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the heart is “purified by obeying the truth through the Spirit.” Such direct obedience is an essential part of submission to God.
Nor is this alone necessary at the commencement of the Christian course. From first to last, pardon, and its consequent peace, are only preserved by the continued exercise of faith in Christ, for the continued bestowment of the blessings of redeeming mercy. From first to last, evangelical holiness can only be preserved by obedience to the grace of God. We must have God working in us to will and to do, that we may work out our own salvation. We must have grace that we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear. It is the “God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,” that must “ make us perfect in every good work to do his will, working in us that which is well pleasing in his sight."
Now, to corrupt nature all this is directly opposed. To walk in this path, therefore, calls for a constant and active self-renunciation, together with the adoption of the rules of another sovereignty, even that of the kingdom of God. That kingdom is within us. Religion is God reigning in the soul, and the soul governing itself according to the will of God. Well has the Apostle described this subjugation of self : “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life I live in the flesh is by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
We have dwelt the longer on this particular instance of submission to God, both because it so impressively illustrates the nature of the general disposition, and because a broad and firm foundation is thus placed for all the rest. The few other instances we intend to select will therefore be considered with greater brevity.
II. In submitting ourselves to God, reference to him as our Teacher is included.
God is the fountain of being, and, therefore, the source of truth. It would not be correct to attribute all things to his mere volition and omnipotence. Intention and design are also to be acknowledged. His works are marvellous ; for in wisdom he has made them all. Everything is the product of an idea eternally existing in the divine mind. His knowledge is not derived from the contemplation of his works. They are what he intended them to be. They are the results, the manifestations, of his knowledge ; not the occasion of it. Every science, as perceived by man, is but a portion of the infinite, eternal knowledge of God. Man is endowed with the power of knowing: his whole nature is constructed for its acquirement; he is made, therefore, for truth. Truth is that which is. Falsehood, as such, is but nonentity. To know that which is false is, strictly speaking, not to know at all. We err when we see things other than they really are ; and as we are made to act according to the actual constitution of things, to apprehend them as being other than they are must lead us to act as though they were other than they are. Falsehood and error are therefore essentially mischievous. The deflection from the right line may be in some cases so trifling, or may relate to something so seldom or so remotely affecting our practice, that the mischief is unapparent, inoperative. Still, its nature is the same. It is truth for which man was made : it is always for truth that he should seek.
1. It is evident that God condescends to be our Teacher by his works. God made because he knew : man is to acquire knowledge by the observant study of what is made. The mind is so constituted, that it can perceive, combine, discriminate, reflect. External objects are all fitted, in greater or less degree, for the various exercises of the human intellect. Man desires knowledge, and is able to acquire it; the works of God are framed to impart it. And as they are what God has made them, so far as we know them aright, the mind possesses a portion of that knowledge which, in infinite fulness, resides in God. In reference to this kind of knowledge, it may not be necessary that all should either know the saine objects, or possess the knowledge to the same extent. Still-speaking generally-as God's works disclose God's knowledge, wilful neglect cannot be otherwise than wrong. Where God displays his knowledge, man should rejoice to be able to perceive. In the proper study of nature, we are becoming increasingly acquainted with the God of nature ; and surely, that which God has been pleased to devise and execute, man ought not to pass by, when opportunity for notice is given.
2. But chiefly does God teach us by his word. He here affords us the means of knowing most certainly both that he is, and what he is. His being, character, purposes, and will, and the relations in which we stand to him, and to our fellow-creatures, all are here made known to us; and made known with a particular object, which imparts to the whole communication its proper and distinctive character. God is essentially a moral being, and has made man in his own image and likeness, a moral being too, designed and fitted for moral government, and actually placed under it. To man, as thus considered, divine revelation is addressed. It is therefore often termed, significantly and emphatically, “the law of the Lord.” Every perfection of God is stated in its moral aspect, and every statement is made for the production of a moral effect. God's gracious design in the whole is our deliverance and preservation from sin, and our fruit-bearing unto holiness. But of all this, the great instrument is divine truth, dwelling in a soul made and kept alive by the operations of the Spirit of truth and holiness. If we would be as the tree planted by the rivers of water, we must love the law of the Lord, and meditate therein day and night. If we would be kept from sinning against God, we must hide his word in our heart. So must we study the word of Christ, that it may dwell in us richly, in all wisdom. Its mysteries are to be received with reverent humility, not rejected because they are mysteries, and ever held in a pure conscience. On all questions of religion and morals, Scripture is to be the ultimate rule. They who speak not according to the law and the testimony, show that there is no light in them. Constantly, carefully, are we to seek for a clearer, wider indwelling of divine truth, not resting in its mere rudiments, but going on to perfection.
III. They who submit themselves unto God, practically acknowledge his sovereign authority.
The peculiar characteristic of man is, that he is self-governed. Other living creatures are acted upon by the instincts of their nature, governed by external circumstances. He stands above them all, empowered to make his own decisions. He may, indeed, abandon himself to the control of circumstances. He may leave himself to be carried away by the appetites and passions of his nature. But this is not necessary. He may control them, and choose his own path. That path may be a wrong one; but still he may take it. He has the power of choice. But this power he possesses not independently. He is accountable for its exercise. He possesses the power; but he is required to use it in the way prescribed by the authority of God; an authority absolute and supreme, extending to the whole of his being ; to the entireness of his nature, to his nature in every possible variety of circumstance, and throughout every period of his existence. He is to govern himself as governed by God. His position is not one of independent, but of delegated, sovereignty. He is to act, but to act under superior authority.
1. This appears in what is termed “providence.” In his divine administration, God worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will. The duty of man is plain. He must “trust in the Lord with all his heart, and not lean to his own understanding.” Instead of fancying that he is independent, he must practically listen to the word : "In all thy ways acknowledge Him." Every dispensation is to be received with a suitable disposition. The language of the inmost soul must be, “ It is the Lord ; let him do what seemeth him good.” There is not a situation but it has its peculiar duty. That duty is to be ascertained and fulfilled ; fulfilled as duty; fulfilled in reference to the will that makes it so. In exhorting the servants of his day to be “obedient to their own masters,” the Apostle significantly adds, “ For ye serve the Lord Christ.” We are to follow, not to lead. A portion of rule is committed to us; but we are to exercise it according to the will of the supreme Ruler, seeking to secure the objects which he proposes, and to follow the directions which he gives.
2. The divine authority is expressed in the divine law; and when we submit ourselves unto God, we make it the rule of our life. Like the Centurion in the Gospel, we have soldiers under us, obedient to our command. Our nature, our faculties, our possessions, seem at first sight all at our own disposal. But here is the difference between him that feareth God, and him that feareth Him not. This last only looks at what may be under him, and deals with it according to his own will, and for securing his own objects. Whereas the former looks above himself, and says, “I myself am a man under authority.” In this case, we deeply feel that we are not our own, and that our own will is in all things to be governed by the will of God, as expressed in his law. We shall therefore set ourselves to study the divine law, in all its minutest particulars, and to its fullest extent ; seeking to be “not fools, but wise, understanding what the will of the Lord is.” What this law commands, we shall do ; what it prohibits, shun. We shall take it as our guide in those circumstances in which we are actually placed. And here, perhaps, is one of the most difficult, and yet most important and necessary, exercises of Christian piety. Our situation in life, our position in society, are regulated by divine Providence; and so is entire society constituted, that it is stable and prosperous, or agitated and declining, as its affairs, great and small, are conducted according to the divine laws. Now, never is man more inclined, more tempted, to forget God, and do according to his own will, than in such matters as these. To the express duties of formal religion, to the higher questions of morals
, he is to apply the law of God. But beyond this, he is at liberty to do as he pleases. Not so. They who submit themselves to God feel that his authority is at once universal and ceaseless in its claims. In what relates to their mere individual life, to domestic and social life, to trade, to civil and political action, in everything they seek to act as the servants of God. They are engaged in constructing, so to speak, an edifice so vast, that they cannot take in its whole extent. But He who comprehends, and has designed the whole, and knows the relations of every part to the whole, committed to them a small portion. They feel that their wisdom, as well as their duty, is simply to do this part just as they are ordered, that it may
exactly harmonize with the rest, supposing them to act in the same manner. The whole will then be complete without either redundancy or defect. If one has a right to do as he pleases, another has, all have; and then, what becomes of the divine plan? In the admirable language of the old Catechism, they who submit themselves to God, “learn and labour truly to get their own living, and to do their duty in that state of life to which it pleases Gud to call them;” and to accomplish this by an enlightened and steady attention to the written word, the holy law of God.
IV. The submission of ourselves unto God implies the regulation of all our affections according to his will, and especially the practical acknowledgment and choice of Himself, as our proper portion, our supreme and eternal good. It is by his affections that man is actually governed. Complicated as is the mental and moral machinery of his nature, and intermixed in the individual unity of his being as may appear to be his intellectual faculties, his appetites, passions, emotions, and affections, it is by his affections, and chiefly those which relate to what he practically considers as his good, that he is ruled ; and as these are, such he is. To this, therefore, the whole divine law refers. Its separate precepts, and especially their application to the details of conduct, are almost numberless. But there is one great and compendious command on which all else is dependent. We are to love the Lord our God, choosing him as our one and only proper good. There is a second which is like unto it, and produced by it: we are to love our neighbour as ourselves, seeking his happiness, according to our opportunity, as we seek our own. Still, this is subordinate to the other. The second is benevolence; the first is choice and delight. On these hang all the law and the Prophets ; and to this state are we always brought by submission to the righteousness and grace of God. Thenceforward our grand duty is to preserve this from decay, to keep it in exercise, to strengthen and increase it.
But in one essential point, love to God differs from love to any other object : it is supreme, and therefore singular and exclusive. Love adequate to an infinite object would be itself infinite; and of this man is incapable : he must love, therefore, so far as he can love; to the full extent of his capacity and power ; with all his heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. It must be supreme. It is also singular, standing alone : no other is to be loved for the same reason, and with the same affection. Even where the instrument of inferior good is loved, it is not only to be loved in a far lower degree, but God as the giver is to be loved for it, and in it. And then, it is exclusive. No other object can be loved at the same time under the same aspect. We cannot choose as our good both creature and Creator. He who truly chooses this heavenly portion, says, from his inmost soul, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.” Inferior good is loved subordinately, referred to its source, and heightens love by gratitude ; while its withdrawal leaves the fire burning on the altar as ardently as ever, and even shedding forth a brighter light for the surrounding darkness. Never was the love of Jeremiah to God more decided and visible, than when, in the total desolation of Judea, he said, “ The Lord is my portion, saith my soul ; therefore will I hope in him.” In every way is the solemn declaration of Scripture true, “My people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the Lord :” satisfied with it, if they have nothing else ; rejoicing in it in the midst of abundance : here, in spiritual communion; hereafter, in perfect manifestation and vision. God is the good of the soul. This, then, is the comprehensive, and most significant command, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus unto eternal life.”
To this due government and regulation of his affections, and of all that is connected with them, or dependent upon them, he who submits unto God devotes himself. His one great purpose is, that God may reign in his heart as he reigns in the universe, absolute and supreme, and, as God, alone. For this purpose, his first care is to keep this divine affection itself ardent and pure, burning with inextinguishable blaze ; supplying it with proper fuel, stirring it up, and never allowing it to be weakened by worldliness. If water extinguishes fire, as its natural opposite, so earth, as incapable of uniting with it, will smother it. In fact, there seem to be three chief temptations or dangers against which the utmost vigilance, combined with the most steadfast resistance, will be found indispensable. There is a spirit of worldliness. Outward evil may be avoided, a religious profession maintained ; and yet the heart be gradually devoted to worldly business and gains. Necessity of attention may furnish the plausible excuse, and become a deadly snare to us. We may think that we are in the way of duty, and sink into a state in which we have life and soul for nothing but the world. Then, there are tempers contrary to this sacred love. Anger, slow or violent, pride, self-complacency, obstinacy, envy, evil-surmising, all uncharitableness, everything that manifestly bears the image and superscription of the wicked one, can never be indulged but to the extinction of love. No form of hatred can co-exist with love. And, finally, there are the fruits of love, its necessary operation, where it is allowed actively to reign, on the inner man, the whole frame of our mind. These are beautifully depicted by St. Paul in his well-known description of the charity which the love of God always establishes in the heart. Now, such is the fixed connexion between cause and effect in man's moral constitution, that just as certainly as the effects cannot truly exist but as flowing from the cause, so equally all neglect of these effects, especially all positive hinderance of them, by powerful reaction first impede, and thus weaken, the cause, and ultimately destroy it. Love to God softens the hardest heart, melts the spirit into compassion, and produces that genuine sympathy which shows itself in the behaviour, in the looks, in the very tones of the voice. It is by being kind one to another, tender-hearted, forbearing, humble, and courteous, that we walk in love, taking Him as our model, who has pardoned our offences, and made us his beloved children.
To watch, and pray, and labour against these temptations, steadily resisting them, omitting nothing by which love may be strengthened, increased, and established, allowing nothing that may damp its energy, obstruct its operation, or restrict its expansiveness, constitutes one most important branch of those active duties in which all engage who submit themselves unto God. Their steady aim is to do that with themselves, by God's help, and in God's name, which he would do in them and with them, were they mere machines wrought and acted upon by himself, clay to which he gives the form and impression which he pleases. What he would do, so to speak, by direct power, that, as his servants, under his direction, and strengthened inwardly by his might, we are to do with ourselves. Thus do we place ourselves at the divine disposal, enter into the divine order, and employ all our quickened powers, our regenerated faculties, in doing his holy will. We submit ourselves unto God.
Other instances and illustrations of this general exercise might be given, but our limits admit no further detail. We have sufficiently shown how