Liberty is defined as: (1) Freedom or release from slavery, imprisonment, captivity or any other forms of arbitrary control, (2) the sum of rights and exemptions possessed in common by the people of a community, state, etc…, (3) a particular right, franchise, or exemption from compulsion. The meaning of the word liberty is difficult to circumscribe. Abraham Lincoln was of the opinion that “the world has never had a good definition of [the term]. We all declare for liberty,” he said; “but in using the same word we do not mean the same thing. With some, the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor; while with others [liberty] may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor.”
Again he said, “The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act.” (Address, 18 Apr. 1864; quoted in John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 15th ed., Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1980, p. 523.) The issues have changed since the time of Lincoln, but the multipurpose use of the word liberty and its synonym freedom has not changed. The sweets of liberty about which we usually speak may be classified as (1) political independence, (2) economic freedom, and (3) agency to choose. Ultimate liberty comprehends all three of these freedoms, and more.
While political independence, economic freedom, and agency may contribute to liberty of the soul, they do not guarantee it. First, as to political independence and power: In this field, perhaps the exploits of Alexander the Great are among the most widely known. With high physical courage, impulsive energy, and fervid imagination, he, at the unripe age of thirty-two years, became to all intents and purposes master of the then-known world. But he was far from enjoying liberty, for of himself he was not master. In his thirty-third year he died, a victim of his own excesses, a total stranger to freedom of the soul.
Cardinal Wolsey learned, to his sorrow, how little political independence and even political power can contribute to true liberty. You may recall that he gave a long life in the service of two English sovereigns, enjoying all the while great freedom and political power. Finally, however, he was shorn of all his greatness by an impatient king. As he stood, disillusioned, among the ruins of his life, he lamented to his friend,
O Cromwell, Cromwell!
Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my king, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies.
Many years ago an article appeared in a magazine concerning some of the financial wizards of this century. It recorded how some of these men had died broke and in disgrace; others had committed suicide, and some had spent time in prison. All of the men had obtained, temporarily at least, economic freedom, but to none of them did their economic abundance bring freedom of the soul. You see a similar trend with many athletes that suddenly become millionaires.
While perhaps it is seldom, if ever, contended that either political independence or economic freedom alone brings perfect liberty, it is not, however, uncommon for free agency to be considered as synonymous with freedom of the soul. And it is true that the God-given right to choose one’s course of action is an indispensable prerequisite to such freedom. Without it we can scarcely enjoy any type of liberty—political, economic, or personal. It is one of our greatest heritages. For it we are deeply indebted to our Father in Heaven, to the Founding Fathers, and to the pioneers. The Founding Fathers, under the Lord’s inspiration, wrote a guarantee of it into the fundamental law of the land. And the pioneers, led by the inspiration of heaven, gave their all to perpetuate it. Surely we ought always to be alert in its defense and willing, if necessary, to give our lives for its preservation.
Thomas Jefferson said in his Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 18, in 1781:
“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
Free agency, however, precious as it is, is not of itself the perfect liberty we seek, nor does it necessarily lead thereto. As a matter of fact, through the exercise of their agency more people have come to political, economic, and personal bondage than to liberty. The people of Israel — rejecting government by judges, which God had established—clamored for Samuel to give them a king. Notwithstanding Samuel’s warning that a king would make servants of their children, lay heavy taxes and services upon their backs, and send them to war, “the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel, [saying,] Nay; but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the nations.” (1 Sam. 8:19–20.)
Samuel therefore anointed Saul to be their king. In due time, just as Samuel had predicted, heavy burdens were laid upon them, their sons and daughters were made servants of the king, and war came. The nation was divided into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, both of which were, in their turn, carried away into captivity. Not only did they lose their political freedom, but their very political existence as nations was terminated.
We have a classic example of the loss of economic freedom by the misuse of free agency in the book of Genesis. The Egyptians, instead of exercising their agency to provide for themselves against a day of need, depended upon the government. As a result, when the famine came they were forced to purchase food from the government. First they used their money. When that was gone, they gave their livestock, then their lands; and finally they were compelled to sell themselves into slavery, that they might eat. (See Gen. 41:54–56; Gen. 47:13–26.)
We ourselves have gone a long way down this road during the last century. We should beware of the doctrine which encourages us to seek government-supported security rather than to put faith in our own industry. Remember Pope’s peasant who, having been served the rich man’s feast and finding the consequences, complained:
“An’t please Your Honour,” quoth the peasant,
“This same dessert is not so pleasant:
Give me again my hollow tree,
A crust of bread and Liberty.”
With respect to the loss of personal liberty through the misuse of free agency, our daily lives are filled with tragic evidence. We see the alcoholic with his craving for drink, the dope fiend in his frenzy, and worse, the pervert with his irretrievable loss of manhood. Who will say that such persons enjoy liberty?
Notwithstanding the fact that through its misuse, political, economic, and personal liberty are lost, free agency will always endure because it is an eternal principle. However, the free agency possessed by any one person is increased or diminished by the use to which he puts it. Every wrong decision one makes restricts the area in which he can thereafter exercise his agency. The further one goes in the making of wrong decisions in the exercise of free agency, the more difficult it is for him to recover the lost ground. One can, by persisting long enough, reach the point of no return. He then becomes an abject slave. By the exercise of his free agency, he has decreased the area in which he can act, almost to the vanishing point.
These poor souls have placed themselves in the power of Lucifer and his followers, who, as you remember, became Perdition. Their final fate is to be cast out into outer darkness, such punishment being the natural consequence of the alternatives they elected in the exercise of their agency. The fact that they were originally endowed by their Creator with free agency does not save them from the most awful bondage, the bondage of sin. Just as following wrong alternatives restricts free agency and leads to slavery, so pursuing correct alternatives widens the scope of one’s agency and leads to perfect liberty. As a matter of fact, one may, by this process, obtain freedom of the soul while at the same time being denied political, economic, and personal liberty.
For example, consider the Apostle Paul, who in his labors suffered stripes often, imprisonment frequently, and repeatedly faced death. Reviewing some of his experiences for the Corinthians, he said:
“Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.
“Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
“In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
“In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” (2 Cor. 11:24–27.)
Notwithstanding all this, he could write to his beloved Timothy from his prison cell in Rome shortly before his death: “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:6–8.)
Surely Paul, in his soul, enjoyed perfect freedom. The Apostle’s conclusion that the reward won by him is to be available to others suggests that there must be a pattern of living by which each of us may attain it, and I believe there is.
Many years ago, while riding through Cleveland, Ohio, on a train, I saw on a building the inscription “Obedience to Law is Liberty.” With the proper interpretation of the word law, we have in this inscription a statement of ultimate truth. [Note: The founders, who believed in natural law, or that the laws of man should perfectly align with the laws of God, formed the laws of the USA in this manor, however many laws (particularly with the move towards common law, or corrupt judge-made and interpreted laws we have today) do not align with God’s laws and lead us from liberty towards tyranny] By inserting three words, it is made to read, “Obedience to the law of Christ is liberty.” This is not only a statement of the perfect law of liberty, but also a statement of the way to perfect liberty.
In the eighth chapter of John is recorded a controversy between Jesus and the rulers of the Jews. They, of course, rejected him. But some who heard believed, and to them he said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31–32.)
Freedom thus obtained—that is, by obedience to the law of Christ—is freedom of the soul, the highest form of liberty. And the most glorious thing about it is that it is within the reach of every one of us, regardless of what people about us, or even nations, do. All we have to do is learn the law of Christ and obey it. To learn it and obey it is the primary purpose of every soul’s mortal life.
Knowledge is power, and when we are awake mentally and spiritually, we can discern more clearly the choices before us and their consequences. Satan uses deception and lies to cloud our choices, so it is important to know him, our enemy, and how he and those who serve him operate. As we know God, and His Son, Jesus Christ, on the one hand, and Satan and his deceptive plans to establish his counterfeit kingdom on the other hand, then we can more safely guard our own minds, our health, our spiritual progress, and that of our children and loved ones.
Liberty begins with FAITH in God. Without faith there is no liberty. This is symbolically demonstrated by the little known National Monument to the Forefathers, located in Plymouth, Massachusetts, which commemorates the Pilgrims, their planting the colony of Plymouth, and their contribution to the American nation at large. This 81-foot-tall granite structure also provides a matrix for how to build a free society based upon the Biblical ideals and worldview of these early settlers. From the original concept in 1820 to the laying of the cornerstone in 1859 to its dedication in 1889, it was nearly three quarters of a century in the making, and contains in simple imagery the great wisdom of the founding era. The components of this significant yet unknown monument teach us how we can preserve America as a shining city upon a hill, an example of liberty to the world.
The monument is composed of numerous statues; the most prominent is Faith, standing with one hand pointed to the heavens and the other holding a Bible. At the base of the pedestal where Faith stands are four seated statues representing Morality, Law, Education, and Liberty. Flanking these allegorical figures are smaller engravings representing more components of the template of liberty. Just as the statue of Faith is the central figure in the Forefathers Monument, the foundational building block of all societies is the faith of the people. All nations are religious; that is, all nations are built upon a set of ideas and principles that are ultimately rooted in the faith of the people. Every nation appeals to some authority to determine what they consider to be correct or lawful behavior. Each nation has some power they look to that they consider to be sovereign, whether consciously or unconsciously.
The founders of America, from the early Pilgrims and Puritans who colonized many of the states through those men who gave us our American Christian Constitutional Republic, understood that the foundation of free nations rests in true religion. True religion is not where man is god, nor is it one of the many man-made religions. The statue of Faith points to the heavens, to the Creator of all things, and holds a Bible with the pages peeled open, which indicates that true faith emanates from the living Word of God as revealed in the Bible. Benjamin Rush, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence and the father of medicine in America, wrote in 1806:
“Christianity is the only true and perfect religion, and that in proportion as mankind adopt its principles and obeys its precepts, they will be wise and happy.”
Central to the Christian faith is the message that God through Christ redeems man and gives him a living faith through a supernatural internal transformation of the heart. God via His Spirit gives man a new nature and writes His law upon man’s heart. This internal transformation is the beginning of building godly nations. Since only the God of the Bible can bring about this supernatural transformation, only the God of the Bible can change a nation for good.
Faith has a star upon her head, indicating she receives wisdom from above. The four seated statues below Faith represent Morality, Law, Education, and Liberty; but more specifically they represent Biblical Morality, Biblical Law, Biblical Education, and Biblical Liberty. The founders understood the necessity of building the nation upon the Christian faith and worldview.
The fruit of a people with Biblical faith, morality, law, and education is liberty. The Forefathers Monument tells us that Christianity produces liberty. After all, Jesus came to liberate man: “It was for freedom that Christ came to set us free.” (Galatians 5:1) Jesus came to set us free, both internally and externally. He gave us internal freedom from the bondage of sin as well as external freedom from the fruit of sin in the earth. He came to give us both personal and civil freedom. He came to not only bring internal personal salvation, but also external political freedom. Jesus Christ provided God’s pathway to liberty for man, which is from the internal to the external.
God is the author of liberty, all liberty. Engraved on the memorial honoring him are these words of Thomas Jefferson: “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?” Our founders knew that, in the words of Jefferson’s pastor Rev. Charles Clay, “the sacred cause of liberty [is] the cause of God.”
Historian of the American Revolution, David Ramsay, said: “There can be no political happiness, without liberty; there can be no liberty without morality; and there can be no morality, without religion.” When our founders spoke of religion, they meant Christianity, for Christianity was true religion to them. Noah Webster wrote in his United States history textbook: “Almost all the civil liberty now enjoyed in the world owes its origin to the principles of the Christian religion….The religion which has introduced civil liberty, is the religion of Christ and his apostles, which enjoins humility, piety, and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free constitutions of government.”
It is important that we understand the great liberty that God desires us to have. Lack of knowledge of the value and source of our liberty has caused many people today, including many Christians, to give up their liberty for a little security and care. Like Esau, we have traded our birthright for a bowl of pottage. The freedom our forefathers gave us can only be preserved if we are willing to defend it at all costs. The seated statue Liberty has a sword in his hand, prepared to protect the family and protect liberty. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; and it is necessary to overcome Tyranny (depicted in one carved relief) and preserve Peace (depicted in another).
Most Americans today have forgotten the source of, and price paid for, our liberty. We have abandoned the principles necessary to live free. We have put aside the matrix of liberty presented to us in the Forefathers Monument. We have failed to acknowledge God Almighty as the giver of life and liberty. Consequently, we have begun to lose our liberty, our happiness, and all the fruit that comes from obeying the King of all nations. Let us cry out with our Founders for God to once again deliver us from a house of bondage and use this nation as a “theater of greater events than have yet been known to mankind.”
- A portion of this article is a brief overview of one section of the book Monumental: Restoring America as the Land of Liberty by Stephen McDowell, which is part of a study produced as a follow-up to the film Monumental. I highly recommend reading this great book!
- The Perfect Law of Liberty