In a letter written to James Warren in 1779, Samuel Adams stated, “A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue, they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader. How necessary then it is for those who are determined to transmit the blessings of liberty as a fair inheritance to posterity, to associate on public principles in support of public virtue.”
So here they were in the middle of the War for Independence and Sam Adams touts the importance of virtue in relation to retaining liberty. He had to have really felt strongly about it in order to mention it in a letter during the tumultuous times they were in. So what is virtue? What is this thing that was deemed so important by Mr. Adams – and many other founders – to our liberties? Why do you suppose they regarded it as so important?
The American Dictionary of the English Language – Noah Webster 1828 defines virtue as : Moral goodness; the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice; or a conformity of life and conversation to the moral law.
Moral goodness, moral duties, moral law. To paraphrase the definition of moral from the same dictionary: it is “applicable to actions that are good or evil, virtuous or vicious” with a “reference to the law of God as the standard by which their character is to be determined” and “conformed to rules of right, or to the divine law respecting social duties”.
In order to have virtue, to be virtuous and moral, one has to be able to determine what is “good or evil, virtuous or vicious”. This means that a person has to be able to determine what is right and what is wrong – but according to what? What is the standard that we are supposed to measure against? According to Noah Webster’s definition the standard that determines what is right and wrong is the law of God or the divine law. Right and wrong are not to be defined by what the government tells us it is. It is not to be determined by what society says it is. Government was never intended to dictate it for us, and society’s definition of the two terms changes with the seasons and is full of gray areas.
God’s word and His law are black and white. There are no gray areas. Therefore it gives us a firm foundation on which to stand and live our lives. A firm foundation to be able to determine what is good and evil.
So after learning this and then going back to the quote from Sam Adams what he was saying is that as long as people live by a standard that is determined by divine law they will not be subdued. Why do you suppose that is? Because a people who understand the truth of what is right and what is wrong will not allow themselves to be oppressed. People who live by a higher moral standard according to the law of God will not allow themselves to be manipulated. They will recognize when they are being lied to or when their freedoms are being stolen because they are vigilant. If you remove virtue and moral understanding from a people – then you open the door to their defeat and their oppression because they have no solid foundation on which to stand. How do you remove virtue and moral understanding? By working to remove God from the lives of the people. How do you remove God from the lives of people? First you take Him out of schools, then you take Him from the public square, then you ridicule and attack those who believe. What are you left with? A citizenry who believes that truth is relative and ever changing. You end up with a population who loses the ability or the willingness to self-govern themselves which in turn will then hand more and more power over to a government that is more than willing to step in.
There is a reason that John Adams told us that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people” and that it “ is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” You see, the Constitution doesn’t dictate things to us as a people. It puts restrictions on the Federal Government. It was set up the way it was because it was believed that the people could govern themselves better than the government could. But it was also realized that they could only govern themselves as long as they remained virtuous and moral. If they ever lost the firm foundation of what is right and wrong – they would reach a point where they would surrender their liberty.
So here we are. 2013. Are we a virtuous and moral people? Do we stand on principle and values? Not in the view of this writer. We have allowed ourselves to be manipulated into surrendering one thing after another all because we haven’t remained vigilant. We have lost our virtue by way of surrendering it for the sake of being politically correct. Can it be restored? I believe so. But it didn’t disappear overnight, nor will it be restored overnight. Christians, parents, grandparents – all of us – need to become strong in our faith and teach that virtue to the next generation. We must lead by example and begin the long trek back to where we came from.
It begins today. It begins with you and me.
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you,” (Philippians 4:8-9).