And I will walk at liberty: for I seek your precepts.
Liberty and freedom are words not unfrequently used in the Bible in a political, social, and religious sense. How greatly did Israel rejoice in his freedom from the yoke of Egypt. Among the rewards offered to the man who should silence the boastings of Goliath was this, "that his father's house should be made free in Israel." Both the psalmist and St. Paul recognized it as an essential feature in spiritual life, for the one declares that he walked at liberty when he sought the Divine precepts" (Psalm 119:45); and the other, that "where the Spirit of God is, there is liberty." (2 Corinthians 3:17).
I. WHAT, THEN, IS TRUE LIBERTY? Whether we choose to call it by this term, or by the Saxon term "freedom," it must be evident that it has reference to restraint of some kind. The word emancipation indicates the same. It necessarily implies the removal or absence of something which cramps energies we wish to exert, or impedes acts we purpose to perform. But here a question arises. Is there such a thing in the world as absolute and entire freedom? and if there be, is it worth the having? Alexander Selkirk, on his desolate island, had such liberty. A man may have it now, if he will. Let him only go into a lonely wilderness, far away from human society, there provide for his own wants, and do everything for himself, and he will realize the idea of absolute and entire liberty. No one will restrain, control, or interrupt him; he is at liberty to do whatever his power may be sufficient to accomplish. Whether this absolute and unrestrained liberty be worth much seems to be settled by the fact that very few choose it. But is this the only sort of life in which absolute and unrestrained liberty can be realized? We believe it is. We may safely affirm that a man who had adopted such a course of life could not come out of his isolated position to mingle with other persons without giving up some portion of his liberty. He obtains indeed an equivalent for what he gives, perhaps more than an equivalent; but his liberty is abridged, he is no longer absolutely and entirely free.
II. SOME OF THE RESTRAINTS WHICH ARE COMPATIBLE WITH GENUINE FREEDOM, AND REGULATE IT TO GOOD ENDS.
1. The general welfare of society.
2. The rights of other individuals. On passing down the street, you see in an open shop window, or at a door, an article of food or clothing: you greatly desire — perhaps you urgently need it. Why is it that you do not at once exercise your liberty and take it? It is easy to do so; and if it lay in the street you would do it at once. You will reply, that the man inside, in the shop, has a right to it, and you have none. You may buy that right from him, if you please; but until you do, you are no more at liberty to take that article than he is at liberty to put his hand in your pocket and take your purse. His right, then, restrains your liberty, and your right restrains his.
3. A person may say, I admit these restraints and will respect them; but I will do as I please, so long as I do not interfere with the rights and liberties of others. I will enjoy my liberty, and allow them theirs; I will eat, drink, and be merry; I will choose the companionship of those who wish to do as I do; and if I spend my money foolishly, and revel in what you stigmatize as vices, what does it matter, since I allow all others to do as they like? Such seems to have been the liberty which the prodigal son in the parable desired, sought, and exercised. Yet is this liberty of his subject to no restraint? What means, then, that violent headache, that prostration of strength, that empty purse? We find, then, that there is no such thing, except in solitude, as absolute and unrestrained liberty; every man's freedom is checked and limited every day and at every turn, and must, of necessity, be so restrained.
III. APPLY THIS IDEA OF REAL LIBERTY TO THE SPIRITUAL LIFE AND WALK OF THE TRUE CHRISTIAN. The Christian is a free man. St. Paul speaks of the liberty with which Christ has made him free. Is this liberty of his, then, absolute, or restrained? He rejoices in the liberty wherewith Christ has set him free, and yet he feels that he is "not his own, because bought with a price." He knows, he feels, that God's law is a restraint; but he rejoices that it restrains him; for "he serves God with his spirit in the Gospel of His Son," and loves his servitude as much as his liberty. In fact, he regards them as identical; much as our Prayer-book has expressed it: "Whose service is perfect freedom." St. Paul also unites the two ideas: "He that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman; likewise he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant." Conclusion: —
1. We should always remember that we are not at liberty to do evil.
2. Let us learn to love the restraints of God's law.
Parallel VersesKJV: And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.