“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
This phrase should be quite familiar to every American! We know it as the first amendment. Freedom was so precious to the founders of our nation that this brief but incredibly comprehensive phrase was penned! A man must be free to exercise his God-given power of choice—especially in matters of religion and conscience. I believe this conviction was God-inspired, springing from principles revealed ere time became a reality.
I believe the first amendment is in harmony with the Word of God; with God’s plan of government. The Father has told us we are to “have no other gods before Him.” Exodus 20:3. This is the first command out of God’s mouth at Sinai. Adam and Eve understood this, though it was not a written code at that time. Theirs was the allegiance of love, for the law was in their hearts. That is, until their God-given right to freedom of conscience was yielded to the flatteries, deceptions and subtleties of Satan. Selfishness then took the place of love, and self-preservation became the new rule of life! Remember the accusations that flew in the face of God from the guilty pair? It is only as the original allegiance is re-established that man can be truly free!
God allowed Adam and Eve freedom! Eve was free to wander from Adam’s side, though she’d been warned. She had freedom of speech and chose to converse with the deceiver. Eve had the freedom to publicize her convictions to Adam, and she did. And certainly, when God came in search of His children, He gave the guilty pair the right to petition His government “for a redress of grievances.” The Creator became the accused, judged guilty by those who had chosen to yield their religious convictions to a usurper! Time has only intensified the accusations against God and His government. Freedom certainly comes with its risks, doesn’t it?
One of my favorite Bible stories is that of the three worthies of Daniel 3. Arraigned with everyone else, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego felt they should comply so far as possible with the command to appear before the statue on the plain. But deeper issues really were at stake. I believe they were there with the principle embedded within their hearts to stand up for the Judged! Wasn’t God still on trial on the plain? Was He the One worthy of worship, or Nebuchadnezzar and his earthly kingdom of force? Their stiff hips would testify in the matter.
With the command ringing in their ears, complete with its impending death decree should anyone be so foolish as to disobey, these faithful young men stood erect. In their envy, their accusers were ready to pounce as, having become familiar with the integrity of their captives, they understood all too well the loyalty of these young men to their God. Most likely they expected such “disobedience” from these exiles and were no doubt watching them with no friendly eyes. Integrity always angers license! I like the way Matthew Henry describes this: “True devotion calms the spirit, quiets and softens it, but superstition and devotion to false gods inflame men’s passions. The matter is put into a little compass, Turn, or burn.”
Have you ever really considered the greater miracle here? I believe saving these men from cowardly compliance was a far greater miracle than saving them from the fire. Self-preservation had been miraculously replaced by the allegiance of love. A greater issue than life was at stake. It was the character of the Life Giver! Indeed, God was on trial that day!
And what about Peter, the one who fell at the tip of a girl’s finger? We are told that he set himself up for his fall; first by refusing to be corrected because he loved and trusted in himself more than Jesus, then by mingling with those he should have avoided.
“When Peter said he would follow his Lord to prison and to death, he meant it, every word of it; but he did not know himself. Hidden in his heart were elements of evil that circumstances would fan into life. Unless he was made conscious of his danger, these would prove his eternal ruin. The Saviour saw in him a self-love and assurance that would overbear even his love for Christ. Much of infirmity, of unmortified sin, carelessness of spirit, unsanctified temper, heedlessness in entering into temptation, had been revealed in his experience. Christ’s solemn warning was a call to heart searching.”
“Peter had not designed that his real character should be known. In assuming an air of indifference he had placed himself on the enemy’s ground, and he became an easy prey to temptation. If he had been called to fight for his Master, he would have been a courageous soldier; but when the finger of scorn was pointed at him, he proved himself a coward. Many who do not shrink from active warfare for their Lord are driven by ridicule to deny their faith. By associating with those whom they should avoid, they place themselves in the way of temptation. They invite the enemy to tempt them, and are led to say and do that of which under other circumstances they would never have been guilty. The disciple of Christ who in our day disguises his faith through dread of suffering or reproach denies his Lord as really as did Peter in the judgment hall.” Conflict and Courage 321.3.
There is a really valuable lesson in that for us today! No matter how much we think we love Jesus, if we are unwilling to be corrected, danger lurks! And how easy it is to just “mingle” instead of standing up for Jesus! Too often, it is far more difficult to stand before the pointed finger of shame than some more threatening consequence. And sometimes remaining quiet can be a denial of our faith as much as saying the wrong thing is.
Jesus had called Peter to a hearty self-examination in the light of His divine insights. But at that point, Peter loved himself more than Jesus. We know that something happened to change that though. His eyes were opened that day as his ear caught the crowing of the cock. The look of Jesus broke his proud heart and he ran to Gethsemane and became a changed man. His pride and self-sufficiency were replaced by the allegiance of love. No sacrifice was too great to make for his Redeemer!
The Bible is replete with examples of changed hearts and lives Peter, Mary Magdelene, Paul, Manassah, Moses, etc. But that’s history. What about now? What about me? What about you? Is self-preservation ruling in our hearts, or the allegiance of love? Is God worth dying for? Is He worth living for?
Romans 3:4 says that God is yet being judged. “…That Thou mightest be justified in Thy sayings, and mightest overcome when Thou art judged.” We know that parents are often “judged” by the behavior of their children. What representation to the world are we giving of our Father? Are we falling at the finger of the crowd? Are we bowing before the idols of this world? Or has the allegiance of love been planted deeply enough within our hearts to over-rule the self-preservation so rooted within our natures? Jesus is calling us to some serious heart searching as we look into the face of earth’s final moments. Here is some of what we will face: “The adherents of truth are now called upon to choose between disregarding a plain requirement of God’s word or forfeiting their liberty. If we yield the word of God, and accept human customs and traditions, we may still be permitted to live among men, to buy and sell, and have our rights respected. But if we maintain our loyalty to God, it must be at the sacrifice of our rights among men. For the enemies of God’s law have leagued together to crush out independent judgment in matters of religious faith, and to control the consciences of men. They are determined to put an end to the long-continued controversy concerning the Sabbath, to prohibit all further spread of the truth upon this point, and to secure the exaltation of Sunday, in the very face of the injunction of the fourth commandment.” The Home Missionary, November 1, 1893 par. 18.
I sincerely believe Peter would join his voice with that of his Beloved–a voice calling us have to the allegiance of love, for love is stronger than the fear of death: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings;….Whom having not seen, ye love…” 1 Peter 4: 12-13; 1:8.
Looking unto the Author and Finisher of our faith, I am so grateful that Jesus was faithful to His Father’s calling in Gethsemane and on Calvary. What kept Him? “In the agony of Gethsemane, the death of Calvary, the heart of Infinite Love paid the price of our redemption. . . .” God’s Amazing Grace, page 188. Love kept Him! The allegiance of love! “Love bears all things” and “perfect love casts out all fear!”
Now I know why Jesus asked Peter, “Lovest thou Me?”