The American Experiment: Guiding Principle #3 = The Bible’s ‘Individual Liberty’
Psalm 119:45 “I will walk in liberty, for I seek Your precepts.”
Nearly 243 years ago, on July 6, 1775, the Second Continental Congress published ‘The Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms’ to explain why the Thirteen Colonies decided to take up arms against Britain in what became the American Revolutionary War. Here are excerpts from this document.
“A reverence for our Creator, principles of humanity, and the dictates of common sense, must convince all that government was instituted to promote the welfare of mankind, and ought to be administered for the attainment of that end. The legislature of Great-Britain, however, stimulated by an inordinate passion for a power unjustifiable, attempted to affect their cruel purpose of enslaving these colonies by violence, and have thereby rendered it necessary for us to close with their last appeal from reason to arms.
Our forefathers, inhabitants of the island of Great-Britain, left their native land, to seek on these shores a residence for civil and religious freedom. At the expense of their blood, at the hazard of their fortunes, and an unconquerable spirit, they effected settlements in the distant and unhospitable wilds of America.
In Great Britain, the lords said that ‘a rebellion existed by his majesty’s subjects in several of the colonies; they besought his majesty to enforce obedience to the laws and authority of the supreme legislature.’ Large reinforcements of ships and troops were sent over to General Gage, who in the course of the last year had taken possession of Boston, butchered our countrymen, seized our ships and vessels, intercepted our supplies, and he is exerting his utmost power to spread destruction and devastation around him.
We are reduced to the alternative of choosing an unconditional submission to the tyranny of Great Britain or resistance by force. The latter is our choice. We have counted the cost of this contest, and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery. Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our ancestors. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them, if we entail hereditary bondage upon them.
With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, declare that we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance, employ arms for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live slaves.
With a humble confidence .in the mercies of the supreme and impartial Judge and Ruler of the Universe, we most implore His divine goodness to protect us through this great conflict, to dispose our adversaries to reconciliation on reasonable terms, and thereby to relieve the empire from the calamities of civil war.”
On July 4, 1776, this Second Continental Congress ratified our Declaration of Independence, announcing that these Thirteen Colonies regarded themselves as thirteen independent sovereign states. This was the first step toward forming the United States of America. The most famous sentence in our Declaration is “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, which among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.
Our founders were extremely learned men. They drew from many sources in drafting both the Declaration and the Constitution, such as John Locke, Cicero, Aristotle, and most consistently the Bible. John Locke described individual liberty as “The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of nature for his rule.” By “law of nature” he meant nature’s God – man’s Creator. The Founders understood liberty is from God.
But the main source for their third guiding principle of individual liberty was the Bible. Daniel Webster, in a speech given in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 10, 1847, explained the biblical concept of liberty: “Liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint.” As with King David in this week’s verse from Psalm 119, Webster understood that while God gives us our liberty, He set limitations on our conduct as defined in the Bible. ‘Wholesome restraint’ is what comes through the precepts of biblical ethics. The Founders believed that true liberty for each individual isn’t doing what you want, but rather doing what you ought.
John Adams, one of the most influential Founders, wrote to Thomas Jefferson how critical biblical ethics are in establishing individual liberty: “Suppose a nation’s every member regulated their conduct by the precepts in the Bible. What a utopia – what a paradise would this region be!”
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.