TRUTH AND FREEDOM W. F. PENDLETON 1928
[Frontispiece: Mr. and Mrs. C. J. Wittington.]
NEW CHURCH LIFE
VOL. XLVIII JANUARY, 1928 No. 1
(Delivered in the Cathedral, Bryn Athyn, Pa., December 29th, 1926, his last appearance in the pulpit. The sermon, somewhat revised for this occasion, was originally delivered in Chicago fifty years ago.)
"If ye abide in my Word, ye shall be my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make yore free." (John 8:31, 32.)
The Lord came into the world to rescue man from the thralldom of infernal spirits. Spiritual freedom had fled from the human race, and even the natural freedom of man was almost gone. Divine power alone could execute the work of deliverance, and restore liberty to men. In order to perform this Divine work, it was necessary that He should Himself naturally come into the world, that He should appear before the eyes of men, that He should talk with them as one man with another, and, in talking, teach them the mode and manner of the deliverance Which He had come to effect, which was to be by the truth of His Word, to be taught by Him; which, when received, would restore liberty to the world. "If ye abide in my Word, ye shall be my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
The Divine instrumentality of redemption and salvation was to be the Truth. But the truth must be known, and continue to be known, in the thought of the understanding, in the affection of the will, and in the actions of the life. No other power or force under heaven could bring about the desired end. The truth is all sufficient. No other instrumentality was needed. For in the truth brought down from heaven to earth by Him was to be the Divine power of the Lord.
It has been said that knowledge is power. This is because truth is power. This is because the Word is power. This is because the Lord is power. He who has knowledge, he who has truth, has power, "the power of God unto salvation " (Rom. 1:16), the power of salvation from sin. For the Lord God also said, "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin," that is to say, a slave to sin. "And the servant," the slave to sin, "abideth not in the house forever," but the Son, the Son of God, the Divine Truth, "abideth forever." "If the Son of God therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." And ye shall be free forever.
In the unregenerate state, man does not know what freedom is, because his ignorance is so dense that he does not know what truth is, does not know what freedom is. What a man does not know is to him as something which does not exist. For nothing exists to us except that which we make our own by actual life. We may indeed hear of things that we do not actually make our own, and from that hearing talk about them, but it consists of little more than the use of terms and words; and if we think we possess the thing, it is not the real thing, the real truth, but merely a spurious imitation of it. In the other life, even all knowledge of a thing that we have not made our own by actual life while in the world is taken away, and we know it no more. Hence it remains eternally true, that after death we know nothing of that which we have not learned to believe and love, to will and to do while in the world. All else is wholly forgotten, and no effort we can make will recall it to remembrance.
So it is with freedom,-the freedom which comes by the truth, the freedom which the Lord brings down from heaven to earth by the truth of His Word, the Word of truth which He came into the world to bring a freedom which no man has except by the worship of the Lord and a life of obedience to His commandments. This is what is meant by the words which the Lord spake to His disciples, the words of Him who spake as never man spake (John 7:45), the words of the God Man, who came into the world to bring spiritual liberty to men: "If ye abide in my Word, ye shall be my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
He Himself was that truth come down from heaven to redeem and save.
When the Lord said to His disciples, "If ye abide in my Word," that is, "If ye continue in my Word," He meant the same as when He gave John, on the isle of Patmos, the message to the church in Smyrna, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." (Rev. 2:10.) No man is set free from the slavery of sin, the bondage of death and of hell, but the man who receives the truth, and abides in the truth to the end of life in the world. "Be thou faithful!" Be thou faithful even unto death, and after death thou shalt receive a crown of life. And we are informed that by these words is signified that "then they will receive eternal life, the reward of victory,"-the reward of a continuous conflict with the powers of hell. And we are further told that "it is said that a crown of life shall be given them, such as the martyrs received, who were faithful even unto death; and because the martyrs wished for it, therefore after death crowns were given them, by which was signified the reward of victory." And we are still further informed that they still appear in their crowns in heaven, which, the Revelator says, "it has been permitted me to see." (A. R. 103.)
Now while slavery continues,-slavery to one's own evils fit is inspired and kept alive by infernal spirits, kept continually blazing and burning by the influx of the breath of hell, holding the mind under the continual phantasy that if man were deprived of what he has, if he were deprived of the delight of evil, he would be deprived of life. For evil has its delight, a delight that gives a kind of freedom, a freedom that looks like freedom, but is as far away from it as the west is from the east, as hell is from heaven. And in this state of slavery, a man is held in the phantasy that if he were deprived of the delights of evil, he would have no life left.
Hence may be understood the unwillingness of men in this state to come and place themselves under the dominion of the Lord, under whose dominion alone there is freedom. For man, every man, is always under some dominion. If he is not under the dominion of the Lord, he is under some other dominion, and he cannot possibly escape it. Under the Lord's dominion he has freedom, but under every other form of dominion he has only slavery. But man,- the natural man, the unregenerate man,-is unwilling to come out from slavery into the only true freedom, and rebels against it.
Men cry out, as did the unbelieving Jews, "We will not have this man to reign over us." (Luke 19:14) They rebel, because to come under the dominion of the truth calls for obedience, and they are unwilling to obey the truth. There is nothing they hate so much as the truth. Truth is a Man, and that Man is God, that Man is the Lord God, our Savior Jesus Christ, who says He came into the world to make men free, who says," If ye abide in my Word, ye shall be my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." There is nothing else under heaven that can make men free.
The truth does indeed require us to give up our own life, the life of our evil loves, the life of our evil delights. And although the truth offers-the Lord in His truth offers-real life, life itself, and with it the indescribable felicities of heaven, yet the natural man will have none of it. The purely natural man does not admit that what the truth says is so, and he remains in dense ignorance that there is any better life than that which he now possesses,-the life which the truth alone can impart to him.
Some refuse to undertake to do what the truth requires, because they labor under an erroneous idea of what the truth does require. It is a part of the scheme of dominion with the infernal powers, and with their willing agents on earth, in order more completely to obtain control of the souls of men, to assume the garb of religion, and to take possession of the church and construct a false heaven. Their object is not to save souls, but to acquire dominion. To do this, they do not give to men the genuine truth of the Word, but a spurious imitation of it. They do not break to them the true bread of heaven, the "bread which cometh down from heaven to give life unto the world." And hence they do not permit men to see the real evils that are leading their souls to hell. Such they cover up, do not refer to, never speak of. Instead of urging men to come up to the requirements of the truth itself, plainly taught in the Word of God, in particular in the Ten Commandments,-instead of this, they teach that men live by faith only, and require certain things that are non-essential, urging upon their followers the traditions and inventions of men, rather than the plain commands of God.
Prominent among these non-essentials is the requirement to give up natural pleasures, which are in themselves innocent and not harmful, making this one of the chief elements of a religious life; causing it to be believed that the pleasures of the body in the world are not at all in agreement with the life that leads to heaven, that we must deny ourselves these things if we would live a heavenly life.
Now this is requiring more than the truth requires, and at the same time less. It requires more than the truth requires, because the truth of Scripture nowhere makes the surrendering and extinction of natural pleasures an essential of religion; it simply regulates those pleasures, puts them into order, and causes the mind to discriminate between pleasures that are really evil and those that are harmless and innocent in character. And it requires less than the truth, because the truth exacts from all men a strict obedience to the letter and the spirit of the Ten Commandments, the precepts of the moral law, as containing the genuine essentials of salvation, without which no man can be saved. But a humanly invented system makes no such requirement, except for the eyes of the world; holding that the Commandments are merely to be kept for the life of the outer world, and contribute nothing to the life of preparation for heaven; that heaven is entered by faith only, and not by the works of the law.
Every reader of history knows, and all human experience testifies, that nations obtain their liberty through war, that men must fight for liberty, for the sake of the blessings which it brings. And sometimes the war is indefinitely prolonged. It cannot be otherwise for it is the same with all spiritual war. In this, as in all other things, the natural corresponds to the spiritual. When a young man seriously begins the contest for spiritual liberty, he finds himself all at once in the midst of a war that was unexpected, not looked for at first. It is a war against his own delights, and apparently against his own freedom. For it is a remarkable fact, not foreseen, that a true spiritual freedom is established, and a false and spurious freedom banished, by apparently depriving ourselves of freedom at first,-by putting ourselves under bonds. But observe closely; it is only an appearance of bondage, for the bonds are self-imposed. They are the bonds of self-compulsion, bonds that man voluntarily assumes, even as a soldier going to war, that a false freedom may be removed.
And so, even in this very self-compulsion and self-restraint, there is the highest exercise of freedom. But the sense of freedom is absent. Such a state does not appear to be free.
A lesson to learn here, by the young people who are about to begin the battle of the regenerate life, is not to be discouraged and desist from the conflict, or retreat from the field of battle, because the experience is hard and bitter in the effort to compel oneself to do what the truth teaches. Remember what the Lord said to His disciples on one occasion: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth. I am come not to send peace, but a sword." (Matt. 10:34.) Life on earth was to be a constant warfare against all that stands out in opposition to the truth of the Word of God; and all are enlisted for that war who love that truth; and in this world there will be but a few faint glimpses of the peace of heaven. "I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword." Peace will come after the conflict, not on earth, but in heaven.
In an ancient fable the story is that a certain animal was informed of the exceeding sweetness of nuts. So he snatched a walnut from a tree, and pressed his teeth into it. But being offended by the bitterness of the hull, he threw it away before he reached the inner sweetness, complaining that he had been deceived, that nuts were not sweet, but bitter, and he would make no further trial. Now One who is infallible, and infinite in His knowledge, teaches us of the exceeding sweetness and beatitude of life in heaven. But to reach that life we must, while on earth, pass through many bitter experiences; bitter, because it is necessary to make war against our own evil delights. And so, instead of the sweet, we find the bitter; instead of freedom, constraint, and what appears to be bondage. And we are prone to pause in doubt, even as the people of Israel hesitated on Mount Carmel, standing still, as it were, at the forks of the road, causing the prophet Elijah to call out to them: "How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him!" (I Kings 18:21.)
We are reminded also of the wonderful vision seen in the world of spirits by the prophet of the Second Coming. Some hundreds of people, yea, a multitude of men and women newly arrived from the natural world, were traveling along a great highway, finally reaching the forks of the road where a great stone, over which some stumbled and fell.
They had at last reached the point of decision; they could no longer halt between two opinions. And we are told that a few took the right road, but many the wrong. (H. H. 534.) We have here a picture of the beginning of manhood, when a decision must be made, and when the Divine law of order, which is inexorable, will brook no further delay; and one would fain return to the fleshpots of Egypt rather than wander through the wilderness of years that intervenes between the starting point and the goal.
We have quoted the Gospel where the Lord said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I am come not to send peace, but a sword." (Matt. 10:34) If this passage were read, to the exclusion of other passages where peace is spoken of by the Lord, we should receive an erroneous idea of the end, of the purpose, for which the Lord came into the world. This passage in Matthew tells the truth, but it does not, on its surface, tell the whole truth. The Lord did come to bring a sword,-to bring war, combat, temptation, trial, tribulation; yet this does not express the whole truth,-the supreme end: for which He came among men. Nor are we left in doubt. He came to bring a sword, but it was to bring the peace that comes only by the sword. The sword was the truth which was to make men free, which was to bring peace to the world, as is even the case with natural wars among men. Wars are fought that peace may come.
This truth, as applied to spiritual war, is fully explained by the Lord elsewhere; as, for instance, where, in the Gospel of John, He speaks to His disciples, saying, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33.) I have overcome the world. He had accomplished redemption by combats with the hells, and so established peace in heaven and also among men. "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
And the angels sang this song of peace, as heard by the shepherds at Bethlehem: "There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. . . And suddenly there, was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:8-14)
For the truth,-which was to make men free, was in the world. Amen.
Lessons: Isaiah 58. John 8:28-51. N. J. H. D. 141, 142.