Are the “four freedoms,” as publicized by Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill during the early days of World War II, an attainable goal or are they a cruel mirage?
Only those who have lived under the tyranny of governments that curtail or deny personal freedom can appreciate the blessings which we in America have always enjoyed and take as a matter of course.
But the “four freedoms,” in a measure, go beyond those things which man may demand as his inherent right under a free government.
Freedom of speech and expression is certainly ours, but it may be used only within the limits of the common good. This does not imply the right to libel, to bear false witness, nor to assassinate somebody’s character. However, it does guarantee to those enjoying its privilege the right of opinion, criticism, and giving public expression to views on any subject, provided that such expression is not seditious or lewd.
Freedom to worship God according to the dictates of one’s conscience is another blessing which obtains where the basic freedoms are to be found. That some confuse freedom of worship with freedom from worship is a question which someday they will have to reckon with God.
Without minimizing the vital importance of separation of Church and State, one wonders whether those minorities which would prevent all children from coming under religious instruction in public schools, even on a voluntary and released-time basis, are not being permitted to impose freedom from worship on those who sense their need of and dependence upon God.
Freedom from want is not necessarily a good thing. It is not within the province of the Church or the State to promise to all of its citizens material benefits for life. The scriptural principle is twofold: those who refuse to work have no right to expect food; but when a Christian sees a brother in need of help, it is his duty to assist that brother to the best of his ability.
There is another aspect, however, to the problem of want. God at times permits people to experience privations in order that the experience may draw them back to him. It was hunger that drove the Prodigal to a realization of his plight. Material need frequently turns people back again and again to a despair of separation from God and a sense of dependence upon him as a loving Father.
Freedom from fear, the final promise of the “four freedoms,” offers from the political standpoint a hope that should be realized wherever there is responsible government. Men should dwell securely and safely from molestation. Their homes should not be subject to unlawful attack or invasion. Agencies of protection should be active, efficient, and impartial.
But there is another aspect of this matter. Fear can be a healthy reaction. It can be the agent by which man is startled and stimulated to protective action. It is a God-given instinct by which life is protected and prolonged.
There is an unhealthy fear of what others may think—“The fear of man bringeth a snare.” On the other hand, all men should have a righteous fear of the holy and living God. For Christians such fear becomes a reverential trust through the atoning work of Christ.
At the time of year when we Americans think of that freedom which brought into being our great nation, and the freedoms which have been a part of our heritage since that day, we should be wise indeed if we considered what is at stake when we turn freedom to license and dissipate our God-given rights for imagined gain.
Freedom to live and think and act without fear of restraint is one of man’s greatest blessings. And it has always been granted in those places where faith in God has established the climate, and where the dignity of man and his responsibility to his Maker are basic. We in America probably take our political freedom for granted. In so doing we have failed either to understand or oppose with strength those forces abroad which deny and destroy every God-given right of mankind.
Some of us have lived in or seen this blight in other parts of the world. The beginning of it may be overwhelmingly ruthless or deceptively insidious. Soon after China came under Communist domination, some of the Christians made this astute observation: “When the Communists first take over, they tien, tien t’eo (nod their heads in approval). Then they iao, iao t’eo (shake their heads with disapproval). Finally, they sah t’eo (cut your head off).”
Whatever methods are used when coming into power, communism sees to it that the basic freedoms disappear and regimentation, compulsion, and oppression take their place.
There is a higher freedom, however, that has not been mentioned. It is the freedom which comes from knowing and trusting Jesus Christ. Millions who enjoy all that freedom can offer in a land such as ours are pathetic slaves to sin. They are slaves because they were born in that condition, and because they have never been emancipated by the Great Emancipator. Freedom was effected on the Cross, but men continue to live bound to the ways of life that end in death.
Even Christians can be slaves to unworthy or harmful practices. How often we belie the faith we profess by rudeness, impatience, criticism, and prejudice! How often an unbelieving world fails to see in us the fruit of love, joy, and peace, all of which come from the indwelling Spirit!
The freedom which comes through faith in Christ knows no national, racial, or political boundaries. The Gospel says that men may know the Truth and be made free. Here is to be found the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. It is an emancipation from the demands of the Law which no man could keep. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” is a practical reality, not a meaningless phrase.
We see then one of the many paradoxes of the Christian faith which the unregenerate can never grasp. God’s values and man’s are totally different. Despotism may hold man under its iron heel, but it is incapable of restraining the spiritual freedom that springs through faith. In like manner the “freedom” which a nation such as our own offers to her citizens does not in any way deliver men from the dominance of sin.
For the Christian there remains the certainty of ultimate and complete freedom, not only from the limitations of time and space and circumstance but also from the tears, sorrow, and death which are a part of our earthly heritage.
“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
This may be called the “Fifth Freedom” and it lasts for eternity.
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