"But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all." (Gal. 4:26).
"Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.... Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." (Gal. 4:30-31, 5:1).
We saw in our previous meditation that the Holy Spirit, through the apostle in this chapter and other Scriptures alongside of it, sets forth two ideas as connected with what God is doing. On one side, there is Abraham's family after the flesh; on the other side, his family through the Spirit. That family is changed in its title. At one point it is called by the name of two mountains, Sinai corresponding to the family after the flesh, and Zion corresponding to the family after the Spirit; and two cities, the Jerusalem that now is, the earthly Jerusalem, corresponding to the family after the flesh, and the heavenly Jerusalem corresponding to the family after the Spirit. He sets forth two more ideas: the bondservant, the family after the flesh; and the son, (not a servant, but a son) the family after the Spirit. All this is gathered up into Jerusalem that is above, and each of these similes used, the mountain and the City and so on, represent spiritual things which are to be found perfected in that City or in that people, at last.
In this meditation, let us begin by pointing out one other thing that is so much in view in this connection - "Jerusalem which is above is free... We are not children of a bondwoman, but of the freewoman." This City, this people that the Lord is seeking to bring to final fulness, perfection, is marked by freedom.
The Bondage of the Law
We know, of course, that the apostle here and elsewhere in his writings, deals with the bondage of the law and the liberty of grace. We shall not particularly speak about the law as such, but what the law represents, that is, the imposing from without of a very complete, comprehensive, detailed and thoroughgoing system of obligations. That is what the law is - it is the putting on of something from the outside and the demanding of an adherence to that imposed system of things of which there is no end. While the law, in the first place, was what came through Moses, when those who handled the law had done with it, they had developed it so extensively that a situation arose which was perfectly impossible, so that even those who were Jews - orthodox, faithful, devoted Jews who held Moses in very high esteem, the apostles themselves and no less an apostle than Peter himself, said about this thing that it was something which "neither our fathers nor we were able to bear". You remember Acts 15. That was the point of the great crisis - whether Christians were to come under the regulations of the Mosaic law, especially circumcision - the concern of the Gentile converts. Peter himself argued against it and said, "Neither we nor our fathers could bear this yoke." And he appealed that this yoke should not be put upon the Gentiles. By the time this external thing is in the hands of men and they are working it out, they have developed it to such a degree that you cannot turn your head without offending, your very looks are a matter of judgment; almost every action is suspect; there is something to control every gesture. It is like an awful straitjacket and people become terrorized because of this imposed system which was so thoroughgoing and only concerning the external.
The Lord Himself touched that very directly when He spoke about whited sepulchres, inside corruption, dead men's bones, yet outside beautifully whitewashed, so nice, so clean on the outside; or the platter washed very nicely on the outside, but you must not look inside (Matt. 23:25-28). These men are the interpreters of the law, the custodians of the law, and it is a terrible system of bondage.
This is not only something in history; it is a persistent tendency, and it can become as true of Christianity, as true of the New Testament, as of Judaism and the Old Testament, resulting in bondage.
This bondage can get inside, not only bondage to the law, but a tied-up-ness inwardly. You meet a lot of dear Christian people, children of God, who are all tied up inside. They are not free, they are not spontaneous, they are not open, they are under some kind of restraint and you cannot get anywhere with them. Fellowship goes just so far and it will not go any further. There is a tightness, a closeness, a question all the time. Now, all that kind of thing is contrary to the spirit of liberty in Christ. The Lord wants us to enjoy the freedom of the heavenly City, to make of us free men of that City in this deep inward way.
Jerusalem which is above is free. Hagar had to do what she was told because she was the bondmaid. In contrast to that, the mother of us all does nothing by force of obligation and bondage, but is free. What a mother - how generous, how gracious, how liberal - all the marks of release. I do not know what you feel about it, but I feel that there is a great need amongst the Lord's children for this inward release from inward strain and bondage. We can be so precise about the letter of the New Testament as to get all tied up. We can become so finicky and particular about the letter, even of the New Testament revelation, that we lose the glory, the liberty. No one will think that I suggest for a moment that we are not to be particular about the Word of the Lord, but there is all the difference between imposing it and laying it down, and coming into it and living in it in the Spirit of life.
The Freedom of the New Jerusalem
Jerusalem which is above is free, and, as has been so frequently said, the great blessing which true heavenly citizenship confers upon us now is that we can do as we like. You can go and do as you like, provided the Holy Spirit is in you. That is the argument of Galatians. "Because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Gal. 4:6). The Spirit of His Son in our hearts - given that, if the Holy Spirit is Lord in our hearts, we can do exactly what we like. It is for you to find out what you like. We find out that we do not like the things that we thought we should like. We try them out and we discover that we do not like them, we are not happy about them at all. That is a very much better way, a more profitable way to come into the things of the Lord than to have it laid down to us that we must not do this and that, and be put in a straitjacket.
That is very important, especially for young Christians. You will be asked very often in this world why you do not do this and that, why you do not go to this and that, why you do not go to the cinema, the theatre, why you do not do this and the other thing. What is going to be your answer? "Well, my parents would not like it! We do not do that sort of thing at home!" Why do you do the things that you do? Is it because you have been brought up that way, because it is the opinion of those near to you and who have control over you and you must be obedient? Well, as soon as you get free, then you do otherwise.
We have got to have an answer from the inside, and the only answer that is good enough is, "Well, that is not my happiness, that is not pleasure to me as it is to you. I do not find my life in that as you do, that does not give me what it gives you! Something has happened in me that has changed my likes and my dislikes, that has joined me to things that I otherwise would not like at all, and has made them my life; something that has separated me from things that naturally I should go after as you do, but now they do not mean anything!" That is the only answer. That is, you see, the root of this whole matter. It does not matter how far we advance in the Christian life, it has to be like that. We have to go on and ever on, so that the Spirit Himself is setting up His own standards in us in a new way and we are finding more and more that things which were not of any concern to us are now our concern and our delight, and things which we thought a great deal of, even spiritually, are losing their tremendous importance with us because they are being transcended.
May I speak out of my own heart, even as one who has carried spiritual responsibility for a good many years and who has taught the Lord's people over a considerable period? Even in recent years, I have noticed with myself a changing of emphasis. Only a few years ago, I was putting all my emphasis upon certain things, but in those few years I have been, I believe, under the hands of the Lord and my emphasis is changing. It is not that these things are losing their importance. I still hold them as very important, but I am seeing the greater value of other things.
So within, something is taking place in order that we are being released all the time from measure, from limitation in an inward and enlarged way, and that is how it should be. They are new standards for us although they are not new with the Holy Spirit and they are not new with the Lord. It is a gracious release, a very blessed experience, that liberation. We are going from liberty to liberty, and it is from glory to glory, and we thank the Lord. We were very tied up, even in our devotion to the things of the Lord, and perhaps we were making difficulties for others.
Well now, I hope you can understand what I am trying to say to you, that the work of the Spirit of God in us is all the time unto our release from bondage and from limitation into freedom and enlargement.
I wonder if you have ever taken pains to get down to the measurements of the New Jerusalem in the book of the Revelation? If you take the measurements of the New Jerusalem, you will find that there is not a complete patch of ground on this earth which will contain it. Somewhere it will overlap into the sea because it is so great, it is so extensive. If you put it down in Russia, you will get over the sea somewhere. Now, that is one aspect of the city, but remember that its extensiveness is only the expression of its vitality. It is not geography or geographical limits. This thing is so vital; it is not big, it is great. It is so vital that it can afford to be extensive. With some things, the more you expand them the less effective they are. They are losing as you enlarge; it is superficial area. The real value is lost the more they expand. That is the history of a good many movements which started with something of God in them. The human element has increased and these movements have lost their vitality and it is now a wide superficial area, and the concentrated value of what is of God is not corresponding with the range to which men have brought it.
But this is not so with the city of God. It is so tremendous in its essential, intrinsic value and vitality that it can go beyond all earthly dimensions and lose nothing, and the Lord works on that principle. He does not want to enlarge just to make us big. The principle of enlargement is the outworking of something that He has put inside, and it is simply the expansion of Christ, the vital power of Christ, the life of the Lord Himself. That is what enlarges and that is what releases - the increase of Christ. Well, we must ask the Lord for inward release, for this liberty of sonship, that which is such an important factor in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Deliverance from Fear
This release is deliverance from fear. Fear, the Word says, has torment (1 John 4:18). "God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of... love" (2 Tim. 1:7). The Spirit of liberty is the Spirit of deliverance from fear and Satan is always trying to bring us into the bondage of fear! "All their lifetime subject to bondage through fear..." (Heb. 2:15). Satan's work is fear and fear brings into bondage. God's work, the work of the Spirit, is liberation and deliverance from fear and thus Satan is destroyed. Do not think for a moment that this does not apply to you, that this is not important to you. The fact is that some of the most saintly of God's children, after a long life of walking with Him, have been assailed on this very point at the end and have, before passing out, been under a terrible cloud of fear, living in bondage to fear. Satan never gives up trying to bring this about with the children of God, to bring them back into bondage.
A true picture of Satan's work is drawn for us in the case of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. After their tremendous set-back in the death of the firstborn, after all the judgments that were poured upon them, they still persisted. When they let the people go, it was not long before they pursued them to bring them back again. That is exactly what the enemy is always doing. He never really gives up; he pursues us to bring us back into bondage.
The work of the Spirit is inward and is utter release from bondage and from fear. Are you being very careful, so careful that no one can get near you, no one can have real blessed fellowship with you, because you are so careful, so doubtful, so suspicious? Yes, that is how it may be and that is bondage which is destroying the very nature of the work of the Spirit of God. There is no need for any of that if we are really in the hands of the Holy Spirit. It is a free life. You can see clearly that this bondage is set against that full testimony of the Lord and that ultimate thing that He is after - His own glory.
Where we started in these meditations, there we might well finish: letting in the glory. There is something to be done by us to really let in the glory, and we may have to let down a good deal to let in the glory. We may have to get release from ourselves and our own mental activities about divine things to let in the glory. Our very intensity for the Lord, our strenuousness, may keep out the glory. Do not misunderstand that. There are many dear children of God we meet who are so intense. They are almost screwed up with intensity over spiritual things and that intensity makes their faces drawn and their eyes set and they are afraid to smile lest they might be carnal. You say that is an extreme thing, but it is true. It is only a form of this bondage, tied-up-ness.
The Lord wants His children other than that - free and with the glory there - the glory sometimes breaking through the very countenance; the glory getting through the voice. Oh, do not let us think that in order to be truly humble and meek, we must have a very melancholy voice. That may not be true of you, but it is so with some. These are merely externals. They have nothing to do with the glory of the Lord. The Lord wants people who are showing forth His glory and His glory gets into the tone of voice and into the look and into the touch. And unto that there has got to be a lot of release from mistaken conceptions of what spirituality is, of what utterness for the Lord is; release from mistaken mental interpretation of the things of the Lord. All that goes when we really do get into living touch with the Lord. You find that life with the Lord is not, after all, such a strenuous thing as some people seem to think it is. That is one of the lessons some of us have been learning for some time and something that the Lord is seeking to do to bring us to a free place with Himself, which is not licence at all. There can be no licence if you are really in the hands of the Holy Spirit, and on the other hand there is no fear, no dread, no inward stiffness and strain and strenuousness. This is not a river dammed up; this is a river flowing, and however we apply the principle of liberty, it just means that it is free.
Now what about the realm of our relationships? Is it free, is it flowing, is it spontaneous? Does it speak a great appreciation of the grace of God, for that is the denial of Sinai which Zion gives. Zion represents the grace of God. It flows. Grace is so often thought of as a river, and so it is, but it is a flowing river. An appreciation of the grace of God means that things flow.
Life the Mark of All
It is simple, but very important, to have a people like that flowing in the love of God, flowing in the grace of God: free. This freedom means (as our last word was to have been) that the mark of all these things on the heavenly side - whether it is the heavenly city, the heavenly mountain, the heavenly family, or the heavenly sonship as coming out from the heavenly side of Abraham's family - is Life. You cannot say that Hagar and Ishmael represent life, but you can say that about Isaac. It is Life; it is resurrection Life; it is the Life which has triumphed over death. Zion is Life, the heavenly Jerusalem is Life, and our contact with one another, if we are children of Zion, is to be a contact with Life. We have to see to it that we do not put up barriers, do not allow in ourselves things which contradict or work against Life. All these things do work together so completely; they are all of a piece.
We were speaking in a previous meditation about love, the street of gold. Well, what is this love? Paul says that love believes all things (1 Cor. 13:7). It does not mean that love believes a lie and calls black white, but it means that love never imputes anything of a motive until it is proved that that motive is there. It has got to be proved; it does not naturally, instinctively impute something, suspect something, think there is an ulterior motive. That is not love. It does not do that sort of thing.
Love believes all things; it is open, believes the best and imputes nothing. You can see how that would release us from a lot of bondage and tied-up-ness. So much strain comes by asking, "Well, what have they got up their sleeve? What is going on behind this? What are they after?" We impute something in the background to people's actions, and watch and wait to see that come out and then are ready to say, "I told you so!" Oh, in this way we get nowhere as children of God. There is no building on that kind of thing. I am concerned for you and myself that the Lord should have a condition of things which makes it possible for Him to build up and to get what He is after.
So Love and Life and Liberty, these things all work hand in glove, they are all of a piece with the great object which the Lord has in view. We must ask the Lord to so work in us that it is the Lord Jesus Himself and what He is after that governs us, His pre-eminence, which is glory in the church unto all ages unto the generations of the generations. See how far this has to go, how long this has to last - unto all ages, unto the generations of the generations, or the ages of the ages - glory in the church! Well, if it is going to last that long and go that far, it has to be something very real, very true, very pure and very incorruptible. Let us ask the Lord to continually work this in us.