PART 3A. Branches of Christian Freedom: Boundaries? Yes! Christian Freedom? Absolutely!

Taken and adapted from, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom
Written by Samuel Bolton

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Freedom in general has two branches…

First, there is inchoate freedom, that is, the freedom we enjoy during the days of our pilgrimage, freedom in grace.

Second, consummate freedom, that is, the freedom of our Father’s house, freedom in glory. We shall speak chiefly of the first – inchoate freedom.

Freedom in its Negative Aspects

I.  Freedom from Satan

To begin with, it is clear that believers are free from Satan. Christ has wrested us and delivered us from Satan’s hands. We were prisoners to Satan, in his chains, and Christ has brought us deliverance. This is set down by way of a parable in the Gospel of Luke: ‘When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils’ (ch. 11. 21-22). But it is plainly stated in Heb. 2. 14, 15: Christ came into the world ‘that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil’. Christ freed us from the wrath of God, from the devil’s power, by purchase. By a strong hand He delivers us from Satan, just as He delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt by a strong hand.

II. Freedom from Sin

Secondly, we are freed from sin, by which I mean the guilt, the defilement and the dominion of sin. That none of our sins shall condemn us or bring wrath upon us, Christ interposes Himself between us and wrath, so that no one shall be able to condemn us: There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 8. 1). Christ Himself shall as soon be called to account for your sin as you yourself. If you have an interest in Him, sin shall never condemn you, for Christ has made satisfaction for it. Those whose standing is in Christ have made satisfaction in Christ to all the requirements of God and His law’ (Piscator).

It would not be righteous of God to require payment from Christ, nay, to receive the full satisfaction of Christ, and to require anything from you. This is what God has done: He laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isa. 53. 6). This is what Christ has done: He paid God till God said He had enough. He was fully satisfied, fully contented: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Matt. 3. 17 and 12. 18), that is, ‘in whom I am fully satisfied and appeased’. Hence the apostle writes: God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself… for he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor. 5. 19-21). God was paying Himself out of the blood, scourgings, and sufferings of Christ; and in that, Christ made a full payment. Hence Christ says: I send my Spirit, and he will convince the world, as of sin so of righteousness, because I go to the Father and ye see me no more’ (John 16. 7-10). That is, you shall see Me no more after this fashion. You shall never see Me again as a sufferer, as a satisfier of God’s justice for sin. I have completed this work. Indeed we should have seen Christ again if He had not satisfied justice. If the guilt of but one of those sins He bore had remained on Him unsatisfied for, it would have held Him under chains of death and the power of the grave forever. He could never have risen, much less ascended and gone to the Father, if He had not met the claims of justice to the full. For this reason the apostle throws down a challenge. He sets the death of Christ against whatever sin, Satan, justice, and the law can say: ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us’ (Rom. 8. 33-34). He does not say, Who shall accuse? but, Who shall condemn? Indeed, we may have accusers enough – sin, Satan, conscience, and the rest – but none can condemn. The issues of life and death are not in their hand. And as none of our sins shall condemn us, so none of our sins shall ever bring us into a state of condemnation again, ever put us under the curse or under wrath again.

Likewise, none of our sins can bring upon us the consequences of Divine wrath.

We are freed from all miseries, calamities, afflictions, and punishments which are the fruits of sin, so far as they have wrath in them. If you take away the substance, the shadow must needs depart also. Sin is the substance, punishment the shadow that attends it and follows it. Take away sin and then the punishments are also taken away. All God’s dispensations are in mercy.

It is agreed by all that eternal punishments can never come upon any of those whom Christ has freed from sin, those whom He has justified. From other punishments that have something of eternal punishment in them, believers are also freed. Nothing in the nature of Divine wrath can touch them.

I grant that God does afflict those whose sin He pardons, but there is a great deal of difference in respect of the hand from which the afflictions proceed, the persons who bear the afflictions, the reasons for afflicting, and the ends that God aims at in sending the afflictions, as I shall show later.

It is clear that, so far as afflictions are part of the curse for sin, God does not and cannot afflict His people for sin. Nor does God afflict His people for sin as if such afflictions were payments or satisfactions for sin, and as if God’s justice was not fully satisfied for sin by Christ; as if Christ had left something for us to bear by way of satisfaction. The Papists say this (and therefore they perform penances and punish themselves) but so do not we.

Again, so far as afflictions are the sole fruits of sin, God does not bring them upon His people, for in this respect they are part of the curse. Afflictions upon wicked men are penal, a part of the curse; there is nothing medicinal in them; they are the effects of vindictive justice and not of Fatherly mercy. But afflictions which come upon the godly are medicinal in purpose, and are intended to cure them of sin.

Whether, then, we have regard to punishment eternal, spiritual, or temporal, Christ has freed the godly from all: from eternal punishment as the wrath which is due to sin, from spiritual punishment as it is related to eternal, and from temporal as far as it is related to both the others, and as far as it has anything of God’s wrath in it.

God has thoughts of love in all He does to His people.

The ground of His dealings with us is love (though the occasion may be sin), the manner of His dealings is love, and the purpose of His dealings is love. He has regard, in all, to our good here, to make us partakers of His holiness, and to our glory hereafter, to make us partakers of His glory.

But it is not so in regard to God’s punishment of wicked men. Neither is the ground love, nor the manner love, nor the purpose love. All His dealings with them in this respect are parts of the curse and have regard to the demerit of their sin. Christ has also freed the believer from the dominion of sin: ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you’ (Rom. 6. 14). Why? For ye are not under the law, but under grace’. Indeed, while we were under the law, sin had full dominion. It had not only possession of us, but dominion over us. And that dominion was a voluntary, a willing, a free subjection and resignation of ourselves to the motions and services of sin. Then we went down stream, wind, and tide. There was both the power of lust, and lustful inclinations, to carry us: this was the tide, the other was the wind. But now, being under grace, a covenant of grace, and being interested in Christ and set free by Him, we are freed from the dominion and power of sin.

We still have the presence of sin, nay, the stirrings and workings of corruptions.

These make us to have many a sad heart and wet eye. Yet Christ has thus far freed us from sin; it shall not have dominion. There may be the turbulence, but not the prevalence of sin. There may be the stirrings of corruption. It was said of Carthage that Rome was more troubled with it when half destroyed than when whole. So a godly man may be more troubled with sin when it is conquered than when it reigned. Sin will still work, but it is checked in its workings. They are rather workings for life than from life. They are not such uncontrolled workings as formerly. Sin is under command. Indeed, it may get advantage, and may have a tyranny in the soul, but it will never more be sovereign. I say, it may get into the throne of the heart and play the tyrant in this or that particular act of sin, but it shall never more be as a king there. Its reign is over; you will never yield a voluntary obedience to sin. Sin is conquered, though it still has a being within you.

Augustine describes man under four different conditions.

  1. Before the law he neither fights nor strives against sin.
  2. Under the law he fights but is overcome.
  3. Under grace he fights and conquers.
  4. But in heaven it is all conquest, and there is no combat more to all eternity.

It is our happiness here in grace that there is a conquest, though a daily combat: we fight, but we get the victory; sin shall nevermore have dominion over us. Those sins that were kings are now captives in us; sins that were in the throne are now in chains. What a mercy is this! Others are under the authoritative commands of every passion, of every lust; every sin has command over them; no temptation comes but it conquers. A sinful heart stands ready to entertain every sin that comes with power; it is taken captive at pleasure and with pleasure.

But the believer is free from the dominion of sin.

  1. In temptation sin is broken.
  2. There is no allowing of sin in the understanding.
  3. The soul is not willing to allow of sin as sin under any shape or form.
  4. There is no closing with it in the will, no embracing of it in the affections.
  5. Its workings are broken and wounded.

O believers, you will never be willing captives to sin again; you may be captives, never subjects; sin may tyrannize, never reign. The reign of sin describes a soul under the power of sin and in a state of sin. But sin rather dies than lives in you. A sickly man who is pining away is said rather to be dying than living; to live implies a getting of strength, and sin does not do this. It is in a consumptive state, dying daily.

Sin is dead judicially;

Christ has sentenced it. Christ has condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8. 3). Sin met its death-blow in the death of Christ. And it is dying actually. As was the case with the house of Saul, it is decreasing every day. But notice that God has chosen to put sin to a lingering death, to a death upon the cross, and this for the greater punishment of sin, that it might die gradually. But also, it is for the further humiliation of saints that they might be put upon the exercise of prayer and cast upon the hold of their faith. It is intended to exercise their faith for the daily breaking of the power of sin and corruption in them.

Thus much then upon our deliverance from sin by Christ.

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Meet the Author and part of your Christian heritage: Samuel Bolton (1606 – 15 October 1654) was an English clergyman and scholar, a member of the Westminster Assembly and Master of Christ’s College, Cambridge. 

Samuel Bolton was the son of William Bolton, of Lancashire. He was born in London in 1606, and educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge. In 1643 he was chosen one of the Westminster assembly of divines. He was successively minister of St. Martin’s, Ludgate Street, of St. Saviour’s, Southwark, and of St. Andrew’s, Holborn.

He was appointed, on the death of Thomas Bainbrigg in 1646, master of Christ’s College, Cambridge, and served as Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University in 1651. He has been identified with the Samuel Bolton who, in 1649, attended Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland on the scaffold. He died after a long illness on 15 October 1654. Edmund Calamy preached his funeral sermon.