Rule of Duty

And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
~ Genesis 22:12

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God. Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: That thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged. And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
~ Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, Ecclesiastes 5:7, Ecclesiastes 8:12, Deuteronomy 6:2, Deuteronomy 10:12, 1 Peter 2:17

And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great.
~ Revelation 19:5

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
~ Ecclesiastes 12:13

Performance of Duty, by Samuel Bolton. The following is from Chapter Five of his work, “The True Bounds of Christian Freedom”.

5. Performance of Duty

Query 3: If a believer is under the moral law as a rule of duty, is his liberty in Christ infringed?

The question might well have been divided into two parts: (1) Whether it consists with Christian freedom to be tied to the performance of duty? (2) Whether the Christian is tied to the performance of duty because God has so commanded? We shall find these opinions held: (1) That it is an infringement of the freedom we have by Christ to be tied to the performance of duty at all; (2) That it is far below the free spirit of the saints to be tied to the performance of duty because God has commanded it. We might therefore have dealt with these questions separately, but for brevity’s sake we shall regard them as belonging to one question, yet we shall answer both parts distinctly.

We commence with the first part: Whether it consists with our Christian freedom to be tied to the performance of duty? We answer: It is no infringement to our liberty in Christ to be tied to the performance of duty. It was the great end of our freedom and redemption that we might serve God. Christ redeemed us from sin that we might engage in such service, as says Zacharias in his song: That we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life’ (Luke 1. 74-75). Christ has not redeemed us from the matter of service, but from the manner of service. He has redeemed us from a slavish spirit in service and brought us into a son-like spirit; from a spirit of bondage to a spirit of liberty. He has broken the bonds of subjection to other lords, that we might take on us the yoke of service to Him whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light (Matt. 11. 30). Hence the apostle, after he has set down the main privileges which we enjoy by the redemption of Christ, such as justification, and freedom from the guilt and power of sin, infers: Therefore we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh, for if ye live after the flesh ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live’ (Rom. 8. 12-13). The truth is as plain as if written with a sunbeam. It is as easy to separate the sunbeam from the sun as holiness and obedience from the person whom God has justified. As says the apostle: The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world’ (Tit. 2. 11-12). So that about the first part of our inquiry there can be no controversy. It does consist with our freedom to be tied to obedience or the performance of duty; nay, it is part of our redemption, and part of our freedom. Indeed, that is true and real bondage which is not joined with sincere and true obedience.

Three Mistakes with Regard to the Performance of Duty

But there is some controversy about the second part of the query: Whether it is any infringement of our Christian liberty to be tied to duty because God commands it? Many, though they would perform duty, are disinclined to be tied to it. They would rather perform it as they follow the inclinations of their own spirits than as the duty is imposed upon them by God. There are three mistakes about this matter. We shall consider first the case of those who think they ought only to obey when the Spirit of God moves them to it.

(i) The case of such as wait for the Spirit to move them to obedience

Indeed, when the Spirit of God moves, it is good to go, to spread the sails when the wind blows, to open when He knocks. As it was said to David: when he heard the noise in the tops of the mulberry-trees, then he was to go out, for God was gone out before him (2 Sam. 5. 24). So when you find, strong movings upon your spirits, it is good to take those hints of the Spirit of God, and to close with the season. Many are like harlots who will murder the child in the womb, to avoid the trouble of child-bearing. Similarly they will murder the births of the Spirit, because they would not be at the trouble of the work required by Him. This is a fearful sin, to cast water upon and quench and cool any motions of the Spirit of God. When God moves, He comes with power for the performance of the duty; then we should go full sail. It is good to take such hints. But good hearts in this case sometimes mistake, and become perplexed, and think that if they do not act upon every motion of their spirits, no matter how unseasonable it is, they have quenched and rejected a motion of the Holy Spirit. I conceive it therefore not amiss to tell such that sometimes Satan sets us to the performance of duty when we think it is the Spirit of God that does so. This may seem strange, but yet it is truth. There are four occasions in which Satan usually sets men to duty:

1. When our spirits are much sunk and down, either oppressed with temptations or troubles, then Satan puts us to the performance of duty. It is possible that God also may set us to duty at such times, but sometimes the prompting comes from Satan. He deals with us as the Babylonians did with the Israelites when they were oppressed with their captivity in Babylon, and when they said to them,, Come now, sing us one of the songs of Sion.’ Thus, when the spirit is oppressed and overwhelmed, when Satan thinks that we are at a great disadvantage and when he hopes that we shall torture and distress ourselves the more, then it may be he urges us to pray, and not to believe, as those did who dealt with Christ, blinding his eyes and then saying: ‘Prophesy, who smote thee?’ (Luke 22. 64). And so it is with us: when Satan has blinded our eyes, he bids us now see, now prophesy, now pray. When he has disturbed our spirits, when he has troubled the sea (of our souls) that it casts up nothing but mire and dirt (that is, distrustful and unbelieving thoughts), then he bids us go and pray. Yet even so, this sometimes helps to lay the storm, and to quiet the spirit too, so that Satan loses by it. It proves to his own disadvantage, for unexpected grace comes in which he was not aware of, and which he could not foresee.

2. A second occasion when Satan may set us to the performance of duty is when we are called by God to other employments, either natural or spiritual. As for the latter, we may be called to hear the Word, or to confer with others, or to engage in other such duties, and at such times he bids us go to prayer; that is, he loves to make duties clash one with another. Or the difficulty may arise from his use of our natural employments. It may be the occasion of our eating and drinking, or our sleeping. Sometimes he has carried a poor soul out of his bed or taken him from his meat, and told him he must now go to prayer. Yet this may not have been to Satan’s advantage either. But thus he sometimes tempts poor souls; and if they do not go to duty upon his instigation, then he tells them they have resisted a motion of the Spirit of God. If they obey him, it is equally for their trouble; it leads to trouble either way. Perhaps he will charge them with Popery and superstition and voluntary penance, if they rise in the night to go to prayer or similar exercises. Who requires this at your hand? he questions. It is good in all such cases to say with a godly man who was thus moved to prayer when he should have been asleep, Get thee hence, Satan, I will go to duty when God calls, not when thou dost suggest; I have committed my soul into the arms of Christ, and in His arms I will rest and sleep.

3. But there is a third occasion when Satan may set us to the performance of duty. When we are weak in body and not able to perform it, when we lack the natural spirits to do the work, then will he put us on the doing of it. He knows that if we attempt it, then he will, by reason of our natural weakness, get the advantage over us. When he puts us to lift logs, he knows we are weak. When he moves us to duty, it is only because he knows that we have no strength.

4. Another occasion when he puts us upon duty is when he thinks duty will prove a snare to us. In this case he puts us to it, not as the work of God, but as that which will bring us into difficulty, that which will not bring us comfort but rather torment and vexation, that which will not raise us when we are dejected but cast us down still lower. Yet, even so, he is often mistaken.

Thus Satan sometimes sets the believer to the performance of duty. But so, too, does the Spirit of God. He stirs up the heart to duty, and when He moves indeed. He moves effectually; He sets the believer to the duty and gives him strength to perform it; He carries him through. And it is good to observe God’s times, the hints of the Spirit, and to go with them. This is my first answer to the mistake of my opponents.

But again, though we are to go to duty when God’s Spirit moves us, yet we are not to neglect duty when we do not perceive such sensible motions of the Spirit. Grace moves us, or should move us, to converse with God every day; and if so, it is the Spirit who moves us to it. It is the Spirit who regenerated us, though the Spirit who regenerates us does not Himself appear; and God’s Spirit may move secretly, even where He does not move visibly and sensibly to the soul.

Besides, if a person looks for this direct summons to duty, then he will not perform duty out of obedience to the command. We must perform duty at times out of obedience, though we are without both a heart for it and a heart in it. That duty is esteemed by God which is wrested out of the hands of the flesh, and which is carried through against temptations and gainsayings.

Furthermore, if the believer never goes to duty but when the Spirit sensibly moves him to it, he will often lack that communion with God which he now enjoys. How often does a believer go to prayer with a dead heart, and rise with a lively heart! He begins with a straitened heart and rises with an enlarged heart; he begins dejected and ends comforted! How often, when he could find no such motion of God leading him to duty, has he yet met with God in the midst of the duty, and enjoyed God, in a prayer, in a glorious sweet way! Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways’ (Isa. 64. 5). God loves to meet those that are in His way. Though the miller is unable to command the wind, yet he will spread his sails, and thus be in the way to use it, if it come. Though the lame man could not get into the waters, nor command the moving of them, yet he would lie for thirty- eight years by the waters’ side, and undoubtedly with a deal of longing every time the waters moved – O that some would throw me in! So, though we cannot bring the Spirit to us, yet let us set ourselves in the way for Him to meet with us. Maintain the performance of duty; by it the believer may come to see the face of God, to have converse with Him. Thus also he makes headway against sin, gets supplies of strength from Christ, and gets above the world. Those who speak against the performance of duty might as well speak against the actings of faith and the exercise of grace. For prayer is nothing else but the communication of the soul with God, the actings of faith and the exercise of grace. This must suffice for a reply to the first mistake of some, that they are not to perform duty but when the Spirit of God moves them to it.

(ii) The case of such as think they are to do nothing else but pray

But there is another mistake. Some there are who think they are to do nothing else but pray. God has commanded us to pray and they think they are to do nothing else. Therefore, ever and anon they run to their knees, drop as it were a head, say over a Pater Noster (Our Father), and with a Popish spirit too, as if they had thus done so much to obtain life, so much laid out for the purchase of a pardon and for heaven. There are too many such persons.

There are two chief kinds of such persons. There are such as are blind and ignorant. They would fain go to heaven, and they hear that they ought to pray. Therefore they go to prayer every moment, determined not to lose heaven for want of prayers. There are others who are in humiliation and wounded in spirit. Poor souls! They go ever and anon to their knees. In some cases doubtless there is the dawning of faith and a desire to seek Christ; but in other cases those who thus kneel do so as a salve to heal their wounds, or as a bribe for a pardon, or as so much good money laid out for the purchase of glory. Naturally, men run to a covenant of works, but it must be another kind of work to bring us to Christ. A convicted man runs to a covenant of works. It is a converted man who embraces the covenant of grace. Thus much for the second mistake.

(iii) The case of such as think they are to perform duty because their hearts incline them to it

There is a third mistake. Some there are who think that they are not to perform duty because God commands it, but because their own hearts incline them to it. To this I answer: Though we must perform duties such as praying and hearing because God has commanded us so to do, yet it is not alone sufficient to perform them because God has commanded them. In explanation of this, it must be understood that there are two kinds of laws, laws positive and laws natural. I mean that some laws are founded upon God’s will and that others are founded upon God’s nature. Those that are founded upon God’s will are good because God commands them. Such were many of the Old Testament laws, such as the ceremonies and the forbidding of certain meats. These were things neither good nor evil in themselves, but only as God commanded or forbade them. Some laws, on the other hand, were founded on God’s nature and were intrinsically and inherently good in themselves, and not only good because God commanded them.

As for the first of these, namely, those laws which were founded on God’s mere will, it was sufficient that men obeyed them simply because God had commanded them. The apostle called them a heavy yoke which neither they nor their fathers were able to bear (Acts 15. 10). In so speaking, Peter indicated that obedience to them was more because God had commanded them, than because of any inherent intrinsic goodness which was in them. His calling of them a heavy yoke was a sign that the Jews obeyed them, not out of love to the things commanded, but out of love to that God who commanded them. They were indeed a heavy yoke, but yet they bore it until God took it off. They were hard laws, but yet they submitted to them till God was pleased to repeal and disannul them. And indeed I may well call it submission, for their obedience was more out of submission than delight. And for those laws it was sufficient that they obeyed them merely because God had commanded them.

But as for the other laws, those founded upon God’s nature, and which were in their own nature good and holy, it was not sufficient to obey these solely because God had commanded them. It was also required that in men’s hearts there should be an inward principle agreeable to them, an inward loving of them and closing with them. These commands must not be esteemed a heavy yoke or a burden, but a delight; and they are to be obeyed from a spirit of love.

When, I say, we are commanded to love God, to fear God, to honour God, it is not enough to do this because God commands it, but there must be an inward principle bred in us whereby we do all this. He that loves God solely because God commands it does not love God at all. If this command be all, then if God has not commanded, he would not do it. But a Christian is to do this though there is never a command to bind him to do it. He sees so much beauty and loveliness in God, his heart is so much taken with Him, that He must needs love Him.

And as for prayer, it is not enough that a Christian man prays solely because God has commanded prayer, but he is to go to the duty of prayer out of desire for communion with God. He goes to the performance of the duty, but not only as it is a duty commanded. Carnal hearts which have no love to the duty perform it because of the bare command. But the true believer goes to prayer because it is a means of converse and communion with God, and he thinks it happiness when he can enjoy a little such communion with Him in the duty. He seeks to converse with God, not as a servant with his master, but as a child with his father; not as a matter of duty, but as his nature calls him to it; not as a service only, but also as a privilege. He esteems access to God and communion with Him one of the highest privileges of a Christian.

Four Ways in Which the Believer Is Free from Duty

I agree that Christians are freed from duty by their freedom in Christ, but only in these ways:

(1) We are free from duty as our task. As a task it was a burden to us. We are not like day-labourers in the ways of God, as if we had to earn every penny we have at God’s hands. As far as duty is a task, we are free from it.

(2) We are free from duty merely as our trade. We walk in duty’s ways, but not after this fashion, for those who walk in duty as a trade do not follow it for love of the work, but for love of the gains which come of it. A Christian will perform duty because he loves it, even though he sees no gains coming to him by it. The work itself is reward and wages to him. Consider a man who loves sin, whose nature is held in captivity to sin. He will drink and sin though it is to his utter undoing. Just so will a godly man serve his God. He will carry on in the way of obedience even if it yields him no rewards. There is such a suitableness between a godly man and Christian duty that he will perform it though he gets nothing by it;

(3) The believer is free from slavery of spirit in the performance of duty, and does duty out of a childlikeness of spirit, but others perform duty because of the fear of blows or of the cudgel. Were it not for the fear that God would punish them for their omission, they would not go through with the duties. But the godly man would do the duty even if there were no punishment for the omission of it. He counts it his greatest punishment to be denied communion with God. He would speak with God; this is all he asks.

The case of Absalom will serve to a small degree to illustrate this matter. Absalom had been banished from the court and from Jerusalem. Afterwards, through the mediation of Joab, he was allowed to return to Jerusalem, but he was denied admission to the court and communion with his father. Whereupon he sends Joab to mediate for him. The pardoning of his fault was not esteemed so great a mercy as the banishment from his father’s sight was esteemed a misery. Therefore he said, ‘Let me see his face, though he kill me.’ He thought no punishment for his fault to be so great an evil as to be denied access to his father and communion with him (see 2 Sam. 14). So it is here with the soul. The godly man thinks this the greatest punishment, to be denied access to God and communion with Him. Oh, this he esteems to be the height of misery. Rather would he be killed in communion and access to God than enjoy all other kinds of freedom with the denial of such access. A man of corrupt heart does duty because of punishment through failure to perform it. A child of God esteems it the height of punishment to be denied communion with God. He has reached the height of happiness when such communion is his. ‘Blessed is the man whom thou causest to approach unto thee’, says the Psalmist (65. 4), and herein he conceives his blessedness to consist, that is, in approaches to his God.

(4) The believer is free from duty upon the tenders and terms commanded in the law. He does not perform duty that it may go well with him here; nor does he perform duty that he may gain glory hereafter. He regards communion and nearness to God as happiness enough. His spirit does not say to him: Act thus, pray, obey, and it shall go well with thee in this world, and gain heaven for thee hereafter. No! he esteems it a piece of his heaven, to have communion with God. This is ‘coelum extra coelum’ (heaven this side of heaven). There is enough in the thing itself – communion with God – to induce him to seek it and make his soul desire it. He engages in the duty as if, in itself, it were a part of his reward; and if he can but find God in it, and have converse and communion with God in it, oh, there is heaven enough and glory enough in his soul. As for other prayers of his, in which his soul finds no special communion with God, he has this much comfort from them, that his soul did in such and such a duty set itself in sincerity to converse with and have communion with God, though, miserable and poor man that he is, he failed to obtain it.

Nine Differences Between Legal Obedience and Evangelical Obedience

Give me leave to show the differences between the two spirits, the legal spirit and the evangelical, in nine particulars; these will be worthy of notice:

(1) The principle that moves the one spirit to duty is slavish, the other childlike. In one case the man does things in a legal spirit, either hoping to get rewards by it, or fearing punishments if he omits the duty. The godly man, on the other hand, goes about duty for the sake of obtaining communion with God, and knows it to be his reward and happiness to have that communion, while the lack of it is the greatest punishment he can endure.

(2) The one man does these things as his delight, and the other as his burden. And indeed it must needs be burden to them who find not God in prayer, either something of God going out from them to Him, or something of God coming down from Him to them. To the man who has to do with nothing but duty while he is performing duty, to him duty is tedious; but to those who have to do with God, with Christ, in their duties, to them duty is a delight. Though the man of slavish spirit prays, he has nothing to do with God in prayer, he has no converse with Him; he has to do with nothing but duty in duty; yea, and not with duty alone, for he has to do with the world, with sin in duty, not with duty in duty, much less with God in duty. Therefore it is tedious work to him. But the godly man has to do with God. He labours, he breathes, his heart gapes after Him. He it is whom he has in his eyes, and whom he labours after in prayer, even if he cannot enjoy Him.

(3) The one type of man performs duty from the convictions of conscience, the other from the necessity of his nature. With many, obedience is their precept, not their principle; holiness their law, not their nature. Many men have convictions who are not converted; many are convinced they ought to do this and that, for example, that they ought to pray, but they have not got the heart which desires and lays hold of the things they have convictions of, and know they ought to do. Conviction, without conversion, is a tyrant rather than a king; it constrains, but does not persuade; it forces, but does not move and incline the soul to obedience. It terrifies but does not reform; it puts a man in fear of sin and makes him fear the omission of duty, but it does not enable him either to hate sin or to love duty. All that it does is out of conviction of conscience, not from the necessary act of a new nature. Conscience tells a man that he ought to do certain things, but gives him no strength to do them. It can show him the right way and tell him what he ought to do, but it does not enable the soul to do it. Like a milestone by the roadside, it shows the traveller the way, but does not give him strength to walk in the way. On the other hand, where there is the principle of the Gospel, where there is grace, it is in the soul as a pilot in a ship who not only points the way but steers the vessel in the way which he appoints.

(4) The one kind of man looks for his satisfaction in the duty by the performance of the duty, the other looks for satisfaction in the duty as he finds Christ thereby; it is not in the duty, but above the duty, that he finds his satisfaction.

(5) The one kind of man contents himself with the shell, the other is not content without the substance. The godly man goes to duty as the means of communion with God, to see God, to enjoy God, and to talk with God; the other goes to duty merely to satisfy the grumblings and quarrels of his conscience.

(6) The one type of man performs duty in order to live by it. Ask such a man (for he prays) how he thinks he will get to heaven, and he will say that he will reach it by prayer. But the believer prays and performs duty, yet he looks beyond them, and looks to live by Christ alone. He lives in the duty, but not by the duty; he lives in obedience, but yet looks higher than the obedience: I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ He looks for as much by Christ, and from Christ, as though he had never prayed a prayer or shed a tear. Even though he has done both these things in abundance, yet for his acceptance he looks up to Christ as if he himself had done nothing at all.

(7) The one type of man does things coldly and formally, the other fervently. Yet I do not question but that at times there may be coldness in a godly man and earnestness in the other. If Baal’s priests prayed to their idol so earnestly, much more may a natural conscience God-wards. A natural man may pray earnestly. There is no doubt that Ahab was at one time earnest. A condemned man may cry earnestly for pardon. A natural man may pray earnestly at times when in fear or horror, or under pangs of conscience, but he does not cry believingly. There may be much affection in a prayer when there is but little faith; there may be fleshy affections, natural affections, affections heightened either from convictions or fears or horrors. Yet these are but the cries of nature, of sense, and of reason, the cries of flesh, not of faith. Affections based on true faith are not loud, yet they are strong; they may be still, yet they are deep; though they are not so violent, yet they are more sweet, more lasting.

(8) The formal man does duty with a view to it serving other ends, and especially when he finds himself in extreme difficulties. In certain cases things which in themselves are looked upon as most evil may be performed. A merchant may cast all his goods out of the ship in which he sails; not that he looks on the act as in any way desirable – he may cast away his heart with his goods – but yet in a certain case he may submit to it, to save his life. Some men engage in duty in a similar way; they desire holiness but only under great external pressure. They look upon prayer, upon obedience, upon the mortification of their lusts, and such like, as so many hard tasks and impositions which they must submit to if they would come to glory. But it is not so with the godly man. He closes with these duties as his heaven, as a part of his happiness, a piece of his glory. He does not close with them from a necessity of submission, but out of delight; these things are not his penance but his glory and his desire. The other man parts with sin, not because sin is not desirable, for he weeps after it, but because it is damning. He parts with sin as Jacob parted with Benjamin, because otherwise he would starve; or as Phaltiel with Michal, because otherwise he will lose his head; or as the merchant with his goods, because otherwise he will lose his life. And so he closes with holiness, not out of love and desire for it, but because he must endure it if he would come to heaven at last. But the godly man, on the other hand, parts with sin as poison, as an accursed thing which he desires to be rid of, and embraces holiness as his happiness. He thirsts to enjoy it and to
be swallowed up by it.

(9) The one kind of man does duty as a sick man eats his food, not out of desire for it and delight in it, but because he knows that he will die if he does not eat; yet he has no desire or stomach for it. But the godly man does duty after the manner in which a healthy man feeds, not merely because he needs food, but because he desires it and delights in it. The one man engages in duty as if it were medicine, not food. He is reluctant to perform it; he has no pleasure in it; he is driven to it only because he conceives that his soul’s health demands it. But the godly man engages in duty as a healthful man sits down to meat; there is delight, desire, and pleasure in the exercise. The godly are as the new-born babes that desire the sincere milk (1 Pet. 2. 1).

The one man cries: The good that I would do, I cannot do; the evil that I would not do, I do.’ The other man cries: The good that I have no desire to do, I do; and the evil that I desire to do, I dare not do.’ The latter would sin, but dares not because of wrath; he does duty but has no heart for it, because he lacks the right spirit.

Delight In Duty

All delight in duties arises from a suitability of spirit in the doing of them. If there is no grace within the heart to answer to the call of duty from without, if there is no principle in the heart agreeable to the precept of the Word, the heart will never delight in them. This, then, is the reason why a godly man conducts himself well in duty, not merely because it is commanded, but because he has the nature which truly and rightly responds to the command. The law of God which is in the Book is transcribed into his heart; it is his nature, his new nature. So that he acts his own nature renewed as he acts obedience. The eye needs no command to see, nor the ear to hear; it is their nature to see and hear. The faculty of seeing is the command to see. So far as the heart is renewed, it is as natural for it to obey as for the eye to see or the ear to hear; as natural to live in obedience as for the fish to live in water or the bird in air.

Thus it is that we do not obey merely because obedience is commanded – the mere command is for such as have no vital principle in them – but we obey from a principle which God has implanted in us suitable to the commands of God. We grant that the command is the rule, apart from our obedience, but grace is the principle within. The heart and the command answer to one another. As face answers face in the water, or in a glass, so it is with the heart and the command; the command is transcribed in the heart. This is the reason why there is so much delight in the godly man’s obedience, for it is natural to obey, so far as the heart is renewed. As it is natural for the eye to see and the ear to hear, so it is natural for the renewed heart to yield obedience to the command; and with this obedience comes delight. T delight to do thy will, O my God’ (Ps. 40. 8). Wherein was his delight? The psalmist shows in the words that follow: Thy law is within my heart.’ Here we see the ground of true obedience; the law was not only his command, but his very nature. If the law is merely our command we cannot delight to do the will of God. We can perform duties but we cannot delight in them, though we may think them needful as something necessary for glory and for heaven; but when once the law of God becomes our very nature, then we come to delight ourselves in obedience and in the ways of God.

Actions of nature are actions of delight. The eye is never weary of seeing nor the ear of hearing; neither is the heart weary of obeying; that is, as far as the heart is renewed or sanctified. So far as the law of God is its nature, so far does it find delight in obedience. God has promised in His covenant of grace to write His laws on the tables of the heart. Those who know nothing of this have the law in tables of stone, and write after it as after a copy; it is a thing outside of them, and the work is hard. But for the godly, God says He will write His laws on the tables of the heart; He will transplant them into the soul; they become the believer’s nature. And then obedience does not seem to be a strange command, a law imposed from without, but obedience becomes a natural thing, arising from a law within the heart, the godly man’s very nature. From this source springs that abundance of delight in the law which we see throughout Psalm 119. Delight in obedience to God in His law becomes the nature of the man, and so far as that new nature acts, it acts with delight.

I grant that there may be a kind of irksomeness and tediousness in us at times as we seek to do those things which yet are natural and full of delight. Though it is natural for the eye to see, and though seeing is its delight – Solomon says that ‘the eye is never weary of seeing’ (Eccles. 1. 8) – that is to be understood of a sound eye. If the eye is sore, it may breed a tediousness in the eye even when it does that in which it so much delights. Similarly, though it is natural for the soul to obey, and obedience is that wherein it delights, as the fish delights in water, yet if the principle on which it acts from within becomes disturbed and injured, it may breed a kind of irksomeness, or weariness, or tediousness in the soul in the doing of that thing which it so much delights to do.

This irksomeness may arise from various causes. The heart of the believer may be damped with carnal affections, or it may be pulled back by the remains of corruption. At times it may drive heavily under some vexatious and long-drawn-out temptation; or strange trials may intervene and occasion some sinking of the spirits. And, alas, the cause may be a relapse into sin. Yet, take the saint at his worst, and we find that he has a stronger bias God-wards than others have even when at their best. In the one case there is a will renewed, though for the present a will obscured or in conflict; in the other case there may be some move towards the giving of obedience, but the will is lacking.

Thus much must serve for answer to the third main query. I have plainly showed that it is no infringement of Christian liberty to be tied to the performance of duties, and to perform and accomplish duties, because God has commanded them. The freeness of the Christian consists in this, that he obeys the commands of God, not only because God has commanded them, but out of principles of love and delight, and because he has within his heart a nature agreeable to the things commanded. He prays because God commands prayer, but not only so. He prays because there is a suitableness between his heart and the work of prayer, between his soul and the duty. He has desires after God, and his soul delights in his approaches to, and his converse with, God. Thus have I dealt with the question at large.

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