"But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer,
but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed." (Jas. 1:15)
"I can certainly agree with the proposition — which I deem indisputable — that a woman's ability to choose an abortion is a species of 'liberty' that is subject to the general protections of the Due Process Clause. I cannot agree, however, that this liberty is so 'fundamental' that restrictions upon it call into play anything more than the most minimal judicial scrutiny."
Justice Byron White, dissenting in Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 476 U.S. 747, 790 (1986)
"Proclaim liberty throughout all the land," God commanded the people of Israel in the their year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:10).
These same words, taken from Leviticus, are etched on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, reminding the people of America of the "liberty" to be secured "to ourselves and our posterity," as stated in the Preamble of the United States Constitution.
America's Forgotten Legacy
Just as the people of Israel forgot the true meaning of liberty, turning it into every form of licentiousness (Is. 1:4-9), so the people of America have forgotten their godly legacy of liberty, transforming abortion and — if the homosexual lobby gets its way in Lawrence v. Texas (now before the United States Supreme Court) — sodomy as a constitutionally protected "liberty."
Even the judicial opponents, like the late Justice Byron White, of a woman's right to choose whether her baby lives or dies have conceded the moral high ground to the abortion promoters, having allowed that "a woman's ability to choose an abortion is a species of liberty."1 Such a concession divests liberty of all normative content. After all, if "human ability" equals a kind of "liberty," then a person's ability to choose to murder, to steal, to rape, or to commit any other wrong is equally a "species" of liberty.
Such a view of liberty is clearly erroneous, having been derived from the Fall. Yet, even in Christian circles, we are oftentimes told that free will is affirmed in the Bible by the account of the rebellion of Adam and Eve, as if freedom were the ability to disobey God, rather than to obey Him. Just because a person is able to do something, however, does not mean that he is free to do so. As the book of James attests, true liberty is obedience to God — to His Word, to His will, and to His way (Jas. 1:25). Instead of looking to the first Adam for the meaning of liberty, James teaches us that we should look to "the last Adam," Jesus Christ.2
The Perfect Free Man
In Matthew 4, we learn that Jesus was "led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." Being led of the Spirit, we know that Jesus went freely into the wilderness, for "where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty" (2 Cor. 3:17).
Satan first tempted Jesus to exercise His power as the Son of God to turn stones into bread (Mt. 4:3). Jesus declined, not because He lacked the ability (Lk. 19:40), but because He was free, even after fasting for forty days and forty nights, to abide in the Word of God. Even though food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food, Jesus was mastered by neither (1 Cor. 6:12-13). So, true liberty is, first of all, obedience to God's Word, as empowered by the spirit of the law of life in Christ, free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). True liberty is just the opposite of the choice made by Adam and Eve in the garden, a choice that put them and the whole human race into bondage (Rom. 5:12-14).
But there is more. Satan also tempted Jesus with God's Word, inviting Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, reminding Him of God's promise in Psalm 91:11 that God would send His angels to save the Son of God (Mt. 4:5-6). Jesus replied that He had come to do God's will, not His own, and therefore, that He would not presume upon God: "[N]ot as I will, but as thou wilt" (Mt. 26:39). Thus, Jesus could truly testify that He freely gave His life at the cross, having been commanded to do so by His Father (Jn. 10:18), even though the Father would have sent "twelve legions of angels" had Jesus decided to do His own will (Mt. 26:53). By doing the Father's will, and not His own, Jesus demonstrated true liberty.
And there is even more. Satan finally tempted Jesus to become King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, if only Jesus would exchange the Father's plan for Satan's (Mt. 4:8-9). Again, Jesus declined, opting to do it God's way (Mt. 4:10). By submitting to His Father's plan, Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father to rule over the nations as "the blessed and only Potentate" (1 Tim. 6:15), while Satan, having contrived his own plan, is consigned forever to the bondage of hell (Rev. 20:1-10).
Jesus, then, is the perfectly free man, having lived according to God's Word, will, and way. Thus, we are admonished to abide in Him, and thereby experience true freedom (Jn. 8:31-32). Indeed, "if the Son... shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (Jn. 8:36).
The Founders' Christian Legacy
It is this Christian legacy of freedom that America's founders endorsed in the nation's charter, the Declaration of Independence.
First, the founders rested their claim for national independence upon God's Word, appealing to God as the Supreme Judge of the world "for the rectitude3 of our intentions." In seeking God's judgment, America's founders recognized that however strong their appeal "to the opinions of mankind" for independence upon the international "laws of nature and of nature's God," their success depended upon God's assessment of their hearts and minds. In this way, America's founders ultimately rested their case for independence not on the external rightness of their revolutionary cause, but upon the internal spirit of their desire for true liberty. By appealing to God as the Judge of their hearts, the founders based their case for independence on the law, as explicated in Jesus's sermon on the mount, not as understood by the scribes and Pharisees (Mt. 5:20).
In recognition that they could not — even inwardly — meet God's righteous standard of perfection (Mt. 5:48), America's founders further sought "for the support of this Declaration... the protection of Divine Providence," — that is, as Webster puts it in his 1828 Dictionary, "the care and superintendence which God exercises over his creatures." Remarkably, the founders expressed "firm reliance" upon God's provision because they knew the character of God, that even though they and their fellow patriots were not perfect, it was God's will to show His mercy to those who diligently seek Him. Just as Abraham could count on God in His mercy to provide (Gen. 22:8), so America's founders likewise believed in "Jehovah-jireh" (Gen. 22:14), for His mercies are new every morning, great is His faithfulness (Lam. 3:21-23).
Second, the founders laid out God's way for the new nation, a plan based upon the "self-evident truths" (Rom. 1:20): that all men are created equal (Gen. 1:27); endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, (Gen. 2:7), liberty (2 Cor. 3:17), and the pursuit of happiness (Eccl. 3:13); and that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" (1 Sam. 8:5, 22; 10:17, 24).4 To that end, the people of the original states and of the United States organized their respective governments under written constitutions, following after the pattern of the constitutional monarchy of Israel (1 Sam. 10:25) so that their rulers would be governed by the rule of law.5Compare Deuteronomy 17:14, 15, 18-19 and 1 Samuel 13 and 15 with Article VI of the United States Constitution ("This Constitution shall be... the Supreme Law of the Land") and with Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 177 (1803) ("Certainly all those who have framed written constitutions contemplate them as forming the fundamental and paramount law of the nation....").
As the Preamble to the United States Constitution states, one of the major purposes of a written constitution for a civil government is "to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity." But a written constitution, no matter how important initially, does not guarantee liberty to future generations. Rather, as Article I, Section 15 of the 1776 Virginia Constitution attests: "[N]o free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles."
Not only have the American people and their leaders generally failed to "recur" to the fundamental Christian principles upon which their nation was founded, but many have cast aside virtue, frugality, temperance, moderation, and justice, choosing the way of the first Adam over that of the second. As a consequence, we live in a nation that, while claiming to be the "land of the free and the home of the brave," is increasingly becoming a country of bondage and cowardice, succumbing to the sins of lust, greed, and power.
Should America continue on this course of misbegotten freedom from God and His law, it will surely be said of these United States what the prophet Jeremiah observed of ancient Israel: "[M]y people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13).
1. See the quote from White's dissenting opinion in Thornburgh above.
2. In like manner, the apostle Paul directed our attention to the last Adam, not the first Adam, to understand the true meaning of life (1 Cor. 15:45)
3. In his 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster defined "rectitude" as a moral term: "uprightness of mind, exact conformity to truth.... Perfect rectitude belongs only to the Supreme Being. The more nearly the rectitude of men approaches to the standard of divine law, the more exalted and dignified is their character. Want of rectitude is not only sinful, but debasing."
4. For a short, but more detailed, examination of the Christian text, principles, and worldview of the Declaration, see H. Titus, The Declaration of Independence: The Christian Legacy (The Forecast: 1995).
5. For a short, but more detailed, examination of the Christian foundation, order, and covenant of the United States Constitution, see H. Titus, The Constitution of the United States: A Christian Document (Titus Publications: 1997).
- Herbert W. Titus
Mr. Titus practices law in association with Troy A. Titus, P.C., in Virginia Beach, Virginia and is of counsel to the law firm of William J. Olson, P.C. of McLean, Virginia. He specializes in constitutional litigation and appeals.