A Reformation Legacy: Political Liberty & Freedom of Speech

John 8:32; 2 Corinthians 3:17

Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

J. H. MERLE d’AUBIGNÉ (1794-1872): The necessity of liberty for the Gospel, and of the Gospel for liberty, is now acknowledged by all thoughtful men.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): It is no exaggeration to say that the Protestant Reformation changed and turned the entire course of history, not only the history of the church, but secular history too.

A. W. PINK (1886-1952): The German princes gave support to it because of the political liberty which it promised them.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES:  How did the United States of America ever come into being? It would have never come into being were it not for the Protestant Reformation. The Puritan fathers who crossed the Atlantic in the Mayflower were men who were products of the Reformation, and it was the desire not only for religious liberty, but also for democratic liberty, that drove them to face the hazards of crossing the Atlantic at that time and to establish a new life, a new state, and a new system of government in the New World. You cannot explain the story of the United States of America except in terms of the Protestant Reformation.

A. W. PINK: The scope of our present theme requires us to say at least a few words on the right of civil liberty.

One of the grand blessings won for us by the fierce battle of the Reformation was the right of private judgment―Every man has the right to think for himself and express his thoughts on political, moral and spiritual matters, without being subject to any civil, or ecclesiastical penalty, or inconvenience on that account. Conversely, no man is entitled to force his ideas upon others and demand that they subscribe thereto, still less to propagate them to the disturbing of the public peace. This is a truth which needs proclaiming and insisting upon today, not only because of the widespread apathy towards taking a firm stand for the same, but because the dearly bought liberties which have for so many years been enjoyed by those living in the English-speaking world are now in danger of being filched from them.

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): We breathe the air of civil liberty―It cost our forefathers many struggles to bring forward and establish this national blessing; but we have enjoyed it so long, and so quietly, that we seem almost to forget its value, how it was obtained, or how only it can be preserved.

ISAAC BACKUS (1724-1806): In our colleges many learn corrupt principles.

A. W. PINK: A considerable majority of the present generation are largely, if not wholly unaware—so ignorant are they of history—that for centuries, even in Britain, civil liberty and the right of private judgment upon spiritual things were denied the masses by both State and Church, politicians and prelates alike lording it over the people. Nor was their tyrannical dominion easily or quickly broken: only after much suffering and a protracted fight was full freedom secured. Alas, that such a dearly bought and hard-won privilege should now be regarded so lightly and be in real danger of being lost again.

JOHN ANGELL JAMES (1785-1869): The utterance of a man’s thoughts must no more be stopped by the stern interdict of the law, than the utterance of his breath.

CHARLES HODGE (1797-1878): It is often necessary to assert our Christian liberty at the expense of incurring censure and offending good men in order that right principles of duty may be preserved. Our Saviour consented to be regarded as a Sabbath-breaker and even a “wine-bibber” and “friend of publicans and sinners;” but wisdom was justified of her children. Christ did not in those cases see fit to accommodate His conduct to the rules of duty set up and conscientiously regarded as correct by those around Him.*

A. W. PINK: Love is not to oust liberty. The exercise of love does not require the Christian to yield principle, to wound his own conscience, or to become the slave of every fanatic he meets.*

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Liberty of conscience. The state must never tyrannize over my conscience…We are to be subject to the higher powers until they in any way come between us and our loyalty to God Himself, and His commandments to us.

A. W. PINK: God’s authoritative Word forbids me doing anything which He has prohibited or which is morally wrong―that a child of God must refuse to do the bidding of a government when it enjoins something contrary to the Divine will is clear from the case of the three Hebrews, Daniel 3:18, and of Daniel in Babylon, Daniel 5:10-13, who firmly declined to conform unto the king’s idolatrous demands. It is equally evident from the case of the apostles, who, when they were commanded by the authorities “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus,” answered “whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye,” Acts 4:19, 5:29. Yet note well that, while insisting upon their spiritual rights, neither did any of them defend themselves or their cause by resorting to violence…It may be said that this is a dangerous doctrine, that it is likely to lead to disorder and insurrection. Not so where the two parts of it be maintained: the right to refuse only when something is demanded which God’s Word forbids, and the duty of meekly submitting to the penalty thereof—the latter will check a misuse of the former.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Now this has been a great principle down through the ages, and on which Christian people have often stood.

A. W. PINK: A further question needs considering at this point: Who is to be the judge of which decrees of a government are sinful? Obviously, in the last resort, the citizen himself. That is the scriptural and Protestant doctrine of the right of private judgment: to test what the law of the land requires by the Divine Law―If any form of government insists upon being the absolute judge of its own case, then there is an end of personal independence and freedom.

JOHN NEWTON: Civil liberty is a deposit with which we are intrusted for posterity, and, by all lawful means, should be carefully preserved.

A. W. PINK: Under no conceivable circumstances should any man relinquish the right to think and decide for himself. His reason, will and conscience are Divine gifts, and God holds him responsible for the right use of them. But as it is with so many other of His favours, this one is not valued at its true worth and soon may not be prized at all unless it be entirely removed and there be a return to the bondage of the “dark ages.”

AUGUSTUS TOPLADY (1713-1778): Despotism has ever proved an insatiable gulf. Throw ever so much into it, it would still yearn for more.* Were liberty to perish from any part of the English speaking world, the whole would soon be deluged by the black sea of arbitrary power.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Well, whatever your views may be, you will have to admit that the Protestant Reformation was one of the most historical phenomenon that has ever taken place―that is a fact of history―the Reformation gave life-blood to the whole democratic notion in the realm of politics, and the consequences, as judged from a social, and from a moral standpoint, simply baffle description.


*Editor’s Note: Political Correctness is the language of modern day despotism.  It is the active enemy of free speech, political liberty, and the truth of the Bible.


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