Sermon for Independence Day
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
July 4, 2010
On this date, 234 years ago, a group of fifty-six brave men gathered together, and hammered out the words that many of us, either memorized as schoolchildren or had our parent’s teach us at an earlier age. They penned words that are forever ensconced in our very identity as a nation, and set into motion actions that would forever change Western history at the end of the eighteenth century. The world is a different place because these men believed that:
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
The founders went on to list the grievances between the colonies and Mother England.
Why do I mention the words of the Declaration of Independence in this sermon? No, it isn’t simply because today is Independence Day, and I should simply preach a God and Country Sermon and leave it at that. I mention the words of the Declaration of Independence and corresponding words from our U.S. Constitution because they all contain a particular word that I think has begun to lost some of its meaning, and has simply coagulated into a somewhat amorphous term. I believe that the word Liberty has lost some of its punch, and I think we need to reclaim it, both in its function for us as American, but also for us as Christians.
The reason I believe we need to address this term is because of the question I’ve been mulling over for quite some time as I was working on this sermon. I asked myself if there was a difference between freedom and liberty.
In simply looking at dictionary definitions of the word, here is what I found:
Freedom is defined as:
1 : the quality or state of being free: as a: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action b: liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another c: the quality or state of being exempt or released from something onerous
Liberty on the other hand is:
1 a: freedom from external (as governmental) restraint, compulsion, or interference in engaging in the pursuits or conduct of one's choice to the extent that they are lawful and not harmful to others b: enjoyment of the rights enjoyed by others in a society free of arbitrary or unreasonable limitation or interference
An online Bible Dictionary further defines liberty as:
The opposite of servitude or bondage, hence, applicable to captives or slaves set free from oppression (thus deror, Lev 25:10; Isa 61:1, etc.). Morally, the power which enslaves is sin (Jn 8:34), and liberty consists, not simply in external freedom, or in possession of the formal power of choice, but in deliverance from the darkening of the mind, the tyranny of sinful lusts and the enthrallment of the will, induced by a morally corrupt state. In a positive respect, it consists in the possession of holiness, with the will and ability to do what is right and good. Such liberty is possible only in a renewed condition of soul, and cannot exist apart from godliness. Even under the Old Testament godly men could boast of a measure of such liberty (Ps 119:45, rachabh, "room," "breadth"), but it is the gospel of Christ which bestows it in its fullness, in giving a full and clear knowledge of God, discovering the way of forgiveness, supplying the highest motives to holiness and giving the Holy Spirit to destroy the power of sin and to quicken to righteousness. In implanting a new life in the soul, the gospel lifts the believer out of the sphere of external law, and gives him a sense of freedom in his new filial relation to God. Hence, the New Testament expressions about "the glorious liberty" of God's children (Rom 8:21 the King James Version; compare Gal 2:4; 5:13, etc.), about liberty as resulting from the possession of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17), about "the perfect law of liberty" (Jas 1:25). The instrument through which this liberty is imparted is "the truth" (Jn 8:32). Christians are earnestly warned not to presume upon, or abuse their liberty in Christ (Gal 5:13; 1 Pet 2:16). James Orr
I stumbled across an essay by a Dr. Marlene McMillan, and I must agree with what she has to say on that question. Let me share with you her words as she answers the question:
What is the Difference Between Freedom and Liberty?
Most people use the words liberty and freedom interchangeably. One of the most famous statements in the Declaration of Independence is “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Is there a reason why our founding fathers chose the word “liberty” instead of “freedom”?
Defining your words correctly is one of the foundational skills necessary in order to be able to think and reason at a high level. Actually, liberty and freedom are very different words. Which one you pursue and promote in your life tells much about your character and about your future.
Liberty is the freedom from restraint that allows you to exercise your God-given rights so that you might assume the responsibility necessary to attain your destiny. Liberty is personal, family, governmental, economic and religious. Liberty may be defined as the opportunity to make a choice to assume responsibility and accept the consequences.
Freedom, at best, is the license to do what you want as long as you do not hurt others. At worst, freedom is license to do what you want without considering the rights of others. Freedom without good character will result in anarchy or tyranny.
Responsibility is inherent to the meaning of liberty. For either individuals or nations to live in liberty, they must exercise self-government. When the citizens of a nation start assuming less responsibility for their individual actions, then more external controls are necessary. The people may cry for freedom, but what they will get is more rules and regulations.
Self-government, properly defined, does not mean that self is in control. It means that the person voluntarily submits his will to God’s will. It means a person chooses to restrain or direct himself instead of needing others to rule over him. It means that the person chooses to “own” his actions and take responsibility for them instead of seeking others to blame.
We must assume responsibility for our actions, our health, our education, and our provision. Needs in these areas can be met privately. They are not civil government’s business. James Madison, the architect of the Constitution, said, “We have staked the future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it – we have staked the future of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
Colonial pastor Robert Winthrop said, “All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they must have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they must rely on private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet.”
Liberty is fragile and must be valued to be preserved; but as long as people think they are free, they will not make an effort to preserve their liberty. Take a moment to reflect on the level of liberty we have today compared to the liberty that our founding fathers gave to us with such great cost. Do you see people giving up control of their own destiny in order to receive a handout from civil government? Do you see people today giving up a portion of their liberty in order to gain perceived protection from the
Benjamin Franklin said, “He who would exchange essential liberty for temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety.” Barring a revival of self-government in our land, we are facing the greatest loss of essential liberty ever seen in the history of mankind….Liberty is the result of thinking for ourselves and exercising our responsibilities. It is not the result of looking to civil government as the source. As we change the way we think, we will regain an understanding of the true source of liberty. “People who live in liberty think differently than people who live in bondage.”™
So, what do you think, is there a difference between liberty and freedom? Whether or not you answer that question in the affirmative or negative, I think the more important question lies in how we see freedom and liberty from a Christian perspective. As our Lord began his ministry in that Synagogue in Nazareth and he took upon himself the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord,”, he wants us to recognize that our freedom our liberty comes with the expectation that we are only free in the sense that our freedom comes with an incredible cost, and that as we have always heard, freedom is never free. It cost our Lord his life, but it was a price that God paid so that we might in fact be free in the ultimate sense of the word. And, our true hope lies in the fact that our liberties and freedom have been procured from the God of gods, and Lord of lords, who we worship, adore, and serve this day, and forevermore.