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