LIBERTY and law are not, as very many people think, two things set over against each other, and requiring to be properly balanced to secure a successful and happy existence. People who hold to this idea show thereby that they have no true conception of either the one or the other.
God is the author of liberty; he is also the author of law. He has not made two things which antagonize each other. In the truly Christian life, liberty and law meet and dwell in perfect harmony. They lead the individual in one and the same path.
Law is opposed to license; but license is not liberty, it is a form of despotism. Individuals who commit acts of license are the slaves of their vices and passions. He who is not such a slave has no desire to do an act which the order and peace of society, or the good of any of his fellows, demands should be forbidden. In his life is manifested “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” And “against such there is no law.”
The pathway of perfect liberty coincides with the pathway of perfect law. Perfect liberty is the liberty of the divine life, and the divine law is an expression of the principles one life. The Christian life is the life that is actuated by these principles. The Christian life moves in the pathway of the perfect law, and finds only perfect liberty.
The law of God is the “law of liberty.” James 2:8, 12. It is because of this that the Christian finds in it his delight. “O how love I Thy law!” is the testimony; “How sweet are they words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” Psalm 119:97, 103. “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More are they to be desired than gold,—yea, than much fine fold; sweeter also than honey and the honey comb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned; and in keeping of them there is great reward.” Psalm 19:9, 10. He sees in God’s law, as does every one who becomes acquainted with it, the pathway of everlasting life, and of “the glorious liberty of the sons of God.”
Man’s law is for the restraint of evil doers, that there may be peace and order in society, without which men could not engage successfully in the pursuits of life. In pursuance of the purpose of that law, the transgressor, when caught, is forcibly deprived of his liberty. Either by incarceration, or by other penalties, restraint is put upon the evil-minded person so that he is forcibly kept with the pathway of civility. The law of man take no account of the individual further than this.
We are apt to form our conceptions of God’s law from what we know of law as made and executed on this earth. It is natural and easy to do so, especially as the law of man often professes to re-enact or enforce the law of God. But all this is an egregious error. In character and purpose, the two are altogether distinct. They are different also in their methods of operation.
The law of man deals with the outward acts. It operates upon the individual only from without. God’s law, on the other hand, deals with the secret thoughts and motives of the heart. It operates upon the individual from within. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” Psalm 19:7. It leads the individual not only to conduct himself civilly, but to do that which is right in all things, because such is the desire of his heart. Having that law in his heart, he has a supreme love for the right.
The law of God therefore could not be made effective thought the restraints employed by the law of man. The former leads man into perfect liberty; the latter lead him into less liberty than he already enjoys. To try to make the law of God effective through depriving a man of his liberty is to endeavor to make it operate in precisely the opposite manner from that to which it is ordained by its Author.
This is the trouble with all sabbath laws, and all other forms of religious legislation. They are contrary to the divine law in the employment of coercion to secure obedience, if in nothing else. They would compel men to offer a forced tribute to his Maker, which would only be an insult to Him. He who has the law of God in his heart has perfect liberty, and in this perfect liberty offers to God a tribute of love; and this is acceptable and well-pleasing to Him.
“God is love;” and his law is a law of love,—the love of that which is holy and pure and just. But we can attain to this only in Christ. Only in Christ can the law of God get into our hearts at all. And Christianity is the manifestation of the power and wisdom of God in putting Christ into the heart of a man for his salvation. By this the individual knows the perfect liberty, love and righteousness of Christ’s own life; for of such an one it is written, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Galatians 2:20.
The life of Christ is everlasting, and it is retained by faith. By faith, not by force, the law of God is made the rule of life; and faith is not of force, but of the free will of the believer. The fountain head of the Christian life is liberty, and the stream is liberty, through all its flow.
And thus it is seen that the law of God is but a delineation of the pathway of perfect liberty, which those enjoy who by faith have Christ in their hearts.
THERE are two laws in the spiritual world,—the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” and the “law of sin and death.” The one means liberty, the other slavery.