Freedom of speech has to do with words.
So obvious is that fact that it might seem utterly unnecessary even to mention it. Speech and words belong to each other, for when we speak, we speak words. That again is so obvious that it seems superfluous. Yet the point we wish to make is indicated in that other form of expression that is used, when men speak of freedom of the press rather than freedom of speech. Freedom of speech as we know it in our land is not simply the freedom or liberty to speak up and express one’s convictions without fear of penalty or persecution. It means that he may also print that which he believes and set up words in permanent form for educational purposes.
Speech is the expression of thought and desire. And it makes little difference whether that expression is sounded out by the spoken word or whether it is set down on paper by means of letters, whether it is sent forth into the air by sounds or-shown by the printed letter. It is because of this freedom of speech or of the press that we have our newspapers, our magazines and books. In these the thoughts of men are expressed, propagated and even preserved for unborn generations.
And let us not underestimate the power of this written word nor underestimate both its value and its danger. Consider once what joy floods the soul at the receipt and reading of a letter from a loved one. What an impact likewise a letter containing sad news can have upon the soul of the reader. Whether the word is spoken or whether it is read makes little difference. It is the idea behind the words spoken or written that counts. They produce the one effect or the other. The policeman does not need to stand on the corner of the street and shout at you the word, Stop! It is sufficient to have it written in letters upon the sign. And the summons to appear in court that is handed to you, and consists of a series of letters printed upon a sheet of paper, carries all the power that the diplomatically tempered, and mild-spoken words of the officer who filled it out and handed it to you carry. Or it might have been left under the windshield wiper of your car while you were busy elsewhere and violated the parking ordinance.
Even more. We have the speech of God in printed form. We have the Scriptures or the Writings. It is the Word of God. It is His speech to His Church. There is not more value in hearing it on a tape recording than in reading it from the printed page. The one may be easier for us than the other. The one may be impossible and the other the only way to know that which God has revealed of Himself as the God of our salvation in Christ. For the blind the recording may be the only way in which he can receive it. For the deaf the reading of that Word of God is the only way for him to be instructed by it. But who would dare to claim that the one derives more benefit than the other because the mode of his reception is superior? The God Who spoke also moved men to write His Word. We never hear Him speak audibly and personally today as He did to Adam in Paradise, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to the prophets in the Old Dispensation. But is that truth which we have from these upon the printed page of less value? Does the printed page lose some of the power and beauty of the truth? Then why did the glorified Christ give to the Apostle John on the Island of Patmos letters to the seven churches ? Why did He not send a man over there to speak the same words?
But consider this, by the printed page and through the freedom of the press as we know it in our land, man’s speech is preserved for ages to come. Though a man be long dead he can yet move men to tears or to laughter by his words penned down centuries before. By his words on the printed page he can move you to suspense and shivers by his horror and mystery tales. Though his earthly frame has long returned to the dust, he can yet by his words which he left behind in that printed form hold you in rapt attention or comfort you in your anxious moments. Though he is no longer in the land of the living he can make you enjoy the things of life by his vivid and beautiful description of the things of’ creation. He can fill your soul with poetry and a song even though his own soul has left this earth many centuries ago.
Scripture speaks that way. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews says of Abel in Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he is righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.” And again in the first verse of the next chapter he states that in all these “heroes of faith” of whom we learn on the printed page of Holy Writ we have a cloud of witnesses. They speak to us from the pages of the Scriptures, the Holy Writings. And this they do though their tongues have long ceased to move and have instead returned to the dust from whence they came.
So it is likewise with those who have not the true freedom of speech and are under the power of the lie. They still speak to us and will speak to the coming generations. Their wicked philosophies, their immoral thoughts and God-dishonoring opinions did not die with their bodies. Their evil thoughts are still free to circulate amongst men of later generations. So significant and dangerous is this speech that is written and preserved after the soul of the speaker has departed for another realm. At the moment of this writing there is a nation-wide scare concerning contaminated cranberries which might induce cancer. People refuse to buy any cranberries. Suggestions are being given as to substitutes for the Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner which traditionally calls for cranberry sauce. A thing like that men fear. Cancer is a dreaded physical disease. It means death. But this spiritual cancer, this rottenness that circulates so freely in our land in magazine and book strikes little fear in the hearts of men. And the right and liberty of man to propagate and preserve for generations to come that which is written to eat away at the soul of the believer and his children to destroy their faith and bring about their spiritual death is defended. After all that is the democratic way of life. Men are known and lauded for taking the stand that though they disagree with another they will fight for the other’s right to maintain and propagate his contrary views. Now that is perfectly all right when there is nothing spiritual or ethical involved. But I surely may not set my seal of approval upon the right of the false teacher to propagate his evil views and try to deceive me and my children and turn me away from Christ. I may not grant him that right. The Apostle John says, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed; For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds,” II John 11-12. No, we do not mean to say that it is the duty of the civil authorities to exercise Christian discipline. It has its own sphere and the Church has its sphere of action, and each one must exercise discipline in its own sphere. Before God the false teacher has no right to try to influence and persuade others by his lie. Before me, therefore, he may not have that right either, and I may not grant it to him. That it is not in the domain of the State to punish him for this evil work does not imply that he has the right. The king may walk in all manner of evil and be immune from the discipline of his subordinates, but that does not mean that he actually has the right to walk in wickedness and that men must grant him that right.
And for you and me it surely means that we do everything in our power to keep from our children these theories and heresies except to show them the error therein. We may not let them read, study and digest what is written without warning them against the errors that militate against the truth which we desire to have them believe. Nor can we expect the words of their mouths and the meditations of their hearts to be acceptable to God when they are allowed to read all the evil thoughts of depraved men without carefully and faithfully exposing to them the errors and godlessness in these writings. We may not let them be free to absorb any speech they please and to believe anything that comes off the printing press. That is a freedom of speech which we as parents and as office bearers in the Church of God may not allow. Our government may give the wicked the freedom to publish and distribute these evil thoughts and may even classify them as beautiful thoughts, but as Christians it is our calling to point out to our children that they are not free to believe all the words that they may read or hear.
Are you a parent who turns his child loose and gives him the freedom to read and believe what he pleases? Do you believe that he is free to take into his soul the filth of the world, if he likes? Let me assure you that this is not walking in His fear. And I can likewise assure you that your children will not be free to speak God’s praise and to bless Him. Need we point out that the overwhelming majority of the books and magazines written today are written by the unbeliever and express his wicked ideas of unbelief and ridicule for and contempt of the things spiritual. Let us keep it away from our children as zealously as we strive to keep contaminated cranberries off their table. Be as serious about their spiritual wellbeing as you are about their physical wellbeing. And remember that it is your calling to keep them free from the wicked speech of men. In that respect there are also many radio programs from which you must keep them, programs wherein the speech is corrupted by cursing and swearing, blasphemy and ridicule of the things spiritual. We may not invite this wickedness into our homes, and surely we may not promote its entrance into the hearts and minds of our children. It may be an educational program, one that imparts scientific knowledge and widens the vision of your child in regard to this great earth wherein our covenant God has placed us. But if it is not free from this evil speech, it may not have access into your home.
You may call that a very narrow minded and old fashioned idea. So freely do men speak their hatred of the things spiritual and holy that they have the freedom to call the things of His fear by such names. But let me remind you or inform you of that which old fashioned and narrow minded but saintly men of God wrote in a time when the Church took a definite stand about such matters. In the Heidelberg Catechism the treatment of this matter of cursing and swearing has this question and answer, “What is required in the third commandment? That we, not only by cursing or perjury, but also by rash swearing, must not profane or abuse the name of God; nor by silence or connivance be partakers of these horrible sins in others . . .” And again, “Is then the profaning of God’s name by swearing and cursing, so heinous a sin, that His wrath is kindled against those that do not endeavour, as much as in them lies, to prevent and forbid, such cursing and swearing? It undoubtedly is, for there is no sin greater or more provoking to God, than the profaning of His name: and therefore He has commanded this sin to be punished with death.” That is language that manifests the fear of the Lord. Neither by silence or connivance are we to be partakers of these terrible sins. We are to prevent and forbid as much as in us lies the practice of these evils. Does that not mean that we forbid our children to read and listen to it whenever we can keep it from them? This thing which men call freedom of speech and is lauded as one of the benefits of Christianity is so often the principal tool of the Antichrist. Watch out for it, and keep your children free from his spoken and printed speech.