Slavery Or Freedom
April 3rd, 1980 @ 12:00 PM
SLAVERY OR FREEDOM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-03-80 12:00 p.m.
The theme for the week has been patriotic, the first time I have ever done such a series, certainly the first time we have had subjects like this for our pre-Easter services. These flags up here you know, each one represents a hostage, an American imprisoned citizen in Tehran or in Bogota. So because of the crisis of the day in which we live, the theme this year has been “God Speaks to America.” He does so in the providences of life and history. And God speaks to America today. He is not dead. He is not the God of the distant past, or the apocalyptic future. Our Lord is the living God of the present hour: so Monday is War in the Will of God; Tuesday, The Red In the Flag Is Blood; yesterday, The Cancer that Consumes Us; tomorrow, The Saving of the Nation; and today, Slavery or Freedom. Now you remember, as I deliver the message, this is your lunch hour. And if you have to leave in the midst of a sentence, you feel free to do so. You will not bother me. And all of us present understand.
The reading of the Scripture, and the message today, is more like an exposition of the Holy Word than any of the others. The reading of the Scripture is in John chapter 8: 31-36:
Jesus said to the Jews . . . if you continue in My word, then you are My disciples indeed;
You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
They said to Him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest Thou, You shall be made free?
Jesus answered, Truly, truly, Verily, verily.
That is an unusual word. In Hebrew and in Greek, it is the same, amen. And, we have taken it into the English language.
Amen, amen, verily, verily, truly, truly, I say to you, He that committeth sin is the servant of sin . . .
But if the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free ontōs—
an emphatic word in that sentence—
[John 8: 31-36]
There is no denial that there is, genetically, congenitally, inborn in the very fabric of the human frame, the passion to be free. It’s in the heart of every man and woman in the earth. To be enslaved and to be in bondage is to live under a galling and an unbearable yoke. There is a passion in all of our hearts to be free.
Israel experienced that in her slavery in Egypt, and this last Monday celebrated the Passover, which is a tremendous memorial of their deliverance out of Egyptian bondage. What we find in the heart and history of Israel, we find in the life of all of the nations.
In my lifetime, in the generation which I have lived, I have seen the breakup of all of the great colonial empires. When I was a boy, there was the British empire, the French empire, the Dutch empire, the German empire, the Portuguese empire. They covered the face of the earth. Today, all of those empires have been broken up. I was talking to a leader in one of the emerging nations in East Africa, and they were having a difficult time. And I pointed that out to him. They had formerly been a part of the British Empire. And that political leader said to me, “We had rather rule ourselves poorly than to be governed well by others.” I could sense and understand the spirit in which he said that unusual word. That’s been the history of all mankind and of all subjected nations and cities.
Babylon was a part of the Assyrian Empire under Nineveh. But Nabopolassar, and his more brilliant and gifted son Nebuchadnezzar, rebelled, destroyed Nineveh, and completely destroyed the Assyrian Empire. This has been the story through all of the years and the ages. What you call a philippic is nothing but a designation of an address made against slavery and invasion. Demosthenes, when Philip of Macedon proposed to subjugate the Greek world, uttered those marvelous orations in Athens, we call them philippics. They are brilliant diatribes against foreign oppression.
When I was a youth, I memorized Spartacus’s address to the gladiators, a sounding march to be free. In the story of the French Revolution, they had a watchword, “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” There’s not a schoolboy but knows the story of Patrick Henry, in St. John’s Church in Richmond, “Give me liberty or give me death!” I’d rather die than to be enslaved. And we sing of that in our beautiful songs,
My country’ tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the pilgrim’s pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring!
[“My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” by Samuel Francis Smith]
This is a universal passion of the human soul to be free.
Now in this discussion that I have just read, this dialogue between the Lord and the Judeans in Jerusalem, our Lord avows it is possible, there is a stark possibility of being free and yet being a slave, to win freedom and yet be in bondage [John 8:33-34]. It’s a contradiction. It’s an anomaly. But it is a great historical and political and spiritual truth, to be free and yet to be, to remain, a slave.
The occasion of the dialogue was the Feast of Tabernacles. And, the Lord is in the temple [John 8:1-2]. Now the Feast of Tabernacles: tabernacles to us involves, in imagery, a great big tent or something; the Feast of Tabernacles is when the people sat in little booths, little arbors, that they made out of branches. And they sat there for a week. It was in commemoration of their wilderness wanderings, when they were liberated from the slavery of Egypt. And in the course of the week, of course, they thanked God for the Mosaic law, the giving of the law.
Now it was a week when nationalism ran high. And there wasn’t any province of the Roman Empire where nationalism was more vigorously prosecuted, followed, than in Judea. You see, there were two kinds of Roman provinces. One was called a senatorial province. And the other was called an imperial province. If a province was quiet and not volative, such as the Roman province of Asia or Ephesus, those cities were, why, it was under the senate and was ruled by a proconsul. But a volatile province was under the emperor, and was ruled by a procurator. And the reason for that was the Roman army was under the direction of the emperor. So a province that was volative, that had a tendency to rebel, was under the emperor because he had the army.
Judea was a volative, rebellious province, and was under a Roman procurator, under direct surveillance of the emperor himself, and was kept in hand by a Roman soldier. And the Roman soldier in Judea was ubiquitous. He was everywhere. And not only that but the Tower of Antonio, rising high upon the temple area, was the garrison for the Roman legion, where they could watch down and look down at those rebellious and volative Jewish people.
They had a party in Judea and in Galilee called the Zealot party. One of the members of that party, Simon Zelotes, Simon the Zealot, was an apostle [Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13]. They were vigorously anti-Roman. In 66 AD they precipitated the war that, in 70, finally destroyed the nation until 1948. Now it was in that volative situation, where nationalism and the longing for freedom was running high, that Jesus begin to talk to them about the true freedom. So He begins with saying, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” [John 8:32]. Without it, you are never free.
And they said, “We are Abraham’s seed, and we have never been in bondage: how do You say, ‘You shall be made free?’” [John 8:33].
Now that’s an unusual word because most of the life of Israel has been a story of subjugation. They were in bondage to the Egyptians [Exodus 12:40]. They were in bondage to the Assyrians [2 Kings 17:5-23]. They were in bondage to the Babylonians [2 Kings 24:14-16]. They were in bondage to the Seleucidae up there in Syria. They were in bondage to the Ptolemys down in Egypt. And, at that moment, they were in bondage to the Roman emperor.
“What do You mean, ‘We shall be free?’ We’ve never been in bondage to any man.” Well, let us say, though I doubt it, but let us say, they were referring to spiritual bondage. They were always God’s chosen people and were spiritually free. Well, let’s say that. Then, the Lord says, “Truly, truly, I say unto you spiritual freedom, whosoever sins is the slave of sin. But if the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” [John 8:36]. There is deliverance in Christ. There is a soul freedom far greater and beyond than any other freedom known to the human spirit. And that has a burning, searing application to our life today. It is possible to be free, to win freedom, and yet, to be enslaved.
We have given ourselves to what we call the four great freedoms. The freedom from want; but it is possible, being free from want, to be a slave to indulgence and to appetite and to drunkenness. Freedom of speech: it is possible to have freedom of speech, but to be a slave of profanity and blasphemy and lewd language. Freedom of the press: it is possible to have freedom of the press, but to be overrun with pornography and filth and dirt in literature, something we see in modern American movie and drama and press and magazine and newsstand and magazine rack. Freedom of religion: but it is possible to have freedom of religion, and at the same time be a slave to carnal desecration, the Lord’s Day no longer a holy day, but a holiday.
The true freedom, our Lord says, is a freedom of the soul and of the spirit that is enslaved and dedicated to God. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free” ontōs, truly, translated here “indeed” [John 8:36].
Now isn’t that a remarkable thing, that a man could be incarcerated and enslaved, in prison, and, yet, be absolutely free? What the Lord is speaking of is a freedom that is unconditioned by outward circumstance. One of our English poets spoke of it.
Stones do not a Prison make,
Nor Iron bars a Cage;
[“To Althea, From Prison,” by Richard Lovelace]
One of our songs says it.
Our fathers though in prison’s dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free:
How rewarding would be their children
If they like [them] could die for Thee.
[“Faith of Our Fathers,” by Frederick W. Faber (verse added in 1940)]
It is a freedom that Paul and Silas possessed when they were in stocks and in chains and in an inner dudgeon [Acts 16:24-25]. But the power of their praise and prayer seized heaven and shook the earth itself [Acts 16:26]. It’s a freedom that John had when he was exiled to the isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9], there to die of starvation and exposure, but saw visions of the triumph of the King in glory [Revelation 1:10-20]. It’s a freedom of John Bunyan, who, for twelve years, languished in Bedford jail, but walked with Christian into the very kingdom of God. It’s the freedom of Stephen, our Lord’s first martyr, when beat to the ground with falling stones, he lifted up his face and saw the welcoming arms of Jesus [Acts 7:55-56, 59], the only time in the Bible He is ever presented as standing up. Always, He is seated at the right hand of Glory [Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1]. But He stood up to receive the soul, the liberated spirit, of His first martyred saint [Acts 7:55-56].
There is a freedom of the heart and of the spirit and of the soul that is unconditioned by any outward providence or circumstance, the true freedom. And the choice of that kind of freedom, our Lord says, is a freedom truly, indeed, ontōs, to choose to be a slave of our Lord, to be truly and actually free [John 8:35-36].
I always preach, as you know, out of the King James Bible. It’s the most beautiful literature in human speech. It’s Elizabethan in language. We can’t go back three hundred years and speak Elizabethan language any longer. It’s the language of Shakespeare. There will never be another like it. But sometimes the beauty of the Elizabethan literature of the King James Bible hides some of the rough jagged edges of those original words, and here’s one of them. You have it translated, in Romans 1:1 and Philippians 1:1 and Titus 1:1, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.” What he wrote was Paulos doulos Iēsou Christou, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ,” willingly giving himself to bondage and servitude to our Lord, that he might be free!
Dear people, I can sit at that beautiful piano, given to me by a wonderful woman in this church; she gave me ten thousand dollars just before she died, and I bought that piano with part of it, and rearranged this choir with the other part of it. I can sit down there at that beautiful piano, and I’m perfectly free. There’s no law to coerce me, and there’s no commandment to make me. I can sit down at that piano and be perfectly free. But if I ever become a master musician I must be a slave to the keyboard, and to the piano bench. If I choose to be gifted musician, I must be a slave. I can stand at the track of the Olympic course and I am perfectly free; there is no law to coerce me. But if I win the Olympic race, I must be a slave to training, to dedication, to effort, to excellence.
I don’t think there is anything prettier, in sentiment, the beauty of the expression of it, than this passage in the heroes of the faith in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, talking about the patriarchs, our fathers in the faith:
They all died in the faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off . . . and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth . . .
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from which they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be their God: for He hath prepared for them that city.
[Hebrews 11:13, 15-16]
What the author says; brilliant, beautiful. They could have gone back to Haran or to Ur of Chaldees; they could have returned anytime, but they chose to remain pilgrims and strangers in the land of promise, seeing God’s fulfillment of His word in the days and the centuries and the ages yet to come. “Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them that heavenly city” [Hebrews 11:16]. It is a marvelous thing to be a slave of Jesus Christ, to be free in heart and spirit and to soar like an eagle to the very heights of glory itself.
Let me close with this. In the heart of Africa, I was seated by Dr. Theron Rankin, who at that time was the executive secretary of our foreign mission board, and we were listening to the annual reports of the mission. A mission is all of the effort of a nation for its conversion, and we were seated there at the annual mission, listening to the report. There stood up a splendid looking young man, a handsome young man. He was a medical doctor, and as he was giving his annual report, Dr. Rankin turned to me and said, “You look at him and listen to him and after the meeting is over, I want to tell you about him.”
After the meeting was over I asked him what it was about that medical doctor. And he said to me, “He is the son of one of the finest families in North Carolina. And when he got his medical degree, he was invited to be a partner with one of the noblest medical clinics in eastern United States, but he refused the invitation and chose rather to be a missionary here in Africa at the then salary of one thousand dollars a year.” A thousand dollars a year, giving his life to the Lord in that darkened continent.
And dear people, upon a day he came here to Dallas to see me, and I presented him to you. And when I did, I said, “I don’t feel worthy to stand in his presence.” These are great people who have found the true liberty, and the true life, and a true high calling in being slaves of Jesus Christ.
Our Lord, that we might enter into that marvelous and glorious and heavenly freedom of giving ourselves to that high calling in Christ Jesus which is God’s will and elected purpose for each one of us, in our Savior’s dear name, amen.
I. The passion of men to be free
A. In our generation
B. Through the
II. The stark possibility to win freedom
and still be a slave
A. Jesus in the temple
1. People were
celebrating Feast of Tabernacles
B. A week when
nationalism was high
1. Judea a
volative province, under a Roman procurator
C. Jesus’ discourse on
true freedom (John 8:32-36)
III. The burning application today
A. Our freedoms into
1. Freedom from
2. Freedom of
3. Freedom of the
4. Freedom of
B. True freedom of the
soul, spirit (John 8:36)
disassociated from outward conditions
IV. True freedom is choosing to be slave to
A. Romans 1:1,
Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:1
could have returned, but chose to remain pilgrims (Hebrews 11:13, 15-16)