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"if the son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." — JOHN, VIII. 36.
The Feast of the Tabernacles closed. The discourses of Jesus, advancing his claims to the Messiahship, had so excited his enemies that they had sought to arrest him, but there was something in his manner which so overawed the officers that they dared not lay hands on him. Amid the conflicting sentiments of rulers and people Jesus withdrew to Olivet and spent the night in prayer.
In the morning he came back to the city. The Feast of the Tabernacles had ended. The lights were dead in the great candelabra that had shone upon the city, a reminiscence of the pillar of fire which had led their fathers through the wilderness. It was the painful darkness following a great light, the silence of a deserted banquet-hall, which now lay upon Jerusalem. Jesus entered the temple to teach the people. Every day a teacher could find hearers there. Now he might still find many who had come up
from the provinces and were still lingering in the capital. Perhaps, pointing to the huge lamps now unlighted, he exclaimed, " I am the Light of the world ; he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but has the light of life." On the spot his adversaries endeavored to counteract the force of his teaching by saying to him, " Thou bearest testimony concerning thyself; thy testimony is not true," as if they would quote him against himself, and urge that self-glorification was his aim. Jesus answered, " Even if I bear testimony concerning myself, my testimony is true ; for I know whence I came and whither I go ; but ye know not whence I come and whither I go. Ye judge according to the flesh, I judge not any man. And even if I do judge, my judgment is true ; for I am not alone, but I and He who sent me. But it is also written in your own law that the testimony of two is true. I am a witness concerning myself, and my Father who sent me witnesses for me." Here is a claim to a mysterious origin and high position in the universe. The nature of the case was such that he was compelled to bear witness concerning himself. Nay, more, his very nature was such that he was compelled to testify of himself, as light
which shows the existence of other things makes
its own existence known. Moreover, they were so fleshly that they could not of themselves discern spiritual things, so that he was obliged to show them. They took a sinful pleasure in discerning in man what they might condemn. He took no such pleasure. He was not ready to judge and condemn men. If they had been as free from this evil disposition as he, they would not seize every word he spoke as matter for condemnation.
But when he spoke of his Father as being a witness for him, his enemies asked, *' Where is thy Father?" His reply was, "Ye neither know me nor my Father ; if ye had known me ye would have known my Father also." They must have understood him to mean that he felt a consciousness of being one with God. That certainly was the claim which Jesus set forth. Whether he was mistaken or not, whether he told the truth or a falsehood, — these are two other questions ; but whether he made this claim
is a question readily answered. He most manifestly did. And no one could find such a claim made by any man, otherwise very good and exemplary, without feeling that however mistaken he might be, he is unquestionably sincere in his belief. The whole question of the divinity of Jesus is narrowed to the inquiry whether his judgment was misled by a false consciousness. If that question be determined in the affirmative, then we have these difficulties on our hands, namely, to account for a man so immaculate, so surpassingly good, so profound, so rapid and searching a reader of the human heart, that the like of him has never risen among the sons of men ; a being with such self-control, such vast powers of mind and wonderful endowments of physique, achieving the most resplendent virtues of human lives, and dying a sublimest death of martyrdom, and influencing the age by his life and death, while he himself was inwardly crazed by believing himself to be one person while he was in reality another ; living and dying in the belief that he was God, while in point of fact he was really inferior to even any sane man who knows who he is.
It was truth or blasphemy which he was
Christ the Liberator.
speaking. From the standing-point of the Jews it must have seemed the latter, and yet they had not the courage to lay hands on the man who had committed in their hearing the greatest crime possible under the theocracy. His good greatness seemed to paralyze them.
Then said Jesus again to them : " I go away, and you shall seek me, and in your sins you shall die : for where I go you have not the ability to come." The Jews said : " Will he kill himself?" He replied, "You are of those beneath ; I am of those above : you are of the world; I am not of the world. I said to you
that you shall die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am, you shall die in your sins." They asked him, sarcastically, "Who art thou ?" He replied : "What say I to you from the first? I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but the Father who sent me is true ; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard from Him." John inserts the explanatory sentence — " They understood not that he spoke to them of the Father," God. So utterly obtuse and fleshly were they that even these mystical utterances of Jesus were incomprehensible. Then he said to them: "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then shall you know that 1 am, and from myself I do nothing, but as the Father has taught me so 1 speak. And He who sent me has not left me alone. He is with me, for I do always those things that please him."
Upon this many of the people believed on him. There was something in the words, or in the manner, or in both, which touched them and awoke them into faith. But it was not very great or very intelligent faith, as appears from what immediately follows. He said to such, "If
ye continue in my word then are you my disciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall emancipate you." He saw that they were regarding him in a sensuous light, as a political deliverer from the Roman yoke, and therefore spoke this word to set them right. He had exhibited such courage in peril, and spoken so frankly of his consciousness of being one with God, that they had began to think that they might have been misled by his antecedents and his manner, and that this, after all, was the Christ, the Anointed, the Messias — still connecting him, however, with their hopes of freedom from the Roman yoke. This speech, which claimed that all his triumphs were to be spiritual, opened their eyes to their misapprehension. Moreover, it touched them on the sorest spot of their hearts, as their reply shows. They indig-
nantly answered him, " Seed of Abraham are we, and to no man have we been slaves at any time: how dost thou say then, 'Ye shall be emancipated ?' " So blind were they as to forget that their fathers had been slaves in Eg}'pt and
Babylon for generations, and that they were virtually at that very moment the slaves of the Roman Empire. Jesus replied, " I most solemnly assure you that whoever is doing sin is the slave of sin. And the slave abides not in the house continually. If, therefore, the Son shall emancipate you you shall be indeed free." The hearers of Jesus knew the relation between master and slave in the Roman Empire, and from that he di-ew a picture of vice which is appalling. To one who is born free and then enslaved this representation is all the more fearful.
This whole discourse of Jesus, and the behavior of the Jews, sets before us the slavery of a life of sin and the emancipation which faith in Jesus achieves.
I. The first phase of this slavery is seen in the privation of the rights of freemen. There are more real benefits enjoyed by those who are born free than such as can be specified by word, and embodied by any charter. There is the absence of the sense of limit, restraint, superspection by another, the very absence of which is the presence of a blessing, as the absence of
malarious elements in the air is the presence of what is positively an enjoyable luxury. The free mingling with free men, with men of lofty aim and fame, the open field to enter all the most generous contests of life, and prepare one's self to stand where the loftiest stand, and do what the greatest do — all this is denied to slaves. And that is the position of any man who is the slave of any sin. There is a dire fate painted in the words, "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel." There was an enormous enjoyment in the privilege of saying, "I am a Roman citizen." You who are under the dominions of any sin may say, " I would not be as those Christians are : 1 would not have their duties and their self-denial. I would rather have this loose enjoyment." Well, just so in Rome a slave might have said, " I would not wear those robes, I would not carry those badges of office, I would not be perplexed with Cato's cares, or weighed down with Csesar's burdens. I would rather have the free uproarious life of Caesar's kitchen." Well, every man to his taste ; but is not that a most degraded taste? The question with you is whether you will wear that badge and enjoy such freedom from high and good things as a slave
has, or such freedom from low bad things as a
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freeman has. In other words the question is, which is freedom ? It does seem to me that to human life there is no greater charm than equal and free mingling with the pure and exalted. There is an unseen society of pure and exalted spirits in the universe of God. Israel means Prince with God. The commonwealth of Israel is the community of those who wear their patent of nobility from God. To be without Christ, the Son of God, is to be an alien to the commonwealth of immortal princes, excluded from their thoughts, their employments, their enjoyments, and their sympathies.
2. There is another phase of the slavery of sin which should make it fearful in our eyes. A slave has no choice of employment. He goes where, and when, and to do what he is bidden by his master. Sin is just such a tyrant, and the sinner is just such a slave. Free from the duties of Christians, he is bound to the drudgeries of sin. Sin comes to a man so alluringly and with such obeisance, playing the part of a humble servant, offering to bring him pleasures and manifold delights, and by degrees, unseen by the victim, binds him hand and foot and holds him so, and lashes him on with cords in the way he would not go. Take any sinful, sensual indulgence as an example of them all. How constantly in society does intemperance afford the most painful and pitiful exhibition of this tyranny. When once the man is bound, he cannot tear himself away. Go to him and plead with him to stop drinking, he will assert with tears his vehement desire to break free, but he says he cannot. He loves his mother. He loves his wife. He loves his child. Plead with him by that mother's love. " For her sake stop!" "No, no : I cannot, nor for my wife's, nor for my daughter's sake. God knows I love them, and
I know how this course is breaking their hearts ; but I cannot." And the man is perfectly honest. It is not because he will not, but because he cannot. Oh, you, who seek vice as a servant to your enjoyment, remember that you thereby sell yourself to a master who has no bowels of compassion, no heart of pity, and no eyes of tears. When you would go about other, higher, and ennobling work, when you would sit in parliaments and enlarge science and adorn art and build monuments along the road of human progress, you cannot. Your master will drive you in chain gangs to do in most filthy places such work as leaves no worthy result.
3. A slave has no accumulation of property. He is himself property. Whatever he gathers goes to his master. In the human relationship
of master and servant there may be many beautiful things — the master careful for the health, the comfort, and the life of the servant; the servant devoted to the interests of the master, their material interests being indentical, each gaining
by what profits the other, because they are both human beings. But sin is inhuman. This master is a fiend. He gives to the victim only so long as is necessary ro keep the victim quiet until he binds him. And so a man who is t'le slave of his vices accumulates no personal property for his soul. Property, for the body, is what will always be able to give the body some sustentation, or comfort, or adornment. What will sustain, and comfort, and adorn the soul ? Truth, the friendship of the highest spirits, whatsoever does not pass away with the body, whatsoever the soul may possess and enjoy when it has passed out of the body. But if a man have spent his whole life a slave to sin, what does he have in eternity ? No nobility, no purity, no spiritual power, no love of the truth, no enduring riches. He dies as a slave dies, and has nothing.
4. A slave has no power to rise. In human slavery a man may become noble in his soul. His faith, his hope, his charity, his truthfulness, his courage, his manhood may grow to dimensions which would make him conspicuously splendid if his position allowed such splendor.
But a slave cannot bear arms in the contests of chivalry or the battles for truth. He can hold no office. He is born a slave, a slave he dies. There is a wall between him and all the social paths which lead upward. The poor free child which was born by his side, with no more physical or intellectual or moral power, may grow, and ascend to a summit from which his virtues and powers may shine afar. But the slave, while a slave, never rises. It is so with the slave of sin. Whatever his natural intellectual capabilities he can never rise until his fetters be burst. Now and then there may come over him a sickening sense of this ponderous incapability. He can see heights above him which he knows that he can never begin to scale. The worst of such a case is this : he may become apathetic. He can never do it ; he does not care to try. He lies flat. He loses courage, loses hope, loses aspiration. He becomes a slavish slave. It is the last degradation. He has nothing but a chain ; and he hugs that chain. Oh ! so may a sinner become. So will every sinner become. It is a terrible state. Better be wasting one's strength in mad efforts to break free from a degrading thraldom, than to settle
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down in an utterly careless feeling as to one's condition.
Lastly. In the case of unmitigated serfdom the slave is liable to be sent off at any time. If the master should grow inhuman, and come to hate him, he may send him far from all the places with which he has any pleasant associations. And the slave can offer no effectual resistance. This is the case with a man who is the slave of sin. Sin is always inhuman, always hates its vassals. This very bondage of the soul to evil principles, evil passions, evil appetites, is a perpetual gravitation away from the home of the soul. This is the last and direst of the evils of being under the dominion of sin — banishment from the presence of God and the glory of His power. It is not that the Heavenly Father desires the banishment of His children. He loves
them. He longs for them. He draws them. They go off on their own account. They sell themselves to be slaves of sin. It is sin that drags them into that banishment. There is no idea of physical pain which to my mind seems so intolerable as the idea of a perpetual departure from the Father, a constant going away from the light, the warmth, the music, the purity, the peace, the love, the joy, the freedom, the delights, of the Father's house. Going off, going down, down, down, in the endless winding of sinfulness, into deeper darkness, intenser cold, wretchedest discord, horriblest filth, — into hatred and conflicts and chains, evermore, hopelessly. Chains ? Yes ! Men hear them clank now, until their blood runs cold ; and if they have not the strength to break them off, will they ever have the strength ? How this question thrills them with horror ! You are strong, are you ? You are able to pile up colossal fortunes, to overthrow strong combinations, to lead an army corps, to govern an empire, — are you ? Now try to break away from one evil habit which you know to be sinful but call little, — try that? O, the great man, how weak he is ! O, the little sin, how strong it is !
But can a man never be delivered from this horrible bondage ? That is the question which has been the perplexity of mankind from the beginning. The best intellectual endeavors of mankind have been engaged in devising systems of emancipation. Many of them have resulted only in adding restraints from without to the bondage which was within. Such have been all penitentiary and disciplinary reforms. It has been supposed that education would be the emancipator; but then the world has discovered that intellectual culture only increased the capa-
bility of the slave to serve his master, but did nothing toward his emancipation. Wicked men and wicked communities have had high scholastic training, and were all the more hurtful to the world for this increase of power to do damage.
Jesus Christ is the great Liberator. " If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." Faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God,
as the propitiation for sin, as our personal Saviour, achieves this great liberty for individual souls. Let us consider how this is done.
1, It is begun in each captive sinful soul by creating, as no other system does, a sense of his personal responsibility to God. This is the foundation of all moral power. The preciousness of himself, in himself alone, and not only as a part of humanity, must possess every man. He must feel that the Heavenly Father loves him just as much as if he were the only child the Heavenly Father ever had; that God has done for the whole race nothing which He would not have done if there were none other to love and care for than this only child. He must also feel that he is to think and act for himself, and not another ; that he is to give account of himself, and not of another; that all the laws of the spiritual world would be the same if, instead of the myriads of other creatures, there had never been any other rational beings in the universe except God and himself. This prodigious sentiment of pei'sonal responsibility makes every true Christian a real free-thinker. He dare not accept the thoughts and opinions of others. He
has to answer for himself He is not saved in a society, or community, or church. Moral changes are not carried forward eii masse. Each soul must think, and feel, and act for itself. It is pitiable to see a few passionate men, themselves the slaves of sin, assume the glorious name of "Free Thinkers." No man is set free from intellectual bondage to some clique or mas< ter until his faith in Jesus makes Jesus the Master of the soul ; until believing that Jesus lived and died for him, his personal preciousness and responsibility cause him to feel that he has a moral accountability for his opinions, as for his actions. Then he wiJl do the work of thinking under the noblest possible influences. There is, then, by a solemn sense of the truth of the atonement, first of all a liberation from intellectual masters.
2. Then follows the letting in of light, breaking up the power of false views and of prejudice. Under the dominion of their sins men see all things distorted. The relations between
Christ the Liberator.
each man and his God, between God and all humanity, become perplexing. Ordinarily, those who are violating the commands of God regard Him as an autocratic law-maker and executor, making and executing laws for His own sovereign pleasure, regardless of the welfare of His creatures. Every violation on their part they regard as their misfortune, for which it is criminal in God to hold them to account. Now, just so soon as such a mind sees that this very God, whom he has hated, has so loved him as to invest Himself with flesh, and put Himself in such posture to the human soul as to demonstrate His love and devotion to His dear human child, the man is carried down to foundation principles, to the roots of relationships. He becomes the true Radical. O ! it is pitiable to see a few mad minds attempting to tear up society and the universe
by the roots, and calling themselves by the great name of Radical. No man deserves that name who is not finding the roots of his nature in God. When God reveals Himself in Jesus, "the Son," this becomes possible, not otherwise.
3. Then the fascination of sin breaks. The slavery of sin is a fascination. Fascination is a witchcraft accomplished by the eye or by the tongue, by which the will of the victim is opiated so that it cannot govern his actions, and he is surrendered to the power of another. To emancipate a man you must find something that shall denarcotize the will, that shall wake it up from its false sleep and reinvigorate it. The Samson is asleep with his great head in the lap of the deceitful Delilah. He must be roused. So long as sin seems to have its greatest damage in the harm it does a man's individual self, he may submit to sinning. But if he can be shown that to sin is to violate all the sanctities of manhood and Godhood, is the greatest possible wrong to God and degradation to man, the glamor will fall from about his eyes, and he will see the hideousness of sin. This is done by Him, the Son, who loved us and gave Himself for us. It turns the
eye from the fascinator to another object. That object is a Lover, freely sacrificing Himself to save the fascinated. It is a prodigious thrill ; it starts the will to help the Lover and defeat the fascinator. It rehabitates the throne-power that is in the commonwealth of a man's nature. The monarch of the soul rises against the degrading subjugation of the whole nature, and thus the man is helped to freedom by the leverage of the doctrine of the Cross.
I have thus briefly pointed to the effect of the doctrine of the Atonement on the intellect, the emotions, and the will of the individual man.
4. Now, there is established a bond of union between the soul and God. If there were no sin in the universe all beings would be held in a perfect system, the Heavenly Father being the center, and the law of love being the law ot gravitation. Sin breaks that power. It is as if in a moment, in our solar system, the law of gravitation should be suspended, and all the planets and satellites were flung upon the meas-
ureless inane, orderless, confused, colliding, in mad promiscuousness of falling: or, fixed, stagnant, helpless on the bosom of space. They could not govern themselves. They would be free ; they would have such freedom as sinners think they have, a freedom whose end is destruction, because it is a slavery to Chaos and old Night. If now these planets could be arrested and set back on their orbits, and the law of gravitation be re-established, they would be really free,— free from all that headlong and irresistible falling down the chasms of the universe, or that woful stillness and slavery to inertia that would paralyze them and take all the charm of existence away. For freedom from sin the soul must have a bond of union with God. That bond must be love. It must come out from God to the soul. It must be God drawing the man, and then man drawing God. This is in accordance with all we have learned by our science of laws of the universe. And in precise accord with this is the doctrine of the Atonement. Other philosophers who attempt to free man by finding the power of emancipation in himself, are acting as if the smaller the mass the greater the attraction : Christianity
conforms to known science. Others make men go up among the gods, like Prometheus, to steal the fires of heaven- Christianity brings the great God down among men to rebind the sweet influences of the attraction of love.
5. This blessed law of love and liberty establishes a bond of connection between our souls and all the good and beautiful spirits of the universe. Is not this, brethren, what Paul meant by "the glorious liberty of the children of God ?" And does he not say that we have liberty to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus ? What does that mean, if not that the self-sacrificing love of Jesus has procured for us the freedom of the City of our God, that now we mingle freely and equally with all the sons of the Most High, that we are free in our Father's house at last ? The sons of God have a glorious liberty. Theirs is not a boon which keeps them always humiliated by a sense of their former degradation and present obligation.
Christ the Liberator.
It is not a mere political, civil freedom, as when a whole people are turned loose after generations of slavery, as the Israelites were in Egypt, being still slaves in their souls. The power of the love of Jesus on the human heart creates a freedom of the soul, an inner ennobling, which no political franchise, no wearing of orders on the breast, can ever bestow. It is the glorious princely freedom of the spirit.
6. Lastly. It establishes a man forever in the house of his Father, as the brother of Jesus. The brotherhood of men is created by their being originally the sons of God ; it is established when God takes up our humanity, and in Jesus by the exhibition of equal love to all souls binds us together in the manhood of Jesus. And yet a son may choose to abandon his sonship and be the serf of another. It is when that slavery
is broken, when the splendid love of the greatest Son of God and greatest brother of Man, wins a man into love of his manhood, love of his brother, love of his brethren, love of his Father, and love of his home — it is when he is numbered with the saints in glory everlasting, that he is established in his Father's house, and shall never be sent off — never banished.
"Ye shall be free indeed," said Jesus. ''Indeed !" How emphatic is that and how suggestive ! "As there may have been cases in which the proprietor could not manumit without the consent of the son and heir, or at least a manumission in which the son concurred with the father might be regarded as doubly effectual, so the freedom and salvation produced by the conjoint manumission of both Father and Son is most effectual !" Compare the free thought, the free heart, the free will of the man who is living a life of faith in the Son of God. with the
captivated intellect, the enslaved emotions, the prostrate will of a slave of sin, and the com-
parison becomes a contrast. The latter is dragged along a life of compulsory labor which makes no enduring riches, and is whipped into his grave at last ; the latter roams the world as a child roams its father's house, free everywhere, free to think aright, free to feel aright, free to will aright, free to speak and act aright ; the law of right being to him not walls to incarcerate his spirit, but barriers to keep all evil and subjugating influences from his soul.
Who, then, is doing most for his race ? The men who are agitating political questions under the specious and deceiving cries of "liberty," "freedom," " independence," or the men who are striving to bring to bear upon their fellowmen the liberating power of the doctrine of the Cross ? After all, how little it matters what may be the civil roof over our heads while we live, whether built of autocratic, or monarchic, or republican timber, but the freedom of our souls is of most unspeakable importance. Under every form ot human government, even the freest, men have been slaves of sin ; under every form of human government, however despotic, men have been free in Jesus. And you who spend so much
thought and time and money in striving to secure what you call the liberty of the people — let me beg you to remember that a man is free just in the measure of his yielding himself to Jesus, and that a man is a slave just in the measure of his yielding himself to sin. " Verily, verily, I say unto you, whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin; and the slave abideth not in the house forever, but the Son abideth ever. If, therefore, the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."
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