By Horatius Bonar
"Let my people go, that they may serve me." -- Exodus 8:1
THUS God spoke of Israel in Egypt, commanding deliverance for them. It was a word of power, like, "Let there be light." Reluctant Pharaoh was compelled to let go his grasp. The command was irresistible.
God adds His reason for the command and its peremptoriness, "that they may serve me." He did not need to give a reason, yet He does so; He justifies His claim upon them and against Pharaoh. God's authority over men is an infinitely reasonable one. He makes no claim in regard to which even our own consciences do not justify Him. He has a claim on us; and no other can compete with this. You must serve me, He says to us; they must serve me, He says to them who held them in bondage. The length, and strength, and apparent justice of other service cannot be taken into account when God puts in His claims.
'Tis thus Christ speaks respecting His church, His elect; the. Holy One of Israel respecting His Israel. He speaks to His enemies and theirs; to those who hold them in bondage, the Pharaohs of the world, to Satan, "Let my people go, that they may serve me." It is out of earthly bondage into heavenly liberty that He calls us; from the bondage of Satan to the liberty of Christ. It is both to a divine service and a divine liberty that we are called. These are the two things; and they are inseparable. Not liberty for its own sake, but liberty for the sake of service; not service without liberty, but service as the result of liberty. Liberty and service conjoined; not the one without the other, but hand in hand. "Freedom is a noble thing," yet its value consists in the position in which it places us for service.
But what I specially notice here is the order of the two things,--first liberty, and then service, implying that service is impossible without freedom. There may be Egyptian service,--such service as will satisfy the gods of Egypt, without liberty, but not such as will please the God of Israel. There may be self-righteous service, mechanical service, Pharisaical service, the service of the outer man, without liberty, but not the glad service of the soul.
I. We are in bondage. Our natural condition is one of bondage. We are born in Egypt, not in Canaan; born in a prison; born with the fetters on our limbs; born slaves. Our wills are in bondage; our faculties are in bondage; our affections are in bondage; our whole souls are in bondage.
There is no free motion or free action of any part of us. All is constraint. We act under the sense of terror, or for a reward, or in order to obtain pardon. We do nothing freely or purely. Work done in chains is no work at all. Work done in order to purchase liberty is not acceptable work.
II. We were made for liberty. Israel was not made for Egypt, nor Egypt for him. So we were not created for bondage and the prison-house. God made man both upright and free. His whole being,--faculties, and affections, and will,--were made free, truly free, with nothing of constraint upon them save the glad constraint of love. God did not create us bondslaves. Liberty is the proper, the normal condition of the creature.
III. We cannot serve God without liberty. We may do some things without. The body can labour in a prison, and with fetters; but the soul must be free in order to serve; free in all its parts, so that nothing may be of constraint but willingly. Other services may be performed in any way,--for wages, or under threat; but God's service must be performed freely in all its parts. We must be free in order that we may serve. It is not service in order to liberty, but liberty in order to service. This is God's order; and he who disregards it, or inverts it, is a servant of whom the Master cannot approve,--whose service He rejects. Nay, his is no service at all. Till we are free, we cannot serve. He that is not free can perform no duty aright, no true work for God.
IV. Christ calls us to liberty. He came to open our prison doors; to bring us out of the house of Egypt. He came to- break our chains, and to make us wholly free. He has stated the matter thus: (1.) the Son shall make us free, implying that the liberty comes directly from Himself; (2.) the truth shall make you free, teaching us that it is through the truth that He gives us the liberty. He liberates. His truth liberates. His Spirit liberates. With our fetters broken by His touch; our souls receiving His truth; ourselves filled with the spirit of liberty, we go forth as freed men to serve God. In the bondage of unpardoned sin, in the disquietude of uncertainty as to our relationship, we cannot serve God. It is not true service, or happy service, or loving service, or acceptable service. We must be let go that we may serve.
Have you been set free? Are you walking at liberty? Has the gospel brought its peace in to you? Is the Spirit of adoption teaching you to say, Abba, Father? You say you are endeavouring to serve God. But in what spirit? In love or dread? In gladness or in terror? In light or in gloom?