The Foundation of the Declaration of Independence
For the Declaration of Independence the Bible, not the philosophy of John Locke or Thomas Jefferson, can be seen as the source of the words life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774 the words were life, liberty, and property. The Bible also shows the nature of these three great ideas and that they are necessarily related to each other.
I. The Right to Life is established in Genesis 4:11 with Cain and Abel. Cain was his brother’s keeper. Abel’s blood cried out from the ground. It was confirmed again in Genesis 9:6 “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” And in Exodus 20:13 we read “Thou shalt not kill.”
II. The Right to Liberty and
freedom of movement and lawful personal activities are seen in
movements of Abel with his flocks, the sons of Cain, Noah, and those
of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. Marriages, children, and
establishment of homes are also described. Genesis 4:1-2 “And Adam
knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I
have gotten a man from the LORD. And she again bare his brother
Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the
ground.” The word liberty is seen 27 times in 25 verses, 17 of them
in the New Testament.
There is a law of liberty in James 1
9 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
25 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.
This passage refers to liberty of conscience.
In James 2 we again see a law of liberty.
10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.
12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.
13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.
This time the law of liberty is used to mean the right to life, liberty, and property. Again in II Corinthians 3 we see liberty associated with the Spirit of the Lord.
17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1558 the Scottish reformer John Knox said that John the Baptist “was beheaded for the libertie of his tonge.” In 1572 John Knox spoke of “libertie of conscience.” Perhaps he kept libertie in mind because he remembered the priestly burning of Patrick Hamilton which turned Scotland away from Roman Catholicism. According to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1596 Spenser set thraldome and freedome as opposites. And so they are. Thraldome of priestcraft and freedome of religion are indeed opposite and were especially so in Zurich under the reformed creed and priestcraft of the reformer John Calvin and his Council of 200.
III. The Right to hold
property is ancient and was established in Genesis 4: 3-4 And in
process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of
the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of
the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had
respect unto Abel and to his offering. Cain means acquisition and
Cain’s sons held property. The Hebrew word towb in Job 7:7 has a
very wide meaning; goods, good things, good in the widest sense, and
happiness as well. In Exodus 22:1 we read “If a man shall steal an
ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen
for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.” The right of property was
again in practice from the time of Noah. Property, goods, was
brought out of Egypt, including Joseph’s bones, and later property
was carried to Babylon by the Israelites.
Exodus 12:37 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children.
38 And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.
39 And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual.
Exodus 13:19 And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.
The word stuff is seen 12 times in 13 verses, including once in New Testament in Luke 17:31. The word goods is seen 42 times, 15 times in the New Testament. Happiness is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as good fortune, prosperity, or success. It was used first in 1530 and in 1885 was used by Spurgeon in this sense. Goods has the sense of property or estate or possessions. The word good may be a euphemism for God and goodbye is a contraction of “God be with ye.”
And so we see that the Rights of man to Life, Liberty, and Property or pursuit of happiness were given to men by God and in history have always been intertwined and inseparable.
The Declaration of Independence, contrary to Francis Schaeffer, Rousas John Rushdoony, and Gary North, does indeed have the force of law because it was adopted after protracted meetings and debate and discussion by a representative assembly of persons selected from each colony by general consent, persons accepted by the colonies. That assembly was called the Continental Congress. It was properly authorized to speak for the colonies, and its leaders worked by persuasion and gave deference to the wishes of delegations from each colony. Jefferson’s draft was redacted by the full group. Its final content cannot be attributed solely to him.
You will remember the phrases in Declaration “reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” and “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world.” This last phrase is a prayer. Deists do not see a need to pray. Jefferson, the supposed Deist, wrote in his monograph called A Summary View:
We were under conviction of the necessity of arousing our people from the lethargy into which they had fallen as to passing events; and thought that the appointment of a day of general fasting & prayer would be most likely to call up & alarm their attention. No example of such a solemnity had existed since the days of our distresses in the war of '55, since which a new generation had grown up. With the help therefore of Rushworth…whom we rummaged over for the revolutionary precedents & forms of the Puritans of that day, preserved by him, we cooked up a resolution, somewhat modernizing their phrases, for appointing the 1st day of June, on which the Port bill was to commence, for a day of fasting, humiliation & prayer, to implore heaven to avert from us the evils of civil war, to inspire us with firmness in support of our rights, and to turn the hearts of the King & parliament to moderation & justice. To give greater emphasis to our proposition, we agreed to wait the next morning on Mr. Nicholas, whose grave & religious character was more in unison with the tone of our resolution and to solicit him to move it. We accordingly went to him in the morning. He moved it the same day; the 1st of June was proposed and it passed without opposition. The Governor dissolved us as usual.
Here is Jefferson promoting a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer.
Peyton Randolph wrote to the King of England on October 21, 1774 “Above all things, we earnestly entreat you, with devotion of spirit, penitence of heart, and amendment of life, to humble yourselves, and implore the favor of Almighty God: and we fervently beseech his divine goodness to take you into his gracious protection.” Again we see the respect for prayer among the members of the Continental Congress.
Henry Middleton and John Dickinson spoke to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia on 10/26/74 in a paper entitled “An Address to the Inhabitants of the Province of Quebec,” which would have concerned the alarming actions of the English government in regard to the province of Quebec, which made Catholicism the established religion of that territory. They prayed for George III
“that the Divine Being would bless to you the dispensations of his overruling providence, by securing to you and your latest posterity the inestimable advantages of a free English constitution of government, which it is the privilege of all English subjects to enjoy…These are the rights you are entitled to, and ought at this moment in perfection to exercise. And what is offered to you by the late act of Parliament in their place? Liberty of conscience in your religion? No. God gave it to you, and the temporal powers with which you have been and are connected firmly stipulated for your enjoyment of it…Had our Creator been pleased to give us existence in a land of slavery, the sense of our condition might have been mitigated by ignorance and habit. But, thanks be to his adorable goodness, we were born the heirs of freedom, and ever enjoyed our right under the auspices of your royal ancestors, whose family was seated on the throne to rescue and secure a pious and gallant nation from the popery and despotism of a superstitious and inexorable tyrant.(He is speaking here of the accession of William and Mary in 1688; the popish tyrants were Charles II and James II) Your majesty, we are confident, justly rejoices that your title to the crown is thus founded on the title of your people to liberty; and, therefore, we doubt not but your royal wisdom must approve the sensibility that teaches your subjects anxiously to guard the blessing they received from divine Providence.”
The men who adopted Declaration were familiar with the Bible and with the failures of government which are detailed within it. They knew that God gave liberty of conscience, temporal powers of government, and made us heirs of freedom. They, as Patrick Henry, were guided by the lamp of experience, and all the experience of man is contained in the Bible. No one can read the speech of Patrick Henry given in Richmond before the Virginia Provincial Convention assembled in St. John’s Church in 1775, without seeing that it is full of biblical words and phrases which prove his familiarity with the Bible.
Government failed within the dispensation of human government under Noah and his successors. In the dispensation of promise there was the failure of the descendents of Abraham who lost their blessings, but not their covenants, by their movement to Egypt. In the dispensation of the law Israel unwisely exchanged grace for law. In Exodus 19:8 we see that they did not keep their promise to do all that the LORD had spoken. The law was given not for man to keep-he could not do so-but to show man his sinful condition and to point him to Christ. It has never been possible for men, with their corrupt sinful natures, to establish a just and lasting theocratic government. Even good king Asa, who destroyed the idol in the grove, did not destroy the high place itself. He had great faith and directed Zechariah and Obadiah to teach the Word to the people. But he was succeeded by a son, Jehoshaphat, who cooperated with Ahab in a military campaign. Before the campaign Jehoshaphat asked the evil Ahab for an opinion from the prophet Micaiah. Micaiah then was given a vision of Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that had no shepherd. The final outcome of failures of attempts at theocratic government in Israel was Babylonian captivity. From these historical facts came the determination of the founders to limit the power of government and prevent another theocracy. James 1:20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
When the Israelites finally demanded a king, his behavior had already been correctly circumscribed by Deuteronomy 17:14-20 on which the Magna Carta was based and by which England had gradually become a limited monarchy.
Deuteronomy 1714 When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me;
15 Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.
16 But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.
17 Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
18 And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:
19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:
20 That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.
This passage had the king be a brother and not a stranger to those he was to rule; it prohibited excess in material possession; it prohibited polygamy; it commanded him to be familiar with and keep to the law and the scriptures; it commanded him to fear God; it commanded that his heart not be lifted up above his brethren and that he was not to be above the law that also bound his brethren. But the best of Israelite kings did not keep the rules laid down in this passage. The men who drafted the Declaration and Constitution were well aware of these failures of men and determined to minimize them as best they could. They also believed that man was fallen and sinful and that his nature would never change. That made fixed, written rules, which would not change, a necessary foundation of the new and unique nation about to be founded.
Even the Puritans in the English Civil War had revolted against religious tyranny by opposing the Catholic prayerbook imposed on them by Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud. Laud’s catholicizing excesses resulted in the great Puritan migration, which cost England 75,000 of her best citizens. But those same Puritans when they established their “new Israel” in the New England wilderness refused to grant religious liberty to those who expressed opposition to their theocratic rule. They were wrong to think of themselves as Israel because they were the church and not Israel. They failed, because of their “creed,” to make the proper Biblical distinction between Israel and the church. The only true and just theocracy that is in man’s future will be that established and ruled over during the millennium by the Lord Jesus himself. God’s promises to Israel are still in effect, and in this time the Old Testament covenant God made with his chosen people will be fulfilled and Israel will be redeemed.
Dickinson and Middleton in their address of October 26, 1774 to the Continental Congress on the Quebec Act, the same address quoted above, said
“In every human society…there is an effort continually tending to confer on one part the height of power and happiness, and to reduce the other to the extreme of weakness and misery. The intent of good laws is to oppose this effort, and to diffuse their influence universally and equally. Rulers stimulated by this pernicious ‘effort,’ and subjects animated by the just ‘intent of opposing good laws against it,’ have occasioned that vast variety of events that fill the histories of so many nations. All these histories demonstrate the truth of this simple position, that to live by the will of one man, or set of men, is the production of misery to all men. On the solid foundation of this principle, Englishmen reared up the fabric of their Constitution with such a strength, as for ages to defy time, tyranny, treachery, internal and foreign wars; and...‘They gave the people of their colonies the form of their own government, and this government carrying prosperity along with it, they have grown great nations in the forests they were sent to inhabit.’ In this form, the first grand right is that of the people having a share in their own government, by their representatives chosen by themselves, and, in consequence, of being ruled by laws which they themselves approve, not by the edicts of men over whom they have no control. This is a bulwark surrounding and defending their property, so that no portions of it can legally be taken from them but with their own full and free consent.”
The members of the Continental Congress were well aware of the Biblical history of the failures of human theocratic governments. They knew of the burning of Michael Servetus by John Calvin in Zurich of the drowning of Felix Manz there by Ulrich Zwingli. They remembered the banishment of Roger Williams and the hanging of Quakers and the beatings of Baptists and seizure of their property by the Puritans in New England. From those North Carolina Baptists who had fled to Virginia and become neighbors of Jefferson and Madison and Wythe and Mason they had learned of the military campaign of the Royal Governor William Tryon, who hanged Captain Benjamin Merrell and 11 others after the battle of Alamance in 1771 and drove Baptists out of North Carolina, burning their houses in the process. They were determined that these governmental terrors to good works would cease in America.
But those who wrote the Declaration also knew of the passage in Romans 13 concerning the powers that be.
Romans 131 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
The king was to be a terror to evil and not to good works. But the Declaration enumerates 18 points in which George III had become a terror to good works. In fact it was precisely because the framers of the Declaration respected Biblical directives to obey the powers that be that they felt in necessary to explain to the world their actions in regard to revolt and independence. All governments in history had, whether headed by king or bishop or both, eventually proceeded to tyranny. That is the reason for the limits on government demanded by the founders and by the Baptists. God himself foreknew that the nations would be liable to this kind of failure, impious and weak as well. In Isaiah 40:15 God says the nations are “as a drop of a bucket.”
Those who adopted the Declaration simply wanted to be left alone by the powers that be, because they were also familiar with I Timothy 2
1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
Ten of the eighteen particulars against George III in the Declaration are directly related to unjust actions taken by the king which had immediate bearing on the liberty and welfare of frontier colonists in North Carolina and Virginia, many of them Baptists. They can be listed:
3rd. He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. (frontier counties on North Carolina)
4th. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. (Virginia and North Carolina)
5th. He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. (Virginia and North Carolina)
7th. He has endeavoured (notice the English and biblical spelling of endeavoured) to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands. (Proclamation of 1763 which prohibited frontier colonists in North Carolina from traveling or settling or hunting on the Western side of the “Indian Boundary.”)
9th. He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. (North Carolina and Virginia)
10th. He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance. (North Carolina frontier counties)
12th. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power. (Tryon’s select militia which drove the Baptists out of North Carolina)
13th. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: (Quebec Act which established French law in the territory of Quebec, from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi and Montreal to the Gulf Coast. It also made the Catholic Church the established church of that territory)
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies (Quebec Act)
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
14th. He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
18th. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. (Many of the settlers on the frontier of North Carolina felt this action within their own families)
Psalm 9420 Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?
21 They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent blood.
So the Declaration was specific and detailed in its illustration of the plight of the subjects of George III on the frontier. Many of them became Baptists. It is not surprising that when the Constitution was ratified they demanded a Bill of Rights which would spell out those things which the government could not do and prevent government by theocracy. To Baptists the most important of these restraints was the first amendment which prohibited congress from establishing a state church supported by religious taxes and which allowed Baptists to worship in accordance with a proper interpretation of the New Testament rather than the priestly reformed creed under which they had suffered the most terrible excesses.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, said in a sermon in 1861:
“We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther and Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the days of the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the very days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel underground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents. Persecuted alike by Romanists and Protestants of almost every sect, yet there has never existed a Government holding Baptist principles which persecuted others; nor, I believe, any body of Baptists ever held it to be right to put the consciences of others under the control of man. We have ever been ready to suffer, as our martyrologies will prove, but we are not ready to accept any help from the State, to prostitute the purity of the Bride of Christ to any alliance with Government, and we will never make the Church, although the Queen, the despot over the consciences of men.”
God forgive fundamental Christian schools and Baptists generally for forgetting and even rejecting these words of Spurgeon and the noble purposes of those who wrote the Declaration and framed our Constitution with its bill of rights. The United States is the only country in the world which has never had any official state church in alliance with Government, and Baptist principles, and the decisive action taken on those principles, are responsible for it. These principles we must teach to our children and keep before us in order to preserve our liberty of New Testament worship.
James H. Sightler, M.D.
175 Joe Leonard Road
Greer, SC 29651
October 9, 1005