Recurrence to Fundamental Principles, Love, and Charity: The Foundations of a Free Society

#OTD, June 12, 1776, the Virginia Constitutional Convention approves George Mason’s Bill of Rights. Why should we care?

Recurrence to Fundamental Principles, Love, and Charity: The Foundations of a Free Society – By Daniel Sheridan

1776 was the year of the Declaration of Independence and constitution-making in the new states. One question Americans couldn’t answer yet: Who had the right to declare what the law shall be?

Historian Forrest McDonald describes the problem facing the Patriots:“Of the eight constitutions established in 1776, six were drafted by bodies especially elected for the purpose, but they were never submitted to anyone for ratification…Proclamation of a constitution by a legislative order was scarcely a satisfactory procedure, for what one legislative body could enact another could repeal. To cope with this problem, some early constitution makers appended to their constitution a list of principles that, they declared, no government could properly violate.”

George Mason of Virginia wrote the first of these lists of principles. On this day, June 12, 1776, the “Virginia Declaration of Rights,” or “Bill of Rights,” was approved by the Virginia Constitutional Convention. This Bill of Rights became the preamble to the Virginia Constitution. Other states followed Virginia’s example, using Mason’s work as a template while making revisions of their own, yet all with one voice proclaiming their shared beliefs about the role of government and man’s natural rights. They guaranteed, for instance, freedom of speech, of the press, and religious worship. Individual liberty was the fundamental law. “A freeman’s remedy against a restraint of his liberty ought not to be denied or delayed,” declared the North Carolina Constitution. They also called for representative government, trial by jury, protection against unreasonable searches of people and papers, eliminating cruel and unusual punishment, and securing other fundamental liberties. Thomas Jefferson’s wording in the Declaration of Independence and the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution reflects Mason’s work.

The Virginia Bill of Rights contains 16 declarations. George Mason wrote the first 15; Patrick Henry wrote the 16th declaration concerning religious liberty.

Declaration 15: “That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”

The word “recurrence” means “to resort to,” “to return to,” and “to think about.” Mason is reminding us that a government based on freedom principles won’t last long unless the people are continually thinking about and applying correct principles to every area of life. Principles guide us in making the right decisions personally and politically. When Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, these universal principles were well known, believed, and applied. I’m not saying they employed them perfectly, especially with slavery still in existence. Still, they got to know and acknowledged these principles and dared to proclaim them as our country’s foundation publicly. Unfortunately, our practice doesn’t always match our beliefs, but if we keep the faith in our hearts, we will eventually train our feet to follow – whatever the cost. Part of the American experience is living up to our principles. Before we point fingers at those in the past who lived in different times and circumstances, let’s ask ourselves: Are WE living up to these principles today?

Patrick Henry concludes the Virginia Bill of Rights with Declaration 16: “That religion, or the duty which we owe to our CREATOR, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity, towards each other.”

The lesson is clear. America won’t remain free unless “We the People” practice these two things:

1. Think about, resort to, and return to fundamental principles.

2. Practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

On June 12, 1776, the Virginia Constitutional Convention approved George Mason’s Bill of Rights.

John 1:6-13 The Character of God’s Word

woman holding book

Topics: John’s testimony; The history of God’s Word from Adam to Christ; An ignorant world, a rebellious covenant people, and the receptive Children of God; The character of God’s Word; What does it mean to be “born of God?”

John 1:6-13

Dispensations, Days, and Earths: God’s Road To True Love

grayscale photo of couple walking on road

Where does the Bible Begin? Genesis 1:1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 

Where does it end? Not revelation, but 1 Corinthians 15:20-28. “Then cometh the end…that God might be all in all.”

We have the beginning and end of the story. It’s nice to know the story ends well. God’s story begins with Him, and it ends with him becoming all things to all humanity. However, the road to true love doesn’t run smoothly, as human history attests. We have the unfolding drama of redemption between the beginning and the end. That’s the subject of this lesson. 

God’s redemptive drama plays out in various dispensations, days, and earths between that beautiful beginning and the end. I want to give you an overview of these things without going into too much detail so that we can have our bearings. 

Dispensations

When studying the Scriptures, you will notice that God has dealt with people differently at different times. These distinct periods have been called dispensations. A dispensation refers to how God deals with people; it’s an administration, stewardship, or method of dealing. The Greek word is oikonomia, which is made up of “house” and “law,” the order of a household. God deals with people differently at different times. Keep that in mind. 

Days

Now let’s look at days. The central theme of the Bible is the future kingdom of God and its various phases. We aren’t there yet. We live in what the Bible call’s man’s day. Humans run the show, and God is silent. However, one day God will intervene and fix humanity’s problems. This kingdom is in three phases. The first is Christ’s day, when Christ rules from heaven. After many years under Christ’s rule, some humans will revolt against his rule (Psalm 2), but the personal return of Jesus Christ will swiftly deal with it. Then follows the millennium, called the Lord’s day. Towards its end, nations will revolt again to no avail. Then come the new heavens and earth, where righteousness dwells, called God’s day. Finally, God will become all in all, for humans will have learned the lessons of the days, dispensations, and earths. 

That’s human history in broad strokes. 

Let’s look at these periods as the Bible develops them.

1. The time before the flood (Genesis 1-9). The old world, which became characterized by violence and corruption because of the angelic invasion, was wiped out. 

2. The time after the flood to the calling of Abraham (Genesis 10-11). After the flood, human rebellion at Babel’s Tower led to the creation of nations. Romans 1 tells us what became of them: they glorified not God as God after having clear testimony about Him from Noah. God, therefore, gave them up to go their own way. 

3. From Abraham to Acts 28:28. Here, God called Abraham and his seed and gave them land. He plans on exalting the rest of the nations out of their idolatrous ways through them. Except for John’s gospel and Paul’s post-Acts letters, the entire Bible deals with these beautiful people and their calling. 

4. The present dispensation of the grace of God. (Man’s day – God silent). When Paul pronounced in Acts 28 that the salvation-bringing message of God has been authorized to the nations and that they will hear it for themselves, a new dispensation began. In the words of Otis Sellers, this is a period in which God is writing into the history of humanity a record of His transcendent grace. John’s gospel and Paul’s post-Acts letters have the details. 

5. The day of Christ. Christ will rule from his throne in heaven. 

6. The day of the Lord. Christ will rule from his footstool on earth. 

7. The day of God. This takes place on the new heaven and new earth.

Earths

There are also three heavens and earth:

  1. The heavens and earth of old: Here is the world of Genesis 1:1 that was destroyed by a flood. 
  2. The heavens and earth which are now: these begin with Genesis 1:2. Here is the stage on which Man’s day, Christ’s day, and the Lord’s day play out. 
  3. The new heavens and new earth: this is the day of God. 

That’s an overview without too many details. You may ask, where do I fit in? Guess what? You do. You can know what your role will be. That’s the subject of our next study. 

The Language and Character of Grace

frozen wave against sunlight

“Let ALL bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and outcries, and evil speaking, be put away from you with ALL malice. And become ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, dealing graciously with each other even as God, in Christ, deals graciously with you.” Ephesians 4:31-32.

Paul tells us to put ALL these away, not some depending on particular circumstances. The more our minds are absorbed with the language of grace, the more we will reflect the character of grace. Note too how Paul begins his appeal with the word “LET.” There is no “thou shalt” or else! The exhortations under grace are suited to the administration of grace.

What are the “all” we are to put away?

Put away ALL bitterness. The word in Greek has the idea of poison or venom. This a disposition we are to put away.

Put away ALL wrath. The word means “out of control,” anger so severe it is as if you’re breathing hard. The Discovery Bible Glossary says wrath is “an anger of passion when someone ‘sees red.’” Trench says it’s a “boiling agitation of the feelings.” Put away ALL wrath.

Put away ALL anger. “…together with the desire of revenge.” According to Bullinger, the word comes from the Hebrew meaning “to kill, and all the tumults and passion WHICH TERMINATE IN KILLING.” Bullinger continues. “This is traced in German kreig, war.” Previously, Paul asked, “Can you be angry and not miss the mark?” Since he encourages us to put away all anger here, the answer is no. Put away ALL anger.

Put away ALL outcries. The Greek means heated screaming and shouting, which is the outcry of anger, war, and the calling for the destruction of others. Put away ALL outcries.

Put away ALL evil speaking. This is vilification, libel, defamation, or slander with implied hostility. Put away ALL evil speaking.

Put away ALL malice. This is the state of mind bent on destroying or tearing others down. “The stooping to unscrupulous means to making or injure someone….that which takes pleasure in the misery or pain of another person.” A person with a malicious disposition will soon find a way to act on it. Put away ALL malice.

Paul urges us to put away these six ugly things. However, he gives us beautiful things to take the place of human nastiness. 

Become kind one to another. Kind means, “Good, gentle, benevolent, benign; ACTIVELY beneficent IN SPITE OF INGRATITUDE.” Become kind one to another.

Become tenderhearted to one another. Rotherham translates it as “tenderly affectionate.” Bullinger says, “yearningly affectionate.” Become tenderhearted to one another.

Deal graciously with each other. This is much more than forgiveness; it is doing favors and showing kindness. “To give or bestow a thing willingly or graciously.” That’s how God, in Christ, deals with us. Let us become imitators of God. Deal graciously with each other.

Let’s replace the rotten fruit that characterizes the nations and replace it with the delicious fruit that comes from understanding grace. Grace is more than a “theological” concept. When properly understood, it will change you.