1 Peter 2:13-16
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;…
Freedom is one of those words which need no recommendation: it belongs to the same category as light, order, progress, law. It is one of the ideas which, in some sense or other, mankind accepts as an axiom; as a landmark or principle of healthful life which is beyond discussion. What do we mean by freedom? We mean the power of a living being to act without hindrance to the true law of its life.
I. Christ has given men POLITICAL OR SOCIAL FREEDOM. He has not indeed drawn out a scheme of government, and stamped it with His Divine authority as guaranteeing freedom. Yet with our Lord there came the germs of political liberty. When individual men had learnt to feel the greatness and the interest of life; the real horizon which stretches out before the soul's eye beyond the grave; the depths of being within the soul; its unexhausted capacities for happiness and for suffering; the reality and nearness of God, of His Divine Son, of our fellow citizens the blessed angels; the awful, inexpressible distinction of being redeemed from death by the blood of the Most Holy, and sanctified by the Eternal Spirit; it was impossible not to feel also that each man had, in the highest sense, rights to assert and a bearing to maintain. Thus a Christian was a free man, simply because he was a Christian. It has often been alleged that, as a matter of fact, our Lord left the great despotisms of the world for a while untouched. Jesus Christ taught, He was crucified, He rose, He ascended. But the Caesar Tiberius still sat upon the throne of the Roman world. There never was a more odious system of personal government than that of the Roman Emperors; the surviving forms of the extinct republic did but make the actual tyranny which had succeeded it more hard to bear. Yet it was of such an Emperor as Nero that St. Paul wrote (Romans 13:1); and St. Peter (1 Peter 2:13, 14). And in the same way apostles advise Christian slaves to give obedience to their masters as unto the Lord; to obey, not with eye service, as if they had only to do as much as might be insisted on by a jealous owner, but with singleness of heart, as men who throw every energy into their work. It may be asked, How are such precepts compatible with the assertion that Christ gave us political freedom? The answer is that He gave us a moral force which did two things. First, it made every Christian independent of outward political circumstances; and, secondly, it made the creation of new civil institutions only a question of time.
II. Christ gave men also INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM. He enfranchised them by the gift of truth. He gave truth in its fulness; truth not merely relative and provisional, but absolute and final. Until He came the human intellect was enslaved. It was enslaved either to degrading superstition, or to false and one-sided philosophies. When Christ, in all the glory of His Godhead and His Manhood, had enthroned Himself in the soul, He taught men to think worthily of the greatness of God and of the greatness of man, notwithstanding man's weakness and corruption. He freed men from all the cramping influences of local philosophies, of local teachers, of petty schemes and theories for classes and races. He led men out into the great highways of thought, where, if they would, they might know the universal Father, manifested in His Blessed Son, as the Author of all existence, as its object, and as its end. Certainly our Lord has given us a body of Truth, which we can, if we like, reject, but which it is our happiness to believe. What He did for men in this way is embodied in His own teaching, in the writings of His apostles, and in the creeds of the universal Church. These are to intellectual liberty what law is to social liberty. They protect, they do not cramp it. They furnish a fixed point, from which thought may take wing.
III. Christ has made men MORALLY FREE. He has broken the chains which fettered the human will, and has restored to it its buoyancy and its power. What had been lost was more than regained in Christ. Not merely was the penalty of old transgressions paid, so that man was redeemed from a real captivity: but the will was reinvigorated by a Heaven-sent force or grace, once more placing it in true harmony with the law of man's life (Romans 6:18). Here it is objected that moral freedom is not worth having if it be only a service after all. "You talk of freedom," men say, "but you mean rule. You mean restrictions upon action; restrictions upon inclination; restrictions upon speech. You mean obligations: obligations to work; obligations to self-discipline; obligations to sacrifice self to others; obligations to all the details of Christian duty." You are right: certainly we do. A Christian lives under a system of restrictions and obligations; and yet he is free. Those obligations and restrictions only prescribe for him what his own new heaven-sent nature would wish to be and to do. Whatever a Christian may be outwardly, he is inwardly a free man. In obeying Christ's law he acts as he desires to act: he acts according to this, the highest law of his life, because he rejoices to do so. He obeys law; the Law of God. But then he has no inclination to disobey it. He is, as St. Peter says, a servant of God; but then, as he would not for all the world be anything else, his service is perfect freedom.
Parallel VersesKJV: Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;