By Elizabeth Rogers Kotlowski
The history of liberty is the history of Christianity.
Around 2000 BC, God chose Abraham to start a model "nation" to be an example to the pagan nations. In 1500-1300 BC, God gave the Israelites the Law through Moses. As a result, the Hebrews set up the first Christian republic with biblical civil laws and dual form of government (Deuteronomy -17; compare with 1 Samuel 8 which describes a monarchy). The biblical basis of a Christian republic is aptly described by Presbyterian scholar E. C. Wines.
Wines' careful analysis of the laws of Moses finds in them republican principles of government that [
It was not until Christ came, however, that the full value of the individual was realised. Jesus taught that while each person was unique, all men were created equal before the law in the sight of God and so all men had equal value, even though they were not equal in talents (some are more gifted than others). The Christian idea of man and government, which Christ introduced, is summed up in the American Declaration of Independence:
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness--That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the Consent of the Governed.
How can we procure this liberty? Christ stressed the need to receive the power of the Holy Spirit as an essential prerequisite to His disciples' taking the Good News of Christ to the "uttermost parts of the earth, [for] where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Cor. 3:17). Christ came to set the prisoners free (Luke ; Gal. 5:1, 3). To receive this liberty, man must turn from his wicked ways, repent, and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15)--that is, the Good News that Jesus Christ died for his sins, that He was buried, and that three days later God raised Him from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Rom. 10:9-10). Jesus, in the person of the Holy Spirit, comes to live in the heart of the new believer (Rev. 3:20). This is the mark of a true Christian: he does not merely possess a religion, but he has a relationship with Jesus Christ. In the same way that he depended on Christ to save Him (not on his "good deeds" to get him to heaven, Eph. 2:8, 9), the new Christian then needs to receive the power of the Holy Spirit in order to be an effective witness for Christ (Acts 1:8).
So liberty starts in man's heart, and gradually works its way outwards like yeast grows inside a ball of dough. In fact, wherever the Gospel has been preached, it has brought liberty in the lives of men and nations. In the context of Australian history, these landmarks of liberty can be charted thus:
The amount of liberty that exists under a system of government is equivalent to the degree to which biblical principles are incorporated. The Roman system sacrificed liberty to union by incorporating the peoples they conquered, without giving them representation. The Oriental method offered neither liberty nor union. (Communism is an example.) Both used force. The English model of government, in its ideal form, maintained individual and local civil liberty with union by incorporating the principle of representation, so making the use of force unnecessary. Wherever the English people went, they took their government with them.
When the First Fleet slipped anchor from
The English form of government did not spring up overnight. Its development illustrates the seven biblical principles of the history of liberty at work. Following the seed principle, it developed gradually over a long period of time. Like the parable of the
Christianity was probably introduced to the
The greatest Celtic pastor, Patrick , went as a missionary to
In AD 597, the Italian missionary Augustine introduced Roman Catholicism into
However, following the Norman Conquest in 1066, William the Conqueror established a royal dynasty, which removed the rights of the people. Kings felt they were above the law, or that they were a law unto themselves. This doctrine later became known as the Divine Right of Kings. Under this doctrine, kings abused barons and commoners alike. King John epitomised this practice.
But the seeds of local Christian self-government sown by the Celts and Alfred the Great had not been wasted. In 1215 the barons forced King John to sign the Magna Carta , written by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury. It embodied the biblical principles that the king and the people are both under the law, and that individual rights were protected by written law. It was without a doubt the most important document in English history. The Pope declared it illegal, but the English Roman Catholic Church accepted it. That was the beginning of the long struggle between the Pope and the English Roman Catholics culminating in Henry VIII's break with the Roman Catholic Church. This proved to be providential, for it later led to the establishment of the Church of England. Further, this event was significant because it marked a watershed in the struggle between (1) the authority of the Bible and that of the Pope, and (2) two systems of government--representative Christian self-government and centralised tyrannical rule. In 1231, the Pope, sensing that his authority was threatened, established the Inquisition to identify and punish "heretics". However, not all Roman Catholics followed the ways of the Pope. Around the year 1200, an English Roman Catholic monk, Dominique, established representative government in his order of monks. Around 1300, the English parliamentary system based on representation was created.
The growth of the English form of government can be attributed to the reformers who put the Bible into the hands of the people in the language of the people. They were really responsible for fanning the fires of representative government, the rights of the people, and equality of all men before God. John Wycliffe believed that the "Scripture must become the common property of all" if there was to be "a government of the people, by the people, and for the people". According to Wycliffe, "all law, ought to order itself according to the law of God. . . . The whole code of civil law ought to be grounded upon the Evangelical Law as a Divine Rule". The foundation for the widespread dissemination of the Scriptures into the hands of the people was laid by Wycliffe, who, in 1382, one hundred and fifty years before the Reformation, translated the Bible from Latin into English. Subsequently, the invention of the printing press in 1455 made the Bible available to the common people.
Wycliffe and other reformers, who stood and died on the authority of Scripture alone, were a constant threat to the authority of the Pope and his position as head of the English Roman Catholic Church. As the sixteenth century dawned, the Roman Catholic Church constituted not only a virtually ubiquitous (and corrupt) religious body in the West, but also a vast political empire. The Pope was the final authority in all things and demanded total loyalty from his subjects. Anyone who did not agree with his position could suffer death as a "heretic". Consequently, the writings of Martin Luther, William Tyndale (who worked from the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts to translate the Bible into English), John Knox, and John Calvin were poison to the Pope. Indeed, "No writings of the Reformation era were more feared by Roman Catholics, more zealously fought against, and more hostilely pursued, than Calvin's Institutes". Calvin endeavoured to make Geneva a model of biblical government. His writings subsequently had a great impact on the founding of the United States.;
By making the Bible available to the common people, the reformers helped to open the hearts of the people to an understanding of salvation by faith and true liberty through Christ. Because this internal liberty was Bible-based, it manifested itself externally in true political freedom for the people. It provided freedom for the individual without chaos because there was a consensus among the people regarding the absolutes found in the Word. Christian philosopher and apologist Francis Schaeffer emphasised that these developments were gradual according to the principle of the seed or leaven.
The chief catalyst in the history of liberty, however, was Henry VIII's break with the Pope. In 1534, after the Pope refused to grant permission for him to divorce Catherine of Aragon so he could marry his favourite Anne Boleyn, Henry broke with the Pope. He set himself up as "Protector and only supreme Head of the Church and Clergy of England".This declaration was a political move to subject the English church to the throne. It did not produce any more religious freedom for the individual, but it freed the English church from the domination of the Pope. In 1829, Bishop Gilbert Burnet, commenting on how God had used Henry VIII for the forwarding of the Gospel, wrote:
In sum, God's ways are a great deep; who has often showed his power and wisdom in raising up unlikely and unpromising instruments to do great services in the world; not always employing the best men in them, lest good instruments should share too deep in the praises of that, which is only due to the supreme Creator and Governor of the world: and therefore he will stain the pride of all glory, that such as glory may only glory in the Lord.
To cement this break with the Pope in Rome, Henry authorised the reading and translation of the Scriptures because he saw the Scriptures "as the most powerful engine to destroy the papal system".
The ensuing rush to print and to read the Word of God resulted in a Bible-reading people, so much so that the English became known as "the people of the Book". Scriptural truths permeated the lives of the people, transformed their character, enriched their daily speech, led to a flowering of literature and culture, and birthed a new understanding of social equality and justice. With the opening of the Word of God, there also followed a surge of scientific inventions, including more refined navigation instruments that paved the way for transporting the Gospel to new lands across the sea. England has never been the same since. Though evil and godless times followed, there was always a remnant of Bible-fearing people.
It was from this remnant that the Pilgrims came to America. In 1562 when Elizabeth I issued the Articles of Religion, prohibiting further reform, some of the Puritans decided to separate from the Church of England. They wanted reformation "without tarrying for any". Some of the "Separatists " formed a congregation at Scrooby in the north of England. In 1606, they wrote their own church covenant, the first of its kind, based on the biblical model of Christian self-government. This was of crucial importance because the first American civil covenant, the Mayflower Compact 1620, was based on this model. They learned the principles of civil government in the church. Known for their holy living, the Pilgrims had developed the character to maintain a republic. Like the Pilgrim Fathers, many of the early Australian settlers, governors, pioneers and missionaries demonstrated these same Christian characteristics of steadfastness, industry, faith and brotherly love--Christian attributes which are all critical to the establishment of any nation and any people.
In the meantime, the English Puritans had a tremendous impact upon their own country, insisting on religious and political liberties that moved the kingdom from rule by Divine Right to parliamentary government, and the institutionalising of individual rights in the Bill of Rights 1689. This document asserted the supremacy of parliament over the king and placed both king and parliament under the law. The principle of the supremacy of law goes hand in hand with the supremacy of the Word of God. From the reign of William and Mary , the power of the Crown was greatly curtailed. The free exercise of the Protestant religion was also guaranteed.
The Puritan attempt to set up the Kingdom of God on earth by the use of force failed, and the crowning of Charles II ushered in a new era of government. Godliness was no longer fashionable. Reason became the touchstone of religious enthusiasm. Material abuses among Puritans themselves, and the rise of a new generation that had not experienced the tyrannical and intolerant times that had given birth to Puritanism, led to a falling away from the faith of their fathers. Religion was at its lowest ebb; the English clergy were "the most lifeless in Europe". In high society "everyone laughs if one talks of religion", French statesman Montesquieu observed on a visit to England. Most of the prominent English statesmen were unbelievers and "purity and fidelity to the marriage vow were sneered out of fashion". English historian, John Richard Green, observed that the human degradation and decadence were no respector of persons. "At the other end of the social scale lay the masses of the poor. They were ignorant and brutal to a degree which is hard to conceive". There were no schools, no provision for the poor (the poor-laws were continually abused), no effective police. Criminals rampaged and terrorised society in spite of ruthless laws. The degradation of morals in English society was reflected in the literature and art of the period from the Bloodless Revolution to the 1730s. Examples are found in the art of William Hogarth as well as in the writings of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift. The setting was ripe for religious revival.
The Puritan spirit still lived on unchanged in the middle class and it was from this class that revival burst forth at the end of Robert Walpole's administration. This was to change the whole tone of English society, resulting in a church restored to life and actively participating in society. In time, this new moral zeal "purified literature and manners. A new philanthropy reformed prisons, infused clemency and wisdom into penal laws, abolished the slave trade, and gave the first impulse to popular education".
The revival began in the 1730s with a small group of Oxford University students, who, disillusioned with the religious lethargy of the times, pledged themselves to dedicated devotion, asceticism, and a methodical regularity of life which earned them the nickname of "Methodists ". George Whitefield was the fiery preacher of the group. When a dread of "enthusiasm" closed the doors of the established Church of England to them, they were forced to preach in the fields or wherever they could gather a crowd. Charles Wesley was the "sweet singer" of the movement. His hymns changed public worship for all time. John Wesley, Charles' brother and the leader of the group, was not only a powerful preacher and hymn-writer but possessed leadership qualities and skill in writing that marked him as "a ruler of men". Essentially "practical, orderly, and conservative", Wesley clung to the Church of England, seeing the body he had formed as just a group of laymen still in full communion with the established church. Wesley was tireless in his constant travels, mostly on horseback. For fifty years he preached, often three times a day, to crowds gathered in the open air. His life, along with others in the group, was often in danger. They were mobbed, stoned, or dunked by their opponents. John Wesley organised the Methodists into a new religious society under the government of a conference of ministers. At his death, at the age of eighty-eight, the Methodists numbered one hundred thousand.
The greatest effect of the Methodist revival was that it broke the lethargy of the clergy, resulting in the birth of the "evangelical" movement within the Church of England that "made the fox-hunting parson and the absentee rector at last impossible". This evangelistic thrust has continued to the present day. Reverend Richard Johnson, who sailed with the First Fleet to Australia in 1787 as the first chaplain of the colony, was one of a "nest of Methodists" within the Church of England. Johnson was the first of a group of parsons "through whose work evangelical Christianity dominated the religious life of Protestant Christianity in Australia throughout the whole of the nineteenth century".
A direct result of this renewal of evangelical fervour, not only among the clergy but among the population at large, was the birth of the great missionary societies . The growth of the Church Missionary Society of the Church of England was an example of this renewed concern for the heathen. The colonies became a door of opportunity through which to spread the glorious light of the Gospel of Christ.
Other evangelicals turned their efforts to better the lot of the heathen at home. A great philanthropic thrust followed the work of the Wesleys. The Sunday Schools, established by Mr Raikes of Gloucester at the close of the century, were the beginnings of popular education. Hannah More drew public attention to the plight of the agricultural workers. Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce crusaded tirelessly for the abolition of slavery. John Howard laboured for the reformation of the prison system, while a Quaker, Elizabeth Fry, showed a practical compassion for the prisoners at Newgate. Others built hospitals, endowed charities, and raised funds to send missionaries to the heathen.
Just as God prepared a people, the Jewish nation, for the coming of Christ, so He prepared another people, the British nation, for the propagation of the Gospel of Christ. That Gospel contained within it the seeds of Christian self-government--representation, separation of powers, and union with diversity. Just as God preserved the British Isles for the reception and later propagation of the simple Gospel (without the corrupt papal trappings so prevalent in continental Europe), so He preserved the Australian continent for a destiny unique to her geographic position in the Pacific Ocean (Acts 17:26).
Greek hamartia, is literally, "a missing of the mark", or an act of disobedience to Divine Law. See W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1966), pp. 68-70.
For an exposition of the Hebrew republic, see E. C. Wines, The Hebrew Republic (Uxbridge, Mass.: American Presbyterian Press, 1980), which is a reprint of Book II of Wines, Commentary on the Laws of the Ancient Hebrews.
The Declaration of Independence in "Sources of Our Liberties: Documentary Origins of Individual Liberties in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights", ed. by Richard L. Perry, p. 319. See also John Locke, The Second Treatise Of Civil Government, ed. by Thomas Peardon (New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1956). For a full masterly exposition of universal rights rooted in the Christian tradition of English common law, see Amos, Defending the Declaration.
The development of biblical representative government in England was a gradual process, taking place over a period of centuries. Its growth was hindered by the practice of the centralised Roman form of government by English monarchs who believed in the theory of the Divine Right of Kings. For example, King George III dictated to the American colonists in much the same way as the Colonial Office decided all policies for the administration of the colony of New South Wales during the first fifty years.
To anyone who may think it is a little far-fetched to think that God planned this event for centuries, the author reminds the reader that every believer was chosen in Christ "before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4-5). If God notices when a sparrow drops dead, and has "on computer" the number of hairs on each person's head (Matt. 10:29, 30), it is probable He had everything under control when the First Fleet slipped anchor. Although the author does not pretend to know all that is in the mind of the Omniscient God, the Christian can know God's ways. The Scriptures state that God "made known His ways unto Moses", but "His acts [only] unto the children of Israel" (Ps. 103:7). Jesus revealed Himself unto His disciples, but spoke in parables to the crowds. Under the New Covenant, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to "guide [the believer] into all truth" (John 16:13). He gave His Word to be a light to his path.div>
The Principle of the Planting of the Seed of Local Self-government. Education consists of both teaching and training (practice). Jesus commanded his disciples to disciple all nations. To disciple is "to teach, to train, or bring up"--Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828, 1: p. 62.
ibid., pp. 39-40. The Principle of the Planting of the Seed of Local Self-government. Through teaching, reading the Bible, and reasoning, the individual was enabled to know God's will for himself and to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
John Richard Green, A Short History of the English People (New York: Harper & Bros., 1879), pp. 54-55. Catholicism (like the Church of England) represents the episcopal form of government, emphasising the centralisation of power and authority rather than local self-government and the individual responsibility of the believer.
Beliles and McDowell, American Providential History, pp. 40-41. The Principle of Political Union, and the Principle of the Christian Form of Government with elected representatives, is illustrated here. The seeds were sown for the development of the powers of the three separate branches of government--executive, legislative and judicial. Note that Alfred's uniform code of laws (based on the Mosaic law and the law of Christ) formed the foundation of civil government. The external forms of government require the spirit of the law in the hearts of men to function properly.
This doctrine, which was later attacked by the philosopher John Locke and Samuel Rutherford, contradicts the Principle of the Christian Form of Government. The constitution based on biblical principles is the supreme law of the land and all, including the king, are subject to it.
The Magna Carta was a contract between King John and the feudal lords and the people. The King promised that he would protect the rights and liberties of Englishmen. See Richard Perry L., Sources of our Liberties: Documentary Origins of Individual Liberties in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights (Chicago: American Bar Foundation, 1978), pp. 1-22.
Lechler, John Wycliffe (1904), p. 230. Quoted in Verna M. Hall, The Christian History of the American Revolution: Consider and Ponder (San Francisco: The Foundation for American Christian Education, 1976), pp. xxix-xxxv.
Gilbert Burnet, The History of the Reformation of the Church of England (Oxford, 1829) I: p. xix; quoted in Verna M. Hall, The Christian History the American Revolution: Consider and Ponder, p. xxix.