Chapter 21, Of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience

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  1. The Liberty which Christ hath purchased for Believers under the Gospel, consists in their freedom from the guilt of Sin, the condemning wrath of God, the Rigour and Curse of the Law; and in their being delivered from this present evil World, Bondage to Satan, and Dominion of Sin; from the Evil of Afflictions; the Fear, and Sting of Death, the Victory of the Grave, and Everlasting Damnation; as also in their free access to God; and their yielding Obedience unto him not out of slavish fear, but a Childlike love, and willing mind. All which were common also to Believers under the Law for the substance of them; but under the New Testament, the Liberty of Christians is further enlarged in their freedom from the yoke of a Ceremonial Law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the Throne of Grace; and in fuller Communications of the Free Spirit of God, than Believers under the Law did ordinarily partake of. (Galatians 3:13; Galatians 1:4; Acts 26:18; Romans 8:3; Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 8:15; Luke 1:73-75; 1 John 4:18; Galatians 3:9, 14; John 7:38, 39; Hebrews 10:19-21)

This chapter nicely follows chapter 20 regarding the gospel, showing all of the liberties which Christ purchased for the believer in the gospel. The very first clause establishes the grid by which we must view all these liberties.  The grid is “The Liberty which Christ hath purchased for Believers under the Gospel.” We must recognize first and foremost that Christ purchased these liberties for us. R.C. Sproul writes: “Christian liberty is one of the most important fruits of our redemption that was won for us by Christ.”[1]  Notice that this purchase is only for believers, and is under the gospel.  In other words, the benefits are only applied to believers through the gospel.  The gospel is the only means by which the believer may be saved and receive these liberties (see 20:1-4).

The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin. We can see this in several ways: First, it consists of freedom from the guilt imputed to the believer by Adam’s sin. “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (Rom. 5:15 ESV). Second, it consists of freedom from the guilt of actual sin. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:1-5 ESV).   Thirdly, it consists of freedom from a guilty conscience for our actual sin. “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14 ESV). “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22 ESV).

The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from the condemning wrath of God. Oh, how truly liberating it is to know we are no longer under the wrath of God—the most fearsome thing in the entire universe.  Scripture states: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18 ESV).  But for the believer, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:1-2 ESV).

The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from the rigour and curse of the Law. Scripture states: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal. 3:13 ESV).  The curse of God is upon all who are under Adam’s headship, for he violated the covenant of works; but for those under Christ’s headship this is not so. Christ took the curse upon himself so that believers are no longer are under the rigours (unrelenting strictness) of the law; that is, we are free from the judgment of the law because of God’s inflexible justice.  In line with this, we are freed from the curse of the law upon all violators.  The judgment of God on Adam and his posterity was the curse (Gen 3:16-19). We are freed from those rigors of the law, and the curse of the law violated because Christ took the curse upon himself and under the gospel, and he applies it to all believers.  What a glorious liberty!

The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their being delivered from this present evil world. Scripture states: “who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1:4 ESV). Again, the believer is no longer under Adam’s headship, but under Christ’s.  We are not of this world, but instead our citizenship in heaven where Christ is (Phil. 3:20).  We are saved from the evil that is now present in the world.  Because we are delivered from this evil present world, we overcome it: “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:4-5 ESV)?

The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from bondage to Satan and dominion of sin. Scripture speaks of Adam’s race as being in bondage to Satan; this is closely related to being under the dominion of sin. And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:1-2 ESV).   When Jesus appeared to Paul, he spoke of those who are under the power of Satan, who would turn through the gospel Paul would preach (Acts 26:15-18).  Regarding the dominion of sin, Christ purchased for us freedom from being under the reign of sin: “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14 ESV).

The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from the evil of afflictions. While God does not free us from affliction, he frees us from the evil of it.  In other words, God uses afflictions for our good, not for evil.  As Scripture states: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28 ESV).  Shaw states: “Christ does not grant to believers an entire exemption from the troubles that are common to men, but frees them from all the penal evil of afflictions.  The cup of their affliction may be large and deep, but there is not one drop of judicial wrath mingled in it.”[2]  This cannot be said of those outside of Christ. It is indeed a glorious thing that God has freed us from the evil of affliction and uses it for our good to accomplish his purpose in us.

The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from the fear and sting of death, the victory of the grave, and ever lasting damnation. The Confession is in part referencing what the writer of Hebrews said of Christ’s power over death since he came to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:15 ESV).  It is also a reference to Paul’s words: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ: (1 Cor. 15:55-57 ESV). The liberty from the fear of death or its sting and victory is a freedom which we should rejoice in.  Some unbelievers are not afraid of death only because they put its reality far from their mind.  The believer need not put it far from their mind to avoid fear, for they can look it in the eye and not be afraid of its ultimate victory.  The believer may have some trepidation about the instant translation from this world into the glory at death, but that is an immensely different thing from the unbeliever’s fear of eternity and the waiting judgment. It is not just the fear of the unknown or its finality that causes people to fear death, but far worse: ever lasting damnation. Christ frees us from ever damnation!  What shall we say to this: “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift” (2 Cor. 9:15 ESV)!

The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel also consists in their free access to God. Scripture states: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Heb. 10:19-20 ESV). How can we measure the value of this freedom! We can come confidently to the Father through this new and living way opened up by Christ: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16 ESV).

The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear but a child-like love and willing mind. We have liberty to obey God now that we have been regenerated and given a new heart in Christ. Since we are no longer in Adam and under the law, but in Christ, we are now at liberty to love and obey God.  We are not fearful of the threats of the law and God’s judgment since we are God’s well-loved children. Scripture states: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ “ (Rom. 8:15 ESV). And also: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18 ESV).  God makes us willing and able to obey him out of love. In chapter 9, we read of God’s work which frees the will of man to do spiritual good by translating man into the state of grace (9:4).

The Confession adds, All which were common also to Believers under the Law for the substance of them. In other words, these liberties were also those of the Old Testament believers.  It is true they were still under the ceremonial law (and judicial), but nonetheless, these liberties were theirs in substance, even if the forms were different.  We recall from chapter 20, paragraph 1: “in this Promise, the Gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and therein Effectual for the Conversion and Salvation of Sinners.” Since the elect of all ages are effectually called by the gospel, they also received these liberties. We do not want to miss the differences between the Old and New Testament, but we also do not want to under-estimate the common liberties.  But while continuity of liberty for believers exists in both the old and new covenant, yet there was advancement in liberty in the new covenant.  Therefore, the Confession adds: but under the New Testament the liberty of Christians is further enlarged. The Confession avoids a radical continuity and discontinuity between the old and new covenant, and takes the middle way of moderate continuity and discontinuity.

The Confession will now address what these further liberties are under the New Testament (New Covenant). Under the New Testament, the liberty of the Christian is further enlarged in their freedom from the yoke of a ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected. The abrogation of the ceremonial law was discussed in more detail in chapter 19, paragraph 3. There is no question that the ceremonial law was a yoke, that is, a burden set upon their shoulder. The New Testament believer is no longer under that law, and that is clearly a further enlargement of liberty. Notice the Confession references the Old Testament saints as the Jewish church. If the elect of both the Old and New Testaments are saved in the same way (11:6), that is, through the efficacy of Christ’s work, then Christ has only one church consisting of both Jew and Gentile saints.

As well, under the New Testament liberty is further enlarged in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace. We see this in Hebrews 10:19-20: Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (KJV). This passage does not imply that the Jewish church had no access to God, for certainly we see many places in Scripture where the people of the Jewish church prayed and had access to God.  The prayers in the Psalms demonstrate this reality. The Hebrews passage does, however, indicate a greater boldness or confidence exists by this “new and living way.”

The liberty under the New Testament is also further enlarged in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.  The word “communications” refers not to mean God speaking to us, but rather the fuller transmittal of the Spirit.  In other words, Christ by his Spirit transmits to us or gives to us under the New Testament fuller gifts, fuller power, fuller illumination of truth, and so forth.  Jesus made it clear that after he ascended into heaven, he would send the promised Spirit.  Jesus said it was better that he depart so that he would send the Spirit (John 16:7; 14:26; 15:26).  This promise was described this way in John: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:38-39 ESV). As well, Scripture declares: “Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory” (2 Cor. 3:7-8 ESV)?  The question is rhetorical.  The free Spirit of God means the Holy Spirit is sovereign, and he gives his gifts and power and grace to his people as he determines.  “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (1 Cor. 12:11 ESV).

When the Confession speaks of believers under the law, it is identifying believers who existed at a particular stage in the progress of redemptive revelation and completion. The Old Testament believers were still bound, for example, to the ceremonial and judicial law; however, that has no impact on the fact that salvation for Old and New Testament believers is based on faith alone, not based on keeping the covenant of works.  The Confession here cites two proof-texts: Galatians 3:9 and 14. “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal. 3:9 ESV). “So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:14 ESV). Verse 9 speaks of the faith by which Abraham was justified, as were all other Old Testament believers under the law.  It is implied from verse 14 that the predicted promise of the Spirit meant a greater effusions of the Spirit were to come.  That time came under the New Testament, and thus believers under the New Testament have received a fuller transmittal of the Spirit gifts (Eph. 4:8-14) than in the Old Testament.  It is notable that the Confession adds: did ordinarily partake of. In other words, there were exceptions in the Old Testament of believers who received the Spirit in fuller ways.  We might think of Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah, and prophets.

When we look at this grand itemization of Christian liberties purchased by Christ and given to the believer, and the enlargement of them under the New Testament, we are reminded just how great the freedoms are that Christ purchased for the believer. It is easy to forget these in the battles against, sin, the Devil, the world, and the duties of life.  But as we reflect upon these liberties, we might rejoice in the Lord and recognize that these liberties cannot be taken from us regardless of the circumstance.

  • Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” 2 Cor. 3:17 ESV

 

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  1. God alone is Lord of the Conscience, and hath left it free from the Doctrines and Commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to his Word, or not contained in it. So that to Believe such Doctrines, or obey such Commands out of Conscience, is to betray true liberty of Conscience; and the requiring of an implicit Faith, an absolute and blind Obedience, is to destroy Liberty of Conscience, and Reason also. (James 4:12; Romans 14:4; Acts 4:19, 29; 1 Corinthians 7:23; Matthew 15:9; Colossians 2:20, 22, 23; 1 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 1:24)

 The Confession now addresses the liberty of conscience. The Confession begins” God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his word, or not contained in it. The conscience is bound only to God, since he is Lord over it. Scripture teaches: “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor” (James 4:12 ESV)? James is essentially saying that God alone has the authority to make laws or commandments, and to judge his creatures by them. Therefore, we are not to pronounce judgment upon others as if we were the lawgiver and judge. The implication of this passage regarding the confessional wording is that only God has the authority to make doctrine and commandments, and therefore the conscience is free, that is, not bound to the unauthorized doctrine or commandments of men.  How do we know if the doctrines are merely of human origin or true doctrines and commandments of God? If the doctrines and commandments are contrary to (i.e. contradict) the word of God, or not found in the word of God, then they are of man and not God.

Jesus said: “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt 15:9 ESV).  The Pharisees made many commandments of men. R.C. Sproul states: “The chief point of conflict that Jesus had with the Pharisees, the church authorities of the day, was that they substituted their own human traditions for the law of God.  When Jesus violated their human traditions, they wanted to kill him.  In order to be faithful to his vocation as the Messiah, Jesus was responsible to obey every law of God.  He kept running into conflict between his Father’s will and the will of the Pharisees.  They represented an attempt of the church of the time to usurp the law, the will, and the authority of God.  Even the Christian church can rob people of their Christian liberty.”[3]

When the religious leaders commanded Peter and John stop preaching the gospel, the apostles responded, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20 ESV). We see two things here. First, the leader’s command was not binding on Peter and John, since God trumps man’s command.  Secondly, we see that Peter and John identify God as the only one who binds their conscience.  We even see prayer to God to give them strength to obey God and not man: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29 ESV).  Following this Peter and the apostles again face the anger of the religious leaders for disobeying.  After being reprimanded, Peter and the apostles respond by saying: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29 ESV). The passage provides Scriptural direction as to whom our conscience is bound.

The Confession explains why we are not to believe or obey the doctrines and commands of men: so that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience. The Confession cites the following proof-text : If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:20-23 ESV). If we submit to the doctrines and commandments of men in matters of self-made religion (i.e. matters of religion that are merely human), we betray true liberty of conscience which Christ purchased for us. Scripture explicitly instructs us: “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Cor. 7:23 ESV).[4]  When we believe the doctrines of men or practice their commands that are contrary to or absent from the word of God, following our conscience, then we enslave our conscience.

Several Reformers were so pressured to deny the liberty of their conscience that they were threatened with burning at the stake if they refused to affirm the Roman Church’s system of the Eucharist. But as true heroes of the faith they did not forfeit their true liberty of conscience, choosing rather to burn at the stake—often in front of their wives, children, and congregations.[5]  What a testimony to us to not betray the true liberty of conscience which Christ has given us in him.  How sad it is today to see those who once professed true religion of the gospel converting to Roman Catholicism; they return to a system the doctrines and commandments of men—a gospel-less system of works.  “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1 ESV).

And the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also. In the previous statement we are instructed not to submit our conscience to the unbiblical teachings and requirements of others, unless the teaching and requirements are in the Word of God.  But here the warning is given to those who would require the submission of others conscience to their own beliefs—beliefs which they may very well believe come from the Bible.  As Morris states: “It is as sinful to require such obedience as it is to yield to it, and the authority ecclesiastical or otherwise which makes requisition is guilty of invading holy freedom which God has given to every Christian as part of his spiritual birthright.”[6] Two things are required from others: 1) an implicit faith, and 2) absolute and blind obedience.

What does implicit faith mean?  Samuel Waldron indicates “‘Implicit faith’ is requiring someone to believe what we teach is the Word of God without proof from the Word.”[7] Requiring an implicit faith can happen at many differing levels.  It may be done by a false teacher—certainly so-called “Christian cults” require people to believe their interpretation of Scripture without proving it to be the actual meaning of the biblical text. But Christian pastor-elder, deacon, and member can also fall into the habit and trap of speaking with authority about the meaning of the Bible without giving the accompanying evidence for their interpretation.  Fathers can do this to their children and wives.  Calvinists can do this to their Arminian brothers and sisters.  It is something anyone can do to another, and we must be very careful that we all approach people with enough courtesy, respect, gentleness and humility so as to not require implicit faith without a reason why from the Scripture.  The Word of God itself states: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15-16 ESV).  To make a defense means using Scripture in a way that accurately reflects the context and meaning of the biblical text. We can easily say to person ‘A’ that ‘X’ is true, but this passage indicates that more than that is required. When someone asks why you believe what you do, you must be able to provide an reason for your belief, and that must be based on Scripture. Implicit faith, then, is the requiring of someone to believe something.  Why are we not to do this?  Because it is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason.

What does absolute and blind obedience mean?  Waldron states: “‘Absolute and blind obedience’ is requiring someone to obey our commands as if they were the commands of God himself (absolutely), and without scriptural proof that they are (blindly).”[8]  And so while “implicit faith” is about belief, this phrase is about requiring people to behave a certain way.  Historically, the most immediate example in the minds of the framers of the Confession was likely the Roman Church. She had created many commandments and sacraments which the people were required to absolutely and blindly obey, and she could not prove it by Scripture.  We may recall that Martin Luther before the Diet of Worms, in Germany who was required by the Roman Church recant his own liberty of conscience and reason.  He was under extreme pressure to recant what he believed that the Scriptures taught.  Luther struggled at first, asking for  more time to consider the demand upon him, but in the end he gave the famous statement that unless convinced by Scripture and reason, he could not recant his teaching.  He refused to allow them to destroy his liberty of conscience and reason.  The Roman Church had not been able to show Martin Luther he was wrong about the Scriptures, and yet they demanded him to submit to their yoke, despite his conscience and reason.  There are innumerable ways this happens even in the Protestant church which has had its fair share of dominating leaders who require absolute and blind obedience they just do it in different ways from the Roman Church.

We do not want to be found guilty of take someone’s liberty of conscience and reason away because Christ purchased it for them. Do we want to steal from Christ.  God forbid!  In the end, men are at best merely servants.  Paul acknowledged this lowly place as God’s servant: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each” (1 Cor. 3:5 ESV).  Even the Apostles, said: “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith” (2 Cor. 1:24 ESV). And so, whether we are talking about doctrine or practice, let us be circumspect about our dealings with other people, especially those of God’s household.

  • For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1 ESV).

 

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  1. They who upon pretence of Christian Liberty do practice any sin, or cherish any sinful lust; as they do thereby pervert the main design of the Grace of the Gospel, to their own Destruction; so they wholly destroy the end of Christian Liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of all our Enemies we might serve the Lord without fear in Holiness, and Righteousness before him, all the days of our Life. (Romans 6:1, 2; Galatians 5:13; 2 Peter 2:18, 21)

This paragraph sums up the purpose of Christian liberty, which thereby rules out the idea that Christian liberty is a license to sin. Historically this section may have the errors of the Anabaptists in mind, but the error is certainly not limited to them.  Shaw states: The liberty pleaded for in the Confession is not absolute and uncontrollable.  To assert that men have the right to think and act as they please, without respect to the moral law, and without being responsible to God, would be atheistical.”[9] Christian liberty is freedom to obey God’s commands, not disobey them.  Those who use the doctrine of Christian liberty as a means to practice any sin only pretend that Christian liberty makes such allowance. Pretense is the perfect word for such people.  In the phrase “Christian liberty” all they hear is “liberty,” and in their unregenerate state they can only perceive of liberty as autonomy from God and his commands. They hear nothing of the word “Christian” and its significance. By the practice of sin under the banner of Christian liberty they do thereby pervert the main design of the Grace of the Gospel. The grace of the gospel is a means to an end: sanctification, that is, obedience to God’s moral law. Thus the main design of the gospel then is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin (Titus 2:14).  It is a complete perversion or distortion of the gospel to practice sin—any sin—by such a twisting of the main design of the gospel. No one is at liberty to practice and cherish sin, especially Christians for whom “he chose… before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4 ESV). To pervert the gospel so severely shows a complete lack of true gospel knowledge and faith. If it is possible for the regenerate to make such a pretense, and that seems unlikely, it is something that they will most certainly have to repent of before they will be restored to God.

They who make this pretense and perversion wholly destroy the end of Christian Liberty. What is that end, purpose or goal? It is that being delivered out of the hands of all our Enemies we might serve the Lord without fear in Holiness, and Righteousness before him, all the days of our Life. The purpose of the Gospel or Christian liberty is plainly stated by the Confession directly from the words of Scripture. Luke 1:73-75, records the words of Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, who had been unable to speak since the angel’s announcement of John the Baptist’s soon coming birth, due to his unbelief.  But when the Spirit opened his mouth after John’s birth, Zechariah prophesied about the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel to send Christ.  The nature of Christ’s work is that “the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:73-75 ESV).  The commentator, Matthew Poole,[10] said of Luke 1:73-75 that the Messiah was a “confirmation in God’s resolution to send the Jews a Saviour, who would save them from their sins, the guilt and dominion of them, and from the power of hell, and purchase a spiritual liberty for them to serve the Lord all their days, without fear, in holiness and righteousness.”[11] Christ purchased for us the liberty to serve the Lord without fear and to do so in holiness and righteousness.  Along these lines, Hodge states of this same paragraph from the Westminster Confession:

  • “The subject of this chapter is that liberty wherewith Christ makes his people free, which is very different from that freedom of the will which we discussed under chapter ix. We there saw that freedom of the will is an inalienable constitutional faculty of the human soul, whereby it always exercises its volitions as upon the whole as it pleases in any given case.  This liberty of will is essential to free agency, and is possessed by all free agents, good or bad, or they could not be held accountable.  Christian liberty, on the other hand, implies two things:– (1.) Such an inward spiritual condition of the soul that a man has full power through grace to desire and will as he ought to do in conformity to the law of God; and (2.) Such relations to God that the person is delivered from constraining motive of fear, and brought under the ennobling impulses of love and hope; and such relations to Satan and evil men that he is delivered from their coercive influences; and such providential circumstances that he has knowledge of his privileges and gracious aid in availing himself of them.”[12]

Thus, Christian liberty is freedom to be a slave of righteousness, not a slave to sin. Praise to God!

As we conclude this chapter, there is a lot to consider and apply to our lives. Christ has himself purchased our Christian liberty, and what a glorious liberty it is.  We should be mindful of these liberties and treat them with great care and appreciation.  Further, God is the Lord of our conscience.  It is God’s will that our conscience is free in Christ, and bound to the Word of God alone.  We glorify God by living according to a liberty of conscience and by this we live a holy and happy life. When we believe things that others want us to believe, and do so by an implicit faith—unsupported by the Word of God—we destroy our liberty of conscience and faculty of reason.  The Word of God alone is to inform our faith and practice.  Our liberty is not freedom from obedience to the moral law of God; rather it is liberty to freely obey it out of a renewed will and a new heart that freely loves God.  These liberties are for the purpose of  sanctification—that is the will of God (1 Thess. 4:3).  That is true freedom!

  • “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 ESV).

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[1]  R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, vol. 2, Salvation and the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2006 ), 278.

[2] Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, eighth edition, (Glasgow: Blackie and Son, 1857), 202.

[3] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, vol. 2, Salvation and the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2006 ), 290.

[4] The immediate context of this passage refers to a person who becomes a slave for the purpose of receiving a bond, which was an option at the time.  It is reasonable to make the application from this passage that since our liberty of conscience is bought with a price, we likewise ought not submit it to slavery.

[5] J.C. Ryle, Five English Reformers (1890; reprint, Carlisle, Pa.:  The Banner of Truth Trust, 1981).

[6] Morris, page 562.

[7] Samuel E. Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition, 3rd ed. (Webster, Ny.: Evangelical Press, 1999), 261.

[8] Samuel E. Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition, 3rd ed. (Webster, Ny.: Evangelical Press, 1999), 261.

[9] Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, eighth edition, (Glasgow: Blackie and Son, 1857), 209.

[10] Of Matthew Poole, Spurgeon said, “On the whole, if I must have only one commentary, and had read Matthew Henry as I have, I do not know but what I should choose Poole.” Cited from C.H. Spurgeon, Commenting on Commentaries, (New York: Sheldon & Co., 1876), 19.

[11] Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, vol. iii (Peabody, Ma.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010).  This reprinting appears to be based upon the 1700 edition, although it does not say that in this reprint edition.

[12] A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary (1869; reprinted, Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 260.

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