Frank Johnson

“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, ….” So begins the American Declaration of Independence. On July 4, 1776, this Declaration was adopted by the 13 British colonies.

It was a momentous climax to the decade-long conflict with the mother country. For 10 months, during the sporadic fighting, many were hoping for a restoration of the rights and privileges that the colonies had enjoyed prior to King George’s policy of “taxation without representation.” The War for Independence in all its grim fullness loomed ahead. The weight of the matter was expressed in the last sentence of the Declaration: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

The signers of the Declaration would make good on that pledge, as many of them either lost all they owned in the conflict, died fighting, or at the very least lost loved ones in the War. It was their “Lives …, Fortunes …, and sacred Honor” that they had pledged, and this was what many of them gave.

These men knew what liberty costs, and they were prepared to pay the price. Many of the soldiers who are charged to establish and defend liberty today know the high cost of freedom more personally and clearly than we do in our comfort and affluence. They wear that cost in the scars they carry. They bear that cost to their graves.

When Patrick Henry stood before the Virginia Convention in St. John’s Church of Richmond on March 23, 1775, he reminded the delegates there of the decade of tyranny that the colonies had just experienced from King George. He brought his fiery speech to this conclusion: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me: Give me liberty, or give me death!” (from Gregory R. Suriano, Great American Speeches (New York: Gramercy Books, 1993), p. 4.)

We must never forget our heritage of such conviction and self-giving. Independence Day is a natural time for this. Along with the signers of the Declaration, we, too, affirm that certain truths are “self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with … unalienable rights.” Such a conviction comes from God, who has designed the human soul to yearn for freedom. And when we have it in this fallen world, it is truly a gift from God.

A recent book by John Ferling, “Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence,” tells the tale. It is drawn from a statement by George Washington. When the war was basically over and the American colonies had secured their liberty, Washington was asked how it came about that his rag-tag collection of citizen-soldiers had managed to defeat the strongest standing army in the world. He answered that it was almost a miracle that the Americans had won the war. He recognized the role of Divine Providence in the whole affair.

At this season, Christians also confess that freedom comes most fully through a life-giving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36, NIV). We must forget neither the cost of political freedom, paid by so many past and present, nor the cost of spiritual freedom, paid with the blood of the Son of God.

Frank R. Johnson is the pastor of the Chestnut Street Baptist Church in Ellensburg.

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