The Freedom Of Limits

“Do not move an ancient boundary stone which your fathers have placed.” (Proverbs 22:28)

In just a couple of days, this country will mark its 245th birthday.  We’ll have a special post for that day. But today we’re going to talk about real freedom from the point of limits, from Chesterton’s point of view which involves a fence.

Real freedom has to have fences. It has to have limits. It has to have a governing *mindset* overseeing it that knows when to say “thus far and no farther” (Job 38:11) Why?

…when I fixed its boundaries and set in place its bars and doors, 11and I declared: ‘You may come this far, but no farther; here your proud waves must stop’?

You and I know why when we are on the opposite end of the excesses of others. We have to have something that impedes our fallen nature, be that a wall, fence, a stop light, or anything that makes us pause and think about how far we are wanting to go and the effects our unchecked power and will have on others, even ourselves. Because invariably, without restraint, it goes in one direction.  It is summed up in this observation by one of Chesterton’s characters, the cleric detective, Father Brown:

“Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down.”
― G.K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown

Chesterton’s Fence

Our society needs the right kind of limits to our fallen nature and out of real love, the kind of love that cares and wants to save us from the evil that wants no restraint, God has provided those rules that act as fences to stop us from our own destruction.  As this country continues now with greater speed to tear down the traditional fences of morality, the inevitable decay of civilization is the result.  We can all see it.  We’re no longer reading about the breakdown of civilization in history books – we are living in the midst of it and losing our real freedom to say no to sin without the excess of power delivering a penalty when we do. Chesterton formulated the following maxim about those fences against our excesses (based on Proverbs 22:28):

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.” – The Drift from Domesticity, The Thing, 1929

The fight is upon us to guard those fences as best we can and to rely on God for the rest. We must fight it as “brave men”. It seems we’re in a losing battle, what Tolkien referred to as “the long defeat”. But as Chesterton reminds us:

You cannot understand that brave men resist a strong opponent more than a weak one… You cannot grasp him, because he is fighting a losing battle… And in your muddy souls you can’t see that the one perfectly divine thing, the one glimpse of God’s paradise given on earth, is to fight a losing battle ― and not lose it.”– G.K. Chesterton: “Time’s Abstract and Brief Chronicle” (1904-1905)

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