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TRUE LIBERTY THE RESULT OF CHRISTIANITY.
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.—JOHN viii. 36.
THE meaning of these words will best appear, by considering the occasion of them, which was this: Upon our Saviour’s preaching to the Jews, many believed on him; whereupon he tells them, that if they continued in his doctrine, did not only yield a present assent, but firmly embraced it, and framed their life and practice according to it, then they would be his disciples indeed, and they should know the truth; they would come by degrees to a more perfect knowledge and understanding of it, “and the truth would make them free.” At this expression, of being made free, they were somewhat offended; because they took themselves to be the freest people in the world: and by virtue of God’s covenant with Abraham, from whom they were descended, to have many privileges and immunities conferred upon them, above the rest of mankind: (ver. 33.) “They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” They took this for a great affront to them, and an insinuation that they were in slavery and bondage. But they mistook our Saviour, who did not speak of an outward and civil servitude; and yet, if their pride and conceit of themselves would have suffered them to 19consider it, it was true likewise in that sense, that they had lost their liberty, being at that time in great bondage and subjection to the Romans. But that was not the thing our Saviour meant; he spake of a spiritual servitude, which, if men were truly sensible of, is far more grievous than that of the body, and the outward man: (ver. 34, 35.) “Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin, is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever, but the son abideth ever:”” that is, a servant hath no right to any thing, but is perfectly at the disposal of his master, being a part of his goods, which he may use as he pleaseth; but the son hath a right to the inheritance, and is, as it were, lord of the estate; and then it follows, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
In which words our Saviour seems to allude to a custom which was in some of the cities of Greece, and perhaps in other places, whereby the son and heir had a power to adopt brethren, and to give them the liberty and privilege of the family. If the Son of God set you free from this spiritual slavery, and adopt you to be his brethren, “then are you free indeed;” not only in vain opinion and conceit, as you take yourselves to be by virtue of being Abraham’s children; but really and in truth, ye shall be asserted to a truer and more excellent kind of liberty, than that which ye value yourselves so much upon by virtue of being Abraham’s seed. “Then shall ye be free indeed.”
So that our Saviour’s meaning is plainly this: that the doctrine of the Christian religion, which the Son of God came to preach to the world, heartily embraced, does assert men to the truest 20and most perfect kind of liberty. I know this is but a metaphor, whereby the benefits and advantages which the doctrine of God our Saviour hath brought to mankind are expressed and set forth to us; but it is a very easy and fit metaphor, and does convey the thing intended very fully to our minds, and hath a great deal of truth and reality under it. And to the end we may understand it the better, I shall do these two things:”
First, Observe to you in the general, that the Spirit of God, in the Holy Scriptures, delights very much to set forth to us the benefits and advantages of the Christian religion, by metaphors taken from such things as are most pleasant and desirable to men.
Secondly, I shall shew particularly in what respects the Son of God by his doctrine makes us free. For when the Son is said to make us free, we are to understand that it is by his doctrine; for that our Saviour had expressly said before, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
First, I shall observe to you in the general, that the Spirit of God, in the Holy Scriptures, delights very much to set forth to us the benefits and advantages of the Christian religion, by metaphors taken from such things as are most pleasant and desirable to men; more especially by these three—of light, life, and liberty; than which nothing can be named that is more delightful and valuable to men.
By light; of which Solomon says, that “it is sweet, and a pleasant thing for the eyes to behold the sun.” Hence our Saviour is called “the Sun of righteousness,” (Mal. iv. 2.) and “the light of the world.” And, (ver. 12. of this chapter) “I am the light of the world; he that followeth me, shall not 21walk in darkness.” And (chap. i. 9.) he is called “the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world;” or, as the words should rather be translated, “which coming into the world, lighteth every man.” He is said “to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.” (Luke i. 79.) “To be a light to lighten the nations.” (Luke ii. 32.) And the doctrine which he preached is called a light, (John iii. 19.) “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light.” And (2 Cor. iv. 6.) the gospel is called “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ.”
So likewise by the metaphor of life; which is that which men value above all other things. (John xi. 25.) “I am the resurrection and the life.” And, (John xiv. 6.) “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” And because bread is the chief support of life, our Saviour is likewise set forth to us under that notion; (John vi. 33.) “For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” And we are said to “have life through his name/ (John xx. 31.) “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name.” And the doctrine of the gospel is likewise called “the word of life,” (Phil. ii. 16.)
And, to come to my present purpose, the benefits and advantages of the gospel are frequently represented to us under the notion of liberty, and redemption from slavery and bondage, which, among men, is valued next to life itself. Hence are those titles given to our Saviour, of a Redeemer, and Deliverer; 22and he is said to have “obtained eternal redemption for us,” (Heb. ix. 12.) He is said to have “given himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity,” (Tit. ii. 14.) And the publishing of the gospel is compared to the proclaiming of the year of jubilee among the Jews, wherein all persons are set at liberty, (Isa. lxi. 1, 2.) “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Upon this account likewise is the gospel called by St. James, “the royal law,” and “the perfect law of liberty,” (James i. 25.)
Thus you see that this is one of the principal metaphors whereby the Scripture sets forth to us the advantages of the Christian doctrine; and that it is not seldom and casually used, but frequently, and upon design, as that which most fitly represents to us the benefits we have by the gospel.
Secondly, I shall now, in the next place, shew more particularly, in what respects the Son of God, by his doctrine, may be said to make us free. And that in these two respects:”
I. As it frees us from the bondage of ignorance, and error, and prejudice.
II. From the slavery of our lusts and passions.
I. It frees us from the bondage of ignorance, and error, and prejudice, which is a more inveterate and obstinate error. And this is a great bondage to the mind of man, to live in ignorance of those things which are useful for us to know, to be mistaken about those matters which are of great moment and 23concernment to us to be rightly informed in: ignorance is the confinement of our understandings, as knowledge, and right apprehensions of things, are a kind of liberty and enlargement to the mind of man. Under this slavery the world groaned, and were “bound in” these “chains of darkness” for many years, till the “light of the glorious gospel” broke in upon the world, and our blessed Saviour, who is truth, came to set us free.
As for the heathen part of the world, the generality of them lived in gross ignorance of God, and pernicious mistakes concerning him. So the apostle tells us, (Rom. i. 21.) that “they were vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” And, (Eph. iv. 17, 18.) that “they walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” They had gross, and unworthy, and false apprehensions concerning the nature of God, by which they were misled into horrible superstitions, and abominable idolatries: and in conformity to the false notions which they had of their deities, and in imitation of their fabulous stories concerning them, they were guilty of all manner of lewdness and vice; so that through their mistakes of God, they were altogether estranged from that virtuous and Divine life, which men ought to lead: and considering what apprehensions they had of God, many of their superstitions and vices were almost unavoidable. And by this advantage of the ignorance that mankind was sunk into, the devil did chiefly maintain and keep up his kingdom; it being next to impossible for men amidst so much darkness to see the right way, and walk in it. It was 24 easy for him, when he had thus enslaved their understandings, and blinded their eyes, to “lead them captive at his pleasure.”
Yea, the Jews themselves, though they enjoyed many degrees of light beyond the rest of the world, and had the advantage of frequent revelations, yet this was but darkness, in comparison of those clear discoveries which are made to mankind by the gospel; by which many things are revealed to us, which were “hid from ages and generations;” and one of the most important truths, and of the greatest efficacy upon the minds of men, is brought to light, viz. the certainty of a future state and the rewards of it. This the apostle tells us is “made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” (2 Tim. i. 10.) Under the dispensation of the law, the Jews had very imperfect notions concerning the Divine nature, and the best and most acceptable way of worshipping God, which they thought to consist in external rites, and carnal observances, in washing of the body, and in sacrifices of lambs, and goats, and other creatures; for which reason the law is frequently represented in the New Testament, as a state of bondage and restraint. It is called “a yoke which neither they nor their fathers were able to bear;” a schoolmaster, which kept men under a severe awe and discipline. It is represented as a prison, and a condition of restraint, (Gal. iii. 23.) “Before faith came,” that is, before the gospel was revealed, “we were kept under the law, shut up.” Upon the same account the temper and disposition of men under that dispensation, is called a spirit of bondage; “ye have not received the spirit of bondage 25again to fear;” (Rom. vii. 15.) that is, ye are not still under the law. And, on the contrary, the gospel is represented as a state of liberty and adoption, whereby men are freed from the bondage they were in under the law: so that there was great need in reference to the Jews, as well as the heathen world, of a clearer light, and more perfect revelation, to free the minds of men from the servitude of ignorance and error.
And this was a bondage indeed, worse than that of Egypt or Babylon, because they were in love with this slavery, and fond of their fetters; and when “light came into the world, they loved darkness rather than light.” So that it was one of the hardest things in the world to convince them of their ignorance, and to make them patient of instruction, and willing to be set free from those violent and unreasonable prejudices against our Saviour and his doctrine, which they were possessed withal; insomuch, that the apostles found it an easier work to gain the heathen world, than the Jews. For though the heathens had less knowledge, yet their pride and prejudice were not so great; they were in a thicker darkness than the Jews; but when the light came, they were more willing to entertain it, and did not shut their eyes so wilfully against it; when the prison doors were open, they were glad to come out, and accept of liberty; but the Jews were so obstinately fixed in their prejudice, that they would not let u the truth set them free.” When this jubilee, this “acceptable year of the Lord,” was proclaimed, they refused the benefit of it; and, like those who were of a servile disposition among them, they were contented to have “their ears bored through,” and “to be servants for ever.”26
But yet it was a great liberty which the gospel offered to them, had they been sensible of it. For how easy is the mind of man, when it finds itself freed from those errors and prejudices, which it sees others labour under! And how does it rejoice in this liberty! Certainly one of the greatest pleasures of human nature is the discovery of truth, yea even in curious speculations, which are of no great concernment to us. How was Archimedes transported upon a mathematical discovery, so that he thought no sacrifice too great to offer to the gods by way of acknowledgment! but surely the pleasure is justly greater in matters of so great moment and consequence to our happiness! The light of the sun is not more grateful to our outward sense, than the light of truth is to the soul. By ignorance, and error, and prejudice, the mind of man is fettered and entangled, so that it hath not the free use of itself: but when we are rightly informed, especially in those things which are useful and necessary for us to know, we recover our liberty, and feel ourselves enlarged from the restraints we were in before. And this effect the saving truths of the gospel have upon the minds of men, above any discoveries that ever were made to the world. Christianity hath set the world free from those chains of darkness and ignorance it was bound withal, and from the most dangerous and pernicious errors, and that in matters of greatest consequence and importance. This is the first kind of freedom, which we have by the doctrine of the gospel, freedom from the bondage of ignorance, error, and prejudice, in matters of greatest moment and importance to our happiness. And though this liberty be highly to be valued; yet the other, which I am going to speak to, is more considerable, and that is,27
II. Freedom from the slavery of our passions and lusts, from thetyranny of vicious habits and practices. And this, which is the saddest and worst kind of bondage, the doctrine of the gospel is a a most proper and powerful means to free us from; and this is that which I suppose is principally in tended by our Saviour. For when the Jews told him that they did not stand in need of any liberty, that they were Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any, our Saviour declares what kind of bondage and slavery he meant; “He that committeth sin, is the servant of sin.” Wickedness and vice are the bondage of the will, which is the proper seat of liberty: and therefore there is no such slave in the world, as a man that is subject to his lusts, that is under thetyranny of strong and unruly passions, of vicious inclinations and habits. This man is a slave to many masters, who are very imperious and exacting; and the more he yieldeth to them, with the greatertyranny and rigour they will use him. One passion hurries a man one way, and another drives him fiercely another; one lust commands him upon such a service, and another calls him off to another work; so that a man under the command and authority of his lusts and passions, is like the centurion’s servants, when “they say to him, Come, he must come; and when they say, Go, he must go; when they say, Do this, he must do it; because he is in subjection to them.”
How does a man lose the power over himself by any inordinate passions! How do anger and revenge hurry a man into rash and mischievous actions, which he repents of commonly as soon as they are done! How do malice and envy torment the mind, and keep it in continual labour and 28uneasiness! What a slave and drudge is he, who is possessed with an inordinate love for the world, and desire of riches! How does thetyranny of ambition thrust men upon dangers, and torment them with disappointment! What a bondage is it to be under the slavish fear of death! And how does every lust and vicious habit domineer over a man! So that though he desire and many times resolve to do otherwise, yet he is not able to assert his own liberty, and resist the weakest temptations when they come in his way.
And that which makes their condition the worse, is, that every man is wholly at first, and afterwards in some degree, consenting to his own bondage. In other cases most men are made slaves against their wills, by the force and power of others: but the wicked man chooseth this condition, and voluntarily submits himself to it. There are very few to be found in the world, that are so stupid and senseless, so sick of their liberty, and so weary of their happiness, as to put themselves into this condition: but the wicked “sells himself to do wickedly,” and parts with that liberty which he may keep; and if he would resolve to do it, and beg God’s grace to that purpose, none could take it from him.
And, which is an aggravation of his servile condition, he makes himself a slave to his own servants, to those that were born to be subject to him, his own appetites, and inclinations, and passions. So that this is the worst kind of slavery, so much worse than that of the mines and galleys, as the soul and spirit of a man are more noble and excellent than his body. Now the doctrine of the gospel is the most proper and effectual means in the world to free us from this servitude; by presenting us with motives and arguments to rescue ourselves from this slavery, 29and conferring upon us strength and assistance to that end. The doctrine of our Saviour represents to us all those considerations which may convince us of the miserable bondage of those who are under the power and dominion of sin, and of the fatal inconvenience of continuing in that state; that “the end of these things” will be death: and to encourage us to vindicate our own liberty, offers us the grace and assistance of God’s Holy Spirit, to help our weakness, and to strengthen our holy resolution and to carry us through those difficulties which of ourselves we are not able to conquer. The Son of God stands by us in this conflict, and “the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead” works in us; and if we would make use of this strength which is offered to us, we may “break these bonds in sunder, and cast these cords from us: for greater is he that is in us, than he that is in the world:”” the Spirit of God is stronger than “that spirit which works in the children of disobedience.” So that there is nothing wanting to set us at liberty, but the resolution of our own wills. If we will quit ourselves like men, the power of God and his grace are ready to take our part against all our enemies. “The Son of God was manifest for this end, to take away sin, and to destroy the works of the devil, to redeem us from all iniquity,” and “to deliver us from the powers of darkness.” And why should we despair of victory and success, when “the Captain of our salvation,” who hath “led captivity captive,” leads us on, and, as an encouragement to us, shews us his own triumphs and conquests which he hath made over sin and hell?” Are we enslaved to the world, and the lusts of it?” He hath “overcome the world;” and by faith we may overcome it, that is, by a firm belief and persuasion 30of those things which he hath revealed to us; “for this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Does the fear of sufferings, and persecution, and death, keep us in bondage?” The Son of God hath] rescued us from this fear, by setting before us the glorious hopes of eternal life. For nothing makes men afraid of death, but the want of assurance of another life, and of the happiness of it: but this our Saviour hath “brought to light by the gospel.” By his own death and resurrection he hath given us perfect assurance of life after death, and a blessed immortality. And this, the apostle tells us, was one great reason why the Son of God took our mortal nature upon him, that he might conquer death for us, and free us from the slavish fear of it: (Heb. ii. 14, 15.) “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same, that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them, who through fear of death were all their life-time subject to bondage/ The inferences from this discourse shall be these two:”
First, To shew us what that liberty is which the Son of God confers upon us. It is not a liberty to sin; for that, our Saviour tells us, is a state of slavery and bondage; “He that committeth sin, is the servant of sin.” This use indeed some made of the Christian doctrine, to encourage themselves in sin, under the pretence of Christian liberty, and that in the apostles days. So St. Peter tells us, (2 Pet. ii. 19.) “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption,” and in bond age to their lusts. But nothing can be more directly contrary to the great design and intention of the gospel, which indeed promises and declares liberty; 31but not from the laws of God, and the obligation of their duty, but, as the apostle calls it, from “the law of sin and death.” Christian liberty does not consist in being free from our duty, but in doing those things which really tend to our perfection and happiness, in being “free from sin, and becoming the servants of God.” This is the proper use and exercise of our liberty, to do what we ought, to live according to reason and the laws of God, which are holy, just, and good. The freedom which the Son of God designed, was our being rescued from the bondage of sin and corruption, of the devil and our own lusts, “that, being delivered from the hands of these enemies, we might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our lives.”
Secondly, To persuade us to assert our liberty, “and stand fast in it.” The Son of God hath done that which is sufficient on his part to vindicate man kind from the slavery of their lusts and passions: and if we will vigorously set about the work, and put forth our endeavours, we may rescue ourselves from this bondage. And because it must be acknowledged that this is no easy work, therefore, by way of direction and encouragement, I would commend to men these following particulars:”
1. To consider seriously the misery and danger of this condition, and the necessity of freeing ourselves from this slavery. I have shewn that it is the worst kind of bondage, and it hath the saddest consequences. Some service, though it be hard and grievous, yet men are content to endure it, because it may prove beneficial to them, and is in order to a greater freedom; but the service of sin is altogether unprofitable. “What fruit had ye then (says the apostle) in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?” 32for the end of those things is death. The wages of sin is death.” All the reward that shall be given us for the service, is misery and punishment, “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, to every soul that doeth evil.” So that it is necessary that we should shake off this yoke, as we desire to escape the chains of darkness, and the unspeakable and insupportable misery of another world. He that now makes us his slaves to do his work, will torment us for the doing of it to all eternity.
2. Seeing this condition is so insupportable, and the consequences of it so dreadful, let us take up a firm and manly resolution to free ourselves from this slavery. It is no easy matter to break off a vicious habit, which we long have been accustomed to; nay, perhaps it is one of the most difficult things that human nature can attempt, and therefore it requires great firmness of mind, and strength of resolution. It is next to the going against nature, and the conquering of that: for custom is a sort of nature, and every habit is a bowing of nature a certain way, and when nature hath once long stood bent one way, it is hard to restore it to its former condition; and nothing but a great resolution, taken up upon a full conviction of the necessity of the thing will carry us through.
3. For the encouragement of this resolution, consider what assistance God hath promised us. In deed when we consider the difficulty of the thing, and the weakness and unsteadfastness of our own minds, how apt we are to give over when we meet with great opposition and resistance, we might justly be discouraged in our attempts, if we had no thing but our own strength to trust to: but God bath promised to stand by us, and second us in the conflict; and if he be for us, what can stand against 33us! There is nothing too hard for a stout resolution backed by the grace of God.
4. That we may not be discouraged by an apprehension of too much difficulty in the thing, consider that the main difficulty is at first. So soon as we have resolutely begun, the work is half done; if we can but sustain the first brunt, the enemy will give ground apace; every day we shall get more strength, and the habits of sin will be weakened. In all cases there is difficulty in breaking off a habit, and doing contrary to what we have been used and accustomed to do: but after we have practised the contrary awhile, it will every day grow more easy and pleasant; for custom will make any thing so.
5. Consider that the longer we continue in this state, the harder we shall find it to rescue ourselves from it; for sin will every day get more strength, and we shall have less; for vice is so far from being mortified by age, that by every day’s continuance in it we increase the power of it: and so much strength as anyone adds to his disease he takes from himself. And this is a double weakening of us, when we do not only lose our strength, but the enemy gets it, and will employ it against us. Therefore, let us presently set about this work, “to-day, whilst it is called to-day, lest we be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” The longer we continue in sin, the farther God withdraws his grace from us; and not only so, but the devil gets a greater dominion over us, and a firmer possession of us, till by degrees we do insensibly slide into that state, in which, without the miraculous grace of God, we are like for ever to continue. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” then may ye also be good, that are accustomed to evil.” It is next to 34a natural impossibility for a man to rescue himself out of this state.
6. And lastly, Be not discouraged though ye do not meet with that success, at first, which ye expected and hoped for; though after several attempts to recover your liberty, ye be foiled and cast back. It sometimes so happens that some are, by a mighty resolution, and very extraordinary and overpowering degree of God’s grace, reclaimed from a wicked life at once: but in the ordinary methods of God’s grace, evil habits are mastered and subdued by degrees; and though we be resolved upon a better course, and entered upon it, yet the inclinations to our former course will frequently return upon us, and may sometimes too prevail. And we are not to think this strange: it is nothing but what is natural, and may reasonably be expected. It is no just ground of discouragement to us, if, after we have engaged in a good course, we be sometimes pulled back again, and the habits which we are breaking off from gather strength, and make head again; as an enemy after he is routed, and hath begun to fly, doth frequently rally, and makes as if he would renew the fight again, and may perhaps prevail in a little skirmish: but for all this, we are nevertheless in a fair way to victory, if we will pursue our first advantage, and prosecute it vigorously. Nay, this should be so far from discouraging us, that it should make us resume new courage, that we may not lose what we have got.
I the rather mention this, because many miscarry upon this account, and many good resolutions and attempts to vindicate our liberty from the bondage of corruption, are given over and come to nothing, because men make false accounts of things, and expect 35to conquer and get a complete victory at first: and indeed they are taught by those who are not well skilled in this spiritual warfare, that this work is done in an instant, and the habits of grace and virtue are infused into men at once; and if men give back, all they had done is lost, and that they are in a worse condition, than if they had never begun: whereas usually it is quite otherwise, and the habits of goodness are acquired, as other habits are, by slow degrees at first, and with a great deal of conflict; and it is a good while before a man comes to that confirmed state, that he may be said to have conquered; but if he persists in his resolutions, and when he hath received some foil, take heart again, he is in the way to victory; and though he be not in a perfect state of acceptance with God, yet his endeavours have the acceptance of good beginnings, and he hath no reason to be discouraged at what he had reason to expect when he began this work, if he calculate things aright: and they that tell men otherwise, have taken up false notions in divinity, but do not consult human nature, and the usual progress of God’s grace in the conversion of a sinner, and reclaiming him in a wicked course, and have not taken sufficient care to reconcile their notions of divinity, with the nature of things, and the certain and undoubted experience of mankind. Therefore let no man be faint and discouraged upon this account, and think the thing is not to be done, because he doth not meet with perfect success at first; for this seldom happens, and therefore ought not to be expected: but let him still go on and reinforce his resolutions, and the opposition and difficulty will abate, and the work continually grow easier upon his hand, and “the God of peace will at last tread down Satan under his feet.”36
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