The Conflict of Duties

Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father

Luk 9:59

The Conflict between What Is Right and Wrong
There has been very considerable discussion as to the precise import of this incident, but the moral significance of it is unmistakable. Here is a man whose difficulty lay in the pressure upon him of conflicting duties. On the one hand he felt the claims of home. He had his duties which he owed a father. On the other hand he heard the call of Christ, bidding him come away and follow Him. And all his difficulty in that great hour, when the windows were opened and the deeps were broken up, was how to reconcile in his own conscience these two competing and conflicting duties. He was not torn between the right and wrong. He was torn between the right and right. He hesitated between two rival claims, both of them stamped with the seal of the divine. For on the one hand there was his filial piety, and his passionate reverence for the honored dead; and on the other hand, imperious and urgent, there was the call of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Primary Conflict Is between What Is Good and What Is Evil
Now the primal and bitterest conflict of mankind is the conflict between what is good and what is evil. Into that heritage we are all born, and there is no escape from it to the last hour we live. “O wretched man,” cries the apostle, “who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Paul knew, through all his fellowship with Christ, what it was to be clutched at by the beast. And there is no strife of any civil war, or of cross and crescent, or of east or west, that is so terrible and long as that. I had a young friend who came back from Keswick once as if it was going to be singing all the time, and full of his happiness and new-found ecstasy he went to see my venerable father, Dr. Whyte. And Dr. Whyte looked on him and laid his hand upon him, and said with all the intensity of love, “Sir, it will be a sair warstle to the end. “My brother and sister, you may lay your reckoning that it will be a sair warstle (a hard battle) to the end. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers of spiritual darkness. And yet, as many here can testify, the battle of every day may end in victory, when a man has learned that the strength he has to keep him is the strength of a risen and a living Christ.

The Conflict between What Is Right and Right
But as life advances and deepens and enriches, there is another conflict which emerges. It is not the conflict between right and wrong. It is the conflict between right and right. All of us stand in various relationships, and life is rich in proportion to relationships. To be utterly alone were to be dead, for no man liveth to himself. And these relationships, as they enlarge our being, and heighten our personality indefinitely, so do they carry with them, in their widening circles, an ever-increasing complexity of duty. As life grows richer, gladness increase. As life grows richer, duties are augmented. Every new tie that man or woman forms, carries its burden as surely as its blessing. Every new plighting of troth in holy wedlock, every new opening of an infant’s eyes, carries its claim as well as its delight. Send a man out into some savage wilderness, and you limit his duty to himself and God. Give him his place in family and state, and family and state lay hands upon him. And so as life advances in complexity, and grows more intricate and rich and wonderful, duties are born which we accept from God, and which are yet very hard to reconcile. So to the conflict between right and wrong there is added the conflict between right and right. New voices call us, new claims press in upon us, and they seem to jar with the old familiar voices. There are men whose bitterest and sorest struggle is not the fight between duty and disloyalty. It is the secret battle of the spirit between one clear duty and another.

On the field of history that is strikingly exemplified by the conflict between military and religious duty. Right down the ages we have signal instances of this moral collision in the soldier’s life. No duty is more sacred than a soldier’s duty. He is bound in absolute loyalty to his king. For him obedience is the crowning virtue, and disobedience the depth of criminality. And hence for him, bound by his soldier’s oath, the awfulness of the problem that confronts him when the obedience he owes his king clashes with his obedience to his God. The Jews realized it when, as Josephus tells us, they were ordered to help to build the heathen temples. In the Roman Empire it was the trial and tragedy of many a soldier who became a Christian.

Conflict between Duties of Mercy and Justice
The same collision in our social life is often experienced in another way. It is experienced in the strife that wages between the duties of mercy and of justice. That we are called to be merciful as Christ was merciful is graven deep on every Christian heart. We are to be tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us. We are to bear all things and to believe all things—we are to be patient not to some men but to all—we are to pardon those who have wronged us and defrauded us, not once or twice, but seventy times seven. Now if you have ever tried to live that life you will know something of its tremendous difficulty. If to be merciful were our one duty, it would always be hard for stubborn hearts like ours. But who does not know how its hardness is intensified when, through the crying of the call for mercy, there is heard imperiously and in the name of God the clarion voice that demands justice, if charity is not to grow degenerate, if public life is to preserve its purity, the need of justice between man and man is equally divine with that of mercy. And sometimes the hardest task a man can have is just to reconcile that call for justice with the love in Christ that is always tender-hearted, and pitiful, and ready to forgive. Life calls for the stern word as well as for the sweetness of compassion. Life calls for the resolute will and the clear brain as well as for the infinitely tender heart. And there come hours for everyone of us, sometimes at home and sometimes in our work, when the difficulty that drives us to our knees is the difficulty of these conflicting duties.

The Concentric Circles of Our Lives and the Various Voices That Call Us to Duty
But still more powerfully do men feel this pressure in regard to the concentric circles of their life. For all of us live within concentric circles that widen out until they reach infinity. We are surrounded firstly by the home, and the poorest home is always rich in duty. We are surrounded next by the community, by the common life in the heart of which we dwell. And then we are surrounded by the Church, and by the teeming life of all the world; and then, for king and peasant and prodigal and saint, the ultimate environment is God. Now one great mark of an advancing life is that it is wakened to the call of these environments. Over the stir and murmur of the self, voices grow audible from further distances. And first they are voices of our wife and children, and then of the lives that need us in the city, and then of the great world that lies in bondage, and waits for the redemption of Christ Jesus. Always when we are walking in the light the range of our duties is infinitely widening. If we hear new music in the summer morning, we hear new calling for succor in the dark. And how to say to every voice that claims us, “Speak, Lord, Thy servant heareth,” is sometimes harder than to say to Simon, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” There is the call of the slums that many a man has heard, “Come down and help us, for we need you so”; there is the call of the wife, sitting alone at home, and of the children there who hardly know their father. There is the call of the great heathen world for missionaries to go abroad and tell of Jesus Christ; and then, not less divine than that, the call of a desolate and widowed mother. Ah, sir, if it were right and wrong, we could rise up and make a swift decision. In the strength of Christ we could abhor the evil, and cleave in the Holy Ghost to what was good. But the perplexity and anguish of the heart, and the indecision which is always misery, springs from the clashing not of right and wrong, but rather from the clash of right and right. In such an hour there is no help for anybody except in personal fellowship with Jesus. All rules are powerless, all maxims ineffectual, and that is why Christ was no trafficker in maxims. Nothing will guide a man in such a difficulty but the living direction of the living Savior, which is intensely personal, and intensely moral, and to the upward-lifted heart intensely real.

Christ’s Temptations Were for Choosing the Lesser Good
May I say in passing that this thought illuminates the temptations of our Lord for me? Men have always felt and always will feel the difficulty of thinking of a tempted Savior. That Christ was sinless—infinitely holy—as a reasonable man I must believe. That Christ was tempted in the most real way I could never dream of doubting for an instant. But how a sinless being could be tempted, and feel the anguish and onset of temptation, is very difficult for any mind to fathom. Now I make no pretence to having fathomed it. “God without mystery were not good news” to me. It makes me eager to see Him in the eternal morning, when I think of all He is keeping back to tell me then. But when I meditate on these deep and dark experiences that emerge at the very heart of human life, I begin to see which way the dawn is crimsoning. When I think how the best and holiest I have known have been tempted not with evil but with good; when I think how in some of the most beautiful and saintly lives the sorest battle has been of right with right; when I recall the fact that as life deepens, there may be conflict without one shadow of disloyalty, I see a gleam on the mystery of Christ. If struggle ceased as life became more glorious, then the temptation of Christ would be inexplicable. If conflict ended when sin was overcome, then it would be mockery to think that Christ was tempted. But when we find that with expanding life there comes the new possibility of anguish, then who can tell what blood and tears were possible to that last expansion of life in Jesus Christ.

The Conflict of Duties God Faces
In closing—for you will remember that I am a Christian minister and not a lecturer on moral problems—in closing will you allow me to show to you the evangelical aspect of these ethics? What I mean is this, that in the Christian Gospel that conflict of duties is not confined to man; it is reflected in its full intensity in the life of the eternal God. That God is righteous and infinitely holy, you and I reverently believe. That God is merciful and infinitely loving, you and I have been taught since we were children. And the whole New Testament on its Godward side is but the story of infinite wisdom, reconciling, in a way most wonderful, infinite righteousness and boundless love. How to maintain that law which binds the universe, and yet to welcome and receive the breaker of it; how to reveal the hate of God for sin, and yet to show His love for every sinner—that was the problem which confronted heaven, and which it took infinite wisdom to resolve, and which solved for me, and I do trust for you, the infinite marvel of the cross of Christ. Once I have understood the cross of Christ, I can never doubt the righteousness of God. Once I have understood the cross of Christ, I never can doubt the love of God again. And so in experience, although it baffle thought, I come to feel in the very depths of being that God hates sin with a consuming hatred, and yet that He loves me with a Father’s love. Righteousness without mercy cannot save me, for I have broken every commandment. Mercy without justice cannot save me, for the moral law is engraven on my heart. But when I grasp the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ, and let His love flow down into my being, then righteousness and love are reconciled.

source : e-Sword

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