Reflections from the Pulpit: Independence Day Prayer

Posted 7/3/24

July 4th is a time of celebration, but do we truly know what it means?

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Reflections from the Pulpit: Independence Day Prayer


July 4th is a time of celebration, but do we truly know what it means? It’s easy to experience the waving flags, fireworks, and exuberant gunshots (one year, a celebratory bullet punched a hole in our church roof on its way back to earth), and yet pass by the deeper spiritual significance.

American Freedom is rooted in a long and bloody conflict, where people of faith bled and died for the right of lawful assembly in free worship of God. Long before the Puritans taught principles of freedom on these shores, the Covenanters of Scotland willingly gave their lives, preaching a gospel of grace, with freedom of worship a divine right. Laying down their lives, the Scots Christians set forth the principles of representative government and free worship. And they declared a theology of resistance to false authority that would later be a rallying cry in the American Revolution: “Resistance against tyranny is obedience to God.”

They stood for freedom in a time where such stand could cost their lives. And often it did. Thousands of Scots Christians perished at the hand of the State Church of England. But their clear gospel of grace, with its inherent right of worship, could not be killed. The Puritans took up the call, again at great cost of life and liberty. Do humans have the right to worship God in freedom, according to the dictates of their conscience? The Puritans, with the Scots Covenanters, and answered this resoundingly, “Yes!” But the State Church answered this “No!” and crushed these believers with force.

The question echoed from Scotland to England: Where? Where could a person truly be free to worship God in Spirit and Truth?

That question was answered in providential thriller, as small, storm-battered ships made their way through dark passage, finding light on the shores of America. Puritans fled the deadly strictures of the State, seeking a place to worship freely. And here they landed, by grace. And the spiritual principles of free worship, representative government, and separation of powers found soil to grow. The great tree of American Freedom was planted: Could it grow to provide shade for the world?

The freedom was tenuous. In 1683, King Charles II promised to end religious freedom in America. If little Massachusetts did not regulate worship according to State religion, they would be met by an army – crushed by force. The ultimatum stared the young colony in the face: Give up religious freedom or perish. Late in 1684, Pastor Increase Mather called emergency town meeting, speaking in faith: “It is better to trust in God than trust in princes.” So they sent reply: “Crush us if you may, we must be loyal to God!” In February of 1685, the word came: King Charles II has given orders: The army is on its way! Increase Mather retired to his study in a burden of prayer. He fasted and prayed through the hours, and the people met in solemn assembly, “Save your people, Lord! Save this place of religious freedom!” In that impassioned prayer, Increase Mather heard from heaven: God would defend them! So Increase strode forth from his place of prayer, telling the people to give praise. God had heard their prayer. Two months later, word came from England that Charles II had died in a sudden seizure – on that very day. The army didn’t make it.

The threat hung over the Colonies, however. For a generation the intimidation increased: We will force you to State religion and taxation. And finally, war came in 1776 – almost a hundred years after Increase Mather prayed in his study. But war came when the colonies had been united by the gospel of grace: The teaching of Jonathan Edwards and preaching of George Whitfield had touched every man, woman and child in America in what is now known as The Great Awakening. For the first time ever, the people of America were metaphysically and physically capable of defense. People of faith knew that this battle was spiritual in nature. The first soldiers of the Continental Army dug up the body of George Whitfield, and wore ribbons of his clothing into battle!

The Boston Gazette wrote in 1768: “If an army should be sent to reduce us to slavery, we will put our lives in our hands and cry out to the Judge of all the earth… Help us, Lord, for we rest in Thee, and in Thy name we go against this multitude.” And Samuel Adams, upon the ratification of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, said, “We have this day restored the Sovereign, to Whom men alone ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven… and from the rising to the setting sun, may His kingdom come.” They understood the struggle for freedom as divine work. The battle for American Independence was first a spiritual battle, with vast physical implications.

Friends, this is the foundation of our current life of liberty and Constitutional Government in America. The American Experiment, with all its later sins of ego and self-advancement, began in humility before God, in covenant with Him for freedom. On this Independence Day, let us give praise to the Providence that has wrought us a nation, and remember in clarity the calling of our founding. We are at a crossroads, in our great Nation. We stand in need, ever as much as when Increase Mather prayed, or when Paul Revere raised a midnight cry. So, we praise God for our land, and confess that we have strayed far from His commands. In vital confession – humility, repentance, and prayer – we might yet be healed. The battle for freedom is ever spiritual. When our Lord said we would know the Truth, and the Truth would set us free, He was talking about himself. “Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.” All else are slaves to sin, and slaves to sin can never ultimately be free – no matter who is in national office. So, to our prayers, friends. Happy Independence Day!

july 4th, american, freedom, history, scots, christians, church of england