What Is Liberty?
The Essence of True Liberty
It is true that in the name of liberty many and grievous crimes have been committed. Yet many and grievous as they may have been, this in no wise lessens the fact that liberty is a true and genuine principle in human experience.
It is only because men do not know what liberty is, that they can ever possibly commit crime, oppression, or wrong of any kind, in the name of liberty. Men mistake power for liberty, and then use their power despotically and call it the exercise, and the bestowal of liberty.
No man knows true liberty who has it not in himself. And whoever has it in himself, recognizes it as belonging to every other man with himself; and he will willingly make himself the servant of all, that if by any means they may attain to the liberty which he knows and enjoys. Therefore no one who knows true liberty, will ever willfully do any injustice or wrong to anybody.
In the nature of things there is no true liberty but Christian liberty. It is only those whom the Son of God makes free, that are free indeed. This, because all men are in bondage to sin; and only Christ can break that bondage.
“I am carnal, sold under sin. …I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God, after the inward man; but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ.” Rom. 7:11-25.
Christ came into the world to “proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of prison to them that are bound.” Luke 4:18-21. He sent his disciples into the world to proclaim this liberty to every creature. The Roman Empire then covered the civilized world; and Roman freedom – the freedom of Roman citizenship – was exalted as the sum of all good. This, however, being the lot of a very few, the next best thing for mankind was held to be such measure of liberty as Rome considered them capable of enjoying, and therefore such as she was willing to bestow. Yet every Roman citizen was a subject, and every Roman subject was a slave; which is but to say that Roman liberty was only despotism – Roman freedom was only the greater bondage.
Into that world of the despotism and bondage of worldly power, in addition to the despotism of sin and the bondage of iniquity, the Lord Jesus sent his little band of disciples to preach the gospel to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, to set at liberty them that were bruised, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. First becoming acquainted with the liberty of Christ themselves, they went forth carrying hope to the despairing, joy to the sorrowing, comfort to the afflicted, relief to the distressed, peace to the perplexed, and to all a message of merciful forgiveness of sins, of the gift of the righteousness of God, and of a purity and power which would cleanse the soul from all unrighteousness of heart and life, and plant instead the perfect purity of the Son of God and the courage of an everlasting joy.
And Rome that boasted of her freedom, Rome that prided herself on being the conservator of liberty for the world, was so utterly blind to what liberty is, that all her power, exerted in dreadful persecutions, she antagonized this true liberty as the most dangerous thing both to individual and to the state. But, as has been well said,
“How is it possible to arrest the spread of a faith which can make the broken heart leap for joy.”
This is the liberty that is, and that is to be, proclaimed, watched over, and guarded by The Sentinel of Liberty. And there is need of it now, just as there was in the beginning. Here is another mighty nation that lays serious claims to being the conservator of liberty for the world, but which is fast losing sight of what liberty is; and which, continuing as it has even already begun, will yet become so blind to what liberty is, that she will actually oppose by all the power at her command the true liberty – [genuine, Bible-based] Christian liberty – as the most dangerous thing to the individual and to the state.
For this cause in particular, as well as for other causes in general, it is essential that now, as at the beginning, the everlasting gospel shall be preached with a loud voice to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, calling men everywhere to the worship of Him alone who made the heaven and earth and the sea and the fountains of waters. This is the work of The Sentinel of Liberty.
Therefore let The Sentinel of Liberty be circulated everywhere. It advocates the only true liberty, Christian liberty – liberty that can never be used as an occasion of the flesh, but which by love will gladly serve others. For truest liberty is ever found, not in ruling, but in serving.
By Alonzo T. Jones (1850-1923), co-editor of The American Sentinel of Liberty*
*A. T. Jones (1850-1923), was a prominent speaker for religious freedom. In 1887, he and E. J. Waggoner became co-editors of The American Sentinel, the official organ of the religious liberty department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Today it is known as Liberty magazine. Jones was also a history professor at Battle Creek College, in Michigan. He authored several excellent books and tracts, including: Civil Government and Religion, The Empires of the Bible, The Great Empires of Prophecy, The Two Republics. Between 1888 and 1900 there were over 28 attempts to pass a national Sunday law. “Sunday Blue Laws,” (which are currently on many state law books today,) were used by enemies of religious freedom to convince civil authorities to arrest many sincere Christians in our so-called “free” American states. Interestingly, many other countries followed suit enacting similar church-state legislation.
The 192 page report, The National Sunday Law, was Jones’ argument before the United States Senate Committee on Education and Labor at Washington, D.C., December 13, 1888. In 1889, with J. O. Corliss, Jones spoke against a national Sunday law bill (Blair Bill) in the U.S. Fiftieth Congress. This bill was heavily supported by the National Reform Association, The Lord’s Day Alliance (still alive and well today), and other prominent religious organizations. In 1892, he was again called to speak before the U.S. Congress regarding the Sunday closure of the Chicago World’s Fair, known as “The Columbia Exposition”. These bills, reminiscent of The Dark Ages, would have once again wed church and state together in an unholy union, and bring ruin to true Americanism and genuine freedom. For now these bills have died out, but a growing, grassroots movement favoring a “Sunday civil rest day” has since been brewing.