God indeed does not love slavery; he hates it; he will have children, not slaves; but he may keep a slave in his house a long time in the hope of waking up the poor slavish nature to aspire to the sonship which belongs to him, which is his birthright. But the slave is not to be in the house forever. The father is not bound to keep his son a slave because the foolish child prefers it. Whoever will not do what God desires of him, is a slave whom God can compel to do it, however he may bear with him. He who, knowing this, or fearing punishment, obeys God, is still a slave, but a slave who comes within hearing of the voice of his master. There are, however, far higher than he, who yet are but slaves. Those to whom God is not all in all, are slaves. They may not commit great sins; they may be trying to do right; but so long as they serve God, from duty, and do not know him as their father, the joy of their being, they are slaves—good slaves, but slaves. They are by no means so slavish as those that serve from fear, but they are slaves; and because they are but slaves, they can fulfil no righteousness, can do no duty perfectly, but must ever be trying after it warily and in pain, knowing well that if they stop trying, they are lost. They are slaves indeed, for they would be glad to be adopted by one who is their own father! Where then are the sons? I know none, I answer, who are yet utterly and entirely sons or daughters. But I do know some who are enough sons and daughters to be at war with the slave in them, who are not content to be slaves to their father.
The Slave In The House
by Dave Roney
I studied the passage MacDonald quotes from John and found it difficult; how could I make sense of it? The “house” our Lord speaks of means something significant, very specific, otherwise why would He deliberately inject that into the conversation. The first clue as to both why and meaning is seen if His often inclusion of a household in His teaching; for the “house” is the center of family life, and family is the highest form of relationship.
We must question; what is this “house,” and whose is it? It must mean one thing only, for it is in this house that “the son abides forever.” And much contemplation and definition could be suggested, but I will say it as simply and directly as I know how: The “house” is the very hearth of our Father; where He is there also is the Son, and where the Son is there is home: There are not two houses spoken of, one for sons and one for slaves, but a single house where the son abides forever and the slave abides for only awhile. Now, make of it what you will, but our Lord does not speak of the slave as being cast out, only that he does not abide forever in his condition as a slave. And, therefore, He must have in mind a change in the slave, that the slave must come to the same relationship with the Householder as the true son, must therefore be a son. A son among sons.
You see how the Scripture is worded? It tells us the one who commits sin is the slave of sin. That is a subordinate fact; it is not the ultimate truth; the truth is that the one who sins is first, because he has become a slave to sin, is therefore become the slave of God. That is the only way the passage makes any sense to me. Is the sinner a slave to sin? Yes, in the same way Gomer was a slave to her harlotry—but she was firstly the wife of Hosea, and was ultimately his wife, and was finally restored to him—and the Lord uses the picture to depict the entire people of Israel whom He will likewise restore; and this same all inclusive redemptiveness applies to all men everywhere for all of time. A slave of sin? No, a slave to the God Who redeems from the slave market and reconciles His errant children back to Himself, ransoming them by Christ Jesus. Note the heart of our God by emphasis drawn on the words italicized for emphasis:
“And I will betroth you to Me forever. I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.” (Hosea 2:19-20)
They are the slaves of God only because they are sons—not in the full sense of a true son yet (for that speaks of an intimate oneness of relationship with God), but an estranged son nonetheless; and until such an one becomes a true son, a son made finally free in and by and through Christ Jesus, then God keeps him in his house-heart as though he were God's slave. It is the highest and best that God can do for the one who would be, left to himself, the actual, final, hopeless slave to his sin. But now you see the difficulty with the passage; it says clearly one thing, but the words cannot indicate what the Lord meant, nor do I think these are the very words of our Lord. It would have done no damage to the Lord's teaching or the foreshadowing of Him as their Atoner had the Apostle simply ended the phrase with “Whosoever commiteth sin, is the slave.”
Think for a moment of a good earthly father, and that he has an immature son, and that the son is wayward; this father cannot treat that son in the manner he would but must deal the son according to what is in the son's best interest even though it causes both of them pain. By rigors and discipline, by withholding and also by imposing, the father is doing the best he is able to reconcile his son back to himself and the life he desires for his son; he cannot turn this son out of his house and say to him “Depart from me; you are no longer my son!” This father must endure what he must do because of his love for the boy; how much more God with His dear little ones who are slaves to their childish ways, evil desires, contrary natures?
“God does not love slavery; He hates it; He will have children, not slaves; but He may keep a slave in His house a long time in the hope of waking up the poor slavish nature to aspire to the sonship which belongs to him, which is his birthright.”
Think now of the Prodigal son of the Lord's parable. His father must let him go his way until he comes to his senses (which is to allow his son to go into bondage); i.e. until the moment he once again began taking steps back to his house, his father, his sonship and his birthright. He was no slave to his father; in his debauch he was a slave to his sins—but did his father ever abandon him? Never. His, as our, bondage to sin reflected his condition; all which was his in his father was his by position. When he “came to his senses” it was the first, feeble, frail, movement of his condition, upward, toward being in agreement with his position as a son. How was he then the slave of his father? Namely, and the earthly metaphor is but a stepping stone to the higher truth in God, by his contrition; by humbling himself he was giving himself over, becoming obedient, to the rule of his father over him; it was, in a manner of speaking, for him to say “Not my will but yours, father, be done.” And to what, or whomsoever, we give ourselves is the one we serve, and he whom we serve is our master; we are then that master's slave.
But think now of the Prodigal's brother; he stayed with his father and served him, and did his duty to his father; what of him? Was he a slave or free? He was as much a slave as his errant brother; a better quality slave, but whether a good slave or a bad slave, a slave is yet a slave. He did not commit the gross sins of his brother, but the slavery as a form is not in the things done but in the mind and mood, the attitude, the will, the heart, underlying those things and causing them:
“Those to whom God is not all in all, are slaves. They may not commit great sins; they may be trying to do right; but so long as they serve God from duty, and do not know Him as their Father, the joy of their being, they are slaves—good slaves, but slaves.”
We know that a man can do right but remain unrighteous; is that not the case with the Prodigal's brother? He, at least it is my surmisal, did his family chores and business well, but with an eye on what he would gain from it. When his brother left home, all which the father had would someday pass to him without any portion to his wastrel sibling. He did the good, and I think at least partly because he dared not fail lest, as he feared, he should also be cut off—not that his father would do such a thing, but he did not know his father well enough, was not serving him from a humble and thankful, loving, heart, understood his father not according to his father or anything in him but saw him as much similar to himself. Therefore, he did the good but was not righteous:
“They are by no means so slavish as those that serve from fear, but they are slaves; and because they are slaves, they can fulfill no righteousness, can do no duty perfectly, but must ever be trying after it warily and in pain, knowing well that if they stop trying, they are lost.”
I may reduce the entire matter to this: As long as a man thinks like a slave thinks, he is a slave; and when a man begins to think like a true son, it is then that he begins to grow into true sonship. There are many who have the hearts of sons but the minds of slaves, good men and women who have the wrong thinking about their Father. God will keep them in His house for as long as it takes before they come to their senses. They are His and not their own, nor are they the possession of any other; for the Divine has bought them at inestimable cost to Himself, and will never, ever, surrender nor cast out His precious possession.
by Dave Roney
There was never a believer who sinned, either on occasion or habitually, who did not know himself to be, in that moment or that state of existence, a slave, who then knew the shackles of a power over himself which is contrary to the good and the truth and to all that which he truly desires for himself if he is but able to be honest; and most of all, he realizes that he is far short of his true sonship, as one trading his birthright for a mess of pottage when he knows he has a seat, reserved especially for him, at his Father's table. What is the soul's, his soul's, cry except “O wretched man that I am!”
A man must begin as a slave before he can be a free man; it is the tax levied upon him for his sins; he cannot be free in any case; “Do you not know that to whom you yield yourselves servants [δοῦλος, “slave”], you are slaves to the one you obey?” Physically a man may be captured and made a slave against his will, and be powerless to change his condition; but spiritually a man is slave by his will, and chooses his master. On the slavers' block a man is bought and led away in chains; but Christ has entered the slave market “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” By my will alone I became the slave to sin and death; by my will, surrendering to the will of God I am purchased by our Atoner unto liberty and life; I am His, He owns me, I am therefore His slave, albeit a willing one. And the slavery of a man to Christ is a necessary, in fact essential, and progressive phase of his development along the path to maturity and complete freedom.
The Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ; and our slavery to Christ is our schoolmaster to bring us to full sonship with our Father, what is called in Scripture our “adoption as sons.” When the Apostle uses the term adoption he does so according to the Roman use, which is entirely different than our present understanding. For, it applied to the child of a Roman citizen who came of age, who had for his young life been under tutors as preparation, but now in a public ceremony was accorded the full rights of his citizenship and declared to be the heir to his father's positions and possessions. Until we have come to the fullness of Christ in our lives, we must be slaves; it is the preparation for our equal heir-ship with the Son of God and our future unveiling as fully mature sons and daughters:
“But the slave is not to be in the house forever. The Father is not bound to keep His son a slave because the foolish child prefers it.”
The foolish child prefers to be a slave? How so? Simply this; that man who by refusal to surrender his will entirely to the Will of God, who makes a little progress over here but continues to cling to his old miserable self over there, who lacks the goal and utter desire to be Christ in his world, allows himself the comfort of a secret sins, struggles to overcome when he ought to practice the surrender of obedience, whose eyes are enamored by the things of the flesh and the world—this man prefers his slavery. God keeps him in His house to be sure, and loves him; but the man may go his entire earthly life as a slave because he is not growing into the likeness of the Son of God. He is not because he will not. He is quite comfortable in the Divine shackles, and knows that were they to drop from his wrists he would turn back to his former, or a worse, life and be lost; therefore, he prefers his slavery. But “The Father is not bound to keep His son a slave,” and will by prods and conviction, circumstances and events, through pain and by torments if necessary, train the child up in the way he should go, hopefully in this life, but if not then in the next—and by discipline, by chastisement, by whatever means is necessary, bring His child to at the last seek his adult sonship and his rightful position; that of heir of God and joint heir of Christ Jesus, to be seated between Father and Son on the throne not as a child but as a ruler, sharing fully the Divine Nature.
“Those to whom God is not all in all, are slaves. They may not commit great sins; they may be trying to do right; but as long as they serve God, from duty, and do not know Him as their Father, the joy of their being, they are slaves—good slaves, but slaves.”
The most slavish of believers are those who serve God from fear; and these are those who think more of and therefore dread His justice and holiness, unable to appreciate His relationship to them, think of Him more as the Old Testament God they wrongly perceive as hostile, angry, and condemning than as the precious and gentle Savior who is exactly like Him. Less slavish are those who serve God from a sense of duty, as under constraint and obligation, yet they also are slaves. And no slave is free, can only be obedient to commands, and therefore is incapable of fulfilling righteousness; for that is the sole domain of the freed man:
“...and because they are slaves, they can fulfill no righteousness, can do no duty perfectly, but must ever be trying after it warily and in pain, knowing well that if they stop trying, they are lost.”
Now, lest any man think more highly of himself than he ought; “Where are the true sons? I know none, I answer, who are yet utterly and entirely sons or daughters. But I do know some who are enough sons and daughters to be at war with the slave in them, who are not content to be slaves to their Father.”
Even the Apostle called himself to be the bond slave, which is to say the willing slave, of Christ; and he also said “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own” (Phil. 3:12). And if not he, how much less so me? It is evident to me that we shall not reach our full maturity until we are face to Face, and in that moment when we see Him “we shall be like Him;” our childhood and slavery shall vanish as we enter into our adoption as adult sons and daughters. But in the meanwhile, throughout this life and in spite of our failures and shortcomings, let us galvanize ourselves both with the hope of that future Day and also with the unquenchable desire to grow to maturity, into the likeness of Christ, pressing on always and ever toward our rightful portion which is the relationship of true and full sonship to our Father.
A newly hatched bird, quite helpless and dependent but also safe in its nest, may be likened to a new or immature believer, but also for the sake of our study today, such a hatchling is similar to a slave in relationship to its mother. In such state, the hatchling cannot exercise its will to fly (“can fulfill no righteousness”) because it is not ready; the mother will allow, in fact insist, that her brood remain in the nest until it is sufficiently mature (“He may keep a slave in His house a long time”), but will then begin to prompt it to move onto a limb and finally to take flight (“But the slave is not to be in the house forever”); and at the right time the fledgling will also begin to desire to leave the nest (“be at war with the slave in them, who are not content to be slaves”). For, the mother bird desires her young to be like her and take its flight as an adult (“in the hope of waking up the poor slavish nature to aspire to the sonship which belongs to him, which is his birthright”).
The parable needs one final consideration for completion: When the former hatchling then fledgling has matured to full adulthood and takes flight, it is like unto the “adoption” of which the Apostle speaks; the bird, as the believer, was always the child of its parent but was heretofore not ready for the ceremony. And though the beginning flight be wobbly, still the believer will cry “Abba! Father!” as it rises up. It is now the fullness of the Lord's pronouncement: “You are free indeed!”