Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit of Happiness Are Not State-Granted Permissions, But God-Given Rights

The American Revolution

As noted in the previous post, the secular critics insist that THE INALIENABLE RIGHT TO “LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS” are Enlightenment/secular humanist, not biblical, ideas. It is tragic that so many Americans, even some Christians, have believed this falsehood. In this post, we’ll examine the biblical origin of these concepts.

The Origin Of “Life”

As our Creator, God is the source of all life, “for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28a). Thus, man, who is wonderfully made in the image of his Creator, has an inherent and inalienable “right to life”—a right which can be justifiably defended against all interlopers. But without God, the Creator and Lawgiver—the God who the secularists diligently and methodically work to diminish—the State becomes the highest moral authority. When this happens, and it’s happening right now, rights, whether they be to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness, are no longer thought to be inalienable. Instead, they are subject to the give and take of man-made think-sos. As a result, the inherent, God-given “right to life” has been seriously eroded in our culture, as the triune maladies of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia tragically attest.

Our Founding Fathers knew better than to establish government on the whims of sentiment. Instead, they grounded the government they were founding on the bedrock of eternal truths, truths they believed to be “self-evident.” This, more than anything else, demonstrates that these men were appealing to a biblically based way of knowing or epistemology, as the philosophers are fond of calling it. Such truths, the apostle Paul warns, some men will be disposed to suppress “in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). This was not just something that was going to be limited to Paul’s time. It would be a pattern that would manifest itself over and over again. That such is at work in our culture is something of which we are constantly being reminded.

Paul informs us that these truth suppressors are without excuse, for such truths are “manifest in them” (Rom 1:19), which is just another way of saying “self-evident.” A reading of Romans 1 and 2 with this in view in mind makes it clear that Paul and the Founding Fathers agree that such individuals are without any excuse for trying to obscure these self-evident truths. But when such truths are effectively suppressed in the minds of a people, God gives them over to a “debased mind” (Rom 1:28). In such a condition, they

do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them (Rom 1:28b-32).

Such an array of sins does not bode well for any nation. Unfortunately, these are indicative of the sin-laden avenue this country is traveling. Any nation that forgets God is headed to the pit, according to Psalm 9:17. That this is a 180-degree turn from the self-evident truths upon which the Founding Fathers grounded this nation is clear from an honest examination of history. Commenting on this, Benjamin Hart, said:

Even if one does not accept the truth of the Christian faith, prudence argues for the promulgation of its moral code in every area of public life, because history has demonstrated that Christian morality is indispensable to the preservation of a free society (Faith and Freedom, p. 15).

Thus, as America continues cutting itself off from its founding principles, it is safe to say that the “right to life,” when considered at all, will continue to undergo the radical modification the secular humanists have envisioned and are even now implementing. But it is clear that no such thinking was evident among our Founding Fathers, for the right to life they spoke of in the Declaration was a gift not of man, but of God.

Having taken a look at the “origin of ‘life’,” we’ll now examine the “origin of ‘liberty’.”

The Origin Of “Liberty”

Although the Bible speaks directly of “liberty” in the Old and New Testaments, it is referring primarily to the spiritual liberty that comes in connection with Jesus Christ, not the physical freedom we are usually referring to when we use this word. However, this is not to concede that there is an absence of this latter idea in the Scriptures, for if man is not free to exercise himself as a servant of God, which is, after all, “the whole duty of man” (Eccles 12:13-14), then he cannot be held responsible for his lack of service. In other words, if man isn’t a free moral agent, then he can’t be amenable to God’s law. Consequently, Genesis 1 is the place to go in order to see the origin and importance of liberty/freedom.

God created man in His own image. In doing so, He endowed him with certain faculties and invested him with the authority to subdue the earth and have dominion over its creatures (Gen 1:26-28.). Therefore, from the creation mandate itself it can be necessarily inferred that man must have the liberty (i.e., the freedom) to obediently exercise himself in the performance of his God-given duties. Man, then, because he is man, ought to be free, and such liberty is not derived from other men, but from God Himself. Thus, liberty is intrinsic and, as such, is a “self-evident” “unalienable” “right,” just as our Founding Fathers believed and said. So then, liberty, freedom, and being free were not just Enlightenment concepts, as the secularists claim, but ideas built right into the very fabric of things from the very beginning.

Sadly, the secular propagandists are firmly entrenched today. As such, they have convinced many, perhaps even most, to think that liberty is something derived from the State and thus a privilege granted by the State. But to the contrary, liberty derives from God and is, therefore, a right that will be protected by God-ordained government. Any government that does not think this is the case is in league with the Devil (i.e., it is a Revelation 13 government) and as such will be a bane, not a blessing, upon its citizens. Thus, just as God’s word teaches and our Founding Fathers believed, liberty is an essential right of man.

Having now observed the biblical origin of “life” and “liberty,” we turn our attention to “the pursuit of happiness’”

The Origin Of “The Pursuit Of Happiness”

Of the three rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, this one, many think, is proof that it was a creation of Enlightenment thought and void of God and teeming with humanistic ideas. To these, “the pursuit of happiness” seems to be more hedonistic than biblical. But, this is simply not true. Jefferson appears to have taken the phrase from the Virginia Constitution of 1776, which mentioned “pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” The term “happiness” had a technical meaning in the English common law and would have conveyed a particular idea to the Founding Fathers. This is mirrored in Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765), where he said that God, the Creator, had

so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual, that the latter cannot be attained but by observing the former, and if the former be punctually obeyed, it cannot but induce the latter.

Thus, the “pursuit of happiness,” as used by the Framers, was not something inherently hedonistic at all. It was, instead, an idea well established among the people of that time, an idea that dealt with the self-evident truth that man’s inalienable right to pursue happiness in the course of, and by attending to, his God-given obligations and responsibilities was something that could not be interfered with by the State. On the contrary, the State was to protect such a right with force, if necessary (Rom 13:1-7). I like what Gary T. Amos said about this:

Like other Christian concepts that became part of formal philosophy and the common law, the Biblical notion of happiness runs deep within the channels of the common law. Its use is so obvious and extensive in the growth of English legal thought, one wonders whether those today who call it an Enlightenment term have read anything at all from the source materials of the common law, materials that were well-known and widely read by the American founders” (Gary T. Amos, Defending The Declaration: How the Bible and Christianity Influenced the Writing of the Declaration of Independence, 1989 p. 121).

Thus, we can see that the Founding Fathers, appealing, as they did, in the first paragraph of the Declaration to “The Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” (i.e., the natural revelation that comes from the created order and the special revelation found in the Bible), created a government that was grounded in religious concepts best described as totally biblical/“Christian.” I say this because none of the delegates assembled from the thirteen states on that July 4, 1776 signing of the Declaration were Muslims, Buddhists, Confucianists, nor Hindus, and almost half had some form of seminary training or degree. It is true that Jefferson had Deist leanings, but all the others would have certainly considered themselves to be “Christians.” But even the Deists of that day, particularly Jefferson, were fervent believers in the Judeo-Christian God who had revealed Himself both in nature and the Bible—hence the reference to “The Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” in the Declaration. Suffice it to say that Jefferson, who was the principal architect of the document, wasn’t a thirty-second cousin to modern secular, anti-God, humanists. I like what the late Richard John Neuhaus had to say about this:

The founding creed—“We hold these truths to be self-evident”—affirms truths that have been and are today far from self-evident to the great majority of humankind. The truth 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” is a truth that can only be explained as the product of a very particular history. In the eighteenth century, its explication and popular acceptance can only be explained in the context of the taken-for-granted reality of Christian America. This is not to say that the truths affirmed by the Declaration cannot be supported by rigorously secular arguments that are not dependent upon the biblical tradition…. But, in view of the many attempts that have failed, skepticism about that possibility is in order. And there is the inherent difficulty of what to do with the Creator—a reference that in the logic of the Declaration is essential to the claim that human rights are prior to government in the order of both time and authority”(First Things, “The End Of Abortion And The Meanings Of ‘Christian America,’” June/July 2001).

Clearly, then, the words and ideas articulated in the Declaration were biblical, not secular, and came not as a result of the humanism of the Enlightenment, as the secularists falsely claim, but from a long line of thinking that could only be described as “Judeo-Christian.” This is why that in the final paragraph of the Declaration, after a long list of grievances, an appeal was made to “the Supreme Judge of the world” coupled with “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” And even though it can be rightly argued that Jefferson exhibited a decidedly anti-organized religion, anti-clergy bent, he was definitely not anti-God. This is illustrated by a rhetorical question Jefferson asked on another occasion:

And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that their liberties are the gift of God? (Notes On The State Of Virginia, Query XVIII, in Paul L. Ford, ed., The Writing of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. III, 1894, p. 267).

So, don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is a secular humanist concept. It’s not. It’s biblical, through and through.

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