A Liberty Primer

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As a number of you have been confined to quarters for a while, it may have been that your thoughts have turned to topics like freedom and liberty. It may have been that you have started to think about the nature of the liberties you used to enjoy. You might have started to envy that squirrel in your backyard, running around loose the way he does.

Our second president, John Adams, once said that the American Constitution presupposed a moral and a religious people, and that it was “wholly unfit” for any other. I want to take a moment to explain how and why this is true. On a day-to-day basis, we have had quite a bit of our practical freedom removed. We cannot do any number of things we used to be able to just go and do. But instead of chafing at this, we should rather be seeking to understand it.

Foundational Liberty

There are three governments among men that were established directly by God. These are the governments of family, church, and state. God established the family in the Garden when He brought Eve to Adam. He established the government of the church in its current form when Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and gave gifts to men. And the apostle Paul tells us that the civil magistrate is placed in authority by God Himself, and that the civil authority is God’s deacon (diakonos), God’s servant.

But in order for any of these three governments to function there is a more foundational government that is necessary. Another kind of liberty is the base coat. That additional kind of government is self-government, or self control. Just as it is not possible to make a good omelet with rotten eggs, so it is not possible to have free and orderly governments in the family, in the church, or in the state if the people are enslaved to their vices. Those who are slaves to their vices are going to be slaves everywhere else, you may depend upon it. The ingredients of a free republic, if you take a moment to look at the side of the box, are not fornicating potheads.

Augustine once said that a man has as many masters as he has vices. And if he is enslaved to his vices in that way, if he is living in that condition, then it will be mere child’s play for outside manipulators to enslave him. All they have to do is bribe him or blackmail him. We can take a coupe examples from our current situation. An example of the former would be setting the unemployment benefits a man is currently getting at a higher level than he would get if the economy opened up again so that he could go back to work. An example of the latter would be the tools of investigation they could unleash on an employer who dared to bring employees back to work before permission was granted. Are there things in the employer’s past that the surveillance state would know about and could threaten to reveal?

Vices present handles to those who use such handles to steer and control the populace. A sin-riddled people are a cowed people. A law-abiding people are a different thing entirely. A man enslaved to his own vices is therefore a subject. A man who is a servant of Christ is a citizen.

The baiting of the trap began in earnest with the sexual revolution of the sixties. As time has progressed, more and more vices have been delivered to your doorstep. Just a few years ago, the sale of pot was illegal in California. But now, during this lock down, pot shops are ESSENTIAL. Churches are closed but Marley Natural remains on sale!

The message that Christians need to be repeating over and over again during this time is that if you want to be a free man then you must consent to become a slave of Christ.

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

Romans 6:16-18 (ESV)

Panic Among the Philistines

And all this brings to mind an apropos quotation from Thomas Sowell:

“It’s amazing how much panic one honest man can spread among a multitude of hypocrites. ”

Thomas Sowell

This sort of saying is the kind of thing that gets put into memes and is circulated approvingly in conservative circles on the Internet. We nod at the sagacity of Sowell, as we should. But perhaps we have read ourselves into the role of the protagonist when to do so was not exactly accurate.

In this situation, who was successfully panicked? In this situation, who was the hypocrite? Who got gamed? Who was successfully played?

Whenever we watch a movie, we love to identify with the protagonist. And when we read stirring quotes from Thomas Sowell, we like to think of how our abstract appreciation of liberty has sent the liberals scurrying. We have affirmed something Burkean inside our heads, and therefore there is panic among the Philistines!

We really should want God to send us an honest man. We really should want to see a Samson pull Dagon’s temple down. We really should remember that real honesty — set free from sin honesty — really would start a real panic among the chattering classes.

But this is not going to happen unless God does it, and God is not going to do it except on His terms, and in His way. And His appointed starting point for every reformation in this sorry world is always going to be gospel, the kind of gospel that sets men free from their sins. This is the message of Christ crucified, Christ buried, Christ resurrected, and Christ ascended.

When the shackles of sin are struck off your ankles and wrists, you soon discover than you don’t have to stay in your cell anymore. The door has opened of its own accord, just as silently as the doors opened up for Peter during his great jailbreak. And as you walk out, down the hallway and out through the main gate, you find that you can look back at the whole sorry prison, and can see it from outside.

And you can begin to understand it.