The Mantle of Liberty

A Legacy of Heroes & Heritage of Leaders
Liberty Day 2005

Tonight we gather, not just to recall interesting stories of former days, but also to remember Liberty’s defenders, her evangelists, her principles, and her heroes. The centerpiece of this evening’s festivities, the 2nd Virginia Convention, shows perhaps one of the greatest struggles of the battle for independence: the struggle of the leaders. Before them lay no easy task. They couldn’t merely decided what they personally would do, for upon their shoulders rested the destiny of a nation. Could they – should they – choose to take a course of action that would require every citizen of Virginia to suffer the same sacrifice that they were willing to make?

Ultimately, as principled men, they had no choice. Regardless of the probabilities that stood against them, Truth required them to make the hard decision; a decision in favor of following an untrodden road – whose end they didn’t know and might never see. A road that would require the sacrifice of pleasure, comfort and peace for the sake of a clear conscience; for the sake of their children’s pleasure, comfort and peace; and even for the sake of the children of the very men who were pillaging their homes, killing their families, burning their churches, destroying their land and doing all the other wretched things we love to hate the tyrant Tories for.

But what would make them choose such a road? How could they understand the sacrifice, and still move forward? Looking back it is easy for us to say we would have done the same thing as they did. But at the time – looking the mighty British Empire in the face with a few thousand untrained militia men who had nothing but well-used guns in their hands and firm resolution in their hearts, and with less than 1/3 of the popular support throughout the colonies – would we have really been able to carry that responsibility of leadership upon our shoulders?

To learn the answer to that question, we must take a minute to look at their virtues:

They were Christians. They may not have all been theologians, but they understood the principles of Christianity, and understood that God was in the process of building His kingdom, of which kingdom they were a part. In fact, in discussing the Tea Tax that led to the Boston Tea Party, John Adams contended that it must be resisted, lest England, being deceived by the improper growth of her authority, come and take over their churches.

They were scholars and laymen, farmers and merchants, men from all walks of life. But they held in common an understanding of present issues, and a strength of character that won for them the confidence of the people who elected them. They were leaders, who were elected to lead.

They were also historians. Heroes always have heroes, and these men were no exception. Not only did they find heroes in past and present men, but they also found principles to follow and things to avoid. They were well studied in biblical government, in the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, and so much more. They understood the cause and effect of human actions through witnessing them in ages past – and they understood that there IS a just God Who rules over the destinies of nations.

But as Dr. David Vaughan comments in his book, The Pillars of Leadership:
“We are not so na├»ve as to think that yesterday’s leaders were perfect. They were not. Each one was subject as are we, to the fatal flaw of original sin. So, to discover their failings takes no talent at all. C.S. Lewis observed, a critic is always a second-rate man. It takes no virtue to discover vice. But it does take virtue to emulate virtue.”

Today we find again a need for leadership. Although we may not be facing guns and “Lobsterback” bayonets, there is a battle at hand and Christians are needed to rise up again to the call of leadership. We alone are the ones who are able to rightly lead this country – and the entire world – in the direction it should go. Like our heroes of the past, we need to study our forefathers who have been faced with similarly world-changing decisions and learn the secrets to their strengths. Then we need to ask, do we have the virtue to emulate their virtue? Are our children being raised with the virtue and understanding necessary to carrying on the work when we are done, and facing the battles of their own day?

In The Pillars of Leadership, Dr. Vaughan also observes:
“Since imitation is natural, our young people will search for, and find, examples to copy. The urgent questions is, therefore, who shall serve as models? The drugged rock stars and corrupt celebrities of the present, or the noble leaders and virtuous examples of the past? With few reliable role models in the present why not mine the rich resources of past achievement and valor? Why be improvised by a meager modernity when we can be enriched by a prosperous past? Why not hold before our eyes, and the eyes of our children, images of courage, and duty, and faith, and sacrifice that have passed the test of historical scrutiny? In short, why stumble over pygmies when we can stand upon giants?"

The heroes and legacies left by the Church of Christ over the past two thousand years are the greatest giants we can stand upon. But we cannot stand upon them unless we understand why they stood, why they stood when they stood, what they stood for, how they stood – and for Whom they stood. Admiration alone will not enable us to see what they saw and stand as they did. We must study not just the places and particulars, and not just the people. We must study the principles. And then, by the grace of God, live and breathe them ourselves. It is not sufficient to be able to answer a trivia question regarding them, we must so understand the vision and principles that, given of God, inspired their lives, that in the times of greatest ease or pressure we live them out.

Hundreds of thousands of men and women throughout history have given their lives so that they might hand to their children a land, a church, and a heritage even better than the one they themselves had received. Our lives, however simple or profound they may be, will add for better or for worse to the heritage that we leave to our children.

We must stop and consider. We have been given a vast treasure. What are we going to do with it? What will be left of it when we give it to our children? It IS in our hands and will be effected by us. Will our handling it enhance its richness? Or will we merely leave the evidence of smudged fingerprints. We can neither deny bearing the mantle, or our role in legacy building. Nor can we pretend that the little things of our daily lives don’t matter. They do.

In short we must ask ourselves: Will we stumble with the pygmies? Or stand upon the shoulders giants?

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