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March 19, 2005

Book review: The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Samuel Bolton)

I recently finished reading a book my pastor recommended, "The True Bounds of Christian Freedom", by Samuel Bolton. This is one of the Puritan Paperbacks series that I mentioned before.

I recommend this book, also. It's not an easy read, however. Many of the Puritans wrote using much longer sentences than we tend to now, and Bolton was no exception. Thus, it's not a book you'll blaze through if you want to understand it. The early part of the book seems to be easier reading than the late part, as well.

The book's title explains its subject. Bolton thought a proper understanding of the boundaries of Christian liberty was essential then, and I'm convinced it's equally essential -- if not more essential -- now. Particularly, there are many who think that, since we are saved by grace, through faith, and since Christ has "fulfilled the law", we are no longer obligated to obey the law. That is, for Christians, the law no longer even tells us how we should live, since Christ fulfilled it.

Bolton's book is an examination of Christian freedom: What exactly does it mean in John 8:36, when it says, "If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed"? In part, he asks the question, "Are Christians freed from the moral law as a rule of obedience?" His answer is "No", and he proves this from the Scripture in his book. Particularly, he argues that Christians are not subject to the law as the way to salvation, and indeed, the law never was a way to salvation. However, we are, he argues, still subject to the law as a "rule of walking" -- a guide for how we should live.

In addition to answering this question, Bolton addresses a number of other issues along the way. He explains what true Christian freedom is (including freedom from Satan, from sin, from the law as a covenant and its curses, from death, and from the grave, and what it is not. He shows how God's demand that we obey is not incompatible with grace -- particularly, God requires Christians to obey, but they do not earn their salvation by such obedience. He deals with how God chastises believers for sin (and Christian freedom does not mean freedom from chastisement or discipline). He explains how the requirement that we obey does not infringe Christian liberty, and closes by addressing several other questions, including whether Christians should obey with a view towards any reward coming as a result of obediencce (or punishment due to disobedience). All of these are argued well and carefully, with reference to the Scripture.

I recommend this book if you are unclear on the role of the moral law in the lives of Christians -- or if you think that Christians are no longer subject to any law. Do, however, be prepared to read the book carefully and slowly, as the language is sometimes difficult and the topic is substantial.

Here are several brief excerpts I found especially insightful. But again, I recommend reading the book for yourself -- I won't even attempt to summarize Bolton's arguments here, as the subject matter is to weighty for me to do justice to in such a brief space.

  • Bolton speaks of how we must come to Christ as the publican came -- seeing our sin in view of the law, and turning to Christ for salvation because we're sinners. He says of our appeal to Christ:
    It must be an appeal for grace as well as mercy, for sanctification as well as salvation, an appeal to be made holy by Christ as well as to be made happy by Christ.... here, we cannot appeal to Christ until we are found guilty and condemned by Moses.
    Here, Bolton is pointing out that it's not enough to feel miserable and come to Christ to be "made happy". We must come to Christ because we know we are guilty and condemned by the law -- come to him for salvation, and to be made holy.
  • Bolton argues that, if we take the fact that Christ died for sinners as a reason to sin, we're making that which should be "the greatest curb" to be a "spur", spurring us on to sin. Furthermore, he adds this:
    "Adorn the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What a shame if it should be said of us that faith cannot do that which unbelief is able to do! What will Turks and Mohammedans say -- 'Look, these are the people who reverence Christ! These are the servants of the crucified God! They profess Christ and yet will forswear and sin against Christ!'"
  • Bolton discusses the proper motivation for our obedience, and gives a well-needed reminder:
    [The believer] does not perform duty that it may go well with him here; nor does he perform duty that he may gain glory hereafter. He regards communion and nearness to God as happiness enough. His spirit does not say to him: Act thus, pray, obey, and it shall go well with the in this world, and gain heaven for thee hereafter. No! he esteems it a piece of his heaven, to have communion with God ... He engages in the duty as if, in itself, it were a part of his reward; and if he can but find God in it, and have converse and communion with God in it, oh, there is heaven enough and glory enough in his soul.

That's all I have time for, although I had flagged some other things when I read through it. Again, I do recommend the book, but it's not an easy read, so be prepared to put on your thinking cap.

Posted by David at March 19, 2005 05:21 PM

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