By Daniel Steele
THE FREEDOM OF THE SPIRIT.
WHERE the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." The words "freedom" and "liberty" are found in the New Testament, but they do not have the meaning which is attached to them in treatises on the Will. It is a remarkable fact that there is no attempt in the Bible to prove human free agency, as there is no demonstration of the existence of God. Both of these fundamental truths are assumed without proof. Moral obligation implies freedom, and consciousness asserts it. This kind of freedom has been called formal freedom, to distinguish it from that real freedom which Christ promises: "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." Since this freedom is the gift of Christ, it is evident that it is not an attribute of man in his fallen estate. It belongs only to the true believers in the Son of God. It is not a deliverance from any bolts or bars or yoke of necessity outside of us, but from "the law in our members," in the will itself, a uniform tendency to yield to the sway of the depraved sensibilities which give birth to sin. When conscience forbids what inclination strongly desires and evil habit draws us to, there is a collision of forces which, without the intervention of Christ, the great Liberator, invariably ends in bondage. "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?" This is the universal cry with all thoughtful souls recognizing obligation to the moral law but without help from above to keep it.
"They see the right, and they approve it too;
Condemn the wrong, and yet the wrong pursue."
This produces a degrading sense of servility. One bright moral ideal after another fades away. After each moral defeat the aspirant after true excellence lets down his standard with a self-loathing and wretchedness befitting one who has voluntarily sold himself into slavery. Thus thousands of noble souls who began to climb the mountain with the motto "Excelsior," have begun to descend, having insensibly changed their motto to "Inferior."
There is only one remedy. Some power must enter into them which can harmonize inclination and conscience in such a manner as to enable the man to do just what he delights to do and at the same time to do exactly right. When desire and duty become one, the soul is truly free and truly happy. How is this identity of duty and desire accomplished? The Stoics endeavored to reach the same end by extinguishing the latter, but they failed. God does not lead men up to perfect freedom by mutilation, but by purification. When we desire only God's will, we will delight in His law. There are minds which cannot be subject to God's law. Still they are accountable. They can consent to the reconstruction of their natures by the extinction of carnality and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. They are, through Jesus Christ, endowed with the gracious ability to repent and to receive Him as their Saviour and Lord. This is initial salvation, or prevenient grace. It is for the will to determine whether this shall become real and complete deliverance from the enslavement of depravity. One would suppose that this is the only choice morally possible to a rational being, since all men abhor personal slavery and political bondage. But we need not go far to find abundant proofs that the so-called "natural man" prefers the despotism of sin to the freedom of righteousness. There is no more hopeless condition than delight in spiritual bondage. In a former generation the saddest parents in America were those who, after converting all their possessions into gold to ransom their sailor boy from captivity in Algeria, received back their money from the consul with a message that their son refused to be redeemed because he preferred the society of his barbarian captors to that of his Christian kindred. He had married a Bedouin wife, contracted nomadic habits, and become fascinated with the pleasures of the lawless Arabs. This is a mirror in which every impenitent sinner may see himself. He is redeemed by One who has paid an infinite ransom; yet for the evanescent and degrading pleasures of an hour he scorns freedom and hugs his chains. He persists in this through all his earthly probation. What would the liberalist do with such a being if he were in supreme authority over him? The question is a fair one. Let there be a candid answer. We have hinted at the way of obtaining spiritual freedom. It is only through the power of Christ, the great Emancipator. Our part is an all-surrendering trust in Him. Says Thomas a Kempis: "My son, thou canst not have perfect liberty unless thou wholly renounce thyself. They are but in fetters, all who merely seek their own interest and are lovers of themselves. Ke*ep this short and complete saying: 'Forsake all, and thou shalt find all. Leave concupiscence, and thou shalt find rest.'" This gives God a chance to do some very needful work inside, even to put His law in the heart. When this is done, the law, instead of a yoke galling the neck, becomes a wellspring of joy. "Thy statutes," says the Psalmist, "have been my songs " — the Ten Commandments set to music! Only those whose hearts are perfected in love shed abroad by the Holy Spirit can ever learn that tune. It is the first rehearsal on the earth of the new song they are singing in heaven, the song of Moses and the Lamb, the law and the gospel harmonized.
Hitherto we have spoken of the negative side of spiritual freedom. There is a positive side. The love of God filling the soul and excluding all antagonisms, guarantees the unfettered action of the higher nature, restores the man to himself, and makes him his own master, because God has now perfect sway over his will. This is the gospel paradox — rest under a yoke; Christ's doulos (slave) and the Lord's freeman. The free are exhorted to use their liberty as the bondservants of God. This is because the highest freedom is realized when the heart is perfectly captivated by the divine love and the will is completely enthralled by the divine will. Faber seems to have experienced this paradox which prompted his hymn to the divine will:
"And He hath breathed into my heart
A special love for thee;
A love to lose my will in His,
And by that loss be free.'"
But what are we to understand by being free from the law? In answering this question some have fallen into the error of antinomianism, the denial of obligation on the part of the believer to keep the moral law.
1. He is not under the law as the ground of justification, the blood of Christ being his new plea; nor as the motive to service, love to the Lawgiver having taken its place; but he is under the law as the rule of life, although Christianity puts man's spontaneous obedience in the place of the act legally enforced, his independent decision in lieu of legal necessity. Thus love unconsciously fulfils the law. It implants the principle of obedience in the heart so that it is free, unconstrained and natural. This is "the law of liberty" of which St. James speaks. I do not wonder that he calls it the "royal law," i. e., the king of all laws. For he whom the love of Christ constrains in all his acts obeys the highest law in the universe. This is Christian perfection. This is being free indeed. This is the heritage of all believers. Reader, if you have not received this heritage, the reason is not found in the unwillingness of the executor of Christ's last will and testament, the Holy Spirit, to hand over your portion. You have not fulfilled the conditions of its reception.
We come now to consider spiritual freedom as related to the moral law, and to anchor a buoy over the hidden rock of antinomianism.
The Jews did not make a distinction, as we do, between the ceremonial, the civil and the moral precepts of the law, but thought that all should be honored by obedience with the same pious regard. As with devout Romanists in our times, the neglect of a mere ceremonial requirement was in heinousness equal to the infraction of a command of the decalogue. It is this use of a term embracing such diverse meanings that makes the intelligent reading of the New Testament difficult. It is the purpose of this section to relieve this difficulty as far as possible. It may not be known to many students of this volume that twelve of its books—nearly one half— do not contain the ambiguous word law. These are II Corinthians, Colossians, I and II Thessalonians, II Timothy, I and II Peter, Jude, I, II and III John and Revelation. This is encouraging to those who have sweat in their endeavor to understand St. Paul and harmonize him with James. It may help the reader of the Greek Testament to know that when James uses the word law without the article he designates only the ethical portions of the Mosaic law. It will be of advantage to all Bible students to bear in mind the fact that in the Epistle to the Hebrews the ceremonial part of the law is the prominent idea. It should also be noted that in the other books this term is so often referred to as to show that the writer or speaker has his eye on the ethical part alone as of perpetual obligation, the ceremonial and civil precepts being no longer binding on Christians. It is ethical where it is spoken of as fulfilled by love, as in Rom. xiii. 8, 10, Gal. v. 14; also where its perpetual validity is declared, as in Matt. v.18; and also in cases where it is equivalent to the principles of right imbedded in the human conscience, as in Rom. ii. 14, 15. St. Paul uses "law" in a peculiar sense as a uniform tendency or dominant impulse. The moral law when used as a sword piercing the conscience is the occasion of an opposition so strong that the apostle calls it " another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind." Here we have the bent to sin inherent in human nature in conflict with the rule of action prescribed by reason, Rom. vii. 23. On the battlefield of this chapter grace does not appear, nor is the Holy Spirit one of the combatants. In chapter viii. 2 He does appear as a conqueror, under the Pauline phrase, "the law of the Spirit of life," the impulse to right action imparted by the Spirit when He breathed life into the dead soul.
But we apprehend that most Bible readers are in perplexity respecting the declaration that believers are "not under the law" and are " free from the law." Is St. Paul referring to the moral law? Yes, to the whole law. Then how can a man be righteous irrespective of law? Does not righteousness imply a standard of right to which the individual conforms? Yes, every true believer enthrones the law of God in his heart and swears eternal allegiance thereto. When St. Paul says that I am " not under the law," I am "free from the law," he does not mean that I am removed from the realm of moral law, for it is so imbedded in my mind that its removal would. destroy me by blasting the image of God in me. Hence God's law cannot be abrogated in the sense that I need not obey it, but it is abrogated in the sense that it is, through faith in Christ, no longer the ground of justification. Were I shut up to justification only through the plea that I have never transgressed the law of God, I should be in utter despair, for I have violated my own sense of right and can never be justified by the works of the law. Against this plea " every mouth is stopped, and all the world is become guilty before God." But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, a new ground of justification is presented. If by faith I plant my feet on this ground, and instead of insisting that I have never sinned, I say, I have sinned, but Thou, O Son of God, hast died for me, I will find not legal acquittal but gracious pardon. In this sense I am free from the law. But it is still my rule of life. Grace enables me to obey it in the future so that I may be free from condemnation.
2. There is another sense in which the believer is free from the law. He is delivered from the fear of the penalty of the law as a motive to service. Love to the Lawgiver has taken the place of tormenting dread, so that the believer is no longer servile in his obedience, but free and joyful. Duty, that unscriptural word, is now no longer on the lips or in the thoughts. It is concealed by the word love written over it in large letters. If disquieting fear of the law still vexes the soul in any degree, however slight, it is because love has not yet been made perfect in kind by the exclusion of every antagonist. This is St. John's explanation.
3. This brings us to a third sense in which we are free from the law — as the instrument of entire sanctification. The law has no power to slay our inward foes, to cleanse from depraved tendency. We cannot sanctify ourselves by the most vigorous application of the law. It is not the province of the law to cure the depravity which it reveals. This is the office of the Holy Spirit, so called because it is His prerogative conditionally to create and to conserve holiness. It is my opinion that no mistake is more common among Christians than the idea of sanctification by the works of the law. For men may be as legal in seeking freedom from depravity as they are in seeking deliverance from guilt. This idea lies at the root of gradualism, or the denial of the extinction of the propensity to sin by the Spirit's finishing stroke. Only those believe in the instantaneous extinction of inbred sin who magnify the office of the personal Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier. "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you." "This promise," says Henry, the incisive commentator, "signifies both the blood of Christ sprinkled upon the conscience to purify that and to take away the sense of guilt, and the grace of the Spirit sprinkled on the whole soul to purify it from all corrupt inclinations and dispositions, as Naaman was cleansed from his leprosy by dipping in Jordan." Henry interprets this promise as inclusive of both justification and entire sanctification, or the extinction of sin considered as a principle infecting our nature. Thus impersonal law is not abolished, but is transcended, in both justification and sanctification, by the personal Holy Spirit, the Lord of life and author of purity.