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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
July 4, 1999
In Celebration of Freedom
223 years ago today, the General Congress formed by Representatives from the 13 Colonies voted to approve the Declaration of Independence which dissolved their allegiance to the British Crown and severed the political ties to the State of Great Britain. The celebrations held today commemorate not only the actions taken that day, but also the results of those actions – the Revolutionary War & its victory that established this new Republic as a nation and the eventual writing and passing of The Constitution of the United States upon which our system of Government is established. The Fourth of July is about celebrating the birth of this nation and the principles upon which it was founded which has given us Liberty.
“Liberty,” and “Freedom,” are foundational words that represent the reason the nation was founded. They are in the Declaration of Independence, “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, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…”. They are also in the Constitution – “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The heralding of liberty and freedom are also in our national hymns: “America” – “My country, ’tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty….Let freedom ring.” “America, the Beautiful” – “O beautiful for pilgrim feet, Whose stern, impassioned stress. A thoroughfare for freedom beat Across the wilderness.” “The Star-Spangled Banner” – “…O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
AN HERITAGE OF FREEDOM
We have a heritage of freedom and liberty, but we now find that historical revisionists have already accomplished much in removing from our national memory the heritage left to us by our forefathers concerning the freedoms they sought in coming to this land. I would like to review that heritage briefly because in doing so we see the hand of God at work and can regain a sense of the celebration that should mark today – rejoicing in what God has done in bringing this nation into being.
Before I briefly trace our nations heritage let me be clear that I am in no way a reconstructionist theologically. This nation is not, never has been, and never will be God’s “New Israel.” However, our history is so clearly marked with God’s intervention in like manner as He did for ancient Israel that it is easy to see why such a doctrine developed. God has shed His grace upon America.
In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue with mixed reasons for his voyage of discovery – economic, fame, and religious. There was money to be made if a passage to the Indies could be found, fame for its discoverer, and there would be an open door for the extension of the church. Columbus was many things, including a very religious man.
Columbus’ story is an interesting one in that we see God aiding or hindering him depending on what Columbus was striving to do. Unusual weather phenomena, precise timing of meetings and encounters, successes and failures all directly attributable to the providence of God.
The first heritage of freedom is that Spain’s interests stayed in Central and South America. They had very little influence on what became the U.S. and so we were spared the legacy of their fanatical Romanism Catholicism that has so hindered the countries to the south of us (remember, Columbus’ voyages were at the same time as the Spanish Inquisitions). The Conquistadors ended the bloody reign of the Aztecs and Mayans which practiced human sacrifice, but it left them in bondage to Spain and the Pope.
The hope of economic gain fueled the first attempts to colonize America, but these were disasters. Sir Walter Raleigh’s 1587 settlers on Roanoke Island, N. Carolina disappeared. In 1607 Jamestown, Virginia, was founded under charter by the London Company, but it did not become self-sufficient until 1624. It’s death rate had been 66% over those years, with some years reaching 80 & 90%. The Virginia colony became a Royal Colony in 1624. It brought settlers to America who were seeking economic gain, but it did not give any new direction for liberty and freedom.
The direction for liberty and freedom came in 1620 when the Pilgrims arrived in the New World. Though the 35 Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower only consisted of about a 1/3 of the people on the ship, they were the instigators of the expedition and the ones that gave direction to what would eventually happen. The Pilgrims were separatists, those who had given up on the Anglican Church as too far gone to salvage, so they had separated from the Church of England to form their own church in which they could worship God in all good conscience. They had been greatly persecuted in England – and fled to Holland in 1608 – but after a decade they felt they were losing their distinction as Englishmen and would never be able to fulfill the vision they had – the answer was the New World.
By God’s providence a storm put them off course and they arrived off the coast of Cape Cod rather than Virginia. After some exploring they decided to settle in there instead of Virginia. Before going ashore they drew up the Mayflower Compact which had a direct effect on the direction of freedom and liberty in our nation. “We whose names are underwritten…. Having undertaken, for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and honor of our King and country, …. do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one another covenant and combine ourselves under into a civil body politic….” This was the first colony that both in word and deed was truly interested in the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian Faith, and second, these ordinary men, for there were no nobility among them, formed their own government. This compact became the prototype of many similar covenants.
It also should be pointed out that God’s providence not only blew them off course so that they would settle in Plymouth, but that the spot chosen to settle was the only place along the New England coast were they could have settled and not been massacred by the Indians, for Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag tribe, was friendly to the settlers. In addition, the site of Plymouth was were the hostile Patuxet tribe had been only four years earlier. They had killed most white men that landed on their shores. But in 1614 a mysterious plague had killed everyone of them except a fellow named Squanto, and to make a long story short, Squanto had been captured and taken to Europe. Eventually he attached himself to an Englishman and made his way back to New England with a Captain Dermer only six months before the Pilgrims. He became their tutor in how to survive in this new land.
Ten years later a exodus of Puritans from England began as even these reformers gave up hope is seeing a purified Anglican church. They saw a chance for a fresh start in New England without the interference of the hierarchy of the Anglican Church. By 1640 10,000 had arrived and they changed the Massachusetts Bay Company from a commercial venture into a religious one. They learned much from the Pilgrims just a short distance down the coast, and a democracy, the forerunner of the New England Town Meeting, began. From the Pilgrims they learned to make the church separate from the state so that the state would not interfere with the church. (The opposite of what our Supreme Court is doing today – they had freedom of religion, not freedom from religion). Under John Winthrop, who had been elected Governor by the Stockholders, adult male members of the church were granted voting rights as freemen. Rev. Thomas Hooker who founded Hartford, Conn. expanded voting to non-church members as well.
Our system of government traces its heritage to these Pilgrims and Puritans, who though few in number, were substantial in influence and were used by God in the formation of the nation. From them we gain our heritage of freedom of religion and our political liberty to be directly involved in our government.
History records events that were clearly God’s chastening when the people of the nation drifted from its Christian underpinnings. Drought, flood, pestilence and even the Indian uprising known as King Phillips War. Through each of these God not only sought to bring the people back to himself, but taught them in the responsibilities that accompany liberty.
The country consisted of thirteen separate colonies and God used the Great Awakening under Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and others in the mid-1700’s to move the colonies to a greater dependence on Himself and a unity with each other. The Revolutionary War could never have been successful with out that unity.
It is significant that the Revolution was not fought for monetary gain. Those who fought knew very well that even if they won they would suffer much hardship in the process and many would die in battle, and if they lost, the King would have their heads for treason. The Declaration of Independence declares the reasons for their separation from the British Crown, and while some economic reasons are given – high taxation, trade restrictions, etc. – those are very few. Most of the reasons deal with violations of their liberty which “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them” and the Kings failure to fulfill his duty in protecting them and promoting their welfare. The King had become a tyrant who obstructed government, justice and any means to work to a settlement of the disputes and had carried out acts of war against them. The war was fought over the principles of liberty, and that is the heritage left to us, a heritage of liberty.
But what freedom, what liberty is this all about. Certainly to say that we are a free nation does not mean it is without cost. A simple look at your 1040 form each year tells you that. The nation is not free in that sense, in fact it is rather expensive. In fact as one person said, “Patrick Henry should come back to see what taxation with representation is like!”
Liberty has several meanings in the dictionary. The one fitting the usage here is, “freedom from arbitrary or despotic control and the positive enjoyment of various social, political or economic rights and privileges.” Unfortunately many in our day are taking it to mean, “the power to do as one pleases” or “freedom from physical restraint.” But our national liberty does not mean being able to do anything you want. There are a host of things that you can do that will land you in jail. Liberty and freedom can not take place in a vacuum, for then only anarchy will reign and despotism will rise. Liberty carries with it responsibility and it can only exist where the people are willing to defend it at their own sacrifice. Let me add that this in turn requires a set of absolute beliefs. People will not sacrifice themselves for questionable beliefs and arbitrary standards.
On the Fourth of July the very words of liberty and freedom make us think of Patriots in Three Cornered hats battling Redcoats on a New England Town Green; Of Washington crossing the Delaware River in a snow storm to capture Trenton from the Hessian mercenaries; Of the Continental Army in the snow at Valley Forge; Of the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown. Each of these are of men sacrificing themselves to achieve liberty from the despotic rule of King George III and not of people doing whatever they wanted for their own pleasure.
The Fourth of July is a celebration of freedom, but not of license; of Liberty, but not of irresponsibility. Tragically we find that license and irresponsibility are increasingly becoming the meaning of freedom and liberty in our society. Though there be many that in the name of liberty call for evil to be accepted as good, such was never the intent of the founding fathers. Those that landed on the shores of this nation in the 1600’s and those that have fought in our nations wars since then did not do so in order that homosexuality could be accepted as an “alternative lifestyle.” They did not do so in order that under “freedom of choice” babies can be slaughtered in the womb. Liberty has been perverted into a lifestyle of licentiousness, and tragically, many of our leaders rejoice in it.
Where are we at today in the name of this perverted liberty and freedom? We have the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the western world. We pass out condoms in high schools while STD’s are epidemic. Venereal Diseases thought to have been under control have come back with a vengeance because they are now resistant to anti-biotics. AIDS has become the first communicable disease protected by law, and it carries a devastating cost on our society. Our marriage rate has fallen to a very low point. Census Bureau statistics for 1998 report only 58% of men and 54% of women 18 years and older are married and living with their spouse. 26.8% of men and 20.5 percent of women have never been married. 8.8% of men and 10.8% of women were divorced and still single. Other sources estimate that over 60% of people cohabit with each other before marriage, which in turn is a significant factor in the divorce rate being one of if not the highest in the world – some 40% higher than the next closest major nation. The estimate is that between 40-50% of all marriages in our nation will fail. The low marriage rate and high divorce rate have resulted in nearly 32% of all children living in a single parent home. In some sub-cultures over 60% of children are born out of wedlock. All these things have been and are being promoted out of a perverted sense of liberty and freedom. This is not the liberty and freedom upon which our nation was founded.
When you celebrate the Fourth of July today, do not celebrate these twisted, perverted, ideas of freedom that are defiling our land, but celebrate America’s heritage and the liberties we still enjoy. Pray that God in His mercy would grant revival to our people that we may still be a place where we are not subject to despotism, but can have a say in the direction of government and even criticize it without reprisal; A nation where we can still dream dreams and pursue after them; A nation where we can meet openly to worship the Lord and proclaim His word publicly. When you celebrate the Fourth of July, do it in commemoration of what God has done in bringing about its formation. Celebrate God’s grace shed upon this nation and praise Him for His compassion, long-suffering and mercy that continues to sustain us. That is what our celebration of National liberty is all about – God’s handiwork in all of it that has brought good things to us.
True liberty, true freedom does not mean being able to do anything you desire. As I have already pointed out, that idea has resulted in much of the depravity we have in our nation today. True liberty, true freedom come only when the responsibility they bring is taken seriously. Freedom demands self control or that very freedom will result in the worse bondage imaginable, because without restrictions, man will give himself over to his sinful nature and become addicted to the very things he demands freedom to do.
Examples of this are many including – drugs, alcohol, pornography, illicit & perverted sexual activity, etc. There are advocates for each of these wanting no restrictions upon them, but in each case, as restrictions are relaxed, more people become enslaved by them and all of society pays the price in crime, medical care and non productive workers. The individuals pay a higher price in a life enslaved to their addiction. They no longer have freedom to do other things but are driven to satisfy the craving of their addiction. Even good things can be enslaving if self control is not practiced – entertainment, sports, computers, eating, fashion, work, etc. No wonder the writer of Hebrews tells us in 12:1 to not only set aside the sin which so easily entangles us, but also “every encumbrance.” For even good things could enslave us and keep us from reaching our goal of living our lives for His glory.
Let me be as plain here as I can. Without the Lord Jesus Christ in your life you are doomed to bondage and you will never know true freedom and liberty. Those who advocate freedom to do anything have forgotten that man is utterly depraved by nature. They may believe that man is innately good, but they believe a lie. It is not man’s environment that causes him to be depraved and abuse liberty, it is what is in man. Scripture states clearly than man is sinful (Gen. 1; Rom 3; 5; Isa 53:6; Ps 14:3, etc.). Unrestricted liberty only allows the full expression of the wickedness that is in the human heart.
Man is born as a slave to sin. In fact that is all that he can do because even if he does a good thing, it will always be from the wrong motivation. Jesus came to break that bondage so that we would have the freedom to not sin, we would have liberty to do righteousness. Paul put it this way in Romans 8:1,2 – “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” In Christ Jesus there is freedom from the law of sin and its effects. That does not mean that we will not sin again in this life, but the bondage of sin is broken and we can now choose to do right. You did not have that liberty before.
Look at Rom 6:12f – The context is Paul talking to Christians and how they should now live since they have been baptized into Christ’s death that we should no longer be slaves to sin… “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you for you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May if never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? – If you keep on being obedient to sin, your are its slave and that is utter bondage. If you are obedient to Christ you live in righteousness. – “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed (The gospel and the apostles doctrine) and having bee freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness (When you sin, it leads to more sin) so now present our members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification (obedience to God’s commandments results in holy living) For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness (i.e. you could not do righteousness) Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The only true freedom is in Jesus Christ otherwise we are slaves to the sinful nature within us. Only in Christ is there liberty to be righteous. But that liberty brings responsibility. Throughout this passage Paul kept telling us that our responsibility was to be obedient to Christ and not return to our former sinful pattern of life. Paul says something similar in Gal. 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”
Jesus said in John 8:31,32, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” The truth is that real freedom only comes through Jesus Christ and obedience to His word. To disobey is to be enslaved to sin.
Freedom is not cheap. It cost the first colonist and the founding fathers much to establish this nation with the liberties it offers. It cost even more for Jesus Christ to purchase our freedom from sin. What will you do with the freedom offered to you?
Sermon Study Sheets
Sermon Notes – 7/4/1999 a.m.
In Celebration of Freedom
“It was for freedom that Christ has set us free; therefore keep standing firm
and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
“Liberty” & “Freedom”
An Heritage of Freedom
Early English Settlements
The Perversion of Freedom
A Change of Masters – Romans 6
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the term “freedom” and “liberty” are used. What do these words mean to you? Talk with your parents about what it means to be “free in Christ.”
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What does the word, “liberty,” mean? What does the word, “freedom,” mean? Why did the early settlers travel to the new world in the 1600’s? What were the reasons for the American Revolution? What were the reasons for the formation of the United States of America? What is the foundation for the religious and political freedoms of our land? Does the U.S. Constitution make any statement about a separation between church and state? What does the First Amendment say? How has our society redefined “liberty” and “freedom?” What is the hope for our nation? What should you celebrate on July 4? What is the liberty/freedom given to us in Jesus Christ? What are we freed from? How is that freedom made available to us? What responsibilities must we accept with that freedom? How should a Christian live according to Romans 6? Are you living that way? If not, what needs to change so that you do?
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