|FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS,|
volume 18, number 36, September 5, 2019
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” -Galatians 5:1
Os Guinness tells the story of a young Massachusetts scholar in 1843 doing research on the American Revolutionary War and the events which led to it. In his research he interviewed ninety-one year old Captain Levi Preston who had fought at Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775. The young scholar wanted to know why Captain Preston had fought. What drove him to it? The scholar asked if the “intolerable oppressions” of the British were the catalyst. Preston replied, “Oppressions? I didn’t feel them.” Then Preston was asked, “Weren’t you oppressed by the Stamp Act?” “I never saw one of those stamps. I certainly never paid a penny for them.” The scholar asked, “Okay, but what about the tea tax?” Preston, “Tea Tax? I never drank a drop of the stuff. The boys threw it all overboard.” “Well then,” said the scholar, “I suppose you had been reading Harrington, or Sidney and Locke about the eternal principles of liberty.” “Never heard of them,” said Preston. “We read only the Bible, the Catechisms, Watt’s Psalms and Hymns, and the Almanac.” The young scholar finally asked, “Well then, what was the matter? And what did you mean in going to the fight?” Preston replied, “Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: We always had been free, and we meant to be free always. They didn’t mean we should.”
Some five hundred years earlier (1297), Sir William Wallace of Scotland fought with his fellow Scots at Stirling Bridge to free the people of Scotland from British rule. His famed battle cry was, “Freedom!” William Wilberforce labored for forty years to eradicate the slave trade from the British Empire and free the slaves. Eventually our War Between the States was fought for the same reason, to free the slaves. There is, within the heart of every man, woman, and child, an insatiable desire to be free.
Paul the Apostle takes up the issue of the Judaizers in his epistle to the Galatians. These men had duped the Gentiles who had been born again and brought into Christ’s kingdom. They did so by binding their consciences and telling them that it was imperative that they (these Gentile believers) practice Jewish ritual if they were true followers of Jesus Christ. Paul has very strong words for these Judaizers. Paul makes the case (Galatians 4:21-31) about the free woman and the bondwoman, that they are now of the free woman, Sarah. This leads to Paul’s admonition that it was for freedom that Christ set us free. Because of this great truth, Paul exhorts them to stand firm in the true faith of grace and not to allow themselves to again be placed in a yoke of slavery. I am well aware that Paul is speaking about freedom in Christ Jesus through the work of the gospel and that the freedom William Wallace and Levi Preston are speaking about is not necessarily the same, that it is more about freedom from oppressive governments. Nonetheless, we can still glean this great truth. Men everywhere desire to be free.
This, of course, begs a vital question. What does it mean for a citizen to be free? At the time of the Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, 1787, four years after we had won our independence from the British, the framers of our constitution were embarking on a brave and audacious journey, unprecedented in the annals of history. We were to be a people who governed ourselves and the framers of our constitution seemed instinctively to know that this was only possible if we kept three vital ingredients in view—freedom, virtue, and religion. All three of these ingredients work together, one feeding off the other, going around in a circle, as it were. Freedom must have virtue, virtue must have faith, and faith must have freedom. All three, in their truest form, must be present. Without them, the republic could not, would not stand.
As only one example of the freedom the Colonists desired, due to the influence of the Great Awakening (circa 1735 to 1770), between 1740 and 1742 membership in the Congregational churches of New England grew by as many as 50,000 people and hundreds of churches were planted. The Great Awakening broke down barriers between class, race, and religion. People everywhere had access to faith in Jesus Christ, and those who had been born again were very much aware of their new found freedom in Christ. This zeal for freedom, developed and built upon their freedom in Jesus Christ, caused the Colonists, as the threat of war escalated to make as their refrain, “No King but King Jesus.”
Freedom then means that we are free to do as we ought to do. We ought to obey God. We ought to love God with every ounce of our being. We ought to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Alas, in our day, at least for the last fifty years or so, we have turned our freedom into an opportunity for the flesh. People on the political left and right both are missing this idea of freedom. On the left people are falling into license. Eric Metaxas illustrates this by referring to a panel discussion on a major television program just after the September 11, 2001 attacks. One panelist suggested that the way to get to the Taliban, Islamic fundamentalists, was to blanket Afghanistan with blow-up sex dolls and Pamela Anderson videos, that they need to see the “freedom” we have in the United States and that maybe they then can see what they are missing. Of course, this is precisely the attitude many today have in our country, that freedom means we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, and with whomever we want. There are no rules. So women have a “right” to abort their children. Homosexuals have a “right” to be married. Illegal aliens have a “right” to enter our country. Everyone, including illegal aliens, has a “right” to free college tuition and free healthcare.
But those on the political right are also missing it. President George W. Bush believed that if and when we removed the “bad guys” from Iraq and Afghanistan, then we could usher in democracy, what he called nation building. Bush repeatedly spoke of freedom as mankind’s natural condition, a gift from God, and that, of course, is true. The problem, however, is that merely declaring freedom by fiat, does not mean that people will embrace that freedom. It did not work in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is not working in the former Soviet Union or most of the Eastern bloc countries. Why not? Simply because they are not ready for it, and why are they not ready for it? Because freedom requires virtue and virtue requires faith and faith requires freedom.
The paradox in our culture today is that while we think we are more free by doing whatever we want, we are actually more enslaved. This is a very serious problem. What must we do? More about that next week.
1. A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future, Os Guinness, pages 41,42.
2. I choose these dates because George Whitefield was converted in that year and began preaching and revival came to Northampton, Massachusetts through the preaching of Jonathan Edwards in that year. Edwards died in 1758 and Whitefield died in 1770.
3. If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, pages 38-42.