Most thoughtful people understand that wisdom is more than just simple knowledge. It’s about learning how and why the world works as it does, how things relate to one another and then rightly applying that knowledge to real situations. Another way to say it is that wisdom is understanding the world from God’s perspective and then responding according to His Word. Dr. Peter Lillback, president of Westminster Theological Seminary, headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is an authority on how our Founding Fathers did just that in the forming of our republic. The unequaled liberty of America among all nations in history is a testament to their collective wisdom. How wise were they? Read the founding documents. Revel in the vision of freedom that the lofty language expresses. Unlike the dominant voices in today’s culture, our wise forefathers clearly understood the difference in liberty and license.
This is our heritage as Americans. How we need to rediscover it.
In an October 2011 interview with AFA Journal, Dr. Lillback explains how morality is essential to freedom, and that together they represent the pillars that uphold our government and constitution. These are truths that many Americans have missed, especially those who see religion (read: Christianity) as the problem rather than the solution to our nation’s ills.
Morality is the idea that there are standards for life that are ultimately beyond just human opinion but actually come to us from the very nature of reality, from the nature of creation, the idea that God Himself has brought forth His will into the world by revelation, directly, and by indirect revelation through the created order. Our founders understood this principle of moral order. In fact, we have statements such as this one from John Adams, who said, “Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. What was he trying to say? A republic, by its very nature, is giving freedom to people. There are only two ways to make people do something: they want to do it and they are willing to do it, or if they don’t want to do it they do so because it’s their duty; or someone forces you to do it because of the power of arms, or the police or the military. Our founders knew that you couldn't have an army big enough to create an order of freedom that was imposed from the outside. Freedom required inner standards, inner principles. So, at the very core of a true republic is the ability for self-government. Without self-government there can’t be freedom.
Because the Constitution is simply a piece of paper that gives people freedom, you have to have a people who are willing to follow what’s on the paper. And that doesn’t come naturally to people because our innate nature is to seek our own ends, our own desires. So, how do we learn to do what is right? The logic of our founders went something like this: Do you want to be free? Then you need a republic. To have a republic you need to have a moral people. To have a moral people you need to have religious teaching. Ultimately they believed that true religion, the Christian faith, gave us a grace from God that taught us to deny ourselves, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, to do what was right even when it was difficult because it was our duty to God and our duty to our neighbor
These ideas are very deeply imbedded into the founders’ views. In fact, a classic example is George Washington’s Farewell Address, in which he said, “Religion and morality are indispensable supports for political prosperity.” Basically what he was saying is that our Constitution and our government have to have some pillars holding them up. Religion and morality are the bases on which the republican form of government rests. Those are Washington’s last official words to the country. His first official words, when he took his oath of office, included these great words: “The sacred fire of liberty … has been entrusted to the hands of the American people.” He said this liberty that we have is a sacred fire. It is a fire that was not stolen from the heavens as Prometheus [in Greek mythology] stole fire from the gods. No, it’s a holy fire that has been given to us by heaven itself. Washington said it has been given to me, to you.
The problem [in America] is not our culture. Those words are still true that were said so long ago in the Bible, “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) So, the question is, what are you going to do? You can’t change the world, you can’t change the government, but you can begin by changing your heart, and changing what you do in your family, and what you do with your life and your pursuit. What is a river but a lot of rain drops that started flowing in the same direction? What is a laser beam but a lot of photons that are on the same rhythm and they begin to penetrate solid objects with their power? I love those words that are so powerfully given to us by George Washington – liberty has been entrusted into your hands – you, the American people. The “sacred fire of liberty,” this experiment and the republican form of government – what are you going to do with this experiment? Is it going to fall because of you or are you going to make a difference?
Today is the day.
This article originally appeared at the AFA Journal.