Guest Essay by Belinda Beth Ballenger
We invite you now to enjoy a moment in the record of American Liberty. The title of our story is:
Liberty, the Gift of God
Long, long ago in a faraway land across the great oceans, in a city on a hill, stood a beautiful, magnificent, gleaming, white building. It was the temple of God in the city of Jerusalem. Within the walls of that beautiful edifice was the throne room of God on earth, called the Holy of Holies, where a huge, imposing, thick, heavy curtain hung, blue and purple and scarlet. You see, that curtain separated the presence of God from man, for mere, sinful man to be in the presence of a Holy God meant instant death.
Now, just outside that city, just outside the city walls, on a lonely hill called Golgotha, a young man is bleeding out his life, nailed to a tree, pouring out his blood for your sins and mine. Along about noon the sky becomes as night, and that darkness lasts for three long hours. Close to the end of that time, we hear Him say, “It is finished,” and He willingly yields up His spirit.
The earth begins to tremble and shake with mighty force. Rocks are split, graves are opened, and in the temple the mighty hand of God stretches forth and splits that curtain–from top to bottom. Man is now at liberty to enter the presence of God without fear, at liberty from the consequences of sin and death.
The young man hangs lifeless on the cross. He has paid the price for your sins and mine. But death will not cling to Him; we will see Him again. For He is the Son of God–God the Son! He is the Author of life, the Author of Liberty!
Let’s travel back in time in our imaginations, to the beginning of time, before there was time. For in the beginning, there was God, and God created the heavens and earth, and darkness was on the face of the deep; and God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, and it was good. And the light separated day from night; this was the beginning of time.
All the glory of creation was spoken into existence by His Word. In imagination we can almost see that beautiful, luxuriant garden, green, fresh, crisp and cool, with every type of plant, flower, tree and fruit conceivable to man. It is even possible to imagine the streams teeming with fish and the skies and trees filled with a diversity of birds singing their joyful songs of peace. For you see, there was no fear in the Garden of Eden. They were in perfect peace, a peace like you and I have never known.
Now, Adam was put into the garden to till it and to keep it–to govern it, if you will. Adam and Eve were given a law; not multiple laws. It was a principle of law: “Obey Me.” “Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
But Eve was tricked, and chose to believe a lie instead of God’s Word. She looked at the forbidden fruit, admired it, and ate it. She had been told! She had been warned of the awful consequences. And yet, she gave the fruit to Adam, her husband, as well. He listened, looked, and disobeyed, choosing to follow his wife rather than God.
Fear possessed their beings, something they had never known! God was to be feared, and they hid themselves from His presence. In the cool of the day, as the Lord God walked in the garden, He called, “Where are you?” And He still calls to men today … “Where are you?”
Now, as a consequence of sin, they were driven from the garden, and God put cherubim at the east entrance. (Cherubim are angelic creatures that guard the glory of God.) Along with the angelic guard, He placed a flaming sword that revolved all the way around, in order that man might not reenter the garden, eat of the tree of life, and thus perpetuate sin forevermore.
From the time that Adam and Eve left that garden, the dark record of man’s inhumanity to man became history. Sin, death, slavery, oppression and war were the results of “The Fall.” From the time of Abel’s slaying at the murderous hand of his brother Cain, down to the time of Noah, when immorality abounded and God had to wash it away with a mighty flood, down to the time when nation rose up against nation in the cradle of civilization, Asia, where mighty ruler after mighty ruler rose to conquer, man has acted with savage intent toward one another.
Daniel was one of those unfortunate young people swept away into Babylonian captivity, taken by an oriental despot, Nebuchadnezzar. There is some evidence that Daniel was royalty, or at least nobility; Nebuchadnezzar took the “cream” from Jerusalem to his own service.
In Asia, when one ruler conquered another, the civilization was annihilated. Families were separated. The vanquished were sent to all parts of the victor’s kingdom. Names were changed. They were not allowed to use their own languages. Conquering–troops burned, looted, and raped. They were even known to plow salt into the soil so the civilization would never rise again; the goal, total destruction!
We can travel on westward, and farther in time, to the Roman Empire. Although Rome incorporated civilizations rather than obliterating them, nonetheless, they enslaved them, imposing brutality, cruelty, inhumanity–in short, darkness, death and slavery. Right down to our modem time, we have recorded on every yellowed page of antiquity man’s cruelty and inhumanity to man.
But alas, what is that? But a bright and shining star?
0, Star of wonder, Star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to the Perfect Light.
Why look, it’s the star of Bethlehem, and the Magi–the Wise Men–are following it! They follow until it comes to rest over the city of David, entering to search for the home of the child they seek. By this time, the “infant” is no longer a babe, but a young child.
On bended knee, they worship this new king, proclaiming Him
the King of Israel, King of Kings.
The Wise Men presented Him with gifts:
Gold, for gold is fit for a king, and He was a King;
Frankincense, an essence used in temple worship, for indeed
He was a priest, a High Priest–The High Priest;
Myrrh, used at the time of death for burial, for certainly,
He had come to die!
The star will pass, and so will time, and the young child will grow to be a man. We find Him once more, many years hence, entering the synagogue of His youth, at the beginning of his ministry. The young man is presented a scroll and asked to read. It was a point of honor. He walked to the front of the small, crowded room, rolled open the scroll to Isaiah, and began to read. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek. He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim Liberty to the Captives, and the opening of prison doors.”
He closed the scroll and said, “This day is the Scripture fulfilled.” As He quietly walked back to His seat, every eye bore into His back! In that close atmosphere, rumors began to ricochet through the room. Who is this upstart? Who does he think he is? Is not this the mere son of Joseph, the carpenter? BLASPHEMY!! And they rejected Him.
He walked out the door of that synagogue that day, shook the dust off his sandals, and went on about His Father’s business, never once looking back.
Not too many years from this time, we will find Him entering Jerusalem, riding on the back of a donkey–an untamed donkey, never before ridden by any man.
“Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is the King of Israel! Blessed is the One that comes in the Name “of the Lord!” The crowd pressed in to catch a glimpse of the man who had raised Lazarus from the dead. The news spread like wildfire in a parched sycamore grove. Men cut down palm branches and waved them vigorously overhead.
“Hail to the King of Israel!!” Cloaks were stripped off of backs and laid in front of the donkey that the King might ride over them. Later, in the temple, the children proclaimed Him the Son of David.
And what of the temple authorities? Huh–they complained bitterly and would say, “Look! Look how all the world goes out after Him! And they continued to plot His death, for they feared His authority.
Several days hence, we find ourselves again outside the city walls, back on that lonely, stark, barren hill called Golgotha, looking at the limp, lifeless body of the Son of God. At this point we wonder; has death and darkness won? For three long, lonely days, despair and discouragement fill our hearts. Then on that glorious morn, like a flash of lightning streaking across the sky, the news is borne through the streets of the city, and later proclaimed across the house tops:
That news followed down throughout time and history
to our day; He is indeed alive!
You see, by that life, He has secured our Liberty;
Liberty to enter the presence of God without fear,
Liberty to once again enjoy His fellowship
and to be called “the sons of God,”
Liberty from the consequences of sin and death;
For you see, “where the Spirit of the Lord is,
there is LlBERTY!”
O, Star of wonder, Star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us by thy Holy Light.
Now come with me in imagination into the future, the future from the time of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. We travel now across time and space and continents, into Europe. It is the Dark Ages, and one is tempted to think the light of Christ and Liberty has gone out! Men are enslaved to ignorance, superstition, oppression, and the tyranny of the church and the king.
In the churches we find the Bibles chained to the pulpits, perhaps symbolic of the chains about man’s darkened heart. Some bishops live their whole lives without ever seeing a copy of the Bible, and the light of the Word is not available at all to the common man. It is for that reason many call this period the Dark Ages. Copies of the Bible are very rare and expensive to produce. Scribes sit in shadowy, candle-lit rooms copying, word for word, line by line, page by page, the Holy Scriptures.
The Scriptures are holy, as God is holy. But man? Man is unholy and should not even attempt to touch them! And yet it was a holy God Who came to touch unholy man.
Learning is confined to priests and monks. The common man is ignorant and uneducated. It is thought he cannot be trusted to understand the Word of God for himself; the church must protect him by explaining the Bible to him. When you take an individual’s responsibility from him, no matter how benevolent the motive, you have taken away his Liberty, and enslaved him! Slavery takes many forms.
But look there in the distance another Star! He is called “The Morning Star,” but he cannot rival the real and true Morning Star, Jesus Christ! This man is only a reflection of the light of Jesus. He is only a man, a servant of God; his name is John Wycliffe.
John Wycliffe is a Bible scholar of great renown throughout all Europe. He is a respected administrator at Oxford University in England. Because of his belief and his desire, Wycliffe is stripped of all authority and the right to teach, and relegated to a tiny parish church in Lutterworth where in the eyes of man, he lived in disgrace, but in the eyes of God, he was in the right place.
In Lutterworth, John Wycliffe completed translation of the Latin Bible into English, the language of the people. It had long been the desire of his heart “to make the Bible the common property of all.” Wycliffe believed the Bible was the common man’s best protection against tyranny from the church and the state. In the introduction to his English translation, he stated, “The Bible is for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
His translation was completed in 1382. His followers, the Lollards, carried copies–in whole, in part, in tract form–all over England. Wherever the Word was carried–to workmen in the fields, or yeomen in cottage gardens, or to simple folks in parish churches, or lords and ladies in lordly halls–it quickened the hearts and minds of all.
Foot-worn preachers placed great emphasis on the text of the Bible itself. The preachers? Why, they were not scholarly priests, but from the common stock of the people. Called “Lollards” (idle babblers) by critics, they stirred the heart of England. Exposing sin, condemning evil deeds of the clergy and dispelling superstitions, the Lollards gained wide support. It was said, sarcastically, “Why, you could scarcely meet two persons in the road, one of them would be a disciple of Wycliffe.”
Not only was the heart unchained, but the mind was set free, as well. Everywhere the Bible was taught, the people wanted to learn to read, to read it for themselves. In some circles, it was bitterly complained that children and servants and women knew more of the Bible than the “learned” priest!
John Wycliffe died in 1384. Forty-one years after his death, church officials exhumed his bones and burned them, along with two hundred volumes he had written. His ashes were thrown in the Swift, a little stream that runs near Lutterworth, and carried into the Avon, and from there into the Severn, into waterways leading to the ocean; symbolically, his ashes were spread over the world, as were his doctrines!
Wycliffe sparked a fire that burned one hundred years, throughout the 1400s. But by the close of the century, those flames burned low. To some, it might appear that they had been extinguished. For all of England was a “blood bath” during the 1500s.
King Henry VIII separated from the church of Rome to satisfy his own lust for power. His motive was not spiritual. Blood and death flowed freely as the people were crushed under the boot of tyranny. One monarch after another struggled for power over the lives of their subjects. Brutality, darkness, death and slavery held England captive.
And yet, another light appears on the horizon, giving witness to the light of Jesus Christ! William Tyndale, whose desire mirrored that of his predecessor, stated, “If God preserve my life, I will cause a plowboy to know more Scripture than the pope!”
With Tyndale’s translation of the Bible from the original languages, an explosion rocked all of England. Numerous translations dispersed throughout the land and penetrated deep into the soul of England. Willliam Tyndale’s Bible, published in 1536, was brought into England in flour barrels, hidden from the flames of a king who would have it burned. Tyndale did not escape those flames; he was burned at the stake.
Disguised with the name, “The Matthew’s Bible,” the Martyr’s Bible was licensed by the king and became the first authorized Bible of England. The Coverdale Bible was published shortly after Tyndale’s and distributed about the same time. The Great Bible, noted as a work of art, was circulated in 1539. In 1560, the Geneva Bible was circulated, and the King James at the turn of the century in 1611.
But The Geneva Bible bore many distinctions. It was the first affordable Bible for the common man, the first easily read, due to the clear Roman type, the first divided into chapter and verse for easy study, and it was the fIrst portable Bible. The Geneva Bible became known as the “Pilgrims’ Bible” because it sailed with them on the Mayflower.
And what of these people called the “Pilgrims?” Originally, they were called “Separatists!” William Bradford, their historian and governor for thirty years, called them Pilgrims in his history, Of Plymouth Plantation.
As a result of the Bible’s availability to the common man in English, the Separatist Pilgrims began to read God’s Word. As they read, their hearts, minds and lives were transformed. They became famous for the phrase, “Reform without tarrying for any.” The church of England had been born out of political intrigue, and not spiritual principle. It needed much reform, and they had no time to wait! For conscience’s sake, they left the King’s Church and were branded with that still red-hot firebrand, the King’s will. Branded criminals and enemies of the state, they were harried out of the land.
On a voyage of sixty-six-day. across the stormy Atlantic, they suffered much for the Liberty they sought, Liberty to worship God freely, according to His Word, and Liberty to govern themselves by that Word.
They sailed too late into the Atlantic, and the sea became a raging beast, thrashing, kicking, biting, and howling. The little Mayflower rocked and rolled and pitched and bobbed uncontrollably. During the stormy weather, the Pilgrims were not permitted on the upper deck; they were forced to ride out the weather in the belly of the ship, the great hatch closed and sealed over them to keep the water out. Even so, the decks were so battered by the storms, the planking spread just enough to allow icy water to cascade down into their laps. They were not even allowed to light one single candle, for fear the ship would catch fire. They rode out those storms in darkness, not knowing if they were riding the crest of the waves, or plunging to a watery grave.
With all the adversity that engulfed them on the sea, and that threatened them in the strange new wilderness, not–one went back! Such was their desire for Liberty under God.
Because of the roughness of their passage, they had been blown five hundred miles north of their destination .in the northern parts of Virginia, where they had been given permission to settle. Passengers not of their Faith, called “Strangers,” threatened mutiny and anarchy. They would do what was right in their own eyes. The Pilgrims knew that such lawlessness could lead to death for all! According to Scripture, “All things must be done decently and in order.” To preserve the colony and their lives and their Liberty, the Pilgrims wrote the Mayflower Compact–the very first American Christian governmental document.
The authority to write such a document was not taken in the king’s name, but in the Name of God, “for the glory of God, and the advancement of the Christian Faith,” and finally, the “honor of king and country.” It is not hard to determine who and what was most important to the Pilgrims! Providence had blown them off course; there was no government to ensure lawful action. They accepted responsibility to make whatever laws, rules, and constitutions necessary for their better ordering.
Listen now to the voice of the Pilgrims as it echoes down the corridor of time:
In ye Name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by ye grace of God, and of Great Britain, France and Ireland king, defender of ye faith, etc., having undertaken, for ye glory of God, and advancement of ye Christian Faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant ye first colony in ye Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in ye presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of ye ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for ye general good of ye colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod :ye 11th of November, in ye year of ye reign of our sovereign Lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland, ye eighteenth, and of Scotland ye .fifty-fourth, A.D. 1620.
The Mayflower Compact is called “The Birth Certificate of America.” It was the seed of civil Liberty, the Liberty of self-government. That seed was a direct result of the Separatists’ investigation of Scripture. John Robinson, their pastor, was considered by the Founding Fathers of this country to be one of the most articulate men on the subject of self-government. Robinson taught his congregation well. He taught responsibility for self-government before God in one’s personal life, as well as in civil matters. It is said he inspired the writing of the Mayflower Compact through his Biblical teachings.
American Liberty historically, if you look at the original record, finds its source in the Word of God and acceptance of individual responsibility before Almighty God.
O, Star of wonder, Star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us by thy Holy Light.
There are other testimonies of our Founding Fathers’ generation revealing the source of the Liberty planted in this country. For instance:
- In 1876, one hundred years after our War for Independence, Reverend S. W. Foljambe stated in a sermon, “If ever there has been a people who incorporated the Bible into themselves and themselves into the Bible, it has been our own.”
- Daniel Webster, statesman and politician, stated in 1843, “They brought with them a full portion of all the riches of the past, in science and art, in morals, religion and literature. The Bible came with them, and it is not to be doubted that to the free and universal reading of the Bible in that age, men were much indebted for right views of civil Liberty. The Bible is a book of faith, and a book of doctrine, and a book of morals. And a book of religion of especial revelation from God. But it is also a book which teaches man his own individual responsibility, his own dignity, and his equality with his fellow man.”
- The sixth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams, stated, “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity. (John Quincy Adams was the last of those called the “Constitutional Presidents,” those who held to a strict interpretation of the Constitution.)
- Patrick Henry, governor of Virginia, famous for his speech, “Give me liberty or give me death,” stated, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, people of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.”
- William Bradford, the Pilgrim and historian, perhaps gave the best overall understanding when he wrote, “Thus out of small beginnings, greater things have been produced by His Hand that made all things, and as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shown unto many–yea, in some sort to our whole nation–let the glorious name of Jehovah have all of the praise!”
Now, all this is not to say that inhumanity has never existed in this country! Human nature has not changed from man’s expulsion from the garden. Cruelty, brutality, darkness, death, and slavery are from man, sin, and Satan. But the glory of Liberty is from God; Liberty is the gift of God.
Today, darkness pervades our land. There is violence of every kind in obscure little towns, in back alley streets, on busy, big city streets, and even in our once-private, peaceful homes. We are no longer secure anywhere. Crime runs rampant throughout our country: murder, mayhem, rape, robbery, rebellion, illicit sex, and drug abuse. That is slavery!
If America is ever to live in Liberty again–Christian Liberty–the light of Jesus Christ must be held high in this land,
in our churches,
in our homes,
in our schools,
in our courts,
and in our halls of government.
But most important of all, the light of Jesus Christ
must shine through you and through me!
O, Star of wonder, Star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us by thy Holy Light!
Jesus Christ is the light, the Author of Liberty!
Many now say America cannot possibly have a Christian heritage or be a Christian nation; there is so much corruption, both past and present. The story just presented, Liberty, the Gift of God, reveals human nature to be the problem, not the lack of Christian values or principles at our national foundation.
The story traces the influence of Christ from Asia, to Europe, to America, revealing the development of Liberty for the individual; first spiritual Liberty through Jesus Christ, then civil Liberty as effected by the Gospel. The movement of Christianity westward has been called the “Chain of Christianity.” It ultimately shows the relationship between America and Biblical Christianity.
As you might have guessed, this presentation is only a summary; the subject is much deeper than time or patience will permit!
Sources for the story, Liberty, the Gift of God, were:
An American Dictionary of English Language, Facsimile 1828 Edition, by Noah Webster, published by S. Converse, New York; republished by Foundation for American Christian Education, San Francisco, California.
The Christian History of the American Revolution: Consider and Ponder. Compiled by Verna M. Hall, published by Foundation for American Christian Education, San Francisco, California, 1976.
The Christian History of the Constitution of the United States of America, Vol. I: Christian Self-Government, 1960, compiled by Verna M. Hall, published by Foundation for American Christian Education, Anaheim, California.
Teaching and Learning America’s Christian History: The Principle Approach by Rosalie J. Slater. published by Foundation for American Christian Education, San Francisco, California, 1965.
The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, Fifth improved Edition, King James Version, Compiled and edited by Frank Charles Thompson, D.D., Ph.D., published by B. B. Kirkbride Bible Co., Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana, 1988.
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In 1833, Noah Webster, “Schoolmaster of the Republic,” stated: “Those who destroy the influence and authority of the Christian religion sap the foundation of public order, of liberty and of republican government.”
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