"Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which he suffered. And being made perfect, He became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him." (Hebrews 5:8,9)
There is abundant evidence that God dwelt alone in His Trinity of Persons before all worlds, perfectly happy, perfectly peaceful, perfectly sufficient in Himself. But He had a determination in His own mind to create beings who should partake of that happiness with Himself; who should enjoy His peace, His glory, and His divine goodness. This God never began to contrive; it never had a beginning. God never was without the thought and foreknowledge of His people; He never was without the holy determination to work out the whole workmanship. The completion of that gracious will of His ever stood before Him. Nothing new could be added to it; nothing taken from it. The whole number of God's elect always was complete; it rested upon no time circumstances, upon no action of man's; and nothing that could befall man when created could interfere with God's determination. All things that have taken place are necessary to bring about the fulfillment of it;--how I cannot tell, and how I do not inquire; but nothing takes place but what is necessary to fulfill His divine purpose.
The Lord Jesus Christ stood from all eternity in a certain relationship both to God and to His people, to effect or bring about that divine will,--that God should enjoy the presence of His people and His people should enjoy His presence. The introduction, then, of the Lord Jesus Christ into the world brings us to his consideration, that He undertook the cause of His people. This is readily admitted by almost every professed Christian; but few know anything about what it means. If He undertook their cause and came into their room, He undertook their duties, their liabilities; in fact, He undertook to personate them; to be made under the law; to fulfill it; to bear all that was due to them as obnoxious to God's holy law; to be the sinner by imputation; and thus to liberate them, so that they were not to be bound by the law, but set free. Justice would seize the Surety, and pass by the sinner.
Therefore the great work the Lord Jesus Christ had to do was to save Himself. Having come into this position, in saving Himself He would save the whole. He had to fulfill the law for Himself, because He was made under the law, that He might obey that law as the Representative for His people; and in obeying it Himself, He obeyed it for His people; that is, they obeyed it in Him. He was their Principal, their performing Head; and so performed in His Person for the whole. As He obeyed, He became perfected for ever, and they in Him. He bore the weight of their sins to clear Himself; for their sin was laid upon His shoulders.
Now that salvation is complete is as much a truth as that Jesus Christ is risen. The very fact that Jesus Christ is in heaven is an acknowledgment that salvation is complete. The man that denies that salvation is complete denies the position of Jesus Christ in heaven. If salvation is incomplete, He is not there; because He undertook the cause of His people, and must have been held by the law until the whole was completed. But hear His own words: "It is finished!" All that was to be done, all that was to be endured, was finished; the atonement was made. The Surety was then to lie in the grave, and beyond that nothing could detain Him. Therefore now nothing can detain the sinner.
When God's time comes, He quickens him, and requires no assistance from man. It is greater folly to suppose that God requires man's assistance to save than to suppose He required his assistance in creation of the world. He called the creation very good; but He called in no help. To suppose the new creation is perishing because there is no assistance from man is absurd in the extreme. The Lord Jesus Christ appeared for this special purpose--to save His people; and in saving Himself in their place He saved them. We have to do, then, with a salvation already complete. What is necessary to us is for the Holy Spirit to take that salvation, and declare it to us; or in the Lord's own words: "He shall take of Mine, and shall show it unto you." (John 16:15) This is the principal thing now that is required--the ministrations of the Holy Spirit, that are promised. When life is communicated to the soul, it is placed in a position to perceive spiritual things; like the woman when she said, "Sir, I perceive that Thou art a Prophet." Until there is life, there is no spiritual perception. The Lord's words stand impregnable: "Ye must be born again."
In the words I have read this morning the apostle is led by the Spirit to say, "Though He were a Son." He sets forth His Person, the dignity of His character and of His nature; then he saith, "Yet learned He obedience." The principal thing to notice, then, in these words is obedience. Obedience to what? Something is set before us that must be obeyed. If it is obeyed, everything runs in its proper groove. If it is not obeyed, everything will be out of its right course. It is the Word of God that must be obeyed; as we read, "Heaven and earth shall pass away; but My words shall not pass away. (Luke 21:33)
O what a fearful thing it is, as we gaze upon that invincible Word, to discover that in all its declarations it must be obeyed! How is it to be done? An outward form of obedience is not enough; a running through it without a test will not do. God proves and tests everything. All the exercises of God's people are appointed by way of proof and test of the grace in their hearts. Real religion must be put to the test, and the judgment be in accordance with God's Word, not in accordance with our ideas. This is the reason we have so many trials and sorrows in this life. The greatest difficulty perhaps arises on this point, whose word shall stand, His or ours; whose designs are to be accomplished, His or ours. We have plans, and we attempt to accomplish them; but God has already planned before we were born; and if our plans cross His, He will crush ours. If Isaac is determined to bless Esau, it must be crushed; because the Lord had determined to bless Jacob. If Joseph's sons are to receive a blessing, the Lord had previously ordained that Ephraim should be blessed; therefore He guided the patriarch's hands wittingly, so that he blessed Ephraim.
God makes no mistakes. We have trials and sorrows. Why? Because of something going contrary to our plans, running across our wills, overturning our contrivances. He is carrying out a wise ordination of His own, that He made before we were born. Our little bits of wood and splinters He tramples down, and carries out His own purposes. In the "afterward," when we have a faith's view, we can see how wise the Lord's ways were and how foolish were ours; how almighty are His ways of performing His Word, and how wretched and miserable ours. But as long as we live in this world we shall have trials, because we have wills of our own; we shall be subjected to afflictions, because we have minds of our own; and God's ways run across them. You will always find that when faith and patience have their perfect work and faith relies upon God, then you have the least sense of affliction, the least trial; because your will is made in accordance with God's Word.
Let us examine what that Word says to us. In the first place, we read the Lord commanded Adam not to touch the Tree of Knowledge, saying, "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt sure die." Now, "Obey me,"--there is the test. This is the whole rule of a man's life, to which he is bound. Take the Bible, then, in your hand, and read it morally; merely as a Book that lays-down rules according to God's mind; and then see whose will is obeyed, His or ours. How we turn our backs upon it, obey it not, and put our constructions upon it to accommodate it to our own minds! O the wretched, fallen state of man! He will construe the Bible to his own mind; bend and twist it, so that he may not give up his own thoughts; and harden himself in his own determination. How different when the Lord comes with His life into your soul! He turns you inside out; and there is at once a powerful effect in the soul. You cry out, "What wilt Thou have me to do?" Here is a radical change. There is no disposition felt then to bend God's Word to the man's own mind; but the anxious inquiry is: "What is God's Word?" He wants to know the mind of God. "What must I do to be saved?" Here is a real state of inquiry. If you have been brought into that condition, you have passed through a radical change. You have seen there is in God's Word something that must be obeyed; and that you must be made conformable to that Word. There is the standard,--God's Word, by which He himself moves and everything has to move to please Him.
We know that in course of time, and probably in a very short time, Adam listened to another Word. He hearkened to another voice, and obeyed his wife in preference to God. Then God was set at naught and His rule broken; and man was condemned, died spiritually, and lost the image of God. So far has he lost it that "God is not in all his thoughts." There is not an unregenerated man in the world that knows God in any form, even as His Creator. He has not the least idea of Him. Of all things in the world God is the farthest away from him. He will give some description of God as he reads of Him in the Word; he will talk about God's love; but he does not know what he is talking about. He will tell you of His power, but is destitute of a comprehension of what that power can do. In his ignorance of God we have a proof that the Lord executed His Word: "Thou shalt die;" and you that know the Lord in some measure know there was a time when you were destitute of the knowledge you now possess.
When the Lord Jesus Christ came into this world, this was His rule, the commandment of the Father: "The Father which sent me, He gave me a commandment." (John 12:49) He came to fulfill the law of God, the two great points of which are these: "Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart;" and, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Matt. 22:36-39) These two things He had to do, and had to do them perfectly and completely. It must be an experimental obedience, not a formal one; it was not a lesson to be learnt by rote, but a practical observance required. It must be an obedience learnt by the actual practice of God's Word in the presence of temptation and under the force and power of opposition. Adam was a perfect man; but was he an obeying man in trial, preferring God in the presence of another? That was not known until he was tested. When his wife tempted him, then it was known that he did not prefer the Creator to the creature; he was found unequal to hold his position; and he fell. So when Jesus Christ comes into the world to obey, it must be done under suffering; and His whole life becomes one scene of suffering, trials, and temptations. Will He prefer Himself as the Man, Christ Jesus, or God? Will He prefer His own ease to the obedience of God's Word? Will He prefer the honor of the world to the honor that cometh from God? His obedience is performed under the force of trial; and it comes out a perfect one; nothing need be added or repeated. It is done; and being done by Jesus Christ, it is done by Perfection and done by Him who is "the same yesterday, today, and for ever." He worked out a practical obedience under trial; and thus "learned He obedience by the things that He suffered." And "being made perfect, He became the Author of eternal salvation." (Heb. 5:8,9) This is the end of His obedience--the eternal salvation of the elect. There is no other salvation; and it could not be eternal if it were not complete in Him.
In turning the subject towards ourselves, it is plain that God's Word is the rule of our lives. The law is the rule of every natural man's life; and the gospel is the rule of every person who has spiritual life. Let us examine our obedience to the gospel. Look at the heart; look at the affections, especially in the carnal mind; and see how determinately opposed they are to the gospel rule. We must not alter the gospel and lower the standard. O how it frets one's own inclinations! There it stands, the voice of God, the Word of the Most High. But Jesus Christ obeyed the gospel as well as the law; and thus wrought out a life whereby His people could live, and live for ever with Him.
Now the gospel says, "Pray for your enemies." (Matt. 5:44) Does that run in a straight line with your nature? It does not with mine. My nature would get rid of them, and destroy them as quickly as possible; and all natural people act upon that rule, and justify themselves, claiming a right to do so. They have no right to do so in the gospel. It says, "Pray for them." "Do good to them that despitefully use you." It does not run with your carnal inclinations; but it runs with God's Word; and it is in this way that God's people find themselves such great sinners. When the Lord lays down His rule by the Spirit in their hearts, He shows them that they cannot perform it in spirit, of themselves. They might go down upon their knees, and force themselves to bend in form before God; but they could never make their spirits bend by their own power. It is here the Lord's people feel the sinfulness of their nature, that which other people never feel and know nothing about. The holy Word of God in the precepts of the gospel runs entirely opposite to our nature.
But the Lord brings us practically to learn obedience by the things which we suffer; and with a feeling heart we can then pray for our enemies. O what peace there is in the conscience when doing so! And peace with God is a proof that this is a right obedience. When you cannot pray for your enemies, there is the absence of that peace; it is not there; and there is hardness in the soul, and bondage. But when He enables you to do good to them that persecute you and despitefully use you, what peace you have, and how sweetly the Lord will commune with you!
Again. The Lord says we should not cover our sins, but confess them. But all nature seeks to cover her sins in some form, to lessen them, not being able to meet God with a load of sin. Men try their best to make themselves a little better; and so do the Lord's people, especially at first. How they strive to come before God in a better form than they see themselves to be in! They feel they cannot come before Him, and feel the hardship of being in that condition. It is a truth that you are unfit; there is something existing sensibly between God and you; but what does His Word say? There is no portion of the Word which says you are to wait till you are better. Then the waiting to make ourselves fit is a disobedience to that Word. It says, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28) To obey this rule, to go before God as we are, with, "Behold, I come," requires something different from the strength of nature, something that will raise us above the native pride of our hearts.
Now let us draw a line here, and straightly too. Our obedience is imperfect in this life. It is not our obedience that makes us perfect in this life. It is not our obedience that makes us perfect in God's sight; it is the obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our obedience does not make us complete; salvation does not depend upon us. It depends upon His perfection of beauty. It is that which is the righteousness of His people; that which makes them holy before God;--the obedience that He learned under suffering. He formed a perfect and complete righteousness under the law and gospel, whereby they were freed from the law's condemnation and the wrath of God, and made holy and "complete in Him." And the grace of this life, whereby He performed the whole will of God, is that which makes them conformable to His will and pleasing in His sight. The Lord's Word must be obeyed, and the grace of Jesus Christ in them alone can perform it. The whole of it is grasped in these two points, love to the Lord and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 John 3:23) Every soul must be born again to love the Lord. His living children would love Him with all their soul; it is their principal anxiety and desire; and they feel, at times, distressed because they love Him so little, and cast down because their hearts are so cold and indifferent to Him. But if you sorrow because you cannot love the Lord as you would, then that principal is within you whereby the Lord Jesus accomplished it perfectly. His people love Him now in measure by His grace. But to be able to love the Lord as the Lord Jesus did whilst on earth, they will have to wait until they get to heaven. There He will be eternally obeyed in His Word. There it is promised that we shall love Him and serve Him; and here, when His love is shed abroad in our hearts, His Word can be easily obeyed under suffering and trial, according to the measure of grace given us. So it is written: "Tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope; and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us." (Rom. 5:3-5) There is a lack of feeling God's love in our hearts when we are left to walk contrary to the God of heaven.
On this point the whole world is astray; and the want of understanding in it forms one great part of the distress of God's people. No action to be performed in time by man has anything to do with his salvation, either to decrease or advance it. It has all been done before and finished by that blessed Lord who obeyed the Word practically under trial, and brought in everlasting righteousness for His people. In your experience and mine, in passing through this world, we pass through many changes; but with all our changes and imperfections, the same love in our hearts wherewith the Lord Jesus obeyed will attach itself to Him, His people, and His truth. It will attach itself to persons so contrary to ourselves that, apart from the love of God, we could not like their company. It will attach a man of letters to one most illiterate; and the man of letters will sit at the feet of the other, and learn of him. His relations may say, "What has come to him? He is crazy." Well, they may think so; but it never ends in craziness. Such a one, with the love of God in the heart, does not act like a crazy person, but like one who must obey the Word of the Lord: "Love one another."
Also, God's people love the truth. The love of the truth is in the heart before they know it. By that love the law of the Lord fastens itself upon their consciences. It is truth; therefore they will not skim it over. They will not do as a lady once did, who pasted together the leaves of her Bible, so that she should not open at the seventh chapter of Romans. It was there for all that. The Lord's people will not paste up the part of the Bible where the law of commandments stands. They face it; they look at it; and it presents itself to them as it did to Paul, in all its righteousness. He did not turn his back upon it; he turned his back upon his own righteousness, and faced God's law. There is something in a convinced sinner's heart like that. All that Paul had done, all he had spent so many years to perform, had told him he was a good man and ready to die. But the law came, and told him he was unfit to die, a sinner, and under the sentence of death. Why did he not cling to that slavish thing, his own righteousness, or the works of the law for which he had worked so long? Because he knew it was a lie. There was the difference. Now the law of God has presented itself as the rule; and he faces the truth, because he loves the truth. All his deeds are measured by that law of God, and are found to be nothing; he is self-condemned. The law stands before him as a difficulty to be faced, and the sinner keeps facing it. He must get over that mountain, or be lifted over it; because he knows salvation is on the other side. Therefore he is made to cleave to the truth, and the Word of truth becomes the rule of his life. The law will tell a person there is no help in himself, no good thing in himself, and out of himself no good can come. How different is this from what men think! Who is to be right? God, we are sure, must be right; and those who have the love of God face all these things.
Further. As the doctrines of grace are presented to the soul in the Word, the love of the truth will hold fast to them. The man begins to feel, like Hart, "It is not whether I will be a Christian; but whether I may." He learns experimentally that he chooses God with all his heart; the very prayer that he breathes: "Lord, help me," shows that he loves Him, and is willing to be saved by Him; but he has not received God's testimony, and knows it depends upon God's will, not his own. As regards election, we know it was not our choice of God; we are living witnesses it was not that. We longed and prayed to know that the Lord was our God, and tried to call Him ours; but the words froze on our lips. It was when He said to us, "I am thine, and thou art Mine," that we knew that He was our salvation and salvation was of God. If a man's hope rests upon his own choice of God, I would say there is no present testimony that God has chosen him. The Lord's people wait, and cry, and beg; and all what for? That God would tell them they are His. You that have been raised to hope, you know that hope depends upon God, not yourself. It never grew there, never was encouraged there. It could not spring from what you have done; for your works would lead you to despair. If you have been raised to hope, it was upon what God has done. Hence the psalmist says, "Remember the word unto Thy servant, upon which Thou hast caused me to hope." (Ps. 119:49)
"O," says one, "not believe?" But believe without the Word of God spoken home to the heart? "Why not accept?" Is the reply. But accept what God has never given? There are two sides to a mutual friendship. The Lord has to make His people willing in the day of His power; then the willingness is of Himself. (Ps. 110:3) It is He that worketh in us both to will and to do; so that to make us willing is, in fact, the main point of God's work in the heart. The will is the great stronghold of the soul. If Adam had been willing to obey God when he was tried, he would never have done the fatal deed. The Lord judges the person by the will. So with His living children. They would do better than they do; and the Lord takes the will, and pardons the doing. He will ever do so; for He has said, "It is accepted according to that a man hath," if there be first a willing mind. (2 Cor. 8:12) The poor sinner may feel, "Lord, I have a will; I wish it was a freed will to act. O how I lack the power! It is the power I need. I would love and serve Thee better if I could." The will is the great hinge on which the state of the soul turns; and it is the fortification in the renewed sinner that Satan assaults in vain.
In everything God's Word is the rule of His people actions; and all that Word is to be their guide. If you ask me why I hold the doctrine of immersion, it is because I believe it is ordained in God's Word. No sophistry of man can do away with it. As it has been appointed by the Lord, there must be an express injunction to discontinue it from God Himself, neither more nor less; or it must be unalterable. The same authority rests upon the ordinance of the Lord's Supper: "As oft as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show forth the Lord's death till He come." (1 Cor. 11:26) Salvation is placed in neither of these two ordinances; but they are appointed in God's Word. That Word speaks to us; we are not to dictate to it. Let it speak for itself; for they are the vilest persons who alter the Word. The Lord Jesus Christ let the Word speak to Him; and what it said He obeyed under trial and temptation. His obedience was essentially perfect and complete in itself; yet it had to be practically learnt under suffering, and be made perfect by works. Having been performed in passing through trial, there came out the perfection of obedience.
What, then, is the perfection of the Lord's people in obeying the Word? The perfection of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is this that produces obedience in trial. Abraham is called the father of the faithful. He believed, and his faith was counted to him for righteousness. The Lord takes him to exhibit in him what is the obedience of faith. He believed that God had given him this promise: "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;" (Gen. 22:18) and that God was able to fulfill it. Then the Lord chose to put his obedience to the test, as He did Adam's. "Take thy son, thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him up." (Gen. 22:2) That was in direct opposition to the promise and to Abraham's faith, according to nature; yet it was obeyed. Abraham believed before; but will he believe under trial? Will he prove a believer in practical obedience? That is God's point. Adam would have stood if he had been let alone. So did Abraham before his trial; but will he stumble if interfered with? He rose up early in the morning, and went through the whole work to the action of lifting up the knife; and down it would have come, had not God stayed it. That is sufficient; he has done it. Now God says, "I know that thou fearest Me." He knew it before; but now He has made it perfect in the work of obedience, and can exhibit it to the world in a practical form. Therefore by works was Abraham's faith made perfect. It was not works that gave being to it, but perfected it. Living faith has works; and "faith without works is dead." (James 2:22,26)
So then if the Lord gives you a comfortable faith and hope, the comfort will not last long. "I wish it would abide," say you. But if the Lord gives you much faith and makes His love and promises plain, that has all to be practically wrought out and made perfect under trial. It is perfect as it is for one's own peace; but it has not been brought into action. You may expect, shortly after enjoying your faith a little, something the very opposite to it will appear; something that only God could invent. Now you have to believe God against that. How poor souls stumble here! Satan comes: "Thy faith was nothing; there was nothing in it; all was deception." Then the poor sinner prophesies his own downfall, and says, "This is not what the Lord told me." Abraham might have thought the same: "God promised that in blessing me He would bless all the nations of the earth; and now I have to execute death upon my son, of whom the promise was made." His son he must have; for God had promised him. Kill him and burn him,--that is nothing to Him in whom Abraham trusted. He believed in God's resurrection power; that the Lord could easily raise his son from the dead; whence also he received him.
I tell you, poor sinner, whatever the Lord has sealed upon your soul He will do; but you must learn obedience by the things that you suffer. The Lord says, "Believe in Me." There are very few who know what it is to believe. It is not easy to believe you are going to heaven when all is against you. To believe all is right when it appears all is wrong is not easily done. At this the stoutest heart by nature fails; and under these trials we learn that we could not stand of ourselves. We should make no better stand than Adam. This fact is brought to our knowledge, and we say, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give glory, for Thy mercy and for Thy truth's sake." (Ps. 115:1) The Lord stops our mouths from boasting of our strength; but He will not let us sink. He shows us it is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that has held us up; for it was in Him we stood. Therefore we are brought to admire the Lord, and say, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Gal. 6:14) There is the whole. In His obedience is a practically wrought-out salvation, complete in every part, and made perfect by works. He learn obedience by the things that he suffered. So His people must learn obedience by what they suffer; and they will see that in the end their faith is brought to perfection. They are made to know two things; that they are what God's Word says they are--nothing at all, and that God is faithful; and they can say, "I am but dust and ashes."
May the Lord add His blessing.