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Home School of Divinity Summary of "True bounds of Christian freedom - Text

Summary of "True bounds of Christian freedom - Text

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Summary of Samuel Bolton’s The True Bounds of Christian Freedom


By Linus Chua

Free ebook of The true bounds of Christian freedom

Suggested additional reading: The liberty of the Christian man by Martin Luther - free PDF


            This book covers several important aspects of Christian freedom such as the Christian and the moral law, the law and the covenant of grace, chastisement of God’s people, duty and delight in obedience, and reward as the motive for obedience. The two errors that the author cautions against are antinomianism and legalism.


Chapter 1 looks at the nature, quality and branches of Christian freedom. John 8:36 teaches us four things, i.e. that every man by nature is in bondage, that some are set free, that it is Christ who sets a person free, and those whom Christ sets free are truly free. As to the nature of this freedom, it pertains to spiritual and heavenly freedom which has been purchased by Christ, revealed in the gospel and given to the saints. As to its quality, this freedom is real as opposed to imaginary, universal as opposed to partial, and constant as opposed to temporary. As to the branches of freedom, there are two aspects – negative and positive. Negatively and firstly, Christians have been set free from Satan’s chains. Secondly, they have been set free from the guilt, defilement and dominion of sin. God will not require Christians to make any payment for their sins since Christ has fully satisfied for them. Thirdly, they have been set free from the law in four ways. First, they are freed from the law as a covenant, although not as a rule. Second they are freed from the curses of the law. Christians cannot be condemned because Christ was condemned in his place and stead. Third, they are freed from the accusations of the law resulting, not in conviction and humiliation for sin, but in sentence and condemnation for sin. Fourth, they are freed from the rigour of the law, which requires perfect obedience in our person. Fourthly, they have been set free from obedience to men. While they may have masters according to the flesh, they have no masters according to the Spirit but God. Fifthly, they are set free from spiritual and eternal death. As for physical death, he is freed from its curse and it may be appropriately called sleep. Sixthly, they will be freed from the grave at the resurrection. Positively, Christians are brought to a state of mercy, justification, friendship with God, life, service, sonship, and inheritance.


Chapter 2 answers the question of whether Christians are freed from the moral law as a rule of obedience. It is true that there are some passages which seem to teach that the law has been abrogated (Jer 31:31-33 , Rom 7:1-3 ), but there are also other passages which say that the law is still in force (Matt 5:17-18 , Rom 3:31 ). The word law is used in various way in scripture, e.g. the first five books, the entire Old Testament, the moral law alone, the ceremonial law alone. The controversy lies largely with the moral law, which is scattered throughout the whole Bible and summed up in the Decalogue. The moral law, as a rule, can no more be abolish or changed than the nature of good and evil. It is perpetual and immutable. The author then sets forth and proves two propositions in this and the next chapter. The first is that the substance of the law remains as a rule of walking to God’s people. This is the testimony of Reformed Confessions. This is also the testimony of the New Testament – Matt 5:17-19 , Rom 3:31 , 13:8-10, Jam 2:8, 1 Cor 9:21 . The binding nature of the law is seen in that it binds consciences of men, shows him what is sin and what his duty is. We also see the this in that the same sins are forbidden and the same duties are enjoined both under the law and the gospel. Furthermore, the law is part of the Christian’s holiness and conformity to God and must still be in force. This proposition shows the error of the Papists who charge Protestants with teaching exemption from obeying the law. This proposition also shows the error of Antinomians, who decry the law for sanctification. Finally, this propositions teaches all true believers that they are to be careful to maintain the right use of the law, i.e. neither turning to it for life nor growing sluggish in obedience.


Chapter 3 looks at the second proposition, namely, that the law is not incompatible with grace. It explains the purposes for which the law was given and how those purposes are consistent with and serviceable to grace. The law was given for the purpose of restraining fallen man, revealing sin, humbling sinners, directing our lives, showing our imperfections, reproving and correcting saints, and spurring them to duty. The author then offers fives reasons why the law is compatible with grace. Firstly, the law is still required to restrain wicked men. Secondly, it serves to advance grace by revealing sin and misery. Thirdly, the law humbles us so that we might turn to Christ. Fourthly, the law is still required as a direction for life. Fifthly, the law shows us our imperfections of duties and casts us upon Christ. Finally, the author answers three objections against this doctrine. The first objection is that the law was given as a covenant of works to the Jews. But the law could not be a covenant of works because it was to serve merciful ends, it was added to and given after the covenant of grace (Gal 3:17 , 19), the Jews were saved in the same way as us (Acts 15:11 ), it is unsuited to give salvation and life because of the fall. Furthermore, the covenant of works is a covenant of friendship but God could not make such a covenant with fallen men. As a conditional covenant, it could not be renewed after it was broken. The second objection is that since the law is neither the covenant of grace nor a third covenant, it had to be a covenant of works. In response, the author posits a third covenant, i.e. a subservient or old covenant which God made with Israel at Sinai to prepare them for a fuller revelation of the covenant of grace, and shows that it differs from both the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. Another way of answering this objection is to see the law as part of the covenant of grace. The third objection is that the law cannot be linked with grace since the covenants of law and of grace are opposites. Scriptures clearly show that it was not God’s intention to give life to man for his obedience (Gal 3:11 , 21). The phrase “do this and live” (Lev 18:5 ) shows us our weakness and stirs us to seek Christ, who has fulfilled all righteousness for us. When Christ told the rich young ruler to keep the commandments, He was revealing to him his imperfections and impotency so that he might seek Christ for life.


Chapter 4 deals with the question of whether Christians are freed from all punishments and chastisements for sin. Scriptures show that those whose sins are pardoned are still chastised for their sin, e.g. Abraham, Moses, David. This is not something unique to the Old Testament for the New Testament confirms it. 1 Corinthians 11:30 shows that believers were afflicted with sickness and even death because of their unworthy partaking of the Supper. Other passages that speak of chastisement are Heb 12:6-8 , 1 Peter 4:17 , 1 Cor 10:5-12 , Rev 2:12-16 . God both afflicts His people for sins past so as to correct them, and for preventing future sins. The main argument against this doctrine is that if God takes away the cause of sin, then He also takes away the punishment due to sin. It is necessary to distinguish between temporal, spiritual and eternal punishment. Christians are entirely free from eternal punishment. As for the other two, they are also freed from the curse of sin and the need to satisfy for sin. It is true that Christ has fully satisfied for our sins and God does not chastise us as a means of satisfaction for sin. Nevertheless, God has good reasons for chastening His people. Firstly, God may do it for the terror of wicked men. Secondly, God may do it for the manifestation of His justice. Thirdly, God may do it to remove scandal (1 Sam 12 ). Fourthly, God may do it to warn others. Fifthly, God also chastens His people for their own good so that they may be made partakers of His holiness here and His glory hereafter. Several points should be noted in conclusion. First, sin naturally brings evil upon us. Second, the evil that sin brings arises not from chance but from providence. Third, God brings these things to His people out of love and not hatred.


Chapter 5 concerns the relationship between duty, commandment, and liberty. It is clear that our freedom in Christ is not inconsistent with the performance of our duty. Luke 1:74-75 says that we are delivered in order to serve God. As for whether liberty is consistent with duty due to God’s command, we must note three mistakes in this matter. Firstly, there are those who wait for the Spirit to move them to obedience. One should be aware that there are times when Satan may set a person to the performance of duty, e.g. when depressed, when engaged in other duties, when weak, when it will prove a snare to us. One should go to duty when the Spirit moves us, nevertheless, one should not neglect duty when there are no perceived motions of the Spirit. It is often in the midst of duty that one meets with God. Secondly, there are those who think that they are to do nothing else but pray. Thirdly, there are those who think they are to perform duty because their hearts incline them to it. There are duties, based on God’s nature, which we must perform not merely because God has commanded it, but because we desire to do it. The inward principle must meet the outward command if these duties are to be performed in a right way. Christians are free from duty as a burden, as a trade, from slavery of spirit, and to earn glory. The author then lists nine differences between legal and evangelical obedience. The key difference is that the latter finds delight in the duty whereas the former does not, and this delight in duty arises from a heart that has been renewed.


Chapter 6 discusses the question of whether a Christian can sin himself into bondage again. There are two kinds of bondage – universal and partial. The former is a bondage to sin, Satan, and the law, both its rigour and curse. The latter refers to a bondage in respect of comfort and manner of obedience. Christians shall never again come under universal bondage although it is possible for them to sin themselves into partial bondage. Sin in a Christian brings about a loss of the sense of comfort and forgiveness. The peace which flows from a good conscience, communion with God, the exercise of grace, the sense of God’s grace in the soul, and the assurance of God’s favour may be lost through sin. Besides the loss of comfort and peace, a Christian may sin himself into bondage in respect of the manner of obedience, i.e. he lacks cheerfulness, delight, and freedom in his service of God.


Chapter 7 looks at whether a Christian may perform duties for the sake of reward. There are three opinions on this. Firstly, some say that we are to do duty with an eye to glory as wages for work. This is the view of Rome and needs no consideration because it is inconsistent with the gospel of free grace. Secondly, there are some who say that we must have no eye to heaven or glory in our obedience. Thirdly, some say that we may do our duty with an eye to the recompense of the reward. As for the second, it is supported by the consideration that all everything we receive, including rewards, is of grace and is purchased by Christ, and thus we should have no eye on them in our service. The third is supported by various passages such as 1 Cor 15:58 , Gal 6:8-9 , Heb 11:25-26 . Now by reward is meant either temporal (e.g. health, food, raiment), spiritual (e.g. justification, sanctification) or eternal (e.g. enjoyment of God, perfect holiness). To eye the reward (Heb 11:26 ) means to see and know the excellency of a thing, to believe the truth of it and to wait for it patiently and expectantly. If a person eyes the reward in this way, then it is no infringement of his Christian liberty. But if by eyeing the reward is meant a method of obtaining temporal, spiritual and eternal mercies, then some distinctions need to be made. With reference to temporal blessings, it will be agreed by all that these should not be the ground of a man’s obedience and neither should they be the immediate end of obedience. The author then lists a number of considerations to show that a Christian should not eye outward mercies in the performance of duty, e.g. it belongs to the Old  Testament. Based on 2 Cor 7:1 , it is better to say that we obey from mercies promised rather than that we obtain mercies by our obedience. The enjoyment of outward things seems to be too low a principle of action in Christian obedience. With reference to spiritual blessings, scriptures teach us that we are to do our duties with respect to obtaining them (Luke 11:9 , Ps 50:15). God has ordained that these blessings be obtained by way of seeking. Although God’s blessings are freely promised, they are conditional in respect to the performance of them (Ps 50:23, Isa 64:5 ). Though they are made from sheer mercy, yet God fulfils them in relation to the performance of our subservient duty (Rev 21:6 ). Note that God gives both the grace of desiring and the grace desired. Finally, with reference to eternal blessings, all are agreed that we are not to have respect to the purchasing of eternal rewards by our obedience for Christ has purchased it for us. Nevertheless, it is lawful for Christians to obey God with respect to eternal rewards, and in fact, they ought to do so. One must be careful not to have carnal notions of heaven and glory. Instead, by eternal rewards, we should understand to be no less than the enjoyment of the Triune God Himself (Ps 73:25). The right perspective of heaven will lead a believer through their fiercest battles, will cause them to walk thankfully and cheerfully, will encourage them to do the will of God and to be willing to submit to any trial (2 Cor 4:17-18 ).         


Chapter 8 briefly deals with whether Christians are free from obedience to man. There are two kinds of subjection, namely, one that is consistent with Christian liberty (Rom 13 , 1 Peter 2:13-15 ) and one that is not (Matt 23:10 , 1 Cor 7:23 ). The former pertains to the outward man in outward things while the latter pertains to our souls and consciences. With regard to the civil magistrate, Christians are bound to obey them when they tell him to do what is clearly revealed to be the will of God. Nevertheless, there are situations when a law may be lawfully imposed but not lawfully obeyed. 


Chapter 9 applies the doctrine of Christian freedom to both unbelievers and believers. As for unbelievers, they are still in bondage to sin, Satan and the law of God, and are thus in a most miserable condition. They are willing slaves and have no power to deliver themselves. As for believers, they are to maintain Christian liberty by refusing to look to the law for justification and righteousness or listen to its words of condemnation. The law is to be acknowledged as a rule of sanctification but rejected as a means of justification. Believers are also to take heed not to abuse their liberty in Christ by going beyond the bounds of true liberty and using it as an occasion to sin or to exempt themselves from duty.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 May 2017 09:32  

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