When Liberty is Tyranny, and Tyranny is Liberty

Abraham Lincoln, a master of words, considered the ability to communicate through speech must be a gift of God rather than something humans invented on their own:

But whether Divine gift, or invention, it is still plain that if a mode of communication had been left to invention, speech must have been the first, from the superior adaptation to the end of the organs of speech, over every other means within the whole range of nature. Of the organs of speech the tongue is the principal; and if we shall test it, we shall find the capacities of the tongue, in the utterance of articulate sounds, absolutely wonderful. (Abraham Lincoln, February 11, 1859.)

I like how he doesn’t allow himself to get sidetracked by the issue of whether speech is a gift of God or not, but obliquely gave the credit to God by pointing out that the reason speech works so well is because of the way we’re made: we have tongues that are adept at speech.

LincolnYou can count from one to one hundred, quite distinctly in about forty seconds. In doing this two hundred and eighty-three distinct sounds or syllables are uttered, being seven to each second; and yet there shall be enough difference between every two, to be easily recognized by the ear of the hearer. (Ibid.)

He went on to discuss the superiority of the spoken word over writing for getting information immediately from one person to another. Later during the Civil War, though, he noted the need to come to precise terms in how we communicate important concepts.

We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. …

And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names – liberty and tyranny. (April 18, 1864.)

The abolitionists thought slavery was tyranny, and sought liberty for the slaves. The slaveholders thought abolitionism was tyranny, and sought liberty to do as they pleased.

Simon Legree exercising his liberty upon Tom in

Simon Legree exercising his liberty upon Tom in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

The Tyranny of Sin, the Liberty of Salvation

Some people will tell you that real freedom is being able to do as you like, and that serving God gets in the way of that freedom.

That’s not true.

Jesus said everybody serves somebody. (Matthew 6:24.) No one lives outside that truth.

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. (Luke 16:13.)

Serving God is where real freedom is found, though, because he’s the one who created us in the first place. The freedom he offers is the freedom to do what we are made for. (Ephesians 2:10.)

The angel announced this ministry of freedom to Joseph, telling him that Mary would give birth to the Messiah:

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21.)

Jesus brought forgiveness to people like the woman with a bad reputation who placed herself at Jesus’ feet to worship him. The religiously minded didn’t like it, but that didn’t stop him from doing what only God can do:

Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:48.)

Ballum church. Painting at the high altar ( 17th century ): Anointing of Jesus (Wikipedia)

Ballum church. Painting at the high altar ( 17th century ): Anointing of Jesus

Religious leaders challenged his attitude toward sinners, but he wouldn’t back down.

When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:16-17.)

Sin truly does hold people, but there is a way out.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6.)

Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin … . (Acts 13:38-39.)

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9.)

It’s when you turn to Jesus that you’ll find freedom.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36.)

That’s what the word liberty really means.


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11 Responses to When Liberty is Tyranny, and Tyranny is Liberty

  1. janehinrichs says:

    Thanks Tim for these words. And when we experience this freedom Jesus gives we remember knowing God is better than anything we can obtain through our own efforts or anything the world can give us. Recently God was able to uncover something in me that I wasn’t even aware of that was playing havoc with that freedom. I thank God for His truth, His freedom, His joy, His love and His great great understanding toward us sometimes silly humans.

    • Tim says:

      God’s blessings are found not only in the freedom he gives, but in the way he guides us in that freedom. How wonderful that he helped you see more clearly the freedom you have in him.

  2. Jeannie says:

    “Freedom to do what we’re made for” — that’s a great way to define true liberty. And once again I have to quote Mumford & Sons: “So tame my flesh and fix my eyes: a tethered mind, free from the lies.”

  3. Christine says:

    Thank you for this great reminder, it’s a wonderful encouragement.

  4. And look, it applies to marriage too! “If we shall test it, we shall find the capacities of the tongue…absolutely wonderful.” I’m going to remember that quote for a while… 😀

  5. Pastor Bob says:

    I was stuck by a word in the first sentence of the Lincoln quote, “ot” upon looking up the speech is “to.”
    Guess you can’t edit your typoos either…..

  6. Pingback: Allowable Slavery | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

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