Copyright 1945 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
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He hath sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives. -- Isa. 61:1.
"Whosoever will may come." In our discussion of this theme we asked the question: to whom must we come? And the answer is: we must come to Jesus. But this gave rise to the further question: and who is this Jesus to whom we must come? And to this we have given various answers, in order to discover whether man by nature has the will to come to Him. Jesus is the revelation of the God of our salvation, and He is able to save to the uttermost them that come to God by Him. The will to come to Jesus, therefore, is motivated by the longing to come to God. Christ is the Rest-giver, and to them that come to Him He promises eternal rest in the tabernacle of God, the perfection of God's friendship and fellowship. The will to come to Him presupposes that one seeks that rest. Christ is the water and the bread of life, and the will to come to Him means that one hungers and thirsts after righteousness. Today we consider this Jesus to whom we must come from still another aspect: He is also the true Liberator, and He promises certain freedom to all that come to Him.
More than once the Scriptures proclaim that Christ is the Liberator and that in Him there is true freedom. Already in the old dispensation He announced Himself through the prophet Isaiah as the one Whom the Lord had anointed to preach good tidings unto the meek, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound, Isa. 61:1. And it was this passage which He read to an attentive and amazed audience in the synagogue of Nazareth, applying it to Himself in the words: "This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears." Lu. 4:16-21. Again, on the feast of the tabernacles He said to the Jews in Jerusalem: "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free... If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed," John 8:31-36. Hence, it is the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus that makes us free from the law of sin and death, Rom. 8:2. And through Him even, the creature shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God, Rom. 8:21. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, II Cor. 3:17. And they that come unto Him are admonished to stand in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free, Gal. 5:1. Christ is the true Liberator, and in Him there is freedom indeed!
Now, here it would seem, is a theme that appeals to the hearts of all men, and one might expect that all men would eagerly flock to this Jesus the Liberator that might set them free. Are we not told that men thirst for freedom, and that liberty is more precious to them than life? Is it not said that all history is characterized by fierce and determined struggle for freedom? Do we hopefully look forward to the so-called four freedoms, freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech, and freedom of worship? And are we not enduring all the misery and destruction and bloodshed of the present world-conflict in order to attain to, and to secure unto ourselves that much coveted prize of freedom? Well, then, Christ promises all this! He announces Himself as the perfect Liberator. O, yes, He promises freedom from want, and that, too, from absolutely all want of body and of soul! He promises freedom from fear, and that, too, from all fear, the deepest and most universal cause of fear not excepted, that of death and hell. He promises freedom of speech in the true and highest sense of the word, and freedom of religion and worship that can never be shackled. And, mark you, He promises not only freedom from something, negatively, but His promise is of positive freedom. From want unto everlasting satisfaction and abundance, from fear unto perfect confidence and peace, from oppression unto complete liberty of conscience, from deepest misery unto highest bliss, from horrible death unto everlasting life, He promises to set us free! And He proffers this liberty as a free gift. You have nothing to sacrifice for it; you need not work or fight for this liberty; you need not go through the agony of war to attain to this liberty. He realizes this perfect liberty all alone! If the Son shall make you free, ye will be free indeed!
Yet, paradoxical though it may seem, men who fight to the death for freedom do not want true liberty, and will not come to Jesus. On both occasions we already mentioned on which the Lord proclaimed Himself as the Liberator, the Jews rejected Him, became incensed against Him, and wanted to kill Him. In Nazareth, though they admitted that He was a gracious speaker, they had it in their hearts to say to Him: "Physician, heal thyself." And when the Lord insisted, they became filled with wrath, and would have cast Him down the precipice, had He not miraculously shaken them off. And in Jerusalem, the Jews denied that they were in bondage, called Him a Samaritan, said that He had a devil, and took up stones to kill him, but again the Lord easily escaped out of their hands, even going through the midst of them, John 8:48 ff. Nor is it different today. Men rather strive and fight to the death for their own conception, their carnal and impossible conception of liberty, than to be liberated into the freedom with which Christ sets us free.
Why did men, who ostensibly were proud of their freedom, reject, seek to kill, and finally crucify Him Who proclaimed liberty to the captives? And why do men, who claim that they highly prize liberty, and fight for their freedom, always crucify this Liberator afresh? What is this freedom, which men despise?
We must understand that freedom is not, first of all, and in its deepest sense a relation of man to man, but man to God. Nor is it a mere external relationship, state, or condition: it is a matter of the heart of man. And again liberty is not a state in which a man can do as he pleases, but it is a spiritual virtue according to which it pleases him to do the will of God. Any creature is free that, according to the impulse of its inner nature, can live move within the limits of the law of God ordained for that creature. The eagle soars high into the sky, quite in harmony with its nature, and with the law of God for the eagle. Put the king of birds into a cage, or clip its wings, and it is no longer free. The tree, on the other hand, thrives in the soil, and is free when it is firmly planted and is able to strike its roots into the ground. Uproot it, and it is no longer free. Now, man is a moral creature. He has a rational nature. And the law of God, the living will of God, that is in harmony with man's nature is to love the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his mind, and with all his soul, and with all his strength, and thus to live in the sphere of God's covenant of friendship. And that man is free who has the right, and who is able and willing to live in the sphere of that love.
For the sinner this means that liberty is freedom from sin! And this is the freedom Christ proclaimed. And he was not concerned about any other freedom. In fact, He was quite radical about this. He insisted that no freedom is possible, unless a man be free from sin. There is no real freedom from want, there is no possibility of freedom from fear, there is no freedom of thought, or of speech, or of worship, unless the sinner be liberated from the shackles of sin. For "whosoever sinneth is a slave of sin," John 8:34. And He denied that man is able to liberate himself. Only when He, the Son of God, makes him free, he shall be free indeed. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there, and there alone is liberty. Outside of the sphere of that Spirit there is nothing but bondage.
Let us clearly understand this. The sinner is in bondage to sin. And this implies, first of all that he is guilty, sentenced to spiritual death, from which he has no right to be liberated. Consequently, his whole nature became corrupt. His mind became darkened, his will perverse, all his inclinations and desires polluted with sin. He is motivated by enmity of God. For "the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Rom. 8:7. That is man's misery. He is a slave of sin, not in the sense that sin is a compelling force from without which he cannot escape, so that he commits sin against his will. On the contrary, he is free to sin. He has his delight in sin. But he is shackled from within. His will is in bondage. He will not love God, he cannot will to love God, he is incapable of seeking and willing and performing that which is good. Sin is the ruling power within him. It is enthroned in his heart, whence are all the issues of life. And under the dominion of sin he is pursued by the fear of death through all his life!
What, then, must be done to liberate that sinner? First of all, it is evident that he must be redeemed. Being a legal slave of sin, being condemned to sin's bondage, the price for his liberation must be paid. And this means that the guilt of his sin must be atoned, must be completely blotted out, and that he must be pronounced righteous, worthy of freedom and life, at the bar of divine justice. The justice of God against sin must be fully satisfied. He that would make man free must be able to bring the perfect sacrifice for sin, to bear the wrath of God, and to taste all the misery of death and hell, in perfect love of God. He must willingly enter into deepest desolation for God's righteousness' sake, and on the very bottom of hell he must say: "I love Thee, O my God! I have come here to do Thy will! Thy law is my delight even here!" By such an act of atonement he will obtain the right to liberate the sinner. But he must also actually set the sinner free. He must be able to enter into man's very heart, dethrone the power of sin, enthrone himself, cut the shackles of sin, remove the enmity against God, and fill the heart with a new love of God so that the sinner repents, hates all sin, and has new delight in the will of God. Thus redeemed, and thus delivered from the bondage of sin, the sinner is truly free. His heart is free, his will and mind are free; he is free from all fear, free from want, and in true freedom he may again worship the Lord his God, and serve Him only!
That Liberator is Christ! He does not merely proclaim freedom. He does not instruct us in the knowledge of freedom. He does not show us the way to freedom. No; He, the Christ of the Scriptures, the Son of God come in the likeness of sinful flesh, though without sin, Who died on Calvary, Who arose on the third day, Who ascended up on high leading captivity captive, and Who has all power in heaven and on earth, Christ, the quickening Spirit, He has the right to liberate us, He has the power to set us free, and He actually delivers us from the dominion of sin, and makes us partakers of the glorious liberty of the children of God!
He could pay the price of our redemption. For He is eternally free Himself. He is the very Son of God. And the Son is free, even in our flesh. He had no sin. He was not defiled. There was no possibility that He would ever sin. He was free in the highest sense of the word. He loved the Father with His whole being. And freely, by an act of perfect obedience, motivated by the love of God, He descended into the lowest parts of the earth, into deepest hell, and humbled Himself even unto death, yea, unto the death of the cross. And in all his suffering, agonies of hell, reproach and shame, He was never in bondage. He was ever free. He loved the Father. He was the perfect servant. Even when He crawled in the dust of the garden, even when in the darkest moment of His humiliation He cried out: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" He was still free, and willingly fulfilled all righteousness, satisfying the justice of God against sin!
That is the mystery of the cross!
That is why the word of the cross is foolishness to them that perish! O, how different from man's efforts to attain to freedom is Christ's way! Man seeks power, a sign, human wisdom. Man marshals mighty armies, invents instruments of destruction, defies death, to attain to and to defend his freedom. Christ fights the battle all alone! And how strangely he fights! In the garden He is utterly amazed, in fear of death. This Liberator is bound, lets Himself be bound, refusing the power of the sword, in His battle for freedom! He does not protest when they abuse Him; He does not defend His cause when they accuse Him; He does not open His mouth when they condemn Him to death! He gives His back to the smiters! He heals the wounds of the enemy! He allows Himself to be stretched upon the tree, to be nailed to the cross. When they challenge Him to liberate Himself and to come down from the cross, He does not reply. A Liberator that Himself is bound, and completely overcome by the power of the enemy!
Yet so it must be. For His battle was not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of the devil, sin and death. And these could be overcome only by the act perfect obedience, the obedience of love, of true freedom, even unto the end. And by that act, Christ obtained for us the right to perfect liberty, freedom from sin, from the wrath of God from the curse of the law, freedom unto eternal righteousness, life and glory in the sphere of the perfect love of God! And having obtained remission of sins, perfect righteousness, and the right to deliver us and set us free, He was raised in glory, and was exalted at the right hand of God, endowed with all power to effect our liberation from the dominion of fear, of misery, of sin, and death!
But how do we become partakers of that freedom Christ has purchased for us? O, yes, we must come to Him as our only Liberator. And whosoever will may come! Nor shall anyone ever come to Him in vain. They that come to Him will surely be set free. But how? Who are they that are willing to come to Him that they may be liberated by His wondrous grace? Is it thus, perhaps, that this Christ stands outside of the door of our prison of sin and death, and from there proclaims to us that He has the right and the power to deliver to us, and that He is willing to set us free, if only we will open the door, and let Him in? But God forbid! Let us not forget that the sinner's heart and will are in bondage to sin. He is a willing slave. He delights in his bondage. He despises liberty. He will not come to Christ as the Liberator that He may set him free. If Christ must wait for the sinner, no sinner can be saved!
But thanks be to God! Christ is first! He is the quickening Spirit! And by that Spirit He enters into our hearts, and in a way far too wonderful for us to comprehend, He dethrones the power of sin, He cuts the shackles of corruption, He liberates the heart and the will and the mind by the power of His marvelous grace. And then He calls, calls through the gospel, yet always it is He Himself that calls, and He appeals to that heart, and to that mind, and to that will that have been renewed by His grace. And then you hear the voice of Jesus say: "Come unto me, and I will set you free." And you see your real bondage, and you repent of your sin, and you long to be set free, and you cry out: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" That is the cry of freedom! And you flee to your Liberator, and He receives you. And He makes you partake of His perfect righteousness by faith and spreads abroad in your heart the love of God. And there descends into your heart peace instead of fear, hope instead of terror, love instead of enmity, life instead of death, heaven instead of hell. You have been made free for ever! And you look forward in the joy of hope to the final realization of the glorious liberty of the children of God.