“Christian Liberty” by Franciscus Junius

Ryan M. Hurd
Franciscus Junius
Monday, March 1st 2021
Mar/Apr 2021

The following is a translation of Franciscus Junius’s De libertate christiana, “Christian Liberty.” Franciscus Junius (1545–1602) was professor of theology at Heidelberg from 1584 to 1592, when he moved to Leiden and was professor of theology there until his death in 1602. Public disputations were common academic practice during this time. De libertate christiana is one of the many short disputations Junius held while he was professor. For further introduction to Junius’s life and writings, see the recently translated A Treatise on True Theology. [1] Regarding the translation below, I have made no effort to establish a critical text and have simply translated from the Kuyper volume. [2] A footnote or two occur in situ for explanation, a couple reference what the disputation itself includes, and a silent minor correction or two (wrong references, etc.) have been made.

Thesis 1. Christian liberty is a gratuitous, spiritual liberation of the truly faithful. Thanks to this liberation, the faithful are set free because of Christ from the law’s curse, the slavery imposed by sin, and the yoke of legal ceremonies and of matters indifferent in themselves, [3] and they are bestowed the Holy Spirit. As a result, they begin serving God in holiness and righteousness on their own accord, for their own salvation, to edify the brethren, and for the glory of God.

2. We call this liberation not bodily, but “spiritual” (which is just as different from bodily liberation as slavery is). The point is for us to know that it is different from political or civil liberty, as well as the spurious liberty of other schools of thought. [4] This is because spiritual liberty has to do with bringing man’s conscience peace, as the conscience knows and feels that it has been brought into grace with God thanks to the merit of Christ. Notwithstanding, this spiritual liberty can coincide with external liberty or slavery. The faithful, being given external liberty, can have internal liberty as well; and they can meet with and retain internal liberty, despite having been pressed into external slavery (1 Cor. 7:21–22). Augustine has said it well: A good man, if he serves, is free; a bad, if he reigns, is a slave—not just to one man, but what is more serious: to as many masters as his vices. [5]

3. The remote efficient cause of Christian liberty is God’s grace and exceeding benevolence, unmerited by foreseen works. The proximate efficient cause is Christ Jesus, in whom the elect enjoy this benefit as those whom he presented with true liberty, seeing they have been delivered from slavery by the merit and efficacy of his suffering (John 8:32, 36; 1 Cor. 7:23; Gal. 5:1; 1 Pet. 1:18–19). The subject—the “matter in which”—is all the truly pious and faithful, individually and alone, who, having been endowed with true faith, and acknowledging themselves as slaves to sin, apply the fruit of the Lord’s death to themselves. For no one can be enjoying the benefit of liberty before it is embraced in saving faith. The object—the “matter about which”—is the law’s curse, the slavery imposed by sin, and the yoke of legal ceremonies and of matters undecided in themselves. [6]

4. The formal cause [7] is the Holy Spirit’s sanctification and testimony. By this, the Spirit seals within the hearts of the truly faithful a certain persuasion and full assurance [8] of their adoption unto sons of God from being sons of the devil, and thereby also their immunity from their former slavery (Rom. 8:13–15; 2 Cor. 1:22; Gal. 4:6–7; Eph. 4:30). The proximate end is that they begin to serve God in holiness and righteousness on their own accord. For they are free with a servant liberty, who serve him with a free servitude. The intermediate end is the salvation of those using this liberty, and the edification of the weaker brethren (1 Cor. 9:19–23). The remote end is the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

5. Christian liberty has three parts: liberation from the law’s curse, the slavery imposed by sin, and the yoke of legal ceremonies and of matters undecided in themselves. The first part—liberation from the law’s curse—consists in the reality that the consciences of the truly faithful are free from and also immune to the law’s severity and exactitude (Rom. 8; Gal. 3:10–13; 5:1, 5). Under such, the law pronounces a curse on all those who have transgressed it even a single jot (James 2:10; Gal. 3:10, citing Deut. 27:26). It does not confer salvation to any unless he has kept all the commandments clearly and completely (Rom. 10:5; Ezek. 20:11). And as long as that rigor maintains its dominion and still has life, all men throughout the world have been shut up under condemnation and cut off from any hope of eternal inheritance. For there is no one who can satisfy the law’s requirements in any way by his own power. Now after this has been destroyed, the law itself is not useless to the faithful; it remains their teaching unmoved and unchangeable, and seeks to show the way and example whereby the faithful can conform their lives to God’s will, notwithstanding their conscience remains free and untroubled before his tribunal.

6. The second part of Christian liberty is immunity to the slavery imposed by reigning sin. The effect of this is that reigning sin exercises its tyranny within the faithful no longer (John 8:34–36; Rom. 6:14, 17–18)—as the faithful yield themselves to a subjugation under righteousness, delight in God’s law, and conform to his will, not like they are forced by the control of the law, but by their free, untroubled heart, thanks to the Spirit of regeneration who dwells within them. Ambrose thus says: He is free for whom sin has been sent away, seeing as he now carries no debt of sin. [9] Due to this, the pious resolutely persuade themselves, for their own consolation, to have complete allegiance to God—indeed, even to be fully resolved to arrange a better life to please the wondrous God (Mal. 3:17). Thus, they prepare themselves with greater relish and speed for true worship of him (1 John 5:2–3).

7. The third part of Christian liberty is liberation from the yoke of legal ceremonies, seeing that, because the ceremonies were abolished by Christ’s coming and death, the truly faithful have been freed from the obligation of observing them (Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:14, 16), and so also their consciences cannot with any necessity be governed by external things undecided in themselves, broadly speaking. We say things are “undecided” when they are neither good nor bad in their very nature; and for that reason anybody can use such things either well or badly or simply not at all (Matt. 15:11; Rom. 14:14, 20, 22; 1 Cor. 6:12–13; 8:8; 10:23, 25, 27; Col. 2:16–17; Titus 1:15). On the adiaphora use of things, we do not permit such for those who are not yet certain about their liberty, and so hesitant in its use, in doubt, or travail from some overly scrupulous opinion; we do not permit this because what they are doing, they are not doing out of faith (Rom. 14:5, 14, 22–23).

8. This liberty about indifferent things, however, is not actualized always and in every situation; it can and should be restrained both in general and in particular. In general, it can and should be restrained through the law of love. Such a law is catholic and demands that concern is had for the weak brothers who are less developed in evangelical teaching and not sufficiently taught of the privileges brought by their liberty (Rom. 14:1, 13, 15, 19–21; 15:1–2; 1 Cor. 8:9, 13; 9:12, 22; 10:24, 28–29, 32–33; Gal. 5:13), lest something adiaphora in itself be done whereby they are destroyed, or does not take place whereby they are built up. Now, we are always to decide this out of the word of God, so that it is clear what should be done or not. For what is good, charity decides thus; what is permitted, faith determines. However, one should know that even when we accommodate our neighbor, our liberty still remains unimpaired; only its use is restricted (1 Cor. 9:4, 15, 19, 22). Our liberty is one thing; its use, another. This is because liberty is within the conscience and has respect to God, while its use concerns external things and has dealings not just with God, but with men, with whom not all things are expedient, even though all things are permitted, because we should not use liberty unless it edifies (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23; Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 10:27–28).

9. Therefore, people who use their liberty improperly and unseasonably and so are a stumbling block to the brethren are sinning (Matt. 18:6–7; Luke 17:1–2; Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:11–12); likewise for those who thoughtlessly judge the consciences of others (Rom. 14:3, 10, 13), and those who make like they are using their liberty, but it is for their own advantage and refreshment, instead of seeking to build up their neighbor (Gal. 2:11–12, etc.). But if on the other hand one is dealing with Pharisees and corrupted men, then one should passionately assert and defend the liberty which has been gained in order to beat back their malice, and should not allow this liberty to become subject to their tyranny and abuse. This is all in light of the wisdom of Christ, who teaches us to consider the Pharisaical entrapment as of no consequence (Matt. 15:14), and in light of Paul’s example, who actually circumcised Timothy to gain the weak (Acts 16:3), but refused to circumcise Titus nor wanted him to be circumcised (Gal. 2:3–5), lest he submit himself to false brothers and seem to approve and encourage their error.

10. Now in particular, the use of indifferent things is restrained by formal regulation, [10] which is twofold: political and ecclesiastic. For even though properly speaking God alone binds people’s consciences, nevertheless the magistrate does in his own way when he commands or forbids us to do something which is adiaphora in itself for the good of the civil society, [11] and the church herself establishes our liberty with some laws about indifferent things, for the sake of good order [12] and edification. Nobody in pursuit of rebellion can resist without sin, and this is what Paul says (Rom. 13:5): We must be subject to overarching authorities for the sake of conscience, which suffers damage via our rebellion. Still, our liberty of conscience in such a situation is not shackled, on account of the fact that it is not our conscience itself but some external act which is bound.

11. We should understand all of this in such a way that we think of indifferent things not as becoming necessary absolutely speaking; rather, these things are necessary only for as long as they fall under certain circumstances, thanks to which necessity is enjoined. When these circumstances come to an end (not counting a situation of scandal or intended rebellion, for the sake of the common good), one does not sin when he goes against such formal regulations. Therefore, we should maintain in every case this method; laws of this sort are not to be changed rashly, nor doggedly retained. However, all of this just applies to things undecided and indifferent, nothing more. The reason is that what God commands or prohibits is never accordingly to be neglected or done for the sake of being a stumbling block or harmful. Therefore, we must not offend God in deference to our neighbor (Matt. 5:29–30; 10:34–35; Luke 14:26; Rom. 3:8), nor submit to the magistrate when he establishes something against the word of God or wields power over our consciences (Acts 4:19–20; 5:29).

12. In light of all this, the following err extremely seriously. First, the Libertines. After suppressing every distinction, they reject the whole law under the guise of Christian liberty by claiming that nothing is illicit for the Christian man, nothing is totally forbidden, and no further thought is to be had about law. For things undecided or indifferent, they think we can say that such are agreeable without any exception, all the time, and everywhere; they can be taken up or left off without sin. Thus they abuse Christian liberty to fulfill their lust, even as a pretense of religion. Second, the Roman Catholics, who weigh down the pitiable consciences of men with their traditions. Third, the Jews. They fantasize about the earthly reign of the Christ and so hope for earthly liberty through him, and understand nothing about the spiritual reign of the Christ in his church, and the liberty of the Spirit (John 18:36). And fourth, the Anabaptists. They make up even external liberty and so cast off every yoke of the political magistrate, and daydream about Christians reigning for a thousand years before the last day.

Ryan Hurd teaches systematic theology, specifically the doctrine of God, as a teaching fellow at The Davenant Institute. He is also a Latin translator.

1. Francis Junius, A Treatise on True Theology with the Life of Franciscus Junius, trans. David C. Noe (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2014). This work can also be found online at The Junius Institute where it is nicely formatted side by side with the Latin text: My thanks to Michael Lynch for providing translation feedback on this piece; whatever errors remain are my own.
2. Franciscus Junius, “De libertate christiana,” in Francisci Iunii Opuscula theologica selecta, ed. Abraham Kuyper (Amsterdam: Fred. Muller, 1882), 1:223–26. This is simply a reprint of Franciscus Junius, Opera theologica, duobus tomis, ordine commodissimo, nempe Exegetico primo, Elenctica altero, comprehensa…2 vols. (Geneva: Societas Caldoriana, 1607).
3. Rerum per se indifferentium.
4. Ficta aliarum sectarum libertate.
5. Augustine, City of God, book 4, chap 3.
6. Rerum per se mediarum.
7. Forma.
8. Indubitatam persuasionem and πληροφοριαν.
9. Ambrose, Epistularum libri –VI, book 2, letter 7.
10. Per constitutionem.
11. Bono Rei Publicae.
12. Ευταξιαν. Junius dropping the Greek is likely intended to signal, e.g., 1 Cor. 14:40.
Monday, March 1st 2021

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