THE TRUE FREEDOM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-23-87 10:50 a.m.
Welcome to this service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. We invite you with us to open your Bible to the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, John, chapter 8. The sermon is in the middle of this chapter, entitled Freedom to Live, The True Freedom; The Freedom of Truth. In the eighth chapter of John, verse 26 through verse 32; 26 to 32, John, chapter 8:26-32, the eighth chapter of John, the first verse, 32. John 8:32:
Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free ontos
—really, truly, actually—
There is a passion that will not die in the hearts of men to be free. It is as deep as life itself. In our generation, in our lifetime, we have seen the dissolution of the empires of Great Britain, of the Netherlands, the Dutch, of Germany, of France, and of Portugal.
I was in Indonesia, in Jakarta, the capital. And I watched the Dutch leave that colony they had presided over and governed for so many, many years. I stood in the capital city of one of the nations in central Africa, standing by the side of a national leader. And he said to me, “We had rather govern ourselves poorly than to be governed well by a foreign power.”
That spirit of mankind seeking to be free has characterized humanity from the beginning of history. Israel, under God, prayed for a leader that would bring them out from under their servitude in Egypt. God heard their groaning, listened to their cry, and sent them Moses; a deliverer out of their bondage and servitude [Exodus 3:1-10].
Babylon rebelled against Assyria under Nabopolassar and his son, Nebuchadnezzar, and built a free Babylonian kingdom. When you hear the word philippic, a philippic is a forensic confrontation against a foreign oppressor. The name is from Demosthenes in Athens, who inveighed against the servitude brought upon the Southern Kingdom by Philip of Macedonia.
I remember in the days when we were in school learning, memorizing the tremendous inveighing against the servitude of the gladiators, men who were bound by chains and fed to the lions in the Coliseum. All of us are familiar with the French Revolution and its three great words of dynamic commitment, “Iiberty, fraternity, and freedom.” And who in American history has not read of Patrick Henry in St. John’s Church in Virginia? “Give me liberty or give me death!”
‘Tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee we sing.
Land where our fathers died,
Land of our Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring.
[“America”; Samuel F. Smith]
But it is a stark reality; we can be free and yet remain in slavery. The occasion of our Lord’s address, written here in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John, was the celebration of the deliverance of Israel from the bondage and slavery of Egypt. They called it the Feast of Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:1-2]. For seven days, all Israel dwelt in booths [Leviticus 23:42-43]; a reminder of their wanderings in the wilderness when they were delivered out of Egypt by the hand of Moses. Nationalism was running high. Every patriotic Jewish heart was sensitive to their servitude to the imperial Caesar of Rome. Judea was an imperial province.
There were two kinds of provinces in the Roman Empire. One was senatorial; the other was imperial. If a province, if a conquered nation was quiet and peaceful, it was placed under the surveillance of the Roman Senate and was ruled by a proconsul. Such a quiet province was Asia—the Roman province of Asia—with its capital at Ephesus.
But a province that was revolutionary and violent and volative, was placed under the Roman Caesar and was ruled by a procurator. The reason for that was the army was not under the senate, it was under the Caesar. And when a province was revolutionary and violent, it was placed under the Caesar to be ruled by a procurator, who governed the army.
Such a province was Judea—violative, revolutionary. It galled the Jew beyond any way we could describe it. Above his sacred temple on Mt. Moriah—the house of Jehovah, God Himself—above it was the Tower of Antonio, where the Roman soldier looked down upon the Jewish people in their worship. That Roman soldier was ubiquitous, he was everywhere. And every loyal Jew felt the galling response to the presence of that sign of their subjection.
There was in Judea and in Palestine, in the Jewish nation, a party called Zealots. They were a people who had dedicated themselves to liberty from the Roman oppression. You remember one of the apostles, Simon Zelotes, was a member of that national party.
At this Feast of the Tabernacles, nationalism was running high. And every loyal Jewish heart sought the freedom as a gift from God from the Roman yoke. And it was in that context and against that background that the Lord delivered this message of my text today. He said, “Ye shall know the truth, and it’s the truth that makes you free” [John 8:32]. And, “If the Son of Man shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” [John 8:36].
“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” What is truth? In a few pages over, in the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, our Lord Jesus is on trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator. And our Lord says to him:
My kingdom is not of this world: If My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight; but now is not My kingdom from hence.
And Pilate, in amazement, looks at that bedraggled and beaten provincial from Galilee and asks, “Art Thou a king then—You?” And Jesus replied, “Thou sayest that I am a king.” In the Greek language and literature, that is the most pertinent, dynamic affirmation that can be made—to repeat it:
Thou sayest that I am a king.
To this end was I born, and for this purpose came I into the world,
that I might bear witness to the truth
And Pilate asks, “What is truth?” [John 18:38]. Jesus never answered, and Pilate turned away to the mob.
What is truth? Jesus never deigned a reply. And I humbly ask the pardon of heaven as I try to describe it. I cannot define it, but I can point to it, I can illustrate it. What is truth?
When I look at one of these violins that these wonderful and gifted musicians play, this is the fact of it: horse hair pulled over cat guts and the vibrations that ensue thereafter—that is a violin. But the truth of music moves in a different world. I one time sat in a great convention hall and listened to the incomparable Fritz Chrysler give a concert on the violin. It was like being in glory. It was like being in heaven. What is truth? Truth is of the soul, it’s of the spirit, it is of the height of the meaning and purpose of life.
Truth, here stands before us a man. He can be easily analyzed. Here he is: magnesium, and potassium, and hydrogen, and oxygen. This is the man. But the truth of the man lies in his creation in the image of God! Truth—it moves in another world, is defined beyond syllables and sentence.
I think of our Lord Jesus, a man, incarnate. They seized Him. They arrested Him. With flagellation—indescribably horrible—they beat Him. They crucified Him [John 19:16-30]. And finally, they thrust an iron Roman spear into His heart, and water and blood flowed out [John 19:34]. But the truth of Christ lives today with increasing power and glory. Truth; something of the soul, of the heart, of the purpose and calling of God.
Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free [John 8:32].
I am the truth, and the way, and the life [John 14:6].
May I apply it to us today? Truth, freedom, liberty outside of Christ is always a curse, a damnation. I remember a presidential election in these years gone by when the man campaigning for president, who won it, campaigned on the basis of the four freedoms: freedom from want, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of worship. But it is possible to win freedom from want and be a slave of appetite, and indulgence, and excess, and drunkenness. Freedom of speech, but a slave to profanity and salacious language.
I was amazed this last week when a man said to me, “Pastor, you live in a sheltered world. You don’t know actually how it is out there.”
And he gave an illustration. He said, “The language that many women use—filthy and dirty and full of cursing—is unbelievable, unthinkable, our women.” Freedom of speech, but slaves to violent, cursing language.
Freedom of the press, but slaves to pornography and salacious literature. Freedom of the press, but slaves to propaganda and lies. Freedom of religion, but slaves to carnal desecration: not a holy day, God’s day, but a holiday.
Freedom: Jesus says, “If the Son of Man shall make you free, ye shall be free ontos, really, truly” [John 8:36]. What kind of a freedom is that? It is one disassociated from, has no relevance to chains or stocks or iron bars. It’s a freedom of the soul. It’s a freedom of the spirit. It’s a freedom of God.
Daniel in the lion’s den [Daniel 6] was more free than the king of Babylon and Persia. Peter in prison [Acts 12:3-4] was more free than Herod Agrippa, who placed him there. Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail [Acts 16] were more free than the jailer who incarcerated them. John the sainted apostle was more free than the Emperor Domitian, who remanded him there. John Bunyan was more free, writing in Bedford jail, The Pilgrim’s Progress, than King Charles II who placed him there. Roger Williams was more free than the divines in Boston who drove him out into the wilderness.
I think of those Christians who were fed to the lions in the Coliseum. They were more free than the Roman Caesar and the throngs who watched their blood and their lives sacrificed unto God.
Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage.
[“To Althea from Prison”; Richard Lovelace]
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”; Frederick W. Faber]
In these years past, born in 1648, was a devout and gifted and godly French woman. Her name was Marie Guyon; she suffered for the sake of Christ years and years in prisons, including the notorious Bastille in Paris. She was a saint extraordinary! And in one of her prison sentences in Vincennes, France, she wrote:
A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air;
Yet in my cage I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there;
Well-pleased a prisoner to be,
Because, my God, it pleaseth Thee.
Naught have I else to do,
I sing the whole day long.
And He who most I love to please
Doeth listen to my song.
He caught and bound my wandering wing,
But still He bids to hear me sing.
My cage confines me round;
Abroad I cannot fly;
But though my wing is closely bound,
My heart it does not die.
My prison walls cannot control
The flight, the freedom of my soul.
Oh, it is good to soar
Beyond the bolts and bars above,
To Him whose purpose I adore,
Whose providence I love:
And in Thy mighty will to find
The joy, the freedom of the mind.
[Poem by Mme Guyon written in the Bastille]
The true freedom, “The truth shall make you free” [John 8:32], and “If the Son of Man shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” [John 8:36].
Now may I conclude? It is freedom to be a slave of Jesus our Lord. Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:1; all three of those epistles begin like this: Paulos doulos Iesou Christos. “Paul,” in the King James Version, you have a beautiful, but quietened, translation of that word doulous. “Paul, a servant,” it says in our King James Volume. What he wrote was: Paulos doulos, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ”—a slave! The freedom to be a slave of Jesus Christ, a voluntary commitment to Him.
I am a free man with a violin in my hands. Or, sitting by the side of this harp, I am a free man. But if I be a master musician, I must slave at that assignment, toil at that task. I am a free man at the Olympic track, but if I am a gold medalist, I must slave at the preparation, at the achievement, at the victory.
‘Tis a remarkable thing: free to choose the world in which I shall live. Free? A fish is free in the air—place it on the bank, place it on the shelf—but it’s in the wrong world. A bird could be free plunged in the water, but it couldn’t soar. It couldn’t fly. It couldn’t live; it is in the wrong world. It is possible for a Christian to live in the wrong world, a sensuous world. Paul wrote:
Be ye not unequally yoked together… for what concord hath Christ with Belial or light with darkness?
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord…
And I will be your God, and ye shall be My people
[2 Corinithians 6:14-17]
Free to serve the Lord, bound to Him in servitude, in service, in dedication, in will, in life, in purpose.
A kite is free if it’s separated from the string, but it no longer flies. A railroad engine is free from the constraining tracks, but it can’t run. An automobile is free without steering wheel and brakes, but it’s no longer useful. A leaf is free if it is separated from the tree, but it doesn’t live. I ran across in my reading, this modern poem:
I watched the leaves that softly fell
Into the streets and vacant yards.
I saw the wind begin to blow a gentle jig
And all the liberated leaves went dancing to the merry tune.
They looked as though they were so free,
But they did not know they are really dead.
Free! But free only in the life, and will, and calling, and purpose of God. When I see that, I am so deeply moved, looking in the life of a godly saint who has bound himself in servitude to the Lord, living in His kind of a world, following His calling and work and assignment.
I went to a mission in Nigeria in Western Africa. A mission, once a year, all of the missionaries, the personnel from school, and hospital, and preaching place, and church, gather together, and they pray, they report, and they plan for the coming year, a mission. I sat in the mission in Legos, Nigeria, by the side of Dr. Theron Rankin, the executive secretary of our Foreign Mission Board. As I sat by his side with the throng there, a brilliant, handsome young doctor was giving the report of his Ogbomosho hospital. And Dr. Rankin turned to me and said, “I want you to look at him real good, and listen to what he has to say. and after the benediction, I want to tell you about him.”
After the report was over and after the service was done, Dr. Rankin turned to me and said, “Now, that young doctor, he was the most brilliant student in the senior class of his medical school. And when he came to his graduation, some of the finest clinics and medical centers up and down the eastern seaboard of America tried to woo him, and to win him, and to make him a part of their medical complex. They offered him fabulous salaries, but he replied, ‘God has called me to be a missionary. And I’m going to Africa to be a missionary doctor.’”
At that time, the salary of a foreign missionary was one thousand dollars a year. Anyway, upon a furlough, he came to see me here in this church, and I presented him to our people. And when I did, I said, “My sweet people, I do not feel worthy to stand in his presence.”
Free! Free to serve God, free to work for the Lord. Free to invest life in His will, in His service, and in His work. This is the true freedom! O God, that all of us might share it in the kingdom, in the call, and in the purpose of the Lord for our lives! And that is our invitation to you this holy and heavenly hour.
“Pastor, God has spoken to me, and here I stand.” A family coming into the fellowship of this dear church; a couple building their home upon the Lord; a one somebody you asking God to come into your life or answering the call of the Spirit in your soul, in a moment when we sing, on the first note of the first stanza, come. In the balcony round, down one of these stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I am on the way.” Now together, may we pray?
Our Lord, sanctify and hallow by Thy Holy Spirit the appeal made this morning. May God give us a gracious harvest; trophies of grace to lay at the feet of our wonderful Lord. And our Father we pray that for each one of us in divine presence that we might seek and do God’s assignment for us in the earth, faithful to Thee unto death. And our Lord may the liberty that God has given us in Christ overflow in an abounding praise unto Thee whether we are sick and invalid; whether we are poor and in need; whether we are confounded by insoluble problems and heartaches, God bless. May we be free in our souls. Our Lord bless Thou the appeal, in Thy precious and holy and heavenly name, amen. While we stand and while we sing.
THE TRUE FREEDOM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-23-87I. The passion of men to be free
A. In our generation
B. Through the centuriesII. 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)
1. What is truth? (John 18:36-37, John 14:6)III. The burning application today
A. Our freedoms into slavery
1. Freedom from want
2. Freedom of speech
3. Freedom of the press
4. Freedom of religion
B. True freedom is of the soul, spirit (John 8:36)
1. Freedom disassociated from outward conditions
IV. True freedom is choosing to be slave to Christ (Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:1)
A. Voluntary commitment
B. Choice of world in which to live (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)