In 1942, the population of the United States was still reeling from the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 that led to our country becoming more active in World War II. In 1942, the Wannsee Conference in Berlin concluded to pursue a “final solution” to the perceived “Jewish question.” In 1942, the war that had already been ravaging much of Europe suddenly seemed much closer to home. Schools practiced bomb drills. The idea of an air raid became reality. Gasoline rationing began in the United States. And, in the midst of all of this, a composer by the name of Robert Emmett Winsett published the well-known hymn “Jesus Is Coming Soon.”
I’m not personally fond of the song being used in worship because of its strong pre-millennial overtones in verse two:
Love of so many cold, losing their homes of gold,
This in God’s word is told, evil’s abound.
When these signs come to pass, nearing the end at last,
It will come very fast, trumpets will sound.
In fact, I suspect (though cannot conform it) that Winsett was one of many Christians who believed that World War II was a sign of the end times, and that the war would only end with Christ’s return. This is one of those hymns that is strongly influenced by the culture in which it was written – much like you can pretty reliably spot songs written around the time of the Great Depression – and that cultural influence is evident from the first couple lines of the song.
Troublesome times are here, filling men’s hearts with fear,
Freedom we all hold dear, now is at stake…
Last time this song was led at our congregation, I found myself wondering what freedom the composer was writing about. Galatians 5:1 tells us to hold onto our spiritual freedom and to avoid the yoke of slavery, but, continuing through that passage, it’s clear that the slavery Paul has in mind is one that enslaves the heart and mind. It is a slavery that we can only enter if we willingly walk into it – either by binding unscriptural traditions to the gospel of Christ or by returning to slavery in sin. Along these same lines, Peter draws a contrast between those who are free and those who are slaves of corruption. Finally, Both Paul and Peter – in Galatians 5:13 and I Peter 2:16, respectively – warn us against using our freedom in Christ irresponsibly, causing others to stumble.
In all of this, there is no hint that external forces can come and rob this freedom in Christ from us. In fact, Paul asserts his confidence that nothing can separate us from God’s love (and, by association, the freedom found in Him) in Romans 8:37-39:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The freedom we have in Christ can never be at stake unless we put it at risk ourselves, through our own rejection of His teachings. It seems, like many of us, that Mr. Winsett is making the error of placing the secular freedoms we take for granted on the same level with the spiritual freedom we have in Christ. We feel a deep attachment to our freedom of speech, to our right to protest, to our freedom of religion, to our fiscal freedoms, even (for some reason) to our right to carry tools of violence. We feel the rights granted to us by our Constitution and Bill of Rights are granted to us by God Himself, and we revere them as penitently as we do our freedom in Christ.
Our secular rights and freedoms are not unalienable in God’s eyes. We should be grateful that we have them, for, with them, our mission of seeking and saving the lost is far easier than if we were living in a more oppressive culture. We must remember, however, that losing those freedoms could never change our relationship with our God. Only we can do that. We must not idolize our freedoms, nor can we afford to re-enter spiritual slavery under the pretense of preserving or upholding those secular freedoms. While it is appropriate to be thankful for these freedoms, and we may even feel a need to celebrate those freedoms and the individuals who helped lay their foundation, we must remember that the only freedom we should truly hold dear is the freedom from sin found in Christ.
And that is a freedom no one can take away.