An area of theological understanding that seems to bring a lot of dispute among fellows is Christian liberty. It seems odd that liberty in Christ could fuel passionate disagreements but if one begins asking another why he is sinning and why another isn't, a large can of worms appears to open up. It is a topic of great interest to me particularly how this Christian liberty interacts and sheds light on the whole matter of sin and law with its implications on sanctification and our Christian expectation. Arminius made the following comments in his Public Disputations and I feel this is an appropriate starting point for a topic I feel inclined to explore further.
1. Liberty, generally, is a state according to which every one is at his own disposal, and not bound to another person. Bondage or slavery is opposed to it, according to which a man is not his own master, but is subject to another, either to do what he commands, to omit what he forbids, or to endure what he inflicts. Christian Liberty is so called chiefly from Christ the Author, who procured it; it has received this appellation also from its subjects, because it belongs to Christians, that is, to believers in Christ.
But it pre-supposes servitude; because Christ was not necessary for any, except for
"those who, through fear of death, were all their life-time subject to bondage." (Hebrews 2:15.)
2. Christian Liberty is that state of the fullness of grace and truth in which believers are placed by God through Christ, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit. It consists partly of a deliverance from both the real and the economic bondage of sin and the law, and partly of adoption into the right of the sons of God, and of the mission of the Spirit of the Son into their hearts. Its end is the praise of the glorious grace of God in Christ, and the eternal salvation of believers.
3. The efficient cause of Christian Liberty is God the Father, who offers it; (Colossians 1:12, 13;) the Son, who, as Mediator, confers it; (John 8:36; Galatians 5:1;) and the Holy Spirit, who inwardly seals it. (2 Corinthians 3:17, 18.) The internal cause is the grace of God, and his love for man in Christ Jesus. (Luke 1:78.) The external cause is the ransom, or the price of redemption, and the satisfaction, which Christ has paid. (Romans 5:6-21; 7:2, 3.) The sealing and preserving cause is the Holy Spirit, who is both the earnest and the witness in the hearts of believers. (Romans 8:15, 16, Ephesians 1:13, 14.) The instrument is two-fold. One on the part of God, who exhibits this liberty; the other on the part of man, who receives it.
(1.) On the part of God, the instrument is the saving doctrine concerning the mercy of God in Christ, which is therefore called "the ministry of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:19.)
(2.) On the part of man, it is faith in Christ. (John 1:12; Romans 5:2; Galatians 3:26.) The matter about which it is exercised is not only sin, and the law "which is the strength of sin;" but also the power or privilege of the sons of God, and the Spirit of Christ.
4. The form consists in deliverance from the spiritual bondage of sin and the law, both real and economical, in the donation of the right to be the sons of God, (Colossians 1:13,) and in the sending forth of the Holy Spirit into the hearts of believers. (Galatians 4:6.) Its subjects are all believers, who are freed from the tyranny of sin and of the law, and received by God on account of Christ as sons, through the grace of adoption. (Galatians 3:26.) The chief end is the praise of the glorious grace of God; (Ephesians 1:14;) the subordinate end is the salvation of believers. (Romans 6:22.) The effects or fruits are two: The first serves for consolation. (Hebrews 6:18- 20.) The other, for admonition, that
"being made free from sin, we may become the servants of righteousness." (Romans 6:18-22; 1 Peter 2:16.)
5. But because this liberty is opposed to the bondage which preceded it, we must on this account treat in the first place about that bondage, that the design of this liberty may be the more easily rendered evident. We must know, that the first man was created free by God; but that, having abused his liberty, he lost it, and was made the slave of him to whom he yielded obedience, that is, to sin, both as it respects the guilt of condemnation and its dominion; which is real bondage and consummate misery. To this succeeded the economical bondage, [or that of the dispensation of Moses,] which God introduced by the repetition of the Moral Law, and by the imposition of the Ceremonial. The bondage under the Moral Law was its rigid demands, by which man, being reduced to despair of fulfilling it, might acknowledge the tyranny of sin which reigned or held dominion over him. The bondage under the Ceremonial Law was its testifying to condemnation; by which man might be convinced of guilt, and thus through both these kinds of bondage might flee to Christ, who could deliver him from the guilt of sin and from its dominion.
6. Let us now see how believers are delivered from this bondage by Christian liberty. We will restrict this consideration to the church of the New Testament, to which the whole of this liberty belongs, omitting the believers under the Old Testament. Though to these likewise belonged, through the promise of the blessed seed and through faith in Him, (Genesis 3:15; 15:6,) a deliverance from real bondage, the privilege of the sons of God, and the Spirit of adoption, which was intermixed with the spirit of economical bondage. (Galatians 4:1-3.)
7. We circumscribe Christian liberty within four ranks or degrees. The First degree consists in a freedom from the guilt and condemnation of sin, which has been expiated by the blood of Christ, by faith in which we obtain remission of sins, and justification from those things from which we could not be absolved by the law of Moses. The Second degree consists in the deliverance from the dominion and tyranny of indwelling sin; because its power is mortified and weakened by the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us, that it may no longer have dominion over those who are under grace.
(Romans 6:14.) But both these degrees of Christian Liberty have their origin in this — that sin was condemned in the flesh of Christ, and it therefore does not possess the power either to condemn or to command. (Romans 8:3.)
8. We place the Third degree in the attempering of that rigor by which God demanded the observance of the Moral Law in the primeval state, and could afterwards have demanded it, if it had been his pleasure still to act towards men in the same manner. Indeed, God did actually demand it, but in an economical way, from the people of the Old Testament; of which he gave manifest indications in that terrific legislation on Mount Sinai. (Exodus 20:18; Galatians 4:24, 25.) "But we are come unto Mount Sion, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant," whose "yoke is easy and his burden light;" (Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2; Hebrews 12:18-24; Matthew 11:30;) because Christ has broken the yoke of exaction, and it has been the good pleasure of God to treat with man according to clemency in the compact of the New Testament.
9. We place the Fourth degree in a freedom from the economical bondage of the ceremonial law, which had a fourfold respect under the Old Testament.
(1.) For it was the seal of condemnation, and the hand-writing, or bond of our debt. (Galatians 3:21; Hebrews 10:3, 4.)
(2.) It was a symbol and token, by which the Jews might be distinguished from all other nations till the advent of Christ. (Genesis 17:13. 14.)
(3.) It was a typical shadowing forth of Christ, and a prefiguration of his benefits. (Hebrews 9:9, 10; 10:1.)
(4.) Lastly, it resembled a sentinel or guard, a schoolmaster and tutor, by whom the church might be safely kept, in its state of infancy, under the elements of the world, in hopes of the promised and approaching Messiah, and might be led to faith in Him, and be conducted to Him, as St. Paul teaches at the conclusion of the third chapter of his Epistle to the Galatians, and at the commencement of the fourth.
10. The First of these respects of the Ceremonial Law must have been removed, after the condemnation of sin was taken away, of which it was the seal. But we have already shewn in the seventh Thesis, that this condemnation has been abolished by Christ. The consequence, therefore is, that it has also obtained its end or purpose; as St. Paul teaches us in Colossians 2:14, where he says, Christ has blotted out the hand-writing of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross." He sprinkled it over with his own blood and obliterated it. For the Second also of these respects, a place can no longer be found, since the Gentiles, "who were formerly far off, have been made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.
Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself, of twain, One New Man, so making peace," etc. (Ephesians 2:13-15.) The Third respect consisted of types and shadows which prefigured Christ with his benefits. This can on no account continue after the body or substance itself has been already displayed. (Colossians 2:17.) And, lastly, the Fourth respect, since the advent of Christ, is useless. For when the heir has arrived at the age of maturity, he no longer requires a governor, tutor and schoolmaster, but is himself capable of managing his inheritance, of being his own adviser, and of consulting his own judgment in the things to be possessed. Thus, after the church has passed through the years of infancy, and has entered on the age of maturity in Christ, it is no longer held under the Mosaic worship, under the beggarly elements of this world," but is subject to the guidance of the Spirit of Christ. (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:4-7.)
Grievous, therefore, is the error of the Pharisees and the Ebionites, in which they maintained, that the observance of the ceremonial law must be joined to the gospel, even by those Christians who had previously been Gentiles.
11. To this Fourth degree of Christian Liberty we add, the free use and exercise of things indifferent. Yet it has been the will of God, that this liberty should be circumscribed by two laws, that of charity and that of faith, (Romans 14:5, 14; 13,) thus consulting his own glory and the salvation of his church. The law of faith prescribes that you be rightly instructed concerning the legitimate use of things indifferent; and sufficiently confirmed [or "fully persuaded in your own mind."] The law of charity commands you to procure the edification of your neighbor, whether he be a weak brother or one who is confirmed. You have examples in Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8; 9; 10:27-33; Acts 16:3. It is a part of the same law, that you should abide by the ceremonies which are received in the church, lest by an outrageous and unseasonable change you produce a schism in the church, or be the cause of much trouble.
1. Those persons, therefore, err greatly who, in abstaining from this liberty, prefer their own private advantage and happiness to the edification of their neighbor.
2. They err still more grievously who abuse this liberty to satiate the lusts of the flesh, (Galatians 5:13,) or by an unseasonable zeal to despise and offend their weak brethren. (Romans 14:3, 10.)
3. But those err the most grievously of all who either affix the observance of necessity to things indifferent, or suppose those things to be indifferent which are by no means such.
12. To these, perhaps not without profit, we shall add a Fifth degree of liberty, that is, an immunity from the judicial laws of the Jewish courts.
On this subject we must hold, that the political laws of Moses contain, (1.) The political common law of nature.
(2.) A particular law suited to the Jewish nation. The common law of nature embraces the universal notions of justice, equity and honesty. The particular law, as it was peculiar to the Jewish nation, was so far defined by certain determinations, according to the persons for whose benefit it was confirmed, according to the affairs and transactions concerning which it was confirmed, and the circumstances with which it was confirmed.
Hence a judgment ought to be formed of the immutability and mutability of these laws. Whatever has been appointed for the general good, according to the universal principles of nature and the common design of the moral law, either by commanding or forbidding, by rewarding or punishing, it is immutable. Therefore, to such a thing Christian Liberty does not extend itself. What portion soever of the particular law has a particular respect, it is changeable. Christians, therefore, are not bound by these laws, so far as they are determined by a particular law after the manner of the Jewish Commonwealth, that is, of particular persons, actions, and of a particular end or good. But with regard to those portions of these laws which are of a mixed kind, we must distinguish in them that which is moral from that which is political. Whatever is moral, is binding, and remains either by common reason or by analogy. Whatever is political, is not binding with regard to particular determinations.
Therefore, we disapprove of the ridiculous imitation adopted by Monetarius and Carolastadius, who obliged Christian magistrates to the necessity of observing the peculiar forensic laws of Moses in their administration of justice.
13. The privilege or right of the sons of God, and the sending of the spirit of adoption into the hearts of believers follow this liberty from the bondage of sin and the law, to which is annexed peace of conscience. (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5, 6.) That right consists in their being constituted heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ; and to this privilege belongs not only the blessed immortality of their souls, but likewise the deliverance of their bodies from vanity, and from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God; which also comes under the name of adoption, and is called "the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8:15-23.) Hence, likewise those who shall be "the children of the resurrection," are called "the children of God." (Luke 20:36.) But the Spirit of adoption is sent into the hearts of the sons of God, as being the Spirit of the Son, that He may be the earnest, the seal, and the first-fruits of this inheritance; (Galatians 4:6; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:14;) by which we are assured, that, as
"our life is hidden with Christ in God, when Christ shall gloriously appear we shall also be manifested with him in glory." (Colossians 3:4.)
And thus the liberty of glory, that will endure forever, will succeed to this liberty of grace, which we obtain in this world by Christ Jesus our Lord, through faith in his blood: To whom be praise forever! In the place of a conclusion it is inquired,
1. Whether freedom from the bondage of sin, and from economical bondage, be effected by one and the same act, or by two acts We affirm the former.
2. Whether it is lawful to eat those things which are offered in sacrifice to idols We make a distinction.