Man holding weight up

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.

Thomas Paine

Freedom isn’t free. Staying free is costly, and holding freedom up takes work. The default setting on national, and spiritual, freedom toggle is off. “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man,” a wise one said, “is eternal vigilance.”

I’m no expert on our Founding Fathers, but I know that it took an incredible dead lift to get America off the ground. Had it not been for their tenacious strength, we’d be singing, God Save the King.

But we weary of holding freedom up.

Weight #1: Virtue

And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

Being virtuous is tiring. Virtue means living up to high moral standards. It is not automatic. The toughest battles I fight are inside my soul, to live out the new me Scripture calls me to be (1 Corinthians 5:7). Meekness and self-pity, patience and irritability, contentment and envy wage war daily in me. Confirm thy soul in self-control is right.

Virtue doesn’t come easy.

Benjamin Franklin knew this. “It is a grand mistake to thing of being great without goodness,” he said. “There was never a truly great man that was not at the same time truly virtuous.”

Patrick Henry knew too. “Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue.

That’s the only way. Without virtue, the blessings of liberty evaporate.

Freedom Cannot Exist Without Virtue

This used to be common knowledge. At least our Founding Fathers knew.

James Madison stated: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical [imaginary] idea.” 

Samuel Adams said: “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.  He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.” 

John Adams stated: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

No human government can contend with passions unchecked by virtue. Not one.

Let Us Not Grow Weary

Just as our actions will reap a harvest—for God is not mocked; what a man reaps that will he sow (Galatians 6:7)—so we do reap the fruit of our Founding Fathers’ virtue. All were flawed, sinful men. Yet we reap the fruit of their virtue—of Washington’s integrity and Hamilton’s fortitude, of Jefferson’s strong sense of justice and Adams’ unflagging perseverance. 

We have enjoyed the fruit.

Weight #2: Civility

Let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin. 

Ephesians 5:25-26

Beyond the daily weight of living virtuous lives, of fighting against the sin in their lives, they also bore this huge weight. I cannot overstate the civility and grace required to create a government from scratch. The lively debates in Independence Hall are proof of the Founders’ civility.

What is civility? We don’t use the term much. and the word tolerance has muddied the waters.

Civility can be loosely equated with the word “respect.” Tolerance applies to how we treat people we disagree with, not how we treat ideas we think are false. We respect those who hold different beliefs from our own by treating such people courteously and allowing their views a place in the public discourse. 

We may strongly disagree with their ideas and vigorously contend against them in the public square, but we still show respect to their persons despite our differences. 

Gregory Koukl

We misunderstand: humilty, civility and disagreement can coexist. G.K. Chesterton explained, “What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place […] A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.”

Civility means we respect people because they are made in the image of God, even as we may vigorously contend against ideas. Even as we may do so with humility.

Freedom to Speak, Strength to Listen

With a few notable exceptions, when the Fathers didn’t all see eye to eye on every idea, they refused to walk away. They stayed engaged. I want to learn from them.

Because listening to what I don’t want to hear is a heavy weight. Even as I type, I feel the weight from my head to me feet of disagreement with people I respect. I think disagreements, and political disagreements in particular, feel heavier among respected coworkers and friends..

Yes, there is a time to walk away, “a time to be silent and a time to speak,” and a time to disengage. But I fear some of us do it too soon. We need the wisdom of God to know the times.

When a listener’s “right” to feel comfortable trumps a speakers right to speak, we have become fragile and weak.

To suppress free speech is a double wrong,” abolitionist Frederick Douglas said. “It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.” We are all stronger for freedom of speech.

Even as I type, I feel the weight of political disagreement from my heat to my feet. I pray for the grace to stay graciously engaged.

Don’t Disengage

But when our ideas conflict, it’s natural to walk away. We wander off and find groups for folks who think like us. Or we say, You have your ideas and I have mine and we never speak again. And we are all the weaker for it.

Representing ourselves winsomely with those who oppose our ideas is exhausting. Civility requires great endurance and patience. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had every reason to disengage.

Jefferson and Adams were political rivals.and friends for 50 years. The two met at the First Continental Congress in 1775. Their friendship waned when they faced off in the 1800 presidential race. They disengaged.

Rush suggested that Jefferson write Adams. Jefferson agreed, and when Adams wrote back, and their friendship was rekindled.

Weight-Bearing Brings Strength

What makes makes muscles strong is bearing up under heavy weight. It’s doing five more reps when you don’t think you can do one. It’s running one more mile when I’m dog tired, and holding my tongue 10 more seconds when I’m about to burst.

What makes a marriage, friendship, or nation strong, I think, is not 100% unanimity. Instead, strength comes when with civility, patience and grace, we press on through disagreement.

Fifteen years after Dr. Rush helped the two Presidents reconcile, Jefferson and Adams’ friendship ended.

[O]n July 4, 1826, Jefferson and Adams died within hours of each other. Their deaths occurred — perhaps appropriately — on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Unaware that his friend had died hours earlier, Adams’ family later recalled that his last spoken words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

The written words of Jefferson and Adams, however, survive to this day, testimony to their friendship, thoughts, and ideas. In their later years, Jefferson responded to a reflective question from Adams: “You ask if I would agree to live my 70. or rather 73. years over again? To which I say Yea… I steer my bark with Hope in the head, leaving Fear astern.”

Hope, not fear, led the way as our Founders forged this nation. This hope enabled them to bear freedom’s weight, to press on with virtue and civility.

If our nation’s strength fades, may our hope only grow in the Founder of our Faith.

Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.

Psalm 31:24

This post was first published in an earlier form on July 4, 2022.

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  1. It’s so easy to disengage, isn’t it? Especially if we have a personality that avoids conflict. For many of us in this increasingly distant and disconnected world, we just disengage – disappear – to avoid quarrels or hurt.

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