“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”—Psalm 33:12
It was midnight, July 1, 1776, as Caesar Rodney rode hard in the rain, splashing through the mud on his way to Philadelphia where the Second Continental Congress was meeting. Despite the harsh weather and his own physical pain from a cancerous facial tumor, Rodney would not stop. He had to be present to cast his final vote for independence. Caesar Rodney had not come to his position easily, but he believed it was the right one. He knew that his vote would make it certain that the colonies would have to fight for their freedoms.
The road to war stretched back over several years, during which the policies of the British Crown had grown excessively harsh toward the Colonies. England made many decisions on behalf of their distant subjects without their proper representation. The Crown also wanted more revenues than the Colonist wanted to give. Still, the king insisted on a policy of heavy taxation of items from stamps, to property, to the most British of all substances, tea. Each new tax brought greater acts of resistance from the Colonists.
Protests were held in the streets. In 1770, in Boston, a crowd of citizens began making fun of British soldiers. They taunted them, and threw snowballs. The soldiers fired bullets. Five people were killed, and several others were wounded, in what Paul Revere called The Boston Massacre.
However, even this incident did not convince the colonist to declare their independence. Many were still cautious. Leading citizens had their landholdings established by the Crown. If war came, all would be lost. But war would come, because King George III was not a wise man. He believed in the Divine rights of the king. This political philosophy led George III to believe that he was born to rule. God had put him on the throne, and therefore, no group of colonies would tell him what to do. He would tell them what to do. He would tax them. He would kill them as traitors if necessary, which is why, on April 19, 1775, the King gave his soldiers permission to fire upon the colonists at Lexington and Concord. The shot was fired that was heard ’round the world.
The Colonies had enough. Little towns, such as Ashby, Massachusetts, declared themselves to be independent of the British Monarch. It was time for the central government to act, and follow the will of the people. A meeting to debate the whole situation was called. However, the representatives were divided. Some of the colonies like Vermont, and Massachusetts were for immediate independence. Others like Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, wavered. But in the end, twelve colonies did declare for independence. Only New York abstained. It was July 2, 1776. In a letter to his wife Abigail, John Adams wrote, “The second of July will be a memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by successive generations as the great anniversary festival.”
Adams was almost right. He did not know that it would take two more days for the whole assembly to agree to the wording of a final document that a special committee had been asked to present for consideration. Written by the Virginian Thomas Jefferson, the document declared the independence of the colonies and the reasons why they were revolting against the British Parliament in general, and King George in particular.
While Thomas Jefferson is rightly said to be the author of The Declaration of Independence, many voices suggested certain changes. For example, where Thomas Jefferson had originally written, “we hold these truths to be undeniable and sacred,” Benjamin Franklin had suggested that the language be changed to, “we hold these truths to be self evident.” This change was made along with many others, such as the omitting of a clause against slavery. Even then, the subject was too emotional for consideration.
Finally, the men representing the thirteen colonies signed the document. After John Hancock put his pen to the paper to write his name in rather large letters, he quipped, “There, King George can read that without his spectacles.”
The first public reading of the Declaration took place in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776. For those people who wanted to remain loyal to the Crown, it meant the end of their safe, secure world. For many of the Colonists, the Declaration meant that a wonderful revolution had begun, offering a new beginning for all. On July 9, 1776, in New York, the Declaration was read. The crowds became so excited with the prospect of war that they pulled down a large statue of King George III on horseback, and melted it to make 42,000 patriot bullets. One man said, “Now heart and hand can move together. I could hardly own the King and fight against him at the same time.”
The fight for American’s independence soon began in earnest. Despite the loss of some early battles, winter victories at Trenton, and Princeton, assured that the war with England would be long and bloody. There would be many times that the souls of men would be tried, and individuals would wonder if freedom was worth all the hardships and heartaches. Eight years would pass before the first flag that the Continental Congress authorized in 1777 could fly freely and proudly.
But the day of victory did come. General Washington did accept the surrender of the king’s soldiers at Yorktown. The war was over, and men who had pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, had won. But who were these revolutionaries who gave us our Declaration of Independence? Who were these 56 men of passion that led people to protest tyranny, and love liberty? John Adams, “The Atlas of the Revolution,” described them as “such an assembly as never before came together on a sudden, in any part of the world; here were fortunes, ability, learning, eloquence, acuteness equal to any I ever met with in my life.”
The fifty-six Revolutionary spokesmen were elected representatives of the thirteen colonies, and dedicated patriots. They were also very fortunate, for not one lost his life in battle, or his honor, though many gave their fortunes. They were leaders: two became Presidents of the United States; two became Vice-Presidents; three became Supreme Court Justices; five became Sate Supreme Court Justices; one became Secretary of State; one became United States Treasurer; six became United States Senators; three became Members of the House of Representatives; and ten became Governors of their states.
Many of their descendants became great leaders in various fields of endeavor. They were educated: eight at Harvard, four at Yale, four at William and Mary, three at Philadelphia, two at Princeton, all colleges whose charters stated they were established for the advancement of the Christian faith; seven were educated at France or England, and two at the University of Edinburgh. One was President of the College of New Jersey; one became Chancellor of the University of Virginia.
They were fighters: two were Commanders-in-Chief of their State Militia; one was Brigadier-General of the Continental Army; one was the top executive officer of the American Navy.
Some died before the war ended; some were taken prisoners of war; none were killed in battle. Some were very rich men such as John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, who had been born in a parsonage, the son and grandson of Puritan ministers. He put up one quarter of a million dollars to help finance the war, and said, “Burn Boston and make John Hancock a pauper if the public good requires.” He described the British troops as “…men whom scepter robbers now employ to frustrate the design of God and render vain the bounties which His gracious hand passes indiscriminately upon his creatures.”
John Hancock had warned, “We must all hang together,” to which Benjamin Franklin replied, “Yes, we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” One of those willing to be hanged for signing the Declaration Of Independence was the only clergyman, John Witherspoon. This son of a Presbyterian clergyman had been a leading Presbyterian minister in Scotland. He had come to America in 1768 as President of the College of New Jersey. There he taught such students as James Madison, who later became known as the “Father of the Constitution.”
John Witherspoon arrived in Philadelphia as a delegate to the Continental Congress in June, 1776, just in time to hear the debate over independence between John Adams and John Dickinson. He responded to the remark that the colonies were “not yet ripe for a declaration of independence” by declaring, “In my judgment, sir, we are not only ripe, but rotting.”
John Witherspoon got his war as did Samuel Adams who said, “Our cause is righteous, and we shall never be abandoned by Heaven while we show ourselves worthy of its aid and protection.” Heaven seemed to honor the cause of the Signers of the Declaration in many ways. They enjoyed long life. Their average life-span was 65 years. There was no generation gap among them. The signers varied in age from 26 to 81, their average age being 42.
As the Signers enjoyed long life, so they enjoyed large families. All but two were married, and they averaged six children per father. And the leaders of the revolution enjoyed a variety of backgrounds. All but eight were native born. Sixteen were born in the northeastern colonies. Fourteen came from the middle Atlantic, and eighteen from the southern colonies. Two were from England. One was from Wales. Two were from Scotland, and three from Ireland.
From so many backgrounds, these valiant men brought forth the United States of America, “One nation, under God indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The concept of our nation being “under God” is very important, because it was meant to be. While the birth of other nations was brought forth under men, our nation was designed to be “under God.”
Therefore, we as Christians, have much to be proud of for it was the faith set forth by Christ that influenced our country from the very first. This fact is reflected in many ways.
It is revealed in the voyage of the Mayflower, and the plight of the Pilgrims. Faith brought them here, and faith sustained them during the starving winter of that first year. Our Christian heritage is manifested in the colonial charters. There are, for example, the words found in The First Chart for Colonizing Virginia. April 10, 1606. Article III. We greatly commending and graciously accepting of their Desires for so noble a Work, which may, by the Providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of His Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such people as live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true knowledge and Worship of God…
The influence of the Christian faith can be cited in other original documents, such as The New England Confederation Constitution of Plymouth Colony (1663); Penn’s Charter of Privileges of Pennsylvania (Oct. 1701); The Rhode Island Charter (1644); and the Maryland Toleration Acts Of 1649. Even the Liberty Bell reflects our Christian heritage.
The Liberty Bell was first hung in the State House steeple on June 7, 1753, after it had been cast once in London and twice in Philadelphia. Its name was suggested, not from its association with the Revolutionary War, but from the biblical inscription placed on it in 1752. Leviticus 25:10 says, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land…”
On September 18, 1777, when the British Army was approaching the city, the Liberty Bell was removed and placed for safety under the floor of the Zion Church at Allentown, Pennsylvania, where it remained until June 27, 1778, when it was rehung at Independence Hall. It cracked on July 8, 1835, while being tolled as the remains of the Chief Justice John Marshall were being carried from the city in formal procession for burial at Richmond, Virginia. So, while Liberty Bell has an interesting connection with the Revolutionary War, the liberty it speaks of, is first, and foremost, a spiritual liberty.
The illustrations could be multiplied, but there is no doubt that our nation was founded by men and women of strong Christian conviction, whose God is the Lord. Psalm 33:12 says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” Such a nation will have a high view of God. Such a nation will have a low view of man. Such a nation will have a love for Christ. Such a nation will desire that the souls of men be saved. Such a nation will long to be good.
A Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, who visited America in the early years of her existence (1831 – 32) and concluded that, “America is great because America is good. If America every stops being good, she shall stop being great.” The full quote is worth remembering.
“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her fertile fields and boundless forests, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her public-school system and her institutions of learning, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution, and it was not there.
Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did, I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
Unfortunately, in some ways our country is moving in the direction of not being good. There are serious problems that cannot be denied. As a nation, we kill too many of our babies each year. As a nation, we murder too many of our citizens. As a nation we tear our families apart too freely. As a nation, we take too many drugs. As a nation, we are addicted to pleasure. As a nation, we are too proud. As a nation, we are too secure in our military might. As a nation, we are too self-willed. As a nation, we tolerate homosexuality, and aberrant lifestyles. As a nation, we are not careful what we listen to, or what we watch. As a nation, we are religious but not righteous.
Our only hope is to remember our spiritual heritage, to repent of our many sins, and move to return to the God of our fathers, so that we can say, and sing, with pride,
“This is my country,
Land that I love.”
As Christians, it needs to be our prayer that the land we love best is that which recognizes Jesus Christ is King. While we show respect to the president and other earthly rulers, we must remember to insist, and teach, that Jesus Christ is now King of kings and Lord of lords. To Him alone belong all the crown rights of every nation, and our own ultimate loyalty.
The Apostle Peter taught this in a not so subtle way on the day of Pentecost. When Peter preached to the Sanhedrin, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), he was quoting Augustus Caesar, who had proclaimed in 17 BC that, “Salvation is to be found in none other save Augustus, and there is no other name given to men in which they can be saved.”
Peter was letting all of the Roman Empire know that Jesus Christ is the true Saviour because He is Prophet, Priest, and King of the world. According to Psalm 2, Jesus was appointed by the Father as King over all men and nations, so that today He rules from His exalted throne-room in heaven. His flesh did not see corruption. Rather, “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereby we are all witnesses. Therefore, being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed for this which ye now see and hear (Acts 2:32-33).
The kingly office of Christ forms a vital part of our Christian faith, and even of our national heritage. We may judge of the importance of the kingly office of Christ from the frequency with which Christ is spoken of in the Scriptures under the character of King. The first advent of the Messiah was announced to the Church in these words: “Rejoice, greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy KING cometh unto thee (Zech. 9:9 cf. Song 3:11; Isa 33:17; Psa. 149:2; Isa. 6:5; Psa. 24:7).
It took One who was a Prophet, a Priest, and a King to save us, and it takes the same to bring all of the elect to full and final salvation (1 Cor. 15:25). Therefore, let us say, “This is my country, and Christ is my King.” The nation will be blessed, whose God is the Lord. Crown Jesus, the Lord of Lords”.