Slavery and Freedom
July 9th, 1967 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-9-67 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Slavery and Freedom. It is a message taken out of a dialogue between the Lord Jesus and the leaders of the Jewish nation as it is recorded in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John. Beginning at verse 31:
If you continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed;
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
They answered Him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
Jesus answered them, Truly, truly, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin.
And the slave abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth for ever.
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
The passion for freedom has never been extinguished in the human breast, however the condition of servitude, however the gross and impenetrable darkness of depravity or ignorance. We, in our generation, in our day, have seen a classic example of this urge in the souls of men to govern themselves, to be free from foreign bondage and oppression. In our lifetime we have seen the dissolution of the British empire, the German empire, the French empire, the Portuguese empire, colonialism as such is dead. And as it has been known in the subjugation of unlettered people in centuries past will never be seen again. These emerging nations, untrained, untaught, unready, nevertheless have found in our time an opportunity to throw off a foreign yoke and to attempt their own self rule; freedom to be free.
If we had time we could turn the pages of history and see that the story of the human race has been largely that kind of a story. Israel in the land of Egypt, crying unto God for deliverance; Babylon, revolting against Nineveh and the Assyrian oppression; Demosthenes before the citizens of Athens denouncing Philip of Macedon, and doing it with such superlative, incomparable eloquence that to this very day an impassioned address, especially one directed against tyranny, is called a Philippic, from the Demosthian denunciation of Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great; or Spartacus, as he pleads the cause and champions the freedom of the gladiators; or the French Revolution with its cry of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity”; or the great, marvelous, American patriot Patrick Henry, as he stands in Saint James Episcopal Church in Richmond and cries, “If this be treason then make the most of it; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death”; or the beautiful hymn of patriotism that we sing this time of the year in July.
My country, ‘tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the Pilgrims’ pride!
From ev’ry mountainside let freedom ring!
[“America,” Rev. Samuel Francis Smith]
And if there is any common determination and dedication on the part of our American government today, it is this: to confront a tyranny that would engulf the nations of the world in slavery. And yet the stark possibility is ever present; namely, to win freedom and still be a slave. This is the background of the dialogue I read just now between the Lord Jesus and the leaders of the Jewish nation [John 8:31-36].
John says that this took place in the temple during the Feast of the Tabernacles [John 7:2, 8:2]. The Feast of the Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:33-43, Numbers 29:12-38, Deuteronomy 16:13-17] was a time when the people lived in little booths made out of branches, like little arbors, and it celebrated the exodus out of Egypt when they wandered in the wilderness [Leviticus 23:43]. And it was a time of rejoicing in the deliverance of God and the giving of the law.
And at this time of the year nationalism ran high among the Jewish people. They were under the galling and oppressive yoke of Rome. And as Jesus stood in the temple area and spoke, above Him rose the Tower of Antonio, the Roman bastion out of which they controlled the temple area and Jerusalem, and from which they largely ruled Judea. It was a hated and an oppressive sign of foreign tyranny and a foreign yoke. And against that background of nationalism and the desire to be free—which in a few years later burst into open revolt that finally resulted in the destruction of the city and the nation under Titus in 70 AD—against that background Jesus began to speak to them about the true freedom.
And He said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” [John 8:32]. Then they interrupted and said, “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man” [John 8:33]. Isn’t that an astonishing thing to avow, that “we were never in bondage to any man?” They had been in bondage to the Egyptians; they had been in bondage to the Assyrians, to the Babylonians, to the Syrians, to the Greeks, and they were now in bondage to the Romans. But maybe they meant spiritual bondage. At least Jesus takes them at that word and replies to them, “Verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin [John 8:34]; but if the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free for ever, indeed” [John 8:36].
It is possible to be free intellectually, emotionally, politically, economically; it is possible to be free in every other area of life and still, in soul and in heart, be a slave. And Jesus says the true freedom is freedom of soul, of heart, of spirit, of life. “If any man committeth sin, he is a slave of sin. And only the Son of Man can make us really free” [John 8:34, 36].
As I look at our proud America, and at our free world, I think how burning and true are these words of our Lord. We have freedom from want. No nation so abundantly blessed with the fruit of the ground, with the abundance of the material things of life; freedom from want. But there has never been a nation that was such slaves to appetite and to indulgence as modern America. Freedom of speech, to say what we please, but slaves of oaths, and vile and filthy language. And America, as so many other of the peoples of the earth have given themselves to vile and blasphemous language. Freedom of the press, to print what we please, but I suppose not in the record of mankind have there been floods of pornography and filthy salacious literature as is produced by the presses of America.
Wouldn’t you think that a nation with the background of our people would exalt the Word of God? Yet in the state of Illinois—and I use it but as typical—in the state of Illinois, by law the Bible cannot be read in the public school; but by the same law, in that same state, every convict must be given a copy of the Word of God.
Freedom of worship, which in the Western world is freedom for amusement and entertainment and freedom from worship. In the great nations of the free Western world there are not two percent who attend divine services. And in America, on any Sunday, our great cities look like mausoleums to the dead. The church is closed, the church is empty, and the graph of the attendance of church in America descends precipitously like this. Free, and enslaved.
That’s what the Lord meant when He said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free ontōs, verily, truly, actually, really, indeed” [John 8:36]. And I wish you could see that sentence as it is written in the Greek New Testament. We have this “indeed” at the end [John 8:36]. In the Greek, for emphasis, that word ontōs is placed first: “Truly, really, actually ye shall be free if the Son of God shall make you free” [John 8:36]. What kind of a freedom is that? It is a freedom disassociated from any outward conditions; it is an inward freedom; it is a freedom of the soul, and of the heart, and of the inward life. As the poet says,
Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage.
[“To Althea, from Prison,” Richard Lovelace]
As we sing in our hymn,
Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free:
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If we, like them, could die for Thee!
[“Faith of Our Fathers,” by Frederick W. Faber]
What kind of freedom is that, where a man is free, though in stocks and in chains and in dark dungeons? It is the soaring of the spirit in the love and grace [Ephesians 2:8] and gift and mercy of Almighty God [John 3:16, Titus 3:5]. It is the kind of freedom that Paul and Silas possessed when placed in an inner dungeon, and their feet made fast in the stocks; they prayed and sang praises to God at midnight [Acts 16:23-25]. It is the kind of freedom that John Bunyan knew, when after twelve years of incarceration in Bedford Gaol he saw visions of God and wrote his Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s the kind of freedom that Balthasar Hubmaier possessed when they burned him at the stake in Vienna for preaching the gospel according to our Baptist faith and our Baptist communion. And think of that kind of freedom, heavenly, celestial, in the presence of the great Lord God our Savior.
Why, think of it, on a lonely isle of Patmos, sent there by the enemies of the cross, that the apostle might be exposed to die of starvation; and while he is in exile, on that lonely and rocky little island, he turns to see the voice that speaks to him and, being turned, he sees the Son of God [Revelation 1:9-18]. Think of it, think of it!
Or, that exaltation that the author of Hebrews speaks of in the tenth chapter of his book when he describes the confiscation and loss of the property of the first Christians, then describes their treasures in heaven [Hebrews 10:34]. Think of it, think of it. And he says they joyfully—think of it—they joyfully took the spoiling and confiscation of every thing that they possessed; joyfully [Hebrews 10:34]. I can’t imagine it. Seeing your home taken from you, seeing everything you possess taken from you, and singing and praising God that we were counted worthy to suffer for His name’s sake [Acts 5:41]. Think of it. What a liberty of soul and spirit that must be! Or, what is it to die, if kneeling down as his life ebbed away, one like Stephen lifts up his face and sees the Son of God standing at the right hand of power [Acts 7:55-56]. Think of it, think of it. “If the Son of Man shall set you free, ye shall be free indeed,” a freedom that soars beyond walls and iron bars and persecution and confiscation and finally death. “If the Son of Man shall set you free, ye shall be free indeed” [John 8:36].
May I speak now, and in closing, of the servitude, the slavery to which some of us would willingly surrender and give ourselves in Christ? A Christ kind of slavery; a godly kind of servitude. The King James Version of the Bible is a very beautiful, beautiful piece of literature, but sometimes the beauty of its language and expression will cover over the sharp, jagged rocks that convey the meaning of the apostle. And this is a typical instance. In Romans 1:1, and in Philippians 1:1, and in Titus 1:1 you have it translated in this beautiful King James Version, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ”; which is beautiful. But what he wrote was, Paulos doulos Iēsou Christou; “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” Slavery, gladly, joyfully, willingly, surrenderedly, yieldedly giving yourself as a slave to the Son of God.
Now let’s think of that. Here I am, and I’m free, perfectly free, and I am invited to be a slave, to yield my life and my will to God. What of that? What of it? Well, as I think about it, some things come to my mind in a like category by illustration. We have the finest Steinway grand piano here that money can buy. One of the sweet, lovely women in this church loved God, loved us, in her will left us ten thousand dollars, and I took that ten thousand dollars and bought that grand piano, and took the rest of it and remade the choir to fit the piano; and got hold of Lee Roy Till to fit the piano and the choir. I am a free man, perfectly free. And I sit down at that keyboard. I am bound by no laws, nor am I restricted by any conventions. I’m free. And I sit down at that piano and, oh my, the sounds that come out. Oh! They hurt my ears just to think about it, besides doing it. I’m a free man! But there will be a Paderewski who still sits down at that piano and he willingly, yieldedly, surrenderedly, he will bind himself by iron laws, and he will observe the strictest and the most complex conventions. But if you ever heard him play, you would think the very angels were stooping down to hear such music. That’s it.
Or again, and I see this every day of my life: here is a beautiful young woman, she is free. Not only in her family, but most often, finely, splendidly trained, will be given a magnificent position downtown. And she makes a splendid salary. She is free! She can go where she pleases, come when she wants to, buy what she wants, dresses, goes, she is free! And I see a young, beautiful woman like that give herself away. She will fall in love with a young man, and she will give to that young man her heart, and her love, and her mind, and her body, and the strength of her life. And she will bind herself to a home and to children, and day after day slave and work in that home and for those children; a yielded, willing slave, give herself away. And you ask her, “What servitude, what binding, when once you were free?” And she would reply, “I have found the purpose and meaning for me in my life in my husband and in my home.” That’s it, a slavery that is glory itself.
In my preparing this message I read through the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews. And in that eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the faith chapter, the roll call of God’s saints, he begins speaking about Abraham and Sarah and the patriarchs and their journey to a strange and a promised land. And they embraced those promises of God and lived as strangers and pilgrims in the earth [Hebrews 11:8-12]. Then the author says, and read it, then the author says, “They could have gone back to that country from whence they came out; but they would not” [Hebrews 11:13-16]. They had found a greater vision and a more glorious calling in God and God’s promises.
We are like that. If we were offered, and daily we are, and could, if we were offered the freedom of disassociating ourselves from Christ, and His gospel, and His church, and the responsibilities attendant thereto, we would reply that of all people we would be most miserable, if you were to take away from us those iron chains that bind us to God; or, should I rather say, those golden chains that link us to the grace [Ephesians 2:8] and mercy [Titus 3:5] and love of our Lord in Christ Jesus [John 3:16].
This is the slavery and a bondage that is real freedom. “If the Son of Man shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” [John 8:36]. “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ” [Romans 1:1]. And this is the sweet bondage, this is the heavenly servitude, this is the life liberty we preach and offer you in Christ Jesus today.
While we sing our song of appeal, somebody you, give himself to Jesus, “I surrender, yield soul, life, and destiny to Him.” Would you come and give me your hand? “Pastor, today I take the Lord as my Savior [Romans 10:8-13], and here I come. I give my life and heart to Him and here I am” [Ephesians 2:8-10]. Is there a family you, who will come? Is there a couple, is there one somebody you, to put your life with us in this dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25], to take Jesus as your Savior, to answer God’s call? As the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, would you make it now? When we stand up in a moment to sing, stand up coming. “Here I am, preacher, here I come.” Make the decision for God now, accept the Lord in your heart now [2 Corinthians 6:2], and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand coming. In the balcony round, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, here I come.” Do it, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.