What Our Founding ‘Heavenly’ Father Meant by ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness’
Study Guide , July 7, 2019
Pastor Clay Olsen
One of the many unusual things that happened during America’s war for independence happened during a battle near a Presbyterian church where the colonial Pastor there was engaged in the battle. During the battle the colonists were running out of wadding for their guns, which meant they were not going to be able to fire their ammunition. So Reverend Caldwell came up with a solution. He ran inside the church and came back with a stack of Watts Hymnals with many of Isaac Watts songs, like: O God Our Help in Ages Past, and Joy to the World, and so on. And as they passed out the Hymnals and tore out the pages for wadding Reverend Caldwell called out: “Give em Watts, boys! Give em Watts!”
It’s often been said that the War for America’s Independence was a religious war. One example of that is from a common motto of the Revolution. Many wars had mottos to inspire those fighting for our country. Like, World War 11 had ‘Remember Pearl Harbor’, and in World War 1 the motto was ‘Remember the Lusitania’, and most everyone knows the motto of ‘Remember the Alamo’.
One of the mottos of America’s war for Independence was specifically directed at calling attention to the tyranny of a King who thought he controlled their lives, and it was also a reminder to the colonists of who it really was that controlled their lives…and it was neither an earthly king nor any human power. Their motto was “Jesus Christ the King”! That was their motto and battle cry… “Jesus Christ the King”!
One historian of the American Revolution, David Barton, pointed out in one of his articles that the spiritual atmosphere of the Americans was so strong during the Revolution that in a letter sent to Great Britain by a crown appointed British governor, he stated this: “If you ask an American who is his master, he’ll tell you he has none. And he has no governor but Jesus Christ.”1 That’s just how prevalent so many of the colonist’s faith was in Jesus Christ as their King and Savior. What an amazing time that was in our country where not only was there a national revolution going on, but there was also a spiritual revival going on. We are certainly in need of a spiritual revival in our country today!
But the point is that one of key things that marked the thinking and the lives of so many who gave us this country that we call America is the fact that religion was central to every part of their lives; from their home life to their business life to their government life. Religion was life to them. And all of life was to be guided and based up the principles and morals of religion, from the living room to the court room. And not just ‘religion’ but an understanding that their true king in all of life was ‘Jesus Christ the King’. And it’s not that there weren’t other faiths in this new land around them, but that they realized that in order to have a land where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness could be experienced and enjoyed that it would have to be founded upon what their ultimate Founder meant by ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’. And their ultimate Founder was their Creator and Lord, who was also their Heavenly Father. That’s why they put it in their very declaration – The Declaration of Independence: “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.”
And when they said, ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’, what they meant by these is what their Creator meant by these. And what their Creator meant by these are what He revealed to them and to all people in His Word, the Scriptures, which the Founders looked to as a basis for their civil lives and their civil government. And as an example of that consider these amazing statements from:
John Adams: “The Bible contains the most profound philosophy, the most perfect morality, and the most refined policy that ever was conceived upon earth.”
John Quincy Adams: “The Bible is of all books in the world that which contributes most to make men good, wise, and happy.”
Elias Boudinot: “Were you to ask me to recommend the most valuable book in the world, I should fix on the Bible as the most instructive, both to the wise and ignorant.”
John Jay: “Let us therefore persevere steadfastly in distributing the Scriptures far and near…We are assured that they “are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).’”
Thomas Jefferson: “The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend to all the happiness of man. Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from His lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christian.”
Benjamin Rush: “The Bible contains more truths than any other book in the world.”2
The point is how clear it is to see that those who gave us our country also gave us the one Book that was intended to guide our country, again, in all matters of life, from the school house to the courthouse. And as an example of that, political science professors at the University of Houston did a 10-year study collecting quotes from the Founding Fathers to see from whom they quoted. 94 percent of their quotes were based upon the Bible. 34 percent were directly from the Bible (Deuteronomy was the most quoted). 60 percent were from men using the Bible to write their conclusions. And in reading from the early records of Congress, as congressmen would speak from the floor they would often state something the Bible said, and then Congress would vote to put it in the government.3
So in this country, in America, any understanding about what it meant that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, was based upon and was forever to be based upon what our Founding Heavenly Father meant by these. And what our Founding Heavenly Father means by these is found in His revelation to us all in the Bible…like our unalienable right to life. Unalienable means; ‘cannot be taken away or transferred to another’. And so right away this shouts like through a megaphone that when life is created, when life is conceived, when human life is begun, no one else has the right to take it away or transfer that right to another. No terminology could be clearer to people about the fact of the sanctity of human life. Add Nehemiah 9:6 to this: “You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You.” NASU
God is both the ‘Giver of all life’ and the ‘owner’ of all life; God owns all human life. So the real question for those who use the terms ‘Abortion rights’ is: Since God is the giver of all human life and the owner of all human life, and since each human being has the unalienable right to live, and ‘unalienable’ by definition means that no one has the right to take that life away, how can you say that you do have the right to take a life away that is given and owned by God?” Did you get God’s permission to take away this human being’s life?” Think about it: God hasn’t even given us permission to take our own life away, let alone someone else’s life, unless that person has committed crimes against life. Then it’s a war crime. But no unborn child is guilty of war crimes.
No, the right that God has given to parents of children that are owned by God is the right to care for them and the right to teach them about their Creator and to instruct them to worship and serve their Lord and receive Him as their Savior. That’s the right that God has given to parents. But since parents did not create, nor give life to their child, nor do they own their child, they do not have the right to take their life away. And that is a timeless and universal law given by God.
Then, when it comes to the concept of ‘liberty’, that, too, has been twisted by many in our culture from what our Founding Fathers meant by ‘liberty’. And since we are talking about history, let’s remember the one lesson that we learn from history, and that is; when it comes to history, most people fail to learn from it! Instead, many people just keep repeating the same old mistakes of history over and over. And one of the worst mistakes from history that you can make is the mistake, or the sin really, of doing whatever you think is right in your own eyes instead of what God says is right. Notice: Judges 21:25- “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” NASU That was a condemnation against people choosing to live according to their own opinions and wishes rather than by God’s standards and truths. And then there is this condemnation from Prov 12:15- “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” NASU What a condemnation this verse is on those in our country who think that liberty means the freedom to live according to their own wants and wishes and opinions and preferences. But again, by definition, that is not a nation of freedom, that is a nation of fools.
Our forefathers understood liberty to mean exactly what their Founding Heavenly Father revealed that liberty was: James 1:25- “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” NASU And then in James 2:12- “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.” NASU
You mean that ‘liberty’ is a ‘law’? Exactly! How many people on the streets of America would ever answer: “So what is liberty?” with “Well, liberty is primarily a law.” Most people think that these would be opposites, not the same. But our forefathers knew that liberty was law, actually, God’s law. Just think of what that great patriotic song America, the Beautiful says right in the song: ‘O beautiful for pilgrim feet, whose stern impassioned stress, A thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness. America, America, God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!” They got it! They understood it!
Personal liberty and God’s law are inseparable. And so, whenever you do separate personal liberty from God’s law you no longer have personal freedom; you have personal bondage. And most people in America today are living their lives in personal bondage to sin because they have thrown off or are ignoring God’s laws and are choosing what is right in their own eyes. And as a result, they are destroying their lives in the process…all the while thinking they are free and living in liberty. But liberty is not the freedom to do what you want; rather, liberty is the freedom to do what is right. And again, God is the only one that determines and defines what is right. Plus, God is the only One who can set us free from the bondage of our sin, and can then empower us to live according to His law, which is true liberty.
And then that fascinating phrase: the pursuit of happiness. And, once more, what our founders meant by ‘happiness’ and what many in our culture today mean by it is about 180 degrees different. Many in our culture think that personal happiness is connected with personal preferences, personal wants, personal likes, personal accomplishments, personal possessions, and so on. In other words, they think that happiness begins with them personally. But again, right there is the fundamental problem, because they are looking to the wrong source, and they are focusing on the wrong ‘person’. Our founding fathers knew that true happiness had a different source than any of these ‘personal things’ in life; they knew that the true source of genuine happiness, like everything else that is good in life, was found in the Person of God Himself. They knew that ‘happiness’ is not something acquired by you, but something ‘bestowed upon you’; like a blessing from a King upon a faithful servant. Again…King Jesus! And they were ‘servants of the King’!This blessing of happiness is something that is bestowed on you when you seek to first please your King and Lord, not first please yourself. That only results in deception and further bondage. We could turn that motto of TGIF of – ‘Thank God it’s Friday’ to – ‘Today God is First!’ That was on a Church sign…good one!
Our founders had studied the course ‘Happiness 101’ from out of the Textbook of Matthew 5 and therefore they knew that this ‘pursuit of happiness’ was directly tied to personal obedience to the One who was the real source of true happiness – their Creator and Lord. Any pursuit of happiness that leaves out the pursuit of obedience to God results in what Solomon found: Vanity of vanities…emptiness, meaningless, pointlessness…restlessness. Wow! Does vanity and restlessness describe much of our culture today to a ‘T’? It’s a counterfeit happiness, and a poor counterfeit at that!
Personal happiness, genuine happiness, is actually the result of finding that what you ought to be doing and what you are doing is the same thing…meaning, pursuing obedience to your Creator and Lord. And as we seek to personally be pleasing to our Creator and Lord, He then ‘bestows’ this blessing upon us that we call ‘happiness’, which contains the things our souls actually do crave like; peace, fulfillment, satisfaction, significance, contentment, and so on. Those are gifts that come from a personal God to those who are personally pursuing Him first, seeking to please Him first. To them God bestows genuine happiness.
And so this is what our Founding Fathers meant by life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, because they knew what their Founding Heavenly Father meant by them.
- David Barton, 4th of July Article, wallbuilders.com
- 6 Quotes About the Bible from the Founding Fathers, news.americanbible.org