Slavery or Freedom
February 14th, 1971 @ 7:30 PM
SLAVERY OR FREEDOM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-14-71 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Slavery or Freedom. Now in the Gospel of John turn to chapter 8, and we shall read aloud verses 28 through 36; verses 28 through 36, the Gospel of John; and if your neighbor does not have his Bible, you share yours with him and all of us read it out loud together. And on the radio, if you have opportunity, take your Bible and open to the passage and read it with us. John chapter 8, beginning at verse 28 and reading through verse 36. Now we have it? Eighth chapter, verse 28, reading through verse 36, now everybody reading out loud together:
Then Jesus said unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of Man, then shall ye know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father hath taught Me, I speak these things.
And He that sent Me is with Me: the Father hath not left Me alone; for I do always those things that please Him.
As He spake these words, many believed on Him.
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If ye 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, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the son abideth ever.
If the Son of Man therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
And out of the passage you’ve read, there are two passages that shall be our text: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” [John 8:32], and “If the Son of Man therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free ontos, indeed [John 8:36]—truly, really, actually—the true freedom; Slavery and Freedom.
I need not remind you that freedom, to be free, has been a passion of mankind from the beginning. There is not any race, or any age, or any generation, or any family, or tribe, or people, who has ever lived but has desired to be free. You can find attestation to that in our day and generation. We have seen the dissolution in our day of the British empire, of the German empire, of the French empire, of the Portuguese empire; we have seen its dissolution in our day. Colonialism is for the most part a thing of the past.
While I was over there in East Africa, I read where Obote—who recently was displaced by a coup as president of Uganda—I read where Obote, the president, said, “We had rather rule ourselves badly than to be ruled by anybody else good and well.” I know how those nations would feel. Our young people are like that: they want to make their own mistakes rather than have an elder always to guide and to live their lives. To be free is a part of the surging passion of men. That isn’t true just in our generation. As I said a moment ago, that characterizes mankind from the beginning. The Babylonian story, the Neo-Babylonian empire begins with Nabopolassar. He was a general who was sent down to Babylon as a Babylonian to rule the province of Babylon under the Assyrian empire. But so much was his desire to be free that Nabopolassar and his son Nebuchadnezzar rebelled against Assyria, and with the Medians, and the Persians, and the Scythians, they forever destroyed the Assyrian empire.
You have the same story of Israel in Egypt: slaves and bondmen, they cried to the Lord for deliverance. This is the story of all mankind. Demosthenes is known for his Philippics. Why do you call those great addresses Philippics? Because Demosthenes stood up in Athens and eloquently—the most eloquent orator who ever lived—eloquently denounced the imperialistic ambitions of Philip, the king of Macedonia, whose son Alexander the Great overwhelmed the entire civilized world. But the Philippics of Demosthenes were great orations, pleading for the arise of the strength of Athens to withstand the enslavement of Philip of Macedonia. That is the eloquent story of Spartacus and the gladiators: they would be free. This is the story of the French Revolution, “Liberty, and equality, and fraternity.” It is the story of Patrick Henry in St. John’s Church: “Give me liberty or give me death”; the desire to be free.
Our Country, ‘tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where our fathers died,
Land of the pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring!
[“My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” Samuel F. Smith, 1832]
And the greatest commitment of our nation today, one that involves us in the East and the West and is now overwhelming us in Indochina, is our dedication against the enslavement of the world; the desire to be free. And yet, this is the passage you’ve just read: it is possible for a man to be free and to find himself in fetters, in manacles, in shackles, in dungeons, imprisonment; he’s free, as a slave is free.
The background of the text is, as you read in the seventh chapter of the Book of John, they are in Jerusalem at the Feast of the Tabernacles [John 7:2, 10], and nationalism was running high. The Feast of Tabernacles, as you so well know, was the celebration of the wilderness wanderings and the freedom from Egypt [Leviticus 23:33-43; Numbers 29:12-38; Deuteronomy 16:13-17]. So they dwelt in booths, they dwelt in tabernacles made out of little arbors, in memory of the wandering in the wilderness, and of the deliverance from Egypt, and of the giving of the Law. And yet, as the Jew dwelt in his little tabernacle, in his little arbor, in his little booth, and celebrated the days of God’s deliverance, as he sat there, right above him, towering high above every other architectural piece in Jerusalem, and looking down on the temple itself, and looking down on the temple court itself, was the Tower of Antonio. Wherever the Jew looked, he saw the galling symbol of his servitude and his bondmanship and his slavery.
The Roman soldier was ubiquitous, and the tax gatherer was no less so. In the days of Judea, at that time, it was an imperial province. It was not a senatorial province. Asia, quiet Asia; the Roman province of Asia had a proconsul and was governed by the Senate. But all of the volatile provinces were governed by the imperial Caesar because he controlled the army, and the most volatile of all of the provinces of the ancient Roman Empire was Judea. And they had a procurator; they had an appointee under the Roman Caesar. And in those days, there was a party of Zealots. One of the disciples was Simon Zelotes, Simon the Zealot. Simon belonged to that nationalist party. And as you know, in the next generation in AD 66, this Zealot party fanned the flames of nationalism; they rebelled against Rome, and Titus destroyed the nation, the city, and the temple.
Now it was at this Feast of the Tabernacles, when that feeling and passion, of nationalistic rebellion and freedom was running high, that this conversation took place between Jesus and the Jewish people. So it begins, “You want to be free? You want to be free? Well, it is the truth that shall make you free” [John 8:32]. And they said to Him, “Why, we are Abraham’s seed. We have never been in bondage to any man” [John 8:33].
I’ve often wondered just exactly what that meant. They were bondmen to the Assyrians, they were bondmen to the Babylonians, they were bondmen to the Egyptians, they were bondmen to the Persians, they were bondmen to the Medes, they were bondmen to the Greeks, and even at that time they were bondmen to the Romans; yet they say, “We have never been in bondage to any man: how sayest Thou then, Ye shall be made free?” [John 8:33]. Maybe they were speaking of spiritual freedom.
Jesus answered and said unto them, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the slave, the doulos, of sin. He, the Son of Man, if He therefore shall make you free, you shall be free ontos, indeed!” [John 8:34-36]. The conversation revolves around the slavery of the soul. It is possible for a man and a people and a nation to be free and to be the slaves—galling, driving, grinding—of sin.
Oh, how poignantly, how tragically we see that in modern American life! Freedom from want—the amount of money, the billions we pour into welfare and to lifting up the economic level of the people—freedom from want; but we are becoming slaves to every indulgent appetite of a libertine world! All the nations in the world do not drink like Americans drink, nor is there slaughter on their highways as ours. The most drinking capital in the whole earth is our national capital in Washington D.C.; the consumption of liquor is unbelievable!
We are free, free from poverty and from necessity and want, but slaves to appetite and indulgence. Why, you couldn’t have a conversation in polite society today if you don’t have a drink to further it along. You couldn’t have a nice dinner in polite society, but first you gather the people together to drink. You have got to be stimulated. We don’t have enough ingenuity, we don’t have enough intellectual acumen to carry on a conversation without being stimulated by liquor; that’s modern America. It’s unthinkable! Freedom of speech? We have it, and we are slaves to filth and pornography and dirt and blasphemy, free to curse God and to degrade our souls. “Freedom of the press” can print anything—and do!
I heard a comparison between us and one of the atheistic nations of the world: the stage, and the picture show, and the theater, and the novel of America is filthy and degraded beyond anything the world has ever seen. Freedom of worship—that is, not to worship; America is increasingly secular in its habits, and the holy day is now a holiday; freedom from God!
I read this week a crazy story that I heard somebody tell before. There was a man driving an automobile, and he got stuck in a tourist court because of the heavy flooding, the pouring down of the rain. And it had caused a landslide, and he couldn’t drive either way; so there he was stuck. Well, glum, he was standing in the little waiting room of the tourist court watching the rain come down, and by his side were those other glum tourists who were caught. So as they watched the rain fall, watched it pour down, this fellow said to the one right there, he said, “I never saw such a rain in my life. It must be the greatest one since the flood.” And the fellow there said, “Flood? What flood?”
“Oh,” he said, “you know, the flood in the days of Noah, when the ark landed on Mt. Ararat?” And the fellow said, “Listen, mister, I haven’t read a paper in three days. I don’t know what’s happening.”
That is but a typical repercussion of the abysmal spiritual, biblical ignorance of modern culture; intellectual, academic, educated society. They know nothing about God and nothing about the Bible and nothing about the Lord, nor are they proposing to. It is freedom from worship and from God. The Lord’s Day, to practically everybody in this city and every other city in the world, if you were to fasten upon them the worship and sacredness of that holy day, they would look upon it as a millstone and a yoke around their necks. Now that’s what the Lord is saying; freedom! But there is a freedom, “If the Son of Man shall therefore make you free, ye shall be free ontos, really, indeed, actually”: the true freedom, soul freedom! [John 8:36]. It’s the kind of a freedom that a man has, even though his physical frame is incarcerated in stocks, in chains, and in bonds. “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.” A man can be free in prison.
Our fathers chained in prisons dark
Were still in heart and conscience free.
How sweet would be their children’s faith
If we, like them, could die for Thee.
Faith of our fathers, holy faith.
[from “Faith of Our Fathers,” Frederick W. Faber]
That’s the kind of freedom that Paul and Silas had. Stuck on the inside of a dungeon, their feet fastened in the stocks, at midnight they began to pray and to praise and to sing to the glory of God; they were free [Acts 16:23-25]. They were free! That’s the kind of freedom that John Bunyan knew when incarcerated for twelve years in Bedford Jail in England; he saw visions of heaven and wrote them down in Pilgrim’s Progress. Why, what would it matter to be exiled and to die of exposure and starvation [Revelation 1:9], if like the sainted John, you saw apocalyptic visions and heaven opened, and in spirit he was caught up to the throne of glory [Revelation 4:1-2]. What would it matter, what would it matter if when you died and were stoned to death, you looked up and you saw Jesus standing at the right hand of Glory, ready to welcome and to receive His first martyred saint? [Acts 7:55-56]. Always in the Bible, Jesus is seated, always He is seated. He sat down on the right hand of Majesty [Hebrews 1:3]. Just one time in the Bible is He presented as standing: and that’s when they stoned Stephen, and when his life’s blood encrimsoned the soil, the ground, the dirt, he looked up and saw Jesus standing on the right hand of Glory, ready to receive His martyred saint when he entered into heaven [Acts 7:55-56, 59-60]. That is the true freedom.
Do you notice the word He used here?
Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
And the servant 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.
You know sometimes—and I was talking to Major Bundy about this beautiful Bible—sometimes the beauty of this Bible will hide away the sharp, jagged word that is used. This, Professor Chamberlain, is the most beautiful piece of literature in the world. There’s nothing in Shakespeare, there’s nothing in Milton, there’s nothing in human language as beautiful as the King James Version of the Bible. He’s a professor in the university, teaching English, and I’m just taking occasion to tell you what you already know, that’s all, what you already know. It is a beautiful piece of literature, there is nothing like it in the earth. If you’d like to speak beautiful language, read the Bible. Well anyway, sometimes the beauty of the language, the translation, will hide away the sharp, jagged, pointed edge of the word that is used.
All right, this is one of them: now you look at it. In Romans 1:1, in Philippians 1:1, in Titus 1:1, you have it translated in the Bible, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.” Now, what he actually wrote there was Paulos doulos: “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ,” a slave! And that’s exactly the word here, the slave: “He that sins is the slave of sin. And the slave does not abide in the house for ever; but if the Son therefore makes you free, you are free indeed” [John 8:34-36].
Now, what if I become a slave of Jesus Christ, a doulos, a slave, a bondservant of Jesus Christ? Am I free, am I? Well, look at it. Let’s talk about it for just a moment, in the life that you see all around you. I am perfectly free, going over there to that piano; I am perfectly free. Well, I can just sit there and play all over that thing; man alive, you just never heard anything from Paderewski or anybody else just like me, if I go to that piano. I am perfectly free, just as free as I can be. But I want you to know, if I go to that piano and play like Paderewski—what is the name of that glorious pianist in New York City, Rubenstein? Rueben? Rubenstein? I heard him the other day on television. If I go over there and play that piano like that, I have to become a slave! Paderewski practiced eighteen hours every day, a voluntary slave.
On Saturday afternoon I try to go to all the hospitals so that when I come here on Sunday I can say to you, “Now, I saw your mother, and I tell you, she’s really sick, and I prayed for her.” I try to do that on Saturday. So when I go around on Saturday, I turn the radio on. Well, what do I listen to on the radio? Would you like to know? When I turn the radio, what do I listen to on Saturday afternoon? Well, you’re going to say, “That ostentatious, superior, self-conceited—I won’t say intellectual—that pastor of ours!” I listen to the Texaco Hour; I listen to the opera. Now, isn’t that awful? I listen to the opera; I love to listen to that opera. Why, I’m just as free as I can be; I can just sing to my heart’s delight. Isn’t that right? Just sing, just sing, just free as I can be; just sing. But I want you to know, that opera star that is up there singing those roles in Rigoletto, and singing those roles in Carmen, and singing those roles in Lohengrin, they are slaves, they are slaves! They practice and practice and practice, and they develop their abdominal muscles, and they work on their diaphragm, and they work on their nasal passages and their sinuses, and they’re slaves! They stay with it day and night, and night and day, and all in-between time; they are slaves.
Many of you men are interested in athletics. That old boy out there that’s jumping, or he’s going over the hurdles, or he’s carrying the ball, or he’s putting it up in a basket, or he’s got a hockey stick, or he’s whatever, you know that fellow? I’m just free as I can be, but he’s a slave; he practices, stays with it, gives his whole life to it. Now, that’s what it is to be a Christian. You become a slave of Jesus Christ. You’re perfectly free, you can do as you please, but the true freedom is that soul who voluntarily becomes a doulos, a slave of Jesus Christ, of your own volition, of your own free will; a decision you make, a choice you make; a slave. And the Lord says that is the true freedom: to give your life, and your heart, and your interest, and your dreams, and your visions, and your hopes, and the energy of every day, to dedicate it to Christ; that is the true freedom. “And if the Son of Man shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” [John 8:36]. Ah, the gladness in the heart, the house, the home, the life, everything you touch, and everything you do, singing a song in your heart, praises on your lips; every day is a blessed day and a wonderful day. I have become a slave of the Lord; the true freedom.
Our time is spent. While we sing this hymn of appeal, to give your life to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], would you come and stand by me? To come into the fellowship of the church, a family, a couple, or just you, while we sing this song, would you come? “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children; all of us are coming today.” As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, would you answer with your life? Do it now. Make it now. On the first note of the first stanza, come. When you stand up, stand up on the way, stand up coming: “Here I am, pastor. I make it tonight.” Do it now, make it now, come now, while all of our people prayerfully, expectantly, believingly stand and sing.
SLAVERY AND FREEDOM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. In our generation
B. Through the centuriesII. The stark possibility to win freedom and still be a slave
A. People were celebrating Feast of Tabernacles
1. A week when nationalism was high
2. Judea a volatile province, under a Roman procurator
B. Jesus’ discourse on true freedom (John 8:32-36)III. The burning application today
A. Freedom from want
B. Freedom of speech
C. Freedom of the press
D. Freedom of religionIII. The emphatic word – “really, actually” (John 8:36)
A. Freedom disassociated from outward conditions (Acts 16:23-25, 7:55-56)
IV. True freedom is choosing to be slave to Christ (Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:1)
A. Willingly yielded
B. Giving life, heart, interest, energy to Christ