this world, there was a second terrible sin in store, growing from the first, as its natural fruit, and forming together with it, the parentage for all the sins and crimes in this poor wretched world. It was the sin of self-sufficiency, (after such a fall!) the child of self-will — engendering envy and hatred against everything and everybody really good and righteous, and resulting in murder. The first son of Adam slays his brother. Thus Satan, who is a liar and murderer from the beginning, had succeeded in putting his own stamp upon man made after the image of God.

But our blessed God, who is not only Light, but also Love, had foreseen man's fall, and not only foreseen it, but provided the perfect remedy for it, in His own well-beloved, obedient Son, the Lamb, "fore-ordained before the foundation of the world." Before man's sin and fall, God had, amidst the blissful and peaceful scene of the earthly paradise, established the first, earthly relationship among men, that of husband and wife, — for He said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an helpmeet for him." It is the first relationship, founded by God before sin had entered the world. The first Adam was not to be alone in an earthly paradise. The blessed figure of the last Adam, who will not be alone even in a heavenly one of perfect glory and everything that conduces to everlasting happiness. God the Father, who in His counsels of glory, wisdom, love, and grace, had "predestinated us for the adoption of children, by Jesus Christ to Himself, had given us to His Son for His pride in glory," the helpmeet, if we may say so, in a heavenly paradise. But in order to effect those blessed counsels of Divine Sovereign grace, and to acquire the "pearl of great price," Christ had not only to sell all that He had, and to make Himself poor, in order that his Bride, through His poverty might become rich. That divine Majesty, which had been outraged by our sins, required more. Its claims in holiness, truth and righteousness must be fully met; the debt must be paid even to the last farthing. To bring us into those two wondrous heavenly relationships planned and decreed in divine counsels, the just must die upon the cross for the unjust. "For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings" — the suffering of One, who, though He were a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which He suffered. "In heaven He ever was the obedient Son of the Father, but as such, and in such a place, where there is no sin, nor sorrow, nor suffering, He needed not, nor could He learn obedience in that He suffered." Such an obedience could only be learnt by the Son of man, and only here on earth, this scene of man's disobedience, sorrow, and suffering.

And oh, what a light shone in this dark world when Jesus of Nazareth, as the perfect Man, shone here, not as the "Brightness of glory" as He appeared to Saul on His way to Damascus, but as the "express image" of God, who could say: "Philip, he that hath seen me, hath seen the Father." That light shone as long as He was in the world every moment with the same undimmed brightness, in love, grace, truth, holiness, lowliness, meekness, wisdom, obedience, patience, and righteousness. And what were the motives in the heart of that ever perfect Man? Obedience and love (the very two vital points, in which man had failed so grievously and fatally) — obedience to His God and Father's will, and love to those whom He had given to Him.

In that marvellous scene in the tenth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, where the Holy Ghost draws aside the curtain, and God in His wondrous grace, permits such as us, to be ear-witnesses, as it were, of what passed between Himself and His Son, when the time had come that the Word was to be "made flesh;" what is the parting word of that "Son of His Love," when about to leave that glorious scene above, for a scene of rebellion, violence and corruption? "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God!" They are His parting words, when leaving Heaven for earth (though in one way, He was always the Son of man, Who is in Heaven,) and his starting principles, for his earthly career of obedience and love, and unremitting service. At the lonely well of Samaria, under the scorching rays of the mid-day sun, what is His reply to those, who asked Him to eat, Who came to give to the soul of a poor degraded creature, the water of life? "I have meat to eat, that ye know not of. My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish his work." And at the end of His perfect earthly career, when that ever obedient One was prostrate on the ground, and His sweat became as drops of blood, and the thrice repeated cry went up to His Father and God: "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee, take this cup from me;" — the thrice repeated conclusion of that cry of agony is: "Nevertheless, not what I will, but what thou wilt!" He learned obedience in that He suffered. Obedience it was from the first to last. Obedience. let us remember it well! learnt in fathomless sufferings for the sake of rebels against God! — That beautiful divine picture of the perfect obedient Man, drawn by the pen of the inspired Psalmist, whose Son and Lord He was, and taken up by the Spirit, through the mouth of the Apostle Peter, — that principle of perfect obedience, embodied and personified by and in Him, who is not only our Saviour, but our Pattern and Example is the same principle, through which you and I, beloved, alone can glorify God, and the Name of His obedient Son, whilst passing through this scene of rebellion, and disobedience and opposition to everything that is Divine. It is the principle of Victory in Obedience, contained in those few words (we quote from Acts 2):

"I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved, therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad." What is it that renders a man superior to circumstances, and makes him behave rightly (i.e. according to God) in the midst of them? Nothing, but a right object before him, and a right motive within him.

And when the time was come that Jesus should be received up, what was it that enabled Him, steadfastly to set His face to go to Jerusalem? It was because He had (with purpose of heart) set the Lord always before His face. Therefore did He set His face like a flint against shame and spitting; thus it was that He "gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that pluck off the hair." And although Satan did not leave one stone unturned in the path of Jesus, to shift Him off the place of dependence and obedience, — he could not succeed, for He had said to the Lord: "Thou art my Lord;" He had set Him before His face, and He was at His right hand, and therefore He could not be moved. The same principle holds good for us (comp. Ps. 62:2, 6.) — But there is something more in Ps. 16 than the negative expression: "I shall not be moved." It is "Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth." The result of Christ's constant dependence and unswerving obedience was that His heart was glad in a world where He was a "man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," and that His glory (i.e. tongue) did rejoice. There is something very beautiful in the fact that the Hebrew word for "glory" means also "tongue." So it was with Christ; His tongue was His glory, and did rejoice, because He used it only for the glory of His Father and God (our tongues, alas! are often our shame). Every word uttered by that blessed tongue was a word of truth, love, grace and wisdom. And in the same measure, as we, beloved, walk as beloved and obedient children, i.e., in the sense and realisation of the love of God, and in the only safe place of dependence upon Him, we shall not fail to realize the same, in our little measure, as to our hearts and our tongues. Our hearts will be glad and our tongues rejoice, may it be in the testimony of His gospel to poor sinners, or in speaking to one another in psalms and spiritual hymns, or when exhorting and encouraging one another with words of truth and comfort in love.

A scene of sorrow and misery, though this world has become through disobedience, yet what blessings and joy the children of God may experience in the midst of it all, in the place and path of obedience and dependence upon that obedient One, Who has left us such an example!

But it is not only the sin and spirit of disobedience that has made, and does make, this earth such a scene of misery. The sin of Cain, envy, hatred and murder has turned it into a place of violence as well as corruption. Adam sinned against obedience, Cain against love. And what is the fruit of man's second sin against the "Royal commandment," culminating in the murder of the Holy and Just One? Take up any of this world's daily papers, and you will find them teeming with the most horrible accounts of all kinds of murder, corruption and violence, generally softened down by writers with sensational pens, and callous consciences, by calling them "tragedies," — where even the most sacred family-ties exercise no longer any restraint upon men's passions. These increasing wars, by which hundreds of thousands of poor fellow-creatures are swept into eternity; numberless families plunged into sorrow and despair, peaceful homesteads laid waste and desolate; whole countries turned into deserts, — those terrible weapons and implements of slaughter by sea and by land, assuming, through Satanic inventions, more and more annihilating effects, by which whole battalions are mowed down, whole men-of-war, with their charges of hundreds of precious souls, sunk into the watery grave in a moment of time — what are they but the harvest of the bloody seed sown by Cain's hand, as recorded in the fourth chapter of Genesis.

And yet to think, beloved, that over such a world of murder and rebellion and sins of every kind, God should still be lingering in His wondrous long-suffering, waiting to be gracious, yea, "beseeching," through His ministers of the gospel, wretched sinners and enemies to be "reconciled" to Him — what marvellous love and grace, all praise excelling, as it passes knowledge! And not only so: but that a merciful Creator God, foreseeing man's fall and all the misery it would entail upon him and this world, should not only have provided from eternity the perfect remedy for eternity, but as the One, who giveth "gifts to the rebellious also," should have provided, even for such, by the ties of family-relationship, a wholesome counterpoise and temporary haven from the troubles and dangers of this tempestuous world, in which life without such a refuge, would be unbearable to sinful man. For I believe, when the Lord God, amidst that blissful and peaceful scene of an yet undefiled paradise, spoke those words: "It is not good that the man should be alone: I will make him an help meet for him," this was not only, though, of course, principally, said with regard to His counsels as to Christ and the Church, in the Heavenly paradise, as typified in Adam and Eve in the earthly. But those words: "It is not good that the man should be alone," appear to me also to imply God's merciful temporal provision as to the temporal consequences of man's fall, against the eternal consequences of which God had so graciously provided the "woman's seed" as the only refuge, as expressed in the next (3) chapter, as soon as that sad fall had taken place. (This merciful provision of God is a very different thing to Cain's building a city, a place for comforts, pleasures and treasures, after he had gone out from the presence of the Lord, who had sentenced him to be a "a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth.")

For though sin has marred these earthly relationships, as everything in this world, yet they themselves are Divine institutions, as are, though in another way, the authorities, appointed by a merciful God, as a shelter against the direct power of Satan, and therefore cannot be disregarded by any with impunity. Only there is, as I have said already, this immense difference between the family of a christian and that of an unbeliever. A Christless household, though its hearth may be the very focus of the natural light, so to speak, of human amiability, morality, science, and outward religiousness, is devoid of every ray of divine light, and therefore cannot lead one single soul to Him, who is the light of life. But in the family of a Christian, and if he were but a child and the only believing member of that family, provided he walks in the truth, there is light from above, divine light in that house, which springs, and is fed, not on nor from the hearth of nature, like Nadab and Abihu's fire, but in and from heaven; in and from Christ, because the believer is a "light in the Lord," and if the Christian member of a family or household realizes what this means, and walks as a "child of light," he will look at his family circle or household, not merely as a haven of refuge from the storms and roughness of life, as it would be to the natural man. To the faithful member of a partly unconverted family, especially if one or both parents are unconverted, it would be the very opposite to a haven of rest, as "The faithful witness," our Blessed Master Himself, has told us before: "Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: for from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." On the other hand, the Christian member or members of such a family, especially those in the subordinate places, cannot be too much on their guard against misapplying such passages, as the one just quoted, in any case of a supposed conflict between Divine and human (but divinely appointed) authority. Flesh is not only naturally, but, worst of all, religiously subtle, and always ready to deck itself with the divine authority of some misapplied portions of Scripture, to disguise its unbridledness and insubjection to the law of God under the garb of obedience. But we shall have to enter more fully upon this point, when speaking more in detail of the divers relationships themselves.

The above quoted words of our Lord — the obedient Man on earth, as He was the obedient Son of His Father in heaven, — show plainly enough, that it was not God's intention with regard to the believer in the Old or New Testament — (remember Abraham! Gen. 12) that his family-circle or household should be to him (as it is to the natural man) only a shelter or haven of refuge from the storms of a sinful and therefore hostile world. Thanks be to our merciful God, for providing for fallen creatures, sinners and rebels against Him, such a shelter in a world, governed by Satan, its prince and the prince of the power of the air. It is no small boon for poor mankind, to have, in the bosom of the family, the heart trained in the tender natural affections, implanted by God in the heart of man, in order that in the mutual care of the family members one for another, and in the daily exercise of practical self denial (even in a natural sense,) the abominable selfishness of the natural heart might at least be counteracted and checked, and by daily practice of submitting one to another, that first sin, — the root of all the evil the world — self-will and disobedience — have its necessary salubrious counterpoise in these family relationships of obedience and love, in which God has placed man. Thus, as I said before, the direct power of Satan against poor fallen sinful man, brought to fall through his malice and subtlety, is at least checked.

But thankful as we are for this provision of a merciful Creator God for fallen creatures (and God forbid! that any should underrate the value of an education, received from naturally honest and conscientious parents, who are not under the influence of heresy or infidelity, compared to children, brought up in the tents of the wicked, and trained in the school of vice); and great as is this difference, and not to be undervalued — what is it, compared to the immense difference between an unconverted family (even supposing it to be the most amiable, and unblameable in a human sense) and a Christian household, especially where the head or both parents are the Lord's. The difference is as great as that between day and night, or heaven and earth! To the Christian parents, their family or household, is not merely as to the natural man, a shelter and refuge of God's providence against an evil and restless world; it is infinitely more! To them their house is a "sanctuary" amidst a godless and Christless world, where the precious souls of their children are kept from its defiling influence, a sanctuary — where God and His Christ are acknowledged, and where his Spirit dwells, and His word is shining as the lamp and the light of the house, and the gospel is shedding every day its glorious light, in order that none there may remain a stranger to the grace of God in Christ Jesus. To them it is, to use the words of another "the precious home of kind affections; (if Christ is acknowledged) in which the heart is trained in the ties which God Himself has formed; and which, by cherishing the affections, preserves from the passions and from self-will; and which, where its strength is rightly developed, has a power that in spite of sin and disorder, awakens the conscience, and engages the heart, keeping it away from evil, and the direct power of Satan. For it is God's appointment.

"I know indeed, that another power is required to deliver the heart from sin, and to keep it from sin. Nature, even as God created it, does not give eternal life, does not restore innocence, does not purify the conscience. Where relationship exists, sin has perverted everything and corrupted the will; passions come in. But the relationships themselves are of God; woe to him, who despises them as such!" … "And where these relationships exist, the renunciation of self-will, death to sin, the bringing in of Christ, the operation of life in Him, restore their power: and if they cannot give back the character of innocence lost for ever, can make them a scene for the operations of grace, in which meekness, tenderness, mutual help and self-denial, in the midst of the difficulties and sorrows which sin has introduced, lend them a charm and a depth (even as Christ did in every relationship) which innocence itself could not have presented. It is grace, acting in the life of Christ in us, which develops itself in them."

Now, the heavenly relationships of the Christian to God and His Christ, of which his corresponding earthly relationships are to be the reflections, are of a threefold character:
1. That of children to our Father in heaven;
2. That of members of Christ, as forming part of the church of God, which is the body and bride of Christ, His Son, our glorious Head in heaven, to Whom the Father has given us; and
3. That of servants to our heavenly Lord and Master.

I have mentioned our relationships of children first, for it comes first in the counsels of God, Who had "predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of His will." — "Behold, I and the children, which God hath given me." ( Heb. 2.) "Thine they were and thou gavest them me." (John 17.) As to time and earth, the relationship of husband and wife comes naturally first. I ought to have said "wife and husband, according to the order in our epistle (as in the Colossians.) Why is the wife mentioned first here, where it is said at the same time, that the husband is the head of the wife? The reason is evident. All these relationships, as mentioned above, are relationships of obedience and love. (For this reason there are no exhortations for brothers and sisters, because they are not subordinate.) Now the first sin that entered the world, having been that of disobedience, the subordinate relationship of the wife comes first. Then follows that of love. It is the same as to children and parents, and servants and masters. — All these relationships, as said before, are relationships of obedience and love, the very two Divine principles, against which man had sinned so fatally. But the first sin was that of disobedience. Consequently, there is nothing so contrary and utterly repugnant to man's sinful nature as obedience. Love is not by far so adverse to his nature, i.e., natural love, because God implanted natural affections in his heart. But obedience, even in a human way, i.e., submission to his fellow-men, is a principle against which man's natural heart rebels more than against anything else. This, I think, is the reason, why the spirit of God heads the following exhortations with these words: "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ;" (for this is the true reading). But on this important subject I hope to enter more fully in the fifth chapter.