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LIBERTY IN THE LORD
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Based on Rom. 8:1-2
The Civil War was a complex and complicated war. Lambdin P. Milligan was one of the men who got caught up in the complexities of it, and changed the course of legal history in the United States. Milligan was a lawyer active in local politics in Indiana. The war had been on three years and was already the worst in the history of our land. Indiana was on the side of the North, but many were in sympathy with the South. Secret societies were formed which were called Copperheads, and they supported the Confederate cause.
When the Northern general Alvin Hovey heard that Milligan was a part of one of these Copperhead groups, he had him arrested and tried for treason. Milligan charged that the army had no right to try him under military law because he was a civilian. General Hovey ignored his argument and went ahead and tried him. He found him guilty and sentenced him to hang. Milligan’s lawyer went to President Lincoln directly to plead his case. All Lincoln could offer was that if the war ended before he was to hang he would give him a prison term instead.
The war did end soon, but Lincoln was assassinated, and there was no record of this private conversation. Nine days before he was to die Milligan’s lawyer took his case to the Supreme Court. The court ruled that the military has no right to try a civilian, and only when the civil courts are closed and unable to operate can a military court have any authority over a civilian. Milligan was released and was a free man. It was not because he was innocent, but because he was transferred to a different system of law. The civil law set him free from the condemnation of the military law. The one system of law took away his freedom and sentenced him to die. The other set him free to live his life. What system of law a man is under is literally a matter of life or death.
This is precisely what Paul is saying in these opening verses of Rom. 8. Life and death depend upon what system of law you are under, and the good news that fills his heart with joy is that in Christ we are transferred from the law that condemns us to die to the law that sets us free to live in liberty without condemnation. With a theme like this it is no wonder that Rom. 8 is considered to be one of the greatest chapters of the Bible. It begins with no condemnation and ends with no separation. It is a gold mine of assurance, and a diamond field of gems that makes the Christian who comprehends them rich beyond compare. If the Bible was a ring and Romans its precious jewel the 8th chapter would be the sparkling point, for it dazzles with beauty from beginning to end. We want to focus our attention on just one of the many sparkling points of this gem.
THE EXCLAMATION OF LIBERTY IN CHRIST. v. 1.
G. Campbell Morgan points out that this opening sentence is emphatic and explosive in the Greek. He writes, “It is the glad exultant cry of a soul apprehending the fullest meaning of what the Gospel has wrought for men.” Paul souls like a man who has just emerged from the court room where he was on trial for his life. Confronting the reporters he shouts, “I’m free! I’ve be acquitted! The verdict was-not guilty. There is therefore now no condemnation. I can walk out of here in complete liberty as a free man.”
Life is never abundant without liberty. Jesus called Lazarus back into life, but He also commanded that they unbind him from his grave clothes that he might have liberty in life, for life without liberty would have been a burden and not a blessing. Life was and is a burden for all
who live under law, for one is always under the law of condemnation. He who keeps the whole law yet offends in one point is guilty of all. There is no way for sinful men to keep the whole law, and so he is under perpetual condemnation.
Because we, as Christians, have never been where Paul was, under the law, we tend to lose the full appreciation of the liberty that came with the Gospel. Most of us have never felt the bondage and the burden of condemnation. One of the reasons there is more exclamation of joy for those converted later in life is because they have felt this bondage and burden. They have felt the heaviness, and so they more deeply feel the release and the liberty that comes with the Gospel of forgiveness. The majority of Christians do not feel as deeply as Paul about the liberty they have in Christ, for the same reason that the majority of Americans do not feel as deeply as political liberty as did Patrick Henry, who exclaimed, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
Only those who have been oppressed and denied their liberties, and only those who have felt the burden of condemnation can burst forth into praise and commitment like Paul and Patrick. Does this mean that those of us who have benefitted by always having the liberty of our Lord and our land cannot join in the exclamation of those who have gone from bondage to liberty? Not at all! We may not be able to fully enter into the intense degree of emotion felt by those who have been through the radical transformation, but by empathy we can approach it.
Empathy is the ability to enter into the experience of another. You do it when you weep at sad scenes on the screen. You feel the hurt of those who suffer. You know in your heart what it must feel like. You do it when your face lights up and you smile when someone you see on the scene is exceedingly happy. By empathy you enter into their emotions and feel with them. You don’t have to be a slave and then set free to feel the joy of liberty. You don’t have to be a prisoner of war who is tortured and starved, and then delivered by your allies, to have the joy of liberty. You don’t have to live in fear that some Pharisee will find you picking up a stick on the Sabbath and have you stoned to feel the joy of grace that sets us free from the many laws that made life a burden under the Mosaic Law.
In other words, you don’t have to experience the negative to enjoy the positive. If that was the case, every generation would have to give up its progress and go back to experience all the negatives that were fought and overcome. We don’t have to go back and feel the load of the law to enter into the delight of deliverance from the law. All we have to do is understand history. That is what history is for. It is help us to enter into experiences of others so we can feel what they felt.
I can imagine how maddening it would be to not have the freedom to worship as you desire. To have someone else tell you where you could meet, and what you could or could not preach would be intolerable. I’ve never experienced that, but I can by empathy feel that burden and so be thankful for the religious liberty that I have in our land of freedom. I have never lived under the burden of trying to keep many laws to please religious leaders. I have never had to live in fear that my sin would be greater than my good deeds, and so have to stand before God condemned. But I can imagine that kind of burden and fear, and so I can enter into the joy of the exclamation of no condemnation.
No condemnation, O my soul,
Tis God that speaks the word!
Completely justified art thou,
In Christ, thy risen Lord.
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