Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death…
The knowledge of a truth is not synonymous with its practical recognition in our daily life. "Know ye not? ' calls plain attention to the consequences of behaviour. It is the business of Scripture and preaching to emphasize the importance of our personal acts. We are not really masters in any condition. The curbed or uncurbed steed of our desires is working in some service, be it of sin or of God.
I. THE ALTERNATIVE. 'We yield to the motions either of "sin unto death" or of "obedience unto righteousness." No middle course is possible. Though the notorious transgressor may do a kind action, and the distinguished saint disappointingly err, yet the distinction is real. Characters are only of two sorts; they verge to good or evil. It is not for others, but ourselves, to estimate our position and tendency. Men are deluded by the imaginary difficulty of drawing a boundary-line because of the way in which apparently the good shades off into evil. In the one service or the other we are actually enlisted.
II. THE FREEDOM OF CHOICE. There is the option of the two careers; we are not compelled to either. Motives, longing, circumstances, do not amount to constraint. The apostle pictures men as voluntarily yielding themselves, presenting themselves to the chosen employer. This does not mean that men willingly elect sin as such. The moral bent, the image of God, is shown in their use of terms to hide the viciousness of actions; "a gay life" instead of debauchery; "embellishing a story" instead of a perversion of the truth. Milton describes sin as leaping from the head of the arch-fiend, a form that struck the rebel host at first with horror, "but familiar grown she pleased." That is the death of the soul when evil is deliberately selected: "Evil, be thou my good." And the freedom of choice does not imply the absence of obligations to serve God. To delay is to adhere to sin.
III. THE SERVICE OF SIN A DISOBEDIENCE TO GOD. The statement of the alternative, by its sharp antithesis of "sin" and "obedience," indicates the essential nature of sin. Disobedience is the wanting our own way in opposition to some command of a rightful authority. God's government being moral, to elect a course of life which violates his laws is to give one's self to the service of God's enemy. As compliance with some small order evinces the loyalty of the soldiers; so with us, like our first parents, it may be a so-called trifling matter which tests our disposition. To sin is to disobey a physical, moral, or religious commandment, and this transgression is not merely an individual concern; it affects the Ruler of the universe. Treason is the worst crime against the state, and no man can be allowed to become a centre of infection to the body politic. The disobedience may be in thought, affection, or will, apart from any outward act. Human laws can rarely take note of the inner man; but it is the perfection of Divine laws to regard the heart of the agent.
IV. THE HAPPY RESULT OF OBEDIENCE. Obedience to "the highest we know" is justified by its consequences, "righteousness" and "life." Men are often afraid lest, by keeping the commandments, they may be debarred from gain and enjoyment; yet is it obedience which augments true power and satisfaction. The laws of God were framed and written upon the heart of man to secure his well-being; to break them is to mar the working of the beautiful machine. If conscience warn you of danger, only folly will silence the monitory voice and darken the beacon-light. Note the work of Christ in removing hard thoughts of the Lawgiver, and exhibiting the beauty of a blamelessly obedient life. He manifested the goal of obedience to be peace, joy, triumph. Our obedience is not the life of despotism, where to reason is illegal; nor of slavery, where is work without a recompense; nor of penance, where merit is sought by righteous deeds as a title to heaven; but Christian obedience is rendered as the joyous intelligent outcome of salvation through Christ, bringing us righteousness and life. Persevering obedience begets a habit of virtue, and surrounds us with a holy environment, wherein it is easier to do right than wrong. Conscience as the approving faculty ministers constant delight. This, at least, is the ideal, to which we may increasingly conform. Compare the lines, spoken by Adam to Michael, in the 'Paradise Lost' -
"Henceforth I learn that to obey is best,
And love, with fear, the only God, etc.; and the angel's reply-
"This having learnt, thou hast attained the sum
Of wisdom: hope no higher," etc. S.R.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?