“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 recognize these words, written by Thomas Jefferson, from the Declaration of Independence, issued 240 years ago today. On America’s birthday we celebrate our freedom and revel in our liberty. We love the feeling of liberty.
The battle cry of patriot Patrick Henry was a powerful principle on which our country was founded. He concluded his fiery speech at St. John’s church in Richmond, VA with this call to arms: “I know not what others may choose but, as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”
Sadly, however, many today have confused liberty with license, an excessive liberty or unreasonable freedom. The 18th century British author and orator Edmund Burke was right when warned, “But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.”
Playwright George Bernard Shaw expressed it succinctly when he said, “Liberty means responsibility.” Vicktor Frankl, an Austrian Psychologist and Holocaust survivor once quipped, “I recommend that the Statue of Liberty be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast.”
Liberty recognizes duty; license is derelict of duty. Liberty accepts the consequence of its actions; license is in denial of its effects. Liberty has restrictions; license is unrestricted. Liberty exercises restraint; license succumbs to self-indulgence.
Liberty employs reasoning and rationale to reach decisions; license resorts to emotions and rationalization. Liberty extols virtue; license revels in vice. Liberty guarantees freedom of speech; license abuses and misuses speech for selfish purposes. Liberty is a surety to society; license is a menace to society.
All of this speaks to true liberty being based on an authoritative moral code, while license allows every person to become his own standard of morality.
Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th century French political thinker and historian visited America for 9 months in 1831. He later published his impressions. Among them he observed, “The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other.” He concluded that “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”
Sadly that America largely no longer exists. We are quickly moving farther and farther away from a liberty based on morality and religious principles to a self-indulgence society spurred by licence.
While it is easy for Christians to decry or condemn our downward descent. There are a couple of reminders for all of us.
First of all, we are a people who enjoy freedom in Christ. Freedom from sin, guilt and Satan’s shackles. Yet, we cannot allow our liberty in the Lord to become a license for self-righteousness, selfishness, or pride. The Apostle Paul warned,”For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Gal. 5:13).
The Apostle Peter put it this way, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men — as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.” (1 Pet. 3:15-16).
Secondly, “let us light a candle, instead of cursing the darkness.” Let your light shine for the Lord. Be the salt of the earth. Live soberly, righteously and godly. Lead the way by your positive influence and the demonstration of your faith. (Matt 5:13-16; Titus 2:11-14; 1Cor 11:1; 1Thess 1:8; 2 Pet 1:5-8)
Enjoy your 4th of July holiday. Celebrate your liberty in the land of free. And give thanks to God for your liberty in the Lord.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman