The Method of Grace

by John Flavel

The Liberty of Believers

     
"If the Son therefore shall make you free,
 you shall be free indeed." John 8:36
 
     From the 30th verse of this chapter unto my text, you have an
account of the different effects which the words of Christ had upon
the hearts of his hearers: Some believed, ver. 30. These he
encourages to continue in his word, ver. 31. giving them this
encouragement, ver. 32. "You shall know the truth, and the truth
shall make you free." Hereat the unbelieving Jews take offence, and
commence a quarrel with him, ver. 33. "We be Abraham's seed, and
were never in bondage to any man." We are of no slavish extraction;
the blood of Abraham runs in our veins. This scornful boast of the
proud Jews, Christ confutes, ver. 34. where he distinguishes on a
two fold bondage; one to men, another to sin; one civil, another
spiritual: Whoever commits sin is the servant of sin, then
tells them, ver. 36. "The servant abides not in the house forever,
but the Son abides forever." Wherein he intimates two great
truths, namely, That the servants and slaves of sin may for a time
enjoy the external privileges of the house or church of God; but it
would not be long before the master of the house would turn them out
of doors: But if they were once the adopted children of God, then
they should abide in the house forever. And this privilege is only
to be had by their believing in, and union with the natural Son of
God, Jesus Christ: which brings us fairly to the text; "If the Son
therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed." In which
words we have two parts; namely,
    1. A supposition.
    2. A concession.
    First, A supposition, "If the Son therefore shall make you
free," q. d. The womb of nature cast you forth into the world in a
state of bondage! in that state you have lived all your days;
servants to sin; slaves to your lusts; yet freedom is to be
obtained: And this freedom is the prerogative belonging to the Son
of God to bestow: "If the Son shall make you free."
    Secondly, Christ's concession upon this supposition, "Then
shall you be free indeed," that is you shall have a real freedom, an
excellent and everlasting freedom: No conceit only, as that which
you now boast of is: If ever therefore you will be free men indeed,
believe in me. Hence note,
     
    Doctrine. That interest in Christ sets the soul at liberty from all
         that bondage whereunto it was subjected in its natural
         state.
     
    Believers are the children of the new covenant, the denizens of
Jerusalem which is above, which is free, and the mother of them all,
Gal. 4: 26. The glorious liberty, namely, that which is spiritual and
eternal, is the liberty of the children of God, Romans 8: 21. Christ,
and none but Christ, delivers his people out of the hand of their
enemies, Luke 1: 74.
    In the doctrinal part of this point, I must show you,
    First, What believers are not freed from by Jesus Christ in
this world.
    Secondly, What that bondage is from which every believer is
freed by Christ.
    Thirdly, What kind of freedom that is which commences upon
believing.
    Fourthly, Open the excellency of this state of spiritual
freedom.
     
    First, what those things are from which believers are not made
free in this world: We must not think that our spiritual liberty by
Christ, presently brings us into an absolute liberty, in all
respects, For,
    First, Christ does not free believers from obedience to the
moral law: It is true we are no more under it as a covenant for our
justification; but we are, and must still be under it, as a rule for
our direction. The matter of the moral law is unchangeable, as the
nature of good and evil is, and cannot be abolished except that
distinction could be destroyed, Mat. 5: 17,18. The precepts of the
law are still urged under the gospel to enforce duties upon us, Eph.
6: 12. It is therefore a vain distinction, invented by Libertines,
to say it binds us as creatures, not as Christians: or that it binds
the unregenerate part, but not the regenerate: but this is a sure
truth, that they who are freed from its penalties are still under
its precepts. Though believers are no more under its curse, yet they
are still under its conduct: The law sends us to Christ to be
justified, and Christ sends us to the law to be regulated. Let the
heart of every Christian join therefore with David's in that holy
wish, Psalm. 119: 4, 5. "You have commanded us to keep your precepts
diligently; O that my heart were directed to keep your statutes." It
is excellent when Christians begin to obey the law from life, which
others obey for life; because they are justified, not that they may
be justified. It is also excellent when duties are done in the
strength, and for the honor of Christ, which is evangelical; and
not in our own strength, and for our own ends, which is servile and
legal obedience: Had Christ freed us from obedience, such a liberty
had been to our loss.
    Secondly, Christ has not freed believers, in this world, from
the temptations and assaults of Satan: even those that are freed
from his dominion are not free from his molestation. It is said
indeed, Romans 16: 20. "God shall shortly bruise Satan under your
feet:" But mean time he has power to bruise and buffet us by his
injections, 2 Cor. 12: 7. He now bruises Christ's heel, Gen. 3: 10.
I. e. bruises him in his tempted and afflicted members: Though he
cannot kill them, yet he can and does afflict and fright them, by
shooting his fiery darts of temptation among them, Eph. 6: 16. It is
true, when the saints are got safe into heaven they are out of
gunshot; there is perfect freedom from all temptation. A believer
may then say, O you enemy, temptations are come to a perpetual end.
I am now arrived there, where none of your fiery darts can reach me:
But this freedom is not yet.
    Thirdly, Christ has not yet freed believers, in this world,
from the motions of indwelling sin; these are continually acting,
and infesting the holiest of men, Romans 7:. 21, 23,24. Corruptions,
like Canaanites, are still left in the land to be thorns in your
eyes, and goads in your sides. Those that boast most of freedom from
the motions of sin, have most cause to suspect themselves still
under the dominion of sin. All Christ's freemen are troubled with
the same complaint: who among them complains not as the apostle did,
Romans 7: 24. "Oh wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from
the body of this death?"
    Fourthly, Jesus Christ does not free believers, in this world,
from inward troubles and exercises of soul, upon the account of sin.
God may let loose Satan, and conscience too, in the way of terrible
accusations, which may greatly distress the soul of a believer, and
woefully eclipse the light of God's countenance, and break the peace
of their souls. Job, Heman, and David were all made free by Christ,
yet each of them has left upon record his bitter complaint upon this
account, Job 7: 19, 20. Psalm. 88: 14, 15,16. Psalm. 38 unto ver. 11.
    Fifthly, Christ has not freed believers, in this world, from
the rods of affliction. God, in giving us our liberty, does not
abridge his own liberty, Psalm. 89: 32. All the children of God are
made free, yet what son is there whom the father chastens not?
Heb. 12: 8. Exemption from affliction is so far from being the mark
of a free man, that the apostle there makes it the mark of a slave.
Bastards, not sons, want the discipline and blessing of the rod: To
be free from affliction would be no benefit to believers, who
receive so many benefits by it.
    Sixthly, No believer is freed by Christ from the stroke of
death, though they are all freed from the sting of death, Romans 8:
10. The bodies of believers are under the same law of mortality with
other men, Heb. 9: 27. We must come to the grave as well as others;
yes, we must come to it through the same agonies, pangs, and dolours
that other men do: The foot of death treads as heavy upon the bodies
of the redeemed, as of other men. Believers, indeed, are
distinguished by mercy from others, but the distinguishing mercy
lies not here. Thus you see what believers are not freed from in
this world: If you shall now say, what advantage then has a
believer, or what profit is there in regeneration? I answer,
    Secondly, That believers are freed from many great and sad
miseries and evils by Jesus Christ, notwithstanding all that has
been said. For,
    First, All believers are freed from the rigor and curse of the
law: The rigorous yoke of the law is broken off from their necks,
and the sweet and easy yoke of Jesus Christ put on, Matthew. 9: 28.
The law required perfect working, under the pain of a curse, Gal.
3:10. accepted of no short endeavors; admitted no repentance; gave
no strength: It is not so now; proportionable strength is given,
Phil. 4: 13. Evangelical sincerity is reckoned perfection, Job 1: 1.
Transgression brings not under condemnation, Romans 8: 1. 0 blessed
freedom! when duty becomes light, and failings hinder not
acceptance! This is one part of the blessed freedom of believers.
    Secondly, All believers are freed from the guilt of sin; it may
trouble, but it cannot condemn them, Romans 8: 33. The hand writing
which was against us is cancelled by Christ, nailed to his cross,
Col. 2: 14. When the seal and hand-writing are torn off from the
bond, the debtor is made free thereby: Believers are totally freed,
Acts 13: 89. "Justified from all things:" And finally freed, John 5:
24. "They shall never come into condemnation." O blessed freedom!
How sweet is it to lie down in our beds, yes, in our graves, when
guilt shall neither be our bed-fellow, nor grave-fellow!
    Thirdly, Jesus Christ frees all believers from the dominion as
well as the guilt of sin. "Sin shall not have dominion over you, for
you are not under the law, but under grace," Romans 6: 14. "The law of
the Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus, has made me free from
the law of sin and death," Romans 8: 2. Now, who can estimate such a
liberty as this? What slavery, what an intolerable drudgery is the
service of divers lusts, from all which believers are freed by
Christ; not from the residence, but from the reign of sin. It is
with sin in believers as it was with those beasts mentioned Dan. 7:
12. "They had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were
prolonged for a season and a time."
    Fourthly, Jesus Christ sets all believers free from the power
of Satan, in whose right they were by nature, Col. 1: 13. they are
translated from the power of darkness into the kingdom of Christ.
Satan had the possession of them, as a man of his own goods; but
Christ dispossesses that strong man armed, alters the property, and
recovers them out of his hand, Luke 11: 21, 22. There are two ways
by which Christ frees believers out of Satan's power and possession;
namely,
    1. By price.
    2. By power.
    First, By price. The blood of Christ purchases believers out
of the hands of justice, by satisfying the law for them, which being
done, Satan's authority over them falls of course, as the power of a
gawler over the prisoner does, when he has a legal discharge, Heb.
2: 14. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and
blood; he also himself took part of the same, that through death he
might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil."
The cruel tyrant beats and burdens the poor captive no more after
the ransom is once paid, and he actually freed; and therefore Christ
delivers his,
    Secondly, By power. Satan is exceeding unwilling to let go his
prey: He is a strong, and malicious enemy; every rescue and
deliverance out of his hand is a glorious effect of the Almighty
Power of Christ, Acts 26: 18. 2 Cor. 10: 5. How did our Lord Jesus
Christ grapple with Satan at his death, and triumph over him, Col.
2: 15. 0 glorious salvation! blessed liberty of the children of God!
    Fifthly, Christ frees believers from the poisonous sting and
hurt of death: Kill us it can, but hurt us it cannot, 1 Cor. 15: 55,
56. "O death! where is your sting? O grave! where is your victory? The
sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law: but
thanks be to God which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus
Christ." If there be no hurt, there should be no horror in death: It
is guilt that arms death, both with its hurting and terrifying
power. To die in our sins, John 8: 24. To have our bones full of the
sins of our youth, which shall lie down with us in the dust, Job 20:
11. To have death, like a dragon, pulling a poor guilty creature as
a prey into its dreadful den, Psalm. 49: 14. In this lies the danger
and horror of death: But from death, as a curse, and from the grave,
as a prison, Christ has set believers at liberty, by submitting to
death in their room; and by his victorious resurrection from the
grave, as the firstborn of the dead, death is disarmed of its
hurting power. The death of believers is but a sleep in Jesus.
    Thirdly, The nest thing to be briefly spoken to, is the kind
and nature of that freedom and liberty purchased and procured by
Christ for believers.
    Now liberty may be considered two ways; namely,
    1. As civil.
    2. As sacred.
    As to civil freedom, or liberty, it belongs not to our present
business: Believers, as to their civil capacity, are not freed from,
the duties they owe to their superiors. Servants, though believers,
are still to be subject to their masters, according to the flesh,
with fear and trembling, Eph. 6: 5. nor from obedience to lawful
magistrates, whom we are to obey in the Lord, Romans 12: 1, 4.
Religion dissolves not the bonds of civil relations; nor is it to be
used as an occasion to the flesh, 1 Pet. 2: 16. It is not a carnal,
but a spiritual freedom Christ has purchased for us: And this
spiritual freedom is again to be considered, either as,
    1. Inchoate.
    2. Consummate.
    The liberty believers have at present is but a beginning
liberty; they are freed but in part from their spiritual enemies;
but it is a growing liberty every day, and will be consummate and
complete at last.
    To conclude, Christian liberty is either;
    1. Privative, or,
    2. Positive.
    The liberty believers are invested with is of both kinds: They
are not only freed from many miseries, burdens and dangers, but also
invested by Jesus Christ with many royal privileges and invaluable
immunities.
    Fourthly, And this brings us to the fourth and last thing,
namely, the properties of this blessed freedom which the saints
enjoy by Jesus Christ; and, if we consider it duly, it will be found
to be,
    First, A wonderful liberty, never enough to be admired. How
could it be imagined that ever those who owed unto God more than
ever they could pay by their own eternal sufferings; those that were
under the dreadful curse and condemnation of the law, in the power
and possession of Satan the strong man armed; those that were bound
with so many chains in their spiritual prison; their understanding
bound with ignorance, their wills with obstinacy, their hearts with
impenetrable hardness, their affections with a thousand bewitching
vanities, that slight their state of slavery so much, as
industriously to oppose all instruments and means of deliverance;
for such persons to be set at liberty, notwithstanding all this, is
the wonder of wonders, and will be deservedly marvelous in the eyes
of believers forever.
    Secondly, The freedom of believers is a peculiar freedom; a
liberty which few obtain; the generality abiding still in bondage to
Satan, who, from the multitude of his subjects, is stiled the God of
this world, 2 Cor. 4: 4. Believers in scripture are often called a
remnant, which is but a small part of the whole piece: The more
cause have the people of God to admire distinguishing mercy. How
many nobles and great ones of the world are but royal slaves to
Satan, and their own lusts! Thirdly, The liberty of believers is a
liberty dearly purchased by the blood of Christ. What that captain
said, Acts 22: 28. "With a great sum obtained I this freedom," may
be much more said of the believers' freedom: It was not silver or
gold, but the precious blood of Christ that purchased it, 1 Pet. 1:
18.
    Fourthly, The freedom and liberty of believers is a growing and
increasing liberty; they get more and more out of the power of sin,
and nearer still to their complete salvation every day, Romans 13: 11.
The body of sin dies daily in them: they are said to be crucified
with Christ: the strength of sin abates continually in them, after
the manner of crucified persons, who die a slow, but sure death: And
look in what degree the power of sin abates, proportionably their
spiritual liberty increases upon them.
    Fifthly, The freedom of believers is a comfortable freedom: the
apostle comforts Christians of the lowest rank, poor servants, with
this consideration, 1 Cor. 7: 25!. "He who is called in the Lord,
being a servant, is the Lord's freeman," q. d. Let not the baseness
of your outward condition, which is a state of subjection and
dependence, a state of poverty and contempt, at all trouble you: you
are the Lord's freemen, of precious account in his eyes. O it is a
comfortable liberty!
    Sixthly, and Lastly, It is a perpetual and final freedom; they
that are once freed by Christ, have their manumission and final
discharge from that state of bondage they were in before: sin shall
never have dominion over them any more: it may tempt them and
trouble them, but shall never more rule and govern them, Acts 26:
18. And thus you see what a glorious liberty the liberty of
believers is.
    The improvement whereof will be in the following inferences.
    Inference. 1. How rational is the joy of Christians, above the joy of
all others in the world? Shall not the captive rejoice in his
recovered liberty? the very birds of the air (as one observes) had
rather be at liberty in the woods, though lean and hungry, than in a
golden cage with the richest fare: every creature naturally prizes
it; none more than believers, who have felt the burden and bondage
of corruption, who in the days of their first illumination and
conviction have poured out many groans and tears for this mercy.
What was said of the captive people of God in Babylon, excellently
shadows forth the state of God's people under spiritual bondage,
with the way and manner of their deliverance from it, Zech. 9: 11.
"By the blood of the covenant I have sent forth your prisoners out of
the pit, wherein is no water." Believers are delivered by the blood
of Christ, out of a worse pit than that of Babylon; and look, as the
tribes in their return from thence were overwhelmed with joy and
astonishment, Psalm 126: 1, 2. "When the Lord turned again the
captivity of Zion, we are like them that dream: then was our mouth
filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing."
    They were overwhelmed with the sense of the mercy: So should it
be with the people of God. It is said, Luke 15: 24. when the
prodigal son (there made the emblem of a returning, converting
sinner) was returned again to his father's house, that there was
heard music and dancing, mirth and feasting in that house. The
angels in heaven rejoice when a soul is recovered out of the power
of Satan: And shall not the recovered soul, immediately concerned in
the mercy, greatly rejoice? Yes, let them rejoice in the Lord, and
let no earthly trouble or affliction ever have power to interrupt
their joy for a moment, after such a deliverance as this.
    Inference. 2. How unreasonable and wholly inexcusable is the sin of
apostasy from Jesus Christ? What is it but for a delivered captive
to put his feet again into the shackles; his hands into the
manacles; his neck into the iron yoke, from which he has been
delivered? It is said, Mat. 12: 44, 45. "When the unclean spirit is
gone out of a man, he walks through dry places, seeking rest and
finds none: Then he says, I will return into mine house from
whence I came out; and when he is come, he finds it empty, swept,
and garnished; then goes he, and takes with him seven other spirits
more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there, and the
last state of that man is worse than the first." Even as a prisoner
that has escaped, and is again recovered, is loaded with double
irons. Let the people of God be content to run any hazard, endure
any difficulties in the way of religion, rather than return again
into their former bondage, to sin and Satan. O Christian! if ever
God gave you a sight and a sense of the misery and danger of your
natural state, if ever you have felt the pangs of laboring and
distressed conscience, and, after all this, tasted the unspeakable
sweetness of the peace and rest that are in Christ, you will rather
chuse to die ten thousand deaths, shall to forsake Christ, and go
back again into that sad condition.
    Inference. 3. How suitable and well-becoming is a free spirit in
believers to their state of liberty and freedom? Christ has made
your condition free, O let the temper and frame of your hearts be
free also; do all that you do for God with a spirit of freedom; not
by constraint, but willingly. Methinks, Christians, the new nature
that is in you should stand for a command, and be instead of all
arguments that use to work upon the hopes and fears of other men.
See how all creatures work according to the principle of their
natures. You need not command a mother to draw forth her breasts to
a sucking child; nature itself teaches and prompts to that. You need
not bid the sea ebb and flow at the stated hours. O Christian! why
should your heart need any other argument, than its own spiritual
inclination, to keep its stated times and seasons of communion with
God? Let none of God's commandments be grievous to you: let not
your heart need dragging and forcing to its own benefit and
advantage. Whatever you do for God, do it cheerfully; and whatever
you suffer for God suffer it cheerfully. It was a brave spirit which
actuated holy Paul, "I am ready (says he) not only to be bound, but
also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus," Acts 21:
13.
    Inference. 4. Let no man wonder at the enmity and opposition of Satan
to the preaching of the gospel: for by the gospel it is that souls
are recovered out of his power, Acts 26: 18. It is the express work
of ministers "to turn men from darkness to light, and from the power
of Satan unto God." Satan (as one says) is a great and jealous
prince: he will never endure to have liberty proclaimed by the
ministers of Christ within his dominions. And, indeed, what is it
less, when the gospel is preached in power, but as it were by beat
of drum, and sound of trumpet, to proclaim liberty, spiritual,
sweet, and everlasting liberty, to every soul sensible of the
bondage of corruption and the cruel servitude of Satan, and will now
come over to Jesus Christ? And O what numbers and multitudes of
prisoners have broken loose from Satan at one proclamation of
Christ, Acts 2: 41. But Satan owes the servants of Christ a spite
for this, and will be sure to pay them if ever they come within his
reach; persecution is the evil genius of the gospel, and follows it
as the shadow does the body.
    Inference. 5. How careful should Christians be to maintain their
spiritual liberty in all and every point thereof! "Stand fast (says
Paul) in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not
again entangled in the yoke of bondage," Gal. 5: 1. And again, You
are bought with a price, be not you the servants of men." It is
Christ's prerogative to prescribe the rules of his own house; he has
given no man dominion over your faith, 2 Cor. 1: 24. One man is no
rule to another, but the word of Christ is a rule to all: follow not
the holiest of men one step farther than they follow Christ, 1 Cor.
11: 4. Man is an ambitious creature, naturally affecting dominion;
and dominion over the mind rather than over the body. To give law to
others, feeds pride in himself; so far as any man brings the word of
Christ to warrant his injunctions, so far we are to obey, and no
farther; Christ is your Lord and Lawgiver.
    Inference. 6. Lastly, Let this encourage and persuade sinners to come
to Christ; for with him is sweet liberty to poor captives. Oh that
you did but know what a blessed state Jesus Christ would bring you
into! "Come unto me (says he) you that labor and are heavy laden:"
and what encouragement does he give to comers? Why this, "My yoke is
easy, and my burden is light." The devil persuades you, that the
ways of obedience and strict godliness are a perfect bondage; but if
ever God regenerate you, you will find his ways, "ways of
pleasantness, and all his paths peace: you will rejoice in the way
of his commandments as much as in all riches:" you will find the
worst work Christ puts you about, even suffering work, sweeter than
all the pleasures that ever you found in sin. O therefore open your
hearts at the call of the gospel: Come unto Christ, then shall you
be free indeed.
 




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