Brethren Archive
Deuteronomy 20:1-9

Privilege and Responsibility

by C.H. Mackintosh


Privilege and responsibility! Yes, this is the divine order, and how important it is in dealing with the things of God to place them in the order in which He places them and leave them there! The human mind is ever prone to displace things. Hence it is that we so frequently find the responsibilities which belong to the people of God, pressed upon those who are yet in their sins. This is a great mistake. I must be in a position before I can fulfill the responsibilities attaching thereto. I must be in a relationship before I can know the affections which belong to it. If I am not a father, how can I know or exhibit the affections of a father's heart? Impossible. I may speak about them and attempt to describe them, but in order to feel them I must be a father.

Thus it is in the things of God. I must be in a position before I can enter into the responsibilities which belong to it. I must be in a relationship before I can understand the affections which flow out of it. Man has been tested in every possible way. He has been tried in creation. He has been tried under divine government. He has been tried under law. He has been tried with ordinances. He has been tried by the ministry of the prophets. He has been tried by the ministry of righteousness in the person of John the Baptist. He has been tried by the ministry of grace in the person of Christ. He has been tried by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. What has been the result? Total failure! An unbroken chain of testimony from Paradise to Pentecost has only tended to make manifest man's utter failure in every possible way. In every position of responsibility in which man has been set, he has broken down. Not so much as a single exception can be shown.

So much for man's responsibility. He has proven himself unfaithful in everything. He has not a single inch of ground to stand upon. He has destroyed himself, but in God is his help. Grace has come in, in the Person of Christ, and perfectly met man's desperate case. The cross is the divine remedy for all the ruin, and by that cross the believer is introduced into a place of divine and everlasting privilege. Christ has met all the need, answered all the demands, discharged all the responsibilities, and having done so by His death upon the cross, He has become in resurrection, the basis of all the believer's privileges. We have all in Christ, and we get Him, not because we have fulfilled our responsibilities, but because God loved us even when we had failed in everything. We find ourselves, unconditionally, in a place of unspeakable privilege. We did not work ourselves into it, we did not weep ourselves into it, we did not pray ourselves into it, we did not fast ourselves into it. We were taken up from the depth of our ruin, from that deep pit into which we had fallen as a result of having failed in all our responsibilities. We have been set down by God's free grace in a position of unspeakable blessedness and privilege, of which nothing can ever deprive us. Not all the powers of hell and earth combined, not all the evil of Satan and his emissaries, not all the power of sin, death and the grave, arrayed in their most terrific form, can ever rob the believer in Jesus of that place of privilege in which, through grace, he stands.

My reader cannot be too simple in his apprehension of this. We do not reach our place of privilege as the result of faithfulness in the place of responsibility. Quite the reverse. We have failed in everything. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” We deserved death, but we have received life. We deserved hell, but we have received heaven. We deserved eternal wrath, but we have received eternal favor. Grace has entered the scene and it “reigns through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Hence, in the economy of grace, privilege becomes the basis of responsibility, and this is beautifully illustrated in the passage of Scripture which stands at the head of this paper. I shall quote it for my reader. “When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them, for the Lord thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people and shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel; ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies; let not your hearts faint; fear not and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; for the Lord your God is He that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.”

Here we have Israel's privileges distinctly set forth. “The Lord thy God is with thee,” and that in the very character in which He had brought them out of the land of Egypt. He was with them in the power of that sovereign grace which had delivered them from the iron grasp of Pharaoh and the iron bondage of Egypt, which had conducted them through the sea and led them across “the great and terrible wilderness.” This made victory sure. No enemy could possibly stand before Jehovah acting in unqualified grace on behalf of His people.

Let my reader note carefully that there is not a single condition proposed by the priest in the above quotation. He states in the most absolute way, the relationship and consequent privilege of the Israel of God. He does not say, “The Lord thy God will be with you, if you do so and so.” This would not be the proper language of one who stood before the people of God as the exponent of those privileges which grace had conferred upon them. Grace proposes no conditions, raises no barriers, makes no stipulations. Its language is, “The Lord thy God is with thee... He goeth with you... to fight for you... to save you.” When Jehovah fights for His people they are sure of victory. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Grant me but this, that God is with me, and I argue full victory over every spiritual foe.

Thus much as to the question of privilege. Let us now turn to the question of responsibility.

“And the officers shall speak unto the people, saying, What man is there that hath built a new house and hath not dedicated it? Let him go and return to his house lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it. And what man is he that hath planted a vineyard and hath not yet eaten of it? Let him also go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man eat of it. And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife and hath not taken her? Let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle and another man take her. And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart.”

There is uncommon moral beauty in the order in which the priest and the officer are introduced in this passage. The former is the exponent of Israel's privileges; the latter, of Israel's responsibilities. How interesting it is to see that, before the officers were permitted to address the assembly on the question of responsibility, the priest had established them in the knowledge of their precious privilege. Imagine the case reversed. Suppose the officer's voice had first been heard. What would have been the result? Fear, depression and discouragement! To press responsibility before I know my position — to call for affections before I am in the relationship — is to place an intolerable yoke upon the neck, an insufferable burden upon the shoulder. This is not God's way. If you search from Genesis to Revelation, you will find, without so much as a single exception, that the divine order is privilege and then responsibility. Set me upon the rock of privilege and I am in a position to understand and fulfill my responsibility, but talk to me of responsibility while yet in the pit of ruin, the mire of legality or the ditch of despondency, and you rob me of all hope of ever rising into that hallowed sphere upon which the sunlight of divine favor pours itself in living luster, and where alone responsibilities can be discharged to the glory of the name of Jesus.

Some talk to us of “gospel conditions.” Whoever heard of a gospel fenced with conditions? We can understand law-conditions, but a gospel with conditions is “a different gospel” (Gal. 1: 6-7). Conditions to be fulfilled by the creature pertain not to the gospel, but to the law. Man has been tried under all possible conditions. And what has been the result? Failure! Yes, failure only, failure continually. Man is a ruin, a wreck, bankrupt. Of what use can it ever be to place such an one under conditions, even though you call them “gospel conditions?” None whatever!

Man, under any kind of conditions, can only prove unfaithful. He has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. He has been condemned, root and branch. “They that are in the flesh cannot please God.” It does not say, “they who are in the body.” No, but “they that are in the flesh.” The believer is not in the flesh, though in the body. He is not looked at in his old creation standing, in his old Adamic condition in which he has been tried and condemned. Christ has come down and died under the full weight of his guilt. He has taken the sinner's place with all its liabilities, and by His death settled everything. He lay in the grave after having answered every claim and silenced every enemy — justice, law, sin, death, wrath, judgment, Satan, everything and everyone. There lay the divine Surety in the silent tomb, and God entered the scene, raised Him from the dead, set Him at His own right hand in the heavens, sent down the Holy Spirit to testify to a risen and exalted Savior, and to unite to Him, as thus risen and exalted, all who believe in His name.

Here, then, we get onto new ground altogether. We can now listen to the officer as he tells out in our hearing the claims of Christ upon all those who are united to Him. The priest has spoken to us and told us of the imperishable ground which we occupy, the indestructible relationship in which we stand, and now we are in a position to listen to the one who stands before us as the exponent of our high and holy responsibilities. Had “the officer” come first, we should have fled from his presence, discouraged and dismayed by the weight and solemnity of his words, and giving utterance to the despairing inquiry, “Who then can be saved?” But, inasmuch as “the priest” — the minister of grace, the exponent of privilege — has set us upon our feet in the new creation and strengthened our hearts by unfolding the unconditional grace in which we stand, we can listen to the “commandments” of the officer and find them “not grievous,” because they come to us from off the mercy-seat.

And what does the officer say to us? Just this: “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life.” This is the sum and substance of the officer's message. He demands on the part of God's warriors, a disentangled heart. It is not a question of salvation, of being a child of God, of being a true Israelite. It is simply a question of ability to wage an effective warfare, and clearly, a man cannot fight well if his heart is entangled with “a house,” “a vineyard” or “a wife.”

It was not a question of having such things. By no means. Thousands of those who went forth to tread the battlefield and gather the spoils of victory, had houses and lands and domestic ties.

The officers had no quarrel with the possessors of these things. The only point was, not to be entangled with them. The apostle does not say, “No man that warreth engages in the affairs of this life.” Had he said this, we should all have to live in idleness and isolation, whereas he distinctly teaches us, elsewhere, that, “If any man will not work, neither shall he eat.” The grand point is to keep the heart disentangled. God's warriors must have free hearts, and the only way to be free is to cast all our care upon Him who cares for us. I can stand in the battlefield with a free heart when I have placed my house, my vineyard and my wife in the divine keeping.

Further, God's warriors must have courageous hearts as well as free hearts. “The fearful and the faint-hearted” can never stand in the battle or wear the laurel of victory. Our hearts must be disentangled from the world and be bold by reason of our absolute confidence in God. Be it well remembered that these things are not “gospel conditions,” but gospel results — a deeply-important distinction. What a mistake to speak of gospel conditions! It is simply the old leaven of legality presented in a new and strange form, and dubbed with a name which is a contradiction. If those precious clusters which are the result of union with the Living Vine, be set forth as the necessary conditions of that union, what must become of the sinner? Where shall we get them if not in Christ? And how do we become united to Christ? Is it by conditions? No, but by faith.

May the Holy Spirit instruct my reader as to the divine order of “privilege and responsibility!”






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