Summary: We may think we have independence but in reality we are very much dependent. We have no rights but one.
This week we will celebrate Independence Day, a celebration of The Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies, then at war with Great Britain, regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire.
There were 27 complaints against King George 111 wrapped around the basic statement “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Seventy two years later, the first Woman's Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. . In their "Declaration of Sentiments," patterned on the Declaration of Independence, the convention members demanded social and political equality for women. Their motto was that "All men and women are created equal" and the convention demanded “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” for women. It would be 1920 before they would be granted the basic right of voting.
And for 100 years these “rights” applied to white men only.
In his October 1854 Peoria speech, Lincoln said:
“Nearly eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for some men to enslave others is a "sacred right of self-government." ... Our republican robe is soiled and trailed in the dust. Let us re-purify it. ... Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. ... If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union: but we shall have saved it, as to make, and keep it, forever worthy of the saving“.
The meaning of the Declaration was a recurring topic in the famed debates between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in 1858. Douglas argued that "all men are created equal" in the Declaration referred to white men only. The purpose of the Declaration, he said, had simply been to justify the independence of the United States, and not to proclaim the equality of any "inferior or degraded race". It would be after a bloody civil war that, in 1865, these rights would be extended to a black man.
We, as Americans, take great pride in those rights. The right to “Life” means we can choose how we want to live. The right to “Liberty” means we have the freedom to live that life we choose. The right to “Happiness” means we can do what ever makes us happy as long as no one else is harmed.
But the truth is we have no rights.
"And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand." (Isaiah 64:8)
Then the Word continues to say;
"What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their evil deeds in the dark! “The Lord can’t see us,” they say. “He doesn’t know what’s going on!”
How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, “He didn’t make me”?
Does a jar ever say, “The potter who made me is stupid”? (Isaiah 29:15-16)
When we fail to recognize God’s influence in our lives we dishonor him. When we think we have the right to live our lives independent of God we are acting foolishly. When our “Pursuit of Happiness” involves us allowing ourselves to wallow in our own problems and circumstances we deny him. When we question his will we devalue his wisdom. And sorrow awaits us.
But God gave us a provision to escape that sorrow and that provision is his Son, Jesus.
John 3:35-36 "The Father loves his Son and has put everything into his hands. And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”
Everything has been put into his hands. Everything means everything; your life, your liberty, your pursuit of happiness.
Jesus puts it this way; “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
He uses the example of a vine, perhaps a grape vine. He compares himself to the main vine, the rootstock. It is through the rootstock that all nutrients flow. When the rootstock is healthy the branches will be healthy and a good crop of grapes will be harvested. But cut the branches away from the rootstock and no fruit can be produced. In fact the branch will wither, die, and it’s only use will be kindling. Apart from Jesus your life, liberty, and happiness will be unfruitful. We are dependent on him.