“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other,” wrote John Adams in 1798.
John Adams understood the reality that exists even today: you can’t have a limited government if the people don’t self-limit. It’s just won’t work. And who is best suited to self-limit—to self-govern? People who are “moral and religious.”
When Adams wrote this, he wasn’t thinking of or in any way referencing any religion other than Christianity. John Adams understood that the influence of Christianity was imperative for the Constitution and the form of government it prescribed, a limited, representative government.
He wasn’t invoking Buddhism, Hinduism, or any other ism. He was talking about morality derived from the truths of Scripture. To think otherwise is to not understand John Adams and the time in which he lived. He was alluding to ideas such as “in honor preferring one another,” and “be ye kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,” and “bear ye one another’s burdens,” and “don’t defraud your brother,” and so much more that we find in Scripture that tells us how we are to live with deference to others and in personal restraint.
Unlike the world, we derive our morality from the Bible, the infallible, inerrant, unchanging, forever settled very Word of God. Because morality is someone’s view of what is right and wrong, it can change—and it does change, especially when people derive their morality from some place or source other than the Bible. Today, most people derive their morality, their sense of what is right and wrong, not from an external, objective, fixed reference, but rather on an internal, subjective, always-changing reference—themselves. That morality reflects the religion of humanism, not Christianity—and it most certainly isn’t the sort of morality or religion that Adams was talking about.
In the Garden of Eden, God made living very easy for Adam and Eve. He told them to subdue the land and to be fruitful and multiply—and then He said, “You can eat of the fruit of every tree in the garden, EXCEPT the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Simple directions and only one prohibition. One. And we all know how this ended. Because they didn’t self-limit or self-govern, they were cast out of the garden and life for humans forever changed. And one of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s blatant disobedience to God’s direct command was more laws, more prohibitions.
As Christianity’s influence in America wanes, our collective ability to self-limit, to self-govern dissipates. We see it everywhere. The result is more and more laws from every level of government. When we don’t govern ourselves, human government is more than happy to step in and govern us externally.
At this point, someone will inevitably say, “You can’t legislative morality.” Given the definition of morality, that is a patently false statement. Every law, every ordinance, every policy passed at any level of government is someone’s view of what is right and wrong. So, we legislate morality all the time. What we can’t legislate is obedience to the law. We can only create an environment that makes the penalty and punishment for breaking the law stiff enough to deter bad behavior.
What I quoted from John Adams at the opening of this commentary was just part of what he wrote in that letter 224 years ago. Here’s more of what he admonished: “We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition, Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net.” Adams didn’t mince words. Basically, he told us without a strong Christian influence in our country, our Constitution—the Supreme law of the land—would be destroyed as easily as a whale breaks a net.
So, what can we do to keep our Constitution meaningful and intact, to keep our limited government? I think the answer is in II Chronicles 7:14. We need revival—revival that starts with individuals and families, grows in churches, extends to entire communities and spreads everywhere in this great land. “If my people” means those of us who identify with Christ. As we repent, turn from our wicked ways, pray, and share the Gospel, we help bring about a people who can truly self-limit and self-govern, ensuring that this government “of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the Prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
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