Many believe that the main premises of our Declaration of Independence – ideas such as “all men are created equal” – were derived from the Enlightenment Period and have no biblical origin. This is simply not true.
In 1926, on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration, President Calvin Coolidge gave a speech attributing the meaning of the Declaration’s key phrases to two books published in 1710 and 1717 by John Wise who was the Congregational pastor in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Coolidge called these books a “textbook of liberty for our Revolutionary fathers.” According to the Plymouth Rock Foundation e-News article written by Dr. Paul Jehle, congress used many of the ideas for the Declaration from a pamphlet by Pastor Wise titled, Vindication of the Government of New England Churches.
Wise’s ideas included: 1. the laws of nature and of nature’s God, 2. all men are created equal, 3. governments secure rights but don’t provide them, and 4. that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Written sixty years before the Declaration, John Wise’s books are considered among the finest colonial expositions of democratic principles. He wrote that God is the author of both reason and revelation, or to put it another way, the light of nature and the law of God. The scriptural basis for both phrases are found in Romans.
The light of nature:
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” – Romans 1:20 NIV
The law of God:
“For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.” – Romans 2:13-14 NIV
Both the Bible (His inspired revelation) and a man’s conscience (natural revelation) convict man of sin. Thus the phrase “law of nature and of nature’s God”—or the law of God seen in nature and the law of God in the Bible—leave every person without excuse. That is why the truths are self-evident.
Wise wrote that God created all men equally free as well. This was not external equality, but equal position before God and the law. Equality was clearly articulated to mean equal rights, not equal possessions or abilities.
The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 is a great illustration of differing abilities. Jesus Christ considers all people equal before God, yet knows that each person has a different capacity for producing. It is not about equal fruit, but about being responsible stewards of what one has been given.
Jesus Christ, in his parables of the talents and the minas (Luke 19:11-27), never disparages profit but always holds His servants accountable and rewards the servant based on the profit they have earned.
Wise wrote that the individual is directly under the government of God, and thus church and civil government can only secure or protect these rights, they can’t provide them. The primary form of government for both church and state is self-government because, as Wise put it, each individual is a “free born subject.” Though no church (or state) should function as a pure democracy, the self-government of the individual is the heart of Christ’s government.
Pastor Wise understood the imposition of the State Church as Reverend John Robinson did with the underground church in Holland. Both men knew that God’s plan was for individual families and societies to function with the freedom of conscience in regard to all manner of life, especially in one’s preference in worship.
The life lessons, and the time spent searching the Scriptures, were how Pastor Wise as well as other godly men and women have come to the conclusion about how a government and state ought to relate with one another.
Having withstood the test of time, the glorious ideas captured in the Declaration and the Constitution were not only conceived by the brilliance of Thomas Jefferson and the Framers, but these ideas were also birthed in the womb of the churches of New England and in the Word of God itself. Godly men and women of previous generations searched the Scriptures, proclaimed it’s truth in pulpits, and later allowed its inspiration to guide our founding documents.
I am humbled and motivated to search the Scriptures, not just for my own individual walk with Christ, but to better understand what God’s Word says about how we are to function within a society. This is utterly profound! We MUST start to look at Scripture as pertaining to every avenue of life!
Will you join me?