If the Son therefore make you free, ye shall be free indeed. —JOHN 8:36
This Son here is, for certain, our Lord Jesus Christ. It can be no other [than] the Son of God, the Son of man, so as never anyone was besides Him.
That which is said here concerning Him—“the Son”—or rather, which He says concerning Himself, is:
1. That He has a way of making people free, making Himself over to them to be their freedom: “If the Son therefore make you free”—this is implied.
2. That the freedom that He gives is extraordinary freedom. Those that are made free by Him are free indeed. No other freedom is like it, none to be compared with it. “Ye shall be”—this is expressed.
The explaining and proving of these two, together with the application, will be our present work.
Christ Has a Way of Making People Free
Freedom supposes bondage. The people to whom this was spoken could readily enough reply to Him, “We…were never in bondage to any man” (v. 33). It was not true that they said, understand them in what sense you will. Bondage is twofold: corporeal, which is the bondage of the outward man; and spiritual, which is the bondage of the soul.
As to the former, their fathers had been often in sore bondage. Were they not so in Egypt to Pharaoh; to the Philistines and Ammonites and Moabites in the time of the judges? So for seventy years together in Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar. Nay, were not they themselves at this very time in bondage to the Romans?
But as to the latter, which is spiritual bondage, concerning which our Lord speaks—they had never been otherwise than under that (v. 34). So that it was plainly the pride of their hearts. They were loath to own their condition. So are others besides them (Rev. 3:17). But whether we will own it or not, it is certain there is a spiritual bondage, which we are all under by nature. And from that bondage it is that Jesus Christ makes free.
We were born in bondage. Paul could say, in a civil sense, “I was born free.” And so many of us say, but in a spiritual sense we cannot, for we were born captives, prisoners, slaves. Oh, that God would make us this day sensible of the misery of such a condition, that if we be yet in it, we may make haste out of it. And, behold, here is one who will help you out. If we be out of it and are already made free, we may see what cause we have to be thankful all the days of our lives.
Have we not since sold ourselves to work wickedness, sold to be bondmen (2 Peter 2:19)?
Three things are the cause of this bondage:
1. The guilt of sin. By that we are bound over to divine justice in a bond, the penalty whereof is eternal burning. Sinner, you do little think of this, but certainly it is so. Your sins are your debts; and they are bond debts; and the bond will be sued shortly; and there will be an arrest; and you will be cast into prison, if some course be not taken to prevent it (Luke 12:58–59). Now from this we are made free by the Son dying for us on the cross, whereby He paid the debt and fully satisfied God’s justice and had His acquittance, when He rose again from the dead (Rom. 4:25).
2. The corrupt nature, called the sin that dwells in us, the flesh, the old man. By this we are so fettered and chained to diverse lusts and pleasures that we are perfect slaves. The drunkard is a slave to his lust of drinking. The wanton, to his wantonness. The covetous man, to money. One owned he was a slave to tobacco. Another said when he began to love it (meaning, to be a slave to it), he left it. And as to that that is good, there is no desire toward it. But quite the contrary. There is enmity and averseness. Just as it was with the poor woman (Luke 13:11, 16). She could not lift up herself. When Satan has bound the soul, it is crippled. Now from this we are made free by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, as a sanctifier, renewing us in the whole man, breaking the power of indwelling sin, planting a contrary principle (Rom. 6:14–19, 22).
3. The fear of death. Fear generates bondage, which bondage is more or less according as the thing feared is and, according as the fear prevails, in the measure and degree of it. Now we are all by nature subject to this bondage through fear. Though it does not appear alike in all, there are few but one time or other have their qualms on every apprehension of danger—though not every one to such an excess as Belshazzar, whose knees knocked against each other, or as Herod, who feared lest John was risen from the dead.
From this we are set free by the same Spirit as a comforter, abating this slavish fear and working holy boldness and confidence, so that now the man can cheerfully look death in the face, can look God Himself in the face, knowing He is a reconciled father (Rom. 8:15–16). The death of Christ purchased this (Heb. 2:14), and the Spirit of Christ applies it to the soul. Let him be afraid to die that is afraid to go to heaven. But:
What Kind of Freedom Is It?
1. A freedom indeed, that is, real freedom, substantially free. It is no fancied thing, no dream. Many a man that ruffles in the world and is the world’s freeman does but seem free. Really he is a slave, under the power of sin and the devil. But if the Son have made you free, you are free indeed—free from the guilt of all your sins past, from the beginning of the world to this day; free from the power and dominion of sin, for time to come. It may tyrannize over you, but it no longer reigns in you, of choice and with consent—free from slavish fear, causing bondage.
2. It is inward freedom. The soul is made free, the mind and conscience. Now the soul is the man, the better, the more noble part. If it be well with that, all is well. Though your outward condition be low and mean, perhaps a poor servant, the drudge in the family, an apprentice to some hard master, working hard and faring hard—no matter. If the Son have made you free, you are free to God, the Lord’s freeman (1 Cor. 7:22).
3. It is costly freedom. It cost Him dear that obtained it for us, namely, the Son.
There are two ways of obtaining freedom for captives: the one by force, fighting to procure it; the other by price, paying a sum of money for ransom. Both these ways the Son obtained our freedom for us.
He paid a price for it to the Father, bought it out, even the price of His own most precious blood (6:20; 1 Peter 1:19). Less would not serve. Either that or nothing.
He fought it out with the devil and death and the grave and by strength of hand rescued us. It is true, Himself was taken prisoner; but they could hold Him but awhile (Acts 2:24). Thus He is made redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).
4. It is comfortable freedom. Comfortable to us, that enjoy the benefit of it. It is attended with many exceeding great and precious privileges, which should each of them be so many arguments with us, if we are not free, to desire and seek it; if we are, to rejoice in it and be thankful for it. Those that are free of corporations enjoy many immunities and franchises, which strangers are unconcerned in, for the having of which they serve seven years. But what are those to believers’ franchises? What to those that belong to God’s freemen? And, which is more, they may be yours immediately, this very day, without seven years’ service to obtain them (allusion to 1 Sam. 17:25).
What Are the Privileges of the Lord’s Freemen?
In general they are of two sorts.
Those We Have by the Way, Now, in Possession
1. There are sundry evil things that we are free from:
(1) The guilt of sin, which is taken away by the pardoning mercy of God in the blood of Christ. Even this, where it is denominated a man, a blessed man (Ps. 32:1–2).
(2) The domineering power of sin, so that it is no more on the throne in us (Rom. 6:14). Though it remain, it does not reign. It is as the Canaanites were in Canaan after the Israelites had conquered it. They were under tribute.
But someone may say, “I find the power of sin great in me.”
But are you a willing servant to it, as formerly? Do you yield your members? “I hope not so,” you reply. “I can truly say the evil I would not that I do, and though with my flesh I serve the law of sin, yet with my spirit, the law of Christ.” Then be of good comfort. The freedom is gradual.
(3) The irritating power of the law. This is said to be the strength of sin, as water to lime (1 Cor. 15:56). Sin takes occasion by the commandment (Rom. 7:8). If such and such things were not forbidden, we should have no mind to them; but now, when enjoying this freedom, it is otherwise. There is then in the heart a dear love to the law of God. The will consents to it, rejoices in it.
(4) The unscriptural commands, injunctions, and impositions of men in religious matters, wherein we have to do immediately with God. Not their civil commands in civil things. We say not so (13:1; Titus 3:1). Nor the scriptural commands in sacred things, as when they command days of public fasting or thanksgiving when there is occasion, because for this there is warrant in the Word of God. The king of Nineveh proclaimed a fast, and the good kings of Judah. But their unscriptural commands in the things of God, when they lay a necessity on those things wherein the gospel calls to liberty—in such a case we are bid to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free (1 Cor. 7:23; Gal. 5:1). Herein the Pharisees were faulty. And see what the Master says (Matt. 23:9–10).
(5) The evil of afflictions, not from afflictions themselves—the best men have oftentimes a larger share of those than others—but from the evil of them (Ps. 91:10). The evil of an affliction is the wrath of God in it. As much as there is of that in it, so much there is of real evil. Now, by the Son we are freed from that wrath. His blood has pacified it. That which afflicts is love, for our good (Heb. 12:5–8; Rev. 3:19).
(6) The sting of death and the grave—not from death itself, nor the grave itself, but from the sting of it. What that is, we read 1 Corinthians 15:56. Now sin is done away, therefore death is unstung. It may hiss and frighten, but it cannot hurt.
2. There are sundry good things that we are free to.
(1) We have freedom of access to the throne of grace. We may come thither as often as we will and stay there as long as we will. The oftener we come and the longer we stay, the more welcome we are (Heb. 4:16). Liberty of speech, free to speak our whole mind—it is through the Son (v. 15). We would account this a privilege were it to the presence of an earthly prince or potentate. One said he would desire no more toward the making of him rich than an interview for one hour in a day with his king.
(2) We are free to all the promises in the whole Bible. Take which you will, if Christ be yours, you have an interest in it, a right to it, and may comfortably plead it, as if named in it. This is clear from Hebrews 13:5—a promise made to Joshua on a particular occasion, yet we may say the same.
(3) We are free to the lawful and comfortable use of every good creature of God. This is certainly one thing wherein the Son has made us free. For instance, in our good (1 Tim. 4:3–5). Some have thought and taught and themselves practiced otherwise, but it is a mistake. They may as well revive and establish the whole law of Moses in those matters. The reason ceases; it is not such blood now that atones. It is true, in Acts 15, there was a temporary appointment with reference to their present circumstances; but it was but temporary. And those ceasing, the injunction ceased (Titus 1:15). We do not live now among Jews, likely to be offended.
Those We Are to Have at Home Hereafter in the Other World
No condemnation (Rom. 8:1); no wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10); no “Depart ye cursed.” But a crown and kingdom that fades not away. All the Lord’s freemen are heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). We are free to heaven now, every day, in our daily addresses. And we will be free to the mansions there when we go hence (John 14:2–3).
Hence we learn:
1. What a difference there is between one man and another, according as they are or are not in Jesus Christ.
Those that are in Christ Jesus are the Lord’s freemen. The Son has made them free, and they are blessed and happy. They are more excellent than their neighbors, on all these accounts (Acts 17:11).
Those that are not in Christ Jesus are the Devil’s bondmen, rowing in his galley, tugging at his oar, doing his drudgery (Luke 15:15; 2 Tim. 2:26), having first overcome them (2 Peter 2:10). Among men, what a difference there is between a servant and a master, an apprentice and a freeman. “With a great sum,” says the captain, “obtained I this freedom” (Acts 22:28).
2. How much it concerns each of us to examine as to ourselves, “Which of the two am I? Has the Son made me free?” It may be known, and it were good for us to know.
Those that the Son has made free cannot but be sensible of a great change from what was to what is. Were the Israelites, think you, sensible when they were out of Egypt, and afterward, when out of Babylon? Those poor men that have been at Algiers in slavery to the Turks and are come home again, some by flight, some by exchange, some by ransom (they come often to your doors)—ask them: Are they sensible of a change? They will tell you, “Aye.” Can you say, “I was [in] darkness, dead, blind, captive; but now, I enjoy the light. I am alive. I see. I am free”?
They are endued with a free spirit. There is certainly such a spirit, and it is one of the excellent spirits (Ps. 51:12), free to every good work, ready, willing, forward (27:8; 119:108; 122:1). Not perfectly or universally so, but then it is free.
3. What is to be done that we may be made free? There is no way but one, and that is to apply ourselves to the blessed Jesus, the Son here spoken of.
Tell Him your sense of present bondage, your desire to be made free, and your consent to the gospel terms. Tell Him that you are weary of sin’s service and are willing to be His servant, or rather, freeman. Know for your encouragement He is sent on purpose (Isa. 61:1; cf. Luke 4:18). The gospel proclamation is like that of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1, 5). Could I assure all apprentices, servants, suppose all prisoners, galley slaves of freedom, how welcome would be the tidings!
4. What must they do that are made free? They must own their deliverance and their Deliverer with all thankfulness. The bells ring when the time of servitude is out (Ps. 116:16). Sing the song of Moses (Ex. 15:1; cf. Rev. 15:3).
They must stand fast in their liberty and press to be made more free.
They must promote and further the freedom of others. Tell them the difference you have found.
Philip Henry, Christ All in All: What Christ is Made to Believers