‘If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall
be free indeed’ (John 8.36)
It is set down as a part of the sufferings of Christ (Heb. 12.3) that He endured the contradiction of sinners. And among all the chapters in the Gospel there is none that sets down so great a part of the sufferings of Christ in this respect as this eighth chapter of John. From the twelfth verse to the end of the chapter almost every verse shows how the Jews set the pride of their obstinate and rebellious wills against His Divine and infinite wisdom. There was nothing that Christ could speak but their rebellious hearts cavilled at it, and sought to thwart and contradict Him in it. Yet there were some among them that the Word had better effects upon. In verse 31 it is recorded that, though there were many to contradict, yet some were wrought upon, some believed. To those in particular Christ directs Himself, by way of caution and encouragement, and tells them that if they continued in His word, they would know the truth; yea, and the truth would make them free.
Whereupon the Jews answered (not those that believed, as appears by verse 37, for the same persons that thus answered sought to kill Him): ‘We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?’ Christ might have returned this impudent cavil upon them by urging them to review their former state under the Egyptians and Babylonians, and their present condition under the Romans; but putting aside their political bondage, He proves them to be in spiritual and soul bondage to sin. ‘He that committeth sin is the servant of sin’ (v. 34); and you, said He, commit sin.
Having shown them their present sinful condition, He next goes on to tell them what would be their future doom. They must be cast out of the house, although they were now in the Church of God. As the apostle says: ‘Cast out the bond-woman and her son’. This Christ proves by contrasting the condition of a servant and of a son: ‘The servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever’ (v. 35). Yet He does not leave them here under their sad doom, but propounds to them a way to prevent it, namely, by endeavouring to get free. He then sets down the means by which this freedom may be obtained, and that is by the Son. Though the work is difficult, yet He that abides in the house for ever, He that is the Son, can effect it: ‘For if the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed’.
Thus have I shown you how my text is related to, and depends upon, the preceding words. We shall now look at the text as it stands complete in itself: ‘If the Son shall make you free — ’
Here we observe, first, a supposition — ‘If the Son shall make you free’; secondly, a consequence — ’Ye shall be free indeed’. Give me leave to set forth this truth in four particulars:
First, We have a benefit expressed-freedom: ‘If the Son shall make you free’.
From what is expressed and what is implied, we can draw four conclusions:
(1) That every man by nature, and in the state of nature, is in bondage,
I do not propose to deal with all these matters in this discourse: it will not suit my present purpose. Not that the subject of the bondage of men might not be of service, as set in contrast with spiritual freedom. Much can be learned from contraries. Just as something of heaven is to be known from the consideration of hell, so something of the excellency of spiritual freedom may be known from the consideration of man’s natural bondage — a bondage to sin, to Satan, and to the law of God. All which is a universal bondage of the soul, a cruel bondage, a willing bondage, a bondage out of which we are not able to redeem ourselves by ransom, or to deliver ourselves by our own power.
The doctrine of man’s bondage we shall not at present expound further, though I may make some application of it later. The four points about freedom, however, on which I shall now speak, I will sum up in one statement of doctrine: That there is a true and real freedom which Christ has purchased, and into which He has brought all those who are true believers. This is the teaching of the text. Otherwise stated, we have here the nature, the quality, and the parts of Christian freedom.
THE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN FREEDOM
First, we shall consider the nature of this freedom.
There are four kinds of freedom — natural, political, sensual, and spiritual. Natural freedom is that which is enjoyed by everything in nature, but this is not the freedom intended in the text. Political freedom pertains to a Nation, a State, a Commonwealth, a Corporation, and it was of this that the Jews understood Christ to speak. They were Abraham’s seed, and therefore free. But Christ did not speak of this. Again, there is a corrupt and sinful freedom which we express under the name of Libertinism. To this the apostle refers in Gal. 5.13: ‘Brethren, ye are called unto liberty: but use not liberty as an occasion to the flesh’, that is, as an occasion to sin. It is a fearful thing when men turn the grace of God into wantonness. Such men are spoken of in the fourth verse of the Epistle of Jude: ‘There are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness’. Perhaps they reasoned thus: ‘Let us abound in sin because God has abounded in grace’ (Rom. 6), which is fearful reasoning, not that of a child of God. Of the same sort of men, the apostle Peter speaks (1 Pet. 2.16): ‘As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness’ (that is to say, as a pretext or a colour to sin), ‘but as the servants of God’. It is evil to sin, to do any act of maliciousness, but much more so to cloak or cover it; and much more again to make Christian liberty the cloak of sin: that is most damnable. To make religion, to make the truth of God, to make Christian liberty so dearly purchased, a cloak or pretext to sin, or to take occasion to sin by it, is a fearful sin.
But of this Christ does not here speak. This is our bondage, not our freedom, as I shall show later.
It is a spiritual and heavenly freedom of which our text speaks, a freedom purchased by Christ, revealed in the Gospel, and conveyed to the saints of God as the great dowry of Christ to His Church and Spouse. Two great things Christ has entrusted into the hands of His Church — Christian faith and Christian liberty. Just as we are to contend earnestly for the maintenance of the faith (Jude 3), so also for the maintenance of Christian liberty, and that against all who would oppose and undermine it: ‘Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free’ (Gal. 5.1). Very like this is the exhortation of the same apostle: ‘Ye are bought with a price: be not ye the servants of men’ (2 Cor. 7.23). But of this I shall say more hereafter.
In general, then, I say, the freedom into which Christ brings believers is a spiritual, a Divine freedom, a freedom contrasted with their former bondage. If this is clearly understood it will explain what Christian freedom really is.
THE QUALITY OF CHRISTIAN FREEDOM
We come next to inquire what is the quality of this freedom. One quality is mentioned in the text; I shall add two more to it. First, it is a real freedom, not an imaginary or fancied freedom. Too many imagine themselves to be free who are really in bondage. But this is no imaginary freedom; it is a freedom indeed, a true and real freedom. Whom the Son makes free are free indeed.
Again, it is a universal freedom, a freedom which does not leave us partially in bondage. Christian liberty frees a believer from all kinds of previous bondage. But we must beware of taking any part of our liberty for our bondage, or of our bondage for our liberty. Too many do so. We were, then, in bondage to Satan, to sin, to the law, to wrath, to death, to hell. By this privilege we are freed from all. It is a universal freedom, universal in respect of persons — believers; universal in respect of its parts. We are free from all that was, or is any way part of our bondage; free from Satan, from sin, from the law, as I shall show later.
Then, too, it is a constant freedom; a Christian is brought into a condition of freedom, a state of freedom, as previously he was in a state of bondage. Wherever the Lord’s jubilee is proclaimed and pronounced in a man’s soul, he will never hear again of a return to bondage. He will never again come under bondage to Satan, the law, or aught else. This is implied by Christ in the words: ‘The servant abideth not in the house for ever; but the Son abideth ever’ (John 8.35). The apostle expresses the same truth under the figure of an allegory when he says: ‘Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman’ (Gal. 4.22). Here he distinguishes between those who are under the law, and those who are under the Gospel, the children of the bondwoman and those of the free, the heirs of promise and the servants of the law. The one must be cast out, says Paul. Likewise Christ speaks here: ‘The servant abides not in the house for ever’ (they shall not inherit) ‘but the Son abides in the house for ever.’ The sons shall inherit, shall enjoy a perpetual freedom, and shall never again return to bondage.
THE BRANCHES OF CHRISTIAN FREEDOM
We come now to consider the third thing propounded, the branches of this Christian freedom. But before I speak of this, I must necessarily tell you that freedom in general has two branches. First, there is inchoate freedom, that is, the freedom we enjoy during the days of our pilgrimage, freedom in grace; second, consummate freedom, that is, the freedom of our Father’s house, freedom in glory. We shall speak chiefly of the first-inchoate freedom.
FREEDOM IN ITS NEGATIVE ASPECTS
(i) Freedom from Satan
To begin with, it is dear that believers are free from Satan. Christ has wrested us and delivered us from Satan’s hands. We were prisoners to Satan, in his chains, and Christ has brought us deliverance. This is set down by way of a parable in the Gospel of Luke: ‘When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils’ (ch. 11.21-22). But it is plainly stated in Heb. 2.14, 15: Christ came into the world ‘that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil’. Christ freed us from the wrath of God, from the devil’s power, by purchase.
By a strong hand He delivers us from Satan, just as He delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt by a strong hand.
(ii) Freedom from Sin
Secondly, we are freed from sin, by which I mean the guilt, the defilement and the dominion of sin. That none of our sins shall condemn us or bring wrath upon us, Christ interposes Himself between us and wrath, so that no one shall be able to condemn us: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 8.1). Christ Himself shall as soon be called to account for your sin as you yourself.
If you have an interest in Him, sin shall never condemn you, for Christ has made satisfaction for it. ‘Those whose standing is in Christ have made satisfaction in Christ to all the requirements of God and His law’ (Piscator).
It would not be righteous of God to require payment from Christ, nay, to receive the full satisfaction of Christ, and to require anything from you. This is what God has done: ‘He laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isa. 53.6). This is what Christ has done: He paid God till God said He had enough. He was fully satisfied, fully contented: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Matt. 3.17 and 12.18), that is, ‘in whom I am fully satisfied and appeased’. Hence the apostle writes: ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself . . . for he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor. 5.19-21). God was paying Himself out of the blood, scourgings, and sufferings of Christ; and in that, Christ made a full payment. Hence Christ says: ’I send my Spirit, and he will convince the world, as of sin so of righteousness, because I go to the Father and ye see me no more’ (John 16.7-10). That is, you shall see Me no more after this fashion. You shall never see Me again as a sufferer, as a satisfier of God’s justice for sin. I have completed this work. Indeed we should have seen Christ again if He had not satisfied justice. If the guilt of but one of those sins He bore had remained on Him unsatisfied for, it would have held Him under chains of death and the power of the grave for ever. He could never have risen, much less ascended and gone to the Father, if He had not met the claims of justice to the full. For this reason the apostle throws down a challenge. He sets the death of Christ against whatever sin, Satan, justice, and the law can say: ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? it is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us’ (Rom. 8.33-34). He does not say, Who shall accuse? but, Who shall condemn? Indeed, we may have accusers enough — sin, Satan, conscience, and the rest — but none can condemn. The issues of life and death are not in their hand. And as none of our sins shall condemn us, so none of our sins shall ever bring us into a state of condemnation again, ever put us under the curse or under wrath again.
Likewise, none of our sins can bring upon us the consequences of Divine wrath. We are freed from all miseries, calamities, afflictions, and punishments which are the fruits of sin, so far as they have wrath in them. If you take away the substance, the shadow must needs depart also. Sin is the substance, punishment the shadow that attends it and follows it. Take away sin and then the punishments are also taken away. All God’s dispensations are in mercy.
It is agreed by all that eternal punishments can never come upon any of those whom Christ has freed from sin, those whom He has justified. From other punishments that have something of eternal punishment in them, believers are also freed. Nothing in the nature of Divine wrath can touch them. I grant that God does afflict those whose sin He pardons, but there is a great deal of difference in respect of the hand from which the afflictions proceed, the persons who bear the afflictions, the reasons for afflicting, and the ends that God aims at in sending the afflictions, as I shall show later.
It is clear that, so far as afflictions are part of the curse for sin, God does not and cannot afflict His people for sin. Nor does God afflict His people for sin as if such afflictions were payments or satisfactions for sin, and as if God’s justice was not fully satisfied for sin by Christ; as if Christ had left something for us to bear by way of satisfaction. The Papists say this (and therefore they perform penances and punish themselves) but so do not we.
Again, so far as afflictions are the sole fruits of sin, God does not bring them upon His people, for in this respect they are part of the curse. Afflictions upon wicked men are penal, a part of the curse; there is nothing medicinal in them; they are the effects of vindictive justice and not of Fatherly mercy. But afflictions which come upon the godly are medicinal in purpose, and are intended to cure them of sin.
Whether, then, we have regard to punishment eternal, spiritual, or temporal, Christ has freed the godly from all: from eternal punishment as the wrath which is due to sin, from spiritual punishment as it is related to eternal, and from temporal as far as it is related to both the others, and as far as it has anything of God’s wrath in it.
God has thoughts of love in all He does to His people. The ground of His dealings with us is love (though the occasion may be sin), the manner of His dealings is love, and the purpose of His dealings is love. He has regard, in all, to our good here, to make us partakers of His holiness, and to our glory hereafter, to make us partakers of His glory.
But it is not so in regard to God’s punishment of wicked men. Neither is the ground love, nor the manner love, nor the purpose love. All His dealings with them in this respect are parts of the curse and have regard to the demerit of their sin.
Christ has also freed the believer from the dominion of sin: ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you’ (Rom. 6.14). Why? ‘For ye are not under the law, but under grace’. Indeed, while we were under the law, sin had full dominion. It had not only possession of us, but dominion over us. And that dominion was a voluntary, a willing, a free subjection and resignation of ourselves to the motions and services of sin. Then we went down stream, wind, and tide. There was both the power of lust, and lustful inclinations, to carry us: this was the tide, the other was the wind. But now, being under grace, a covenant of grace, and being interested in Christ and set free by Him, we are freed from the dominion and power of sin.
We still have the presence of sin, nay, the stirrings and workings of corruptions. These make us to have many a sad heart and wet eye. Yet Christ has thus far freed us from sin; it shall not have dominion. There may be the turbulence, but not the prevalence of sin. There may be the stirrings of corruption. It was said of Carthage that Rome was mere troubled with it when half destroyed than when whole. So a godly man may be more troubled with sin when it is conquered than when it reigned. Sin will still work, but it is checked in its workings. They are rather workings for life than from life. They are not such uncontrolled workings as formerly. Sin is under command. Indeed, it may get advantage, and may have a tyranny in the soul, but it will never more be sovereign. I say, it may get into the throne of the heart and play the tyrant in this or that particular act of sin, but it shall never more be as a king there. Its reign is over; you will never yield a voluntary obedience to sin. Sin is conquered, though it still has a being within you.
Augustine describes man under four different conditions. Before the law he neither fights nor strives against sin. Under the law he fights but is overcome. Under grace he fights and conquers. But in heaven it is all conquest, and there is no combat more to all eternity. It is our happiness here in grace that there is a conquest, though a daily combat: we fight, but we get the victory; sin shall nevermore have dominion over us. Those sins that were kings are now captives in us; sins that were in the throne are now in chains. What a mercy is this! Others are under the authoritative commands of every passion, of every lust; every sin has command over them; no temptation comes but it conquers. A sinful heart stands ready to entertain every sin that comes with power; it is taken captive at pleasure and with pleasure.
But the believer is free from the dominion of sin. In temptation sin is broken. There is no allowing of sin in the understanding. The soul is not willing to allow of sin as sin under any shape or form. There is no closing with it in the will, no embracing of it in the affections. Its workings are broken and wounded. O believers, you will never be willing captives to sin again; you may be captives, never subjects; sin may tyrannize, never reign. The reign of sin describes a soul under the power of sin and in a state of sin. But sin rather dies than lives in you. A sickly man who is pining away is said rather to be dying than living to live implies a getting of strength, and sin does not do this. It is in a consumptive state, dying daily.
Sin is dead judicially; Christ has sentenced it. Christ has condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8.3). Sin met its deathblow in the death of Christ And it is dying actually. As was the case with the house of Saul, it is decreasing every day. But notice that God has chosen to put sin to a lingering death, to a death upon the cross, and this for the greater punishment of sin, that it might die gradually. But also, it is for the further humiliation of saints that they might be put upon the exercise of prayer and cast upon the hold of their faith. It is intended to exercise their faith for the daily breaking of the power of sin and corruption in them.
Thus much then upon our deliverance from sin by Christ.
(iii) Freedom from the Law
Christ has freed us from the law: that is another part of our freedom by Christ. ‘Ye are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter’ (Rom. 7.6). ‘I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God’ (Gal. 2.19). ‘If ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law’ (Gal. 5.18). ‘Ye are not under the law, but under grace’ (Rom. 6.14). This then is another part of our freedom by Christ: we are freed from the law. What this is we shall now consider.
We are freed from the ceremonial law, which was a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear (Acts 15.10). Yet this is but a small part of our freedom.
(a) Freedom from the law as a covenant
We are freed from the moral law: freed from it, first, as a covenant, say our divines. It would save a great deal of trouble to say we are freed from the law as that from which life might be expected on the condition that due obedience was rendered. But take it, as do many, in the sense that we are freed from the law as a covenant.
The law may be considered as a rule and as a covenant. When we read that the law is still in force, it is to be understood of the law as a rule, not as a covenant. Again, when we read that the law is abrogated, and that we are freed from the law, it is to be understood of the law as a covenant, not as a rule. But yet in all this it is not yet expressed what covenant it is. The apostle calls it the old covenant (Heb. 8.13) under which they were, and from which we are freed. It could never give us life it cannot now inflict death on us. We are dead to it, and it is now dead to us. We read in Romans 7.1-6: ’The law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth. For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.’ Among other interpretations which might be set down, I shall suggest this one only: the law is your husband; you are under subjection to it as you are looking by your subjection to be justified and saved. And until the law as a covenant or husband is dead to you, and you to it (for the apostle makes them both one), you will never look for righteousness and life in another. Until the law kills you, and you are dead to it, you will look for righteousness and life through obedience to it. But when once the law has killed you, and showed you it is dead to you and can do you no good, so that you can expect nothing from it, then will you look for life by Christ alone.
Such was the apostle’s own case. He was once one that expected (as well he might) as much good from the law and his obedience to it as any man. Says he: ‘I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death’ (Rom. 7.9, 10). That is to say, I found that instead of saving me it killed me; it gave death instead of life. And again he says: ‘For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me’: that is, the law came in with an enlightening, convincing, accusing, condemning power, and laid me on my back, and did clean kill me. I saw I could expect nothing there, nothing from it as a covenant.
As for the apostle, therefore, the law was now dead to him, and could afford him nothing likewise was he also dead to the law. He expected nothing from it afterwards. As he tells us later: ‘I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God’ (Gal. 2.19): that is, the law having now slain me, I am for ever dead to it. I expect nothing from it as a covenant; all my life is in Christ. I look now to live by another. I through the law, that is, through the convincing, enlightening, condemning, killing power of it, see that it is dead to me and I to it. I can expect nothing from it that is, as a covenant of life and death It is dead to me and I to it, and I look for all from Christ.
Thus are we freed from the law as a covenant I shall speak more largely of this in the answers to the queries later. Mean while we come to deal with other branches of our Christian freedom from the law, the next in order being our freedom from the maledictions and curses of the law.
(b) Freedom from the curses of the law
The law requires two things of them who are under it: either they must obey the precepts, which is impossible with the degree of strictness and rigidness which the law requires (Gal. 3); or they must bear the penalties of the law, which are insupportable. Either they must obey the commands or suffer the curses of the law, either do God’s will or suffer God’s will in forfeitures of soul and body. In this sad dilemma are those who are under the law as a covenant: ‘He that believeth not is condemned already.. . the wrath of God abideth on him’ (John 3.18, 36). Unbelievers must needs be under the curses of the law.
But believers are freed from the law as a covenant of life. and death. Therefore they are free from the curses and maledictions of the law, The law has nothing to do with them at touching their eternal state and condition. Hence the words of the apostle: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 8.1), that is, to them who are not under the law, Were you indeed under the law as a covenant, condemnation would meet you, nothing else but condemnation. Though the law is not able to save you, yet it is able to condemn you. Unable to bestow the blessing, yet it can pour the curse upon you: ‘As many as are of the works of the law’ — that is, those under the law as a covenant, and that look for life and justification thereby — ’are under the curse’ (Gal, 3.10). And he continues with the argument: ‘For it is written, Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them’. It is not possible for a man to obey in all things without falling in any; hence he Is left under the curse. So that I say, if you are under the law, the law is able to condemn you, though it cannot save you (Rom. 8.3).
But Christ has brought freedom to those in Him, freedom from the curses of the law, and that by bearing this curse for them, as it is written: ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us’ (Gal. 3.13). The apostle not only says that Christ bore the curse for us, but that He was made a curse for us, for: ‘It is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree’. This is another of the benefits which flow from Christ’s work. The believer is freed from the law as a covenant, and so from the curse of the law. The law cannot pass sentence upon him, it cannot condemn him. He is not to be tried in that court. Christ has satisfied the law to the full.
This privilege belongs not only to the present; it lasts for ever. Even though the believer falls into sin, yet the law cannot pronounce the curse on him because, as he is not under the law, he is freed from the curse of the law. A man is never afraid of that obligation which is rendered void, the seals torn off, the writing defaced, nay, not only crossed out and cancelled but torn In pieces. It is thus that God has dealt with the law in the case of believers, as touching its power to curse them, to sentence them and condemn. The apostle tells us: ‘He hath blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross’ (Col. 2.14). By ‘the handwriting of ordinances’ I conceive is not meant the ceremonial law alone, but the moral law also, so far as it was against us and bound us over to the curse.
We can here observe the successive steps which the apostle sets out. ‘He hath blotted out.’ But lest this should not be enough, lest any should say, It is not so blotted out, but it may be read, the apostle adds, ‘He took it out of the way’. But lest even this Should not be enough, lest some should say, Yea, but it will be found again and set against us afresh, he adds, ‘nailing it to his cross’. He has torn it to pieces, never to be put together again for ever. It can never be that the law has a claim against believers on account of their sins. Indeed it brings in black bills, strong indictments against such as are under it; but it shall never have anything to produce against those who have an interest in Christ. I may say of believers, as the apostle does in another sense, ‘Against such there is no law’. As there is no law to justify them, so there is no law to condemn them.
Five reasons why the law cannot condemn the believer
All this the apostle puts plainly: ‘Who is he that condemneth? it is Christ that died’ (Rom. 8.34). He sets the death of Christ against all the charges that can be brought. It is evident that the court of the law cannot condemn the believer:
(1) Because that court is itself condemned; its curses, judgments, and sentences are made invalid. As men that are condemned have a tongue but no voice, so the law in this case has still a tongue to accuse, but no power to condemn. It cannot fasten condemnation on the believer.
(2) Because he is not under it as a court. He is not under the law as a covenant of life and death. As he is in Christ, he is under the covenant of grace.
(3) Because he is not subject to its condemnation. He is under its guidance, but not under its curses, under its precepts (though not on the legal condition of ‘Do this and live’), but not under its penalties.
(4) Because Christ, in his place and stead, was condemned by it that he might be freed: ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us’ (Gal. 3.13). It may condemn sin in us, but cannot condemn us for sin.
(5) Because he has appealed from it. We see this in the case of the publican. who was arrested, dragged into the court of justice, sentenced and condemned. But this has no force because he makes his appeal, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’ (Luke 18.13). He flies to Christ, and, says the text, ‘He went down to his house justified’. So the court of the law (provided that your appeal is just) cannot condemn, because you have appealed to the court of mercy.
True and false appeals from the court of the law
Indeed there are many who make a false appeal. They appeal in part, not wholly, for they trust partly on Christ and partly on themselves. Many appeal to Christ for salvation who do not appeal to Him for sanctification. This is false. Many appeal to Christ before they are brought into the court of the law, before they are humbled, convinced, and condemned by the law. The case of the publican shows what kind of appeal will do a man good. Condemned in the court of the law, he makes his appeal to Christ in the Gospel. Read the words spoken of him: ‘He stood afar off, and would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner’. Here was a threefold demeanour, answering to a threefold work within him. First, he stood afar off; this answers to his fear and consternation. Then, he would not so much as lift up his eyes; this answers to his shame and confusion. Again, he smote his breast; this answers to his sorrow and compunction. And being in such a case he then appeals: ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’.
In brief, then, if your appeal is a right one and such as will do you good, it must be a total, not a partial, appeal. You must not come to Christ for some relief only, but for all. Christ must have the honour of all. Also, it must be an appeal for grace as well as mercy, for sanctification as well as salvation, an appeal to be made holy by Christ as well as to be made happy by Christ. Again, it must be the appeal of a man and condemned in himself. No man will appeal to another court until he is found guilty and condemned in the former. So here, we cannot appeal to Christ until first we are found guilty and condemned by Moses. This the apostle shows: ‘We have proved both Jews and Gentiles to be all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none that understandeth, none that seeketh after God’ (Rom. 3.9-11).
Thus runs the indictment and the accusation of the law, and in verse 19 is found the sentence or judgment upon it, and there the apostle tells us the reason why the law says this: ‘That every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God’. It is when the law has accused and sentenced us, when it has stopped our mouths and we become guilty, that the sinner comes to make his appeal from the law as a covenant to Christ as a Saviour. He looks for nothing from justice, but all from mercy. And when he has thus appealed, the law has no more to do with him; he is not under the sentence, the penalties of the law; he is out of the law’s reach. The law can take no hold of him for condemnation; he has fled to Christ, and taken sanctuary in Him.
What a privilege is this, to be free from the curses and penalties of the law, so that if the law threatens, Christ promises; if the law curses, Christ blesses. This is a high privilege. If God did but let one spark of His wrath and displeasure fall upon your conscience for sin, you would then know what a mercy it is to be thus freed.
(c) Freedom from the accusations of the law
But now we proceed to consider the freedom which the believer has from the indictments and accusations of the law: ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?’ (Rom. 8.33). This may be thought a strange question, ‘who shall?’, but there are several such accusers:
Satan is ready to lay things to their charge. He is called ‘the accuser of the saints . . . night and day’ (Rev. 12.10). He is the great Calumniator, ever bringing forward bills of indictment against the saints. Sometimes he accuses God to man, as in the case of our first parents, where he charged God with envy to His creatures, as if He had forbidden the tree lest they should become too wise. It is ordinary with Satan, either to accuse God’s mercy by telling men they may sin and yet God will be merciful, or to accuse His justice by saying that, if they sin, there is no mercy for them. As he stretches God’s justice above the bounds of the Gospel, so he stretches God’s mercy above the bounds of His truth.
And as Satan accuses God to man, so he accuses man to God. Sometimes he does this by way of complaint, as appears in the case of Joshua (Zech. 3.1-4). In this fashion he is ever charging crimes home, and introducing bills of indictment against the saints. So that, in all his temptations, we may say, as the man said to Joab when he was asked why he had not killed Absalom: ‘Thou thyself didst hear what the king commanded, that Absalom should not be hurt; and if I had done this thing, thou thyself wouldest have been the first to accuse me to the king’ (2 Sam. 18.12-13). So may we answer Satan: Thou thyself dost know that God hath forbidden this thing; and if I should have done it, wouldst not thou have been the first to accuse me to God? Such is Satan’s way; he is first the tempter to draw us to sin, and then an accuser to accuse us to God for sinning.
At other times Satan uses the method of suspicion and conjecture. It was so in the case of Job. God commends Job; Satan condemns him, as if he knew Job better than God Himself. Nay, and though he could not condemn Job’s actions, yet he would quarrel with his affections. Surely, whatever his actions are, yet Job’s intentions are not good! This was as much as to tell God that He was deceived in Job; it was as if Satan said, Certainly, whatever Thou thinkest of Job, yet Job doth not serve Thee for nought. He is a mercenary fellow, one that serves Thee for loaves, for belly blessings. Thou hast heaped outward favours on him and hast made a hedge about him, fenced him in with Thy favours so that nothing can annoy him. Thus it is that Satan brings his accusations.
But Satan cannot condemn. The issues of life and death are not in his hands, nor will his accusation against us before God take effect A man who is himself condemned, though he has the voice of accusation, yet he has no power to condemn. His testimony against another is invalid. Satan is a condemned wretch, and all his accusations against the saints before God have no effect. Joshua’s case shows this: though the accusation was true that he was clad in filthy garments, yet God would not receive it: ‘The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?’ (Zech. 3.2).
But it is not only Satan who accuses us; wicked men may do the same. Sometimes they do so justly, for sins committed, but forgiven, and in this they show their malice and lack of love in not forgetting that which God has forgiven. Sometimes they accuse the godly unjustly, laying to their charge things they never did, as Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of uncleanness because he would not be unclean. David, too, complains that men laid to his charge things he never did; so also, Daniel. But none can condemn the truly godly.
Again, not only Satan and wicked men, but conscience itself may accuse; and then, is it possible for us to say, Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Conscience, I say, may accuse, sometimes bringing true light, sometimes false information, sometimes reviving old bills cancelled and crossed long ago. In the first case, we are to listen to the accusations of conscience when it charges us truly. Joseph’s brethren were accused by their consciences when they were evil intreated in Egypt, and told by them that they were verily guilty of the wrong done to Joseph. After David had numbered the people, his heart smote him. Conscience had not been a bridle, and it was now a whip; it had not been a curb, therefore it was now a scourge. David did not hearken to the warnings, and therefore he feels the lashings of conscience. And when conscience justly accuses us, when it comes in with evidence according to the Word, we must hear it, for there God speaks. If a sun-dial be not set by the sun, it is no matter what it says; but if it is correct by the sun, we must hearken to it. So, if conscience does not speak according to the Word, we need not give heed to its accusations, but if it speaks according to evidence there, it is good to listen to it.
Sometimes conscience charges us falsely. It will perhaps tell us that those things are sin which are not sin. In this case it is an erroneous conscience and we are not to listen to it. At other times conscience will revive old cases, answered and satisfied long ago. Then it is a quarrelsome conscience, like a contentious troublesome fellow at law, and God will deal with it as an honest judge with such a fellow; He casts the charges out of court as matters not worth hearing, or as things that have been settled long ago. These accusations must not take hold of the soul. In this case, I say, when conscience condemns, God is greater than conscience, to acquit and absolve the soul.
But there is a fourth party which is ready to lay sin to the charge of God’s people, and that is the law. The law may come as accuser. How then can it be said, ‘Who shall lay any. thing to the charge of God’s elect?’, for if the law may accuse, we cannot be said to be free from the indictments and accusations of the law. I answer thus: if we speak of sins pardoned, neither conscience, nor Satan, nor law, has any right to accuse the people of God. God has justified them, and who then shall accuse?
Indeed, before faith, while we are under the law, we are subject to the accusations, judgments. and sentences of the law. The law not only accuses us then, but its sentence and curse take hold of us. It accuses us, as Christ told them that would not believe in Him, but looked for justification by the law: ‘Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust’ (John 5.45). The law by which they looked to be justified would accuse them. The law also sentences the sinner, and the sentence and curse take hold of him: ‘He that believeth not is condemned already . . . the wrath of God abideth on him’ (John 3.18, 36). So that while a man is under the law, before faith and interest in Christ, the law not only accuses but also condemns him.
As for those, however, who have an interest in Christ, the law cannot accuse them of sin committed before grace saved them, because it is pardoned, and thus this accusation is made void. Nor can the law accuse them of sin after grace saved them, sin after pardon. They are not subject to the accusations, arrests, and sentences of the law. The law cannot so accuse believers as to call them into the court of the law; so the word signifies, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?’; or rather, Who shall call them into court? The word not only signifies to accuse, but to summon to court (jus vocare). Yet the believer is freed from the law as a covenant, and hence from its judgments, sentences, condemnations, curses, and accusations. If it sends any of its officers to accuse us and arrest us for sin, we may refuse to obey and to appear in its court, for we are to be tried by another court; we are to be tried by the Gospel. If God’s people, when they have sinned. go to the right court, they will both sooner get sorrow for sin, and assurance of the pardon of sin; they will find more sorrow and less dismay for sin.
When I say that we are freed from the accusations of the law, I mean such accusations as are subordinate to condemnation. There is a twofold accusation, first, an accusation leading to conviction and humiliation for sin, second, an accusation resulting in sentence and condemnation for sin. All the accusations of the law against those who are under the law come under the second head. But all its accusations against the godly for sin are with a view to conviction and the humiliation of the godly under it, and so are subordinate to life and salvation. And so I conceive the law may accuse those who are, notwithstanding, the freemen of Christ. It may show them how far they come short of the glory of God, and how far they have wandered from the paths of righteousness, and may accuse them for it; but this results in humiliation, not condemnation. As I shall show hereafter, either this must be so, or else it must be denied that the law is a rule for believers.
But there are two queries that arise here. The first is whether the law may justly accuse us, seeing that we are not under it. Briefly I answer that we are not under its curses, but we are under its commands. We are not under the law for judgment, but we are under the law for conduct. So far as we walk not according to it, as a rule, it has an accusing power, though we are taken from under its condemning power. There is no further power left in the law than is for our good, our humiliation, our edification, and this is intended to lead to our furtherance in grace.
The second query is whether the law is just in its accusations against us, seeing we do not sin. This is founded on the previous query; if it be true that we are freed from the law as a rule or as a direction of life — were this so, it would be our bondage rather than our freedom — then our breaches of the law are not sin. If we are not subject to law, then we do not sin in the breaking of it, any more than we do if we break the laws of Spain or of any other nations, which are no laws to us.
I shall show later the invalidity and the danger of these two queries. In the meantime I must tell you that the law in its directive power remains with the believer. This must needs be plain from the words: ‘The law, which was four hundred and thirty years after (the promise), cannot disannul (the promise), that it should make the promise of none effect’ (Gal. 3.17). For if the law, as the apostle says, was given 430 years after the promise, then it was given either as a covenant or as a rule. But as a covenant it could not be given, for then God would have acted contrary to Himself, first in giving a covenant of grace and then one of works. Therefore He gave it as a rule, to reveal to us, after our justification by the promise, a rule of walking with God so that in all things we might please Him.
Furthermore, that can never be said to be a part of our freedom which is a part of our bondage; nor can that be said to be part of our bondage which is part of our holiness. But conformity to the law, and subjection to the law of God, is part of our holiness. Therefore it can never be said to be a part of our bondage. There is, indeed, a twofold subjection — the subjection of a son, and the subjection of a slave. We are freed from the one, namely, the subjection of a slave, which was a part of our bondage, but not from the other, namely, the subjection of a son, which is a part of our freedom. But I shall speak of this at greater length in the discourses that follow.
(d) Freedom from the rigour of the law
In the fourth place, observe that the believer is freed from the rigour of the obedience required in the law. He is not freed from the requirement of exact obedience, but from that rigour of obedience which the law required as a condition of salvation.
First, the law not only commanded difficult, but also impossible things of us. It laid a yoke upon us that we could not bear, and it would not, and could not, give us the least assistance towards obedience. As it was with the scribes and Pharisees, who laid heavy yokes and burdens on men’s shoulders but would not touch them with one of their fingers, so it is with the law. It lays heavy yokes upon us, but gives us not the least help or necessary strength for fulfilling its requirements. It commands, but gives neither strength nor grace for fulfilment. Therefore divines have compared the rigour of the law to the bondage of Israel under Pharaoh, who required the tale of bricks but supplied no straw. So, too, the law requires the full measure of obedience; it abates nothing in the command: but it gives no help for the fulfilment of it. It answers us in this matter as the priests did Judas, ‘See thou to that’.
But now in the Gospel we are freed from impossibilities. Here all things are possible, not in respect of ourselves but in respect of God, who has undertaken to work all our works in us and for us. Chrysostom blessed God that that which God required of him, He had given to him. Indeed, the works of the Gospel are as great as any works of the law, nay, greater, namely, to believe, which is a greater work than to do all the duties of the law. But God has given us more strength; we have communion with the power and strength of Christ. Just as ‘without me ye can do nothing’ (John 15.5), so ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’ (Phil. 4.13). A weak Christian and a strong Christ shall be able to do all. Nothing will be too hard for that man who has the strength of Christ to enable him, and the Spirit of Christ to work with him. If God commands the works of an angel, and gives us the strength of an angel, all will be easy. The works commanded may be difficult in respect of Divine imposition, but they are easy in respect of Divine co-operation. The law was a spiritual law, but the Gospel is the law of the Spirit (Rom. 8.2). It therefore enables us to do what it commands to be done. Take one instance. In Romans 6.12, the Spirit enjoins that we should not let sin reign in our mortal bodies. That is the command. Read on in verse 14: ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace’. There is the promise, linked with the reason for it; as if he had said, Had you been under the law you could not have expected such assistance, but you are under grace, and therefore shall have the power to obey.
Secondly, it belonged to the rigour of the law that the law required obedience in our own persons; it would not allow any to do or to work for us and help in the performance of its requirement. But we are now freed from this rigour, and God will accept of our obedience by another. There was a twofold debt that we owed to God, the debt of sin and the debt of service. These two were both transferred to Christ, and He has fulfilled all righteousness for us, both the obedience and the suffering, so that we are now said to be ‘complete in him’ (Col. 2.10), though in ourselves we are imperfect.
Thirdly, this belonged to the rigour of the law, that it required universal and actual, as well as personal, obedience, yea, and with such a degree of rigour that if a man failed in one tittle he was lost for ever: ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the law to do them’ (Gal. 3.10). Here was the call for an obedience, personal, universal, actual, constant and perpetual, failure in which in respect of any tittle at any time, brought a man under the curse of the law. AU his desires, all his endeavours, would not serve the turn. If he failed in the least tittle, he was undone for ever. No repentance, no tears, no prayers, no future amends would make up for the failure. The Gospel admits of repentance, but the law will not own it. The law looks for exact obedience in every jot and tittle. From this rigid obedience has God freed the believer. Instead of universal actual obedience, God is pleased to accept of universal habitual obedience, as we find it written: Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments’ (Ps. 119.6). Though there may be failing in action, yet where there is truth of affection, God can own it In the Gospel God accepts affections for actions, endeavours for performance, desire for ability. A Christian is made up of desires, of mournings, thirstings and bewailings: O that my ways were directed! O miserable man that I am! Here is Gospel perfection.
Adam’s want was will rather than power, ours rather power than will. There is the will to do, but the lack of power to do. Not that the will is now perfect, for as we cannot do the things we would do (there is flesh in our members), so we cannot will the things we should will (there is flesh in our wills); but yet, I say, the failing of God’s people is more from want of power than want of will. There is the will to do, but the power to do is lacking, as says the apostle: ‘To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not’ (Rom. 7.18). Yet God has mercy for ‘can-nots’, but none for ‘will-nots’. God can distinguish between weakness and wickedness. While you are under the law, this weakness is your wickedness, a sinful weakness, and therefore God hates it. Under the Gospel He looks not upon the weakness of saints as their wickedness, and therefore He pities them. Sin makes those who are under the law the objects of God’s hatred. Sin in a believer makes him the object of God’s pity. Men, you know, hate poison in a toad, but pity it in a man. In the one it is their nature, in the other their disease. Sin in a wicked man is as poison in a toad; God hates it and him; it is the man’s nature. But sin in a child of God is like poison in a man; God pities him. He pities the saints for sins and infirmities, but hates the wicked. It is the nature of the one, the disease of the other.
Fourthly, This again shows the rigour of the law, that it enforced itself upon the conscience with threats and with terror; but now the Gospel comes otherwise, with beseechings and with love. ‘I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God’ (Rom. 12.1). In the Gospel the spirit is not a spirit of bondage and fear, but a spirit of power and of love (Rom. 8:15; 2 Tim. 1.7). The law urges obedience upon pain of eternal death (Deut. 27.14-26; Gal. 3.10), and enforces its demands by terror, but the Gospel by sweetness and love; all terror is gone. The book of the law was placed between the cherubim and under the mercy-seat, to tell us that, under the Gospel, every law comes now to the saints from the mercy-seat.
All rigour has gone and nothing but sweetness is the motive to it, and the principle of obedience: ‘The love of Christ constrains us’ (2 Cor. 5.14), as the apostle says. There is nothing more powerful than love. Things impossible to others are easy to them that love. Love knows no difficulties: ‘My yoke is easy, my burden is light’ (Matt 11.30). Love is an affection that refuses to be put off by duties or difficulties which come between it and the person beloved. Jacob served a hard apprenticeship for Rachel, and yet, says the Scripture, he esteemed seven years ‘but a few days, for the love he had to her’ (Gen. 29.20). Love shortens time and facilitates labour, When Achilles was asked what enterprises he found the most easy of all he had undertaken in his life, he answered, ‘Those which I undertook for a friend.’ This is the spirit which God implants in His children, not a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love, which is the spring of all their actions, and which makes those things which otherwise would be tasks and burdens, refreshments and delights. A godly man takes in whatever concerns his happiness by faith, and lays out whatever concerns his duty by love. Faith and love are the all of a Christian. The apostle says so: ‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love’ (Gal. 5.6). Faith, like Mary, sits at the feet of Christ to hear His Word, and love, like Martha, compasses Him about with service. Faith is the great receiver, and love is the great disburser; we take in all by faith and lay out all by love. This, then, is another privilege which believers enjoy; they are freed from the rigour of the law. And there are other privileges also which, because I would hasten on, I shall but name.
(iv) Freedom from obedience to men
In the next place we observe that the believer is not only freed from Satan, from sin, and from the law; he is also freed from obedience to men. We have no lords over us; men are our brethren; and our Lord and Master is in heaven. We find in Scripture a double charge: do not usurp mastership, do not undergo servitude. Consider the first, not to usurp mastership. We read in the Word: ‘Be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. . . . Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ’ (Matt. 23.8-10)
As for the second, not to undergo servitude, we read: ‘Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men’ (1 Cor. 7.23). The meaning is, that we are not to acknowledge any our supreme master, nor are we to give our faith and consciences, nor enthral our judgments, to the sentences, definitions, or determinations of any man or men upon earth, because this would be to make men masters of our faith, which the apostle so much abhorred: ‘We are not masters of your faith, but helpers of your joy’ (2 Cor. 1.24). There are two kinds of masters, masters according to the flesh, and masters according to the spirit. The first kind you read of in Eph. 6.5-7: ‘Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh’. The second kind we read of in Matt. 23.8-10, as already mentioned. To our masters according to the flesh we are to be obedient, so far as appertains to the outward man, in all outward things. But of our souls and consciences, as we have no fathers, so we have no masters upon earth, only our Master and Father which is in Heaven; and in this sense Christ speaks, that we must not absolutely yield up ourselves to be ruled by the will of any, nor enthral our judgments, nor submit our faith and consciences to any power below Christ. It were high usurpation for any to require it; it is to trespass on Christ’s Royal Prerogative, and it were no less iniquity for us to render it. Thus much, then, for the fourth branch of our freedom; I may speak more upon it later.
(v) Freedom from death
Again, the believer is freed from death. There are three kinds of death: firstly, a spiritual death, the death of the soul in the body; secondly, a natural death, the death of the body from the soul; thirdly, an eternal death, the death of soul and body for ever. The first and third of these believers do not doubt of; all the question is about the second, namely, natural death, of which I shall say no more than this, that it is the body only that dies, man’s inferior part, yet our dust and bones are still united to the Son of God. But the believer is freed from death as a curse. The nature of death is taken away, and therefore the name is changed. It is but called a sleep, and a sleep in Christ, and a gathering to our fathers, a change, a departing. Death is the godly man’s wish, the wicked man’s fear. Aristippus, being asked in a storm why he did not fear as well as others, answered: ‘There is a great difference between us; they fear the torments due to a bad life; I expect the rewards due to a good life.’ There is another aspect to a believer’s freedom from death — he will not die until the best time. Indeed, none shall die until God’s time. What David said to his enemies, so may any man say: ‘My times are in thy hand’ (Ps. 31.15). But this is not always the best time: you may die with Belshazzar, carousing with Ananias and Sapphira, lying; with the nobleman, unbelieving1 with Julian,2 blaspheming. But this is the privilege of saints, that they shall not die until the best time, not until when, if they were but rightly informed, they would desire to die.
Men cut down weeds at any time, but their corn they will not cut down till the best time. ‘You are God’s husbandry’, says the apostle; you are His wheat, and when you are ripe, when you have done your work, then, and not till then, shall you be gathered into your Master’s garner.
(vi) Freedom from the grave
Lastly, believers will be freed from the grave, and this belongs to their consummated freedom. We shall but touch the subject by giving you three conclusions: (1) Though our bodies die and are consumed to dust, yet they shall rise fresh, heavenly and glorious. They shall arise perfect bodies, freed from sickness and all imperfections; spiritual bodies (1 Cor. 15.44), not in regard to substance but in regard to qualities; immortal bodies, never to die more; glorious bodies, every one filled with brightness and splendour, shining as the sun in the firmament (Dan. 12.3; Matt. 13.43). (2) The bodies rise as the same bodies. The same soul shall be re-united to the same individual body. This is a mystery. The philosophers dreamed of a transformation of bodies, or bodies transformed into new shapes; and of a transmigration of souls, or souls flitting into new bodies; but they could never apprehend the truth of this, the resurrection of the body. It was beyond them to think that this same individual and numerical3 body should rise again after being corrupted in water, consumed by fire, converted into earth, dissipated into air, eaten up by fishes and those fishes eaten by men. When Paul disputed this point at Athens, the great philosophers of the Epicureans laughed at him: ‘What will this babbler say?’ But the Scripture tells us that we shall see Him with these same eyes (Job 19.27). And it agrees with God’s justice that the same bodies which have sinned or suffered shall be punished or rewarded. (3) The soul and body shall never be parted more to all eternity. When a believer dies, by death he is freed from death; after this reunion there shall never be separation more.
FREEDOM IN ITS POSITIVE ASPECTS
So far, I have spoken of the negative aspects of Christian freedom.
I shall next speak a little on the positive aspect of the subject, what we are free unto, and will but name a few particulars:
(1) We are freed from a state of wrath and brought to a state of mercy and favour (Eph. 2.1-10).
(2) We are freed from a state of condemnation and brought to a state of justification (Rom. 8.1). Before, we were under the condemnation of the law because we had sinned, and of the Gospel because we believed not. But now there is ‘no condemnation’, not one condemnation. The law cannot condemn us because we have appealed from it; the Gospel cannot because we are now believers. God condemned sin in Christ that He might justify the sinner by Christ, and cast out condemnation for ever. ‘He will bring forth judgment unto victory’ (Matt. 12.10). ‘He will cast out condemnation for ever’ is the way in which an old writer construes the passage, and this sense it will bear.
(3) We are freed from a state of enmity and brought into a state of friendship: ‘And you that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works yet now hath he reconciled’ (Col. 1.21).
(4) We are freed from a state of death and brought to a state of life: ‘You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins’ (Eph. 2.1).
(5) We are freed from a state of sin and brought into a state of service: ‘We being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear’ (Luke 1.74). For this reason God discharged the debt of sin that we might render Him the debt of service. He freed us from the bonds of misery that we might take upon us the engagements of duty (Rom. 8.12). After mentioning all the benefits brought to the believer by Christ, he draws this inference: ‘Therefore, brethren, we are debtors’. He that thinks not service to be his freedom thinks not sin to be his bondage, and therefore he is in bondage.
(6) We are freed from a state of bondage, a spirit of slavery in service, and brought into a spirit of sonship and liberty in service. As Christ by His blood redeemed us from being slaves, so by His obedience and Spirit He has redeemed us to be sons. Now we are drawn to service, not with cords of fear, but with the bands of love; not by compulsions of conscience, but by the desires of nature (2 Peter 1.4). As the love of God to us was the spring of all His actions to us, so our love to God is the source of all our obedience to Him.
(7) In a word — for we cannot stay to name all — we are freed from death and hell, and brought to life and glory. Heaven is our portion, our inheritance, our mansion house. It was made for us, and we for it; we are vessels prepared for glory (Ram. 9.23). And this is called ‘the glorious liberty of the sons of God’ (Rom. 8.21; Eph. 1.14). To tell you what you are freed from, and what you shall enjoy hereafter — to take you to the top of Nebo and show you all this Canaan — would make you willing to lay down your bodies there (as did Moses) and go up to enjoy it. But it is far beyond man’s power to open this privilege to view, even a little. ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God bath prepared for them that love him’ (1 Cor. 2.9). Yet this is spoken of grace, and therefore what is glory? Could we but open this up to you, it were even enough to put you into Heaven while you are here upon earth. It is called the New Jerusalem, glory, joy, the Master’s joy, the Father’s house, the Kingdom of glory, Heaven, Light, Life, Eternal Life. Look but on that one place (2 Cor. 4.17): ‘For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’: glory, weight of glory, exceeding weight of glory, more exceeding weight of glory; a far more exceeding weight of glory, nay, a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory! And this is the glorious liberty of the sons of God! But I must conclude on this matter, because I would not willingly keep you off from that which is to be the chief part of my discourse.
We have thus briefly, as far as the breadth and scope of the subject would allow, finished the three general points which we proposed in the handling of this doctrine — the quality, the nature, and the branches of Christian freedom. I must now come to the application of what I have said, and the largeness of the subject will afford much comfort and caution, much direction and encouragement to the people of God. But I have other work to do first.
Samuel Bolton (1606-1654), successively a minister of three London parishes before becoming Master of Christ's College and later Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University. Bolton was sufficiently renowned in Puritan England as a scholar and divine, to be chosen as one of the Westminster Assembly of Divines which met in 1643 to introduce a second Reformation in English religion.
This article is taken from the Banner of Truth edition of The true bounds of Christian freedom and appears as Chapter one.