1. St. Paul is here expounding the real meaning of human liberty.
It is generally regarded as the power ‘to do as one pleases’ or a state
of independence. But such a state does not exist. There is
indeed such a thing as the absence of external control up to a certain
point. That is an element of liberty, but it reaches but a little
way. The true liberty is the power to realize one’s nature and make
the best of oneself—the power to be what one ought to be or is meant to
be. The instinct of language, as applied to man, recognizes this.
When we see a drunkard, we recognize a man the balance of whose nature
is upset. The higher part of his nature is being dragged at the chariot-wheels
of his lower. So, be he never so free a citizen, we call him a slave—a
slave of drink. On the same principle we speak of the slaves of lust
or the slaves of money or the slaves of fashion or the slaves of popularity.
By these phrases we describe various moral states in which some external
or purely animal force dominates a man, and he loses his self-control,
and his whole nature be-comes disordered. The true order of human
nature is that a man’s body should be controlled by his will. Then
he is self-determined. His whole life is the expression of a rational
principle. He makes the best of himself. He is free to be
a real man, according to the proper idea of manhood.
But how can this be? Can this reason or rational will in man stand
and work of itself? Is it so constructed as to be independent?
No. Just as truly as a man’s bodily forces are drawn from sources
outside himself, so his spiritual being depends on sources and motives
What does man’s ‘freedom of will’ consist of? Speaking exactly,
it consists of a power to direct a certain amount of physical force which
passes into one’s bodily frame, and to let it go out in one or another
form of action, deed or word or thought, more or less moral or immoral,
spiritual or carnal. And this liberty of direction, when more closely
examined, is found to consist in a power which the will has to choose between
motives which present themselves as ideas to the mind and to hand itself
over to one or the other. Some of these motives are derived from
physical or worldly appetites; some are derived through the conscience
or faculty of spiritual apprehension. If, in cases where the lower
motives conflict with the higher, a man still yields himself to the latter,
his life is spiritual; and it is so because it is determined by motives
and reinforced by influences which come from beyond himself, and are in
fact the motives and forces of the Spirit of God. But in neither
case is he independent and free from obedience. He stands at a meeting-point
of the spiritual and material world, and must be governed by one or the
other. In either case man’s life is played upon and dominated by
motive-forces, infinitely vaster and mightier than himself. Let him
try (as he has tried) to forget his necessary dependence—to detach himself
from the higher obedience and to ‘be as God,’ independent—and he falls
necessarily under the dominion of the lower forces, of his flesh or of
the world. If he is to cease to live below himself, he must consent
to surrender to what is above himself. He must yield his spirit
to the divine Spirit, which is its natural master. So he ceases to
be carnal, or governed by the flesh, and becomes spiritual, or governed
by the divine Spirit. And that is liberty. ‘That man,’ said
Leo the Great, ‘has true peace and liberty whose flesh is controlled by
the judgement of his mind, as his mind is directed by the government of
God ‘.‘ God’s service, and that only, is perfect freedom.
Man then is so constructed that he can only cease to fall below himself
by being raised above himself. His life cannot fail to be stamped
with the impress of sin unless it is stamped with the impress of God.
The state of the Christian, surrendered to the fashioning of God, is that
true dependence which is the true liberty. Independent of God, man
stands at last over against God to get what his independent action has
merited; and that is penal death, the inevitable outcome of misused faculties,
enslaved to sin. Surrendered to God in faith, on the other hand,
he receives into his nature, through all its open portals, the inflooding
tide of divine love; and enters, enriched and uplifted, into the life that
is eternal, the life which he shares with Jesus, the life that is truly
human and really divine.
It is of great practical importance that we should get a just idea of
what our freedom consists in. There are men who, under the impulse
of a purely materialist science, declare the sense of moral freedom to
be an illusion. This is of course a gross error. But what has
largely played into the hands of this error is the exaggerated idea of
human freedom which is ordinarily current, an idea which can only be held
by ignoring our true and necessary dependence and limitation. It
is this that we need to have brought home to us. There is an admirable
story among George Crabbe’s Tales, called ‘The Gentleman Farmer.’ The hero
starts in life resolved that he will not put up with any bondage.
The orthodox clergyman, the orthodox physician, and orthodox matrimony—all
these alike represent social bondage in different forms, and he will have
none of them. So he starts on a career of ‘unchartered freedom,’
‘To prove that he alone was king of him.’
And the last scene of all represents him the weak slave of his mistress,
a quack doctor, and a revivalist—‘which things are an allegory.’
2. The phrase ‘a form’ or ‘pattern of teaching,’ is interesting.
It suggests the idea of the Church as holding a ‘pattern of sound words
,‘ (2 Tim. i. 13.) a definite body of instruction, which is to form the
life of each person who gives himself over to her loving discipline.
Christian faith is not a formless impulse; it is self-surrender to a corporate
life ruled on a definite model of religious and moral teaching. What
St. Paul has here chiefly in mind is moral teaching. But the moral
teaching was inseparable from religious facts and motives. Nor is
it difficult to ascertain from the allusions of the New Testament what
the subjects were in which the first Christians were orally instructed,
or, in other words, what constituted ‘the tradition’ which lies behind
the written books of the New Testament. It comprised instruction
in (1) the facts of our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection ; (cf. Luke
i. 1-4; 1 Cor. xi. 23; xv. 3, 4.) (2) the meaning of sacred rites—baptism,
laying on of hands, eucharist (cf. Rom. vi. 3; Heb. vi. 1-6; 1 Cor. x.
15, 16; xi. 23ff.; Acts. ii. 38.)—including the Lord’s Prayer (Didache,
8); (3) the moral duties of ‘the way,’ and the doctrine ‘of the resurrection
of the dead and of eternal judgement’ (Heb. vi. 1, 2; 1 Thess. iv. 1, 2;
v. 2.); (4) the meaning of ‘the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and
of the Holy Ghost.’ On all these subjects the books of the New Testament
do not give the primary instruction, but imply that it has been already
3. The word rendered ‘sanctification’ (vers. 19, 22) is one which needs
to have its primitive force restored to it. The ‘saint’ is the person
set apart for the worship and service of God. What is here translated
‘sanctification’ means literally (1) ‘the process of being made fit for
such worship and service,’ that is, consecration as of a priest; or (2)
by a slight transition of meaning, the result of such consecration, i.