On July 4th, The Duty That It’s Right to Remember
Tuesday was July 4, in the Year of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2017. On that day in A.D. 1776, a group of men who styled themselves “the Representative of the United States of America” voted to approve the document in which the action they had taken two days before (July 2) would be proclaimed to the people of the States they represented, and to all the world. The resolution stated simply that “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
For several weeks before the July 2nd vote took place, a committee, which included John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, worked on the document that would formally present the new nation’s resolve to the world. These days the ideological consensus of America’s elitists focuses on “isms” that give greater priority to results than to reasoning. What matters is what people have the power to do, not the logic that rationally informs the aims and motives of what they do. Thank God, the leading lights of America’s founding generation had in no wise fallen prey to this ideological degradation of statecraft. Having cast their deed in terms of moral right, they knew they had to arm the conscience of their nation with the moral precepts and reasoning that approved the justice of their action.
They understood what Shakespeare’s Hamlet eloquently expressed (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1) when he observed that “conscience does make cowards of us all” when “the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, and enterprises of great pith and moment, with this regard their currents turn away.” They therefore anticipated that war—harsh, unforgiving, fatal and destructive war—would test the resolution they agreed upon. It was already under way. Unlike the shallow politicians of our time, they appreciated the fact that moral will is most often the key to sustaining combat, especially when material factors weigh against you.
The formal Declaration of Independence we celebrate on July 4th was therefore a moral appeal, stating the premises, facts and reasoning, required to seed a resilient conviction of right and justice into the heart of the nation, which they were resolved to rip from the troubled womb of its conception right into the front lines of battle. This moral precaution was partly due to their familiarity with what they would call the “genius” of the American people—the spirit of fervent piety that had informed the first beginnings of several of their most important communities. But it also reflected the rational conviction that a spirited sense of justice and common right can draw people together in a righteous cause, much as gravity draws objects toward the center of the earth’s physical mass.
But when one’s world threatens to come or be blown apart, the gravity of the situation requires the determination to be “watchful and strengthen the things that remain” (Revelation 3:2), even in the midst of chaos. Torn away from all that is humanly familiar and understood, true survival requires a gravitas that holds firm to what is right; the unshifting focal point of good purpose and intent that signifies the permanent presence of the enduring being within and without us. No matter where we turn, we are bound to turn back to this being, or else cease to be, in any sense at all.
This ever-present being, which finds us still when all is lost, we evoke in many ways, and call by many names. It is the being the authors of the Declaration of Independence evoke in “the laws of nature and of nature’s God”; the one they acknowledge as the Creator, endowing us “with certain unalienable rights”; the one they appeal to as “the Supreme Judge of the world” and firmly rely on for “the protection of divine Providence”.
The Declaration observes that “mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Yet, “when a long train of abuses and usurpation…evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to thrown off such Government…”. What accounts for the disposition rather to suffer evil than casually endanger the peace and order of the whole? What authority impels people to let go this disposition when their sense of right makes it their duty to do so? The answer is God, the author of our nature; God, the Creator, whose will determines our natural dispositions; God, the sovereign ruler and lawgiver who sets limits to unrighteousness beyond which indignation stirs our will, commanding it to act, for the good of all, against abusive violence.
This description of the duty of a people truly free assumes they possess a certain conscientious character, which the Declaration asserts to be the proven character of the people of the United States. This character requires an extraordinary yoking of long-suffering patience and readily combative courage; which remembers the patience of the reviled and crucified Christ; yet also stands ready to serve him as the King of Kings, who conquers death and evil, once and for all, now and for always. As it reminds us of the character we require, the Declaration challenges us to refresh our understanding of the duty it entails—which is to choose, as our representatives in government, people who have given consistent evidence of this good character, so that they may represent it in our government even though both we (and they, too, sometimes) fall short of it ourselves.
This is a goal more relevant to our politics than ever before. Praying for God’s forgiveness and aid, we should ponder how we may better fulfill it, in the near future, then we have in the recent past.
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