by Pastor Aeron Morgan
Many hymns and songs of worship constantly impress us, inspiring us with their comfort and encouragement, and often presenting a timely challenge. One such hymn, for me, was written by George Matheson (1842-1906).
Matheson was a brilliant and promising young student in Scotland. The call of God was on his life and he was preparing for the preaching and teaching ministry. However, when he was just eighteen years old he lost his sight almost completely. Apparently he only saw shadows, so that such visual impairment necessitated him having to give up his research and scholarship in the field of apologetic theology.
Despite such a setback he had the reputation of being a great optomist, with a bouyant and inspiring spirit. Not discouraged, he gave his time and energies to devotional preaching and writing, greatly helped by his eldest sister who wrote his essays at his dictation, and his early sermons. He wrote hundreds of articles and many books.
He became a minister with the Scottish Free Church, at first for a short time assisting Dr. MacDuff at Sandyford Church, Glasgow before becoming the minister of Innellan Church on the Firth of Clyde, in Argyll. He remained there for 18 years, his preaching gifts rapidly maturing. And what a profound influence he had on all who heard him preach the Word of God. That included Queen Victoria, before whom he once faithfully expounded the Gospel. He said something remarkable. It was this:
“When I became blind, I really began to see!”
What a paradox! In fact, it is the reality of authentic Christianity. It’s the truth of coming to know God in a deep, intimate way; of perceiving by a revelation of the Holy Spirit something of the glorious perfections of the Almighty; communing with Him in such personal but profound reality, and becoming MORE GOD-LIKE through the relationship. No true revelation of God ends with the mere intellectual acknowledgment of His existence. It reaches beyond the mind to the heart, beyond academia to adoration.
This was evident with Matheson. Little wonder he gave us some of our finest hymns, with such profound thought and theology, such as “O Love that wilt not let me go.” There is another that truly grips me, one that (to some, no doubt) has a very puzzling yet profound opening stanza. It reads like this:
“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 absurd this might appear to be to some people who have ‘no eyes’ to see such spiritual truth! How is it possible to be a slave yet absolutely free? How is it possible to yield up one’s weapons and still become a conqueror over a formidable enemy? Well, it’s like many other paradoxes in Christian life. For instance, Paul testified, “When I am WEAK, then am I STRONG” (2 Corinthians 12:10). To the persecuted Church in Smyrna our Lord said, “I know your POVERTY – but you are RICH!” And to the church in Laodicea He said, “You say, ‘I am RICH … and do not know that you are POOR …” (Revelation 2:9. 3:17)
There is a slavery which is perfect freedom, whilst there is a seeming ‘freedom’ that is abject bondage. It’s the former that Matheson refers to in his superbly inspired hymn. A captive of Christ is “FREE INDEED”, just as Jesus said we would be. John 8:36.
A favourite designation of Paul concerning himself was this: he was “a servant” or, bond-slave of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1). The Greek word “doulos” was the most abject, servile term used by Greeks to denote a ‘slave.’ Such a person was one bound to his master in cords so strong that only death could break them. Generally he was born into that condition rather than becoming a slave at some later point in time – a slave who knew no freedom. He served not his own interests, and his will was swallowed up in the will of his master.
THAT was Paul! 1 Corinthians 7:32. Even when incarcerated in a Roman prison he was never ashamed of his bonds (2 Timothy 1:12) in which he felt more free, mighty, and happy than the Emperor did upon his throne! Peter likewise confessed himself to be a “doulos” (2 Peter 1:1), as did John (Revelation 1:1). And that should be the testimony of EVERYONE who confesses Jesus Christ to be their Lord!
This is the hallmark of genuine Christianity. Prior to becoming a captive of Christ every one of us was a slave to Satan as ‘the god of this world,’ and to the dominion of sin. These two servitudes are contrasted for us by Paul in Romans 6. Observe the apostle’s words in verses 16-20:
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.”
The atoning work of Jesus alone makes it possible for sinners to be liberated from slavery to sin and Satan’s dominion, to enjoy a new status as the free “sons of God.” See Colossians 1:13-14. Where this is a reality, it is required that thereafter believers do as Paul admonishes: “yield their members [bodily parts] as SERVANTS to righteousness unto holiness.” (verse 19) Indeed, there is no option here. Paul warns against being brought back under wretched servitude to sin, saying, “Do you not know that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey?” (verse 16) We must now seek only to please our Lord. Galatians 1:10. Ephesians 6:5-6.
Does this describe YOUR relationship to the Lord today? Can you confess that like Paul you, too, are a “doulos”, a bond-slave, and glad to be one? Do we recognize that we are under obligation to be utterly consecrated to the will of God to the point that its excludes any and every personal preference? Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters.” Matthew 6:24. (Cf. 8:9) After all, you are “NOT YOUR OWN; you are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit (that is, the WHOLE person), which belong to God.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
In reality, the slave owned nothing, and was nothing, apart from his master. So it is with the true Christian. Everything about us, all that we have to do with, must be seen in that light – there must be an ABSOLUTE LOYALTY to Christ in the consciousness of His ABSOLUTE POSSESSION of us. We depend on HIM for every provision, and for all protection. I ask again, and of my own heart, “Am I truly a ‘DOULOS’ of Jesus Christ?”
Griffith Thomas wrote,
“If this title is not a reality, it is an utter mockery. If it is real, it always brings blessedness; if it is unreal, it must bring shame, for to be called a slave of Jesus Christ and yet remain enslaved to self is the depth of moral degradation.”
Ponder the expression of George Matheson’s heart in the final stanza of his hymn, and pray that if not there already you might be brought there by the grace of God—
“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, Amidst the clashing strife, When on Thy bosom it has leaned, AND FOUND IN THEE ITS LIFE.”
With over 50 years of continuous full-time Christian service, including pastoring churches in Britain and Australia, Aeron Morgan was also the Principal of Commonwealth Bible College and the first General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God in Britain and Ireland. Known for strong expository preaching, he is currently a regular visiting faculty member of South Pacific Bible College, Suva, and fulfils an itinerant ministry preaching and teaching in churches, Bible Colleges and Bible Conferences.
(Oh, and he’s my Dad!)