One of our themes here is liberty. It is often said that our modern conception of liberty is the joint product of Greek philosophy, Roman Law and our ‘Judeo-Christian’ heritage. A moment’s thought gives pause for thought. Greek philosophy and Roman Law were as compatible with slavery as was Judaism; early Christianity, whilst not condoning the practice, advised its followers to accept it – but to remember that all Christians were equal in God’s sight. The idea that men are everywhere created equal is certainly Christian in origin, but the idea that man has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is at best Deist. It is hard to see it as Christian – where in that is any need for redemption from sin, or for the crucifixion and resurrection? Life and liberty in this world are not the Good News we are to proclaim.
Although our society has much to say about ‘human rights’, it is hard to see what they can mean in the abstract. Within the context of a particular society – the admitted claims of one individual against another, we can see what it means. If these really were ‘rights’ that inhered in being human, we might well have witnessed their presence before very modern times.
The Gospel is a social Gospel – although not in the sense it has come to be used. The Good News is imparted to us not as an isolated individual, atomised from our fellows, but rather as a member of a called-out community. St Paul provides us with the classic description of Christian society – ‘we being many are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of one bread’. We are, there, placed in our proper perspective – as part of the body of the church. We receive our new nature from God as part of the Church – not as some isolated individual with a ‘right’ to salvation; we have no rights. We are sinners, we are guilty, we deserve justice – and yet in God’s church we receive mercy.
This is very remarkable indeed – and we sometimes forget that. God adopts us as his children, and we are not servants, but sons and daughters. God’s kingdom is a family, and we are part of that family. We may choose to behave like the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal, but that is clearly not what God wants from us. He draws from us love, because it is love he offers us first. There is here, nothing of the language of ‘rights’, nor yet of some inalienable right to happiness and liberty. There is only the language of love – within the family. And we, what must we do to receive this? Not assert some inalienable right, but simply to bow the knee to the Father, confess we are not what we ought to be, confess we are unworthy, and believe in Him who died for us and rose again to redeem us. Christ died for sinners. if we are not sinners, we cannot be saved. Am I unjust and ungodly? Yes, and because of it, I qualify for love and if I will only admit my guilt and my sin, then I am saved in Him.