Posts Tagged ‘freedom’
The cry of “Freedom!” has been a rallying point for many centuries. In many lands and nations, it has drawn the attention of men and women, and stirred them up to great and noble deeds. Freedom is something greatly to be desired, and greatly to be valued.
Suppose that you were a convict, sentenced to death. How would you feel? Surely your one desire would be that you might somehow save your life, and have your freedom once again.
How, then, would you respond if a messenger came from the judge and halted the execution, claiming “You have been pardoned! You are now free!” Would you turn your back on such a man? Would you mount the scaffold in defiance of such a message? Would you block your ears, assault the messenger, and reject the message? Surely no one would reject the message of peace and the messenger of pardon?
Each one of us is a slave of sin, under the judgement of a holy God. The sentence for sin is death, and that is the sentence that is pronounced upon every sinner, with the eternal punishment of hell to follow. Who would not desire the pardon of such a judgement?
There is a message of pardon, a message of hope, of peace, of freedom. That message is Jesus Christ, and him crucified. He has died in the place of sinners in order that freedom from sin and the love of God might be freely proclaimed. He himself said that he came ‘to set at liberty those who are oppressed’.
This is freedom indeed!
Jesus Christ has sent his church and his preachers to proclaim this good news. That is why we speak to people about the Saviour, and spread this news as far and as wide as we can. That is why I hope that you will read and consider these words.
How will you respond to this message? Will you block your ears and turn your back? Or will you receive the pardon for sins offered in Christ? Perhaps you want to hear more of this – the pardon of God in Christ is proclaimed Sunday by Sunday in many faithful churches. Hear the gospel; believe in Jesus Christ as he is freely offered to you, and your soul shall live.
I was tipping my hat to Gene Veith a few days ago with some quotes from Alexis de Tocqueville.
Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, “Long live the King!” The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them.
This method tyrants use of stultifying their subjects [by debasing them] cannot be more clearly observed than in what Cyrus did with the Lydians after he had taken Sardis, their chief city, and had at his mercy the captured Croesus, their fabulously rich king. When news was brought to him that the people of Sardis had rebelled, it would have been easy for him to reduce them by force; but being unwilling either to sack such a fine city or to maintain an army there to police it, he thought of an unusual expedient for reducing it. He established in it brothels, taverns, and public games, and issued the proclamation that the inhabitants were to enjoy them. He found this type of garrison so effective that he never again had to draw the sword against the Lydians.
The last couple of weeks have been something of a blur. I think I last posted an update the Monday before I went to Holland. The main task that week, in addition to the midweek prayer meeting, was finishing the preparation of the sermons, and also preparing some questions and pointers to answers for the discussion sessions at the conference.
I flew out to Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, on Thursday evening. I was met at the airport by Arjen van Gent, a theology student. We travelled an hour or so by train to his home, and as I quizzed him I began to learn a little more about the conference and its circumstances, aims, and attendees. Arriving at his parents’ home, I scoffed a friendly pizza and headed pretty early to bed where I had a good night’s sleep. I woke, and made full use of the space-age shower in the bathroom (although a slightly exuberant twist of one particular knob did cause freezing water to power into my shanks just as I thought I had finished). I had a light breakfast while waiting for Arjen to emerge, and then I did a little reading and prepared to leave for the conference. Marcel Vroegop, with whom I had been in primary contact, dropped in just to confirm with his own eyes that the speaker was indeed on Dutch soil, and it was good to meet him. We had a lunch time feast of pancakes, and then Arjen and I set out into the snow and wind for a stroll through a forested area – almost as bracing as freezing water on the shanks! We set off shortly afterward for the conference – Arjen and his father and myself, picking up a couple called Marco and Geretta in the same town before heading into the traffic for the 90 minute or so journey to the conference centre.
We arrived to find most of the committee ensconced and preparing the ground. An evening meal of frankfurters and tomato soup was quickly prepared, and we made the place ready for the first service.
Those who came were, for the most part, hungry for the Word of God. Even if they were not, food was offered in abundance. The committee had asked for six sermons, in addition to which we visited a local church in nearby Rijssen on the Lord’s day morning. Each sermon had 80 minutes allotted to it (albeit in translation), followed by a fifteen minute break, and then a discussion period in mentor-groups (which also served as teams for catering) which lasted 30 to 60 minutes (depending on the time available). I was often participating in those discussions, and often informal discussion would continue afterward. In the course of the weekend, I also had many opportunities for personal interaction with those attending, and was delighted with the open hearts and frank attitudes of many who were present. A brother named Oskar Loohuis (I hope I have that spelling right) translated the first four sermons, and Arjen’s father, Pieter, translated the last two. My assigned topics, and the texts and sermons from which I preached, were as follows:
- How does Christ become my Redeemer? (Isaiah 45:22 > Looking unto Jesus)
- Union with Christ (2Cor 5.17 > A new creation)
- The Biblical signs of a true Christian (1Jn > What is a true Christian?)
- Biblical manhood and womanhood (Gen 1.27 > Biblical manhood and womanhood)
- Living the Christian life (Phil 2.12-13 > Working in and working out)
- A Christ-glorifying life (2Tim 4.6-8 > The Saviour and his servant)
As you can see, these were foundational truths covering something of the range of Christian experience. I think that God drew near to bless us, especially during two or three of those sermons.
That said, I learned yet more about the dark art of preaching via a translator. The translators were excellent, but I did not always make their job easy. The more topical sermons (the third and fourth) had much more technical and precise language in more complex headings as I tried to draw several different texts together. These did not always translate easily and well. I also had a plan for a way of referencing 1 John in the third sermon that worked better in theory than in practice. Of course, over such an intense few days, weariness also sets in, not least on the part of the congregation.
There were many times when I was facing afresh the recognition that the Spirit of God alone can bring the truth to bear on men’s hearts. I am also conscious that my sense of profit is not the same as something profitable accomplished.
On Monday we cleaned out the building in which we had stayed and were back in Waganingen by about midday. Once the available members of the committee had convened, we enjoyed an easy lunch together and discussed various issues and relaxed and laughed. Then, I was graciously escorted back to the airport and headed home. The fellowship was very sweet, and I very much enjoyed my time with these dear brothers and sisters, being encouraged and instructed by the vigorous and sacrificial faith that particular friends are showing, and by the earnest and gracious character that many demonstrated over the course of the whole weekend.
I returned home weary, and slept well and long for the next two nights. During the days, as well as taking a Sabbath for myself, I was catching up at home, and then began producing some follow-up material to the conference for which I was asked (an ongoing process). I also had some writing projects that I needed to pursue, and managed to do a little reading. On Thursday afternoon, it being a half-term break here, I went out to the park during the afternoon, and was delighted to find a few lads playing football, two of home remembered me from before. I played football in the pouring rain for about half-an-hour, and then spoke to them a little about Christ and his church. Although they were resistant, a couple of them did take CDs of sermons, and I think that there might have been some genuine interest.
On Friday afternoon, a friend came by to spend an hour or so for us to read some more of John Angell James together, a little bit of which is here. A few minutes after he left, I had a phone appointment for the rest of the afternoon. In the evening, I relaxed and read. Saturday morning was sermon preparation, and in the afternoon I went back out to Maidenbower to see who was around. This time, the older young people were missing (Jobs? Season tickets to various football clubs? Football matches?) but there were a lot of young families around and one or two watching football matches being played. Not the easiest environment in which to do gospel work more explicitly, but a good one in which to watch the world and learn how men are.
On the Lord’s day, our adult Sunday School class continued to consider our children’s intellectual development. As an off-shoot, we are taking an opportunity to consider the formal education of our children, and – having established some fundamental principles and goals – we are looking at various approaches to formal education. Yesterday we assessed the pros and cons of state education (including state schools with a Christian ethos). We hope to go on to look at home education and other options.
In the morning worship I preached on The Liberator from John 8.36: “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” We began by identifying the slavery men know: even – sometimes especially – those who boast in their freedom, are moral slaves to sin: ambition, anger, lust, greed, revenge, appetite, opinion, religion, superstition and scepticism. This is the illusory freedom of the condemned prisoner dreaming of open spaces.
From there, we considered the freedom Christ gives: “if the Son makes you free.” That ‘if’ is the key in the lock, the gleam of light in darkness that promises the prospect of deliverance. It points to the author of freedom, the Son, who acts righteously, justly, freely, instantly and eternally in making free. In might and with mercy, with authority and compassion, he can and does set the prisoners free.
It is a glorious freedom, a freedom that alone is worthy of the name. We are set free from the guilt, punishment, power and consequences of sin. We are set free to obey God, not needing to fear either men or outcomes in our pursuit of glorifying the God of our salvation.
I called upon some to feel their chains, that they might not boast in an illusion when offered freedom indeed. Christ alone can liberate the captives.
I called upon others to feel their freedoms, to enjoy and employ the freedom bestowed by Jesus, so that we glorify God as those who are free indeed.
We had a friend from the church over for lunch, and I also got a little reading done. The evening service was good, not least because my eldest son sat all the way through (with a little encouragement) for the first time.
Today, I will be at the John Owen Centre, participating in the Theology Study Group. We are considering Tim Keller’s The Reason for God (reviewed here). The discussion is usually stimulating, and the fellowship enjoyable. The rest of the week is stacked to the gills with stuff.
Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will. Thus their spirit is gradually broken and their character enervated…
The nature of despotic power in democratic ages is not to be fierce or cruel, but minute and meddling. . .It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. . . .
That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? . . .
The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd. . . .
Servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind…might be combined with some of the outward forms of freedom, and…might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.. . . They devise a sole, tutelary and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people…this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians.
There is not far to go down this road, if we have not already arrived.
From A Good Start by C. H. Spurgeon, Chapter 1 (“A Young Man in Christ”).
When I say that a man in Christ is a man, I mean that, if he be truly in Christ, he is therefore manly. There has got abroad a notion, somehow, that if you become a Christian, you must lose your manliness and turn milksop. It is supposed that you allow you liberty to be curtailed by a set of negations which you have not the courage to break through, though you would if you dared. You must not do this, and you must not do the other: you are to take out your backbone and become molluscous; you are to be sweet as honey towards everybody, and every atom of spirit is to be evaporated from you. You are to ask leave of ministers and church authorities to breathe, and to become a sort of living martyr, who lives a wretched life in the hope of dying in the odour of sanctity. I do not believe in such a Christianity at all. The Christian man, it seems to me, is the noblest style of man; the freest, bravest, most heroic, and most fearless of men. If he is what he should be, he is, in the best sense of the word, a man all over, from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot.
He is such a man because he has realized his own personal responsibility to God. He knows that to his own Master he stands or falls, – that he shall have to give an account in the day of judgment for his thoughts, his words, his acts, and therefore he does not pin himself to any man’s sleeve, be he priest, or minister, or whatever he may be called. He thinks for himself, takes the Bible and reads for himself, and comes to God in Christ Jesus personally, and on his own account. He is not content to do business with underlings, but goes to the Head of the great firm.
Being accustomed also to endeavour to do that which is right at all times, if he be a man in Christ, he is bold. I have heard a story of a man who was so continually in debt, and was so frequently arrested for it, that one day, catching his sleeve on a palisade, he turned round, and begged to be let alone this time. There are many people who go about the world much in that style. They know that they are doing wrong, and therefore “conscience doth make cowards” of tem. But when the conscience has been quieted, and the heart knows itself to be set upon integrity and established in the right, the Christian man is not afraid to go anywhere.
Moreover, a man in Christ is accustomed to wait upon his Lord and Master to know what he should do, and he recognizes Christ’s law as being his sole rule; and for this reason he is the freest man under heaven, because he does not recognize the slavish rules which make most men tremble lest they should lose caste, or forfeit the favour of the society in which they move. He obeys the laws of his country because Christ has commanded him to do so, and all things that are right and true are happy bonds to him which he does not wish to break; but, as for the foolish customs and frivolous conventionalities which fashion ordains, he delights to put his foot through them and trample them under his feet, for he saith, “I am Thy servant, O Lord: Thou hast loosed my bonds.” When he has anything to say, he looks at it to see whether his Master would approve; and as to whether the world would approve or not, it does not enter into his mind to consider. He has passed beyond that. He knows the liberty wherewith Christ makes us free. When we become the servants of Christ we cease to be the servants of men. When Christ’s yoke is upon you, then are you free to do the right, whoever may forbid. From that time forth you would not speak the thing that is not true to win the acclamation of the nation, nor suppress the truth though the universe itself should frown. A man in Christ bowing the knee before the King Himself, is too high-minded to pay obeisance to error or to sin, though robed in all the pomp of power: he stands up for the right and for the true, and if the heavens should fall he would be found erect.
Tim Challies has posted a thought-provoking and heart-penetrating piece – found here – reflecting on Jonathan Edwards’ insights into the freedom (or lack of it) of the will, and the awful reality of a sinful nature as well as the guilt of our sinful deeds. It is well worth a read, to pause and to ponder that sin lies not only in our doing but in our being. In the light of such truth, the glorious grace of God in Christ becomes all the more wonderful to the saved sinner.