The Precepts and Liberty
"So shall I keep your law continually forever and ever. And I will walk at liberty—for I seek your precepts" Psalm 119:44-45
But do not men at large—at least in the 'civilized' world, "walk at liberty"? The great majority think so—but they are much mistaken. The fact is that sin has thoroughly perverted the judgment of the natural man, so that he is lacking in any true sense of values; and hence, it is that the Word of truth says, "Woe to those who call evil good—and good evil, who put darkness for light—and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet—and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20). So completely has sin blinded the unregenerate, that they suppose that bondage is freedom; and freedom is bondage. The sinner imagines that he can only enjoy liberty while he is master of himself, and that to surrender unto the claims of Christ and take His yoke upon him would be bringing him into captivity. That is why he sees in the Lord Jesus "no beauty that we should desire him" (Isaiah 53:2)!
A false notion of liberty possesses all of our hearts. Until the Holy Spirit takes us in hand, we want to be at our own disposal and do whatever we please, without anyone to call us to account. Yet the impracticability of such a notion appears in the outworking of it in the natural world. If there were not government in the human sphere, every man doing that which was right in his own eyes—there would be a state of utter lawlessness and anarchy. Still more evident, to those with anointed eyes, is the untenability and wickedness of such a notion when applied to the spiritual realm. Since God is our Creator, since we are wholly dependent upon Him—even for every breath that we draw—it befits us to be in subjection to Him, for to Him we are accountable for all of our actions. Manifestly, it is our duty both to will and to do that which is pleasing to our Maker, our Benefactor, our Judge.
"I will walk at liberty" (Psalm 119:45). Note well, that statement is preceded by "I keep your law continually," and is followed by "for I seek your precepts." Rightly did Thomas Scott (1747-1821) point out, "The service of God is perfect freedom, and every deviation is proportional slavery to sin and Satan." Only in the path of God's precepts does the soul find true liberty—that is why God's Law (the expression of His will) is called "the perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25; 2:12)! By the Fall, we have come under the law of sin and death; and consequently, we are fettered by our corruptions and bound over to eternal misery. But God's Word makes known to us the way of deliverance from that bondage. Sin destroys man's liberty, for it prevents him prosecuting his chief end—which is to glorify God—as it equally hinders him from attaining his highest good, which is to be holy and happy. Only by heeding the Law of the Lord—can emancipation be obtained.
License is not liberty, for true liberty is not the opportunity to do what we want—but it is the power to do what we ought. Freedom of heart lies in a course of obedience to God, for there is no satisfaction to the heart—until it finds its satisfaction in the "good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2). The difference between the license of the natural man—and the liberty of the spiritual man—is that of being the bond-slave of sin and "the Lord's freeman" (1 Corinthians 7:22); and that is determined by the chains of darkness being displaced by the cords of duty; the fetters of sin by the yoke of Christ.
And Christ's yoke is "easy" (Matthew 11:30), for it is lined with love. God's commandments "are not grievous" (1 John 5:3), for they are dictated by infinite wisdom and are designed for our highest good. Loving, pleasing, enjoying, praising God—is the only real freedom and blessedness. God's precepts must be sought, desired and obeyed—if we are to "walk at liberty." The more whole-heartedly and constantly we "seek" God's precepts and order our lives by them—the more will we "walk at liberty."
1. Thereby we shall be delivered from the darkness of a sin-blinded understanding. "The entrance of your words gives light; it gives understanding unto the simple" (Psalm 119:130).
"Simple" there does not mean dull-witted, weak-minded, or illiterate—but one who is plain-hearted, sincere, and with an eye single to God's glory (compare 2 Corinthians 1:12). It is the words of God being received into an honest and good heart—which dispels the mists of error, disperses the clouds of prejudice, exposes the lies of Satan, and illuminates the soul. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all those who do his commandments" (Psalm 111:10). The more we walk the path of obedience—the sounder becomes our judgment, and the keener our discernment in perceiving what would promote or what would make against our best interests.
2. Thereby we are delivered from the bondage of our lusts. No man can serve two masters. In our unregenerate days, we were entirely dominated by our corruptions, for God had no place in our hearts and lives. But the more He possesses our hearts, and the more we are governed by His precepts—the less will sin tyrannize us. "This I say then, Walk in the Spirit—and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16). To "walk in the Spirit" is to be governed by that Word of Truth which he dictated for us. Therefore, our daily prayer needs to be, "Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin dominion over me" (Psalm 119:133). If some iniquity has "dominion" over me—it is because my steps are not ordered by the Word in all things.
3. Thereby we are delivered from a sin-enslaved will. We do not propose to enter here into a philosophical disquisition on the nature and exercises of the will. The natural man's will is quite free to choose—but what determines his choice? His inclinations: he always chooses that which, everything considered, is most agreeable to him. Being fallen, he prefers to serve self rather than God; the world more than Christ; the pleasures of sin above holiness; and therefore, he always chooses the former. God makes His people willing in the day of His power to choose Christ by bringing them to feel their need of Him and giving them a desire for Him. The will of the sinner is "free from righteousness"; of the saint, "free from sin" (Romans 6:18, 20)! The more we love God's law and the pleasanter obedience becomes to us—the more the will is emancipated from the power of our corruptions.
4. Thereby are we delivered from the accusations of a guilty conscience. Just so long as we lived in rebellion against God, that inward monitor condemned us; and though at times we succeeded in drowning its voice, there were moments and seasons when our rest was disturbed. But "great peace have those who love your law" (Psalm 119:165). The more we love God's law and the more we seek His precepts—the more freedom have we from convictions of guilt.
5. Thereby are we delivered from the snares of the Fowler. The unregenerate "are taken captive by him at his will" (2 Timothy 2:26), so that it is his behests they perform (John 8:44). But "If the Son makes you free—you shall be free indeed!" (John 8:36).
6. Thereby we are freed from the disapprobation of God. If we are truly seeking His precepts, we shall enjoy the quickenings and comforts of the Spirit; it is our self-will which "grieves" Him and restrains His gracious operations within us. So too we shall escape God's chastenings, for it is when we forsake His Law and disobey His commandments, that He visits our transgressions with the rod and His providences are against us (Psalm 89:30-32).
7. Thereby are we delivered from the bondage of human opinions and customs. There are many professing Christians whose freedom is circumscribed by "the commandments and doctrines of men" with their "Touch not; taste not; handle not" (Colossians 2:20-22). But the one who is regulated only by God's precepts will walk at liberty from such impositions.