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Chapter 1

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 England.

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 generations.

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 Revolution,

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 another man.

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 9:55, 56

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."

 


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