By H. Forbes Witherby.
12. Free Indeed.
Consciousness of liberty — the claims of the law — the shining of the light of men — the light of life — freed by the truth, and freed by the Son.
In this chapter we shall occupy ourselves with the consideration of freedom. We may be going over the ground again already set out in the previous part of this volume, but since so many of the children of God are practically in bondage, we make no apology for re-traversing trodden paths. The children of God cannot be really in bondage, for the Son has made them free as to right, but those who do not fully believe the gospel are experimentally in thrall.
A man in a condemned cell might be free without knowing it; a messenger with a pardon might be galloping to his prison, bringing to him nearer and nearer, moment by moment, the word of the sovereign, and all the while the prisoner might be wringing his hands, fearing death. He would be really a pardoned and a free man by the word of the sovereign, but not set at liberty, not discharged from his prison, not "free indeed." How many of the dear people of God, pardoned and having everlasting life, the objects of God's favor, are at this moment subject to bondage through fear! And thus, notwithstanding that the pardon, the life, and the favor are all theirs, according to the divine counsels, the word of God not having reached them, freedom is not yet theirs consciously, and they remain downcast in the prison cell.
The Lord said, "The truth shall make you free," and again, "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." He spoke of what the truth should effect, and of what He Himself would effect; and the result to us that we should be in perfect liberty. These words of our Lord were uttered upon an important occasion, recorded in the eighth chapter of the gospel by John. Will our reader peruse the chapter for himself?
The claims of the law required that the transgressor, whom the Pharisees brought before Jesus, should be put to death. The law had cursed the transgressor, and it demanded death as the penalty for the transgression; it offered no mercy, gave no loophole for escape; righteous in its claims, it could not wink at sin. Now "such as are of the works of the law are under the curse," divine law is no respecter of persons; "Cursed be every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." (Gal. 3:10.)
The people, who brought the transgressor into the presence of the Light of men, were themselves under the law. They brought the sinner to Jesus with evil motives, they wished to ensnare Him. They sought to demonstrate that His ways of grace and truth amongst men rejected the law He had given to men by Moses centuries before. Man sought to confound his Maker. It was what is, the spirit which seeks to set the truth to falsify itself. No doubt, if man could make the gospel contradict the law he would effect a triumph! And if human ingenuity could discover errors in the word of God, man would be victorious!
The end of the effort of these Pharisees was their utter discomfiture, the Light of men revealed what they were, for the light manifests what man is, not only as a transgressor of moral law, but as a sinner against God. The light detected the heart and its evil, not only the evil act of transgressing a definite command.
As these men, versed in the letter of the law, but dead to its spirit, propounded their question, "Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest Thou?" the Lord was silent. He stooped down to the sin-stained earth, and wrote with His finger on the ground as though He heard not. His action might have reminded them of the finger of God inscribing the commandments upon those tables of the law which were broken by reason of their forefathers' disobedience. But they continued asking Him, "What sayest Thou?" that they might have to accuse Him; still the Lord did not answer them, and their specific enquiry remains unanswered by the Lord, at least in so many words.
Presently the silence was broken, and greatly astonished were those men when He spoke. The Lord left the law in its integrity, smoothed not down one of its curses, nor did He change one step of its course. The law said to the sinner, "Thou shalt die;" the Lord did not reverse the sentence. But His mission to this earth was not condemnation, hence He left the guilty one uncondemned by Himself. He did not exculpate, neither did He forgive.
The shining of the Light of men revealed their state. The accusers regarded themselves as competent to carry out the just sentence of the law, and Jesus turned the full blaze of the truth about themselves into their very souls by saying,"He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone."
His words tore off the veil; their convicted consciences could not bear the blaze of that light, so beginning at the eldest, even to the youngest, they all shrank away and hid themselves from His presence. The law had condemned the sinner, and the light had made the consciences of the accusers accuse themselves. Who among them was without sin? Truly the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. There was no liberty in the presence of Christ by this His solemn discovery of man to himself, the light made manifest the darkness, and as the night-clouds roll away before the day, the Pharisees in their nature state and pride fled from the Light of men. As for the actual transgressor, she was left alone with the Saviour. In His presence and in His grace may we all be found!
Then shone the Light of life in grace — Jesus spake again — and we rejoice, that having spoken truth, He also uttered grace. He spake again, saying, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." Pharisees had fled from His presence; but for all who followed Him, the light of life was the portion, and not the darkness of nature and of death, which shrinks from Him. The light makes manifest what we are, not only what our sins are; and this light is of life, not death, to everyone who believes. For rejecters of salvation, or for workers to save themselves, there is only this solemn sentence: "If ye believe not that I AM, ye shall die in your sins." (John 8:24.)
The law shows us much of our evil ways and desires, for "I had not known sin unless the law had said, Thou shalt not covet"; whilst the light of men, Jesus the Lord, from above, reveals to us what we are as in the sight of God. Yet grace as well as truth came by Jesus Christ; and whosoever comes to Him finds grace. What awful shrinking away from His presence will there be when He sits upon the great white throne, and when sinners, who would not come to Him in the day of mercy, are made to realize their state.
Still more deeply exhibiting the awful sin of man and the unutterable grace of God, the Lord, as the Light, went on to say, "When ye have lifted up the Son of Man, then shall ye know that I AM; and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father path taught Me, I speak these things." (John 8:28.) The lowly Jesus, the Son of Man amongst men, the revealer of their hearts to themselves, was about to be lifted up upon the cross by sinners; and when this culminating crime of man should be accomplished, then they who believed on Him should know Him as the Eternal Jehovah.
For so do believers learn Christ, finding Him in His cross and weakness they pass on from those depths to His empty grave, to His resurrection, to the throne of the majesty on high; and there they see Jesus, and know that the once crucified Son of Man is verily the great I AM. Nor does the heart rest even in this knowledge, great and glorious as it is, but by grace it learns more still; even that His shame and His cross were by the Father's will, that He finished the work His Father gave Him to do. We learn that the love towards us, which we hear uttered through the words of the Son and which we see in His wounds on the cross, comes from the very heart of God the Father, for the Father sent the Son, the Saviour of the world. (1 John 4:14)
Hereby it is that we become free; this truth sets us at liberty. Our Saviour is Jehovah-Jesus; He is upon the throne in glory, having died to die no more, having endured judgment to exhaust its claims. And not only is divine righteousness magnified, but love, the Father's love, is manifested.
Do not we feel, even so far as we have gone, how vastly different is this righteousness from that of the law, commanding the stoning of a sinner to death? Righteousness is vindicated in a more excellent way than by the culprit's death, and sin is more, oh! how much more, terribly rewarded. The spotless Son of Man has died in our stead; His death has manifested to us what we are as deserving to die, but far more — the truth of His death and resurrection, by the Spirit's teaching, has opened our eyes both to His eternal being and to His Father's love
What the Lord did, ever pleased the Father, and no work was more pleasing to the Father than the Son's laying down His life for us. "Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again . . . . This commandment have I received of My Father." (John 10:17, 18.)
Jesus is risen; He is in heaven, beyond the reach of death, and beyond sin which is the strength of the law. He has been nailed, accursed by the law, to the cross; He lives to die no more, and the truth of His death and resurrection makes us free. Free from the law, free from sin, free because "Christ being raised from the dead, dieth more; death hath no more dominion over Him" (Rom. 6:9); "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 6:32.) Christ has died unto sin once, He lives unto God; we have died with Him and live in Him.
Some do assert, as did the Jews, "We were never in bondage to any man!" What? "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey?" (Rom. 6:16.) "Whosoever committeth (or practises) sin is the servant of sin" (John 8:34); sin is his master, and deeply does the soul feel this, which knows not the freeing power of the truth of death with Christ and of life in Christ risen, for sinning hangs not lightly on the believer. The life he has in Christ is holy — it is divine life, and sinning is of the old Adam, the flesh working in him, and the fetters of sinning are the irons which enter into his soul. He cannot deliver himself. What shall he do? Believe the truth, believe that he is "dead to sin" "with Christ." (Rom. 6:8-11.) And being "dead, is freed from sin" (Rom. 6:7) and out of the prisoner's cell; and "being made free from sin" has become the servant of God, having fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. (Rom. 6:22.)
Sin will remain in the believer till he leaves this sinful world; and so long as we are in these mortal bodies the flesh will be in us; and more, it is just the same flesh after we receive life in Christ as before; but there is a vast difference in the believer when he is set free by the truth of Christ's resurrection; then he is no longer ignorant of the way of victory.
The Son makes us free indeed, not only does the truth set free. We may take up truth apart from the Son. Intellectuality is a sore evil, affecting not only such as believe not, but also the children of God and to all it is a most deadly spiritual affliction. Truth taken up by the intellect will not be a delivering power in the soul. The Lord's own hand removes our fetters through the Spirit by the truth. The Son abiding for ever, in grace and love delivers His own. Jesus risen, in His own authority and by virtue of His death and resurrection, delivers. He gives perfect liberty. His gracious work has effected the liberty. He Himself has broken the bars of the prison-house, and has opened its doors and vanquished the power of sin. And He the Victor snaps asunder the chains of each individual believer who has true faith in Himself where He is, by giving to each such heart the conscious knowledge of His resurrection power, and of the eternal life being secured to the believer beyond death, sin, and the law.
All the children of Israel were safe when God put the pillar of fire and cloud between them and the foe; all were secure, protected by the crystal walls of the sea, while passing through its depths; but not until the morning broke, and the people saw with their own eyes that their enemies were no more, did the host of Israel, from the eldest to the youngest, realise freedom indeed, and rejoice in the freeing hand of Jehovah. "Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power," they sang in their freedom to their mighty Deliverer. And so it is even now. Where the freeing hand of the Son of God has touched us, there is not only conscious liberty, but great joy in Himself, for salvation is of the Lord, and He has triumphed gloriously. Sin has been suffered for, and put away for all who believe. Satan has been overthrown upon his own chosen battle-ground, death itself — the Victor has risen from among the dead. Jesus is our strength and song.