Chapter 11


People who try to do God’s will, do not all approach obedience from the same standpoint, nor hold the same attitude toward it. The quality of the obedience is not in the act, but in what lies back of the act. It is the right attitude toward God’s will and the right intent in doing it that is the true essence of obedience. Obedience may be given in a way that magnifies and glorifies the obedience, or in a way that robs it of most of its value. A retrospective view of past history, and perhaps even of our own lives, may furnish us many illustrations of the different kinds of obedience that may be rendered. We shall notice some of these kinds of obedience.

There is a partial obedience which, with the will of God well known, draws back from part of it. It does not fill the cup of obedience to the brim. It does not follow the entire specifications. It falls short of the full demands of duty, even when that duty is well known. We have a striking example of this in King Saul. The will of God was definitely revealed to him. He did not stand in doubt concerning it. He was to destroy utterly the Amalekites and all that was theirs. He went with his army, fell upon them, and slew, not only the people, but many of the cattle; but when Samuel went out to meet him, perhaps to congratulate him upon his success and upon his obedience to God, he found that Saul’s obedience had not been full and complete.

The Prophet heard the lowing herds, and the bleating flocks, and saw King Agag, who had been reserved alive for some future purpose. Did Saul appear, acknowledging his guilt, with the consciousness that he had not fully obeyed? No, he came to the Prophet with the full-voiced assertion of duty completed, of the will of God fully performed. Perhaps there was a secret sense of unrest and fear in his soul, but he did not show it. He boldly declared that he had done the will of the Lord.

There are may “Sauls” today. They do a part of the will of God and make much of what they have done, but say nothing of what they have not done. What has not been done, takes away all the virtue of what has been done. Saul, instead of receiving approval for what he had done, was severely condemned for what he had not done. When we obey only partially, our obedience is not acceptable to God, for it leads only to rebellion. When the obedience has gone as far as there is willingness to obey, it comes to a wall of rebellion, to a will set on disobedience, which is exceedingly hateful to God, and which shows that the partial obedience that has been rendered has not come from a genuine disposition to obey, but from some other consideration. Where there is a genuine disposition to obey God, there is no choosing of what part of his will we shall do. One part of his will is then just as acceptable as any other part of it.

Another series of examples concerning such partial obedience is seen in the various reformations that took place under different kings of Israel and Judah. After telling what good things had been done, how the idols had been destroyed, how the worship of Jehovah had been renewed, again and again we find this statement, “Nevertheless the high places were not taken away” The kings did well so far as they went, but they stopped short of their full duty, and so left a continuous temptation before the people, who, in secret, still worshiped at the high places. This secret worship, as soon as the people dared to make it such, again became public worship.

When we turn to God, we should not leave the high places standing in our lives. But many are doing just this. There is not a complete severing of the ties that bind to the world. There is still a secret attraction that is drawing world-ward. This secret attraction, draws the soul away from the fullness of God’s will, and prevents the fullness of that communion with him that makes the Christian life so blessed. These high places that are left undestroyed in the life are elements of continual danger, and are hindrances to complete obedience. Thousands of souls have drifted away from obedience altogether, back to the old world-life, back to the old rebellion, because in the beginning of their Christian lives they did not completely do the will of God, fully sever every bond that held them to the world, and become wholly, unreservedly, and for all time, only the Lord’s

We repeat---partial obedience is rebellion. It is rebellion because it puts our will above God’s, will. We determine within ourselves what part of God’s will we will do, and what part we will not do. This puts God in the second place. This makes his will subject to our will. This sets our will upon a throne above his will, and no acceptable service can be rendered while we hold such an attitude. Not all persons who only partially do God’s will are bold to declare they have done the will of God as Saul declared. In the secret depths of their heart many of them have a feeling of guilt and shame, which tortures them. They may hide this from the eyes of men. People may suppose them to be very good Christians, but they themselves, know the canker that is eating at their hearts. There is a lack of spirituality in their lives, a lack of those Christian graces and virtues and that whole-hearted trust in God and reliance upon him that it is the privilege of those who do God’s whole will, to have. To do God’s will fully, to throw one’s whole heart into it, to have the conscious assurance that our service is acceptable, brings a satisfaction and rest to the soul, which cannot be put into words. This is one of the most blessed experiences of the Christian life, and only he who has experienced it, can know what a glorious thing it is.

There are those who do God’s will fully, or try to do it fully, yet who do it reluctantly or hesitatingly. They are driven by conscience, or by constraint of duty, or by fear that they will be lost if they do not do it, or that God will chastise them, or let something evil happen to them unless they obey him. So, like the slave, they obey, even when they prefer not to do so. Or, perhaps they fear that their pastor or church will discipline them if they do not accomplish their duty: or they are driven to obedience by what people will say of them if they profess to be Christians and do not obey. Reluctant obedience is never acceptable obedience. Compulsory service can never bring pleasure to the one serving or to the one being served. It is unsatisfactory to both, because it lacks the elements that give it worth. Reluctant obedience is, at bottom, disobedience, for the will does not obey---it is coerced. When it shrinks from obedience, it lacks the disposition of obedience, and lacking this disposition, it can never offer anything higher in the way of service than that which the task-driven slave renders to his master.

There are others who obey, not reluctantly or hesitatingly, but carelessly and half-heartedly. Like a poor workman, they care more about getting through with the job than about doing it well. They may be partly absorbed in other interests, so that they are not enough concerned about doing of God’s will, or perhaps they shrink from the effort necessary to do well what they undertake. Such service robs them and God of the pleasure that comes from careful and whole-hearted service. Careless and half-hearted Christians are always lukewarm Christians, and they themselves cannot be satisfied with their Christian lives.

There are others who obey, not simply for God’s eye to see them, but because they have a disposition to do things so as to attract the attention of those about them. They have a desire to be noticed. There is “a something” in their actions, which straightens itself up self-righteously and says, “See what I do.” Like the Pharisees, they blow a trumpet to call attention to their good deeds. Jesus said, “They have their reward.” That is, the reward they receive for such service is the reward that they get from men, for their service is not directed toward God, but toward men. As the Indian warriors delighted to recount the tales of their prowess around the campfire for their own glorification, so these persons delight to tell what they have done. Nothing is more-sweet in their ears than the praise of men. Verily, they have their reward, but it is not a heaven-sent reward. Such service can never be acceptable to God. It is always based on selfish considerations and is done for self or at least this element more than any other enters into it.

Acceptable Service

Acceptable obedience to God has in it certain characteristics that give it its acceptable quality. First, it must be a sincere service, directed toward God. It must be done in view of his will, and with the earnest purpose of fulfilling his will in an acceptable manner. It must be based solely on the intent to obey. In such service there is singleness of heart, earnestness of purpose, zealous faithfulness. These qualities give even the lowliest service the same qualities and worth that characterize the highest service in the greatest things, and thereby lowly service is glorified and brought upon a highly exalted plain.

Acceptable service is willing service, a service that is gladly rendered from choice. The language of the soul is, “I delight to do they will, O God!” and as Jesus said, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me.” In such service there is no feeling of constraint or compulsion. It is the out-flowing of love, the carrying out of the heart’s desire; and so all tasks are made light and all service a pleasure. The nature of obedience is inward; that is, it begins with desire in the heart. Nothing is true obedience that is not cheerfully given and prompter by love. It is never a sullen yielding to necessity; it is never task-work; but it is ever the soul’s joyous oblation.

Acceptable service is humble service. It is not done to be seen of men, nor for the purpose of bringing their praise to us. It is not done for their esteem, but simply to please God. Pride and display are inconsistent with true service. Sometimes people plan a course, which they hope will lead to preferment in the church, or which will give them influence and leadership. These are the things for which they are working; therefore their service cannot be an unselfish, devoted service, a humble and consistent service, such as is precious in the eyes of God. In seeking such rewards for service, men miss the true and great reward of service, and at the same time fail to give God the service that is due him.

Acceptable service is patient service. Life often seems long and the round of service sometimes grows wearisome; so we have to put patience into our service, lest we grow weary in well-doing. The kind of service that counts is not some spectacular service today, and then little service tomorrow---it is the every-day round of doing duties and rendering cheerful obedience that counts. If we can be relied upon to be at our post and render never-failing obedience, no matter under what circumstances, then God and men can trust in us. What each of us should do is to purpose to do God’s will from day to day---purpose to do his will during our whole lives; that is, have a settled determination that God’s will shall be done, a fixed purpose to do his will. We shall not then approach God’s will doubtfully. Whether we shall obey or disobey will then have been determined already, before the question arises; and having decided to obey God’s will, there is no indecision or hesitation.

We shall approach his will with only one thought---that of doing it. We shall meet hindrances in doing God’s will, hindrances within ourselves, hindrances in circumstances, hindrances from our fellow men. If our purpose to do God’s will is sufficiently strong, it will enable us to surmount all these hindrances and to go forward, rendering acceptable service. We shall be able to shut our ears against what people say that would otherwise hinder us. We shall be able to surmount the obstacles that they place in our way; and no matter whether the world approves of our obedience to God or disapproves of it, our purpose to carry out what he wills will enable us to go forward undismayed. The tongue of the gossip, the criticism of the critic, the sneers of the scoffer, the misrepresentations, and misunderstandings of our motive, and whatever may come to us as a result of our obedience to God, will then be borne with quiet patience and not allowed to hinder us in our service.

Three Steps to Obedience

There are three steps we must take before we can render acceptable service. The first is to have a right view of God. The idea of God that is most prominent in our minds will be most potent in forming the idea of his will that we shall entertain. If the text, “From everlasting to everlasting, “ expresses our predominant idea of God; that is, if we look upon his majesty and greatness, his eternity and unchangeableness, as his supreme characteristics, we shall stand in such awe of him that our service will be inspired by fear more than by love.

If we look upon him as the august Sovereign, we shall most easily render obedience from a sense of duty. But if our greatest thought of God is expressed in the words, “Our Father,” then we can realize that his will toward us is the will of a father---a kind, loving, devoted father. Then we can serve from love, and put fear and duty in the background. Service to our Father “instead of being slavish, is filial; instead of being reluctant submission to a mightier force, is glad conformity to the fountain of love and goodness; instead of being sullen resignation, is trustful reliance; instead of being the painful execution of unwelcome duties, it is the spontaneous expression in acts which are easy because of the indwelling love.” And so the character of our service to God is determined by whether or not we have this sense of his fatherhood. If we lack this, let us draw nigh to him. Let us seek him until he comes and fills the place of our hearts with himself, and we come so to know him that instinctively our hearts will call him Father.

The second step in acceptable obedience is to say, “Not my will be done.” So many try to say, “Thy will be done,” when their hearts are saying, “My will be done.” Jesus was the greatest of all servants. He set us an example of obedience, being obedient even unto death. He says in regard to his attitude toward the father, “I came down from heaven not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38). He exemplified this all through his life. In his prayer in Gethsemane, we hear him saying, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Every desire that our own wills may be done is a barrier to our doing God’s will. So we must fight the hot battle, and perhaps the long one, of conquering our wills, so that we can say, “Not my will.” Right here is where so many fail. They try to say, “Thy will be done,” they try earnestly, they struggle desperately, and yet in the depths of their hearts they find a reluctance, a hesitation, a shrinking from God’s will. Why is this? They have begun at the wrong place. They have not yet crucified their own wills. We may say, “Thy will be done,” from our lips, but never truly from our hearts, until we have first said, “Not my will.” But when we have crucified our own desires, when we have mastered ourselves so that we can say without reluctance or hesitation, “Not my will,” then we have laid well the foundation for acceptable service.

The third step is to say, “Thy will be done.” Having taken the other two steps, this is easy, because it is the soul’s most earnest desire. But there are many who say, “Thy will be done,” who do not comprehend what a scope in their natures and lives this covers. First, it means “Thy will be done in me.” It means a surrender of the heart, its desires and purposes, its ambitions and hopes, its plans and expectations. It means to submit to God that he may make in us such changes as are desirable to him. It means for us to allow him to refashion us, to cleanse, to prune, in fact, to make of us what he desires.

“Thy will be done” means “Thy will be done for me. This means that we shall allow God to choose the future course of our lives, and turn them into whatever channel he wills. It means that we will allow him to do what he will with all the we call ours---our possessions, our relatives, our friends, our business, our reputation, our standing with the world. It means that we will allow him to choose for us, to will for us, to plan for us. It means a full submission of all things into his hands, with our hands taken off, and our claims given up in order that we and ours may be his fully, irrevocably, eternally.

It means “Thy will be done by me.” This requires the dedication of all our powers to the active performance of his will, without hesitation or reluctance. It means making this the chief purpose of our lives, the purpose which runs through all other purposes and lies back of all of our activities, under all circumstances and conditions, amid all influences and environments, whether things go easy or hard, whether circumstances are favorable or unfavorable, whatever desires may arise in ourselves or in others, whatever sacrifices are demanded. “Thy will be done by me” means all this.

“Thy will be done” means “Thy will be done through me.” “Whatsoever thou mayest desire to accomplish through me, I yield myself as the instrument of thy will, whether it be through honor or dishonor, through sickness or health, prosperity or adversity, good report or evil report, whether it means service at home or in a foreign land, to the high or to the low, in life or in death, whether I may understand or not---thy will be done through me.”

And finally it means “Thy will be done to me.” If it be needful to God’s purpose that we suffer persecution and endure the malignant hatred of his enemies and that our names be loaded with reproach, if it means the prison or the cross, “thy will be done to me.” It means the meek suffering of persecution and opposition, and the patient endurance of hardness of whatsoever sort. Although it does mean all this, it also means the joy of God’s salvation and the presence of his living Spirit with his strengthening, comforting influences. It means joy unspeakable that no man taketh away. It means the abiding “peace that passeth all understanding.” It means having a sense of God’s approval. Finally, it means eternal glory at the Father’s right hand forevermore.

When we have said, “Thy will be done,” from the heart’s depths, there is no jealousy or envy of others when they excel us. There is no holding back from God’s will and no undue pushing forward into things without considering his will. We are content to await the revelation of his will, knowing that he has promised to lead the way. When the heart says, “My Father, not my will, but thine, be done,” it enters the vale of sweet content to feast in the green pastures by the still waters. While storms may come into such a life, there is: a deep, undisturbed calm, that the winds of trouble cannot ruffle, nor can the waves of tribulation reach its depth. Here we dwell hard by the gate of heaven, ready to enter in when the Master shall bid us.

Many times people find the will of God hard to do. Wherein does the hardness lie? It is not so much in what must be done, though that may require earnest endeavor; the hard part lies in the heart. It is caused by unwillingness or unbelief, hesitation or reluctance. When the heart is willing, we shall always find “his yoke is easy and his burden is light,” but a very small burden may be heavy to the unwilling heart. The glory in service comes to the willing-hearted. So let us follow the three steps earnestly, faithfully, till we reach the place where we can do his will without shrinking, or without wishing it were otherwise, but content to have things as he will have them, and fully satisfied in his will.

Immediate Obedience

When Paul, after having been for a time without a knowledge of the will of God concerning him, was made aware of “that will” in a vision, his responsiveness was shown by these words, “After he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go” (Acts 16:10). This disposition should characterize every Christian. If the heart says, “Thy will be done,” there is no occasion for delaying, but immediate obedience can be rendered. What does delay indicate? First, it indicates a lack of fervor, a want of zeal. When love is warm, obedience can be rendered. What does delay indicate? First, it indicates a lack of fervor---a want of zeal. When love is warm, obedience is ready; so a lack of responsiveness to God’s will shows a lack of love toward him. Secondly, delay shows a disinclination to do his will. It show either a desire that his will were otherwise than it is, or a reluctance to make the effort necessary to its accomplishment. Thirdly, delay leads to disobedience. A disagreeable, or difficult duty always becomes more so by delay. The Psalmist says, “I made haste, and delayed not to keep they commandments” (Psa. 119”60. “Delayed duty is present discomfort.” The heart can never be quite at ease with a sense of duty undone. The longer it is delayed, the harder it becomes to do that duty. Immediate obedience is the only satisfactory obedience, the only easy obedience, and the only kind that opens the gates of blessing to the soul.

Delayed duty means loss of opportunity. When the business man sees an opportunity, he is quick to grasp it. How many times the Christian sees opportunity and delays taking advantage of it, only to see the opportunity pass unused, perhaps to regret it for years! Immediate obedience, therefore, is the only safe way. Failure to obey means an hour of duty left empty, and that hour of duty once left empty can never be filled. If that neglected duty ever is done, it fills another hour that might have held another service , and so an hour of service is lost and lost forever. And shall not those empty hours mock us? Shall not the slighted opportunities rise up to condemn us? Therefore, let us fill each hour with its duty, with its loving service, and thus we shall have no regrets.

Faithful Service

Faithful service includes the doing of the little things, and the doing of these seemingly little, unimportant things with the same care and earnestness and with the same faithfulness that we put into the greater things. The true disposition of our hearts is revealed in our attitude while doing the little things. Jesus said, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s who shall give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12). Here the principle is revealed that unfaithfulness in one thing is inconsistent with faithfulness in anything else. In other words, if we do not show a faithful spirit in the small things, we shall do the greater things if we do them, not because of faithfulness, but from some other consideration. Jesus said that those who broke the least commandment, and taught men to do likewise, should be least in the kingdom of heaven. The spirit of true obedience, makes one, esteem the smallest portion of the will of God. He, who can neglect God’s will in the little things, cannot rightly esteem it in the greater things. He who has not the true spirit of obedience in the little things does not obey in the greater things because of faithfulness.

It is not a question of the importance of the thing commanded, but of the importance of obeying or rebelling. It is one’s attitude toward God’s authority. Many, who will obey God in the greater things, because they feel the constraint of conscience, neglect or ignore a multitude of little things which are just as much the will of God for them to do as the greater things, and still feel no compunction of conscience. When people do only that part of God’s will, which they wish to do, it is not obedience to God; it is obedience to self. Many times in the past, God revealed his will through the prophets. The people listened and approved, but they did not obey. This spirit is manifested today in ten thousand instances. People sit under the preaching of God’s word; they approve what the minister says; they go away, and straightway do the opposite. They do not feel bound to obey. They read in the Bible things that reveal their duty, but they shut the Book and go on as though they had not read it. Have these a true spirit of obedience? Not so. They have a spirit of disobedience. They disregard God’s will without any consideration of what attitude of heart is thereby revealed. Such persons cannot hope to be in the spiritual condition, where joy, peace, and contentment are their lot, or where the approval of God will rest upon them.

Lacking the disposition of heart to render obedient, cheerful, faithful, loving, and full obedience, we lack what nothing else can supply, and it is impossible for us to be pleasing and acceptable to God, and to reap the reward in our hearts and in our lives that it is God’s good pleasure to give to those who render unto him whole-hearted service.




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