This week we celebrate as we do every year our nation’s independence. It has been a birthday party — our 247th one as a nation.
Terms like freedom and liberty are used frequently in celebration of our independence. But often there is confusion in the term free. When something is free, it is a mistake to believe that it is cheap. The freedom that you and I enjoy today cost many very much. Whenever I think of this I cannot help but remember Galatians 5:13: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.”
I am convinced that God wants us to be free, to remember our freedom, but not to confuse that liberty for license. The high price that was paid is one we should never forget.
Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence? This is the price they paid:
Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the revolutionary army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six fought and died from wounds or hardships resulting from the Revolutionary War.
These men signed, and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. What kind of men were they? Twenty-five were lawyers or jurists. Eleven were merchants. Nine were farmers or large plantation owners. One was a teacher, one a musician, one a printer. Two were manufacturers, one was a minister. These were men of means and education, yet they signed the Declaration of Independence, knowing full well that the penalty could be death if they were captured. Almost one-third were under 40 years old, 18 were in their 30s, and three were in their 20s. Only seven were over 60. The youngest, Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, was 26.5, and the oldest, Benjamin Franklin, was 70. Three of the signers lived to be more than 90. Charles Carroll died at the age of 95. Ten died in their eighties.
There were many prominent figures in the founding of this new nation, men like Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Samuel Adams. But there were also many lesser known individuals who played significant roles and sacrificed greatly for our liberty.
Two of the more significant players in those initial struggles were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. These two gentlemen became fast friends during the First Continental Congress but the political elections, which made them both presidents, illuminated their very different political views, creating a rift that would last most of their lives. A mutual friend engineered a reconciliation between the two, culminating in a rich and heartwarming relationship, documented in 12 years of letters between them. As two of the few surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence, they were finally able to see that they had far more in common than any differences they had once perceived.
Amazingly, on July 4th, 1826 — the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence — these two luminaries died within hours of each other.
What’s more, Adams’ last words as he drifted in and out of consciousness on his final day, were, “Jefferson… survives.”
Jefferson had passed away hours earlier. In his last moments, Jefferson awoke to ask his aides in his final utterance, “Is it the Fourth?”
Indeed it was, Mr. Jefferson. Wednesday was the Fourth of July. We owe you and Mr. Adams tremendous thanks.
As I think about the astounding fact that these two were so different politically yet could see past their differences to unite for a common cause, I am reminded of the rift between two British evangelists who were both traveling across America in those pre-Revolutionary War days. John Wesley, along with his brother, hymn writer Charles Wesley, had mentored and encouraged young George Whitefield in his faith. Over time, however, these two found they differed theologically, and they could no longer work together, but the Lord blessed the ministries of both men significantly.
Upon Whitefield’s death, his funeral sermon was preached by none other than John Wesley! In that message, Wesley referred to a question he had been asked, “Mr. Wesley, do you think you will see Mr. Whitefield in heaven?” Wesley responded, “Why, no, I think not!” When asked to explain, Wesley replied, “Mr. Whitefield will be so close to the throne of Christ in heaven and I will be so far away, that I think we will never meet again!”
As we go about this week’s tasks may we constantly be remembering the words of the Apostle Paul: “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” – Colossians 3:2-3. When we do that, our petty differences will soon become just that – petty!
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area minister who now resides in Florida. He may be reached at email@example.com.