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On the true idea of Spiritual Liberty.

IT has probably come within the observation of many persons, that there is a form or modification of religious experience, which is denominated "Liberty." Hence in common religious parlance, it is not unfrequently the case that we hear of persons being "in the liberty," or in the "true liberty." These expressions undoubtedly indicate an important religious truth, which has not altogether escaped the notice of writers on the religious life. The account, which is given by Francis de Sales of "liberty of spirit," is, that "
it consists in keeping the heart totally disengaged from every created thing, in order that it may follow the known will of God."

To this statement of De Sales, considered as a general and somewhat indefinite statement, we do not find it necessary to object. Certain it is that he, who is in the "true liberty," is "disengaged," and has escaped from the enslaving influence of the world. God has become to him an inward operative principle; without whom he feels he can do nothing; and in connection with whose blessed assistance he has an inward consciousness, that the world and its lusts have lost their enthralling power. Liberty, considered in this general sense of the term, is to be regarded as expressive of one of the highest and most excellent forms of Christian experience. And we may add further, that none truly enjoy it in this high sense but those who are in a state of mind, which may with propriety be denominated a holy or sanctified state; none but those whom God has made "free indeed." We proceed now to mention some of the marks, of which the condition or state of true spiritual liberty is characterized. Nor does there seem to be much difficulty in doing this, because liberty is the opposite of enthrallment; and because it is easy, as a general thing, to understand and to specify the things, by which we are most apt to be enthralled.

(I.) — The person, who is in the enjoyment of true spiritual liberty, is no longer enthralled to the lower or appetitive part of his nature. Whether he eats or drinks, or whatever other appetite may claim its appropriate exercise, he can say in truth, that he does all to the glory of God. It is to be lamented, but is, nevertheless, true, that there are many persons of a reputable Christian standing, who are subject, in a greater or less degree, to a very injurious, tyranny from this source. But this is not the case with those, who are in the possession of inward liberty. Their souls have entered into the pleasures of divine rest. And they can truly say they are dead to all appetites, except so far as they operate to fulfill the original and wise intentions of the Being who implanted them.

(2.) — The person, who is in the enjoyment of true spiritual liberty, is no longer enthralled by certain desires of a higher character than the appetites; such as the desire of society, the desire of knowledge, the desire of the world's esteem and the like. These principles, which, in order to distinguish them from the appetites, may conveniently be designated as the propensities or propensive principles, operate in the man of true inward liberty as they were designed to operate, but never with the power to enslave. He desires, for instance, to go into society, and, in compliance with the suggestions of the social principle, to spend a portion of time in social intercourse; but he finds it entirely easy, although the desire, in itself considered, may be somewhat marked and strong, to keep it in strict subordination to his great purpose of doing every thing for the glory of God. Or perhaps, under the influence of another propensive tendency, that of the principle of curiosity, he desires to read a book of much interest, which some individual has placed before him; but he finds it entirely within his power, as in the other case, to check his desire, and to keep it in its proper place. In neither of these instances, nor in others like them, is he borne down, as we often perceive to be the case, by an almost uncontrollable tendency of mind. The desire, as soon as it begins to exist, is at once brought to the true test. The question at once arises, Is the desire of spending my time in this way conformable to the will of God? And if it is found or suspected to be at variance with the divine will, it is dismissed at once. The mind is conscious of an inward strength, which enables it to set at defiance all enslaving tendencies of this nature.

(3.) — A man, who is in the enjoyment of true religious liberty, will not be enthralled by inordinate domestic or patriotic affections, however ennobling they may be thought to be; such as the love of parents and children, the love of friends and country. It is true that spiritual liberty does not exclude the exercise of these affections, which are in many respects generous and elevated, any more than it condemns and excludes the existence and exercise of the lower appetites and propensities. It pronounces its condemnation and exclusion upon a certain degree of them, or a certain intensity of power. When they are so strong as to become perplexities and entanglements in the path of duty, then they are evidently inconsistent with the existence of true spiritual freedom; and in that shape and in that degree necessarily come under condemnation. I have, for instance, a very near and dear friend, who is exceedingly worthy of my affections; but if my love to him leads me, perhaps almost involuntarily, to seek his company, when my duty to my God and my fellow-men calls me in another direction; and if I find it difficult to subdue and regulate this disposition of mind, it is evident that I am not in the purest and highest state of internal liberty. I have wrongly given to a creature something which belongs to God alone.

(4.) — When we are wrongly under the influence of disinclinations and aversions, we cannot be said to be in internal liberty. Sometimes, when God very obviously calls us to the discharge of duty, we are internally conscious of a great degree of backwardness. We do it, it is true; but we feel that we do not like to do it. There are certain duties, which we owe to the poor and degraded, to the openly profane and, impure, which are oftentimes repugnant to persons of certain refined mental habits; but if we find that these refined repugnancies, which come in the way of duty, have great power over us, we are not in the true liberty. We have not that strength in God, which enables us to act vigorously and freely. Sometimes we have an aversion to an individual, the origin of which we cannot easily account for; there is something unpleasant to us, and perhaps unreasonably so, in his countenance, his manners, or his person. If this aversion interferes with and prevents the prompt and full discharge of the duty which, as a friend and a Christian, we owe to him, then we have reason to think that we have not reached that state of holy and unrestrained flexibility of mind, which the true idea of spiritual liberty implies.

(5.) — The person is not in the enjoyment of true liberty of spirit, who is wanting in the disposition of accommodation to others in things, which are not of especial importance. And this is the case when we needlessly insist upon having every thing done in our own time and manner; when we are troubled about little things, which are in themselves indifferent, and think, perhaps, more of the position of a chair than of the salvation of a soul; when we find a difficulty in making allowance for the constitutional differences in others, which it may not be either easy or important for them to correct; when we find ourselves disgusted because another does not express himself in entire accordance with our principles of taste; or when we are displeased and dissatisfied with his religious or other performances, although we know he does the best he can. All these things, and many others like them, give evidence of a mind that has not entered into the broad and untrammeled domain of spiritual freedom.

We may properly add here, that the fault-finder, especially one who is in the confirmed habit faultfinding, is not a man of a free spirit. Accordingly, those who are often complaining of their minister, of the brethren of the church, of the time and manner of the ordinances, and of many other persons and things, will find, on a careful examination, that they are too full of self, too strongly moved by their personal views and interests, to know the true and full import of that ennobling liberty, which the Savior gives to his truly sanctified ones.

(6.) — The person, who is disturbed and impatient when events fall out differently from what he expected and anticipated, is not in the enjoyment of true spiritual freedom. In accordance with the great idea of God's perfect sovereignty, the man of a religiously free spirit regards all events which take place, SIN ONLY EXCEPTED, as an expression, under the existing circumstances, of the will of God. And such is his unity with the divine will, that there is an immediate acquiescence in the event, whatever may be its nature, and however afflicting in its personal bearings. His mind has acquired, as it were, a divine flexibility, in virtue of which it accommodates itself with surprising ease and readiness to all the developments of Providence, whether prosperous or adverse.

(7.) — Those, who are in the enjoyment of true liberty, are patient under interior temptations and all inward trials of mind. They can bless the hand, that smites them internally as well as externally. Knowing that all good exercises are from the Holy Spirit, they have no disposition to prescribe to God what the particular nature of those exercises shall be. If God sees fit to try and to strengthen their spirit of submission and patience by bringing them into a state of great heaviness and sorrow, either by subjecting them to severe temptations from the adversary of souls, or by laying upon them the burden of deep grief for an impenitent world, or in any other way, they feel it to be all right and well. They ask for their daily bread spiritually, as well as temporally; and they cheerfully receive what God sees fit to send them.

(8.) — The person, who enjoys true liberty of spirit, is the most deliberate and cautious in doing what he is most desirous to do. This arises from the fact, that he is very much afraid of being out of the line of God's will and order. He distrusts and examines closely all strong desires and strong feelings generally, especially if they agitate his mind and render it somewhat uncontrollable. Not merely or chiefly because the feelings are strong; that is not the reason; but because there is reason to fear, from the very fact of their strength and agitating tendency, that some of nature's fire, which true sanctification quenches and destroys, has mingled in with the holy and peaceable fame of divine love. John the Baptist, no doubt, had a strong natural desire to be near Jesus Christ while he was here on earth, to hear his divine words, to enjoy personally his company; but in the ennobling liberty of spirit which the Holy Ghost gave him, he was enabled to overrule and suppress this desire, and to remain alone in the solitary places of the wilderness.

(9.) — He, who is in true liberty of spirit, is not easily excited by opposition. The power of grace gives him inward strength; and it is the nature of true strength to be deliberate. Accordingly when his views are controverted, he is not hasty to reply. He is not indifferent; but he replies calmly and thoughtfully. He has confidence in the truth, because he has confidence in God. "God is true;" and being what he is, God can have no fellowship with that, which is the opposite of truth. He knows, that, if his own sentiments are not correct, they will pass away in due time; because every thing, which is false, necessarily carries in itself the element of its own destruction. He knows too, that, if the sentiments of his adversaries are false, they bear no stamp of durability. God is arrayed against them; and they must sooner or later fall. Hence it is, that his strong faith in God and in the truth of which God is the protector, kills the eagerness of nature. He is calm amid opposition; patient under rebuke.

(10.) — The person of a truly liberated spirit, although he is ever ready to do his duty, waits patiently till the proper time of action. He has no choice of time but that which is indicated by the providence of God. The Savior himself could not act, until his "hour was come." When he was young, he was subject to his parents; when he was older, he taught in the Synagogues. In his journeyings, in his miracles, in his instructions, in his sufferings, he always had an acquiescent and approving reference to that providential order of events, which his heavenly Father had established. On the contrary, an enthralled mind, although it is religiously disposed in part, will frequently adopt a precipitate and undeliberate course of action, which is inconsistent with a humble love of the divine order. Such a person thinks that freedom consists in having things in his own way, whereas true freedom consists in having things in the right way; and the right way is God's way. And in this remark we include not only the thing to be done, and the manner of doing it, but also the time of doing it.

(11.) — The possessor of true religious liberty, when he has submissively and conscientiously done his duty, is not troubled by any undue anxiety in relation to the result. It may be laid down as a maxim, that he, who asserts that he has left all things in the hands of God, and at the same time exhibits trouble and agitation of spirit in relation to the results of those very things, (with the exception of those agitated movements or disquietudes, which are purely
instinctive,) gives abundant evidence, in the fact of this agitation of spirit, that he has not really made the entire surrender, which he professes to have made. The alleged facts are contradictory of each other, and both cannot exist at the same time.

FINALLY.— In view of what has been said, and as a sort of summary of the whole, we may remark that true liberty of spirit is found in those, and in those only, who, in the language of De Sales, "keep the heart totally disengaged from every created thing, in order that they may follow the known will of God." In other words, it is found with those who can say, with the Apostle Paul, that they are "dead, and their life is hid with Christ in God." The ruling motive in the breast of the man of a religiously free spirit is, that he may, in all cases and on all occasions, do the will of God. In that will his "life is hid." The supremacy of the divine will, in other words, the reign of God in the heart, necessarily has a direct and powerful operation upon the appetites, propensities, and affections; keeping them, each and all, in their proper place. As God rules in the heart, every thing else is necessarily subordinate. It is said of the Savior himself that "he pleased not himself," but that he came "to do his Father's will."

Another thing, which can be said affirmatively and positively is, that those, who are spiritually free, are led by the Spirit of God. A man, who is really guided by his appetites, his propensities, or even by his affections, his love of country, or any thing else other than the Spirit of God, cannot be said to be led by that divine Spirit. The Spirit of God, ruling in the heart, will not bear the presence of any rival, any competitor. In the heart of true liberty the Spirit of God rules, and rules alone: so that he, who is in the possession of this liberty, does nothing of his own pleasure or his own choice. That is to say, in all cases of voluntary action, he does nothing under the impulse and guidance of natural pleasure or natural choice alone. His liberty consists in being free from self; in being liberated from the dominion of the world; in lying quietly and submissively in the hands of God; in leaving himself, like clay in the hands of the potter, to be moulded and fashioned by the divine will. Natural liberty may be said to consist in following the natural sentiments; in doing our own desires and purposes, which naturally throng in upon the soul and take possession. It is like a strong man, that is under the complete control of his irregular passions. Spiritual liberty consists in passively, yet intelligently and approvingly, following the leadings of the Holy Ghost. It is like a little child, that reposes in simplicity and in perfect confidence on the bosom of its beloved mother. Natural liberty combines, with the appearance of liberty; the reality of subjection. He, who has but natural liberty, is a slave to himself. In spiritual liberty it is just the opposite. He, who is spiritually free, has entire dominion over himself. Spiritual liberty implies, with the fact of entire submission to God, the great and precious reality of interior emancipation. He, who is spiritually free, is free in God. And he may, perhaps, be said to be free in the same sense in which God is; who is free to do every thing right and nothing wrong.

This is freedom indeed. This is the liberty, with which Christ makes free. This is emancipation, which inspires the songs of angels; a freedom, which earth cannot purchase, and which hell cannot shackle.