Two hundred thirty-nine years ago today, a handful of brave men took a stand against the greatest military power of that time and declared that thirteen colonies had the right to be "free and independent states." As they firmly pledged to one another and to God their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor," each one was aware of the potential consequences of making such a solemn decision. Most of the men who signed their names to what we now call the Declaration of Independence were ordinary individuals from humble beginnings who felt called by Almighty God to extraordinary measures. What they gave and sacrificed for such a noble cause produced an experiment in liberty that has benefited the generations that have followed them.
And yet, just a few decades after that event took place on July 4, 1776, one of the signers, Dr. Benjamin Rush, would write the following to his good friend and fellow patriot, John Adams in July 1811:
"The 4th of July has been celebrated in…the manner I expected. The military men, and particularly one of them, ran away with all the glory of the day. Scarcely a word was said of the solicitude and labors and fears and sorrows and sleepless nights of the men who projected, proposed, defended, and subscribed the Declaration of Independence. Do you recollect your memorable speech upon the day on which the vote was taken? Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the house when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe what was believed by many at that time to be our own death warrants? The silence and the gloom of the morning were interrupted, I well recollect, only for a moment by the Colonel Harrison of Virginia, who said to Mr. Gerry at the table, 'I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are now doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead.' This speech procured a transient smile, but it was soon succeeded by the solemnity with which the whole business was conducted…Let us, my dear friend, console ourselves for the unsuccessful efforts of our lives to serve our fellow creatures by recollecting that we have aimed well…We shall not I hope lose our reward for these well-intentioned labors of love."
Even in so short a time after this new nation had been created, people were already forgetting the true meaning of the 4th. It became more about patriotic fervor that sacrifice and appreciation. In looking into my family's genealogy a few years ago, I discovered that I have several ancestors who fought in the War for Independence and who endured the hardships and sacrifices necessary to obtain my freedom to serve God and my fellow citizens without governmental oppression. I owe them much. We all have failed miserably to fully comprehend what these brave people gave in order to establish a nation where all people were free to the inalienable rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Many died in this cause. Many lost their fortunes and died broke. As I observe this day, I fear that Dr. Rush's words have come true and, should the Founding Fathers be alive today, they would be shocked at how little regard the average American has for those who gave everything to give us a chance at freedom.
Today, when we celebrate all things patriotic, let us also take a moment to pray for God's mercy on this nation. Let us ask Him to forgive our failure to hold the gift of liberty in its full esteem and for taking the sacrifices of these our forefathers so lightly. May we highly resolve that these individuals shall not have labored in vain and that this nation may not go down to the dust of history as other empires in the past but that, by God's grace, it may continue to be a beacon of hope to the world.