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The Perfect Law of Liberty

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The Epistle of James (A.D. 46-130) is a Letter of great wisdom in the New Testament and is considered by theologians as the 'First Epistle To the Christians.' What does James mean in the phrase ' the perfect law of liberty?'


James Chapter 1 verse 22


22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.


23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:


24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.


25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.


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Reverend John Joachim Zubly (August 27, 1724 – July 23, 1781), born Hans Joachim Züblin, was a delegate for Georgia to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia on September 15, 1775, he resisted independence from Great Britain and became a Loyalist. Reverend Zubly expressed his position by saying, "I came here with two views; one, to secure the rights of America; second, a reconciliation with Great Britain."


Reverend Zuby is most notably known for his sermon 'The Law of Liberty,' on given before the opening of the Provincial Congress of Georgia, in 1775


Liberty and law are perfectly consistent; liberty does not consist in living without all restraint; for were all men to live without restraint, as they please, there would be no liberty at all; the strongest would be master, the weakest go to the wall; right, justice, and property must give way to power, and, instead of its being a blessing, a more unhappy situation could not easily be devised unto mankind, than that every man should have it in his power to do what is right in his own eyes; well regulated liberty of individuals is the natural offspring of laws, which prudentially regulate the rights of whole communities; and as laws which take away the natural rights of men are unjust and oppressive, so all liberty which is not regulated by law is a delusive phantom, and unworthy of the glorious name.


The gospel is called a law of liberty, because it bears a most friendly aspect to the liberty of man; it is a known rule, Evangelium non tollit politias, the gospel makes no alteration in the civil state; it by no means renders man's natural and social condition worse than it would be without the knowledge of the gospel. When the Jews boasted of their freedom, and that they never were in bondage, our Lord does not reprove them for it, but only observes, that national freedom still admits of improvement: "If the Son shall make you free, then are you free indeed." This leads me to observe, that the gospel is a law of liberty in a much higher sense; by whomsoever a man is overcome, of the same he is brought into bondage; but no external enemy can so completely tyrannize over a conquered enemy, as sin does over all those who yield themselves its servants; vicious habits, when once they have gained the ascendancy in the soul, bring man to that unhappy pass, that he knows better things and does worse; sin, like a torrent, carries him away against knowledge and conviction, while conscience fully convinces him that he travels the road of death, and must expect, if he so continues, to take up his abode in hell, though his decaying body clearly tells him sin breaks his constitution, as well as wastes his substance; though he feels the loss of credit and wealth, still sin has too strong a hold of him to be forsaken; though he faintly resolves to break off; yet, till the grace of God brings salvation, when he would do good, evil is present with him; in short, instead of being under a law of liberty, he is under the law of sin and death; but whenever he feels the happy influence of the grace of the gospel, then this "law of liberty makes him free from the law of sin and death:" it furnishes him with not only motives to resist, but with power also to subdue sin; sin reigns no longer in his mortal body, because he is not under the law, but under grace. By this law of liberty he is made free from sin, and has his fruit unto holiness, and the end of it eternal life.


There is another reason why the gospel is called a law of liberty, which is, to distinguish it from the ceremonial law under the Mosaic dispensation; a yoke, of which an apostle says, neither they nor their forefathers were able to bear; it was superadded on account of their transgressions, and suited to the character of a gross and stubborn nation, to whom it was originally given. They were so prone to idolatry, and so apt to forget their God, their notions were so gross and carnal, that a number of external rites and ceremonies became necessary, to put them in mind of Him and to attach them to some degree of His worship and service. This, however necessary, was a heavy burden; it bid them touch not, taste not, handle not; it required of them expensive sacrifices, and a costly and painful service; it was attended with the most fearful threatenings; if any man broke Moses' law, he died under two or three witnesses; and the very spirit they then received, was a spirit of bondage unto fear: whereas the gospel dispensation breathes a spirit of confidence, and under the law of liberty we call upon God, as Abba, Father. By this law of liberty the professors of the gospel will be judged.


Every man is a rational, and therefore accountable creature. As a creature he must needs depend on his Creator; and as a rational creature he must certainly be accountable for all his actions. Nothing is more evident than that man is not of himself; and if once we admit that he holds his existence, his faculties and favors from God that made him, it becomes a very obvious conclusion that his Maker must have had some view in giving him existence, and more understanding than to the beasts of the field, neither can it be a matter of indifference to him whether man acts agreeably or contrary to His designs. The Creator of the natural world is also its moral ruler; and if He is now the proprietor and ruler of intelligent beings, at some time or other He must also be their judge.


If God had not made His will known unto man, there could have been neither transgression nor judgment. If it should be said that God has not manifested Himself alike unto all men, and that some have much smaller opportunities to know His will and their duty than others, it is enough to observe, that no man will be judged by a rule of which it was impossible he should have any knowledge. Every work and every man will be brought into judgment, and the judgment of God will never be otherwise than according to truth; but those that never had the law of liberty will not be judged by that law; and those that have been favored with the revelation of the gospel, will be more inexcusable than any others if they neglect the day of their visitation. "As many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law." All men are under some law; they feel, they are conscious, that they are so; the thoughts which already excuse or condemn one another, are in anticipation of a final and decisive judgment, when every man's reward will be according to his works.


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The inner liberty of a Christian man is incompatible with the legal relationship, for law is ‘whatever has been commanded from a divine or human standpoint, whether it be a matter of ceremonial or a judicial and moral issue’. To accept Moses as our legislator would be to ‘deny the gospel, banish Christ, and annul the whole New Testament’.


The law is indivisible and those who observe it must do so in its entirety, which even the Jews found impossible. They must be circumcised and fulfill all the ceremonial law because the ceremonial and the judicial were different aspects of the same legal arrangement.


Luther deals with the Mosaic judicial laws in the wider framework of law itself. Thus when he wants to illustrate Paul’s thought of ‘the whole law the rudiments of the world’, he takes ceremonial law from the Old Testament, but for judicial and civil law he refers to the emperor’s laws.


The fact which for Luther reveals decisively that the Mosaic judicial law is now abrogated

is the divine judgement on Jerusalem. The Mosaic administration was confined to the occupation of Palestine, but God had scattered the Jews and the law ‘had been in ruins for 1500 and was ‘lying in ashes with Jerusalem’. The destruction of the Jewish State was sufficient evidence that the politica Mosaica was not meant to survive.


But where the old Law does still bind the Christian, is not because it is Mosaic, but because it perfectly mirrors the natural law. Only the believer is able fully to acknowledge the law of nature. Even if a Moses had never appeared and Abraham lead never been born, the Ten Commandments would have had to rule in all men from the very beginning, as they indeed did and still do; but nothing is said therein of circumcision or of the laws Moses gave the Jews for the land of Canaan’. Luther equates love and right reason with natural law. The Christian is freed but not loosed; freedom simply means freedom to take it more seriously.


The Bible is the Law-book of revelation, identical with the Law-book of nature’.

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