Divine Rights and Human Responsiblities
THE year was 1661. John James was preaching in a small
hall in London to a small gathering of people on a Sabbath (Saturday)
afternoon. Well into his service, the doors opened; the sheriff and his
assistant appeared demanding in the name of the King that James cease his
preaching. Jamesí "crime" was twofold: first, he was preaching
without a license from the Church of England, the only official church
recognized by the British government; second, he was a Sabbatarian,
believing that the Bible teaches that the Sabbath of the Lord is the
seventh day of the week.
James believed he had a higher authority than the King
of England, and continued to preach. He was arrested forthwith, and placed
in prison. To the consternation of all who respected him, he was charged
with high treason. The best efforts of the defense could not prevail and
James was condemned to the enacted punishment for those convicted of high
treasonóto be hanged, drawn and quartered.
It must be remembered that only a year before, the
monarchy had been reestablished after eleven years of the Commonwealth
under Oliver Cromwell and his son, Richard. Concerns were high, and
justice swift, for those who were found guilty of treason against the new
King, Charles II. Even the most plaintive pleas of Jamesí wife did not
prevail, and James was hanged and drawn and quartered; and as a warning to
others, the sections of his body were scattered to various parts of London
and his head displayed in front of the hall where he had preached his
fateful Sabbath sermon. He died a martyr.
The year before the martyrdom of John James, shortly
after the restoration of the British monarchy, John Bunyan stood in
Bedford court charged with preaching without a license from the Church of
England. The minimum sentence for this "crime" at that time was
seven years imprisonment.
The transcript of the Bunyan trial, rediscovered in
recent years, revealed an unusually compassionate judge who did what he
could to avoid sentencing Bunyan to a prison term. The judge inquired of
Bunyan whether it was true that he had a blind two-year-old daughter.
Bunyan responded in the affirmative. The judge then indicated that he did
not desire to send Bunyan to prison, and provided a statement for Bunyan
to sign, pledging not again to preach without a license from the Church of
Bunyan quickly refused, declaring he did intend to
preach again. The long-suffering judge then made what would seem a most
magnanimous offer. He proposed to speak to high officials of the Church of
England to obtain a license for Bunyan to preach. To the shock of the
judge, Bunyan refused this judicial attempt to free him, declaring that if
he accepted the judgeís offer, it would confirm the right of the Church
of England to violate his religious freedom. Bunyan rightly contended that
God had not authorized the Church of England or any other human agency to
exercise the right to decide who could and who could not preach. Bunyan
spent many years in Bedford prison, but while there wrote books such as Pilgrimís
Progress, which have provided great blessings to all subsequent
Many would have felt that the final offer of the judge
was an answer from heaven. But Bunyan witnessed to a mature understanding
of the most basic principles of religious liberty. He recognized that a
calling to preach the Word is not at the discretion of any human priest or
potentate, but is the calling placed upon humanity by Christ Himself.
But dare we conclude that such situations as those to
which James and Bunyan were subjected could never have occurred in the
United States? Tragically, the same intolerance that had led the Pilgrim
Fathers to seek refuge in the new world, was in turn frequently to be
found in the intolerance of these new settlers in North America.
Non-conformists have frequently been the object of persecution. Majorities
have, during the years of "civilization," almost always felt it
their right to oppress, persecute and punish minorities.
In March 1775, the young attorney, Patrick Henry, was
sickened by the sight he saw as he rode into the town square of Culpeper,
Virginia. There a man, tied to the whipping post, was being beaten
mercilessly by a scourge laced with metal tips. The bones of his ribs were
exposed as blood ran freely down his back. When Henry inquired what crime
this man had committed to deserve such a fearful beating, he was informed
that the man was a Baptist minister who had refused to take a license from
the Church of England. Indeed, he had been one of twelve ministers who had
been jailed because they refused to seek a license to preach from the
Church of England. Sadly, history records that three days later, being
pitilessly scourged again, the preacher died a martyr to his burden only
to preach the gospel of Jesus as he understood it. This man had committed
no crime against his fellow humans, he had not defrauded them, he had not
assaulted another human, he had not taken sexual advantage of any one, nor
had he spoken untruths. It was this incident that sparked Patrick Henry to
pen the famous words which became the rallying cry of the American
What is it that Gentlemen wish? What would they have?
Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, for to be purchased at the price of
chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others
may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!
Later, this statement became part of Henryís famous
speech at St. Johnís Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. (Citizenís
Rulebook, Whitten Printers, p. 15)
There is no question that religious persecution in the
American colonies led to the protection of the most basic forms of citizen
rights within the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Also of great significance was the experience of James
Madison, third President of the United States, who earlier in his life had
been visiting in the small town of Orange, Virginia, some four miles from
where he lived. On this occasion he heard the voice of a preacher, and,
upon investigating, discovered it was that of a Baptist minister
incarcerated in the town jail. Madison could not but reflect upon the kind
of laws that would forbid a man from freely preaching the Word of God,
irrespective of his religious convictions.
These illustrations are specially poignant to Colin
who, as the President of Hartland Institute, lives between the two towns
of Culpeper, twelve miles to the north, and Orange, eight miles to the
south of Hartland Institute.
These historic events, which reflected upon the
inhumanity of man to man and the tyranny that existed in the new world,
were to make a great impact upon the development of liberty and freedom in
the United States. While neither Henry nor Madison were signatories of the
unanimous Declaration of Independence, nevertheless they made a profound
impact upon the principles that are enshrined in the Constitution of the
United States and the Bill of Rights.
The search for freedom and liberty is positioned at the
most basic level of human existence. For many, liberty is more to be
desired than food, clothing, shelter, and even life itself. Without the
most basic of freedoms, the freedom of free speech, of assembling with
other citizens, of religious observance, of the free proclamation of Godís
Word without let or hindrance, the right to choose and decide actions and
purposes of life while respecting the same rights and freedoms for others,
are surely fundamental to a free society. God has provided such freedom.
God is not a God of coercion. God is a God who has given to man the
ability to choose, to decide, to think and to act, and these rights God
expects humans to exercise on behalf of their fellowmen. But history is
replete with manís repression of his fellowman. Power has been used time
and time again to bind the lives and consciences of men and women.
The experience of Edward Bushell and three fellow
jurors highlights the oppression of former generations. These four men
were part of a twelve man jury in England which was brought to decide the
guilt of a young man who had dared to preach without a license from the
Church of England. The prosecutor and the judge were determined to obtain
a guilty verdict, but these four men stood resolutely against giving such
a unanimous decision. Eight other jurors had meekly submitted to the
demands of the judge and prosecutor. The four resolute jurors spent nine
weeks of torture in prison. Frequently they received no food nor water,
they were provided no toilet facilities, thus they were soaked with urine
and smeared with feces when they were suspended by the wrists by chains,
they were threatened with fines, yet not one of them capitulated. Edward
Bushell said, "My liberty is not for sale." Bushell was a man of
great wealth. He owned an international shipping enterprise, but he
refused his own freedom, comfort, and safety to defend the rights of
The year was 1670, the tenth year of the reign of
Charles II. The case involved the young man, William Penn, who was on
trial for the violation of the Conventicle Act. This was the act which
gave the Church of England the sole legal right to decide who could
preach. Of course, Penn, a Quaker, had clearly broken this law. Penn was
on trial for his life. His alleged crime included preaching and teaching a
different view of the Bible from that of the Church of England.
We stand amazed at that which resulted from the
fidelity of the four jurors who refused, under such violent treatment, to
find this godly man guilty of a capital offense, when indeed he had done
harm to no man. Neither Bushell nor the other jurors could have possibly
anticipated the far-reaching consequences of their courageous stand. It is
hard now to imagine what would have happened had William Penn been found
guilty. Probably he would have been put to death, or at the least
incarcerated for an extraordinarily long period of time.
The noble establishment of the colony of Pennsylvania,
with its major city, Philadelphia, named for brotherly love, would never
have been known. Oh yes, the colony would have been established by someone
else, but its history and name would have been entirely different. This
was only one of the consequences of the honored stand of the four jurors.
Their stand established the basis for freedom of religion in Britain, a
principle that was to be even more strongly enunciated in the United
States. It was a direct forerunner of the English Bill of Rights,
established in 1689. At the time, this was the greatest bill of human
rights ever provided by a secular government. The English Bill of Rights
was certainly the forerunner of the American Bill of Rights. To this day
it is included in the constitutions of all six Australian States.
The action of the four jurors provided the basis for
the right to peaceful assembly, which is central to the free practice of
religion. It was the foundation of freedom of speech and habeas corpus,
which declared that no man could be kept in jail without being charged
with a jailable offense. Indeed, the first writ of habeas corpus that
was issued by the Court of Common Pleas, was used to free Edward Bushell
himself. The stand of these men would ultimately lead to freedom of the
press. (Ibid. p. 18, 19)
The trial of William Penn and the courage of the four
jurors established a precedent in lawóthat justice is a higher standard
than legality. Penn had broken the law. By the law he was condemned
to a harsh penalty. But the four jurors judged the law itself, and
determined that it was an unjust law. To them, justice was not to be
subservient to laws which deprived a man of his God-ordained freedoms.
Thus it must always be in civilized nations. No man or woman must be
condemned on the basis of law alone. Every juror must judge the
appropriateness of a law before declaring the accused guilty. The jury in
this sense is above the law.
John Adams, second President of the United States,
articulated the God-given freedoms of man.
You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments;
rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived
from the Great Legislator of the Universe. Ibid. p. 1
The framers of the United States Constitution and the
Bill of Rights perhaps understood these God-given freedoms better than any
other human beings before them. Only Christ could have enunciated such
freedoms. Yet He lived in a society that did not understand these basic
principles. This is clear from the reaction of the disciples who felt that
they had a right to punish those who rejected them. When the Samaritans
rejected Christ, James and John sought summary justice.
And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and
entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they
did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to
Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said,
Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume
them, even as Elias did? Luke 9:52Ė54
But Jesusí response showed the true principles of
liberty that were enshrined in His ministry.
But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not
what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy
menís lives, but to save them. And they went to another village. Luke
On a previous occasion the apostles urged Christ to
take decided action against those who were preaching but were not part of
the fellowship of Jesus.
And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting
out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with
us. Luke 9:49
Once again notice Jesusí answer.
And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is
not against us is for us. Luke 9:50
How important it was for the disciples to live the
principles of the kingdom. These principles must be enshrined in the heart
of all of Godís people. Not only are we to seek liberty for ourselves,
but also for others, even those who are of the most diverse persuasion
from ourselves. We have a God-given responsibility to do all we can to
assist in the fulfillment of the highest level of liberty. The words of
Everett Hale must ever be uppermost in our thoughts:
I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything,
but I can do something. What I can do, I should do and, with the help of
God, I will do! Citizenís Rulebook, op. cit., p. 6
Every totalitarian power in the past, be it civil or
ecclesiastical, has sought to deprive humanity of its God-given rights.
The Inquisition is a stark reminder of how an ecclesiastical power could
seek to enforce its edicts and belief system upon men. The papal system of
government also teaches men to be unwaveringly loyal to the priest, who
teaches them to put their faith in the edicts of man rather than in the
Word of God. In this practice is implied the falsehood that loyalty to man
is more important than loyalty to God. It teaches that loyalty to the
church automatically makes man loyal to God. By contrast, the Protestants
of the sixteenth century declared that loyalty to God automatically makes
men loyal to the Church.
Let it never be forgotten that this Satanic
principle that puts loyalty to man above loyalty to God, was the premise
which placed our Saviour on the cross of Calvary. Hordes of members of the
Jewish church cried out at Pontius Pilateís palace, "Crucify Him!
Crucify Him!" (Luke 23:21) in loyalty to the urgings of Caiaphas, the
High Priest. They believed that in this display of loyalty to the leader
of Godís church, they would be recorded in heaven as loyal to God
Himself. This faulted sense of loyalty led to the incredible paradox, that
humans believed themselves to be loyal to God as they demanded the murder
of God the Son. All Christians must be loyal to Godís church. But in
order to be loyal to His church one must first be loyal to God
Himself and then we shall automatically be loyal to the one object of His
supreme regardóHis Church. Loyalty to church leaders first, is a
principle of Satan. History is replete with the dire consequences of
accepting this faulted principle.
In the political sphere, the Communist Manifesto, in
the name of liberty and equality, called for the abolishing of private
property, the enactment of government control of education, abolition of
the right to free speech, government ownership of business, and other
deprivations of human rights. Both the papal system and the communist
system are inimical to the freedom that God has given to the human race.
Christians have a responsibility to stand up for the freedom of others. If
we do not stand up for the freedom of those not of our political or
religious persuasion, then we have no right to expect others to stand up
for our rights. Surely the words of Edmund Burke in the eighteenth century
are equally true today as when they were expressed. "The only thing
necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."