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Posts Tagged ‘christian liberty’

Puritan Reading: Samuel Bolton’s The True Bounds of Christian Freedom

November 21, 2016 2 comments

trueboundsbookI’m nearing the end of an oft-recommended Puritan classic, Samuel Bolton’s “The True Bounds of Christian Freedom” (available on Kindle for 99 cents), a book that deals with issues still relevant today — the Christian’s relationship to the law. It considers and responds to many queries or objections, various antinomian or law-confusion ideas, and also provides good explanation of the difference between the Mosaic covenant and the “covenant of works,” explaining from scripture how the Mosaic covenant differed from and was never really a “covenant of works” – the way of salvation was always by grace through faith; the Mosaic covenant was brought alongside as a subservient covenant.

The book is organized as responses to these queries:

 

  1. Whether our being made free by Christ frees us from the law
  2. Whether our being made free by Christ delivers us from all punishments or chastisements for sin
  3. Whether it is consistent with Christian freedom to be under obligation to perform duties because God has commanded them
  4. Whether Christ’s freemen may come into bondage again through sin
  5. Whether it is consistent with Christian freedom to perform duties out of respect for the recompense of the reward
  6. Whether the freedom of a Christian frees him from all obedience to men.

The introduction to the book sets the solid foundation that all Christians agree upon:  the believer’s condition of grace, and the way in which we are free from the law.  He also carefully defines different types of freedom:  natural, political, sensual, and spiritual.  After this comes the heart and substance of the book, with its responses to many antinomian objections, and careful distinctions of terms, such as the difference between motivations people may have for doing their duty:

The one type of man performs duty from the convictions of conscience, the other from the necessity of his nature.  With many, obedience is their precept, not their principle; holiness their law, not their nature.  Many men have convictions who are not converted; many are convinced they ought to do this and that, for example, that they ought to pray, but they have not got the heart which desires and lays hold of the things they have convictions of, and know they ought to do.  Conviction, without conversion, is a tyrant rather than a king; it constrains, but does not persuade.

I found some sections more interesting than others.  In my own experience, Calvinistic evangelicals today generally agree on point #2, that being free in Christ does not remove all chastisements for remaining sin.  On point number 5, Bolton takes a cautious yet biblically accurate stance; at first he appears to oppose the idea of rewards as any motive for sanctification, but goes into detail as to the proper way to see this subject.

Overall I find the book is quite helpful, addressing so many of these issues and pointing out the motivation of the heart of the believer, who, as Paul expressed in Romans 7:22, “in the inner being delights in God’s law.”

A few good excerpts for consideration:

The things of this world can neither be the reason nor the object of the obedience of a gracious heart. They neither set us to work, nor do they keep us working. The enjoyment of them may come in to quicken us to work, and in work; but that is all.

If we are to learn of the ant, and from brute beasts, certainly are we much more to learn from the law, which is the image of God in man and the will of God to man. We have nothing to do with Moses, nor do we look to Sinai, the hill of bondage, but we look to Zion, the mountain of grace. We take the law as the eternal rule of God’s will, and we desire to conform ourselves to it, and to breathe out with David, ‘O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!

And

The heart of the believer may be damped with carnal affections, or it may be pulled back by the remains of corruption. At times it may be pulled back by the remains of corruption. At times it may drive heavily under some vexatious and long-drawn-out temptation; or strange trials may intervene and occasion some sinking of the spirits. And, alas, the cause may be a relapse into sin. Yet, take the saint at his worst, and we find that he has a stronger bias God-wards than others have even when at their best. In the one case there is a will renewed, though for the present a will obscured or in conflict; in the other case there may be some move towards the giving of obedience, but the will is lacking.

Christian Liberty: Should The Strong Always Yield to the Weak?

June 19, 2012 3 comments

Much has been said, and often, about Christian liberty.  In some cases it is misrepresented, or certain aspects of it are emphasized while other areas neglected.  Romans 14 and 15, and the S. Lewis Johnson Romans series, consider the proper balance.

Paul’s text presents both sides:  the strong Christian should not look down on the weaker brother who eats only vegetables, and the weak Christian should not despise the strong one who eats everything.  The strong Christian should also take care to not do anything that would cause the weaker brother to stumble or wound his conscience.  In normal situations, though, the strong believer recognizes that everything is of the Lord, that there are no other gods, and so has greater Christian liberty to eat meat and other things which might bother the conscience of a weaker believer.

Christian liberty (of course) refers to morally indifferent things, and not to things which are revealed in the scriptures as clearly wrong or unclean.  The tendency among many believers, though, is to overemphasize only the part about the stronger believer giving up his liberty so as not to injure the weaker brother.  However, as SLJ points out, the strong Christian should not always give up his liberty.  In the first place, all Christians are in the growing process, and the weaker Christians will (or at least should) grow and mature to become strong Christians.  That at least is the goal and the desired outcome.  More significantly, though, when the stronger Christians always give up their liberty, a dangerous situation results in which only the most narrow and “lowest common denominator” belief is set forth as representing true Christianity.  Then the outside world, unbelievers, see this very narrow interpretation – the view of the weakest Christian – as actually being true Christianity.  As Johnson observes:

At times, it is probably proper for us to indulge in our liberty, because after all, what the Bible teaches is important for us to understand.  The cause of Jesus Christ is never advanced by having every strong Christian in a congregation always and completely forego his rights, because what happens then is that the question is settled on the basis of the narrowest and the most prejudiced person in the congregation.  The person who is most narrow in his viewpoint and most prejudiced, it is his viewpoint that ultimately prevails.  … what eventually becomes involved in this is that the outside world then begins to think that a Christian is a person who, if in order to be a Christian, must give up this and must give up that and must give up the other thing, and the result is that our salvation by grace becomes confused with things that have to do with human works.  And thus we give a false picture of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus, I think, illustrates this in the way in which he treated the Sabbath.  It was a day.  And some observe the Sabbath very strictly and others observed it more leniently.  The Lord Jesus did not hesitate to do some things on the Sabbath days that offended the weaker consciences of some of the people in his day.

A few further thoughts … as understood from the context of Romans 14-15, and the similar texts in 1 Corinthians, Christian liberty also has nothing to do with the question of how we handle doctrine, the things revealed and taught in God’s word.  Yet I have seen the concept of “Christian liberty” taught, by the doctrinally shallow and weak, as an excuse for not being dogmatic and certain about what God’s word teaches.  Christian liberty is thus misconstrued to encompass the overall post-modern worldview and its attack on the clarity of God’s word, rather than those things which truly are indifferent.  By such distorted reasoning, certain doctrines, things set forth in God’s word, are equated with the morally indifferent issues of food and drink.  (I have in mind particularly the prophetic word, that which Peter even said we would do well to pay attention to, 2 Peter 1:19.) That error is compounded with imbalance: the idea that one group must always defer to the other; in their case, the ones that are certain about a particular doctrine must yield and “not cause division.”  Thus this twisted view attempts to justify continual biblical ignorance and spiritual babyhood, because after all, these are really things of indifference and those who dare to have an opinion about them are really the ones being divisive and causing trouble.