Israel has reached Horeb. The law is to be given and the covenant made. Here are God's first words to the people; He speaks of redemption and its blessing, fellowship with Himself: 'Ye have seen how I brought you unto myself.' He speaks of holiness as His purpose in redemption: 'Ye shall be unto me an holy nation.' And as the link between the two He places obedience: 'If ye will indeed obey my voice, ye shall be unto me an holy nation.' God's will is the expression of His holiness; as we do His will, we come into contact with His holiness. The link between Redemption and Holiness is Obedience.
This takes us back to what we saw in Paradise. God sanctified the seventh day as the time for sanctifying man. And what was the first thing He did with this purpose? He gave him a commandment. Obedience to that commandment would have opened the door, would have been the entrance, into the Holiness of God. Holiness is a moral attribute; and moral is that which a free will chooses and determines for itself. What God creates and gives is only naturally good; what man wills to have of God and His will, and really appropriates, has moral worth, and leads to holiness. In creation God manifested His wise and good will. His holy will He speaks in His commands. As that holy will enters man's will, as man's will accepts and unites itself with God's will, he becomes holy. After creation, in the seventh day, God took man up into His work of sanctification to make him holy. Obedience is the path to holiness, because it is the path to union with God's holy will; with man unfallen, as with fallen man, in redemption here and in glory above, in all the holy angels, in Christ the Holy One of God Himself, obedience is the path of holiness. It is not itself holiness: but as the will opens itself to accept and to do the will of God, God communicates Himself and His Holiness. To obey His voice is to follow Him as He leads in the way to the full revelation and communication of Himself and His blessed nature as the Holy One.
Obedience. Not knowledge of the will of God, not even approval, not even the will to do it, but the doing of it. Knowledge, and approval, and will must lead to action; the will of God must be done. 'If ye indeed obey my voice, ye shall be unto me an holy nation.' It is not faith, and not worship, and not profession, that God here asks in the first place from His people when He speaks of holiness; it is obedience. God's will must be done on earth, as in heaven. 'Remember and do all my commandments, that ye may be holy to your God' (Num. xv.40). 'Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy; and ye shall keep my statutes and do them. I am the Lord which sanctify you' (Lev. xx.7, 8). 'Therefore shall ye keep my commandments and do them: I am the Lord: I will be hallowed among the children of Israel: I am the Lord which hallow you, that brought you up out of the land of Egypt' (xxii 21, 33).
A moment's reflection will make the reason of this clear to us. It is in a man's work that he manifests what he is. I may know what is good, and yet not approve it. I may approve, and yet not will it. I may in a certain sense will it, and yet be wanting in the energy, or the self-sacrifice, or the power that will rouse and do the thing. Thinking is easier than willing, and willing is easier than doing. Action alone proves whether the object of my interest has complete mastery over me. God wants His will done. This alone is obedience. In this alone it is seen whether the whole heart, with all its strength and will, has given itself over to the will of God; whether we live it, and are ready at any sacrifice to make it our own by doing it. God has no other way for making us holy. 'Ye shall keep my statutes and do them: I am the Lord which make you holy.'
To all seekers after holiness this is a lesson of deep importance. Obedience is not holiness; holiness is something far higher, something that comes from God to us, or rather, something of God coming into us. But obedience is indispensable to holiness: it cannot exist without it. While, therefore, your heart seeks to follow the teaching of God's word, and looks in faith to what God has done, as He has made you holy in Christ, and to what God is still to do through the Spirit of Holiness as He fulfils the promise, 'The very God of peace sanctify you wholly,' never for one moment forget to be obedient. 'If ye shall indeed obey my voice, ye shall be an holy nation to me.' Begin by doing at once whatever appears right to do. Give up at once whatever conscience tells that you dare not say is according to the will of God. Not only pray for light and strength, but act; do what God says. 'He that doeth the will of God is my brother,' Jesus says. Every son of God has been begotten of the will of God: in it he has his life. To do the Father's will is the meat, the strength, the mark, of every son of God.
It is nothing less than the surrender to such a life of simple and entire obedience that is implied in becoming a Christian. There are, alas! too many Christians who, from the want either of proper instruction, or of proper attention to the teaching of God's word, have never realized the place of supreme importance that obedience takes in the Christian life. They know not that Christ, and redemption, and faith all lead to it, because through it alone is the way to the fellowship of the Love, and the Likeness, and the Glory of God. We have all, possibly, suffered from it ourselves: in our prayers and efforts after the perfect peace and the rest of faith, after the abiding joy and the increasing power of the Christian life, there has been a secret something hindering the blessing, or causing the speedy loss of what had been apprehended. A wrong impression as to the absolute necessity of obedience was probably the cause. It cannot too earnestly be insisted on that the freeness and mighty power of grace has this for its object from our conversion onwards, the restoring us to the active obedience and harmony with God's will from which we had fallen through the first sin in Paradise. Obedience leads to God and His Holiness. It is in obedience that the will is moulded, and the character fashioned, and an inner man built up which God can clothe and adorn with the beauty of holiness.
When a Christian discovers that this has been the missing link, the cause of failure and darkness, there is nothing for it but, in a grand act of surrender, deliberately to choose obedience, universal, whole-hearted obedience, as the law of his life in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let him not fear to make his own the words of Israel at Sinai, in answer to the message of God we are considering: 'All that the Lord hath spoken, we will do;' 'All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.' What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God hath done by the gift of His Son and Spirit. The law-giving of Sinai on tables of stone has been succeeded by the law-giving of the Spirit on the table of the heart: the Holy Spirit is the power of obedience, and is so the Spirit of Holiness, who, in obedience, prepares our hearts for being the dwelling of the Holy One. Let us in this faith yield ourselves to a life of obedience: it is the New Testament path to the realization of the promise: 'If ye will obey my voice indeed, ye shall be unto me an holy nation.'
We have already seen how holiness in its very nature supposes the personal relation to God, His personal presence. 'I have brought you unto myself; if ye obey, ye shall be unto me an holy nation.' It is as we understand and hold fast this personal element that obedience will become possible, and will lead to holiness. Mark well God's words: 'If ye will obey my voice, and keep my covenant.' The voice is more than a law or a book; it always implies a living person and intercourse with him. It is this that is the secret of gospel obedience: hearing the voice and following the lead of Jesus as a personal friend, a living Saviour. It is being led by the Spirit of God, having Him to reveal the Presence, and the Will, and the Love of the Father, that will work in us that personal relation which the New Testament means when it speaks of doing everything unto the Lord, as pleasing God.
Such obedience is the pathway of holiness. Its every act is a link to the living God, a surrender of the being for God's will, for God Himself to take possession. In the process of assimilation, slow but sure, by which the will of God, as the meat of our souls, is taken up into our inmost being, our spiritual nature is strengthened, is spiritualized, growing up into an holy temple in which God can reveal Himself and take up His abode.
Let every believer study to realize this. When God sanctified the seventh day as His period of making holy, He taught us that He could not do it at once. The revelation and communication of holiness must be gradual, as man is prepared to receive it. God's sanctifying work with each of us, as with the race, needs time. The time it needs and seeks is the life of daily, hourly obedience. All that is spent in self-will, and not in the living relation to the Lord, is lost. But when the heart seeks day by day to hearken to the voice and to obey it, the Holy One Himself watches over His words to fulfil them: 'Ye shall be unto me an holy nation.' In a way of which the soul beforehand can have but little conception, God will overshadow and make His abode in the obedient heart. The habit of always listening for the voice and obeying it will only be the building of the temple: the Living God Himself, the Holy One, will come to take up His abode. The glory of the Lord will fill the house, and the promise be made true, 'I will sanctify it by my glory.'
'I brought you unto myself; if ye will obey my voice in deed, ye shall be unto me an holy nation.' Seekers after holiness! God has brought you to Himself. And now His voice speaks to you all the thoughts of His heart, that as you take them in, and make them your own, and make His will your own by living and doing it, you may enter into the most complete union with Himself, the union of will as well as of life, and so become a holy people unto Him. Let obedience, the listening to and the doing the will of God, be the joy and the glory of your life; it will give you access unto the Holiness of God.
BE HOLY, AS I AM HOLY.
O my God! Thou hast redeemed me for Thyself, that Thou mightest have me wholly as Thine own, possessing, filling my inmost being with Thy own likeness, Thy perfect will, and the glory of Thy Holiness. And Thou seekest to train me, in the power of a free and loving will, to take Thy will and make it my own, that in the very centre of my being I may have Thine own perfection dwelling in me. And in Thy words Thou revealest Thy will, that as I accept and keep them I may master their Divine contents, and will all that Thou willest.
O my God! let me live day by day in such fellowship with Thee, that I may indeed in everything hear Thy voice, the living voice of the living God speaking to me. Let the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Thy Holiness, be to me Thy voice guiding me in the path of simple, childlike obedience. I do bless Thee that I have seen that Christ, in whom I am holy, was the obedient one, that in obedience He sanctified Himself to become my sanctification, and that abiding in Him, Thy obedient, holy Child, is abiding in Thy will as once done by Him, and now to be done by me. O my God! I will indeed obey Thy will: make Thou me one of Thy holy nation, a peculiar treasure above all people. Amen.
1. 'He became obedient unto death.' 'Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.' 'I come to do Thy will.' 'In which will we are sanctified.' Christ's example teaches us that obedience is the only path to the Holiness or the glory of God. Be this your consecration: a surrender in everything to seek and do the will of God.
2. We are 'holy in Christ' -- in this Christ who did the will of God and was obedient to the death. In Him it is we are; in Him we are holy. His obedience is the soil in which we are planted, and must be rooted. 'It is my meat to do His will;' obedience was the sustenance of His life; in doing God's will He drew down Divine nourishment; it must be so with us too.
3. As you study what it is to be and abide in Christ, as you rejoice you are in Him, always remember it is Christ who obeyed in whom God has planted you.
4. If ever you feel perplexed about holiness, just yield yourself again to do God's will, and go and do it. It is ours to obey, it is God's to sanctify.
5. Holy in Christ. Christ sanctified Himself by obedience, by doing the will of God, and in that will, as done by Him, we have been sanctified. In accepting that will as done by Him, in accepting Him, I am holy. In accepting that will of God, as to be done by me, I become holy. I am in Him; in every act of living obedience, I enter into living fellowship with Him, and draw the power of His life into mine.
6. Obedience depends upon hearing the voice. Do not imagine you know the will of God. Pray and wait for the inward teaching of the Spirit.