Reprinted from When Thou Sittest In Thine House, by Abraham Kuyper, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1929. Used by permission of Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“Liberty” is the magic word of our age.
No tie, no limitation, no confining or encircling of your person or of your life.
Our self, our individual being, our own insight and our own will, presently our own inclination and desire, must be our only law.
And where one still continues to be called “Christian,” or even in a more serious sense still wants to be a confessor of Christ, and therefore does not say: “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast their cords from us” (Ps. 2:3), and far less in the “ni Dieu ni maitre” (no God and no master) takes up the cry of the revolution, yet as Christian one dares to demand the large place for the “lambs of Christ.”
On conscience, more than on God’s Word, one will depend. One’s own insight and one’s own inspiration is of higher validity than the confessional standards of the church. And not the spiritual being-bound in the Body of Christ but liberty, that moves itself about the pivot of one’s own conviction, must have the promise of eternal life.
Such is the fanaticism with respect to a false idea of liberty, which is devoid of all harmony and deprived of all counter-poise. And such is no less the fanaticism with respect to our own individual excellency, which from the circles of the revolution has gradually gained admittance also in the circle of confessors of the Christ.
By a talented writer like Vinet, unintentionally on his part, this untrue movement has found its seductive interpretation.
Without knowing it, and equally unintentionally, John Darby has given to this revolutionary Christendom a form and an expression of its own.
The thesis heralded even among us, that the age of confessional churches is past, and that henceforth Christendom will float upon the mysticism of the heart, has given admission to this unchristian purport in wide circles.
And if in these our times one would describe this critical phenomenon by a short word from Holy Scripture, there could ever yet no better expression be found than what we read in Hosea 4:16.
For insooth, what at this false viewpoint even a Christian desires to be is nothing else nor better than a lamb in a large place.
The lamb does not belong in a large place.
The place of the lamb is in the sheepfold, or, when it goes grazing, with the flock, under the eye of the shepherd.
The lamb must not go for pasture where it chooses, but must confine itself to the narrow range appointed by the shepherd.
Large places are for wild animals that wander from forest to forest and by night come forth from among the trees, that, according to the picturesque expression of Psalm 104, they may “seek their meat from God.”
And when the lamb that belongs in the sheepfold and with the flock, but not in the large place, hankers after that large place and, possessed of longing, wanders off to that large place, it is exposed to a thousand dangers and feels itself pursued and restless and, unless the faithful shepherd finds and carries it back, it becomes a prey to the wolf that lies in waiting.
What Jesus says of the good shepherd, who for a moment leaves his ninety and nine to fetch back to the flock the one sheep that strayed, is precisely the same image that is drawn by Hosea of the “lamb in the large place.”
The “lamb in the large place” is the image of man, of the youth, of the child of God, who cannot bear the bands, who before all things else wants to be free, and who deems in the large place to be able to watch over himself.
The “lamb in the large place” is the prodigal son who wandered off in the world, and in that wide, wide world ended with sitting down weeping in the midst of the husks of swine.
“In a large place” to walk about to one’s heart’s content, such is the sinful trait which at the awakened and awakening life naturally exhibits itself in our human nature.
Not in the house, but in the street.
Not under parental oversight, but free man in the world.
Not bound by ordinances and usages of life, but play with life after one’s own inclination and whim.
Such and not otherwise is the trait that awakes in the heart of every youth when he approaches the stature of a man.
Out from the sheepfold, away from the flock, to a large place, begins with being the thirst of every heart.
The more one is out in a large place, the freer and the more unconstrained, the happier one is, and the more highly honored by his equals.
This is not everyone’s good fortune. There are those who, by sheer necessity of life and by the arduous day-task or by a weak constitution, are held back from this vacuous, dangerous large place.
But there are others who persistently carried their point, who unarmed and unhindered entered into the large place and boasted that at length they were as free as fish in water or as birds in air.
And when in the end accounts are examined, what has become of all these young men, or young women, who managed to get out into the large place?
Insooth, a few strong, vigorous natures have in the open field held themselves aloof from the wolf.
There are those whom God in His grace took hold of in the open field and brought them back to His sheepfold.
But who can count them, the perished ones and those forever lost, who have paid the price of their wanderings about in the large place, in the loss of honor and virtue, of the plenitude of their strength, and of the promise of their future?
Let no one deem that the evil trait, as lambs to wander off in the open spaces, mortifies with the years of youth.
Rather, be it in modified form, this evil trait continues to follow after us until our death. And every time again, even among God’s best children, you meet with self-willed natures that love spiritual wanderings and deem that, when they have withdrawn themselves from the discipline of God’s majesty, things will be better.
So to all appearances they live their spiritual life on their own responsibility. They have their own code of morals, which at one time arrests them at some point of law, and then again allows so much to pass by unheeded.
So they wander along in all sorts of paths of eccentric teachings or of excessive spiritual fanaticism.
No connection of the past, no tie of church or creed, has any more hold on them. They are they that have been set at liberty, and therefore freeChristians, and without compunction surrender themselves to the lust of their spiritual eye.
So they wander round and about, pitching their tent now in the woods and again in the barren wilderness. And in the wolf they no longer see an enemy. But against the dog of the shepherd is concentrated all their hatred.
Or with them the spiritual is nothing but semblance, and under this pious mask they seek, worse yet, the lust of their heart, if not the evil lust of their flesh.
They still hear the voice of the shepherd calling: “Turn back!” but they will not turn back. They choose their own paths, and their heart beats faster within them, if they may but roam and wander about in large places according to their own caprice.
And so they get farther and farther away from God, they become more and more unused to Him, and the narrowness of the sheepfold begins more and more to offend them.
Till at length everything can pass, while at an evil hour something of the wolf-nature is entered into the nature of the wandering lamb that has altogether gone astray.
And worst of all is that God the Lord not merely allows such wandering off, but sometimes lets it come upon us as a punishment, and brings it over us as a judgment under which we must succumb.
By Hosea the Lord of Israel says: I will feed them as a lamb in a large place.” That is: I will harden their heart. I will make them wander off from the flock. I will make them lose the path to the sheepfold. And it will be Myholy judgment that at length they wander about and go astray as a lamb in a large place of the unprotected field.
When God’s first child, Adam the father of us all, sins away his Eden, God drives him out from Paradise, and exiles him to the broad places of the world, where thorns and thistles are prepared for him.
And so the Lord still does.
When it concerns a child of God’s grace, of course, it is always with the purpose, and unalterably with the result, that the lamb in the large place at length begins to feel his need and death, and becomes conscious again of homesickness after the sheepfold, and by the faithful Shepherd is brought back again to the flock, that God’s angels might rejoice and God’s grace in His child might triumph.
But woe to him who ever allowed himself to think: “Why should I not wander off? I am still God’s child. In the end I will be all right,” and under this deceitful pretense strangled reproach in his heart, stopped the ear to the voice of the Shepherd, and recklessly persevered in his roaming.
And therefore—since now again the lambs that wander about in large places are so many—by this brief word let the call go out to all who wandered off: “Abandon your false liberty-urge and turn back! The place for the lamb that has been purchased by the most precious blood is not in the large place, but in the arms and at the heart of his Savior.”