In any circle, whether learned or unlearned, the above caption would certainly be condemned as being illogical in the superlative degree. Illogical because it contains two elements which, according to popular opinion, are the very antithesis of each other. Law and liberty differ as much as day and night, in fact, they are at variance, they clash. Law is the antonym of liberty. Never has human understanding been able to harmonize the two; where there is law there is no liberty, and where liberty is the law is done away with.
The cause of being unable to harmonize the two can be traced to the fall of man. We may safely say that man fell because through the temptation of the evil one he refused to acknowledge the glorious harmony of law and liberty. Because Adam refused to be subject to the law of God he lost all liberty and became a slave. That same sin pervades every human heart even today. We foolishly persist to maintain that we obtain liberty not in living according to God, but in being God. God must not tell us what is good or evil, but we must be able to tell God. As soon as this stage has been attained liberty has become victorious and all bondage ceased. This was the temptation of Satan (Gen. 3:5), this was our fall, and this remains our sin today. This very notion is at the root of all earthly wisdom, which is foolishness; it is the very reason why man cannot harmonize law and liberty.
How different our viewpoint becomes when touched by grace. What a glorious harmony between law and liberty when we may be taught by God’s Word and Spirit. Glorious is the liberty of those who by grace have been taught not to assert themselves but to submit and listen. This is abundantly attested to in Scripture: “I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts” (Ps. 119:45); “Moreover by them (God’s precepts) is thy servant warned: and in keeping them there is great reward” (Ps. 19:11); “Great peace have they which love thy law” (Ps. 119:165). Though some may object to these passages because they belong to the dispensation of the law, their error and folly is proven from New Testament passages which convey the same sentiment; as for instance, many quotations from Christ wherein He definitely states that there is life and peace in loving God and the neighbor, which is the summary of the law. Thus also are they called blessed, “that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life and may enter in through the gates into the city.” (Rev. 22:14) What greater and more glorious liberty is there than this? Finally the apostle James speaks of “the perfect law of liberty.” (1:25; 2:12) All these passages certainly prove the fact, not only that there is a glorious harmony between law and liberty, but above all that the two are inseparable, the one includes and serves the other. Where there is not law, there is no liberty, and where liberty prevails, law reigns supreme.
How strange, then, that the sages of old have not found this harmony, and stranger still that in this day of wisdom and learning it is still wanting! However, the solution is simple: natural man abhors the indispensable prerequisite of all life and salvation, namely, liberty!
Superficially it appears that the obtainment of liberty has been the issue in all the endeavors and toil of man. “Give me liberty or give me death,” seems to be the motto engraved upon all the efforts of our fellow men. Yet, it is nothing but a sham. Though blood has flowed as rivers and men have sacrificed all in the quest of liberty, the truth remains, man is an enemy of liberty.
How can it be different? Can an idiot employ the powers of mind and will? Can the dead crave life? How utterly impossible! How then can the enslaved seek liberty? And man is a slave! Not bound with outward fetters, but bound inwardly. If he were bound outwardly, if he were tied hand and foot, he would have excuse, he could be pitied, he would be the victim of circumstances. It would then be possible for him to be occupied with the study and contemplation of liberty. He could pray and long, and possibly employ methods for its realization. But now man is bound inwardly. That changes things! Then his heart and mind and will are bound to the perfect satisfaction of him who has enslaved him. Never need the captor fear his release for the captive cannot so much as think of liberty. Being without the power to think of liberty, how could he ever desire, yea, seek it?
Is not man just such a slave? Can he meditate on and seek liberty? Surely, he does meditate and earnestly he seeks all the days of his life. He wills and desires and endeavors to live as he pleases. He seeks a life without care and sorrow. He longs for a utopia wherein he shall reign supreme, where no one shall dictate, where all his thoughts and desires shall be perfectly realized. But is this liberty? Will man really find satisfaction in this mode of life. Is not Solomon’s estimate thereof sound, when he says: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing”? The man of pleasure looks forward to more pleasure; the man of money to more money, the man of business to greater and better business; the man of influence to more power, the child to adolescence, the youth to manhood, the man to old age, and so man’s life is full of labor. Truly, the world is always despondent in the midst of their so-called liberty. Man by nature, in all his striving for liberty, can do nothing but involve himself in a greater, more desperate bondage; for man is a slave of sin. Through sin he has become a fool; a fool seeking liberty in the bondage of sin, seeking life apart from God.
True liberty can only be sought for, will only be desired and found when the power of sin, which enslaves us, is broken. Through sin we are enemies of God. With all our heart and soul and mind and strength we hate all that is in Him. We cannot, neither will we seek to be His covenant friends, because we do not care for the life and joy and peace that He alone can bestow. Neither do we care for nor seek after His law and precepts. They are not our delight. With all the faculties of our heart, mind, and will we transgress His laws and trod them under foot. We are always in rebellion against God. It is for this very reason that we cannot as much as long for, neither seek liberty, far less shall we ever find it. For liberty is not living as we choose and please, but a life perfectly in harmony with God’s law which He ordained for us. A life wholly in agreement with the will of God is liberty. A fish has liberty only then when it remains in the God ordained waters and rejects the dry ground. A tree has liberty when deeply rooted in the earth and does not expose its roots to the clear, pure air. Thus man has liberty when he is perfectly conformable to God’s law, not only outwardly, but also inwardly with all the thoughts of his heart and with the desires of his will. Then, says the Psalmist, “will I walk at liberty,” and great will be our peace. Then it will be unnecessary to try and enter the city by the cumbersome way of thieves and murderers for we will have right to the tree of life and may enter in through the gates.
As all creation is governed by some law ordained by the Creator of all things, so also liberty is governed by a law. Without conformity to this law it is hopelessly beyond reach.
From what has been treated and discussed we can readily conclude that the Ten Commandments are not the sum and substance of the law of liberty. It is absolutely impossible that the law given by Moses can make men free. The law of Horeb leaves us bound. Under its yoke we continue to be enslaved because it comes to us from without, and our bondage is not an outward but an inward bondage. The law merely forbids and commands without changing our inward status. It leaves all fetters of our spiritual bondage intact. The result is that we are not liberated but condemned. It impresses upon us the awful reality that we are in bonds of death and slaves of sin. Hence, the Ten Commandments are known merely as the Moral Law and therefore will never be known as the Perfect Law because it does not give liberty.
But James speaks of the Perfect Law because it is a law that gives liberty. It is a law which liberates from those inward bonds which enslave us to sin and deprive us of the glorious liberty, known only to the sons of God. A law through whose instrumentality we are brought forth into this world as sons of God and our being children of darkness is past.
That perfect law of liberty is also referred to by the apostle James as “the word of truth.” (1:18) That “word of truth” is Scripture in its entirety. The “perfect law of liberty” is not merely the Gospels, or the law, but the Gospel from Genesis through Revelation. In it God has revealed to us the liberty of the sons of God and the way in which it is obtained. Scripture, the perfect law, because it gives liberty!
From this we must not conclude the erroneous idea that the truth of Scripture itself gives liberty. The gospel itself does not liberate. One can preach this law of liberty in dead earnest and with all his might, but thereby he shall never liberate one soul from the bondage of sin. On the other hand, a person may be an enthusiastic lover of evangelization because he therein may offer to all men the so-called “well-meant offer of salvation” and thus open to all the opportunity to procure liberty. But it is misplaced zeal, he is influenced by something purely imaginative. The glorious expectations of such an “Evangelist” will never be realized, his castles were but of a hallucinatory perception. For natural man, when placed before the perfect law of liberty, will always choose the bondage or his sin rather than the glorious liberty expounded in the gospel, because man is bound. The enslaved can never seek liberty, neither can he will to choose it. The new life of liberty must first have been conceived before it can be born. Birth does not create a child, but birth takes place because the creation of a new life preceded. Birth is the inevitable result of conception. So it is also spiritually. Before the birth of the life of liberty can take place this new life must first have been created. This creation takes place in the act of regeneration which is an immediate act of the Holy Spirit. By this act of regeneration new life is instilled within man. It is the life of God. It is not of the earth, earthly, but out of heaven, heavenly. It has no delight in sin, but its delight is in the law of God, and thereupon it meditates day and night. Regeneration redeems, delivers man from his spiritual bondage.
The creation of this new life, however, is not sufficient. Conception must be followed by birth. So also this new life must not only be instilled within the heart, but it must also be born. It must become manifest, it must develop. The bringing forth of this life, its birth, the conscious realization of the life of liberty is attained by the instrumentality of the word of truth, the gospel of God in Christ Jesus. Because of the instrumentality of the word to this end it is called the perfect law of liberty.
God’s Word is the law of liberty because in it we find the norm according to which this new life, which is liberty, must develop and become manifest. The reason why this law of liberty, the word of truth, is able to develop this life, is threefold. Firstly, it reveals to us, by grace, the bondage of sin and iniquity wherein we are enslaved. Because this word speaks to us of sin and guilt and death. It reveals to us, as a mirror, our natural face, our nature which is condemned because of sin and death which we have willfully chosen. Secondly, this law liberates, because it unfolds the liberation from sin and death in the blood of Christ. It proclaims pardon full and free for those who believe in Him. It assures that by the power of the precious blood of the cross man is made free of the guilt of sin and of the corruption of his natural heart. Thirdly, this law reveals to us the life of those having been liberated. The life of liberation is the life of love to and friendship with God. It is the life which hates sin and all iniquity and finds a perfect delight, not only in some, but in all the law of God. It seeks His face, it longs for His communion, it desires and invokes His blessing. The sum total of these three points is the life of liberty. Because God’s word, the word of truth, contains these elements and qualities, it is not only called “The Law of Liberty” but “The Perfect Law of Liberty.”
Happy, therefore, is the people whose delight is in this law. Surely, great peace have they whose meditation it is both day and night. No wonder that he abiding in its light has a right to the tree of life and shall enter into the city through the gates.
Should not this Word become more and more the object of our study? With a view to the blessed liberty therein proclaimed are we not utterly foolish in not making it our personal meditation and that of our children?
Blessed is the man whose soul is restored by Jehovah’s perfect law!