Words: George Matheson (b. Mar. 27, 1842; d. Aug. 28, 1906)
Music: Diademata, by George Job Elvy (b. Mar. 27, 1816; d. Dec. 9, 1893)
Note: The Cyber Hymnal gives the tune Diademata (used also with Crown Him with Many Crowns) as the primary one for this 1890 hymn, along with a couple of other good ones. Terra Beata (used with This Is My Father’s World) is also a possibility.
The old joke asks for the definition of the word paradox, and answers that it’s two doctors. But a paradox is, of course, something quite different. It is a statement that seems absurd or contradictory, but which may, in fact, be true.
George Matheson’s wonderful hymn states a profound paradox in the opening line, then proceeds to drive it home with one poetic image heaped upon another. (It would be worth taking a few moments to read all the stanzas from the Cyber Hymnal.) The Wordwise Hymns link explores the core truth of the song, but I’ll add a few more thoughts here.
CH-1) Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be.
I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand;
Imprison me within Thine arms, and strong shall be my hand.
How, indeed, can we be free if we are, at the same time, captives? Though it does sound absurd, it’s actually a reality we live with every day. In a community, we can only act in freedom and pursue our own interests if we, and others around us, abide by (are “captive” too) an agreed upon set of laws. It’s this structuring of society that allows for the freedom of the individual.
Take freedom of speech as an example. Though we are said to be free to voice our own opinions, or put them in writing, there are limitations. It’s wrong to speak against others with malicious hatred, or threaten others with harm. Nor are we allowed to use words in a crowd that will cause panic and chaos (such as shouting, “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, or “I’ve got a bomb!” in a plane). Acting responsibly, within set limits, we each do our part to keep our society free.
It should be noted in passing, however, that human society isn’t perfect–being designed and maintained, as it is by flawed human beings. The limits of freedom are constantly being challenged by those with their own, often self-serving or immoral, agenda. Corrupt minds are constantly pushing the limits. Watch one of the current situation comedies on television, and then play a DVD of one from the 1950’s, and you’ll see what I mean!
Dr. Matheson called his hymn “Christian Freedom,” basing it on Paul’s description of himself in Ephesians 3:1, as “the prisoner of Jesus Christ” (cf. Phm. 1:1). Using a related term the apostle referred himself as “a bondservant [or slave] of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:1; cf. Phil. 1:1; Tit. 1:1). Others, Peter (II Pet. 1:1), James (Jas. 1:1), and Jude (Jude 1:1) did likewise.
Being either a prisoner or a slave certainly has a negative connotation. But whether it actually is or not depends on a couple of things:
¤ Who or what the person is a prisoner of (or slave to)
¤ For what reason the person is a prisoner or a slave
To be a slave to sin is a cruel and destructive bondage. “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16). And slavery to sin takes us from bad to worse. The Bible says: “You presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness” (Rom. 6:19).
But when we are set free, through faith in Christ, and by the power of the Spirit of God, we are able to become the willing slaves (or prisoners) of One who loves us infinitely and has only our best interests at heart.
“God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness….Now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life” (Rom. 6:17-18, 22).
This has many practical implications in daily life. One is that, as Christians, we are to obey the law of the land, seeking to live for Christ and serve Him within the structure set up for our community.
“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men–as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God” (I Pet. 2:13-16).
CH-4) My will is not my own till Thou hast made it Thine;
If it would reach the monarch’s throne, it must its crown resign.
It only stands unbent, amid the clashing strife,
When on Thy bosom it has leaned, and found in Thee its life.
1) How would you contrast being a slave of Christ to being a slave to sin?
2) Can you think of other paradoxes in the Christian life?