The Liberty Bell is so called because of the inscription it bears from the 25th chapter of the Book of Leviticus: “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof.”
Patrick Henry (1736-1799), one of the most influential advocates of the American Revolution, is probably best known for his “Give me Liberty or Give me Death!” speech.
Sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design a sculpture with the year 1876 in mind for completion, to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. That sculpture, The Statue of Liberty, was not dedicated until 1886. She stands today as a lasting symbol of the friendship established between French people and the American people at the time of the American Revolution. The pursuit of liberty is at the heart of that friendship.
These are but a few of the many reminders of the significance of liberty that come to mind as we celebrate our nation’s birth. I wonder if liberty means as much to the American people today as it did on that first Fourth of July. We still enjoy liberty, but perhaps we are not as conscious of it as people who have been deprived of it. Maybe we take it for granted.
Nineteenth century abolitionist Wendell Phillips cautioned, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." This would be a good day to heed his words, examine ourselves, and seek a renewed appreciation for liberty and a renewed commitment to value liberty enough to use it wisely.
Liberty, in the philosophical or political sense, can be viewed both as the freedom to act and as the absence of coercion. In both cases, an individual is responsible for how he or she exercises that liberty. People of faith – any faith – will look to the teachings of their faith for guidance in the decisions liberty permits them to make. What should I do with the freedom I have to exercise my will and from coercion to act against my will? How does my relationship with God influence the way I express the liberty that has been made possible for me and my neighbor?
The founders of our nation differed in some significant ways in their religious views. However, there seems to have been a common conviction that liberty was a basic and inalienable human right endowed by the Creator. Indeed, the theme of liberty is woven throughout the scriptures that are sacred to Christians. The theme is so prominent that one would have to be blind to miss it in even a casual reading of either testament.
I’ll just conclude with a short summary of how liberty is treated in the New Testament with the hope that it will prompt others to do their own exploration and take it to heart so that the liberty we have in Christ will help us better exercise the liberty we have as Americans.
The biblical theme of liberty has to do with freedom from any form of slavery or oppression. Spiritually, the power which enslaves is sin (John 8:34) and liberty is deliverance from sin and for a right relationship with God and our neighbor. So, we are liberated for a divine purpose!
With liberation from the enslavement of sin comes holiness of life, the desire and capability to do what is right and good. It comes as the free gift of God’s grace declared in Baptism. In Romans and Galatians, we read about the liberty that is the possession of God's children (e.g. Romans 8:21 KJV and Galatians 2:4). In 2 Corinthians, St. Paul associates liberty with the presence of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17). In the Epistle of James, we read about "the perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25). The Gospel of John says that the instrument through which this liberty is imparted is "the truth" (John 8:32). And Christians are warned not to abuse their liberty in Christ (Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 2:16).
As followers of Jesus Christ and citizens of his kingdom, we are in possession of a spiritual liberty that no earthly authority can take away from us. May our citizenship in that realm guide the exercise of our liberty we also enjoy as citizens of “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Let us pray:
Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the
earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace:
Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the
strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in
accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our
Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer, 1979