“You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” Lev. 25:10. This was the proclamation of God to Moses on the institution of the Hebrew year of Jubilee. It was a time of forgiveness of debt and returning property to who had lost it through financial misfortune. Everyone got a new start, they could from mistakes, enabling them to make better choices in the next fifty years. When you read though the first five books of the Bible, God makes clear that mankind should be free, but within legal and cultural bounds. The rights of others must be respected by custom and enforced by law. Deut. 1: 13-18; 4:1-8.
Our Founders had the same concepts of liberty based on faith, experience, and reason. The Jamestown Colony dedicated itself to” the Spread of the Gospel in the New World”, as did the Mayflower Compact of the Pilgrims. The Puritans didn’t flee to America. They came to complete and embody the ideals of the Reformation that had not been finished in Europe.
Religious liberty grew as the colonies did, Roger Williams founded Rhode Island as a refuge of religious freedom from the state-enforced dogmas of Puritanism. William Penn, a Quaker, founded Pennsylvania as a bastion of complete religious freedom. George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, founded Maryland as a colony where Catholics and other faiths could practice their beliefs in safety. New York had the Dutch Reformed Church from its first settlers. The first Jewish settlers were welcomed in the 1650’s. John Winthrop preached, “That we shall be as a city on a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.”
President Reagan, from his inaugural speech forward, often quoted this line of Winthrop’s to remind Americans that the eyes of the world are still on us, and we are to be a beacon of Liberty to others. Matt. 5:14. The term Liberty has at its core a connotation of reason. Our Founders meant for it to be practiced in the light of God’s Word, reason, custom, and with a great respect for history and the lessons of prior Western Civilization. It is in this context that the Declaration of Independence declares that fundamental rights include “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, while the Constitution states its purpose as to “Secure the blessings of liberty”. Lincoln at Gettysburg recognized that America was “Conceived in Liberty”. In order to be a beacon of liberty, however, we must first be a beacon of morality.
Liberty was never understood to mean that a person had a license to do anything and everything that he wanted. Liberty was based on and limited by individual duties and responsibility to one’s fellow man. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Lev.19:15-18. The colonists almost all belonged to some Christian sect or were Jewish. The faith they practiced was not the casual attachment to a sectarian faith that often comes far down the list of our life’s influences that we see today. To the Founders, the Bible was a living, breathing, force that informed every area of life for the vast majority of Americans. Most of the Founders were deeply religious. Some were skeptical of organized religion like Paine and Jefferson, but even they did not doubt that God acted positively in the affairs of Mankind. The signers of the Declaration dedicated the issue and outcome of their freedom “to the Supreme Judge of the World”, and deemed religion necessary to a republican form of government.
American culture believed that the laws of God existed before, and independent of, the laws of Man, and that God’s law was superior: higher and apolitical. The Founders held that when Jesus said, “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s,” (Matt. 22: 21), He meant we owe responsibilities to government, but that obligations to God come first. In other words, the State cannot preempt God in the citizen’s life. The very ideas of human dignity and liberty, they held, come from God. As a result, the Law, as Moses wrote, must apply to BOTH the ruler and those ruled alike.
John Adams wrote:
We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. [Emphases added]
Is it any wonder that our government becomes more intrusive and oppressive at every level, while we as individuals neglect God and His Word more and more?
Sir Edward Coke, considered the greatest jurist of the English Enlightenment, said this a hundred year before our Founding: ” When an act of Parliament is against common right and reason, or repugnant, or impossible to be performed, the common law will control it, and adjudge such an act to be void. In other words, Natural Law, and Common Law based upon it, applies to legislatures, judges (Supreme Courts, too), and those who enforce the laws.
The British people, now disarmed by their government and undergoing the greatest crime wave ever, would be wise to listen to Lord Coke. They should rise in defiance of Parliament, take back their Natural right of self-defense, and rearm themselves. American patriot James Otis wrote in 1764 in “The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved”, that the mere declaration of Parliament doesn’t make a law right, there must be a higher Law recognized that stands above the laws of the legislature by which both governors and the governed must abide.
Alexis De Tocqueville travelled and studied America in the 1830’s. He credited Americans’ devotion to the Bible as the source of their liberty. In his book, Democracy in America, he stated, “Freedom sees in religion the companion of its struggles and its triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its rights. It considers religion as the safeguard of mores; and mores as the guarantee of laws and the pledge of its duration.”
Is it any wonder that we have kids slaughtering their classmates when WE, as a nation, have forgotten God? Is it any wonder that we have our President hounded for two years by fake accusations of “Russian collusion” when his Opponent in fact is the one who violated US secrecy statutes, accepted bribes to sell our uranium, and colluded with Russians and America’s own law enforcement and intelligence communities to upend a presidential election? When we reject God, the basis for true justice is gone and law is turned on its head!
Matthew Spaulding, for whom I am indebted for many of these facts, in his book, We STILL Hold These Truths, (ISI Books, 2011), sums up our Founders’ views on the necessity of following the Bible for good government.
The Founders held to this simple syllogism: 1. morality is necessary for republican government, 2. Religion is necessary for morality, therefore; 3. Religion is necessary for republican government. “Of all the dispositions and habits which make for political prosperity,” Washington wrote in his farewell address, “Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these Pillars of human happiness — these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens.”
Washington knew that the basis of a civil society and the proper placement of authority and Liberty can only be rightly administered in the light of the Author of Liberty, God. Ps. 119: 97-112, Rom. 13:1-7. We need to seek God as individuals, and as we change for the better, so will America. 2 Chron. 7:14.
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