One duty which we owe to Christ as our King, is to obey His laws. To neglect this obedience is to deny that He is King. “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” He came to save us from our sins and, therefore, we can have no part in His salvation while we are living in sin. It is not to be doubted that many profess to rely on Christ as their propitiation who pay no great regard to His laws, and think themselves perfectly safe while living in the habitual neglect of some of His commands; nay, who are the less careful to avoid sin just on account of the sufficiency of Him on whom they profess to rely for its pardon. But we may rest assured that if Christ be not a King whom we obey, neither is He a Priest who will save us. To hope that we can be saved without obedience, is to hope not merely against hope, but against possibility, for surely it is not possible to be saved from sin while yet we are living in sin. “His servants ye are to whom ye obey,” saith the apostle, and, if we obey sin, then it is plain that we are not the servants of Christ.
Though our conformity to the laws of Christ be not the cause of our salvation, it may not on that account be neglected; for it is something more than the cause of salvation, it is the thing itself. When we are made holy, then are we saved, and not till then. Obedience, therefore, is essentially necessary. Nor is that obedience to be limited by our convenience or our pleasure, or to be neglected because it may in some instances tend to our disadvantage or because they whose good opinion we are most anxious to obtain may call us precise and narrow-minded and righteous overmuch, or because the things that we find it necessary to avoid are things freely indulged in even by those who maintain a respectable character in the Church. That is no obedience which extends only as far as we find it perfectly convenient. It was not such an obedience that was yielded by the “cloud of witnesses”, whose examples are recorded for our imitation. It was not such an obedience that was yielded by Christ for our sakes, when He submitted to “learn obedience by the things which He suffered”. Nor was it such obedience that He required of us when He said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me,” or when He declared, “If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”
Nor are we to suppose that our obligations to obedience are discharged by attention to the positive institutions of Christianity, as some seem to think. If they read the Scriptures and worship God in their families and attend His public services and take the sacraments and maintain a zealous profession and treat the ordinances of religion with great respect and contribute to its advancement in the world, they imagine that this is fulfilling their obedience to Christ. They observe with regularity the stated days and hours of religious duties, but when the stated period is past, all thoughts of religion are dismissed, and they are not to be distinguished by anything in their conduct as the disciples of Christ. All these things are necessary to promote in ourselves and others the principles of piety and holiness, but, unless they be attended to only as a means to this end, they can be of no service to us. Yet they are often attended to, not as a means of promoting holiness, but as a substitute for the want of it as duties which it is necessary to perform, but from the performance of which we never even look for any growth in grace. Our Lord tells us what will be the sentence of men of this character: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name, and in Thy name have cast out devils, and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.”
Neither are we to suppose that we have fully obeyed Christ when, besides attending to all His institutions, we have scrupulously regulated our conduct according to his laws. This is all the obedience that an earthly ruler requires. If we do not resist His laws, he leaves us at liberty to disapprove of them, and openly to express our disapprobation. But it is not so with our heavenly King. He requires us not only to obey His laws, but to approve of them to love them. In His eye, obedience is of no value unless it proceed from the heart. Every man does many things that are materially good, but if such good deeds proceed from ostentation, or the prospect of advantage, or the dread of censure, or from any secular motive if they do not flow from that charity which predominates in the renewed heart they are the works of one still “dead in trespasses and sins”, and are properly denominated “dead works”. They want the living principle which alone can render them good in the eye of Him who searches the heart and, however excellent in the outward performance, are earthly and immoral in their motive and design. They are corrupted in their source and, if the root be rottenness, the blossom can be but dust. Bodily service profiteth nothing, and our external compliance with a law which we hate in our hearts is by our King considered as no obedience at all.
The reason of this is sufficiently obvious. Our obedience is required that it may do good not to God, who needs not our services, but to ourselves, that it may establish in us such habits as will fit us for the occupations and enjoyments of a higher state of existence. But if it proceed from any improper principle, then its operation will be in direct opposition to this end and, consequently, must meet the disapprobation of Him, “the end of [whose] commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned”. Every action strengthens the principle from which it proceeds and, being often repeated, renders the exercise of that principle necessary to our happiness. And when our love to God and man has been so “rooted and grounded” in us by a long course of holiness, so that the exercise of it constitutes all our felicity, we are then fitted for the kingdom of heaven. Whereas the most perfect obedience, were it possible for such obedience to proceed from any other principle, would not in the slightest degree promote our moral improvement, nor our meetness for the society of angels and the spirits of just men made perfect.
If then we truly acknowledge Christ our King, we shall not be satisfied with offering to Him the external expressions of esteem and respect, nor with adding to these expressions a scrupulous attention to His laws in our conduct. We shall not be satisfied unless our thoughts and feelings and desires be agreeable to His law, as well as our actions. We shall not consider our salvation from sin complete while there is one imagination in our heart that exalts itself against Him.
When every thought of our heart is brought into captivity to Christ, when we not only approve of His laws, but delight in them, when we not only consider obedience to be our duty, but feel it to be our pleasure, when we do not seek excuses for neglecting but opportunities of obeying His commands, when we feel such a sense of His kindness to us as to be delighted with every opportunity of expressing our gratitude by word or by deed, then, and not till then, shall we consider our conformity to His law to be such as will give us confidence when we appear before Him in judgement, and will prepare us for that vision of God which communicates to the pure in heart joys that are “unspeakable and full of glory”. But from that vision, the unholy, even supposing them admitted to it, would fly away and seek a refuge in the regions of darkness, and in the society of spirits more congenial with their own.