This article is designed chiefly for the enlightenment and comfort of those of God’s people who are deeply exercised over their own obedience, and are often cast down by the defectiveness of the same. There is a real need for a Scriptural opening-up of this subject, for there are very few pulpits today — even in the most orthodox circles — where anything clear and definite is given out thereon; in fact, we doubt if half of our readers have ever heard or read the term, “evangelical obedience.” It is also a subject which needs the most careful handling; and if a comparative “novice” attempts to deal with it, he is likely to do more harm than good. The difficulty involved in it, is to maintain on the one hand the high and holy standard of obedience, which God has set before us in His Word; and to show on the other hand — the gracious provision which He has made for the relief of those who honestly endeavor — yet sadly fail, to measure up to that standard. The path between the two is a narrow one.
No matter how cautiously one may deal with this theme, if he is to be of any service to the real people of God, his efforts are sure to be put to a wrong and evil use by hypocrites, for they will “wrest it, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). Such is the perversity of human nature. When a discriminating sermon is preached — the particular design of which is to draw a clear line of demarcation between genuine and nominal Christians, and to “take forth the precious from the vile” (Jeremiah 15:19) — the graceless professor will refuse to make application of the same and examine his own heart and life in the light thereof; whereas the possessor of divine life is only too apt to draw a wrong deduction and deem himself to be numbered among the spiritually dead. Contrariwise, if the message is one of comfort to God’s little ones, while too many of them are afraid to receive it, others who are not entitled will misappropriate it unto themselves. But let not a realization of these things prevent the minister of the Gospel from discharging his duty; and while being careful not to cast the children’s bread unto the dogs — yet the presence of such is not to deter him from setting before the children their legitimate portion.
Before developing our theme, we will define our terms: “Evangelical obedience” is obviously the opposite of “legal obedience” — and that is of two sorts:
First, the flawless and constant conformity unto His revealed will — which God required from Adam, and which He still demands from all who are under the Covenant of Works — for though man has lost his power to perform, God has not relinquished His right to insist upon what is His just due.
Second, the obedience of unregenerate formalists, which is unacceptable unto God — not only because it is full of defects — but because it issues from a natural principle — is not done in faith, and is rendered in a mercenary spirit, and therefore consists of “dead works” (Heb 6:1; 9:14).