By Octavius Winslow
"O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.”—Psalm 116:16
In nothing are there found to exist greater
opposites, stronger points of contrast, than in the Christian character. The
reason is obvious to a spiritual mind. The believer is composed of two natures
essentially different, incessantly antagonistic, and eternally irreconcilable.
Nothing can be more diametrically opposed in their character and actings than
the divine and the human, the renewed and the unrenewed nature that is in the
believer. A partaker of the new and divine nature through grace, and thus a
child of God and an heir of heaven, he still is imprisoned and fettered by the
old and fallen nature from which there is no release until the Master comes and
calls for him. Now these two and opposite natures must be in perpetual hostility
the one to the other. “What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company
of two armies.” Such is the spectacle which every child of God presents. The
existence of these opposite principles of nature and grace, of sin and holiness,
in the same individual must necessarily lead to much that is inexplicable and
perplexing to those not thoroughly initiated into the mysteries of the divine
life. To the eye of such a one, and not less visible to him within whose heart
the conflict rages, there are often apparent discrepancies, contradictions, and
opposites in the Christian life of a most painful and embarrassing nature, and
thus often bringing those who are weak in faith, and but imperfectly instructed
in God’s Word and the knowledge of themselves, into much bondage and distress.
They find it difficult, almost impossible, to reconcile these opposites of sin
and holiness, these contradictions of grace and nature, with the existence and
reality of that higher, nobler, purer nature of which all are partakers who are
“born of the Spirit,” and are “new creatures in Christ Jesus.” Take as a single
illustration of this the subject of the present chapter of our work—the bondage
and the liberty, the bonds and the loosening of those bonds, which David
delineates as his experience, and in which he but portrays the experience, more
or less extended, of all the children of God. Here are the two opposites in bold
relief exhibited in every believer in the Lord Jesus—bondage and liberty. In
proffering you as a Christian pilgrim a little help heavenward, we should
withhold one of the most potent aids in your pilgrim-course did we not endeavor,
by the power of the Holy Spirit, to loosen and remove some of those fetters by
which so many of the Lord’s people are bound, the galling and the weight of
which so essentially impede them in their course heavenward.
The ungodly world is full of bondage. The world has its notions, of liberty; but we who have tasted the sweetness of Christ’s liberty know that its notions are false, and that the liberty of which it boasts is only slavery. Every unconverted man and woman is a servant, a slave, a captive. “He that committeth sin is the servant of sin.” And those who are the servants of sin are, by virtue of that relation, equally the vassals of Satan,—“are led captive by him at his will.” The popular cry is, “Liberty!”—liberty of law, liberty of representation, liberty of prescriptive rights, literary and commercial liberty. But do those who vociferate this cry, who demand, and justly too it may be, this freedom, know that they are the most degraded of all vassals, that they wear the most galling of all fetters, that they are the willing servants, the obedient slaves, the degraded serfs of the world’s fierce despot, Satan? Ah no! “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage.” Reader! thou art spiritually a slave or a freeman—which? A slave to an unregenerate nature, a slave of the world, a slave of Satan, a slave of self, a servant of sin,—or, one whose fetters Christ has wrenched, whose soul Christ has set free.
But the child of God, a freeman though he is, a partaker of the liberty wherewith Christ makes His people free, may have but a contracted and imperfect view of this liberty, may still walk in much bondage of spirit, reforge for himself fetters which Christ had broken, and return to those beggarly elements from which Christ had set him free. David was a mighty man of God. Who has read the spiritual exercises of his soul, as delineated in the 119th Psalm, without the conviction that he was a giant in grace? And yet we find him speaking of bonds! What meaneth this? Just simply that a true freeman of the Lord may yet walk in strait paths, may cherish a bondage spirit, may be controlled by slavish fear, and may love and serve God with an unfilial, servile mind. Nor can we imagine greater impediments to religious progress, more powerful obstructions in our heavenward course, than just this spiritual bondage which marks the experience of so many. How few look fully into God’s face as their Father? How few pray in the spirit of adoption? How few rejoice in the sense of pardoned sin, and possess the peace which flows from the justified state procured by the blood and righteousness of our Emmanuel? What numbers are enthralled by their creed, by their church, by their ritual, by their sacraments, by their religious duties, by their crude conceptions of the gospel, their dim views of divine truth, by their faint, defective realization of a personal and complete salvation through Christ? How can such travel with a fleet footstep the heavenly road, or mount with a strong and soaring wing the upper skies, chained to earth by bonds like these? Beloved, ye are Christ’s freemen; and “if the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” It is to expound more clearly to you what your freedom is, to shew more fully your liberty in Christ Jesus, and thus to speed your way heavenward with more of heavenly joy and peace and hope in your soul, that we invite you to consider this fragment of the Psalmist’s experience, which experience we desire may be yours: “Thou hast loosed my bonds.”
What a loosening of our bonds is real conversion! Multitudes are yet in the bonds of an unregenerate state who assume that they are converted. There may be a false spiritual as a false natural birth. Many may pass through some of the earlier and incipient stages of conversion—such as the possession of light, and conviction, and alarm, and resolve—and yet not be truly converted. There may be that which has the appearance of the new birth, without the reality. Our Lord most solemnly affirms this of one of the ancient churches, “Thou hast a name to live, and art dead.” Oh, solemn thought! Oh, awful deception! The name of a living soul, the name of a Christian, the name of a disciple of Christ, and yet dead in trespasses and in sins, still in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity, with not a loosed fetter that bound the soul to self-righteousness, to the love of the world, and to the captivity of Satan and of sin. But in true conversion the bonds are loosed. Christ touches them, and they are broken. One gentle pressure of His divine hand, and the soul is free. “For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and of death.” Oh, what a blessed freedom from the burden of guilt is this which Jesus gives! The moment Christ is seen to be the “end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth,”—the moment the burden of sin is laid upon Him, the atoning blood touches the conscience, the Holy Spirit testifies of Jesus as bearing all the sin, enduring all the punishment, and exhausting all the curse,—the believing soul bursts its fetters, and enters into liberty, the liberty with which Christ makes His people free. Beloved, cannot you say, in view of this truth, “Christ hath loosed my bonds! I once wore the chain of my sins, and the galling yoke of the law, and the heavy manacles of a poor captive of Satan; but Jesus saw me, and had compassion, and said, ‘Loose him, and let him go;’ and my grave-clothes fell off, my bonds were broken, and I sprang into the holy liberty of a sinner pardoned, justified, and for ever saved; and my soul overflowed with joy unspeakable, and full of glory. The bliss of that moment, the sweetness of that first taste of liberty, can I ever forget!” Truly the sacred poet depicts my feelings—
“That sweet comfort was mine,
When the favour divine
I received through the blood of the Lamb;
When my heart first believed,
What a joy I received,
What a heaven in Jesus’s name!
“’Twas a heaven below
My Redeemer to know;
And the angels could do nothing more
Than to fall at His feet,
And the story repeat,
And the Lover of sinners adore.
“Jesus all the day long
Was my joy and my song:
Oh that all His salvation might see!
He hath loved me, I cried,
He hath suffer’d and died,
To redeem even rebels like me.
“On the wings of His love,
I was carried above
All sin, and temptation, and pain;
And I could not believe
That I ever should grieve,
That I ever should suffer again.”
When the Spirit’s seal of adoption is impressed upon the heart, there is a loosening of the bonds of legality in which so many of God’s children are held. How jealous is the Holy Ghost of the glory and enjoyment of our sonship! Listen to His language: “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” Do you ask, my reader, what is a legal spirit from which the Spirit of adoption frees us? I answer—It is that bondage which springs from looking within yourself for evidences, for comfort, and for motives which only can be found in looking to Jesus. It is that spirit of legality which prompts you to be incessantly poring over your works, instead of dealing simply and solely with the finished work of Christ. That is a bondage-spirit which makes a Christ of duties and labours and sacrifices, of tears and confessions and faith, rather than directly and supremely dealing with Him “who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption.” Beloved, your works, your doings, your sacrifices, as means of comfort, and as grounds of hope, are nothing but filthy rags, the bones of the skeleton, the chaff which the wind scatters. Why have you not joy and peace and hope in believing? Simply because, unsuspected by yourself, you are putting your own work in the place of Christ’s work. Oh that you may be led to cast yourself more entirely upon the atoning sacrifice of Jesus!—to believe that God looks not at a single work you do as justifying you in His sight, but that He looks only to the divine, sacrificial, flawless, perfect work of His beloved Son! Oh, come and rest where God rests, in the Crucified One! What! if He is pleased to accept you in His Son, are not you satisfied so to be accepted? What! if the blood and righteousness of Emmanuel are enough for God, are they not enough also for you? Away, then, with your fears and distrust and bondage, and enter fully into Christ! “Even so will he remove thee out of the strait into a broad place, where there is no straitness; and that which shall be set on thy table shall be full of fatness,” (Job 36:16.) Then shall you exclaim, “Thou hast loosed my bonds.”
A sealed sense of pardoned sin, gives liberty to the soul. Many of the Lord’s people walk in bonds from not seeing how fully and freely and entirely their sins are pardoned. If Christ has borne and has pardoned all your sins, then you have nothing to do with them. If He was condemned, suffered, died, and rose again for our offences,—if He bore them, satisfied for them, and by one blood-shedding for ever blotted them out, what have you, who believe in Him, to do with those sins which He has eternally obliterated,—“having forgiven you all trespasses?” Will you attempt to remove the propitiation, the mercy-seat, which covers them? Will you endeavor to recall the thick cloud which His blood has for ever cancelled? Will you look into the tomb, or sink your line into the sea, where Jesus has left all your transgressions? Oh, this will be to seek another sacrifice for sin,—to crucify the Son of God afresh,—to deny the efficacy of His blood,—and to cast a vail over the brightest lustre of His cross. Thy sins are forgiven thee! Thou hast no more to do with them than with a criminal who has been arraigned, condemned, and executed. Jesus stood as our Sin-bearer, Surety, and Substitute; was arraigned, and condemned, and crucified in our stead, and for our sins. “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities.” We have, therefore, nothing to do with the condemning power of our sins, for “God’s own Son was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin,” (or, by a sacrifice for sin,) “condemned sin in the flesh;” so that, if condemnation and guilt be removed, it is our privilege to walk in the holy, happy blessedness of the man whose transgressions is forgiven, whose sin is covered, unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity. Let your life be a daily exercise of faith in the atoning, sin-pardoning blood of Jesus touching the guilt and power of sin, and with David, you shall gratefully exclaim, “Thou hast loosed my bonds.”
The Lord also looses the bonds of those of His people who are “bound in fetters and are holden in cords of affliction.” How many are wearing these fetters! The Lord trieth the righteous, but He does not leave them in their trials. And again, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth them out of them all.” Listen, too, to the testimony of David. “I called upon the Lord in distress: the Lord answered me, and set me in a large place,”—broke the bonds of my affliction, and brought me into liberty. When we take a legal, and not a gospel view of affliction,—view it as the punishment of the slave, and not as the chastening of the child,—as judicial and not parental, we are brought into bondage. Oh, is it not enough that we are bound in fetters and are holden in cords of affliction, that we should add to these bonds those of unfilial submission, secret rebellion, restiveness, and repining? Oh, how we lose the soothing and the comfort, the succour and the liberty in deep and sore trial, by not tracing it all up to a Father’s hand, a Saviour’s love, the arrangement and provision of the covenant of grace. Tried believer! were you now to lean with all your burdens on the Lord, to rest on Jesus, to wait patiently in all your perplexities and difficulties for God, oh, in what a large place would you walk! Could you in the overshadowing cloud, in this heavy calamity, in this sudden visitation, but realize that all God’s thoughts are peace, and that every thought of His heart is love, and that all His dealings are right,—that as a father pitieth his children, so He pitieth you,—oh, how light would be these fetters, how silken these cords, how fragrant the blossoms upon this rod! “O God of my righteousness, thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.” Enlarged me when in distress! Yes, beloved; God, your own God, can enlarge your heart, and free your spirit, even in distress! What enlargement in prayer!—what travelling up of your soul to Him in communion!—what soaring of your heart in love!—what mounting upon the wing of faith, may you now experience and enjoy, though through fire and through water God may be bringing you! I believe that our heavenly Father often binds us with the fetters of trial and the cords of affliction, that our soul might be more fully brought into the liberty of adoption! It is in the narrow path of difficulty and sorrow that we often walk in the broad path of God’s love. It is only in the school of sorrow that we learn the holiest and highest of all lessons—the lesson of resignation to the Divine will. It is when the cup touches our lips, that from them breathes the sacred words,—“NOT MY WILL, BUT THINE BE DONE.”
“Let me never choose—or to live or die;
Bind or bruise, in Thy hands I lie.”
The Lord loosens our bonds when we walk in evangelical obedience. Nothing contributes more to the enlargement of the soul in the ways of the Lord than a profound and practical reverence for the authority and teaching of Christ. Christ is the great political or governing Head and King of His Church; and all who recognize the rule, headship, and sovereignty of the Lord Jesus in Zion, are solemnly bound to yield obedience to His laws. In so doing, He makes them to walk in a large place. “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land.” Obedience to Christ, and the liberty of Christ, are correlative terms. It is in submitting to His yoke, and in bearing His burden, that true freedom is found. Many are wearily dragging along their pilgrimage the bonds of doubt and fear, simply because of willful disobedience to the Divine precepts and positive commands of their Lord and Master. They walk not in the liberty of the child, because they walk not in the precept of the disciple. But what was David’s experience? “I will walk at liberty, for I seek thy precepts.” This preceptive obedience, many, wise in their own conceit, denounce as legalism and bondage; but the Psalmist felt it to be the sweetest and holiest liberty. The Lord keep you from Antinomianism in every form, in doctrine and in practice! Listen again to the words of David in which he strikingly incorporates his servitude and freedom: “O Lord, truly I am thy servant; thou hast loosed my bonds.” To be the Lord’s servant, is to be the Lord’s freeman; for Christ’s service is perfect freedom. It is a service growing out of freedom, and it is a freedom found in service. O Lord, I am Thy servant! Thou hast freed me from the bonds of sin and Satan, and now my highest honour, and my dearest delight, and my most perfect freedom is, in serving Thee! Is not every heart which is touched by the emancipating, all-constraining power of Christ’s love responsive to this?—“That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life,” (Luke 1:74.) Would you then, Christian pilgrim, speed your way heavenward?—burst the bonds which so long have hindered your loving obedience to Christ—the fear of man, the opinion of the world, the love of earthly repose—and come, take up your cross, and follow Him. Lord! dost Thou ask obedience to Thy precepts as the proof of my love to Thee? Then I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest. Dissolve Thou my fetters, loosen my bonds, for “then will I run the way of Thy commandments when Thou hast enlarged my heart.”
“O Lord, I am the son of thine handmaid.” Sacred and precious acknowledgment! Advanced to the kingdom of Israel though he was, David did not yet forget his relation and indebtedness to a God-fearing mother. The early instruction and prayers of that mother were the basis of all his future greatness, and were now treasured among his most precious recollections. With the incense of gratitude ascending from his heart for the loosing of his bonds, he blesses the hallowed remembrance of a godly parent, and offers devout thanksgiving to God for the sacred and precious gift. How clearly the future holy and honourable freedom from the appetites of the flesh, and from the slavishness of the world, and from the captivity of opinions, sceptical and loose, which distinguishes the high and noble career of many a man renowned in the Church of Christ, and in the world, may be traced to the early, hidden links of a Christian mother’s training and prayers, eternity only can declare. Nor let us forget that when our hearts are charged with grief, and our path is lonely and our need is pressing, the hallowed recollection of all that God was in His faithfulness, and kindness, and responsive love to the voice of prayer breathing from a godly parent’s lips, may encourage us to pray, and may furnish us with a more urgent plea at the throne of grace, the tenderness and force of which even GOD will not resist. “O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and THE SON OF THINE HANDMAID; thou hast loosed my bonds.” Such is the undying influence of a godly parent—a Christian, praying MOTHER!
Are you, beloved, all your lifetime in bondage through the fear of death? Alas! how this impedes your happy, joyful progress heavenward! But Jesus can loosen, and virtually has loosened, these bonds. He reminds you that you are to contemplate not death, but His personal and glorious COMING; but that if your thoughts will wander from this bright and blessed hope to the more gloomy and repulsive object of your departure to Him, you are to remember that He has vanquished death, and has passed through the grave as your Substitute, your Surety, your Head; that He has extracted the venom of the one, and has irradiated the gloom of the other; and that you have no sting to apprehend, and no shadows to dread, because He has passed that way before you. Moreover, He has pledged His most loving and most faithful word that when you tread the valley, solitary and alone as you must be, you shall fear no evil, for that He, your risen, living Lord and Saviour, will be with you. Lo! I am with you alway! Then, why hug these chains, why wear these bonds, when simple, unquestioning faith in this your Lord’s assurance,—and, oh, He is worthy of your love’s implicit confidence!—would disenthrall you? Perhaps with you life is ebbing, earth’s toils and scenes are fading, and the ties that bind you here are one by one breaking, but that yet one fetter still enslaves you—the most painful and the heaviest of all—the fear of death! Oh, turn your eye to Jesus, with whom your soul is in living and inseparable union; Jesus, your life-creating, life-keeping Head—one glance, one touch, and your fears are dissolved, and your fettered spirit is free! What; will Christ be enough for life, its trials, its sorrows, its changes, its sins, and not be equal, in the supports of His grace, in the comfort of His love, and in the sunshine of His presence, for the sinkings, the becloudings, the partings, the throb and throe of death? Away with such suspicion and distrust! How dishonoring to Him who so loved you as to part with the last drop of blood and the last pulse of life! Sickening, sinking, dying believer! your Saviour is near. The present moment may find the cold chill of adversity stealing over you, perchance forsaken and neglected, lone and sad. But why these fears? Jesus is near,—oh, how near!—nearer than ever at this moment. His sheltering wing flutters over you, the warm pavilion of His heart encircles you. Compose the ruffled pinions of your redeemed soul for its glorious flight. Take a firm, clinging, unyielding hold of the Strong One, the Ransoming One, the Faithful One, the Near and Precious One, and you need fear no evil. Oh, what a hiding-place is Christ!
“’Tis chilly; very chilly;
And ’tis dark!
There is no light in friendship’s eye;
On the heart’s hearth
“Let me draw near;—my Saviour,
Oh, so near!
Let me once feel thy tender smile,—
Thine own sweet smile
“Let one fold of Thy garment
Wrap me round:
Ah! blessed, happy spirit, now
Thy joy, thy bliss,
Let us beware of self-imposed bonds. Christ binds us with no fetters but love, and imposes no bonds but those submission to which is our most perfect freedom. His gracious mission to our world was to break every bond, and to let the oppressed go free. The Spirit of the Lord God was upon Him, because the Lord anointed Him to proclaim liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. By His power the prey is snatched from the mighty, the lawful captive is delivered, and a door in heaven is opened to the prisoners of hope. He Himself became a bond-servant that we might become children, and a captive that we might be free. Oh, was ever love so vast, so self-sacrificing as this? We repeat the caution—forge for your soul no bonds but those which God imposes, which grace binds, and which love, obedient and willing, cheerfully wears for Christ. You are free to pray, free to enter with holy boldness and filial openness into the most holy place; you are free to claim and appropriate all the blessings of the covenant, and to draw unlimitedly from the fullness of the Saviour. You are free to bring every sin to His atonement, and every sorrow to His sympathy, and every burden to His shoulder. You are free to follow the footsteps of the flock, to feed where they are pastured, and to lie down where they repose. You are free to go in and out of the one Church of your Father, and to find a home, a temple, and a banquet-house wherever you realize the presence of the Master, or recognize the features of the disciple. The ONE Church of which you are a member is the “Jerusalem which is above, which is free, the mother of us all.” Beloved, you are called unto liberty,—use it fully, use it holily.
You complain of bondage in prayer. Never, perhaps, are you so sensible of the chafing of the fetters as when you retire from the presence of man into the solemn presence of God. Oh, could you but then be free! Could you but pour out an unfettered heart, moved, prompted, and enlarged by God’s free Spirit, how happy would you be! But no. You cannot pray. You have no wants, no desires, no emotions: thoughts seem stifled in their birth, words freeze upon your lips, and you rise from your knees as one whose devotions have been but as the chattering of the swallow. But why are you thus fettered? Are not these bonds your own creating? Are you not endeavouring to excite and rouse your own feelings, rather than seeking the influence of the Holy Spirit? Are you not relying upon your own intellectual efforts, instead of seeking to offer to God the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit? Are you not bending your eye within and upon yourself, rather than looking from off and out of self, simply and only to Jesus? Do you not come with the self-sufficient spirit of the Pharisee, rather than in the self-condemning spirit of the publican! Do you not approach God as a claimer of His regard, rather than as the petitioner of His bounty; as rich and full and indifferent, rather than as poor and needy and earnest? But listen to God’s remedy, “Be filled with the Spirit.” He is especially promised to burst your bonds in prayer, (Rom. 8:26.) Breathing upon them His all-divine, all-potent influence, all, one by one, will dissolve, and you shall come boldly unto the throne of grace, that you may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Again do I earnestly exhort you to cast yourself in prayer upon the love and power of the Holy Ghost, beseeching Him to give you to feel your soul’s emptiness and poverty, and then, with that truth sealed upon your heart, to lead you to the fullness and sufficiency of Christ. One gracious touch of the Spirit,—one application of the atoning blood,—one dim sight of the cross,—one gentle word of the Saviour, and your bonds are broken, and your soul is free. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Be this your prayer, importunately urged, until fully answered, Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name. And for your encouragement in prayer, I would remind you of the promise, “The Lord heareth the poor, and despiseth not His prisoners.”
Dwell much in holy and cheerful anticipation of the glorious and perfect enfranchisement which yet awaits your soul. It speedeth on! Oh, what a deliverance to you will be the Coming of the Lord, should not the Lord anticipate it by the covenant-messenger, Death! Then will you, O prisoners of hope, be emancipated from the in-being of sin, from all mental beclouding and bodily infirmity, and in the twinkling of an eye, your spirit will breathe the sweet air of liberty, and in a world of wonder, glory, and love, with unfettered and untiring wing, expatiate in the range and sweep of its ever-widening, ever-receding horizon. That spirit, now free, will, at the trump of the archangel, descend and reunite itself with the slumbering dust,—the dust that sleeps in Jesus,—which shall then be reanimated, and, “delivered from the bondage of corruption,” —“fashioned like unto Christ’s glorious body;” and then, and for ever, the last link will be broken that bound me, O sin and death, to thee!
“Holy Lord God! I love Thy truth,
Nor dare Thy least commandment slight,
Yet, pierced by sin, the serpent’s tooth,
I mourn the anguish of the bite.
“But though the poison lurks within,
Hope bids me still with patience wait,
Till death shall set me free from sin,
Free from the only thing I hate.
“Had I a throne above the rest,
Where angels and archangels dwell,
One sin, unslain, within my breast,
Would make that heaven as dark as hell.
“The prisoner sent to breathe fresh air,
And bless’d with liberty again,
Would mourn were he condemn’d to wear
One link of all his former chain.
“But oh, no foe invades the bliss,
Where glory crowns the Christian’s head
One view of Jesus as He is,
Will strike all sin for ever dead.”
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