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THE FREEDOM OF THE REGENERATE WILL.
“The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same, in hope. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
IN these words St. Paul is contrasting the state of the unregenerate world with the state of the Church, which is born again through the Spirit of Christ. By ‘the creature,’ he intends the whole creation of God—the entire work of the six great days. He speaks of it as of one living and manifold person, stretching forth its head and its hands for deliverance from some oppressive burden, straining its sight in earnest longing for some great revelation of God. By this he means the silent anguish, 115as it were, of the whole inanimate earth, and the universal sorrows of mankind under the dominion of the fall. For the whole creation of God was brought into bondage to corruption, that is, to sin and death, not by its own act and will, but by the first father of all, in whom all fell. And yet not without a hope even from the beginning; because through the seed of the woman there was promised a redemption, by which the creation of God should be once more restored to freedom and to glory.
But though St. Paul speaks inclusively of the whole creation, even of the lower animals and of the world of nature, on which the tokens of the fall have manifestly passed, he speaks emphatically of mankind, and chiefly of the Gentiles.
By the bondage of corruption, he means the kingdom of Satan, which weighed upon every living soul—the mighty and ever multiplying tradition of sin, which for four thousand years had been gathering and growing in breadth and intensity over the face of the whole earth; the lineal and accumulated inheritance of personal and national wickedness, quickened by lusts, idolatry, sensual philosophies, atheism, tyranny, and bloodshed; towering to its height in the great empire of Home; which embodied, as it were, in one visible form, the kingdom of death; the death both of 116body and of soul, in this world and in the world beyond the grave.
And yet in all this misery and anguish there was an inextinguishable consciousness of a holier origin and of a higher destiny. The Gentile world was conscious of its own debasement; and, by ten thousand voices, uttered a lamentation, a kind of dim prophecy of its own deliverance. It had still enough of spiritual life to sorrow and to yearn after purity and the revelation of God. By its very expectation, it prophesied of the day when the feet of Evangelists should bring glad tidings of good upon the dark mountains. The call of the Gentiles, which the Church of Israel foretold by inspiration, the nations of the earth prophesied by earnest waiting and desire. There were spiritual attractions drawing together as the fulness of time came on, preparing the hearts of God’s elect for the gift of eternal life.
And this leads to the true meaning of the words, “the manifestation of the sons of God,” and “the glorious liberty of the children of God.” They mean the state of the regenerate, on whom was shed abroad the spirit of adoption; that is, the members of Christ’s mystical body, who were taken out of the dead world, and grafted into the living Church; over whom sin and death had no power of condemnation. In many places of the 117New Testament, the great grace of the Gospel is declared to be the adoption; that is, the grace and state of sonship. As in this chapter, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”5151 Rom. viii. 14-16.
So again St. Paul says to the Galatians, “When we were children (that is, in spiritual life), we were in bondage under the elements of the world: but when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”5252 Gal. iv. 3-7. Again, to take only one more of many passages: St. John says, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what 118we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.”5353 1 St. John iii. 1, 2. In all these places we are taught, that we are now the sons of God; and that there is, in virtue of our sonship, an inheritance, a fuller manifestation of grace, yet to come. “If children, then heirs, heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ.” “We know not what we shall be.” “We shall be like Him.” And this exactly interprets the words of St. Paul in this place. He speaks of the yearning of the creation of God, and of the Gentile world, for “the manifestation of the sons of God;” and then he adds, “and not only they, but ourselves also, which have received the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body.” They yearn to be like us; we, to be “like the angels of God.” Though we are manifested as His sons, we are not yet made perfect: though in our spiritual life we have been “delivered from the bondage of corruption,” yet in the body we must still die; we must wait for the resurrection, when He shall make the body of our humiliation like to the body of His glory.5454 Phil. iii. 21. And this explains also the meaning of the word ‘regeneration,’ which St. Paul uses of Baptism. It is the grace of the new Birth, “the laver of regeneration,” 119the being “born of water and of the Spirit.” By our blessed Lord it is used also of the resurrection, when the work of regeneration shall be made perfect by the redemption of the body. “Ye that have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit upon the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel:”5555 St. Matt. xix. 28. for our salvation is all one work, beginning at our baptism here, and carried on to the day of the resurrection, when all shall be made like Him, by the vision of Himself.
The plain meaning, then, of the text is that the whole world, conscious of its disinheritance, is crying aloud for the spirit of adoption, which is even now about to be shed abroad. The nations are teeming with gifts of secret grace which shall be gathered and compacted, by the power of a new birth, into the mystical body of Christ: they are waiting and breaking forth in impatient desire for the message of life, which the Father gave to His Son, and His Son hath given unto us. Out of that dark waste shall spring up sons and saints of God. “He will destroy the face of the covering, and the vail that is spread over all nations;” and the powers of the regeneration and of the resurrection shall work throughout 120mankind, casting forth the first and the second death, and healing the wounds of all creatures. Upon us who have been called this work is already begun. We are united to the Son of God, and are made partakers of His life, death, and resurrection. All that He has accomplished in His own Person is made ours by the free gift of God. The whole Church in the world is a new creation, rising up out of the old: sin and death, that is, the gates of hell, cannot prevail against it. The powers of the fall are turned back again upon their original source: against the Church of Christ they have no power. It is the justified body of a righteous Head; the immortal brotherhood of Him who is the Resurrection and the Life. We are “no more servants, but sons;”5656 Gal. iv. 7. no more in bondage, but “in the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Such is our state as Christians.
From this we learn, that the great gift of the Gospel in our regeneration is spiritual liberty, that is, the true freedom of the will.
God made man with a will perfectly free; a part of His own image. Man by sin enslaved it to sin, and yet so as to be always a free agent even in sin. Therefore in many passages of Scripture the contrast of the state of nature, and even of 121the Jews, with that of Christians, is an opposition of bondage and liberty: as in this place, between “the bondage of corruption,” and “the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Speaking to the Jews, our Lord said, “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”5757 St. John viii. 36. St. James calls the Gospel “the law of liberty;” and says, “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.”5858 St. James ii. 12. St. Paul says, “The law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane:”5959 1 Tim. i. 9. meaning, that they who are born again by the Spirit of Christ are no longer under the dominion of ignorance and lust, as the Gentiles; nor under ceremonies and commandments written on stone, as the Jews: they are gifted with the light and strength of the Spirit of God, and their law is not a law without them, but within, not on tables of stone, but in the heart and in the soul. “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.”6060 Heb. x. 16. Their law is the Spirit in a regenerate conscience; they are a law unto themselves. When St. Paul, therefore, says, “the law is not made 122for a righteous man,” it is in the sense of saying, the first axioms of science, the first rules of art, are not for the wise and skilful. Such guides are not for them, as the conscious and perceptible rules of their practice. Yet they may not contravene the very least of them. The most cultivated reason must obey the elementary laws of scientific truth as exactly as the rudest. They are a rule to all; only the learned do not lean upon them consciously. Such principles of truth have passed into their very nature, and have become spontaneous. So it is with the law of obedience in those that are faithful to their regeneration. They have received again the beginnings of the grace which in Adam was perfect; the impress of the image of God who is law to all things, even to Himself.
From this we may draw some practical lessons of great importance for the guidance of our life.
1 . First, how deep a degradation sin is,—above all, in the regenerate. The hatefulness of sin is hardly more appalling than its shame. It makes man, who is but little lower than the angels, to be the slave of corruption, like the beasts that perish. We hear much of the dignity of human nature; and truly a dignity there was when God made mankind in His own image and likeness: but in man as fallen, it is but the dream of a degraded 123lineage, of a kingly race thrust from its dominion; a mere mockery of its utter nakedness. “By whatsoever a man is overcome, by the same is he brought in bondage.” A wilful sinner is as a slave over whom a barter has been concluded. The money has been weighed for him; he is sold under sin; a mere tool, all the more degraded because a willing tool; worshipping the master that destroys and spurns him. By the abuse of his free will, he becomes the slave not only of the world and of the devil, but of his own corruption, of his own flesh, and of his own tyrannous passions, which, each one, gain a sort of outward personality, and usurp a despotism over the sordid and sensual will, degrading him, and, in every several act, making the degradation intense, because it is freely chosen and willingly endured. Such is every habit of vice, even in the heathen. But how much worse in those that have been born again, who, of sons of God, make themselves again “twofold more the children of hell than” before—who, out of the glorious liberty of the children of God, sell themselves to the bondage of lust, pride, revenge, and the like. Every such vice is a taskmaster, standing with a lash over his miserable servant. No one that has given himself up to such a bondage can call himself his own. He has lost all title and property in himself; he is both 124possessed and used, and made away with, by another, and always with his own obsequious consent. So false and contradictory is sin. When we seek liberty in license, we become “fast bound in misery and iron.” There is no slavery so great as that of a will which has broken the yoke of Christ, and become, by its own free choice, the servant of its own sinful inclinations; for the will itself is in bondage to its own lusts. So sinners enslave each other. “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are servants of corruption.” The most slavish will is that which sins with the greatest freedom. We must not limit this to grosser vices: far from it. The smoother and more refined sins are all in this point alike. Ambition, personal vanity, jealous tempers, an evil eye, love of money, worldly pleasures, luxury, indolence, insincerity, and many like faults, which are for the most part concealed, and very subtil. Sometimes they appear under forms that the world admires; and become, every one, masters to whom we abandon “the glorious liberty of the children of God.” There is something very melancholy in the abject and eager servility with which men obey their hard commands; sacrificing health, peace, freshness of heart, conscience, the light of God’s presence, the very soul of their spiritual life. They enter again insensibly into the 125bondage of corruption, and groan under the burden which weighs on them more heavily day by day. Where is, I will not ask “the glorious liberty of the sons of God,” but the dignity of human nature, in a vain or vicious Christian? We must be sons or slaves. Choose which you will be. As you live so you choose. Some men make their profession a bondage. They toil for a fortune, or a name, or to make a family, and leave a title behind them, as if they were created for no other end; as if in that their will had found its true place and sphere of responsibility. Others make an abject slavery of a life of pleasure, under which they are perpetually complaining, and yet perpetually entangling themselves deeper. What is worldly society but a thraldom, in which almost every one feels himself both burdened and galled by unmeaning customs, by heartless usages, which break in upon the order, the peace, and the sanctity of a devout life? Nevertheless, people still go on, professing reluctance and unwillingness at every step, longing to be free, and yet willingly offering themselves to be bound tenfold closer to the wheel which carries them in the endless track of a worldly life. Miserable struggles, all in vain. In this way some go on through life, and lose at last the perception of their bondage; dream that they are free; wear their chains till they forget 126them, or would be ill at ease if their shackles were struck off.
2. We may learn next, how great is the misery of an inconsistent life. It forfeits the true grace of Christian obedience. To be religious from mere sense of necessity, that is, against our will, is a contradiction and a yoke. To try to love God because we are afraid of Him, what can be more piteous? What more miserable than the reluctant, laggard unwillingness with which some people do what they call their religious duties? The longer they do them against the grain, the more irksome they become, and the more estranged their hearts will grow. And this must be so, until they have released their will from the bondage of worldly or personal temptations. So long as these keep hold on them, they are not, in the true and perfect sense, free agents. It is much to be feared that many whose lives are pure, who appear devout in all the outward usages of the Church, serve God with a heart that has no pleasure in obedience. If they would speak out plainly what they feel in secret, they would confess that to them God’s commandments are “grievous,” and the yoke of Christ is not “light.” Their free will is given to another, and it is but a constrained homage they render to Christ. The glorious liberty of the children of God turns to a forced, necessary 127observance of commandments. They are under a law, and have retrograded in the scale of spiritual perfection; from sons, they have turned back again to be servants; and their whole temper of heart towards God is infected by a consciousness of indevotion and of a lingering undutiful will.
This it is that makes the spiritual habits of the soul so weak, and the faults of the mind so strong. People grow dejected under a consciousness of difficulty, and become faint-hearted in temptations; and faults come back upon them and regain ascendancy. Such people come at last to say, It is of no use; I have tried for years to find my happiness in religion, but nothing will do. It is all as irksome as ever. I feel no pleasure in any thing holy; and the thought of God alarms me. Now what is the true cause of all this? “Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joy fulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things: and He shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck.”6161 Deut. xxviii. 47, 48. It is because we do not realise the blessedness and the power of a free will; because we will not do God’s will as sons, out of a loving and glad obedience, therefore we cannot stand 128against the world. It takes us captive, and puts out our eyes, and sets us blinded to the mill, to labour in darkness, in an involuntary and shameful servitude.
3. And once more: we may see how great is the happiness and the dignity of a formed and mature faith. For what is faith, but the realisation and actual enjoyment of the glorious liberty of a free and holy will, supported by the unseen world, by the presence of God, and by the Spirit of the Father and of the Son? It is through this deep consciousness of what their spiritual birth had made them, that saintly men in all ages have been strengthened to break through the manifold bondage of sin and the world, of this fallen life, and, harder still, of their own self-indulgent hearts. It is by this that they have conceived and accomplished all great works of mercy, all great sacrifices of self. They cleared away the space around their lot in the world, and laid down the lines and principles of their life upon the scale of that “liberty with which Christ has made us free.” Without either affected singularity or needless contradiction to other people,—tokens always of a weak and little mind,—there has ever been a clear and distinguishable character about every such man; a character altogether his own, standing out plain, harmonious, and intelligible. 129This is the true development of our new birth; the true secret of all strength and force in the individual will; the several and distinct personality of the members of the mystical body of Christ. Such a man is His freeman. The world has no jurisdiction over him: public opinion, the maxims and example of others, the traditions of centuries and of nations, have no hold upon him; he pays them no allegiance. The baits and lures of ambition, wealth, pleasure, flattery, popularity, have no seduction for his will. It stands alone in the centre of his own soul, stayed only upon God. No external forces seem to tell upon him. Personal infirmities disappear from the outline of his character: personal temptations cleave asunder and are passed through without perceptible exertion; they seem rather to melt away before him. Great sacrifices are the unstrained acts of his daily life. There is a perfect sameness about him at all times; all his ways of judging seem fixed and invariable; his very sympathies appear to be under laws that never change; they may be always foretold and acted on; his perceptions of right and wrong grow to be intuitive; and his words, from the sameness of his inward character, seem to follow by a certain order, and to recur by certain just and accurate combinations. Every thing appears to be 130already weighed, and at once to find its place under some deliberate judgment. Such men are not more perfect in strength than in gentleness; in their exalted sanctity than in their entire self-abasement. They are servants of Him who was at once the Lord of all power and might, and also meek and lowly of heart.
What, after all, is this but the power of a will that is truly free, enfranchised by the glorious liberty of God’s kingdom? And it is to be found not only in highly cultivated men, but in the most simple; not in the refined alone, but among the rudest. It is the inexhaustible fulness of the Spirit of Christ, issuing, through a will holy and free, and filling the whole spirit and soul of man. This is the true and only basis of all real Christian perfection; the universal foundation of all true sanctity. Under all variety of circumstances, this is the one true character of saints. It matters not what be the lot or labour of a man in life; he can build securely on nothing else; all other foundations will bear only partial and imperfect forms of obedience. The world may commend them as rational, moderate, and Christian; but the sanctity of apostles, prophets, martyrs, and saints, of all kindreds, and nations, and ages,—the full breadth of the life of the Spirit is built on this one law of grace alone:—they served God 131with a will free and powerful, as sons adopted in the Spirit of the Son of God.
We see, then, our calling. Our only pattern is the life of our Lord: and by His spiritual grace we may be like Him if we will. Let us not weaken ourselves by taking a lower standard: for we shall come short enough through our own infirmity. Pray for His daily help, that you may strive and watch as long as you are conscious of any warp or bias which draws your will from the directness of its intention. If, by God’s mercy, you are free from grosser vices, yet the world and the customs of life, the influence of your employment and your relaxations, the temper and dispositions which seem born in us, will make for you many temptations, and cast many fetters upon your will. It is a hard thing to be truly free; to have no master but One in heaven.
Remember, then, that as you are under the law of liberty, so by that law you must be judged. And that judgment will be not by the letter of the decalogue, nor by a scanty and measured rule; but by your gifts and blessings, by your opportunities and powers, by the grace of sonship, and the law of filial obedience. When you are tempted, say, “Shall I, the freeman of Christ, make myself the servant of the world? From a child shall I again become a slave?” It is only one stroke that is 132needed to set us at large from most of our temptations. If we had faith to be bold, we should strike it, and go free.
But that you may be weaned from the world which fascinates your hearts, pray for the love of God; pray that He will shed abroad in your hearts a consciousness of His unspeakable love to you, and make you delight in His love as your supreme and exceeding joy. This will make all evil hateful to you: every thought and shadow of sin will fall with a sensible pain upon your conscience. The light and paltry things of the world will be tasteless and irksome. Even the dearest affections will be, not destroyed, God forbid, but taken up into a higher and more blissful love. Why is self-denial bitter, but because our hold on what we love is so tenacious? If we loved Him more, we should let these fall from us, that we might delight ourselves above all in God. Even the sharpness of the Cross would be sacred and sweet. Every act of a will which is like unto His will, Who, of His own free choice, “offered Himself without spot to God,” would bring a sensible accession of happiness and peace. What do our heavy hearts prove but that other things are sweeter to us than His will; that we have not attained to the full mastery of our true freedom, the full perception of its power; that our sonship is still but faintly 133realised, and its blessedness not yet proved and known? An active and ardent love of God would make all things easy both to do and suffer. Disappointment, pain, and affliction are hard to bear, because He has one will and we have another. We suffer, but not willingly; and this collision is the cause of all distress. Our consent would turn all our trials into obedience. By consenting we make them our own, and offer them with ourselves again to Him.
A little while, and the mystery of this disordered world will be accomplished: our deliverance will be fulfilled, and the number of the elect be full. Then shall all be made perfect. They who are waiting in the rest beyond the grave; they who shall be quick on earth at His coming; they and we, if we be faithful, shall be clothed upon with life—with a spiritual body, with the glory of the resurrection; and the whole creation shall be delivered from the bondage of the fall. There shall be no more travailing in pain; no more tokens of sin on the creatures of God; no more death. Every scar shall be smoothed out, and every soil cleansed away at His coming and His kingdom, when the new creation shall rise out of the old, and the morning stars shall sing together, and all the sons of God shall shout for joy.134
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