Individuality in Religion


Religion is “the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it.”

Liberty is “the state of being exempt from the domination of others, or from restricting circumstances. In ethics and philosophy, the power in any rational agent to make his choices and decide his conduct for himself, spontaneously and voluntarily, in accordance with reasons or motives.”

Religious liberty, therefore, is man’s exemption from the domination of others, or from restricting circumstances: man’s freedom to make his choices and decide his conduct for himself, spontaneously and voluntarily: in his duty to his Creator, and in the manner of discharging that duty.

Since God has created man, in the nature of things the first of all relationships is that to God; and the first of all duties could be nothing but duty to God.

Suppose a time when there was only one intelligent creature in the universe. He was created: and his relationship to his Creator, his duty to his Creator, is the only one that could possibly be. That is the first of all relationships that can possibly be. Therefore it is written that “the first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord: and Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”

All there is of any soul is first due to God; because it all came from God. This, therefore, is the first of all commandments, not because it is the first one that was ever given by spoken word, or that was ever written out; but because it is the first that could possibly be. And this because it is the expression of the first principle of the existence of any intelligent creature. The principle was there, inherent in the existence of the first intelligent creature, in the first moment of his existence; and there the principle abides eternally, unmodified and unfading.

Now, though that is the first of all possible relationships, and the first of all duties; though that relationship and duty are inherent in the very existence of intelligent creatures; yet even in that inherent obligation, God has created every intelligent creature free—free to recognize that obligation or not, free to discharge that duty or not, just as he chooses.

Accordingly it is written: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve.” “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Thus it is absolutely true that in religion—in the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it—God has created man entirely “exempt from the domination of others and from restricting circumstances” has made him free “to make his choice, and decide his conduct for himself, spontaneously and voluntarily.” Thus religious liberty is the gift of God, inherent in the gift of rational existence itself.

Any service as to God that is not freely chosen by him who renders it is not service to God. There can be no virtue in it; there can be none of God in it. Any service rendered as to God that is not freely chosen on the part of him who renders it cannot be of God; because “God is love”: and love and compulsion, love and force, love and oppression, never can go together. Therefore any duty, any obligation, anything, offered or rendered as to God that is not of the individual’s own freely chosen choice, can neither be of God nor to God. Accordingly when the Lord created whatever creature—angel or man—in order that that creature should be happy in the service of God, and in order that there should be virtue in rendering service or worship to God, He created him free to choose to do so. And this is individuality, and the divine right of it.

God created man free. When man by sin was separated and lost from that freedom, Christ came to restore him fully to it. The way of God and of Christ, therefore, is the way of liberty. And the work of God through Christ with mankind in the whole history of the world has been to make plain this way and to give to man the absolute assurance of this “soul liberty” which is the only true liberty. Whom the Son makes free is free indeed.

In the Scriptures there are given distinctly and clearly six specific lessons on this subject of religious liberty—the liberty of the individual soul against the domination of man and combinations of men in the powers of the world. Each of these lessons deals with the subject upon a distinct and specific principle. And the six lessons, taken together, cover completely the whole ground upon every principle.

We now purpose to take up for special study these six lessons separately and in succession as given in the Scriptures. The contest for religious liberty is not yet finished. Religious liberty complete is not yet recognized, even in principle, and much less in practise, even by the mass of Christians, as it is made perfectly plain in the Scriptures.

Come, then, let us study and let us have, and let us study that we may have, religious liberty complete, in principle and in experience, as it is in the Scriptures of truth.

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