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This week, we in the United States celebrate our National Holiday, July 4th. That was the day, back in 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed. The actual signing was only one incident in the along sequence of events that led to establishment of what became the United States, But we recognize July 4th, 1776 as the birth of our nation.
Many other things happened that year– some significant, others trivial. For example, a hurricane hit the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe resulting in the sinking of 100 French & Dutch ships and over 6000 deaths. Oh – and a New York bar decorated some mixed drinks with bird tails which coined the term cocktail.
In England, Edward Gibbons published the first volume of his "Decline & Fall of Roman Empire.” Also, that year, Adam Smith published his “Wealth of Nations”, widely considered the first modern work in the field of economics. It is still widely influential today.
But in 1776, there was something else published, something I think is far more noteworthy. It was the famous hymn, Rock of Ages, written by August Montagu Toplady. Historian, Mark Noll suggests that it might actually be the most consequential publishing event that year. Rock of Ages is one of the two most reprinted hymns in Christian history. The words read like a good sermon or almost like Scripture:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide
myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood, From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure, Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
Not the labours of my hands, Can fulfill Thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears for ever flow,
All for sin could not atone: Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy Cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
There is a lot of very sound theology wrapped up in that verse. It transcends denominational lines and national borders, and reminds us, whomever and wherever we are, of our most important citizenship. As Paul wrote to the church in Philippi:
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21 NIV).
The United States was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When we pledge allegiance to our flag we are reminded that it stands for liberty and justice for all. I am extremely grateful to be a citizen of a nation that values freedom.
However, there is no freedom equivalent to the freedom we have in Christ. Sometimes when we celebrate an event, our joy takes us to a higher place. So let us also, even more, celebrate our freedom in Christ. Jesus came to us, hidden in the Trinity, birthed in the most humble of circumstances, dying on a Cross. He revealed God’s infinite, perfect love to us and we do well to recognize his suffering as a gift that grants us a freedom of cosmic proportions. A true freedom that flows from faith, hope and love and that leads to freedom, to truth, to goodness, to beauty – that leads to life eternal in fellowship with the Triune God.
As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
I’m Joseph Tkach, speaking of LIFE.