The Necessity, Virtue And Reward Of Duty
Despite what the Westminster Confession’s Larger Catechism declares about the Scriptures principally teaching us what we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man (LC #5), we can find ourselves greatly tempted to believe that godly duty for the Christian is at best not necessary, and at worst a dreadful concept to be avoided. There are reasons why the concept of Christian duty is misconstrued and despised in our day. The disintegration of lines of authority in the Church as well as in general society, the exaltation of pleasure and immediate gratification, the cult of the individual with its downplaying of corporate relations and responsibilities – all of these factors conspire to make duty sound quaint, irrelevant, and undesirable. Theologically, Christians tend to despise duty as if it were inconsistent with the love and grace of God in Christ, and as though it fostered a legalistic pride in those endeavoring to know and do their godly duty. Practically, this works out for many Christians as though their personal delight were a trump card that reigns over all other considerations.
In order for us rightly to conceive of our duty before God, we must rightly understand the motivating principal of Christ’s life on earth. In short, the Son of God came into the world in the likeness of sinful flesh to do the will of God. This is the point that the writer of Hebrews makes when he cites Psalm 40:6 regarding Christ’s having come into the world to do His Father’s will (Heb. 10:5-7). Later in the Hebrews Epistle, the writer speaks of Jesus enduring the cross for the joy set before Him (Heb. 12:2). We perceive something of how costly Christ’s doing His duty was when we consider Gethsemane, His arrest, His beatings and mockings, His scourging and His crucifixion. The fact that Jesus fulfilled His duty as our Redeemer does nothing to minimize the voluntary nature of His service. It is just that such things as love, anticipated joy, delight, and duty formed the multifaceted motivation of our Lord, as they should form the components of our motivation.
Believers are not excused from their duty because Christ has perfectly fulfilled the Law of God for them. Jesus makes this plain when He says: If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (Jn. 14:15). We are not by the perfect obedience of Christ set free from our own responsibility to obey God’s revealed will. If we are to teach people from all nations to observe all that our Redeemer has commanded us (Mt. 28:19,20), then surely we ourselves are obliged to observe all that the Lord has commanded us.
Duty is a strong virtue that impels us to continue in a godly course even when that course becomes costly, perplexing, or painful. A strong sense of duty will place and keep us on the right track, when impulses of desire and pleasure would betray us by prompting us to reconsider our doing right in view of the mounting price and pain of our commitment to righteous living. Duty carries us through furnaces of affliction, crosses, and many tribulations to the reward of a crown in glory.
We do wrong to pit duty against grace and love. It is by God’s grace that we are made willing to do our godly duty as we work out our salvation (Phil. 2:12,13). It is God’s love that prompted Him to commit Himself to the accomplishment of our salvation. Our God bound Himself dutifully to the performance of our salvation by His oath, His covenant, and His blood. It is part of our Lord’s glorious perfection that He has performed what He had promised. If we are to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect, should we not be more constant in the performance of our duties, and less distracted from duty’s course by those pleasures that wage war against our souls (Jas. 4:1; 1 Pet: 2:11)?
Anyone who has been married for any length of time knows that the feelings of love in the relationship and delight in one’s spouse can rise and fall. We live in a day when people in a difficult spell of their marriage are counseled to separate or divorce. The reasoning is that no marriage is better than a bad marriage. It is also asserted that children suffer when their parents relate to each other with duteous performance and not with loving delight.
The fact is, however, that we should be thankful that in holy matrimony we are bound by ties of love and duty. When feelings of love fade, duty-even if it be at times grim duty-can carry us through. It helps when we realize that our Lord, who is grieved at our many sins, remains duty-bound to us through the most unattractive periods of our sanctification. His example should encourage and enable us to remain duty-bound to our marriage vows through thick and thin.
Duty keeps people committed to their marriages even when love and affection seem lost or dead. Yet, duty performed for the glory and by the enabling grace of the Lord will carry those doing it through the dead times of love to a revival and deepening of affection that did not in the dark days seem possible. Duty is a persevering virtue that sustains us in the right course through all opposition and contradiction, until the peaceable fruit of righteousness is borne and the sweet fruit of love is revived. Apart from the right exercise of godly duty, we shall not see, let alone taste, such wonderful fruits in our families or in the Church. Let us then highly esteem the virtue of duty, and practice it in the knowledge that its rewards are precious and deeply satisfying.
Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia
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