We value freedom in America, and we exercise it, too. On July 4 we celebrate the freedom that we gained by becoming independent, but there’s far more to that than meets the eye. It is in the personal stories behind the American Revolution that we can, I think, truly come to appreciate what the word Independence means. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence were not merely making a political statement; they were risking their lives….
Stephen Hopkins from Rhode Island, aged 70, said as he signed, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not.” Benjamin Franklin uttered the famous words, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.”
The wealthy John Hancock was already a wanted man, and the British were offering a 500-pound reward for him. He said he signed in enormous letters so that “John Bull can read my name without spectacles and may now double his reward.”
Benjamin Harrison, a large man, jested with one of his smaller colleagues that he would hang more quickly because of his large girth, while the smaller man would hang much less efficiently…
The Cost of Independence
Each of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence became a wanted man; and each, knowing full well what the cost might be, put his signature beneath this statement:
“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.”
Of the 56 signers, five were captured by the British, and were tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked or burned. Two lost sons in the Revolutionary army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the Revolutionary War.
Francis Lewis of New York saw his home plundered and destroyed by British soldiers. His wife was captured and treated with brutality, and though she was finally exchanged for two British prisoners through the efforts of Congress, she died a few months later.
Would You have Signed?
John Hart of Hopewell, New Jersey risked his life to return home to see his dying wife. After her death, the British hounded Hart, who was forced to live in forests and caves for over a year. His fields and gristmill were laid to waste. When the British were driven from the area and he was able to return home, his wife was dead, his children gone, and his home destroyed. He died a few weeks later, in 1779, of an illness; some say of a broken heart.
Governor Thomas Nelson, Jr., of Virginia, became aware of the fact that the British General Cornwallis had made his headquarters in Nelson’s beautiful home. When the Marquis de Lafayette invited Nelson to direct the artillery fire, he instructed the troops to fire upon his own home, destroying it. Nelson went bankrupt and died 7 years later at the age of 50.
Carter Braxton of Virginia was a wealthy planter and trader. The British navy sank his ships, and he was forced to sell his properties to cover his debts. He died in rags.
Thomas Lynch, Jr., of South Carolina, suffered broken health from deprivation and exposure he endured as a company commander in the military. His doctors ordered him to seek a cure in Europe, and on the voyage there he and a young bride were drowned at sea.
The signers of the Declaration of Independence paid a terrible price so that you and I might have freedom; most of them died without ever knowing if their desperate gamble would pay off.
A Voice From the Past
John Adams, in a letter to his wife, called out to those of us who would come after him:
“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent it in heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.”
On July 4 we have Parades, fireworks, shows and games to celebrate our Independence Day, and most of us enjoy the day without even being aware of the individual sacrifices that took place to make it happen…
We value independence in America. We celebrate it. It is part of the fabric of our lives. If you look up the word independence in Webster’s, it says: “free from the authority, control, or influence of others”. As Americans, we treasure this aspect of our political life, we are accustomed to it, we even take it for granted! Most of us will agree that Independence is a good thing.
The Dark Side of Independence
I’ve got some bad news. In a spiritual sense, independence is a terrible thing. As glorious as our Freedom is, and as much as I gained researching the stories of the sacrifices and noble actions of the Patriots who risked everything for Independence, I realized that there is a different perspective on independence, a Christian perspective. The first letter of Independence is “I”.
Think about it for a minute…Christianity is full of paradoxes, which stand conventional thinking on its ear: you have to acknowledge your sin to be made righteous; to be nothing in order to become something; to die to yourself to live for Christ; act as a servant to be the leader; be last to be first; give to get; lose your life to keep it; and be glorified only through humility.
The Biblical perspective on Independence is clear: it gets us into trouble.
Satan was independent (“I will exalt my throne above the stars of God…”) He fell from God’s glory into a world of dark shadows, disaster, selfishness, and pain.
Some OTHER Notable Examples
Eve was independent. (“I know Adam told me God said I shouldn’t eat this fruit, but why shouldn’t I be able to do what I want?) She ate the fruit God said not to eat, and exercised her will over God’s instructions.
Adam was independent. (Why shouldn’t I have the right to know good and evil?) He ate the fruit and introduced death and shame into the world, bringing destruction to all mankind.
Cain was independent. (Why should I have to sacrifice the way God says? I’ll do things my way) He was so consumed by pride and self-will he murdered his brother…
The Israelites gained Independence. They threw a wild party, worshipped a golden calf, and had to wander 40 years in the wilderness so that a whole generation could die before going on to the promised land… Later, in Judges 21:25 it says, “And every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” If that verse seems familiar, it is because the nation of Israel followed the path our own culture is on, where one’s personal rights are paramount and truth is subjective.
The story of the nation of Israel gets repetitive: they do what they want, they pay a fearsome price for it, they are humbled by circumstances, they cry out to God for help, and he delivers them from their oppression. Once they are delivered, they get comfortable, and they start doing whatever they want again. It may be the story of Israel, but it is the story of us all.
Home to Roost
I have been independent. And I guarantee you that every big mistake I’ve ever made has been because I decided to do what I wanted to do, regardless of the consequences. I have acted, to recall Webster’s definition, “free from authority or control”…
What about you? The downside of Independence and the freedom it brings is that it also allows selfishness, and the ability to act however we want. So as you celebrate today, remember: Freedom isn’t free. And freedom doesn’t come from doing whatever you want; it comes from doing what is right. In John 8:32 Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” In verse 36 he said, “If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” As you celebrate independence today, be free. Be free indeed.
Because it’s free, American life and citizenship are sought;
So when you think of freedom, and the good things it has brought,
Remember: freedom isn’t free, for it is dearly bought.
America, don’t do what you want, but please do what you OUGHT.
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