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LIBERTY! EQUALITY! FRATERNITY!
Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained an equally precious faith with us in the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
WHEN I had read this passage through many times in my effort to discover the inwardness and sequence of the apostle’s thought, there leapt into my mind the great watchword of the French Revolution, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!” My text seemed to accept the proffered ministry of the watchword, and deigned to express itself through the heightened and glorified clarion of the Revolution. Here is the secret of liberty: “A bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ.” [Verse 1] And here is the basis of equality: “They that have obtained an equally precious faith with us.” And here is the very genius of fraternity: “Grace to you and peace be multiplied in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,” [Verse 2] Here, then, we have the 206apostolic evangel of liberty, equality, and fraternity.
Here is the secret of liberty: “A bondslave of Jesus.” [Verse 1] At the heart of all true freedom there is a certain bondage. Liberty without restraint is always self-destructive. The man who will not be bound to anything or anybody is always the most enslaved. Even anarchist societies are compelled to have some rules, and the making of a rule always implies the forging of a chain. Liberty must be limited if it is to be possessed. Every type of freedom has its chains. That is true of intellectual freedom. A man who would be intellectually free must pay obeisance to certain laws of thought. Mental disorder is a dark enslavement. The movement that springs from obedience to the laws of thought is a fruitful freedom. Free thought begins in wearing a chain; the mental freeman is at heart a slave. That is true also of political freedom. Political freedom consists in the recognition of individual rights. To assert my brother’s rights is to state a limit to my own. Here again we start with a chain. We recognise limitations. The real political freeman is at heart a slave. And this is true also of moral freedom; no man is morally free who does not pay homage to his conscience. Moral freedom springs from the sense of 207obligation. Apart from that ligament, that bond, the whole body of the moral life falls limb from limb in inextricable chaos and confusion.
Now let us lift the argument up to the highest type of freedom, the glorious freedom of the spirit. A great writer has denned the French notion of liberty as political economy and the English notion of liberty as personal independence. The Christian conception of liberty is inclusive of these, but infinitely greater. The most spacious of all liberties is liberation from self, and this kind of freedom springs from initial bondage. True freedom in the spirit begins in bondage to the Lord of Life. I am not surprised, there fore, that the; Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul, men who sing so loudly and so triumphantly of the wealth and plenteousness of their freedom, should begin by proclaiming themselves the Master’s slaves. “Paul, a bondslave of Jesus.” “Peter, a bondslave and apostle of Jesus Christ.” Bondage is the secret of freedom.
“Peter, a bondslave.” Let us see what is implied in this suggestive word. First, the term “bondslave” implies the acknowledgment of a fact. He is a slave. He has been bought. He is the Lord’s property. A great price has 208been paid for him. The apostle thought of his Master’s weary days and nights, of the tears and agonies of Gethsemane, of the shame and darkness and abandonment of Calvary. By all this expenditure on the part of the Saviour the apostle had been bought. He acknowledged his Master’s rights; he was his Master’s slave. Secondly, the term “bondslave” implies the assumption of an attitude. The apostle puts himself in the posture of homage and obedience. His eye was ever watching the Master, his ear was ever listening. He was a slave, but not servile. I do not know what word just expresses it; I have been unable to find one. But this I know, that if we would learn what “slave” means in my text we must go to the love-sphere and seek the interpretation there. We must go where the lover slaves for the loved, and yet calls her slavery exquisite freedom. A real loving mother, slaving for her child, would not change her slavery for mines of priceless wealth or for unbroken years of cushioned ease. “Thy willing bondslave I.” And thirdly, to be a slave implies the discharge of a mission. “Peter, a bondslave and apostle.” He is sent forth to do the Master’s will. The Master bids; he goes. Anywhere! Through the long, dusty, tiring highways of righteousness, or to the valley 209of gloom; “through the thirsty desert or the dewy mead.”
His not to reason why,
His not to make reply,
His but to do and die!
But in that bondage the apostle finds a perfect freedom. All the powers of his being are emancipated and sing together in glorious liberty. Life that is fundamentally bound be comes like an orchestra, every faculty constituting a well-tuned instrument, and all of them co-operating in the production of a harmony which is well-pleasing in the ears of God.
And here we have the basis of equality: “To them that have obtained an equally precious faith with us in the righteousness of our God.” [Verse 1] Let us rearrange the words a little. This I think is the meaning: in the righteousness of God, the absolute justice and fairness of God, you have obtained an equally precious faith with us. God in His righteousness has, in this consummate gift of faith, made us gloriously equal. Now look at that. Where does the apostle begin his reasoning about our primary equality? He begins with the righteousness of God. God is perfectly fair. He is no respecter of persons. I know this faith is troubled and disturbed by the material inequalities we 210see around us. Here is my little one safe at home in bed, and here is another little one, not much older, out upon the streets in the late night hungry and cold. Is God fair? Here is a good man in chronic pain; here is a bad man in health and wealth and honour. Yet God is righteous in His purpose! He does not treat us like puppets and marionettes. He has endowed us with brain and conscience and heart and will, and He has committed to us the power by which many of these gross in justices can be rectified. If the Church of the living God were to awake from her sleep to day you and I know how much could be done to rearrange material comforts, and to crush and destroy many things which make for misery, disease, and death. While our sword is rusting, and our couch has almost become our tomb, do not let us raise a mere debating-society topic and ask the question: Is God fair? It is for our own dignity, and for the disciplining and perfecting of the race, that our God has committed unto us the power by which many of these burdensome iniquities may be removed. But, leaving all these, let it be said that in the great primary things, the things out of which all other equalities take their spring, we may be grandly equal. We may all obtain an equally precious faith, the faith-dynamic which 211can remove mountains. Faith itself is a gift of God, and in this all men may be equal. You and Paul! The Salvation Army Captain and Martin Luther! “Precious faith,” the apostle calls it, precious because of the wealth which through it comes into the life. “Faith buys wine and milk,” says an old commentator. Faith goes| into the country of God among His vineyards, and out among His fields, and eats and drinks the rare and sweet and toothsome things. I say that in this great primary matter we may all be equal, and in this fundamental equality all other healthy equalities will find their impulse and resource.
And lastly, we have here the genius of fraternity. “Grace to you and peace be multiplied in the knowledge of God and of Jesus.” [Verse 2] How deep and exquisite is the spirit of fraternity!” What do these people seek for one another? Knowledge! “Knowledge of the Lord.” And this means the advanced stages of a science, the most perfect learning, the riper unfoldings of the glory of God. They are ambitious for one another, that spiritual obscurities may be clarified, and that the partial may be perfected. A little while ago, at the dawning of the day, I looked out over a great stretch of country from the vantage ground of a lofty summit. I could only see things dimly, in vague and imperfect 212outline. There beneath me lay stretched out into the far distance a long, white streak of dull silver; and there rested a grey cloud; and yonder loomed a dark botch which seemed to be a remnant of the departing night. But the light came on apace, and my knowledge was advanced and perfected. The thin white streak turned out to be a river! The bank of grey mist revealed itself as a lake! The dark botch, which seemed like the belated baggage of the night, revealed itself as a forest! “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” “Now I know in part, but then. . .!” “Grace to you and peace be multiplied in the knowledge of God.” Out of this advanced and advancing knowledge there is to come a multiplication of grace and peace. Grace is to be multiplied; the single drops are to become showers; the solitary rays are to glow like the noon. And peace is to be multiplied, deepened, heightened, and enriched! Is not this the very genius of fraternity? What thing more beautiful can brotherhood grow than wishes and intercessions like these?213
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