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were bondsmen in Egypt, and subjected to the most severe and ignominious drudgery. They forgot that their nation was carried captive to Babylon, their cities pillaged, and their country left seventy years desolate. They forgot, that at the very time when they were boasting of their freedom, the sceptre had departed from Judah, and that they were paying tribute to the Roman Emperor. Above all, they forgot the moral and spiritual bondage in which, as individuals, they were involved; alienated from God, the slaves of their unholy appetites and passions; their souls as truly in bondage as were the bodies of their forefathers, when under the lash of Egyptian taskmasters.
In no age and in no country, were any people, so likely as we are, to form erroneous opinions respecting their condition as free
As American citizens, we can say, with a much greater semblance of truth than did the descendants of Abraham,“ We are in bondage to no man." We enjoy a higher degree of national freedom than any people on the face of the globe. In its origin, our government approaches nearer to a social compact, voluntarily formed by the people with a view to promote their mutual benefit
, than that of any other nation. Under the protection of our admirable national and state constitutions, every citizen has secured a just and appropriate influence in creating and in administering the laws by which he is governed. Too remote and too powerful to apprehend danger from any external foe, we scorn the idea of foreign invasion and foreign oppression. The eulogies which we hear on the anniversaries of our national independence, and the sentiments uttered around the festive board, and echoed from our schools and legislative halls, are calculated to foster and confirm the belief that nothing is wanting to the consummation of our personal and national freedom. So pleasing is the reflection, and in many respects so favorable is our condition, that, were a messenger from heaven to announce, that something is wanting to our real and permanent freedom, he would probably receive as little credence as did our Lord, when he intimated to the Jews that they were in bondage. Nevertheless, the same bondage exists among us, and the same causes are in operation, which destroyed the national independence and the spiritual liberty of the descendants of Abraham. “Whosoever committeth sin, is the servant of sin.”
Real personal freedom cannot exist where sin is predominant: and national liberty and independence will sooner or later vanish, when corruption and vice pervade the great body of the community. This is the first great leading truth taught us in the portion of sacred scripture before us.
The second is, that the prevalence of the principles and spirit of the gospel, is the only effectual means of acquiring and preserving personal and national freedom. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”
The general proposition which we design to establish and illustrate, is, That a state of sin is a state of bondage; and that the only means of acquiring and preserving personal and national freedom, is the prevalence of the principles and spirit of the gospel
I. OF PERSONAL FREEDOM.
We commence with remarking, that, as moral agents, men are necessarily accountable to that Almighty Being who gave them existence. It is utterly impossible that any finite being can, with impunity, resist the claims which God has upon him, arising from the constitution of his nature, and from the right of the Creator to impose laws calculated to secure his own honor and the happiness of his moral subjects. To freedom from an obligation to cbey laws imposed by an infinitely wise and good and all-powerful Being, man cannot attain. His very nature makes him subject to law; and be. fore he can free himself from its authority, he must divest himself of his intellectual and moral powers, and become as incapable of virtue and vice as the brutes. He must also withdraw himself from the dominion and government of the Almighty, and live and act independent of the power which gave him existence.
Men may sin, that is, they may transgress the laws which God has prescribed for the regulation of their conduct: because the possibility of transgressing, as well as of obeying a law, is essential to the idea of an accountable agent. But sin cannot be committed with impunity. Whoever transgresses a law, necessarily incurs its penalty. That all men have sinned, is a fact too positively asserted in the sacred scriptures, and too plainly evinced in the history of the world, to admit of a moment's doubt. “ All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Every sinner is under sentence of condemnation in the sight of God, bound to suffer the penalty of the law which he has transgressed. He is therefore a slave, in consequence of his crimes. Having forfeited his freedom, he is under bonds stronger than those which confine the slave in his galley, or the malefactor in his dungeon. Eternal and immutable justice has pronounced him guilty, and responsible for the forfeiture which he has incurred. Although he may walk at large, and feel no shackles imposed by human hands, he is really a prisoner on whom sentence is passed. The great God needs no chains or prison-house, in order to confine those who have rebelled against his authority. They cannot hide themselves from his view, or escape beyond the reach of his hand. The ministers of his justice can as easily seize the prince in his palace, as the peasant in his cottage. The general at the head of a victorious army, is as easily arrested and brought before the supreme tribunal, as the criminal bound with chains and secured in the recesses of the strongest prison. And can any one, who is thus guilty and condemned, actually in the hands of a holy and a just God, liable at any moment to suffer the full penalty of the law which he has broken, be considered as free, as having a claim to the immunities of an obedient and faithful subject? The condition of a slave, compelled to toil and su eat at the pleasure of a task-master, or of a prisoner immured in a dungeon, built by human hands, is free and happy, compared with that of the sinner under the displeasure of a holy and a just God.
In reference to this state, in which every impenitent sinner is found, our Lord has said, “if the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” Free from the sentence of condemnation; free from the claims of divine justice; free from the pains of the second death; restored to all the immunities and privileges of the sons of God. This is a glorious and inestimable freedom, infinitely superior in value to the immunities conferred by the most powerful states or kingdoms of this world.
To bestow this freedom, is the peculiar prerogative of the Son of God. Long before his advent it was predicted that he should“ proclaim liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” And when he was on earth we find him exercising the high prerogative of forgiving sin, saying to the miserable and guilty son or daughter," thy sins are forgiven thee,” and proving by incontestible miracles that he had power to do so.
And let it be distinctly remembered, that it is not by an act of absolute sovereignty; it is not at the expense of justice, that the Son of God opens the prison doors and lets the captive go free. He did not declare the law, which condemned the sinner, to be unjust or
He came not to destroy, but to fulfil the law; not to invalidate but to secure the rights of the divine government, while he proclaims mercy and forgiveness to the penitent.
The Lord Jesus Christ assumed our nature, so that he might be in a condition to obey the divine law, as well as to suffer its penalty; and thus to redeem from the curse of the law those who believe in his
“ He was wounded,” says the scriptures, “ for our transgressions: he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.” what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” “ He suffered the just for the unjust: He bore our sins in his own body on the tree.” So that we have “ demption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sin.”
The plain import of these passages of sacred scripture, as well as of many others, is that Jesus Christ voluntarily stood in the place of his people; bore the curse of the law, and in consequence of the satisfaction which he made to divine justice, he is authorized to release from condemnation and everlasting death, those who believe in
“If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, you shall be free indeed:” free from the curse of the law-free from final condemnation.
: To participate in this freedom, faith in Jesus Christ is so indispensably necessary, that all who do not believe in his name are in a state of condemnation. “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not, is condemned already.”
2. There is another important sense in which sinners are in bondage. We mean, the bondage arising from the dominion of sin; from the prevalence of the vilest and most corrupt principles of human nature, over the noblest and purest powers of the soul.
It is true, there is nothing involuntary or compulsive in this servitude. If there were, our condition would excite commiseration rather than deserve blame. There is such a thing as voluntary slavery; the application of high and noble powers to mean and servile purposes; the subjection of high and commanding faculties to those which are low and groveling; the employment of powers which fit man to glorify God and to promote the welfare of his follows, in rebellion against his Maker, and in spreading corruption and crime and wretchedness among men.
Man is naturally dependent on God, and rightfully bound to submit to his authority, and to obey his laws: And the entire dedication of all the powers of the soul to the service of God is the most perfect freedom of which man is capable; because this is a reasonable service-a service calculated to bring all the powers of the soul into delightful and harmonious action-to raise man to his highest dignity, and to secure individual and general happiness.
When man throws off his allegiance to his Maker, he necessarily enrols himself under the standard of the prince of darkness, and becomes his willing and obedient slave, ready to follow his suggestions and to execute his purposes. In this case, there can be no neutrality. There are, and in the nature of things there can be, only two great parties in the moral world; the one for God, and the other against him; the one under the standard of light, and the other under that of darkness. The only question to be decided, is, which of these two masters shall be chosen. The refusal or neglect to obey God, is a virtual determination to take the side of the enemy. It is often the pride and the boast of those who disclaim all
pretensions to piety, that they are free and unshackled; not restrained by rigid and unbending rules; that they are at liberty to shape their course according to circumstances, and at all times to do whatever they may find most agreeable. But what is the amount of this boasted liberty? It is to disregard all those considerations which should influence a rational being, to set at nought the counsels of reason and the dictates of conscience and to follow the blind impulse of appetite and passion. It is liberty to close the eyes; so as not to perceive dangers, and to rush on blindfolded to destruction. As well might the ideot or maniac boast of his freedom; because he perceives not or regards not the motives which govern the actions of other men.
But it is not true, that those, who reject the authority of God and trample on his laws, act independently, and are free from foreign influence. Not unfrequently they are absolute slaves to the opinions of others; and that not generally of the wise and good, but of the foolish and profligate. While boasting of exemption from the unbending rules of moral conduct prescribed in the bible, they are subject to the capricious and absurd laws of fashion, and they are often under the necessity of acting in a manner inconsistent with their own ideas of propriety and duty. Taking their standard of excellence, not from the immutable laws of rectitude and truth, but from the opinions of others, they have no character which can be called their
Borrowing their moral complexion from those with whom they are surrounded, they exhibit whatever color their associates are pleased to assign them.
For this reason, the young and inexperienced are so often led astray. If we see a young man frequenting the society of the profane and profligate, we may, with almost absolute certainty, predict his ruin. "The moral and religious principles inculcated by his parents are gradually undermined by the suggestion that these principles are incompatible with the freedom to which every generous youth should aspire. Flattered with the thought of emancipation from parental authority, he yields himself to the guidance of his new instructors. And when he has once submitted to their control, they rule him with a power tenfold more absolute than that previously exerted by parental hands. They impose on him a code of laws, falsely called the laws of honor, more capricious, more absurd, and more despotic than the laws of Draco. No longer is he at liberty to act according to his own judgment of what is right, but in obedience to the maxims adopted by his associates, he must, if they so direct, violate the most sacred laws of humanity and religion.
Why is it that a young man of moderate fortune runs into such extravagance in dress and style of living as involves him in debt, injures his best friends, and perhaps drives him to fraudulent practices in order to answer the demands of importunate creditors! Why, at the risk of acquiring invincible and ruinous habits, does he force himself to taste the intoxicating cup, for which he has no relish? Why does he stake his fortune at the gaming table? Why does he hazard his life or aim to shed his brother's blood, for an offence not worthy, in the estimation of a wise man, of the least notice? Why in these, and in many other ways of a similar character, are many, styled noble and generous spirits, led bound and blindfolded to their own destruction? It is, because they are staves to the opinions of others. Not convinced by arguments addressed to their reason, or induced by motives of feeling their sense of duty, but led by a blind and abject submission to an absurd and often ridiculous custom, they sacrifice their present and eternal interests, rather than make a single effort to emancipate themselves from their bondage. And never