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Reflections on Independence Day and the Lessons of History

As I'm writing this installment of my blog, it's Independence Day, July 4. Although this article will not be posted until three days hence, I'm reflecting today on our nation's independence and freedom and history in light of the lessons of the past. These are my thoughts.

Two hundred forty-seven years ago, the Declaration of Independence was issued by our Founding Fathers. It was the product primarily of the pen of Thomas Jefferson, the youngest member of a committee tasked with drafting the instrument designed to inform the nations of the world of the reasons that prompted the thirteen British colonies of North America to break from the Mother Country and launch into the deep, uncertain waters of independence.

The mere declaration did not result in immediate independence, however. To achieve that reality, a long, arduous, often frustrating and doubtful war had to be fought. The desired independence was realized only about five years later, in 1781. Even in the years that followed, the Founders encountered problems that threatened to end that holy experiment that was the United States and that were resolved only partially by the ratification of a totally new form of government with the ratification of the Constitution.

On the last day of the Constitutional Convention that drafted the Constitution, the proceedings of which were held in secret, someone asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of government the delegates had established. He wisely replied, "A republic--if we can keep it."

That response expressed a hint of doubt even in such a sage as Franklin. I believe his doubts were well founded, as subsequent history has provided the evidence. George Washington had hardly taken his oath of office as our first president, when threats to the republic arose first from within and later from without.

The internal threats came from the very source of which Washington warned: political factions. Today, we call them parties. Then it was the Jeffersonians and the Hamiltonians, those who supported a limited and primarily local government that avoided national debt and those who wanted a powerful and primarily national government that viewed debt as a means of accumulating even more power in the central government. And the party spirit has gotten only more intense over time. It's had 247 years of such growth.

Two hundred forty seven years seems like eternity to most Americans, and that span of time gives more than ample material from which historians can draw conclusions and make generalizations. But ancient history provides even more. One can see clear parallels between the history of Rome and that of the United States.

Edward Gibbon famously examined the case of Rome in his tome The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Interestingly, that work was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788, the very period in which the United States were fighting for independence from Great Britain and struggling to determine what kind of government the new nations should impose upon itself.

Gibbon posited several reasons for the fall of Rome, including the decline of the family unit, which is the basis of all civilized societies; increasingly governmental debt and consequent heavy tax burdens on the citizens; a fanatical desire of the people for pleasure and entertainment that became increasingly more brutal; involvement of a steadily weakened military in numerous foreign wars; a morally decadent population; the decay of religion; and the influx of foreigners. Many of the factors he discussed resulted in terrible internal strife and civil unrest.

One would have to be intellectually blind not to see that our nations now is experiencing many of the same problems that Rome had in its last days.

But one can go even farther back in history, back to the first century, and see the warnings that were given for our learning--and hopefully our avoidance.

In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, the apostle Paul warned, "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come, for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away."

Yet, even before that, Christ Himself warned, "And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; . . . for nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matt. 24:6-8). Then He proceeded to warn that Christians would be persecuted, being imprisoned for their faith, and "then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. . . . "But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be" (24:10-11).

I've always tried to follow the example of Ronald Reagan and be positive about the prospects for America, but it's getting harder and harder to maintain such optimism. I have no confidence in political parties of any stripe. I see nothing but futility and broken promises on both sides of the aisle. When even seemingly good people attain public office, they seem quickly to acclimate themselves to the cesspool of politics as usual.

Rather, all the signs around us today seem to point to a more negative outlook for our nation. The prophecies of the past and the historical evidence points to our decline. It's becoming increasingly apparent that we have not kept the republic that the Founders gave us. And the consequences of our failure are not good.

All of its problems notwithstanding, this nation is still the best in the world. We have much for which to be thankful, but we must not take it for granted. "Eternal vigilance is [still] the price of liberty." Guard it and defend it we must. We were given a republic--if we could keep it.

I often hear people say, "God bless America." I certainly want that to happen, but I often wonder How can God bless a nation that is doing so much contrary to His Word? God's blessings can come upon only those who obey Him; only His judgment is promised to those who disregard or reject Him.

But for believers in Christ and His Word, the outlook IS still positive. Their future is as bright as the promises of God. So as I reflect on this most recent national Independence Day, although I see our nation's decline occurring and fear the judgment that surely will come, I look forward to the fulfillment of the day when believers will be independent of this world of sin and trouble when Christ returns for His own and then later establishes His perfect government, for which there will be no decline or demise!

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