Some material from my lectures on Chapter 21, ‘Of Christian Liberty’ in the Second London Confession:
It may be difficult for us to understand just how important this chapter is, both in terms of the Confession itself, and of the theology expressed in the Confession. From our vantage point, well over 300 years from its first writing, we see it as one among many of the doctrines of the Confession. Since it is incorporated, it must be of importance. But it doesn’t get our attention as do chapters 1, 7, 8, 26 etc.
If we adopt that kind of thinking, we underestimate the monumental importance attached to this idea by the reformers and their successors. Listen to some of their statements:
Calvin, Institutes, Book 3:19:1: “We are now to treat of Christian Liberty, the explanation of which certainly ought not to be omitted by any one proposing to give a compendious summary of Gospel doctrine. For it is a matter of primary necessity, one without the knowledge of which the conscience can scarcely attempt any thing without hesitation, in many must demur and fluctuate, and in all proceed with fickleness and trepidation. In particular, it forms a proper appendix to Justification, and is of no little service in understanding its force. Nay, those who seriously fear God will hence perceive the incomparable advantages of a doctrine which wicked scoffers are constantly assailing with their jibes; the intoxication of mind under which they labor leaving their petulance without restraint. This, therefore, seems the proper place for considering the subject. Moreover, though it has already been occasionally adverted to, there was an advantage in deferring the fuller consideration of it till now, for the moment any mention is made of Christian liberty lust begins to boil, or insane commotions arise, if a speedy restraint is not laid on those licentious spirits by whom the best things are perverted into the worst. For they either, under pretext of this liberty, shake off all obedience to God, and break out into unbridled licentiousness, or they feel indignant, thinking that all choice, order, and restraint, are abolished. What can we do when thus encompassed with straits? Are we to bid adieu to Christian liberty, in order that we may cut off all opportunity for such perilous consequences? But, as we have said, if the subject be not understood, neither Christ, nor the truth of the Gospel, nor the inward peace of the soul, is properly known. Our endeavor must rather be, while not suppressing this very necessary part of doctrine, to obviate the absurd objections to which it usually gives rise.”
Owen (15:402): “The second principle of the Reformation, whereon the reformers justified their separation from the church of Rome, was this: ‘That Christian people were not tied up unto blind obedience unto church-guides, but were not only at liberty, but also obliged to judge for themselves as unto all things that they were to believe and practise in religion and the worship of God.’ They knew that the whole fabric of the Papacy did stand on this basis or dunghill, that the mystery of iniquity was cemented by this device,–namely, that the people were ignorant, and to be kept in ignorance, being obliged in all things unto an implicit obedience unto their pretended guides.”
This is remarkable! The ‘second principle of the Reformation’. Owen is correct. Without a proper doctrine of Christian Liberty, the Christian life is impossible to live.