Freedom

John 8:30-36

"If the Son shall make you free ye shall be free indeed." We will look a little into this matter of freedom. It is said some believed on Him, and the Lord says to them, "If ye continue in my word then are ye my disciples indeed." Now that is not the way some of us would have spoken. Some of us are very fond of that expression, "Once saved for ever saved," but it is not a scriptural expression and therefore to be avoided, and, moreover, it has obtained with some a very false idea attached to it. Practically with some it has come to mean that if some time or other, by hook or by crook, you can get yourself to believe or fancy that you believe that you are saved, then you are safe for ever, and no matter what you do nothing will upset this. Well, such an idea as this is certainly not the gospel of God. It is perfectly true that when God begins a work in a soul God will go on with the work in that soul for ever, but the only test of reality is continuance, and if you do not continue, you have no ground for saying you are saved.

"He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved."  Some say, Oh! that is said to the Jew. True, it is so: but it is as true of you and of me as of the Jew. Do you understand scripture so little as not to see that while there is a present salvation there is also a salvation which is future; see, for instance, 1 Thess. 5:8, 9. Who are the people who get this? Are they the ones who prove their reality by continuance or the reverse? The passage is as true of me as of the Jew, and I say, If I remain to the end I shall be saved. Does this disturb me? Not at all. I know God has wrought in me, and I know that He will continue to do so. I am quite at rest about it. If, however, a professed believer turns away, and does not endure, but lives in sin, can we say that it is sure to be well with him? Never. The proof of reality is continuance. The proof that it is going to be well with you at the end is that it is well with you to-day. There is every comfort in scripture for the man who is connected with Christ to-day. I believe we do not half enough press the living present reality of God's blessing, but rather try and rest on the past.

The whole of the first epistle of John is on this point. Its object is to lead real souls into a deeper enjoyment of the love of God and of all that which that love has provided, and also to expose unreality, and to prove the hollowness of that which is not in touch with God and with His Son to-day. If Christianity is a reality, then it is for present power and enjoyment. Christianity is not something to get a man to heaven by and by, while in the meantime he lives for earth and earthly things. It is to make us know heaven and the things of heaven to-day. "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." That will be the result, but how are we to get this freedom?

Those present when the Lord spoke did not understand this. They said, "We are Abraham's seed, and have never been in bondage to any man. How sayst thou then, Ye shall be made free?" Jesus tells them the plain and naked truth. "Whosoever committeth (or practises) sin is the servant of sin." How exceedingly plain and yet how solemn. He cannot be free who is a servant of sin — a slave of sin. So simple that a babe can see it at once, and yet we could not find it out. It was necessary for God's Son to come from heaven to teach us this truth, and even now the mass of Christendom knows it not.

What is sin? It is the action of self-will. The creature asserting itself against the Creator by assuming the right to do what it thinks fit. What the man does need not be anything that people would call wrong, but if the will of poor fallen man is in action it is sin. Doubtless you may not like to offend against the rules of society, or to do anything which men would condemn, but you may desire to have your own will, that is the essence of sin. It is not freedom to think you are free. Let us take an extreme case. A man who drinks thinks himself a jolly fellow, and that he is in bondage to no one, but when he wants to give up drinking, he finds he is a slave. So it is with us all in everything, while we thought we were free we were in the most terrible bondage to a greater power than ourselves. So it was with the apostle Paul. He says, "When the commandment came, sin revived and I died . . . the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin."

The servant does not abide in the house for ever, but the son does abide for ever. This is not a contrast between the servant and the eternal Son. The question is, Are you a servant or a son? If the former you must go, but if the latter you remain.

What is the great point in being a son? It is likeness. The son must take after the father. Now I ask, Who is your father? I wish to press it home. I say you must be like your father. God will not allow the relationship unless you can shew likeness.

The Jews said, "Abraham is our father." But the Lord will not allow this for a moment. He admits the natural connection, for He says, "I know that ye are Abraham's seed"; but He adds, "If ye were Abraham's children ye would do the works of Abraham." He insists on likeness being essential, and He goes on further and says, "Ye are of your father the devil." Why? Because there was the terrible likeness stamped on them. Is it not a solemn thing that day by day and hour by hour we are shewing our parentage? What is God? God is love. Well, then, to be like God we must be formed in love, then we are sons. If not, we make the claim, but it will not be admitted. Is this not a solemn matter? But remember there is no other way of freedom but by sonship, and we cannot be sons of God but by divine generation, and the divine nature, which results in likeness.

Do not think, Shall I get to heaven by and by? Ask yourself this, Am I right to-day. He who is right to-day is right for eternity, but he who is wrong to-day is wrong for eternity. To-day is the day of salvation, not to-morrow. Many think, Oh! to-day is the day for getting it; this is true, but that is not the meaning here: it is the day for having it, the day for enjoying it, the day for shewing it. We shall not talk about salvation in heaven, there will be nothing there to be saved from. Salvation implies danger, enemies, etc., and there will be none of these things in heaven. I, however, want to press on you the value of "to-day."

People generally take up these things quite in the wrong way. They put everything off to the future, and thus they get rid of present responsibility and miss present enjoyment. With God it is the present that is pressed. How is it with us to-day? Let us ask ourselves, Are we free to-day? Are we sons to-day?

What is the sense of sonship? Why, that God's love is streaming into our souls. "Oh!" you say, "He loves me so much I cannot do without Him. I want to have His company, I want to walk with Him. I want Him to-day, I want Him all the time; I cannot do without Him. He is so good, and He loves me, He wants me; He cannot do without me. It is so blessed to know His love."

You cannot get liberty in any other way than this, for God must be supreme. He is free because He is love, and He must be sovereign in love. If you have the divine nature you are free, because you want what God wants, but if not you want to walk in your own way, and do not love God's way, and you are not free. What will the freedom of eternity consist in? Why, in God having His own way, and all delighting in that way. Well, the freedom of eternity is the freedom of to-day. Forgiveness of sins will not make us free. Justification will not make us free. For freedom we must be formed by love. To be free we must walk in God's way and enjoy so doing. It must be a willing thing, a thing of the heart. It is not freedom to do a thing while not liking to do it. For freedom I must love to do it, and find it my delight. How was Christ free? Because He found it a delight to do the will of God. (See Psalm 40:8.) What made it a delight to Him? "Oh! My Father is love, He is so good, His way is perfect." Nothing else is freedom. Whatever God my Father does must be best for me, and the best also for everybody else connected with me. He wants the best thing for me, He loves me so much. Nothing is freedom short of this. How does the Son make us free? He brings us to Himself, He lifts us out of ourselves, He renews us within so that we love to dwell with Him. He makes us to share with Himself, He seeks to absorb us with Himself that we may delight in Him, and it may become grief to do what is not according to His will, because in so doing we lose the conscious joy of His presence, which forms our life. We walk in the light of His presence, and His love gives exceeding joy to our hearts, and the bonds fall off, for there are no bonds in love. Sonship is through love, and love carries freedom with it. Is Satan free? No, he is the greatest slave of all, because he is a stranger to love. Is he who grumbles or frets free? No. Is the one who feels wronged free? No. Christ was free, for He took all things from God. (See Matt. 11:25.)

Remember, therefore, that it is the Son, who makes us free. We would all like to be free, but none of us can make ourselves free. No power of man can make us free. Money will not set us free. The payment of our debts will not set us free. You may be in the power of an earthly tyrant and yet be free. You may pride yourself on your freedom and be a poor slave. May God give us to understand this blessed freedom.

Freedom is the consequence of the work of the Son within us, it is the result of divine power acting on us inwardly, whereas we are always thinking of circumstances, but alteration of circumstances does not effect anything for God in our souls. Another thing that we are most unwilling to believe is that the state of things is as bad as the scriptures make out. It is hard to believe that our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, it is hard to believe that Satan is the prince and god of this world. It is hard to believe the state of things described in 2 Tim. 3:1-5 is a true picture of the state of Christendom to-day. It is hard to believe that the best things of the natural man will not do for God, so that they that are in the flesh cannot please God. It is hard to believe that only Christ will do for God, and that what is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. Yet these lessons have to be learned, and when learnt we thank God for teaching them to us in order that we may condemn that which God has condemned, that God may be free to work out His will in us, and bless us according to His mind and purpose.

What is God's purpose? It is that we should be conformed to the image of His Son. This is the work He begins now, and it is divine material formed within, formed in love. The work is done by the Son, and it is like growth; we are not conscious of growing, but we grow. So with the work of God's Son, if we are with Him, and we let Him have His way, and we do not fight against Him, He will work in us, and though we shall not be conscious of the work going on yet it will be manifested by its results. Moses was in the presence of God, and when he came out his face shone. He did not know that it shone, but others could not help seeing it. This is how God's work is done. It is like the growth of fruit, and not like the manufactories of man, which are carried on with great noise. Put a seed in the ground, it grows and grows, yet the growth is noiseless, almost imperceptible, and yet so real. It drinks in the dew of heaven, it extracts nutriment from the soil in which it is set, and it grows. The sunshine and the storm alike aid its growth, the rain and the wind and the heat are each good for it. Thus it is you will grow in the divine nature, if you will let the Son have His way with you. You will not have to do anything. It will all go on of itself, and it will be real solid work, and not like a piece of electroplate. Men take a vessel of brass and put it through a certain process, and it becomes coated with silver, but inside it is just as much brass as it was before. But God's work is from the inside, and it acts by displacement. In electroplating the silver does not displace the brass. If you scrape off the silver you come to the brass, that is the way man works, he seeks to cover up the old thing by civilisation, by education, by rules and regulations, but the old thing is there all the time, and the affections are untouched. God's way is quite the reverse. He forms new affections within by the revelation of His love in His Son, and displaces the old affections by the new which He has formed.

What is the character of the old affections? They all centre in self. One may be what the world calls selfish, another may be devoted to his family, his country, or even for the race of man; but if that is all, in the sight of God self will still be the object, for in the new affections Christ is the centre, for God cannot form affections, which have not that supreme object before them. Thus it is that God makes free. We are not free unless the new affections cause us to delight in the will of God.

I will give you an illustration. I once had an old "chaukidar" (watchman), to whom I said, "You are getting rather old for night work, and if you prefer, I can give you day work instead. Now tell me what you would like?" He replied, "I want to do whatever your honour wishes." I said, "You need not mind telling me what you would really like, for I really want to meet your wishes." His answer was, "I really like what your honour likes." "Now," I said, "look here, I want you to let me know what you have got in your inmost heart." "Well then," he replied, "if your honour really wants to know what is in my heart, that which I have never told anyone, that which I really desire above everything, it is this — that I like best what your honour likes best." When we can say this in our hearts to the Lord then we taste the sweets of freedom. If in some little measure we can say, "Oh! God is so good, I am quite sure He is doing all things well: I am sure of it, because He gave His Son, and I would not have it otherwise than according to His will for anything; I am certain that His way is perfect, even when I cannot understand," then we have begun to enjoy true freedom.

But this cannot be done in the flesh. It is not stoicism, nor is it resignation, it is really being made a sharer with God's Son in spirit in resurrection. It is not effort, the Son of God produces it. His desire is to have us for Himself for His own joy and delight. Can you say, "The Lord must have me for His surpassing joy," then you have made a great stride towards freedom.

I have not much more to say, but I hope I have said enough to make you see what a wonderful thing this freedom is. Of course, it is a very difficult thing to speak of. I fear none of us have more than a glimpse of its blessedness. We have thought, "Ah! Christ has died for us, we believe on Him, and we know that we are going to get to heaven by and by," and there we often stick for years: but as for getting to heaven now, and getting the joy of heaven as a present reality, most of us know very little of it. Can you say to the Father, "I know that Thy commandment is life eternal?" Unless we enter into this now we have not reached Christianity as yet. How much of heaven have we tasted? This is the measure of our Christianity according to God.

We say we want to get to heaven eventually; but, alas most of us want as much of this world's good as possible while we are on earth. I must acknowledge this is what we have all done over and over again, and it is a terrible thing. Babylon is the mistress of enchantments. She is so clever, such a witch, such a conjurer, that she often persuades us that we are uncommonly good Christians when we are absolutely living for the world. She has got a golden cup full of her enchantments, and by her fleshly piety she takes us in fearfully. Do not say, Yes, I know other Christians are thus enticed, but I am free from her snares. Not at all, you are no more exempt from her enchantments than anybody else. You need not look outside for evil, you will find it all in your own especial company and in your own heart. Have you not read, "Till the whole was leavened?" It is divine love alone which can expel the other affections and lusts that are in the heart, and nothing but their expulsion by this love will bring us into freedom. It is divine nature and divine material; all divine work from beginning to end, and it must work by expulsion. A strong affection crowds out lesser ones, so divine love must expel all those things that are contrary to God's will. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is not monasticism, nor is there anything morbid about this love. If you have it you will love your wife and your children a great deal better than you did before, only now the love will be true love instead of the selfish love of the past.

There is nothing in divine love to make you walk about as if you were a medieval saint with a halo round your head, and too good to think of what is down here. You will be interested in all you meet, but in a new way. You will be longing for Christ to have His good pleasure in them. Never was there such a natural* man in the world as Christ; there was nothing forced about Him. There was nothing in Him for the smallest child to fear. He always did what was in His heart. He had nothing to hide as there is often with us. He was always natural. All was spontaneous with Him. Wherever He went He was always the same. He could say, "I am altogether that which I say." What came out of Him was just what was in His heart. He was the most natural person that ever walked this earth, for there was no effort in anything He did.

{*Of course this does not refer to fallen human nature, nor even to Adam's nature unfallen.}

The ascetic is not so. With him all is forced and strained. It is all very different. Look at the Lord. He could go into the Pharisee's house and be just Himself; He could be before the king or ruler and be Himself; if with publicans and harlots He was just Himself. In every company and amidst every variety of trying circumstances He was always the same; just Himself, because He walked with God, and God was with Him. He always knew the will of God, always did it, and was always happy in doing it. There was absolute freedom with Him, because He was always dependent, and He had no desire but to do the will of God.

May we, too, learn the joy of finding our pleasure in the blessed will of God.