When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness.
In all of our Fourth of July celebrations this week, let’s not forget that what the Founders did in 1776 was a first in the history of the world. When they put their ‘John Hancocks’ on the Declaration of Independence the 55 signers were founding the first country established on God’s moral law, or as some call it, “Natural Law”. They did not see themselves as granting rights but, rather, asserting “certain inalienable rights” granted by the Creator. The Founders declared independence from the King of England as based on “self-evident truths” available to anyone who would reason it out.
Putting this grand idea of God-given rights into writing began on June 11, 1776, as Thomas Jefferson sought to articulate the moral grounds of their cause. In draft after draft Jefferson wrote about “nature’s God” as the Author of rights, and as the One to whom they would give account for the action they were taking. John Adams then copied Jefferson’s final draft and showed it to the other member of the drafting committee, Benjamin Franklin. Either Franklin or Adams added the word “Creator” to the document, underscoring their conviction about the source of our rights.
Then on July 2, 1776, the assembled Second Continental Congress voted to add yet two more references to God to further support the moral foundation of their actions. Along with the appeals to “nature’s God” and their “Creator”, they appealed to “the Supreme Judge of the world” and cast themselves on the “protection of divine Providence”.
In the Declaration of Independence the Founders saw themselves acting as “legislators” in the truest sense of the word. The word “legislator” implies a discovery of God’s moral law rather than acting as a “law maker”. Legis is the genitive form of lex, the Latin word for “law”. Lator is a “to carry”, “to bear”, “to bring”. Thus, Legis + Lator = one who carries the law from God’s moral realm into written law.
In today’s Scripture the Apostle Paul asserts God’s moral law as imprinted on every human heart. He says that what God requires is “written on their hearts” and knowable by creatures made in God’s image. Their “conscience also bears witness” to the self-evident truths. God created us capable of knowing the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. That is the moral, Natural Law foundation on which the Founders built their case in 1776.
But as I reflect on the Founders’ noble language and ideals, I wonder if such a document as the Declaration of Independence could be produced by “legislators” today? Or would they even be willing to sign it? Would they stand by its clear moral certainty about the Creator and about our God-given rights?
Increasingly the secular culture betrays its pretense to neutrality as it rules out of order any reference to God and to absolute right and wrong. Morals are reduced to personal taste and bigotry. “Who are we to judge!” “Who are we to say anything is morally wrong!”
Stripped of belief in God the culture finds itself stripped of any belief about what is right and wrong. So we are left to government replacing God as “the Supreme Judge of the world”; and so we are left to plead with government for our rights.
This Fourth of July I’m putting up my flag, reading the Declaration of Independence, thanking God for our Founders, and getting down on my knees before the world’s Supreme Judge and mine.
Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
In this free land by Thee our lot is cast,
Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay,
Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.
—Daniel C. Roberts
Happy Birthday America!
photo by Casey Hussein Bisson