Holding Freedom Up: 2 Weights We Must Bear

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, and staying free is costly. Holding freedom up is effortful. The default setting on the 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 was an incredible deadlift to get America off the ground. Had it not been for their tenacious strength, we’d be singing, God Bless The Queen.

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. The Spirit’s fruit is free, but it’s work to pull out weeds.

Virtue means living up to high moral standards. It is not automatic. The strongest battles I face are the ones I fight inside my soul, to live out the new me Scripture calls me to be (1 Corinthians 5:7). Daily I fight for meekness over self-pity, forgiveness over bitterness, contentment over envy. Virtue doesn’t come easy.

Benjamin Franklin knew this need for personal virtue. He said, “It is a grand mistake to thing of being great without goodness[…]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.

George Washington said: “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” and “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” 

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.” 

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and […] their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice.” 

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

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give upWe will reap, and we do reap the fruit of our Founding Fathers’ virtue. All of them were flawed, sinful men. Yet we reap the fruit of their virtue—of Washington’s integrity and Hamilton’s fortitude, of Jefferson’s high 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 anymore, 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. As G.K. Chesterton famously said, “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 of Imago Dei, but may contend vigorously against ideas.

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 valued freedom of expression over the cocoon of comfort. “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation,” Benjamin Franklin noted, “must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” This freedom is the dread of tyrants, tyrants who would rather we live by lies than bear the burden of hearing both sides.

Listening to what we don’t want to hear is a heavy weight—so heavy that we issue trigger warnings and ban alternate views.

When the “right” to feel comfortable trumps the 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, in the wake of the overturn of Roe v. Wade, I am aware that as thankful as I am for the ruling, others feel outrage. I feel the weight of disagreement from my heat to my feet, and I pray that in all matters we can stay civil when we disagree.

Don’t Disengage

But when our ideas conflict it’s natural to walk away. We wander off and find Facebook groups for folks who think like us. 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 was Adams’ greatest political rival. And 50 year-long friends. The two met at the First Continental Congress in 1775. Their friendship waned when they faced off in the 1800 presidential race. They did disengage. But in a truly amazing grace story as much about the care of their peacemaking, dreaming mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush, they reconciled.

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. I tell my work-out loving son it’s doing two more reps when you don’t think you can do one. I tell myself it’s running one more mile when Im tired as a dog.

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 think with you that it is a good world on the whole, framed on a principle of benevolence . . . . 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.

May our hope in the Founder of our Faith remain unflagging, even if the nation grows weak.

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

Psalm 31:24

Holding Freedom Up

Mt. Rushmore with family standing in front, President Washington

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

Thomas Paine

Freedom keeping is fatiguing. I fear we won’t long reap her blessings because we weary. We weary of holding freedom up. We trade the spangled banner and wave a paler flag. The strain is tiring so we walk away and throw the towel and forfeit freedom’s blessings. 

 
I’m no expert on our nation’s founding fathers. But the little I know assures me of this: It was a ton of work to get this country off the ground. Had it not been for the fathers’ strength to support the burden, we’d not be singing, O Say Can You See? but God Bless The Queen.
 

And as goes the individual, so goes the family. As goes the family, so goes the nation. Our nation cannot be stronger, cannot be better than its constituent parts. On this 242nd anniversary of our Independence Day, I’m fixed on two big ways our founding fathers were stronger than so many of their native sons.

Our fathers bore two immensely fatiguing weights of freedom that today we can scarcely bear.

 

Weight #1: Virtuous To The Core

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

It’s wearisome to be virtuous. The Spirit’s fruit is free, but it takes great effort to pull the weeds.

Virtue is effortful. The strongest battles I face are the ones I fight inside my soul. The ones I fight between submission and self, between forgiveness and grudge, between self-control or glut. Victory with those weeds makes me strong.

Benjamin Franklin nailed the need for personal virtue when he said, It is a grand mistake to thing of being great without goodness and I pronounce it as a certain that there was never a truly great man that was not at the same time truly virtuous. 

Patrick Henry, knew it too. Bad men cannot make good citizens, he said. 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.


Liberty cannot exist without virtue

Our founders well knew this.

George Washington said: “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” and “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” 

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.” 

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and … their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice … These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government.” 

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.”

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. We will reap, we do reap, fruit of our founding fathers’ virtue. We reap the fruit of Washington’s integrity and Hamilton’s fortitude. Of Jefferson’s high sense of justice and Adams’ unflagging perseverance. 

They fought the fatiguing battles for personal virtue that raged within their souls. And because they won their soul’s battles, our nation grew. Their virtue supported freedom’s fruit. 

Do we bear such fruit? Or has it fallen from the vine?

Weight #2: Civil When In Conflict

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 striving to be men of virtue, they bore this other massive weight. One doesn’t need to read too broadly on the fathers to see a lot of conflict. Drafting and ratifying documents like the Declaration and the Constitution required the immense strength of civility.

The term isn’t used much anymore, and a newer term, tolerance has muddied the waters. Civility, writes Gregory Koukl,

[C]an 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. Classic tolerance requires that every person be treated courteously with the freedom to express his or her ideas without fear of reprisal no matter what the view, not that all views have equal worth, merit, or truth.

With a few notable exceptions, while the fathers didn’t all see eye to eye on every idea, they refused to walk away. Or at least to be gone for very long.

Our fathers stayed engaged when ideas clashed. They believed better was in their grasp and they were willing to work for it. They bore that heavy weight of disagreement with ideas while showing respect for persons.

And that, probably more than virtue, is a weight we don’t much care to bear. We crumble under the slightest weight of disagreement. Our “right” to feel comfortable trumps the right to free expression.

Don’t Disengage

When our ideas conflict with another’s we often disengage. We wander off and find Facebook groups for folks who think like us. We say, You have your ideas and I have mine and never the twain shall meet and dialogue’s done right there. And we are the weaker for it.

Staying civil in disagreement is taxing. Representing oneself lovingly and well with those who oppose our ideas is exhausting. Staying engaged when you’re misunderstood is soul-wearying. Civility is a heavy weight. It requires persevering and persisting and caring. For those with whom we disagree.

Thomas Jefferson was John Adams’ greatest political rival. And 50 year-long friends. The two met at the First Continental Congress in 1775. It waned when the two faced off in the 1800 presidential race. In a truly amazing grace story, their friendship was rekindled with help from their mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush suggested Jefferson write Adams and he did and Adams wrote back and their friendship endured to the day they both died in 1826.

Bearing Freedom’s Weight

I’m no expert. But I know that what makes makes muscles strong is bearing lots of weight. And I know that what makes a marriage or friendship or a church or nation great is not 100% unanimity all the time. What makes us great is working side by side, staying engaged, in relationship, when we don’t see eye to eye. Pressing on and plowing through and virtuously, civilly moving right along.

I do this feebly and sluggishly and sometimes when I disagree, I press too hard or disengage too long. But this is where I want to be. It’s where Jefferson and Adams were.

Fifteen years after Dr. Rush helped the two 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, preserving the rich legacy of 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 think with you that it is a good world on the whole, that it has been framed on a principle of benevolence . . . . I steer my bark with Hope in the head, leaving Fear astern.”

Our founders bore these two weights: the weight of civility when big, founding-of-a-nation ideas were in conflict and the weight of virtuous living.

Pressing On Imperfectly

They did not do either perfectly. There were defeats along the way. Personal virtue flagged. For all his pursuing frugality and virtue, Jefferson’s Monticello was sold for debt upon his passing. Hamilton never resolved his differences with Burr and Jefferson grew so frustrated by the sometime lack of civility that he did resign from Washington’s cabinet. 

General Washington suffered a few defeats along the way, like the one at Brandywine Creek. But the war would still be won. The day after Washington’s defeat by the British, under General Howe at Brandywine, Thomas Paine wrote these timeless words. The first line of his speech began this post. Here is how Paine ended his “short address to [British] General Howe,”

You, sir, are only lingering out the period that shall bring with it your defeat. You have yet scarce began upon the war, and the further you enter, the faster will your troubles thicken. What you now enjoy is only a respite from ruin; an invitation to destruction; something that will lead on to our deliverance at your expense. We know the cause which we are engaged in, and though a passionate fondness for it may make us grieve at every injury which threatens it, yet, when the moment of concern is over, the determination to duty returns.

So we are not moved by the gloomy smile of a worthless king, but by the ardent glow of generous patriotism. We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in. In such a case we are sure that we are right; and we leave to you the despairing reflection of being the tool of a miserable tyrant.  

And so we say to our strongest foe, who threatens daily to undo us- who tempts us to lapse in virtue and be uncivil in conflict-we say to him,

We know the cause which we are engaged in. We are and by right ought to be free. We fight not to enslave, but so that we may live as Christ made us to be. We live with these weights and weary ourselves to make room for honest men to live. We now declare ourselves free. 

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Galatians 5:13

“The Dread of Tyrants”: 5 Quotes on Free Speech

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.Evelyn Beatrice Hall
Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the one right which they first of all strike down. —Frederick Douglass

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

I’ll make this short so you can get out and celebrate America’s 245th Birthday. Because we felt it acutely this year: keeping freedom—especially to speak truth in love—required practice and vigilance.

Now for those quotes.

5 Free Speech Quote

1. “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
2. “It is often a strategic mistake to silence a man, because it leaves the world under the impression that he had something to say.” ~G.K. Chesterton
3. “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ~ George Washington
4. “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ~ George Orwell
5. “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.” ~ Frederick Douglass

Free Speech: A Liberating Strife?

I’m no political expert. But I know that what makes my muscles strong is weight-bearing exercise. I know that what makes my marriage and friendships, and my church or nation great is not 100% unanimity all the time, but in still being free to both listen, as Frederick Douglass pointed out, and to speak.

What makes for strength is not suppression but endurance, not plugging our ears but hearing what’s hard to hear, not silencing opposition, but staying engaged when we don’t agree.

To promote free speech even when we disapprove is difficult. It may even be painful. Because free speech cuts both ways.

But maybe hearing what we don’t want to hear is a severe mercy and perhaps free speech itself is a sort of liberating strife?

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!

America The Beautiful

—Katharine Lee Bates

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

—James 2:12-13

**Three of the five quotes are from Erwin Lutzer’s 2020 book, We Will Not Be Silenced. Lutzer gave a lively interview—”I think it’s okay to use the word bloody…No, you’re getting just enthusiastic enough.”—to Eric Metaxas this week. You can access that conversation here.

A Raspberry Love Story On Mom & Dad’s 50th

Some say love is spelled T-I-M-E. I say it’s spelled R-A-S-P-B-E-R-R-I-E-S and it’s measured in thorny scratches and mosquito bites.

It’s funny how they come together: mosquitos and berries, scratches and sweetness, the bramble and the rose.

Picking that bucket of berries this morning—with the mosquitoes buzzing and the sweat dripping and nearly hyperventilating as I blew the pesky insects off my nose— reminds me of a fabled 50 year-old story.

A story without which there might not be me.

Once Upon A Time…

A fair maiden named Darlene met a strapping young man named Mitchell on the high school debate bus.  At once Mitchell knew he’d found his mate. It took the cheery, Darlene Sunshine just a little longer.

Soon high school let out for the summer. And the field looks different come summer.

Mitchell must have known too, about teenage summers and how other fellas work the fields. So one July day a lot like today, along came young Mitchell.

But Mitchell was wise and wasn’t empty-handed when he came courting fair Darlene. He came bearing the crown jewel of mid-summer treasures. For it, the smitten young man had endured fierce summer sun, fought many a thorn and attacks by mosquitoes.

Mitchell was so taken with Darlene that those hours in the bramble seemed like seconds at the junior prom. Such was Mitchell’s love for the sunny and smiling Darlene.

The Cost of Love

So now, with the fields ripening fast in the middle of a Mukwonago summer, here comes Mitchell, bearing the costliest of gifts for a princess.

Darlene opened the door. Maybe she saw Mitchell’s scratches and welts and his strong juice-stained, thorn-scratched hands.

Then those bright hazel eyes locked on the pail. Oh, that pail!- glistening, laden with the finest of July. 

And with just one look at the amethyst gems in that brimming-full pail, Mitchell and Darlene’s deal was sealed. (At least that’s the story I tell.)

Mom and Dad have been married 50 years today.

Afterward: Freedom and Love and Raspberries Aren’t Free

I could leave it there, with the raspberry love story.

But I can’t. Because the analogies are so clear. And, honestly, I think Mom and Dad wouldn’t mind. Because they value this truth too: important things are costly.

So on this raspberry picking day two weeks after Independence Day as our country struggles through massive decision about Covid-19, please remember: freedom is not free.

Our founders pledged their lives, their fortune and their sacred honor to declare this nation free. Brave men and women still give their lives to preserve our liberty. It is effortful still, holding freedom up by tolerating different ideas— even ideas about wearing masks and virtual school plans—and by living virtuous lives.

Oh, do I know this is hard. Holding my tongue and listening, trusting good motives not despising others with different conviction… Is. So. Hard. It costs me comfort and much energy.

But spiritual freedom is costly too. It cost God the Father the death of his Beloved Son and it cost Jesus Christ his life. He gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness; we are not our own, we were bought at a price (Titus 2:14, 1 Corinthians 6:20). His blood-stained, nail-pieced hands bought us out of sin’s bramble.

Lately, I’ve been telling my teenaged son, None of the good stuff is free. Those ads and popups promise it. But you get what you pay for. Or what someone else paid dearly for.

So, no—love is not without cost and freedom is not free.

Neither is a bucket of raspberries.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

1 John 3:16