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By Will Resume

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DURING THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, liberty in the political, social and economic spheres expanded in irregular and unprecedented fashion in Britain and around the world, as nation-states were made and unmade in the wake of regional wars, revolutions, and re-alignment along lines of ideology.


The various adjustments to British life in the closing years of the 1800s and the opening years of the 1900s, were prompted by social, political and industrial innovations, colonial wars, and unprecedented international trade (‘globalisation’). Of this period the British economist, John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), wrote


What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of man that age was which came to an end in August 1914! The greater part of the population, it is true, worked hard and lived at low standard of comfort, yet were, to all appearances, reasonably contented with this lot. But escape was possible, for any man of capacity or character at all exceeding the average, into the middle and upper classes, for whom life offered, at a low cost and with the least trouble, conveniences, comforts, and amenities beyond the compass of the richest and most powerful monarchs of other ages.


The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages; or he could decide to couple the security of his fortunes with the good faith of the townspeople of any substantial municipality in any continent that fancy or information might recommend. He could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality, could despatch his servant to the neighbouring office of a bank for such supply of the precious metals as might seem convenient, and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language, or customs, bearing coined wealth upon his person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference.


Source: The Economic Consequences of the Peace


Many of these progressive elements came to a halt, forming a catalyst at the time of the Great War. Agitations for expansion of the franchise to women, calls for improvements in working and living conditions, suspended during the four years of that war in the interests of social cohesion, returned in force when it was over. Bled white by the conflict, Britain emerged an altered nation, less confident and less powerful.[fn1]


The period 1918 to 1939 was a time of change in the traditional and social character of the country. Various influences were at play: access to a wide range of imported goods (though not at previous levels); the growth of broadcast radio; the spread of popular music through increased sales of gramophone records; the cinema, with its window-on-the-world motion pictures (British and, mostly, American) and the associated celebrity cult all these developments encouraged a shift to a less formal culture than had existed prior to 1914. On the political and economic fronts, the growing power and demands of the trades unions, the dire effects of the Depression, and the rise of a militant Germany during the 1930s, all contributed to social instability.


The turbulent history of the decades following the Second World War is well documented. Fears deriving from the Cold War with its generalised sense of dread of nuclear attacks and the ‘sexual revolution’ and various movements expressive of the ‘counter-culture’ of youth, have all contributed to the modern perception of what constitutes morality and decent standards of civic behaviour. Christianity has taken a beating, too, with people deserting the churches in droves. A knowledge of the Scriptures, once regarded as a necessary literary accoutrement of the educated man, is now generally regarded as an irrelevancy.


The overlapping years of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries may be remembered as the years of the mobile phone and the computer. Worldwide access to these remarkable information technologies and the resulting dissemination of knowledge, especially via the Internet, have in a comparatively short time exerted a profound effect on the legal and regulatory frameworks of national governments, and on entertainment and marketing.


Begrudging the Drudge

The net effect of these cumulative changes at the national level in Britain was far-reaching freedoms in the workplace and the home, the opening up of higher education to a wider swath of the population, better health, better homes, and a rise in disposable income. ‘Citizen power’ has grown commensurate with the spread of knowledge, resulting in an often cynical approach toward government, and a corresponding lack of respect for many social institutions and central authority.

From a largely conservative nation, rooted in a notional Christianity, the United Kingdom has undergone a transformation to an informal, less-stratified society. Like other consumer-based economies, Britain is now inundated with various ‘objects of excitement’, the popular imagination captivated by the limitless levels of personal pleasure on offer. This is not to imply that the societal changes have been all to the negative, but rather to point out that in the getting of prosperity, weightier merits and considerations are often discouraged or squelched, and a ‘trivialising’ of the national character ensues.


Under the Divine polity this process is inevitable: personal liberty of the sort preferred by the natural heart is a heady mixture. In our sinful, fallen condition we may easily get drunk on it. The fundamental question is not how many restrictions we should rid ourselves of, but rather which ones we ought to keep. It is, in the final analysis, a spiritual question, one which has decreasing currency in a society undergoing a seismic shift toward the secular.


The Bondage of Freedom

But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed (James 1: 25).

The loosening of personal and private restrictions presents especial difficulties for the Christian man and woman. For although the Christian, as citizen, enjoys the same rights to civic and political freedoms enjoyed by everyone else, the anomaly is that the Christian – in reaction to the hedonistic forces operating around him – is bound even more tightly to a code of behaviour which is viewed with increasing hostility by the society in which he resides.


The first-century followers of Christ were set free from the regulatory restraints of the Mosaic Law (John 8: 36). However, such were cautioned not to run to excess (Romans 6: 15; 1 Corinthians 6: 12; 10: 23). As twenty-first-century Christians we, too, are saved by Grace, by our exercise of faith (Ephesians 2: 8, 9). We are aware that we cannot secure our salvation by our works by doing something. The ‘work’ spoken of by James (cited above) as being appropriate for the Christian is not such as earn us a reward, but those actions which demonstrate that we are living a life consistent with our profession. For as Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, so should the Christian emulate Him. Indeed, the Apostle informs us that ‘pure religion’ consists in helping the poor and unfortunate, never forgetting that we must pass on the good news of the Gospel at every reasonable opportunity (James 1: 27).


The Blessed Nuisance

The flowering of liberty and the progressive initiative of the past century-and-a-half which have brought to mankind the remarkable benefits of industrialisation, national and individual wealth, and the resultant economic and social freedoms, has, simultaneously, taxed the integrity of the human heart. For ‘freedom’ implies a measure of restraint. A train hurtling along at 170 miles per hour induces a heady thrill, but a thrill allowed and secured by the knowledge that maintenance of the machine and the track are top-notch and that we are in no danger of being liberated from the rails and into the open air. To trust is to be tethered. How many of us would be prepared to put trust in Self or in the secular ethics of careless or unrestrained Society? Where better to lodge our trust than in the Son who guarantees our freedom by the sacrifice of Himself.


As bond-servants of Christ we may not assert the freedom to do what we choose. Being ‘free’ in the Christ-like sense implies a heightened regulation of our conscience, by which we habitually adjust not only how we behave, but what we think. The Christian faith thus operates at such a deep level that it is no surprise that most people cannot comprehend more than the surface features of it, and may even regard such a state of mind as radical. The consecrated people of God put Christ first in their aims and calculations. Being thus internally regulated actually brings a latitude of freedom, secure in the belief that we are His and He is ours. That we need not fear anything, for Christ’s love in us casts out fear and brings the peace which the world can’t understand or obliterate.


This is not to say, of course, that life is all smooth sailing. Indeed, our efforts to be faithful may induce anxieties, depending on one’s personality. Each time we fail to live up to what we think the Lord expects of us opens the door to discouragement. This is part of the battle, too, and varies from one individual to another.


Be not men’s servant: think what costly price

Was paid that thou might’st His own bondsman be,

Whose service perfect freedom is. Let this

Hold fast thy heart. His claim is great to thee.

None should thy soul enthrall to whom ’tis given

To serve on earth, with liberty of Heaven.[fn2]


Stifling Me

As a philosophical argument, all individuals may theoretically be regarded as equal. But looked at from the more restrictive Biblical standpoint, freedom is a privilege, not a right. The entire race is in a convict condition dying and has no claim before God to ‘fair’ treatment. It is an important truth that one stands before God only through the merit of Christ. Without it, we are nothing. The Christian’s relationship with God does not require the intercession of man or institution to moderate it. Through the workings of the holy spirit in us we are sanctified day to day. That is, for the duration of our lives our mind and heart are adjusted toward Christ-likeness, the pattern which we are to keep before us at all times. But we cannot expect complete freedom in this life, for sin is ever present. Therefore, we should endeavour to untie our hearts and minds from the strings that bind us to the unhelpful aspects of our natural tendencies.


Selfishness, prejudice, impatience, covetousness anything which exalts the noisy Me over Christ we are obliged to suppress. The Christian is not at liberty to take advantage of all the natural or civic freedoms on offer. In this age of personal esteem, the Christian must put the Self last. This is contrary to one’s natural instinct and the pervasive mantra of ‘doing your own thing’ (Romans 8: 6-14):


 6. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

 7. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

 8. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

 9. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

10. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

11. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

12. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.

13. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

14. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.


The sort of Christianity described in these verses has never been socially attractive and never will be. Its exclusiveness lies not in any superiority of its adherents, but rather in the peculiar demands it makes of the willing heart: the self-abnegation which seeks the will of God above the will of the Self. It is a commitment which does not let up on weekends or bank holidays. From it will flow a healthy regard for others, the giving of the benefit of the doubt, the exercise of compassion and mercy, and a robust, intelligent prayer for the blessings of perfect liberty yet to come to all mankind through the Kingdom of Christ on earth.




[fn1] From 1918 we may loosely date the beginning of Britain’s decline as the chief nation of the world, though the effects of this would not be wholly apparent for some years. Still ahead lay the League of Nations’ British mandate for Palestine (1920-1948), leading, by diffuse and Providential means, to the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948, a move which began with the Balfour Declaration regarding Jewish return (1917). After the Second World War, the emergence of the United States as the succeeding (and eventual) world empire, and the rise of the Soviet Union as a nuclear power, confirmed the diminished role of Great Britain in world affairs. Britain’s exit from its dominant position in the Middle East following the Suez Crisis of 1956 may be seen as the companion bookend to 1918.

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[fn2] From The Servant’s Path in a Day of Rejection (undated),by John Jewell Penstone (1817-1902), England. For a potted biography of this artist-poet, see:  (Link Broken)




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