From Exodus 20:
And God spoke these words, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.”
The account of Elijah in 1 Kings 18 is an historical record of this very truth. The time for choosing had come and God sent Elijah to testify to the TRUTH. Either the people would choose the Living God and worship Him and be liberated from the tyranny of falsehood or, they would bow to the baals and submit themselves to the bondage of idolatry. God revealed Himself through the display on the altar as His Holy Fire consumed the offering, the water, even the altar itself. No longer could the people waffle between the LORD God and the baals. In Matthew 6:24 Jesus said,
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will love the one and hate the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
We are reminded again in Mark 3 that:
“…if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand…”
With this in mind, this series of messages on Freedom is timely, and yet it is not a new message. From Genesis to Revelation we read many accounts of this universal struggle between freedom and slavery – between the spirit of TRUTH and the spirit of falsehood. There has never existed a generation which has not been touched by this conflict. There have been those in history who have stood for the TRUTH and millions have been liberated as a result. There have also been those who, in fear, tried to compromise or appease the advance of despotism only to find that they have been deceived, after the chains of slavery have bound them. These are they who are lulled by the song of that siren who promises peace, but there is no peace (Ezekiel 13). The preservation of FREEDOM is a call to action. It was said by a man whom I admire:
“If some men will kill, or beat, or constrain others, or despoil them of property, by force, fraud, or noncompliance with contracts, it is a common object with peaceful and just men to prevent it”- A. Lincoln (Sandburg 115).
The existence of slavery, on any level and in any arena of life can be traced back to the spirit of falsehood. Those who reject the Living God and bow to idols or set themselves on high as though they were something or someone to be worshiped have taken the abysmal step into slavery and darkness. The spirit of falsehood is the driving force behind oppression and tyranny. These forces express themselves most vividly among governments and hierarchies. The power of deception leads fallen men to believe they have power over other men, which is despotism. The historical record offered in the Bible brings this reality to our attention. It behooves us then, to consider the lessons of history and recognize that there is nothing new under the sun. That which played out in Bible times, is not only possible, but inevitable in our time. We should recognize it when it does.
In recent weeks and months our congregation has learned about the Founding Fathers of our country. We’ve learned what they truly believed, what they stood for, what the stakes were. We’ve learned that separation from bondage, be it political, spiritual, economical, does not happen without conflict. We are learning that in our day, the struggle continues…
But for me, there is significance in the history that connects our day with that of our founders. One Hundred Fifty years ago our country entered the bloodiest phase of its history. Through four long years of war the moral question of slavery within a people established upon the Declaration of Independence would be settled. Freedom and slavery could not coexist as some politicians and people had hoped. Efforts, like the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and Stephen Douglas’ ‘Popular Sovereignty,’ were made which deceived the people of the time as paths to peace. Ultimately, the conflict could not be avoided. It was time to choose…
The man who was to assume the Presidency of the United States was charged with leading the nation to resolution of the matter. It was a question to which Abraham Lincoln had given much thought in his 52 years and pondered the logic on paper trying to “square the circle:”
“If A. can prove, however conclusively, that he may, of right, enslave B., why may not B. snatch the same argument, and prove equally, that he may enslave A.? – You say A. is white, and B. is black. It is color then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own. You do not mean color exactly? – You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet with an intellect superior to your own. But, say you, it is a question of interest; and, if you can make it your interest, you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you” (Oates 126).
“[Slavery] is a total destruction of self-government…. When [man] governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government – that is despotism” (Guelzo 187).
In the great Lincoln/Douglas debates of 1858, Abraham Lincoln boldly claimed:
“It is the eternal struggle between these two principles…The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same…spirit that says, ‘You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.’ No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle” (Sandburg 141-142).
He would conclude, “As I would not be a slave, so would I not be a master. This is my idea of democracy” (Sandburg 149).
But beyond his ideas of democracy, Lincoln was determined to articulate the truth of the matter resounding with the words Jesus had spoken:
“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other…” (Sandburg 138).
Is it not then, unreasonable that the first commandment in Exodus 20 is reminding the people of their history and advising that they/we should have no other gods before the One, True, Living God? How long can mankind deceive himself into thinking he can avoid the conflict of making a choice between two masters? What do idols have in common with the Living God? Can there be a relationship between the two? What fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14). Can Freedom and slavery coexist?
In February 1860, speaking at the Young Men’s Republican Union of New York City, Lincoln furthered the point:
“To search for middle ground between the right and the wrong would be vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man”
My point here is not to deify Abraham Lincoln, but to share his insight and his wisdom on the subject of slavery as a principle. The principle of slavery is not reserved for politics only, but also in real life. What men believe will dictate their politics. And their politics will dictate policy and action. The Bible tells us that Freedom is a principle, not just a principle, but a reality that is found only in Christ:
“It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us FREE. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
“You, my brothers, were called to be FREE” (Galatians 5:13).
“You have been set FREE…” (Romans 6:18).
“Now the LORD is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is FREEDOM” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
“He upholds the cause of the oppressed…The LORD sets prisoners Free” (Psalm 146:7).
“…proclaim LIBERTY throughout the land to all its inhabitants” (Leviticus 25:10).
I firmly believe that our Freedoms, our Rights, our Liberty, were born in the heart of God:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim FREEDOM for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1 & Luke 4:18.
If Christ came to “testify to the Truth” (John 18:37) as he said was His purpose, then how can we not be passionate about Freedom when His Word tells us “…you will know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH will set you FREE” (Romans 6:18). I also believe that God’s plan for Freedom is not only spiritual, but political, practical and real.
Jeremiah 34 tells of God’s emancipation of a people and the consequences to a political power who reneged on answering God’s proclamation of Freedom to the nation. Fortunately, for America, Abraham Lincoln was not another King Zedekiah. In the State of the Union address in December 1862 he declared, “In giving Freedom to the slave, we assure Freedom to the Free” (Donald 398).
The mission of Christ to proclaim LIBERTY in Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 is exactly the message delivered by President Lincoln to the nation in his 2nd inaugural:
…All knew that [slavery] was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend [slavery] was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses! For it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope – fervently do we pray – that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgements of the LORD are TRUE and righteous altogether.”
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
The struggle between slavery and Freedom is not new. The battle still rages today between the sinful nature and the Spirit; between slavery and Liberty. This understanding helps us to know who the enemy is. 1 John 4:1-3 instructs:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
We must be a people of discernment. We must be a people who understand the basics of history – that every ploy of evil that exists has been perpetrated on nations and peoples in every generation. We must recognize the spirit of tyranny and despotism and reject it. We must be sensitive to the Spirit who testifies to the Truth and sets us FREE! It is crucial that the people of God engage the culture, discuss current events and politics. For too long this idea has been taboo – politics and religion/faith/Christianity don’t mix. It is when the people who know the TRUTH shrink back from the arena of reality that the cruelest acts of tyranny and oppression have taken root. Believer, take courage! “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved” (Hebrews 10:39).
Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1939. 115, 138, 141-42, 149, 165. Print.
Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1995. 398. Print.
Guelzo, Allen C. Abraham Lincoln, Redeemer President. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pulishing Company, 1999. 187. Print.
Oates, Stephen B. With Malice toward None, A Life of Abraham Lincoln. New York, NY: HarperPerennial, 1994. 126. Print.