And, behold, the man clothed with linen, which had the inkhorn by his side, reported the matter, saying…
The very word "obedience" is to some minds offensive and repulsive. Association may connect it with tyranny, and then it suggests harshness and severity on the one side, and merely compulsory submission on the other. But to the right minded no word is more welcome, for no moral quality is more honourable. The son obeys the wishes of his father; the soldier, the sailor, render immediate obedience to the word of command; to the school boy who is worthy of his advantages, his master's will is law; the ambassador lives to carry out the instructions of the court by which he is commissioned. In fact, all through human life, especially in civilized and Christian communities, command and obedience are universal principles, binding society together. In the text we have an example of obedience rendered by one of his servants to the most high God; the profession of obedience here made is distinguished by remarkable simplicity and dignity.
I. RELIGIOUS OBEDIENCE IS BASED UPON PERSONAL RELATIONS. There is natural law, which, in a certain sense, we may be said to obey, but with no voluntary adoption or choice. Being, so far as the body is concerned, subject to physical law, we are to that extent obedient without the moral quality and virtue of obedience. But law in its proper sense is the imposition of the will of a superior upon that of an inferior. Law of this kind is not always just, is not always deserving of reverence. The despot commands, and his trembling subject may obey; the slave driver commands, and the slave may from fear render unquestioning obedience. But, on the other hand, there are human relations which involve wise directions and willing compliance. And such are, in a sense, the copy of that beneficent relation which subsists between the Creator and his subject man. Mind comes into contact with mind. "I have done as thou hast commanded me." The language brings the personalities into closest contact. The obedient is impelled, not by regard for his interests or by fears lest he suffer, but by the recognition of the personal right of God. It is always well, in the religious life, to look through the Law to the Lawgiver, through the decision to the Judge, through the fatherly word to the Father himself.
II. RELIGIOUS OBEDIENCE INVOLVES AUTHORITY AND SUBJECTION. Authority is not, as has sometimes been taught, an invention of human ingenuity for the promotion of human convenience. In its essence it is Divine. It is something quite different from power, and something far higher. In human nature and in human society, authority is sometimes unaccompanied by power; force even usurps its proper place. Human beings are fallible in wisdom and imperfect in goodness; and it often happens that the exercise of authority is unjust and hateful. But the authority of God is always exercised with wisdom and with justice. Obedience to man is always a qualified, whilst obedience to God is an absolute, duty. The Divine will is indeed binding, and for this reason - that the Divine judgment is always supremely excellent. In fact, every command of God is the utterance of the Infinite Reason. There is moral authority in God's commands, which our judgment and conscience spontaneously acknowledge.
III. RELIGIOUS OBEDIENCE IS MOTIVED AND INSPIRED BY GRATEFUL LOVE. There is much obedience rendered by man to man, merely upon compulsion, under the influence of fear. And there are those who, under similar motives, seek to serve God. Veneration for the Lawgiver, and admiration of commandments in themselves excellent and beautiful, constrain some men to devote themselves to a life of obedience. But the distinctively Christian obedience is that which is rendered from gratitude and affection to the Saviour. When his mission to earth is truly understood; when it is perceived that it was pity which led him to undertake the work of redemption; when not only his labours, but his sufferings and sacrifice, are pondered and appreciated; - then love may well enkindle love, and those for whom Christ died may well ask what they shall render for all the benefits they receive from and through him. Who would not do anything to evince loyalty, affection, and gratitude, to a Friend so self-sacrificing, a Saviour so compassionate? Our Lord Jesus himself relied upon these motives. He did indeed claim obedience as his right: "Why call ye me Master and Lord, and do not the things which I say?" But he also asked obedience as a proof of response to his friendship: "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you;" "If ye love me, keep my commandments."
"'Tis love that makes our willing feet
In swift obedience move."
IV. RELIGIOUS OBEDIENCE OVERCOMES NATURAL REPUGNANCE TO ANY COURSE OF ACTION PRESCRIBED BY DIVINE AUTHORITY. We have an illustration of this in the context. The special vocation of the man with the inkhorn was to set a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sighed and cried for all the abominations that were done; yet he seems also to have had charge of the officers of the city to whom was entrusted the awful task of punishment and destruction. The work of deliverance was agreeable and grateful; the work of chastisement and slaughter must have been painful and distressing. Yet in both directions the will of the rightful Lord and King was done; and the report was rendered of the fulfilment in all their completeness of the royal commands. It happens to us all now and again to be called to undertake some service from which we shrink, to which by our temperament and habits we are naturally averse. But obedience has to be rendered, not only when the commands given harmonize with our predilections, but when they arc sorely opposed to our natural or acquired tastes and inclinations. But rightful orders must be obeyed. As in the case of the Six Hundred -
"Theirs not to reason why;
Theirs not to make reply:
Theirs but to do and die." So in the case of many a child of God, many a soldier of Christ, orders are known to be issued upon Divine authority which can only be obeyed at the risk of wealth, or reputation, or life. But such considerations have to be dismissed. Once satisfied that the commandments are Divine, the subject renders, if not a happy, yet a willing obedience. It is not to be expected that, in this imperfect state of being, obedience should always be enjoyment, though the aim of every Christian should be to say, with his Master, "I delight to do thy will, O my God!"
V. RELIGIOUS OBEDIENCE YIELDS SATISFACTION TO THE CONSCIENCE, If pleasure does not always accompany and follow true service, approval will not fail. Upon the grave of a great philanthropist may be read these lines -
"He does well who does his best.
Brothers! I have done my best:
I am weary: let me rest." There may be something of self-righteousness in these lines. Here is an epitaph, however, which may be placed over any faithful servant of Christ -
"Life's work well done;
Life's course well run;
Life's crown well won:
Now comes rest." There is, however, no reflection upon a life of obedience to compare in grandeur and beauty with that recorded to have been uttered by our Lord himself, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." To have given up one's own will, to have accepted the will of Heaven, to have toiled and suffered as an obedient son and servant in God's cause, - this is the better part, which will endure the retrospect of life's closing hour.
VI. RELIGIOUS OBEDIENCE SECURES ACCEPTANCE AND REWARD FROM THE SUPREME RULER HIMSELF. If rebellion is, in the sight of God, man's one great error and sin, obedience is, in his sight, above all things acceptable. Every man who is saved is indeed saved by grace; but all are judged by their works. The good pleasure of the King promotes to higher service as the reward of diligence and fidelity. And there can be no words so welcome at the last as these, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" - T.
Parallel VersesKJV: And, behold, the man clothed with linen, which had the inkhorn by his side, reported the matter, saying, I have done as thou hast commanded me.