One of the most meaningful documents ever conceived by mortal men was signed 234 years ago this weekend. When 56 brave men placed their lives and signatures on the Declaration of Independence, freedom and all of its blessings were bestowed upon America. For centuries, this Declaration has given hope to everyone on this planet who ever hoped to see possibilities that can only be offered by true freedom. It was inspired and written because those who penned it had first declared their personal dependence upon God.
My wife Betty and I truly believe that freedom as we have known it is presently threatened more than in any World War, the Cold War, or any other possible enemy of freedom could impose. This enemy and the potential destruction does not come from some trans-Atlantic giant who will rise and crush us, but, to quote Abraham Lincoln, “if destruction is our lot, we will be its author and finisher.” The enemy and potential for destruction comes from within our own ranks. The general population – with the assistance of major media, misdirected intellectuals, radical socialists, along with relativists and complacent church members – have taken captive the thinking of far too many unsuspecting Americans.
Our founders refused to continually submit to the imperialist monarchies and the reign of any kingship.Thomas Payne referred to King George III as “a Pharaoh” – a clear reference to the Old Testament. All of the founders understood the importance of Moses leading Israel out of Egyptian bondage toward the potential freedom and prosperity to be experienced in the Promised Land. If freedom is to survive and our descendents enjoy what we have been afforded, we must, with the same devotion and dedication, declare our dependence upon God. We must refuse to trust in the shadow of Pharaoh or Egypt (this world’s systems) and understand that our future security comes only in the shelter of the Almighty. Our founders refused to bow before King George, but today much of our population is being led to bow before King Government. As we celebrate the liberty proclaimed in 1776, it is imperative that the church rise and shine and become the light that will lead us out of this present darkness and deception.
Let me share some wisdom from some of the 56 brave individuals who brought freedom to our nation:
John Adams said, “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.” Adams wrote two letters to his wife the day after Congress approved the Declaration. The first one was a short, concise, jubilant message that the Declaration had been approved. The second was much longer and gave serious consideration to what had been done that day. Adams cautiously noted, “This day will be the most memorable epic in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.” He understood clearly that when it would be celebrated in the future, it should be done so in a very reverential manner. He told his wife, “It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”
His son, John Quincy Adams,was asked in 1837, when he was 69 years old, to address the citizens of Massachusetts concerning what he had witnessed. He referenced the fact that the 4th of July was “next to the birthday of the Savior of the world, the most joyous and most venerated festival.” When asked the question why Independence Day and Christmas were the two top holidays in America, he answered, “Is it not that in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior…? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth? That it laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity?” This is exactly what our Founders had done! They established freedom on the only unshakable foundation, and that is the truth of Jesus Christ and the undeniable, unchanging, rock solid Word of the living God.
These 56 individuals – a diverse group of ministers, businessmen, teachers, university professors, sailors, captains, farmers – with all of their differences, came together united in heart and in spirit to sign the Declaration of Independence because of their absolute dependence upon God. Remember the final paragraph, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Many of you reading this commentary have heard our pastor at Gateway Church in Southlake, Robert Morris, preach on the blessed life. As I have studied our nation’s history and the lives of our founders, I was thrilled beyond measure to discover that a founding father with the same name, Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, was an individual who represented the highest possible level of integrity. He had been, as our pastor says, “A man blessed in life.” He was chosen as the financier of the American Revolution. What an honor, except that there was no bank willing to give any loans to help fund the revolution. It was after three years and the Battle of Saratoga before America secured any funding at all. After winning that battle, foreign nations like France, Holland, and others decided maybe America wasn’t such a bad risk and began to loan some money. Where did our revolutionary fathers get the money to support their cause for the first three years? Congress did not have the ability to obtain a loan of even a thousand dollars, Try loansnow.info, so Robert Morris affected loans on his own credit – tens of thousands of dollars.
In 1781, George Washington conceived the expedition against Cornwallis at Yorktown. He asked Judge Peters of Pennsylvania, “What can you do for me?” The judge replied, “With money, everything, without it, nothing.” At the same time turning with an anxious look toward Mr. Morris, Washington received the answer, “Let me know the sum you desire,” and before noon Washington’s plan and estimates were complete. Robert Morris promised him the amount, and he raised it upon his own responsibility. It has been justly remarked that, “If it were not demonstrable by official records, posterity would hardly be made to believe that the campaign of 1781, which resulted in the capture of Cornwallis, and virtually closed the Revolutionary War, was sustained wholly on the credit of an individual merchant.” America couldn’t repay him because there was no money, and yet this merchant-businessman Robert Morris never complained because he had given his word. Now today our Pastor Robert Morris has inspired many business people and churches to freely help finance God’s kingdom purpose.
It is this kind of dedication, devotion and determination that is going to be essential if we are going to see America return to sanity and stability. It will take the commitment demonstrated by Stephen to bring about the conversion of the enemies of Christ like Saul of Tarsus. It is time for us as individuals to be sold out to God, to literally lose our life for His purpose in order to find it.
Another minister-leader in the Revolution was the Reverend James Caldwell. His actions during one battle inspired a painting showing him standing with a stack of hymn books in his arms while engaged in the midst of a fierce battle against the British outside a battered Presbyterian church. During the battle, the Americans had developed a serious problem. They had run out of wadding for their guns, which was just as serious as having no ammunition. Reverend Caldwell recognized the perfect solution; he ran inside the church and returned with a stack of Watts Hymnals – one of the strongest doctrinal hymnals of the Christian faith (Isaac Watts authored “O God Our Help In Ages Past,” “Joy to the World,” “Jesus Shall Reign,” and several other classic hymns.) Distributing the Watts Hymnals among the soldiers served two purposes: first, its pages would provide the needed wadding; second, the use of the hymnal carried a symbolic message. Reverend Caldwell took that hymn book – the source of great doctrine and spiritual truth – raised it up in the air and shouted to the Americans, “Give ‘em Watts, boys!”
The spiritual emphasis manifested so often by the Americans during the Revolution caused one Crown-appointed British governor to write to Great Britain complaining, “If you ask an American who is his master, he’ll tell you he has none. And he has no governor but Jesus Christ.” Again, this was the kind of commitment of our founders.
There is absolutely no question that ministers and preachers of the Gospel inspired the revolution leading to freedom. Christ’s Church in Philadelphia was built as something of a twin to Independence Hall, each being completed within months of each other. Christ’s Church was the tallest building in the colonies and held that distinction for nearly 60 years, the longest any structure has enjoyed in American history.
From this church pulpit, Jacob Duché proclaimed a message inspiring the signers of the Declaration to hold fast to the truth without wavering. He had a very diverse congregation where a blacksmith could live and sit next to a banker, and a banker next to a seamstress. Only in Philadelphia could Betsy Ross sit next to the President of the United States in church. It was Duché who, prior to the Congress in July, had proclaimed a message referencing the 35th Psalm, “Plead my cause, oh Lord, with them that strive against me; fight against them that fight against me.” As he expounded on the necessity of God standing with us, John Adams said, “I never saw a greater effect upon an audience. …It seemed as if heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that morning.” As the pastor continued, he moved into the spirit of a revivalist and offered what Adams referred to as “an extemporary prayer which filled the bosom of every man present. I must confess, I never heard a better prayer or one so well pronounced. It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here.” Historians refer to this as the ultimate Great Awakening moment, and many of the delegates fell to their knees and began to cry. The anti-authoritarian spirit of the Awakening had suddenly been transported into the command center of the American Revolution.
Duché’s revolution reached its climax along with the rest of the city on July 4, 1776. After the Declaration was signed, Jacob Duché walked into Christ’s Church and convened a special meeting and the members agreed that the pastor could strike every reference to the king in the Book of Common Prayer. Suddenly our leaders found themselves in harmony with Thomas Payne’s statement that “we have no king but the law” in direct reference to the word of God.
Another powerful influence on our founders was English theologian and political philosopher, John Locke. Declaration signers such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Rush and others sang his praises. John Quincy Adams even affirmed, “The Declaration of Independence was …founded upon one and the same theory of government …expounded in the writings of Locke.” Signer Richard Henry Lee declared that the Declaration was “copied from Locke’s Treatise on Government.” In the two treatises he wrote, he invoked the Bible over 1,500 times to show the proper operation of civil governance.
In 1798, twenty-two years after the Declaration was signed, Noah Webster, considered the “Schoolmaster of America,” but also a soldier in the American Revolution and a legislator and judge afterwards, wrote, “Our fathers were men – they were heroes and patriots – they fought – they conquered – and they bequeathed to us a rich inheritance of liberty and empire which we have no right to surrender…. Let us then rally round the independence and Constitution of our country, resolved to a man that we will never lose by folly, disunion, or cowardice what has been planned by wisdom and purchased with blood.”
Thomas Jefferson, often portrayed as a Deist, stated openly and without apology, “I am a Christian.” My good friend David Barton of Wallbuilders says that out of 19,000 letters written by Jefferson, in only six of those did he raise any questions about the divinity of Jesus. Jefferson had studied the writings of atheist philosopher David Hume in his youth, and said that it had taken decades to “get this poison out of his system.” Jefferson was one of the founders of the Virginia Bible Society and he made sure the University of Virginia had a huge collection of Christian literature. When he signed presidential documents, he signed them, “In the year of our Lord Christ.” This was unlike the reference in the Constitution which said “In the year of our Lord.” Jefferson actually put Jesus Christ right along with his signature.
Benjamin Franklin is also frequently referred to as a Deist, and yet without doubt he was one of the most charitable and compassionate people who ever walked on this planet. Franklin is the one who called for daily prayer because he said God answered their prayers and they saw it during the Revolution.
George Washington, the father of our nation, used 84 different ways to describe God including such terms as “Good Shepherd,” “Divine disposer of events,” and “Divine Author of our blessed religion.”
The Declaration of Independence is such a significant document that you will find every act of the President of the United States from George Washington to Barack Obama will be signed, “In the year of our independence,” followed by the sequential year, which, in the year 2010, would be 234.
Let me close this commentary by expressing appreciation for every courageous, outspoken person of faith and every preacher who boldly and fearlessly proclaims truth. Perhaps no minister inspired Americans more than George Whitfield. During the Revolution, many outspoken pastors were referred to as the “Black Robe Battalion.” Our hope today is a return to everlasting principles and not a dependence upon any power broker, politician or partisan advocate.
I was blessed and privileged in the 1960’s to cry out for freedom in behalf of all Americans and to emphasize its importance throughout the south in stadiums and coliseums from state to state, calling for civil rights and the end of segregation. I prayed faithfully for the truly-gifted Martin Luther King, Jr. and those who understood the importance of his cause. I was privileged to hear his message delivered live from the Lincoln Memorialon August 28, 1963, entitled, “I Have a Dream.” As I sat spellbound in front of a black-and-white television set, I exclaimed loudly at the conclusion, “What a speech! What an orator!” Consider again his hope and dream:
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…
“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, ‘My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.’
“And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
“Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”
This is my prayer for this day, and I understand fully that the freedom offered by our founders when they signed the Declaration we celebrate can only be preserved by people who have been personally set free by the power of God through Jesus Christ. Without God’s help and the Holy Spirit that Jesus sent to live in us, we cannot rightly handle the blessings freedom offers. The only way we can handle the powerful, positive effects of truth is by the abiding presence and power of truth living in us in resurrection power! I am not referencing for one moment a theocracy, which has proven to always fail, or an imposed system of manipulative demands. I am talking about a personal relationship with God that has such a profound impact that it will inspire a proper lifestyle and a respectful attitude toward those with whom we disagree. I am talking about the power manifested in the faith demonstrated in the lives our founding fathers. I close with a call to prayer written a few months before the Declaration of Independence was signed:
“In times of impending calamity and distress; when the liberties of America are imminently endangered by the secret machinations and open assaults of an insidious and vindictive administration, it becomes the indispensable duty of these hitherto free and happy colonies, with true penitence of heart, and the most reverent devotion, publicly to acknowledge the over ruling providence of God; to confess and deplore our offences against Him; and to supplicate his interposition for averting the threatened danger, and prospering our strenuous efforts in the cause of freedom, virtue, and posterity.” -Continental Congress, March 16, 1776
Much of what I shared comes from the research and writings of David Barton, www.wallbuilders.com.