Washington's Night Stand
By: Jim O'Brien
A friend related a disturbing anecdote about an incident in her classroom. On the wall near her desk is a framed copy of the Declaration of Independence. One of her students looked at it and asked with a note of disdain, "Why's that up there?" The teacher, a bit taken aback replied, "Because it's one of the greatest documents ever written by man!" "Oh!" said the student, a little chagrined..
One thing common to both church and state is the need to pass on values to succeeding generations. A human proclivity is forgetting the values that brave ancestors sacrificed to preserve.
(That's why the fourth commandment says REMEMBER the Sabbath.) Those who trod the path before we arrived passed down to us essential truths learned through bitter experience. It's up to us to preserve the legacy.
For example, have you heard the phrase "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country"? Or "Give me liberty or give me death"? Sure you have. They are cornerstones of American history. But do you know where these statements originated? If you guessed Nathan Hale and Patrick Henry you're wrong. Nathan Hale and Patrick Henry were repeating phrases they learned by heart from a drama about the life of Cato.
Who's Cato? That's what I mean. Most people who live in the free world don't know that the freedom we enjoy grew out of the values of men like Cato and Cicero...and Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul.
There were two books on the night stand beside the bed of George Washington; The Works of Cato and The Holy Bible. While his men were training in Valley Forge, the officers of Washington's Army performed the play "The Life of Cato" for the Revolutionary Army. The love of freedom was instilled in the soldiers. And this rag tag army defeated the most powerful military force on earth.
Washington knew, as Moses and the Patriarchs before him, that the spirit is more powerful than an army. Wars are lost when citizen soldiers forget their national values.
Why does every generation have to learn the lessons of character anew? Well, every generation hasn't learned them. That's why there have only been a few free civilizations throughout the 6,000 years of man's history. The history of mankind is punctuated by brief periods of freedom in the nations of Israel, Rome, the United States and that part of Western Civilization influenced by our founding fathers. Professor J. Rufus Fears in his authoritative work on Rome discussed the difficulty of passing on the characteristics of one generation to another. He wrote:
"The institutions of freedom are very difficult to transfer. The Romans came to understand that freedom is not a universal value: that people over and over again have chosen security, which is what the Roman Empire brought over; the awesome responsibilities of self-government."
Dr. Fears is saying that free men have a tendency to give up freedom for security. Security and safety can be easily interchanged. It was Benjamin Franklin who said, "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Christianity is founded on the concept of freedom. It is a value fundamental to biblical teaching but not universal to mankind. We believe in the values of God as expressed through the Ten Commandments. We are slaves of Jesus Christ but we are free people.
That is, we understand as did the founders of our country that the rights we enjoy come, not from any political entity, but from the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus Christ.
Until next time,
Pastor, Church of God Cincinnati
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