The Sphere and Object of the Christian Life
A Paper prepared by St. George's Fellowship
From Banner: July 15, 1959
The life of a regenerated soul finds expression in a desire to love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind and his neighbour as him self. To fulfil this desire, to know the way in which he should humbly walk, the Christian searches the Scriptures and seeks to obey the commandments revealed in it, for these are the same laws which God has promised to write in our hearts. And these are the laws on which the way of holiness is built, the only way acceptable to God, the only way of spiritual life.
As men redeemed by God, whose eyes have been opened, we have turned in preparing this paper to the Word of God, which is His will made articulate for our guidance. We have found in it the answers to the questions which this subject poses and we would impress upon all that unless the Scriptures are for them the only rule of faith and practice, and unless they are prepared to follow it unswervingly, then their lives must fall short of the commandment of our Lord and Master "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect" ( Matt. 5: 48 ) .
To the renewed soul there is but one chief object of life - the glory of God, and the resulting enjoyment of Him (Q1, S.C.). It is with this in mind that Paul instructs us "Whether, therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10: 31). We cannot pass this by, for if the glory of God is not the object of our every action, then we might well question the truth of our regeneration. We cannot go beyond it, for the glory of God is the reason for our being, and if we would live our lives to the full, if we would have an abundant life then this is the way.
The Christian lives out this object in three areas: the family, the Church, and the world.
The idea of the family has varied greatly throughout the ages. The words of the fourth commandment give us some idea of the ancient family, "thou ( i.e., the father), thy son, thy daughter, thy man servant, thy maid servant, thy stranger that is within thy gates." Today, however, the term family is restricted to mean father and mother and children. Parents and children are used throughout the Bible, and commands are given to both parties as to their duty one to the other. The great foundation of the family is love, as Paul says, "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law (Rom. 13: 10). Calvin says, commenting on this, "He who is endued with true love will never entertain the thought of injuring others" (P. 486 Comm. on Rom.).
Within the second book of the law we find our duty to mankind set forth. We are well aware of the wide scope of the fifth commandment and wish only to take, at this stage, the reference to the superiors and inferiors (L.C.) in connection with family. In this fifth commandment we are commanded to "Honour thy father and thy mother." As the Larger Catechism points out, responsibilities rest with both parties, parents and children.
Let us first consider the duties of the superior (or father) to the children. We see in the answer to Q.129 of the L.C. that those in authority in the family should (i) love one another and their children, Titus 2: 4. "That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children." (ii.) Pray one for another, 1 Sam. 12: 33. "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you." (iii.) Instruct their children, Ps. 78: 3. "Which we have heard and known and our fathers have told us." (iv.) Reprove and chastise their children, Prov. 29: 15. "The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." (v.) Provide for their children, 1 Tim. 5: 8. "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." (vi.) Be an example to their children, 1 Tim. 4: 12. "Be thou an example of the believers in word, in conversation, in charity in spirit, in faith, in purity."
We see further, in answer to Q.127 of the L.C., that children do have their responsibilities. They are exhorted to (i.) honour their parents, Mal. 1: 6 "A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master." (ii.) Imitate them, Heb. 13: 7 "Remember them which have the rule over you . . ." (iii.) Obey them, Eph. 6: 1. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."
Paul in writing to Timothy reveals the great blessings which flow from the performance of these duties. In 2 Timothy 1: 5, we read, "When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice, and I am persuaded that in thee also." Was this faith transmitted by natural generation? No. For we are told of the performance of a duty by Lois and Eunice to Timothy, and of his receiving the knowledge they imparted to him. 2 Tim. 3:14-15. "But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."
Before considering life in this area let us first clarify what we mean by "the church." We do not mean the building, nor the institution, nor the spiritual order, but that body which "consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion together with their children. It is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation." This church exists merely for the sake and glory of God. "Regeneration is sufficient for the elect man, to make him sure of his eternal destiny, but it is not enough to satisfy the glory of God in His work among men. For the glory of God it is necessary to have regeneration followed by conversion and to this conversion the Church must contribute by means of the preaching of the Word" (Kuyper, p. 66).
Attendance on the means of grace is thus enjoined by the Apostle in his epistle to the Hebrews 10: 25, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is," one of the reasons for this is stated in the definition above. Another is the edification of believers "building up yourselves on your most holy faith" (Jude 20). The confession puts it this way: "Unto this catholic (universal) visible church Christ has given that ministry, oracles and ordinance of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints in this life, to the end of the world; and does by His Own Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto." Accordingly we see it is our duty as Christians to attend upon the means of grace. At this stage let us note that it is our relation to Christ that connects us with the church and not our connection with the church that places us in a saving relation with Christ.
What our attitude to the church, the bride of Christ, should be is plainly set forth in Scripture, it is, in fact, the first principle of Christian behaviour - our love to God. To love God we must know Him, and to know Him we must study His word, where Christ reveals the Father to us, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The word is expounded at public worship, faithful attendance at which is our duty as reasonable creatures, and how much more our privilege as redeemed individuals. By revelation we know in what manner we ought to worship Him. "They that worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth." With this injunction as your guide we cannot stray very far. Public worship which consists of prayer, praise, the preaching of the word and the dispensing of the sacraments, should be in spirit and truth. Our praise then will only include those plenary inspired songs of praise - the 150 Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Anything else being of human composition (even though commendable of itself), we will exclude lest we do despite to the Spirit. The preaching shall be of sound doctrine, diligent in and out of season, plain, faithful, wise, zealous and sincere. We that hear such preaching should wait upon it with diligence, preparation and prayer, comparing what we hear with Scripture; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness and readiness, and thereby bring forth its fruit in our lives (L.C. Q.159, 160). For our relation to the sacraments we refer you to the various questions on them in both the shorter and larger catechisms. Suffice us to quote here "a sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers" (Q.92 S.C.).
So we see that if we should neglect to study His word and ordinances and to attend upon the means of grace and fail to appreciate the sacraments, then we have violated the first principle, we are not loving God with all our heart, soul and mind, and thus must expect Divine disfavor.
The second principle of Christian behaviour is to love our neighbour, and more specifically to love the brethren. This has a like bearing on our activities in the church. The church exists for the perfecting and edifying of the saints. It is our duty then not only to draw upon the riches the church offers us personally, and to increase in knowledge but also to strengthen the weaker members by word and example, to preserve the purity of the church and to commit no sin nor harbour any false doctrine which will destroy its unity.
Here, as in the other areas, those who are in possession of the spirit of meekness, humbleness, wisdom and fear of God - virtues which unite them to their risen Redeemer as the branch to the vine (John 15: 1-6) - are to lead an exemplary life in all godliness and honesty, thereby displaying the fruits of the spirit. These fruits as enumerated by Paul in his letter to the Galatians are: "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Gal. 5: 22-23), or, as he admonished Titus, to be sober, just, holy, temperate - qualities of a soul renewed in the inner man.
By sober and temperate Paul refers not only to meat and drink but also to our whole life, in which we must display honesty and modesty; our hands, eyes, ears and mouths must be bridled. We are to have no improper dealings; no vain, lewd or dissolute actions; but we are to love in obedience to the will of God, and this obedience is the holiness referred to. By justice Paul means upright dealings, in which a man should take care that every one has his proper due; or, as he says to Titus, "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work" (Titus 3: 1).
If we consider the divisions quoted earlier we find that all the redeemed owe a common duty to God and also to one another. Those who are superior in the world, whether kings or magistrates, owe to their inferiors the same care as the father to the child - already discussed under family. The inferiors in the world have the one duty toward their superiors as the child to its parent - also discussed under family. While equals likewise have similar duties. They are "to regard with dignity and worth each other, in giving honour to go one before another; and to rejoice in each others gifts and advancements as their own" (L.C. 131).
The soul that has been awakened to these duties and has experienced the benefits that flow from their fulfilment has also the knowledge that the world and the things of the world are gifts of God to be used and enjoyed to His glory and their own well being. He is also ever mindful of the approaching judgement day when he shall account for his stewardship.
May we ever bear in mind the two principles that direct us in our life as Christians; first our duty to God, and secondly our duty to our fellow man. With these two as our guide we shall know that we are walking in the way of God's command and shall not then fall into the undesirable position of becoming slaves to the commandment of men.
Then when our life's journey is over and we leave the scene of time, may the Almighty God be pleased to grant to each of us the commendation, "Well done good and faithful servant . . . enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Matt. 23: 23 ), for our stewardship in family, church and world.