Liberty or freedom has been variously defined as follows: 1. Freedom from restraint; 2. exemption from the power and the control of another; 3. the power of acting as one thinks fit; 4. a state of exemption from positive law. Some of the above-cited definitions are not of a kind that should be endorsed. For, when analyzed, they turn out to be the gateway to a positively unchristian thought-structure. The saint of old who sang, “O how love I thy law; It is my meditation all the day. . . . I understand more than the ancient, because I keep thy precepts. . . .” was superbly free. Liberty and independence are not synonymous terms.
So, too, do men distinguish between various kinds of liberty, such as, 1. natural liberty,—consisting in the power of acting as one thinks fit without any constraint except from the laws of nature; 2. civil liberty, —the liberty of men in a state of society so far only restrained as is necessary for the safety and interest of the society; 3. religious liberty,—the freedom and right of adopting and enjoying opinions on religious subjects, and of worshipping the Supreme Being according to the dictate of conscience; 4. moral liberty,—liberty, in metaphysics, is defined as the power of an agent to do are to forbear any particular action according to the determination of thought.
Whereas the elements entering into the makeup of true freedom may be derived from Holy Writ, let us pass by for the present the materials presented above and turn to this Book. Scripture denominates true liberty glorious, associates it with the Spirit and declares, further, that the believer is one made free by Christ. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36), “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. . . .” (Gal. 5:1). “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (II Cor. 3:17). “Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).
The negative side of true liberty is, according to Scripture, an exemption from all cruel restraint, a deliverance from the devastating wrath of God together with its agents such as sin, Satan and the world, the grave, death and hell. “Being then made free from sin. . . .” (Rom. 6:18). “Christ hath redeemed (secured our freedom with the price of His blood) from the curse of the law. . . .” (Gal. 3:13). “And to wait for His Son from heaven whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come,” so Christ taught His followers to pray. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are. . . .” (Rev. 20:10). The apostle jubilantly exclaims: “O death, where is thy sting? 0 grave, where is thy victory. The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to Cod, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-57).
The conclusion, then, is warranted that the term liberty is synonymous to the term salvation, and signifies a saving from the greatest possible evil and the / coming into the possession of the highest possible good. Strictly speaking, the substantiative liberation denotes the actual saving process and the term liberty denotes the possession and enjoyment of the good bestowed, to wit, that state of spiritual and physical wellbeing, of peace, joy and blessedness peculiar to one who takes upon him Christ’s yoke and knows himself to be reconciled with God; who, having been reclaimed from death, and cleansed from sin, beholds with purged and glorified sense organs, God’s face, enjoys His blessed friendship, and is satisfied by His glorious image. This is the true state of liberty. To be truly free is to truly live, thrive, develop and to be truly happy. Bliss, then, is one of the elements entering into the makeup of true freedom.
Further, he who is truly free is morally free. Such a one acts in accordance with character and in agreement with the deepest longings of his being. His deed is the fruit of a plant rooted in the sub-soil of his heart. It exhibits traits of character, agrees with nature and is the crystallization of thought and volition. Therefore the tree is known by the fruit it bears. No one is not free in this last-cited sense. Determinism should have to signify a psychical state in which the subject acts, yet is not the subject of the action; a state in which the deed is done without a psychical root, without motive and purpose and the support of volition and thought, a deed, therefore, which neither exhibits traits of character nor agrees with the nature of the doer. Fact is, however, that there are no such deed. Even one active in sleep or while under the influence of some powerful drug exhibits the hidden man. Even a slave performing the assigned task because threatened by the lash, is morally free. True, the impulse here is not love but fear. However, the fear is the man, and the service rendered a matter of thought and volition. The slave thinks it best to will to labor instead of taking the lash. He so decides. If man, when acting under the impulse of fear, is not morally free, neither is he responsible. In this case one denying the name of Christ when persecution threatens, is without sin. Fact is, however, that the deed is the man, though this man be the actor on the stage, and the part played, murder. True, this actor is not the subject of the crime he plays but of his playing of the crime and is therefore being held responsible for the profession he chose. Determinism, in the above described sense, is a nonentity. It does not exist except in the mind of the philosopher. So, too, the theory of common grace. For its exponents cannot afford to style the good works sinners do the outgrowth of the bad tree. A concession of this kind would amount, they feel, to a denial of the doctrine of the total depravity of man. The good deed done, so it is said, is not the man but the Spirit. If so, this deed is without human impulse and design, is not the crystallization of human thought and volition, and partakes not of the character of the nature of the human agent. Yet it is called a good work. It is a work, however, that exists only in the mind of these philosophers.
However this may be, true freedom implies moral freedom. However, the moral freedom of the saint is of a unique type. The saint acts in agreement with a new nature, and exhibits, when in action, the traits of one quickened by the Spirit of Christ and cleansed in the blood of the lamb. The impulse, here, is not fear but love; and the good deed the expression of thought and volition constituted of the indwelling word and of a program of life Christ drafted for His followers.
Herewith we have suggested what, in conjunction with the high type of the believer’s freedom, constitutes the secret of true liberty. To be truly free is to live in conformity with divine law designed for a being reconciled to God. Such a one possesses the blessed friendship of the Most High, walks and talks with God, is enveloped by His love and embraced by His Almighty arms. The believer, being one whose pride has been thawed out by God’s grace is one who needs and craves the law as the hart panteth after the water brooks. The commandment he loves more than pure gold; and it makes him wiser than all his enemies; it is the lamp unto his feet and the light upon his path. Law is the element in which he lives and flourishes. The fish cast upon dry land is no longer free. Having been taken out of its element it perishes. What the water is to the inhabitants of the sea, law is to the saint. It constitutes the living water with which he feeds his soul, the air he breathes, the light in which he moves and thrives and attains to that high point of bliss known in Scripture as life eternal. The term law as we now use it is not the signification of a mere precept but of a word—the word of God, that directs itself to the sanctified will and intelligence of the believer. It is a word that reflects the wisdom and glory of God. Hence, to be nourished with this word, is to be fed with the mercy of the Lord; and to walk in its light is to abide in the light of God’s countenance so that the atmosphere in which the saints live and prosper is in the final instance one of Divine love. True freedom, then, consists in being pure in heart. For such a one is like God and is therefore capable of appreciating God and seeing His face.
We are now ready to make a few observations. 1. True freedom is more than mere moral freedom. The wicked one is morally free yet not truly free. 2. Such terms as liberty, independency and lawlessness are not synonymous terms. True freedom is independency only in the event man is loosed from the powers of iniquity. But a life apart (ethically and spiritually) from God is death so that to cleave to the Almighty is life and liberty. True freedom is lawlessness only in the event the law is the law of sin. To live in conformity with what God deems right and proper is to be superbly free.
Let us elucidate some of these matters. That the despicable reverse of true liberty is a life and conduct at odds with law and God is a stern truth first verified by the hard experiences of the first parents of the human race. To man God said: “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it” (Gen. 2:16, 17). The reasoning of the serpent was fitted to make it appear as if God was dealing deceptively with His creature by blocking his way to the attainment of some higher good and that for the purpose of safeguarding His (God’s) interests. Said the serpent: “Thou shalt not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). “O man, cast off God’s yoke, set up thine own standards of conduct and become as God. To come to your own, so the devil had succeeded in making man believe, is to cut lose from God and to assert thyself as one capable of being law unto himself.” “Giving ear to the words of the devil, man transgressed the commandment of life which he had received, and by sin separated himself from God, who was his true life, having corrupted his whole nature, whereby he made himself liable to corporal and spiritual death” (Confession, Art. 14).
This spiritually dead sinner is described in Scripture as “a servant of sin” (Rom. 6:18), as “a servant of corruption, overcome by sin and therefore in bondage of sin” (2 Pet. 2:19). This servitude is described, further, as a thralldom involving fallen man in unspeakable misery, and defined as constituting the horrible reverse of that blessed boon called liberty. It is not the view of Scripture, however, that man’s misery consists in his being servant. If so, the saint’s plight would be as sorry as that of the sinner, as both are servants, the former of Christ and of righteousness, the latter of sin. “What then?” asks the apostle, “shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? Rut God be thanked that ye were the servants of sin but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which we delivered to you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:14-19). Man, then, is either a servant of God or of the devil, of sin or of righteousness. Not to serve and still be free one must needs be God. Of the urge to worship man cannot undo himself, for it is interwoven with the very texture of his soul. In fact, it is the man. If God be not the one sought and enshrined, it is the creature,—the great of the earth,—that “man of sin, the son of perdition: who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God. . . .”—Satan. That freedom consists in doing without a master is one of the illusions of sin. Likewise that one can serve sin and not come to grief. Wherein, once more, does the woe of the spiritual serf consist? In this that he is the servant of sin. This is the matter to which attention must now be directed. In doing so, let it be said by way of introduction that the holy writers often draw away with their minds sin from the thing which has it (the sinner) and speak of it as something apart, as a thing endowed with personality, intelligence and volition setting itself up in man as his lord. This perfectly legitimate mental action, enabled the aforesaid writers to bring man face to face with all the cruel and gruesome aspects of his sin and misery. Fact is, however, that sin is the habit of the man and has, therefore, no independent existence. Only in the mind can it be thought of as something apart. The ordinances of cleansing, the institution of circumcision, the ordinance of baptism, the scriptures designating man a spiritual corpse or a filthy organism needing to be purged, all concur in substantiating the view that sin is habit, a corruption of the whole nature of man. If so, man’s spiritual serfdom is so absolutely fixed as to necessitate an almighty deliverer. For the revivification of the dead and the changing of a nature are tasks to which no mere human is equal. Whereas nature does not change, so it is universally admitted, and whereas the dead cannot, have never been known, to reclaim themselves, man must remain what he is forever unless overshadowed by the grace of the Almighty God.
Sin, then, is corruption. The man is sinful—a sinner. Such (scriptural) phraseology as the old man of sin, the body of sin and the body of this death signify that the entire organism is contaminated—the mind, the will and the heart as to all its hidden recesses. Hence, when this organism, this body—man—wills and thinks, it sins. And the crystallization of the thought and volition—the deed—is likewise thoroughly corrupt so that this entire body must be put off and all its members crucified,—the deed, and the desire, the thought, and the volition of which this deed is the outgrowth and the tangible exhibition, together with the corrupt soil in which the plant is rooted and thrives, to wit, the human heart. Says the Lord through the mouth of the prophet: “And I will take away the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh: that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and do them. . . .” (Ezek. 11:19). And Paul: “If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts. . . .” (Eph. 4:21, 22). Let them, if they can, swing their philosophy to the effect that this old man (the exponents of common grace would as yet not dare to publicly deny that the unregenerated sinner is anything but old man) performs deeds which are morally good, in line with the apostle’s teaching to the effect that this same man, being corrupt, must be put off? To be consistent they should have to remove the above-cited passage (and very many more) from the page of his Bible and place in its room some such sentence as: “That ye put off in part concerning the former conversation the old man, which would be totally and absolutely corrupt if it were not for the healing influences of common grace.”
Salvation, however, spells not the destruction but the redemption of man’s essence.
Such terms as regeneration, and sanctification, together with the many passages in Holy Writ that depict the elect human as one cleansed, prove conclusively that the corrupt organism is not annihilated but quickened, cleansed, restored and differs, consequently, not substantially but qualitatively from the old. The crucifixion of the unhallowed members is a cleansing process and constitutes the other side of a bring into relief of a man whose dispositions differ so radically from the one made to disappear as to justify the use of such phraseology as mortification of the old man of sin. The sinner viewed from the point of view of his absolute inability to please God in any conceivable respect is said to be dead in sin. But whereas death is decay, corruption, the salvation of the sinner is at once a cleansing process.
That the holy writers would sometimes conceive of sin as a thing apart, setting up its dominion in man’s bosom, has a reason. Especially by those wholly given over to a life of vice and sin, the unclean lusts of the heart are felt as a great urge, an innate necessity, called by Paul the law of sin, driving the subject on along a path leading to ruin. These lusts, awakened by what may be seen and heard, crave constant satisfaction so that the subject is ill at ease unless engaged in appeasing the cravings of a carnal nature. This urge, constituted of the lusts of the heart, is part and parcel of a man alive to sin, glorying in his shame, delighting in the prostitution of his powers, fascinated by the evil bent of his mind, offering, therefore, no resistance to the man sold under sin, but altogether willing that the ill-begotten power of the monster raging in his breast should be perpetuated forever. It means that man, throughout the entire process of the development of sin, remains a free moral agent. The wicked of the first chapter of Romans are said to have dishonored their bodies between themselves. Their shameful conduct represents an attempt on their part to satisfy lust incited by what the sinful eye loves to feast, and the carnal mind loves to dwell upon. Hence, it is said that God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts.
That sin is felt as an urge in man’s bosom follows from his being a creature endowed with a rational will. The will is correctly defined as the striving of the soul after the thing regarded as constituting the highest good. Intelligent striving, then, is the earmark of rationality. Adam, in the state of integrity knew it. Likewise the saint who strives to enter the narrow gate, and who seeks the things above, and the urge of whose being drives him on along a path leading to the Father’s house. Sin is not responsible for the motion of the working of man’s soul but for its reverse action, and therefore must makes its presence felt as a striving, as an urge—an urge, however, that pitches the sinner against God and all things holy and sends him on along a path leading into the regions of eternal night. However, natural man loves the sinful urge of his depraved nature, the lusts of his foul heart, and the yearnings of the body of this death. He and the master served as one, agreed, and rush on arm in arm to hell. This carnal urge, therefore, does not present itself to his consciousness as a law, that is, as an innate necessity “that (in the words of Paul) when he would do good, evil is present with him.” Not until man is reclaimed from death by the Almighty, not until he has been quickened by the Spirit, does he feel the need of pitting himself over against the aforesaid master, of resisting the carnal urge of his depraved self. Doing so, he for the first time in his sinful career, discovers that he is carnal, sold under sin, and complains, as did the apostle, “For that which I do, I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate that I do. . . . Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find than a law that when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:15-22).