Free, Yet in Bonds
George Everard, 1884
A story has often been told of a colored woman, on board a steamer in some eastern country. She was a slave, and an Englishman was touched with her misery and degradation, and wished to have the joy of giving her freedom. Ignorant of his design, she heard him name the sum he was willing to give for her purchase, and she reproached him, as an Englishman, for buying a slave. But when she understood why he did so, she was filled with gratitude.
"I have bought you to set you free," said the Englishman.
"Then I am your slave forever!" was her prompt reply.
Thus was she made "free — yet in bonds." A new bondage took the place of the old. She willingly took upon herself the sweet bondage of gratitude and love and willing service, in place of the old burden which had lain so heavily upon her.
In the life of a Christian there is somewhat of a similar character. There is a twofold position. There is freedom — yet there are bonds. This thought is given us by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. He is speaking to a church where some were free, and others under the yoke of slavery. He reminds them of their position as the disciples of Christ, and shows how it lifts them up above the distinction that existed in their temporal condition. As in another place, he declares that in Christ there is no more "Jew nor Greek, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond or free;" so also in the chapter I refer to.
He dwells on the spirit in which the freed man and the slave are each to regard their lot. "He who is called in the Lord, being a servant (or slave), is the Lord's freeman (freed man). Likewise also, he who is called, being free, is the Lord's servant" (bond-servant) "You are bought with a price; be not the servants of men" (vers. 22-23).
As if he would say, "Learn to see your true position with respect to Christ, and care but little for that which regards man." If the burden of slavery rests upon you, then rejoice that in Christ you have a true, eternal freedom. If you are free from the yoke, remember that by your calling you must ever reckon yourself under the yoke of Christ. Bear in mind the vast ransom that has been paid for your redemption, and live worthily of Him who has so highly exalted you.
So that here you have both sides of a Christian's life. From the words of Paul we gather that the slave is free, and that the freed man is in bonds; but both are true to each believer. He is "free — yet in bonds." Here is a subject worth our prayerful meditation. Keep both sides of the Christian life before you. If you are Christ's, rejoice in the liberty with which Christ has set you free. No less, be mindful of your vast responsibility to be His faithful and devoted servant or slave.
Christ calls you to a glorious liberty. He breaks your bonds, and frees you from every chain. Liberty! Ah, what crimes have been committed in your name! Liberty! What terrible license for evil has been covered by such a claim! Liberty! Yes, too often it has been liberty to overturn, uproot, slay, destroy. Liberty! But it has brought in the most intolerable bondage, and with its iron hoof has trampled down all that is fair and noble, pure and holy, all that is of God and Heaven!
Let England beware! There is a liberty which is tenfold more to be feared than the despotism of the worst monarch that ever reigned. Take heed of the liberty of lawlessness! May God protect our land from this, above all other evils!
But the liberty which Christ gives has no element of evil, but is good, and only good. How precious should it be to the Christian's heart when he remembers the price at which it has been purchased. I have read of one who, himself redeemed from slavery by his own efforts, commissioned another to endeavor to ransom his wife and children, hoping in time to pay back the sum required. But when he heard the price demanded, he exclaimed, "Too much, too much!" But the ransom was paid by his friend, though he could never look for it to be repaid him.
But think of the price for our ransom! Turn and see One fairer than the children of men. He has never done anything but good, and has wiped away the tear from ten thousand sorrowing ones. But see Him led away bound and fettered as a traitor or a thief! See Him in His bonds, standing as a prisoner at the bar of wicked and unscrupulous men. See Him loosed from the chains, but to receive the still more cruel fetters of the iron nails which held Him fast to the cross. All the shame, all the suffering that rough, hard men could inflict upon Him — all this, along with the agony of Gethsemane, and the desolation of the darkest hour of all, when Heaven itself seemed closed against Him — all this was the price of that glorious gift of freedom which He died to purchase for sinners. Surely, we are almost ready to cry, "Too much, too much!" to redeem the lost and guilty sons of earth.
But what a grand, glorious blessing is this freedom of the Gospel! How shall we look at it?
We shall regard it as sevenfold — branching out in all directions, and in each, telling of some unspeakable privilege that pertains to us, and bringing to us some new element of joy and gladness.
1. In Christ, there is freedom from the yoke of a burdensome ceremonial.In the school-days of the Church of God, such a ceremonial was needful and profitable. Children are taught by pictures. And in the system of the older dispensation, there needed instruction as to the very rudiments of divine truth. What was meant by sin, by atonement, by forgiveness, by close approach to the Most High; how God abhorred iniquity, and yet opened a door of hope to the sinner; how Redemption was to rest upon mediation, priesthood, and sacrifice — all this was taught by type and symbol, before it was possible for the full truth of the Gospel to be understood and received. But now the childhood of the Church has passed away — and with it the whole system of the Jewish ceremonial.
In these later days our great privilege is spiritual worship. A few simple forms and ceremonies we must have. The two sacraments are divinely appointed for our profit. The orderly performance of public worship is helpful and most necessary. But here we must rest. To multiply forms and ceremonies, is to impose new fetters on the Church of Christ. It is to hinder and impede the spirit's fellowship with the great Father above. It is to contradict the glorious Rubric of New Testament service, "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." John 4:24
2. In Christ, there is freedom from the curse and condemnation of the law.The law brings to the sinner a message of heavy tidings. It tells him that "the wages of sin is death." It tells him that the least act of disobedience, though it be but a trivial offence in the sight of man, brings with it a sentence of condemnation. It proclaims a curse, even the wrath of God, and the righteous punishment which ensues, on every one who transgresses, in any particular, the least of His commandments. Nor can man by any works or efforts of his own break this terrible chain, or escape from the bitter consequences of his sin.
No repentance, no amendment of life, no alms-deeds or good works, can lift off the burden, or make peace between God and the soul.
But, thank God, when a man casts himself wholly upon God's mercy and accepts Christ as his Surety, and His sacrifice as the ground of his forgiveness — then the curse is rolled away and he is free. The law has no more claim upon him. Christ died once for all and paid the full penalty.
He was made sin, that we might be accounted righteous.
He was condemned, that we might be justified.
He was made a curse, that upon us might come the blessing.
Take an illustration. A man has been brought in guilty of some crime, and has been condemned to ten or twenty years of penal servitude. Suppose him to have passed through this season of exile — could he be condemned again for the same crime? Or suppose a criminal to have been sentenced to death, and after his execution he had been raised from the dead, as Lazarus — would it be just that he should again suffer and die? Would he not henceforth be free from the claim of the law?
Now, consider how it is with him who believes in Jesus. In the person of his Surety and Representative — he has endured all that the law demands.
For our sake Christ was an exile from His Father's house. For our sake He suffered and died the cruel death of the cross. Now He has risen again, and the law can no more condemn Him. I too in Him have died, and in Him have been raised to a new life, so that, as one with Him, I can never be condemned.
Here is a blessed, blood-bought freedom! No longer am I under the law, but under grace. Though sin has abounded — yet grace does much more abound.
Perfect deliverance from the law's penalty,
perfect remission of all guilt,
a perfect justification from every possible charge,
a sure and perfect acceptance before the throne of God —
all this is mine through the work of Christ upon the cross.
"Death and the curse were in our cup;
O Christ, 'twas full for Thee!
But You have drained the last dark drop —
'Tis empty now for me!
That bitter cup, Love drank it up —
Now blessing's draught for me."
3. In Christ, there is freedom from the burden of a guilty conscience.This is closely linked with the last thought, but yet there is a difference. A person may truly have come to Christ, and be free from the condemnation of the law — and yet, through imperfect knowledge, through weakness of faith, through failing to grasp the breadth and fullness of the promises, may walk in darkness, and be in bondage as to any sure sense of pardon and peace.
A schoolmaster had once a long illness, and, after his recovery, was greatly afraid of being unable to meet the bill for medical advice. When the bill came in, he was afraid to look at it for several days, but when he opened it, he found it cancelled. The thoughtful kindness of the doctor in this way saved the man all future anxiety.
This incident seems to me a parable of many faint-hearted Christians. They are in continual bondage because they do not look at the Divine signature, and the full discharge from all sin which is theirs in Christ. They have it by them, if they would only look at it; but they go mourning all their days, because they will not carefully examine the sweet promises which God has given them.
Have you, my brother or sister, come to your Savior? Have you confessed to Him your sin, desiring to conceal nothing from His searching eye? Have you taken the sinner's place, low before His cross, trusting alone to His precious blood? Then read, believe, rejoice! Here is the payment in full for the whole debt of ten thousand talents! "I have blotted out as a thick cloud your transgressions, and as a cloud your sins." "Your sins and iniquities I will remember no more." "In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace." Son, daughter, "be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven!"
With such promises and assurances, why should you doubt? Why not glory in your full acceptance in Christ? When such liberty is yours, why dishonor your Savior by walking in bondage and in fear?
4. In Christ, there is freedom from the dominion of sin, and from all the power of the enemy.There is no more galling yoke to be found, than . . .
the thraldom of evil passions, tyrant lusts, sinful habits and customs,
uncontrolled tempers which burst forth like a hurricane,
temptations which hurry a man onward toward the precipice of utter ruin,
the dark trinity of "the world, the flesh, and the devil" —
all drawing a man along the pathway that leads to eternal death! Here is a foe that is terrible indeed!
But in Christ, there is freedom and deliverance from this misery also.
Satan is strong, for he is a roaring lion. But Christ is stronger, for He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah — yes, the almighty Shepherd, who can guard the weakest of His flock from the treachery and deceit of the evil one.
Sin is strong, and it has conquered and destroyed its myriads in every age; but Christ is stronger, for He is our Joshua, and He can put every enemy beneath our feet. If united to Christ by true faith, "sin shall not have dominion over you." Being no longer under the law, but under grace, Christ reigns in you by His Holy Spirit, and by the same Spirit can make you more than conqueror over every snare of the tempter.
Christian, remember always the secret of success in the sore conflict you have to wage. Let "the joy of the Lord" be "your strength." Apart from Christ, there is nothing but defeat. You may resolve to do better, you may strive against your besetting sin — but if it is in your own might, you will fail. But draw near to Christ, and keep Him in view continually. Hide deep in your heart His own word of promise, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Fly to Him as your stronghold, whenever danger is at hand. Make Him your shield, when the shafts of the wicked one are aimed for your destruction.
I often think of a lesson I learned one snowy day in Birmingham. A big lad was unmercifully snow-balling a smaller boy. But when the little fellow saw me coming, he got behind me and kept me on the slant between himself and his enemy, until he was able to escape from him.
Ah, here is a lesson for me, thought I. Let me ever make Christ my shield. Let me ever put Him between me and my temptations; between me and my cares, and fears, and perils — and He will answer for them. No evil can overcome His power; and when I thus trust in Him, no sin or evil can overcome me.
Thus will you find strength for victory. You will be delivered from the sin which once was too strong for you. More and more the Spirit of Christ shall fashion you in His image and likeness. More and more shall the evil nature be mortified and kept under control, and Christ Himself make your heart His dwelling-place.
5. In Christ, there is the freedom and liberty of a child in the Father's house.Here is one of the sweetest privileges of the Christian life. The Christian is a beloved child, and shares all the love and tenderness of a Father's heart. "You have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you have received the Spirit of Adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father."
Go into that bright, pleasant home. See a company of happy little ones, here and there a face beaming with smiles and sunshine, one running in and climbing up the knee of father or mother — another receiving some special token of a parent's love — and all at perfect liberty in a home where true and genuine affection makes them one. There may not be many such homes, but, thank God, there are some, and wherever they exist there is deep joy and comfort unequaled in any other earthly sphere. And is not such a home a type of the great family of our Father in Heaven?
Strange mistakes are often made by the people of the world. They think of Christians as if they were of all men most miserable. But they are of all men most blessed. This one thought is a fountain of unfailing happiness!
"I am at home with God!
Once I was far off — but now I am near.
Once I was a stranger — but now His beloved child!
Once the thought of His presence was fear and dread — but now it is life, and joy, and peace.
He is my Father, and in this Name all heart-joys meet.
He knows me by name, and cares for me in all my cares.
He pities me, and in tender compassion marks each tear I shed, and each sorrow that weighs upon my heart.
He opens His hand, and each day gives me all that I need.
He bows down His ear and hearkens to each prayer I offer.
I have boldness and liberty to go at all times into His presence-chamber, and may tell Him every desire and ask of Him whatever is for my good.
"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus!" Galatians 3:26
"He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ" Ephesians 1:5
"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" 1 John 3:1
"My child," I heard my Father say,
"My child, look up and see
The love with which your Father's face
Is looking down on thee.
"My child, I know you by your name,
I own you as you art;
No guilt of yours, or grief or shame,
Can shut you from my heart.
"No earthly father pities so,
So tender none could be;
No mother o'er her babe has yearned
As I have yearned for thee."
"My Father, I can ask no more,
Since You on me have smiled;
My fears are still, my wants are met,
I know I am Your child!"
6. In Christ, there is freedom from the fear of death.In many cases this is a terrible bondage. It casts its dark shadow over the brightest scenes of life. And even where it is otherwise, until men have found the antidote, it is only because the future is put out of sight. The moment that danger or disease reminds men of its approach, peace is gone, and there is nothing but alarm and dread.
But Christ rids men of their enemy. He "delivers those who through fear of death are all their lifetime subject to bondage." He takes away the terror of coming judgment, which is one great element in this fear. When sin is covered, and there is nothing but love between God and the soul — the worst dread vanishes forever. And for the rest, the sure hopes and promises of the Gospel come in to dispel the shadows that remain. Though to the last there may be in some cases a shrinking from the physical circumstances of the last great change, the bodily suffering, the parting from all we love, the thought of the gloomy grave — yet light bursts through the darkness.
By the telescope of faith the believer catches a glimpse of the home beyond. "To depart and be with Christ is far better!" He can rest on the words of the Master, "If a man keeps My words, he shall never see death." "I am the resurrection, and the life: he who believes on Me, though he dies — yet shall he live: and whoever lives and believes in Me, shall never die" (John 11:23-25.)
And all through the valley of the shadow of death, the presence of the Good Shepherd upholds the departing spirit. Thus death is slain, the grave is conquered, and even with his last breath the Christian may chant a song of triumph. "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" "Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." And this freedom and deliverance, to be enjoyed even now, has its perfection and completion in that which is yet to come.
There yet remains —
7. The glorious liberty of God's children at the manifestation of Christ and His Saints.(Romans 8:21.) Too often, while here below, Christians are clogged and fettered . . .
by infirmities of the flesh,
by the corruption that still cleaves to them,
by depressing circumstances in their home,
by the sad imperfections of Christ's Church,
by peculiarities of their natural temperament,
by fears, and cares, and anxieties.
Even when the spirit is set free by death — yet the body is still held in prison by the coffin and the grave. But at Christ's appearing, no vestige of these bonds and fetters shall remain!
Oh, the freedom of the risen saint, in the perfect likeness of his Redeemer! Oh, the joy of a life where love reigns without alloy in the soul, and where the body is fitted to fulfill, without weariness, the behests of the great King! Here will be perfection that now we can but faintly conceive!
Here is the sevenfold freedom of the child of God — but is it your own? What do you know . . .
of freedom from the law,
of freedom from a guilty conscience,
of freedom from the dominion of sin, and
of the liberty of a spirit that can delight in a Father's love?
What do you know of victory by faith over the fear of death, and of a joyful hope of full deliverance at Christ's coming?
Oh, come to Christ for this, rich benefit of redeeming love!
Christ is the true Liberator. He can set you free. You may be tied and bound by the chain of your sins. You may be the slave of drink, or doubt, or of an earthly mind, or of evil passions — but Jesus can save and deliver you. Seek Him in sincerity. Go to Him in humility and faith. Pray to Him with your whole heart, and make this your petition, "O Lord, bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Your Name." Only do this, and He will not fail you. He will break your chains, and save you with an everlasting salvation.
But if you are Christ's, if He has set you free from the bondage of evil — then never forget the other side of the Christian life. Rejoice in your privileges, but do not forget your responsibilities. You are free — yet still in bonds. Love has fastened the chain around your heart, and you must never forget it, nor think to escape from it. If He has rid you from the cruel yoke of Satan — then He puts upon you His light yoke and easy burden, and bids you carry it after Him. If He has freed you from the slavery of sin — it is that you may be a servant of righteousness, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. Delight in this service, and glory in it as that by which you may bring great honor to Him who has redeemed you.
I remember reading of a true-hearted missionary in China, and the way in which he regarded this service. The boys in the town where he labored used to mock him, and run after him, crying, "Jesus Christ's man! Jesus Christ's man!" "Yes," said the good missionary, "that is just what I am. I am Jesus Christ's man. I am a slave of Jesus, and I rejoice that I am!"
But HOW shall you carry out this service?
Remember on your knees, the high calling to which you are pledged. On your knees, place yourself in Christ's presence. There give yourself again and again to Him. Dedicate yourself afresh to Him, to do His bidding, and fulfill His will concerning you. Place yourself wholly at His disposal. Let there be no reserves. Time, influence, money, what gifts He has bestowed — yield them up to Him, and ask Him to guide you in the use of them. Then let there be continued prayer for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. We want the bonds of Christ to be drawn closer and closer around the soul. We want to be bound hand and foot by the cords of His love, and to have a holy constraint in the inner man, so that we ever wish to have no will but His, and to have no life but His own life of grace, purity, and unselfish toil, wrought out in us, and through us.
For this, we must wait upon Him for His Spirit to work mightily in us. The Spirit will quicken our desires to serve Him. The Spirit will bestow wisdom, zeal, patience, perseverance. The Spirit will go before and prepare the hearts of those whom we wish to help. Only in the Spirit can any service be pleasing to the Lord, or of profit to those around us.
There are three graces of the Spirit that I would especially urge you to cultivate. These three points are so vastly important, that wherever they are found they will always make a servant of Christ eminently useful.
First, I would place a singleness of eye, a holy consistency, a transparent sincerity of aim and conduct. "Lord, give me a single eye!" was a continual prayer of a Sunday school teacher; and with his penknife he cut the words "a single eye" on the desk where he constantly sat through the week. Nourish this spirit, and . . .
it will make you careful as to the least detail of daily conduct,
you will never excuse yourself in the least sin,
truth and perfect integrity will mark both your words and actions,
you will be as careful to do right when alone, as among a crowd of observers.
Next, I would place a cheerful, congenial spirit. Be a Barnabas, a son of consolation, one whose very look and countenance tells of the sunshine that reigns within. Let the joy of the Lord be your strength. You may have cares and troubles, aches and pains, losses and disappointments (and what Christian has not?) but don't let them sour your spirit, or make you fretful, murmuring, and unhappy. In the power of faith rise above these crosses, and rejoice even in tribulation.
Let your children see something attractive in your happy smile, that they may be drawn to the Savior whom you love. Let your friends and neighbors see by your own demeanor, that religion is something worth having, and not be frightened at it because you are always in the dumps! I am persuaded few things are more important than this. A cheerful countenance, and a bright, hearty spirit, have been the magnet that has drawn many a one to Christ.
Last, but not least, I would place Love — true, genuine, unselfish, sincere love. We all of us want more of the love that comes down from Heaven, that burned so brightly in the breast of the Redeemer, and that ought to be the great mark of all His followers.
While John is the apostle of love — yet Paul no less tells its praises in one of the most wonderful chapters he ever wrote — 1 Corinthians 13. His whole life is an exhibition of self-sacrificing love, such as we can scarcely find elsewhere.
Had Christians more love — what fresh efforts would be made to reach the heathen abroad, and the perishing ones in our villages, towns, and cities at home! Had Christians more love — what thousands would flow into Christ's treasury, which are now under lock and key, or are spent upon luxury and self! Had Christians more love — what numbers of fresh visitors we would have in our churches, and fresh teachers in our Sunday-schools! What multitudes of sorrowful hearts might be relieved, the fatherless and the widow supported, the naked and destitute clothed and fed, burdens removed, and happiness and comfort increased a thousandfold, if only Love more reigned within the heart!
But more especially would I remind you that the manifestation of true, sincere love, is one of the choicest means of drawing others to the knowledge of Christ.
Two lads were once talking together about those who taught them in the Sunday school.
"You should be in our class," said one, "our teacher knows such a lot."
"You should be in our class," said the other, "our teacher loves such a lot."
In which class do you think most children would prefer to be?
But let me add another example. A young Mohammedan was invited by a missionary to visit him at his own house, and converse with him on the subject of Christianity. He accepted the invitation and came. Just at the moment he came in, the missionary had discovered a case of gross neglect in his native servant. The man had been told to prepare the tent, and repair any defects, that, on the morrow, the missionary might set out on a journey to preach in the surrounding villages. But the servant had never touched it, and the journey had to be postponed. The young Mohammedan saw how matters stood, and expected the missionary to strike a blow, or at least administer a very rough rebuke. But when he noticed the quiet, gentle way in which he pointed out the evil of his conduct — the young man felt assured there was something very real in his religion, and was thus led to search the Scriptures, and become a follower of Christ.
After a time he fell back through the persistent opposition of his young wife. But a second time love came and touched his heart. Another missionary heard of his forsaking Christ's service, and called upon him. When he saw him he said not one reproachful word, but fell on his neck and wept. This led him to see how wrong he had been to yield, and more steadfastly than ever to give himself to the service of the Lord Jesus.
"O Lord, who has taught us that all our doings without love are worth nothing, send Your Holy Spirit, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before You. Grant this for Your only Son, Jesus Christ's sake!"
"You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich — yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might be rich."